Half-Finished Blog Posts & Other Miscellany

One of the annoying things about the “young and educated” is that these people often have two particular traits - a lot of ambition, and the potential to do almost anything. The problem, I find, with this is that it often leads to the desire to do everything (at least once). Whether it’s rolling your own implementation of Hashtable, or creating your own WordPress theme from scratch, to writing blog posts and articles on every topic imaginable or redesigning the user interface for your bank’s online banking system. But with so many ideas, how will you ever manage to implement any of them? One technique that works really well is to just sit down with a pen and paper and to do your given task as quickly as possible. This is so you don’t forget the little quirks in your implementation/writing/design between when you start writing and when you finished. (And I do literally mean a physical pen and white paper. I personally prefer writing on unlined copy paper, but your preference may vary. I find it’s way too distracting to work at a computer, and yet my future career choice involves doing this very thing.) With any luck, after a fortnight or three, your masterpiece will be done and you can unleash it on the world. For short tasks (say, a mathNEWS article), this works great - you can get away with breaking almost all of the rules and life is good. For larger things, unfortunately, you’ll need to start following conventions if you wish you avoid becoming unnecessarily crazy as your pet project progresses, or, indeed, if you wish to finish your project at all. This might be as simple as setting yourself a deadline (NaNoWriMo.org is a good example of this), or writing comments for “yourself in three weeks”. At times, more elaborate schemes, such as project plans or (*gasp*) structured essay-style writing are necessary. Whether your master plan is to to dominate the world or to provide a safe online environment where autistic kids can learn to communicate with the outside world, for your young mind, the idea of “convention, convention, convention” may be sheer absurdity. Conventions mean following the crowd like sheep, and this goes against the entire bane of your existence. If you’re lucky, one day you might see the benefits and pitfalls of convention - how conventions allow the rest of the world to understand what it is that you’re trying to accomplish, and how conventions also free up your mind to think about really important dilemmas, like deciding whether or not your project is actually finished. How do you go about deciding when your project is actually finished, anyway? There’s the traditional open-source model of release early and release often - your project is never truly finished and early adopters will see all the rough edges in your work. On the other hand, you might be like the stereotypical artistic mastermind: “it’ll be done when it’s done.” (Even if that means that your pet project never sees the light of day.) For most fairly large projects, you’ll want to find some middle ground between these two extremes - giving yourself enough time to work out the major kinks without losing too many (potential but impatient) users, readers, or minions to competitors that actually unleash their the latest and greatest creation upon the world. It’s a fine line, and the criteria for release vary from project to project and from day to day. You’ll need to figure this one out for yourself, unfortunately. Finally, for any fairly sizable project, you’ll need to collaborate with others. At least, you will if you ever hope to profit from your creation before desktop computers go the way of the Ford Model T and Sam the Record Man. Yes, this means the oh-so-dreaded group project. Suddenly, you have amateurs mucking about in your code, adding misfeatures and generally detracting from your master plan. You need to develop project plans and specifications and keep those specifications up to date with every code change. Perhaps, even, you’ll need to work with non-technical people. Whether it’s the double-degree Design student from Sheridan or the business student from Schulich, or the Physics kid from Waterloo who remembers Hooke’s Law just a bit better than you do. These are the obvious examples, too. It takes an open mind and a bit of cleverness to see the skills and potential present in people like the girl in Applied Health Sciences who spends all day on Twitter and making avatars for LiveJournal, or the popular kid from high school, (who, to this day, only talks to you when nobody else is watching) or the accounting kid that all your friends tease and “abuse” because she’s short. As time goes on, soon you’ll find you know more and more about less and less. Specialization is part of growing up in today’s world. (It also makes us dependent on others, but that’s a whole other article.) Advertisers have recognized the need to start profiling individual consumers, so that they can provide targeted advertisements relevant to ideas you already have stuck in your head - whether it’s time to buy a new computer or a new house, time to switch banks, or time to figure out what graduate school program you want to apply for. The organizations who don’t do these evil things will protect our “privacy”, sure, but they will eventually go out of business when their special offers and surveys end up in the Junk E-mail folder on our computers. Likewise, you, the brilliant mastermind you are, will need to recognize the individual strengths of people around you if you are going to succeed in taking over the world. Otherwise, you’ll just become another cog - another rat in the great rat race known as life. Which isn’t so bad, really… or so I’ve been told. If I waited to find out myself, this article would have sat half-finished for at least 40 more years. chbllhbc

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