May 2010 Archives

The Deepwater Horizon Memorial

Happy Memorial day, 2010. I spent 6 years in the military, 4 of them stationed aboard a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, 2 while it was home-ported out of Pearl Harbor Hawaii (where I was attached to the Reactor Laboratory division).

The other 2 while it was home-ported in Puget Sound (Washington state). There was also a year I spent in Florida (Orlando), and another split between Idaho & Maine (the shipyard at Bath Ironworks). I'll be thinking of those who didn't make it out alive when I fire up the bar-b.

Deepwater HorizonHere's hoping they're able to stop that oil-leak and clean up the mess before it trashes the entire Gulf coast. (I know what I'd like to plug that hole with.)

Today, by the way, marks the 1-year anniversary of the last time I drove a car. The Bug & I ride our bikes everywhere. Hard to get greener than that, living in the states.

Even harder however, to believe BP had no contingency plan. It's not like they didn't have plenty of re$ources to devise one. And it's not like something-like-this never happened before.

Coming out of the nuclear industry, I'm very familiar with the term 'fail-safe'. If a device doesn't fail to a safe configuration, it's not a 'fail-safe'. If BP had no contingency plan and they had no reliable fail-safe, maybe they shouldn't have been drilling off the coast in such deep water. The fallout provides a window into our national priorities.

I wonder if they can't get some kind of giant vice-like hydraulic device and simply CRUSH the broken pipe upstream of the leak, pinching or clamping it shut, or at least throttling flow.

What is the plan? Anybody know? Is there one? Biloxi-Joe, you out there? Hows things look in Mississippi? Those poor people in Louisiana .. still trying to rebuild after Katrina. And now this. It's sad. Tragic. The worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. (And doesn't hurricane season start tomorrow?)

And then they're dumping all those toxic chemicals into the water (.. giant airplane-loads full). Who's gonna wanna eat seafood caught in the Gulf - ever? No matter what Bubba Gump or the FDA says. (It's not like they have such a stellar track record to boast about.)

Continuing to learn how to program with the PHP language. As a 'First PHP Project' the course is taking me thru the steps of designing & building a Content Management System (CMS). From scratch.

PHPI've long been interested in CMS'es (e.g. Drupal + Joomla + MODx) .. from a USER and Administrator standpoint. Approaching it from the developer's perspective has been very enlightening.

From a developer's point of view, a CMS can be reduced to two main functions:

  1. get data INTO a database (.. via autheniticated users logged into the staff area)
  2. retrieve data FROM the database (.. and display it on the web looking pretty, styled with CSS)

Whenever I've installed a CMS myself (such as Drupal or MODx), I've always first CREATED a database (in cPanel) .. with 3 specific things:

  1. name of database
  2. user_name
  3. password

But I've never created any tables. (A database consists of a collection of tables.) When you *install* any CMS (such as Drupal), the installer connects to the database specified (using the 3 pieces of info mentioned above) and creates all the tables for you. (Drupal, for example, will create 68 tables in your virgin, tableless database.)

But .. when you design & create your own CMS (from scratch), you have to design & create all the tables yourself. (A new experience for me.)

The tool-of-choice for rolling your own tables in/for a MySQL database is » phpMyAdmin. Configuring the database structure with tables is the first step in creating a PHP-based CMS from scratch (.. after 'blueprinting' the project based on goals and desired features).

Cormac McCarthy & The Road

The London Times ranks The Road #1 in its list of the 100 Best Books of the Decade. The best of the best. If you click thru all 17 pages (which contain a number of cool titles) you wind up at the post apocalyptic novel penned by Cormac McCarthy.

The Road by Cormac McCarthyI normally bring along a book to the coffee shop for my morning espresso. There I'll read a few pages while trying to wake up.

No other book has generated so much conversation. All kinds of people (men/women, young/old, etc.) stop by to mention how much they enjoyed it. Some wax passionate. (One guy said he read it 3 times.)

This surprises me. Cuz it's not a happy story. By any stretch. The story focuses on a dad and his young son in a difficult situation.

So it's easy for me to relate. (Maybe too easy.) But I doubt I'd read it otherwise. Others have said they tried but found it too depressing.

The book won the 2007 Pulitzer for Fiction. Worth noting perhaps, is that McCarthy did not show to personally accept the award. (Reminds me of Marlon Brando & the Oscars.)

McCarthy-the-writer is every bit as interesting as the books he writes. If not more so. (His books are only fiction.)

CM was born in '33. Middle of the Great Depression. So you might assume he'd be inclined to seek after fortune & fame. And you'd be wrong.

He spent many-a-year living in poverty .. focusing on his writing. To this day he shuns interviews. With the exception of talking to Oprah once (.. reportedly done as a favor to his long-time editor who'd recently retired) he refuses media interviews (.. which might bolster his publicity and therefore sale$).

It's refreshing to find someone who 'made it' without selling their soul .. especially in this day and age .. when so many seem enchanted by the glitter.

McCarthy is somewhat of a literary rebel. He doesn't, for example, use quotation marks .. or even grammatically correct sentences. [ My English prof once said, When you break the rules, it either succeeds wonderfully or fails miserably. There's no in-between. ] He doesn't attend book festivals, readings or other places novelists tend to gather.

Consider this » We never learn the name of the man or the boy in the story. (McCarthy just calls them 'the man' and 'the boy'.) Nor do we ever learn what caused the apocalypse .. details that seem unimportant to the author. Or perhaps he views them as distractions. The result » the story focuses more sharply on the *relationship* between the man and his son.

Some might consider McCarthy arrogant. But at his age, and with his list of accomplishments, he has nothing to prove. Like a true artist, he seems concerned only with his art. As one of the guys [John] who approached me at the coffee shop put it » He's the real deal.

[ Blood Meridian, also by McCarthy, is John's favorite book .. ever. He owns a rare collector's edition. It's a historically researched tale of American mercenaries hunting Indians in the Mexican borderland. I dare you, John said, next time you're in a bookstore, to open a copy -- at any random spot -- and read a page or two. Bet you won't be able to stop. ]

Rad Intro to SQL & Databases

My study of the PHP programming language has taken me to » DATABASES, and how to manipulate them using SQL .. specifically MySQL, since that's the database used by most web-based applications.

MySQL databaseThe data stored in most databases is manipulated using the Structured Query Language (or SQL - pronounced ess-cue-el or see-kwul) to perform functions such as » create, read, update and delete.

It surprised me to hear the importance given to databases. A database has the ability to supercharge a PHP application. Without a database, a PHP application would not be nearly so powerful.

All Content Management Systems (CMS), such as Drupal, Joomla, and MODx .. work in conjunction with (require) a database. So do blogs, such as Movable Type and WordPress.

Back when I interviewed for that job last summer, they asked some very basic SQL questions. And I think it was my lack of experience in this area (more than anything) that disqualified me. They were looking for the ability to craft a basic SQL statement such as:

SELECT * FROM table_name WHERE column_name = 'some_text' ORDER BY column_name ASC;

PHP has long been designed to work seamlessly with databases, and this is one of the things that makes it so powerful.

Databases contain tables. A database is a collection of tables. My installation of Movable Type, for example, has 34 tables. MODx has 57 tables. Drupal has the most with 68. And all these tables are 'related'. Hence the term » 'relational' database.

Continuing to Learn PHP

 Continuing to learn how to program with PHP. Have you considered that .. even tho you might point your browser to a particular PHP page (*.php) .. no PHP code is returned to your browser? (Only HTML.)

PHPThat's because all the PHP code contained in the page gets 'executed' (by the PHP engine) on the server. (Actually, 'interpreted' might be a more accurate term. Or 'processed'.)

Say, for example, you like a particular HTML page, or something IN that page .. and you want to see how they did it. You can 'View Source' and look/see. Heck, you can even inspect their CSS.

But you can't do this with PHP .. which makes it more difficult to imitate cool tricks you might stumble across on your wanderings around the web. This is one of the big differences I'm seeing with PHP .. compared to learning HTML and CSS.

Same goes for the forum web page .. where you actually request a Perl script ( .. yet no Perl code is returned to your browser.

In reflecting on learning PHP .. and more specifically » programming in general (.. because learning to program is what I'm really after) .. it has become clear that I'm interested in the CULTURE of programmers.

I've read (perhaps wrongly) that programmers live in a culture that's based on meritocracy .. where your status is based on your professional & technical skills (.. rather than who you know, or who your daddy is, or how well you suk up to the boss, or even seniority).

That aspect of the programming culture has always attracted me. Now, certainly I know how to play the game the old fashioned way. (And I'm pretty good at it.) But there's something attractive about the cold, hard realities of competing in a pure meritocracy .. if such a thing does in fact exist.

Jung's Synchonicity & Junger's War

Been experiencing synchronicity the last few days. Not sure why. Synchronicity is when you have 'strange coincidences' that seem too bizarre or unlikely for mere coincidence, yet no other explanation exists.

Synchronicity - Carl Jung

I sometimes go for years without having any. When they do come however, they tend to come in bunches .. over a period of days or weeks.

If (for example) you never heard of the term 'synchronicity' before reading this entry, and later today a friend called to say 'Hi,' and in doing so mentioned they're reading an interesting book .. on the subject of 'Synchronicity' .. *that* would be an example of synchronicity. (An interesting or curious coincidence.)

Some people consider synchronistic events confirmation their life is on the right path. I don't know about that. But it does make for interesting curiosities.

For me (in looking back), these synchronistic coincidences seem to come at times when my trajectory in life is altered. The bigger the change, the more of these coincidences I notice. I usually feel pretty 'good' during these times. And I'm feeling pretty good these days. (I have been much worse in the past .. very dark days.) Been having ultra-realistic dreams, too.

War Sebastian JungerWAR » One of these synchronistic coincidences involves Sebastion Junger's new book » War. He's the guy who wrote The Perfect Storm. (You might've seen the movie, starring George Clooney & Marky Mark.)

Here's an excerpt from the LA Times review.

.. in hostile territory, dug into the steep hillsides at the foot of the Hindu Kush mountains and surrounded by Afghan Taliban, where soldiers ate one hot meal a day, showered once a week, burned their feces and alternated between weeks of unbearable boredom and as many as 13 gun battles a day.

He calls it the "Afghanistan of Afghanistan," remote and unconquerable, with June heat above 100 degrees and winter snowstorms, a place that previous units had said could "alter your mind in terrible and irreversible ways."

A place that could alter your mind in "terrible and irreversible ways." Think I know that place. =)

Che Guevara: Jesus with a Machine Gun

CheSaw the movie Che last night .. based on the life of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (from Argentina) .. starring Benicio Del Toro. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. (Matt Damon makes a cameo.)

Wow. Actually *two* DVDs .. plus a supplemental. Ten years in the making. Thoroughly researched. Different kind of movie. Easy to recommend.

Did you know that the image of Che found on so many t-shirts and posters is the world's most reproduced image? (In the history of mankind.) Made from a photo shot by Albert Korda on March 5, 1960.

Che was a medical doctor. (Dr. Guevara.) 'Che' was his nickname. During his life he was considered the most dangerous man on the planet.

Inequality South America RioAlso worth seeing » Motorcycle Diaries, which chronicles his travels thru South America during his youth. (That's where he witnessed the social & economic inequality that led to the outrage which affected him so profoundly.)

Soderbergh said (in the supplemental DVD) that Guevara's ability-to-sustain-outrage, and his willingness to put his life on the line to effect a change .. were the most prominent aspects of the revolutionary's life.

We all get outraged from time to time .. but our outrage wanes. There's so much krap out there. (Our government is in bed with Wall $treet & corporations & their lobbyists.) Easy to suffer from outrage fatigue.

Anyone who has ever been a victim of injustice knows how badly it suks to be on the receiving end. But who will put their life on the line to effect a change? In a true revolution (Guevara says) you either win or die trying.

He walked away from a life of wealth & privilege to (try to) help the peasants in South America by fighting for social & economic change. (He died trying.) Jesus with a machine gun.

Mom's Curse & the Bossy Bug

The Bug was downright BOSSY this week. I wouldn't call it 'grumpy,' cuz .. long as we did whatever he wanted, he was happy as pie. The laughs came easy & often. But if not, he displayed a side I'd never seen before.

GrumpyFor example: he called out as we crossed at a major intersection, Dad, that's *five* things you did that I'm NOT happy about. His tone none too pleasant.

[ He wanted to stop at a toy store we passed. I wanted to get a coffee first. ]

I've long encouraged him to express his displeasures. Some parents might discourage such things, but this becomes important when you can't be there all the time. (You know.)

Plus, we have so little time together. Don't want to waste even a minute trying to intuit what he does and doesn't like. And of course I feel bad that his life has been controlled by the courts since he was only 5 months old .. before he could take his first step.

Five? I asked, as we rode our bikes up onto the sidewalk on the other side. What five things?

No trouble did he have (whatsoever) listing them for me .. in chronological order, no less. Had a bada-bing flavor to it.

First, he says (in Mr. Bossy tone), you didn't tell me a story yesterday when I asked you to.

He's not talking about reading him a story. (That would be too easy.) No. He wants me to MAKE-UP a story. (A new one every week.)

This is probably the most difficult thing he asks me to do. If you've never done it, it's surprisingly difficult to concoct a story on-the-fly. Moreover, he wants me to make-up these stories while we're riding our bikes (.. dodging bumpers .. which requires a degree of attention).

After he finished detailing all five transgressions (in remarkably lucid detail), I asked, Didn't you like when we went to the fun zone yesterday? (He agreed that he did.) And didn't you like when we rode across on the Balboa Island ferry? (He again agreed that he did.) And didn't you enjoy the Balboa bar (ice cream) we got at Dad's?

Yeah, he agreed. But that was *yesterday*, dad! [ The song » What-Have-You-Done-for-Me-Lately came to mind. ]

Well, I said (calling back over my shoulder), seems you're counting the things you DON'T like about yesterday, but NOT counting the things you DID like.

A few seconds passed before he uttered his response. As God is my witness, he shouted » Right! =)

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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