Red Nose Day

It is amazing how the British go all out for fund raising on their Red Nose Day. It is part of the fund raising shenanigans of Comic Relief. We are a much bigger country here in the USA so we manage to raise phenomenal amounts of money for various charities without focusing so much on a particular day like that. It is both admirable and a little bit annoying but it seems to be a part of the national character of the UK.

Another aspect of being such a compact geographic region, Australia and Canada not withstanding, is the fact that their entertainment industry is small enough that all of their celebrities seem to know each other. This is seen to some extent in the US but there tend to be more regional pockets here than in GB.

Perhaps it is an offshoot of the cultural significance of the local pub but they seem to like quiz shows a good bit more than we do. This is demonstrated by the fact that many of the quiz shows that have been produced in the US in recent years have been imported from the UK. For example, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Deal or No Deal, The Weakest Link, and Cash Cab to name a few.

There are a number of shows that would play well in the US market that haven’t jumped the pond yet. My favorite is a parody that they have done of one of their own popular game shows. The original is called Countdown. It features two contestants that compete to make the longest word from randomly selected letters within thirty seconds. These word building rounds are alternated with rounds where a number game consisting of randomly selecting six numbers and a three digit target number. The goal  is to figure out how to combine any or all of the numbers using the four basic arithmetic operations to get an answer as close as possible to the target number also within thirty seconds.

Countdown has much the same following in the UK that Jeopardy has in the US. The unexpected twist was when the cast of another quiz show, 8 Out of 10 Cats, decided to do a parody of Countdown. They enlisted the talents of Rachel Riley, the mathematics whiz that presides over the numbers game on the straight Countdown as well as Susie Dent, the demure but brilliant lexicographer that judges the word game, and added the comedy talent of Jimmy Carr as the quiz master with Sean Lock and Jon Richardson as team captains. The result is hilarious and must be seen to be appreciated. In fact, old episodes can be found on You Tube. Search for 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown to see for yourself.

While this blog post has been somewhat of a ramble, it’s theme is an attempt to characterize some of the aspects of the British psyche that feeds my anglophilia. It was inspired by the fact that today was Red Nose Day in the UK.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

He’s Safe!

It’s late Friday night. Soon it will be early Saturday morning. The quiet in the house is deafening. The fan rattles, the air conditioner whirs. Everyone with any sense is in bed. You sit in front of the keyboard writing one false start after another. Only you don’t rip them from the typewriter and wad them up and throw them over your shoulder. Instead, you save them in a file and mark them as a draft. You may come back to them later and make something of them.

This is what it’s like to be a new writer that is pushing themselves to grow beyond their comfort zone. You keep telling yourself to make a list of potential blog topics but you still find yourself racing the deadline of midnight. You are determined to keep your pledge to write a blog a day.

What would be the consequences if you missed a day? Disappointment in yourself for not keeping your promise? Would you give up on the project all together? No, you’re made of sterner stuff than that. You would sit back down at that keyboard and write two blogs the next day to make up for the one that you missed the day before.

Let’s hope that this writer doesn’t have to find out what he would do. Let’s hope that he keeps sliding in under the wire. Let’s hope that these posts are interesting enough that he doesn’t lose all both of his readers to boredom. Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important, be kind.

Another Sip from the Firehose, Please

There is so much to learn. Every time you start to do something, no matter how simple it sounds, there are always so many things you don’t know about how to do. You get to the point where you aren’t overwhelmed by this fact. At least not most of the time. I managed to diagnose my computer problem. I was about to lose my hard drive. I was able to replace the hard drive with another that I had. It is a little bit smaller than the one I replaced but it is big enough to hold me for a while. I am going to have to buy an external drive so that I can do regular backups. It has taken me the better part of eight hours to figure out what needed to be done and get it done.

Back to the topic at hand, it isn’t just with technical subjects that this happens, although they do seem to offer a lot of fodder for befuddlement. I run into the same problem when it comes to cooking or playing the guitar. Just listening to music on Pandora sends me to Wikipedia to look up the new bands that I’ve discovered to see how it could have possibly taken me this long to hear of them.

I remember my dad used to say that getting a Ph.D. was all about learning how little you knew about anything. Maybe the same thing applies to life in general only it seems like it takes longer to realize it if you don’t go through the pressure cooker of academia. It seems to me that I have been going through a process lately that parallels that which I watched my dad go through when he got his doctorate. I’m not saying it’s the exact same thing but I have noticed some similarities.

Now that I’ve got a working computer again, I’ll set up the writing software and get back to writing my book. Maybe it will be less frustrating now that I have a machine that I can count on.

Wring every bit of enjoyment from life. Tell the people you love that you love them. And most important, be kind.

More on Daily Blogging

I posted a short blog post last night, making public my commitment to daily blogging. I don’t intend to write long essays. I don’t even intend that they should all be on a particular topic. I just think that they should reflect things that I am interested in and that I have thought about. I do think it should be something more than just a link blog though.

I’m Writing a Book

I’m writing a book. It is a technical book on developing web applications using the Grails framework. I won’t get any more technical than that in this post because what I want to talk about is what I have learned so far from the experience of taking on a project of this scope. So all of my non-technical readers can read on without fear of your eyes glazing over.

It all started when I discovered that a new major version of the Grails software was being released. As I read the description of the new release I began to realize that it was quite different from the version that I  had been using. I did what I always do when confronted with new software, I looked for a tutorial book to read on it. This time there wasn’t one.

The books covering the previous release of the software had not been out for that long and I imagine the authors of those works were taking a much needed break before taking on such a substantial rewrite. It occurred to me that since I was going to have to learn the new software anyway, I should take it as an opportunity to write a tutorial book about it.

I have wanted to write, and publish, books for quite a while. Four years ago I started writing a daily journal entry at 750 Words. At first I spent a lot of time writing about how many words I had written and how hard I was finding it to sit and write seven hundred and fifty words at one sitting. But slowly, day after day, week after week, I started to write about more interesting things. I wrote about what happened the day before. I wrote about my plans for the day. I wrote snippets of stories, I like to call them sketches.

One year I took on the Nation Novel Writing Month challenge to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. The first time I tried I got the flu the second week and got hopelessly behind the 1,700 word/day pace necessary to complete the challenge. The next year I was too busy with other commitments but the year after I completed the first draft of a novel of the requisite size within the month allowed. It needs a lot of work before I would want anyone else to read it but I proved to myself that I could do it.

I follow the blog of Dave Winer, the creator of both blogging and podcasting. Dave often talks about how he goes about writing software. One of the things he recommends is that you Narrate Your Work. I have made a practice of doing that professionally for many years now. I have used several writing tools to keep my log. Everything from plain text editors like notepad to outline processors. Lately at work I have been using a small wiki similar to the software behind Wikipedia to keep my work log.

When I decided to write this book I had just discovered Michael Hartl’s book Ruby on Rails Tutorial (3rd Ed.). While reading the book I poked around Michael’s site and discovered that he was making his publishing software, Softcover, available free for other authors to use to write their books. And, to make a good deal better, he was offering to provide a bookstore framework with which to sell your product at a deal that is unheard of in the publishing business.

That was when I decided that I would write my book using the Softcover software. I would Narrate My Work by documenting my experience as I learned all of the details of the new version of Grails.

I did a quick estimation of how much work was involved. I looked at the tutorial books that I had read lately. They were all about twelve chapters long. I, naively, estimated that I could write a chapter a week. So, I estimated I could write the book in three months.

I have subsequently determined that there are a lot of factors that I didn’t take into account. It has taken me about a month to get everything set up and write the first chapter. I also neglected to include the time for learning how to do the things that I was writing about. My revised estimate is that it will take me about six months to write. That may still be optimistic but if I take much longer than that, I may face stiff competition from others who have been writing their own Grails tutorials.

I have learned a lot this last month. I have gained a lot of confidence in my ability both as a programmer and a writer. I am enjoying myself and learning a lot of interesting new things. Even if the book never sells a single copy, it will have been worth the effort.

The Blogger Experiments

It has been over two weeks since I wrote a blog post. There are a number of reasons but they all sound more like excuses than valid reasons to me. Rather than be hard on myself, I have decided to try an experiment. I am going to start mixing short posts with the longer, essay length posts. The idea behind this is, if I start writing a short post, it might grow into a longer one.

I’m also going to try to post more than just one post a day. This should be easier given that I am giving myself permission to make short posts. I hope this makes this blog easier to read.

I ought to mention that this idea arose from a conversation that I had with my friend Bob. His advice was to open the editor and type “I have nothing to say.” Then, he reasoned, I would sit there and say to myself, “I can’t post that!” and come up with something better than that to say. I am doing that very thing but I’m skipping the first step. I’m lazy that way.

Christmas Eve 2015

It is Christmas Eve 2015. I measure time in birthdays and Christmases. In my case that ends up being exactly six months apart. Birthdays happen in the summer for me. Christmas is the apex of winter. Actually, it comes just a few days after the winter solstice which marks the beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere but I still think of it as the height of the winter season.

My mother’s birthday was on the winter solstice. She got a rough deal because of that as a child. Everyone always gave her a combined birthday and Christmas present. My brother and father and I were always sure to make the distinction when we celebrated her birthday though. It must have colored  her perception of the year though, I’m sure. She didn’t have two milestones six months apart to divide her years neatly in two like I did. Consequently it may have never occurred to her to divide the year up in that fashion.

Memories of Christmas are mixed for me. Lately they have been less joyous than they were when I was young. I think this is because it has become a time of year where there are exceptional demands on the finances and money is always in short supply.

In late January or early February I get my annual bonus at work. It is dependent on stock performance the previous year but our stock has been performing well so dependably that I have come to depend on it.

Then, a few weeks later, there’s income tax return. I had one unpleasant brush with the IRS after which I made sure that I always pay more than I am going to owe so that I always get a substantial return. This is also something upon which I have come to depend.

I have been making an effort to change my perception of Christmas to more of a time of cherishing family and reflecting upon the good things that have happened in the year that we are wrapping up. It is easier said than done but I am stubborn and so I have hope of achieving this goal.

Tuesday Ramble

I am happy that I am finally getting some readers for my blog. I guess Facebook is good for something after all. I wish that Facebook would respect hyperlinks though. I often use them like footnotes so that I don’t have to stop and explain myself in the middle of a story. Since Facebook only allows a single link and apparently WordPress uses that one to link back to your WordPress blog, I don’t have that option.

I’ve been thinking about how to adapt my style to be less dependent on hyperlinks. I’m not really going to use footnotes. That would be a little bit too stilted. I tried putting URLs in parenthesis but Facebook cuts them out as well. I’ll keep trying experiments until I find something that works. Luckily I haven’t felt the need to hyperlink anything today.

I have been waiting for a check in the mail. I still have Christmas shopping to do. I’m afraid the check may have been lost. It’s not that I can’t get a replacement check, just that it will put a severe crimp in my holiday celebration if it doesn’t get her soon. I have been hanging around the house all week waiting for the mail to come. I have been getting stuff done around the house but it wasn’t how I planned to spend this week.

This post has been a bit of a ramble. I have been trying to write cohesive posts but my mind is not very cohesive today. I am going to wrap up this post and then go play my lovely new guitar. That is the best therapy for cohesion that I can think of. (of which I can think?) Sometimes you have to throw grammar out the window and write the way you talk.

Yeah, I’ve Still Got It!

It has been an exhilarating day. I configured Jenkins to build a Groovy application that I wrote at work using the Gradle build script that I wrote on Monday. Then I figured out how to get my Grails web app that I developed with NetBeans imported into JetBrains IntelliJ IDEA. Both of these were accomplished with minimal reference to the great oracle, the internet. This reassured me that I am still a competent developer even if I’m not twenty something any more.

I get an adrenalin rush from figuring out these problems. The thing that was missing when I was working on the Grails web app earlier this year was a good development tool. NetBeans is a good development tool for what you pay for it (it is free). But it is designed for developing Java applications and hasn’t kept up adequately with the evolution of the JVM ecosystem of languages and developer tools. Eclipse (another free development tool) is better but again it is very Java centric.

IntelliJ IDEA on the other hand is written for paying customers. It has a consistent development model across the languages that it supports and is still actively evolving along with the platforms it supports. Even the free community edition outshines NetBeans and Eclipse.

The proof is in the ease with which I accomplished tasks in hours or days, that had taken me weeks or months when I was developing with NetBeans. I am now firmly convinced that one should not scrimp on one’s tools. And now it is time to say good night.

My New Taylor GSmini Koa-e Guitar

My New Guitar
My New Guitar

Pam bought me this Taylor guitar for an early Christmas present. It is made of rare Hawaiian Koa wood. It sounds and plays like a dream. Not to mention how beautiful it is. The size is perfect for an apartment. I can comfortably sit on the couch and play it without taking up more than a single seat worth of space.

It has a strong, bright tone. The strings are right above the fret board making it very easy to play. The intonation is perfectly in tune everywhere on the neck. I have never owned such a finely crafted guitar. It may be small but it is loud and if I need it to be louder, or I want to record with it, it has a built in pickup and volume and tone controls.

The Koa wood is endemic to Hawaii. It grows at altitudes between 330 and 7500 feet and requires between 33 and 197 inches of annual rainfall. It is a tone wood which is to say it is known for the musical tone it imbues instruments made from it.

I suppose I sound a little bit like a fanatic about it but until you’ve heard it played, it’s hard to describe how it sounds. I love my new guitar and my sweet wife who bought it for me.