Who am I?

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 things i do (25)


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

Laying Down Track

I love refactoring, perhaps even more than writing new code.

For those of you aren’t software geeks, refactoring is the process of changing the structure of a body of code without changing the behavior. It’s about redesigning code so that does the same thing as before but in a different way. Usually you do this because you’re going to add new behavior to it, but the current design doesn’t allow you to. There are other reasons, but that’s the big one.

I just spent an hour working from home on a weekend, which I never do, because of something I realized late yesterday afternoon.

The project I’m on at work has a lot of what one of my co-workers described as “hand-crafted code.” The code does exactly what the first release of the product needed to it to do, and nothing more. In one way, that’s a good thing, because it wasn’t overbuilt. In another, it’s not, because the code is fragile and hard to re-use. Even worse, much of the code uses the Big Ball of Mud design pattern. There are lots of long methods, objects with multiple responsibilities, and modules that are hodgepodges of different pieces of functionality.

What I realized yesterday afternoon was how to eliminate two unnecessary and confusing functions from a module’s interface. This particular bit of code has been vexing me for quite a while, so I take any chance I can to clean it up. And as I moved the code around today, it really sunk in how much I love this kind of work. I love seeing the potential in a body of code, working within the current constraints, improving what is there. There’s something about the process of refining, of letting the new design emerge, that hooks into the synergistic part of my brain. A lot of my role on my current team involves taking functionality that other people have developed and making it work in ways or in situations they didn’t originally design it for. Other people can blaze the trails. I’m happy building the railroad behind them.


Fitness: Ran 2.25 miles
Writing: 448 words, 258 average

Topping Up the Batteries

Rebecca asks:

You’re busy busy busy and organizing your time… what do you do to recharge? Or do you even have times where you’re just fed up with the list of things to be done?

Second things first: I’m a lot more likely to get fed up with the rate that I’m getting things done than I am with how many of them there are yet to do. The length of the road bothers me a lot less than the speed I’m heading down it. And as I’ve gotten better, I’m able to be satisfied with slower and slower progress. So long as it doesn’t drop to zero, I tend to be content.

But as to the issue of recharging… there are certainly points where I don’t feel like I’m getting anything done, or where I feel like I don’t know what to do next. I’ve discovered three things that work pretty well for me in these moments.

  1. Get organized. One of things on my “do every day” list is to spend fifteen to twenty minutes recording and reflecting on what I did yesterday and making priority decisions about what I want to do today. Writing it down and making it visual gives me power over it in a way that keeping it in my head or in an electronic form doesn’t. When I don’t know what to do next or I need to shift gears, I make a list or look at the one I’ve already made.
  2. Get physical. Often the best cure for a swirling brain is to take it out of the equation. Hopping on my bike, going for a run, or working out are all good for me when I get overwhelmed. As strange as it sounds, sometimes what I really need to do is wash the dishes. Doing something predominantly physical, where I can disconnect my brain and let it go chew on whatever it needs to chew on, is revitalizing for me, especially given how much most of things I do are thinking-heavy.
  3. Get present. There’s a train station next to my work. As often as I can, I get out out my office and take a long, slow walk down the platform. The goal is to notice every step, hear every car, feel every breeze. I try not to think about anything else except what I’m experiencing in that moment. Whenever my mind wanders I gently bring it back. It takes about fifteen minutes to get to the end and come back, and if I’ve done it right, when I’m done I’m completely refreshed.

For me, recharging isn’t about doing big things infrequently, it’s about doing little things all the time to stay fresh. Remember that “do every day” list I mentioned? All three of these things are on it, along with writing something for the blog and spending quality time with Gwen. If I do all those things, I stay on top of my game and I’m ready for whatever the rest of my to-do list throws at me.


Fitness: Rest day
Writing: 0 words, 251 average

Becoming a Fan

I have a strange relationship with sports, I suppose.

I was a pretty nerdy kid. I was active in debate, mock trial, choir, Boy Scouts, 4-H, and other things I’ve forgotten. At the same time, I played a lot of sports: Baseball, basketball, cross-country, flag football, even a bit of wrestling. I’ve always enjoyed being active, and I have a fairly well-developed sense of balance and coordination, though I’ve never been terribly athletic. After college, I started hiking, doing yoga1, riding my bike, and eventually doing triathlons. Santa Barbara has beautiful weather year round, so I figured I should take advantage of it. Still, I never never identified as a “sports fan.”

I started watching football as a social thing. Gwen grew up around it, and our friend Andy was a fan, so we started watching Monday Night Football as a group, starting with just the three of us and then expanding over the years. Then, as I started to ride my bike more, we discovered professional cycling on TV, and the addiction kicked in. May, July, and September evening were sacrificed to the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France, and the Vuelta a España. Sunday afternoons in the spring were given over to the Classics: Milan-San Remo, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, and the Queen of the Classics: Paris-Roubaix. The networks started cutting back their coverage in the post-Armstrong era, but we watched whatever we could and cursed them for what we couldn’t. I don’t watch much TV anymore, and what I do watch now is almost exclusively live sports.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been good at following a local sports team. Last year I tried to follow the Dodgers, but my general dislike of baseball on TV just got in the way. And despite being surrounded by Lakers fans, I don’t really enjoy the NBA.2 That left the LA Kings. Now as it turns out, I know a bunch of hockey fans, and their enthusiasm started to wear off on me. And Gwen I watched the Stanley Cup Playoffs one summer in college, when the Dallas Stars won it,3 I so I thought I’d give it a try.

It turns out, I love hockey. There’s the elegant flow, lonely keeper, the team play. It’s a like a faster-moving version of soccer. It’s also got the season-long grind of baseball; you don’t play every day, but you get beat up three days a week, and if you go all the way your season starts in October and ends in June. It’s played by a bunch of guys who obviously love the game and understand the importance of their teammates. The NHL doesn’t get the same media coverage that the NFL, MLB, and the NBA do, and I suspect the sport might be better for that.

So for someone who doesn’t consider himself a sports fan, I’ve been watching a lot of it recently. And I consider it especially ironic that Gwen and I today bought a big new TV almost exclusively to watch sports.

Oh, yeah: Go Kings Go!


Fitness: Ran 3.25 miles
Writing: 320 words, 265 average

1 Thanks to work having a yoga instructor come to the office three days a week.

2 As team-oriented as basketball should be (and usually is at the college level) the pro-level is too dominated by “rockstars” for me.

3 Gwen’s mother was a Stars fan, and during the playoffs we were living in an apartment in Houston. It was during the summer, we didn’t have huge demands on our time like we did during the school year, so we started watching. And given how many of those series when to six or seven games and to multiple overtimes, we watched a lot of it.