debugging

In a recent blog post, Mark Evanier included this quote from Maurice Wilkes, probably taken from his memoir:

By June 1949, people had begun to realize that it was not so easy to get a program right as had at one time appeared. It was on one of my journeys between the EDSAC room and the punching equipment that the realization came over me with full force that a good part of the remainder of my life was going to be spent in finding errors in my own programs.

(Emphasis mine.) Yep. Today, I spent too much time working on a bug that boiled down to something like this: I had a WHERE clause in some SQL that was originally “where X and Y.” I changed it to “where X and Y or Z.” It should have been “where X and (Y or Z).” Stupid parentheses.

Richard McGuire’s “Here”

Often, I start my Sunday by reading some stuff out of the “Read/Review” folder in my email, generally including one of Warren Ellis’ email newsletters. I’m pretty far behind in my reading. This morning, I was reading stuff from October 2018, including this newsletter from Ellis, with the second half of a speech he gave at a festival called Thought Bubble.

Ellis’ newsletters make for good Sunday morning reading. They often include links that send me off on little explorations that eat up more time that I intended to spend. But that’s fine, since it’s Sunday morning. In this case, he briefly mentioned Richard McGuire’s six-page comic story Here, which originally appeared in Raw, in 1989. I have that issue of Raw, and would have read it back in 1989, but probably haven’t reread it at any point in the last twenty years. Anyway, I didn’t remember the story or Richard McGuire, so I did some internet searching, and found a bunch of references to it. It’s such a well-regarded story that it has a Wikipedia page devoted to it. From there, I found that McGuire turned the concept from the story into a whole book, in 2014. I saw that I’d already added the book to my Amazon wishlist, in 2015, so I must have read about it at some point after it came out, but I don’t remember that at all.

McGuire is from New Jersey, and the story takes place in Perth Amboy, according to this NJ.com article. And there was an exhibition at the Morgan Library relating to the book in 2014. And here’s a good review of the book from the comics blog Broken Frontier. So it must have popped up briefly in my consciousness back then, from one of these references, which would have led me to adding the book to my Amazon wishlist, then promptly forgetting about it until now.

It was also available as an enhanced ebook, which might have been interesting, but it no longer seems to be available. There’s a bit about the ebook (and the Morgan exhibit) in this Atlantic article. (Weirdly, I can find an Italian language version in the Apple ebook store, but no English version.) I could go off on a tangent here about the transient nature of enhanced ebooks, vs. good old-fashioned dead-tree books, but I probably shouldn’t.

Anyway, having gone back and reread the original story, I remember it now, and I understand a bit about why it was so well-regarded. I haven’t gone and pushed the “buy now” button on the hardcover book, though. I went on a bit of a comics buying spree yesterday, so I don’t want to get started on another one today. But it was fun to follow all these little threads through the internet and think about the old days of Raw and how one six-page story created in 1989 by a guy from New Jersey can be referenced in a speech given in 2018 by a British writer, at a festival in Leeds.

Twitter too

After posting about Facebook a couple of days ago, I though I’d follow up with a quick post about Twitter. I’ve been using Twitterrific on both my Mac and iOS devices for some time now. Like Facebook, Twitter also has an “algorithmic” feed, by default. Twitterrific uses a straight chronological feed, with no ads or promoted tweets confusing things.

Twitter, unlike Facebook, has allowed third-party clients to access the service via a supported API and present their own interface to the service. (Facebook’s feed can be altered by monkeying with their web page, via browser add-ons and stuff like that, but there’s no way to write an authorized third-party Facebook client, using a supported API.) But Twitter has been slowly backing off on their support for third-party clients over the last few years. The most recent issue is described here. (The description on that page is clear enough that I won’t try to restate it here.) I hope Twitterrific and other third-party apps remain viable and useful for the foreseeable future. I really kind of like Twitter. I follow some interesting people there, and I’ve found a lot of interesting stuff via my Twitter feed.

On a related but more general topic, the Mozilla Internet Health Report for 2018 is interesting. (Though I think they got a little too creative with their page design…)

I’ve also been following a few threads around alternatives to Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/etc. One thought is that RSS is ready for a comeback. I’ve mentioned that recently. I haven’t really been able to talk myself into checking my The Old Reader page regularly just yet. I need to clean up and organize my feed list before I’d consider it to be really useful. Maybe the next time we get a rainy day, I’ll look into that. I’m mildly curious about things like micro.blog and mastodon, but I’m not sure either of them has enough momentum to really go anywhere.

John Ashbery

I’ve been reading old issues of the New Yorker at lunch time recently. (I’m still working through the backlog of issues from the last time I had a subscription.) Earlier this week, I came across a poem by John Ashbery. I first read his poetry back when I was in college, for a class, and remember enjoying it. I don’t usually like most of the poetry in the New Yorker, but once in a while something clicks. So it got me thinking about Ashbery and maybe picking up a book of his work. I checked Amazon, and was surprised to see that the first few I looked at weren’t available for the Kindle.

I didn’t think too much about it, but I stumbled across this old article from the NY Times today, which explains a few things. It makes sense, and it’s good to know that I can pick up a number of his books in ebook format, though they’re kind of expensive. The 100-page Three Poems is $15 on Kindle, while the 1000-page hardcover Collected Poems is just under $30. So you can get the complete text of his first dozen books in a nice hardcover for $30, or an ebook of just one for $15. That doesn’t make much sense to me, but I guess I shouldn’t look for sense in the pricing of poetry books and ebooks.

I don’t understand nearly enough about poetry to tell you why John Ashbery is good, and why I like his work. But I’ve been thinking lately that poetry acts on the brain in a way that’s different from other prose, and perhaps it’s beneficial to read some, now and then.

WPF Text in VS2010

WPF Text Blog : Blind Comparison VS2008 vs. VS2010
Speaking as a guy with relatively poor vision, I appreciate any efforts to make text more readable on computer screens. This blog entry is making the point that WPF now renders text as well as GDI, so the code editor in VS2010 should be as easy on the eyes as the one in VS2008. I downloaded VS2010 on Monday, but I haven’t actually installed it yet, so I can’t say how it looks on my own machine. Oh, and this blog entry also has links to a few interesting color schemes for Visual Studio. I need to try a couple of these.

Good Friday

I took my “floating holiday” today, for Good Friday. I managed to get a few things done around the apartment. I ran out to Staples and bought a shredder. I’ve had a pile of old credit card bills and whatnot that I intended to take into work and shred on our big shredder, but I kept forgetting to bring them in, so I decided to just get a small shredder and take care of them. I had credit card bills going back to 1988 in there. Looking at them brought back some old RPI memories — eating at Holmes & Watson, picking up CDs (or casettes) at Music Shack, stuff like that. But they’re all confetti now. Goodbye 1980’s!

Meanwhile, I sent off two DVDs through Peerflix. Both were DVDs I’d gotten for free anyway, so if I can get a couple of good DVDs in return, all the better.

Peerflix

Since I’m on this whole trading kick, I decided to sign up for a Peerflix account, which is a DVD-trading service similar to Lala. They operate a little differently from Lala; trades are $1 each, like Lala, but you have to pay in advance for them, 5 at a time. And they don’t use prepaid mailers like Lala. Instead, they generate and send a two-page custom mailer to your printer. You’re supposed to put the DVD between the two pieces of paper and fold them into an envelope of sorts, which you then tape shut. I’m really not sure a DVD would survive the rigors of the Somerville post office without any padding, but I guess we’ll see how it works out.

Meanwhile, I’m ready to send out a couple of CDs via Lala, as soon as I get their mailers. And there’s one CD on the way to me already.

The one thing that bothers me a bit about both services is that they encourage you to throw out the packaging and booklets that come with CDs and DVDs. I realize it’s cheaper to mail that way, but my collector mentality just thinks it’s wrong to toss that stuff out. There’s stuff I’d never put up on Lala or Peerflix, just because I couldn’t bear to toss out the packaging and/or booklets. I guess I’ll have to stick with eBay for that kind of stuff.