December 31, 2018

Death and Hope

Saddened to learn a longtime co-worker died last at a local hospice due to drug addiction related illness. I wish there was something I could’ve said or done. He did cobble together a 30-year career which is impressive given his demons.

Reminds me so much of David Foster Wallace, though Wallace only made it about 46 years and he didn’t commit suicide outright.

Saw a local TV news interview with his daughter who poignantly is trying to find his guitar (he’d pawned it, looking to get money for opiates). She wants to buy it and learn to play it to honor him.

She said Jerry had begun using opiates about 2-3 years ago (2015 or 2016), which would put the timeline right in line with his loss of job. Whether he lost the job due to the drugs, or the drug relapse came without the structure of a job it’s hard to say but at that point there were no brakes on self-destruction. I’d reached out in June of ’17 and he was involuntarily retired at that point and was told he was “doing okay”, but turns out he’d pawned his guitar the month before.

He never quite believed in hope, but then he had the mental condition (depression) that fought constantly against it. Surely that limited his culpability, perhaps completely.

Seeing a picture in the news link of him and his family reminds me that whatever responsibility I had to try to give him light and hope and Christian faith was dwarfed by the responsibility that poor family must’ve felt. In 2014 he wrote:
Winston Churchill's own "black dog" of depression and frequent bouts of bottomless despair are often credited with giving him the mindset that allowed him to fully grasp the grim reality of Hitler's grandiose and dark intentions, while also tapping a deep-rooted resiliency and hope within his people to enable them to carry on, in the face of really bad odds.
Well, I already gave up all the goddamn kibble that kept my own lifelong black dog of depression well fed. No alcohol, drugs, or smoking, yet that loyal depressing f---ker is still going strong, a constant companion by my side.
The paradoxical thing about hope is it’s not hope, really, unless there’s a darkness or obscurity that prevents it from being easily seen. Thus my own belief in hope must include Jerry’s lack of belief in it. He, unwittingly, exercises mine by his lack thereof.

The desire for a neat little gingerbread sense of faith and hope is alluring but not really what the Bible teaches. Just ask Job, or the Jews around the time of the Babylonian captivity, or the apostles on Good Friday. This quote found via Twitter today from Frank Sheed is appropriate:
“Catholic novels have got themselves a bad name, so that even Catholics avoid them. Why? Not, we think for the reasons usually given. It is not simply that too many of them end with a flurry of wedding-bells and a shower of conversions. The reason is more fundamental. The Catholic as a Catholic has been taught that God is everywhere and that all things are overruled by Providence: he has been taught and he believes it. But he sees the hand of Providence best when things fall out as he would have arranged them if he had been God! So that as a novelist the Catholic too often takes his little section of life, and instead of seeing Providence in it, acts Providence to it. As you read you feel that the thing is being maneuvered.” 
“All things are overruled by Providence.” I wanted to see Jerry’s life succeed in visible terms with outward faith and drug-free end. I’d attempted to argue with him a few times on his atheism; I took much joy when he became Catholic presumably under the influence of his second wife, and said what drew him was the Eucharist, specifically the words of consecration: “This is my Body...”. He said he was greatly moved. I was wonderstruck a non-believer could have a change of heart. But the conversion didn’t seem to last, and they got divorced after a dozen years of marriage and he reverted to agnosticism, at least as of March 2016.

This quote on Twitter is timely:
“The Incarnation does not give us a ladder to climb out of the human condition. It gives us a drill that lets us burrow down into the heart of everything that is and, there, find it shimmering with divinity." - Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ

December 03, 2018

Why Ohio Republicans Differ from Texas Republicans

Heard interesting NR “Editors” podcast in which Charlie Cooke asked Reihan Salam why Ohioan Republicanism is different from Texas’s libertarianism:
“Ohio is a state where Gov John Kasich basically reversed his early approach. Soon after coming to office he decided he wanted to curb collective bargaining rights for public employees including firefighters, police officers – so in some ways he was more aggressive than Gov. Scott Walker, his contemporary, yet Kasich then got this intense pushback from organized labor and then he caved. Then he pushed through a Medicare expansion.
"One argument about the Ohio Republican party is that it really did move to the center of opinion in Ohio (whether folks in the Democratic party acknowledge it or not), [since Ohioans] were for Medicare expansion and more pro-life than pro-choice, so that’s where the party went and it wound up being a recipe for the party’s success.

"I guess my big picture thought is that at the state and local level I believe in small government, that’s lean, effective.  At the national level I believe you have to do something about the huge disparities across states. A state like Ohio, or more so West Virginia - has very limited fiscal capacity. What this winds up meaning that 1.5% spent of West Virginia’s GDP on teachers means a very low teacher salary, while 1.5% of New Jersey’s would mean a relatively high teacher salary.

"Those disparities across regions make it really hard to have the kind of decentralized government I’d prefer.  You’re not going to be able to say that Medicare is going to go down to the states and leave them in charge of it when some states just don’t have the fiscal capacity and others do.  That’s why Canada is actually a lot more decentralized country than the U.S. is.  We have to have some sort of redistribution across regions. This isn’t too popular now because the Left, the traditional party of redistribution, happens to now represent all the rich parts of the country.

So I see the politics of Ohio as part of the perverse reaction to how we haven’t gotten things right at the federal level."

All Code Works By Accident

Tweet storm from CTO of VividCortex, Baron Sc​hwartz:
Something that isn’t a “Law,” but has held true through my entire career: when you instrument and measure something, you always learn surprising things.

--The code is doing WHAT?
--That query usually runs in microseconds but sometimes hours?
--We have a server nobody knew about?

This isn’t just database-monitoring-related. It’s true of any system, like… application code; off the shelf software; company finances; my personal health and vital signs—whatever.

Example: what happens to my bodyweight in the 2-3 days after a night of bad sleep? SURPRISE!!!

An example from early in my career as a developer. I discovered that the MySQL protocol has a notion of “warnings” and the number of warnings generated by a query is exposed in the Perl driver. I was curious, so I put a wrapper around our DB access library to check for warnings.

If you’re a software developer, this might not surprise you, but I’m sure some of you wouldn’t believe the broken things I found. I don’t just mean “broken like a tire with low pressure, but the car still drives.” I mean, like the car is in the ditch upside down and nobody knew.

In this specific example, some of the fundamental underpinnings of what the business was supposed to be doing, weren’t working. At all.

The surprises come from realizing your mental model isn’t reality. You think you have awareness of this, but it’s order-of-magnitude wrong. (Meta: your mental model of your mental models’ brokenness, is itself broken.)

You never understand how badly your model of the world and the world itself, have diverged until you measure. Then you’re aghast. But it’s just business as usual. Pick yourself up, go on.

One of the things I learned from that incident was that the stuff I thought was the fundamental, non-negotiable underpinnings of the business was just a nice-to-have.

I didn’t find just ONE thing broken, though. I found dozens, immediately. And many more in subsequent years.

Simple things reveal these totally invisible ways in which your mental models are broken. Quick: pick a server, SSH in, look at any log. Any one. Odds are you’ll find something ghastly.

Pick your system and your tools, do it any way you like. Dig into the bank account statements, look at HR data, whatever. (We recently got a gas+water bill from the city for an astronomical amount.) There’s always broken, weird stuff because NOBODY KNOWS HOW ANYTHING WORKS.

And a lot of what’s broken doesn’t even need to be fixed, despite the engineer’s impulse to make things perfect. The broken world turns on its axis every 24h anyway.
In reply someone said, "All code works by accident." Ha.