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: Toot!: Hearing fireworks. Hoping this'll be an awesome year.


: Night Of Sociability: The NYC sci-fi/fantasy Meetup had a meetup last night and I went and had a great time. It was nice to exercise my conversational skills and share cultural touchstones with people I'd never met but got to know really fast. One of them laughed at ALL my jokes, which seals the deal.

Another participant was an anarchist bisexual polyamorous early-adopter abandoned-New-York-spelunking black-choker-wearing gal who looks like a female Zack Weinberg. I told her I'd been looking for her for a year, ever since I moved here. San Francisco hasn't abandoned me!


: Hal's Torments: Is it okay to read "Strawberry Marshmallow"?


: Discovery: Llewellyn Hinkes is John Darnielle!


: Ill: Sore throat. Leonard is feeding me herbal tea and Sickbed Soup. I'm watching Sports Night and honestly thinking about buying Kenny Byerly's book.


(1) : Horrifying Realizations: Are you ever just doing something inane, like websurfing or vomiting or trying to get a DVD player to recognize a disc, when you find yourself thinking of some mediocre, forgettable movie from ten years ago, like Multiplicity or that one romcom with Matthew Perry, and you begin to suspect that not only did you see it, all of it, but you think you saw it in the theater?


: MC Masala on Melancholy/New Year's: Sunsets, darkness, etc.

Good sunrises remind me of melted Popsicles, pink and liquid and sweet. The sunsets that bathe my office at 4:30 in the afternoon have nothing sweet about them. I'm too far from a window to watch the light disappear over and into New Jersey, but I can sense the malevolent rippling of the deadbeat winter sun from the splashes of red on our blue and green walls.


: Discoveries: I've used the phrase "the cult of authenticity" many times; I didn't realize that I didn't make it up. Vikram Chandra did, in a long and interesting piece from seven years ago in the Boston Review.

Whatever you do felicitously will be Indian. It cannot be otherwise. If Bholenath speaks to you, put him in your painting, or your story. The inevitable fact that some reader in New Jersey will find Bholenath's tiger skin and matted hair "exotic" is wholly irrelevant. To be self-consciously anti-exotic is also to be trapped, to be censored. Be free.

Also, Peter Krause resembles my old boss. No picture of him there; never mind.

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: Slap in the Face: The first post that popped up in my RSS reader this morning: Scott Rosenberg's "Bush exercises the Cambodia option in Iraq".

As of yesterday the Bush administration has definitively moved from the phase of "let's pretend to explore all our options honestly, given how badly things have gone" to the phase of "let's do everything we can to change the game with reckless expansion of the war that we now realize we've pretty much lost, so we don't have to admit that we've lost it."


: MC Masala on Sorkin, Fannishness, and Salad: My column this week has some reminiscing and some meditation on entertainment.

I thought I was a fan, even fanatical. But it turns out that Sorkin's work doesn't actually reward deep fannishness. "Star Trek," like sci-fi in general, soap operas, professional sports and opera, rewards sustained watching. The more you learn about the domain, the more you get out of it. There's a learning curve, but once you get past the first few episodes or games, you start to appreciate nuances.

But "Sports Night" and Sorkin's other work reward the casual viewer more than they reward, say, the gal sick at home who's blowing through six DVDs in two days. It's chocolate mousse, not lasagna. Continued attention only reveals the unbalanced, unfulfilling homogeneity of the thing.

The entertainment that rewards the dedicated fan more than it offers the casual viewer gets a weird rap in our society. Sci-fi fans are nerds, classical fans are snobs, and who knows what people think of soap opera fans. It's as though enjoying something that requires an investment scares everyone else, makes them worry that they're missing out on something. So, if we can't tell from the outside whether a five-minute clip is a boring bit or a deep meditation on the essence of the form, then we stick a "weird" label on it and shy away.

So, Zed, I did get your email about Sorkin! It is a measure of my horribleness as a correspondent that it is easier for me to turn my response into a column than it is for me to simply frickin' reply.


(1) : Viscount Walbrook: This week: classes at Columbia start, but I'm still hitting the Bluestockings reading on Tuesday of She's Such a Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff and the Thursday opening of Mike Daisey's monologue "Invincible Summer".

Miscellaneous: If you are a Smoking Popes fan, then you might also like Duvall, since it has at least one of the same singers. On a Muslim getting to vote in a US election for the first time. Are you making any Time Friends comics? I'm halfway through Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, the first of the Baroque Cycle trilogy, and it's a lot of fun.


: Bad Relationship: Established doctors' offices face new competition from quick clinics at drugstores & big-box stores that dispense flu shots, etc. Unlike the RIAA, physicians don't try to legislate new competition out of existence, but argue on the merits and try to adapt.

I have never been to a quick-care clinic, retail clinic, convenient care clinic, what have you, but I am already a huge fan of the concept. Any innovation in health care that makes it more convenient to do the quick and easy stuff is one I can applaud.

Rockville parent Meredith Salamon is inclined to agree. Dropping into a MinuteClinic in a nearby CVS pharmacy last month to get flu shots for four of her five children, she says she was in and out in 15 minutes. "The cost was good, and the location was good, so it was easy and quick," she said. By contrast, she says, the family's more expensive traditional doctor "kept running out" of flu vaccine and keeps inconvenient hours.

....

"Many patients would like to get in to see their primary care physician, but when they call, there is no appointment available," [Anne Pohnert, MinuteClinic's manager of operations for the Washington area] says. Choosing an urgent care center or emergency facility may involve "a long wait and considerably more cost," she adds. "We believe that a visit to MinuteClinic instead of an ER on a Friday evening for a five-minute strep test is a win-win for patients and insurers trying to save time and health-care costs."

Traditional practitioners complain/worry that the new clinics have poor follow-up with patients' primary care physicians, and that long-term stuff won't get done:

"Parents may say, 'It's just a sore throat,' " explains Corwin, a practicing pediatrician in Rochester, N.Y. But those sore throat visits, he says, are a pediatrician's "vehicle to continue developing the relationship with the family."

Van Vleck agrees: "When I see a kid for a sore throat, I get to go through their chart. If they have a little bit of scoliosis I might check their spine. I will check their immunization record. We go over the record, and we try to go over what's going on besides the sore throat, or besides the ear infection."

So it sounds like the worry is, if people keep going to the 15-minute convenient clinics and never spend the time to go to their doctors for physicals, they won't get long-term preventive care, or form the long-term trust bonds with their doctors that doctors need. But I get something like 15 minutes of my doctor's time twice a year anyway, with maybe a minute (if I specifically ask!) on preventive care. And what with insurance changes and moving, it's been a different doctor every year. You want a relationship with me? How about answering the phone if I call, day or night? How about seeing me when I need it, day or night, within a day? How about locating yourself near public transit so it doesn't take half a day to get to your office and back? And if the traditional medical establishment wants this "relationship" too, how about single-payer healthcare so I can keep my doctor if I change my job, and so I can see you regularly, instead of making the health/copay tradeoff?

We used to make jokes about the horrible usability at the Department of Motor Vehicles. US health care has the worst usability of any major industry or agency. If you think government agencies are bureaucratic and inefficient, look at health care insurers, who make money every time they can force you to pay for something you thought they covered in their labyrinthine policy. There's an answer. Gladwellian goodness here.

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: Busy Begins...Now: Classes have started at Columbia. I'm taking a class in emerging technologies with Jack McGourty, a dean at the school of engineering. I foretell no boredom. My team is starting to think about a failed technology to study (the more recent the better) (can I just say "Blu-Ray" already?) and an emerging technology to study. The team's interests include privacy, energy, literature/film, and financial systems; suggestions are welcome.

I've been trying to get out of the habit of mindlessly polishing off my RSS feeds in the morning. It keeps me from getting to work on time, it scrambles the brain, and it's better as a relaxing activity at night. But this morning I couldn't sleep and woke up way early and found some stuff you might like.

Hal's the dungeon master for the Dungeons & Dragons game I'm in. If you're into literary quotes, hoo boy is his blog for you. A few days ago he mused on his experiences with society, friends, and moral standards. A grain of salt is in the comments.

Today's Achewood comic strip includes a golden put-down for the strategically disinclined.

Hugo Schwyzer's "Another post on marriage, social policy, choice and necessity" articulates:

How great and glorious it would be, the right fantasizes, if we could transfer the social costs of caring for the vulnerable away from the public and back on to the shoulders of wives and mothers!

In the ensuing discussion, different people differ strongly in answering the question: Which is more coercive, the family or the government?

Yay, an Indian-American making a stand for due process! Yes, I give a special little cheer when I see members of my clubs (Indian-Americans, women, Americans, geeks, etc.) Doing The Right Thing.

I often post one-off links in the del.icio.us feed that Leonard and I share and always tag them sumana, in case that interests you. That feed is more tech.


: Not-So-Durable Goods: OK, a few NYT links and then a commentary. Paris and relationships, anorexia and struggle, and Michael Lewis's classic "The Satellite Subversives". Oh, and I'll also throw in Adam K.'s Clifford Pickover parody for no good reason. ("You stomp your right foot in fury, reaching for your cup of delicious coffee. You only drink the best coffee, Jamaican Blue Mountain beans imported for forty dollars per pound.")

So now: "Ordeal by Appliance: Weekend Home Tales" from today's NYT. I had to call Leonard to tell him this line:

Together they collect their clients' complaints like fireflies in a jar until it is bright enough to shine beacon-style in the direction of mainland service providers.

Basically this story is a tale of the New York Times Least Needy Cases, mixed with a "My 3 friends = trend" piece. As Leonard put it, this is a story of people so rich that they own a summer home, and so rich that they buy high-end kitchen appliances for that home -- rich times rich equals megarich. Given that we have a lot of acquaintances, I suggested that we might know someone who has a dacha, and Leonard momentarily thought that Dacha was a brand name.

Now that the desperation of rich people has been brought to light, I figure it's only a matter of time before savvy appliance-service entrepreneurs find a way to squeeze the market with high-end service in summer-home spots at ridiculous prices. Leonard suggested that they charge for travel time, which seems eminently reasonable.

Leonard had another point, though: these people are trying to get old-school high-end country living, which basically requires live-in servants, but we don't really do that anymore in the US unless you're really rich. You can't afford a live-in maid, and you certainly can't afford a live-in appliance fixer. The labor is too expensive and too specialized.

Another unanswered question: Why are these high-end appliances such crap that they're breaking all the time? Possible answers: they aren't actually, it's just a few anecdotes (Leonard); they're shiny gadgets meant more to impress than to work reliably (Sumana); improper use by wealthy idiots (Leonard); installation in creaky old houses with weird pipes, electricity, water, etc. that's not up to code (Sumana); unhealthy patterns of use, like "unused for 9 months then continuously working for 3" (Leonard).

One woman, tired of her Viking dishwasher breaking every December when guests came by, said, "We finally ripped the dishwasher out and replaced it with a KitchenAid." Not only will she get parts and service more easily, it probably won't break as much, even though it's cheaper. Reliability (like usability, and shipping) is a feature! Shouldn't a huge, top-of-the-line investment in a durable good come with top-of-the-line maintenance service that will fly or drive to you to ensure that feature? My coworker's horrible experiences with Mercedes amaze me in much the same way. How can a company invest so much in a brand, then let it slip away in the follow-up?

A last note. From the article:

Consider the extreme plight of second-home owners in Saltaire, N.Y. The village is on Fire Island off the south shore of Long Island.

Leonard's response: "Oh my God! The village is on Fire! Island."

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: Lyrics To House Fan Song: Compare "Every class period, I will tell you a lie" to "Cattywumpus". The former I don't mind nearly so much. This brings up nagging ethics debates I've had recently with disagreeable people and new friends, and I have to think about it more.

Another source of truth/ethics edge cases is, or was, House, M.D. Did you know that Leonard wrote and we recorded a little song about that show? Here you go. Recently John S. requested the lyrics, so I listened again -- it holds up well! -- and transcribed.

I have consumed too much of a heavy metal
   (Molybdenum)
I harbor an obscure parasite in my small intestine
   (Down by the pool)
Every 15 minutes my condition worsens
   (Commercial for car)
Because I lied about practices some viewers may find disturbing
   (Discretion advised)

Only one man has the basic medical knowledge
Only one man can perform the simple procedure
Only one man can treat me with such contempt

House, M.D.
House, M.D.
Fix what's wrong with me
Fix what's wrong with me
   (Gregory House, M.D.)
Fix what's wrong with me

(House, M.D.) 

House is on some sort of winter interregnum, as is Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. However, tonight new episodes of Uncle Morty's Dub Shack start playing on ImaginAsian. UMDS will probably make me laugh more than Studio 60 does anyway.


(1) : Awesome Things Include:


: MC Masala on Family, Sleep, and Trust: My column this week: in search of lost time.

"Here." She passed me a bottle of water and a tiny envelope with a pill or two inside.

I'd never taken a sedative before, unless you count the warm milk with poppy seeds that Mom used to make for us just before bed.

I swished some water in my mouth and swallowed the medicine as she started the car and turned the corner. We stopped at a stop sign, a stoplight - and then I woke up on the couch in our living room, "Jeopardy!" and the darkness outside the windows telling me it was past 7.


(2) : New Interactive Fiction: Last night Leonard and I played with Alice, a fun learning-to-program package that lets one play with 3D objects. And he and I wrote a small interactive fiction game using Inform 7. It's called "Brrrasaurus!" and you can download and play it if you have any Z5 interpreter, such as Frotz. This is a very good game for IF beginners. The writing credit is mostly mine.


: Ack: So maybe hours of D&D + an hour of Battlestar Galactica + a conversation with my mother (though that was pretty nice) give me bad dreams. Hoo boy, that was dystopian. I also blame "When Sysadmins Ruled The Earth".


(1) : Why Booze Is Safer Than Heroin But More Dangerous Than MDMA: "The Toxicity of Recreational Drugs" by Robert S. Gable explains: for any given drug, there's a dose that's usually lethal, and there's a dose that usually produces a high. How different these doses are, i.e., how much you have to mess up on your dosage to get into trouble, is a good gauge for how toxic the drug is. Booze is actually really bad by this measure; just ten times the effective dose is often a lethal dose. The DARE program I went through decades back talked a lot about the pot/booze/tobacco gateway-drug triumvirate without ever explicitly saying, "Thanks to historical contingency, two of these are legal but restricted, and one is THE DEVIL WEED." The more I find out about the three, the less I like the "one of these things is not like the other" aspect.

Alcohol thus ranks at the dangerous end of the toxicity spectrum.... Indeed, if alcohol were a newly formulated beverage, its high toxicity and addiction potential would surely prevent it from being marketed as a food or drug.

Check the chart. So the tiny 5:1 ratio of Median Lethal Dose to Median Effective Dose is one reason why heroin users are at such risk of dying by OD. And the psilocybin, LSD, and marijuana ratios are much safer:

The least physiologically toxic substances, those requiring 100 to 1,000 times the effective dose to cause death, include psilocybin mushrooms and marijuana, when ingested. I've found no published cases in the English language that document deaths from smoked marijuana, so the actual lethal dose is a mystery. My surmise is that smoking marijuana is more risky than eating it but still safer than getting drunk.

Probably the funniest phrase in the American Scientist article: a section header entitled "Other Ways to Invite Death."

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: MC Masala on Fallibility and Bug Tracking: My column this week remembers a tough bug to reactivate.

Which bug tracker would God use?

It is one of the sillier questions I've asked. In computer programming, we use special programs to keep track of the problems (bugs) we have to fix, because we are not gods. Humans make mistakes writing code, and our memories fail when we try to remember the mistakes to fix them later.

Still, the joke has come up around the lunch table: The imperfections of the world exist because God's not using a bug tracker. Prayers would be feature requests, bug reports or inquiries. "Please help me get this job.""My dad is sick." "Why, God, why?"

Would God want to write the whole bug-tracker from scratch? Well, of course: Anything humans made couldn't possibly work at the scale of billions of users. Would it be bristling with features, or would it be elegant and Apple-esque? Would God track mostly internal maintenance tasks or customer service requests?


: Law & Tech: Eating roasted carrots and reading case law make a good Sunday afternoon. PG&E v. Drayage has a funny smackdown (the "When the court interprets a contract on this basis" paragraph) and a citation of Black's Law Dictionary. Usually I cringe at the brandishing of dictionaries in persuasive writing, but oh yeah, in legal rulings it's meaningful and necessary and useful.

Battlestar Hoedownica begins in a scant few hours!


(1) : Historiography: From The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity, by Roy Porter:

Writing this book has not only made me more aware than usual of my own ignorance; it has brought home the collective and largely irremediable ignorance of historians about the medical history of mankind. Perhaps the most celebrated physician ever is Hippocrates yet we know literally nothing about him. Neither do we know anything concrete about most of the medical encounters there have ever been. The historical record is like the night sky: we see a few stars and group them into mythic constellations. But what is chiefly visible is the darkness.
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: Come On, People: Sometimes the subconscious just phones it in. Doing stand-up comedy about Battlestar Galactica? Sorry, not nearly inventive enough. The only creative element was a Cylon leader, played by Don Cheadle, whom I call "Kofi Cylan."

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: To Optimize Response Speed On MySQL, Follow These Instructions: Just watched Jay Pipes's 45-minute Google TechTalk, "Performance Tuning Best Practices for MySQL". A few points I took to heart:

I've just listed a few of the best tips. If you deal with MySQL for fun or profit, check out the talk.

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: Mac-o! Mac-o!: I got interviewed by Gene Steinberg on The Tech Night Owl LIVE (although it was not LIVE or live). My interview starts around 48:20, but just before it is a highly entertaining ad for Attack of the Rockoids.

Is my voice really that high? Not right now it's not, because I have another cold. Please don't wince too hard at my discussion of ports as "harbors" (Leonard has now kindly corrected me). And let us know what you think of Copilot 2.0.


(2) : London Mid-March: My sister and I will probably be visiting London for about three days in the middle of March. Would anyone there care to put us up? Barring that, could I buy anyone there a cup of tea?


(1) : Newest MC Masala Column: I'm not always right. Still sick.


: Misc: From class yesterday, in "managing emerging technologies":

"I believe that they originally went by Research Associates, or Internet Research Agency. [pause] But that information may be false."

[during a presentation on solar energy in the 20th century] "I heard Monsanto's taking out a patent on the sun."

Yesterday was the first round of failed technology presentations. Betamax, Laserdisc, WebTV, and Carter/Reagan-era solar energy. Fun fact: Philips, a company that has a claim on inventing the VCR, backed neither VHS nor Betamax. They originally went with a format you've never heard of, V-2000.

Tonight I host a Meetup group about web comics at the Skylight Diner on 34th St. Come on down if you like.

Ze Frank tells the clear, bitter truth about procrastination.


: Better: Oh yeah, by the way, my group's presentation went okay, despite the fact that I was out of commission due to illness for four days preceding, so the other folks in my group had to work a zillion times harder. Argh. Leonard reminded me that this is just payback for all the times in school that I carried freeloaders. Still. I'm better now, and networked successfully at the New York Tech Meetup. Gotta crank out this column, though.


: Minimalism: Just got off the column for this Sunday. Something I had to leave out: Mike Daisey wrote about his time at Amazon in his book 21 Dog Years (based on his monologue) and talked about dot-coms and minimalism in architecture for a paragraph.

I don't know what it is about tech companies and exposed ductwork -- they love the stuff. It's as though the building's guts reflect an inner anxiety writ large, so that at any point in the day any of us can look up at the exposed piping and exclaim, "We're so busy, look how hard we're working...oh God, please, we're almost profitable, we're working so hard that we don't have time to cover up these ducts! They had to be exposed! That's how dedicated we are!"
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: Weight And Delay: I've lost a few pounds recently, with no change in my exercise habits, following Michael Pollan's recent advice in the New York Times summing up his recent book The Omnivore's Dilemma. "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." By food, he means real food, not processed food product that people wouldn't recognize as food a hundred years ago.

So, for example, I'll allow myself real sweets, made by Leonard, but not mass-produced candy. And I am reducing my portions, reminding myself that it's fine to be a little bit hungry just as I finish eating. Sometimes I feel full a few minutes later, once my stomach's gotten all the food in.

By "my exercise habits," I mean my relatively sedentary life of walking to and from the subway and pacing on the phone. Workout shows pile up on the TiVo unwatched. I am ashamed.

My pattern in exercise is that I make a prediction/promise about my future actions and keep being surprised by the same pattern over and over. Why is this a surprise? A similar phenomenon I witnessed recently; don't forget that software engineering isn't just typing. It's the creative design doodling, yes, and it's integration, administering your development box, and all the miscellaneous petty stuff too. If it takes you twenty minutes of typing and three days of menial OS problems to get your deliverable to the end user, then the end user still had to wait three days, not just "your" twenty minutes. It's all yours. Especially if you made promises based on the typing time.

So: I should be realistic, and take into account my own stresses and foibles and time constraints. Eating more healthfully doesn't take any more time, so it's easy for me to do.

In fact, it just saved me a few minutes. I was thinking of indulging in a Jell-O "chocolate" pudding cup from the Fog Creek fridge, but looked back and saw that, out of tens of tries, never has a Jell-O pudding cup ever made me feel better. So I didn't. Incremental improvement.


: Approved: Watched The Queen (very good) just before watching Children of Men (oh my word what an excellent thing). Any parallels other than the death of Princess Diana?


(1) : From An Insane Tech Support Call Today: "Lovecraft once wrote a short story called 'At the Mountains of Madness.'"

"I cross those every day!"

"Yeah, we've built a highway through those mountains."

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(2) : Sssssssss: UC Berkeley and Stanford have a rivalry. It took me a few years to grok their friendly rivalry, just as it was amazing the first time I played Jeopardy! with my husband and enjoyed it when he won just as when I did. Stanford and Cal are both good schools, and besides now I have the East Coast school folks to deal with. We merely hissed when Berkeley lecturers mention Stanford; the folks at Duke evidently scream to overpower the speaker's voice if he mentions UNC-Chapel Hill.

"Well, we just hiss to indicate the rivalry, but we don't cut off the speaker's free speech," I explained.

"Mentioning UNC doesn't count as free speech," said Duke-guy.

"What are you, 23?"


(6) : Holidays: Every year I try not to pay attention to Valentine's Day or the Academy Awards, and every year I catch them out of the corner of an eye. They're manufactured fusses, and the more secure you feel the less anxiety you feel about them.


(3) : That's It: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: Jordan + Danny doesn't make sense. A strong, competent, funny woman is going to fall for the plainly incompetent unimaginative junkie stalker? Somehow it's okay for the senior black guy on the staff to ride roughshod over the junior black guy because they have different conceptions of their own blackness? (Like the product placement debate, this was done better and funnier on 30 Rock.) Sorry, Timothy Busfield and Nate Corddry and Amanda Peet and Matthew Perry, I'd like to watch you being funny, but it's not worth it. I didn't watch it this week, and won't. TiVo Season Pass: deleted.

House: It does not make sense for Dr. House to always win. And it gets boring. Forget having strong female characters -- how about strong non-House characters? Interpersonal game theory + one funny line per week does not equal compelling TV. "Three Stories" broke the mold, and it was great, but it's sad that there even is a mold. I didn't watch this week, and won't. TiVo Season Pass: deleted.


: An Exercise: "I think that's how you get stronger, is working through the pain."

"Not if you die!"

"You might fall over, yeah. But that's just ... heightening the contradictions. It's a Leninist model of personal fitness."

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: Phillip Robertson: I used to work at Salon, which means that I got to meet a lot of writers and editors. I had lunch with Cary Tennis a few times, hung out fairly regularly with Page Rockwell and Farhad Manjoo and Katharine Mieszkowski, etc. But the most alien experience was talking with Phillip Robertson.

He's a war correspondent. He didn't seem like an adrenaline junkie when I had lunch with him once or twice. At times I tried to say things like "Stay safe" or "Have you considered not going?" because, as much as I value his reportage, I kind of know him now, so I also value his life and limb.

He was on the ground in Iraq for the turn there from bad to worse. The Salon archives of his stuff comprise half the most memorable work Salon published while I was there. Substantial reading for the weekend.

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(4) : Day Of Activities: Yesterday I took the day off from work to help Leonard get his Indian visa at the Indian consulate. (Later this year he's coming with me to see my parents in India, just before our short vacation in London.) I didn't expect the whole day would be as nice as it was.

If you get to the New York City consulate of India by 8:30 or so, then you don't have to wait too long after the office starts working (by 9:15) to actually get to a service window. They let us into the heated waiting room about 20 minutes early, which I appreciated. (Snow from about ten days ago is still on the ground here.) Leonard's application said he was a writer, and this got his otherwise bog-standard case escalated to "Talk to Mr. Such-and-so on the upper level" status. Aside from that, everything was in order and tediously uneventful.

In between dropping off his application and picking it up at noon, we walked around a bit and ate an unremarkable brunch. Tip: Central Park's zoo doesn't charge you until after you've seen the seals through the iron fence. Also: Lexington in midtown has lots of little interesting shops, where Madison has extremely designed rich-people stores.

We passed two of the nine Oren's Daily Roast locations. Oren's takes in used books to supply schools and libraries in Ethiopia, a coffee exporter.

After we picked up his visa (which takes up a FULL HONKIN' PAGE in his passport, with stamps and glittery stripes and who knows what all), we visited the Make (Meaning) shop and painted a few coasters. Neither of us wanted to do representational art, so they're all abstract: dots, stripes, that sort of thing. Maybe we'll get pictures of them up after we pick them up next week (the store fires them in the shop kiln). Huzzah, they'll be microwave- and dishwasher-safe!

Then, another nonmemorable meal, and homewards, where we watched "How Open Source Projects Survive Poisonous People (And You Can Too)". Leonard's old CollabNet colleagues hosted it, telling stories about ways they kept the Subversion community out of trouble. Recommended.


: Concentration: One of the things I like best about Hugo Schwyzer's blog is that he regularly posts poetry, such as W.H. Auden's "A Walk After Dark." Poetry requires the most concentration of anything that comes into my RSS aggregator, and so reading it gets me closer to understanding my colleagues who read and understand code all day.

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: Did You Mean: I'm reading Roy Porter's book The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity for my class on emerging technologies. My group is studying the introduction of digital patient records, so I'm reading the Porter to give us a historical context for how medical institutions got more bureaucratic, and how processes and institutions changed once we needed/started using charts in the first place.

It's a terrific book, really comprehensive and littered with great anecdotes and quotes, but among the drier texts I've read recently. The past few times I've sat down to read it at length, I've reliably gone 50-75 pages, then conked out. Either I have tremendous sleep deprivation or I'm bored, which means I'm boring (Frances's dictum, "Only boring people are bored").

Yesterday I saw a pattern and exclaimed about it to Leonard. There's some received wisdom that everyone believes because it's traditional, and then someone new comes along and sees with new eyes and makes a new model for how the body works, and there's a flurry of new experimentation and theorizing, and then that model calcifies and becomes the new received wisdom for a few hundred years until the next experimenters come along.

Leonard reminded me that I had basically just reiterated the thesis of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Oh yeah. I read that book, didn't I? Ten years ago.

It's a good thing that we don't have little demons following us around all the time, humbling us with prior art every time we think we've thought up something original. Well, not good for innovation, but good for my personal ego. As Leonard commented (unrelatedly) yesterday, "I never know what sentence that I say is going to throw you into an existential crisis."

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(1) : Ugly Bags of Mostly Water: "What about taking Communion moves you so much?"

In one gesture it sort of sums up the craziness and beauty of human life, which is that you are a soul in a piece of meat, you know? You are a soul in a body. You are bound to other bodies by the fact of your body, by eating and drinking, which are among the most basic human functions. And yet you are also a soul.
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(2) : MC Masala on Blinders: Freaking prejudice! Freaking lack of metacognition! Aaargh!

If our assumptions blind us to what's really going on, how can we make sure we're acting ethically? One example: in sex, in psychology experiments, in drug use, we comfort ourselves with disclaimers about consenting adults.

It is impossible for a virgin to know what sex is like, and the same applies to new drugs or mindbending experiments.

How can you give informed consent to an experience you've never had before?

We are ignorant, not just of facts, but of the models, lenses and architectures we should use to evaluate the facts that we do have. All we can do is be glad when we're disoriented, because right after that comes a measure of enlightenment.


: Fixin' to Go: I'm working on columnness right now so that I won't have to send one in while Leonard and I are away. My most recent published MC Masala: on the history of medicine and perspective.

There was a long period in the 18th and 19th centuries where researchers were making leaps and bounds in theoretical understanding, but it didn't much help patients. Regular doctors, not just scientists, had to understand that bloodletting didn't help and handwashing did; that took a while.

It's just astonishing, the things we take for granted. Vitamins were isolated less than a century ago. The first real blind clinical trial was in 1946, and it pointed to a cure for tuberculosis. Surgeons and doctors used to think of their professions as quite separate; the original Hippocratic oath banned surgery by doctors.

The Hippocratic oath also prohibited doctors from participating in certain euthanasia and abortion methods. (This is so unusual, according to what we know of ancient Greek beliefs, that it makes some historians think it was added later.) But the most surprising item in that old oath is the rule against teaching medicine to students unapproved by one's master.

You might recall my obsession with perspectives from my previous column. Being disoriented means you're making progress. Leonard and I will be visiting Mysore (in Karnataka, India) from the 10th until the 13th, and in London from the 13th until the 16th. I've never been to London before and hope it massively surprises me. I also hope Leonard doesn't get any weird tropical diseases, and that melatonin helps me fight jet lag and not be a jerk. It would also be nice if I didn't get my period during the trip, but that's probably a lost cause.

To see in England: Avedon Carol, Brendan Adkins and his host Kevan Davis. If possible: Paul Wright and Daniel Davies, as well as my friend Priya. Recommended to me: the clock room at the British Museum, Evensong at Westminster Abbey, the original walking tour of London. Requested but very mildly: a souvenir from Benjamin Pollock's Toyshop.

In closing for now: look at the coasters we made!


(1) : We're Home!: Thanks especially to Avedon Carol and her partner Rob for putting us up in London-town. After sleep, and an all-day Columbia class tomorrow, more fun details.


: Quick Travelogue: Caution: may be boring. This really serves as a skeleton for my future recollections, but it's better than the nothing that I invariably posted after past trips.

I took Thursday the 8th off from work even though we weren't flying till late that night. Excellent decision and reduced packing/errands stress. The flight to London was uneventful and we caught up with my sister in Heathrow and flew with her to Bangalore.

After a sunrise drive to Mysore, I think we spent most of the first day in India just staying awake and talking at home. An uncle accompanied Leonard and me to a bookstore so we could restock on Amar Chitra Katha comic books, and I got fitted for a blouse and skirt to wear to my dad's birthday party the next day. Leonard's few words of Kannada impressed everyone. We took melatonin tablets to go to sleep on time, and continued doing that throughout the trip - an excellent jet lag remedy.

The next day my dad had his big party and puja; Leonard, Nandini and I were accessories to this, appearing and smiling and bowing at the correct moments. We talked with relatives in the shade when we could. As in all family reunions, there were tens of distant relatives coming up to us and saying, "We haven't seen each other in fifteen years. Do you remember me?" and then identifying themselves by relation instead of name. Leonard and I may have been married again, sort of -- there certainly was a lot of rice-throwing, powder-daubing, and gift-giving.

My mom really wanted us to take a tour of the famous Mysore Palace, but instead we just saw it from the car, during the day and lit up at night.

Early the day we left, Leonard and I climbed the Chamundi Hill. It has monkeys. I am afraid of Indian monkeys. We were fine, though it is tiring both up and down. The last day increased my mom's velocity of gift attempts (the feeding attempts were constant throughout our visit).

Aside from multiple babies touching off each others' cries, our flight from Bangalore to London wasn't bad. Avedon had given us specific directions to her place, but Leonard thought he knew a better way; as it turns out, we were wrong. I did rent a cell phone at Heathrow and drop it off just before flying back to New York - well worth it for the fluid, unplanned, see-lots-of-friends trip we had.

The first night we just hung out with Avedon and Rob and saw her very Indian neighborhood. Then the next day we took a beautiful train ride to Cambridge to see Paul Wright for lunch at the tasty but slow Rainbow Cafe. We walked around the campus a bit, and looked at the used bookshops and the tent market. That evening we had a fine dinner ("Eat and 2 Veg") and a central-London walk with Priya.

The next day Leonard slept really late because he'd skipped his melatonin the night before; then we spent the afternoon eating and playing party games with Kevan Davis and Holly, Maria, and Brendan in Battersea. On the way to and from their place, I did get to use a double-decker bus, which I'd last thought about while watching Children of Men. Avedon and Rob invited us to their Thursday pub night, so all six of us tromped off to an out-of-the-way monarchically-named tavern in north-ish London. Bartenders got confused when I tried to tip them. I stayed up late that night just chatting with Avedon, who was quite sad that she could not show me her pictures of Durham.

We got to the airport on Friday to find out that our flight had been cancelled. I'd checked the airline site from Avedon's before leaving and had seen nothing about this! The people in front of us in the queue got the last seats for an earlier flight, so we waited for five hours instead of three to get on the plane to New York. Given the weather conditions on the East Coast, I'm just glad we were only delayed two hours! (Leonard grumble. He was a good sport.) We got home and had long showers (as Leonard called it, "The Mega-Snana"), email and RSS checking on our own computers, and slept in our own bed. Now: homework!

I assume pictures are coming soon but that's Leonard's detail.


: The Annoying-Industrial Complex: Faceless corporations and their renovation/building! Crepe o Chocolat, a fantastic bistro in downtown SF, is hurting for no good reason! The crepes are so good, and Sylvie is one of the acquaintances I miss from SF. Yay for progress and for David Lazarus's muckraking.


: Hundreds Of Hours After School In The Comp Lab: I just explained to a new colleague, with reference to "Oregon Trail", that if his workload goes past steady into strenuous or grueling, he should let me know so I can bear some of it. You can sing "Oregon Trail" to the tune of "Minimum Wage" by They Might Be Giants. Achewood remembers. Where On The Oregon Trail is Carmen Sandiego?

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: MC Masala Columns on Flesh: My two most recent MC Masala columns are on food/body topics. On modeling classes and beginning to exercise:

If they let me in, they must have let anyone in; I was like a sparrow taking swimming lessons. Of the fame-seeking little boys and girls in that room, earnestly practicing our cold-reading skills on pages from sitcom and "90210" scripts, how many actually got something out of it? I recall only a vague annoyance at the scattershot training and a miraculously unscathed body image.

On a ruined beet salad, and gaining a palate.

If the restaurant specializes in U.S. or European cuisine, I just check the menu first to make sure it offers more than one vegetarian entree. You see, if there's just one, it might be a token that no one ever orders. (This especially goes for vegetarian omelets. Diner cooks often forget that sticking raw mushrooms and broccoli in the middle of already-cooked eggs doesn't work.) But if a healthy proportion of the menu is meatless or meat-optional, then I know the restaurateur doesn't just conceive of a meal as "hunk of meat surrounded by little sides of starch and color."


: Notes From Overachievers: A wry coda to an essaylet from my colleague Eric:

"So I'm going to be thinking about these concepts. Figure out where I want to be getting results, and therefore what I should be paying attention to. Spend time on self-reflection in order to identify areas of improvement, and then determine how I can use deliberate practice to attack those deficiencies. Of course, the problem is that it requires self-discipline to do all of these things and that's one of the areas of improvement. So we'll see how things go."

And a note from a former federal prosecutor. The Bush Administration really does not grok overachievers. Tracy Flick, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, what have you. How much of an overachiever do you have to be to make it to that level of play? How much would it burn you, and destroy your loyalty, to see your former bosses malign your competence? Of course they fought back.


: Tendencies, Or, The Lives Of Others: I'd like to see that film, The Lives of Others. Maybe it would help remind me of this bit of wisdom, one that's been slipping off me no matter how many times I try to pour it on: "Never judge your inside by anyone else's outside." Garrison Keillor echoes: "We have a backstage view of ourselves and a third-row view of everybody else."

If someone seems together, I won't like them. Once they've showed vulnerability, I can enjoy their company. Preferred: someone who's subtly but bravely struggling with some issue -- personal, job, etc. -- and laughs at my jokes. And whose tastes coincide with my own. If they're more critical than me, I feel defensive, as though I'm trying desperately to manufacture taste on the spot. If they like things I don't, what a terrible snob I feel!

How much does it cost to be a hermit for a year?


: "World Phenomena Worry Me": The more things change...

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: What Kind Of Animal?: Yesterday, talking with a classmate about tricks to discipline ourselves into eating better, I found myself saying: "If your brain can't override your appetites, then you're no better than an animal." Bruce Schneier reminds us that our brain, too, is an animal's brain.


: Calling Alice, Claudia, Nandini...: Submit your paper-napkin business plan and win money + a pitching opportunity. "Women 2.0," they say. Via Systers.


: MC Masala on Vice & Tolerance: Pot, gambling, adultery, what have you. Quotes Daniel Davies.

It gets more obvious when you see political moderates turn into radicals. The cycle of marginalization and radicalization has gotten to Ralph Nader, just as it gets to kids who become martyrs to any cause. Rebels don't conform when you punish them; they rebel harder, especially if they don't have any stake in the stability of their world.


: Cursing At The Screen: Battlestar Galactica made me yell a real curse word at the screen tonight. Not "frack," either. The culprit: not the 60s song, not the revelations of Cylonitude, but the "back in 2008." Noooo! For those of you who actually watched Star Trek: Enterprise, remember the 3rd season finale where the last ten seconds had an alien Nazi reveal? This was like that.


: "Deferred Success" = "Failed": The other day I referred to poop as "the deliverable." More "Performance evaluation euphemisms invading everyday speech (ironically)" from Raymond Chen's blog.

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: Earworm Alert: "I'm Downright Amazed At What I Can Destroy With Just A Hammer" by Atom & His Package. Has a faint kinship with the Ben Folds/Shatner version of "Common People."

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: First "Oregon Trail," Now This: A colleague's tale of a multiple-anxiety dream (late to work + train is going the wrong place + never actually graduated from high school) caused me to tell him about Weird Al's song "Stuck in a Closet with Vanna White." I hadn't heard it in at least five years and still knew the lyrics. Even though the rhymes aren't perfect. Address/test/chest/rest.


(3) : "Leonard's Still Asleep" Digest: Leonard is still asleep, so I can't draw his attention to these:

  1. A groan-inducing pun about Ender's Game.
  2. Sadly, the only way to get Seth to write a blog entry is to make an error in modifying a Latin-cum-English phrase. For all I know he's been gritting his teeth over "Cogito, Ergo Sumana" for ages.
  3. "The algorithms of Matt Cutts!"
  4. Andrew and Claudia, I miss you.

    From the outside, I can imagine the American habit of supporting political arguments by making reference to "The Founders" seems bizarre, if not necrophilic. A rational interpretation of this belief is that Americans think these million-year-old dudes in powdered wigs were some kind of prophets, or supermen, capable of pulling eternal truths - inaccessable to mere mortals - from the ether, and distilling them into perfect words to endure for all time. The Bill of Rights as the new Ten Commandments, or something like that.

    And you'll like the kicker, Leonard.

  5. NSFW (unless you, like Leonard, work from home) Chris Rock bit on prescription and illegal drugs.
  6. Likable guy? "Oh, far from it. No one likes me. Will you be my friend?"
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(1) : By The Time I Come Back I Expect Jetpacks: A year and change after I left the Bay Area, Muni leaps into the future: selling FastPasses online and partnering with NextBus to provide online location tracking for 16 bus lines. In contrast, NextBus for New York only provides updates for the NY Water Taxi.


: QOTD: In a discussion about She-Hulk #1 this morning: "Robert's Rules of Order are not a suicide pact." -Leonard.

Thanks for the recommendation, Zed.

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(4) : The Horror! (x2): Morning work discussion included proposing which films, and which films' special effects, still hold up on contemporary viewing. Suggested watersheds in special effects: Star Wars, Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, The Matrix. Candidates without a broad consensus: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jaws, The Blair Witch Project, Toy Story. I found Blair Witch quite frightening while a colleague found it amusing; I noted that a work of horror, as in porn, either pushes your specific buttons or it doesn't.

I don't generally read or watch horror, for fear of nightmares. I did pick up High Cotton: Selected Stories of Joe R. Lansdale at Borderlands once when a bookshop employee suggested it as a gateway drug to horror. I appreciated it, but it didn't expand my comfort zone. I still can't trust the squick to stay in its little box, going away when I close the book. I fear that it will attack again when I'm asleep, defenseless.

Yesterday I saw a trailer for a new horror film called Vacancy. Intellectually, I can decompose the premises, viewpoint and structure of the movie. It reminds me of Blair Witch and The Truman Show, and of what I've heard of Saw and Hostel. Viscerally, I can tell that Vacancy would actually push my buttons and scare me -- even the trailer is memorably scary. At least, it pushes my specific buttons.

Before "boundaries" became an in-vogue pop-psych word, I had already decided that I wasn't going to watch or read horror because it might make me uncomfortable, especially in ways I couldn't control. But every once in a while I peek over the edge. Blair Witch, Lansdale, an afternoon in the Pegasus bookstore at Durant and Shattuck reading Carrie.

I guess I'm trying to figure out what people get out of horror. Is it a thrill ride? Is it a reminder of the nearness of oblivion or hell, like "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" (Slacktivist name-check) or Camus? Is it catharsis or feeding for bloodlust?

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: Reminder: Speaking of horror: Dr. Andrew L. Creighton once told my Sociology class that he watches a particular clip from Alien when he needs to stay awake. He was a fantastic lecturer, and the best PowerPoint user I saw until Colbert's The Word. All I can find of him now is records of his 2004 political donations; I hope he's doing well.


: Conflation -> Comedy: Edward James Olmos + Admiral William Adama =

Does Eddie Adama have a deal for you?! Just look at the prices on this Raptor! Why are my prices so low? I have no choice. Just come on down to Crazy Eddie's; SO SAY WE ALL!

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: The Three Skills of Adulthood: Now, I foist upon you an extended excerpt from Rachel Chalmers's "I follow my nose":

...It occurs to me that all the really important decisions of my life - who to marry, where to work, when to sprog - were made on the basis of my gut. I think there are three sets of skills necessary to modern adulthood. The first is mastering administrivia; taxes, visas, passports, job applications, budgets, credit card bills, doctor's appointments, admission forms, financial aid. A second and quite closely related skill-set concerns your performance. These skills involve figuring out what's expected of you and serving it up, ideally with a twist that no one would have thought of but you. Bedrock director Jimmy Fay summed it up as "Say your lines and hit your marks." Haim Ginott's variation is my oft-cited parenting mantra: "Don't just do something; stand there."

Gut feelings fall into a third, seldom-used group of skills. For me, the only way not to get paralysed by the sheer earth-shatteringness of big decisions is to make them behind my own back, as it were, or in some other form of massive denial. Jeremy and I have long described our relationship as "the one night stand that went horribly wrong." We pretended we were only moving to California for a year or two....

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: Ironically, I Spent Longer Writing This Than I Meant To: So Adam Parrish and I have different readings of a recent essaylet by Aaron Swartz. Look, I've never read any of this Steven Johnson stuff, so I can't speak to Swartz's* criticism there. But when he says "need to stop pretending that this is automatically a good thing," I think it's clear he's not saying "Steven Johnson," but "we as net mavens," and only after that calls Johnson and Doctorow apologists for shorter=better. He probably includes his previous self in that group.

Also: It's not like Swartz's completely dismissed/dismissing entertainment that contains farts (Arrested Development, The Daily Show, what have you). The gibe about "pictures of cats with poor spelling on them" is not about either cat pictures or misspellings, Adam -- it's about that particular leetspeek/catpic subgenre of internet humor, although I will concede that that sentence is the third- or fourth-weakest sentence in the essaylet.**

As I see it, Doctorow's piece says to writers, "people will read works on the screen if they fit the affordances of the screen and continuous partial attention; if you want people to read the kind of thing that doesn't, give them enough onscreen for them to like it and decide to move to the appropriate medium." Swartz is saying to technologists: "tech right now is making it easier to come down with Dorito Syndrome, and the trend is only increasing, and we should stop it." Although I am not currently in a position to act on Swartz's suggestions, I do read Reddit, so I see where he's coming from and find the gist of his argument quite plausible.

Adam, on the other hand, you're in a prestigious tech/creativity Master's program, so maybe you hear all the time about new technologies that create new affordances for enjoying long-form content and community. What am I missing?

* (I feel weird calling him "Swartz," since he's slept in my living room, but house style tells me to refer to people by their last names while discussing their ideas.)

**First: "Similarly, no one (Doctorow included, I suspect), actually prefers blog posts to novels, it's just that people tend to have more short chunks of time to read blog posts than they do long chunks of time to read novels." I think there are certainly people who prefer blog posts to novels, especially (and this feeds into Swartz's fear) if they've never exercised their capacity to gain enjoyment from longer works.
Second: "Doctorow's conclusion? Blogs are just better." I think that's too broad a reading.

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: Also, Bikram Seth's Ultra-Steamy "A Suitable Boy": Patrick McKenzie has a funny story from Palm Sunday, with a child's suggested revision of the holiday's name. I pointed out to Leonard that this child has an admirably meritocratic view of holiday-naming, where the person/thing that did the work that makes that holiday special gets name credit. By that standard, should Good Friday be Pilate Friday? However, I accidentally said "Pilates" instead of "Pilate." Pontius Pilates: the killer with the killer abs!

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: Anatomy And Andragogy: Yesterday, I sat down over coffee with the Fog Creek system administrator and learned how a specific piece of our network architecture works. As he talked and I asked questions and tried saying things in my own words, and we drew diagrams and annotated them, I learned something about how I try to understand a complex system.

  1. First: the big parts/components and their functions.
  2. Next: understand the desired and usual flow of data/blood, from entering the system to exiting it. Here I try to see things from the perspective of a single data packet, blood cell, or what have you.
  3. Next: what's enforcing the rules, and what's pushing the data/blood through the system? What are possible attacks or failure points? And what defenses are built in to resist or recover from attacks or failures?

Without even meaning to, I was taking Neal Stephenson's advice to heart:

Windows 95 and MacOS are products, contrived by engineers in the service of specific companies. Unix, by contrast, is not so much a product as it is a painstakingly compiled oral history of the hacker subculture. It is our Gilgamesh epic....

...Unix has slowly accreted around a simple kernel and acquired a kind of complexity and asymmetry about it that is organic, like the roots of a tree, or the branchings of a coronary artery. Understanding it is more like anatomy than physics.

--Neal Stephenson, "In The Beginning Was The Command Line" (1999)

So I've articulated a possible plan of attack for learning computer-related architectures. Another: just dig in! Try something small and concrete, and learn as you go. But I've found that, once I try to do anything even mildly complicated with OSes, filesystems, networks, and what have you, I get quite uncomfortable unless I can find out the structure and foundations of the domain. So now would be a good time for me to take classes in data structures, algorithms, networking and architecture, etc. Maybe I'll make my own summer crash course.

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: Nameforesaken: I won a little competition, so Gareth L. Powell will, as I suggested, name a protagonist in his new story "Shweta Venkatesh." I found out about the contest from the Futurismic blog. Futurismic is publishing Leonard's story "Mallory" sometime soon; I loved "Mallory" and hope you get to read it soon. One of the major characters in "Mallory" is Indian, too. Whoo.

In the news these days: half-Indian Sunita Williams, dynamo astronaut who will run a marathon in space. Also in the news: half-Indian Sanjaya Malakar, who is setting new records for prolonged badness on American Idol. It's like a Law of Conservation of Awesome.


(3) : Discovery: People at work are loving the new Discovery Channel show "Planet Earth." However, one colleague described a heartbreaking scene where a mama elephant has to leave the worse-performing of her two babies behind during a yearly water-seeking migration. Then, the baby recovers, and tracks his mom's tracks....and starts going the wrong way! The copter shot zooms out and you see the baby entering a forest, on the other side of which sits nothing but a vast desert. Noooo!

March of the Penguins was hard enough.

Other discovery: Le Tigre, via Sarah, whom I miss. "We tell the truth they turn up the laugh track."

"Sumana, apparently someone got lazy and decided to give us the same childhood."


: And How Did That Work Out?: World-Famous Leonard from a Salon article three years ago:

At an engineering offsite in the Marin Headlands, soon after the announcement, a "V.C.-type" speaker came in to put [Collabnet]'s move into a larger economic context, developer Leonard Richardson, 24, remembers.

"He talked about how the agricultural economy had become the industrial economy, which in turn had become the knowledge economy. Someone asked him what comes next, after outsourcing takes its toll on the knowledge economy. He said that if anyone had any ideas he was interested in hearing them," says Richardson.

Kevin Maples, another programmer, dubbed this vague notion the "I don't know, you think of something" economy.

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: Approval: It turns out that my wantlist is my primary means of listing off bands I like, so I added a bunch today. I wouldn't know of half those bands without Internet radio. The list of desired books has almost nothing in common with what I will actually enjoy this summer. I wonder what music I should learn to effectively manage software developers?

Speaking of lists of desirable objects: people are still LOVING Leonard's book. Every single review on that Amazon page is four or five stars. I am so proud! He worked so hard, and now there is something very valuable in the world, something that people use with relief and delight.


: Movie Friends: Leonard doesn't like seeing movies in the theater, so I'm used to going alone or with other people. When we lived in SF, I had free time and a bunch of acquaintances who would go see movies with me. Now I have very little time and the pile of movie friends isn't what is was. I make double features for myself when I splurge: Borat and Stranger Than Fiction back-to-back, and The Queen and Children of Men too.

I think The Great New Wonderful is the only film I've seen in New York that I wouldn't have been able to catch in any other US metropolitan area. Leonard and I together saw A Cock and Bull Story, An Inconvenient Truth, The Science of Sleep, and one or two other movies before I started school in September, and I can't wait for this month (and thus the semester) to be over. So much for all the Culture you get for moving here. I don't have enough free time to go to indie/foreign movies, or comedy shows, or Google Tech Talks, or even the Meetup I manage. Especially when those activities are on the opposite side of a zero-sum game from my husband. And even when I get a "vacation" from school, I'll still be working 40 hours a week!

I guess what I'm saying is that sometime in 2009 I want to go on a three-month vacation and just watch the movies I'm missing. I should just stop reading A.O. Scott and Roger Ebert (glad you're better!) (wait, Roger Ebert doesn't read my blog) until then. That'll be a good time to do Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Deadwood, and Babylon 5, too.


(7) : MC Masala on Spring and Continuous Partial Attention: Okay, this is ridiculous. It is snowing! in early April! This puts the lie to my "yay it's springtime" column this week.

After I failed one quiz and squeaked by another, he gave me advice on how to study.

Studying computer programming is more like math and less like history. It's a skill, not a bunch of facts and ideas to learn and rearrange in one's head and synthesize into models of how the world works. So, every time the book introduces a new concept or function, I have to try it out and practice it and feel out its limits and appreciate how the contours of the problem space have subtly altered.

[Update Apr 10th: Evidently this post doesn't do justice to the practice of history; please read previous comments and the column itself before calling me on it.]


: Even My High School Chemistry Teacher Liked "Frasier": From a reference on Jaime Weinman's MacLeans blog: parts 1 and 2 of the Frasier episode "Ham Radio" (the YouTube links in the original Weinman post don't work anymore).

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(1) : "Stephen watched the samosa being smothered.": I have posted over 160 links, without meaning to accumulate such a repository, to the del.icio.us account that Leonard and I share. Here's something that might not get posted there: the Colbert/Stewart slash that made me think Colbert/Stewart slash was awesome. I've been thinking JS/SC is the One True Pairing; what's all this Colbert/Olbermann nonsense? More evidence of OTP status from SilentAuror.

I assume people who regularly read and write slash about real-life celebrities, especially ones they admire, have some well-articulated set of ethics about it -- I'd appreciate knowing about it.

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: Seen: Yesterday: a sign encouraging me to "Give $ Baby". I gave a dollar, but not a baby.

Tuesday: a "Health King" juice/smoothie seller in the forties or fifties on Lexington Avenue. I thought the 38th & 7th Health King must certainly be an independent since the disco-colored tackiness of its signage so strongly implies that no pastel-pushing corporate overlord was involved in its design. Also, I'd misremembered the 38th & 7th location as "Friendly Health Juice" or the like.

Friday: a cool Broadway play! Thanks, cool coworker Ben Kamens!


(5) : Static: For the past six months, my life at Fog Creek has had a rather unpleasant and pervasive physical element. I accumulate static electricity while in my Aeron chair.

It seemed to start during the rainy/snowy months, so I thought it was the rug, or the long underwear, or the humidity. But now it's continued through many sorts of weather, and my chair and I now sit atop hardwood. Every time I get up, I can hear the "rip" of the static clinging to the chair's weave, and I touch something metal and grounded nearby.

Ideas?


(4) : Excerpt's Incredibly Nostalgia-Inducing, Too: I know it's Flash, but the site for Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris has an okay conceit with very good implementation. The video reminds me more of Salon than I could have imagined -- I believe I used the exact same model of phone. And I love the music. I've been leaving the page open in the background while doing other things and just looping the music; that's how much I like the music. As good a book promo site as Miranda July's for No One Belongs Here More Than You, which references it.


: Representative Excerpts:

To repeat, I am no way suggesting that a Mac Tablet would not be completely awesome. I would buy at least five, possibly eight, so I could use a different one each day of the week with a hot-swappable backup. But, except on rare occasions, business does not run on awesome ideas; it runs on profitable ones.

"Well (long pause), I guess I don't hate it here. I mean, I've been here 20 years. I haven't left."

Dear Candidate: Thank you again for meeting with us at the American Historical Association's annual conference. We have narrowed down the applicant pool to three very strong candidates, yourself included, but we just can't decide among them! We hope you would be willing to come to the campus, along with the other candidates, and fight to the death for our amusement.


(1) : Next Up: A. Lincoln's Gettysburg Address Deck: We need more videos of Powerpoint Karaoke.

I watched one performance to get a taste of it. And I realized what I might have guessed all along: I've seen performances just as bad (and we weren't allowed to laugh) by people who prepared the slides themselves. Sheer knowledge of the content of the presentation will only get you so far! Let me practice giving a presentation on a topic I know nothing about, and I'll do better than an expert who's assembled the slides but never practiced the presentation.

Danny O'Brien, did you have a Tufte-esque hidden agenda in throwing this shindig?

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: Pondering : Building :: Talkering : Growing: Some insights into my thought/conversation styles, at work and with friends, in response to a blog post by my colleague Eric. Truth, vulnerability, certainty, nitpicking, and Wikifriends come up.


(1) : Whew: Yesterday was my last all-day Saturday class of the semester. Now, just a terrible three-week push to the final classes/presentations/papers and I'll have a summer "off" (only working full-time).

John and Susie, I'm sorry I called and possibly woke you yesterday afternoon! Hope you're doing well.


(1) : MC Masala(s) on O'Neill, Past, and Atrocity: A short version and a longer version, which makes more sense, of my column this week.

April 19, 1995, was the day of the Oklahoma City bombing. I was alive for that one. I was in rehearsal for my school's spring musical, "Oklahoma!" No, I am not kidding. We put a donation box in the lobby and awkwardly carried on.

Another April atrocity that I know about: April 13, 1919, the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh. In the north Indian city of Amritsar, in retaliation for protests a few days earlier, the British opened fire on hundreds, if not thousands, of unarmed Indians who were celebrating a religious festival.


(1) : This Is Ridiculous: I am now one connection away from Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden via something like four different acquaintances and friends. This includes someone I've worked with, someone who's had me sleep at her house as a guest, and someone I met today on the subway because she was reading the Mark Haddon book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. If this trend continues, we will end up colleagues or related or something.


(3) : Riddle Me This: I work in a software firm. I am the only person there, except the office manager, who is not a born-and-bred computer geek. They play video games all the time. Yet I'm the only one who regularly walks in reading comic books, and who makes Star Trek references that no one understands at the lunch table. Worst....stereotype....ever.

Note on my objective weirdness: I've also been bringing in MAD Magazine to put next to Linux Journal for bathroom reading.

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: Virginia Tech: My thoughts are with the victims and their families and friends. Not that that's a deliberate decision -- I can't help it. I couldn't help it all yesterday. I hope to God the body count doesn't go up any more.

They've named the murderer: a man born in South Korea and raised in the US. They've named some victims, including a professor from Israel and a professor from Tamil Nadu. This is not just an American tragedy.


: Search Requests: I get some fascinating search requests from people who arrive at Menstruation Products: A Compare-And-Contrast. No, it's not supposed to hurt to insert or remove a tampon. No, you shouldn't put in more than one at a time. It makes me want to buy multiple copies of Our Bodies, Ourselves to give them away.


: Networking Layers: Here are the networking documentation layers of interestingness/readability, from highest to lowest:

  1. Neal Stephenson
  2. Bossman Joel
  3. Conversation with knowledgable friend
  4. People on Ask Metafilter
  5. Wikipedia
  6. The book I'm reading
  7. Microsoft knowledge base
  8. RFC-type spec


: Between Transparency And The Paywall: You are important. You are worthwhile. Your time and effort have value. Right now, a very good way to indicate and articulate and leverage your value is by making sure you get money in return. And it is okay to make more than you absolutely need.

From The West Wing:

Josh Lyman: I know that you can parlay the Santos win into a doubling of your fee.
Louise Thornton: Tripling, if it figures into your memoirs.
Josh Lyman: Nothing is going to top this. Everything else's going to be a letdown.
Louise Thornton: Letdowns that make me semi-rich, that's a tradeoff I'm willing to endure.
Josh Lyman: You don't care about money.
Louise Thornton: Who doesn't?
Josh Lyman: You!
Louise Thornton: Not as such.
Josh Lyman: As what?
Louise Thornton: Scorekeeping. Quantitative evidence that I'm smarter than you. (Not YOU.)
Josh Lyman: Who?
Louise Thornton: Everybody else.

Prices send signals; one way for me to make sure Salon valued me was to get them to give me a raise. "Doing things that make work rewarding and pleasant is the most important part of attracting people." Once I'd hit the ceiling at Salon, and the work wasn't rewarding or pleasant anymore, I started looking for other work. But in the meantime, I got a raise from Salon to compensate me for my experience, value, and not-leaving-ness.

The easiest way to get a raise is to get a new job; a big jump in pay happens easier when you first get hired, while you still seem shiny and exotic and new to the new employer. But if you can get a raise from your existing employer, then the new employer will have to raise it to get you. So I make as much as I do at Fog Creek partly because I got that raise at Salon. Salaries accumulate over time, like compound interest, so getting up the ladder has long-term effects.

John Scalzi talks about how much he makes and talks about why he talks about it. I don't feel comfortable talking on the web about all of my finances without asking my husband first, because they are now his finances too. But I will tell you that I make $75 per column for my weekly MC Masala gig, and that I'd like to be making more from that, since I have delivered for two years now and built up a small fanbase and have a circulation in the hundreds of thousands. This summer I'd like to seriously look into syndication.

The more information we wage-earners and freelancers share, the better we can negotiate with the employers. Whom does it benefit when we are reticent in disclosing the pay scale of the world?

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: Futurama Lives: I work in the heart of New York's historic Garment, um, Fashion District (the bit with the giant button and needle poking out of the ground at 40th St and 7th Ave), yet I rarely see people who give off the "I am a fashionista!" vibe. Maybe that's because everyone in NYC gives off the better-dressed-than-Sumana vibe and I can't distinguish between martyrs to style and Easter-and-Christmas clotheshorses.

Yesterday, though, I saw a group of five stylon-emitting men and women on 7th Ave, conversing in a little circle. One woman seemed to be flashing her chest at another, but as I passed, I saw that she was merely holding up the hem of her shirt so another woman could inspect it. The only phrase I overheard: "hand-lasered."

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: Straw Men: Did I ever tell you about the striped straw experiment and deciding to be happy? From a column I wrote about a year ago:

...straw fortune-telling, or bendymancy. For breakfast every school morning, I had a bagel with melted Velveeta and a cup of Carnation Instant Breakfast -- not the complete and nutritious meal that my mother would have preferred.

I drank the shake through a straw (Bendy, not Krazy -- after all, I wasn't a baby). Mom bought these straws in 500-packs from the Pak 'n' Save, which printed grocery packing directions on its brown paper bags, headlined with the educational but dismissive "Pack Your Own Savings!"

These white straws came with assorted stripe colors, one quarter of the box was red, one yellow, one blue and one green. I decided that the stripe color of the straw I randomly chose would foretell the quality of my day. Red was horrible, yellow was unpleasant, blue was good and green was great.

And if that makes sense to you, you should read Mark Haddon's "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," in which an autistic boy decides to make up his own fortune-telling superstition.

Even if I knew it was all fake, even if I drew a red-and-white straw, at least it gave me a worldview, some resignation or confidence so I could frame the events of the day.

The things I decide to do on my own feel so much better. Learning a bit of Scheme, exercising, going to church, climbing a rock, whatever -- the very self-direction makes them taste sweeter. But I still need another person's support or company to keep doing them. So that's one balance to hit.

I learn skills best when I've created a goal that I sincerely want and that requires those skills. Until I want that goal, it's useless. But what do I want? Desire and agency feel so far away, even though I have demonstrably chosen things towards certain preferences. All I consciously own are the lower-order needs. I'll second-guess any consciousness of ambition. What makes me feel joy, just for a moment, is fulfilling the ambition that I'm too suspicious of -- and too enamored of laziness masquerading as rat-race-avoiding contentment -- to wholeheartedly chase.

The world is not finished. I'll never master things. How is it that some people find that energizing? I can understand how existentialism turns some to nihilism and some to humanism. I think I'm struggling along, finding some structures readymade and creating some, awkwardly, secretively, on my own. I feel less like an oak and more like ivy seeking a trellis, even though sometimes I dare to look down and can't quite see the scaffolding I've assumed was there.

[Update: Nothing is finished, and that is a comfort because that means we haven't permanently failed, either.]

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(1) : Want a Danish? I can see by the look on your face that you've got ringworm.: You have probably already seen that you can download Van Morrison's entire contractual obligation album or just view the lyrics. But Michael, Evan, and Stuart hadn't known of it, and none of us had heard any of it, until yesterday. Some observations.

  1. Leonard was confused at the "poor man's Bob Dylan" genre evidenced in the recordings, because he had thought Van Morrison was a hard rocker. This is because he was confusing Van Morrison with Van Halen.
  2. We agreed that it would be interesting to use the snippet-length songs from the contractual obligation album as the basis for other songs. They feel like jingles or samples, and "Just Ball" for one was favorably compared yesterday to "Revolution #9". I mean, they're perfectly competent as bits of music -- one can't just noodle about and improvise 31 songs at this level of composition without some chops. There's a combination of tossed-off horrible and baseline quality that makes this album, in some sense, the opposite of The Eye of Argon (link to a new Leonard toy relating to EoA) and "The Good, the Bad, and Scarface".
  3. Leonard, could you put in the comments or something what Evan wrote in response to this music? The ones about ennui and the void?
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(2) : Pizza Tip: Leonard and I get New York-style pizza from Sac's Place at Broadway & 29th St. in Astoria, Queens, NYC. We get plain cheese pies, or sausage-topped ones for Leonard, and then Leonard roasts some garlic or chops up extra basil to put on top. Today the fresh basil smells better than many air fresheners. I wonder whether basil air freshener is any good.


: Firefox 2.0.x Memory "Leak" Fix: Aha! Firefox 2's memory usage goes down if you change a few about:config settings. The specific preferences: browser.cache.memory.capacity, browser.cache.memory.enable, and browser.sessionhistory.max_total_viewers. I'm trying this out now in hopes that FF2 stops driving me crazy.


: Tales Of The SDS: I was trying to find the details of a story Seth once told me and found some memorable archives on his blog: a great eulogy for Fred Rogers and a thoughtful report from my Apollo performance.

Remind me to tell the story of the trilemma picket.

I hereby remind you, Seth!


: Horcrucio!: The PDF of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that's floating around is in fact Melinda Leo's very nice "The Seventh Horcrux". Markers: more sex and profanity and overall emphasis on personal relationships than in HP1-6. And something ineffable. Rowling is very concrete. Lots of proper nouns.

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: QOTD: "You can't destroy the master's house with the master's tools; it's against the tools' EULA."

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: Trepidation And Excitement: Today at work I got to coordinate the creation of a neat thing. That excited me. Tomorrow I defend the first chapter of my product proposal for my master's degree. That's more scary.

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(1) : "Jet, Codenamed 'More Perfect Than God'": The Fog Creek sysadmin has righteous fury. Be sure to read his hypothetical Microsoft case study excerpt.


: I Said, Good Day: I probably successfully defended the first chapter of my thesis. Then, hours of food, drink, and conversation with friends, and a walk in the East Village. Just one more test, then I can finally read The Baroque Cycle with a clear conscience.


: Unused Premises: Yesterday was the first or second time I heard about the Ryan North anthology project, so I mildly thought about writing and submitting something but decided to watch Bananas with Leonard (talk about madcap) and study a bit instead. I had two premises: that parents-to-be would test their fetuses and selectively abort those whose deaths sounded unpleasant or early, and that a political scientist would find some human symbol of the US, e.g. the Statue of Liberty, to test in hopes of learning how the US would "die."


: Am I The Only One?: When a blog refers to "the Maliki government" I sometimes misread it as "the Malki government".

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(2) : Now I Have A Mas: That is, I'm done with my first year of the two-year Columbia MS. Whoo!


: NYC Webcomics Meetup Tomorrow: Wednesday, May 2 -- at least a few people will show up for the Meetup, it seems. You, too, can be one of them!


: Free Comic Book Day: Via BoogaBooga: Salon's guide to the samples you can grab on Free Comic Book Day (which is today). The Fantagraphics Unseen Peanuts collection looks the coolest.

As long as I'm hawking comics, I may as well put down for posterity the stuff I've bought. I mostly got these at Midtown Comics at Times Square, with a smattering from Forbidden Planet NYC, Comic Relief on Shattuck (formerly on University) in Berkeley, and Comic Outpost (warning: music starts playing if you click that link) on Ocean Avenue in San Francisco.

I'll do a different list sometime for the webcomic collections. And I've read some classics (most noticeably Watchmen and some great Batman tales) that aren't on this list because I borrowed them. Given that, wow, this was a longer list than I'd expected to write. No wonder Midtown Comics is still in business.

Today's recommendation: Find your local participating comics store, get the Peanuts sampler, and buy the first volume of Ex Machina, an issue of Action Philosophers or What Were They Thinking?, or the paperback DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore. Unless you already have comics predilections, in which case you should comment on this entry or write your own blog post with recommendations and arguments. (Zed, thank you for She-Hulk -- now give me more!)

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: "We Get To Sell Stuff, But You Can't": Via Ben Pollack: Guess who wishes that your right to sell your own stuff didn't exist?


: Tiny Updates: The Elephantmen comic is okay.

My mom is visiting us. Last night we watched Altman's The Company. I fell asleep. Is there a plot in there? I've read a couple of reviews now and evidently I missed the Altmanesque point. But we liked Gosford Park so much!

I'm reading Quicksilver again, after dropping it in favor of schoolwork a few months ago. I had to backtrack several pages to remember all the moving parts but I'm back in it. I'm even reading it on the subway, which is kind of ridiculous since it's a thousand-page hardback.

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(2) : The Difference: It gets so exhausting trying to talk to someone across the lumper-splitter divide.


: Eurovision: I have the urge to watch the Eurovision Song Contest live on Saturday afternoon. American Idol is constant and domestic and recent where Eurovision is yearly, international, and 51 years old. The rules summary in case you love voting systems, Leonard.

A recurring theme at lunch: systems, especially identification/authentication/authorization protocols, and how they might be gamed. Do geeks in Europe constantly think of ways to scam the Eurovision votes?


: Free Mother's Day Copilot, and IE7/Vista Ponderings: My boss has decided that on Mother's and Father's Days, Fog Creek Copilot shall be free! Free for all! he waved his scepter. It's an easy-to-use desktop sharing tool that Fog Creek developed to make customer support easier. When I was doing tech support it was a boon. I can only imagine how much of a relief it is for the geeks who constantly have to help friends and family.

Joel suggests that you take this opportunity to kill the malware and toolbar crud and install Firefox. (Yes, just as most computer users use Windows, most parents use Windows.) An old Lifehacker guide says you should also install a firewall, do a Windows Update, uninstall unnecessary programs, and run a defrag. Another holiday guide reminds us to do backups and organize files.

Those are old, pre-Vista, pre-IE7 guides. And lots of help-needing parents must be using one or both of those. For a while it was impossible to get a new Dell computer without Vista on it (they've retreated because of customer demand, so now you can get Windows XP again), so surely a few have to remotely support relatives on Vista. I waited several months after IE7's October 2006 release, and got the "yeah, it's safe to upgrade now" nod several weeks ago when I sought it from the Fog Creek systems administrator.

I've sought a checklist of "here's how you harden Vista and/or IE7 and make them easy for neophytes to use," and haven't found it. Is it possible for such an animal to exist?


: Indifferently Mixed Together: Some MC Masala columns, on hair (it's okay) and raisins (better). An awesome Robert Haas poem.

My mom was in town. She loves to watch figure skating, so I got figure skating videos off YouTube and Google Video to show her. We also watched a bunch of Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies, e.g., "Follow the Fleet" and "Flying Down to Rio," although for some of them we just fast-forwarded through non-dancing scenes. One fun line in "Broadway Melody of 1940" did reward our attention: "I thought you were a bill collector." "Collector? Well, I used to collect stamps....before people stopped writing to me."

My mom invariably calls Fred Astaire "Fred Stario" or "Fred Rogers".

We did get to hear Irving Berlin's crazy Yam song from "Carefree" and his "Get Thee Behind Me, Satan" tune in "Follow the Fleet." There's some surreal mirror/ghost stuff in "Carefree" and "Flying Down to Rio." Because we fast-forwarded past the entire plot of "Carefree," we missed a hypnosis arc. "Flying Down to Rio" includes a scene where white characters crash-land on what they think is a deserted island, then they see black men and assume they're barbarian natives, then it turns out they're in Haiti near a golf resort and a black guy with a golf club and a British accent directs them to the airport. What I am saying is, just because a film is sixty years old does not mean it is less freaky than "Adaptation."

The last film in the Mother's Day/Weekend Marathon: the surprisingly good "Holiday", starring Hepburn and Grant, made in 1938, yet not horribly sexist. I had hopes for it from the moment I saw George Cukor directed it, though the sight of "based on a play by Philip 'The Philadelphia Story' Barry" lowered them. Wacky supporting characters, a drunk brother acting like King Lear's Fool, and class politics!

Now to stop being boring, finish a press release rewrite, and go home for another hundred pages of Quicksilver.


: Please Turn To The Next Book When You Hear This Chime: I've finished Quicksilver and gone straight into The Confusion. Boy, I'd appreciate that now-defunct Baroque Cycle wiki right about now. As an alternative I would also accept a decent tenth-grade World History course that, as promised, covered Europe up to the present day, instead of the version I got that ended substantive instruction around 1600.

Leonard is reading a biography of Samuel Pepys, so both of us had to seek out relevant primers. Were we really dedicated we'd use a more scrupulous source than Stephenson + Wikipedia to grok European history. "Yes, the moral decay of the kids these days, it's horrible." Leonard's historian sister Rachel is probably shaking her head in shame right now.

Anyway, the 900-page Quicksilver is not as imposing as I'd feared. The intellectual bits don't melt my brain; the science and math we now get in high school, and I've read enough philosophy to follow the arguments easily.

However, keeping track of the exposition gets formidable. The reader has to keep a lot of data readily accessible in her head, so I don't recommend that you read it as I did (read 100 pages, six-month hiatus, start again and read 250 pages, four-month hiatus, try to continue from bookmark and eventually backtrack 50 pages). For example, about 50 pages from the end, two characters allude to something that happened eleven years prior, and I couldn't figure out whether Stephenson had mentioned it (and I'd forgotten) or he was being coy. The surfeit of aristocrats leads to the same problem I had in reading Tolstoy: remembering that "Peter Shale" and "Count Vlogistaire" and "Rocko" are the same person. I didn't see the Dramatis Personae relational database till the end of the volume.

I realize that I sound whiny, but I liked Quicksilver; today I blarghed about it and Stephenson in general for about ten minutes at Michael. Stephenson knows how to make me laugh and ooh and turn the page. I'll quote my upcoming column on amateur anthropology:

On the level of plot and setting, it's about seventeenth-century Europe, political intrigues, scientific discoveries, banter in coffeehouses, and the movements of markets. But it's also about the false distinction between people of thought and people of action -- to paraphrase Einstein, thought without action is lame and action without thought is blind. And it's also a giant meditation on a theme that Stephenson can't stop thinking about: what it takes to "condense fact from the vapor of nuance", to quote his earlier book "Snow Crash."

For future reference, once I've finished the series: Andrew Leonard's Salon reviews of Book 1, Book 2, and Book 3. I think Andrew Leonard really gets Stephenson, so let's see if I'm (and he's) right.

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(1) : The Social Net and Working: I dragged Leonard to a Chris DiBona talk at Google NYC last night. I didn't hear much that I hadn't already known (the topic: Google's use and promotion of open source software), but I did see some interesting PR behavior. DiBona can politely apologize when Google corporate policy prevents him from answering a legitimate question, e.g., on Google's use of and strategy regarding software patents. I usually only see "No comment" deployed wearily and defensively. DiBona actually sounds sorry when he says, "I'm sorry, I'm not at liberty to talk about that." Refreshing!

Leonard got to meet Rohit Khare, and I got to meet Benjamin Stein (it turns out we'd already met online when I'd been wondering what shredder to get). Mr. Khare and I saw each other's name tags and thought we had met before, but kept making near misses as we tried to figure out where ("Oh, so you know Anirban!" "No, I know an AnirVAN...") -- I think he and I must have just seen each other's names in Leonard's blog. The name badges could have been better.

There's a bit in Quicksilver where Stephenson describes Daniel Waterhouse's reluctance to drop in on his welcoming relatives -- he can't imagine someone would want to open the door and see him there. Face-to-face social networking at these events means getting over that quite natural diffidence, and since I'm more extroverted than the average techie, that means I often make the first move. I start conversations using boilerplate small talk ("Did you have to walk a long way here in the rain today?"), and if friends see me doing this, the patent artificiality of the behavior can embarrass me. Geek/business networking me is not just friendly me. I understand better now why friends in the audience at your play distract or dismay you -- they'll find it harder to suspend disbelief and enjoy the theater, because they know you so well in a different role.

A lighthearted link to round this off - in the deleted scenes on the Office Space DVD, we see hints that blue-collar workers don't in fact have it better than cube slaves.


: Heard But Not Seen: Leonard and I went to Washington, DC to see my sister graduate (twice! MBA and MA) and help host a party. Then we came back and I watched a taping of The Daily Show. If you watch tonight you may hear me.


: Talkin' 'bout Slang or Canon?: "Achewood is in the same universe as Brick."

"Is it also in the same universe as St. Elsewhere?"

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: Habit Of The Day: Leonard has taken to singing "The Baby Name Wizard Voyager" to the tune of "Our Vision Of Global Strategy".


: Rollr Coastr: Heart-pounding and relief after a work review. The set of new marketing pages is okay, thank goodness. And then a case of the sniffles after reading Leonard's latest musings.


: Fear Of Fans: Hmmmm, maybe I shouldn't have been so hasty in tossing off a column about Batman (for this coming Sunday). *shielding myself from a zillion cogent critical letters*


: Creating Value & Expressing It: In reference to business models and the ability to respond appropriately to different stimuli, as well as Built to Last (current Fog Creek reading):

The communications you make with your vendors, your business partners, your customers, your investors, your employees will stress different bits of your business model, because people will ask "what's your business model?" and mean different things.

Everyone's an entrepreneur, investing the capital of their own lives - you, yourself, might want to consider your "business model."


: Batman's New Sidekick, MC Masala: MC Masala on Batman!

Today's comic books are like big, old cities where villains and bystanders vanish down alleys and new visitors need guides.

I wonder what it was like when New York was just a sliver of town south of Wall Street, or when Batman was just another Detective Comics character. Did ordinary people know what they were beholding?


(1) : Tip For Keeping Resume To One Page: Copied and mildly edited from my comment yesterday on the Joel On Software discussion board. The original poster, two years out of college, had asked whether to keep his college internships on his resume - and if so, how could he keep the resume down to one page?

Like any fairly ambitious person your age, you've got enough accomplishments, internships, gigs, volunteering, awards, etc. to fill at least two resume pages (reasonably typeset). That's great. So create that and keep it updated. That's your mega-resume. For each job, you have several bullet points listing all your tangible accomplishments and regular tasks you performed.

Then, for each individual job that you apply to, distill down a relevant one-page resume, with each item specifically selected for the job description and the research you've done on the organization. (You label your past gigs as "Selected Work Experience" so it's clear that this isn't all you've done. "Additional work experience and references available on request" is the last line.)

Once you're distilling a new resume for each job application, you clearly see that sometimes you should include internships, and sometimes another experience earns that space on the page. By the time you're 7-10 years out of college, you'll almost never find space for an internship on the one-pager.

If you're lacking space for a particular one-pager but want to convey your leadership skills, your experience in teaching could go in your "skills" section.

A few slightly off-topic tips:

1) Acquaintances and friends of friends are a better source than posted job ads. Talk to the most connected tech people you know, even if they're just acquaintances, and ask them to keep their ears open for opportunities for you. A personal introduction is a less brittle stepping stone than a resume.

2) Your mileage may vary, but the fact that I put "stand-up comedy" in my public speaking skills/experience line on my resume has piqued hirers' interest more than once. If you have a non-creepy hobby where you've accomplished a lot, think about putting it in the Skills section.

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(2) : Update Re: Resumes: Yes, you write a customized cover letter for each job application.

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: Oh No They Coopted My Indie Band Part MCMXLVIII: A commercial for "Shrek 3" contains music from OK Go's "Here It Goes Again." I will be disappointed if no one in this film dances on a treadmill.


(2) : MC Masala, and Le Weekend: A May 20th column on coffee rituals (citing Neal Stephenson) and a nice little column from yesterday, on my sister's graduation, dancing, food, and an old album.

It could be that the main reason I play Dungeons & Dragons is so that I can tell people at work, "At D&D yesterday we destroyed an undead dragon skeleton," and make them laugh.

We did indeed destroy an undead skeletal dragon. My fifth-level thief with charisma, constitution, and intelligence below ten was not the deciding force in the battle (rather an understatement). I think I'll create a new character soon, perhaps a fighter or a magic user, since our adventures are rather confrontation-intensive. We do travel a lot...Ranger? I'll also need to find an in-story explanation for how s/he runs into our party. This requires more thought.

Also this weekend: got my column off early (YES!) and finished The Confusion. Now, The System of the World, which starts off promisingly, but I did have to flip ahead many pages to find any glimpse of the character whose dramatic pledge we see in the last paragraph of The Confusion. Wrap it all up with a bow, Stephenson! I have faith.

It was way easier to understand The Confusion than to understand The Quicksilver, partly because the middle book had more action (Quicksilver had to set the foundation (ha ha mercury is a horrible foundation)), and partly because I actually read it straight through with no breaks longer than a few days. I read Anna Karenina in a few hours every afternoon one high school summer -- this is also the best way to read The Baroque Cycle.

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: The Annals of Point-Missing: Tonight I'll probably go to the New York Tech Meetup, in hope of interesting demos and good questions. I've been to several of them in the past 16 months, and attendance has stabilized at 300-500. Perhaps at first the participants all knew tech really well, but the audience has expanded past geeks to the suits who want to leverage geekdom.

Meetup.com just started offering mailing lists for Meetup groups. So of course we've had some great reply-all cascades of disgust.

it goes through several phases: the original message, people saying "get me off this list," ... people saying "stop sending messages to the whole list," people saying "stop sending messages saying 'stop sending messages to the whole list' to the whole list," and silly nonsense and evangelizing. Quote from a middle phase of this cycle: "I realize I just sunk to the same level by mass emailing, by the way." Quote from the last phase: "i like hamburger."

Today's silly nonsense:

Hiring: Email attendants
Hello Meetup'rs:

My company is currently seeking two (2) people for hire. Both people need the same skillset which is very basic:

Skills Needed:
-- Ability to properly send and receive emails.

If you are interested, please send your reply to the mailing list letting everyone know of your qualifications for such a position. Should you reply to me directly, I will pass on your application.

The pay is great, the benefits are excellent and to think, you will be in charge of sending replies to the wrong places all day!

Thank you for your time and good replying!

-- Allen Stern
Owner, Proper Email Foundation
www.properemailfoundation.co.us.cc.tv

I read it and chuckled, then read further in the daily digest. Two replies to that message (sent of course to the whole list): "I got a error website message? Is this something someone can do partime from home?" and "I am all email all the time and therefore certainly interested."

Wow. How much can you miss the point? Could it be that they've missed it by such an incredible distance that they've wrapped around the world and come back to it again?


(1) : Confluence of Fun: Saturday, June 16th: A friend of mine is in a play in Washington, DC. An interesting metal band plays a park in Astoria. And Slightly Known People leads several area sketch comedy groups in covering classic skits. I can only do one of these, but wouldn't it be awesome if my friends went to the others and reported back?

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: MC Masala on Spam, and Lunch Conversation: This week's column, on the funny spam.

I've added books to my wish list based on interesting sentences that spammers stole and pasted in to fool spam filters. I've received spam that includes passages from L. Frank Baum's "Oz" books, Mark Twain's essay "The Awful German Language" and a thoughtful New York Times essay on mistakes in hospitals. In January, I got about a hundred junk e-mails with two sentences each from "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." (You can always tell Rowling because of the proper nouns -- Hogwarts, Quidditch, Snape.)...

Spam's just a new form of creepy, inept advertising that tries to inflame desire. And I catch myself, in my writing, using the same techniques to draw readers in, to keep them interested after the headline. Hint at sex. Promise instant pleasure. Ask a question and watch them click in the hope of a novel answer.

Discussed at lunch one day this week:

Then there was another day this week when people didn't talk that much and we ate in relative silence. That makes two mentions of Quakers this week (the first being in a discussion of burkhas, hijabs, modest dressing as religious imperative, and feminism). I can no longer imagine working in an organization that has no good conversations. And I haven't even started talking about the software management trainees' book club.


(1) : MC Masala, Weekend, And A Mess of Miscellany: Well, this will get a bit crowded. Welcome to the social!

This week's column is about Kannada, "Indian," and other languages. Did you know that my sister's brushing up her Hindi?

Right now she can get along OK, understand Bollywood movies and hold decent conversations. But now she's polishing it up, doing the fit-and-finish work. She's already got an ear for how a Hindi phrase or sentence should fit together, and now she has to apply that attention to her own speech. How do you get the knack of the tongue? How do you sink into the rhythm, the idiom of it?

I've been trying to remember how Kannada sounds. The other day I raced up to some Indians in a subway station, eavesdropping on their conversation and introducing myself. Then I found out they were speaking Telugu, not Kannada. Pretty embarrassing.

This past weekend, I visited John, Martin, and Riana in DC. Martin summarizes the main event of the visit: Riana, Martin and I saw John play Orestes in one of three productions of Electra. Pretty awesome. Riana, thank you for your hospitality! Thanks to Riana, I tried out the cardiovascular equipment in a gym for the first time -- elliptical machine, treadmill, stationary bike, what have you. Not since high school weightlifting class had I tried to crack the code of the gym. I now grok why people would choose a gym over running/weightlifting/calisthenicizing at home or in the world. Hmmm. Maybe there is a lesson here for me.

I took the Greyhound bus down south and the Vamoose bus back north. Greyhound: preferable, because it's cheaper, the bus stop and ticketing and schedules are more convenient and reliable, and they don't play movies. But Vamoose's staff is more friendly.

Did you know that there's an Irish pub called Fado in DC's Chinatown that serves fries with Utah-friendly fry sauce (except it's called Marie Rose Sauce)? Or that there are two restaurants named Cafe Luna near DC's Dupont Circle?

I got to the Jack-in-the-Box in The System of the World. Ha! I'm in the home stretch for the Stephenson. In other media experience news, the films on the Vamoose bus back to NYC: The Italian Job, a perfectly enjoyable US remake of a British heist film, and Happy Feet, a terrible, strange, uncanny-valley-inhabiting children's film that reminded me of what I've read about Ralph Bakshi's animated Lord of the Rings film.

My friend Adi, a math professor at NYU, plays an Onion story subject this week. Also this week, I won a $10 Starbucks gift card for winning a copywriting contest at work. It was actually more energizing when I thought it was a random "you're doing great!" gift from a secret admirer/boss.

Leonard was right. I miss Cody's Books on Telegraph in Berkeley. I tried to see Annie Hall in Bryant Park with new friends tonight but we couldn't see nor hear more than a tenth of what was going on so we left. But I don't mind. It's been such a jam-packed pleasant three days, aside from a bit of work kerfluffle, that it's almost a three-day weekend! Goodness, I love social contact.


: Notes On Attention And Shyness: An inadequate excerpt from Sarah Brown of Cringe, on hopes laid bare in a teenager's diary:

You want someone you like to come into your room and ask you if you've read all those books and which was your favorite and who is this in this photo and when was it taken, blah blah blah, you want that tractor beam of attention, that teenage feeling.

I'm reading "MU Tales", an addictive serialized novel about a shy girl starting college, and "Nothing Better", an addictive webcomic about a shy girl starting college and they're helping me understand what it's like to be pathologically shy.

But I'm also thinking about the other side of that coin: show-offiness. What's the basis for our scorn of attention-seeking? If it's about selfishness, does it inevitably turn into "Harrison Bergeron"? Is it a collective effort to treat conversations as ends in themselves instead of a means to an end? From The Big Kahuna:

It doesn't matter whether you're selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or "How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down." That doesn't make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are - just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it's not a conversation anymore; it's a pitch. And you're not a human being; you're a marketing rep.

These quotes, links, and thoughts underly my upcoming column on attention-seeking and modesty; that'll be this coming Sunday.

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: Old News Is Bad News Too: Somehow a little too weighty to go into the del.icio.us feed: in 1989, a guy in Montreal shot 28 people, almost all women, saying that he was "fighting feminism." I hadn't heard of this incident until just now, which surprises me. In slightly related depression, the Wikipedia category for murdered activists. I was just telling Adi about Harvey Milk and Jonestown the other day. What were the 1970s like? How did they stand it?


(4) : John Gruber Talk on Mac UI Design: Tonight I watched Ten Things I Hate About You for the first time (TiVo thought I'd like it), and hoo boy did I ever go to high school in the 1990s. You could reduce me to a pile of nostalgia by playing that soundtrack at me in an enclosed area.

But! More interestingly, tonight I saw John Gruber give a talk on conventions, consistency, and uniformity in Macintosh design. I got to meet him, and Khoi Vinh, and I sat next to Jason Kottke wowzers! A summary of interesting points:

There were good anecdotes and examples and analogies I won't ruin, so you can see the talk sometime when it's iterated more. I can tell that it will, since Gruber was plainly in rumination mode.


: Up Late Writing Dox: Diagram of machines and their locations, or diagram of machines and their LOLcations?

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(1) : Making Us Feel Old: People born in 1991 are now old enough to drive in California.

Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted twenty years ago.

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: The Lensman, Focusing Elsewhere: By the way, Leonard "The Lens-man" Richardson, my husband, is at the digerati conference "Foo Camp" this weekend. No, spouses don't get to come along automatically. We are sadly parted, and cannot act as a heckling partnership at dive bars! But I have a column to write and sleep to catch anyway.

Evidently all sorts of smart celebrities are at Foo Camp this year, including Steve Yegge and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. A coed Bohemian Grove?


: Just Look Away: My first lolcat is one for Ron Paul, which logically makes it a RonLOL. I r serious candidate/this r serious debate

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: Off to MoCCA: Today I visit the 2007 MoCCA Art Festival. Comics to get, or get autographed, include:

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: Today's Firsts: I played Guitar Hero for the first time (wow, this is much harder to get the hang of than Dance Dance Revolution!) and the second time (wow, this is fun). And I heard, via Guitar Hero, the original Warrant song "Sweet Cherry Pie," which I had only heard before in a Weird Al polka medley.

Leonard comes back soon -- I miss my totoroid husband! I want to watch and analyze movies with him! And get secret Foo Camp gossip! And eat noodles.


: Insider Faceball: If you just can't get enough Sumana, and you're already reading my column and my del.icio.us subfeed (with comments!), check out my entries at the newish Fog Creek non-Joel weblog. I tend to talk about things that come up here and applying principles I read in books.

Competing with Open Source talks about how to honestly, fairly get people to use your proprietary product rather than a FLOSS alternative.

Don't forget that competition intensifies over time. Your competitors will watch your software improve, and copy it, and there will come a time when you can't make money off it anymore. Open source developers are great at cloning. Good software takes ten years but then it's done, and you will have copycats every step of the way -- open source and closed source. In the long term, we hope that customer service, brand reputation, and other stuff outside the actual codebase will give us an advantage others can't duplicate.

There's more stuff in that vein in Why FogBugz Competes Against Corkboards. And in Customer Service: Tools, Techniques, Training -- And Breaks I talk about the training, techniques, tools, and breaks we get at Fog Creek that help us support customers better.


: Disclaimer: Blogging will be light for a few days.


: MC Masala on Modesty And A Sidewalk Cafe Story: The taboo on attention-seeking (my column last week):

I spent my adolescence learning how to turn down my showoff dial. Or trying to. Enthusiasm + intelligence = "brown-noser," right? And now, like so many women in the professional world, I have to lose my false modesty and trumpet my achievements -- and certainty as loudly as my male colleagues, or I won't get the attention, raises and responsibility I deserve. I have to do PR for my company, but also for myself.

Oddly, the only place I've ever been comfortable with that responsibility is onstage, doing stand-up comedy. I caught the audience's attention and manipulated them into laughing by hacking their minds through humor. What audacity, to control others and to claim my work is worth your attention.

An anecdote on confusion, booze, and frugality is this week's column and a conscious Jon Carroll homage.

The nondrinkers in the audience may not know how subtly a drinker has to communicate to another drinker that the drinking is getting out of hand. "How are you doing?" or "Are you all right?" get said with peculiar, sympathetic, concerned tones and faces. "You're a coward with no tolerance for alcohol and should stop making stupid decisions" does not get said.

So we kept talking, and Dave said things about race that were not racist, but which might sound racist if printed as reportage in a newspaper. Funny how that works. Booze and personal trust make it easier to talk about sex, money, and race/class/gender analysis.

Next week I talk about basil.


: Go Mel!: "Running an Education Jam in the Philippines" is only one of the subheadings on that blog post.


: 7x7: At my request, Eric Fischer calculated the long tail of San Francisco street lengths as part of his effort to walk every block in SF.

I threatened to set up flash mobs that would walk the streets with him. This was abandoned as unworkable.


: Here We Go: In this week's MC Masala column, Leonard talks about making pesto, and I talk about the Indian tulsi plant.

Leonard used the garden as a trick to get himself to exercise. His hours of plantings, weedings, waterings and harvests yielded about five meals' worth of food. But he still remembers sharing those green beans with our neighbors. And that yard went from dead gray dirt, where not even weeds grew, to a beautiful green/brown profusion.

My mom gardened everywhere she lived, too. I remember the flowers best. All our houses smelled of jasmine -- Leonard included a jasmine vine in our backyard to make me happy. But she always made sure to grow one herb: Tulsi, or 'holy basil.' We ate it and we used it in Hindu ceremonies. No wonder I latched onto its cousin, the sweet basil that we usually mean when we say 'basil.'

I finished Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle. As always, some nice metaphors and insights, but I didn't get enough jaw-dropping moments out of the thing, and it got to the point where any clump of description longer than a few sentences tripped me up. Still: an awesome achievement, and the dialogue where Daniel Waterhouse meets Mr. Orney is deadly hilarious. Also, I recently read Isaac Asimov's crazy Murder at the ABA. Harlan Ellison didn't sue for libel?! And An American's Guide to Doing Business in China: Negotiating Contracts And Agreements; Understanding Culture And Customs; Marketing Products And Services by Mike Saxon is fascinating, especially in the vivid, deep, broad stereotypes of China and the Chinese.

I'm off for two weeks for my own exercise and green/brown profusion. Via WWOOF, I'll be working on an organic farm a ways northwest of here. Mostly tending tomatoes, I believe. I got a sun hat and some shreddable shorts and jeans at the thrift store. I leave tomorrow. If my schemes work out I'll still get a copy of the seventh Harry Potter book the day it comes out and read it before spoilers get to me. Also if my schemes work out my first time ever doing agricultural work will not maim or kill me.

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: Sign Of The Times: When I was growing up, a lazy person writing a presentation would start off telling you about a key word. He'd use the dictionary definition or etymology (or better yet, a made-up etymology that sounded slightly plausible to amateurs). These days, the presenter tells you how many results you get if you search for the word or term on Google.


: One Day Only: Sometime this week this article will go away into some archives, but for now: Sumana's farming lessons.


: Catenary: While reading Leonard's retrospective of the future, I had reason to ask, "what's a catenary?"

Leonard went into the bedroom and emerged, holding one end of a cell phone charger cord high in each hand, like a mad scientist about to show them, show them all. "This is a catenary," he explained -- the shape a hanging cord or cable describes when its ends are held up but gravity pulls down the weight of the cord itself.

"So it's a parabola, right?" I asked. He said no, and I looked it up.

Galileo claimed that the curve of a chain hanging under gravity would be a parabola, but this was disproved by Jungius in a work published in 1669.
"I am so wrong," I said. "I was proved wrong in 1669!"

"On the other hand," Leonard pointed out, "you're as good as Galileo."

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: Ogden Nash = Hen Gonads: Turns out that my pal Hal just read the diabolical poetry/playwriting parody The Holy Tango of Literature, which includes some of my favorite Modern Humorist bits. I loved "I WILL ALARM ISLAMIC OWLS" when I read it a zillion years ago; just now I read "KIN RIP PHALLI" and nearly woke Leonard up with laughter.

Anyway, I just realized that author Francis Heaney is the Francis I know, the sweetiepie of Rose White, and that I've had multiple meals/meetings with them since moving to NYC (they're friends with the EFF crowd we knew in SF). Wow! And Holy Tango is under a Creative Commons license.

In other poetry news: Jon Carroll alerts me to funny Billy Collins poetry criteria.

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: New MC Masala Column & Profanity, Privilege, Preacher: ANG seems to have trouble getting my columns up on the web site. At all. So, for example, the last 3 columns of July (the ones where I was away on a farm and didn't have endless net time to email polite requests) have not been posted, so I can't give you links. This annoys me.

The most recent column is about said farming experience. Oh, that parsley:

"It's that good because it doesn't know it's in your stomach yet!" he replied with a gleeful twinkle in his eye.
Other interesting links today include my friend The Poor Man's profane-as-usual ranting:

Perhaps we could spend time looking at options in the excluded middle between "deferring to dictators" and "bombing the s*** out of indistinct rectangles that the CIA is like totally sure are full of terror"...

Hugo Schwyzer reminds us of how weird it always seems when a complacent, privileged class/gender/race/whatever meets the less privileged, hardworking, ambitious cream of the crop.

And Real Live Preacher knows what it's like to attempt writing honestly and publicly about your own life while you're still alive. He's taken more risks than I have.

For those of you who are my friends (in real life) and family and especially those of you who are a part of my faith community, I'm sorry if my writing makes things a little awkward between us. I'm trying to push the edges but also not go too far. I'm trying to write about one man's life, and mine is the only life I know well enough to write about. If I write about something and don't bring it up when we talk, I'd love it if we could both just let it go and not worry about it. If I need to talk about it, you know I will. But if you are worried about me, having read something at Real Live Preacher, feel free to ask me about it if you want to. If I write about it, you can ask about it. That's only fair.

I'm going to mull that and try to figure out a similar policy of hospitality for my blog, column, etc.


: Recommendation: From the Dungeons & Dragons game on Sunday: you must watch Grave of the Fireflies, and you must have My Neighbor Totoro ready to pop in and watch immediately after. I haven't yet watched the former; maybe I'll put myself in a stupor by watching it alongside Requiem for a Dream.

I like my D&D coplayers and dungeon master, but we don't get much time to chat, because we get together to play so seldom (maybe once a month). At one point we had a ten-day limit to raise one of our characters from the dead, and I cracked that it was a good thing the limit was ten in-game days. Also: a great way to get people off the phone so you can get back to your game is to tell the caller exactly what you're doing. "We have to find some giants or something to battle to get experience points, so that one of our clerics can level up and resurrect another member of our party from the dead." Don't call them; they'll call you.

Vera was such a horrible character that Stephen Colbert told me not to play her. Backtrack: I got to see The Colbert Report get filmed, and if you're free ALL DAY some Mon-Thurs weekday from 11am or noon till six, you can probably also get standby tickets by sitting in line outside the studio. For the quick Q&A session before the show, I asked Colbert what to do with a character whose lowest 4 (of 6) stats were 7, 8, 9, and 10 (out of 18). "Oh, you rolled a farmer!" Colbert exclaimed. He said that, in his D&D group, if someone rolled a character that bad, the player would announce that this character would take up farming, lay it aside (basically making it an NPC), and roll a new one. We also got to name off the six stats (he forgot one, I believe Wisdom) for the benefit of the studio audience.

I did create a new character, because everyone has two, because Vera sucked, because nearly everyone in this battle had fallen unconscious or worse and we might have needed someone to step in and save the day. Gordon* is a third-level fighter with pretty good dexterity and intelligence and only medium wisdom. He left the family farm seeking fortune and stories, got captured by slavers, and escaped only to run into The Intrepid Heroes (actual party name). Alignment: chaotic good, which I'm not really sure how to play except by being bouncy and helpful and feeling okay about stealing from dragons. Suggestions?

* Namesakes: Fog Creek office manager Liz Hall, née Liz Gordon, and Canadian-American children's/young adults' author Gordon Korman. Also it vaguely makes sense in tenth-century Europe.


: Announcement (Bookend):

"Susan then poured the fish into a plastic bag so we could get a good look at it. Afterwards the fish didn't want to leave the bag because it had corners, and corners are safe. I said the fish was trapped in this tide pool, and Susan said this was the fish's territory. She compared the fish to someone who's always complaining about and wishing they could leave their home town, but when you say 'The bus leaves at four' they start making excuses for why they can't leave."

I'm no longer working at Fog Creek Software. It turns out it wasn't a good fit. I'll give you more details over the phone or email if you'd like. Bookend: the original move/new job post.

Leonard's work and search for work are going well so don't worry about us moneywise. I'm still learning some software development skills and finishing up my master's. More as it happens.


: Re: Microsoft Research: "Isn't it amazing that someone would create their own Xerox PARC and then treat it exactly as everyone treated Xerox PARC?" -me

Also by me: "J2EE: designed by committee, and used by committee."

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: Holding Out For Sub-Sub-Zero: In May, I saw this SubZero ad in the TiVo showcase: "Stay up to date with everything that's fresh at Sub-Zero. Subscribe to our brand and we'lll send periodic updates and food preservation tips."

The heck? "Subscribe to our brand?" Then the other day someone accidentally said, "Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal flavor," and it all made sense.


: Elated: Yesterday Leonard and I stopped by a Greek market so he could get his yummy Greek yogurt for cheap. The deli had some sample cubes of cheese out, with a Greek name on the sign -- I didn't recognize it.

I tasted the cheese. "Neither soft nor very hard...salty....Is this made from sheep's milk?" The employee nodded.

I stepped into an aisle, out of his sight, before dancing in glee.


(2) : Misc: My pile of virtual stickies includes one with In Soviet Russia jokes:

9 stitches in time save 1
money is time
it's true because it's funny

and a bunch of possible web quizzes of the "Which X Are You?" format:

which bookstore are you?
supreme court justice
weblog software
famous blogger
telegraph avenue business
dar williams song
what aspect of soviet russia are you?
cute animal
website (google, amazon, &c.)
which purchase order are you?
Purchase order? Aspect of Soviet Russia? My previous self gets some pretty odd ideas.


(1) : Last MC Masala Column Next Week: I've had a column running weekly in several Bay Area newspapers for the past two years, including a year and a half where I lived on the other coast. MC Masala was pretty cool, but due to various mergers and reorganizations, my feature's going away. Last week's column was about farming:

"What kind is this?"
"Just plain Italian flat-leaf parsley."
"No, I mean, what variety is this that it tastes so good?"
"It's that good because it doesn't know it's in your stomach yet!" he replied with a gleeful twinkle in his eye.

and next week's column will be a farewell. Time to get my clips together and start applying/selling elsewhere.


(2) : In DC: I'm visiting my sister in Arlington, Virginia for her birthday. I think I'm free for most of the day tomorrow (Thursday) in case you know me and want to hang out.


: MC Masala Extravaganza -- Columns You Missed: My column archives now link to nine recent columns, including four that hadn't been up before:

Also: Rejected column titles. A picture of me being dramatic.


: Notes To People I Saw Recently: Riana: My friend Stuart is working on AltLaw, and it looks like the NYT heard about it.

John: Lincoln Shot First -- The Shirt. Also, The Whitest Kids U Know; I don't see any of the many Lincoln skits among their online clips, but I mentioned "Tattoo" to you and Jenny.


(1) : Obsession: Yesterday I read J. J. Weinman's insightful post on The Colbert Report. Like the Richardson/Harihareswara household, Weinman recognizes that Colbert is a farcical soap opera on the order of Arrested Development. I also watched an episode or two of Colbert while falling asleep.

So maybe that's why I had that really weird, possibly insightful dream about being in a Colbert live taping audience. And my old high school unfriend Suzanne R. was there. So now I have completely unfounded attitude changes towards the two of them. Intuition or hallucination?


: Last MC Masala: My last column talks about punk rock, perseverance, and rejected column names.

The Mountain Goats are a folk/punk rock band. I think. I always hesitate when labeling something "punk rock" for fear a more authentic person will jump out from behind a tree and say, "That's not punk rock!" In fact, I envision a film or book where two such persons cite bands, musicians, stories and concepts to each other, only to hear, "That's not punk rock! What's punk rock is..."

The final anecdote, the one the debaters would agree on as the pinnacle of punk rock, would be the story of Cole Porter's riding accident in 1937. While waiting for help to arrive, both his legs broken, Cole Porter -- so the story goes -- composed song lyrics. In tremendous pain, he composed!


(1) : Switches & Junctions: I finally hounded Leonard into moving to a reliable (read: commercial-grade) hosting provider. So now I can link to funny entries on his blog with confidence that you can click through and read them.

I got to hang out with some friends this week -- surprise, surprise, not all of it was in the context of D&D. For example, Michael and I made a creative writing pact to force ourselves to get some short fiction out. And I ran into Stuart at Columbia and he introduced me to his boss/collaborator, Tim Wu (dumpling madman).

It was an outrage. To my friends' embarrassment, I stood up and shouted at our waiter:

"What are these?"

"Dumplings," he said.

"These," I said, "are not dumplings. The skin is too thick. The meat is too small. It's been cooked too long. The folding is done all wrong." My friends begged me to stop, and the manager threatened to call the police.

All that net neutrality stuff is just a smokescreen. Wu's a single-issue lawyer and he's on a Christopher Kimball-esque crusade against bad dumplings.

Luis Villa, whom I've met a total of once but whose blog I'm still reading, reminded me that, oh yeah, Wu's a law celebrity. And that AltLaw is really tremendously cool. The ordinary layperson probably does not know that private corporations have this weird de facto monopoly on court decisions and thus on legal research. "Doesn't the Government Printing Office print everything so you can get at it?" I vaguely wondered when I heard about the troubles people have in getting to cases without Westlaw or Lexis-Nexis. No! So, go Project Gutenberg, go Open Library, go MathWorld, and in that same vein, go AltLaw.


: Making Us Feel Old, Part II: Part I still holds its own -- when I mention in conversations with friends that ST:TNG debuted a full two decades ago, it always results in a stunned moment of silence.

But! There is a newish Staples near my apartment. I've been there twice now, and both times I've thought the muzak wasn't that bad. So that means that the lower/middle-manager class now includes folks who find the rockin' tunes of my adolescence familiar and comforting. "My" music is now corporate store pap.

The rule goes that nothing will ever compare to the songs that were on the radio when you graduated from high school. Has it really been nine years since 1998?


(1) : Comedy This Midmorning/Early Afternoon: I just watched A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum for the first time, so now I finally get the backstory for Michael Dorn's "Stand aside; I take large steps" Star Trek: The Next Generation outtake from that one episode of Reading Rainbow.

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(1) : Miscellaneous: Blazing Saddles is a very strange movie. Somehow every time I'd heard of it, I heard about the race and racism jokes but not the insane fourth-wall-breaking. And Gene Wilder's affect reminds me of Zack Brown.

I saw Zack and a bunch of other FL/OSS folks at a tremendous party on Friday night, an occasion that capped a week of heavy socialization. Columbia friends, beering before classes start on the fourth! Adam, cousin C, Leonard's coauthor Peter C. Norton, Moss and Julia, Biella and her friends, Fureigh... sorry, this is one of those entries that's more diary than chin-stroking essay thoughtfulness, but those links are interesting at least.

A parting thought: when did "crappy" become an acceptable word for use in news/analysis pieces in The Atlantic? (June 2007, p. 60)


(1) : First Day: Today I had my first day of classes, and I tried out the fitness center and tried out for a play. Time to stretch a bit.


: Reviews: Surprisingly unappealing: The Good Husband of Zebra Drive. Sort of predictable.

Surprisingly rewarding: Psych, Harvard Business Essentials: Strategy.

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: Tentative Podcast: When my sister and I were kids, sometimes we would record tapes of ourselves talking, like how some kids put on little skits for and with neighborhood playmates. We'd pretend to be news announcers, plotting witches, famous singer/actresses, what have you. I still have some of those tapes and it's unbearable and fun to listen to the young Sumanandini team (one of the zillion names for the Sumana + Nandini combo).

In the same spirit, back in March I started cajoling Leonard into doing "podcasts" with me in GarageBand on my Mac. These were just ordinary conversations, ten to thirty minutes long, that we recorded, sometimes augmented with the built-in GarageBand sound effects when I felt a little crazy. The conversations I have with Leonard are a continuing comfort and delight, one of the best parts of my life, and I felt the urge to take some aural snapshots, to lay down some memories into a Pensieve.

But once in a while it would be nice to share our "podcasts" with y'all. So here's one that we limited to five minutes, where we talk about Cyc, Star Trek, and the Duluth Trading Company catalog.


(1) : No Mention of Ag, Management, or "Catch Fish For Profit": (via wealhtheow):

  1. Go to Career Cruising, www.careercruising.com
  2. Put in Username: nycareers and Password: landmark.
  3. Take their "Career Matchmaker" questions.
  4. Post the top twenty results
  5. Put the careers you have seriously considered in bold.

1. Lobbyist
2. Production Woodworker
3. Politician
4. Judge
5. Criminologist
6. Miner (Underground)
7. Printing Press Operator
8. Professor
9. Anthropologist
10. Activist
11. Public Policy Analyst
12. Communications Specialist
13. Print Journalist
14. Writer
15. Critic
16. Manufacturing Machine Operator
17. Translator
18. Technical Writer
19. Crane Operator
20. Resources Drilling Technician


(2) : "How can I provide for this right thing to be always done?": I've had some recent success in using spam as a source for recommendations, but more useful by far were Crooked Timber and Ask Metafilter. Speaking of CT, title ideas for your blog posts and a game theory question of sorts.

Thanks to "foobario"'s Ask Metafilter recommendation, I'm currently reading the Project Gutenberg text of Florence Nightingale's On Nursing and it's tremendous. This post's title comes from it. I thought it would be like Martha Ballard's diary, but instead it has a lot in common with Spolsky or my business-ish textbooks. Nightingale focuses on executive energy, attention, and putting the proper processes into place such that patients (employees) have the resources and quiet they need to get better (do their work). Once you get to a certain administrative level, instead of solving problems ad hoc you have to think strategically.

But it's still fun to solve a good puzzle, or to hear a good problem-solution story.

On New Year's Day, 2002, I was working on Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach -- Adam P., that's the exercise I mentioned at lunch the other day. I met Zack Weinberg on January 2nd, when we were both living in Berkeley.

Now we're living on opposite coasts. I go to Columbia, where Zack did his undergrad. He lives in/near San Diego, where my sister did hers. OK, maybe that's too forced.

Zack criticized The Atlantic, at least the 2003-era Atlantic Monthly. I've been subscribing for at least a year since I find it good for long trips, so Zack, I'd be very interested in hearing what it was you found unimpressive. I try not to pay too much attention to Hitchens or Flanagan, but Fallows and Bowden seem solid. Am I wrong?

And it's light enough for good not-class reading, a.k.a. cardio-machine reading. Elliptical, stationary bike -- the machines in the Columbia gym have little perches just big enough for paperbacks or magazines, but there's really no way I can take notes during the experience. Some people have beach novels; I have Colson Whitehead's fun and moving John Henry Days and Atlantics from the past ten months. And once I've finished the mag, I can leave it in the mag-swap slots on the wall under the clock, next to the Columbia Spectators and Entertainment Weekly that people bring in. ("So that's what Chuck's about!")

Speaking of Fallows -- James Fallows, former Microsoft employee, current China correspondent -- he had an interesting article in the July/August issue: "China Makes, the World Takes." I can't glibly agree with the cover headline, "Why China's Rise Is Good For Us." Fallows does what the business folks would call a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) for the economic relationship between China and the US.

Right now, it's the half-automated processes, like snapping a part onto an electric toothbrush, where Chinese manufacturing excels. At the beginning (design, branding) and end (retail and service) of a product cycle, IP-heavy firms based in first-world countries do great. Manufacturing is a cost center; design and retail are revenue centers. It's classic division of labor to offshore the parts of your business where you have no competitive advantage, can't add value for the customer, and can't make profit for yourself.

That's how US businesses are thinking strategically. And Chinese manufacturers, optimized for cheap prototyping and quick turnaround (hmmm), can do quite well partnering with such firms. But the Chinese government is thinking strategically at a higher level of abstraction. How can China become a revenue center? How can China add value? By building or enticing the institutions that grow intelligent, cosmopolitan executives and entrepreneurs. So the government, being in charge, provides that these things will be done. Schools, Microsoft design labs, whatever you could imagine the frickin' communist dictatorship of the PRC coercing or encouraging. China's not content with being China; China wants to be India too.

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: Balancing (It's All An Act): Mel Chua is closer to her extended family than I ever have been to mine. Way more of her nearish relatives live in the US than mine do, if I understand correctly. And now she's bearing the weight of traditional family expectations in a way I haven't for a while.

I got a Real Job (even if I did leave it) and married a good guy who can take care of me emotionally and financially (even if he is white), and I'm in grad school (even if it isn't law, med, or business). It wouldn't be entirely accurate to say that I am fulfilling, subverting, or ignoring my parents' expectations. I hope Mel finds her own way of being a good daughter, independent of the Good Asian Girl straitjacket.


: Froggy Went A-Suing: Leonard and I recorded our suggestions for updates to the "Mmm-hmm" motif in "Froggy Went A-Courtin'".

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(1) : Also, Music Videos: As long as I'm linking to Mac-enabled creative intramarital collaborations: the music videos I've done for "Relativity" and "The Whiskey Rebellion Activity Zone". The one for "Relativity" uses a song that Leonard wrote and recorded as well as footage that he shot, mostly accidentally, while visiting Foo Camp, a tidepool, and Susan McCarthy. The WRAZ video uses snapshots, postcards, and the like from our families' travel in the US, England, India, and Japan. It features Brendan, Atticus, most of Alyson, Rachel R., Riana, Manoj, Adam P., Andy S., and us.

The Mac makes these collage-style pieces quite easy. And they whet my appetite for more substantive endeavors. Next step: deliberately taking pictures or footage for use in decorating Leonard's music?


: Gifts For Friends: I came up with some ideas for gifts to give my sister for her recent birthday. Then I asked her and it turned out she didn't want any of them. But I thought they were good ideas to share anyway.


(2) : Your Passion, Their Power: Back on June 9th or so, way before Fog Creek and I parted ways, I read a blog entry on how to hire people for startups and posted a comment that doesn't show up there anymore. Marc Andreessen took down comments on his blog because it would take too much time to moderate them (definitely a better alternative than letting them run amok). So I'm reposting it here, slightly edited:

One of the good things about our industry is that there are frequently lots of new jobs being created and so you're almost never pushing someone out onto the street...
And, the implication runs, anyone driven enough can get another job anyway (in their city, with health insurance that starts instantly, even during recessions, etc.).

The drive/curiosity criteria do exclude some smart people. For example, the candidate who's just coming back into the job market from full-time parenting is only now getting up-to-speed on Sarbox, Vista, what have you. And this person might even make his family a priority (taking allotted vacation time and weekends)!

Startups don't like people like that. The drive and curiosity Marc seeks require sacrifice. What gets sacrificed? A job secure enough to support a spouse, or get health care for the kids. The time to volunteer for a charity, or take care of elderly relatives. Ongoing cultural literacy and engagement.

These tips sound like a great way to find Janissaries who will build your company as they build their careers. They've sharpened their ambitions, honing them to a point, shaving away concerns that regular humans might think important. You won't get "well-rounded," but you didn't ask for that. You want workers who will live and breathe the company with you. And you don't actually want people who care more about something else - family, church, dance -- than about their careers.

Marc basically says as much when he says that it doesn't matter to him why people feel driven - guilt, Type A personalities, what have you. What did happy, contented people ever do for corporate America?

In my del.icio.us-ing I said, "Marc Andreessen and Paul Graham believe that startups shouldn't bother hiring people who care about anything but career." Or, perhaps, once you're hiring people who aren't willing to sleep overnight at the office, you're no longer a Real True Startup.

That article on Chinese manufacturing included a telling quote:

A factory work shift is typically 12 hours, usually with two breaks for meals (subsidized or free), six or seven days per week. Whenever the action lets up--if the assembly line is down for some reason, if a worker has spare time at a meal break--many people place their heads down on the table in front of them and appear to fall asleep instantly. Chinese law says that the standard workweek is 40 hours, so this means a lot of overtime, which is included in the pay rates above. Since their home village may be several days' travel by train and bus, workers from the hinterland usually go back only once a year. They all go at the same time--during the "Spring Festival," or Chinese New Year, when ports and factories effectively close for a week or so and the nation's transport system is choked. "The people here work hard," an American manager in a U.S.-owned plant told me. "They're young. They're quick. There's none of this 'I have to go pick up the kids' nonsense you get in the States."

It gives me pause to know that this person from my country, a manager to whom probably hundreds of workers report, considers obligations to one's family "nonsense."

If you consider your job a means to an end, you can make the appropriate trade-offs. But if you get passionate about your work, especially at a workplace you don't control, then it has power over you, like a lover or a government. "Work hard" is a code phrase that bosses will use, sometimes knowingly, to make your life worse.

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(1) : To Write: Business Lessons From The Mahabharata:

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: Sumana Performs This Sunday Twiddles Her Thumb: This weekend I'm doing a monologue workshop called "Performing Your Life". Mike Daisey, a performer I like a lot, is teaching it. On Sunday the 23rd, at 9pm, those of us who want can perform the piece we've been working on. I'm pretty sure I'll be one of them. The show will be at 9pm at The Tank, in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan. Probably my performance will be between five and ten minutes, but it might be fun for you to see anyway.

By the way, in November Daisey is performing his "Great Men of Genius" quartet again, in New York. I never got to see the P.T. Barnum one, and would love to see them all over again.

Update on Sunday the 23rd: Nope, won't be performing. The show got moved to Wednesday, when I have a class. Blargh.

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: Performing *My* Life: I'm about to leave for the second day of the "Performing Your Life" two-day intensive workshop. Somehow I hadn't bargained how interesting it would be to hear other people's stories! By the end of today I'll have at least twenty neat new stories to tell you.

I won't be performing publicly tonight due to a scheduling fiasco. Bah.


: Details: Today the leader of Iran speaks at Columbia. Tonight I have class at Columbia. Show ID, use a different gate, hope the rally noise is over by the time class starts. I'd gotten used to the noise at Berkeley, but since there are no gates blocking most entrances to the Berkeley campus, the entry/exit limitations will be new.


(2) : Notes From Classes: One of my classes has me reading The World Is Flat by Thomas "Airmiles" Friedman. I can skim it quickly because Friedman isn't talking to me, he's talking to the average American (specifically a non-techie whose parents were born in the US). Were I taking notes, they would read:

Chapter 1: Crap I already know
Chapter 2: Crap I already know
Chapter 3: Crap I already know
....

The professor has us reading it for the anecdotes, especially so he can brag/give details about the ones where he was involved. I skim fast enough to get them, but wince at the errors, e.g., p. 95, "BitTorrent is a website..." Leonard noticed one:

"Wow, CollabNet was founded in 2004?!" [p. 112]
"Did you know that for 4 years you worked for a nonexistent company?"
"It felt like it."

Cheap shots give the best ROI! Anyway.

In the storytelling workshop I took this last weekend, Mike Daisey (the teacher) made an interesting point. We tell stories to ourselves and each other all the time, to make sense of things. And when we use stories to work through our issues, to process numinous or terrible memories, certain tactics help. We explain, we repeat, we lick our wounds, we figure out what symbolizes what, we explicitly create morals and lessons. But irreducible mystery, lessons left ambiguous and unsaid, make for better art. The way you tell an artistic story requires that you leave undone things you'd do when telling a therapeutic story.

I can see this. But this means that there are certain tendencies in the artist -- as Elisa DeCarlo put it, you have to keep your guard down internally and externally -- that don't bode well for my concept of mental health. The artist has to stay intimate with disturbing thoughts, and avoid explaining away their power.

Flea and Leonard (in "Mud") are only two of the artists who have lamented that it's hard to create art while content. And this reminds me of other hypotheses floating around my brain, like a similar hypothesis about the cognitive habits that make good programmers and bad friends/coworkers/citizens, or the old chestnut about the incompatibility between ambition and contentment.

So: if you have a choice, what do you choose? And if you don't have a choice in how you've been built, then how do you adjust and learn to live in your own skin?

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: Upcoming Media Experiences: Sunday: I see my friend Michael Rehse in the closing performance of EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTION!: THE MUSICAL.

Monday: I exchange short stories with my friend and ex-colleague Michael Gorsuch. I have most of the plot for mine but I have to write it today.

Friday, October 5th: Finishing The Game, from Better Luck Tomorrow directory Justin Lin, opens at the IFC in New York. I saw the trailer just now and instantly knew I must see it ASAP. Come with!


: Copout Time!: When you have a short story due
And you don't know what to do
It's copout time!
Walk a gunman in the door!
Faint the protagonist to the floor!
Copout time!
[Copout time!]
All the time in the world
Wouldn't save the story you started
So give up, give in, and finish
With a dishwater cliché halfhearted
COPOUT!

Five minutes later: My first short story in ten years, "Ronnie," is now on its way to Michael. Much like my Amazing Morphing Accent (you wanted Scottish? how about Russian/French/Indian/cockney?), "Ronnie" displays the Amazing Morphing Tone of a first draft. Police procedural? Lovecraft? Keilloresque close observation of small-town life? I couldn't decide, so why should you?

No, you (probably) can't read it.


(1) : Reasons To Mistrust Government(s): A libertarian trifecta: people in governments abuse their powers to stalk their exes, arrest legal citizens in immigration raids, and murder hundreds of people and destroy villages when citizens peacefully ask for democracy. That last article on Myanmar, by the way, describes yet another example of Amartya Sen's thesis on famines.


(2) : Plans: Planned for last night: a sprint of sorts, where I'd help a friend spec out and start writing an app he's writing for his job and I'd do a few chapters of How To Design Programs. We did some speccing, I did exercise 4.3.3, and we talked a bunch about careers, money, sex, and relationships. I'm surprised religion and politics didn't make it in there.

It was rejuvenating to do project-manager-y stuff with him and remind myself of why I'm on my path. It's been a tough week with Leonard away at Martha's Vineyard. As he has a concentrated week of working on his dreams, I'm alone in our apartment looking for any dreams I might have had and then buried. Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women's Changing Lives showed up for $2 at a thrift store yesterday so I bought it and it's helping.

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(1) : Investment In Education: I was the best scorer on my high school's Academic Decathlon team in the spring of 1997. So the county gave me a USD$100 savings bond. I believe someone told me it would mature in five years. A hundred dollars! My teenage self was very pleased by the amount, although I'm guessing I ferociously underplayed the prize with the kind of false modesty that smothers one's own authentic satisfaction in accomplishment.

Sometime between 2003 and 2005, I ran across the bond in my files and went to a bank to get my hundred bucks. It would pay for a couple of phone bills, dinner, that sort of thing. The teller told me it wasn't mature yet - come back ten years from the issue date.

Yesterday I felt guilty for spending more than I'd expected on packages to Sarah in Mali and post-deliverable dinner with classmates. I figured cashing the savings bond would help me feel better about it, so I went to a nearby bank. The teller seemed confused, and told me they'd only give me about $75 for it; it sounded like she was saying that her bank wouldn't pay me the interest I'd earned, just the purchase price. That sounded wrong, so I went to another bank, one where I had an account.

The second teller told me I'd get $75, too. But it's a mature $100 ten-year bond, issued ten years ago! I said. The teller finally had me look in the corner of the certificate: "Series EE: Interest Ceases 30 Years From Issue Date."

After five seconds of wanting to obstinately wait till 2027 to get $25 more on the bond, I cashed it. I knew a lot of trivia when I was fifteen and tested well, ergo a central California county board of education paid to send some copies of Mad, Bitch, Games, and Atlantic Monthly to a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa and keep me in sushi and Chardonnay one Monday evening in the Upper West Side.

In my filing cabinet tonight sits an envelope, labelled "130 Year Savings Bonds", now half as full as it was yesterday morning. I got one of those Academic Decathlon highest-scorer prizes in 1998, too. I knew a lot of trivia. I had to stop watching "Jeopardy!" with my mom because just before Final Jeopardy! in every episode they'd play the "how to try out" message and she'd say I should go. Their tryouts were never in Stockton, and if I'd ever wanted to get driven to LA or San Francisco to try out my parents would have made it one of their Things and make a big deal out of it....I'm back-forming those excuses. I don't know why I never tried out.

In 1997, the first year that our high school had a Quiz Bowl team, I led it to third place in the region, beating a school that had won every year previous. The next year we won the regionals, again under my captaincy. I still have those shirts -- the 1997 one has held up remarkably well for a free custom-printed tee that I've worn regularly for ten years. Maybe it's held value better than that savings bond. It says "National Society of Black Engineers" on it, because the local branch of NSBE sponsored the tournament, and sometimes when I wear it people ask about my affiliation with NSBE. I generally say that I'm neither black nor an engineer nor a national society of any sort. One of those personal canards you get used to saying because it takes less effort than thinking up a new mediocre witticism each time.

Anyway, I knew a lot of trivia but somehow I didn't have the mindfulness to look at the maturity terms in the corners of those bonds sometime in the past ten years. I'm wondering whether to cash that other savings bond now or wait till 2028. It wouldn't really be about the money; it's not even worth calculating how infinitesimal 25 nominal dollars of interest would be over 21 years, even discounting inflation. It's worth more if I cash it now, even if you believe the US Government will still be good for this particular obligation when it matures. And if I cash it now I'm done with it and it's one fewer envelope in the filing cabinet.

But I kind of want to keep it. My niece Maggie will be young enough in 2028 that an unexpected gift of a hundred dollars might keep me safely at Cool Aunt status. And unlike nearly every other plaque, trophy, or gewgaw I got for winning school contests, this has dollars backing it. It's proof that my mindless, voracious appetite for factoids, sometimes substitutable for an education, was literally valued (passive voice deliberate; thinking of the whom will just depress me and enumerating the whom will bore you).

I don't garden; sometimes I think my strongest emotional commitments are to my marriage, my blog, and a few TiVo Season Passes. But if all it takes to grow this emotionally resonant little bugger is leaving it alone in a hanging folder, sure, I can leave it to mature all the way. And if it's blooming later than I thought it would, then it won't lack for company in this apartment.


(1) : Vintage MoCCA Report: Months ago, I went to MoCCA and, unlike Hal, didn't provide a roundup. Until now! I'd expected to meet, and did meet, Alison Bechdel again, Raina Telgemeier again, and Ryan North again. Various works by them got bought and signed. I also got to get a signed copy of the first volume of Nothing Better by Tyler Page.

I did not expect to get a painting for Leonard of the first pirate on the moon. I didn't expect to meet Josh Fruhlinger, or to see Rose, Francis, and Lorinne. I didn't expect to come across the fantastic Teen Boat. And I was utterly astonished to meet and converse with Randall Munroe, just walking around on a day trip from Boston. I gaped openmouthed and dropped to my knees in obeisance. I think he laughed nervously.

I've already pronounced on much of my taste in comics. Some additions: I can feel myself getting into Sheldon, I'm amenable to reading Batman one-offs, and Fables is not as annoying as I thought it was a year ago.


(1) : I'm Disappointed In...: Colson Whitehead and Justin Lin. I'd enjoyed John Henry Days and Better Luck Tomorrow, so I eagerly dove into Whitehead's new book, Apex Hides the Hurt, and Lin's new film, the mockumentary "Finishing The Game". "Your single likeliest choice, statistically speaking, is a book by an author whose other works you've read and enjoyed, because you know it's a good bet that you'll enjoy this one too." That's what I'm saying, Teresa Nielsen Hayden! For example, I'm eager to read anything that Gordon Korman puts out: adventure serials, standalone zany-school-antic tales, reworkings of The Great Gatsby (really!), anything. And I basically feel the same about Neal Stephenson, Leonard, Michael Lewis, and Tracy Kidder.

But Apex was just a dim reflection of John Henry Days, complete with unnamed city slicker narrator ambiguously helping a country town trying to reinvent itself. It wasn't as funny, moving, deep, incisive, or anything. It was shorter, though.

And Finishing The Game had a great trailer, but it spread attention over too many characters, slowed its pace too many times, lost the funny, and completely broke tone in the last ten minutes. It did make me want to see This Is Spinal Tap again, though.

A guy in the credits: Sergei Sorokin, probably this guy. The name made me think of what The West Wing would be like if Aaron Sorkin had been writing within Soviet Russia. Martin Sheen is...Leonid Brezhnev!

Random thought from today's handball-playing with Leonard: Lydia the DRM'd Lady. Chastity belts are DRM.

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: Seen: Now that Leonard's starting his new job, we're waking up earlier and moving our daily handball games to the realm of 7:30 or 8am. This means that today we saw Astorians in suits walking to the subway. The most prominent example: a youngish man in a very proper suit and the most incongruous camo baseball cap ever.

Leonard suggested that the worker was dressed for "Casual Tuesday," "Funny In Context Tuesday", or "You Had To Be There Tuesday."

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: Warning! Volleyball.: Yesterday I was walking west from the NYU College of Dentistry (strawberry-flavored fluoride prophylactic tastes way better than whatever they had when I was a kid) and happened to walk a few blocks alongside a group of three young adults chattering in Russian. My fluency has gone straight k chyortu since I left St. Petersburg in 2001, but I could catch the odd phrase.

As we stopped at a corner, I mused over what I might innocently say to them in Russian. Izvinitye, or "Excuse me," in case I was in their way. Or Ostorozhno ("Caution"), in case I saw a car coming towards them, or something.

The light turned green, they started walking, and I saw a car finishing a turn -- towards them! "Ostorozhno!" I yelled.

They stopped, none died, and I continued on my way.

Later yesterday, as I entered the Columbia gym, I heard that a women's volleyball game was in progress, so I went to watch it. We lost to Dartmouth, but there were some epic rallies and volleys.

I heard multiple spectators yelling, "Sideout!" as an encouragement. I asked one of them what it meant. It used to be that serving and losing on a turn simply meant that the serve for the next turn switched to the other team; the team that hadn't made a mistake won no point, and was said to have "sided out." Now we have "rally scoring," where a point is scored on every turn, and so there's no such thing as siding out. But people still yell "side out," the spectator said, because "there isn't much you can really yell in volleyball. 'Do well'? 'Hit it to the right place'?" I tried out "keep it up," "come on," "go Lions," and the like. He was right.


: Better Things Are On Their Way: On Friday I also went to the Software Freedom Law Center's summit and got to, among other things, meet and hear the tremendously smart, accomplished, and inspiring Eben Moglen for the first time. I intend to organize my notes and post the most surprising and insightful bits from the talks.

Moglen came to the law from hackerdom (as Luis Villa and Dan Berlin are doing). I'm in some liminal space among writing, software, and business, and many attendees at the summit occupy similar neat positions. Dilettantes can become ambassadors. That's my hope.

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: Attempts: Right now: doing a long-distance code sprint with Brendan. Or trying to. Note to self: schedule these things later in the day than 8am, if possible. Or wake up earlier to eat, check email and RSS feeds, etc.

Later today: short story critiquing session with Michael. He wrote:

A special thanks to Sumana for challenging me to do it and not giving up on me when I didn't make the deadline.
Awesome! Maybe it really will work out to be a manager/friend/leader/parent.


: Index Cards: So far my most successful sprint/work date has been the one with Fureigh on Sunday. Outside the house, no internet access, 4 to 5 hours long.

Fureigh mentioned that she knows someone who, among other things, walks the Columbia University gym track late at night memorizing Shakespeare with a friend. So of course the very next night I spotted the pair and introduced myself. New York City won't feel like a small world on its own; being in communities (tech, software freedom, Columbia, on a very small scale Slightly Known People fandom) makes it smaller.


(2) : Clarity in Pricing Is Respectful, Not Sordid: Jay Parkinson, the new Brooklyn doctor who does house calls, instant messenger, and email, has now been practicing for a few weeks. I'm hoping that Parkinson's example, like that of quick clinics (link to my January rant), helps add healthy competition into a really freaky economic situation.

Markets work when sellers compete and when buyers and sellers have good information about the choices they make. But when was the last time you saw a simple price list posted at a doctor's office, the way there is at a body shop? One interesting moment:

I saw a patient the other day who needed an inhaled steroid (no generic available) that the local big chain pharmacy here in NYC sells for $130. My database says there is a mom and pop pharmacy in the Lower East Side that sells it for $85. I called the pharmacy and told them their "drug retail price list" says they offer it for $85 and I have a cash-paying patient who needs this drug. The pharmacist was quite surprised. "How did you get this and who gave it to you?"...

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to do a Google search for the actual price of a mammogram (the price range here in NYC is $125 to $750) at any facility in the country for a cash-paying customer?... At present, there is absolutely no way to search these prices short of calling hundreds of facilities to find the best price. Trust me, I've done it. It's hard work trying to uproot an entire industry's concerted effort to keep you in the dark.

The profits in the healthcare industry depend upon their customers' ignorance of the actual cost of medical goods and services and the data behind why you actually need these goods and services.


: No Surprise: As of right now, the DonorsChoose site is not terribly responsive.

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(4) : Day Of The Lurkers: If you and I have never met in person, but you read my blog, please leave a comment on this post to say hello!

For example, if you're the person who thoughtfully sent me Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, or you're the Bob Smith who knew the lyrics to "Bon Anniversaire", please accept my thanks and take a bow.


(2) : They're Everywhere: When ironic/sarcasm scare quotes meet signmakers who use quotation marks for emphasis, you have the "Quotation Mark" Abuse photo pool (found via every damn blog ever).

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: Logic Puzzle: Chief Information Officers say: 41% of us report directly to the Chief Executive Officer. CEOs say: 63% of our CIOs report directly to us.

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: No Ex Post Facto Law Or Bill Of Attainder: One of my favorite bits from the Constitution. It's fun to say and it's the right thing to do. That's why I'm with the EFF on this one.

Update: Seth points out that this is probably a retroactive amnesty that doesn't fall under the prohibition on retroactive creation of criminal liability. Oh yeah.


: Colbert Sighting: Twice tonight, Bravo's showing Stephen Colbert obscure candy. Specifically, at 10pm and 1am, it's airing the episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent where Colbert guest stars.


: Patents, Trademarks, Trade Secrets, and Copyrights: Back in February, my law & technology class hosted Mark Kesslen, an IP lawyer at Lowenstein Sandler. He gave a guest lecture on intellectual property. I'm enough of an IP obsessive that I transcribed my notes and gave them out to classmates. Since I'm prepping my notes from the Software Freedom Law Center summit, I realized that a crash course on the US quartet of IP categories would come in handy. So: Intellectual Property crash course: Patents, copyrights, trade secrets, and trademarks. Please let me know of horrible inaccuracies.


(5) : Had Me, Lost Me: At a VMWare recruiting session on Monday, the Ryan North lookalike Eli Collins mentioned dtrace. I thought, "I should learn more about dtrace!" Today I happened across Bryan Cantrill's Google Tech Talk on dtrace and decided to watch it.

Within the first five minutes, Cantrill mistakenly calls Dreaming in Code a bad book and regales an audience at frickin' Google with the "is software information or a machine? both!" conundrum as though it's new. OK, fine, I'll just go read a tutorial somewhere rather than listen to this guy for an hour.


: SFLC Summit Retrospective, & Bob Loblaw: I went to the Software Freedom Law Center summit a few weeks ago and evidently waited for other folks to give their impressions and reports:

None of those reports are terribly thorough, though. So I've put up my notes from the four-hour Legal Summit for Software Freedom 2007. The speakers covered copyright, patent, reverse engineering, and organizational issues, as well as the future of software freedom and of the SFLC. If you still wish you'd been there, you can listen to a separate talk by the guy from SFLC who talked about copyright at the summit. I wish I could link to a video of Eben Moglen's closing remarks at the summit. He was great.

I look forward to the release of the SFLC Legal Issues Primer for Open Source and Free Software Projects; we got a draft at the summit and it is 45 pages that every FL/OSS leader should read. We also got copies of SFLC's guides to mixing GPL and more permissive code in a single project and understanding what "originality" really means in fights over copyright infringement.

Fun facts: the New Delhi office of SFLC is scheduled to open in 2008. Also, SFLC has a software project called Loblaw, named after the Arrested Development lawyer and his site, "Bob Loblaw's Law Blog." When I was at Salon.com, and we were getting the VideoDog video clip subsite going, the video clip we used to test the embedded player was the Bob Loblaw commercial from Arrested Development. That commercial is to VideoDog as Tom's Diner is to the MP3.


: Grab Barg: You'd think that a night that involved hearing a gunshot and visiting a strip club would include gun violence threats AT the strip club, but no! They were separate incidents.

A few weeks back, around two in the morning, I entered the Times Square subway station and people thought we heard a gunshot and we all fled. Forever later, I was waiting at Queensboro Plaza for an N train, decided to go down to the street to get a cab, had no luck, and ended up waiting in the lobby of Scandals as the nice valet and front desk woman called me a cab.

The lesson: if you are going to stay past midnight in Hoboken, don't try to take public transit back to Queens. Just stay the night.

Some links and other miscellany, in addition to my del.icio.us subfeed:

Indian-American Bobby Jindal is going to be the first Indian-American governor of a US state. I wish I could feel happier about that.

My old boss Heather Gold is talking with Lawrence Lessig this month about his new anti-corruption career. Larry Lessig! I'll be on the wrong coast to see that, but maybe you won't!

Colbert is very, very good in the "The Saint" episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. The first time he showed up I made a little Colbert Report joke but he really disappears into the character, as a good improv guy should, and portrays a believable angry, sad, obsessed man. I wonder whether this script especially spoke to him, and whether his own Catholicism played any part in his choice to play a man who's been (indirectly) hurt by the Church. It was great to see his range.

Hilarious religious dialogue, via Jed Hartman.

Leonard's subtlest William Gibson reference ever.


(2) : Ask The Hardest Polite Question You Can: Last week was a tough week for some kings of finance. The heads of Citigroup and Merrill Lynch jumped, or were pushed, out of their jobs. In the months prior there were rumblings at lower levels, including the "resignation" (who knows?) of a financial services executive who had come to speak to our class at Columbia back in the spring.

He gave a good presentation about becoming more than just a tech person, becoming a strategist and a leader. He may have mentioned ambition, how much you have to want that brass ring to do the work that it takes to get it.

I thought hard to find a question for the Q&A. I raised my hand and he called on me.

"How do you measure your own success?"

That's where it took a turn. He didn't talk about money he's made, or jobs he's created, or people he's mentored. He said that he wasn't sure about calling himself a success. He found great fulfillment in the challenges of his work. Once, years back, when his family was settled in a house and in their lives on the East Coast, he'd gotten a job in Detroit, and he'd uprooted his family (including his college-age child) to move them to Michigan. His wife left him.

So, he said, he didn't know whether he'd succeeded or not, how to measure that.

I said: the measure is, would you do it all over again?

Someone said "whoa." The executive thought, and the room was silent, and he said he didn't know.


I've heard classmates reference that exchange, months later. They are grateful to him for his honesty. I wonder what they'll remember me for.

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(3) : Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Making Out: Once upon a time, I watched that OK Go treadmill video once a day for a week because it cheered me so. I'm currently there with times Stephen Colbert has broken character, set to "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen. Evidently "Don't Stop Me Now" is a popular montage tune on YouTube, mayhap inspired by that scene from Sean of the Dead.

In the comments, we see hordes of teenage girls noting that it's only n years till they can legally schtup Stephen Colbert. And indeed when we get to see Colbert's genuine smile it's quite winning. And this video is three and a half minutes of just those endearing moments, so of course it's cracktastic and attracts those gals. Maybe there are fanboys among the SQUEE! contingent too, but in their Twitter-length comments they'd have to justify why Colbert would divorce his wife AND TURN GAY for them at their 18th birthdays, and that takes a little longer than 140 characters.

The vid does not drive me to YouTube-comment-posting levels of lust; nonetheless, I enjoy The Colbert Report quite a bit. Certain episodes ("American Pop Culture: It's Crumbelievable" and the Decemberists shred-off) I've watched several times, and I maintain that "The Word" is changing how people understand Powerpoint. But I did not seek out the literary criticism, fan homages, fan music videos (aww), and fiction about Colbert written by amateurs until a few days ago. My reasons and findings: forthcoming.

If you don't know about slash and other fan fiction variants, or even if you do, there's no better intro than essays by Teresa Nielsen Hayden (whom I still haven't met!), such as: "Fanfic": force of nature; Squick and squee; Namarie Sue; and finally Punditslash. There is also a relevant xkcd cartoon in which the critical impulse turns into the creative impulse in four panels.

In case you think all slash is wrong, let me introduce you to the Very Wrong Slash community on LiveJournal. But what makes slash "wrong"? In the immortal Arrested Development distinction of "hot wrong" vs. "regular wrong," slash is only regular wrong if the author can't make her borrowed characters' actions believable. And it's easier to write fiction that's hot wrong using borrowed characters, because subversive and hot is like metahumor -- it works best when it's subverting something you have always taken for granted, not just taking a newly introduced idea one step further. And that varies by reader, like any taste or kink.

Example: I found this explicitly sexual Goofus & Gallant slash a little unbelievable, and it didn't overturn my mental furniture. In contrast, the moment I saw the name "Alton Brown" I said "Oh my God" aloud.

Alton grasped the edges of the counter, then moved his left hand along as if looking for something. He pressed a hidden button under the lip of the counter, and a shallow drawer concealed above the other drawers popped out. In it were .... could it be? Mike stopped [redacted] for a moment in sheer astonishment. Labeled in Alton's neat handwriting were half-a-dozen small screwtop jars: chocolate-cayenne, raspberry coulis, pineapple-mint, unflavored, cinnamon-clove, ginger-mango. There was also a stash of gloves and a beautifully polished marble french rolling pin, the kind that tapers. Alton cleared his throat. "Um, I've never liked the feel of the glycerin-based lubes, so I infuse my own silicone lube. I was.... I was hoping you'd like....." His voice tapered off, but this time it wasn't uncertainty, or ONLY uncertainty. It was invitation.

See, that helps you calibrate your standards for wrongness. Test yourself on this premise: alternate universe slash where Sarah Vowell, the casts of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, Anderson Cooper, Keith Olbermann, and Tina Fey attend a high school where Jerry Seinfeld and Will Ferrell teach. Or crossover Colbert Report-Harry Potter fanfic (no sex, mind) where the Stephen Colbert persona is the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. Might it be hot-wrong in some nonsexual sense of the word "hot"? It's certainly funny.

Author's Note: I'm not sure if this counts as a fanfic, a parody of a fanfic, a fanfic of a parody, or all of the above. Whatever it is, I just had to write it.

Slash folks sometimes argue over which pair of characters belongs in a couple -- which is the One True Pairing? Troi/Riker or Troi/Worf? Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, or Stephen Colbert and Tad, his building manager? (Self-conscious Mahabharata slash could have some fun defining Draupadi's OTP.) What pair feels right?

But that feeling of OTP rightness fits, in good slash, with the elegant subversion that makes it pleasurably wrong. Erin Ptah's wonderful and Pratchett-influenced "The Thing With Feathers" is an example. The way she borrows Colbert and Stewart, they belong together -- yet she rearranges the reader's universe, disorienting and reorienting my experience of The Colbert Report.

Some people write RPS, or Real Person Slash, about celebrities. I find this more icky because now the writer is objectifying a real person. The layered nature of reality on The Colbert Report allows writers to play with RPS and Fake Person Slash in the same story, so some FPS lands in the RPS community and it gets weird. Weirder, anyhow. And that's as close as I come to the reflexive anti-fanfic stance I've seen in a few folks: Fan fiction is cheating, since you're not making up the characters or their universe. And you're stealing someone else's work, and you shouldn't publish it, and probably it's stupid for you even to be writing it, much less reading it.

It makes me happy to read good fiction, fan or pro. And it's edifying, although what I've learned about The Colbert Report will be in a future post. But is all of fanfic stealing, cheating, regular wrong?

Nope. Maybe it's my generation and the affordances of technology, including how we determine what is important or relevant. But smarter theorists than I, not least The Presidents of the United States of America, have long noted that all work is at least a little derivative. We emulate role models, we pass along memes, and we share. OK Go borrowed most of those treadmills.

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(4) : Boston Visit and Greyhound Game Theory: On Saturday I took a Greyhound bus to Boston to visit Julia and Moss, who have a new place in Cambridge, Mass. Another objective: to get a day's head start on reuniting with Leonard, who had just spent a week and a half near Boston on business.

I found the one-day trip wonderful and intend on returning; what I saw of Boston I liked (what a civilized bus terminal they have!) and of course Moss and Julia are a powerhouse. And Greyhound has a deal where if you buy your round-trip ticket online, Boston-NYC roundtrip is $30.

However! A ticket from Greyhound using that special fare is not, despite the date and time and bus number printed upon it, a specific boarding pass for that bus. It is a general pass that can get you on any bus on that route, for something like a year after the purchase date. So if you arrive a half hour early for your bus, as the ticket suggests, and there's a bus right there and there's room, you can get on that bus! But that means that the bus is first-come, first-served. Should you arrive on time at 9am and find a huge line in front of you, even if your ticket says 9am and theirs don't, they'll get on before you. If the bus runs out of room, you'll have to take the 10am bus. A fellow behind me in line at the Port Authority was vocally unhappy about this with a Greyhound employee, who didn't sooth him terribly well.

And yet! I recently noticed a sidebar notice on Greyhound's web site, in the middle of the purchase process:

Reserve your seat and preboard the bus for only $5.

Available on select schedules only at select terminals.

Reserve Seating can only be purchased in station at the designated ticket line. Customers must be prepared to board 20 minutes prior to schedule departure. See ticket agent for details.

And indeed the not-terribly-amiable Greyhound employee at Port Authority mentioned this $5 reserved-seat upgrade to the disgruntled passenger, so he and a few others who overheard her took her up on it. I assured the people behind me that, despite how very much it sounded like a scam or entrepreneurialism on the part of the Greyhound agent, it was legit. The new VIPs clustered in a new, separate line; they'd board the next bus before our line did.

But then we wondered: what are the game-theoretic implications of this ticketing system?

  1. If the people in line behind me do it, and I don't, I lose out, so I have to do it.
  2. By induction, everyone has to buy the upgrade to get on the next bus. If everyone does it, no one benefits (except that Greyhound makes $5n). Prisoner's dilemma?
  3. But there is a limit on the number of seats on the bus! So only 60 people can be sold reserved-seat upgrades for the 9am bus, and everyone else has to wait for the next (10am) bus.
  4. So I should convince people ahead of me in line to buy the upgrade, so fewer seats are available to the people behind me.
  5. But the people in front of me have a lower incentive to buy them....unless they fear those behind them. Time to scaremonger?

I didn't buy an upgrade and I made it onto the next bus anyway. Thoughts?


(1) : Just Read And Recommended: Books on the inadvertent themes of the US public school culture and acclimating ourselves to otherness.

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(1) : Reasoned Discussion? On The Internet?!: A few weeks ago I noticed a short negative mention of Dreaming in Code by Bryan Cantrill and he noticed my notice (per that entry's comments). Author Scott Rosenberg responded with questions about Cantrill's critique, Cantrill elaborated, and today Rosenberg replied in more depth. After the first connection it was all quite civilized (cf. Rosenberg's 1994 piece on how flamewars die when objects of hostility show up to talk), and how nice is that?


: Medium-Term Plans: Leonard and I have decided that we'll stay in New York City through the end of 2008. I'm now looking for a tech project management job in Manhattan or environs, so if you have a position or a lead please let me know.

Till now, I've been trying to concentrate on my master's degree and on some personal projects. One of them: learning programming basics, with an emphasis on Python. How am I to manage technologists if I don't have personal experience in at least the bare basics of their craft?

Surprisingly enough, van Rossum's Python tutorial is for people who already know how to program. I looked at a few introductions to programming for non-programmers and saw more than one recommendation (example) of How To Design Programs. It has more exercises than How to Think Like A Computer Scientist, and I already knew the basics of Scheme from my intro-to-intro-to-CS class at Berkeley. But I do want to learn Python, so I've implementing my exercise solutions mostly in Python, using IDLE, with a few stops in DrScheme for the cute GUI bits that make use of DrScheme's teachpacks. Thanks to my husband and to Magnus Lie Hetland, and of course the Python documentarians, for encouragement and reference material.

However, after the intro to data structures part of How To Design Programs, I began to run into more substantial burdens in the dual-language approach. I'm on functions that consume and produce lists now and haven't done much in Python for the last several weeks. So I'll be getting back into that in December. Being able to read and write code in some modern language is, after all, the point of the thing.

When I was at Fog Creek, Joel Spolsky helped me learn how to learn programming. It's not like history, he explained. When you read a how-to text, you have to do all the exercises and then some, playing around till you learn the abstractions by bumping into all their edges. So the abundance of exercises in HTDP is exactly what I needed.

I've also figured out how to focus and program for hours straight: turn off the Internet (I used lovely Unix toolness to How to Design Programs onto my laptop so I can read it anywhere) and sit with a friend who's also trying to focus and program. Michael Rehse and Fureigh have been great partners for this. Also good for general Sumana productivity: specific daily schedules, not just to-do lists, but task lists with time estimates.

With these career plans, I've laid out some tracks in front of me. Now I just need to stoke my engine.

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(1) : Software For You: As of this week, Miro 1.0 is out. Miro is a neat program that lets you download YouTube and Google Video clips to your hard drive so you can watch them whenever you want. You can also use it to subscribe to video podcasts like the TED talks, a PBS kids' show, Google Tech Talks, a cooking show, or a zillion others.

For a few months this summer, I did testing for Miro and updated the channel guide. I'm going to do more of that before the year is out. In fact, my goal is to learn enough Python to submit at least one patch by December 31st. So far, one of the best compliments I've gotten this year is, upon submitting a bug report, being told "good catch".

Open source is more open when people can capably and freely move from being users to being contributors. I want to contribute to Miro to help others and to help myself. Mel makes an interesting point about the face-saving culture; I am trying to gain cred so that I have a reputation to protect in the future.


(1) : What Slash Taught Me About "Stephen Colbert": You might think that I began reading Stephen Colbert fan fiction because the writers' strike is keeping his show off the air.* But it was two weeks ago that I started seeking it out. I'd had two or three recent dreams where Colbert was trying to teach me something -- math, management skills, ethics. What did that mean? I turned to The Colbert Report fanfic to help my conscious mind understand the themes in The Colbert Report that my subconscious was chewing on.

For background: like other fans, I didn't watch Colbert's show when it started out. This, despite a very friendly and funny call from a Report staffer when I worked at Salon Premium, back when the Report was just starting in 2005. He asked for a free subscription, a perk Salon and probably most major media outlets give their colleagues. We joked about Adam Carolla's car-like name and I wished him luck. But I wasn't watching. I thought The Colbert Report would be a one-trick pony and rather boring until that White House Correspondents Dinner speech.

Then I started tuning in and didn't stop. The Daily Show is parody but The Colbert Report is satire, the thumbnail conventional wisdom goes. "What's happened to The Daily Show?" one asks as Colbert looks comparatively hotter. "The Secret Agenda of Stephen Colbert", one speculates as his show nails not just the forms but the underlying conceptual dysfunction of reigning ideologies.

But that's all stuff you can get from watching the show, or reading nonfiction commentary. The Daily Show/Colbert Report fanfic brings subtexts to the surface. Sometimes it's just porny fanservice slash, fulfilling Wally Holland's critique. Or HOT fanservice. But sometimes you get psychological meat.

Erin Ptah specifically aims in her fiction to humanize the superficially despicable character that Colbert plays. Ptah comments:

He's clueless in a way that is (usually) charming. He's well-intentioned. He craves attention and approval. He's fragile and plagued by self-doubt. He always tries to do his best. He has a streak of childish innocence.

The theme of attention-seeking and approval-seeking resonates with me, and I hadn't expected it. The real Stephen Colbert is the youngest of eleven children and lost his dad and two brothers when he was a child. He freely admits a huge attention-seeking drive, but he'll act silly on stage without fear of embarrassment. The Colbert persona is a tremendous narcissist and that may be the only urge of his that he isn't in denial about. The real Colbert is aware enough to declare how lucky he is in an interview with Larry King: "[My character has] got a tremendous ego. I get to pretend I don't."

Once I really start thinking about how Colbert constructed an attention-hungry persona that screens his private, attention-hungry self from exposure -- because being authentic 100% of the time may turn you grey (cf. Jon Stewart) -- I want to digress a lot. His mask reminds me of customer service habits that prevent burnout, and the doubly-indirected attention-seeking reminds me of Anna Fels's insights on attention as a necessary component of mastery. But you get my point. There's a lot here. Another pervasive lesson in the Colbert character is the undermining of authority's assurances. It's always Opposite Day, so his blessings and curses are inimical to real-life value. What Ptah calls well-intentioned cluelessness goes hand-in-hand with pretzel logic:

"Well, there you are!" Stephen replied, triumphantly. "Only a man who was petrified of finding out he was gay would avoid having sex with men!"

How more succinctly could we put a neocon's wiretapping rationalizations than in this Colbert Report ad slogan? "I'm looking over your shoulder, but only because I've got your back." Well-intentioned cluelessness all the way.

You see the character's innocence come through when his character breaks. The fanfiction, as a rule, either shows Stephen or "Stephen," and so doesn't explore the space in between; Ptah's "The Thing With Feathers" is an exception (explicit example with implicit discussion throughout).

The best discussion, then, is a fan video: "Don't Stop Me Now/Don't stop me/'cause I'm having a good time!" Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" juxtaposed with three and a half minutes of Colbert breaking character. The character breaks are almost never outbreaks of seriousness when he's forcing jollity. It's his genuine pleasure breaking the serious mask.

And that's how you know he is having a good time. He wears the character lightly, breaking at least a little bit once an episode or more. It's great to see him smile for real! There's a lesson: the power of a genuine smile. And it makes you wonder how anyone could see those breaks and not recognize them, see the show and not know it's a parody.

Speaking of which, disturbing comments on a behind-the-scenes clip. People express their shock that it's an act. Liar! they cry. Or -- and I quote -- "HAHA! colbert exposed!there u go stupid liberals"

Amazing.

And as for the character always trying to do his best, and probably failing, he's not alone in that. For a fan fiction piece that explores this, I recommend Ptah's "Expecting" -- at the very least you should see the trailer.

So, if Colbert is showing up in my dreams as a teacher, what are my lessons? In some ways they're the same lessons I learned from sitcoms: be straightforward and honest to avoid drama. Low-probability embarrassments will happen, so get over it. Be kind to outsiders. But in sitcoms we learn to be kind and honest to others; Colbert is telling me to be kind and honest with myself.



* Leonard and I made muffins yesterday morning and I brought them to the Writers Guild picket line in midtown. Gawking report: John Oliver looked exhausted and a standup comic whose name I can't recall gave me a smile. Then, near Rockefeller Center, I saw paparazzi surrounding a car and asked a gawker who was in there. She finished snapping her cameraphone shot and turned to say triumphantly and definitively, "Celine Dion!"

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: Recent Math/Science Triumphs Include: Finally getting to recursion in How to Design Programs, just after doing a 3-D distance calculation and discovering that my Pythagorean theorem intuition still held (the distance from zero in exercise 9.1.3 is the square root of the sum of x squared, y squared, and z squared). Now to do Return On Investment calculations, which involve much more guesswork.


: Cornucopia: Headed to the comic book store to pick up MAD Magazine and found new trades of She-Hulk and Ex Machina, yay.

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: Wow: We didn't do a thanksgiving ritual yesterday, and I think that was a mistake, because this evening I got really aggravated over the kind of things I probably won't remember in a few weeks. However, I have now seen and liked the entire run of Firefly and know that my sister enjoys Cranium and Fluxx.


: The Other Shoe Drops: Garry Kasparov jailed. Putin doesn't so much care for protests, rallies, etc. a week before elections. So, beaten and jailed for "organizing an unsanctioned protest and resisting arrest." Bitter laughter ensues.


(1) : Health And Art: I hate owing more than one blog entry to someone. One seems reasonable, two seems sloppy. So here's the first of a couple responses to my old pal Zed Lopez -- improvisateur, author of the kind of thing that becomes an email forward, and Clarion grad.

Responding to part of a post of mine, Zed stated that mental health always increases one's creative choices. I would submit that there are particular artistic realms or methods that get harder to explore, or less attractive, the happier and saner one gets. "Health doesn't mean you can't visit those [old dark] places," Zed writes, but really? Maybe I should just take Zed's word on that, because he has way more experience in life and art, but just physiologically there are sensations and emotions I've had that I can't even remember now, much less access for use in stand-up or writing. I'm sure it's not a zero-sum game between artistic mojo and life function, but I bet the tradeoff will cause some friction with one's agent during the transition.

It is possible to realize that your urge toward artistic accomplishment arose from feelings of worthlessness, or otherwise from a bad place, and realize you don't actually want to pursue the same artistic endeavor in the same way. The incompatibility between ambition and contentment speaks to this, but there's such a thing as healthy ambition and unhealthy ambition. Contentment isn't incompatible with the former.

Maybe this is my comic-book understanding of Buddhism coming through, but ambition = desire and desire is by definition a lack of contentment. Yeah, I'm gonna say that's too simplistic. Evidently there are people who are basically happy with their lives and find some drive other than the need for therapy that pushes them to make neat stuff. Maybe the urge to awesomeness, or "I could do better than that" exasperation. OK, that I could believe.

Brendan: was that last para transparent?

Okay. The harder one in a few days.

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: Returned: I'm back from Thanksgiving break but still off-kilter. I have tons of work to do before December 22 (my chapter 2 defense for my master's thesis) and that induces nervousness.

However, last night I watched the Battlestar Galactica: Razor TV movie, and Leonard and Evan and I laughed long and hard at the Quizno's "it has been revealed" recapitulation ads. I just wanted to note that for when I come back and read this entry in a few years, because by then I'll have forgotten that weird, inappropriate, hilarious ad and will laugh anew.


(3) : Great For Those Icebreaker Games: Do you keep a list of unusual things you've done? Even just mentally? For me, that list just got an item longer.

  1. Danced with an Elvis impersonator
  2. Gotten booed by thousands of people (twice!)
  3. Translated poetry from Kannada into English
  4. Written a weekly newspaper column with circulation in the hundreds of thousands
  5. Undergone an eight-hour job interview (yes, all in one session on one day) (this is the new one)


(1) : No Way That's Ruby On Rails: You Know You're A Geek When you see a trailer for Untraceable and immediately wonder what sort of infrastructure can scale like that.

Also, the government could just make up a copyright infringement claim and send a DMCA takedown notice.

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(4) : My Upcoming Bollywood Masterpiece, "Dil Pyaar Kya He," Will Not Suffer From Such Flaws: When I was at Fog Creek, around the time Firewall came out, someone proposed a movie night of films that get the internet hilariously wrong (relevant Penny Arcade cartoon). The air of lunchtime grew light with laughter and we soon saw that one night would not be enough.

After discovering Untraceable, I started compiling a list via memory and IMDB tags for "website" and "internet." Hoo boy.

For a chaser: the 2001 documentary Startup.com, probably just as agonizing but because it's true.

I feel as though I'm missing some big pre-existing list. So what am I missing? I'm thinking films, usually thrillers, where some implausible feature or missing feature of current technology is a core plot device.


(3) : "Firefly" Jokes: Today Leonard is having his yearly backup Thanksgiving. I say "his" because it's really his idea and his motive, although I do get to eat lots of stuffing. I get leftovers twice! It's great. And he makes famous sweet potatoes!

Anyway, I am reminded of the primary Thanksgiving we had this year, where I saw all of Firefly with my sister and husband. Our more durable jests:

  1. Anytime we saw Inara's quarters, especially after "Jaynestown" halfway through the series, I intoned: "Pan-Asian Theatre now continues."
  2. In "Shindig," when Atherton Wing angrily gestures with Inara to leave the ball with him, Leonard supplied his line: "My arm! Candyless!?"
  3. In "Jaynestown," the youngster asks Inara whether he isn't supposed to be a man, now that he's mated. Inara says, "A man is just a boy who's old enough to ask that question." I added: "And kill a tiger."
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: Don't Forget Umbrellas From The Boo.com Accessory Wall: Today I imitated Heidi Klum.

"Top American designer Michael Kors....Nina Garcia, fashion editor for Elle Magazine...and our guest judge, Mary Poppins."

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(1) : More Taboo Wizardry: Leonard was trying to get us to guess "TV Guide." He said it was an empirical method for discovering what's on. I shouted, "Calling a guy?"

Evan heard this and suggested we make a Taboo card for the phrase "Calling A Guy", where one of the Taboo phrases is "empirical method."

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: Wishlist: Oh yeah, end-of-year gift-giving season. My wishlist begins with charity. I am lucky enough to be well-off. I married a guy with a lucrative career, I was born in the US in the twentieth century to middle-class strivers who pushed me to make something of myself, and so all the needs on the lowest levels of my need hierarchy are taken care of. All my troubles are in the realm of career and emotion. So -- here's the Charity Navigator holiday giving guide.


: Upcoming Heather Gold Show: In the middle of my finals so I shouldn't go, but you should; the Law Project has serious promise.

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: Sociability: For three nights in a row I have hobnobbed with people in suits to exchange business cards. I have been telling them that I am seeking a project management role in a small, flat organization where I'll listen to users, translate business needs into technical action plans, and coordinate developers who create sites, services, or products that have a chance of making someone smile.

It can be difficult to translate my set of preferences and peeves into a specific and positive objective. I love conversing, and in conversation one can take a few sentences, gauge a partner's empathy for said peeves and prefs, and clarify them with vivid descriptions. The one-way static text of my resume just isn't as social. The resume's necessary, but I'd rather hobnob, even if it means I have to put my nice shoes on.

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: Question Time: The Wednesday night mingling happened after a talk at the Columbia business school. One of the speakers: Martin Sorrell, whom everyone called "Sir Martin" since the Queen knighted him, even though we're in the US where titles of nobility cut no ice. Supposedly it's the polite thing to do, but I wish I'd just called him "Mr. Sorrell" instead of going with the flow and calling him "Sir Martin." He's just a guy who looks like if Harlan Ellison had Christopher Hitchens's face and a broken nose. If Douglas Adams never got a "Sir" then why should this guy?

It was later pointed out to me that he's an incredibly rich guy, one who over 22 years built WPP, the leading advertising firm in the world. But I'd never heard of it or him until the professor who organized the gig started raving about his catch, and gleefully wishing one of us would have the courage to ask Sorrell about his succession plan. I volunteered, since I didn't see what would be so brave about it.

Sorrell didn't mention, but I later heard, that he's divorced and has no children. When I asked the question, he first joked that he had to leave the room, then more seriously noted that the company's succession planning had found internal candidates who would be able to run WPP, externally and internally, as well as he had.

But! Other points of his: No one will run the firm quite as he does, and that's fine. Founding and running businesses are different skillsets and it's rare to find both in one person. He felt the lust for scale, the urge to grow his business to epic heights. Starting a business is the closest a man can come to having a baby.

Hmmm. There is a stereotype that women lavish(ed) ruinous attention on their children because other avenues of self-expression and achievement are/were closed to us. But I hadn't considered the reverse.

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: Instant Comedy: While riding public transit or what have you, visibly reading a copy of The Prince imbues all your other actions and aspects with new weight. It's comic shorthand on the level of having a character buy an enema as part of some varied selection at the drugstore.

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: Probably Pictures of Me In There: A few years ago, I lugged a fairly comprehensive set of issues of Amerikannada to the UC Berkeley South Asian Studies collection. Amerikannada, the literary magazine my parents ran for several years, printed fiction and nonfiction by the Kannada-speaking diaspora in the States, so we figured that donating a run to Berkeley might do a good turn to some future researcher.

Today I did a WorldCat search to find libraries anywhere in the world that stock it. (By the way, WorldCat saved me eighty bucks on a terrible textbook this semester; I got it via interlibrary loan instead of buying it.) The answer: the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and Berkeley. Scarcity shouldn't make me feel good, but I'm glad my weightlifting massively increased the chances of someone west of the Mississippi being able to look at my parents' opus.


: To Reread At Least Once A Year: "Cleaning My Room," by Paul Ford. And his "Until the Water Boils."

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(1) : In Which Sumana Suggests That Jumping Off A Cliff Might Prove Beneficial: I take a quick break from writing about a new technology strategy for TJX to mention something interesting about the job quest.

Given that I really enjoy helping people learn, achieve their goals, and create cool things, and that people do not seem to flee from my approach, and that I have an affinity for software, tech management is a good (and possibly lucrative) path for me. You've heard of the Value(able)s, Talents, Skills Venn diagram? I'm doing what makes sense: starting at the intersection of my talents and what the market values, and using that drive to get better at the domain-specific skillset.

I don't have any experience on my resume that says MANAGER in the title, other than about a year of stage-managing Heather Gold's one-woman show, I Look Like An Egg, But I Identify As A Cookie. But I have a bunch of experience in managing projects and teams. I was an editor on the high school newspaper for three years, after years of being editor-in-chief for other school papers. Quiz Bowl captain. Technical director and sometime producer/adviser for John Morearty's weekly TV show, Talking It Through, rising from camera operator. Creator and teacher of two UC Berkeley courses for three semesters. Not to mention various projects at Salon and Fog Creek.

But getting all this across to someone who only sees a resume (and possibly a short cover letter, if it hasn't been stripped off by the time it crosses her desk) is tough. So I meet people in meatspace and socially network so that my applications have more of a chance on the first reading, and I apply to nonprofits and startups where the big cheeses are more likely to take a chance on a smart, promising twentysomething.

And I'm young and childless and I want a career-building step, not just a job for money, so I'm more able to take those jobs. Or to start a startup with someone, speaking of taking a chance. Let me know if you've been aching to ask me to partner with you. I'm just woozy enough this morning to consider it.

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: Coincidence: Listening to a Smithsonian Folkways record, "If You Ain't Got the Do-Re-Mi," full of songs about riches and poverty. While I write about high finance. Here's hoping for synchrony and not dissonance.


: Evidently: An exercise in understanding leverage, comparing the debt financing for Nordstrom and TJX, is a popular case study among business folk. At least that's what the web tells me.


(4) : Collection of SkyMall (TravelMall) Humor: SkyMall has inspired a lot of parodies and homages. There's the SkyMaul book and the Coulton song, item-by-item mockery, a Penny Arcade comic, more of an essay, and airplane-travel-specific item-by-item mockery. Those are the links I've collected over the past few months; if you know of more good SkyMall (or TravelMall if you're on a bus or train) humor, post it in the comments.

Also: if you run out of Rachel Chalmers, read her old Advogato diary.

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(2) : Things You Think Are Funny When You're Stressed: and about to take a business management final.

Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Value.
Value what?
Value proposition.

Also, introducing my colleagues to the client: "John, I'm really glad you brought us on board. You already know my colleagues, Killer, Spike, Tug, S***face, and Bill. You've done a great job on operational efficiency...."

Now one of my three classes for the semester is done, as of about 9pm last night. I'll be done with the semester by the 22nd.


: Odd One Out: Things I've suggested that have not been received well in my classes:

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(4) : Presents For You: I won a present from Kameron Hurley and as such I present a present offer for you as well.

The first three people who leave a comment on this blog entry will get a gift from me within the next year. I don't yet know what it will be but it might be neat! And the only restriction is that you have to pay it forward by making a similar offer on your own journal/weblog/regularly updated internet presence.

This is a neater meme than most because:

PRESENTS


(2) : Powerpoint Karaoke: Best Practices: Danny O'Brien mentioned this concept and tried it out at a conference several months ago. So Leonard and I playtested it at Backup Thanksgiving (photos) at our apartment, with several of our friends. One of them, a hacker with a drama degree from NYU, mentioned that it's similar to acting exercises, which makes sense since this is a species of improv.

Before you play, you should do technical/logistical prepwork and select some Powerpoint slide sets ("decks") for the victims' use.

Technical/logistical: make sure there'll be at least 6 people participating -- 1 host/slidemover/timekeeper, 1 player, at least 4 audience members. I used a kitchen timer where I could set it to count down from some number of minutes. Make sure the video hookup to the laptop/computer works ahead of time.

Slide research: go to slideshare.net and bookmark a variety of decks. Languages the speaker doesn't know are GREAT. Leonard had success doing searches for buzzwords and jargon, but you could do well with art analysis as well. Look for decks that have around 10 or 20 slides each, with clip-art visuals & some text, and for a variety of topics -- not just all Web 2.0 stuff. Avoid:

For play: give each volunteer a time limit. Half as many minutes as there were slides worked for us, and going over 7 minutes got boring. If the slides run out but there's still time, have a Q&A!

Some slides suck in boring ways, but nearly every slide can turn into gold. I boo at on players who completely skip slides without giving at least a joking explanation.

Alternate versions that we didn't try:

And tell me how it goes!

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: Winding Up, Winding Down: My two regular classes this semester are finished, final papers and tests handed in. But on Saturday I turn in and defend Chapter 2 of my business plan/thesis in front of three judges (industry executives). Plus I've been networking, interviewing for jobs, etc., which are ongoing and include an interview this Friday.

Last night and this morning I played the disciplinary force getting Adam and Sabrina (who are moving soon and needed to pack) to keep the critical path clear. They tend to stay up till 4 or 5 a.m., where Leonard and I think it's a late night if we watch The Colbert Report live. At least I have a chance to catch up on sleep before getting questioned two days in a row.


(2) : Don We Now Our Gay Agenda: I shouldn't blog too much between now and about 10:30 Saturday morning, so maybe you'd enjoy my del.icio.us links. The last few weeks include a music video that's "Oblique Strategies" for kids with a rockin' beat, video podcast recommendations for use with the Miro Guide (and to kill time during the writers' strike), a guide to the 5 basic forms of fraud, free ska MP3s, and a zillion comic bookmarks as I read my way through the entire Unshelved archive.

Yesterday I realized that I know three people -- Brendan, Mel, and Dara -- who are nomads right now.

Via Jason Kottke, an annotated list of movies coming out next year, including one that's just a series of fake trailers. Sadly it's not called A Perfect Vacuum, which is what Apple should call its Quicktime trailers showcase. Apple sucks -- you in!

I was hoping I might get Mr. Chadwick to comment when I dissed GAAP with regard to knowledge industries. Maybe now he'll bite on the "five kinds of fraud" link. And Susie says I have just the right number of presents awaiting me, but I know I should really only consider them a bonus contingent on a "meets expectations" performance review from Santa. (Santa should really be meeting with these kids in January to set goals and agree on metrics.) So, off to be a good girl and make real spreadsheets that virtually reflect the hypothetical reality of my hypothetical business. And my "go-to-market" plan, which should not involve any little piggies.


(1) : A Three-Hour Terror: Maybe someday I will be less nervous/anticipatory on the first day of school or a new job, or test days. Maybe someday my body won't wake me at an hour or three early with a twisty stomach. Not today, though!

In a few hours I "defend" the second chapter of my business plan/thesis using OpenOffice Impress slides (converted to PowerPoint in case the school's computers are willfully ignorant of open file formats), a spreadsheet (was a .ods, now a .xls), and my natural wit and guile. From now till then -- practice, and breakfast if my gut will allow it. Maybe baby food would work.


(1) : DONE: with the semester, and listening to "This Year" by The Mountain Goats.


: Goodwill: Another response to an old pal, this one more than a year in the waiting.

Last year, Zed Lopez criticized me for being -- as I perceived it -- pro-happiness, pro-togetherness, pro-tolerance etc. I'd enjoyed some language in a speech by Barack Obama on religion and politics. Mr. Lopez, among others, was unhappy with the talk because they thought he was being too soft on those who want to increase or legitimize the role of Christianity in public life.

I don't dispute that religious fundamentalism is real and dangerous in the US. And it's not like I've always been on the winning side of the culture wars.

At the time, I was basically happy with Obama's speech because of my preference for civility and hope -- Mr. Obama had made a speech that I read as pro-hope and pro-connection, as Walter Holland put more eloquently at the time. Andrew Sullivan* in The Atlantic Monthly this month:

To be able to express this kind of religious conviction without disturbing or alienating the growing phalanx of secular voters, especially on the left, is quite an achievement.

But Mr. Sullivan's not getting that right, because Obama did alienate secular voters with that speech. And Mr. Lopez was one of them. He saw the speech as "advocating not being so darn persnickety about keeping religion out of school and government." What? No! At least, 90% of the speech wasn't about that. More on the other 10% in a few paragraphs.

I think part of what Mr. Obama was saying was that we have a natural tendency to listen better to people who make an effort to connect to our legitimate sentiments. To take that further, I have a natural tendency to listen a little better to people who don't literally insult me. In explaining his distaste for Mr. Obama's message, Mr. Lopez linked to Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who, admittedly as a wounded person the day after the 2004 election, blew up at me for no fault of mine. And scorn, cross words, etc. are usual for him. So I was discounting his opinions pretty heavily (despite earlier progress).

This fall, Leonard got to hang out with Mr. Nielsen Hayden at Viable Paradise, and says he's an all-right guy. So I'm taking that into account now. And from a later comment of his, praising Scott Rosenberg's work, I can tell that "f*** you" doesn't mean to him what it does to me; part of the reason I had been offended was on behalf of my old colleague's honor. And Scott Rosenberg can obviously defend himself.

This is maybe why this post has been germinating in my drafts pocket for a year and a half; I wanted to disengage from the hostility I felt and that one of the participants in this dialogue expressed, but still address it.

Now, 17 months later, Mitt Romney has said bigoted things about nontheists. Not just our party's values share roots and expression with religious values, but

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom....Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.

The followup: "A spokesman for the Mitt Romney campaign is thus far refusing to say whether Romney sees any positive role in America for atheists and other non-believers..." Wrongheaded, delusional, and completely the opposite of Mr. Obama's speech; dividing America instead of reaching out. If you think the Democrats should watch out for the slippery slope of reaching out to religious constituents, listen to Mr. Romney:

We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders - in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history...
Well, he's eliding the deism of the founders, and the fact that "under God" got inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950s, and that our currency started its God-fearing ways during the Civil War, and that of course there's no way to teach world or US history without talking about religion and no one is seriously arguing that mentioning the Quakers in a public school is going to get a teacher fired. But more than that: these are government policy proposals and positions. Not just possible implications, not just likely or unlikely readings, but flat-out stated "the government should do this." And gah!

Okay, we disagree on how we read Mr. Obama's speech. But he's Michael Newdow compared to Mitt Romney. And this is including the most disagreeable passage in Mr. Obama's talk:

But a sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation - context matters. It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase "under God." I didn't. Having voluntary student prayer groups use school property to meet should not be a threat, any more than its use by the High School Republicans should threaten Democrats. And one can envision certain faith-based programs - targeting ex-offenders or substance abusers - that offer a uniquely powerful way of solving problems.

I can see both sides of the latter two points, but come on about the Pledge. It's just idiotic to think that "under God" belongs in a required public school pledge; it's there because of inertia and because it's a wedge issue.

The really important places where church encroaches upon state are like the ones Mr. Lopez mentions -- atheists, Jews, etc. harassed at public schools and the Air Force Academy, denied jobs or promotions at state and federal agencies, and so on. Those are obviously wrong and all reasonable people understand and object. The borderline bits that Mr. Obama mentions above are more controversial, and get more press, frustrating and dividing moderates. Mr. Nielsen Hayden had a similar problem with Mr. Obama's speech ("yes, I caught his obligatory dance-of-even-handedness....what aspects of his speech got covered in the national media?"): he believed it played into the hands of bigots.

How problematic is that? Well, it seems I've come across both sides of Postel's Law. I need to work on being more open and sensitive in my readings of other people's thoughts, and I (especially powerful I twenty years from now) need to take exceptional care in my words and their implications.

Perhaps the best symbol of church-state transcendence is the secular sainthood my generation has draped upon the Rev. Fred Rogers, as evidenced in the comments for the goodbye video from Mr. Rogers. He saw that TV was crap, so he worked to improve it for the sake of children everywhere. On his public television show he never proselytized, though he was an ordained Presbyterian minister. And talk about Postel's Law! He listened to kids' fears so he could comfort them, which is why he sang that song about how you don't have to worry about being sucked down the bathtub drain. And just try to find an instance where he said an unkind word to anyone, or something that even out of context sounds bad.

He listened and spoke carefully and well, even when addressing political issues (PBS funding, Sony v. Betamax). I gotta get on that. Right speech is part of right living. And that's what I've been struggling with over that 17-month-old keynote. Did I divide myself from a friend by celebrating inclusiveness? If most of its ideas are technically correct or even incisive, but an effect of it isn't, then is it right speech? And then there's the basic skill of calmly listening to people who disagree with me. Which reminds me of the bit of that controversial speech that I liked the best, and quoted the first time around:

A hope that we can live with one another in a way that reconciles the beliefs of each with the good of all.

Merry Christmas, and happy holidays.

* Note that Sullivan's article mistakenly places the speech in June of 2007, not last year.

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: Happy Hols: and Merry Christmas, in case you missed the note at the end of the previous entry. In celebration, download some MP3s by the Cangelosi Cards, a O Brother, Where Art Thou-style blues combo that made me grok jazz. Scroll down that page and check out "Pretend There's A Moon." Perfect for sipping mulled cider by.


: OMG Squee: Yesterday I got David Neeleman's autograph. Rock! I was just stretching my legs walking the aisle around hour three of the flight when I saw a familiar-looking man in a yellow sweater talking with kids and flight attendants in the back of the plane. I approached, and it was him! Oh, how fannishly I gushed. A little while later he did the gladhanding walk through the plane.

Neeleman is LDS, and his religious values are part of why JetBlue uses distributed call centers for customer service (think eBlocks). He thought it would be good for families if moms could work from home and earn money while taking care of their homes and kids. Lots of JetBlue customer service personnel are housewives in Salt Lake City and environs.

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: Back: Back home from a great Christmas trip seeing John, Susie, Maggie, and the Chadwick clan, including a guy who looked like Mitt Romney. May report more when I am not travel-frazzled.


: Visiting Bay Area Jan. 8th-15th: I haven't seen the Bay Area at all this year. My classes don't start till late January and I'm interviewing for jobs. So I'm going to take a week to see my old friends, arriving in San Francisco early on Tuesday, January 8th and leaving on Tuesday, January 15th. Email, comment or call me if you'd like to put me up or see me while I'm there.


: (Kazoo Sound): I like to do productive things on New Year's Eve/Day. Today I burned through a hundred new channel submissions in the Miro video podcast guide. Cool discovery: Cinemaniacal, featuring the Unisphere making-of short and short Superman films from the 1940s.

Sixty-odd years later, the Galacticast vodcast is making terrific fun of Trek, Battlestar, and every other sci-fi touchstone. Reminds me that I should be putting my creative powers to better use, since I have a few weeks since classes/possible job begin. Before I leave for California next week, I'll make further inroads on Miro testing work and How To Design Progams study, and make a stab at my Mahabharata parody project.

Instead of a New Year's Resolution, maybe I should just be working a week at a time anyway.

Happy New Year!

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