What hobbies do you have? Have you learned anything useful from them?

This is my first “cross-posted” entry. I composed this on Quora. I was asked to answer the title question and I did. I probably won’t do this very often. Still, a little experimenting is fun.

Answer by John Baker:

The short answer is many and yes. The longer answer is pretty much everything I do, that matters to me, is a hobby of some form or other. Some of my major hobbies are:

1.      Amateur Astronomy
2.      Photography
3.      Blogging
4.      Recreational Programming.

Amateur Astronomy has been a lifelong pursuit. I was hooked as a child looking at Venus’s crescent through a small refractor in the badlands of Utah. It’s hard to relate how much I have learned from Amateur Astronomy or how much it has influenced my life but it is a lot and heavily.  My decision to study science in school and later university were outgrowths of this passion. I have traveled all over the world to view eclipses, see spectacular comets, and tour major observatories. Even today the best possible night for me is to stand alone under clear extremely dark high altitude skies and soak in the gentle light of the Milky Way.

Photography is also a lifelong hobby. I shot my first roll of film on a cheap fixed focus camera when I was eight. I blow hot and cold on my hobbies. Sometimes they utterly dominate my every waking hour. Other times they lie dormant, ignored, waiting for me to pick them up again. Photography is such a hobby. Over the decades it has taught me a lot of chemistry: I started picture taking in the “chemical” era. Nowadays I’ve absorbed a wide variety of photography related software skills. I’ve also learned a lot of history. Studying early photographers and how they created some of their iconic images is fascinating.

Blogging is relatively new hobby. I started with the idea that it would be good “composition practice,” a way to learn about web site maintenance, and finally a safe way to vent without serving time for assaulting imbeciles. It has met all these expectations and more. It’s presumptuous for bloggers to describe themselves as writers but you do acquire a greater understanding of what writers do. That old joke about being a drunk with a writing problem is not far from the mark.

As for recreational programming: despite going into work day after day,  year after year, and staring at screens of, please stab my eyes out, “work code.” I still muster the energy to work at home on software projects using unconventional programming languages and tools. Many professional peers have poked fun at my eccentric tastes and others have told me I was wasting my time. The joke has been on them. Many that cast these aspersions are no longer employed while my current job is a direct consequence of knowing things the convention bound do not.

I have learned many specific things from my hobbies but the single best thing I’ve learned is simple intellectual integrity. Nobody is going to do your hobby for you. Paying others to take up your hobbies makes no sense. Cheating on a hobby is crazy. You have to do the work by yourself; you have to learn by yourself; you have to think for yourself! Hobbies refine our individuality; I’d recommend more hobbies for everyone.

What hobbies do you have? Have you learned anything useful from them?

Cutting the Stinking Tauntaun and other Adventures in Software Archeology

The other day a software project that I had spent a year on was “put on the shelf.”  A year of effort was unceremoniously flushed down the software sewer.  A number of colleagues asked me, “How do you feel about this?” Would you believe relieved?

This is not false bravado or stupid sunny optimism. I am not naïve. I know this failure will hurt me. In modern corporations the parties that launch failures, usually management, seldom take the blame. Blame, like groundwater, sinks to the lowest levels. In software circles, it pools on the coding grunts doing the real work. It’s never said but always implied, that software failures are the exclusive result of programmer flaws.  If only we had worked harder and put in those sixty or eighty hour weeks for months at a time; if only we were a higher level of coding wizard that could crank out thousands of error free lines of code per hour, like the entirely fictional software geniuses on TV, things might have been different.

Indulging hypotheticals is like arguing with young Earth creationists about the distance of galaxies.

“Given the absolute constancy of the speed of light how is it possible to see the Andromeda galaxy, something we know is over two million light years away, in a six thousand-year-old universe?”

The inevitable reply to this young Earth killing query is always something to the effect that God could have made the universe with light en route.  God could have also made farts smell like Chanel #5 but sadly he[1] did not.  Similarly, God has also failed to staff corporations with legions of Spock level programmers ready and willing to satisfy whatever au courant notion sets up brain-keeping in management skulls.  The Andromeda galaxy is millions of light-years away, we don’t live on a six-thousand-year-old Earth, and software is not created by magic.  Projects work or flounder for very real reasons. I was not surprised by the termination of this project. I was surprised that it took so long to give up on something that was never going to work out as expected.

Working with bad legacy code always reminds me of the scene in The Empire Strikes Back when Han Solo rescues Luke on the ice world by cutting open his fallen Tauntaun with a light saber. When the Tauntaun’s guts spill out Solo says, “I thought they smelled bad on the outside.” Legacy code may look pretty bad on the outside, just wait until you cut into it. Only then do you release the full foul forceful stench.

The project, let’s call it the Stinking Tauntaun Project, was an exercise in legacy system reformation. Our task was adding major new features to a hoary old system written in a programming language that resembles hieroglyphics. I know and regularly use half a dozen programming languages. With rare exceptions, programming languages are more alike than different. From the time of Turing, we have known that all programming languages are essentially the same.  You can always implement one language in another; all programming systems exploit this fundamental equivalence. It’s theoretically possible to compile SQL into JavaScript and run the resulting code on an eight-bit interpreter written in ancient Batch I just wouldn’t recommend you start a SOX compliant software project to create such insanity. This goes double if only one programmer in your organization knows ancient Batch!  The Stinking Tauntaun Project wasn’t this crazy, but there were clear signs that we were setting out on what has been accurately described as a Death March.

Avoiding Death Marches, or finding ways to shift blame for them, is an essential survival skill for young corporate programmers. It’s not an exaggeration to say that a lot of modern software is built on the naiveté of the young. When you first learn to program you are seduced by its overpowering rationality. Here is a world founded on logic, mathematics and real engineering constraints. Things work and don’t work, for non-bullshit reasons! There aren’t any pointless arguments with ideological metrosexual pinheads about “privilege” or “gender.” Programs don’t give a crap about the skin color of the programmer or whether their mother was an abusive bull dyke. After a few years of inhaling rarefied logic fumes young programmers often make the gigantic and catastrophic mistake that the greater naked ape society in which they live also works on bullshit free principles. It’s at this delicate stage when you can drive the young programmer hard. There’s an old saying that salesmen like money and engineers like work so in most companies the salesmen get the money and the engineers get the work. As the great sage Homer Simpson would say, “It’s funny because it’s true!”

Death Marches shatter the naïve. Gaining a greater understanding of the nasty world we live in always does a naked ape good but there’s a cost; your career will suffer and you will suffer: enlightenment is proportional to pain! The school of hard knocks is a real thing and unlike that party school that you boozed through no one graduates alive. I’d strongly recommend a few Death Marches for every working programmer. To paraphrase Tolstoy, “All successful software projects are alike; every unsuccessful project fails in its own way!” You may consider what follows my modest contribution to the vast, comprehensively ignored, literature of software Death Marches.

Code Smell #1: A large mass of poorly written test free legacy code that does something important.

“Refactoring” is a word that I love to mock, but the refactoring literature showcases an astonishingly precise term: “code smell.” Code smells are exactly what you expect. Something about the code stinks. The Stinking Tauntaun code base didn’t just stink, it reeked like diuretic dog shit on choleric vomit. This was well-known throughout the company.  My general advice to young programmers that catch a whiff of rotting code is simple: flee, run, abort, get out of Dodge! Do not spill your precious bodily fluids cleaning up the messes of others.

When recruited a number of experienced hieroglyphic programmers asked me the pointed question, “How do you deal with giant stinking piles of legacy doo-doo?” Maybe it wasn’t quite phrased like that but the intention was clear. They were telling me that they were dealing with a seething mass of half-baked crappy code that somehow, despite its manifold flaws, was useful to the organization and couldn’t be put out of its well deserved misery.

I honestly answered. “Systems that have survived for many years, despite their problems and flaws, meet a need. You have to respect that.” I still believe this!  Every day I boot up ancient command shells that look pretty much like they did thirty years ago.  Why do I use these old tools? It’s simple; they do key tasks very efficiently. I try new tools all the time. I spent a few months playing with PowerShell.  It’s a very slick modern shell but it has one big problem. It takes far longer to load than ancient DOS or Bash shells. When I want to execute a few simple commands I find the few extra seconds it takes to get a PowerShell up and running highly annoying. Why should I wait when I don’t need the wonderful new features of PowerShell?  The Stinking Tauntaun System also met user needs and, just like I am horrified by the clunky ill-conceived incoherence of old shells, Stinking Tauntaun users held their noses and used the good bits of what’s overall a bad system.

Code Smell #2: No fully automatic version controlled test suite.

There is a tale, possibly apocryphal, from the dawn of programming that goes something like this: a young programmer of the ENIAC generation was having a bad day. He was trying to get some program running and was getting frustrated “re-wiring.” Our young programmer was experiencing one of the first “debugging” sessions back when real insects came into play. In a moment of life searing insight our young programmer realized that from now on most of his time would be consumed hunting down errors in faulty programs.  The tale goes dark here. I’ve often wondered what happened to the young programmer. Did he have a happy life or did he, like Sisyphus, push that damn program up the hill only to have it crash down again, and again, until management cried stop!

Debugging is a necessary evil. If you program — you debug. It’s impossible to eliminate debugging but at least you can approach it intelligently, and to this day, the only successful method for controlling program errors is the fully automatic version controlled ever-expanding test suite. Systems with such suites actually improve with time. Systems without such suites always degenerate and take down a few naïve programmers as they decay. The Stinking Tauntaun System lacked an automatic test suite. The Stinking Tauntaun System lacked a non-automatic test suite. The Stinking Tauntaun had no useful test cases what so ever! Testing The Stinking Tauntaun was more painful than dealing with its code. The primary tester had nightmares about The Stinking Tauntaun.

withouttests

My Power-Point-less illustration of Quality over Time for a system that lacks a fully automatic ever expanding version controlled test suite. Systems without well designed test rigs are almost without exception complete crap. Unless someone is paying you huge bucks it’s best to start sending out resumes when asked to fix such systems. You can ruin your health stirring your yummy ice cream into the shit but it’s almost certain the final mixture will taste more like shit than ice cream.

It’s the 21st century people! In ENIAC days you could overlook missing automatic test suites. Nowadays missing automatic test suites is a damning indictment of the organization that tolerates such heinous crimes against programming humanity!

Code Smell #3: Only one programmer is able to work with legacy code.

When I was hired there were a few hieroglyphic programmers on staff. No single programmer was saddled with the accumulated mistakes of prior decades. We could divide and deal with the pain. During this happy time our work was support oriented. We we’re not undertaking large projects. Then an inevitable bout of corporate reorganization occurred, followed by terminations and a stream of defectors fleeing the new order.  Eventually only one hieroglyphic programmer remained: moi!  Most programmers would have joined the exodus and not taken on the sins of other fathers but as I have already pointed out I am a software whore and proud of it.  Still even software sluts must avoid ending up like the, “there can be only one,” Highlander. Most of those sword duels ended rather badly as I recall.

Code Smell #4: Massive routines with far-ranging name scope.

With noxious fumes already cutting off our air supply we should have stopped in our tracks but we soldiered on because The Stinking Tauntaun System did something important and alternatives were not readily available. The corporation recognized this and started a number of parallel projects to explore New Stinking Tautaun’s.  I wasn’t lucky enough to work on any of the parallel projects. I had to get in the stall and shovel the Tauntaun manure.

We weren’t entirely clueless when we started Stinking Tauntaun work.  We recognized the precarious hieroglyphic programmer resource constraint and tried to divide the work into units that alleviated it. We decided to implement part of the new features in another programming language and call the new module from the old system. The hope was this would divide the work and possibly create something that might be used outside The Stinking Tauntaun System. This part of the project went reasonably well. The new module is entirely new code and works very well. Unfortunately, it was a small part of the greater effort of bolting new features into The Stinking Tauntaun System.

Stinking Tauntaun code is magisterial in its monolithic madness. The hieroglyphic programming language is famous for its concise coding style yet the main routine in the Stinking Tauntaun System is close to 10,000 lines long!  I had never seen hieroglyphic language routines of such length. I’ve only seen comparable programs a few times in my battle scared career. As a summer student I marveled at a 20,000 line, single routine, FORTRAN program.  At first I thought it was the output of some cross compiler but no, some insane, bat shit crazy government drone, (I was working for a government agency in western Canada), had coded it by hand — on freaking punch cards no less! Such stunning ineptitude is rare: most programmers have a passing acquaintance with modular design and know enough to reconsider things when code gets out of hand. We all have different thresholds for judging out-of-hand-ness, for me it’s any routine that’s longer than sixty lines: including the damn comments.

A 10,000 line routine is a monumental red flag but The Stinking Tautaun’s length was not the biggest problem. There is this thing programmer’s call “scope.”  Scope marks out name boundaries. It sets limits on where names have meaning or value. Ideally name scope is limited to the smallest feasible extent. You really don’t want global names! You absolutely don’t want global names like “X,” or “i,” or “T,” cavorting in your code! Most of the cryptic names in the Stinking Tauntaun System had far-ranging scope. Vast scopes make it difficult to safely make local changes. This makes it risky, dangerous and time-consuming to change code.  Large scopes also increase the burden on testers. If tiny changes have far-ranging consequences you have to retest large parts of the system every time you tweak it. All of this sucks up time and drains the pure bodily fluids of IT staff.

Code Smell #5: Basic assumptions about what is possible quickly prove wrong.

It was looking dark. Timid souls would have run but we plowed on. Our naïve hope rested on the theory that we could change a few touch points in The Stinking Tauntaun’s code base and then get out of Dodge before the dark kludge forest closed in. My first estimate of how many routines I would have to touch was around twenty. Two months into the project I had already altered over a hundred with no end in sight. The small orthogonal change we hoped to make was not possible because The Stinking Tauntaun System did not sensibly do one thing in one place. It did sort of the same thing in many places. You couldn’t make a small change and have things sensibly flow throughout the system.  I worked to isolate and modularize the mess but I should have just waved my hands and spent my days on LinkedIn looking for another job.

Code Smell #6: A development culture steeped in counterproductive ceremony.

On top of all these screeching sirens yelling stop there were other impediments. I work in a SOX saturated environment. Readers of my blog know that I consider SOX to be one of the biggest time-wasting piles of DC idiocies ever pushed on American companies. Like many “government solutions” SOX did not drain the intended swamp but forever saddled us with inane time-wasting ceremony and utterly stupid levels of micromanagement. Is Active Directory management really a concern of freaking government? Somehow it’s become one!  One of my favorite consequences of SOX is the religious ordering of development environments and the sacraments for promoting code changes. During the long bruising Stinking Tauntaun project many releases boiled down to me making changes to one file! Pushing a new version to test should have been a simple file copy.

Of course it couldn’t be that simple. Numerous “tickets” had to be approved. Another branch of IT, that was even more stressed and suffered higher levels of turnover than ours, was dragged in to execute a single trivial file copy. In many cases more bytes were generated by all this pointless time-wasting ceremony than I had changed in that single file. Of course all this took time, and as hard as I looked for a useless-time-wasting-bullshit category in our web-based hours tracking system, I couldn’t find one. There’s a management mantra: you can only improve what you measure.  Funny how companies never measure the bullshit.

In retrospect we should have junked The Stinking Tauntaun System or opted for a radical rewrite. It’s ironic but something like this is what’s going to happen. If I was young I would be bitter but I cashed in on this project. In my consulting days I was always on the lookout for Stinking Tauntauns: they were freaking gold mines for those of us that have acquired a taste for the bracing putrid fumes of rotting code.

[1] If you are the type of person that gets your panties in a knot about the gender of hypothetical supreme beings please go away.

Mahin and Carl

On the very memorable date of New Year’s Eve my wife’s mother Mahin died. From now on the dropping ball will remind us of her. Mahin had a long and honorable life. She was loved by children, grandchildren, and in-laws. She was the calm matriarch in the storm of her family. I meet her late in life after marrying her daughter Mali. Mahin was almost eighty then and still living on her own. She liked me and regretted having a son-in-law that she couldn’t talk to.  In the 1980s Mahin followed her children out of the chaos of Khomeini’s revolutionary Iran. She settled in Canada in her late sixties taking on a new country, a foreign language and a new way of life. It would have been a big change for a young person but for someone of Mahin’s age it was almost heroic. She got on, adjusted, learned enough English to function, but not enough to properly talk to son-in-laws, and enjoyed life. She never manifested a trace of bitterness or self-pity. She was a strong woman.

-

Mahin standing beside a reflecting pool in Iran. This picture was taken long before I met her. My wife was still a school girl in Tehran.

 

In her later years Mahin suffered from dementia. Her children took turns helping her out. We were the last to look after her. She lived with us for nearly two years. Mahin and I similar tastes for the absurd. We both enjoyed the idiotic television show Wipeout. Being knocked on your ass works equally well in English and Farsi. We’d laugh at people plunging into gigantic vats of goo.  Dementia slowly ate away at Mahin’s mind. Eventually she required twenty-four care and her daughters placed her in a nursing home in Toronto. They agonized over putting her in a home and did what they could to make her life comfortable. Mali stayed with her sister Sedi in Toronto five months last year to look after Mahin. She went to the nursing home every day to feed her, give her baths, do her laundry and talk to her. Dementia claimed Mahin’s English. Nursing home staff could not talk to her or understand her. Mali and her sisters were very fortunate to find a sitter that spoke Farsi. Hiring nursing home sitters is more common than you would think. Many of the residents in Mahin’s home had sitters.

Mahin died surrounded by children, grandchildren, her sitter, and nursing home staff.  Home staff told my wife and her sisters that everyone loved Mahin. I am sure they tell many families something similar but having known Mahin I don’t doubt their sincerity.  Mahin was a sweet dignified lady to her last breath.

A week before Mahin died I learned from my ex-wife that Carl, an old mutual friend, was in a Calgary hospice and not expected to live out the month. I’m not a particularly friendly person. Oh, I’m pleasant enough and can, when motivated, skillfully navigate social milieus. If you work with me you might even think I am your friend. I’m not! I’m reluctant to form deep friendships. Entering my sixties I can count my real friends on my fingers. Carl was the best friend I ever had. For nearly twenty years, from high school, until the birth of my daughter, Carl was a happy presence in my life.

Carl was a happy presence in the lives of everyone that got to know him and could tolerate his manifold eccentricities. He was everyone’s crazy uncle and he relished the role. Since leaving western Canada I moved out of Carl’s orbit. We’d trade the odd letter, email, and in recent years, Facebook posts. On the few times that I passed through Calgary I’d always look him up. We’d fall right back into old days blithering. Hearing that he was dying of the nasty form of prostate cancer was a jolt.

Mali petitioned me to call him right away. “You better call before it’s too late.”

I was reluctant because I don’t know what to say to the dying. I missed saying goodbye to my paternal grandfather and I botched my last conversation with my mother. Christopher Hitchens recounts some of the awkward conversations he had with friends and colleagues while dying of cancer in his last book Mortality. Many avoided the sword overhead while others swung it callously. Hitchens didn’t know what to feel. None of their goodbyes really helped.

I called Carl more for myself than him. Carl took a few moments to recall who I was. He was understandably more depressed than I had ever heard him. He was also vague and struggling to respond. Pain medications dull more than pain. I asked if family and friends were about. We aren’t comfortable with people dying alone which is strange because no matter how many friends and family members surround us we all die alone. The only hint of the old Carl that came out our chat was when he referred to Nazar: a very old friend that we both enjoyed making fun of.  Before hanging up I told Carl I would check in on him later but later never came. He died less than two weeks later.

Care to guess what really happened?

Carl in his card counting days. He actually cashed in retirement savings to play Black-Jack in Vegas. He was a very good friend but not exactly your financial go to guy.

 

Death is the most serious thing that will ever happen to us. It forecloses on what’s next. We simply cease! There is no childish heaven or burning hell. We are not reincarnated and we don’t see ghosts or talk to the dead. If you think or believe otherwise you are simply wrong. I won’t argue with you. I am tired of your irrational objections, your contemptible myths, and your weakness in the face of oblivion. The human machine wears out and breaks down. We don’t imagine afterlives for our cars so why do we indulge such fantasies for ourselves. As much as I would like to see Mahin, Carl, my mother, or anyone of the hundred billion people who have already died, again I won’t and neither will you!

Your Bitcoins are Now Welcome!

Recently Coinbase introduced payment pages. Here’s my page. Payment pages simplify the process of paying with Bitcoins. In the last six months more and more businesses have started accepting Bitcoins. Once people get cryptocurrencies they inevitably start questioning the legitimacy of national currencies. This is all good. National currencies are part of the past.  It’s embarrassing to trade debased presidents or unnecessary queens for goods.

I now pay online fees with Bitcoins when I can. I am doing this for three reasons.

  1. Bitcoin payments are orders of magnitude more secure than credit cards, PayPal or other online payment methods. When you pay with Bitcoins you don’t spread personal information around. Bitcoin is a nightmare for identity thieves.
  2. I want to encourage the widespread adoption of Bitcoin as a payment technology. The entire parasitic financial class must be reformed or destroyed. A good way to kill something is to cut off its air supply. When you use credit cards a big cut goes to banks. Why enrich what you hate? Bitcoin, and its brethren, will help suffocate traditional banks and their despicable government cronies.
  3. The era of government backed legal tender is drawing to an end. Money is way to important to allow governments to control it. Abominations like the Federal Reserve are as obsolete and morally repugnant as slavery.

To help bring about the glorious day when shitheads in government no longer create money out of thin fucking nothing and give it to their bum buddies I am encouraging all of you to start using cryptocurrencies. You can start by tipping moi!

Pussydent Hildabeast

My blood moon photography didn’t turn out because I didn’t. Come midnight fatigue, familiarity and spotty weather conspired to send this exhausted W2 drone [1] to bed.  It’s just as well; if you’re not doing consider sleeping.  In six months I’ll get another shot at photographing a blood moon. For the nonce, I’ll muse on menstrual moon madness. Exactly what Earth shaking event does this terrible tetrad foretell?

Some cry Ukraine
I say are you insane

Others holler
The demise of the dollar

Moon free bleeding
We're not needing

Someone on the Internet
Is wrong

But now, in the blood moon discharge, it’s clear a fate worse than community organizers awaits a pummeled public.  Behold, Pussydent Hildabeast, [2] a rough nagging crone, her “hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Soon we’ll beg
Who 

To let
The dogs of war out

[1] W2 is a basic IRS tax form in the United State. I calculate my taxes by hand. I sometimes do the arithmetic on paper just to increase the pain and rage. Taxation should hurt and in my case it does. Taxes are by far the largest “line item” in my budget, but what the heck, lesbians on welfare need free birth control.

[2] A Pussydent is a metaphorically ball-less president and a Hildabeast is Hillary Clinton.

The Great Verizon Data Famine

The other day I visited my local Verizon store for the fourth freaking time! My mission was simple: upgrade my goddamn phone and change our account from my wife’s name to mine. In sane retail environments long-standing customers with impeccable payment histories get treated like royalty. I know it will come as a shock to all you parasitic socialists out there but it is the paying customer, and only the paying customer, that is keeping civilization’s lights on! I understand and appreciate the need for businesses to make profits and for the last three years Verizon has profited from my patronage and I have benefited from their excellent cell service. We had a mutually beneficial relationship but now I’m wondering if this marriage can be saved.

I have no technical complaints about Verizon. The engineers at Verizon clearly know what they are doing but it looks like the administrative and sales division’s model themselves on the DMV or Obama’s healthcrap.gov. I’ve seen this before. Most software companies harbor competent to brilliant programmers yet are often fronted by ethically challenged sales baboons. My father, a retired petroleum engineer, used to say, “It’s a good thing oil is so valuable and customers are beating down our doors because head office couldn’t sell shit to a house fly.” I know it’s not my place, as a motivated shit seeking house fly, to question the sales practices of multi-billion dollar enterprises but, to quote a very wise old white guy, “you’ve confused me with someone who gives a crap.

When I first walked into the Verizon store I wanted an accurate answer to this question:

How much will my monthly bill be if:

  1. I pay the full retail cost of the phone upfront. Old white guys do not buy on credit because old white guys have learned the hard way that buying anything on credit means you eventually pay more. I am not interested in paying more. I have a very bad attitude when it comes to paying more. My butthole has been reamed often enough, long enough and hard enough that it’s now operating on a strict cash upfront basis.
  2. And if I have an uncapped 4G data plan. Cell providers constantly go on about their unlimited data plans yet down in the fine print — old white guys always read the fine print — you typically see “limited to two gigabytes per month.” Two gigabytes is not unlimited, four gigabytes is not unlimited, fifty yottabytes is not unlimited; unlimited means arbitrarily high.

It took two trips to the same store to get a simple price quote. The quoted rate was $69.99 per month. This is close to my current rate and since I’m burning another $39.99 per month on Internet cable it looked like I could cancel cable, divert all my residential Internet traffic through an iPhone 4G hot spot and save about thirty bucks a month.

I realized I would have to go on a data diet. 4G connections are faster than 3G but 4G is still much slower than cable Internet. The cable provider in St. Louis, Charter1, runs at 30 megabits per second. This is about five times faster than 4G. 4G is okay for blogging, modest sub-gigabyte downloads, uploading a few dozen high-resolution pictures and normal web browsing. 4G is not up to irritant free HD streaming. You can stream but the image is often downgraded to a blocky low resolution mess. I planned on giving up streaming because TV, whether broadcast or streamed, is still mostly time-wasting garbage. I was looking forward to reallocating my streaming time to good old-fashioned paper2 book reading.

After doing my research, considering the options and allocating funds I returned to the same Verizon store I had visited three times with the intention of plunking down the full cost of an iPhone 5s and signing another two-year service contract at the price I was previously quoted. Then things went horribly wrong. First, we had to call my wife to change the name on our account from hers to mine. The simple act of changing the account name voided my unlimited data. I went from an uncapped plan to a two gigabyte plan. Then, as a final affront, it turns out that you if you actually want to use your iPhone’s hot spot you need to pay another $30.00 per month on top of your normal data plan. In other words my bill would be a few cents shy of $100.00 per month. So, I would pay roughly the same as my current Verizon and Charter bills combined and end up with a connection that is five times slower. Old white guys are slow and stupid but not that stupid.

Instead of walking out of the store with a shiny new iPhone 5s and another two-year contract I left with my old iPhone 4 and a downgraded, but equally expensive data plan. I am now looking at other options. I will probably retain cable and cut off all cell phone data. Most of my cell phone data moves over Wi-Fi so why pay Verizon, or another provider, $30.00 bucks per month to keep up on Twitter tripe. Verizon’s sales did a bang up job here. They convinced a loyal and reasonably happy customer that it’s time to take a serious look at the competition. I was planning on a data diet but not a data famine. Can you hear me now!


  1. Charter Internet is a binary operation. When it’s working it works very well, but over that last three years I’ve watched it go down more often than a cheap street prostitute. Right now it’s down. Charter outages are annoying but they’re usually quickly resolved.
  2. EBooks are developing nasty data mining habits. I have no desire to expose the precise details of my reading to busy bodies. This doesn’t mean I am giving up on eBooks but I am giving up on on-line eBooks. I now demand complete control of the eBook file on a device that I can shut off logging and communication. If you don’t control it you cannot trust it.

Blogging Bad 2013

Another year of blogging bad. My mother’s death and work were major distractions this year; I fell way short of my post goals but still managed to exceed the previous year’s hit count and set a new high.  To show their appreciation the good algorithms at WordPress.com sent us an annual report. Mine follows:

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.