Paul Robertson's words, punctuated

Thoughts on development, user-centered design, code, etc. by Paul Robertson

Funny coding behaviors

Disclaimer: this is just a silly little note, perhaps the first such on this site although my personal site primarily consists of such little tidbits, mostly about my kids.

A few years ago I was working as a developer for a computer training department at a large midwestern university*. I also wrote and taught training courses for them. As jobs tend to do, the work was often in cycles – sometimes I’d spend a few months doing mostly coding, then perhaps I’d be working on a new workshop so I’d spend most of my time writing for a few months.

At one point I was in the transition phase, moving off of a “coding” cycle and into a “writing” cycle. One day while I was writing (in Adobe Framemaker – the word processor we used) I realized that each time I reached the end of a sentence my first instinct was to type a semicolon rather than a period. Too many lines of code written, I guess!

Anyway, I was reminded of that today when something kind of similar took place. Nowadays of course most of my writing, whether code or documentation, is done on a computer. In fact it’s fairly common that when I reach a stopping place while writing in a web browser (such as editing a wiki page) I instinctively type Ctrl+S to “save” (even though that just opens up a dialog to save the HTML of the page, rather than actually saving my work in the wiki or whatever. Today, however, this instinctual behavior was taken to a new level.

I was in a meeting and I had a thought about something I’ve been brainstorming since yesterday. It’s a new project I’m starting on (a documentation architecture project, not a coding one) so I’ve started by just jotting down thoughts in a notebook as they occur to me. I pulled out my notebook and wrote down my ideas. Then I felt a sort of funny twitching in my left hand – my left pinky and middle finger were instinctively trying to perform some sort of repetitive action, and couldn’t quite figure out whether it was appropriate or not. I realized that since I had just finished writing down a thought, my hand was trying to make the gesture for Ctrl+S in an attempt to “save” my “document”. Because of this my brain was momentarily confused – like it somehow knew this action didn’t quite fit in this context (pen and paper) but couldn’t figure out exactly why that was the case. Since of course, mentally I knew I needed to hurry and save my work so that it wasn’t lost.

Anyway, that’s my funny story for the day. Probably for the rest of my life, at least in terms of publishing at this url. So I hope you enjoyed it =)

* Note

My use of the term “large midwestern university” is also an attempt at humor – its an academic inside joke. I went to graduate school at Indiana University (the same “large midwestern university” where I later worked) and we students often read academic papers published by our professors or their former students. In the spirit of anonymity, when they described the participants in their research studies they never described their study participants as “students at Indiana University” or something like that. Instead they always described them as “students at a large midwestern university” although the authors’ biographies would always indicate their affiliation with Indiana University, so there really wasn’t any anonymity about it at all.