Illusory Follies Andrew Flanagan's Blog

13Feb/151

Dieting

Since just a few days after the New Year, I've been on a new diet. Thus far, it's been a success in the sort of way that I think all good diets should be:

  • I have been losing weight at a fairly consistent rate (about 2lbs per week on average)
  • My energy levels are the same or higher than before the diet started
  • I do not constantly crave or fantasize about food
  • I can feel and notice an increase in my stamina as I exercise

Some diets I've tried in the past have resulted in rapid weight loss (maybe 4-5lbs a week) but I was unable to stay on them consistently. It felt like like a type of torture and every day was horrible. I felt tired and weak, I constantly thought about food, and I just struggled every day. This was especially the case for the Atkin's diet. In one case (many years back), I was able to lose a substantial amount of weight over about 3 months, but the weight came back pretty quickly within a year.

So what is my diet? It doesn't exactly have a name. It incorporates elements of the Atkin's diet, some of the grain-free stuff, and intermittent fasting -- basically, whatever I've found works for me. Here are the basic rules:

  • Don't eat before 10am.
  • Don't eat after 2pm.
  • Minimize processed foods and sugars
  • Minimize wheat (and grains overall)
  • Mostly focus on protein -- no need to avoid fat from meat sources
  • Eat slowly and stop when I feel full
  • Eat meals, not snacks during this time (two small meals at say 10am and 1:45pm are fine, but avoid grazing)
  • Lots of water
  • Nothing with artificial sweeteners
  • Coffee, tea, other non-caloric drinks are fine outside of the "eating hours"

This is the basic set of rules. I do make a few adjustments to this core set of rules. The adjustments are really to cover social situations where diets make social interactions frustrating or awkward. Eating with family and friends is a wonderful and enjoyable social experience, and I don't think that a diet should force that part of our life to be radically altered.

  • No more than once a week, I can shift the times from 10am-2pm to 5pm-7pm provided I go to bed after 11pm.
  • I have diet break days (where really anything goes) once a month (on average). This allows me to participate in things like holiday celebrations and birthdays with the family.
  • Once a week, I allow myself a small amount of alcohol (whiskey, wine, cidar -- I try to stay away from beer) in the evening provided I go to bed after 11pm.

The social "adaptations" to this diet are not required, they're simply there to allow me to feel a little more human with other people. It's not as if I have to shift my schedule, or have a drink with friends, or even have a break day. In fact, I've found that on this diet, that I usually really restrain myself in these situations. It gives me the flexibility to not be the one guy who never has a glass of wine. But if I'm really not feeling like some, I can (and sometimes do) skip.

I've lost about 22lbs so far.

I previously had a number of issues related to diet:

  • Constant or increasing weight
  • Back pain almost every morning
  • Trouble sleeping at night (sometimes)
  • Lethargy in the afternoon/evenings
  • Symptoms like those of IBS

These are basically gone.

The one change in my habits is that I sometimes do take an afternoon nap. I sometimes do feel a little tired about an hour or two after eating my mid-day meal. Also, mentally, I feel that it's quite helpful to nap for 30 minutes to an hour each day.

This diet works for me. I am not saying that this diet will work for you. I believe that one of the main problems with diets in general is that human bodies are very different and it's difficult to find something that works particularly well for just YOU.

A quick note about the statement about grains. I'm not a "gluten-free" person, nor do I think all people ought or should avoid grains. However, from my own anecdotal evidence, it seems I do better without grains in general. Rice is the best for me -- I can handle that pretty well. Quinoa also seems OK. I mostly avoid corn, but I have it in small amounts sometimes. Wheat seems to cause the most trouble for me. But oddly, not in all forms. For example, tortillas seem fine in most cases. In general, it seems like the puffier the bread, the worse it is for me. Those sourdough loaves or the sandwich bread at Subway are the worst. It may be that I'm actually sensitive to a preservative or something related to yeast, but I'm not really sure.

I think it's a good idea to spend time learning about what works well for your body in particular -- not just reading books, but experimenting on yourself. What can you handle and what can't you handle? How do different types of foods make you feel? Reading books and doing research is good, but ultimately, it's about what works for you physically (so you can feel good) and what works mentally (so you can stay on your diet).

 

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12Feb/150

Self-Confidence

Self-confidence can be a great thing, so long as you are truly capable of those things that you are confident about.

Feeling good about your own abilities can be very powerful. And correspondingly, lack of self-esteem can be a real problem. We ought to be confident with others when we're dealing with things that we are experts on. If we are a successful business-person, we should feel confident about talking about how our business runs and how we got it to where it is.

Feeling as if our own opinion is intrinsically worth less than others is definitely an issue and I'm sure many people struggle with it. But I think that overall our culture struggles much more with misplaced self-confidence than with a self-esteem problem.

Children are often taught that their work is excellent, even when it's really not when compared to their peers. They are taught that they are incredibly smart, when they really aren't.

The word "excellent" should really mean something different than "good". If I have a good employee, I mean that he performs his duties well and does a good job. This does not make him excellent. Excellent implies that he truly stands out among employees as a particularly exceptional character.

In my company, as in many companies, we have annual performance reviews. During these reviews, our manager assigned a nProud!umber between 1 and 5 that indicates our performance for the year. I had one manager who consistently gave 4 and 5 ratings to all his staff. His explanation was that "we only hire the best and the brightest, and you all are exceptional employees". This really isn't the point of the evaluation. The point is to show which employee or employees from the larger set of all employees truly are exceptional. Most employees should probably be given a 3 rating -- the description next to this number indicates that an employee with a 3 rating "consistently performs his duties as assigned and meets deadlines" (or something to that effect). In reality, that describes most good workers. People that you want to stay with the company forever if possible and that are a delight to work with and spend time with.

To make everyone special is to make no one special. The point of lifting some people up as experts in their field, or people deserving of honor and reward, is because they truly outshine those around them.

But to take this back into the realm of self-confidence, I think that far too many people in the modern believe that they have amazing "skills" when really their skill is mediocre at best. Consider those who have written some code in their life. Programming has become a very common auxilliary task for many professions. People who work with computers in various fields find it useful to spend some time writing code of some sort to automate, or simplify, or reduce complexity in their ordinary jobs. This is great for them, but they are not experts in most cases.

I'm here to burst some bubbles. Spending a few hours, or a few days, or even a few weeks learning a new skill does not make you an expert. Furthermore, going to a university for an undergraduate degree, or even a graduate degree, does not make you an expert. Even spending years of your life exercising a skill does not make you an expert.

Let me explain what I mean by an analogy: Playing the piano is a lot of fun. Many people enjoy it and many people are even good at it. There are very few experts. I cannot simply become an expert because I practice each day or because I go to an expensive school or because I buy expensive pianos.

Becoming an expert at something is a combination of the effort that you put into a skill and the inherent talent that you possess for that skill.

Keep in mind, it's not enough to just spend time with something. Some people will never excel at something even if they are passionate about it. I've read books by authors who have written for over 40 years whose books are still drivel. I've seen construction work done by people with years of experience in a variety of contracting work that's still awful. I've seen software that's written by veterans of coding who had to punch out their code on ancient computer systems that's simply terrible.

I'd encourage the following:

  1. Don't expect people to respect you and your work because you were educated in a particular field. Having an MBA does not mean you know how to run a business.
  2. Don't think that because you work in an industry, you are therefore an expert in that industry. There are far too many people in jobs that they are lucky to have, and really aren't qualified for.
  3. Critique the praise you receive. Are they simply flattering you because you can do something for them? Are they ignorant of your actual skills? Simply because many people praise your abilities, does not mean that you are exceptionally good at what you do.

But, you might ask, what's the point of being all negative about your own abilities? Am I just being a killjoy that encourages morbid introspection and wants you to run yourself down professionally?

I think the best answer is that you cannot become an expert at something when you already believe you are one. We learn best from our failures. The smartest people I know are people who are painfully aware of many areas where they lack knowledge and ability. They actively pursue these areas and attempt to fill gaps where they know they are less than they can be. They become experts in part because of their own innate talent, but also because of their dogged determination.

So be humble. Never assume you are the smartest person in the room. Never talk down to others when they share an idea. Be ready to learn from anyone. Sure, there will be idiots that you interact with in life and people that rapidly show themselves to be ignorant of areas that you are very knowledgeable about. You certainly are smarter than some people. But if you start with the idea that you are very smart, very experienced, and very wise, you're very likely to get to no smarter, no more experienced, and no wiser through your interactions with others.

Also, it's just annoying.

14Nov/140

Stopping by the Medicine Cabinet on a Winter Night

“Whose Tylenol is this?” I say.

It isn't mine - ran out today

They will not care, nor even hear

I pop the top without delay

 

My hoarse throat’s longing for a beer

There’s still a ringing in my ear

And on my face, burning with heat

There streams an undesired tear

 

A chill runs from my head to feet

I scurry back to bed tout suite

The hot and oscillating sweep

Of bedside heater warms my sheet

 

I try to rest -- try counting sheep

But all I want to do is weep

And still the coughs keep me from sleep,

And still the coughs keep me from sleep.

 

22May/140

Top 10 Things We Should be Informed About

I saw some recent Quora posts about the "Top 10 things that we should be informed about". The responses were mostly depressing. There is some good content and information that could be gleaned from what was said, but most of it seemed either obvious or somewhat worthless.

Many of the items people mentioned sounded like the cryptic scribblings of a self-help guru:

  • Happiness is a conscious choice
  • Right here, right now. Mindfulness extends life infinitely
  • Self-awareness is the lubricant to all social friction
  • You both need and don't need other people

They were sometimes self-centered:

  • Know how to talk to rich people
  • If you cannot picture your life partner making you laugh 50 years from now, bail out

Some just seemed to be a sounding-board for chips on shoulders:

  • The best way to judge any religion or sect is to observe countries that it has dominated for at least a century
  • No matter what you do, you will never be able to fix your parent's problems
  • If you don’t get into university or if it’s just that you don’t want to go, don’t sweat it
  • Being Average is OK

Some lists were at least more focused on the conventional wisdom of the day and were trying to emphasize the importance of virtues of some sort at least in a humanistic framework:

  • Your health, not just now but in the future is critical. Take care of it.
  • Honesty, integrity, reliability, decency, kindness, and the like, should  become givens in your life where others can easily see them.
  • Understand the power of science

Here is my list. I realize that this list is somewhat arbitrary and could of course be different if I were to have written this 5 years ago, 5 years in the future or even next week:

  1. Seek wisdom, but understand that although knowledge is important, it is not the same as wisdom
  2. Do good, but realize that doing good does not make you or the world a better place by itself, but you should still do it
  3. Love people, but know that loving is not the same as agreeing with
  4. Pursue truth, but realize that although truth is objective, how one believes things to be true is interpreted individually
  5. Respect authority, but be willing to stand up to it when it is wrong
  6. Live for God's glory, but be aware that you will always be fighting the temptation to replace God with yourself
  7. Help others, but not because you ever expect them to help you
  8. Question your motives, but don't be paralyzed by your imperfections
  9. Defend the defenseless and stand up against injustice and evil, but realize that many who you join forces with are doing so for bad or selfish reasons
  10. Determining your own success should consider not just this life you live now but more importantly, eternity
21May/140

The Bunker [writing snippet]

“But where does it end?” Asked the child patiently. He was a young boy -- somewhere between 6 and 7 years old and still full of wonder and curiosity.

“What if I told you it went on and on for ever?” I said.

“Well -- nothing can go on and on forever… It has to have an end somewhere.”

“What about space?” I asked, “If you go in a spaceship away from the sun, will you eventually get to the edge of something?”

The boy rolled his eyes, “But that’s different… This is just a tunnel”.

“Well, it’s a long tunnel but if you must know Derek, it ends about 3 kilometers from here in another chamber  much like this one.” The room we were standing in now was quite large -- maybe 40 to 50 feet tall and a little wider. From where we stood, it basically looked as long as it was wide. One side of the room was an iron gate through which we had just entered, and the other side of the room tapered down into a vestibule and a long corridor shot off straight north of our present location. It was this passage that Derek was staring down now. And it was a bit strange. The dimensions were perfect. From where we stood, with our flashlights in hand, it was a perfectly straight line down the tunnel. The light only carried so far and limited how far we could see, but the effect of the perfectly square cut walls of the channel resulted in an effect that seemed too real to be real. I guessed it was because I was used to thinking of underground tunnels like this in terms of sewers or ancient catacombs -- functional structures and ones made with imperfect tools. But this was no sewer or catacomb. We were currently standing in a service entry to one of the most extensive bunker complexes in the world.

“How long is a kilometer?” Derek piped in, interrupting my thoughts.

“Well, it’s like a mile, but shorter.”

“Well if it’s like a mile, why not just say a mile?” asked the curious Derek.

“Mainly because the rest of the world has got used to using kilometers and is asking us why we don’t just use them”, I parried.

“Well, everyone knows how long a mile is”, he responded. “If I walked to school, I’d have to walk one and a half miles. A mile is long but you can walk that far if you need to.”

“The main reason, actually, is because the units are hard to work with.” Derek just looked at me blankly. “The units that we use for a mile are hard to convert to other units. Do you know how many feet make a mile?” I asked.

“A lot -- over 5,000 I think”

“Right -- it’s actually 5,280 feet in each mile. And there are 12 inches in each foot.” Those are hard numbers to work with. With kilometers, they measure it to be exactly 1,000 meters. And 1 meter is exactly 100 centimeters, and each centimeter is exactly 10 millimeters. It’s easy because everything is divisible by ten”. I was starting to feel a little pedantic.

“But why is it harder to remember 5,280 instead of 1,000? They’re both just numbers and they’re both pretty big. Why is it easier just because everything has a ten in it?” asked Derek.

“I don’t know -- I guess our brains just can handle it more easily. So for example, it’s harder to multiple 5,280 by 12 compared to multiplying 1,000 by 10.” I said, somewhat unsure I wanted to into detail of why multiplication by the radix of any numeral system was inherently easier. I wondered suddenly if the ancient Babylonians with their base 60 system or perhaps the Mayans with their base 20 system would feel uncomfortable trying to multiply 100 by 100. It sounded weird that they would. Stupid Babylonians. It’s there fault we’re still stuck with 360 degrees in a circle and 60 minutes in an hour.

“I guess that makes sense.” Derek said, jolting me back to the present, “But it doesn’t really help me because I still don’t really know what a kilometer is” he said, somewhat sadly.

“You and 300 million Americans.” I said, glumly.

Just to the left of the long corridor, on the concrete wall was a very large painted number indicating “27”. According to the map that I had been looking at all morning, that was good -- service entrance 27 was what we were trying to find and it had actually been fairly easy to get this far.

I was a little surprised by the lack of any sort of security features. There were no visible locks, or mechanisms to restrict entry, no electronics visible of any kind. The iron gate to enter had been shut, but it was held simply by a latch to prevent it from swinging in the wind and probably to keep debris and larger animals from getting in and making a mess. Everywhere I looked, all I saw visible was expertly finished concrete walls.

“Well we better get going. You lead the way Derek.”

Derek already had his flashlight at the ready and he eagerly moved forward toward the corridor. “Let’s do some exploring!” he said with a big goofy smile.

 

1Jan/140

How do we really enjoy?

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.

Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might,for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

-Ecclesiastes 9.7-10

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.

-Ecclesiastes 3.9-13

 

Good Drink

I don't take this to be instructions to live a hedonistic life. Nor do I typically like extracting only PART of the massive wisdom  found in Ecclesiastes and trying to make a one-sided point out of it. The whole book definitely has context and these excerpts certainly need to be taken in context.

However, I do sometimes feel that I struggle in one of two ways:

1) Angry, bitter, and frustrated, I fight to "keep the course" and do what I know to be right -- I take no time to enjoy, I just keep plugging along. I want to work hard but it's all about what I need to do.

2) I give up and turn to escapism and for at least certain periods of time, I have a real apathy towards God

Both are inappropriate responses. The goodness of God is great. Work and the satisfaction that comes from good work, building relationships, and enjoying the fruit of hard work is not something that we should feel guilty about basking in and enjoying. This is God's gift to man and it's following in the pattern of God -- he delights in his creation. And yet, we are also not to be turning away from our work or what we know to be right and short-circuit to the enjoyment of things that we didn't work for.

It's not about what we deserve, it's having the ability to recognize the gifts that we have been given by a loving Father (good work, loving family, adoring wife, skills to share with others, etc.) and truly enjoy them.

Here's to hoping that in 2014 I can apply these things in my life.

18Oct/130

GMO

Unclean

I have a modest proposal for the state legislature: I think we should pass a law that requires doctors to wear a little badge on their shirt that says "Unclean" if they fail to wash their hands at least 12 times per day. Washing your hands is good! It's almost free! And any doctor who doesn't comply with the law is obviously evil for failing to meet our arbitrary standards. Doctors will probably object to this because it's silly and also because any doctor who doesn't meet the requirement (regardless of their reason) will look really bad with an "Unclean" badge on their shirt, but that's not really important because after all they're evil (see above). It's our right to have doctors with clean hands!

4Jul/130

Polyphylla decemlineata

10 Lined June Beetle

Polyphylla decemlineata or the Ten-lined June beetle is an interesting little beetle. Patrick saw one of these at school (and later one at home in the backyard) and was intrigued. After digging around on the Internet and searching through quite a few varieties of beetles, we finally identified it. The one we saw did not appear to have such large antennae as some of these specimens (or perhaps they just weren't unfurled). Ours looked a bit more like the picture on the left.

These things can get kind of large for a beetle and apparently they make a hissing sound if disturbed (although we didn't try).

2Jul/130

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled thingsYellowstone in the morning For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings’
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers forth whose beauty is past change;
Praise Him.

Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins

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20Feb/130

I’m most creative when I’m not

 

My new keyboardMy typical work day is a mostly mental exercise. Most of my work falls into these categories:

  • Pushing or pulling ideas between various people ( normally we call these conversations but that's what it feels like)
  • Attempting to create abstractions of concrete examples
  • Attempting to make concrete examples of abstract ideas
  • Designing optimized interactions and processes for defined workflows
  • Implementing software applications that meet the design
  • Thinking of ways that the implementation can be broken or hacked
  • Outlining and documenting all of the above in a way that almost anyone can understand it

I'm a software engineer and that's what I do. It's almost entirely a mental exercise. There are very parts of the day where I just click through something or enter data over and over or do anything else where I can zone out. I think a lot of non-techies think that computers are all about following some steps in a process (e.g. "Push that button, then click here, then push the other button."). I'm sure to offend someone here, but I'll pick an example of a task that at first requires some mental exercise but then really doesn't: assembling furniture from Ikea. So, when you first get a box and pull out the pieces you have to apply some thought. Hopefully you skim through the directions, make sure you have the parts that you expect and then start on page 1. You look at the pieces, look at the drawing and start working. Two points to make on this: first, the thought is pretty basic. You've been given everything you need to work, you just have to follow the steps. Second, if you buy more than one item (or if your Ikea furniture wears out like ours does) you may find yourself assembling the second unit without even referencing the book. You essentially have to be smart enough to identity what object is in your hand and what parts in front of you fit where on that part.

Software Development Life Cycle

Software engineering is almost never like this. To be sure there are processes and steps and flow in software. There is a typical software requirements lifecycle that is composed of Planning, Design, Development, Testing, Deployment, and Maintenance [although sometimes the order and categories are described differently, but it's still basically the same thing] but this just a huge framework that outlines the overall process. In fact, in many software methodologies the lifecycle is intentionally NOT a straightforward process but rather an iterative one. You start with requirements, do some design, write some tests, write code, do more design, refine some requirements, write more code, etc. Most of the process is up to you. Gathering requirements for a software project can be aided by good tools and by good frameworks. However, it's still up to smart people to ask good questions and translate sometimes misleading responses and then continue to ask questions that flesh out the real desired functionality. Software design has a number of tools and frameworks as well. Just as in real-world architecture, there are numerous design patterns that can be leveraged to achieve a solid and good design but no one but a skilled engineer can make the call on what design pattern is appropriate. We have great modeling tools like UML which can help in developing a [mostly] unambiguous representation of a software component but someone has to construct the diagrams. The coding or implementation itself is probably the least "mental" part of the work. Granted, there's a large amount of material that a developer needs to understand how to implement a design in code but most of the material is available easily from reference books or more commonly, the Internet. Even so, a developer must spend time understanding the design and ensuring that the code does in fact implement it. It's difficult to ensure that your implementation is in the line with the requirements so testing is necessary. Testing is hard. I'm not even for a moment suggesting that it is too hard and should be ignored. In fact, you can't really separate testing from implementation since there's no way of knowing if what you wrote works without testing. But good, solid testing can be quite difficult. Modern tools are wonderful for testing -- it's easy to write unit tests for code to verify that code does what it's supposed to do. The tools make life easier but there's still an enormous amount of thought that has to go into testing. Edge cases and complex use case scenarios are common; it's often very hard to have good tests that adequately cover all the requirements rigorously. Often software is written that supports an infinite variability of input. In order to write adequate tests, a developer must have intimate knowledge of the requirements but also the language, frameworks, operating system and other parameters that are part of the software environment. The tests themselves are easy to implement. It's knowing what we should test that's hard. Without even going into deployment, maintenance, and other related tasks, it's easy to see that most of this process is a thinking process. In fact, really good software can be nearly complete before any software has been written.

My BrainMy point of all this is to indicate that software is a lot of brain power. And more than just brain power, it requires a lot of creativity. A lot of software has been written in the last 60 years. New software isn't just about reinventing existing software but making things work better than before. Perhaps this means finding a creative way to tweak more performance out of the same hardware, or maybe constructing a more efficient interface that humans can spend less time learning and more time using, or maybe finding a way to make disparate systems talk together smoothly and correctly. All of these are valuable but often we're not trying to find a solution but to find the best solution. Requirements have many non-functional elements that describe constraints on the system. We might be building a system that searches an airline reservation system for available seats but our constraint might be that we need to retrieve this data from the current system in less than 1 second. That part gets tricky.

This wears me out mentally. I find that by the end of the day I rarely want to spend time on the computer (unless it's doing something mindless). In fact, even on the weekends I greatly prefer activities that are manual. I enjoy do-it-yourself projects around the house that involve punching holes in walls and cutting down trees. That sort of thing is easy -- it takes some minimal thought and care but it's basically doing stuff not thinking about stuff. I rarely do work on evenings or weekends that's very creative -- I've struggled just to write on this blog let alone writing out some stories that I've had floating in my head for years. Any project around the house that requires a good amount of planning or preparation tends to not happen because my brain sees the looming creative task and tries to shut down.

So finally, one observation, and one idea.

In the last several weeks I've transitioned in my full-time work to doing very repetitive (even boring) work that's much more akin to pushing buttons and clicking the mouse. There's a large backlog of system configuration tasks that I've been working through. The work is easy in one sense. Almost all of it is well-defined and easily understood. It just takes time. Sometimes I have to chase down problems and troubleshoot things that aren't working, but it's mostly clicking, typing, waiting, and repeating. What I've observed is that after about 3 days of "time off" from the creative process of software engineering I had a large boost in creativity. During the day, in the evening, on the weekend -- I suddenly was interested in doing creative tasks. My brain had realized that it wasn't getting any action and started asking for attention. I spent a few late nights working on some tasks that I've wanted to do for a long time (including some software development for a personal project that's been on the back burner for literally years). All of it felt not only good, but great. I felt like I had time to think through things and although it's a little subjective, I think that the quality of my work was superior than it normally is. I've had more "ah ha" moments and more "outside the box" solutions than I normally do. It's been wonderful.

This probably isn't too much of a surprise to anyone who thinks about it. I'm sure there are studies and articles on the subject (I've seen some). However, I'm interested in the idea that there may be optimal ways of mixing work for professions that require large amounts of creativity. For example, it might make sense that the best activity for a group of software engineers isn't to have them spend an extra day each week on a project of their choosing (although I think it's better than nothing) but rather to have them spend time working on running cable in the corporate offices or doing rack wiring or adding components to computer cases. These are all worth-while activities and although they take some skill, most technically inclined people find these things to be fairly simple mentally (although not always physically). A company doesn't normally pay the same salary to people who do these tasks, but I think it could provide real value to the company in the long run. By turning off the creative process for a little bit, software engineers could [perhaps] be much more creative when they come back to their regular work. I'm not sure if there have been attempts to do things like this in a company that employees software engineers, but I'm curious to hear from my readers on whether they think that the idea has any merit. Anecdotal evidence as well as real studies on the subject are all welcome!