More great reading

Some good reads on other blogs…  Check them out!

Check out one of Graham’s writing inspirations.  I was a huge fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but never really stopped to think about the genesis of the original show.  Thanks for writing about it, Graham!

The Chipper Muse interviews the founders of Story Dam – a resource I’m interested in checking out because I seriously need more feedback on my writing and interaction with other writers.

Millie Ho shares a short piece that is food for writers’ thoughts.  Perhaps we should all live a bit more dangerously.

There must have been a zillion Thanksgiving Day posts, but this is the one I enjoyed most.

This post that I found trolling the ‘Random’ tag on WordPress is brilliant in its randomness, and makes me glad I never separate my toothbrush from my toothpaste.


I’m currently taking a research course.  It’s the final formal course in my Master’s degree program, and after this, I will just have to do my thesis.  In this research course, I have to design a study.  I don’t have to do the study – I just have to design it.  Which still involves tons of reading and hypothesizing and reviewing articles and writing.  I’ve chosen to study complexity science and complex adaptive systems, and how the principles of complexity may be useful when applied either directly or metaphorically to software project development activities.  This sounds spectacularly interesting to you, I’m sure.

Anyway, in order to figure out where I wanted to go with this stuff, I had to do a lot of reading on complexity to give myself a basis for the rest of the work.  I had been introduced to the concept in an earlier course, but really didn’t know about it in any depth.  One of the books I chose as a primer for myself is called Simply Complexity – a clear guide to complexity theory.  After having read the book, I can say I support the author’s assertion that it is a clear guide to complexity theory.  One of the reasons the author was successful was because he chose illustrations that were more entertaining than the core concepts alone would have been.

Quick background -you can think of agents as people, and a complex adaptive system as any group of people.  An oversimplified way to explain complex adaptive systems is that they are open systems that consist of many agents that have some dependencies upon each other, interact together, can learn based on their own memory or other kinds of feedback, and therefore, they adapt over time, causing events to emerge at the whole system level, even without any kind of external controller telling them all what to do.

A typical example might be a traffic jam.  Lots of people are trying to choose the best route to work, and they make their choices based on their memory of traffic patterns, and maybe a news report of what traffic looks like at the time they are leaving.  They make their best guess, which can only be judged right or wrong based on what everyone else out on the road chooses to do.  In that way, a traffic jam can form, consisting of a particular set of people, even though no single person coordinated the movements of all those people to get them to the places on the road at the exact times to create that particular traffic jam.  The people that chose an alternative route were “right” in this case, though they couldn’t know they would be right until they got out on the road and drove to wherever they were going.

Fairly late in the book, the author attempts to explain how various types of mathematics and science can be used to explain the way agents in a complex adaptive system behave.  He shares the results of a study that modeled human relationships and measured a virtual society’s dating habits to address the question of whether society is moving in a direction where there are fewer and fewer long-term relationships because individuals have become more and more picky about their mates over time.  Virtual people were given lists of things they liked and disliked and a simulator had them wander around meeting others who they would pair up with based on how many elements of their lists were in common.  The more they had in common, the longer they stayed together.

Each person in the population was labeled based on whether they were currently single or in a relationship and how many previous relationships they’d been in.  Someone that was never in a relationship before and was still single was labeled 0S, and someone who was in a relationship and had two prior relationships was labeled 2R, and so on.  It turns out that this labeling is what scientists studying nuclear physics do to describe radioactive decay.  An atom starts out whole (0S), having never lost any part of itself to decay, then it decays a bit (0R), then stabilizes (1S), then decays (1R), then stabilizes (2S).

It is a little sobering to try to categorize yourself this way.  If I count only serious relationships, then I am currently a 6R, but if I add in some of the questionable ones that didn’t last long, but still existed, I’d guess I’m more along the lines of a 10-12R.  Measuring your own relationships, where do you sit on the scale of radioactive decay?

Do ants have muscles?

That was the question I asked myself recently when watching an ant crawl steadily around in my bathtub, carrying around one of his dead brothers.  This time of year, when it starts to rain in California, no matter what precautions we take, we get invaded by ants whose natural habitat has become too wet for their liking.  I hate ants.  With a passion.  Anyway, as I watched the abhorrent insect cross my shiny white bathtub, it suddenly occurred to me that ants must have muscles.  I’ve never thought about this before.  I’m not sure why, but in my mind, they seem more likely to be made of wire or plastic and I must only associate muscles with fleshy things.  When I asked my partner what she thought about ant muscles, she just shrugged, and said, “Well, they must have muscles.  I think I’ve seen a diagram of an ant that showed muscles.  You know, they are very strong insects and can carry many times their weight.”  She used to be a school teacher, so she can’t help herself from answering my ridiculous random questions as though they are perfectly natural.

Well, I did know they could carry many times their body weight, but I still didn’t think of them having muscles.  I decided to Google it to see what more I could find out.  There are a surprising number of relevant links that come up when you google ‘do ants have muscles.’  I particularly enjoyed this page, with a few interesting “Ant Factoids.”  My favorite was the answer to the question, “How do ants communicate?”  Answer:

They release pheromones with specific messages, such as “Follow me to food!” or “Attack the intruder!”

Seems like a pretty nice simple life, doesn’t it?  Until you release pheromones that tell your buddies to invade my house when it’s wet outside, anyway.  Do that, and I cannot make any promises that your life will remain simple.

Blog spam returns

Well, the blog spam never stopped coming, actually.  I had a pile to sort through….

Like a Freshman, I’m often performing a search on line for articles which will assist me get further ahead.

Um…  This is probably not the right place…

This is the correct weblog for anybody who needs to find out about this topic. You understand a lot its nearly exhausting to argue with you (not that I truly would want?HaHa). You undoubtedly put a brand new spin on a topic thats been written about for years. Great stuff, simply great!

It’s actually not that exhausting to argue with me.  I’m not that big on arguing.

There is an ending. Just remember that I meant for this to be an art game. I do feel like I spent an inordinate amount of time on the much more traditional gameplay elements, which might make the meaning of the game a bit unclear. In the event you mess around with it though, you’ll discover it.

This is just brilliant.  I love that you meant for this to be an art game.  I’m not so sure that I will discover the meaning of it, though, even in the event I mess around with it.



Kudos from my co-workers

It is uncharacteristic of me to share something like this because I tend not to want to toot my own horn, but I have to share this email that was sent to my boss because I’ve been posting some about the challenges of communicating with my offshore co-workers.  It’s probably completely un-PC for me to say this, but this I thought this email was adorable – and speaking of vocabulary, ‘adorable’ is not a word that would generally come out of my mouth.  Not even when looking at kittens.  Anyway, read on…  I will use [M] to represent [My name].

Hi [My boss that takes his shoes off all the time],

As I talked to QA leaders these days, some feedback from them for [M] are that she’s a very responsible PM who’s always ready to step out answering/resolving project related questions/problems, she doesn’t hesitate to ask around to help if she doesn’t know the answers, she always tries to make project plan better and detailed including bugs and risks.

Although [M] is a new PM for [our main software system], she represents us that she’s willing to make this project better, which encourages us a lot to work towards the same goal with her.

I want to say Thank You here to [M] and report these to you as [M’s] good behaviors.

Needless to say, I’m grateful for the feedback.  Perhaps even more so because of the not-so-perfect English.  It sure is nice when people make an effort to share positive feedback about the people they work with.  We should probably all try it a little more…

Random strangers

There are two random strangers that I see practically every day.  They are part of my life, though they remain random strangers.  Even if I exchange a word or two with them, their stranger status doesn’t change.  It’s just that I see them so often I am obliged to say, “Hey,” every now and then, lest the alternative, acting like they are invisible when really I’m trying to pretend I’m invisible, offends them.  Frankly, I doubt they’d care one way or the other, but that’s besides the point.  These two strangers strike me as unusual.  More odd than most strangers I notice, and my wallflower nature gives me lots of opportunities to notice.

Stranger One:  A very old Asian man lives in my neighborhood.  I don’t know exactly where, but I suspect he lives somewhere on my square block – not on my street, but nearby.  He walks around the block over and over and over and over and over.  I wouldn’t be able to type ‘over and over’ enough times to capture how often he slowly makes his way around the block.  It is as though he is compelled to move constantly, albeit at his age-inhibited pace.  He walks, rain or shine.  He wears an old-fashioned brown hat with a brim and has heavy dark-framed glasses.  He carries a string of beads.  I imagine they are Tibetan prayer beads, but the could just as easily be Catholic rosary beads.  I’m not sure he speaks English.  He seems to say “Hi,” now and then, but the sound comes out more as a grunt than a word, so it’s hard to say.  I’m not the best judge of age, but if I had to guess, I’d put him around 90.  It amazes me that he walks so constantly, and I wonder whether he lives alone or has family that watches over him – people that tell him not to leave the block, but let him walk for hours because he can’t help himself.  I wonder what goes through his mind on his endless journey around the block.  Whatever it is, there is something oddly comforting in seeing him pass by the house dozens of times a week.

Stranger Two:  A tall-ish woman with long-ish dishwater, light brown, hair, generally tied messily up at the back of her neck, works in an office in the same office building that I work in.  She drives a small maroon Toyota pick-up truck.  She has removed the leading ‘to,’ and trailing ‘ta,’ so the back of the truck loudly says, ‘YO.’  She wears jeans that are too big, and sag down on her hips, not quite so far as the ridiculous kids that wear their jeans half way down their asses, but approaching that level.  Her black t-shirts are in the multiple ‘XL’ range, which probably helps hide just how far her jeans are sliding down.  When she’s walking up to the building, she always cuts through the ‘garden,’ inste
ad of walking up the sidewalk, and when I’m outside she feels the need to say she’s working on taking the appropriate route instead of walking through the plants.  Now for the exciting part, though.  This woman has a large parrot that is always with her, sometimes perched on its owners hand, other times on her shoulder.  When the bird sits on her shoulder, it bobs its head up and down dramatically with each step the woman takes.

So far, I’m not a fiction writer, but if I someday decide to give it a shot, I imagine my observations of random strangers like this will help me when it comes to character-building.

Vocabulary Lessons

Recently at work, I’ve been privy to a number of conversations or emails that are really amusing vocabulary lessons in disguise.  Or, at least I like to think of them that way.  It’s my automatic defense to the ridiculous level of intelligence I am surrounded by every day.  If I look at it as entertaining, I won’t think so much about how much my vocabulary just plain sucks in comparison.  Most of the work I and my immediate coworkers do involves making changes to a prodigious software system.  Each project gets named with a phrase that is meant to explain what the work is about.  Fix such-and-such file, or modify file processor to accept .xyz file type.  These names are not very exciting, and sometimes they border on obscene in their length or phrasing.  Like this one:  Reports for ABC jobs should indicate they are reports for ABC jobs.

In a meeting where upcoming projects were being discussed, my boss that doesn’t like to wear shoes took issue with the name of a new initiative.  It is called, “ABC Process Tuning.”  Tuning, to him, and probably to lots of other people, means tightening, optimizing – somehow making something run better.  But, apparently that is not what this project is really about.  It’s more like a housecleaning project.  Get rid of extra junk that’s not needed.  That project name would work for me, but my boss’ argument was this:

“That title is a misnomer.  It’s misleading.  I mean, you’re not really tuning anything, are you?  You are simply removing detritus!”

Now, I had heard that word before.  I could immediately spell it in my head.  And, it was fairly easy to determine the meaning based on context, but I didn’t really know what it meant.  Last night, lying in bed, thinking I was telling a rather funny story to my other half, I recounted this situation in some detail, and as soon as I got to the detritus punch-line, she sleepily said, “Oh, I know what that means.  It’s used all the time with regard to plant biology.”  Come on!  Am I the only person surprised to hear this term used in everyday speech?

According to, the meaning is:




1.  rock in small particles or other material worn or broken away from a mass, as by the action of water or glacial ice.
2.  any disintegrated material; debris.
I guess between those two, I like the first description best, because I can imagine our massive software system being slowly ground away by an ancient glacier.  The only way to survive being a software project manager is to find humor and entertainment wherever you can, no matter how cheap or weak it is….

The micro-climate of my office

Not long after I started my new job, I wrote a post on a few other new guys that started soon after I did.  The techie-from-a-cave guy works from another city, so I haven’t seen him since that first week.  The small guy with strong glasses, though, works in my office and I see him every day – well, almost every day.  Sometimes it’s hard to find him because he moves around a lot.  It seems that every cubicle he’s tried has some climate issue associated with it. He gets cold very easily.  None of the rest of us has this problem.  It’s not to say we don’t notice the temperature fluctuations.  We do.  In fact, my office seems to be a tiny indoor representation of the Bay Area climate.  You need to dress in layers because it goes from warm to cool to too warm to a little too cool.  Layers don’t work for the small new guy with the strong, large glasses, though.  In addition to moving his location frequently, trying to find just the right cubicle that doesn’t come with a draft, he’s taken to climbing up onto desks and taping papers and manila folders over the air ducts in the ceiling near whichever cubicle he is trying out.  One day last week I realized he wasn’t in the office – not because I didn’t hear him or see him in a meeting, but because I never saw him climbing around taping things onto the ceiling.  I see him as a little library mouse gopher-man now.  He’s small, and he scurries around climbing on furniture, wearing his strong glasses that make his eyes look larger than they should.  One day I suggested he bring an extra sweatshirt or sweater to work to help when it gets a little chilly, and he continued past me, muttering under his breath that another shirt wouldn’t help because it’s his bald head that’s the problem – he loses all his heat from there.  I thought about suggesting a hat, but thought I might be crossing a line, so I just watched him wander away looking for the perfect place to sit.

A wedding with the perfect touches

I went to the wedding of a very good friend of mine this weekend, and although I would never have expected less, I was still blown away by the small details that the happy couple arranged to make their wedding such a perfect reflection of them.  It started with the “Save the Date” notice they sent out a few months ago.  They portrayed themselves as mini-South Park characters, and it didn’t stop there.  The venue was an amazing Art Deco building in Downtown San Francisco, which suits their quirky-in-the-coolest-possible-way style.  One half of the couple is the utmost science geek disguised by spiky hair, black clothes, tattoos and modestly sized plug earrings, while the other works in the hair biz and looks every bit the part with the amazing shade of bright red she carries around on her head.

Another friend became a justice of the peace for a day so he could officiate the wedding.  Instead of the typical, “Here Comes the Bride,” the DJ played Stevie Wonder’s, “You are the Sunshine of my Life,” as the bride made her way down the aisle, and at the close of a brief but beautiful ceremony, the newlyweds walked back down the aisle to Axl Rose singing “Sweet Child of Mine.”  Guests filled out Mad Libs style cards to offer them hilarious wedding advice, and we were all seated at tables that were named with quotes from The Princess Bride.  I sat at the “So it is down to you, and it is down to me” table.  Instead of feeding each other wedding cake, they each held half of a ginger sandwich cookie and took it apart Oreo-style.

My description really doesn’t do it justice, but they put the perfect twist on every classic element of a wedding and made it their own in a way only they could have.  Congrats, J & T!