No one inspires like Frank

I'm struggling on this rainy afternoon, feeling glum, getting an obscure run-time error on a chunk of code that worked fine until I refactored it. I've gone from loving Java to hating it, cursing it as the droplets fall and the gray hangs heavily all around. All of a sudden, I become aware of the music coming out of my iPod on the office speakers. It's Frank Sinatra, singing Here's to the Losers. It doesn't help.

Spellbinding!

I finally got around to seeing the documentary Spellbound, about eight contestants in the 1999 National Spelling Bee over the weekend, and what a film! If you haven't seen this yet, I highly recommend it, especially if you're any sort of language nerd and enjoy weird words. It also provides insight into all kinds of American families, from various geographic regions, ethnic backgrounds, financial strata, etc. and demonstrates an intriguing combination of hard work and luck. It was also emotionally uplifting and funny. What more could you ask for in a film? Check it out if you haven't had a chance.

Geeks vs. Suits

Maciej closed out the month of August with two great posts about NASA and the loss of Columbia: Physics 2, Business Administration 0 and Things I Have Learned About Foam From the Columbia Accident Investigation Board Report. From the former (which leads off with a must-read quote from the Columbia Accident Investigation Report),

Engineers are trained to ask "what could possibly go wrong?". Managers are, too, but they use the phrase with a completely different intonation.

It made me chuckle when I read it, and then I realized the horror of such a flippant question when lives are at stake. Go read Maciej, and not just for this, but because everything he writes is really very good, and his linguistical flourishes impress me to no end.

No extends!

I usually keep quiet during the myriad technology debates that flood certain web circles, preferring to just do my coding and building of things. So when I do dig into some technology or other — often way after all the geeks have argued and hashed to death some obscure techie implementation tidbit — I'm shocked to discover just how messed up it is. This week's struggle lies with OPML. I like to think OPML stands for Other People's Markup Language, and I try to be down with that, but in reality it stands for Outline Processor Markup Language and it's a format many weblog-related tools (such as blogrolling.com and various RSS news readers) have implemented to make it easy for you to import and export a list of your favorite weblogs. Sounds like a pretty good idea, if only it were actually standard.

Unfortunately OPML has a DTD that says you can extend OPML anyway you want (which is crazy talk to me, a DTD you can change? What's the point?), meaning you can add more elements, or more attributes to your elements. So when someone (me) tries to implement something with various OPML outputs, you (again me) realize that one tool outputs an attribute "url" while another outputs "htmlUrl" and a third "htmlurl" — all to signify the same thing! Sure, some RegEx can clean this up, but weren't we trying to avoid all that with XML in the first place? Argh! I just want to be able to develop something and have a strong contact defined. Is that too much to ask? No "extends XYZ," no "I changed this" just "this is how you express X" and that's it. Maybe if the format you're using requires you to change it to represent your data, you're not using the right format in the first place.

Which makes me realize that I think some of the problems we've had in the weblog community around formats like RSS and OPML might stem from the fact that we use them in manners for which they weren't designed. But that seems like a topic for another day's rant.

Matt Hamer writes in with more coherent thoughts on this issue:

The DTD (at least this one:
http://static.userland.com/gems/radiodiscuss/opmlDtd.txt) *with no
modifications* does not allow you to add extra attributes. A document
with undefined attributes would not validate against this DTD. I don't
want to spend time reading the full spec right now, but based on the
comment in the DTD, I assume the spec prose says that you can add any
attribute that you want to. The DTD makes it easy to add your own
attributes to the outline element, but you must define them by adding
them to the OtherAttributes ENTITY. If you do this, you are really
working with a different DTD.

The real problem is not with the DTD, or really even with the spec that
says, "add your own attributes." The problem seems to be that people
are adding information that you (and other people) find useful in *non
standard* ways. If 'url' or 'htmlURL' or whatever is valuable
information, a standard attribute should be added to the DTD.

Con Ed won’t reimburse

You might have heard that you can get reimbursed for food you lost during the blackout, but apparently it's a rumor. According to the New York Daily News, Rotten food? Rotten luck, sez Con Ed:

The utility's policy is to cover claims up to $350 per household when the electricity is zapped.

It even has a form on its Web site that customers can use to claim food losses, and consumers have been E-mailing them around.

But Con Ed said yesterday that the policy doesn't apply to last week's outage, which left millions of its customers in the dark for 12 to 29 hours.

Drat! When I heard, I got my hopes up. It figures I'd recently filled my freezer with all sorts of things only days before the outage.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game Before I left for Nantucket I finished reading Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis and (once again) I couldn't stop talking about the book and sharing its insights with whoever would (or even wouldn't) listen. It was especially cool because my family watches a lot of baseball, so I found I was applying principles as I watched Little League World Series games and even the Sox vs. the A's themselves! Anyway, this was a great book and I really recommend it, even if you're not that interested in baseball. Ev summarizes it well when he writes, "Excellent book about winning by questioning the things everyone knows are true — and caring about results more than perceptions." Maybe I'll post some choice quotes later, because my copy is at home.

Realizations upon return from vacation

When you cook everyday, you begin to remember how easy it is, and so when you come home you go right to the market and get a lot of food for the whole week, even though it's really heavy to carry home. And when you spend your time breezily passing between houses, stopping to sit at the table outside on the deck (to enjoy a cup of coffee or an early evening glass of wine) you come home and realize how much of every day you pass indoors, trapped within walls, sheltered from the sun. And when you spend hours submerged in salt water, riding waves, and feeling the hot grit of tiny rocks and baby shells against your soles, you come home to discover your shower tastes dull, and you don't feel wet in the same way, and your feet won't go back into shoes not matter how hard you squeeze them. And when you read two-and-a-half books and barely watch TV (except for bits of baseball) and don't touch a computer or a cell phone for more than a week, you return to find that staring at a monitor for nine hours makes you feel nauseous and dizzy and tires your eyes and you wonder if maybe you'll be blind in twenty years from spending your days staring at pixels instead of moors, waves, and stars. And when you catch and grill bluefish for your grandparents' 63rd anniversary party (and also make a chocolate cake) and you look at everyone gathered — from the youngest at four to the oldest at 87 — you realize which things to hold close (so very very close) and which to cast away.

Finally back at the helm

Well I had this nice plan of displaying a picture for each day I was out of town, but alas the blackout foiled that. And then I was off on vacation and no computer or anything. And now I'm back, trying to readjust to it all. I can barely type. But I'm very tan.

Summer’s bounty

Meg (another blogging Meg!) over at Meg's Food and Wine Page perfectly captures my recent eating feelings:

We modern supermarket-spoiled humans can eat the same hothouse tomatoes and New Zealand apples all year round and therefore can so easily forget to appreciate the immediate wondrous bounty and the immediate wondrous freshness of this time of year. No analysis, no history of food, no fancy cooking or political context — just the pure greedy immediate joy of eating lots and lots of fresh vegetables. Eating them with intense pleasure because they are going out of season even as they produce, because all this goodness means summer is almost over, and the days of winter squash and potatoes and salt pork are coming again.

With sadness this morning I looked at my ripening tomatoes, wondering how many I could eat tonight for dinner. For tomorrow I'm off on vacation and won't be back for 10 days. I plan many visits to Bartlett's Ocean View Farm though, so that I can continue to enjoy the best of summer's bounty.