The Ruby Freelancers Show 037 – Overcoming Isolation

by woody2shoes on November 22, 2012


  • Eric Davis ( )
  • Evan Light (  )
  • Charles Max Wood (   )


02:50 – Overcoming Isolation

  • Working from coffeehouses
  • Lunch dates

06:25 – Recruiting others with similar interests

07:40 – Talk on

07:46 – Evan’s Apprentice

09:46 – Pairing

  • Remote vs Physical

11:19 – Personality Types

12:13 – Coworking Spaces

  • Creative Work
  • Busy Work

14:51 – Walking and Driving

15:33 – Meetups and User Groups

17:53 – Commiserating and Ranting

19:08 – Attending Conferences

23:26 – Working Onsite for Clients


  • (Eric)
  • (Evan)
  • (Evan)
  • (Chuck)
  • (Discount code Wood20) (Chuck)


EVAN: What’s the background noise that… Is there any?

CHUCK: I hear people talking. It’s OK.

EVAN: OK. Why can’t I crank my volume up louder than this? What the hell? Oh, well that might be why. Now say something.

CHUCK: Something.

EVAN: Good! You did exactly what you were told to do. Thank you.

ERIC: Right.

EVAN: Right. Actually that should have been my response, “Right!”

CHUCK: So what we are talking about… last week we were talking about–

EVAN: [inaudible]

CHUCK: Right.

EVAN: Right. Talking about “right”?

CHUCK: We were thinking about… talking about—

EVAN: [laughs] We were thinking about talking about—


ERIC: I think Chuck is stuck on a loop.

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CHUCK: Hey everybody and welcome to Episode 37 of The Ruby Freelancer Show! This week on our panel, we have Eric Davis.

ERIC: Hello!

CHUCK: Evan Light.

EVAN: I love my brown pants.

CHUCK: And I’m Charles Max Wood from This week, we are going to be talking about Combating Isolation and Loneliness — since we work from home and stuff. So I have to say, I’m a little bit punch-drunk because I’ve been pulling insane hours for my client.

EVAN: So you are rich now?


EVAN: [inaudible] Oops, we can leave the singing out of the transcript please. Thank you.

CHUCK: [laughs] Yeah not yet. They haven’t paid me for all my work I guess.

ERIC: — on paper.

EVAN: The only one who is punch-drunk today.


EVAN: Real drunk might be better.

CHUCK: Real drunk?

EVAN: — actually be topical. Oh wait — sorry, folks this is what happens to you when you have too much isolation.

CHUCK: [laughs] Yeah. So, any who, so we all work from home — mostly generally.

EVAN: And coffeehouses.

CHUCK: Right.

EVAN: Right.

CHUCK: So, what do you do to combat that? How do you overcome the working in a room by yourself all day–

EVAN: I thought you were going to say “overcompensate” instead of overcome because somehow that seems more appropriate right now.


Second, you record a lot of podcasts like Chuck. I had to get that one out there. Third, you start recording more podcasts like me. [chuckles] OK. Seriously, so you go out to a coffeehouse which is where I am — which is why if you hear background noise, well, its people talking in a coffeehouse.

CHUCK: Yeah. I typically do some things like that. David Brady who is on the Ruby Rogues show, he lives like a mile or something from here. And so, we sometimes get together for lunch and that tends to help… of course more lately, we get together for lunch and we talk about the project we are working on together but that is one way of definitely com… “compensating?” [chuckles] –  combating that mainly because you get out. For me just going to a coffee shop, I mean that gives me a change of scenery and it’s nice, but actually going and sitting and chatting with somebody is really where I get that social stimulation that I need.

EVAN: Doesn’t mean that coffeehouse is simulating having a social life — because you are not actually having a social life, you’re a just being around other people to pretend you have a social life.

CHUCK: Yeah. I think there is some benefit to that though.

EVAN: We are humans yeah. So being isolated, not good — being around other humans I like to think is maybe good except they are going to look at you funny because they’d think you are crazy. Or is that just me?

CHUCK: [laughs] I think you are crazy, Evan.

EVAN: Oh yeah. I think I have a lot of reasons for it, so yeah.

CHUCK: But actually going and interacting with folks — and don’t get me wrong, I mean my wife is here all day and my kids are here all day–

EVAN: It’s a good reason to being out?

CHUCK: But it’s not always enough just to have her there to talk to or just to have all the kids — you get some… you know, you get some from talking to them, but you know, you need that adult conversation. And in a lot of cases, I need somebody that I can actually talk to about the situations that I’m dealing with at work and my wife doesn’t always understand that.

EVAN: So you talked about having adult conversations then you mentioned having lunches with Dave Brady? I’m trying to put these together.

CHUCK: [laughs] That’s true. Fair enough. Yeah I have to say that we have manipulated a couple of things with our current project — and it’s just for making things a little bit easier on everybody. But it does help to sit down and talk about the situation and go, “OK, so what do we wanna do?” and then we go and then we pull the director on the project in and get him involved. And usually then, between the three of us, we can make something happen. So, I mean there is that, but at the same time I mean half the time, we are having lunch together, we talk over just stuff in general — stuff that’s going on with him and with Liz or what’s going on with my wife and my kids.

EVAN: So I guess more seriously speaking, so one of the reasons I took an apprentice on is because I’m tired of being the only Ruby nerd out there – well just not Ruby nerd but tired of being the nerdiest person I know out here. So I figured out try to make other Ruby people or try to make other people I know nerdier. [chuckles] [unintelligible] — conversations. So that’s one solution — where you are to teach someone else how to do what you do and then maybe get more work that way because you might have more capacity long term and just–

ERIC: You can also just start a cult.

EVAN: Yes! You could also start a cult.

CHUCK: That was number three on my list.

EVAN: I really have to try avoiding tasteless jokes with that one.

CHUCK: [laughs]

EVAN: Get out of my head Chuck. [laughs] (Said the atheist but–)

CHUCK: You were saying? Sorry.

EVAN: I wonder how many of our listeners I offended with that one. Oh I wasn’t saying that. So, let see… taking apprentice or just finding other friends you have in the area and just going out and grabbing lunch – I did that one too sometimes. Oh yeah, so the other one is talk way too much in Twitter with people.

CHUCK: I wanna know a little bit more about this apprentice setup that you have. You wanna talk about that for a minute?

EVAN: I need to time it.

CHUCK: Time it? What do you mean?

EVAN: A minute. OK fine. Sorry you are a little sore today and I fail to be funny. Never mind. So, talking about apprenticing, right. So, Pat is a — or was a kind of local PHP developer and we met I guess about three years ago or so. And we just compared — was doing a lot of stuff and I talked about Ruby and how I… A matter of fact, I tell a lot of people like quit doing, quit doing government work so I can get paid less and have more fun. And just occasionally, we’d get together and be asked about our stuff including technical stuff.

And some time more recently — a few months ago — he said, “I want to become a Jedi knight like my father and learn the ways of the force.” OK he didn’t say that but he wanna learn Ruby. And I said, “Well, how about we work on projects together and I pay you decently and you learn more Ruby — we pair on projects — and as you get better, and I can justify billing more clients then I bill more to clients and then after a time we can actually split out and work on things in tandem instead of pairing all the time.

And we have been doing that for a few months now. I say — because my life had been kind of a mess due to my wife’s health, so some weeks I’m working more than others. But he’s definitely been learning very, very ably and it’s certainly better than working in isolation all the time. And so it’s been pairing at home and my home office at times — more recently coffeehouses a lot because home is getting too complicated and stressful for me to be around if I’m trying to work — but it’s better than just currently working alone.

CHUCK: That makes sense. I’ve been doing a lot of pairing lately because the project that I’m on is completely remote pairing. And sometimes it kind of fills that social need and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m not really sure what it is. I think part of it is just they are really not there in person and I think the other thing is that we get hyper-engaged in the work and less hyper-engaged in the socializing.

EVAN: Having done a lot of remote pairing before and still doing some remote pairing, I like remote pairing to a degree as physical pairing — there is more commitment because you have to go and meet some place or you are letting someone in your home. They are more… anthropologically speaking I guess, (it’s getting intellectual) there’s more boundaries being crossed when you are physically pairing. When you are remote pairing, its lighter weight. You are just meeting in some space on the internet and you can disconnect easily — you have your own space even though while you are pairing. So you still have most control over your environment. You don’t have to be concerned with someone else. That’s the — if you don’t mind being isolated part. If you want to be actually be around other people, yeah I agree — it’s not nearly as fulfilling as being in the same place with someone else. But I think that’s just human need that the internet just as not as rich a medium for connecting in a human level with people as being in person.

CHUCK: Do you have anything to add to this discussion Eric?

ERIC: I mean, the big thing is you have to kind of try stuff and see what works for you. Like, I work at home pretty good. I’m OK being isolated. Maybe two or three times a year, I’ll go and actually work in a coffee shop or something. But now, I’m just here at home. But my wife, there was actually a time where she was at home with me and doing some work and she couldn’t even go two days without just going crazy insane from being isolated from people. And I’m here, the dog is here, everyone else is here. But for her, she needs a really higher amount of social contact. And so that is something that to think about — it’s very, very personal and very specific to you. And I think that’s why all the co working stuff that actually kind of come up recently is because some people who need that more kind of ad hoc contact of other people, they thrive in a  co-working environment where they won’t be able to thrive at home.

CHUCK: That makes sense. So I wanna jump back on that a little bit. Have you worked in any of the co-working spaces? Either of you guys?

EVAN: When I travelled I’ve done a little bit of that — otherwise, not so much. I don’t think. No.

CHUCK: And does it seem to make a difference?

EVAN: Not so much. In my experience — but I’m not sure if that would be different than if I had spent a longer period of time where I will maybe by some accident I would have run in to more people and talked to more people — having your short bouts siting in a closed space means that I only talk to the people I might be able to work with. And if not, then I don’t work with anyone then it’s not really different than with working in a coffeehouse.

ERIC: Well, one thing to think about too is there is times when you are — not just with programming, but with anything — when you are doing highly creative work and at that point you are trying to come up with new ideas or trying to mesh ideas you have together, it’s basically you are trying to create something from nothing. And then is other times when you aren’t being creative, you are just basically doing the busy work. Like you might know how you are going to implement something and you just basically go in through the steps to do it.

And to me, the busy work is really good in isolation because I can focus better. But if I’m trying to be creative, it’s a lot harder to do that in isolation because having someone to bounce ideas off of is really helpful. And so it’s a another aspect of like what type of work you are actually having to work on and so I think as programmers we actually bounce back and forth between the two quite a bit.

EVAN: Considering that I tend to believe in a little bit more extra —,  when I’m working on something that’s a bit more —, then I tend to prefer isolation because it lets me get in flow – I feel more easily. And when I’m doing something that is more creative that requires more active thinking, well I guess then I’m kind of 50-50. I guess that would imply that I actually prefer isolation over being present with actual people – which actually isn’t true – so, forget everything I just said.

ERIC: Well yeah, for me if I’m isolated at home and I have to do creative stuff, I’ll typically get off the computer like I would pen and paper or maybe I’ll go down and make some tea — because that’s three to five minutes to do that. And while I’m doing that, I’m kind of like thinking about it in my head and mulling it over. Just the physical act of walking and kind of changing the scenery a little bit typically helps me think some things or unblock myself to.

EVAN: Yeah I do that too. Sometimes driving for whatever reasons for me and though I don’t drive very much – I think it’s another podcast episode, maybe I need to go out take more random drives [chuckles] to help me think at times. But I actually do tend to prefer working in places with other people. It’s just that when I need to concentrate more, I tend to use more techniques to block the noise but not block their presence. So I like to be in a coffeehouse but then I’ll have headphones playing white noise so it’s not something I have to pay attention to – that lets me focus but still lets me be with other people.

CHUCK: Yeah. One thing that this discussion has done for me is that, it’s kind of highlighted the need for me to build in a release valve for some of these. Basically I used to organize a weekly lunch for programmers around here. And I’m pretty active with both the JavaScript and Ruby communities, so I tend to tell both communities, “Hey, come show up at this time on this day.” And I haven’t done it recently because I have been so entrenched in the project I’m on, but I realize that I really do need a little bit more than just a lunch with one other guy — that is kind of in the same boat I’m in — where I sit down and hang out with folks.

And the user group meetings are really good for that, but they tend to be on the same night I have scouts, and so I can’t always go. But yeah I’m probably going to — after this podcast — send an email to the lists and say, “Hey guys, do you wanna grab lunch tomorrow?” And we’ll probably have 10-15 folks show up. And it’s nice because then you just sit and be — about stuff for an hour or so. And it does… it’s a huge release for that.

As far as the driving thing, I also wanted to comment on that and just point out that I do that pretty regularly actually – I’ll just drive over to the gas station and then refill my soda or run over to the store and just pick something up — and it’s just to get out, be it be out there and around people for a few minutes. Kind of like getting up and going for a walk and then come back and take care of that. And then I can get back in the work and feel like I’ve — I don’t know, I’m not sure exactly what it is that I get out of it,  what  I’m looking for, but I feel better after having done that and I can back and I can get some creative work done. Do you guys get out to users group very often?


EVAN: Sorry. The users group is at least 2 hours away – so, not so much.

ERIC: For me – because I’m in the Portland suburbs – there’s a lot in Portland. I guess a 20 minute drive from my house. But we only have one car, so I take the train — which means it’s about an hour to get in there – an hour to get back. Typically, by the time they go on — because they are almost at the night I’m so drained and I’d rather just spend time with my family. And so I mean I have gone to a few, but for me just the value there wasn’t worth the amount of time that I had to put into it.

EVAN: Oh, so one thing that I think choose isolation. We got an experience in the past couple of weeks, there was the pre call to the last show when Eric was sharing a recent experience (I won’t go with the details about that) – that I think Eric gave value. And there I found that he wasn’t as isolated because his experience has been had at least by me.

And then there was another experience I had this week where someone walked me through some – shall we say an interesting suboptimal code — that they have been working with and we commiserated on that and laughed at how bad it was. And so sometimes, I guess really just commiserating about some of the awful stuff that we find individually can be handy even if you are not physically present, it can still be cathartic.

ERIC: AKA “ranting”.

CHUCK: [laughs] Well it works both ways too because I think you felt less alone in your situation, but Evan also felt like he could contribute and he probably also felt like his experience was relevant too.

EVAN: Yes.

CHUCK: So what about conferences?

EVAN: What about conferences?

CHUCK: Well, as far as fighting the alone or isolation, it seems like to some degree, I actually get over stimulated by the conferences.

EVAN: Yeah I totally do too — but overstimulation is a good contrast to the utter under stimulation I saw from living out here — but I don’t get out to as many of them whereas many of them I would perhaps like because then it’s not cheap to go to them.

CHUCK: No it’s not.

EVAN: As a freelancer and it being basically holy tax deductible, it still gets very expensive very fast. Pre-tax, I think most conference trips are near or somewhere around a thousand dollars — at least in a minimum, they are pretty close to. They only start to get worst if they are on the west coast or if they are outside the country.

CHUCK: It is nice though to get out and interact with the other developers out there and find out what’s going on in the community, what people are thinking about and just be around people that are like you — in the sense that they are programmers — they program and things like that. And it tends to tide me over for a week or two at least and then I start kind of craving that social interaction.

EVAN: And then you just have this podcast where you get to hear these voices.

CHUCK: Yeah, the voices in my head — make them stop!

EVAN: You have to take the headphones off. It’s not hard man.

CHUCK: Yeah. Well lately, I think they are glued to my head.

EVAN: [laughs] Is that the voices are glued to your head? Or the headphones are glued to your head?

ERIC: Yes.


EVAN: [laughs]

ERIC: And for me, I don’t like conference in general. And the cost of going to a conference — not necessarily like the “cost” of the conference but the opportunity cost — is just so high. Like I’ve only started going to local conferences because it’s like go out there for a day or two, come back like the — night type thing. But even those, like depending on what projects you have, the opportunity costs just might be so high, it’s like not even worth it. And to kind of fix the isolation, social separation part, they are not really that good because they are kind of a Band-Aid of a solution for like a problem of your work environment is not quite wide.

EVAN: Band-Aid… It’s a life choice. When you say work environment, you are quite right which is to put ourselves if we can’t fix our work environment, then either we should stop being freelancers — because if we are feeling to isolated, then maybe you need to absolutely work with a team — you could stop being a freelancer, you could work on site with the clients perhaps — if that’s an option for you. It’s not really for me. Band aids are not necessarily that bad — if they are all you got — you just cover yourself in band aids. I can tell you a lot about that. [laughs]

ERIC: I mean like if you find that you need more interaction, it might mean you need to go to a coffee shop twice a week or work at a co-working. But if you are trying to force yourself to be at home — and that state of isolation is too much for you and you are band aiding by going to conferences a lot — I think it might be better to just kind of fix like maybe go out once a week, than to try and go to every conference you can. Now the whole networking side of conferences I’m not considering that – I’m just talking about the isolation part.

EVAN: It doesn’t work for me because going to coffeehouses usually doesn’t mean being around lots of nerdy people like myself. Going to coffeehouses for me means being around lots of… Oh, I’m going to stop there before I start picking on the entire eastern shore I so often do.

CHUCK: [laughs] Yeah but there is a difference between being out and among the public, and being out and among people being think like you and–

EVAN: Being with the tribe.

CHUCK: Yeah. And that’s where the conference really pay off for me.


CHUCK: Oh, there we go.

EVAN: [laughs] OK fine. This place is so backwards… I can’t OK this should be an assignment for the listeners – this place is so backwards that… in a sentence.

CHUCK: [laughs] So let’s talk for a minute about working on site for a client or traveling to work with a client. Does that solve the need at all to be around other people?

EVAN: For me, it does a little bit yeah because—

CHUCK: I’ve done it once — I did it in September. I have worked in the office of a few local clients. it’s just depends on their situation. Some of the situation is, you show up, you just working in a desk there instead of a desk here, so you have people walking by and that’s pretty much the difference. Where the other client we were pairing anyway, and so it was a little more interactive and a little more social — and that was nice.

EVAN: I think you go onsite for different reasons than I do then — when I go onsite to a client specifically to interact with them. And usually, it’s to train or mentor. So when I’m onsite there is a lot more interaction than there is when I’m working at home.

CHUCK: That makes sense. What I’ve seen… so the company here that I worked for onsite, it was literally, “You will be here in our office so that we can find you if we need you to do some other programming work.” It wasn’t really to interact or train or anything like that.

EVAN: [unintelligible]

CHUCK: I think so. The other client, it was more so that I could come out and get to know them a little bit and they could get to know me in person. And then when I came back home and kept working for them, then they have a little bit more of a rapport with me.

EVAN: That’s the other reason that I like to go out and meet clients and I like to it early in the relationship – it’s to be able to view them more easily as people rather than abstract concepts with a voice.

CHUCK: Yeah there’s definitely some pay off there.

EVAN: And vice versa.

CHUCK: Mh-hmm.

EVAN: Objectification.

CHUCK: Yup, it happens. But again, this is the client that I am working with right now. And so, being out there and interacting with them, they really did make sense because then, we have that kind of relationship that I can talk to them from here. Anyway, it seems like the conversation is winding down.

EVAN: [laughs] I think we have all been winding down before the conversation.

CHUCK: I know. Are there any other things that we should add to this? I don’t mind ending it early rather than trying to drag it out.

EVAN: Dragging out would be fun if we got more punch-drunk but I get the feeling there isn’t even much punch drunk left. Well OK maybe they are always is for me but — OK not always, just now. All right I’m done.

CHUCK: All right. Well let’s get to the picks then we’ll just wrap it up and if you wanted a full hour of conversation — I’m sorry.

EVAN: [laughs] Yeah you have to return to your isolation in a few minutes.


ERIC: We can play it again.

EVAN: [laughs]

CHUCK: All right Eric go ahead. What are your picks?

ERIC: OK. So, this past weekend, I did some traveling – went to go visit some family. And I have a VPN service called Strong VPN, which is basically a hosted VPN server. I had it set up so it works on my phone and on my iPad and on my laptop. And I’ve tried it this past week and also tried… I guess last month when I went onsite for client on my laptop and it’s nice, it’s very inexpensive — I think I pay like $7/month — but it completely secures all my traffic from my phone and iPad and laptop. So, even if you have to get on kind of an unsecured Wi-Fi, this way I can make sure that stuff doesn’t go over the wire and I can get — what is it – I think like firesheep or whatever it is. So once again, it’s called Strong VPN. It’s really cheap if you actually work outside the office a lot, this might be something to look into.

EVAN: I can counter suggest for things that are free — that will suffice or might suffice with that are simple to use. I’ve been using something called Cloak – I think you can find it on a website. Maybe its I’ll Google it — but Cloak is just essentially just a proxy to a cloud server that then goes in the internet in your behalf. So that will let you… you are at least encrypted from your machine to Cloak. And apparently, there is also an iOS client for it but I haven’t tried it. I’m not sure exactly how that would work given the constraints in iOS, but I used that very frequently in coffeehouses if I’m not already using iOS tethering. So that at least gets you on the net safely.

I started playing a little bit with the OS X sever package — which wouldn’t help you because I think you are Linux — but, that’s a whopping $20 and that has a pretty simple VPN set up. that as long as I either have my IP address or I’m using DynDNS — which I do use and that’s free — then I can  connect to my machine at home remotely and I can do that from my iPhone pretty easily. Then of course you are playing all that—

ERIC: I used to have a crazy one that would actually have no SSH ports open, but you know, magically reopen them when they knew I was coming in and stuff like that. But for me, I just decided like, OK  $7/month for server class VPN that is always out of LA — and I can switch where it’s out of — and they also do international stuff. I’m like, that is way worth me playing around trying to get a server configured or playing with different apps – as an hourly rate side.

EVAN: OK. Well, Cloak is free — for at least the first two gigs — you might wanna look at that for just when you are at coffeehouses and just don’t wanna get fire sheep. But yeah, OS X server wouldn’t help you and frankly otherwise other than the VPN stuff, it’s a little bit broken and costs $20. I guess I’ll count it as my pick.

CHUCK: Doesn’t Apple have Back to my Mac or Back to Mac or whatever it is.

EVAN: Yes. And I have not played with that. I know it requires some port forwarding — I think it might even have that port forwarding that I just hadn’t tried yet. And clearly connecting through their service and that’s a lot like — as far as I know — it’s a lot like say …. which I do use. And at that point, you are relying on the service you are using to be secure.

CHUCK: Right.

EVAN: Right!

CHUCK: [laughs] I must be tired. My right filter is.

EVAN: Right. Your right filter turned off.

CHUCK: But yeah, I’ve heard good things about it. I’ve set it up on my machine here at home, but I’ve never actually tried to connect to it so I don’t know how good that is — but I just thought I’ll throw it out there. So Evan, do you have any other picks?

EVAN: Not really.


EVAN: The OS X Server is kind of half pick because a little bit buggy.

CHUCK: Hmm. OK good to know.

EVAN: It’s cheap though.

CHUCK: So my picks this week: first pick is – and this is an oldie but a goodie – it’s The Ruby Object Model and Metaprogramming videos by Dave Thomas on pragprog. They are old but they are still relevant to the way that Ruby works and things about its classes and object.

EVAN: Up and then to the right.

CHUCK: Yeah. With your closed class. So I’m going to pick that and I’ll put a link to it in the show notes. The other pick that I have is the New Media Expo – which it used to be Blog World. It’s going to be in Last Vegas in January. If you are working on getting the word out for your business or whatever through new media — meaning blogging videos podcasts, things like that — this is definitely a great way to go. You can get at digital pass, which allows you to watch the talk I think after they have been recorded. You can also buy a pass and go out to new Media Expo in Las Vegas.

If you go out to new media expo in last Vegas in January on the 6th through the 8th, I will be there because I’m going to be speaking about podcasting. So, let me know and we’ll meet up and grab food or something. I’ll put a link up in the show notes. It’s going to be an affiliate link — I just wanna just claim that. I don’t care if people know that it’s an affiliate link — but if you are going to go, I do appreciate getting the affiliate. And that–  those are my picks. I don’t think we have anything else to promote or push out, so we’ll go and wrap this up and thank you for listening!

EVAN: Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

CHUCK: [laughs]

EVAN: No wait — sorry this week will be amphetamines.

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