Stories of Software and Systems Engineering

View My SE Web

New: Reflecting on the Creative Process

Valpariaso Banner

The mind is a place full of wonder but so few people realize its potential. Life intervenes. A partner, children, a mortgage and work. The need for survival that chains you to someone else’s ideas. But what would happen if your mind was allowed free reign, to follow its bliss? To create something new of your own choosing. With no constraints other than the boundaries of your own imagination. What would become of you if, at the end, you had no choice but to point to your creation and say, “Here it is, it’s all mine and I can’t do any better than that.”

So it happened. Life left me alone for months on end to think in a community of one, surrounded by my books and all the music, technology, performance and art I could find on the Internet.

In the morning before dawn I rode my bike 30 km to a coffee shop and talked to my friends, as cyclists do. Gear ratios, magpie attacks, sprint finishes and the greatness of the peloton: Contador, Armstrong, Evans and the patron Cancellara, called Spartacus.

In the day I reflected on my beloved profession and how it’s principles should be taught. I learned web technologies and studied the techniques of on-line teaching and movie making and slowly built a web site. The evenings went in studying Story and it’s application to explaining ideas, in a way that is frictionless – without loss.  Along the way I lost the guilt of working on concepts not billable to a client at month’s end and challenged myself to create something new.

Concentrated reflection made me mindful. I began to observe my own natural creative process and draw conclusions. To be concise I’ve jotted them down randomly in blank verse so as not to waste your time.

You Need Time

Pure synthesis is a selfish occupation.

Marcus Aurelius advises us to,

“… retreat to the inner citadel of the mind.”

Creative icons do little else.

Picasso: 91 years, thousands of paintings,

seven major relationships.

Guernica, Pablo Picasso

Guernica, Picasso

He took the time.

Others were given it under duress.

Many classics were written in jail:

Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes

Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan and

The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli.

True discovery is not a part time job.

Get time to think.

Sleep On It

It’s best in the morning.

You awake from a good nights sleep

into a world of possibilities.

The problem you passed to your unconscious last night

is solved deep down in your dream-life.

But not always.

The birth of an idea is full of energy,

but in the morning the energy is gone

and what remains may be nothing.

I pin it on a clothes line,

view it from a distance,

read it out loud and,

if it’s still pompous or empty,

ditch it and start again.

Get in the Zone

Geraldine Brooks won a Pulitzer prize.

Pulitzer Prize Winner, Geraldine Brooks

Geraldine Brooks

She starts her writing day reading poetry.

Then she sits quietly and  listens for her characters.

They talk to her.

I love listening to great creatives.

Marvin Hamlisch composed A Chorus Line.

He wrote his songs on the people in the cast.

Like the dancer who couldn’t sing.

Rhythm is everything he says.

Elizabeth Gilbert gives the best YouTube talk on creativity.

Genius is a “devine attendant spirit,” she says.

It’s not in you, it’s with you –

but not every day.

Then I clear my mind,

demur negative thoughts,

banish anger and,

put away fear.

In calm

I know It will come

from somewhere else

through me, or so Bob Dylan says.

But it must have room.

Broadway Classic, A Chorus Line

A Chorus Line

There were side effects after months of this

I calmed down,

lost my fear of aeroplanes and

learned to listen.

But When it Doesn’t Come

I get on my bicycle and hammer up a mountain.

Mountains of the Bolivian Andes

Mountain Hammering

Ideas come out of the bushes.

My subconscious is a close friend,

loyal and true.

Unbidden, it works on problems

long after my conscious mind

has moved on,

then interrupts me with the answer.

So thinking about nothing in particular

is not a guilty pleasure.

Its a solution.

Experience is Mandatory

I’ve seen things.

Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Lake Tahoe, Nevada

A blood sun setting on the tail plane of a jumbo.

A rush to the overhead lockers for cameras.

An amazing feeling of fellowship amongst strangers

in a shared experience of awe.

Manhattan at night from two thousand feet,

a hang glider descending through the pines

to the shore of Tahoe,

dowop singers at the Met in New York.

Dowop Singers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Dowop Singers at the New York Met


Images catalogued  while living.

Metaphors latent, waiting to project themselves

onto newer problems.

Twenty-four years after it happened

naked babies on a freeway

connected Fagan inspections in Extreme Review

with vulnerability.

The core of why we hate criticism.

Strong life images endure,

to be dragged out decades later

to inform life in the moment.

My daughter’s friend calls to say,

“Come help me bring my cello on the train.”

I’ll think on it.

You Need Pressure

A deadline is good.


I grab a thought and go with it.

I try not to kill it with doubt.

I write it down.

Keep the pen moving across the page.

"Be Italian" Dance Sequence, the Movie 9

"Be Italian" Dance Sequence, the Movie 9

Now I move the words around.

I budget for gestation.

Nothing ever comes to me at once.

First the skeleton, then the rendering.

Great things are made from good ideas

over time, with endless refinement,

through pain,

in deadline death marches.

Watch the movie Nine.

The “Be Italian” dance sequence

was in rehearsal for two months

for a four minute scene.

It’s good!

Let Go

Finally you must push it out.

Publish and move on.

It will never be perfect.

Poems are never finished – just abandoned.

Metaphor is Everything

The US government wanted Indian territory.

In despair Chief Seattle watched a spider work.

How to explain that the land was not his to give?

“Man did not weave the web of life

He is merely a strand in it.”

Abstraction from the spider,

projected on the problem.

Airbus A380 Gull Wing

Airbus A380 Gull Wing

Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be …”

informs debate on euthanasia.

The Airbus A380 has a “gull wing”.

In the cockpit

pilots strap it on like an exoskeleton.

In software engineering we cannot function

without metaphor:

Airbus A380 Cockpit

A380 Exoskeleton

objects, classes, inheritance, polymorphism,

proxy, state, mode, thread, queue, tree,

layer, relation, sequence, semaphore,

selection, iteration, recursion, waterfall, agile.

Metaphor is life critical.

Robert Frost said:

“A person not educated in the workings of metaphor

is not safe in the world.”

To find the sublime metaphor

is to project from temporal life

into eternity.

To invent the games of legend

played in heaven

with the oldest songs ever sung.

A Wicker Goat, Stellenbosch South Africa

The Wicker Goat


Through metaphor we make connections

and open up possibilities

now and forever.

My life is an endless quest for metaphor,

its stuff is everywhere.

I have a wicker goat.

What could it mean?

Bump Into Someone

One-on-one is the best,

people on the borders of your field

or someone totally unrelated.

I spoke to a priest once.

Two hours with an educated man – wonderful.

At Pixar

Steve Jobs positioned the mailboxes and washrooms


so chance meetings would happen

every day.

Pixar Atrium

Bumping Into Someone at Pixar

My friend Suja targets mentors.

She calls strangers  up for coffee

to chat about – life.

They come.

Reach out.

You can’t do it alone.

Read, Look and Listen

With no input there can be no transformation

and no output of value.

The fertile ground is outside your profession.

The sign on the wall in an art gallery,

Valparaiso Graffiti

Valparaiso Graffiti

the graffiti on an underpass in Valparaiso,

five books on the go at once,

all Shakespeare,

a chance comment on the radio,

a glance out the window.

We humans are unique,

we can imagine ourselves into other worlds.

Don’t get comfortable in your own,

you could lose it.

Copy and Transform

Shakespeare derived the balcony scene

in Romeo and Juliet

from Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta.


“But stay! what star shines yonder in the east?

The lodestar of my life, if Abigail!”


“But, soft! what light through younder window breaks?

It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!”

Leonardo da Vinci's Ornithopter

Leonardo da Vinci's Ornithopter


Bob Kane combined Zorro

with the winged design

of Leonardo da Vinci’s ornithopter and

concepts from Roland West’s early talkie

The Bat Whispers

into a crime fighter he called “the Bat-Man”.

The Wright Flier

The Wright Flier

Manned flight came from

the Wright brothers’ aerofoil design.

The Wrights’ creative surge atrophied.

They distracted themselves suing competitors

for patent infringement

while others advanced the science.

Higher, faster, safer and then into space.

All creativity is derivative.

There is no shame in copying

if you transform and improve.

Be Silly

A 3M team joked:



“Let’s make a glue that’s not sticky.”

😉 post it notes

Plastic Surgeon Dr Fiona Wood

exhausted by the lengthy procedures required

to cover burns with synthetic skin mused,

“wish we could spray it on, ha ha.”

😉  spray on skin.

Romance on the roundabout at the Trocadero, Paris

Romance at the Trocadero

It is necessary to laugh a lot.

Travel is Essential

Get out of your environment and go somewhere else.

If you’re  in jail or powerless to move

it must happen in your imagination.

Hemingway wrote in coffee shops.

I love Venice and the Biennale,

Paris and the epic Delacroix of the Louvre,

Solitude of the Atacama

Solitude of the Atacama

romance on the roundabout at the Trocadero,

the Catalan pickpockets of Barcelona,

solitude in the desert of the Atacama,

the potted history of flight

in the hanger at the Smithsonian

Air and Space Museum.

Don’t stay at home

it hollows you out.

Do Not Fear the Dark

The creative studio is a dark place at times.

Hanger at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Dulles International Airport, Washington

Hanger at the Smithsonian

Get ready for days of self doubt and despair

when nothing comes.

And when you publish

your best work is ignored – silence.


Its normal to be despised,

looked down on by people with

secure jobs,

nice houses,

and fat retirement plans.

My actress daughter says,

“Its like being a pig farmer dad.

They can smell it on you.”

Know yourself.

How much do you want it?

Commitment is everything.

But Then it Does Come

And you know it’s good

and you’ve been at it since dawn

and the sun has gone down

and you’ve only just noticed

and now you’re hungry

because you’ve forgotten to eat.

And you don’t care what people think

Young woman at the Trocadero

"I love your stuff"

and you accept that when you put it out there

there will be silence.

But then one day someone says,

“I love your stuff!”

And there’s a buzz in your head

and a feeling of immense satisfaction;

beyond money, beyond time.

Because you know you’ve created something –




What became of me? Judge for yourself. Here it is and its the best I can do.

1 Comment

  1. breast activesbreast actives05-03-2013

    breast actives…

    Hey! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a team of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us useful information to work on. You have done a marvellous job!…

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.