Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Term Every Programmer Should Know: Blue Baby

One of the most critical skills a programmer can have is the ability to create a blue baby.

I've been saying this for years, but I don't think my fellow engineers understand me. Let me try to explain.

In the 2004 film, Something the Lord Made, two colleagues are pioneering a crazy idea that the heart can operated on successfully. Much of the movie is devoted to them working to save the lives of "blue babies" which are babies who's skin is literally blue due to lack of oxygen in the blood.

Their biggest challenge and much of the movie is devoted to reproducing the problem. Dr. Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas spend 13 years together, working to create the blue baby syndrome as a reproducible symptom in dogs.

Thirteen years.

They understood the importance of creating a blue baby.

Without the ability to create the exact same symptoms in an environment they controlled, they never would have had a breakthrough. More babies would have died and it may have been years before someone else was daring enough to attempt open heart surgery.

Every day, our worlds are being shaped and defined by the software we use. Companies and families rely on software and when it's broken, really bad things can happen. When it comes to software development, these same ideas are true. If there's a problem, you have to be able to reproduce it in a consistent, controllable way.

If you're a software engineer, you should be serious about your ability to create a blue baby. How creative and thorough are you when it comes to diagnosing, understanding, and reproducing a software problem? That's where the real skill and experience lie. Once the problem can be consistently reproduced, a few print statements later will often reveal a solution.

I think this idea of a "blue baby" in software development is critical (and this movie portrays it so well). I'm hoping my fellow developers will start using this term along with me. If your colleagues give you a sideways look as you yell, "Eureka! We've got a blue baby!", go ahead and send them this post.

Blue Baby: A term in software development referring to a bug that can be reproduced at will in a controlled environment. 

Your work may not be as important as open-heart surgery, but hopefully it doesn't take you 13 years to reproduce an important bug. What you do matters so fixing it matters too.

As a developer, what do you think? Is this term worthy to enter the lore of tech-speak such as bikeshedding, dogfooding, or rubberducking? (Cal Evans has a great post about the Software Development DSL you might also enjoy)

If you think so, share it with your communities. I'd also love your thoughts on this idea in the comments.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

When Was the Last Time You Saw a Master?

When was the last time you saw a master at work in his craft? For me, it was last Thursday and his name is Marco.

Marco was born in Italy and now lives in Costa Rica. Though he's been spearfishing his whole life, he told me he's been at it for "20 or so" years. On the way out to his boat, he offhandedly mentions he's "won some competitions and stuff" when I pry for more details.

Only later out in the water do I realize how much of a master he is.

Marco is an amazing hunter. He wears a camouflage suit, dives down 45-60+ feet like it's nothing, and stays down there forever. He can easily dive much further. That's just how far I saw him dive on Thursday.

Every movement of his fins, his head, or his eyes is as fluid as the water he's in. He's a Michelangelo in the water with a spear gun for a paint brush.

We stayed out there for hours. I worked so hard and was desperate to catch something.


Throughout the day, I swam deeper on a single breath than I have in my entire life and still came up with nothing. At one point I may have even prayed for God to bring a fish in front of me to shoot.

And still I caught nothing. My sinuses still hurt two days later from the pressure of the mask against my face and the equalizing I wasn't doing quickly enough.

Marco caught a ton. I think he caught 8 or so, but I lost count because our driver was constantly making fillets so there would be room enough in the buckets.

Many times I tried to copy his actions, but I never even saw the fish he was getting. He would swim down so far I could barely see him, and the visibility was amazing. The man was a machine, staying down for what had to be minutes at a time.

At one point during the trip, I saw Marco educating our driver (a new guy Marco was trying out) on a better way to cut fillets. It was a flurry of Spanish, but I could tell he was being patient and specific.

He was teaching and training.

Back on shore, we rolled up to a restaurant in Brasilito where Marco had some friends. They agreed to cook up some of the fish he just caught, and we had an amazing lunch.

Marco's English is fairly good and my Spanish sucks, but is improving daily. As we stumbled through our vocabulary short-comings, he started explaining to me some things which may have given me more success. He talked about going down deep and then just stopping. Waiting. Sitting at the bottom and making slow movements with your head to look for the fish. He commented on the gun I was using and even mentioned a friend I could borrow from next time. He explained how important practice is and getting your lungs in shape.

Later I realized he was mentoring me. He was the master and I was the apprentice.

That used to be the normal way to transfer skills from one generation to the next. But how often do we see it today?

I've heard many of my entrepreneurial friends talk about the value of mentors. In a recent Entreleadership Podcast, Michael Hyatt said if he could tell the 10-years-ago version of himself one thing, it would be to hire a mentor much sooner. Most intelligent people understand we can't do great things completely on our own. We all need an outside view, someone with great experience and wisdom.

So why are they so hard to find? Why aren't there more Marcos in the world?

I think part of the answer is, they are there, we just don't know about them. They are busy honing and enjoying their craft. Marco fishes just about every day and he's often alone (though friends and tourists pay good money to join him). Mentors have to be sought out and, usually, they have to be paid.

I was shocked to hear how much some of my friends pay the mentors in their lives. It's an investment and from everyone I hear who has made it, a really good one.

So this is something I'm hoping to take more seriously. I need more mentors and I need to mentor others. I have a lot of peer groups that I'm extremely grateful for, but there's something about spending time with a master that simply can't be equaled.

Do you have mentors in your life? How did you find them?

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Strong Will is Better than No Will

Yesterday at Playa Danta
The other night, after Devon was fast asleep, I surveyed the evening's events like a commander prevailing over the battlefield. The struggles this night included not wanting to finish dinner or go to bed. The last few months with my 3-year-old have been challenging because he's a really great kid who has recently discovered an iron will.

I love my children deeply. Like most parents, I want the best for them which includes personalities others are drawn to. When my son throws a tantrum, it hurts on so many levels. I wonder if it's just a "phase" or if he's acting out because of some deeper need that isn't being met. At various times, I'm flooded with emotions including frustration, sadness, disbelief, embarrassment, concern, and desperation.

I've read plenty of books. I've tried all kinds of tactics.

Sometimes I just feel like a failure as a parent. I know unconditional love wins in the end and I've been encouraged by parents who assure me that I'm not alone. Honestly, my expectations are probably out of whack a bit too. Devon's attitude is usually awesome, full of smiles, hugs and kisses... I guess I just want him that way 24 hours a day.

I think parenting is about training and leading; teaching and encouraging. It's about patience, consistency, and persistence. It's also about praying.

So as I prayed that night and thought through what I might have done differently or how to approach the next skirmish, I was greatly encouraged by a simple thought:

A strong will is better than no will.

I'm so glad my son actually has a will! He has desires, expectations, and needs. He wants things out of life and isn't willing to just let life happen to him. A great peace came to me when I considered what it would be like if he had no will. If he was a pushover about everything. That, I think, would be of much greater concern.

Devon can be taught about consequences, good and bad decisions, and healthy authority (and the reasons for it). We're already seeing some great breakthroughs where he's evaluating options using his mind instead of shutting down via emotional overload.

But what if he had no will? How would I teach him to care?

This simple thought of encouragement reminded me also of how many people go through life without invoking their wills. They don't live life on purpose but instead just drift through it "getting by" until the day it's over.

That's a tragedy. Your life is too beautiful, unique and precious to just let it fade away. Your passions, desires and dreams are there for a purpose. Please don't ignore them.

A strong will isn't a bad thing. It's a gift. It can change the world.

As I hug my son and listen to him say, "I love you so, so, so, so much, Daddy," I can't help but think of Steve and Will NeSmith. Nine days ago, their world changed completely. A tweet from Steve reminded me to hug my kids and every time I think of Will, I do exactly that. Please pray for Will and the NeSmith family. Read the full story here:

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Father's Day Tribute

It's been almost five years since my parents passed away. In the summer of 2007, my mom's cancer returned after 6 years in remission and cut her life short. My father passed away unexpectedly a few months later due to a multitude of health issues, including a failed liver. Medication, stress, and mental challenges I'll never fully understand destroyed one of the greatest men I'll ever know. He raised a family with four kids, did his best to live his dreams, and somehow kept the same wife in the process. Though he battled his demons, many of which were truly out of his control, he was the father everyone wished they had.

George Stokes was a man who could literally do anything. When he had a dream, he went after it. Saving nickels and dimes for years, pinching every penny, he flew to London and purchased his dream cara '65 Jaguar XKE. He owned a bicycle shop and used to ride hills for 45 minutes during his lunch breaks. He loved working on cars and did everything from full engine rebuilds to complete paint jobs. He was a database architect before there was such a thing and came in as a heavy-hitter contractor at large corporations you've heard of. He was self-employed for as long as I knew him, and he always made time for us, even if that meant sitting on his lap in the home office while he explained a database design.

He believed anything was possible and raised me to think the same. He loved sailing, so he bought a boat (which we later lived on) and took trips to Catalina, Mexico, and Anacapa which included scuba diving, lobster, albacore, and some of the best fish I've ever eaten.

He loved to surf and built one of the first computer scoring systems ever to be used outdoors (certainly the first used at a beach). He eventually became the president of the Association of Surfing Professionals and travelled the world twice a year for their board meetings.

It's because of my dad that I enjoyed the surf at Playa Grande today, the day before Father's Day. The surf was good and thanks to my brother's board and generosity, I caught some fun waves. It was my father who taught me to surf.

As I took my three year old son into the water on my shoulders and heard him shouting with joy, I couldn't help but think of how my father must have done the same with me. I remember surfing for the first time with him when I was five years old. I can remember him taking me out in surf well over his head and being scared for my life.  Every perfect wave I've caught, every beautiful sunset I've seen out there in the water... I owe them all to him.

My father was an amazing man. It saddens me to think my kids will never know him and many only knew his last ten (troubled) years. I love my dad and more importantly, I know he deeply loved me.

The Bible calls us to honor our parents, but that's difficult to do when they are no longer with us.

Exodus 20:12
"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you."

I hope he was honored today as I surfed and played with his grandson in the waves of Costa Rica. I hope he smiled that full-of-life smile he had and told anyone around him that would listen, "That's my boy and that's my grandson."

I have great peace when it comes to my parents no longer being on this earth with us. I believe the experiences of life shape our character in ways few other things can. My loss brought me closer to God and to life. It has enabled me to encourage others through similar times.

Romans 8:28
"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

Sitting here in this paradise with my family, I can't help but think of my parents and how much I would have enjoyed sharing this with them.

If you have the opportunity, hug your dad a little longer tomorrow. Cherish the time you have together because it's so easy to take it for granted. Time runs together as just normal moments in life... Until one day those moments are gone, and you realize just how special they were.

If holidays are painful because you're still hurting through  missing the ones you love, give me a call or drop me an email. I won't have any answers, but sometimes it's helpful just to talk to someone who's been there and is trying to understand.

Happy Father's Day.

(My parents would have loved the view tonight off the back deck)

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Relationships Are What Matter

Right before we left on this grand adventure, I had the privilege of eating lunch with my friend Derek. I love hanging out with Derek because he's not only known my wife longer than I have, but he enjoys talking about things that really matter. We talked about philosophy, belief, purpose, destiny, and everything in between. One of the key topics was relationships.

Relationships are what matter.

Unfortunately, I often forget that in my day-to-day activities. I've got my plans, I'm doing my thing, and I'm making things happen. I keep up with my kids, my wife, my team members, and some friends, but ultimately, life is often preoccupied with what I think I'm supposed to be doing.

If you've followed this blog or my rants on Twitter/Facebook, you know I'm all about living life on purpose. I do believe we are created with purpose and, as my friend Derek put so well during our lunch, your purpose may not be what you originally thought or what someone else might convince you to believe. It might be as simple as building relationships.

You may lose your job, start two more companies, or move to another state, but what sticks with you are the relationships you build along the way. The people you know and the people you let into your world are some of the most valuable things in existence. They can't be bought, sold, faked, or imagined. True friendships are something so rare, so important, when you have them you should be shouting Sunkmanitu Tanka Owaci! from the ridge top.

We're only four days into 10 weeks abroad and already I'm thinking differently about the relationships and friendships I have and how very important they are to me. I'm also building new relationships out here, most notably with Chris, my brother's business partner and the half-owner of the house we're staying in.

This trip wouldn't be possible without relationships, all coming together to make something amazing happen. I'm so very blessed by the people I know. If you're reading this, please understand how much I love and cherish you.

The past few nights, as we've started to settle into a new normal here in Costa Rica, we haven't even thought about turning on the TV. Instead, we're investing in each other. Reading more stories to the kids or Corinne and I hanging out together and talking about life (like we did in the pool last night).

Relationships are what matter.

I'm already missing many of them. I see how I may have taken some for granted or how I didn't communicate often enough the value they have in my life.

Don't take your relationships for granted. This is your reminder, your wake up call. Stop the rat race for just a moment and think about the people in your life and how much they've blessed you. Let them know you appreciate them and look for opportunities to show it.

You never know, a relationship may lead to working in an office like the one I worked in yesterday. (My wife took this awesome picture.)

If this post encourages you, and you want to do something a little different about it, give a shout out in the comments to a relationship that matters to you and then send them this post. Maybe that's corny, but I don't care. I'm giving up the comments here if you want to do it. Tell someone today how glad you are to have them in your life. Tell them your story doesn't work without them.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Love Is Never a Bad Choice

At times like tonight, I don't feel like I have many parenting "answers." If often feels like a balancing act between pride, pure joy, discipline, training, manipulation, power struggles, frustrations, emotions, tantrums, rationality and irrationality with love fighting to lead throughout. I've read books, I've sought counsel, I've laughed, and I've cried. The greatest joy imaginable combined with the deepest frustrations and moments of hopelessness.

With two little ones now, we're constantly working to be better parents. We want to lead, teach, encourage and discipline as needed. Most days are good, some days are not. Since returning from my week-long trip to Chicago, my three year old son, Devon, has been acting up quite a bit more than normal. I've read before that some kids do this as a way to process their emotions after having a parent gone for so long. I think that's what happened here, and I've been doing my best to give him extra attention and love, even falling asleep next to him a night or two. After one of the toughest weeks of parenting we've had in a while, I thought things were looking up until tonight at dinner.

We had company over and Devon was yelling and banging the table in order to get attention among the conversation. This has become a habit we haven't been very successful at influencing him in, but this is one of the first times he's acted that way with company over. Tonight it culminated in him, without warning, throwing his glass right at me. The small mason jar actually hit me in the lip and split it. He's never done anything like that, and it was shocking. I took him to bed immediately, and of course he wasn't happy.

After our guests left, I thought he had already fallen asleep, but it turns out he hadn't. I went in and told him again how his behavior was unacceptable. As mad and as frustrated as I was, his hug and apology softened my heart. We prayed together and as I got up to leave the room, he started into another tantrum. After closing the door and looking at my wife, I was at a loss. I told her, "I don't know what else to do." Should I go back in there? Do I stand my ground and hope he learns a valuable lesson? I can still taste the blood on my lip.

I felt a still small voice whisper in my head, "You can always love."

Love is never a bad choice.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
For some reason, as a parent, I somehow get confused between loving and "giving in" or not being consistent or firm. I try to pick my battles and use "reason" to determine appropriate disciplinary responses. I'm trying to love my children so they will grow up to be well behaved and (hopefully) loving to others.

But is discipline the best way to teach love? Is one more timeout really going to make it stick?

I decided to open the door and go back in there, pick up my son, hug him, and lie down together until he fell asleep. He apologized again and I reassured him it was OK, I had already forgiven him. He was still emotional and upset about not finishing his dinner, but I was able to lovingly and firmly tell him his options were to lay down quietly with me or go back to his own bed (he still prefers his crib to the twin we have in his room).

He chose to be quiet, and we just laid there until he fell asleep, only talking quietly once or twice more.

I don't have many answers and often feel like I have none. But tonight, in the midst of my frustration and pain (both physically and emotionally), I may have learned one thing: Love is never a bad choice.

Lord, help me love like you do, even when we least deserve it. Help me teach love by demonstrating it. Let me trust you to draw my children closer to your Spirit.