Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Wreck of the Day

I love music of all kinds, but I'm not usually in love with music. It's only every couple of years or so that a CD (yes, I still buy them -- at least I didn't say "album") comes along that really gets into my head. Lately it's been Anna Nalick's Wreck of the Day. Okay, okay, I know the thing is over two years old and she has newer music, but I just got around to getting it a couple of months ago. I like a singer/songwriter chick as much as the next guy, but the Shawn Colvins, Paula Coles and Sarah McLachlans of the world are not usually the ones making the music that I find myself listening to over and over again. Not only are Nalick's songs musically delicious, but she has a way of tapping into emotions and putting them into words that is way beyond her years and light years beyond any capability I could imagine having.

I did have a personal brush or two with greatness goodness back in the day. My first college girlfriend ended up being a moderately successful singer/songwriter in Manhattan. Of course, I don't think I ever heard her sing, but she was really sweet and funny and she taught me about the importance of paying attention to people "after", if you catch my drift and I think you do. Plus, she's a really good singer. I also had a brief relationship with Linda Ronstadt's wardrobe -- or was it makeup? -- person. This was back when Linda was thin and dating the governor of California and sang songs that sold records. Wendi, the wardrobe -- or makeup -- lady was not really all that sweet as I remember, or all that funny, but she was nice and a lot of fun and we enjoyed ourselves across the Western U.S. and a good deal of Japan.

I also almost blew up Kevin Cronin with some pyrotechnics one time in Rockford, Ill., but those are all stories for another time. The reason I even bring up Anna Nalick here is that I sense a lot of what she sings about in some of my favorite bloggers. I write because I'm a procrastinator and it gives me something else to do besides what I'm supposed to be doing. But some of you seem to write because you must. You write as if your thoughts and feelings are a toxin that will destroy you if not purged through the process of writing them down and broadcasting them to the world. You do it despite the fact that each and every one of us will misinterpret your words and twist them to our own purpose with no regard for what they cost you, or how exposed they leave you.

I don't suppose "thank you" is the right sentiment, since I don't believe you could do anything else. But if you feel like I'm talking about you, then just know that every so often, someone gets a glimpse of what it must cost you to put it all out there. And I, for one, appreciate you doing it day in and day out.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Holidays

The years that it's good, Christmas is hard to beat.

I think it's the quiet. Happy Happy, y'all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An Inconvenient Truth

You know what sucks about the Universe? It's the whole "arrow of time, events have to happen in a particular order" thing. I mean, I can't tell you how many times I have woken up frustrated that I am not a trans-dimensional being.

For example, there's this research paper that I'm currently writing on such a short deadline that I'm embarrassed to tell anyone the due date. And I don't embarrass easily, believe me. If you have doubts, keep reading. Anyway, the thing about research papers is that they are usually written to report the results of work that has already been performed. At least that's the theory. The inconvenient thing about this one is that I haven't done the work yet. At least not all of it. But I know what I'm going to do -- more or less -- and I know that it's going to work -- more or less -- and what more do you need, really? I mean, these things always work out, right?

Why don't I just do the work, you ask? Well, I need to get a draft of the paper to my co-author to review, which is probably going to take as long as it would take to do the work. So if I could just finish the paper and then do the research then I could maximize efficiency and minimize wasted time and have a chance in Hell of making the deadline. But alas, stupid spacetime has to be four-dimensional, like that's going to get anything done.

You know what else sucks about the Universe? Gravity. Gravity is a harsh mistress. I walked out of my lab yesterday and someone had just mopped the floor, so I thought it would be appropriate to fall down. And I don't mean "tripped and stumbled against the desk" fall down. I mean "lost your balance ice skating, high kicking and windmilling arms" fall down. The most amusing part was seeing the "Caution: Wet Floor" sign at the end of the hallway as I lay there trying to decide if I was hurt. I wasn't. I just ended up with one of those face of the Virgin Mary stains on my pants.

So don't talk to me about the Universe this week. The Universe is on my shit list.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Why People Teach

Or maybe the title should be, "Why People Teach Who Don't Otherwise Have To". Of course, then I would probably hear from the person who designed the "I am the grammarian about whom your mother warned you" t-shirt. Dammit! Started another post with a digression, which is probably as bad as ending with a preposition.

Anyway, I am currently working as a researcher at a Large Southern University after spending quite a few years in commercial software development. A few years ago, when I was still actively involved in industry, I was invited to teach a course in software engineering at the aforementioned university. I taught for three years and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

I try to maintain contact with my industry colleagues, and last night I attended a happy hour networking event sponsored by the local chamber of commerce. Towards the end of the evening, I found myself talking to a business acquaintance whose duties include oversight of development at a research center associated with my university. As usual, our conversation eventually turned to the joys and pitfalls of software development.

At one point she recounted a meeting during which one of her developers said, "You know what would be cool...?", and I responded by saying, "I've always said that those were the most dangerous words in software development." She immediately asked, "Did you used to teach software engineering at the university?" When I confirmed that I had, she asked if I had taught one particular bright young man. Upon confirmation that the young man in question had indeed been a student, she told me that he had responded to the original developer's comment with, "My professor always said that those were the most dangerous words in software development."

I don't have children, but moments like that one afford me a tiny glimpse into the awesome sense of responsibility and tremendous satisfaction that parents must feel -- at least the ones that are doing it right. I know that there will be people out in the world years from now repeating words that they heard from me. Understanding that at least one of the people in the class was probably listening to what I said always drove me to strive to spend their time and attention in the most productive and enjoyable way possible. And on a number of occasions -- like last night -- I have been gratified to discover how often the things they remember are exactly the things I would want them to remember.