Getting Physical

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“I love software,” my friend used to say, “But it’s soooo dehumanizing!” Perched 18 feet in the air atop a scissors lift the other day — I resisted the urge to shout, “I’m the king of the world!” — it occurred to me that variety in work not only makes work more enjoyable, it’s essential . . . especially, something physical to contrast and complement time spent at the computer.

Now, I’m not even a developer — most of my work on our social-networking app was wireframing and flowcharting with Adobe CS tools . . . when I wasn’t writing user agreements, business plans, and corporate docs. Still, I remember euphoric moments solving a UX problem, then excitedly assembling dozens of wireframes until 3am. World blocked out, mind starting to numb up, clicking command-O or command-shift-S and forgetting what it was I wanted to do. I can only imagine what it would be like to find oneself having similar brain-farts deep in the weeds of multiply nested subroutines. No wonder coders get cranky!
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But my hacker friend gets physical breaks. A lot of his code gets programmed into chips, so he’ll be at the “˜bench’ some days, sticking parts into sockets, occasionally breadboarding things up, soldering.

(An EE and inveterate tinkerer, I love the smell of rosin-core solder in the morning. If I weren’t so afraid of the time-sink it would become, I’d so join HacDC. Have you seen the creativity springing forth around Arduino microcontrollers in the pages of Make? Btw, it’s a bit late, but the kits make great stocking-stuffers!)arduino-serb1

There’s a lot to be said about mixing it up. Adobe actually instituted a program to get their programmers away from the screen for a few days at a time working on physical projects — soldering, even — to refresh weary neurons and foment new thinking. I love the ‘real photoshop’ photo above (hat-tip, Keith Casey). I imagined whoever built it was staring at the interface with bloodshot eyes, got the brilliant idea, and stayed up all night gathering the ingredients, cutting and folding cardboard, and lastly whipping out the camera for the glorious shot. (Turns out, it was actually some agency work — but we’ve all had these moments, when we jump out of our genres, driven by inspiration.

We humans need that variety. Even when we’re doing something we really, really enjoy, it goes stale. Few writers just write. Workout routines become drudgery without variety. Even eating, veritable survival, gets uninteresting when day after day, it’s same-old, same-old.

Which is why I was having the time of my life (well, a good day at work) on a scissors lift, checking out the HVAC in our warehouse space. We build next-generation components . . . but right now I’m supervising the buildout of a clean-room area where some macho processing equipment will be housed. I really enjoyed surfing the web for a used 408V to 380V transformer (50kVA, three-phase, of course). Anyone got one?

My Illustrator skills came in handy, doing electrical, plumbing, and other floorplan drawings. And after unloading boxes of ceiling tiles and HEPA filters arriving from trucks, it’s really comforting to return to the computer. (Even to update my Project file . . . or Sharepoint — I will not let it beat me!) And vice-versa.

One programming friend builds boats. Another does stand-up comedy. Many are great cooks. Tell me: what do you do to mix it up? (Drinking doesn’t count!)