# 01 Feb 2006, 07:16AM: Too Geeky To Put In MC Masala:
It still amuses me that TiVo's abbreviation (and possibly the official abbreviation) for The Food Network is FOODP. If you've read Levy's Hackers or are otherwise familiar with LISP slang, you'lll recognize "foodP" as "do you want food?". Alton Brown is proud of having elicited from at least one viewer the statement, "Other cooking shows make me want to eat. Your show makes me want to cook." So maybe everything except Good Eats is foodP.
Oh yeah, maybe I should go through SICP and really learn LISP this time. Or Python or Ruby, which are supposedly easier, but for which there is no one canonical curriculum the way there is for LISP.
# 02 Feb 2006, 08:23AM: Reminder:
For those of you who don't recall what I'm doing at Fog Creek: I am a trainee in the Fog Creek Software Management Training Program, which means that around the office I am known as an SMTP, which amuses us all.
# 04 Feb 2006, 09:57AM: Running Cliches Through The Cuisinart:
Hey Leonard, how did Collabnet work out for you?
Like Leonard, I got book-reading as an initial task at my new job. I accidentally powered through Influence and the Carnegie way too fast because I also read them recreationally. Boy, were they good.
Cialdini's Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion and Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People approach salesmanship from different angles. Carnegie quotes Jesus and Lincoln a lot and focuses on specific tactics you can use to make others more amenable to your requests. Cialdini talks at a more theoretical level but includes examples from scams, sales, and studies to teach the reader to defend herself against manipulative techniques. Where Carnegie advises the reader to get the customer to start saying "yes, yes, yes" to a string of initial questions, Cialdini cautions the reader against the urge to accede to disproportional requests just to be consistent with earlier statements or behaviors.
Both authors mention that sincere persuasion is nothing objectionable. Carnegie stresses that it's also more powerful than sleazy tricks. I'll be using tips from both authors to do honest sales work for Fog Creek.
On my way out the door Friday I borrowed a copy of DeMarco & Lister's Peopleware, which I probably should have read years ago. I delayed reading it to read Book 6 of Y: The Last Man (a page-turner but not as politically awesome as earlier books, and with less captivating badinage, and more gratuitous skin, but I'll keep reading the series). I was especially struck by Chapter 3, "Vienna Waits For You." It quotes Billy Joel's song "The Stranger," [Belated update -- whoops, Zed reminds me that "The Stranger" is the name of the album and not the song] which made a huge impression on me when I saw it for the first time in 13 Going On 30.
But you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want
Or you can just get old
You're gonna kick off before you even get halfway through
When will you realize
Vienna waits for you?
Now, I was evidently not alone in thinking that the Vienna of the song was the dreamed-of wish, a paradise of our own making, the chance of happiness here on earth if we would only get up the gumption to reach out and grab it.
I'd not considered another view. DeMarco and Lister:
The Vienna that waits for you, in Billy Joel's phrase, is the last stop on your personal itinerary. When you get there, it's all over. If you think your project members never worry about such weighty matters, think again. Your people are very aware of the one short life that each person is allotted. And they know too well that there has got to be something more important than the silly job they're working on.
The bit in the song about dreams not always coming true speaks to the Peopleware view, while I find support for my interpretation in this bit:
....it's the life you lead
You're so ahead of yourself
That you forgot what you need
Though you can see when you're wrong
You know you can't always see when you're right
Here's where I pull a species of cheap conclusion trick: the fact that contradictory well-grounded interpretations of this song can exist is a testament to the enduring power of this classic! And maybe they don't contradict at all somehow!
(If you Google for
"vienna waits for you", the top results are for tourism in Vienna. So the various Austrian tourism councils probably don't lean towards the Vienna=death side.)
Something like a decade ago, I was denied a spot as a page editor for my high school newspaper because (I was told) my people skills were insufficient. They were right. I was told to read Carnegie, which I did. They made up a copy-editor position so I could learn and practice editorial skills that year, which I did. The next year I got to be a page editor.
Carnegie was great for me because it systematically spelled out reasons for tactics that other people (e.g., my parents) advised haphazardly. Instead of just bumbling through a billion use-cases I got to learn the rules of the thing. Why shut up and let other people talk? Because they like to talk about themselves and their own problems and triumphs, just like you do, and if you listen to them they'll like you. That sort of thing.
My dad once told me to stop bringing books to read when we went to family friends' houses. "Bringing a book to a party is like bringing a sandwich to a dinner," he said, and I got it. And my mom tried to get me to listen better: "Listen to what people mean, not just what they say," she said, but I didn't get it.
My mom and dad tried their best, but I needed a handbook, something to memorize and apply, with lots of examples, and Carnegie helped a lot.
I wonder, in the same fashion as Leonard, how little teenager me would feel if I told her: the next time you read How to Win Friends and Influence People, it'll be to brush up, not to become a functioning member of society. You'll have self-confidence, a great job, a paid newspaper column on the side, a wonderful boyfriend, and a posse of superlative friends, who miss you because you've just moved to New York. Vienna waits for you.
# 04 Feb 2006, 01:25PM: Calling the Waaaaahmbulance:
Good Lord, I miss my friends. California people: I miss you all.
# 05 Feb 2006, 08:40PM: Sketch Mayhem:
I met up with an old friend of Nandini's on Saturday night to watch some sketch comedy. Incidentally, Nandini is not only pursuing two simultaneous Master's degrees, she also just visited China for a few weeks. When we were kids we'd pretend we were jet-setting millionaire witches. She is much further towards that goal than I am. Although I think neither of us is making much headway on the witch thing.
Anyway, I got to see Slightly Known People (they perform at 8pm every Saturday night at Rififi/Cinema Classics on E. 11th St.) and thoroughly enjoyed it. I laughed at every single sketch, which is quite rare. They remind me of the sadly defunct Fresh Robots.
Saturday night's show included a sketch set on a subway platform. In one part of the scene, one character rather slowly and methodically listed, to an unwilling listener, various strategies for getting to one's destination while expending a minimum of time and money. I found it hysterical and yelped in laughter while the rest of the audience was silent. This caused other audience members to laugh and caused one actor to break character and laugh. The actor tried to stifle her laughter, but this only caused her eyes to tear, making her mascara run. After the show, I heard that this was incredibly rare, as she never breaks. What can I say; I'm a demolition derby of suspension of disbelief.
# 06 Feb 2006, 03:10PM: MC Masala On Food, Again:
Nabisco Brand Oreo Snack Cookies or whatever the correct term is.
My new company is tiny, with only about eight names to memorize, camaraderie around the lunch table and fast decisions on administrative trivia. But at a big company, if you need to stretch your legs but don't feel like going outside, you can just take a brisk walk in a circle around the office while holding some piece of printed matter in your hands, and everyone will assume that you are being businesslike and productive.
Here that gets me perhaps 20 seconds' worth of exercise, and people are more apt to notice since there's only one corridor.
# 07 Feb 2006, 10:30AM: Credit Card Tips:
It's very useful to have a credit card; a credit card is convenient, especially in emergencies, and helps build a good credit rating if you use it responsibly and live within your means. CNN Money has identified the best credit cards for each type of credit card user; for example, a student just starting out with credit might want the Sovereign Preferred Student Visa, since low interest rates,
fees and penalties matter to them more than reward points.
# 09 Feb 2006, 09:04PM: Error Messages From The Bard:
A zillion years ago, back when Leonard was one of the editors of Segfault (a geek humor site with user-submitted content), I wrote and he published this bit:
If Shakespeare Wrote Error Messages
What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals; and yet your login is incorrect, try again, you quintessence of dust.
'Tis nothing to you, for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so, except for that bad command or file name.
Brevity is the soul of wit; too many arguments.
A little more than kin, and less than kind, and even less memory.
The fs type is out of joint. Oh cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right!
What is the matter that you read, my lord?
Read error, file not found.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are in your kernel, but it's still too big.
Your process hath shuffled off this mortal coil.
Oh, what a noble drive here is o'erthrown!
'Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played upon than a pipe? OK, maybe not that pipe.
I'll lug the guts into the neighbor room, or just dump them in your root directory.
Something is busy in the state of your mount point.
Revenge should have no bounds. As for floating points, I'll make an exception.
Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave am I, to this server what reset my connection!
Fie, thy grief is a fault to heaven, a fault against the dead, a fault to nature, and a fault of segmentation.
Dost thou hear me, old friend? Can you play The Murder of Gonzago?
Memory access error.
Your login flies up, your password remains below; to logins without passwords authentication never goes.
Something wicked this way comes -- oh good, permission denied.
Bus error: the rest is silence.
As he did command, I did repel your packets and denied you access to me.
And flights of angels sing thy process to its rest!
Someone wrote me once, telling me that he actually used "Your login flies up, your password remains below; to logins without passwords authentication never goes" as an error message in a live system. I wonder whether it's still out there.
# 11 Feb 2006, 10:12AM: Jellyfish - Wait, "Sea Jelly":
My instant messenger icon is something I did in Microsoft Paint ten years ago.
nandini: i like your im icon
nandini: did you draw it yourself?
sumana: yeah, 10 yrs ago
sumana: I call it "jellyfish"
nandini: it feels as though you are talking to me.
nandini: so i am talking to a jellyfish
nandini: i can call you jelly from now on
nandini: "what up, jelly?"
sumana: I told Leonard
sumana: he also laughed
nandini: he is the bf of the jelly fish
# 11 Feb 2006, 11:02PM: The Legacy of Mr. Rogers:
I was in charge of a big student poetry reading/musical performance night at my high school during my senior year. It was an annual thing and took much planning. The amphitheater got half-filled with water and floating candles, tiki torches ringed the stage and the audience, and students read and performed their work. It was a nice institution.
I accidentally scheduled it for the last night of "Seinfeld."
Now we have TiVo. Last night I saw a pretty compelling community theater performance of Macbeth (what a bloody, bloody story!), and then today I got to watch last night's broadcast of Arrested Development's season (and possibly series) finale. I'm really not used to digesting two hours' worth of new AD at a sitting. So, so good, and now probably gone.
The title of this entry refers to Fred Rogers, time-shifting, and Betamax.
# 12 Feb 2006, 09:02PM: Dale Carnegie and the Friendly People:
New MC Masala on influence.
So the Carnegie technique is like secret manners, if there is such a thing, courtesy that makes someone like you until they sense the mindfulness behind your smile.
# 15 Feb 2006, 07:54AM: Valentine's Day:
Leonard made delicious pesto pasta, salad, and apple crisp. we watched Operation Petticoat, which didn't have the most conventional plot, and then I helped clean the kitchen.
Of course India hosts controversy over Valentine's Day each year. Greeting cards get burned in the public square, young lovers get roughed up, etc. I love where the youth leader does the reductio ad absurdum - if you hate Valentine's Day because it's a Western influence, you have a lot of battles to fight.
# 15 Feb 2006, 11:44PM: Heard Today on the 8th Floor of a Building:
"It means a lot that you came today, overcoming snow...well, there's not that much snow now, really...overcoming, um, elevators..."
# 19 Feb 2006, 10:47PM: "Robin" Was Supposed To Be Androgynous:
New MC Masala.
I pondered the topic as we climbed out of the subway station and wandered among the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Ground Zero, Rockefeller Center and Central Park, all of which are, of course, in the same neighborhood.
# 21 Feb 2006, 12:27PM: Miscellany:
My great-grandmother was a midwife. Even though she was a Brahmin, she delivered babies at Muslim and Harijan houses without fuss or ceremony.
"The mouse! Overcome! Will never be a plum!"
"Software development" in German is Softwareentwicklung.
The equivalent of the SF Bay Area's public transit TripPlanner is the Trips123 planner for New York City.
Stonewall's Jerquee comes in an "Original 'Wild'" flavor that does not actually evoke thoughts of or resemble organisms devoid of civilization.
North By Northwest includes a turn by Martin Landau as the malevolent henchman Leonard.
I got to see John-Paul Spiro and Heather Gold over recent meals. Pretty awesome. Hey John-Paul and Poorman: I know both of you!
VeganEssentials sold non-leather gloves at reasonable prices (evidently they're sold out now).
# 22 Feb 2006, 07:44AM: Should I Call Him Gordon Or RLP?:
I had a conversation with some coworkers yesterday about customer service, and about whether to try to get abusive customers to realize their rudeness and stop. If one is more concerned with one's sanity than with justice, then one just manipulates and detaches, and stops seeing the person on the other end of the line as anything but a real-life NPC.
Gordon Atkinson writes, then, on a topic close to my heart.
And where am I in this whole process? Where am I? The real me? I don't know. Sometimes I think the better the essay, the farther away from you I am. Every minute I spend polishing adds another layer of separation between us.
# 22 Feb 2006, 08:00AM: Although I Do Like the Clones:Headphones Rhyme:
Sometimes I listen to the internet stream of Rock Chicks Radio. They play a rather limited set of music (say, compared to L9, which had me chair-dancing to Ace of Base's "I Saw The Sign" the other day) but I like the genre.
Through Rock Chicks, I've been exposed to a song called "Billy S" by Skye Sweetnam, in which a girl expresses that she doesn't want nor need to go to school and read Shakespeare. She adds:
Teachers treat us all like clones
"Sit up straight, take off your headphones"
I don't blame them
They get paid
Money, money whoo!
Lotsa money, money whoo!
Is this child suggesting that schoolteachers are in it for the sweet, sweet moolah? If so, is this a sign of an unreliable narrator?
# 22 Feb 2006, 12:31PM: Someday Green Day Will Be On An Oldies Station:
It feels ridiculous to accuse advertisers of co-opting, say, a Moby or Jewel song to sell a product. These songs are not hidden gems by Emily Dickinson; they're as much products as the razor or the car is. Where's the authenticity to co-opt?
# 22 Feb 2006, 11:45PM: Self-Deprecated Markup:
I met some neat hackers tonight at a Google tech talk. (Guido van Rossum spoke on Python.) The moment that I say nonchalantly, "I work for a small software firm in midtown called Fog Creek Software," eyebrows shoot up and the name Joel is pronounced. I'm not quite used to this.
Lots to chew on.
# 24 Feb 2006, 01:53PM: How To Avoid The Cycle Of Customer Support Viciousness:
Some good ideas on stopping yourself from responding to hostility in kind. Included: "check your ego at the door" and the reminder that someone has to be the adult.
# 26 Feb 2006, 09:02AM: Subway:
I'm fine using the subway system on weekdays. On weekends it falls apart. Freaking weekend advisories.
# 27 Feb 2006, 08:43AM: Various Articles For Your Perusal:
Yesterday Leonard and I served as extras for an episode of Uncle Morty's Dub Shack. We were two people in a crowd watching a musical performance. Also yesterday, my column on my own musical tastes went up.
For some reason it's very easy for me to judge others by their musical tastes. When I was in high school, I didn't know anything about popular music and judged it as inferior commercial pabulum. Of course, this was because I was insecure about getting judged myself. Tell me if you've heard that one before.
The abortion ban in South Dakota makes the story of Jane more relevant, and one blogger is taking that seriously.
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