Archive for April, 2008

Shocking, Sharpening

Unbelievable for a Reality TV hater, but I want to talk about Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. Such a revelation. Both Fox and BBCAmerica have spent a ton of time making Gordon Ramsay look like a gaping asshole. I finally tuned in like you do passing a car wreck. No bodies. No blood. Very little ego for a celebrity chef turned emperor turned TV host. And he seems to legitimately care about the people he visits, a cardinal sin in reality TV (there's a fantastic recurring bit on That Mitchell and Webb Look where viewers are encouraged to tune into what's ostensibly a serious science program but is in reality an excuse to "have a good stare at" freaky disabilities).

Story Engine

I've been following a comics blogger who breaks books down (there's a nice link list in this MetaFilter post) into what he calls their "storytelling engines", the simple theme that runs through a book which all stories revolve around. Having found Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, my concern now is that we'll be burnt out on it within a couple of weeks, because there's not a lot there. I hate to admit to being of the hoi polloi, but theres not a ton of conflict. Sure a cook or two might leave, but the shows always end happily with the place back on track after basking in the genius of Gordon Ramsay. Then again, we've only seen a handful of shows scattered across Seasons 2, 3 and 4, so maybe they've had fist-fights and grease fires galore in the ones we've missed.

Knife Sharpening

I worked in a restaurant for six or seven summers. We had three or four head chefs over that time (the turnover wasn't as bad as it sounds— it was a seasonal place). This gives me just-a-touch more than 0 experience to relate while watching the show, but I think the lessons are applicable outside a kitchen. This is what reality TV should do, present a mirror for us to examine ourselves, rather than a chance to watch those worse off (or so much better off) than us and gawk. In the episodes we've seen, there aren't horrendous health code violations; incompetence is present at some restaurants, but it's yet to be the underlying problem. The problem is stasis. Comfort. People get into the business, find a way to survive and then stay in their rut. Some even succeeded for a time: the chef at what was Rococo (you can see the first 10 minutes of the episode here) made it into the Michelin Guide and achieved a star back in the '90s. A decade later, he was serving the menu that had earned him a star. It's an understandable bit of self-doubt to think the menu is what made the restaurant great. He refused to believe the success was a result of his desire to learn, to invent, to grow. It must suck to wind up being a drudge slaving away at the same mechanical process every day when the person who designed the process was you.

Working for myself now, this scares the shit out of me. How do you prevent that? Being part of a group of even semi-competent co-workers helps to keep you fresh, exposes you to new ideas. Having to solve other peoples' problems whether I wanted to or not kept me learning. Now that I'm my own head chef*, it's up to me to keep learning, to keep tossing successful projects in the trash and moving onto new ways. It's terribly easy to find a computer language, master a framework in it, churn out the same menu for years and then find there are no customers for the one dish you know how to make. The trick is remembering that every day.

* Mature, I know, but I can't hear the phrase "Head Chef" without thinking of a fellow busboy shouting, "I'll give you head, chef" just as he exited the kitchen back into a dining room full of elderly patrons.

Oh, and I like posting from Textmate a damn sight better than the WordPress client, mainly because of my super-slow Textdrive hosting.

Humorless

I always take a peek at the people who add me on Twitter to see if it's someone I know, someone from the area (I'm interested to see how meatspace communities can spring up around virtual ones; hashtags is a great way to create brand-new communities on-the-fly*) or just a spambot. I just ignore the spam, life's too short to get fired up about it. But don't tell that to people who get added by BeerOfTheDay:

I can't decide if I like #2 or #3 better. #1 is standard Internet eltisim, but the other two seem to suggest a cognitive disconnect, like there was a fifteen second span after they opened the email where they thought, "I wonder who I know that joined Twitter and called himself BEER OF THE GODDAMN DAY." Hmm, Pete Coors? Nope, he's more of a mimeographed screed sort of guy. Adolphus Busch? Dead. Sam Adams? Fictional. It's a wonder anyone makes it out their door in the morning.

* #completeperverts still available

Painfully Delicious

Quicktime 1.0 Development team channels Michael Jackson.

Dear Dog,

I know summer's coming and so, apparently, do you. However, I'm not willing to even nominate this as spring yet, so let's hold off on the getting up at 5:30 for a while. Also, that deal where we let you in the bed so you go back to sleep for an hour or so? That's weekends only, since that was the one time you got up before us. Remember winter, when you were less mobile than a piece of furniture before 8am and we had to beg you to get up so we got the honor of meandering around the freezing 'hood with you? Given your habit of (and I don't want to be harsh here) sleeping the better part of the day away, how about you pretend there's a big, fat sunbeam on your bed until 7am or so and we reschedule your appointments with the squirrels?

Sincerely,

Your Pal

P.S. It's a queen-size bed and you're a pint-sized beagle. Any idea how come there's no room once you show up?

Usability, Defined

Claymore

What a Database Can Say About You

When I started at my previous job, we were small-time. Sites were ASP or (horrors) ColdFusion talking to an Access database, and even that was only for fancy clients who wanted a record of the Contact Us form submissions from their site. We got a little bigger and a little better and we started rolling out small tools to manage pieces of sites (typically press releases or job postings). Again, ASP talking to Access. Like Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, the more we worked, the better we got and then, like Mike, we dug ourselves into trouble. We built a site for a client with enough web traffic that Access couldn't keep up (hard to imagine, I know).

Enter SQL Server. We tried to keep up the pretense this expensive piece of software was a one-time thing, but success here bred more work and attracted more clients who could justify the expense of a machine and a SQL Server web connector license or whatever the hell it's called. This left reusable bits of code all over, but we didn't have that many clients who needed their own server. We sucked it up and added a shared SQL Server for mid-sized clients so we could keep using the same code. At this point, some of the most inventive work being done in development was justifying why a new site wouldn't work with Access. It wasn't long before that second shared SQL Server came on line. Our codebase was driving our hardware and platform decisions.

This ossifies a company: if you can't take on jobs smaller than six figures because you can't hide the software licensing costs, you lose out on smaller jobs. That doesn't look like a problem to a company in this state because they've developed a mindset that says, "We only work on projects that are worthy of our time and platform" (at The Daily WTF, this would be called "enterprise-y"). There was no reason we couldn't have put MySQL or Postgres on Windows and gotten 90-100% of the same performance for free.  Small projects don't add a lot to cash flow, but they can be portfolio pieces, they can turn into bigger jobs, they can create connections that lead to bigger jobs. If they do none of those things, they do wonders for development teams. They're calisthenics. Clients with small budgets don't have small plans; they want everything the guy at the next table is having, they just don't want to pay his tab. "Do more with less" was the derisive slogan of the final season of The Wire; when it comes down from management, it is worthless. But when it's baked into a (well-managed) project, it can force developers to step back and figure out how they can recreate the code they've been cutting and pasting in a smaller space. That's the kind of challenge that not only keeps developers learning, but keeps them interested and in fighting trim.

Video on Flickr

Because, why not?

A Brief History of My Celtics Fandom

Pre-History

I didn't make it for '81. '82. "Beat LA" is where I got my start. In '84 I was still young enough that I wasn't allowed to stay up and watch the pre-Championship playoffs. I think this had more to do with my Dad's MBA study group meeting at our house than my age (8+) or the time, given I was allowed to listen to the radio in my room. And tape the broadcasts, for some reason. Tree Rollins and Sidney Moncrief appear on casette tapes somewhere in this house, along with that George Carlin "Occupation: Foole" tape I made that ends a little early and reveals an old Celtics/ Pistons tilt in which Rick Mahorn dumps Johnny Most's beverage all over the scorer's table.

I made it to '84 and '86. Was there for '85 and '87 too. There for the rise of the Pistons ('88-'90), the faux threat of the Pacers, but all of that was terrific stuff for a sports fan.  Len Bias died, Larry's back turned more trick than back, Kevin's ankle turned into Home Depot, Reggie Lewis' plumbing failed and the next thing you knew, it was just you, Tommy and Rick Fox. When I left for college in 1993, there wasn't anything to leave behind. Gone, there were no reminders the Celtics existed once you left New England.

Restart

By the time I got out of college and got settled into something like adulthood, the Celtics were what the Bruins are now, Lucy with the football, just begging you to kick it this time, for reals. I signed on to the Pitino Era, as much out of loyalty to him (who'd made PC basketball into something to respect again) as them. Wiff #1: no Tim Duncan. Wiff #2: they beat the Jordan Bulls on Opening Night, get you hooked and then turtle. For about 5 years. They get Antoine, they get Paul, Paul gets stabbed, they make a fantastic playoff run, if the Eastern Conference Finals were your end goal in life. Even that gets blown up. Rinse and repeat.

Which makes this year so amazing. It's out of nowhere. It's a full-on Victory Garden blooming in a bombed-out alley. Forget Paul, Ray-Ray and KG's amazing intensity. The people that make this year fun from game 1 to whenever it ends are guys like James Posey, Big Baby, the Hollywood story that is Leon Powe. Character guys who show up and go to work. 'EEI callers are insistent on comparing this team to the Patriots even though the Celtics haven't won a thing yet. It feels premature, it feels unnecessary (and it's a little uncomfotable to have Murf the Surf from Dawchestah calling up to talk about "character" black guys, but that's a different history). This run can probably last another two years, but if they don't win a thing and fall apart next year, it was still a hell of a ride.

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Put Me in the 80%

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