Thursday, December 08, 2005

Yay! Something to do!

I knew there was a reason why I spent my waking hours over at Notes.Net LDD IBM Lotus developerWorks. Not that there have been huge numbers of waking hours for the last little while, but that situation has been improving lately. Improving slowly, but improving nonetheless. I can put in some time working now -- I just don't know what time of day I'll be able to do it quite yet.

Seems there's an entire application niche that's been missed out along the way, and it falls right into line with the rest of the suite I have been busy with. The difference is that this go-round, there's somebody waiting for the application. I'm up against a tight deadline and some fierce non-Notes competition, but I have written most of the component bits for the application already. I'd just never quite gotten around to realising that they could fit together that particular way. If I didn't have the bits and pieces lying around, there'd be no way to get this done in time, but given what I have, the time I've given myself is conservative enough that I can tolerate a day or two lost to my back. I just have to get on my case right away so I don't lose that cushion.

That's a big part of the problem I've been facing with this development thing. I'm technically competent (or so I keep telling myself), but my life experience has been almost entirely outside of the business sphere. So far, I have been an in-house guy -- somebody gives me a set of requirements, and I build what they ask for. Note I didn't say I build what they want.

There have been darned few instances where I've actually been able to contribute anything to the application's fundamental design. If the requirements are confused, I'll build a wonderfully well-written but unusable and completely inappropriate application. Exactly what the customer ordered. Well, you want to know something? Sometimes the customers don't really know what they want until they see it -- they want a Labrador Retriever, but in the process of describing fur, water, a general leg count and some kind of duck association, they actually spec a platypus. I've built quite a few platypi. There's not a lot in fixing and fuelling airplanes, teaching math or even shining shoes that would make a body intuit common business processes.

This new application, along with the rest of the suite, are unashamedly ripped-off from applications that exist elsewhere, adapted to Notes and Domino. With tricky bits and shiny things thrown in. I figure that if somebody's already paying for this stuff, and paying handsomely, it must be useful. And you know, I'm starting to feel a lot better about that now.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Goodbye, Norrie

You may remember Noriyuki (Pat) Morita best as Matsuo Takahashi ("Arnold" to his friends), the malt-shop owner who bought the name along with the restaurant on television's "Happy Days" or as Mr. Kesuke Miyagi, the wax on, wax off sensei in the "Karate Kid" movies. I remember his later years, when with speaking engagements and projects like "Beyond Barbed Wire" and "Only The Brave", this child of the internment camps worked to bring the story and the dignity of wartime Japanese Americans before his people — Japanese and Otherwise American. (Oh, and Canadian as well. We were no better than our neighbors to the south.)

I'm glad I had a chance to get to know something of the man beyond the wise-cracking comic and the over-the-top characters he often played. But Norrie, we hardly knew ye. Rest well.

Friday, November 11, 2005


If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
In Flanders Fields -- John McCrae

Today was the first Remembrance Day on which there were no veterans of World War I in attendance at our national ceremony in Ottawa. The last survivor living in the Ottawa area passed away earlier this year. The Armistice that ended the Great War went into effect 87 years ago today, meaning that even the worst abuses of "boy soldiers" (whether enrolled at the proper rank of Boy or slipped into the regular ranks) can leave us with no veterans of that war younger than ninety-six.

(Yes, folks, there were uniformed people in the world's militaries as young as nine years old. An overgrown 13-year-old could find his way into the infantry if he was determined to do so, and there were Boys used as buglers, drummers and messengers. Boys were supposed to be thirteen, but then I was supposed to be thirteen when I joined the cadet corps too. I was only two and a half years short of that. The only real difference is that nobody was shelling the drill hall when I was a cadet.)

In a lot of ways, World War I was Canada's war of independance. While we legally shed our colonial status in 1867, we were still very much in the war for King and Empire. At the beginning of the war, Canadian troops were treated as just another element of the British army, and would not have operated in consolidated Canadian units at all were it not for the "chum brigade" philosophy. By the end of the war, Canadian troops under Canadian commanders at Ypres and the Somme, at Vimy Ridge, at Amiens, at Passchendael and Cambrai, had won Canada a new status as a fierce, strong, capable and proud people worthy of respect. Our progress from colony to country was paid for with the blood of a quarter million casualties, with the lives of 66,655 young men.

Nearly all of those who came home from the Great War are gone now. Let none of them ever be forgotten.

Monday, October 24, 2005

While I have my wits about me....

Well, folks, you've been in the dark long enough.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been through something of a core meltdown. My back exploded on me again (and before you offer friendly advice, I'd like to remind you that my problem is the result of a four-storey fall from a helicopter and the resulting displacement of the spinous and transverse processes on a number of vertebrae, and did not arise as a lack of yoga or accupuncture), landing me pretty solidly in bed for a week. And between the pain and the drugs I've been using to manage it, I've been living in a pretty dark and scary place lately. That may not have been reflected in my online life, but my online presence over the past two weeks has been the extent of my sanity, and that has been happening at odd hours to say the least, in thinly-dispersed half-hour segments.

The upshot of all of this is that I've pretty thoroughly mangled my professional career, having proven myself beyond any reasonably doubt to be unreliable as an employee. That is unlikely to change in the near future, since I've got to live with this back of mine until I can arrange to have the damned thing fused. I am certainly not looking forward to it, but given a choice between severely reduced mobility and continued and increasingly frequent bouts of drug-addled agony, even permanent confinement to a wheelchair looks to be the winner.

That gives me more than a little incentive to finish up those personal projects during my periods of lucidity. Whatever income they generate will likely need to supplement a disability benefit. I'd like to do something a bit more productive, but since I have no way to predict when or for how long I'll be able to work, I can't really count on work-for-hire for the next little while at least. It certainly wouldn't be fair to anyone who'd hire me to get halfway into a project then wind up putting things on hold until my mind and body are ready to work again. And that's the reality of my life right now -- I can fold up at any time, without warning.

There likely won't be a huge amount of activity here for the next little bit, although I will try to post a little bit of nothing occasionally. I hope to be able to formally announce the availability of my book here in sometime in the next month. It will be a self-published title (I'll be using Lulu to do on-demand printing), and probably of more use to folks other than the readers of this little blog. (Don't worry, Mr. Duff -- I'll treat you just like I was a real publisher or something.)

Lotusphere is out of the question, though, so to all who have offered help, particularly to Bruce, thanks -- the spirit is willing, but the flesh wishes it could make its way up to weak some day. Maybe someday, if I'm still in the game, but I can't take that sort of a chance right now. It's one thing to gamble on foreign health care expenses in case of an unlikely emergency; it's quite another to be almost able to count on something untoward happening.

In the meantime, I will be moving back to the Toronto area shortly and putting myself in the care of good friends who likely don't realise the enormity of the generous offer they have made me. I can only hope, for their sake, that I can get this damned back problem resolved one way or another before too much time has gone by.

Monday, October 03, 2005

L'Shanah Tovah

Just a quick note to let you all know that I am still here, if somewhat dazed and confused. A new year starts in a few minutes (well, a new year for some, at least), and I wish you all success and happiness. As for myself, the world is a bit of a jumble at the moment, but I know that things can only get better.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Canadian isn't all that counts...

INXS got it wrong, and that's all I have to say about that.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Thanks, folks.

Just a quick note to say thank-you to all of those who have responded to my previous posting (and not all of the responses were posted here). I feel a lot better about the direction I'm taking now. And believe me, given my history, it's a lot easier to fall into the "what the hell have I done" thinking pattern than the "future's so bright I gotta wear shades" one.

Everyone needs a certain amount of stress to function properly. Eu-stress, the psychologists call it. I didn't really understand, though, how far past that certain amount, how deeply into dys-stress (or distress), I had gone until it was lifted for a while. With your help, I feel that load lifting again.

That being said, I'd still rather do this with a more substantial portfolio of liquid assets. But when all is said and done, I'd rather live with a bit of uncertainty than have a biweekly paycheque and monthly heart attacks....

Thursday, September 15, 2005

It's quiet. Too quiet.

I know there hasn't been a whole lot going on here lately. Part of that has to do with the fact that I managed to take a week off of work a little while back. It was just a week, but it was a week of peace and quiet. The constant racket of downtown living was replaced by bird song, quiet conversation and the occasional dog bark. I didn't manage to get completely away from the computer or from development, but I was able to put the office aside and get some (well, only a little, really) of my personal work done. And for a few days, there, I actually felt something like healthy.

Then the week of peace ended, and it was time to go back to work. I really didn't understand what the job was doing to me until that first day back. I could feel my chest tightening, my stomach churning, the tension returning to every muscle in my body. My back made its presence known in no uncertain terms. That was all within an hour of returning to the office. Since then, my insomnia has returned. I knew right away that this job is killing me.

So to anyone that was expecting to see me at the 'sphere, I'm afraid I'll probably have to disappoint you. I may need the money to bridge the gap between jobs. I'm not exactly well-positioned for a strategic withdrawal from the working world, and I don't have anything firm lined up yet. Who knows? I may end up flipping burgers or something for a while.

All I know is that I can't stay where I am, locked permanently into R5, doing minimal-touch maintenance on some of the most horrifically poorly architected and designed applications I've ever seen. (There is no way anyone can convince me that four minutes to open a form is either normal or acceptable.) I don't like not being able to fix the fundamental problems because quarterly numbers take precedence over an overall ROI on a proper fix. I don't like being handed projects in mid-stream that have been approved with estimates that are off by an order of magnitude because the time allotted for estimation is insufficient, or where the specification has little or nothing to do with the actual requirements (something that is likely to turn up only in acceptance testing). I don't like nondeterministic development cycles, waiting for weeks or months to have high-priority stuff tested by stakeholders who are too busy already, while my deliverables slip and the slippage is recorded against my performance. I don't like doing an hour of paperwork for every hour of development effort (on my own time, thanks) that is likely to be rejected at some level because I didn't use the magic words. Most of all, I don't like being called a "consultant" when I'm actually just an interchangeable warm body in just another outsourcing centre, distinguishable from my Indian colleagues only by time zone (for which the client pays a small premium).

I'm good at what I do when I'm allowed to do what I'm good at. I've been known to put in 400-hour months to get the job done. I hope that when I put this job behind me I can use my powers for good. I have applications to release to beta and a book to finish, neither of which I've been able to do, what with my soul being sucked dry and all. I look forward to the day when I can solve somebody's real problems after finding out for myself what the problems were in the first place.

And I look forward to meeting some of you some day, if I can ever afford it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

How much of your youth can you still stomach?

Apparently, the game is this:

The instructions are: Go to, and do a search on the most popular 100 songs from the year you graduated high school. (You can do this by searching on the year you graduated). Bold the ones you actually like. (Understand that the word "like" in this case means, at the very least, "wouldn't immediately change the radio station from.") Pick a favorite. Underline that favorite. And Strikethru the ones you loathe. Italicize the ones you consider to be guilty pleasures.

Well, I never actually graduated High School. I was granted sufficient credits to graduate from the Catholic school I had been attending on a part-time, casual, not-enough-money-to-play-pool-today basis at the end of the 12th grade in 1978, but without merit and on the condition that I continue elsewhere. You see, in my day, and in the province of Ontario, there was still a year to go if you wanted to attend University. I took three maths and three sciences in grade 13, but dropped out of Chemistry with a month or so to go in the year due to irreconcilable differences with my teacher (who, by the way, taught my kid brother the same analysis technique I was failed for inventing some years later, so although my year remains incomplete, I feel somewhat vindicated). I would have graduated in '79, along with Ben and Gregg, though, so here's my list:

  1. My Sharona, The Knack
  2. Bad Girls, Donna Summer
  3. Le Freak, Chic
  4. Da Ya Think I'm Sexy, Rod Stewart
  5. Reunited, Peaches and Herb
  6. I Will Survive, Gloria Gaynor
  7. Hot Stuff, Donna Summer
  8. Y.M.C.A., Village People
  9. Ring My Bell, Anita Ward
  10. Sad Eyes, Robert John
  11. Too Much Heaven, Bee Gees
  12. MacArthur Park, Donna Summer
  13. When You're In Love With A Beautiful Woman, Dr. Hook
  14. Makin' It, David Naughton
  15. Fire, Pointer Sisters
  16. Tragedy, Bee Gees
  17. A Little More Love, Olivia Newton-John
  18. Heart Of Glass, Blondie
  19. What A Fool Believes, Doobie Brothers
  20. Good Times, Chic
  21. You Don't Bring Me Flowers, Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond
  22. Knock On Wood, Amii Stewart
  23. Stumblin' In, Suzi Quatro and Chris Norman
  24. Lead Me On, Maxine Nightingale
  25. Shake Your Body, Jacksons
  26. Don't Cry Out Loud, Melissa Manchester
  27. The Logical Song, Supertramp
  28. My Life, Billy Joel
  29. Just When I Needed You Most, Randy Vanwarmer
  30. You Can't Change That, Raydio
  31. Shake Your Groove Thing, Peaches and Herb
  32. I'll Never Love This Way Again, Dionne Warwick
  33. Love You Inside Out, Bee Gees
  34. I Want You To Want Me, Cheap Trick
  35. The Main Event (Fight), Barbra Streisand
  36. Mama Can't Buy You Love, Elton John
  37. I Was Made For Dancin', Leif Garrett
  38. After The Love Has Gone, Earth, Wind and Fire
  39. Heaven Knows, Donna Summer and Brooklyn Dreams
  40. The Gambler, Kenny Rogers
  41. Lotta Love, Nicolette Larson
  42. Lady, Little River Band
  43. Heaven Must Have Sent You, Bonnie Pointer
  44. Hold The Line, Toto
  45. He's The Greatest Dancer, Sister Sledge
  46. Sharing The Night Together, Dr. Hook
  47. She Believes In Me, Kenny Rogers
  48. In The Navy, Village People
  49. Music Box Dancer, Frank Mills
  50. The Devil Went Down To Georgia, Charlie Daniels Band
  51. Gold, John Stewart
  52. Goodnight Tonight, Wings
  53. We Are Family, Sister Sledge
  54. Rock 'N' Roll Fantasy, Bad Company
  55. Every 1's A Winner, Hot Chocolate
  56. Take Me Home, Cher
  57. Boogie Wonderland, Earth, Wind and Fire
  58. (Our Love) Don't Throw It All Away, Andy Gibb
  59. What You Won't Do For Love, Bobby Caldwell
  60. New York Groove, Ace Frehley
  61. Sultans Of Swing, Dire Straits
  62. I Want Your Love, Chic
  63. Chuck E's In Love, Rickie Lee Jones
  64. I Love The Night Life, Alicia Bridges
  65. Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now, McFadden and Whitehead
  66. Lonesome Loser, Little River Band
  67. Renegade, Styx
  68. Love Is The Answer, England Dan and John Ford Coley
  69. Got To Be Real, Cheryl Lynn
  70. Born To Be Alive, Patrick Hernandez
  71. Shine A Little Love, Electric Light Orchestra
  72. I Just Fall In Love Again, Anne Murray
  73. Shake It, Ian Matthews
  74. I Was Made For Lovin' You, Kiss
  75. I Just Wanna Stop, Gino Vannelli
  76. Disco Nights, G.Q.
  77. Ooh Baby Baby, Linda Ronstadt
  78. September, Earth, Wind and Fire
  79. Time Passages, Al Stewart
  80. Rise, Herb Alpert
  81. Don't Bring Me Down, Electric Light Orchestra
  82. Promises, Eric Clapton
  83. Get Used To It, Roger Voudouris
  84. How Much I Feel, Ambrosia
  85. Suspicions, Eddie Rabbitt
  86. You Take My Breath Away, Rex Smith
  87. How You Gonna See Me Now, Alice Cooper
  88. Double Vision, Foreigner
  89. Every Time I Think Of You, Babys
  90. I Got My Mind Made Up, Instant Funk
  91. Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough, Michael Jackson
  92. Bad Case Of Lovin' You, Robert Palmer
  93. Somewhere In The Night, Barry Manilow
  94. We've Got Tonite, Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band
  95. Dance The Night Away, Van Halen
  96. Dancing Shoes, Nigel Olsson
  97. The Boss, Diana Ross
  98. Sail On, Commodores
  99. I Do Love You, G.Q.
  100. Strange Way, Firefall

Not exactly a great year. Then again, some of these songs don't seem to belong at all. I'm pretty sure that "Pieces of Eight" was a very early '78 release — I distincly remember it blaring on the 8-track in a Pacer belonging to a friend at the aforementioned Catholic school — so "Renegade" shouldn't be there. "Parallel Lines" was a mid-'78 release, so "Heart Of Glass" should have come and gone before the new year. (Okay, it should have gone much sooner than that. I liked Blondie the punk band; that disco album was more than a little disappointing. And "Autoamerican" did nothing to make me feel better.) I have a feeling that the release and promotion schedule in Canada is/was significantly different than in the US; there are a lot of songs I remember from different years from my American friends, sometimes by quite a few years. "Sunshine On Lieth" was everywhere in Canada in '88; I hear it didn't get any non-college airplay in the 'States until after Benny And Joon was released.

I won't apologise for "Chuck E's In Love". Rickie Lee Jones' eponymous album is one of my all-time favorites and still gets heavy rotation in my listening list. Song 1, side 1, may not be the best song on the album, but it was the song that got me to listen to the rest.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Sorry about the Captcha* thing

Once upon a long time ago (that would be last week some time), it was easy to comment on this blog. Nary a bit of comment spam ever came my way. In the past week and a bit, I've had to delete several. While I haven't had nearly the problems that some folks have had, I thought I'd take advantage of a Blogger feature to try to nip this stuff in the bud.

A word of warning, though -- the Captcha* thing times out reltively quickly, so if you are entering a longish comment with typing skills that match my seventeen words per hour, you may have to resubmit your comment with a new Captcha value.

Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart. You know, those squiggly alphanumeric pictures you have to "copy" into a text field. So far this year, people can usually extract the characters from the picture in a reasonable amount of time and computers usually take to long. I give it until about mid-February (around my birthday, more or less) before spambots grow a good-enough OCR facility to make the whole thing worthless.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Leven Schtein all over the place....

Okay. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you have to import a whole whack of data into a new application. Those data have been maintained, yea, verily, passed down from generation to generation, on a series of clay tablets. Well, they might as well have been, anyway.

You see, just as your brand-spanking-new application has finished all of the various tire-kicking, surprise "requirements" miraculously extrapolated from the font face used in the original request document, haggling over the UI and so forth intact and approved, you are handed the old "system" for import. A finer collection of Excel spreadsheets there never was. Each subtly different from all of the others. Oh, they all contain the same set of values, but the columns are in different orders on every sheet, and even from sheet to sheet within the same workbook, the column headers are slightly different. There is nothing really jarring about the differences. Any idiot could look at the sheets and understand what was there.

Your average computer doesn't quite make it up to the level of idiot, though, does it? When I saw that the columns were out of order, I thought it would be easy to simply look at the header row and do some field mapping there. Then when I started to spot exceptions —abbreviations used in one place, full spellings elsewhere, plurals used at random, and so forth — I thought I could code for the oddballs. When I saw that they were all oddballs in one way or another, I had to rethink things. I could edit all of the spreadsheets, but could I be sure that I'd get them all, and get them all right? Manually entering the data was an even sillier idea, since it would be months before everything was entered, and the data are constantly changing. There would be duplicates everywhere, and we'd never be able to whittle it down to a single, correct set of data.

So I needed a programmatic solution, and I needed one that could tell whether the value it was reading was "close enough" to any one of the list of canonical labels I had assembled.

Enter Levenschtein.

Have you ever played Word Morph? You know, the game where you try to get from one word to another by changing only one letter at a time? The Levenschtein Distance, or Edit Distance, uses the same sort of system to determine the difference between two strings. How many leters need to be changed, added or removed to get from one word or phrase to another? There are a lot of implementations out there on the web already, so there wouldn't be a whole lot of benefit posting the code I used. Google, as ever, is your bestest friend.

Data import is probably not the best use of Levenschtein. It's something you'd normally see in a search, returning results that are close but not quite what the user entered, or in a "did you mean ..." suggestion. In this case, though, I could count on the fact that the variations on a theme were closer to one another than they were to any of the other headings.

Now that I know it works, though, I have to go back and take a look at that PNL query code I was talking about earlier.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Slowly getting there

The Utility Server applications suite is very near completion. It was getting a bit late in the Domino 6 life cycle, so I took a bit of extra time to make sure it would work with whatever Domino 7 configurations happened to be in place as well. It's going a bit more slowly than I'd like, both because of the back problem situation and because, well, this is an evenings and weekends thing, what with my employer expecting that their work would take priority in the office and all.

The suite is pretty much what you'd expect, I suppose — an enterprise scheduler based largely on the Open WebCalendar code you've already seen, a CRM, a CMS, a project management application, a "website in a box", a help desk/bug tracker, and a portal. All can be used standalone or as components of an integrated application. (Okay, the portal all by itself with nothing to run in it is pretty much useless, I'll admit.) What I hope will set the suite apart from the others out there is the bang for the buck factor. I expect to price it so that it's a reasonable fit as a purchase plus optional maintenance with a Utility Express turnkey (about the price of a "professional" productivity suite) or as a rental with a low-end hosted Domino solution. Either way, the BP/ISP gets his/her/its cut as well. Target audiences would include small businesses and NGOs. (I figure the ability to create an adaptive project-oriented schedule in a volunteer-driven organisation would be a good selling point.)

I've tried to make the applications as close to best-of-breed as possible, but I'm approaching the game from a developer's point of view rather than the end-users'. I'll be needing a smallish number of pre-release testers who can make a legally-binding promise not to sell the applications as their own or release them as free apps. Drop me a line if you're interested.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Yeah. I know.

Yes, it's been way too long again. Funny, but every time I find a little something to get enthusiastic about, something else will come along to let the air out of the tires.

For the past two weeks or so, I've been running on medication and willpower. Not recreational medication (although some of what I've been taking could be recreational under different circumstances), but muscle relaxants and pain killers to help me deal with what's left of my back. It's been getting a lot worse lately. I've had my lucid moments, but drug sleep is not real sleep, and even though I'm not catching any sort of a buzz from what I'm taking, I've found it incredibly difficult to maintain any sort of concentration. And yeah, I've been a little cranky (the verity of which Mika Heinonen would no doubt gladly confirm); the pain is diminished somewhat, but I'm still spending my days close to tears.

<aside>I've always thought it was a bit unfair that all one gets from a painkiller is a painkiller when there's pain to kill. I mean, I have a good reason (not excuse) to take this stuff, a license if you will, and none of it does what it did when I didn't actually need it. It may have been twenty years, but there's still a little someone in the back of my head that would just as soon be high if he thought he could get away with it.</aside>

I have no idea where things go from here. I mean, I'm losing the ability to keep the big picture in mind when I'm working on details. In another line of work, that wouldn't be a problem, really. But when you get to a point where you can only reference the class, function, sub or even the short loop that you're currently coding without the ability to remember so much as the inputs and expected outputs for as long as it takes you to write the comments/pseudocode that would be your guide, it becomes something of a liability to a developer. I can answer people's questions on LDD only because the problems usually have a simple, short solution. Memory IO is minimal, and the whole transaction fits in a single packet.

I'm currently working on a pseudo-natural-language query/reporting tool for Notes. The aim was to allow a user to perform complex ad hoc queries and create scheduled reports without further developer intervention. The user selects the document types they want to see, the fields they want in the order they want them, sets formatting preferences for the various data types, defines conditions for the query (including data relations), sets a display type (flat, categorised, paged) and a sort order on one or more values that may or may not be included in the output. When I designed it, the whole thing was pretty clear, and I've got the UML and pseudocode to prove it. Even with everything done up front, I'm having a hell of a time trying to create working code. And no, the code is not terribly difficult. Like most dev efforts, it's the "big picture" that's the hard part; translating a working mental model to running code should be a matter of getting the data types and syntax right. Right?

You'd think. But I can't remember things like the well-chosen, clear variable names I've used once the declaration has scrolled out of the Programmer's Pane. (Oh, and globals, when necessary, are a real pain in the posterior. I don't mind the "Variable not delared" message, but I'd really like a "did you mean rawComparatorString?" suggestion to go along with it these days.) I'll forget what the clause I'm trying to parse looks like in the time it takes me to move my eyes from the notepad on my desk to the screen.

Needless to say, my productivity is way, way down, and so is my sticktoitiveness. The frustration level is pretty much overwhelming at times. I'm almost ready to go back to shining shoes, or at least I would be if I couldn't remember what that did to my back. I'm even having trouble genericising some truly simple but kewl stuff to throw into the CodeBin. It truly sucks when you look at a 200-character formula and all you can think is "Kevorkian would know what to do".

Well, that's enough bitching for one day. Sorry.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Goin' Commercial

The astute among you may notice that this blog has grown to include Google AdSense ads. I figure I should be able to take in an extra thirty-seven to forty-three cents a month, depending on the hotness of the topics. If I do that every month for the next eighty-two years, and the Canadian dollar continues at its cuurent high value, I will just about be able to afford two IBM certification exams. Yay!

The real problem now is going to be carefully crafting my postings so that hugely attractive product groups are displayed. So far, my name is putting up "Free Music Downloads". I hope the good people at Fogarty's Cove Music don't get too upset about that. And I certainly don't want to take money away from either Garnet (Stan's younger brother, sidekick, and darned fine folkie in his own right) or Nathan (Stan's son, whose own music has a slightly edgier, party quality to it). Oh, and please don't download Judas Priest, eh?

I figure the market for Domino add-ins is going to be pretty limited, so I probably shouldn't have written this sentence.

Do you sense an experiment in progress?

Monday, July 11, 2005

Index of Reflection

I made it. Today I hit a milestone in life that very few people will ever know. Unless I do something really screwed up between the time I hit the publish button and the time I go to bed, I will have accumulated seven thousand three hundred and five days of sobriety. (Don't let the date heading fool you, this is a just a bit of a late night.) That's exactly twenty years. Happy birthday to me.

Well, except that I'm not celebrating. I can't help marking the passage of time. I have lived twenty years and more beyond the times I should by all rights have died. You'd think that there would be an accomplishment worthy of celebration. To tell the truth, I had always sort of pictured doing this at an AA or NA meeting, surrounded both by the people who helped me to get here and those who hope against their experience to make it this far themselves.

That isn't going to happen. I have to thank AA and NA for bringing me into sobriety and for letting me know the things I have to do to stay sober and alive. I thank the members of those fellowships for telling me my story in their words and giving me hope. For most of the first eight years of my sobriety, I attended meetings at least daily, often twice in the evenings and three or more times on Saturday and Sunday. Meetings became the whole of my life, much the way that the things that qualified me for membership once had been. The Twelve Steps have been good for me (and I still live my life by them), but the meetings have not. I still go to the odd one to recharge my batteries, as it were, but I don't have a home group, so there is no party.

If I am completely honest, though, I know that I have remained sober out of fear. Most of the time I don't drink or do drugs simply because it is no longer my habit to do so. After the first few months of struggling, the patterns of living that inevitably led to a binge were broken. A "slip" would not have been an accident any time after my first cake and medallion.

There have been times, too (and rather a lot of them, when I think about it) that I wanted to erase the world. It isn't so much that I want to drink or get high for the party. It's more of a suicide thing, but just a temporary version of it. Not wanting to die altogether, but not particularly wanting to live through a particular moment either. That kind of thinking is obviously insane, so it's not as hard as you might think to talk oneself out of that line of thinking. I don't want to make it sound easy -- it's just not impossible to see where your mind is trying to take you as long as you are paying attention.

No, the real killer for most folks in recovery for any extended period is the insidious belief that if one has been able to stay on the wagon this long, then maybe there's a chance that one was never actually addicted. Yeah, that's the ticket. I was young and irresponsible and just overdid it a bit. I'm more mature and responsible now. I can have a beer or two with the boys and that'll be the end of it, right? Not this kid. During my bad phase, I was on the wagon nearly as much as I was drunk or drugged. Never could find that moderation thing people were talking about. Still can't. For me, nothing succeeds like excess. So, yeah, I'm scared to death of that first crisp, frosty pint of an India Pale Ale, the creamy delight of a gorgeous Ontario ice wine or the peat-and-honey nose of a dram of 40-year-old Laphroaig. As much as I can taste them just writing about them, I know that the first will just be the first of many too many. And when I'm too stupid to know it, I'm still afraid that it might be true.

Staying sober for twenty years has been the easy part. Living through some of those same years has been much tougher.

To steal a turn of phrase from Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I have learned what it is to love with all my heart and soul, and I have learned what it is to have both heart and soul torn to shreds by the loss of that love. I have been there to see the spark of hope and life lit in the eyes of the hopeless and dying, and I have seen too many people with infinite promise ahead of them lose hope and kill themselves. I have had the resources to help the less fortunate around me live a slightly less desperate life, I have had nothing and found no-one there to help me.

There have been times I've asked myself if it's really been worth it. When you're living on borrowed time, sometimes the interest rate seems a bit high. To those I've known for whom the answer was no, I remember you with love, and I hope you have found your peace. I'm still looking for mine.

I'm hoping that much of what I have been feeling over the past few weeks has been the build-up to today. I've been spending far too much of my time gazing at my belly button lately. Perhaps, with this out of the way, I can find a little motivation to get on with my life rather than contemplating what might have been had I lived the last twenty years a little differently.

Tomorrow never knows.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The MIT Weblog Survey

Lately I've seen quite a number of blogs featuring a geeky logo from MIT. This ticks me off to no end. Seems just anyone can wander on over, register and participate, then throw a symbol of geek coolitude on their blog.

Well, you wanna know something? I was invited to take the survey a couple-three weeks ago, and there was no glory, no badges, and no souvenirs for this cat.

Why, oh why, does the world treat me this way?

Now, what I want all of you bloggers out there to do is to wander over to the survey site, get your key, take the survey and post the damned graphics. Maybe if I'm the only one not sporting the "brand" I can feel special again.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Oh, yeah. Blogroll. Right.

Sorry about the linkless sidebar, folks. It goes with the template here at Blogger, and since my preferred template didn't quite work out as planned, I kinda missed the links when I threw this together. It's still not quite done (my bookmarks on this machine don't cover evertything I read), so if you're missing, please be patient. Or hand me in effigy on your own blog. Whatever.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Penn Gillette had Uma Thurman ...

Another small confession. Among my multiple personalities is an old-fashioned square. You know, a guy who would have been just as happy if rock and roll had never happened. Someone who likes show tunes and jazz-era pop.

A couple of months back, I caught a music video on Bravo. Or, rather, I was caught by the sound of an old Gershwin tune being sung by someone with a gorgeous voice, and wandered over by the television to catch the tune. "Someone to Watch Over Me" was a little slower than I'd have played it, but certainly engaging.

"Too engaging," I thought when I saw who was doing the singing. A young redhead, alone with a microphone in a large studio setting, looking far too seductive for her obvious youth and singing with a voice that did little to lessen the seduction. Trust me, to someone who looks like me, the line "he may not be the man some girls think of as handsome, but to my heart he carries the key", delivered in a particular way, can evoke some pretty deep feelings, and I was rather taken aback by the disjoint between what I was hearing and feeling and what I was seeing. As the video went on and the camera angles changed, I thought she looked a little like a kid I'd spotted on a sitcom once, but that would have been impossible -- the girl I was thinking of was barely into her teens.

As it turns out, it wasn't impossible. Renee Olstead is both the difficult teevee daughter and the gorgeous voice. If you haven't heard her, go to the site and give a listen. In what I think is an absolutely amazing touch, her entire album will play at a pretty decent quality in Flash.

I don't agree with the treatment in all of the songs. The duet in "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" was a mistake from my perspective, and the break in "Sentimental Journey" could have used a little more restraint, but there is no doubt that this kid has a substantial and subtle voice. It's a mightily refreshing change from the canned "music" one usually hears from child stars who feel entitled to a recording career. No partial nudity or sexually suggestive choreography is required to make the listener hear that the girl has more than a little talent.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Found problems....

While yesterday's short-lived stylesheet looked okay, there was a wee problem that needs fixin'. For reasons unknown, the Add Comment link wasn't being displayed. (Adding the style inline to a saved version of the HTML source worked, but I couldn't find the magic class/hierarchy to make it work right away.) For that reason, I've reverted to one of the standard templates for the day. Sorry about the blogroll, etc. — they'll be back tonight.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Connected at last....

Hard as it may be to believe, this is the first time I've actually been connected to the internet from home since VERONICA was the bleeding edge. Well, there was that anonymous neighbor with the unsecured WAP a couple of years ago, but it wasn't actually my account. That, folks, means nothing less than that a major corporation has seen fit to make me a BILLABLE CUSTOMER. Can it be long before I'm allowed to engage in general commerce without a chaperone?

I feel so grown up....

Oh, and if you've got a problem with the new stylesheet, please let me know. I just got really, really tired of the template look. I had something truly kewl going on, but there's one stylesheet for both the main blog and the comments, and the overlapping classes don't quite get along. (The original version of this style had a paper-on-desktop "container", but the single-post-plus-comments version of the page wouldn't allow the footer to work properly. Bummer. It was real key-oot.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Where's the Earth-shattering kaboom?

I'm tired. Damned tired.

Like a lot of people working in a corporate environment with a mature Notes infrastructure (or, I suppose, a mature infrastructure on any platform) I spend the vast majority of my time fixing things. Not REALLY fixing, though -- no, that would involve creating an internally-billable "project" -- just putting bubblegum patches on the most obviously broken bits. That and changing keyword field values, which is something that really ought to be an end-user activity. My working life is ... well, let's just say "less than satisfying" and leave it at that, shall we?

A little while back I mentioned that what I really want to do is teach other people the things I've learned (and that I continue to learn), and give them the skills they'll need to tackle the hard problems on their own. Unfortunately, I don't have the means right now to put myself backinto the classroom, not am I likely to acquire those means working where I am right now. That means I need to make a couple of changes to the way I've been living my life.

First, I've got to become a little bit more, um, mercenary. For just about as long as I've been involved in the Domino community, I've put nearly as much effort into helping other developers as I've put into doing my own work. Besides my obvious presence in the LDD fora, there have been piles of emails, and several people have taken to telephoning me for answers. I can't do that anymore. In a perfect world, if making a living weren't an issue, I could afford to indulge my altruism, but this isn't a perfect world.

That isn't to say that I'm going to disappear altogether. If anything, I want to increase my visibility. The big change is that I'll be considering what's in it for me. We're talking about ruthless self-marketing here. Which bring us to the question, "marketing what, exactly?"

Well, I've got a few projects that have been cooking for a while, and several of them are at the "reducing the sauce" stage. Among these are a series of templates aimed squarely at the Domino Utility Server Express, which I plan to offer and support as low-cost shrinkwrapped products (well, electronically shrinkwrapped, et least). Not that I'd turn away larger customers or anything (unless they're already customers of my employer, in which case I'd be contractually obliged to say no for the moment). These represent some of the most sophisticated work I have ever done on the platform, but at the same time they have been projects I've had to take on for the sake of the challenge alone. I've never been able to sell them internally, and I can blame that on over-compartmentalized budgets. (The same problem I've had trying to sell Ben's Midas solutions. Everybody wants the capabilities, but nobody wants to be the sponsor that ends up paying for it.) By distributing the cost of developing and maintaining these applications over a broader customer base, I hope to be able to move Utility Express into areas that have so far been the province of expensive dedicated client-server solutions (like Microsoft Project Professional/Project Server) and more expensive custom development at costs that will make Domino a first choice on a tight budget.

Then there's the book. I've found myself answering the same questions over and over again over the years, and I've come to the conclusion that there are a lot of people out there who just don't get it. And "getting it" is the hardest part of Domino development. People know what they want to do with Domino, they just don't know how to translate that into forms, views, agents and resources. I know as well as you do that there are a boatload of excellent resources out there to learn from if you're willing to take the time to learn. I also know, from the email "consultancy", that there are a lot of good web developers and designers who have come to Domino from other platforms and really don't have the time to accomodate a steep learning curve before producing results. By the same token, there are a goodly number of excellent Notes developers who don't really know where to start when they have to bring their applications to the web. I hope to change all of that.

Now, getting all of this going has been a bit of a challenge. Not so much the writing or the development (although they've had their own problems), but the business aspect. That comes as a consequence of the various financial triels and travails I've told you about before. Once I've got the eyes dotted and the tees crossed, I'll start introducing things here. For the benefit of the community, I'll be going over some of the technical problems I've faced and the ways I've gotten around them. And I'll be excerpting bits of the book as well.

I hope that the three of you still trying to read this will join me on my new adventure.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Watch this space

A change is gonna come.

I know I've been, well, frugal with my postings for a while. Frankly, I've been putting my energies elsewhere. Some of that will be spilling over into this domain shortly, though, and it just may happen that this could become the place where the cool geeks hang out again....

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Up Where We Belong

Yesterday's entry seems to have awakened a few things in me again. Like, f'rinstance, the feeling that no matter how good I may seem to be at this programming game, or at math, electronics, and so forth, I'll never be more than a grunt. That is, I can do the job and do it well, but I'll never be counted in the ranks of people who go beyond mere competence. Yeah, I've had a few good ideas, but this game is all about creativity and exploration. Or at least it should be.

There is one thing, though, that I'm more than just good at, and that's teaching. It wasn't something I went into on purpose. I was an avionics technician in the Canadian Forces (they used to be Armed, but that sounds a little bit too aggressive for Canadian tastes — I'm sure they'd get rid of the "Force" part if they could find another word) when the decision was made to close the small base I was posted to. (It's entirely coincidental, I'm sure, that both Rocky and I were doing pretty much the same job at the same time.) There was an opening at the Canadian Forces School of Communications and Electronics for an instructor in the basic electronics stream, so that's where I was sent. My contribution to the decision was the fact that I couldn't come up with a reasonable objection to the order.

As a student, I never had much use for the classroom, and in the few classes I sat in on before being loosed on my first group of students, I quickly realised why. The guys I watched hit every teaching point in the lesson plan, all right, and I could even tell what the really important points were — they read the lesson plan a little more loudly at those points. Okay, there was more going on than reading from the lesson plan, but not much more. I was determined to do better.

You've probably heard it said that those who can, do, and those that can't, teach. That may be true to a great extent, but it absolutely not the way it should be. If students are to understand what is being taught, most need to be able to relate the new information to concepts thay already have in hand. Understanding is object-oriented; new concepts ought to extend the old. The challenge in teaching is determining the "base class" upon which one's students can build, and since every student comes into the class with a unique set of interests and experiences, an off-the-shelf analogy will rarely be as effective as one would like. A good teacher, then, needs to be at least somewhat connected to the world the students inhabit, must be willing to engage his or her students at a level that makes it possible to see where working analogies can be drawn from, and needs to know enough about the subject matter to create relationships between what the students know and what they need to learn. To a young private who has been assigned archery as a compulsory hobby while in training (welcome to the military, kid), a strung longbow is a perfect model for explaining FM radio spectrum signatures. A good teacher of FM theory should know that, and know why — and should know why somebody who has never drawn a bowstring wouldn't get it.

I've done a lot of things for a living over the years, from sweeping streets, shining shoes and flipping hamburgers to playing jazz saxophone, from graphic design to programming computers. All of those have been the answer to the question, "what do you do?" There has only ever been one occupation in my life that answers, "what are you?" I am a teacher. It's what I do best. It's what I enjoy most.

Now I have to figure out how to get back into the classroom.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Girls & Math & Stuff

As is her customary practice, our Jess has provoked me so severely as to make me blog. Okay, let's get it all out in the open -- she is the only reason I started this silly site. There's only so much prodding a fellow can take.

Anyway, the subject of today's discussion is, "Do girls suck at math genetically, or have they learned to be stupid?" (At this point, I duck and cover, waiting for the slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune -- who is also a girl, if you believe your mythology -- to stop flying overhead.)

Frankly, I think it's about time that someone had the intestinal fortitude to propose the question, and I'm sorry to see Dr. Summers attacked the way he has been for merely offering the idea for exploration. You'd think that by now somebody would have noticed that people are not interchangeable, that gender (I hate that term -- words have genders, people have sexes, but politically correct is the order of the day, what?) equality does not necessarily mean that there are not differences between men and women or between boys and girls. As long as we pretend that there are no differences, there can never be true equality.

I approach this particular issue wearing a couple of hats. On the one hand, I have gone through life with a bit of an aptitude, one might say, for matters mathematical (I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical, about Binomial Theorem I am teeming with a lot of news --with many cheerful facts about the square of the hypoteneuse). Like most of the people I have met who have my talent, I learned mathematics as highly abstracted concepts, to which I could usually attach practical uses by intuition as much as anything else. I didn't learn maths by practical application, I learned by symbology, and the practical application was something I did with the knowledge I had. When one progresses beyond mere arithmetic in school, that is pretty much the way mathematics is taught.

On the other hand, though, I have been a teacher of mathematics, and I know that many students do not learn that way. Many will spend what I consider far too much time learning to manipulate the symbols, a task that does not come naturally to them, gradually working themselves to the point that they can do symbolic calculations well enough to get most of them right on a test. Yet, after all of that work, those symbols have no real meaning. These people tend to complain of an inability to do "word problems", and wonder why their marks should be based on something that bears so little relationship to the concepts they broke their heads learning. Well, those unfair word problems are what math is all about, boys and girls.

On the gripping hand, I eventually became a teacher who found that if you take the time to teach from the practical to the abstract instead of the other way around, a whole bunch more people start to grok the math. And, frankly, the girls in the class tend not to be quite so stupid when you teach that way. Yes, "learning styles" lie on a continuum, but I have found that more women than men need to know what the problem they are trying to solve is before they can deal with the symbology. And the guys don't suffer at all from the treatment -- only a slightly larger fraction of males than females appear to learn well in the abstract space alone. When you strip away all of the people of both sexes who haven't learned well enough and aren't motivated by a desire to learn more of the same in the same way, that slightly larger fraction can account for the disproportionate number of men going into physics, engineering and mathematics even though more women are progressing to higher education as a whole.

But what about sensitivity? Girls aren't dumb, they're just treated as if they are. Right? Sorry, Charlie. You can be as sensitive, caring and understanding as you want to be, you can spend more time being encouraging than teaching the material, but if what you are teaching has no meaning to your students, they still aren't going to learn as well as they should. Most teachers who know enough about mathematics to be effective teachers of the subject learned abstractly, and truly can't fathom that other people don't learn that way. Most don't mean to intimidate -- they have taught as well as they know how to, and those students who can't understand that way do seem hopelessly lacking.

How about the idea that women should teach girls in order to take "gender bias" out of the equation? You know, that might work -- if the women teaching are sensitive to the REAL issue. Taking fear out of the classroom is a great idea, but fear won't go far if the material is taught in a way that doesn't breed understanding. And let's face it, there will be two kinds of women teaching -- some who learned easily from abstract symbols, and who will therefore expect that anyone else should be able to learn the same way once the evil condescending men are removed, and those who didn't learn well enough from the abstract concepts and who can't explain the practicalities. The first group will be no less oppressive than men who learned the same way, and the second group, well-meaning as they might be, are not qualified to teach real mathematics, no matter how hard they have worked to pass a few tests.

I am certain that this is a fair description of the problem and the solution. I may be flattering myself, but I'm pretty sure I can teach anyone of average intelligence most of the math I've ever understood -- but you know I'm just one teacher who has had some limited success with a relatively small number of students. Unless and until the problem is properly studied with a large enough number of students, male and female, of varying social backgrounds, we'll never know for sure. As long as people mistake equality for sameness (even in math, things can be equal without being congruent, and congruent without being identical) and let defensiveness get in the way of reason, we'll never have the opportunity to find out for sure.

And you know what? If it turns out I'm right, not only will the girls get smarter, a lot of the sweat hogs in shop class will get a lot smarter too. As much as we need tradespeople in this world, the old "menial" trades involve a lot more than a good set of hands these days. So, if I am right in my analysis, and the necessary corrections are made, then maybe it's a good thing that girls today are "stupid".

Friday, February 04, 2005

Something good for a change

If there's anyone reading this who doesn't also read Nathan Freeman's blog, I'd like to point you to a project he has begun that sounds like it could be one of the most important things ever done on our pet platform. This isn't about business processes. It isn't about greasing the wheels of the world's economy. It isn't even about entertaining web sites. Our Nathan has taken it upon himself to build a system that should make sense of the AIDS/HIV pandemic in Africa.

I know that there are a few of you who may be quick to raise objections to this plan. You may think that data tracking for epidemiology sounds like something that might be much better suited to a relational database system. You may be right. You may also be thinking that way because you are used to living in a part of the world that has reliable electricity and telecommunications. Welcome to the real world. There are a lot more people living in places where that is not true than most of us can imagine.

Notes and Domino brings things to the table that can get around those problems. Things that we take for granted, like replication and rock-solid security that doesn't depend on a central, connected authority. The ability to collect and review data despite outages or, in many cases, lack of coverage, is at least as big a part of the requirement as are the nature of the data collected and the way those data are arranged. Yep, Notes is the worst platform for an application like this -- except for all of the other ones.

That being said, if you are an actual Notes guru, if you are in Africa or are portable enough to be in Africa when needed, this project may need your help, and it will be important enough to deserve it. Can't be there? You can still have ideas bounced off of you, and may be able to contribute simply by seeing things that others miss. Head over to Nathan's place and let him know who and where you are.

It's been a long, long, long time....

According to the mail I've been getting lately, it seems that having a blog brings with it the responsibility to blog. That's not quite as easy as it seems. I react to the world around me, of course, but I react in ways that aren't always appealing.

Take the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, for instance. I had an entry keyed up that denied the Holocaust. Not, as some may imagine, that I believe for a single second that the murder of millions did not happen, or that there was not a definite and deliberate attempt to remove entire peoples from the face of the earth. I merely meant to point out that a Holocaust is a burnt offering, a sacrifice, and that no God worthy of the name would accept such a sacrifice. Specifically, the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob (baruch ha-Shem) has gone on public record telling believers in Him that human sacrifice is repugnant to Him. What happened was no sacrifice. There was nothing holy about it.

We need a new word for what happened at Auschwitz/Birkenau, at Dachau, at Treblinka, at Babi Yar, and at so many nameless places throughout Europe. We need a word that doesn't sugar-coat what happened; a word that includes not only the Jews, but the Roma and the Poles. A word that politicians can't pussyfoot around, as they have done so often with "genocide". Something so clear, so obvious, that no-one ever has to teach their children what it means. Something so immediate that no-one can ever avoid using it when it happens. Something that might have stopped Rwanda. Something that may yet help in Darfur.

It was a clever bit of writing, but I had to suck it back in, especially when I considered that people reading this might not read all the way through. I don't mind people thinking I'm a weirdo. I don't mind them thinking I'm an asshole. I DO mind them thinking I'm some kind of Nazi, and I DO care that others may take a few words out of context and cause pain I can't begin to imagine.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Some background, again

A couple of days back, I mentioned the concept of tikkun ha-olam and included a link to I suppose a few of you found yourselves asking, "what's a nice goy like you doing in a place like this?"

Like a lot of recovering addicts/alcoholics, I became sober with a lot of help from some well-known twelve step programs. The public face of these programs is meetings, the concept of sponshorship, and mutual support, but those are merely the outward mechanics of the program. In fact, only one of the twelve steps has anything at all to do with the concept of mutual aid. The rest deal with the healing of the self, with finding a purpose and with spirituality in general. The origins of the program are deeply rooted in a previous Christian ministry (the Oxford Groups), but the program as it has existed since its earliest days in Akron, Ohio and Montreal had tended to be non-denominational, with "God" as an abstract concept to be discovered by the individual.

Again, like a lot of people, I found myself rootless when confronted with the concept of God (or any Higher Power). I had been deeply involved in the Anglican church as a boy, but I had outgrown that. Or so I thought. I knew that there was something out there bigger than me, but I could no longer give a picture-book answer if you asked me what it was. I embarked on a bit of a spiritual quest.

I took a long look at the Eastern religions/philosophies, mostly because I had lingering memories of life-change stories from the late sixties and early seventies. Frankly, I didn't find enough "there" there to satisfy my hunger. Western secular philosophy left me with the same emptiness, although I did find some jewels in the works of Carl Jung and Soren Kirkegaard. Eventually, I decided to re-examine my childhood confession, resolving to throw away any of the "received truths" that might slant my reading and taking the writings that existed at face value, listening for my own truths.

One of the first things I noticed was that this Jesus guy and his followers were Jews. Funny, they don't dwell on that aspect much in the Anglican church, but it is one of the big, obvious bits that one just can't get around. It also appeared that what these guys were teaching was not particularly new, but had been hanging around Judaism for some time (if that were not so, then the debates with the Sadducees and Pharisees would not have been so easily won). That meant that if I wanted to understand real Christianity, I first had to understand Judaism -- and all I knew to that point was what I'd been able to glean from comics like Jackie Mason and Alan Sherman thanks to the Ed Sullivan show. Not exactly the basis for a complex belief system.

I purchased pretty much the entire Judaica sections of the local bookshops, and read everything from the Steinsaltz Talmud (or, rather, what there was of it at the time in English, which wasn't much and wasn't particularly revealing), through Maimonides and the stories of the early Hassidim (particularly, Levi Yitzak of Berdechev), from the Zohar to the more modern writings of Martin Buber and Elie Wiesel. It didn't take long to discover two things: one, that Judaism is far from monolithic; and two, that, while "Shema Yisroel" is central, it is meaningless without social responsibility.

Around that time, I happened to find myself in a better-than-average newsstand. The sort that carries several dozen magazine titles devoted to any weirdo hobby you may have. I can't recall which magazine I went in there for, but I spotted a magazine among the news commentaries with a familiar title, one I had seen in my recent readings. I picked up my first copy of Tikkun in January of 1990, and I read The Truth. I've been reading it ever since.

That's not to say that I agree with everything that is printed in Tikkun. Far from it, really, but just about everything in it is the basis for discovering some aspect of who I am, what my purpose as a human being is, and how I believe the world should be. And, in case you were wondering, you don't have to be Jewish to read it -- or to write for it, for that matter. You may or may not agree with what's said. Some of the articles and editorials may even anger you. It isn't brain candy. It will make you think long and hard about who and what you are, and of how you connect to the world around you. That makes it one of the few truly worthwhile reads out there.

Give it up -- Stop!!!

Well, we've reached somethng of a breaking point here. As much as I'd like to continue posting code on this site, I've become more than a little fed up with trying to do it through Blogger. I suppose this system works well enough if all you want to do is post meaningless text (and by that I mean text lacking anything like proper semantic markup), but there's too much futzing around trying to make the HTML I write come out properly on the other end. There's also a little less reliability here than I'd like -- if I have to make five or six attempts to post in order to get the HTML right and the "creation area" is unreachable (as it often is), then there's just too much pain for too little gain.

I will continue to post personal entries, but until I can move this blog to a more suitable environment (like, say, Domino), there will be nothing more than the occasional snippet posted here. You may take both "occasional" and "snippet" to the extreme -- I plan to post "@", "import" or "Dim" only, and then only once or twice a year.

In the meantime, I am continuing to build my Domino-based blog, including articles, working examples, downloads and pictures. When I finally have access to a publicly-accessible Domino server, you'll be able to see what this place was supposed to look like in the first place. Oh, and I just may have to take Duffbert up on the ePro article thing just to satisfy my show-off urges for a while.