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Dr. Dr. Curiosity

Today I finally got official paperwork saying this:

I am pleased to advise that the examiners of your Doctoral thesis have reported favourably and you have now qualified for the award of PhD. If you have any questions with regard to the examiner reports, please contact your Postgraduate Coordinator or Supervisor.

We have deposited your thesis into the UC library repository where it will be accessible online. Please note that if you have an embargo in place the thesis will not be accessible until the embargo has ended.

You are now eligible to graduate.
It was delayed a bit because the first time they sent it to me, it had a 500MB scanned and annotated reviewer copy attached, which my email system promptly rejected. So even at the tail end of proceedings, I'm still an edge case. Very on-brand.

In April I get to don a floppy hat and visit the Town Hall, but for all other intents and purposes I am now officially Done.
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[Originally posted on Dreamwidth a few days ago, but LJ crossposting is apparently b0rked right now.]

So, I think at long last I've finally finished my PhD thesis for good.

It's taken far too long, between work and health problems and the stress of looking after other people going through tough times as well. But it was sent in to the Postgrad Office yesterday, and once they're back from the Christmas/New Years break they'll process it, and send it on to the library.

I'm now at that point of trying to work out what to do with the thesis-shaped hole in my life, and remember just what used to go there. I'm sure I had a social life once, and hobbies. This close to the holidays is hard because I'd usually at least be doing something with family but Dad's busy this year and everyone else is out of town, and no one else I know seems to have anything open invite this year. I guess it's time to fill the quiet with music and computer games.

The secret, as always, is to unwind without completely unravelling.
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Catching up is hard to do

I spent some time today catching up with someone who I went to primary and intermediate school with. Neither of us fit in especially well, and in a time of "boys will be boys, they get into fights" we both paid a heavy price for that.

Our lives took some pretty radically different paths in the intervening years. Most of our conversation tonight was about a wide variety of other things, from experimental music to Weimar Germany to jail time in Korea to life on a farm, but that common past we shared was touched on...

"You helped me to survive school."

Hearing someone tell me this, even after so many years, is affecting me more profoundly that I can really say right now.

It also makes me miss Rowan, my neighbour and closest friend for a lot of my early years. His family moved away from our neighbourhood around the end of primary school, and we lost touch. From the days of the worldwide web and later social media, the only thing I was ever able to find about him was old genealogical records. I can't say for sure, but I get a strong feeling that he didn't make it. He planned to study to become an archaeologist. I think he would have been quite good at it.
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Thoughts about "playing the Devil's Advocate"

This phrase came up again in conversation with a particular friend of mine, so I took the time to try to clarify an issue I see with this kind of "play" in the discourse of the Internet Shouting Factories.

The original principle of the historical role of Devil's Advocate was that extraordinary claims require extraordinary scrutiny, and thus must pass an ordeal of extraordinary challenge to be accepted. Sometimes, that is not the best frame for a conversation to have.

Not every discussion needs to be combative, nor treated as though it's all within the frame of some kind of reductionist ideological football match, where everyone's wearing team colours and pushing each other around for yardage.

As I get older, I'm increasingly not interested in pouring my energy into fighting for the sake of fighting and scoring points. It's nice for in-group cohesion and social performance of values and all, but it doesn't tend to do much to convince anyone of anything.

We can try to build things, too - but that requires more care and more collaborative action, rather than just hammering away at anything that looks nail-like and declaring a victory when it lowers its head.
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(no subject)

Today, I had more than a few frustrating things happen in various places. Six months ago, a year ago, five or ten years ago, it probably would have been a Most Terrible Day.

Today, a couple of good things have happened too. Not incredibly special or momentous, but just a couple of positive points. So now it's really not that bad a day at all.

I don't know how much of this is maturity and how much is recovery, but all in all it feels like strong progress is being made.
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Guess Who's Coming to Bespin

this scene is so sad. vader made a nice meal for everyone and han solo just starts shooting like a dickhead
  -- @jester174

G: "Lando opens the door. The room contains a table, set for a lavish banquet. As you enter, who should stand from the head of the table but Darth Vader, raising his hand in--"
C: "Hey, Lando's my old character! He can't betray us to the bad--"
H: "We're not entering the room. I quickdraw my blaster pistol and shoot him."
G: "...GodDAMNIT, Harrison! Again? I'm trying to advance the plot here. And Carrie, Lando's an NPC now. Vader begins to speak..."
H: "Yep, and I'm definitely beginning to shoot him, George." *rolls*
G: "19? seriously?! *sighs deeply* Okay, okay. Darth Vader uses his, uh, magic Jedi powers to deflect the blaster bolt with his hand."
M: "Hey, no fair! How come he can do it with his hand? Doesn't he need to draw his lightsaber first?"
G: "Well... because his hand is made out of metal, okay?"
M: *eyes widen as he furiously scribbles a note on his character sheet*
G: "Vader uses ~The Force~ to take the blaster, and says `We would be honoured if you would join us.' And who should step out but your old bounty hunter nemesis... Boba Fett! Also now there are Stormtroopers behind you."
H: "...I hate you, George. Screw your magic space knights and plot dumping - next time we're playing my Nazi-punching campaign!"
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Software, projects, and teams.

Discussions elsewhere about this article on scrum methodology for software projects prompted me to have many reckons about doing these things right. So let's put them here, too.

I'm not sure I've ever seen a functional team doing "pure" scrum. Heck, even "pure" agile. I think it's probably best treated as a first step, rather than a fully-realised development methodology. Indeed, a lot of the pain points seem to come in when people try to treat it a the fully-realised development methodology that it simply isn't.

A good development framework is strong but flexible. It scaffolds the thing you're building, and doesn't get in the way of it. Too brittle, it splinters. Too heavy, it collapses under its own weight. Too little attention to structural integrity, and it can't hold together. In each of those cases, the project - and the workers - come crashing down in a screaming heap.

Furthermore: effective processes for building a Thing are different from the effective processes for building a Team. If you're relying on a project management tool to do the heavy lifting for the team's leadership needs, you're a damned fool and your project is probably damned too. Management and leadership are complementary and non-interchangeable skillsets. They don't always need to be concentrated in the same people, but they need to be present and actively engaged.

Scrum does put a lot of emphasis on having a product owner and them being responsible for triaging the things that are valuable to work on next. This is useful, but only to a point. When you have a team full of technical professionals, accomplished in the art and science of their jobs, you have a wealth of domain knowledge that can and should be part of the equation for determining what "valuable" means.

It is vital, for both technical and human morale reasons, to treat your professionals as professionals - and this means involving them in the whats and whys of the project, not just the hows and how-longs. It means developing Will to go with the Skill, both as individuals and as teams.

The movement of information and flow of decision cannot just be a top-down "push" process. The people doing the work need to be enabled - and supported - in pushing back when they see a product owner's priorities are out of whack. If there's a good chance your wheels might fall off at speed, you should fix that first no matter how much your product owner really wants a supercharger installed. This is a common agile failure mode, and something you should protect against in your contracts / statement of work. A customer who can't or won't understand the basic principles of quality assurance and risk mitigation is probably one you should be walking away from. Before they take you down with them.

(This post inspired in various parts by the works of Lev Vygotsky, Abraham Maslow, Col. D.M. Malone and Mike Monteiro.)
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Early morning thoughts about needs.

Since submitting my PhD thesis, I've been giving my body time to get various of its equilibria back. Muscles unclenching, tracts tracting, and sleep patterns starting to pattern again.

Around 4a.m., prompted by a Big Think article posted over on the Book of the Face, I found myself having thoughts about pyramidal models. Posted to the Twitters at the time, but I'll keep it here for posterity.
How about, instead of treating Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as a mountain that people have to climb from level to level, you treat it more like a healthy food pyramid?

Satisfy all of the needs in balanced proportion with each other, to maintain your healthy balance as a person.

Worth considering also: when some of your needs aren't being met, and you have no ready means of meeting them, then you look for more of other needs to fill the gap - to make you feel full, even if it's not the best option for your health.

A poverty across any needs can have a lasting effect on someone's psychological wellbeing. On their morale, their self-efficacy, their ability to live a better life.

It is at its most stark and obvious among those who lack in those "eat most" needs like food, health and security, but those are not the only deficits that can have a crippling effect on people.

Those large basic needs should certainly get triaged first in emergencies, but if the support is only limited to keeping people alive at a subsistence level, you could still end up with the psychological equivalent of malnutrition if the "eat less" needs are not fulfilled at all.

Long term, people need sufficient energy to grow, pathways to grow along, and a good balance of all of those psychological trace elements to keep them healthy, and keep them going.

Thinking that starving someone will encourage their growth is perverse.