Hope

So, there's this article in the Topeka paper this morning. Apparently, a local resident is turning 110. That's amazing. She reads her Bible every morning and prays ever day. You know what the two things she prays for every day are?

Peace and a solution for global warming.

That's dang amazing.

Pottering Around

You know, you'd think somebody would have done this by now: Why can't I find a list of house points awarded to/taken away from students and houses in the Harry Potter series?

The Deathly Hallows (JK Rowling)

I had this great idea. The hardest part of this weekly business trip is the ninety minute drive in the dark from Kansas City to Topeka. The last thing I want to do at 12:30 in the morning is drive off the road into some haunted cornfield. I know!, I thought. If I skip dinner, I won't grow groggy and so my drive will be safer.

It was a wonderful idea whose flaw was exposed by Southwest Airline's insane policy of forcing people to line up hours before the flight because they won't assign seats. This week, I hit the double-jackpot: I got assigned to the "A" line and I arrived early enough to grab the poll position. I did a victory dance and sat down on the floor.

We must celebrate the small victories on these torturous business trips, because there aren't going to be any big ones.

So that all sounds grand, doesn't it? I was in prime position to have my pick of the seats and I was going to be ready for the long drive in the dark. Surely, I was living right, you must be thinking. Well, then you're forgetting those dang imaginary people that follow me around everywhere. My carefully constructed plan crashed down around my ears when the first person in the "B" line arrived and leaned against the cattle shoot. My stomach had already grumbled a few small protests. It nearly screamed as the "B"-guy opened his Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and dug into a container of Arby's popcorn chicken. The smell of fried breading filled the gate area -- nay, the entire concourse -- with its promise of fulfillment, satisfaction, and (dare I say it?) love. I dropped my head into my hands and tried to envision a place of safety, far away from the aroma of sustenance. I had almost reached the destination when the slurping began.

He had also brought a shake.

"Ooo-erg," I said through clenched teeth.

"Excuse me?" the eater asked.

"A little late to be reading that, don't you think?" I said, pointing to the Harry Potter book.

"Huh?" he asked. The grunt was muffled by a curly fry.

"I mean," I continued, nastily. "The book's almost a whole month old. The rest of the world has already moved on..." I, myself, had finished the book a full 18 hours before.

"Oh, yes," he chuckled. I cringed. There is nothing more infuriating when I'm in an unreasonable grump than someone handling my rudeness with politeness. The evidence of smelly food and slurping pointed to an evil, demented soul unprepared to live in a civilized urban world, yet he brushed aside my grumpiness as if I were merely being conversational. "This is my second go 'round, you know. I'm just trying to decide if she was really trying to make this point or not."

"Which point?" I asked without thinking. He set his cup of chicken bits on the top of his carry-on. My eyes were transfixed. I believe he had turned back to an earlier section of the book, though I did not watch him do it. My sole concern was the safety of that chicken. "This argument he has here with Lupin." The eater pointed at the page.

I tried to remember the argument. It was Harry yelling something about Lupin not protecting his family. I had figured it was just more of the boy's ego trip -- only I can do this task Dumbledore set out for me! Only I can prevent forest fires! I don't care what Smokey says. To be honest, the last two books were just so full of whining that I tuned out anything Harry said.

"It seems like she's saying that sticking by your family's side is more important than anything else. Perhaps even more important than saving the world from total annihilation."

"I don't think you could call it total annihilation," I pointed out without unfocusing from the chicken. "After all, Voldemort would probably allow some people to live. "

"Hmm," he said and ate another fry. "But the whole series is surely about working to destroy Voldemort's evil. So is she saying that people shouldn't be bothered to leave their kids and should just let the rest of the world rot?"

"It does seem doubtful that she means that parents are useless," I agree.

"Well," interrupted the woman at the head of the "C" line. "Surely you see how Harry would feel that way about parents, considering how he lost his own."

"Oh, sure," said the eater. He turned toward the "C" line, leaving his chicken dangerously exposed. "But it certainly deserved a rebuttal, don't you think? Imagine where we'd be if all our boys had skipped Normandy to push the pram..."

I had lost interest in the Harry Potter discussion. All my thoughts were centered, laser-like, on the container of chicken nuggets. There was at least a handful left in there, maybe more. My stomach was speaking to me in parseltongue; it dcast an imperius curse on me. It was hard to tell how much chicken was left at a distance, so I leaned over the railing. The chicken was just within my reach, if I stretched. I stretched.

"Hey!" the Harry Potter fan turned to find me reaching for the chicken. I grabbed it and jumped back. I tucked it under my arm like an American football and backed away. "What--"

"It's for the greater good!" I shouted and ran down the concourse. He didn't give chase. Who's going to give up a place in line for half a serving of chicken? Of course, now I'm going to have go to the back of the line. I wish I had an invisibility cloak.

Quotable

Sitting in the Kansas City airport (enlightened enough to have free wi-fi, unlike other airports I could mention) and Hal shows me how to waste time:

Taleswapper? We ain't got no Taleswapper! We don't need no Taleswapper! I don't have to show you any stinking Taleswapper!

Which movie was this quote from?

Get your own quotes:

Pizza

Greenbelt's Three Brothers held a pizza-eating competition this weekend at Beltway Plaza Mall. Were you aware that there is a federation of eating competitions? This was a sanctioned event. The big world of sports comes to Greenbelt!

The other interesting thing about the competition was that all four top placers were the skinniest people at the table.

These other guys, though, seemed to be having more fun.

Sinclair Lewis

I'm reading a book Sinclair Lewis wrote back in 1935, called It Can't Happen Here. It tells the story of an imagined US under a dictatorship. He charts the rapid rise of the dictator through the electoral process. Here is an excerpt without further comment:

"...That couldn't happen here in America..."

"...Remember how casually most Americans have accepted Tammany grafting and Chicago gangs and the crookedness of so many of President Harding's appointees? ... Remember our war hysteria, when we called sauerkraut 'Liberty cabbage' and somebody actually proposed calling German measles 'Liberty measles'? ... Remember when the hick legislators in certain states ... made the whole world laugh itself sick by forbidding the teaching of evolution? ... Not happen here? Prohibition -- shooting down people just because they -- might -- be transporting liquor -- no, that couldn't happen in America! Why, where in all history has there ever been a people so ripe for a dictatorship as ours!

Weather or Not

On my Google home page, I've got widgets for weather at home and here in Kansas. I'm trying to figure out whether Google knows I'm not going to be here on Friday or if it knows something about Topeka's immediate future that should worry us all?

Phew

Ok. I'm all better now. No more grumping for a few days. Promise.

While I'm Grumping...

We tried to go down to a new salad restaurant in Georgetown yesterday after seeing a notice that it had opened.

Well it isn't open. It looks like some place a tornado tore through.

Buh.

Also, the front page of the Washington Post ticked me off yesterday:

"It's crazy," said an unregretful Hodges. "Having a baby's more important. Of course I'm going to speed."

Since when did your precious little baby become more important than the safety of the rest of the frickin' world? Call an ambulance! You have an accident and kill someone else and your baby, how the heck did that help? I can't believe the selfishness exhibited by that comment. Yes, Virginia's fees are excessive, and I think it's wrong that they only apply to Virginians, but the idea that your birth experience is more important than my safety is ridiculous, appalling and makes me sick.

Come to think of it, surely someone with labor pains isn't fit to drive at all, forget the reckless driving aspect. Surely the pains are so excruciating as to be more distracting than a cell phone, which is illegal.

Sorry, but safe driving is a particularly sore point for me on so many levels.

Please Be Safe Unless You Don't Want To

Here's my weekly Southwest Airlines rant. I really and truly overheard this on the plane:

A passenger asked if he could use the lavatory while the seatbelt light is on. The flight attendant responded:

All I can tell you is that the seatbelt light is on. I can't tell you not to go. If we hit turbulence, and you hurt yourself, then I've done my job by telling you.

BS! You can too tell him what to do. By law, we have to follow any instruction given to us by a flight attendant. What's this crap about you not being able to tell him otherwise? You're just too chicken-hearted to stand up to a customer. Jerk. You darn well can and should enforce the dang rules.

Furthermore, I don't particularly care if some slob with little concern for rules hurts himself, but what about the rest of the passengers who are endangered by his behavior? If he's up and walking around after that little conversation while there's turbulence, and I'm injured because of your negligence in enforcing a fairly simple rule, you are both going to pay for that.

This is the thing that drives me nuts about Southwest: the combination of unprofessional behavior with randomly applied rules. Either a rule is a rule or it is not.

Continuous Integration by Paul Duvall with Steve Matyas and Andrew Glover

Since I've been in Topeka, I've fallen off the wagon a bit on the ole diet. It's lonely out here on the lone prairie and oh so easy to slip into the habit of eating for comfort. The best place I've been using to ease my soul is called Bobo's Drive In, where they have the greasiest hamburgers this side of a heart attack. Oh, they are heavenly.

I do my best to limit myself to once a week.

I try to hold out until Thursday. I figure that if I can wait to the end of the week, I won't be tempted to eat there twice in the same week. It's these small victories that keep one alive. This week, I came into the shop and sat down at the counter. It has been much too hot to sit out in a car for service. An older woman stood behind the counter, wiping it slowly and staring out through the plate glass windows. I read her name tag: Lurlene.

A different woman came up to take my order. I asked for a Diet Rite. Aside from the greasy burgers, I really like that the place doesn't have Pepsi or Coke for its dark brown bubbly beverage. The waitress went off to get the soda.

The wiping woman was muttering to herself.

"Those boys are gonna get hurt," she said. "Ridin' their bikes in the road like that." I glanced out the window. Two pre-teen boys were weaving through the parking lot across the street. "Uh-uh," she continued. "The Dollar Store is closed."

I looked around to see if the rest of the staff were reacting to her, but they seemed unfazed. Her conversation was only with herself. The waitress set down my soda (pop) and took my food order. I decided to skip the fries and just let the burger grease do its magic.

"I'm a little worried about the people in that there truck at the fillin' station," Lurlene said. The gas station was out the other window. "No, I guess they're ok. They just drove on."

Still nobody responded to the woman. I buried my head in the book I'd brought along.

"I read that book," she said. I looked up at her.

"You have?" I asked. I was a little stunned, to be honest. She nodded her head, though her eyes were back on the street outside. The waitress walked over and asked if I needed anything. I shook my head.

"OK, then, just thought you called me over is all."

"No, I was only talking to her," I said, indicating my bookish new friend. The waitress gave me an odd look and walked off. As the waitress passed the muttering woman, Lurlene stopped her useless wiping motion and sneezed. The waitress didn't flinch or offer her a blessing. That was when I realized.

The dang imaginary people had followed me out to Kansas! Good Lord, why can't I get away from these people?

"Somebody oughta do something about that stop light," the woman muttered. "It's been on the fritz for fifteen minutes."

I tried to ignore her and concentrate on my book. It was called Continuous Integration, Improving Software Quality and Reducing Risk.

"I don't know," the woman said. "I just don't know. It seemed like the book had some good ideas, but I don't see how they can all be implemented."

I wasn't sure what the other people would do if they saw me talking to imaginary book readers. It's not like this is Greenbelt. People are supposed to act normal out here. So I resisted the temptation to respond.

"In fact, I really like the idea of continually monitoring and all," she went on. "But if people don't believe it's worth the effort it seems like it's just extra work."

"Well, that's the point," I said. I tried to speak without moving my lips. "It's not continuous monitoring. It's continuous integration. The idea is that you don't just watch the health; the tool brings symptoms to your attention and you do something about it. The monitoring doesn't fix things, changing the culture to react to it does."

I looked around hastily to see if anyone noticed me speaking. The coast looked clear.

"In fact," I went on. "I thought he did a great job showing how the testing feedback loop really created a kind of project resonance."

"Every day somebody trips on that door sill," she said as a young couple entered the restaurant. The boy stumbled a bit on the way in, and the girl giggled. They retreated to a booth in the corner. Of course, there aren't a lot of places to retreat to in a tiny restaurant surrounded by windows.

"That's an interesting point," I said. "I thought that the author didn't do enough to stress the importance of the build part of CI. Even if you don't do any tests, it's an awesome achievement to be able to have code compiling every single time the source is modified. That repeatability insurance sure gives me a good feeling when we're getting close to crunch time. Not to mention that I really know that anybody can build any tag off the source tree without my help."

The waitress came over and dropped the bill in front of me. She didn't speak. She gave me a scowl and walked off. I guess I had let myself talk a little louder than I had meant to. The young couple had stopped their giggling to stare at me.

"The door to that thrift shop sticks. I've seen the people push at it. Somebody ought to fix it." The imaginary woman was wiping the counter again.

I stood up and put money on the counter to cover the bill. I was tired of these normal people looking at me. "Look," I said to anyone who cared to listen. "That's something in that book that I didn't quite line up with. Not every defect is worth the risk involved in resolving. Not every problem has to be fixed, and certainly not every problem has to be fixed right now."

With that, I turned on my heal and strode out of Bobo's.

Talk Out My Butt

It's quite an interesting expression isn't it? "Talk out my butt." In some companies, you might expect your CEO to act with some level of decorum. In my company, the CEO doesn't only use the phrase "talking out of my butt," he sends you a link to a Jim Carrey video.

Not that I'm that insulted mind you.

Oh, I meant to say something about ClearQuest, but I forgot.

Sign Me Up

Well, there you have it: This week they're studying Bette Midler.

The beginning of the week found the hotel overrun with police officers. They're here for some D.A.R.E. conference. It seems that in Kansas, anyway, the police forces are all competing for who can make the dorkiest cop car. There are all these Chargers and Mustangs dressed up in cop colors with big cartoon lions on them. One of the tricked out DARE-mobiles is a Honda Element. Are they trying to compete with the drug lords for tackiness?

Aw, ignore me. I'm just bitter because the first day of the week was a meeting of an institute of baking. I figured there'd be cake and donuts for everybody. As far as I can tell, though, they got the same food service everybody else gets: chafing dish surprise. And for the rest of us? Nothing