Thursday, December 31, 2009

Word-gate: the overuse of some terms

I saw this list of "banned words," via Reddit, and thought I could supply a few of the more common ones heard around my place of work. Of course all these words and phrases are IT- and corporate-speak. Use them at your peril, since they are known to suck the soul out of young, honest, hard-working persons. I am already a cube zombie, so there's no hope for my soul.

  1. Space. Subject area or topic. "I can speak to the Internet space." The accepted use refers only to capacity of disk drives. Personally, this word drives me crazy.
  2. Speak to. Talk about. See the above travesty. "Can you speak to the issues we've been having?" I am always tempted to answer: "Only if they can speak back."
  3. Manage to. Manage, period. "I am managing to the issues." Huh? I think this is contamination from speaking to things too much.
  4. Flush out. It's supposed to mean flesh out, or discover, as in: "We need to flush out the requirements." Then again, maybe they really do mean "flush out." Bird hunters, that's what we are.
  5. FTE. Full-Time Equivalent, or "real" employee. I know this really isn't jargon or zombie-speak, but it's amazing how quickly our speech patterns are willing to evolve. Incidentally, we do not speak of contractors as FTEs. An FTE is strictly an on-salary person.
  6. Associate. Related to FTE--employee. Actually, I feel this is a much nicer term than FTE, but I've always thought it odd.
  7. Matrixed-in. Cross-organizational involvement in a project. Virtually every project is run this way, now. Oh, and nearly every project team is ...
  8. Virtual. Not occupying the same general physical space. Most common usage: virtual team. Could be referring to "off-shore" resources, but more likely this refers to project team members located in different physical work locations. My company is large, and we have several offices in different parts of the country. Just like every other big company.
  9. Resources. See FTE or associate, above, but this term is inclusive of non-employees. I don't find it particularly objectionable, but it does tend to dehumanize us. Then again, I suppose it's appropriate to refer to contractors as "resources," instead of people. Makes them easier to fire.
  10. Off-shore. IT workers in India. The latest lame-brained idea by management to save money on IT projects. It may result in the delivery of projects with an acceptable cost, but they always take longer. Maybe they're more predictable, since the virtual team is all somewhere else and doesn't spend all their time in meetings. I don't know, though. I'm always in meetings.
I have a whole host of buzz-phrases related specifically to software development, but I'm not proposing we ban them, necessarily. It's just that by the time management adopts them they will have ceased to have any true meaning. For example: "We're adding three pairs and creating a new line." Sure you are.

Welcome back to the future. I'm proud to be "just a programmer." Don't get me started.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Irrefutable logic?

I caught this article discussing who created God. Interesting. Of the three premises in the article, they address only two:

  1. Does the universe have a beginning? (Most agree it does.)
  2. Denial of cause and effect (Something about quantum mechanics, and about something being created out of nothing.)
The third premise in their proof is not addressed at all. I quote it here: "God, unlike the universe, had no beginning, so doesn't need a cause." (Emphasis theirs.) A few times they use the words "God, by definition ..." as if simply saying something is so, makes it so. Don't we wish!

This is their conclusion:
A last desperate tactic by skeptics to avoid a theistic conclusion is to assert that creation in time is incoherent. Davies correctly points out that since time itself began with the beginning of the universe, it is meaningless to talk about what happened before the universe began. But he claims that causes must precede their effects. So if nothing happened before the universe began, then (according to Davies) it is meaningless to discuss the cause of the universes beginning.

But the philosopher (and New Testament scholar) William Lane Craig, in a useful critique of Davies, pointed out that Davies is deficient in philosophical knowledge. Philosophers have long discussed the notion of simultaneous causation. Immanuel Kant (17241804) gave the example of a weight resting on a cushion simultaneously causing a depression in it. Craig says:

The first moment of time is the moment of God's creative act and of creation's simultaneous coming to be.

Some skeptics claim that all this analysis is tentative, because that is the nature of science. So this cant [sic] be used to prove creation by God. Of course, skeptics can't have it both ways: saying that the Bible is wrong because science has proved it so, but if science appears consistent with the Bible, then well, science is tentative anyway.

Avoid a theistic conclusion? I don't even have to get into the debate. This is a false dichotomy, because there are more than two alternatives, and you only need a theistic conclusion if you accept their third premise, which they totally ignore. Furthermore, this "argument" is nothing but red-herring-style hand-waving, trying to push the point in contention away from evidence of God to evidence of ... something else (something about the problem with "simultaneous creation" or creation out of nothing, or something). The "analysis" they present isn't simply or merely tentative, it's totally beside the point.

The more crucial aspect of their argument is that whole "and here a miracle occurs" thing. For those who already believe God created the universe, this may be easy to accept. For the rest of us, it's a little too great a leap of logic. Or something. I'm not saying the universe didn't have a creator--I really have no idea how it began--I'm just saying, don't define God as not needing a cause (eternal, unbounded, and all that) and then use that unfounded and unproven assertion to "prove" that he/she created the universe. I could just as easily say it was invisible giant turtles, because by definition something has to hold the universe up. I mean, if they don't exist, then how does it keep from falling?

Refute that.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

What is a conservative? What is a liberal?

Let's start with an anecdote. I once had a former cube neighbor loudly accuse me of being a "damn liberal," in much the same tones as we often hear from the likes of Limbaugh, Coulter, and others. I almost couldn't believe he was "going there," as they say. The only reply possible, and which I gave him, was that he didn't know anything about me. Which he didn't.

So the other day I read that the voice behind Little Green Footballs is "parting ways with the right." Now I read that Andrew Sullivan is doing something similar. Many others, some of whom Sullivan cites, have done the same.

So, what about me? When asked, I describe my politics as socially liberal, but fiscally conservative. I believe in public education--perhaps the single most important thing we could do with our money--and I believe that being the richest country (well, being in the top ten, or so) automatically makes us capable of providing for the health of our poorest and least capable. These folks are not all old, and we should take care of them simply because we can. I also see the value in some other "social programs" such as food stamps, because not everyone getting food stamps deserves to starve. Some will take advantage of the system, sure, but the good greatly outweighs the bad. So, I guess you could say I'm socially liberal.

But I am not a fan of the kinds of unlimited spending we've been experiencing. I think war and defense spending are outrageously over the top, because we are paying much too much to kill others, when we could/should be paying to help others. Soldiers die and big business gets rich. Meanwhile, over 15% of Americans are out of work. Something's wrong with this picture, here.

I manage my finances with care and restraint. I don't risk what I can't afford to lose. Everyone should, so I guess that makes me a fiscal conservative.

With respect to differences of opinion, I have no problem talking seriously with someone who doesn't agree with me. Let's talk; we can work it out. As long as we both are looking at the same problems realistically and rationally, and both agree that it will take all our combined efforts to fix things, then that's fine. I don't expect to get everything I want; no one else should expect that, either.

My take on today's "conservative right" is that many of them are simply nuts. They don't seem to have a firm grasp on reality, and to me that's just dangerous. Most so-called conservative pundits (like Limbaugh and Coulter) are simply pandering, and that's no better. It may even be worse, since they know the difference.

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... And better and better

This follow-up post is part review of Avatar, and part continued discussion of my story, A Far Sun. (Hey, it's my story; I'll talk about it if I want.)

I've read a few reviews/commentaries on James Cameron's newest movie blockbuster, Avatar. Some guy on Reddit posted "$300 million, and all we get are Native American space elves?" I responded sarcastically, something to the effect that I was sure he's done much better. He seemed to feel that for the money a better story could have been written, but one tends to forget that putting butts in seats is the primary objective of any movie--i.e., it's entertainment--so we will just have to forgive Mr. Cameron that he made his native people so ... human.

There will be no spoilers in my review, so don't worry. I really enjoyed the movie, and I highly recommend it. Visually it's stunning, and (almost) worth the ticket price on that basis alone. I suppose 3D is an added bonus. (There is one point where you'll be swatting insects--it's a real immersion moment.) Visually quite stunning. I almost even said 'wow' at a couple points (but then I'm old, and easily impressed. Huh).

The story is not as strong as many would have liked. John Scalzi, in his blog Whatever, felt that way, but I think he also gets it, too. The most thorough review/comparison I've read is on chud.com. That guy read Cameron's earlier treatment, called Project 880, and notes many differences between the movie originally envisioned, and the finished product. It's a rather long blow-by-blow comparison; I won't recap it here, except to say that Avatar is more streamlined and even less preachy than Project 880 would have been.

Now on to my favorite subject: A Far Sun. Both my wife and stepdaughter mentioned the similarities between it and Avatar. I don't paint a picture highlighting the evils of technology, which I think could be inferred from the movie, but I do have gentle native people (who even speak a little English. Both writers plausibly handle the reasons why). My natives aren't 10' tall with blue skin (no spoiler there--the movie trailer shows this clearly). Instead, they're regular-sized and orange-ish. No, the sun-skins aren't oompa-loompas, and quite honestly I never even thought about that when I envisioned them. Of course, I can see why you might think that. (I did think of sun-skins as 'native Americans meet the Amish,' but with a slightly orange tint to their skin. Just enough to make them different. That was the point. Besides, I really liked the name 'sun-skin.')

I have an evil bad guy--the 'Head Librarian' (of all the titles for him to have!)--though by the end of book 2 I've hardly done more than introduce him. All his evil has come out by proxy. His 'minion' in the story, the 'chief ambassador' is a powerful, ambitious man who is following his master's orders very faithfully. We don't find out why he's doing this, yet, but I have certainly set up this promise. In fact, we don't really know why anyone would be following the Head Librarian, but we do know how afraid they are of him. Perhaps they have good reason.

So, I'm now sitting on a blank page at the beginning of book 3. Some might be wondering how I could possibly have an entire novel still to tell (especially some of my friends and family who have been patiently listening to me talk about this for forever), but actually, having reached this point in the process, another 100K words feels about right. It gives me a chance to more fully flesh out the insanity of my big bad guy and more thoroughly draw out the distinctions between sun-skin philosophy and 'pale-skin' philosophy. Oh, and plenty of knuckle-chewing action. The 'cold war' between them will become a hot, shooting war, with the potential for more death (and destruction).

The inhumanity in my story is not 'big' inhumanity the way it is in Avatar. Mine is small, on the scale of just one person. Though, to be fair, this one man's hold over the others could not have been accomplished without help, or at least 'inertial neglect'. Or, perhaps he's really not so different from them, after all.

With my decision to keep on truckin' with the story (I had intended to end it with this second book), it now means I can also extend the time line, somewhat. I had always wanted to write about their survival over a winter, since in primitive conditions it can very trying. Also, since at least one of my heroines is pregnant, with more time to fill in a third novel, we get to follow her over a much longer period during her pregnancy. Also, being 'with child' will heighten the tension, later, when things are coming to an exciting climax. There are other motivating factors, as well, that I must, alas, continue to keep secret.

On a final note: last night my wife was talking about this current work in comparison to the one I had been writing back about 2004-ish. I know that other work isn't very good, for several reasons. She likes the current one, a lot, and says that not only am I a better writer, but that my story is also much, much better. I've read both works; it's not hard to see why she says this.

That's all for now. Maybe sometime I'll talk about how one turns a very rough story idea into a fully fleshed-out work, because that's about all that's required to write a novel. Everyone comes up with story ideas that could maybe fill two chapters. How you turn those two chapters into fifty is the trick. But, it's not that difficult. Or, then again, maybe it is. We'll find out.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

It just keeps getting longer and longer ...

Well, this is interesting.

I was determined that during my holiday this year I would make some really good progress on my story, A Far Sun. Well, I did. I worked through the blocker I'd been facing, got some really good inspiration, and shot right through to ...

The end of book 2. Book 3, and the exciting conclusion is to follow. Sometime over the next year, probably.

Now, I have no freaking idea how long book 3 will be. Book 1 was about 117K, book 2 has come in at just over 97K. Book 3 will be ... er, whatever it turns out to be. The story is damned good, so there's no worries over whether I'll have enough story to tell. I've learned very well by now that I always have enough story to tell. The challenge for me is ending it. It's been moving along, though (214K worth, so far) and I really do know where it's going and how it's going to end. Trust me, I really, really do.

So, I will continue following the travels of Adam and Jane and their friends Lina and Rëmi. Actually, these last two are a bit more than just "friends," but you'll have to read the books to find out more about them.

I had thought I would get him introduced earlier, but our good buddy Cameron Fralick, the "big bad guy" in the story (oops, did I give something away? If so, well then too bad) finally makes his most auspicious appearance right at the end of book 2. And it's a memorable appearance, as well. Can you say "cliff-hanger ending"? Yep, that's what it is. And I'm loving it!

Readers, don't hate me, because you're going to like what's coming up. Oh, I forgot I don't have any readers, yet. Well, never mind. For now you'll just have to take my word for it--the story is good. Maybe it's not for everyone, but that doesn't matter because you simply can't please everyone. It pleases me, and I'm not some 16 year-old kid who's going to read this thing in a few years and think it's a piece of shit. But then, I'm feeling pretty good right now, so please forgive me if it sounds like I'm gushing all over myself. Someone has to do it.

Stay tuned. There's more to come.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Coding it "old school"

For instance, "no one can ever tell you what a UML diagram means."
If you're old like I am, this is so true. Maybe it's true for everyone.

This article is about how some of the old-timers at Microsoft still program with their good ole text editor. I am not the Luddite that some may be, but my take on MDD (model-driven development) is that it might be good in the initial stages of layout and design, but at some point you're gonna have to lay some lines of code. And it can't do shit for that problem.

A buddy was kvetching today at lunch about how his new architect wants him to crank out a bunch of UML (unified modeling language) diagrams of the application he's been working on. He said the guy was "old school" but I don't think we did UML diagrams back when I started writing code (i.e., back in the real old school). Shit, we didn't even know anything about OOAD (object-oriented analysis and design) back then. I think it was just being invented, or something. (So, by the way, was UNIX. Sorta.)

I am not against more advanced methods of programming, but as Don Box said when they asked: "But when there are 500 things, [graphical programming] is completely unusable. You zoom in and zoom out and you lose all context. I think it's just smokin' dope." It's also difficult to fully fathom something when it's some hundred-friggin-thousand lines of code, but if the code is done well, you can look at individual methods (about 10 to 50 lines) to fathom them, then upward through the stack until you reach the top. So, it's not all bad.

I wish my friend good luck with all those UML diagrams. I told him he should get the damn architect to do them. That should keep the guy busy for at least 6 months, or more. Just about right, IMO.

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The Princess and the Frog

I've seen the trailers for this new Disney animated feature. My initial impression has been that the toothless firefly character (well, almost toothless) is racist in the way he is portrayed. But perhaps blacks see him in a different light. It's a fine line to be walked, no doubt.

My family members are Hispanic. Both my wife and her daughter (now living with us) felt the firefly image to be racially inappropriate. I know how much more sensitized I've become to racial stereotypes: the dark skin, the ah ... nose, the curly hair, etc. It's inevitable, though I simply cannot see how such things as minor appearance differences are significant.

My wife's complexion is somewhere in the middle, as far as it goes. She's darker than your average WASP, and her nose shows her African ancestry quite plainly. But I say, "so what?" She has described herself as having the Puerto Rican flag "tattooed" on her face. Her daughter's complexion is lighter and her facial features are more European than African. But though Puerto Ricans have a thing for skin/hair color (the worst thing would be to be very dark with nappy hair, which many have), both of them have found similar racist attitudes here in the states. My wife thought she was continually being scrutinized when she lived in Louisiana. Perhaps not so much here in the Midwest. But then, again ...

None of us are terribly interested in this new Disney movie, but we may change our minds, depending on the reviews. It might not be so bad.

So, why does any of this matter to me? If we're on the subject of racism, why does it matter, and whom am I trying to convince? I know how I feel, and I don't need to convince anyone of anything. If someone thinks my wife is half-black, then that's fine. She isn't, quite, but she's some significant percentage, for sure. I really don't care. Man, it's hard enough to find someone to be with as it is. If I worry about a bunch of insignificant stuff, I might miss someone really nice. I don't, and I didn't. I guess that's my point.

There is so much more to us as individuals, regardless of our physical characteristics and cultural heritage. We need to be looking for ways to come together--and work together--rather than focusing on how some of us aren't like the others. Because everyone is a minority of one.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving from A Far Sun

I got so busy (and feeling somewhat burned-out, as well) so I put the story down awhile. I think I last wrote some content on October 31, and not until Sunday night did I start back into it, again. I did write about 7K words in my other story, Rider on the Storm (the current working title), and I've figured out a few things in that plot, too. I also realized I transited into act two at about the 20K word mark, so the estimated length of 80K is sounding about right. Of course, because of the way I work I won't really know how long it will be until I actually get there. It's more funner, that way!

I'm still not completely satisfied with how I'm introducing my main antagonist in A Far Sun, though. It seems it ought to be more grandiose in keeping with his personality, but I'm going to write some more and see how it goes. He will start causing some real trouble, and really soon, so perhaps my worries are unfounded. Somewhat.

On a related note, my stepdaughter Emily has moved in with us. I haven't started prevailing upon her for story collaboration, yet, but could that be far behind? She's very intellectual (which I knew) and I'm finding she keeps me on my mental toes. Feels good. One of the very necessary abilities for writing (that I've found) is the ability to pour out the words very quickly, and the constant need to keep up with her, conversationally speaking, helps keep those gears well-oiled and functioning smoothly. As I said: it feels good.

Also, with her in residence it might make for more convenient illustration cajolery. I'd like to get some illustrations of my characters to begin adorning the website with. We'll see.

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Karmic Koala Netbook Remix - bug update

A little while ago I blogged about some of the bugs I encountered when I installed the Karmic Koala Netbook Remix on my Acer netbook. Here's the run-down:

  1. I never got past the upgrade installation glitch. Instead I booted from the CD and installed Karmic from there. I upgraded my desktop over the web. It only took about 5 hours to download the whole thing via my wireless network, but it worked.
  2. I installed the Ubuntu 9.10 boot enhancement stuff, which has improved boot time, but it's still not as zippy as Jaunty was. Better, though.
  3. I'm getting used to the new login screen. It actually contains more information and some options, so it's not as bad as I originally reported.
  4. No more menu ghosts. I think they fixed this problem.
  5. There still isn't a File System shortcut, but I'm getting over that one, as well. We must be adaptive to change, you know.
  6. They have also fixed the touchpad glitch. It now stays disabled, which I am grateful for. I'm weird, I know, but I don't like touchpads. Oh, and I can work my Logitech Nano V450 mouse against my leg. It will almost work on any surface, even a rather nappy blanket.
  7. I still don't know how to remove some of the stray icons, but I no longer care as much.
  8. They have obviously changed the battery time calculations, but in net it still gets almost 5 hours of battery life.
I have completely bagged Firefox on Linux, and now use Google Chrome (even in beta it works very well) as my browser. I can't wait until they introduce some plugins, especially one that blocks adverts.

I want to commend the folks who fixed some of these bugs so damn quickly! There is no chance whatsoever that a commercial software company would have been so rapid in their response. I think I'm catching on to this new way of thinking: To get the über rapid fixes, you might have to put up with the occasional stray glitch.

On a semi-related side note, Songbird refused to work on my desktop machine under Jaunty. But now with Karmic (Desktop version) it works quite well there, as well. I like Songbird for playing music, except that it doesn't remember the current playlist between executions. That's an almost taken-for-granted feature of other players like MediaMonkey and WinAmp. Sadly, both of those are Windows-only players.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Hello from Google Chrome (on Linux)

It isn't yet ready for public release, but Google has the latest development build nicely packaged for flavors of Linux that can install from a .deb file. Ubuntu (I have Karmic Koala--the Netbook Remix) is one of the flavors of Debian, so installing Chrome was fairly easy.


When installing it asked about importing Firefox settings, which I assumed meant bookmarks (among other things). It may have imported other things, but not my Firefox bookmarks.

It also wouldn't launch the first time, but I grep'ed the processes and killed them, then relaunched it with success. I'm writing this blog post from Chrome. In a few minutes I'll see if it can be shut down and relaunched.

It's very fast by comparison, certainly faster than Firefox, but I wonder how it will perform once it's loaded down with all the crap we usually hang on Firefox. Probably still better.

I understand the Windows version is further along, and you can easily download and install it. I probably won't do this, right away. But, as for many things, who knows?

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