Archive for 2007

The Fog Rolls In

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

I really hate articles like this one by Ross McKeon on the Sharks struggles. He starts off with a thesis, “The Sharks GM Doug Wilson doesn’t want to shake things up but he may have to soon” and then spends the next sixteen or seventeen paragraphs explaining why a shake-up isn’t the way to go only to conclude that “Doug Wilson may have to shake things up, even if he doesn’t want to.”

Um.

Okay.

On one hand, McKeon has some points: The Sharks early ouster from the last three playoffs has been incredibly frustrating. Unfortunately for the Sharks they’ve managed to even circumvent their slow-climb forgiveness in the eyes of the fans who will, I think, no longer accept a trip to the finals regardless of outcome as a step in the right direction. I think San Jose fans expect a Cup and soon. I know I do, and I said as much during the last playoffs. The only possible factors in the Sharks occasional mid-season meltdowns and now clockwork playoff crumbling are A) the coaches B) the players or C) both.

McKeon though shies away from offering anything useful in terms of insight. Except he actually does, but he seems gunshy to spell it out. Let me glean some useful tidbits from his own text.

The team still needs to mature and show up on more nights than they have in the first half of the season. And, in terms of development, players like Matt Carle, Milan Michalek, Steve Bernier, Christian Ehrhoff, Joe Pavelski and Marcel Goc have to continue to improve instead of reaching a plateau and getting stuck.

It seems to me that development of young talent is, fundamentally, a job for the coaching staff. Few people who follow the Sharks (or hockey in general) would deny that Michalek, Bernier, Pavelski and Carle have the makings of good or even great NHL players. Just watch them play and you can see there’s something there. But the fact that Michalek for example has been around for several years now and has yet to really emerge as the powerhouse scoring winger that he clearly has the ability to be suggests there is something wrong either with him or with the way he’s being coached.

If it was just Michalek, I’d probably chalk it up to the player. But then you see a guy like Pavelski or Carle who came on board and made huge splashes in early games only to settle into a routine of mere competence. I can’t say for sure what is happening but consider this: The only real superstar on the Sharks is Joe Thornton, and he was that way before he got to San Jose. Who else, despite all the obvious talent on display, have these coaches crafted into a top-tier player? Marleau has been streaky his whole career and coasts just below the breakout line; Nabokov has also been streaky enough to avoid upper echelon mention (and most of his development lies in different hands than Ron Wilson’s et al). Cheechoo could have been the guy but again, just as he shows himself to be imminently capable, something reigns him in.

Frustration over recent results came bubbling to the surface Friday when Jeremy Roenick and Ron Wilson made some pointed comments, and the coach was caught the night before berating his team during a timeout on the video board, an image that brought a big cheer from the home crowd.

Those events, in addition to what he was seeing on the ice, triggered Doug Wilson to suggest the team meet on Friday instead of practice in preparation for Saturday’s visit by Anaheim, which skated off with a 5-2 victory. There was some damage control going on here, too. Management doesn’t want dirty laundry aired, and it was time to keep the gripes in-house, too.

Ron Wilson finally crawls over his under-achieving players, to the delight of the frustrated fans, and the response is to circle the wagons? Maybe I’m crazy but if players aren’t performing as hoped, maybe a little public outing wouldn’t hurt? It’s not like the fans aren’t noticing that the Sharks haven’t played that great. I’m just not sure who’s being protected here.

I suppose it should come as no surprise but I still hold Wilson accountable for last year’s playoff mistake and I think his leash ought to be as short as one can reasonably be. Doug Wilson is a fantastic GM and I’m sure he’d love to see Ron succeed, but then again Marco Sturm was a good winger that fans liked and everyone wanted to see him succeed but I didn’t hear a whole lot of crying when he ended up in Boston. Because, frankly, I’m getting to the point (and I can’t be alone) where I’m thinking “Just win, baby.” Like, whatever it takes. I like Marleau, I think he should be a Shark, but if it takes getting rid of him to get the Bay Area a Stanley Cup, then I say don’t let the door hit ya in the rear on the way out, Patty.

But before we start bailing on players that have become important parts of the lineup, maybe we should think about who’s guiding the practices?

Finding What Was Lost

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

I enjoy talking. You know this. But talking itself is not so intriguing, it is the subjects that fascinate. Something I enjoy discussing is politics. However, as with most topics, the older I get the less I feel I know and understand (as a home exercise, contrast this with how incredibly certain I was ten years ago). No subject better exemplifies this as politics. It is not to say I don’t have strong opinions, but I shied for a long while from the subject because—frankly—it had gotten out ahead of me. Peripherally I am aware of political happenings but honestly my understanding is no deeper than that of any other Wal-Mart-frequenting American tub of lard and it shames me to the point of silence.

Consider also that I find the state of affairs in the last six years (give or take) so repugnant and so fraught with a sense of futility that more than a cursory evaluation finds me quivering in an impotent rage focused on a shamelessly corrupt and power-mad administration, a fruitlessly inept (and equally repugnant) opposition party, a complicit and lazy media and a maddeningly indifferent population that my recourse and my defense mechanism is assimilation and quiet despair. I take no pride in this truth. The last portion—the greatest portion—of my angst is aligned like a sniper’s scope on my own casual denial of responsibility and recursively I frustrate myself into a deeper well of miserable inaction.

Yesterday I had a strange wake-up call. It came from, of all places, a candidate for president. I’ve been snarlingly cynical of our electoral process in the past and I can’t claim a full escape from that bitterness. However, part of my disdain has focused on the fact that so much of electoral process centers on reactionary platforms (“Vote for me! I’m Not-the-Incumbent!”) which result in a lesser-of-two-evils approach to voting. Without realizing it the two-party status quo-titians drove from my heart the hope that I would ever find someone I’d be voting for versus just picking someone to vote against.

Then a co-worker mentioned the name Ron Paul.

Now, I’m going to be earnest in this post. Exuberant. I’m sorry if that makes you uncomfortable. You can stop reading if you like. I won’t hold a grudge. Either way, I found something while reading about Dr. Paul that I thought was dead and gone: Hope.

See, I hate the way America is heading. The tightening of freedoms, the aggressive foreign policies, the general sense of divide between the populace fostered by a decidedly non-neutral media that fails its audience at every conceivable turn, the constant barrage of government-knows-best programs and policies and the name-only divide between members of the main political parties. It’s enough that I’ve seriously considered abandoning the US altogether. If our leaders aren’t embarrassments for their personal exploits they are petty thieves and swindlers and if they aren’t merely greedy for tiny power and indifferent to their constituents they are flat-out tyrannical and manipulative.

I look at other Americans and I see them either willingly mislead on the premise of moral solidarity (backed up by nothing in terms of actions, by the way) or angry but only to the point of a witty bumper sticker or a clever t-shirt. I hate both and I sympathize with all. I’m the one dying for a true leader. I’m the one disillusioned to the point of passive semi-apathy. It’s sad and it’s pandemic and it makes Canada or France or Japan look like nice places to hunker down. Except… well, except they aren’t the USA. I don’t know when it happened or how I was indoctrinated into it, but I want to love this country. Those ideas they taught me when I was in grade school about how America was all about freedom and equality and trying to do The Right Thing… well, I took them seriously at the time. It made sense. It sounded like a place I’d like to live. I believed then that it was the kind of place I did live in and that made me proud.

It still sounds like a place I’d like to live, I’m just not sure it’s that anymore. Maybe it never was, but it’s less so than it used to be and it’s going the wrong way. I’m sick of it. Other people are sick of it. We’re sick of being hated for our country as it’s run by people who forgot that “freedom” isn’t the opposite of “what everyone else thinks.” We’re sick of working so hard to be proud of our home. Somewhere in this place is something worth believing in, but it’s hard to see it through all the shouting faces and colorful Fear Charts and choking irony…

Ahem.

I was talking about Ron Paul.

He’s this presidential candidate, see? He’s trying to win the Republican nomination.

I know.

I know.

But stay with me here. This is the problem, in a nutshell. Things are broken. People aren’t running on the democratic ticket saying, “here, let me fix them.” They don’t want it to be fixed. They don’t think it’s broken. Or at least they don’t think it’s broken enough. Saying they aren’t Bush isn’t enough for me. Saying isn’t enough for me. It’s the same old story and at some point we have to be sick of it. So sick that we start to wonder whether these finger waggling clowns are really talking or if they’re reciting. So sick that we have to question whether they’re saying what they feel or what they think we want to hear. So sick that we have to remember that back in the day Bush seemed kind of clueless but potentially less frightening than Al “I Hear a Whale Crying” Gore. They’re puppets. They’re punchlines. They’re playing us for fools. CNN tells us Barrack Obama or Hillary Clinton can be the next president. Fox News tells us it’s Mit Romney or Rudy Gulliani and I wonder why I even care. Black, white, male, female, democrat, republican… aren’t they all just money-soaked Pez dispensers waiting to betray our trust and abuse their power?

They can abuse it in the name of security, they can abuse it in the name of the economy, they can abuse it in the name of the environment or the poor people or the middle class or the rich or the minorities or the taxpayers or the atheists or the devout and it all means the same thing: Nothing.

So this Ron Paul guy. He’s different? Mm-hmm. Right.

A republican.

Pass.

We’ve been there, done that for eight years. React. Try the other side. Eight years later: React. Try the other-other side. Again. Just react. Flip the pancake. Turn the cheek. Definition of stupidity.

So maybe we can stop reacting. Maybe we can stop hoping or pinning hopes on unworthy recipients. Let’s start thinking.

I keep digressing. I’m sorry.

Ron Paul. Listen, I can’t tell you what to do. I don’t want to. In a way, that’s the point. Neither does Ron Paul. Don’t believe me. Please, just don’t take my word for it. Google Ron Paul. Try his Wikipedia entry. Consider this: I don’t agree with him. Not on everything, but that’s not a problem. Because here’s the thing: I agree with his approach. I agree with where he’s coming from. What he’s saying isn’t particularly partisan if you believe the CNN version of partisan politics. He’s a mishmash of radically liberal ideas and staunchly conservative stances. He’s a Libertarian (of sorts) running on a Republican ticket. Whatever.

Here’s what you learn from knowing that he’s not welcome in either party: He’s smart enough to know that running on a third party ticket is suicide. Also, “conservative” republicans mostly aren’t. Plus, liberal “democrats” mostly aren’t. None of them can distinguish themselves because they all talk teeny variations on the same pointless theme. Leave it to the guy that only the Internets love to have something different to say.

Check out what Paul has to say about religion and government and the reach of each within the other’s affairs:

The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers. On the contrary, our Founders’ political views were strongly informed by their religious beliefs. Certainly the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both replete with references to God, would be aghast at the federal government’s hostility to religion…

The Founding Fathers envisioned a robustly Christian yet religiously tolerant America, with churches serving as vital institutions that would eclipse the state in importance. Throughout our nation’s history, churches have done what no government can ever do, namely teach morality and civility. Moral and civil individuals are largely governed by their own sense of right and wrong, and hence have little need for external government.

Yes. Religiously tolerant? Natural separation versus legislative? Does that make sense to you? It’s not reactionary like the “Ban all talk of God!” patchouli/granola dimwits and it’s not arrogant like the “We are a persecuted majority!” tunnel-viewers. If you accept a simple principle that the Constitution has merit and is worth preserving not just as an artifact but as a guide crafted carefully by people who’s values we share then you note that there is a component of that guide which indicates that the sponsorship of faith by the state is fatal and the exorcism of it from all apsects of life is impossible and unconscionable. It’s there, if you choose to see it. To think about it.

One more example. One I disagree with, perhaps, to show how voting by lists of shared “positions” leads to tax-raising conservatives and environmentally-unfriendly democrats as their allegiances shift with the rustling of a breeze through their clotheslines drying laundered bills.

From the article on Wikipedia about his political positions:

The only 2008 presidential candidate to earn Gun Owners of America’s A+ rating, Paul has authored and sponsored pro-Second Amendment legislation in Congress. He has also fought for the right of pilots to be armed.

In the first chapter of his book, Freedom Under Siege, Paul argued that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to place a check on government tyranny, not to merely grant hunting rights or allow self-defense. When asked whether individuals should be allowed to own machine guns, Paul responded, “Whether it’s an automatic weapon or not is, I think, irrelevant.”[1] Paul believes that a weapons ban at the federal or state level does not work either. “Of course true military-style automatic rifles remain widely available to criminals on the black market. So practically speaking, the assault weapons ban does nothing to make us safer.”[2] Rather, he sees school shootings, plane hijackings, and other such events as a result of prohibitions on self-defense.[3]

So I disagree. I think guns are too readily available and too poorly regulated. I think the NRA are a bunch of psychos and may they shoot me in the face to prove my point. But I see what he’s saying and in a way he may be right. That’s the thing about disagreement about political issues: It’s so theoretical that “right” and “wrong” are actual barricades to progress. Everyone is so committed to being correct that they forget how pointless it may be. Correct is not the issue, the issue is better.

Ron Paul, in this issue, defaults to his reasoning. 1) The Constitution has merit. The Second Amendment suggests citizens may keep and bear arms. Logically, okay. That’s not flawed. 2) Liberty is valuable. The limitations on people’s freedoms are usually not the answer. I may disagree in this case, but I can’t disagree with his consistency and the place he comes from. More freedom is better, and I’d rather err on that side of caution than the other.

You know, the way we do now.

I just discovered Ron Paul. Who knows, he may be a lunatic and I may sheepishly return to my tail-tucking rathole of fear and resentment and ineffectual, uninformed fist-waving. But I’ll tell you this. I watched the Ron Paul “A New Hope” video and I read the Wikipedia pages and I searched the Googles and as I saw more I felt something return that I didn’t know was missing.

Hope. You know? Hope.

As usual, he’s a candidate that has a long climb ahead of him because he doesn’t play by the usual rules. Which is to say he’s got a million to one chance. But that’s the thing about hope: It doesn’t let odds stand in the way. I think of a country with Paul as president and I think of a place I might like to stay. I think of a country that would elect a guy like him and I think of a place I’d be proud of. I think of a country that cares enough to try something that isn’t the newest menu item at Taco Bell and I have hope that the future isn’t dark.

It’s not that Ron Paul is magical. He’s just a guy, I’m sure. But he’s just a guy I’d not just grudgingly pick over the other slimeball; he’s a guy I want to vote for.

Listen: I changed my voter registration to Republican so I could vote for him in the California primaries. It’s the least I can do.

But don’t listen to me.

Don’t follow me.

Read the articles. Do the research. Find a way to care just enough to realize that this matters. Go looking for your own hope. It doesn’t have to be the same as mine. I want you to be free to have those differing—disparate—opinions. I want to talk about it. Not scream, talk. I hope you want freedom too, and as much of it as you can get. If so, maybe you’ll find hope where I did. I hope you do. It’s okay if you don’t, though. Because the point is simply this: For once, in years, and now at last…

I hope.

Again.

Every Once in a Little While

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

I realize I’ve been neglecting the three people who read this site, but even as I shed some commitments that I made with the best of intentions to free up some time, the crushing demand for my mental capacity remains unwieldy. It doesn’t help that my maximum threshold was… unremarkable to begin with.

I have nothing noteworthy to say, but I feel compelled to stop in now and again to say “hi” as if that compensated for my general malaise. Better that I could produce something of note, but I’m sure you’ve come to expect nothing of the kind. Lo, the bullet point!

  • I started following the Sharks about a month and a half into the season, or, if you prefer, several games ago. They currently sit atop the Pacific Division by a small margin, but they scarcely seem to deserve their position. What I’m more concerned about however is that it seems Sirius satellite radio’s loss of the NHL contract to XM escaped my notice. This development significantly impacts my affection for the service, and the terrestrial alternatives which ought to fit neatly into my driving-heavy schedule are so poor as to be nearly worthless. The general lack of appreciation for the country’s best sport remains a perpetual thorn in my side.
  • Are you on Twitter? If not, please acclimate yourself to it promptly. I realize that the beauty of micro-blogging takes some time to appreciate, but once you accept the elegance of the 140-character limitation and note the wide assortment of update/notification options available, it fits casually into one’s life the way few other technological/social cross-breedings can.
  • Had you been following my Twitter feed (which is conveniently updated on this very site), you would have noted that my Xbox broke about a week after my buddy Foster’s did. I tried to arrange a bait-and-switch scam with him to utilize my store warranty which I fear will expire presently without use. He declined for reasons that are his own, but when my machine broke the point became moot—until it began to be clear that a key component of the exchange (my receipt) had not smoothly made the move across town last spring. Hope still lingers that the mysterious boxes in the garage hold the valuable treasure, but they have become bed and breakfast facilities for several species of repugnant critters who respond to interruptions of their romantic vacationing by scurrying up one’s pant legs and distributing the crawling creeps whose effects last and last, sometimes for days.
  • I had occasion over the last couple of weeks to work on some projects that felt strangely like coding. Wednesday is the day when our weekly shifts overlap so we have double coverage on all shifts and, when the day and swing hours intersect, up to four NOC personnel on hand. Because of this and because we only have two workstations, I chose to pull out my iBook and just do some project work elsewhere and let others handle the task of watching the service. As I worked and switched between Terminal, MySQL, Finder, Safari, Colloquy, Mail and installed various unix applications, OS X applications and generally made a lot of progress I noted that I was feeling something reminiscent, something almost forgotten: Joy, while computing. I’ve been working on Windows machines for about two years now as my primary employment-based environment and while tools like PuTTY, Pidgin and Firefox make things sort of tolerable, I never feel happy to be working on them. I think part of it is also that the work I was doing was similar to the kinds of things I used to do at my City job and, before that, the kinds of things I used to do contractually at home. But the uniting thread was really that I was working in a comfortable environment on something that interested me. That’s been happening less and less frequently the last couple of years and I need to find a way to recapture that because on days when I’m being honest with myself I note that I’m getting dangerously close to burning out in this line of work. What’s terrifying is that aside from muddling through technology work, I’m utterly useless as an employee.
  • We’re heading up to Seattle for Thanksgiving this year, a departure of sorts but one I’m very much looking forward to. I went there last summer and absolutely loved it so I expect to have even more fun this time with additional folks along to appreciate it. And if you think I won’t be getting cream cheese hot dogs, you’re flat wrong. I’m not saying they will replace the turkey dinner, I’m just saying they are inevitable and given the choice between leftover turkey sandwiches carefully layered with gravy-moistened cornbread stuffing and cream cheese hot dogs, the outcome is not predetermined and may possibly result in paralysis. Of the mind.
  • Exercise is my foe. It’s like this: I truly love being active. It’s kind of taken me a long time to realize this, because it suggests something that isn’t precisely true. But when I had buddies at work who were willing to join me and the time to spare, a high point of every day was going to the gym. And all I was doing was light cardio and some minor weight training. Practically the second I switched jobs and lost my daily partners, I drifted away from my daily regimen. These days I try to make it to the gym as often as is practical, but in fact the only consistency I’ve had is meeting my buddy Dave a couple of times on my off days for tennis or racquetball. And yet, again, those activities are among my week’s delights. It’s not that I’m terribly athletic—quite the opposite, actually—it’s that I find the typical awkwardness of purely social encounters dissipates entirely when framed by physical activity. In a strange twist, when either element is removed from the equation the result is remarkably unsatisfying and I prefer to retreat to my default environment of inactive and antisocial. Note that the general benefit of exercise remains even without any social context, and that includes a general sense of well-being and mental clarity, but I cannot apply raw logic to the scenario. For someone who keeps unusual hours and yet spends most of them parked in a chair with ready access to an assortment of free or dangerously inexpensive snacks, the recipe is fraught with peril.
  • My brother, a generally awesome guy, upped his awesomeness factor once again by patiently waiting for me to come ’round on digital music mixing. His steady but non-pressurized acclaim for products such as Reaper ensured that as my inevitable curiosity finally got the better of me, I would readily find details I needed to dabble. Now, granted, Scott is a superb musician and I am… not. But, I have a strong affinity for creative endeavors and this is the kind of tech nerd/art nerd hybrid that touches the soft white underbelly of my soul. At the moment my technical and financial situation makes for a sort of interested observer level of involvement, but it would be the work of a nice bonus check or a few hours overtime to enable some deeper investigation which may result in… well, best not to speculate. But should such a situation arise, you can be certain I’ll subject you to it all.

Stands to Reason

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

My mind drifts in and out of linear thought, with an emphasis on out. My tailbone is sore and I’m twitchy in my seat, having gone too long without significant physical activity. It’s too early for a break, but I tell my co-worker that I’m going anyway. What, exactly, are they going to say?

I lock my workstation so no one sends questionable emails in my name and I cast a disgusted look at the television feed playing in a picture-in-picture window atop a scattered and disorganized cluster of mostly incomprehensible graphs and monitoring readouts. The feed is tuned to some anonymous 24-hour news station and they’re gleefully recapping the day’s sordid celebrity gossip as if it were legitimately newsworthy. Somewhere in the span of time it takes me to stand and stretch my back out against the protestations my shoulders and knees the channel switches to a more somber tale of soldiers in Iraq who re-enlist without notifying their families back home. The channel is muted by workplace requirement but the potentially intriguing story is sharply undercut in the silence by the inappropriately low-cut blouse worn by the field correspondent.

Taking the back door to avoid traipsing through the rows of offices filled with half-familiar cubehounds who spend their days staring out of their doorways, awaiting some passerby to hijack into a one-sided conversation about whatever uninteresting television show they caught the night before, I step into the poorly decorated upstairs lobby of the office complex. I take the stairs, as always, moving mostly on instinct just for the excuse to move but not without any actual purpose. Halfway down I meet an arbitrary group of Dockers-and-Polos with their belt-clipped cell phones and Bachelor’s degree haircuts who refuse to yield even a millimeter in their center-stair ascent which forces me to try and impersonate the grainy off-white paint on the stairwell walls to avoid being trampled by sixteen pair of identical imitation leather loafers.

By the time the cool autumn air touches my face I’m mentally weighing the possible repercussions of simply climbing into my car and driving as fast as traffic will allow toward home. Some kind of ingrained sense of responsibility that I keep trying to convince myself I do not possess compels me instead to turn the other direction and move toward the back of the parking lot. I don’t venture this direction often and as I pass the building south of the featureless one I call work I note with a touch of surprise that the tree-lined lot set against a surprisingly structure-free hillside is vaguely picturesque.

My momentary astonishment is crushed by the bawdy and senselessly loud one-sided conversation from an unknown receptionist taking a cigarette break out by the dumpster housing, peppered with screeching laughter and context-free profanity. I wonder with disgust how there could be a tranquil scene so close and yet she would choose to spend her personal time pressed tightly against a reeking trash bin. I stuff my hands into my pockets as far as they will go and I walk away from her offending voice as fast as I can without incorporating arm movement.

I’m deep into my bitterness, staring at the pavement as I walk in who-knows-what direction when suddenly I come across a small, shallow puddle. I look down into the water’s reflective surface, noting that the late afternoon lighting is just so and the trees I didn’t know I was approaching stretch not up but down into the pool’s mirror world, where an entire sky is hidden just beneath the oily water’s plane. I’ve stopped walking without realizing and I stare, down but yet up, at the tops of the trees beneath my feet.

A sense of vertigo I didn’t expect cascades over me, sending a surprise shudder down my back and I avert my eyes, back up to the trees casting the reflection. The sky is blue-grey and a thin sheet of dimpled clouds makes the sunlight hazy and familiar, recognizable from the puddle-world I just saw. With a heavy sigh, I close my eyes and smile.

So See? I’m Not Alone

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Amen.

A Speling Be

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

I realize certain words are difficult to spell for a lot of people. “A lot,” for example is too commonly written as “alot.” The simple trick to remember that is, you’d never write “alittle,” and so you’d not “alot.” I love those little tricks because they work so well to provide context for what would otherwise be an exercise in rote memorization (a technique that clearly didn’t work in the first place). Sometimes a trick does not exist for a word I often misspell, so I have to make up my own. Here are a few of them.

  • I struggled with “significant” for a long time until I noticed that you can make a little sentence out of parts of the word. “Sign if I can’t” is, minus the apostrophe, the correct spelling.
  • The word “their,” aside from being part of the they’re/there/their trifecta of grammatical butchery, stymied me for some time because I was always trying to spell it “thier.” Once I noticed that no matter what form of the word you’re using it always contains the three-letter sequence “the,” it was no problem.
  • Definitely is “in it.” That’s how I remember that it’s not “definately” or “defanitely” or “defineitely” or whatever other mess of vowels people toss into that word. After the “def” and before the “ely” it’s just “in it.”

If you have your own little spelling tricks, I’d love to hear them.

Police Blotter Report, #2: Is This Maine?

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

The best part of this exchange, by far, is the abrupt topic change at the end, which had me laughing so hard my co-workers, who were playing four-player foosball and blaring Daft Punk at the time, yelled at me to keep it down.

(16:01:48) Nikki Hamilton: 5:47 p.m.: A woman on the 800 block of Kennedy Place told police that the neighbors’ children threw bottles and a live lobster over the fence into a jumpy house that family members had set up for a girl’s 10th birthday party.
(16:02:13) Paul Hamilton: who…
(16:02:18) Paul Hamilton: who has a live lobster on hand?
(16:02:29) Nikki Hamilton: that’s EXACTLY what i was thinking
(16:02:43) Nikki Hamilton: was it dinner and they just decided to use it as a weapon instead?
(16:02:58) Paul Hamilton: maybe it was meant as a gift?
(16:03:08) Paul Hamilton: I mean, that’s not a cheap dinner
(16:03:15) Nikki Hamilton: true.
(16:03:53) Nikki Hamilton: but, how many 10-year-olds enjoy lobster?
(16:04:16) Paul Hamilton: Right. I don’t know that it was high on her wish list
(16:04:22) Paul Hamilton: 3. Barbie
(16:04:27) Paul Hamilton: 2. Bratz Doll
(16:04:34) Paul Hamilton: 1. Succulent lobster dinner
(16:06:04) Nikki Hamilton: i’m going to go to barnes and noble

Also, a bonus IM conversation follows. As a bit of backstory, this exchange is with my friend Ryan. Ryan is awesome because he can out-geek me which isn’t exactly an accomplishment per se, but it does have a certain significance. Observe:

(15:14:56) Ryan Hardester: ok, I am all for willing suspension of disbelief .. I’m a cheap date like that but I am having troubles with Journeyman
(15:15:11) Paul Hamilton: I couldn’t stay up to watch it last night
(15:15:26) Paul Hamilton: getting tough to swallow?
(15:16:10) Ryan Hardester: doesn’t matter how understanding your wife is … she won’t put up with disappearing for long
(15:16:30) Ryan Hardester: and she seems less than understanding to begin with
(15:16:46) Paul Hamilton: wait.
(15:17:19) Paul Hamilton: the guy spontaneously jumps through time and you’re having trouble accepting that his wife would be okay with him being gone?
(15:17:27) Ryan Hardester: well… yeah

Fall TV Premieres

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

My thoughts on the premieres I caught last week:

  • Journeyman: At first I thought the show was just a semi-interesting update of Quantum Leap. Then, about 40 minutes in, there is a twist that makes it so much better and from then on I just wanted to see more. My early favorite new show.
  • Reaper: It’s got that fun dramedy/fantasy vibe that Buffy had and the cast has already got a pretty good chemistry working. I’m not sure about Ray Wise’s performance yet… he seems to be a very poor man’s Al Pacino from The Devil’s Advocate. But other than that it was a very likable pilot.
  • Bionic Woman: I was really looking forward to this show and I found myself rather bored by the pilot. Unfortunately this goes back to a lot of my complaints about remakes which is the need they feel to give us cursory backstories and origin plots. I don’t care any more about seeing these familiar faces struggle with their newfound power, just show them kicking some butt, mkay? Anyway, the pilot really bored me and I’ve already got this on a short leash. Here’s hoping it gets a lot better fast.
  • Dirty Sexy Money: It dropped the soap in the first sixteen seconds. It looks like a metropolitan, New York high society version of Grey’s Anatomy or Desperate Housewives. It was a compelling enough pilot, but I can’t see myself caring enough about their “shocking” rich folk behavior or the “who sleeps with whom” salaciousness of it week in and week out.
  • Chuck: “Young underachiever gets thrust into an unlikely situation he doesn’t think he can handle, where he must excel to win the heart of a hot girl.” It’s the same plot synopsis as Reaper except instead of the unlikely situation being “monster hunter” it’s “superspy.” And yet while Reaper hit all the right notes, Chuck fell really flat. The cast was annoying and had no chemistry and the show thinks it’s a lot funnier than it really is. Very short leash on this one.
  • Big Bang Theory: I’m not sure why nerds trying to win over hot girls is such a huge theme this year, but this sitcom was barely—barely—average. I probably won’t watch it again.
  • Back to You: Some shows you can tell have a grain of a concept hidden in the clunky first few episodes. Some of my favorites like How I Met Your Mother and The Office are like this. But they take a while to warm up. Back to You has sitcom stalwarts hitting on their peak levels right out of the gate and producing… the most predictable, uninspired dud you can imagine. It’s like Generic Sitcom to the degree that it feels, upon first viewing, like you’re watching a rerun. No thanks.

What’s in it For Me?

Monday, September 24th, 2007

I’m not sure if you noticed, but I spend a lot of time online. It’s partially my job, but I’m a pretty ‘net-connected type guy in just a general fashion. And this is nothing new. Part of my net presence has, for the last six years or so, been this site here, ironSoap.org. I cultivate it, I design it, I’ve made it my own over various iterations and levels of attention. To a certain extent, ironSoap.org is me, when I’m online. If people want to know who ‘ironsoap’ is on an IRC channel or a forum, I put my web address in nearly every public-facing “profile” I can find.

It’s not like I’m trying to drive traffic to my site so they can click on ads and make me a bunch of money. I don’t run ads on ironSoap. I pay for the hosting and the domains from my own pocket and I create all the content here. The key reason why ill-fated efforts like Hyperbolic Avatars existed was because I didn’t care to have other people—even people I love and respect—putting themselves onto my site.

There is even a conscious effort to make the site intuitive: Wherever I use the name ironsoap (which is pretty much everywhere), I figure people could put that “word” into a search engine and come up with this site. What else is called “ironsoap” after all? Or, they could just try “ironsoap.com” and they’ll come here. If they want to talk to me, ironsoap@ironsoap.org works as you’d expect. So does paul@ironsoap.com. I don’t advertise these addresses; they aren’t my official email address. But my official email address is listed and I like to it all the time without de-spamminating it: paul@ironsoap.org. Yeah, I get a lot of junk mail and I have to do aggressive filtering on my inbox.

But I don’t mind. This is me. Me online. I have a presence, by design.

So help me out here. A lot of people I know are on Facebook. Or MySpace. Or whatever other social networking site. Orkut or whatever. I don’t know. For the longest time I’ve avoided them. I’ve done so on purpose, because to me they simply seemed like a new-wave version of Geocities. They appeared, from my observational vantage point high on my horse, to be nothing more than a simple way to create an online presence. And, of course, tie it into someone else’s system so they can serve you ads and adjust the Terms of Service as they see fit. So they can limit you to their design sensibilities and the limitations of their web engineering departments.

My stance on all these things has always been, “No thanks. I already have a web presence. I’ve had it since 2001.” Is it smug? You betcha. But is it also true? Absolutely.

I’ve heard people complaining to me that I’m not “hooked in” with their little circle of Facebookies or MySpacers and they grumble that it wouldn’t kill me to have a profile set up. And they’re right, I suppose it wouldn’t. But why should I? Why would I want to keep a separate account for all these sites that offer me no value whatsoever? I don’t create profiles on Motley Fool just in case some armchair investor wants to contact me. My thought process is this: I’m not hard to find, but if you can’t narrow a Google search enough to track me down, you probably don’t know me well enough for me to want to talk to you anyway.

I didn’t say I wasn’t an elitist jerk.

But it’s getting out of control. I have Facebook invites coming in from business contacts now. What gives? Has the whole world gone mad? Am I overlooking something pivotal about these sites? Tell me, dear readers, why should I bother?

Is there anything I could do on a social networking site that I can’t do on ironSoap? Anything that makes me the jerk for not joining up when I’ve been trying to drag people online since 1998 only to find that when they got here they started telling me how it’s “done”? Have I gotten old and set in my ways already, destined to be the cranky old coot on the Internet’s porch screaming at the dang kids to get off my LAN?

What, exactly, is in it for me?

I Tried to Tell You

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

But you wouldn’t listen.

It Has Been Researched

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

Just so you know, I looked into it and ‘youcantmarryapirate’ is available as a domain name across the board.

I’m seriously considering it.

Police Blotter Report, #1

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

Nik and I have been discussing the local police blotter via IM for the last couple of weeks. By “discussing” I do mean “making fun of” because our blotter is full of lunacy and prank calls and precious little of actual concern. Unless you’re concerned about getting your catalytic converter stolen.

I’m serious. Those things get swiped all the time in our town.

Anyway, I’ve been meaning to try to set up a podcast of us doing it live because it’s pretty funny sometimes (to us, at least) but until I get around to that I had to share part of today’s exchange. Some of the content has been altered slightly from the original, for legibility reasons.

(13:16:47) Nikki Hamilton: okay, so here are my three favorites from the police log today
(13:17:11) Nikki Hamilton: I can’t decide if i want to meet this guy or not…
(13:17:16) Nikki Hamilton: 12:20 a.m.: A man known as “Crazy Larry” was loitering at the am/pm gas station, 3425 N. Tracy Blvd.
(13:17:34) Paul Hamilton: Here’s the general rule:
(13:17:47) Paul Hamilton: If you have the word “Crazy” as part of your name, you’re cool
(13:18:05) Paul Hamilton: If you’re just “So-and-So…. who’s really crazy” then steer clear
(13:18:17) Paul Hamilton: So like Crazy Bob is probably a really cool guy
(13:18:33) Paul Hamilton: But “That guy Bob… that fool is crazy” is bad news
(13:18:45) Nikki Hamilton: heh
(13:18:58) Nikki Hamilton: okay, from the “That is so messed up File:”
(13:19:14) Nikki Hamilton: 7:34 a.m.: Someone in eastern Tracy reported that when she told her father she was pregnant, he handed her a .38 gun and “told her to end it.” According to police records, her dad and her boyfriend don’t get along.
(13:20:07) Paul Hamilton: Sounds like he’s lucky he didn’t hand the gun to the boyfriend and say the same thing
(13:20:29) Nikki Hamilton: yeah, i don’t think that would have ended how he intended it to
(13:20:35) Paul Hamilton: I wonder if that would count as suicide?
(13:21:02) Nikki Hamilton: assisted suicide, a la Dr. Kevorkian
(13:21:14) Paul Hamilton: I like how they threw in the history of the dad and the boyfriend, as if that explained it
(13:21:33) Paul Hamilton: “Ah, I see. He was a total jerk to her because he hates her boyfriend”
(13:21:41) Paul Hamilton: “It all makes sense now.”
(13:21:53) Nikki Hamilton: and last, but not least
(13:22:07) Nikki Hamilton: from the “What kind of gun even holds that many rounds? File:”
(13:22:20) Nikki Hamilton: 12:48 a.m.: A caller reportedly heard 10 gunshots on the 1700 block of Renown Court.
(13:22:30) Nikki Hamilton: unless, of course, it was multiple guns
(13:22:41) Nikki Hamilton: but, what is this, 4th of july?
(13:22:43) Nikki Hamilton: new year’s eve?
(13:22:59) Paul Hamilton: should I be the one to tell you that a lot of sidearms hold 15 in the clip?
(13:23:11) Nikki Hamilton: seriously?
(13:23:15) Paul Hamilton: oh yeah
(13:23:18) Nikki Hamilton: why did i think most guns hold six?
(13:23:33) Paul Hamilton: revolvers hold six
(13:23:43) Paul Hamilton: but most guns aren’t revolvers anymore
(13:23:58) Paul Hamilton: they have a clip you slap into the bottom of the handle
(13:24:05) Paul Hamilton: and they hold a lot more bullets
(13:24:21) Paul Hamilton: Disclaimer: Everything I know about guns I learned from playing Counter-Strike
(13:24:28) Nikki Hamilton: so now people have 15 chances to kill you rather than 6?
(13:24:46) Paul Hamilton: well you really only need the one chance
(13:25:19) Nikki Hamilton: yes, but your odds are much better when a gun holds only 6 rounds, especially if you’re ninja like or the person is a bad shot
(13:25:23) Nikki Hamilton: with 15 you’re screwed
(13:25:28) Nikki Hamilton: no one’s that lucky
(13:25:41) Paul Hamilton: I think ninjas don’t really care how many chances the other guy has
(13:25:48) Paul Hamilton: that’s why they’re ninjas
(13:25:54) Nikki Hamilton: I should train to be a ninja
(13:26:01) Nikki Hamilton: then I would feel so much safer
(13:26:02) Paul Hamilton: you would make a great ninja
(13:26:12) Nikki Hamilton: i’m not so stealthy
(13:26:24) Paul Hamilton: plus, I would LOVE to be able to say “Oh, yeah. I’m married to a ninja.”
(13:26:34) Paul Hamilton: Those cowls are hot
(13:26:38) Nikki Hamilton: more so than a pirate?
(13:26:50) Paul Hamilton: You can’t marry a pirate
(13:26:54) Paul Hamilton: everyone knows this
(13:26:59) Nikki Hamilton: oh. I did not.
(13:27:22) Paul Hamilton: obviously you need to check out http://www.youcantmarryapirate.edu
(13:27:32) Nikki Hamilton: shut. up.
(13:27:35) Nikki Hamilton: seriously?
(13:27:38) Nikki Hamilton: there’s a website?

Been Awhile, Hasn’t It?

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

It’s been a long, long time since I posted programming-oriented stuff to ironSoap. A lot of it is because I haven’t had much call to do a lot of programming-related work for some time now, focusing more on other technology tasks. However, while my current job is not in development, it does often call for scripting and automation of common tasks.

Usually this kind of thing is a job for Perl. I like Perl okay, it’s got it’s quirks but since a lot of this stuff is being written for a small team and is of limited utility (that is, it’s far from production-level code), Perl’s shortcomings don’t become serious liabilities. There are also a handful of shell scripts, CGI hacks and JavaScript pages littered around to do various things which are all well and good.

A few people at my work like Python, which I admire but have never felt was really as intuitive as its supporters claim. If I were told I needed to complete a Python script by the end of the week or I’d lose my job I could make it happen, but it wouldn’t be as fun as if I were allowed to use Perl.

And of course nothing would be as good as if I were given the chance to write in my beloved PHP.

But here’s what’s strange: PHP is not a great language. Perl has it’s faults, too, but I can tolerate it. Meanwhile other languages that are arguably more elegant and refined are less appealing to me and, until this week, I had no idea why.

What led to my epiphany was my recent project which, on the urging of an engineering co-worker, is to be built with another language, Ruby.

Ruby reminds me a lot of Python: It isn’t built on a long legacy of shifting priorities and structured with it’s foundation on the sands of time. These are relatively modern languages built to be all-purpose from the beginning, to read cleanly and to avoid some of the pitfalls of other—flawed—languages I find more comfortable and preferable. They’re also supposed to be easier to learn and pick up on for the beginning to intermediate programmer (a class I slide into smoothly).

And don’t let me lead you off-course entirely: I said I admire Python and I actually really like Ruby and what it’s doing. These languages aren’t the problem. What drives me batty and makes me want to run screaming back to PHP is the lack of usable, coherent online documentation.

Nothing has ever been as useful to me as PHP.net for getting actual programs to work. And maybe that’s just PHP’s strength, to have solid documentation and a robust set of built-in functions to do almost everything you’d ever want to do already. Perl has a similar, if less friendly system, because it’s so popular with Web-folks that it’s been documented like crazy on about fifty different sites. If you have a question about Perl, chances are you can simply type the exact question into Google and someone else has asked the exact same question in the exact same way sometime before you. Plus, with CPAN, most common problems have already been solved in Perl so just like in PHP you’re rarely reinventing the wheel.

Which isn’t to say those same constructs don’t exist in Python or Ruby. In fact I’m pretty sure they do. The problem is the documentation, because there is no clearly written place to find answers about exactly how to use the standard modules and the best written documentation for the languages is all in tutorial or primer or narrowly focused pockets. What PHP (and to a lesser extent Perl) offers is plenty of places like that online, but also a central repository of clear, concise reference material that makes even O’Reilly volumes really redundant.

It’s frustrating because there is always this one blocking point where I’m sufficiently familiar with the new language’s syntax to start applying my basic programming knowledge but the language’s advanced features are relegated to technical references that are no more enlightening than man pages and I end up visualizing how I could write my scripts but unequipped to transform those concepts into functioning code.

The Earth’s Physics Model Seems Buggy

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

I won’t make a habit of littering YouTubery all over the site, but this quick clip begs to be seen.

It Begins to Burn

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

Eventually my brain is bound to expire. It’s like milk that way, only in my case the date was not set far in the future the way most folks prefer, very different from the serendipity they will dig through cartons toward the mysterious world beyond the dairy case to obtain. Mine is like the lone quart left in a gas station snack shop, ink stamp smudged almost beyond legibility: Did that say ’09′ or ’06′? If you’re desperate, you’ll buy it anyway and hope for the best.

Whatever you do, you don’t leave it on the front seat of your car in August, practically begging for some sort of souring process to accelerate, perhaps leading to solidification. Likewise, I have little enough facilities to draw upon as it is and here I am lighting them afire with reckless abandon: Write for this site here! Contribute to that forum there! Maintain a similarly themed site of your own! Avoid neglecting your long-standing outlet! Then I arrive at my actual job and I’m expected to maintain a rapport with various co-workers via—guess what—written communications and then I recall that I have solicited people to contact me via email and IM so I must meet or exceed their expectations lest my future solicitations go unheeded. Further I am chastised by my like-minded acquaintances for not being hip to the game when I fail to maintain my Twitter profile and resort to archaic communication methods like phone calls rather than text messaging…

It is as though my phalanges and have begun to crust into crude claws and my vocal cords have withered like grapes on a vine or are mutating outward from my throat into hideous mandibles. Meanwhile, as mentioned, my mind has slipped into a state that is undoubtedly dangerous where the surface wrinkles contract and smooth over. The result will be either the development of telepathic powers or, more probably, the reduction of higher function leaving me in a state of reactionary instinct.

Essentially, I am becoming an insect.

Fortunately, even insects can fashion bullet points, of a sort.

  • I managed to screw up rather badly at work. My job can be boiled down to its hot molten core as such: Detect problems before they manifest to our customers. Suffice to say that when a customer then contacts me to inform that there is a serious problem on our platform, I’ve basically failed in some key fashion. There were, as you might expect, certain extenuating circumstances. But those are probably merely enough to save my job, but certainly not my face.
  • My commute is actually lengthening with each passing day. I leave a little bit earlier each morning and yet I arrive at work a little later. At this point I believe I’m up to two and a half hours in the morning. My nighttime commute is a steady hour and fifteen minutes, but I keep hoping there will come a point when there are literally no more humans left to stand between me and my destination. I did not anticipate that humanity is apparently reproducing at a rate that exceeds my car’s maximum speed.
  • Nik is currently between jobs and being understandably choosy about what she decides to take on next. This has given her ample time to serve as a sort of post modern housewife for the last few weeks. At first she was timid, and approached her role as “fabricator of the evening meal” with trepidation. Steadily, though, her confidence has grown and last night she cooked a pork tenderloin whose equal I had not previously encountered. This is significant because while Nik has always been competent in the kitchen she has rarely ventured into a territory I found literally delectable and—this is most significant—experimental. Not only was the dinner last night scrumptious but it was unfamiliar to the extent that it almost felt illicit.
  • An interesting bit of trivia: If you take a job that requires you to sit for ten solid hours and you interpret this missive literally, then marry that activity with an increased appetite for Kettle brand potato chips and Keebler Fudge Stripe cookies, you will gain weight. I discovered this through several clinical trials and now must reset in order to begin the control testing. My method for this is the same as it ever was: Regular exercise and a greater attention to what I eat. Part of my exercise routine involves comical-looking machines that I consider to be my arch nemeses; the other part involves playing an innocent looking sport called racquetball. There is not so much innocence there as you would assume. It doesn’t help if you’re a 5′ 7″ water buffalo on the court, however. I managed to run directly into a concrete wall playing this game last week and I got, for my efforts, a goose egg on my knee which turned into the most colorful bruise you’re likely to see. I suspect it’s all in the nearly perfect eggshell white of the canvas. I don’t go out much.
  • Nik bought the DVD set of The Office, Season Three. I caught a few episodes here and there last year but wasn’t that impressed. My expectation was low because of this as I entered, but I came out the other side with my faith in the show’s writers renewed. You know how most shows have a central relationship that is in turmoil or question and you are supposed to root for the characters involved to work it out? Often to prolong the drama the writers will introduce a third party, another character, to stand in the way. Nearly every time this third character is abhorrent and so obviously written as a foil to the relationship that the whole exercise feels false. In the Office they did something similar but in a stroke of brilliance the foil is not demonstrably more or less likable than the central figures which generates something that feels authentic. Recall, for a moment, that I’m referring to a sitcom.
“Since then it's been a book you read in reverse / So you understand less as the pages turn” – The Shins