Friday, December 26, 2008


So we took the kids across the border to my parents' house for Christmas, and we got to be part of the Canadian coast-to-coast white Christmas of 2008.

We drove up I-5 through Washington, and enjoyed the long snowy drive:
From Public Christmas 2008 Pics

From Public Christmas 2008 Pics

From Public Christmas 2008 Pics

The weather when we arrived didn't disappoint: there was a good deal more snow at home than at home, so to speak.
From Public Christmas 2008 Pics

From Public Christmas 2008 Pics

From Public Christmas 2008 Pics

The kids got some sledding in, which was a nice bonus
From Public Christmas 2008 Pics

And of course there was feasting and fun.
From Public Christmas 2008 Pics

All in all, a good use of time and money to drive up here.

Hope everyone else had as good a time as we.

Happy Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Smoky Snowy

So it's been snowy here for a little over a week: there have been threats of melting, and in Tacoma it has already completely melted once, but here in Puyallup it's not really gone away. We've had several days of fresh powder, lots of accumulation.

The first snow was unexpected, so my grill was left uncovered in the snow. It's been snowing so much since, my grill's just been getting hammered.

I decided to light a fire in it to dry it out, and it started snowing no more than 5 minutes after I started...

From Grilling in the snow

From Grilling in the snow

In my zeal to dry out the grill, I put upwards of ten pounds of charcoal in there: probably closer to 15 (3/4 of a 20 lb. bag). It got hot. My eldest got some pictures of the grill when I opened it and combustion started for real:
From Grilling in the snow

From Grilling in the snow

The grill-mounted thermometer maxes out just around 500F (around 5 o'clock). It reads about 70F cooler than it is. I went a good sixth of a turn past that (about 7 o'clock), so it must have been in the 700F--800F range.

Ribeyes were on sale, so I cooked some steaks. They were seared on both sides in well under 5 minutes, and the bones were protruding an inch. I took them off, let them cool, and then put them back on uncovered out in the falling snow to finish them off.

They were really good, but a little overdone.

Of course I burned the seasoning off my cast-iron grates, and need to reseason them: I put some grease on there once the grill cooled a bit last night. That won't be enough, but it should stave off some rust for at least a couple weeks and get me through the holidays.

That was fun.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Weird Weather

This morning I woke to a fresh blanket of snow. I crunch-crunch-crunched my way to the bus stop in the grey pre-dawn, watching the snow swirl down through the streetlights. When I got off the bus at work, there was very little snow on the ground although there was still a significant amount down-swirling.

We walked to lunch through the slush and puddles. The snow was coming down in almost-blizzardly splendour as we looked out the windows at lunch, but none was sticking to the wet ground.

I walked back through the rain to the bus stop after work. All traces of snow were gone, except damp tatters of dirty lace under the odd tree.

But when I got off the bus at home, I stepped into stiffening slush and some suspiciously thick puddles. There's still water dripping into the rain gutters, but the first few flakes fell through the streetlight about half-way up my street.

Now large flakes are swirling down again.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Next book

I checked out the next Bus Book from the library: The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek. I haven't even started it yet, but the Amazon reviews were intriguing, so I thought I'd give it a whirl.

Ames pointed out that my reading is fairly political recently: Ayn Rand, Dorothy Sayers, etc. I suppose that's true. But in my defence, I'm reading more about political theory than about politics per se. And I doubt this will last: next on the list is either The Great Evangelical Disaster by Schaeffer or Descent into Hell by Williams. I've read both several times, but I think it's time for another round of each.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A piece of Dorothy's mind

Well, I finished Unpopular Opinions by Dorothy L Sayers on my ride home this evening. I highly recommend this book as an eclectic and extremely well-written view into a very interesting woman's mind.

Dorothy Sayers was a contemporary and friend to C. S. Lewis. She's celebrated as a feminist author, was a successful writer of detective novels, and was clearly seen as something of an interesting speaker: many of her "essays" are actually transcriptions of speeches she made.

She uses the word "obstreperous" in a sentence, and argues for plain English. I'm delighted!

The book is broken into three sections:

  1. Theological

  2. Political

  3. Critical

The Critical section is actually interesting, in a strange way. It largely consists of applying "Higher Criticism" to the Sherlock Holmes stories. She works on timelines and chronologies; on determining Holmes' university, college, and major; and on establishing the details of Watson's personal life. I still can't decide if I enjoyed that section.

I definitely enjoyed Political the best. These were largely WWII-era speeches, and are certainly patriotic in extolling the virtues of the English. In fact, her essay "They Tried to be Good" is perhaps the best of the book. She argues that Hitler came to power not because England was incapable of stopping him, but because they'd fallen into political correctness (not that it was called by such an appalling euphemism back then) that kept them from calling a spade a spade: that made it a crime to be English and to have an empire. As someone who works in higher education, I found her analysis and subsequent morals and warnings apropos, almost frightening in their clarity and perspicuity.

In the political essays were also two or three feminist articles that would be hailed as misogynist these days. Funny how standards change. Like Ayn Rand, she warned against allowing the individual to be reduced to a representative of a group. Sadly, the collectivists have won, and individual dignity is now generally regarded with contempt. We have earned the consequences that shall certainly come on us...

But the most compelling essays were her Theological, which are clearly written from a conservative Anglican (perhaps even Tractarian) viewpoint. I shan't even attempt to sum them up: they are worth the time and effort of getting this book. They are humourous, thoughtful, and terribly important.

My favourites in this section are "Christian Morality" and "A Vote of Thanks to Cyrus".

I'd never read Sayers before, although I'm a huge fan Charles Williams and C. S. Lewis---names almost always mentioned with hers. It was a wonderful read: I really feel like I've discovered a great mind.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Well, it's been snowing in Puyallup. Not snow like Gwennie or Trev gets, it's true. But snow, which makes the short days and dark afternoons so worth it.

From First Snow

It's still snowing.

My kids rang the doorbell with "a package for Ox." It was an ambush.
From First Snow

From First Snow

My grill's not used to having to deal with this brand of adverse weather:
From First Snow

It's nice to have some white stuff, even if it's of the particularly wet variety.

From First Snow

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

More reading

Well, I finished The Fountainhead Saturday night. I drove to work yesterday, so this morning I started my next book: Unpopular Opinions by Dorothy L Sayers.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Fountainhead

It had to be said. The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing. ([Roark] p. 717)

(All quotes taken from The Fountainhead, Centennial Edition, The Penguin Group, New York, 2005.)

I'm singularly unqualified to review The Fountainhead, but since there have been some requests, I am posting this review. I have endeavoured not to read any reviews of it, so as not to skew my impressions. I did read part of the Afterword in this edition (by Leonard Peikoff), but decided against that before I finished it. The Afterword contains some of Rand's notes on the book, which are no doubt helpful.

If I weren't Christian, I'd end up either as an Objectivist or an Existentialist. Or maybe a serial killer. I suppose an Existentialist can be a serial killer too, but an Objectivist can't.

The Fountainhead is Rand's 1943 novel: it tracks five main characters from 1922 to 1936: Howard Roark, Peter Keating, Ellesworth Toohey, Gail Wynand, and Dominique Francon.

Howard Roark is the hero---Rand always has a hero---, a young architect. The book opens with Roark's expulsion from Stanton, a prestigious architecture school. That same day, Peter Keating (with whose mother Roark had been boarding for 3 years) graduates the top of the Stanton class.

Roark and Keating both move to New York: Keating takes a job with a prestigious architectural firm while Roark lands a job with a brilliant architect, Henry Cameron, who is seen as a has-been. Cameron's designs had taken New York by a storm, but he had fallen from popular favour. Roark seeks him out because he is the only architect Roark knows who designs new and different buildings.

Peter Keating rises in prominence in the firm Francon & Heyer largely through sycophancy and plotting. When he finds himself stuck in a design, he inevitably turns to Roark for help.

The most popular newspaper in New York is the Banner, owned by Gail Wynand. The Banner employs Ellesworth Toohey, a socialist who writes a daily column, and Dominique Francon, the daughter of Peter Keating's boss.

Dominique is arguably the central character in the novel. And if Roark is the hero, then Toohey is the villain.

Toohey is an idealist: a socialist who believes really only in equality. He has some other ideas, but they all stem from this one. Toohey spends the majority of the book influencing public opinion through his column in the Banner, his book Sermons in Stone, and various speeches. He also forms several clubs: one for writers, one for architects, and so on. He mentors young artists and gives them exposure through his writing. But he gravitates to the peculiar and new, not the brilliant. His desire for equality drives him to embrace the mediocre and ignore the great.

As the story develops, Keating rises to a partner in the firm, while Roark ends up unemployed. He leaves the city to work in a quarry, where he meets Dominique who's rusticating. They begin a sexual affair that lasts through the book.

Dominique's relationship with Roark occupies the middle of the book. She takes pleasure in hurting him (and he reciprocates: this is a game they play); and eventually marries Keating, and then Wynand, purportedly because she loves Roark. Her motives are mixed, and she seems not to understand them herself. But Roark permits---even encourages---her relationships with the other men, insisting she's not ready for him yet.

Dominique marries Peter, and spends that night with Roark. The biggest clue to Dominique's motivation is her speech to Roark that night: "I can't live a life torn between that which exists---and you." (p. 386). Dominique uses sex as a form of self-abasement, as a weapon against herself and the men she uses. The only man she seems to respect is Roark, which is apparently what motivates her to hurt him every way possible: condemning him in the press, marrying the men who hate him, even degrading herself.

And Roark waits for Dominique to find what she's looking for, knowing she'll eventually return to him when she does.

Wynand contracts Roark to build a house for Dominique, unaware of their history. Both Roark and Dominique find themselves loving Wynand (Roark in a platonic sense); and a strange relationship ensues where Roark and Dominique are thrown together repeatedly, but don't acknowledge their previous relationship; either to one another or to Wynand. Roark finds that he can respect Wynand: Wynand built his media empire alone. He is a rags-to-riches success story, and he understands the vanity and emptiness around him.

Eventually Roark designs a building anonymously for Keating, under the condition that it be built exactly as he designs. When it is not, he dynamites it. This culminates the stories of the characters into a climax of sharp contrasts. The building was to be a housing project for the poor, and Toohey leads the city in outrage against Roark as one who would attack them.

Roark is arrested and stands trial: Wynand attempts to defend Roark in his editorials, only to discover the paper he owns is actually controlled by Toohey. Toohey has unionized the paper, and Wynand finds out too late that the excellent pay and benefits he's been giving his employees do not shield him from a strike. Toohey leads a strike over the paper's editorial position.

Wynand eventually capitulates, at which point Dominique returns to Roark. She manufactures a scandal by filing a bogus police report from Roark's house first thing in the morning, wearing Roark's pyjamas and obviously having spent the previous night with him. This hurts Wynand (how could it not?), but also allows him a trouble-free divorce. When Wynand asks Dominique about the scandal, she finally reveals her long relationship with Roark to him.

Dominique had found what she's been looking for, and is ready to belong to Roark. Her willingness to publicly villify herself is the final test of her understanding Roark. And having come to that point, she's ready to marry him.

The Fountainhead is a brilliant book: it's well-written and kept my attention fairly well. But I didn't enjoy it. The middle third that follows Dominique's quest through self-destruction was depressing to the point of painful. I'd like to think it's just fiction, but I've known enough people to think the only fiction is that she recognizes what she's doing.

Adultery always turns my stomach. It's the most fundamental betrayal, and I always react emotionally. While Dominique technically avoids adultery until she publicly returns to Raork; the fact that she would marry one man specifically because she loves another is more than a little adulterous in spirit.

There is a lot of sex in The Fountainhead, but none is very graphic. It's not written to titilate or offend, it's written to prove a point. I didn't find it offensive as much as I found it sickening and depressing.

I probably won't read it again, but it was worth reading once.

Rand's characters like to monologue, and there are some interesting speeches in the book. Of course Howard Roark gives some speeches, but so do the others.

Rand's philosophy of selfishness (a bit of an over-simplification, but workable) is really developed in a few such speeches. I found the conversations between Wynand and Roark on Wynand's yacht to be very interesting:

[I]sn't that the root of every despicable action? Not selfishness, but precisely the absence of a self. Look at them. The man who cheats and lies, but preserves a respectable front. He knows himself to be dishonest, but others think he's honest and he derives his self-respect from that, second-hand. The man who takes credit for an achievement which is not his own. He knows himself to be mediocre, but he's great in the eyes of others. The frustrated wretch who professes love for the inferior and clings to those less endowed, in order to establish his own superiority by comparison. ([Howard Roark] p. 633)

Roark delivers the negative too: not only that selfishness is good, but that altruism is evil:

I think Toohey understands that. That's what helps him spread his vicious nonsense. Just weakness and cowardice. It's so easy to run to others. It's so hard to stand on one's own record. You can fake virtue for an audience. You can't fake it in your own eyes. Your ego is your strictest judge. They run from it. They spend their lives running. ([Howard Roark] p. 634)

The negative aspect, that altruism is the root of great evil, is brought out both by Roark and (indirectly) Toohey.

Toohey's gloating speech to Keating is courageous for Rand in 1943, it would be even more so today. Toohey, the selfless socialist, sees the exceptional as problems to be eliminated as surely as poverty or disease, because the exceptional give lie to the idea of equality. His speech to Peter on the topic lasts for several pages, but this is perhaps the most telling excerpt:

Set up standards of achievement open to all, to the least, to the most inept---and you stop the impetus to effort in all men, great or small. You stop all incentive to improvement, to excellence, to perfection. Laugh at Roark and hold Peter Keating as a great architect. You've destroyed architecture. Build up Lois Cook and you've destroyed literature. Hail Ike and you've destroyed the theatre. Glorify Lancelot Clokey and you've destroyed the press. Don't set out to raze all srhines---you'll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity---and the shrines are razed. ([Toohey] p.665)

Roark's defense in the courtroom is the crowning speech of the novel. It is here Rand makes her case most overtly: that altruism is morally equivalent to slavery. As society has taught and enforced the idea of selfelssness, of living for others, it has essentially put all under slavery. And this slavery is one of spirit, enforced by the approval of others. "We praise an act of charity. We shrug at an act of achievement." ([Roark] p. 712)

Roark says the only escape is selfishness: acting out of a desire to gain one's own approval, ignoring the opinions and thoughts of others. One who is subject to their approval is their slave.

According to Roark, selfishness is the least harmful motivation, that selflessness has led to the most brutal regimes and the greatest abuses of people.
The 'common good' of a collective---a race, a class, a state---was the claim and justification of every tyranny ever established over men. Every major horror of history was committed in the name of an altruistic motive. Has any act of selfishness ever equaled the carnage perpetrated by the disciples of altruism? Does the fault lie in men's hypocrisy on in the nature of the principle? The most dreadful butchers were the most sincere. They believed in the perfect society reached through the guillotine and firing squad. Nobody questioned their right to murder since they were murdering for an altruistic purpose. It was accepted that man must be sacrificed for other men. ([Roark] p. 715)

It is worth remembering that Rand knew whereof she spoke: she was a refugee of the Soviet Union. She had seen first-hand the oppression meted by those motivated by a love of "the masses."

In the end, it is Rand's view of the importance and dignity of the individual that makes me like her. We live on the cusp of the world she predicted: a world where people are members of groups and very little more. Just look at the last U.S. election for an example. Barack Obama was elected President, and people still refuse to discuss his policies or his qualifications: he is an icon of an underpriviledged group, which is all the justification he needs for whatever he does. What he is as an individual and a man is irrelevant, only the status of the group he represents matters.

To the socialist mind, the oppressed are virtuous simply because they're oppressed: they are totally passive, living how and where they do with no responsibility for their own actions, behaviour, or condition. This is the fundamental flaw of all leftist thought: that people are merely machines, innocent and helpless victims of whatever their oppressors choose to give them.

The real evil of this system isn't what it proposes, but where it leads. A poor man is still a man, an underpriviledged woman is still a woman... as long as they aren't reduced to mere placeholders for abstract groups. Leftist thought removes their dignity, their humanity. It doesn't acknowledge they are people: they are merely cogs into the machine.

Interestingly, the only people afforded the dignity of their own will in leftist thought are the oppressors. As a straight white Christian male, I am acknowledged to be human and allowed to take responsibility. No "minority" is given that fundamental dignity.

As a Christian, I can't accept liberal thought for that one reason: no man or woman created in the image of God ought to be reduced to the level of an animal. God hasn't pronounced us to be mere machines, He deals with us as inidividuals. All human dignity is tied up in that one fact.

Given a choice, I'd rather live in the sort of world Rand dreamed of than the ones the collectivists have managed to create; but neither really satisfies what I believe we have been created for. Socialism is worse than Objectivism, but I'd rather not have to choose the lesser evil.

While Rand has such incredible perspicuity on the evils of collectivism, she draws wrong conclusions as an atheist. Where she sees the dignity of being an individual, she tries to push that past the dignity due to a man or woman and turn him or her into a god. Our dignity comes from our bearing God's image. If there is no God, then there really is no greatness in the indvidual. Rand proposes a Promethian theology, of man trying to become more by reaching higher. But without God, the term "higher" becomes problematic. What does it really mean? To accept Roark's answer of "progress" rather than Toohey's answer of "equality" is really arbitrary.

What Rand doesn't acknowledge is, the Creator has the right to demand our obedience, just as Roark had to the right to dynamite the Cortland House because he had created it. She is correct that doesn't give other men the right to enslave me; but I can never be absolutely egotistical in the sense she applauds, because I know I am a creature of the Creator.

And interestingly, this puts me at odds both with Rand's idealistic egotism and the collectivism she eschews. The one puts self as god, the other raises the fiction of "common good": both ignore the One who is God in fact. There is One who has right to command, to be obeyed, and to be feared.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Reading on the bus

I've been riding the bus to work, which takes an hour and two busses each way. I suddenly realized after a week that I ought to spend my time on the bus productively and get some reading done. And then last week I decided it would be interesting to track what I'm reading as well.

So to start the record, last month's bus reading (in chronological order) was:

  1. The God Who Is There by Francis Schaeffer

  2. He Is There and He is Not Silent by Francis Schaeffer

  3. Why We Act Like Canadians by Pierre Berton

  4. Holes by Louis Sachar

  5. The Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff

I am now reading The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.

I'm interested to see what I get read in a year, so I'll try and keep this updated.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

And your point is...

Someone of whom I actually think very highly told me a couple weeks ago, "No one takes Objectivism seriously".

The full irony of that didn't hit me until last night.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Toe in (Shameless Shilling)

So after praising MagnaTune to the heavens the other day, I decided to look a little more closely at them. I'd already read most of their site, and had even looked into some reviews of their service; but I did a little more exploring.

They offer memberships: subscriptions to their site. There are two levels: Streaming, and Download. You don't have to be a member to purchase music from them, but members get a few interesting perks. Anyone can go to MagnaTune and listen to their entire catalogue streaming: but a membership buys you the same streams commercial-free. You also get site features like playlists. The download membership goes a little further: you can then download any album on the site, free of charge. There are three "rules" of membership:

  1. they ask you don't give away more than a single album a month,

  2. you must manually download the tunes: no crawlers or spiders, not LWP or wget, and

  3. membership is not shareable/transferrable;

Memberships used to have a minimum 3-month term, but now they offer them for as little as one month. Like everything at MagnaTune, you set the price: a streaming membership starts at $5/month, downloads at $10/month; but you may pay more.

I've been intrigued by this idea, so when the minimum term dropped to a month, I decided to try it out. I purchased a month's download membership last night. So for one month, I am free to stream or download MagnaTune's entire catalog, if I so choose. And it cost me about what I'd expect to pay for a CD from Amazon or Borders (I didn't cheap out and pay the $10 minimum).

What I download is DRM-free, it's mine to keep, whether I maintain my membership or not. And I'm perfectly free to burn it to disk, put it on my iPod, or whatever. I can even give an album away to a friend every month. And I can download the music in WAV files: they're CD-quality copies.

And best of all, it's 100% legal. MagnaTune is essentially a record label, rather than a reseller: they have full rights to distribute their music.

The only real downside is, the music is necessarily all indie. If you like indie music, that's no problem. If you like to purchase what's on the radio, it might be a difficult fit. Although interestingly, some of MagnaTune's artists are now showing up for purchase at iTunes. So more mainstream people are discovering them.

So how do I like it? I found about a dozen albums right away that I listed as favourites and have been listening to as streams. My two favourites of the bunch I downloaded as WAV files, and will burn to CD this weekend: Acoustic Abstracts and Horizons, both by guitar duet Heavy Mellow, from Tennessee. (You can, of course, go and listen to both those albums in their entirety, with or without paying for a membership. Why are you still here? Go listen!) Very relaxed and relaxing guitar music. I've also got some very good cello and viola music in my playlist, as well as some more folksy stuff.

I haven't had to look too hard to find good stuff there, and I've already gotten my money's worth in about 16 hours.

Will I renew at the end of my month-long experiment? I don't know. I'll have to see how the month goes. But based on my two purchases at MagnaTune (Goode Christemas Musicke and this membership), I'm really rather impressed.

If they can stay alive (they've been going for 5+ years already), I anticipate I may well turn into a very loyal customer.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It's not February

I generally buy two Christmas CDs a year. Yeah, that's a lot of Christmas music, but I like Christmas music. I also receive a fair number of Christmas CDs as gifts, because people know I like Christmas music.

I've occasionally purchased more than just two CDs, and frankly the convenience of online purchasing a la iTunes hasn't been a good thing in that respect.

Last year's purchases were A Traditional Christmas Carol Collection from The Sixteen and Christmas Carols from York Minster. The year before I purchased Christmas With The Academy and Christmas Songs by Diana Krall, both on iTunes.

This year's purchases are in, and I wanted to share them. First was The Best Carols in the World...Ever!. The title is cheesey, but the content is great. It's a collection of relatively rare (from an American perspective) carols done by a variety of reputable performers: King's College Choir and Medieval Baebes, for example. There are 52 carols in two CDs, which is a decent selection. It was definitely a deal.

The second was Goode Christemas Musicke.

This one is worthy of comment. Goode Christemas Musicke is almost the same concert as Dancing Day: the Dancing Day arrangement by John Rutter. Well, they're not the same: both start with Rutter's Dancing Day, but they follow them with different carols; but there is significant overlap. I think this album is performed slightly better, but the real improvement is in the recording. Where the Dancing Day album had some significant noise issues, this newer recording is impeccably clean.

But perhaps the most interesting thing is that the album is distributed through MagnaTune. MagnaTune is an online music distributor that handles independent musicians. They offer DRM-free recordings, and pay the artists directly. Every track is offered in full as a stream on their website, so you can listen to the entire CD before you buy it, and they let you re-download music you've purchased.

In short, MagnaTune is like an idealistic iTunes.

Perhaps most interestingly, MagnaTune asks you to give away three copies of each CD.

So I purchased Goode Christemas Musicke at MagnaTune and downloaded it in WAV format, CD-quality audio. Then I downloaded the album art and printed out a cover on photo paper. I burned a CD with the WAV files, then converted them to MP3 in iTunes and attached the album art. And now I have both DRM-free MP3 tracks from MagnaTunes and a full-quality CD copy.

All in all, an excellent deal.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Two Things

So I've been neglecting this blog recently: that's more laziness than anything else. But today I wanted to break the silence to mention two things.

First, there is an interesting editorial by Paul St. Pierre, "A voice from the grave's edge", apparently published in The Vancouver Sun. It's a most accurate and succinct write-up of the direction North American culture has taken in my lifetime. Whether one considers the changes in the USA since 9/11 or the Maoist speech controls in Canada, it's obvious to anyone who thinks that the world is changing, and not for the better. Ayn Rand seems less like a novelist and more like a prescient every day.

St. Pierre writes:
Our Canada is now very close to a condition in which everything that is not compulsory is forbidden. We have become prisoners of the state. Like modern jail prisoners, all our needs for balanced diet, climate-controlled shelter, approved and tested medication, mental health counselling, higher education, suitable entertainment, grief counselling and consensual safe sex are available free. The inmate lacks only freedom itself.

This one is well worth the read.

Second, I've been greatly enjoying West Coast beer, and really have to mention the seasonal offering from Alaskan Brewing Company. I discovered Alaskan's beers when I moved out here, and I've become a real fan. Alaskan Amber Ale is not the best beer I've ever had: but it's very, very good. And at around $1 per bottle at Costco (about the same on sale in Safeway or Fred Meyer), it's a real winner. Listen, I take beer seriously, and I've been drinking this stuff almost exclusively for the last month. Smithwick's and Guinness are better, but not much. This is really good stuff, and at a price point where I can't justify not buying it.

And this last summer, I enjoyed several bottles of the incredible Alaskan Summer Ale. It's nice to have a "summer ale" that's light in colour rather than taste.

But today I bought a 12-pack of Alaskan Winter Ale, and it's amazing. Check out the colour of this nectar:
From Alaskan Winter Ale

This is an insanely good beer. This is the sort of brew the ancient Teutons dreamed they'd drink in the halls of their pagan gods after dying in gloriously in battle. If you like beer and you have access to Alaskan ales, you need to get some of this.

Next to Sarah Palin, this is best thing to come out of Alaska.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Happy Election Day!

"VOTE, n. The instrument and symbol of a freeman's power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country."
-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

Monday, October 27, 2008

Over the top... er, front

So I took my first spill on my bike riding into work this morning.

I was right at the end of my 12 mile ride: I had gotten all the way to campus, and was crossing the street. I got to the curb and tried to pop my front tire onto it... and missed. I don't know whether I was tired from the ride, or whether I just timed it badly, but I went right over the handlebars.

So I hit the concrete on my elbow and rolled, then my bike landed atop me. Oof.

My elbow and my ego took the brunt of the damage: I'm having trouble bending my left arm right now, but nothing's broken (I think)---it's just a little stiff. My helmet's a little dinged up, but I don't recall hitting my head... I'm hoping that's not a symptom.

I had to pick up my water bottle and bike light, and I decided to walk the rest of the way... all 100m or so to this building.

Mother Earth better be @#$%# grateful.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mt. Rainier

If you haven't spent time in this area, you might have trouble understanding the extent to which Mt. Rainier dominates the landscape. It doesn't dominate the view so much as it defines it. Ames took this picture a couple miles from the house:
From Mt. Rainier

You can see Rainier from almost anywhere here, except the house where we live: we have some tall trees right at the east end of our yard.

Rainier is about 30 or 50 miles from our house, so we decided to head on out and take a look. We didn't actually anticipate getting there, but we figured we'd head out to explore in that direction and take a look around.

There are some interesting things between us and Rainier: Alder Dam was impressive
From Mt. Rainier

We wound through several small towns and finally got to Mt. Rainier National Forest. A day pass is $15, a 12-month pass is $30. So we bought a year pass.

We never actually got to Rainier, which wasn't really a surprise. But we did manage to go for a walk in the foothills. The landscape definitely reminds me of home:
From Mt. Rainier

The "lonely road at the base of the hill" look sure takes me back to BC.

There are a lot of mushrooms on the west coast, and I ended up tagging some in photos:
From Mt. Rainier

From Mt. Rainier

It was terribly refreshing to walk in the cold damp air. That's a winter-on-the-Pacific-coast thing. We might not get a lot of snow, but the winter damp cuts like a knife. I've been out in the cold (I mean real cold, not just freezing temperatures), and it has its challenges; but there is a unique coldness to the damp air on the coast. To be sure I've never wintered in Cambridge Bay, but you get the point. Most places get dry in the winter: our winter humidity presents a unique cold.

From Mt. Rainier

Anyhow, we spent some time walking on a path that followed a creek up a foothill
From Mt. Rainier

From Mt. Rainier

The creekbed itself is bright orange, I assume that's clay washing down from deposits upstream, but I don't know for sure.
From Mt. Rainier

There were some really interesting branches along the path: trees apparently had some unique challenges in that forest:
From Mt. Rainier

From Mt. Rainier

From Mt. Rainier

We even found a hollow tree.

It wasn't an epic journey or anything, but it was certainly a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
From Mt. Rainier

Friday, October 17, 2008

Perl Collections

I read this comment on Yegge's blog from February 2008:

For example, if you see this in Perl:

%x = map { $_ => 1 } @words;
@words = keys %x;

without a comment, you should fire, or at the very least yell at, whoever wrote it. (There are efficiency reasons for not writing that as well, but mainly it's a clarity issue.)

I've been mulling this over for the last couple weeks, and I've decided The Comment deserves comment. I would actually respond to this in the comments on that blog, but they've been closed a long time, and so I'm putting my comments here.

I doubt anyone but me cares about this: I'm just venting here.

Let's begin with the most obvious counterpoint: if you have an employee you're paying to write Perl, and he or she can't understand

%x = map { $_ => 1 } @words;
@words = keys %x;

you're getting ripped off. No-one getting paid to read or write Perl can be excused for not immediately seeing what that code does. That is not advanced code, the variables are clearly named, and the idiom is well-known. If you can't grok that code, you need to bone up on your Perl. If Perl is just another tool in your toolkit as a professional, you might not immediately see what it does... but in that case, you ought to expect to be opening the Camel Book fairly frequently anyhow. In that case you don't expect to immediately understand what every line of Perl does as soon as you see it; but you do expect to be looking things up.

I'm not claiming that's the best way to get a unique list (List::MoreUtils::uniq is much better, for example); but it's a very short solution that will work consistently. It might not be the fastest solution, but it's reasonable, correct, and terse. And frankly, it's also fairly clear.

Part of the problem goes back to what a former boss I highly respect told me once: people write bad Perl because they can. Perl is a simple language to learn, and it's very forgiving. One result of that is, there is a decided lack of "raising the bar" on Perl newbies. And frankly, one of the great things about Perl is the community that encourages newbies, rather than harassing them. So maybe ugly Perl is an acceptable trade-off. Maybe the benefits of a DWIM language and a welcoming community far outweigh any evils stemming from naive and/or verbose code.

But maybe there is a middle path, where newbies can be encouraged to write better Perl without being harrangued and beaten. Maybe it's possible to gently and casually get the message across that baby talk is great for babies, but inappropriate for adolescents. Naivety and inexperience are nothing to be ashamed of, but they're not something to be proud of either. I think that's what my boss was trying to tell me.

And incidentally, it was that boss that really forced me to learn Perl properly. I knew Perl before, but my Perl really sucked. He forced me to use it, and raised the bar on me whenever I started to make progress. I'm no Perl expert, but whatever small advances I've made started when he put the pressure on me to write better Perl, instead of stuff that actually ran.

I think there is a related factor here too: Perl is a huge language. It was designed that way, and there are nooks and crannies that can go unexplored for years. I'm no Perl guru, but I know a lot more Perl now than I did two years ago, when I had already written a lot of Perl professionally. It seems I'm constantly saying "Well, I thought I knew Perl before, but now I realize I didn't". This is part of the famous TIMTOWTODI: having many ways to do any given task implies a fairly large and flexible vocabulary. It also implies a learning curve that is very long, even if it might well be very steep at times. Perl is a language that can surprise you even if you've been learning it for years.

I've found my Perl has gotten simpler and less like line noise over time. I've been known to write comments here and there, and my variable names have gotten more descriptive; but that's not what I mean. I find I almost never use && or || anymore, preferring and and or. I frequently use a die unless... idiom now: I find having a die at the start of a line emphasizes this is a potential exit point much more strongly. I also prefer to use do_something() if... instead of if(...){do_something()}, as it just seems to flow better. And I avoid if not, using unless.

One place my Perl has decidedly changed is, I now use list operators much more frequently. Maybe that's because I've spent some time writing actual, working code in Lisp, maybe not. But one thing is certain, I use map, grep, split, and join a lot more now. I used to do things like

foreach $line (sort @lines) {
print "$line\n";
print "\n";

Now I write that as:

print join ("\n", sort @lines), "\n";

I'm not sure that's really an improvement, except I prefer to use fewer lines to do the same amount of work. One line to accomplish a task in a reasonably clear manner seems like a better ROI for my Carpal Tunnel pains than four.

But I'm not trying to argue I'm brilliant, or anything like it. I'm merely using my own Perl as an example: over time, my Perl has changed its form decidedly---for the better, I think. When I started writing Perl, my programs looked like I had messed up my terminal settings: they were full of cryptic symbols and complicated key words. Now it reads more and more like English. I think that's an improvement.

And particularly when it comes to list operators, I've found replacing a lot of my for or foreach blocks with map blocks has had the net effect of making it easier to follow the code flow in my head. It's not always the most readable, but there's a sense where readable is in the eyes of the beholder. I honestly find grep inside map more readable than nested loops. It lets me keep track of things like counting variables and nested scopes a lot more easily.

So I'm looking at the "bad Perl" example in The Comment, and I'm wondering exactly what the problem with it is. It seems there is a fear of list operations, which seems to be a particular instance of a fear of not explicitly shuffling variables.

Before I read The Comment, a friend had asked me how to do a word count in Perl. I have to admit my solution looked a lot like "bad Perl":

my %count = map { my $word = $_;
$word => scalar grep { $_ eq $word } @words } @words;

It's not terribly efficient to call grep inside map, I understand that. But you'll end up with a nested loop no matter what you do: mine is only two lines long, and seems reasonably clear. Isn't that the point? I assume if we're working in Perl, then performance is not the main consideration: C or Java or Lisp can all knock out a word count a lot faster. We generally choose Perl because it's a great language for thinking: it's a great language for ripping apart a problem quickly and simply. That's frankly why I came back to Perl from Java: I wanted to get stuff done.

So if we want a language to think in, why wouldn't we use as much of it as we can? Why wouldn't we pick up little idioms and bits of vocabulary that make thinking easier? Why wouldn't we sum up several lines of foreach into a single, short map? That's why we have things like synonyms, right? That's why we develop vocabularies in natural languages to encapsulate ideas that pop up. We use words in modern Physics now that Newton didn't use: that's because we've gotten new ideas, and they've required new words. Sure, Newton's English was Turing-complete (so to speak), but it's a lot easier to model modern Physics with our extensions to it, and our newer vocabulary is generally considered a good thing.

So I've decided that not only is The Comment inaccurate, it's actually a step back. Good Perl, like good English, is concise and accurate. Gratuitously using arcane vocabulary in Perl is bad, just like it is in English. But deliberately limiting your vocabulary at the cost of brevity and clarity in spoken languages is laughable (try it: carry on a conversation without using nouns introduced in the last century, and see how ridiculous you sound); and I've concluded it's the same in Perl. I've become convinced the Right Thing to do is to encourage wider vocabulary, both in my own code and in others'. And if that forces the poor sap who maintains my code to look a few things up in the Camel Book, well he can thank me later, when his Perl is a little more fluent and his vocabulary a little broader.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Going Green

When we moved to the NorthWest, I purchased a bike specifically to ride to work. The new job is about 10 miles from the house, but the less direct route is about 12 miles long: longer, but the shoulders are wider and the roads not quite so fast. So today I rode it the first time.

Ames met me at the campus and drove me home, but I did 12 miles on the bike today. It took almost exactly one hour, so I averaged 12 mph. I expect that to get shorter as I get into better shape, but it was frankly better than I expected.

I'm very excited about the new job, by the way. I start Monday!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Home again, Home again, tiddle-lee-dee

"Well, I'm back" --Sam Gamgee

The trip to Charlotte was a success on any measurable level: we accomplished our goals, at least as well as can reasonably be expected.

I got to work with a new acquaintance who'd probably have been promoted to "friend" if I hadn't met him as I was leaving. He's a Solaris guru and a shell scripting genius, so I learned a lot. In return, I was able to share some Perl-fu. I was flattered when he told someone, "I thought I knew Perl until I worked with Ox."

But the high point was certainly seeing Ames and the kids again.

So I'm home, the new job starts Monday, and I'm very happy to be home.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I haven't posted in a while: I've been in Charlotte, NC since 9/22. I'm heading home day after tomorrow, which excites me greatly.

I'v fallen behind on email and blogging, I'm starting to try and catch up on that slack now.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Learning Disability

A few years ago, a friend mentioned to me: "One problem with being good at learning from a book is, you tend to think you've mastered something just because you read about it."

The more I've thought about that over the last few years, the more I've recognized that as the explanation for all sorts of weird things I've seen.

I remember when I started teaching high school, all sorts of well-meaning but clueless parents were full of suggestions to "help". These suggestions ranged from helpful to stupid, but all centered in a fundamentally broken model of learning.

I taught math and physics, which made me fairly unpopular, not only with students, but also with parents who'd heretofore never had to contemplate the possibility that Jr. wasn't the next Nobel laureate. So they naturally had multitudinous suggestions to improve my teaching. (Because "Johnny needs to work harder" couldn't possibly be it.) I remember one parent in particular was full of praise for a video series her son found helpful in learning Algebra: I even showed the class an episode or two (at her suggestion). I was unable to explain algebra to him, but those videos worked wonders! Or so she thought...

What I didn't consider at the time was, the videos almost certainly would appear to do a good job of teaching math, because they didn't give feedback. That is, anyone can watch a video and say, "Now I understand!" The hard part about being a math teacher is, you give homework, which is tantamount to demanding proof. And that's where life gets difficult.

As I've gotten older ("Too soon oldt, too late schmart"), I've seen that the only proof is in doing. Like those unfortunate students of mine, I've spent a good deal of my life convincing myself I've mastered something contrary to the available evidence.

I've recently decided to learn how to type. You have no idea how painful this is, but there's a certain relief to learning to do something right, to admit I really don't know; but I'm ready to learn.

I sincerely hope that was the experience of those poor kids I taught way back when too.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Happy September 1!

Just a quick post to acknowledge the start of the Ber Months! My favourite months start now: September, October, November, December. September 1 is always an exciting day for me. One of my favourite days, truth be told.

So happy September, everyone!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lambda is your friend

I've been doing this IT thing for a while now; and I'm about to make a major transition. January 2006 I transitioned from the master ninja Unix sysadmin to the newbie Java developer. It wasn't an easy transition, but I made it. I had a lot of help, mainly from the tech lead on our project, a great guy and excellent developer. But after two and a half years, I'm tired of the Java developer world. It's not so much that I find it hard (it's not), but it's just that it's not where my passion lies. I still have trouble articulating this idea, but I prefer Getting Stuff Done (TM). It's not that I don't respect Java developers (well, I don't respect a lot of them, but that's the nature of anything with huge market share), it's just not a field I find myself passionate about.

So I'm going to a new job soon, returning to the life of Getting Stuff Done (TM). I'm very excited about it.

I think the whole Getting Stuff Done (TM) approach is why I love Perl so much. I use Java at work: it's what I'm paid to do. But when I have a problem that needs to be solved on my own systems, I use Perl. I can solve the problem in Perl in the same time it takes me to write all the boilerplate code in Java.

It's not that Java's bad, it's just that Java isn't good at Getting Stuff Done (TM). I realized in the last 12 months that all Java projects eventually grow into large frameworks. The word "framework" describes Java like "regex" describes Perl or "list" describes Lisp or "pointer" describes C. Java is plagued by thousands of huge frameworks that get stacked on each other, each containing hundreds of classes or interfaces, none actually Getting Stuff Done (TM).

When I tell people I know Java, they want to know which frameworks I use: no one really programs Java, they program collections of frameworks. Our stack involves Hibernate and Spring, so potential employers get excited about that: I guess the Hibernate + Spring stack is a popular one.

Don't get me wrong: I've seen good Java code, and I've written both good and bad Java code; some of it even does the job fairly efficiently. But it's a language that lends itself to Yet Another Framework, rather than a language that lends itself to Getting Stuff Done (TM).

Perl lends itself to Getting Stuff Done (TM).

That's not to say Perl doesn't have its own problems. Much like the Java culture has evolved to produce zillions of frameworks, none of which actually form a complete application; Perl's culture has evolved to produce billions of lines of unreadable code that only the Perl parser has any hope of understanding. And as one friend pointed out: people write bad Perl because they can. So far, the Perl community has been more impressed by obfuscated code than appalled: so Perl newbies learn terrible habits that any other language's community would quickly humiliate them out of.

But Perl's no mean language: it's actually possible to write very elegant and efficient code in Perl; it's just not emphasized by the Perl community like it is in most other communities. Dominus' Higher-Order Perl is a great example of someone looking past "quick and dirty" to "incredible potential". I hope to see many more books like it.

But after writing a lot of code in projects from simple short scripts, to various Java applications, to C plugins, to fairly monstrous Perl and Python programs; I've settled on what I think is my favourite language: Scheme. I've been using Gambit for a while now, and I'm finding it's a very simple, clean, elegant language. But best of all, it's a great language for just getting out of your way and letting you get the job done.

To be sure, I've used a lot of the Gambit extensions, so I'm not at all programming in "pure Scheme"; but the extensions I've been using are also included in most of the Schemes I've seen out there, so I think my code is fairly portable, if not actually standards-compliant.

Gambit also supports hygienic (define-syntax) and non-hygienic (define-macro) macros. That's a huge deal.

But after mucking with Scheme for the past four or five weeks in my spare time; I'm finally seeing the truth in what a lot of old Lispers used to say: the simple syntax (or lack thereof) lets you see the code, not just the syntax. And it's amazing how easy it is to make things happen in Scheme, although it takes a very different mindset from standard Algol derivatives.

Funny thing is, I started trying to learn Lisp maybe five years ago now. But I kept seeing it in little pieces: seeing how cool any one feature is, but never able to combine them all into a working piece of usefulness. But like others have said, with some practice, it suddenly clicked, and I'm writing genuinely working code.

It's all very cool.

I still find Common Lisp a strange entity: it puts all the power in the known universe at your fingertips, but I find it hard to get things done in it. That seems weird when I'm extolling the virtues of Scheme (they are very close cousins, after all); but I still find solutions tend to flow from my fingers in Scheme. In CL I find myself thinking around problems too frequently.

Part of that is CL's insane number of options: accessing a file system in Common Lisp is not a simple task. And that complexity bleeds into my code too. Perhaps my problem is that the Scheme implementations I've tried are better implementations than the CL implementations I've worked with.

But I'm not trying to fan the flames of the infighting between Schemers and Lispers here: I'm just happy to have found a great language to work in.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cat's out

Well, the cat is officially out of the bag. I have accepted a job offer in Tacoma, to start when my current support contract comes to a close. It entails a significant pay cut from what I make right now; but it looks extremely interesting, and the work environment appears to be first-rate.

My current customer/employer is unhappy with this decision, but I've let them know six weeks in advance that I'm disinterested in renewing my contract. I'm a contractor, not an employee; so the work relationship is always a little odd. I figured the fact they had me interviewing replacements indicated it was their intention for me to leave in the foreseeable future, but that's not apparently the case. Ah well... I'm well within the terms of the contract, and I've been more than patient with their unwillingness to commit in writing to maintaining our relationship past September; so I'm leaving with very little guilt, although I've enjoyed working on this project.

At any rate, I've been quiet about this turn of events on my blog, for obvious reasons. But now it's public knowledge, so I thought I'd mention it.

I've been a bit of a job-hopper in my adult life, but I never really intended it to work out that way. Every job is the one I want to be my last, but that's never how it works out. I did have the perfect job once, but economics made me leave: I was commuting 100 miles to work, and sleeping on my brother-in-law's couch a couple nights a week. Our house simply wouldn't sell, and I eventually had to realize it was an untenable situation.

Too bad: that was an incredible place to work, and I still keep up with the people there. I wonder how many people have had a perfect job and had to leave?

So I'm hoping this new job is the one, but obviously that remains to be seen. I've learned not to try and recreate something that was wonderful, but I have to admit a certain excitement based on some similarities to the perfect job that I see in this new place.

Monday, August 18, 2008


So this weekend was the first BBQ in the new place. Oh, we've been grilling, but this weekend we did a slow-cook on the grill for somewhere between 5 and 7 hours.

I love slow cooking, so I've been keeping an eye out for cheap cuts of appropriate meat. I stumbled on some reasonable prices at Fred Meyer, so I brought home two packets of meat:

Beef ribs:

and country-style pork ribs:

Barbecue can dry out the meat, so I always start by covering them in cheap yellow mustard, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and paprika. I first heard of that from a friend who made incredible ribs. I've altered the style a bit from his technique: he used brown sugar, for example, while I avoid putting anything sweet on meat I'm barbecuing until it's done.

It might be interesting to note that I can't stand mustard. Or ketchup. I have a serious food aversion to ketchup: the thought of eating it nauseates me. I only use mustard to prep meat before cooking.

The real key to BBQ is to keep the temperature steady. You want to keep it somewhere between 200F and 220F for several hours. That's difficult to do over charcoal, but 90% of good barbecue is temperature.

I have a remote wireless thermometer, which makes monitoring it a lot easier. But however you monitor your temperature, that's the most crucial part to barbecuing.

My efforts to maintain a constant temperature sometimes get comical. My grill was too hot closed, and too cool open: so I improvised with a piece of wood. This technique worked fairly well:

Once the meat has been cooking a bit, it needs basting. Low cooking temperatures do a lot to prevent drying the meat, but even at 200F, the meat will get dry unless it's basted to replenish moisture. I use a mop sauce loosely based on Smoky Hale's "Eastern North Carolina Basting Sauce" on p. 245 of The Great American Barbecue and Grilling Manual. My version of this sauce is a little different than Smoky's, but I think mine gives a more rounded flavour. And mine reminds me a lot of the sauces I've actually eaten in eastern NC. Here's my mop sauce:
2 C. water
1 1/2 C. white vinegar
1/2 C. apple cider vinegar
1 T. crushed red pepper
1 1/2 T. salt
2 t. black pepper
1 T. garlic powder
2 T. paprika
Just mix all that up and you've got a basting sauce.

Part-way through the cook I had to stoke the fire, so I used the hibachi as a burn pit. It worked very well.

Then, after several hours of basting, the meat was cooked. I covered it in something sweet and sticky (cheap Kraft BBQ sauce cut with my baste to make it spread better), and left them to caramelize a little:

After a couple coats caramelized, I took them inside:

The verdict? Not too bad. The beef ribs were a little bony: slim pickings. But the flavour was all there, and the pork was definitely decent.

Next project: Boston butts. Time to bring some BBQ to the West Coast!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tripping Teresa Day

August 14 is an important day for us: it's my baby sister's birthday.

My baby sister is one of my favourite people, for all that I haven't seen her in a few years. In fact, I just recently saw my older sister for the first time in 7 years... there seems to be a pattern here.

Gwen's clever and witty: I try to keep up with her, but truth to tell, I can't. To misquote Blackadder, she's as witty as a very witty person who enjoys good wit.

We used to be good buddies at one point. Not that we're enemies now or anything, but the course of life tends to affect one's relationships just as it affects one's waistline. We're no longer found bombing around in my old VW Rabbit or a Cessna 152. We don't rise at 4:30 to go fishing in Dad's canoe like we used to.

But although I rarely see her in real life, I certainly hold her in the same affection as then. And I suspect a great deal more respect.

So many happy returns, Gwennie. I look forward to seeing you again in real life when the days get shorter.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The One True Cross

I've been playing with Scheme, and have (almost reluctantly) concluded that Gambit Scheme might be the One True Cross.

If you've not played with Scheme, it's a reasonably minimalist Lisp dialect characterized by a single namespace (functions and variables share single namespace) and lexical scope (variables are bound as they are defined, rather than as they are called). Scheme is Lisp, with all the complexity and magic that implies.

I started playing with Scheme a little when reading The Little Schemer this last spring; but I wasn't in love with it enough to actually try using it. But in the last three weeks, I have suddenly found myself playing more and more... and actually getting useful code written!

I've been using Gambit, which is a Scheme renowned for its abilities in massive concurrency and parallelization. In English, Gambit is very good at allowing a programmer to spawn a number of autonomous computations that occur more or less simultaneously. So instead of doing A, then B, then C; Gambit lets you do A & B & C, all at once.

But Gambit's real strengths for me lay in three lesser-touted features:

  1. Gambit has simple and powerful hooks into the host operating system. This is a major deal after trying for ages to get something close to usable out of Common Lisp for day-to-day hack scripts. See, in the end my life is rather dull: I don't need to encrypt huge amounts of data or write a new programming language nearly as frequently as I need to back up files or directories on my laptop. Common Lisp makes it easy to do the former, not so easy to do the latter. But Gambit steps in with some simple functions like file-exists? or directory-files to test for file existence or find directory contents, respectively. It was very simple to write Scheme equivalents to the Perl commands I use the most (-x, -d, etc.) and suddenly Gambit was teaming with admin scripting potential!

  2. Gambit has a script mode. So instead of starting up a REPL, loading some files, and throwing off complex-looking commands; Gambit lets me start a file with something like #!/usr/bin/gsi-script and get stuff done.

  3. Gambit can compile Scheme code to C, thence to native binaries. This is a major win, because it means I can write something in Scheme, compile it and distribute it as native code, and the end user has no idea what language it was written in. Best of all, a script can be run via gsi-script until it seems stable, then it can be compiled to C and thence to binary without further ado. They can be tested as scripts, and compiled when they pass testing.

One more thing, Gambit's fast: recursive directory tree walks are like lightning. I've been using a simple backup program I wrote in Gambit, and it zooms through copying my data.

But I'm starting to figure out what others have hinted at: Lisp (and Scheme) is more of a phenomenon than a programming language. You don't just learn Scheme; you explore it. And as you explore it, you start to slowly see the depths of potential that your computer doesn't know it has. Scheme becomes a road to enlightenment, not a language to make computers do stuff.

Monday, August 11, 2008

House Warming

So we had our first cook-out in the new digs. Our place is still stacked with boxes, we still have very little open floor space; but we had the privilege of some guests this last weekend.

But let's get the backstory first.

When we left the house in January, I had to part with my grill, as we couldn't "cook with open flame" in the apartment. Some wonderful friends agreed to grill-sit in exchange for use of it for six months; and my grill spent several months at a friend's house. We went over and cooked for them on it twice, but I have to admit I've missed my grill.

When we were in BC last month, I bought a small hibachi to use at the beach or the lake, and it was worth every penny of the $21.95 it cost me at Canadian Tire:

It looks a little rusty: that's new after being caught in a rainstorm (we have those in the Northwest). The problem with grilling on charcoal: ash is very caustic once it gets wet. Ash + Water = Lye.

At any rate, I got my grill unpacked, reassembled, and polished on Thursday or Friday. So it was a tearful reuniuon

Notice the shelf under the grill is still dirty. I need to get that cleaned. But the stainless is pretty shiny.

So Saturday KingJaymz and his Queen came to visit. They bore gifts, including a bottle of Old Viscosity Ale and a Stumptown Tart. Neither bottle made it through the night. (No, it wasn't a drunken rout, we had a nice long visit and got thirsty a couple times.)

But the main event, of course, was meat. Saturday as Bone-In Ribeye Day.

Good food, good drink, good company. Saturday was a good day.

Update: I can't help notice KingJaymz' account of the visit is so much more meaningful and kinder than mine. I discuss the grill, beer, and meat; while he talks about how nice we are. I'm tempted to edit my post heavily, but I think that would blur the reality of the situation: he's obviously a better man than I.