November 22, 2014

I think the current series of CS lectures I’ve been watching has outrun its usefulness, which is actually too bad, because I have come to believe that for at least some topics, I really do learn better via the combination of listening, note-taking and watching slides. 

I’ve also noticed recently that having a solid grounding in some fairly basic core concepts and vocabulary has made it easier to understand all the books that I’m going to have to rely on for the other stuff I’m trying to learn. Yay education!

After lunch there was a brief errand run, partially accompanied by the Sound Opinions dudes fawning over Robert Plant. To his credit, he sounded pretty self-deprecatory and grounded. There was one moment where Greg Kot floated some theory that he was clearly very proud of having conceived, and Plant was like “no, I disagree." 

Critics: Keep inventing those convoluted nutjob theories about other people’s art; it’s a fun game. But in an interview context, maybe just ask open-ended questions?

Got to Gocciolina at 5:35 and snagged the last 2 seats at the bar. I was really happy to see photos on Facebook from the friends-and-family soft opening of The Boot, since it will hopefully ease the pressure on Gocciolina somewhat. I love that they’re super-successful, but having to go full-bore packed house with your dinner service from the opening bell has got to be stressful.

I remember looking at the kitchen crew, thinking about how tired they must be, and then looking at the clock and realizing it was only 6:45.

Food was awesome, of course. 

(I’m also looking forward to trying out The Boot when it opens for real, because I’m a longtime fan of Andy’s cooking. The menu looks more American-Italian, though, and I have a pretty limited ability to handle cheese.)

M stayed home and watched Nights of Cabiria, and I went to Carrboro to see Gross Ghost & desark & The Tender Fruit. Good times, always:

Not pictured: the ~13-year-old girl who stood right down front next to the speaker cabinet throughout the des ark and Tender Fruit sets. Her mom bought a des ark CD. I hope it straight legit changes her life.

At no point did I see the Carrboro city bus with Aimée’s photo on the side of it. Drat.

November 22, 2014

November 21, 2014

Came home from work, read the movie section of the Friday Times, ate dinner at Toast. Walked by Letters Bookshop on the way home & M wanted to go in, which is how I wound up buying The Things They Carried and a late-90s collection of Christgau essays, Grown Up All Wrong.

I’ve never read any Tim O’Brien and now seems like a good time to change that. The Christgau will go on the shelf next to all of the Consumer Guide books & will eventually get read.

M didn’t buy anything. 

Did some debating about whether to fly to NYC in February to see John Cameron Mitchell in his 8-week run as Hedwig. Current thinking is that it’s not quite worth it. Had we heard about it the instant tickets had gone on sale, and been able to get aisle seats in the first 6 rows, it’d probably be a different story.

It’s late November, so there are actually around a half-dozen movies playing in Durham (or at the Raleigh Grande) that we’d like to see. Half of them will be gone by the end of this coming week. I’m well aware of the market forces that dictate studio release schedules (it’s just as bad in the music world), but it does suck to be a moviegoer in a tertiary market.

So of course we didn’t go see anything after dinner. Had a discussion with friends at Toast about the fact that the Carolina now seems to have some kind of repertory double feature in their various “Retro” series literally Every Single Friday. I wonder how many people they got out to see The Odd Couple last night. 

Today [Saturday], just before sitting down to write this, I walked to Geer St. for lunch. On my way out of our building, I ran into a couple of guys who first spare-changed me, and then asked for directions to some sort of apocryphal market on Queen Street, or a parking lot, or something. And then went walking off up the street, checking car door handles (including mine).

I didn’t call the cops. The folks on the neighborhood listserv would be really disappointed in me. Instead I spent my entire walk over to Geer St. mulling over white supremacy & global capitalism. 

I didn’t come to any useful conclusions.

November 21, 2014

November 19-20, 2014

I have three vastly different books going at once:

And if that was all you knew about me, I’d be an egregious White Male Tech Nerd. Ouch. 

Still, they’re all pretty solid. The Javascript book is actually outstanding – if you’re a software developer with an object-oriented background, this book is only 95 pages & it does a better job at telling you what you need to know than anything else I have read. Really well-written.

I’m liking the Gibson so far. Better than the most recent trilogy.

The cocktail book is ludicrous, which is why I bought it.

Ate dinner Wednesday at Piedmont, for the first time in a couple of months. Marked improvement in the entree – it was probably the best thing I’ve had there since the turnover. It was flounder with some fingerling potatoes, some fennel, and some kind of foam. In the old days it would’ve been aggressively salty or sweet or something, but this time it was subtle and delicious. No wonder they’ve been a lot busier lately.

Late Tuesday night, Hiss Golden Messenger were on Letterman. I haven’t watched late-night TV in ages & ages, and even my next-day internet watching has waned. I got kind of teary when I saw Dave Letterman, because I watched him [a little too] religiously in high school, and high school was a long time ago. 

Hiss Golden Messenger were great, as good as I have ever seen them. Glad they busted out the big guns for their national TV debut (whatever that means nowadays), and glad to see folks like Amelia Meath up there singing backup, taking a break from being Way More Famous than Mike is.

I have opinions about current events on various fronts, but they’re fairly predictable and I’m pretty sure I have covered them adequately, here and elsewhere.

November 19-20, 2014

November 17-18, 2014

I’m not sure anything of import happened on Monday. I mean, OK, work was good. I like my job.

I have been on this program of studying core Computer Science concepts via online courses from [coincidentally] Ivy League schools, specifically the lecture videos, and I’m discovering a few things, rather belatedly.

For example, there’s definitely something to the notion that learning [for me] is accentuated by hearing something explained, seeing it (on a lecture slide) and writing it (in my notes), all at more or less the same time. 

This is all in service of my taking over a lot of the technical interviewing duties at my job. I have the knowledge, but being self-taught, I have always lacked some of the vocabulary, so I’m filling that in now.

As a self-taught programmer, I generally learned new concepts by first bumbling into a project that I wanted to do & for which I lacked the skills, and then picking up the skills along the way. What that has meant, I’m finding out, is that I learned a lot about system architectures comparatively early in my “career” as a programmer, since I started in on real-world projects more or less from the very beginning.

So, for anyone reading this who is a CS student or professor: Tackle real-world projects sooner! Don’t wait until upper-level classes. 

Tonight, Tuesday, we watched this show on PBS wherein Henry Louis Gates Jr. researched and explained the genealogies of Tina Fey, David Sedaris and George Stephanopoulos. You’d think that would be kind of rad, right? Well, no. Although it featured many kind of awkward moments in which HLG revealed some mildly interesting genealogical fact to one of the three & they had to figure out how to react to it, on camera. 

But mostly it was a reminder that PBS exists solely to entertain shut-ins and other people with weak constitutions, and with the exception of independently-made documentaries that it picks up for distribution, it should probably just be left to die.

November 17-18, 2014

November 16, 2014

See previous Sunday entry for the basic rundown.

After a Geer Street dinner we settled down to watch The One I Love, an indie (it has a Duplass) that starts out rom-com but then turns weird. It’s all very my-first-feature and you’re wondering how the director got this cast on board (Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson) until you start reading the fine print & realize that the director is Mary Steenburgen’s son, and thus Ted Danson’s stepson.

Nevertheless, it’s pretty good. I mean, Elisabeth Moss! OK, I’ll readily admit that I had totally forgotten that she had played Zoey Bartlett on the West Wing until IMDB just told me.

November 16, 2014

November 15, 2014

Lunch at Saltbox Seafood – M had the mussel curry & it smelled amazing. I will be really sad when Ricky decides to go ahead & make the leap to a bigger space, one that isn’t literally a block from my house.

We ran errands all afternoon. Went to Atomic Empire for the first time in a while. The board-game selection is yet still bigger than its already sprawling former self. I have to assume that a lot of them are pretty meh – but which ones? Wound up just getting yet-another-Ticket to Ride-expansion map.

There was a sale on books so I picked up the fairly recent D&Q reprint of Chester Brown’s “The Playboy.” I go back quite a ways with Chester – I stumbled across Ed the Happy Clown in college, probably not long after it was published, and read Yummy Fur for a while before I started forgetting to seek it out. I still wish someone would collect all of his Bible stuff into a book-length reprint.

His experience with sexuality is so completely divorced from my own. His frankness – here and in Paying For It – is so matter-of-fact and, I dunno, almost welcoming? And then you get to his insane end-notes & the vibe shifts, sometimes slightly, sometimes not so slightly. This is more true of Paying For It than this one, though.

We had tickets to the Duke Performances Sam Green + yMusic show. I don’t remember what the blurb in the initial DP catalog said, and I’m not sure that I read it anyway – in any case, all I really knew we were getting was some kind of multimedia film + live accompaniment thing.

What we got was a wonderfully engaging meditation on World Records, as tracked by Guinness, focused on examining the line between those that are voluntary achievements (World’s Longest Fingernails) vs. those that just happen to people (World’s Tallest Man). 

It was part lecture, part recital, part documentary film. In retrospect, had it been flattened into a “normal” documentary film it would have been every bit as compelling, but the “liveness” of it was still a lot of fun.

Green was using a presentation remote to advance & trigger stuff, which led me to wonder whether the whole thing was just a big Powerpoint/Keynote presentation, or if it was something more custom or more industrial-strength. 

November 15, 2014




March 1989 episode of “A Different World,” “No Means No.”

Thank you.

The show that shaped my adult life. The reason I went to an HBCU. The reason I wanted to stand for something.


November 14, 2014

Had a kind of disappointing series of emails with a member of Durham City Council, someone who is by most markers a progressive, but who at one point said the following:

 I’d say that people who can convince others that they are a good bet get access to capital. Some get access to a whole lot of capital, because they convince a whole lot of others–or at least some with who have access to a lot of capital.

At no point in that email (or any other) did he acknowledge the fact that race, gender or social class might in any way affect people’s access to capital. 

In his original response to my email (the one posted to Tumblr yesterday), he said:

The incentives for large scale developers are based on what the developers will do–jobs, tax base increases and more. To get any incentive money, they have to perform. If they don’t, they get nothing. If they do perform, the incentive is paid for by a portion of their property tax. They don’t get the incentive until they’ve finished their improvements, increased the tax base and started paying increased taxes. Large scale developers are, in a way, funding their own incentives.

My question back to him, and to the rest of the City Council, to which I have still not received a response, was as follows:

I’ll confess that I don’t know as much as I should about how business taxes are structured in the city of Durham. So does every successful business get a discount on their taxes as a function of the value they’ve added back to the city? Does one’s tax rate go down for every new employee hired? Does one’s base rate go down in proportion to every dollar of additional taxable value one’s improvements add to a piece of property?
Because that actually sounds like a pretty interesting system, especially inasmuch as it could be used to incent people who are sitting on empty structures to actually put them to use. So is it applied across the board?
I’ll absolutely post followups here if/when I get an answer to that question.
In case these posts haven’t made it crystal clear: I believe that handing out millions of dollars in incentives to out-of-state developers now, at this point in Durham’s growth, is a terrible idea.
The city’s success thus far has been achieved, to a remarkable degree, by people and companies who are heavily locally invested. The out-of-towners are showing up now because they want to capitalize on all of that hard work done by others. Which is fine, up to a point, but I see no reason to promise them additional incentives for doing so.
It was really cold after the sun went down. We walked to Toast for dinner & the chill (not to mention the freezing wind) was undeniably wintry. Walking back home, we noticed a couple of folks sleeping rough in the doorway of the Bargain Furniture building. 
It’s never a good time to be homeless, y’all, but winter is a real killer. If you’re not already, please donate to Urban Ministries of Durham. They work tirelessly to feed, clothe & house Durham’s homeless (and unlike some other groups, they don’t lay an explicitly religious trip on people as a condition of receiving help).

November 14, 2014

Blue Coffee, downtown development & unequal incentives

I just sent this letter to the Durham City Council:


I read with some interest this article in the Indy this week about Blue Coffee:
In particular, my attention was captured by these paragraphs:

“It’s ironic that Blue Coffee is being displaced by the very forces it nurtured. Austin Lawrence Partners, the new owner of the former Jack Tar Motel, is renovating the building into a boutique hotel with a rooftop bar, street-level retail stores and restaurants.


It’s also ironic that the city and county awarded Austin Lawrence Partners $7.9 million in tax breaks for its City Center Project, 26-story tower at Corcoran and Main streets and the renovation of several buildings in that area, but a city grant program to help small businesses like Blue Coffee is out of money.

Mathews may have been eligible for a Retail and Professional Services Grant, but according to the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, no funds are available through that program. City Council appropriates money for it.”

Last time I emailed you all about downtown development and the character of Durham, Steve responded asking for my suggestions about how the Council could work to maintain the character that we all appreciate.

I made some general observations, and then I asked if you all had a tally of the economic incentives that had been granted to small locally-owned businesses, and whether they were in any way comparable to the huge incentive package promised to Austin Lawrence.

Judging from this quote in the Indy, it sounds like the tally wouldn’t really measure up.

So here’s my suggestion: perhaps the fund to support small locally-owned businesses could be shored up via a tax on new large-scale development, particularly of the variety where teardowns of existing buildings take place, or where zoning or other variances are granted. Or perhaps a per-space tax on new privately-owned parking structures.

Because from where I sit, right now it looks like we’re funding these large out-of-town developers on the backs of locally-owned, tax-paying small businesses. And that seems backwards to me.

Warmest regards,

Ross Grady

Blue Coffee, downtown development & unequal incentives

Talk about burying the lede

Talk about burying the lede