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Musings and Meanderings of Robert Kuropkat Posts

Mysterious Movements chapter 0

Prologue

Once upon a time there lived a young codeslinger. From the technological backwater of Tucson, he dreamed of coding challenges that would test his wits and determination. Coding challenges that make most coders cower in fear. Coding challenges that would make him a legend.

Tucson was not devoid of technology, but it was mostly technology that once was. The big gangs had pulled out long ago. The others were mostly lone codesligners; IDEs for hire. The important thing though, was none of them had time for a young upstart.

So, he packed his meager belongings and headed further West, the golden hills of California singing a siren song of wealth and challenges for anyone brave enough. He didn’t even bring his IDE (Integrated Development Environment), choosing instead to leave it behind for whomever should take up residence here next. Yes, he’d buy himself a set of shiny new IDEs when he arrived in San Francisco, the .COM capital of the world.

For years he lived his wildest dreams. The .COMs were all they said and more. The money flowed in plenty. Every town it seemed had its own, personal El Guapo. The one challenge they feared above all others. Then he showed up, IDEs blazing and their problems fell like Goliath to David’s pitiful stone.

Many times he was asked to stay and a few times he even tried. But in the end, he would again, pack his things and leave. You see, he never cared for their cause. He did not have the same motivation. He was not a mercenary in the usual sense, seeking only the money, but he did seek challenge every bit as greedily. The sedentary life of slow, but continuous progress simply did not suit him.

For nearly a decade, he roamed the mountains and valleys of the fabled Silicon Valley and its surroundings. He moved so often, the events blurred and ran together. It began to seem as though his adversary was always the same, just dressed up and smelling different. Whether the problem spoke PL/SQL, PERL, JavaScript or any of the other dozen or so local languages, they all broke down the same, one byte at a time.

Every so often, he’d meet other codeslingers, maybe run in a gang for awhile. Most abide by the same code, so they were easy company, even if they disagreed on their weapons and tools of choice. One gang in particular came very close to being home for him. But the leader was just a bit too successful. Not so successful he’d built up an entire town looking to him for support; just successful enough to buy a bit of Internet of his own. Now he slings code just for fun and local charities.

It wasn’t all glory and rides into the sunset. There were hard times as well. When the .COMs turned into the .BOMBs the streets were filled with ruffians, wannabes and the just plain desperate. Our hero saw this, but it was mostly at a distance. His worked continued but dark clouds followed everywhere. It dampened and bled the soul.

Although he’d made it clear time and time again he cared nothing for their cause, it was not always possible to avoid their politics. In one particular town, the local businessman had hired a very large team of codeslingers, including our hero.

This businessman had decided the local codeslingers were worthless and lacked the skill needed for serious codeslinging on the scale he envisioned. While not the first time our hero and his fellow codeslingers had received a cool or lukewarm welcome, this town was downright hostile. The gang was good though. Filled with great talent. At first, the local hostility was given no more attention than gnats or horseflies. Over time however, the pointlessness of it became bothersome. Eventually, lines were drawn in the sand and they found themselves defending something they fundamentally didn’t care about, other than the fact promises and commitments had been made.

When it came time to deploy to the final site and begin testing, he should have been elated, his goal so close at hand. Instead, like Johnny Dangerously, each day he crossed the street to work dodging a clown show of bullets and taunts. Heart and soul weary, he pushed on until one day, he was delivered a message, literally from above.

The project you see, had started with so much hope. “Automation,” a passion of his, was the goal. The town had a unique problem. Its business was surplus. Each year they would sweep up the leftovers from last year’s fashions at bargain prices. They would then turn and sell them at highly discounted, yet profitable prices. However, because there was no way to even guess at the volume of product available each year it was difficult to prepare in advance. Sometimes, they would literally lose product for generations, only to rediscover it buried in their warehouses years and years later.

This new system would eliminate that. Everything would be tagged, scanned and tracked throughout the entire process. Not only would the town know precisely how much of what they had, they would know exactly where it was at all times. For him, this was the project of a lifetime; the one he had been waiting for.

The petty politics however, had long since soured it. With these thoughts sniping at his soul, he made the quarter mile walk from the front door to the codeslingers room inside. That’s when the message came, straight from above. A shirt, still wrapped, fell and landed right in front of him. Looking up, he saw he stood just below a ninety degree turn in a high speed conveyor system. As he watched, another bin careened around the bend and disappeared deep into the warehouse. Before it did though, he noticed the bin had no lid on it.

He stood baffled, wondering why anyone would put a ninety degree bend in a high speed conveyor and then put a bin with no lid on it. Looking down at the shirt that had just conquered friction, only to be defeated by gravity, he realized this shirt had just disappeared from his system. When someone went where the system told them it would be, they would not find it. In fact, the only person other than himself who would know where this shirt went was the zamboni guy driving around cleaning the floors.

What he should have done, would have done, was pick up this shirt, storm into the engineers’ office and demand to know what chowder-head allowed this to happen. He should have. Once upon a time, he would have. Hearing for the first time, the fluttering of his ragged soul in the wind, he knew the challenge alone was no longer enough. In fact, victory was not even enough. He needed a cause he could believe in.

Looking up, he stepped over the shirt, hoping it at least fit the zamboni guy…

Truth be told…

How often do you have to hear something before you decide it must be true? As I recall from my High School English class, you need to back up any claim with at least three credible sources. Ideally, these three sources should have different pedigrees for their research. Their conclusions should derive from different sources. In other words, they should not all just be repeating the same rumor. In today’s world, that means three re-tweets do not make a truth. Neither does three Facebook shares or re-posts.

Paradise Lost

I am sure if we looked hard enough, we would find someone, somewhere who has not been “affected” by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the purpose of discussion however, let’s just go with “everyone.”

Unfortunately, we are not yet to the point we can talk about what effects the pandemic had on everyone because we are still having them. The whole thing has been going on long enough even the ripples are making news. Even the most pessimistic of doom-sayers are scratching their heads wondering just how much longer this will go on. When, everyone is wondering, will we return to normal? When will we finally get a break and be able to heave that much needed sigh of relief?

TeX-Talk

That’s “Tex” as in “blecch,” not “Tex” as in “Mex” or so the TeX User Group site says.

I have long been interested in Dr. Knuth’s TeX typesetting system. The idea of being able to do my Math homework electronically has intrigued me ever since I got a home work problem wrong because I added 2 and -2 and got 4. You see, I had erased that part of the problem several times and on the final work through, I did not see the negative sign.

Lifelong Learning

I mentioned in a previous post that a career in Software Development or any part of Information Technology is a career of lifelong learning. This would be true even if technology did not change so rapidly for the simple reason the more we solve with computers, the more problems we are able to solve. Computers allow us to do things not only faster, but smarter. This leaves us humans able to turn our attention to more and more opportunities.

After 35 years in software and IT I have become pretty confident in my ability to learn and take on new tasks. This is not because I know more than when I was younger, but because for 35 years I have refused to sit still. Instead, I continue to branch out and try new things. I have never been the “go to guy” for a specific technology. I am not the expert on all things SpiffySoft. Nor am I the local expert of the FrogSnot programming language. For 35 years I have worked in the cracks, seams and edges of the project life cycle. Where algorithms fail and best practices fall short; where others have abandoned all hope; any problems that makes others say “huh?”; these are the tasks I excel at.

As impressed as I am with myself, I was none the less reminded of the danger of over confidence. Fortunately, this was not for work. No client or schedule suffered due to this learning moment. All the same, there is nothing like a good intellectual ass-kicking to restore some humility to my life.

ToDo: Learn to Think Small…

Everyone says “it will take longer than you think it will” and I certainly would not argue this. However, in my case, I’d swear this problem has super-sized itself. I just never seem to have goals with due dates like “next Friday.” To wit:

After a decade or more of what might be termed a “Professional Walk-About,” I decided it was time to return to my primary career as a Software Developer. However, in the time during my meanderings, the industry changed; or more precisely, the hiring process changed. You see, once upon a time, programmers learned new things by taking a job involving things they did not know and were not qualified for. You learned on the job. One did not become a PERL Programmer by going to PERL Programming School. When presented with a task requiring PERL knowledge, you learned PERL. Likewise, one did not go to Financial Programming School to become a Financial Programmer. You got a job with a financial company and learned.

Because of this, nearly anyone in the IT field, programmer or not, will tell you, embarking on a career in IT is to embark on a lifelong journey of learning. So imagine my surprise when dusting off my resume and being advised to remove or summarize the early part of my career to downplay my age. Imagine my surprise when applying for a job and receiving an automated email with a link to a skills test before ever talking to a human.

Math Homework

I’ve always planned to go back to school and finish my degree. I still plan to, but I do have a bit of a conundrum… I’ve already taken my first couple of years of Math classes two or three times. Unfortunately, Calculus is not the sort of thing that sticks with you unless you are using it. So like it or not, I’m pretty much looking at taking everything once again.

This time however, I am thinking to do it differently. This time I’m just going to pull the books from my own shelves and start working through them myself. The plan is, once I am able to actually get back to school, I will already have reviewed everything and still have it rattling around in my brain.

Winds of Change

All things change. We know this inherently, even though we try to deny it. Sometimes these winds are gentle breezes stirring our hair and cooling our skin. Other times it seems there is no wind at all. Things are changing, but only under the surface. Then there are times when the wind comes in like a hurricane.

Generally speaking though, these changes are not very interesting. After all, if a tree falls in the forest and you are not there to hear it, will it make the Starbuck’s Drive-Thru line move any faster?