Another Success

So, I noticed that there's this decorative clock embedded in a box that sits atop our refrigerator. The exciting thing is: Sunday morning found it to be the only clock in the house (computers/mobile phones aside) that was correct. What an amazing feat of engineering is this old-fashioned looking, AA battery-powered device. Does it have some embedded OS that keeps track of the date? Does it have some special connection to the Naval Observatory?

No, it has an owner that never changed it to "Spring forward."

This Song is Just Six Words Long

Have I mentioned lately that work is an overwhelming nightmare? Well, it is.

When you don't have time for a novel, why not read something very short. Wired has a bunch of SF writers provide very, very short stories. They're smaller than micro fiction. Here are my two favorites:

Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time
- Alan Moore

Longed for him. Got him. Shit.
- Margaret Atwood

The Prestige (Christopher Priest)

I'm standing at the bus stop across from Roosevelt Center. It's probably a bit more accurate to say that I'm pacing back and forth at the bus stop across from Roosevelt Center. The sun has not yet risen, so I'm bathed in the glow of lights from the Mobil gas station. There are two steps behind the bus shelter, so I can walk from the curb, through the shelter, up the steps, turn, then walk down the steps, through the shelter to the curb.

My pacing, which would be annoying were I not alone, is equal parts heat production and weight control. Toss in just the slightest dash of OCD for flavor. It's surprisingly chilly for mid-October in the Mid-Atlantic. Moisture has condensed on the sides of the shelter, so I walk from clarity to haze to clarity. The weight control portion of the recipe, of course, is related to my theory that fidgety people are skinnier. I've tried my best to develop these little physical tics -- pacing, tapping my pen, bouncing my foot, Mongolian throat singing -- to add to my weight loss regimen. A side benefit is that I get a lot more space to myself at the office.

I stumble on the step up from the shelter. When I turn and come back through, I notice that a woman has appeared -- as if by magic! She is sitting on the opposite end of the bench. She wears a heavy brown coat. I hate to say it, but she has the largest ears I've ever seen, and it doesn't help that she's so small. Her feet don't quite touch the ground.

She is reading The Prestige.

I stop my pacing. I've just finished that book, myself. I read it a few years ago, and I thought that with the movie coming out, I'd take another gander at it. She looks up.

"Sorry," I say. "Don't mean to stare. I just finished reading that book."

"Oh?" she says, without putting the book down. "What did you think?"

"I think," says the man behind me. He has appeared out of thin air and is sitting on the step. He's wearing sandals, shorts, and a bright orange flower-print shirt. The bright orange shirt is somewhat alarming because he is nearly as wide as he is tall. I am so distracted by his closthing that I do not notice how he makes his copy of the book appear in his left hand. "I think that Hazel here is reading that book only because the movie is coming out."

"And why are you reading it, Tubby?" she shoots back.

"Because I enjoy a nice yarn about magic acts," he responds. "These two guys from the turn of the century have an interesting rivalry going on. I think Priest does a good job messing with our perceptions as we switch point of view from magician number one to magician number two."

"I could have done without the modern-era junk at the beginning," I say.

"That's simple misdirection," Tubby replies.

"Why does it matter whether she's reading the book because of the movie or not?" I ask.

"It's a cheat," he responds. "It's like watching a magic show on TV. If they do it with cameras, what's the point?"

"But doing it with mirrors is different?" I ask.

"That's a little different. There's still some skill involved in the presentation. It takes a bit of talent to set up and execute."

"OK, Mr. Purist," Hazel interrupts. "This book turns to the supernatural to explain some of the magic. Is that not a cheat?"

"In what way is that a cheat?" he asks. "Did you not know that Christopher Priest wrote science fiction?"

"Did you not know that meow meow meow," she mocks him.

From here, the conversation descends into a shouting match of name calling, partly because these two never get along, but mostly because I can't figure out how to move forward. I've touched on the main points I had in mind and I'm not terribly interested in drilling deeper into them. It was a nice book, but light. I briefly consider switching point of view for this story, but it's not really my style. The important thing is to get them to stop fighting. I squint up my eyes and clutch my fists. I figure if I could make these people appear, then I should be able to make them disappear.

Unfortunately, magic is never as easy as it looks.

The two do stop arguing, however. When I open my eyes, they are staring at me.

"Dude, you can breathe, you know," says the guy in the large orange shirt. I guess I've turned red from holding my breath.

"OK. Look," I say after a gasp. "I don't think that her reading the book just because of the movie's coming out is a cheat. Reading is reading. How many people will see the movie without even realizing that there is a book?"

"I hardly think that matters," hisses Tubby. "It's a sad thing to see the pure and straightforward love of books for their own sake dieing away in these end times. I suppose next you'll tell me it's okay to buy records you hear on the radio."

"Furthermore," I continue. "I'm not convinced that the fantastical elements are a cheat. The interestingly creepy ending is appropriate for our proximity to Halloween. At the end of the day, it was a good, though not great, yarn. You just have to decide where your suspension of belief begins and ends. Isn't that what a magic show is all about?"

I turn away from them because the bus has arrived. The bus driver looks over my shoulder as I touch my card to the reader.

"Weren't there other people at the stop just now?" he asks.

"It's just a cheat," I say as I stumble back to a seat. "They were only ever in my head."

Software

A Weekend Report

Here is the result of this weekend. After a Saturday spent at the Renaissance Festival, I got seven hours of painting in. I call this "Software". Can you tell me why?

During this productive painting session, I listened to all five episodes of Radio Lab, based on a recommendation from Squuby. I think that if you're an Oliver Sacks freak, this is the kind of show that will appeal to you.

1:10

Well, I must have had a tailwind last night. I wasn't trying particularly hard.

Last year, I rode well into November, but this year we have three releases between now and Thanksgiving. I'm envisioning a lot of late nights. I don't trust drivers enough to ride in the dark.

Free At Last In Paradise (Ananda W. P. Guruge)

"What are you doing?" the Brunette asked. She had found me in the kitchen, where I had carefully queued the dishes on the counter. There were enough dishes that I had to cross the stove, too. It was a little like Hands Across America, only with dishes. And only across the kitchen.

"I'm applying iterative development processes to dishwashing."

"OK."

I joined her in the living room a few moments later.

"Done already?"

"Well," I said and picked up my book. "Wow, this book is heavy."

"So that iterative process is pretty fast," she said.

"The iterations are small," I explained. "So they can result in measurable, uh, results quickly enough to direct the remaining effort."

"Hmm. Didn't look small. You had a lot of dishes lined up in there."

"I lined them up to determine which of the dishes would be the most architecturally significant."

"Architecturally?"

"Well," I admitted. "None of the dishes is really architecturally significant, so I went back to the basic philosophy of the iterative method: Each 'iteration' should be designed to 'buy down' risk. If you attack your risks early, then your project is more likely to be successful. I chose the riskiest dishes and did them first. For example, by washing a glass, I determined how to do it without breakage. I now know how long it will take to do most of the dishes -- or I can estimate with some level of confidence, anyway."

"What's that book you're reading?" she asked when I paused. I knew if I blathered on about development processes she would turn to the book eventually.

"It's Free At Last In Paradise," I said. "It's an epic story of a man's life paralleling the hundred years leading up to Sri Lanka's independence. It's very long, but I've learned a lot."

"Like?"

"Oh, erm. Like I always thought that Ceylons were those evil androids on Battlestar Galactica, but it turns out they're more complicated than that."

"And did you learn anything that isn't culturally offensive?"

"I wasn't aware, before I read the book, of how large a role Theosophists played in the country's evolution. There's a lot more political maneuvering in Buddhist circles than I realized. Also, the main character is much more tolerant of the British authorities and evangelists than I would have expected."

"The author was a diplomat," she pointed out.

"True," I said. "He must have had some time on his hands, though. This is one long book."

"Yes, you've commented on the book's heft already."

"That's because it's a long book," I said defensively.

"It does cover a century," she said. "Have you had enough of a break from dishwashing?"

"It's not a break," I sniffed haughtily. "I'm conducting a phase review. Now that I've explored all of the risky use cases, I can exit --"

"One use case? The glass you mean?"

"Sure. So I'm cogitating on how to schedule construction since elaboration is done. See --"

"I think you have another iteration before you can exit elab," the Brunette said.

"Oh. I-- Why?"

"There's that casserole dish."

"The one all encrusted and sticky? I don't think it's terribly risky. Can't imagine breaking that."

"You're going to have to soak it, you know."

"Sure, I guess."

"Well, there you go," she said. "Schedule risk."

Our Cat Ate the Neighbor's Dog

A Neighborhood Report

Well, Tubby didn't really eat Hazel. They were a bit standoffish at first, but they seem to be tolerating each other. Hazel settled down for a nice nap and Tubby stared out the window. Finally, we were able to coax Tubby over with the magic fingers of petting.

What Did Taleswapper Forget Today?

His badge.

Hmm. This used to be a regular feature of my blog, but in the recent past not so much. I hope it's not the darkness coming along to get me.

As a side note, be on the lookout for my new book: Deployment Driven Design, or Why Do The Testers Get All the Fun?

Ramblings

This is one of those posts in which I meander around without any real point. But I wanted people to have something short to look at after those two really really long posts.

Of course, if I meander too much, then I won't be short, will I?

I'm finding that I don't want to say anything that even is a little witty, because maybe I can use that witticism in some future book tale or restaurant tale. So, the funny part of that is thinking anything I say is witty. That's not really true, though, I say witty things all the time.

They're just never the things that I think are going to be witty.

Maybe I'll just give you a link or two:

  • An audio link to an interesting story. Is it true? Is it fiction?
  • A regular link to a blog entry on how wonderful it is to work at Google
  • A video link to Ask a Ninja.

Whose Body? (Dorothy Sayers)

"I guess you might as well join us, too," Keith said to me after jabbering with the developers. "We'll be in the war room."

It's cute how Keith likes to encourage my little detective hobby without actually mentioning it. I gathered my paraphernalia and headed upstairs. The war room is a large conference room on the fourth floor. It has a big table, a whiteboard, and some network drops. I've tried to convince them to call it the "peace & justice room," but ever since the incident with the binder clips, "war room" just stuck.

The usual suspects were arranged artistically around the room. The Admiral had found a berth at the end of the table. His gravity pulled most of the others to that side of the room. Rocky, however, avoided the pull and set up closer to the other end of the table. I chose that end to help balance the look of the room. Rocky slid a little closer to the Admiral. You can ignore gravity, but you can't really deny it.

"So, we're having a small problem in prod," Keith said with his usual flair for understatement. In reality, I imagined that the "small problem" was leading to major loss of life in significant portions of the country. Without a quick and nimble response from yours truly, the company, the Agency and -- perhaps -- the entire world could be in jeopardy. I missed most of what Keith told us but he seemed to think that something called "servers" and "database" were at the heart of the matter. He had found a drop and connected his laptop. "It's still down," he reported.

"It's not," said Rocky. "Is it?" He grabbed the other drop and plugged in. "That's right. It's down." His fingers did that tappity thing on his laptop for the rest of the meeting. It really got on my nerves.

Stan and the Admiral looked at each other. Apparently, only two of the network drops worked. I, of course, had brought more important things and left my laptop on the ole desk. Keith asked some pointless question about the last time the software changed.

"Who would know something like that?" I asked.

"You are the CM," he said. "I'd expect you to track that."

"Quite," I said. "Shouldn't we check the room for evidence?"

"Oh, there's evidence all right," Stan insinuated. He wiggled his eyebrows and laughed.

"Interesting," Keith exclaimed, after a moment. "The system is back up."

"The database looks fine," noted the Admiral. "I don't see any unusual problems."

"We'll want to retrace the perpetrator's steps," I said. "Put ourselves in the mind of the bad guy."

"Ew," said Stan. "That sounds like no fun at all."

"I can't access -- " Rocky started. He furrowed his brow. "I've lost my conne-- Hey! You didn't take my cable, did you? You did!" This last bit was directed at the Admiral, who allowed his attention to slowly drift from his laptop screen to Rocky's red face.

"I needed to check the database. You can have it back."

Rocky grumbled, but took the proffered cable and attached his laptop to the network. "I'm going to take a look at the logs."

"Shouldn't we get some food?" I asked. "Lord Peter Wimsey always seems to want a bit to eat before he --"

"System's down again," Keith announced.

"It's not," piped Rocky. "Is it? It is!"

"Good!" I said. "In Whose Body?     Lord Peter had two mysteries to work on. He said it made the whole thing easier because when he was bored with one, the other was right there ready to be worked."

"I'm ready to be worked," Stan commented.

"Let's focus, people," Keith interrupted. "Let's go over the facts as we know them."

"Great idea," I said. "In mysteries, the detectives always repeat the facts to get their minds around the problem. And usually, the answer is staring right at them."

"Item number one," said the Admiral. "The database is still up and available."

"OK," started Keith. "Now --"

"Oi!" Rocky suddenly shouted. "You didn't take my cable again, did you? You did!"

"Item number two," Stan interrupted. "The system is up." We all gathered around Keith's laptop to look. It certainly seemed to be working.

"Hmm," Keith scratched his head. "Working or not, we must do a post-mortem to find out why."

"Perfect is the enemy of the good," Stan put in.

"What?"

"Nothing. It's just that we've been in this meeting room for a while and nobody had said it yet, so I thought --"

Keith turned to the whiteboard. He stared hard at it for a moment. Then he turned back to us. He pointed at S. and the A. "I need you and you. We're going to get some markers."

While they were out of the room, Rocky retrieved his network cable from the Admiral's machine. Meanwhile, I took out my trusty super-magnifying monocle and examined the portmanteau in the corner. Granted, I didn't really have a super-magnifying monocle, but then again, we didn't have a portmanteau in the corner. I had to make do by examining the trash can with a flyswatter and a pickle jar. Things were easier back in Lord Peter's day. Back then, you could walk around with a walking stick marked in inches with a compass on top. These days, if you did that, Stan would beat you up. So I got by using a felt tip pen on my forearm.

"System's broke again," I said out loud. I was using my arm to measure Keith's screen. It went from that funny lookin' bone on the bottom of my wrist almost to my elbow. Too many lines on my arm to count. Besides, I'd written the lines on the wrong side of my arm, so I was all contorted around the screen and table, but I was able to see that the site was down when I bumped refresh.

"It is," Rocky confirmed. "WTF?"

He actually said it that way, by the way. My characters don't tend to use profanity unless the situation really demands it, so he just said the letters W, T and F. It's kind of strange to hear all these people in my head saying phrases like WTF, SOB, and KTR as if they were IBM.

Stan, Keith and the Admiral returned to the room. Keith and Stan were arguing about whiteboard markers. Keith seemed to be of the opinion that if pink was the only color available, then we'd just have to use it. Stan's response was that pink was too light to see; besides, pink wasn't very manly. Keith asserted that manliness wasn't the issue.

"Maybe not for you," Stan replied. I tried to keep tempers from flaring by pointing out that the system was down again.

"The database is still fine," said the Admiral from behind his laptop. Rocky was flailing his arms in the air and jumping up and down. "Hasn't been a thing wrong with the database any time I've checked."

"That's interesting," Keith said.

"People. People," Rocky interrupted. He stomped over to the Admiral and stared him in the eye. He shot his right hand out and yanked the network cable free. "Is the system up?"

"Um." Keith pecked a few keys. "No."

Rocky plugged the Admiral back in. "And now?"

"Ah. Yes." We all looked at the Admiral. Rocky unplugged. "Down again."

"It seemed most convenient if I could always have it with me," the Admiral said. He looked around uncertainly. There was a lot of anger in that room.

"I say," I said to the Admiral, trying to stand between him and the rest of the crew. I looked him in the eye. "The better part of valour and all that, don't you think? You might want to skedaddle."

"Well, I mean," the Admiral prevaricated, but he did drift toward the door.

"Is the production database actually on your laptop?" Keith asked.

"Well, I, ah."

"Get him!" Stan shouted, but the Admiral was already out the door with engines at full steam. The others were in pursuit, but I leaned back and smiled.

Another case closed.