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 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 1, 2014

Spent a couple of hours watching computer science lectures on the Internet. I get really impatient with video tutorials & walkthroughs of how to use specific bits of software or libraries, but it turns out that I find them incredibly helpful when it comes to understanding the more abstract core concepts.

Or at least I do when they’re lectures by popular & high-rated Harvard professors.

We went to a late matinee of Dear White People. Really interesting movie. There are three directors explicitly name-checked by characters in it: Spike Lee, Robert Altman, and Ingmar Bergman. I’m still waiting to go through my Bergman phase (I figure maybe when I’m in my 50s?), so I can’t really address that, but the Altman & Lee influences on DWP are obvious.

At dinner afterwards, M said it was a better movie than School Daze. My love for School Daze is pretty unshakeable, but it’s also rooted in my love for the musical numbers; factor those out & I might be inclined to agree with M. Certainly the range & variety of human experience depicted in DWP is wider, although most characters still do seem to exist specifically to embody some particular spot on the sociopolitical spectrum.

At its heart, Dear White People is a movie about passing – not just as black or white, but as politically engaged/disengaged, as a different class, as someone who has it far more together than one actually does.

When I mentioned this to M, she pointed out that all of college is about passing. Which is more true for some of us than others, I guess, but is still pretty accurate.

Its flaws mostly lie in its desire to cover too much ground, with an ensemble cast of lesser-known actors. But it’s overflowing with ideas, and it’s hugely enjoyable to watch writer/director Justin Simien try on the influences of Lee & Altman while slowly feeling his way towards a style & vocabulary of his own.

Also, the costumes (at least those for Tessa Thompson) are gorgeous.

After the movie, we made good on a long-running joke/promise to eat at Primal, the new-ish kinda-sorta Paleo restaurant just across the highway from Southpoint. It’s run by the chef/owner from Blu Seafood, and it shares some of that restaurant’s flaws (i.e. reach occasionally exceeding grasp).

But it also had some flaws of its own last night, specifically some kind of kitchen malfunction that had everything running behind schedule & left huge gaps of time between courses. After you’ve waited 45 minutes for some split & roasted brussels sprouts, you should at least be able to expect that they’d be cooked all the way through, instead of nearly raw.

The place was full (though not overflowing), so maybe they’re just falling victim to quicker-than-expected success. Or maybe there’s just one linchpin of the kitchen who was out sick or recently departed.

Food-wise, there’s a lot of bacon.

Dishes that had an acidic component (sauteed kale, a grilled octopus and fennel salad) had way too much acid. Sweet sauces were a bit much as well. This is an oddly common problem around here, this desire to drench flavorful things in sauces that overpower those flavors. Given how many restaurants (including Primal) are flaunting their supposed “farm to fork” credentials, you’d think they’d have more respect for the ingredients they’re getting from those farmers.

November 1, 2014

Friday, October 3, 2014

Amazing how quickly an uninterrupted 3 hours of worktime degrades until it’s just 30 minutes. Some days it feels like all I do is read & triage resumes, but the reality is that I can only bear to read maybe 10 of them before I have to distract myself with Teh Internets.

In one such distraction, posted about not having any Album of the Year candidates except for Beyoncé. I don’t have a theory yet as to why this is, but posts like this tend to yield more response on Facebook (10+ people) than on Twitter (1 person).

I wound up sorting my music directory by date & skimming through titles; I feel like slots 6 thru 20 will have plenty of contenders, but there hasn’t been much of anything that has dominated the CD player in the car, or headphone time at work, in the same way as previous years.

Still, some highlights so far:

And a raft of albums by bands whose most recent previous albums were easily #1 record material, but whose 2014 releases just … aren’t, quite. Top-20, sure, mostly. But 2014 has been the year of the One Notch Lower. I had been reluctant to name names, but since this is Tumblr & I don’t have any friends here:

  • Pallbearer
  • Hiss Golden Messenger
  • Spider Bags
  • Sharon Van Etten
  • Swans
  • Fucked Up
  • Tune-Yards
  • White Lung
  • Earth

This is tricky because what I’m saying here is that all of those bands’ previous albums were phenomenally awesome & their new ones just aren’t quite as phenomenally awesome. OK, well, in the case of Earth, I find it kind of unlistenable, but anyway.

Interviews all afternoon. This is already the Year of the Hackathon. Everyone is doing it now. I wish I had a more positive outlook on the phenomenon. There are definitely hugely positive elements to it – just exposing students to emerging internet technologies, and to the idea that something of value can be rapidly prototyped, is a huge step forward from traditional CS curricula. So OK, sure, that’s a very good thing.

But the downside is the normalization of crappy architecture, even more disregard for testing, a reinforcement of the culture of all-nighters, and an explosion in the amount of half-finished abandonware. I wonder how many of these projects live on in any capacity outside of a couple of sentences on a resume.

After dinner, went to see Gone Girl. I had only gotten about 5 pages into the novel before giving up in annoyance (at the writing style, I assume), and since I don’t really move in popular-novel circles otherwise, I was blissfully clueless about all of the plot twists. Of which there are many.

In the hands of another director (say DePalma, with the exact same script) it could have been nudged over the line into black comedy, a line which in Fincher’s hands it kind of tiptoes up to but then shies away from. Which is too bad, because none of the characters are particularly likeable otherwise, and playing the plot twists straight gets kind of exhausting after a while.

Either that or Fincher thought he was making a black comedy but couldn’t quite pull it off. I laughed a few times anyway, but not enough to redeem the 2.5 hours we sat through.

Mechanically it was weird. The media circles around everywhere but is never quite in the audience’s face enough to seem fully oppressive – so when the characters spend [too much] time sneaking through the woods to avoid the press, it just feels kind of disconnected & time-wastey. It’s weird because at a macro level, Flynn & Fincher did a pretty good job of getting through all the twists without completely losing the thread of the plot. Detail-wise, though, the editing is kind of a mess.

Anyway. Really liked Kim Dickens (of course). She played so much smarter than everyone else in the movie that I kept expecting some amazing last-minute twist from her, and was really disappointed when the credits rolled without it.

Friday, October 3, 2014