Monthly Archives: November 2009

Speed Chess

Is typing speed a factor in programmer productivity? Would you improve at chess if you moved the pieces faster?

Jason Gorman, who appears to be a relatively reflective programmer based on his blog and his twitter, tweeted this comment about chess a few days ago.

A bunch of people I follow ReTweeted, and it caught my attention because I used to think this way, both about chess and programming.

Now I don’t claim to be the greatest at either activity, but I’ve put some time and I have enough ability to claim to be above average at both. (Which is to say, I’m aware of my relative mediocrity when compared with real masters)

I’ve played chess off and on for years. I learned to play when I was quite young and I could usually beat other casual players quite easily. After losing to rated tournament players, I spent some time studying the game.

For a long time, I thought the best way to learn was to methodically look for the best move and I thought playing blitz games was somewhat degenerate. Luckily, someone convinced me to start playing blitz games regularly, and that accelerated my understanding of the game considerably.

I still play better when I take the time to be methodical, but that’s not the same thing as learning. I think the blitz games accelerated my learning for two reasons, first, because playing at that speed put that many more games, positions and patterns in front of me and two, because I didn’t attach as much ego to the games I experimented more, which led to that many more positions.

I do think there is a point of diminished returns to just move the pieces faster, and improvement is predicated on some reflection, but I will contend unequivocally that, unless you are a master, you will improve at chess if you spend a considerable portion of your playing time moving the pieces faster.

The same applies to code. You don’t need to type +100 words per minute, but if you can’t touch type at least 40-50 wpm, spend the 20 minutes a day for a month or so until you can. You will never regret it. (And I worked as a programmer for years before I could touch type.)

I would walk you through the arguments, but there is already a classic Yeggethon on the topic, which articulates all the positions I would and then some.

“Lose Your First 100 Games As Quickly As Possible”
–Proverb for Go Beginners


If you can’t be thankful for what you have, be thankful for what you have escaped.

The difference in so many things just comes down to perspective.

Is that glass half empty or is it half air?

I have so much to be thankful for, a beautiful intelligent wife, two amazing little boys, relatively good health and relatively abundant resources.

Yesterday, I decided to run a race and solicit donations for cancer research.

At the time, I just thought I would run because I wanted to and I’d try to get money for a good cause.

You can learn a lot about people when you ask them for money.

I spent much of the last year asking people for money. Buying or giving, people often have unique reasons and circumstances when they hand over their money.

I watched my sister die from cancer. I edited my goal for donations from $200 (the default) to $1000, because $200 just seemed like so little. Today I was pleasantly surprised by the donations I got and who I got them from.

Initially, I had planned to put a couple pictures of my sister up and write a little more about her, but then someone I respect got upset with that plan. In this persons perspective, doing that was disrespectful to my sister’s memory. I don’t share the same perspective, but this person did make a point that stuck. Which was that $1000 is relatively insignificant in the larger scheme of things.

Though choice and circumstance, I could easily donate $1000 and not sacrifice much. If I was willing to sacrifice for a cause, I could put $10,000 and cut back on a few things to make it work. $100,000 is out of the question for my little family, at least in the near future.

At the same time, my wife is a medical resident and I seem to be relatively adept at generating income and business ideas. If we really want to have an impact on this issue, the future is wide open. Stuff that matters… all in good time…

I want to clarify one detail, I watched my sister die from cancer.

She was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma with a primary tumor in the pericardium, which had already metastasized to her lungs when diagnosed. Through the process, she met several young people who were battling this form of cancer, and one by one, we saw them all wither. None that I know of lived through this.

At some point, my sister was in a coma and intubated. She came out of the coma, but we never got to hear her voice again. She struggled on and the doctors had basically cut her in half trying to remove the tumors. When it became clear that she was not going to make it much longer, she begged to go home.

The last few days, she laid in my mother’s living room with a machine breathing for her. She couldn’t speak, but she could communicate by mouthing words and making gestures. Even though she hadn’t been home for months, and there was no way to get her up the stairs to her room, she could still remember every detail and would make requests to be brought things.

Everything about her was perfect and beautiful except for her lungs which were decimated by tumors and treatments.

She became edematous and faded more and more from this world.

I held her hand when they unplugged the machines.

That was almost 10 year ago.

I am thankful that I had a sister. Her name was Ann Shafer.

One day, I hope to be in a position to honor her name with more than $1000 in donations.

I’m not asking anyone for money, but I do appreciate the support that giving symbolizes.

If you have abundance in your life, do stuff that matters with it.

If you don’t, be thankful for what you have and do what you can to cultivate and be a good steward.

turn the page

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.
–Dr. Seuss

I’m no longer part of Reductive Labs. While this development is not quite heart breaking, I am always sad to leave behind something that I care about, but I also understand and feel strongly that this will be better for everyone.

Since raising venture funding, Reductive Labs has been building an adept team. That team has a critical mass in Portland, OR. There are now eight people there and I am tied to Salt Lake City for the near future, and who knows where for the next few years. Staying aligned with everything that Reductive Labs was doing and needed was becoming more and more of a challenge.

Puppet is a great tool and organizations get a lot of value from it. There are some exciting Puppet developments underway which present unique challenges and opportunities for both the technology and the business. I will now watch them from afar.

My involvement with Reductive Labs has been a period of pronounced growth. I learn many lessons about business and technology, that would have been difficult to learn any other way. I thank Reductive Labs and Luke Kanies for sharing the opportunity.

For the next month or so, I’ll spend more time with my family (when I’m not at the climbing gym and getting massages) and sort through a couple ideas.

Part of me wants to continue pushing the Infrastructure Renaissance forward in some capacity, and part of me wants to build something awesome, and part of me wants to work on stuff that matters.

Maybe there is a good way to combine them all together…

There are a lot of interesting problems in the world… (to solve or cause)

Insurmountable opportunity…

What are you going to do next?

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