Lucky To Be A Programmer

This blog post made its way through the Twitterverse recently. I tend to save longer items for later reading, and I just now got around to this, thankfully.

I've tried before to articulate what programming and software mean to me, but I've never come close to putting it as well as it is put here. Maybe now I can just forward this link on to those people who really don't get what it is I do all day.

Lucky To Be A Programmer

Under the right conditions, writing software is so intensely pleasurable it should be illegal. Few things are better than spending time in a creative haze, consumed by ideas, watching your work come to life, going to bed eager to wake up quickly and go try things out. The point is that programming is an intense creative pleasure, a perfect mixture of puzzles, writing, and craftsmanship.

A non-math sort of beauty also exists in code, analogous to eloquence in discourse. It’s present in well-factored software that does a lot with little code, in short and crisp methods, in well-done architectures.

...Now for craftsmanship. In a sense software is abstract - where does program behavior exist but in our minds? Yet we call it building software for a reason. Programs are shaped feature by feature, architectures start out as scaffolds and grow, user interfaces come together, bugs are fixed and hotspots are optimized to make things run fast. Software provides a deeply satisfying sense of craft. We build stuff out of pure ideas and then get to watch it working to solve real problems and make people a little better off. Or far better off, as the case may be.

Soapbox Covers It All!

Soapbox continues to be a source of great conversation. I don't possibly have the time to write about each of these stories individually, but they all struck me at one point or another. So I'll try my best to combine all commentary into one post here.

New report on Ohio tax reform sees $6.3 billion in new investment

Now, in the second year of a five-year rollout, state officials say the net payoff is that Ohio now offers companies the lowest new capital investment tax structure in the Midwest.
Interesting. Wasn't this one of Bob Taft's last acts? I seem to remember grocery stores complaining about low margins. If the claims are true, though, it was a smart move.

SoapDish for July 29, 2008

I have liked the new Fountain Square plan from day one. (Sorry, no documentation to back that up.) I have been mostly pleased with how it's turned out, given the limited land area, and suspect that once the trees grow bigger, however long that might take, it will begin to look like some of the more popular spaces around the country. I still think the ice rink could be bigger, and the rotating, multi-color lights will get old pretty soon. And I wish we could knock down the Fifth Third building.

I like this line from Casey Coston:
I never quite understood the crusty complaints about the makeover, the most articulate of which seemed to boil down to something along the lines of “we used to be able to see the fountain while zooming by on 5th Street in our car….now we have to actually get out of our car, and we’re not happy about it.”
A Streetcar Named Renewal: If We Build it, Will They Come?

Another good streetcar story - I don't think it has anything new for those who have followed the streetcar development. But it does a great job in knocking down some common criticisms:

Another misconception: streetcars are glorified taxis, or buses. Why fix it if it ain’t broke?

Chirch has this to say, “A bus line is merely “red paint on a telephone pole, or a little aluminum sign. When you put down streetcar rails, you’re actually making a commitment… something psychological happens.”

...And perhaps the biggest misconception: all funding must come from the city, for which we shall pay dearly.

In fact, city officials and grassroots fundraisers are busy courting private, state and federal donors to help foot the bill for this $182 million project. The city will dish out $60 million, but has decided against instituting a sales tax.

To put this in perspective, Dohoney says, “we invested $40 million-plus in the Convention Center, $40 million-plus in Fountain Square…[and] we’re talking about a $600-800 million dollar development on the waterfront.”

More Cincinnati Bloggers Convention

More recaps of the 1st Annual Cincinnati Bloggers Convention.

Internet Week Cincy?

I noticed this on Soapbox a while ago:

Cincinnati will host its first "Digital Non-Conference," a creative forum for those working in digital media and technology in the advertising, branding and marketing communications fields, November 14 and 15 downtown... Organizers say the atmosphere will be light, casual and fun and the working focus will be on all things digital.
For some reason, it reminded me of Internet Week New York.
Internet Week New York is a week-long festival of events saluting New York's thriving Internet industry and the many talented companies, organizations and innovators creating the future of online media!
Could something like that be pulled off here? Internet Week Cincy? What would it look like?

Anyway, that weekend is far off, and I didn't even see a name for it. I just wanted to put this up here so that later I can say I thought of it already :) .

Reds def. Mets, 7-2

This is from a while ago. Had a chance to watch the Reds beat the Mets, 7-2, in a game that was close most of the way, until the Reds blew it wide open in the 7th. We were in the second-to-last row from the top. Hard to see the ball, but at least the view's nice.

Cincinnati Bloggers Convention 2008

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed last night's 1st Annual Cincinnati Bloggers Convention. It was by far the best Cincinnati Bloggers Convention I've attended. And it wasn't just the free food and booze.

I have a hard time meeting too many new people at once. I also have a hard time with cold introductions. Put those two together, and I actually feel good that I got to meet Kevin, Dan, Barry, Matt, Shannan (a.k.a. Marty's wife to me), Ashish, Liz, and of course Albert. (If I met you and don't remember, please accept my apologies.) And it was good seeing Kelly, Bob, and Chris again. (If I already knew you and didn't speak to you, please accept my apologies.)

I didn't get to meet everyone I had hoped to meet, but there's always next time.

Over on Cincinnati Blog, Brian asked if there's something that we all shared, something that makes people become bloggers. Interestingly, in the short speech that Albert gave near the start of the evening, he expressed his pleasure at gathering the most intelligent people in Cincinnati in the same room. I think I'll go with his answer.

More coverage from around the local blogosphere.

At the start of the evening, General hobnobbing commenced.

The end of the evening. Kelly is talking to someone or another.
That big tub on the table had been filled with beer and wine at one point.

I thought this weird, floating,
"Being John Malkovich" doorway was neat.

High Gas Prices Can Make You A Better Person

If you've read this blog long enough, you know that I believe that gas is still way too cheap. When our fuel prices match those of Europe, then we may start to see some real change in behavior. We could easily get there, by raising the gas tax, of course. Not only would people suddenly be turned off about their cars, the extra earnings could be used to innovate on transportation (individual or public) that did not rely on gas, or relied on gas very efficiently.

Despite my Libertarian-ish ways, this is a different sort of tax from an economist way of thinking (if the pop non-fiction I've read holds true) because the tax is put in place to motivate behavior, as opposed to a government tax that is put in place simply because there's not enough money.

Anyways, this leads to why I really liked this editorial in the Enquirer a few days ago from the Des Moines Register about how high gas prices could eventually improve our lives. He looks faaar into the future, past the benefits I just mentioned:

Tough as it is, [high gas prices] could force us to make adjustments that result in healthier, more communal and environmentally friendly living. And they could push governments and businesses to help provide the infrastructure.

...At the most basic level, it should give a much-needed boost to public transportation, especially in cities that don't have extensive bus routes or late hours of operation. If enough people start riding, and demanding, better routes and times, maybe we'll get them.

...More commuters may be inspired to ride their bikes to work, a great heart-healthy exercise. Then we might get more bike lanes.

...And since the cost of gas is most felt by companies and people doing long-distance travel, it might inspire the federal government to finally get behind better long-distance passenger rail service and even high-speed rail between major cities.

...Some communities are looking at four-day workweeks, which could promote a better quality of life and more family time.

And if people limit their forays to the mall just to hang out or exercise, and start using their neighborhoods for recreation, maybe we'd see more block parties and picnics and a growing sense of community connectedness.

Pie-in-the-sky for sure. Right?


Soapbox Cincinnati has a feature story on the local blogosphere. If you're blog-savvy enough to be reading my blog already :) , the story probably won't tell you anything new. You already know the reason most people start a blog: because they have opinions.

I did like this observation:

The Cincinnati blog scene, and it is a “scene,” in the sense that bloggers tend to make references to one another, repost their friends’ articles and link their favorite blogs within their own space, is vibrant and prolific.
I try not to get involved in the "scene" aspect of it – it's my social hermit nature – but it's inevitable. Speaking of scene:

Will you be attending the First Annual Cincinnati Bloggers Convention at the Mercantile Library downtown on Thursday, July 24, at 6pm? If so, I'll be there too. Introduce yourself if you like. Just look for the tall Asian.

InOneWeekend Update

Here are some updated links:

What InOneWeekend Was About For Me

As I alluded to in my last post, there was a part of Roy Gilbert's talk that really hit home. You can watch that part on InOneWeekend's channel. It's around the 6:50 mark. It's actually the ending of his speech. Here is what he says:

I'll leave you with one other point. Something I just thought of from this manager's conference we had. We had this professor from the Wharton School of Business. He's head of the leadership department at Wharton. He's an incredibly compelling speaker.

One thing I thought was really interesting was that he said when you look at the most successful leaders in business, government, academia... He actually did research around this, and asked them where they got their leadership knowledge, where they got their leadership skills. Evolved it down to a formula. 10% said they figured out came from their book learning and the skills they got in their formal courses. Some of them had MBAs. Some of them had business degrees. 20% came from formal mentorship. Learning from their boss. Learning from some sort of mentor at the company that they operated in. Does this sound right to you? So the mentorship is about twice as valuable as the book learning. I heard that and said, "Yeah, that resonates with me. That sounds about right."

The other 70%? Of the most successful leaders they saw, the people who had the most outstanding results... The other 70% came from situations they had been in when they had gotten in over their heads. Jobs they had where they didn't have a formal checklist of things when they went in. Where they actually had to go in and
figure out the checklist on their own. Positions in roles where they didn't really know exactly what to do and had to figure it out with significant enough risk.

And what he concluded was that the great thing about new ventures, and the great thing about entrepreneurship, is that you can manufacture these situations where you end up over your head yourself. All of you this weekend are going to have an opportunity to create a venture which is going to put you in over your head. It's an incredible opportunity for growth. An incredible opportunity to develop as a person. So I am jealous of you. I wish you good luck. And I greatly appreciate you letting me be apart of this. Thank you.
Sorry for the long quote. Speech contains more words than you think at first.

Anyway, I hope I articulate well what I am about to say – I believe that most people are capable of rising to the occasion when called upon. But I don't think most people will volunteer for a daunting task if given the choice. Trust me, when faced with big opportunity, I know well the battle between the thrill of risk and chance of success, and inherent laziness and complacency (neither of which are bad things).

So given these assumptions – to strive towards leadership and develop as a person, you need to thrust yourself into situations where you are in over your head, but in doing so you sacrifice your time, your energy, perhaps your family and friends – what are we to do?

My answer to that: close your eyes, and just say yes. (No, I won't use the ubiquitous Nike tagline here.) I'll take Roy's point one step further: you don't even have to manufacture these situations. Often, they'll find you. And when they do, the question will be: "Do you want to?"

I've been using this rule for longer than I'm aware. Not only professionally, but even when making family decisions. When I learned about InOneWeekend, I just said yes. (Of course, that was easy, since by definition, my commitment was at most one weekend.) But when they asked me to continue the work for a little longer, I just said yes.

Confidence always helps. I know what my capabilities are, and can position myself in situations where risk is acceptable. But what if someone one day asks me to run for office? It's definitely outside of my domain, so I probably wouldn't. (Or would I?) And sometimes there's room for compromise. Tell them, no, you won't lead the effort, but you can help out. Know the worst case risks. Once, I volunteered for a day of painting for charity. It didn't really do anything for me, but all I lost was a Saturday.

Once upon a time, I had this idea for a website that listed all the weird and quirky things around town. I put it up, and it was kind of cool. Because of that website, I found myself attending a blogger's meetup of sorts. As I neared the meeting place walking by myself, my social anxiety began to rear its head, but I just said yes. That was where I got the idea for a site about fake local news. I put that up, and since then everything has changed.

What if I hadn't attended that first meetup? It was a public announcement. I knew nobody there. Nobody would have missed me. Sometimes I wonder. Sure, life goes on and I would have encountered other opportunities, but I think the past few years would have been remarkably different.

I have no real problem walking into a room full of strangers anymore (usually). I don't know if I'm more comfortable with that fact, or if I know that now there's always a good chance of running into someone I know, or know of.

Where will this business take me? No way to know, but for now, I can close my eyes and try to hold on.

Keeping Talent In Cincinnati

Expect a lot of posts in the next few days. There's a lot on my mind.

So I just discovered that CincyTech has videos of the Roy Gilbert talk with excellent sound and visual quality (sorry, Andy). There is a part of the talk that hit home that I'll discuss in a later post. But the only thing missing from the video is the Q&A portion.

Fortunately, Andy Erickson did capture the Q&A portion in his audio recording. I ask the very last question (around the 1:09 mark) about keeping talent in towns like Cincinnati. With great difficulty, I've transcribed the entire question and Roy's answer (with paraphrasing) here.


So you mentioned in an earlier question that companies like Google will open offices in areas of talent and in areas that encourage talent, but in Cincinnati a lot of times talent leaves. So I believe there is talent here. It starts here and comes through here and a lot of times it ends up leaving for whatever reason. A lot of people think, "Oh I have to live in New York City. I have to live in Manhattan." Or "I have to live in Silicon Valley." So it's kind of a catch-22 because you're saying that companies like Google will go to an area with talent, but talent wants to live in areas where companies like Google already are. So how do cities in the Midwest keep their talent?
So, we opened an office in Ann Arbor, MI. It's a great town with a great university. We really looked hard at it, and we knew that a lot of people were leaving Ann Arbor. Jennifer Granholm, the governor of Michigan came to Google and said, "People are leaving our state. They are smart people, and they are following Larry Page and going to Silicon Valley or going to New York. Help us bring them back." So companies are interested in doing this because companies are interested in expanding their operations and finding new talent. So I wouldn't worry about companies. They'll come to you.

My advice to you, especially if you're coming out of college, and you're thinking about leaving the Midwest, is this. There are are incredible opportunities everywhere. And I think it is often easier to get traction in terms of new ventures in your home city. One, because you know the lay of the land and kind of how things work there. So it's incredibly easy to make an impact and acquire talent without having to compete with every single startup and the likes of people who have left Ann Arbor and Cincinnati. So I think there area a lot of advantages for people who are really savvy about it.

I'll tell you, I talked to an entrepreneur today who is hosting a lot of his business online using Amazon hosting services, and hosted applications. Using storage not in Cincinnati. Using Google Apps to run his email system. It's easier to start an entire business. It's actually very minimal. So you can start a business and focus on building great talent. This is a lot different from a year ago or a few years ago. The infrastructure is a lot bigger. There are a lot of great companies that do this and can help you out. Whether you're in technology or shipping logistics or whatever. So I think the tide is turning and it will take some courageous people that turn around and come back.
Or you can just listen to the audio of the question and answer, shamelessly cut from Andy's podcast. It's 3:04 minutes long.

InOneWeekend Wrap-Up

It was quite a weekend last weekend, and the week that followed was no pushover either. Last Friday, we went from 2 pm to midnight. Saturday, 8am to midnight. Sunday, 8 am to 5 pm.

After Sunday evening, I thought I might take it easy and recuperate throughout the week. Little did I know, I would find myself helping out to shepherd our new company forward.

No real commentary or summary in this post, but expect a couple more posts on InOneWeekend coming up here. Besides, there has been lots of that already from much more capable people. For now, you'll have to deal with a list of links.

If You Need Me This Weekend, Here's Where I'll Be

On Community Learning

There used to be a charter school, and it still may be there - I'm not sure - in Over-the-Rhine called W.E.B. DuBois Middle School. In a very short time, it became one of the few charter schools in the state to attain a rating of Excellent. Parents and community raved about the school. Kids scored the highest possible scores on state tests for reading and math.

I used to see the kids walking along Central Pkwy on my way to work in the mornings. I didn't know where they were going. But it was quite a sight. They walked single file on the sidewalk, with an adult at the front of the line and one in back. They were always smiling and bouncing, and the I want to say they all wore dark blue jackets. The boys did at least.

Then the founder and principal of the school was ousted and convicted of fraud or something. Not sure.

But back to their success. W.E.B. Dubois kept the kids there until 6 pm. The school was also open on Saturdays and Sundays. And instruction was year-round.

Is that what it takes to succeed in a low-income neighborhood? To practically raise the kids becaue no one else will?

Schools can no longer just be schools for some of these kids to succeed. The services must not be just educational, but holistic and comprehensive.

Which is why this quick story about progress on the new Rothenberg School and Community Learning Center reminded me about all the new CLC's being built by CPS right now, one of the many things they're doing right.

From the CPS web page:

Communities and schools are strongly linked — one seldom succeeds if the other fails. Schools need families and communities that are involved in the education of students; communities need schools that serve as centers of neighborhood life.

...The district launched its 10-year, $1-billion Facilities Master Plan in 2002, with the goal of creating Community Learning Centers within all of its fully renovated and newly constructed buildings. There is no "cookie-cutter" design for a Community Learning Center; each represents the energy and needs of its neighborhood.

...For example, Winton Hills Academy identified health concerns as a barrier to students' learning. As a result, they now partner with a pharmacy, a primary and oral-health care provider, and a full-time behavioral health clinic to provide services to their students and families.

...Community Learning Centers are proven success stories. Benefits for students include: improved academic performance, higher attendance rates and greater parent involvement. One example is Winton Hills Academy — enrollment is up, discipline incidents are down dramatically, and the building hums daily with after-school and summer programming run by the YMCA.

The World Is Awesome

This isn't local, but the video made me smile. It's only a minute long.

via Pop Something.

A Cincinnati Visitor

I randomly came across this Toronto resident's blog post about his visit to Cincinnati. There are some funny lines and some pictures of familiar places.

Cincinnati Photo Diary.