Website, Reboot

General ramblings about web coding, life and other stuff

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A New Year

A launch of the space shuttle. Suitable as I am sort of relaunching the site.

A launch of the space shuttle. Suitable as I am sort of relaunching the site.

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. It’s been eight days since my last post. I have thought of posting every day since the, but I find it hard to. See, even though I have this blog and I have a general persona on the web, I am still worried about posting too much deeply personal stuff on the web.

Ok, that’s a lie. I’m lazy. Plain and simple. (But I also like to keep private things private.)

At the beginning of the year, I told myself I would post at least once a week, and so far I find it hard to remember or think of something to write about or make the time. So this time, now that I’m sitting here, I think I’ll give you a stream of consciousness as it were and tell you the first thing which comes to my mind, which is who I am.

Is it telling that the first thing that I gravitate towards is my job? I think so. Why do I first identify that when talking about myself? Is it the old Washington DC thing of asking people what they do for a living as small talk? Forget that. Small talk is lame. (But I do love my job, more on that later)

So who am I? What am I? I am a husband, a friend, a companion, a caretaker, a problem-solver and a cook. I am intelligent, often ingenious, rational, and possibly too intellectual for my emotional side (something I am working on.) I am generous and kind, understanding and friendly. I am fun loving and enjoy spontaneity.  I work for possibly one of the best organizations in the world and I am proud to be part of such a group of amazing people. Three years in, I still find myself tickled that I work there and that there wasn’t some MENSA-like test that I had to pass to work there.

That’s not to say that I am not challenged daily in a variety of ways, both professionally and personally. I think this blog is a place in which I can easily get into the professional challenges, but the personal ones are a bit more difficult as they don’t always just deal with me. That’s a fine line to walk. A lot of the challenges that I encounter on a daily basis do stem from my internal processing of what goes on the world. Something that I think that is probably average for everyone but in which I see flaws in me that I can improve upon to be happier, healthier and so on.

So as the new year begins (OK, we’re over two weeks in) I’m reevaluating what this blog is going to be and what it will mean and hopefully will give the seven of you who are reading this a reason to keep coming back.

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MAGFest 2012

So… Mag fest happened. I didn’t really known what to expect, except for

  • A lot of nerds (9000 as it turns out)
  • A lot of fun (goes without saying)
  • Very little sleep (also goes without saying)

The con went from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon, which was more time than I had from work what with the New Year holiday the weekend before. Too much going on at work meant that I couldn’t take that much time off from work. That’s OK, this time I could afford to miss some of MAGfest in order to balance things out.

First a side note: I am not as wired as most of my friends. I do not have a smartphone with unlimited text and data or whatever so the biggest headache was not really being able to be in contact to coordinate with people for dinner, panels, hanging out or whatever. My dumbphone can do text, but it’s damn hard to type on and the battery life is iffy.

So, I figured out that I need to have a better way of being able to find people and communicate with them during the con. This is a must for PAX East. Currently I am looking at something under the Virgin Mobile banner since I really don’t want the distraction of being connected all. the. time. and I’ve pretty much gotten over the whole 2-year contract garbage from the other carriers.

Part the second, I need to plan better to go to the things I want to go to and the things that I want to see. Ahead of time. And stick too it. Not that I am complaining, I had an amazing time doing what I did at MAGFest, but I know that for PAX East I will need to be a bit more attentive to that and plan a bit better and make a decision to do this and not that and know that I am making the choice (or not making the choice).

I think the highlights of the weekend are topped by the after-party in a hotel room (that wasn’t shut down by security, though they did pay us a visit) in which I got to met some of the members of The Protomen right after seeing them for the first time ever. They really rocked the house. Both times!

That’s a highlight on a weekend that was lit up by spending time with my friends the entire time, some new and some old. I reserve the word epic for rare cases, but this came close. If PAX is anything like this then it’s going to be truly epic. :)

Some personal notes:

Zulahni, it was awesome to meet and hang out with you on Saturday. JCCC3 is going to be awesome!

Nicole, I’m sorry we didn’t hang out more but I know you were working and I am grateful for them time I did get to see you.

Rhaje, if you tell me there is an after-party in a smelly dark alley, I will go, no questions asked. Forget “Team Joel”, OK, the guacamole was good, but good guac doesn’t compare to the incredible people I had the pleasure of meeting. Team Rhaje!! (P.S. were you there when the googly eyes showed up? Yeah, that.)

And to all the people I met, Rachel, Abby, Danimal, Q, Mags, A.J., Josh, Christie, L.A., Casey, Ian, and (60% of) the Protomen, I hope to see you you guys next time!

 

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Early Images

One of my earliest memories is an image of my father loading some furniture and stuff into the back of our brown station wagon. I distinctly remember the lamp. The one from the living room. My dad was moving out. My parents were getting divorced.

So I have this memory and it must have affected the development of my personality, right? But if it did, I can’t see it. I don’t think it did. In some sense, the fact that my parents were divorced is just that, a fact. I am neither happy nor sad about that event. It just is. A picture on my brain. Just like so many others.

I wonder if, at the point at which I figure out how this really does affect me, I’ll be at the point that a computer is when it becomes self-aware. You know, a computer is locked up in the program that it’s working on, the tasks assigned it by a human using code. It has no extra capacity for such a level of awareness.

I think as personal development goes, when you realize with an “external mind” of sorts, how the inputs into your life (nature and nurture) affect who you are, you reach a new place in how you view yourself and your world. I’ve found that I am slowly moving to this new place step by step, yet I haven’t been able to discern if and how this memory affects me. I guess when I do, I’ll have reached the end. Maybe. :)

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Enter the Hive-Mind

I’ve been on the internet for, if I calculate correctly, since 1989. That’s 23 years or so. I first started using Compuserve in high school and then got my first internet account at college. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Very early on I discovered that there is a tremendous amount of information available out there. Data, knowledge, information, brain food. And that if you looked carefully enough and were clever enough, you could usually find the information you were looking for. Later, as the world wide web exploded into being, new companies were formed that helped us find that information better. Google (which changed searching entirely), Yahoo (remember when they used have a directory of all the websites and it was impossible to get yours listed?), WebMD (good, basic info if you can tolerate all of the promotional stuff), government, blogs, and so on. It’s all there. A clever search and sifting through a page or two of results and you could find the answer to any question. Even “how many lemmings can you fit in a phonebooth“.

Ok, I’m kidding about the lemmings, but I have yet to encounter a common question that does not have an answer somewhere on the internet. It has become part of some people’s daily process, including mine, that googling for answers to programming questions is almost all I do. It’s part of the learning experience for the language and tools that I use, but it’s still a fact. We (as developers) rely so heavily on everything to reuse tricks and techniques that others have done before us. I don’t think it stems from simple laziness. (and you still need to understand the answer you get to effectively use it.)

Shifting gears: First Gear

I work with Linked Open Data. It’s pretty cool stuff if you haven’t seen it before. A simple concept proposed by Tim Berners-Lee, the guy who essentially invented the web, to link data elements together in a way that allows them to be more easily searched by computer. It allows us to structure data in a way that can be more easily understood by computers, and therefore offer us answers to “how many lemmings can you fit in a phonebooth”. This leads us to something that is being termed “The Semantic Web” or even Web 3.0. The Linked Data that makes up this semantic web allows for something called “Semantic Search”  that better understands the intent of the user’s query. Thereby producing better results.

Shifting Gears: Second Gear

I’m also a fan of Twitter and the now-ness of what goes on there. There’s a half-joke that I’ve encountered that twitter people are referred to as the Hive-Mind: a collective intelligence, so to speak, of your followed to which you can pose a question and often get back a pretty good answer in a short period of time. It sounds funny, and oddly ominous like the Star Trek Borg, but it works. Well, except the time I asked this question recently:

//twitter.com/cajunjoel/status/278574854674993152

I think it was too advanced of a question for Twitter. :) I didn’t get any good responses.

Shifting Gears: Overdrive

My point in all this is that I see us slowly headed towards something that we only see in science fiction books. A place where all knowledge is stored and is readily accessible to all humans at any time with almost instantaneous response. More correct and reliable information bubbles to the top and false and misleading information is naturally suppressed by the very people who use it. Is it a Technological Singularity where we will be unable to survive without it? I don’t know. But I do know that we are seeing the early stages of something that is slowly and inexorably changing the world.

 

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The Amazingness of Marian Call

Something Fierce vol. I: Good Luck with That

Today is November 13th. Yeah, I know. Tuesday. Well, today is better than most Tuesdays because Marian Call is re-releasing her album Something Fierce.

I’ll wait while you go buy it. Really. Go now. You won’t regret it.

Ok? Good! Listening?

So I first heard of Marian Call when I saw her name come up as one of the entertainers on JoCo Cruise Crazy 2 which took place in February 2012. I will be the first to admit that I don’t take/have the time to pursue all of the many avenues of awesomeness that pervades the nerdy world, so it’s not surprising that I hadn’t heard of Marian Call yet. So I poked at her website a bit and looked around, had a listen to some of her music. There was some good stuff there. I moved on since it wasn’t entirely my style. Alaska, huh? That’s cool.

vol. I: Good Luck with That

But I was to get a preview of her music when she was passing through Virginia on her way to somewhere else while on tour. She stopped and played for a half hour at the Can’t Stop the Serenity event with the Northern Virginia (NOVA) Browncoats. Apparently she has this song that ties into Firefly, so I figure it’d be a good time regardless.

She seemed confident on stage, like she’s done this just a few times before [kidding!]. I also noticed that she worked the handled really well. We were all singing along as she led us through the choruses and refrains of her music. She was a natural at it. We were part of the performance, really.

And the typewriter. That was different. Typewriter as percussion. Who knew! She did, that’s for sure.

Since she was on a limited time schedule, Marian asked during a break between songs how much time she had. I was having a really good time at this point (I’ve seen Serenity a half dozen times, but I do so enjoy live music!) so I shouted out the following.

“Four more hours!”

It’s a relatively small space. Everyone heard me. A moment passes and Marian Call says into the mic:

“That’s what she said.”

And the entire room bursts into laughter, but no one laughed harder than me. I earned that, but it was worth it.

And so I started paying attention. On JoCo Cruise Crazy 2, I did this crazy cross stitch thing and I was seeking (hunting? stalking?) each of the fifteen performers on the cruise for their autographs. I ran into her one evening on the Sea View Deck and she was kind enough to stop and sign it for me. We talked a bit and then she said she was looking for someone and… oh man, I’d interrupted her! And I felt bad because she was on a mission and oh man, she’s the talent, one of the performers. Regardless, she’d been very gracious and I truly appreciate that.

Time went by and Marian released a new album and went on tour this fall again, this time on the east coast. I missed one of her house concerts here in Maryland because of a conflicting schedule. Some friends of mine were there and one of them recounted to me how, after the concert, with possibly two or three dozen people there, Marian took the time to talk to each and every one of person who wanted to talk to her, get a CD signed, say Hi, I loved your show, etc.

Marian Call and Scott Barkin on JoCo Cruise Crazy 2

I got to see this first hand when I happened to be able to go to a Ladies of Ragnarok show in Cambridge, MA. I wanted to say hi, and introduce myself, but I am also very conscious of being pushy so I sat back and watched. And I saw that either Marian is a great actor or she really and truly enjoys meeting the people who make up her fans and, in a sense, patrons. Never once did she turn someone away or show any sign of impatience or irritation or even fatigue.

Eventually I did get to talk to her, finally putting a name to a face (for her, not me) and it was good.

But I left with the feeling that Marian honestly enjoys what she does: making great music and playing before smallish groups of people. It’s not an easy life, nor is it glamorous. There’s no tour bus to sleep on, no millions of dollars rolling in, no superstar fame. But I think that’s okay, that can change a person, no matter how hard you stick to your roots.

Don’t get me wrong, I wish Marian the best of success and the most that life has to offer. I also agree with the idea (not mine) that this is how music was done in the past and a model for how it can continue to be done in the future for a host of musicians who would not have “made it” before. Doing it this way, small venues and house concerts, offers an intimacy and potential for connection with an artist that you can’t ever hope to get in an arena with 40,000 fans, or even going through a autograph line at a convention.

And so I do what I can to support this kind of effort from Marian and other musicians whose music I truly love. Because it’s amazing and awesome and so many other words that I can’t think of right now and I want to see that continue. Forever. Artists bring beauty to the world and we can’t stand by and hope that someone else provides the money for it.

So, here’s what you can do, right now. Go buy this album. Support art and the people who make it. Promote the hell out of the people you know who do this sort of thing. Tell your friends who like good music. Really good music. Music that won’t come from a worldwide record label.

Music that comes from the heart.

 

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When Bad Things Happen

I lost my watch this weekend.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, and in the past it hasn’t been, but this watch was special watch. It was given to me by my wife on our wedding day. I’d worn it on my wrist for seven years and the day I lost it, it was in my pocket. Why it was in my pocket is not important, but my pocket is usually a very safe place for my watch. Tonight it wasn’t.

Over the years, I’ve become really good at backtracking and following my steps and I did that when I realized my watch was missing. I remember it being in my pocket. I remember moving my keys from one pocket to another because I didn’t want to scratch the watch. One cab ride, one dinner and two or so hours later, as I left the restaurant I realized the watch was not in my pocket. And I do not know how this happened.

I was optimistic. It must be in my work bag. Maybe it fell out of my pocket in the booth at dinner? Or the cab? Neither reported having found a watch. I called both two times, spoke to some very helpful people (thank you, St Louis for your kind and friendly residents)

But at this point, two days later, the watch is gone. I have little hope of recovering it and now the upset and sadness sets in. There are few times where I didn’t wear the watch and I now realize how often it is that I look to my wrist to check the time.

To say that this is an exercise in acceptance is an understatement. I had to tell my wife that I lost her wedding present. I think that was harder than anything. It’s insured and I could theoretically get another, but it won’t be the same, will it? It won’t have that little dent in the metal where I once knocked it against a shelf. And I’ll be terrified of losing it again. Of going through this again.

I’ve lost things before and it’s sort of become annoying in their regularity. There’s a particular kind of water bottle that we like. Flat when empty, no bad chemicals. I’ve lost three of these while traveling. I’m tired of losing things.

I have to keep telling myself that I’ve done all I can and that it’s just a thing, but the thing had meaning to me and now that’s gone. Deep down inside I feel a sense of loss and disappointment that will continue until I accept this new aspect to my world.

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Transformations

Tunnel This weekend I attended a conference and it was arguably the best conference I’ve attended. And not really because of the content of the sessions, which was excellent And also not really due to the people I met there, who were wonderful. I think it was me.

Let’s back up a bit first. Lately, I’ve been working on working on, for lack of a better description, changing my view of and how I interact with the world. To ignore all the mental distractions, the constant chatter in my brain, the automatic negative reaction to things. To achieve a focus on the moment, the now, but also be aware of that focus and what I am thinking and feeling. This is right in line with mindfulness. Mindfulness. It’s amazing. Tell your friends.

Do you ever find yourself in a conversation with someone, maybe discussing some heated topic, and you’re so anxious to get your words out and respond that you don’t even hear (or listen to, for that matter) what the person is saying?

Yeah. That. I was that person.

I’ve come to realize that when I shut the hell up (in my chattering brain) and listen to what the person says, look them in the eye, given the 100% of my attention and truly appreciate what they are saying, that I seem to come out of it enjoying it more.

Oh, and it’s not easy to look someone in the eye. Really. Go through your day and see how often you really look at someone. And I’m not talking about all creepy stare at them and never look away. And I’m also not talking about glancing at their eye every now and then, but when they are talking to use it to show that you are paying attention.

That is a powerful thing. It shows respect and understanding. Even if you dont agree with the person, you can do this. I do this now. I found that with some effort that I can do it, with men or women, people who annoy me or people I honestly love. Doesn’t matter. And it’s amazing.

One evening, I met someone and we started talking, just chatting at the bar. We found we had something in common, something had happened to both of us that changed our lives. And I was able to listen and connect with this person. Setting aside all the distractions in the restaurant (and there were quite a few) and I truly and honestly enjoyed talking to this person and it really set the night off well.

Obviously this didn’t happen to everyone I met over the course of the weekend, but I found myself open to it and I like to think that I made some very good friends this weekend.

All through the conference, I was walking around with this stupid smile on my face. Walking up and talking to total strangers. This may sound like I’m making it out as being so easy, but it’s taken me a long time to get here. Years. Decades, maybe.

So that’s it.  This is what life is all about. You want the meaning of life. This is it. Honest connections with people. Bringing us closer using the things that we have in common rather than how we are different. Finally, there was this tweet that came across last week. It’s relevant. :)

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me and 9/11

So inevitably as it will happen every Sept 11th from now until whenever, we will remember where we were on this day so many years ago when it happened, who we were talking, what street we were walking down, whatever, when a terrorist group flew two airplanes. AIRPLANES!, into the world trade center.

People will say things like “Never forget”, “Remember 9/11” and other platitudes that, to me, have come to mean less than nothing. What is there that we can never forget? How someone attacked our country? How people were killed en masse to make a political point?

What I will never forget is how 9/11 was preventable. How it was used as a tool by the political elite to consolidate power in the executive branch of our government. How it was used as a reason to spy on, detain, and curtail the rights of our own citizens in the name of “terrorism”. How in our paranoia and fear of dying (as if there aren’t worse things than death) allowed us to sit back and let our government do this because somehow it made us feel safer. How we went to war in a country where we had no business being in. How our government lied to us about this war, and further eroded whatever unity we had after the destruction of the towers. How this war brought our country to the brink of bankruptcy and further continues to destabilize our nation.

This path of us versus them (and I’m not talking about the U.S. versus Terrorists) has led us to a point in our history where if we don’t wake up, the terrorists will have won, but not because of anything they did. We’ll have done it to ourselves.

I’m sorry. Though I am still angry about the events of 9/11, of the friend I lost there and of the family members of other friends that were lost there, I’m even more angry about how it was used as a tool that hurt our country far more than anything else ever has.

So let’s get today over with. I’m done with it already.

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Labor Day Sentinels

So in honor of Labor Day (I guess it’s in honor of. Who knows?) we had some friends over to visit, have some food, share some stories, and play some games.

After eating and conversing as a large group, eventually the room split into two, with about ten people playing a raucous game of Cards Against Humanity and four of us playing a round of Sentinels of the Multiverse. I’ve played CAH a number of times and it can be a slow but hilariously funny game. So I decided to play Sentinels of the Multiverse because it’s just that awesome and I’ve been really wanting to play for a while now.

Quick summary of Sentinels, people play heroes who attempt to defeat the villain, which is represented by a deck of cards in the middle of the table. It’s a cooperative game, so you can share information and coordinate efforts to vanquish your enemy!

This was only my second time playing Sentinels and with the other players having never played before, we decided that I was the expert. Since the game is winnable with three or four heroes, we decided to play two characters each. Then someone else joined up, also a newbie, and she played one hero. So I played two and the other two people played one hero each. This is doable, I thought, four heroes against one villain. The game is also played in an environment, which influences the way the game goes. Hehe.

The environment we played on was Mars. And as we learned, Mars sucks.

The game is meant to be a fast game, 30-45 minutes, we got better as we went along. But in the end, it took us two hours to get our asses handed to us by Baron Blade and his minions. It was a slow, inexorable ass-whooping. Really. It bordered on ridiculous because it was just so drawn out. And I loved every minute of it. The game truly is fun to play and does have some interesting twists and turns.

For posterity, it was The Wraith, Bunker, Ra and The Visionary played by a bunch of noobs against Baron Blade on Mars.

Either way, I look forward to playing again. And more often, I think.

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A Mixed Bag of Emotions

Today was a pretty rough day. I got some news I’ve been hoping to get for some time, and it’s really good news. Almost better than good and it will help my home life a lot. All day at my desk, I fought distraction from my work at hand because what I am working on is proving difficult to learn and even harder to master, yet I must do it to accomplish a goal that I set for the project at work. And to top it all off (not really), I heard that Sally Ride died on the same day that a friend reported on Twitter that her father died unexpectedly.

Through all of this I managed to set aside the good news, make some progress on the stuff at work to the point where I might actually accomplish something this week, and yet I found myself quite moved by my friend’s announcement. I kept coming back to it, more than once over the course of the afternoon.

Her father died, unexpectedly. They were waiting on finding out whether or not he had cancer. Again. And she lost her mother just over a year ago. This is more than my mind can grasp. And I want to say things about how sorry I am, but I keep getting the impression that I’m focusing on my feelings and what I want to say or do and it just doesn’t seem right.

I’ve read that when someone loses a close family member, that it’s not the best thing to say “Let me know if I can help in any way.” The person is not in a state of mind to ask for anything. That sometimes it’s simply better to go over and help. Clean the dishes, mow the lawn, take them out to lunch, or just be there sitting quietly with them.

But when that person is a country away and in all honesty you don’t know them that well, what can you do?  I find myself circling back to how I would feel if I lost both of my parents and how sad and heartbroken I would be. And I find that’s about all I can do. Sit with that sadness, be with it for my friend. Feel it. Find out what color it is? How does it make me feel physically? What does it smell like?

This is the best I can hope to do, I think. I can’t lighten this burden, I can’t take it away, and nor would I want to. As godawful as this is, I wouldn’t do that because this is what makes us who we are.

In the end, it comes around to more than sympathy, an honest attempt at approaching empathy for something you’ve never experienced yourself, but know you will one day.

Oh, and the rest of the stuff that happened today? It’ll wait until tomorrow.

(Photo by Flickr user superchic001)