Saving my history – it’s needlessly complex

In 2004-05, my IBM colleague Sara Moulton Reger and I wrote a series of articles about “Needless Complexity” for IBM’s “Think Research” site as part of our work at Almaden Services Research.

The articles are no longer available on “Think Research”, so I’m reposting them here as a single PDF. Copyright, of course, remains with IBM.

Thanks to the Internet Archive for saving them in the Wayback Machine!

I cut myself by ignoring Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor states that, all other things being equal, the simplest explanation is to be preferred. I wish I’d remembered that this afternoon.

We have just completed a major landscaping/hardscaping project – and as long as the driveway was being dug up, we decided to replace the 50-year-old galvanized pipe between the water meter and the house with brand new copper. The replacement went well, but after the plumber had left, I noticed that one of my toilets was refilling very slowly.

I ignored it for a couple of weeks, but finally I was irritated enough to Google the problem: “Fluidmaster 400A slow refill”. The top page in the results came from Fluidmaster, and it suggested several causes:

  • After several years of use, the seal of the 400A fill valve can become swollen, causing a slower fill.
  • The inlet of the valve or the water supply line is plugged with debris.
  • For new installations, if using a straight pipe as a water supply line, it may be extended too far inside the bottom of the valve shank.
  • For new installations, the valve cone washer may have been used with the wrong supply line.

This wasn’t a new installation, and the toilet was only a couple of years old, so I was pretty sure that debris was involved. Fluidmaster suggested removing the top cap from the valve and using the water pressure to clear debris from the valve. 30 minutes later, I’d finally managed to remove the top cap, only to discover that there wasn’t much pressure. Their explanation for that was “debris lodged deeper in the valve”, but trying to fix it would require draining the tank and getting water all over the floor, which I wanted to avoid, so I searched further.

HandymanWire gave me a great tip to replace only the top part of the valve (avoiding any need to drain the tank and get water on the floor), so I followed their procedure. 10 minutes later, I had the valve disassembled, ready to put on the top part of a new valve. But for some insane reason, I decided to test the pressure before putting the new valve’s guts on…and there was no pressure.

I drained most of the water from the tank and disconnected the hose leading to the tank. Then I cleaned up the water on the floor (oh, well) and turned on the water – still no pressure.

I disconnected the other end of the hose, right by the angle stop, and found a small pebble blocking the hose inlet. Removing the pebble solved the problem, and then I spent the next 20 minutes putting everything back together, including putting the old guts back on the valve.

In retrospect, the simplest explanation was a blockage in the water supply line – just as Fluidmaster (and Occam) suggested. If I’d tried that first, I would have been finished in 10 minutes (even with cleaning up the floor) — instead, I spent about 2 hours (including research and a couple of interruptions).

Oh, well; now I know a lot more about the insides of a Fluidmaster 400A valve than I did this morning.

I need rain

We haven’t had significant rain this season, and it shows. The hills are browner than usual; the fall garden is anemic; and there’s continuing talk about drought and water rationing. We even had someone ask at Torah study whether we should put the prayer for rain into the day’s service! Yes, we need rain.

But none of those reasons are why I need rain – I need rain so that I’ll stay inside and play work. When I look at my office, I realize that spending an hour or two reorganizing it would pay dividends – but that hour could be spent walking or hitting golf balls, and that’s what I do instead.

In fact, it’s a lovely day out right now. Bye!

It’s not about the arms

I was at the driving range Friday afternoon. Just before I was ready to leave, I noticed that my coach was practicing, so I watched him hit a few balls. I noticed that he looked relaxed, especially from the waist up – it seemed as though he was letting his lower body provide most of the force and using his upper body to steer.

I only had a few balls left in my bucket, and no time for more, but I decided to experiment and concentrate on my lower body instead of my arms for the rest of my shots. When I kept that thought in mind, I made more solid contact and the ball went further and was better aligned with my intention.

Maybe I’ve been doing it wrong all along?

How should I start my morning?

My morning routine has only changed a bit over the years.

When I was at IBM, I’d read the paper with breakfast, check my email (work and personal), and then rush to work, where I’d once more deal with my email (personal and work, usually in that order – I guess I can admit that now), be on conference calls, and, if I was really lucky, get something done before lunch. Sometimes, of course, I’d have a conference call (or two) early enough in the morning that I had to call in from home; on those days, I’d never get anything accomplished before lunch.

Now, I get up, read the paper with breakfast, check my email (personal only!), check Facebook, read blogs, and on good days, get a walk in before sitting down at the computer to check my email and Facebook and blogs again. I only need to leave the house early for Toastmasters meetings or when I’ve got an appointment with my trainer, so often I sit at the computer until lunch. And I almost never get anything accomplished before lunch.

Very little in my email is time-critical; perhaps I should get something accomplished before I look at the email. Perhaps a blog posting would be a start….

I am my mother’s child

My mother used to do something which drove me crazy – she lied to her checkbook. If she wrote a check for, say, $12.67, she’d enter it as $15 in the check register; similarly, if she deposited $280, she’d enter $250 in the register. When I asked her “why?”, she said she liked having a “cushion” in her account.

I keep my check register as accurate as I can – but I lie to MyFitnessPal, and for the same reason. As an example, I went to the gym this morning and spent 35 minutes on the elliptical trainer. My Wahoo heartrate monitor claims I burned about 500 calories, but it’s not integrated with MyFitnessPal; my Fitbit is, but it can’t tell how hard I worked, so it only credited me with 200 calories during that time, and that’s all I show in MyFitnessPal. I also try to overestimate serving sizes by a little bit. Why? To have a little “cushion” in case I forget to log something I eat during the day.

I don’t know if my mother ever got her checkbook in sync with reality, but I’ve lost 10 pounds and 2 inches from my waistline since starting to use MyFitnessPal this summer. Maybe lying isn’t always so bad!

Things I learned practicing golf today

I am consistently hitting the ground too soon, and therefore hitting up on the ball instead of down on it. I do this when I’m practicing without a ball (I ground the club behind where I’m aiming), and even more so when there’s a ball to hit. The result is thin hits and no consistency in aim.

I also noticed that I still don’t always finish my follow-through, especially when taking a practice swing; I have a better chance of hitting the ground later when I do finish completely, so I need to make finishing a stronger habit.

Proust had madelines; I have signs

A long time ago, I had to use TSO on a daily basis. One of the parts of the login process was being told the last time you logged in – you were supposed to check the last login time and make sure no one was using your account covertly, but I never bothered, partially because the date in the login message was presented as a so-called Julian date (yy.ddd). It was easy enough to figure out the human-friendly date in January, and even in February or March (especially in a leap year), but by the time April started, my interest in converting day 103 into the 12th or 13th of April (depending on whether it was a leap year) was zero. I’m sure someone made the decision to use the Julian date for a reason, but it never made any sense to me.

I was reminded of this today when I saw that the restroom cleanliness form at the place we had lunch had “1–14” as the date; I wonder if the person who set it up had been a mainframe user at one point.

Three Years

Three years ago, I started the first full day of my post-IBM life. I had vague ideas of taking a few months off, then finding a new job.

I got the first part right.

In the intervening three years, I’ve had major heart surgery, gotten very involved in Toastmasters (I’m standing for Division Governor for 2013-14), taken some interesting trips (with more on the agenda), and have rarely found myself bored.

Does that mean that I wouldn’t go back to full-time employment if the right opportunity arose? Definitely not; there are advantages to having a real job, but it would have to be a very good fit.

Stay tuned!