My Crazy Brain

Still looking for the off switch...

Jeff Atwood Goes Off The Rails

As a long-time software geek I can honestly state that Jeff Atwood’s writing has had an incredibly positive impact upon my career. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that I’ve probably read just about everything Jeff has ever written. The software engineering world is a much better place because of Jeff. I can’t recall the last full day when I didn’t hit stackoverflow at least a few times.

TLDR; I am a Jeff Atwood fan.

Perhaps that is why Jeff’s blog post, "The End of Ragequitting" struck such a chord with me. I can, in all honesty, say that Jeff’s post is the first thing in a very long time that truly offended me - I was actually shaking with anger as I finished it. 

I agree with Jeff that we, as a community, did almost nothing to help Aaron in his long and painful struggles. Aaron was never treated fairly and I’d go as far as stating that he was most definitely persecuted. I hope we will do more in the future when we see one of our contemporaries in trouble. “I’m frustrated by the idea that martyrdom works.” Jeff, I agree with you 100%.

But where Jeff goes off the rails is to relate Aaron’s role as an activist to Aaron’s condition as a human being; a human being who obviously suffered from a deep level of depression. Does Jeff really believe that Aaron [in the midst of a horrible, unimaginably painful depressive episode] was thinking, “Hey, I am an activist for a software community so I should go on living”? Jeff writes:

But also, I must admit that I am a little disappointed in Aaron. I understand that depression is a serious disease that can fell any person, however strong. But he chose the path of the activist long ago. And the path of the activist is to fight, for as long and as hard as it takes, to effect change. Aaron had powerful friends, a powerful support network, and a keen sense of moral cause that put him in the right. That’s how he got that support network of powerful friends and fellow activists in the first place.”

Jeff indicates that Aaron’s suicide was some type of “strategy”… some version of, “I’m taking my ball and going home.” That sentiment is high on my “most offensive and ignorant things I’ve ever read" list. And just to be clear, Jeff never met Aaron - he didn’t know him in any way.

Jeff, I am so sorry that Aaron let *you* down. The fact that Jeff refers to Aaron’s “powerful support network” belies a reckless lack of knowledge about how depression really works. I suffer from severe depression. I have been where Aaron was - several times - he was, unfortunately, just more “successful”. By just about any measure I am successful. I have a loving family. I have an incredibly supportive network (both personal and professional). But if I killed myself it would be my choice - even though I know it would be the wrong one. There is no way to describe the unbearable pain which accompanies severe depression and no amount of support makes it better. You don’t just decide to no longer be depressed. It isn’t like being sad… where you can rationalize that tomorrow will most likely be a better day. You are not thinking correctly… your brain is in a recursive loop and sometimes you run out of stack space.

In many cases mental illness is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. Some medications help… others actually do damage. In the end a person has no more ability to control the imbalance as they would, through sheer will alone, repair a faulty heart valve. In fact, we know how to, with a high degree of success, mitigate heart issues. There are no known cures for chemical issues within our brains.

Aaron committed suicide because depression is a disease. Aaron made a very unfortunate choice. Jeff is right in that we lost an amazing person… someone whom we all should have helped. But I can guarantee that Aaron wasn’t thinking of software or what his death would mean to our community when he made his decision. All he wanted to do was stop the pain.

Aaron did not give up and to say that he did is offensive and callous to anyone who suffers from severe depression. Suicide is not “Ragequitting” Jeff.

My loaner car

While the dealership performs scheduled maintenance on my car they have graciously provided me with a loaner. The loaner is a 2012, 4 door sedan that runs about $30K. 

Because I don’t hate on any specific type of car or its manufacturer I’m not going to divulge the make/model, especially considering that information has nothing to do with what I’m about to say.

This car sucks. It sucks rocks. Aside from the fact that it can technically get me to my destination I don’t know why anyone would ever want to drive it. Ever.

- Engine: This car has a 3.5L V6 DOHC engine. It is supposed to put out 263 HP at around 6500 rpm. On paper that doesn’t sound horrible but I don’t know what the engineers did between the engine, injection system, and throttle but it drives like it’s axel-deep in a bowl of jello. Pushing down on the throttle does almost nothing (and it takes almost 2 seconds for that nothing to occur). I don’t expect it to be a race car but it should be able to merge onto a highway without a 1/2 mile onramp. No power. No torque.

- Speed stability: At 55 mph, no matter how still I kept the throttle, I felt like I was on a see-saw. The car was constantly gaining 2-3 mph, and then losing 4-6 mph, repeat. I thought enabling cruise control would mitigate the issue. Nope. The car just likes to pretend it is a skiff upon the ocean.

- Suspension: Due to the fun speed issues you really get to feel everything that a marshmallow suspension has to offer. I bet I could hop a curb at 30 mph and barely feel it. Ok, I get it, the majority of drivers out there don’t want a sport suspension but holy crap… having absolutely no feel for the road is not a safe way to drive.

- Indicators: I didn’t even know these existed any longer but all of the analog needles (tach, mph, fuel) bounce when you drive. Seriously? For $30K they couldn’t figure out a better way to track the gas in the tank other than floats? The bouncy indicators just add to the motion sickness.

- Steering column: All of the controls, all of them, are on two arms that both protrude from the left side of the steering column. And here is the best part: the windshield wiper arm is above the turn signal arm. So, to use the turn signal you have to either slide your left hand down or take your left hand entirely off the wheel. Awesome. (And for the people who drive with one hand… well, good luck with that)

- Steering: It is my opinion that Speed Sensitive Steering Assist should come standard on all consumer vehicles. At low speed I want the power steering system to help me. At highway speed I want the power steering system to shut the hell up and mind its own damn business. If I coughed too hard while driving the loaner on the highway I might jerk the steering wheel 3” and roll the piece of crap.

- Blind spots: Oh. My. God. I can see out of the front windshield and a good portion of the rear windshield. But anything on either side of the vehicle is a total mystery. I like playing the game, “If I change lanes right now will I die?” Do you know how the engineers solved this problem? They stuck little round convex mirrors on the outside of both side mirrors. This is awesome because now cars which are right next to me look like they are 1” high.

- Clock: What time is this 330? It is 3:30 of course. I guess for $30K they couldn’t fit in a “:” spot on the LCD display.

- Vents: The vents only go left and right. “I don’t want all this air blowing on me so I guess I’ll just point it towards my passenger.” Again, they couldn’t at least copy the genius concept of an air vent that can be aimed left, right, up, and down? By the way, one of the vents can be closed (yippee) but the other can’t (boo).

- iPod: Just about every new vehicle today has some type of iPod/iPhone integration. My loaner does too! But the USB connector does not provide charging power (by design). Are you kidding me? This isn’t Apollo 13, I bet you could find a little extra power in there somewhere.

- Heated Seats: Oh… this must be a luxury vehicle. No… it isn’t. I turned the seat heater on (it is either On or Off) and after about two minutes my low back was burning. I could feel the horizontal heating element. I have to wonder if they stole parts from a toaster.

For $4K more you could grab an entry-level BMW 3 Series. Or, you could do what I like to do, for $10K less you could get a 2 year old, fully loaded 3 Series. By the way, I am not necessarily pushing BMWs (although I do like them). My point is that people pay crazy amounts of money for horrible cars. I think there are two reasons for this:

1) People assume they can’t afford a BMW, Audi, Benz, Porsche, etc. But that is absolutely not the case. All it takes is a little patience and research. I guarantee you that right now someone is sitting in their living room rueing the day they paid full price for a brand new C-Class - they will be happy to get out from under their $800/month payments. Their pain is your gain.

2) Perhaps many people have never had the opportunity to drive a “higher end” car which, in my opinion, is sad. For many people, paying $60K+ for a car seems insane (and it may be) but you don’t have to pay $60K for it - some rich (or dumb) person already did.

I do admit that the cost of ownership is usually higher with these types of cars. The cost to change the oil in the Lotus is $250. (The car has to be put on a lift and the entire bottom of the car has to be removed) But that is not the norm.

Also note that I am not suggesting that you run out and buy a 1983 Ferrari. That isn’t my point. My point is that you should get the absolute best car you can for your money. Spending $30K on a car that is poorly designed is just ridiculous.

PS: If you’re of the mindset, “Well, I don’t want to be one of those douchey BMW drivers”, then all I can say is, “Ok, how about you drive a nice car without being a douche?”

My take on the scrolling change in OS X Lion

Full disclosure: I’ve been playing around with Lion (via the Developer Seeds) for about two months now. By the time I installed the App Store bits on my personal and work machines I had totally forgotten about the scrolling change. I no longer notice it. And, I have to state upfront that I am a big fan of the change.

Do yourself a favor: leave the scrolling behavior in Lion alone. Don’t “go back" to the old way of scrolling. Why?

1) This is the way things are going to work moving forward (at least on Apple devices). You can fight it if you like or you can just bite the bullet and devote the minutes-hours it is going to take to retrain your brain/fingers.

2) If you change your scrolling behavior then any time you use someone else’s Mac it is going to “feel” wrong. Again, this will only become more pronounced as time passes.

3) Going back to the old way is tantamount to taking one step closer to being that old fart who can no longer program their proverbial VCR. Believe me, your children will have absolutely no trouble with the scrolling change; they’ve grown up with iPhones/iPads - it just makes sense to them.

Imagine this: you are a kid again, you are standing in your parent’s kitchen. You are looking at a role of paper towels which are hanging, horizontally, from under one of the kitchen cabinets. You are a kid, so you can’t quite see the top of the paper towel roll, but you know that there is a word written up there. What do you do?

You place your index finger on the roll and *pull down* to rotate the roll so that the word “scrolls” into view. If you want to return the word to its original location you *push up* on the roll. That is simply how the physical world works. That is also the interaction model utilized by your iOS-based devices. And that, now that Lion is out there, is how Apple expects you to interact with your Mac. I can assure you that this wasn’t a last minute decision on their part.

Now, let me help you out a little bit if you don’t buy into my take on the change: everything I’ve said thus far doesn’t really make sense when it comes to the Mac! Why? On an iOS you interact *directly* with the content; you are “touching the paper towel”. On a Mac (it makes no difference whether you are you are using a mouse or a trackpad) you do *not* interact with content directly. The mouse/trackpad represents a level of abstraction that causes a disconnect between your intention and how the onscreen content reacts. The only way to truly solve this problem is to implement a touch-screen interaction model: exactly like the iPad. But that is an absolutely horrible idea for countless reasons (notice that Apple has not even attempted to go that route in any of their commercial laptops/displays). Imagine holding your arm(s) out in front of you for hours at a time. And do you really want people putting their grubby, Krispy Kreme glaze encrusted fingers all over your beautiful new Thunderbolt Display? No. No you do not.

So, Apple’s “natural scrolling” feature in Lion is not the perfect solution for you and you Mac. But it is the solution for the time being. So suck it up.

If you have to constantly switch back and forth between a Mac and a PC then I feel for you. My intent is not to seem snarky - switching is an unavoidable reality for millions of people. I don’t use Windows but supposedly it isn’t difficult to mimic Lion’s scrolling behavior on Windows if that would make the change more palatable.

What is inside a vacuum?

So here is something that has been driving me crazy: “What, exactly, is inside a vacuum?”

 If you say, “nothing”, you are wrong.

If you say “dust & cat hair”, well… I won’t argue.

If there is truly nothingness, and light (in wave “form”) propagates through a medium, how does light pass *through* a vacuum?

I tried to come with an answer on my own - no dice. But intuitively I knew that it wasn’t really “empty”. Here is a cool breakdown of some of the physics involved. Einstein helped develop the concept of Zero Point Energy which basically relies on the fact that there is “something” inside of a vacuum. 

Distance is Redundant

I spent a period of time as a child thoroughly convinced that the concept of distance was redundant.  Why should we care about distance when we already have time and a convenient constant: the speed of light?

We were brought up to conceptualize that two points are X feet/meters/etc. apart from one another.  But we could just as easily do away with distance altogether; two points could be considered to be N seconds apart.  Instead of stating that the Earth is 93 million miles away from the Sun we would state that they are 8 minutes apart.  See, no distance component is required; time alone is sufficient.

Of course my little belief system was demolished the day my know-it-all elementary teacher introduced the concept of acceleration.  Distance turned out to be pretty damn important after all.

  1. It isn’t all that difficult to internalize a pretty harebrained idea.
  2. Always be on the lookout for new ideas/information.  You never know when you will learn something that changes your entire universe.

Care to share any of your misguided childhood beliefs/ideas?