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[No comments] March Film Roundup: '80s Mo......nth?: The promised '80s Month came to a crashing halt almost immediately when the Film Roundup Screening Room (our television) stopped working. I guess this means the golden age of blockbusters continues!

  • Private Benjamin (1980): One of those unassuming gems that hides in cinema history waiting to pounce on people doing these constrained watching exercises. This is a series of comedy sketches that combine to form a plot that ranges far and wide, extending both before and after the boot-camp sequence we were expecting.

    I never heard of Private Benjamin before '80s Month, but it was a deserved hit and started a mini-fad. Turns out that Stripes (1981) is a Private Benjamin copycat: what if men joined the Army? Between this and Nine To Five I feel like 1980 was the high water mark of a Women's Lib trend in women-led comedies that receded until the 2010s.

  • Loophole (1981): The only big 1981 film that appealed was Time Bandits, which I couldn't find as a rental. So we rolled the dice on a British heist movie, and those usually reliable dice came up "rather" and "disappointing".

    It's always fun when a square with professional qualifications (here Martin Sheen as an architect) gets roped into a heist, but this is ultimately a feature-length dramatization of the "one chalk mark" joke. And the "loophole" isn't a loophole at all.

    Sumana zeroed in on the potential: Loophole feels like a war movie, showing the camaraderie of men from different backgrounds isolated from their families, looking out for each other and working towards a common goal. In addition, there is a very exciting climax which would be the ideal place for a double-cross or heist-within-the-heist, maybe employing (just spitballing here) an actual loophole in something. But we just cut away from the climax and the film ended after a short denouement.

    In a final indignity, the subtitles for the version we watched were generated by a neural net that had been trained on American TV news. It was not remotely up to the task and gave the impression that 1980s British criminals had words like "Obama" and "podcast" in their vocabulary.

[Comments] (1) February Film Roundup: '90s Month!: After we saw Speed in January, Sumana discovered that she really liked being able to talk to people our age about movies that the other person might have seen or heard about. We decided that over the course of February, we would watch some big films from the 1990s, one for each year of the decade. These are movies that don't often get programmed nowadays, and we chose ones I hadn't seen back when they were in theaters, since Sumana's more interested in rewatching films than I am.

Preparing for this project was a ton of fun, and we now have a pretty big list of interesting-sounding '90s films for future Roundups. In the end, "big" usually meant "big box office", but for a couple of the years we made a decision based on lasting cultural impact or cult status. I didn't want to watch a bunch of Disney animated features, folks.

  • Total Recall (1990): All-time great PKD plot gets a second half that feels like an unused arc from Babylon 5's crummy final season. I would forgive a great deal if it were possible to read the back half as an implanted memory of Verhoevanian excess, and there's even internal evidence for this, but the screenplay must have got muddled in development hell because that explanation doesn't wash. Basically, there are scenes from POVs other than Quaid's; what could that possibly mean? Who's having those experiences?
  • Point Break (1991): Over-the-top fun, from the ridiculous/beautiful action sequences to the goofy/sinister character development.
  • Sister Act (1992): Fun family comedy with a little action, in the vein of the older Disney comedies we'd rent when I was a kid. The Apple Dumpling Gang and whatnot. I loved the chase scenes through the casino, possibly because "being in a room full of people whose hobby is making bad decisions; also there's a buffet" seems impossibly far away right now.
  • Sleepless In Seattle (1993): Meg Ryan's character is a huge stalker, but when you live in a rom-com universe, stalking can be a positive-sum activity! A big feature of these universes is love at first sight, and when Annie hears Sam's voice on the radio she gets clocked by love-at-first-sight. But due to the structure of mass media, Sam doesn't know that Annie exists! The rest of the movie is basically Annie trying to close the love-at-first-sight circuit by making Sam look at her. And it almost works! But it takes a child's faith and pre-9/11 security practices to finally get them both in shot for more than a couple seconds.

    Around 2006 in the Sleepless In Seattle universe, a dating website was created that showed you hundreds of pictures a minute to trigger the love-at-first-sight reaction. Once they had identified one side of a match, it was simple to complete the pairing. This website rapidly cleared the market for romance, ensuring that everyone got their Happily Ever After.

    Anyway, Sumana and I suspect that a big part of this movie's success was the way it showed technology's ability to mediate romance over long distances. That's old news now, but at various points in Sleepless in Seattle, animation is used to dramatize the physical distance between Seattle and Baltimore in a way that really jumps out now. Why spend that money on animation, and why pick two American cities that are about as far apart as you can get, if that isn't super important to your film?

  • The Shawshank Redemption (1994): Of all the films in this list this is the one I really didn't want to watch. It seemed long and monotonous. But if "big" is going to mean anything, it has to include the single highest-rated movie on IMDB.

    Anyway, it was fine, and great fun in the final act. It's probably no surprise to anyone that Stephen King occasionally reuses plot points, but I thought I'd casually mention that the core twist of this movie has a lot in common with the twist in The Eyes of the Dragon, King's 1984 foray into high fantasy.

  • Friday (1995): This film has a lot of really funny supporting characters (our fave: Bernie Mac's pastor) but it also has two main characters who don't do much. IMO it takes the concept of "audience stand-in" too far to have your main characters sit in the driveway watching the other characters. Maybe I just don't like stoner comedies.
  • A _Twister_ doppelgangerTwister (1996): I definitely don't like disaster movies, so I didn't care for the action set pieces, except for the rescue from the wrecked house, which I'll justify by saying it's more of a suspense set piece. However, in Twister the disaster is small-scale and repeating, so it turns out to be a pretty fun story of the scientists who study the disaster.

    There's also a slobs-vs-snobs storyline which I'm pretty sure makes no difference at all to the plot. I believe every story beat would have happened exactly the same way if the "snob" scientists didn't exist. Maybe they were a late addition to the screenplay? Anyway, the real attraction here is the "slob" scientists, whose personalities and research are rendered very realistically.

    Among those slobs was a bit character who's one of the big reasons we chose this movie. Sumana saw this movie in theaters and was captivated by a character who she remembered as an Indian woman with short hair—a rare bit of '90s representation.

    We identified the doppelganger pretty quickly (see screenshot) and IMDB let us close the books on this investigation. That part is played by Wendle Josepher, who, unlike No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal, is not Indian. (Also, we'd seen her before, in a small part in Intolerable Cruelty.) Still a representational victory for women scientists with short hair. Please note the floppy hat.

  • Air Force One (1997): This is good fun, but equating the President's leadership with his ability to personally kick ass creates obvious perverse incentives, especially given how easy the latter is to fake. I don't think it's a coincidence that Donald Trump used the Air Force One soundtrack at campaign rallies. Not blaming Air Force One for this; it's just taking an attitude that already exists and using it as the premise for a diehardlike.

    Breakdown: the stuff on the plane was great, the scenes back at the White House were fun, especially the press pool. ("Madame Vice President! Is the President barefoot?" "Does he have a machine gun yet?") Everything else was pretty dull, especially the ticking time bomb with what's-his-face being released from the Shawshank Redemption prison and sloooowly walking out to the yard like the guy going up the steps in Becket (1964). Just gimme a plane and people exiting the plane in unorthodox ways. William H. Macy was a nice surprise.

    I will concede that if the American head of government was separate from the head of state, it'd make sense to have the head of state be someone who's really good at kicking ass and doing patriotic stunts.

  • Pleasantville (1998): William H. Macy is no surprise at all in this story of human beings who act like Sphex wasps, a dimension so square that a couple dorky '90s kids can casually start a revolution. This was really fun and creative. Really my only issue with Pleasantville is yet another problem that seems to have come out of multiple screenplay revisions: what's up with the Don Knotts character?

    I don't think this movie needs a framing device at all—I'd do this story entirely inside Pleasantville as a B-movie apocalypse story. But I can see how that wouldn't pass muster with '90s studio execs. So fine, framing device, Don Knotts, magic remote control, got it.

    Now the issue becomes the actions of that character. Over the course of the movie he becomes more and more angry at our real-world heroes and how they're screwing up his perfect bubble universe. In the climax of the movie, David a) permanently "ruins" Pleasantville and b) reenters the real world where Don Knotts can get to him. That was a mistake! Now he's really going to give him what for! Now he's... driving away? He doesn't even seem mad? This movie shifts a major character offstage at what should be his big scene, and we don't care because the story's over and who needs that guy. That is, to me, an indication that the character did not need to be in the film at all.

    BTW, big thumbs-up to Joan Allen, who plays an excellent space alien in this film, coming right after her role in Face/Off (1997).

  • Notting Hill (1999): In Sleepless In Seattle, the romance took place almost entirely in the woman's head. Now, here's a rom-com fantasy for the guys, in which a famous woman falls in love with a rando. A great supporting cast and fun dialogue makes the premise believablish. I was impressed by how much work they put into the films-within-the-film.
  • Mo' Better Blues (1990): After reaching 1999 near the end of the month, we started back in 1990 with the goal of focusing on smaller movies. But we only got one movie into that plan—turns out February's shorter than other months! Mo' Better Blues isn't perfect—if your film's Wikipedia page has a section called "Anti Defamation League controversy" you've got a big problem—but I liked the plot arc, a nice twist on the "tortured genius" storyline with a sweet resolution. Bleek loses the thing he loves most and is able to come to terms with it because he's got friends and family. Sort of Kieślowskian.

    I generally like it when a screenwriter/director writes a part for themselves, and I think it's great here. Spike Lee's character is constantly humiliated and beaten up, but gets one moment of awesome: a scene where he has the perfect opportunity to say "Hey, I'm walkin' here!" Truly, a New York dream.

This was a fun experience and in fact we're keeping it going: we've already deemed March to be '80s Month and watched a fun film from 1980. It does look like I've seen most of the big '80s movies that are still remembered by people my age, so this month is likely to be more of a "forgotten gem" thing. Still fun though!

The Crummy.com Review of Things 2020: A little late, but I don't want to let the year go by unremarked.

My accomplishments: The big one: I'm still alive and healthy. Second, Situation Normal was published! You may have heard of that.

What you haven't heard, because I'm just mentioning now, is that In 2020 I sold a story to Analog! I've cashed the check and done the copyedit and it's coming out sometime this year. This is my first print magazine sale, and very exciting. The story is "Mandatory Arbitrarion", a legal thriller I wrote in 2019. It's my first published story to feature Ravy Uvana, the space lawyer/circuit judge/general bureaucrat who I think has the potential to be a memorable recurring character.

In 2020 I assembled a NaNoGenMo novel, Brutus and Cassius, at the close of the scene After a rough start I also wrote two non-terrible stories: "Stress Response" and "When There Is Sugar".

Books: I recorded my 2020 reading in a couple of earlier blog posts, so I'll say that the Crummy.com Book of the Year is A Suitable Boy, a book I started a really long time ago and finally finished last year. Highly recommended for those who like big encyclopedic books like Moby-Dick and Infinite Jest.

Leonard's Excursions: n/a

Film: Not a lot to choose from from 2020, given that we spent most of our quarantime with non-live theater and TV; even early in the year, many of our museum visits were films I'd already seen. But I've updated Film Roundup Roundup with the 2020 crop, and I do have some special recommendations:

  • Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)
  • That Sinking Feeling (1979)
  • Remember the Night (1940)
  • Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
  • The Earings of Madame De... (1953)

Honorable non-film mention to the National Theatre productions of This House and One Man, Two Guvnors.

Games: 2020 was a year when Sumana and I played Switch games together: notably Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Ring Fit Adventure, and the one you didn't expect, Crystal Crisis. Yes, the Capcom arcade classic Puzzle Fighter finally has a clone on modern systems, featuring such well-known gaming characters as... Quote and Curly Brace from Cave Story? A guy who appeared only in Turbografx-16 print ads? I guess the Darkstalkers crew weren't exactly the A-team either.

On the Linux platform, the Crummy.com Game of the Year is Noita, a roguelike that relies on just enough programming logic to be interesting, not so much that it feels like work. Other great games I played this year: Demoncrawl (roguelike Minesweeper), Jupiter Hell a.k.a. DoomRL, Shortest Trip to Earth (not as good as FTL but excellent for those who want more of the same feeling or just want it to be much more complicated), and Spelunky 2.

Podcasts: Generally speaking my podcast time took a big hit when I stopped riding the subway every day. However, as part of a research project tangentially related to the Constellation Games sequel, I went around looking for some podcasts where families play fantasy RPGs together. As it happens there's a very famous, extremely funny podcast where a family plays fantasy RPGs together, but that podcast doesn't feature women or children, two types of people frequently found in families. So, here are some other family RPG podcasts I enjoyed in 2020:

I think that's it for now. I'll see you in 2021! Wait, I just did. I guess I can check that one off my to-do list.

Pandemic Reading Roundup #2: As I prepare the Crummy.com Review of Things 2020 I've been looking back at the stack of books I bought off my wishlist and read over the past few months. That's right, it's time for a second edition of Pandemic Reading Roundup. I'm not in a mood for detailed reviews so I'll just recommend my favorites of this batch:

  • Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert
  • Death Sentences by Kawamata Chiaki
  • The Unconquerable World by Jonathan Schell
  • The Honor Code by Kwame Anthony Appiah
  • The Flu Swatter by Nicholas Dawidoff

I also have an anti-honorable mention: Len Deighton's 1964 spy novel Funeral in Berlin. It occupies a space halfway between Ian Fleming and John le Carré, a space that in retrospect doesn't really need occupation. I mention this not-great book in this post when I let many decent books pass without notice only because there's a reason why my wishlist included two Len Deighton novels. Deighton wrote a really good novel in 1978, SS-GB, an alt-history about the impossibility of selective collaboration with evil, which I read many years ago. Big recommendation for that one. It doesn't seem like his other work is similar, though.

[Comments] (2) Twistor!: During my Situation Normal author commentary I mentioned a book I read as a kid which was a big influence on the worldbuilding of my own novel. Shortly thereafter, chance reunited me with the correct metadata for the book: Twistor, by John Cramer, published 1989. I bought a copy and went through it, looking to nail down the influences.

My original plan was just to skim the book, and the first part is very skimmable; but pretty soon I was reading the book for real, because not only does it get really interesting after the setup is complete, it turns out the influences on my work were not limited to Situation Normal. This isn't too surprising because, looking back, there's a good chance Twistor was the first science fiction for grownups I read. So, big thanks to John Cramer. Here's what I found:

First, I misremembered the goal of the scientists when I wrote my author commentary. They're not trying to create a teleportation device; they're doing Ph.D-level research on a combination of real physics and technobabble. The closest we come to a practical application has to do with a new medium for data storage. This would presumably replace the retro-future "laser disks" we see the characters using. I guess technically CDs are "laser disks"; we should have called them that but I understand why we didn't.

However, I was more or less right about the plot device that comes out of these experiments: a phenomenon that can be exploited to swap matter among the six parallel universes that inhabit the same space as our universe. This phenomenon is at the core of the children-in-peril subplot, a couple of pre-Jurassic Park siblings who are caught up in an improbable case of skip overlap (to use Situation Normal terminology), very similar to what happens in Chapter 8 of Situation Normal. There's a subplot about sighting the stars on the other side of the skip bubble, similar to how the cops in Situation Normal will track you when you skip. Nothing comes of it, though, since in Twistor those are completely different stars that formed in the parallel universe.

That skip-overlap incident also slices off a goon's hand at the wrist; and, in the book's goriest scene, the twistor phenomenon is used to dig a spherical chunk right out of another goon's brain. This is a form of murder that the Seattle police are surprisingly cool with. I get it, I wouldn't want to write about that investigation either. Characters in Situation Normal joke and speculate about injuries from skip overlap, but it doesn't happen onscreen.

As far back as I can remember I've imagined forests of giant trees as being a standard science fiction trope—that's Alien Ring in Constellation Games. But apart from Twistor, all the examples I can think of are a) fantasy and b) a single world-spanning Yggdrasil-like tree, not a forest of trees that are just really big. I suspect I got that idea from this one formative book, whose shadow universe features a forest of very memorable giant trees.

Those giant trees have a scent like cedar. That may be why I named the planet in Situation Normal Cedar Commons, but that's a big stretch IMO. I wouldn't have remembered that detail.

Similarly, there's a fantasy story-within-the-story, analogous to the "Princess Denweld" adventure in Situation Normal, but I didn't remember that from my initial reading, and it's such a common technique that I can't imagine I got it from here; especially since I was consciously parodying a different book when I wrote "Princess Denweld".

A totally random thing I did remember: at one point a character sings a Pynchon-esque song and I remembered music that I made up for that song! I know it's my music because a) there's no record of this song existing outside Twistor and b) when I came up with the music, I dropped a word from the lyrics and got the meter wrong. No influence on anything, but a fun example of all the weird stuff we have buried deep in our memories.

Twistor contains a fair amount of realistic 1980s password-cracking and 1337 skullduggery—man-in-the-middle attacks, false-front BBSes, etc. Most of this skulduggery is carried out on "HyperVAX" systems, and exploits real features of VMS. As a kid I lapped this up—I think it was my first glimpse of the cool things grownups could do with computers. I was way more interested in concepts like email and BBSes—within five years I'd be running my own BBS—than in any of the hax0r stuff.

This is one of those sci-fi books where the climax involves spreading the forbidden knowledge to all and sundry. I agree that's probably the best move in the situation the book sets up, but I can't say I share the narrator's optimism. I feel like the jerk at the wedding saying "I give this planet six months." Anyway, the method by which our heroes spread the forbidden knowledge is... mailing list spam! They evade the watchful eye of the FBI by sending out their preprints through a BITNET distribution list, rather than making an easily-stopped trip to the FedEx store.

In a very useful afterword, Cramer does his own author commentary, separating physics fact from speculation and explaining that the hax0r techniques described are "all known techniques which have been used to penetrate protected computer systems", but that they're all now being defended against and you should not use them for real. That's a little disingenous IMO. Many of these techniques are alive and well today—installing a trojan keylogger on someone's computer to capture their passwords—even though VMS itself is dead.

Finally, I'm going to reproduce the last two paragraphs of the afterword verbatim, because it's a great piece of computer history:

BitNet is an actual worldwide computer network that is already in very active use by the physics community. However, at present it is used primarily for "mail" messages between users and for the transmission of data files and programs. It is not in general use for the transmission of scientific papers and preprints because these usually include a number of figures; for example, line drawings of equipment or data plots. Although CompuServe's GIF standard, Adobe's Post Script, and several others are looming on the horizon, there is presently no universal graphics standard that would permit the routine inclusion of figures in scientific papers, and so they are still distributed by conventional mail.

It is a good bet that this will soon change. The scientific journals published by the American Institute of Physics, e.g., Physical Review, already accept manuscripts submitted on computer media. It is very likely that within a decade physics papers for journal publication complete with drawings and figures will be submitted and preprints of such papers will be routinely circulated by BitNet or its successor. One can only hope that publishers of works of fiction (like the present novel) will also eventually emerge from the nineteenth century and adopt similar technology.

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Cogito, Ergo Sumana
Sumana oscillates between focus and opportunity

: Python Packaging Tools: Security Work And An Open Position:

Two exciting bits of news regarding massively improving how we package, distribute, and install Python software!

First: a new grant. New York University (specifically Professor Justin Cappos) and I have successfully asked the US National Science Foundation for a grant to improve Python packaging security. The NSF is awarding NYU $800,000 over two years, from mid-2021 to mid-2023, to further improve the pip dependency resolver and to integrate The Update Framework further into the packaging toolchain. I shared more details in this announcement on an official Python packaging forum.

I'll be part of this work, paid to work on this part-time, doing some outreach, coordination, project management, and similar. Thanks to the NSF, Justin, the Secure Systems Lab at NYU, and all the people who work on Python packaging tools!

Second: the Python Software Foundation is hiring a full-time project manager and community manager for Python's packaging toolchain. Thanks to Bloomberg for the funding! Please check out the job description and spread the news. Please apply by May 18th, 2021.

The job is remote and you can apply from anywhere in the world. As the description says: "Total compensation will range from $100k-$125k USD based on qualifications and experience." And you'd report to Ee W. Durbin III, a colleague I strongly recommend and love working with.

I'm thoroughly grateful that we've now gotten to the point where the PSF can hire for a full-time person for this role. As a volunteer and as a contractor, I've performed -- in many cases initiated -- the activities that this person will do, and I've seen the critical need. We deeply need a full-time coordinator for holistically assessing and improving the user and developer experience of Python packaging, because -- as Russell Keith-Magee said in his PyCon US 2019 keynote -- the status quo poses "an existential threat" to the future of the language. And so one of the desired qualifications for the role is: "Belief that Python packaging problems are of critical importance for the Python language... but that those problems are solvable."

We've gotten better and better at attracting corporate and grant funding -- and yes, I'll take some credit for that, with my past work researching and writing grant proposals, leading funded projects, and volunteering with the Packaging Working Group and cofounding the Project Funding Working Group. So, now, what should we focus on? We need to prioritize improvements for strategic value (e.g., should we first concentrate on overhauling the Warehouse API, or making a generic wheel-builder service, or tightening metadata compliance, or ....?). What can we learn from other package management toolchains, especially those that emerged after PyPI and pip (e.g., yarn, npm, cargo), and what should we copy? In my opinion, you do not need to already have an opinion on these questions to apply for this role -- you just have to be interested in talking with a bunch of stakeholders, poking through past discussions, and collaboratively developing some answers.

I won't be applying for this PSF role -- I'm going to be, instead, excited to collaborate with that person and help them learn all the stuff I know, so that in the long run, we'll have more people, with that set of skills and domain knowledge, working on Python packaging. I'll concentrate on the Python supply chain security piece specifically (via the NSF-funded work at NYU), plus finishing my book and maybe creating and leading associated trainings, and taking what I've learned to other languages and ecosystems through client work.

So: please spread the word and apply!


(0) : Trying to Notice What's Missing: I'm ploughing through some open source project email threads and thinking:

In 2010, people got together in Berlin for a Wikimedia developers' meeting .... and then a bunch of them hung around a lot longer than they'd expected, because a volcano erupted and so their flights got cancelled. As I understand it, you can trace certain architectural decisions and improvements to the discussions and pair programming from that chunk of unexpected extra in-person time.

It's conference season, at least in the northern hemisphere, and we're going into our second year of virtualized or missing technology conferences. The maintainers, users, and stakeholders of the open source software you depend on have gone more than a year without getting to quietly gossip with each other over a snack or while walking to a sponsored party. It's been more than a year since one guy has been able to make that other guy laugh and remember "ah, he's not so bad really". It's been more than a year since people could easily scribble boxes and arrows together on the back of a conference schedule or poke at the demo on someone's laptop.

We come together every once in a while to refill on trust and camaraderie and a shared understanding of what we're trying to do and who we're trying to do it for; I assume that, for some folks, those wells have now run dry.

In a tree's rings you can see the years of drought. Where, in our code and our conversations, will we see the record of this separation? Do you already see it?


: Discovery Versus Context: This insightful, funny, downbeat Brandy Zadrozny interview obliquely reminds me of something I realized the other day: the modern Web is, relatively, amazing at offering discovery but awful at offering context. It's easier than it's ever been for a single blog post/microblog post (such as a tweet), song, video, photo, etc. to be discovered, publicized, and plucked out of the context of what the creator usually says, what they are aiming to do, who and how large their usual audience is, and what power they hold in the institutions of their lives. And so it's easier than it's ever been to be heard, and easier than it's ever been to be misunderstood.


: If You Call Me A Thought Leader For This Post I Will Give You A Stern Look:

In scifi/fantasy fandom there's this phrase, "Big Name Fan". This is someone who is well-known, influential, for the fannish things they say and do and make. The idea is that a BNF is a minor celebrity -- not at the television-interviews level, but still, within their Internet and convention circles, someone who gathers a crowd, and whose tossed-off words have disproportionate power to help or hurt others.

The chunk of fandom I'm thinking of is, mostly, women. We're socialized to not admit when we have power, and to shut up and use it to serve others. Joanna Russ wrote about this dynamic in "Power and Helplessness in the Women’s Movement"; fan Hope reiterated that expectation in "Nobody Ever Admits They're a BNF", advising Big Name Fans that they get to benefit from feelings of belonging but "You are not allowed to have hurt feelings, you are not allowed to argue with someone, and you absolutely are not allowed to have an opinion." I think the only/first time I've found out that I've been called a BNF, it was in the context of someone criticizing my too-abrupt comments in a Dreamwidth thread; they were disappointed, taken aback, at such a BNF acting in this way.

Given that it's considered arrogant to call oneself a BNF, at least in public, perhaps you can infer how difficult it then is for a person to honestly and transparently reckon with the concomitant opportunities and constraints.

And perhaps you can draw a line from this dynamic to ones in the developer relations industry, or in large collaborative volunteer groups such as major open source projects, etc. If you have an explicit role such as "conference chair" or "professor" or "maintainer" then you know whether you inhabit it or not, you can straightforwardly mention that you hold it, and you and your peers can come up with norms for the special powers and responsibilities that come with it. But absent that? As far as I am aware you do not get a how-to book and access to an all-celebrities group chat upon achieving some number of Twitter followers. A person who has gradually accreted influence must notice that they have more intangible influence than most of the people they talk and listen to, and -- through reflection, study, and private conversation -- develop their own guidelines for how to use that influence.

But: there's how you act, and then there's how everyone else acts toward you. No matter whether or not they get some explicit roles to help everyone understand these kinds of expectations, I think -- at least in the bit of US society that I'm used to, where we have strong egalitarian ideals -- we don't help newly powerful people get used to all those social epiphenomena that will now start brushing against them. Envy, intimidation, and so on. Maybe there are now influencer finishing schools that include "you are now the object of other people's projections and their parasocial interactions with you will get very weird" in their curriculum.

I have counterproductive feelings and habits in my head that relate to this whole issue, around envy, martyrdom, etc. As with the stuff I mentioned earlier this week in "Paralipsis", this blog isn't the right place to work through those things. This week I'm particularly grateful to friends of mine with whom I can talk candidly about this stuff. And if you and I are friends, perhaps we can talk about it too.


(0) : A Few Books Influencing Mine: I'm working on a forthcoming book on rejuvenating legacy open source systems. In addition to my bibliography of open source management books/courses, I'm grateful to a few management, teaching, and writing books that have influenced me recently:

Florence Nightingale's Notes on Nursing: What it is, and what it is not, a cranky and thoroughgoing text on management that covers the healing environment as a whole: "let whoever is in charge keep this simple question in her head (not, how can I always do this right thing myself, but) how can I provide for this right thing to be always done?"

Greg Wilson's Teaching Tech Together: How to create and deliver lessons that work and build a teaching community around them, a guide to effective instruction: "We have been talking about mental models as if they were real things, but what actually goes on in a learner's brain when they're learning? The short answer is that we don't know; the longer answer is that we know a lot more than we used to....As scary as it is, we are the grownups."

Via a recommendation from Eszter Hargittai on Crooked Timber: Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction and Get It Published by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato (concentrating on the kind of nonfiction from big publishers that gets reviewed in major newspapers), and So You Want to Publish a Book? by Anne Trubek (who runs a small press). I just read these within the past week. In Trubek's book I particularly appreciated the list of presses and imprints belonging to the Big Five, her breakdown of budgets, her frank appraisal of what helps sell more copies of a book, her thoughts on horizontal solidarity among authors and reader, and her assessment of Amazon's effects on the market. And in Rabiner's and Fortunato's book, I was struck by their in-depth explanation of how to structure a book proposal (and the many examples of what works and what falls flat), their thoughts on what editors are seeking, and their advice on structuring a book and making one's argument fairly.

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(0) : Painstakingly Reminding Myself How To Play:

This is a little bit about how free-range learners in programming assess our own skill levels and choose what to learn next. But it's also a response to my own insecurity, and to the sometimes-stultifying weight of concentrating one's work on infrastructure.

Working on things that matter

In the Abstruse Goose comic "Computer Programming 101", a learner provokes an explainer with further and further questions about the CS and hardware and physics underlying a programming task. One reading of the comic: "Get comfortable with abstraction. If you try to understand how everything works, you'll get nothing done."

Yeah, of course, everyone's time is finite, and we all have to make our own decisions about how much time to spend on learning and how much time to spend doing other things, using our existing levels of knowledge. (Although I've recently tripped up on the assumption that the listener aims to get anything in particular "done".)

But there's also a kind of obliviousness that is so helpful, not just cognitively but emotionally, when I'm learning. Not knowing that something is risky, or not really being able to comprehend risk, helps you do it. This is one reason it can be useful to learn a bunch of programming skills when you're young, not just because very little responsibility rests on your code's shoulders, but also because at that stage you haven't yet seen all the vulnerabilities and Daily WTFs and unlocalized sadnesses... you don't even know what all edge cases exist in the world. You can take the leap of faith that all your infrastructure will work -- heck, you don't even know what infrastructure you're relying on! You don't even realize you are taking that leap of faith! -- and concentrate on getting your corner just right.

For context: for my job, I primarily work, and want to work, on mature open source software that many users already depend on. I find a lot of satisfaction in rejuvenating and stabilizing widely-used open source projects and thus healing important parts of the whole system. My professional experience is loaded up with working on stuff like GNOME utilities and MediaWiki and the Python packaging toolchain. (I left the Wikimedia Foundation partly to mess around with blank slates and without legacy infrastructure/stakeholders.... and then turned into the de facto community manager for Python packaging!) I played with BASIC as a child, and I learned a bit of Scheme and bash in college, but I came to programming in a serious, sustained way AFTER years in the industry, as a technologist and manager in software engineering teams.

Which means that when I do want to make a little toy, sometimes it's been hard for me to just come to it with learner's mind. I see that it has no unit tests, no localization, a bad UI, crappy OO, no extensibility and zero separation of concerns, ridiculous performance. There are at least five worlds of software development (that article is pretty obsolete but its point is reasonable) and I am a permanent resident of the People You Don't Know Will Need To Use This Software world. I spent some of my childhood in Playing Around world but it can be hard for me to remember how to get around there. (And oppressed people, out of necessity, often mitigate risk more, tempering audacity. So that's yet another privilege thing.)

As Amandine Lee writes: "People's intuitions and risk-friendliness also vary based on personality, and how they've seen things fail in the past." Yes! But then the very next sentence: "A lot of growing as an engineer is fine-tuning that initial response to design decisions." She meta-cautions us against knee-jerk caution, a reflex that leads to "wasteful carefulness". Was it nearly a year ago I talked about this, about the balance between preservation and growth? Maybe it's a springtime kind of rumination.

Precursors to relaxation

I am trying to think about what helps me let go of those worries and fiddle, sketch, prototype. Curiosity about a specific dataset helps, as does the impatient desire to munge some data into a form I can more easily reuse. Or an external force causing me to concentrate on achieving some specific outcome OTHER than "other people need this," like "I want to create enough of a game that I can put it in my application to the Recurse Center" (e.g., this commit in "Where on the Oregon Trail is Carmen Sandiego?" -- global variables and pretty naive string concatenation abound, as you can see, and I think those were the first two classes I ever wrote). I also think it helps when I feel like I am exploring abundant neat stuff left over by past architects, as with "HTTP Can Do That?!" (video).

Geoffrey Litt reports that part of it, for him, is concentrated time: "Also, I just gotta say: years of professional software engineering has trained me to work sustainably, but there's something to be said for a few long, unsustainable days of furious programming. Early-stage creative prototyping seems to benefit from a certain energy level that's not easily attainable in a sustainable environment." (Which makes me think about different ways participants can use Recurse Center, deliberately creating bursty rhythms of work and recovery, if they're concentrating on inventing, versus using a consistent routine to aid learning.)

Security and insecurity (how novel, I know)

A few years ago* I started thinking about how to harness this dynamic for play and confidence, specifically by improving my cybersecurity skills. My reasoning went:

  1. I often see good engineering that is better than I could do
  2. There is a counterproductive reaction-pattern in my head that sometimes finds it intimidating, not inspiring, to see amazing work
  3. Thus I get turned off in a fixed-mindset way, thinking "I am not a good engineer" because of my relative inferiority
  4. But the reverse is also kind of true; if I discover flaws in real running production code then I will notice my relative superiority and feel more confident about my own abilities, which raises my morale and makes it easier for me to try things that I might fail at
  5. There is a lot of poor engineering out there, especially when, for instance, viewed through a security lens, and it is probably possible for me to use existing resources to understand common flaws and learn how to find them
  6. Thus, it would be a good step for me to learn more about the bit of the software industry that has lots of terribly written code, in production, that I can inspect and feel superior to

(There's something here in common with what I've said about ways to deal with impostor syndrome, and self-assessment vertigo -- find reminders of my own competence as compared to the whole human population, not just the experts whose skill level I aspire to.)

Less coherently, I feel emotionally insecure and feel digitally insecure; I would like to be able to make better-reasoned tradeoffs about my digital behavior and protection. And I was noodling around, thinking about the community of practice of script kiddies, and the envy I feel when thinking about having the time and equipment to play like that, and the joy of feeling powerful but not responsible. I thought that would be something I would get out of offensive (rather than defensive) security skills: a feeling of power without necessarily then feeling a new weight of responsibility.

Fast forward to now. I went in approximately the opposite direction. Sure, I know more about cybersecurity now, and I'm even a visiting scholar in an academic lab working on cybersecurity. But it's to better secure the Python packaging pipeline! More infrastructure work! I have not learned any offensive skills and all of my power comes with responsibility! It's like the sitcom trope where a person says "I think I'm gonna skip that party" and then the show cuts to them seated in the middle of a big banquette table at the restaurant and everyone's wearing party hats.

And I now know myself well enough to know that, as soon as I notice a needless wasteful problem, I itch to fix it, and have to remind myself to pick my battles. So: even if I did grow in my offensive skills, every time I noticed a vulnerability, I would immediately feel a frustrated desire to patch it, more than I'd feel a confirmation of my own capabilities. I am too mature to have power without feeling commensurate responsibility. I missed my window.

Old advice for a new mind

A few nights ago I couldn't get to sleep because of a wave of insecurity and negative self-talk. I never went to MIT and I wasted my social opportunities in college and that's why I founded Changeset solo instead of with a cofounder and that's why I haven't yet achieved what I wanted to! I'm middle-aged and my neuroplasticity is declining and it's too late for me to gain momentum on improving my habits and getting more efficient and making an impact! That sort of thing.

And I remembered an old teacher of mine, Mr. Berkowitz. He taught government and economics at my high school, and he looked ancient and frail -- when he slowly walked the path between the administration building and his classroom, I thought I could see the wind threatening to knock him over. And that's why it made such an impression on me when, on the last day of class, he told us: "if you keep learning, you will never grow old."

And I got out of bed and went to my computer, and figured out how to install Rust (with help from 2 people in the Recurse Center's Zulip chat), and started Rustlings, an exercise-by-exercise approach to learning Rust by fixing code that doesn't work. I completed the first exercise and got the string of "tada" emojis and smiled, a strong real spontaneous smile, and felt and noticed it. And a few exercises later, I was calm enough to go to bed and fall asleep.

I have some unformed ideas about how knowing a bit of Rust might help me with my work, to lead projects like Federico Mena-Quintero's work on librsvg, replacing C library code with Rust. But maybe the big reasons it appeals to me are that everyone I've ever heard of working on Rust is friendly, and the language aims to be really helpful with its error messages, and no one needs me to learn it. It's ok if I don't do it. Which makes it more ok to do it.

In my job I want to work on things that matter. To do that job well I need to learn. The pressure of "this matters" can make it harder to learn. Therefore there is meta-work I must do to make tidepools and sandboxes for myself to learn in, shifting my mindset accordingly. And, for bigger jaunts into Playing Around World, maybe making time for another retreat at Recurse Center sometime.


* I have a note here that maybe this was related to my experience watching a preview of Jessica McKellar's talk "Building and breaking a Python sandbox". In it, McKellar mentioned to us that ping runs as root, which stuck with me.


: Paralipsis:

I'm in the process of working with a contractor to overhaul my personal and professional websites. Thus, I have been thinking about my brand (oh how I want to put distancing quotation marks around that word when it pertains to me), and breadth.

I value my ability to use this weblog to write about a broad variety of topics (and, in the writing, find out what I think) and in a variety of tones. This is at odds with the approach of many successful professional blogs, and perhaps there's an inertia here, a self-sabotaging recalcitrance to shape up and make my interface easier for my future customers to grasp. "Indie 101, do stuff that defeats your own purpose. Reflexively, routinely." as John Darnielle said.* I think I'm not. I think I'm doing this out of a kind of intuition, about habitually being and seeming like a person who will bring a multidisciplinary approach to your problem, about the relative advantage of being a bit weirder and having more odd edges to catch on in a Web of frictionless interchangeability, and about the mental benefits to me of minimizing the upfront cognitive cost of choosing which venue I use to think aloud about what.

But, in the overhaul, the contractor and I will be making it easier for people who only want to see the work-related stuff to browse and concentrate on that, particularly via resource collections on the Changeset Consulting website.

And I've been reflecting on the limits I do have in what I blog about. As early as 2002 I wrote here:

I'm not my whole self here. If you are your whole self in your weblog, if I could completely know you by just reading your weblog, then you've broken some barrier and become a Philip K. Dick character, or you have a very small life.

Talking about that necessarily seems a bit coy, but I've been meaning to write about it for years, so, here are some thoughts.

The nonrandom distribution of absence

... rhetorical devices ... in which a speaker claims something to be true while implying the opposite. Sarcasm works that way, of course, but there are subtler forms. For instance, praeteritio, also known as paralipsis: pretending one is omitting information while providing it. "I shall refrain from mentioning my opponent's lengthy criminal record...."

Several years ago, a friend of mine asked me for a bit of advice, because she was thinking of blogging something about sexism in technology, and wanted a risk assessment. How likely is it that jerks would contact her employer and suggest she be fired, or send her rape threats or death threats, or try to break into her online accounts, or find her phone number and harass her that way, or follow her around and try to argue with her at conferences, or give her a hard time via Twitter, or start overlooking her for various kinds of opportunities, or write thoughtless or hurtful comments on the inevitable Hacker News discussion, or otherwise demonstrate Lewis's Law?

I write about technology, and sometimes I write about anti-sexism initiatives. But I thought about the things I rarely or never publicly write about, because I'm afraid. Here's what I wrote, more than six years ago:

I don't write about the few really bad experiences I've had.

I don't write about the things friends and acquaintances are going through.

When I travel, I don't publicly mention what hotel I'm staying at.

I don't talk in detail about what it's like to be the only woman in the room.

I don't write about my own sex life, at all.

I don't write about figuring out what to wear, or about the trouble I fear if I explore traditional expressions of femininity.

I don't talk about my period.

I don't talk about men assuming that I went to Hacker School to learn how to program, from scratch.

I don't talk about deciding which photos of myself are too chesty to put on my site, or about not knowing whether photographers at an event really want to get a lot of shots of the only woman of color who's turned up.

(And here I stopped writing for a while, because it's wearying and sad and tedious to think about this, and because there were probably more topics that I didn't even want to mention in the list.)

@hashoctothorpe started a #whatitslike hashtag on Twitter.

It's like deciding how far to stick my neck out, all the time, every second, never not making that decision #whatsitlike

"Like being the emotional grownup in the room." #whatsitlike

Like watching my friends and role models be terrorized and being unable to help. #whatsitlike

"Like my friend and i were talking and you interrupted to ask that" #whatsitlike

My friend -- the one who'd asked for advice -- thought about it for a while, and changed all her passwords, and posted the piece she'd written.

But some don't. "Ghost works are all the works that never get made in the first place, or are made but not released".

A bit later, Leigh Alexander wrote:

One of my colleagues just wrote me she's frustrated about all the conversations we're not having. We all are, I think, migrated against our will to interminable residencies in a politicized minefield, where even talk amongst ourselves is scrutinized.... We are not free to debate and to disagree lest we be set against one another.

And that resonated with me, because we're missing people in our public discourse; our conversations are poorer because some of us are more afraid to speak our truths, and that difference is not randomly distributed.

Sometimes the most urgent thing to hear, the lifeline, is "you are not alone." But the consequences of sharing are hard to assess ahead of time. And I'm not just talking about harassment. Sometimes the legal ground shifts under your feet; in the US, if the Affordable Care Act disintegrates, then it will have been more unsafe to talk about health stuff online.

Or the technology changes, so the ground shifts from opaque to transparent under our feet, and archaeology turns trivial. What is public? Or: what is secret, or private, or public, and does that middle category exist anymore?

I think that’s what Twitter is all about, and permits: it’s sort of magically translated the informal register of text messages into the public space, and for public figures, allowed them to get away with throwaway comments far more than before.

I don't know how well Danny O'Brien's 2009 assessment there held up. Perhaps as more people learned to use Twitter search it got less true.

Then, mostly separately, there's the "brand" stuff.

Limited-purpose public figure

me, preparing to have my photo taken at an open technology event, on a rooftop in Queens in 2013

Am I a public figure?

Courtney Milan wrote, regarding a legal controversy in 2014:

...if you inject yourself into an issue of public concern, you may be a limited purpose public figure -- that is, someone for whom the standards differ....

...And the standard for defamation actions for limited purpose public figures is substantially different than for private citizens.

I don't know whether I am a limited purpose public figure, legally, for any controversies at the moment. But the phrase strikes me. It's an evocative phrase, sounding more sophisticated than "brand" or "platform". They get at different things.

A brand is a way to carve a shelf into your brain, at a particular junction of ideas and feelings, so that a picture of me can sit there. But a too-narrow shelf is a pigeonhole. What do we avoid sharing, not because it is uncharitable or misleading or overly revealing, but because the more different things I say the less you know where to shelve me? How many ghost works un-exist for these reasons? Ryn Daniels wrote: "More and more of the time, I end up not posting something I was considering. The bigger my 'brand' gets, the bigger the boundary I have to maintain between it and my self."

The contractor interviewed a few of my friends, colleagues, clients, and peers in the free and open source software world to help understand what they see in my business and in my personal blog. They determined that the indie informality and voice of my personal site helps establish my credibility especially among free and open source folks, and that we can have the personal site and the Changeset Consulting (business) site reinforce each other, so that the Changeset site does the job of establishing my serious professional face to potential clients (i.e., mostly companies) yet benefits from my personal writing too.

This feels like a reasonable path forward. A brand is a public tool for a limited purpose; the business site will be pointed, drawing the reader through a few specific paths. And the personal site will be more browseable, but still diffuse, more of a kaleidoscope where decades of my facets shimmer and reflect off each other. Still not everything, of course; I'm still not a Philip K. Dick character. But enough rich variety to retain the capacity to surprise you, and, just as importantly, myself.


* about 3:00 to 3:15 in the "Leaving Home" track in this 2007 concert recording.

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Leonard and Sumana's personal notebook
Peer into Leonard and Sumana's mind

20 Minute Croissant Dough | Edd Kimber | The Boy Who Bakes: Genious?

http://www.geoguessr.com?v=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%3D: Champions!

http://www.geoguessr.com?v=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: If it's in Botswana, we're gonna find it.

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Traffic
John Chadwick's weblog

[Comments] (1) Being an example of the believers (Timothy): I taught SS Lesson 41 the other week, which covers a lot of stuff (they all do), but I chose to focus on what it means to be a believer. Literally every time I sat down to prepare for this lesson, I ended up on a Mormon blog to re-hash recent events. It became a real distraction. I finally began to discipline and focus myself about two days before it was time to give my lesson. I was literally a wreck; I had no direction for this discussion.

Then I had an idea. On the chalkboard that Sunday, I wrote four names on the board: Nephi, Laman, Moses, and Emma Smith. The names of four believers, two brothers from the Book of Mormon, the Old Testament prophet responsible for re-establishing Judaism and Israel after the Egyptian captivity, and the wife of the first modern day prophet of the LDS church.

Under each name we listed their attributes. Then we had to collectively agree on one word that best fit each person: Nephi was recognized for his valiance; Laman for his worldliness; Moses as a lawgiver; Emma for her longsuffering. We then discussed that under the umbrella of attributes assigned to the term "believer" is the individual brands that follow. So the question becomes, what will be our individual brand as a believer? Will it be attributable to the Word of Wisdom, will we choose to be known for keeping a set of laws, or will it be for our zeal, or love, our compassion, etc? None of these is right or wrong per se, though there may be an individual answer that is better for us. The takeaway: play to your strength as a believer, and use your brand to make the world a better place.

This exercise literally lasted the entire length of the class, about 30 minutes (we were cut short due to the overrun of the Primary Program that day). I walked away feeling much better about life, and am particularly looking forward to my lesson next Sunday on the Epistle of Peter. Should it be successful, perhaps I will post more.

The manual, I might add, contained none of this, which is what I love. The prophet sets the curriculum, but I get to wrestle with the Spirit on the who, what why, and how (when and where are also outside my jurisdiction). It's been a great blessing in my life to study the material and try and direct the material in a direction that can be beneficial to many, including myself. I'm grateful for this calling.

[Comments] (4) Why I stay: It's probably safe to assume no one reads this blog anymore, because I don't post very often. I normally find Instagram to be my safe place, because who doesn't love pictures of food, cats, cool scenery, and the like, without the vagueness, fighting, and incorrect doctrine that is Facebook?

But today something happened, and I feel like talking about it. Perhaps this is the perfect outlet; I get to say it, and no one will read it, and thus no one gets offended (again, a huge perk of not being on Facebook).

My Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has added to its handbook a new category of apostasy: same sex marriage. Now children living in SSM families cannot be baptized until they are 18, and until they disavow the sins of their parents. While the former makes me wonder, and the latter makes me curious (the who, what, when, where, why and how of the disavowal intrigues me), on the whole I've added one more reason to my list of why the Church just plain no longer works for me.

That being said, I stay. Don't get me wrong. I've often thought about leaving, if for no other reason than to make a point. The point being: you are wrong, and I therefore shun you. But really, that's a silly way to make a point. The Church continues without me, and I lose a part of me in the process.

So I stay. I stay because, despite this policy (the same policy exists for children from polygamous families by the way), despite the PR embarrassment we call Prop 8, despite the fact that we oust those that question things, despite the fact that Republicans=Mormonism, despite the fact that no one can give a good answer for why women cannot hold the Priesthood, despite the fact that I never knew until July that Joseph Smith married a 14 year old girl and translated the book of Mormon with a brown stone inside a hat, despite the lame attempts to explain the Priesthood ban as anything other than the flaws of good men, this is my home.

I currently have the calling of Gospel Doctrine teacher. Which means, during the 180 minute church block, I am effectively in charge for 40 minutes of that time, roughly 25%. I have spent the last year, during our study of the New Testament, to use this time to achieve the following: (1) Focus more on Christ and less on silly things that often takes up valuable church space, including missionary guilt, defending the family (whatever that means; no one wants to abolish families), and pornography for the 5,000th time; (2) Challenge the class to read the scriptures with fresh eyes, to see things they never saw before, even though they've read the stories since they were children; (3) Contribute to a class environment where their voice can be heard (ie, I'm a facilitator, not a lecturer); (4) Help us feel the Holy Ghost in class, and follow its promptings to be better people the next six days.

I personally believe I fail at this more than I succeed. But the fact is, I currently have the opportunity/responsibility to be the change I want to see in the church. And that is way more powerful than walking away and being forgotten within a week.

I also stay because I don't have all the answers. So while I currently am at odds on probably 20 or so doctrinal and/or procedural aspects of the church, I recognize that I could be wrong. And until I receive my own personal revelation on these matters (something I'm working on, but for personal reasons seems to take time for me), I just can't write it off. The truth is, despite these obstacles, the church has been good to me. I've learned inside this church the joy of giving, the humility of receiving, to wonder and awe at the notion of sin, forgiveness, and the atonement, and to find purpose in mortality. And while I know I could have learned these elsewhere, I learned them here.

So I'm sticking with my Church. Because I believe I have a part to play. I can show people by the way I live my life that the Church tent is big enough for all, that the Church is not threatened when people bring their questions or their baggage along for the ride, and that the Church can still be a safe place where compassion is the rule and not the exception. So I stay.

test: test

the 'Go-to': Everyone has a go-to phrase, something they say when they don't know what to say. For Mary Poppins, it was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, for example.

For Dalton, it's 'you're funny!'

He seriously says it to adults when they say something to him and he's not quite sure how to respond. It normally gets a laugh in response, so perhaps HE is the funny one....

[Comments] (2) a funny thing happened on the way to the playground: Kids these days:

Maggie: I got invited to Ronan's birthday! Susie/John: Who's Ronan? Maggie: A boy from school. Susie/John: Are you friends with Ronan? Maggie: No, but he invited me, I think, because I'm a good example at school and he wants to say thank you. (Editor's note: Doubtful this is true, but glad my daughter has a pure heart).

John: I'm going for a walk. Maggie, want to ride your scooter? Maggie: No, I'll just walk with you dad. John: But it's going to be a long walk. Are you sure? Maggie: Yes. If I ride my scooter, I can't talk to you about things.

Dalton: Dad, I'm tired of being the cutest. I do NOT want to be the cutest anymore. (Editor's Note: Sienna is now the cutest and Dalton is the happiest).

Legoland is a pain because Sienna can't go on anything. Unlike Disneyland, the king of all amusement parks. The kids fight in line about who gets to take their turn with me. I may not have been cool at school, but I'm officially the favorite dad in this house!

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La Vie En Rose
Rachel Richardson's weblog

I really need to check my job at the door: ...of the bookstore. The other day in Foyles I had to physically restrain myself from re-organizing some Beast Quests that were in the wrong order. Tonight in Waterstones I found myself recommending The Sky is Everywhere to someone looking for a gift for a 15 year old. What can I say? 3 years in a bookstore and old habits die hard.

Overheard in Stoke Newington:
1:"The only good thing about David Cameron"
2&3 in unison: "There's nothing good about David Cameron."
1"...is his taste in music."

Whigs and Tories: I went to a "mustache and wig" party as a Lib Dem supporter, but no one got it.

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My Seussical Life
My Seussical Life

Backward Thinking: When planning a Redbox return, I felt a fleeting anxiety that I had not hit "rewind" on my movie. That was a strange throw-back.

[Comments] (3) On that note. . .: I'm back to the blog and intend to update more steadily than in the last five years. Among other reasons, I stopped blogging because I was overwhelmed by how popular blogging had suddenly become. Does anyone else get overwhelmed by the thought of an internet audience beyond a handful of family members and close friends? I like to be a bit more off the radar, I guess. But I'm back.

Dear Mr. Fellowes:: Is this Masterpiece Theatre or soap opera disguised in period dress? Downton Abbey, how you frustrate me!

First Sweat of Spring: I did some impromptu weeding of the garden today. Actually, first I locked myself out of the house and then dug around in the dirt while I waited for the locksmith to arrive.

[Comments] (1) Ratings: "Do I make the best guacamole in the world, Mom?" Atticus asks.

"You definitely make fabulous guacamole." I assure.

"Well. . . I am for sure in the top three."

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Frances Whitney's weblog

Obituary: Here is the link to Mom's obituary, printed in the Bakersfield Californian on Tuesday. The death date is wrong, it was actually May 5, 2006

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No Day But Today
Jill Whitney's weblog

Funny things: I heard today...

"There are nice ones and naughty ones like 'Hey lets make Icecream sundaes tonight' is nice, while 'Hey babe, I'll bring the nuts and chocolate syrup if you bring the cherry' is naughty."

"Can you believe I'm seventy and still wearing a g-string?"

"I'm going to choke on my ice!" "Don't worry, it should melt before you expire."

[Comments] (2) Museum of Ancient Life: Yesterday we went to the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving point. I don't care what your philosophy is on how or when or why dinosaurs etc, existed they are still cool to learn about. I hadn't been to the museum in years but it still was fascinating to walk around. Of course my favorite was t-Rex and the giant shark. I still remember years ago when all of my cousins were in town and we pretended to throw Lorna in the shark's mouth, I ducked from the caveman skeleton that was throwing a rock, and Frances posed with the archeologists because we were sure to be related!

[Comments] (14) Precepting: Newsflash... I get to precept this semester in the ER at Ogden Regional Hospital. I am so excited!!!

[Comments] (1) lazy: I have nothing much to report except that I am LAZY. I have always known this, but I realize that I really just pretty much do nothing most of the time. I guess it's becaus I have to be so efficent at work and school, that I can't do it at home. oh well.

Current Projects: -catching up on my scrapbook. Doing ok except I haven't started BB season and I just printed 200 new pics. Yes seriously at least 200. I have an addiction. -Finishing my recipe book. I am frusterated because I can't find my 34th ward RS cookbook and it has recipes I need. Otherwise it is looking awesome. -Cleaning my room. Not doing so well, let's be honest. -Laundry. Hate it, need to desperatly do it. and for the love it's FREE finally, why don't I just do it already!?! -petting the dogs and watching TV....very good at this.

Random thought: I went to the movies (finally saw Indiana Jones) and there was a poster that disturbed me... "No children under 6 allowed in rated-R movies after 6 p.m. Keep your child safe." ummm last time I checked children under 6 shouldn't go to rated-R movies period. Not to mention before 6 anyway...

New favorite quote: "All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another." -Anatole France

[Comments] (1) My new job: I love my new job a lot. It is a lot of fun actually. I am working as a nurse at the new Intermountain Medical (aka the Death Star or Mother ship), on the 12th floor. This building is SO tall, and the view is spectacular. I can't wait until I am a registered nurse and get to play with the IV's here, but I can do everything else as an LPN. Yay for the real world...it rocks!!

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Michelle Walch's weblog

[Comments] (3) School: So I am currently attending UVSC. I have had an ok experience and am ready to move on. Next semester I will be attending Blinn at Bryan, TX. I am very excited because I will be 2 hours away from my house instead of 22 hours!!! I am going to get a degree in early childhood education and am very pleased with my degree. I am currently reading a book that is called A Man's Search for Meaning written by Viktor E. Frankl. If you haven’t read this book, i suggest that you do! It has changed my way of looking at things. Take care Shell

[Comments] (1) School: So I am currently attending UVSC. I have had an ok experience and am ready to move on. Next semester I will be attending Blinn at Bryan, TX. I am very excited because I will be 2 hours away from my house instead of 22 hours!!! I am going to get a degree in early childhood education and am very pleased with my degree. I am currently ready a book that is called A Man's Search for Meaning written by Viktor E. Frankl. If you haven’t read this book, i suggest that you do! It has changed my way of looking at things. Take care Shell

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Our Family Recipes
New experiments and old favorites

() Cookie Cookie Cookie!: I was going to go to the library after Maggie's nap, but she didn't take a nap, and also it is snowing and really blowy. So, instead I made Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies. Cookies! If you have been blessed with one of mom's family recipe boxes, this is in there.

1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons flour
1 cup quick cooking oatmeal
2 T unsweetened cocoa
3/4 t. baking soda
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
16-ounce package chocolate chips
1/2 c. walnuts, chopped
Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl. Beat together sugars and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture until well-blended. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts. Drop batter by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees. Let stand on sheets 3 minutes. Remove cookies to racks to cool.

Susie the Chef says: 16 ounces of chocolate chips is a ridiculous waste of money and chocolate chips. I put 1/4-1/3 that much. I also didn't put nuts. Even though the batter was pretty dry, I felt like the cookies had a lot of butter in them so I might use a few tablespoons less next time. Next time: yes, they were very yummy!

() Yummy in my Tummy: I've been trying out a lot of new crockpot recipes in an attempt to make feeding my family easier, faster, and yummier. Yesterday I put two chicken breasts and half a jar of spaghetti sauce (Ragu was only $1 at Smith's and I had a coupon - I haven't bought spaghetti sauce in years!) and let it cook on both settings for who-knows-how-long. I served it with whole wheat pasta and parmesan cheese and it was yummy. Probably the easiest meal I've ever made!

I also made an eclair cake at John's request. I made chocolate sauce from scratch because I only use it for eclair cake and I am out of money in my grocery budget this month. It was easy and super yummy. I couldn't find mom's recipe, so I 1/3-ed one I found online:

1/3 c. cocoa
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. sugar
Boil for 2-5 minutes.

PS: I uploaded some cute pictures of the bug to our picture blog - click on "Pictures" to the right. And read all my latest articles while you're at it!

() Taco Stack: I was a good wife and made dinner tonight. This isn't the recipe I kept the page for, but it was yummy!

1 lb ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
1/2 package taco seasoning
12 corn tortillas
shredded cheese

Brown ground beef with onion in skillet; drain fat. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce and taco seasoning. Place 1/4 c. meat in bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Place two tortillas side by side on meat mixture. Top each tortilla with some meat mixture and shredded cheese. Repeat until each stack contains 6 tortillas layered with meat and cheese. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. Cut each stack into quarters. I served it with sour cream and green onions.

Also, Tasha inspired me to make babyfood so I bought a butternut squash, baked it, and pureed it in the blender with a bit of water. It is delicious! Maggie liked it too. I'm not sure it was any cheaper though. I will have to try some other recipes.

() Apple-Cheddar Soup: I made this earlier today and it is so yummy. I think I put too many potatoes, because it was kind of chunky.

1/2 c. finely chopped onion
1 T. butter
2 med. potatoes, diced
2 c. apple cider
1 t. fresh thyme
1/2 t. salt
dash cayenne pepper
1 med apple, peeled, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. milk
2 T. flour
4 oz (1 cup) shredded cheese
fresh apple slices

Cook onion in butter. Stir in potatoes, cider and seasonings. Boil. Simmer covered 15 minutes. Add apple. Simmer 5 minutes until potatoes are tender. combine milk and flour - stir into soup. Cook and stir until bubbly. Whisk in cheese until melted. Top serving dishes with apple slices and fresh ground pepper.

() Fondue for Two: Last night John and I celebrated our anniversary at The Melting Pot. Maggie got babysat by a couple in the ward with two little boys and had the best time.

We enjoyed our yummy fondue meal, but it was very expensive and now that we've done it I don't think we'll go back. We especially enjoyed the dessert fondue. The waiter told us how to make the cookie and/or graham cracker crumb covered marshmallows (just dip the marshmallows in water), so now we can just do that at home. We were thinking what a fun FHE activity that would be to do with young kids.

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Susie's Leaning Tower of Chocolate
Susanna Chadwick's weblog

[No comments] Pluto: I had a dream we were visiting the (dwarf) planet Pluto. In some sort of clear building, but it was crusted over with ice, and you had to go to a special viewpoint to see out.

I also had a dream that some guy who worked for me came in and demanded I tell him about the church, so I took him in Dalton’s room and started talking about the Articles of Faith. Coincidentally, I’m supposed to be preparing a talk on the Articles of Faith...

[No comments] Mighty Ducks: We’ve been watching new episodes of Mighty Ducks: Game Changers as a family together, as they are released on Friday nights. Even Arthur will sit down and play on my phone and mostly be quiet. Wally sleep, with all of us herded.

[No comments] Blurred Out: Everything Arthur says is blurred. Literally the word blurred. It started with the dog, I think because I took a picture of him and it looked blurry because his fur is so crazy. Now Arthur BLURRED everything. It’s all blurred out. It drives me nuts.

2021 April
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Guests take over Crummy while Leonard is away

[Comments] (1) () The Eagle Has Landed: We made it. I'm writing this now via some neighbor's wireless.

[Comments] (13) () The Right To Bear Fardels: During a recent summit The Poor Man made some nonsensical remark denying that there's any humor in C.S. Lewis or Shakespeare. One of those half-drunk "contrarian = sophisticated" bits of bollocks.

In refutation, I've found my favorite (so far) joke in the Bard: Act III, Scene 2 of Hamlet, the bit about Guildenstern, Hamlet, and the pipe. Gertrude has sent Tweedlecrantz and Guildendee to check on why Hamlet Jr. is acting so crazay. Our goth protagonist asks Guildenstern to try playing a recorder.

GUILDENSTERN
I know no touch of it, my lord.

HAMLET
It is as easy as lying. Govern these ventages with your fingers and thumbs, give it breath with your mouth, and it will discourse most eloquent music. Look you, these are the stops.

GUILDENSTERN
But these cannot I command to any utt'rance of harmony. I have not the skill.

HAMLET
Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass; and there is much music, excellent voice, in this little organ, yet cannot you make it speak. 'Sblood, do you think I am easier to be play'd upon than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me.

In the four-hour Kenneth Branagh version this little rant is especially breathtaking.

() Geeks, Fire, and Dangerous Things: Seth and I were at Defcon in Las Vegas this weekend. Seth got our friend Praveen to bring Seth's giant Fresnel lens to the con when Praveen drove out on Saturday. The Fresnel lens is roughly 1 meter in diameter. On Sunday afternoon, as the con was winding down, we took the lens (wrapped in a black sheet for safety) out to a quiet back lot behind the convention hotel and, though the sky was overcast with a thin cloud layer so that we could not focus direct sunlight through the lens, we set some stuff on fire. Seth brought four pairs of welding goggles and two pairs of sunglasses for the group, plus safety gloves for whoever held the lens. It was about 102 degrees out, scorching hot even with the clouds, but before the heat drove me back indoors, I watched Seth and David Weekly burn a brown spot into the side of an aluminum can; turn a piece of wood to charcoal; set aflame and burn through a handful of dry grass; and light an onlooker's cigarette (placed on the ground, not in his mouth!). They also tried unsuccessfully to melt a penny and a quarter. I guess it's not as easy as I thought to burn through your money in Las Vegas.

[Comments] (1) () She's an ENIAC: From phone conversations today I gather that Leonard and Frances are visiting the American Computer Museum. In contrast, I'll be enjoying Will Franken's comedy shows tonight, whose most computer-related joke is probably his absurdist "voice command for file cabinet" bit. You can get a hint of that style in his "Show!" clip.

Note to local comics I saw in the back room of a pizza place last night: it is possible to do good spam and Match.com jokes. Please try harder.

() Mr. Joad's Wild Ride: Today Annalisa and I start our drive out west. On our first trip out, we lost a mirror in the middle of Nebraska at 80 mph, ran over a tumbleweed in Colorado, got our truck towed in LA because it was in 7th Heaven's shot, and almost rented Charles Manson's quaint Topanga getaway... here's hoping for a less exciting trip. Here's also hoping that I will be able to post while I'm on the road. California, here we come!

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The Gum Tree
The Weblog of Joe and Louise Walch

Gregg Easterbrook: The Man Who Defused the ‘Population Bomb’ - WSJ.com:

Gregg Easterbrook: The Man Who Defused the ‘Population Bomb’ - WSJ.com

Amazing story. I read about this back at BYU and still am amazed at this man's life and life's work. He wrote some interesting articles debunking neo-Malthusian histeria back in the 1970s and 80s. He's a real hero and an example of human selflessness that is rarely replicated. May he rest in peace.

Interesting quote:

Borlaug told me a decade ago that most Western environmentalists "have never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for 50 years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists in wealthy nations were trying to deny them these things."

Epicurean Delights sans the Jail-time:

We tell our kids to "Just Say No" and yet we allow them to dump cup-fulls of this addictive white powder on their Cheerios.

Favorite quote:

Though difficult to estimate, sweet sensations evoked by sugar-sweetened foods and drinks are probably one of the most precocious, frequent and intense sensory pleasures of modern humans.

Have I been missing something?!?

Ideologyweek: News as Only We Wont to See.:

The mocking introduction “Let's try” of Newsweek’s “Our Mutual Joy” foreshadowed all one needed to know about the incredibly condescending treatment of religion by another ‘general interest’ magazine going through its death throes. In an attempt to shame (the true meaning of which, like ‘tolerance’ and ‘love’ has become unfashionably anachronistic) the vast majority of Americans who are Christian, The “living” Bible is deconstructed and vivisected to reveal the Christian’s folly. The article author asserts her moral authority in calling on Christians to strive toward ‘more just’ ideals over the ‘unserious’ drive towards “chaos, depravity, [and] indifference.”

Newsweek would have us believe that the homosexual activity practiced in days of yore condemned by Paul were nothing like the civilized and enlightened homosexual practices of today, and then insinuates that David and Jonathan were gay lovers. Perhaps things have changed; not the enlightenment of gay sex, but the corruption of true brotherly love that Paul commends to his followers.

The article then goes on to explain that the overarching theme of the Bible is acceptance, citing Jesus reaching out to the woman at the well. Nary a word about Jesus’s constant injunction to sin no more, or the real theme of the Bible which is to totally deny oneself in discipleship; not indulge in ‘needy’ relationships. The doctrine of the Bible is that because of the fall everybody has a predisposition to act contrary to our true nature of Justice and Holiness, but that we are to refuse such impulses; not embrace them.

Newsweek argues:

So the frustrating, semantic question remains: should gay people be married in the same, sacramental sense that straight people are? I would argue that they should. If we are all God's children, made in his likeness and image, then to deny access to any sacrament based on sexuality is exactly the same thing as denying it based on skin color—and no serious (or even semiserious) person would argue that.

Perhaps this last bit is what I find to be the most egregious error and beneath contempt. It blasphemously insinuates that God Himself just might be a homosexual and then equats the sexual impulse to skin color or gender. It is similar to the slave-trader’s assertion (to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson) that there are those who are born with saddles on their backs and others born with boots and spurs; except in this case, those born saddled are humanity and the booted master is the animal impulse. It totally rejects humanity’s agency and responsibility, and is totally antithetical to the Bible’s core message. A person who is born black cannot change that fact. A person who is born female or male will always have that identity etched on every cell of the person’s body regardless of the number of surgeries or hormone therapy. Sexuality, on the other hand, is a learned behavior which every civil society in history has regulated and restricted, and to ignore that basic fact of biology and history is not merely unserious, but dangerously stupid.

This shockingly arrogant treatment of the Bible by an author who probably has about as much knowledge of the Bible as an 18th century grammar student (or less) wends its way through blissfully ignorant aphorisms like:

Jesus does not want people to be lonely and sad,

and then quotes such luminaries like “Miss Manners” and “My friend the priest James Martin.” Of course, if one only wants to obstinately promote one’s own viewpoint, then there’s no need to include people who may not be one’s friends or even have the same opinions as oneself. This is evident in the article which never includes any divergent opinion or even the treats the reasoning behind Christian (or classical pagan for that matter) opposition to homosexual marriage as anything but a silly straw-man.

What is the true reason that the majority of people in over three dozen states have voted in free and fair elections to affirm marriage between a man and a woman? It’s not hatred of Gays, OR EVEN HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH GAYS. It is the fact (one that is lost on the post-modern left) that there are essential differences between men and women. Those differences are profound and reach the whole dynamic range of the human experience. Those differences are etched on every cell in the bodies of Men and Women. To paraphrase Sartre, there is no escape from gender differences between men and women. Men and women are intrinsically, essentially, and absolutely different. Society has an interest in guarding the procreation and sustainability of itself. In so doing, society has every right to ensure that the healthy and diverse influences of both male and female are included in the raising of children. Both genders play essential and important roles in the flourishing and procreation of humanity.

When looked at from this light, homosexual marriage advocates are actually arguing not for inclusion, but for exclusion since it is they who would gloss over the important gender differences that are essential for the raising of properly socialized human beings. Homosexual men simply cannot parent with ‘maternal flair’ no matter how hard they try or how many flower arrangement classes they attend. Furthermore, the homosexual relationship is, by definition, barren. It is wholly impossible for a new human being to be created except from genetic material from one man and one woman. It should be in society’s interest, if society is to persist, to ensure that there is pairing of the right kinds of people (male and female are the only possible option) sustain civilization.

This is why I found Newsweek’s chief editor, John Meacham’s comment so utterly oblivious to reality:

“Religious conservatives will say that the liberal media are once again seeking to impose their “agenda” on a God-fearing nation. Let the letters and e-mails come. History and demographics are on the side of those who favor inclusion over exclusion.”

Excuse me? History and demographics are on the side of those who favor inclusion over exclusion? Has the cavalier John Meacham (of whom I expect better as a historian) seen the fertility rates of San Francisco? Does he know anything about the demographics of the barren Blue Northeast vs. the Red Bible belt south? Quite the contrary to John Meacham’s facile dismissal of the (procreating) majority of Americans, it isn’t gay families who will see the explosion of influence and power in the world. He should look at the statistics: the most common name of babies born in Brussels: Mohammad, Toronto: Mohammad, Amsterdam: Mohammad, Paris: Mohammad, Sweden: Mohammad. What would America look like if it were Muslims instead of the dreaded Catholics controlling the Supreme Court? Does John Meacham really think that the world is demographically moving towards total acceptance of Gay Marriage? Perhaps he should check his statistics and hope it’s the Bible-thumpers or Mormons (who are the only ones approaching Muslims in fertility rates) whom demographics will favor.

And perhaps John Meacham should check on the demographics of Newsweek, which is nose-diving into oblivion.

“Sources say that the magazine is considering slashing up to 1.6 million copies from Newsweek’s current rate base of 2.6 million, which would put the magazine’s rate base at 1 million. Newsweek declined to comment.”

Resources: Natural Law and Homosexual Marriage

A Biblical Understanding of Marriage

National Review: Newsweek Comes out of the Closet

"That Wasn't Quite the Change We Envisioned":

Certainly Obama's recent appointments to his cabinet have been reassuring as I've outlined in my previous post, but some in the Left seem to be getting a little anxious. This story from Politico sheds some light on this subject.

Salient Quote, National Security:

Now Obama’s says that on his first day in office he will begin to “design a plan for a responsible drawdown,” as he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday. Obama has also filled his national security positions with supporters of the Iraq war: Sen. Hillary Clinton, who voted to authorize force in Iraq, as his secretary of state; and President George W. Bush’s defense secretary, Robert Gates, continuing in the same role

Salient Quote, Economic Policy:

It’s that liberal Democrats say they’re hard-pressed to find one of their own on Obama’s team so far – particularly on the economic side, where people like Tim Geithner and Lawrence Summers are hardly viewed as pro-labor.

Good, Labor bosses have driven many of American Manufacturing jobs into the ground and resulted in poorer quality products.

I'll continue to look skepticaly at Obama, but for a Democrat who ran as Obama did during the campaign; so far so good.

Links
Write to Joe
Send mail to Louise
Joe and Louise's Picture Blog
Joseph D Walch's Facebook profileLouise Nicholson Walch's Facebook profile
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Spam As Folk Art
Weird and funny subject lines from spam we've received

2020

() Sentenced: The subject line on this one was ordinary - "Get the Most Out of the WiFi You Pay For" - but the content, aside from the spam links, was a genuinely engaging sequence of sentences:
She wondered what his eyes were saying beneath his mirrored sunglasses. They say that dogs are man's best friend, but this cat was setting out to sabotage that theory. Im working on a sweet potato farm. Grape jelly was leaking out the hole in the roof. The blinking lights of the antenna tower came into focus just as I heard a loud snap. It took him a while to realize that everything he decided not to change, he was actually choosing. Twin 4-month-olds slept in the shade of the palm tree while the mother tanned in the sun. She could hear him in the shower singing with a joy she hoped he'd retain after she delivered the news. Dan took the deep dive down the rabbit hole. She lived on Monkey Jungle Road and that seemed to explain all of her strangeness. Greetings from the real universe. They throw cabbage that turns your brain into emotional baggage. The fish dreamed of escaping the fishbowl and into the toilet where he saw his friend go. The best key lime pie is still up for

debate. Random words in front of other random words create a random sentence. It was a really good Monday for being a Saturday. The paintbrush was angry at the color the artist chose to use. In hopes of finding out the truth, he entered the one-room library. I caught my squirrel rustling through my gym bag. Carol drank the blood as if she were a vampire. He is no James Bond; his name is Roger Moore. The tattered work gloves speak of the many hours of hard labor he endured throughout his life. The beauty of the sunset was obscured by the industrial cranes. He wore the surgical mask in public not to keep from catching a virus, but to keep people away from him. The thick foliage and intertwined vines made the hike nearly impossible. Having no hair made him look even hairier. I am counting my calories, yet I really want dessert. It's much more difficult to play tennis with a bowling ball than it is to bowl with a tennis ball. He decided water-skiing on a frozen lake wasnt a goo

d idea. Shakespeare was a famous 17th-century diesel mechanic. As he looked out the window, he saw a clown walk by. He was sitting in a trash can with high street class. It's not possible to convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising it infinite bananas when they die. If you like tuna and tomato sauce- try combining the two. Its really not as bad as it sounds. It took him a month to finish the meal. Mary plays the piano. He would only survive if he kept the fire going and he could hear thunder in the distance. Today is the day I'll finally know what brick tastes like. If any cop asks you where you were, just say you were visiting Kansas. Weather is not trivial - it's especially important when you're standing in it.

Leonard suspects this is generated by GPT-3.

2016

() Yes: A spam today began:
yes, this is fudong machinery manufacture co., ltd a a professional and experienced supplier
I enjoy the prefix "yes," here. It reminds me of product placement in old-time radio ads, or of the way Stephen Colbert introduced the terrifying drugs from Prescott Pharmaceuticals in "Cheating Death with Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A."

2014

() Spamusement's Ten-Year Anniversary: Ten years ago today, Steven Frank posted the first Spamusement comic, illustrating real subject lines from spam emails with "poorly drawn cartoons". Leonard and I loved it, and to celebrate, here are a few of my favorites. (Spamusement had an unfortunate strain of sitcom-level sexism and fatphobia but there were plenty of strips free from such annoyances.)

I want to especially mention She cant possibly be enjoying this! which Leonard and I treasure to this day every time we ask for a to-go box for leftovers, and this assortment that I suspect of being a "Cow Tools" homage.

Anyway, Steven Frank, thanks for a fun strip.

() They don't make nonsense like they used to: A single morsel of old-school link-free "what are they even trying to do here" spam slipped through my filter last week, like a Queneau assembly of our glory days here at SAFA. Enjoy, and reflect, for do we not, each of us, parallel existing roads?

From: Mars failing before completing their missions, with some failing before they even began. <brendan@orcon.net.nz>
Subject: Madagascar and take on fresh provisions before proceeding onward toward their targets further north.

David Smith, an analyst at research firm Gartner.
Many steps parallel existing roads, but others exist on their own and are classified as city streets.
Hudswell Clarke saddle tank Tubby at Blunsdon. He died in Monrovia in 1935.

() Male Gaze: Ashley Madison spam keeps telling me I am guaranteed to sleep with a married woman. I am a married woman. I sleep with myself every night, and as such, Ms. Madison has nothing to offer me -- or, conversely, perhaps I have been using the site all along unwittingly!

I find that the Ashley Madison spam specifically bothers me, not just because it implies that I am thought of as a promise-breaker, but because it implies a new vice that I'm not used to seeing in my spam. I'm used to spam insinuating that I am greedy, obese, and libidinous, but not specifically adulterous. And the heteronormative and aimed-at-men "sleep with a married woman" spam actually bothers me less than the more equal-opportunity subject lines that aim to include me. The former I can laugh off as male gaze; the latter thinks I am nudgable.

2013

() Monster Breakout Day:
  • Hey alabaastley, 80% OFF. encountered Neologisms
    I really prefer mangled portmanteaus.
  • Be ready in the morning for my new Gold pick!
    I wish you wouldn't stay up all night playing Minecraft.
  • Augmentin is your canon aimed at any infection.
    No, sir!
  • Scare people with your tool today
    Join your village's angry mob.
  • Mr. kevandd, get super prices. death
    Those prices had better be pretty damn super.
  • Monster Breakout day starting off with Monster News.
    It was just a regular day in Monster Town.
  • Do not underestimate the value of free pills
    I'm going to guess... "zero".
  • This Company keeps climbing! You may want to read this!
    "Employee Guidelines for Parachute Allocation."
  • Feel like you're under a pile of bricks? We carry Xanax and Valium
    Also bricks.
  • This May Never Happen Again!
    Oh, I think it will.

2012

() Mockworthy Recruiting Spam: I feel the urge to complain about a particular kind of spam yet feel a little uncouth doing so on my main blog. So then I remembered: Spam As Folk Art! Hi, three people who still follow this feed.

If you were a tech recruiter seeking a project manager or community wrangler, I could see how I would pop up on your radar. I'm not interested -- I'm happy at the Wikimedia Foundation -- but at least I would understand.

But recruiters who think that I must be an engineer, because I've worked on GNOME and I have a GitHub account, make me laugh.

Case 1:

Subject: Hello from redacted name of big tech company!
From: redacted name native to South Asia
Hi Sumanah,

I hope you're well. I came across your profile in Gnome Outreach program.

I hope you're well. My name is redacted and I am a recruiter here at redacted.

I am writing to introduce myself and was wondering if you would be open to confidentially exploring engineering or management opportunities with redacted.

In the event that you're happily employed, but know of any engineers of your quality who may be on the market, please don't hesitate to pass along my contact information....

First: I will notice if you misspell my name. (And you have nearly no excuse, person with name native to the exact same part of India as mine!) Second: I can think of approximately 500 engineers of my "quality" who are on the job market, because I am not an engineer. Within GNOME I worked on marketing, GNOME Journal, documentation, bug triage, and project management.

Case 2:

Subject: Web Application Engineer
From: redacted name of recruiting firm
<p>Hi Sumana,</p>

<p>Are you interested in a new job opportunity? We checked out some of your git repos and we found a job opportunity that fits your skills. Twitter in San Francisco is hiring web application engineers.</p> ....

Yes, the <p> and </p> tags were in the original. Someone wasn't counting on people who read email in plain text. And my GitHub repo has exactly one item of interest (my update to someone's README file), and within Wikimedia's git repositories I've tested the system by adding some comments to an example extension. If that means that a web application engineer role at Twitter "fits my skills" then I am a tuna fish sandwich.

Bonus case:

Speaking of "wait, plaintext?":

Well hello there, and welcome to the latest Ticket Alternative newsletter!

You've opted to receive the text version which is really boring. You can't see any of the pretty pictures we've added or be wowed by the colorful design.

So, click the link at the top of this email to view the online version and we promise to make you smile....

Thanks for reminding me to unsubscribe from the "newsletter" for a service I only signed up for to buy one measly theater or concert ticket, Ticket Alternative! (Oh, and of course, there was no link to the online newsletter in the plaintext email.)
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MC Masala
Sumana Harihareswara's "MC Masala" newspaper columns, reposted
Drinking Problem: We always confused Plaza Lounge and Park Kafe. At least, Leonard did. Then again, he's the one who mixed up the J, K, and M streetcar lines in San Francisco when getting directions. Yes, they share the same terminal stops, but so do we, and that's no excuse for confusing me with Anderson Cooper. We all end in the ocean; we all start in the stream; we're all carried along by [email]@crummy.com. Whoops -- this is the start of the column, not the end. [More]
Filed under: ,
Vitamin Talisman: "Let me tell you about raisins," the professor said, prompting chuckles and heckling in anticipation of a good line. [More]
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Kristen Smith's weblog

[Comments] (5) On death and dying: Nothing prepared me for the day one of my kids asked me why do people die?, so naturally when Lily asked me that question I was dumbstruck. We decided to buy the new Pixar movie Up. It came highly recommended by many people including Louise, who is a very tough critic. She rarely thinks anything is "really good" so I thought it really must be good.

Aaron popped it in for the kids. I was puttering around, getting things done, and still haven't seen it. It wasn't until the next day while Gunnar was napping, and Lily was watching it as I was doing the dishes. When all the sudden I heard this sad little voice and teary eyed girl peeking over the arm of the sofa almost begging me mommy, I don't want you to die. Why did Ellie have to die? When will she be back? I want Ellie to come back. I don't want you to leave. Why do people have to die? Where do people go when they die? I felt ill prepared to answer all these abstract questions in a way a 5 yr old would understand. All I could do was hug her and cry on each other's shoulder. I know it was wrong, but I promised her I wouldn't die, at least anytime soon. She was so sad and I wanted to reassure her and make her feel better.

Death is such a difficult topic and I think it is every child's worst nightmare. We talked about heaven and the resurrection and eternal families and I think we both felt better. It made me remember life is short and fragile and as a result I have not yelled at my kids as much this past week. I used to ask my mom what would you do if I died? And she would always say I would spank your little bottom. Death is something I struggle with and definitely don't want a lesson on it anytime soon. So the moral of the story is if you watch Up with your kids you might have to explain the mysteries of the universe with your kids.

[Comments] (5) for your eyes only: So last week, I tried to write a health care post about my health care of all things. A couple hours after I had posted it, my brain reflected on it and I just about died inside to think I just shared with the world my IUD problems. I quickly got to a computer and deleted it and spent the rest of the night feeling sheepish and wondering if anyone had already read my open book life.

Today, I will give it a go again, yet this time about Gunnar and with much less TMI. Gunnar's health care. My poor little baby Gunnar. I adore this little boy. I could eat him for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and still snack on him throughout the day. Gunnar is and will always be my baby. This little guy went in for his "6 month" ophthalmologist appt. He was actually a few months overdue for a proper one since the past two were right before the move and right after the move and weren't proper appointments at all. We finally got the full blown appt out of the way and have been given two official diagnoses. First, our suspicions are correct. Gunnar has intermittent exotropia. Basically, one eye wanders when he is tired or not on his A game or zoned out. He can have surgery to correct it, but it really isn't too bad yet and the Dr and I both agreed that it is something to look into when he is older like 6 or 7 when "kids start making fun of his eyes in school" as the Dr put it, since his condition is very mild right now. Kids are so mean! And they probably will make fun of him, so when he is older and if it gets worse we will look into that, but for now he is ok. Just ignore his wandering eyes if you speak with him face to face and he zones out.

Secondly, his nearsightedness is now a raging -6.50 in both eyes. A whole 1.25 higher than last dilation. He's legally blind, but with his glasses he has near perfect vision, and it is very correctable with surgery if he chooses to get lasik when he is older. All in all, it is nothing serious. He is a happy, healthy boy. Sometimes, as his mother, I wished my body had been able to make his body more perfect, but there my vanity goes thinking I am responsible for creating my beautiful children. They are Heavenly Father's children and he is just letting me borrow them to discover tremendous happiness, and just a touch of torture.

But, there it is. Gunnar's health update. He is turning 3 in exactly 2 weeks so I better get onto making his well baby check up. Then we shall see how much this boy has g r o w n!

[Comments] (2) Burr, it's cold in here: This is all quite new to me, the wearing jackets in Oct and not really letting up. In TX the year Gunnar was born, I was so excited to not have to be my largest in the summer. It may have well been summer because as I recall, it did not get cool until the day I left the hospital with him. Geez, thanks!

Oh sure you might need a zip up in the morning, but by 2:00 you were sweating. I literally NEVER EVER wore jeans from the months of May-Oct. For 6 months I wore shorts every day. Even in April and Nov, the jeans were worn intermittently. But for those 6 months I didn't even look at jeans.

Yesterday, to make more room in my closet, and because I have a large Rubbermaid labeled jeans and sweaters that needed to be unpacked (and still one in the garage), I gathered all my shorts that I haven't worn a single time in a month, and all Aaron's shorts and exchanged places in the Rubbermaid with the jeans and sweaters.

It's not that it has been too bad here, gorgeous weather actually, but if I am not dressed properly my toes and hands will be frozen by 4:00 on. In SA I remember wearing flip flops year round. If it was too cold to wear them, that's ok because I knew by the afternoon I would be fine. It goes like this in the winter-mornings and evenings it is cool. Midday is warm. For a week or two we could have a cold front and then it is chilly, but then it goes away and for 3 weeks you are left with "perfect winter weather" picnic weather if you will. And the cycle continues.

Now maybe I am a tad cold because we haven't turned our heater on past 66 degrees. Perhaps. We are trying to save money, electricity is a lot more here, and all I have to do to get comfortable again is vacuum. (Why does that job make you sweat even in the winter? You are just pushing the thing around.) OR my new favorite thing is what Aaron calls my Back To The Future vest. It is AWE--wait for it--SOME. I have it in a couple colors, and it's perfect. It keeps you cozy at the same time freeing your arms to do household chores without feeling constricted like sweat shirts or jackets do. Plus, Old Navy is having 50% off all their outerwear. (Ok, online they are not quite 50%, they are more like 30% off and they have half the color selection so go to the actual store.) Go and get you one, and if you have an Old Navy card like me, you can get it for another 30% off that making it only $14. It's that awesome.

Now I am looking for some rain boots, because every week it rains cold rain here ALL DAY LONG from anywhere between a day to 5 days straight. My feetsies get cold walking around with wet socks and tennis shoes. So if anyone one knows of awesome rain boots for cheap (you know me, it's gotta be a good deal) please let me know.

[Comments] (1) Brisk: During my early morning run today, the sweat from my hands came out on top of my gloves and then turned frosty. I could tell because I was wearing black gloves and it looked like they had been flocked a little bit. Pretty weird--I've never had this happen before. Yeah, it was cold!

There were four in the bed and the little one said: I love lazy Saturday mornings. I awoke to Gunnar's noise and decided I wasn't ready to get up for the day and that I wanted to see if Gunnar was old enough to snuggle in the morning. Lily is at the age where she will lay down for a couple minutes but I didn't know if Gunnar "got it" yet. I went and got him and brought him in the bed. He knows what snuggling is because at night he always asks for me to snuggle just a minute so when I told him that he went for it.

It's seriously one of my favorite things to do is on a Saturday morning when no one has to be anywhere, just to lay in bed and snuggle and play and laugh with the kid(s). Gunnar is the most affectionate little guy. He leaned over to Aaron sleeping and kissed his cheek and said "I love you daddy". He then snuggled into me and said "I love you mommy, you're my big boy". He calls me that because I go between saying "You're my baby" or more lately "You're my big boy" so now he calls me his big boy too. He knows the difference between boys and girls which makes it that much funnier to hear him say it.

Gunnar leaned over and was pointing to my eyes and said "eww, what's that brown stuff?" I had a little smudged eye liner on from the night before that didn't wash off and he goes "that's disgusting." lol little noodge. Lily woke up finally and came in. Then I got to really snuggle-this girl knows how to spoon. It was the complete family, all four of us in the bed spending time together. It was a great way to start off the day.

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