That time again…

Here in ye olde south it’s getting hot fast.  We’re in the March temperature swings, where it gets all whackadoodle going from 80 to 30 and back. But it’s clear that before too terribly long I’m going to be bitching a blue streak about how hot it is.

What I’m going to need is something ice cold, sweet, and lemony to take the edge off.

It’s time to start making the limoncello.

So yesterday I bought 3 bottles of grain alcohol, 3 dozen lemons, and a microplaner.

For limoncello you really only want the zest of the lemons, at a proportion of about 14 lemons per (750ml) bottle of alcohol.  The lemons I got at Publix were a bit small, so I edged up to 36 for two bottles.

There’s not REALLY much to say about the process. It’s awful and time consuming.  Fortunately I didn’t scrape a big chunk of skin off my fingers this time.  Getting the zest into bottles is a bit of a headache as it clumps up bad.

If you’re going to do this, know that you won’t be able to use the bottles the grain alcohol came in.  There’s just not enough room. You’ll need to find something a bit bigger.  I generally keep a few larger bottles around, either from brewing experiments or just because I like those Martinelli apple juice bottles, which is what I ended up using.

So I did that twice, 18 lemons zested into each bottle, poured the full contents of the grain alcohol in, sealed the bottles and stuck them under the sink, with the rest of my home made alcohol stuff.

There it will need to sit for 7-8 weeks or so.

The third bottle of grain is going to be an experiment.    More on that when I get the rest of the stuff I need for it. 🙂

Grand Central Terminal: December 6, 2006

A note to the unwashed:  Grand Central Station is a post office.  Grand Central Terminal is the train station on 42nd street.

Here’s a little something I just tripped over in my archeological forays into my old notebooks.  Thought it was cute enough to put down:


Take this as you will.  For most reasonable people that means discard it utterly.  I expect no less.  But I have to write this down.

Wednesday December 6, 2006.

The scene is Grand Central Terminal, downstairs among the tables and food, after work, a little after 6:15.

I was sitting next to a couple women while eating my slice of pizza and doing a couple sudokus, killing a half-hour before I headed off to my Wednesday night haunting job.

A couple things happened around me that caused me to chuckle.  A group of women, lost, passed me three times in the space of 20 minutes. Another group of people picked up a table and dragged it around to where there was a polite little mob of them sitting.  The hilarity of watching people come over where they expected to see a table and just staring blankly into the space where it ought to be, unable to process what the problem might be was quite rich.

It caused me to have a little realization:

People comment on how “all this weird stuff seems to happen around you.”  But…I don’t think they understand what’s going on.  See, it’s one of the secrets of New York City.  These things are going on all the time, all over the place; all you have to do to see the magic inherent in Gotham is SIT STILL long enough for the scenes to take place around you.  Otherwise the most you can hope for is to catch a punch-line as it goes by around you.

Take this scene:

A large food court with lots of vaguely walled off sections is mobbed with end of day commuters buzzing about.  A group of women come over to an empty 8 seat table, negotiate among themselves a bit, then pick up the table and drag it over, around the corner, where a bunch of their friends are already sitting, so they can all sit together.

Not 90 seconds later, someone walks by with a tray of chicken vindaloo, looking for a table and, seeing a section where there are no heads sticking up, assumes that means there’s an empty table. She walks over, stares intently at the floor for a few seconds, crinkles her brow a bit, looks around, then continues her search, utterly befuddled.

A few minutes later a maintenance guy with a broom, doing his rounds approaches, stares intently at the floor for a few seconds, crinkles his brow a bit, looks around, quizzically declaring “what the hell?” and walks off.

He comes back with someone who is clearly his manager.  They walk up to the spot. the maintenance guy says “see?”  The manager stares intently at the floor for a few seconds, crinkles his brow a bit, looks around muttering “where the fuck?” then they walk off.

I just burst out laughing.  This I think is why I like to hang out in bars for protracted periods of time and just watch what goes on.  It’s the only way to really pick out the funny stuff.

So I leaned over to the woman sitting at the table to my left, facing me (more or less) and said “I love my city.  You never know what you’re going to hear in this city.”  We chuckled a bit.

Her companion, a woman in her mid-late 50s came back and sat down with her food.  The first woman asked…

“Hey, doesn’t your husband work down here?”
“No no.  My SON works down here in the city.”

Something popped in to my head.  I had to say it before she did. So I said it out loud, interrupting her.

“Stamford!”
“Huh?”
“Stamford.  Your husband works in Stamford. Right?  Right?”
They looked at me, kinda stunned.  She nodded… very slowly.
“Yes, that’s right.  He works in Stamford.  How…?”
I could hear it:  Who was this, Why does he know, HOW does he know,
what’s going on?
“Lucky guess” I said.

I departed hastily.  45 minutes later I was stationed at what has become my bar stool.  “Jenn.  yeah, I’ll have one of those.  But I need a shot.”

HHC: Brainstorming Part 2

 

Unfortunately I’ve been running up against a wall in my previous todo list and have subsequently decided (however tentatively) that I’m going to be writing all this stuff from scratch, which irks me to no end.  RSS feed readers, on-screen notification systems, local content repositories, etc.  I just have to be prepared to write it all from scratch, then keep my eyes open for toolkits (at both the product and library levels) that will help me skip ahead a bit.  So while I’m sketching that out, let’s keep going with the process of breaking down the initial list into more concrete requirements and todo list items.

  1. A contact-management system that would make Harvey MacKay faint from information overload.

I’ve always wanted to tie together my flow of email with a real contact management database.  Partially for a simple address book that’s not hosted on some effervescent mobile device, partially for “business networking” (something that was important to me back then and is suddenly starting to come back around) and partially to keep an eye on who I know, what I know about them, etc.  Yeah, it probably sounds a little Big Brothery. But I think it would be a fascinating tool that wouldn’t require so much in the way of active maintenance effort.

Now, I could just use a CRM system.  Something like SugarCRM. Just pull the thing down and slap it in to a database.  So I’ll check around for something like that. (I have enough professional experience with Sugar to know it’s positively awful, so it’s definitely not a contender.)

  1. Notifications and ticklers (woohoo!) for the following:
    1. People who’ve emailed me who I’m “officially due” to contact
    2. Software projects and updates that I’m interested in but may not have explicitly subscribed to.
    3. The same thing with commercial products (books, music, movies, etc.)
    4. All of this to bubble up into the ticker application mentioned above as well as a “product wishlist” that’s automatically maintained and published to a well-known location so I never have to answer the question “What do you want for (insert holiday here)?” again.

Of course this feeds in to the contact management system. But here we start getting in to the interesting stuff, something I used to call the “Interest Engine”.  Let’s not put the cart before the horse.

  1. People who’ve emailed me who I’m “officially due” to contact

The unspoken component here is that I want to tie my email (and perhaps other forms of messaging) in to the contact database system so that I can see things like “you usually go a round of email with soandso every week, but you haven’t in a few weeks.  Do you mean to let that slide?” etc.

This isn’t a particularly easy problem, but it’s not exactly high-end computer science either.

The key to this, and how it relates to the other sub-items in #4 is that I want to be proactively notified not only of events (Frob sent you an email!) but of peculiar gaps between events (hey, you haven’t emailed Frob in a month!)

The other three things on that list are essentially “event sources” in that they’ll take the shape of a few search engines that’ll notify me if the results change.  So if I like Deadpool (and if you don’t you’re wrong) this thing should take a peek on the internet every “time interval” and see if something interesting pops up (what “interesting” means is an interesting question) and creates a similar alert.

Add to that the other items, software updates, youtube channel updates, movie releases, etc.

I have to confess, that #4 item I don’t really understand.  One problem might just be that back in 2003, Amazon wasn’t SUCH a big deal and my wish list just wasn’t that well developed.  But now? Now I really think that’s solidly covered.  Besides, what good is maintaining a wish list (which is ostensibly for sharing) on a personal internal closed network application?  So I’m officially striking #4.

So what this all comes down to for these two major-heading items is three things:

  1. contact management database
  2. Email repository
  3. An engine that creates custom notifications based on a variety of heterogeneous data sources, both internal and external

Fortunately the email database is something I already have and use.  I created a little custom database and a few scripts that parse mbox files (from Thunderbird), break them out into individual messages, then insert them in to a relatively logical database.  I’m encountering some interesting capacity issues now that it’s growing with email content bodies. But I’ll be able to manage that well enough.

The todo list:

  1. Roughly outline what I’m going to want in my contact management database.
  2. Use that outline to shop for off the shelf systems that have the flexibility, UX, and open architecture I need.
  3. Create a single sample of a custom rss feed off of a scraped website of some kind.
  4. Create a custom rss feed off of incoming emails from one or two email addresses.

Should be fun.  As for the last todo list, I’m waiting on a couple resources to start coding up the custom feed management system, so this will dovetail nicely with that.

 

 

More updatesauce

Well, it’s pushing 23:00, so I’m not doing a whole lot more coding or writing today.

Using Thunderbird’s feed reader has absolutely no applicability to what I’m trying to accomplish.  What I need is to use rss as something close to a message queuing format, so I’m probably going to write my own over the next few days (with the help of some canned code, no doubt.)

Work’s been driving me up a wall, but it’s fine.  Normal technology and people stress so I’ve been coming home and just shutting my brain off.  Nothing to be terribly proud of. but the last thing I’ve wanted to do at night has been more coding.

More posts from the vault coming in the next couple days and I’m working on a new one or two little vignettes from the wild.

o7

 

The Slate Files: Art Opening (circa August 2006)

Here’s a little something from the archives.  I’ve been going to bars for a long time, and for almost as long I’ve kept with me a little notebook that I put on the bar and just sorta scribble absently in.

For a few years I frequented a bar/lounge/pool hall called “Slate” in Manhattan on West 22nd street.  It was the scene of some very strange antics, and some pivotal moments in my life over those couple/few years.

Anyway, here’s one of the early “more interesting than most” nights (sadly undated in the original notebook):


A couple weeks ago, for instance, I went in to Slate on my traditional Wednesday night.

The bouncer (the crabby one who won’t acknowledge that he sees me every Wednesday he’s working) asked “what party are you with?” “Uhm… none.” Same as always dopey doodle. “Ok, go right ahead.”

I’m the guy who shows up at 7:12 on Wednesday nights. Every Wednesday night, and I have for something close to 9 months. Really? Ya don’t know who I am?

At least he recognizes me enough not to actually bother asking for id, so I know right off he’s just fucking with me. Hell, it costs me nothing so I just play along politely. Let him serve whatever part of his psyche needs feeding.

I shrug, push open the door and walk in to a ghastly sight.

There are people, dressed with fair formality, sipping out of martini glasses… EVERYWHERE. Immediately to the simpleton driving my attention I notice the compelling ratio of gorgeous girls. I mean gorgeous, not “pretty little anorexic skanks wearing their nice dress hoping to pick up a broker.”

That actually doesn’t happen in NYC as much as you’d think. The truth of the matter is that, with the standard 90/10 exceptions, traders are 24 year old power hungry jackasses who spend more on their clothes than they can afford to on their rents in order to look the part they are supposed to play, while not quite understanding why they’re strangely ill-equipped.  But if you’re interested in seeing that dynamic in action, go to Southwest New York, a nice little establishment down in the World Financial Center.  It’s a nice little place in a spectacular location with hit or miss food, but reasonable frozen drinks, some even with enough tequila and about as delightful a setting as you can get in Manhattan, overlooking the bay.  But I wouldn’t recommend going there to relax during the after-work primetime of 4-8.  It’s just… yeah, no.  avoid it.

No, these girls were… mmm… curvy. Nicely curvy, wearing strapless black dresses (which is dangerous for the curvy, so I appreciate the achievement.) Unfortunately, the only other difference between them and the aforementioned husband-hunting SOHO denizen is that they’re not looking to hook up with a money man. They’re looking for something far more sinister.

An Artist.

And a particular artist they were here to find. Covering the walls were three foot by three foot paintings (I later found out they were on masonite, not canvas. Go figure.)

They were what you would call… “abstract” and what I would call “talentless paint splattering.” One in three or so had some dotted lines drawn on them creating every effectively the look of some architect’s worksheet that had been used as a drop cloth by a house painter doing trimwork in a twelve year old girl’s bedroom. This is where I’d love to say “But I digress.” But no. This was really quite sadly central to these people and their reasons for traveling this far uptown (21st between 5th and 6th.)  Joan Miro this guy will never be, try though he might.

Of course the girls weren’t the only people in attendance. Otherwise I may very well have lost control of myself, and just stage-dived into the horde and hoped for the best. No no. Aside from the 22 year old art groupies, there were all sorts of “iusedtobehot, iusedtobehot, iusedtobehot” women standing around with their faces dragged back unnaturally, masked quite liberally in some orange confection that I can only assume was supposed to give the impression of a natural tan; perhaps without the ill-effects of actual exposure to the sun. Having met neither of these goals their only hope left was to be careful the way they smiled (such as they did) so as not to exacerbate their wrinkles, which would have been fine if they’d have just pulled the flagpoles our of their asses.

Sprinkled around there were a few benefactorly old men as well.

These various subspecies of the common metropolitan open-bar freeloaders created a fairly fascinating little social ecosystem.  The artist wanted to relieve bored insecure rich people of their money and in return grant them a borrowed sense of aesthetics by masking as an artist instead of a painter.  The potential benefactors were here for the young girls and wouldn’t perhaps consider a quick $8500 purchase too much of an imposition if it were to suitably impress.  The girls were looking for artist types and to generally seem important enough to have a reason to be at an “art party” even if they weren’t quite sure what it was that makes that a good thing, as it doesn’t.  Amidst all this, I’m sure there were a couple people who were just having a good time.  I don’t think I ran in to them.  But I’m sure they were there.

It was a lot to take in, just standing there at the door, my bag around my shoulder, per usual. Plus, I was blocking the door.

A long time ago I read some book, which quite escapes me now (chase it throughout the apartment as I do.) It said that one important thing to making a good first impression is to actually MAKE an impression. The only thing of substance I retain from the book (even its title is lost in the cobwebs of my mind) was this:

When you enter a room containing other people, such as a bar, a club, a party, a meeting, cafeteria, etc. walk in the door, move in a few feet (so as not to block others) then stop. Stop and let your eyes pan deliberately and blatantly around the room, taking stock evenly (evenly is important) of every person whose face you can actually see. (I’d be lying if I didn’t add that, as a heterosexual male, I take a damn bit better stock of girls, whether I can see their faces or not.)

I’ve been doing this for years and I can’t tell you how much it’s changed my interactions with people, because I have no idea. Ok, some humor aside, it really does make a difference. It’s a fairly subtle difference, but people don’t realize they notice it. It’s the difference between entering a room and making an entrance into a room. But, unless you do something ridiculous like swish your hair around or wave your arms and say “my public!” Nobody quite notices why they notice you. They just sorta become aware of your presence.

So there ya have it. Now I can safely say “But I digress.”

But I digress.

I walked up the couple stairs to the bar. It was packed. I walked the length, looking for my seat near but not on top of the service bar; less than gracefully moving between martini-ites and back, by which time a seat had vacated.

I’d caught Jenn’s eye and we snickered wordlessly about the state of the place.

Sitting down on one of the familiar square cushioned backless barstools, I heard the clink of a bottle-top and an Original Sin appeared in front of me. Apparently I’d taken her seat. Turning back around there was also a bottle of cider. Sorry, I don’t drink beer. Can’t stand it. Yes. I’ve tried that too. Yep. And that. Nope. Turns out I actually don’t like it. For now I’ll work with my gateway drug, cider.

I reached down into my bag, shuffled through it a bit (its contents are rather unkempt, what with all the empty journals and the laptop and all) and emerged with one of those moleskine notebooks that everybody seems to be so hot and bothered about. Yes yes, nice binding. Paper quality is mediocre though (far too much bleed) and the little elastic strap just comes off after any real use anyway.  So I don’t use it all the time.  But at $10 a pop, I feel sorta obligated to give it an honest shot.

I figured the first thing I ought to do was get down some observations of the evening; especially since the business of bartending was clearly going to occupy my friend’s attention, leaving me to entertain myself for a change (as it turns out, there were far more than enough volunteers.)

There are a few televisions in Slate and one really large projector screen that pulls down in front of the huge bar mirror covered with really really bad pick up lines. You know the ones: “Does my tongue taste funny…” etc. You usually chuckle at the first couple you read, then they just start making people wince, because they’ve heard them.

Usually I take little notice of the TV contents, as I have a chronic disinterest in sporting events. This makes me a fairly tough person to make smalltalk with. But I’ve learned to fake it pretty well and, in the course of my training in how to fit in with the culture here on your quaint little planet, I’ve learned to occasionally shout at the screen “Holy shit my MOTHER knows not to swing at that!” Unfortunately it seems that this is only relevant in particular sports.

Who knew?

Instead, tonight there was what looked like some home movie playing on the screens. It seemed to be taking place in a gallery of some sort. There was a featured personage walking around, being led by the camera.

On the video, he was… 35, almost stocky in build. He had some kind of black jacket on with a white shirt, pointed collar protruding all the way from 1972, and he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. One, because he was babbling away merrily to the extras who really really weren’t going to buy any of his art, babbling away to the camera, and smacking gum like his life depended on it.

Every once in a while someone would come into frame, play the air kiss game and pose for a picture with their arm around him, before retreating with their martini glass half-full of some suspiciously green liquid, before too long I recognized some of the paint splatters on the walls in the video and came to the belated conclusion that it was the artist (oh ok, I’ll throw him a bone “The Artist”.)

It seemed as though the video was an hour or so long, on loop.  All night.

My anthropological reverie was interrupted by a pair of girls who were futzing with something at the bar. One leaned in

“Ooh, are you left handed?” (she asks the man sitting at the bar writing in a notebook with his left hand.)

“Yep.”

“So are you writing down your thoughts?”  I love genius in all its forms.

“Yep.  My thoughts about the art, the environment, this scene, you know, that sort of thing.”

“Really!?! So what are your thoughts.”  She pulled in her chin and affected probably about as scholarly an expression as she could manage being half in the bag.

“I’m sorry” I demurred, “I’m not really here for the art. I don’t think you want to know.”

“Really!?!” Suddenly and regrettably interested, she perked up. “Ooh, then I DEFINITELY want to know.”  Ah.  I’m an outsider.  I get it now.  Lesson learned.

“Nope. I don’t think you do.” It’s a weakness of mine. I see where things are going and I try to save people from themselves, if not from myself.

(cue flashback needleynoo-needleynoo-needleynoo effects)

 

About a year and a half ago I had gone out for a couple with people from work on a Friday night and had more than a couple. Afterwards I was bound for a party with a social club to which I used to belong, Social Circles. I arrived at the place and was greeted by a group of girls, all but one of whom I know.

One friend of mine said “ooh, good. You’re here. We’re all trying to guess her age.” They pointed to the girl I didn’t know. Cute, not over the top; the kind of girl I’d kick myself for not noticing the first time.

Now look. I know what you’re sayin’. I heard you back in time a year and a half ago. But I still had enough wits about me to do the right thing. But I ain’t gonna lie. You also know that I wouldn’t have bothered to put this little vignette down if it wasn’t going a particular way.

“I’m sorry. I don’t go anywhere near that game. No thanks.”

“Oh…. c’mon.”

“Nope. Sorry.”

“They all tried.” (‘they tried and failed?’…’they tried and died.’ was all I could think of.)

“No thank you.”

“Oh come on. You couldn’t guess my age within five years.” Hmmpf.

“Stop. What would you do if I guessed right?”

“There’s no chance.”

“I’m not going to do it.”

“Whadareya, chicken?” I think I actually growled.

“Ok, fine. That’s three times you asked and three times I turned you down. Now I’m gonna guess your age.” Hell. I was going to hell. I looked her up and down pretty good, paused, tapped my lips with my forefinger and said “You sure?”

“enough already!”

“You’re 41.” The horrified and astonished inhales from the assembled group sucked the air out of the room so effectively that you could hear the ears of everybody in the bar pop at once at the sudden decompression. I’m not at all sure I didn’t hear a record scratch and a glass break. She, of course, was horrified.

“What makes me look over forty?”

“Am I right?”

“What makes me look OVER FORTY?”

“AM I RIGHT?” She was hyperventilating now.

“Yes, you’re exactly right.”

“I KNOW! I actually tend to date women about 40-41. I’m really good at that.” Leave it to her to figure out if I meant dating 40 year old women or guessing their ages. “Now come on, let me buy you a drink.”

She walked out. I turned to the assembled council of the fairer sex and they all jumped in “No no. stop. You’re in the clear. You said no again and again and she just wouldn’t let it go.”

“You’re sure.”

“Absolutely.”

“Ok. Good. Just checkin. Never ask a question you don’t really want the answer to.”

I know. It’s a fool’s game, and an attempt to teach an unlearnable lesson.  But they’ll bury me before that’ll stop me.

“So what do you think of the art?”

“I think it sucks. I think this whole evening is a bunch of self-indulgent crap. It’s actually very entertaining.”

“Uhm… Entertaining?” I got the “ewh…mah….gahd…” look of disgust and pause right out of 1982. I couldn’t possibly be saying that out loud right?

“Yep. Entertaining. Told you you didn’t want to know.”

They walked away. I just smiled and wrote it all down.

On my way back from a men’s room trip (let’s face it, I was ripping through alcoholic beverages at an impressive rate) Jenn caught my eye and said “Hey, I had to move you down a few.”  Apparently a clutch of groupies had jumped claim.

I went over and sat down in my new seat, and didn’t really notice a difference.  My notebook, pen, and bottle of Original Sin had all been flawlessly reinstalled.

I took a sip of my cider and heard…

“Can I have more olives?  Bartender.  BARTENDER!”

The next occupied seat, two to my right, was filled with a 63 year old woman of about 245 pounds at five foot four.  Bleached perm and the outfit I’d expect to see on a cute 22 year old.  Short skirt, three inch pumps, coat over a white billowy blouse of some kind. Ogra’s kid sister.

“Hi.  I’m Ariel.  I’m a gossip columnist.”  I figured hell.  If anybody looked the part, it was her.  This could actually prove to be an interesting conversation.

“Hya Ariel.  Mike.  I’m just Norm in this particular bar on Wednesdays.”

“So what do you think of the art?”  Ugh.  I suppose it was inevitable.

“I really don’t like it.  It lacks cohesion.  Frankly, it looks like someone else’s drop-cloths.”

“It’s very spiritual.  I’m getting something to eat.  Do you want to get something to eat?” The bartender plunked a toothpick with a few olives in her empty martini glass.  Frankly, I was hoping for one of those cute mini plastic rapiers.  Some ancient warning about eating the faerie queen’s food came to mind for some reason.

“Uhm… No thanks.”

“No no.  You have to hear him exPLAIN it.  I came all the way down from Scarsdale to see this.  Really.  It would make sense if you listened to him explain it.  It’s all about his process.  He’s very spiritual.” Pagan.  Gotta be a pagan.  Pagans are obSESSED with their “PROCESS”.  It’s the only thing that keeps the focus off the fact that their ACHIEVEMENTS aren’t worth measuring.

“So what you’re saying is the paintings don’t really stand on their own merit?”

“Well, they do once you know what they are about.  CAN I HAVE MORE OLIVES PLEASE!?!  It’s a very spiritual process.  What was your name again?”  I was amazed that she was really going to take the bait on this one.

“Mike.  Ok.  Let me just understand what you’re saying here:  It sounds like his description is what you get something out of, and the paintings just remind you of that, so you really only like them by proxy.”

“Well…”  Diego came and put down her pizza.

“Ooh, pizza.  You want some pizza?”

“No thank you.  I ate.”

“You sure?  There’s too much for me.”  Doubt it.

“No.  Thank you.  I’m fine.”  She shrugged.

“Ok.  By the way, I didn’t catch your name.”

“Mike.”

“Hi Mike, I’m Ariel.”

“Hi.  In order for it to be Art, shouldn’t the paintings stand on their own merit?” She started shaking her head emphatically. “Shouldn’t I be able to walk up to them out of the blue and, if I know anything at all, shouldn’t this spirituality you keep talking about actually come through?”

“No.  You really…  It’s not like that.”

“From what you’re saying, it really just sounds like the paintings aren’t important.”

*blink* *blink*

“So why doesn’t he just stand up with a microphone and talk about it?  Why bring the paintings at all?  Maybe he should be an orator instead of a painter.  Or wouldn’t he make any money that way?”  Game, set, and match.

“Excuse me.  Bartender!  Can I have more olives please?  Jeez.  The bartenders here…”

“Are very good and swamped by the madhouse this place has become tonight!  He’ll be down here in a second.”  Do NOT fuck with the bartenders Mr. Magee.

“You should really hear him explain it.  Hold on.  I can get him.”  She started craning her neck and hunting about the room for Le Artiste.

“No no.  That’s really a bad idea.” I can be snarky to the sycophantic hangers on all night.  But I wasn’t about to try my hand at decimating the overinflated ego of He Who Would Be King on his Night Of Glory (part deux, judging from the animated idolatry on the video screens.)  Besides, it’s not really him I have any interest in messing with.  This guy, intolerable as all signs point to him being, has a bunch of paintings in a club and is selling them at $8500 apiece (or, well, presenting them anyway) and has packed the club, having generated sufficient interest (Let’s pretend to ignore the fact that if he wasn’t paying for all their drinks that they wouldn’t be there.)  More power to HIM.  Hell, I don’t have anything to put on the line like that.  But don’t tell me:

  1. it’s art
  2. it’s “important”
  3. it has “meaning”

Because that’s a bunch of disingenuous crap.  Sure, he has to say that because he’s playing the role of artist and it’s a part of the marketing.  All the more unfortunate for him if he believes his own bullshit.  But that’s not something I’ve any interest in exploring.

Yet.

So I stood up to go to the men’s room, just to break up the conversation.  On my way there…

“I just need cigarettes.”

“Yeah, there’s got to be a place around here to buy cigarettes.”

“Sure.” I interjected.  ” Right around the corner.  Go out the door, turn…”

“HHEEEYYYY!!!!  It’s the left-haaannded guyyyy!” slurred the mind-numbingly drunk chicklet.

“Yep.  That’s me.”

“So where do we go around here to get cigarettes?”

“Walk out the door, turn left.  Go to the corner, turn left and you’ll…”

“It’s the left handed guy Ashley!”

*twitch*

“Hey, do you know where we can go get cigarettes?”

“Nope.  Not around here.  Sorry.”

I spent the next half hour or so just absorbing the scenery and grabbing snippets of conversation here and there, not one line of which did anything but reinforce my opinion of this artist, his paintings, and the crowd he drew.  I knew I was in a bad mood by that time.  Hell.  I hadn’t started out at my most chipper.  I had been looking for a nice bite to eat, some of my favorite conversation and to put a light buzz on.  I’d been musing on this and how “my god these people are REALLY REALLY like that.”  This wasn’t some contrived Sex & The City episode.  These were <strike>real</strike> people, trying to figure this stuff all out.  It was scary.  Which was one of those A HA moments similar to the one I had when I was doing the internet dating thing in 2002 and girls would say “WOW I’ll bet you’re really $ucce$$ful!”

You look at a room like that, and you see a vast array of cardboard cut-outs.  You know what they’re going to say next.  You know what they’re going to do, and the more you interact with them the less surprised you are by their total lack of character, individuality and fundamental identity.  Then they (of course) get mad when you roll your eyes as you mouth the words that are about to come out of their mouths.  I just want to grab them and shake them, give them a good smack and shout “YOU’RE IN THERE!  I KNOW YOU ARE.  JUST KNOCK THIS SHIT OFF! DON’T WORRY ABOUT THEM, THEY’LL FOLLOW YOUR LEAD.”

A girl walked up to the bar on my right side, 5’7″.  She was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a leather vest.  She had leather boots of indeterminate height with sufficient heels, and had some nice recent ink, both in the form of a ubiquitous lower-back tattoo and on her left arm. Totally out of place, she was an absolute breath of fresh air.

“Hey.  What’s up?”  She opened.  Knight to King’s Bishop 3.

“Ah, not much.  What’s going on with you?”

“Nuthin.  Hey, do you mind if I ask you a really personal question?”  Oh here it comes.

“Usually I’d say yes.” (lie) “But you don’t look like you fit in here so no, not at all.  Fire away. I may even answer it.”

She kept looking down at my notebook (where I had just finished writing “leather vest…” in that particular dialect of cuneiform that leaves me totally secure about leaving this notebook out in strange places.)

“So, are you one of those people who writes because you’re obsessive and it makes the pain go away or are you just taking down notes about the room here tonight?”
“Damn nice question.  I’m…”

“Yeah, got an answer?”  Full point.

“Both.  Hell, I’m just here ’cause its Wednesday and I’m here every Wednesday.  Tonight I came in and all this shit was going on, so I thought I should start taking down some raw material and snippets of conversation for the files.”

“Writer?”

“Getting there.  Programmer who loves to write more than program.”

“Cool.  Cool.  I’m here with a friend of mine, who invited me along.  Not really my Thing.”  She looked around at it all.  “So what do you think?”

I was ready to bang my head on the 3″ thick glass bar.  But I didn’t want to break it.

“I don’t really like it so much.  Not my thing either.”  I don’t have to be a raving shithead ALL the time.  But I ain’t gonna lie about it.   “I just don’t think it’s art.  Hey.  If he can get $8500 for one of these, more power to him.  But he ain’t gonna get it from me.”

“So do you live around here?”

“Nope.  Brooklyn Heights.  I just come here on Wednesdays.”

“Work near here?”

“Nope.  Not anymore.  But the place and people are worth the trip.”

“Cool.  You should really come to my bar.”

What IS it about bartenders?  I always pick them out of a crowd, usually without knowing what it is about them that I’m picking out.  Frequently they pick me as well.  I’ve got a couple theories.  But they’re pretty damn pretentious.  Believe it or not there’s a limit to my narcissism as well.

“Should I?”  What the hell.

“Yeah.  You definitely should.”

“When?”

“Monday.  I work Mondays.  Yeah, you should definitely come to my bar.  It’s on First ave between second and third streets.  Called DBA.” Fucking DBA. I knew DBA. Great Whiskey list.  “Check out the website.  We got webcams and everything so you can check if it’s busy before you come in.  drinkgoodstuff.com.  Definitely come in.”

“I will.”

“You gonna be here a few minutes?  I have to go talk to my friend.” Another one bites the dust.  “I promise I’ll be right back, ok?  I promise.”  Unnecessary, but warming.

So she skampered off, leaving me to go through another cider or two and sidebar some of my notes with conversational fragments.

Believe it or not, she came back.

With a Wookie.

“Hey.  I didn’t get your name.”  She asked, bringing me back to my senses.

“Mike.”

“Mike, Armando.  Armando, Mike.”

Armando looks to be 6’3″.  He’s Brazilian and what’s more is I have absolutely no idea how I know that.  But it’s absolutely true.  And no, he didn’t look like a Wookie.  He was just a bit dark skinned, big and entirely unexpected.  Tends to leave a very particular kind of impression.

“Hi Mike.”  He held out his hand, which looked like he had broken it at the wrist.  Ah.  I see.

“Hey Armando.”

“So, what do you think of all this?”  Kill me now.  He leaned in a bit closer than I’d have liked, “Ithn’t this the most pretentious thing you’ve ever seen?” His voice managed to raise at least a full octave in the midst of his sentence.  Imagine Serge from Beverly Hills Cop and you’ll get the idea.

“Oh thank GOD!  Armando, you’re a man after my own heart.”  Oops!  Lit him RIGHT the hell up.

“Oh my god I know.  It’s such a bunch of crap!  I’ve known him on and off for years.  This is actually…. you know what?  It’s actually just self-indulgent.”  I was writing furiously now.  Armando was shaking his head, looking at the paintings.  He had a thought and his head shot back around to me.

“Plus he wants to get MORE work done!”

“Work?”

“Ohmygod.  I know, can you believe it?  Have you SEEN him?”

“I’m not sure I would recognize him if I had.  I doubt it though.”

“Well, take a look at the video.  He looks great… *sigh* … there.”  He turned around and started scanning the room.

“There! See?”  He pointed off into the mob.  Nope.  I didn’t see.  I’m neither 6’3″ nor motivated to look for the guy.

“I’ll take your word for it I think.”

“Well, he has hair now.  But whatever.  He looks AWFUL! And on top of THAT the first thing he said to me tonight was ‘uch, Armando, I think I’m going to get my nose done.’”

I looked up at the screen for traces of nose breakage.  *shrug*

“Uhm… you’re not like… gonna use my name or anything, right?”  He seemed to take the first notice of the fact that I was writing down every. single. word.

“Nope.” I hoped I’d remember to change it.  Newly reassured he started rattling off things about the artist’s past that … yeesh … that I’m not even gonna put in here.

The two of them soaked in the room a bit before wordlessly negotiating their departure.

“Well, it was a pleasure meeting you Mike.”  He held out his hand.

“You too Armando.”

The two of them started for the door when she turned half way around.

“Monday?”

“Yeah.  Hey!  I never got your name.”

“Nope.  Let’s keep it that way.  I’ll just be ‘That Girl’ for a while.”  She smiled.

“Ha!  Deal.”

“See ya Monday.”

I just turned back to the bar and laughed for a few minutes, putting some finishing touches on my notes before closing the notebook for a little while.

Thankfully it was thinning out.  I think the open bar for these people had closed (I run my own tab, so I don’t notice these things but through the eyes of bartenders.)

The rest of the evening passed relatively uneventfully, with a couple exceptions that are too personal to the people I spoke with to put down in so crass a forum as this.

But I was absolutely amazed at the number of characters I had met.  Right out of central casting.  It really defied all imagination.

When I got home I looked up the “gossip columnist”s url and found a defunct blog with sporadic entries every 3-6 months or so. Hmmpf.

And the next Monday I did go to DBA, where there was a Whiskey 101 class starting, so I attended.  And, the “nameless” girl?  Married.  Still nameless.  Totally bewildered at how I could’ve got the impression she had been flirty.

Stuff like this doesn’t always happen.  In fact, it very rarely happens.  Oh, SOMEthing always happens.  But nothing like that night.  And never all at once like this.  I could shaggy dog this out to 150 pages; filling it with rich anecdotes that would keep you laughing a lot, thinking a little.  Then I could put a cover on it and call it “A Night At Slate” and who knows?  It might even sell.  But I’m nowhere near ready for that.  Not yet.

Instead I’ll just hit post.

HHC: Prototyping frustration

I really, honestly and truly expected to be farther along with the quick little todo list from the other day by now.  But I’m thwarted by trying to do things the easy way.

Sure, it’s just an education problem on my part. I’m sure Growl for windows and/or Snarl are just fine.  But I can’t seem to get them to pull RSS feeds and I’ve wasted too much time on it already.  So I’m bailing on that approach for now while looking for another feed reader.

I didn’t want to get quite so hung up on this, but, for the purposes of a technology proof, a notification engine of some kind (even if it’s something that ends up being replaced or rewritten six or seven times) is a core piece of functionality.

Sure, I’m sorta reading ahead, because I’ve got a pretty good picture in my head of what I think I want this all to look like on the back end (a design that may not survive contact with the development, to be sure.)

So what I’m going to do right now is pick up a couple RSS Readers and get them running so I can at least have something scaffolded out.  Hell, I may write my own before this is all over. I’ve done it before, it’s not exactly a high-end piece of computer science.

So… RSSOwl, here we come.

And, as always, if you’ve got a suggestion for a better component/solution to some of this stuff, I’m all ears.

EDIT: So.  Fucking.  Frustrated.  I installed RSSOwl, but it wouldn’t start. So instead I’m using Thunderbird’s RSS support.  It’s definitely NOT what I want.  It won’t handle the style of “push notification” semantic I’m looking for. BUT I put all my reddit RSS feeds in there, so at least it will serve the purpose of behaving as a proxy so I don’t have to go monkeying around directly to every social media site.

“Whatever. It’s…fine.”  *twitch*

 

HHC. Brainstorming, part 1

What I’m going to do next is just go through that feature wishlist I came up with 13 years ago, and put in the earlier post, and roughly dissect the items and see if I can’t come up with a practical feature list of some kind.  I’ll extract a running todo list from these little brainstorming sessions and keep them in some kind of special post someplace (I’m sure I can do that here in wordpress somehow.  I’ll figure it out.)

Ordinarily my inclination would be to lay all of these pieces out on 3×5 cards or a huge whiteboard or something, so I could design it from scratch (top up and bottom down, sorta meet in the middle.)  But as an experiment I’m going to just try and get things going as soon as I reasonably can, looking for low cost inter-operable pieces that I don’t have to write myself.  Yeah, maybe I get half way through and realize the approach won’t work.  That’s absolutely fine.

One architectural note that’s going to figure largely in my designs:  I’m not giving up my data.  The master location for all of my data MUST be on the machine at my feet.  Perhaps I’ll publish some data to a web service, but strictly as a client, if at all.

Let’s begin at the beginning then, shall we? I’ll try taking two at a time.

  1. A real-time ticker application that will be updated using RSS. (Not the current “refresh to update” silliness in aggregators of today) Publishable schedule items (to the rest of the world or a specific subset at my option)

What does that mean?  It’s really a few different pieces of functionality.

  • “real-time ticker”  That’s a marquis or on-screen display system for events.  So, if I’m going to go with a monolithic application, a single scrolling window.  BUT let’s keep things separate and use a desktop push alert system. THAT means something like Growl or Snarl that will capture updates (whatever they are, we don’t really know yet) that will be published at will.  Since Growl seems to have the larger market presence, I’m going to start with that.  It pops up windows with notifications published from “someplace.”  I assume I’ll be able to digest RSS somehow and feed it to Growl periodically.
  • “Publishable schedule items” To be frank I have NO idea what I meant by this.  Publish to who?  I already have my schedule.  For now I’ll translate this to: “Pick a calendar application such as google calendar, a desktop PIM application, Mozilla Thunderbird’s ‘Lightning’ extension or similar that will allow me to sync items between devices, making it available to other HHC components.”  Fortunately I already use Thunderbird for email (it’s really useful for managing more than one email account, much less the dozen plus I’m juggling) and, while I find the Lightning extension a bit cumbersome, it might be a good candidate

2. To subscribe to lists of events that are occurring around my area geographically, and virtually and have those events appear in a calendaring application. To use a blog or blog-like publishing environment (I’m thinking Zope with  CMF) for a personal desktop heads-up-display console from which I work at all times.

  • Ah, the heads-up-display item.  I really wanted to have an application with a gui component that would live on the right side of my screen containing a little calendar and some other stuff (which we’ll get to later), such that if I maximized other application windows, it would still be, not “always on top” but would shrink the client window so that it was always there (but not obscuring anything.)  In older versions of Windows, you could create an application that would do that.  I’m not at all sure if you can in Windows 10 or not. This needs research.
  • Subscribing to local event lists is easy.  I just have to find and select some.  Things like meetup, etc.  There are a few sites, local subreddits, yadda yadda.

Todo

  1. Install Growl and publish a test event or two.
  2. Create test case for publishing an RSS feed of some kind to Growl.  (I may have to digest a feed and publish some other kind of event.  I’ve no idea.  Needs proof of concept work.)
  3. Put calendar items in Lightning (already installed) and see if it’s open enough that I can get to them.  Start looking for alternative if that’s not the case.
  4. Find out if I can create a client-diminishing sidebar application window that will stay up at all times.
  5. Dig up a half dozen feeds or subscription services (even if I have to screen scrape some html) with local events (specifically local to me.  Make it work first. Make it generic later.  Premature optimization is the root of all evil.)

There. So I have five discrete todo items to take care of.  Frankly this all shouldn’t take more than a few hours of poking around and testing stuff out in one coding platform or another.

And we’re off.

 

o7

 

HHC, Exposed

In a meager and perhaps completely futile attempt to keep myself honest I’ve tentatively decided that I’m going to chart the progress of actually putting the HHC system together here, complete with notes, design decisions, etc.

I’ve spent an awful lot of my life hoarding hard-won knowledge and while I don’t think there’s the slightest thing wrong with that (you fuckers still aren’t getting my cookie recipe) I’m not sure the tactic has done me any favors.

So in the interest of experimentation, let’s try this out and see what comes of it.

ugh

God I hate this fucking font. Problem is, I have all the graphic design skills of…some…thing that doesn’t have any graphic design skills. It’s on my list though. Maybe I’ll just end up using this as a platform to experiment with CSS, etc. and make a godawful mess of the thing in the process.

Yeah. That actually sounds like fun.

Stay tuned, it’s about to get messy.

WordPress wiki plugin? (or: It’s like blogging, but different)

As you might imagine (with what 4 posts under my belt in two weeks?) I’m trying to figure out what it is I’m going to do with this site. Or, perhaps better stated, how I’m going to do it.

I like the blog format, always have.  But there’s always been a problem with it and that’s that posts sort of drift off in to the past and out of site (heh, see what I did there? I kill me. “Someone ought to.” … “You shut up. we’re not doing that here.” … “Who’s we? Frog in yer pocket?”) forever.

Let’s take that HHC post I hit publish on less than 5 minutes ago.  That’s fine. It ain’t art, nor is it literature, or particularly erudite by my standards.  But what I’d much rather do than let it drift off is be able to actively change it as needed. Expand it, break it apart into smaller pieces as needed.

It starts to sound more like a wiki (in the original c2.com sense, wikipedia) than a blog.  So maybe the thing to do is get a WordPress wiki plugin (that models itself after basic wikis rather than “group collaboration sites”), install it and see how it goes.

I might have to actually write the thing myself, which wouldn’t really break my heart, truth be told.

We’ll see. I’m gonna go poke around some.

Huge Honkin’ Console…back from the dead

I’ve been working through my archives of writing, old blog posts, etc. and I came across the original post I made back in 2003 (really? 13 years?  ugh) talking about my fantasy “Huge Honkin’ Console” project.  Going through it I realized (cringeworthy editorializing aside) that I pretty much still want every single thing on this list.  I may load up the actual page somewhere here, as it’s a marvel of early 2000s Radio Userland blog formatting (past the age of spinning guitar bullet icons, but too early for magazine layout web pages, which suck just as much.)

So here’s the outline, for your amusement and my accountability, pasted right out of the original post text’s html.  I’ll even leave in the crappy links for now, to show how much the blogosphere (remember that word?) has changed in the last 13 years:


I want…

  1. A real-time ticker application that will be updated using RSS. (Not the current “refresh to update” silliness in aggregators of today) Publishable schedule items (to the rest of the world or a specific subset at my option)
  2. To subscribe to lists of events that are occurring around my area geographically, and virtually and have those events appear in a calendaring application. To use a blog or blog-like publishing environment (I’m thinking Zope with  CMF) for a personal desktop
    heads-up-display console from which I work at all times.
  3. A contact-management system that would make Harvey MacKay faint from information overload.
  4. Notifications and ticklers (woohoo!) for the following:
    1. People who’ve emailed me who I’m “officially due” to contact
    2. Software projects and updates that I’m interested in but may not have explicitly subscribed to.
    3. The same thing with commercial products (books, music, movies, etc.)
    4. All of this to bubble up into the ticker application mentioned above as well as a “product wishlist” that’s automatically maintained and published to a well-known location so I never have to answer the question “What do you want for (insert holiday here)?” again.
  5. A database of articles and references to articles (and other reference materials) on a huge honkin’ LOCAL hard drive that’s accessible through automated AND manual topic discovery as well as a full blown search engine.  (For instance:  All of Shakespeare, the “30 days to a more readable blog” article set. Comments on my own posts off of UCCU.)
  6. the built-in modem that comes with my computer to behave as my
    answering machine, saving audio transcripts of incoming messages as well as recording live conversations. AND:

    1. Trap caller-ids and match them against my address book, entering the call event PERMANENTLY in an ever-growing log system.
    2. A record to either automatically or at my option (selectable at run time) pull up references to the caller, and lists of communications over time. Including but not limited to:
    3. Incoming and outgoing phone calls with:
      • speech-to-text generated transcripts
      • instant messaging transcripts
      • lists of instantly accessible emails between both parties.
      • cross-references between other parties involved in all mentioned conversations.
  7. Intelligent Agents (ooh, blast from the past 😉 to be constantly indexing and searching the internet for other things that I might be interested in.
  8. Fully functional annotation engines to work in conjunction with my window-on-the-web environment so I can mark-up both cached and remote versions of web pages for future reference.
  9. The ability to publish these annotations (the way a few applications used to be able to do… uTok, etc.) so that other people can view them as well.
  10. Ubiquitous PGP (or equiv) system for communication across email, instant messaging, etc. People will need to be approved to be added to the list.
  11. Notifications when people read, comment on, or annotate anything I’ve published out in publicly-accessable land. (and all the other psycho TrackBack, Pingback features that have shown up in the blogosphere in the last year or so.)
  12. Published playlists from iTunes, WinAmp and any other damn thing. Note I don’t mean publishing the mp3s, just the playlists so I can compare with other people and see what music I might be missing in the world. (Hilary sit the hell back down and shut up.)
  13. Remote whiteboard chatting  (Jabber plug-in anyone?)
  14. horrifyingly high-performance rpc mechanisms (XmlRpc for now, but something a bit more svelt in the future) to distribute this work load on my local lan however I see fit (or auto-balanced.)
  15. Published blog entries (like this one) to auto-annotate with links to the right places (i.e. Jabber, uTok,(no longer available.) , Zope, CMF, RSS, etc should all be auto-linked without me having to “create shortcuts” in Radio (which just took about 20 minutes).)
  16. Integrated desktop:
    1. liveTopics
    2. Wiki
    3. Blogging
  17. Built-in mind-mapping and diagramming toolkits for charting ideas and representing them textually once the “virtual whiteboarding” session is done. (Not to mention the automated post-session analysis and discovery phase designed to extrapolate on behalf of the participants.)
  18. That cool little thing from the AT&T commercial a few years ago where the girl plays the first 3 notes of a song on her guitar and the Agent goes and grabs the song title.
  19. Live chatting and always on IRC with private subscription-only channels between circles of friends.
  20. Newsgroups as RSS feeds, distilled into threads automatically, with a signal-to-noise ratio rating accompanying each article and group.
  21. And I want it ALL in a unified source-accessible platform (I’ll pay.  Doesn’t have to be open source.  But I will need the source)
  22. A massively flexible api for developing plug ins for the 50,000,000 things I haven’t thought of and the 150 or so I’m gonna make money on and therefore am not mentioning here.

Adorable right?  But it highlights some really fascinating things to me. As contrasted with the internet back then, the web is a worse place now. None of this stuff seemed the least bit outlandish to me back then, and certainly it’s much more within reach now.

This is what the conversation was like back in the day (something something ‘damn kids’.)  People talked about the possibilities of technology and the web and how we were going to integrate it in to our lives.

There were all kinds of neat ways for wiring my website with your web site so we could have our own little domains but still keep abreast of what was going on with everyone else.

And I wonder still what really happened.  Certainly the blame can be laid largely at the door of social media and later at the rise of the smart phone.   There used to be cool applications for interacting with websites. Now it’s just “post this to twitter, share this on facebook” and that’s it.

Let’s take my favorite example from back in the day: uTok.

uTok was a horrifically insecure little piece of software.  It would attach itself like a cute little barnacle to your web browser and, for every web page you visited, it had a live chat room of other uTok users who were accessing that page (or site, I forget the granularity) at the same time, a comment section that was live.  It was great. And yeah, of course it worked by sharing your browsing habits to a centralized server and recording your every move to provide tracking information to advertisers (I presume.)

BUT IT WAS FUCKING COOL!

Remember ICQ? Yahoo Messenger? AIM? Little chat applications that allowed you to just have little IM conversations without bleating everything that comes out of your mouth in to public space. And yes, you can direct message on twitter, or message people on facehole.

Yes. On one hand, I’m That Old Guy now. I’m absolutely fine with that. (And once you hit your 40s, you’ll understand why, you little shit.)

What I don’t know is the answer to this:

Has the immediacy of bite sized instant gratification social media actually resulted in a dumbing down of discourse (across all subjects) or has it simply resulted in a democratization of use that’s made it appear that way by reducing the accessibility barrier to the unwashed masses of users?

Admittedly, you have to write stuff to have a blog. You’ve got to have at least a marginal facility at stringing words together, coupled with an intention to do so.  That right there shuts out most of the population of the Little Blue Dot.

And it could also be that I frequent things like Twitter, where bite-sized bleats are all you can really manage, or reddit, where messages are fire and forget, discussion groups with no real continuity.

But for now I’m going to start at the top of that list and see if I can’t chart my way through and estimate what it will take to get that done, maybe even take a bite out of it.

 

o7

 

Scenes from the office: #632,112,642.5

End of a long week, finally doing a big release that my code isn’t a part of.  Someone makes a smartass comment.

Boss, to me “Are we allowed to throw things at people here?”

“If YOU’re asking ME that, we need to have a serious conversation about titles and compensation.”

Uncomfortable laughter…dead silence.  Chatterbox breaks the ice with nonsequitur.

Point made.