Make a WishMay 21, 2012
I've spent a good deal of my life programming computers. And by "programming", I mean "conjuring and cajoling them into doing a fair approximation of what I had in mind". It's an endeavor that I've usually found to be enjoyable and easy enough for me to support myself with. There are computer languages and such to learn, but that's arguably much easier than learning english, german, or how to talk to teenagers.
If there's anything I've learned about computers, it's that the best thing about a computer is that it will do exactly what you tell it to. The most frustrating thing about a computer? It will do exactly what you tell it to. It's kinda like genie jokes. You know, where the genie is asked for something, and interprets the wish in an unexpected way. Like this...
A 60-year-old man and his 60-year-old wife are walking down the beach and discover an old oil lamp. The wife picks it up, rubs it, and a genie comes out. He tells them he will grant them each one wish. The wife says she wants to travel around the world. The genie waves his hand and poof -- the wife suddenly has tickets in her hand for a world cruise. Then the genie asks the husband what he wants. He says, "I wish my wife was 30 years younger than me." So the genie waves his hand and poof -- the husband is suddenly 90-years-old.
You see? The husband got exactly what he asked for - even though it wasn't what he intended. Programming computers is a lot like that. You have to be very careful and very specific about telling it exactly what you want. For this reason, programmers - when hired to accomplish a task - ask a whole lot of very specific, very annoying questions. Most normal people find this really difficult to deal with, and bosses especially so, thus will usually dispatch some underling to deal with the programmers. This is where the problems usually start. Because now you're playing the telephone game.
You remember the telephone game from your childhood - that's the one where one person starts with a message and whispers it to the person next to them, like I purchased an avocado today. That person then repeats it to the person next to them, and so on down the line, so when the message comes out at the end, the lady at the end gasps, slaps the man next to her, and screams that she'd never do such a disgusting thing with a bowl of guacamole.
Now put this scenario into a corporate environment. Some CEO gets the idea that his company's website should do some magical thing for customers. He tells a vice president, who in turn tells some director, who in turn tells one of their middle managers. This middle manager will most likely hire a programmer, but, being a boss himself, can't tolerate all those annoying questions, so he turns to his underlings, who answer all the programmers' questions with their watered-down, fourth-generation version of the CEO's vision.
So now you've played the telephone game with a genie at the end of the line. Fun, eh? That's what programming for a living is like. So the next time you try to pay a bill with your bank's online bill-pay system, don't be surprised if it shows you a dirty picture featuring guacamole.
Shake and BakeJanuary 25, 2012
The boy just turned 11 and is in his last year of Webelos, which means it's the final year of Pinewood Derby in our house. The last, that is, unless we adopt, build a new child, or my Lovely Wife starts pimping me out to friends and neighbors.
Since our first foray into Pinewood three years ago, I've acquired a bit of car-building skill, not to mention a metric ass-ton of power and hand tools to build our stable of pinewood steeds. I've also spent around $125 on weights, $30 on paint, and taken at least three days off of work in that time, which probably pushes my financial investment well past $1000, all thing considered.
Along the way, we've managed to win a modest amount of hardware. First and second place trophies in the Friends & Family division, a first place in den, and second place in pack. The first in pack still eludes us, and, although this is our last shot, I felt less inclined to make the big push for that, and more inclined to let the boy take the reins of his own car - for better or worse
But for the rough cutting and axle prep, he's doing it all. I think he may even be enjoying himself doing it, which is good. Hopefully, he's learning something about working with tools, too. It remains to be seen how his car will do on race day, but I think even if he doesn't do as well, he'll appreciate it more than in past years
For my part, I'm still going great guns. There'll be two cars entered in the Friends & Family division - one fast, and one pretty. The fast one will be the culmination of all I've learned - perfect weight distribution, fast-starting design, and enough graphite powder to enable it to slip into another dimension. It should take first in F&F, but - because it's not a scout's car - will not be eligible for first in pack.
The pretty car has allowed me to indulge my lifelong passion for car design. Sleek and sexy, with sweeping lines and bulging fenders, it will look every bit the performance car. Alas, due to the excess wood and poor weight distribution necessary to make it look like a sports car, it is not likely to rank among the fastest cars. All hat, no cattle, as Texas ranchers would say.
I'm trying to savor this last week or so until the race, because this is it. There will be no more, unless some sort of accident befalls my Lovely Wife's birth control.
ThinkOctober 5, 2011
"... almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."