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.

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 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.

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.

I Hate Your Image (A Ramble)

I’ve been car shopping lately, and one of the vehicles I’m looking at is a Subaru. Upon hearing this, a friend mentioned that Subaru has an image of building cars for lesbians.

I wasn’t sure what to make of that. What does it mean when a heterosexual male is attracted to a lesbian car? I tried to figure that out but gave up after getting stuck in a loop.

The whole idea of attaching an image to a car – or really any product – seems silly, yet a product’s image often decides whether we buy it. We choose clothes, food, music, operating systems, and even political candidates based on how they make us feel about ourselves and how we want others to feel about us. I’d argue that some people have no personality of their own and are instead the sum total of the products they buy.

Sometimes negative images work, too. I was surprised when an “anti-aging boutique” named Snooty opened near me. The name “Snooty” seems completely off-putting, but apparently a lot of people like the store’s image. I imagine their spouses shop at a store named “Overpaid Asshat.”

I like to pretend I’m above letting a product’s image affect me, but I know I’m not. I’m one of those annoying people who shuns something just because it’s popular so I favor products with an underdog image. My son says that makes me a hipster but I know that isn’t true because I can’t wear flannel without humming The Lumberjack Song.

Over the years I’ve named three products and I only consciously thought of image with one of them. That was FeedDemon, whose name was a play on “speed demon” – I wanted everyone to think it was fast. A lot of customers liked the name, but some people avoided it because it had an image of being demonic (although in fairness, I’m sure I chose that name in part due to my ill-begotten metalhead youth).


Fade to Black (A Ramble)

Throughout my life I’ve been strangely attracted to dark humor.

Before I wrote software I was a cartoonist, and back then I’d wonder what humor was and why people laugh.

I decided it was madness escaping.

We’re all a little bit insane, doing and believing whatever it takes to avoid the horrible truth that one day we’ll die of old age unless something bad happens first, and when we’re gone the universe will quite clearly continue on just fine without us. Laughter is the sound of that pressure escaping. In a group, it enables us to shed our differences and admit we’re all fucked.

Given that rather bleak perspective, it’s perhaps no surprise that I lean towards dark humor. Not the mean-spirited kind, but instead the kind based on hope.

This is where I start to ramble.

There’s a thing called “middle age settling,” where as you approach middle age you realize you’re not going to change the world as much as you thought you would when you were younger. So you settle on changing a smaller part of the world instead.

In order to do that, you still need hope. Hope that the world is still worth changing, hope that you can at least make things better for the people you love (and maybe even the people you don’t love).

Hope, unfortunately, can be hard to hold onto the more you learn about the world. That seems to have been a problem for some of the dark humorists I’ve enjoyed. As they got older they stopped sounding like disappointed idealists and started sounding like cranky cynics. They faded to black.

That’s something I may struggle with, but so far I haven’t given in to cynicism (of course, I’m a spry young 47, so there’s still time). I continue to laugh at the unpleasant things that bind us, like the universal truth that nothing is funnier than an improperly stifled fart in the middle of a church service. The fact that others laugh with me despite our differences gives me hope.

The Programmer’s Dream (A Ramble)

Programmers dream of new code.

We spend a good deal of our time working on code we didn’t write for software we didn’t create, much of which we believe is horribly written (or, at least, could be done much better). We dream of a chance to start fresh, working from scratch on a brand new piece of software that will eventually become something someone else has to work on and believes is horribly written.

If we’re lucky our software will look pretty solid from the outside. It may do weird things from time to time or very occasionally crash, but on the whole end users will think it’s stable and well thought out. Those of us who can look at it from the inside are amazed by this because we see a house of cards just waiting to come tumbling down. I think one of the benefits of open source is that we can see more clearly that everyone else’s code is just as frightening as our own is.

This situation reminds me of how I used to look at our culture when I was much younger (it’s a tenuous connection, but as I said, this a ramble).

I used to assume there were people in charge who knew what they were doing, who planned how things in society should work. As I got a little older I got more cynical, believing these people were trying to keep the rest of us dumb with shoddy schooling and mind-numbing entertainment, in the hopes they could get away with whatever it is powerful people are always trying to get away with.

Then as I got even older I realized that the people in charge are as clueless as the rest of us. Like our software, our society just kind of happened over the years and it’s always on the verge of coming tumbling down. Nobody really knows what they’re doing or what they’re talking about.

If you can get over the sheer terror of that thought, it’s actually quite liberating.