My wife and I just ran lines with my daughter for a skit she is working on for her acting class. It was kind of hilarious to act with her. I am either a terrific actor or a terrible ham. I can’t tell which, but I think my wife thinks it is the latter. 😅

📺 Why does the premiere of Apple’s Friday Night Baseball have to coincide with the season finale of Severance?

Refactoring Python

I completed my Python program this morning, but could not resist refactoring it this evening. I cut my main method’s size in half, compartmentalized my code better in classes, and made the program structure more data-driven rather than process-driven.

The work should pay off for me, because I will have to make copies of my program and customize each copy for a different type of data valuation.

I probably over-engineered it, though; it went from 525 lines to 625 in the process.

Python for data validation

I spent a good chunk of time today creating a data validation program using Python. Python is a language I know (to some extent) but I barely use. Instead, I write scripts in PowerShell, create more complex programs in C#, and analyze data with SQL queries, Galvanize Analytics, or Power Query in Excel. My goal today was to find a way to validate a large number of .csv files, which have a great many columns and will be of questionable quality. My normal tools and languages would be either too cumbersome or too limited to do this, so I reached for Python.

Python is great at importing .csv files, parsing them, modifying them, and outputting a modified copy. Within a few minutes of research, I discovered a Python package called petl, which contains a ready-made data validation pipeline. I just needed to create validation functions, which are simple 1-3 line functions, and use them to define constraints, which are simply dictionaries. All those constraints get put into an array and passed to an already-written validation method.

Coding this program has been fun and remarkably efficient. It has been fun coding in Python again. I particularly love how packages can make the hard parts easy and leave me with more time to spend on my data work rather than on creating scaffolding for the program. I will have to look into more uses for Python going forward.

The reward for doing good work

At the start of my career I learned an important lesson: The reward for doing good work is always more work. That often works in your favor. As you advance in your career, you move from doing many simple, repetitive tasks to solving fewer, more complex, and more interesting problems. In general, my experience bears this out—but not always.

In my first real job, I was a software developer in a small group within a large company. I started out knowing very little about how to do my job other than the programming fundamentals I picked up in A.P. Computer Science. However, I was smart and driven; I worked very hard and eventually became the best and most knowledgable programmer in my group—at least when it came to web and database development. For my effort, I was award with promotions and raises 1, but the nature of my work actually got worse instead of better.

Because I was so good at figuring out how other people’s code worked, troubleshooting, and fixing the hardest-to-fix bugs, those became my primary responsibilities as a programmer. I was no longer writing small systems from scratch or developing clean architectures. Instead, I had two roles. First, I was the Sherlock Holmes of diagnosing and fixing coding problems for other members of my team. Second, I was in charge of the technical side of large software integration projects. These are projects that involve bringing in code from people outside the company and making it work on our company’s systems. In both of these roles, I spent many hours a day wrangling with other people’s messy, awful codebases. In the end, my projects were successful, which was rewarding, but a lot of the day-to-day work was mind-meltingly difficult and unsatisfying.

I had moved from performing lots of simple tasks well to solving more complex—but not more interesting—problems. Sometimes I think that work, programming, and life works out that way.

  1. Don’t get too excited. I was always underpaid in those roles. At the time, I liked what I was doing, and lacked the confidence and the vision to take the risks necessary to switch companies in pursuit of a higher salary. ↩︎

🎮 Children of Morta

Over the past week, I played through Children of Morta on my Nintendo Switch. It is a Roguelike game built around combat and dungeon crawling, with several gimmicks to keep it interesting. There is a strong story element and a very enthusiastic narrator; unfortunately, I didn’t think the story amounted to much in the end.

Overall, I enjoyed it. It reminded me a little bit of the Diablo games, though my memory of those games is quite hazy.

At first I found it nearly impossible to beat the first dungeon’s boss. I could reach the boss from my very first run, but I could not defeat it. I discovered that you have to grind and level up your characters’ stats. Once I did that many, many times, my characters were strong enough to kill that boss, and basically everything else that came afterward.

I very much appreciated that you did not have to mash the attack button endlessly during combat. Instead you rock the right analog stick in the direction you want to loose your arrows or swing your sword. It works very well, much like a twin-stick shooter.

While the game is fun, it gave me some frustrating moments, too. I experienced a game-breaking bug several times near the end of the game. Sound effects would loop and then cut out entirely; eventually the game would crash. I lost one of my runs entirely due to this bug. It hit me again during my fight with the final boss, which really put me on edge; fortunately, the game did not crash and I was able to complete it anyway.

My wife and I hired a cleaning service for the first time since the COVID pandemic started. Of course we spent most of today frantically cleaning the house to prepare for them. 😅

I can’t seem to read books lately. It’s hard for me to even watch TV shows. I wonder if my attention span is shot.

📺 Bill Hader Created a Killer to Cope

Rebecca Keegan wrote an entertaining and informative profile of Barry star and co-creator Bill Hader in The Hollywood Reporter:

In Barry, which returns to HBO for its third season April 24, Hader plays a reluctant hitman who wants to be an actor. Barry is just really great at killing. This is not so different, Berg points out, from Hader, who became a star on SNL in his 20s almost in spite of himself, fought crippling anxiety on the live broadcasts, and really just wanted to write and direct.

I am very excited that Barry is returning to HBO soon. It is a daring show on many levels. Plot-wise it flirts with show-ending (or at least show-ruining) disaster several times each season. I have no idea how the cliffhanger at the end of Season 2 will be resolved, but I am confident that the writers came up with something satisfying.

I love Bill Hader, too. He is amazing and deserves every bit of success he has had.

Hot Sauce

I have watched enough episodes of Hot Ones on YouTube to pique my interest in hot sauces. So far I have a bottle of a chipotle-inspired sauce and a bottle of sriracha. I am trying to enjoy them. So far they taste more acidic than hot to me. Perhaps I need to learn to cook with hot peppers instead of dabbing sauce on things.

Try telling Memento Mori to a five-year-old

My five-year-old son just realized that he, and everyone he knows, will die someday. It has lead to unexpected, devastating dinner conversations the past two evenings.

I don’t know why he started thinking about it. Out of nowhere, he started asking questions about death at dinner last night. At the time, my daughter and I had just started talking about Beethoven. I had looked up the composer’s Wikipedia entry and was reciting when he was born and when he died. Suddenly, my son—who knows that batteries die, that plants die, and even that animals die—asked in a shocked voice, “Why did he die?” Within a second, his lips started to quiver and he started to cry. A dozen other questions followed, none of them we were prepared to answer at a family dinner on a school night.

My daughter went through this same emotional journey four or five years ago. For her, it was precipitated by the death of my father, who was the first close family member to die since was born. She couldn’t understand why her Grampa was gone, and quickly became terrified that she would die, too. These thoughts scared her so much that she was afraid to fall asleep; my wife or I had to stay with her night after night in her bed to comfort her. We had a lot of talks about death with her to help her understand what it means and to begrudgingly accept it. Of course we told her the pleasant half-truths that death only happens to very old people and is nothing she needs to worry about for a long, long time.

My son has surprisingly practical concerns about death. Last night, he didn’t ask usb “Will I die?” He figured that out on his own and asked instead, “When will I die?” Tonight he asked us, with eyes wide with alarm, “Where will I go when I die?” My wife and I tried to explain to him that no one really knows, or that he would return to wherever he was before he was born. Those answers only made him more scared. Upon hearing them, he suddenly realized that he might not die in the same place as us or his sister, and became loudly distraught that he might end up somewhere where he couldn’t get to us anymore.

He then asked when my wife and I, are going to die. That did not bother me. When he asked when his sister was going to die, I teared up because it seemed unimaginable. Finally, before we could steer him to another, far lighter, topic of discussion, he became concerned, to the point of tears, that he is too big or too small to “fit” there—whatever that means. It astounds me that the physical dimensions of the afterlife—or whatever he imagines it to be—are what my little boy is worried about tonight.

All of my son’s thoughts and ideas about death have come, as far as we know, from his own imagination. No one close to him has died recently. We don’t talk about death much at all in our family; it is kind of taboo in our day-to-day conversations. Reflecting back on the past few weeks, however, I realize that he may have overheard the adults in the family discussing the untimely death of our rabbi’s husband, which occurred a week or so ago and understandably made us all very sad. We tried not to discuss it in front of our children—who did not really know the man—so that we would not upset them. Perhaps my son overheard us anyway.

It took my daughter a long time to come to terms with the idea that she is going to die someday. I am expecting my son to follow in her footsteps. He will probably have occasional nightmares about death—or at least have trouble falling asleep with worry about it. While it makes me sad to see my son start to go through this phase—and it has certainly led to some difficult dinner conversations—I know that he, like my daughter, is an emotionally healthy kid and will be fine. I expect him to think about death some more, talk about it with us, and become more emotionally mature through the process. He’s going to get through this; we all do.

It is quite a burden to understand that you, someday, are going to die. I wish I could ease that burden for my children, but I am wise enough to know that I cannot.

🎙 Draft of the Ages

The best podcast episode I listened to today was the 400th episode of Upgrade:

It’s episode 400! We evaluate the forward-looking predictions we made back in episode 300, and then draft stories we’ll be talking about over the next hundred episodes! Also, an Apple TV+ movie won Best Picture and we round up an awful lot of Apple rumors.

Upgrade is one of my favorite tech podcasts. Hosts Make Hurley and Jason Snell have a great rapport, and mostly talk about Apple and streaming TV services, which are beats that I enjoy learning and speculating about. Like most podcasts that track Apple, they they make predictions about product announcements before they happen. Unlike most other podcasts, they make the predictions fun by presenting them in the form of fantasy-sports-style drafts. It is a great tech podcast. I cannot believe I have listened to 400 of them already!

📺 Rick Beato on YouTube

One thing I have gotten into lately is watching videos on YouTube in which musicians talk about music. One channel/host I like is Rick Beato. He does everything from break down the music theory behind certain pop songs, to live interviews, to simply gushing about great performances and great audio production. What makes his videos enjoyable is his infectious enthusiasm for all kinds of music, and his deep respect for artists, engineers, and producers.

Will Smith hits Chris Rock over joke about Jada Pinkett Smith at Oscars

I’m super glad my wife and I didn’t bother to watch this nonsense last night. 🙄

🎵 Do you really want to cry today?

Watch this video: “Hurt” by Johnny Cash. I dare you.

Everything about Cash’s performance is powerful. Honestly, though, the music video’s imagery is perfectly attuned to the music and to the singer. Director Mark Romanek and his small team who made the video were working at the top of the game.

(I didn’t just learn about this song or video. On Friday, I watched a short documentary about music producer Rick Rubin that reminded me of it.)

🎵 FTHC by Frank Turner

One of my favorite artists from the last few years, Frank Turner, has a new album out: FTHC.1 It—at least parts of it—represents a swing back from his acoustic guitar-led singer-songwriter fare to his roots as a hardcore artist. Yes, that means it’s peppered with screaming and righteous anger. That usually isn’t my cup of tea, but I’m down with it. Frank Turner is cool and makes good records; you should listen to them.

What I love about Frank Turner is that he comes across as incredibly, even uncomfortably, open and honest. His songs mix together toughness with sensitivity, and cynicism with optimism, in a way that reveals both his maturity as a person and his cleverness when it comes to song structure. His lyrics range from poetic and clever to raw and emotional. His music ranges from quiet and beautiful to thunderous and anthemic—often in the same song. Overall, his albums give you the impression that he held nothing back in creating them. I very much respect and admire that.2

Unlike any other musician I can think of, Turner even did a very generous two-part interview with a tech podcast, Dialog, a few years ago. He talked about his songwriting process and what it was like to be a working musician who is a little older and wiser than the clichéd young rock star you might imagine.

  1. According to Wikipedia, it is an initialization of “Frank Turner Hardcore.” ↩︎

  2. Another artist I like that does the same thing is The Avett Brothers. (Interestingly, The Avett Brothers were once a punk band that evolved into an acoustic Americana band, which is not too different from Turner’s evolution from a punk singer to a singer-songwriter.) ↩︎

🎙 Tim’s Back! On Substack!

The best podcast episode I listened to today was the unexpected return of an old favorite: Tim Goodman’s TV Talk Machine. The show ended in 2020. I never unsubscribed, and was surprised this week to find new episodes waiting for me. I would not have noticed them if there hadn’t been a redesign of Overcast, my podcast player, for me to look at this week.

It’s been 612 pandemic-fueled days. But we’ve taken the tarp off the TV Talk Machine, replaced a few parts, and are ready to kick it into gear.

Tim spent the last two years writing TV scripts! He’s going to keep doing that, and write a book, and also has launched a newsletter on Substack so he can write about television again. And… did we mention the TV Talk Machine is back, too? It’s true!

In this episode Tim explains where he’s been, where he’s going, and the origin of his new project, which launches today! Also Jason raves about “Station Eleven” and believe it or not, there’s a letter from a listener!

Tim Goodman was a TV critic who had clearly burned out by early 2020. He and co-host Jason Snell ended the podcast shortly after Goodman quit his TV critic job and started a secret (at the time) TV development deal. What I learned from this podcast back then is that it must be exhausting to be a TV critic, because it is impossible to keep up with all the TV shows and TV episodes coming out all the time, and because you have to watch shows you don’t even like sometimes in order to write about them or to be culturally current. In general, I figured that he had watched too much TV and got sick of it. This episode confirmed that I was right.

In the past I learned about a bunch of great TV shows from this podcast. That isn’t why it was fun to listen to, though. The subject matter is usually very light, and Goodman and Snell chat like old friends.

I learned today that one of my cousins died. Before this I didn’t even know he existed. I am not entirely sure how I should feel. Vaguely sad is all I can muster right now.

🎙 How WordPress and Tumblr are keeping the internet weird, with Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg

The best podcast episode I listened to today is this interview of Matt Mullenweg on Decoder with Nilay Patel:

Matt Mullenweg is the CEO of Automattic, the company that owns, which he co-founded, and Tumblr, the irrepressible social network it acquired from the wreckage of AOL, Yahoo, and Verizon. Matt’s point of view is that the world is better off when the web is open and fun, and Automattic builds and acquires products that help that goal along.

Mullenweg has a unique point of view for a tech founder and CEO. Patel is a smart and incisive interviewer who really seems to understand both tech and business.

I learned two interesting things:

  1. Mullenweg thinks that WordPress could power 85% of the web within the next ten years.
  2. Taylor Swift has a Tumblr.

One thing that I learned about this year in chess that I never thought about is this:

For grandmasters, sportsmanship is resigning when your opponent will clearly win. For novices, sportsmanship is playing out the game and allowing your opponent to checkmate you even if it is inevitable.

I have not been doing much writing lately. I looked over a white paper I started writing in the fall, and realized I haven’t worked on it since December. I do not wish to abandon it; I’m just not that interested in it right now. I have been busy—and have wasted time—elsewhere.

📺 I love Severence on Apple TV+. It is a strange, darkly comic, slow burn of a suspense story. I thought it was a miniseries, but I learned from Wikipedia that season 2 has already begun shooting—and not too far from where I live. My mind is spinning. Where could they take this weird story?

🎮 Classic Mac games I used to enjoy

During my freshman year in college, my friend Saul and I played a Pong-inspired game on his Mac called Mortal Pongbat. It is basically Pong with lasers and bombs you can use to destroy your opponent’s paddle. As a two-player game, it was a ton of fun.

We also would play a one-player Centipede clone called Apeiron. It was frenetic and had some humorous sound effects.

While these games look very dated today, they were a lot of fun in 1995.

Is increased productivity worth the increase in stress?

I think about productivity a lot. I wrote up my productivity system about nine years ago. I created todo.txt apps for iOS and macOS. I have strong feelings about how to stay productive. Because of all this, when I don’t feel especially productive, I stress myself out about it more than I think I should. I even stress out when I feel like I have had a productive day but think that it took me too long to do that work. Instead of feeling good, I end up feeling bad. Instead of feeling like I moved ahead, I feel like I fell further behind. This happens to me all the time. It makes me wonder if all of my thought and hard work trying to eke out more productivity is worth it.

🎮 I played through through Celeste this week. I really enjoyed the challenge until the last couple levels, when I had to turn Assist Mode on to get through them. I am glad I made it up to the top of the mountain, no matter how I got there.