I love Charlie the Unicorn

Oh when you’re down and looking for some cheering up,
Then just head right on up to the Candy Mountain Cave.
When you get inside you’ll find yourself a cheery land,
Such a happy and joy-filled and perky merry land.
They’ve got lollipops and gummy drops and candy things,
Oh so many things that will brighten up your day.
It’s impossible to wear a frown in Candy Town–
It’s the Mecca of love–the Candy Cave.
They’ve got jellybeans and coconuts with little hats,
Candy rats, chocolate bats–it’s a wonderland of sweets.
Ride the Candy Train to town and hear the Candy Band.
Candy bells, it’s a treat as they march across the land.
Cherry ribbons stream across the sky into the ground.
Turn around, it astounds, it’s a dancing candy tree.
In the Candy Cave imagination runs so free,
so now Charlie please will you go into the cave.

See for yourself

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My Two Cents on Nickled and Dimed

Don’t know whether anyone else has been following this story, but briefly, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has issued a required summer reading list for incoming freshmen that includes Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Righties say the book is too-one sided, that it villifies capitalism and corporations without providing the context of economic competitiveness. University officials are shocked and surprised that anyone would complain about a book that explains the state of affairs for working stiffs everywhere.

(For a nicely balanced description of the situation in context of the war between conservatives and liberals, read this article in Raleigh-based The News & Observer)

I, for one, don’t think that the freshmen should read the book, but not because of the underlying message—I agree, for instance, that the minimum wage should be increased. The students shouldn’t have to read it because it isn’t a very good book in the first place.

It’s supposed to be a first-person account of the struggles being working poor, but I never felt true sympathy for Ehrenreich and her flight of fancy into temporary poverty. Sure she cuts her access to savings, limits the amount of education and experience she puts on resumés, and so forth, but she always has her upper-class life to return to and uses that as a psychical barrier between her and the people she works with. This distance ends up coming across as condescending, that these individuals are characters in her novel, with only enough detail to show their other-ness when compared to her. It’s this half-amused, half-pitying “let’s save the poor, ignorant natives” kind of reporting that truly rubbed me the wrong way. They are “her” people in the Marxist class struggle sense, but not in the “equal, let’s hang out” sense at all.

In fact, I never got the feeling that she ever gets to know any of the people she works with, that when she isn’t working at the low-paying job, she’s back at her apartment writing notes and preparing this book. She focuses on the struggles of living at a lower income but ignores any positive experiences or enjoyable moments that can make a hard life bearable, namely friends and fun. And that’s sad, because I think it would have really helped the story (and her case) to get to know the people who aren’t just “experimenting” but actually have to live the life of working poor. How do they live their lives when they aren’t at work? What do they do for enjoyment? How do they view their predicament?

To capture the emotion of the working poor, to feel outrage about their predicament (which I believe UNC was trying to foster by assigning the book), I think a better bet would be to have them read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Sure, it’s a hundred years old, but it manages to get me frothing about corporations and exploitation like few books can.

Sometimes first-person nonfiction just doesn’t cut it.

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A Little Light Reading

We’re going out of town this Friday for a transcontinental trip (down to Atlanta for a friend’s wedding and some dental work, then out to Denver for a company conference and then on to Utah for a Johnson camping trip) so I thought I’d pose some good reading for you.

The topic: Public Choice Theory.
The short version: Public Choice Theory is basically the study of politics based on ecomonic principles. This is different from traditional political science in that most poly sci theories revolve around the way it should work in an ideal world, while Public Choice Theory describes how politics actually does work. (Technically, Public Choice isn’t just about politics, but hey, this is the short version).
The long version: A pretty thorough summary of Public Choice Theory can be found here
, with a shorter version here.

The gist: Politicians are motivated by self-interest before the interests of anyone else. This is bad because we don’t truly get how self-serving and self-perpetuating the current system of bureaucracy is, which only adds more taxation while providing less representation (sound familiar?).

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Why I will never buy a car from Twin City Subaru

The old Audi is on its last legs and will probably not last through the next winter. Just today there was this really weird smell coming from the engine (a combination of burning rubber and jalepenos). When I popped the hood and started rooting around–I am not a car guy–I found an electrical connector that wasn’t connected to anything. I have no idea what that means. Luckily we have a fabulous mechanic Bill who runs the Auto Union, but even he said at our last appointment that we ought to think about looking for a replacement.

So we’ve been looking at the Subaru Outback Wagon (like every third person in Vermont) and the nearest dealer is Twin City Subaru in Montpelier but I cannot, for the life of me, bring myself to enter their dealership. It’s not because I’ve heard bad stories about their service or because I’m against buying from dealers, it’s because of their TV commercial.

Now it is a local company so of course the ad dollars spent were limited–shot on video with minimal special effects and so forth–and there aren’t any people in the commercial (it’s no creditangels thank goodness!). The gipper is the song.

This perversion of some 1930’s radio jingle must only be heard to be hated. Words cannot express the insane agony I feel when the commercial comes on and the worst part about it is that it’s at the beginning of the advert which means I have no advanced warning to change the channel. Fingernails on chalkboard is less annoying than this piece of work; it is that bad.

I feel sorry for the studio hacks who were paid to perform it and for the cable guy who has to see it over and over again as he monitors the systems. But I have no pity for the company that chose to inflict this plague upon us.

And so, I’ve decided to never buy a car from Twin City Subaru in Montpelier, Vermont.

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How to Write Unmaintainable Code

When I first began working with programmers, I never quite understood why they never liked taking over or maintaining an existing project that was coded by someone else. I used to think, “Code is code; it shouldn’t be so hard to figure out, right?” But then I started doing a little of my own programming and realized that: 1) there are a million different ways to design a system and 2) there are a million more different ways to document it.

Of course, I never thought they wrote code so they would intentionally be irreplaceable. Until I read How to Write Unmaintainable Code by Roedy Green.

One terrific excerpt:

Bedazzling Names

Choose variable names with irrelevant emotional connotation. e.g.:

marypoppins = (superman + starship) / god;

This confuses the reader because they have difficulty disassociating the emotional connotations of the words from the logic they’re trying to think about.

Oh, in case you were wondering, yes, he’s kidding (another Canadian with a sense of humor).

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Coming Soon . . .

I’ve been using Movable Type for the last year or so to document my daughter Alison’s life, and am finally getting around to starting my own blog.

I’ve got to make a few more tweaks to this and then will start publishing.

Stay tuned.

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