January 15, 2007
I've been reluctant to respond to the Five Things You Didn't Know About Me meme. I generally take Kathy Sierra's advice when it comes to describing my background:
How many talks do you see where the speaker has multiple bullet points and slides just on their background? I did it once because I thought it would help people understand the context of my talk, and it did NOT go over well because:
A) Nobody cares.
B) Bullet points do not equal credibility.
C) Nobody cares.
D) You already HAVE credibility going in... you don't have to earn it, you just have to make sure you don't lose it.
E) Nobody cares.
And then there's Hugh MacLeod's take on the Five Things:
1. I dislike you intensely.
2. I love it when bad things happen to you.
3. When your name is mentioned I immediately try to change the subject.
4. I wouldn't read your blog if you paid me.
5. If we were trapped on a desert island together I would kill myself.
It's funny. But it's not really a response to the question. People have shared so generously with the Five Things post, and they've gone out of their way to express an interest in others by tagging them. It would be rude not to respond in kind with equal generosity. Although it's technically off topic, Five Things has made for strangely compelling reading.
I like to think that the important part of my blog is the content, not me. After all, users don't care about me. It's about what you, the reader, get out of this blog. I struggled with this for a while until I realized what I was missing. Blogs, for better or worse, are as much about the writer as they are any other topic. Personality is the essential ingredient that makes blogs so interesting, so compelling, so.. human. To avoid writing about yourself is just as much of a mistake as writing about yourself in every post. So Five Things isn't off topic at all. It's very much on topic. Behind every fascinating blog is a fascinating person.
With that in mind, I thought I'd offer a small pictorial tour of my office at Vertigo Software. It's as much a reflection of my personality as anything else in my life.
Here's the entrance to my office. As you can see, Vertigo does treat developers in accordance with the Programmer's Bill of Rights. The Aeron chair is standard issue to protect developers' second most important asset.
I like to keep new and interesting items on the front table for visitors to play with, and to attract people into my office. Here's what I have out on the front table right now:
I also have iridescent thinking putty out permanently. I love putty. It's my absolute all time favorite desk tcotchke. And it's practical, too. As I noted last year, putty is legitimate exercise for your hand and your brain. I can't recommend it highly enough. I like it so much that I took it upon myself to buy every new Vertigo employee a tin of their very own thinking putty in a unique color.
Here's a closeup of the back wall. The items on the wall aren't art, but wrapping paper from Knock Knock, the same company behind the flash cards. I spray-mounted them on foamcore backing for a drop-shadow effect and attached them with 3M's amazing Command picture mounting strips. I can't find a link to the wrapping paper on their site any more, so I'm not sure if they still sell it. But each one is a little inside joke:
- the colorized DNA sequence on the left is the gene for color blindness.
- the barcode is the actual barcode for the actual wrapping paper itself.
- the fingerprint belongs to the person who designed the wrapping paper.
Also on the table are some of my other favorite things: a three-dimensional color cube, a "museum size" chrome Tangle, and a cheap, generic digital picture frame that I mounted into a fancy gold leaf frame and matted with black construction paper. Trust me, the original frame was hideously ugly. I usually leave the picture frame running The Office (BBC) episodes 1 and 2 encoded into Xvid on a 512mb SD card. I also have Airplane! and Raising Arizona (among others) encoded in the same format, and I swap them out occasionally. I'm a big movie fan, so it's moving art to me.
Here's my computer. I built it myself. You can see a glimpse of it in the first picture under my desk; it's a green Asus Vento. As I've mentioned many times before, I use three monitors at home and at work. The Logitech MX518 satisifies my mouse fetish, and the Microsoft Natural Keyboard 4000 is, as far as I'm concerned, the Keyboard of the Gods. It just doesn't get any better than that rich corinthian naugahyde under your palms. The speakers are mostly for show; you can see the Sennheiser Headphones I swear by on the left-hand side.
Directly above my monitors is my pride and joy: my very own Pong clock. I'm fascinated with clocks, so the Pong clock was my holy grail: it mixes art with classic video games, and it's a functional clock, too. I waited six months to get this delightful piece of art, and every day was worth it. Every minute the right side wins. Every hour the left side wins. Forever.
Here's a closeup of my bobblehead ninja. I can't stop thinking about ninjas. You can also see my small collection of Kikkerland windups in the background behind the monitors. It's fun to wind these things up and watch them grind around, to temporarily leave the digital world behind and revel in the purely analog.
To my left and behind me, I have a few other items of interest. On the lower level, from left to right:
- A Kikkerland wall clock, one of my favorites, but quickly demoted after the Pong Clock arrived.
- Some Visibone cheatsheets. As if you needed any more evidence that I cheat my way to the top.
- A Swiss Business Tool, so I am ready for any business situation that might befall me. Businesspeople beware!
- A mug boss to organize my archaic writing implements. I also own its big brother, the bucket boss, for my tools.
On the upper level, from left to right:
Here's a shot directly in front and to the left of my desk. I've always wanted a mobile in my office. This one is from flensted. It's always moving, and as far as I'm concerned, it's the next best thing to having a window overlooking the ocean. The art on the wall is cheap stuff from IKEA that caught my eye. My wife and I are huge IKEA fans. When we lived in North Carolina, the closest IKEA was in Baltimore, more than 5 hours away. Going there was a rare pleasure. Here in California, there's an IKEA barely 15 minutes away, so we can go any time we want. Life is sweet.
On the other wall, I have a standard-issue whiteboard, along with more inexpensive wall art from IKEA. Above the whiteboard is my BetaBrite LED sign. I use the .NET API I wrote for the BetaBrite to route the current weather conditions and top RSS news feeds to it.
And that concludes my office tour. But in the spirit of Five Things, I'll go even further. Here are five things you didn't know about me:
- I do not own any jeans, or any denim clothing whatsoever. I had enough denim in high school to last the rest of my life. I'm done with that.
- I was arrested for wardialing and phreaking by a small telco in 1987. They even tapped my phones and everything. I used a program I wrote in AmigaBasic to repeatedly dial numbers and guess calling codes. Luckily I had been away for high school senior beach week during part of the investigation, so I hadn't been running the program as much. Since I had no prior record, with the help of a lawyer, I was able to get the charges dropped. And yes, I stopped doing that. In the dark ages before the internet, all we had were BBS systems and modems. And long distance charges were incredibly expensive back then. To get your BBS fix, you had to find some way around the long distance charges. I'm glad today's kids don't face the same dilemma.
- I am terrible at math. How terrible, you ask? Well, I thought I might head off to business school in 1994 so I took the GREs. This was the first standardized test I actually studied for. Not because I'm so smart, mind you, but because I'm very, very lazy. With the additional effort of studying, I did my best on the tests: I scored in the 99.9th percentile on the verbal part of the GRE, but barely made 77th percentile in math. This has always bugged me, because computers and math are so closely linked. I love computers, but I can't stand math. No matter how hard I apply myself, I'm terrible at it. I could never quite wrap my brain around the concepts. But I'm really good at writing about how much I suck at math, for what that's worth.
- I met my wife on the dance floor during 80's night. There I was, minding my own business, getting my groove on to The Safety Dance at this club in Denver in April 1994. As I'm dancing, I suddenly felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and there was this cute girl telling me "you're doing it wrong". As in, I was doing the Safety Dance wrong. I thought it was just a song; who knew it was an actual dance? Live and learn. That may be why, to this day, I still have an obsessive love for 80's music. I probably own 60-70 discs worth of 80's song collections (including remixes), and I listen to it regularly.
- I don't really even like computers. Just kidding. My wife often tells me, half-jokingly, that I love computers more than I love her. Of course that's not true. Love is an awfully strong word. But I do think I'd have sex with my computers if it was physically possible.
I'm tagging my Vertigo Software coworkers who blog in the hope that they'll share five things about themselves, too: Eric Cherng, Scott Stanfield, Alan Le, Dan Swearingen, and last but most of all least, Matt Hempey.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
@PL: I noticed the Vista desktop - I meant in addition to Windows.
I'm curious if Jeff has has used Linux at all - it might be interesting to hear the perspective of someone who has (apparently) mastered using Windows efficiently.
I learned more than I needed to know about you when I visited your "Boom Boom Room".
AmigaBasic... Those were the days. I still have my Amiga 500, somewhere around here.
Now the office stuff is very nice, and it's nice to hear others suffer the same Mathematic deficiencies.... but the Safety Dance, you were screwing up the Safety Dance? Haven't you seen the video, it's like 3 straight minutes of a guy, a girl, and a 'little person' giving you a Safety Dance demo ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcOZ6xFxJqg ). Thats like my favorite music video of all time! At least it worked out for you in the end.
Haven't you seen the video, it's like 3 straight minutes of a guy, a girl, and a 'little person' giving you a Safety Dance demo ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcOZ6xFxJqg ).
You're so right. I guess I never quite made the connection between that S-shaped hand gesture and a dance.
Where you find stuff like the tangle or the putty? They are pretty much office-must-haves. I am always on the watch for office gadgets that don't need a lot of electric power
It's a full-time job, finding this useless crap. You should see the gadgets that *aren't* visible.
Amazing office! I enjoyed that post, even though I just started reading your blog.
Being a coder who likes being able to use keystrokes (and few of them) to do things, do you use Linux or just Windows?
Obviously he uses Windows Vista, it's right there on the picture, look.
The Pong Clock has been sold out, the last 10 are reserved for sale on Ebay, you can goto thier web site and they will send email when they are placed on ebay.
Original price was 199 Euro and by going to the web site you get to see a horrid web design.
Look at that desk! It's pristine! This man does no work. No wonder you have so much time for the blog!
I love the fact that you have MS Bob permanently on display. Talk about a "coding horror"...
Is it true that Melinda was in charge of MS Bob? That's the rumor that I've heard throughout the years...
cood pong clock, and great story on how you met your wife...!! btw, it's nice to meet another 80's freak! U2, Big Country, Flock of Seagulls, After the Fire, Falco, Mr. Mister, Men at Work, Men Without Hats, Fixx, Call, Cure, Patty Smythe and Scandal, Midnight Oil, Tom Tom Club David Byrne, etc., etc. .....
those were the days...
You just put that last bit in point 5 to check we were still reading, right?
Well surprisingly the 5 things served as an inspiration to me. I've always been appauling at maths and as a programmer it reall bugged me. Thanks for making my day!
Wrapping paper is discontinued :(
That's some high end stuff. I think I'd feel like I was in a museum where I could look at stuff put not touch or play. Take only photos and leave only footprints...
Beats my slave den away from home:
Great idea with the wrapping paper art!
so, you are not co-located with anyone ?
Or is this your private office but you spend most of your time elsewhere ?
"But I do think I'd have sex with my computers if it was physically possible."
Ok, that's one thing I didn't need to know about you.
Very insightful although I'm not supposed to care. But then, why should i care about not caring? :)
"The Keyboard of the Gods" ... It's so true!
IKEA rocks! In german, it is said to be an abbreviation of "Ich kaufe einfach alles." meaning "I purchase just anything.". That's their business model.
Clean desk!! Woooah, wait a second ... you cleaned that up before taking the photos, right?
"squishy bloody brain toy, which is totally disgusting and awesome."
I have one myself ... looks like giant troll booger, sticks everywhere, has a mouseball somewhere inside, disgusts AND amazes everyone, once was a silicone (or so) gymnastic finger-ball which was treated so badly it literally turned inside out. "Can't touch this!"
I, too, am a developer who is not great at math, and am sometimes bothered by it. It just took one semester of college-level trig and I was cryin' like a baby.
But so but anyway in my tiny day-to-day coding world, I find myself faced more frequently with tricky logic puzzles and process problems than actual capital-M Math, so for the most part I'm able to ignore the taunting voice in my head that insults my manhood with differential calculus.
That was by far the most interesting 5 things ever!
Nice one Jeff.
Does it strike you as odd, that there is a guy in a small
town you've never heard of in a country you'll probably never
visit who now knows how you and your wife met, your music taste, your taste in clothing, your academic weaknesses etc? Such is the joy of blogging I guess.
I'll be picking up those headphones and that keyboard this weekend.
Some responses off the top of my head:
Awesome wrapping paper.
Natural/Mathematical/etc art is the best kind. I'm working on getting some golden ratio/curve/triangle stuff up around here, but damn is it a pain to plan. Mobile is also top notch.
I wouldn't mind actually having a hardware pong clock, but the screensaver (I think it uses the same algorithm as the clock) bores the tears out of me. I need to clean up my game time screensaver, it does multiple monitors and 3 different games. (modeled it after a Magnavox Odessey 200 instead of an Atari Pong machine. Maybe they won't sue me over it, heh.) I would have given it away already, but it occasionally gets "stuck" (naive algorithm) and that's a little embarrasing.
Nice headphones... EVERY programmer needs headphones.
I've got the same office chair, same keyboard, similar headphones, the same lack of appreciation for denim for the same reason, and I freaking failed Calculus II :(.
Yep, you were right...these posts actually CAN be interesting. I laughed the whole way down.
Nice office, I love the pong clock too. The one thing that struck me about your office is the lack of books. Do you have them hidden in the hutch?
The mechanic who does my car has lots of his own tools. Takes them wherever he works. "Professionals" without their own libraries? Bah. You'd never see a Real Engineer so devoid of books. On-line docs are nearly equivalent.
What kind of desk lamp do you have?
When you discussed the Sugar UI recently, you mentioned the dominant OS paradigm, but you did not mention Bob. You can't deny that it was an effort to get away from the desktop metaphor.
Every time I watch my 82-year-old future father-in-law try to figure out how to get his email, I think again that the conception behind MS Bob was worth pursuing, even if the execution was mocked (by precisely the people at whom Bob was NOT aimed). Maybe he'll figure out the Sugar UI, tho.
Oops, forgot -- great post!
Thanks for the excellent post Jeff. I've always wondered about the man behind the blog, and this tells it all. You should make this entry your about me page (or maybe just put a link on there to this entry).
Your desk is really, really clean though... or did you clean it all up before you took the picture? ;-)
Love the wall-art. Gotta get some of that for my office.
Pay no attention to your GRE math scores. My wife recently took the GRE. While studying for them, we noticed something: the GRE is not designed to test your ability in a subject (in this case, math, but I think the other subjects are similar). It's designed to test your ability to take math tests (it's a meta-test). As Mathematicians (theoretically), we determined that unless you were some kind of prodigy, there's no way you could get through the math problems on the test by actually doing the problems. In general, you have to game the questions to score well (look at the possible answers and work backwards from them or look for tricks). Remember, the GRE is not designed to test how much you know. It's designed to predict how well you'll do in college. Big difference.
Also, I agree that the Microsoft Natural Keyboard is wonderful. I just wish MS would produce a wireless version. Right now, I'm suffering through using their Wireless Comfort Keyboard (part of the Wireless Laser Desktop 6000 my wife got me). I'm sorely tempted to throw this piece of garbage against the wall and just plug in my old Natural Keyboard Pro.
1. I'm jealous of your office. Very.
2. It feels good to know that someone else out there sucks at math as bad as I do and works as a programmer type like me.
You lame. You soooo lame. You probly think this blog is about you.
The Daily WTF makes this blog look like a mentally mastabatory monkey f-ing a football.
TERRIBLE AT MATH????
You scored at the 77th percentile on the GRE. You scored better than three quarters of the people who finished high school, graduated from college, and wanted to go on to grad school. Only one quarter of a highly educated population knows more about math than you do. That's not terrible.
"But...engineers, and physicsts, and mathematicians are better at me than math! There's so much I DON'T know!" you cry. Granted. Not being the best doesn't mean you're not good. Just because you can't run a mile in under 4 minutes doesn't mean you're unhealthy.
Now KWITCHER WHININ'! (Or give a better example of your suckage - like, can you not add 45 and 54? Because THAT would mean you're bad at math...)
Huh, I don't wear any denim either anymore.
Thanks for the link to the math models. I saw them once and then didn't bookmark the site. Much later my wife asked me about ideas for a gift and I couldn't find them. I have one Bathsheba sculpture (the mini Metarino) and I love it. I want to get several more but I'll probably stick with the mini ones.
I don't think that computer programming and maths (as we say in the UK) are closely linked. I think this is a myth that needs to be challenged. I know you said "computers and math", but let's interpret "computers" as development, programming.
Certain application domains (e.g. 3D rendering in games) call for some maths (e.g. geometry), but apart from that it's all about logical thinking and process, not mathematics.
I have developed the following software: networked office workstations (before PCs were networked), multimedia CD-ROMs (inc. Microsoft Art Gallery and Wine Guide), a game, batch-processing software, financial reporting software, a terminal emulator, neural networks, and more over 20 years. All along the amount of maths was really, really minimal - virtually non-existent. Neural networks are mathematical, but someone else "did the math". The implementation did not involve maths, nor did it require an understanding of the maths (to be honest).
It upsets me to see magazines on occasion advise youngsters "to be a computer programmer you have to be a maths wiz - go get a maths degree". This is wrong. A computer science degree is much more applicable.
That was awesome.
You have so much cool stuff in your office.
I have the same keyboard, same mouse, similar Siennheisers, similar monitor setup, and a similar chair. The only thing is, I really like my 3 pairs of broken-in-but-still-ok-at-the-office jeans.
Oh, and I am really terrible at capital-M Math, too. I have a difficult time working completely in the abstract. I need things to have some sort of tangible, rooted base in reality for them to make sense. You may say that computing deals with a lot of abstract ideas, but they're all rooted in 0s and 1s.
Did you vet your soda can so you wouldn't have to pay Coke/Pepsi any money or is that just a metal coolie?
My office now feels so inadequate.
I may have to track down some of your neat office artifacts to improve my workspace. If only I wasn't stuck in a tope cubicle.
Your desk looks a lot like the kind of thing I'm looking for. Do you remember where you got it, or was it a standard company issue? I really like the idea of a rounded U shaped corner desk with an open L all the way to the end and no back. The long space against the wall behind is just an added bonus, but very cool too. Truely great design!
Memo to me: steal your desk and all it holds. Especially the Pong Clock.
This is awesome, Jeff. Wow -- it's the best "five things" post I've seen! And you still managed to make it useful and interesting and inspirational for *us*--your readers : )
And OMG I must have a Pong Clock.
Cheers and thanks for making this post.
Where you find stuff like the tangle or the putty? They are pretty much office-must-haves. I am always on the watch for office gadgets that don't need a lot of electric power.
That's cool, nice desktop...but I really don't care. Return make me one of your good article on horible codes.
PS: I like the idea of render a desktop attractive for people. But is it usefull in computer science? I mean, encouraging visistors, it maybe interrupt youself on your work? Good or bad?
Interesting post. I like the art in your office but i miss windows and plants. Don't you? :)
I have windows and plants but no art and my desk looks like a mess.. I better fix this..
You have the most awesome office... ever.
I'm glad to hear others chiming in about their difficulties with math. I absolutely HATE math (probably because I suck at it) but love programming. I have always felt very insecure about this but now I see that maybe it isn't such a big deal.
Blogs, for better or worse, are as much about the writer as they are any other topic.
Personality is the essential ingredient that makes blogs so interesting, so compelling, so.. human.
To avoid writing about yourself is just as much of a mistake as writing about yourself in every post.
Isaac Asimov started off his FSF science essays with a personal anecdote. I would not have enjoyed reading them (in their collection book form) so much if it weren't for those stories. Ditto w/blogs.
There was something that bothered me so much before reading this blog...
Programmers(or even ppl willing to have sex with computers if it were physically possible)not good with math...
All i can say is...
And oops again...
Like Jordan, I am also intrigued by your lamp. What is the make model?
Wow, Jordan. You've actually found the lamp or something very similar. Very impressive!
This may be the best blog entry I've ever read. It's clear you put a lot of work into it, and that means entertainment for dorks like me who read a bunch of blogs before going in late to work. By the way, I had a squishy brain toy and it broke and spattered fake blood all over my friend's CD lining. Had to replace the CD. Damnit. I kept the actual brain (minus covering and blood) for a while, but then I accidentally left it in the outgoing mail bin after a game of Horse with my co-workers. Anyway, your office is really cool. Thanks for sharing it with us.
I noticed the lack of paper. you don't print much do you?
i guess the paperless office isn't a fad after all..
What an absolutely cool setup. Of course I went to look for that wrapping paper but it seems to be no longer available (it's great that it's the DNA for colorblindness and the UPC for the paper).
My office is generally adrift with Amazon boxes. I loves me that Amazon Prime...
I'm also a developer who is terrible at math, who knew there were so many of us out there (I've been reading the comments) - sounds like a good niche group ;)
A little later than everyone else, but I too suck at math.
Another developer here that's always been terrible at math. On any standardized tests I've always pulled in near perfect scores in everything but math (which was strictly average--). Most of my colleagues consider it strange. Though the lot of those apes couldn't put together a coherent sentence without help. Heh.
Yeah mate, the same with me: I ABSoLUTELY hate Math!
I am a computer science third year student, I am quite ok at programming
(B+,Object oriented programming), but i can't stand the math!
You know why?
Because it's so boring, so dull and uninspiring!
Programming is an art, and math is just simple, gray , and very strict set of rules- no space for creativity here!
fuck the math, I am a human, let computers do the math :D
I come back here to check if you have a wireless keyb and mouse, since I bought a set a week ago, and men, I'm going back to the wires. They suck!
Where did you get your ninja bobblehead?! my boyfriend had one on the dash of his car (the first thing he bought for his first car and it has been with hime for like 8 years... well, it came detached from the dash the other day and flew out the window... and obviously, it broke. i've been trying to find him another one and cant.
if you could email me and let me know where you got it from, i would greatly appreciate it.
Got the same exact chair: I feel connected somehow.
Would you really have sex with your computer? Kinda glad there was no picture of that in your tour.
Nice blog by the way.
"Behind every fascinating blog is a fascinating person". In this case this seems to be most definately true.
I like your office
What is that arabic book on the table?
I too was amazed to see you have the same Ninja Bobblehead that I used to have on my car dashboard. Please tell me where you found this. Your office looks so fun.
"But I do think I'd have sex with my computers if it was physically possible."
hahaha, Me too!
hey jeff! i remember those wallbewbs. :)
PLEASE TELL US WHERE TO FIND THE NINJA BOBBLEHEAD!!!! I've searched so long and don't know where to find it. Please let us know!!!!!!!!
What? People are still replying to this entry up till today? :O
Actually, I'm glad I found it. The math thing really stands out for me.
I just got chucked out of college for failing math, for the third time (ouch). Well, I admit I wasn't doing my best (not even half) but, I reckoned I shouldn't need my best to at least pass it.
Now I'm faced with registering for computer science again, and I'm wondering if I should avoid the math (by maybe registering for some software engineering programme instead, or something like that). But I feel as though I'll always know I couldn't pass math. And I hate that. I can't take not being able to prove my self at something I believe I can do.
Knowing you don't consider your math skills to be particularly strong, kinda gives me hope. But I think I'll go for the maths anyway because my problem is mainly lack of discipline. (I stay up late coding and then browse through the material a few hours before the test.) I wonder if I'll ever attain the discipline necessary to get through my degree... I wonder...
It's realy strange that you suck at math... Didn't they change the results?!
PS: You have a new reader. :)
Where did you get that ninja bobblehead. I can't find them anywhere. Ever since I saw that in someones car, I have been looking for one forever.
My email address is email@example.com please email on where to find Ninja Bobblehead.
You can have sex with your computers. It's called OSX, though.
I'm inspired by internet(u)...(this is one instance..).
you can contact me at if u like: firstname.lastname@example.org
i wish i had as clean of an office as you i always end up with papers everywhere and lots of random books
+1 for clean work space
i to am wondering about the sick bobblehead..email@example.com
I definitely enjoyed the tour, even if I am a late bloomer to the website. ;)
And I also find comfort in knowing that there are several people with a lack of desire/knowledge with mathematics. I have been kicking myself in the ass for quite some time because of my lack of ability to work with the abstraction that is Math. I love programming, but all you ever hear is programmers == math and if you suck at Math, then you're not going to be a programmer. Even my assistant dean told me, You're not going to be a programmer. I'm not giving up that easy (about to graduate in December, and I will find a programming job. Even if it kills me).
I had to go from a CS degree to a CIS degree because of the math. (got through calc I; calc II killed me). But I still try to review concepts from books to teach myself things.
But yeah. Enough rambling. ;)
That could have been me being arrested for war dialing using a program I wrote on my Amiga in '87. It was my first C program and I had no idea what I was doing. The only function in the program was main(), which was hundreds if not thousands of lines long.
Thanks for the great blog,
Nice, office area. Kinda makes me want to get out of this Dilbert style cube. By the way Pirates Ninjas.