The Open Road

March 15, 2013

In earlier posts I’ve agonized over wanting to know what the future holds yet having no control over it. I’ve been afraid of taking steps in case they lead in the wrong direction. I’ve also written that my job is writing software, and for the software to work I must pay attention to detail and control everything.

A friend at work sent me a link to a Walt Whitman poem, Song of the Open Road. She thought it might resonate with me. Here are two of the verses.

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.
From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.
I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.


It got me thinking and I realized that my work can teach me a lesson about life. I remembered the way that I write software.

Novelists write their books somewhere in the spectrum between two extremes. On one side are those who create a detailed outline of the book before starting to write. On the other end are those who have a vague idea of the story then just start writing, letting the story develop as the characters come to life.

Writing software is similar. Some software developers create a detailed design before they start writing any code. Others have an idea of what they are trying to accomplish then start writing, developing the design as they write the code.


I fall into this latter group. I have an idea of what the software should do, and an idea in my head of how I will structure the software. But I don’t have a full picture. I don’t do detailed design up front, but instead just start writing and figure out things as I write. Sometimes I go down the wrong path and backtrack, rewriting what I’ve already written.

The point is that I have no detailed plan, just a rough idea of where I am going and how to get there. The software unfolds in front of me.

I realized that if this is the way I do my job, indeed if it’s the only way I can do my job, why don’t I approach life the same way? Why insist that I approach life differently than the only way that works for me in my job? Why not relax into things, have a vague idea of the direction, and be ready to backtrack or change course if things aren’t working out?

Try something, see if it works, make corrections if it’s not working. But above all, not worry about getting it right first time. Just start down the open road.

Marissa Mayer and Motherhood

March 3, 2013

This post has nothing to do with my being indecisive. It’s more about the lack of integrity and good decision-making on the part of U.S. politicians.

You’ve probably read about Marissa Mayer’s decision to require all Yahoo employees to work on-site – no more of that wishy-washy working-at-home for her.

There have been many articles decrying or supporting her decision on the grounds of productivity, but I’m not going down that path.

To me the decision is symptomatic of the dysfunctional maternity system we have in the U.S. Read the rest of this entry »

Less Talk, More Do

February 22, 2013

After my last post, my daughter wrote to me:

“You should stop analyzing so much and start taking chances. Less talk more do!”


She’s completely right, but as I told her, I’m writing because it’s not yet time to take chances. Read the rest of this entry »

Taking a Chance

February 14, 2013

I want to know how things will work out. I want to make the right decisions. I want to control the outcome.

My job is one where I have to control the details. I write software, and everything has to work. I have to understand and manage all the details; I have to control things. But life is not like writing software. I can’t control it and sometimes have to surrender to it.


So I’m coming round to the thought that I need to just make some change, then see what flows from there. Something will always flow and I can but hope that it’s a good flow. Read the rest of this entry »

Surgery and Procrastination

February 11, 2013

I haven’t written a post in about 6 weeks because I had surgery on my shoulder. Having my arm in a sling made it difficult to type.

Then when I was able to type I procrastinated. I think this was partly because I was out of the rhythm of writing. It was also partly because surgery was rough on my body and I just didn’t feel like making the effort. So I procrastinated.

There is a wonderful dryly funny article on procrastination, Structured Procrastination, that I came across years ago on the web. Since then the writer, Stanford philosophy professor John Perry, has included the article in a short book, The Art of Procrastination. It’s only 92 small pages with fairly large type, which makes it easy to read in one sitting. It is also written in the same witty manner as the original article, which makes it well worth the price. Read the rest of this entry »

Adding some Structure

January 2, 2013

In my last post I talked about the need for structure. A good structure will make it possible to stay healthy and fit, to learn and be creative, to have community, and to have purpose. I’m thinking that developing some new habits and rituals will go a long way towards creating a reasonable structure for life.

Serendipitously I came across two wildly different solutions to creating habits, one at the level of flossing a single tooth, and the other at the level of writing a novel in 30 days. Read the rest of this entry »

A Need for Structure

December 30, 2012

Retiring scares me. I have the obvious fear of running out of money. I’m also afraid that I won’t know what to do with my time.

I’ve made lots of lists of all the things I could do. I’ve read other people’s lists. I don’t have time left to do all the things on these lists. So why am I afraid?

I think it’s because of a lack of structure. I flourish with constraints and flounder when unbounded.

Read the rest of this entry »

Creators or Consumers

December 28, 2012

I bought an iPad two months ago. I love the retina display, so crisp and clean. I love the way it works with its beautiful scrolling, flicking with a finger. I especially love the news aggregator apps. I can lose myself to Zite and Flipboard, flipping through and finding articles that intrigue me and suck me in.

Yet I also hate the iPad. It’s so easy to fill time by consuming. It might be reading articles. It might be trying new apps. It might be reading articles about new apps 🙂

Read the rest of this entry »

Social Security – When to Start Collecting?

December 23, 2012

Looking at the numbers in my previous post, the obvious question is: when should I start collecting Social Security?


The answer depends on how long I will live. I don’t know the answer to that but I can at least compare how long I need to live in order for one choice to be better than another. Let’s look at the numbers associated with making no money until I retire.

Read the rest of this entry »

Social Security Payments

December 13, 2012

I decided to look at see how much money I can expect from Social Security depending on when I quit work. The first thing to know is that you can start collecting Social Security when you are 62. However, if you wait till your official retirement age (66 for me) you get more per month. And if you wait till you are 70, you get still more.

Social Security Card

One obvious calculation is to know how long you will live then figure out whether to start collecting at 62, 66, or 70. Not knowing how long I’ll live, I did a different calculation (1).

Read the rest of this entry »