Architecture in Helsinki

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Trying to surpass The Snuggleups and a band singing about putting your head in icewater for almost too long is a tough job. Architecture in Helsinki did a pretty good job (although they get -6 points for an obnoxious website).

Speaking of obnoxious, here are some new pictures! Yay!

Mike vs. Tim

The Doug Fir was a pretty impressive club. Think 70s lumberjack meets 70s street pimp with a dash of hippies. It was refreshing. Mostly I enjoyed the backlit floor tiles– they blew my mind.

The weekend on the whole was pretty chaotic. I came to the conclusion that I am not good at multi-tasking different plans with different people on the same day. It’s probably better to do things with 1-2 friends at a time — anything more gets too complicated (for me) and eventually things will get messed up. I think I enjoy quality time more anyway, and that’s hard to do in a semi-large group, especially if they don’t know each other as well as you know them.

So from now on I think I will try to be better about planning things on a per-person basis instead of trying to get everyone in on the same thing. And even then, if I do try to get lots of people together, I will try to do a better job of keeping people informed.

But not all was lost. Great music and great friends at the Doug Fir, good times on the Willamette (I actually crossed the wake this time), and some dinner at Who Song and Larry’s. It was a good weekend despite the chaos. It was a fitting end to an even crazier week.

I’m not good at multi-tasking in Portland.

Gallery 2

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I completed the upgrade to Gallery 2 Beta 3 out of boredom. I think they have done a great job with this app. If you’re used to version 1.x, it will take some getting used to, but there are so many more features and improvements it’s worth it. My primary complaint might be that it’s almost too complicated at times.

Of what I’ve seen, here are some goodies:

  • improved sorting
  • complete module management
  • progress bars during file uploads, etc.
  • fully functional gallery 1.x import scripts
  • rewrite templates (for simple urls)
  • site admin scripts to do everything from resetting cache to rebuilding all thumbs

Gallery 2 is worth a shot.

Bridging the Gap

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There has been some discussion about the direction of Mozilla’s Update Services and where they will be going as Aviary 1.1 approaches.

There are three tiers:

  • Addons (extensions and themes)
  • PFS – Plug-ins and the “finder service” that helps you find correct plug-ins based on mime-types
  • AUS – Critical updates that your app checks for periodically (that red thing on the upper right)

Tonight, I thought about what makes Mozilla and open source unique. What sells it to the community, and makes people like you and me — once aware of the option — gravitate towards open source alternatives? What made Firefox successful?

Building off Kveton’s assessment, community interaction and feedback has led to direct results that are visible in record times. From improvements in nightly builds, minor revisions, update services, etc. — users have gained a sense of ownership and sense of community when working with certain projects or applications. There is less of a gap between developers and the public demand that drives them.

Software engineering in the private sector, driven by corporations, can tend to rely more on focus groups, customer surveys and error reporting tools. Microsoft, based on these sources can work to improve products to ensure market share and customer satisfaction.

So, while I was talking to Thompson in the car about it, I came up with the point that although both sources are legitimate, only one has a sense of ownership and community that is tied directly to and supported by the founding organization. Microsoft, for example, would not alter the IE trunk to correct standards interpretations for years despite mounds of feedback. There was no turnaround there… and it wasn’t the first time.

But I don’t like geting into the MoFo vs. Microsoft game. It’s not really a fair comparison because Microsoft has much larger problems caused by their enourmous user base. Regardless, in projects like Firefox or Thunderbird there is such a close relationship between developers and end-users that the turnaround time for bug fixes and application improvements is remarkable and unprecedented. I have not seen such a connection in the Microsoft community.

Surely, though, it won’t be smooth sailing forever. As time progresses, and the population of MoFo’s end-users increases, they will face some of Microsoft’s problems:

  • Scalable update architechture
  • Progressively difficult regression testing

The community will likely survive its growth, but there are some things we should start doing now to prepare for the future. One of the best ways to help prevent these growing pains is to invest more time and effort towards ensuring that the gap between end-users and developers never widens.

And Mozilla is not without direction. This is already being done by tools like reporter, which was recently added to nightly builds. Sites like Mozillazine, SpreadFirefox and Bugzilla also contribute to opening paths of communication between the developer and their users.

Keep in mind that it doesn’t stop there. We have a responsibility to do more for users than make their applications user friendly. We should give them the option to participate, to feel the sense of ownership and community that makes these apps special. What better than augmenting the update infrastructure with more user-facing forums, an improved rating system, and upgrading critical update options and reliability?

Aviary 1.1 is already moving towards an improved critical update mechanism that is focused on smaller patches, more options, and a “set it and forget it” mentality somewhat similar to the hands-free Windows Update services you’ve seen in Windows XP. Some people might think that’s it — no, it’s just the beginning.

Much like Windows Update, critical updates dealing with security or serious flaws in application architecture will mostly just be blindly installed. “Yeah, yeah, just do it so I’m up to date.” It’ll be like Symantec’s virus definitions. You hardly know they are updating themselves. And that’s great — that is what I’ve been hoping for in Mozilla applications.

Now users don’t have to worry about critical updates or security patches. They don’t have to constantly install new binaries, and as applications mature, critical updates will hopefully taper off. Now they can worry about having fun, playing with new tools and innovations that extend an already great application base.

So give them an easy way to browse, install, update, troubleshoot and discuss extensions or themes. Done properly, a reworked and revamped addons site could provide these venues. It would ensure and improve the sense of ownership and community unique to all Mozilla applications.

Novacaine for the Soul

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So blogging is this huge deal now. Syndication, devblogs, company blogs, people getting fired for blogs, people making money off of blogs, bloggers invading cable news, the slashdot effect (hey, it counts!) …

lots of bullshit has come from my keyboard

I enjoy reading blogs where people lay it all out on the line. I typically see these coming from younger people who are more energetic and maybe a little wreckless. I used to have an “it’s what I think so it’s okay to speak my mind” philosophy. But you know — not everything in your head is for sharing. In fact, most of it is pretty unfit for publication.

I’m not promoting censorship — say whatever the hell you want. Just say it well. Be clear, be understood, be expressive and powerful. It’s the difference between saying, “McDonald’s is a stupid whore!” and making a documentary like Super Size Me! — one thing is just brain vomit while the other is organized and thoughtful.

I’ve learned a few things about blogging:

  • The more you put into it, the more you get out
  • Careful what you say, it doesn’t come back
  • What you write is frozen in time
  • It all adds up, and if you don’t do it you’ll wish you did in a few years
  • More people read your blog than you think

Since I’m obsessed with myself, I went back and read some of my old blogs. Turns out I’ve been blogging since this post, written Febuary 3rd, 2002:

it’s been a while since i’ve had the energy to update my site. given some of the current projects i’ve been working on, it’s understandable that i’ve rekindled my love for making silly little webpages.

what is so interesting about webpages to me is the mixture of logic and creativity involved. there is a curious balance between the two when a person makes a website. any webpage represents the symbiotic relationship between the two hemispheres of our brain. in some cases, logic wins, and a page will be 100% functional while looking like shit. in others, pages can be beautiful, but lack functionality, or any semblance of structure.

i figured that i’d take a crack at it. granted, i don’t run an ebiz, or anything like that. but it doesn’t hurt to try new things and see what happens.

Safe to say, I’ve written some pretty terrible shit over the years. A lot of what I read tonight I wasn’t very proud of, but that’s life. You mess up, you get better, repeat. Some of it was surprisingly good — mostly the things I didn’t write in haste or anger.

So here I find myself, blogging in the middle of the night again, breaking myself into pieces small enough to fill this little window of time. To be continued, I guess.

I’m blogging this.

Toilet Seat Terror

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We live in a society full of fear. We over-regulate nuclear power, have airbags on everything but our pee-holes, have to wear helmets to sleep safely and can’t play with anything that has a corner. George Carlin was right — we are definitely a paranoid bunch not willing to take a chance.

picture of a stupid toilet seat cover purse

And so George would agree that our fear of germs is pretty ridiculous as well. We can get food poisoning, chicken flu, bacterial infections, colds, viruses, STDs. We can even get AIDs from kissing! Holy shit, doctor — you’re a fricking moron!

So it’s no surprise that one day I went to the bathroom and as the person in the stall next to me sat down, I heard tissue paper crinkling. It was enough to make Seinfeld have a seisure. What’s with that???

Apparently we can’t even shit in peace. While we are defecating, germs are trying to kill us through the back door! Will we ever be safe?!?!

Not if you live scared. See, I can go to the bathroom, sit down, do my business and not have to use a piece of paper to shield my ass from the grim reapers living on the toilet seat. It saves me the time and humiliation of putting a thin piece of wax paper under my ass. Also, it gives my immune system some practice!

People forget that your skin is your first line of defense. Bacteria isn’t going to seep into your pores and take over your body. You have to somehow eat or suck in this stuff. Now, maybe some of you shit and snack at the same time, but that’s not my style — and I don’t recommend adopting that habit.

Overall, I think toilet seat covers are symbolic of many things we do in this country to make us feel safe — to give us the illusion of safety. It’s a band-aid fix for what pretty much amounts to general sloppiness and poor personal hygeine. In some cases, I guess it makes up for lack of dexterity — but come on, it’s not that hard to aim, is it?

Instead of drinking toilet water, rubbing your genitals on public surfaces and licking toilets, why don’t you just be careful, stay in good health and not worry so much about stuff?

Worrying about germs messes up your immune system, which lets germs kill you. Twice. In your sleep.

Finding your Rob Gordon

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At some point you stop and look back at all the shit you went through and the pure volume of past drama is staggering. To think, I did all that, and not in a shy way…

When you’re in the thick of it, it’s easy to think that you’ll never make it. Yet time and again we all somehow find our way. After time clots our wounds and the scar fades, we finally get a chance to make sense of it all — if it’s even possible.

High Fidelity was an interesting look back at the life of John Cusack’s character, Rob Gordon. It was a unique narrative, taking you through the failed relationships of a used record store owner.

What can we learn from Rob Gordon? Well, for one, we aren’t anywhere near perfect either. We are assholes. We play for our team only, we are selfish, we are liars, we cheat, and sometimes we cut corners. We do it without really thinking. Well, maybe you’re a lot nicer than I am, but you have some Rob Gordon in you — might as well accept it.

So what happens to all of this crust? It is a part of our relationships. It’s the dirt on the windshield, the birdshit on a clean car, the piece of furniture that doesn’t match. And it’s not going anywhere.

But sooner or later we at least realize it’s there. We sit up and say, “Holy shit, I was an asshole!” And like Rob did we look back and think of all the things we could have done differently. Was it our fault? Did I fuck things up? Was she the one but I failed to realize it?

And after hours of recounts and retallying, there is a bucket full of maybes and a handful of what-ifs. They can’t save you from yourself. They can’t change the past. But it’s fun to dream about, and you can at least do some things to save the present and future.

We are left with this delicate balance between the crust of ourselves and the sunny side. I think that once you can at least partially understand yourself — identify your strengths and maintain some level of damage control when it comes to your weaknesses, you are ready to find a person who understands them just as well as you.

For some, it takes a lifetime. But if we are lucky we see things clearer while there is still time to set things straight. Then, when the times comes, we can be ready to give ourselves up and be vulnerable when we should. Of course, until then, things will be a fucking mess. But hey, it’s a damn beautiful mess.

I miss her smell. And the way she tastes. It’s a mystery of human chemistry and I dont understand it. Some people, as far as your senses are concerned, just feel like home.

Diluted

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I stare into my coffee,
watching the cream swirl
as it dissolves into hot blackness.

My coffee is kinder than your eyes,
cutting through my paper heart,
poking holes in my confidence.

I start to fumble words;
enourmous wooden blocks
made of feelings too heavy for
an infant’s hands.

One turn after another,
I spiral down…
like the cream.

Finally I dissolve,
and fade into who you think I am.

Objectifying Conversations

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I recently took a training course on conversational skills. The presenter, Paul Axtell, tried to explain how we could objectify conversations and intrapersonal contact. Doing so would allow us to maximize our day-to-day interactions and maintain better relationships at work and in our personal lives.

Paul was a chemical engineer for 20 something years. Therefore, I did not find it very surprising that Paul was trying to objectify and rationalize conversation.

To his credit, he did not try to give us the “for-sure, heal-all” equation for how to interact with people. Instead, he tried to give us a different perspective on what our interactions with people actually are. Based on our improved perspectives we could then grow, learn, and refine our methods in order to improve our relationships through our conversation skills.

To a certain extent, I agreed with his theory — our relationships are indeed a series of conversations. Without knowing it I have actually approached relationships this way for a long time.

I recognize my relationships are perpetuated by conversations, and the ones I value I keep alive by checking in once in a while on a personal level. I call someone to say hi, or I drop them an email to say hi. I talk to them for no reason but to let them know that I think about them.

Then there are special relationships where bonds are so strong that it doesn’t take conversations to keep them going. You know who you are. <3

On the other hand, there are those relationships I don’t value as much, and those are ones that I do not nurture. They lack conversation. They are utilitarian. If I do not talk to these people for a long time, I am perfectly fine. I don’t worry about them at all until I need something from them.

If you know me, I’m the guy who gets annoyed when people ask me how I am doing when I know they don’t give a shit. I don’t particularly like small talk, although I recognize that it is important to establishing comfort and familiarity, it just seems so vaporous. Well, small talk is white noise — and Paul touched on this when he said that a relationship based on just small talk is not really a relationship at all.

But it takes two people to step beyond sports and the weather. You can’t have a meaningful conversation when one person is mentally disengaged. Each half shares equal ownership of each conversation — each half of the relationship.

And so I started to think that maybe these people don’t give a shit because I never stop to talk to them — not the other way around. So next time someone asks me how I am, I might just stop and tell them.

If you look at it a different way, it is them giving you a chance to speak. And your chance to speak is a great opportunity to say something much more meaningful than “Hi” or “Good” or “Fine”. Everytime you answer with one word like that you fail to create a connection. Imagine if you went the rest of your life like this.

Paul did say that you should not ignore your goals and committments. Of course, if you talked to everyone all the time you would never get shit done. Plus, some people are fricking annoying and they’d keep you in that hallway for over half an hour as they rambled about their bathroom remodelling or how their dogs like to eat their own shit. They should be skipped.

As for the people you don’t know about, stop and talk for a minute or two. You’d be surprised at what they have to say.

The System

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The American Dream is in danger. With each passing day, I see the system repeatedly failing to reward honorable, competent people who are accountable for their actions and deserve better.

In the corporate world, there are winners and losers. The losers pack up their shit and go home. They find another job, or they get unemployment. But sooner than later management recognizes they are holding the company back.

The winners are rewarded with job security, stock options, profit sharing, promotions and relative prosperity. They get what they deserve.

In the system, government employees do not answer to such requirements. The process for holding workers accountable for what they do is a long and arduous one, due partly to restrictive union rules to prevent abuse or unfair labor practices but mostly because the system repetatively rewards people for being good at the system, not how well they can do their job.

It is a top-down disease. I don’t blame government employees, I blame ineffective management. Middle management in the government system is comprised largely of people who worked their way up the chain. They did not receive proper training or experience before assuming authoritative roles. This is a large generalization, but bear with me.

In the system, the first thing that contradicts our meritocracy is the inability of middle managers to enforce position description requirements in accordance with union regulations. They are given the power to hold people accountable, but for whatever reason they avoid conflict and do not properly document worker incompetence, insubordination, or lack of productivity.

Some of this is due to the superlative maze of red tape linked to almost any government transaction. But the root of it is a deep-seeded inability to face conflict, deal with a difficult situation, and do what is best for the team even if it is unpopular or not well received. Nobody likes to rock the boat. That is a huge problem.

On the worker level, this creates an environment where someone can work hard enough not to get fired, and still work their way up the chain. The system fails these workers because it leads them to believe that incompetance is the norm; that a lack of productivity and a lower standard are acceptable.

Fast forward a few years. New management comes in, they restructure. We mix workers schooled by an old system with workers that are energetic, productive, and more inline with the typical darwinist meritocracy so closely tied to the American Dream. We have a serious problem.

You end up with people who get something for nothing. And, in some cases, they actually get more for nothing, depending on seniority. To them, it is their entitlement, because they were not ever told it was wrong. Again, I blame shitty middle management spawned from the same flawed mindset. The workers, old and new alike, are all the victims.

New management, competent or not, is left powerless to change things for lack of precedents that would allow them to hold the old schoolers accountable for past flaws. New management is now forced to retro-actively set precedents to make up for the shortcomings of previous management. In a sense, they have to clean up someone else’s mess. In the meantime, the good workers deal with all of the side effects.

So the department suffers. The organization suffers. The old schoolers stay, they ride it out as long as they can because the system affords them that right. The new people, who can easily make it anywhere else, find better paying jobs that offer proper compensation. Because of an inability to keep and reward good workers, the system is diluted, which only perpetuates it’s self-destruction … because guess who’s going to be manager next.

The solution seems pretty simple; people should be held accountable for what they do. But it is no surprise to me that our country, with our President, our Secretary of Defense and our Senate Majority Leader leading the pack, lacks accountability.

We need to offer better education for managers in government agencies. Encourange worker accountability, and offer training for all levels of government in the area of conflict resolution and the ability to handle difficult speech. This empowers workers and managers alike to honor a higher standard that is not conducive to the old status quo.

Resolving conflicts today, no matter how difficult, will prevent catastrophes later on.

WordPress, Reloaded

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I decided to update WordPress from 1.3alpha to the latest Subversion snapshot. I like it so far.

When I get some time I will update the template. I don’t like the 1.5 default – needs more sauce.

Seems like everyone else has had a lot of time to update their blogs. They are all nice, neat and cool. I figured I’d take an hour to upgrade and at least reopen comments. Oooohh. :|

So my site sucks now, but there’s more to come:

  • No more stupid no-capitals in post titles
  • Revamped poetry and portfolio page, added as a WP category instead of a static page
  • A non-default non-lameass template (ripped off from the actually cool WordPress Default)
  • More meaningful posts — I miss writing, don’t know why I slowed down (being busy is a weak excuse)
  • Migration of old gallery, with a little bit more of comment moderation to prevent Aussie hate spam… (long story)