604 Days Later

Write something.

There’s been no lack of time, opportunity, or content. And yet this is feeling like an immense struggle. I’m having to really pull the words out from myself.

My dad used to read this, it was the way he followed along with what was going on in my life. Learning that he was still following along was first concerning, then comforting.

Dad died on June 22nd, and I suspect that brought the readership numbers back down to zero.

Is it strange to have the wind taken out of your sails thus? That the writing might seem less valuable for lack of an audience? Who am I writing for, here?

I never really thought about an answer to that question.

It’s always been that I just write, and then I’ve written and then it’s over.

You know what, that’s not true. Diana reads this when I update it. In fact, the times that the blog has gone the longest without updates coincides with the absolute lack of people that might give a shit to read it. So that’s interesting. The content doesn’t really change with the readership, but the lack of readership makes this feel like a waste of time.

This is getting a bit easier.

I launched three websites today, and I’ll probably talk about that some other time. But the net result as it relates to this place as a writing space is that I can use it to work through problems and generally heal. The fragrance-related stuff is going to another blog. The sysadmin stuff is going to another blog. The DDR stuff is going to another blog. The diary stuff is…here. And it’s perhaps the sensible way to go about it.

Or it’ll be a huge mistake when some future employer (or, hell, my current employer) Googles me and reads through the struggles.

Know what? I started seeing a therapist after Dad died. I contemplated suicide and scared the hell out of myself and decided that it was time to ask for help. I said I would, 653 days ago. The first session…

Well, it’s worth it’s own article.

In looking back to see exactly when I acknowledged I was going to get help, I realize just how much I was writing when I was working for Environment.

I haven’t updated the blog since I lost my job. Well, until today. I don’t know if there’s anyone out there at this point. I don’t know if this has been a major cliffhanger.

The house is wonderful. I haven’t updated the blog since we moved in.

Anyway, I said that the diary is here. While I’ve always had a bunch of ideas and things that I think are worth working on, I’ve really come to think that there needs to be a more open discussion on mental health. The embarrassed silence that people struggle with needn’t be. Everybody hurts, and everybody needs a little help sometimes.

If I can do some piece, some tiny thing that helps normalize those discussions, make them a source for growth and not shame, then I’ll consider myself worthy of the compliments I’ve been given.

That can’t start without interrupting the silence.

I was gonna call this Regularly Scheduled Interruptions but it turns out I used that title…604 days ago.

Mark’s Feed Bag, to be precise.

I gave a little mention to GTD on the NBA subreddit yesterday, noting how it would’ve made a big difference in college had I not been double-majoring in whiskey and pulled pork, and encouraged people to ask me questions about it. I got one this morning and I gave an answer in lieu of a blog post. Here it is.

Hey, if you have any spare time I’d love to talk to you about the book especially how you would do things differently back when you were studying. I haven’t read the book so I’m wondering if it will suit me.

Hey, sure. I’m on the train into work right now so I can give it a little thought. Like I mentioned, I was too concerned with keeping up appearances. GTD would’ve been a very useful tool, if I wasn’t too stubborn to take the advice. Good chance that I might’ve been. But I was doing a lot of stuff, going Greek, student council, freshman leadership council, intramural soccer, and then the actual studying for an engineering degree. My organizational system was pretty much nonexistent, if I happened to get a scrap of paper telling me when something was happening or due I kept it in my laptop bag, otherwise I tried to keep it in my head.

What that turned into was the laptop bag became a cluttered mess, and when I finished my classes for the day, I would know vaguely that there’s a lot going on, but I couldn’t think of anything specific that was due the next day, so I’d go to the fraternity house and shoot pool.

I give freshman me a lot of shit, honestly. But just having the capturing habit, to keep track of everything I have to do, would’ve given that year a fighting chance. As it was, I made a real mess of the year, lost my scholarship, and I never got a degree.

The book is honestly aimed at professionals that are engaged in what he calls “knowledge work”, where many times the end of a project is vaguely defined. But I believe it can be just as useful for a student, if that student is willing to admit that they don’t have all the answers to life yet and a self-help book is a totally acceptable thing to have.

I think these kinds of books are suitable for anyone. Even if you don’t end up using much of the content, understanding how a successful person organizes their day-to-day can always be useful. We all think differently, and drawing on the life experiences of others is a very handy shortcut for many things. When you get down to it that’s most of education, absorbing the experiences of others.

If I were doing it all over again, it would be a matter of capturing homework assignments, appointments, meetings, and so on in OneNote. For firm appointments (E.g., student council meeting), it would also go in Outlook. Between classes, I would consult my lists and make a determination on what needs to be the next task to complete. After all the classes for the day, do the same, determine what the most important thing is to do next. Sometimes the most important thing is to relax and shoot some pool, the system expects you to be aware of your mental energy remaining.

I kind of wish I could have another try at college but I make too much money now to take myself out of the workforce for years. If you’re going in, give yourself a fighting chance at succeeding.

Sorry for the wall of text, this is usually time I spend writing in my blog. Let me know if there’s anything else you’re curious about.

1, 2, 3, Cancun

Happy Read-Only Friday. It hasn’t been a tremendously successful week. Best I can do at this point is try to close it out strong. I’m jumping between writing this and sending out some emails, delegating some things that have sat for a while.

I’m sincerely hoping skipping coffee was strictly necessary. It’s a big difference.

I’ve been torture-testing myself in Rocket League, playing a lot of 3v1 and 4v1. I win all the games at 2v1, about half the games at 3v1, and none of the games at 4v1. It’s a pretty good test, really. Playing those unfair modes means you have to really play perfect, keeping the ball in front of you at all times. If you don’t, you won’t be in position to do anything about the counterattack. It also makes for good keeper training, just staying in goal and letting 4 players fire at you. If you don’t mind losing 15-0, you can get a lot out of your five minutes.

The Boston Celtics were knocked out last night in a rather lackluster display. I’m not sure whether that was more on the Hawks playing exceptionally well or the Celtics just not making their shots. The Hawks did rack up a shitload of blocks. Dennis Schroder is better than I gave him credit for, he made four or five really nice plays around the basket. Tonight there are three Game 6 games happening. The Blazers and the Hornets both have a chance to win their series at home. Honestly, it’s going to mean a hell of a lot more to the Blazers if they advance than the Clippers. So much of the media wrote the Blazers off at the start of the year. That wasn’t an outlandish thing to do, either. They lost 4 of their 5 starters and their 6th man. That represents like 80 points a game they needed to get elsewhere. And they’ve done exactly that. I can’t really say how happy I am for CJ McCollum.

Tomorrow is Game 1, Spurs vs. Thunder. Going to be a great series. Westbrook vs. Parker is way in favor of OKC, but Durant vs. Leonard might just be a push right now. Everything else favors the Spurs. I can’t believe the Thunder have gone this many years without solving their problem at Shooting Guard. At least they’ve got plus defenders out on the perimeter, they’re going to need them, and they’re going to really tighten up defensively. There are flashes when the Thunder operate, where they’re executing on the offensive end, finding the open man, but they’re also locked in defensively. When that happens they’re the best team in the league. But it’s not something they seem able to do on a consistent basis.

Monday is Game 1, Cavs vs. Hawks. If Atlanta executes like they did last night, this’ll be a series. It would be an ideal time for the Cavs to go to their small lineup with LeBron at the 4 and Love at the 5. Atlanta’s undersized inside, but they’re great shooters. I’m hoping this will be a better series than last year’s Eastern Conference Final.

88/240

As I’ve grown up, I’ve begun to really appreciate the benefits of proper sleep. More topically, the drawbacks to not getting enough sleep. My legs are still feeling heavy from yesterday. Should’ve gotten to bed probably an hour earlier, but it’s a hard sell when I only get a couple hours between getting home and going to bed, and I already have to fit food and a shower in there.

Today I’m stepping back on Nutanix and letting my systems guy work with Dell to get us going. Wednesday is my one day a week with no obligations, no meetings, no plans. So it’s good for those larger projects, like drafting a plan for the new file server infrastructure to present at the manager meeting. This is one of the things that got me the job in the first place, the ability to plan and use resources effectively. It’s funny how my direct reports keep trying to reassure me that I don’t have anything to worry about with regards to the probationary period, they’re really trying to help relax me. I finally had to explain it as, “As long as there’s some objective amount of uncertainty that I may or may not keep this job, I’m going to worry about it.” It’s not a terribly productive expenditure of energy…or is it? I’m working pretty dang hard because there’s that uncertainty, that obligation to prove my value through actions.

We’re in an interesting line of work. There’s a lot of room for automation, and you can really work harder now in exchange for not working so hard in the future. I’d much prefer to spend some time busting my ass building some automated systems, so down the road I’m just monitoring hardware and working with some orchestration tools for whatever piece of the user or system lifecycle I need to work on. That’s actually something I can do. You can’t do that to a car, or a person.

I think the file server planning will have me get back into Microsoft Project. I looked around for a while for a free alternative, and didn’t find much that wasn’t undercooked crap. Go figure, project managers generally have money. I don’t get to use it terribly often, but it absolutely has moments where it’s the right tool for the job.

We have some truly ominous looking weather brewing. It started as some mild fog (which is highly odd for the high desert) and it’s turned into a very low and dark, thick cloud cover to the east and west. Views from the train are occasionally posted to the gram and I couldn’t resist this one.

Foggy morning.

A video posted by @bluesoulsez on

Now visibility is down to about a thousand feet. Really weird weather patterns today. At least we’re not moving servers today.

With today being the last day of the NBA regular season, I have some data I’m gonna be crunching tomorrow related to the Vegas win totals. The short version is that the average person gets about half the over-unders right, and nobody that submitted guesses was head-and-shoulders above the rest. Since Haralabos Voulgaris is on /r/nba now I’m gonna have to see if I can get him to work with me on next year’s survey. I’ve got the blue book now, I can try and get a bunch of media types. Maybe pose it as a charitable bet next year. Plenty of time to figure it out, I suppose.

Letter to David Lowery

David Lowery wrote a tremendously compelling piece on his blog responding to a self-professed music lover with 11,000 songs, of which only about 15 albums are legally owned.

David:

My mind is all over the place as I write this. I’m troubled as this is the second time this week I’ve read about Spotify’s per-stream rates being dismal, David McCandless put things into perspective with a great infographic, and your own blog puts them at $0.005 per play which is actually about the highest I’ve seen. Spotify, for me, has been the service that I wish I had years ago. I use it primarily as a music exploration tool, and if I find that I’m listening to one album a lot, I buy a digital copy, either through iTunes or Amazon MP3, or occasionally buy physical CDs for their liner notes or if they include something neat like a poster. Spotify has connected me to artists I’d have never found otherwise, and it has saved me from making purchases I would’ve regretted.

The issue, that would seemingly sweep the rug out from under your argument if it were not so, is that Spotify pays the artists a pittance. To this, I ask: How are the obviously failed negotiations between Spotify and the labels my fault? The issue really goes much deeper, when you realize that the big four record labels own a combined 17% of Spotify, and the two founders own 52%, so nearly 70% of Spotify’s decision-making process comes from people that are profiting very, very handsomely from the status quo. These labels simply were not acting in good faith, were not representing the best interests of the artists, and should be the real target of the outrage, here. Spotify is a business whose prime directive is to be profitable, and I don’t believe there were any guns pointed at heads during contract negotiations. The labels saw a huge opportunity for themselves and damn their artists.

I can’t feel like the guilty party here. I can’t. I am involved in this process about as much as I’m involved in the creation of a Big Mac: I consume it, and I leave the paperwork to the people that do paperwork. Also, there’s a false dilemma here; if iTunes offered free, unlimited streaming, or Spotify offered purchasing options, we wouldn’t be talking about this.

There is no monopoly here; I point frustrated artists and conscientious consumers to Bandcamp and their 85/15 revenue split, pay-what-you-want option for albums (set by the artists obviously), and lack of DRM. Piracy is an inevitability in a DRM-free environment, but some clever artists use it as a chance to engage the pirates in a conversation, and surely convert some pirates to paying customers (and it was inevitable anyway, particularly in music).

You write:

I also find this all this sort of sad. Many in your generation are willing to pay a little extra to buy “fair trade” coffee that insures the workers that harvested the coffee were paid fairly. Many in your generation will pay a little more to buy clothing and shoes from manufacturers that certify they don’t use sweatshops. Many in your generation pressured Apple to examine working conditions at Foxconn in China. Your generation is largely responsible for the recent cultural changes that has given more equality to same sex couples. On nearly every count your generation is much more ethical and fair than my generation. Except for one thing. Artist rights.

I do feel for artists in all of this, but if I know my generation (I am a bit older than Emily White), I know that nothing will happen without someone symbolic. We are impulsive and compassionate to a fault; put up a 30-minute video about a Ugandan warlord, and my News Feed is littered with young adults demanding action, without first demanding evidence or context. We are a generation that has to deal with information overload to a level that’s never been seen before. The bite-sized mentality of Twitter is perfectly suited, as are headline-led sites like Reddit and Fark. Nearly all the social issues you provide had iconic photos (I consider things like fair-trade coffee, free-range eggs and cruelty-free shampoo “buying karma”). Why am I only now hearing about Mark Linkous and Vic Chestnutt?

So why don’t we take a stand to get artists more money? I’m not sure, but I make a couple of guesses. One is a general lack of awareness as to how licensing, advances, royalties and all the related business really works, and it’s such a dense topic that I don’t know if we’re going to get all that far in the discussion. I feel I’m better-educated than the average consumer on the topic, but even then I don’t feel I could ballpark how much money any given album has made the artist. Another problem is that those with the greatest reach, those most popular of artists with huge fanbases…are making more on Spotify’s streaming than any other streaming service has made them by sheer volume of plays, your own chart I referenced further up show one label was making three times more from Spotify than the three closest competitors combined. They have no need to speak out, even if they should after seeing what less-popular labelmates are pulling in. Finally, artists choose to be artists. Gay people do not choose to be gay. A current artist really should be aware of the landscape right now. They are all in the bed that they and the labels have made over the last eighty years. I respect any artist that has done well enough to go full-time as a musician (or any art, really), but there’s going to be the widely-held opinion that “Well, if they can’t make it as a musician, they should get a real job.” I’m not opening that can of worms; I am only presenting a possible argument that inhibits “artists rights.”

I generally dislike the use of physical analogies to digital piracy. If I do download a track from a website, the track is still there. So instead, the ‘Net is a magical place where the record stores accept cash, but if you just take one off the shelf and walk out, you get to keep it, and another one magically appears in it’s place. In a Torrent environment, there are even more than there were to begin with. You are using the “unrealized profits” logic that simply doesn’t fly with my generation, regardless of its merit.

I’m going to use this as an opportunity to soapbox about something related that I’ve been meaning to write about for months. I feel no responsibility to keep the local record store alive. None. You are clinging to an outdated business model, ridden with piracy via CD-ripping and returning, you rip off people looking to sell, and many cities will simply not have enough demand in the future to keep more than one used CD/vinyl store around. One particular instance where I feel few qualms about piracy is when the album in question is out of print, and the artist provides no way to purchase it, digitally or otherwise (or the work is in license hell with no way to republish). I am left with three choices:

  • Drive or call from record store to record store in town, end up with a CD that may be scratched, may not have liner notes, and was probably sold to the store at 10-20% of what they’re trying to sell it to me for. If I can beat this system, I have no qualms doing so.
  • Search eBay or Amazon for the album, and find that sealed copies are going for 5 to 10 times retail. The used copies have the same pitfalls as the record store, but without the ability to look at it first-hand before plunking down the money.
  • Browse a music-centric Torrent site, find a perfect, 1:1 rip of the CD, with scans of the cover, liner notes, and disc label. Free.

I’m getting a bit far from the original topic, though. I think that as long as people can find a way to acquire things without paying for them, they will, and the money that wasn’t spent is simply a reward for being clever (or a punishment for not coming up with a better system). Human nature is guided by self-preservation, and saving money, to me, is an extension of that. People want the finer things in life, and if they don’t have to pay, even better. It is, to me, a minor percentage of people that buy albums for the main reason of supporting the artist; I am one of these people. The majority of paying customers are paying because they either don’t know how to pirate, or piracy is too complicated, with smaller percentages being people that like physical collections and people that do just think it’s the right thing to do, or fear somehow getting caught pirating music. You want these people to all buy their tracks at a dollar apiece at iTunes, and I just have to be the cynic that’s seen the range of opinions. There are probably hundreds of reasons people could come up with for not doing so.

Is there a solution? Not a clear one on the horizon. I’ve imagined various third-party alternatives to Spotify, maybe even run by the labels, but you run into issues with fragmentation (Spotify is popular because it has such variety), existing contracts with labels, and the very real fact that Spotify must burn through a ton of money to maintain their servers, staff, and bandwidth. I think a better option is in there somewhere. But to believe that Spotify will increase it’s payouts of it’s own volition is like thinking the fox in the hen-house will eventually leave out of sheer altruism. The artists, not the labels and certainly not the listeners, are going to have to shake the tree. I’m just the guy eating the Big Mac, while I will put it down and raise a fist for my favorite artists when they call for my support, I can’t fight this battle for them.

Am I a writer? Or just restless?

There’s a certain self-righteous quality to calling yourself a writer when you have no published/paid work to your name. At that point you are closer to the truth if you refer to yourself as a “typist.” I have some friends, though, that exhibit that trait that I think is the telltale sign of a “real” writer, and that’s the urge to write almost constantly.

I have these urges, but I am usually sated by a one-liner or statement that’s been on my mind. I have several friends that are finishing up on their NaNoWriMo projects today. A novel! Jeez. I don’t think I can keep a train of thought from derailing for that kind of length. An overactive imagination needs an outlet, though, and I have many. Lately it’s been Skyrim, but other common pastimes have been making perfumes, designing houses in The Sims 3, writing, trying to come close to the talent level of my 18-year old self at FL Studio, making stepcharts in StepMania, designing board, card, or role-playing games…I can keep busy. There’s something deeply satisfying about writing, especially on a platform like this where I can toss these words into empty space and whatever happens, happens.

Every creative outlet of mine has a muse, and for writing it is two entities. The first, my long-time muse, has been Jerry Holkins (Tycho Brahe) at Penny Arcade. He puts out the most amazingly smooth, polished work three times a week and his tone just makes me happy, his sense for when to drop the flowery language and rage-curse for a while is incredible. The second, a somewhat more recent find, are several of the writers at Cracked. What’s more, they blatantly encourage writing at all skill levels. Somehow, a website that routinely publishes lists like “The 7 Most Elaborate Dick Moves in Gaming History” has become a beacon for aspiring writers.

An article that Robert Brockway (arguably my favorite writer on the Cracked staff, incidentally) put up today got me to thinking. Three posts a week on here was the idea and that fell apart rather quickly. I get a surprising amount of traffic for how little I post, so if I were to start up again I may end up with an even bigger audience. If I were a “real” writer that shouldn’t matter, but I find it disheartening to write to an empty room. And, I must admit, the fragrance industry is short on top-tier writers and I can’t help but be fascinated with the prospect of working in that industry. So expect more reviews in the future as I sharpen my nose and writing chops.

Music Club?

I’m thinking about starting a Spotify-centric music club. They’re a lot of fun, they get you to listen to stuff you wouldn’t normally listen to, you get to share your favorite artists with others, and you get to do some critical writing. I’m in favor of all these things.

The format would be something like so: Each round, there is a theme, as vague as “Favorite Album” or something like “Guilty Pleasures”, “Favorite Release of the last 12 Months” or “8 Favorite Covers”. Each week, we listen to one member’s selection and review it. The order is determined at random for the first round and then the order is reversed every round after. So a big club can take a while, but there’s no real rush and a week gives everyone time to listen and write, and if everyone’s done early you can start the next persons entry. There’s a standardized grading scale to use, as well.

I’m probably gonna start this idea whenever I use up all my Spotify invites. If you know you’re interested now, let me know and I’m gonna start a Facebook group.

On The Love And Loss Of Friends

The holiday season is a trying time for most of us, for a whole variety of reasons. This year, many former coworkers of mine and friends had to deal with the suicide of Jon Vance, a guy that was as intelligent as he was sociable, and one who I never would have thought was capable of such a thing. That was back on November 23rd of 2010, and I’ve found myself thinking about him every day since. I think part of it is because I haven’t had the closure of a funeral, or even seeing a grave, I experienced all the tragedy with none of the healing that comes with moving on.

Even hearing that guilt is a normal mechanism for suicide survivors, it makes the burden no less onerous. The argument with myself is that I should’ve spoken to him more, let him know he had friends and we really do care and want to see him do well, and not hurt. The placating counterargument is that I’m all the way out here, and he’s so far away, how much would it have meant? How much good would it have done? It’s the pain of never having an answer to that, no matter what and no matter how much you want one. Justifiably or not, I think a lot of us share a sense of guilt.

I have had closer deaths to me, my mother nearly six years ago and my grandfather around the age of 9. But I’ve never had to deal with someone I know taking their own life. Why does it feel so different? I did have plenty of time to prepare for losing Mom, after two near-death scares and seeing her the night before she died, I knew exactly what the call was at 4:45 that morning even as I was waking up.

Perhaps it’s different because Jon was about my age, and every day I am faced with that inescapable memento mori, the reminder that I too will die; he was only 8 months older than myself. Perhaps its different because we had so many shared experiences; we were coworkers in the same department, we sought each other’s knowledge and insight on a near-daily basis. We’ve both fought drug problems. And all the stressors of life as a young teenager, with a sick mother, generally unpopular at school, no love interest to speak of, and a series of painful illnesses, led me to contemplate suicide for what had to have been a year or two, around age 14 or 15. Though I never acted on it, the knowledge that I had a plan and could end things myself whenever I desired was a macabre sort of comfort that I hope you never experience, reader.

But things eventually turned around, I’m older, wiser, and happier now than I was then. I’ve made peace with those demons of my past. I cannot help but feel like if I could find a way through those dark days, Jon could have as well; and there again is guilt, because who am I to say that? Jon was also fighting a smoking addiction and chronic pain well beyond what I dealt with. It is pain that has the most destructive effect on the psyche to me; it amplifies all those other negative emotions, and for anyone the thought of spending the rest of their life in pain can be spirit-breaking.

Did he want to be helped? In this I honestly could not say, he hid it from all of us so well that I think he felt like I once did, it was a source of comfort in the end and an attempt to discuss or intervene would be met with equal parts gratitude and derision, because they may mean well but to be honest, they have no idea. It too is unknowable, but that does precious little to quell the want for an answer.

I’m writing this in large part for myself, hoping to find some resolution, some revelation. I know I ultimately won’t be able to put it past me until I can get back to Kentucky and see his resting place. But I hope that if you knew Jon, you might get something out of this as well. If nothing else, you’re not alone in your guilt. We all feel as thought we should have done more. But these thoughts are only marginally useful and largely destructive. Now I am left more with regrets than guilt; I should have spent more time talking to him, not because it might have saved him, but because he was a friend and deserved it.

Perhaps a new year’s resolution should be to be a better friend, and make more time for those I hold dear.

In memory of Jon Michael Vance,
5/15/1987 – 11/23/2010

PHP Lessons to my 16-year old self.

Over the past five days I’ve turned a sketch for a Basenotes March Madness site into a real, working application, and did it with efficiency, normalization and security in mind. Web design was something I started messing with when I was about 10 or 11 years old, with a little 64-page book that actually gave a good understanding of the basics. Though I don’t need to consult that book I still keep it around, maybe I’ll find some young nerd to pass it along to although quite a bit of it is deprecated code now. It wasn’t until 18 and in college that I learned C and subsequently PHP, and really got a feel for the database design that had always intrigued me. I’ve had several projects of varying scales, and picked up a significant bag of tricks. If I could go back and get my 16 year old self to do all the stuff he wanted to do, I’d have these words of wisdom for him.

  • Go pick up a copy of The C Programming Language. Forget about Perl, C will get you where you want to be.
  • MySQL is much, much easier to get started with than Oracle, and forget about ColdFusion, it’ll be dead soon.
  • JavaScript is sometimes a necessary evil. It can do things that are either way too cumbersome or flat-out impossible any other way. But don’t worry, JavaScript is becoming respectable.
  • Keep all your code from old projects. You’ll be amazed how much wheel reinvention you’ll save yourself when the time comes to implement a login system again.
  • All those ideas you’ve had in your head? You need to use $_POST[] and $_GET[] to make them work. That’s how you send data from page to page. GET is only useful if you only care about one variable, you’ll find yourself using POST much more often.
  • Normalize your databases. If you’re storing the same data in two places, consider the best way to eliminate that redundancy. This is the cornerstone of relational databases and something you’ve got to master. You can and will make tables whose whole existence are to join two tables together via commonly used data. This is desired and much faster performance-wise. Use unique identifiers for each row, even if you think all your data will be unique; then when you need data you only have to carry that one ID with you as data flows.
  • Comment your code, even if it’s after the fact. The longer you’re at it, the more you evolve and adapt different styles to do tasks, and when you look at some of your earliest code you can find yourself going, “What the hell was I trying to do here?” On the same note, try and use an identical approach to commonly used functions. For example, you’ll make a lot of MySQL queries, so using the same approach each time will instantly let you know as you scan your code that that block is a query.
    $q_selectfrags = "SELECT * FROM Fragrance WHERE (Gender = ".$gender." OR Gender = 2) AND House = '".$house."' ORDER BY Fragrance ASC";
    $selectfrags = mysql_query($q_selectfrags,$conn) or die(mysql_error());
    if ($selectfrags) { do $stuff; }
  • On a related note, there are several ways to do loops (that is, returning a list of data), and while a do-while loop appears the easiest, and for loops are a bit more elegant, when you’re iterating through data a very efficient way of doing it is send your query, and then use while($row = mysql_fetch_assoc($result)) { blah blah, echo $row[‘Username’]; }. It’ll do it once for every row of data returned. Instant pro.
  • Keep related functions and actions in one physical file, set your forms with action=””, and give your submits unique names. Then you have whole functions that only execute if ($_POST[‘submitname’]) { }. Fewer files to keep updated has it’s advantages, but one disadvantage is if your code is sloppy, you break a whole set of functions instead of just one. So don’t be sloppy.
  • Use variable names that are descriptive enough that if you return to your code in six months, you can still tell what’s going on. $i, $j and $k are fine when you’re doing math problems for homework, but in a professional environment it just reeks of poor team skills. Others are going to be reading what you code, so go easy on them.
  • Tables really aren’t that hard to learn, you pretty much just use the tr tag to specify a new row, and then td tags inside for each column within that row. Use the colspan attribute to stretch across multiple columns. This is also handy way to organize that info you’re spitting out with your while loop.
  • Those paper sketches you’re doing are not going anywhere soon. There are design programs like Visio but there’s nothing as useful as sketching it out by hand, and the relationships between tables in your databases. If you can sketch it, you can code it, every single time.
  • Be patient, but be creative. If you want to try designing something, go for it. It’s all useful practice for a real-world skill that can make you a lot of money.
  • Listen to more Juno Reactor. It helps.

Polished Turds and Reinvented Wheels

I did a pretty major reskin of the blog, in anticipation of some upcoming projects. I liked the previous theme, don’t get me wrong, but it was difficult to work with and had some nasty bugs of it’s own. This one is simple and quite a pleasure to use so far.

One thing I’ve come to accept is for the past 7 years I’ve been blogging, it’s been largely an emotional outlet. I have Twitter that serves admirably in that regard, and it’s taken away from the amount of other writing I do. I’m hoping I can keep motivated through 2011 and stick to the weekly schedule of Music Mondays, Wildcard Wednesdays (photography, gaming, rambling), and Fragrant Fridays. The latter will be crossposted on Il Mondo di Odore, a blog run by several high-profile Basenoters and some good friends. I’ve never been a contributor to a blog that wasn’t my own, so I’m quite excited about that.

The site is more secure than ever, I’m seeing the occasional 500 error I can’t pin down, but a refresh always seems to clear it up. I have four days to finish my final group project for Professional Writing and then I suspect I’ll start trying to get a feel for the self-set schedule and how much work and design I want to do. Stay tuned.