Category Archives: Life

General life topics

The Path We Chose

I walk along the path at the edge of the park.throwback_thursday1_large

It is a day of spring warmed grass and flower scented breezes. Assorted couples and strangers gather in their favorite spots within the fields and wooded hills. Pleasant conversation giggles in the air adding warmth to the cuddle of sunlight.

But I walk along the path at the edge of the park.

It is a path like any other. It has direction and destination. Precisely paved walls stand in strong contrast to the rambling bushes and the vine-covered fences that encircle the park; Quiet isolation accented by chirps and peeps of creatures, who too prefer the solitude. Daily I make my way along this path, glimpsing full view of the beautiful park that lies beyond the walls. I often slow to consider the park; sipping in the green soaked air or sampling the tickle of warm reflections. On other occasions I notice it not at all, and pay little attention to where my feet take me. Such distractions can even lead me astray and point me in the direction of a different path; the path that leads into the heart of the park itself.

But I walk along the path at the edge of the park.

I share the same powder blue sky and drift of white clouds that they do. The playful wind that brushes their hair and sets their kites soaring is the same wind that ruffles the leaves at my feet. Yet doubt still holds firm that my experience is in some way filtered by the lacy shadows covering my path. I imagine the feel of the fields on my bare feet and the crush of grass against my napping body,… the cool damp earth soaking into my back, the fiery glow of sunlight dancing on my closed eyes.

But I walk along the path at the edge of the park.

It is a path I know well. I know its direction. I know its destination. I know it will not lead me astray. I know it will not lead me through the heart of the park itself. In my dreams however truer passions emerge. Temptation provokes thoughts of the heart itself. The beauty that I behold within the park makes promises to my soul. Each night I envision crossing over the threshold of the park and being consumed by a shiver of happiness. I see every wish my heart has held suddenly realized before me. Mixed with the intoxication of night’s romance my heart cannot help but swell with the possibilities my dreams offer. I embrace the clutch of emotions and nightly promise to seek out the possibilities and explore the park from within.

But I walk along the path at the edge of the park.

Daylight melts my resolve and reason replaces romance. I try to convince myself that dreams are best left in the slumbering shadows of night and that passionate expectations cannot be realized in the heart of a simple park. I start to believe that I cannot risk disappointment dissolving the inspiration I hold so dearly to; it is the untainted view of the park that enriches my daily walk along the path I have chosen. I reason that promises of a sweeter existence will forever keep me reaching for my dreams. I am convinced I am doing the right thing as another piece of my soul begins to wither.

And still I walk along the path at the edge of the park.

 

FIN.

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Tagged and Bragged

A school in Washington State recently attempted to correct a long neglected problem by banning the illicit activity known throughout the school yards as “Tag” (full article here). This so called “game” involves the incredibly dangerous practice of running down fellow classmates in an attempt to strike them with a taunting declaration of “you’re it”. This “tagged” individual is then compelled to further spread their “it-ness” to other victims like an infectious disease. The need for action was obvious; no good can come from propagating this horrific tradition.

Luckily this is not the first school to take such a decisive stance against the dangers of play. A district in San Diego was legally motivated to prohibit another playground plague known as “Red Rover”, where a child is repeatedly taunted until they throw themselves into their tormentors. Barbaric. Many districts throughout our great country have finally begun to recognize the threat that these activities pose to our precious youth along with the other more obvious blood sports such as dodge ball, and snowball fights. There is no question that this trend needs to continue; there are still many dangers lurking outside our double-insulated, suburban front doors. For example, with no regard for child safety, parks and playgrounds continue to install climbing bars that are much too high and slides that are much too steep, inviting ample opportunity for broken bones and skinned knees. Clearly these threats need to be removed. Even the benign looking sandbox offers the ever-present threat of blindness and accidental exposure to cat poop.

We need to teach our kids that youth is not to be wasted on silly, dangerous games that invite self-discovery and social interaction. We are trying to rescue them from the tragic fate that awaits all who engage in these physical experimentations; bike riding, fast walking and aggressive standing have all been linked to a shortened life expectancy in laboratory rats who really have no business being on bikes in the first place. We need to be proactive about safety not just for the survival of our children but for the survival of our very race. But this is not to say that we should prevent kids from having fun, on the contrary there are plenty of perfectly safe alternatives for our kids to engage in, such as sitting quietly under a tree,… as long as they are sitting upon a properly laundered drop cloth, dosed in triple digit SPF sunblock and maintaining enough distance from the tree to avoid splinters and squirrel cooties.

Please help spread the word so that we can avoid the mistakes of our parents who lost an entire generation of children to “The Great Tag” and who foolishly allowed frolicking to go unchecked until it became the devastating plague that historians now refer to as “childhood”.

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Quotable

“Code Monkey have every reason
To get out this place
Code Monkey just keep on working
To see your soft pretty face
Much rather wake up eat a coffee cake
Take bath, take nap
This job fulfilling in creative way
Such a load of crap
Code Monkey think someday he have everything even pretty girl like you
Code Monkey just waiting for now
Code Monkey say someday, somehow”

-Jonathan Coulton

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Code Monkey

A few years ago, while still working for a software company called Foundation 9, I attended the annual gaming nerd fest; CGDC (Computer Game Developer’s Conference). While cruising the expo floor for free swag and miniature chocolates I stopped by our company’s recruitment booth to see if there was anyone I knew (or more miniature chocolates). It should be noted that at this time I probably knew less than 5% of the company on a first name basis and probably less than .05% knew me on any basis whatsoever since I worked primarily from the backwoods secluded bunker known as my home office. Seeing no one there I could identify without a name tag I turned to leave when one of the cheerful booth reps happily offered me a list of open positions and asked if I wanted to drop off my resume and portfolio.   As I thumbed through the listing of available programming roles it dawned on me that if I were to apply at this company, for which I was already employed, my resume would likely hit the shredder faster than a teenage mutant ninja turtle (how’s that for a vague reference?).

This fear was later confirmed when, following my divorce, I found myself “light on employment”. Since my first job in the industry 20 years earlier, I had typically relied on past contacts and word of mouth to either put in a recommendation for me, at least, or get me a job outright, at best. There was none of this nonsense with cold-calls, job boards, and multiple interviews. It was a civilized affair where I meet the team, get a security badge and proceed to my work-space with company mug in hand. Not once did I have to endure security checks, phone screenings and long grueling interviews that are as charming as a TSA strip search,… from a man with large cold hands and a nervous tick.

With all of my acquired “experience” <cough, cough> this meant that I was applying for a senior engineering position, one usually reserved for that eager intern that had killed himself working 90 hours a week for his first summer before coming on-board and being subsequently promoted four times over the next 6 years for kicking ass, chewing bubble gum and eventually amassing the collective knowledge of every nuance in their product and every kludgy line if their code base. Fast forward to me, having successfully fast-talked my way through the phone screening and now scheduled for the first of three interviews with this very same Mr. Eager-beaver-intern-turned-team-lead who was (no exaggeration) still in diapers when I started my first job those 20 years previous. This is the man or boy-child that I must impress with my checkered programming past that includes either technologies that companies no longer care about or technologies that companies care very much about but which I haven’t actually worked with for a dozen or so years, which, to put it in perspective, was about the time the interviewer discovered his first pubic hair.

Now, if it were just the generational gap I was working against, I’d really have little room to complain. But once the pleasantries have been exchanged and we’ve reminisced about the first computers we programmed on (Vic 20 vs a frickin’ MacBook Pro) we get down to the real meat and potatoes of the modern programmers job interview; the white board. This is when the other senior programmers at a company get to ask you the most ridiculously complicated questions they can dig up for the sole purpose of watching you squirm and sweat out a response while getting high on dry erase fumes. Mind you, these aren’t the word problems from your days in grade school with trains bound for Chicago and St. Louis at fixed rates, these are either problems or optimizations that the programmers previous struggled over and proudly solved, or complex logic puzzles that graduate students write their thesis on (seriously, look up “100 prisoners and a light switch” – http://anttila.ca/michael/100prisoners/ ). Whatever happened to the good ol’ days when they’d ask you thoughtful questions like ““if you were a tree what type of tree would you be” or “describe your greatest weakness”. How about my great weakness for impaling people with dry erase makers when they ask me questions they already know the answer to.   I’ve since discovered that finding the solution is often secondary to what they’re really interested in which is seeing how you logically work through a given problem. As proof of this I recall once turning the table on my interviewers and asking them a logic question that I already knew the answer to. I was delighted by the fact that none of them was able to correctly answer the question, less delighted when none of them called me back for another interview.

The real take away from this process was a reevaluation about whether or not I’m even in the right line of work. I picked up programming after graduating from college, when I realized I had no viable options for paying down my ever swelling credit card debts. The career tracks available for my college majors and minors came bundled with the “struggling” prefix; struggling artist, struggling writer, struggling cartoonist, struggling interpreter. After being a struggling student for 5 years I didn’t have it in me to venture forth as a professional struggler.   Once I started on programming I was drawn to educational software, and how kids interacted with the product. It was all about game play and fun. Programming was a tool, just like art and animation, to provide an entertaining delivery platform for dry educational content. Since I didn’t have the formal computer science education starting from binary baby talk and working up through adult compilers a lot of the programming was learned along the way; with each new project came a new set of skills to master, new programming languages to learn. I had a good logical mind and enjoyed the problem solving nature of debugging and finding a way to make something work. Eventually the educational software industry started to dissolve with the advent of widely available cheap apps for mobile devices. I was left with less interesting tasks using different languages and technologies. Curriculum made way for database structures. Teaching mathematics made way for teaching corporate compliance. Before, when people asked me what I did, I was able to mention the products I worked on that their kids might have played. They would smile when I mentioned the big clients like Disney and Nickelodeon that everyone has heard of. Now when asked what I do, there are no smiles and rarely any follow up questions, just a polite nod and then a subtle redirect to another topic. “Have I shown you my hernia scar?”

Even great programmers with an in-depth education and an impressive breadth of experience can potentially age out of an industry with such a constantly evolving technology. Kids graduating from college have been given the distilled essence of the most current technology and its applications in the modern business world. A company can pick between hiring a whiz-kid like this as a free intern turned cheap, but seasoned, employee or filling the same role with an untested “senior engineer” for 2-3 times the salary. It’s a no-brainer from a business standpoint.

From a career perspective the alternative to this dismal fate is to try and remain viable at a company for as long as possible until you’re able to move up the career track into management or even a producer role. From there you should be able to leap frog to management in another company or rely on all of your connections to land you a new job. As I’ve mentioned though, working remotely is not conducive to either of these options. I have fewer contacts and references since working at home and many of my older contacts have themselves transitioned out of the industry for one reason or another. With all of that I get the sense that an expiration date has been stamped squarely on my behind, and without some fresh packaging this Code Monkey will go rancid in another year or so.

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Mud Tougher

I have another million dollar idea; Have people pay me to be tortured. No, no, really, this is going to work. I’ll electrocute them, submerge them in ice and push them off high-rise platforms. And they’re going to love it. The best part is I’ll convince them it’s actually good for them. I’ll make them run from one evil obstacle to the next so they feel like they’re exercising but I’ll keep them close enough together so there’s really no cardio benefit. I’ll make it a competition so people will strive to be the most beaten up. They will glory in the pain. Blood and bruises will be the badge of honor here so I won’t have to waste money on fancy trophies. We can even mix it up, sometimes I’ll keep it simple and just pelt them with colorful dyes, make colorful toxic clouds for them to run through, and make it feel like a party as I deafen them with an upbeat dance mix. Maybe I’ll put a fictional spin on it and make them feel like the last survivors of a zombie apocalypse or gladiators sentenced to death in a fiery arena. I’ll find some people that enjoy role-playing to dress up as zombies or Spartan’s and have them beat the snot out of people that generally mock role-playing. How sweet is that?! And again, they’re going to pay me for the privilege.

People seem to have lost interest in something as mundane as running; since the dawn of man we have run quite naturally towards prey and away from predators. Who wants to spend money on that? But throw in some back-breaking labor and a mud puddle or two and you got yourself a money-maker. All I need now is an iron clad liability release form and some legal small print about consulting a doctor before arriving for your time of torment. Actually compared to an Iron Man, no one will blink an eye at the abuse I’m signing people up for. This might just be a short-lived fad that I can cash in on quickly before people realize what they’re actually paying for. I can’t imagine anyone signing up to do something like this more than once. Nobody is that stupid.

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Mean Cuisine

I would like to propose a new show for the Food Network; “Kitchen Swap – Iron Chef Edition” where top professional chefs and their picturesque TV kitchens trade places with random normal folks and their overused overpopulated suburban kitchens; Watch as Bobby Flay spends 25 minutes trying to find which drawer someone has hidden the good spatula in. Watch as he struggles to navigate the kitchen tripping over dogs and dodging Nerf bullets. Meanwhile watch as I casually prepare a full weekend brunch sipping a cocktail in the fully stocked kitchen with not a single interruption or distraction to be had. Ok perhaps more of a personal fantasy then a show pitch but it might help me to appreciate cooking again.

It had actually crossed my mind (albeit a quick sprint across the mostly vacant frontal cortex) to make this a cooking blog instead of a,… whatever this is. I could have been the next Pioneer Woman, minus the ranch, cattle and womanhood. I could have posted pretty pictures of culinary creations if I were actually capable of taking pictures half as good as the Pioneer Woman and if said creations weren’t just modified versions of stuff the Pioneer Woman has already posted.   “Ranch House Chili” lacks a certain credibility when coming from a computer programmer living in the suburbs. In all honestly I actually love to cook and have made a few recipes my own over the years or at least have waited out the fame of the original chefs enough to make my claims uncontested. The real problem comes in the form of 6 painfully picky eaters. I mean to the extent that 90% of their diet can be defined as ‘carbs and cheese’ with the remaining 10% being pure sugar. I can spend 3 hours preparing a delicious Coq au Vin only to have the kids push it aside in disgust and ask for seconds of the butter noodles I made as the side,… and then proceed to inform me, butter dripping from their chins, that the noodles would go great with frozen chicken nuggets, which in turn gets a boisterous roar of approval from the others, the very same boisterous roar of approval that my deluded mind somehow thought I’d hear for making the savory homemade chicken with a sauce reduction. “They’re both chicken for god’s sake!! Quit your bitchin and eat!” screams my inside voice, while my outside voice says with just a dash of bitterness “Fine! Eat your butter noodles, but don’t expect the Ranch House Chili tomorrow!” To which they respond with another boisterous roar of approval.

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