Saturday, November 29, 2008

My Blog, As Yahoo Sees it

I created some scripts to parse the Atom XML document that I exported from Blogger recently and then feed the individual posts to the Yahoo Term Extraction Service. After aggregating the keywords, I wound up with 4,166 distinct keywords. I pared back that list to include those keywords which were found in five or more posts on the blog and then sorted the list in descending order. Here is the final result.
e mail30
passionate marriage19
best friend18
job search17
couple weeks16
phone interview15
silicon valley12
marriage counseling10
nice guy10
joint session9
t shirt9
pacific northwest9
job offer8
phone call8
auction company7
few days7
younger daughter7
phone interviews7
therapy session6
cell phone6
couple of days6
sense of self6
online auction6
dance class6
hiring manager6
new york times6
david schnarch6
east coast6
long time5
good question5
hour and a half5
friday morning5
friday afternoon5
mid day5
voice mail5
phone conversation5
loan co5
personal integrity5
several times5
contract position5
hr person5
comfort zone5
five love languages5
sexual relationship5
software company5
little bit5
marriage counselor5
frame of mind5
couple hours5

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving "Tell Me More" was Pretty Powerful Show

On Thursday, I drove up to the northern reaches of the greater metro area to visit with my brother's family and have Thanksgiving dinner with them. As I made my way up, I listened to the NPR program "Tell Me More", which was devoted to the subject of Gratitude. I only got to hear the first two segments -- those of Iyania Vanzant and Leon Bass -- but both of them had powerful messages to share... messages I needed to hear when I become a little too self-absorbed.

This One is for All the Blogger Get-Together Folks...

The Zero Punctuation video game reviews by Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw are as wickedly irreverent as they are fast paced. Usually he trains his acerbic wit upon first person shoot-em-up games, but this week, Yahtzee takes aim at Guitar Hero World Tour. If you're a Guitar Hero fan, I highly recommend watching the clip. Be forewarned, his reviews tend to be laced with vulgarities and sexually themed line drawings. Watching this clip at work is strongly discouraged.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

2am now over 2 Megs

I was playing around the with Blogger API to see whether I could extract and back up my posts. It took some tweaking, but I was able to do it. When converted to an Atom XML file, the blog posts alone make up 2.1 MB of data. I'm thinking about running the content through Yahoo's Term Extraction service to retroactively compute tags for each post so that I can obtain some sort of tag cloud.

White Castles, White Wine, Another Saturday Night -- I'm Such a Douchebag!

Make You Crazy feat. Femi Kuti - Brett Dennen

I don't know where it came from, but my loneliness anxiety was acting up this evening. Sometime around 7 pm, I headed out to get a bite to eat, but there was nothing that sounded good. I wound up burning an hour or two at two bookstores, perusing the computer and philosophy books and leaving empty handed. I settled for dinner at the White Castle next to the second bookstore I visited.

I came home, sifted through aging e-mails, and caught up on IM with a recently made friend who had a harrowing week. I met her via one of the online dating services, and we have yet to meet in person. Our situations are similar in that we live in that space between marriage and divorce, and we both work in the software field, but so far this has proved to be a good friendship, and I'm OK with that.

I'm currently sipping the remains of a bottle of 2006 Australian Riesling that doesn't have the same character that the bottle I polished off a couple months ago has, but the buzz is nice nonetheless.

This was a week that blew by and put my nerves to the test both on the personal and professional fronts.

First, on Thursday, the STBX IMed me to let me know that it was official, her employer would be terminating her position on the 13th of December. She said she had talked with one of her friends back over in the Land of Lincoln, who was a onetime employee of the same company and keeps in touch with several coworkers.

One employee, who had been there even longer than STBX by a couple years, had her annual salary chopped by $6K. Another longtime stalwart up and left. There are a couple of others whose status is still unknown. It sounds like they are really trying to purge some of the long time employees who are at the top of their payscale.

Her plans after the termination are undecided. She talked about drawing unemployment for a few months so that our younger daughter can continue to attend the preschool co-op.

She is eyeing a certification program for physician medical coding. It's a once-weekly evening class that meets for a few months at the beginning of the year with a certification test offered in late April. It would cost her on the order of $2,700 for tuition and testing fees. She said she might ask my dad and stepmom to loan her the money, which seems a bit weird given the circumstances.

As for me, the big news was that we delayed pushing the new release of our application to production not once, but twice. What should have gone out Wednesday this past week will go out instead early this coming Tuesday. The reasons for the delay were based on some observations made while I was testing a new content recommendation system for our application.

To help bloggers overcome writer's block, we thought it would be nice to fetch search results based on their focus keywords and display links to the results on the page where they write their posts. Well, it turns out that one of the search engine services we used turned up inappropriate results for a seemingly innocent combination of keywords. In case you were curious, the link title contained the word douchebag.

This required a rework of the user interface, complete with legal disclaimer warning the user that the results did not reflect the views of the company. Moreover, I got the job of writing a simple filter that would scan search results for bad words and cull them from the list returned to the user. Compiling a good list of naughty words is a bit more challenging than you think.

I spent Thursday night and Friday morning implementing the new filter. The list of bad words got generated on Friday afternoon and wired into the filter. I spent the afternoon and evening reviewing the results for 25 customers that we consider very important. In addition to the filter, we decided to omit one of the two data sources we had planned on using because the results were just too unreliable.

The end product should be nice, and I've learned a thing or two about the wiley ways of RSS feeds and distributed caching systems, so that is the bright side. Yet the downside is that this past week looked like a blur.

But as Arlo Guthrie would say, that's not what I came to talk about. I wanted to talk a bit on the notion of unity among Christians. Writing on his Unsolicited Advice (Wordpress) blog, Digger Jones offers up a video clip of a fight between Armenian and Greek Christians in Jerusalem as a reason he believes that unity is a fool's errand.

(2:41 am takes a break to jam out to "Tainted Love" on WTTS-FM)

Digger's case-in-point is what I was referring to in my comment on Therese's blog almost two years ago, asking what sort of unity should one pray for. It is the inherent paradox of unshared truths.

Faith is the unwavering belief that there exists a set of truths that are as non-negotiable as they are beyond proof, and that you have knowledge of them. What happens when someone claims a similar affiliation but has a similar level of confidence in a set of beliefs that are not fully compatible.

To abstract further, let there be two people who have belief systems which we call C and P. Both lay claim that they are members of a superset of E. The member of C believes that the set of propositions {BC,1, BC,2, ...} are indisputably, but unprovably, true. The member of P believes in his own set of propositions {BP,1, BP,2, ...}.

Now let's assume, without loss of generality, that both sets of propositions are identical save for the first propositions, BC,1 and BP,1. Moreover, let us assume that BC,1 and BP,1 are mutually exclusive. In other words, if BC,1 is true, then BP,1 cannot be true and vice versa. What does unity mean here?

The naive approach, which takes the union of the two sets of propositions, results in a system of propositions that have a contradiction. In order to maintain consistency, one of three things must happen:

  1. Remove BC,1 from the set.

  2. Remove BP,1 from the set.

  3. Remove both propositions from the set.

While the third item may be the most symmetric in terms of sacrifice, both sides are going to prefer that their belief makes the cut. To agree to do away with one's own belief sets up the fear of further disillusionment because that raises doubts over just how unshakable those beliefs are.

At this point, it is east to see why fights break out. Members of C and P are called to stand unwaveringly for their beliefs. In the presence of the other's doubt, what is to be done? When a believer concludes that the defense of Truth is a military calling, the probability of violence grows because the believer sees him or herself the agent of the Almighty's wrath.

The anxiety that animates the conflict can be mitigated with self soothing, an understanding that we are in essence separate beings with differences in thought processes and assumptions. The ability to accept separateness in the pursuit of togetherness is a larger form of the process of differentiation that takes place in the microverse of monogamous relationships.

A couple years ago, when I read Schnarch, I could see how this dynamic played itself in the ideological and cultural wars. At this point, I found myself decoupling from the political assumptions I had held for the past 25 years and moving into a space where those I might have once considered enemies were now friends.

Coming to terms with this paradox is an offshoot of the question of existential loneliness -- our separateness as individuals makes it impossible for each of us to be in universal agreement with one another. Like loving, to believe is to be lonely.

Schnarch touches on these themes in the closing chapter of Passionate Marriage. He speaks of a spiritual axis orthogonal to the relationship axis, where one must balance self-transcendence and self dissolution.

I was reminded of this as I read a post by Andrew Revkin on the New York Times blog Dot Earth that cited the writings of Charles Darwin and Vaclav Havel on the idea of self-transcendence. The passage the blogger quotes from Havel's 1994 speech seems remarkably farsighted.
[I]n today’s multicultural world, the truly reliable path to coexistence, to peaceful coexistence and creative cooperation, must start from what is at the root of all cultures and what lies infinitely deeper in human hearts and minds than political opinion, convictions, antipathies, or sympathies - it must be rooted in self-transcendence:

Transcendence as a hand reached out to those close to us, to foreigners, to the human community, to all living creatures, to nature, to the universe.

Transcendence as a deeply and joyously experienced need to be in harmony even with what we ourselves are not, what we do not understand, what seems distant from us in time and space, but with which we are nevertheless mysteriously linked because, together with us, all this constitutes a single world.

Transcendence as the only real alternative to extinction.

The whole post is worth reading.

It's 3:42 am, and I need to get some rest. As if with some sense of dramatic coincidence, I just heard WTTS-FM play Semisonic's song "closing time", which brings us back to that theme of loneliness anxiety.
So gather up your jackets,
and move it to the exits -
I hope you have found a friend.
Closing time -
every new beginning comes from
some other beginning's end.

Tonight I will sleep alone, but I will live through this.

The Waiting - Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers

Friday, November 07, 2008

Perhaps the Last Conversation I Needed to Have Today...

Below is a transcript of an IM conversation I just had with the STBX. My guess is she is not in a good space right now.


Me 1:38 Via what medium?

STBX 1:38 IM

Me 1:38 No.


Me 1:39 That's not good.


1:39 Why are they cutting you?


Me 1:40 I'm sorry. :-(

Me 1:40 Would you like some help with your resume?


Me 1:41 I know this is going to be tough because it will be the first time in a long time since you had to look for a job.

Me 1:42 And it will probably mean rearranging some commitments.

Me 1:42 But you can do this.

Me 1:43 Did they say how they could help?


Me 1:45 I would take them up on whatever help they can provide.

She has been with this employer for over 12 years, except a 5 month stint in 1997 as a secretary over at the big university located over in east central Lincolnland. Since moving to the Circle City in 2000, she had enjoyed a pretty cushy arrangement, working remotely doing work on her laptop while she watched TV. She had taken advantage of the flexible work schedule, squeezing in work between things she was doing for preschool and kindergarten.

Although she interviewed internally for different positions within the company in the past, she hasn't had an interview where she's had to truly sell herself since May 1997. I feel bad for her, and it's going to be a struggle to resist to bailing her out. The truth is that there are women out there who make do on a lot less. This is just a part of what Have the T-Shirt alluded to as "putting on the big girl panties."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

As Seen on the Circle Today...

I love working downtown! You never know what you're going to see on lunch break.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sunday Morning Sing-a-Long: Purely Wonderful Edition

I can't make it through a conversation about this presidential election without someone bringing up how historic and unusual this one has been, and it has.

For the four or five folks out there who haven't developed that awareness yet, today's New York Times sums it up well in a week-in-review story aptly titled Extraordinary Election Season Nears Its Conclusion.

There was one paragraph that makes an interesting musical contrast between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama:
There’s more generational, cultural and stylistic difference between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama, ages 72 and 47, than between rivals in most presidential contests over the last half-century.

Bill Clinton and the first President Bush were three years closer in age, and while Mr. Clinton’s victory marked the ascension of baby boomers, Mr. Obama’s election would be emblematic of something more profound: that the multicultural, postracial society so often discussed in the news media but so seldom affirmed in public life was now, literally, the face of our nation. Mr. Clinton was Fleetwood Mac. Mr. Obama is India.Arie.

Indeed the India.Arie song "There's Hope" was among the songs played before the rally here a week and a half ago. However, I have to say that my personal favorite from this artist is a flowery gem called "Purify Me".

To me, studio recorded Neo Soul, which relies heavily on minimal electronic rhythm tracks, is no comparison to when it is performed live with real instruments. It's warmer, and the unprocessed vocals are so more organic. This song is no exception.

I think in some sense, this song expresses the kind of hybrid sensual/emotional/spiritual connection that many of the relationship bloggers on my blog roll are looking for in their spouse or significant other. Within the proper context, the hotness of the intimacy is recast as a path to the purity of the divine. Or as Therese put it oh so well with her rephrase of the Ben Franklin quotation about beer...
sex is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy

The View from my Driveway on Saturday

Snapped this shot before heading off to the polls.

Nothing Gold Can Stay
Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Political Partying

A blog reader asked me in private correspondence today how I thought the election would go. Here is a revision of my reply to her.

This is indeed a most interesting election. My prediction is that Obama wins both the electoral and popular vote, most likely by as much as an 8 or 9 point margin. My home state still might be a stretch, but my gut tells me that this state flips blue in spite bass ackward folks like the ones you have to deal with. Obama's team has mobilized in this state and I think they are proving to be effective at getting out the vote.

I think we're seeing something akin Reagan in 1980. The country was in a very down state. We felt adrift. Reagan's thesis that paring back the social engineering role of government, reducing tax rates, and boosting national defense would revitalize the country resonated with a lot of people who felt that the excesses of the 60s and 70s had left the country depleted and vulnerable.

At present, the country's economy doesn't look as bad on paper as it did in the late 70s, but those who would take comfort in that are missing the point. Many large corporations, once considered unsinkable, are failing or faltering swiftly, with potentially horrible consequences.

The costs of energy, health coverage, and higher education take much bigger bites out of our paychecks. More people are invested in the stock market now than in the 70s, so the erasure of wealth from plunging stock prices affects a broader cross section of people.

Although there is a growing chance that Iraq may not fall apart, Afghanistan and Pakistan are becoming more volatile. The total cost of pursuing primarily a military strategy has cost much in treasure and blood.

My read on the nation's Zeitgeist is that all these things have left us feeling weary and frayed of nerves. Our pursuit of the material... ever bigger houses, more luxurious kitchens, huge entertainment systems, etc., all built on a mountain of debt, orchestrated and promoted by companies led by people who are seemingly immune from any consequence of a bad decision they make, have left us in a state of duress which may linger for years to come.

Against this backdrop, the GOP mantra that sounded so good back in 1980, seems so irrelevant in 2008. Their narrative is unable to address the questions and perceptions that matter to voters.

The picture taken below is only a few of the many flyers I received in the mail over the past couple of weeks. They were all paid for by the McCain campaign or the state party.

Depleted of ideas, all they have left is labels of varying kinds to tack onto Obama... radical, liberal, fanatical[1], (soft on the) criminal. Supertramp's "Logical Song" some 30 years ago almost sounds prophetic in this respect.

I feel as if these smears, official and unofficially approved, have sown awful seeds.

As I waited in line to vote today, I heard a conversation between two women behind me. One identified herself as having just moved here from the Volunteer state and knew nothing about the local government or those running for office. She was interested in voting only for president.

The woman behind her, dressed in a long denim skirt and a hairstyle that identified her as being among a more fundamentalist Christian tradition, spoke to her in a low voice, "Well, we could talk about which is the more Godly candidate. I don't want no President swearin'in on no Core-un."

If one wants to oppose a political candidate based on their ideas, I can understand that, but to buy into and propagate false witness is anything but a Godly act.

Obama's success is that he has been able to provide a story about how we might recover from this current state of misdirection. He has made no bones about things being bad, but he has delivered a positive message that reaches out to everyone. There is hope.

[1] -- I couldn't find the word "fanatic" in any of my flyers, but I did see see an ad on TV today, put out by the National Republican Trust, which seems to follow that vein.

Was My Franchise Violated?

This is the question on my mind at this hour, and the more I think about it, the more I am inclined to believe that it was. On Saturday, I decided I would go out and take advantage of the early voting that is allowed by my state of residence, and the closing experience has me in a none too good space.

Early voting is implemented as a mass absentee ballot collecting operation wherein the voter passes through several stations. The first is the application for the ballot itself. The second is the verification of identity and matching you up with your precinct. At the third station the precinct appropriate ballot is retrieved and passed off to the fourth station where the ballot is folded to fit into an absentee envelope affixed with a tracking sticker. The voter is given the ballot and escorted to a small cubicle where the ballot is filled out. Once the ballot is complete, the voter is supposed to hand the ballot off to an exit station, which is my point of contention.

It was not communicated to me that the exit station did anything other than receive the ballot. I read the instructions on the ballot, completed the ballot, and double-checked my work. I prepared to sign the line on the envelope when I noticed the language adjacent to the line: the signer was swearing that he or she had completed the ballot therein, sealed the envelope, and that no one else had seen its contents. Noting this, I went ahead and placed the ballot in the envelope as it had been folded, sealed it, and then signed and dated it.

The exit station was positioned next to the voting cubicles, a panel of two or three people seated next to one another in plain view. As I submitted my ballot to one of the men at the exit station, he looked at me like I had made a horrible error. He told me I shouldn't have put the ballot in the envelope and sealed it because now he couldn't verify whether the ballot has been properly filled out.

Moreover, he said, there was no way to correct this because the envelope had been sealed. I pointed out that the language on the envelope, to which I signed my name, clearly stated that no one else was supposed to see it, but he would not acknowledge the validity of my point. He took the ballot, and assuming that it gets processed, it should be counted because I am well familiar with the fill-in-the-oval ballots they have used in this county since 2002.

The experience left me with a feeling of violation. I can understand why they might have people scanning over the ballots to make sure that there are no over- or under-votes, but to me having another human being do it is a violation of my franchise. The ballot is secret. That's why they have cubicles and why the old lever machines had curtains. In a normal polling place, the validity of a ballot is checked by a machine which knows nothing about how I look or what I am wearing, let alone my mailing address.

I mentioned my experience to others who agreed that something wasn't right. So I did some digging in the state laws and turned up the section of state election law pertaining to paper ballots, IC 3-11-11. The relevant section is quoted below (emphasis mine)

IC 3-11-11-9
Voting to be private; rights of voter in casting vote
Sec. 9. (a) A voter shall mark all ballots while screened from observation. The exterior of a voting booth or compartment and each area of the polls must be in plain view of the precinct election board. Each voting booth or compartment shall be placed so that a person voting on the opposite side of the railing or a person on the outside of the polls cannot see or determine how a voter votes. The inspector, judges, and poll clerks may not remain or allow any other person to remain in a position or near a position that would permit them to see or ascertain how a voter votes.

(b) As provided by 42 U.S.C. 15481, a voter casting a paper ballot under this section must be:

(1) permitted to verify in a private and independent manner the votes selected by the voter before the ballot is cast and counted;

(2) provided with the opportunity to change the ballot or correct any error in a private and independent manner before the ballot is cast and counted, including the opportunity to receive a replacement ballot if the voter is otherwise unable to change or correct the ballot; and

(3) notified before the ballot is cast regarding the effect of casting multiple votes for the office and provided an opportunity to correct the ballot before the ballot is cast and counted.

I don't think it's unreasonable to say that a hostile man sitting in plain view of other people waiting to have their ballots checked by other staff clearly fails the tests of privacy and independence for ballot verification, and his additional spiel about not being able to replace the ballot anyway just adds insult to injury.

I plan to contact the ACLU-IN on Monday morning to make them aware of this.