Thursday, August 2, 2007

Random Ramblings

This blog post is going to be a bit of . . . well, quite literally, random rambling. I guess the title of the post should make this a dead giveaway, but I'm in a bit of a weird mood tonight so I'll just get to the topics I was thinking of.

I'll start off with music. My tastes in music are a bit eclectic in some respects, and usually downright unpopular. I was raised primarily on country and oldies. In the US this means late 80's and 90's country music, which isn't a whole lot different from pop, and music from the 50's and 60's that fit into pretty much any genre but country. My one older sister (I have two older sisters and no other siblings) has always liked music in general, and so growing up with her around I occasionally picked up on some other forms of music, including rock. I find myself now, at 25, to be a somewhat picky music lover. For example, I despise rap, although a few mainstream country songs that have introduced some rap elements fall within my range of acceptability. My usual fare (as is quite obvious from my profile) is country, although I branch out into Bon Jovi, Kelly Clarkson, and others. There's even a bit of Japanese music in there for good measure.

There's nothing specific that I look for in music to make me say I like it or I don't. I usually disagree with the majority of critics, although exceptions to the rule have happened. For example, the Dixie Chicks released an album called Taking the Long Way, their first album since being shunned from the music world following their criticism of President Bush (who I was stupid enough to vote for in 2000 as an 18-year-old first-time voter because I thought Gore was too stupid). Several critics loved the album, giving it very high praise. I too enjoyed the album. It had a pretty solid pissed-off tone throughout, while still covering a diverse range of stylistic influences and topics. Wow, I sound like a critic myself now. I need to stop that.

At the same time as I agree with some critics on select albums, I often disagree with critics and find myself quite liking albums that the critics have written off as pathetic. Essentially my musical taste runs the gamut from Neal McCoy's fun "Billy's Got His Beer Goggles On" to Sophie B. Hawkins' "The Darkest Childe", hitting numerous high points on the way, such as Massive Attack's "Teardrop" (House fans will recognize this as the theme song) and the entire body of Martina McBride's recordings.

The real point I am getting at here is that while I may gravitate towards some artists or styles, my taste is not limited to such. Even so, I've taken quite a bit of flak over it. Coworkers, codevelopers, etc.; you name the person, I've gotten remarks from them ranging from well-meaning jabs to acid-infused comments. I don't really care what people think of my musical tastes; I don't ask them to pay for the music I listen to, nor do I force them to endure it. It's my life, my money, and my ears. It's a legal practice, so I will use them in the way I see fit. I also won't take any crap from anyone over it.

With the music topic pretty much resolved to my satisfaction, I'll move to the other topic that I had in mind when I started this post--development fatigue. Every developer at some point reaches the point of being fatigued from the process. Every developer has his or her own breaking point, so there's obviously no sure-fire way to tell when this is going to happen. The important thing here is that we realize our limitations, push them at the appropriate times, and step back to take a breath when needed. The point of fatigue is the most important time at which to step back and breathe. If we don't stop at that point, burnout will follow soon. Stepping back before burnout happens and taking the needed rest and relaxation time away from the world of computers and code is an important step for both our mental health and our continued productivity as developers.

If a developer allows him/herself to burn out, it will likely take longer to "recover" from the burnout and return to productivity. If development projects are taken too personally, that burnout can also spill over into other aspects of life quite easily and cause a whole host of problems. Furthermore, once you've burned yourself out once, it's easier to do it again.

This all seems pretty obvious, right? Really it is; it just isn't a thought that occurs to us frequently. These are all pretty easy things to overlook. They're important, though, so we should try to be a bit more aware of them. When we're feeling particularly stressed over our projects, it's time to step back and go read a book or take a walk or something else relaxing. Maybe even do some manual labor like mowing the lawn or doing a home repair/improvement project. Or kick back, watch TV, and be lazy for a while. There's nothing wrong with any of these, most especially if it helps you take your mind off the problems for a while so you can come back later with a clearer head and attack from a different angle.

Several people have noticed the C Plugin HowTo that I've been writing on the Pidgin wiki. It's far from complete--I'm less than halfway through the libpurple part, and I intend to give a brief overview of writing UI-specific plugins for Finch and Pidgin. This project, though, is an exhausting one for me. It takes a lot of thought to write a how-to document that I'm willing to publish, with or without my name on it, and I'm trying to strike a balance between people who are starting out like myself, with a basic understanding of the C syntax and concepts, and those who have a firm grasp on it all but just need to see the structure of a plugin and how to interact with the libraries and application. For the most part I'm striking this balance by focusing solely on the former class--the ones who started like me. The latter class is generally intelligent and/or experienced enough to read the API documentation, use existing code as examples, and come away with the necessary understanding of what needs to be done. This isn't to say that the inexperienced or beginning plugin developer is stupid; it often takes a bit of orientation for these less experienced developers to be capable of finding their way through the plugin API.

Being an exhausting project, this how-to series has gotten me to the fatigue point more quickly than I expected. I realized this, however, and have taken the appropriate steps backwards to try to catch my breath. I'm still poking and prodding here and there, but so far the mini-vacation from wiki editing is proving to be a good thing, and I think I'm ready to start attacking the wiki again. I hope to pound out the Request API how-to, which will likely be the hardest one for me to write, this weekend. If it's not done by Monday, I will finish it the following weekend.

On an unrelated note, I'm messing around with CentOS 5 on a test server at work for use as replacements for our public DNS servers running older versions of the OS. The installer impressed me by having more granular package-level control, although I'm still having to go through and rip out a ton of crap that a public DNS-only server with ssh for the only allowed remote access has no need for. Once I have it pared back to bare minimums, the real fun starts.

Now I think I'll go to bed, since I have to be awake in two hours to go to work.