I first really learned the value of using a checklist back when I was taking flying lessons. Virtually everything you do is guided by a checklist, and for good reason: it ensures you don’t miss any steps. Why would you miss a step, if you are doing the same thing again and again and again? For the very reason that you do the same thing again and again and again and if you are thrown out of your routine, things can fall apart rapidly.
This was all brought to mind this morning when I woke bleary-eyed from four hours of sleep and decided I needed some early morning caffeine in the form of Red Bull. I hadn’t put any additional cans of Red Bull in the fridge last night so the only cold can would be the one that I packed in my lunch. That wasn’t really a problem. I’d just swap out the cold can for a room temperature one and by 10:30am (when I normally have my can of Red Bull) it would be nice and cool.
I opened the fridge and pulled out my lunch bag and reached in for the can of Red Bull.
You know those moments of complete surprise? Like when you take a swig from an opaque glass thinking there is beer in it when in fact it is milk? Well, I reached into the bag–which I’d supposed had been in the fridge for close to 12 hours now–and pulled out a warm can of Red Bull. My first thought was that the fridge was broken and I opened the door and felt around to make sure it felt cold inside. Even more disconcerting was that when I reached into my lunch bag to feel the can of Cherry Dr. Pepper that was next to the Red Bull, I discovered to my horror that it was ice cold.
Kelly must have seen the expression on my face for she calmly explained the unexplainable to me:
“You left it out last night.”
“The Red Bull?” I said.
“Your entire lunch. You left it on the counter.” And before I could ask how it was that the Cherry Dr. Pepper was cold, she added, “I swapped in a cold soda for you when I put your lunch in the fridge just now.”
I’ve been packing my lunch virtually every day since the first of the year and I’ve never left it out on the counter overnight–until now. Of course, having thought about it, I realized that my routine last night was way off of what it normally was. Rather than focusing on one task, I seemed to be doing three or four at once and because I don’t use a checklist when preparing lunches and other tasks in the evening, I clearly went off the page.
And I can’t stand Red Bull when it is room temperature, so I was a little bit grouchy until I got into the office this morning.
Being a science fiction writer and (senior) application developer means spending my nights writing stories and my days writing code. It recently occurred to me there are some similarities between the two activities which I will now delineate for you in this conveniently accessible list:
- Gathering requirements = Outlining. Pretty self-explanatory.
- Naming variables = Naming characters. I’m sure many of my writer friends have included Tuckerisms in their stories, but how many of you have been Tuckerized in code? And just like in writing code, you should avoid weird characters in your name. Names like J’ahl’ton are so 1940s.
- Code comments = Exposition. I try to do a decent job commenting my code, but my fellow coders are always telling me to “Show, don’t tell.”
- Working on a revision = Writing a draft. I am truly a geek. In my head, I number my drafts the same way I number my code revisions, using x.y.z notation.
- Quality assurance testing = Proofreading. Although, it would be nice to have some kind of universal test plan to work off of for each story you wrote.
- Debugging = Fixing plot problems. Somehow, my main character has entered an infinite loop.
- Developing/using an API = World-building. This may not be obvious to non-coders. An API is an application programming interface, a kind of library of functions of a particular type that can be used and reused again. Kind of like the background of your story. Especially if your story is fan-fic.
- Compiling code = Preparing the manuscript. Some people might see this as submitting the manuscript, but for me when I compile, I’m just looking to see the end product. Thank goodness there is no need for make in fiction-writing.
- Exceptions = Rejections. Well, a rejection from the compiler as opposed to the editor. But still.
- Listening to users complain = Reading reviews. File in /dev/null.
Here is a rather funny video Kelly sent me this morning. Having lived in L.A. for nearly 20 years I can attest first hand that this is 100 percent true. Although why someone would order “Grilled Cheese Animal Style” from In-n-Out is beyond me. Double-Double all the way!
I’ve now been reading e-books for more than 2-1/2 years. For the 37 years prior to that, I read paper books exclusively. For a while now, I’ve been meaning to compare the two forms of book in some reasonable and understandable way, but I was hard pressed to come up with a format for such a comparison. Then it dawned on me: use cases!
By day, I am a software developer and creating use cases is an important part of the construction and testing process. A use case is used to describe a real-world use of how the product in question might be used. So I came up with a number of use cases for e-books to see how they compare with traditional books. 10 of these use cases demonstrate (I think) how e-books are superior to traditional books. The remaining use cases demonstrate areas in which traditional books still have an edge over e-books.
My e-book reader, for the purposes of this exercise is my iPad 2, using the Kindle App for iPad. I’m sure I didn’t capture every possible use case, but these are the ones I seem to deal with most frequently.
1. Finding a book on the bookshelf
Depending on how many books you have, and how organized you are, this can be a fairly daunting task for traditional books. Here is an picture of me illustrating the use case by searching for a book on my shelves:
I used to have my books organized alphabetically by author, and then chronologically within the author. That fell by the wayside the last time I moved. While they are arranged alphabetically by author, they are completely random within a given author. That may not sound like trouble, but for someone who has several hundred Isaac Asimov books, for instance, it can make any one book tricky to find.
A few days ago I wrote about how my wonderful in-laws hooked me on eggnog. Since then, I’ve checked the local grocery stores almost daily for the possibility that one of them will magically receive a late shipment. But no luck, and I figured the season had passed.
And then, out of the blue, I received an email from my in-laws moments ago with the subject line “Jealous?” It contained the following photo, presumably from their local grocery store:
Who in their right mind needs that much eggnog on January 5th? You know it’s just going to sit on the store shelf and go bad? So why not ship it somewhere more useful, like my local grocery store. I would work closely with my local liquor store to see that it went to good use.
I wrote something earlier in the week to which my friend Lisa commented: “Is this essay going to be part of your application to replace Andy Rooney?” Well, no that one wasn’t, Lisa, but your comment gave me inspiration and because of it, I present this:
Jamie Todd Rubin: On Straws
There was a time when a straw came easily out of its wrapper. You simply jolted it against a flat surface a time or two and the end of the straw would pierce through the wrapping, making it easy to extract the straw and move on to more important things. Like using it to drink.
I miss those times. These days, it seems, whenever I get a straw it takes more effort to get the straw out the wrapper than it should. Jolting it a few times on the counter top does nothing. The paper in which the straw is wrapped is stronger these days. Instinctively, this forces you to wrap it harder on the counter. Bad move. This often results in bending the straw somewhere in the middle. The bend causes a slight tear in the straw itself, so that when you do finally extract it from its encasement, you find it difficult to suck through because there is no longer a complete vacuum. The tear in the straw means you are drawing in air as well as your liquid. This results in a kind of gurling, slurping noise when you try to take in your beverage, not the normally smooth solid pull you get from an undamaged straw.
I don’t know why the paper used for wrapping straws has grown stronger over the years. I suspect it is a response to the hypochondriacs among us worried about their straw being contaminated by germs. It’s funny because you never hear those hypochondriacs complaining about the inside of the cups. The cups with which our beverages are filled are not wrapped in plastic. They sit in dispensers, one cup stacked in another. I can’t imagine they are nearly as hygienic as our straws. Someone in a straw factory realized one day that you could use stronger paper to make a straw wrapper for the same price and it was seen as an improvement. I have a hard time imagining the idea being tested. Can you imagine a room full of people representing a cross-section of the straw-using community, trying to extract straws from wrappers of different strengths? I can’t either.
Maybe this would all be easier if we had reusable straws, the way that we have Tupperware, or reusable coffee mugs. If we carried our own reusable straw around with us, there would be no need to fight a battle with a straw wrapper. It might even be good for the environment. Of course, then we’d have to spend time washing our straws. The thought of how disgusting the inside of my straw might ultimately become really turns off the hypochondriac in me.