Abstract: In this newsletter, Heinz answers the question that he gets asked most: "Why Crete?" "Because I can" could be one answer, but the reality is a bit deeper than that.
Welcome to the 231st edition of The Java(tm) Specialists' Newsletter, sent to you from the Island of Crete, where last week we had our fifth edition of JCrete. All the attendees I spoke to told me it was the best JCrete to date. We even made a TreeSet of Java Geeks. Check my Twitter Feed and see if you can find it (July 22nd 2015).
Since I am officially on my summer break after working like a slave for the first 7 months of the year, I am sending you something to inspire you to solve problems quicker and become a better Java programmer. There are other more technical newsletters in the queue, don't worry :-)
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I speak at a lot of conferences, mainly in Europe. At the beginning of my talks, I usually have a short introduction slide of "Who is Heinz?" On it I list my amazing achievements *cough cough* - PhD Computer Science (relevance to Java - none), JavaOne RockStar Speaker (albeit without groupies), Java Champion (not sure what that means), etc. I also mention that I live on the Island of Crete in the blue Mediterranean. After my talks, the most common question that I get asked is: "Why Crete?"
It is an interesting question indeed. First off, no one cares about what I've managed to wangle over the years. But they do want to know whether there is a particular reason why I chose Crete over, let's see, London, Vienna, Paris, Rome, Berlin, New York, San Francisco, Zug and a dozen other places I could have relocated my family to.
Last week, we ran our 5th JCrete unconference. As always, it was held in the "Open Spaces" format. To an outside observer's point of view, it might look like things are fairly well organized. They'd be wrong. We don't have organizers - we have disorganizers. Everything is pretty much chaotic. But with small numbers and smart people, it still somehow works. Actually, it works extremely well. The most organized bit was Steven Chin live streaming and recording the main room's discussions. (WARNING - despite airconditioner, it gets a bit heated at times.)
Geertjan Wielenga, who goes to even more conferences than I do, sent me this comment "Thank YOU. Best Java conference on the planet." He prefers it to JavaOne. Amazing. Marcus Lagergren told me that JCrete ranked as #1 for him, together with the JVM Language Summit.
The secret does not lie in Crete per se. Instead, I found it last night when I was reading Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance Hardcover - by Christopher McDougall. In Chapter 28, it talks about the value of being exposed to nature in stimulating our minds. It was even shown in a scientific paper that "Simple and brief interactions with nature can produce marked increases in cognitive control." At JCrete, we do that all the time.
Usually, conferences are held in soulless buildings in ugly areas of the city where land is cheap. At our conference, we wake up every morning to an unbelievable view of the sea right in front of our conference center. Some of the best discussions we had were held down at the beach underneath some shady trees. There's something about nature to activate our brains. Here's a relevant tweet by our fellow disorganizer Giorgos Saslis. We also stretch the JCrete experience out over many days. At most other conferences, attendees' brains are saturated in the first hour. They pretend to work, but actually it's just an excuse to get out of the office and eat some cookies. At JCrete, we pretend to not work. We only have three sessions per day and then we head off to the beach. But out there, in the waves, the really serious discussions are taking place. Cay Horstmann described it very nicely in his recent blog entry: Back from the JCrete Unconference.
This correlates well with my personal experience. As a teenager, when I had a difficult programming problem to solve, I would take some paper and pen and go sit on the rocks of Bantry Bay below my parents' house. Within a very short time, I would have a solution. It's amazing how the brain wakes up when it encounters nature. So if you are reading this, sitting in a cubicle without any interaction with the outside world, you have my sympathies. It will be very hard for you to engage your brain to its full capacity. I have also had to work in a cubicle without a view. But fortunately there was a golf course nearby, so when I got stuck, I'd hop on my bicycle and ride over there, just to sit underneath the trees, listen to the birds chirping and come up with some Java poetry.
The reason why Crete was good for me is that it gave me the opportunity to live in a lovely house surrounded by nature at a price that I could afford. We have some of the finest beaches in the world right on our doorstep. Yesterday I swam from Marathi to Loutraki and back, totaling about 2.3 km. The lifeguard at Loutraki beach did give me some funny looks, probably wondering where I had come from. Not many people swim that far here :-)
Last year, Marc Hoffmann (mtrail) flew his Java programming team from Switzerland to Crete for advanced training. I don't think they realized what that meant when they signed up! Extreme Java - Concurrency and Performance in the mornings, followed by hours of clambering over rocks in the Stavros mountain range behind my house. Often the hikes and swims in the sea would lead to further in-depth discussions about what we had spoken about earlier, throwing about use-cases from their business and clarifying some points that might have been misunderstood. I saw Marc several times afterwards at various conferences and he told me every time how much that week had helped his team move forward. Now that's the type of company I would want to work for :-)
P.S. If you want to get the ultimate geek watch, forget the Apple Watch and instead have a look at the Garmin Fenix 3. It tracks activity in the open sea, running, cycling and a bunch of other activities. But what I really like as a geek is that it also tracks how long I've been sitting on my backside. If I sit for too long, the watch vibrates and issues a stern warning - "Move!!!" Great reminder to keep moving, even if only to the coffee machine. You can even write your own app for it in a Java-like language. Not cheap, but brilliant. I can wear it hiking and to a business meeting. Some gotchas - the tracking is not always accurate, especially in open water swimming. It is also large, so if you have spindly arms it might not look so good on you :-)
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