With Apologies to Billy Joel

Well, the Brunette left me today. She's heading off to California. With some money in her pocket she's a rocket on the fourth of July. She says she's going to make a little stop in Nevada...City.


Ahem. At any rate, she's gone off to visit Nevada City, California, by way of Seattle and LA. It's an exploratory mission.

I think that means she'll come back.

I hope that means she'll come back.

Coding Cats?

Abby the Hacker Chick asks (in the context of work):

"What was the best team you ever worked on? What about the worst? What do you think made them so?"

Ah, memories. All alone in the moonlight.

Ahem. I started to write this in her comment section, but when it went over 500 words, I thought I should put it on my own blog. Memories are a strong thing. Abby describes her experience working on a "beautiful team." It was hard work, but she looks back on it as a good example.

I think that my two favorite memories of working on teams come from startup (or startup support) in the late '90s. In both cases, the situations were similar to Abby's description, particularly with the freedom and the rough hours.

In both cases, the teams were up against seemingly impossible tasks with unbelievable deadlines. On the one hand, the companies had to give us a certain level of freedom because they understood the monumental difficulty of the goals. On the other hand, the impossibility of the task helped to meld us into a strong team that felt it had enough communal power to insist on a level of freedom to get stuff done.

(It's odd to talk about freedom like that, since my role on both teams was 'CM guy')

The level of camaraderie from those teams arose partly from a feeling we were 'forged in the fire,' if you will. In a way, we were all learning as we went, we all had to lean on each other because there was no other choice, and it was all us against them (the management or the goal or the customer, take your pick). Of course, there was also the fact that the speed and intensity of the deliveries meant that any fluff got burned away. And this included underperforming teammembers. In larger orgs, in longer-lasting gigs, it's harder to burn away the cruft.

I'm starting to believe that the strength of those teams came from a sense of mission. I don't mean that we had some mission statement from a company and wanted to follow it; I mean that we had a specific target with a specific goal that had specific (vital/important/urgent) rewards and penalties based on the achievement of the objective. In both cases, a company's existence was on the line. In both cases, we were running to get the first thing out the door that would start bringing in any revenue at all. That feeds the urgency and forces the direction of the team in a way that documented standards, policies and practices cannot. Perhaps the first sentence of this paragraph should have read "...sense of a mission."

Do you think "mission-driven development" has legs? If we went for "purpose-driven development" maybe we could become a religious organization.

The next tier down of experiences includes a project that I hung onto as long as I did simply because I felt what was being produced was important/vital/urgent to the end users. I suppose that project had a sense of mission that is more like an overarching purpose, and it was when the management too many times did something that conflicted with what right-thinking people (us) knew to be the way to achieve the mission that it all blew to bits.

It's strange that I'll look back on those rough hours with fondness. I was just talking to one of those team members, remembering the futon in a hallway that I had napped on between an all-night release and an early morning kick-off. He shook his head and said he was so sorry that I had gone through that. I was a little surprised. I learned more in one month there than I had in the five whole years preceding the experience.

But he was right in a way, too. Because the problem with both of those teams is that our pace was unsustainable. You can't spend your life working 80 hour weeks. In one case, it all started to fall apart after the first release was live for a few weeks and revenue actually started. It seemed impossible to generate a desire within the team to work so hard on the second paying customer as on the first. The company was no longer in danger, the team felt it had earned a little rest, and yet we kept scheduling as if the world were about to end. That's when the wheels fell off.

In the second case, a few releases were live and the customer couldn't seem to figure out how to get his business up and running around it. When it became obvious that here would be a long time until the system could actually be used by anyone, the urgency dropped away, velocity skewed, and I quit, sold my house and rode a bicycle halfway across the US with my wife. In the 90s, I thought I was going to be able to keep up that kind of cycle: 18 months of nightmare work followed by six months of wandering the world. But it just doesn't scale.

Of course, I can smile at the old days; I was beautiful then.

So now the task is to get that sort of energy without killing everybody. I think I started thinking about teams (team-driven development? all the good acronyms are taken!) when I read Shadow Unit, which has nothing to do with software development but does have to do with teams and mission. I highly recommend it: it's a television series without actors or cameras--just a series of episodes written as if there were a television series (episodic fiction, perhaps)--about a team of government agents who investigate paranormal activity. I really like how it shows team interaction. If you try it out, do start at episode 1.

More Playgrounds

I hope you're not bored with talk of playgrounds, because I still have 20 left to visit!

I've been to 18 of 38 public playgrounds and only once have I seen kids playing on the equipment. I imagine it's a combination of heat (it was over 90°F yesterday, in April!), air conditioning & TV, and parental fears. What do you think?

At least one picture is on the map now from each of the playgrounds I've visited so far. Click on a blue waving flag to see the picture.

View Playgrounds of Greenbelt in a larger map

Oh, and I'm also getting a chance to see new dog curbing signs. This one is at the end of Laurel Hill Road, trying to play the environmentalist card:

B is for Beethoven

The Soloist: Reporter tries to help mentally ill/homeless cellist.
Theater Location: AFI Silver
Noise Level:Fine
The Skinny: Nobody told me this started with a bicyclist getting hurt. Interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying. There's an undercurrent of belief that newspapers still matter running through this movie.

Disney World Comes to You

Earth (2009): Nature documentary.
Theater Location: Hyattsville
Noise Level: Fine, though the music was annoying.
The Skinny: Much grimmer than the penguin movie and more scattered. Trying to cover the whole planet in 99 minutes is tough, but they could have thought to give us a few labels. Where in the world is that? What kind of animal is that? A map or two would have been nice, especially to visualize these 4000 mile migrations.

Playground Update

Took a "quick" bike ride around the southern part of the city to get a few playground pictures for my Greenbelt Public Playgrounds Photography Project. The ride wound up being 11.4 miles, including a stop for lunch, and I think I've found all the public Greenbelt playgrounds south of Greenbelt Road. Hat tip to Morninglight Mama for the very nice playgrounds in Greenbelt East. They've got that cool rubber mulch thing going, and the one on Canning Terrace has the largest slide-tunnel contraption of all time:

canning playground

There's another playground behind this playground, only smaller. It's kind of like the kiddie pool of playgrounds.

It turns out that there's a little article on Greenbelt's playgrounds at the Gazette. Apparently, Greenbelt is Maryland's only "Playful City USA," a designation we can wear proudly next to our Tree City USA plaque, I'm sure. It says there are 53 playgrounds, 38 of which are public. (23 city-owned, 15 as part of a deal with homeowners associations. These three in Windsor Green are a part of the latter designation. I imagine the ones in GHI are a mixture.)

That leaves 15 playgrounds that are not open to the public. This one is on Mandan Road:

I'm guessing any playgrounds in Spring Hill Lake Empirian Village are a part of the 15, same with University Square and possibly the ones near Eleanor Roosevelt High School, but I'm always open to correction.

Since we're on the subject of signs, it's interesting to me that livestock are not allowed on the playground at Greenbelt National Park:

I think my route looks like a dragon for St. George's day:

How Many Jokes about Kumar Joining the White House Can You Make?

So, now that Kumar is coming to Washington, DC, I was worried that he'd be too far away from a White Castle. The closest one, I believe, is in northern New Jersey, a four hour drive or so. The closest Krystal, a southern purveyor of little burgers, is 375 miles away in Bristol, Virginia. We used to have Little Taverns in Maryland that made wonderful little burgers, but they are all gone. The Laurel Tavern tries to take up the slack, but it's not quite the same (though they do have donuts!)

But fear not, Kumar, for there is an option. Just pop out to Capitol Cadillac in Greenbelt, Maryland, and visit the vending machine, then turn around and pop these babies in the microwave. Craving satisfied!

If you can call that a satisfactory replacement. (The Enterprise car rental office is right next to the vending machine.)

Public Playgrounds in Greenbelt

I thought it would be easy to locate the playgrounds in my town using Google's satellite view, but there are just so dang many trees. I want to take pictures of slides and swings, and I'm sure there are more playgrounds than I could actually see on the satellite map.

Here's what I have so far. I'm assuming that the cooperative playgrounds can be considered public. The question marks mean I think there's a playground there, but I'm not completely sure. Do you know where the playgrounds of Greenbelt lurk?

View Playgrounds of Greenbelt in a larger map

Update: Click on the blue wavy flag to see a picture of the playground's slide.

Born on a Monday

Ah, island life.

The Brunette and I grabbed onto a whim and drove down to Solomons Island (Maryland) for a restful, walking weekend. We're not often so spontaneous, but it seemed like a nice idea at the time. Solomons is more of a peninsula than an island, but a web search revealed it had a nice water view, a museum with a screwpile in it, and a relaxing sculpture garden.

It's only about ninety minutes from our house, so we dropped a few extra scoops of food in Tubby's bowl, gave him a second glass of water, and tootled off to a mini-island getaway.

This is what we found:

Yes, we arrived on the weekend of the opening of the Tiki Bar, an outdoor drinking establishment whose opening marks the beginning of the season for the island. Apparently, this is the event for Southern Maryland; the place was overwhelmingly crowded and boozy. There were cops everywhere. Yes, there was even barfing in the public toilets.

I knew there was a reason I haven't gone back to university.

Still, away from the bar and crowds, we had some excellent meals, wandered through the museum (otters!), and rested in the calming sculpture gardens.

All-in-all, it wound up being a very relaxing weekend.

Oh, and lest I forget, they, too, have dog curbing signs.

No Matter What, They All Start to Look Alike

Oddly, I was riding more often in the frigid weather.

Also, I thought this ride was longer than it turned out to be.

Also, I hate exercise.

Also, I just want to stay in bed.

Also, I want to upload pictures and talk about my week last week, but I'm tired.

Also, do you know anybody in Nevada City, California? I hear Atari was invented there.

Also, did I mention that my tooth hurts and I want to stay in bed?

Also, this is my blog, so I'll complain about whatever I darn well please.

View Goin' South in a larger map

Ah, Serenity

After a walk-filled weekend at Solomons (pictures to come), we popped down to a restaurant at Dupont called Firefly for some "local" food (for local people?) and drinks. The food was fine, if a bit too expensive. The cost of having to listen to the other patrons was too much, though. Do I really want to be seen with these people?

After describing the $300 shoes she found for $140, the woman at the next table described her dental office this way:

The main dentist is 6'4". He brought his nephew in to work with him -- he's a dentist, too. He's 6'6". He is absolutely gorgeous, like a model. I must have sent 25 people to him. I tell them about how attractive he is. Of course, he's a terrible dentist...
Probably the main reason I feel so snarky about the place is that I never even got to see Shepherd Book. (Or, more important, Kaylee Frye?)

Jumping Jack Flash

I returned late last night from the land of people too stupid to pump their own gas. Yes, yes, I know that the 'real' reason gasoline is full-service by law in New Jersey is probably job creation, but the official genesis of the law was concern for safety if non-professionals got involved. On the other hand, reading this USA Today article could leave you with the impression that they just are afraid of smelling funny.

Which is ironic, in a way.

Actually, this my blog, so this post needs to be about me in some way, don't you think? What I've learned from this little business trip is that I do not understand my own self. I hate having other people pump my gas, and so I desperately pushed to make it all the way to Delaware before refueling. Is something wrong with me? I seem to be fine letting restaurants provide staff to serve me. I was happy enough this morning to let the barber cut my hair (though I wish he wouldn't talk to me). But give me a choice of full- and self-service, and I'd much rather get my hands smelly than sit in the car staring vacantly out into space.

I was driving an unfamiliar car, so I couldn't really say what its range was on the fuel remaining in the tank. On top of that, a gallon of gas in NJ: $1.89; in DE: $2.02. I paid over a dollar extra for the privilege of pumping my own gas.

Maybe I'm the one who shouldn't be allowed to do things on my own.

Stuck in the Hen House

One of the worst things about travel is the free breakfast. Oh, the food is fine; how can you ruin cereal? No, it's the TVs in the lobby. It's a little too much input for those of us without TVs at home. And worst of all is when they're set on Fox News. I swear they're like a gang of overexcited teenagers. You can almost hear an OMG at the beginning of every sentence.

"OMG, liberals are ruining our children's textbooks!" I'm sure you can find books used at any college that are a little off on both sides, but shouldn't we be more worried about children's text books? Like maybe the ones that will keep our kids from being future leaders in biology, geology, and space? And can't you find a prof from some Podunk little college who can actually speak English properly?

"OMG, nothing is worse than stealing a $3000 puppy!" Too bad about people losing their life savings to fraud or lives to random gun violence, but steal a puppy and you've gone too far!

"ZOMG! The government is spending too much money! Let's neatly stack boxes of tea bags on the street.". Where were these people when we were dumping all that money into Iraq? They're OK with that, but now that we want to help actual Americans a line has been crossed? OMG

32 Horses

I broke my tooth on a dinner roll. Isn't that the most pitiful thing you ever heard? The dinner roll wasn't even warm and crusty; it was soft and squishy, a Martin's potato roll, to be exact. In the post-Easter mop-up last night, I shoveled in the roll and noticed it had a bit of texture I wasn't expecting, a sort of rock clicking up against my tooth.

Turned out that was my tooth.

Or part of it, at any rate. The piece of tooth didn't actually come completely away from its host tooth. It was cracked on two sides from the top down to my gum, though. Oddly, it didn't hurt, but I was sure it would if I gave it enough of a chance. I had horrible visions of the piece coming off and choking me or something. So this morning, I rang up my dentist, who couldn't be bothered to see me today, so I now have a new dentist.

I also now have a new (temporary) crown and a lot less tooth. Apparently, a cavity grew underneath my only filling and grew out to the sides of the tooth and down. It took a lot of novacaine and two hours of sawing, but it certainly feels better. For a while there, I couldn't feel my tongue. I felt a bit like Bill Cosby in his dentist routine, except I'm not nearly so witty.

"fiber! fiber!"

Actually, there was no smoke, but I was sure I was going to drown. I liked this new dentist, so I think I'll stick with him. He's slightly closer than the last one. The assistant had fire tattoos. I have to go back in two weeks for the permanent crown. I have a general headache, but I'm expecting the real pain to start at any minute. I'm hoping the lemoncello will help.

I guess my mother was wrong; she always said I'd get my crown in heaven.

Put 'em Up

Well, just so that the last item stops being the first thing you see, here's something else to think about. The US Library of Congress has started posting films it curates up to YouTube. One wonders what made the LoC hold on to this particular footage:

Not for the Squeamish

Today's best quarantined email subject line: "Your male member is screaming"

There is no possible way in heck that I'm opening that email.

Sorry to leave you with that image.

Ghost Boat

The Brunette is out of town for the week, so I've been wandering over to the Community Center to catch up on painting. With the holidays and birthdays and such, we're not getting much of our Sunday morning time. Monday and Tuesday nights were very relaxing and I feel like I'm making a small dent, but tonight I was kicked out of the room by a bunch of quilters.

Nobody's scarier than a gang of wayward quilters.

(With 'open studio', we can use the classroom for painting as long as there isn't something already scheduled. Sunday mornings are almost always free, but week nights are a prime time for conducting classes. This quarter, several classes have been cut because people are cutting back on expenses and enrollment is down. The quilters, though, are a tenacious breed.)

I never thought I'd notice the difference between natural and artificial light, but night-time painting actually make the colors look different. So when I got there tonight for a few minutes of touch up before the quilters took over, I wasn't able to match the colors. The difference, I think, is that the sun was shining brightly. Can you tell from this picture where I was having trouble with the color of the white/grey?

And the Outlook is...

The problem with fortune telling, as anyone who has read The Monkey's Paw will tell you, is that while the results might be spot on, the path to get to those results can be pleasant or, well, less than pleasant.

This morning my work email software (Outlook) decided to give me a little taste of the future:

So the big question is, am I going to be happy about the path to next month's empty mailbox or not?

I Hear the Secrets that You Keep

Go ahead and click it to make it easier to read.

I don't have any secrets, either. I mean aside from the big one.

I can't remember which author I heard say this, but she (or he) said that the secret shouldn't be revealed. Somehow this will bring you closer to your characters and help with their motivations. It seems like it'd make a good game: pick a character in a novel and try to guess his/her secret.

In The House at Pooh Corner, I think that Winnie the Pooh's secret is that he lost his job at the outdoor lantern factory because of the drug-induced flashbacks and not, as he told the others, because the boss was just a hater of chubby little cubbies all stuffed with fluff.

Squirrel images used under Creative Commons license from images stored on flickr here (Attribution/Share Alike) and here (Attribution/Share Alike/Non-Commercial). (I personally took the picture of the gnome.) The terms of the license mean that this comic strip image is also available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Creative Commons License

I Recommend the Pecan Pie

Sunshine Cleaning Company: Independent comedy/drama about a troubled family starting a crime-scene cleaning business.
Theater Location: Old Greenbelt
Noise Level: Fine
The Skinny: This would be a good gateway film for Little Miss Sunshine: the same kind of angst and quirkiness, but dialed way down.


I don't know about you, but I found the idea of a retailer having 22 checkout lanes hopelessly optimistic.

Not just because of the economy. Have you ever seen 22 registers actually open?


I was reading this blog post about first music purchases, and it made me think about another downside of moving to the eBook platform. I mean, I remember the first album I bought in various physical formats (cassette, vinyl, CD), but I can't remember anything I've bought on-line (except for the Billy Joel album I bought last week). I think there's something special about an item's physicality that grants another layer of connection to its contents.

So I worry that we'll lose that kind of connection with books when we move to e-readers. I'm not saying we can stop it, I'm just a little wistful about the whole thing.

For the record, I think the first book I bought with my own funds (not just some gift or from gift money) was a used book: When Worlds Collide, an account of the preparations for abandoning Earth when a renegade planet is on a crash course toward us. I no longer have this book, so I'm sure my recollection of it is laced with nostalgia. I read it and the original Buck Rogers novel over and over during my 13th summer. I know this is going to sound strange: The memory of getting lost in the book comes back associated with a taste. I can't put my finger on the taste, but it's there. Like a doughnut, but not really sweet.

As for music, the first album I ever bought came in cassette form. I'm not old enough to have flirted with 8-tracks and I wasn't settled enough to own an actual turntable until college. I used to tape a lot of music off the radio (and the TV, too), and I would listen to the same songs over and over until the tape stretched out. I played the Asia album until the writing on the cassette rubbed away.

At university, I went and bought a stereo with actual components and everything -- a separate equalizer, tuner, cassette deck and turntable. Nice. I bought it from one of those rent-to-own places. This seemed so wise to me at the time because I didn't know how steady my income was going to be: if I didn't have any money, I could just give it back and no harm done to my credit!

Yeah, I was never the sharpest knife in the butter or whatever it is they say. I probably paid five times its value. But it meant I could buy actual vinyl albums. I knew they'd last longer. I was going to be set for some time. Vinyl was definitely the way to go.

That was 1987 or so. You'd think someone at an engineering school would be a little more forward-looking. I got the turntable and changed my record club membership to send me vinyl and a few months later, the record club stopped sending anyone vinyl.

Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws doesn't bring any tastes to mind, but it triggers pictures in my head. The songs are strong with visual imagery. (Honestly, those mushrooms were my roommate's, not mine!) Also, the songs feel full somehow.

It wasn't more than a year after my first vinyl purchase that I bought my first CD. Romeo Unchained still makes me smile today. I love the imagery of Shakespeare and Cheetah drinking together because Romeo has run off with Jane. The list of doomed couples in Impressed flows well.

I guess you can see why I never became a music critic.

Note: the album cover links take you to Amazon so you can sample them if you like.

Do you remember the first album and/or book you bought with your own money?

I Ain't Afraid of No Rain

Just got drenched (drookit) by riding in the rain. It was never coming down very fast, but I guess pushing through it on a bike spreads it all over my front. I'm going to catch a chill soon if I don't change clothes. I seem to have lost my resistance to drizzle and smirr.

I've been tracking my biking this year on a cute little graph. I think I ought to be tracking my mood, too. I imagine I'd find a direct correlation between doldrums and lack of riding. I know my mood got progressively darker as the long stretch of non-biking extended into Monday of this week, but a bit of biking yesterday and today have raised my spirits a little.

Or at least made me so tired as to not care.

I stopped at the Chicken Rico for a bite in the middle of this ride. The bike racks are in front of the Kmart. Also in front of the Kmart are two of those old-fashioned kiddie rides. One is a carousel, emblazoned with an older Kmart logo. The other surprised me. I don't know how I've walked by it so often without realizing what it is supposed to represent.

It's clearly some kind of Ghostbusters vehicle. Isn't it grand? Doesn't that mean it's in the neighborhood of 25 years old?

Sadly, I couldn't fit into the seat next to the ghost for a photo shoot.

Dog Riding a Tricycle

Whooo - whoo. (from the collection of the UK's National Media Museum)