Packers have a whole procedure-based culture that provides behavioral tramlines for just about everything. It's so complete you don't even notice it until you solve a problem perfectly effectively one day, by a method that's not on the list. It might be something as trivial as getting out of the car and buying the Pay and Display ticket before driving along the car park and pulling into a parking space. Apparently, one is `supposed' to park the car, walk to the machine, and walk back again.
Mappers hardly ever get the upper hand on these cultural issues, but when it does happen it can be hilarious. A packer gave a dinner party and it so happened that over half of the guests were mapper types, IT workers and others. The host pulled a pile of warm plates from the oven, and started handing them to the guy on his left.
Just pass them around!', he cried cheerfully. Everything went well until he passed out the last plate. Then his expression changed from confusion to amusement and a distinct moment of fear before he realized he needed to shout Stop!'
Or maybe it was just a plea from the heart.
Mappers don't have a general cultural context to learn from, so we are almost entirely self-taught. Here we have collected some observations we have collected talking to mappers. We can learn a great deal about mapping by talking to others.
After you've been telling yourself about what your customer needs to accomplish for a while, chasing around the elements of the problem, how it is related, the physical capabilities of the systems available, the problem will suddenly collapse into something much simpler. For some reason, we rarely get it quite right in that sudden moment of understanding. Be ready to shift your new understanding around, and make the most of your aftershocks. This is a good time to express your new understanding to colleagues, and allow them to look afresh at things you may have stopped seeing because of familiarity.
Incremental vs Catastrophic Change
Sudden realizations come when they are ready, and we can optimize conditions to produce them. They have their problems. They are exhilarating, convincing, and sometimes wrong. When you get them, check them through with respect to everything you know, and try your best to break them. A big quake is always important, even if it doesn't bring an instant solution. On the other hand, we can often get a great deal of reduction out of chunking the problem and just moving lumps around. Don't feel embarrassed about thinking `crudely' - start doing it now and you might get to see something a week next Tuesday. By which time people whose thinking consists of looking very serious will know nothing.
Focus on your boundaries. There are three classes of components to your problem. These are things you care about, things that affect things you care about, and things you don't care about. One of the reasons that mappers have an easier life than packers is that they take the initiative and try to identify all the external effects that could give them problems, and they don't just concentrate on stuff listed on bits of paper they've been handed. If you can find your boundaries, your problem is well defined and you can start to solve it. If you can't you might need to talk to your customer again or draw your own boundary, which involves making assumptions that should be explicitly justifiable.
When you have a green duck, a pink lion, and a green lion, ask yourself where the pink duck has got to. Understanding trivial and impossible permutations can lead to greater overall understanding, and some permutations are just plain useful in their own right.
We all know how to solve mazes in children's puzzle books, don't we!
You know when your unconscious mapping faculty is going because of a fidgety, uncomfortable, even grouchy feeling. When that feeling eases off, it's your call. If you've got a date, leave it be! But if you want results, just take a quick tour around your problem from a couple of different perspectives or directions, and the fidgeting will come back. It's like the way plate spinners nip back to each plate and spin it up again before it falls off its stick.
After a great deal of physical work, you can attempt to lift something, but no movement occurs. The sensation of feebleness where you expected to be able to exert force is surprising and unmistakable. The mental equivalent feels very similar. There is absolutely no point pushing harder, but switching to rest mode instead of carrying on bashing away with your puny little neurons is not easy. This stuff runs on autopilot. You must obtain physical sensory stimulation. A shower, a noisy bar, a band. Get out of your surroundings. You can recover mental energy in a few hours if you stop when you know you can get no further.
The fidgety feeling that comes from effective background thinking is different from a stale sensation, sometimes even described as nauseous. Your brain has exhausted all the options it can find, and you need new empirical input. Get more data. Talk to someone. You obviously don't have some key datum, or your whole model is skew. So maybe you need to do a dragnet search of your problem. If it's a buggy program, put a diagnostic after every single line and put the output in a file. Then read it in detail over a cup of coffee. Sure it will take ages - do you have a better idea? If it's a hideous collection of asynchronous events to be handled, write them out in a list by hand. This forces your attention onto one event after another, and you'll probably have new lines of inquiry before you are halfway through.
Fault to Swapping
There are kinds of stupidity that only mappers have access to. Mappers can be paralyzed by trying to optimize a sequence that is too big to fit in their heads. Perhaps they want to move the wedding cake before they put the spare wheel in the car so their hands are clear, but the spare wheel is here and the wedding cake is at Fred's, and so on. When this happens to a modern paged OS, it gets itself out of thrashing pages by reverting to a swapping strategy. It just swaps out whole processes until the logjam clears, and then goes back to paging. Don't get paralyzed - just do any job and then look again.
Turn the cover inside out, put your arms into it, and grab the far corners from the inside. Then grab the corners of the duvet with the corners of the cover, and shake the cover over the duvet. A bit of practice and you can do a king size one in less than 30 seconds.
Copyright (c) Alan G Carter and Colston Sanger 1997