Testing wordpress for android

I’m testing the wordpress app for android. I think the most annoying aspect to mobile blogging is the clumsy virtual keyboard I end up having to use. The one in using right now is fleshy which is not really what it’s called but darned if I can get it to let me type its name without correcting it to fleshy. Yeah… This experience leaves a lot to be desired. But it’s hoist the keyboard I’m using and not the apps fsukt fault. Bold text Italianate text and unfeigned text are all included.

Pretty nice

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Smoke, Farts, Steak, Dirt

Our church has a Men’s Ministry, and while I’ve been aware of it for years, I’ve never participated in it much. It has always involved early-morning prayer breakfasts, weekend retreats, and stuff like that. I can rationalize not going to things like that by saying that my schedule doesn’t really allow for it. Fact is, I’m out of my element in settings like that. I don’t find them very enjoyable or constructive. Otherwise, I could make the time.

A guy in our church recently read a book called “Why men hate going to church”. It’s about how church actvities involving men typically require them to do “feminine” stuff like standing around holding hands, talking about their feelings, and other touchy/feely stuff. This kind of thing doesn’t resonate with some men, and unfortunately, there’s often not a lot else going on in the church to latch onto. So it’s hard for regular-guy types to get interested in church in general. According to the author, the “feminized” church gives them a mental image of a God they can’t relate to very well. Kind of strange when I think about the fact that most stories in the Bible about Jesus involve Him hitting the road with a group of former tax collectors and fishermen. He didn’t hang out with pastors and priests. He did have lunch with an accountant once, but only after the guy climbed a tree. Jesus seems to have preferred the company of Regular Joe.

Anyway, this guy liked the book so much, he bought 20 copies of it and passed them around. Another guy in our church read the book and had an idea. “Hey, let’s have a men’s retreat where we do stuff that men like to do!” He and several others set out to build what amounts to an amusement park for meat-eating, gun-toting outdoorsy types, and scheduled a “men’s ministry” event.

The setting was on my uncle Dave’s farm. My uncle Dave has a talent for buying farmland framed by some of the nicest landscapes in the midwest. For miles in all directions on a couple of his farms, there are big oak trees, creeks, hills, pastures, and wide open space. In one of these spaces, they put a paintball arena, a skeet-shooting range, a black-powder rifle range, a series of tracks for ATVs, and an obstacle course for Jeeps. Then they built a big fire, put up tents, and brought in tractors, ATVs, Jeeps, trucks, motorcycles, John Deere Gators, and a giant Komatsu track hoe.

When I heard about this event, I said “Now we’re talking!”. So today, I took Andrew and went out and checked it out.

There were about 60-70 people there, and everyone had a great time. I played paintball (got shot), tore around on a racing ATV (got scared), drove a Jeep down a mud wall into a creek, down the creek, and back out again (got muddy). Someone dug a big hole in the ground with a track hoe. Then someone drove a Jeep down into it, and got back out. Then I dug an even bigger hole with the track hoe.

I realize the idea of running a track hoe sounds like a stupid thing to do for fun, but trust me, as a recreational device, it’s hard to beat. I’d guess there are only 2 types of people who think it’s boring: People who have never done it, and people who do it all day, every day.

Everyone had steak and baked potatoes for dinner, and that was it. Some are camping out there tonight, and if I’d have known about that, I might have done it too.

Overall, it was a big success, and they’re planning on doing it next year. They’re going to add more stuff, like driving big 4WD tractors around. I must be a regular joe. The whole thing was pretty cool, if you ask me.

Octavarium

Just got the newest CD from Dream Theater. It’s called “Octavarium”.

I’ve always thought of Dream Theater as one of life’s great ironies. Here’s why:

Imagine if you took 5 of the best musicians in the world, gave them the best equipment, a big budget, and lots of time, and told them to get together in a studio and let their creativity run wild. I would think you could reasonably expect stellar results.

So, there’s Dream Theater. Arguably 5 of the best musicians in the world, getting together with some really good equipment and apparently ample time, letting their creativity run wild. The irony, as you’re probably expecting, is the results. Not always stellar. Sometimes the singer does this weird thing with his voice that sounds… Well, I’ll be nice, and just say “not manly”. There’s just kind of a wide vibrato with a lady-like lilt to it. I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard a man make a sound like it. Then there’s the synth solos. Admittedly, I’m not big on those, it’s a personal thing. At best, I think they sound like a small animal being tortured. At worst, they bring to mind the image of a weirdo in a pink spandex jumpsuit and an exposed hairy chest dancing around with one of those strap-on keyboards on. Echh…

Then there’s the “group” solos. Remember, these guys are amazing musicians. If I had 1 penny for each note each one of these guys plays in an average solo (and they all play solos), I could quit my job. Their later albums feature a lot of “solos” that somehow involve the whole band. Everyone joins in on the fun. The drums sound as though someone dropped them into a tornado filled with drumsticks, the guitar player is wearing out picks by the bucketful, the keyboards sound like a herd of angry cats is running around on them, the bassist sounds like he has 30 extra fingers. The singer is taking a break. The weird thing is, they’re all going nuts (except the singer), but they’re all in perfect sync. They all speed up and slow down at the same rate, at the same time, and never have a wreck. They change modes in perfect sync, and do some really weird stuff. One of their earlier albums has a section where the speed-metal song they’re playing degenerates into ragtime for about 10 seconds before taking off in a different direction. It’s the sound of 5 great musicians with total creative latitude showing off, and it’s so over the top, it actually works some of the time.

But sometimes it gets annoying. I sit there listening until I just can’t take it anymore, then I say “wankers!” and hit the “FF” button.

Another thing is how long the songs are. I kind of like epic pieces of music, but it’s a little inconvenient when you can’t get in your car, drive 40 miles, and even get through one song on the trip. Dream Theater must be making prog metal for Amish people who ride to town in horse-drawn buggies.

Before you get to thinking I don’t like them, understand that I own every one of Dream Theater’s albums. Why? Every one of them has moments on it that make goose bumps pop up on your skin. I think it’s a “musician” thing, and I know other musicians that experience the same phenomenon. I even read an interview with Alex Lifeson where he mentions the “GB Factor”, which is how he used to measure the goodness of a particular piece of music. He would watch his arm while he listened to something, and if goose bumps appeared on it, he knew it was good.

“Octavarium” is good. DT seems to alternate between making “listenable” albums, and more wankish ones. This one leans far to the listenable side. The singer (James LaBrie) is still doing weird things with his voice. On “Panic Attack”, a double-bass thrashing metal song, he sounds just like Gwen Stefani! There’s a song that sounds like something U2 would do. I like it. Actually, I like them all. I think this is the first time I’ve listened to a DT album 3 times in a row, and not hit “FF”.

The title track, “Octavarium”, ends the CD, and is a perfect example of Dream Theater in action: It’s very long, and it contains a big crazy middle section full of solos and unbridled wankery. The song roars along for about 15 minutes, farting and belching and grinding. There’s a rapping pirate at one point (I’m not joking!), and they play the main riff from “Jingle Bells” at one point. (I’m not joking here, either). Kind of ridiculous. However: The last 4 minutes of that song contain some of the highest-horsepower music ever created. It sounds huge. Imagine the biggest movie ever made, with the most climactic ending ever imagined… Something involving mountains exploding, giants roaming, clouds parting, Hobbits pillow fighting, and God Almighty riding in on a white horse. This would be the kind of music you’d expect to hear. I played that last part of the song for my mom, an operatic-voiced classically-trained music snob from way back. She said “Wow! That’s cool. Let’s hear it again.”

No kidding.

Opiate

A friend of mine mentioned Gartner (aka The Gartner Group) on his blog, and it got me thinking.

First, some background: He and I both work in a company whose IT department is heavily dependent on Gartner for advice on everything. (Read his post if you want an eloquent explanation, I can’t be bothered).

There’s a lot I can say about an organization whose policy it is to let an outside firm do their thinking for them, and none of it is good. Talk about a recipe for being a loser… At best, you can expect to run mid-pack among your competitors, assuming you have competition to start with, and they’re all listening to the same advice as you. I think it shows a distinct lack of imagination.

Understand that this rant isn’t necessarily a slam against Gartner. In fact, I applaud their ability to make the kind of money they do doing what they do. It’s good work if you can get it. And I think I’m starting to figure out how they’re able to do it.

Let’s start with this sample of wisdom, direct from Gartner (I swear to you, I did not make this up):

“Enterprise architects must act as catalysts that speed the formation of unified business technology strategies and their execution. The enterprise architecture process must shift gears from limiting complexity by limiting choices to accelerating innovation and execution by coordinating complexity through unified business and IT strategy, decentralized execution and loose coupling among all related stakeholder disciplines.”

Uuuuuh huh.

Care to parse that? No problem, I already have. Here’s what it says:

Software is complicated. Making it work on a large scale takes some planning, some discipline, some consistency, and generally requires a well-thought out and well-designed system spread across the enterprise that does a lot of things for the people writing the checks. Get used to it.

Pretty straightforward, right? Obvious enough to make most people say “Duh!” before they realize they’ve said it, right? Right. You don’t have to pay me for that statement; I didn’t expend much effort translating it for you.

The Gartner version, on the other hand, appears in an expensive “white paper” (Gartner’s name for a document printed on a piece of white paper), accompanied by many other such statements. It’s worth thousands of dollars, and is much more verbose. Why? Someone had to put a lot of thought into it, because the Gartner version has more than just the function of conveying a piece of information. It’s also designed to lull the reader/listener into a trancelike state, where all they can do is agree. If you don’t believe me, read the statement again. Notice how, as you read, your eyelids get heavy, and you feel kind of dizzy and slow-witted. That’s not senility setting in, that’s the effects of the skillfully-crafted phrasing you’re feeling. Call it “Gartner Gas”. Notice how, at the end, you kind of thought “Uuuuuh… Okay. I guess…” Skeptical? Try it on your spouse. Read the Gartner sample to them, and watch their eyes glaze over. Ask them if they agree with it. They’ll most likely say “Uuuuuuh…. I guess.” Tell them it’s from a respected management consulting group, and notice that they’re more inclined to agree, even if they don’t understand it. See?

This effect is intentional, and there is great value in it if you’re someone who spends a lot of your company’s money on advice from Gartner or other management consulting firms.

Imagine you’re an MBA in a suit, sitting meekly in your boss’s office while (s)he grills you about why things aren’t going according to plan. You needn’t worry, because you’re armed with the very best in suit-defense technology: The Gartner White Paper. Wield this weapon and start spouting quotes from it, and you will be able to repel most attacks (except in one case, which I will describe below).

When you present a white paper, especially one that costs what the Gartner ones do, you gain instant credibility. It cost a mint, it must be good. The presence of a white paper in your hands shows you’ve done your homework, looked around, and haven’t just pulled your ideas out of thin air. Not only that, but when you quote from a white paper, the artful phrasing kicks in. Your boss will be totally mystified by the flurry of enterprisey-sounding speech coming out of you. They will be lulled into submission, and have no choice but to agree.

On the other hand, suppose you’re the same MBA getting grilled by the same boss, and instead of wielding Gartner, you just use simple speech to explain yourself. My translation, for example: “Software is complicated… yadda yadda… Get used to it.” Oops. You just said the same thing as before, but there’s no white paper to back you up. You delivered information in a simple, short pointed burst, and totally missed out on the Gartner Gas effect. Your boss, still fully lucid, won’t be the least bit docile after hearing something so pointed and short. They may even think you’re being flippant, or unduly terse. You could be killed.

This, I believe, is the value of Gartner. It’s a big flame-retardent suit made out of titanium-coated bullshit. In the appropriate places, used on the appropriate people, it’s invincible.

Of course, there are places in the world where this approach wouldn’t work. There are companies out there who have about as much use for Gartner as a fish does for a bicycle (Thank God). These are companies that are generally considered to be (to borrow a phrase from Kathy Sierra) kick ass companies. Whip out a Gartner white paper in one of those places trying to defend a dumb decision, and after the laughter dies down, all that will be left of your MBA body will be a couple of bloody stumps. Actually, I doubt this happens very often. Companies like the ones I’m thinking of probably don’t employ people who would have much use for Gartner white papers either (except perhaps to line the kennels of the dogs they bring to work).

Let’s pretend we could go back in time to when Google first started out, and let’s also pretend that instead of being smart geeks, founders Sergey and Larry were Gartner-dependent MBAs.

So one day, they’re sitting in their corner office (let’s assume that, as MBA leaders of a cash-poor startup, MBA Sergey and MBA Larry share the same corner office in a rented high-rise temporarily). Sergey looks out the window and says “Larry. We’re going to build a search engine that’s going to need to handle a lot of traffic. I don’t know what computer to run this on.” MBA Larry, without even looking up from his game of Sudoku, says “Mm.” Sergey says “I know, let’s call Gartner and ask them! I’m a Gold Member with Gartner, and the cookies they gave me at the last Big-G Symposium were delicious!” So, they take $20K of their precious venture capital and write a check to Gartner, and then hold a conference call on their Blackberries. The guy from Gartner tells them they should use Windows 2000 Server because, based on earlier advice from Gartner, MBA Sergey and MBA Larry built the Google search engine in Visual Basic.

All rightey… multiply the number of machines in Google’s datacenters by the number of dollars for a legal copy of Windows 2000 server. The answer, for those of you without access to a calculator, is “hosed”.

MBA Sergey and MBA Larry can take comfort in the fact that a well-respected management consulting company told them what they should do, but it didn’t work. If they had angry bosses, they could use this as an excuse. They could claim that the idea of indexing the internet must be flawed. MBA Sergey and MBA Larry can therefore close up shop, fire all the VB programmers, and go get a lap dance with clear consciences.

Companies that do something unusual, something innovative, don’t rely on someone else to do their thinking for them. Fortunately, the real Larry and Sergey didn’t. There is no way Gartner would have told Google, “Uh, yeah. Just use Linux and customize it so it works for you. Make your servers out of plywood and velcro, and put them in a shipping container.”

Management consulting companies are an opiate for the MBA masses.

Blogger.com going out of business

  I posted an item over on my other blog about Robert Scoble, and it wasn’t entirely positive. Nothing too crazy, just a short missive about the lameness of dropping every famous name you can think of.

All of a sudden, when I try to go to my blog, I get a “404” error. Have I been Scobelized? Hard to say. It could be that, or it could be that my other blog is hosted by something not up to the task. Either way, I find it disturbing.

Domain-Specific Languages

I heard a talk this weekend about how Domain-Specific Languages are a coming wave in computer programming.

A Domain-Specific Language (DSL) is a specialized language used to communicate information in a specific ontext, and is distinguished from a general-purpose language by the fact its context is automatically mplied. Thus, the syntax of such a language is often more terse, and devoid of the cruft you see in general-purpose programming languages.

For a real-world example of a DSL, think about what happens when you’re in a Starbucks, and you hear someone say “Venti half-caf latte, vanilla, no whip, extra hot”. You think “Huh?”, but the guy behind the counter springs into action, delivering a specially-configured cup o’ joe to the speaker of the strange sentence.

What happened here is that a domain-specific language, understood by both parties (customer and barista) was employed to convey (and subsequently fill) a specific need. Nowhere in the sentence is the word “coffee” used, but since the conversation took place in a coffee shop, the “coffee” context was implied. To do the same thing in a general-purpose language, you’d say:

I need a cup of espresso mixed with milk, in the largest size you have, with some vanilla added. I would rather not have foam on the top, but I would like it heated to a higher temperature than normal. Oh, and half of the coffee should be decaffinated.

There’s a lot more “noise” in the second version, most of it unnecessary to people working in the “coffee” context.
Expressing this in a general-purpose programming language, with its parentheses and other operators, while doable,
would be messy.

The idea behind DSLs, and the reason this speaker apparently thought they were going to be the Next Big Thing, then,
is that they’re simpler. But, I’m not sure I agree with the benefits. If a DSL is simple, that’s great, but its simplicity implies that
it’s also limited in scope. So its range of usefulness would be limited. And if that’s the case, then it would
seem that, for a wide range of tasks, there would have to be a lot of little DSLs, one for each task. Which means that even though each of those DSLs is simple and easy to understand, you’d have to know a lot of them. I’m having a bit of trouble figuring
out how knowing a bunch of simple languages that each do a specific thing is better than knowing a few languages that
are powerful and flexible enough to do a lot of things. Someone help me out here.

I used to work at a company that made speaker cabinets. My job was to run the machine that cut the holes in the
speaker baffles. If a tiny DSL, specialized to the task of cutting circles at specified coordinates, was used to
program that machine, you could express a specific job like this:

goto 300, 50
circle 80mm
goto 300, 140
circle 160mm
goto 300, 320
circle 400mm
end

Nice and simple, but so what? What if you need to cut a rectangular opening? Making the language so simple that
a 5-year-old could use it to make a speaker baffle is nice, especially if you employ a lot of 5-year-olds. But what
else is it good for?

Personally, I think the future is in languages that allow their syntax to be extended, so you can augment their syntax for
specific tasks. That doesn’t make them DSLs, it makes them even more general-purpose than normal. For this to work,
the root language would need to play loosely with types and syntax. That rules out any of the so-called “powerful”
languages, like Java, C++, etc. From what I know of Ruby, it’s a good language to use for just about everything. Everywhere I go where there are cool people , they’re all talking about Ruby. (Note to self! Play with Ruby soon)

For now, I’m using a tool called Java, a domain-specific language typicalled used for writing Java programs. It’s
pretty well suited to the task, too.

First post

Well, I just started a new blog, and here it is. My other blog generates so little traffic that I’ve earned a measly 8 cents from Google AdSense in the past year. That’s making it hard for me to realize my dream of buying a vacation home off the proceeds from my web-based empire. A real problem. There are two possible causes for this. It’s either a lame blog, or it’s on a lame blog hosting site. I’m guessing it’s the latter. This one has a more professional look to it, and I’m planning on writing different types of stuff in here than in the other blog. Assuming I’m capable of it…