Wednesday, April 30, 2014

An Epic Programming Rant

Just a few days after I spent a couple hours chasing down an issue that once again came down to a single letter not being capitalized (about which perhaps more later), I encounter this most sublimely magnificent programmer's rant from Peter Welsh. A tip of the hat and a raised glass to you, brother Welsh!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Oh Lord, the Puns

It's official, I broke my toe, but that's not why I'm writing. I'm writing because the name of the doctor that confirmed it for me is Lord. Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to preserve the pretense that I am a normal, businesslike, adult type person when confronted with DR. LORD?

"How do you feel today?" "Good, Lord."

I want Dr. Lord to have a mountain house he calls Heaven, because I dearly want to believe his receptionist has told someone, "I'm sorry, Dr. Lord has ascended to Heaven for the weekend."

"Dr. Lord, do you ever hire a Morgan Freeman impersonator to meet new patients, just to mess with them?" (Older generations may substitute George Burns for this joke.)

"Who lives up there?" "Oh, that's the Lords' house." "Huh, it doesn't look like a church."

If Dr. Lord was old fashioned British gentry, he could be Lord Lord of Lord Manor.

I could do this all day.  It's possible I already did.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bookworming: Shadowmarch

Shadowmarch, Tad Williams, **
I want to like this book, I really do. Williams writes well and his worlds are well imagined, but this first-in-a-series book simply fails to be a self-contained story. Of the three main plot threads, only one reaches any kind of conclusion, and that conclusion is rushed at the very end of a very long book. Even a sudden plot explaining monologue from a previously-off-stage antagonist admits that the motivation for the triggering event of the plot thread is not clear. The other two threads have no attempt at closure. One even ends exactly in the same state it began. There may have been a time in my life where I would tolerate multi-thousand page journeys without any sense of progress or motivation, but those days are long gone.

Well written, but plodding of pace and unsatisfying of ending, I think it best to present Shadowmarch with a recommendation to read Williams's The Dragonbone Chair instead.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Babylon Quotes Project

From Babylon 5 "Objects in Motion" teleplay by J. Michael Straczynski (story by Straczynski and Harlan Ellison)
  • "Do you mind if I talk to you?" "You'll forgive the accommodations?" "It's a cell. I've gotten used to them."
  • "We are all the sum of our tears. Too little and the ground is not fertile and nothing can grow there. Too much and the best us is washed away."
  • "They couldn't kill us with bullets, so they're drowning us in red tape. Frankly, I preferred the bullets. At least there I could shoot back."
  • "Coming?" "Now?" "Now is all we have."

From Babylon 5 "Objects at Rest" written by J. Michael Straczynski
  • "Stand by to bring her about, let's take one last look at the place."
  • [Sheridan's message to his child.]

From Babylon 5 "Sleeping in Light" written by J. Michael Straczynski
  • "Just a little further to go. Time enough."
  • "Who are you? What do you want? Why are you here? Where are you going?"
  • "There's so much I still don't understand." "As it should be."
  • "Well, look at that, the sun's coming up."
  • [And naturally, the final monologue.]
And so we come at last to the end of the journey. As with such things, there are other stories to be told. The movie "In the Beginning" comes to mind as a must watch. Perhaps some day the Quotes Project will get one more entry for it. But don't hold you're breath.

Around sixteen years have passed since the end of the Babylon 5 series in 1998, and obviously the show still has a strong hold on me. I'm older and can see the flaws more clearly, both in the show and in myself. But flaws are just another facet to one's character. Honestly, I could ramble on for quite a while about the show's merits, philosophies, questions, and legacy, but this has gone on too long already. In the end, the words of the show, largely those of Mr. Straczynski, can speak for themselves. Obviously, I would recommend giving it a try. If you like a good epic, TV doesn't have any better that I'm aware of. It may not be to your tastes, then again you might just like it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Emotional Ones and Zeros

One of the interesting things about the purely mental job of programming is the dichotomy of feeling like a genius for actually being able to work with and modify these complex things and feeling like a dolt because I forgot a tiny detail that I've gotten correct a hundred time before. It's not the late breaking requirements, or the defect in the really complex algorithm, or the incomplete or non-existent specifications, or the unknown unknowns that really make me cranky. I've been doing it long enough that I expect such things. It's the unchecked null pointer, the unguarded arrays, and the inexorable, inevitable typo.

I expect to be sore after the climb up the mountain, but stubbing my toe on a rock at the top is just annoying.

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Moment of Awe on the Anniversary of the IBM System/360

Fifty years ago, IBM released the System/360 mainframe, the low-end model of which had 4 kilobytes of main memory and ran at something less than 2,000 instructions per second. And of course they were wall-sized.

Today you can put a computer in your pocket that has a gigabyte of memory, can process a couple billion instructions per second, packs in four or more radios, proximity sensors, a compass, accelerometers, and multiple cameras capable of recording high definition video, and which can connect to both the global computer network and the telephone network.

Imagine what the next fifty years will bring.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Babylon Quotes Project

From Babylon 5 "Movements of Fire and Shadow" written by J. Michael Straczynski
  • "If you run into trouble..." "I'll walk out of it. More dignified that way."

From Babylon 5 "The Fall of Centauri Prime" written by J. Michael Straczynski
  • "I have been silly. I have been quiet when I should have spoken. I have been foolish. And I have wasted far too much time."
  • "Isn't it strange, J'Kar: when we first met I had no power and all the choices I could ever want, and now I have all the power I could ever want and no choices at all."
  • "My people can never forgive your people, but I can forgive you."

From Babylon 5 "The Wheel of Fire" written by J. Michael Straczynski
  • "I've never understood that. Why does the universe give us puzzles with no answers?" "Payback maybe. Evening up the scale a little"
  • "I wonder if the right question is can God create a puzzle so difficult, a riddle so complex that even he can't solve it. What if that's us?"
  • "What part of my message did you get, we've been having trouble with the comm systems see and..." "The most important part, the part that said 'I need you.'" "And you came here just on that." "What more is there?"
  • "There is no normal life, Michael, just life."
  • "I realized it's simpler to make a statue to someone who you believe embodies all your better qualities than it is to actually improve yourself." "And this saves you from having to think." "Exactly."

Bookworming: Locke and Key, Vols. 1 & 2

Locke and Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft, Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodríguez, et. al., ****
After the brutal murder of a teacher, his family moves back to his ancestral home to try and rebuild their lives. And then things start getting weird. Welcome to Lovecraft focuses the story on the three grieving children and sets up the mystery of Key House. Solid writing and amazing artwork join together to make an intriguing introduction to one of the more acclaimed comic series in recent memory. This is certainly not a comic for kids or the squeamish, but horror fans will find it a gruesome and creepy read. In spite of being an introduction to an extended series, there is a self-contained story here, though it is one that leaves as many or more questions open as it wraps up.

Locke and Key, Vol. 2: Head Games, Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodríguez, et. al., ****
Head Games continues the horror story of three grieving children and the mystical keys of Key House. This volume drops much of the splatter found in the first volume and replaces it with a double helping of creepy. As before, solid writing and stunning artwork carry this one forward.