Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Hopefully I'll not get burned out

I recently read a blog post by a highly regarded co-worker of mine at Bouvet. I found his blog post, which was about getting burned out, to be both helpful and very important as more and more people are getting burned out nowadays. I started to write a type of get well comment on his post and found that my response was getting too long so I decided to write my own blog post on the subject of getting burned out.

Occasionally I’m asked how I live the double life I do with full time work, doing research and development on the spare time, instructing martial arts and having a girlfriend. My typical answer is: Prioritizing, lifestyle and planning. But this way of life is not without a cost. My work and computer related interests typically have me sitting in front of the computer 10 hours a day, 6 days a week and it has been like this for some years now. This is of course not what some million years of evolution had in mind for me. I have for some years been wondering if I am on the verge of getting burned out myself after symptoms like dizziness, neck pain, headaches and general fatigue.

After reading about Lars Marius' experience with getting burned out I am surely going to be very careful to follow up on my precautionary measures. As I understand, the burned out illness or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) can be characterized as a total breakdown in the immune system. To strengthen the immune system and to avoid CFS in the first place, a combination of diet, nutrition, exercise, and stress reduction is said to help [1] [2], [3]. The fact that CFS is poorly understood in western medicine indicates that there might be many factors together that are causing the illness. I personally believe I would have crashed totally long ago if I had skipped some of the points below. The list below seems to be the right combination for me:
  • Stress management
  • Healthy food
  • Breaks during the day
  • Less alcohol
  • Workout
  • Less coffee and other stimulants
  • Drink lots of water
  • Stretching exercises
  • Relaxation exercises
  • Good sleep
  • Right posture and sight
  • Having some fun
For those who fear to be in the danger zone. Here is a more in-depth explanation of what I do to stay on top. Please note that I’m not a doctor and I am not saying that this is how you should live you life. So here goes.

I believe stress is the most important factor. Read a stress management book. Take control of your life, make plans. Think before you act. Make sure you avoid worries. A relevant example these days: Don’t take up loan you can’t pay back if the interest rates go up. Hakuna matata, yes you can look that up on wikipedia. Don't worry too much. Think positive. Avoid conflicts. If they happen then meet them head on with honesty, self respect and courage. Avoid negative people. Healthy food to me means a lot of fruits and vegetables. Herbs, fibers, vitamins, Omega-3, antioxidants and cutting down on what’s generally unhealthy food. Take a food intolerance and allergy test. You don't need to drink 4 cups of coffee a day. Drink some herbal tea instead. If you are tired at work then you should see to it that you get your sleep. Coffee and other stimulants will remove symptoms like tiredness. Listen to your body. If your body say it needs sleep make sure it gets enough over the week. Drink lots of water. Make sure to have a bottle of water within arms distance all day. Breaks during the day are important. Do some outrageous movements to stretch those muscles you will not use during the day. Working with computers more than 7 hours a day will make you weak from the lack of movement. Adding some work related stress will make you stiff in addition to weak. Work out, preferably with lots of versatile movements. Cardiovascular aerobic training is better than anaerobic which generally makes you more compact and stiff. Workout or at least take a walk. It will strengthen immune system and increase the resistance to the effects of stressors. Find time to relax, find harmony. Learn to meditate or do breathing exercises. Find that place where you can escape weekly to enjoy the surroundings. Pamper yourself. Make sure you get sun. Get glasses made for computer work if you don’t have perfect sight. Learn good touch typing skills and make sure you sit in an upright ergonomic position [4]. The combination of physical aerobic exercise, healthy food, lots of water will help the body to flush out the toxins in the body. Research suggest that toxins are the cause of CFS [3][5][6][7][8] I also believe that moral is a key issue. Being a good person helps you to feel good about yourself which will reduce stress and you will become more at ease. You do not have to be religious but try finding that something that can make you have a stable and clear vision in life. Another important factor: Don’t be a slave. Live free and not a slave to what others thinks of you. If you feel that you should have the latest and most expensive cell phone when you don’t really need it, then you are a slave to capitalism. A decent lifestyle is important. And last but not least, don't forget to have fun. If you are having a job where you just go to work because you feel a responsibility then you should get a job you like. (I know that this is not an option for many)

[1] C-Helath- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
[2] Cleveland clinic - Diet, Exercise, Stress and the Immune System
[3] PHOENIX RISING - A Guide To Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS)
[4] pcworld.com - Essential Ergonomics
[5] healingessences.com - Toxicity
[6] Holistic Health Topics - Chronic Fatigue Syndrome from a Holistic Constitutional Perspective
[7] Campaign for a National ME / CFS clinic - A neurotoxin called Ciguatera discovered in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
[8] Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Forum

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Checklist for deciding implementing Topic Maps

When should I go for Topic Maps? Why should I use Topic Maps and where do we use use Topic Maps? As a system developer or architect you may have asked these questions. The use of Topic Maps does undoubtedly increase complexity of an IT development project but at the same time does provide other very valuable benefits in comparison to plain relational databases.

This checklist can be used as a tool to decide if to use Topic Maps technology. Note that this only discuss using the Topic Maps paradigm, it does not discuss to what extent is should be used or on what parts of the system etc.

[ ] We need a flexible data model (3)
Do you need to model and represent knowledge that is evolving (evolving ontology), where concepts, their metatypes and relations change over time? Do you have information consisting of diverse concepts and need to make distinctions between their type, their relations and the roles the associations play among each other and you are not sure if this conceptualization will change in the future?

[ ] We need a high degree of (semantic) interoperability (2)
With Topic Maps PSI’s you get a strong and accurate identification of subjects between loosely coupled systems. Do you need to represent knowledge such as “Oslo is in Norway, Oslo is a City and Norway is a country”? With Topic Maps this can be expressed in interoperable formats that make sense to both humans and computers. Topic Maps enable import and export of both complete knowledge structures and of fragments only.

[ ] We need to merge semantic information or arbitrary knowledge from diverse sources (2)
Merging is a built in feature of the Topic Maps standard. Queries on the data will work after a merge.

[ ] We are developing a knowledge centric application (1)
Are you going to integrate or build a Knowledge Management system where knowledge generation, codification, and transfer is essential? Is there a need for a paradigm that can collate everything known about any given set of subjects? Do you need a Ontology (a conceptualization of a domain)? Do you have users that will want to interact with the system to create new knowledge? When using Topic Maps people often see new potential relations and thus increasing knowledge leading to new insight, innovation etc.

[ ] We need a technology to access information using different criteria or navigation paths (1)
Do you need a technology that is tailored for displaying multiple navigational aids or multiple views/paths in a networked information structure? Built into the standard is the concept of scopes that let the modeler contextualize information. With Topic Maps you get two-way or navigation. If you need to provide faceted navigation or search where users navigate by related concepts, then Topic Maps may fit your needs because of its support for bidirectional associations and scopes.

[ ] We need a strong separation between metadata and resources (1)
Do you have persons that work with metadata and others that add or edit resources? For instance your organization might have a vocabulary that is maintained by a set of dedicated specialists and you might have authors that create content which is categorized with the taxonomy. Is there a need to manage some form of complex networked information structure or other information structure such as a controlled vocabulary, concept map or taxonomy?

[ ] We have a strategic goal to be among the first to adopt new technologies (1)
Topic Maps is similar or complementary to the Semantic Web initiative, which are seen by many as the precursor for Web3.0 and eventually the raise of Artificial Intelligence and collective wisdom for the web. For many organizations it is a marketing strategy to identify itself with such technologies.

Conclusion
Add the points for each of the sections you answered yes to. The points are indicated from 1 to 3 at the right-hand side of each section. If you got a sum of 3 or more points you might have a good reason for embarking on a Topic Map development project.

Topic Maps pros and cons in comparison to Relational databases

Pros
Provides a semantic interoperable knowledge structure for use by both humans and machines. It will give you tremendous power in modelling a domain. Topic Maps have built in constructs to make changes to a model less painstaking after the system have been deployed and is in production. Last but not least, Topic Maps is an enabling technology that opens up new possibilities for use of the embedded knowledge within the Topic Map.

Cons
Topic Maps projects require more development time. It often leads to highly increased complexity, which again results in systems that are harder to maintain and require special competence. It also requires large amount of cognitive efforts under specification, design and development. Topic Maps also increase the risk in the project due to higher complexity and higher demands on competence. It will often require higher demands on computer hardware because of more complex database processing.

Last updated 5. April 2008.