This Week in Programming: Working from Home When the World Is Ending

Feature image by Thomas Malyska from Pixabay

This week, I feel, is a bit of a special edition of this column, as it is the result of endless distraction. As one person somewhere on the endless scrolling feed of outrage and heartbreak that is Twitter said at some point recently, today was the longest year ever… and for me, it mostly involved refreshing websites and scrolling.

I’ve seen a million and one pitches and stories about working from home (yes, people abbreviate this to WFH — ugh) over the last week, and as someone who’s done this for a little over a decade now, I feel they’re all missing one specific element: this isn’t how it normally works. I figure that many of you are good and familiar with working from home, but I feel that this is a new level of distracted working from home, and for those of you not used to it, you’re definitely being thrown out of the frying pan into the fire.

Working from home, for most people, is a choice that happens with intention and involves planning and a transition period, where you can do things like carve out a space for work separate from living, develop a routine, all that jazz. Oh, and then there isn’t usually an unending barrage of one breaking news headline after another, each of which constituting an EPIC NEWS DAY in more normal times.

So, yes, sure, go ahead and read some guides for working from home — they have many valid tips and tricks for the normal way this lifestyle goes. But I wanted to call out explicitly that this may very well be anything but normal and we all may need to develop some new tricks to handle it, even for us well-versed in the art.

First, the only way I’ve really made it through the last week or so getting any work done from home is to shun social media and news while starting off my day. The stock market is going to plummet and Disneyland is going to shut down, whether or not you’re watching. Working from home is normally about minimizing distractions and trying not to get sucked into homey things while you’re supposed to be working, but now the distraction is coming from many more angles, and it can feel overwhelming pretty quickly.

So, you certainly don’t need my or anyone else’s permission, but it might be a good time to offer yourself some leniency before you immediately fail to meet any expectations for how to work from home during normal times. Right now, as I write this, I’m breaking just about every rule I have for myself when working from home. It’s daylight and I’m in my pajamas. I’m on the couch with the electric blanket, and the TV is playing something on Netflix that I don’t have to pay too much attention to.

While, I definitely find it helpful to put on pants every day, when it feels like everything is falling apart, I’d venture that it’s okay to put on pajamas and an electric blanket if that helps you get things done and feel okay. Was I still living in a warmer climate, I guarantee you I’d be working from a hammock, even if it were just outside my door.

I would offer specific tips, but I feel they’re all so personal and I don’t feel like putting out any more of my assumption of ability or privilege into words and more expectations that we may not be able to meet. I just offer one thing — if you find yourself endlessly scrolling, get up and walk away for a moment if you can. Look away. Turn it off. Do anything other than look at a screen.

This Week in Programming

  • The End is Nigh…for Visual Basic? Tech writer Paul Thurrott offers an interpretation of Microsoft’s recent announcement that it would support Visual Basic in .NET 5.0, writing that “it will support Visual Basic on .NET 5.0 but will no longer add new features or evolve the language.” Instead, Microsoft is all in on C# and Thurrott says that “Microsoft effectively abandoned VB” and that “this week’s announcement just makes it official.” Visual Basic, for many intents and purposes, is dead. Viva Visual Basic.
  • TensorFlow Quantum: I’m not sure how many times more awesome something is when it’s quantum, but if that number can be deduced, then apply it to TensorFlow, because Google just released TensorFlow Quantum, an open-source library for quantum machine learning and the rapid prototyping of quantum ML models. TensorFlow Quantum (TFQ), writes Google, is “primarily geared towards executing quantum circuits on classical-quantum circuit simulators,” but “will be able to execute quantum circuits on actual quantum processors that are supported by Cirq, including Google’s own processor Sycamore” in the future.
  • IBM’s Watson NLP Gets Idiomatic: IBM has said that it has grabbed some capabilities from IBM Research’s Project Debater to help with identifying, understanding and analyzing “some of the most challenging aspects of the English language” such as idioms and colloquialisms like “hardly helpful” and “hot under the collar”. For a non-press-release look at the news, ProgrammableWeb examines Watson API’s new AI capabilities, which it says includes advanced sentiment analysis, advanced topic clustering, and summarization tools.

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