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Data - Grin with cat attached — LiveJournal
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Data Sep. 22nd, 2003 10:00 am
Just started reading "The Hacker Ethic, which I bought months ago and has been languishing on a sequence of bookshelves ever since.

Like all my favourite books, it solidifies ideas that have been flitting around in my head for a while, just waiting for something to join them up.

Such ideas include "The five day week is too long", "Information Overload is inherent", "Humanity's knowledge has outstripped its capacity", "Time not spent achieving productive work is inherently wasted".

Time wasting is almost a sin to me; since my only answer to the "Why are we here" question is "to achieve", time spent doing otherwise is shamefully wasted. This probably makes me hell to live with.

The very nature of my essay writing, a chain of sequential thoughts, rarely redrafted, illustrates my obsession with timewasting; I don't care to even start down the path of diminishing returns that is correction or optimisation, unless doing so will provide a significant net gain to someone else - the same state applies to IP5 - constantly improved, never released, because unless someone really wants it, time spent packaging it is wasted.

I'm a workaholic, in the sense of the Hacker Ethic rather than the Work Ethic - I don't think work is inherently valuable just because I've been given it, I think its value depends on its usefulness and interest. I'm also an information junkie (something I've said for a long time with various levels of seriousness) - I want to know all that's going on, and I want to know how to do everything related to data, servers and networks.

I can't. I hate to admit that, but I can't - instead I'll constantly work towards the closest approximation of omniscience; a task that will inherently fail.

To some extent I recognised this fact years back, when I noted "Never aim for perfection; you can't achieve it and the failure will bug you; instead aim for improvement; you can achieve it over and over again and it's self-motivating".

I'm not sure how well I've adhered to that.

Back, then, from this self-generating tangent, to the aforementioned ideas. Information Overload. The information revolution - 500 channels of TV, web, mail, RSS, IRC, IM, Journals, accelerated print publishing, SMS, GSM and GPRSs, have all exponentially increased our ability to receive information.

There has been no corresponding increase in the human capacity to process this data. Certainly, there have been no evolutionary changes; the vast majority of this information surge has occurred within our own lifespans. And even if it were slower, there's no breeding advantage to it - darwinian evolution's long dead, for humanity.

The cause, and the problem, is that we no longer need to, or can, fully understand our creations by ourselves. (Although, of course, I tend to forget this). OSs, websites, hardware systems, informational entities, are all far bigger than one mind, so we borrow each other's minds and have to hope that they really know what they're doing - although of course there's not always someone else available, so we try and learn their bits too...

And of course this increased datasharing capacity has long escaped from the office, or even from home; mobile comms mean it can follow you anywhere (except, currently into the tube) and inveigle itself into the smallest niches of 'free time', a concept that is no longer really valid. Hence the belief that, since the entire weekend seems to be required for recovering from, or restocking for, the week, we should really get another day's "leisure" to ourselves.

Probably so we can spend it coding :/


I'm heavily burned out right now, and I see no exit.

From: azekeil
Date: September 22nd, 2003 - 03:21 am (Link)
Yes, exactly. You've said the answer yourself. Your maxim of living to improve rather than perfect. Your improvements have become so overwhelmingly important it's becoming a perfectionist obsession in trying to achieve improvements. Sounds fucked up? I'm sure a lot of people have been there.

I accept that I will not be able to know everything or do everything. I restrict myself to just doing and knowing what I enjoy doing or knowing, wherever possible. I will take on new information and responsibilities at my comfortable pace, not influenced by outside factors.

To achieve, yes, but achieve what? Burnout? No. Daft. Achieve happiness. Remember to take pleasure in the littlest of things.

Hope you find some peace.
(no subject) - (Anonymous)
From: wechsler
Date: September 22nd, 2003 - 03:38 am (Link)
The link's no great suprise to me either, and what you're saying makes perfect sense. I just don't know if it's within my capabilities to cut back.

Part of the problem is no doubt that I have no-one to capably share the load either with my work projects or personal ones.
From: dennyd
Date: September 22nd, 2003 - 10:14 am (Link)
Ooh, interesting. I see the purpose of my existence as 'to enjoy', not necessarily 'to achieve' - although (a) can sometimes be reached via (b), it can also sometimes be reached by laying around and doing nothing.

This is probably one of the many reasons that your code works better than mine :)
From: feanelwa
Date: September 22nd, 2003 - 02:38 pm (Link)
I think you should separate which bits of the big mass of Too Much To Do are "I work myself too hard" and "my job works me too hard". I know that in term time I do work too hard, and every single term I do burn out, but I keep coming back for more because once I find out one bit, and make one ballgown, I know I'm capable of being even better at the next thing. And that's the sort of working too hard that I like, even though I can't do it for long without falling over, I love doing it even when I'm so tired I can't move.

If my current job tried to make me work the hours that I make myself work in term time, though, I would completely resent it because it would be - not a useless experience - but it wouldn't be going anywhere at the speed I want it to, which is Very Fast. So at the moment I put into my life some Very Very Fast bits (I'm trying to sew together a cushion while the web pages are loading now, for example) to make up for the impatience I feel when I'm sitting at work cleaning equipment.

I also think the human brain can change by means other than evolution, it trains itself to what you put into it. When I started this job, I could feel bits moving, where I looked for one mathematical method, it was suddenly stored somewhere else. It was like my brain had defragmented itself. So by some means, you can handle all that information, because you do - for sure your ancestors of 300 years ago couldn't, because the change from how they were would have been too great, but you can.
From: barakta
Date: September 22nd, 2003 - 02:49 pm (Link)
Eeek university starts in a week. Despite a very low hourage timetable I am expecting to be completely screwed by xmas ;/ I can usually sustain about 6 - 8 weeks, but having 12 week semesters with no breaks in sucks (my dept don't even have a reading week to sleep in).

It gets worse after xmas as we have 3 weeks of exams, followed by up to 10 weeks of lectures again before easter. I know many people who don't get to easter without being seriously ill so they spend all the easter 'revision' vacation recovering from nasty illnesses.

I have a policy that if we have evil 13 weeks on the go that after about 8 continuous weeks if I feel run-down I will take a week off lectures. Its worth the extra catch-up because I get some proper sleep and don't get into the 3 hours sleep (if I am lucky) 13 hrs in front of a keyboard and tinnitus 24/7 cycle which I got into the last year I did uni.

This is why I took a year out last year, I was burned out by the Thursday of Freshers week and I hadn't done anything. I have to accept (learn to accept) my physical limitations and accept I just can't push certain things or I will fall apart at a faster rate than now.

Lets hope this year isn't too crazy for either of us, and I wish you the best for when you are back at Cambridge on scary workload...

Natalya
From: feanelwa
Date: September 22nd, 2003 - 03:20 pm (Link)
Thanks :)

I don't even know what my timetable's going to be this year yet - I have to wait until Friday for them to put it on the net. So I don't know what my lecture and lab hours are going to be yet. I think they will be less than last year though...
From: barakta
Date: September 22nd, 2003 - 03:34 pm (Link)
eeek.

I got hold of the latest incarnation of my timetable (we had to know the rough layout to choose modules) from my tutor so I could organise my note-takers. I don't think the timetable is officially released till next week or so.

Reminds me I need to email the notetakers about room locations and my new deaf-support-worker cos my old one left during my yr out.

I know from Sheffield chemist/science types that their 4th yr timetable was less lecture heavy but still lots of work. Fingers crossed its not too evil (evil being self defined).

I miss labs..... They were the best bit of my chem degree.

Natalya