Sunday, March 26, 2006

Blah, blah, blah

What more can I say? Just finished "Code Reading" by Diomidis Spinellis. This book got good reviews, somewhat disappointing. Probably a good review for a young developer. I was reading it as one of my Q1 goals, I'm going to see if I can not get "Read and present a development book" the next quarter. I think about work too much as it is, and reading a development book for the last 3 weeks definitely didn't help.

I got a new position at the start of the year, and it has been working out well. For 5 years I was VP of Software Development. I started with development, QA, information development (tech writers), and IT, had 25 reports at the peak, got down to just having development, which grew to 17 direct and 3 indirect reports. I am now Executive Software Architect -- an official loose cannon, no one reporting to me. I am back in the code 70-80% of the time, doing the systems rationalizer thing, refactoring, modularizing and cleaning up dependencies. But, the code seems to really have an affinity for my brain -- likes to get in there and take over.

Got a new guitar amp -- a Fender Blues Jr. Took 2 tries, 1st one came in with inoperative reverb, 2nd one works great. Very nice sound, and 1/3 the weight of my Super Reverb, have amp will travel.

But, American Legion Monday Blues Jam is defunct, the volume was interfering with the bingo upstairs -- no joke, damn philistines. Lindsey Olive and some other guys put together a Wednesday jam at the former Lynagh's on Woodland, now "The Good Time Lounge" I think. I went to the 1st one last week, a ton of people, only got to play a couple of songs. Skipped this week, my wife works 2nd shift on Thursday, so Wednesday night is a slightly virtual Friday (she works so much you have to take what you can get). I'll go back this week tho, try to make some contacts for people to play with.

I was going to mention re Dennett's "Breaking the Spell" that he trots out the "brights" name for non-religious people. This came out in the secular humanist movement about a year ago, a term for rational, secular thinkers without the negative connotations of atheist. "Brights" totally doesn't work for me. I tell people that I am proud to be a flaming atheist, and I will continue to do so.

Still haven't decided how to move ahead after basically concluding that the human mind, language, and music have all evolved by sexual selection. Not sure where to go now. I have been thinking for retirement I would look for an open source AI project to work on. I should get in touch with the young guy who worked for me who was doing some interesting natural language stuff. I think my point is, I think I may have learned as much as there is to learn about mind at the high levels, may as well just start trying to build one.

My wife and I hadn't seen any movies for a while, so we binged a little. First saw "The Constant Gardener", a little to british; then "Flightplan", what a totally contrived plot; then "Redeye", the other airplane movie, worked better than Flightplan and came in at 75 minutes (movies are less disappointing when they're short). Saw "Syriana", re, US foreign policy sucks, a little dry and slow but well done, then "Lord of War", re, US foreign policy sucks. The movie we liked best was "Four Brothers" -- unpretentious, the guys came across as brothers, and a great sound track.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Blog and Winding Road

So, no entries in February. Mostly due to wanting to finish the serious book I started on the way home from our most excellent vacation the week of Valentine's Day to Grand Case, St. Martin, FWI. We stayed once again at the Grand Case Beach Club. It is so cool that my wife and I both really like St. Martin. From the beach club it's a 2 block walk to Boulevard of Grand Case, billed as "The Gourmet Capital of the Caribbean" -- 8-9 blocks of restaurants (mostly French), little shops, with a few houses (one complete with chicken coops). You cannot get a bad meal there. If you get tapped out from paying $100-150 for dinner at the French places, you can eat at the LoLo -- six little outdoor restaurants where they are grilling ribs, chicken, fish, lobster and serving sides bought from home: slaw, potato salad, baked squash, red beans & rice, spaghetti, salad, conch chowder. The last one we ate at, a big pile of ribs with all the sides was $7. The same with a chicken leg/thigh was $6. Rum and coke for $2.50.

The last time we were there, I couldn't figure out why most places would take cash dollars for euros. I think I get it now. It's a French island, so the official currency has to be euros, but it looks like the unofficial currency is dollars. About 1/3 of the tourists there are French, I asked if that didn't piss them off -- no, I was told, they change their euros for dollars.

My wife got to water-ski twice -- "Incredible" was the driver's comment. She also found a "professional" ski rope handle, wide enough for her to put her head through -- oh boy, more tricks. We saw Pierre, who drove her two years ago. He had his own business now, the "Leisure Master", renting boats, cruises, diving, etc.

We also took the ferry to Anguilla -- didn't like it much, it had that poor, British island feel about it. Our cab driver gave us a tour of one of the five star hotels there (Cuisinart), pretty posh I guess. But, my wife and I discussed a few times, how many of the people we know wouldn't enjoy Grand Case -- too many rough edges, not enough like Disneyland. But, to us, it's a real place. All the French wastrels hanging around reinforce it, the French invented wastreling.

We also took the big catamaran over to St. Barts, walked around Gustavia a bit, taxi-toured the island. Very chi-chi, I guess, if you want to go the Caribbean to shop at Tiffany's. It's still St. Martin for us. Talking to the captain of the catamaran, who had sailed it over from France (24 days, 3 with storms, his 13th Atlantic crossing), about favoring reality over american hyperreality -- "I don't need to go to Paris, I went there in Las Vegas". He said he thought that sailing across the ocean was about the most freedom you could find now -- nobody else's programs to follow.

Interesting, the boat trip was 2 hours each way over fairly open sea. 3 of the passengers (all French but us and 1 other) were badly seasick the whole way there. That evening I was getting some landsickness -- uh-oh. But, I would close my eyes, picture the boat on rough seas and then sailing into perfectly calm seas -- and the landsickness would go away. Oooh, mind over matter! Maybe I can try another cruise after all, test my new superpower when we get back.

We also went to Ile Pinel, swimming distance from Cul-de-Sac in the northeast corner of St. Martin. 40 yards off the beach, water waist deep. Nice trails, you can pretty much hike the whole island.

Reading on the trip:

  • "The Cobweb", by Neal Stephenson and J. Frederic George. Originally published under the pseudonym Stephen Bury in 1996. Weird read, given current events, about Iraqi grad students implementing the Iraqi biological weapons in the US midwest around the gulf war. Stephenson's dialogue is as snappy as ever, very enjoyable, 4 stars. Next out from them: "Interface" -- I have "Interface", by Stephen Bury, on my to-read shelf, woo-ha! My friend David gave it to me 7-8 years ago, I guess it's time to read it.
  • "Polaris", by Jack McDevitt. A good mystery, not his normal astro-archeology, a nice read, but I figured out the ending 2/3 of the way through. 3 stars.
  • "Blind Waves", by Steven Gould. I missed this somehow, had to buy used. A good vacation read, not quite as charming as "Jumper" and his others, 3 stars.
  • "The Translator", by John Crowley. Very nice, about an expatriate Russian poet and the female college student who translates some of his poetry, set in the early '60s. Crowley's hidden worlds, worlds within worlds, are there nicely. Very interesting, per the book you can never translate a poem. Too many idioms, double meanings, puns get lost. What you are doing is creating a new poem based on the original -- if you are lucky. My wife ran out of books to read, she has been reading it and enjoying it as well. 4 stars.
  • Finally, my serious book (so I wouldn't run out of reading on the trip home): "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon", Daniel Dennett's latest. Dennett used to be annoying by putting on his Professional Philosopher's hat and spending lots of words explaining why he is right and all his philosopher colleagues are wrong. In this one, he is annoying by addressing an imaginary religous reader and challenging them to question the assumptions of their faith -- yeah, right. It takes a very memetic approach to the subject, traces the development of the modern religious packages from early folk religions, and talks about various aspects of the religion memeplex, such as belief in belief, and the "you can't discuss this stuff, particularly if you're not religious" meme. All in all, somewhat disappointing. He comments positively on "Religion Explained" by Boyer that I have on my to-read shelf, I'll have to get around to that one. 3 stars.
Went to the wedding of a young coworker yesterday. Scripture reading talked about a braid of three strands being stronger than a braid of 1 or 2. I must have zoned out and missed some stuff, I was thinking "Whoa, what's up, who's the 3rd person, kinky stuff up?", then figured out the 3rd strand was god. Then at the end the minister says, "Jerry McGuire was wrong when he said 'you complete me' -- god completes you both." Seriously annoying shit. I really enjoyed the talk of the minister at my son's wedding (on the Radisson Niagara Falls package -- we were lucky to get to attend). I guess my son and his wife picked the non-religious ceremony. The minister (from Ghana, great James Earl Jones voice) talked for 10 minutes about the problems of maintaining a lifetime relationship, practical things about support, love, sharing hopes and dreams. It was very inspiring and uplifting -- and no trying to figure out how to shoehorn god in there somewhere. "The love of a man and a wife is like the love of jebus for his church" -- what the fuck is that supposed to mean?

I've really been enjoying the Astronomy Picture of the Day site I blogged earlier. There are so many great pictures out there of stuff we only had blurry images of when I was an astrophysicist 30 years. Google images is crazy, I looked for NGC 1275, one of my favorite galaxies, and got 203 hits. Really cool pictures, there's a spiral in the middle of that mess!

Haven't listened to much new music lately. I have a half dozen or so e-mails in my inbox (my todo list) with recommendations, have to start checking some out.

Impulse bought a Fender Blues Junior amp from (free shipping and a free guitar stand, who could resist) to help further my musical "career" at the Legion -- woo-haa. Really nice sound, but had to send it back, the reverb was totally inoperative. I didn't even know it had reverb, but still, for $400, you want all the features working. Hopefully it won't take too long to get the replacement.