Sunday, August 28, 2005


Something to add to the previous list: TV weather forecasts that take five minutes and feature highs ranging from 60 (downtown San Francisco) to the high 90s (Fremont).

Have you read Men in Hats? This is a comic strip I featured in my AIM profile for quite a while. If you haven't, do yourself a favor: read through the archives starting from the beginning. Or randomly, it doesn't really matter. Now, go to the home page and read the agonizing post from the creator.

I'd given up on checking Men in Hats when Aaron stopped updating it, so I didn't see this post until last week. It really made me mad. The post conjurs up the spectre that has haunted me since grade school, the tyrant's proclamation that if a minority misbehaves, all must be punished. I still remember my fury when my third-grade teacher canceled recess for the entire class because two rowdy boys were noisy in the hall. "A few rotten apples spoil the whole barrel" was her justification. That sense of unfairness and generalized malignancy has fuelled most of my present-day political leanings.

I was increasingly upset as I read Aaron's post. If he didn't feel like writing the strip, then don't write the strip! If he got email that hurt his feelings, block the email! If he wanted to vent, vent at the people who had caused his misery instead of dumping his emotional garbage on all of us! Then I reached the bottom with his picture and realized what a young kid he is. All my anger melted away. Earlier on I'd thought how immature and oversensitive he was behaving; however, you can't blame him for that if he's literally immature and oversensitive. I think it's the nature of kids, especially kids in out present American society, to get caught up in social acceptance and peer-approval; we can bemoan that fact but we shouldn't blame individuals for the kind of society they live in.

In many ways, the single most important skill someone learns when growing up is how to stop worrying about what other people think. Not to say that everyone should become a rebel or anything like that; but if you want to become a middle-class housewife, you'll be much happier if you don't constantly ponder what Mrs. Pennysworth thinks of your new dress. If you're in middle management, you'll be much happier if you care more about making the right decision than what people will say about you for making it. We need to consider the feelings and thoughts of others, but we should never make that the most important part of our decision-making process.

I do realize that I'm just a few years older than Mr. Farber and, frankly, it weirds me out to use words like "kids" in this context. Still... I don't know. I guess I do see a division between young and old, a division that isn't based on their age or employment, but on their independence and security in themselves as individuals. You might say that Mr. Farber is still stuck in the third Kohlberg stage of moral development. You can't blame him for that, just recognize it and wish him the best.

There's a lot that I like about Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, but the one scene that touched me the most was a great interview with Trey Parker, a creator of South Park and former student at Columbine High School. Parker talked about how vividly he remembered the culture of high school, where conformity is demanded and there's a relentless pressure to drive, to succeed, to be the best at everything you do or risk being a failure for the rest of your life. Parker said that he wished he could go back in time and tell those kids that the things which torment you in high school just aren't a big deal after you graduate. The year after you're out, nobody will care at all what you did in high school or whether or not you were cool; it means nothing.

He is, of course, absolutely right. Unlike him I had a great high school career and I treasure the memories, but things just aren't as important as people lead you to believe. The same can be said of any sort of evaluative process. That snide email in your inbox might hurt your feelings today, but in the grand scheme of things it means less than nothing. The only power it has is that which you choose to give it.

Of course, I am still ticked that there won't be any more Men in Hats. I hope Aaron's new strip is good, and wish him all the best.

Clint Eastwood

At eleven days, here are eleven things about the Bay Area that still feel strange to me (although not bad).
  1. Incredibly narrow right-turn lanes.
  2. Supermarkets without cart corrals, so carts are strewn all over the parking lot.
  3. People openly discussing their marijuana use, in public and private discourse.
  4. Still not knowing whether I'm in San Jose South or San Jose West.
  5. The people who are either hobos or pushcart vendors, I still can't tell for sure.
  6. Not using your blinker when in a turn-only lane.
  7. Simpsons starting at 8PM, but actually 3 hours after my Midwest possee has seen it.
  8. Bicycles! Bicycles everywhere!
  9. Going for long hikes without any mosquitoes to contend with.
  10. Spanish names for everything important (cities, mountains, etc.)
  11. Looking at a weather forecast and seeing "Sunny" every single day.

Saturday, August 27, 2005


In no particular order, ten things I like about living here in San Jose, after ten days in the city.
  1. Being able to keep the windows open all day long. In August.
  2. For the first time in my life, being within walking distance of a real grocery store.
  3. Wide variety of media outlets, both corporate and independent.
  4. The mountain range on the horizon during my commute to work.
  5. Friendly people.
  6. Widely open and easygoing culture.
  7. Extensive and growing mass transit that works.
  8. Fry's Electronics.
  9. Seeing every sign translated into Spanish and Vietnamese.
  10. Businesses that don't open until after 9AM.
In no particular order, ten things I would like to do by this time next year.
  1. Walk the boardwalk at Santa Cruz.
  2. Visit the Metreon.
  3. Ride the new VTA line to the airport.
  4. Go to a show in downtown San Jose.
  5. Hike to the peak of Mount Diablo.
  6. Buy a Verizon phone with my software running on it.
  7. Attend a major ethnic festival.
  8. Go to a professional sporting event.
  9. Vote for Mayor.
  10. Show family and friends around the area.

Friday, August 26, 2005

<BODY> Rocking

So here is the inevitable "Why does this page exist?" page. As some of you well know, I have long resisted the pull to start a blog. The reasons for this are manifold. I'd prefer to first answer the question, why do you communicate at all?

Ever since I left Minnesota at age 16, it has been a rewarding struggle to stay in touch with friends. I left behind a small group of close companions, and even though I easily go for years without seeing them I want to keep in touch with what's happening in their lives, and keep them informed about the changes in my own. Phone calls seemed expensive, and I've never really enjoyed that medium anyways. Fortunately, email was becoming cheaply available to suburbanites like us, and I began trading massive missives with them.

As years passed, I left increasing numbers of friends, and the number of communication tools in my arsenal grew. Instant messaging proved effective, giving me the conversational feel of a phone call without the awkwardness. Email, though, remained my most treasured medium. It afforded me the time to construct my words and think of what I wanted to say. As the number of people I emailed grew, however, I noticed an odd behavior of mine. Whenever something profound happened to me, I would describe it in great detail to the very next person I emailed. Nobody else would even know it had occurred. I hate copy-pasting, and I hate repeating myself, so your position in the queue defined the email you would get, not your interests or our relationship.

These weren't necessarily just random thoughts, either. Some people would be unaware of my changes in physical location for months on end; even though we communicated in the interim, I'd already moved by the time I wrote my next email, so they never heard of it until much later.

The obvious solution, of course, was to start a blog. That way I could combine the foreplanning advantages of email with a multicast capability, a one-to-many broadcast of my personal thoughts. A blog isn't inherently private like an email, so I felt none of the guilt I associate with "mass emails" or the CTL-C CTL-V philosophy of composition.

At that time, blogs were getting a lot of buzz, so I naturally resisted it. When it comes to technology, I'm driven by the same genes that make hard-core music fans scoff at Radiohead, saying they're so overrated and overshadow more deserving topics. So my half-hearted alternative was starting my own web site, My previous website was a repository for my downloadable programs and sort of a manifesto of my particular philosophies. The new incarnation was meant as a more personal beast, specifically designed to let others keep abreast of my activities in Kansas City.

Like so many of my projects, after a brief spurt of enthusiasm, it fell by the wayside. My posts were... actually, they were a great deal like these: long and discursive, although generally built around a particular event. Because of the time I was in Kansas City, they were almost uniformly political: meeting Al Franken, going to a John Kerry rally, etc. I also had a phototour of my apartment and the like.

Returning to the original question: why do I have a blog? The reason I'm starting one this month is because I'm motivated by the major changes in my life, the greatest since leaving home for college. The reason I'm starting one this week is because is temporarily out of service; although I have Internet access here, I'm currently behind a NAT and unable to run the webserver. Starting a blog is easier and cheaper than finding third-party hosting. The reason I started one last night was because I was unable to sleep, excited about my furniture arriving today and overstimulated by an ill-advised dose of pre-bedtime caffeine. I have also seen friends and family with blogs, people I know and respect, which makes me feel less like I'm chasing a buzz than that I'm joining a proven community.

A reasonable person would ask, “What makes you think your blog will continue when your web page went for over a year without any updates?” Nothing, really. Frankly I see this experiment ending in one of two ways. In the first, which I term the "Heat Death," an initial flurry of activity proves unsustainable, and this blog becomes one more carcass in the blogosphere, with no activity and no updates. The second outcome is the "Cold Death," where I continue to spout out long and fairly inane posts with great frequency, with the result that nobody bothers to visit because the pearls, if any, are utterly surrounded by muck.

There may be a third alternative, a "Big Crunch" which leads to focused blogging on a particular point, but physicists have yet to confirm this possibility.

That about wraps up the "why" question that prompted this post. Rather than create another one, I'll also address the "Why Blogspot?" question. My friends that I know about are either on blogspot, livejournal or bebo. Bebo has some interesting networking going for it, but I hate opting in to view content and am guessing some of you do as well. Livejournal seems fine, but Blogspot has the Google imprimatur, and now that the tide of public opinion is just starting to shift against them I finally feel like I can openly and proudly embrace this company and its ambitions, in much the same way that I became a devoted R.E.M. fan after "New Adventures in Hi-Fi" and a Terry Gilliam fan after "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." That said, I reserve the right to yank all the content off of this blog if and when is running again.

I hope that this day finds you well. Personally, I am delighted to have my furniture here, in particular my bed. I hope to set up my TV first, and start unpacking with the 49ers game in the background. Peace out!

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Well, this is it! I'm just as scared as you are. Together, we'll get through this. Together.
It seems like most people start off their blogs by explaining why they're starting a blog. Actually, that's what I meant to do, but I think I'll postpone that for the next post. Instead, I'll talk a little bit about my recent move.

Growing up, I really had no concept of what I wanted to do with my life. I suppose that's fairly typical for youngsters, but past the third grade I even stopped fantasizing about wanting to become an astronaut, or a novelist, or a President. In Junior High I had a vague idea that I'd become an electrical engineer, because I was good at science and math, but I had only a foggy idea of what electrical engineers did, and don't recall even wondering whether I'd leave Minnesota or stay put.

I had an epiphany late in my junior year of High School. Appropriately enough, it came from the same teacher who would introduce me to Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Although amazingly obvious in retrospect, it felt like divine intervention at the time. You've been programming for over five years. You really enjoy it. You are pretty good at it. Computer programming is a respectable career that pays well. Why not give it a shot? Out went the electrical engineer, in came the computer scientist.

(I promise this has something to do with my move. This is as good a place as any to warn that my personal writing tends to ramble and circle around a point rather than face it head-on. Context is king. I emulate Joyce and Stephenson, not Hemingway and Carver. By the time I actually reach my point, I'm sometimes bored and don't give it the space it deserves. I apologize. If this irritates you, this blog probably isn't the place for you. Track me down in person, where I am always reticent, or get a friend to read this blog and summarize it for you.)

As I shifted from considering programming as a hobby to considering it a way of life, I became increasingly enthusiastic about the potential of this career. I had already devoured Stephen Levy's excellent book Hackers, and through this and other literature I had formed an idealized image of programmers as intelligent, driven, highly principled individuals who operated in a meritocracy and were determined to bring about an open society. Better living through electronics. I embraced the romantic image of the programmer/hacker as rebel/creator, an artist who resists poisonous systems of autocracy to realize their pure vision of The Program.

(Topics for future posts, filed under Nostalgia: My 8th grade report on Computers, the conflict between my self-image and my behavior, and why programming temporarily turned me into a Libertarian.)

Even as I made my decision, I knew that the one part most people would find attractive was the one I could least count on: the money. In the mid-nineties, everyone was trying to "get into computers," and study after study breathlessly announced how the US would not be producing enough skilled programmers for future needs. To me, it was obvious what would happen: there would be a huge crush of people trying to get CS degrees, schools would happily take them all on, and the market would be glutted with too many candidates. In other words, what had previously happened with the law field would repeat itself.

Of course, history never repeats itself. I was right to be concerned about the coming collapse, just wrong as to the cause. But I digress.

The money didn't grab me, because I knew it wouldn't always be there, and by the time I graduated the millionaire-making days would be gone. What held me was the description of these environments, and more particularly, the Silicon Valley ethos. These were people so committed to their mission, they slept on the office floor for days on end and sacrificed their health to finish the task. Management valued them so much that they supplied every material need: cheetos, Dr. Pepper, foosball. The same programmers would roll out of the office to attend EFF rallies - they weren't drones, they were passionate advocates who expressed themselves best through their code.

I wasn't 100% sold on the Valley. I knew from visiting that it was one of the most enjoyable spots in the States, but I was also drawn to the stunning beauty of the Rockies, the urban bustle of Boston, the comforting familiarity of Chicago and the Twin Cities. Still, wherever I went, I knew I'd be happiest with the spirit of Silicon Valley, the work-hard/play-hard ethic that ensured I'd be surrounded by talented, passionate people who loved coding as much as I did.

Well, my career took a bit of a detour. Most of you know the story, and for the rest, I'll post about it later. When Fate gave me the chance, I decided to reach for that brass ring and make it out here.

And I touched it!

In so many ways, this really feels like a dream come true. For the first time in my life, I've initiated a move with a destination that I had dreamed of before hand. (Wash U doesn't count - I loved the university, not the city.) It's been a little frightening, and I've had that voice which whispers, "It can't really be that good. You've been exaggerating. You'll find that all places are more or less the same, your life won't change just because you've moved."

Granted, I've only been here a week, but I'm ready to call that voice wrong. The move itself went quite smoothly, which helps. (The details may or may not show up in another post.) I explored the city a bit after I arrived, and went for a hike the first weekend. My heart soared. I don't have a great eye for natural beauty, but even I was overwhelmed by the sheer variety and force of nature on display. Having been trapped in the flatlands most of my life, a little piece of me sings every time I get on the freeway and see the Santa Clara mountain range rising up. I can spend any amount of time outside and not get sticky and miserable... it's something to enjoy, not to endure. Open the windows up, take a deep breath. I can already feel it starting to change my life, in ways that can only be good.

The people have been nice, too. The checkout clerk at Albertsons cheerfully and spontaneously struck up a conversation with me this evening, sharing some tips once she learned I was a transplant. Even the folks at the DMV were helpful. I feel like Midwesterners may be more polite, but the people around San Jose are just as friendly.

And the job has been going well. Once again, I've only been there a week, but my initial impressions are positive. Even in a post-boom environment, they have that magical element that has been missing from my previous jobs. They care about what they're working on, and they're talented, but at the same time they seem plugged in to the broader issues of the electronic society. These are people who know about the broadcast flag, and privacy issues, and enjoy a good Intel-versus-AMD grudge match. I'm still in my shy stage there, but I already know I have a great deal in common with these folks.

So, consider this my one-week update on the move. I'm not exactly settled in yet (the furniture arrives tomorrow), but I am where I want to be. This is the first time since graduation that I've seriously thought about buying a house (well, in this market, a condo), because this is the first place I've been where it's part of my goal to still be here a decade from now. That is doing wonders for my mind. I still have work to do - I need to focus more on BREW, and figure out what the work/life balance is here - but I'm confident that I will find satisfaction.

So don't call me fat!