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Growing Up and Counting the Cost

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/06/06/growing-up-and-counting-the-cost/

I used to believe . . . that growing and growing up are analogous, that both are inevitable and uncontrollable processes. Now it seems to me that growing up is governed by the will, that one can choose to become an adult, but only at given moments. These moments come along fairly infrequently — during crises in relationships, for example, or when one has been given the chance to start afresh somewhere — and one can ignore or seize them.

Nick Hornby

I think that is a fair description. I think that for a long time I chose to be swept along with the current, without taking much responsibility for my destination. In the past few years I have gained a better understanding that the crises are “growing up” opportunities, and that I have successfully “grown up” from some of these experiences. Still, it is easy enough to be swept along and fail to learn lessons, and I have surely missed the opportunity to grow as much as I could have from some of these crises.

I also remember John Chambers, Cisco’s CEO, recounting advice he had received during the dot-com boom, that you really only have a great company after you have survived an existential threat. After you have had to “grow up” and see what hard decisions you make when it comes time to make those hard decisions. John recounted with a grim face the large number of layoffs that Cisco chose to make in order to survive the dot-com crash. Today, Cisco pays well, and hands out bonuses, but although it has billions in the bank, it is also religious about managing expenses, which can be frustrating at times. All the same, I prefer to work for a company that can sometimes feel frustratingly stingy, if it means my job is less likely to be axed in the next recession. I like to think that this “stinginess” is the mark of a “grown up” company which is keen to reduce the risk of future crisis.

There is a well-worn adage that those who set out upon a great enterprise would do well to count the cost. I am not sure that this is always true. I think that some of the very greatest enterprises in the world have been carried out successfully simply because the people who undertook them did not count the cost; I am much of the opinion that . . . the most instructive consideration for us is the cost of doing nothing.

Thomas Henry Huxley

The cost of doing nothing? Global Warming springs to mind. I have talked myself down from a lot of ideas because, for example, I have a better and better understanding of the costs of building a service on robust and scalable architecture. For the most part that is a good thing: great ideas should be able to wrestle down their opponents. But sometimes you just have to charge forward, and in the words of Buckminster Fuller, “dare to be naive.”

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Week of January 31, 2010

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/02/02/week-of-january-31-2010/

Sunday, January 31

I slept in, but Mei was catching up on sleep from her night shift, so I wandered down to the Tea Lounge. After she got up I met her at Cheryl’s for brunch, then we picked up groceries, and she ran off to the gym as I cleaned my desk area, and began writing holiday thank you cards, as she returned and cooked up food for the week.

1.0h Frontline

Monday, February 1

I was pretty productive at work, most notably cleaning up the mess I made on Friday moving my project from stand-alone Django to hosting via WSGI. The big win was in adding this to my WSGI handler:

# So, usually in django you can have print statements in your code to
# aid in debugging, but this cause trouble for WSGI, so we'll direct
# print statements to stdout instead to stderr, hopefully landing them
# out of the way and in the error log.  -dannhowa
sys.stdout = sys.stderr

Mei made her macaroni and cheese from scratch.

Later, while watching Frontline’s “Young and Restless in China” I was struck by and admired Jingjing’s concise and honest account of a tragedy in her personal life:

I’ve been through a difficult time. My fiancé and I are both very, very busy. Actually, I focused more on my work than my relationship, and it faded. He gave up. I could feel it. His heart wasn’t here any more. There were new temptations, probably a better woman than me. I felt like I was the one who always blamed or criticized him, but the other woman flattered and admired him.

He said it first: “let’s just end it.”

I tried really hard to get him back, but I just couldn’t.

Fortunately, Mei and I are both aware of the danger of putting work ahead of personal relationships.

Pushups: 34
0.75h Frontline
0.25h Saturday Night Live

Tuesday, February 2

I was glad to hear that the groundhog bit the mayor last year.

This blog got hacked for the second time. This time I am running the most current version of the software. An edit was made through the “admin” account to link an entry to some web site in Russian. I reverted the edit and deleted the “admin” user. I should probably update my plugins.

Pushups: 41
0.5h Daily Show
1.5h How Much Do You Love Me?

Wednesday, February 3

This morning I was thinking that winter might help make people liberal: they understand that suffering is universal and temporary, we are proud of our survival skills. Sometimes people need a hand, though, and you ought to help them out because we’ll all be doing better come spring time.

Where the weather is always warm, suffering is more often regarded as a consequence of personal failure, and personal failure is often inherited from shiftless parents. Helping out the hopeless just gets in the way of one making the most of long pleasant days: a noble distraction for some, but nothing one should be burdened with in the form of taxes.

It is certainly more complicated than that, but there is a gradient where you see the great social democracies at the Arctic Circle, and as you move closer to the Equator that capacity for efficient government seems to evaporate. (Also, necessity being the mother of invention, collective action being a prerequisite for mere survival in Sweden.)

Pushups: 31 + 21 + 25
Situps: 100
1.5h Barack Obama versus The GOP
0.5h Daily Show

Thursday, February 4

Advice to a coworker wondering if he should sue Toyota or request rental car reimbursement:

They might could loan you a car, being a car dealer and all, but really the fix takes about a half hour, except the government’s thinking it might be an issue with the computer, possibly caused by electromagnetic interference, so good luck figuring that one out. You might consider disabling excess electronic junk in the passenger compartment: put your mobile device in airplane mode, etc. (Personally, I would just man up and accept that my mortality is bound by fates beyond my understanding, though personally I avoid driving anyway.)

But what I really want is to hear the Governator slur it just right:


If recalls bother you then you might be better off with a used car, which has had several years for any consumer defects to have been detected, analysed, and amended. My father, who spent many years repairing electronic systems, always preferred cars from the junk yard with minimal electronics because he KNOWS they’re failure prone in unexpected ways, and he figured that after the nuclear war his car would still be driveable. (What with the EMPs . . . )

After dropping Mei off at work in the evening I finished off an open bottle of dessert wine, and watched a bunch of TV, including several episodes of “The Daily Show”, “The Colbert Report” and “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” which featured a two-part episode where the Mooninites stole Carl’s hypno-rims and hypnotized him into sodomizing himself with a broom. Now, “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” is pretty “out there” but mid way through the second part I just had to turn that crap off.

Friday, February 5

This morning I received an unexpected phone call from a stranger in Dublin who explained that the directory link count on a Unix filesystem indicates the number of directory entries contained in that directory. Two of those are . and ... This might also explain why you can only use symbolic links for directories, since the link count field has a different purpose.

Technical Debt — A term coined by Ward Cunningham to describe the obligation that a software organization incurs when it chooses a design or construction approach that’s expedient in the short term but that increases complexity and is more costly in the long term. The technical debt vocabulary provides a way to communicate with non-technical staff in an area that has traditionally suffered from a lack of transparency. Shifting the dialog from a technical vocabulary to a financial vocabulary provides a clearer, more understandable framework for these discussions.

“Woonerf” – Anarchy the Key to Safe Streets? — Europeans are experimenting with an idea that tearing out sidewalks and sharing road space between vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians can improve both safety and speed of travel in towns with fewer than 15,000 residents. The safety is achieved by slowing vehicles to a maximum of 20 MPH-a speed at which drivers can react effectively and the human body is most likely to survive an impact. Vehicles gain speed because they can move efficiently through intersections without waiting at traffic lights.

Saturday, February 6

Today I went in search of adventure. I started walking, following the directions allowed by traffic lights, and made my way down Flatbush, right on Church, past Ocean Parkway then down past Cortelyou to Ditmas where I happened upon the hobby shop I have wanted to visit, Trainworld. That was a groovy place and I was tempted to maybe buy a ready-to-run holiday trainset or a Bachman set with a Norris locomotive but aside from not-needing-to-spend-the-money there’s also that where-would-I-put-it-anyway. At one moment I thought how my calculus for spending money on things that don’t have an obvious place to live would be changed if the request were made by my children, and I reckoned I will one day say yes to them a little more easily, but that when I was a kid I learned that since parents say no, it is important to consider the cost and value of different wishes, and that something is gained when a child learns to choose their battles.

After flirting with my boyhood fantasies and leaving the shop empty-handed, I walked toward the adjoining elevated train station, but postponed my train trip to watch several fire trucks and a small crowd of people respond to a fire in a small building. Smoke poured out the doorway and the firefighters knocked out windows and brought in a hose, while two guys climbed the fire truck ladder onto the roof, I guess for tactical reasons. Everyone admires the heroism and strength of firefighters, and for a boyish instant I wanted to become a firefighter too. While this particular fire didn’t look like much, everyone in the crowd was glad at the chance to see these men entering a burning building to make things right.

After the smoke had mostly cleared I hopped on the train and rode the F out to Coney Island, which was rewarding because that station is built in the style of the grand train terminals you still see in Europe, with possibly a dozen tracks alongside each other under a soaring ceiling, trains coming and going constantly. I hopped an N train back North, which didn’t offer the scenic view I had had on the F, because it ran in a ditch. But I did get to see the operator reach out the window at one stop to press the “local” button, which I imagined was rigged up to set the switches for the train to run on the local track. Seeing this little detail of the MTA operations was a thrill. Though, I was a little disappointed that we ran local, because the subway map says the N runs express up to Pacific Avenue. Along the way there were darkened trains parked in at the express tracks in the stations, and I wondered if they might be trying to keep some of the extra trains warm, or maybe they were doing yard maintenance and were using the express tracks for storage.

2.0h New York: Episode 2
1.0h Dirty Jobs

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The Death of Books

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/02/01/death-of-books/

I just posted a comment on a friend’s Facebook status:

I think the Death of Paper Books has been predicted with the advent of newspapers, radio, television, microfiche, books-on-tape, CD-ROMs, the Internet, portable computers, e-books readers, and smart phones, but it still hasn’t happened yet.

I like books, I like holding them in my hands, and I like stacking them on shelves along the walls of my apartment. I suspect that this love of books will be transmitted to my children, much as it was inherited from my parents. I doubt we’ll have an “unabridged dictionary” or a set of encyclopedias like when I grew up, but hell yeah, as long as I and my descendants have the money to spend, paper books aren’t going to die out.

I think eBooks will serve a particular role, especially in lightening the load in school backpacks. For my normal routine of reading one book at a time, though, and then palming it off to a friend or family member, I am fine with having the pulp copy to thumb through, though access rights if I later want to search the book digitally would be nice.

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When Will Google Voice Support Apps Users?

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/01/26/when-will-google-voice-support-apps-users/

Background: Google Apps is a service where Google will host the e-mail and calendar for your domain. So, instead of going to gmail.com I go to mail.toldme.com and log in as dannyman for dannyman@toldme.com. The annoying thing that has been going on for several years now is that only a minority of the growing array of Google software that features personalized content will support my Apps login, so I have two completely separate Google accounts:
Apps Account: dannyman@toldme.com
Gmail Account: picasasucks69@gmail.com

The first contains an archive of e-mail going back 15 years, my combined e-mail, telephone, and address book of all my friends, and Calendar appointments for the past five years. It integrates seamlessly with my Android Phone.

The second is for all the stupid Google applications that do not work with my Google account and require me to have a Gmail account that I never use otherwise: Picasa, Blogger, Google Maps, Google Voice . . . that last one is especially annoying, because now the brokenness leaks onto my Android phone!

The following is adapted from http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Google+Apps/thread?fid=475790531056779f00047e151dc314f4:

As a big Google fan, I have an Android phone and a Google Apps account, and a Google Voice account. Google Voice is really neat, but since it only supports Gmail logins it is really poor that my Gmail / Android contacts aren’t available in Google Voice. That’s right: since I’m a really big Google fan, the Google Voice application will NOT sync with my Google Phone.

I understand that it is possible to install software that pulls the data out of your Apps Gmail account or Android phone, and then re-copies that back in to the Google Voice non-Apps account. But this requires extra effort on my part to maintain a kludge to have duplicate copies of data stored in two different places.

What I want instead is the obvious and sane solution, where I log in to Google Voice the same way I log in to everything else: with my Google Apps account. My Android phone logs in to my Google Apps account and has instant access to my contacts list, and my hosted Gmail logs in to my hosted Apps account, and has instant access to the very same contacts list shared seamlessly with my Android phone. So, when I log in to Google Voice, I want to log in with my Apps account, and then Google Voice has instant access to all of my phone numbers and e-mail addresses associated with my Google Apps login.

Basically, I am asking for sanity, and short of sanity, at least an acknowledgement that sanity is a desired outcome.

This “second class citizen” treatment is really frustrating at times: the biggest fans get the worst support. Any idea when Google Voice is going to stop locking us out? And when that time comes will I be able to keep my phone number, or will it be like when I was forcibly migrated from Google Calendar over to a blank Google Apps Calendar, losing all my appointments and shared calendars, with no option to migrate my data?

I have tried to get an answer from Google Voice to no avail. I would like to think the Google employees behind Apps are working behind the scenes to make Google Voice available seamlessly to paying and loyal customers. Or maybe this simply is not a priority and us common folk Google Evangelists just shouldn’t get too worked up about Google products, and consider switching to competing technologies. Thanks!

These days my Android phone is in a weird way, because I’m starting to use Google Voice for SMS, except Google Voice has no access to my address book, so everywhere I am accustomed to seeing names and pictures for my contacts I see a ten-digit number, because Google Voice has no access to the contacts in my Google account.


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Week of 10 January, 2010

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/01/17/week-of-10-january-2010/

Sunday, January 10

2010-01-10 . . . it is too bad they didn’t have binary numbers one thousand years ago.

Last night I began reading Studs Terkel’s “Division Street America” . . . it is starting to remind me of Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life” where you drift from person to person, hearing a monologue . . . things shift around as in a dream. Some are more engaging than others.

I like that by page 27, I find a kindred soul in Elizabeth Chapin, who was 75 years old in 1967:

“The automobile, what could you do without it? In another few generations, people will have no legs, we won’t need them. I take the dog for a walk every day. Walk a few blocks to the bakery shop. I have known people who live around the corner from the bakery, who take their car to get there. People are amazed when I tell them I don’t pass a day that I don’t walk three, four miles. It just wouldn’t occur to me. There’s so much to see, to observe, while you’re walking. What happens to us when we don’t see these things? When I take the dog for a walk, I see things. People’s eyes are closed, with a thin film over them, or what is it?”

I should be walking more, myself.

Another theme so far is the people are bothered by the increasing isolation . . . 40 years ago. In the old days it was playing cards and long conversations. I’ve been thinking the world might be a better place if television was a metered service: you pay $1 for each hour you watch, with a fair portion of that going to whomever created the programming. People would watch less TV and the quality would go up if people were more selective about it. Anyway, maybe I’ll actually set up a jar in my own living room. Since I pay the cable/Internet bill I can reimburse myself. Or give it to charity or something.

0.5h Saturday Night Live
1.0h Nova: What Darwin Didn’t Know

Monday, January 11

In the afternoon I snuck off to the Tea Lounge before returning home for the Pager Review Meeting which is at 3pm in California. I go on-call Tuesday morning at 11am . . . well, 2pm local time. Right before the pager review meeting my workstation crashed and required a fsck . . .

1.0h Nova: What Darwin Didn’t Know

Tuesday, January 12

I started feeling seriously blue on Monday, and this morning was no better. The contributing factors are known and temporary, so no reason to freak out, but damn. This morning I treated myself to brunch . . . and spent some time just standing in the frigid sunlight, synthesizing vitamin D and hopefully ameliorating seasonal blues, thinking that office workers should work while the sun is down.

At brunch it was more the people watching than the delicious chorizo frittata that did me good. At first I kinda sympathized with the girl who kept sighing at her computer, which she had to hard-reset . . . Windows Vista or 7 running on a ThinkPad T61 . . . but she kept sighing and I was thinking “attitude problem” . . . the guys next to me sounded like the older guy providing some career mentoring advice for the younger guy. All while I was reading about the Whole Foods CEO in The New Yorker.

“. . . a tendency, common among smart people, to presume that everyone in the world either does or should think as he does–to take for granted that people can (or want to) strike his patented balance of enlightenment and self-interest. It sometimes sounds as if he believed that, if every company had him at the helm, there would be no need for unions or health-care reform, and therefor every company should have someone like him, and that therefor there should be no unions or health-care reform. In other words, because he runs a business a certain way, others will, can, and should, and so safeguards that have evolved over generations to protect against human venality–against, say, greedy, bullying bosses–are no longer necessary. The logic is as sound as the presumption is preposterous.”

On my way out I saw the girl on my left was editing an article in a WordPress blog, and I felt better about her. People who have found the joy of good software have a preposterous notion that software doesn’t have to suck, and so they are logically entitled to sigh when their computer’s operating system starts acting dumb.

Wednesday, January 13

Rough day on-call. I never even left the house.

1.0h Daily Show

Thursday, January 14

Another rough day on-call, but I went out for groceries. I walked to the store farther away, since it was a beautiful day: sunny with a high of 38F. On the shopping list was an onion, which allowed Mei to make beef stew. Yum!

0.5h Community
1.0h Project Runway

Friday, January 15

I was paged throughout the night as a consequence of maintenance activity that ran long. I sent an e-mail to management sharing my reservations about how the project in question was being handled. During the day I took it easy, and we managed to roll out an emergency measure to keep this other thing that had been paging a lot quiet.

Usually, on-call isn’t so bad. My last few times on-call had plenty nights of uninterrupted sleep. Luck of the draw.

1.0h Daily Show
1.0h Dollhouse

Saturday, January 16

The weather was nice so I sat on the park bench in front of the house and read. Of course, the wind kept blowing so I made a few trips inside for more clothing.

I have been bothered by my level of credit card debt and have hatched a scheme whereby I’m thinking to pay it all off out of savings and lay the cards aside. I’ll reduce my monthly “allowance” that I draw from savings for the year in order to re-pay the money borrowed, and basically live within my means on a tighter budget, whipping out the debit card when I need to pay with plastic, and then only if I can afford it. Hooray for austerity! (I haven’t put this idea into motion yet.)

And no, its not that I am anywhere near broke, but I have had my share of hard times, and I am pretty excited that in July I may have a 20% down payment on real estate I can afford, right around the bottom of the real estate market, which has been brought to us by reckless overspending. When I was a kid, my mother yearned for years to own our own home, and it was always just out of reach. As a kid, I seldom had much money I could spend, and had to learn to say “no” to nice things. Well, finally being able to afford a place will feel good. And there is also a value in being able to say “no” to nice things you don’t really need.

0.5h Colbert Report
0.5h King of the Hill
1.0h Aqua Teen Hunger Force

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Rita Buscari, 25

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2010/01/10/rita-buscari-25/

Excerpt from Studs Terkel’s “Division Street America” (1967)

There were about forty of us went down there to protest James Dukes’ execution. We had a very orderly, and I think, dignified picket line. We marched in two’s up and down, very quiet. We rarely spoke to each other. But across the street there were about two hundred people in their cars with the doors open, the radios blarin’ out rock’n’roll music, with beer cans and with sandwiches. They were there all evening, and very often there would be jeers at us from across the street.

I was marching with a Northwestern student, who goes down to protest every time there’s an execution. He said these people are there at every execution. Every single one. He said no matter how cold it is–this was a warm night, this was August–no matter how cold it is, there are approximately the same number of people. He believes they’re there because the lights dim in the building, which isn’t true, because the chair is rigged up to a different electrical system.

They stay there until the body is brought out in an ambulance. You got the feeling, you know, that this was the instinct that sent people to the Colosseum in Rome. And it’s here, right here and now, present in our society. Warden Johnson said people call up and ask for tickets. Well, if tickets were sold, I’m sure it would be a sellout house every single time.

It was so brutish. I was marching with pacifists and ministers, and the quiet of these people compared to the crowd across the street gave it a nightmarish quality. At the time of the execution we all turned toward the jail and ceased conversation. And this was when the rhythm of the noise on the other side gained momentum. They had all the radios on, first of all because they wanted to hear the announcement. The sounds on the other side increased as our silence increased.

When the announcement came through on the radio, there was a big reaction across the street: Oh, that’s over with. Oh, that’s great. Especially toward us. It was a victory for them, you see? A great victory against the crackpots who were demonstrating across the street. You know: This is how much your demonstration has achieved, you’re no place at all.

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Open Source Projects Could Augment CS Curricula

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/10/27/or-why-i-dont-care-about-snakeoil-salesmen/

Everyone is talking about Joel Spolsky, especially with his latest article.

Many appreciate what he has to say, but then again, he is basically articulating what we all know, and plenty figure that maybe his writing is no longer fresh, and he is just cranking out articles in order to shill his warez:

“This might be a neat opportunity to use Scrum. Once a week, the team gets together, in person or virtually, and reviews the previous week’s work. Then they decide which features and tasks to do over the next week. FogBugz would work great for tracking this . . .”

My position is that most stuff we read is mediocre, and Joel at least writes well, and Joel wears his ulterior motives on his sleeve, so when he starts figuring FogBugz can cure what ails CS curricula, I just figure “and now a word from our sponsors” and my brain hits the fast-forward button.

I think Tom actually has the best reaction to the issue Joel brings up, in that he adds that different people have different learning methods:

We all know there are students that are “visual learners”, “audio learners” and “kinesthetic” learners.

We all know what? Okay, yeah, and “everyone” is talking about this, right? Anyway, Tom, like me, is a learning-by-doing kind of guy who didn’t always “get” the formal CS curriculum:

When I took my undergraduate class on software engineering methodology I felt it was useless because I couldn’t see the point of most of what I was being taught. Most of my programming had been done solo or on a small team. I could not take seriously the problems that were being “fixed” by the software methodologies discussed in our lectures. “Code size estimation? Bah! Impossible, so why even try!”

In my CS days, the bits I enjoyed most were the learning-by-doing: compiling my first C program, bending my mind around recursion and functional programming to complete assignments in MIT Scheme, implementing a virtual spanning tree, and coming up on my own with the idea of a finite-state automaton to parse NWS weather forecasts. (Okay, that wasn’t a CS assignment and I didn’t know how to talk to girls.)

The parts where I fell completely flat were the theoretical classes where we considered bizarre hypothetical problems that didn’t make sense, using Greek letters that didn’t seem to have anything to do with reality. One day my ECE roommate asked how, as a CS major, I would go about sorting one million integers. My response was “why would you want to sort one million integers?” Later I slept through multiple lectures where the best methods of sorting integers were discussed at length. I skimmed the slides so I know that Quicksort performs well and in-place, but that Bubble Sort may work better if your data is mostly sorted, so in my mind that just means that if anybody asks how you would sort one million integers, the correct answer is to ask some questions as to why they need to sort one million integers.

Uh, yeah. Anyway, what was I nattering on about? Joel’s schtick is that CS students aren’t taught to manage large, complex, “real world” projects with lots of moving pieces. CS mostly focuses on the “interesting 10%” like how you would sort a million integers and skips over the boring 90% of hard work like implementing the interface for the customer to provide their million integers and retrieve the results. And Mark Dennehy’s reaction was “of course we focus on the interesting ten percent: the other 90% is constantly changing and best learned on the job!”

But, addressing the “how do you tackle big projects” thing, I think Joel has a point. And his point isn’t new. The point is extra-curricular activity.

Whether you’re a visual learner or whatever, the biggest secret to learning things is to find the thing that you are studying interesting. The very best computer programmers are all fucking fascinated by the challenge of getting the computers to do things within given parameters. Computer programming is fun because when you get down to it, it is a lot like computer games: a person at the interface banging away until they get their dopamine fix by either beating the level boss or getting the damn thing to compile and spit out the correct result.

Well, that is for the learning-by-doing types. Some computer programmers get their jollies by trying to fathom a new and novel method of sorting one million integers. Whatever floats their boat, I guess.

Anyway, long story short, I’m thinking the learning-by-doing types tend to get a little queasy after a few CS theory classes and end up majoring in English in order to score a bachelors degree, but they keep tinkering with the computers along the way, and end up, like Tom and me, as systems administrators, figuring out the best way to keep 1,000 computers running in order to make it possible to sort billions of objects with map-reduce algorithms in constant time.

Oh yeah, and that I agree with Joel that motivated CS students ought to find non-class projects that they are passionate about, and thereby gain chances to collaborate with others on the sort of “real world” challenges that they are likely to face in their professional careers. Back at Illinois the ACM played a big role in this. I myself did some time apprenticing at NCSA and at an ISP, and the big win these days it would seem are the oodles of Open Source projects ready to put interested volunteers to work. And that’s why Google’s “Summer of Code” just sounds like a fantastically great idea.

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Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/10/14/intelligence/

A comment I made on an e-mail thread that was well-received:

Intelligence is the product of basic brainpower, passion, and education. The brain is like a car engine: whether you have a little two-stroke or a V-12 you still aren’t going to get anywhere without some passion fuel, and the going will be really tough without some nice, smooth educational asphalt to help guide you to where you want to go.

Also, to those endlessly debating nature-versus-nurture, the answer is usually “both” . . . you start with a certain genetic baseline, then a childhood you don’t have much control over, and you make of your life what you will. Some folks receive a terrible start in life and are going to have it hard whatever they do, but most people have something they can work with, and with the right sort of ambition, positive attitude, and tenacity, can achieve some sort of success in life.


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Transit Etiquette

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/05/27/transit-etiquette/

I will never forget a day in high school when I was sitting on a crowded bus, headed home, and the lady in front of me, who was not old or pregnant, had what looked to me to be a pained expression on her face. I wondered if maybe her legs hurt as the vehicle lurched around, but I was a shy kid scared to offer her my seat in case really I had just totally misread the situation. After a while the crowd eased and the woman took a seat near me with obvious relief. I had failed on that day to give my seat to someone in need, and ever since I have made an effort not to repeat that mistake by paying greater attention to my fellow passengers.

Priority Seating (CC: Dan4th)

I still ride transit most weekdays, and I have noticed especially that younger people tend to fail at the whole courtesy thing. Part of it may be self-involved rudeness, but part of it I think is a combination of shyness, and a fear of making contact with strangers in a public place. My generation was raised on the lessons that the world outside our homes is extremely violent and treacherous and that the most dangerous thing a child could ever ever do is to talk to a stranger. I like to think that with time most people grow out of their shells and feel more comfortable taking the initiative for social responsibility.

My own strategy is that if I see a person who might better deserve my seat, I try to make eye contact, at which point I start to get out of my chair. Then they either move forward or gesture for me to sit down. (It is better to err on the side of getting someone a seat. Also, I think people looking for a seat know to look others in the eye.) In other cases if the vehicle is crowded and eye contact can not be achieved, I’ll often just stand the heck up anyway, positioning myself in such a way that the person who could best use my seat finds it most accessible. (I would hate for a young punk to ignorantly snipe my seat.) (more…)

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Good Reads

Party Cat!

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/05/01/party-cat/

He is just too cute:

Party Cat Episode One
Party Cat Episode Two
Party Cat Episode Three
Party Cat Episode Four
Party Cat Episode Five
Party Cat Episode Six

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Excerpts, Featured, Good Reads, Quotes, Sundry

Humanity: Developmental Retards

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/04/14/systematic-developmental-retardation/

I am presently enjoying an old thick history book. A footnote in the first chapter says:

“Biologically considered, the distinguishing mark of humanity was systematic developmental retardation, making the human child infantile in comparison to the normal protohuman. Some adult human traits are also infantile when compared to those of an ape: e.g., the overdevelopment of brain size in relation to the rest of the body, underdevelopment of teeth and brow-ridges. But developmental retardation of course meant prolonged plasticity, so that learning could be lengthened. Thereby the range of cultural as against mere biological evolution widened enormously; and humanity launched itself upon a biologically as well as historically extraordinary career.”

W H McNeill
“The Rise of the West”

I was thinking that domesticated animals are similarly developmentally retarded relations of their wild kin. Dogs mature to a wolfishly adolescent level. By remaining in a younger, more affably co-dependent state, they more easily get along with humans. From what I have seen, a lot of adult humans could be described as childish, and while the usual concern is that they are less effective for their childishness, they also subordinate themselves more readily to more ambitious leaders, and this facilitates collaboration.

Or, I guess, domesticated humans and animals fall more naturally into packs, for better and for worse.

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Dreams, Quotes

Dream: “Scramble Time at a Methadone Clinic”

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/04/10/dream-scramble-time-at-a-methadone-clinic/

I was at some sort of lecture for really smart people, and a precocious young woman asked a technical question of the speaker, who answered back with some Math, and the questioner apologetically asked for a moment to run the Math through her head before she could follow-up. The speaker replied that she should take her time, because after all, “this is an open forum, not scramble time at a methadone clinic.”

And I was like where the heck did that line come from?!

Later in the dream I was looking for my car in a parking garage and found it not where I thought I had parked it but a little ways away where I had actually parked it earlier in the dream. I was like “this dream has a great continuity” and then I had to pee so I was looking for a toilet in the parking garage. That is when I got up to pee, and realized that I had slept really soundly this night. I was glad the sun was managing to peek through the clouds.

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Featured, Politics, Quotes

Iowa Likely to Keep Gay Marriage

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/04/08/iowa/

Eileen linked me to this YouTube video. It rocks. It is Iowa’s Senate Majority leader Mike Gronstal making it clear, in no uncertain terms, that he will not cooperate with the Republicans to amend Iowa’s constitution to ban gay marriage. He quotes his daughter, Kate, after listening for several minutes to her older colleagues complain about the subject:

“You guys don’t understand. You’ve already lost. My generation doesn’t care.”

Well, I, for one, care. And Mike Gronstal is clearly compassionate and thoughtful on the subject:

I think I learned something from my daughter that day, when she said that. And I’ve talked with other people about it and that’s what I see, Senator McKinley. I see a bunch of people that merely want to profess their love for each other, and want state law to recognize that.

Is that so wrong? I don’t think thats so wrong. As a matter of fact, last Friday night, I hugged my wife. You know Ive been married for 37 years. I hugged my wife. I felt like our love was just a little more meaningful last Friday night because thousands of other Iowa citizens could hug each other and have the state recognize their love for each other.

No, Senator McKinley, I will not co-sponsor a leadership bill with you.

And Vermont passed gay marriage, this time through the legislature, and overriding a governor’s veto! Sure, gay marriage can be had in only four states today, but I’m getting this hopeful feeling that the cooler heads prevailing in Iowa are the real tipping point. The Right thought California would lead the nation, and they fought hard to win Prop 8, and they won that battle. But while they were fixated on the West Coast, they have been outflanked by the reasonable Midwesterners making reasonable decisions in the middle of the country. Hoorah!

Also good, thank you Tom, is the Supreme Court Summary for Varnum v Brien, which lays out in simple language over six pages the case for why gay marriage ought to be legal. Basically, unless there’s a compelling reason to ban it, equal protection means you should allow it, and there’s no compelling argument for why a state ought to ban it, so, now, Iowa has it!

Like, duh!

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Excerpts, Featured, Good Reads, News and Reaction, Politics


Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/04/03/iowa-gay-marriage/

We used to visit Newton, IA every year or two for McConeghey family reunions. Iowa’s a nice place, though admittedly somewhat dull. But today, America has a big patch of purple right at its heart because the Iowa Supreme Court has declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Joe Eskenazi explains beautifully in “Will Gay Mecca Relocate From San Francisco To Des Moines?”

Disdain of San Franciscans’ disdain of all things Midwestern has become nearly as clichéd as the original sin. And, yet, there’s always a touch of schadenfreude anticipating city residents’ chagrin whenever legitimately good news emanates from the Midwest indicating its denizens have out-progressived our self-anointed capital of progressivism.

The Iowa Supreme Court this morning did what many observers feel its San Francisco-based California colleagues will not — rule that a ban on same-sex marriage violates the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian couples. This morning’s decision adds Iowa to the very short list of states in which same-sex marriage is legal — Connecticut, Massachusetts, and, now, The Tall Corn State. Perhaps it’s only fitting for a state with the motto “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.”

From what I have read, if conservatives want to defeat this, it will require the legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. This could be done by 2011, and even then Iowa residents may not support it. Personally, I’m just really proud to see progress being made on this issue, from of all places, the “fly over country” where I grew up. (Well, I’m from Illinois, but I can still root for the hawkeyes on this one.)

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About Me, Featured, Good Reads, Testimonials

The Sun is an Excellent Magazine

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2009/03/28/the-sun-is-an-excellent-magazine/

A couple years back I came upon this magazine somewhere that was all poetry, prose, and black-and-white photographs. And the stuff inside was good. I love reading and I used to mostly keep up with The New Yorker. These days The Sun is one of two magazines I subscribe to. It is more enjoyable and less of a burden than The New Yorker.

Another thing about The Sun that I really appreciate is that there are no ads. Just me and the writer, mediated only by the editorial staff of The Sun and some pleasing typesetting. As the editor, Sy Safransky recently explained in his annual appeal for donations from Friends Of The Sun:

There’s nothing inherently wrong with some advertising, just as there’s nothing inherently wrong with a traveling salesman knocking on your door. But you probably wouldn’t invite the salesman in if you and a friend were having an intimate conversation. In a magazine that strives for emotional candor and a reader’s quiet respect, a sales pitch is an unwelcome distraction. I want to place one simple demand on a reader’s attention: the content. Nothing else.

I sent them some cash last year. This year I figured maybe I can send a couple subscribers? If you’re looking for good stuff to read on a monthly basis, I totally recommend a subscription to The Sun. And if you happen to be kinda poor, drop me a line with your home address because when I renew I have been known to throw in some gift subscriptions and you might could get lucky.


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