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I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

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Paul Tevis

Entries in reader request (22)


Fear is the Mind-Killer

Jeff Tidball asks:

From the outside, you don’t appear to be scared — of creative failure, that people won’t like you, that things won’t turn out well, and of all the other things that the rest of us are secretly terrified of. Are you genuinely fearless, or do you hide it better than most?

I’m certainly not fearless. I do perhaps have a less well-developed sense of fear than some people, particularly in certain areas — like the ones Jeff points out. Thinking about this question does make me wonder if I do hide it better than most, and it’s just that I also hide it from myself.

I’ve been thinking a bit more about fear since Becky asked me about it a few weeks ago, especially after a conversation we had over dinner two weeks back. One thing that has come into clearer focus is that — with a few exceptions — even when I feel fear, I don’t let it figure into my decision-making. And I think that’s where Jeff’s perception of me as fearless comes from.

The way I tend to do that is by not getting ahead of myself. Fear is about the possible future, not about the actual present. When I can get myself to stop focusing on the Then and immerse myself in the Now, fear isn’t a factor in my choices. When I’m in a improv scene, I’m not worried about the possibility it might go badly; I’m concentrating on doing the scene. The same goes for writing, for work, for just about everything that I do. When I emphasize the doing, the fear about what might result loses its control over me.

Those exceptions that I mentioned are the killers, of course. I do tend to let fear affect decisions I make about relationships, both personal ones and close professional ones. I worked myself into a near panic getting ready for several of our team retrospectives in February and March because I was worried not only that they wouldn’t go well but that they would hurt the nascent relationships I had with several of my teammates. The notion of not being able to “unring the bell” as Becky put it, of doing or saying something that will permanently damage a relationship, definitely influences what I do and say to certain people about certain things. Which frustrates me, of course, because I should be able to apply the same techniques that I do in other situations. And every time I have, things have gone well, so you’d think I’d learn.

I don’t actually want to be fearless, though. Fear is a sign that there’s something that you care about, something that you want to protect. If you’re afraid, the fear is trying to tell you something, and if you’re not listening at all, you’re missing out on information you really want to have. And if I’m not afraid of anything, it means that I don’t really care. That possibility scares me the most.

Fear can and should be used productively. If we didn’t have it, we’d be missing a useful tool in our belts.


Fitness: Biked 12 miles
Writing: 269 words, 270 average

More Scenes Than Games

Wayne asks:

How about comparing the comedy that you do with what we see on Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Sure. I get asked about it often enough anyway.

I’m part of the Ventura Improv Company, formerly Ventura Area Theatresports (VATS). As you might guess, the primary format we do is Theatresports, created by Keith Johnstone. Structurally, we’ve got two teams of three or four performers competing against each other. In each round, the director/MC throws out a challenge, something like:

  • A scene with a verbal restriction
  • A scene with great emotion
  • Something cultural
  • Something musical
  • A scene that uses the audience

Each team will then perform a short scene or “game” in response to the challenge. A lot the games we play are similar to what you see on Whose Line; many of their games come from Theatresports originally. Each scene is scored by the audience, on a scale from one to five. At the end of the night, which ever team has more points wins. Pretty simple.

We focus less on gags and quick wit than Whose Line does. Instead, we try often try to do more “scene-oriented” work, with more emphasis on characters, relationships, locations, objectives, and emotions. We also play up the competition aspect more, though not as much as ComedySportz does. We also don’t have the luxury of TV editing. And sometimes our best scenes aren’t funny at all.

And now I’m off to a show.


Fitness: Ran 4 miles
Writing: 289 words, 270 average

It's Bigger on the New TV

Fred Hicks asks:

What qualifies as Big Dumb Entertainment in the Tevis household?

Gwen and I watch very little television and play effectively no video games, so there’s almost no BDE in our household. We used to occasionally develop a hankering for what we termed a “blow-y up-y movie” but we hardly do that any more.

The thing that comes the closest is sports. Depending on the season, that’s either football, cycling, or now hockey. None of these is particularly dumb, of course, but I think they do all the required things for us. They’re something that gets our hearts racing when something spectacular happens. They’re something we can just sit down and enjoy without having to think a lot about — though our natural geeky tendencies mean that we usually end up immersing ourselves in the drama and trivia around them. And they’re something that if we miss, it’s not the end of the world. There’s always more where that came from.


Fitness: Rest day
Writing: 290 words, 269 average

It's a Kobayashi Maru Solution

Rob Donoghue asks:

How many steps does it take you to get from PHP to Cicero? Show your work. For bonus points, do not use “language” as a waypoint.

PHP is used on the Internet. Much of the Internet runs on Cisco hardware. Cisco sounds kind of like Cicero. QED.


Fitness: Ran 2.25 miles + 30 minute workout
Writing: 261 words, 269 average

Working Mindfully

Ricky asks:

I read this the other day and I was wondering if you had heard about this or if you have experienced or seen this?

I hadn’t seen it. As I turns out, I have a ton of responses to it, shotgun-style.

  • “Process” in this article seems to be shorthand for “things I don’t like doing.” Hard to argue with the notion that it’s not fun doing things you don’t like.
  • Turns out, all programmers have process, whether they like it or not. Unless you take a completely different approach to writing code every time you sit down at the keyboard, you work in a particular way. How you work: that’s process.
  • I have an inherent distrust of anyone who says “I’ve learned all I need to; the way I work is perfect.” I don’t care if you’ve been programming for thirty years. The world is always changing around you, and you need to change with it.
  • Every job has less pleasant parts to it. That doesn’t mean that you get a pass on those parts in the name of “maintaining your passion.” Passion is one thing. Craft is another. If you can’t maintain your passion in the service of your craft, you’re not as passionate as you think.
  • Now, the mindless application of process is something I am opposed to. There needs to be a reason why you do certain things. I don’t think this focus on process and metrics is new at all. Look back at CMMI or at structured programming. Every software process or technique ever assembled was developed to harness the current understanding of how projects and programs fail in an effort to improve how things are done. There are reasons why these ideas are put together. Programmers need to understand them in order to figure out what processes and techniques can help them in their current circumstances. Just as we shouldn’t adopt processes mindlessly, we shouldn’t reject them mindlessly either.
  • The profession of programming is much, much more than writing code. If that’s all you want to do, don’t pursue it as a career. Keep it as a hobby. Being a professional means spending a lot of time asking “What code do I need to write?”, “What code do I not need to write?”, and “How do I know that the code I wrote does what I intended?” Those questions, to my mind, are what every software process try to help us answer.

I could go on, but I think that’s the stuff that’s worth saying.


Fitness: Biked 10 miles
Writing: 413 words, 269 average