A macabre scherzo of plotting sibilants

‪Nearly every night, I fall asleep to the sounds of drone music, ambient noise, a podcast, or an audiobook. I use the built-in speakers on a touchscreen tablet. ‬

‪Tonight, it was the ‘Hardcore History’ podcast; specifically, a three-part series about the Punic Wars. ‬

‪Because of the length, it can play for several hours after I’ve fallen sleep. I enjoy it because it’s like being wrapped in a magic blanket made of stories.‬

‪I got up at 4am. As I woke and ventured to the bathroom, I passively made note of a familiar episode playing. ‬

‪The tablet has moved around a little, with the speakers partly muffled under a blanket.‬ this reduces the bass, but keeps the higher-frequencies.

‪I live in an old house with bizarre acoustics; sonic reflections can ping-pong in ways that make the reflection appear to emerge from places distant to the generating audio source.‬

‪The physical properties of the house are such that plosives and sibilants (“p” and “s” sounds, and other related phonemes) reflect with a chorus-like effect.‬

My business in the bathroom concluded, I descended to the first floor, graduating myself to the familiar role of Person Eating Snacks When They Shouldn’t.

By then, I’d either forgotten whether or not audio was playing upstairs, or that bit of information was never stored in the first place.

My snack business concluded, I made my way back to the bedroom.

That return journey was entirely uneventful, with one exception – a two-second period which I’m now able to decompress and share – with context.

—-

A macabre scherzo of plotting sibilants scurries by me under the floorboards, taking final refuge in every dark ceiling corner, tickling my ears and inciting dread with thousands of rude, sawtooth-wave tendrils.

For a moment, I consider the impossible – a question I suspect most adults quietly find themselves asking throughout their lives, given a similar situation.

Am I experiencing a supernatural event?

Are demons about to congeal from my wall and steal me down into the fiery depths of hell for eternity?

What if the multiverse theory is real, and I’m hearing trans-dimensional signal overflow from another reality? Can they hear us?

Or perhaps I’m telepathic and hearing the thoughts of my neighbors as they dream?

A mercilessly rapid array of these considerations flies through my mind in milliseconds. I’m now paralyzed with terror and wonder, ready to embrace this new discovery about the universe.

In my heart I know it’s aliens. They’re finally here for me. Maybe I’m ready. Maybe not. They could’ve picked me for a reason. I don’t care. NO – I won’t cry. I need this. No one needs me here. I will go. Make the sacrifice for our species. I will find a way to come back, to tell them all that we are not alone, there’s hope, there is life beyond our star system, and they’re not going to let us obliterate ourselves. But even if I die immediately from cardiac arrest, at least I’ll know. I’ll know the truth. Take me.

—-

“Ah, right. The podcast. I’m an idiot”.

On Privacy

We’re at an un-precedented time in human history. The vast access to information and the ease in which you can be an active consumer whore, ever deepening in data mass and Customer Lifetime Value, brings the risk of stagnant analytical thought and problem-solving ability to all of society. We’re headed fast down the road to a civilization comprised largely of automatons. The warnings fall, to most, on deaf ears.

Unless you feel a deep sadness growing in your soul each time you see a finely-tuned, borderline creepy digital ad, this may not be an article for you. Go buy some moderately-priced appliances!

The end goal of data mining is not to sell you something. That’s today. That’s already happening. It gets better every day. As questionable as many digital advertising practices are, it’s a far cry from the possible applications of infinite user metrics. The end goal is control.

It begins, these days, with control over your buying patterns. It ends when we are Borg.

Consider a few short exercises in which I use an existing algorithm (set of rules) to serve an average user an ad:

Exercise 1: The manipulation of consumer buying patterns via disposable manufacturing standards combined with scheduled ad tailoring

a. You buy a toaster on a website that tracks consumer activity.

b. The toaster is made with common modern manufacturing standards; it’s essentially disposable, and very affordably priced. This allows the retailer to schedule when they can next serve an ad to you showing this same type of product, so you can buy one again. I know what you’re thinking – “I wouldn’t buy the same toaster!” – it doesn’t matter. There’s more than one brand of toaster on amazon.com. They’re all shown to you using the same algorithm.

c. The toaster you bought breaks in 1 year. You log in to a social media site, and see an ad for a sale on appliances that the algorithm has scheduled for you. It knows your piece of crap toaster is broken.

d. You click the ad. The site algorithm records that this particular targeting has worked, and tailors your ads to be shown in a similar manner in the future.

When you read the example above, it can be easy to dismiss. The dark implications aren’t always apparent to those unfamiliar with thinking in algorithms, even less so, learning algorithms that continuously refine and adjust themselves in response to user data.

Let me go a bit darker with the next example. My apologies if you become offended. Please know that I am not trivializing sexual offenses; I use it to illustrate the depth of depravity and callousness in the data-mining development practices around us.

Example 2: A rape victim with a low-paying job is offered discounted therapy sessions

a. Someone is a victim of a sexual assault.

b.* The victim survives, and is hospitalized. While in the care of the hospital, the victim decides to pull out their phone, and fill in their friends. They thank everyone on their social media account of choice for the support, the hospital visits, etc. One friend, via “private” message, asks for details. The victim of the sexual assault responds, explaining what happened. The hospital wifi connection is verified by the social media site, as well as via GPS coarse geolocation – something that can roughly triangulate your position without you turning on location services.

*A note on step b: This is assuming insurance companies are still prevented from selling patient information at this time. If medical establishments ever allowed to disclose data from your medical operation / condition / care to any advertising corporations, data like this can be gathered directly from hospital / clinic records. Sound insane? I bet you’d agree to it for $2,500 off of your neo-natal care bill.

c. Several words are flagged in the social media messages/comments; perhaps keywords such as “rape”, “cope”, “pain” “need to talk to someone”, “I’m here for you”, “how can I go on”. You get the idea.

d. Given enough keywords being present, along with any other data available (a scanned police report, a check-in at the hospital, a police information phone number posted by the victim’s parents ), this triggers a probability-powered algorithm that shows the victim an ad for local therapy sessions.

e. But wait! Before it serves the ad, the algorithm reads the victim’s home address. Comparing this with public statistical data, it matches the zip code to a low-income community with a high crime rate. In this case, a high-priced private Psychologist might not sell. So instead, the algorithm shows the victim an ad for a low-priced group therapy clinic.

So, how do I know this? Am I a paranoid shut-in? No! I’ve done quite similar things with user data. In a normal array of client work. Collecting user data. Mining ad data from Facebook Ad Center, Google Adwords, and the like. And guess what? I’m just an average web developer.

Our privacy is deeply in trouble, any way you look at it. Use a VPN. Block ads. Reduce time with social media. Clear cookies, clear your cache. Let’s at least delay things while we still have the power.

But seriously, please use a VPN. It's like locking your door, and closing your curtains at home. If you don't do it, you're just kind of inviting sketchy people to take a peek.

A Brief Diversion on the Manipulation of Statistical Data and the Depraved Subculture of Marketing Ethics

I returned home from dropping someone off at the airport at six-thirty this morning. Pumpkin coffee from [brand name redacted] kept me awake. I picked up a Salman Rushdie novel (Midnight’s Children) from my study, made some tea, and took a seat in the part of my bedroom that I pretend is a baroque drawing room.

I turned on the television (Read: Hulu) and saw a commercial for something I’m sure all 7 of you dear readers are familiar with: “5-Hour Energy”. It featured some plastic cougar talking about their surveying 3,000 physicians on the benefits of ingesting their product. By cursory observation of the actors’ phrasing, here is a breakdown of their statistical data:

The statement is:

73% of physicians surveyed said they’d recommend a low-calorie energy supplement to patients that already consume energy supplements.

That means the patient is already using energy supplements. It also means that 27% – almost a third of physicians in the survey – would not recommend using energy supplements.

What the physicians are saying, quite literally, is: “Hey you know that thing that you’re already doing? You should see if you can do that consuming less calories, if possible.”

/* begin empathy section*/

Let me share my experience, because I’ve asked the same question, by coincidence, to my primary care physician recently, as I was considering energy supplements. She’s very personable:

Me: Sometimes I have no energy, and it’s hard to get going. I know you say to keep caffeine to a minimum, but how about supplements, like ginseng, or energy drinks, that kinda stuff?

Doctor: Yeah, or how about you use that elliptical more? Remember when you got into it? You said you had much more energy, consistently. What happened?”

Me: Just got really busy with work. Friends came into town, etc. Long list of excuses. How about supplements?

Doctor: Take holistic supplements if you like. Some work for some people – physiology varies. But generally, your body will pass many supplements.

Most questions I ask her result in my having more questions than I began with. How often should I exercise? “As much as possible, but not obsessively.” Can I eat bacon? “It depends, can you eat bacon responsibly?” – and so on. But she was pretty careful not to outright recommend energy supplements for some reason.

Generally speaking, everything she has says expresses some basic principle of physics, or common sense, or chemistry, somewhere down the line.

/* end empathy section*/

So then, back to:

Marketing: The Art of Dazzling With B.S.

Please allow me to qualify myself before going any further. Many friends, clients, and colleagues work in various marketing fields, and the large majority of them are good people. For some, it’s the catalyst to their desired field. Graphic designers making banner ads. Novelists writing ad copy. Developers creating conditional geo-targeted content ( Hey, we love [GET_USER_COUNTRY_CODE]! Get your [product_ID] made just for you!, etc )

I’m not referring to those folks, or the typically smarmy higher-up M.B.A.’s and their buzz-words. Not even the dis-honesty-riddled, labyrinthine sub-industries of SEO, or the too-common presence of ‘Senior Project Managers’ with seemingly no valuable skill, save for extroverted-ness and an A+ on some arbitrary test in regurgitating conjecture, created by an analog of themselves, and fueled by none but ego and a thesaurus.

To clarify a bit further, I don’t mean advertising. Advertising is a necessary facet of capitalism. “Hey, we know you guys liked that thing we made. We made another one with more stuff, please buy it.” Honest. Transparent. At least in the beginning.

Marketing is entirely different. And it works on large scales, largely because people don’t know where marketing ends anymore. Where once it was limited to the charisma of single salespeople, the exponential growth of capitalism and the bounty of technology has combined with apathy and greed, and marketing has permeated into the fields of sociology, psychology, pharmacology, architecture, biology; everywhere.

XKCD once wrote:

…human sub-cultures are nested fractally; there’s no bottom.

In spirit of that statement, here is a random bit of the field of Media and Brand Project Management. A test a colleague of mine took on Project Management asked:

“When diversifying all vertical shifts, what key components are best out-sourced to a qualified B2B, and what components can instead be internally synergized?”

– This isn’t the University of Burger King or anything; it’s Pearson/Vue, where you take Adobe, DaVinci, Cisco, and the more technical Google certifications, among many other tests.

I mean marketing. It’s unsustainable, and swallows entire economies on its’ great quest to turn human civilization into a charred, impersonal, Orwellian horror. McMansions as far as the eye can see. Increase conversions. Buy more lists. Quantity. Automated personalization.

Lets pick apart what they’re actually saying in that exam question. They’re saying “If you’re making changes to your product or service that significantly alters your entire business model, try not to freak out. Do as much of it in-house first (say you’re using a new material to build a sturdier case for your product – you’d use existing materials instead of immediately buying more stuff). So why the smoke and mirrors? Why the jargon? Because they need a private language. A language of status and posturing. A way to train the mind to think of humans as cattle.

Marketers buy books like this from other marketing people, the ones that made it big. The eloquent ones that did their research, and found out little things like: If you put the grocery items people need most frequently at the END of the store, they have to walk through all the crap first, and will buy it. Someone give me a bonus!

Not many people can naturally be good at this train of thought. You must nurture apathy, and care dearly about elements like what car you drive, what trinkets you own.

Allow me to conclude my meandering diversion with a very simple example of the manipulation of statistical data commonly used today:

You ask three people if each of them likes tacos. Two say yes, one says no. Thus, two-thirds of people like tacos. Because you have to disclose the details (with tiny writing on the bottom of the page/screen, this seems to be the legal line), You write the ad like this:

Two out of three people LOVE tacos! *

*Details of study available upon request. A survey was conducted, wherein 66.6 percent of subjects indicated a positive response to taco-related stimuli.

Product Review: The Micro S’Mores Automatic S’Mores Maker

It’s been such a long road as a consumer. So many products and services bought over the years; it’s easy to be cynical and jaded, unable to be impressed when real innovation stands before you.

But then you get a chance to use the Micro S’Mores Automatic S’Mores maker, and your life changes forever.

I first caught a glimpse of this delightful invention as it sat on a dusty thrift-store shelf in West Baltimore. Could it be? Have all my years of pain and tears finally come to an end? Of the thousands of automatic S’Mores machines and construction services I’ve purchased over the years, not a single one of them has ever worked properly.

I had given up long ago, surrendering to the cold realization that every time I wanted S’Mores, I’d have to manually put each one together. Here’s a break-down of the steps we’re used to, and why they’re so stressful, irresponsible, and dangerous:

Impale marshmallow on a stick or other stick-like object.

[box type=”warning”]

Risks:

  • Missing the marshmallow, and stabbing stick through hand and into leg.
  • Possibly stabbing entirely through leg and out the other end, causing severe arterial bleeding.
  • Marshmallow burns.
  • Roast fatigue from having to hold the marshmallow over a fire, which brings me to the next point…

[/box]

Roast the Marshmallow with FIRE



[box type=”warning”]

Risks:

  • Fire is required to roast the marshmallow, but you have to make the fire first, from trees.
  • Fire has caused more than 23 deaths, possibly more. I’m just counting fire deaths of emperor penguins during the 1973-1974 Antarctic winter season, as it is the only statistical data I currently have access to. (It could be even more for all global species.)
  • Fire has hypnotic powers that may cause the marshmallow-roaster to see visions, creating any number of secondary issues.
  • Fire requires ignition to burn. As I’ve recently discovered, you can’t just place logs in a pile and expect them to catch fire on queue.
  • [/box]

    Now, even when you’ve finished roasting the marshmallow on the fire – if you’ve survived this long – you still have quite a way to go:

    • Place the marshmallow on a heat-resistent surface until graham crackers and chocolate can be procured.
    • Align chocolate square on top of one half of one graham cracker.
    • Place marshmallow on chocolate square.
    • Place second half of graham cracker on top of marshmallow.
    • Compress the S’More.
    • Wait 15seconds – 90 minutes, depending on taste preferences.
    • Consume S’More.

    Still with me? How terrible is that? By my very conservative calculations, it takes 19 hours 30 minutes to complete construction of one S’More using conventional methods. I don’t know about you, but I’m a very busy man with lots of business things going on at any given moment. I can’t take a vacation day every time I want a snack anymore.

    Now let’s take a look at the Micro S’Mores Automatic S’Mores Machine.

    The first thing I saw was the shocking notice on the packaging:



    Core Fusion Technology comes to the S’Mores industry, at last. Swept by the excitement, I quickly ran into my study, gathered my science goggles, and went to the kitchen to begin testing. Taking a closer look at the technical specifications and structural components provided on the side of the packaging, it’s easy to deduce what powers this Core Fusion:

    Yep. They’re harnessing mother nature itself using

    GRAVITY and ELECTROMAGNETISM

    [one_half]Gravity
    [/one_half]

    [one_half_last]After a few minutes spent slapping myself in the face, I placed the S’More assembly in the central turbine gravity shaft, and programmed the Micro-Wave (not included with Micro S’Mores machine).

    Twenty-five seconds later, I was greeted with a poor caricature of camp-fire s’mores; soggy and structurally depressing. But edible. I give this product a 4 out of 5 kittehs.

    [/one_half_last]

    I conclude by turning your attention to the mascot for Micro S’Mores, a fear-drenched child, consumed with mourning for our species, adrift in a sea of consumerism, transfixed by the face of death:

Freelancing

My last post here was in August 2011, about how I’m going to be largely unable to commit much time to new freelance projects. Seven months, 23 websites later, and I’ve realized I really hit the mark.

I’ve worked at start-ups, and in a variety of positions as overflow for agencies, but not a full-time position at an agency or large technology company – for good reason. It sucks!

So I was pretty surprised when I found myself accepting an offer to grow/lead a dev team at an agency last year.

Now, in addition to the freelance clients (which I hope to prune), I’ve got a typical 9-5 with a small firm, with an office about 20 minutes away from my home. Of all the places I applied, as well as two kind job offers from colleagues, I picked a small, somewhat under-paying gig.

I did this because it’s a small team. The term “growth potential” is over-used, and employed in several sketchy job postings, but something I do value. Control over projects. Ability to hire my own team as we expand. I could go for a larger agency, but in my capacity as an overflow developer for these places, I’ve learned that blind acceptance of workflows / development styles, without the ability to question anything hurts my creativity, and hurts me spiritually. It too sucks mightily.

That’s not to mention the plethora of project managers, marketing personnel, and graphic designers that in larger agencies are hierarchically superior (arbitrarily, in my opinion) to developers. In a typical work day, you’re beset by this force; you work as it encroaches on every creative and analytical freedom you have, picking them apart one by one, unraveling the braid of motivation and thought for which you were hired, until you emerge a gray Pavlovian husk – providing homogenous, expected solutions in response to an unceasing conveyor belt of barked commands.

It’s thankfully not that. I won’t be paid as much, but I keep many freedoms.

This company, in the few months I’ve been here, is now 100% WordPress-powered for client projects, instead of re-inventing the wheel every time. Practical. Extendable.

Our billing system has a JSON API. Nearly every facet was non-existent when I started – the billing system was entirely offline. We’re getting there. I think.

No no no no no

No. Rami Abraham

The power to say no is important. It’s important when it’s an informed no. A no that’s followed with “…but here’s why I said no, and some alternatives i can suggest instead…”

Typically, a freelancer will say no when the money is too little. That’s it. If I can code it, I’ll do it. My family needs food, and your money will provide that.

I recall a contract gig I was asked to code a couple years ago – it’s the first time I said no to very well-paying clients.

Project manager at big agency: “Here’s the PSD, slice this up and make it a Joomla theme. Need it by 5, Friday. Content starts Monday.”

Me: “If we use WordPress, it’ll go a lot faster, and the client will be happier.”

Project manager: “Are you saying you won’t do the work?”

Me: (deflecting) “Can you tell me why the project requires Joomla?”

Project manager, unsure: “Not really. Their prior site was Joomla, so we decided to stick with something they’re familiar with”

…Ad infinitum. I kept trying amicable ways to illustrate to them the benefits of WordPress – even pointing out that my project fee would be lower. Nothing stuck, though, and they wouldn’t budge.

I was tempted to give in – but then I asked someone else for advice – a fellow musician. He’s considerably more experienced than I with guitar, and regularly performs to paying customers/fans at classical guitar performances.

His response is something I’d like to be immortalized by the Internet, as well as for the benefit of this article:

Me, after explaining the project a bit: It’s not something I enjoy – it’ll be dirty code, hard to update and expand…but they pay well – never any issues or questions. I submit the invoice, 30 days later, bam. Money.

Musician: Let me ask you this, Rami: Why don’t you practice tuba, instead of guitar?

Me: Because I’m good at guitar, and I’ve been playing it since I was a child.

Musician: What if someone told you that tuba players get paid more than guitar players? That you could quit your day job now and play tuba? Would it make a difference?

Me: No. I get your analogy, though. I don’t use Joomla that much, so it’d be a disservice to them to hire me for this project?

Musician: Well, I’m sure you’d figure it out. I have no idea what the hell a Joomla is or a WordPress is, but they can’t be that different. (I hope I made an angry, incredulous nerd face here, but I don’t recall)

Me: But…

Musician: More importantly, it’s a disservice to YOU. What will you learn? Anything? Are you going hungry or something? Are you in serious debt and need the money that badly? You’ve gotta learn to value not only your professional time, but the spiritual impact that time will have on you.

Me: Good point.

That sort of did it for me. I slowly stopped all freelancing that was not either PHP, Javascript, HTML, or CSS related. (Yes, usually all of the above – but I’l still take a static html gig here and there.)

Although I’m not stopping entirely with freelancing, there are many things I miss about the freelance life already. When I started this article 30 minutes ago or so, I was going to write a sort of kitchy, nostalgic freelance memoir, paying tribute to seven years of fantastic swells and contractions. Days going to bed hungry, months-long periods of 100-hour work weeks.

There was rarely a grey area for the first few years.

So, you’re likely one of two people if you’re reading this post; 1: Someone that’s researching semantic / personality information about me for whatever reason (cool), or 2: You’re a freelancer that stumbled here from a search engine (also cool).

My advice to you

What do you say to the freelance web developer that’s fresh out of school? I’m not talking about trust fund folks – I mean people that are going to work for everything. No start-up money. Holding down a day job that’s rarely to do with web design or development.

So let’s trace back to the prior sentence for a moment. Why would someone knowingly choose a day job that’s not related to coding? Burn-out. Think you’re going to want to write code all night after sitting in a cubicle as a junior developer, being handed crap like:

“Here, .splice all these vars into these 3,000 arrays. Due at 3pm.”

You will not. I assure you. You will be drained. After a while, you won’t want to look at a computer when you get home. But if you try something else – something unrelated – it’ll help. Something easy, that’s always available. Flexible hours if possible. Food service, perhaps. Just enough to pay the bills, and you don’t get fired for calling out or switching shifts.

One day, if you keep coding, you’ll get a lot of clients. You’ll get maintenance contracts.

For the trust-fund kids, the only advice I can offer is this: If you really love what you do, are passionate about design or development, and really want to grow, instead of just making money churning out lightly customized templates, then stop taking those pretend ‘loans’ from your parents. Slum it for a few years. It’s unbelievable how motivating an empty stomach can be. This will grow your business acumen, after a time.

The freelancer that has both the passion and the practical need to perform are the ones that grow, and the ones that get clients. They’re the ones that work the hardest. The ones that keep going because they know they’re good at it.

Do Not Quit Your Job.

But what’s the bigger picture here? Say, twenty years from now? You can only grow financially as a freelancer if you charge more and more every successive year. This only works if clients are willing to pay way more to hire you than anyone else. And why would they do that? It took me nearly five years before I no longer had to solicit or network to get a steady stream of clients – I was lucky to have very verbal, very appreciative clients. Eventually, I developed a reputation for being personable, having a deep attention to detail, and severe transparency in billing clients.

What happens when that slows down? It will happen. No matter how many strings of $10,000 websites you build, you’ll eventually get to a point where you cannot accept new projects. Unless you have clients that are willing to wait months before you begin their project (my personal record is a 4-month waiting list – that was a rare year) you’ve reached the natural stalemate of your freelance career.

Don’t worry – this is good. It has to happen. You now have three options:

1. Charge so much that one website is several months (or more) of operating, living, and saving expenses. Friendly tip: Don’t do this.

2. Outsource to other freelancers, which puts you at risk of delivering a sub-par product, and having to manage / proof their tasks.

3. Found your own design/development agency, hire employees, etc. I was against this for many reasons, for a very long time.

4. Obtain employment from an established agency and minimize / discontinue freelance services, or migrate the clients to your new day job.

All of these points have pros and cons, but remember: the only way a freelance career can continue is if you’re content with hitting this financial ceiling. This brings me to my original point: ceilings. I’m just really glad we invented them, because without them it’d make multi-story buildings a very awkward experience.

Hero’s Frisbee -or- Flash Ethics

I recall now a dinner with a colleague. We were dining on a variety of common flora; the leaves and sprouts were arranged in a delicate balance on a plate, and each plate was topped with ‘dressing’. “It is a salad” said my guest. “They are a customary introductory smattering, usually served before, or adjunct to a main course.”

“Yeah, so? I’ve had salads, dude. Why are you getting all David Attenborough on my dinner?” I said.

Our topics of conversation varied wildly that night, no regard given to tasteful segue or humorous diversion. We nestled, finally, among talks of sports. The horrific grunge of spandex; gyrating on a field of grass soiled with painted lines and numbers, the un-ending boredom and eventual prayers for my own sudden death that accompany watching even one inning of Baseball, bags of peanuts.

After we’d satisfied the need to self-congratulate on our status as sophisticated intellectuals, we began inventing new games – games that, in our view, would actually be interesting to watch.

Harold Thunderbaby (names have been changed) asked if I’d ever seen a game called ‘Hero’s Frisbee’.

“No, but the name is pretty great…”

“It’s a lot like regular frisbee, except instead of a frisbee, there’s a puppy, and instead of throwing it around, you toss it in a tub filled with frosting…and watch it freak out, then guess on how long it takes the puppy to get out.”

There are times, even if a joke isn’t funny, you have to credit the person when their delivery is flawless; convincing, straight-faced, and well-endowed with interesting words and phrases.

His non sequitur was presented well – no smirking. An eavesdropper may have believed that such a game exists, in fact. But no one bad-talks puppies at the supper table when I’m around. No one.

I stared at him for a few moments, signaled the waiter, paid my bill, stood up, walked outside, looked at the Starbucks across the street, realized the second Starbucks a block away, recalled that this very scene is actually a bit from a talented stand-up comic, reflexively died a bit inside as I mourned for the human condition, went back inside, and sat back at my seat.

I’m telling you this not because I’m about to reveal

The Official Rule Book For Hero’s Frisbee: Chihuahua Edition

With a foreward by Michael Vick.

…but because I’m waiting for a project to render in After Effects. I only use After Effects when I need to do some actual video editing for something small, or more involved transcoding – everything else, in my limited foray into video, can be done in Flash when I just need a 60-frame video for a banner or something – or even a short promo spot / intro. And I’m talking like ten times per year, maybe. I’m not a video person, but there are times when a client just needs an .mp4, or has some small timeline issue in a .aeproj. What do you do? Call a video colleague and waste each others’ time?

So here I am, four hours into a render. I can taste it…that sweet chime sound is right around the corner.
Almost done rendering! Unless I get a blue screen again.

EDITORS’ NOTE: I’ve switched to Mac primarily since this article was written. PRAISE ME.

What I’ve been summoned here to write about today is this: Flash development.
The forward-thinking web developer snob inside me knows that Flash development should never be your first choice for web design, ever – and it’s rare that I get a client that demands the fanciest, craziest site they can possibly get. And even then, better to invest in HTML5, of course.

But I’m working on one of those rare treats this month in which Flash and ActionScript is required, and lemme tell you….

It’s fun. I’ve had an epic first week – going back to my roots in animation.
Instead of thinking things to myself like:

“It’d be nice to see each icon as a different color with independent hover states. Cool – lemme just assign psuedo-classes to everything, or maybe div everything up – how many bytes will that add? – , then make sure the styles are cross-browser compatible

EXCEPT IE6 – DIE YOU EVIL TIME DRAINING JERK BUTTHEAD WEINER FACE BOOGERNOSE

and maybe I can add a hover-state ease-in ‘glow’ in a dark red – like BE0000* – what’s the -moz-transform? How about the Microsoft markup? Oh right – DXImageTransform.Microsoft.Matrix.

OF COURSE THAT’S WHAT IT IS. WHAT SILLINESS HAS POSSESSED ME TO FORGET SUCH A LOGICAL AND NOT-STUPIDLY COMPLICATED STRING OF CHARACTERS…

I can do this:

I’d sure like to make their logo materialize out of light particles, then fly off the screen, and have XML power their slogan so they can change it later. And then i do it,

LIKE WOAH SON THAT’S MAD QUICK.

And then it’s done, and a single tear of elation streams down my supple man-cheek.

Is it wrong? Sure, it’s Flash. It’s the devil. Even if you’re responsibly deeplinking everything, providing xml data and a sitemap, and remembering crucial steps, like creating a simple, fast-loading html and css-powered mobile site, Flash does crap all over the Internet. But hey, it’s fun!

The developer side of me cringes in horror, as the designer side twirls in delight.**

*That’s a nice deep red, right? I’m not gonna confirm it. Only tell me if I’m right.

**I do not actually twirl.

Chat Time With a Bot

Chat Time With a Bot - ra

Make happy reading time by enjoying some Markov chain spam I received.

This one even got through a corporate gmail account, which is pretty rare these days. I’ve noticed that, while Markov chain generators are certainly still apparently the most popular method of constructing spam sentences today (the receipt of this email unfortunately spawned a long weekend of research on the matter), it does seem to have constants that are added, or perhaps some methods determine one or two pre-written coherent messages to be thrown in. Repetition kills spam deliverability the fastest, so a programmer including any pre-defined, static content in the message is taking a big risk of it being flagged. I think.

I’m going to pretend it’s an actual correspondance with a human. Why? Because the Netflix instant play is being weird at the moment, and I can’t quite bring myself to go to bed.

My netflix homepage

An aside: The Netflix recommendation algorithm seems to think I’m a sort of…self-important, avant-garde composer/artist type; the kind that writes a cheeky blog and keeps Heironymous Bosch prints in his bedroom, madly typing frivolous prose into the twilight hours, convinced he can make a great contribution to the arts, if only his mind wouldn’t devour itself with inane trivia before the larger theorums can manifest, his bodily body congealing into a smushy, hairy prison of hair just a bit more each year. But I’m only like 30% that stuff, so the algorithm can go fuck itself.

Disclaimer:
I just had a Wonka bar and some coffee. I’m also thinking about eating some Cheez-its at some point pretty soon, so you should probably stop reading now. Ok but seriously though. This is a writing exercise to keep my hands busy.

The spam is in bold type, my responses are in normal type.

Chat Time With a Bot - ra

Your photos on your page are really great looking of you you look HOTT

I make it a point not to look HOTT in any picture, no matter how many T’s you throw at me.

Let me share some of mine with you, just go on MSNMessengor
My names madison19vamo@hotmail.com add and send me a message there
because I dont use email that much

Ok great, I will totally do that right now. Please also accept my social security number as a token of our friendship.
I also noticed the typo in ‘MSN Messenger’ which is as good as a DNA sample, I say. You are surely human. I will lower my guard. Forgive me, as you can never be too careful these days.

I’ll be on all day, thanks and looking forward to meeting you
xoxo madison

Also here is The Tax Poem

Ah, thanks. You are providing this at my request, apparently, so thank you. Fulfilling requests is very human of you.

At first I thought this was funny……then I realized the awful truth of it..

Yeah, like how we’ve got machines that do nothing but churn out endless terabytes of drivel into an endless void of binary data.

except what they borrow from the deformities or ill qualities of

I think you might have deleted a part of your sentence by mistake. But it sounds pretty serious, Madison.

Be sure to read all the way to the end.

Tax his land,
Tax his bed,
Tax the table
At which he’s fed.

STILL THINK THIS IS
FUNNY?

You haven’t established a base-line with me, so your deductions of what I find humorous are irrelevant.

They said that he thought only of himself. Bah! What good are peasants

I can’t believe I’m friends with you. If you weren’t so great at fulfilling requests I wouldn’t even chat with you on the MSN Messengor.

Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago, and our nation was the most prosperous in the world. We had absolutely no national debt, had the largest
middleclass in the world, and Mom stayed home to raise the kids.

It was pretty neat, right? There really is nothing like slavery, theft and murder to jump-start an idea!

What in the hell happened? Can you spell ‘politicians?’

I’m not sure what happened. I don’t think I was even there. Yes I can.

And I still have to ‘press 1’ for English!?

Madison, let go of the button. you only have to tap it, not hold it down. How long have you been pressing it?

I hope this goes around THE USA at least 100 times!!! YOU can help it get there!!!
GO AHEAD – – – BE AN AMERICAN!!!

There’s some consolation in that. I am so happy tonight,
hills?

MULDER_MOMENT_RA
There really is some consolation in that. Consolation in the fact that almost all data is generated now by algorithms running on auto-pilot; that the distinctly human need to categorize and label and list and keep-records-of and archive and data-mine every facet of every real or imagined flurry of thought; that a communique like this is a byproduct of the collapsing global monetary economic system, and occupies more storage in a week than our entire collection of Earth literature; that finally, the other creatures of this planet may have a chance to evolve and succeed where we are now failing; there is consolation that this planet will purge the cancerous tumor of kaleidoscopic, ever-deepening horrors we have become as a species, consolation in knowing that once our footprint of bitter, poisonous hedonistic slurry is absent from Earth, another species will make better choices.

There is consolation in the realization that even though your politics and money will eventually destroy us all, that all of our art, music, the most abysmal recess of emotion that any person has felt, our elation, euphoria…even though they’re meaningless and frail against your cold greed and smug short-sightedness, that you’ll go with us. There is consolation in the knowledge that there is no darkness without light, and none of you can live without good people; they are the fuel for your machine.

Hills are like baby mountains.

DENTAL PLAN…

Ah, the golden age of the Simpsons. I wish the new episodes were funny.

I made a mini-poster design of one of the most well-known quotes from the show. Enjoy!

ra-dental-plan

Also, here’s the reference:

How to Make Eighty Peanut-butter and Jelly Sandwiches

A La Peanut Butter Sandwiches!

Today, I’m going to provide instructions on how to make eighty peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches.

This internet thingie does not employ a meme.

It should be noted that this Tutorial has nothing to do with the “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” meme.

You may be asking yourself, “I already know how to make one peanut butter and jelly sandwich, can’t I just repeat that process eighty times, in order to produce eighty sandwiches?”

No, you can’t.

I mean, yeah, you can, but that’s a bad idea. An inefficient use of time.

Taking a look at popular instructions on making a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, we can quickly deduce that there are numerous micro-tasks and nuances that are carried-out only when you’re making one or two sandwiches. Making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is also a popular tool amongst language-arts teachers – the lesson is usually geared toward showing the difference in phrasing, readers’ assumption of meaning, and so on.

pbj - one finished sandwich
But here, I’m going to assume you know how to make the sandwich already, and explain the glistening, feverish differences between a poetic, single-sandwich episode, and mass-produced mega sandwich business. At last, we begin.

STEP ONE:

Go get 7 pounds of whatever jelly you’d like to use. Also get the same weight in peanut butter.
jelly - detail - not actually mayonnaise

STEP TWO:

Get a crapton of whatever bread you’re going to use.
pbj - the breadening

STEP THREE:

Break down each task. It’s far simpler and faster to complete one huge task at a time when working with larger quantities of peanut-buttery, jellified sandwiches:

  • Lay out as much bread as you can handle. Try twenty sandwiches (40 pieces of bread) at a time.
  • For each sandwich, apply peanut-butter to both pieces of bread (with a big spatula) to reduce jelly-leakage and increase structural stability of your mountain of peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches.
  • Peanut Butter grid - close

  • Rhythmically apply jelly (by squeezing it from a pastry bag).
  • jelly - detail - not actually mayonnaise

  • Start putting the sandwiches together, and then stacking them. if you have to wrap each one, wait until you’ve finished the batch, and wrap them all together. As each task becomes more and more repetitive, your speed and efficiency will also increase in proportion.
  • pbj - two short stacks

STEP FOUR:

Cutting the sandwiches is optional, and depends on the regulations and Thermal Dynamics Zoning Laws of your quadrant, the preferences of your life-sustaining-matter consumers, and your sexual orientation. If you do decide to cut each sandwich, use a large, heavy knife.
pbj - about to be sliced!
Using a large, heavy knife reduces the amount of energy your body needs to produce in order to generate sufficient dividing-thrust of the two sandwich hemi-squares. You can pretty much just drop the knife on the desired cutting angle, if the knife is heavy enough. (This particular knife weighs 17 Grombuleks.)
pbj - sliced sandwich
Due to the weighty weight of this knife’s weight, cutting time only took one six-hundred-billion-thousandths of a second (per sandwich).


**It should be noted that in many atmospheres, jelly is in a migrant state, between liquid and solid, and is unstable on many surfaces. This matter is prone to “spilling” – an event that involves the unfortunate (but pleasant to observe) transfer of the jelly to a surface that forever taints its’ merry properties, like a dirty floor. Please use caution or Assigned-Guardian assistance if you are under the age that is generally associated within your species to having a somewhat legible grasp of the laws of physics.

pbj - jelly spilled on the floor

STEP FIVE:

By now, you should start assembling the final master grid of sandwiches, submitting the framework and labor time to your local Alder or Sandwich Sector Chairman, and preparing to sacrifice yourself to the local deity (if you’ve made the sandwiches during a non-creative drone-cycle period).
pbj - grid
This is actually a top-down of 81 sandwiches, just in case, you know, war or something.

Congratulations, you’ve just made eighty flippin’ peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches.

Joe was a Tomato Farmer (tomato icon collection)

Joe was a Tomato Farmer

Dear readers,

As the five of you know, every person I run into these days, whether it’s a waiter at a restaurant, Reverse-Byzantian Goat Herders, Computational Fluid Dynamics Engineers, Retirement Division Coordinators, or Waffle Salesmen, seems to have the same question for me:

Hai, where in the world can I find some silly icons of tomatoes? K Thx.

After decades and years and decades, I can now say “Go to my website, and type ‘tomato’ in the search bar.”
Please enjoy this short story as you wait the four seconds it takes to download the .zip file. You should read really fast.

Joe was a tomato farmer, as was his father. He knew every terrifying facet of tomato farming – that is, the business of farming tomatoes; as well as the less-subtle, spiritual aspects of tomato farming. Of course, he also knew famed, innumerable recipes featuring some form of the great and sultry orb of tantalizing ecstasy that is the modern tomato.

Joe’s father was also called Joe, as was his father; another figure in the history of The Magnificent and Infallible Tomato Farmers of Western Herendale County Proper. A proud line of workers, they all farmed tomatoes in a fashion greater than or equal to all tomato farming endeavors since the dawn of the tomato farming industry, which was Tuesday, 1994.

A long line of Proud Tomato Farmers.

Like all typically brilliant, husky tomato-farming farmers, Joe waited (as science and tradition demanded), that the tomato harvest not commence until the tomato herd grew as tall as the elephants’ eye. It is true; he had himself quite the elephant. Joe waited, and on the day expected, he eagerly paced in the kitchen with his lovely family: Josephine; his wife of 67 years, Joseph and Joey; his sons, and of course his precious daughter, Joanna Jo-Jo-Jo-Jo-Jo.

One harvest morning, in the crisp, nostalgic bosom of mid-autumn, Joe went into the the elephant shed, where an elephant is kept, in a shed. The elephant was dead. All hope was lost. Joe murdered his family and set himself on fire that night, in a dream. Later that night – well, the morning, really, the family had breakfast together, as they do every year on Harvest Day. After the meal, he briefly told his wife the great and terrible news of the elephants’ passing, and implored her to break this news to the kids with a tender and gentle hand, as they were promised to slaughter it that very next morning, as children will do on an after-harvest morning.

Joe set off to town, and bought a new Measuring-Elephant from the C.O.M.D. store, or the ‘Corporation for Organic Measuring Devices’, which is what the acronymstands for; not ‘Clammy, Oily Market of Despair’ – the general store across the street from the C.O.M.D.

Now, even though the ‘Clammy, Oily Market of Despair’ could also employ a sign that primarily uses the acronym ‘C.O.M.D.’ and have such an act be well within their legal rights, the owner, as Mister Ernesto Heminguillo, decided against doing so. “A lost cause” he’d concluded, largely because directly across the street from his storefront barrows a thirty-six foot (which is twelve-thousand meters) multi-colored, double-neon, reticulated, fringe-polymer fiberglass sign stood in judgement and declaration over the entire intersection, and read:

“C.O.M.D. – THIS IS WHERE YOU CAN BUY MEASURING ELEPHANTS, HOGS’ HEADS, HENS WEIGHTS, AND NOW SCRUPLES.”

Mister Heminguillo lacked the capital necessary to wage a modern, new-fangled advertising war with such a beast, regardless of their opportunistic theft of folks knowing that some store with the initials C.O.M.D. stood at the intersection of Main and 3rd Avenue. It was that association which gave them notoriety – many customers of the ‘Corporation for Organic Measuring Devices’ first came to the store thinking it was the ‘Clammy, Oily Market of Despair’.

Ernesto, in his infinite wisdom, decided that a battle with such a heartless fiend would be below the moral character of himself, and his products.

So he kept the original sign:

“Clammy, Oily Market of Despair: Well Sell Mollusks and Various Cooking Oils, and I, the Owner, am Adrift in a Sea of Hopelessness and Desperation.”

To his surprise, Ernesto Heminguillos’ strategy worked on the locals. They slowly grew a Walton-esque disgust for the intimidating, corporate behemoth in their backyard; the sketchy wholesale pricing, the vacant stares and plastic toothy smiles atop name-tags.

Joe is forty-three.

Download The Smarmy Tomato Icons Here.