Archive for category Personal

Week 142

"That tension— between beauty and cynicism, between what the Brazilians call futebol d'arte and futebol de resultades— is a constant, perhaps because it is so fundamental, not merely to sport, but also to life: to win, or to play the game well? It is hard to think of any significant actions that are not in some way a negotiation between the two extremes of pragmatism and idealism."
Jonathan Wilson, Inverting the Pyramid

This was supposed to be "Week 138", but I never got off my duff. It's just as well as I read Flashman and the Dragon in the interim and it colored my thoughts on this post. I want to clarify and expand upon what I said in the last post about the danger of falling too much in love with one language, one web technology. Some of that is just my personal bias: I spent my formative development years working at a consultancy that took on work in all manner of languages and on any number of platforms, so I think that's How Things Should Be. I've always prided myself on being "language agnostic" in terms of programming. A few times on a job interview or when trying to land a client I think this has cost me— you see a wrinkled nose or the torrent of questions turns into a trickle— but I've never really minded because I think insistence on working in one way is the path of the small-minded. It's something I rail against in general, the tendency for everyone to think where they live, how they live and what they think is based on some cosmic template of How Things Are Done and anyone who's opinions, skin color, language differ from that template is doing it wrong.

That kind of thing infects your thought. If I were designing a curriculum for a school, it would include a week discussing Kipling's "[W]hat should they know of England who only England know?" A week at the inside. Make it the basis of a year's worth of forming thought. Too many developers focus on one thing, get comfortable in it and then don't know what to do when that technology turns into a dead end. Or, worst of all, don't ever find out that technology has turned into a dead end. There's nothing more frightening than meeting a new client's old developer via his work. "He has his own way of doing things." "He was very specific about that." Etc. If you don't think there are people making a good living writing dead-end solutions for clients who don't know better, find out how many copies of Microsoft Access were sold last year. Ask why people are still looking for VB6 compilers ("I don't like to upgrade [to] 2008. More than 10.000 lines of code")?

So what the hell am I doing trying to work in Django all the time? First we should discuss the lie I told above. I'm not language agnostic. Not exactly. I try not to be a fan of anything, but that's not in my nature anyway: I expect to be let down by anything I rely on. But I don't stop myself from hating. This week, a partner asked me if I knew any ColdFusion consultants. My thought process:

  1. Why would I hang around with a sorry bastard like that?
  2. Hey, I've written thousands of lines of ColdFusion!
  3. Yeah, and you hated every second of it.
  4. Oh, right.

No thanks. It's one of the few languages I've worked in that I feel sets you back (note: all opinions circa 2002 and CF4/5). Like ASP, its limitations make you think programming has to be hard and that there are things that cannot be done. It never fails to amaze me when a developer says something "cannot be done". It's almost never accurate. 99% of the time it either means it can't be done in budget or the developer does not know how to. And that second case is when you should drop a developer post-haste. I've rarely done anything interesting as a programmer when I knew how to do it at the outset. You only learn and grow when you get challenged.

So, again, why work so much in Django where you can develop a comfortable rut and never be challenged by ideas and paradigms from other languages that might show a better way to do things? So much of life comes back to biology, and working in one language is incestuous. Healthy populations have lots of differences, providing more opportunities for mutations and evolution. I could hang out with the world's smartest Python programmers and all I would ever learn is the best way to solve problems in Python. Which is not necessarily the best way to solve a problem. Going back to Kipling, it's hard to appreciate what you have if you don't know what the alternatives look like. It's human nature to assume what you have is the best option. My favorite Americans, the people who I think are our best citizens, were citizens of the world. Franklin, Jefferson, etc. were Americans intimately familiar with England, who spent much of their diplomatic lives in France. The synthesis of different ideas results in totally new avenues. Even just the ability to synthesize different ideas is important.

The answer turns out to be a surprising one: I, and by extension, this company, am not a programmer. It's what I do to accomplish client goals, but it's not what clients want. They want a solution to a problem. Ideally a secure, high-performance, user-friendly solution, but in no case do they care about the language it's written in or the format of the code. They just want something that leaves them happier than they were before. All that stuff developers argue about, languages, platforms, editors, it's all fanboyism. I'm too old for that and I'm more interested in accomplishing something than being right. Or I'm trying to be.


Dreams They Complicate My Life

Had one of those constant dreams nights which I take as indicative of good sleep, though I was awoken by my iPod once. I've been listening to the over-my-head In Our Time podcast because, whether it's terribly interesting or terribly boring, it makes me terribly sleepy. It was off-putting to wake up hearing a stranger in a dark room speaking of the Fall of Carthage. The highlights:

  1. Falls into what I would call the "Tetris Dream" category, when you've become a little too interested in something: had a dream where I was in a field hospital somewhere in the jungle watching a TV report, hosted by @leolaporte about Canadian Twitterers, whom he referred to as "C-itters". I'd really hoped we were beyond that kind of prejudice in 2009.
  2. I was a amateur anti-mob sniper, recruited for the job by a rogue government agent who's ex-girlfriend I was dating (she was also recruited for the cause; for the record, I'm pretty sure it was this woman from Numb3rs). I was up in our hotel room[1] with my assignment in my sights when I noticed the Mob's snipers hanging out of the hotel window right next to me. Jumping back out of the window, I went to inventory the guns and ammunition I'd been left when the treachery became clear: the case had almost no bullets (but plenty AA batteries, the guns being electric). To heighten the stress of the moment, the cleaning crew started coming around the halls.
  3. To cap the evening, I got another go at my newest recurring dream. Since my Mom died, I've been having this strange cartographic dream where I try to map out the city of Newport[2] from a boat. It never works, the boat sinks and whatever I'm looking for goes unfound. I could probably save this dream-self a lot of time if he'd give me a whack at his map.

[1] We'd gotten to the point in our relationship where we were not only comfortable sharing a hotel room, we could interrupt a vacation to gun down mobsters without any negative effect on our relationship
[2] More accurately, the whole of Aquidneck Island, as I think last time I wound up in Portsmouth under the Mount Hope Bridge.


Morning Stress

I want English Muffin insurance, for those times when you tear the thing all wrong and one side is basically not there and the thing toasts completely unevenly because of the difference in girth. And the pressure's on then, because the damn things come in six-packs, which makes no sense. It doesn't correlate with anything: there are five weekdays, seven days in a week if you're eating them every day (and it's 10/14 if there's two of you in the house). Every once in a while I'll come upon a four-pack and think, "Two of those might work better", but then I get up close and realize it's one of those massive "SANDWICH SIZE!" affairs and I can't do it. Sure I've eaten sandwiches made from English Muffins, even hamburgers when we ran out of buns, but there's something depressing about intentionally buying those. And if you try to eat one for breakfast, you're going to feel like a real fatty. So that doubles the pressure and I wind up in front of the toaster like some bomb disposal technician whose decided on which wire to cut and now it's just a question of death or glory. This is why there are Eggos.

Nothing's Coming Out!

You want to know why recycling isn't keeping pace, why the universe is going to suffer heat death and run out of energy a few billion years from now? I just opened a new container of bay leaves-- if you don't know what those are, they're pretty much what you thought they were. The salient point is their size; go ahead and look, I'll wait.

The container had a shaker top on it. You know, the kind of thing you'd expect if the contents were ground up seeds and not say, vegetation off a tree. So I have to break a goddamn thumbnail because some halfwit in Sandusky, Ohio can't figure out whether or not to slap a shaker lid (with two options, not that either one would work) on top without calling someone back at HQ. Can't you see him starting to take out that 25' yellow Stanley tape he's carried around all his life for no good reason, thinking, "This is finally it" when he realizes everyone's staring a little more than normal? Isn't there something on the shop wall next to the OSHA posters, some suggested guideline on when not to include the shaker cap? "If it's bigger than the tip of your pinkie," with a red crossout circle.

Of course not, because the job's long since been turned over to the one reliable employee, some robot who happily slaps caps all day. When Skylab comes on line and the Terminators get rid of us, it won't be because of world wars or violence or inhumanity, it'll be because some computer figured out it just spent the last 10 years making the world worse off.

Anatomy of a Late Night

New Year's Eve has totally thrown us off schedule. For some time (the formula for which is: NOW - # of years we've had a dog) we've been consistently in bed by 11, 12 on weekend nights, with 1am being a notably late night. Head hit the pillow at 3 again last night and I'm delineating Why for myself so I can find the error

  • 8pm: Watched Tropic Thunder which turned out to be exactly what I thought it was, a decent three-and-a-half star comedy, something that's not so easy to find nowadays. Perhaps the comedy palate has grown more sophisticated since the days of Meatballs, though the trailer we caught beforehand, Van Wilder: Freshman Year, suggests otherwise. Amazing the amount of work shitty comedy writers ("And then her tits pop out!") can still get while more talented writers ("It was a surprise for all when her breasts sprang free of the bespoke bustier she was wearing.") go hungry. Movie opens well with fake trailers, then nose dives for a bit until it sets up the story. Would be worth sitting through for Robert Downey, Jr. alone. Tom Cruise was better than I want to admit.
  • 10pm: Rock Band. As my poor X-Box can attest, I'd jumped off the Rock Band train last fall. I'd gotten good enough to play some on Expert but was still way overmatched by certain songs on Hard (and always songs like "Foreplay/ Longtime" that take half a goddamn hour to point out you're going to fail for the fiftieth time, never some Ramones ditty that's over in 1:58). A light clicked on and I realized "playing" a "game" doesn't involve nearly popping a vessel in your head and throwing things after the age of 5 or so. I was fine with no more Rock Band, there was no hole in my life.

    Then I heard The Gaslight Anthem's new album. After playing it non-stop for a week, the damn drummer(1) hooked me back into Rock Band. Thankfully things have gone a lot better since. Even managed to skid through "Don't Fear the Reaper" last night, failing just late enough to make it to the end.
  • 1am: Bill Burr, Why Do I Do This? via Netflix. Discovered him last week on Comedy Central, causing another late night. The set was so good I was ready to sit through the repeat airing until smarter heads prevailed. I've been obsessivley listening to his old podcast episodes this week. Can't believe he can spitball an hour worth of funny on a weekly basis.
  • 2:30am: This is where things really fell off the track. It started to go wrong in the 1am hour when we re-watched something we'd seen a week before and wound up cracking the emergency PBR 12 pack in the frige, but I could have just shut down the X-Box, finished the beer and gone to bed. Instead I have to page through the Netflix Instant Queue, even though if anything in there was worthy of watching at 3am I'd have watched it already. Nope, a half hour later it's 3am, we're only halfway through the pilot episode of Macgyver, the beer's all gone and I realize the level of tension wasn't high enough to keep anyone but me awake. The possible rocket explosion will have to wait until we have more beer. Actually, to honor the spirit of the show, I should really brew some Pruno in the toilet. How Richard Dean Anderson isn't starring in anything more than my dreams nowadays is a mystery.

Postscript, 8am: dog gets up in bed, throws an absolute shitfit, leaving me wide awake with the better part of 12 beers still coursing through my veins. I think it's some sort of Temperance thing with her, trying to get us off the Devil's Brew.

1. Brush with fame: the drummer went to elementary school with a friend of mine. The amazing part is my friend went to elementary school in New Jersey and still wound up bright.

Twitter Updates for 2008-10-20

  • Earplugs didn't prevent much. #redsox #
  • Hate when home plate umps make a strike call on a close checked swing. Can't we get the 2nd opinion? #redsox #
  • Found my enemy for the night: overly-demonstrative older woman, front row, just up the 3rd base line (over RH batter's shoulder) #redsox #
  • McCain's ads make me feel like I missed an episode. Seem to have been edited with a blender. #
  • @ericwyman She's right above the New Era sign with a Petula Clark bob, between two old guys. #
  • Why would Varitek need to tell the catching coach what he's going to do? #redsox #
  • @ericwyman good to hear. Make up for lost torrent time. #
  • Carl Crawford comes out to MIA? 1. Sounds anti-Amerikun to me. 2. Good luck signing a guy who's theme music says he just wants your money. #
  • @savetherobot Heart of Dorkness #
  • Need to know what it says on Papi's non-standard, non-team issued shirt. Something dirty, no doubt. #redsox #
  • Buck Martinez's Can't-catch-up-to-a-sliding-runner theory sounded like it was a new Law of Thermodynamics. #
  • Cialis, if your boner pills are so great, why do they require two soaking tubs? #
  • @mikesusz I'd have thought the roof, Field Turf and different colored walls would have been a tip off. And the empty lounge chairs. #
  • Dunno, how big are 2 out hits? There are 0 outs right now. #redsox #
  • @ericwyman looked like a Very Special Fan. #
  • TBS, you claim Frank Caliendo makes a big impression, I'd like to prove it. Have him meet me on top of the Sears Tower. #
  • "Hi, this is Matt Garza for Mucinex." #
  • Anyone else catching a romantic subtext to Ron & Buck's discussion of pitchers & catchers? #redsox #
  • @paulkelley the caught stealing? 3-2 and 1 out is a hit and run situation. Sucks they get the momentum from it. #
  • If that was an "easy" 1-2-3 inning, I don't want to see a hard one. Too much solid contact. #
  • @paulkelley yeah, it was definitely a risky move, but Tito seems to send the runner in that situation about 80% of the time. Sucked. #
  • PINCH HIT #redsox #
  • Dog's snoring soundly. Don't know how she does it. Nerves of steel. #redsox #
  • @ericwyman Thank you. Get that kid to an ENT, stat. #garzasnot #
  • Someone in the front row order something to make those weird-ass munchkin waitresses go away #redsox #
  • Now is that Animal or Hawk wearing the sweatshirt in the Tampa dugout? #redsox #
  • @ericwyman How quick does Price go in our draft next year? #
  • Ah well, great season, fun playoffs and Tampa's a damn good team. Could do without the fanbase. #redsox #
  • What is that song? Where can I pay to have it not played? #redsox #
  • @CinemaSuicide Uf, thanks for giving me someone to block. #
  • Please tell the dog I don't negotiate with terrorists. #
  • Good post on the value of defense and the price of wins in MLB: #
  • @adarowski @SoxyLady I was sorry to hear it too, but I think it's only "out of character" for the person he's portrayed as in the media. #

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Twitter Updates for 2008-10-19

  • If I'd been friends w/Shel Silverstein, I'd have always RSVP'd by saying, "Tell 'em I'm coming, and Shel's coming with me." #
  • @garyryan Well, it's strange you could acquire the "Big Game" label before playing in one. #
  • Dinner at Agave (Portsmouth) tonight; disappointment. Everything Poco's does, but worse, more expensive w/ bad service kicker. #
  • In re Shel Silverstein, for people like @suchatreat, #
  • @adarowski if you're listening to Girl Talk, you're going to want the Wikipedia pages to save the brain scratching. #
  • Tampa Bay, you'll never be a respectable franchise until you strip the season tickets from Leather Lungs. #
  • My Facebook says "69 friends" I'll pass, but the 13 year old in me thinks it's funny. As is "the 13 year old in me". Meta-illegal-joke #
  • Buck Martinez just summed up the playoff experience: "When you're throwing 90mph fastballs, it's time to go #2." #
  • If you bought an off-brand, bullshit team jersey, don't bring it to a nationally televised game. #
  • Cue Kevin Millah: "Don't let us win one." #
  • You know TBS is a serious network when Saeger's jackets never run out of batteries. #
  • Want Youk's beard to produce birds like Family Guy #redsox #
  • I know we're spoiled, but if you're crying about a non-elimination loss by your 10 year-old team, gain perspective. #redsox #
  • Finds it ironic Adele is backed by skinny chicks on SNL #
  • @garyryan "And that was the second time I got crabs." #
  • @paulkelley They should get the Tampa groundscrew to spraypaint that stupid starburst on a carpet somewhere in a dugout. #
  • 1st time watching SNL in years. Complete disappointment except for Adele. #

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Twitter Updates for 2008-10-18

  • Taking dog for a walk, setting up @suchatreat's b'day presents so as to best surprise. #

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Twitter Updates for 2008-10-17

  • Upside to #redsox potentially being eliminated in 5: no more Chip Caray in anyone's life. #
  • - shitty baseball site or your vaccination information headquarters? #
  • Well, last one out shut off the lights. #redsox #
  • Do not thou, when thou art a fan, boo a Papi. Boo a Varitek, boo a Daisuke, but never an Ortiz #redsox #
  • WHAT! #redsox #
  • It would appear at two points last night, the #redsox had a 0% chance of winning: #
  • @laurelatoreilly in re: .NET collective intelligence, you can't dm people that don't follow you. #
  • Think you can unfollow me without consequences? Dream on: #
  • This week's Zero Punctuation: A+ - #
  • Picked up some new (to me) stuff at the comic store: Sentry ( and the new series of Criminal. #
  • @erdanton cue up Billy Bragg's "Levi Stubbs' Tears" in memoriam. #

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Twitter Updates for 2008-10-16

  • Stewing in my own gravy after nhupa-- loft at Pixel is still too hot. Brings back some memories. #
  • Someone find this plumber and kill him. Not class warfare, just sick of the arguing from specific to general. #
  • So McCain's Things He Wishes Hadn't Been Said were things about him, not by his supporters? Weird. #
  • He's spending unprecented dollars and more than you because people sent him more money. Wonder why. #
  • Ironically, people on the autistic scale wouldn't be swayed by such cheap emotionalism. #
  • Also: Voter Registration Fraud != Vote Fraud #
  • I have to admit I'm interested in McCain's "nuclear pants" concept. #
  • I know Obama's up by a lot in the polls, but it'd be nice if he jumped some of this dumb shit. #
  • I heard the first thing you see when you get off the plane in foreign countries is a clear explanation of smart econ policy. #
  • Do you have any goddamn ideas or do you just know what Senator Obama wants/ doesn't want? #
  • Pretty sure Obama didn't oppose Stephen Breyer, who was appointed in 1994. By Clinton. #
  • Not only does McCain have a record, he has a bunch of warped 78s. #
  • @jlbruno Yeah, that's your marginal tax rate. What you want to keep an eye on is your effective tax rate. #
  • Not sure I'm feeling Sylar as Spock. #
  • Free SEO advice to restaurants: don't PDF your menu. It doesn't look that great anyway. #
  • @CinemaSuicide When I need to focus and drown out distractions, I always fall back on Kid 606 or Shitmat. #
  • "Joe the unlicensed, not a plumber" just didn't have the same ring. #
  • @suchatreat "bald-faced". #
  • @serenemargarita only applies if you think "incentivize" is a word and not some bs marketing-speak. #
  • @serenemargarita I don't disagree, but I feel your priority in that case is cutting the person's tongue out, not correcting grammar. #

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