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Geeze, nothing for nearly a month and a half, and that shortly after a post talking about how I should write here weekly.

As a quick update—which I seriously need to get back into the habit of doing here, don’t I?—I’m heading to Florida starting this coming Friday the 18th, and will be there for a week. My new job is somewhat less crazy now than it was over much of November, but during November it was… we’ll just say really hectic.

It often seems to be the case that people get more done on personal projects when they’re getting busy with other projects, and to some degree that’s even true with me. I’ve made progress on Claw & Quill in the last two weeks or so that I’m proud of, although a lot of it’s awfully nerdy stuff at this point. I’m going to put out another quasi-call for people who are interested in helping with coding. The site’s being written in Python using the Django framework; experience with either one isn’t strictly necessary (although it’s obviously helpful). There’s also going to be call for work with Javascript and jQuery (and jQuery UI), HTML 5, and other such markup-savvy stuff. A couple people have expressed interest in the past in a general way; if you’re still interested—or have become interested since—give me an idea of what you’re actually interested in and I’ll try to bring things to a point where I can start getting people on board shortly after the holidays.

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As I start this, I’m riding the BART train into work. This is a way of commuting I’m still not used to. It’s not cheap—$4.75 each way on BART plus $1 a day for parking (unless I buy a monthly parking permit, which is actually more expensive per day at $30 a month). It’s also not fast—the drive from the apartment in Foster City to the Millbrae Transit Station, the southern end of the BART line on the Peninsula, is 15 to 20 minutes and the ride on BART is 35. On the flip side, though, it’s relatively easy: obviously, on BART there’s no driving involved. And parking fees alone at my building would cost more than I’m paying for this trip.

I’ll admit that of the several commuter rail services I’ve tried in the Bay Area, BART is the best only in terms of reach. Caltrain is considerably quieter, considerably more comfortable, and considerably faster—a limited or bullet train would make the trip into San Francisco from Millbrae in under 20 minutes. And it’s no more expensive. Unfortunately, the SF Caltrain station is a mile and a half from the office, more than I’m inclined to walk. Taking MUNI from the station to the office would add another $4 per day in the commute. In theory, I could actually catch Caltrain closer to the apartment at the cost of an extra buck a day in parking, but at that point it’s become a third again as expensive, and Caltrain—as [ profile] jakebe frequently has reason to complain—has the Achilles’ heel of railroad crossings, providing high potential for traffic accidents and the occasional suicide. BART is at various points a subway or an elevated track, but roads never cross it.

On the other hand: more comfortable, quieter, and—yes, when not delayed—faster. Hmm.

Anyway, this gives me something to think about: I can make a go of this kind of commuting and be moderately comfortable with it. This opens up the potential for living longer distances away from my work if I choose to, provided that both my home and my workplace are sufficiently close to rail lines. I could move back down the peninsula and take Caltrain in, or go anywhere in the East Bay that’s still on BART—although that would open up the problem I’ve written about before of being farther away than I’d want from friends. Granted, driving an hour or so each way to get somewhere on a weekend is hardly new for me, but I’ve noticed that in practice getting together with friends much past a ten-mile radius of one’s house rarely happens. Maybe one can develop a mindset of frequently pinging friends to see if they’re busy, to even (gasp) plan ahead, but by now it’s a little unlikely I’m going to change my ways, I’m afraid.

But: speaking of that, and of lack of planning ahead, I’d like to see if I can get people together for my birthday—to go out to a group-friendly restaurant, perhaps Buca di Beppo in Palo Alto. (I’m open to other suggestions; my thought is that Palo Alto isn’t too far for people from the South Bay, but isn’t as far as, well, the South Bay for anyone coming from the north or east.) Technically, my birthday is tomorrow, and while I’d normally just suggest bumping things to the next weekend, the next weekend is, well, Halloween. So. I may see if I can get people together for the next next weekend, say, Saturday November 7.

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About halfway through October I went up to Seattle to visit [ profile] shaterri and [ profile] quarrel for a long weekend, which involved visiting a few Seattle neighborhoods, walking around downtown, and visiting Vancouver and Granville Island. And—unsurprisingly, given that Shaterri is at least as much of a foodie as I am—various restaurants, from Poppy to Spur. I spent some time at Zig Zag Cafe, home of the quasi-famous (and terrific) bartender Murray, and tried Carpica Antica vermouth for the first time, and Victoria Gin, made—I think—up in Vancouver.

Shaterri talks up Seattle so regularly that one wonders if the Visitors’ Bureau is paying him (and if not, why not). But it’s an area that seems eminently worthy of accolades: many walkable neighborhoods, a great culture (by which I personally mean “coffee shops, brewpubs and restaurants”), and very, very green. Yes, it’s rainier and a little cooler than I’d personally prefer, but I suspect if I were offered a job in any major American city of my choice, that’d be the one I’d choose.

Of course, I’ve just started a job in the closest American city to me, San Francisco. This is the first time since I’ve been out here (seven years, as of next month) that I’ve worked in the city, and at least so far I’m really liking it. My commute is the longest that I’ve had time-wise, but ironically one of the easiest: I drive to the Millbrae Transit Station, which is usually about 20 minutes with traffic, then take BART into the city, about a 35-minute ride. Since Millbrae is the start of the BART line, I always have a seat in the morning; I usually start standing on the way home but get a seat before we’ve left downtown.

The office building I’m in is One Market Plaza; this puts me within a few blocks not only of the bay itself, but an amazing array of lunch choices. There’s a food court in the building itself and another one in Rincon Center, the next block over. And a row of restaurants and cafes along Steuart Street. And the Ferry Building sits right across the Embarcadero, with its array of permanent food stands and cafes, and a farmers’ market on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’m used to taking long lunch breaks to go find interesting places to eat—but now I’m surrounded by them. (I see coworkers bringing their microwave lunches to work and I want to shake them and scream, “You are in one of the best food cities in the world and you are having goddamn Stouffer’s?”)

I’ve written before about my feelings of being tugged toward both urban life and—well, less rural than a particular kind of suburban life, the kind of place where you can see a lot of stars at night but you’re not isolated, where there are homes around but it’s not modern tract housing, and where urban life isn’t more than an hour or so away when you want to spend time experiencing it. (Shaterri’s place is actually pretty close to this ideal.) This job is the most exposure to true urban living that I’ve had—even though I go home to a very suburban community every night.

Yet I think I don’t really want to live in a big city. There are urban places that might tempt me: the Fremont area in Seattle, and I’ve mentioned the Rockridge neighborhood in Oakland before. But San Francisco? Probably not. There’s not much greenspace in SF except in small pockets (and one huge one), it’s very expensive, and even in “nice” areas there’s litter in the streets. That last one is very striking comparing it to Seattle or Vancouver, but it’s not too hard to see even comparing it to other Bay Area cities.

But for now that’s not much of a concern; I don’t expect to move any time soon (I’m about to sign a lease here for another year). I don’t know if this contract will last the full six months—I’ve grown to assume that plans collapse on short notice—nor if I’ll be able to go permanent, but just going the full six months will help my finances considerably.

I’ve been considering trying to make a more concerted effort to write something in this journal at least weekly because, frankly, I need the mental exercise. This is a recurring promise I recurrently break, so no promises, but I’ll try.

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Time for another update, and also time for my quasi-regular reminder that if you’re interested in more minutae from me, follow my Twitter feed; my journaling is as light as it is in part because I just throw the little things I’m doing up on Twitter rather than collect them and write about them here. One may argue that Twitter can’t adequately replace a journal, and of course that’s true; I may try to get back to more “long form” journaling, if for no other reason than to keep in practice.

However, the big news for me is as follows:

  1. The contract that I am on is still not concluded. While I give some knocks to myself for not having done a good job of measuring the scope of this project initially, the truth is that the scope simply wasn’t understood by the client at the start, either. And it… kind of still isn’t. “I think we’re close, just a couple more little things” has been the watch phrase for the past three months at this point. The little things in question sometimes involve database changes and adding new functionality. I have a much deeper understanding now, at least, of the importance of not just sitting down with a client and having them describe the functionality they want, but stopping at every bit of customer input and exchanged data and saying Is this capturing everything that we need? and Is this sending everything to the other system that it needs? and Is this screen displaying all the data you need here and in the right fashion?

  2. I am starting a new contract position sometime this month. This will be full time, on site in San Francisco.

This new position doesn’t replace the old one directly. For a time I will be working on both of them at once, and I’ll continue as the current contractor’s “web maintenance guy” indefinitely. I hope this will not drive me nuts. We shall see.

I’m excited about the new job. The intent is that if it works out, it will transition into a full-time job with the employer. It is through a recruiting company, so I am technically working for the recruiting agency, and they will be handling taxes and potentially providing health insurance. (I’ve just switched my personal health insurance over to Kaiser Permanente from Anthem Blue Cross, and I have to decide whether it’s worth it to immediately switch over to the recruiting company’s insurer.)

I’m also frankly kind of intimidated by the new job. It’s paying a lot of money, and that’s good. But, you know, it’s paying a lot of money. More than I’ve ever been paid. By a significant amount. I think I’m a pretty good programmer, but there is part of me going Holy hand grenades, I don’t know if I’m that good a programmer.

Even so—well, getting a lot of money quickly would be good. I have debts from the last year of underemployment to pay down and a savings account to build back up. And the job’s location in San Francisco—in the Embarcadero area, for those of you who know the area—guarantees I’m going to see a lot more of the city than I’ve been seeing since I’ve been living out here.

The two concurrent contracts are probably going to put a dent in Claw & Quill, I know, but hopefully not too much of one. I’m looking at it as yet another opportunity to get better at personal time management—other people seem to be able to manage not only a full-time job and a couple hobby projects, but frequently a family as well, whereas I’m still inexplicably living like a college student in middle age. So I have no excuse, really, do I? Perhaps I’ll figure it out before I retire.

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In some of the discussion on my previous post, [ profile] cargoweasel expressed disappointment in the “Avatar” trailer for not having a very alien world or very alien aliens. The Na’Vi are very anthropomorphic and distinctly feline; what we see of Pandora doesn’t look that different from a terrestrial rainforest (if we disregard the huge floating islands). As I wrote in response, first I agreed with this, then upon thinking about it I started to disagree with it, then upon thinking about it some more my mind went off in an only tangentially related direction.

First off, it would be neat to see more alien aliens in science fiction cinema. We’ve had fantastically weird aliens in novels for decades, and special effects technology is certainly at the point where we could realize them on film. I certainly don’t disagree with that premise, and I hope someone takes up that gauntlet. Cameron clearly isn’t.

I’ve seen other complaints about the aliens in the trailer. “If Cameron had any guts, he’d have made the Na’Vi look like slime molds.” “It looks like a Disney cartoon about blue people in a magical jungle paradise.” And this started to raise my curiosity. Why is the way the Na’Vi look a source of negativity?

What I’m considering is that the Na’Vi actually are different than other cinema aliens. I can’t think of another one quite like them. They’re markedly more non-human than Vulcans or Centauri or any other TV or movie alien that audiences are supposed to find attractive. But they’re still beautiful.

They’re beautiful. After decades of xenomorphs and creepy black-eyes humanoids and space prawns, with alien “love interests” always being either conveniently shape-changed to human or basically elves in space, the Na’Vi are just maybe a little more unusual than they’re being given credit for.

And yes, of course someone could make a far more exotic alien that’s still beautiful. The Na’Vi aren’t alien to the point where it requires a substantial amount of work to convince the audience that Jake Sully, the paraplegic marine controlling a Na’Vi/human hybrid ‘avatar,’ can still fall in love with a Na’Vi; any truly “alien alien” would be another matter. I’d love to see someone take on that challenge, but the story that could be adapted to that is probably not “Lawrence of Arabia.” (I think [ profile] toob was on target with that comparison.)

The reason that many people are taken aback with the Na’Vi—and I’m not thinking of Cargo’s comments, to be clear, but rather the “ick, they look so cute!” comments around the net—is, I submit, that we have a set idea of what makes aliens alien, and that set idea pretty much is: chitin. Chitin and tentacles and glistening ooze, and a scientist character who says “they’re beautiful in their own way” shortly before being eaten. If we’re really lucky, they’ll be omnipotent balls of light who, after we finally succeed in making contact with them, will tell us that we’re not ready yet. We’re willing to accept that as realistic—but beautiful aliens living as hunter-gatherers in a mostly unspoiled world? C’mon, that’d never happen.

I think I’m okay with Lawrence. And while I would like to see more alien aliens, I’m thinking maybe a good first step is somebody finally giving us pretty non-human aliens who aren’t humans with pointy ears and, for the love of God, aren’t frikkin’ bugs. In modern sci-fi cinema, that’s actually bold.

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So the real trailer for James Cameron’s next movie, “Avatar,” is finally out, and I’ve been observing three general strains of reaction:

  • This looks really awesome!
  • Meh, that’s an awful lot of CGI and we’ve seen it before. What’s all the hype about?

My reaction is more the first than the second.

I think the hype—which should be noted is only present in some quarters, as I know more than a few people who haven’t heard much about this movie at all yet—is unfortunate, since it can blow expectations to an unrealizable point. It’s also inevitable, given that “Titanic” remains the highest grossing film of all time, and “Terminator,” “Terminator 2” and “Aliens” are among the best genre action films ever made.

But that is an awful lot of CGI and we have seen it before. Right? AFter all, we’ve seen fully CGI actors before, like Gollum in “Lord of the Rings.” Of course, that was just one CGI actor. Well, we’ve seen whole movies with CGI actors before, though, like in Beowulf.

Right then. Really, we haven’t quite seen this before.

CGI hit a point a few years ago where the challenge started to be less about being true to life and more about being true to film. Can you direct the “virtual” camera the same way you can direct a real one? Can the CGI actors be real enough to act? So far, the only CGI films that have really been pushing the true-to-film limits have been Pixar’s.

Cameron has been (at least implicitly) promising a paradigm shift with this film, so if expectations are unduly inflated he earns a good chunk of the blame. But the thing is, he may actually be right. The “paradigm” isn’t about technology, per se. It’s about making the technology seamless to the director, and about what possibilities for storytelling that may open up.

What he’s trying to do, in other words, is bring Pixar-esque magic to live action, to make CGI more than just special effects. Will “Avatar” manage that? After just two minutes of footage, I’m pretty sure it’s the best shot we’ve seen to date.

And it has Space Marines and 10′ tall blue cat people. C’mon.

(N.B.: There is also a third strain of reaction, mocking the movie for looking like “Ferngully” or having a “Dances with Wolves” kind of plot. The first comparison is bluntly pretty stupid; the second one isn’t, although what came to me was Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest. Cameron’s never been a particularly original storyteller. But his execution is always top-notch and—I’m looking at you, Bay—he doesn’t believe action/adventure tales require you to turn your brain off.)

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I’ve seen many people refer to RadioShack changing their name to “The Shack” and how monumentally stupid this is, following the lead of Pizza Hut changing their name to “The Hut.” I did something kind of wild and crazy and actually, y’know, went to the company web site to read the press release from August 3:

RadioShack Corporation (NYSE: RSH) will unveil its new brand creative platform, “THE SHACK,” on August 6, supported by an integrated television, print and digital media schedule, as well as a high-profile, three-day launch event taking place in New York City and San Francisco.

“Trust is a critical attribute of any successful retailer, and the reality is that most people trust friends, not corporations. When a brand becomes a friend, it often gets a nickname — take FedEx or Coke, for example. Our customers, associates and even the investor community have long referred to RadioShack as ‘THE SHACK,’ so we decided to embrace that fact and share it with the world,” said Lee Applbaum, RadioShack’s Chief Marketing Officer. “This creative is not about changing our name. Rather, we’re contemporizing the way we want people to think about our brand.”

In other words, they aren’t changing their name. This is a marketing campaign.

I also went to Pizza Hut’s web site, and found a somewhat curt and, dare I say, vaguely exasperated-sounding press release from June 20:

“Pizza Hut is not changing its name. We are proud of our name and heritage and will continue to be Pizza Hut. We do use ‘The Hut’ in some of our marketing efforts,” said Brian Niccol, CMO, Pizza Hut, Inc.

In other words, they aren’t changing their name. This is a marketing campaign.

That we’re so quick to believe that these companies would throw away decades of brand equity for Google-hostile generics says something, surely, but I’m not sure exactly what it says, nor whom it says it about. But don’t be looking for them to be changing their signs any time soon.

Jack in the Box, though? “The Box.” Next month. You heard it here first.

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I opened my last entry, back on June 17, with “it’s been almost a month since I’ve updated my LiveJournal.” Well, now it’s been, uh, more than a month.

I went to [ profile] tugrik’s big shop shindig (to borrow [ profile] jakebe’s word) on Saturday and had a great time. I’ve driven all over hell the last couple of days, so it seems, between here in Foster City, [ profile] jadedfox’s place in Alameda and Tugrik’s shop down in San Jose; while I was tempted to drive somewhere yesterday (when I wrote this) just to find a quiet place to hang out, I was also tempted to, well, just stay in one place. The sedentary impulse won out.

Beyond that... )

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It’s been almost a month since I’ve updated my LiveJournal. I see I wrote then, “I feel like I should be taking an entirely computer-free day, but that’s hard for me to manage.” Both parts of that statement are even more true right now, but especially the first one.

It’s a kind of perverse state to be in: I’ve been working with computers almost daily since I was in elementary school, and while I’d decided I wanted to be a writer by the time I graduated high school the truth is that I’ve always made a living working with computers. I’d decided earlier this year that if I ever went back to school (God help me) it would be to backfill the foundation in computer science that I never actually had. The contract I’m on now that’s not quite keeping my head above water1 is for web development. The jobs I’m trying to get? Web development again. Hell, the main move I’d like to make is from doing PHP-based development to Python-based development…which is something I’m hoping Claw & Quill will help with, since right now I’m facing a chicken-and-egg problem (nobody will give me a job using Python/Django because I haven’t had a job using Python/Django).

And right now I am really sick of staring at computer code.

I’m dragging on the contract work because I’m having so much trouble focusing.2 I have contacts from recruiters that I’m procrasting returning. Granted, in part it’s because the contract work is, as it turns out, likely to run another month, and my assumption that I’d be able to start another job while finishing up the contract work is likely to prove false. But honestly, it’s in part because I just don’t want to deal with code.

I have a friend who’s been a freelancer for years now, doing desktop publishing work rather than coding. I’ve occasionally thought about following in his footsteps for web development/design—and in a way I’m experiencing it now. I can take two (or three or four) hour lunches. I can work at my desk or in the living room or on the balcony or at the Chili’s in San Bruno or pretty much anywhere I can set up the laptop and get email. (When I started writing this I was, in fact, at said Chili’s.)

But really, I’m always on the clock. If I decide I’m just not up to working right this moment, nobody’s going to fire me—but the work still needs to get done. I may be working on a weekend or past midnight. Stuff I need for my job may come on somebody else’s schedule, and it’s somebody who’s paying me, so I can’t just lean across the cubicle wall and say, “Hey, get off your butt.”

People will tell you that the plus of this lifestyle is that you’re doing what you love, and have freedom that you can’t match with an office job. We like to think that working on our own terms is worth nearly any reduction in salary. Well, we’d better think that. I have another friend who’s a tech consultant in Florida. Between him and the friend out here? Most years both of them could be making more money at Starbucks.3

Okay, two isn’t a huge sample size, and I know of freelance designers/developers who’ve raked in the money. But the guys who talk about making more money than they ever did at their office jobs are really good. This isn’t to say the guys I know aren’t good or that I’m not good, but we are not “being actively sought to teach at conferences” good. Being on the 10% side of the Sturgeon Line gets you enough not to be starving and homeless, but you need to be in the top half of that top 10% to keep up with the guys who stayed in the cubicles—and in the top half of that half to be doing it every year. It’s not a pleasant truth, but it’s a truth.

And the really perverse thing is? Right now I’m still in love with the idea of working on my own terms.

1. Technically, the job will have a bigger payout at its end, but the whole thing is flat rate plus potential royalties, and the checks I’m getting now are advances against the flat rate.

2. To be fair to myself, I’ve actually been averaging 40 lines of code a day the past few, which isn’t completely slouching.

3. No, I’m not kidding. According to Fortune, a “Coordinator II” at a Starbucks—an hourly, not salaried, position—averages $35K annually.

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I’m currently riding on Caltrain into San Francisco. I was lucky enough to catch one of the newer split-level cars, quiet and with little work tables for laptops—complete with power outlets.

It’s been a hectic last few weeks; I haven’t even been updating Twitter that often, let alone this journal. I’m expecting to catch a breather on the contract I’ve been working on the next few days, solely because my client’s out of town. He’s demoing the web site as it exists so far and I’m expecting a high potential for panic calls, but we’ll see.

I feel like I should be taking an entirely computer-free day, but that’s hard for me to manage. On the trip to Costa Rica I realized just how accustomed I’d become to continuous connection: I was constantly thinking I should look that up on Google or Wikipedia or I should look at Google Maps to see where I am or even just it’d be nice to share this picture or quick thought right now. I started being conditioned for this back when I first got a Sidekick in 2002, and the iPhone has taken it to a whole new level, one where it’s just about second nature.

I’m dubious about the more starry-eyed and histrionic interpretations of Ray Kurzweil’s “Singularity,” but there’s truth at its core: as as keeping ourselves always on the network becomes easier, as networked computers find their way into more and more things—as it becomes second nature to many people, not just some—society’s going to change in ways that, as we go through them, are going to seem incremental and subtle but in aggregate will likely be very radical indeed. We’re already seeing a lot of that if we know where to look. I have friends who think of themselves as “old-fashioned” because they prefer to do most communication by email, and avoid chat networks. But of course, two decades ago there were very few people who had access to email, let alone the first chat networks.

These thoughts have been feeding into a new story I’m trying to write, but they’re not the focus of the story—they’re aspects of the setting. Just what the story is remains to be seen, although it’s starting to get clearer as I puzzle through things.

I also have my own web site to be trying to work on, but that may wait for another day or so, too. I may not be able to take a computer-free day, but maybe a web-development-free day is doable.

(Finished and posted at the Panera in San Francisco across from the Caltrain station.)

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...and the first time I've bothered to use Flickr. Hopefully this all will actually work!
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I’m back from ten days in Costa Rica and a couple more in Florida recovering (long enough to at least take mom out to a day-before-Mother’s-Day dinner).

Was it a good trip? Of course—although it wasn’t entirely what I expected. See, I knew this was a group tour thing, and I knew that it was organized by a friend that my mom had met through the Florida Native Plant Society who was also a member of Audobon. So it would have a lot of Audobon people, but it wasn’t an Audobon trip. What I didn’t really fully understand was that this was a birding trip. What these people wanted to do was traipse around through the rainforest trying to snap photographs of elusive birds through telephoto lenses bigger than my first car.

So there was a lot of rainforest traipsing. This was a lot of fun, and not a lot of hard exercise—a bird-walk is not at all the same as a hike. The downside for me was that I’d shown up with a Canon G9 compact camera rather than an SLR, perfectly suited for taking touristy pictures in and around towns but not so good for zooming in bird-sized objects a football field length away. We didn’t get to see much of the towns except when the bus was driving through them unless we broke away from the group, and that only when we were in areas of Costa Rica that, well, actually had towns nearby.

And one other minor downside for me: a preplanned tour that includes all meals pretty much just includes all meals at the hotels. This is great if you don’t want to think about food, but anyone who knows me knows that I want to think about food. I’d have been wandering into little dives trying to find good meals and impressing locals with the three words I know in Spanish (“cerveza,” “tequila,” and “baños”).

The first night of the trip was spent in San José, Costa Rica’s biggest city and only real metropolis. From there we went to Villa Lapas, a hotel near the Carara wildlife refuge, close (but not on) the Pacific Coast, that’s apparently famous for its (surprise) birdwatching. Two nights there, then onto Monteverde and the “cloudforests” there (i.e., high altitude rainforests) for three days, then finally another three days at the Selva Verde Lodge in the Sarapiqui Rainforest in northeast Costa Rica.

So. Did I take pictures? Funny story (ahem): technically, I took just over six hundred of them. When I started trying to organize and edit them, though, my laptop fritzed out its GPU. This is apparently a Known Issue™ with the NVidia 8600M that the MacBook Pro I have uses; Aperture, my photo editing/cataloging software, is very GPU-intensive, and mom doesn’t use air conditioning until absolutely forced. My suspicion is that being pushed up to sustained hard use in a pretty warm environment tipped it over. It’s working now, but I’m a little paranoid about restarting Aperture. When I do manage to get a selection of pictures up somewhere, though, I’ll put up a link.

And, naturally, we did break away from the group and explore Monteverde a little. We found a chocolate shop and café run by American expatriates, several little art shops, and—yes—a gourmet restaurant we had dinner at, a marvelous tiny place called Chimera that has a tiny kitchen with two women in it turning out dishes that look like they’re being plated for Food Network specials. My mom became slightly obsessed with the chicken tortilla soup they made (their version has chipotle, bacon and roasted tomato in it); I think I liked the heart of palm and spiced cashew salad at least as much, and was pleasantly shocked by the “firecracker apple cake,” a rich cake served with a side of chile-infused caramel and locally made vanilla ice cream.

Out of all the places we stayed, Monteverde had the nicest town, but Selva Verde was the nicest hotel. No, call it a lodge: the rooms were in bungalows, most of them off the forest floor and connected by wooden walkways. You weren’t near the rainforest, you were in it there. It was hot and humid but was surprisingly mosquito-free (although we did discover a bullet ant in the room, which was a bit adventurous). Even though we were essentially trapped there for food, the food was good and the bar was well-stocked (the other places mostly just had a cursory selection of bottom-shelf liquor, treating you like the captive audience they assumed you to be). I learned a new drink there (a “Tropical Tico,” with cachaça and mango), had my first real Pisco Sour, and taught the bartenders how to make an El Floridita.

Now, it’s time to get back to work, and have some more coffee. Yes, I did pick up a bit from a coffee roaster in Monteverde, too. I wasn’t sure what to expect—was it stale stuff packed for tourists who can’t tell the difference?—but it turns out to be fine quality.

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It’s occurred to me that I haven’t written about this at all yet, in large part because I’ve had most of my brain cycles devoted to client work recently. Part of the scramble is that I’m leaving on vacation on Friday, to Costa Rica. I’ll be gone for about two weeks.

This is a rather programmed “tour group” thing that I’ll be going on with my mother, so I don’t really know that I’ll have time to see anything other than what’s scheduled. I’m still debating whether to bring my DSLR or just the pocket camera. (The DSLR, a Nikon D70, obviously has better optics and would let me get some better shots, but the pocket camera is a Canon G9 and is no photographic slouch—and would be a lot less headache going through airports and less of a theft risk at hotels.)

At the moment, I’m doing laundry and looking back at the checklist of oh-yeah-I-should-do-that-a-week-ago things for the trip that I made, uh, a week ago. (“Get camera memory cards,” although the type changes depending on which camera I bring; get photocopy of passport; etc.)

I’d like to say that I’ve been making great progress on Claw & Quill without telling you all, but—as I said, most of the brain cycles have been elsewhere. I have been working on it to the degree I can—mostly exploring Pinax, which looks marvelous in some respects but is woefully underdocumented—but I doubt I’ll get a chance to make much progress in May unless I get myself sufficiently ahead in the client work (which is supposed to be online by June).

chipotle: (Default)

Nothin’ much.

  • Small companies and open source projects weren’t going to buy Oracle anyway. Killing it doesn’t get you any extra business from them.

  • Companies that really want Oracle really want Oracle. The number of places that could afford Oracle but chose MySQL instead are frankly pretty minimal.

  • MySQL is a big player—far and away the biggest—in the web database market. Oracle rarely shows up there except at companies already using Oracle. Again: not much overlap.

  • MySQL’s biggest “competition” in the open source space is PostgreSQL. PostgreSQL, though, does treat Oracle and other “enterprise databases” as competition, and has a lot of “enterprise-level solutions” that have far more direct analogues to The Oracle Way. In other words, MySQL isn’t directly going after Oracle’s customer base—but PostgreSQL is. Even if Oracle doesn’t particularly care about MySQL, pushing users to PostgreSQL is not in their best interest.

  • Last but not least, if you use MySQL, there’s a pretty good chance you use the InnoDB storage engine because it’s the one that sucks the least. Oracle has owned InnoDB since October 2005. Back when they bought it, people said, “Oh, they’re just gonna kill it because they hate MySQL.” I don’t think that’s become any more true in the last three and a half years, though.

This isn’t to say that this isn’t something to keep an eye on—MySQL could find itself in a zombie state like the old FoxPro database after its acquisition by Microsoft, where updates and even major releases kept coming for years but there was always a vague sense of it being treated like a bastard stepchild. But that doesn’t seem likely to me; MySQL is far more visible and is a market leader within certain segments. Oracle stands to gain far more by continuing the model that MySQL AB already had developed and that Sun continued: an open source “community” build and a commercial build.

chipotle: (Default)
Dear internet:


Thank you.


chipotle: (Default)

For no real reason, I've found myself driving farther east than I have in a year or two. I've come to a place just east of Livermore called "Mountain House."

This is like a town, but not. In reality it's a planned community, basically a huge subdivision--in this case, one more or less in the middle of nowhere. It was built during the housing boom over the last decade as "commuting range" to the San Francisco are got farther and farther out, and people looking for bigger yet vaguely affordable homes were willing to put up with 90+ minute commuted each way. The home prices were still ridiculous by rational standards, but cheaper than San Jose for newer, nicer places. Just even more nowhere than the South Bay. (Places that were, well, somewhere cost a lot more.)

Then, of course, there was a double whammy of high gas prices zeroing out the savings in home prices, followed by the housing collapse. Now prices around here are, I gather, relatively affordable--but the expected suburbia never happened. If you live out here you'll have the drawbacks of living in a rural isolated place, and those of living in a character-free giant tract development.

Places like this hold a peculiar fascination for me, although I couldn't tell you why. Emblems of 21st Century American hubris? Nothing that cynical, really; the families here all had expectations of great things. And maybe they have very nice homes and are generally happy with what they have here. Maybe most of them work in Tracy or Livermore or Stockton. Driving around I don't see the plethora of "for sale" signs I half-expected, either.

I've been spending the last few days trying to get shelving units set up, to finally unpack like I actually live where I do. I've joked this makes me feel less secure; God knows my work situation is now awfully unstable. Maybe I like these odd house farms because of the combination of stability and absurdity in them. I don't think I would ever want to live in one--which somehow makes me suspect I will, someday.

Now on to... somewhere.


2009-04-02 19:54
chipotle: (Default)
I shall hope that my last update on Claw & Quill wasn't too baffling/boring to get any comments. :)

As a reminder, those are filtered -- I just added two folks I think should have been on the filter to it (my bad). So far there's only been two posts to the group.
chipotle: (beer)

I’ve gotten a few comments, on the journal and off, that are along the lines of, “Oh, that sucky ending for ‘Battlestar Galactica’ makes me feel glad I never watched it. It must have really sucked. The Sci-Fi Channel sucks. Suck suck suckity suck.” You know, in direct response to me writing that despite its problems I think it was the best science fiction show that’s been on television.

Setting aside the question of what problems the show had in its second half and to what PSI the finale did or did not blow, to me this is kind of like saying that because so many people threw tomatoes at the series finale of “The Sopranos” it must not be worth watching, or that “M∗A∗S∗H” devolving into self-indulgent moralistic drek for its last few seasons negates the mostly brilliant writing of its first few seasons.

Anyone who actually cares about science fiction on television should watch at least the first season of “Battlestar,” because not having done so is like claiming you care about science fiction in the cinema but having no interest in seeing Blade Runner and Alien. You might see them and think they’re overrated and flawed, but just not bothering to see them is, for that field, like being a literature student who’s never read Hemingway and Faulkner. Sure, you can hate Ernie and Bill after you’ve read them—but you’d better damn well read them.

Did I just compare the first season of BSG to Blade Runner? Yes. And I’d do it again. Bite me. Maybe you’ll think the show lost its way (a very defensible position), and maybe you really won’t like it much from the start. (Although if you really come away thinking that none of the writing and none of the acting and none of the story was worth engaging with, you’ll probably have to remind me just what it is we have in common.)

If you haven’t watched it, though, don’t tell me that the presence of religion or providence or Bob Dylan demonstrates that you don’t really “need” to see it in order to know how terrible it was. Because you know what? If I ever got a TV show on the air and it only “failed” as badly BSG did, I would be unimaginably ecstatic.

Now back to your regular programming, whatever the hell it is you kids are watching these days.

chipotle: (Default)

Do any of you, by which I mean “anyone reading this,” know Django?

This is not a trick question, by which I mean “this is a trick question.”

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