Incredible Women in my Life

I know this is a bit late for International Women’s Day, but I thought I would post it anyway.

Some backstory - I used to do a lot of art and painting in my younger days, but haven’t really done anything for the past 3 decades or more. Work, life, music, everything else simply got in the way and I never put pen or brush to paper in all that time.

Until this year, when I decided to try my hand at painting again. But the next problem was - what subject matter? I decided that I would focus on women in my life who have had an impact on me. Not just my immediate family, which consists of strong women anyway, but rather my friendship circle, in which I have many women who I think are totally amazing.

(Note: I have held back from mentioning names in this post. Mainly because I want to protect the privacy of my friends. Most of them are really humble and wouldn’t like to be called out for their strengths, but I think their story deserves to be told).

Here are my (rusty) artistic impressions of my heroes:


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I first met E when she worked at a client site that I was doing some consulting work at. She always had the brightest smile and a genuine “Hello, how are you?” that went beyond mere politeness and showed an actual interest in the answer, which in turn showed the depth of her soul.

E does it hard raising two very young kids as a single mother, but she does not let that hold her back from showering her children with an abundance of love. And she always has time for others.


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J was a good friend of my younger sister and spent a lot of time at our house when growing up, and so I consider her another little sister of mine as well as one of my best friends. Many years ago, while in the prime of her life, she suffered an aneurism which nearly took her life. She still suffers many permanent after effects of that incident to this day, including short term memory loss, but she does not let that hold her back, and she still retains her delightful, happy personality.


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M was another client who turned into a friend. A few years ago she was diagnosed with having multiple brain tumours. Because she lived across the country, I could only follow her journey of fighting through this via Facebook, but I was amazed at her strength, resilience, and most importantly, her absolutely candid sense of humour while going through the worst of times. That is priceless in my opinion.

Even during her recovery, there was no hesitation in outlining funny things that happened as a result of the multiple surgeries and procedures that she underwent - for example, she suffered balance problems following her release from hospital, but she regaled us all with the funny story of how she tripped and fell flat on her face outside her favourite pub when she was on the way to celebrate beating those pesky tumours. It takes someone special to always see the funny side of something so serious. Thankfully M is doing well now and enjoying a full and healthy life.


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J is a long time business colleague whom I have a lot of respect for. I have known her for many years, which includes the time encompassing two marriages that didn’t work out. What I really admire about J is how she doesn’t let heartbreak hold her back. Every time she met a new love, she would throw herself heart and soul into the relationship with no cynicism or negativity. That kind of bravery, to risk your heart over and over like that, is rare.

More recently, J also came down with breast cancer and battled through that with silent courage. She is now in marriage #3 with her soul mate and is blissfully happy living the life of her dreams.


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S is a relatively new friend, but has already astounded me with her spirit of generosity and her willingness to go above and beyond to help a friend out. She is an avid traveller and is not afraid to explore the wilder side of places she visits on her own. She is a super smart former lawyer. She is also a former MMA cage fighter, so she is one tough lady that stands for no nonsense. A serial entrepreneur, I always enjoy spending time with her talking about startup life and travelling.


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D is another friend of my sister who is like a little sister to me too. Always ready with a delightful smile. She is a beautiful soul. She has 2 children with special needs, but I have never heard her complain once - she showers all 4 of her children with boundless love. Tragically, she recently lost her young son, and my heart goes out to her, because of all the people in the world, D does not deserve this. She also had her own personal battle with cancer a couple of years ago, but that never stopped her from being there for her own family. For me, D is proof enough that no higher deity exists, because any god that can put someone as amazing and compassionate as her through such life trials really does not make any sense to me.


I hope to add to this list over the coming months, and I am realising how lucky I am to be surrounded by such strong, inspirational women almost everywhere I go. They have all played a part in shaping me into the person I am today.

People have asked me “Aren’t there any men who have inspired you the same way?” and the short answer is yes, but apart from my own Dad, I really can’t think of any other male figure in my friendship circle who has been through the sorts of battles that the women above have. I am sure there are though, and as soon as I find them, I will do something similar.

Regaining my timing

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Like most musicians, I usually struggled to ‘keep time’ especially when playing solo compositions. But a few years ago, events which resulted in a stress induced condition (which I won’t bore you with here) has resulted in further degradation in my ability to keep time, even in a band situation where there is a drummer doing all the hard work.

I am determined to improve that though, and have been going back to basics and working on scales using a metronome to reduce that neural disconnect between my brain and my fingers. Over the weekend, I decided to challenge myself even further.

I’ve been a fan of The Police for a long time. There was something about their reggae infused punk beats that captured my imagination, and I admire all three musicians for their eclectic ability. I’ve never really played any of their songs on stage (mainly because I’ve never really had the chance to play with a drummer as talented or frenetic as Stewart Copeland), but I found a drum backing track online over the weekend for one of my most favourite songs of theirs and decided to give it a shot.

“Walking On The Moon” - As far as Sting’s bass work, this is actually one of the easiest ones to play, as the bass riff pretty much starts on the first beat of the bar (as opposed to a lot of other songs where the bass starts mid bar (e.g. Roxanne)). The guitar parts though, were the challenge. The chimey, chorus washed bits that come in every second bar is actually on beat four of the bar. It is a huge challenge to sit back and wait for the right timing to hit that Gmajsus4 chord, and then letting the delay slapback echo it for the first beat of the following bar! Even the staccato chord whips later in the verse are on the 2 and 4 - and every music teacher in the world always tells you to emphasise beats 1 and 3, NOT 2 and 4. Yet, this song is made by the choked chords on the 2 and 4. By far, the biggest challenge though, was playing along to Copeland’s frenzied thrashing. I had to keep time outside of his syncopated fills - a further testament to the skill of the original band.

Playing this was a great exercise in freeing up my mind from the usual constraints, and also to reduce those milliseconds of delay that had infused my neural system after that incident all those years ago. Breaking up my usual ‘straight timing’ with offbeat work like this really has seemed to reprogram the synapses in my brain. Time to go learn more Police numbers.

The first programming trick I learned

Most programmers I know experience a moment in early in their code writing careers where they are shocked by a profound moment of discovery & realisation about their craft. I’d like to think that this moment helps to crystallise their love of writing line after line of instructions designed to manipulate a pile of silicon and electrons into doing their bidding.

For a large number of those that attended some form of computer science class, or coding school, it was probably when you first saw a recursive function in action:

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“WHAT? That function can’t keep calling itself… can it?? Wait…”

I said the same thing above that probably 99% of Programming 101 students said when they saw such a mind twisting piece of code. But no, for me, my major discovery about the beauty and subtlety of the art of programming that lurked a layer beneath the monospaced text on my screen happened way before that.

You see, I was a self taught programmer, and cut my teeth on the very early versions of Turbo Pascal back in the 80’s. I was lucky enough to score a job with a local IBM dealership as a support technician, and also managed to do some small bits of coding on the side for their clients.

One day, a senior IBM System/360 programmer in the company casually asked me: “Devan, do you know how to swap two variables around in RAM?”.

“Sure!” I replied, brimming with 18 year old confidence, “You just create a third variable to hold one of the values temporarily, then you do a reassignment and copy the temporary back into one of the original two…”.

I had fallen into his trap. The same trap that most junior programmers make:

The ‘old fashioned’ way of swapping two variables, using a third.

The ‘old fashioned’ way of swapping two variables, using a third.

I remember him shaking his head sagely. “Nope - did you know that you can do it without using a third variable?? We often have to swap over entire blocks of memory on the S/360, and often, we don’t have any extra memory to spare to hold a temporary value.”

I frowned in consternation. This was impossible, wasn’t it? You couldn’t ever swap two variables without using a third placeholder. The first assignment would corrupt one of the values immediately, or so I thought. I asked him if it took longer, or used more steps than the simple answer above. “Nope” he replied again. “It takes the same number of steps, and on some systems, like the S/360, it is actually faster than your example”.

I pondered this problem for most of the day, but in the end had to admit defeat to him. Surely this was just another hazing of a junior employee that he was dishing out here?

Wordlessly, he write the solution down on a whiteboard in the conference room:

Using XOR to swap values in memory.

Using XOR to swap values in memory.

I stared at what he had written with the same utter confusion that I did much later when looking at my first recursive function. Surely this was impossible. There must be a mistake here. This shouldn’t work. This can’t work.

But it does. Try it.

For those that are curious about the ‘exclusive or’ or XOR function, here is an explanation about it. And our veteran was right, on some CPUs, the XOR operation actually takes less cycles than a PUSH or MOV operation.

What was the ‘moment’ that made you fall in love with programming?

Successful Simplicity Revisited

I am a big fan of Derek Sivers, and have subscribed to his email newsletters since I met him at the Business of Software conference in Boston a decade ago. Last month, a newsletter came from him titled ‘Successful Simplicity’. The crux of the newsletter is explained well in the following video:

Basically, people find complications in things that they don’t want to do, and dismiss those same complications if it is something they want to do.

To bring this concept back to my own world view: This reminded me of several discussions I have seen on music forums I frequent about changing guitar strings. Lots of people seem to find the task of changing strings quite arduous and something to be avoided unless really necessary.

I will admit, I used to think the same way, but I have learned to overcome these ‘complications’ and inconveniences and embrace this particular task lately. And believe me, I had to. With over 20 guitars around the house, and a professional musician for a son that I act as roadie/guitar tech for, there wasn’t much choice.

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It goes back to a book I was reading many years ago about the ancient Samurai warriors of Japan. Because the feudal system of the time meant constant battles against Daimyos and duels between blade masters, their long and short swords (which were considered the ‘soul’ of the warrior) were constantly getting damaged in combat, or by body oils and blood! Contrary to what is shown on the big screen, these swords needed constant care and attention to prevent corrosion and cracking of the blade. Almost every time a Samurai stopped at an inn or a castle, he would have to get out his polishing kit and perform maintenance chores on his swords.

But the way they approached the task was what intrigued me. Because the sword was considered their ‘soul’, they treated the blade with reverence and utmost respect. Any work done on the hardware was treated as a sacred duty. Inspecting the sword for chips or nicks was a loving action that increased the warrior’s familiarity with his blade and gave him a chance to bond with an object that was considered an extension of his own body and consciousness.

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I decided to adopt that same philosophy with the routine task of changing strings on my guitars. Nowadays, I usually set aside about 20 to 30 minutes for the exercise, and I clean up a spot on the table on our deck (where I can experience the breeze and hear the birds in the trees) as my workbench, and inform the family that I am not to be disturbed for a while. I set out all my tools in an orderly fashion, and select the guitar that I will be working on.

Much like a cha-no-ryu tea ceremony, I tend to deliberately emphasise every movement. Almost theatrical. I force my mind to be present to the task at hand, rather than wander away. I bring my full attention to every dent, blemish and scratch on my guitars while working on it or cleaning it - not in an accusatory or critical manner, but simply as an observation and part of the process of becoming intimately familiar with my instrument.

In a lot of way, it is like a meditative practice, that forces me to be ‘in the moment’ and to appreciate every nuance of it.

Just reframing this regular task in this way has turned it from a chore to be put off, to an activity that I actually look forward to nowadays. So much so, that I started applying the same philosophy towards other mundane tasks that I have to do on a regular basis. Still got some troubles applying it to things like doing my taxes, but I will get there eventually.

Have you tried a similar technique to turn onerous tasks into joyous ones? Let me know.