January 11-13, 2015

I’ve been doing a lot of technical interviewing lately, and I have a suggestion for the nation’s universities’ Computer Science departments:

Quit making your undergraduate curricula so polyglot

I feel like a decade ago, you had a pretty good chance of talking to a Computer Science student who had at least a solid 2 years of Java or C++ under his or her belt, and at some schools more like 3 or even all 4 years.

This was of course highly problematic – it meant that you would encounter students who hadn’t the foggiest idea about web technologies, or how to use useful scripting languages. But at least they knew a pretty solid range of advanced topics in their department’s language of choice.

Lately I’ve been talking to a ton of students who had maybe two semesters taught in Java freshman year, and then perhaps a couple of classes in C, and some more advanced classes in Python, and perhaps a web class in PHP or Javascript, and then maybe some crank of a prof teaching in a functional language.

Which is neat, right? They get exposed to all of these different languages, blah blah blah. 

So they can barely remember how to write a for loop in any of them.

I would like to suggest that perhaps a minimum of four consecutive semesters or eight core CS courses should be taught in the SAME LANGUAGE, which should be enough time for the students to get past the initial learning curve, master the basics, and pick up the more advanced concepts. 

Because right now I’m talking to too many students who’ve essentially repeated the basics in three different languages & never seen advanced topics in any of them.

Anyway. I’m backlogged on writing diary entries again. Let’s see:

  • Sunday was Sunday, with the added bonus of a power outage at WXDU that resulted in no show for me. But I was able to switch our internet radio stream over to a higher-quality audio processor. I think it sounds better. You tell me
  • We watched the Golden Globes. I don’t have a lot to say about that, other than to register my annoyance that Selma didn’t win anything. I mean, I enjoyed Birdman, and I enjoyed Boyhood, but I liked Selma better. And COME ON there have already been a lot of movies about WHITE MEN.
  • Our Alien-series film festival has ground to a halt due to Having to Work At Night After Work. Yuck.
  • My nighttime work has mostly been refactoring someone else’s 10-year-old PHP code so that it doesn’t throw 10,000 errors every time a page loads now that we’re on PHP 5.x. It’s actually fairly straightforward, just gotta put EVERY SINGLE HASH KEY into single quotes instead of barewords.
  • M has had real work-work to do, which is a drag.
  • My work has been rendered far more pleasant by my incessant repeat playing of the new Sleater-Kinney. Gonna be hard to knock this one off of my #1 spot for 2015. It’s January 14th as I’m writing this. Yep.
  • I finished reading Altered Carbon, by Richard Morgan. What a great read. Thanks for the recommendation, zmagg! I’m kind of gobsmacked that there are more books in this series & I can read them RIGHT NOW.

January 11-13, 2015




January 9-10, 2015

We watched Alien and Aliens. Alien is of course perfect in its way, hermetic. Kind of small in a 70s Dan O’Bannon way. I learned after this round of viewing that for the 2003 DVD box set, a “Director’s Cut” was slapped together with an hour of additional footage. After it was all finished, Ridley Scott watched it and decided it was stupid, and recut the whole thing to the same length as the original cut.

I was surprised at how well Aliens has aged. I still cringe at the couple of Cameron catch-phrases near the end, but overall I think I enjoyed it more this time than I did when it was released, or at any other viewings since then.

We did watch the “Special Edition” of Aliens, which has something like 18 minutes of extra footage, a lot of it in the service of colonist back-story and Ripley character development. I’m not sure if I had ever seen it before; maybe that’s why I liked it better this time.

Anyway. Takeaway from Aliens is that Cameron was really good at interleaving character development with suspense, intrigue, and action. But that the balance he attained in the mid-80s was apparently a fragile one, one that was already showing signs of falling apart by the time he made Terminator 2.

Friday night I had dinner at Bar Virgile. The fried oysters and the bibb salad with duck are both amazing (as are the cocktails, of course). I’m not sure that enough people are aware that there’s a first-class chef, Carrie Schleiffer, running the kitchen at Virgile. 

It’s probably just as well that it’s sort of a semi-secret, though, as the place is tiny & it’s already getting packed around dinnertime.

Saturday we saw Selma. It’s a great movie, for any number of reasons. The dialogue is, for the most part, excellent. The cinematography & editing flow between naturalism and a more impressionistic mode that is particularly effective during the more violent scenes. David Oyelowo took a huge risk in agreeing to play Martin Luther King, Jr, and it paid off – he successfully captures MLK’s vocal cadences and delivers some fiery speeches, without ever sounding like he’s directly mimicking the recordings.

There’s a device where FBI surveillance notes are superimposed on the screen at various moments, but if the goal is to convey how creepy that surveillance was, it’s not effective. It feels more like convenient ways to shorthand narrative gaps.

J. Edgar Hoover only appears in one scene, and thus Tom Wilkinson’s LBJ is left to do a lot of the antagonistic heavy lifting. Many historians say that this is unfair to LBJ. I don’t really have a problem with dramatic license, but it does seem like there was ample opportunity for Hoover and George Wallace to be more realistically vile, and to perhaps just let LBJ recede more into the background.

Also unfair: What they did to Giovanni Ribisi’s hair.

All in all, it’s a great film, and I hope it fucking sweeps the Oscars. Because no black woman has ever even been nominated for Best Director.

January 9-10, 2015

January 7-8, 2015

I grew up atheist (and weird), in the south, in a fairly small town. I got hassled by some people (mostly because I was weird), and proselytized by other people, some of whom tried to be nice about it.

I was never really tempted by religion, though. I may have lied to my first serious long-term girlfriend about possibly believing in God. If so, I knew it was a lie at the time.

Anyway. I suppose it’s really easy to grow up under those circumstances and wind up as one of those strident atheist types, always wanting to tweak the religious folks, wanting to be offensive & invade their space in the same way that their religion always seemed to be invading mine.

But instead I mostly grew up really hating proselytizing of any variety. Which in turn means I find someone like Richard Dawkins to be 100x more annoying than the happy Christians who attend church next door to our house. Especially since they never come over & knock on our door & try to convert us or anything.

I watch them out the window on Sunday mornings & they’re always so happy to see each other in the parking lot as they walk in together.

There have been plenty of examples over the years of my being a jerk, mostly about important things like music, or people being dumb on the Internet. I’m in no way saintly. Although I have tried pretty hard over the past 10 years or so to be nicer to people, generally, across the board.

It’s kind of tough to see the news happening in France, and see the reactions on Facebook and Twitter, and to look at the recaps of the many & varied obnoxious racist & anti-Islamic cartoons run by that magazine over the years, and to feel like I’m expected to fall in line in support of blind allegiance to absolute “freedom of speech” without consequences.

Of course the consequences shouldn’t be murder. But that doesn’t mean the rejection of all consequences. Hurting people’s feelings is a shitty thing to do. Attacking minorities is a shitty thing to do. Doing it under the guise of “satire” is no less shitty. The consequences, at minimum, of making people feel bad for one’s own petty amusement, is the slow eating away of your humanity.

It’s also kind of frustrating to see all of my liberal American friends weighing in on this as though it’s some kind of ultimate abstract Enlightenment vs. Fundamentalism issue.

France was one of the major Colonial powers. There has been more than enough third-world blood shed for the hands of every single “enlightened” man, woman & child in France.

France occupied (and dominated) Algeria from 1830 until they abandoned it (on the losing end of an 8-year war) in 1962. Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite – unless you were a Muslim Algerian.

Is this important? Algerians make up the single largest group of immigrants to France. The unemployment rate for African immigrants in France is 6 percentage points higher than that for natives of French ancestry. (And with an aggregate unemployment rate of 10%, that’s pretty significant).

Happy people are somewhat less likely to do desperate terrible things than unhappy people. People with jobs and families and a sense of belonging and a sense that the future will be as good as or better than the present generally don’t have as much time for indoctrination and hate.

So it seems to me that the naive optimal solution is to try to work as hard as we can to make space so that more people can be happy, and fulfilled in their lives. If worshipping some god somewhere is helpful in that regard, then more power to them. I may personally think that it’s sort of silly to want to believe in some mystical sky being who has strong opinions about how we should behave, but I can generally keep those thoughts to myself.

I certainly feel more confident about the positive outcomes from that than I do about the likelihood of positive outcomes from publishing smug, obnoxious, clearly racist cartoons that make fun of people for wanting to worship their god & be happy.

So yeah, sure, I believe in Freedom of Speech. But as an American, I believe in First Amendment Freedom of Speech. It’s an interesting amendment. Half of it is about freedom of speech. The other half is about freedom of religion.

January 7-8, 2015

January 4-6, 2015

Been reading Altered Carbon, by Richard Morgan, after a brief but glowing review by my friend zmagg. It’s most excellent hard-boiled Sci-Fi Noir, gory in some places, very explicitly sexy in others. The pacing is outstanding, and it has quite effectively scratched my usually divergent itches for vintage-style hard-boiled detective fiction & straightforward sci-fi.

Sunday was Sunday. The cold itself is effectively over, but the dry cough lingers. I’m told it will continue to linger for weeks to come.

I flew past the post & shipped the first major milestone release of my holiday project. It took a lot less time than I had figured it would – partly because I remembered more Javascript than I thought I would, and partly because Node, Mongo & their respective communities have rendered basic web-application development just absurdly easy.

There are still plenty of new features in the pipeline. I halfheartedly tried to mess with it some tonight, but I can’t ever really get into that headspace after I have been at work all day. So it’ll be a Saturday-morning thing from here on out, I guess.

This hasn’t always been the case – I did the entire movieminder.com rewrite in the evenings after work (and occasionally late into the night). But that was the late 90s. (Was it really? We were living on Bim Street, so it had to be pre-2000 …)

I don’t have anything pertinent to add to any current/ongoing political or ideological discussion. That is highly likely to change any minute now, so I’m not sweating it too much.

I’ll be in Austin in two weeks. Feel free to share food & drink suggestions.

January 4-6, 2015

January 2-3, 2015

Finally started feeling well enough to leave the house & eat in restaurants again. This basically resulted in eating like three meals in a row at Geer St. Garden. Hard to argue with their seafood gumbo, tho.

Friday night we watched Girl, Interrupted, which neither of us had seen before. It’s a curious thing – it’s packed to the gills with celebrities, including quite a few (Elisabeth Moss, Clea DuVall) who are huge personal faves now, but who were just starting out then. Plus of course Winona, Angelina & Whoopi. And Jeffrey Tambor!

There are so many of them that it’s actually nearly impossible to suspend disbelief & just watch it as a bunch of characters interacting. 

And of course it’s also kind of overwrought & voice-overy in places.

Saturday we went to the Raleigh Grande to see Foxcatcher. Good lord Steve Carrell is astonishing. But mostly I kept thinking to myself “why is this so long?” It was clearly going for some kind of super-atmospheric personality/relationship piece, but for all the greatness of both Carrell’s and Channing Tatum’s performances, neither of them was particularly verbal, and they rarely actually interacted much.

So yeah, I dunno, I got bored. There’s only so much freakwatching I can do at one sitting, I guess. But man, Carrell’s John E du Pont is a FREAK.

Had dinner at Saigon Grill, which now closes at 7:30. I don’t get that. But the pho was divine.

January 2-3, 2015