Caught a rat

This morning I caught a rat. We haven’t seen them for a long time, but yesterday I saw one in our winter garden* and set a trap.

Rats was one of the surprises that came with moving to Stockholm. I guess it comes with many people living “close to nature”, with lakes and forests and dumpsters. 

View from Kolmården over Bråviken. For the school winter holiday, we went on a trip to Kolmården — 100 km south of Stockholm — and stayed at a family friendly hotel with spas, pools, play rooms, and events for the kids. Still in the early days of the pandemic, the place was not as crowded as it could have been. Copyright Frederik Jensen.

We discovered their presence shortly after moving in and soon took our precautions. I sealed off entries into the house and under the house, I removed all bushes near the house, we keep the doors closed and the lawn short, we don’t leave food around outside and garbage goes into closed bins only. I also bought a trap and competed with the neighbours to get the most kills, at least those who still cared.

The autumn where they renovated the sewers under the house, the rats were running around in the play ground in broad daylight.

The last year or so has been quiet on the rat front though. So yesterday’s visit was a surprise. Some quick troubleshooting revealed the issue: My wife had left a bag with stale bread in a plastic bag in the winter garden. 

Because of the Holodomor*, Ukrainians never throw away food. In spite best effort, we still fail to consume what we buy from time to time before it is spoiled, and as we don’t have animals — at least some we want to keep around — we do sometimes end up with food waste. So we go feed the ducks in the lake with the kids every now and then. Yesterday we were overdue. Today we caught up.

Interesting times

As everyone else we are impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, trying to hit the right level of changed behaviour to stay safe while still carrying on living. Oskar’s party is postponed. My business trip to Denmark this coming week is off. Easter vacation in Denmark to open the summer house for the season is at minimum shortened.

A time of change is a time of opportunity. More time playing with the kids and to enjoy the spring. 

Take care, stay safe. Wash hands, cough in your sleeve, and don’t leave food around for the rats.

Notes

  • Winter garden. With four different languages around at home and after being confused about the Swedish term ‘uterum’ which both means outhouse and an unheated room in extension of a house, we decided to officially name the rooms in our house to at least be consistent. While we do keep flowers the room, it is maybe more aspirational to call it the winter garden, it’s mostly where we store boxes and garden furniture in the winter.
  • Holodomor. The great, man-made famine of 1932-33 in Ukraine. Millions died of starvation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holodomor.

I found (a) Quest

So I’ve started designing a new game. It’s a text adventure based on the Quest engine and it’s an adaptation of Montsegur 1244, my game about the fall of Montsegur in 1244 at the end of the Albigensian crusade in what is today southern France (1).

A digital game 

Up until now, I have only created analog games, mostly tabletop RPGs for game conventions like Fastaval. Creating and publishing Montsegur 1244 in 2008 — 2010 was great fun. 

As my kids grow older, I see a lot of good (and some not-so-good) games on the iPad. I also enjoy playing games on my smartphone. It’s like the smartphone format takes everything down in size, making it a one man project to create and publish a game app. It’s ok that you only play a game for a couple of hours, when you only pay 2 EUR for it. Plus you can reach a large audience. 

While I enjoy pushing cardboard, dice, and meeples in the company of other people as much as any other, I’m also looking at a lot of boxes on shelves (and toys on the floor and books on shelves) and clearly seeing the advantages of digital content. Travel light, travel far. 

So I’ve decided to create a digital game. 

The Old Town of Tallinn from our visit in November 2019. While Norman nobles were busy fighting heretics in Provence, the Danish king took the crusade to the “heretics” in Baltikum. Not far from where I took this picture, the Danish flag, Dannebrog — according to legend — fell from the sky at the Battle of Lyndanisse in 1219. Copyright Frederik Jensen 2019.

Quest 

A few weeks ago I began looking into tools and platforms for creating games on the IPhone. Very quickly I found Quest at http://textadventures.co.uk. It is a platform for creating and running text adventures. 

Quest is open source on the MIT license, which means that you keep the door open for a commercial launch. It is super easy to get started, as there is an online editor where you can create rooms and characters and start playing almost immediately. So that is what I did. The feature set and the stability were good, even if it is a bit slow to play online.

A deadline

Since moving to Stockholm, I’ve mostly played games with my friend Oskar when I found time for playing. Oskar will be 40 next month, and when I asked about what he wanted, he said no presents, please — or to make a donation. 

So I’m thinking to publish the game by then for him to play when he is turns 40. It’s a good time box. Deadlines are good to help focus on what is important. 

Making hard choices

While I enjoyed puzzle games as much as any other (Day of the Tentacle, Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), I don’t want to create a puzzle game for my adaptation of Montsegur 1244. I don’t want players to discover a one true story about the siege, but rather have each play-through generate a story with a statement about why people choose to burn for something they believe in (quite literally in this case (2)). Essentially it is not about finding out how to do what you want but finding out what you want to do and making hard choices in a difficult situation.

Into the trenches

Obviously my ambition leads to more work as Quest aims at scripted events and interactions and now I’m heading into sandbox territory. So this weekend I took a deep dive into writing a custom library in the scripting language of Quest. My goal was to make it possible to sneak past the crusaders but only when it is dark. Something like:

> Wait until evening

You wait until evening. It gets dark.

> Sneak past guards

You sneak past the guards without a sound and escape from Montsegur.

It took a while, learning a new language and new tools, but now I got a time tracker that can keep track of when it is light and dark outside and run the commands above. Furthermore, it triggers events such that characters can go to bed when it gets dark, wake up at dawn and go find something to eat.

So what’s next? I guess I need to model relations between characters and how they influence the decisions at the end of the game.


1. My first idea was actually to create a cat petting simulator, but someone already did that.

2. Trapped inside Montsegur was more than 500 followers of the Cathar Faith. At the end of the siege, they were given the choice to repent or to burn alive. More than 200 chose death.

Why we sleep and alarm clock experiments

Over the holidays, I listened to Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Mathew Walker as an audio book while driving.

If it wasn’t because what Mr. Walker sells is free (sleep), he would classify as a snake oil salesman. There is almost no limit to what natural sleep can do for your health: Improved learning, memory, immune system, and mental health. His writing style is a little bit too American-centric for my taste. Anyhow, if you can endure the chapters where he detailed and relentlessly puts the evidence on the table of the benefits of sleep, you eventually get to the chapter on the impact on sleep of modern lifestyle choices.

Lots of this boil down to common sense: do as your mother said, get a good night’s sleep, 8 hours, every night. Before an exam, after an exam, before a flu shot, after a flu shot, as a kid, as a teenager, as an adult, and in old age. Every day, all life.

Coffee, alcohol, and artificial light (such as from smartphones and tablets) are all stuff that messes with your sleep rhythm. Well known stuff. Worth reflecting over always.

Driving Stockholm – Berlin and back gave plenty opportunity to listen to audiobooks.

So after the long holiday without an alarm clock, I’m aiming to establish good routines to help us juggle the activities that makes up our working weeks. Getting to school and work on time, with proper clothing and homework done and with a mental state to meet the day’s expected and unexpected demands.

As a father and caregiver of two kids (aged four and seven currently), we are past the time where kids woke up several times during the night. While still enjoying the comfort of sleeping in our bed from time to time, we can establish good routines (sleep hygiene as Mr. Walker calls it) and expect long, sleep-full nights all four.

So, here is where my key takeaway from the book came: The impact of the alarm clock. Most of us wake up with the use of an alarm clock (or smart phone alarm). The alarm clock triggers a fight-or-run stress response which can save your life on short term but is bad for your health on the long term. Furthermore, most of us snooze, i.e. voluntarily expose us to the stress factor of the alarm clock multiple times each day.

In response to this, I decided to immediately do an experiment with my alarm clock:

1: I changed my alarm clock for 15 minutes later with a commitment to not snooze.

2: I changed the alarm from a buzz to play Edvard Grieg’s Morning Mood.

As I have grown older, I have noted in myself how I have changed from a night owl to a morning person. I now particularly enjoy the reflective moment between waking up and getting up, where the brain is fresh and rested and can plan and explore how to meet today’s challenges.

My immediate experience was that I woke up before the alarm clock, so I still got this moment of reflection.

However, we had failed to tuck in early the first two nights of the week, so mornings were still a rough ride. So yesterday I started the bedtime ritual early. My oldest was very fresh and rested today in the morning and was ready for school before I was. He said we should go to bed early every evening. Clearly a success!

So now I’m doing a new experiment: I’ve set an alarm clock to remind us when to go to bed. Wouldn’t it be great with an alarm to go to bed instead of an alarm to wake up? Let’s see how it works!

        

Why not both?

When I joined my previous company, I was pleasantly surprised to be asked if I wanted a MacBook or a Windows laptop when I started. Besides having used iPhone for some time, I wasn’t deep into Apple land. Getting a chance fill in blank space, I jumped at the opportunity and chose Mac.

After patiently taking the time to learn new shortcuts — and to scroll in the opposite direction when reading a text longer than one screen — I became a happy Mac user. As most applications run in browsers these days, I didn’t miss out on many features. Only Excel on Mac had some limited capabilities for Pivot tables, an issue that disappeared when we switched to G Suite…

In the end, the only recurring issues were to find adapters to plug into the video systems in the various meeting rooms and to find a spare power supply when I forgot one at home.

I find it difficult to explain exactly why I liked Mac — other than it was easy to carry around — until now when I have switched back to Windows.

My garden leave is over and the calendar says Autumn. Copyright Frederik Jensen.

Given the same choice when I started in my new company, this time I chose a Windows laptop. Nice, lightweight, good battery life, good screen, good keyboard. Touchpad not quite like a Mac, otherwise quite ok.

After one week, I can tell you why I think the user experience on Mac OS is better than on Windows:

The Notification Center is a constant distraction of messages very rarely relevant to the work I’m trying to do. Virus scans, screen resolution fixes, software updates and reboots required — even Slack notifications as if Slack doesn’t already have plenty of ways to notify about new messages. Day three I turned all notifications off. Windows, if you want my attention, send a letter.

Next, Office. I have used all the applications before, not just on this particular laptop. Still, when opening an application for the first time, a welcome screen fills the entire window. Instead of getting on with my work, I’m searching for the quickest way to kill the tutorial.

When I open Outlook to look in my calendar, it shows me the list of unread emails, inviting me to task switching into reading and answering a new email instead of completing the task I was working on.

Oh, and even if I enjoy coming back to OneNote, the issue that language follows keyboard is still not fixed. Creating a note in English with a Swedish or Danish keyboard will fill the page with red curly lines. Word and Outlook can detect language as you type, but not OneNote. Switching to English keyboard, and I’m chasing the ‘-‘, the ‘@’, and other special characters.

My conclusion

The Windows user experience is more noisy. Instead of getting on with my work, Windows is full of distractions. I simply do more task switching in Windows than on Mac OS.

Things will get better over time, I’m sure. It’s just a tool and what is important is what you use it for and how you use it.

In the mean time, when I get too frustrated, I can always open my personal MacBook and write a blogpost.

How is the job market?

One question I get a lot lately is how is the job market? It is not an easy one to answer. There are plenty of jobs posted on LinkedIn, but I only need one job, so what I care for is if there one for me and how to get it.

When I returned from vaction, I started sending applications. Typically, I didn’t hear anything for weeks besides the automated “application received” response. Then another automated mail, “we have chosen to proceed with other applicants”. Maybe it is just the holiday period, but I think not. Even for the jobs that sounded cool enough to follow up on, responses were slow to come and vague in details. Not very useful (1).

So how to improve?

Yesterday we went mushroom hunting in search of the “gold of the forest”. The top prizes are the King Bolete and the Common Chanterelle (actually, the relaxing walk in a sunny late-summer forest with the family was the top prize), but if you broaden your search to include other edible mushrooms, you will find plenty. However, just like job hunting, do your research well, or you may end up with one that looks good but will cause you a lot of pain. Copyright Frederik Jensen.

What do I want and what are they looking for?

I have had the pleasure of doing many fun and challenging jobs in my career. I like new challenges and have been thrown into different situations and delivered. I want to do more of that!

Looking at my cv, others will easily see me as 20 year experience running complex, financial software development within large development organisations and thinking they will hire me to do more of that. This may not give me the job I want!

So part of the application process has been to tailor the cv to just look right. More emphasis on the stuff that matches the job post (and using the same words as in the job post), less emphasis on the stuff that point towards other interests and skills.

One of the insights gained in this process is that while I may have seen myself as an agile project manager, a lot of what I have done is what is also called business analysis, business intellegence and business process modelling (2). And I prefer heading in that direction rather than towards a role as scrum master or agile coach.

Tailoring the cv to the job post assumes that the company articulates what they actually are looking for — and that what they are looking for is what they actually need and will hire. I have seen job posts that mention specific tools and technologies like Tableau, Power BI, Azure, or AWS (3), when the truth is that picking up a new tool or technology and using it in a specific context could take no more than a week or two, while a cultural mismatch can’t be fixed as quickly.

It’s a broken process

The hiring process seen from the recruiting companies is not super fantastic either: First the hiring manager needs an approved headcount. Then the manager drafts a job description which goes through HR before it is published on whatever platforms the company has chosen to pay for. Then in a week or two, they get 200 applications, most of which are from people with no connection to Sweden or Scandinavia and no insight into the business, products or customers. Screening applications is then outsourced or done by a keyword match. Even if this produces a decent shortlist of candidates, it takes time to set up and do interviews and tests before you maybe get to send out offers. During which the headcount approval may need to be renewed or the candidate may have accepted another offer. Only if you end up signing with one candidate, you get to write feedback to the candidates you didn’t hire. It’s a broken process. It is designed to avoid mistakes, not to act fast on opportunities.

Do it differently

Obviously, there is another way to do things. It is called networking. A few weeks ago, I announced widely in my network that I am available for a new opportunities. I haved received great response, and it was great to catch up with people I haven’t been in touch with for a long time. Thanks!

This resulted in 3 interviews over the last two weeks. One of them led to an offer that I have chosen to accept — I’m starting a new job tomorrow.

Then you can start asking how is the new job?


(1) Feedback should be specific, acurate, objective, timely and usable.

(2) I read the BABOK Guide (Business Analysis Book of Knowledge).

(3) No LinkedIn and your automated keyword completion: AWS does not mean membership of the American Welding Society.

Why I became a project manager

I was a developer for 10 years before I changed career to become a project manager. Several factors contributed to that choice, but one pivotal moment was when I as a Software Architect participated in a cross organisational meeting with mostly middle managers and a senior manager. The senior manager had a problem that the company needed to solve and that he wanted one of his teams to pick up. I had technical insight into the product area that might be impacted but not much background in the business drivers and the organisation outside my unit.

Bridge pillars reflected in Alby Lake on a calm and sunny Autumn day. Copyright Frederik Jensen.

Very little of what happened at that meeting was about exploring the options available, the consequences of these options, and deciding the best outcome for the company. It felt more like the middle managers were playing to avoid taking a home an impossible assignment for their teams. It was frustrating and I felt that I could contribute to better decision making and more informed choices by taking the role as a project manager.

When you go scuba diving, you sometimes see a surface with an appearance of wrinkled glass between layers of water of different temperatures. An organisation can feel like that — the conversation in one layer of an organisation is completely decoupled from the conversion at lower/higher layers. Not only do large organisations have silos, but silos with layers.

Being a project manager, working across the line organisation, bridging silos and layers, speaking the local dialects, and knowing enough about what everyone is doing to ask the right questions, is challenging and rewarding. You parachute into a land of chaos and frustration, engage with people and systems, create order and momentum, and hand back the project to the line organisation. Then move on to the next challenge. Always working for the best outcome for the company and with respect for the people involved.

The best greens

Today’s headline steal from Trump is that he contemplates buying Greenland from Denmark. Maybe he is playing the long game after all? Or maybe he just likes the photo opportunity when he invites world leaders from fossil fuel economies to play golf with him in front of a melting glacier.

I visited Birka a few weeks ago, “the first city in Sweden”. For a few hundred years, it was a trading hub bringing people together near and far. Objects from today’s India, Egypt and Ireland have been found in or near the area. The city was abandoned by the end of the 10th century, some two hundred years before Stockholm was founded. In between, Sigtuna prospered.

Birka today. Burial mounds remain but all houses were made from wood and are long gone. Copyright Frederik Jensen.

One possible reason that Birka was abandoned is the change of coast line as the land rose following the melting of the ice from the last ice age. In this part of the world, near Stockholm, the land has risen 5 meters in the last 1000 years. When you compare it to the sea rise predictions from the melting of the inland ice on Greenland, it’s quite significant.

So anyway, back to Trump and Greenland, if you put your money on that we will fail to reduce the impact of the climate change, buying property in Greenland is a long term bet. It fits into a narrative to delay the burst of the carbon bubble.

200 years ago, people thought buying prisoners of war, sailing them across the Atlantic Ocean and selling them into slavery was a perfectly fine thing to do. 40 years ago, people thought drinking 10 beers and driving a car home was ok. Two years ago people thought burning fossil fuel to fly around the planet for pleasure was ok. Times are changing. Will Trump be on the winning side of history?

I made my claim to say “I told you so” with my 2012 story game Plus 3.0 when it all goes up in smoke and tears.