The neurons in your brain have a basic structure of an axon (the finer cable like projections) and dendrites (the branches) and the soma (the central part of the neuron). The axon emerges from the soma at the axon hillock where there is the greatest density of voltage dependent sodium channels. The interesting thing about a neuron is that it is an “all or none” mechanism – that is, like the binary underpinnings of computing, either it fires or it doesn’t. The interesting thing about the axon hillock is that the action potential has to build quite a bit before you overcome the threshold for that neuron to fire. The action potential builds by other neurons stimulating it and it is the most easily excited part of the neuron. Yet, it is almost as if there is a built in resistance to firing, the hillock acts as a guard against impetuous firing, but once that resistance is overcome… zap!
I am very much like that when it comes to starting a project. I have an enormous metaphorical axon hillock that stands in the way of getting going, and a great deal of stimulation from half baked ideas is required before I finally fire. I’m not intimidated by a blank sheet of paper (in fact, that is my favorite starting point) but I like to let lots of ideas cook for a while before I choose my path (each time I do I can hear doors closing and gates slamming on all the paths I didn’t take).
Keeping The Chain Reaction Alive
For a nuclear bomb to work there must be chain reaction in which one reaction causes an average of more than one additional reaction so that there is a rapid (literal) explosion of reactions.
All of this happens very quickly, and one anecdote I particularly like from Richard Rhodes’ brilliant book The Making of the Atomic Bomb is that the time criticality for the necessary nuclear reaction at Los Alomos was found to be 30 nanoseconds, and so he coined the term shake to mean 10 nanoseconds, thus criticality was three shakes (of a lambs tail).
But I digress. The analogy here is that early in the fission reaction it is fairly easy for the chain reaction to stop if there is not enough propagation of reactions, just as early in a design/development process it is easy for the project to become shelved through becoming either distracted by something else or stymied by indecision.
The solution, especially at this critical phase, is to keep moving, letting one piece of the project create other pieces and overcoming obstacles by force of will and by momentum. Thus, I will make it my business to create blog entries (and soon videos and more) that address this project with great frequency, especially early in the project.
My greatest challenges right now are
- Organizing the parts of the project
- Creating a starting schedule
- Matching the project to the only partially related goals of demonstrating Silverlight 3 features
- Making sure that the VideoWiki project and my other projects (this blog, twitter, videos, tutorials and the new book) all leverage (but do not duplicate) one another or there is no prayer of getting it all done.
To do this I have to take a number of risks and the top three are:
- Publishing a set of tasks that I know will change over time
- Publishing a schedule that will change over time
- Writing code for the project before anything is certain (“you start coding, I’ll go get the spec.”)
The next related blog entry will have my preliminary task list (posted later today or tomorrow)
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