Books RDF Writing

A kinder, gentler Slashdot…and friends

Today Practical RDF was reviewed at Slashdot, a fact I found out when some kind souls warned me of the fact so that I might prepare for the hordes marching in. However, Slashdot book reviews usually don’t generate the server stress that other Slashdot articles can, and the server was able to handle the additional load with ease. This now makes the second time I’ve been slashdotted and lived to tell the tale. Thirds the charm, they say.

It was a nice review, and I appreciated the notice and the kind words. In fact, I’ve had very positive reviews across the board for the book, which is very gratifying for me and for Simon St. Laurent, the lead editor. I’ll probably earn ten cents for every hour I spent on the book, but at least I can feel satisfaction that it’s helping folks and the writing is respected and seen as a quality effort. That’s pretty damn important for a writer – worth more than bucks.

Well, bucks are nice, too.

Speaking of Simon and the book, I was reminded that I owe some articles on RDF and Poetry, and a view of RDF from inside the XML clan, and a few other odds and ends. Hopefully this nice little push will energize me again and I can get these written. It’s been a while since I’ve delighted in the act of writing.

I also wanted to thank the folks for the thoughtful comments in the Tin Can Blues posting. I must also admit I lied in the posting – horrors! – but the lie was unintentional. I forgot that when I worked at Express Scripts earlier this summer that one of the people I worked with started weblogging just as I was leaving. I still remember the shock I received coming around a corner and seeing him read my weblog. As to the question whether your writing changes when you meet those who read it, I remember that for two weeks after that incident, I focused almost exclusively on photography and technology.

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer to the issue of meeting webloggers in the flesh. I think it really is up to the person, and the opportunities, as many of you noted. For myself, several St. Louis webloggers and others passing through the community have invited me to events, cook outs, coffee, and beers, and all of the people are terrific folks, and I know would be a real treat in person. But it’s not easy for me to mix my worlds.

Ultimately for all the chatter I’ve indulged in online, I have become somewhat of a reclusive person; uncomfortable with larger gatherings (i.e. more than three people), quiet at any events other that professional ones. I love to speak at conferences, but I find corners to inhabit when I’m finished. This person in this weblog – assertive, outgoing, and anything but shy – is the real me; but so is the physical person who runs from parties and get togethers, and I just don’t know how to reconcile the two.

I do know that my not meeting people in the flesh doesn’t diminish my genuine affection for the people I’ve met and come to admire, respect, and like through this virtual medium, and maybe that’s all that matters.

(Po-ll-y-a-nn-a!! This sounds good, but I don’t think it’s that simple. I can see a time when friends met online but never in person become less tangible than the ones whom we’ve pressed the flesh with, in one way or another. Our presence will begin to thin as it stretches to meet always and continuously across the void; touching through the mists, our essence flows around the shadows cast by the real, becoming increasingly transparent – true ghosts in the machine.

Or maybe I’m just tired. And maudlin. Time for new topics…)

Speaking of people I’ve not pressed flesh with, Liz writes about Google search hits, mentioning the phrases she now ‘owns’, such as “introvert extrovert”. I checked my stats and find that I own or partially own several phrases including ‘parable’ (number two), Shelley (number one), and ‘love sentences’ (number two).

I thought it was funny that DorotheaLiz, and I have part ownership of the word ‘frustration’ – Dorothea at sixth, me at eight, and Liz at ninth. See what all of you guys are doing to us?

The most problematic phrase I own is ‘baby squirrels’. Yup, search on baby squirrels and there I am, Kicking the Baby Squirrels, Again. I get a lot of visitors for ‘baby squirrels’.

I also own the number two position for the phrase ‘virtual friends’. I’d rather own ‘real friends’ but that’s owned by cats.

PS Nobody make AKMA laugh for the next week.


Cut the wires

I’ve spent too much time in technology recently, but after the work on the server today, I can take a break. Not too long a break because I have promised essays, for poets and other mad, bad, sad people.

Loren started a review of Catch 22, and I wonder whether to add my own thoughts as he moves along. It’s been years since I’ve read the book and I told myself at the time, “This is it. I’m glad I read it. I won’t read it again.” However, to effectively comment, I do need to read it again.

In his initial reading, Loren didn’t care for the book. Being in Vietnam at the time, his reaction is not surprising. Even now, after he’s learned to respect the work, he writes…it’s obviously not an easy novel to read.

It’s funny, or perhaps it’s not, but books that have a social conscious can either trip us up as we read past, laying us out face first in the stirred up dust at their feet; or their words can pad softly in on little kitten feet, like Carl Sagan’s fog. I found To Kill a Mockingbird to be one of the quiet ones, and can read it again and again.

Catch 22, though. It forces you, who sits in comfortable chair and lays in comfortable bed, to get into the mind and the world of hell created when paper generals shout out, “Bring ‘em on!”

Reading Catch 22 again. Hmm. Will I make it to the library tomorrow? And if so, will I find the book on the shelves? I couldn’t find Catcher in the Rye last time I looked. Maybe I’ll be lucky this time. Oh, No! Wait! That’s wrong!

Would you believe… I’ll be lucky this time?


Now, what were those requirements?

In a puckish piece of provocative titling, Dorothea boldly flings Why Software doesn’t Work out into the midst of a group of bloggers who are guaranteed to fall upon it, like ravenous dogs on a poor, defenseless baby bunny. If she continues this type of writing, I’m going to have to consider passing the Burning Baton of *Inciteful Blogging to D, I seriously am.

Dorothea writes about the eBook business and the Cult of Programmers who seem to want to have little to do with the actual users when it comes to designing software:

Even the Alan Cooper brigade doesn’t seem to favor (or even talk of) direct experience feeding into software design. Instead, developers sit around and imagine what real people in real jobs do. That such imaginings all by themselves are a vast improvement over what has gone before is a pretty strong indictment of software development, to my way of thinking.

(Adherents to the Cult of the Programmer too often display a lamentable contempt for the implicit knowledge in other professions, incidentally, while vociferously insisting that no one else in the world is capable of absorbing theirs. Definitely this is part of the problem.)

I’ve not worked in the eBook industry, but I have in the technology, government, manufacturing, aerospace, academic, energy, and finance industries and can assure Dorothea that the number one complaint from programmers in these fields is that we don’t have enough user requirements and access to the users. I’ve seen meetings where some poor user has walked in and had technologists tripping over themselves trying to get direct access to the person. Geeks on stampede is a scary sight.

My favorite example of getting close to the users was when I prototyped a touch screen application for a door manufacturing company in Wisconsin. Every day found me donning my head phones, to protect against the noise, and heading into the product line to test the previous day’s efforts. I used a set of hand signals co-developed with my clients to check their reception of the current efforts. Too hard to use? Thumbs down. Just right? Thumbs up. Confusing? Scratching head, with an occasional finger pointed at the screen and exaggerated shrugs of the shoulder. After I would brush the sawdust off my clothes, back I would head to the computer to incorporate the day’s feedback into the next iteration of the prototype.

Perhaps that’s the difference between my previous efforts and the eBook industry – not enough sawdust.

Dorothea also takes on the Cult of Programmers as she calls them (us?), and has some points:

Not to mention that the Cult of the Programmer mandates that Real Programmers be computer hobbyists from youth. Real Programmers are never ex-accountants or ex-typesetters. Heaven forfend they should be ex-secretaries! Like, er, me. Yes, I know the Cult of the Programmer is not exactly representative of the entire field, but it does wield significant and in my opinion excessive influence on commercial-programming and open-source practices.

Liz will attest that this does tend to happen. In fact, one of the differentiators between men and women in the computer field is that men tend to be computer hobbyists in their youth more than women. What’s interesting though is that men’s earlier exposure to playing around with computers doesn’t typically increase their chances of success with technology, academically or professionally.

I consider myself a Real Programmer, for whatever that’s worth, but I didn’t play with computers at an early age. Heck, I didn’t even enter the computer field until I was 28. Before that I worked in a succession of jobs, including secretary, insurance underwriter, and photo studio manager. One of my more unique jobs was steam pressing ties for the Britannica Tie Company in Seattle. It was my only union job, and we would all take our vacations at the same time in the summer because the heat would get too much and people would start passing out.

(I still catch myself checking out the press on ties when I pass a rack in a department store. Old habits die hard.)

I’ve also had too many waitress jobs to count. In fact, my first real job was when I was 15 and a runaway from home living in Salt Lake City. I lied about my age, pretty easy back then, and got a job in a diner working minimum wage and tips. It paid enough for my boarding house room, but just barely. I didn’t make much, but it was better than the alternative, which happened to be in the massage parlour that several of the other boarders worked in and tried to recruit me to.

I did check the parlour out once because my friends seemed to have so much money. The head of the parlour showed me around this classy place with saunas, and showers, and clean, brightly lit massage rooms. All the women wore immaculate pastel colored uniforms, were quite attractive and seemed very professional, as they moved briskly from room to room with their massage oil and fluffy white towels.

To demonstrate their work, she boss lady had one of the other masseuses give me a steam/salt massage in a cedar lined room, soft music playing in the background. It was an incredible experience, I can still feel it now. This convinced me that the operation was the real thing. However, just when I was ready to sign on the dotted line, the head of the parlor explained all the requirements of the job.

I wasn’t a prude by any means, and I’ll have to admit, I thought about the job requirements for some time, and waivered more than once about signing up. Eventually though, I stayed with my minimum wage job, providing food for business people who used to leave an extra quarter just because I smiled at them when I poured their coffee.

Of course, once I got my degree in CompSci and entered the field, I knew I’d never have to wait a table again, answer phones, or press ties. Or work under the nom de plume of Candy at the local House of Delights.

*not a misspell


Subtle touch

I finished W.G. Sebald’s book Austerliz this weekend, having read it slowly over the last month. There is something about Sebald’s writing that forces me to stop, and consider, carefully, what he writes on each page. The writing isn’t complex; quite the opposite – it’s beautifully, wonderfully clear. But it is rich, and subtle; conjuring images meant to be examined carefully as one examines each turn of a kaleidoscope.

This isn’t a book review as I have no interest in ‘reviewing it’. I’ll just share a tiny bit of it.

But I always found what Alphonso told us about the life and death of moths especially memorable, and of all creatures I feel the greatest awe of them. In the warmer months of the year one or other of these nocturnal insects quite often strays indoors from the small garden behind my house. When I get up early in the morning, I find them clinging to the wall, motionless. I believe, said Austerlitz, they know they have lost their way, since if you do not put them out again carefully they will stay where they are, never moving, until the last breath is out of their bodies, and indeed they will remain in that place where they come to grief even after death, held fast by the tiny claws that stiffened in their last agony, until a draft of air detaches them and blows them into a dusty corner.

If, as writers, we learn from other writers then Sebald is my preferred teacher. I want to incorporate what I learn from reading and re-reading his few works into my own writing. Not the actual writing, and not even the style of writing, which is distinctly W. G. Sebald. But his ability to move the reader from image to image, each invoking, initially, the most delicate of response. Never once does Sebald demand anything from the reader. He is subtle, far too subtle for that. It is this subtlety that I want to learn.