I think the engine is on the beach. The metaphor might have gotten away from me here

It really was pretty disorienting last year, having the television tell me that the thing I wanted from politics was actually happening. I didn’t know how to handle it. The guiding keel of my cynicism ran up short on a beach of unexpected joy.

It wasn’t really a beach, of course: it was a sandbar. Now, as we watch the you-know-what bill being painstakingly converted from a mild rebuke for the insurance industry into a roaring engine of fellatio, it’s almost soothing. Yes, yes. This is what it’s supposed to be like.

We Return You Now to Masterpiece Chatlog

Holly and I were discussing the inevitable self-recrimination that comes of owning a computer with anything one has ever written on it.

Brendan: I am not sure if there is a way to mature that does not involve violent, sickened hatred toward all one’s own past incarnations, but–hang on, I think I just reinvented Buddhism.
Holly: But Buddhism was invented by someone who didn’t have computer logs of half the things he’d ever said or written.
Brendan: Well, he WAS a lot cleverer than you or me, Holly.
Holly: And ha, yes, teachings “transmitted orally” for ages, says wikipedia, so maybe that is indeed the solution.
Holly: I bet he invented the computer and then saw what self-recriminations and nausea it would scatter on the path to enlightenment and self-improvement, and hid it at the bottom of a pond or something.
Holly: (This is the plot of the next Dan Brown novel.)

I saw Snüzz live in concert solo only once, last year, while I was living in North Carolina with Jon and Amanda. It was some kind of multi-band benefit thing, and the Brasfields, ardent fans of his, convinced me to go and take a cute girl from OKCupid.

The show (like the date) was a mixed success. It introduced me to Midtown Dickens, my favorite lo-fi act, but while Snüzz was great, he only played for about twenty minutes. Afterwards he sat next to us in the audience, and I mentioned that I was a friend of Jon’s; he smiled broadly and said hey, yeah, Jon and Amanda were awesome, he hoped to see them again sometime. Then I said I’d enjoyed the show but wished it had been longer. He opened his mouth, hesitated, then smiled (less broadly) and just said thanks.

Turns out he was probably forced to stop early by the symptoms of his then-undiagnosed lymphoma. I wish I’d known to say something more tactful. He’s holding the second of a couple benefit concerts himself now; the first was to raise funds for his medical bills, and this one for a group that helps buffer cancer victims against unforeseen costs.

It’s not like I have many non-Brasfield contacts in North Carolina, but hey, if you like good music you should go and toss some money in the hat. It’s this Sunday night at the Blind Tiger in Greensboro.


I twitted this, but I think it deserves a fuller exploration. Is it possible to Googlebomb Google’s own search-box completion content via sheer volume of queries? Presumably the things you get are based on search popularity modulated by recentness, which is why typing in “blagojevich go” gives you “-vernor” first followed by “-lden.” That makes sense, but that means it’s also vulnerable to mobbing.

Say I run a company called Adkins AC, selling air conditioners. Getting my site to the top of the results for “air conditioner” is going to be extremely difficult, requiring either a lot of time and work, or a lot of money to SEO spammers whose efforts will eventually get me deranked anyway. I can buy an Adword, but in the summer that’s going to run through my budget pretty fast. Another vector of attack would be to just get a whole lot of people to search for “air conditioner adkins ac,” which is going to put me much closer to the top in the dropdown suggestions.

Now even if I make all my friends and business contacts do that, it’s not really going to affect Google’s giant sample pool. But if I pay a few thousand bucks to somebody who runs a botnet, I could have a million PCs searching for “air conditioner adkins ac” in a randomized, staggered pattern from February to April. By the time things start heating up in May, I’m the first suggestion result, and I’ve probably spent less money than a consistent Adword would cost.

Yes, this is all illegal, but much less detectably so than SEO or email spam. The botnet owners could probably make good money this way too, since you could take on hundreds of customers at a time, and the market for DDOSes-on-demand can’t really be growing that much. Now I’ve fixed the economy! Well, someone’s economy.

I know the Googlebomb wars are kind of a thing of the past, since Google’s gotten much better at deranking targeted efforts to mess with Pagerank, but suggestions are a whole different frontier–and like most frontiers, I’m guessing it’s not well policed.

Helpful Tips on Being a Man in Professional Software Development

  • First of all: relax. There are more men in engineering professions than ever before; you’re not alone. What’s more, some very well-known and talented programmers are men!
  • In preparing for a career in software, learn everything you can. If you went to a school like mine, you probably found the computer science program scanty and unable to address your needs. Apply yourself hard and do plenty of independent work to overcome this deficit.
  • Studies have shown time and again that the myth of men lacking mathematical or computational ability is a complete falsehood. Make sure to have the details of these studies memorized, or naysayers are unlikely to believe you.
  • When interviewing for a software job, appear confident but not brash. Look your interviewer(s) directly in the eye and use a firm handshake; study up and be ready to reel off technical jargon when your skills are questioned. If at all possible, resist the urge to giggle.
  • Your first few days on the job may be uncomfortable. Try not to bridle when a colleague mistakes you for an intern or an administrative assistant (but make the copies anyway–it may help ingratiate you later). Correct each mistake politely, and if you hear some muttering about how you only got the job because of a gender quota, just ignore it and keep your head high.
  • Keep in mind that your mistakes will receive extra scrutiny. If you run into a problem outside your area of knowledge, you can demonstrate independence by searching for a solution first before going to a female coworker for help.
  • Everyone gets caught in a mass-forward chain from time to time. Should you open up an email titled “hot pic of the day!!! =O” and find yourself once again staring at a coquettish Randall Munroe or a wet-shirted Idris Elba, just roll your eyes and hit delete. (Of course, you may have your own admiring comment to contribute–so much the better for you!)
  • When writing out use-case diagrams, resist the urge to refer to hypothetical agents with male pronouns. Chances are you’ll just be seen as “trying to make a statement,” and may gain a reputation for being outspoken. Stick with third-person plural, or, if you must, “she or he.”
  • Similarly, when the leader of a meeting addresses you collectively as “ladies,” let it slide. No one likes a nitpicker.
  • Should you decide to pursue a romantic relationship in the workplace, use extreme caution! Dating a superior will lead to suspicion that you are doling out “favors” in exchange for having your patches accepted or your issues escalated first.
  • Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Yes, we know you have some hilarious slogan t-shirts in your closet that can help you attract attention (and maybe even feel a little saucy). But that’s not the way to climb the ladder! A button-down, some pressed slacks and a hint of eyeliner will help ensure that your coworkers take you seriously.
  • The most significant challenge facing men of our generation is how to balance a career with one’s family and children. No one’s pretending it’s easy! But if you manage your responsibilities, take a hard look at your workload, and make out a detailed ten-year plan, you can almost certainly persuade your wife to abandon her dreams and do all the real work.
  • We all know that the pressure of being male in today’s workplace can be overwhelming. Many men have a tendency to lash out in frustration before considering the consequences of their words, especially when their testosterone levels are a little off-balance, and that does nothing to help our cause. No matter what kind of sarcastic, demeaning commentary comes your way, try to hold onto your sense of humor and your dignity. With a little luck, as long as you never lose your cool, your colleagues will eventually come to see you as just one of the girls.

I feel a certain measure of confidence in pronouncing this vaporware

Wow. Wow. The guy who founded WebTV (you remember WebTV, right? Your grandmother failed to use the Internet on it) and the guy who got fired from Eidos (you remember Eidos from 2000-2005, right? You didn’t buy any of their Tomb Raider sequels) have decided to revolutionize the video gaming industry! They’re going to let you play hideously compressed PC games from 2007 without a keyboard or a mouse on a computer with no disc drive, hard drive or video card! Guess who sat around a lot of hotel rooms staring blankly at the N64 controller on the set-top box? (I bet you already guessed!)

To their credit, they have been able to startle some wide-eyed journalists by showing them closed tests on a cloud system with nobody on it, from which they disallowed screen caps or video. That puts them one step ahead of Infinium Labs. You remember Infinium, right? They failed to make the stupid fucking Phantom.

“I cannot fucking believe this is allowed.”

The unlooked-for side effect of my generation’s financial crisis has been, for me, that the world of finance is suddenly quite interesting, and worth learning about. There’s nothing like open-mouthed horror and blind panic to inspire autodidacticism. I still know very little about how finance really works, of course, but the punch line is that most financiers apparently didn’t either.

In that vein, I recommend one of the most darkly hilarious articles I’ve read in a while.

White pepper is awesome. Also, this is sort of about faith

I’ve reached the point, in my autoeducation as a cook, where I no longer really measure spices or indeed many liquids. This is great for saving time and for not having to rinse a measuring cup every time I need a quarter-unit of something. It is less great when something I make turns out well and I want to write down the recipe for the future. “A bunch of white pepper,” I find myself writing. “Like, as much as a good cook would put in but then also some more.”

If I could always trust myself to make the same judgments based on words like that I wouldn’t have any problems, but I have no faith in Locke and therefore I am not even sure I’m the same person who started this post, much less the one who cooked a pretty good spaghetti nonbolognese earlier tonight. Also it is probably going to be unhelpful in my inevitable cooking blog.

The (thoroughly hidden) point I wanted to record here is that I’m kind of a good cook now? I’m still working in a very small range, but I keep trying new things and they keep turning out pretty okay. I think cooking is, like kissing and biking, essentially a matter of confidence. The food will believe you’re in charge if you act like it.

I learned to cook spaghetti in ten-gallon vats, almost exactly ten years ago, when Jeremy Sissle got me a job at Fazoli’s. He was also the one who trained me on pasta-cooking rotation. We got to the end, and he hauled out the hose, sponges and soap. “Turn on the hot water,” he said, “and fill the bucket, add about this much soap, and… I mean, you know how to clean stuff.”

I still recite that sentence to myself in scary and uncertain places. It sounds stupid, but I did know how to clean stuff, and remembering that snapped me out of the standard lost-and-seasick feeling that everybody gets from new jobs. (At least, I assume everybody else gets it too.)

The other half of my cook-with-confidence mantra was posted by Kevan, years ago, in a comment on Leonard’s site: “I’ve only recently stopped… expecting food to be an inedible, inert, black lump of Syntax Error if I get something slightly wrong.” It’s so true, and such a perfect encapsulation of the way programmers approach other disciplines: raised by severe machines and math problems with one answer, we expect frustration as a punishment for the smallest mistakes (and indeed, with computers, that often remains the case). But once you realize that the notion of discrete measurement is a consensual hallucination, you find the world a more interesting place. Screw Locke. I’m glad I’m not the same person I used to be.

Jude: Child of the Oughts

Jon and Amanda are having their baby, and Jon is blogging it live! I’ve been following along as the due date came and went with mounting anticipation (like, surely more than THEY have been), so I’m really glad they’re keeping us updated so closely. The child I can ruin is almost here!


Sumana has managed to combine almost all the reasons I read her blog–inspiration, clarity, critical appraisal of systems and examination of self–into one spectacular post. You should read it.

There’s a quote from Count Zero about being taken up from a low place, rotated through “invisible stresses,” and emerging changed. It’s actually kind of negative in context so I’m not going to reproduce it here. But at some point I have to write about how my interaction with propelled and propulsive people has changed me: how my internship at Dixon Design, followed by meeting Leonard and Sumana, followed by living with Kevan and Holly, reshaped me into someone who no longer fits anywhere outside the self-determined life.

I would have to actually achieve that life first, so I’m not writing it yet. But Sumana’s post brings up another connected point: work that matters for its own sake is superior to work that matters by fiat, which is to say that academic work is worthless in the short or long term, which is to say that I think the lecture-test educational system used in the United States (and, in my understanding, most of the rest of the world) is a sham, a wreck and a hindrance. I graduated with awards and honors from a large public high school and an elite private college, and I still say the system failed me. The intersection of what I learned in classes and my work, play and continuing interests is almost nonexistent; meanwhile, I’m still dealing with the fear and shame endemic to those institutions, and the ways they damaged me.

Under all that I continue to grow more absorbed with the idea of having children someday. I’m starting to consider my life choices in terms of where they’ll grow up, how I’ll support them and how they will learn. (How I’ll actually go about having them is almost secondary.) Could I in good conscience send them down the path less traveled, without having checked it for perils myself? Could I ever prepare them enough for the perils of the path I did take? Sumana again: isn’t it possible to sidestep the bad parts, with enough planning? Well, no, Brendan. Don’t deny the imaginary kids their own invisible stresses.

But if I start seriously working on my own propulsion, maybe my example can reshape someone else.

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