General Blight

If the car dealership near our house was open when we moved in, then it was already shutting down. For most of the ten years or so that we’ve lived in our quiet village, the car lot has stood empty. The pavement had cracked in recent years, and weeds took full advantage of the opportunity to form a crazed, green web through the lot.

Now I’m imagining a gigantic spider that weaves weed webs in a parking lot right near my house. Good going, me.

Anyway, there was this large untended commercial lot right next door. Okay, that was the auto part factory. But that’s now a recycling plant of some sort. I don’t really know, which is actually very hard to explain to drivers that show up during off hours. They always seem to think that we have the factory over for dinner or have it watch our cats when we’re out.

“You don’t have a number?” a driver will ask.

“No. They didn’t even tell me they were going. Pisses me off, because I wanted to take my wife out and was counting on them to feed the cats.”

…The car lot is (was) next door to the factory, is what I meant to say. To recap: our house, the factory, the car lot. Also a car wash that sort of borders all of these properties, but that’s irrelevant.

The point is that about a month ago the dealership office was torn down. Now the parking lot has been dug up, and there seems to be foundation work being done.

I know that something’s happening.

We were curious what could be going in. It’s kind of tricky to start a new business around here. It’s a pretty sheltered community, despite being only a 15 minute drive from larger towns and about half an hour from parts of Ann Arbor. The arrangement of roads makes it so that there’s not a lot of traffic, and what there is mostly consists of trucks and other long-distance travellers. If you’re planning on taking advantage of the proximity to the larger communities, you should just put your startup money on lottery tickets — you’ll probably lose less.

We finally took a look at the sign posted on the construction site. It turns out that the store’s going to be a Dollar General. Those things are like blight fungus, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. I just don’t see how it fits into a small village economy. It’ll probably take some snack and sundries business from the grocery and hardware stores, but that’s about it. Is there that much demand here for cheap can openers and crummy pens?

We’ll see. I just hope the factory leaves a number at the Dollar General when they’re away.


Talking Turkey

It’s the week of Thanksgiving, and while we gorge ourselves on turkey and sanitized history we are encouraged to give pause to think about what we have for which we are thankful. I do that frequently, so instead I’ll take the day’s myth as fact and examine what it says about the America in which we wish we lived.

The story goes that a friendly tribe of natives taught the settlers at Plymouth how to grow crops in the region. Out of gratitude the settlers then invited the natives to a feast where they shared their bounty. As far as the myth is concerned all lived happily ever after in harmony, and that’s as it should be. Myths are to enlighten and inspire us, not to ruin everything with facts.

So let’s rephrase these events and take a fresh look at them.

Start with a group of people, we’ll call them Americans, who have been in an area (America) long enough to have established themselves and their culture. These Americans have a good idea of how things work there, and they live in relative comfort.

Enter another group of people. These people are from elsewhere and for certain reasons have decided to seek a new start in America. Because they have emigrated from their homeland, we shall call them immigrants.

You see where I’m going with this, yes?

Now these immigrants arrive in America, and they don’t have the necessary skills to be immediately successful there. Seeing that these immigrants need some help, the Americans go out of their way to give them the assistance needed to learn how to survive in America. They expect nothing in return. They just act on their compassion.

The immigrants incorporate what they need from the Americans. They maintain their separate culture, but they are no longer alone. They give back to the Americans, and a bridge is formed between two groups of people. America is the same, but Americans have changed. The community has grown.

It’s a beautiful myth, and I’m thankful that I live in a country where it might one day become reality. Until then, I’ll reflect on this dream and continue to believe.

Feeling Not So Secure

I put my card in the ATM I tend to use, and after a moment the machine ejected the card. At first I thought something was wrong, that my card was unreadable or the machine was being shut down to be refilled. Then I read the message on the screen.

Turns out that it’s a feature. Instead of holding your card hostage for the duration of a transaction, the machine spits it out right away. The purpose is to make it harder to walk off and forget your card, which seems like a worthwhile goal.

The thing is — now I’m fretting that I’ll walk away and still be logged in…

A Night At The Theatre

In her opening number last night Amanda Palmer sang “I would kill to make you feel”, and that’s what she and The Grand Theft Orchestra did. They killed, and we felt it.

The song list covered Palmer material from many phases of her career in music but understandably emphasized songs from her album with the GTO, “Theatre is Evil”. When the full band (and occasional extra help from locals) played, my insides felt like they were on a vibration belt set to maximum carnage, which was exhilarating and worrisome simultaneously.

Palmer performed “The Bed Song” on her own, providing a quieter moment only slightly marred by (presumably drunken) Philistines carrying on at the main bar. It’s a melancholic tune from the “Theatre is Evil” album that chronicles a lifetime of mutual longing, and while it’s rather obvious it is touching and effective.

A surprise came when she asked for requests. While most called out new songs or classic Dresden Dolls hits, one person requested “Map of Tasmania”, Palmer’s pro-pube anthem. Declaring it to be timely due to PETA’s new body-shaming ad equating fur to having a hairy crotch, she grabbed a uke and tore through a stirring rendition of the song before returning to the matter of requests again.

It’s worth noting that Palmer was very ill and fighting a fever. She came out before the show to inform us and beg forgiveness in advance for her lack of energy but also to assure us that the show would not be cancelled. She looked and sounded like death left forgotten in the microwave. But once she came out to perform, there was very little sign of her condition. She sang, danced, crowd-surfed, and generally gave a hell of a performance. She’s a pro, and I really hope she feels better soon. That could not have been as easy as she made it look.

She closed with the Dresden Dolls hit “Girl Anachronism”, which seemed appropriate. Nothing from Evelyn Evelyn or the Radiohead album, but you can’t have everything. We did get a stunning rendition of “Leeds United”, which may be my favorite song from “Who Killed Amanda Palmer”. It’s hard to tell; there are a lot of great songs to choose from there.

I had a lot of fun, and I’m glad I went. I just stood stiffly the entire time, so I probably creeped out a few people. Sorry about that. It was all I could do not to hide in a corner. It’s a testament to the quality of the show that I could stand in that crowd for the whole evening.

Passion for Music

Shortly after posting this, I should be attending a concert in Detroit. Phil and I are going to see Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra. I’m both excited and terrified by this. Terrified because of my usual anxiety about crowds and unfamiliar surroundings, and excited because Amanda Palmer makes me care about music.

I have a lot of musical influences. Talk music with me, and within five minutes I’ll find a way to work in a mention of The Kinks or just Ray Davies. Ten minutes brings out world-class talent like Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker. A few more minutes and I’ll tell you all about Wade Curtiss and Hasil Adkins. My point is that I love music and all of the corners and edges in which it resides.

My first exposure to Amanda Palmer — and exposure is often an accurate word with her — was the video for “Coin Operated Boy” by The Dresden Dolls, which a coworker showed me. The song was whimsical, sad, and drenched with emotion, and the video was a masterpiece of artifice. I immediately bought the album and listened to it raptly. The blend of craft and rawness awed me. Screams of agony mixed with carefully constructed musical chaos. At times I feared for Palmer’s fingers and the piano keys she punished with them.

This was passion. This was music that made me feel something beyond simple joy, sorrow, or anger. It made me understand it, and I cared about it.

Not everything that Palmer has done in her career since then has made me react this way, but neither should I expect it to. Because she is passionate about her music she is always exploring, always experimenting. To ask her to remain always the same for my sake is to seek to kill what makes her worth listening to in the first place.

I contributed to the Kickstarter campaign for her album with The Grand Theft Orchestra, “Theatre Is Evil”. It turned put to be a really good album with a few outstanding songs. Songs I care about, that I invested in with money and heart.

So yeah. Tonight I’m going to a crowded concert in an unfamiliar venue, despite my anxieties. They can flood my system with bad chemicals, but they can’t overcome my passion for music.

Emblematic of Entomophagy

I’m at work with my team this fine Saturday to support the release of a new product. A lot of effort has been put into making us comfortable and keeping the atmosphere light. There’s an extensive breakfast spread, balloons are everywhere, and there are reportedly games planned for when we’re sure everything is okay.

QA, understandably fixated on bugs, gave us all special necklaces for the day. They glued plastic toys of insectivores to Mardi Gras beads and left them on our keyboards for us to find this morning. The idea was that these bug-eating beasties would help keep the launch free of bugs.

I believe that I’ve discussed my arachnophobia here. So of course, while everyone else got centipedes and scorpions, I came in to find a spider lurking at my station.

Now I don’t want to be the jerk that won’t play along, but there’s no way that damn thing is hanging between my nipples. After an ill-considered attempt to wear it backwards (“Aaagh! It’s in my neck hair!”) I used the materials at hand to modify the charm.

If I was a bug this panda would terrify me.

When my handiwork had been discovered by QA I explained that pandas also eat bugs, if they happen to be on yummy bamboo shoots. This claim was met with suspicion, but I was granted points for ingenuity.

When the release wraps up smoothly, they’ll have to acknowledge the power of my panda pendant.

Technically Philosophical

In my mind I am philosophical, perhaps even Socratic, in discussions with other developers. I mention subjects in order for people to refute them, to build upon them, or to otherwise react. My intent is to lead through guidance rather than through dogma.

This approach has problems when meeting reality. Firstly, developers are not students come to seek insight from the master. They are busy people who just want to get back to work. Secondly, I am not the master. I’m not even a master. I’m just a guy who’s been in the business long enough to build a library of recognized patterns. Thirdly, I am a very large man with a congenitally angry physiognomy and a loud voice made overly aggressive by the tension of speaking in public. In other words, I’m a big shouty man.

Also? No toga.

I’ve been trying to frame a solution to address this problem, but I now realize that there are multiple issues that require separate attention. Becoming an effective contributor to discussions isn’t going to happen from a single action but from a succession of smaller changes that will build to that goal.

To start with the last problem, that of being big and angry, there are some things that are impossible or extremely difficult to alter. I am taller than most of my coworkers. I can lose some weight, but I will still be big. When thinking, I frown. That’s just how it is. I can make an effort to soften my expression when not thinking, but I think there are better benefits for the cost right now.

What I can and should do is make an effort to moderate my tone while speaking. That will only add more pressure of course, but hopefully not enough to create a downward spiral of freak-out. Slow down. Calm down. These shall be my watchwords.

For the second point, that I am not the master, there doesn’t seem at first any redress but to keep my ego in check. There’s a more insidious side to the rhetorical pose, though. Assuming a stance of mastery elevates myself, but it also diminishes my coworkers. It assumes that they have nothing to contribute outside of recognizing my brilliance.

Bad Sean. No bagel.

The best thing I can do to redress this is to listen and consider. The two best things…

As to the initial point, that of my coworkers not being my pupils — that last bit about treating them as contributors should help, but here the problem has more to do with what I say and how I say it. That has its roots in how I most effectively learn.

If you give me a formula, I can’t use it. I need to know the context. I need to see how the formula was derived. Only once I understand why it works can I use it. This explains the drastic drop in my math grades when I went to college.

Well, that and my poor attendance.

Anyway, what this means is that when I am in a teaching mode I provide a lot of information that most people neither want nor require. In a technical discussion, this approach is ponderous and probably fairly baffling. It certainly doesn’t help to get my points across.

This has sort of been a long way of saying that I need to work on being succinct.

With that in mind, I should probably wrap this up.