Monthly Archives: August 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation Top Ten Episodes- All Good Things…

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

The End

I know it is something of a cliche to include either the pilot or the final episode of a series in a top ten list, but this episode did such a great job that I had to include it.

Q_PicardEnding a long-running series is tricky. There is a multitude of nerd rage over shows that did not end in a satisfying manner. “The Sopranos” is the most prominent example, but there are plenty of other shows that have dropped the ball at the end.

It is tremendously difficult to strike a good balance between giving closure to the fans and going too far in the other direction and pandering to what you think the fans want to see. “Breaking Bad” recently wrapped up their series and it was the third-to-last episode that really packed the emotional punch for the series. The last few episodes wrapping things up but it wasn’t nearly as emotionally satisfying as that almost last episode was.

“Star Trek: The Next Generation” was from an earlier time before the mass serialization of TV became the norm. TNG had a few recurring characters and several plot threads that popped up over the years, but beyond a few two-part episodes there was not a lot of continuity from episode to episode.

One of those characters and plot threads was the omnipotent, ever-present Q. Q made his appearance in the pilot to put humanity on trial. That was a rather ballsy move to make in the pilot and it pays off in the finale because the writers could call back that scene to provide a nice bookend for the show.

Gul Dukat, the face of pure evil.

Gul Dukat, the face of pure evil.

The only other Trek series to do anything like this was Deep Space Nine. DS9 had the awesome moment in the pilot where Gul Dukat strolls onto the station and you are immediately struck by what a menacing presence he has. DS9 at its core was a battle royale between the forces of good in the form of Benjamin Sisco and the forces of darkness in the form of Gul Dukat for control of the wormhole and its inhabitants.

If Gul Dukat or Q had been poorly cast, neither of these callbacks would have happened. In spite of the fact that TNG and DS9 were syndicated, relatively low budget shows, they got incredibly lucky with a lot of their casting. Getting an actor who could stand toe-to-toe with Patrick Stewart who was genuinely menacing was awesome, which is why the writers kept bringing Q back over and over again. It’s difficult to remember that Q only appeared in just over a half dozen episodes of the series since his presence is such a vital part of its DNA.

Structure

Wait, how long has this camera been here?! I didn't realize the NSA still exists in the future!

Wait, how long has this camera been here?! I didn’t realize the NSA still exists in the future!

One benefit of having the plot driven by an omnipotent super being is that you can bring characters back from the dead without things seeming forced. Being able to send Picard through time and space without having to worry about the mechanics is a gift.

The best time travel episodes of Trek don’t bother to worry about how their heroes go back and forth through time. Look at “The City at the Edge of Forever.” Our heroes jump through a large rock and wind up back in time. They never talk about how they get back to the future because it doesn’t matter. Kirk fell in love with a woman who he had to let die to allow time to proceed as it should.

(Side note: I would give anything to see a cold open for Doctor Who where the TARDIS shows up on the Enterprise bridge, they talk to Patrick Stewart, fly off, and you see that they are in the middle of shooting an episode. Seriously Moffat, make it so!)

There have been a few moments in Star Trek where Picard has been tortured with the idea that he remembers things that are not real. Between “The Inner Light”, “The Chain of Command”, and “The Best of Both Worlds” I am shocked that he doesn’t have some terrible psychological trauma. I guess they have found a cure for PTSD in the future. One would hope at least.

It was kind of nice to see that at some point Picard and Beverly Crusher hook up, it just would have been nice to see it happen while the show was still going. I am surprised they never picked that thread up in any of the movies. The actors clearly had chemistry and the writers kind of flirt around with the idea without actually going there. If they were going to hook Worf and Troi up for the last few episodes of the series, couldn’t they have at least done the same thing for the two characters who actually made sense?

Alas, poor Tasha! I knew her, Horatio!

Alas, poor Tasha! I knew her, Horatio!

Oh yeah, one of the low points of the finale is that in the future Worf and Riker hate one another because they both loved Troi and she mysteriously dies to fuel their irrational conflict. ”Women in Refrigerators” trope for the win!

It’s kind of nice to see how the writers were able to use the death of Tasha Yar so many times in the series to show that things were wonky without overusing it terribly. Each time they brought Tasha back it was in a great episode and she was used respectfully. I am glad that Denise Crosby was classy enough to come back the number of times she did for the fans of the show.

Paradox

The primary reason I am including this on my list is the central paradox in the episode.

The beginnings of life on Earth.

The beginnings of life on Earth.

As I have written about a lot, I started programming rather later than most people did. I had a period of several years where I terribly abused my brain. I would come home from school and just stare off at a corner for half an hour because I couldn’t think enough to be able to know I had to take off my coat and my shoes.

I have stretched, broken, and healed my brain so many times that I think I might be addicted to the pain. Watching Picard go through the episode trying to piece the paradox together spoke to me on a fundamental level that a lot of Star Trek didn’t.

There was one quote in particular that really speaks to me. It happens at the end of the episode when Picard has saved the universe and is speaking to Q about his displeasure at being put on trial:

Capt. Picard: I sincerely hope that this is the last time that I find myself here.

Q: You just don’t get it, do you, Jean-Luc? The trial never ends. We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did.

Capt. Picard: When I realized the paradox.

Q: Exactly. For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. *That* is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.

You know no matter how hard you try you'll never know everything, right?

You know no matter how hard you try you’ll never know everything, right?

Last year I was determined to learn Core Audio. I spent two months working my way through Chris Adamson’s Core Audio book. He was doing an all-day workshop on it at CocoaConf Boston and I moved heaven and earth to be able to go there. When I got there, I was incredibly worried about my future. I felt beaten down and broken by trying to get through programming. That was a really dark time for me. I used to feel joy when I learned and figured things out that had all but disappeared from my life. I was in a despair that I would never feel it again.

Going to that workshop changed my life. It was like a lot of concepts were floating around in my brain like iron filings and someone turned a magnet on and suddenly everything snapped into place. I couldn’t explain to anyone about what I realized, but for a brief moment everything clicked into place. I nearly cried because all of these things I couldn’t figure out suddenly came into focus. I could see how they fit together. I was so buzzed by this revelation that I didn’t sleep for a week.

I felt like I had made a pilgrimage through the desert with no hope that anything would be at the other end to discover that a paradise existed. I felt like my will and my tenacity had been tested and that I passed the test. I knew that anything else I tried to do would not be as difficult as the last year had been. I knew that I would be okay. I knew I would not fail.

Engage

I guess the main theme of this episode is talking about what Star Trek is really about. J.J. Abrams doesn’t fundamentally understand why people like Star Trek. It seems like this dated, wimpy show about a bunch of unrealistic peaceniks who have this stupid utopian view of the way the world should be. Those qualities are exactly what make Star Trek special.

It is superficially about exploring space and meeting weird exotic aliens, but it is about far more than that. It is about exploring what it means to be human. We encounter aspects of ourselves in the various species encountered by the Enterprise crew. The show is a hope for the future where we can bypass the issues we have now to work together for a better future.

We need this, now more than ever. We have a deeply divided country where half of us want to move backwards and half want to move forward. We have a group of people deeply suspicious of scientists warning us that if we aren’t careful we will make this planet uninhabitable. We have become terrified of bogeymen in headscarves that we are afraid will blow up our buildings, so we let our government treat all of us like criminals. We have militarized police turning their weapons on the people they are supposed to protect.

I believed in you. I thought you had potential. But apparently I was wrong. May whatever god you believe in have mercy on your soul. This court stands adjourned.

I believed in you. I thought you had potential. But apparently I was wrong. May whatever god you believe in have mercy on your soul. This court stands adjourned.

I need to believe we can transcend this period of our history. When Star Trek originally came out, we were at a similar precipice, except the bogeyman was nuclear war and had a Russian accent. Star Trek came at a time we needed to believe that it was possible that we could do better. We need that now, more than ever.

Our great challenge as a species isn’t to make it to the stars, it is to push ourselves to do better than we thought we could. That is the ultimate message of both this specific episode and of all of Star Trek. That is why this series has endured for nearly fifty years.

I want to finish up this post, and this series, with a quote from the pilot that I feel sums up my feelings about what Star Trek means to me. I want to thank you for reading my posts and I hope that they were not too terribly boring.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Some problem, Riker?

Commander William T. Riker: Just hoping this isn’t the usual way our missions will go, sir.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Oh, no, Number One. I’m sure most will be much more interesting. – Let’s see what’s out there. Engage!

Advice to Conference Speakers When Things Go Wrong

While I was attending 360|iDev this past week, I saw a speaker have a bad talk. I saw this speaker do this talk a few months ago and he knocked it out of the park. This time, several things went wrong and the talk went a little off the rails.

My heart went out to this speaker because earlier this month I had my own first encounter with a talk going off the rails.

My Conference Talk Failure

I spoke at CocoaConf Columbus. I was doing two talks. One talk was on GPU Programming and the other talk was on Debugging. I spent the vast majority of my time on the first talk. The subject matter was far more difficult and I was trying to do something rather ambitious with it. I didn’t really give the Debugging talk the love it deserved.

I knew when I woke up the morning of my talk that it was going to go badly. I spent a bunch of time in the morning refactoring it up until the few minutes before the talk began. I was rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

I'll just be over here drowning myself in my own tears.

I’ll just be over here drowning myself in my own tears.

When I began the talk, I included a really stupid inside joke that went on for far too long and things just got worse from there. I got flustered and none of my code demos worked properly. I also included way too many of them and all of the demos were based on the same project, so I became confused as to which demo went with which concept.

As I panicked, I spent more and more time looking to my coauthor for help like a kid looking to the teacher for the next line in the school play. I knew I was doing this and I couldn’t help it. I felt like the world was collapsing in on me and I was trapped up there for one terrible hour until I could escape and find a nice corner to cry in.

The Bad News

Here is the bad news. If you are going to be a conference speaker, you are going to have talks that go wrong. It is just going to happen. You are going to have a few that go well, you are going to get complacent and figure you have it all sorted out, or it might even be your first one and you didn’t prepare as much as you should have.

The good news is that you can learn from the experience. Human beings have the unfortunate habit of learning best when we fail at something. Emotional failure stings and it physically hurts us. We learn very quickly not to touch a hot stove because it hurts. We also learn not to go before an audience unprepared because that hurts too.

It is vitally important to not just give up on speaking when you have a bad experience. That is the opportunity you have to learn the most if you can shake off the pain and learn what you did wrong.

Advice

Here is my personal advice for anyone who has either had a bad experience or is just starting out and is worried about having their first bad experience.

  • Figure out if your talk is recoverable. I read a memoir by a gymnast who said that when she would get to practice in the morning she would immediately know if it was going to be an on day or an off day the moment she stepped on the balance beam. Sometimes you start the day off on the wrong foot and you just have to keep chugging along. If you can’t recover from your talk, try not to worry about it. The more you try to recover from it, the more panicked you will be, and the worse it will get. You just have to get through it as best you can. Don’t run away. Just finish as best you can.
  • LetItGo

  • If you think you can recover, take a few seconds to close your eyes and gather your thoughts. It might seem like a long time to you, but there is a temporal shift between how you feel time and how your audience feels time. It might seem like an eternity to you, but to them it isn’t that long.
  • Try to shake it off. Believe me, you are going to feel terrible. People will try to make you feel better by telling you it wasn’t that bad. They are trying to help. Try to be gracious to the nice people who feel terrible for you and want to make you feel better even though you really want to wallow in your own misery for a while. Let yourself feel bad, but not for too long. Have a good cry, then let it go. Don’t let this spook you out of ever doing this again.
  • Learn from what you did wrong. In my case, I didn’t practice my talk enough and my demos were confusing. I will not make those mistakes again. I am currently working on another talk to replace this one and I am trying to be very careful to do the talk that I can do, which might be less ambitious than doing the talk I want and envision. If you are a beginner, you are going to make mistakes and you will know that you could have done better. You will do better next time.
  • Remember that everyone in the audience is rooting for you to do well. No one came to your talk hoping to see you crash and burn. Everyone out there is empathizing with you. Most people find public speaking to be terrifying and if you are having a bad talk, you are living their nightmare. There will always be some asshole who will leave you a comment on your card that you weren’t prepared or some other negative thing. It is going to hurt. Fortunately, those people are usually the minority. Try to remember all the nice things people said and all the people who tried to make you feel better when things went wrong. Our community wants you to succeed.

Moving Forward

As painful as my Debugging talk was, I probably learned more from it than I did from the other talks that I did that went well. I know that the speaker I saw at 360|iDev is going to take that talk and refactor the hell out of it and the next time he does it he will knock it out of the park.

We learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. Failure is painful, but necessary for us to grow and learn and to do better. We are all going to fail at some point. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Just grow, learn, and do awesome stuff.

Why I am Over Doctor Who

I, like many geeks of my generation, have been a rather rabid Doctor Who fan for a few years now. I had the unfortunate luck of attempting to get into Doctor Who with the episode Fear Her, which is widely considered to be the worst episode of New Who created. About five years ago I got through the first season and became very interested in the show. I have even named my pug after Delia Derbyshire, the woman who engineered the theme song.

I am not evil, I promise! I just look that way.

I am not evil, I promise! I just look that way.

I noticed about a year or so ago that I really was not digging Doctor Who anymore. I really liked the first few seasons, but there was a certain point where everything just sort of stopped working for me. I was on the train to Denver for 360|iDev when the season premiere happened and I honestly didn’t care about missing it. I got home and saw it a week later and I wasn’t surprised that it wasn’t very engaging. I nearly turned it off before the end and I was tired and really didn’t care about how it ended.

I’ve been trying to determine exactly why Doctor Who has been bothering me, and I have tentatively come up with some points about what it is about the series that has drained all of its interest for me.

Special Effects

I know at this point, some people might be like, “What are you talking about?! The special effects for the first few seasons were terrible! Look at the pilot episode!”

That is exactly my point.

There was a certain charm about the show when it had terrible special effects. It allowed the actors to have some fun and kind of ham things up because no one in their right mind would think that the horrible rubber special effects were real. It let the show have a goofiness that is sorely lacking in the last few seasons.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Not Giving a Fuck

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Not Giving a Fuck

Additionally, I feel that the increased special effects budget has acted as a crutch to the show for the writers so that they don’t have to write particularly interesting or compelling characters and plots.

In the seventh season, we had the episode The Rings of Akhaten. There is an interminable portion of the episode with the Queen of Years singing a song that feels like it lasts forever. The scene is beautiful. The special effects and the world building are breathtaking, but I don’t care about what is going on.

I feel like I am watching a piece of art created by a computer that makes things really pretty, but it has no soul. I feel no reason to watch it because the characters never learn anything, their stories don’t touch me on any fundamental level, and the whole thing just feels like a practice in artistic masturbation.

Rose meets the father she never knew and discovers he is just a man.

Rose meets the father she never knew and discovers he is just a man.

The special effects in the first season were terrible, but the writing was compelling. Because you couldn’t blow a million bucks making an entire virtual world, you wound up with such great episodes like Father’s Day where Rose got to meet the father she never knew. The vast majority of that episode took place in a church in the 1980’s. That episode is compelling because you can see a character you’ve never seen before slowly come to the realization that he is going to die and never see his daughter grow up and that he must sacrifice himself to save the world. Pete Tyler wasn’t a super hero, he was an ordinary person who was able to put his own self interests aside for the greater good of everyone. If that isn’t a compelling story, I don’t know what is.

You get compelling stories when there are constraints on the writers to do something to fill the gaps that can’t be filled with special effects.

I went back and watched Jurassic Park recently. I forgot how much of the movie is made up of scenes without the dinosaurs. The movie is great not just because of the realistic dinosaur rendering, but because it had really good, fleshed out characters whose fates you cared about. It had humor. All the characters had distinct personalities. If it was just about the dinosaurs, then I highly doubt it would be remembered as fondly as it is.

The special effects are now movie quality, but since I really hate most movies that come out, that doesn’t really appeal to me anymore.

We are seeing a similar thing happen with the new Star Trek movie series. We have a writer, J.J. Abrams, who has absolutely no idea what made Start Trek compelling to begin with, who is kind of throwing around what he thinks Trek fans want to see, without fully grokking what it was about the show that kept people around. You have things slicker and prettier than they were, but without the soul that kept fans coming back year after year.

Serialized Plots

I do not like the habit that Steven Moffat has introduced in his reign of terror at having the entire series be serialized. I know that many shows on today are serialized and that is the thing du jour for episodic television, but I really don’t feel it works for Doctor Who.

The first series we had Moffat for, where we were introduced to Amy Pond and Rory Williams, had the interesting and different tack of talking about the crack in the wall and how it was a crack in reality. This was an interesting concept that had not been explored in New Who yet.

This baby is the most important thing in the world to me, but only for the next forty-five minutes.

This baby is the most important thing in the world to me, but only for the next forty-five minutes.

However, after the first season of serialization, things began to drag and that began very rapidly. The next season, where we discover Amy Pond is pregnant and was replaced by a doppelgänger, was compelling for the first half of the season until baby Melody is spirited away and we discover that she is, in fact, River Song.

After that, things really go off the rails. We are sort of expected to believe that Amy is not irreparably despondent about her kidnapping and the theft of her baby, because she sort of goes on about her life like it never happened and it is not particularly mentioned again.

A lot of this stuff is happening because the characters, as portrayed by Moffat, are nothing more than

...and after I do that I have no further purpose in this show!

…and after I do that I have no further purpose in this show!

living action figures to go off and play certain parts in weird fan fictions. He is more interested in having puzzles to figure out than in the actual compelling questions of what it means to be human. Once a puzzle has been solved, Moffat has some trouble figuring out what to do with the character afterward. We are seeing this issue with Clara where now that we have discovered why she was the impossible girl, the writers have no clear idea about who or what she was. It has been announced that she is going to be leaving the show at the end of the year and I feel she is being forced out to make room for the next MacGuffin. I don’t particularly like the character, but I feel kind of bad that the actress never actually got to explore who the character actually is.

You can have serialized plots in a show like Lost where you are following the same characters through a multi-year character arc. It works less well when you have a predetermined cycle of actors that will come and go. Back in the first few seasons having a lot of one-off episodes that had a few multipart episodes sprinkled through really worked for the show.

Don't Blink!

Don’t Blink!

Some of the best episodes of the show were stand-alone episodes. Look at Blink, one of the best episodes of the entire series. The show barely has the Doctor in it. It exemplifies what is great about Doctor Who. It is weird and funny and has compelling time travel paradoxes, but most importantly, it wraps up in one episode. It is a tightly written piece of fiction. Imagine trying to drag that episode out over a whole season long arc. It loses so much in that scenario.

I guess I feel like Doctor Who is turning into the M. Night Shyamalan oeuvre where he feels compelled to add a stupid twist to the end of his movies and they get lamer and lamer with each iteration. Try shaking things up a bit and go back to what works rather than sticking to a fluke that worked once.

No Hanky Panky in the Tardis

The single biggest thing that has bothered me about this season is the question of romance between the Doctor and his Companion.

This kiss doesn't count, it isn't the actual Doctor. That's my story and I am sticking to it!

This kiss doesn’t count, it isn’t the actual Doctor. That’s my story and I am sticking to it!

First off, I thought it was rather refreshing to have the married couple of Amy and Rory because it closed off the idea of the Doctor and his Companion having a relationship. I think that Billie Piper had great chemistry with both Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant and that having that one relationship go in that direction was not the worst idea in the world.

Rose Tyler was followed up by Martha Jones, who had an unrequited crush on the Doctor that was never reciprocated. Martha was followed by Donna Noble, who was brought on to be a friend to the Doctor and to show a character who has a life changing encounter and grows as a human being. I don’t really think that Doctor Who has earned the reputation of having too many romantic relationships between the Doctor and the Companion.

Imagine my surprise when nearly every article I read about the new season of Doctor Who revolved around this theme: No hanky panky in the TARDIS. I began to get a very bad feeling about how this season was going to proceed. No one talked about anything else going on this season beyond the fact that the people representing the show wanted to make damn sure you knew there would be no relationship between the Doctor and the Companion.

Why did anyone feel it was necessary to make this explicitly clear??

Watching the first episode of the season really hammered this point home. I think they talked about boyfriends and relationships more than they talked about sex in “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.”

You don’t want a relationship between the Doctor and Clara? Fine. I don’t think they even got to that point when Matt Smith was around because Clara was only on like ten episodes. Just don’t do it. Don’t fucking talk about it every other minute in the premiere.

Wait, what the hell is this?! I thought I was supposed to get the hot red head! I need to check my contract...

Wait, what the hell is this?! I thought I was supposed to get the hot red head! I need to check my contract…

I also find this worrying because I feel that Steven Moffat doesn’t know what to do with a female character if he can’t hook her up in a relationship. I think Amy lasted as long as she did because she was married to Rory. At the beginning of Season Seven she tries to divorce him to set him free because she can have no more children and she feels like she can’t fulfill his needs as a man because she can’t give him babies. The fuck? The multitude of wrong associated with this plot line hurts my brain.

I think Jenna Colman was sort of urged to leave the show because no one knows what to do with her anymore. Her puzzle has been solved. The hot guy left the role and has been replaced by the old guy. What on earth could they possibly do with a female character if she can’t screw the Doctor?

Conclusion

Will I continue to watch Doctor Who? Yeah, probably. I watch a lot of things that stopped being good a while ago. Will I go out of my way to see it when it is on initially? Probably not.

Right now the writers have no reason to go to the effort to make Doctor Who good. The Fiftieth Anniversary special was aired live all over the world. Doctor Who is the crown jewel of the BBC right now. It is basically printing its own money. It has no incentive to make itself better.

I have no hope that things will get any better as long as we have the same crew of people running things. If they ever replace Moffat with someone else, I will be legitimately excited about the show again. Until then, I will suffer and rewatch the Eccleston season back when the show had something to say.

Programmer’s Math Call for Proposals

I am working on creating a talk about all of the math that I learned in high school, forgot how to do because it had no “real world” application, only to discover that I really need to remember it now.

I am asking anyone who follows me on Twitter, App.net, or reads my blog to please contact me about any math concepts you have encountered that made your brain shut down like Zaphod Beeblebrox’s sunglasses because it was too terrifying to deal with.

I want to get an idea of concepts people either don’t really understand or, if you are a math person, what concepts you think I should cover.

I don’t allow comments on my blog because I got sick of spending hours deleting all the spam that got through my filter. If you already have my email address, feel free to email me. Please ping me on Twitter if you don’t have my email.

I am trying to write this talk to address what issues our programming community has. The more feedback I get from people about what they find confusing and what they would like to see covered, the better I can do at helping all of us do better things.

Thank you.

In Defense of the Gentle Soul

I was attending That Conference when I received the news from my friend Aaron Douglas that Robin Williams had died.

Oh sure laugh, laugh for Barney Stinson. Laugh for the sad clown trapped on his whirling carousel of suits and cigars and bimbos and booze. Round and round it goes, and where's it all heading? Nowhere

Oh sure laugh, laugh for Barney Stinson. Laugh for the sad clown trapped on his whirling carousel of suits and cigars and bimbos and booze. Round and round it goes, and where’s it all heading? Nowhere

I, like many others, grew up watching Robin Williams in “Hook”, “Aladdin”, and “Mrs. Doubtfire”. As I got older I remembered his performances in “Awakenings” and “Good Will Hunting.”

I know many people were shocked by the fact that he took his own life. After the four decades of joy that he brought to people all over the world, many could not comprehend why someone so universally beloved would feel he had nothing left to live for. He had a loving family, success, and universal love from billions of people who grew up watching him in movies and TV.

I get it.

THESE are the times that try men's souls.

THESE are the times that try men’s souls.

Meryl Streep, among others, have called Williams ”a gentle soul.” The world is not kind to gentle souls. The programming world is especially unkind to gentle souls.

Programmers are supposed to be tough. Programmers are supposed to work eighty to a hundred hours a week and be happy to live off of Red Bull and Red Vines while keeping The Internet from crashing and burning.

Last year Ed Finkler did an amazing talk at Madison Ruby about mental illness in programming. I think it takes a special kind of person to be good at programming. I think you have to pay a lot of attention to detail and hold yourself to very high standards. I think many of the qualities that make you a great programmer also make you a rather sensitive and fragile person.

I am a very sensitive person. I recently did a talk at CocoaConf Columbus that did not go as well as I would have liked. I know it bothered me far more than it bothered anyone else. I held myself to a far higher standard than anyone else did. I admit to spending a minute in an abandoned corner crying and pulling myself together.

I have somehow established a reputation for being an extrovert. I may or may not be. I don’t know. It changes.

Oh captain, my captain!

Oh captain, my captain!

I know that the longer I spend around large crowds of people the harder it is for me to filter out other people’s thoughts and emotions. When I am around happy people I get slightly stoned on their positive emotions. When I am around negative emotions I can feel my soul being drained from my body.

I know that I am sensitive. I know I feel things most other people do not. I think that my ability to feel and empathize with other people could either be a strength or a weakness. I can get inside other people’s heads and create things they would love and enjoy. I also tend to be very easy to bully and people tend to enjoy crushing me because I am fully aware of what they are doing and I can do nothing to stop it.

I really wish our world valued sensitivity more. “Sensitive” is used as an insult against people we want to oppress. You didn’t like being insulted? You are being too sensitive. It was just a joke. It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t funny.

We drive sensitive, introverted people out of our society. We are incredibly competitive and it is easy to crush sensitive people and step over their bodies on the way up the ladder. Sensitive people are vulnerable. Sensitive people have X-Ray vision. We see and feel things that many people do not. Predators can sense that they can use dog whistles to set us off and play dumb when no one else can hear.

What we do know is that, as the chemical window closed, another awakening took place; that the human spirit is more powerful than any drug - and THAT is what needs to be nourished: with work, play, friendship, family. THESE are the things that matter. This is what we'd forgotten - the simplest things.

What we do know is that, as the chemical window closed, another awakening took place; that the human spirit is more powerful than any drug – and THAT is what needs to be nourished: with work, play, friendship, family. THESE are the things that matter. This is what we’d forgotten – the simplest things.

Many companies want things both ways. They want incredibly talented people, but they want to abuse them and treat them like shit and have them still function perfectly. Hate to break it to you, but you really can’t have it both ways.

People are kind of like microphones. The microphones you can drop on the floor and abuse tend to not be particularly sensitive. They can record sound, but they usually can’t capture a lot of dynamics or nuance.

Really good microphones that can capture a large dynamic range tend to be super sensitive. There are ribbon microphones that can burn to pieces if you look at them funny. You can capture amazing sound from them, but you can’t drop them on the floor and expect them to work.

If you tell an employer that they can’t abuse you and expect you to perform properly, you get looked at like you are insane. If you pretend that you can be abused to get your foot in the door, things fall apart very quickly and you tend to get fired.

real-lossWe have turned “sensitive” into a bad word. You are not supposed to be sensitive. Being sensitive means that you are somehow crazy and see offense where none is meant.

I watch the anime “Space Brothers.” There is a plot point in the last half of the series where Hibito has a near fatal accident on the moon and suffers from PTSD. The people at NASA have deemed him damaged and want to wash him out of the program. There are many episodes where he tries to demonstrate that he has an ability to get over his PTSD, but there are more astronauts than there are missions to send them on, so he is not cleared to go back to the moon. The top brass at NASA do not have an incentive to help Hibito clear the stress tests, so they actively work against him rather than working with him.

I feel that, in spite of our supposed shortage of programmers, we are constantly looking for reasons to exclude people from our community. We look for reasons not to hire someone rather than trying to figure out ways to work around their various quirks and idiosyncrasies. It creates an atmosphere where people are afraid to disclose very real needs they have to keep themselves healthy and productive. This is a bad situation.

As much as people talk about money and stock options, there are other ways to attract top talent. Being tolerant of the quirks that make people amazing programmers is a step in that direction. It really does not take much to work with someone so that they can remain healthy enough to keep working. We want to work. We want to be able to do what everyone else does, but sometimes we just can’t. We appreciate any accommodations that are made to allow us to work and do things that make us happy. Be flexible with working from home. Allow people to have a bad day or two. Realize we have a limited number of spoons.

There are a limited number of young white males who are willing to work for half of what they are worth. Rather than lobby Congress to let more foreign programmers over here to be abused, please try to work with the people who are here who are slightly damaged but still want to be productive members of society. Be Tom Smith.

Seize the day, boys. Live now. Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.

Seize the day, boys. Live now. Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.

Members of the programmer community do not remain undamaged for long. Don’t discard ones who are and hope that there is a ready supply waiting to be damaged and discarded. Experience is worth more than naiveté.

I mourn the passing of a fellow gentle soul. I hadn’t thought of Robin Williams for a very long time, but his passing due to suicide has affected me more than I thought it possibly could. Even though I never met him personally, my life was enriched by the work he did while on this Earth. I know I will never affect the multitude of people that he did, but I hope that I can do something, anything, to make life a better and more rich experience due to my participation in it. Thank you Robin. I hope that you find the peace in death that you could not find in life.

For the Love of Math

I want to ask everyone a question. Am I the only one who remembers that at one time they really loved math?

I didn’t always love math, or reading. I found both of them rather difficult my first few years of school. I had classmates who went to preschool or had older siblings or stay at home moms who had a small head start on me for reading. I was determined to learn to read and I quickly caught up and surpassed many of my classmates.

Square One Television

Square One Television

It wasn’t until second grade that I discovered my love of math. There used to be an educational program on PBS called Square One Television. I became obsessed with this show because it took all these arithmetic concepts I had trouble grokking and explained them in a way I could understand.

They also talked about such advanced topics as Cryptography and Tesselations. (I do want to apologize for the dated content, this was created in the 1980’s.)

This show taught me what a googol was before the spelling changed and became a search engine/Big Brother. Even today when I see a number that is the same backwards and forwards I get really excited because I know it is a palindrome.

Yes, that is James Earl Jones.

Yes, that is James Earl Jones.

Notable people like James Earl Jones and Weird Al Yankovic appeared and lent their talents to making math fun for kids. If you do watch any of the clips I have linked to, please to watch the Weird Al one, it is full of Monty Python homages.

So, if I loved learning math so much and I enjoyed being challenged, why did I major in journalism rather than something math related?

My first major in college was engineering. I was bullied a lot in high school and I had a year where the highest grade I got on my report card was a C. As such, I wasn’t accepted to any of the schools I really wanted to go to. I went to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville to major in engineering. The male to female ratio at the time was two to one. After attending a tech conference where the male to female ratio was fifty to one, that seems positively progressive, but at the time, it was a bit of a shock.

I did not fit in with my classmates.

Every class I had I was the only girl. No one would sit next to me. I had a circumference of empty seats around me. If I tried to talk to anyone, they would literally cry and run away.

I took calculus my freshman year and due to a lot of stress and social issues, I received a D. I don’t really remember anything we were supposed to learn after the first week.

Contrariwise, if it was so it might be, and if it were so, it would be, but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic.

Contrariwise, if it was so it might be, and if it were so, it would be, but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.

I felt like a failure. The thing that got me through high school was this mythological idea that I would go off to college and find my people who would love and accept me for who I was. Going and discovering that things were even worse there than they were in high school was a massive shock and disappointment.

I temporarily dropped out of college. I tried working at Border’s for a while, but that went badly, so with nothing else to do, I went back to school. I went to Madison Area Technical college to take some entry level classes to get my grades back up enough to get back into the UW system. I transferred to UW-Whitewater, where I graduated in 2006.

Trying to jump over the negatives to get to the positives.

Trying to jump over the negatives to get to the positives.

I bounced around majors a lot, but I knew for a fact I was not going to do anything math related. I thought I was too stupid to learn calculus. I thought my success with algebra and trigonometry was a fluke, that those things were useless anyway, and that I needed to pick something easy just so that I could get through college because I was told that having a degree in anything would get me a job. *insert hysterical and bitter laugher here*

Journalism didn’t work out. Neither did video editing, sound design, or doing commodity white collar work. Back in 2012 I felt beaten. I had no idea what to do with my life and I contemplated ending it.

Then a miracle happened in a place I did not expect.

I have spoken about how the worst job I had was one where I was told to pretend to do work. I wasn’t allowed to ask any questions and I was supposed to act like I knew a bunch of stuff I had no way of knowing. It was miserable. However, there was a silver lining.

While trying to find something to do that looked like work, I discovered Codecademy. Codecademy began at the beginning of 2012 with the promise that you could learn to code in a year. I had it on my radar, but I was too discouraged from trying to learn programming to give it a try. When I had to find something that looked like work, it fit the bill.

I discovered that all the things that had stymied me for years while I was learning to program all of a sudden went away when I was doing things over and over again and doing them for long, concentrated pieces of time. I could do something I gave up on ever being able to do. I felt joy, and more importantly, peace while I was sitting at my computer feeling the code flow through my hands and onto my screen.

When that job ended I made the radical decision to go back to school full time rather than find another job. I was tired of running. I was tired of feeling stupid. I was tired of being afraid of failing. I wanted to learn to code because I wanted to know I could do it.

The two biggest motivators for me learning to program were Core Audio and OpenGL. I studied 3D modeling and animation along with audio engineering. I wanted to understand how the programs I used worked. I learned all the low level stuff I could find to help me with this quest.

Then I hit a wall.

What on earth does this stuff mean?! Mark Dalrymple knows Greek, right??

What on earth does this stuff mean?! Mark Dalrymple knows Greek, right??

I wanted to program and audio synthesizer. I was lent some Digital Signal Processing books by a friend, but when I look through them, it’s all Greek to me. And yes, I literally mean Greek because there are all kinds of symbols that I remember somewhere in the back of my head writing out and drawing in notebooks back half my life ago that I had buried because the memory of them was too painful.

I am in between conference gigs right now. Got home from CocoaConf Columbus and immediately went to That Conference.

It has been something of a whirlwind and I am still processing a lot of the adventures I had on these trips.

One of the talks that I was most looking forward to was at talk on the Accelerate framework by Mattt Thompson. I really wanted to know more about it, but I walked away disappointed. Mattt said that you couldn’t really utilize the framework unless you understood the math behind it. My talk on GPU programming also had the caveat that you have to understand math in order to fully utilize shaders. I went to no fewer than three talks and one keynote talking about math and our lack of knowledge of it.

I want to do something about it.

My favorite book in seventh grade and my introduction to logic.

My favorite book in seventh grade and my introduction to logic.

I asked the Klein family if I could replace my poorly attended Debugging talk with a talk on math. I want to figure out the most common stumbling blocks people have with the various frameworks and try to explain math to people the way it was explained to me, in a fun and relevant manner so that it doesn’t seem so forbidding and scary.

I am slowly going back and trying to immerse myself in the math that fascinated me as a teenager. I am not doing this because I think it will get me a job somewhere, I am doing this because I miss how I used to feel when I got exposed to something amazing. There are so many secrets and wonders of the universe that are a mystery to me because I shut off a part of me that I couldn’t bear to look at any more. I am sick of being that person. I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I want my love of math back.

The “Grey’s Anatomy” Stigma

This morning I attended a keynote that prompted a rather lengthy Twitter rant that I feel I must explain further.

How these two survived for ten years is beyond me

How these two survived for ten years is beyond me

The speaker asked the audience who watched “Grey’s Anatomy”. I, for the record, do watch “Grey’s Anatomy”, but there was no fucking way I was raising my hand to admit it. Apparently no one else was willing to do so either.

The speaker said, “Oh, this joke isn’t going to work at all! Usually when I am on the coasts a whole bunch of guys throw their hands in the air and I say to them, ‘Hey, you’re watching a GIRL’S show!”

I tweeted my displeasure at this remark and the conference organizer very kindly asked me to speak with him later about why this offended me.

I have been percolating on this for a few hours, and I have a better explanation about why this bugs me.

I am not going to argue that “Grey’s Anatomy” is a great show. It is an overwrought melodrama whose characters should probably have all died many years ago. I watch it because when I have been breaking my brain all day trying to understand how a GPU works and how to program what goes on my screen, I don’t give a fuck. I just want something on that I don’t have to think about and “Grey’s Anatomy” fits that bill very well. I also appreciate the fact that it has a multi-racial cast and that the primary relationship in the show up until now was the relationship between Meredith and Christina. The dearth of programming on TV showing female issues and friendships is appalling and I applaud someone for actually talking about it.

It was the worst of times. No best of times for these two.

It was the worst of times. No best of times for these two.

What I am going to argue is that none of those reasons were given as to why someone should be ridiculed for liking “Grey’s Anatomy.” The reason for ridicule is because it was made for girls. Not even women, girls.

Our society has a very negative response to anything that has been tainted by being liked by girls. Certain professions, like programming and film editing, used to be primarily occupied by women because they were seen as being like either a secretary or a seamstress respectively. It has only been since those professions have been masculinized that they receive large paychecks and the respect that come along with them.

There was a “Friends” episode where Ross is ridiculed for wanting to listen to Kenny G and take a bath. The criticism: We’re old, we’re not WOMEN. Women is a dirty word.

In spite of the fact that so far this looks like yet another feminist rant (which I absolutely fucking hate to write, by the way), I am not speaking for women right now. I am speaking for men.

Men have a very narrowly defined scheme of acceptable behaviors. Men are not supposed to cry. Men are not supposed to hug other men or have platonic physical interactions. Men are not supposed to wear pink. Men are not supposed to like anime.

My co-author, Chris Adamson, made a joke on App.net once about men’s fashion. He said he goes to Eddie Bauer and buys five identical shirts in different colors, then goes to JC Pennys and buys five pairs of cargo pants and he is set for a decade.

This breaks my heart.

Eddie Izzard sums up our problems in a nice neat statement, God bless him.

Eddie Izzard sums up our problems in a nice neat statement, God bless him.

I like to express myself through what I wear. The idea that I would be constrained to wearing one kind of thing for the rest of my life or else be considered socially deviant crushes my soul.

I know that Chris is somewhat open about his love of cartoons, but I know that it took him a very long time to feel comfortable sharing that love because men are not supposed to like cartoons. I am proud of the fact that he is willing to be open about that love because there is absolutely nothing wrong with liking Madoka Magica, or Tanto Cuore, or anything else. I am super stoked by the fact that so many men are into “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” and are willing to be brave enough to say, “Yeah, I like MLP. So what? Fuck you.”

Don't think! Don't get tired! Don't be human!

Don’t think! Don’t get tired! Don’t be human!

I think it is absolutely shitty that our society punishes men for displaying any characteristics that could possibly be tainted by femininity. In the recent anime, “Wake up, Girls!” the drill sergeant guy yelling at the little girls “Don’t rest! Don’t complain! Don’t think!”

Watching that, you feel terrible that these poor girls are being treated this way. In reality, this is the way we treat our boys. Real boys don’t cry or play with dolls. Real boys fight and play various contact sports.

Crushing little boys and making them feel ashamed for what they like and who they are is toxic to our society. We need to stop doing this.

So yeah, I didn’t raise my hand when he asked who watches “Grey’s Anatomy.” I was embarrassed. Now I wish I had. I am not going to be ashamed of liking what I like.

“Grey’s Anatomy” is a girl show. It’s about relationships, compassion, emotional and professional struggle, and just trying to get through life with as little emotional damage as possible. If more men were allowed the same thoughts we would all be a lot happier.

Friendship is magic.

Friendship is magic.

My Life in Stitches

So I have an embarrassing thing about myself I want to confess. I have an incredibly terrible and subversive hobby. I have been living in fear of people finding out about it and judging me. Here goes…

One of my favorite hobbies is cross stitching.

At the point, you might be wondering why I think this is some subversive thing to confess to. I will tell you why.

I have been cross stitching since I was seven. Pretty much my whole life I have been lead to believe this is something I should be embarrassed about.

My collection of projects finished but not framed over the last six years.

My collection of projects finished but not framed over the last six years.

My father would continually tell me that I should stop my cross stitching hobby and take it back up again after I retire. Looking at how tiny all the holes and the patterns are, I am highly skeptical that this is a good course of action.

I would bring my cross stitching to school to do during study halls and I would be constantly ridiculed by my classmates for doing it. So, like a good teenaged girl, I caved to peer pressure and hid my hobby away.

When I got married I had several very large and complex pieces that I worked years on framed. My husband wouldn’t let me hang them in the house for several years because he hated them. I still have a multitude of projects that I have finished and thrown into a bag that is slowly getting larger and larger over the years.

I have always felt like I was a weird, socially aberrant person because I have had a fascination with filling in little boxes with color and making a pattern out of them. I hide my carefully organized and structured projects in metal lunch boxes and pray that no one asks me what is inside.

So what does this have to do with anything?

Over the weekend I attended CocoaConf Columbus. Our first keynote speaker was Mark Dalrymple. During his excellent keynote, he talked about people embracing their hobbies. One of the hobbies he threw out was cross stitching. This threw me for a loop. Cross stitching has fallen out of favor over the last ten years. Also, this was a tech conference! People don’t talk about sewing at a tech conference!

I have painfully learned over the years that tech people are not supposed to cross stitch. Back when I was less experienced, I would go to interviews and be asked what I did for hobbies. I would say I cross stitch and there would be an immediate reaction on the face of the interviewer. I could tell that they mentally determined that I was not a tech savvy person.

There is this stereotype that women who cross stitch (and it is mostly women) are usually stay at home mothers or elementary school teachers. I am a British history buff and one very painful memory I have was reading about an attempted coup of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary was an accomplished needleworker. When she was locked up in the tower, one of her captors sneered at her that she would have plenty of time for her needlepoint now. Society see needlework as something inherently tainted. People who enjoy doing needlework can’t possibly be fit to do anything important like run a country. Leave that to the other people who are more able to take on that responsibility.

You don’t see a lot of tech people talking about their cross stitching projects. Hell, knitting is much more socially acceptable than cross stitch! That might be because a lot of men do it, but that is a topic for another time.

Dragon project requiring over 50 threads, including metallics and beads.

Dragon project requiring over 50 threads, including metallics and beads.

Cross stitching is a far more concentration heavy task than knitting is. Cross stitching, specifically counted cross stitch, requires a tremendous amount of organizational skills. I regularly complete projects that include fifty different shades of thread and can include over a hundred symbols that contain some combination of those colors. You learn very quickly to get organized or you give up. Over the years I have learned to organize my thread to prevent it from tangling or becoming confused.

Counted cross stitch also requires you to look at a symbol on a grid, translate that symbol into a color, and render it onto a fixed rectangular surface of squares. Does this sound at all familiar? It is very similar to the process that takes place on the computer to render an image, except instead of bits I am using thread. I have been a human fragment shader for 25 years.

Do it yourself Doctor Who lunch box sewing kit! *Not guaranteed to be bigger on the inside.

Do it yourself Doctor Who lunch box sewing kit! *Not guaranteed to be bigger on the inside.

Every skill that makes me a good programmer is a skill I learned from counted cross stitch. I learned to be patient while working on a very large project that takes several years. To give an idea of scale, the dragon picture in this post is a project that I draped over my 15-inch Mac Book Pro and the edges spill over the sides by several inches. I learned how to mentally break down the project into manageable parts so that I did not get overwhelmed and confused. I learned how to organize my space and my tools to optimize my time. I learned to “debug” my designs because no matter how hard you concentrate, you will make mistakes. If you just keep following the pattern like a robot, your design won’t render properly.

This weekend was the first time I brought a counted cross stitch project to a conference and worked on it while listening to a session. I find that I can focus far better while cross stitching than I can while I have a computer in front of me because I get so focused on the screen that I tune out what is being said. I have been told it is rude to cross stitch in class or at conferences even though it is not considered rude to chat on Twitter.

I want to thank Mark D. for giving me the courage to write this post. I am tired of feeling ashamed of a hobby that has been a large part of my life for 25 years that has given me all the tools I need to continue to do what I want to do. I hope that one day people won’t be judged on their hobbies or how they decide to spend their free time, because often those are the things that shape us into the people we are.

Final Countdown to CocoaConf Columbus 2014

After months of prep work and a roller coaster of changes, I am in the final day before heading off to the first of my three August conferences.

I have encountered more issues with Metal than I was hoping to find. This is the first time I have had a paid developer account during the beta period. Prior to now I was so busy just trying to establish a foundation that I somewhat ignored the new stuff that was coming out. This is the first time I have participated in the early release of not one but two new groundbreaking technologies on the ground floor.

I had to move more of my GPU programming talk over to OpenGL ES than I was planning to. I don’t think that is a bad thing per se. The most important thing I wanted to do was to answer a very specific question about one aspect of OpenGL programming. The fact that Apple came and changed everything about that made my talk both easier and harder. A lot of time was spend explaining why Metal is necessary and that fit into the parameters I wanted to address.

I will be giving this talk again in December. There will be a golden master of Xcode 6 at that point in time. I hope that it will be stable enough at that point that I can speak more about how to do things in Metal specifically rather than just ambiguously saying “This is how this would work if it were working, but it isn’t.”

I am giving my talks later today at Bendyworks. Bendy has been very kind to let me come and practice my talks there. I have found the feedback I get from them to be invaluable. I have also found that I am far less nervous once I have performed the talk at least once in front of real people and not just my pugs.

Speaking of my pugs, I am not going to see them for a week and I am very sad about that. I am going to miss my little buddies. Such is life.

I still have not packed. I need to pack sometime today. I also have to go to our Swift user group meeting to make arrangements with the people I am carpooling to Ohio with.

So I have a half dozen tasks to do today. Just need to take them one at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

This is really stupid, but I keep forgetting that I do these talks because I love traveling to the conference and meeting new people. It’s hard to remember that this is going to be an amazing and awesome experience because I am putting a lot of pressure on myself to do a good job with my talks. I need to make sure I take some time to chill out and not worry so much about what I am doing.

Don’t panic.

Looking forward to seeing all my peeps at CocoaConf Columbus and That Conference in Wisconsin Dells!!