Saturday, December 19, 2009

Reasons, Lame and Otherwise, for My Recent Silence

In November, inspired by Nanowrimo, the event where instead of writing a novel nobody will read over the course of many years, participants write one in a month, I decided to blog every day that month. I didn't, but November featured more entries than any month up until then. They were not all good entries, but as with Nanowrimo, that wasn't the point.

I fell back into my old infrequent writing ways when December rolled around. I really wish I could say I developed and overcame a crippling meth addiction, or have been working on a grand new idea that will make me millions and make all of you love me for my gift to humankind, but I can't. Here are the actual things I've been doing instead:

Listening to The Best Show on WFMU - this 3-hour call-in radio show featuring Tom Scharpling and sometimes his comedy partner Jon Wurster has a very loyal following, including myself. It requires a bit of warming up to, as it's not boom-boom-boom punchline-a-minute comedy, actually some of the funniest bits have set-ups that are several minutes long. A recent classic moment had Tom and comedian Paul F Tompkins dissecting an infomercial for the 10th Annual Gathering of The Juggalos.

Listening to Comedy Death Ray - There is a bit of a theme here. I don't really listen to the radio at all anymore (except for WFMU online), it's all podcasts now. This one features comedians as guests, but it has a lot of comic characters doing bits - Nick Kroll's 'Bobby Bottleservice' character, Paul F Tompkins as Ice-T presenting his latest boneheaded side business, and Brett Gelman as Billy Crystal doing a one-man show of impressions including a very profane Miles Davis.

Looking for a Job - I'm lucky to have my current job and all that. But I'm kind of an ADHD dude, and am bored out of my fucking mind by the current dayjob. Hence the recent descent into comedy addiction. If nothing else, I've found other distractions, which is good. People, I am finding, are not keen on hiring somebody to do something they haven't been doing for the last 15 years. I don't suppose I blame them.

Spending time with the kid and family - Turns out that, contrary to our experience watching people drop out of the Bush Administration, you don't have to quit or lose your job in order to 'spend more time with the family'. You just have to cut down on some of the stupid time-wasting shit you do, like:

Goofing on Twitter - I am @SoundSystemSDC there. I have nearly 600 followers, some of whom may actually be people and not just programs. I've especially loved playing what I'll call hashtag-games for lack of a better term. People will start a hashtag game and then everybody piles on with their version of the joke. Today's is #domesticatedrockstars, which has featured comedy gold like those listed below.

  • Minivan Halen (@SoundSystemSDC)
  • Cleanin' Jay Hawkins (@SoundSystemSDC)
  • Massengill Scott-Heron (@sexbiscuit)
  • U2 Knock It Off Already--Can't You See That Daddy Is Trying To Watch the Game? (@JoeBerkowitx)
  • Better Homes and Soundgardens (@klyph)
Hey, having done that, can I have a book deal? Nick Douglas put that book out: 'Twitter Wit', but there's no reason I can't cash in too by cutting and pasting other people's creative blurbs into print form. If I'm gone for another month or so, you'll know that's what I'm up to.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Lots of decidedly implied violence: 'The Impossibly' by Laird Hunt

A wise man once said 'we are all of us unreliable narrators'. Actually I thought I was that man, but it looks like a guy named Frank Wu, who has more Google juice than I do, has also said this. People (myself included) are always deceiving themselves as to their own flaws and shortcomings, or re-shaping the narrative of their lives, perhaps to improve employment or sex partner prospects. This can even be found in a perverse negative way amongst people at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings trying to out do each others' stories of hitting bottom, or among Born-Again Christians trying to convince people they were the worst sort of scum of the earth before they saw the light, perhaps to make the change in their life seem more dramatic, or to convince 'bad' people that they are inferior to the convert in terms of their capacity for badness.

Given this fact we can forgive the narrator of The Impossibly for at times contradicting himself, even sometimes admitting a retelling of a particular story is more what he wants to believe happened than necessarily what actually happened. It's also important to take into consideration that as a freelancer working for some shady international crime syndicate, years of training have made him very reluctant to provide details about some of the ugly violence he's been involved in. The book is full of violence, but there is none of the gleeful graphic goriness found in, for example, a Tarantino film. Consider this retelling of a dinner with his colleague and perhaps friend, John:
We do not, sir, have turkey, nor do I have for you an explanation.
And all I am asking for is an explanation.
Please leave.
We did, finally, and following something a little like the interaction I have just described, get our turkey - they had some, by chance it seemed, in the freezer. Neither of us at the end of eating it entirely believed it had been turkey, but it had been called turkey with maximum enthusiasm by the man whose head John had placed in the sink, and it had been appropriately garnished, so we didn't complain.
Our narrator's life, as it turns out, is not particularly glamorous. He spends a lot of time lying on the floor listening to the river, and attends to mundane tasks like finding the paperwork required in order to get his washing machine serviced.

He meets a woman who has trouble coming up with the word 'stapler' (perhaps English is her second language - it's not clear), and they fall in love for a while, which it becomes clear is a high point in an otherwise entirely unsatisfying life. Together with his new love, his friend John, and her friend, Deau (yes, 'John Doe' - and these two people are the only people with names in the entire book) - he takes a trip to a town in the country, which everybody very much enjoys, and a good time is had by all. Unfortunately prior to the trip he's given an assignment, which he at first accepts, but later backs out of. He also manages to put the wrong address on a package before sending it, another screwup that pisses off his boss.

He is then 'disaffirmed', a punishment involving humiliation and considerable violence. Again, nothing is spelled out, but it seems he was burned repeatedly, and ultimately stapled (with the aforementioned stapler) to the table.

He and the woman separate, he takes a job in a bakery and gets very fat, sings opera, wears shorts, and, as is always the case in these kinds of stories, gets drawn back into the organization. He seems to meet the woman again and re-connect with her, but it's unclear. Identities become more fluid and uncertain. Hats and sunglasses feature prominently. This part of the book culminates in his participation in a particularly horrifying event involving a feather duster, red duct tape, a 'miniature computer' (this was written in 2002 - it'd probably be a smart phone now), and following orders delivered by intercom in a pitch black room filled with people 'none of whom knew who had been chosen or who was coming or what beyond unpleasantness would occur'.

By this point both narrator and reader are quite disoriented and it becomes increasingly difficult to piece together what exactly is going on or what happened. Not that this difficulty is a bad thing necessarily - sometimes for example upping the difficulty level on a videogame makes it more rewarding, and humorless unimaginative types who demand linear stories devoid of ambiguity will have given up before page 10.

Our hero, such as he is, is sent to live in retirement - a perk described in brochures for the organization, as he recalls. His basic needs (food and shelter) are provided for by mostly unseen people, but he still hasn't left the violence behind -
It was into something like this last that I went late one evening to witness, and in a small way to participate in, an event. It was not a nice event - there was a lot of white rock and then the white rock became splashed with red - but it was diverting. At one point, after I had, more or less symbolically, taken a turn with the mallet, I remarked to another individual that what they event lacked in subtlety it made up for in vigor. Yes, it's colorful, the individual said. I feel like I've gotten some exercise. Yes, definitely, I think the upper portion of my forehead is damp. Yes, mine too. I won't dream at all tonight. Or if you do it will be pleasant. Why is that? No one knows.
Our narrator goes on to conduct an investigation to determine the identity of his assassin. As the book draws to a close, much is revealed, and there is a shock at the end - the magnitude of the shock will depend on how well the reader has been keeping up, and, indeed, on how the reader has chosen to make sense of the events.

I've read the book twice - something I rarely do - partially because I was fascinated with Laird Hunt's style and enjoyed the absurd sense of humor our hapless narrator possesses, and partially, I admit, to take another stab at making sense of the thing. Having done that, there is now a storyline I confidently believe is the 'true story', but that's not really the point. It's possible another person could read the book and have a different version of the story which they firmly believe is what happened, and that's perfectly OK with me. The book is like life that way - a series of almost random events described by unreliable sources, and our minds, desperate to see patterns, create patterns where there may be none.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

30 years Later, I'm vindicated by the Cake Boss

Many people enjoy complaining about reality shows, because, like griping about there being no good Chinese food in town, it can really help you feel superior to those around you. Personally, I finished High School, and I love some reality shows, so the complaining-about-reality-shows magic doesn't work on me.

A recent favorite is the show Cake Boss, which is about a guy in Hoboken named Buddy Valastro, who has the classic New Jersey accent (which most people from New Jersey claim does not exist). He and his employees at Carlo's City Hall Bake Shop make the most incredibly inventive and artistic cakes imaginable, which are then eaten. This makes them like Tibetan Sand Paintings, only delicious.

In one episode there is a meeting of two highly creative cultures where Buddy and his crew make a robot cake for a hackerspace party. It's not some lame sheet cake with a computer generated robot decal on top, nor a flat cake cut in the shape of a robot. It was a 3-D motorized robot, driven by Buddy using remote control.

Another episode reminded me of my own brief experience with creative cake design. It was 1977 and I was in the Cub Scouts, which is pretty much the extent of my military experience. Anyhow, our pack was going to auction off some cakes to make some money, and there would be prizes for the best cakes.

I was very interested in airplanes, particularly airplanes from World War I, so I decided to make a Red Baron plane as a cake. This presented a couple of challenges. One was that mixing red food coloring in with vanilla icing resulted in pink icing, no matter how much food coloring I used. Another was the whole business of how to hold up the top wing of a biplane. I had already given up the idea of making the Fokker Dr. I triplane that people associate with the Red Baron, which was fine really, because earlier in his career he flew the Albatross DIII, a biplane. There were some monoplanes used in WWI, the Fokker EIII being a good example, but biplanes are just cooler.

I did not know what great building materials rice crispy treats and fondant, (used extensively by Buddy's team) are. I didn't even know what fondant was. My Dad and I did come up with the idea of using cardboard 'struts' to hold up the upper wing, and that worked quite well.

Needless to say, the biplane stood out among the cakes in the shape of race cars, and the cakes in the shape of cakes, but with a picture of a race car on top. I ended up winning 1st prize, but as is always the case, haters gotta hate, and when they found out there was cardboard in the cake it caused a minor controversy and some comments about 'oh no what if I accidentally eat the cardboard?'. I ended up getting my picture in the paper, but in the caption they described it as a 'pink airplane', which pissed me off, because as mentioned earlier I was not exactly thrilled that the red hadn't worked out.

30 years later I'm watching Cake Boss, and Buddy gets a job designing a cake for an Air Force event. Of course there has to be a an airplane as part of the tableau, and guess what, Buddy uses a wood scaffolding and builds the plane around it using rice crispy treats and fondant. Next to that airplane, my airplane looked like the Wright Brothers plane, or even that plane with a hundred wings that folds up like a lawn chair in that funny clip. Still, I was glad to see that using cardboard was perfectly fine, as even a cake genius like Buddy needed to use something non-edible but sufficiently rigid to hold the airplane up. The Air Force airmen didn't whine about 'oh noes, there is wood in there!' They loved the cake, and as always the episode ended with everybody happy and agreeing that life is wonderful, especially when you're doing something you love.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Happiness Hat Will Solve all of Your Problems

This was in Gizmodo weeks ago, so this isn't exactly a scoop, but it really captured my imagination: The Happiness Hat Will Spike Your Skull.

happiness hat from Lauren McCarthy on Vimeo.

While the idea of having a spike poke my head to remind me to keep smiling is unpleasant, an honest self-assessment tells me I really could have benefitted from such a thing in my youth. Even when I am not in the grips of the black dog of depression, I'm not particularly a smiley guy. This caused much social friction for me throughout the years. At my first 'real' job, which I really hated (ostensibly I was writing C++ code for the Navy), I once had to endure a lecture in the break room from a woman who was brainwashed by Disney. It started with 'you know what I notice about you, Steve? You NEVER smile!' She then proceeded to let me know how wonderful my life was, and how I had a wonderful job and really should be happy. I wondered at the time: who would feel happy and lucky in the middle of a dressing down from the Cheer Police?

Though she was a loathsome person who would do things like sing two lines from the song 'Young At Heart' repeatedly over the course of several days, there is certainly some validity to what she was saying. People do like and feel more comfortable around smiling people. I think there's a Chinese Proverb that goes 'A man without a smiling face should never open a store'. Possibly it's 'A man with a smiling face should open a store'. Either way, if you frown all the time, stay out of the almost extinct small family owned store business.

In my case I believe it was always assumed I was depressed, or angry, or stuck up. None of these is particularly great in the winning friends and influencing people game. And even though it's true that I don't particularly enjoy being around people and only really like a few people, I am the first to admit you can really open a lot of doors and even keep people off your back if you smile a lot. It keeps HR from looking into your business, and for that alone it's worthwhile.

The hat is of course ridiculous, but it's also very cute and non-threatening, which probably helps. It looks like something a grandma may have made, and who but the most monstrous heel would mock a smiling person wearing a cute hat made by a loving grandmother? It's a really brilliant prototype, and some engineering love could make the device practically disappear. Perhaps engineers could even use the technology that allows Rush Limbaugh's drug-destroyed ears to function here. Sensors could administer a shock not to cause pain, but to stimulate the face muscles to smile! The day will come when we'll never have to look at grumpy people again.

Of course, then we'll look elsewhere for emotional cues, and we'll be back where we started. Sigh. Why bother with any of these ideas? It's all futile.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Geisy Arruda of Brazil Keeps Berkeley Naked Guy's Fight Alive

Geisy Arruda, a Brazilian student at Bandeirante University in Sao Bernardo do Campo (near Sao Paulo), managed to get herself expelled for wearing a skirt that was deemed 'too short' by the people who get to decide these things, although in the pictures the skirt was no shorter than any skirt you'd see in a bar in a college town on any given night. At least that is what I am told.

This is strange to me for many reasons. Apparently it was not only the uptight, made-for-80s-college-exploitation-movies administration prudes who chided Arruda for dressing like 90s fake TV lawyer Ally McBeal, who also fought the power by wearing short skirts (she was also on a hunger strike, although they never explained why). Her fellow students also jeered her, and some are being suspended for that reason. Also, isn't Brazil famous for men and women running around naked or nearly naked? Somebody wiki that for me, please.

Geisy's story reminds me of Berkeley's Naked Guy, aka Andrew Martinez, who stirred up controversy in the early 90s by wandering about the UC Berkeley campus with no clothes on (he did wear sandals, and sometimes compromised by wearing a bandana, but not on his head). Naked Guy made the talk show circuit, but his story took a sad turn, as after college he had to deal with homelessness and schizophrenia, and committed suicide in prison at 33.

It would be easy to chalk up Martinez's naked activism to the mental illness he struggled with, but that would be disrespectful to his memory and to those who suffer from mental illness. It's possible for a mentally ill person to still have a mind of his own and strong beliefs. Geisy's story reminds us that people are still strangely uptight, and I'll be the first to admit that in above 80 degree weather, having to wear clothes can really suck. I'm also pretty sure this kind of thing drives the sort of people who founded the Creation Museum batshit insane, and I have to support that.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

You can't say I didn't blog today!

dentist lunch soul crushing boredom home wiggly dog hackerspace lasers lcd displays more lasers solar cell monitoring devices junk food the best show on wfmu featuring andrew w k twitter twitter twitter you are on reserve battery power shut down or you will lose data what does it all mean

Monday, November 09, 2009

Knee-Jerk News

Today the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The guy from Jesus Jones who sang 'Right Here Right Now' could not be reached for comment. MTV organized a concert in Berlin featuring U2, and came under fire for erecting a 2 meter wall to keep out people with no tickets. Several people were tasered while trying to climb the wall to escape during one of Bono's speeches.

A nameless storm wrecked havoc in El Salvador this past weekend. Meteorologists gave the storm no name in honor of Clint Eastwood's 'Man With No Name' character in the Sergio Leone films. Kanye West stirred up more controversy with a televised comment that 'George Bush does not care about South Americans'.

'A Christmas Carol' beat 'Michael Jackson's This is It' at the box office this past weekend. Film-makers blame circulating internet spoilers about the ending of 'This Is It' for the poor showing.

Nokia recalled 14 million phone chargers after discovering a youTube video that demonstrated how the chargers can hard boil an egg, and then deliver a fatal shock.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged 203 points today. In a press conference, Ben Bernanke announced that this marks the end of the recession for the cocaine and prostitution industries, which are believed by many economists to lead the rest of the economy by one quarter.

In the sports world, fans have been bewildered by the recent lightening of 90s home run great Sammy Sosa's skin. This is the first time a baseball player's appearance has changed drastically in a short time for no apparent reason.

An Arizona State University poll released today shows half of Arizonans are avoiding large crowds because of the flu. The poll also revealed that half of visitors to Arizona are avoiding large crowds because they're full of Arizonans.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Tonight on Curb Your Enthusiasm

Larry goes to buy a tackle box for his friend Funkhouser, but gets into a heated argument with a clerk who won't sell him one because he doesn't have a fishing license.

Later, while discussing the script for the Seinfeld reunion, Larry screams at a waiter who gave him Lime Diet Coke, when he had asked for Diet Coke with real lime in it. Seinfeld tries to rein Larry in, but this makes Larry so angry he tells Seinfeld the reunion show is off.

At Funkhouser's birthday party, Larry presents Funkhouser with a gift card for the Sporting Goods store that refused to sell him the tackle box. Funkhouser expresses his disappointment with the gift, using that voice of his that sounds like something from a radio PSA about symptoms of Acid Reflux disorder. Susie overhears this exchange, and cusses out Larry, which is hilarious because she's a woman.

Finally Larry is ejected, and on the way out he sees a plate of glasses of Diet Coke with slices of real lime on the rims. He tries to grab one, which prompts Funkhouser to punch him in the face. The scene freezes right before Funkhouser's fist makes contact with Larry's face, and the signature tuba theme begins playing.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Anyone can hate this: the 'nathlete' billboard.

Like Maxfield Parrish, I dislike billboards. In a more pragmatic way, I understand that billboards featuring infants pimping out tire stores or car dealerships are good for the economy: the most likely local family business can use the advertising, and the billboard rental company employs people, too.

Still, most billboards have no reason to exist. I'm thinking of the 'Integrity: Pass it On' billboards. I don't really need to be inspired while I'm driving. I need to pay attention to the road.

A particularly egregious offender that's annoyed me more than I should allow billboards to annoy me is the Natural Light billboard defining a nathlete as 'holding two natty's while doing 'the robot''. There's just so much to dislike about this.

First off, the definition makes no sense. 'Holding natty's while doing the robot' is an act, a 'nathlete' is a person. See the urbandictionary entry. You don't hear a sports broadcaster say: 'wow! She really gymnasticed that one!' You probably wouldn't define mathlete as 'performing implicit differentiation in a competition in order to mark off a checkbox for your MIT application'.

Second: referencing the robot is a really lazy way to go for the laffs. The go-to breakdancing move for the 'look at whitey trying to breakdance' joke used to be the worm, but now it's the robot, possibly because this requires even less athletic abiliy. You can probably do better. Of course, if your job is writing copy for Natural Light ads, you probably can't.

Third: there are much better beers than Natural Light. More importantly, there are much better CHEAP beers than Natural Light (Pabst Blue Ribbon, Milwaukee's Best). There are even better horrible beers to drink ironically than Natural Light (Keystone Light).

In conclusion, the only way this billboard could be worse would be if it somehow made light of alcohol-fueled date rape. And that's all I have to say about that.

This post brought to you by helping people over 30 understand what the kids are going on about since 1999

Friday, November 06, 2009

The results are in!

I lost to some of the most moronic blogs imaginable! I flopped at the Fish Fry! Back to Brownsburg for me.

I should post a link, but I already deleted the email.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

'I am riddled with ADHD' - Glenn Beck's Goon Squad 'Faces Their Storm', attempts to read.

Tim Heidecker on Twitter alerted followers that Mr. Crocodile tears has rounded up another ghost writer to help him crap out yet another book guaranteed to sell to the teabag crowd. The site calls it 'an instant Holiday Classic', and it really is a tribute to the hack or hacks that were able to crank out reams of schmaltz on such short notice.

This one looks to be a tearjerker: The Christmas Sweater. There's even a 'Christmas Sweater' bus, which is probably a 9-12 Project bus that's been repainted for this latest exercise in pumping up Glenn Beck's ego while separating his fool followers from their money. There are probably 'Christmas Sweater' t-shirts, sweatshirts, coffee mugs, keychains, and more to follow.

Readers (many of whom admit that they're not really readers, which seems appropriate since Beck is not really a writer) are invited to share their stories. I know I did, and so should you. Of course by 'your story', I mean some fanciful and hopefully amusing work of fiction, which is maybe not what Glenn Beck means. That is, if his dim flickering candle in the wind intellect has any awareness that the site even exists.

To inspire you, here are some excerpts from the 'Face Your Storm' website:

Honestly Glenn, if I had not read that book, I don't know if I'd still be here. - Jennifer

Glenn, you may have inadvertently saved my life, because I found the courage to keep going and face my storm. - Sherri

Thank you for sharing this remarkable story with us, it truly was divinely inspired. Now all I have to worry about is my friends being able to read through the tear stained pages.- Philip

Let me start this off by saying I'm not much of a reader. I decided to give your book a chance, because I am a fan of yours. “The Christmas Sweater” was the first full book I've read in probably 3 or 4 years...I finished your book this morning. I didn't go to church this morning, but God met with me in my room as I read your story. - David

I read the book in two hours and I have seldom been so deeply moved and affected. I have been hiding from that storm in a bottle of wine and I have been stuck in the cornfield...I have a long journey ahead of me, but I am hoping that I just discovered the will and the willingness to make the first step, because of your book. What a gift, and what a story. - K

Thank you again. You have become a voice I turn to, to lift me up and help me understand this world we much live in. - Marilyn

I’m not a crier. I ‘misted’ when my kids were born, but I’m a tough worker who prefers to use humor to get past tough situations. I bought An Inconvenient Book because it looked informative. I bought The Christmas Sweater, because I thought it would be interesting. I’m travelling for work, so I’m sitting in my hotel room with tears streaming down my face as I realize you are writing a fiction based on your life, but it could easily be based on my life, with few exceptions. I have come to realize that even in my hard work, I’m still standing next to the corn field facing the storm.

This story has helped me make a life-altering decision that will bring my life, I believe, to the level God has reserved for me.

- Don

I am not a reader. I think I am intelligent, but, like you, I am riddled with ADHD. That awful H in there has me to where I cannot read. Well, today I BOUGHT your book and READ your book. - Bob

I guess I have a different idea of what constitutes a story than these people do. Apparently a story is a way to fellate Glenn Beck using only words. I have to admit, though, that crying my eyes out and getting a visit from God who will personally thank me for buying Glenn Beck's book sounds like it would be pretty interesting.

I attempted to leave a story, but it didn't show up. It probably has to be approved by some e-mail reading flunky, and since I didn't thank Glenn Beck for saving my life by hitting me with the lightning bolt of wisdom (presumably while I was standing in a cornfield, which apparently figures heavily in this book), it's unlikely it will be published. But as Glenn Beck shows us, anybody can write a book, even if they've rinsed the neurons out of their brain from years of drug and alcohol abuse, even if they themselves haven't read a book since high school. So to hell with the website, write your own book. Nanowrimo is already underway, but with enough Ritalin, I'm sure you can catch up.

Truly, the man is doing God's work. God Bless America, and God Bless...oh, I can't say it, not even as a joke. Fuck Glenn Beck. With a corn cob fresh out of 'the cornfield', dipped in turpentine.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Goldman Sachs Stole Your Flying Cars, Too

"Then finance started sucking people from all over. You'd walk around our trading floor and there were guys who were math Ph.D.s and physics Ph.D.s, and chemists, and lawyers, and doctors - there were doctors on our trading floor, who trade, you know, the health care sector. The bubble in financial assets had a derivative bubble in people. Some of these physicists should be doing physics; some of these computer scientists should be doing computer science. Doctors should be curing people! It's not a bad thing."
-'Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager', 'Conversations with HFM, December 2008 - July 2009', Fall 2008 issue of n+1 magazine.
The recent economic implosion has wreaked much visible havoc, but nobody has really looked into all the invisible damage it caused, at least not until this brave (and actually quite funny - check out the article if you have the time and a dollar) Hedge Fund Manager spoke out.

Some historical perspective might be helpful. Back in the early 90s, I saw a presentation by one Larry Smarr, then the director of NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications) at the University of Illinois. He had been using supercomputers to simulate black holes colliding into each other! They had to solve 10 simultaneous differential equations, and then plot really amazing pictures. Black holes! Crashing into each other! Really amazing shit!

Clearly the combination of brain and computing power at NCSA would soon unlock the mysteries of the universe. That's not what happened, though. A small group within NCSA developed an application called a browser, which made it easier to navigate the then new World Wide Web. This application was called Mosaic, and it later became Netscape Navigator, which was a pretty good name.

In no time, the dot net bubble was upon us. Our country's (and let's face it, every country's) best and brightest (and, let's face it, not particularly best or bright) dropped whatever they were doing, whether it was curing cancer or developing cheap and clean forms of energy, and flocked to web design companies and dot coms, devoting all their mental energies to making animated gifs of construction workers, coming up with the ultimate elevator pitch, or optimizing servers to allow people to buy books or CDs (remember those?) or pet food as quickly as they could. They were all, every one of them, going to be rich. Grad school was for suckers. Physics was for losers.

In a development that shocked almost nobody, the bubble burst, and everybody went back to doing whatever it was they had done before. One or two people did get rich, and lived on Carribean Islands they bought, but mostly people just had to keep working. It was OK, though, because a couple weeks later, the finance and housing bubbles were underway.

Again, thousands of brilliant people full of potential abandoned their chances to bring about radical change in the world and maybe immortality as great scientists alongside Newton or Darwin. They applied their brilliance to something maybe, in its own way, more incredible and seemingly impossible: they repackaged incredibly shitty investments as seemingly good investments. Instead of simulating heavenly bodies with supercomputers, they ran models based on a lot of wishful thinking which had actually produced some pretty cool looking equations.

So in addition to to the financial ruin and chaos, there has been a great opportunity cost of tremendous advances that would have actually benefited mankind. We can only speculate as to the extent of the damage, but we can be pretty sure we would have had the following were it not for these bubbles:
  • Flying cars
  • Time Travel
  • Robots that do the laundry, including folding it and putting it away
  • Cure for most forms of cancer
  • Submarine cars
  • Amphibious cars
  • Submarine/amphibious/flying cars
  • Life-like sex robots that make internet porn look pretty lame
  • All-Terrain spider chairs that replace wheelchairs
  • Moon Colonies
  • Mars Colonies
  • Dogs that can talk
  • A machine that extracts fuel from excrement
  • 3D movies that don't require glasses
  • Drugs that only cause brain damage that's reversible
I'm sure there are more, but I have to stop here. It's just too painful to think about it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

For those of you just joining us...

This blog was recently nominated for Linking Indiana's 'Indiana's Favorite Blog' Contest. I'd be lying if I said it was nominated by somebody other than I. It seemed harmless enough, but then doubt set in. It was like signing up to participate in the talent show at your town's Founding Fathers Fish Fry - it seems like a harmless, low-stakes thing to do, but then you're hit with the realization that tomorrow people can call you 'the guy who bombed at the fish fry'.

Anyhow, the damage having been done, welcome to those who did make their way here from that page. I should probably provide a bit of background and a sampling of past posts.

Redneck Playground Of Horror is as good a place to start as any. This is a re-telling of my family's visit to a horrifying playground in Bloomington - pregnant teens, Eminem wannabes, possible victims of Looney Tunes explosions - they're all here.

Continuing the Indiana theme, we have the Grubb Series, all about Bloomington's local curmudgeon and crusader for something or other, David Grubb.

I Sulte Presbush features some pictures of 'Grubb Coutry'

I'm Santa Claus, Dammit discusses his trial for slugging a kid who wouldn't take candy from him.

Indiana Outlaw on youTube points you to the efforts of 50YearRanger to document Grubb's legendary town hall appearances. He was bringing the crazy to town halls WAY before the health care debate.

While I've always had a great time in Ireland, my post Fun Facts About Limerick, Ireland really annoyed some irony-impaired Irish readers (others caught on that I was joking around).

The post that got the most hits ever was the post about our visit to the Creation Museum in Kentucky: Elitist Liberals Visit The Creation Museum. This one was put up on reddit by a friend (I swear it wasn't me this time) and I pulled in crazy hits, which I should have taken advantage of by selling ad space for male enhancement potions, but I didn't.

Having let it out of the bag that I'm a liberal-leaning and not at all religious person, I've pretty much sealed my fate as far as losing this LinkedIn contest thingy goes. To those who stumble upon this blog for that or any other reason, welcome, and I really really promise to get on it as far as posting more than once a month.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Balloon Boy Rhyme that I should have posted days ago

Balloon boy's dad enjoys dangerous toys
when he heard the voice of caution, always said 'fuck that noise'
He rose his children to love all the dangers
Mom and Dad sat them down, said 'take candy from strangers'

Then one morning in the sky he saw his toy pie
Thought his son was up there, and was sure to die
He called 911 but first called the paparazzi
He regretted not being his kid's safety Nazi

The balloon soon came down but the boy wasn't in it
Twitter fools twitted on, they were in it to win it
It turned out the boy was just in the garage
CNN said 'fuck this', got the hell out of dodge.

Now the dad wears a shirt saying 'Worst Father Ever'
And the fools on Twitter aren't feeling too clever.

Yeah boyyee, etc, all that, gnome sayin'.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Baron Hall Health Care Town Hall in Bloomington - Sept 2, 2009

I have been putting off writing this recap for nearly 2 weeks now. In a way, I dreaded going to the Baron Hill Town Hall at Bloomington High School North. By now, everybody has heard of the Town Halls for Health Care reform across the nation, featuring buffoons shouting out talking points from their health insurance company sponsors (when they even bother to be coherent - other times they're bursting into tears screaming 'I want my country back' or spouting non-sequiturs about the Third Reich).

All that said, I felt like I HAD to be there, as part of the pro-reform crew. So I left work a bit early and I got there a bit before 5 (the event was to start at 6). There was already a long line, but I asked a friendly looking older woman in a pro-healthcare reform t-shirt was there a table or place to go if you were pro-reform, and was directed to a table where some helpful volunteers had signs for us to hold and bottles of water, too. So I picked up a sign and bottle of water (very much appreciated - it was kind of hot) and looked despairingly at the line. The woman said, oh, you should find some friends in line and wait with them, so I found a cluster of friendly pro-reform people and hung out with them, and held up my sign for a bit, although I didn't really see any photographers or news reporters around.

The anti-reform types had home-made signs where they'd written things in marker on white poster paper. I really couldn't make out most of the words, as they were hard to read, but most seemed to have the word 'Obamacare' and variations of the 'don't kill Granny' theme. One guy had a sign with Rush Limbaugh's face and the local affiliates call letters on it, just in case you had never heard of this Rush guy or had and wanted to check out his radio show. One scowling guy walked by with a shirt showing the 'Obama as the Joker from Batman' image, with the word SOCIALIST below the picture. We can only hope Santa is going to bring him a copy of 'How to Win Friends and Influence People' this Christmas.

Around 5:15 or so they let us in. The event was held not in the gym, but in an auditorium. The auditorium was not quite full, but there was a good turn out. A guy asked if he could sit next to me. I said yes, not knowing where he stood, but it turned out he was a pro-reform and pro-labor dude, so he was cool. We looked at the 'myths about the bill' handout we were given on our way in, and we laughed about the one about insurance companies being required to perform abortions, because we thought it unlikely that an actuary or adjuster or insurance salesman would be performing abortions whether they were required to or even if they wanted to.

Mayor Kruzan introduced Baron Hill around 6pm. They got a standing O, the first of many that night. Mayor Kruzan asked the crowd to say 'Yay!' and then 'Boo!' to 'get it out of our systems'. It was a nice thought anyway.

Hill started out reading an article by T.R. Reid (author of 'Healing America') which debunked various myths about other countries' health care systems (the usual 'my cousin's girlfriend works for a guy from Canada and he says he had to wait 3 months to see a doctor' sort of things).

After that it was time to take questions and statements from the audience. Any pretense of civility quickly went out the window. A woman told a story about how her father had to divorce his dying wife in order to avoid certain financial ruin, and the anti-reform people booed her. She turned around and told them off: 'I can handle your booing, because it's nothing compared to what I went through!'. A young man who worked full time and suffered from post traumatic stress problems after being robbed at gunpoint at an ATM told of his difficulties paying for treatment and obtaining insurance. He was booed, too. A peanut gallery in the back would shout sarcastic 'yeah right!'s and 'you lie!'s throughout the event.

Several times Baron Hill would appeal to the audience: 'We can turn this into the Jerry Springer show if you want, but let's show people Hoosiers are better than that!' It started to remind me of seeing Fugazi shows in the 90s. Ian MacKaye would keep stopping the show to tell people in the front to stop beating each other up in the mosh pit or they wouldn't play.

The anti-reform folks got to have their say, too. The scowly guy with the Obama as Joker t-shirt took the opportunity to ask why couldn't people videotape the event, call for tort reform (apparently the cure-all for all healthcare issues according to the anti-reform people), then railed against the Cash for Clunkers program, then things started to degenerate into him yelling a lot of things about 'Get Off My Back! Get Off Our Backs!', and the amen corner gave him some applause.

A young journalism student also asked the 'why can't we videotape' question. Baron Hill kind of lost his cool here, at first saying 'people take bits of video and post them on youTube and misrepresent my event', and then saying 'This is my event. Nobody tells me how to run my office!' which was not the smoothest thing to do. The Huffington Post picked up on this one.

There were, again, standing ovations from both contingents, and if I had to guess, I'd say there was a fairly even split, possibly with the majority of the crowd being pro-reform. The place never quite filled up, which surprised me, but possibly a lot of people decided to do something different with their Wednesday night than try to hold down their dinner while watching angry people who mainly just hate the president and want him to fail trying to shout down and intimidate people who were ready to address an unacceptable status quo.

Speaking of unacceptable status quo, a man made the good point that 'when you see plastic bottles in gas stations collecting money to help a child with leukemia, you know something is terribly wrong with our system.' An amputee who built prosthetic limbs recalled the time his health insurance company (Anthem, now Wellpoint) told him a prosthetic leg was 'not medically necessary' and denied his claim.

The local hero of the pro-reform movement, Dr. Rob Stone of 'Hoosiers For a Commonsense Health Care Plan' was given an opportunity to speak, and he got the loudest and most enthusiastic ovation of the night. Baron Hill joked 'Don't think about running for Congress, Dr. Stone'. Dr. Stone is an Emergency Room doctor and thus intimately familiar with the problems with the current system. His soft-spoken, rational and thoughtful manner stood in stark contrast to the shrill, 'regurgitate talking points first, think later' members of the anti-reform contingent. Dr. Stone is in favor of a single-payer system. Baron Hill said he was not in favor of a single-payer system, but did support a public option. He also said he gave a public option a 50-50 chance of surviving.

I'd like to say there were some lighthearted moments during the hour-long event, but the only one I can think of is a young (high school?) guy asking a question along the lines of 'on page 694, there is reference to a healthy ways committee (or some such). Does this mean the government is going to tell me what to eat, or stop companies from making certain foods?' He was reading a pre-written question, in a way that sounded like he was reading it for the first time. It was hard to tell if he was serious or joking. Baron Hill's answer: 'No.'

Another minimal moment of amusement came when we left the high school to see a 60-foot-tall headless bald eagle waiting for us. It was a rather absurd and unexpected sight. It was a hot-air balloon, and it had a 'Tea Party' sign on it. The headlessness was due to the fact that the balloon was not fully inflated at the time I first saw it. A woman asked the guys in the basket 'what insurance company is paying for that?' I never saw the balloon take off, so maybe it was just there as a static display. Possibly the giant Tea Party Eagle is their version of the giant inflatable rats that show up at Union rallies. I hadn't heard of or seen it before.

There were heated exchanges in the parking lot, but no fingers were bitten off, nor were there fisticuffs or brandished weapons. I made a point of thanking the young guy who told the story about being robbed at an ATM for telling his story in spite of the jeers, and he was grateful, but still somewhat shaken and upset about the hateful reception he'd received. It felt like it took forever to get out of the parking lot (but there were no fender benders or road rage), and though I was encouraged by the strong showing of pro-reform people, the hateful and goonish behavior of the anti-reform people left me with a slightly sick feeling which I've only been able to re-visit just now.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Take Your Passion and Make It Happen, or, Another Word Bites the Dust

It's upsetting to some people that the meaning of words in the English language change over time, but that's just the way it works. You can't stop it anymore than you can stop a glacier (although perhaps glaciers can be melted - stay tuned).

For example, Kurt Vonnegut explains in one of his books that the word jerk used to refer to somebody that masturbates excessively, and geek meant very specifically somebody who farts in a tub and swallows the bubbles. Today these words mean something decidedly different. Also, witness the explosion in popularity of the word 'douchebag', which now means something different than it did when Henry Miller used the word in 'Tropic Of Cancer'.

In 2009, when robots aren't doing most of the shitty jobs the way we were promised they would, people in the H.R. and 'Leadership' industries at least are fortunate enough to have inspirational signs and posters telling employees to 'ride their opportunity like a wave with courage and skill', or 'happy employees are productive employees' or 'work makes you free'. While these helpful automated motivational devices are hard at work, sitting on the wall having words on them, taking care of 95% of the job of an H.R. professional, the H.R. professional is left free to focus on the fun 5% of the job: firing and disciplining people.

A popular word in these signs and in douchy leadership blogs (see previous entry) is 'passion'. Only in this case, it's not the kind of passion that makes an artist forgo food and sleep (or, in Beethoven's case, bathroom breaks) to finish a work of art. It's not kind of passion found in stories of Apple employees working '90 hours a week and loving it' , or the kind of passion that caused Steve Jobs to throw a prototype of Woz's Universal Remote against the wall to make the point that Frog Design needed to focus their energies on their Macintosh related work, or the kind of passion that motivated Steve Ballmer to throw a chair and roar that he was going to destroy Eric Schmidt (in a lot of cases, passion involves destroying inanimate objects - an H.R. no-no).

When the motivatards or leadtards talk about passion, mostly it means not only enduring a soul-crushingly meaningless, stultifying bureaucracy, but also making noises and facial expressions that might fool some people into thinking you're actually enjoying it a lot. It's the same kind of point-missing that gave us the horrifying 'Fish!' program in the early 2000s.

Even among people who genuinely enjoy what it is they do, this 'passion' talk is hard to stomach. I can get a boost of adrenaline from solving a thorny problem or getting something complicated or otherwise tricky to work nicely, but I can't recall ever having to go to the bathroom and jerk off after one of these moments.

In conclusion, the dead-eyed corporate zombies who brought us 'Successories' and co-wrote all of Jack Welch's books have taken this once perfectly good word out of circulation. It's gone bad like a piece of meat, and there's nothing you can do to save it. recommends these alternatives:

Synonyms: affection, affectivity, agony, anger, animation, ardor, dedication, devotion, distress, dolor, eagerness, ecstasy, excitement, feeling, fervor, fire, fit, flare-up, frenzy, fury, heat, hurrah, indignation, intensity, ire, joy, misery, outbreak, outburst, paroxysm, rage, rapture, resentment, sentiment, spirit, storm, suffering, temper, transport, vehemence, warmth, wrath, zeal, zest

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Summer's here and the time is right for declaring independence.

Last Saturday was, as my (2) American readers know, Independence Day here in the USA. It's a good day to be deafened by the alarms of firetrucks or by fireworks, professional and amateur, and to (weather permitting) celebrate our freedoms with hopefully sufficiently cooked hamburgers from the grill.

It turns out summer, particulary July, is a popular time to throw off the chains of colonialism or general oppression. Witness:

Algeria July 5 Independence from France in 1962.
Argentina July 9 Independence declared from Spain in 1816.
Bahamas July 10 Independence from the United Kingdom in 1973.
Belarus July 3 Liberation of Minsk from German occupation by Soviet troops in 1944.
Belgium July 21 Independence from Netherlands (Belgian revolution). Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld takes the oath as first king of the Belgians in 1831.
Burundi July 1 Independence from Belgium in 1962
Cape Verde July 5 Independence from Portugal in 1975.
Colombia July 20 and August 7 Independence from Spain in 1810.
Liberia July 26 Independence from the United States in 1847.
Malawi July 6 Independence from the United Kingdom in 1964.
Peru July 28 Independence from Spain in 1821.
Rwanda July 1 Independence from Belgium in 1962.
São Tomé and Príncipe July 12 Independence from Portugal in 1975.
Solomon Islands July 7 Marks exit / independence from United Kingdom in 1978.
Slovakia July 17 Declaration of Independence in 1992 (only a remembrance day), de jure independence came on January 1, 1993 after the division of Czechoslovakia (public holiday).
United States of America July 4 (Fourth of July) Declaration of Independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1776.
Vanuatu July 30 Independence from United Kingdom and France in 1980.
Venezuela July 5 Declaration of independence from Spain in 1811.

This list, selectively pulled from the Wikipedia page as of today at 9:34 pm EST (if I were to brush up on my MQL skills I could have pulled more interesting results from Freebase - maybe some other time), proves my point. I'd like to use the examples set by all these brave people who fought and in many cases died as inspiration to get rid of shit I don't need in my own little life. Here we go:

The arrogant and ignorant

The arrogant I can suffer to live, if they have something to bring to the table. The ignorant who make an effort to overcome it are OK with me. The both arrogant and ignorant can fuck off and die. Unfortunately, I currently work in the corporate world, where the density of arrogant ignorance reaches neutron star levels.


As I near 40, it is clear I have accumulated far too much stuff. Not only that, having a job and a house means I continue to buy stuff I don't need, because I have money to buy it, and a place to store it (for now). I recently got a Kindle, which, like my iPod, stores rooms full of old-style content within its tiny case, yet still I pick up new books at a rate that never slows down. I need to cool it and start spending more money on food, because a good dinner might not last particularly long, but neither do you or I. I should also probably move into a smaller house, but that might be a tough sell.

My crushingly oppressive reading queue

The Kindle didn't really help here. I'm not blaming my Kindle (and definitely not giving it up), because as mentioned previously, I somehow manage to accumulate enough books, magazines, and crap I printed out from the web to ensure I will never, ever catch up.

Too many interests

There is something to be said for being the kind of obsessive who works on one job or idea 90 hours a week with no other interests or variety in life. At least you have a chance to get good at one or two things. Unfortunately, outside of the constraints of grad school or a startup, one is free to be interested in absolutely anything that strikes one's fancy, and to never really get deeply enough into anything to make any grand or even minor progress.

It doesn't particularly help having a boring, relatively easy job. Why not replace the shitload of old, crappily configured SQL Server systems with an awesome Hadoop cluster? Why answer moronic support calls when you could probably hack together a chatbot that could handle 75% of the tickets? Why write code in Java, or, god forbid, Visual Basic.NET when Python is much, much more interesting? Why use Windows when you can use MacOSX or Linux? Why have one machine for that matter, when you can run a server room's worth of virtual machines?

I should just pick 2 or 3 things and burrow into them in a deranged trainspotterish obsession.

My 3,000,000 online identities and accounts.

You OAuth and OpenID people need to sort this out. I got too many passwords, too many places to go to read stuff. I can't believe I still have a hotmail account.

Fortunately, many of the forums I used to frequent have become so shatteringly dull that it's been easy to dump them, so I guess that's a small victory.


I know healthcare in the US is fucked up, and it looks like maybe somebody in Washington will try to do something about it, but I've already got enough crap to take care of that I don't know how I can save Health Care, certainly not with lobbyists for the small minority of people who actually benefit from the status quo paying over $1 million a day to preserve that sorry status quo. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do (aside from throw money at the problem), nor whether I'd do it if I knew what it was. So there's sloth. Healthcare is just a specific example here, not the only place sloth is keeping me down.

You Don't Do What You Want To Do, But You Do The Same Thing Every Day

I think that line was in one of the Dead Kennedys' songs. It sufficiently describes the rut I need to get out of somehow. Give me liberty, or give me some free novels on my Kindle! I'll take what you've got!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Social Media Games Episode 1: LinkedIn

William Gibson famously said 'the street finds its own use for technology'. This is true, as the television show 'The Wire' has shown us. It's even more true that the bored and underemployed find their own uses for technology. Presented here are just a few games for those who want to use social media without being social media douchebags.

LinkedIn Schadenfreude Games

Ostensibly, LinkedIn is a tool for networking, kind of a 'Facebook for professional adults'. While looking for pictures of drunk and or naked people doing embarrassing things on Facebook is a fun social media game for kids and HR personnel, LinkedIn can similarly be used as a source of Schadenfreude and other dubious glee.

The 'who's an independent consultant' game:

Notorious B.I.G. said 'You're Nobody Until Somebody Kills You'. Anybody who's been in 'the game' (whatever your game is) long enough has made a couple enemies. If you're feeling down, sometimes it's fun to look up your enemies on LinkedIn and look for those magic words, 'independent consultant', which 99% of the time means they lost their job (some people do in fact work as independent consultants, but the kind of corporate/political douchebags that are more likely to make your life miserable are, like balloon animals, not really suited to life in the wild).

Possible pitfalls:

You might find out somebody you really hate is now in your dream job. Now what're you going to do? Go down the list to the next asshole in your past, that's what you're going to do.

The Magical Disappearing Company Game:

This is one I've mentioned before. Again, everybody who's been around the block a few times has worked for a company that was shady (or, as Method Man might say, sheisty), possibly a small ramshackle mom-and-pop deal that was run like a family featured on the TV show 'Intervention'. You might not even want to put that company on your resume (although if the company has folded, what's your worry?) It is interesting to track down old co-workers and see if they include the company on their employment history. Usually, they didn't.

The Douche-errific 'Leadership' Blog Search:

On your LinkedIn profile you can provide a link to your website. Sometimes this website is a blog. While trench-level colleagues probably have techy blogs about stuff that's interesting to them (and maybe to you), managerial types are different animals. They provide the most laffs when the main subject of their blog is 'leadership', especially when in day-to-day life their leadership skills are raggedy at best. Then it's like reading that Martin Amis book 'Success' with the unreliable rich kid narrator who it turns out at the end is a complete wreck and has been lying all along.

I had a particularly fun session of this game recently when I passed a link to a douchebaggy middle manager's leadership blog along to a friend who also knows the D.M.M. in question. He didn't bother to see who was the author at first (nor did I say), so he had a good unbiased initial reaction, which in this case was: 'This is bullshit! Why did SDC send me this bullshit?'.

In the next episode: twitter,, Facebook, and so on.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Chapter the Last of 'How Open Source Ruined My Life', or 'What am I gonna do with all these $%)(#^*% CDs?'

Back in the 90s I saw Larry Ellison on the TV talking about how much he hated the PC. He used those words: 'I hate the PC'. His problem with it: you have to go to the store and get software, then you go home and install it. It would be so much better if you could either download the code, or use a 'network computer', Larry's pet idea of the time.

Of course, around that time virtually everybody outside of industry and academia had dial-up modems, so even hearing a 10 second snippet of the Wu-Tang Clan required a good 10 or 20 minute wait. As for the Network Computer, that dog didn't hunt, although with the Cloud billowing up, the idea has some merit and may be coming back.

I didn't understand the software in physical form hate until I got a job where I was given an MSDN subscription. I got the job at a great time, b/c the new head of IT had just started, and he was spending money left and right, so anybody in sprinkler distance of the guy caught some of the overspray. Since I was a developer type, I got to have a nice double-monitor set-up, a monster desktop machine with a monster hard drive and monster fans that made noise like a monster jet, and an MSDN subscription. Like I said, I started during a really good window, as not long after that it was kind of like the Simpsons episode where Homer gets elected chief garbage man, and Springfield has the best sanitation service imaginable for the one week it takes Homer to piss away a year's budget. That episode featured the voice of Steve Martin as the original garbage man who Homer replaced.

I got right on the project of learning about Microsoft's 'ecosystem'. Specifically this meant the not-too-shabby language, C#, the nifty .NET framework, and in some cases the very shabby abomination that was VBScript. Oy vey. Every month, Microsoft sent me a nice packet in the mail of CDs, color coded to indicate were they O/S, Server software (e.g. SQL Server), or Development Tools. At first everything was lovely b/c there was some shiny new-ness, and I had plenty of drawer space, too.

Eventually I'd come to hate those fucking CDs, esp the 'MSDN library for June of 2003' or whatever. WTF was it, 1989? We don't have the internet for this kind of info? I had a nice CD folder that quickly filled up, so I had to tend to keeping that up to date like it was an extra job. Co-workers kept bugging me for freebies of MS software and I had to tell them to buzz off and get their own MSDN subscription, b/c I was a good MS citizen that way. I'm not gonna piss off Steve Ballmer by violating a license and have him make an example of me. Also, I'm not the fucking ice cream man of Microsoft software! I got shit to do!

Even worse, I started to experience a combination of the usual Microsoft rot and decay, accompanied by the MS geniuses' ADHD. 'Access databases like this. NO! Like this! Wait, here's how you really should! That previous version of .NET? What are you, one of those guys left on a Pacific Island who thinks WWII is still going on? Get with the program, Margaret.'

I grew weary of that quickly. I have always wanted to learn new things, but constantly learning new ways to do old and, let's face it, trivial things doesn't really get me jazzed. Wow, if I drag and drop this icon in my IDE I can READ data from the DATABASE? Holy fucking shit, don't tell the NSA about this or they'll shut you down for making this technology available to our enemies!

Additionally, since Homer dragged his feet on all efforts to get other developers suited up for MS greatness, including getting MSDN for them (as surely as I was buried in CDs and the telling ppl to leave me alone, in addition to other responsibilites, Homer was sucking on a fire-hose of tasks and complaints and general pleas to save the world by this time), I was stuck maintaining and modifying all this crap myself.

Being a not particularly negative (really!) type, I said fuck that, downloaded Eclipse for any Java Dev needs, started using Python for scripting (and virtually everything, actually - using Django after fucking with ASP.NET was like being allowed to use both of your arms to type after having to use only one), and let the MSDN subscription expire. And now everybody's happy, even Homer, b/c we never pester him to get us the software we'd need to do our job, if our job was to develop to the Microsoft ecosystem, which it absolutely, positively, is NOT. He and his crew are happy figuring out the ins and outs of Exchange Server from here to eternity.

So how did open source ruin my life in this case? Well, again, it set my bar of tolerance for MS's monkeyshines really low, possibly even lower than that of the EU. So my potential for making big bucks running around cleaning up the messes of .NET 'developers' who got too far outside of the corporate demo code comfort zone and made a godawful hash of things was DESTROYED! Curse you, RMS! Curse you, Linus! I weep for what could have been.

Actually, that's just some sunscreen that got in my eye. Never mind.

I'm gonna take a break from techy subjects now! That's enough! There is too much frivolity I've been neglecting.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Sucka Java Developers

(Apologies to RUN-DMC the ODB, and GZA/Genius)

Sucka JD's

When I grab the mic with intent to damage ya
better drink the red bull to build your stamina
I'm here to drop some truth and some science
about sucka JDs and the way they do violence

They went to school to get the Java knowledge
But sometimes they act like they flunked outta college
They know web frameworks for days and days
But when it comes to DB's they got lost in the maze

Got mad ORMs but they don't know SQL
But my shit is cane sugar and your code is Equal
I know how to write it functional or declarative
but when it comes to codin' all you got is imperative

You think Selects are something Bud makes
that's why you're a meatball, but I'm a steak
so take your API and get the hell out of town
You're just a sucka JD, you sad-faced clown

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sorry about that blue template I had.

I don't know what I was thinking with that.

'Science involves confronting our absolute stupidity'

From the Journal of Cell Science, by way of The Make Blog.
Second, we don't do a good enough job of teaching our students how to be productively stupid - that is, if we don't feel stupid it means we're not really trying. I'm not talking about `relative stupidity', in which the other students in the class actually read the material, think about it and ace the exam, whereas you don't. I'm also not talking about bright people who might be working in areas that don't match their talents. Science involves confronting our `absolute stupidity'. That kind of stupidity is an existential fact, inherent in our efforts to push our way into the unknown.
So...the next time you hear some knuckle-dragging creationist haul out that hoary old cliche about 'Scientists think they know everything' or 'Science can't explain everything' or 'You scientists may be smart but you're still going to hell', point them to this article.

Actually, don't bother. Just tell them to fuck off. It's not like we have time to put up with that bullshit.

Good evening!

Monday, April 27, 2009

The long awaited Part 2 in the Series: How Open Source Ruined My Life

After the government job that introduced me to Linux, I took a job with a consulting company in New Jersey. The salary was higher, but the cost of living was WAY higher, so the joke was on me. The company sent employees to bodyshop, seat-warmer jobs all around the country to support the elite group of 3 working on what was to become Sapphire/Web, a Java-based Application Server that had the first-mover advantage of getting a couple clients before the next wave came along and ate their lunch.

Mostly what I remember about my time there is roller-blading and watching the Rockford Files. I also remember some locals telling me to 'get my hocking playing ass the fuck out of here'.

The next gig involved testing embedded software for a medical device company in Indianapolis. We had to use those god-awful PCs with the abysmal Windows 3.x, but I had the sense to install Perl for a lot of my testing (to compare results to the expected results and so on and so forth). This was cool for a while, and I was surrounded by some smart and interesting people, but I was young and stupid and didn't know a good thing when I saw it. Also, with the dot-com boom heating up I felt like I had to get in on the web development game, and the opportunity came in the form of a job with some research scientists at a major pharmaceutical company in Indianapolis (the reader gets 3 guesses as to that company's name).

After an initial 2 week period of waiting for the corporate IT slugs to get their shit together enough to give us machines to work on (PCs again, f00k!) we hit the ground running. All the real work, fortunately, was to be done on UNIX machines, and an order was put in for us to get SGI workstations of our own. In the meantime, I figured out a way to get X Wndows running on my crappy PC, but before I knew it our O2s were in, and I was back in the high life again.

This job totally ruled at first, because we were working for and with very smart people on very cool stuff, and were pretty much set loose to use what we wanted to do things as we saw fit, but even early on I sensed something wasn't right.

There was an official corporate-sanctioned IT department that allegedly served our bosses, but I guess he got impatient with them and picked up some temp/consultant dudes to get his project rolling. This was all well and good, but the head of said department was Darth-Vaderesque in his enmity toward free and open software! A million years ago he had written software focused on his research domain (I think when he was a lowly grad student), and a few newsgroup searches revealed unhappy users wishing they could get a hold of the source so as to make necessary modifications to keep the software relevant to their field. Too bad for them, because dude didn't have time for coding, he was too busy playing the political game, and he for damn sure wasn't going to let anybody see or change his precious (although rapidly losing value) code.

Meanwhile I convinced my boss we needed a proper database b/c the text files of his hacked together version 1 just weren't going to cut it. He saw the light, but quickly got discouraged after we met with one of a thousand Oracle DBAs employed at this corporation. He (my boss) could see that the future involved many weeks, months, and perhaps years of waiting for the schema to be finalized, so he insisted on going back to text files. We (the team) saw the app hitting the ceiling really quickly, and the solution we came up with at the time (about 10 years ago) was to use MySQL (recently bought out by Oracle after first being bought by Sun).

Development barreled ahead. A clumsy assortment of HTML files assembled nightly by the monster batch script from hell were replaced by dynamically generated pages using Perl, the wonder language of the 90s. The researchers were pretty happy, but Darth and his gang, not so much.

Also around this time the company brought on a new CIO. He made his mark on the company by taking the Macs away from the Scientists and Programming types so he could 'standardize' on Windows (NT in this case: the NT stood for 'Nice Try'). This was a great way to make it look like he did something of value, when really all he was doing was pissing off all the people the company relied on to find new products so that the people on the business/marketing side (who loved them some Windows) could keep making money off the nerds' labor. Of course, this kind of thing was happening all over corporate America at the time, so he was not outstanding in his lameness, it was more the case that he was standing proudly atop the mountain of mediocrity!

Things gradually and slowly but surely slid downhill from there. Somebody caught wind that my boss was being a rascal and using us instead of the wonderful internal corporate IT resources, so I was thrown to the wind again. I ended up finding another job with the same company, but the stage was already set for more and more decrapitude as the result of a 'perfect shitstorm':
  • The Mac to Windows migration made all the scientists grumpy, so working for them sucked ass
  • The Mac to Windows migration made the 'senior' programmers grumpy, so working for them sucked ass
  • The imposition of standards from above enforced a 'not the best tool for the job, but the tool I told your sorry ass to use' policy
  • The dot-com explosion had the effect of 'bright flight' - all the bright people in corporate IT ran for the hills in search of millions, leaving the spiritually and mentally bereft behind.
It was a mess. Within 6 months I ran away screaming. Maybe a week or so before I left, a helpful Oompa Loompa from IT informed me that something I'd asked for whilst on the previous project (which by now seemed like a previous lifetime) would be ready REALLY SOON. Maybe he was joking. Maybe one day they did take care of my request, or perhaps their successors in India fielded the request. It didn't really matter anymore. But that's enough for now, and another installment will follow.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Now a moment of hero worship: Chuck D at Neal Marshall, Sat April 4 2009

On Sat. April 4, 2009 I had the opportunity to see one of the heroes of my college days (and today), Chuck D, founder of Hip-Hop legends Public Enemy, give a lecture at the Neal Marshall Black Culture Center Library on the IU campus. This event was somewhat under-publicized, and I was only lucky enough to hear about it thanks to some tweets from the Bloomington 'twitterati' on twitter the day before the event, specifically from deejayspikes and IUwebmonkey. Having mentioned it to a few friends since, they expressed regret at missing the chance to see Chuck's talk.

I met deejayspikes and another twitter friend, Allison, at the library shortly before the show began. I saw Chuck D and some of the event organizers outside, but left the man alone out of a mix of respect and shyness.

The talk kicked off with some rhymes by a student named Patrick. He was a white dude, and referred to himself as 'Hip Hop's Doogie Howser', and also had several other good lines, including:
you treat me like I fired God/hired Rod Blagojevich and gave him the job
He delivered two a capella rhymes, and then an event organizer introduced Chuck. He was dressed rather unassumingly, in a t-shirt with wings on the back, slightly baggy pants, and very white, new-looking shoes. He graciously gave props to Patrick in his famous baritone, and began by discussing the significance of the day, the 41st anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination. I knew this was the case, but admittedly had been unsure until I remembered that the U2 song goes 'Early morning April 4/a shot rings out in the Memphis sky'. Chuck talked about being a child in the 60s, a time of much turmoil, with Vietnam and the assasinations of Malcolm X, Dr. King, and John and Robert Kennedy. History was a major topic of the lecture, as he covered the origin of the term 'Rhythm and Blues' (a more sensitive term than 'Race Music', which offended African Americans who had just come back from fighting in World War II and rightly demanded more respect than had been given them), and the history of black music in general, from the songs of the fields ('look out love music') to the evolution of hip hop from it's Jamaican dub and reggae origins.

Chuck stressed the importance of education and a disdain for anti-intellectualism and the 'dumbassification' of our culture. It's a message similar to the one Bill Cosby delivers, delivered in a different way. Chuck made an appeal to black students at IU: if you pay for a Hummer (he made the aside the 'the Hummer is a wack-ass car, I'm saying if you pay for an expensive car'), and you get a Hooptie, that is going to lead to frustration. So he emphasized the importance of making the most of their time at IU, getting the best GPA possible, learning as much as possible, and praising 'being a nerd about the stuff you like' something I, as a nerd, really liked hearing.

Chuck also covered the (welcome) dissolution of the record companies, saying that while record companies are dying, music itself is as strong as ever, with the internet giving the artist more power than ever to get their music out. He acknowledged that there may be a window that will close if for example Network Neutrality is over-ruled, and we find the free-flow of information we enjoy today restricted. Two phrases recurred like refrains: Chuck railed against 'the exploitation of scientists and artists' and being subjected to 'the radiation of a radio, TV, and movie nation'. During this discussion of artists and music, he gave a shout-out to deejayspikes, who he remembered as the DJ of Muncie's R.H.Y.T.H.M. Chuck has probably performed with a few thousand bands and artists, and met millions of people, but he remembered R.H.Y.T.H.M., and I thought that was really cool, and needless to say DJ Spikes dug getting a shout out from a hip hop legend (Chuck referred to him as an example of artists doing their own thing back before the Internet had made it easier, the D.I.Y. spirit one saw with punk and indie rock bands in the 80s and 90s and of course with hip hop crews).

And yes, Chuck talked about Flav! Of course he talked about Flav! He said essentially 'if you look at the structure of the black family, everybody's got somebody like Flav in the family' and said 'people asked what happened to Flav, I say what do you mean? That's Flav. He was that way from day one. Now, I never thought I'd see the day I'd see grown women on TV crying over him, but those women are more hung up on the drug of fame than anything to do with Flav.'

Obviously he said plenty more, and was funny and entertaining without backup music or dancers or lights. He displayed oratorial skills honed over years in both the rap and speaking circuit games. Afterwords he did a Q&A, and was asked about the Reverend Wright dust-up ('If you look at it, that guy was saying things a lot of people had been saying and thinking') and also about his more recent appearance on D.L. Hugley's show with Michael Steele. Chuck was asked why he didn't say more during the discussion, and he replied that as a general policy he doesn't want to be on a show that's just going to be black men yelling at each other. He said Michael Steele could put his foot in his mouth anyway without him participating in some sensationalist show of people screaming at each other for ratings (and he was right. See also: super-cool Obama in the debates with 'barely keeping a lid on it' McCain). Obama came up a couple of times. Chuck referred to him as 'possibly the greatest rapper ever. He has a great voice, great delivery, and he moves people. Have you ever seen an M.C. move so many people to tears with his words?'

After the lecture Chuck came over and shook DJ Spikes' hand and said 'hey how are you doing' and shook my hand, too. Afterwards he did a signing of his book, Fight The Power. I bought a copy as did Spikes, and I got to talk to Chuck for a couple minutes and do the gushing fan-boy thing, talking about how I was in college when 'It Takes a Nation of Millions...' came out and how much it rocked my world. Chuck was super-cool and friendly and altogether an awesome guy. I said it was great he was still getting the word out and he said 'I'm gonna keep getting out there getting the word out until they shut my ass up', which I thought was awesome. The man has plenty to say and says it with the skill of a legendary M.C.