: Winds of Change: Happy new year!

: MC Masala Mixes It Up: MC Masala this week: job interviews are like dates.

Here is proof that I will never be sophisticated: I called up a bunch of friends to brag about the hotel room. It had a flat-screen TV and a bathroom with a tub next to a shower and a white-noise generator next to the unbelievably comfortable bed. I was, for that hour, more excited about the hotel room than I was about the job interview.

I learned from the in-room literature that my minibar contained an "intimacy kit." Somehow I doubt that this kit contained an inflatable psychologist to help couples break down their emotional barriers.

I can't believe it -- readers are emailing me to wish me good luck in NYC!

Some other links. The disturbing Life and Death, a meditation on evil and forgiveness; read the comments, if you can. A tremendous NYT musing that advocates cultural contamination and gives new context for "I am human: nothing human is alien to me." And the wonderful Something Old, Nothing New, via the incisive Kenny Byerly.

: Self-Defense: Protect your privacy this year.

: Gotta Stand Up To Start Moving Forward?: According to some estimates, every six months in the Bay Area, I've made some new amazing friend whom I am now leaving behind. I arrived in August of 1998 and met Seth; most recently (basically) Eric. He lent me Daniel R. Headrick's Tentacles of Progress, about the infrastructure that empires lay down in conquered lands.

The Fashoda incident of 1898 (see Chapter 4), which had only a temporary impact on international diplomacy, was the turning point for Dakar. In response to the British threat, France decided to build a harbor in West Africa for its cruisers, submarines, and torpedo boats. The project took ten years and cost 21 million francs (£ 840,000). Deep dredging, over 2 kilometers of new breakwaters, and a dry dock made it a harbor fit for cruisers. By 1908 Dakar was the finest naval base between Cape Town and Gibraltar.

This passage struck me. The leaders of France made hard decisions and plans, and ten years later they had an awesome artifact and tool. They made their bet and won.

I've been afraid to bet. I've been loathe to predict or plan, to even cautiously strategize a career or make any long-term commitments. And now I'm locked in for the next three years. I've discarded other options and shaken off paralysis.

If you could save your mother, but at the cost of killing your father, would you do so? What if the situation were reversed? What if your great aunt would die, but your father would live, but he would have cancer, but that cancer would go be cured by a doctor, but that doctor eventually creates a supervirus which wipes out 1/3 of the Earth's population. Would you date that doctor?

I can't live like that anymore, second-guessing every move.

Joe is one of the friends I'm going to miss. Last night we saw a whole show of good comedy, in which none of the four comics disappointed; how often does that happen? It started with stand-up and so it shall end.

San Francisco's Bay Area was the first place I chose to move, and the first place where I made myself a home. Now it's the first place I'm leaving completely on my own. From November of 2002: Sumana stands up.

Filed under:

: Good Idea, Bad Idea: Leonard kindly gave me a belated Christmas gift yesterday, making it a New Year's gift. He had surreptitiously transferred the first few minutes of several episodes of Law and Order from the TiVo to a DVD, creating an anthology of all the "du du du du du Oh My God A Body" moments (my favorite part of Law & Order). It was fantastic and amazing and I can't thank him enough.

I needed cheering up because I spent most of New Year's Day in bed, resting my knee. Returning from a New Year's party, just before getting into the car of a kind acquaintance for a ride home, I'd fallen and hit my knee on some broken pavement. Ow. It didn't break, but it's still not quite right. I wish I'd had a pratfall instead; my prat at least has some cushioning.

: From Email To Editors: I get to keep my weekly column in Bay Area Living even though I am moving to New York. My current miniseries of columns has to do with the move.

I believe I have succeeded in tricking the reader into thinking it's just a light column about domestic frustrations and then BAM! it's actually about the deep joys and sorrows of our inner lives! But even if it fails at that then it's still funny.

: Comedy Carroll: "As we know now, space and time are really the same thing. Space is just time moving very slowly. So, if our time is slightly off and needs correcting, it follows that our space is also slightly off. What you call your "personal space" may in fact belong to Anthony Hopkins. We may all live in Nevada. We won't know until scientists figure it out -- and that could be a long time because most scientists are spending their time standing up at rural school board meetings explaining radio carbon dating."

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: Quote Of The Year 2005: From an executive: "It's a global world."

: What Makes Me Cry: Ads for Monster.com where people celebrate their new jobs.

: Last Day of Work: I feel as though my last day at Salon should get more thought and attention. I've been there since May of 2003 and it's the longest job I've ever had. But it was a job that never turned into a career, and never would. So -- bittersweet, like everything else.

: Career Advice From Scott Rosenberg: Always work with people from whom you can learn something. Preferably people smarter than you.

: More Last Day Magic: Finalizing a billion things before I leave Salon for the last time. A horrible day to discover Overheard In The Office.

Filed under:

: A Long Goodbye: A zillion people, including people who never worked with me or are no longer at Salon, came to my goodbye lunch at Taylor's Automatic Refresher and my goodbye party at Town Hall (a restaurant/bar on Howard). I was touched.

This weekend: a zillion people want to come over, to see us one last time before we go, to help us move boxes into other, larger boxes, to buy us dinner and drinks, to give back borrowed books and take away unwanted furniture.

We are so busy, so frazzled, and so lucky.

I'm listening to Vienna Teng and to the William Shatner/Ben Folds collaboration. I'm watching the house empty, pouring my life into cardboard boxes, keeping track of a thousand details, and convincing myself (with Leonard's help) that it'll all be okay.

Maxine Hong Kingston wrote in The Woman Warrior that it's tough to distinguish the layers of one's heritage. What comes from your parents, and what from theirs, and what from your village, and what from being your ethnicity, and what just from your own idiosyncratic history?

Saying goodbye is like that. All at once, I say goodbye to Salon, and to my loose affinity with Berkeley, and to BART, and to Northern California, and to almost all my friends, and to San Francisco, and to the futon I've had since 1999, and to the comfy brown chair I've had since 1991....

The rituals help. I sent the mass email, Subject: Farewell. There will be more. It's never enough.

Filed under:

: Goodbyes: a Retrospective: Note to self: What kind of pretentious crap am I writing? "Blah blah blah, goodbyes, a single teardrop on the vividly portrayed barren wasteland of the nearly empty home." Come ON. Moving sucks but there's starving children in China, etc. Grow up.

: Distributed Moving: I came up with an idea for how to move your stuff. You distribute all your boxes to your friends and tell/pay them to mail it to you after you've arrived at your destination. If your friends have cars or live near your old location, and they can schedule pickup by the postal service online, and you or a trusted associate will be home all day at the destination apartment, then this could end up being much cheaper and less concentrated hassle. Leonard and I decided not to burden our friends this way, but it sounds workable.

: Read My Craigslist Post And Take My Stuff: Bookcase, nightstand, pantry/media center. Update: All those are gone. New Craigslist post for the last remaining item to give away: free folding table. Further Update: That's gone too.

Friends coming by for last chances to say goodbye make me so sentimental that the word "poignant" isn't enough. Cameo appearance by... fear of the unknown!

: The First Half Of Goohoo: I saw a headline, "Google's Page gives keynote address," and thought it said, "Google page gives keynote address." Leonard's joke: "Did you mean: to major in the hard sciences?"

: MC Masala: On socks and forgetting.

: From Goodbye Conversations: "No, no, you're thinking he's dead, but he's Canadian."

"My great-grandmother was Irish." "Oh, really?" "No, O'Reilly."

"That mouse isn't fooled by that mousetrap." "Yeah, to him it's the equivalent of a Nigerian 419 scam." "Hello! I have a large piece of fruitcake that I wish to distribute!"

The weekend was relatively crazy. I think I saw four high school friends, a cousin, a neighbor, a Russia-trip friend, two Salon-related friends, three comedy-related friends, and four unrelated geeky friends. I'm sure I am miscounting. All these people came to my house, almost all of them after all the chairs were gone. They all gladdened and heartened me by visiting, but the logistics and the emotion of it all, oh boy.

Last night, Angel toasted to Leonard and me, for luck in New York "even though they won't need it." John toasted Fog Creek "for its impeccable hiring decisions." And I toasted Leonard, for being the best friend, boyfriend, mover, and logistician I could ever hope to know, and United Airlines, for channel 8 where you can listen to the cockpit-control tower chatter.

: Goodbye, Will Franken: The only DVD I hadn't packed: Will Franken's Good Luck With It, which I foisted on John, Angel, Michael, and Julia.

I'm sorry, Terri. I can't do it. I may be God, but I'm no miracle worker. In fact, last week, I accidentally made a rock so heavy that even I couldn't lift it.
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: Tiny Nostalgia Victory: I get to keep the brown comfy chair because Leonard is the Sokoban master so it fit into the relevant crate. Yay!

Just saw Star Trek: Nemesis, which is in theory about loss, change, etc. Not nearly good enough.

: Split: Leonard and I have left San Francisco. We looked in all the cupboards and shelves and found the obligatory forgotten thing, in this case a round pastry-cooling rack. This was after the move-out cleaners did their number on the place. They came from a service that advertises its use of only nontoxic, bioderadable, organic-type cleaning solutions. And they did, until they ran across some heavy gunk and one of the maids asked, "Ma'am, could I use 409? I have it." I gave the okay.

: Last Night in California: Leonard and I are visiting his ancestral home (Bakersfield, Los Angeles, and environs). Tonight: dinner and bowling with his family. I need better upper-body strength.

: The Final Countdown: But not by Europe.

Leonard and I are visiting Kris, Kim, and Adam in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. I thought I didn't like cheese-infused crackers but evidently Trader Joe's makes a highly adequate version. I'm trying not to think about the giant presto changeo awaiting me a few hours from now.

: Tougher Than I'd Thought: Removing SFGate from my bookmark bar.

Restraining myself from ruining the backup vocals for Leonard/Kris/Adam songs with screams and melisma.

Listening to acoustic guitar without thinking I'm in a montage in a movie.

Staying on key.

: "The opposite of QED": More propositions within arguments should end, as did one a few nights ago, "So that's why I know I'm smoking crack."

Songs on the way to the airport; right now Kris/Adam/Leonard are harmonizing on "Asia Carrera." Pretty poignant. Goodbye, California.

: Made It: Safely ensconced in temp housing. The plane had a pretty turbulent landing; listening to air traffic chatter on the audio channel made me feel better about it. Feeling informed made me feel more in-control even though I wasn't.

Soon, off to see Astoria.

: MC Masala, Only Slightly Behind The Times: I wrote yet more moving stuff because my editor loves it.

The day I panicked over that mouse was also the day I crashed a car for the first time. I wrote a column a few months later, telling you that I hadn't driven since, and many of you wrote to encourage me to get back on the road. Since then, I have driven a car on city streets and even on a highway. I still hate driving and even riding in a front seat while a car is on a highway, but I can stand it.

So I'm making headway on my own little insanities; the big leap of the cross-country move and job change bring my phobias, insecurities and superstitions to light. I'm afraid of death and of forgetting and of being forgotten, but all of those things will happen anyway.

: Blogging For Choice Month: "And suddenly--if we have no doctors who are trained to abort pregnancies, even for health reasons; if doing so is illegal--we have women dying not only from illegal abortions, but from pregnancy itself."

: The Golden Ticket: I signed a lease on an apartment in Astoria, in Queens. Astoria feels like San Francisco's Ingleside/West Portal with a bit of the Mission, only lots of Greek instead of lots of Spanish. Many thanks to Fog Creek and to John for their instrumental roles in getting me the place.

The shipping container gets delivered Friday morning; anyone in NYC want to help me move boxes for an hour?

I am getting used to the tradeoffs of living in New York. Various protocols are byzantine and efficient. One enters it after many players in all the markets have brutally competed and iterated through a lot of opportunities and loopholes, and though "[i]t is usually incorrect to believe that you are on the efficient frontier", businesses in NYC seem nearer the efficient frontier than in other cities I've visited.

The best preparation I had for living in New York was probably living in St. Petersburg for a summer and visiting Tokyo for two weeks. I learned how to get out of people's way.

In conversation, Adam and I decided that living in New York City is a skill with a big learning curve, like knowing Unix. Many people use it all the time without really mastering it, which is fine, because you only need to know the bits you use. And having a goal, or a set of tasks to accomplish, directs and facilitates one's study.

Off to change my address in a billion places.

Filed under:

: Moved!: Huzzah for having moved. Huzzah for ABF U-Pack and for LaborReady. Huzzah for easy access to a subway station and to cheap restaurants that deliver. And a giant huzzah to Leonard for not only following me to New York but doing almost all the heavy lifting.

Filed under:

: Availability: Leonard and I will have only intermittent access to the Internet for the next week or so.

: Confusion While Unpacking: Leonard: I have the nails, now I just need to find the hammer.
Sumana: But doesn't everything look like a hammer to you now?
Leonard: No, no, it's the other way around.

: Readings: As I was going through a cold this week (am currently 90% over it), I read Jane Austen's Persuasion, whose title I love. Persuasion is very fun for the first 90 percent of it but then once the endgame becomes obvious it is less compelling.

I also read Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, which is fantastic. Anna Karenina revealed to me why people love epic soap operas, and Casterbridge is smaller in scale but no less epic in the scope of human emotion explored. And it is funny.

Casterbridge couldn't happen today, I think, what with all the bureaucracy and open access to information the First World enjoys. It's like Jane Eyre in that way.

The town of Casterbridge is a minor town somewhere in England, like Stockton. Now I live in the equivalent of London. A weird thing to get used to.

At the Friends of The Library store in San Francisco's Fort Mason, I bought a cheap Blues Traveler CD, entirely because it has "Hook" on it. "Hook" was my first experience, possibly aside from Weird Al and songs from Broadway musicals, with meta songs. It blew my little teenage mind. I still like it.

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: Welcome Back!: John-Paul Spiro is blogging again.

: Fog Creek Stuff: In preparation for my first day on the job tomorrow, I just watched the Project Aardvark movie, which was enjoyable but made me glad I won't have a film crew following me around as I get settled. The DVD has silly extras in the chapter menu.

Now that I've met Joel, I read his essays and hear his voice. His most recent essay includes a section on "Administatrivia," which UC Berkeley folks always called "Administrivia." This reminds me of John Hodgman's excellent Daily Show appearance:

Stewart: It's Hodgman-mania!
Hodgman: Actually, the correct term is Hodgmania.

Anyway, I am nervous about my new job, and then three years from now it will all seem like a blur. So it goes.

: Sort-of-Paid Advertisement: My first and second days on the job have been a dream. I'm installing, learning, reading, conversing, and generally having a ball. When the workday ends I'm wrung out but in a good way, and can't wait for the next morning.

Today I got my business cards. How cool is that?

: Request For Recommendations: I want to take night or weekend classes in accounting and finance either this semester/quarter or this summer -- ASAP, anyhow. What colleges should I consider? There's a surfeit of opportunities and I'm not sure where to look.

Also, are NYU's MS in Management & Systems or Columbia's Executive MS in Technology Management any good?

: Two Weeks' Worth of Columnity: Actually published last week: On the mini-International-House I lived in, years ago.

The Frenchman, The Italian, The Mexican, The Texan and I had all answered an ad on Craigslist.org for rooms in an apartment in Berkeley. You couldn't beat the price, but the location -- across the street from a pub -- was a mite sketchy.

That experience four years ago helped me define my criteria as I looked for an apartment in New York this month: dishwasher: yes; elevator: yes; four roommates: no; proximity to booze hall: no.

This week: I have a cold! Plus: the contrasting ways in which Californians and Noo Yawkers be walkin' down the street!

We made conversation while waiting for the freight company. Jésus, a longtime New Yorker, shook his head at the thought of living in California.

"Earthquakes!" he said simply, shaking his head, even after I tried a cheap-shot argument balancing the threat of earthquakes against the threat of terrorism. I hadn't realized I was a Californian until I found myself explaining and defending California to the guy who was helping me move to New York.

I have to make MC Masala more Dave Barry and less Carrie Bradshaw. That is, more absurd-funny, less ninth-grade essay slogging through obvious analogies to a sappy conclusion.

: Too Geeky To Put In MC Masala: It still amuses me that TiVo's abbreviation (and possibly the official abbreviation) for The Food Network is FOODP. If you've read Levy's Hackers or are otherwise familiar with LISP slang, you'lll recognize "foodP" as "do you want food?". Alton Brown is proud of having elicited from at least one viewer the statement, "Other cooking shows make me want to eat. Your show makes me want to cook." So maybe everything except Good Eats is foodP.

Oh yeah, maybe I should go through SICP and really learn LISP this time. Or Python or Ruby, which are supposedly easier, but for which there is no one canonical curriculum the way there is for LISP.

: Is It True?: Female soldiers at Camp Victory in Iraq, afraid of being raped by male soldiers, drank less liquid so they wouldn't have to go to faraway latrines at night. And then some died of dehydration. Could it be true? Ginmar, a Reservist who was at Camp Victory, says that something doesn't smell right with this story. I indeed hope to God it isn't true.

: Reminder: For those of you who don't recall what I'm doing at Fog Creek: I am a trainee in the Fog Creek Software Management Training Program, which means that around the office I am known as an SMTP, which amuses us all.

: Running Cliches Through The Cuisinart: Hey Leonard, how did Collabnet work out for you?

Like Leonard, I got book-reading as an initial task at my new job. I accidentally powered through Influence and the Carnegie way too fast because I also read them recreationally. Boy, were they good.

Cialdini's Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion and Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People approach salesmanship from different angles. Carnegie quotes Jesus and Lincoln a lot and focuses on specific tactics you can use to make others more amenable to your requests. Cialdini talks at a more theoretical level but includes examples from scams, sales, and studies to teach the reader to defend herself against manipulative techniques. Where Carnegie advises the reader to get the customer to start saying "yes, yes, yes" to a string of initial questions, Cialdini cautions the reader against the urge to accede to disproportional requests just to be consistent with earlier statements or behaviors.

Both authors mention that sincere persuasion is nothing objectionable. Carnegie stresses that it's also more powerful than sleazy tricks. I'll be using tips from both authors to do honest sales work for Fog Creek.

On my way out the door Friday I borrowed a copy of DeMarco & Lister's Peopleware, which I probably should have read years ago. I delayed reading it to read Book 6 of Y: The Last Man (a page-turner but not as politically awesome as earlier books, and with less captivating badinage, and more gratuitous skin, but I'll keep reading the series). I was especially struck by Chapter 3, "Vienna Waits For You." It quotes Billy Joel's song "The Stranger," [Belated update -- whoops, Zed reminds me that "The Stranger" is the name of the album and not the song] which made a huge impression on me when I saw it for the first time in 13 Going On 30.

But you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want
Or you can just get old
You're gonna kick off before you even get halfway through
When will you realize
Vienna waits for you?

Now, I was evidently not alone in thinking that the Vienna of the song was the dreamed-of wish, a paradise of our own making, the chance of happiness here on earth if we would only get up the gumption to reach out and grab it.

I'd not considered another view. DeMarco and Lister:

The Vienna that waits for you, in Billy Joel's phrase, is the last stop on your personal itinerary. When you get there, it's all over. If you think your project members never worry about such weighty matters, think again. Your people are very aware of the one short life that each person is allotted. And they know too well that there has got to be something more important than the silly job they're working on.

The bit in the song about dreams not always coming true speaks to the Peopleware view, while I find support for my interpretation in this bit:

....it's the life you lead
You're so ahead of yourself
That you forgot what you need
Though you can see when you're wrong
You know you can't always see when you're right

Here's where I pull a species of cheap conclusion trick: the fact that contradictory well-grounded interpretations of this song can exist is a testament to the enduring power of this classic! And maybe they don't contradict at all somehow!

(If you Google for "vienna waits for you", the top results are for tourism in Vienna. So the various Austrian tourism councils probably don't lean towards the Vienna=death side.)

Something like a decade ago, I was denied a spot as a page editor for my high school newspaper because (I was told) my people skills were insufficient. They were right. I was told to read Carnegie, which I did. They made up a copy-editor position so I could learn and practice editorial skills that year, which I did. The next year I got to be a page editor.

Carnegie was great for me because it systematically spelled out reasons for tactics that other people (e.g., my parents) advised haphazardly. Instead of just bumbling through a billion use-cases I got to learn the rules of the thing. Why shut up and let other people talk? Because they like to talk about themselves and their own problems and triumphs, just like you do, and if you listen to them they'll like you. That sort of thing.

My dad once told me to stop bringing books to read when we went to family friends' houses. "Bringing a book to a party is like bringing a sandwich to a dinner," he said, and I got it. And my mom tried to get me to listen better: "Listen to what people mean, not just what they say," she said, but I didn't get it.

My mom and dad tried their best, but I needed a handbook, something to memorize and apply, with lots of examples, and Carnegie helped a lot.

I wonder, in the same fashion as Leonard, how little teenager me would feel if I told her: the next time you read How to Win Friends and Influence People, it'll be to brush up, not to become a functioning member of society. You'll have self-confidence, a great job, a paid newspaper column on the side, a wonderful boyfriend, and a posse of superlative friends, who miss you because you've just moved to New York. Vienna waits for you.

Filed under:

: Calling the Waaaaahmbulance: Good Lord, I miss my friends. California people: I miss you all.

: Sketch Mayhem: I met up with an old friend of Nandini's on Saturday night to watch some sketch comedy. Incidentally, Nandini is not only pursuing two simultaneous Master's degrees, she also just visited China for a few weeks. When we were kids we'd pretend we were jet-setting millionaire witches. She is much further towards that goal than I am. Although I think neither of us is making much headway on the witch thing.

Anyway, I got to see Slightly Known People (they perform at 8pm every Saturday night at Rififi/Cinema Classics on E. 11th St.) and thoroughly enjoyed it. I laughed at every single sketch, which is quite rare. They remind me of the sadly defunct Fresh Robots.

Saturday night's show included a sketch set on a subway platform. In one part of the scene, one character rather slowly and methodically listed, to an unwilling listener, various strategies for getting to one's destination while expending a minimum of time and money. I found it hysterical and yelped in laughter while the rest of the audience was silent. This caused other audience members to laugh and caused one actor to break character and laugh. The actor tried to stifle her laughter, but this only caused her eyes to tear, making her mascara run. After the show, I heard that this was incredibly rare, as she never breaks. What can I say; I'm a demolition derby of suspension of disbelief.

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: MC Masala On Food, Again: Nabisco Brand Oreo Snack Cookies or whatever the correct term is.

My new company is tiny, with only about eight names to memorize, camaraderie around the lunch table and fast decisions on administrative trivia. But at a big company, if you need to stretch your legs but don't feel like going outside, you can just take a brisk walk in a circle around the office while holding some piece of printed matter in your hands, and everyone will assume that you are being businesslike and productive.

Here that gets me perhaps 20 seconds' worth of exercise, and people are more apt to notice since there's only one corridor.

: Credit Card Tips: It's very useful to have a credit card; a credit card is convenient, especially in emergencies, and helps build a good credit rating if you use it responsibly and live within your means. CNN Money has identified the best credit cards for each type of credit card user; for example, a student just starting out with credit might want the Sovereign Preferred Student Visa, since low interest rates, fees and penalties matter to them more than reward points.

: Error Messages From The Bard: A zillion years ago, back when Leonard was one of the editors of Segfault (a geek humor site with user-submitted content), I wrote and he published this bit:

If Shakespeare Wrote Error Messages

What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals; and yet your login is incorrect, try again, you quintessence of dust.

'Tis nothing to you, for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so, except for that bad command or file name.

Brevity is the soul of wit; too many arguments.

A little more than kin, and less than kind, and even less memory.

The fs type is out of joint. Oh cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right!

What is the matter that you read, my lord?
Read error, file not found.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are in your kernel, but it's still too big.

Your process hath shuffled off this mortal coil.

Oh, what a noble drive here is o'erthrown!

'Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played upon than a pipe? OK, maybe not that pipe.

I'll lug the guts into the neighbor room, or just dump them in your root directory.

Something is busy in the state of your mount point.

Revenge should have no bounds. As for floating points, I'll make an exception.

Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave am I, to this server what reset my connection!

Fie, thy grief is a fault to heaven, a fault against the dead, a fault to nature, and a fault of segmentation.

Dost thou hear me, old friend? Can you play The Murder of Gonzago?
Memory access error.

Your login flies up, your password remains below; to logins without passwords authentication never goes.

Something wicked this way comes -- oh good, permission denied.

Bus error: the rest is silence.

As he did command, I did repel your packets and denied you access to me.

And flights of angels sing thy process to its rest!

Someone wrote me once, telling me that he actually used "Your login flies up, your password remains below; to logins without passwords authentication never goes" as an error message in a live system. I wonder whether it's still out there.

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: A Stroke, Claude, and Dinner: Waiter Rant makes me cry far more often than I deserve.

: Jellyfish - Wait, "Sea Jelly": My instant messenger icon is something I did in Microsoft Paint ten years ago.

nandini: i like your im icon
nandini: did you draw it yourself?
sumana: yeah, 10 yrs ago
sumana: I call it "jellyfish"
nandini: it feels as though you are talking to me.
nandini: so i am talking to a jellyfish
nandini: i can call you jelly from now on
nandini: "what up, jelly?"
sumana: LOL
sumana: I told Leonard
sumana: he also laughed
nandini: he is the bf of the jelly fish
nandini: bfjf
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: The Legacy of Mr. Rogers: I was in charge of a big student poetry reading/musical performance night at my high school during my senior year. It was an annual thing and took much planning. The amphitheater got half-filled with water and floating candles, tiki torches ringed the stage and the audience, and students read and performed their work. It was a nice institution. I accidentally scheduled it for the last night of "Seinfeld."

Now we have TiVo. Last night I saw a pretty compelling community theater performance of Macbeth (what a bloody, bloody story!), and then today I got to watch last night's broadcast of Arrested Development's season (and possibly series) finale. I'm really not used to digesting two hours' worth of new AD at a sitting. So, so good, and now probably gone.

The title of this entry refers to Fred Rogers, time-shifting, and Betamax.

: Dale Carnegie and the Friendly People: New MC Masala on influence.

So the Carnegie technique is like secret manners, if there is such a thing, courtesy that makes someone like you until they sense the mindfulness behind your smile.

: Misc: Penny Arcade does an ad for Copilot and Leonard foreshadows my fear.

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: Valentine's Day: Leonard made delicious pesto pasta, salad, and apple crisp. we watched Operation Petticoat, which didn't have the most conventional plot, and then I helped clean the kitchen.

Of course India hosts controversy over Valentine's Day each year. Greeting cards get burned in the public square, young lovers get roughed up, etc. I love where the youth leader does the reductio ad absurdum - if you hate Valentine's Day because it's a Western influence, you have a lot of battles to fight.

: Puzzling & Disturbing: Opinion = sedition?!

: Heard Today on the 8th Floor of a Building: "It means a lot that you came today, overcoming snow...well, there's not that much snow now, really...overcoming, um, elevators..."

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: "Robin" Was Supposed To Be Androgynous: New MC Masala.

I pondered the topic as we climbed out of the subway station and wandered among the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Ground Zero, Rockefeller Center and Central Park, all of which are, of course, in the same neighborhood.

: Miscellany: My great-grandmother was a midwife. Even though she was a Brahmin, she delivered babies at Muslim and Harijan houses without fuss or ceremony.

"The mouse! Overcome! Will never be a plum!"

"Software development" in German is Softwareentwicklung.

The equivalent of the SF Bay Area's public transit TripPlanner is the Trips123 planner for New York City.

Stonewall's Jerquee comes in an "Original 'Wild'" flavor that does not actually evoke thoughts of or resemble organisms devoid of civilization.

North By Northwest includes a turn by Martin Landau as the malevolent henchman Leonard.

I got to see John-Paul Spiro and Heather Gold over recent meals. Pretty awesome. Hey John-Paul and Poorman: I know both of you!

VeganEssentials sold non-leather gloves at reasonable prices (evidently they're sold out now).

: Should I Call Him Gordon Or RLP?: I had a conversation with some coworkers yesterday about customer service, and about whether to try to get abusive customers to realize their rudeness and stop. If one is more concerned with one's sanity than with justice, then one just manipulates and detaches, and stops seeing the person on the other end of the line as anything but a real-life NPC.

Gordon Atkinson writes, then, on a topic close to my heart.

And where am I in this whole process? Where am I? The real me? I don't know. Sometimes I think the better the essay, the farther away from you I am. Every minute I spend polishing adds another layer of separation between us.

: Although I Do Like the Clones:Headphones Rhyme: Sometimes I listen to the internet stream of Rock Chicks Radio. They play a rather limited set of music (say, compared to L9, which had me chair-dancing to Ace of Base's "I Saw The Sign" the other day) but I like the genre.

Through Rock Chicks, I've been exposed to a song called "Billy S" by Skye Sweetnam, in which a girl expresses that she doesn't want nor need to go to school and read Shakespeare. She adds:

Teachers treat us all like clones
"Sit up straight, take off your headphones"
I don't blame them
They get paid
Money, money whoo!
Lotsa money, money whoo!

Is this child suggesting that schoolteachers are in it for the sweet, sweet moolah? If so, is this a sign of an unreliable narrator?

: Someday Green Day Will Be On An Oldies Station: It feels ridiculous to accuse advertisers of co-opting, say, a Moby or Jewel song to sell a product. These songs are not hidden gems by Emily Dickinson; they're as much products as the razor or the car is. Where's the authenticity to co-opt?

: Self-Deprecated Markup: I met some neat hackers tonight at a Google tech talk. (Guido van Rossum spoke on Python.) The moment that I say nonchalantly, "I work for a small software firm in midtown called Fog Creek Software," eyebrows shoot up and the name Joel is pronounced. I'm not quite used to this.

Lots to chew on.

: "I hate all new Yahoos": Incredibly useful advice for the new hotshot. "If you have to tell someone about your reputation then it isn't a reputation."

: How To Avoid The Cycle Of Customer Support Viciousness: Some good ideas on stopping yourself from responding to hostility in kind. Included: "check your ego at the door" and the reminder that someone has to be the adult.

: Old Love: "Crush" by Carol Ann Duffy.

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: Subway: I'm fine using the subway system on weekdays. On weekends it falls apart. Freaking weekend advisories.

: Various Articles For Your Perusal: Yesterday Leonard and I served as extras for an episode of Uncle Morty's Dub Shack. We were two people in a crowd watching a musical performance. Also yesterday, my column on my own musical tastes went up.

For some reason it's very easy for me to judge others by their musical tastes. When I was in high school, I didn't know anything about popular music and judged it as inferior commercial pabulum. Of course, this was because I was insecure about getting judged myself. Tell me if you've heard that one before.

The abortion ban in South Dakota makes the story of Jane more relevant, and one blogger is taking that seriously.

: "We have not done the needful": An awesome effort to put medical knowledge in the public domain to guard against patent hijackers, but also an example of "to do the needful" in the wild.

: Time Capsule: Fog Creek just rearranged some furniture. Probably the most minor effect of this was that I espied a copy of Linux Journal whose cover article was titled:

Podcast And Reel In The Blogs And Wikis

Every once in a while I try to imagine myself as a person from a really long time ago, like 1990, seeing that sort of sentence with a high jargon-to-common-word ratio.

Currently I'm reading a Christmas gift from Leonard's sister and mother, the very good A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Ulrich interprets a diary of a Martha Ballard, a New England housewife and midwife from colonial and Revolutionary times. Ballard was resourceful, sturdy, and smart (as far as we can tell), but "Podcast And Reel In The Blogs And Wikis" might seem a sentence from a foreign language to her.

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: Snow's Stopped: More furniture's been rearranged at work. It feels as though I work in a living room, which is pleasant. Then again, I want to take my shoes off to read on the couch, but I don't want to take off my shoes at work. Dilemma!

It seems relevant that the book I'd read is one on positioning.

Green Day's "Time of Your Life" relates to "American Idiot" somehow.

The silliest Joel On Software entry.

I pace when I talk on the phone.

: Krepichy On A Mac: "I didn't say any of those things. Why are you claiming that I said that?"

: Fulfilling Weekend Socialization: Saw MC Frontalot live with Adam, John, John's posse, and a math postdoc who's like Cousin Vinay Meets Steve Shipman. Also met a member of the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy troupe and a neuroscience grad student. The postdoc and grad student and I reminisced about reading Amar Chitra Katha. Adam explained horrible things about his job to me and I understood them, and I learned lessons about what NOT to do when I am a software manager someday. John's posse had me to lunch in the wilds of Long Island, so I took the Long Island Railroad for the first time. I also saw a New York City rat for the first time, and screamed like a caricature in a New Yorker cartoon.

Dar Williams plays Huntington (on Long Island) this week. I'm interested in going but only if someone else is too.

: Evidently Everyone But Me Reads Overcompensating: I know Leonard is a Rowland fan, so when MC Frontalot pointed him (and Goats's Rosenberg) out on Saturday night, I asked him for an autograph for my boyfriend. He indeed did draw a nice picture, dedicated to Leonard, in my notebook, just after someone informed him that some other female wanted to kiss him.

This is depicted in his cartoon today and I evidently have the most angular chin ever.

: Of Course: Wikipedia explains the history of Amar Chitra Katha.

It's possible to buy all of ACK. The official ACK site in India charges 9097 rupees (about USD$205) for the whole set of 244, plus overseas shipping. DesiKnowledge in the US charges $423 (plus shipping I assume) but only has 235 of the books.

I already have a bunch of the comics, but many of my copies are falling apart, I don't have (for example) the biographies of Einstein, Jesus, and Kalpana Chawla. So I should just make a list of the ones I'm missing and ask my parents to send or bring them to me. Ordering the entire run of ACK online smacks of decadence. Doesn't it?

: Bodies And Motion: John-Paul might like some thoughts on "Skin".

Some lighthearted "How geeky are you?" litmus tests, including:

I assume you all know what time division you have to type into the microwave so your coffee mug returns to the same position? I mean, you don't want to have to twist your wrist, or grab the sides of your hot coffee mug...do you?

So, I made the effort to figure out what time interval it takes for one rotation, and then always punch in a multiple of that so I don't have to strain myself to grab the mug, and the handle is always facing me when I open the door...

: Park Slop: Yesterday and today feature the best weather since Leonard and I arrived in NYC. The window is open and Leonard has fed me macaroni and cheese (with peas and mockmeat and hot sauce) and apple pie (with cheddar cheese). What tremendous well-being good weather and food can produce.

Fred Clark points us to Orwell's book analyzing Dickens. I have read almost no Dickens, which is rather a flaw in my education. More cool stuff to read! I've actually been exhilirated over the past few weeks as I've discovered topics I really want to learn, like Scheme, the advantages and disadvantages of various bugtrackers, accounting, finance, microeconomics, effective sales techniques, etc. The Fog Creek reading list (although that's out of date) and my wantlist hint at some of those topics. Part of the Fog Creek program is that I'm getting paid to read, after all.

Leonard and I visited the "Second Chances" thrift shop on Astoria Boulevard yesterday. It feels like a giant unkempt garage sale, and the thousands of books are precariously piled in such a way that you can't even see the titles of half of them. I wonder whether that store hides any treasures. I might have extracted "Anatomy of a Compiler" from the stack were I more courageous.

One great thing about learning tech in 2006 is that so much great material is free and online -- SICP and the accompanying lectures, for example. Reddit provides me with a few edifying items each day; I might start reading Digg, or even visit Slashdot again.

I've become a more productive and self-directed worker than I was at highly structured jobs I've had before. I restrict my web browsing at work to Reddit links, basically, and wipe out my web history every few weeks to lower address bar autocompletion temptation. I sometimes listen to rock music to get my spirits up to do some hairy task, or have no music or instrumental or non-English music for background. But more than all this, I feel responsible and important.

This week, a bunch of Fog Creek people went to the Emerging Tech conference in California. The first day, I was sort of freaked out that I was the only one who could take care of various incoming stuff. But then, the second and third days, I took ownership of the thing and was actually more productive than I've been since I got here. It was pretty awesome. Soon my mentor will be lounging on a beach hammock or something inside the office, sipping fruity umbrella drinks while playing Xbox with sunglasses on, while I explain to prospective customers why FogBugz is tremendous. Maybe I can shoehorn in the "Benjamin Harrison/no comparison" campaign theme song, only it's FogBugz instead of Harrison.

This weather is making me punchy. Maybe I'll trot around and do NYC tourism this weekend. Sketch comedy or diners in Brooklyn, anyone?

Yay for seeing Brendan soon! Yay for Leonard's book deadline and an application deadline for me being over soon!

: MC Masala on Alcohol: Still chasing down a link to last week's column; InsideBayArea has redesigned its site. My column this week is basically a giant response to my parents, my ex, Leonard, DARE, and especially Brendan. It's insufficient as a response to Brendan's essays, but it's a start.

But I only started drinking after I'd gotten some maturity, as a person paranoid about self-control and the epistemology of experience, just as I only got a credit card after I'd started supporting myself and living within my means. Your mileage will vary.

Brendan wrote, of being a teetotaler among drinkers: "Their choices don't define who they are; I don't think I'll ever understand why mine apparently does." The pat answer is that all our choices define us. Also, especially when the abstainer is abstaining from something that people in his society commonly consume or do, the conscious choice of the abstainer forces the person who doesn't abstain to examine her unthinking choice, possibly finding it wanting. Look at how US meat-eaters often treat vegetarians or vegans, imagining self-righteousness where there's often none.

My first semester at UC Berkeley, I went to some seminar/workshop at a gender resource center on campus. There, I learned some interesting and useful factoids about reproductive health, safety, and the like. But one thing I was told there I've never quite gotten over: people's identities are independent of their behavior. Example: a man who has sex with men may identify as straight, not gay or bisexual.

I reflexively believe that choices generate identity. (Yeah, there are some identities you get born with, too.) You choose to teach, you're a teacher. You choose to lie, you're a liar. You choose to abstain from alcohol, you're a teetotaler, and that's an unusual and shaping choice if your milieu partakes. A man who has sex with other men but identifies as heterosexual is entertaining delusions. This is a huge topic and I'm probably being too harsh and narrowminded, somehow, somehow.

: Online Voice: Flea of One Good Thing writes a letter to her sons. She's pseudonymous. Even if I were too, I don't think I could be as vulnerable in a blog as she is in that entry.

: More Profound Jon Stewart Advice: Via Slacktivist: Very odd interview between Larry King and Jon Stewart.

I really feel like I have gotten to this weird place where rejection, like, or bombing or things like that is kind of like it's a good kind of pain. Like you get a shot to the ribs sometimes and you go, eh, I'm alive, you know what I mean? Like it doesn't -- it doesn't -- you get to a certain baseline where you feel confident in your ability to do that tiny little thing that you do. And the other stuff that you've been allowed to do is sort of gravy, and if it doesn't work out, that's really all right.

: "Spaced": Turn-of-the-century British sitcom "Spaced" is pretty funny. Leonard and I watched the entire run of it last night. Of course, it's British, so the entire run is 14 episodes. And you thought Arrested Development was a brief candle!

: Links While Procrastinating Writing Important Deadline Things: Haikus about Muni, often on the themes of tourists, lateness, and feast-and-famine arrivals.

"Religion isn't the opiate of the masses anymore, Karl. IDEs are." My ad hoc campaign to learn the world of programming continues apace! A booklist from the same guy may help; I've added a few books from there onto my wantlist/to-read list. Probably most of them are already in the Fog Creek library.

: Quote of the Day: "That's my meta-weakness: getting into situations where my weakness is applicable."

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: What Do You Call Someone Who Knows No Languages At All?: Last week's MC Masala did not answer that question but poked fun at my own language foibles.

As an aside: If India's Hollywood, Bombay, is called "Bollywood," then shouldn't we call Bangalore "Bilicon Balley" or "Bilicon Bateau"? Then again, Bombay is Mumbai now and no one's calling it "Mollywood."

: Sad Insight: Frighteningly often, the moments of lucid contentment in my life involve consumption. Just now, I felt that complacent blanket as I drank rooibos tea, listened to Belle & Sebastian and Harvey Danger, and read John-Paul. Yes, these are all exquisite experiences, but how come I don't feel that way while or after creating something?

Back to column-writing.

: Certainty And Judgments: Slacktivist pointed me to a post about morality at Obsidian Wings.

: QOTD: "Sales is seduction; marketing is propaganda."

: Erudition: In this week's column I talk about the word on the tip of my tongue.

The most powerful word I've learned in the past decade is probably "satisfice." Researcher Herb Simon coined this word, a combination of "satisfy" and "suffice," to describe a common decision-making method: instead of evaluating all possible options, we take the first adequate one. We often don't have the time or resources to find the optimal solution, so we quickly satisfice instead. I've taken to reminding myself to satisfice when ordering in restaurants. If I hadn't learned the word, I might not be using the concept.

: Business Names: Man, there are a lot of business out there with "solution[s]" in their titles.

: Nerdvana: Some peers of mine have been wondering whether any of the YCombinator startups actually cure pressing user needs. Leonard points out that reddit and infogami are cool, and that two successes out of eight attempts aren't bad, but I still can't reconcile that outcome with the hype.

More than a year ago, Eric Sink wrote "Great Hacker != Great Hire". Graham thinks you want to hire prima donnas, who are fussy and don't want to solve niggling little problems. Or, rather, he thinks these people should start and run companies. But if you can't stand to interface with the real, grubby, world, then how will you know what problems in it need solving?

It's the same problem that leads to engagement (and not sanctions) in trade with China, or agreeing to see relatives with hateful political or religious views at Thanksgiving. Purity loses you more than engagement gains you.

My views are limited by limited information and perceptions, I am but a tiny grain of rice, blah blah blah.

: In Which I Ponder Joe's Amazement That I Watch Substantial TV: You know what's really depressing? When I could have been learning Lisp or Kannada or organic chemistry or the piano, I was watching multiple episodes of

and I don't know how many other forgettable shows. I've also watched a lot of Seinfeld, Mad About You, Star Trek, Animaniacs, Batman: The Animated Series, Bill Nye The Science Guy, Square One TV, Law & Order, The Practice, House, The Daily Show, Arrested Development, America's Test Kitchen, Good Eats, and other stuff that seems more worthwhile to me than the sitcoms and dramas in the first list. But there was still a horrible lot of time wasted.

I don't know why my parents let me watch so much TV; maybe they thought I worked hard at school the rest of the time so I should get to relax in front of the tube sometimes. And God knows I read enough for three kids even though I watched a lot of TV. I had hardly any friends (at least ones that I spent substantial outside-school time with) between sixth and twelfth grades, so that left a lot of time for homework, reading, and TV.

Still. How many hours was that? I envy the imaginary person I would be had I eschewed all those useless shows on my first list. I can't even imagine the person I'd be if I had never seen the others.

: Miscellany From The Last 36 Hours: "You could use Dissociated Press to generate the string and then reverse the tokens. Is 'tokens' the right word?" "Yes, it is." "YES!"

"What's the singular of vermin?"

Since people who arrive new and befuddled at Fog Creek are like children who walk into the middles of movies, I'm now a Donny.

"There's a difference between not caring what people think and not caring how people feel."

"I am pretty sure I am paraphrasing Bruce Schneier...."

"....since we're a Haskell shop."

"[A colleague] is awesome. But I respect his boundaries!"

Joe heard that I am probably going to learn Lisp soon, tried to think of reasons to use to dissuade me, then realized that he shouldn't.

Ed McMahon could be an oracle. If you tell him a statement and it's true, he says, "Heyo!" or "You are correct, sir." If it's false then he just sits impassively.

"I called to talk to you! You are an end, not a means!"

"Is there casinoness?"

[Awed silence, upon seeing and lightly touching the boxed set of the complete Calvin & Hobbes collection.]

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: A New Theodicy: "If you don't like it, file a bug with God."

"That's it! The reason that bad things happen is that God doesn't have a copy of FogBugz."

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: Applying to Grad School: Not as tough as I'd feared. This is probably because I already took my GREs years ago, at my mom's and sister's insistence, and because I'm applying to various Executive Masters programs and not, say, Ph.D. programs in the hard sciences.

A Crooked Timber thread reminds me of another reason I'm glad to be rid of the Salon customer service gig: print magazine fulfillment.

: Have A Laugh With UPCs: "Welcome to the Internet UPC Database! One reason this site exists is for me to practice my own web development & database skills, experiment with new things, and to get a good laugh."

: Insults: When you are insulting a piece of software in the "it is ugly" or "it sucks" manner, does it make sense to say "it has diabetes"? Or -- as a colleague suggested -- is mere diabetes morally neutral such that a proper insult would be "it has adult-onset diabetes"?

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: God Gave You Eyes, Plagiarize: The Domenech plagiarism scandal has been a field day for Salon, and a more hilarious one than its other recent scoop (censored torture photos from Abu Ghraib (in which they made efforts to protect the privacy of the victims, good on them)).

"By the way, I don't see why so many physicians nowadays claim that Xanax has a 'high dependency profile' when even the most stable adult requires at least 10mgs in order to read the tamer political stories on Salon without experiencing profound generalized anxiety."

: Output of Conversations Yesterday And Today: Make (the magazine) could have sister publications Do and Think, with a yearly compilation entitled Be.

I have a huge constellation of thoughts about initiative, harshness, arrogance, stereotypical geek qualities, and vulnerability rolling around in my head. Maybe I can make it into 1 column; it may be 2.

: Frickin' Caitlin Flanagan: This week, my MC Masala column talks about the trouble with directness.

In software development, you find certain pairs of goals are aligned, like localization and internationalization. And some are opposed, like permissions systems and ease of use. The goal of straightforward information exchange aligns with the goal of getting the date or the kiss sooner, more efficiently. But it opposes the goal of lingering infatuation.

: A Punker John Gilmore: Steve Schultz has moved from Tokyo to the Berkeley Hills, and has started a new blog.

Obviously some [elided] bureaucrat in some badly lit room punched some buttons on a computer and now I am on a List. I will never know her name or reasons. That just blows, it is like the movie BRAZIL. Actually brazil rules, but you know what I mean.

Warning: right now he has some Dooce/Austin Powers II-type scatology on the main page. Balancing that out: a great theme image starring cereal, milk, and booze.

: Taste Of The Arts: Every day I give thanks that the strength of the prejudice that led to Gentleman's Agreement (1947) has let down. Yeah, almost everyone's prejudiced in various ways, but it's not as bad as it was. My father came to this country and made a pretty good living as a knowledge worker, a civil engineer. He wasn't the same color or religion as most of his coworkers, but he got jobs and supported his family all the same. How far we've come!

Gentleman's Agreement surprised me with its plot and dialogue. There's a scene where a hotel clerk quietly shuns Peck. I thought it would just be a bunch of those scenes together. Quietly shunned at a restaurant, quietly shunned at an employment office, etc., etc. But it's not, and it's more an attack on cowardice than on out-and-out villains.

I took a couple of acquaintances to see Mike Daisey's show "The Ugly American" (for the second time). I recommend it, and it's closing this week. Warning: very, very dark. And very funny.

Flux Factory, "a not for profit arts organization supporting innovation in things," has a very neat show right now involving beautiful semimechanized musical machines. Walking around in the installation is like playing with the innards of a jukebox. I highly recommend it. It'll be there for the next five weeks.

: Cory Maye: Have you heard of Cory Maye?

: From The Women Of New York: The New Underground Railroad. Funny how Jane gets distributed.

: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.": "[Mr. Rogers] did tell me that he considered the space between the television set and the viewer holy ground..."

"...[I] saw that my son's eyes were darting, the way they do when he is nervous. He'd researched, made a decision and spoken it aloud. This had cost him."

And then, found because a Joel Spolsky fan said "Verba Volant, Scripta Manent": a liberal blog reminding us of a Borges line:

Nothing is built on stone; all is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone.
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: When Framing Devices Go Amok: "The Mahabharata" at Wikipedia:

Arjuna's grandson Parikishit rules after them and dies bitten by a snake. His furious son, Janamejaya, decides to perform a sacrifice in which to kill all the snakes. It is at this sacrifice that the tale of his ancestors is narrated to him. (Incidentally, the sacrifice has to be stopped after sometime and the snakes are not annihilated.)

: Does Anyone (Who Writes This Blog) Have Anything Worth Saying Anymore?: Leonard and I were reading a really interesting comments thread comparing the advantages of tech publishing models in the middle of last week. Against all odds, it stayed almost entirely informative, polite, and well-written. Then:

God, it's all such a bunch of s***. It's hard to believe that anyone is buying stuff from either self-publishing or the mainstream press. The tech world, and the literature world has become so faddish.

Does anyone have anything worth saying anymore?

I'm trying to learn to deal with geeks. I thought they were like my friends, Zack and Seth and Leonard and Joe and Eric and Devin and Zed and Brendan and Riana and too many names to reel off. And the people at Fog Creek are also of this type and I can communicate with them. But somehow I selected for something -- compassion? well-roundedness? a lack of arrogance? -- and now I have to learn how to talk and work with these people, this other species.

The geeks I'm running into socially here are almost all white guys, probably wealthier than me, usually older than me, and they treat feelings and uncertainty as irrelevant distractions. I believe that there's a difference between not caring what people think and not caring how people feel; this distinction eludes many of my new acquaintances. And forget about showing vulnerability! Their neat and easy distinction between their ideas and their selves means that I'm never talking to them, can never affect them one way or another. For all I know, they were born on third base (hitting the lottery in the Punnet Square of machine intelligence) and think they hit a triple. And I've gotten halfway through Glen's Leading Geeks and Duncan's The Career Programmer: Guerilla Tactics for an Imperfect World and they make me want to run for the hills. Am I choosing to spend the rest of my life working with misanthropic, nitpicking jerks?

Part of me wants to be productive and useful, to engage with the Other. After all, isn't this what I have to do? I'll have to work with this personality type for the rest of my life; shouldn't I resign myself and acclimate? And part of me is yelling, loud enough that it interferes, "God, it's all such a bunch of s***!"

Rachel has an awesome career that I could imagine having someday. But I would still have to show compassion for and empathize with people who never return the favor. The more I can understand and work with them, the more like them I become, and I want to keep that part of me that doesn't act like a machine intact. Irrational, non-adversarial, respectful, compassionate stuff is important.

Their arguments keep ringing in my head, the way Ayn Rand's used to, telling me to come over to this utopian paradise where nothing can ever hurt you. After all, they've already won. They set the terms for discourse in the places where I'm going to work if I keep up the career I've chosen. And they think they understand all my arguments and have already proven me wrong.

Or are you so flummoxed and confused and crazy that you decided that what they did made it OK for you to forget the handbook? They're evil, so ... so what? So you get to be evil? Well, of course you get to be evil, but then you're evil. Is that how you envisioned it turning out?

More Jon Carroll, since I'm in that mood:

I mean, render unto me a break. If your family feels so threatened by my family that you think you have to organize a boycott of a car company, then your family has problems my family can do nothing to solve.

I've been reading Jon Carroll archives and lists of April Fool's Day Hoaxes and they make me feel better because they make me laugh. I prefer laughing to arguing with the voices in my head. I miss my friends, I miss San Francisco, I miss the time before I saw mice in my apartments, I miss not caring whether admissions people at major universities saw what I wrote on my blog, I miss thinking that I could get along equally well with suits and geeks. Now I think I get along equally badly with suits and geeks, and that if I want to be a good interface between those two sides, I have to change into someone I don't think I want to be. I feel as though my self is in danger.

I'd say that it'll all be better in the morning, but that's what I thought last night, and this is the morning. But eating might help.

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: MC Masala Slams The Ramayana: Now this should get me some letters! Indian epic slamdown!:

In "The Mahabharata," the ultimate family feud roils a great dynasty. Good people end up on the wrong side, a woman has five husbands, a god comes to earth, curses and prophecies and magical weapons intersect in giant explosions on the battlefield, and a bird threatens to kill a guy unless he answers some pretty heavy philosophical riddles. It's awesome.

In "The Ramayana," perfect people foil evil people's plans. The hero's allies show perfect loyalty, a model wife has to go through a magical test to see whether the villain has sullied her purity, the hero blithely destroys the city the villain rules and a monkey army makes a bridge between India and Sri Lanka. The monkey-men constitute the only lively part of the whole tale.

: In The Application Of My Seat To A Chair: Lunch (and dinner and Wikipedia and writing and conversing with Riana and Leonard) have helped me feel better.

Riana wrote about caffeine addiction, social acceptance of same, and prostate cancer (among other things) earlier this year, on the same day that Wikipedia featured an article on prostate cancer on its main page. This reminds me of Daniel Davies's musings on caffeine and the US. Both essays are amusing and edifying.

Back to the grind.

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: Dr. Warren's Logic Class Shows Up Again: The other day, I made a funny typo when writing a letter to a customer. I wrote, "Iff you'd like to order..." Logically, that's "If and only if you'd like to order..."

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: For Brendan's Eyes Nonexclusively: WBFF Radio has been playing Ben Folds for the last several hours. I finally checked the site to see how long this marathon will continue. The answer: WBFF plays the complete discographies of Ben Folds Five, Ben Folds, Darren Jessee, Robert Sledge, Fear of Pop, and The Bens. And that's it.

In retrospect, the name should have given it away.

: Yet Another Reason: If you're in transit through Moscow, and you have a stop at Domodedovo Airport, you might have to pass a lie detector test that includes the question, "Have you ever lied to the authorities?"

When I visited Russia in the summer of 2001, I asked a program coordinator whether I should worry about racism. She said that it wouldn't be a problem for me, because I'm female and because Russians love Indians (the Cold War relationship between the USSR and India was warm). Now violent racists have made a lie of her words.

: MC Masala Shares Subway Anecdotes: Some mildly entertaining stories about mass transit.

You can guess the transfer blues that ensued. Our first walk through the midnight streets of Berkeley had no romance in it; we were arguing over whether I was naive. (That argument never goes well.) When we finally arrived, no one seemed relieved; no one had worried about us.

If you enjoyed "Indian lit: Leaping over tall tales in a single bound", you may also enjoy John-Paul Spiro's more expansive take in "If it feels good, worship it".

: Trying To Explain: I like story arcs in my TV these days. House, West Wing, Fall And Rise of Reginald Perrin, Deep Space Nine -- I want stories that grow and deepen.

The West Wing is almost over. We found out last night who won the fictional election. I was happy but disappointed too, not that it matters. We'll never get to see what the new administration would look like.

I do wish that the character of Josh either didn't exist or were much, much more competent and compelling. Maybe it's just the way Bradley Whitford plays him, but he's always seemed to me a screwup and the worst kind of conventional-wisdom repeater. Why in the world does Donna find him attractive?

: West Wing Redux: Aha! Writers changed last night's election outcome because John Spencer died.

: Music: Yesterday, as I waited at 59th and Lexington for a subway train, I listened to a busker play a steel drum. As I came in, he played a medley of "When the Saints Come Marching In" and the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Then he turned to the most awesome rendition of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" that I have ever heard, and that includes the Switched-on Bach version. Sometimes you get wonderful gifts that you never did anything to deserve.

: Advice to Colleagues of Indians: If you have coworkers, vendors, or customers who work in Bangalore or some other Karnatakan city, you won't be able to get much done with them today. Rajkumar has died. Think Elvis plus Jesus. Mourning in the streets, state funeral, all shops closed, that sort of thing.

Rest in peace, Dr. Rajkumar.

: Why Do I Want To Type His Name "Ynggve"?: My favorite writer this month: Steve Yegge.

Update: I know I already mentioned Yegge. Here's an excuse to mention him again:

Paul Graham has to be that way. Not just because he's a rich bastard who (with two friends) implemented an application in Lisp that we've been unable to match at Amazon, and Yahoo bought him out for $40 million in stock that proceeded to soar. That's not the main reason he comes off the way he does, although as far as I'm concerned, it gives him at least a halfway decent excuse.

Paul comes off the way he does because he's good at marketing, and he realizes that in a world full of egotistical programmers, the only way to be heard in all the noise is to be an arrogant bastard. ....

We work in a fashion industry, and marketing really matters.

: Still Seems Weird To "Build" A "Gem": Yay for Leonard! He is a triumpher!

Within Ruby, there are these packages called Gems. Whenever I hear Leonard refer to a RubyGem, I think he's being sarcastic. "Oh yeah, I have to go over this ABSOLUTE GEM of an application tonight."

: Irregular Verb Conjugation: I have a healthy respect for the inherent viciousness of the feline.
You don't care for cats.
He's afraid of the kitty.

Filed under:

: Dead Mice Eat No Peanut Butter: "Man, [that instance of vermin] is eating that poison like crazy!"
"Yeah, we can't keep it on the shelves!"
"Yes, because the FDA won't let us, because it's POISON."

Filed under:

: No One Has a Calling Anymore, Just A Core Competence: All this time I thought I was a multiply-layered intersecting matrix of identities, and all this time I was actually a seven-word elevator pitch.

Filed under:

: "Charade": Leonard and I saw the very odd and very good movie "Charade" tonight. It has suspense, romance, comedy, and international intrigue. All it's missing is some song-and-dance numbers! Recommended.

: Brian K. Vaughn & Bernie Hou: I have started spending regular cash at Midtown Comics to get the compilations of Brian K. Vaughn's comics Ex Machina, Runaways, and Y: The Last Man. I grew up on Amar Chitra Katha and only recently have I graduated to the grown-up stuff. Man, it's fantastic.

One issue of Ex Machina includes a reference to Midtown Comics itself. Disorienting.

Alien Loves Predator also helps me feel at home in my new city.

Filed under:

: MC Masala on Paying Attention To Tiny Numbers: Small print on restaurant menus will bite you.

The server started treating me very, very nicely. She chatted me up and gave me a flight of comparison sakes so I could understand the subtle grace of the daiginjo.

You can tell where this is going.



Make It New, the man said, and I took it to heart, the one place I shouldn't have. I feared cliches because I was young, but life's too short for that game. Love is classic, fresh when the meme wars fade. Love is never played out.

So now I choose to prune my decision tree, and blossom in love, and taste of this new fruit. We'll make meaning of our lives together.

Leonard, you initiate me into the colors of the world. Your love sends me casting for words and throwing them away. I gladly accept your proposal of marriage, Leonard.

: I'm Testing the Upgrade: Just like Linus Torvalds did
I'm testing the upgrade
(Except that he is talented)

: LiveJournal Userpic Epicenter: A LiveJournal user with the awesome username of "pinstripe_bindi" (I like both bindis and pinstripes!) has the ultimate collection of LJ icons. House, Powerpuff, Calvin & Hobbes, Futurama, Lost, Frida Kahlo, Firefly, Harry Potter, anti-Bush, Jon Stewart, My Neighbor Totoro, Daria, Hello Kitty, Snakes on a Plane, and more. I approve of this cornucopia.

(12) : To Love And To Cherish: Leonard and I married each other yesterday. Our friend Camille took pictures.

As Leonard mentioned, we need for nothing except your good wishes and your advice. In celebration, I've turned on comments for this entry. Please tell us your hard-earned wisdom to keep our union strong and loving. This is the biggest project I've ever undertaken, and your words are more than welcome.

: The Proto-Schemer: Scheme and me in this week's column.

Lisp has considerable status among programmers. Growing proficient in Lisp, the conventional wisdom goes, is like learning Latin or Greek; it teaches rigor and elegance in thought. It helps you grasp the essential patterns, challenges and creativity of programming a computer. A culture surrounds this language, as a culture surrounds any language, and the Lisp community is regarded as smart and snobby. Maybe coders as a whole regard Lispers as I regard particularly obnoxious geeks: infuriatingly smart and arrogant, as though they have discovered the true scheme of the world.

: Nonobvious Stuff I May Do Now That I'm Married to Leonard:

Filed under:

: Completely Unrelated Items Entry: From a Business of Software discussion: yes, it's a Steve Pavlina article, but this one isn't nearly as wince-inducing as his "focus all arguments on the other person's flaws" HOWTO. This one is a really interesting and non-annoying essay on a possible "lie of success" and how to get over fear of failure.

Promised unrelated bit: The best game ever would be Where on the Oregon Trail is Carmen Sandiego?.

: Loving Infringement: I can't imagine this is completely okay legally, but some folks have reenacted a few skits from Square One TV, including a dance to "8% of My Love." I love that song! It's a very enthusiastic remake, including Comic Sans notes on the screen citing which percentages of the singer's love are already accounted for.

: Pocket Protector = Attention: Hat-tip to Adi for passing this along: a seven-minute film or trailer about MC Frontalot includes some footage from the show that I attended several weeks ago. Between 3:02 and 3:38 you'll see me, Adi, Adam, and John. I'm the one acting as though I'm a Linux zealot.

: Kaavya Viswanathan: Once in a while I see a novel by an Indian or Indian-American or Indian disapora author, especially a woman, and I think that they'll fill up the niche before I get my act together to get in on it. What if there's no more gravy train for an MC Masala by the time I write The Novel?

Now I know I have at least one leg up on 'em. Kaavya Viswanathan, you're no Gordon Korman! "...even plagiarism has become a simulacrum, a pale imitation of the real thing." Aha, here's my competitive advantage! I have a core competence in not being a plagiarist!

But come on, "bought her way into Harvard"? Dude, money can't give you drive. In fact, I imagine it usually doesn't.

: Entertainment Miscellany: Watched the new Spike Lee film The Inside Man tonight. It contains a subtle Bamboozled reference, constant wit, and unyielding suspense. Very good.

From dinner: "Michael Dell [in Direct from Dell] has ruined the word 'strategic' for me. Just like George W. Bush ruined 'freedom.'"

On the phone, I asked, "Is anything amiss?" and Leonard retorted, "You're not a Miss anymore!"

Jon Stewart, Tom Selleck, and Stephen Colbert are very funny men.

Filed under:

: Resolved: That Someone Should Close This Bug, Feature, or Inquiry:

: Turtle Power: On Travelocity right now: "In The Spirit of Da Vinci: Last Minute Code-Cracking Getaways from $199."

Sedoc gnikcarc ekil*? If you've got a taste for cloak and dagger intrigue, solving puzzles and riddles, or wandering through the labyrinths and mazes of the world, we encourage you to decode modern mysteries in the following destinations.


(*backwards for "like cracking codes?")

Actually, it's backwards for "?like cracking codes" or "?*like cracking codeS" or something else Semantic Web-looking. But come on! ROT13 it or something. GOB from Arrested Development could do better.

Travelocity recommends Poe's grave, the Spy Museum, the Morse statue and museum, the Winchester Mystery House, and the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Did they omit the Denver Airport because then you wouldn't need a hotel too?

Filed under:

: And Other Austin Powers Uses: Via Rebecca Blood, a guide to packing light. Includes the obvious-in-retrospect multipurpose tool: dental floss as makeshift thread and shoelaces.

: Anthologies, Anthropologies: When I look at the scrapbook for my columns, or the blog-into-book collections of years of CES, I feel grateful and proud and overwhelmed. When I look at the huge list that comes up for my "open cases that I initiated" filter in FogBugz, I don't. How sentimental I am.

: Have A Sandwich: If the guys from Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag actually wrote the poetry they wrote, it would probably be a lot less funny and a lot more like the lyrics from Van Morrison's contractual obligation album.

: Love Not Played Out: MC Masala on getting married.

The unimaginable has happened. Not only does Leonard want me in his life, but I know I want him in my life! It's an embarrassment of riches, coming to someone who had prepped herself for starvation.

: Doug Rushkoff & Amar Chitra Katha: "...comics from India about the early life of Krishna and Buddha. This is stuff they developed in the 70's, to teach kids about their religions. And much of it was in English. So I really liked that stuff...."

: Observations: Strawberry ice cream made from fresh-picked strawberries really is better.

Leonard's mother's brothers resemble Leonard startlingly.

Mass media stories about the issues in my life right now don't feel on point. Arguments about outsourcing to India or immigration reform do have a more personal impact. But all the Oregon election handwringing or CNN special reports on AIDS in the world feel far, far away right now, far away from the logistics of Frances's last days.

: Back: I've returned to New York after a short visit with Frances and other members of Leonard's family, now my family as well, in Bakersfield. If I think too much about how I'm going to miss Frances, or the illusory concept of justice, I'll just start crying again. So I won't talk about that right now.

: Enjoying A Fine Chabon: Despite feints to the contrary, neither Leonard nor I has read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. Leonard gave it to me to read on the plane(s) back from Bakersfield. I felt gauche reading it in public but now, 2/3 into it, I don't even mind people seeing me read it on the subway. Maybe a good strategy for me with these pop books is to start reading them at home so I get hooked enough to be ok with looking like an illiterate fool on public transit.

Chabon really loves the word "spavined" -- maybe the big twist ending will be where he finally uses it to describe a horse. That is my only carp (Karp?) with this book.

Filed under:

: Rest in peace, Frances.

: "The World Should Stop": "I can't imagine what it must have been like to see everyone stop, to see the hats come off one by one, to see the women hush their children.

"Just for a moment, the whole world would stop, like you think it should when a loved one dies."

: Advice: Some advice I've gotten recently:

"When your kid starts talking about Web 4.0, send him to his room."
"Try to put the other person [in your marriage] first; don't be selfish."
"A person's sexuality changes over time, through childhood and adulthood."

I go back to Jon Carroll again and again.

"It was for the best," we say, although sometimes it was not for the best, and no, I don't want a hug right now, or a consoling quote from Rumi or the Bible. The five stages of grief are a highly artificial construct, and I do not for a moment think they represent some universal law. I do know there is one stage of grief. It's called, "Well, God damn it to hell, that sucks big time." Lather, rinse, repeat.


THE ONLY WAY out of the sadness box is love. Not someone loving you, although that sure helps. But really, it's you discovering the urge to love that still lives within you. Sometimes this is very hard, but it is work that needs doing. There is still music and sunshine and balloons and a mechanical gorilla that plays the "Macarena." (I have one of the latter.)

I do believe that love is not an emotion. There are all sorts of emotions that resemble love -- lust, pity, compassion, trust -- but they are not the same thing. Love is a series of actions, actions often taken against self- interest. Love involves walking it like you talk it. Love involves generosity of spirit. Love involves sacrifice. Love is not for sissies.

: Freaking Mouse: Aaaaargh. I hate hate hate having a mouse in the apartment. I don't know what's worse, seeing it or not knowing where it is.

Filed under:

: Viewer Discretion & Tissues Advised: I can't get this poignant safer-sex ad out of my head.

: Live, In These United States!: I'm wearing my wedding pants today. They are the only pair of white pants I own. I have to do laundry.

Overseas Indian customer service representatives are the only ones who can pronounce my last name on the first try.

I feel so much more comfortable in New York now that I know someone who's transitioning genders. I feel more at home.

: Steve Carrell, An Inspiration: "Orignally wanted to be a lawyer, but he reached a question on an application form that said 'Why do you want to be a lawyer?' He couldn't think of anything."

: Frances's Obituary: Leonard is the oldest child of an oldest child. I just realized that.

Man, I miss her.

: Transliteracy: I didn't realize until today that Babelfish translates English to and from two kinds of Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portugese, Russian, and Spanish, at least well enough to decipher an out-of-office autoreply.

: Sad Bookstore News: A Clean Well-Lighted Place For Books is looking for a buyer, and Cody's on Telegraph, where I worked for almost a year, is closing. There'll still be the Fourth Street and San Francisco locations, but it's a punch in the gut nonetheless.

: "I hate the UN so much!": Super News! amuses me greatly. I laughed out loud at the end of "Wacky Saddam Trial."

Filed under:

: Joke: Babak told me a knock-knock joke the other day. It really only works if you do it in a non-US accent.

Knock, knock.
Who's there?
George who?
George W. Bush!


Knock, knock.
Who's there?
George W. Bush.
George W. Bush who?
George W. Bush, the President of the United States of America!

I still find it funny, but I doubt it'll become the next Interrupting Cow. I must point you as well to a funnier knock-knock joke and a funnier Bush joke.

Filed under:

: Fame: Some Fog Creekers made a fast-paced movie (2 minutes, 15 seconds) to demo some new features in FogBugz 5.0, which launches today.

: Dumb Spying Gives Us Neither Security Nor Liberty: An NYT article on why the tremendous civil liberty invasion by the NSA does us no good at all. Such a stupid wide-net ploy and for basically zero gain. The only things it facilitates are bad, anti-democratic (small d) power grabs. It makes me sick.

: More Screencasting Screenhogging: A visit to Fog Creek; I discuss the Fog Creek Software Management Training Program with Betsy Weber of TechSmith.

: Three Equals Three Except After E: Coworker 1, futzing with double-precision or floating-point or something: "Does 3 equal 3?"
Coworker 2, immediately: "Sometimes."
Me, cracking up: "Coworker 1, did you ask that just to try to get Coworker 2 to make an absolute statement?"
Coworker 2: "What I said was absolutely true."

Filed under:

: Things I Like About Myself:

: Just What I Needed: Last night I went to a Mike Daisey show about Tesla, which was very good of course, and I'm really looking forward to next week's conclusion of his "Great Men of Genius" series (L. Ron Hubbard -- catch it while you can).

But I felt unsatisfied, and didn't want to go home just yet. I took a train back into Manhattan, shepherding two non-English-speaking strangers to their destination. On my way out of the train station, I had one of those awful ambiguous trying-to-do-the-right-thing moments with a borderline domestic violence scene.

I wandered through the East Village and veered towards the Lower East side, ate some veg lasagna and finished volume two of Fables. What was I looking for? Comedy? Music? An air of camaraderie, relief from my errors, someplace to be impressed instead of impressing others.

Around ten till midnight, I came across a cinema about to show The Great Muppet Caper. Of course!


: MC Masala, and Something Laughworthy: I'll start with a taxonomy that made me laugh (caution: it's raunchy).

Some columns I've written lately (tardy because of ANG technical problems):

From April: Scheme, scheming, and geek authenticity and getting married -- a shock to one who thought she knew me (viz., me).

From May: Bug tracking for the soul.

How secure are you? Do you encourage people to find errors in your work so you can correct them? Do you welcome even brusque or picayune reports of your mistakes?

If you're a programmer, you don't have a choice. Or, rather, your choice is between welcoming bug reports or distributing very buggy software.

Every day I marvel at my colleagues' ability to separate themselves from their work when users point out its shortcomings.

Fred Brooks called it "egoless programming." I'd like to see "egoless writing" or "egoless governing" as often as I see programmers congratulate users or testers for finding their bugs.

I've been soliciting advice from married people.

Upon hearing a guy sing the praises of honesty, a woman chimed in to say, "But if you cheat on your spouse, don't tell him just to make yourself feel better."

The rest of the folks at the table suggested that a person in that situation had already disregarded another, more crucial bit of advice.

And something else that would be comically absurd if it weren't heartbreaking: An Iranian girl defends herself from an attempted rape, and is sentenced to death. Nazanin Mahabad Fatehi will almost certainly die before she sees another winter. If not her, another equally innocent Iranian girl.

: An Archaeopteryx And A Pig: Poet Jim Fisher (a.k.a. Mountain Goats fan Jim Fisher) is finishing up a two-year poetry fellowship at Stanford. He pointed me to a cutting Billy Collins poem about workshopping poetry -- oh man, no code review in the realm of software could ever be as meaningless as workshopping poetry, could it?

and tells us that words are food thrown down
on the ground for other words to eat.

Billy Collins is pretty attractive. You know who else is surprisingly attractive? The younger Charles Grodin, who plays villain Nicky Holliday in The Great Muppet Caper. I jested while buying my ticket, "Is this rated R? Do I need to show ID? There is some serious man-pig love in this one, you know." And I'd forgotten how strong and disturbing Holliday's attraction to Miss Piggy is. Man, when do you see that sort of raw passion in the movies these days?

: Amusing, Amusing, AAAAAGH: "This guy's incredible."

Cynical, topical, addictive.


Finally, in March of 2004, the CIA figured out they had screwed up. Masri's passport was genuine, and he was just some poor unemployed schmoe who had had a fight with his wife. But they kept him for two more months anyway because they weren't sure what to do.

: The Customer Is Always The Customer: Sometimes I wish I could defend "Keep it Simple, Stupid" with flair and confidence to people who think they need things that they probably don't. Folks who say "the customer is always right" have almost never worked retail. 99% of the customers are right; the 1% that are incandescently wrong bat off all attempts at reasonableness.

How do you kindly tell a prospective customer, "You are looking for something that our product does not and will not do"? It helps if you weren't trying to sell your product in the first place. Christopher Petrilli, a user of the open-source bugtracker Trac, writes about its ease of use and consequent design tradeoffs.

Honestly, if you can't trust your developers to set the box on a ticket to the right setting and need a nanny to do this for you, then you have problems infinately worse than lack of "workflow".....

Just my two cents, but if this is your "deciding factor," then I think you need to re-think your evaluation priorities......

Again, Trac isn't all-things-to-all-people, and so if you absosmurfly must have a formal workflow system, then I suspect you're going to need to look elsewhere.

Basically, I have been doing corporate customer service long enough that I find clear and straightforward "We won't do that and your premises are wrong" answers extraordinarily refreshing. I'm still trying to figure out why the Trac and PuTTY examples feel fresh and the 37 Signals "It Just Doesn't Matter" post feels grating and arrogant.

Filed under:

: MC Masala on "House, M.D.": Would you rather work with an affable incompetent, or with the most abrasive genius ever?

Software developers, the stereotype goes, have House-ish characteristics: They don't care about their colleagues' emotions and see everyone who does as unduly delicate and probably incompetent. The common term for directing hacker scorn at a "suit" or a "drone" is "flipping the bozo bit." Once a programmer has decided you are a bozo, his mental processes ignore everything you say. But Dr. House goes one step further. He doesn't care how others feel, not because he's socially inept, but because he sociopathically manipulates everyone, including his closest friend.

: Incredibly Valuable Reads: "[W]e also want our creations to be out of control....We want pride, but more than that, we want astonishment."

"The lie of everlasting novelty: a different take on the case against porn."

Kameron Hurley almost died because she didn't know she'd developed diabetes.

Filed under:

: You Never Expect Burlesque: Leonard is back! The era of buying airplane tickets two days in advance is (I hope) over!

Last night I saw Dara and her friend Amina, and we stayed up too late talking; now my body has its revenge! Leonard is making sickbed soup but with lime and chili instead of HotLime sauce. I emailed in sick to work. When I called to check in, my boss reminded me that Fog Creek has unlimited sick days to make sure I get well fast instead of working sick and infecting others. Oh yeah, I work for the best company ever, sometimes I forget.

On Saturday night, I went to see Slightly Known People, and their guest, The Bitter Poet, recited funny poems. And his sidekick did burlesque. I was not prepared.

: "That does not seem like a good 'why.'": The most permissive laws ever are not good enough for the Bush Administration.

To boil it down mathematically, if you had an arrangement by which you could f*** other women, then three days later tell your wife, and 98% of the time your wife said "Sure, whatever," you would still be working under stricter rules than the FISA law.

: Hot Queens Nights: Temperatures this weekend will hit the mid-eighties. Makes me want to carry an ice-water bath around town with me.

: More Data in the Jerkitude Debate: "What is more dangerous: fear or arrogance?"

Answer: They both suck. What you prefer: a poke in the left or the right eye? If you prefer, I'll take arrogance, at least arrogant people have the courage to act, and in the process, might get served humble pie. .....

I think it is very important for you to do two things: act on your temporary conviction as if it was a real conviction; and when you realize that you are wrong, correct course very quickly.

: The Thick Of It: Now that The West Wing, Enterprise, and the best seasons of Good Eats have finished, and House has gone on summer hiatus, what shall Leonard and I watch? He doesn't care for The Daily Show as I do, and TiVo insists on recording gardening shows and pop science news as suggestions.

I've been watching The Thick of It on BBC America. The ads, which got me to start, say that it's The West Wing-meets-The Office. My bosses love The Office; I've seen about half an episode, and assume that someday I'll watch the whole British run and think it's amazing. The last West Wing, like the last Enterprise, built up suspense about a crucial text -- a speech, a letter -- and then never revealed it. Someday I'll watch all of Sorkin's Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and the ache of those non-Sorkin West Wings will fade. In the meantime, the makers of The Thick of It describe it as Larry Sanders-meets-Yes, Minister, which feels more accurate. Oh man, Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister were awesome.

Anyway, I'm enjoying The Thick of It. It has clever dialogue and the tremendously handsome Oliver Reeder (Chris Addison with Harry Potter glasses on). Costar Chris Langham helped write many episodes of The Muppet Show (!) and had this to say about the partly-improv style:

I share with Peter a fear of improvisation, because I'm frightened of being caught out, of people seeing that I'm actually not very good at what I do. The thing about doing an improvised piece is that there's no time for technique. What's brilliant about Armando deciding to do it in this way is that we were sort of replicating what it must be like to actually be in government. One gets the impression that day-to-day life in a ministry is much more kick, bollock and scramble than it is five-year plan. So the terror of improvisation really fuels the reality of that energy. Politicians are driven by the fear of 'What do I say next?' That look of terror in my eyes is exactly the look of terror in the eyes of most politicians on most days.

By the way, the angry guy in The Thick of It looks like the raver from Spaced but they're not the same guy.

The situations and the people in The Thick of It don't resound with originality, but the dialogue does. That's worth it, for me.

: MC Masala on Waiting for Marriage: In which I quote Loving v. Virginia and list off marriage perks.

I'm lucky. Narrowly speaking, I'm lucky because New York's waiting period is short; New Hampshire makes you wait three days. More broadly, I'm lucky because I live in 2006, so no one so much as blinks at my interracial and interfaith marriage where no one's changing his name or leaving her job.

(4) : Someone Should Start This Business: I do not have an army of rights and permissions lawyers. I didn't when I was devising a curriculum and teaching a class, and I don't now that I'm writing a column. I bet lots of writers, artists, teachers, musicians, small businesses, and so on wish they could pay someone else to take care of the crazyquilt intellectual property compliance so they can get on with their work.

There should be some sort of clearinghouse service so I could pay them -- monthly, yearly, per cleared work of art, per permission plus commission, whatever -- to do the messy legal work and give me peace of mind. Maybe it would even count as due diligence to hire them, and hiring them would protect me against negligence charges. And maybe it could just be online, or maybe it could be a national brick-and-mortar chain like H&R Block.

I figure it would work like this: I show up at their office (I already have an account with them) and I give them my unpublished piece. I tell them every allusion, borrowing, quote, etc. that I think I've used, and what information I already have about the sources. ("This is from the Ben Folds song Blah, this is from the Thomas Hardy novel Pier to Bavaria, this is a quote from Gavin Gunhold's poem Registration Day, this is a quote from the Starr Report.") And I tell them what sort of venue it would be published or displayed in, so they could get the right permissions. Then they track down the owners and get the permissions and bill me.

As you can see, I don't really know what's involved in the "getting the permissions" but I'm sure it's messy. So I don't have the expertise to start this business. Does it already exist? Should someone start it? H&R Block makes money by outsourcing compliance with the baroque tax code, so why shouldn't someone make money by outsourcing compliance with the baroque intellectual property system? Until Creative Commons wins and we get something sensible, of course.

You can comment on this entry.

Filed under:

: Leonard Quote: I asked, in our incredibly hot apartment, "Why are only some of your [shirt] buttons buttoned?"

Response: "Oh, I take life as it comes."

Filed under:

: MC Masala on The End of Cody's on Telegraph: My old job is passing away.

Starting July 10, no Cody's patron will drift toward the cookbooks in the middle of the afternoon, when the smells of baking from Bay King next door make him hungry. Neither Christopher Hitchens nor Dave Eggers will speak at 7:30 p.m. on the second floor, packing the house.

: Snapshot: On my desk right now, I have a mug of tea, a pencil, a pen, a Sharpie, some business cards, a box of paper clips, two sticky-note pads, an empty snack bowl, and a plastic straw still encased in its wrapper. The rest is phone and computer hardware. The papers, CDs, tissues, and books rest on a shelf above and to the right of me.

: In Which A Twilight Zone Episode Is Emulated: So, evidently, if you show up for a party at a major record label in an eight-year-old Napster t-shirt, some employees of the label do not take that in the playful and ironic spirit in which it is intended.

Last night I found out that simply knowing the many ways in which intellectual property is broken, especially in commercial music, and knowing what Creative Commons is, makes me a radical.

An EMI person kind of proudly said, "I've never downloaded a file." I asked whether she had ever used e-mail, and she elucidated, "I've never downloaded music." I pointed out that I download music legally, such as from Salon's Audiofile. Both of us had never actually used Napster, it came out. She said she had an iPod that someone else had loaded for her ("Like Bush!" I said, but I think she didn't hear me), and she asked him to make sure that it was all legal and paid for, and wasn't sure if she had to register it somehow.

I mentioned that this is one reason I like Creative Commons music, and she'd never heard of CC. When I tried to explain it to her, and she asked how those artists make any money, I mentioned the merch/tour proofit center, and I paraphrased The Problem With Music and Courtney Love Does the Math. She doubted. We got separated before reaching any kind of conclusion, and she said she wished we could continue our conversation. But I don't remember her name and we didn't get each other's cards.

Much funnier than this: I met a woman named Laurie Jakobsen, and her name and face were familiar. I wondered aloud how I might know her, and she said she was in PR so lots of people know her whom she doesn't know. I empathized, since I used to teach. Then, thinking she might be in the tech world, I asked whether she'd be at the anti-DRM protest at the Apple Store later in June. She gave me an odd look and responded in the negative. We didn't talk much more after that.

Turns out Laurie Jakobsen works at a music licensing firm and used to be a VP at Sony. I'm still wondering where I saw her before.

: That's Edutainment: Sometimes the TV spreadsheet magazines in the Sunday newspaper have summaries of what happened in the soap operas over the previous week. When I see one of those, I scan each summary for a mention of some technology that did not exist when soaps started broadcasting sixty years ago. Now we have cell phones, email, DNA tests, GPS locators, and so on. Usually it's about one mention per show per week. I'm not counting the exorcisms. Old-school soapiness meets the information age. The margins, the borders, the friction makes it interesting.

I used to watch shows on Saturday morning that featured the song-and-dance clips from Bollywood movies. I eventually realized that I was looking for the weird cross-genre or cross-cultural hybrids. Any movie can toss a man and a woman together in a field, or on a beach, or in a ruined temple. But children dancing with a cartoon Osama bin Laden? A straightjacket-bound hero popping, locking, and rapping under bright interrogation lights? That's the stuff.

It turns out I really wanted Indians filking "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" in Hindi. Here's the video. It only makes sense as a pure hybrid of sixties style and Bollywood tropes. It is wonderful.

: Bollywood Samples: In case you've never seen a really amusing Bollywood dance number, here are a few good videos off YouTube.

And, as always, MP3s for many classics live at Bollywood For The Skeptical.

: Art Today: MoCCA Art Festival, today and tomorrow, featuring the Overcompensating guy, the Goats guy, R Stevens from Diesel Sweeties, and Ryan North of Qwantz. Sarah alerted Leonard and me, Adam's coming along, it'll be a party!

If I'm lucky, I can trick them into coming to the Scholastic store with me. I wonder how many Gordon Kormans they have that I don't?

Anyway, I'll get North to sign Your sense of disenchantment, which hangs on our wall right near the front door. It hangs alongside the US Constitution, a "REMEMBER YOU ARE MORTAL" banner, and a USSR org chart showing all the ostensibly powerful committees and Soviets. Across from that wall: Jon Stewart and a unicorn.

: More Art: MoCCA - hard to find, but once we found it, hard to get away without finding moths in our wallets.

Leonard and I played rather prominent extras in Episode 12 of Uncle Morty's Dub Shack, which IATV broadcast early this morning. You can watch the fantastic "Dand Nayak" episode on YouTube and read Leonard's thoughts on the matter.

I wore a safety vest that I once found in a BART station. Leonard wore a Free Software Foundation bowling shirt and a baseball cap some prop person put on him. Does this make us more believable as Battle Of The Bands audience members?

If you're wondering why we even knew they needed extras, it's because they know me from the time I interviewed two UMDS guys for Salon. Also, Ryan North knows me because for his birthday Sarah and I sent him a red apron.

: MC Masala on Being From Elsewhere: One always feels like a country rube in a new place.

Paradoxically, my new colleague said, everyone knows someone from Sunnyvale, but no one actually is from Sunnyvale.

We kicked this idea around near the office kitchen, arranging ourselves in the automatic hacky-sack circle of spontaneous conversation.

Does Sunnyvale really exist?

How many Sunnyvalians have to leave Sunnyvale to ensure that any random New Yorker knows someone from there? When does a person stop being from Sunnyvale?

: Sunday Politics/Church Lecture: On my brother-in-law-in-law's blog, some people got to wrangling over the LDS church's position on a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage. Some proponents of it played the religion card ("The prophet speaks, I obey," said one). My response:

See, policy we can debate. Even values we can debate. But once epistemology enters the picture, there's no way to be polite. "Your method of deciding what's true is wrong" or "I believe God is telling me the inerrant truth" has no place in civil discourse, yet religion's influence in politics means we have to deal with it all the time.

Once people have beliefs that we hold dear, that we specifically guard against change no matter what we learn or hear, how can we know they're true?

Critical thinking is our immune system against nonsense and fallacy. HIV kills the immune system - that's its dark genius. When your beliefs tell you that doubt is a moral danger, there is no way to have any kind of productive discussion, because you won't let yourself be changed.

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: Old Religion, New Tradition: U.S. Muslims Confront Taboo on Nursing Homes. One community leader is building a nursing home attached to a mosque, to make the transition easier. Good for him.

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: Love, Marriage, and Google PageRank: Broadsheet linked to me - neato!

: "the flautists and piccoleers become angry": Today in history: Leonard interviews someone for fake in a post so hilarious that it was one of the first entries in his Best Of category.

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: Very Imogen-Heap-Hide-&-Seek Vibe: I am writing a column right now that is basically whimsacorical day, three years later. Mostly the last few paragraphs.

: Realization: Santos doesn't need Cregg for "institutional memory" in his administration! Lyman has far more political experience, and administrative experience too. Isn't Lyman going to be his freaking chief of staff or something? It is completely fine and not at all a betrayal or duty-shirking for Cregg to go head that charitable foundation. She already knows she'll get more done there.


: Lessons Of The Month: It's all about the competitive advantage, the unique value proposition, the ineffable you. What makes you stand out? What can you offer that no one else can?

Tangentially related lesson: there exist software resellers, who resell software for a living, who are less competent at purchasing software than random businesspeople and ordinary customers.

And: A few completely uninterrupted hours plus rockin' tunes from the eighties and nineties make for flippin' awesome productivity on scutwork.

: A Night In June: Engaging Shakespeare in Central Park. All's Well That Ends Well. Dinner with new acquaintances. Pretty cheap and good. And inspiration from Kameron Hurley.

: "more than just pity and politics": My friend Camille Acey has been insider-blogging about the concert/music industry and it is as though she is writing just for me. Camille runs Remarkable Booking, sort of a boutique booking agency for musicians, and so she shares her concerns about the sorts of niche topics that make economics dilettantes like me go squee:

And Camille inspires me to go see more live stuff:

...Nonetheless, this is a very exciting time in the music industry. An overwhelming amount of great new music and a ton of music bubbling up from independent outlets. As a person in the touring industry, I think the next big things that need to happen are:

1) emergence of a crop young new bands with great live shows....We need an indie rock Bob Fosse, we need an indie rock PT Barnum. We need a new Grace Jones and David Byrne. More personalities. Build it and they will come.
2) a big insidious propaganda campaign that re-popularizes the live concert experience.

I'm part of the latter now!

The title's from an acerbic comment on the Dixie Chicks' tour rerouting.

: MC Masala on Gaming For Experience Points: First: Jon Carroll mentions, in passing, Columnist Epiphany Syndrome. At least once a month I end up acting like David Brooks or Thomas Friedman and extrapolating an entire worldview, or at least 750 words' worth of one, from half a data point.

Back to the show. I played Dungeons & Dragons for the first time -- and enjoyed it.

In poker, you play the cards you're dealt; in D&D, you play the statistics you've rolled. Vera [my character] had great dexterity but very little strength or stamina. I found myself avoiding risk, creeping around walls and up trees, scurrying to tell my findings to the team. A game of D&D gives me more explicit lessons about teamwork and initiative than 100 seminars.

"Roll for initiative" comes up when the dungeon master springs an attack on you. You roll the die to find out whether it completely surprises you or you can take the initiative to defend yourself. Vera surprised me. As weak and inexperienced as she was, she got and used initiative frequently.

I realized that I'm even more risk-averse than she is and vowed to change.

: Relief: A few Life's Little Victories.

The hymn is one you already know! And can sing!

A person whose political and social stances you didn't know turns out to be queer-friendly!

Great pizza and a cold, cold shower after helping someone move!

You blink, shake your head, and get some perspective on the irrelevance of a nonproductive argument in an Internet discussion group!

: Go Robin Einhorn!: Yay yay yay! Professor Robin L. Einhorn, who jumpstarted my interest in taxes and economic history in the first place, has published her big new book on the effect of slaveowners' tax avoidance on the structure of the US Constitution and government. American Taxation, American Slavery is going to be awesome! This follows her earlier work Property Rules.

E-dawg, Einhorn's latest is the book I've been meaning to recommend to you. Everyone else: for more tax geekitude and hilarity, read my thoughts from three years ago, and for the tasting menu for U of Chicago Press, read assorted excerpts.

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: Carthago Delenda Est, Charlie Brown!: Seven years ago, Leonard predicted my LA-disliking New Yorker attitudes.


Anyone know of a really good compact shredder?

Update: Ooops. As Seth reminds me, it's Carthago, not Carthaga.

: It Could Be Worse: From the often-worth-reading Coding Horror: fear of mustard and pickles.

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: Rewarding: I just saw Giant Tuesday Night of Amazing Inventions And Also There Is A Game!!! and read Alison Bechdel's very cerebral Fun Home; both highly recommended.

(2) : Bah/Argh: I am looking for an impossible thing, I think. I want to switch to a cell phone service that has pretty good reception in Manhattan and Astoria, that does not have an indelible reputation for horrifyingly bad customer service, and that I can trust to not collude with unconstitutional power trips by government officials to invade my privacy without warrant, cause, etc. AT&T and Cingular fail, Verizon fails the privacy requirement too, and I've never heard glorious things about Sprint, Verizon, or Nextel. Is there such a service? Could and should someone start one?

: MC Masala on Magical Thinking and Superstition: I share my weird superstitions.

But how comfortable are you naming a child after a living relative, or picking up a tails-up penny, or giving knives or scissors as wedding gifts, or swallowing a watermelon seed?

: Tunnel: Now that I have read A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Malkiel, I can understand Daniel Davies on beta and his lyrical allusions to what Gladwell would call the black swan. A Davies bonus: calling something "risk aversion" when it's "pessimism."

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: Hey Catholics: Zed linked to something hilarious re: Catholicism and that Dan Brown novel. Brendan already knows about this LiveJournal, but Claudia might not.

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: Stories and Wages: Do you remember that great Vampire Domestication PowerPoint? The creator has a bunch of free short stories for you to peruse. "Mayfly" is creepy.

Also: EFF is looking for a Staff Technologist to join Seth and Meetup is seeking a UI Developer. Man, either of those jobs would be awesome - not for me, though.

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: Leftovers: Some leftover chunks of text:

I get irrational if I'm trying to go to sleep alone. I need a light on, and music, and no windows open, even if it's dadblamed hot. Otherwise ninjas with grappling hooks will steal the KitchenAid, right?

Ritual self-deprecation is like knocking on wood. Self-confidence, like praising your own child, is taboo.

If you swallow a watermelon seed, a melon will grow in your tummy. Quit your individual computer programs before hitting Start to shut down Windows and your PC. If you're a good little child all year, a magical man on a big sled will sneak into your house as you sleep helplessly, to give you gifts.

A darker-than-intended sonnet that's been sloshing around my head for weeks if not months, finally put down on paper in front of Lincoln's statue in Union Square:

Like ivy on a plaited trellis wall,
We climb up cities -- but we build them too.
If ivy could create more height to crawl,
We'd drown in it -- the poison of kudzu.
Like limbs, each building serves as human's tool,
Each skeleton bound to a certain cause.
Offices, flats, the classrooms of a school.
Architectures force behavior more than laws.
	The scaffolding you ride past in your car
	Grows up, makes cities, makes you who you are.

I visited Hiroshima.  The bank
Stayed standing, there, even after the blast.
The workers died, the neighborhood went blank.
All flesh was grass; that skeleton held fast.
An electronic pulse, a neutron bomb --
What fossils will the humans leave behind?
A signature, a bone, a bust, and calm?
We used up Earth and left an orange rind.
	Will ivy grow on that bank's granite wall?
	Our blood and treasure, slaves in cancer's thrall.

: Sumana Dismisses Dilettantes, Including Herself, in MC Masala: When your religion is someone else's tourist attraction.

I once told my mother that I was becoming a Buddhist and renouncing worldly things. This was fine with her until I declared that this also applied to eating dinner. My ploy to avoid eating failed spectacularly.
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: Independence From Work: Things I sort of wanted to do today: work on an essay, start reading The Baroque Cycle, rewrite a humorous play about Indian-Americans that my sister and I wrote ten years ago. In fact, I've watched the World Cup match and browsed far too much of Overheard In New York via hitting the Random Entry link over and over. Some favorites:

In apology, here is a joke Seth told me: The name of Ubuntu Linux comes from an old African word meaning "can't install Debian."
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: "I am ICANN!": Do you know anyone to nominate for ICANN? As long as they're not villains.

: Barack Obama's Prayer: "A hope that we can live with one another in a way that reconciles the beliefs of each with the good of all." From a speech that I he wrote specifically for me, it seems.

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: More Kicks From the Baby Name Wizard Voyager: Today some del.icio.us poking-around led me back to the Voyager.

: World Cup Of Hemlock: I watched the overtime and the penalty kicks at a crowded cafe near my house, where the crowd ran very pro-Italian but gave good sporting cheers to French goals too.

The pro-Italian folks celebrated for perhaps 30 seconds after that last Italian goal. But no one broke out into singing or recognizable Italian. And the guy sitting next to me, who spent ten years of his life in France and just got back from a visit to Paris, will be mourning for days.

Like booze, sports is a social lubricant. It was nice to make small talk with the strangers. And I liked being an Asian American, in a Greek/Latino/Middle-Eastern neighborhood of New York, watching a French player of African descent exhale and shake off his nervousness as he began a run up to his penalty kick. The universal language of the attempted goal is up there with music and sex. The only reason soccer can incur the destructive kind of nationalism it does overseas is that almost every nation plays on that common battlefield.

But for every raised and fulfilled hope there is a raised and dashed one. Even though I wouldn't want to remove melancholy from the human condition, I feel bad for that French guy.

: MC Masala on Regret And Nostalgia: More melancholy.

I can glean no pleasure at all from memories of indiscretions that were fun at the time.

I made wince-worthy mistakes with booze, boys and writing. Yes, writing. A moment of bombastic self-indulgence on the printed page actually long outlives my friends' memory of a stupid ouzo-drenched insult, which makes me grateful to my friends and resentful of those crumbling stacks of my high school newspaper that I somehow can't bear to throw away.

: Yes, I Always End Up Quoting The Communist Manifesto: The most intellectually stimulating part of Jesus is Magic (that's not saying much) is now available on YouTube: Silverman's song "Jewish People Driving German Cars".

Also on YouTube: videos from Square One TV, specifically Mathnet. Mathnet, Weird Al Yankovic, and the Capitol Steps all introduced me to melodies, plots, and characters that I only learned later were ripoffs. Disorienting, which is good. Reminds you that all that is solid melts into air.

: Annals of Brilliance: I have to get this document scanned. Instead of dealing with the stupid scanner software, I'll just use our fax machine to fax it to ourselves, since any fax to our number gets turned into an image file and emailed to us!

I chortled over this until the fax machine tried to call the destination fax number and got a busy signal.

: Precarious Culture: George W. Bush and I agree: Get well soon, Roger Ebert!

Today Cody's on Telegraph closes. Joe sent me some pictures from the memorial service. Goodbye, old shop. In memory, via a book blog, some laughs.

: Where Daniel Davies Went: I'll have to add the complete list of Comment Is Free articles by Daniel Davies to my bookmarks. A particularly applicable post: how Davies proposes to deal with abuse from commenters or fellow stockbrokers.

: Faith in the Memory of the Unseen: In case you didn't see it last week, a lovely and thought-provoking article on memory from the NYT. Includes "dual processing," "neurological," "memory" and "double perception" theories, déjà vécu, presque vu, and jamais vu.

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: Caution: A woman doing some relaxing work-surfing on the sociology of baby names will give the wrong impression.

: And Hanging On The Car Door Handle Was...A NetNanny!: Want to hear a horror story about control freak managers?

...The engineers were placed out of the loop regarding what was happening in the standards committee and when they finally agreed on a standard, our hardware could not support it....
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: The Cangelosi Cards: The other night, as I do almost every month, I shanghaied Fog Creek people into coming with me to the New York Tech Meetup, where people making cool tech show it off, people in the audience ask incisive questions, tech and business people network, and Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman shows how inexplicable he is.

After the meetup, some of us adjourned to a post-meetup meetup at a nearby bar, the Pine Tree Lodge on 35th Street near 1st Avenue. There, we heard the most tremendously wonderful music I've heard in months. The Cangelosi Cards play O Brother, Where Art Thou-style music. They went for hours and all of it was magical. They'll be at the Pine Tree Lodge this coming Tuesday as well, the 18th. The Cangelosi Cards seem to have no web presence aside from their temporary association with harmonica player Miguel Weissman, and the Pine Tree Lodge has a basically useless web site, so it still feels indie to know about these folks. Go.

: You Forgot Poland: The Musical: Today I wrote a column in a much-shorter-than-usual span of time, because I thought I was very late. I can't quite tell now whether I was actually late, but it's nice to know that if I set my mind to it (and steal liberally from my weblog) (is that even stealing?) I can write a fair-to-middlin' 750-word column in less than two hours.

Am bonding with the interns over Super Smash Brothers Melee or something like that. "Melee" means "Above" in Kannada and indeed each day my skills are above my skills the previous day. I would like to believe that the interns and I are growing our relationship and that Everything Bad Is Good For Me, but I doubt it. It's not as though my mastery of Tetris has had any tangible results.

An old goodie from John-Paul Spiro: "The Logic of Capital Punishment."

: Transit: Via Feministe: tributes to those who died in the London terrorist attack a year ago. The terrorists exploded bombs during rush hour, on the subway and bus systems.

Lee Baisden, an accountant for a fire brigade: "He had just moved in with his boyfriend of three years but also spent much of his time looking after his widowed mother, who suffers from multiple sclerosis."

Of another victim: His new employer, Jessops, closed all its 280 stores for the national two-minute silence on July 14 [2005].

Another: the victim's mother, a minister, "had been bombarded with messages of sympathy and support, and driven to memorial sites by cab drivers who had refused payment."

"I will always remember her and all the others involved in these tragic events but I will not be afraid of these evil and barbaric terrorists, ever."

Another: "His parents were killed by the Taliban when he was a teenager. He left his family in Afghanistan and arrived in Britain in January 2002..."

Another: "Shahara Islam, from Whitechapel, east London was born in Britain to a devout Muslim family of Bengali origin."

We still don't know who killed almost 200 people a few days ago in Mumbai. People were going home from work on commuter trains, as on BART or Caltrain or Metro-North. And every day we take our trains, and we're not going to stop.

: An Other Roundup: The Muslim comic boom! Includes a few jokes Muslims tell about themselves.

The result is a kind of black-Muslim fusion. Azeem recalls being 17 and telling his grandmother, a devout southern US Baptist, that he had become a Muslim. "I said, 'Grandma, I'm a Muslim.' She looked up and said, 'No you're not. You ain't never been to jail.'"

Hugo Schwyzer, a soccer fan, has a fresh take on the Materazzi/Zidane incident from the World Cup final. Materazzi almost certainly made a racially charged insult to provoke Zidane. Schwyzer comments,

I am a white, Christian, heterosexual male.... There isn't a single term in English that you can use that attacks me for being who I am.
Yet another part of being Other -- the epithets hurt more, and there are more of them.

Ben, once Barbara Barres, automatically gets more respect. Joan Roughgarden, once Jonathan, automatically gets less. N.C. Andreasen's papers get published; Nancy Andreasen's don't. In psychiatry, in neurobiology, in lots of academe, this happens. Trans people, like immigrants, can tell us more about the color of the water we live in.

"Female scientists who are competitive or assertive are generally ostracized by their male colleagues," [Barres] says. In any case, he argues, "an aggressive competitive spirit" matters less to scientific success than curiosity, perseverance and self-confidence.

Women doubt their abilities more than men do, say scientists who have mentored scores of each. "Almost without exception, the talented women I have known have believed they had less ability than they actually had," [genetics] Prof. [Gregory] Petsko wrote. "And almost without exception, the talented men I have known believed they had more."

My parents kept telling me to be confident. I understand better now.

"I think we want to step back and ask, why is it that almost all Nobel Prize winners are men today?" [psychologist Elizabeth Spelke] concluded. "The answer to that question may be the same reason why all the great scientists in Florence were Christian."
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: Towards Less Sucky Management And Standup Comedy: Perhaps NYC has more opportunities for beginning standup than I'd thought. My sketch needs I fulfill with Slightly Known People every Saturday night, and once in a while The Whitest Kids You Know (although they have a scatology joke or two that really makes me nauseous) (and no women). But there's enthusiastically mediocre stand-up out there. Aziz Ansari, Laurie Kilmartin, and Ted Alexandro make for wonderful exceptions.

I started doing standup partly because Simon Stow, a fantastic political science teacher, had a background in standup. His example also helped get me into teaching and political science. But I also started because I kept seeing bad standup and thinking, "I could do better than this." You'll recognize this as the same impulse I had when watching bad management at former jobs and during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I reluctantly quote Paul Graham:

I've found that people who are great at something are not so much convinced of their own greatness as mystified at why everyone else seems so incompetent.

I seem to remember this as "the good just think they suck less" but evidently that's not in the original.

The problem of metacognition nags me. It's one of the reasons I waited so long to try booze. One classic work on the topic: "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments" by Justin Kruger and David Dunning (PDF and plain text versions). One way to get people to realize that they lack a skill is to teach it to them. How else can we correct cognitive illlusions? As a future manager, I find this a troublesome and fascinating topic. As a comedygoer and comedymaker, I want to show them how it's done.

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: A Pop Culture Summary of 2006: I used to make sure to watch the evening network news on New Year's Eve, because they put together classy montages of the year's news to a soundtrack of the year's pop tunes. I can't find those anymore. In their stead: Snakes on a Sudoku!

: Need Some Wood?: Some great posts on Crooked Timber recently: "I space object!", a validation of my use of "flatmate", UK vs. Britain vs. England, hilarious self-parodying corruption defense, and an explanation of the current Middle East crisis.

Speaking of timber: some folks at the Fog Creek lunch table recently recalled all the weird Bush quotes from that town-hall-style second debate from 2004. "Internets" has stuck around. People still remember "You forgot Poland!" and, to a lesser extent, "I own a timber company?....Need some wood?" But the Dred Scott decision derision didn't stick in their minds, and many don't realize that Bush was probably using "Dred Scott" as a coded reference to Roe v. Wade.

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: Solemn Column: No MC Masala column last week due to a mistake or two. This week: the World Cup and connections. The editors break my paragraphs up into paras of one or two sentences, and somehow that changes the tone of the thing.

Who thought we'd pay more attention to the Winter Olympics if they got their own year? Yeah, and Congressional midterms have really taken off.

We watched some games at work. Video games and sports prove a good way to bond with the interns. Isn't it funny how some people only open up if you're not looking at each other?

: Downtime Update: Leonard did a complete summary of our weekend except for the bit where I wrote half a column and reread Le Guin's The Dispossessed. We're waiting for the Ruby Cookbook to come out.

A local pharmacy sells 30-packs of inconveniently packaged 10mg loratadine pills for $2 and 100-pill bottles of a different generic loratadine for $10. Two different brands of generics, two wildly different prices. 450 Sutter Pharmacy back in San Francisco had sold the higher-priced generic, so I had a brand attachment to it. I found myself muttering, "But the indie pharmacy...Franz Ferdinand...the world is a vampire!"

Anyway. Werner Heisenberg was driving down the Autobahn and got pulled over. The cop walked up to the side of his car and asked, "Son, do you know how fast you were going back there?"

To this he replied, "No, but I know where I am."

: As Cute As Chandler: The many faces of Scott Rosenberg.

: 1995: Jagged Little Pill (including "Ironic" and "Hand in my Pocket") came out eleven years ago. One colleague of mine responded, "Oh yeah, I was in middle school." Another responded, "What have I been doing with my life?"

: Ruby Cookbook is Out!: Amazon has it for sale, as does Powell's Books (although Powell's only lists coauthor Lucas Carlson as the author) and the publisher (O'Reilly has a buy-two-get-one-free deal).

I am so proud of my husband. People tell me that it's of very high quality, and that it has way more recipes than comparable Cookbooks. He's created something that will help thousands of people. Congratulations to Leonard and Lucas, and to Michael, Leonard's editor.

: Daring To Eat A Peach: Evidently comedian Will Franken is doing a podcast, and a very entertaining one at that. Man, I hope I get to see a show of his sometime soon.

His audio/video sample page includes "We Are All John Kerry Tonight," which still makes me laugh out loud.

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: Activism Activity: I'll probably be at the New York City EFF Meetup tonight, dragging a Fog Creek colleague or two.

: Parties: The EFF-NYC Meetup turned into four people swapping gossip and politics in a lounge in the Fat Black Pussycat bar. Last night's Fog Creek open house turned into me playing host and connecting people who might have gotten along. But the party that never stops has stopped.

: Disturbing Comp Sci Porn Title: The Mythical Month-Man

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: MC Masala Column on Work Tips For Life: In which I bet a shiny quarter, paraphrase Kevin Drum, hype Workrave, and name-check Lincoln and the strength of weak ties.

Here's a bit I wanted to get into the article, but that got edited out.

At first, I wasn't sure whether I deserved a raise. But I hadn't had a cost-of-living increase in two years, my skills would command a substantially larger salary in jobs I saw advertised, and it would be harder for the company to replace me than for me to find a new job. Also, my company wasn't hurting for cash, and I could use the extra money. If most of these apply to you, gather your evidence, pick a target salary, and ask for it. If you get it, great! If not, consider your options. Again: are you making the right tradeoffs?

: Surprise: A white guy dances to a Bollywood song (remember, Lagaan also used this to humorous effect). Why is this funny? Is it funny? I ask you.

Snopes confirms that the US Postal Service will give you free postal materials to use in sending care packages to troops overseas.

: Marissa Mayer & I Both Use Pine: Over the past week I've been to three different tech-related meetsup. I went to an EFF-NYC group, I helped host the Fog Creek open house, and I visited the Joel On Software discussion forum meetup in lieu of my traditional Saturday night SKP visit. It'll be a good yield if I get two lasting friends out of the whole trilogy. Today I played the hermit, rereading America: The Book and bits of Jane Eyre in between working on my column and playing Tetris with my husband.

I've spent half a year with Fog Creek now, and I know its strengths and weaknesses almost as well as I know my own. I've just downloaded a bunch of Audiofile songs and the music makes me pensive. I'm wondering what it'll take for me to become an IT leader with soul and cred.

Do I have to be a tall blue-eyed blonde with patents in artificial intelligence? Is it that or Fiorinadom? Is it possible to feel like a completely lost pioneer and a cliché sellout at the same time? That sort of thing.

By the way, the Joel on Software jobs board has been hopping lately, and my boss has been blogging at unusually high volume.

Anyway, back to my columns. One is about times I've been truly happy. I think the other is about practice, craftsmanship, and the tradeoffs one makes to live a satisfying life. But I'm not sure yet.

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: Some FogBlogs: Only a few of the people who work with me have publicly discoverable weblogs. But I enjoy them and you might too. Benjamin Pollack, a developer.

Now, in my book, when it comes to breaking standards, there are a lot of different ways to do it. There's breaking the standard by adding features in odd ways that no one else supports, but everyone needs (NVARCHAR and friends in SQL Server, and arguably AUTO_INCREMENT in MySQL); there's breaking the standard by not implementing features everyone else has (sequences, views, triggers, etc. in MySQL); and then there's just totally going off and doing your own thing even though the standard already solved the problem you're having.....

That's impressive, fellas. What exactly was wrong with SQL92 there? Too plebeian?

Eric Nehrlich, the other software management trainee.
However, in a Latour-ian collective world, the market does not exist just out there waiting to be discovered or reached. Such a market has to be created. It is up to the marketer to make a series of connections between the potential buyers of the mousetrap and the mousetrap itself, to form a sticky networked web that envelops the buyers. Like the last post, it's the difference between publishing an org chart and doing the footwork necessary to reify the org chart.
Tyler Griffin Hicks-Wright, a developer.
I was walking around lower Manhattan last night, and I ran across this huge hole in the street. I've seen similar areas where they've been doing work, but I always love seeing it. It's amazing how much is going on less than a foot below the surface of the asphalt. Sewer lines, water pipes, gas pipes, cable, phone, internet, electricity, everything right there. Considering it all supports over 8 million people every day, I think it's one of the most incredible, and most overlooked, engineering accomplishments in history.
Joel Spolsky, a honcho.

"Aargh!" I said, and went off to study why there was a checkbox in the options dialog called 1904 Date System.
Michael Pryor, a honcho. A logic/math puzzle blog, featuring puzzles that now appear in Make Magazine.

The FogBugz blog, mostly by Michael Pryor.

We've considered supporting PostgreSQL but I'm not convinced this doesn't open its own can of worms. Of course MSSQL has its own share of bugs, as well as Access, but for some reason the problems with MySQL seem to be more severe and more problematic. It's been said that using the InnoDB tables is less likely to cause problems, but of course the MyISAM format is the only one that supports full text indexing, thereby removing InnoDB as a candidate for our table types.

SQL Server is around $7500 per server. For me, the price is worth it.

The Fog Creek Copilot blog, mostly by Tyler Griffin Hicks-Wright. A sequel to the Project Aardvark blog from last year, where an intern wrote:

I find that I've been learning the most from all the little things. The choices I have to make every day that, when run by Joel, get, "you decide; it's your call," as a response, teach the most in the end. In more ways than one these choices are just as, if not more, important than the huge decisions that come up only a few times during a project. A big decision is of course crucial, but you can stress over it, get a lot of outside advice, and even sleep on it before settling on what to do. The small ones come up all the time, every day, and collectively steer the entire product over the course of the launch.
Jacob Krall, an intern.
I'm now officially a big fan of Zidane-do Martial Arts. Erik has a feeling there will be a huge gain in popularity of this particular move; he's investing in it in the Flippin' Sweet Futures market here in New York City.
Alice Tang, a graphic designer.
There is nothing quite like the feeling of having your superiority and significance torn down when faced with something as vast as The Sahara, and thrown into the world that is Morocco. Experiences like these are humbling yet necessary.
Stefan Rusek, a developer. (I now know to call Stefan "Megatron.") He wrote an essay about teamwork similar to the intern's thoughts above, plus:
DO NOT USE THE TECHNIQUE THAT MS SUGGESTS IN THE ARTICLE. You would expect that the company that wrote the classes would be able to tell you how to properly use them, but here they don't.

Some of these folks almost never blog, and I chose non-representative quotes using standaloneness as a criterion. Caveat lector.

: Comic Sense...Tingling!: India-centric comic books. I've now read an issue of The Sadhu (interesting) and a collection of the first few Indian Spiderman issues (Brian K. Vaughn has nothing to worry about there). I'll try out Devi, Snake Woman, and maybe Brothers, but I've had enough of the Ramayana for a long time.

The artists and critics in the SFGate article loudly and persistently recognize the awesome, canonical work Amar Chitra Katha did; for a long time, it was the first and last word in Indian comics.

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: It's All The Greek Ideal To Me: Kathy Sierra provides Fitness hacks for geeks, including heart rate monitors, accelerometers, and Dance Dance Revolution.

: I Still Miss You, Will Franken: The Whitest Kids You Know are back from filming a season of their new series for Fuse TV. Saw them last night and they're in top form. Really enjoyed Roger Hailes and Aziz Ansari's work as well. Hailes made a funny, feminist joke about strip clubs, if you can believe that. He also was the first comic I've ever heard to point out that prayers too often devolve into to-do lists. Oh man, so true it's simultaneously hilarious and not funny at all.

Hailes hosts "Flying Blind" at Rififi on Tuesdays; I'd like to go sometime. Improv/extemporaneous standup sounds promising.

Seeing bad standup makes me want to do good standup. Seeing good standup just makes me deeply, deeply happy.

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: Water Cooler: Conversation ended up pondering which would happen sooner, if at all: my reproduction or the end of cheap oil. "Oddly enough, both of those depend on Alaska senator Ted Stevens."

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: In The Application Of My Seat To A Yoga Mat: Once upon a time, my brother-in-law-in-law wrote a bit about working out, Daylight Savings Time, doing stuff alone, and same-sex marriage. John's an interesting guy, and I find all of those topics worth exploring, but right now fitness weighs heavy on my mind.

My sedentary lifestyle and love of candy and Leonard's food have caught up with me, so now I'm actively working to increase my fitness and stamina and decrease the amount of room and mass that I take up. Both my parents have diabetes; I've started thinking long-term.

I started a TiVo Season Pass to a show on Lifetime, Denise Austin's Daily Workout. Denise Austin is a Mr. Rogers-style workout coach. At least two other people have blogged about the humorous incongruity between her sweet, friendly encouragement and the pain of working out. But any personal or impersonal trainer will evince that sort of thing. Two things that I find weird about Austin:

  1. She publicly and strongly supports George W. Bush, which makes me wonder about the science she spouts about metabolism, calories, etc. Does she think human-caused global warming is some unproven hypothesis?
  2. She was born in 1957, yet looks younger than I do. Not just her body, but her face looks about twenty years old.

But she doesn't creep me out, and I like the workouts.

Food, sex, money, the body: all these fraught topics disappear if I wholly involve myself in something. This works even if the activity centers on one of those topics. If I let the milquetoast Daily Workout electronica energize me and get my kicks higher and higher, I can escape. As I get better at gaming my body, I hope exercise escapism approaches the quality of literature escapism and comedy escapism.

I have been daniel.u ("I feel like my body is a station wagon in which I drive my brain around...") and now I'm stopping. Once I get the hang of remembering that I'm a physical organism, I'll incrementally improve at living consciously in my body, but right now it's triage. Get up and moving every day. Stop eating tons of starch. Stop eating free candy at work. (Now that I haven't had candy at work for weeks, sometimes I crave it, but sometimes I can't imagine eating handfuls every day, as some coworkers do, and as I used to.)

Perfect is the enemy of good, or done; half a loaf is better than none; doing something, for me, here, is better than doing nothing. I haven't joined the rapid prototyping cult, but I understand them better now.

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: Reality Check: Residents of the USA: 2/3 self-identified white, around 76% self-identified Christian. In both cases, lower than I'd thought.

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: Means of Production: The Poor Man says funny things about Mel Gibson and Daniel Davies causes me to enter this post in three of my four blog categories (Comedy, Religion, and Taxes).

If Leonard leaves the house, I find it easier to clean. Why is this? Other people who live with spouses or significant others: can you comment?

Anyway, that means that I had a spasm of cleaning today. Also, today I wrote and almost finished a new column on a funny problem with a naturalization exam study sheet. Well, that's where it starts, anyway.

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: Miscellaneous: On Saturday Leonard and I (and some Fog Creek people) visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I got to see a Georges de la Tour that I'd long admired. I especially love this detail of a woman's face. In other art news, a print of The Death of Jennifer Sisko now hangs in our living room.

Learning to listen, learning to interrupt. I used to interrupt far too often; I've gotten better about that. Now that I work in tech and almost all my colleagues are men, I have to learn to keep talking when it's my turn.

Shukr provides modest clothes and tries to treat its workers well. Wouldn't an Underwriters Labs/kosher-type certification for modest clothes be cool? LDS, Muslim, bashful, etc. people could check it when shopping. But different denominations and levels of reserve would call for different thresholds on skin coverage, tightness, conservatism in color and plumage, etc. And big-busted women will always find it difficult to find tops and dresses that don't call attention to bosomage.

What in the world is going to happen with China? We bet that engagement would lead to democratization. Were we wrong? DeLong and his commenters puzzle over that billion-person question mark.

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: Two, Two, Two Columns In One Post: Last week's MC Masala and this week's went up on the web today. The pursuit of happiness analysis:

I'll never make it as a self-help book author because I can't reduce creating happiness to a formula. Sometimes it comes from accomplishment, discovery, comfort and emotional validation. And there is another happiness, as I feel with my husband, that I can't pin down to vivid moments; it comes from years of growing together, and I thank God that I'll have a lifetime to name it.

We make tradeoffs, we try for craftsmanship, we mix artistry into our lives.

I've figured out how to persuade a hairdresser to cut my hair short, like a man's. I tell her that I want to look like a man. To those of you who chuckle quietly at how long it's taken me to figure this out, I remind you that the scenic route makes for more column material.

"I want to look like a man," I said, "or a stereotypical lesbian." I flipped to two pages in a fashion magazine where regular-haired men appeared, deep in the backgrounds of photos where they pinned up some Rapunzel monstrosity.

: Managing Chance, Managing Change: Scott Rosenberg shouts in favor of incremental change, reminding me of Leonard's maxim: "A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked."

Scott also points to Josh Kornbluth's hilarious anecdotes on dealing with the unexpected on live radio.

Leonard's old colleague Karl Fogel has just written a terrific book, Producing Open Source Software: How to Run a Successful Free Software Project. The concept reminds me of Steven Weber's The Success of Open Source, but Fogel provides a detailed HOWTO on all stages and aspects of software production. I'm currently drinking in his chapter on money. Karl used to work on Subversion at Collabnet, so he speaks from experience in "Be Open About Your Motivations".

This is not to say that you can't ever come out in favor of a specific solution. But you must have the patience to see the analysis you've already done internally repeated on the public development lists. Don't post saying "Yes, we've been over all that here, but it doesn't work for reasons A, B, and C. When you get right down to it, the only way to solve this is..." The problem is not so much that it sounds arrogant as that it gives the impression that you have already devoted some unknown (but, people will presume, large) amount of analytical resources to the problem, behind closed doors. It makes it seem as though efforts have been going on, and perhaps decisions made, that the public is not privy to, and that is a recipe for resentment.

You can read Producing Open Source Software online for free. It's a tremendous resource for project and product managers of all sorts of software, not just F/L/OSS projects.

"And maybe we're supposed to see how a really human life means seeing there's no numbers there and breaking out the crayons anyway."

: Disturbing Slash Pairing: Keynes/Galbraith.

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: MC Masala on Tests of Americanness: "Who discovered the USA? Christopher Columbus."

"Is this still right?" she asked.

Man, oh, man, all the things I wanted to say. Before any white people from Europe came along, indigenous people lived in North America, variously called Native Americans, American Indians, and Indian-no-the-other-one. But if they came over on the now-underwater land bridge from Asia, does that mean they discovered America? Leif Ericson came along before Columbus, but he hit Canada. And no one "discovered" the United States anyway; we created the USA, and we create it every day, no matter who was first on North American soil.

But I didn't want to try her patience or her limited English, and would it help her anyway?

: MC Masala on Scars & Marriage: Math teachers, parents, husbands, and tables all get under our skin.

I left home for college, cut my hair, and took off my earrings once and for all. But my mom asked me to wear some jewelry in memory of home and God, so I did: a little Ganesha idol on a chain around my neck, and a small ring. My finger grew accustomed to the ring, as fingers do.

Today, just a few months after getting married, I marvel that my ring finger has already adjusted to my wedding ring. I peek at the skin underneath and find it shiny and pale, the flesh narrowing to accommodate the ring. A scar, of sorts.

: Dragging Everyone I Know To See: Will Franken! September 7th-28th he tours NYC, including a couple of stops at my usual haunt Rififi.

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: How To Make Me Steamed: Take some US citizens, don't charge them with any crime, but keep them from returning to their home in Northern California, and deny them their constitutional rights. Especially when one is a teenager, and they're South Asian.

Federal authorities said Friday that the men, both Lodi residents [and citizens! -ed.], would not be allowed back into the country unless they agreed to FBI interrogations in Pakistan.....

"We haven't heard about this happening -- U.S. citizens being refused the right to return from abroad without any charges or any basis," said [Julia Harumi] Mass [their attorney with the ACLU].

McGregor Scott, the U.S. attorney for California's eastern district, confirmed Friday that the men were on the no-fly list and were being kept out of the country until they agreed to talk to federal authorities.

"They've been given the opportunity to meet with the FBI over there and answer a few questions, and they've declined to do that," Scott said.

Mass said Jaber Ismail had answered questions during an FBI interrogation at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad soon after he was forced back to Pakistan. She said the teenager had run afoul of the FBI when he declined to be interviewed again without a lawyer and refused to take a lie-detector test.

By the way, anyone with brains would refuse a polygraph, since they don't work and are often not admissible in court (Wikipedia link, National Academies Press smackdown).

So if some random Berkeley classmate of mine, or one of my twenty or thirty cousins whom I've met once, makes up a bunch of names to placate his interrogators, and I happen to be visiting my parents in India when the government collates that list and finds me on it, they'd stop me from coming home to my husband and job and home until I submit to unconstitutional treatment? My response is unprintable.

If you have any kind of probable cause, any kind of tip to follow up on, then do the kind of police work that the Brits did that led to the arrests a few weeks ago. Legal, thorough, warranted in every sense of the word. But when the US government has a network of secret prisons and interrogation facilities specifically set up in countries where the law on torture is unclear or nonexistent, why in the world should a US citizen like me submit to overseas interrogation, especially in Pakistan?

Fly these folks to a jail in the US with air marshals handcuffed to them, if you're so afraid. They live in the US, they're citizens of the US, and the only plausible reason you want to interrogate them abroad is so it'll be less visible if you violate the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments to our Constitution. (Not to mention at least Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.)

I haven't even touched on the problems with the no-fly list. This administration's folly is fractal.

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: Sort-of-manipulative Tricks: How to handle chronic complainers: actually listen to them and empathize, saying, "I don't know how you put up with it."

From the discussion of Joel Spolsky's timeless "Fire and Motion":

So, I took my apartment keys of out the pocket of my swimsuit, and threw them in the opposite end of the pool.

: Solids & Powders Replace Liquids: Per Leonard's posts, sometimes we use shampoo bars. I also use stick deodorant (Tom's of Maine or other non-mainstream stuff) and chew gum or use those little plastic strips for breath freshening. Thus, my usual liquid-carrying through airports constrains itself to a water bottle and toothpaste.

My recent trip to California took place after the TSA ban on liquids and gels. So I didn't take water, and I didn't get enough water on the flight, so I got mildly dehydrated. This probably facilitated the illness that got me down for three days in California, preventing me from visiting Berkeley and seeing and doing a lot of things I'd been looking forward to for weeks. Gar!

But the ban did give me a chance to take tooth powder on the plane as an experiment. My parents and other Indians have for decades used mildly abrasive powders, often including baking soda, to brush their teeth. You just rinse your mouth with water, sprinkle maybe half a teaspoon or a quarter teaspoon on your toothbrush, and start brushing. The leftover saliva and water turns the powder into a paste in your mouth. If you've ever read The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill, remember the initial ingredients for the toothpaste. Tooth powder also takes up less room than toothpaste, since it doesn't have added water, glycerol, etc. (I assume this is also true of shampoo bars regarding liquid shampoo.)

I'm currently using Eco-Dent anise-flavored powder so I took it in my carry-on. The TSA folks in New York didn't care. The TSA screener in Oakland, on the way back, carefully looked through my bag because the X-ray had shown them a bottle.

"You'll have to check this," she said, holding up the Eco-Dent.

"My tooth powder?" I said.

"It's toothpaste," she said.

"No, it's a powder. It's not paste," I said, turning it upside down (while closed) and then opening it so she could see inside.

She was pleasantly surprised, and mentioned that she might acquire some to use when she flew. So I got through with some dentifrice, and one more person knows of the magic of toothpaste.

In the days right after the TSA ban, people started chortling over all the mightily wet solids the TSA could ban for consistency's sake. Watermelons! Cucumbers! Cooked beets! Candles, since it's so easy to melt them! And the human body is mostly water; should we get freeze-dried before flights and reconstituted upon delivery?

It really would be easier for us to just get sedated for the whole flight. After all, Leonard hates flying more than he hates the dentist; why shouldn't he get to go under for both? And if it's good enough for colony ships, it's good enough for spring break.

Or we could just anesthetize passengers the jetBlue way: TV for every seat. I watched a Project Runway marathon on the way home. Reality TV where people make something? Wow!

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: MC Masala on A Day Out: I took a friend to Roosevelt Island.

We walked down to the southern tip, where planted and overgrown greenery shaded a ruin from view. It used to house smallpox labs or patients, and now it can't even protect itself from the elements. There's a chain-link fence giving it a wide berth, but even from the other side we could see that the ceiling, windows, floors and walls were magnificently wrecked.

Ivy and other chlorophyll sprouted between the bricks and up through the holes.

"It looks like a cut scene from a video game," I said. It's where the kids go exploring in a horror movie, camping in tents on the precipice of the second floor.

I first visited the island with Jacob. Yay and welcome to Fog Creek as a perm, Jacob.

: Steve Yegge & "Clothes For the Soul": I generally enjoy Steve Yegge's blog posts; you can find lots of adoring swooning to that effect in my archives from the past year. Recently he posted some thoughts that weren't out of the ordinary for him: "Clothes for the Soul", he called it.

A few of his claims:

Please do let me know if you think I'm leaving out something absolutely essential, or misrepresenting these claims.

Well, I have thoughts on how our bodies and minds and social relationships interact. Anyone who's read sci-fi, or been nonwhite in the US, or nonmale or nontall or nonthin, has done a fair bit of musing on the topic. I've read an interesting NYT article on gender transitioning. I've thought about how awesome an orgasm-button implant or "a truly effective aphrodisiac for women" or "a neurobiofeedback machine that could help women learn to be superorgasmic" would be. But I think about tradeoffs, too. I think about the monoculture problem, and tonsillectomies and thalidomide, and gender imbalance and destabilized societies, and the fact that the mind is what the brain (receiving information from the rest of the body) does. And if we could flip, ad hoc, through all the bodies that the human race could offer us, would we take advantage of the available diversities of experience? Or would we have a race to the bottom, ending up with a severely narrowed point of view, a new and more stifling conformism? Well, outsiders will always play with 0wnz0ring their bodies, with drugs, tattoos, piercings, Atkins, and beyond; they'd dare to experiment with out-of-fashion body types, but I doubt most people would buck the crowd.

But! Even considering the problem with mind-body duality, or taking any kind of nuanced view on the unalloyed good of the cutting edge in bodymod, puts me on the wrong side of Steve Yegge -- because he raises the logical rudeness shields at the end of his piece and throughout the comment board. He condescends to people who ask questions, or who are addressing the world as it is, not as he imagines it might be. He calls them sheep.

The point of the article is that YOU are a SOUL. Your body -- including your race, gender, genetic makeup, all the things I know nothing at all about as we interact through the internet -- they're effectively just accidents. They don't matter. So you should be able to change them.

I would indeed like to be able to change some things about myself, in my mind and in my body, and am making slow progress towards them.

But, if I am a soul, I am a contingent one. An accident, a sperm and an egg meeting, created me. In fact, nearly all births of humans have been accidents in that way. And the accidents - gender, race, geography, teacher lotteries, weather, accent, car crashes, books being checked out from the library -- make us who we are. The accidents do matter. I can't extricate my soul from my past any more than water can extricate itself from wetness.

Yegge writes, "You're holding on to notions like 'race' and 'gender' that may literally be meaningless words within 100 years." He later takes off the qualifier:

...notions of "race" and "gender" are going to be obsolete in 100 to 200 years, hence racism and sexism will be roughly equivalent to pants-ism and shirts-ism...

It would be completely awesome for men to be able to switch into women, physically and psychologically, with a quick bit of outpatient surgery. I'm talking the ability to conceive and give birth, lactation, height and weight shifts, Venusian temperament, longer lifespan, the whole deal.

But until everyone can have kids, or no one has to (the dependable existence of willing incubators?), gender has a lot to do with who can depend on never getting pregnant and who can't.

Steve Yegge's focus on cosmetic Swatch-watchability tells me he thinks he's a brain in a jar. This is weird, since he's so aware of his body in another context. Then again, maybe he just thinks of it as a tool to manipulate.

He notes that he can't tell a person's race or gender over the Internet. Is he also blind to class in text? In his audience? (Race, gender, and class: the interconnecting triumvirate of historical analysis.) And does he think we won't have face-to-face contact in two hundred years? An interesting claim, but I'd want to see a plausible roadmap to getting rid of all our meatspace social needs.

And heck, there is pants-ism! And shirts-ism! If I go shirtless on a hot day, I'm breaking rules. If I wear pants instead of a skirt or dress, some people think I'm less womanly.

Generally speaking, though, I think it's pretty obvious to most rational people that the trend is towards having control over how you look, and there's nothing wrong with making yourself look better. If a change makes you happier, then it will almost certainly make the people around you happier too.
Well, who decides what's better? The "duh" answer is "you do, duh," but I am not an atom. Society influences me, and just as sexism in India and China plus sonograms turns people to selectively abort female fetuses, lookism in the US plus easy bodymod might have ill effects.

But Steve Yegge has declared logical rudeness on anyone who asks for clarification or details on his utopia. He strongly implies that anyone challenging him simply doesn't understand his claims. From the comments:

Jay, poor Jay, you're really having a rough time. I'm sorry this is so hard on you! Take a deep breath. Thaaaaat's better. Calm.

And there's more of that in the comments. I was really shocked and disappointed by the disrespect Yegge shows to people who challenge his claims; he calls them mad, scared, or uninformed.

I wouldn't have paid as much attention to his post and associated comments had he not earned so much respect from me with his many previous posts. The way he's treated his commenters on this seems out of character for him, so maybe this whole exercise is a prank. Either way, I'm wincing.

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: Transitive Friendship Failure: The geek social fallacies. Looking back, I've had mild cases of 1, 4, and 5. I can identify at least three past or present acquaintances with symptoms of more virulent strains of all five.

: Adapt To Win: Jon Stewart's crew actually doesn't push the Orwell/Huxley jokes that much. But The Daily Show a few nights ago, in a four-minute piece on propaganda, did a very unexpected 1984/They Live/1984 Mac ad reference. It's near the end, and I wasn't expecting it, and it stunned me.

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: LOLOL: LOL inflation destroys semantics root and branch. ROFLMAO.

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: OneWebDay is September 22: Last month, the smart and charismatic Susan Crawford spoke to the New York Tech Meetup about OneWebDay. I'll have to do some interesting blogging that day, celebrating all the wonderful things the Web has given me.

: I Thought I'd Never Need My TI-85 Again: How to use Google as a calculator. Tip: Don't try using π; just type "pi".

: Continuing Education: Tonight I start a four-semester Master's program at Columbia: the Executive Master of Science in Technology Management, offered by the School of Continuing Education. Finance, psych, marketing, planning, history, law, that sort of stuff. My Fog Creek colleague Eric is in there with me. We both got in to the NYU MS program in Management and Systems, but the Columbia program looked better:

Our first semester, we're taking "Technology in the Business Environment" and an introductory corporate finance class. I'm prepping for the latter by doing W. Michael Kelley's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Precalculus, recommended to me by Stuart Sierra. On the whole, very good. I'm brushing up on my 1996-era trig/analytic geometry skill, and have gotten past the exercise in which I draw the snappy log transformation on the book cover. I remember all the concepts well, but have more of a tendency to mistake plus and minus signs or make other sloppy arithmetic errors than I did in high school. Perhaps I'm not checking my work carefully enough because the pressure of grades doesn't exist.

Yesterday I did a few chapters of CIGT Precalculus and then saw the wonderful Little Miss Sunshine with my friend Adi, who's in the math department at NYU. So it was math-related, right? The last Monday-night revelry I'll have for a while.

: Fame: I'm in the blue shirt.

: Time!: Homework for the second Technology in the Business Environment class (this coming Tuesday): read five book chapters, and write a two-page analysis of different valuation structures at my workplace.

Homework for the second Corporate Finance class (this coming Wednesday): start the online accounting course (estimated total time: ten hours), read two chapters and a case study, answer the online questions about Present Value, and do casebook exercises on valuation.

Did I mention that we've deleted the Daily Show season pass from our TiVo? Life on Mars stays, but Colbert Report and House are on notice.

: Glom: A corporation has bought Cody's Books. I hope it improves more than it worsens.

Ideas for t-shirts I would wear:

: Work Experience: A story about fast food reminds me how lucky I am that I've never worked that kind of retail.

A few friends of mine who have really impressive resumes up online: web designer Kristofer Straub, web developer Brendan Adkins (newly revamped portfolio!), developer Kevin Maples, and developer Leonard Richardson.

For one thing, this reminds me that I should put up a resume. In a little over two years I'll have some choices to make and I should start laying a good foundation. Also, Leonard's resume reminds me of his impressive software portfolio.

It used to be that I could talk with new acquaintances about Leonard and make geeks' jaws drop. "You know the Segfault.org guy?" they'd say, or: "You're dating the guy who wrote robotfindskitten!" And then I'd bask. But that happens less often these days.

Then, today, I was shooting the breeze with Ben here at work, in a discussion that touched on "The REPL in .NET". I mentioned that frustration with cleaning up HTML and XML for and with parsers drove Leonard to create Beautiful Soup. Ben said, "Leonard wrote Beautiful Soup?!" And I got to bask again.

Anyway, I marvel at all the software Leonard has written. What a productive husband I married! Geeks might find lots of useful stuff in there (e.g., The Bayes Motel), and nongeeks will enjoy The Eater of Meaning.

: The Ride: A few Salon articles I've enjoyed: Andrew Leonard on learning to be a father and Cary Tennis explaining why people drink and take drugs.

Once upon a time, Salon was a weekly literary magazine. Then it became a daily fix for argument and culture analysis, and then it added investigative reporting. I find surprise addictive, and I could reliably find the unexpected at Salon.

Now it's an all-around companion for the liberal sensibility, which is good and bad.

The more I learn about sales, at my new job and in reading and in classes, the more I think about the unique selling proposition, the thing you have to offer that no one else has. Andy Rooney once pointed out that it's a lot easier to make a living as the ten-thousandth best accountant or insurance guy in the country than as the ten-thousandth best singer. The new economy, I think, makes every knowledge profession more like singing. I need to specialize and be the best in a tiny niche to succeed. Does Salon?

In the movie Wordplay, we see a woman who has won a national crossword puzzle tournament, and can then shut down a jerky date's taunts by asking him, "Well, what are YOU the best in the country at?"

As part of the Columbia Master's program, I have to come up with a tech business plan. I am trying to see what I can leverage, what core competency I have that's rare, what opportunities exist in the margins I occupy.

: Sensitive: Jon Carroll makes coffee and spins an awesome column out of it. I went back to Northern California for a week, for the first time in eight months, and drank booze with my editor and had a big party and went to a computer convention and I don't know what all, and I've made half a blog post out of it. I'm feeling as slow-witted as the narrator in Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, which I'm almost done reading. Why should I be rooting for [*SPOILER*] the mentally ill aunt, who is a horrible parent, to keep custody of her niece?


Kathy Sierra reminds us that every stranger, every customer, is having that tedious, routine interaction with us for the first time. Why did I find this so moving?

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: Don't Resign Yourself To Blair's Resignation Just Yet: I'm told that Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, has said he'll resign next year but won't give a specific date. Evidently he's fond of the surprise execution paradox. Hmmm, if he's going to resign in 2007 but make it a surprise, then it can't be December 31st, because then it wouldn't be a surprise anymore. But reasoning inductively from that, it can't be December 30th, or December 29th -- in fact, he can't resign at all!

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: MC Masala on Surprise: My laptop got dropped and now I'm getting the "invalid key length" hard drive error. Surprise! My finance class has more work than I'd expected. Surprise! I got into Columbia, a bunch of my friends came to my birthday party, I got an Apress button at LinuxWorldExpo that says "Come back when you can pass a Turing test." Surprise, surprise, surprise!

We talked about a theme of pleasant surprise that runs through TMBG's more spiritual songs. In "She's an Angel," the narrator has a new girlfriend whom he suspects of being an angel:

"How should I react?
"These things happen to other people.
"They don't happen at all, in fact."

We steel ourselves against bad news, but does that even help? And does it stop us from happiness when joy comes to our door?

In related news, I used to think that Birdhouse In Your Soul was about grace, but Leonard and the BiYS video convinced me that it's about fundamentalist Christianity.

: Study Notes: I'm studying for my Corporate Finance class. Every so often I have to remind myself that I am studying not the world as it is, but an internally consistent subset, a continent or a country where profit is the primary motive, taxes are to be avoided, debt has no moral status, and every business is a corporation responsible to shareholders. Even the constant references to "building a new plant" or "excess inventory" require imagination and translation for me. Almost all of my work has been in offices providing intangible services, not goods.

And then there's the everyday hubris of planning and executing a project.

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: Accounting Lessons: My pedantic little distinctions include "abbreviation" vs. "acronym" and "between" vs. "among." Today I learned a new one: tangible long-term assets get "depreciated," while intangible long-term assets, such as a franchise fee, get "amortized." I've been using "amortized" for years to refer to using up the value of tangible assets, but as long as I'm only hanging around non-accountants that should be fine. This is akin to saying "sorting" instead of "hashing" around computer programmers.

Another accounting wrinkle I learned today gave me pause. An asset is something you now control, thanks to a past acquisition or transaction at a measurable cost, that you expect will give you economic benefits in the future. This means that employees don't belong on the balance sheet. They could quit at any time so you don't control them, the work to be performed is in the future instead of the past, and so on. This seems fishy to me. I mean, does anyone really control anything? Your warehouse might burn down, or the town might rezone your land. And you buy an asset, or hire an employee, because of perceived future use.

But in accounting terms, it's only an asset if you can put a price on it. If you don't know how much you'll end up paying an employee in total, you can't valuate her work as an asset or her future wages as a corresponding liability.

So if you wanted to create your own derivative of standard accounting that included particular workers or their work as an asset, you could buy them as slaves, or you could hire them on periodic contracts and think of the contracts as assets. Sure, you haven't paid yet, but sometimes you buy assets entirely on credit.

Another option: pay your employee her entire year's salary in advance, when she signs a one-year contract. I don't know what would be more radical, that or putting workers down as assets on the balance sheet.

: Leonardisms: "Support The Arts; Bring Them Home Now"

"Employees Are Our Greatest Operating Expense"

Upon being asked, "Do you want me to take your name, honey?": "No, I'm using it!"

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: Business Ideas: Well, there's the intellectual property clearing-firm. It could also start what doesn't exist, which is a universal registry of who owns what IP. Do I hear databases calling? Tech component: check? However, it could be that such a database, or the problem people would hire it to solve, is computationally impossible or epistemologically intractable. And where's the target market? People who can afford lawyers already have them, and indie artists or small businesses who would use this service couldn't afford what I'd have to charge. The network effect plus publishing companies' possible urge to outsource legal work makes for thin gruel here.

You could set up a dehydrator near airport security lines to speed-dry liquids for people into just-add-water powders. Leonard tells me that rapid dehydration often changes the chemical properties of a complicated liquid. A better business proposition would be to sell tooth powders, shampoo bars, etc. to airport sundries shops, but where's the tech in that?

And there's coming up with an online sudoku competition site, possibly for sale to Yahoo! Games. The folks at work thought up a few variations so as to make Sudoku a two-player game:

But I'm not seeing where people would pay. Yahoo! Games is free; people don't pay to play Hearts or the like over the Internet.

None of these are right for my Master's project. Back to the thought mines.

: Column on Fakery: MC Masala on plastic plants and my neighborhood.

So, a few days ago, my husband and I noticed the new potted plants outside. We checked the one nearest the door and verified its fakeness. And then, a few days later, we left the building together and noticed Jorge watering one of the new plants.

We exchanged a look. Then we looked at the scene for a second time. Then we glanced at each other again.

: House, S.D. (Senior Developer): Verity Stob writes a House episode about debugging.

"Is this part of the differential diagnosis?"

"No. I supplement my meagre income by generating 'white noise' text to help spam messages skip those pesky Bayesian filters. Pays 5p per million words. It's hard work, but artistically satisfying. What the spammers can't use, Douglas Coupland buys to put in his next novel."

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: YouTube Links: The De Kort Coast Guard scandal video (and an update) and the Nerdcore Rising trailer.

: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: Leonard and I are currently watching:

I say we're watching Studio 60 even though I've only seen the first episode. It was funny enough to keep me watching. One does ask where Joshua Malina is hiding.

I was never a fan of Bradley Whitford's character (Josh) on West Wing so I hope he's playing someone competent in this universe. The pilot supports that hope. It would be cooler if Perry or Whitford (or Nate Corddry) were playing a new Standards & Practices opponent.

Speaking of Corddry: I was trying to list off, to Leonard, the members of the media cabal that makes entertainment designed for my sensibilities.

Who else fits?

: Change: BoogaBooga pointed us to its September 2001 archive to remind us of how it felt and what we thought during the month of that tragedy. I couldn't believe that it was five years ago that Wikipedia and The Daily Show weren't part of my daily media environment, or BoingBoing's.

Jon Stewart, host of the hilarious "Daily Show,".....

Check out Wikipedia! It's an "open" encyclopedia....

On a day-to-day basis, Google and Wikipedia change the way I think about my life and the world. I no longer feel constrained by knowing nothing about a domain; I feel confident of getting an overview of anything whenever I might need it. That's something I should mention this Friday.

: Temple Management: Leonard and I had another wedding ceremony on Sunday; my parents were in town and wanted to see us get hitched Hindu-style. We capped off the rituals with a visit to a Ganesha-centric temple in Flushing. As I watched my parents pay a cashier, then show a receipt to a priest to request a ritual, I thought about how many temples don't even have that level of organization. Business-speak follows:

Hindu temples, like many organizations, would like to switch from cash/paper payment systems to more efficient payment tracking mechanisms. As they grow, priests stop having personal relationships with worshippers, and become labor in centralized, scheduled ritual performance. Retrofitting existing temple payment and scheduling systems for growth, efficiency, and electronics is frustrating. Most of these places face zoning and funding barriers. Right now there's a Hundi (donation box) next to each idol; donating money towards a particular god has important ritual meaning. But how much time and trust has to be spent in collecting and counting that cash money?

Temples need a holistic evaluation of their needs to determine where technology could help. Perhaps all worship stations could come equipped with smartcard-reading kiosks. Or maybe a centralized point-of-sale station, accepting credit cards and cash, could print receipts, horoscopes, ritual-completion certificates, and lists of suggested rituals. The solution must allow for at least some cash donations, non-native English speakers (preferably with support for all 14 Indian languages), and a greasy, smoky environment. (Ix-nay on the touchscreens?)

Ben suggested that such a system could even email worshippers to remind them of Today's Sanskrit Chant To-Do List. However, he and Leonard both noted that temples don't think they need this system. Talk about a barrier to sales.

So if I wanted to use this idea for my Master's project, I'd have to spend time learning this domain from the people who run Hindu temples, and whom I don't find the most likeable people in the world. And then I'd have to consider educating them about their needs so I could sell them on my whiz-bang POS or whatever. I find this opportunity technically and socially interesting, but not enough to overcome the business and social irritations. NEXT.

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: Blood: In Iraq, fear dictates everything. You can't even help a dying man on the street for fear you'll be killed too.

It was not like this before Saddam fell from power. Ordinary people could live their lives; they were circumscribed, but not paralyzed by fear of random violence. This is the war of all against all. This is chaotic evil. This is why mere anarchy, loosed upon the world, was worse than the tyranny it replaced.

: OneWebDay: I met my husband over the web; I read his blog before we ever met. I knew about this company, and got this amazing job, because I read Joel Spolsky's blog. I've received and given so much value via Craigslist, Wikipedia, Google, Salon, SFGate, TransitInfo, and other web sites that I can't possibly valuate it all. I cannot imagine my life without the web. Thank you.

: Daisey & Franken & The Kids: Ah, it's not on Will's site, but Will Franken will be at Pianos NYC Sunday night! Ordinarily Whitest Kids You Know would be performing at that time, but they're on tour. Friends in Portland, Lawrence, and San Jose: go see 'em!

I've reserved a ticket for Will at the Upright Citizens Brigade next week and am about to reserve my ticket for the Oct. 5th opening of Mike Daisey's "TRUTH: {the heart is a million little pieces above all things}" at Ars Nova.

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: Three Makes A Trend: Google results, jetBlue and Joel on Software did some page redesigns or enhancements over the last few days. It's unnerving. But probably good.

By the way, the indirect method statement of cash flows is pretty bonkers. That's all.

: More Accounting Wackiness: Remember how I had to stop thinking of debt as a bad thing when I started learning accounting? I've done so. If you're pretty sure you can make money faster than interest on your loan piles up, then it's a good investment and you should do it. Amar Chitra Katha's Yudhisthira said that debt is heavier than a mountain, but I recognize that there is such a thing as a smart investment. Michael Dell and George W. Bush have devalued the words "strategy" and "leadership" respectively, and a zillion spams and ads have similarly devalued the phrase "investment in your future." Yet all of these things actually do exist. Fabulous.

My current hangup: in accounting, the words "increase," "decrease," "debit," and "credit" have no relation whatsoever to their commonsensical counterparts. I've reached the "in real life software would do this for me" point of dismissal.

By the way: thanks, Investopedia.

: The Science of Sleep: Leonard and I just saw the new Gondry film. He liked it more than I did, although I found it quite beautiful visually. I remember that I used to have more empathy for mentally ill protagonists, or flawed ones at least. American Beauty, Housekeeping, House, Enterprise....over time I just get more irritated with main characters who don't stop being self-destructive, or who hurt others.

On the other hand, I'm reading a book of short horror stories by Joe R. Lansdale. I've historically shied from horror, but a worker at Borderlands recommended this to me, and I'm enjoying it. I used to avoid horror books and movies because I was afraid they'd cause nightmares. At least that's one thing I'm not afraid of any more.

The upcoming Emma Thompson/Will Ferrell movie looks neat. Curiously enough, given its premise, it involves neither a Kaufman nor a Gondry.

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: Rachel.com: Sometimes I forget that Woot exists. It's a deal a day. And it's a podcast. Today: "I Never Got to Tell You – Dude, You’re Gonna Get Yourself Killed (Song for the Crocodile Hunter)", which rhymes "mourn ya" and "warn ya" but not "California."

By the way: Leonard's sister Rachel got the "woot" nickname long before it became a meme.

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: Why?: Why, why, why did Aaron Sorkin think that Gilbert & Sullivan filk was the way to go? I am the very model of a cringing, disappointed fan. And why are bicker banter scenes not rising above the bar set by Coyote Ugly?

Maybe Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip needs to build characters and baseline conflicts for a couple of episodes, but here's what I want to see soon:

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: Jonathan Coulton: Jonathan Coulton's "Code Monkey" is to Fog Creek this week as Weird Al's "White and Nerdy" is to the entire Internet. I can't forward the latter to anyone because ten innocent acquaintances have already forwarded it to anyone relevant.

In any case, "Code Monkey" is cracking me up. For some reason, "Code Monkey think maybe manager want to write goddamned login page himself" just slays me. It's pretty anthemic.

Coulton also wrote "Flickr" -- that's worth your time, too.

Of course, in keeping with a few of my current obsessions, you could tag Coulton "rapid prototyping," "John Hodgman," and "Creative Commons." If you were wondering why Hodgman congratulated Coulton on winning an essay contest that one time on The Daily Show, that's why. (I thought that was a weird coincidence!)

: Triumphs: Will Franken blew everyone away last night at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater.

Yesterday I got a couple of laughs at the lunch table with, "Well, they don't call it Moderate Programming."

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: Another Rejected Business Idea: I've lived in a house my parents owned, but it was in sunny Northern California. In less temperate spots (say, Indiana), homeowners have a heck of a lot to remember to do. Courtesy Ben:

No software on the market specifically helps people manage the workflow of home maintenance. Homeowners have to keep track of mortgage payments and refinancing, taxes, and seasonal and weekly maintenance tasks. An organized to-do list that polls weather and government data to automatically remind a homeowner to clean gutters and attend homeowners' association meetings would relieve tension and inconvenience. A domain-specific iteration of existing bug-tracking or task management technology could solve many of their problems.

A web-based, desktop, or mobile software application could be to this domain as Quicken is to personal finance. The application could borrow quick diary functionality from blog technology, and task or request tracking from bug tracking. It might also interface with Flickr to organize before-and-after photos, Quicken to manage payments, and email, SMS, or instant messaging for reminders. The application could also offer background checks on other neighbors using publicly available data.

In a related opportunity: A third of US residents rent. We know we should take notes and pictures to document our tenancy, in case we need evidence when we argue with our landlords, but we don't do it because it's inconvenient. Tracking tasks, rent, deposits, and repair requests would help renters reduce late fees, reduce confusion with roommates, and get our deposits back.

BillMonk and BudgetSnap are working in this market, so there's opportunity here. But I don't know nearly enough about the domain, I have only the fuzziest idea of how this product would look or work, and my grasp on business-to-consumer marketing falls far short of my grasp of business-to-business marketing. I find this the most promising and interesting rejected idea for my master's project.

And I see that others are already on the road to developing temple/church donation management technology.

: Difficulty: A Malcolm Gladwell blog entry reminds me that domain expertise changes one's perspective mightily.

Yesterday I visited the Wired NEXTfest. I stopped by the Pfizer booth because their exhibit on using RFID to secure the supply chain reminded me of an article I'm reading for class (Gillette is figuring out a similar problem).

I asked a lot of questions. What sort of products don't take well to RFID tagging? Water-based liquids require HF frequencies (instead of UHF), or an air gap between the tags and the liquids. If you're tagging boxes that have metal in them (e.g. the Benadryl blister-packs), you need to air-gap the boxes. If you slap the tags on the sides of the boxes that show outward on the pallet, and you have to arrange the boxes and tags to stop liquids and metals from messing things up, doesn't that slow down the packing? Maybe, yes. Do retailers and shippers have to choose between HF and UHF RFID tags and readers? No, you can get machines that do both. We discussed handheld vs. stationary scanners, barcodes, false negatives and false positives, and a tiny bit of the chicken-and-egg problem in getting this infrastructure into the shipping channels.

One of the Pfizer guys asked if I were an expert. Knowing what questions to ask might be the hallmark of an expert. I had a tiny bit of domain knowledge, which helped. But a journalist or scholar worth her salt would also learn the trick of asking the right questions, intuiting which paths lead to interesting insights.

Here's a question that usually gets an interesting answer: "Where's the bottleneck? What problem do you wish someone would solve for you?" The three robotics scientists at the robot entertainment panel had three different answers. Dr. Kosuge said that physical components (processors, batteries, etc.) are getting better all the time, but that the cycle of communication between a robot and its environment is his fundamental problem. A robot needs to understand and respond to stimuli appropriately, and boy is that hard. Jan Zappe, who makes big ol' crane-looking bots that draw and play music, has a hard time getting them to walk. And the guy from the Ensemble project (a Python user!) said that he wishes computers would do what he wants them to do, not what he tells them to do.

The first and the third engineers are facing what seems to me a really tough bottleneck: getting a machine to spontaneously act like an expert. Then again, it can be mindbogglingly tough to teach myself to act in constructive ways, or even stop doing self-destructive things, despite crystal-clear signals from my environment.

Once upon a time, ten years ago, my sister and I had to do some boring family thing, like spend all day at a Hindu temple where we knew no one while my parents performed incomprehensible rituals. I complained aloud. My sister said, quite reasonably, that since my complaints wouldn't make any difference, why didn't I just accept the situation and make the best of it?

I paused, considered, and replied, "That is not my way."

We still laugh about that. I hope it is my way, now.

A geologist at Green Bay wrote about thar, the honor motif in many Earth cultures. In thar cultures, "that is not our way" is the end of the argument.

If you believe that your identity is bound up in acting precisely as you act, how can you ever learn? What if the essence of being human is learning, reacting intelligently to your environment? If you think the main facts of your life are immutable, then there's no point in changing, but you have to change if you're going to cope with change in the world. And if you're going to thrive, you have to cope first.

There are people to whom adjusting to change does not seem difficult, at least to this outside observer. Talk about envy. Envy is "I want that and can't have it." Admire is "I want that and I'm working to get it." How path-dependent is my life, anyway? I have the most domain expertise and the least perspective.

Music: "Mandelbrot Set"

P.S. That was about as long as one of my weekly columns. It's way easier to write longer pieces when I can link, allude, and use two-bit words as much as I like.

: Perspective: We Can't Be Equal While reminded me:

Once I was at a party with a lot of tech folk, and talked a bit with a woman, and one of the things we talked about was that we were both in a tiny female minority at our jobs. I happened to mention this while talking about the party with some work people, and Tyler asked, "Does that conversation ever get old?"

At the time, I said, "Sure, if you're talking to a boring person," but in retrospect it's a pretty shocking question. John and I spent a few minutes at the start of our acquaintance establishing that we were the only geeks on our twenty-person Russia trip. US kids who speak Spanish better than English probably swap tips and stories. Immigrants, women in tech, outsiders and minorities of all sorts get a lot out of connecting with the rare people like us.

If I ever work in a tech environment where women are a third or more of my colleagues, the hello-fellow-stranger conversation would lose relevance. If I had it with the same person over and over, it would get old.

The overwhelming male majority in tech, like climate, stupid customers, and lunch, got old decades ago. But that's what we have.

: Vacation: I took a break from the column to get my bearings with the Master's program. It'll be back next week. My obsession this weekend spilled over into blog posts and into the column.

: Textbook Example: "When developing a business model, do not forget to think about how this model will generate revenue."

-Information Technology: Strategic Decision Making for Managers by Henry C. Lucas, Jr.

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: More RFID Musings: The Gillette folks probably have not read Bruce Sterling's awesome short story User-Centric.

: You Know You're In A Business Class If: I read about the Dominion's polaron beams and the ease with which DS9 learned to defend against them, and thought, "what was the net present value of that technology investment?"

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: Whooo, Sorkin: Okay, if Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip will consistently be at least this good, I'll watch. At least, Sorkin.

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: RSS Aggregation: I used to use Feed On Feeds, but was uncomfortable with the web app. So I dropped out of the RSS scene. Last night I downloaded NetNewsWire, which all the Mac people lurve, and I'm also lurving it. Keyboard shortcuts, fast response time, all the stuff that's hard to do in a web app. Also, if I know I'll be catching up on my blogs when I'm at home, I won't surf as much at work. Prediction: time saved and productivity boosted.

: Seen Today: An IKEA lamp set out with the trash on the curb.

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: Missing Frances: I miss Frances every day. Today I read a few of her old weblog entries.

A student today said she can tell that I like the class. I'm glad she thinks so. I'm glad she can't tell that I go beat my head against the wall after I leave them. Thank goodness it looks like I like them.

And I reread her "On Being a Single Parent", which isn't about that so much as it is about how to thrive.

I basically had to start over at CSUB because I didn't have enough units in any one subject to do anything with. One of my uncles and one of my brothers helped me, I started a Mary Kay business, and between those financial sources and part time teaching at CSUB and then at BC, I eventually acquired enough units to qualify for a credential. This was a very difficult thing to do and I am very proud of myself that I accomplished it during a time I had small children, a terminally ill husband, when I was living in a city where I was a stranger and considered an outsider not only by his family but also by members of the church. I learned during this experience that if I can go back to school and graduate, I can do anything, and in my opinion, so can anyone else.

I am so lucky to have had her in my life. I try not to think about her scrapbooks because it just makes me ache more. At least we have her blog.

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: Productivity Subverted: By The Daily WTF archives and the Memory Alpha Star Trek wiki. Jeffrey Combs + anything = crazy delicious.

: Julia Sweeney Coming Back: Julia Sweeney's amazing show "Letting Go of God" is returning to Ars Nova starting Oct. 19th. It closes on Oct. 29th. I'd love to see it again.

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: Whistleblowers Of Our Time: Katharine Gun. Coleen Rowley. Sherron Watkins? Bunny Greenhouse. Karen Kwiatkowski.

: Milquetoast Mainframe Japery: How IBM Trains Its Mainframe Sales Force. Found when I finally realized, "Hey, instead of trying to guess from context what this particular author means by 'mainframe,' I can look up the generally accepted definition and derive stuff from there."

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: "How do you remember a truth that will cause clinical depression?": Are these the lessons of Auschwitz? What else must I be sure to recognize?

Our moral hearts, like our physical ones, are weak and prone to disease. If we acknowledge this and determine to exercise them, we have a chance to live. If we deny it and insist our hearts are failure-proof, we let the disease in at the door.

Like fragments of a hologram, each of us contains an image of the whole of our species; each of us participates in all of the beauty and all the evil of being human. We all participate in the music of Mozart and the murderousness of Mengele. If, in the morning, you look in the mirror and you say, "I have the face of a murderer," you have placed yourself in a position to begin the work that needs to be done.

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: A Public Service Announcement: From Henry Chesbrough's Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology (Harvard Business School Press, 2006):

The term business model is often used, but not often clearly defined. My colleague Richard Rosenbloom and I have developed a specific and useful working definition.

The functions of a business model are as follows:

  1. To articulate the value proposition, that is, the value created for users by the offering based on the technology

  2. To identify a market segment, that is, the users to whom the technology is useful and the purpose for which it will be used

  3. To define the structure of the firm's value chain, which is required to create and distribute the offering, and to determine the complementary assets needed to support the firm's position in this chain

  4. To specify the revenue generation mechanism(s) for the firm, and estimate the cost structure and target margins of producing the offering, given the value proposition and value chain structure chosen

  5. To describe the position of the firm within the value network linking suppliers and customers, including identification of potential complementary firms and competitors

  6. To formulate the competitive strategy by which the innovating firm will gain and hold advantage over rivals

When I've seen the derogatory "What's your business model?" question, it's been in regard to #4, revenue generation. They all look important. #5 looks the least fun.

Business models are important!

: Tip: If you're remotely logged in to another computer, use colors or wallpapers to remind you of that.

: Non-Mohammed-Related Cartoons: Thanksgiving with the family, rulebreaking reduction, aspects of your personality.

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: MC Masala on Practice and Skill: Judo, writing, and Carnegie Hall.

There is this thing called kindness, and it includes not eating a Snickers bar in front of a hungry person, and it includes not bragging about your skills in front of people who are trying valiantly to accomplish what you attained, especially if you got there without much effort.

There are comments on the ANG site now. Huh.

: Wanted: An eruv for free speech zones.

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: Testin': We got a test entry here. I'm beginning to post interesting links on Leonard's del.icio.us feed so you can check that out.

: MC Masala Roundup: My recent columns: nutty inventions and October memories. Neither sucks, I believe, but they're both listy. And the latter borrows from some old blog entries.

As you may have noticed, the Open Computing Facility's web and email were down for a bit. They are back up now, thanks to the volunteers, students and alumni both, who run the OCF. Thanks.

(3) : Rebellion: Yesterday Jacob and I joked about mild-mannered acts of rebellion and destructiveness. Examples: staying out past your curfew to play Dance Dance Revolution, only giving your cats the medication they need once a day instead of the recommended twice. Comments are open on this post - ideas?

: Quote of the Day: "There, there. It's ok. There's no baby Nixon."

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: Awesomeness v. Drags: I got acquainted with Stuart Sierra via the NY Tech Meetup and/or Lisp NYC, both of which I can't attend these days because I have class on Tuesday nights. Anyway, he's the coder behind Project Posner, which has lots of cases arranged for your perusal. I suggest doing a query on a profanity to find some interesting ones.

But many cases of sexual harassment involve hostility to female coworkers because they are female. Sometimes it is because the men feel that their macho workplace has been "invaded" by women, whose presence damages the self-esteem that the men derive from thinking they are doing work that only men can do.

Or you could check out the readymade links to interesting cases.

: Quizzified: A US woman has the last name as a pretty durn famous US theologian, and has never heard of him.

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: The Intriguing Darcy Burner: Alexandra Starr's NYT article today called to my attention the race for the House seat in Washington's Eighth District. Darcy Burner is the Democratic challenger.

Some interesting facts about Burner:

  1. She was adopted.
  2. As she wrote, "I expect I may be the first member of Congress to have written code for Unix C and C++ compilers and interpreters."
  3. She used to be a product manager at Microsoft.
  4. She bought and installed her campaign's PBX system.
  5. She plays drums, piano, guitar, and bass.
  6. She has at least a decent grasp of positioning.

    But in order to tell that story, we have to choose. We cannot tell the story of every possible use of a fork. We cannot talk about all of the cool features of the fork ("See how the stainless steel gleams in the light!") in the absence of their direct applicability to something people might do with the fork.

As far as I can tell, even Maria "RealNetworks" Cantwell isn't as techie a politician as Burner is. I'll be keeping an eye on Darcy Burner.

: MC Masala on Diabetes: Why I was wrong when I jested about diabetes a couple of weeks ago.

You see, obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, but just Type II, the type where your body starts resisting insulin. Not only might your body not make enough, but your cells also stop using it effectively.

Did I mention that Type I diabetes is most often diagnosed in children? And that obesity can cause Type II diabetes, but not Type I, and that the overwhelming majority of diabetics in the United States are Type II?

So you can understand why parents wrote me many unhappy letters about my column. I was conflating their children, who had done nothing to deserve their illness, with people like my parents, who have Type II diabetes.

: Greenback-Colored Glasses: The business-y reports we have to write for my Corporate Finance class got to me when I was rereading P. Larkin's "This Be The Verse". The first two lines are "Executive Summary," the second half of the first stanza is "Analysis in Detail," the second stanza is "Historical Considerations," the next two lines are "Summary," and the last two are "Recommendations."

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: Sucker For Covers: If I time it right, I can force thepAvedearth to play song after song by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.

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(1) : Decision Theories: Avoiding Projects Pursued By Morons 101:

There is much made by people who long for the days of their fourth form debating society about the fallacy of "argumentum ad hominem". There is, as I have mentioned in the past, no fancy Latin term for the fallacy of "giving known liars the benefit of the doubt", but it is in my view a much greater source of avoidable error in the world. Audit is meant to protect us from this, which is why audit is so important.

Avoiding hiring morons:

If the basic concepts aren't so easy that you don't even have to think about them, you're not going to get the big concepts....

You see, if you can't whiz through the easy stuff at 100 m.p.h., you're never gonna get the advanced stuff.

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: Best Juror Ever: Seth Schoen's been placed on a jury. Man, Seth would be the best juror ever. I worry a tiny bit that he'll have a Matthew Baldwin experience ("reading an entire book on the scientific method just prior to this trial was not one of my better decisions"), but only because Seth is one of the fairest, smartest, most thoughtful people I know.

: Preparation: Since the family finds it useful: my wishlist.

Sometime I'll update the music portion of that list. Beirut and Belle & Sebastian should be on there. And I may end up buying everything Jonathan Coulton does. I just discovered "Dance, Soterios Johnson, Dance", which bookends my meditations on Bob Edwards.

(3) : Geek Visit: My acquaintance Aaron Swartz is visiting NYC this weekend and staying with me & Leonard. We'd never quite gotten around to seeing each other after Leonard and I moved to the East Coast, so now he's visiting New York for the first time, before moving to San Francisco. His Cambridge-based startup company just got acquired by Conde Nast -- hence the move.

Aaron's a shy hacker. What in New York and environs should he see this weekend? Open for comments.

: Autumn: "Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them. Come back to work -- and life."

: Quote of the Day: "I was trying to determine your role. Are you a baby or a dinosaur? Those are the only two options."

Filed under:

: MC Masala on Election Experiences: I used to work for a state senator. I watched the election returns come in live several times. And I used to be more avid about day-to-day horse races than I am now. This week's column includes the "creaminess" incident.

: In Response To Reddit Speculation: I wrote something on the Business of Software forum that bears reposting here:

I'm not about to try to sell or buy a startup, so there's no point in me speculating about Reddit's sale price, and I have basically zero information about the sale, so I wouldn't even be able to speculate beyond hand-waving conjecture.

But the original question: what did Reddit do right? It cost little to develop. Reddit got a bare-bones service up and running quickly and improved it in quick iterations based on user feedback. That's straight Grahamism/best 21st-century practices, isn't it?

A person above noted that sites that get eyeballs get acquired, even if they're not "products." Microsoft bought Hotmail.com (then HoTMaiL, remember?) nine years ago. So products blending with services blending with sites is not new. It doesn't seem that useful to ask, "should I build a product or a service?" Rather: "what architecture will best help fill this particular user desire?"

Hey, NewsGator bought NetNewsWire (Ranchero), too. It's not like desktop apps are dead.

In other news, Aaron left yesterday evening, having visited Fog Creek, Central Park, the Brooklyn Transit Museum, the Brooklyn Bridge, Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, various acquaintances of his, Columbia University, and probably other places. We were able to introduce him to Sac's Pizza on Broadway in Astoria, which we could easily eat four times a week. How much could I get on eBay for a toothbrush he's used? People at Digg could buy it for voodoo purposes.

: On Voting, From The Joel On Software Forum: "It's like a potluck, man. Do I like making cheesy potatoes? No. It takes me an hour. I dislike cooking. But if I'm going to eat everyone elses dishes, it's only right that I participate in the team and bring my own."

: Quote Of The Day: "He has, y'know, integrity."
"Yeah, see where that'll get him."
"I'll tell you what it's not gonna get him: LEGO Mindstorms."

Filed under:

: Rockin' Montage: OK, this officially replaces Arrested Development as my primary video association with the pop song "Freedom". Astonishingly well-put-together for a YouTube political advocacy music video.

: An Election Night Thought: Let me just say, Leonard and I agree that what happened this election cycle (most obviously, the Democrats retaking the House of Representatives) would not have happened without the leadership of Howard Dean at the DNC. He made sure that every state had a functional Democratic Party. For reference: Matt Bai's "The Inside Agitator." Dean had the patience, the will, and the stubbornness to nurture his 50-state strategy, looking beyond the urgent to the important, and that's reaping its rewards right now.

: Media Artifacts: The new candidate for US Secretary of Defense gave an interview to Frontline about the White House's planning behind the first Gulf War. The scene with the fireplace seems so sitcom. In any case, I'm looking forward to learning more about Robert Gates. Please, please, please let him be reality-based.

And for fun today: when Miss Piggy had a weird interview.

(2) : The Hoodie And The Hijab: So the new attitude in the United Kingdom is that if you want to shield your face from view, by wearing a hooded sweater or a veil, burqa, niqab, etc, this could ONLY BE because you want to make trouble. Haven't the British already had ample opportunities to learn that when you irrationally oppress people, you radicalize them?

: Bookworm & Sandworm: Man, Diana Abu-Jaber's next book won't be out for another year. To tide me over, I reread my interview with her from last year.

Do you watch television at all?

I kind of watch vicariously through Mr. Scott. He sits in the living room, I sit in my office, supposedly working, but usually playing computer solitaire, and I hear him in the other room laughing. And then, when something's really good, he'll go, "Honey, you gotta see this!" So I'll go running in there, and usually it's South Park or it's Survivor, or -- oh, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. I watch that a lot. Yeah. Yeah, I love that show. But I don't like it as much - Queer Eye for the Straight Girl, do not like as much.

Really? What makes it not as good? The team that's making them over?

I don't feel like that particular cadre has quite got it down the way the Fab Five does. I feel like -- I'm sorry, I'm getting a little esoteric here.

That's quite all right! No, this is exactly the sort of hip, edgy, high-culture/low-culture combination that Saucy is built to create.

Other stuff in the interview -- cooking, writing habits, and what it's like living in Portland vs. Miami. Saucy seems defunct, but Bookslut has a Brian K. Vaughan interview this month.

Upon rereading the Abu-Jaber interview, I missed working in a bookstore, where we talked about books and authors all the time, engaging in the discourse of literature. Sometimes at Fog Creek we talk about books, fiction and non, but as with so many conversations I've had over the past year, I have to swim upstream against binary dichotomies and dismissiveness. Even at Cody's Books in Berkeley, California, the snobbish side of indieness never came out this much.

Benjamin has commented on my habit of assuming my colleagues have read certain books, ones I consider classics (Ender's Game, The Left Hand of Darkness, Jane Eyre). Often they haven't. And I've never seen Zoolander or played Halo. But I read more contemporary comic books than any of the nerds here. Just last night I bought an Action Philosophers, a mashup MST3K-y book called "What Were They Thinking?!", and an issue of "Bit Torment," whose title is the best part of it.

I'd like to believe I'm the Russian Lit Major but I need to bone up way more on tech. In the meantime I can talk about books and Star Trek with Leonard. Currently reading Diane Duane's I'm-told-it's-a-classic Spock's World, which he recommends. Pretty good.

Filed under:

: Quote Of The Day: Right after the sysadmin solves a five-hour problem with an obscure SQL Server command (sp_updatestats):

Me: Is that something you have to do manually, or something that it automatically updates every once in a while?

System Administrator: I'm not sure. I'd have to do some research on that. I wish I could give you a real, scientific answer on that right now --

Me: We don't hire you for science. We hire you for Black Art.

Filed under:

: I Haven't Read Any Scott McCloud Yet: You may have noticed that my column runs on Sundays, while it used to run on Thursdays. This means that it's no longer in the same section as the comics. Not that I read newspaper comics much anymore, but I'd probably pony up for a "Zits" or "Get Fuzzy" collection.

When I was a kid, reading the comics as I ate breakfast before heading to the bus stop, I was fond of "Zits" and "Foxtrot." I saved them for last. I eventually developed a theory of comic strips: the more punch lines in the last panel, the better they were. The likes of "Shoe" or "B.C." has maybe one punchline per strip. "Dilbert," "Zits," and "Foxtrot" have two. "Get Fuzzy" will have three or more punchlines per strip. "Luann" or "The Born Loser" has about zero. Like "The Family Circus," "The Lockhorns" and "Born Loser" often start off disadvantaged in this metric, with their single-panel nature. At least "They'll Do It Every Time" and "The Family Circus" try innovations in divvying up that one panel.

Nowadays, I get comics off the web and in graphic novels and comic books. I'll probably write a recommendation list for a column soon. The Comics Curmudgeon provides me with funny-paper snark.

And have I mentioned that "Bit Torment" is a terrible comic book?

Filed under:

(1) : MC Masala on Sketch And Standup: Zed, I paraphrase you in this one.

My guess: It takes so much effort to write and hone a skit that too many writers and actors are reluctant to give up on a subpar one.
Filed under:

(1) : Fictional Wikipedia Categories: Fictional eggplants | Famous complaints | Excel spreadsheets | Times of day | This animal can talk

Filed under:

(1) : Flippant Snippets: The best of Overheard in the Office includes firings, drug tests, blasphemy, ninjas, Ann Coulter, complaint, employee recognition, and delighting your customers. I have submitted a couple but they aren't headsmack enough.

Filed under:

: Making Me Feel Better About My Personal Safety Weaknesses: Protected by the Secret Service, one of President Bush's daughters still gets her purse stolen in Buenos Aires.

: Media Consumption: I've seen a spate of movies recently. Casino Royale I saw with my sister as part of our ongoing Bond movie tradition, started a decade ago during a bored week in India. Man, there are a lot of Bond movies. It's a good brand. And I liked Casino Royale, as much as or more than a lot of folks have. I even thought the opening title sequence was elegant and rhetorically effective.

Also loved Stranger Than Fiction, which has some stuff in common with Adaptation, although evidently if you say that to someone who's taken one screenwriting class he'll talk your ear off about how different they are and how you can't even begin to comprehend all the in-jokes and meta-jokes and subtleties of Adaptation unless you've read McKee's Story, etc. I liked Adaptation -- little did I know I wasn't qualified to like it! Stranger Than Fiction has some stuff in common with it, just as eXistenz and The 13th Floor and the Matrix flicks have something in common, and The Truman Show and EdTV did.

Stranger is a kinder film than Adaptation. I can't remember whether it's a funnier one. I might be turning into a Will Ferrell fan, since I adored Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

Borat is basically exactly what you expect if you read the hype. It is cruel, it is funny, it has ethics implications, etc.

Sacha Baron-Cohen, who plays Borat, is one of the folks in the Salon sexy men list, and one of the items that doesn't strike a chord with me. Evidently Stephen Colbert has quite the following and I can understand that.

Currently listening to Bunnie Huang's lecture on reverse engineering, and wishing I could be there to see Seth's talk next week.

: Selected Cat And Girl: Sometimes I feel like Ozymandias and sometimes I feel like the hot dog is ignoring me.

Filed under:

: Yay Thanksgiving: Susie and John are visiting us for the week of Thanksgiving. Also visiting: Susie's unborn child, "Beet." Yesterday Susie and Leonard put together a nice spread. Folks chose from a whole chicken, gravy, dressing (a.k.a. stuffing cooked outside the bird), fresh cranberry sauce, string beans, carrots, mashed sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and several pies/tarts (pear, apple, chocolate pecan).

I haven't been feeling much gratitude lately, so it is a good thing to perform a gratitude overview. I am grateful for the loving and functional family. I am thankful for my new job and the painful and challenging lessons I'm learning because of it. I am thankful for the recent election results. I am grateful that I enjoy the abundance that weighed down our table. And I am thankful that, when the bad moods come, they do go away, even if in their midst I feel as though they will never pass.

: How To Get Off Mailing Lists: It's always a good time to link to Seth's list of ways to stop getting junk mail, credit offers, and junk telemarketing calls. For free or for the price of a stamp you can substantially reduce the physical and aural spam in your life.

: Charity Navigator: As it turns out, a frequent-user points system that gives me points to use towards gift cards, cheap appliances, etc. has added charitable contributions to its stable. I just used it and Charity Navigator to decide to give some "free" money to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Charity Navigator provides tips for holiday giving as well as a top ten list of big ol' charities. Obvious-in-retrospect: it is better to concentrate giving on a few trusted charities that align with your big goals, so that you don't get on a bunch of lists and waste charities' money on sending you junk mail, and so that your money makes a bigger difference. The head of Charity Navigator has a fun and cranky blog that'll give you more of the charity-world skinny.

: Music: Note to self: investigate Rilo Kiley. Also Goldfinger.

: Conflations: Six-year-old me: Jimmy Carter and Johnny Carson. Current me: Victor Davis Hanson and Victor Garber ("Alias" actor).

: MC Masala on Trust & Dating: "I do not want to tell you this."

I iterated through guys, always turning to the next fellow and understanding why Mr. X-1 could never have been right for me, always fighting the last war. The Dave Barry fan, the libertarian, the Seinfeld fan, the role-playing gamer.

: TiVo = 48-Pack of Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups: My hometown paper, the Stockton Record, is now "The Record: First In San Joaquin!" Like many papers, they had lots of forgettable strips, and a few likeable ones. The neat trick is that this formulation works no matter who you are, because you might like "Mary Worth" and "Gil Thorp" while I'm a fan of "Beetle Bailey." (I'm not.) TV has hundreds of channels and 48 half-hour slots in the day, while the ordinary newspaper funnies page has to satisfy just as diverse a demographic with twenty syndicated strips. Pop quiz: would you rather buy the variety pack, or just the flavor you like best? I think the chocolate Carnation Instant Breakfast, like "Zits," was better because it was next to the vanilla (or "Garfield").

: Tech Concerns Great And Small: David Stutz's essay on commoditization, software platforms, and the law of "the conservation of attractive profits" reminds me: software is profitable when it is flawed. This is because flawed software allows you to charge for bugfixes and new features, and because flawed software is an indication that the state of the art does not yet solve customers' needs, so they are hungry and it's a seller's market.

Today I've been working with Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio Express for the first time. This is actually my first time getting my hands dirty with any of the Microsoft database management applications; I've used phpMyAdmin to talk to a MySQL database, but that's all. Microsoft has a reputation for doing exactly what Stutz is talking about. Create a barely adequate product and get people using it, charge them for upgrades, and create a strong network effect barring market entry. Turn your technology into the platform that other people build on, by default. Collect rent.

But my recent experiences with IIS, SQL Server, and other grown-up-ish Microsoft technologies are cooling my old Slashdottian zealotry. I'm like Randy Waterhouse reluctantly recommending Windows NT to his oral surgeon. Troubleshooting in Windows involves undocumented API changes, wizards that improperly wiz, and unchecked-by-default checkboxes nested four deep in configuration dialogs. But Unix troubleshooting involves poorly documented application changes, path and permission trip-ups, and dependency hell spanning kernel, utilities, and the million micro-layer tools that connect it all. I don't know which I prefer, and that's weird to me.

I haven't gathered enough data yet to tell whether I prefer phpMyAdmin to SQL Server Management Studio, although a few inherent advantages of desktop-based apps over web apps might prevail here (see the last few paragraphs of my boss's lament).

Pop quiz: does the CREATE TABLE query that makes a table with a composite primary key (a tuple in this case) include the crucial word COMPOSITE in it anywhere? The answer is no! In case you're flipping through Ben Forta's SAMS book Teach Yourself SQL in 10 Minutes, Second Edition, you might find this useful:

	order_num	INTEGER		NOT NULL References Orders(order_num),
	order_item	INTEGER		NOT NULL,
	prod_id		CHAR(10)	NOT NULL References Products(prod_id),
	quantity	INTEGER		NOT NULL,
	item_price	MONEY	NOT NULL
PRIMARY KEY (order_num, order_item)

That might only work in SQL Server Management Studio, though.

I use various applications that call themselves "managers." SQL Server Management Studio, Adobe Download Manager, Mozilla's Profile Manager, what have you. They aggregate and maintain functionality and they're useful. But their names make it sound as though "managing" software is just a matter of checkboxes in the here and now, and not messy strategizing towards an unseeable horizon.

Filed under:

: The Incoming Democrats' Promise: The opposition, coming into power, must always promise that the cycle will not continue, and that the opposition of the future will not need such outrage as has just given them the reins.

: Work On The Democracy Player in Worcester, MA: Incredibly awesome job available!

: A Sense Of History: I was reminded of things that have happened in the last nine years, and happened to mention to Joel that I've known Seth for about that long. And then I ran across Alexei's old diary from Japan in 2001.

If you ever get a chance to take the monorail in Tokyo, please, by God, do it. I felt like I was five years old, my face pressed to the window pane, watching as Tokyo, the real Tokyo, jewel-bright and faster than light, unfolded in front of me...

It sounds dumb, but something about today (we didn't do anything out of the ordinary) just failed to terrify me....

This place is so internally contradictory that it tends to defy description. Just about any statement that I can make about Japan, I can either negate or contradict and the statement is still true...

It can be nice to think about the long-term, backward and forward.

(1) : MC Masala on Comics:

I eventually developed a theory of comic strips: The more punchlines in the last panel, the better they were. The likes of "Shoe" or "B.C." have maybe one punchline per strip. "Dilbert," "Zits" and "Foxtrot" have two. "Get Fuzzy" will have three or more punchlines per strip. "Luann" or "The Born Loser" have about zero.

"The Family Circus," "The Lockhorns" and "Born Loser" often start off disadvantaged in this metric, with their single-panel format. At least "They'll Do It Every Time" and "The Family Circus" try innovations in divvying up that one panel.

There's more here but I figured I should provide you a list of links to the gateway webcomics I recommend in the article.

Filed under:

: Epistemology, Utilitarianism: Sometimes I ask, "Is this true?" Sometimes I ask, "Is this useful?" But in either case I wonder whether my actions are true or useful.

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: Cylonmania: By all rights, Caterina Fake is a Cylon name. But she's real and her last name gets her into trouble when automated systems think she's, well, fake. Others chime in with hilarious name difficulties.

Speaking of Battlestar Galactica -- if you're willing to give up a lot of personal information, you can view a big episode on the big screen a day before it airs.

: Classes Update: I just finished taking a class with Arthur Langer at Columbia. I'm almost done with the Corporate Finance class with Charissa Asbury (sadly, no appropriate link exists) -- just one assignment left to turn in.

Asbury taught us the basics of corporate finance, starting with the basics of Net Present Value, and ending up with a simple application of the Black-Scholes option pricing model. Professor Langer tried to teach us to think about technology development from a variety of business/organizational perspectives. His theory of Responsive Organizational Dynamism was in there, along with various stories about his days back before he was a muckety-muck.

(2) : Nerdy Party Game: Possibly the new Googlewhacking! One person looks at a Wikipedia entry that's in several categories and reads them off. The other person has to guess the person, place, or thing. Example:

Articles with large trivia sections | English actors | English film actors | English stage actors | English Americans | English American actors | Best Actor Academy Award nominees | Bisexual actors | People from Bristol | Naturalized citizens of the United States | 1904 births | 1986 deaths | People known by pseudonyms | Hollywood Walk of Fame

I think I'd have to hear about eight of those to correctly guess.

A few other good candidates: here, here, here, here, and here.

: Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms: Pick Two: This week's MC Masala advertises neither alcohol nor tobacco nor firearms nor fish nor game. It's just a consumeriffic "offbeat holiday gifts" tip sheet.

Soap might seem old hat, but it's new to me. Lots of people give special scented soap. My freshman year of high school was the first time a friend gave me a bath soap basket for Christmas. I wondered for weeks whether she was trying to tell me I smelled bad. The Irish Spring in my shower disappeared in a week as I scrubbed like a post-"Fear Factor" Lady Macbeth. But now I understand that if people want to passive-aggressively tell you that you stink, they'll put a plastic ribbon on a big bottle of Dial and leave it on your desk, and not shell out for artfully arranged shells.

As long as you're spending money on holiday stuff, you should read the Frontline credit expose, even if you've seen it before.

Seen in a Garment District shop window today: various signs, handwritten and printed. "Sale," "Going out of business," "Must sell inventory," "We're serious."

: Buttons Being Pressed, Sleeves Being Ravelled: I've been hanging out with people and going new places recently and you can read my husband's site for details if you so choose. Not feeling so hot. "Does anyone have anything worth saying anymore?"

(2) : Cheery: Woke up today grumpy and Leonard cheered me up by making up songs and playing them on the guitar. Then I bought four cans of Herdez Salsa Ranchera and ate the whole thing with bread and chips at work this morning. Perspiring, and feeling much better! On the Irish national standardized test:

The week of those exams, I dreamed I was flying. It marked the height of my sense of competence; the time when I was good at what the whole country seemed to value as the most important thing in life. In secondary school I knew exactly what was expected, and it barely troubled me to deliver it. I had a butter-wouldn't-melt demeanor and the only key to a school costume room, and most days I skipped a few classes there with selected pals. Schoolwork came so easily to me that I expected everything else to, and so when it turned out that I lacked natural talent at the violin, I refused to practice. Because I was uncoordinated, I dossed PE class every chance I could, and barely tapped a volleyball when I did show up. When I came fifth instead of first in a national school fiction contest, I gave up writing short stories.

It took a long time to unlearn this refusal to fail.

And of course, to my disappointment, life has been nothing like school. Only one company -- whose obsession with SAT scores pointed to their eventual implosion -- ever asked for my Leaving Cert results. In the self-inventing industries of the last ten years, there were no set texts.

There's a note at the end about Paul Graham. I want to write a scathing essay on why Paul Graham's notes make my blood boil, but no one would listen and it wouldn't change anything, including the temperature of my blood.

But the salsa has cheered me.

Filed under:

: Applying Capsaicin Topic: Today I ate most of a small can of sliced pickled jalapeno peppers. A colleague commented that I looked flushed. Yes, I'm fine. Hoo boy.

Filed under:

(1) : Inspiration: Kevan Davis has set up an online game that I inspired.

John Donaldson is the awesome prof who gave us a lecture on Black-Scholes option price modeling. Incidentally, despite what some may tell you, neither Excel nor Gnumeric nor OpenOffice nor Google Spreadsheets have built-in functions for pricing call options using Black-Scholes. Bah! How are we supposed to figure out whether Google's corporate governance is failing?

: Two MC Masala Columns: Tips on small talk and my experience seeing "The Daily Show" get taped. Mildly entertaining.

Filed under:

: Misc: "It's usually difficult for vegetarians to vindictively order the most expensive thing on the menu."

Also: Remember that bit in the Mahabharata where Yudhisthira makes an opponent believe that the opponent's son has died by naming an elephant the same name as the kid and then killing the elephant? Then he can say, factually but misleadingly, "Ashwattama, the elephant, is dead."


Also: people got me very nice gifts for Christmas! For example, Susie and John got me a cute wooden bookmark with an igloo on it, and Rachel got me a cool book that's part of the Open University curriculum. And Leonard gave me a bunch of stuff and I'm embarrassed. Yay non-wimpy paper shredder!

Paul Ford, Paul Ford, Paul Ford.

The Brazilian dub of "Perfect Strangers" said that Balki was from Brazil. Fan protest got "Mr. Belvedere" uncancelled in 1987.

The Cheesecake Factory, a force for peace.

: Consumption & Responsibility: Saw The Devil Wears Prada (intriguing) and Rushmore (sort of slight, actually, after all the buildup) for the first time this weekend. Saw Brick for the second time (still awesome). Saw Rock And Awe: Countdown to Guitarmageddon (i.e. the last episode of the year of The Colbert Report) for the first, second, and third times. Hoo boy, what a show!

More end-of-year linkage: feminist anger, defusing it, and responsibility.

: Swingline, Sweet Stapler: A sensical-in-context quote from a friend: "I feel like Milton in Office Space, but people are piling staplers on my desk."

More Miltonage.

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(1) : Overdose: I just stayed up a wee bit too late, waiting for the Internet to work again and finishing up In the Company of Cheerful Ladies and Blue Shoes and Happiness. Blink, blink. I bet my mom would like them.

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: MC Masala on Sister-Sister Talk: MC Masala this week is something I actually like. My dad used to say that the private or inexplicable conversations between me and my sister were "sister-sister talk." This column has some of that flavor.

On Saturdays in Stockton, we waited half an hour after our parents left for prayer rituals, then sneaked off to the S-Mart for videos, licorice ropes (me) and cookie dough (her). We picked one film each, and like Grade Point Averages, our Video Point Averages went up or down as our choices turned out great ("Clueless") or horrible ("Article 99"). And then there was the time I rented "Glengarry Glen Ross" and our parents came home and heard the cussing and never let me finish. Maybe I'd actually understand that movie now.

I rode the subway with my sister the day after Christmas, delivering her to her bus back to D.C., marveling that she can make me laugh as no one else can. We've been hanging out for 20-odd years, watching movies good and bad, entertaining ourselves on long car rides and making up play universes for those long afternoons when we were too young to sneak off to S-Mart.

(1) : Jonathan Coulton Song Reminds Me Of Leonard Blog Entries: "The Future Soon" reminds me of

"Oh but it's not the future yet Giblets" you say, "You just need to wait til the video of the present becomes the kitchen of the future." Maybe it was the present this afternoon but now it's the future and still no kitchen!

Coulton is sort of an uncredited coauthor of John Hodgman's career. Leonard just bought and read Hodgman's The Areas of My Expertise while I was finishing Asimov's Foundation and Empire and starting on Second Foundation. I ended up taking a New Year's Eve nap.

I used to lurve Asimov. I used to be a twelve-year-old girl. Susan Calvin is, after all, cranky and brilliant and awesome, sort of Housian. It's only after growing up and trying to read stuff written between 1942 and 1953 that I feel the datedness. People untold centuries from now talk and act like middle-class white US men from the 1950s, as though the most revolutionary technology only inserted the word "space" into our sentences and grew tobacco on Vega instead of in Virginia. I know, it's supposed to be a retelling of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but still. At least Battlestar Galactica is nearly self-parodying in its present-referentiality, without as much self-indulgent wish-fulfillment.

Cause it's gonna be the future soon
And I won't always be this way
When the things that make me weak and strange get engineered away
It's gonna be the future soon
I've never seen it quite so clear
And when my heart is breaking I can close my eyes and it's already here

Nonetheless: Happy New Year!

Filed under:

: I Am Not A Janus: Leonard reassured me that the baby Nixon did not exist and look who's talking now!

Filed under:

: Phrases With The Same Rhythm As "Blister In The Sun":



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