Code Wrangling

A few years ago, as one of my buddies and I were working through a particularly tenacious set of problems at work, we hit on the idea of putting together a blog to take notes on the problems we found and how we got around them. Well, now he’s gone and I’m likely on my way out, so I’ve decided to resurrect that idea.

It’s not going to be a technical blog in the traditional sense. I’m not planning on filling it with code 100% of the time because, let’s face it, there are already a bunch of those and if I give up all my secrets no one will hire me to work magic. What it will be is a high-level overview of snippets of problems. It should prove to be interesting.

There are already a few posts up there that I pulled from my LinkedIn profile, but there will be more coming each week. As long as I’m working in programming, that is. Expect to see notes on Geofencing, Android development, the odd bit of SQL, and plenty of architecture.

So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce my new sister blog to this one. Drop by every now and then and I’ll weave you a tale from code side. You might even find an answer or two.

Check it out here

It’s Been A Marathon

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It’s the last Friday of the month again and that means it’s time for another installment of the We Are The World blogfest – that monthly post where I try to point out something positive in a world that sometimes seems to be going mad.

In truth, it’s usually best to focus on the good stuff rather than perseverate on the bad things, but a gentle reminder is sometimes a good thing.

Fifty years ago the Boston Marathon was a men-only event. It was felt that women were just far too delicate to handle the rigors of running a long distance. Hell, it was 1972 before women were officially allowed into it. But in 1967 Katherine Switzer signed up for the race as K.V. Switzer and ran it. She even had to endure race officials forcibly trying to remove her from the race as she was running it, but managed to finish it in 4 hours and 20 minutes.

So, on the one hand it sucks that she had to put up with crap like that, but on the other, she proved her point succinctly by not only finishing the race, but surviving to tell about it.

This year, at age 70, she entered it again and finished in 4 hours and 44 minutes.

For the record, my estimated time in the Boston Marathon can be measured in weeks.

The specter of sexism is still prevalent in our society, but at least it’s slowly eroding. Personally, I never got sexism. Why would you want to marginalize 51% of the population just because they happen to look better in dresses? Seriously, it’s ridiculous.

Nowadays, women regularly run the Boston Marathon, thanks in part to the sheer moxie of Katherine Switzer who not only was the first woman to run it, but who ran it again when she was 70.

The We Are The World Blogfest is a monthly collection of feel-good blog posts about whatever each blogger happens to think was a good thing. If you’d like to join up, you can leave a note in the comments or check out WATWB’s Facebook page for more information.

This month’s co-hosts are Simon Falk, Inderpreet Kaur Uppal, Mary J. Giese, Peter Nena and Belinda Witzenhausen.

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Little Things

My old Kenpo instructor (now retired) used to say, “Kata is how the system expresses itself.” It was one of those little things he’d say that made perfect sense at the time as long as you didn’t think too hard about it. Later, I’d wake up at 3am or 4am or whenever the dog decided to go out, and I’d think, “Wait. What?”

Of course, after pondering for a bit, I’d come to almost the exact same conclusion that I had when I first heard it. Full circle.

Now, for those of you scratching your heads wonder what the heck a kata is, it’s a pre-programmed set of movements that’s common in the martial arts. Some systems live and die by them, others use them sparingly, still others eschew them entirely. Think of kata as a way of chaining strikes and blocks together and you’ll get the general gist.

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One of these people understands movement, the other does not

His intention was to point out that kata is a way to display the ebb and flow of the system. It’s not carved in stone, it’s not the end all be all of movement, but it allows us to take the bits and pieces of Kenpo and see how they can fit together. Each kata has a kind of theme with it, be it retreat, dealing with grabs, dealing with pushes, dealing with punches, or kicking people when they’re on the ground. And each of those kata are built up using techniques and transitions. In a way, kata is how the system expresses itself, by pulling the basics into techniques and then finally putting the techniques together into a coherent piece of expression. Ideally, in the final analysis of kata, they become moving meditation.

Since kata are built on techniques which, in turn, are built on basics, one could say a kata is a large system comprised of little things. They may look fancy, but at their heart kata are nothing more than a lot of things like steps, blocks, kicks, and punches all performed in a particular sequence. Which would imply each of those little things has to be done correctly to get the whole sequence to come out right.

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Otherwise someone gets shot.

This may seem like an esoteric thing, limited only to arcane aspects of the martial arts, but it’s really not. Every large system is built on little things, be it a book or a program or even just painting your bathroom.

Little things matter. In the writing world, it’s the small details that make the story come to life. Maybe a character’s penchant for peanut butter shakes or cheap beer doesn’t drive the plot, but it can say a lot about the character. That character, in turn, helps move the plot forward.

I’m not saying “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is wrong, I’m saying pay attention to those little details and treat those details with as much care you can. The end result, be it a kata, a program, or a book will be all that much richer for the attention.

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Even your chainsaw kata will look better.

Book Review: Transmute

Gotta love the good reviews. Go check Bryan’s own works; they’re pretty great.

bryan the writer

TransmuteTransmute by Eric Lahti

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To be fair, I am already a fan of Eric Lahti so I was excited when this book came out. I have read the entire “Henchmen” series starting from book 1 and have now finished “Transmute”. I love books in a series where I can get into the specifics of the characters. I get to grow to like and know those characters as if they were family members. You smile when they triumph, you wince when they’re in pain, and you feel sad when they fail.

Eric has a storytelling style all his own. He takes you from the beginning of the book to the end and pulls you through by your nose. His books offer the same adrenaline filled ride every time and consistently. With a mix of martial arts, witty humor, and his own brand storytelling I found…

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Book Review – Mudmen by Shitij Sharma

Mudmen: The Quest for Humanity is one of the more unique books I’ve read. It starts with a question I think everyone has asked themselves at some point or another point in their lives: could I do a better job than God?

Don’t worry, the jury is still out on that one.

I think at some point in their development, every writer goes through a deeply philosophical phase. Most books don’t go too deep into philosophical territory for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is takes a steady hand to make such huge things small enough for most people to wrap their heads around.

Mudmen follows the events that take place after the world comes to an end and the whole of humanity is reduced to ashes. One person winds up with the ability to rewrite reality and sets out to do exactly that. Unfortunately for him, reality isn’t as easy to recode as, say, editing the text on the back of a box of cereal or pirating music. Reality, it turns out, is complicated stuff. Lot of ins, lot of outs, lot of interested parties, as the saying goes.

Out of the miasma this little guy creates comes something altogether unexpected: The resurgence of humanity. Of course, the humans do what we’re best at: steal the power of the gods for ourselves, even though we’re completely incapable of figuring out what to do with it.

This is book one of a three book set. Truthfully, it weighs in at 88 pages or so, so novella may be more technically accurate. Not that such triviality is all that important. The important thing to realize is this is just the first third of a longer piece. Truthfully, I would have like to see the whole work released as a single installment, but that’s just me. This first third gives us an introduction to the characters and rules of the Mudmen. Presumably, the remainder of the series will fill out the world more. Sharma asks some big questions in book one; let’s hope he provides some big answers as the story continues.

Rich in metaphor and deeply layered meaning, Mudmen isn’t a story to be undertaken expecting a few gun fights, a car chase, and some steamy sex. This is musings on the nature of being, the nature of the universe, and the nature of humanity.

What if you thought you could play a better god than God?

Mudmen is a story unlike anything you have ever seen before. It all starts with a half-crazed dwarf scribbling furiously on a piece of paper while the world outside his little cottage is ravaged by a great storm. There is an artifact in his possession which gives him power over all else, but that artifact is stolen by the very creatures that he gave birth to in his frustration – these creatures are what we come to know as the Mudmen.

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Get your copy on Amazon

Your Good Friend, The One Star Review

If you’re working on a book, I hate to break it to you, but you’re going to get negative feedback. It can range from critiques about the plot or the editing or the characters or any number of things. The first negative review stings. After all, you’ve just poured how many countless hours of blood, sweat, and bourbon into a story, stayed awake far longer than you should have, and worked yourself into a frothy frenzy worrying about things and now some jerk is going to come along and say he or she doesn’t like it?

How dare they?

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The Ultimate Warrior is enraged by that!

While it’s tempting to go full Trump and Tweet your outrage to the world, that’s not really a recommended strategy for dealing with negative reviews or feedback. Sure, it’s easy for me to sit on my high horse and pontificate about how you should feel when someone impugns your hard work, but step back for a moment and think about it before you do anything rash.

For starters, it’s a given that not everyone is going to like your work. People are different and not everyone likes the same things. Ergo, ipso facto, dominus pizza, there are going to be people who just don’t like what you’re writing just because they don’t like that style or genre. For instance, I’m not big on erotica or books about sports. Let alone sports erotica.

It’s kind of been my experience that negative reviews fall into two categories; the “this book is so bad it gave me cancer” category and the “this is what I didn’t like and why I didn’t like it category.”

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Zoidberg: Worst. critic. ever.

Trust me on this: ignore the reviews from the first category. There’s nothing you can do to change those. Nod, smile, and move on.

The second category, however, can be a gold mine. If someone takes the time to write a review and tells you why they didn’t like your book (other than it sucked), that’s the time to listen. You may not agree with everything they say, but they’re looking at your work with different eyes and may be seeing things you’re not. At the very least, take their comments to heart and try to look at your story through their eyes.

Because in the end, you may have written the story, but the readers get to experience it. That makes it their story.

And never, ever, reply to negative comments. Especially when Zoidberg makes them (fun fact: my computer’s network name is zoidberg. Why? Because I already had Fry, Bender, and Calculon). I have only responded to criticism once and that was to agree with someone who said there was a lot of head-hopping going on. There was and he was right and the fact that it was noticeable means I did it wrong. Even after I wrote a post on how bad of idea it is to head hop.

Sigh. I never learn.

Got any bad reviews you’d like to share?

 

Merging Writing & Kenpo

A long time ago, while I was studying for my Green Belt in Kenpo, I was a cocky dude who thought he knew everything. Newsflash, I was wrong, but that’s beside the point. While I working on a technique (Breaking Wing, I think), I kept rushing to the throw and missing the setup for the throw. So, when I was trying to work it with someone, I just couldn’t get the throw to work.

One of the instructors, a guy that had been around for a while – back to the Ed Parker days, I believe – told me to slow down and work each piece of the technique as if it were the whole technique. “Do what you’re doing while you’re doing it,” he said. After each part is done, then move to the next part and do it while you’re doing it.

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And remember to completely do it

The bottom line was this: the throw in Breaking Wing works because the previous two parts of the technique (a middle knuckle to the armpit and raking the ribs, followed with snaking around the opponent’s arm and torquing their shoulder) set up the final throw. Without those two pieces first disrupting the arm and then breaking the balance, the throw just ain’t gonna happen.

Kenpo’s full of stuff like that. It works brilliantly if each part is done correctly. Bork up one part and the rest is likely to fail.

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A little bit back Damyanti Biswas wrote a blog post about ideal writer’s retreats. As per Damyanti’s usual standards, it makes for an interesting read and leaves you with a good question to think about.

The general gist was, if you could create an ideal writer’s retreat, what would it look like? She trends toward the “no good view whatsoever” school of thought because excellent vistas mean excellent staring at the vista. Writing time, to Damyanti, is meant to be writing time, not staring into space time.

I realized I have no real ideal writing space. I prefer my chair with my feet up my beat-up ottoman, but our dog also prefers that space, so I wind up writing from the couch a lot of the time. Usually with the TV on and a bourbon and cola nearby.

On the other hand, I also wrote the first chapter of Transmute at the Starbucks on Central, surrounded by chatty college students and babbling homeless people. The coffee wasn’t that great and someone thought it would be a good idea to heat up my cheese danish. All in all, not the best of circumstances, but I manage to make it work.

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I’ll be this sucker would have drowned out the noise.

I guess, once I get into the zone of doing something, I tend to focus on it. Maybe those words from Mr. Ericson all those years ago actually found a place to take root in my skull and I’ve actually found a way to do what I’m doing while I’m doing it. All it takes is focus. And a wife that will put up with me asking what just happened on TV all the time.

See, the switch from Kenpo to writing only felt like a bizarre segue into a completely different thing.

What about you? Do you have anything specific that you need to write?