Alvin Alexander | Java, Scala, Unix, Perl, Mac OS X

Some day I might write a book called, Random Conversations with Strangers While Aimlessly Wandering Around, and it will include stories like this:

Many years ago I walked into a favorite bakery in Alaska. Nobody was there, no customers or employees, so I took a few minutes to look over the cookies and donuts to decide what I wanted.

Finally a young woman came out of the back room. I knew from previous donut/cookie runs that she was born in Ohio, moved here about five years ago, was nineteen years old, and would be twenty in a few months. As she brought out a tray of something new, she said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you come in.”

I replied it was no problem, it gave me a chance to think about what I wanted. We chatted for another minute or two and then she looked around and said, “Can I be honest with you?”

Apparently I can’t sleep tonight so I’ll tell one of those stories.

A couple of weeks ago I’m enjoying the darkness of some quiet sleep, just kind of meditating in the darkness with nothing going on in my brain. Then as I’m laying there an image of a toilet in a closet appears. It’s a small closet that feels cramped, and the toilet/commode is sitting sideways in it. My brain isn’t in “just observe and report” mode – it starts thinking too much – so right away I crank my virtual head from one side to the other like a little puppy, trying to figure out this perplexing image, and wondering how you’re supposed to go to the bathroom with this toilet sitting sideways in this small closet. So my brain tries to grok that for a while, but it can’t figure out why the heck the toilet is the way it is.

Back in the day, high school was boring for me, and probably even before my parents were separated I decided to take as many days off from school as I could. A few days ago when I was rearranging my furniture I ran across my high school yearbook, where I found several inscriptions like this one, alluding to the fact that I wasn’t there very often, but I made class interesting when I was there. ;)

Had a little problem getting to school

For many years I struggled with how to combine two of my main interests, Zen and work. I had read that the Zen mind is the mind before thinking, so it seemed like Zen and work must be totally unrelated. But over time I came to understand phrases like, “When working, just work.”

This article contains a collection of quotes that have been helpful to me in understanding the relationship between Zen and work. Please note that I don’t wrap each quote in double quotes, and I also try to attribute each quote to the correct author/speaker. If you’re interested in how to combine Zen and work, I hope you’ll find them helpful.

“Only open your mouth if what you are going to say is more beautiful than silence.”

~ Zen quote

It’s important to remember that even when successful people say things, they’re often just opinions, not facts. Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz once told Jeff Bezos of Amazon, “You have no physical presence. That is going to hold you back.” The reality was that not having a physical presence at that time is what propelled Amazon forward.

Microsoft has a nice interview with FP researcher and Haskell co-creator Simon Peyton Jones.

Simon Peyton Jones interview

When I first started learning Zen I didn’t understand the quote shown in this image, and I truly was a carpet to walk on. Then I woke up and thought, “You need to run your business. You need to find the middle way between accepting ‘just this’ and what you need to do to be successful at work.”

It would have been helpful if I had seen this quote then, but the book, Making Zen Your Own, wasn’t available then.

Zen: Accepting 'just this'

When we enter the empty meditation hall we experience a tangible awareness of peace. The uncluttered space, accentuated by the orderliness of the simple cushions, seems quietly alive, a reflection of inherent beauty. We find a feeling of safety and sanctuary.

However, in Zen practice, true sanctuary is not isolated from everyday life. True sanctuary includes everything, shutting out nothing, because it has no doors and no walls. Finding true sanctuary means expressing who we really are.

~~~~~

Tozan and his disciple Sozan were the founders of the Soto Zen school in China. When it came time for Sozan to leave his teacher, he want to say goodbye.

Tozan asked him, “Where are you going?”

“To an unchanging place,” Sozan answered.

“Is there really any going to that place?”

“The going itself is unchanged.”

In this story Sozan is saying that the activity is the place of unchanging. He is pointing to continuous effort, uninterrupted practice, as the “place” of sanctuary.

twobithistory.org has a nice story about Lisp titled, How Lisp became God’s own programming language. That page links to Paul Graham’s old Beating the averages post where he shares this Eric Raymond quote: “Lisp is worth learning for the profound enlightenment experience you will have when you finally get it; that experience will make you a better programmer for the rest of your days, even if you never actually use Lisp itself a lot.”

To make the online reading a little easier, I’ve put a free preview version of Functional Programming, Simplified on fpsimplified.com. That website contains ~40 lessons from the book. For more complete previews, see my original Functional Programming, Simplified page.

It feels like I’ve been on the road for eight weeks, but this is a photo of the sunrise in Missouri yesterday morning during the drive back to Colorado.

Sunrise in Missouri, finally back in Colorado

I’ll guess that nobody in the U.S. Congress has read it, but the Scala Cookbook is in the Library of Congress, which is kinda cool.

Scala Cookbook in Library of Congress

“I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, that once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

~ James Baldwin (via this gratefulness.org page)

Recent events remind me that people often have two reasons for doing something: a reason that they’ll tell you, and the real reason.

(I initially learned that when I read the 1947 version of this book by Frank Bettger.)

“You're the man now, dog!”

~ From the movie, Finding Forrester

When editing my own writing I like to write “constipated thinking” or just “constipated” on some of my text that clearly deserves it (as an homage to the movie, Finding Forrester).

Back when I owned my own business I had a philosophy of recruiting employees after we hired them. You know how it is, when a company recruits you they put on their best face, they buy you lunch, buy you gifts, they tell you why they want you, etc. My idea was to keep doing that after we hired you, to let you know how much we appreciated you. This was kindness/gratitude and also good business sense: it’s hard to find good employees.

I think marriage should be the same way. Rather than thinking, “You married me, now you’re stuck with me” — which is a dangerous thought — I think it’s important to keep recruiting your marriage partner in the same way.

Just a thought.

September 26, 2010: I went down to Seward, Alaska for a short vacation this week, and woke up to a 5.5 magnitude earthquake one morning. True story: I was in the middle of a dream when I suddenly heard the song "Rock The Boat" playing as someone grabbed my left wrist. I then woke up to hear something rattling in the hotel room, and before I could think of who I was, where I was, or what to do, the earthquake stopped.

Alaska earthquake - September 25, 2010 - Talkeetna, Cantwell, Wasilla, Seward