Monthly Archives: June 2010

Some thoughts on old school programming and Why Johnny can’t code

It’s hard to know where to start with what is wrong with this article: Why Johnny can’t code – Education in

First off, the author is making a virtue of a necessity we once had as users of computers in the 1970s and 1980s. Back when personal computers first came out, programming them in BASIC was something you did because, well, there wasn’t much else you could do with them! If you wanted your Commodore PET or 64 or TRS-80 to do something, you needed to program it. Later on came wordprocessors and spreadsheets that allowed you to use the computer without having to learn programming. But first, you had to program.

Second, most kids I knew back then did NOT use a computer. Did not program. That was for geeks.  I think that will always be the way it is with new technologies. There are a minority of kids who are tinkerers and changers of things, be it cars, computers, or some other new thing in the future. For the rest of them, they will be just happy to drive the car, or use the mobile phone or play the video game.

Third, young people have access to vastly more free technology and tools than kids of the 70s and 80s did. There is so much open source and free software to program with and use, be in Java or Python or Javascript or Clojure. You name it: there’s something that is easily downloadable with lots of great documentation and examples anyone can use to get coding.

Fourth, personal computers have had more layers of abstraction added to them, true, and you have less control over them than we had back then. But I would argue that as new technology comes along, that kids have that chance again. I am thinking in particular about mobile application development. Also, I look to things like Arduino devices which young people can get, attach to their computers, and program. It’s the same thing as kids from the 70s. In fact, looking at Arduino books and tech, it reminded me of being a kid back in the 70s. There’s still the same opportunities, but instead of programming the PC they are programming something else.

It’s a good article, and I think it is worth a read, but it subscribes to view of that time that I don’t have.


One cool performer in one cool chair

Patti Smith at the Chelsea Hotel in NYC

From Photos: Celebrities by The Times in 2010 –

You too can write like Malcolm Gladwell

John Graham-Cumming, in his post, How to write a “Malcolm Gladwell Bestseller”, dissects the essence of Gladwell’s approach to bookwriting very successfully.

At first consideration, there seems to be something signfigant that Gladwell is attempting to say. But there is less there than it seems. It’s very good writing, and it is no worse and arguably much better than alot of business writing centered on case studies. But as this author says, they are a collection of interesting essays, and not a strong argument for some grand new idea.

How to wear brown and blue together

While they don’t go as well together as other colours, this is a superb example of how to pull it off

It works well here because the brown suit is mid tone brown, while the blues are either very dark (shirt stripe, necktie) or very light (handkerchief).  To make it even better, he matches it all with a caramel colour briefcase. Lighter browns with reddish tones can work well with dark blues, and very light blues can work really well with dark browns.

Not surprising, this man is Florentine and was featured on The Sartorialist blog. The link is now gone.

P.S. The quality of the photograph, with the muted lighting, and the soft yellow/green walls and the terra cotta planter in the background, make it look even better. Then again, all the shots on this blog are great.

P.S. Thanks for reading this. If you have found it useful and you’d like to say thanks by buying me a coffee, you can do so here. Thanks! That’s awesome!

Star Trek + Ke$ha = awesome


The BEST possible phone to have is not an iPhone

It’s this one:

Found on the always very smart blog, swissmiss

Geeks 1, Lawyers 0

ThinkGeek totally pwns the lawyers of the National Pork Board. See: ThinkGeek :: Blurgh! The ThinkGeek Blog – Officially our best-ever cease and desist (via Andrew Sullivan).

Thinking of starting up your own craft business using to distribute your wares?

Then you should read this: Hobbyists Use Etsy to Trade Day Job for Hard Work – This quote sums the article up well:

“Etsy saved my life,” Ms. Gibran said. But, she added, “this is the hardest job I’ve ever had.”

As anyone who has tried to make a go of it running a small business can tell you, it’s alot of hard work. Then again, it could be the best work you’ve ever had.

Warren Buffett on the state of California and its finances

In this good article summing up the dire economic condidtion that California is in (California on ‘verge of system failure’ – The Globe and Mail), there is this quote:

Billionaire Warren Buffett, who advised U.S. President Barack Obama during his White House run, suggested recently that a Washington bailout of California and other troubled states is inevitable. How, he wondered, can Washington deny California after saying yes to General Motors, AIG and dozens of banks.

“I don’t know how you would tell a state you’re going to stiff-arm them with all the bailouts of corporations,” Mr. Buffett said.

Warren Buffett is a smart man when it comes to money, so I am wondering how he could have made that comparison. For the companies that accepted (or were made to accept) bailout money had to do so with signifigant strings attached. I wonder if the same could be said for states that were to accept bailout money. Would California turn governing over to the Feds? It seems unlikely, so that comparison seems invalid.

That said, there is a model of how this could be achieved that is already being demonstrated in the U.S. It’s the Race to the Top program that is part of the Stimulus Act (ARRA, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009). Perhaps something similar could be put in place to spur reform in areas other than education.

How serviceberry trees are actually great bird feeders, too

I love birdfeeders, but I can’t have them on our property in Toronto because it attracts everything but birds. This is a shame, because it is great to have something to attract birds to your yard.

Surprisingly to me, the serviceberry tree in the front yard is not only a very nice looking tree, but it turns out it is also an excellent birdfeeder. I have had a number of robins and cardinals fly into it, gobble up some of the pea sized berries, and then fly off. And unlike birdfeeders, it doesn’t attract a ton of squirrels or other unwanted mammals. In Canada there are lots of beautiful trees you can plant in your yard for a variety of reasons. Besides the serviceberry, I also have a Himalayan birch tree and a Japanese maple. But for the added benefit of attracting birds, consider a serviceberry tree.

Posted via email from Bernie Michalik’s posterous site

Some thoughts on Vacational (?) Thinking

We think differently – or aim to – when we go on vacation. in fact, if I go
on vacation and find myself still thinking about my day to day
preoccupations, I feel I have failed to take a proper vacation. To me,
vacational thinking can be thinking whereby I forget my day to day cares
for a period of time and with any luck I think instead about special things
that I might not normally think about. It’s not enough to attend an art
gallery or a restaurant or a performance in another place, I have to think
that it is something special and unique in some way and my thinking
reflects that.

But there is another aspect of this thinking, too. With vacational thinking
your brain operates in a less (or sometimes more) excited state than your
day to day state. Your thinking may relax on vacation. Or if you are going
someplace exciting, you mental state may be excited. Either way, it is
likely a break from your typical emotional state.

I thought of this because I have been planning my summer vacation, and even
if I don’t go any where, I plan to shift my way of thinking when I am on
vacation as well as my mental state. But I also plan to think like I am
some place special, even if I am going to a cafe or an art gallery or a
park in Toronto. I am going to think: if I was in Florence or Paris or San
Francisco or Miami, how would I be thinking about that experience right
now? Or, right now I am sitting on my porch and the weather reminds me of
being in Florence ages ago and I am trying to recall how I felt about those
nights in that city. To make myself appreciate the beauty and the
specialness of where I am, even if it is home for me.

When I moved to Toronto from Cape Breton, people would always tell me how
beautiful my first home was. I never really appreciated that until I
travelled to other places and then travelled back to Cape Breton. It hadn’t
changed much, but my mental state and way of thinking did. I could
appreciate the beauty of something that I used to experience all the time
because I changed my mind. I had achieved vacational thinking.

this morning I was planning to be late for work. I took the time to have a
coffee at a cafe. For the few minutes I was getting my coffee while
watching some World Cup play, I could imagine I didn’t have to go to work
(for no one else there looked like they had to go to work either) and
instead I imagined that I was on vacation. It was an oasis of calm thinking
in an otherwise hectic day. If your days are the same, I recommend take
micro vacations at the very least ehenever you can. It will benefit you
more than you can imagine.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. May you have many frequent
vacations soon.
Sent from my BlackBerry Handheld.

Posted via email from Bernie Michalik’s posterous site

Some thoughts on the dissolution of time even as it accelerates and accumulates

My kids are like timepieces. I can convince myself that time is not moving,
or moving very slowly and I can be convinced of that until I think about
my two kids. They are like Dorian Grey’s painting: constantly showing the
acceleration of time even if nothing else is.

I thought of this when I checked on my son sleeping the other night.
Already he has gotten so big. I can recall just how a few short years ago
he was just a small thing sleeping. Now he is so big I can barely carry him
up the stairs. Yet looking at him, I could skip around in my mind and see
all of the times when he was lying there sleeping. It was like time was
dissolving and I was moving back and forth in time, and he was the time
traveller’s son.

The other day I was in the powder room washing up and he was calling my
name from the other side. For a moment I imagined I was in the future and I
was in the powder room and I was recalling what it was like to hear his
voice on the other side of the door but in the future he would not be there
and I would open the door and he would not be there. He would be grown up.
Gone. So I slid back to the present and there he was and I gave him a hug
and we went out and played.

In Awakenings, by Oliver Sacks, his patients go into a vegetative state
that allows them to perceive time as hardly moving to them, even though it
is changing rapidly for the rest of us. Decades could pass by, but it would
be perceived as no time at all for them.

I was reading last week that memories are not something like words on
paper. They are more dynamic than that, and we are constantly writing them
and rewriting them all the time.

I wonder how much of our perception of time and how it passes has less to
do with the world in itslef and more to do with the limits of our current

If time is relative, then maybe we can learn to have future memories and
alternative memories?

Memories are just a form of thinking.

I can imagine how tomorrow will be, and though I can control a lot abot how
my perceptions will match the outcome, the outcome will be determined to a
large degree on the predictability of others. In effect, I can remember the
future only to the degree that others are predictable. Others dissolve the

If everyone in the world thought like the patients in Awakenings and I did
not, I could predict the future, for I could see what was coming well
before it happened. In effect my ability to perceive time at an accelerated
rate would allow me to respond better to events and have more time to
prevent others from dissolving the future.

In Borges story The Secret Miracle, a man about to be executed is allowed
to live his whole life in the few minutes he supposedly has before he is
executed. This ability to live a long life in the time span of a few
minutes is the miraculous part. When the time comes for them man to die, he
is …happy?…because he has lived a full life, despite what others have

The passage of time is as much a matter of perception as it is anything
else. If we were not to physically change in a way as to show our age and
if we lived in a way that spent less energy on tracking time, then how
would we perceive time then?

We have only begun to play with time.

Time for me to sleep. Thanks for taking the time to read this.
Sent from my BlackBerry Handheld.

Posted via email from Bernie Michalik’s posterous site

On why we hate the French (or at least French philosophers) :)

Because they say things like this: The greatest mystery is not that we have been flung at random between the profusion of matter and of the stars, but that within this prison we can draw from ourselves images powerful enough to deny our
nothingness. – Andre Malraux

Posted via email from Bernie Michalik’s posterous site

On the destructive nomadic aspect of business

One thing I often hear when someone gets laid off is something to the effect that this person had a lot of valuable skills and had accomplished a lot and therefore it’s surprising that they were let go. I call this the old house theory of employees. Such employees are like old houses: fill with old antiques and some newer things. Those things do have a lot of value. However, it goes against the increasingly fast natured approach to business. Businesses are becomng less established and solid, I believe. They are becoming more like tribes of nomads. And like nomads, they have very transient like structures and they travel light. And employees who are nomadic in mindset will be the ones who will be the most successful.Hacked together on my blackberry. Thanks for reading this, and if you have
a comment, thanks even more
Sent from my BlackBerry Handheld.

Posted via email from Bernie Michalik’s posterous site

Feeling “meh”? You need the awesomeness of Sam & Dave

If you liked Janelle Monáe video, Tightrope, then you need to check out Sam & Dave.

Here’s the incendiary Hold on I’m Coming

and the sweet slow sound of When Something is Wrong with my Baby

and I haven’t even included the often imitated, never duplicated, Soul Man.

If you want to know more, you can read a little about Sam & Dave at Wikipedia or here at Ta-Nehesi Coates blog at The Atlantic. You can get what looks to be a great book, Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom by Peter Guralnick that goes into things at depth.

Monday Morning Music – Janelle Monáe’s Tightrope

Janelle Monáe video, Tightrope is brilliant and visually striking. But it’s the song itself that’s great all by itself. It has a great Motown/James Brown to a feel to it. And it’s as upbeat as anything. Perfect to fire up your day/week.

The end of miscegenation – part 4

This is a good story for the U.S.: Interracial marriages at an all-time high, study says – There’s lots of good material in there that’s well worth a read.

So while you still have the likes of people like Sen. Jake Knotts in South Carolina calling people racist names, that type of thinking and the fear it brings with it is dying out. Instead you have people loving people for who they are and people supporting that. And that is a smart thing indeed.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree By William Butler Yeats

You can find out more about this great poem, Lake Isle of Innisfree, at that link. But first, read it for yourself:

I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,     
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;      
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,     
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.     
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon apurple glow, all a glimmer:
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.     
I will arise and go now, for always night and day  
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;      
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,     
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

How having an unsecure Wifi network connection could cost you alot more than you think

So you have a router at home, or you are using your laptop in a cafe or an open space and you have an unsecure wifi network setup. You might think: what’s the big deal? How’s that going to help anyone? Well as Oscar González shows, you need to be careful when using WiFi. Your files could be exposed. (from his Techie of All sorts) blog. Even exposing a little information via wifi can potentially expose alot.

Now, you might think: fine, he can look up all that information about me, including personal information…big deal. Well, actually for someone malicious — unlike Oscar — it can be a big deal. Alot of institutions use that information to establish your identity. Someone can get that information and commit some nice identity theft (not to mention other theft as well).

Short of it is: follow Oscar’s advice and secure your connections as well as other information about yourself out there.

P.S. Even if you are not a techie, you should check out Oscar’s blog and in particular this post.

Some thoughts on epiphenomenalism and running

Because I run alot, people ask me: what do you think about when you run? Well, if I am running at a slower pace, I think a myriad of things, not unlike what people when they are walking, or shopping, or generally milling about. However, if I am running at a faster and harder pace, my thinking is directly affected by my run. If I am having a difficult run and I am experiencing alot of pain and suffering, my thoughts automatically turn very dark. I will suddenly notice this, for it creeps up on me. It’s as if I am trying to tune out the difficulty my body is having, so my mind starts having dark fantasies and thoughts. And that form of thinking makes the run even harder: it’s like a downward spiral. Whenever that happens, I either cut the run short or ease back on the tempo until I start to feel (and think) better.

The flip side of that is when I am having a very good run, I start thinking very creatively and imaginatively. It’s as if my mind is freed up to think this way. For example, tonight I was thinking of an essay I read by Sara Ruddick on maternal thinking and how it relates to Martin Buber’s I and Thou and how, while it relates to Buber’s ontological thinking, it differs in that a maternal relationship is symbiotic to a degree and that defines a different form of identity and relationship than Buber’s. And I thought about other things, like…well…running and epiphenomenalism! 🙂 And I think if anything illustrates empirically that epiphenomenalism — either weak or strong — is not true, then I think my runs do that. (Not to mention one of the reasons why I like to run.)

Posted via email from Bernie Michalik’s posterous site

Black Humor 101

What is black humor? Well the wikipedia definition is a good one: a sub-genre of comedy and satire in which topics and events that are usually regarded as taboo are treated in a satirical or humorous manner while retaining their seriousness. Synonyms include dark comedy, black comedy, dark humor, and morbid humor.

This image of how not to fast-rope onto a ship is an excellent example of that:

The recent events of the Israeli Defence Forces trying to stop the flotilla trying to break the embargo of Gaza is a deadly serious matter and it hardly seems worthy of laughter. However, this pseudo-instructional image satirizes and mocks the IDF for doing what they obviously should not have done. (At least in the eyes of the illustrator). I am a big fan of black humor: it is sometimes the only way to deal with extermely difficult subjects. This is a well done example of it.

From Fast-Roping 101 – The Daily Dish  By Andrew Sullivan