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isn't quite ashamed enough to present

jr conlin's ink stained banana

:: Dear Graduates of the School I Will Never Give a Commencement Speech to

You, full of youth and vigor, with stars in your eyes and a cause in your hearts, are ready to change the world. i wish you the absolute best, and in many respects, you will absolutely change the world.

Just realize, that about half of you are assholes.

i’m not saying you are, since i don’t know you well enough to make that determination. Nor am i declaring any group of you are assholes, much for the same reason. Hell, every one of you in this auditorium/stadium/state could not be an asshole, nor ever be. That still means half of your peers are, because there’s a lot of you and y’all are everywhere.

i know this because i was horrified to discover that half of my generation were assholes. Same with every generation back to the time when two fish fought to get out of a pile of muck. For some generations, more than half were assholes, for others, less than half, but rest assured, the number is about half.

What’s worse is that the asshole half are fairly well organized. Because they’re organized, they’re influential. Because they’re influential, they tend to get their way. Once they get their way, they do everything they possibly can to keep it that way. Why do they do this? Because they’re assholes.

Fret not, they consider you assholes because you don’t doggedly share their beliefs without question. You ask too many questions they don’t want answers to. Even worse, you support those other groups. How the hell could you possibly do that, you asshole?

i’m telling this to you now so that later, when you realize that all the things you though would happen don’t, or that there was no way could happen do, you’ll understand. Stupid wars will be fought, and gleefully supported by assholes. Assholes will prevent us from intervening in horrible injustices. Assholes will vote in other assholes and those assholes will push for policies that clearly favor assholes.

All this will leave you wondering where the hell all these assholes came from. Truth be told, they were always here. Some are born assholes, some trained to be assholes, some even make the choice to be an asshole and work at it at every opportunity.

You are going to be surrounded by assholes. You’re going to be saddened by them, infuriated by them, and you’re going to want to get revenge against assholes.

Yeah, don’t do that last thing.

Instead, understand that some people are just assholes. There may be a good reason, and you should at least make an attempt to understand what that reason can be, but ultimately, the reason they’re an asshole is because they’re an asshole, and that’s probably not going to change.

Instead, focus on the fact that assholes survive because you’re not doing stuff against them. Have plans. Sometimes, defeating assholes means doing things that you may not like, or make you think you’re an asshole. Sometimes, you might even have to be an asshole to someone in order to not be an asshole to a larger group, or to stop them from being an asshole. Work together with others who oppose the assholes. Assholes hate that and will fight you about it. That’s ok, you should expect them to be assholes about it.

It’s also important to understand why you’re being an asshole to someone (since, after all, half of you are assholes). There’s nothing special that makes an asshole an asshole. Anyone can be an asshole, just like how anyone can not be an asshole. What makes an asshole an asshole is when they’re an asshole. When they’re being selfish, close-minded, greedy, dismissive, demanding, those are all pretty clear markings of an asshole. Heck, we’ve had at least a dozen religions that point that out. (The assholes tend to ignore those parts, though.)

i wish i could give you better advice. i wish i could tell you how to solve the fact that half of you are assholes. i can’t. Perhaps one of you can. Instead, i’ll leave you with a few rules i’ve found for myself.

Take care of others.
Listen more than talk.
Reflect on where you are and how you got there and why someone else isn’t.
Realize that most folks aren’t really comfortable where they are.
Help when you can.
Don’t look back with regret. At the time it was the best decision you could make. Instead learn from it for the next time.
If you have power, use it for others more than yourself.
Realize, even those with power, fame and glory, could still use an extra napkin or help finding the bathroom.
Leave it slightly better than you found it.
Realize you’re not always right and that even someone you might look down on has something to teach.
Everyone has a hard job, and no one is solely defined by what they get paid to do.
Nobody has all the knowledge or answers.
Be respectful and kind.
Pick up your trash and hold the door open.
A few have it better, many have it worse. Just like we can use some help, so can others.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, directions, or just to say “hello”.
Your brain regularly lies to you, and your head is full of assholes.
Other cultures aren’t better or worse, they just have different ideas, and only about half of them are assholes.

But most importantly, try not to be an asshole.

:: Con-frigguration

If it’s a static value, it probably belongs in a configuration file.

That’s one of my golden rules of programming, and it’s generally saved my ass. Mostly because someone else sometime else decides that something isn’t quite as permanent as they said it was and it changes. (That was for the benefit of the two or three folk out there that don’t use config files.) Still, after nearly half a century of coding, we still have terrible ideas about configuration files.

The worst offender, by far, is the horrible programming language masquerading as a config file. These seem to be en vogue again. Such as “yaml” format:

  - alias: "Morning kitchen on"
    trigger:
        platform: time
        at: "06:45:00"
    condition:
        condition: and
        conditions:
          - condition: time
            weekday:
               - mon
               - tue
               - wed
               - thu
               - fri
          - condition: sun
            before: sunrise
    action:
        service: homeassistant.turn_on
        entity_id:
            - group.lights

That’s from my Home Assistant configuration file to turn the lights on in the morning if they need to. Home Assistant is written in Python, and i don’t really want to pick on it because it’s really good. If anything, the config system being bad just stands out that much more. i can’t tell you how much easier it would have been to just code up the python function.

import time
def MorningLight():
    now = time.localtime()
    if (now.tm_wday in range(1,6) and 
            (now.tm_hour == 6 and now.tm_min in range(45, 59)) and
            time.time() < homeassistant.sensor_state("sun.sunrise")):
        homeassistant.turn_on("group.lights")

Hell, make some convenience functions and it's shorter.

def MorningLight():
     homeassistant.set_state(
         "switch.OfficeLight",
         (homeassistant.time_between( 
             "06:45 AM",
             homeassistant.sensor_value("sun.sunrise")) and
          homeassistant.is_weekday()))

Yes, this proposes that the individual know python. They’re programming. It’s ok to use the same language you’re using. Forcing the user to learn some convoluted semi-language syntax that is even more alien, doesn’t have countless free tutorials and books, and a vibrant support system, isn’t helpful.

There is literally zero difference between the above yaml version and this:

♥️alias🍳"Morning kitchen on"
🐸trigger🍳
🐸🐸platform🍳time
🐸🐸🐸at🍳"06:45:00"
🐸condition🍳
🐸🐸condition🍳and
🐸🐸conditions🍳
🐸🐸🐸♥️condition🍳time
🐸🐸weekday🍳
🐸🐸🐸♥️mon
🐸🐸🐸♥️tue
🐸🐸🐸♥️wed
🐸🐸🐸♥️thu
🐸🐸🐸♥️fri
🐸🐸🐸♥️condition🍳sun
🐸🐸before🍳sunrise
🐸action🍳
🐸🐸service🍳homeassistant.turn_on
🐸🐸entity_id🍳
🐸🐸🐸♥️group.lights

Actually, i’d argue that it’s clearer because the “🐸” are visibly defined rather than just whitespace (tabs? spaces? tabs+spaces? 🤷‍♀)

We keep insisting on doing this. Sure, that wheel is pretty and all, but what we really need is to make something that rolls on the ground around an axis.

What’s frankly hilarious to me is that programmers have even beaten multiple paths to the “give the customer a simple programming language” route (Lua, Javascript, Visual Basic, etc.) and STILL we come up with crappier solutions. Hell, at one point i was writing a shopping site in a custom XML based language. Someone, quite possibly multiple people, not only thought that was a good idea, but took a significant amount of time to prototype, develop, implement, test, and document that.

Stop it. Just, stop it.

Stop trying to shoe horn a horrible solution to an obvious problem.

If you’ve got static values you need to set, use a simple key-value config system. Maybe allow for sections if it’s super complicated, but also consider that perhaps divvying things up might also be a viable solution. Windows, Unix, and yeah, even Macs all do this, and they work pretty well for exceptionally complex systems. (i’ve got my complaints about Windows Registry tables cross references, but at least i’m not writing XML if statements.)

If you need templates, use an established template system. HTML is no party, but it works, and there’s library support for it. If you want to grant programmatic access to users, give them a damn programming language. And not one that you created in your Junior systems class and got a “C-“.

Granted, if you’re building a complex virtual machine like a web browser, then rules are quite different. Chances are exceptionally good, though, you’re not.

Yes, this means trusting your users. Yes, this also may mean giving up the dream of providing a configuration system safe for 6 year olds. Granted, you could also give them Scratch, so there’s that.

(Dammit, now this means i need to submit a patch to HomeAssistant that actually replaces the crappy config system with an actual programming system, doesn’t it?)

:: Lunatic Debate Club

There are some things that i’m willing to say are “non-controversial”.

i don’t believe that the following need to be discussed, in long form, where dissenting ideas need to be heard out.

  • Humans require oxygen.
  • The moon exists.
  • High voltage electricity does not taste like candy.

There are lots of other things that can be proven readily and also do not need to be discussed and rationalized to a dissenting party.

  • JFK, Elvis and Tupac are all dead.
  • The earth is an oblate sphere (“round” also works).
  • Millions, mostly Jews, were killed in the Holocaust of WWII.

It is quite safe to consider anyone who does not hold those facts as true as a lunatic, someone willfully disassociated from reality, and not really worth having a discussion with.

This is not to say that there are some facts that are worth discussion, or that there’s not nuance that can be argued. We can spend hours or days discussing the finer points of how to best reduce global CO2 and other heat trapping gasses. Likewise there are areas that i gleefully state i have no knowledge that i’m happy to learn about, such as the horsepower differences between a hemi vs standard piston v6. Gravity, while undeniable and present for a mighty long time, is still very much an unknown force.

One thing that’s been pretty <Insert multiple expletives here> settled, however, is that brains are brains. i can’t, with any certainty predict your level of musical talent, pool acumen, or skill at balancing dual carburetors by knowing your sex or race. i can’t tell how well you’d solve for X by knowing your nationality. There may be other factors that contribute to your level of skill, including your background or even the way your brain happens to be wired, but none of those hinge on the configuration of your core chromosomes.

And things get even worse when it comes to programming computers.

i have colleagues who have studied computer science for decades who learn new techniques from folks who just started coding a few years ago. Coding is collaborative. If it wasn’t, sites like github or StackOverflow wouldn’t exist. To deny or somehow refute that fact is equivalent to saying that California doesn’t exist.

So here’s one more irrefutable truth along the lines of “Glowing red iron should not be licked”:

  • Race, gender, national origin, sexual preference, language, hair and eye color, number of useful limbs or anything else does not make you a better or worse problem solver. Solving problems makes you a good problem solver.

Everyone has the potential to write code. Should they find it worth while, some will go on to become great coders, and should they have true talent, a very select few will go on to become legendary. They will come from all walks and a few rolls of life. i work on internal plumbing which has zero glory. i kid that i do the digital version of a Dirty Job. If it works, you’ll never know, but when it doesn’t, i will.

And let’s face it; most of us are not writing code that cures cancer or delivers clean drinking water to 60% of the planet. Most of us are writing glorified string manipulators or adding machines. We make electrons and silicon do neat party tricks that turn a profit for someone else. i welcome anyone willing to dive in and help, particularly someone who doesn’t look or think like me for the same reason that i don’t live on only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

So, welcome all you weirdos that want to learn and write code. The days can be long, frustrating, and deeply annoying, but the bursts of pride and accomplishment once things are working are phenomenal. If you love learning and teaching, you will absolutely love this industry. Everyone in the industry started by not knowing how to code and got better. Many have been in that position multiple times as new tech, languages, and designs were created. Find someone who understands that and is willing to help you get better. They had someone do it for them, this is how they can pay that back.

And if you find someone who doesn’t think you could ever do what they do?

Ignore them.

They’re lunatics.

:: The Process of Process

For a while, there was a fad for software engineers to rebel against “Process”.

They hated the fact that there were rules and procedures for things and wanted the freedom to make code. They wanted to run free among the linkers and cuddle up to garbage collectors, i presume.

Yeah, i wasn’t one of those types.

You see, i also cook. i understand that a good meal generally doesn’t happen by wandering into the kitchen and seeing what happens. It involves thinking about what meals you’re going to eat up to a week ago when you’re making a grocery list. It involves setting up a clean workspace, making sure tools are ready, and performing the steps. Mind you, while there’s some “drudgery”, it’s not much, and hey, there’s meat, fire & knives, so that’s a bonus.

But yeah, one of the keys of good, actually fun, cooking is that “organization will set you free”. Having ingredients ready to go when you need them is amazing. Pinch dishes are cheap as hell and make your life so, so much better. (You can get dozens at the local Goodwill or Dollar Store for just a few bucks.)

So, yeah, it makes sense that you have some level of process for coding. You want to understand what you’re building, have the tools and tests set up, and then have check lists so you don’t forget something. Because if you don’t you ABSOLUTELY will forget something. Plus, having a checklist is one less thing to spend precious memory dealing with. Heck, pilots have lots of them, and frankly, they help them stay focused on, you know, flying.

Of course, no process is ever really finalized and all process is subject to review and updating. You should never have to fight a process, it should be smooth and nearly second nature. If a process doesn’t work, it should be changed.

Sorry, just spent some time creating some additional process in order to capture data that we were ignoring because we forgot to capture it.

Granted, getting folks to follow process is harder.

:: Fuck it.

Right. So, the assholes have won.

Doesn’t matter where you are, because there’s a lot of assholes and they’ve managed to win. In many respects, i should be proud of them. They’ve worked long and hard to get to the top. They’ve been determined and focused and frankly, it’s paid off for them. So, yeah, now they get to do their happy dances and tell the rest of the world to “Suck it up, buttercup!”

They’re in charge.

Let’s be clear. The assholes didn’t win by fluke. It wasn’t just random chance. It was effort that was spent over the last 30 years or so. In the case of the US, this was an entire generation spent planning their win. This was a long game that started after Reagan (yeah, wasn’t a fan then, not a fan now). Still, while family farms failed and we held mega concerts to bail them out, and his cabinet introduced supply side economics that pretty much got the whole wealth inequity business off like a rocket, and we spent insane money on woo-woo defense projects, he was built up as a minor god.

Don’t get me wrong. i benefited from the Reagan years. My family was doing defense contracting in those years and Reagan basically paid for my college years and my parents retirement. But the way he ended the Cold War was to make Russia realize there was no way in hell they could out-spend us. Wonder why our debt is still insanely high? Hi, mister Reagan!

And this is where i point out that all the Gen X folk who’ve been so damn quiet fit rather nicely into that 30 year generation. Behold, the fruits of their labor. Behold the generation of helicopter parents that gave us the “Participation Trophies” we all derided. Behold the (confederate) flag wavin’, “i ain’t PC”, Reagan worshipers who have given us the Alt-Right. Behold the generation that found “Long Duk Dong” hi-larious.

So, instead of following more fantasies about how “we can correct this problem”, screw it. Look, these folks wanted to burn down “the system”. They’re not reasonable. They don’t think about long term consequences, only the concept of “winning”. They are 100% sure they’re being totally rational and justified in being horrible to other humans because They Won.

So, what can we expect? Well, presume unemployment will go up, particularly in media organizations. These include things like the Internet. If you’ve not already carved out your multi-billion dollar homestead on the digital frontier, expect that it’ll be shut down either by competition, regulation, or just relegated to the dustbin. “Fake News” will be anything that deviates from the declared narrative, so “independent” sites will get shut down fairly regularly.

Oh, yeah, don’t expect to be able to use Tor, Signal or VPNs. Those will be filtered by either Comcast or AT&T for any number of reasons. (i had originally said “Your ISP”, but yeah, who’s kidding anyone?) Why wouldn’t you want to use your daily Facebook Allowance, citizen?

Protesting? Yeah, that won’t really make a difference either. Nobody will notice because the assholes won’t talk about it or let anyone know. How much discussion was there about what happened in North Dakota? (And don’t even think that’s actually over and done, yet.) Heck, these are folks who think the Chinese have the right idea. You might feel good about yourself or even take some level of pride in the idea that you were arrested for “Standing Up”. When historians discover your actions in 75 years, i expect that they’ll probably note it.

Expect whatever money you have to go away. You’ll have income, and might even get a stipend, but then, so did the peasants, so at least there’s a precedent, but unless you’ve got a few tens of millions readily available, you’re not livin’ in the manor house. What income you have will be lost to inflation, health care, and the like.

Granted, now’s a pretty awful time to buy up beach real estate, but a fantastic time to sell it, but you already knew that.

Frankly, if you want to see what things are going to be like, just look to Poland.

So, what to do?

Well, for one, i plan on trying to continue to act much like i had. i’m nice to people mostly for selfish reasons. (i like to be around happy people.) “Weirdos” and “Freaks” are more interesting than assholes, so i’ll prefer and promote their company when possible. i’ll secure my information as best i can for the same reasons i’ve done it for years. i’ll generally pay cash for things, use bogus affiliate information, and reduce my footprint as much as possible. i’ll watch news from other countries because the assholes they suck up to are different than the assholes here.

i’ll use various forms of encryption for stuff i give a crap about, and anything really important gets put on paper, only. If i have something crucial to tell someone, i’ll make sure that i either tell them directly (face to face) or use a trusted agent. Like i’ve done for years. Turns out, there’s centuries of rules and protocol around real, paper documents that hasn’t reflected into digital ones. Plus, message encryption is pretty good.

i plan on having fun trying to find ways to turn the system on itself. Assholes have proven that they can be played like those wind-up monkeys with cymbals. Just need to find the right keys to let ’em go. Unsubstantiated rumor that aligns with most of their core beliefs with just enough subversion to cast doubt seems like a pretty good, well trod road. Bet it might be useful in the wrong hands.

i am absolutely not giving in to hope. Hope is a drug that keeps you from acting. No need to go full Nihilist, but it’s important to separate wishful thinking from reality. Best to plan for the worst and enjoy the delightful surprise the rare times you’re wrong. Know what does work? Anger. The driving desire to make people as miserable as they are intent to do to you. Frustrate them at every opportunity. Make them angry. Use that anger against themselves. Call ’em “Liberals” because they are about as far from real, honest Conservatism than you can unreasonably get. (They’re defending Russia and China? The birthplace of communism? Where Big Government is absolutely the rule? Shut up you liberal idiot.)

Best thing to do is be an asshole to assholes. Find ways to ruin their fun. Delight in pointing out when things go horribly wrong for them, because assholes don’t understand empathy, science or really anything other than reaction, so yeah, things are going to go horribly wrong. i have no interest in being “better than them” or “an example they can learn from”. i’ve been down that road. Doesn’t happen. When their crops fail or wells get poisoned, they need to just “Suck it up, Buttercup. Your side won.”

Blogs of note
personal Christopher Conlin USMC memoirs of hydrogen guy rhapsodic.org Henriette's Herbal Blog
geek ultramookie

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