Learning How to Cook: June 2015

My ex-husband moved out of the house at the end of January of this year. We were married for just over five years. During those five years I think I only made dinner twice.

My ex-husband was a disciple of Alton Brown and he was obsessed with cooking. He bought a sous-vide. We installed a gas range in the kitchen. We regularly went to the knife shop downtown so he could get his knives sharpened and buy new kitchen gadgets.

It was also something of a living nightmare.

IMG_1888Shortly after my ex-husband turned 30, he was turned onto the Paleo diet. All of a sudden, rice, bread, and potatoes disappeared from our house. Dinner became a 12 ounce steak with three brussels sprouts. If I tried to take more than three I got yelled at for being greedy.

Food became scare around the house.

No one tells you this, but doing Paleo is an assload of work. You pretty much have to prepare a whole meal every night because a lot of the Paleo foods aren’t really designed to be eaten leftover. One night we would have lamb chops, the next I would be scavenging for food after a long day at work to be told that I could eat all the salad I wanted. Fuck that.

I started hiding food around the house.

My ex would find my food and eat it and complain to me about how having it around threw him off his diet. Once he ate a bagel that threw him off his diet, well then he was already off and why not go out and get Chinese food?

My dad has been on the opposite diet most of my life. His diet consists primarily of beans and brown rice. I remember as a teenager being told by my dad that a cheeseburger I ate on the way home was going to kill me. My dad and my ex-husband would have fights that would almost come to blows over which one of them was wrong. Both were convinced the other was going to drop dead any day because they were eating poison.

Thanksgiving was the worst.

IMG_1895My ex-husband insisted on doing all the cooking (expect for pie, which he let our mothers take responsibility for). He would spend a week brining the turkey, which had to be specially pasture-raised, making a starter for the bread, and creating his own stock. When Thanksgiving would actually happen, he would spend twelve hours stressed out of his mind trying to get a meal done that no one would eat because everyone filled up on cheese and crackers waiting for dinner to get done. I usually would steal two bottles of wine and hide in my childhood bedroom watching Doctor Who.

I decided when he moved out that I was not putting up with this shit anymore. I spent my life being told by my dad I couldn’t eat cheeseburgers and being told by my husband I couldn’t eat bread. Fuck all of this. I did not want to cook. I just wanted to live off of prepared food I found at Costco and the grocery store.

This went great for a while. I got to eat all the stuff like lasagna I hadn’t been able to have in several years. Everything was awesome.

Until it wasn’t.

I noticed after a while of doing this that I was getting tired of the food I had available to me. Even stuff that i liked tasted kind of processed.

One day a few months ago, I went to Costco to pick up my food for the next week or so. Nothing looked appealing. I was tired of everything I saw.

Then I noticed that they had boneless skinless chicken thighs. They came in six packages of four. One of the biggest things keeping me from figuring out how to cook was trying to figure out how to debone chicken. Seeing that I could get packages of about a pound of deboned chicken to include in various recipes removed an obstacle I had mentally about figuring out how to cook.

IMG_1940I picked up ingredients for food rather than food. I walked out to my car and looked in my trunk with a modicum of despair because I was pretty sure I was not going to have food for the next week or so because I wouldn’t feel like cooking anything.

Fast forward two months.

I actually have gone through most of my chicken. I had to throw one package out because I forgot to use it in time. Other than that, I actually made food.

I have done a lot better at making food for myself to have for lunch than I feared I would. I have been slower than I wish I had been. I am hoping to learn to do things faster.

One thing that always amazed me about my ex was the fact that I would look in the refrigerator and not see anything for dinner. He used to be able to look in there and say, “We have X, Y, and Z, which means I can make Foo.” I never understood how he did that.

I understand now.

I control everything that I have in my kitchen.

I have a certain number of things that I keep in stock so that I can construct meals out of them.

I have a few meals that are basically all the same ingredients but have different spices in them. I really like stewed chicken. I can make a chicken stew with a bunch of veggies and either add curry roux or some other spice mixture and have two different meals.

IMG_1924I have also figured out how much you can do with a friend egg. I never ate fried eggs until I married my ex. I always found eggs to be rather gross. I discovered that if you break the yolk over something, it makes a sauce and you have an instant meal.

I cook sweet potatoes with onions on Sunday mornings and it usually makes 2-3 servings. I reserve one serving and eat it later in the week.

I know I should probably not waste my time each week making a meal. I should spend my time working on my app or working on my conference talks. But you know what, I don’t care. For the first time in my life I can control what I eat. I think both my father and my ex were wrong about how they ate. I think food is more than just what you put in your body. I think it can feed your soul. I think sitting down to a nice meal that you enjoy that you made yourself has its own healing properties. I don’t want to spend my life thinking I shouldn’t have eaten that piece of bread because bread is bad for you. I want to think about how enjoyable it was to feel the crust crunching between my teeth and feeling the butter oozing off of it and I scarfed it down. I don’t do that every day. I don’t want to be on my deathbed and think about all the food I didn’t eat because I was worried about losing five pounds.

It’s been interesting to me to slowly expand the boundaries of what I can do. The first time I made curry it was scary because I never really worked with raw chicken before. I never cut it up or dealt with cooking it properly. To be fair, braising chicken isn’t that difficult to do. Then again, the enjoyment of a meal shouldn’t be determined by how difficult it was to prepare.

I am glad I don’t have to eat another piece of undercooked pork or unreasoned beans and rice ever again. I can control what fuel I put in my body and knowing that I have more options than I did six months ago makes me feel awesome.
IMG_1918

Fooled by Randomness

So I did the incredibly stupid thing this morning of arguing with someone on the internet. The person I argued with was Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Taleb is the author of the book “Fooled By Randomness” and “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.” Taleb was commenting on the Tim Hunt controversy that happened over the last few days. If you are unfamiliar with this, you can read about it here, here, and here. Taleb posted this link on Facebook (yes, I still periodically check Facebook. I am ashamed).

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

For those who do not wish to dirty themselves by clicking on a Facebook link, here is the gist. Taleb argues that the firing of Sir Tim Hunt over his insensitive sexist remarks is hypocrisy because the college he was recently urged to resign from from accepts funding from Saudi Arabia. He essentially accuses the university of caving to raving social justice warriors who are unwilling to make a stand against something that is genuinely bad and accuses everyone of hypocrisy and political correctness. He called me a hypocrite in a comment that he has since deleted because I had the audacity to disagree with him.

This is complete and total bullshit.

Let me give a few reasons this is bullshit.

First off, he is presenting a logical fallacy. There is no correlation between Doctor Hunt shooting his mouth off about women in science labs and accepting funding for scientific research. The correlation is tenuous at best. I also doubt that all of the women who were on Twitter who used the hashtag #distractinglySexy were all thinking, “Let’s get this guy fired, but accepting money from a sexist country is okay.” They are two totally unrelated things.

Second, Doctor Hunt was not fired for being sexist. He was fired for making the University College London look bad. Doctor Hunt did not make these statements at home during a private dinner party with friends. He made this statements at a lunch hosted by the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations. This is a professional organization whose purpose is to support and promote women in science.

Let’s pretend that at this most recent WWDC a high-level Apple employee attended the WWDC Girls event and told all of the women at this event that women shouldn’t work with male programmers because they cause disruptions for the men who fall in love with them and can’t correct their code because they would cry.

How long do you think it would take before this person was terminated immediately??

Universities serve one purpose: To turn money into research. Money comes from donors, grants, and students. If students decide not to attend your university, you do not get their tuition. If female graduate students, who make up half of your cheap labor force, decide not to attend your university for their studies, you lose a massive resource that allows you to stretch that money you have to turn into research. If you have a major professor who can’t get grant funding because no one wants to be associated with him, then you have a lame duck on your pay roll.

Every single aspect of this situation hurts the purpose of the university, so they made the pragmatic decision to remove the thing making it harder for them to turn money into research.

Hey Dr. Hunt, I don't think she has the hots for you. I don't  think she's going to start crying either.

Hey Dr. Hunt, I don’t think she has the hots for you. I don’t think she’s going to start crying either.

If Doctor Hunt had grabbed the ass of one of his graduate students and she complained about it, do you think they would have fired him for that? Of course not. He’s a Nobel Laureate. He gets funding for the university. The girl would have been quietly encouraged to leave and no one would have cared. The university doesn’t give two shits about sexism. They care about getting money to turn into research.

The Saudis give them money to turn into research. I am uncertain if the committee that decides to accept the money has any moral qualms about its source, but I am sure the army of graduate students and researchers who get to have jobs because the Saudis donate money to research are happy to have it. I am sure the people whose lives that are saved because of that money don’t care where it came from. I think it’s possible for a good thing to come from a bad source. If this money is somehow tainting the research it is creating, that is another story.

Large organizations do not do the right thing because it’s the right thing. They do the right thing when it threatens their money. People like Taleb are pissed that the evil SJWs took down an innocent man making an offhand joke with their pictures of themselves in their labs wearing radiation suits, but that isn’t what happened. If Taleb really wants UCL to turn down the Saudi money, he needs to expose a damn good reason that threatens the flow of money to UCL. But we all know that isn’t his objective. He fears that one day he might be in his home and will make an off-hand joke that will be taken the wrong way and the evil hoard of SJWs will storm his castle and strip him of his things. He looks at Dr. Hunt and thinks, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

I am incredibly disappointed with this series of rants from Taleb. I read his books shortly after the financial crash in 2008 and I have drawn a lot of inspiration from him to always anticipate the unexpected. I subconsciously cringe when I hear anyone say that something will never change and continue on indefinitely. Having lost my first career to this mindset, I try to carry with me the knowledge that tomorrow everything could change. It’s sad that the man who taught me this truth is unwilling to accept it within himself that you can’t make discriminatory remarks to a room full of journalists and expect no repercussions. Welcome to the 21st century, you’re going to hate it here.

Soul Searching

January, 2014

I began my programming career in late December 2013. It started something out of necessity. Sometime around October I suffered from a nervous collapse that made it impossible for me to focus on my school work. I had dropped out. I was lying to my husband about dropping out of school because I was gambling on my ability to find a job around the time I was supposed to graduate. I was very lucky and something came through.

My only hope for my first job was that I would find something in iOS. In the Madison area, that was a pretty stiff order. Madison is a lot of enterprise Java, government, and health care.

I managed to find a job at a start-up where I was the oldest person by a decade. I was partially hired because my bosses were not old enough to drink and didn’t know any better about hiring people who have actual experience.

By January, I knew this wasn’t working. I didn’t get along with my programming partner and I knew I was going to be let go. I was okay with that. I knew it was a bad fit.

I did some soul searching at that point. I knew it was bad to lose your first job after two months and I did have some concerns with my long-term ability to be hired. I had a few choices. I could kind of fake it and find another, similar job where I would be equally uncomfortable, but possibly be able to fake it better. Or, I could acknowledge that I was in the weeds and I didn’t know what I was doing.

The people around me didn’t know what they were doing either, but I had enough training and visceral awareness to know that my programming sucked. I knew it could be better and I knew it would never be better if I continued to pretend like I knew what I was doing.

I sat down and started thinking about what I wanted from my career. There was only one thing I absolutely knew I wanted. I wanted to be Brad Larson.

Brad, for those who have not heard my enthusiastic ramblings about him, is the creator of GPUImage. Brad taught the Advanced iOS class at MATC the first year it was offered. The classes were, and are still, available to watch on iTunesU. While I was a student I heard a lot of stories about him. I heard about how Apple engineers told him that something he wanted to do with his Molecules app was physically impossible to do on the current hardware. He figured out a way around the limitation and he made it happen. He was the guy who did impossible things.

I didn’t know if it was possible or how long it would take, but I wanted that. I wanted to understand the language well enough that I could figure out a way around the limitations. I wanted to be a great programmer.

I reached out to Brad and told him that I wanted to do what he does and asked him for advice about how to get started. He was very kind and wrote a nice email back. A few weeks later, a contract opportunity became available to work with him on an extension of his Molecules app. I knew I was on my way out at my current job, so I reached out to him. I told him that I didn’t know anything but that I wanted to. I really wanted to make sure I didn’t misrepresent myself because I wanted to learn and I couldn’t do that if I pretended to know things I didn’t.

After this contract job, I spent time working on a book with Chris Adamson and doing a lot of conference talks. I was trying to get my name out there so that I could find a job. I talked about GPU programming and Metal because they were new things. I didn’t really explain them as well as they should be explained because I didn’t have enough experience with them to fully understand them. I gambled on talking about difficult and obscure technology to try and differentiate myself from all the other new programmers out there.

To my shock and surprise, Brad reached out to me about working for him as my speaking obligations were winding down. I did it. I accomplished the short term goal I made at the beginning of the year to find a programming job with a great programmer so that I could get better and be a great programmer too.

January 2015

Let’s jump ahead a year.

At the beginning of this year I initiated a divorce with my husband. Things had been difficult for a long time. My goal for a few years had been to find stable employment that would allow me to end the marriage.

I do not want to badmouth my ex-husband. Our divorce was amicable. He was a friend before we were married and he continues to be a friend. We had a lot of trouble and I honestly wish him no ill will.

I am bringing this up simply to establish that the last six months have been very difficult.

I have never taken care of myself.

I lived with my parents until I was 27 years old. I was essentially a perpetual student because I didn’t really understand how to find a job or support myself. I moved from my parent’s house to my husband’s house. The first few years I was working I had my husband manage our money because I was earning minimum wage and I did not want to know what my weekly paycheck was because I was afraid if I knew how little it was, it would be easier for me to mentally justify calling in sick when I didn’t feel like going. I was unemployed from 2012 for most of the rest of our marriage. I have never budgeted my money. I have never paid my own bills. I never lived on my own. I don’t think I filed a tax return until I got married because I earned no income.

The last six months have been difficult. It’s been hard trying to learn things that most people knew when they were 16. It’s been hard being away from my pugs so much every day. My house is still a mess because I am simply too tired and demoralized to clean it. I don’t think I’ve put my laundry away since February. My ex-husband was actually so appalled by my inability to care for myself that he cleaned my kitchen one day when he was here picking up some of this things.

The last six months have been physically and emotionally exhausting. I have had bouts of depression that I have spoken about on this blog before. It’s been rough.

Because things have been rough, I have been letting a lot of things go. One of those things has been my focus on my long-term goal of being a great programmer.

I have barely been getting by.

I have had weeks where I have barely gotten anything done. I have felt a great deal of self-hatred and fear about losing my job and independence.

At a certain point it became easy to rest on my credentials. I wrote a book. I was invited by Saul Mora to interview people for NSBrief. I had lots of people who knew who I was. I was given some cache for being a great developer because I had credentials. I didn’t want to think about how little I actually knew because it was too fucking demoralizing to deal with. So I pretended. I even convinced myself that I was as good as I needed to be. I got careless. I stopped trying because it was just too hard to deal with.

Now

I am not doing this any more.

I am tired of what I have been doing for the last year.

The reason I told my long, rambling story at the beginning of this post is because I feel like I am back there now. I feel like I have two choices about how I can proceed from here.

I can either decide that I learned enough and keep hiding behind my credentials. I can learn fast enough to keep up with things, but I won’t ever become the developer I wanted to be. I will have to keep pretending like I know more than I do.

I don’t want to do this anymore.

I want to be very clear about a few things.

Chris wrote most of the book. My name is on the book and I wrote three chapters from the book. I wrote the Debugging, Testing, and Photos chapters. Two of those chapters didn’t really require me to add much to the code base. When I had to tackle the Photos chapter I had to fly out to CocoaConf Boston to work directly with Chris on that chapter because I was not familiar enough with the code base to write the chapter by myself. I needed help with the Core Image code.

Chris worked on the book for two years before I was brought on. I think my presence played an important role in getting the book done. I contributed to the book. But, I feel that I have received more credit for the book than I am due. I haven’t read the book all the way through. I am not comfortable with most of the concepts in that book.

I am tired of waiting around for someone to figure out that cut to the front of the line. I am going to be proactive and admit that I don’t really know that much. I have never written an app of my own. I have focused on some very obscure and esoteric low level programming. For a developer who has only been working for a year and a half, I am fairly advanced. However, I have a long way to go.

I have realized that I have been squandering my opportunity of working with Brad by being too proud and afraid to ask him for help. I have been ignoring things that I don’t understand. Yesterday I asked Brad about what provisioning was. He could have explained it in a sentence. Instead, he took an hour to show me Instruments and how it could be used to analyze one of his projects. I felt like my world went from 2D to 3D. I realized that there was a whole dimension of being a programmer that I used to be aware of and wanted to explore that I had abandoned because I was tired and demoralized and didn’t want acknowledge how little I know. I felt exhilarated and deeply, deeply ashamed.

I do not want to be afraid anymore.

I am working on my own personal application. I am going to do my best to write about that process on this blog. I will be talking about concepts that are probably covered in the book that has my name on it. I will talk about things that most people who have been programming for five years already understand.

I want to go back to the spirit this blog was created in. I created it to document my progress as a student to a professional. True to my roots, I am a perpetual student.

I am going to ask more questions. I am going to delve deeper and try to understand better. I made time for what was important for the first half of this year. Now I need to get back on the track I decided a year and a half ago. I need to stop worrying so much about my exposure or my reputation and worry more about my skills. If my reputation suffers because I want to shore up my weak points, then I probably deserve it. It’s painful to admit that you don’t measure up, but if you won’t accept reality then you can’t change it.

I hope that Brad will continue to be patient with my questions and continue to go the extra mile to expose me to things I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. His commitment to excellence pushes me to be better and even though it is painful sometimes, it is something I asked for that is rare in this day and age.

We Didn’t Start the Fire(Wire)

I have written about this before, but at my current job my boss and I are rewriting our robotics control software in Swift. This is an excellent blog post here that explains why we are doing this.

This is the camera setup we have on our robotics systems. Cameras help with dispenser positioning and we support both video and image capture for our users.

This is the camera setup we have on our robotics systems. Cameras help with dispenser positioning and we support both video and image capture for our users.

There have been a few projects we have open sourced after implementing them in this project. This blog post details the most recent project we have completed and open sourced, which was to write a wrapper class allowing us to connect to an external camera that conforms to the IIDC standard. This project can be found here.

Cameras are an important feature in our robotics systems. Users use the camera to help position their dispensers and to capture media. Videos and images of the dispensing process have been used in papers and documentation of scientific research, so continuing to support this functionality is vitally important.

What is the Goal?

Back when the code was initially written in 2007, AV Foundation and GPUImage did not exist. There was not really an easy way to hook up an external camera to an application. Additionally, the standard for rapid data transfer at the time was Firewire.

The fact that there were no easy solutions meant that our code was overly complex. There were much easier ways to connect to a camera and run the video through a filter that we simply couldn’t implement because our code touched too many other things. We set out to simply the code in our rewrite.

One major goal of this project was to make it easier to add additional cameras while still supporting the legacy cameras out in the field.

Since this company has been around for over a decade, we do have legacy hardware out in the field that we still need to support. Currently we have three different kinds of cameras out in the field associated with our robotics systems: Unibrain, Point Grey Flea2, and Point Grey BlackFly. At some point in the next year or so we will need to support a fourth camera because our current camera, the BlackyFly, has been discontinued.

What is IIDC 1394?

IEEE 1394 is a serial bus standard for high speed, real time data transfer. USB is another serial bus standard that is more widely adopted because IEEE 1394, aka FireWire, was proprietary to Apple.

Our first camera type, the Unibrain camera

Our first camera type, the Unibrain camera

Even though FireWire ports are no longer available on Macs being sold today, there are still many cameras that conform to the IEEE 1394 standard. Our current Point Grey BlackFly cameras have a USB 3 plug but they conform to the IEEE 1394 standard.

IIDC is the FireWire data format for live video. In order to be able to interface with an IIDC compliant camera, we have to conform to their standard.

There is a library to interface with IEEE cameras, libdc 1394. We have integrated that library into our project and adapted it in order to be able to communicate with our cameras. This library’s functionality is what we are wrapping in our GPUImageIIDCCamera class.

We did not integrate the GPUImageIIDCCamera class into the primary GPUImage framework. The libdc 1394 library has less permissive public licensing than GPUImage has, so for legal reasons, the class could not be merged into GPUImage proper and must remain a separate entity.

Objective-C? Why Not Swift

Taking a legacy piece of software that integrates with hardware is something of a challenge. Since Objective-C is a superset of C, there was a lot of low level C programming that could easily be integrated into the previous iteration of the control software that now presents some challenges when we attempt to implement them in Swift.

One such challenge was figuring out how to interact with our hardware. Prior to attempting to connect and control our camera, we had to determine how to talk to our micro controller. We were able to do this within the current constraints of Swift, but there is one feature of the C language that Swift does not yet support, which is mutable function pointers.

Since this was an integral part of our process, it was necessary to write this class in Objective-C. This, for the record, is the first time in our six-month process where we encountered a problem that we could not code in Swift. This didn’t prevent us from being able to implement this feature, it simply meant that we had to finagle a few things to fully integrate the Objective-C class into our control software code.

What do we Need the Code to do?

These are several things we needed this class to accomplish:

  • Connect to the camera
  • Capture frames
  • Set up the proper video format for the camera type
  • Remap the YUV colorspace to RGB colorspace
  • Get and set camera settings for things like brightness and saturation
  • Handle camera disconnection

Challenges

One of my personal challenges was simply understanding the code. Since much of our functionality would be done differently in the new code, I couldn’t just port it over from the old version of the software. It was important to get a sense of how to wrap the IIDC functionality in such a way that it would be easy to implement new cameras into our process. It was also important to figure out what lifting would be done by GPUImage and what would be done by the IIDC camera class.

Our current camera, the Point Grey BlackFly

Our current camera, the Point Grey BlackFly

Additionally, Brad did some extra work on our version of libdc1394 and his changes had not been documented. I couldn’t use the general documentation, what little of it there was, for the code.

Initially we thought that we would not need to use any OpenGL to process the video frames. It was later determined that a shader would be necessary for finding the frame size. This was beyond my present OpenGL experience, so Brad needed to write the necessary shader to accomplish this.

We also had to deal with different video modes. There are about thirty types of video modes we have access to, but all of these boil down to one of two types: Format 7 or anything else.

Format 7 allows you to set the frame size and the colorspace. All of the other video modes specify those things in their mode name.

Point Grey Flea2 camera mounted on our Desktop system

Point Grey Flea2 camera mounted on our Desktop system

Not all cameras support Format 7. Our first camera, the Unibrain, does not support Format 7. So we needed to make sure we were able to connect and use both Format 7 and non-Format 7 cameras.

We also had to deal with the fact that we were talking to a piece of hardware. Those settings, along with brightness, saturation, and others are all set on the physical piece of hardware. We can communicate with the hardware using C functions, but the point of wrapping this class is to avoid having to touch the messy underlying C library.

Each property associated with the camera that we can set has overridden getters and setters. We override them in order to make sure the camera and the application are on the same page about what each expects the settings to be. When you drop this class into another application, it appears to work the same way for the programmer with all the nasty bits tucked away in accessor methods.

Final Thoughts

When I worked on figuring out libxml2 at the beginning of the year I thought that was the hardest thing I would work on. That was just a warm-up for this project.

This was a huge challenge for me personally. I think trying to figure this out has been the hardest thing I have done in my career so far. In addition to how difficult this has been, not working with Cocoa since 2014 has made trying to get back in the swing of Cocoa development has been a bit of a challenge.

I hope that as I progress in my career it gets easier for me to pivot from low to high level development more easily. I wish I could have done this entire thing by myself, but I understand that we have deadlines that need to be met. I am proud of the amount I was able to do here and the growth I have experienced as a programmer by pushing myself to work on something this difficult.

Why I Hate “Up”

Look! If you look quick you'll see my life fly by!

Look! If you look quick you’ll see my life fly by!

This morning I was reading this piece by John Scalzi. There are a lot of people angry about the last episode of Game of Thrones that seems to have a rape scene in it that serves no narrative purpose. As opposed to all the other rape scenes that somehow serve narrative purpose. Bygones…

For years I have been telling people, mostly men, that I hate “Up”. I am angry that the only female character in the whole movie dies within the first ten minutes. I am met with looks of disgust from these guys who all tell me that I obviously missed the point of the movie.

My annoyance has been rattling around my head for many years, but I was never really able to articulate the exact words as to why it pissed me off so badly. This quote from Scalzi’s piece really helped to crystalize in my brain why I hate Up:

I can’t specifically remember what the story idea was, but I vaguely recall it being some sort Silence of the Lambs-esque thriller, in which an investigator and a serial killer matched wits, you know, as they do. And at some point, I dragged the investigator’s wife into the story, because, as I was, like, 24 years old and didn’t know a whole hell of a lot, I thought it would be an interesting character note for the investigator, and a good plot development for the book, for the serial killer to basically rape and torture the wife.

I thought it would be an interesting character note for the investigator.

Women in Refrigerators

The idea of the wife/girlfriend/mother being attacked by the villain is not a new observation. There is an entire trope around it.

When you have something as blatant as Gwyneth Paltrow’s character being beheaded in “Seven”, it’s obvious that the character serves absolutely no purpose other than to be red shirted. No one makes the argument that her character was somehow a vital and important catalytic character in the movie when I am pretty sure she gets more screen time than Ellie does in “Up”.

I would like to argue that Ellie is not simply a woman in a refrigerator. She is part of a more pervasive trend that I have noticed in story telling where you still have flat female characters, but that somehow they have some holy purpose in that their existence saves the hero in some form or fashion, even if they can’t save themselves.

Coughing, Radiant, and Disposable

The next iteration of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is the idea of the consumptive heroine. You have literal consumptive heroines like Nicole Kidman’s character in “Moulin Rouge” and Jessica Brown Findlay’s character in “Winter’s Tale”. This trope also bleeds over into any other instance where you have a female character dying of some kind of incurable disease whose death is used to enlighten the main character.

EllieDyingAgain, many of these films are very poorly done, so you don’t get a lot of people defending Jessica Brown Findlay’s death in either “Winter’s Tale” or “Downton Abbey.” Her deaths are more symbolic of something other than who she was as a person. In Downton it was to remind people that childbirth is treacherous and that her dad is a backwards asshole who won’t listen to the wise advice of a man of modern medicine. Her death services Lord Grantham’s character development rather than her own and acts as an After School Special about the dangers of preeclampsia.

Ellie doesn’t just die. She dies in the first ten minutes of the movie. When I looked up the film they didn’t even list the voice actress who played her at the beginning. She literally has no voice. The vast majority of her time on the screen is part of a musical montage where you see her lose her baby, get sick, and die.

Ellie for all intents and purposes dies in the cold open. If Up was an episode of CSI she would be the body they find at the beginning before the obligatory opening credits sequence blasting a song by The Who. No one would argue that the body at the beginning of the episode is the most important character in the show, yet so many people I talk to argue about how important Ellie is and how it could be argued that the movie is actually about her.

Again, this is getting closer to the heart of the issue, but it still doesn’t quite explain why “Up” bothers me so much.

Thanks for the Adventure, Now Go Have One of Your Own

This clip is what bothers me.

Here is my book of all the things I won't get to do! Huzzah!

Here is my book of all the things I won’t get to do! Huzzah!

I have already mentioned that Ellie loses her baby and eventually dies. She wanted to travel the world. She never gets to go on any adventures. This isn’t uncommon. When I was a kid I wanted to be the first female president. I know at least two people who went to college and studied rocket science because they wanted to be astronauts but never made it into space. Most people don’t wind up living the life they plan to lead. Sometimes the things we do today didn’t exist when we were children. There were no cell phones when I was a kid. The possibility of doing this didn’t even exist when I was trying to figure to what I wanted to be when I grew up. We all grow up and most of us wind up doing something different than what we thought.

It bothers me that somehow, we are supposed to have our heartstrings tugged by the fact that Ellie is satisfied with her “adventure” of being married to Carl for the last fifty years. There is nothing wrong with that. What bugs me to no end is that somehow, we’re not supposed to think that he should feel the same way.

“Thanks for the adventure. Now go have one of your own.”

So marriage was enough of an adventure for Ellie, but it isn’t good enough for Carl?

So much of pop culture revolves around the male midlife crisis. For an example, let’s look at the movie “American Beauty.”

Are you the plot device that is supposed to give my empty life meaning?

Are you the plot device that is supposed to give my empty life meaning?

The main character, played by Kevin Spacey, lives a meaningless existence. He is trapped in a sexless marriage with an anal retentive shrew who makes it clear to him that he has disappointed her. He works a dreary job that he hates where he gets no respect. Then he meets an underaged girl who gives his life meaning. He realizes he shouldn’t have settled for this dreary, miserable life. He buys a sports car, gets fired from his job, then goes to work at a fast food place so he can be stoned all day.

There are no stories about middle aged women who wake up one day and realize that they’re trapped in a marriage with a family they don’t want. That privilege is reserved only for men. Women are supposed to smile and nurture and never convey that they miss their lost youth when anything was possible. A guy can say he wishes he’d never had children but a woman who says so is a sociopath.

It bothers me that the writers of “Up” basically just made Ellie a plot device. She’s a consumptive heroine. She leads a perfect, blameless life where she is simply happy to have lived then died to teach Carl how to live.

How much more compelling would Up have been if Carl had been the one to die? Watching Ellie learning how to live after losing Carl would have been just as, if not more, compelling as watching Carl go on his adventure. Would the writer have been brave enough to have Carl leave the message to Ellie thanking her for the adventure? Do we assume that women have lower hopes and expectations for their lives than men do?

We're holding hands because this is a Disney movie and we can't show any more than this.

We’re holding hands because this is a Disney movie and we can’t show any more than this.

Pixar generally makes great movies, but I feel like they really drop the ball on thinking about female characters. We finally got a movie around a female character and we wound up with Brave, which figures that if you give a girl a bow and arrow you don’t have to give her any personality. There is no reason that every main character in most of their movies has to be male. It’s just the default.

I am very excited for “Inside Out”, the next movie that Pixar is coming out with. It is the movie I have been waiting for Pixar to do. The movie takes place inside the mind of a tweenaged girl who is going through life changes. The main emotional character is played by Amy Pohler. This movie could have had either a male or a female main character and they picked a girl. I am hopeful that this film will start to make up for all the lazy female characterizations over the last twenty years.

Death Handled Well

There is a right way to handle death as a piece of character development. The best example of this that I can point to is from the pilot of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

In DS9, Benjamin Sisco’s wife Jennifer isn’t killed as a catalyst to either hurt or save Benjamin. Her death is tragic. She is killed by an anonymous enemy that destroys thousands of people. She is also killed in the first few minutes of the episode, but her death differs in some key ways.

She isn’t some inspiration to Benjamin about how important life is and to catalyze a moment of self actualization. Benjamin is a husk of a man after he loses her. He raises their son alone while he tries to cope with the trauma of losing her. Her death doesn’t inspire him. Her death arrests him. The entire episode is about showing how he can’t move on from the moment he loses her.

I can’t find a clip of this scene, but it’s brilliant and I strongly recommend watching the whole episode just for this scene. Here’s a transcript of what is said:

SISKO: What is the point of bringing me back again to this?
JAKE: We do not bring you here.
JENNIFER: You bring us here.
TACTICAL: You exist here.
SISKO: Then give me the power to lead you somewhere else. Anywhere else.
OPAKA: We cannot give you what you deny yourself. Look for solutions from within, Commander.
SISKO: I was ready to die with her.
TACTICAL: Die? What is this?
JENNIFER: The termination of their linear existence.
(and she puts her hand on his cheek)
TACTICAL: We’ve got to go now, sir.
SISKO 2: Damn it, we just can’t leave her here. Oh, no!
SISKO: I never left this ship.
JENNIFER: You exist here.
SISKO: I exist here. I don’t know if you can understand. I see her like this every time I close my eyes. In the darkness, in the blink of an eye, I see her like this.
JENNIFER: None of your past experiences helped prepare you for this consequence.
SISKO: And I have never figured out how to live without her.
JENNIFER: So you choose to exist here. It is not linear.
SISKO: No. It’s not linear.
(and he finally starts to grieve properly)

We’re not meant to think of Jennifer as a fully fleshed out character. She is a plot device whose specter looms over the whole episode. Benjamin is stuck and can’t move on from her death. The inability to move on from a tragedy is a powerful story that all too many of us can identify with that is rarely explored in media.

Now just make sure you don't go talk to your other selves or else we will have a time paradox.

Now just make sure you don’t go talk to your other selves or else we will have a time paradox.

The difference between Jennifer and Ellie is that we are supposed to somehow feel that Ellie is a main character who had a fully fleshed out life and existence. Even though she dies in the first ten minutes, we’re meant to think that somehow because she considered her life an adventure it makes up for the fact that she conveniently disappears ten minutes in so we don’t have to worry about her pesky emotional wants and needs.

I guess I also think it’s different because I feel like Ellie was tortured before she died. She didn’t get to live out her dreams. She lost her baby. She got sick and died. She had this miserable series of misfortunes and at the end we’re supposed to feel like it’s okay because she says she had a great adventure.

I am okay with Jennifer not being a fully formed character in DS9. No one is making the argument that she is. Sisco is the only captain on Star Trek who married and had a family. Showing the story of an African-American single dad is a story we basically never see. I am not going to quibble about Jennifer getting the short straw on this because it opens up another, richer story vein. Avery Brooks shows more naked grief in this clip than Carl does in the whole movie. Any time we can show any man, let alone an African-American one, cry from grief without being shamed for not manning up is okay by me. We need more of this.

Bringing it Back Around

So what was it about John Scalzi’s piece that really crystalized these thoughts for me?

I thought it would be an interesting character note for the investigator.

Someone who came up with the story for Up decided that killing Ellie would be an interesting character note. Her character was made to be this perfect woman that any man would love to be with. Her purpose was to make Carl happy and to have no agency of her own. Someone thought that having her die would be an interesting story note for Carl. There were no other female characters in the whole movie except for Kevin, who is assumed to be male for most of the movie.

All the men who come up to me and tell me that I obviously didn’t understand what the movie was about are coming from this perspective. They put themselves in Carl’s shoes and think about how happy they would have been to have had a perfect girl save them and be with them for fifty years and think that the life they led together was enough.

Me, I saw this movie when I was unemployed and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Seeing this woman who was very much like me give up on everything she wanted to give up and die chilled me to the core.

I did not want that to happen to me.

I did not want to lower my expectations to the point where I would give up on ever doing anything with my life. I have fought for over five years to try and make something of myself because I knew that I would not be happy having the life that Ellie led. I dare say most women would not be happy leading that life. Some men want to believe that women don’t have any aspirations beyond getting married and having a family because it absolves them of any responsibility for situations they are unhappy about. It allows us to think that somehow men and women want different things. Men want to be free and have adventures. Women want to settle down and nest. Somehow it’s not possible for both men and women to want the same things.

I think that we are limiting ourselves by writing off the other gender as unknowable and stereotypical. Not all women want to have children and not all men want to be perpetually single. If you go through life without trying to put yourself in another person’s shoes, you will miss a lot of the things that make life amazing. You might accidentally answer a personal ad from your wife because you never thought she might like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain.

up-pixar

The Trick to Forgetting the Big Picture is to Look at Everything Close-Up

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
– Arthur C. Clarke

Back when I was a programming student, my teacher Eric told me that over the years he has learned and forgotten a dozen programming languages.

At the time, it was inconceivable to me that anyone could learn and forget so much. Two years later, I am shocked to discover that he was right.

Two years ago when I really doubled down on learning iOS programming, I worked on it eighty hours a week. I was working through the Big Nerd Ranch iOS book. They had a series of about five chapters putting together a table view that would display a detail view populated by a singleton.

Every day I would wake up and code this over and over again. The first time I coded the examples, they made no sense. I typed a bunch of words that didn’t set off the compiler warnings, ran them, and magic happened. The second time was not much better. But by the third for fourth time, I began to realize, “Oh, I am creating this object because later when I load this detail view, I will be showing all the stuff I am keeping in this object. This is where it comes from.”

At the time Storyboards Interface Builder wasn’t particularly good for things. If you listen to many people online, their assessment of this situation has not changed. I used .xib files for each of my view and my custom cells and did all of my transitions programmatically. It took me weeks to wrap my head around all of these moving parts to figure out how they worked together. It wasn’t enough for me to just have something work, I really wanted to understand it.

Over the last year and a half, I haven’t really worked with user interfaces much. I had a contract job where there was no UI in Interface Builder because it was a legacy project from 2008. Then I spent a bunch of time running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to figure out shaders, which are a tiny subset of a program. Then for the last eight months I have been working on porting another legacy project to Swift. We are just now getting to the point where I am working with interfaces again. It’s been over a year since I dealt with interfaces.

I am working on my first application. It is going to be rather limited to start off with, but I have plans to add additional functionality over time, so whenever I finally get it out, no, that is not the final product, more will come later, so don’t give me crap about it.

I am working with HealthKit. In HealthKit, there is a HKHealthStore that you are only supposed to have one instance of in your entire application.

I have been trying to figure out where to make that instance. I know that it needs to be accessible through the entire application and that you’re not supposed to make a bunch of instances of the same thing. I also know you have to pass it along to a lot of different places. I know many people don’t like singletons and I don’t want to create one of those, even though I am pretty sure HKHealthStore is a singleton. I was trying to figure out how all of the controllers can know about something while minimizing global state.

I talked to Brad about this a bit and he was talking about how it should be created in the root view controller for the application because that is responsible for the views that are controlled by it. As he was talking about all this stuff, it dawned on me that he was talking about the same things I was bashing my head against two years ago.

It wasn’t like I had spent a week mucking around with this stuff. I spent eighty hours a week for MONTHS trying to piece together how all this crap worked. I can’t believe that after spending all that time and pain on these concepts that they were buried in some far corner of my brain.

It also made me wonder about all the people who are learning programming now who use storyboards because, honestly, they are easier to get things done quickly. If you just push a couple of buttons and things happen like magic, how do you get a full understanding of what is actually going on? It makes me wonder about what else I don’t know about because I came into programming relatively recently. I know that my knowledge of memory management is bad because it was never something I had to deal with. I came in around iOS5/iOS6, so we had ARC and GCD and a lot of other things that abstract out a lot of the lower level programming stuff from you. Will understanding how root view controllers own detail views go the same way? I know talking to a guy at my first job he didn’t seem to understand this concept and it drove me crazy. I guess I have gotten to the point where I don’t understand it either.

It frightens me about how vast the knowledge is of everything that happens within the iOS ecosystem and how incredibly difficult it is to remember everything because really delving into the low level stuff means that you don’t know how to get things done quickly in the abstracted level. Sticking to the abstracted level limits your ability to do anything really customizable because you don’t see how the pieces fit together.

I am hoping that over the course of the next few years I can figure out a balance that works for me. I hope I can remember enough about how things work that I can deal with the abstracted layer without fundamentally forgetting everything.

Doctor Who: Series One- Father’s Day

PeteRose

I am probably going to retract this by the end of the season, but this is the best episode of Doctor Who so far. The first half of the season was acclimating new viewers to the Who universe and doing a lot of setup and stories that could only be done once.

This episode is the first real episode to explore what Doctor Who is capable of. Everyone wants to be the Companion and run away with the madman in the box. However, the strongest Doctor Who stories have always been character studies about specific companions and their own lives and stories. The fact that the “monster of the week” isn’t the Cybermen or The Master or some other outside force other than Rose’s desire to save the father she never knew makes this episode far more compelling than later outings with the Tyler clan.

It is my feeling since Stephen Moffat took over we are getting further and further away from actual stories about the Companions and getting more entrenched in JJ Abrams’ Mystery Box phenomenon. And no, this past season with Clara and Danny has not changed my assessment. It’s an improvement, but nothing dealing with Clara has has the same emotional gut punch that Rose, Martha, or Donna have had. For better or worse, I feel that Russell T. Davies had a much better handle on how to tell an emotionally driven story than Stephen Moffat has. If he would just make better wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey puzzles for his story arcs, I would be happy.

So it goes.

Pete and Jackie Tyler

I believe this is the first time we hear about Rose’s father in the series. We have met her mum and her boyfriend, but her father is out of the picture. Until now we didn’t know if he just walked out on the family or if he was in jail or what happened. We never really thought about it. It makes sense that he would not have been spoken about much since he died so long ago. Time heals all wounds and since Rose never really knew her father, he was just this empty spot in her life.

You don't miss something until it's gone.

You don’t miss something until it’s gone.

It’s interesting to see how Jackie describes Pete to Rose as a child and how she reacts to him when he is still alive. She talked to Rose about all of Pete’s wonderful inventions and all the ideas he had when she was scornful of them while he lived. That is such a realistic touch to his portrayal because people have all kinds of quirks and idiosyncrasies that drive you insane that endear you to them later when they are gone.

My grandfather died when I was in my twenties. He and I had been close when I was a child but as he grew older we grew apart because he was basically an overgrown child himself. We didn’t get along and I was sad when he died, but I didn’t think I cared all that much.

When I went to the funeral the minister giving the eulogy talked about all the things he loved doing and all of my memories of childhood came rushing back to me. He was the first person who ever treated me like I was special and he was a good friend to me when I needed one as a child. I started sobbing hysterically because there were so many memories I had of him that I had packed away because our relationship was too painful that all surfaced after he was gone. Human relationships are vast things far more complicated and compelling than any time paradox could possibly be.

The Doctor and Rose

One thing that strikes me going back and rewatching this episode is how it begins. Rose asks The Doctor if he can take her anywhere and he tells her that her wish is his command. He should know better than to put the universe at risk by possibly creating a time paradox. He does it anyway.

Trying to avoid making a stupid "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" joke here.

Trying to avoid making a stupid “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” joke here.

You could make the argument that this is sloppy storytelling, that The Doctor behaves irrationally because the story demands it. However, it doesn’t play that way.

The Doctor cares about Rose. He wants to make her happy. He is willing to do whatever she asks because he cares about her. Later it dawns on him that she might only have agreed to come with him so that he would do this for her and it hurts him to feel that she used him. Their relationship is become more complicated because he is allowing his attachment to her to become way too personal. The behavior is irrational because emotions are irrational. He is angry with her, not for putting the universe in danger, but because he feels like she used him and doesn’t actually care about him the way he cares about her.

Oh god, you pissed off the Eccleston. Hopefully he won't walk off at the end of the season.

Oh god, you pissed off the Eccleston. Hopefully he won’t walk off at the end of the season.

Watching Rose uncomfortably go through their house ratting on about all the stuff her dad had that she heard about and the camera cutting back to Eccleston standing in stone silence is awesome. I have always said that it’s great in shows where when the main character is angry they get really, really quiet. In Battlestar Galactica when Adama has to reprimand both Starbuck and Tigh after their escape from New Caprica, he doesn’t yell. He just gets very, very quiet and says the most devastating things he possibly can. This choice to just show Eccleston pissed was fantastic. He’s so angry he can’t verbally articulate it.

In spite of how angry he is at Rose, he does everything that he can to try to save her father, even to the point of trying to sacrifice himself in Pete’s place.

Even though they go to a lot of trouble to say they aren’t a couple, they certainly act like one. Rose’s knowing look when The Doctor comes back for her is great until she realizes exactly why he’s come back.

Dude, where's my TARDIS? Yes, I deserve to be slapped for that.

Dude, where’s my TARDIS? Yes, I deserve to be slapped for that.

Also, I hadn’t remembered why The Doctor came back for Rose. Going and seeing him walk into the TARDIS and seeing that it was no longer bigger on the inside, then seeing the wheels turning in his head processing why it was like that before panicking and yelling, “ROSE!” was great. He’s mad, but she’s in danger and he’s not going to just leave her there, even though it’s her fault. Actually, I don’t think he had much of a choice considering the TARDIS couldn’t take him away anyway…

Rose and Pete Tyler

It’s interesting to me to see the dynamic between Rose and Pete change over the course of the episode. When she saves his life he gets rather uncomfortable with her attention to him. He has no idea that she is his daughter or that he was supposed to die. Seriously, if some stranger pulled you out of the way of a moving car and started at you expectantly and you didn’t know why, how would you feel?

I think it’s to the credit of the writer that Rose has to come up with reasons to stay with her dad by lying about going to the wedding and needing a ride. I always hate it in TV shows where people wind up doing extraordinary things for strangers with no compelling reason other than the story needs it to be done. In the TV show Leverage you see the main characters taking up jobs in four person companies and no one bats an eye as to how they got there or why they are there and it’s tremendously frustrating.

Even though a lot of trouble has been made to show Pete as a screw-up, he is able to piece together that Rose is his daughter and that all of the damage that is happening is his fault. This episode takes a normal, ordinary man on the worst day of his life and allows him to be a hero he never was. He gets to see the daughter that he won’t be alive to see grow up. The episode makes it his choice to go and fulfill his destiny to die being hit by that car. How many people could do that, honestly?

Pete realizing that he is dead by listening to Rose tell him about this great dad he knows he is never going to be is completely heartbreaking. It’s got to be difficult to listen to someone describe this amazing person they think you are to realize that it isn’t you and it never will be.

It’s kind of awesome that The Doctor comes up with an impossible plan to save the day at the last minute that gets fouled up by the human emotions and irrationality present in a difficult situation. We get so used to The Doctor pulling a solution out of his ass that saves everyone at the last minute that it’s kind of awesome that they actually kill Pete Tyler and he stays dead. Not only that, but he’s made the choice that he will die to save everyone and everything.

1x08-Father-s-Day-doctor-who-17495248-1600-900

Ordinary People

A large, recurring theme in this episode especially is the idea of ordinary people. Rose argues that saving her dad isn’t a big deal because he wasn’t an important person. The Doctor says that the most ordinary person is the most important person in the universe. He tells the bride and groom that they are important.

So much of this first season of Who was about celebrating the ordinary. Rose is a normal, working class girl with a mundane, ordinary life. We get so wrapped up in the idea that everyone has to be Harry Potter that we lose track of the importance of common people. Each and every single person is the center of their own universe. We are not a world made of NPCs. We all work and love and live and that makes each and every one of us important.

After Thoughts

  • First off, I wanted to say that the person who scored this episode did a fantastic job. When Rose saves her dad and other bad time paradox things hit, the score shifts into a dissonant glissando. The music changes abruptly to a way that is wrong, which perfectly fits with the theme of this episode. Also, when Rose and The Doctor are talking about The Doctor having to let his entire world and people die, there is no soundtrack. None. It is silent. It is just him, his words, and his pain. Sorry, geeking out about music.

  • Holy crap. I didn’t process/remember that the best man at the wedding who was trying to talk the groom out of not marrying the mother of his child and to just live in sin for ten years was the guy’s father. LOL!!!

It's the Revenge of the 80s! Why are there no Nikes and jean jackets??

It’s the Revenge of the 80s! Why are there no Nikes and jean jackets??

  • I have no idea if weddings in Britain are the way they are portrayed in Doctor Who and other British media, but I think they’re fantastic. You have all of these women dressed like they are going to the Kentucky Derby who are hanging out in the basement of the Rotary Club. All the men are wearing tails while driving around in rusty old cars. Having this wedding taking place in the 80’s and having the hybrid of the hats and the 80’s fashion is absolutely fantastic.

  • I love the moment when The Doctor yells at Jackie to shut up and do what he says and when she actually meekly does it, he’s like, “Wow, I should have done that a long time ago!” It’s nice to have a moment of earned levity in the middle of a dark episode.

  • Also nice little jab at how clingy Mickey is even as a child.

  • The Doctor to Baby Rose: Now Rose, you’re not going to bring about the end of the world, are you?

Seriously beautiful and amazing episode of Doctor Who. There is no grand mythology or puzzle to be solved. This is simply an episode about the power of love. Love can result in people doing the wrong things for the right reasons, or doing the right thing to save the people we love and cherish.

Next up we have the equally amazing two-part episode “The Empty Child” and the introduction of one of my personal favorite characters, Captain Jack Harkness.

Doctor Who: Series One- The Long Game

Eccleston and Piper take on the future.

Eccleston and Piper take on the future.

This is the last mediocre episode of the first series. Each episode after this is a classic or furthers the end game for this series. As such, this episode was kind of hard to get to because it wasn’t one of the ones I was super enthused about watching and reviewing for this blog series.

This one isn’t “bad” per se, it’s just not nearly as special as the stuff that comes after it.

Time to churn through this one and get to the good stuff!!

The Failed Companion

The point of the Companion in Doctor Who is to have an audience proxy. You’re supposed to be able to watch the show and imagine that you are the one traveling to distant times and spaces. They’re supposed to be relatable so that you can picture yourself as one.

Russell T. Davies trolled us a little with Adam. He established that not everyone is companion material. Some people are special and they get to be companions. People who are selfish Adam Eyeor thoughtless don’t get to keep their Golden Ticket, which is what happened with Adam.

Adam gets mentioned in an iO9 article about depressing Companion departures and for good reason. While his departure isn’t as depressing as Donna Noble’s, it still illustrates how one stupid decision can fuck you for the rest of your life.

I only saw this episode once and didn’t really grok why Adam was considered irredeemable. Going through it again, I am seeing small moments that foreshadow why he was kicked to the curb. We see the moment when he has the cell phone that can call the past that he knows he should give back to Rose, but you see him deliberate it and decide to keep it instead.

Things continue to get worse as the episode goes along. It’s rather disappointing to see someone give in to their base instincts. I realized as the episode went on that Adam is basically Biff from Back to the Future. If there was a sport’s record book available in Satellite Five we would live in an unfortunate reality. It’s too bad he can’t go back and invest in Apple when it was nineteen bucks a share.

Again, it’s really interesting to go back and see this episode and see all the stupid shit Adam does. I barely remembered this episode. Seeing the iO9 article I didn’t even remember Adam was a character. Going back and watching this I am puzzled why this didn’t leave a more visceral impact on me. The part where The Doctor is being given away because Adam opened up his mind to the High Intelligence to send a message to himself in the past to invent/invest in the right technology is really memorable and I honestly don’t know why it didn’t make a bigger impact.

Satellite Five

Wasting Simon Pegg is a sin against humanity.

Wasting Simon Pegg is a sin against humanity.

Yes, I am going to get crap from Chris Adamson, but this whole episode seems like a giant cautionary tale about Fox News and Rupert Murdoch. This is a prospective future where the human race lets itself be controlled by an infotainment industrial complex. There is a higher power using its influence to control the reality experienced by humanity to ensure that no one asks any questions about what is happening to society. People are allowing themselves to be blindly led and live in terror of amorphous threats with no solid or concrete parameters.

The plot device where people open their brains to the main computer is a decent allegory for our current social media experiment. People are voluntarily pumping their personal information out to people who capitalize on it and are using it to design ever more manipulative ways to contour our reality.

It’s kind of disappointing that they have Simon Pegg here and he isn’t using his real accent and he’s blond. All of his personality is kind of stripped. It makes me sad.

The Doctor and Rose

It’s fascinating to see how far Rose has come since the beginning of the series. This is only her seventh outing, but she is giving the grand tour to Adam like a pro. It’s kind of cute to see The Doctor watching her with a modicum of pride for her confidence in showing him the ropes. His little companion is growing up!! However, she hasn’t learned not to give away the TARDIS key yet. Bad Rose!

It’s interesting to see how proud The Doctor seems of Rose. In the first several episodes of this series he treated her as something of a pet. She was a curiosity. She was someone who was more remarkable than the people around her, but she was still an inferior human.

The bad CGI!!! It burns!!

The bad CGI!!! It burns!!

There are parts in the episode where The Doctor seems to delight in the growth that Rose has made over the course of the season. He chastises the woman who doesn’t think the heat is an issue by saying that Rose is asking all the right questions. It’s also fun to see Rose’s sort of smug, “Ha ha, I got praised by The Doctor!” look at this comment.

I find it personally fascinating to see how their relationship evolves over the course of this series. I don’t really feel that many other companions go through this process. The only other companion I can think of who really profoundly changes over the course of the series is Donna. This first series had to do a lot to introduce Doctor Who to a new generation of people while staying true to the old series. The decision to make The Doctor rather grizzled and militant and to have him slowly recover his lost whimsey was a really interesting and successful choice by RTD.

It speaks to the strength of their relationship that The Doctor didn’t kick Rose to the curb as well after this incident. She wanted to bring Adam with them. She gave him the key. She made a mistake. He could have decided he was done with her after this, but he needs her and he knows it. There wasn’t a moment when he even considers that course of action. It speaks to the strength of their relationship even this early in the season that it feels natural that he wouldn’t take it out on her. Also, that would have disrupted the season and that would have been an unwise choice.

One of the complaints that I have about the Moffatt era Doctors is how little they seem to grow and evolve. Yes, you can argue with me that this past series with Clara and Danny Pink was somehow different, but it really didn’t capture me in the same way this series did. I don’t know if it’s the chemistry between Eccleston and Piper or if he was just such a good actor that no one else has been able to approach what he did. I truly believe he shows the greatest range of realistic emotions of all the modern Doctors. Peter Capaldi never really captured the extreme goofiness and the extreme menace that Eccleston oscillated between throughout each episode of this series.

For now I am delighting in watching his relationship with Rose. When they break onto Floor 500, The Doctor comments that everyone seems to have dropped out besides Rose and himself. And he likes it that way. So does she.

Don't fuck with us.

Don’t fuck with us.

The Future is Fragile

One of the biggest aspects of most science fiction from the twentieth century is this pervading idea that humans will conquer the galaxy. Except we don’t mean militarily. We will colonize space and explore strange new worlds. If you look at Star Trek, humanity is at the epicenter of galactic civilization. In Doctor Who, thousands of races interbred and descended from humanity. In Doctor Who, humanity has a destiny that The Doctor spends so much time to shepherd to fruition.

One aspect of this episode that is interesting and terrifying is just how tenuous that future is. The future we view in this episode isn’t the future we expect from humanity, but one that is terrifyingly similar to the one we live in now. A future where all of humanity’s information about the world is manufactured and filtered through a mechanism to warp our basic potential.

One of the reasons I hate the current Star Trek movie reboot is that J. J. Abrams clearly didn’t understand what made Star Trek appealing to begin with. Star Trek came out at the height of the Cold War and it was created to give hope to humanity that one day we would overcome our differences and move forward into the future united rather than divided. I feel like this episode is kind of like what would have happened if at various critical points in our history our better natures didn’t prevail and we never progress past where we are now. It really drives home this idea that the future is fragile. We have the potential to do great things but it takes very little to derail our bright future.

However, it’s nice that in our evil media future that we no longer just have the male/female genders, we have male/female/multisex/undecided/robot. Tolerance is always a good lesson.

Conclusion

I am glad I went back and rewatched this episode. It didn’t leave a huge impact on me initially, but there is a lot of good stuff in here that I missed the first time through.

Now that we are through the slow part of the season, we get to go and visit one of the strongest episodes of New Who: Father’s Day. Stay tuned!

The Demonization of Food

I had two incidents happen in the last 24 hours that have affected me on a deep, profound level that I would really like to talk about.

Last night I went to a friend’s house. We are beta testing a board game. Each of us is is going through some extreme life changes and we’re all trying to find ways of actually interacting with other human beings.

When I walked into his house, the heavenly aroma of fresh brownies hung in the air. His wife, who is also a friend, offered me a warm brownie and a glass of cold milk.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I was offered a warm brownie. I have had warm brownies at home, but there is always this cloud of shame attached to them. They get made because someone is really in the mood for chocolate and they are furtively consumed alone.

Having another person offer me a brownie with no associated guilt or feeling of failure associated with it was an incredibly moving experience.

The second incident was on the dead, forgotten social networking platform App.net. I commented about trying to figure out how to cook. I am living on my own for the first time in my life and I never really learned how to cook. I wish I had a cooking tutorial book for people like me starting off with some simple stuff that you then build into more complex stuff like you do when you learn programming.

Most people were very encouraging and enthusiastic about this goal. Except one person, who said: “Like you eat out every day prior to this? Unhealthy.”

That sound you hear in the background is the land mine this guy just stepped on blowing him to smithereens.

You have no fucking clue how pissed off I am about this comment.

I do not know why people in the country feel like they have the right to judge other people about what they eat.

My ex-husband and my father were both on extreme diets, but their diets were in direct opposition to one another. My father followed a mostly vegetarian diet with a lot of beans, rice, and bread. My ex husband followed a low-carb Paleo-style diet. Trying to coordinate a meal between the two of them was like the most bloody Holy War imaginable. Both were incredibly passionate that their way of eating was the right one, that the other person was an irresponsible fool, and that the other one would drop dead of a heart attack at a young age due to extreme obesity.

I don’t want to live like that. I have been living like this for the last thirty-three god damned years and I am fucking tired of it.

I like potatoes. I like pie. I like cheeseburgers. I like beans.

When I was a kid one of the highlights of my year was when my mom would bring home a French Silk pie from Baker’s Square. I told myself as a child that when I was an adult I would keep one of those suckers in my refrigerator and eat it directly out of the pie plate and share it with no one. Last month after my husband moved out of the house I brought a pie home and ate it directly from the plate. It was one of the most glorious, liberating moments I have had in my life of being able to eat like a savage and absolutely giving no shits about it.

I am incredibly disturbed by the amount of judgement we have about what other people eat. I am angry that we are making overweight people feel bad for being moral failures for being fat.

My Life as a Fat Girl

I have been on both sides of the coin. I have been fat and I have been painfully thin. I am a recovering anorexic. I starved myself in high school because I hated myself and I wanted to disappear but I was too afraid to actually follow through with taking my own life. I have hated my body for being fat even though I was incredibly thin, to the point of being unhealthy and unable to retain any body heat.

I was placed on a bunch of creepy medications when I was 16 that made me gain over sixty pounds in less than two years. As I watched myself going from a skinny to a chubby to borderline obese teenaged girl, I cried from despair and self loathing. I hated all of my skinny classmates and I was pissed at myself for not realizing I was skinny when I was anorexic.

I didn’t have a boyfriend for ten years and my parents and my doctors thought I was a lesbian. I tried to talk to my doctors about what was happening, but I got a sanctimonious “Eat less and exercise more” rather than an honest disclosure that weight gain was a common side effect of the drugs they were forcing me on. Right now there is a class action lawsuit against one of the drug manufacturers for causing Type-2 diabetes in people who were on the same medication I was because it caused so much weight gain.

The second I went off of these medications I lost most of the weight. I didn’t exercise more or eat less. I just stopped taking medicine I didn’t need to begin with.

One of the worst parts about being fat was basically being invisible. I have always spent way more time with men than women and I developed crushes on a lot of my classmates. I didn’t really like any of them, I just kind of thought I was supposed to have a boyfriend and I was sad that no one was attracted to me.

I would sit next to my crushes and listen to them bitch about how the hot girls in their classes didn’t notice they existed while they were completely oblivious to the fact that I had a crush on them. I think if they had known I liked them it wouldn’t have made any difference. They would have been dismayed that the only girl who liked them was the socially awkward chubby girl with the bad personality. I don’t think they liked any of the girls they crushed on any more than I actually liked them, we all just wanted some external validation that we were okay.

When I lost all of the weight and went back down to my anorexic high school weight in 2008, I thought it would be this life changing experience. It wasn’t. I still felt bad about myself, except now I couldn’t go longer than two hours without having to take a nap, half of my hair fell out, and my face broke out and wouldn’t heal. What did make a difference to me was finally finding something I was good at and learning not to worry about the other stuff. When I started focusing inward on what I thought and felt rather than what I looked like I found peace.

We’re Not Being Effective

In spite of the billions of dollars we have sunk into research about weight, we seem no closer to understanding how weight works. Don’t give me any of that crap about “calories in, calories out.” Yes, on some level it is calories in, calories out, but there are a lot of factors that affect how the calories out gets determined. Women retain more fat than men do because we need to to grow and make babies.

Guess what? No one wants to be fat. No one chooses to be fat.

Being fat is one of the last acceptable things for people to be discriminatory about. You can’t say racist things in public anymore, but it’s perfectly okay to shame someone for being fat. People are being cut open and having perfectly good organs butchered by doctors to avoid being fat. We have created a narrative in our culture where anyone who is fat is fat because they lack the willpower to stop shoveling donuts into their gaping maws. We can feel superior to them because we have enough restraint to be thin even if we aren’t actively doing anything about it. This Calvinistic belief is preventing any meaningful research from being done into how to effectively fight the obesity epidemic.

This isn’t helped by the mass media messages that we receive telling both men and women that we are not “enough” to con us into buying gym memberships to “fix” ourselves to some Photoshopped ideal.

If you are a “stereotypical” fat person who spends all day eating, you are probably depressed or have some other issue that is the actual root of your issues. The weight is just a symptom. We aren’t treating weight like a symptom. We’re treating it like a moral failing making it more difficult for people who are struggling to actually get help. That really sucks.

I am sick and tired of everyone I know feeling shame about food. I am sick of everyone I know judging other people for what they choose to eat.

I want to see more people like my friend offering warm brownies to people with no underlying shame. I like to feed people. I used to bake a lot and it gave me a lot of pleasure giving people food I made and seeing them enjoy it. Something I used to love is now a source of tremendous angst for most of the people I know. I want everyone to feel loved and accepted for who they are rather than wasting their lives feeling ashamed because they keep gaining and losing the same twenty pounds over and over again.

When I got married back in 2009 I was skinny and sick and miserable. I have gained back more of the weight than I would really have liked to. I don’t really care. I feel better than I did then. I know now that I will never look the way I think I am supposed to. I am curvy. I hate skinny jeans. They are an abomination. I can’t force my body to fit into a mold it doesn’t fit into, so fuck it.

I am going to wear shorts that show my thigh fat. I find them comfortable and I would rather be comfortable than worry about showing people that I am chubby. My mom tells me not to wear things that make me look chubby. Hey! Guess what? I AM chubby. I don’t give a fuck. I feel okay in my own skin and I am fine with who I am. I am trying to go running more because I enjoy it and it makes me feel better. If I lose weight cool. If not, then whatever.

I am drawing a line in the sand here. I am going to eat whatever I feel like eating. I will eat my food mindfully. I will think about each thing I put in my body and if I want to eat pie, I am going to eat pie. Life is too short to feel hungry all the time and to eat unsatisfying salads and to feel empty inside.

If you have enough leisure time to make your food from scratch every day, great for you. I don’t. I am out of my house close to twelve hours a day. I spend that time bashing my head against a lot of really difficult stuff that drains all of my energy. I come home and find anything I shove into my mouth before taking a bottle of wine with me to the bathtub to try and drink myself to sleep, which usually doesn’t work and I wind up waking up at 4:30 in the morning.

I want to learn how to cook. I find it rather intimidating. I lived with a guy who spent thousands of dollars on various kitchen gadgets and wanted to work his way through the Julia Child cookbook. I just want to make meatloaf and curry. I want to have a few things that I can throw together when I am brain dead and I need to feed myself. Eventually I would like to make food for other people who will enjoy eating it rather than giving me a lame excuse about how they’re on a diet and they can’t eat my food because it has butter and sugar in it.

I had tutorials to learn how to program, I don’t know why they don’t have a similar thing for adults to learn how to cook. Start simple and build various skills that can be used together to make increasingly complex foods. I don’t want some asshole online implying that I am a slovenly person because I lived off of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup after my ex moved out of the house because I was trying to keep my head above water.

I hope that this post inspires people who feel ashamed about food to go out and eat something they want to eat without feeling guilty about it. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t feel like you are immoral because you ate a brownie. Life is meant to be lived. Eat the brownie. Enjoy the brownie.

A friend of mine said something that I thought was great. He said, “I don’t know when I will die, but I do know that when I die I won’t die hungry. I will die knowing the last thing I ate was tasty and delicious.”

Words to live by.

What’s an Object?

I was editing my interview with Orta Therox yesterday when I realized I mentioned asking my boss Brad Larson what an object was.

I realized when listening to this that I hadn’t given any context because I wasn’t anticipating talking about that during the interview and I come off being rather ignorant in the course of this question. So, to avoid having to turn in my nerd card, I am going to give some context and give a more nuanced explanation behind that question.

My Personal Background with Object-Oriented Programming

I started going to school in 2010 for computer programming. I was 28 and I had almost no experience whatsoever with computer programming. My background was writing HTML when I was in high school and learning how to compile “Hello, world!” in Perl. At the time I enrolled I was working at Target because I failed to find a journalism job after I graduated and I really didn’t want to work at Target for the rest of my life. Programming seemed like it would be a good fit and it didn’t seem like it was going anywhere for a while.

I got through my first semester of introductory programming okay. Starting in your second semester, you had to pick a language to study for the next three semesters. At the time I was making this decision, there were three languages to pick from: Java, PHP, and VB.Net. I decided I would pick whichever one fit into my work schedule. The one that fit was VB.Net.

Our introductory class kept getting further and further behind. By the time we got to the end of the semester, we had never spoking about object-oriented programming. It was something we were supposed to do, but we just never got around to it.

The following fall, I took the advanced class. It was a night class, which I don’t really do well with anyway. The first class period, my teacher showed me object-oriented programming for the first time. I had no idea what the fuck he was talking about.

A bunch of code was in other files! How did it work together? How does the computer know to look in these other files?? Wait, what the hell is polymorphism? Am I having a bad acid trip??

After three hours of this, the teacher said since this was all review he was never going to go over any of this ever again. That was when I realized I was kind of screwed.

I decided to drop out after I asked what a constructor was and the teacher asked me if I learned anything the previous semester. At this point I had a decent job with people that I liked. I figured I was too stupid to learn programming because I wasn’t born with an intuitive sense for it and I was tired of feeling stupid all the time.

Six months after this, I took a new job that was the most miserable job I have ever had. The plus side to this job was that I taught myself programming while I was there. I realized I hadn’t put enough effort into it and if I just programmed forty hours a week I could learn it. So I went back to school.

I finally grokked OOP when I took the Intro to Java class. They introduced objects immediately and forced you to use them throughout the whole semester so you could get used to them. I started to understand about file paths and how the program knew how to find your other classes and how you imported them and how you constructed them. I felt like after I understood this for the first time that I was a “real” programmer. I hadn’t felt that way before grasping object orientation.

OOP is Not the Only Paradigm

I went from Java to iOS/Cocoa/Objective-C programming. I had a few vague issues when I was learning Objective-C with trying to pass around things that weren’t objects. Rather than really think about it at the time, I just got annoyed and turned all of my ints and floats into NSNumber objects to shut up the compiler.

Here is a sample header file you might commonly make if you were creating an Objective-C project:

@interface MyViewController ()
 
@property (nonatomic, strong) UIImageView *backgroundImageView;
@property (nonatomic, strong) UIImageView *blurredImageView;
@property (nonatomic, strong) UITableView *tableView;
@property (nonatomic, assign) CGFloat screenHeight;
 
@end

In my experience with Objective-C, everything was an object. You created classes, which were objects, and you populated them with instances of other objects and in turn instantiated your new object in instances of UIViewController objects.

You had header and implementation files. The name of your class was the same as the name of your implementation file. Every file has a class. This is what programming is. It’s objects all the way down.

My first experience with understanding that this wasn’t the only way of doing things came several months ago. I was working on translating a plug-in we were using to a piece of code we kept internally. I had a weird method I was dealing with that wouldn’t compile.

After fighting with it for a while, I took it to Brad and asked him what I was doing wrong. He told me I was treating the function like a method. This statement kind of blew my mind because I thought that methods and functions were the same thing. I thought we called functions methods in Objective-C the same way that Java interfaces were the same thing as Objective-C protocols. (Yes, I am aware I am probably wrong about this as well. I am still learning.)

I didn’t know that there was a difference in Objective-C between functions and methods. Functions exist outside of classes and methods are functions that are embedded in a class. I hadn’t really thought about this or why anyone would want to do that. I simply assumed that all functions were methods and everything had to be encapsulated in a class.

This was only the tip of the iceberg.

Becoming Functional

Back in November, Brad went away for a week for a trade show. We were planning to rewrite all of our control software in Swift and he wanted me to take a look at the code he had written so far to make sure that I understood it.

What I saw completely broke my reality.

He has posted a sample project on GitHub including some of the code I looked at initially. Here is a small sample of what I saw that changed the way I think about programming:


import Foundation

// MARK: -
// MARK: Error protocols

public protocol ErrorType {}

protocol PresentableError {
    var errorTitle: String { get }
    var errorInfo: String { get }
}

// MARK: -
// MARK: Error types

enum CommunicationsError: ErrorType, Printable, Equatable {
    case ReadWriteTimeout
    case WrongByteCount(expectedByteCount:UInt, receivedByteCount:UInt)
    case CorruptedResponse(expectedResponse:[UInt8], receivedResponse:[UInt8])
    
    var description : String {
        get {
            switch (self) {
                case .ReadWriteTimeout: return ".ReadWriteTimeout"
                case let .WrongByteCount(expectedByteCount, receivedByteCount): return ".WrongByteCount(expectedByteCount:\(expectedByteCount), receivedByteCount:\(receivedByteCount)"
                case let .CorruptedResponse(expectedResponse, receivedResponse): return ".CorruptedResponse(expectedResponse:\(expectedResponse), receivedResponse:\(receivedResponse)"
            }
        }
    }
}

enum ElectronicsError: ErrorType, Printable, Equatable {
    case ElectronicsDisconnected
    case UnrecoverableCommunicationNoise
    
    var description : String {
        get {
            switch (self) {
                case .ElectronicsDisconnected: return ".ElectronicsDisconnected"
                case .UnrecoverableCommunicationNoise: return ".UnrecoverableCommunicationNoise"
            }
        }
    }
}

// MARK: -
// MARK: Equatable protocol compliance for these errors

func == (lhs: CommunicationsError, rhs: CommunicationsError) -> Bool {
    switch (lhs, rhs) {
        case let (.ReadWriteTimeout, .ReadWriteTimeout): return true
        case let (.ReadWriteTimeout, _): return false
        case let (.WrongByteCount(expectedByteCount, receivedByteCount), .WrongByteCount(expectedByteCount2, receivedByteCount2)):  return ((expectedByteCount == expectedByteCount2) && (receivedByteCount == receivedByteCount2))
        case let (.WrongByteCount, _): return false
        case let (.CorruptedResponse(expectedResponse, receivedResponse), .CorruptedResponse(expectedResponse2, receivedResponse2)): return (equal(expectedResponse, expectedResponse2) && equal(receivedResponse, receivedResponse2))
        case let (.CorruptedResponse, _): return false
    }
}

func == (lhs: ElectronicsError, rhs: ElectronicsError) -> Bool {
    switch (lhs, rhs) {
        case (.ElectronicsDisconnected, .ElectronicsDisconnected): return true
        case (.ElectronicsDisconnected, _): return false
        case (.UnrecoverableCommunicationNoise, .UnrecoverableCommunicationNoise): return true
        case (.UnrecoverableCommunicationNoise, _): return false
    }
}

The name of this file is ErrorTypes.swift. There is no ErrorTypes class. There is nothing in this file named ErrorTypes.

NOTHING IN THIS FILE IS AN OBJECT!!

We have several enums, which are not objects, that we are references for type conformity. We have UInts, which are not objects. We also have functions. Lots and lots of functions. That aren’t associated with a class. They’re just out there like llamas roaming free.

When I tried to understand this I felt like I went to a party and someone asked if I wanted to use another person’s liver. I didn’t know if was possible to call functions that were not associated with a class instance. I had never seen anything like this before. I couldn’t believe this would build and run and compile just fine. I felt like I fell down a rabbit hole and nothing made sense anymore.

Reorienting Myself with Reality

I, like many people, learned programming in the age of Imperative Programming. Java has been around for twenty years and many people learned programming with Java. A lot of us don’t know anything except the Object Oriented way of doing things. To many of us, this is what programming is.

It doesn’t have to be.

One reason I am so vocal in my defense of Swift is because this realization has completely changed my reality. I used to think there was only one way of doing things. Well, I won’t say that. There was one right way of doing things and then there was the “Dear god, what is this person thinking by having this property controlled in four different places?!” way of doing things.

Being exposed to Swift and seeing that you don’t have to put everything in a class has been a revelatory experience for me. It is forcing me to reevaluate everything I know about programming.

I never thought about what an object was before because there was no point because everything was an object. Now, I am trying to get a better understanding of what an object actually is. I wrote about the difference between structs and classes and at the time I really didn’t understand why you would want to use a struct instead of a class if they essentially do the same things. I now understand that you want to try to use structs when possible because they aren’t objects. Objects come with a lot of overhead. They let you do some more powerful things like subclassing through polymorphism, but you don’t always need to do those things. Looking at how powerful the enums are that Brad uses in his code, I am fascinated by how confined my own view was when I thought everything had to be an object and exist in a class.

So yes, I did ask what an object is. I know most programmers worth their salt can tell you the definition of what an object is, but I don’t think many of them stop to think about why we use them and if they are the best way of doing things. Or if they bother to wonder if objects are the only way of doing things.