Posts concerning flow

Unit Testing as Game

23:23 15 Jul 2010

One of the great things about unit testing is that you can get into a game-like mode where you make incremental but measurable progress—“flow”, basically—but what if it’s just not similar enough to a game for you?

Install Unit Testing Achievements, a Python package that works with nose, unittest, and Django. Somewhat crazy, definitely hilarious. Some of the achievements themselves are excellent, such as My God, It’s Full of Dots: The suite has at least 2,001 passing tests.

Sadly not yet working is another one I like, Heisenbug: Make a passing suite fail without changing anything.

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Table Tennis and Flow

23:54 20 Jun 2007. Updated: 12:37 21 Jun 2007

I love table tennis. It’s a fantastic game, and one that I’ve loved for years. I played it a fair amount in college, which is when I became good enough at it to really enjoy it. Since then I’ve played it very little, but Metaweb has a table, and that’s reminded me how great it is.

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06:35 02 Jan 2007. Updated: 20:31 27 Jun 2013

I thought of that somewhat obvious term last night, while replying to Seth’s post for December. It seems useful.

The meaning is fairly clear: things that you do less because you really want to do them and more because they distract you—either from specific things, or from life in general.

Television is a fairly obvious one. I’ve managed to eliminate that, and it’s been good. I don’t really count films and books as distractions in the same way, although they can be sometimes. But generally they seem like focused activities that have something to them (there are many caveats here, naturally).

Gaming can be a distractivity. I’ve certainly used it as such many times in my life, especially when in college, around exam time. But it doesn’t have to be that. It can be a relaxed/relaxing, fun activity. It can also be a focused, challenging flow experience, which is what I tend to strive for when playing. However, the possibility for it to be different things can be dangerous, because it becomes really easy to convince yourself you’re doing it for the focused challenge while in fact you’ve fallen deep into the distraction valley.

It’s hard to tell the difference, though. And it’s certainly hard to define a difference. I suspect, though, that you usually know the difference. When it’s a distraction activity for me, I generally know it at some level, and part of what I’m trying to distract myself from is that knowledge…

However, I’m not too worried about gaming as distractivity right now. In fact, I don’t think I’m gaming enough—I need to get more MTG practice in, and work on my focus on that game. And increasing my daily dose of DDR wouldn’t hurt either.

The main distraction activity for me right now, and one that seems like a canonical example of the category, is web surfing. I just do it too much. There’s so much interesting stuff out there… and there’s so much useful and educational material out there, too. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from surfing, and that includes a lot that I use professionally.

But. But, much of the time it’s clearly something I’m doing to distract myself. It eats up time, and more than that, it eats focus. The habit of surfing to get away from something, as a soothing balm for some unpleasant occurrence, obviously leads (like any addictive thing) to turning to it more often, and most importantly turning to it whenever difficulty is encountered. And so I find myself increasingly likely to web surf when I run into some problem that’s hard to solve (this doesn’t include cases where I am trying to find the answer to the problem online)… twenty minutes later, the problem is still hard to solve, and I’m completely unfocused, and in fact I’ve pushed my mind into a mode where it expects to skip around, dealing only with pleasing and interesting tidbits.

It’s similar to channel surfing on television, except that you are more or less guaranteed to come across something interesting and appealing and even worthwhile. There’s just too much content out there not to. And that makes it even more dangerous, because it’s like a reward for the mind: do something unfocused and distractive for a while, then you get this goodie! So you’re reinforcing behavior you want to reduce.

I’ve cut down on a lot of the distraction activity. No television, and I spend a lot more time engaged in projects like writing and coding. These are good trends, ones I intend to continue. But sooner or later, I suspect that it’ll be necessary to proscriptively alter my web surfing habits.

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‘Flow Episode’

23:45 29 Nov 2006

I survey the board calmly, without needing to. I know what resides there. I know the available possibilities. I draw a card, and add its potential to what I hold already.

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There is no talent

22:19 23 Mar 2006. Updated: 00:13 08 Jan 2007

I came up with this the other day. I don’t agree with it 100%, but I like the sound of it:

There is no talent. There is only struggle and focus.

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Consciousness Versus Entropy

12:12 11 Mar 2006. Updated: 17:51 13 Nov 2010

I’m reading The Evolving Self, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, at the moment, and it’s definitely helping my mental state. Flow did that also—both are excellent for reminding me not merely that great achievements are possible but that the pursuit of happiness and fulfillment are based on organizing the self, and that such organization is clearly within the grasp of just about everyone. This particular passage stood out to me today:

The normal condition of the mind is chaos. Only when involved in a goal-directed activity does it acquire order and positive moods. It is not surprising that one of the worst forms of punishment is to place a person in solitary confinement, where only those survive who can discipline their attention without depending on external props. The rest of us need either an involving activity or a ready-made package of stimuli, such as as book or a TV program, to keep the mind from unraveling.

—190. Mihalyi Czikszentmihalyi. The Evolving Self. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994. ISBN: 9780060921927.


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