This photograph shows the area behind my televison, as of a couple of weeks ago. I must confess that it has become a bit hairier since, with the addition of some new toys I intend to write about in the near future. But I can also state that the depicted tangle has nothing on its prior state, before I applied those black, tube-shaped cable-bundlers you see snaking among the nest. I had purchased them last year, but didn’t figure out how to use them before this month. My key insight came when I realized I had to draw a map.

I will get back to the map! First I will tell you about the tubes. They did not even look like tubes, at first. I purchased these things many months ago on Amazon, clicking the one-clicker on the search result for “cable organizer” that had the most obviously apparent intersection of high rating and low price, crossing my eyes such that all the other words and pictures would not trouble me. So when I found myself the owner of four black neoprene squares with zipper-halves along the edges and no documentation, I found myself confused and adrift. I put the squares into my desk drawer and forgot about them until last week, when I found myself alone at home for a few days, expecting the imminent arrival of yet more HDMI-leeching black boxes, and a freshly rediscovered resentment for the rat-king squatting behind my television.

With fresh motivation, I poked around for some free-floating documentation, and found this video, which, though depicting a fancier accessory than that of my own purchase, makes clear the squares’ intended destiny of transformation into open-ended cylindrical sleeves. After grasping a fistful of cables into a sort of loose sheaf, one wraps one edge of the square around the bundle and then fastens it with the zipper, like a collar. This takes a modicum of manual dexterity, but I found it doable after a bit of practice. You then zip it shut, and find yourself with an overflowing cable-burrito. Then — and this is a subtle point I didn’t understand at first — you repeat the procedure on a different point along the sheaf you made, using another square.

I find that, for a typical household A/V cable, two such meta-claddings along the cables’ length suffice to transform an unruly tangle into a still-twisty yet significantly rulier bundle, with a hydra-spray of plugs at either end. And since I owned four squares, that implied that I could create two of these monsters. But I still didn’t know quite where to start, and this then led to the map.

A hand-drawn map of my cable situation.

On this map, each box represents a device in the vicinity of the television — including the TV itself — and each line a physical cable connecting two such devices. The special “⚡️” box, of couse, represents the overburdened and ungrounded power outlet found behind the TV, subject to both multi-tap power strips and three-to-two-prong adapters to allow electronics made within my lifetime to use this weatherbeaten New England home’s doddering sockets.

This map revealed that the power cords represented, far and away, the strongest one-to-many relationship among my media-nest. So it came to pass that — after disassembling the whole thing — I rebuilt the stack of boxes such that their power sockets practiced sufficient mutual vicinity to receive the plugs from one end of a single eight-headed cable-monster, whose tail end spread semi-neatly into a pair of power strips.

The second-most populated cable-destination, as shown on the map, was the HDMI switchbox (here labeled SWITCH), and so I repeated the procedure there. And in the end, I had reduced thirteen spaghetti-strands to two thick cable-sausages. While it still looks a bit of a terror back there — those sausages still resting in a bed of pasta, and all — I must once again assure you that the situation has proven so much easier to work with than before, enough so that I found myself quite able to wreck the whole new setup by adding a bunch more devices, threading their own cables into the newly opened lacunae. But at least I could!

Time to buy a few more squares.

Cover art of The Library at Mount Char

I began to think of this novel as Neil Gaiman’s Shitty Endless shortly after beginning to read it. It bore the tag proudly right through to the end. I rather liked it.

In the template epitomized by The Sandman but also seen in countless other fantasy sagas — my own first exposure being Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality, cheesy but thrilling to early-teen me — Hawkins’ novel presents us with a family whose members each represent, supernaturally, some universal concept or archetype. But where Gaiman’s pantheon stands for various aspects of the human condition, the Mount Char clan serve a monstrous higher power, existing on a plane above human concerns. While they walk among mortals, they live and fight unbound by human morality, with neither cognizance nor caring of how the human world works.

This makes for an entertainingly bananas introduction, and then the author rather completes the parody of The Sandman’s subtle and years-long tragic arc by irrevocably smashing its whole universe against the cliffs within a couple hundred pages — and then, somehow, piling the shattered mess into a pleasingly graceful ending.

One pseudo-parallel with Gaiman’s work stands out in particular, for me. A key plot point of The Sandman concerns Destruction, one of the “Endless” entities who, alongside Death, Dream, and others, embodies a core human experience. He spends most of the series mysteriously absent, his cosmic siblings having no clue where or why. They do find him, of course, making for an unexpectedly quiet and contemplative resolution to his thread before the whole series begins to wrap up.

Destruction’s analog in Mount Char is David, the “Pelapi” (a sort of omnipotent witch-librarian) of war and murder, in so many words. Where Destruction is a deeply introspective warrior gone AWOL, David is a batshit-bananas thrill-kill supersoldier who serves as the story’s most active antagonist, taking cues in both behavior and blood-drenched fashion sense from Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit comics. He ends up shaping the path of the novel to a degree that I, with my prejudices, found a bit disorienting at first.

Once I surrendered to the fact that I was not, in fact, reading The Sandman, I found myself enjoying the ride, feeling free to let subtlety take a spear right in the eye socket. I suppose this book caught me in the mood to read something maximally violent and absurd, right now.

Context: I bought this book after one of my favorite SF authors recommended it, via Twitter, during a Kindle sale.

The five turbines of the Block Island Wind Farm. Photo grabbed from the project's official website.

I just wrote an email to the mayor of Newport. Perhaps I should follow it with a phone call — I’ve proven to myself I can call my representatives in Washington — but email seems like an acceptable starting place, at this level of government.

The text of my letter:

Mayor Winthrop,

Good afternoon. I am a full-time Newport resident, working as a freelance software consultant, and married to a librarian at the naval base.

I would like to ask that your office issue a statement formally asserting the city’s commitment to upholding the tenets of the Paris climate accord.

I see on the city’s website that flood protection is a permanent and prominent concern for Newport, so if nothing else I would expect that the city’s geological reality encourage this stance, regardless of any recent federal political actions.

I feel fortunate to live in Rhode Island, which through projects like the Block Island Wind Farm sets a renewable-energy standard for the rest of the country to follow. It would do me proud to know that this attitude is espoused by my city as well as by my state.

If there is anything I can do to assist the city in this pursuit, please let me know. My phone number is 617-792-3829. Thank you.

I knew nothing about my city’s mayor before today, neither his name nor his famously prominent facial feature. As I write this, I don’t know his political affiliation, and I rather don’t care. Like countless Americans right now — and as with the events of last autumn — I find myself driven to increase my direct involvement in politics by another degree, and that’s why I have learned about Mayor Winthrop’s moustache.

I take as inspiration the spontaneous, still unnamed coalition of American states, cities, and businesses who, starting yesterday, saw the federal government’s decision regarding the Paris accords as damage, and began immediately to route around it. They seek to open dialogue, to the UN and to the world in general, that empowered American states and institutions will step up where America’s nominal leadership cannot. They declare that they shall do everything they can to maintain this country’s course into a sustainable future, and to hell with the wishes of a White House not interested in looking past the next election. (Or, indeed, past the previous one.)

I’ve shared thoughts along these lines on Twitter, and several friends and strangers proved quick to question my assertion that I see something brand-new here. How is this different, they ask, from the way the deepest parts of “red states” resisted certain federal directives during the Obama administration? But I maintain that something about today feels very different from that; this doesn’t seem a mere antipode of some rural town clerk refusing a same-sex marriage license, or whatnot.

Maybe the difference is one of addition versus subtraction. Deeply conservative communities rankle under new laws demanding that they recognize and apply alien social norms, ones that often feel pushed onto them from far-away outsiders, way out in Washington. They want to reject all that stuff as foreign intrusion, and so they claim their right to live as they please, however much it isolates them from the changing world outside.

Whereas the pushback against the Paris pullout feels opposite in every way: an effort to maintain global outreach and partnership, despite the federal government’s work to diminish it. American states and institutions, long accepting the Paris agreement as a key part of any state’s long-term social and financial security plans, have been told at the highest levels that it no longer applies, that they have lost claim to membership of any group outside the national border. And so the body of the Union rejects its objectively incorrect head, and says: Yes, we still belong, we accept reality just like you do, and we will still work with you towards a better future.

And I want to add my voice, and my city’s voice, to that.

Cover of David Ferry's Gilgamesh Found this one on a remaindered-books table beneath The Strand during my most recent Manhattan trip. I’d never read the Epic of Gilgamesh in any format other than Wikipedia summaries before, so it seemed an apt purchase for the train ride home. Ferry’s work reads as smoothly as its cover-copy promises. Through it I found the epic to resemble, more than anything else, a thoroughly relatable black comedy focusing on ol’ Gil’s larger-than-life cluelessness: Derek Zoolander as demigod, too thrillingly stupid to know the futility of seeking immortality.

I’m not sure where Ferry’s work, published in the early 1990s, stands among contemporary Gilgamesh translations as far as reputations go. Both its preface and the author’s own endnotes go out of their way to note that this iambic-pentameter rendering of the ancient epic takes many liberties with the surviving tablets and fragments, basing itself on translations and inventing likely content of the sources’ lacunae. Indeed, now that I look again, the cover states “A new rendering in English verse”, avoiding the word “translation” entirely.

In this volume, as in every telling of the tale, the gods create for Gilgamesh his wild-man life-partner Enkidu, so that he’ll stop mistreating his own citizens due to his boundless boredom. And inevitably, instead of staying put to manage his city, Gil and his new buddy immediately run off whooping to carve a gory path through the gods’ own menagerie of boss-fight monsters, hungry for immortality on the cosmic leaderboard, heedless of responsibility or retribution.

When the gods respond to their violent idiocy by ban-hammering Enkidu, Gilgamesh, mournful and trembling, decides that immortal fame does not suffice: he wants to shed his mortality entirely. And so he tromps off to go find Noah, the Ark-builder, because he thinks he maybe heard somewhere that he and his lady figured out how to not die. (He is here named Utnapishtim, but clearly borne from the same source-legends as the biblical Noah.) And Gilgamesh succeeds in finding Noah, who tries to talk sense into him (and, by some scholarly accounts, inspires the Book of Ecclesiastes in the process), but this makes mighty Gilgamesh’s eyes glaze over. Noah and his wife then try to trick Gil into leaving, but he’s so thick-headed this doesn’t work either.

Finally at wits end, Noah says: “Look… there’s, uh, a magic youth-restoring plant out yonder. Way far away from my house. Go find that and bring it back to your city. No, no need to bring it by here first.” And Gilgamesh says: “Well why didn’t you say so! Thanks, gramps!” And then he finds the plant, and then a snake eats it.

So he goes back to his city empty-handed, and in a striking moment of grace pauses to quietly contemplate the walls of Uruk, describing them using the very same language that the epic’s narrator uses to set the scene for the listener way back at the start of the first tablet — back when Gilgamesh, bored and lonely, was ignoring his kingship and raising hell. Perhaps this means that Gil finally worked his ya-yas out and is ready to sit still and actually run the city that he seems to see for the first time? I get the impression from subsequent reading that Ferry did not wholly invent this lovely and unexpected cyclical callback, and that the original Sumerian tablets hold it as well.

I think I vaguely knew that the Epic of Gilgamesh held its own telling of the Great Flood legend, but I had no idea that it fanfictioned right into it by supposing a meeting between monster-slayer Gilgamesh and ark-builder Noah, and I found this surprising and delightful and — in this particular rendering — hilarious. I feel very curious to see how it all comes across in a more direct translation.

The rabbits of "Watership Down".

I recently watched Watership Down, the 1978 British animated feature following a warren of rabbits as they seek a new home, having fled disaster. I had seen it before, sometime in the early 1980s, in a format that I imagine modern children have no touchstone for: it just appeared on television one night, with no warning or fanfare.

Watching the film today, I impressed myself with how clearly and exactly I had recalled so many of its words and images. What really drove me to see it again, though, were freshly unearthed memories — bubbled up due to some passing stimulus — of the bus-ride to school the following morning, where the broadcast was all anyone could talk about. What had we seen? A completely unanticipated treasure dropped on us, utterly unlike any of the Hanna Barbera junk-food American cartoons we all ate daily. (And understand that, this being the past, a handful of TV stations represented the entirety of at-home video entertainment options for myself and my peers. We all saw this, together.)

I have no idea how wide that long-ago broadcast was — a national-network special, or just a local UHF station’s filler-content for the evening? Either way, I wonder how many professional animators or film producers sharing my age and city of upbringing began their careers that very night, electricity arcing from this unlikely story of animal life and death and failure and triumph and searing their spirit with a lifelong calling.

Today the film seems to retain equal reputation as a classic and an aberrance. In a funny coincidence, after mentioning my seeing the film to a British friend, they linked me to one of several local-to-them news articles about a recent airing of the film on UK television, and the outrage it engendered. The writers of these articles tend to cast the cartoon as nothing more than a source of cruel nightmares, focusing on the film’s shockingly frank scenes of red-in-tooth-and-claw violence and death. Of course I myself recalled well that aspect of the work, and how I felt quite disturbed by the film’s more subtle horrors — particularly the acid-nightmare imagery of Fiver, the scrawny and traumatized seer-rabbit, whose liquid, swirling visions of blood and terror set the warren on their flight.

But even more than all that, I remember the film as seeming very grown up, and not because of the rip-tear gore but because of its utter lack of condescension towards its audience. The intrinsic cuddly qualities of the small furry protagonists invite children to approach and watch, but the story sees them acting like adults. They clearly have goals and plans and live in a complex society, and at no point do they stop to explain any of it to the kids at home. It felt, in other words, like the real world did from a child’s perspective, but an entirely different world, and even better: a world within the real one, hidden, where the animals can talk, letting us listen in to their own animal-world ambitions and grave perils. I know that I found this absolutely riveting, at age eight, even if I couldn’t put into words why.

An example: there is a scene where the rabbits’ leader becomes caught in a snare, his confused struggles only drawing the cord tighter. Believing him near death and unable to save him, the others gather around in helpless shock. One of the rabbits breaks the silence, muttering something in a poetic meter, and after a beat his comrades solemnly join him in recitation. Today of course I immediately recognized it as a deathbed prayer to their rabbit-gods, and one that of course they’d all know by heart just from the rote practice that frequent death within their community would bring. I don’t think I processed all that as a child, because this was not among the details I had remembered. But I know that I saw it, and that it contributed to the literally other-worldy wonder I saw that night in front of the TV.

Among the scenes I did remember, almost word for word: the rabbits come across a paved road, an anonymous squashed critter by its curb, and have no idea what any of it means. One of the older refugees hops forward, recognizing the tableau for what it is, and tells the rabbits that they can cross safely with a modicum of cautious attention, for “the Hrududu runs along it”. Thus occurred my first unchaperoned exposure to invented language, even if only a trivial vocabulary, and without the thousand excited explainers that surround any utterance in Elvish or Dothraki that one encounters in today’s thrice-meta media environment. What delightful perspective that one scene zapped me with, all by itself, letting me feel so bright and involved for realizing all its implications on my own!

And the whole movie holds treasures like this, for a kid. In researching this blog post, I learn that a new adaptation appears imminent, and I’ve no feelings on that. I was glad to find the version I remembered very easily in my local pubic library — and held in the children’s section. On review, I feel safe calling this film a timeless achievement, and I hope that eight-year-olds will continue to stumble across it, utterly unprepared, for a long time to come.

The burning house from "Synedoche, New York".

Maybe seeing Synecdoche, New York so recently made me more receptive to feeling disappointed by media presenting mortality-metaphors involving impossible houses — and then, having presented them, don’t know quite what direction to take them. Well, it happened again.

What Remains of Edith Finch clearly expects an emotional connection with the player, but I struggled to find one. The game’s narrative contains a number of magical-realism elements which could have gelled into something amazing, especially as regards its setting: the vast house encrusted with towers and buttresses added over a century by a family obsessed with escaping its absurdly accident-prone history, entombing the bedrooms of those who succumb. Except not really, as the stories of individual (and tragically brief) lives you play out offer, as far as I can tell, no connection at all to one another or to the the story the house itself tells, or to the wonderful hook of the old-country paterfamilias who sailed his mansion over the sea to wreck it on the coast by Edith’s house. For a story ostensibly about a famliy, its parts all struck me as quite unrelated.

Did I miss a cue? Are the little tragedies to be read as reality, and their frame story a complete fantasy, perhaps one character’s memento mori memory-palace? I found no reason to believe that either, other than the presence of the strictly one-way connections from the characters’ stories into the house. The game’s structure just feels in serious want of a little more connective tissue, somewhere. Perhaps a different tone and art direction would have worked better, embracing the story’s apparent Edward Gorey aspirations more tightly, turning the seemingly unintentional humor of the family’s repeatedly fatal escapades into something more grimly celebratory. Photorealism and straight-ahead narration just feel too flat, here.

Friends have lauded the “triple-A Wario Ware” microgames that define the variously doomed family members’ tales. While the variety impressed me as well, most of these stories had an aura of pressing X to Jason, going through simple, sign-posted controller motions to meet the train whose headlamp you always see coming as soon as the vignette begins (and which at least once is a literal train). I will note that I enjoyed playing Gregory’s chapter and found Lewis’s chapter amazing, both engaging and interesting in spite of their mini-narratives ending exactly as you would guess from the outset. Either by itself could have a been a cool, morbid little game worth five minutes. I wish I could say the same about the two-to-three hours that surround them.

I wish, also, that I could borrow video games from public libraries the way I have lately enjoyed doing with movies. On the other hand, I feel confident that borrowing movies from libraries wasn’t a thing only a couple of decades ago, so maybe that too will improve, someday.

The Perl onion logo says '!!'.I love The Perl Conference (née YAPC::NA), a humbly scoped annual gathering that — like any good language-in-the-title conference — succeeds at focusing more on the creative community that happens to center around a particular programming language, rather than on that language itself. As I noted here last month, I plan to speak at its June 2017 iteration in DC, and earlier years saw some of my first talks at any technical conference with a venue larger than a pub. After attending !!Con, though, I find myself increasingly unsatisfied at some of ways that TPC seems to stumble into the same too-typical tech-conference pitfalls every year, ones that nimble !!Con has found ways around. I think TPC can do better! Let me name the problems I see, and then recommend ways that the older conference can learn a thing or two from the younger one.

First of all, I feel more than a little uncomfortable with TPC’s ongoing and overwhelming gender imbalance among its presenters. I know I grumble about it every year on social media, and I know that doesn’t help. Still, after the eye-opener of !!Con, I find myself unable to shake the feeling that my own continuing participation in an almost exclusively male technical-conference talk schedule makes a bad problem worse. My middle-aged white-guyness wears heavy, when I find myself in a ostensibly open space but nonetheless surrounded mainly by other MAWGs, and I can’t let that go unexamined.

We can start with some raw numbers. Looking at the list of this year’s talks, I can separate the speakers into two sub-lists: those who either I know are men or who I can reasonably guess are male, and everyone else (women, non-binary people, and strangers whose gender identity I can’t confidently guess). I’ll also place panels with at least one apparently non-male speaker in the second list.

The latter list has seven entries, out of 72 total talks and tutorials, making for a ratio of worse than ten percent. If we count names rather than talks — collapsing all speakers giving more than one session — we improve the number to seven out of 63, so that’s 11 percent at best. And again, this includes all speakers whose gender I can’t comfortably guess from the list plus cursory web-searching, so this number is likely inflated.

How does this make me feel? After starting to attend technical conferences with far more gender diversity on display than this, I feel not just embarrassed, but a little bit ripped off. I know that the Perl community — as well as neighboring communities whose members should feel welcome to speak at TPC — contains innumerable women doing work worth sharing in a conference context. And I fear that the conference, with these dismal numbers and no clear attempt to correct them, sends these women a signal that they ought to apply elsewhere. And I, a selfish jerk, don’t get to hear any of their talks, and that makes me grouchy. Beyond that, it feels like a bad look that the principal American conference for Perl, a programming language often dismissed as obsolete, have a speaker list that looks like it would fit better in the previous century.

I also know for a fact that TPC can do better, because it has already succeeded in inviting women to to present several personally memorable talks. I’ve written recently about VM Brasseur’s eye-opening presentation about IRC; I could also name Gerda Shank’s 2012 talk on her own HTML::FormHandler, a technology that thereafter transformed my day-to-day consulting work, or Karen Pauley’s 2015 talk about working with volunteers, which helped spark a cascade of ideas that led to my co-founding a nonprofit the following year.

Karen was, at the time, president of The Perl Foundation, the organization that oversees The Perl Conference. The Perl Foundation also participates in Outreachy, helping mentor women and others underrepresented within open-source software culture, and that’s wonderful — both on its face, and because it suggests that The Perl Conference is part of a governing body that can help it catch up in this regard, someday!

In the meantime, though, I have had at least one female friend tell me this year that they don’t plan on returning to a Perl Conference after attending an earlier one, specifically because the unapologetically male-dominated environment made them feel unwelcome. From my own experience, this doesn’t limit itself to just speaker numbers. For example, hecklers — who, I dare say, are always men — might start shouting from the audience of any talk, and I have never observed them receiving reprimands. (My writeup of 2015’s conference notes my discomfort regarding this issue and others like it, and I don’t recall it as particularly better last year.)

The good news is that all this can be fixed, starting as early as next year, if not sooner. I would offer the following advice to The Perl Conference team to consider, in the interest of making future conference iterations not just more welcoming to a wider audience but also attracting a wider array of high-quality talks.

  • Overtly ask the public for more talk pitches from female, queer, and people-of-color presenters, in the same breath as asking for more first-time speakers and such. While I would have found this strange advice only a few years ago, I have seen this time and again from other conferences (and job openings), so much that I dare say it feels like accepted practice now.

    It could be that TPC already does this where I can’t see; I have only observed their activity from a distance. But looking at its Twitter feed, I see terse and neutral announcements of the opening of its CFP, and then its close, and no particularly obvious efforts to reach out to any group not already comfortable and familiar with TPC.

    This is one of those cases where just showing effort can make start to an event more attractive to all prospective attendees.

  • Anonymize talk pitches prior to choosing them. This is a technique that !!Con employs, and I love it. First, one person makes a copy of the full list of pitches, doing all they can to scrub out information identifying anything about the person making the proposal — not just their name but also the names of their projects, their employer, and so on. A group to which the “anonymizer” does not belong then chooses the presentations from this modified list — and if any member still recognizes a particular talk’s source, they recuse themselves from deciding on it.

    Julia Evans, one of !!Con’s founders, wrote more about how this worked for !!Con 2014. I’m told that they’ve developed the techniques a bit more since then, but the principles remain the same.

    While obviously not an all-encompassing solution, this technique is both relatively straightforward to implement and a far more effective defense against unconscious bias than nothing. Plus, the previous point applies: by just making known its use of this policy when choosing talks, I believe that The Perl Conference would end up receiving more talks on more topics from a more diverse array of potential speakers.

    Furthermore, this pairs nicely with the previous bullet-point. A transparent anonymized-pitches policy can step in front of any humbug about “reverse discrimination” before it can even start.

  • Institute a formal rule against hecklers. !!Con spins this a little more positively, calling it their “no back-seat driving rule”, but the principle is the same: good lord, shut up and let the speaker to do the speaking. All of it. Please do react however you’d like in audience-appropriate fashion, but to verbally interrupt the speaker’s flow with shouted and uninvited “jokes”, corrections, questions, or commentary represents a profound act of selfishness, stealing the time and attention of both speaker and audience.

    Nobody should tolerate this behavior. I would assert that a conference that lets it slide, allowing selfish audience members to tread as they please upon a tightly timed talk without consequence, signals an overall disregard for the value of the speakers’ presence. Conversely, disallowing it advertises a basic (and maybe even pleasantly surprising) level of respect that just about anyone would welcome.

    I would note that this rule, unlike the others, could go into effect as early as this year, if the conference staff wishes to consider it.

Well, that’s my meta-pitch, presented in cowardly place of volunteering to help with the conference in a more direct fashion — something that a colleague asked me to consider, and which sounded real good to me, until friends and family with a more complete view of my already overcrowded schedule dragged me back. This blog post will have to do for now, and I hope it helps it ways other than just getting this off my chest.

I remain looking forward to the conference in June, and I hope I’ll have reason to look forward to many Junes thereafter.

The video embedded below contains the entirety of !!Con 2017’s day-one livestream, recorded May 6. Clicking it will cue up the ten-minute talk I delivered to its New York City audience that day. I describe how I overcame some early obstacles in BumpySkies development by pushing past my natural resistance against asking strangers for access to tools and data.

Here are my slides, rendered as a single long PDF with my script intermingled among the pages, often with only a few words per slide. Not the easiest to read this way, but it sheds some light on my public speaking style — I script my talks out entirely and deliver them as prepared monologues, gaining complete control of language and timing while giving up the display of even a single shred of spontaneity.

I had a great time at !!Con, and hope to attend again. If you missed it, you can vicariously and asynchronously join me via the whole first-day and second-day videos on YouTube, and I expect separate videos of the individual talks to appear presently.

An incomplete list of !!Con 2017 highlights, for me:

  • Lisa Ballard on leading a hobbyist team that used public data to create, a coffee-table-book-beautiful website tracking all the active robots that humanity has launched into space.

  • Jean Cochrane’s whirlwind tour of landmark queer and feminist cyberpunk manifestos from the 1980s and onward.

  • I kind of have no idea what Aaron Levin was talking about, but I want to point out his speaking style as essentially the opposite of my own, and far more entertaining.

  • Kevin Chen has much better scripted comic timing than I do, and his talk about implementing HDR photographic techniques in Excel brought the house down.

  • One talk described how the speaker and their employer engaged in a years-long arms race against an anonymous and gleefully civic-minded hobbyist obsessed with breaking their music-file DRM scheme. (This talk went unrecorded, on the speaker’s request. You should come to !!Con.)

  • I watched superheroic stenographer Mirabai Knight type “Aaaaaaagh!!” — visible on the separate caption-screen that the conference had set up — as Mark Dominus screamed and flailed while imagining giant bats swooping upon him, partway through his talk.

I could go on, but… do just watch all the talks, if you can. Aside from the marvelous keynotes, each talk is only ten minutes long, and all very much worth your time. I’ll update this post with a link to the individual videos, when I notice that they’re available.

Still from the film's closing act

I recall very much wishing to see this Charlie Kaufman film during its initial run in the late aughts. I count the Kaufman-penned Being John Malcovich as a favorite film from my own young adulthood. Perhaps I would have liked Synecdoche more had I seen it closer to then. My contexts have since changed. The meal satisfied my appetite when I watched it last night, but a day later I find myself left with an overpowering aftertaste of Oh no, a wealthy and accomplished middle-aged white New York man feels sad! Let’s all drop everything and pay attention to him for two hours!

And, you know, hashtag-not-all-brotagonists. The Coen brothers’ Barton Fink took a similar starting hook — insofar as giving a stage-director protag fortune and glory and there his troubles began — and built something far more coherent and widely meaningful out of far fewer resources. Synecdoche feels lodged in an uncomfortable space between that earlier picture and the more recent Birdman, which Alejandro Iñárritu bound with strict narrative and style constraints while working over the same-again material, and so made something remarkably memorable.

Synecdoche tries its own tack, of course, through acceptance of surreality, a willingness to treat time, space, and causality loosely, and a director practiced with playing such games on film effectively. Just the same, I don’t think it really struck the mark.

My attention flared, on cue, when towards the end of the first act we follow spurned Hazel, in the only scene not shot from sad Caden’s point of view, as she purchases a house literally on fire. Smoke billows from the windows as she rings the doorbell, and flames lick the walls while the agent tours her through. I savored the thought of what later payoff would come from this, and at one point thought the film would jump track, thrillingly, to center on Hazel, Keeper of the Flame. None of this happens; I think the film means to imply that Hazel’s conflagration exists only in Caden’s perception after all, just like how he spends his declining years endlessly contemplating his own water-treading through a kaleidoscope of dramatic doppelgangers, and just like how in his apparent final moments he concludes his fantasy of the world literally ending with him.

Solipsism just doesn’t interest me that much. Even when you’ve clearly spent a lot of money on it.

Pleased to announce that I plan to speak about BumpySkies, my air-travel turbulence forecaster, at two conferences in the early summer. (One of them you can still get tickets to!)

At !!Con in New York City, on the weekend of May 6-7, I shall present a ten-minute talk titled I wrote to a dead address in a deleted PDF and now I know where all the airplanes are!! (The conference organizers require all talk titles to contain exclamation marks — but please do read my excitement as genuine.) In it, I shall describe my initial challenges developing BumpySkies, and how I largely overcame them by asking strangers for stuff, nicely.

!!Con (pronounced “Bang-bang con”) seems to be one of those conferences who tickets all vanish within literal minutes of their becoming available, and those minutes all ticked by a week ago. Happily, it appears that !!Con films all of its talks and puts them all online; this YouTube playlist contains all of 2016’s talks, for one. (And, come to think of it, I should watch a few before I make my own…)

A month later, I will present BumpySkies: a passion-project postmortem at The Perl Conference in Alexandria, Virginia on the week of June 19. This talk will focus more on BumpySkies’ technical aspects, complementing the social-engineering facets that the !!Con talk will cover.

I have become somewhat of a Perl Conference (née YAPC::NA) regular, at least on odd years — debuting myself with a lightning talk about project focus in 2013, and following up with a presentation on Plerd (the software powering this blog) in 2015. I always enjoy this little conference and look forward to attending again this year, where for the first time I plan to take in one of the day-long seminars that bookend the main event. (And — unlike !!Con — tickets for TPC tend to remain available right up through the opening keynote, in my experience.)

Finally, I’ve got my eye on All Things Open, an autumnal open-source software conference in Raleigh. I haven’t attended before, and I declined to pitch a talk this year (in part because I already had two submissions awaiting their fates — see above — and, unused to pitching severally, I didn’t wish to overextend myself). However, it has pinged my radar in the past, and it came up on the shortlist of recommended conferences when I asked my Twitter followers for recommendations. I learned about !!Con through this same route, and thus does 2017 look like an unusually conference heavy year for me already. I asked for it! No complaints.