April 9, 2021

Chop Wood, Carry Water

There’s a saying from Zen Buddhism that I’ve carried around and reminded myself of for years in lots of different situations. It’s been reworded, turned into a story, and attributed to many different people, but here’s a simplified version: Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. When I begin to feel frustrated by a task, find myself just mindlessly coasting through something, or frustrated by a perceived lack of progress I say a shortened version to myself - “chop wood, carry water”. Read more

February 12, 2021

Be Explicit

We’ve probably all experienced looking at a flashcard, saying to yourself “I know the answer”, then moving on to the next card. However if you were forced to actually write down the answer or say it out loud, could you have? Knowing you know the answer and actually retrieving the answer are two different things. We take this a step further when we overestimate the number of people who share our ideas, known as the false consensus effect. Read more

January 22, 2021

On Control

I think a lot about inputs, outputs, and outcomes. For the purposes of this writing let’s define inputs as the actions we take, outputs as the end product created, and outcomes as the effect those outputs have in the world. Specifically I spend time thinking about what level of control we can hope to gain over each of those things and ways that we can be fooled into believing we have more control than we really do. Read more

October 9, 2020

Negativity Bias

During times of transition it pays to be aware of the negativity bias. This bias causes us to give more emotional weight to something negative than to something good, even if rationally they would be equal. Like all cognitive biases knowing about it won’t change it. Just like optical illusions they work even when you know about it. Since we can’t control the negativity bias directly, we have to change the inputs instead. Read more

October 4, 2020

Make Mistakes

The earlier we can make mistakes and find them the cheaper they are to deal with. If we can identify problems during design discussions that’s far cheaper than potentially developing part of the software. If we can discover bugs during the development phase through testing that’s far cheaper than it having to recycle back from QA. If we discover and fix the bug in QA it’s way cheaper than releasing the bug to production and having to stop everything to hotfix it. Read more

September 11, 2020


Knowledge work is inherently difficult to practice. It doesn’t clearly support deliberate practice as defined by Anders Ericsson because feedback is late, unclear, and difficult to assign to any specific behavior. Given that constraint, how do we practice and become better at our jobs? I contend that we can improve our abilities by focusing on the meta-skills of our jobs and turning them into habits and muscle memory. Some meta-skills that meet this criteria would include: Read more

September 4, 2020


We can create two major classifications of problems we generally deal with regarding complex software systems. First are the known risks. Generally these are things where we simply can’t justify the time to fix versus the likelihood or cost of the failure. Second are the unknowable. In complex systems there are nearly infinite unknowable problems, many of them completely outside of our control. Given that we have these unknowable, large world problems looming out there, one question to ask is “how do we best prepare? Read more

August 21, 2020

The Map Is Not the Territory

There’s a mental model called “the map is not the territory”. In software development we create all kinds of abstractions that model real-world items: We create user stories that are approximations of what we want. Write tests that try to cover a territory (the code) we’re unfamiliar with. Build software that codifies the (hopefully) interesting parts of the problem. Create diagrams and documentation for the systems we’ve built. It’s important to remember, however, that all maps are reductions. Read more

August 15, 2020

Disconnecting While WFH

Some of my coworkers have mentioned that they have a hard time mentally shutting work off after the day is done now that we’re all working at home. We all need downtime to refresh and recharge. Also, research suggests that we’re better at solving complex problems with lots of variables when we aren’t consciously focused on the problem. Part of the problem is that unfinished tasks tend to rattle around in our minds and distract us from other things we should be doing. Read more

August 10, 2020

Against Comments

Comment sections are ubiquitous. They’re attached to many news sites and blogs and are provided as a “must have” feature by publishing platforms. I’d like to consider the impact of that default decision. Speed at which you must reply Comment sections on articles are time-sensitive. If the comments are ordered by date they’re nearly always ordered with the oldest first. Other sites allow comment voting, but the effect of that will be overwhelmed by the first-mover effect (older comments will have more votes by virtue of having had more time to receive votes). Read more

August 8, 2020

Use Vim

Why You Should Use Vim in 2020 I bumped into a post titled Why Should You Learn Vim in 2020 and, while I agree with the author, I think they pulled up short. The author is correct that anyone who manipulates text files as much as they write new text will see a huge productivity boost from a modal editor. The ability to compose commands takes that to the next level. Read more

February 9, 2020

Love Your Job

Don’t look for a job you love, look for the things about your job that you love. Mark Twain sums up an oft-repeated sentiment in the following quote: Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life. I think most of us immediately think about finding a new job, that perfect job, that must be waiting just over the horizon. Read more

© Eric Biven 2021