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Vol.26 No.4

Vol.26 No.4


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Volume 21, No.1

The Wildheart Column

by Stefano Lanzavecchia

“I have been to places that were too cold, never to one that was too hot”

One morning you wake up to discover that the cover on your bed feels thinner and your feet are unmistakably cold. This is a sure sign that summer is over and it’s time to hunt for a sweater in the winter closet. And if you live in a country like the one where I live, you will not fail to notice this sad but necessary change, unless you are like a disturbing majority of the Italian population. My compatriots seem to live seasons in a way that I find hard to understand. Let us follow a typical year in Milano from the point of view of the average citizen. When King Winter reigns over the land, he has two possibilities: either dress like the cold climate would suggest with warm and comfortable clothes or follow some silly fashion trend and risk to freeze every day and catch nasty colds to spread around to his or her family and colleagues. In both cases he or she will complain bitterly of the inclement season, dreaming of running away in some exotic country where a tan in mid-February does not mean going to a beauty parlour for an UV treatment. Oscillating between apathy and bad mood, he will try to drink away some of his sorrows waiting for the sweet sun’s kisses to return. Fair enough.

As the year progresses there will be no Spring since, as everybody says, seasons are all messed up, and one glorious day Summer will suddenly sweep away the last scarf and once again it will be time for a decision. A few wise souls will remember their miserable past days and will gratefully thank the rising temperature that frees them from the chains of Winter. Alas, the worrying majority of the others will, instead, start cursing the change and hurriedly switch their air-conditioners on, oblivious of the fact that when the sky was grey and cloudy in the cold season, 20 degrees in a room seemed barely enough to survive and required, in addition to a woolly pullover and the comforting emission of a raging hot heater, a good dose of foul vocabulary to let out the frustration of those bound by a cruel destiny. Now for every degree over the 21 threshold, despite the t-shirts, the shorts and the sandals, they grab their remotes for the conditioner and lower the temperature a bit more, to make sure that the room they have to spend all the day in, sweating the brains out, never passes the 18 degrees limit. And the conditioner, enslaved by their will, will vomit rivers of ice-cold air through filters that were probably never cleaned after the first installation. The citizen will praise the ingenuity of science for creating such a useful machine and will only have to suffer the warm, soft and caring embrace of summer when crossing the street, out of the door of the office and into his modern full-optional car, and out of the car toward his morgue-cold flat.

Luckily enough, not everybody is like that. Recently I met an Italian lady who spent two years living (and working) in Egypt (Sharm-El-Sheik to be precise) and at the end of the stay, in preparation for the move to the new destination, she sold her car. At the question “does the air-conditioning system work”she candidly replied “I don’t know”. To the eye-popped enquirer she explained that she had never felt the need to switch it on and try it out.

I believe there is a fundamentally wrong assumption in the approach of Italians to hot weather. I agree there are some pathological conditions that prevent a body from being able to stand high temperatures and humidity, and the persons affected should protect themselves using anything science can help them with. But I cannot find a real reason to justify the collective hysteria. I think it’s all a matter of perspective. If a child is told that feeling warm is bad, he or she will grow up with a foolish fear of thermometers rising. If he is told that sweating always causes smells and is socially unacceptable, he will develop an insane rejection for any form of moisture on his and his neighbours’ body. The truth is different, though. In the case of a normal person, periodic exposure to warm climates bathed in shining sun will help relaxation, improve the mood and enhance self-esteem. Sweating will help the body get rid of various kinds of poisons, balance the content of salts and minerals and, once the toxins are gone, the sweat is almost scentless. Also, in a warm environment where the thermal difference between the inside and the outside of a building is around 5 degrees even if outside the temperature is above 30 degrees, there is very little risk of colds and other various air-conditioning induced diseases, not to mention legionella and company, kindly provided by the lethally neglected filters. A friend of mine is convinced that the curse of the Nile, which forces most visitors there to spend too many days of their precious vacations on a toilet, is not caused by the germs in the water but by the freezing cold halls in the hotels. Even I would not go that far, but I find this an interesting interpretation.

Maybe I don’t know enough English people to extract meaningful statistics; nevertheless amongst my acquaintances I have noticed some undeniable wisdom in their approach to summer. They seem to enjoy the nice weather when it’s there and will even find some form of nostalgic thought in the smell of the melting asphalt of a town like Milano during Summer. Still they would rather be in a place like Lanzarote, officially a Spanish island, but in practice an English (British, Welsh and Irish) colony. And who could blame them? Who would not want to be lazing with an icy pint of lager, under the shade in a transplanted Irish pub on the promenade of Puerto del Carmen? To be honest, not only English people seem to be able to enjoy warm weather much better than we, who should be used to it, can, but they also seem to be able to stand cold weather without making such a big fuss out of it and I envy them for that. But here I digress.

Weather conditions and seasons have a sure impact on software developers. I, for one, am much more productive during summer. Some of the best code I ever wrote was developed during an amazingly hot August that I had the luck to spend at the office mostly on my own, which meant that I could keep the conditioner switched off all the time. The embrace of the warm air and even the sweat that was refreshing my body made me feel safe and protected and I could concentrate on the work at hand without having to worry about the environment around me. I would like to stress the fact that being sweaty does not necessarily mean being dirty and a shower at the end of the day can be something to look forward to without falling into the obsession of longing for it since the first hour of work at the office. Why was the code I wrote good? First of all it was rather elegant, because I had managed to concentrate deep enough to design many aspects of the final result beforehand. Second, it was almost bugless because I had had the time to do thorough testing. Third it was naturally extensible, as was proved in the few months following completion when I was asked to add certain features I had not foreseen. My claim is that all of this was possible because of a proper Summer: unshielded hot weather combined with the long hours of light that allowed me to stay late at the office without having to worry about getting home when it was already dark.

Of course to be able to benefit from the effect of Summer, one must be put in the conditions for this to happen. If short-sighted management or self-inflicted masochism forces one to attend a working day of summer in Milano with suit and tie, I can see that enjoying it would be quite hard. Maybe one day I am going to understand why a software developer strangled by a tie in a shirt with patched armpits should be perceived as a better professional than the same software developer with a clean and fancy t-shirt and a fitting pair of blue-jeans. I am afraid in my case prejudices are hard to overcome so I will not expect a miracle any time soon.

At this point my readers should have an idea about who the anonymous author of the opening quote is, so I will not procrastinate with a useless revelation my wishes to everybody for a great and, hopefully, unusually warm Autumn.

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