Monday, March 11, 2013

On dirty scrabble and charity


Greetings,

Most of you know that I play Scrabble like a rotten scoundrel.  What you may not know is that I'm a big supporter of 826 National, an organization that helps kids develop strong writing skills, through tutoring, special classes, and after school activities.  There are many chapters in the country, and there might be one in your own city helping the next generation meet their creative potential.  Last year, 826 New York City held a "Scrabble for Cheaters" tournament, and a challenge was issued to myself and my good friend, Craig Austin.  We formed Team Annyong (Annyong) and entered the tournament as scrappy underdogs.  With your generous help and funding, Team Annyong (Annyong) shocked the tournament and took first place.  We are now obligated to return to Brooklyn to defend our title and our honor or lack-thereof, and we need your help again.

For those who don't know, Scrabble for Cheaters isn't like a regular Scrabble tournament.  Teams raise funds for 826 NYC, which give them the right to purchase and use devastating cheats throughout the game.  They range from using proper nouns, to adding Zs to the ends of words, to making up unchallengeable words on the spot (We used this to score a couple 300 point plays last time, and almost got Michael Showalter to flip the table in anger).

The competition won't be easy.  We took the title from Fighting Caziques, who have vowed revenge on these Seattle interlopers.  We got by John Hodgman (from the Daily Show) who will soon commence trash-talking us on Twitter.  We didn't get a chance to play Peter Dinklage (Tyrion on Game of Thrones) but we know a Lannister is always up to something sneaky and well-funded.

We've resumed training but need your help.  Our victory last year was powered by your generosity, and I hope we can count on it again.  If you are interested in donating, please click this stupidly-large link
http://www.826nyc.org/scrabble13/support/
Please donate to Team Annyong (Annyong), and not the other teams though...

Don't forget to see if your company does any sort of charitable gift matching.  Google was our top contributor last year thanks to gift matches and some creative money laundering.

We promise to make good use of your money to bring the pain in the form of strategically placed wooden tiles.  And win or lose, the real winners are the children who benefit from this great organization.

Thanks for all of your support,

Mehal & Craig aka Team Annyong (Annyong)

Monday, December 31, 2012

On 2013 Resolutions

Every year, I make a bunch of New Years resolutions. Sometimes, I actually keep them. Here's the public set of what I'm going to try this year.  Activities with an asterisk are ones where I am actively soliciting partners.

  1. *Devil's Advocate.  I'm hiring myself out.  If you need a side or positioned argued (within reason), I'll do it.  Left wing, right wing, libertarian, authoritarian, I'll argue for whatever point that needs arguing.  In doing so, I'm hoping to improve both rhetorical ability and empathy for positions other than mine.
  2. *Photograph monthly. Skills wane when they aren't in use. I'd like to shoot more, especially in less-than ideal conditions. I may just start going around with my 40D and 50mm and go on more impulse photo walks. 
  3. Photoshop less.  I quit doing selective desat, thank heavens.  I'm moving to doing most of my work in  Lightroom, all I have to do is start doing less there.
  4. Finish reading History of the World: This is the year. It's totally going to happen.
  5. 1000 Scrabble victories. Of course, I'm going to be playing on my phone.
  6. Book inventory. I know there's a lot of good personal library management software out there, and I'd like to have good data on what books I own and how much I've progressed in it.
  7. Finish the XCom Novel:  Made good progress, but I'd like to restart a few chapters and really give it a go this time around.  I should try and learn how to write action sequences in a dramatic way.
  8. Memorize 3-letter words, make good progress on vowel dump list.  Right now, the top thing holding me back at Club Scrabble.
  9. Learn Ruby and Lisp.
  10. *Climb two West Coast volcanoes.  I was supposed to do one last year, slacked off, so I'll do two this year.
  11. *Bike/Hike in crappy weather.  Rain shouldn't be an excuse to stay home on weekends.
  12. *Go to the Opera.  I know pretty much nothing about opera, but we have a nice company I here and I'd like to give it a go.
  13. *Go to the art museum more.  I'm a member, but barely use my membership.
  14. *Start jamming.  Bass playing has been mostly scales and simple play-alongs.  I'd like to get to the point where I can hum a simple lick and pick it out.  
  15. Work out in the morning, rather than the evening.  This implies earlier wake up times, which implies earlier bedtimes.  Sorry 2AM chat buddies.
  16. Stop playing FTL.  Seriously, we're done.
  17. Solve my personal vegetarian dumpling shortage issue by making dumplings.  Monique, looking at you here.
  18. Scrum my life.  I actually have a decent whiteboard that I should be able to use for this purpose.
  19. 4-day hike somewhere.  Thinking Pacific Rim or New Zealand.  The big challenge will be the lack of showering.
  20. Build a self-healing system at work, hand it off to some other team, then never think about it again.
  21. Rely less on sarcasm for humor.  It's kind of a cheap trick and when I think about it, is rather lame.
  22. Cut down on rewatching.  The marginal benefit of me re-watching some television episode or film that I really like isn't that high.  It would be better spent consuming or producing new content.
  23. Learn how to talk on the phone.  I'm pretty bad at phone conversations, no matter who I'm talking to. I pace like a crazy person and can't figure out if it's my turn to talk or the other person's because there's no visual cue for me.  The strange this is that everyone else seems to be perfectly good at this.
  24. Improve climbing:  This means addressing the nagging wrist injury, building more finger strength, and dynoing less.  When you're my weight, dynos are a cheap trick that makes up for bad technique.  I was close on some V6 routes at SBP (which has easier ratings than most other gyms mind you), and am hoping to get them this year.
  25. Improve humor:  Although I accomplished this goal last year, many of the laughs were rather cheap.  I'm ruling that making certain people laugh no longer counts, and brief (5s or less) chuckles no longer meet the bar.

Monday, December 24, 2012

On 2012 New Years Resolutions: Final grades


2012 has almost come to a close, and I'm probably going to spend the rest of year working on a late release.  With that in mind, let's review last year's New Years Resolutions.

1.  Quit Casual Gaming:  Mostly successful.  Apart from Scrabble, I've managed to stay away from brief time-wasting games on my mobile device.  The downside is that I've allowed myself to get re-obsessed with more hardcore gaming.  I've had more than a few 4AM sessions of XCom and FTL.  That being said, I think I've got a system now.  Given a game, come up with my own set of things I'd like to achieve (Beat game on Impossible, unlock every ship), obsessively do it, then mostly quit.
2.  Get back in to music:  Successful/In Progress.  Bass has been acquired, repairs are currently needed though.
3.  Finish JM Robert's History of the World:  Fail.  Didn't make it past The Three Kingdoms era in China.  I will point out though that I've been reading longer and more ambitious stuff than I used to.
4.  Top rope more:  Fail.  Barely top-roped.
5.  Camp in the snow:  Fail.  I camped near some snow in Iceland, but not quite.
6.  International Travel:  Success!  Iceland, FTW
7.  Solve a problem I have with a technological solution:  Fail.  I started work on a couple projects to take faster showers or manage finances, but didn't keep up with it.
8.  Five Puzzle Pieces by years end:  Fail.  Only have 3, haven't had a good patentable idea for a while.
9.  Do a better job dissenting:  Indeterminate.  I haven't had the energy to argue a lot lately, but I've done this a few times.  Might make this a more prominent goal next year.
10.  Weigh 130 lbs:  Fail.  Got to 120, then lost it.
11.  Accept my skinniness by wearing better-fitting stuff:  Success.
12.  Climb a Cascade Volcano.  Fail.  I was pretty close to Adams, but hurt my hand before the attempt.
13.  Make my den look nice:  In progress.  Some redecorating has improved things, books are resorted, but I need to get stuff on the walls.
14.  Eat at a table, not a desk:  Success at work, fail at home.  I never ate at my desk at work the whole year.  I still eat in front of my computer at home more than I would like.
15.  Be funny.  So far, success.  I count 0 days where I didn't make at least one person laugh.  Couple of days were pretty close, and I had to make some late-night calls to friends, or run and flirt with a barista at a nearby coffee shop at 10:30 PM to get something.
16.  Use more umlauts:  Success.
17.  Frisbee foreheand:  Partial success.  I can get about 20 feet, though it isn't as good as my backhand.
18.  Raise at least $1,000 for charity.  BOOYAKASHAWESOMESUCCESS:  Almost $6,000 for 826NYC and Movember charities.
19.  Every time I'm in an argument with a religious person and use any "starving children" argument, must now donate money:  Somewhat success?  I just completely avoided using that argument.
20.  General Amnesty:  I don't think I've exactly "forgiven" every grudge that I have, but I've been a lot more willing to let stuff go this year than I have in the past, and I haven't made decisions based on past resentment.
21.  No trolling:  Success.  This started as "Only troll if I have good motivations for it" but later became just a ban on trolling.  Done, and I'm glad for it.  More on that later.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

On Neil Armstrong

There's going to be a lot of nice stuff written about Neil Armstrong over the next few days, so I'm not going to try and duplicate any of it. What has been on my mind is two parts of his personality that I've read about that make him something of a hero of mine.

First, Armstrong was legendary for being cool under all circumstances. There's a lot of stories about his time testing the lunar landing research vehicles, almost crashing, but walking away from the scene fully aware of what had happened and with engineering improvements so the next vehicle wouldn't jeopardize his life so badly. It's an attitude that he had beyond his astronaut career, like when he sliced off a finger in a farm machine but stayed calm enough to know how to pack it in ice so it could be reattached. I'm not quite at that level of equilibrium, but I try to be.

Second, Armstrong didn't really talk much about the lunar landing. Some say he's embarrassed, some say he's
modest, a few morons think it's because the landing was a conspiracy and he doesn't want to blow it. But those who knew him well say that he didn't want to tell the story over and over again, because then it would just be a story. It would go from the most profound moment in his life; really in anyone's life; to something you tell at a cocktail party. In an era where we photograph our lunch, live-tweet tv episodes, and generally overshare, I think this is pretty important to think about. Sometimes, there's value in keeping good moments to yourself.

I was pretty struck when I first heard that, back in the early 2000s. Since then, I've built a small collection of experiences that I've spoken to virtually no one about. Some are from traveling, some from work, some of them were just quiet moments alone or with someone special. But they all still have a lot of meaning to me, largely because I've held on to them. Every now and then, I'll break my rule and recount some story and it's a little less special; but it's okay because I have a good life and will experience something good soon enough.

In any case, rest in peace Neil.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Reviews of Everything I saw at SIFF

Here's a review of everything I saw at the festival.  Ratings are out of 4 stars.  Anything that I rate 4 stars has the Mehal Guarantee™, wherein if you see the movie and are unhappy, I will buy you an apology beverage (limit 2 per person).


The Do-Deca-Pentathalon  ★★★:  Two brothers, one a responsible though repressed grownup, the other a carefree man-child, reunite for the weekend.  In doing so, old sibling rivalry comes out in the form of a 25-sport athletic competition.  This is an pseudo-Mumblecore film, but surprisingly doesn't suck.  Reasonably funny, although I wish we'd retire the grownup vs. man-child causes marital strife motif.  


Only Yesterday ★:  A wonderful Studio Ghibli creation by the director who broke your heart with Grave of the Fireflies.  A woman spends her vacation in the Japanese countryside and remembers her fifth grade self.  It's a simple film done with so much love and subtle details.  And the ending really got me.  Fun fact:  This movie is almost 20 years old, but Disney has refused to release it in the US because of a menstruation scene.


ShortsFest Opening Night ★:  Overall, not impressed this year.  I will give some special praise to Friend Request Pending because of Dame Jude Dench's performance though.


Safety Not Guaranteed ★:  Best movie I saw this festival.  A debauched Seattle journalist goes to Ocean Shores, WA in search of a man who placed an ad looking for a fellow time traveler.  Joining him are a depressed twenty something played by Aubrey Plaza, and an absurdly socially awkward Indian dude, played by not me.  Plaza connects with the man, played by Mark Duplass, who might actually be able to pull off the impossible.  Between the low-key humor in the beginning, the wonderful zither music sequence, and the ending that the audience cheered louder than I've ever heard a movie audience cheer before, I loved every moment of this.


Take This Waltz ★:  Michelle Williams falls in love with a man that turns out to be her neighbor.  Unfortunately, she's married to Seth Rogan.  Awkward.  This movie vacillated between being beautiful to funny to rage-inducing at the end.  But it's definitely not boring.


King Curling ★:  Good-old absurd Scandinavian humor comes through in this great comedy.  Makes me want to curl or do drugs, not sure which.


Over the Edge ★:  Also wasn't that happy with this shorts package.  I will call out Paradise for wonderful shots of skylines from the perspective of window washers, and Up the Valley and Beyond for wonderful shots of ladies breasts.


The Imposter ★:  A documentary about Frenchman attempts to impersonate a 15 year old Texan boy who had gone missing.  Shockingly, he gets away with it for a little while.  Also rage-inducing at times.  I really liked the director's style of cutting between reenactments and interviews and interspersing audio from the interview with dialog in the reenactment.


Queen of Versailles ★:  Also rage inducing, but very good.  A family that made it rich in the time-share business decides to build the largest house in America.  And then the economy collapses.  My emotions oscillated between sympathy and schadenfreude throughout most of the film.  Overall, it's a great narrative to go along with what happened with the global economy over the last few years.


Starbuck ★:  Almost was my favorite movie this year, and makes me want to see more stuff from Quebec for some reason.  A layabout slacker finds out that he has over 500 children due to a mishap at a sperm bank.  Desperate to prove that he's not a terrible guy to his girlfriend, he starts trying to intervene in their lives as their guardian angel.  Really heartwarming film.


Klown ★:  Denmark never disappoints when it comes to delivering delightfully obscene stuff.  A square and his libertine brother have to bring their 11 year old nephew on a canoe trip that was supposed to be entirely about getting tail.  Definitely not for the easily offended.


Alois Nebel ★:  Black-and-white Czech animated film.  Interesting animation but I didn't really feel drawn in by the plot.  I think I was missing some cultural context for this film.


Winter Nomads ★:  I didn't expect to be that drawn in by a movie about Swiss nomads, but this turned out to be pretty good.  Very relaxing and never boring.


4 Days in May ★:  There's an entire set of stories about the end of World War II that have largely gone untold, so I'm glad to see the story of an unlikely detente between Russians and Germans told in this movie.  I'm not wild about putting a child in the lead role of a movie like this though, and he was the weakest point of an otherwise solid movie.


Unit 7 ★:  Spanish action film about a hardcore narco unit.  I went in thinking Cell 211 although that's completely wrong and my fault entirely.  Strong performances from the actors, but the ending was a little anticlimatic which is why this is only three stars.


Xingu ★:  The story of how three Brazilian brothers realized that nature preserves aren't just for plants and animals, they're the only shot for survival for the cultures of indigenous tribes of the Amazon.  The subject matter is really interesting and the tribes are presented very well.  I'd love to see a movie that goes in to more depth about dealing with tribes with little to no contact with the outside world.


As for when you can see them, some of these are already available on Amazon Instant Video/Netflix.  Safety Not Guaranteed gets a wide release this year and should be in a theater near you.  Many of these other films will be released at your local arthouse theater.


If you go and see Only Yesterday, Safety Not Guaranteed, King Curling, The Imposter, Queen of Versailles, or Starbuck and aren't happy, let me know and I'll make it up to you.  Happy movie-going!

SIFF 2012

SIFF 2012 was superb this year.  Every full length film was good or great, and I expect a few of them to receive a lot more attention as award season comes around.


Highlights

  • Safety Not Guaranteed was my favorite of the festival, and is now in theaters in a handful of US cities.  Hopefully this will get a wide release later this year.  I also hope this marks the beginning of Seattle establishing itself as a real center for filming.
  • Starbuck was a close second.  I'm glad that my two favorite movies of the year were uplifting movies that I can recommend to pretty much everyone.  I'm also interested now in more cinema from Quebec.
  • Take This Waltz wasn't my favorite film, but is one of the most creatively shot movies I've ever seen.  Special credit to the lighting in the sunset rickshaw scene, the sound work for the "Video Killed the Radio Star" sequence and the circular camera work during the freaky sex scene at the end.
  • The Imposter was a documentary that did a great job cutting between interviews of the real people involved in the story and actors in the recreation.  

Lowlights

  • I know this is small, but can we please get more than one intro sequence at SIFF?  Have some consideration for the people seeing 10+ and give us a few more things to look forward to before the film starts.
  • I felt like this was an off year for the shorts.  Out of 20 shorts, I think I really enjoyed only two.
  • I think the festival came up short on delivering on science fiction.  Most of what we get is pretty low budget and corny, and none of this year's selection really delivered.  Past years have seen great stuff like Moon.
And of course, the festival isn't totally over.  I'll be at a couple films at the Studio Ghibli restrospective, and I'm going to see Moonrise Kingdom this week.  So life is good for us Seattle Film fans.

Monday, March 19, 2012

On Dirty Scrabble and Charity

Craig Austin and I have signed up for this year's Scrabble for Cheaters tournament to raise money for 826 New York. For those who don't know what 826 is, it's a nation-wide charitable organization that helps students develop writing skills through tutoring and creative programs. It's one I'm proud to support, both the Seattle chapter and the one in my home state.

Here's how Scrabble for Cheaters works. First, I'm coming out of retirement and training hardcore this month (in person challenges welcome, I'll handicap all y'all a couple tiles). Second, Craig and I are going to raise as much money as possible. On game day when we face down our enemies on the Scrabble Board of Destiny, this money gives us the ability to buy cheats that enable us to do things like fish for vowels from the bag, use words from foreign languages, or make arbitrary legal words. All the money we raise, whether it's used or not will go benefit 826 NY.

I'm a big fan of this tournament because it lets me play Scrabble, be a jackass, and rightfully claim that I'm helping children. But if you need further incentive, you need only to look at the tournament list to see that it includes
  • John Hodgman, AKA The PC
  • Emmy Award winning Actor Peter Dinklage, known for his brilliant portrayal of Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones

So whether you want to help me show some New Yorkers what real Dirty Scrabble is like, or humiliate House Lannister in vengeance for the Sack of Kings Landing, or help some children reach their full potential as students and writers, Team Annyong will greatly appreciate your help.

Donation Link: Please make sure you are donating to Team Annyong.

Monday, January 02, 2012

On 2012 Resolutions

It's a new year, and time for new resolutions/targets. In no particular order, we have

  1. Quit casual gaming. I feel really lousy after gaming in general, but I feel the worst after spending more than 1 minute playing anything on my iPhone. Quitting gaming proved too tough, so I just quit heavy-duty gaming and thought that would work better. But maybe I had it reversed; maybe I'll feel better allowing myself Skyrim and forbidding anything purchased from an AppStore.
  2. Get back in to music. I've flirted with this idea a few times, specifically considering going back to trumpet or piano, or picking up an electric bass and trying to teach myself.
  3. Finish History of the World. I'm making progress, and this is the year I finish.
  4. Top-rope more. Pretty much all of my climbing has been bouldering. I never got used to the harness, so it's time to get used to it.
  5. Camp in the Snow. Not sure where, doesn't have to be hike-in, but I'd like to try it. Bonus points if it's in a snow cave.
  6. International Travel: Let's just say travel outside of the North American continent to some place that isn't India. I won't set destinations as a specific goal here. I do have a lot of vacation to burn this year, so I can't fall back on that excuse.
  7. Solve a problem I have with a technological solution. Currently in progress, so let's see if I can finish the fight.
  8. Five puzzle pieces by years end. Amazon employees know what I'm talking about here.
  9. Do a better job of dissenting. For some reason, I like being the one person in the room with a different opinion. But I'm not very good at convincing the entire room to go my way. Last year, I finally managed to have my first "12 Angry Men" moment where I reversed the rooms position on a hiring decision. This year, I'll try to get better at it. I may never go to law school, but that doesn't mean I don't get to relish debate.
  10. Weigh in at 130 lbs. Got close a couple of times in the past, but I'd like to keep it on this time.
  11. Failing that, stop wearing thick/baggy clothing to hide the fact that I'm skinny.
  12. Climb one of the Cascade Volcanoes. I have no excuse for not doing St. Helens, and it's not much training for me to do Adams.
  13. Make my den look nice. Bonus points if it's a room in a new place.
  14. Eat at a table, not at a desk. Starts tomorrow. I'm not going to eat at my desk at work, or at home.
  15. Be funny. Two days in, and I've made people laugh both days. 364 to go.
  16. Use more umlauts. I like using umlauts in the New Yorker style, so I'll try and evangelize this practice.
  17. Learn how to throw a frisbee with a good forehand. I've come close to this, and I'm maybe a couple weeks of solid practice from getting it solid.
  18. Raise at least $1,000 for a charity.
  19. Every time I'm in an argument with a religious person, and I use any argument that invokes "starving children," I am now required to donate $20 to aid in the cause of famine relief or local food banks. Partially, the argument is tiresomely cliche; partially, it's good to help.
  20. General amnesty for everyone. I have a tendency to hold grudges, and sometimes it's a net positive when they motivate me to accomplish good stuff. It's also fun to fantasize about elaborate payback plans. But I don't think any of the grudges I currently hold are doing me any good. So I'm going to declare a complete amnesty for anyone who has wronged me in the past. It doesn't mean that I've forgiven or forgotten, just that I'm going to try to not let it affect me.
  21. Troll For Great Justice. I troll mostly because I enjoy being a jerk, but maybe it's time for me to use this ability for good. A good troll should work to take people down a notch, and to quote Sports Night, "Point out what is important by mocking that which is not." So this year, I resolve to put on my trollface only when I think I can make things better.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

On 2011 resolutions

Evaluation of public and private resolutions

1. Make someone laugh every day: I recorded 4 days where I did not induce laughter. Better than last year. Almost-pass
2. Become a white-card Scrabble Player: Oddly enough, I actually quit playing this year. I felt kind of burned out around the summertime and am taking a break. Fail.
3. Cycle n * 100 miles in n days, where n >= 2: I barely rode this year. Don't think I went more than 20 miles. Fail.
4. Create a crossword puzzle: Nope. Fail.
5. Write some app for the Kindle: Turns out, my job isn't super friendly for that. But my current team actually has me working on a Kindle app. Semi-pass
6. Get in a legal fight and win: I stayed out of trouble, but I won a good number of legal arguments with people. Pass.
7. Spend one day outside of my apartment without seeing another person. Came close on some isolated hiking, but not close enough. Fail.
8. Interview for a job that isn't for a tech company. Pass.
9. Start figure skating again. Not even close. Fail
10. One one-arm pullup. Pass. Although I am suspicious that I didn't use proper technique...
11. Travel. Abject Failure. Didn't really make plans this year, alas.
12. Deliver a truly excellent toast. Pass
13. Go one month without using one of the Seven Words. Pass.
14. Learn how to make at least one cocktail. Semi-pass, it's a pathetically easy drink
15. Reorganize my library with some decent bookshelves. Fail.
16. Talk in front of 1,000 people. Close, but not quite. I spoke at Ignite again, but the crowd doesn't quite breach 1,000.
17. Solve one problem with a technological solution. Incomplete. Work in progress.
18. Read "A History of the World." In Progress. 300 pages out of 900 down.
19. Have a nice, stimulating scientific discussion with an attractive woman at a party that does not have anything to do with the Drake Equation, airplanes on treadmills, bears, or dopamine. Pass. Supernovae, deserts, and mitochondrial eve were discussed this year, among other things.
20. Get obsessed with things. Pass. I threw away much of my work/life balance this year to try and do better at work, and I'm actually pretty glad for it. I've also focused on becoming a good photographer again and am making steady progress. Being well-rounded is nice, but maybe it isn't really for me.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Why's everyone coming here?

A large number of people suddenly visited my blog today, and looking through the site metrics, it seems like they got referred via their e-mail clients. I'm suddenly concerned I just spammed a bunch of people. Can anyone comment on how they got here?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

On getting defamed

I haven't used this blog to air my dirty laundry, especially since a few people I work with read this blog. But something happened recently that I feel the need to talk publicly about; partially for catharsis and partially to share what I learned from this.

I work with a lot of non-engineers in job capacity. At first, I didn't like this, but I've grown in to it fairly well. I pride myself on being able to explain technical problems to non-technically minded people without sounding patronizing (A hard drive is like a book...). Additionally, I've kept my optimism about how Amazon works. I came to Amazon believing that it is truly a customer-centric company, and still think it is.

Sadly, I got caught up in a political power play three weeks ago by people more concerned with their own agenda than actually helping our customers. I won't go in to details, but to be brief: Something I said was taken grossly out of context, and the way it was taken out of context makes me believe that this was done with some malicious intent, either towards me or my team. A person in a senior position used this remark to further his/her agenda, and in doing so, made me look foolish to a large and important audience. I got in a fair amount of trouble, spent the entire weekend cleaning up this mess and lost face with my team and partner teams. It's the last part that I mind the most. Having a reputation as an intelligent and dedicated person is maybe the thing that I'm most proud of in life, and this person ruined a lot of it.

It's been a few weeks, and I put off any kind of retaliatory action. I'm very conflicted on what to do. As far as I can tell, my options are
  1. Let it go. I don't have concrete evidence that this person really conspired against me, or acted with the intention of damaging me. It's self-centered for me to act the victim here. Typically, I've ignored direct threats at work, figuring that I can win over the aggressor at some point in the future through quality work.
    The problem with this is that if I let incidents like this go, I'll get bullied forever. As Picard would say, "The line must be drawn here."
  2. Confront the aggressor. I haven't had a large amount of interaction with the person in question. Walking up to them and saying "You done me wrong" is liable to backfire. Furthermore, what would satisfy me? I would deem a private mea culpa insufficient, because the offense was public.
  3. Be passive-aggressive. Every request from this person, I'm going to sandbag and stonewall. I don't enjoy playing politics, but I know how to fight dirty at stuff. But playing turf wars isn't customer centric. Additionally, I will probably lose in the long run to someone with a better understanding of the workings of the company.
  4. Write anonymous feedback about this individual, explaining how they defamed me. The problem is, my feedback won't be anonymous. My name is in the mix, and anyone reading it would know who was doing the complaining. Additionally, the person in question is far more senior than I, and will likely escape any real harm from negative feedback I give.
  5. Break in to their car and hide tarantulas. This is expensive, and live tarantulas are difficult to obtain.
It's not the nicest thing to say, but retribution feels damn good. So the central questions to weigh are
  • If I seek retributive action, what doing the target the ideal amount of harm, without injuring anyone else?
  • If I let this incident go, what is the probability of it reoccurring?
  • Would any retributive action really make me feel better, especially given that I'm still upset weeks after the incident?
I think what I've learned is to be more careful about what I say. There's a saying: "It's not paranoia if they are really after you." Now I know that's the case, and since I know the offender has read this blog, they might know that I know. Going forward, I'm not going to volunteer long explanations, and I'm not going anywhere with rough estimates. Essentially, I'm going to Miranda myself, because anything I say can, and will, be used against me. When anyone asks for information, I'm going to make sure I understand why they really want it. And it's not that I don't trust people I work with, but I now realize that their objectives aren't always aligned with mine.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On speaking at Ignite

I'm speaking at Ignite tomorrow. Come down to the King Cat theater and hear me try to talk about board gaming for 5 minutes, along with far more articulate and famous people.

Monday, March 07, 2011

On technology versus magic

All the talk about the iPad 2 brings me back to some thoughts I scribbled down when the iPad 1 launched. Most of it is incomprehensible, mostly due to a combination of alcohol and fine-tipped pens but what I do remember is getting ticked off at the iPad presentation. Specifically, every single time one of the presenters said the word "magic."

Arthur C. Clarke famously said "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." It's an interesting thought; we generally think that Newton or Pythagoras would look at a TV and scream witchcraft, so would we react the same way to stuff from the far future? But it is completely irrelevant to the iPad. Because let's face it, it isn't sufficiently advanced. That's why the presenters kept saying "like magic." Really people? Are we that impressed by smooth screen transitions and touch interfaces? Because I have a really shiny object in my pocket if you're that easily astounded.

Apple-hating aside (and I shouldn't single out Apple, they aren't the only ones who talk this way), I guess I just hate the word "magic." "Magic" has no process, while good technology is the product of smart and dedicated people. "Magic" is known only to a few arcane-empowered individuals, while anyone can go get an engineering degree and interview for a job with us (hint hint); or at minimum buy me a beer and listen to me ramble about architecture. "Magic" was this mystical thing that people used to explain what they couldn't explain until a scientist or technologist gave a real explanation that let people actually apply this knowledge for some good. Technology builds civilizations. Magic amuses kids at a birthday party.

So let's have some respect for products and the people who work on them. When someone calls great technology "magic," they are denigrating it and the people that worked on it. They're saying that this thing just happened out of nowhere, with a puff of smoke; that no one really knows what is going on with it and in a few years, no one will remember it. There's no greater honor we can give great technology than calling it great technology.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

On reverse stalking

I keep pretty close tabs on who comes on my blog. I'm curious to see if anything I've written got linked somewhere, if someone I just met just Googled my name, how often Google crawls my site or what unusual combination of search terms leads people here. Some comments
  • Someone from Syracuse keeps on coming here via LinkedIn. I don't think I know anyone in the 'Cuse, so I'm thinking it must be a recruiter. Let me save you the trouble: I'm an Upstate NY and have lived enough of my life among lake effect snow and crumbling infrastructure.
  • I'm able to track screen sizes and I have to know how anyone can have a screen that is 32768x1024. Send me a picture please
  • My pictures are generally higher ranked by Bing than by Google. Additionally, the Bing queries have more to do with the actual pictures than Google.
  • Someone from Britain keeps Googling "Mehal Shah" and comes here. Pal, I'm the number one "Mehal Shah" on the Internet and I ain't giving up that spot easy.
  • Can someone go to Antarctica and access this page? I have a checklist I'd like to complete.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

On New Years resolutions

It's a new year, and time for new resolutions. Here's a few

1. Make someone crack up every day. I was mostly successful with this last year. By my count, there were 11 days where I didn't make anyone laugh (including a "haha" or "lol" seen through communicator). I will have an exception for days when I have no human interaction (detailed in a future goal), but my goal is 360 days.
2. Become a white-card Scrabble player. This means average 365 or more points a game, usually with 3 bingos. Right now, I'm 300+ with 1.5. Additionally, I'd like to break 700 in a match.
3. Cycle (n*100) miles in n days where n >= 2
4. Create a crossword puzzle. I haven't done this since 2006 and it would be fun to put some effort in to this. Bonus points if it is pun-tacular.
5. Write some app for the Kindle. It might be text-only-DOOM but I might have to deal with copyright for that.
6. Get in a legal fight and win.
7. Spend one day outside of my apartment without seeing another person.
8. Interview for a job that isn't for a tech company, just for the heck of it.
9. Start figure skating again. I'll be happy if I can skate backwards without looking like a klutz. Don't expect me to do a Phillipe Candelora impression.
10. One one-arm pullup. And none of that weak-stuff where you grab your arm with the other one.
11. Travel. I have this goal every year and did well last year. This years list of possible destinations
  • Iceland
  • Finland
  • Northern Ireland/Scotland
  • Southern France
  • Cyprus
  • Patagonia
  • Turkey
If interested in any of these destinations, please contact me. Intra-country transport will be mostly on bus, with some sections of bicycling and walking. Northern European destinations will most likely include Iceland as a stopover.
12. Delivery a truly excellent toast
13. Go one month without using one of the Seven Words. I used to take great pride in not cursing, but since I joined Amazon.com I've let this habit lapse.
14. Learn how to make at least one cocktail. If I can do this, I'll make a Dark and Stormy for anyone who visits my apartment.
15. Reorganize my library with some decent bookshelves. And the irony of owning a 400 book collection while working on Kindle does not escape me.
16. Talk in front of 1,000 people. I came pretty close to doing this Ignite in 2008. Not sure how I'll do it this year but it is worth a shot.
17. Solve one problem I have with a technological solution. I've thought about simple problems like "Who's turn is it to pay for dinner?" or "What's that Wikipedia article I was going to read?"
18. Read "A History of the World." I know a lot of things, but there's a lot more I don't know. I know a whole lot about Ancient Rome, but very little about Carthage or Zimbabwe. I'd like to fill in the gaps of my historical knowledge.
19. Have a nice, stimulating scientific discussion with an attractive woman at a party that does not have anything to do with the Drake Equation, airplanes on treadmills, bears or dopamine. Those topics have been done this year.
20. Get obsessed with things again. I'm at my best when I'm focused to a nearly insane level on things. I've dialed it back over the past few years, but maybe that was a mistake. So this year, it might be time to dial it back up.