Tag Archives: philosophy

My What a Beautiful Eye you Have!

Here’s lookin’ at you…

In a book I was reading over the weekend one of the secondary characters, an 8-year-old girl, meets another girl at a pool laying on a raft. The first words are, “I like your raft!” The other girl doesn’t say anything and so the interaction ends awkwardly but it did make me think about the use of compliments as a mode of introduction and in general conversation.

As an adult I’ve always found it awkward to compliment people on anything. When conversing with a woman I always fear that anything positive I say will be taken as flirting and if it’s a guy then… well, that could very well be taken as flirting too. Yet the few cases in which I’ve been brave enough to take the chance, the reactions have always been exceptionally positive. People love to get compliments but I think that as a society (or maybe it’s just me) we’re afraid to give them out for fear of some misunderstanding.

So what say you? Is a compliment really just a compliment or do you always suspect that it carries some ulterior motive? What do you think when a guy comments on your beautiful, bloodshot eye? Personally, from this point forward I resolve to just throw caution to the wind and try to compliment the hell out of people whenever possible. What’s the worst that could happen? Worst case scenario they think I’m some creepy dude that talks too much. This probably isn’t too far off the opinion they’d have if I said nothing and just stared back at them, so what have I to lose? Not a single thing, I say.


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These Week(s) in Review…

There’s no denying that I’ve been massively remiss in posting as of late.  Perhaps it’s better if I post things as they come up rather than trying to wait for the end of the week which will inevitably become several weeks.  Anyway, click on the book covers to view the full review.


Firstly, and as usual, it must be noted that I didn’t buy this book. Instead, it came to me for free as the result of a Shelf Awareness giveaway. Despite that kind consideration, I give my candid opinions in this review. Also, it should be noted that I’m not a Christian so it may seem a bit odd for me to be reviewing Christian literature. Nonetheless, I’ll review this book based on its literary merits and ignore any philosophical differences I may have with the genre.

On the positive side, the book is very competently executed and it’s set in a period of history that’s always amusing and vastly underutilized in literature. Pittman gives us a colorful and alluring rendering of the era and some fairly interesting characters.

To the negative, the Christian aspects of the novel seem to be an affectation and are poorly integrated. It’s almost as if the author recognized that no mention of religion has been made in X number of pages and therefore has the characters suddenly decide to pray. I have great respect for literature in which the characters make Christian choices and live Christian lives but Pittman’s novel seems to include prayerful interludes just for the sake of staying in the Christian genre. Lastly, the cover art appears to be a fairly horrifying photoshop job. Others in my family saw the cover sitting on the shelf and stated rather quizzically, “Doesn’t really look like your sort of book…?” without even cracking the cover.

In summary, this would make an interesting novel if it would only make up its mind what it wanted to be.


On the positive side, the author has chosen a great theme. He takes on childhood illness from the viewpoint of the patient and this always makes for a powerful and evocative story. We all too often fail to realize the weight of such circumstances on the afflicted especially when they’re so young.

Sadly, the negative side of this book far overshadows anything positive I could possibly say about it. The editing is atrocious; the text is filled with typographical and grammatical errors. The dialog is stiff and robotic and the vivid descriptions of the sick child are interlaced with this bizarre science fiction sub-plot akin to “Osmosis Jones” or “Fantastic Voyage”. I’m agog that the author would take the book in such a direction. What could have been a heart-rending portrayal of a dire situation is turned into a literary laughing-stock.

In summary, this book is just not worth the time. Generally, I never give out less than three stars unless the book is unreadable or socially irresponsible. This book is as close to unreadable as I’ve seen in quite a while. I hung on to it tenaciously for a long time in hopes it would have great soul but it turned out to be a train wreck. I like the idea but the execution was completely lacking.


Firstly, it should be noted that I religiously avoid reading the back jackets of books, so going into this one I had only the cover and the subtitle “A ghost story” to go on. Because of that I spent a fair amount of time looking for the literal ghost only to find that the ghosts that haunt William Bellman are of a completely different sort than one generally expects from children’s literature.

On the positive side of things, this book is a deliciously subtle story of one man’s haunted life. Setterfield weaves her story and her characters together with a sagacious and haunting assiduousness that pulls the reader gently along from one short chapter to the next. This is an acutely wrought novel with a tenacious grip on realism while still washing the entire scene in an afterglow of the supernatural. I’ve not read anything this well written in quite some time. Our author brings us a tale as unhurried and as natural as life itself.

The only real negative I can put forth is really more of a warning to potential readers. This is a great book but it’s likely not for everyone. For those accustomed to the pablum of easy modern literature, I suggest humbly that you look elsewhere. For those reading by the pool in the joyous light of day, perhaps your time is better spent between other pages. But if you find yourself in a darkened room listening to the rumble of far-away thunder, then this may be the book for just that setting. It is not a gripping thrill ride, but it does take you gently by the hand and pull you quietly into another world where the sky harbors a thousand watching eyes and time does not undo all wrongs nor heal all wrongs.


Since this is a children’s book it should be noted that I approach the review from a different viewpoint, focusing on appropriateness for young readers and general coherence and execution.

On the question of appropriateness for young readers, this book has done marvelously. In general I scowl at any children’s book that contains sexual or drug content and this novel contains neither problem. It does have some light violence but nothing that kids won’t have picked up from any mainstream cartoon. In the vein of profanity I don’t tend to judge harshly but this novel even avoids that problem and does so in a clever and entertaining way that’s consistent with the general story line. Dukes’ novel is as pure as the driven snow and somehow still remains very real and entertaining. It doesn’t SEEM sanitized but through some miracle of authorship it really is.

Stepping back and speaking more generally about the novel, the author has provided a brilliant and witty take on what is, I’m am sure, a standard daydream of every young person. Our protagonist has ultimate and unlimited freedom but what happens when suddenly he doesn’t? What tangled complications await in a world with no responsibility and limitless possibilities? In addition to its tendency to provoke deep contemplation, the writing style is witty and made even me, a perennial curmudgeon, laugh aloud in spots. The writer has found that intangible balance between teaching the reader something and entertaining them at the same time. Any teen will stumble upon a hoard of new words begging to be looked up in the dictionary and probably spare at least a few cycles for the complexities of causality and consequences of seemingly simple actions. That lesson is worth the price of admission.

In summary, this one was a rare treat. After a long recent string of losers, ‘Caught in a Moment’ is just the sort of book I’d want my own kids to read. Clean, erudite and with a moral or two hidden in spots for those who will only seek.


I’d put this book in the genre of concentric psychological horror. The main character is a published novelist and short-story writer and his stories appear as brief vignettes within the main body of the work. I assume that these stories are examples of Conlon’s own short story work. So this is a novel that is several stories embedded in a larger encapsulating (though mostly unrelated) narrative.

To the positive side, Conlon has an immaculate grasp of how to say just enough about a situation to get the reader’s attention and erect an air of tension in a situation. His imagery is vivid and surreal yet still retains an element of plausibility that is rare in any novel dealing primarily with the metaphysical. Conlon’s work reminds me strongly of Lovecraft in its deep yet inexplicable feeling of terror. The reader is on edge but can’t quite explain why that is so. One factor in which he deviates strongly from turn of the century horror though is his raw and unapologetic portrayals of sexuality. While I would not go so far as to call the results erotic, he is certainly not afraid to deal candidly and skillfully with the topic.

To the negative side, the novel as a whole did seem to lack the incisiveness of the individual sub-stories. As a reader I’m tempted to go back and re-read the stories within the story and ignore the more protracted narrative. In the vein of the larger narrative, it seemed to stumble a bit as it tried to explain the metaphysical aspects of a particular event in the story. I was severely jolted out of my reverie of enjoyment at the first mention of the words “soul catcher” and subsequent explanation. I will say no more for fear of spoilers but know simply there are a few rough spots that are easily enough ignored.

In summary, the novel demonstrates a great deal of artistry. The book is very much worth while though at times skimmable to cut down a bit on bulk. The stories-within-a-story are pure gems and if you read nothing else then take the time to read those. They are easily picked out as they are printed in a different font than the rest of the novel.


In a nutshell, this is the retelling of the King Author myth spanning from Author’s birth through his rise to the kingship. As Authurian legends go, this one tends towards the strictly realistic and pulls no punches about the state of the world at the time.

On the positive side, Hume’s writing is beyond reproach. I found myself constantly entertained at her use of appropriate and timely language which pulled me to my dictionary repeatedly and with unbridled glee. This is a book that educates while it entertains. Anything she chooses to write in the future will have my utmost attention. Here is a tale that is woven with intricacy and detail that is unrivaled.

On the negative side, and this is a negative side that is rather implied by my perceptions of the tastes of other readers, this is not a book that speeds along with any great rapidity. The book goes on for almost 500 pages and while I was entranced by the intricacies, I can imagine other readers finding themselves in the arms of a rather intransigent ennui. The book does move slowly but the arc that it traces is an epic one.

In summary, this is a book to approach in an unhurried and open-minded manner. It has much to teach you, not the least of which is vocabulary. It’s not a book for a single solitary rainy afternoon but instead one to be taken a few chapters at a time over the course of a week. It is a book to be pondered over and digested slowly. As epic tales go, this is a fresh and delightful retelling but don’t expect to swallow it in one go. Take the time to savor and learn from what it has to tell you. I look forward to the subsequent volumes. This is a book for the thinkers among us.


I’m exceptionally late to the party on this book so I won’t attempt the usual Positives/Negatives bit as I usually do. This book was a real perplexity for me. I spent the majority of the text trying to figure out if the central figure of “Life” (as described in the back-cover description) was an actual physical person or a metaphor for human existence. Unfortunately, even after 486 pages I still don’t really know for sure.

This book has a property that I’ve not found in a title for quite some time. I consider myself a fairly attentive and avid reader but it’s seldom that a book makes me late to work and then late to bed and generally takes over my life. For the few days it took to finish it I did little else but read this book and find ways to compress my other daily duties to accommodate more time for it. I learned during this period just the perfect way to balance a bowl of morning cereal while reading. The only problem with all this is that I’m not actually entirely sure why it was such a fascinating book.

At least in part the ambiguity of one of the main characters has a role to play in this miniature obsession. I love nothing more than a good mystery to be unraveled and even now I’m left rather unsatisfied and confused on this topic. It’s also, perhaps, because I can relate to the main character. She shuts herself off from others with lies and keeps the world at a distance. This resonates with me personally but my weapon of choice is humor and deflection. Books are often very personal and in many ways this one was a mirror. At times a terrifying mirror, but a mirror nonetheless.

In summary, I was utterly enthralled by this book. At least to some extent probably irrationally because I’ve failed to understand the concept of “Life Audits” that may be commonplace in Ireland, but still the fact remains that this book really roped me in. It’s probably a good thing I’m not trying to come up with positive/negative analysis because I’d be hard pressed to criticize a book that consumed my entire life rather joyfully for two solid days.


In a nutshell, this is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in half a century on the planet. Walls’ story of her childhood is not only easy for me to relate to but it also makes me just downright angry. Her parents reeked of an abominable failure to be responsible and look out for their own children that just shakes me to my very core. While this is 300 pages of small type this is just the sort of book you could inhale at one passionate gulp sitting outside on a summers say. If you start reading you’ll be lucky to escape before the last page.

Generally, I try to balance my reviews by describing both the positive and the negative of a novel but in this case I’m hard pressed. “The Glass Castle” could easily be described as a modern classic as it sums up with great vividness an all too common situation in the half-century. The free-thinking hippies cum parents who completely failed to give a damn about their own children are all too prolific and Walls describes her own beautifully. My only realistic negative results from the ending which seems clipped and far too succinct. I suppose in this format there’s little choice in the matter but I could have anticipated another 300 pages or complete omission of the end.

In summary, this is by far the best memoir I have read in recent recollection. The author’s view is candid and heartfelt but does not commit the sin of meandering into self-pity like many would in this situation. This title is a best seller with a heart and soul and a pointed comment to any parent who fails to recognize the needs of their own child. I cannot recommend this one enough.

And so ends the weeks that were. As always, click any of the book covers to visit the reviews in question and feel free to vote them ‘helpful’ if you find them so once you get there.

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Flies, their Lords, and Amateur Literary Interpretation

This summer my eldest daughter was tasked with reading “Lord of the Flies” for her AP English class. All summer I heard, “Dad. I hate this book. It’s boring.”
“What’s it about?” I’d inquire, despite knowing darn good and well what it was about.
“It’s about some kids on an island.”
“OH! Is it an adventure story? Or maybe young romance?” I’d posit.
“No. It’s just boring.”

And so it went on and on through the summer. Finally, the summer came to an end and it was time to for the kids to talk about the book in class. After a few days Amanda came home with a 3-page worksheet of questions about the first chapter of the book. (As an aside, it turns out the teacher found this list of questions online and printed it for the class to answer. Imagine the teacher’s naive surprise when the kids found the same study guide through a quick Google search, including the answers, and handed in identical perfect papers. But I digress…) Frustrated, Amanda came to me and asked for help, “This question says ‘what is the meaning of *dumb* in the phrase, ‘the hot, dumb sand‘?  what does that even mean?”

We went through the usual ritual…

Me: “Did you look up the meanings of the word *dumb*? Are there any alternate meanings that might apply?”
Amanda: “It means silent, not saying anything.
Me: “OK, so how might you apply that to the sand?”
Amanda: “Well, duh, the sand isn’t saying anything.”
Me: “Of course not, but why is that important? Why would it? Are the kids in a happy situation… or a bad one…”
And so it went…

After several minutes we came back around to “the old drone of ‘I hate this book, it’s boring'”.

“But why don’t you like the book? Why is it boring? What makes it different from other books you did like,” I inquired. Then came the shining moment; I didn’t really know where this was going until these words bounded out of her mouth and around the room.

Amanda: “I read it but I just didn’t really care. I didn’t care about the characters. They were just on the island and some stuff happened. People died and it was like ‘so what’?”

It was just as the ‘so what’ was coming out that the lightning bolt hit me and an epic diatribe formed in my mind the likes of which I’ve not had since. I’m far from a master of literary interpretation and it’s probable that everything that came out of my mouth for the next 10 minutes was complete hogwash but at the time…. it felt fairly inspired. What I said went something along the lines of what follows.

“You say that people died in the book and you didn’t care. But is that normal? Are you supposed to care when people die or are you supposed to just move on with whatever you’re doing? Do you think your reaction is an appropriate one given the situation? I think what you’ve hit upon is the exact point of the book. When someone died on the island did the island care? Did the birds fall out of the sky? Did the sun stop beating down? Did that hot, dumb sand object? No, of course not. Things just went on as normal and nobody really gave a damn. Perhaps the real genius of the book isn’t the story, but instead how it makes its insidious way into the mind of the reader. All the main characters are dropping dead and the world didn’t care. The trees didn’t care. The animals didn’t care. Not even the READER cares. Isn’t that the true power of writing? To somehow subtly bring someone’s mind around to a certain way of thinking, and in the most ingenious of cases, do it without the reader even realizing it? What you have cited as the ‘boring’ part of the book, my dear child, is exactly the point of the whole thing and you have fallen wholly and completely into its trap without even realizing it.”

I like to think that on some level my impassioned speech found fertile ground in her mind. For a brief moment I saw a bit of awestruck realization on her face. Of course a few days later she was back to “this is boring” but that is the teenage mindset. After my outburst Laura said to me that she wishes her own English teachers had been so eloquent on the topic of literature. I may not know much of anything about the literary process or proper form but it seems that I sure can get wound up about it and boy I sure do adore the stuff.  Even if my interpretations are rather unique creations.

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Kids today are so different… but not really.

It’s been many moons ago, but believe it or not, I used to be a kid. I recall it with great vividness as I saved up the money to buy my first computer from Radio Shack. I’m fairly certain I’ve told the story of the Color Computer 2 I bought, complete with no permanent storage (unless you hooked up the tape drive to it and recorded over your least favorite Bananarama tape) and an epic 64K of RAM. As the years wore on I moved up to the 386 and the 486 and that holiest of holies, the “Pentium” processor. Because sometimes you’re a chip manufacturer and you just run out of numbers.

It was at the 386 stage that I started to get curious. No, not about that hair that suddenly sprang up “down there.” I started to get curious about how these blasted things worked. Sure, I’d seen that other people who ‘built their own’ or ‘upgraded’ something or ‘overclocked’ their processors but that was all a mystery to me because I was on a flipping $5 a week allowance and the idea of spending $50 on some computer component was the financial equivalent of climbing a large mountain in the middle of a blizzard.

At some point though, curiosity overcame practicality. I had exactly one computer to my name and I spent a LOT of time on it. At the time my life consisted of three activities: Eating, Getting rid of the things I’d eaten previously, and doing something on the computer. So it was with great trepidation that I proceeded to unscrew the screws on the back of my trusty 386. Before you know it, I had the blasted thing apart and could identify the vital components by sight. I was awash in adolescent hormones and my stress level was through the roof. It was as if I had taken apart my whole life, spread it out on the carpet and having properly dissected it, hoped fervently that I could put it back together again.

Twenty minutes later the poor little thing was back together and it was time to hit the power button. … … You haven’t lived until you’ve taken your only computer apart and then had to wait for it to boot up. I won’t go so far as to say it’s something really serious like, oh, a doctor who’s restarting his patient’s heart after a quadruple bypass, but at the time it seemed just about as serious. This little rectangle was 90% of my waking hours. If it went away…. what on EARTH was I going to do? Why had I ever been so foolish as to tempt fate in this way?!!??! In the end, it started up. Old reliable Windows 3.1 came up just as it always had but somehow I’d managed to zap the 3.5″ floppy in the process. Damn. But, if the random electrons were going to find their way to zapping something I’m glad they chose to zap the part that I could most readily ignore for a while. Heck, I’d already put the 12 floppies in that were required to install Windows in the first place so I was golden as long as I was happy with whatever software happened to be on my computer at the time. (Keep in mind that the idea of a download was limited by a little device called the 2400 baud modem).

So fast forward to today. I’m an adult (by many definitions) and I could buy anything I wanted. I have the cloud to back me up so worse comes to absolute worst, I go to H.H. Gregg, ask one of the exceptional sales staff for advice, and I walk out with a brand new computer. All that remains is to download my entire life history from Google and Facebook. Easy as pie. But when Laura’s son started exhibiting signs of curiosity about his own computer, part of me sprang to life. I recalled those days many, MANY years ago when curiosity fought with practicality and I wanted to dissect what it was a really bad idea to dissect.

It began simply for Laura’s son but the signs were obvious. He started with peripherals. Before we knew it the mouse was in pieces in front of us. The earphones weren’t far behind and I knew then that if this monster of curiosity was not fed then it would not soon abate. Luckily, in this day and age hardware is easily had for a song so I went upon my way looking for something to sate the insatiable beast. As I write today the machinations are in progress to get a machine for the boy to tear apart from step to stern, to inspect in all its most intriguing detail without an iota of guilt. A luxury that I didn’t have as a lad but would have most assuredly killed for.

But then…. but then it struck me. We think of the younger generation as so uniquely hip. They are eons advanced from where we were at their age… but really…. really they’re not at all. They’re the same curious creatures that we were, digging into every nook and every cranny that they can avail themselves of. They reach, claw and scrabble to seek more, to do more, to be more. They stretch the boundaries of their assigned paradigm to its utmost. Just as we did. The difference? In my case, my parents couldn’t have given fewer shits about what I was doing. Today…. today, I see that gleam and I want to feed it. I don’t want him to go through the sadness of “breakage” on his way to expertise. So I’m out on the lookout for cheap hardware that will open the door to his curiosity without closing the door on my budget. It’s what I would have wanted when I was his age. In the end though, it just goes to show that the kids of the current generation aren’t really all that different. They want to push the envelope the same way we did. It just so happens that it’s a different envelope.

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The Bench by F.C. Malby

The BenchThe Bench by F.C. Malby

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received this book via LibraryThing and despite that kind and generous consideration my candid thoughts appear below.

This is where I usually put the plot summary but since it’s hard to say very much about a 10-minute read without spoiling it completely, I’ll just say that a sad and hopeless man has a very uplifting encounter with an incredibly eerie and uplifting young lady.

Qualitatively speaking, the tone of this story was wonderful. The depiction of the little girl is downright spooky and the visual impression she makes on the reader is indelible. Malby has chosen an interesting setting and an unlikely cast of characters to bring us what I chose to interpret as a message of hope. It’s very impactful for something that takes longer to load on the Kindle than it does to read. Oftentimes I find myself wishing that short stories were drawn out into fuller treatments but in this case, not an iota. Perfect length as it stands.

The ending of this one, which I will only allude to by referring to “the ending” is, to put it lightly, rather shocking. One can anticipate rife and vigorous discussion if you choose to read this one in book club. On the whole though, a very solid and well-crafted little story. Maybe there’s hope for us after all if we just choose to hold on to what’s important, eh?

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Greatshadow (Dragon Apocalypse, #1)

Greatshadow (Dragon Apocalypse, #1)Greatshadow by James Maxey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a slight variation to a usual theme, I received this book as a result of a GoodReads giveaway but somewhat indirectly. I won the third book in the series but the author was exuberantly kind enough to send the entire series. Despite this wonderfully kind consideration, my candid opinions follow below.

It is difficult to begin without resorting to cliche, assuming that the opening about winning a book in a GoodReads giveaway is not already cliche. Maxey’s work, to sum it up, has a touch of everything. There’s a slight thread of testosterone. A twinge of adventure. A modicum of adventure. A dollop of humor (the long accepted standard unit of humor has long been acknowledged to be the dollop, I will point out). Unlike the vast majority of novels which try to walk such a wending and tormented path, Maxey’s work actually manages to make it all function together in a pleasing way. The humor isn’t tortured. The testosterone isn’t fetid. The adventure isn’t overwrought. It all balances well together and through the whole thing he manages to introduce fresh new ideas. He takes the standard orc/ogre/dwarf/elf milieu and stretches it into something that has the and pleasing aroma of originality.

To back up moderately, Maxey’s plotline is nothing fancy or innovative. Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, boy-girl somewhat happy though ironically and comically star-crossed, boy-girl set out to slay terrible beast. There’s nothing shocking about any of that but the brush that Maxey paints with is one of almost dizzying originality.

Furthering the positive commentary, Maxey isn’t afraid to make a broader statement with his work. His villains aren’t mere pasteboard with no analogous relative in real life, no simple shadows upon a puppeteer’s screen. Like Tolkien before him he has a sociological statement to make and he’s not afraid to put it front and center.

In summary, and resorting completely to cliché, this book is one of the most entertaining things I’ve read in a long time. While it is fairly narrow in scope to the fantasy genre, among those players I think it ranks rather highly. Greatshadow is great “mind cake” with a thin thread of substance for those who wish to partake of it. To put it even more summarily, I’m impressed. I’ve read quite a lot of trite and worthless drivel and this quite nicely makes up for it. Highly recommended.

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On Boat Anchors and Bleeding Edges

As of late I have had more reason than usual to think about the technology culture of the modern workplace.  Technology marches ever onward and there seem to be two distinct camps when it comes to how we react to all the new whizzbang gadgets that arrive on the marketplace every single day.

New CircuitsIn one camp you have the Bleeding Edgers.  They want to adopt new technology just because it’s new and shiny and different.  The entry criteria for the attention of this crowd is merely that it exists and has a newer ship date than the previously newest thing.  Generally those with this brand of thinking work in technology at their jobs and they play with technology when they’re not.  The books on their bookshelf are tech.  Most of their everyday conversation is about tech.  They eat, drink and breath the newest technology and often their minds are guarded sanctuaries where no data shall pass excepting that it pertain to tech. Often these are terrifyingly intelligent people who can rattle off the detailed functional specifications for 47 microchips and push out code with almost mechanical efficiency. They operate in some unintelligible realm that makes the common man cower in response.

Old CircuitsIn the other camp you have the Boat Anchors. They’re bloody well stuck in whatever era they started working in and come hell or brimstone they shall not move from it. COBOL was good enough for them in 1989 and by God it’s good enough today. Why on EARTH would anyone want to use anything different? We already know this so why learn something new? It’s already working so just leave it alone.

In my professional life I’ve worked with both camps and I have to admit that they both exceed my ability for comprehension. The argument against the Boat Anchors is fairly simple. Change is inevitable and in the past several decades we’ve made revolutionary changes in the way code is structured to adapt to that change. Through good programming practices we can build code that will not only satisfy the needs of today but also make it easier to satisfy the needs of tomorrow. You cannot resist change forever so you’d better prepare for it when it eventually arrives.

The argument against the Bleeding Edge is more subtle. In the minds of many, new always equals better. Sometimes this is the case and sometimes it is anything but. Anyone who has done Palm OS programming knows that you can throw a lot of effort down a rabbit hole only to find that the rabbit is long since dead. Personally, I love new technology but I’m not nearly enough of a savant to say with any accuracy which one will still be around in a year. Therefore I don’t go chasing every rabbit. Once a technology has demonstrated stability, lasting power and usefulness then it’s ready to have my attention. Until then it’s just a museum curiosity.

To put it more broadly, my personal interest in technology is only as deep as its ability to help me solve some business problem or do so in a more efficient way. That’s it. If a new technology comes along that promises more flashy bells and whistles but has no impact on my ability to do my job then I really couldn’t begin to care. I’ll spare it the 10 minutes it takes to determine its functional value and then that’s it. In terms of technology I am a strict pragmatist. Show me the ROI or go away. In terms of technology, at least for me, sex does not sell.

I’m finding that increasingly this is a hard sell in the employment marketplace. My rather laid-back attitude tends to put me in the Boat Anchor bucket because my shelves are not filled with books on technology, I don’t memorize the specs for anything and my focus is on GETTING WORK DONE rather than on using the newest flashiest thing. I’m not a technophile. I’m a problem solver. If some piece of technology can help me solve a problem without causing more problems than it creates then great. If not, I’ll stick with my technology from three whole years ago and wait for the new tool to prove itself. In the end, it’s all about the economics of workplace. What gets the work done?  Not, what’s new and flashy and interesting?

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On Bubbles of Acquaintance and Fleeting Irritation

In 2009 I wrote a rather maudlin blog entry about my position in the world. On that sunny July day I felt as lonely and isolated as I had since I was a child. I was a fish in a bowl that sat ignored on the doorstep of humanity. It was as if the entire world was mocking me with its collective glee. To put it in the most cliche way possible, I felt like I didn’t have a friend in the world. Life rather sucked, to place description of that time-frame firmly in the vernacular.

Fast forward to the current day and the picture is different beyond any reasonable recognition. In ways that involve relating to other people, the world has turned, but for the life of me I can’t tell you with any accuracy WHY it has done so. For quite some time Laura has been gently teasing me about my lunch calendar. To be specific, the phrase, “you have lunch with other people more than anyone else I’ve ever known!” has been bandied about repeatedly. Given my rather fishbowl existence a few short years ago, this is a reasonably impressive turn of events. Today was a particularly impressive example of this odd change in circumstance.

This morning I kissed my delightful and beautiful fiancee goodbye in the morning. At lunch I met up with an old friend and just as we were pondering wrapping up another of my old friends walked in and joined us. Two hours or more of lunch later, I get in the car to go see a movie with someone else and I get a text from yet another person that I haven’t talked to in a decade. Clearly the fish is out of the bowl and gone are the days when I could tick off on my whiteboard the days that have passed since I spoke to another human being. My life is full of people and as happy as I am about that I cannot begin to tell you how or why it happened.

Switching gears dramatically, I move to today’s moment of irritation. Ages ago I did some free artistic work for a company where I worked. This was work that was clearly outside any reasonable expectation but I did it because I enjoyed it and I wanted to contribute to the company. Well, not long after that I was let go in a layoff. At the time I bent over backwards to be magnanimous about the whole thing and I remain so. Business is business, no reason for acrimony. However, I’ve started seeing my artwork popping up in various places and I must admit that it rather digs at my soul to see my work, which I provided in my own time and for free, used by the company that fired me. Logically, I realize that I offered myself up for free and that I have nobody to blame but myself, but it does rather irritate me and dissuades me rather strongly from ever taking such a gracious stance with my work in the future. Society does not respect generosity but instead merely takes advantage of it until it no longer has a need for it. Lesson learned.


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On Turning 40

Passage of Time

Passage of Time

A little over a week ago I passed the ripe old age of forty years of age.  In honor of the non-event I have a few observations to make which I will enumerate below.

  • On my fortieth birthday, people that I like, who I can honestly call friends, showed up to have dinner with me as arranged by my fiancee without my knowledge.  If I look back on my life five years ago… ten years ago… twenty years ago… I would have considered this impossible.  I am not, traditionally, a person who has been able to accumulate connections with other people.  I’ve desperately WANTED to do so but somehow lacked the ability.  I like people but in the past they have always gravitated away from me.  For the first time ever, I don’t feel completely alone in the world.
  • On my fortieth birthday, all the people that I’m related to completely failed to so much as speak to me.  My mother, who long ago asked me to leave her alone, didn’t say a word.  My father, who is busy in his own world, didn’t whisper a syllable.  It goes without saying that all the people to whom they are connected were similarly silent.  When it comes to family it would seem I am utterly disconnected.  I’m not sure I understand why exactly but it is clearly so.  Every time someone uses the phrase, “he has a face that only a mother could love” part of me thinks quietly that my face is worse even than that since my mother refuses even to speak to me.
  • On my fortieth birthday, I realize that my life has passed any conception that I would have had of it when I was young.  I remember as a teenager thinking about the transit of Venus in 2012.  To me, that was an event inconceivably far in the future.  As of my 40th birthday, I have passed that milestone.  There was nothing beyond it.  With the passage of 2012 we enter truly the undiscovered country.
  • On my fortieth birthday, I may remember my age without counting.  In every year before this one when someone has asked me how old I am it required an exercise in mathematics to determine the answer.  Now at 40 I think that I might just be able to remember.

The world today is much different than it was in 1972 or 1982 or 1992.  I believe personally that it’s better with easy passing decade and I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years have in store for us.


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What I Learned More or Less Today -or- Of Obsessions Run their Course

One thing that the “What I learned today” feature has taught me in its all of two days in existence is that there’s a lot of random rot out there in the literary realm that doesn’t add a single blasted thing to my “what I learned” list and really, isn’t at all enjoyable.  Over the past few months I’ve been very much in the mode of consuming every book that I could get my hands on.  As a consequence I’ve finished quite a few books that really didn’t deserve my attention past the 10th page.  So the upshot of this…. a few simple rules:

1.  Taken at random, 90% of books are not worth reading.  Don’t hesitate to pass over obvious garbage.

2.  If a book feels like a vacuous incoherent mess after 10 pages, it’s going to be a vacuous incoherent mess even after 400.  So put it down and move along to something else.

3.  A truly good book is good all the way through.  The number of “diamonds in the rough” is vanishingly small so if a book looks like a stinker at first then it probably is.

4.  There is a practical infinity of great literature to choose from.  Given that the amount of reading time is finite, it is therefore illogical to spend any unnecessary time on anything but quality writing.

And with those four simple realizations, which I’ve made a dozen times in my life but never properly codified, I’ve thrown out a fair number of books in my “to be read” queue.  More importantly, I’ve given myself permission to judge a book by its cover plus 10 pages.

Alright, moving on, I have a few notes from the past several days on a couple of topics.  Pirates…. yes, an increasingly complex subject and since I started taking notes half way through the Pringle book on pirates it’s hard to say much of anything without giving a fair amount of background.  In the effort to make sense, I give you background.

The primary problem with defining piracy is that it is very easily confused with the concept of a privateer.  When this trade started in the 1500s, countries hired sailors to set out on the high seas and pillage the shipping of other countries.  For example, England might issue a charter to a ship that they were to pillage the ocean-going trade of every country except England.  In essence, they were hired pirates.  So the difference between a privateer (a hired pirate) and a real pirate is justifiably rather sketchy.  Remember, this is in a time when communication doesn’t exactly travel at light speed (no pun intended).  It’s also worth noting that justice itself is rather impaired since the government and judicial systems (by today’s standards) were absurdly corrupt.  What you end up with is a vast ocean teeming with scalawags, some of whom under the hire of some legitimate ruler, some who might THINK they’re under the hire of some legitimate ruler and some who are just doing their own thing.  A right and true mess one must admit especially when you consider that a privateer hired by one country will be considered a pirate by any other country.

Starting in the late 1600s piracy saw its peak and decline.  In 1696 England issued the Navigation Acts which said, in a nutshell, that the American colonies could only ship goods using British shipping and only buy and sell goods in British markets.  This, as you might imagine caused quite an economic uproar.  The tiny country of England couldn’t possibly consume the output of the entire eastern seaboard of America.  So, skirting these laws, the nascent colonies turned to piratical shipping to get their goods to market.

When this practice began to impact the pocketbooks of English industry, for the first time really in history, England began to take notice of piracy and make an effort to stamp it out militarily.  Early in 1700 a few successful military raids were made to combat piracy and the whole practice began to subside quickly.  At their hearts pirates were only really interested in easy spoils.  When the risks for the practice began to increase, they quickly slunk into the woodwork.  It didn’t hurt that the British navy paid their sailors better wages during this time.  As always, the skilled labor goes where the money is.

Changing topics violently, I also made a bit of headway in the “Super Brain” book.  While this book needs a LOT of help in the realm of a title, it nonetheless has some good points to make about how our brains work and how we can get them to work for us rather than against us.  Early on it is still in the mode of dispelling myths about how the brain operates.  In accordance to popular belief, one brain cell dies every second.  Contrary to popular belief one brain cell is also born every second.  One point it makes about our failing memories as we grow older is that memory is closely tied to emotion.  If, as we age, we become more and more nonplussed about what’s going on around us, then from a chemical standpoint our brains are of course not going to remember.  So it encourages us not only to learn but to be damned excited about it if we want to retain what we just stuffed into our heads.

And with that tidbit we close.  I must admit that I cannot help but feel that with the last few entries this blog has become absurdly random.  Of course, in a way, that is what the Tattered Thread is all about.  Any outside reader would be hard pressed to figure out what exactly the thread is connecting any topic from one day to the next.  Such is my journey through life.  I’m rather randomly interested in … well, just about everything.  I’m not sure if that makes for a good blog or a bad one but here it is for better or for worse.


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