Getting to know who you are can help

Oscar Wilde may have said, “only the shallow know themselves”, but a little introspection can go a long way.

Kimberly Blessing recommends a book and online assessment called “StrengthsFinder” to put to language what your natural strengths and inclinations are so that you can better put them to use.

She mentions the Keirsey temperament sorter in relation to Strengths Finder and it’s an assessment I’ve taken a few times over the past ten or so years. I always end up in the Idealist camp, sometimes among the Champions, sometimes among the Teachers. Re-reading the description of the Idealist I’m actually taken aback at how close it maps to me, including what my values are and what stresses me out.

I’m looking forward to finishing reading StrengthsFinder (quarter of the way through) and taking the assessment, it will be fun and helpful.

: StrenghtsFinder indicated my top 5 strengths are: Connectedness, Input, Individualization, Activator, and Strategic. These make a lot of send an emphasize elements of the Keirsey identified Idealist in me. These strengths compliment each other nicely.

Being an Activator, being driven to make things happen, works well to balance out the Strategic strength, which is to anticipate and project ahead. You can actually see how these two strenghts can be in conflict with one another too.

Individualization, looking for the unique qualities in each person and finding a way to help people work together, assists with Connectedness, which is all about bridge building and seeing the larger picture, the meaning of things.

As for Input, well Richelle calls me Number 5 (from Short Circuit) 🙂

I’d bet that Adaptibility, Context and Learner were among my top 10, if there was access, I’d bet they were there.

I highly recommend taking StrenghtsFinder. Even if you don’t believe in this kinda thing, and think that who we are as people is far more fluid than these kinda things would suggest, I do believe a little introspection can go a long way.

I hate a song that…

“I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling.

I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built.

I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work.”

That’s Woody Guthrie on songwriting. You can hear Will Greer reading those words, plus a great set of original recordings from Guthrie and Lead Belly, on the Smithsonian Folkways collection, “Folkways: The Original Vision”.

On finding the time to learn

Zen and the Art of Programming: Antonio Cangiano, Software Engineer & Technical Evangelist at IBM: “The Pursuit of Excellence in Programming”

Related: “Becoming a better programmer takes exercise”

Derek Silves: “After 15 years of practice…”

Peter Norvig: “Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years”

On accepting love

The following John Perry Barlow piece is deep on a few levels. It works as both a criticism of our culture, and as a call to inspiration. It builds to a lesson I need to learn, and I know plenty of others who need to as well.

John Perry Barlow: “The Pursuit of Emptiness” (Also titled “The Pursuit of Happiness” in the page title!):

…I have found four qualities that I believe naturally enrich the ecology of joy. When I’m capable of sustaining them, they sustain me and continue to do so even in these strange days. They are: a sense of mission, the casual service of others, the solace of little delights, and finally, love for its own sake.

Having a sense of mission has served me extremely well, even better than I thought it would when I wrote Adult Principle Number 15 and bound myself to purpose rather than its by-product. Often I would have been hard-pressed to define mine and it has certainly taken on many different manifestations in the course of my careers, but I have taken a lot of happiness from a sense – often grandiose and sometimes illusory – that I am, by my various actions, helping create a future that will be more free, more tolerant, more open, and more just.

My primary ambition is to be a good ancestor, and though, by definition, I will never know if I’ve succeeded, I am pleased to believe that I’m giving it my best shot.

Connected to the happiness of mission is another joy that can no more be pursued than grace itself: the gift of creation. I’ve been blessed by the opportunity to let art pass through me on occasion. Whether songs, or essays, or interestingly designed haystacks, these manifestations of beauty, for which I take no more credit than the faucet should take for the water, have been wonderful gifts.

The sense that one has become the instrument of invention is so satisfying that I find it truly stupefying that anyone one would claim that artists are motivated to create primarily by the money they might get from such miracles. Not to say they shouldn’t be paid. Paying them provides them with more time and liberty to channel art. But it’s a rare artist who’s in it for the money. A real artist creates because he has no choice. He is pressed into the involuntary service of art, and thereby, humanity.

Which brings me to another solace cheaply available to all. Consider the joys of service. As a few leaders, ranging from Jimmy Carter to the Dalai Lama, demonstrate with their lives, we can become happy through the exercise of compassion. But following the training we receive in schools and workplaces, we have come to regard service as self-suppressing obligation rather than a self-fulfilling responsibility. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I think a related problem is that we tend to approach service the same way we approach exercise programs, in lunges and spasms of temporary idealism. We raise the initial bar too high. We fail to see that they also serve who, while not quite heading off to Calcutta to comfort dying lepers, merely treat the strangers miscellaneously at hand with a little humor and kindness. You don’t have to be Gandhi to be a good guy. There are few things that make me happier than successfully resisting the impulse to snarl at some idle transgressor and elevating myself into an actively benign stance. Such opportunities arise almost hourly. (Not that I always rise to them.) The habit of small kindnesses is immensely rewarding.

Which brings me to another under-appreciated fountain of happiness: the common little joys the universe leaves lying around for the truly casual observer. I think of something Kafka – that noted happiness-hound – wrote:

“It is not necessary that you leave the house. Remain at your table and listen. Do not even listen, only wait. Do not even wait, be wholly still and alone. The world will present itself to you for its unmasking, it can do no other, in ecstasy it will writhe at your feet.”

He is not talking about the pursuit of happiness. He’s not even talking, as one might easily and incorrectly conclude, about lying in wait for happiness. He’s talking about making oneself genuinely available to it. He is talking about opening one’s senses to the little delights – the sunsets, the lilac-scented breezes, the hilarious bartender jokes, the quick flash of anonymous smiles, the inside straights, the large purring cats, the click of stiletto heels, the popping of bubble-wrap, the liquid song of the meadowlark, the shrug of a New York cop – the granular texture of unsolicited joy.

There have been many hard times in my life – including the present – when I took refuge in reduced focus, comforting myself with the glorious filigree of immediate existence. Even a man facing a firing squad can appreciate the dawn that also arrays itself before him.

Finally, and always, there is love. By this, I don’t mean that economic bargain that often passes for love these days. I don’t mean that I will love you if you get good grades, or that I will love you if you’ll sleep with me, or that I will love you ifŠanything. I mean what I mean when I say, “I love you.” Period. Without expectation, condition, term limit, codicil, or obligation. To say that – and to mean it in that way – makes me happy.

What makes me happiest of all is when someone says “I love you” to me – meaning it as unconditionally as I intend to mean it – and I simply accept it. Learning to accept unconditional love has been the most demanding part of my education. It requires me to love myself as much as I am loved, which is not easy, since I like to pretend that my loathsome short-comings are invisible to all but me.

Still, when I love without goal and accept love without doubt, I am happy. In this, I am not pursuing happiness. I am becoming it.

Read the whole thing.

Three to inspire

While the three following stories are not related, each spoke to me this week. From growing up without a father and without decent male role models, to finding a path out of homelessness, to just trying to figure out what it means ‘to be’.. great stuff here:

R.O.O.T. Webzine: @SheIsAnarchy003: “I’m Not Sleeping: Compassion, Respect and Bono”

gapingvoid: @avflox: “”a child would not hesitate to pack up a sleeping bag and sleep on a pier under the stars with you”

YouTube: “Vignette from Project H.O.M.E.’s 20th Anniversary Gala (Employment)”:

“Life shows up, and this time I was there”

Online hero – Salman Khan

Starbulletin: “Khan’s tutorials display promise of broadband”.

PBS NewsHour: Math Wiz Takes Education to New Limits on YouTube


Khan Academy

What Teachers Make

YouTube: Taylor Mali on what teachers make:

via @alexknowshtml

What is software testing

We just concluded a lab week at CIM that was awesome. No other short way to put it. Read Jon’s post for the details.

For this lab week I worked with folks from QA exploring a tool (a MIT research project called “Sikuli”) for its applicability in functional testing. I’ll have a post sharing how well it went soon. We learned quite a bit, had a great exchange of experience across a departmental boundary, and now have an additional tool in the tool belt that we will be using in some cases.

I had an interesting mountain to climb to become familiar with the challenges faced in QA. What helped set the stage for me was a great Google Tech Talk by James Bach on becoming a Software Testing Expert. His video is really about becoming an expert in almost anything but the slide on “Perfect Testing” made me take pause (literally – I paused the video to consider the slide because it is so expansive and almost poetic):

Perfect testing is…

Testing is the infinite process

of comparing the invisible

to the ambiguous

so as to avoid the unthinkable

happening to the anonymous.

In other words, perfect testing is a challenge.

That’s quite a statement!

Bach goes on to fill in the picture around this statement. Watch the entire video for the context.

After taking part in this lab week, a lot of what James Bach said in this presentation has sunk in further.

I had thought I was empathetic to the work that is encompassed in software testing. What I found out was I wasn’t even close, and this experience has left me a bit humbled and inspired.

A quote from David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech

WSJ: David Foster Wallace on Life and Work: Adapted from a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College.:

…the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.