Back When I Wrote Music

When I was a teenager I composed piano instrumentals. Every now and then I dreamed of making it as a musician, but really I only played for fun (I still do, but not nearly as often as I used to).

At one point I borrowed some recording equipment from my older brother and made a cassette tape containing several of my songs. That cassette miraculously survived nearly three decades of neglect before being converted to MP3.

Here’s one of the songs. I wish I could provide a thrilling back story for it, but I can’t remember what I was thinking about when I wrote it and I have no idea why I named it “Lost Prelude.” I do, however, remember that I wrote it in 1985 (the year I graduated high school), and it’s the only song I still remember how to play.

Back When I Wrote Music

Code is Temporary

Developers sweat blood writing code but in the end our code will vanish. That language you’re learning or framework you’re devoted to will disappear in short time. At some point what you create will only be able to run in some nostalgic emulator.

Your code isn’t important: what matters are the ideas your code brings to life. Shitty code that makes a point is better than perfect code that proves nothing.

Don’t waste your short life getting lost in the geeky details of the toolkit du jour. Spend it using your skills to create something that matters to you, that may even last longer than you.

Most developers have far more power than we realize but too many of us squander it building things we don’t care about. Now is your time to make a difference. If you don’t do it now it may never happen.

Code is Temporary

I Wear a Hearing Aid

Ten years ago I underwent surgery for an acoustic neuroma that resulted in the total loss of hearing on my left side.

At the time I didn’t think losing hearing in one ear would be a big deal – after all, I had another ear which worked just fine – but I quickly discovered otherwise. Unilateral hearing loss makes it very hard to hear anything over background noise, and sound on the same side as the deaf ear doesn’t always reach the good one.

Trying to hear people in a group situation became very stressful. I’d have to aim my good ear at the person talking which made me look pretty awkward, and I often got nasty looks from people because I’d talk over them without realizing they were already talking.

So I started avoiding group situations. I stopped going to conferences and stayed away from large get-togethers. If I really needed to be somewhere with a group, I’d make sure to arrive early so I could position myself on the left.

That’s the background story.

Today I got a CROS hearing aid, which transmits sound from my left side over to my right ear. It’s far from a perfect solution in that background noise will still be an issue, but it does enable me to hear those talking on my left side. After a decade of turning to hear people on my left it’s pretty amazing not to have to do that.

I Wear a Hearing Aid

Lawns are Overrated

I hate having a lawn. Lawns don’t make sense to me.

It’s like owning a table you can’t cut things on: it’s just not suited for its purpose, so you spend an inordinate amount of time protecting it.

Where I live, in the spring you have to start mowing the lawn every week. By summer you have to water it to keep it from dying. Then fall rolls around and you have to rake up the leaves or else they’ll smother the grass. And then you hope it’ll survive the winter.

It feels so pointless constantly taking care of something that shouldn’t be there in the first place. If it was meant to be there it would survive without any help.

Funny thing is, I never thought I’d end up with a lawn. When I was younger I decided that home ownership was a scam designed to keep us tied down – and a yard was the extra nail in the coffin. But then I met an absolutely wonderful woman, got married, had kids, adopted dogs, and BAM! Home ownership suddenly made sense. And of course a yard made sense, too, because once you’re responsible for other life forms you have to give them somewhere to run around so they don’t destroy the furniture.

My bad attitude about lawns stems from my childhood. My parents bought a house with a yard that was much too big for them to care for so they assigned that task to their three sons. I had weed duty, and I developed a deep hatred for it which never went away. I don’t think I ever understood why I had to spend so much time pulling out plants that could thrive in our environment in order to maintain a lawn that clearly couldn’t. Forgive the awful pun, but I was rooting for the weeds.

Now that I’m a middle-aged guy with a lawn I’ve vowed not to burden my kids with yard work. Yeah, I know – yard work is supposed to build character. But I’d rather do that by forcing them to watch Monty Python clips and subjecting them to my music.

So I attempted to take care of my yard myself, but after a while I gave up and hired someone else to do it. It feels like a waste, but I figure the point of earning a decent living isn’t to buy expensive toys but instead to be able to pay someone to do all the crap you hate to do.

Once the kids are out of the house and the dogs have expired, I’m sure my wife and I will do as so many other empty nesters have done and move to a smaller place with no lawn. I’ve talked with older couples who have done this and it’s pretty clear they do it to escape the yard work.

My only fear is I won’t be able to last that long and will have the yard paved out of exasperation.

Lawns are Overrated

So About the Cartoons

If you’re a regular reader you’ve no doubt noticed the cartoons that appear here every now and then. And you may have noticed some of them seem a bit dated.

That’s because I drew them 25 years ago.

The cartoons were all published in The Daily Beacon when I was a student at the University of Tennessee from 1989-1991. I had flunked out of another college while pursuing a CompSci degree (it’s a long story) and decided to switch majors to journalism. My dream was to be a syndicated cartoonist so I figured I should understand how journalism and newspapers work.

That seems laughable now. I was ‘tooning in the golden age of newspaper strips like Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side and Bloom County, but the best comic strips these days are self-published on the web, not in newspapers. I can’t imagine any up-and-coming cartoonists dream of being published in newspapers anymore.

I’ve told my cartooning story here before so I won’t rehash it now, but if you’re interested here’s the rest of the story.

So About the Cartoons

Thanks, Radio Shack!

When I was 15 my Dad bought a TRS-80 Color Computer from the local Radio Shack. I was an extreme underachiever at the time, and I think his hope was this new toy would spark my interest.

It worked.

I fell in love with that little 4K box. By the end of the year I was writing BASIC games for it, and soon afterwards I was publishing articles in Hot CoCo and Rainbow Magazine. Next I taught myself assembler and began selling games like “Moon Runner,” a knock-off of the arcade hit “Moon Patrol.”

Moon Runner (1985)

Now that Radio Shack is on its last legs, I just want to say “thanks, Radio Shack!” Thirty years later I enjoy writing software more than ever, and that underpowered TRS-80 is where it all started for me.

Thanks, Radio Shack!

Atheism Is Not a Silver Bullet

In software development we have a saying: there is no silver bullet. It means that no one thing will dramatically improve the quality of the programs we write. No single thing will save us.

I believe my fellow atheists should adopt this saying because too many of them act like the world would be a better place if everyone thought like we do.

This stance isn’t limited to a few well-known atheists. It seems like every time I click on an article that mentions religion the comment thread is peppered by skeptics denouncing other beliefs and touting their own non-belief as the one true thing. That the irony of this is lost on these people is a clear sign they’re not thinking straight.

Let me be clear: I consider myself a devout atheist and have been one since elementary school. Countless times I have experienced prejudice for not believing in god, including receiving death threats from Christian extremists for publishing “anti god” cartoons. I detest the injustices so many suffer in the name of religion and I will never tolerate anyone who claims their god requires women, gays, minorities, or those with different beliefs to be treated as less deserving of civil rights.

But atheism is not the answer. There is no single answer. As humans we are flawed regardless of what we believe. If we stop killing in the name of god we’ll simply find some other reason to do it.

The previous century should be proof enough that even those who claim to be rational can create incredible horrors. If we want to survive the next century then all of us – atheists included – must give up this childish notion that our way of thinking is the key to salvation. We are all just monkeys with expensive haircuts so to claim we’ve got everything figured out is a spectacular conceit.

There is a lot of resentment among atheists at being forced to live in a world that shuns us despite our achievements, but we have to get over this. If we want humanity to move forward we must build bridges rather than burn them.

Atheism Is Not a Silver Bullet