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Personal Ramblings Second Best

Humble coder

One of the reasons I often dislike Joel Spolsky’s essays is because he makes me feel inferior for not having a Computer Science degree. He doesn’t inspire me to become a better coder; he makes me feel bad that I’m not a better coder in the first place.

Likewise, Paul Graham’s writings often concentrate on startups and the entrepreneurial spirit. Sometimes they’re good; sometimes they have the exact same effect as Spolsky—to make me feel worthless because I haven’t started my own company, and have no intention of doing so.

Rands, on the other hand, writes about management in an interesting and entertaining way, without making me feeling like a failure because I don’t have a team of people working for me. Likewise, I find Jeff Atwood an inspirational writer: in his dedication to coding as a craft, he understands that one of the keys to being a good developer is a fundamental desire to become a better developer. In his latest article, he takes Paul Graham to task for his “you suck” attitude. Thanks, Jeff—I needed that.

I still use this quote from Lois McMaster Bujold as my personal motto:

“There is this, about being the sparring partner of the best swordsman in Caribastos. I always lost. But if I ever meet the third best swordsman in Caribastos, he’s going to be in very deep trouble.”

I don’t know for certain, but I suspect that this attitude would give Paul Graham fits, but it would make Jeff Atwood smile. There’s the difference.

Categories
Ramblings

Pay close attention

If you haven’t seen it already, watch the following video–it’s only about a minute long, and you’ll find it amusing.

Then read this article by PZ Myers. Myers is a well-known scientist, blogger, and anti-creationism commentator.

“I went to attend a screening of the creationist propaganda movie, Expelled, a few minutes ago. Well, I tried … but I was Expelled! It was kind of weird — I was standing in line, hadn’t even gotten to the point where I had to sign in and show ID, and a policeman pulled me out of line and told me I could not go in. I asked why, of course, and he said that a producer of the film had specifically instructed him that I was not to be allowed to attend. The officer also told me that if I tried to go in, I would be arrested. I assured him that I wasn’t going to cause any trouble.”

The punchline is that his friend was allowed in to see the film. The friend was…Richard Dawkins.

So what does the video have in common with that story? They both show the problem with relying too heavily on blacklists. If you focus exclusively on one thing, you will miss whatever else may be right under your nose. (Think: old-fashioned spam filters, terrorist watch lists, screening for dangerous liquids on planes, etc.)

Computing and government

Probably because of some grave misdeed in her murky past, Abi is afflicted by a free subscription to “Computing“, a technology magazine aimed at perpetuating ignorance amongst mid-level managers in large corporations and governmental organizations, and funded by the advertising of consultancy groups that thrive on said lack of knowledge. The only reason I ever give it a second glance before recycling it is the Dilbert cartoon on the back page, and even it is rarely funny any more.

But for some reason, I scanned the front page of the February 28 edition, and was struck by the awesome badness of the following lede:

The government is considering anti filesharing legislation as part of plans for the UK to become “the World’s creative hub”.

Wow. In an earlier age, the quote would have been:

The government is considering legislation to combat direct dialling as part of plans for the UK to become “the World’s hub of telephone operators”.

Or:

The government is considering legislation to combat budget airlines as part of plans for the UK to become “the World’s hub of rail travel”.

Or:

The government is considering legislation to combat manufacture of plastics and other composite materials as part of plans for the UK to become “the World’s centre of iron and steel production”.

You get the point. It’s this kind of thinking that keeps the UK steadfastly on the road to compulsory identity cards. Sigh.

Update–Special contest! Write the funniest quote in the form:

The government is considering legislation to combat X as part of plans for the UK to become “the World’s Y“.

Winner gets a free hyperlink.

Categories
Music Ramblings

2007 in review: Radio Sunpig

As in previous years (2006, 2005, 2004), Radio Sunpig is a collection of songs that represent the best of what I’ve been listening to over the last year. The songs weren’t necessarily released in 2007, but that’s when I first heard them. And as usual, its about two months late for a traditional end-of-year roundup. Oh well.

Radio Sunpig 2007: Coming And Going

  1. The Dynamites – Body Snatcher

    The Dynamites are a modern big band funk group, with a classic 60s vibe. “Body Snatcher” is the opening track of their album “Kaboom!”, and it really does sound like an explosion in a funk factory. Horns and drums all over the place.
  2. Shitdisco – I Know Kung Fu
    It takes a big song to follow on from “Body Snatcher”, but this does the trick: fierce drums, mean bassline, and a shouty chorus that makes you want to get up and jump around.
  3. The Pigeon Detectives – I’m Not Sorry
    Their later single Take Her Back got more airplay, but I prefer this one. The whole album seems to be about going out, shallow relationships, and dumping or getting dumped. It has too much energy to be depressing, though.
  4. The Go! Team – The Power Is On
    This is from their 2005 album Thunder, Lightning, Strike, which I found much more powerful than the 2007 follow-up, Proof Of Youth.
  5. Tragically Hip – In View
    From the album World Container, which totally rocks.
  6. Malcolm Middleton – Fight Like The Night
    I never got into Arab Strap; my listening habits weren’t indie enough when they were active. I first heard Malcolm Middleton solo on Steve Lamacq’s late night Radio 1 show, one evening in 2005 when I was driving back to Edinburgh from Perth. There were roadworks on the bridge, so I decided to take a detour through the back roads of Fife to cross at Kincardine instead. Should have brought a map…. I heard Loneliness Shines on my way through Dollar. It wasn’t until this year that I caught up with the whole album (Into The Woods), and his latest, A Brighter Beat. Fight Like The Night is from the latter, and it features the heavenly voice of Jenny Reeve.. It also has the most extraordinary intro that passes through five distinct phases of increasing intensity over a full minute. (If you get the album, try to get the extended version, with the bonus tracks “Black Marks” and “Cheer Down” on it.)
  7. The Dykeenies – Stitches
    Great new Scottish band. Stitches is a woefully overlooked guitar-driven anthem.
  8. Biffy Clyro – The Conversation Is…
    From Puzzle, one of my favourite albums of the year. This is one of the few songs from it they didn’t release as a single.
  9. The Arcade Fire – Keep The Car Running
    I didn’t like Neon Bible nearly as much as Funeral; in fact, this is the only song from it that did anything for me at all. But I would gladly buy the album again for just this one track.
  10. Eagles Of Death Metal – I Want You So Hard (Boy’s Bad News)
    They’re not a comedy band, they just look that way sometimes. Ignore the “Death Metal” in the name – they are all about fun, ironic, sleazy garage rock. And yes, that’s Josh Homme on drums.
  11. Cajun Dance Party – Amylase
    New band from London whose members have only just finished school. Amylase is a perfect little pop record that had a tiny CD/vinyl-only limited release. Consequently, it got completely overlooked. But they’re building up a good following, and will have their first album out later this year.
  12. Blonde Redhead – Silently
    From the gorgeously moody album 23, this is a light, sweet interlude.
  13. The New Pornographers – Adventures In Solitude
    I found the New Pornographers (and through them, Neko Case) at the end of 2006. They released the album Challengers in 2007. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Twin Cinema, but if you like your pop intricate, varied, and melodic this is definitely one to look out for.
  14. Siobhan Donaghy – Halcyon Days
    This comes from her second album, Ghosts, to which I had been looking forward for a long time, especially after hearing the haunting title track way back in 2006. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the same bite as her solo debut. It’s full of pretty little pop songs, but only a few leave a lasting impression. This is one of them.
  15. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan – It’s Hard To Kill A Bad Thing
    Peaceful, melancholy little instrumental from a smoky, understated alt-folk-country gem of an album: Ballad Of The Broken Seas.
  16. Lindsey Buckingham – Shut Us Down
    Under The Skin is Lindsey Buckingham’s first solo album since Out Of The Cradle, and it’s a very different beast, full of subdued, almost whispered vocals and intricate acoustic guitars.
  17. Ebony Bones – We Know All About U
    A dark bassline and funky hand-claps. I picked this up from Zane Lowe on Radio 1 at the beginning of December, and I’m still amazed that it never saw a proper single release.
  18. Serj Tankian – Empty Walls
    Start with a boom, end with a bang. Serj Tankian normally does vocals for System Of A Down. Elect The Dead is his first solo album, and might be best described as “piano metal”. He still cranks out the noise, though.

Update (2 Mar 2008): Here are links to videos for many (unfortunately not all) of the tracks on YouTube:

  1. (Not found)
  2. Shitdisco – I Know Kung Fu
  3. The Pigeon Detectives – I’m Not Sorry
  4. The Go! Team – The Power Is On
  5. The Tragically Hip – In View
  6. Malcolm Middleton – Fight Like The Night
  7. The Dykeenies – Stitches
  8. Biffy Clyro – The Conversation Is…
  9. The Arcade Fire – Keep The Car Running
  10. Eagles Of Death Metal – I Want You So Hard (Boy’s Bad News)
  11. Cajun Dance Party – Amylase
  12. Blonde Redhead – Silently
  13. The New Pornographers – Adventures In Solitude
  14. (Not found)
  15. (Not found)
  16. Lindsey Buckingham – Shut Us Down
  17. Ebony Bones – We Know All About U
  18. Serj Tankian – Empty Walls