Monthly Archives: December 2011

QCon SF 2011 Software Engineering Conference Notes

It’s sometimes possible to forget when reading all of the posts here about travel, diabetes, triathlon, and photography that they’re just a small part of my life. I have a job to which I devote a whole lot more time. I don’t talk about it much because (a) discussing what I’m working on putting into the Image Processing Toolbox isn’t appropriate or allowed, and even if it were (b) talking shop probably isn’t that interesting to most of the people here. But—believe it or not—the majority of traffic to my site lands on the pages that are technical, so I don’t feel so bad about posting the random “fodder for techno-weenies” post. (It’s a term of endearment, I promise! :^)

This is another one of those posts. Every year between Christmas and New Years Day, I try to use the quiet week to get stuff done and tie up loose ends. Last year, I cleared out a bunch of notes. This year, I’m looking at presentations and slides from the QCon SF 2011 conference (wrap-up). Its focus on software architecture and project management is about 75% of my job, so many of the presentations seemed tailor-made for me. Here’s some of what I learned.


Erik Doernenburg. “Software Quality: You Know It When You See It” has a really good slide deck that got me thinking about some projects I might want to set up. It’s full of practical, usable suggestions:

  • View the code at the 1,000 view, rather than ground-level or 30,000 feet.
  • Look at the test-to-code ratio, not just code coverage.
  • Graph the change of metrics between versions and revisions, compare across different parts of the code, and look at them relative to industry standards.
  • Measure the “toxicity” of code by rolling up various quality metrics about a bunch of modules into stacked bar charts.

We should pose these questions during design and code reviews:

  • Is the software/change of value to its users?
  • How appropriate is the design?
  • How easy is the code/design to understand and extend?
  • How maintainable is the software?

It was full of some really great links to things like Metrics tree maps (a.k.a., pretty heatmaps for source code) as well as a few tools: SourceMonitor, iPlasma, and using Moose to visualize quality.


Joshua Kerievsky. “Refactoring to Patterns” — some notes:

  • Refactoring is like algebra’s equivalence-preserving manipulations. “Design patterns are the word problems of the programming world; refactoring is its algebra.”
  • Understanding the refactoring thought process is more important than remembering individual techniques or tool support.
  • Code smells have multiple refactoring options and often benefit from composite refactorings.
  • Look for automatable refactorings first. Consider changing the client of smelly code before the smelly code itself.


Guilherme Silveira. “How To Stop Writing Next Year’s Unsustainable Piece Of Code” was pithy and thought-provoking.

  • There is no value for architecture or design without implementation. That’s just interpretation of the software.
  • “New language. New mindset. new idiomatic usage. Same mistakes.”
  • Complexity and composition are natural and good, but if they’re invisible, they’re evil.
  • Start with a mess and refactor right away. Starting “right” is hard (and misguided thinking). Refactor for better, not just prettier.
  • Make complexity easier to understand and see.
  • Hiding complexity in concision hurts testability, since no one knows the complexity is there. Furthermore, if it’s hard to test, it’s also hard to use correctly.
  • “Model rules. Do not model models.”


Michael Feathers. “Software Naturalism: Embracing The Real Behind The Ideal” is a presentation that I would like to see/hear, since the slides seemed full of information but weren’t self-explanatory. Here are two things I could glean: 80% of software defects in large projects were in 20% of the files. In general, the more churn in a file, the more complex it tends to be.


Panel: “Objects on Trial” was perhaps the most unusual presentation, since it was a mock-trial. I use objects all the time . . . some of them are good . . . some demonstrably so. Even so, I never latched onto the idea of object-oriented (OO) design versus objects as types. The four panelists, in one way or another, basically said, “That’s the problem.”

One of the panelists drew an extended analogy between the space program and OO. The space shuttle (which we all love) was fixated on reuse but basically was a waste of heavy lifting; people don’t reuse the right stuff. In software, object reuse is largely accomplished by cut-and-paste copying of boilerplate code that does close to what you want. Of course, the panelist acknowledged that we do reuse the ideas in OO via design patterns, and no one seems to have much of a problem with that. Ironically, having a rich pattern language means that software engineers are in a better place than ever before to use objects correctly.

A key problem with our approach to objects is that we’ve failed (generally in software engineering) to handle complexity well, which was supposed to be the point of OO design. A conflation of beauty and OO design makes things worse. Internally, software is ugly, and beauty shouldn’t be a goal. Making a fetish of beauty makes code inflexible because people don’t want to extend the beautiful thing that works.

For other panelists, objects weren’t the problem at all. For them it’s static typing in “OO languages,” such as C++, Java, and C#. We’re at a place now where all of the good things about OO have been lost in an attempt to make OO languages as fast as C. This runs counter to the goal of having “ordinary,” understandable code. Generic programming using strongly typed (possibly template heavy) languages just makes everything complicated.

For me, it’s moot. C++ is what I use, and I don’t have a large proprietary object system that I can tap into for reuse. I’m in the camp that uses C++ objects to generate new types for data hiding and aggregation, as well as (to a lesser extent) reuse. But some of these types are generic, template classes that are hard to understand. I plead “no contest.”

Posted in Computing, Fodder for Techno-weenies, From the Yellow Notepad, Software Engineering | Leave a comment

Hurry, Christmas! Don’t Be Late!

I’ve been laboring all week under the impression that it’s the last day of the workweek. I actually awoke Tuesday morning when the alarm went off wondering (a) “Why is the alarm going off?” and (b) “Is today Saturday or Sunday?” And it’s just gone downhill from there. Everyday after work I’ve been positive that not only is tomorrow Saturday but that I would also be celebrating Christmas on the next day.

sigh

Anyway, here’s a few pictures and some updates . . . bullet-point style!



  • Last Saturday Lisa and I went to New York for the day to visit a few galleries. The “Calder 1941″ exhibit at Pace’s 57th gallery was amazing! And Nan Goldin’s “Scopophilia” show at Matthew Marks is worth a trip to Chelsea. Our day-trip occurred 52 weeks after the trip where we met Kim, Gina, Caroline, and Allison. Time flies!
  • Sunday we traveled into Cambridge to see “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” Lisa had been looking forward to it for months, and it didn’t disappoint. It was our second trip into Cambridge in as many weeks. The previous weekend we attended an alumni event there, and I got a shout-out from the new president of the college. Evidently, we engineers from liberal arts schools are rare beasts.
  • I haven’t gone for a run since last Thursday, when I tested the waters with an easy three-mile treadmill workout. The next day my foot was a little cranky again, so I’m taking some more time off running. I’m still riding and swimming, but I miss my long runs and my speedwork sessions.
  • Speaking of swimming, I got a bit depressed Monday and yesterday when I realized that the “really good” triathletes in my races cover the same distance in half the time it takes me. So I talked to my sports psychologist (Lisa) who helped me with some perspective: I’m not a super-fast swimmer—as long as Dara is at the pool, I’ll never be the fastest—but I shouldn’t worry so much as long as I’m still making progress. If I put too much pressure on myself, then I won’t have any fun. And, even though it’s really hard for me to seek assistance, I need to ask some of my of peeps and/or a coach to look at what I’m doing and give me some pointers. (I find it difficult to work at something for a long time and not be as good at it as I believe I can be. It’s good that it keeps me motivated, but I’m trying to work on managing frustration.)
  • When I went to the pool this morning, I decided I was just going to swim without worrying about times or how much progress I am (not) making or other people’s abilities. Part of this involved changing the way that I talk to myself while swimming; if I can’t make the voices in my head say positive things, perhaps I can give them something else to talk about. My inner boatswain kept me going with this conversation: “We’re going to do three things today: stop dropping my glide arm so much after entry; roll from side to side better during the stroke; and pull through the whole stroke farther. Bup bup bup!” That seemed to work. Even though I wasn’t worrying about times, I was encouraged by the splits I saw. Turns out, I swam the fastest ever by almost a minute per mile. Yay!

What’s new with you?

Posted in General, New York, OPP, Photography, Swimming | 1 Comment

Progress Report

I went for a run today on the treadmill. (I like watching “The Walking Dead” while I run and go nowhere. It seems appropriate for the brainlessness of the treadmill.) It was my first run since I felt the pain of plantar fasciitis appear six miles into my easy, seven mile, recovery-week run on Sunday. Even though I didn’t feel any pain this morning when I got out of bed (the time when it’s usually worst) I only ran three easy miles. I don’t want to push my recovery.

And tomorrow morning, I’m going back to the pool for the first time since last Friday. I had such a great swim a week ago that I planned to write that evening about how awesome it was. Except, by the time the evening rolled around, I couldn’t raise my left arm high enough without pain to use the computer. After five days off, I probably could have gone back yesterday, but I didn’t want to push that either.

Being injured was hard. Being doubly injured was ten times worse. I’m so happy to be well enough to get back to training. *touch wood*

(I’m not a superstitious or magical-thinking thinking kind of person, though I am known to indulge in two things. When things are going really well, I don’t like to talk about it. Everything could suddenly change. Why? Hubris, of course. It’s best to just keep going quietly as long as things are going well, all the while expecting that bad things could happen at any moment. . . . I also throw salt over my shoulder when I spill some, because throwing salt is fun.)

Friends, I am not good at being injured. The first few days were the most difficult. On Monday, I definitely had my cranky pants on. I tend to arrive at the worst possible conclusions: I’ll be injured for a long time; I won’t be able to do the events that I’ve signed up for; I won’t be able to achieve my goals; I won’t be able to be who I want to be. I’m a very goal-oriented person, and I derive a lot of my self-worth from setting and meeting them. (Lisa and I debate whether or not this is not a good way of thinking. At any rate, I need to remember to take the long view.)

I’m trying to be better at handling the occasional injury, and I feel grateful that each of my recent issues were very minor in the great scheme of things. And I need to start working on my injury prevention.


So what was I going to write on Friday? Given that I already injured myself, there’s no fate to tempt by talking about how great my swim on Friday was.

I’m not very fast yet, but I’m consistent during my workouts. I also think I’m improving my technique: I have started to feel my catch more, and I’m starting to see how to generate power during my stroke. Despite these improvements—which may or may not have caused my shoulder problem—I was starting to wonder whether I was actually getting faster or not. After all, the whole point of working on technique is to reduce my times, and I was much faster in the open-water over the summer than I ever have been at the pool. But what about my times just at the pool?

I went back to the historical record (a.k.a., mapmyrun.com). Turns out, I am swimming faster—and not just a little. Last Friday, I swam a bit over a mile at 36:12/mile pace. That’s two minutes faster than on Halloween and more than three minutes faster than just before my first triathlon. At this time last year, I swam at a 43:00/mile pace . . . and I wasn’t even going a full mile. This is a great trend, and I hope to keep it going. (And for the record, the first time I went to the pool, I swam six lengths in twenty-five minutes. That’s 277 minutes per mile.)

See you at the pool!

Posted in General, Historical Record, Life Lessons, Reluctant Triathlete, Running, Swimming | 1 Comment

Outing

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .


Yesterday, my work group went into Boston for an outing: lunch at Legal Seafood’s “Test Kitchen” and then a guided tour of the Institute of Contemporary Art. I had a great time. The food was delicious, and the art was “interesting.”

I know! Two contemporary art museum visits in three weeks. Crazy! It’s hard spending so much time thinking about art (mostly) on a meta-level: “What is the art saying about art?” But there were a few pieces that really spoke to me, and I got to spend part of the afternoon with my girlfriend, Maggie Cheung, while taking in Isaac Julien’s film nine-screen installation TEN THOUSAND WAVES. Fun fun fun!





Posted in 101 in 1001, Cycling, General, I am Rembrandt | 3 Comments

Floating Down the Amazon, Slowly

We have received new release date information related to the order you
placed on October 19, 2010 (Order# [snipped]). The item(s) listed below
will actually ship sooner than we originally expected based on the new
release date:

Alec Soth, John Gossage "John Gossage & Alec Soth: The Auckland Project"
Previous estimated arrival date: January 05, 2012
New estimated arrival date: December 15, 2011

You know, Amazon, I wouldn’t actually be crowing about the fact that you’re shipping something “sooner than originally expected” when the new delivery estimate was 420 days after the original estimate—so much longer that you had to send yet another e-mail telling me to enter new credit card information because the old one had expired in the interim. I especially disliked the way that you dribbled out little notices over the last fourteen months telling me to wait just a little bit longer and giving a new completely made up delivery date. (The aforementioned credit card e-mail is the only reason I have any confidence that you might actually have something to ship this time. Of course, I could have canceled, but that’s really not the point here.)

Don’t get me wrong; I still like you, Amazon, but you’re no longer seem as awesome as you were a couple years ago. For the first I’m starting to wonder about your supply chain and ability to fulfill orders. The main reason I keep coming back to you is price, but a large part is also trust. When you say something is in stock and available, I believe it will ship and arrive on the dates you listed. Normally you’re pretty good, but this isn’t the first time this has happened. (Usually, it’s for limited run art books like this one.) If more of this happens, I might have to reassess my position.

Now, I just wonder how long I’ll have to wait for my PhotoQuai 2011 book to arrive. . . .

Commande n° 	[snipped]
Date d'expédition : 	16 novembre 2011
Destination : 	Natick, MA, United States
Date de livraison estimée : 	6 décembre 2011

Suivez votre colis
Date 			Heure 	Lieu	 	Détails de l'événement
22 novembre 2011 	18:04 	Croydon 	Scan de départ
22 novembre 2011 	15:44 	Croydon 	Colis reçu par le transporteur

Updated 12 December 2011 — Hey hey! Both books arrived today. Since the original post last Friday, I have since read that if you’re ordering something from Amazon.fr, Amazon.jp, etc., it’s a good idea to use the somewhat more expensive expedited shipping option. It seems that returned deliveries after selecting the normal shipping method is somewhat de rigueur, on account of the super-saver shipping company not being very good at what they do when it comes to shipping to the USA. (Despite having the book in my hands, the DHL Global Alliance tracker still says that it’s in Croydon. Ha!)

Posted in Book Notes, General, Whining | 1 Comment

What (Kinda) Works Now

Chris sent me a message saying that someone might ask me about running with type-1 diabetes. I haven’t yet heard from him/her, but it got me thinking about what I’m doing now and how it’s going. It’s not perfect, of course, but I’m actually in a pretty good place.

Let’s start with the big disclaimers. First, this is what (kinda) works for me. Your diabetes may vary; it likely will. Second, this has only recently started working for me; it could all change tomorrow. Third, it assumes that you use an insulin pump and that your basal and bolus rates are correct-ish; mine are getting there. Finally, I can’t consistently reproduce what I do in training when I’m racing; something always seems to happen.

Remember, three big things impact BGs during exercise: insulin, food, and intensity. (There are other things, but these are the big ones that you can control.)

Active Insulin: I tend to workout when I have no (or, at least, minimal) insulin on board. For example, I swim and do my long running/cycling first thing in the morning before any boluses. And when I workout in the afternoon, it’s been 4-5 hours since my lunch bolus. This means that there’s very little extra insulin to bring down my blood sugar. When I do have rather high BGs (but no ketones) because I misjudged a meal, for example, I will sometimes give myself a little insulin. I’m really conservative doing this, though, since it usually brings me down more than I think it will.

Basal Insulin: I am starting to think that changing my basal insulin has less of an effect (for me) than I had originally suspected. This might be because my basal rates are fairly low now, or it could be that my body is better at using fat and carbs together than it was in the past. Who knows? Anyway, when I run or ride my bike, I set a 30% reduction 1-2 hours before I start. Usually longer in the afternoon and shorter in the morning, since I like sleeping. When I swim, I set a 0% basal rate (i.e., no insulin) starting 45-or-so minutes before I hop in the water. There are three reasons: (1) I’m skittish when it comes to insulin and water, (2) it’s similar to what happens during triathlons, where I need to detach from my pump to leave it in transition before hopping in the water, and (3) it seems to work.

Food Before: Food is not the best part of the three for me. I want to eat more before I train, because food is fuel, and I hate running out of steam. (We’re remarkably like people without diabetes in this respect.) Food normally means insulin, which violates that whole “minimal insulin on board” thing. But I’m working on getting myself in a mindset where I can experiment with small amounts of insulin to cover pre-athletic carbs. High glycemic foods still spike my BGs when I’m working out, often more than I would like. Lower glycemic things do better, but quantity counts; 20g of carbs from Greek yoghurt about 10 minutes before I did a two-hour run worked well yesterday, the first time I tried it. Be careful here.

Food During: I tend to eat like I don’t have diabetes when I bike or run. It’s just how it works for me. I eat an energy gel every 45 minutes to keep up my energy. I also carry a full tube of glucose tablets with me, just in case. And I drink water. Water is important.

Food and Insulin After: I find that I always need to give myself insulin after I’m done exercising. I haven’t yet figured out how much to give, but I usually bolus the full amount of any correction I would need (or enough to bring me down 25 mg/dL [1.5 mmol] if my BGs are in range). After really hard workouts, I like a protein-rich snack with carbs. (Odwalla’s Chocolate Protein Monster is my favorite.) These carbs and protein are important for recovery, and I find it necessary to bolus the full amount for this snack, even though I will eventually be more insulin sensitive for the next 24 hours after big workouts.

Frequency: It helps to have a regular frequency, usually three or four times per week (or more). If I workout at least this often—although I can’t remember the last time I did less—my insulin sensitivity stays much more “normal” than if I don’t. Consistency is key.

Supplies: I bring these things with me on my workouts.

  • A full tube of glucose tablets
  • My pump (enclosed in a Zip-Lock bag to keep perspiration from killing it)
  • My BG meter when I go on longer runs or when I’m curious about what’s happening on shorter outings. I use the OneTouch Ultra Mini just for exercise.
  • Energy gels. I’m not very brand-loyal; I like vanilla and chocolate Gu and Clif Shots and just about any Hammer Gel flavor.
  • Water (in a FuelBelt Sprint Palm Holder)
  • I also carry about $10-15 with me in case I need to buy some extra food.

There are some other things I like, but they don’t have anything to do with diabetes preparedness. I have a Petzl Tikka headlamp, which is great for running on these dark afternoon; I’ve never had a jacket as nice as my Asics one; and I need shorts and pants with pockets . . . and a drawstring. (Without the drawstring, all of the extra stuff in my pockets makes ‘em fall right off.)

Good luck! And just remember, do whatever works; there’s no single right way.

Posted in Cycling, Diabetes, General, Life Lessons, Reluctant Triathlete, Running, Swimming | 7 Comments

All Politics is Horse-racing

I’ll confess. I bought my first e-book over the weekend.

See, it was like this. Saturday night Lisa was out singing her big, wonderful heart out in the second of three holiday concerts. I stayed home, since some friends and I were going to take it in on Sunday before going to a post-concert dinner and Muppet movie viewing together with Lisa. So there I was sitting on the sofa (with the cat sleeping on my lap) catching up on a week’s worth of snail mail, writing odds-and-ends and worry and bullshit in my journal, plotting out my 12-mile running route for Sunday morning, and watching TiVo’ed “BBC World News” and “Charlie Rose” episodes.

I go back-and-forth between liking and loathing Charlie’s show.

Shoulder Jeff #1: “He’s the voice of the American, white, male, moneyed, center-right Washington/NYC-based establishment. While his guests have a variety of opinions, they helped talk you into supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq . . . or, at least, not opposing it.”

Shoulder Jeff #2: “True, true. But his guests also talk about all of those things that interest you. And since you don’t read as much as non-diabetes/triathlon stuff as you used to, he’s bringing those opinion-makers opinions to you. Besides, you only seem to write in your journal when you’ve been reading the New York Times, watching Charlie, or traveling. Clearly you need him and his guests for inspiration. Plus, you still have Terri Gross’s daily NPR show/podcast/tumblr Fresh Air for balance. Anyway, it’s good background noise while Lisa is away.”

Shoulder Jeff #1: “Okay, well at least be careful. Especially of his guests with ties.”

All true, little shoulder Jeffs.

The last episode I watched had three 40-to-60-something guys (all wearing neckties . . . except maybe John Meacham) sitting around his table talking about the GOP presidential clown parade candidates. It was not a great interview, but it made me want to read their little book: Playbook 2012: The Right Fights Back. It’s one of those “insiders traveling with the candidates tell you about the presidential sausage being made” works that I always like reading in Newsweek after the election.

Except this wasn’t a real book at all. It was one of those “electronic” books. Did I really want to buy a bunch of bits to read on my iPod?

Shoulder Jeff #1: “Why don’t you start, Jeff’s reactionary psyche voice?”

Shoulder Jeff #2: “Oh goody! Okay, I have a list. You won’t actually own anything. What if the forces enabling DRM decide one day that you aren’t licensed to read it anymore? And you won’t be able to lend it out after you’ve read it. And when you’re done where will it go? There’s no bookshelf-able “thing.” If your hard drive crashes, it will be gone. (Well, okay, not gone gone . . . gone-until-you-redownload it gone.) And *gasp* it will be hard to read page after page on a smaller-than-a-notecard sized thing. Plus you’re going to encourage the publishers not to sell real books anymore.”

Shoulder Jeff #1: “WTF, man? It’s not like the words are going to be different. And do you really want to keep this 73-page gem around for your never-to-exist grandchildren to pick up randomly off the bookshelf. ‘Oh look, that Michelle Bachman person sounded cray cray forty years ago.’ Riiiight. Or maybe you’re ‘going to need it for part of a major research project’ in the future? Yeah, okay. Listen. You’ve been buying virtual iTunes music for the last seven years, *and* you still buy CDs when you come across amazing whole albums. Plus it’s just $2.99.”

So I bought the e-book.

(That last paragraph was actually supposed to be the majority of this dispatch, but I got carried away. Sorry.)

Posted in Book Notes, General, Hoarding, This is who we are | 2 Comments

Before There Was Facebook: A Short, Subjective, Incomplete Insider’s History of PlanetAll

This is one of the posts that I wrote on Wednesday during the great NaBloPoMo purge of 2011.


My first job out of college was as a “Customer Service Ambassador” at PlanetAll, a startup in Cambridge, Mass. Before there was Facebook, there were MySpace and Friendster. Before there was Friendster there were PlanetAll and SixDegrees. We were bigger and more successful than our rival, but you’ve probably never heard of either of us.

PlanetAll was an early online community, possibly the earliest social network site. It wanted to be Facebook, but it didn’t know it. Like LinkedIn, it let you keep track of your professional details and make connections. Like (early) Facebook it let you join groups and post messages to the group and share information about high school reunions and useful stuff like that. (If YouTube had existed, it would have let you share links to cute pet videos.) Unlike Facebook it was thought up by a guy after his graduation so that he could keep in touch with people. (Unlike Zuckerburg, who invented FB as a college student so that he could keep track of people down the hall.)

It had good press, back in the day when magazines like PC World and Wired mattered. It had lots of venture capital. It had a shit-ton of newly minted MIT CompSci grads to write code for the web site and for an app to synchronize contact data with your Palm Pilot. (Remember those?)

But what it never had was a profit. In the six months in 1997-1998 that I was there, they burned through a lot of cash. And then one day—just after Christmas—there was a staff meeting telling us about the half of the staff that they let go (including my boss and 2/3 of my customer service cronies).

That’s when I started revising my résumé and checking out who was hiring in the Boston area. It’s good that I left, but it was hard hearing the news a few months later that Amazon bought PlanetAll along with another company for $280 million. True, I had exercised what few stock options were available to me before I left, but if I’d stayed a little longer, I would be writing this trip down memory lane in a house that I could have paid for in one shot.

Why did Amazon buy PlanetAll? It’s because of you and your friends and everyone that you know. Amazon wanted the customer list of PlanetAll to fold into its then-emerging community features: think wishlists and recommendations. And they wanted the idea behind PlanetAll; Amazon used PlanetAll as part of its patent application on social networking.

Basically Amazon saw the potential of PlanetAll better than the executives in the company did. The people running the company thought in terms of “contacts” and always-up-to-date “connections” and hoped that these early social networking ideas would encourage you to come to the web site often enough and long enough so that they could make enough ad “impressions” to turn a profit one day. Unlike Facebook, the web wasn’t mature enough to keep you on the site long enough or to make you want to come back. It just wasn’t interactive enough. No chat. No posting of photos or videos. No good way to see a stream of status updates.

They web just wasn’t ready to be used as a platform. In fact, the primary way of communicating was the pre-Web: e-mail. They built a “mail cannon” to deliver all of the status updates and class newsletters and jokes-of-the-day and swingers ads and whatnot. While you did need to visit the site to make new connections or join new groups, the tools for finding people to link were primitive, and it never got a critical mass of users.

Plus the technology often failed. Everything was hacked together. I learned SQL so that I could fix database problems and restart stalled processes. I learned shell scripting so that I could relaunch the mail cannon after deleting lots of unset messages. (Sorry if yours was one of them.) And I learned SMTP (simple mail transfer protocol) so that I could pretend I was a computer and debug why the mail cannon wasn’t working.

In a nutshell, PlanetAll was a good idea that hatched before its time. It failed to thrive in a web ecosystem that wasn’t nourishing enough to keep it going. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t successful or important. Part of $280 million is a lot of loot just for an idea. Then again, PlanetAll’s part of $280 million is a minuscule fraction of all of Facebook’s $100 billion current valuation.

Posted in General, History, Life Lessons, NaBloPoMo, NaBloPoMo 2011 | Leave a comment

Occupy This!

This is one of the posts that I wrote on Wednesday during the great NaBloPoMo purge of 2011.


A recurring thought in my mind is what would have happened if I had been born 20-25 years earlier than 1974. Would I have been a protester, a marcher, a sitter-inner, a free-lover, a Weather Undergrounder? Or would I have been a “Get a job, you dirty hippy!” kind of guy? I can see both streaks in me, each conveniently made moot by time and a blanket of post-Watergate political apathy.

In high school I was comparatively liberal and a bit of a spacey free spirit. In college I was comparatively conservative, lacking in small-liberal-arts-college savoir faire and cultural sophistication, and rather disdainful of the sloganeering of the politically active folks on campus. Don’t just tell me, convince me. And, no, shouting loudly (or taping over your mouth in symbolic protest) is not at all convincing. If I had been in college in the late 60s and early 70s, which way would I have gone?

In 2003 I went to the one big anti-war protest in Boston that I heard about before it happened. (Was it just me or did the media do a terrible job covering pre-war dissent?) But I treated it as a sort of anthropological exercise, since I felt very ambivalent about the invasion. Looking back now, of course, I feel like a big dope for ever believing the administration. I took a lot of photographs of what I saw, but I think I missed the point that most of the people there were basically like me, just with more conviction.

So it was interesting when I was in France to hear a few of my fellow travelers relive a similar debate from an earlier generation. The woman whose husband was an Air Force wing commander during Vietnam argued that if we had helped the French with materiel and support at Dien Bien Phu, we would never have needed to go to war in Vietnam. On the other side was the former member of Students for a Democratic Society, who took time off school to protest and was ready to go to Canada to avoid the draft. He obviously saw things a bit differently. In the middle was the thermonuclear physicist who didn’t express much of a political opinion at all but just argued the facts.

That’s me. I’m the thermonuclear physicist, just 20-25 years younger.

So now that we have Occupy protests/camp-ins going on everywhere and local officials and the police moving against them in scenes straight from 1972, I’m torn again. I support the message of the Occupy folks. (I’m the 99%, too.) And I support many of the progressive causes that have glommed onto the original anti-plutocracy movement. But they’re often being presented in a way that makes them seems to me (at best) uncoordinated and (at worse) silly, vapid, elitist, or out-of-touch.

Maybe that’s it. I probably would have been a marcher but not an occupier/draft-card-burner. I can see myself having gone to protest along with the sensible people that I know and respect, rolled my eyes at the hippies, and then gotten on with the rest of my life.

Whew. I’m not a reactionary or freeloader (but just barely).

Posted in Life Lessons, NaBloPoMo, NaBloPoMo 2011, This is who we are | 2 Comments