On Second Thought…

Depicted: a car driving up the vertical glass side of a skyscraper.

The fine print: Professional driver on closed course. Do not attempt.

You know what I say? Give it a shot, bunky. Drive up the side of a building.

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Programming and Pocket Universes

Programming is an odd activity. The goal of the exercise is to build something completely abstract that somehow does something useful. To build this abstract network of symbols and interactions, one uses a rigidly-defined set of linguistic constructs.

On many occasions I have declared, with a level of absoluteness proportional to my blood alcohol level, that good programmers are spatial thinkers. That programming is inherently visual. But the thing is, it’s not visual at all, because physical vision is bound to the real world.

Geeks corral the abstract concepts and in their heads build fantastic frameworks that only they can “see”. The deepest part of the programming is often done with boxes and lines on a whiteboard. The implementation is just details.

But those flat whiteboard representations don’t fully capture the life of the system. And we talk about the “problem space”, which is a rough definition of the world this software is supposed to improve, and a host of other spaces that aren’t like the space Captain Kirk flies through, or even the space Martin Short navigates. It is a space entirely in the heads of the people working on the project, and maybe not even all of them see it.

But it is beautiful in its own way. That space is not bound by physical al law; it is bound by the requirements of the project: rules created by some guy in a suit who wants to sell more used cars or by some lady in jeans who wants to identify people at risk of heart attacks. For each problem the programmer builds a world, a new space, unbound by that old, “traditional” space that has finite dimensions and entropy all those other distractions.

Programmers create small, specific universes. Pocket Universes. Most of those universes would be pretty boring to you; as you listen to Jane Geek at your class reunion go on about how she streamlined insurance claims, remember this: even if Jane Geek didn’t create a new universe, she sure as hell improved on someone else’s crappy universe (there are myriad crappy universes now). She is right to feel proud. How many Universes have you improved lately?

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Alternative Listerine

A few months ago the Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked ideas and I were looking for a good mouthwash that was not made by a company that engages in animal testing. There are a lot out there, actually, but the trouble is that none of them left our mouths feeling clean the way Listerine did. Listerine feels potent, whether of not it actually is; there’s no substitute for that alcohol bite.

I had always imagined that Listerine was more… sciency that what it turns out to be. There’s the whole American Dental Association endorsement and all that. But it turns out that Listerine comes from the heyday of Snake Oil medicine, and was first marketed as a surgical disinfectant. It was almost certainly better than nothing, which is what most surgeons used back then.

But the thing is Listerine is just a combination of water, grain alcohol, and some essential oils like menthol and thymol. All the ingredients are easily purchased.

OSMRHBI realized that if no one else was making the right mouthwash, that she could just make her own, and tweak the essential oils to better suit our tastes. (This is one of her Superpowers, to say “fine, I’ll make my own.”) It took a couple of iterations to dial in the recipe, but now I would never go back. Our home-brewed version is simply the best mouthwash I’ve ever used.

Is it as effective? I’m not sure how to measure that, considering Listerine’s efficacy claims are maybe not all that scientific either.

It makes smooching better, though, I can promise you that.

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