Friday, March 25, 2011

Returning Home

It should not be too long now...
Updates to follow...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thoughts Do Not End, and Neither Does Extra Code

I don't think it's proper to say I wish I didn't have as much energy as I do right now, but maybe I wish I could flip and switch, sleep, then flip it back on. That would be very useful. I feel like working all night on business and into tomorrow, then taking three days off for "life". But, I'd probably feel worse than simply sleeping a while and getting up normally and working.

I think it's that 15 months of bureaucracy has left me with a huge collection of stalled motivation to execute on ideas for solving customer / user problems in the SIMPLEST and most user-valuable (and those most economically valuable) path first, rather than for technological fancifulness.

When you see, very clearly, that simple, uncomplicated solutions to problems can prevent months and months of backtracking, it's very frustrating to have to watch those decisions being made. But, you also have to realize when it isn't worth your own personal expenditure, when what you are working on is not under your authority or ultimate influence.

Writing code should not be like a "drug hit". When it gets like that, then no amount of code is ever enough. There has to be more, more, more.

Yet, the words of this random google search ring so, so, so true:

Improve Code By Removing It

Less is more.

 It's a quite trite little maxim, but sometimes it really is true.

One of the improvements I've made to our codebase over the last few weeks is to remove chunks of it.

We'd written the software following XP tenets, including YAGNI (that is, You Aren't Gonna Need It). Human nature being what it is, we inevitably fell short in a few places.

I observed that the product was taking too long to execute certain tasks — simple tasks that should have been near instantaneous. This was because they were overimplemented; festooned with extra bells and whistles that were not required, but at the time had seemed like a good idea.

So I've simplified the code, improved the product performance, and reduced the level of global code entropy simply by removing the offending features from the codebase. Helpfully, my unit tests tell me that I haven't broken anything else during the operation.

A simple and thoroughly satisfying experience.

So why did the unnecessary code end up there in the first place? Why did one programmer feel the need to write extra code, and how did it get past review or the pairing process? Almost certainly something like:

      • It was a fun bit of extra stuff, and the programmer wanted to write it. (Hint: Write code because it adds value, not because it amuses you.)
      • Someone thought that it might be needed in the future, so felt it was best to code it now. (Hint: That isn't YAGNI. If you don't need it right now, don't write it right now.)
      • It didn't appear to be that big an "extra," so it was easier to implement it rather than go back to the customer to see whether it was really required. (Hint: It always takes longer to write and to maintain extra code. And the customer is actually quite approachable. A small extra bit of code snowballs over time into a large piece of work that needs maintenance.)
      • The programmer invented extra requirements that were neither documented nor discussed that justified the extra feature. The requirement was actually bogus. (Hint: Programmers do not set system requirements; the customer does.)

What are you working on right now? Is it all needed?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Time for Sleep Once More

I bought a wireless keyboard / multi-touch touchpad for my old HP that I hook into the big-screen TV. It' working quite well. I set the HP up on the book shelf and set the display to only show on the TV. I also moved some of the wireless router and DSL modem devices of the edge of the couch and onto some old popcorn tins. Finally getting past these small mental weights that are really annoying me around here. If I cannot be "sustainable" in keeping my mess near 0, how can I hope to be useful elsewhere?


I finished the American Mind audio course while walking at the Chattahoochee river trail after work today. The last couple of lectures were about the dissolution of "The New Left" in the 1960s, and then about Neo-Conservatives. I found it very fascinating that emigres from Europe were heavily involved in both the acculturation of the New Left and the Neo-Conservatives. What was most interesting toward the end was the observation that the left had sort of "missed he boat" when it came to understanding the human condition, at last as it applied to US culture. Its thought leaders, building on their own understanding of Marx, built their own philosophy on "Homo Economicus", or so-to-speak, upon the belief that people were driven, primarily, by economic motivations and that they would want to see a revolution i the social structure that would give them, and society at large, a better deal compared to the power-brokers of industry and capital. However, what the Neo-Conservatives understood, and "capitalized" on when Reagan brought them fresh-faced into his administration was that  people are driven more by a larger identification with their "culture". And, part of the American self-identity is a belief in social mobility afforded to them through the existing capitalist system.

At least, that's how I recall what I heard at this moment.

There is much more about the course that fascinated me, but I'm not very skilled at pouring out detailed reviews of facts from things I've just read or listened to. You'd have to listen to it for yourself. But, let's just say that these are some of the highlights popping to mind so far:

  • The development of "Pragmatism", out of William James' and John Dewey's life and work, and how this "philosophy of practical utility" continues to this day.
  • A number of scientists, including Albert Einstein, who regretted the development of the atomic bomb. Einstein said if he had known Germany would not have succeeded, then he would never have alerted Franklin Roosevelt in 1939.
  • Apparently, some American scientists freely gave instructions to Russians after WWII about making atomic bombs, in hopes that the Russians would develop a bomb and thus force the United States to become more balanced. (Cannot remember the names of them)
    • I guess that "worked", but thankfully the Cuban Missile Crisis didn't leave the world toast.
  • The development of university science labs in the late 1800's following the models of German universities, in which corporations often provided the initial funding, and ultimately became the "breeding ground" for the labor needed to power corporations.
I need to listen again, but the lecture about Reinhold Niebuhr was very fascinating. See


Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr (pronounced /ˈraɪnhoʊld ˈniːbʊər/; June 21, 1892 – June 1, 1971) was an American theologian and commentator on public affairs. Starting as a leftist minister in the 1920s indebted to theological liberalism, he shifted to the new Neo-Orthodox theology in the 1930s, explaining how the sin of pride created evil in the world. He attacked utopianism as useless for dealing with reality, writing in The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (1944):

"Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary."

His realism deepened after 1945 and led him to support American efforts to confront Soviet communism around the world. A powerful speaker and lucid author,[vague] he was the most influential religious leader of the 1940s and 1950s in American public affairs.[citation needed] Niebuhr battled with the religious liberals over what he called their naïve views of sin and the optimism of the Social Gospel, and battled with the religious conservatives over what he viewed as their naïve view of Scripture and their narrow definition of "true religion."

Some time ago, Speaking of Faith had an episode called "Obama's Theologian", about him. Here it is:



Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Corporeality of Spirit

I spent Thursday and Friday working on the new business, and made satisfying progress. It's going to be fun to bring it to life and learn how to make it successful.

Friday I saw the Hawks get beat by the Thunder, with Durant getting 29 points to go just above his average. What do you expect from the leading scorer? It was a close game right until the last minute though. Saturday I went to see a performance of the play Inherit the Wind in Roswell with ATL Science Tavern members. It was a very good performance. Afterward, I watched and read some more historical background on the Scopes Monkey Trial, which is pretty fascinating. The fictionalized trial and characters of the play, while they seek to portray a general attitude, are not precise representations of the real trial, so I recommend reading the historical record. Earlier, my mom sent a link about possible fossilized microbial life in meteors, so that will be gigantic news if it turns out true.

And tonight I saw Stomp at the (Fabulous) Fox Theatre with Erica. It was very good, and loud. I saw it in New York City a few years ago too.

I also watched the film Creation, about Charles Darwin and his eldest daughter Anne. It's very sad, because Anne died when she was 10 years old. This event, ultimately, gave Darwin the conviction to finish his now famous On the Origin of the Species book, which has so dramatically changed the world during the past 152 years since its publication. The film also, naturally, portrays the struggle between Darwin and his wife Emma because of Emma's religious convictions and societal sensibilities. Darwin slowly and painfully lost his own religious faith, and during one scene leaves the pews of a sermon in which it is stated that not even a sparrow will fall to the ground without God willing it. He later remarks, mockingly, about God's beneficence toward butterflies being so high that he designed wasps to lay eggs inside the butterflies' caterpillar larvae.

Besides all that, I did a lot of reading or listening this weekend. I wish that time could be suspended so that I could read, listen, and watch everything I want to learn. On the one hand, I've been listening to lectures in The American Mind about the early to mid 19th century, as theological seminaries began to take root in the U.S.A. The discussions have been around the development the Moral Philosophers, the America Romanticists, and the early influence of Princeton Theological Seminary. Even though the different sects have some very differing ideas as to liturgy and even salvation, it strikes me as very much contrasting with what I started watching tonight, "The Buddha", a documentary on NetFlix.

Without the aid of a specific creation story, at least not one that would cause such consternation as has happened in Christian-dominated society, Buddha's teachings are not about external controllers like God , but about the individual response to the suffering or "general dissatisfaction" that we all experience in the world, ultimately arriving upon the 8-fold-path which I have not yet gotten to in the film, but am familiar with from prior study.

I confess to not knowing much about the varieties of Buddhist thought, and whatever metaphysical or supernatural beliefs may be involved, but the parable of Siddharta does strike me in many ways as similar to that of Jesus. Yes, there are great differences, but as far as stories go, they both have archetypal aspects to them and are great stories that serve to educate in ways that mere facts or data never have. Only feelings, felt in ourselves, lead us to compassion. Words on a page rarely do that, but stories can remind us of our own feelings, and can aid in our ability to imagine the feelings of others.

One part of the story I had never heard was that when Buddha was seated under the bohdi tree and tempted by Mara, he placed his hand on the ground as if to say that the ground, or the Earth, would be Buddha's witness to his ability to withstand the temptations of mara. The commentators remarked that this was Buddha's way of communicating his one-ness with the Earth, with nature.

This discussion recalled a very powerful memory from my childhood which must have been a pivotal moment inside of my growing brain and consciousness, because it's still so vivid, yet feels so buried inside of me, that it feels as if it happened centuries ago. I don't believe it's my earliest memory, but I also don't really know when it took place.

But as I remember it:

I was playing outside the house in Wappingers Falls, and was sitting on the grass, probably sifting through the grass and dirt and pebbles. I observed that far from being completely green, like it appears from the street, when you got up close to the ground, the grass settled into the the soil, but small pebbles and other types of plants lived there too, like onion grass and clovers. Beneath the soil and pebbles I could find "potato bugs", and maybe even worms. Sitting there amidst what other people were doing, like mowing their lawns, or planting flowers, and hearing birds chirp and feeling the breeze blow the leaves in the trees above me, kicking off "helicopter seeds" to flutter toward the ground, I put my fingers against the grass and soil. 

I felt then, for a few moments that have remained with me, no separation between myself and the Earth beneath me. I think I had a flash thought of children on the other side of the world digging their own hands into the soil, and wondered what they were thinking. Some people, with the language and technology to prepare them for it, might have said they "felt God's presence" in that moment. But for me, I had not grown up with that. It was simply an awareness of the life around and beneath me, as being not just separate from me, but also contiguous with my own life. It was very reassuring and calming.

This was probably between 25 and 30 years ago, in the early 80's, so I'm not going to revise history and say I was becoming aware of the ecology or environmentalism. If anything, it was a premonition to myself that life is not a fully independent event. It depends entirely upon a chain of being and interconnections.

I will be the first to admit I've felt alienated from that reassurance and comfort so long ago. Perhaps by being so soon after that day immersed into the world scholastic education, into entertainment, and later still high technology as a career, I became disconnected from the primal lessons and bonds of nature. To this day, it is only when I walk through natural spaces and take time to gaze upon the mysterious sinews of a strong tree that I see a glimpse of that ground beneath my feat from seeming centuries ago.

As I reflect upon the mental castles built by the theologians of early US history, even as they inherited much of their architecture from Europe, with their elaborate explanations, I'm struck by how anthropocentric these views actually are. Darwin, so conflicted in his culture by its dogmas and traditions, used most powerfully his own hands and eyes to reach down to the Earth, to pull up its secrets by their roots. And, not only did he realize that he, and all of us, are one with that Earth, but he explained how we came to be so, how he himself came into being.

And with his ideas, far from separating humankind from nature's god, he brought corporeality to spirit, the animating or vital principle in a living being.

Existence is a mystery, and its ultimate nature always will be whether we refer to it as God, Nature, or by no name. But learning and understanding more and more about our own relationship to all that exists strengthens our security while ever expanding our wonder and awe.

This spring I'll be volunteering in the community garden here in my neighborhood. I look forward to getting my fingers into the ground and hope to experience again the corporeality of spirit that I felt so long ago as a child.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sleep Comes Late

Tonight I am totally invigorated because tomorrow is the first day I get to spend devoted entirely to working on starting my business. I'm now working three days a week at the bank, and two days on this business. Hopefully I can continue the part-time work for at least a couple of months or so, but even if not I will be able to afford working solely on the business for at least a few months before needing to have a stream of income again. Taking to time to at least get started and "in production", even if just in alpha or beta, is going to be a tremendous step for me and my business partners.

For me I have the feeling that while I'm not sure how long it's going to take to become successful with it, I know we will become successful. I feel this way because we are flexible and adapting to change very rapidly already.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

PBS God in America

I've almost finished re-watching the PBS God in America series, which can be watched in its entirety via Netflix or on PBS at It's a very good series that I recommend. It begins with Spanish conquistadors and continues through Jerry Fallwell's Moral Majority, and beyond to George W. Bush and the changing face of religious plurality in the United States. It covers how Los Angeles is the most ethnically diverse city in the world, and also the most religiously diverse city in the world. It also discusses how 1 in 6 Americans are not religious, or atheist or agnostic. It shows Rick Warren talking about AIDS in Africa, and poverty. It concludes with President Obama, as candidate, talking about how faith can inform political discourse, but that, ultimately, arguments need to be made to make sense to people of different belief systems.

I have to admit, I find it fascinating to think about what causes people to believe the things they believe. Or, maybe I should say, I'm fascinated by listening to people explain the reasons for what they profess to believe.

I grew up respecting the parables and wisdom embodied in many religious texts, from Christianity, to Hinduism, to Buddhism, but not a follower of a creed or dogma. I am growing more and more interested in seeking to understand why individual people believe different things that emanate from their own religious or philosophical vantage point. It's important, I believe, not to look at religion as a "virus", something vile and despicable with an attitude like the so-called "New atheist" writers espouse. It's better to examine religion for what it is, and it is often changing.

I've started to listen to a course called "The Birth of the Modern Mind", which is a brief history of The Enlightenment, but I have not gotten very far yet. There are so many courses and materials I want to take and read.