The Importance of Style

I don’t remember a time in my life where I did not own a computer. I was three when my parents went to American TV in Madison, WI to buy an Apple IIe for my mother. My mom was pregnant with my brother and wanted a computer to do work on that would not bother the carpel tunnel syndrome she developed while pregnant. Oh the irony of that belief.

I was in fifth grade an I was creating a book report for a class. I discovered our word processing software allowed you to do some neat formatting on your document, including putting a border on it.

This was an amazing discovery to me. I was excited that I found this new functionality in a program on my own and I ran to go tell my dad about it.

My dad chastised me very harshly. He told me I was wasting my time trying to jazz up my book report and that I must not feel very confident in my work if I felt the need to use a gimmick like a border on my book report to distract the teacher from my research.

I remember at the time feeling very hurt and wounded by this statement. I had discovered something cool and I wanted to share it with someone and I was smacked down for figuring out that my report didn’t have to be boring.

Fast forward twenty years or so.

I am in the process of working on several tech talks that I will be presenting next month. One of my talks is on debugging. I know, debugging sounds like the most boring thing in the world. But it doesn’t have to be.

I spent a decent amount of time creating a custom template for my talk. Since it is about bugs, I thought a nice bug theme would liven up my slides somewhat. I am very proud of the work I did customizing my slides for this talk.

I think that there is an unfortunate attitude in tech that talks don’t have to be interesting. I have lost count of the number of droning, boring talks I have heard at various tech conferences. It’s like some of the speakers are thinking, “Yes! I have a captive audience! They have to listen to everything I say!! Bwahahaha!!!”

I have found that the less work people do to make their talks interesting and relevant the less I care. If the person telling me about this stuff doesn’t find it interesting and exciting, then why should I?

People buy Apple products because the engineers try very hard to make objects that people love to look at, hold, and touch. A great deal of care is taken to make using an Apple device a joy. Their design is one of the major reasons they are as successful as they are today. No one should make the argument that making something look and feel nice is a waste of time. It isn’t. It’s a sign of dedication to the craft.

I think my father was wrong. I don’t think people style things in order to distract the audience from its lack of quality. I think if you care passionately about something you will put a great deal of effort into trying to make sure it is interesting and exciting for other people too. I think putting work into making your stuff looks nice is an indicator that you care about your work and that other people should care about it too.

The Nature of Privilege

Yesterday my husband and I went to a Renaissance Faire. We had a pretty nice day. We both brought ale mugs with us to go around and have various beverages. My husband didn’t partake in anything alcoholic because he had to drive.

As we were leaving the faire there was a security checkpoint to verify that no one was taking alcohol out of the faire. I was asked to show my mug, which I did. My husband was asked to stop and show his mug. He refused to stop. He kept going. The security guard thought my husband didn’t hear him so he started following him to try and stop him. My husband began running to avoid the security guard, putting me in a really awkward position of trying to defuse things with the guard to avoid having him call the police or doing something to try to detain us.

I was very angry about this afterward. My husband realized I was mad and he told me he was sorry, but he didn’t like people trying to tell him what to do and that the guy tried to grab his arm to keep him from leaving.

I am going to share with you a huge, mind blowing secret. Are you ready for it??

I don’t like being told what to do either.

In what universe does my husband think that somehow every other member of the human race has no problem being told what to do and that somehow he is special? Oh wait, that’s right. He lives a world of aggressive white male privilege.

(I want to clarify here that I am not saying every single white male fits into this mold. I am not making a broad generalization about every single man. Please do not yell at me on Twitter for being sexist.)

My husband lives in a world where he has never had to do anything he didn’t want to do.

My husband is an aggressive driver. He has regularly put me in danger while he engaged in road rage with another driver. Once we were on a street where the road narrowed to one lane. Every driver before him would let one car into the lane and everyone took turns merging. My husband decided not to follow this pattern and another car nearly collided with us on my side of the car. Afterward my husband asked me if I was mad at that guy for nearly hurting me. I wasn’t mad at that guy. I was mad at my husband for putting me in physical danger just to be aggressive and let other people know he was not going to do anything he doesn’t want to do.

He has never spent a moment in his life worrying that someone might shoot him for being aggressive on the road. He has never been troubled when he refuses to follow the same unwritten rules that everyone else abides by. He is a 6’2, relatively young, white, upper middle class male. He has never had another person use their size to physically intimidate him into doing something that he didn’t want to do.

The fact that anyone could have this entitled, privileged attitude absolutely blows my mind. I can’t imaging living in that world.

This is my world:

There is a lobbying group in town that assaults people on the street trying to coerce them into “donating” money. Every time I see one of these groups on the street my heart sinks because I always see one guy scanning the sidewalk until he sees me. He makes a beeline for me because I am small, female, and look like someone who can be overpowered into giving money to this person to make him go away and leave me alone.

I have had teachers back me into corners to better be able to look down on me while they tried to intimidate me by threatening my grades. When I was in eighth grade I had one teacher who let a bunch of students write a skit to be performed on a class trip where I had to pretend to be naked and throw myself at a popular guy who was going to cruelly blow me off and humiliate me. When I told the teacher I didn’t feel like that was appropriate, he asked me if I had a tube top or something I could wear so it would only look like I was naked in front of all of my peers rather than actually being naked. My parents had to take me to an out of state wedding when the trip was scheduled to prevent this from happening.

When I worked in retail I routinely had men try to coerce me into giving them refunds that I could not give because of various policy and legal reasons. A few guys tried aggressively flirting with me to make me give them a refund. Several guys threatened to speak to my manager to get me fired if I didn’t make them happy. The worst imposition I had in retail was when an old man came up to me, handed me two containers of sexual lubricant, and asked me which one I liked better and asked me which would be better for masturbation.

Getting out of retail didn’t mean the end of this kind of humiliation. At one of my last real jobs I had a team lead lock me in a room and yell at me for an hour because I spoke to a manager about the fact that he told me to work over a hundred hours off the clock without telling anyone and to bill them to the company while I was out of the country.

How do you explain to someone who has never been physically intimidated how upsetting it can be? At my last job at a start-up, I observed my CEO and CTO aggressively approaching women to get them to try our app. I told them that women don’t really like being approached by tall, scary, aggressive guys. They didn’t get it. They couldn’t see how uncomfortable they were making these women and they refused to try to think of a better way to approach women to use our app.

My husband has trouble understanding why it is so difficult for me to find a normal job. Programmers are in short supply! Why can’t you just walk into a company and get a job? You must be incompetent.

It isn’t about that. The same attitude that my husband has when he runs past the security guard is the attitude that my teacher, manager, and lobbyist have. They feel like they have the right to force me to do something I can’t or don’t want to do, and their privilege to abuse me is indirectly imposing on my husband’s privilege to have a wife who can go to work and earn a decent salary without fear of being exploited, abused, or being inappropriately fired and having my professional reputation annihilated. Everything we do affects everyone else. His privilege is indirectly hurting him through me, but he can’t see it that way because it is hurting him rather than helping him.

Privilege is the ability to feel you have the absolute right to never feel imposed upon by anyone. Privilege is being able to piss someone off because you can and to have absolutely no worries that this person will come after you and cause you physical violence or endanger your livelihood.

I know that I am a relatively privileged person myself. I got to take a few years off from work to go back to school. I get to do a lot of things that most people don’t by nature of being a white, educated, middle class female. I don’t want to give up my privilege, but I never forget that I only get to do what I do because a lot of other people do not. I appreciate my privilege and I try not to abuse it or assume that others haven’t done what I did because I “did it all on my own”. A lot of other people and societal forces converged to let me do what I do and I never forget that.

The security guard at the faire didn’t try to detain us or call the police. However, I had to deal with an angry, aggressive man that I didn’t want to or have to because my husband chose to force me to do the thing he didn’t want to do. He’s right, he lives in a world where he doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do without fear of being shot, attacked, or harassed. I just wish that he cared enough about me to not force me into a situation where I have to be afraid of being attacked or hurt in his place. To be fair, he also probably wishes I cared enough about him to get off my ass and get a normal job like everyone else does instead of delving into esoteric technology and writing. Hey, maybe I am the one who is privileged.

Code of Conduct

So today there has been some controversy on Twitter about 360|iDev’s Code of Conduct.

I honestly do not understand what the controversy is here. They are clearly stating that they want a diverse conference where everyone will be respected.

Here is my perspective on things.

I am a female programmer. I got into programming later in life. I originally studied video and audio production. I was young and foolish and thought I could succeed purely through sheer force of will. I would say I was about 30 when I really began to learn enough programming to make a go of it. At the last job I had I was not only the only woman, I was also the oldest person by a decade. I also have some health issues that make it impossible to work more than 40 hours a week.

Between being a woman, being older, not having a dozen years of experience, and having health issues, I feel very vulnerable in a community that fetishized boys barely old enough to drink who have been coding for fun since they were ten.

I have been extraordinarily privileged to be given the opportunity to speak at conferences on something that isn’t feminism. 360|iDev will be the fifth conference I have spoken at this year. I am speaking about Apple’s new 3D graphics programming framework.

People like Jim Remsik, Dave Klein, and John Wilker are all throwing me a lifeline to give me the chance to establish myself as a professional and maybe have a career.

I worry sometimes that I only get these opportunities because of “male guilt”. I am very concerned with being seen as someone who only gets to speak because they want more women. I have worked tirelessly to try to prove my cred by tackling difficult programming topics that frighten most people away. I am worried sick about not having a great talk to present at 360|iDev because my reach exceeds my grasp.

Even if I make an idiot of myself, at least I was given the chance. That’s all I ask for. I am being given a time and a place and what I do with it is up to me. A lot of people won’t even do that and I am eternally grateful for being given the chance to do what I can and make what I can of it. I am also grateful for the chance to meet the other people who are speaking and attending. In a world where connections are everything, the connections I have made at my conferences have been absolutely invaluable.

I have absolutely no idea what in the Code of Conduct created this fuss. I do know that I submitted a talk to a conference I could not afford to attend and that the organizers are not only giving me a chance to speak about a topic that is near and dear to my heart, they are also financially making it possible for me to go.

Talk is cheap. If you care so much about getting more women in technology, hire more women. Be willing to train them when they don’t have 5-10 years of experience. Mentor someone. Do something that actually costs you time or money. 360|iDev did. Don’t just go on Twitter and be a douche.

Ebook Annoyances

I have a confession to make: I am addicted to books. I am not addicted to reading books, I am addicted to buying and accumulating them.

I have far more books than I am ever going to read in my lifetime, but I like the feeling I get when I feel like if I wanted to know how to do something I could just do it. I am fascinated by animation and I have over a dozen books on HTML 5 animation. I like to think I will get around to reading them one day.

This is a "stack trace" of one of my multitudes of stacks of programming books.

This is a “stack trace” of one of my multitudes of stacks of programming books.

In order to avoid the massive piles I have stacked all over my house, I discovered ebooks. Ebooks are awesome. They just take up a little space on your hard drive, you can put them on multiple devices, and you can take them with you on trips without having to pack an extra suitcase. They also have the added benefit that if I decide I want to buy a book, I click a button and it appears on my computer like magic.

I have been primarily getting my books from InformIT. They are part of Safari Books Online and they sell the ebook version a few series that I am addicted to, primarily the “Learning , A Hand’s On Guide to Learning .” They have a deal of the day and they also have a lot of sales.

Back over the Fourth of July I preordered two books from them: Introduction to Game Design Prototyping and Development and Writing Interactive Music for Video Games. These are both part of a game developer series I have become enamored with.

I ordered these books on July 1st. The prototyping book was set to publish on July 8th. I figured, great, I get the book in a week. Huzzah!

July 8th came and no book. I checked the site and the publish date was pushed back a few days. Okay, no big deal. I can wait longer.

Last week I checked back. The book was now available to purchase and download, but my account page showed that I preordered it and couldn’t download it. I contacted customer service. I was told that I contacted the wrong customer service and I was sent somewhere else. Okay…

I got a response back this morning telling me that my order couldn’t be completed and was cancelled. If I have any questions go to this link.

Uh, why was my order cancelled? Is there a problem with preordering books from your site? Does this mean my other preordered book was cancelled? What happened here exactly? How can I avoid this situation in the future? Is there any way I can still buy the book at the price I ordered it at?

How many of these am I really going to be able to read??

How many of these am I really going to be able to read??

I forwarded these questions back to the representative. I got a response back saying it was between me and my credit card company and that if I have a problem I should talk to them.

No, the problem isn’t with me and my credit card company. It is with you and me. I paid for a product I was not given. I need to get access to my credit card statement to make sure that yes, in fact, I received a refund for the books I ordered. Even if I do talk to the credit card company and get them to authorize this purchase, I can’t get my book because you cancelled my order.

I have purchased books from you every week or two for the last year. I have never had this problem before when I impulsively buy and download random books that catch my eye. Why was I able to buy a book literally two days later but somehow the issue is with the credit card company?

Also, why was I not told the order was cancelled? If I hadn’t contacted you asking where my book was would I have gotten my money back or would you have just held onto it?

If someone who has blown over a thousand bucks on your site over the last year contacts you to find out how to give you more money, don’t blow them off. Don’t tell them to talk to someone else and just cancel their order.

I really wish that O’Reilly carried this series, but sadly they do not. I checked Amazon and they do carry the book I am looking for. It only works on the Kindle, which is kind of limiting. However, I do know that this would never happen on Amazon. As much as I am annoyed by bad business practices, I at least know that if they can’t fulfill my order that at least they will tell me about it and I won’t have to track them down.

I have access to this book through Safari Books Online. I pay nearly fifty bucks a month to get access to everything they have. It is probably a stupid thing for me to buy a book I can access online, I just like to know I can touch and feel it. I guess this should be a wake up call for me to stop wasting my money on impulse ebook purchases from InformIT.

So, thanks for not letting me buy that book. Thanks for saving me from myself. Time to get back to reading one of the many multitudes of books I already own.

Lexical or Preprocessor Issue

So, today was the day I decided to bite the bullet and start working on my Metal demo for CocoaConf Columbus and 360|iDev.

Since a large focus of my talk is on GPUImage, I am hoping to put together a light Metal version of GPUImage that processes an image using a series of filters. I want to write between three and five filters that are easily stacked on one another that have a GPUImage counterpart in order to test how fast Metal processes images compared to GPUImage.

I went to look at what sample code is available from Apple for Metal. To my delight, I saw that there was an image processing base project. It includes one filter to change an image to black and white and that is hardcoded. I should be able to go into this project, add my filters, and add some UI elements allowing me to add the filter shaders I write.

Today I opened the sample code. Immediately, there was an error.

“Lexical or Preprocessor Issue: QuartzCore/CAMetalLayer.h not found.”

This is why we can't have nice things!!

This is why we can’t have nice things!!

Huh. That is inconvenient.

Did some digging. Refrained from asking this question on Stack Overflow because the last time I asked a question about the betas I got a snide person telling me to go somewhere else. Headed to the Dev Forums and found this thread.

Apparently, for the time being, there is no support for Metal in the simulator. There should be support for Metal if you have an A7 device like the iPhone 5S (which I have) that is running the iOS 8 beta.

I have not yet updated my phone to the beta. I know we are getting close to the point where it will be released, so it isn’t a huge thing to update to the beta, I just feel like I have no guarantee that stuff will work on there properly even after I update to the beta.

I must say that this latest wrinkle is not doing anything to sell me on Metal.

Metal only works on iOS A7 chips and now further won’t even work in the simulator. I usually use the simulator in my talks to demonstrate things I am doing, but now I have to get it on my device. I think I can use Airplay to show what the screen looks like, but that is one more step that can go wrong in my process.

The other things I am noticing in the sample applications is that most of the class implementation files end in “.mm”, which means that they are explicitly telling the compiler that there is going to be C++ code in them.

I have not worked with Swift as much as I should have, but I am wondering if this is going to be a problem with trying to write an app in Swift. I know that theoretically Swift is supposed to behave like Objective-C in that you can include C and C++ code, but I have not tried to write straight C code in a Swift class yet. Can you write C code in a Swift class, or is the support just that I can import a C class into a Swift-based project? How is this going to work with Metal?

At least with OpenGL ES you have the GLKit framework with should work with Swift. I am interested to know more about this, but sadly I don’t believe I will be able to explore these issues before I give my talk in Columbus.

I am also trying to figure out just how much C++ I need to know to fully work with Metal. I thought that I needed to know about the same amount of C++ as you need to know of C to work with GLSL, but after seeing the number of classes that are implementing C++, I am slightly worried that I am going to be out of my depth for a while.

These are things I am going to have to take into consideration and disclose during my talk. I know most of these issues will resolve themselves in the next few years, it is just slightly frustrating to sit on the sidelines trying to figure out how to make it work here and now.

Fortune favors the brave.

Heavy Metal

Hair Force One announcing Metal

Hair Force One announcing Metal

I know that the big new hotness from WWDC 2014 for most people is the Swift programming language. Swift has a large impact on me and on the project I am working on that I can’t publicly announce yet, but that was not the most intriguing thing announced to me. The most interesting thing that captured my attention was Metal.

I have been interested in learning OpenGL ever since I heard about it. I had to make the terrible choice last year of choosing whether to learn OpenGL or Core Audio because it would be complete idiocy to try to learn both at the same time. Since Chris Adamson didn’t write a book on OpenGL, I made the choice last year to learn Core Audio. It was the first programming book I read cover to cover and I got to spend a day with him in Boston at CocoaConf doing Core Audio. That was an amazing experience, but it’s time to move on to the next thing.

I started to learn OpenGL ES in earnest back in March. I had a few books and I have primarily been reading the same materials over and over again hoping that my brain translates them.

GPUImage

GPUImage

One accepted way learn OpenGL ES is to work on the GPUImage framework. There is a great blog post about how to write a custom shader here.

I decided a good way to learn OpenGL ES was to do a talk on GPUImage. Many of the tutorials I have seen on the framework basically just tell you how to plug it into your project and use the built-in filters. I wanted to do a talk about how the framework actually works and how to write your own filters. The creator of the framework, Brad Larson, lives in town. He has been extraordinarily generous with his time and knowledge about OpenGL ES. I pitched this talk and got it accepted at two different conference: CocoaConf Columbus and 360|iDev in Denver. Both of these conferences are in August. I pitched these talks around May. I figured that would be a decent amount of time to figure all this stuff out.

Then, like everyone else, I got slammed by WWDC.

I know that I don’t have to talk about Metal. It’s only been publicly announced for a few months and it only works on a handful of devices. There was no reason I couldn’t just keep my original talk topic. No reason except I had some existential questions I wanted answered.

Every time I heard about GPUImage I heard it was faster than Core Image because it was programmed on the GPU. What does that mean? All of my research on OpenGL ES says to push as much work off the GPU as possible, but they never specify what work the GPU is doing. I read a whole book on OpenGL ES without having any real clue what work is being done on the GPU.

The Defending Champion, OpenGL ES!

The Defending Champion, OpenGL ES!


I really wanted to do a talk on how to optimize OpenGL ES. I also wanted to explore what exactly it was that Metal was doing that was so much better than OpenGL ES. I heard a lot of bemoaning about how slow and inefficient OpenGL ES was, but after talking to Brad about it for a little while, I wondered if the mob was wrong.

I am doing my first talk on Metal three weeks from today. I have exactly one slide from my talk done as of 1:00 this afternoon, but I am in the process of gathering the answers to my questions.

One resource I can’t recommend more highly is the video tutorial series done by Ray Wenderlich. I had a list of questions in my head that I now have answers to because of his series on OpenGL ES. I am a quarter of the way through it and subscribing to his video tutorials is the best money I have spent on tech resources this year. It is my hope that one day he will produce a 3D graphics programming, hopefully after I know it well enough to be able to contribute to it!

So, I am going to take some time, but not too much, cataloging my work on this talk. I also have a debugging talk to complete in three weeks along with some obligations for my unnamed project. I think this is doable if I don’t have a panic attack or get distracted by squirrels.

The Famous Utah Teapot

The Famous Utah Teapot

I am planning to include links in my blog to any resource I have found to be particularly useful.

My goal before going to CocoaConf is to have a working Metal application with a few of the GPUImage filters translated from the OpenGL Shading Language to the Metal Shading Language. I would like to show the performance differences between GPUImage and Metal using the same project. I would also like to be able to intelligently explain GPU programming to people who are coming into this without knowing anything about OpenGL.

Three weeks. Two talks. Git ‘er done!

Lay Down Your Burdens

Today I invested way too much of my time contemplating my future. These thoughts were primarily based on these pieces by Ed Finkler and Matt Gemmell. Both of these articulate men spoke about feeling burned out.

Ed has at least 15 years of web developer experience and Matt recently left software development to become a full time writer.

Here is my story.

I began programming in earnest in March of 2012. I began going to school for programming in 2010, but I was working at the time and I didn’t have the time or energy to really immerse myself in programming. By March 2012 I had unofficially dropped out of school and had walked away from programming feeling defeated.

I began a new job. The second week I was there our team lead walked in, closed all the doors, and told all of us under no circumstances were we to tell anyone in the company that we had no work to do and that we were to pretend to be busy.

Along with looking for another job, I also started working through the tutorials on Code Academy. It looked kind of like work and it was something to occupy my time. Ever tried doing nothing 40 hours a week? It’s living torture. Doing those tutorials kept me from having a complete nervous breakdown.

Miraculously, I discovered that if I spent 40 hours a week coding, I actually was able to learn it. Before I embarked on this experiment I had to look up how to write a “for” loop. I got to a point where I could just code. I didn’t feel stupid, I could do things and make stuff work. I felt amazing.

I was eventually fired from my job, but I actually finally understood what I needed to do in order to be a programmer. I needed to code. A lot.

I went back to school and I was on unemployment. It was going to take a year and a half to finish my programming degree, so I set out to code a lot. I gave up everything I used to love doing to learn programming. I would wake up at 7:00 in the morning and code 10-12 hours a day. I would code tutorials over and over again until I understood them.

I assumed this was temporary. I figured I would learn enough to find a job and that eventually I would be able to get some of my life back. I would be able to read fiction books. I would be able to cross stitch. I could learn to make candy. I would be able to take a weekend off. Hell, I would be able to go on a vacation!!

Welcome to my life,  Jared.

Welcome to my life, Jared.

None of this has happened yet.

I have never been able to get back to the feeling I had when I initially mastered the fundamentals of programming. There has always been another obstacle to overcome. I learned object orientation. I learned to build user interfaces. I learned design patterns. I’m learning a whole new fucking language.

The only thing that gets me through all of this is the idea that somehow, some day I will gain a critical mass of knowledge where I will be able to take a break. I am not talking about never learning another new thing ever again, I am talking about being able to go on a cruise for a week without bringing my computer and having a panic attack because I am wasting time I could be spending reading programming books. I am talking about being able to think about possibly having kids without thinking that it would completely and utterly derail my career. I am talking about being able to write and produce an application without having to immediately go back and redo it because everything changed a week after I finished it.

I regularly work myself to exhaustion. I will be laying in bed completely incapacitated feeling guilty that I am not working. I give myself migraines where I have to have my Kindle pried from my hands because I feel like I should be reading a programming book when I am about to throw up from the pain and I should be asleep.

I don’t want to be Sisyphus. I don’t want to get so close to getting that boulder up to the top of the hill only to watch it fall back down to the bottom. It is fucking demoralizing to see everything you know crumble to dust before your eyes and having to start over.

The Modern Programmer

The Modern Programmer

There is a chapter in one of Anthony Bourdain’s books talking about how when you go to a celebrity chef’s restaurant, like Wolfgang Puck’s, your food isn’t being prepared by Wolfgang Puck, it’s usually being prepared by a guy named Jesus or Jorge. He says being a chef is grueling and you don’t have guys chained to their kitchens into their sixties. He pleads that these guys put decades of their lives into their craft, don’t they deserve a break? Why should programmers be any different?

Everyone has a certain number of times they can watch their life’s work go up in smoke before they say fuck it, I give up. I am not there yet, but I can seriously see a time ten, fifteen years from now when I am there. I don’t think it is healthy for us to just accept that everyone is going to either get career burnout or career obsolescence. There has to be a healthy, sustainable way for everyone to be able to adapt to change at a pace that is reasonable. It isn’t right to treat people like resources to be used and discarded when they can’t take it anymore or want to have some semblance of a normal life. This isn’t too much to ask.

Thoughts on Being an Indie Developer

Back at the beginning of 2014 I thought everything was finally coming together. I got my first programming job and I had my first tech conference talk lined up. Everything was going great. 2014 was going to be my year.

A month into 2014 I lost my job. It wasn’t a great fit and I wish everyone the best. However, it put me in this uncomfortable position of revamping my conference speaker bio. I felt kind of like I broke up with my boyfriend a week before Valentine’s Day. I had no idea what to say. I didn’t want to just go, “Hey, I am unemployed! Huzzah!”

My answer came in an email from our CocoaHeads organizer. He was announcing what people in our group were presenting conference talks and he listed my job as: “Independent”.

Yes! Independent is perfect. I don’t have to go through the humiliation of having to put in my bio that I am unemployed or tap dancing around the fact that I don’t have a job listed. I have a job. I am an independent developer.

After I got done with my talks I started a remote contract job that lasted two and a half months. Immediately after that I started a project that I am currently still working on that will take another few months.

Life is pretty sweet. I work out of my house, so I can wear comfortable clothes. I don’t have to leave my pugs. I don’t have to drive anywhere. If I want to leave in the middle of the day to work out of a tea house, no one cares.

I would love to do this for the rest of my career. I get to do things that interest me and I can change what that is every couple of months without my resume looking like swiss cheese. I keep waiting for a nice block of time where I don’t have any obligations to anyone to work on my own stuff.

However, I am coming to a slightly uncomfortable reality.

everyone-is-a-democrat-until-they-get-a-little-bit-of-money.jpgI have noticed over the last month or so that an awful lot of formerly independent developers are now being hired by large companies.

I am wondering if my wanting to work for myself out of my house is me still clinging to a fig leaf that I am not an unemployed developer but that I am doing this out of my own free will. I am worried that I am going to be the guy in the group who dates women half his age long after it stops being socially acceptable and it just becomes sad.

I don’t even know if what I want to do is feasible. Other developers that I have spoken to have seen contract work dry up because iOS has become a mature enough platform that companies are creating in house developer teams rather than hiring contractors to do piecemeal work. Additionally, it is conventional wisdom that the market for paid apps has also mostly dried up.

I don’t really want to start a company and be in charge of people because I noticed people don’t really listen to what I have to say. I also don’t want to jeopardize a bunch of other people’s futures on the chance I might not be wrong about something. I am okay with gambling my own future, but I don’t want to be responsible for anyone else’s.

I am an arrogant person who looks at Steve Jobs and uses the fact that he succeeded as proof that following your gut can pay off even though there are thousands of people out there who have done that and failed. I like to think that there is more than one way to do something and just because 90% of the world does their job the same way doesn’t mean I have to. There is a 10% out there that does things differently, and isn’t that the spirit behind people who identify themselves as Apple users?

I know if I am smart I will find a nice, stable company to work for that hopefully will let me work remotely and pay me a nice wage. One day it will happen. But not yet. I have apps to make.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Favorite Episode- The First Duty

This is the ninth entry in my “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.

Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth...

Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth…


The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth or historical truth or personal truth! It is the guiding principle on which Starfleet is based! And if you can’t find it within yourself to stand up and tell the truth about what happened, you don’t deserve to wear that uniform!

That quote, in a nutshell is the reason that this episode is my absolute favorite episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation ever. I picked this episode over “The Best of Both Worlds”, “Tapestry”, and all the other wonderful episodes on my list.

Wesley Crusher

Wesley Crusher is among the most hated and problematic characters on TV. He was introduced in the first season of TNG and the writers didn’t really know what to do with him. Frankly, the writers didn’t really know what to do with any of the characters for the first few seasons of the series.

Yeah, well I don't really want to be here either...

Yeah, well I don’t really want to be here either…

I went to see “Datalore” in a movie theater when they were releasing the Blu-Ray versions of the each season of TNG. There is a point in the episode where Wesley is the only character who realizes Data is not Data. At that point, Picard snarls, “Shut up, Wesley!” Everyone in the theater burst into cheers. It bothered me that the writers would make Picard do something so unprofessional and out of character, but honestly he was saying what everyone probably thinks.

Wesley also wound up getting placed in this terrible characterization of always saving the ship. You had the elite, best of the best officers serving on the flagship of the Federation being made a fool of by a teenaged boy. I remember there was an episode where he creates a program that simulates voices and uses it to hack into the computer and make himself captain. I give props to Wil Wheaton for doing what he could with the character because I think I would have gagged over nearly everything he was given to do.

That was one reason this episode was so great. You had this problematic character who somehow miraculously always knew what to do who was now put in the very human situation of making a mistake. Not only did he make a mistake, he doubled down on his mistake by trying to cover it up.

Well now, Lancelot, Galahad, and I will leap out of the rabbit...

Well now, Lancelot, Galahad, and I will leap out of the rabbit…

I remember growing up somewhat isolated and not having a lot of friends. I found a group of friends in college. My father wanted me to transfer to a better school my last year of college. I chose not to because I found friends for the first time in my life and I thought that was more important. A week after the deadline to transfer all of my friends turned on me and I spent my last year of college alone. Wesley’s decision to stick with his friends out of loyalty rings true to me. It is very hard to betray people you know and want to like you, so his behavior is completely understandable. It is also understandable why he chooses to finally do the right thing. If everyone had to look Patrick Stewart in the eye while he tells them they disappointed him, then no one would ever do anything wrong.

Ensign Sito

One episode I had on my top ten list that I dropped because I realized it would overlap was “Lower Decks”. That episode appealed to me because it follows up from this episode.

Don't try to stare down Picard. Just don't.

Don’t try to stare down Picard. Just don’t.

Sito Jaxa is one of the members of Nova Squadron who is punished for her role in the cover-up. She doesn’t make a huge impression in “The First Duty” because you have powerhouse performances by Patrick Stewart, Ray Walston, and Robert Duncan McNeill.

When she comes back in a few seasons, you probably don’t remember her. You get a reminder that she has a backstory later in the episode.

Her story is interesting to me because it is a story that doesn’t get told very often. She is a person who made a mistake and was punished for it. That mistake could have ruined her future. She had to repeat a year of school and she lost all of her friends. She was known as one of the cadets who killed a teammate and tried to cover it up. The pressure of that drove Wesley to drop out of the Academy.

In fiction, we like self-contained stories. Person does something stupid, they get punished for it, the karmic balance of the universe is restored, let’s go have cake. There is a reason all the princess fairy tales end with “happily ever after” after the wedding. At that point stuff starts getting real and messy and complicated.

Sito Jaxa undercover

Sito Jaxa undercover

It is a very real thing to have your life torn apart and having to figure out where you go from there. One reason I find Steve Jobs compelling is that his story could have ended back in 1985 when he was forced out of Apple. Man starts company, is in over his head, flies too close to the sun, then crashes back down to Earth. Nice and tidy.

Except it isn’t. Your life crashes around your ears and you keep living. You can’t stop. You keep having to move forward. You learn. You change. You gather the pieces of your life and you start over.

I have encountered many people over the years who tell me that one false move will destroy my career. I do one wrong thing and it is over.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

I thought my life was over six years ago. I had everything I worked for evaporate overnight. Everything was gone. I was 27 years old and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I did know, however, that I had to endure. I knew that I could not just give up on myself. I knew it would take time and it would be hard, but that I needed to get over it and keep going.

I don’t think that one bad decision I made when I was in my 20s should label me a failure and determine that I will never succeed. I think people are fully capable of learning from mistakes and becoming new and better people. I am not the same person I was five or ten years ago. The fact that they brought this character back and had her talk about having to pull herself together and persevere after nearly having her career destroyed by a mistake was just awesome.

Picard and Boothby

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got from my parents was to always be nice to support staff. Support staff are the people who really know what is going on. Being mean to them is tacky and it is also a really bad idea because they usually know more about what is going on that the people in “charge”.

Cranky old man with cranky middle aged man.

Cranky old man with cranky middle aged man.

It is telling that when Picard gets back to the Academy the first person he goes to for the inside scoop is Boothby.

It is interesting that in my last recap, “Tapestry”, Picard got a chance to go back and prevent himself from making a mistake. Boothby helped him with some trouble that is completely different than the territory they covered in Tapestry.

I find it interesting that so much of the series is focused on breaking down Picard. He lost his heart by being stabbed. He got kidnapped by The Borg. He was tortured by the Cardassians. There is a running gag in Deep Space Nine that each season they have a “torture O’Brian” episode. They may have gotten the idea from torturing Picard.

I really can’t think of any other character in any form of literature whose development comes close to that of Jean-Luc Picard. Picard is the only character I know who has been allowed to fail and come back from it. He has failed many times. He is the only character I know of who is shown as a successful adult at the height of his career who got there by failing upward.

It is really nice that you have Picard getting advice from Boothby as a cadet, becoming the wise older man, then paying it forward to Wesley.

Seriously, I don’t think you can be human and be given this speech without feeling like complete and total crap:

Come on, don't tell me you don't want to sit in the Captain's chair too!!

Come on, don’t tell me you don’t want to sit in the Captain’s chair too!!

Do you remember the first day you came aboard this ship? Your mother brought you on the Bridge. And you even sat in my chair! I was annoyed! A presumptuous child playing on my ship! But I never forgot how you already knew every control, every display. You behaved as though you belonged on the Bridge. And then, later, when I decided to make you an acting Ensign, I was convinced that you could be an outstanding officer. And I never questioned that conviction… until now.

The biggest thing that has bothered me when I have failed is when I have let down someone who gave me a chance and believed in me. One of the things that helps me gather my fortitude and carry on is wanting to be able to show that person that they were not wrong.

Tom Paris, no, I mean Nicholas Locarno

No, I am not a shapeshifter!

No, I am not a shapeshifter!

Just want to make an aside about why the hell the creators of Voyager didn’t just call the Tom Paris character Nicholas Locarno when they cast McNeill. The character has basically the same backstory and personality. I understand that sometimes Star Trek actors get recycled, like how Dr. Leah Brahms turns up in Deep Space Nine as an admiral of some kind, but the characters are vastly different.

Maybe Tom Paris is just a shapeshifter. That would explain an awful lot, especially in that god-awful episode where they break the warp 10 barrier…

Truthiness

Earlier this year I read an article by a start-up founder talking about the cost of lying.

The general gist of the post is that when you lie to yourself or your investors, you are not living in reality. You are placing yourself in an aspirational reality that prevents you from being able to fix what is broken.

The last job I had before I dedicated myself to programming was for this company where our team leader didn’t know what we were supposed to be doing. Instead of talking to his bosses, he decided to hide the truth from them.

What do you say to a man whose son you accidentally killed?

What do you say to a man whose son you accidentally killed?

My second week on the job he told everyone to pretend to be busy. He would shame you if you asked any questions by implying that asking questions makes you look stupid and that if you have questions you should just keep them to yourself to avoid being judged and eventually fired. If he thought that anyone was talking to anyone else who was not on your team he would take you to an empty office and eviscerate you. He broke everyone down so that people would not leave or look for other jobs because they were convinced they were worthless and no one would ever hire them again.

All of this eventually caught up with him because I reported his behavior and the company had to deal with the fact that many things they thought were the case were based on lies. I was punished for my complicity in this scheme, which was fine. I really needed to figure out what to do with my life and that gave me the kick I needed to follow the path I needed to be on. All of this could have been avoided if the team lead had just told the truth right away and said “I don’t know what you want us to do.”

Unwillingness to deal with the truth is my smell test of whether I want to work for a company or not. If I talk to people who don’t want to deal with reality, then it is going to bleed into other areas. Most companies that have a bullying culture are unwilling to deal with the truth, so it gets ignored and swept under the rug.

Conclusion

I know this probably isn’t everyone’s favorite episode of Star Trek, but it was mine. It has many of the same themes as Tapestry, but I found this one slightly more compelling because you don’t really know what is going to happen to the characters. With Tapestry you know at the end of the episode Picard will be alive and that he will feel better about his mistakes. This ends on a question mark. There is no “happy ending” here. Wesley loses his friends and his leader gets expelled. You don’t know what is going to happen to Wesley.

Stand and deliver.

Stand and deliver.

I would argue that this incident is the reason Wesley kind of falls on his ass and drops out of the Academy.

Some people deal with adversity better than others. People either learn from their mistakes or those mistakes bring them down. I know that for me personally I have learned and grown so much from my mistakes that I would not trade them for anything. Other people get destroyed by incidents that happen to him. I am glad that the writers gave Wesley some grey areas instead of just having him graduate from the Academy early and be lined up to captain a ship right out of the Academy like some other Star Trek properties I could point to.

For those of you counting at home, I have only covered nine Star Trek episodes out of a Top Ten list. As we all know, “All Good Things…” must come to an end…

Star Trek: The Next Generation Top Three Episodes- Tapestry

This is the eighth entry in my “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.

You are dead, and I am God.

You are dead, and I am God.

Jean-Luc Picard: Q. what is going on?

Q: I told you. You’re dead. This is the afterlife. And I’m God.

Jean-Luc Picard: No… I am not dead. Because I refuse to believe that the afterlife is run by you. The universe is not so badly designed.

Introduction

“Tapestry” is “It’s a Wonderful Life”, TNG-style, except, instead of having an incompetent, bumbling guardian angel you are stuck with a psychopathic trickster with God-like powers. This has already gotten better.

These are your best friends?? Why do we never see them again?

These are your best friends?? Why do we never see them again?

This episode explores the idea that there are pivotal moments in your life that set you on a path irreparably. In Doctor Who, The Doctor refers to these as “fixed moments in time.” He couldn’t stop the destruction of Pompeii because it was a fixed moment in time. He could, however, save one family from the fires and then regenerate into the father of that family in 2014.

Picard is being given the chance to go back and change that fixed point in time. He regretted what choices he made in that instance and he has a chance to go back, putting things right that once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home. Oh wait, wrong Enterprise captain.

Jean-Luc Picard

Jean-Luc Picard is one of my absolute, all-time favorite characters in anything. I have said before that I feel like Picard is the mentor/boss/father figure everyone wishes they had. He commands respect, but he still has a sense of humor.

Who would have thought anyone would be so happy to be stabbed?

Who would have thought anyone would be so happy to be stabbed?

One reason he is such a compelling character is because he has made mistakes. In “The First Duty” he and Boothby talk about some mistake he made as a cadet that is never elaborated on. He talks about how he was a thoughtless and reckless young man. Making mistakes as a young man formed the wise man we see today.

There is so much emphasis in our society on prodigies. We are enamored with the idea of people who have preternatural gifts that allow them to effortlessly float through problems most people find difficult.

We do not fundamentally respect experience. If someone fails at something, we write them off and never give them another chance again. This is not a good attitude to have. Failure is one of the best teachers there is. We do not allow people in our society to fail. Everyone gets a ribbon in the science fair. Everyone is special, which is the same as saying no one is.

I have had my fair share of failures in my life. Each and every one of them taught me something. One reason this episode spoke so much to me was because I have thought about if I was given the chance to go back in time and change one of my fixed points in time if I would. I would not. If I went back and changed anything, it would just delay the inevitable. I would have not learned the lesson I needed to from that failure and I would have had it later when it was harder to recover from.

I don’t necessarily buy that Picard would have become a science lieutenant if he hadn’t been stabbed, but it did get the point across to Picard that these mistakes were part of the tapestry of his life. His mistakes were woven into the fabric of who he is and if you pull one thread the whole piece comes unravelled.

Q

Q is one of the best characters in Star Trek and this is one of the best episodes he appears in.

When we are introduced to Q in “Encounter at Farpoint” he is putting humanity on trial. He decided that we were not ready to interact with the larger universe. We had to prove to him that we were.

I push humanity forward.

I push humanity forward.

All of the best Q stories come from this base idea. I think some of the writers don’t fundamentally understand the kernel of Q’s essence, as evidenced by the abortion they did to the character in his appearances on Voyager.

Q is compelling because he challenges the nature of who we are. He has God-like powers, but they are best used when he forces you into a situation you are uncomfortable with and forces a change on you.

The silly Q episodes like “Q-Pid” could have just as easily been holodeck episodes.

Each race on Star Trek that has become successful represents some aspect of humanity reflected back at us in a way that we can explore it. The Ferengi were a failed race until Deep Space Nine when they figure out that what made the Ferengi tick was capitalism. This was a deep and rich vein to be mined for stories and it is rather painful to go back and see episodes of TNG before they figured that out.

Q and the Q Continuum, to me at least, represent our collective unconscious. I mean that in our feel that there are things that are larger and greater than we are. We are fundamentally all connected and we have stories and themes that universally speak to all of us. There are dark aspects of ourselves that we do not like to examine. Q forces those aspects out into the light and makes you deal with them. Picard worries that he flew too close to the sun and will burn himself out early because he wasn’t more prudent as a young man. Q forces him to confront that fear and to realize that just being alive isn’t the same as living.

Do you want to make a contract??

Do you want to make a contract??

Picard inadvertently made something of a Faustian bargain. He traded some of the end of his life for distinction and success earlier on. Generally in fiction Faustian bargains are portrayed as bad or evil. People trade their lives for power, power corrupts, and they descend into a personal hell.

In Puella Magi Madoka Magica Kyubey convinces people to enter into Faustian bargains with it. There is a discussion on the morality of what it is doing. It says that these bargains push the human race forward. If it didn’t create these contracts, the human race would still be sitting around naked in caves.

Not everyone can play it safe. You need people like Steve Jobs to take risks and push us forward. Being one of those people may or may not shorten your life, but we need people to take risks, fall on their face, and get up and keep moving forward.

Live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse.

The Cost of Living

I often think about quality of life. I know a lot of people who are commodity programmers at companies where they will work doing the same thing for 10-30 years until it gets outsourced, converted over, or too expensive to pay people to do.

Fixed point in time.

Fixed point in time.

The thought of doing this makes me feel like I am drowning. I can’t imagine doing the same thing for years and years. I have encountered a fair number of people with decades of experience in something that is being phased out who don’t want to start over again doing something new because not only would it be hard, but they would be back down at the bottom of the ladder again pay-wise and it is too much to do.

I have never seen playing along and following the rules paying off for anyone long-term. I went to college being told that if I got good grades and tried hard that something would be other there for me. I got done and it wasn’t. It was a very upsetting realization that forced me to change how I live my life.

I am now grateful that I made that change in my twenties rather than having a tiny amount of success and continuing to fight the inevitable. I do not want to live my life as a lieutenant in the science department of the Enterprise. I don’t think I want to be the captain, but I sure as hell do not want to be a wage slave commodity programmer perpetually afraid that I am going to be laid off like the worker in Office Space.

To quote Lieutenant Junior-Grade Picard:

I would rather die as the man I was than live the life I just saw.

Identity

I also spend a lot of time thinking about who I am. I don’t mean that in a narcissistic, naval-gazing kind of way. I mean what fundamentally makes you who you are.

Doctor Donna Friend

Doctor Donna Friend

If I woke up tomorrow with amnesia not remembering anything I did for the last two years, would I still be me?

This thought is present throughout a lot of science fiction and fantasy.

At the end of the fourth season of Doctor Who, The Doctor has to remove all memory that Donna Noble had of their travels together. She saved the Universe but she would never know or remember it because those experiences were removed from her life.

Donna had the most heartbreaking ending of any companion on Doctor Who. She encountered something that fundamentally and profoundly changed her for the better. To have that cruelly yanked away from her and to make her back into the person she was before is just terrifying.

This thought is most articulately expressed by Yuri Nakamura from “Angel Beats!”

If I vanish now, could I start over anew? Could I accept normal happiness? If I lost my memories, and got a different personality, I might be able to. But then, what does it mean to be reborn? That isn’t the life I had anymore. It’s someone else’s life.

Yuri's speech to the NPCs from Angel Beats!

Yuri Nakamura articulating what it means to be alive.

Everyone only gets to live life one time, and it’s right here. I only get it once. This is my life. I can’t entrust it to someone. I can’t steal a new one. I can’t force it on others. I can’t forget it, or erase it. I can’t stomp over it, laugh it off, or beautify it. I can’t anything, I’d have to- I’d have to accept my one shot at life no matter how cruel or merciless or unfair I thought it was. Sir, don’t you understand? That is why I must fight. I must keep on fighting, because- because I could never accept that kind of life!

Conclusion

Again, I very much enjoyed this episode exploring how a series of choices we make throughout our lives make us who we are. Alice in “Alice in Wonderland” says, “I can’t go back to yesterday! I was a different person then!”

Heraclitus says “You could not step in the same river twice.” Everything continues to flow and change around you. When Homura keeps going back in time to try to save Madoka each timeline she enters is subtly different and she keeps getting further and further from the Madoka she is trying to save.

There is only so much you can do to cheat fate.

There is only so much you can do to cheat fate.

Fixed points in time are fixed for a reason. They are a linchpin around which your life is held together.

Fate is a tricky thing. My personal belief system accounts for both faith and free will. I think that you can have a path that you are supposed to take, but you can willingly veer off that path if you choose. To me, fate is representative of your optimal path. If you veer off your path the Universe will put you through a lot of ordeals until you figure out where you are supposed to be. I don’t believe you get one and only one chance to be the person you want to be. I think if you miss one chance another one will come your way. You need to be open to it and be willing to jump when the Universe says jump.

I would like to end with one last quote from this great episode:

There are many parts of my youth that I’m not proud of. There were… loose threads – untidy parts of me that I would like to remove. But when I… pulled on one of those threads- it unraveled the tapestry of my life.