Many Years

For those catching up, I have cancer. Recently I went though a science-magic machine and the cancer in my body was mapped in 3D. After a frustrating delay, I had a conversation about the results with the urologist who had done the biopsy and established the need for the scan.

“As we expected,” he said, though to this day I’m not sure who we includes, “the cancer has spread to…” I won’t get the rest of the quote right and it doesn’t matter anyway. I’ve got cancer up in my shit. My shoulder that has refused to get better? It’s got cancer in it. Suspect vertebrae? Cancer.

Doctor One, the urologist, spoke briefly about the cancer busting loose from the prostate, and then very quickly turned to reassurance that what I was going through was ordinary. Missing was the connective, “You are in mortal peril,” part.

Doctor two, the oncologist, did not miss that step. After a week of relative optimism, Dr. Two set the level. “You are stage four, the worst stage. We are not going to cure you. The goal is to give you more, better years.”

Well, fuck. Stage four. In cancer jargon, that’s when the shit’s got loose. Medically, you’re not trying anymore to defeat the cancer, you’re playing a delaying action, buying weeks or years. Doctor One, the urologist, knew this, but didn’t square up with me.

Of course now I’ve turned to the internet for answers. Everywhere it says, “[people in this state] often live many years with treatment.”

Many years. HOW MANY? Can you give me a mean and a standard deviation? This is really important. What are the odds I am going to retire? I have plans for that. Lots of plans. I know that there is no crystal ball giving the exact date of my demise, but any sort of range would be helpful.

But to all the Muddleverse, I promise I will keep shouting into space for many years.

4

My Life-Threatening Illness is Frighteningly Ordinary

After delays and frustrations, the results of the PET scan have reached the proper experts, and now I have a clearer idea what I am facing. There is an irony here – after two weeks of delays, accompanied by gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, the conclusion is… carry on.

The cancer has traveled from my prostate, in a pattern familiar to all who follow that sort of thing. From a medical point of view, I have a very boring sort of cancer

Prostate cancer cells gorge on testosterone, so step one is shutting down the supply. In my head, while this would shut down the cancer at the source, it seemed like wherever the cancer had spread a prostate-specific treatment would have no effect. Happily for me, that was not correct. Wherever the cancer spread, it brought that hunger with it.

The doctor who has been running the show up to now is a no-nonsense sort of guy, and his approach is entirely unemotional. Here’s the data, here’s what happens next. My disease is entirely routine and the path I am on is well-worn. Just another day at the office for the cancer crew.

That works pretty well for me, but the Official Sweetie has now been with me in a few meetings on the subject of my mortal peril and would prefer that emotional health be at least acknowledged in a conversation like this. As medicine and engineering continue to merge (which is a good thing), the emotional gap is likely to get more pronounced.

(I have been contacted by my insurance company by an oncology nurse who oozed empathy over the phone, and is pointing me to support resources, and other helpful stuff — so perhaps Official Sweetie isn’t the only one to realize this.)

So. I have been on a roller coaster, and now I get to the point where the ticket guy is waiting, and he’s telling me that the ride was flat all along. My legs are still wobbly, but sure enough the ground feels firmer now.

6

Through the Magic Donut

Thursday, after some delays I don’t fully understand, I spent an afternoon in the realm of science fiction. I was given a dose of a chemical from a heavily-shielded syringe, then put in the Radioactive Person Quiet Room for an hour, then my body was passed three times through the hole in a large, whispering machine.

The technology is amazing, and I will enjoy telling you about that. The experience of the technology is a bobsled ride down into your own head. I will tell you about that too, but it won’t be as fun.

As I describe the procedure to people, I get excited. The procedure is pretty amazing; the stuff of science fiction only two decades ago. Starting with the question “how can we detect where cancer cells are inside someone without cutting them open?” you quickly get to a place that has been a long time coming.

Medicine, you see, for the last century or so, has actually become a science. Cancer is now treated by the medical equivalent of engineers. Big Physics had its day, with massive particle accelerators and whatnot, but the priority has changed to using what Big Physics yielded to improve lives directly.

Take antimatter, for instance. Here’s the sequence of steps that led to PET scans:

  1. We need to find concentrations of cancerous cells.
  2. Cancerous cells are in overdrive, and consume lots of energy.
  3. If we can find cells consuming abnormal amounts of energy, we can find the cancer.
  4. Hungry cells demand lots of energetic molecules like glucose.
  5. Follow the money: if we can trace where the glucose is going, we can find the hungry cells. But how do we track the glucose?
  6. We can detect the source of gamma radiation very well, right through any intervening tissue. So if we had gamma-emitting glucose, we could follow it around.
  7. Hello, Fluorine-18. It is an unstable isotope, but its magic is that when it decays, it emits a positron. Antimatter! That positron won’t get far before it runs into an ordinary electron, and sure as you can say e = mc2, the m of the two particles becomes e, a gamma photon that can be detected.

After I waited for the tracer to make its way through my body, I was called into the Chamber of the Magic Donut. It is a room that is terribly ordinary — linoleum floor, fluorescent lights, standard drop ceiling — a surprisingly drab setting for the machine that filled the middle of the room. The machine itself, I didn’t stop to inspect when I got there. I had other thnings on my mind.

I thought perhaps there would be a bin where I could put my metallic belongings, but instead the Guardian gestured to a chair. “You can leave your stuff there.” I was a little bothered by the informality of it, but I put my stuff on the chair. I guess I was expecting something more planned – people will need a place to put their belongings. Or perhaps I was expecting something entirely more ceremonial.

I had been told to dress warmly, so I had worn sandals so I could put on winter socks when the time came.

“Don’t take off your shoes,” the very nice man said. He was large, and a little hunched over, and reminded me of a mythical creature tasked with guarding the sanctity of the chamber. “Your sweat is radioactive, and if you get it on the floor it could throw off the measurements.” It was not as cold in there as I had been led to believe, so I forwent the socks, and climbed up onto the Great Tongue Depressor – the platform that would pass me though the Hole of the Magic Donut.

So, loaded with 18L I lay down and allowed the Guardian of the Bridge to strap my hands to my side. I took a breath and closed my eyes.

The first two passes were quick; the first was just so the machines could measure my position. The second was a CT scan. Pf. That science fiction is old news now. Both those scans were over in a couple of minutes. Then came the PET.

It started from my thighs and worked its way up. By now many people had reminded me that it was important to hold still. So I did.

Another fun fact you might not know about me is that I have a skin condition on my face that can get itchy. It was only a matter of minutes before an itch on my face, unscratched, grew into something else. Like something was hollowing out a part of my cheek and replacing it with an ache designed purely to annoy.

But I held still, and every few minutes I would be moved a few inches. It was impossible not to think about where I was inside the donut and what the data it was gathering at that moment might mean. My pelvis, where there is certainly cancer – but has it reached bone? Then the gut, then the thorax (does my breathing make those images less reliable?) and finally the brain.

Shit. Please not the brain.

Each time the Tongue Depressor moved me within the Magic Donut, I had nothing better to do than imagine what it was seeing at that moment, and what that might mean. Imagination is a curse, sometimes.

There were at least two people in the control room; they probably shared knowing glances as the scan came to life in front of them, deciding when the image was good enough to move to the next slice.

But that was Thursday, and the weekend arrived before the radiologist could sign an assessment, so I have been waiting, less or less patiently. Tomorrow I hope I will learn the results, and see what the next phase of Science Fiction holds in store for me.

5

I Will Tell You if the Waiting is the Hardest Part when the Waiting is Over

Tomorrow I was scheduled for a true science-fiction medical procedure to find out just how bad things are inside me. As this reckoning has approached, my situation has become progressively more real to me. The outcome of the PET scan informs everything in my life going forward. I am emotionally incapable of making even the smallest of plans.

My appointment was canceled, less than 24 hours before go-time, for supply-chain reasons. Now I have to go to the back of the PET line. I’m told that the testosterone-killing therapy I’m already under will pretty much stop the threat from spreading, but it’s entirely unknown how bad shit is in there, and what I will be facing to get to the other side.

For now, I wait. The Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas waits. This is rough on her, as well. Maybe rougher. As the Big Day got closer, my own anxiety rose with it. Now the Big Day is pushed out for weeks, and I need to reel back my emotions.

Not sure I can, though.

Thanks to all you friends who have expressed your support. It helps. I thought I wouldn’t say more about this until I knew more, but the Not Fucking Knowing is what I have now.

2

Turns out I have Cancer

Not sure where to start with this, so I’ll just start talking. A year ago I was only a few weeks of commuting away from crossing the magical ten-thousand-mile mark on my workhorse bike. Now, I am barely any closer. After a ride, I would lose two days to a seized-up back.

After one ride, as I lay in bed with the heating pad underneath me, I reached around to adjust the pad and a muscle near my shoulder blade seized up into a knot you could see through my shirt.

I could not sit, I could not stand, I could not lie down. I would seek brief comfort on my hands and knees, my face pressed into the carpet, then pace the length of the house. After a sequence like that I would check the time and see that I was ten minutes closer to my appointment with the doctor. It didn’t help that parts of my right arm were numb as well.

It remains to be seen, but that agony may have saved my life.

That afternoon, I went to the doctor. She looked me over and prescribed me a larger dose of the medicine I was already taking. To make sure my body could handle it, she ordered some blood work. That was all well and good, but “I just want to be unconscious,” I told her. She relented and gave me an injection of a stronger variant of the anti-inflammatory she had already prescribed.

It helped some, I guess, but did not deliver me from disfiguring pain. (Literally – somewhere in there x-rays were ordered for my upper chest, and the images showed my spine was being pulled significantly to the right. Thus the numbness.)

Still, “muscle spasm” was the diagnosis. It happens.

A couple of days later, I got a call from the doctor. Could I come in for more blood work? The first results were fairly alarming. Back I went.

The results of those tests were apparently even more alarming. The back-of-envelope calculation they used said my kidneys were functioning at about 10%. Were I not lucid and upbeat, emergency dialysis was a likely recommendation.

I’m pretty sure I’ve left out some steps above, and I’m absolutely certain that I have left out the help and support not only of the Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas, but other family and friends nearby. The story doesn’t even get this far without them.

Multiple doctors followed, and after I stopped taking the pain meds, the lingering question was, “what’s with those kidneys, anyway?” Tests and specialists ensued.

I had heard enough stories about slow urine that I had thought little of it. A fairly normal old man thing. Something I would mention in my next checkup. But an enlarged prostate can put pressure on the kidneys, so that became an organ of interest.

And here is a Very Important Thing You Should Know: An enlarged prostate can be caused by exactly two things — infection or cancer. Infection can be cleared up; cancer is not so straightforward but the sooner you act the better. Men: if your pee is slow, don’t fuck around. See a doctor.

My prostate, it turns out, is chock-full of cancer. I’m not even sure why I have the fucking thing — it seems like a janky solution to a fairly simple engineering problem — but I have a prostate and it’s busy cooking up tiny little cellular death seeds to send through my body. The million-dollar question now is, where have those seeds taken root? It will be almost a month before I lie very still for a PET scan (the P is for positron – antimatter!) and then probably a few days after that to hear from a professional what the scan revealed. I would rather not wait that long.

But if you’re going to choose a cancer, prostate would be a good choice. Medicine has long focussed on Man Problems, and on top of that the prostate is an organ easily accessed by medication. I have good insurance, though to be honest I feel a little queasy about that. Everyone should have good insurance. I reserve the right to rant about that further at a later time.

By a couple of metrics, I’m pretty lucky. Lucky the cancer has been detected, lucky I have access to science-fiction-class care, lucky I can afford that care. The next month of uncertainty is going to be a grind. After that, I don’t even want to guess. Some therapy will follow that will be designed to destroy the bad cells in my body, while minimizing harm to the good cells. I have very consciously avoided reading the internet about these things. There will be plenty of time to sweat that shit later.

What seemed at first like a rough journey turned out to be the boarding platform for a train to the unknown. I’ll keep you all informed of my progress, if I feel like it.

6

A Tale of Two Cars

It is entirely possible that the members of the Muddled Enclave will never buy another automobile again. But still, I have many happy memories of challenging roads, a nimble car, and the top down so God can hear my laughter.

Good times, man. And while the challenges of clutch and throttle and stick go away with an electric, the joy of the turn, the climb, and the air in your face still remain.

For the other 99% of your time behind the wheel, all you need to do is get there. It’s just more pleasant to get there in a convertible.

And so it is that occasionally I look around at the electric convertibles out there that I might imagine owning. Not long ago, that list was empty. Now, the entrants are starting to pile up. After a recent review of upcoming offerings, two stood out.

In Europe this car will be called FreZy Frog. You can read more about it here. I looked at the odd proportions, and then called in a second opinion. “Is this adorkable?” I asked the Official Sweetie. After checking the video, and looking at the rest of the photos, she agreed, but only provisionally. Clearly this is a car for zipping to the store – is there room for grocery bags somewhere?

Funniest part of the description: They say it has four seats.

Honestly, though, I could imagine owning a car like that. They’re selling in China for the equivalent of $15K, a bargain if you ignore currency manipulation and slave labor.

And then there’s this:

For roughly the cost of twenty of the above vehicles, you could have one of these. If you visit Weismann’s Project Thunderball (yes, really) you will see many more angles of this simply gorgeous design. I do have some quibbles — I look at the tail light configuration with squinty eyes — but overall, day-um. And maybe the tail lights echo the instrument panel, where there are far more gauges than an electric would ever need. Battery, speed, and no one cares about the rest. But hey, it’s not a touch screen.

There are other electric convertibles on the way. MG’s horribly-named Cyberster and VW’s electric Cabrio are getting notice. There are other supercars to compete with Weismann – Fiskar and Bently and maybe even Maserati are getting into the game. (Uninformed reading makes me think the Maserati and the Weismann are sharing tech.)

Those are all fun and cool, but at the end of the day, I can more readily imagine myself bonking around town in a FreZy Frog. I’ll pay an extra 30% for a non-slave-labor version.

5

The Music in Our Heads

Recently someone in my orbit asked (something like), “Does anyone else have a song in their head every moment?” It had honestly never occurred to me before then that there could be any other existence.

It’s a tricky question to ask, I suppose, because if I ask you “is there a song in your head?” the answer will be yes. Even if there wasn’t one before, there will be one by the time the question lands down in the thinking-zones.

This question wouldn’t have stuck in my head so much, I think, if it weren’t for a comment someone made to me forty years ago. “You always have a song for the moment,” she said. Or something like that. Back then I would let my inner sound track leak out through my mouth, I think. I was not conscious of it before, but sure enough, for any dang topic I had a little musical quip.

The music in my head is situational and responsive, but given lack of stimulus will fall into a few deep grooves. As I type this, I am turning up the headphones to NOT THINK OF one of my most hated bonded tracks.

While I try to control what is playing in there, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, there is no off switch. I have always assumed that is the natural human condition. I’m pretty sure I’m right. I’m pretty sure the answer to this episode is “well, duh.” But I’d never even asked the question before, so I thought I’d say it out loud. Is it possible to live without a soundtrack?

4

Growing Upwards

Where I live, the cost of housing is absurd, traffic is terrible, and suburbs have spread so far they are now exurbs. Land that used to absorb rain has now been paved – not a good thing for a boom-or-bust climate cycle.

These things are obviously connected. When the cost of housing in town goes up, people move to near town, and commute. The definition of “near” expands daily, and we have thousands of talented people spending dozens of hours each week collectively doing nothing more than sitting in cars and pumping carbon into the atmosphere, rather than doing something that adds to the economy (or, in a few outliers, something that might actually be useful).

The obvious (to me) conclusion is to pack more people into the middle, so the edges can be spared. This is a running battle in towns like Cupertino, where almost every attempt to increase density is shot down. The opponents to increased density generally attack the developers who want to do the project, rather than debate the merits and challenges of increased density itself.

The fact the developers and the local politicians in their pockets are universally awful makes this misdirection pretty easy.

But we live in a city here, and it’s time to start accepting that fact. More places to live in the middle takes a lot of stress off many systems.

But not without a cost. Here’s a cool old diner about to be destroyed. You have to appreciate the roof line — that is pure Americana:

I would rather an iconic building like this not be demolished. It’s part of the city’s history. But I would also rather another development of McMansions in Morgan hill never happens.

The building is to be torn down, replaced with deep excavations (to accommodate cars — this would all be simpler without cars), and then twenty-nine stories of apartments will be built on top, a needle poking into the San Jose skyline. 520 apartments of varying size.

Across the street, an ethnic market is closed and fenced off, I suspect for a similar project.

I wonder, idly, if at some distance over the ground the two towers could be joined, to add living space for a few hundred more people. That seems the ideal small-footprint, maximum-dwelling-space solution. I’m sure it’s too late to bring that up for this project.

This is probably the place to note that adding 500+ high-end dwellings will not have a measurable effect on the housing market, and will not in any way address homelessness in this area. It would take a hundred fancy-ass, expensive towers like this to change the market enough to help the downstream people who are really hurting. Ninety-nine to go, I guess.

But at least the occupants won’t be in the burbs, watering lawns and driving ninety minutes to work and back each day.

4

I Just Solved the Ferris Wheel Problem

Ferris wheels, for all that they are a non-adrenaline amusement park ride, are pretty cool. They have two things going for them – the feeling you get as you move through the air, up and down, and the spectacular view you get from the top.

I remember as a kid riding the wheel at the state fair, rising up to see, well, Albuquerque. The ride went in three phases: getting everyone on, spinning around a couple of times, and getting everyone off. (Obviously this was also the getting-eveyone-on phase for the next riders.)

When you’re at the top and barely moving, that’s awesome. But most of that time you’re not at the top, and it kind of sucks as you wait just to be set free.

One of the most famous Ferris wheels is the London Eye. That thing has gondolas that hold 25 people each. But rather than stop the wheel to reload the gondolas, the wheel moves so dang slowly (roughly two revolutions per hour) that passengers can unload and reload without stopping the wheel (usually). But this terrible slowness means that riders are condemned to long periods crowded with strangers when there is nothing to see out the windows.

What we need is a way to keep the wheel turning, but at a rate where the rotation itself is fun. Especially on a huge wheel, the lift and fall would be (dare I say it?) mildly adrenaline-inducing.

Imagine if the London Eye went four times the speed it does now, and never stops, and every passenger got four revolutions. Easy Peasy! You just have to be able to swap out gondolas. One gondola filled with cheerful people is lifted off its harness, and immediately another gondola filled with eager patrons is whisked away. The off-wheel gondolas calmly move to a debarkation station, then to a loading station, and then queue up to join the wheel. Clockwork.

And people with special needs can get on and get comfortable with everyone else, and not worry about holding things up. Boarding the gondola or the chair or whatever it is can be relaxed.

I am quite confident that what I described here is technically in the realm of “not easy, but certainly doable”. Before long there will be a new super-giant Ferris wheel somewhere (probably an oil state) that boasts this feature. Remember: you heard it here first.

(filed under Get Poor Quick because that’s the place for innovation)

4

The Real Mission: Impossible

There was a time, back when I was a kid, when I would get home from school in the afternoon, let myself in, set myself up with graham crackers and a tall glass of milk, settle into the bean-bag chair and watch Mission: Impossible.

From this distance I don’t remember all the circumstances that combined to create this quiet time between me and Peter Graves, but it was special. Each show ended with some bad guy walking through a door, knowing they had absolutely fucked themselves, while the MI team drove away in a nondescript van, peeling off latex masks and sharing a chuckle.

The beauty of the whole thing was that after the success of a ludicrously complex plan, that required flawless performances by a group of spies and actors with varied skills, Mr. Phelps and his team would vanish. Even then, the bad guy couldn’t be sure they ever existed.

The episodes didn’t end with shooting, or even confessions. They ended with moments. That’s how you write a story.

Many years after that, yet many years ago, when I heard they were making a Mission: Impossible movie, I was very excited. This was gong to be MY kind of thriller. Plenty of action and even more intrigue, when half a dozen people work in perfect harmony to achieve psychological dominance and destroy an asshole with minimum outward fuss. Winning a quiet war.

Nope. Just another superhero movie. No ensemble. No mental game. As antithetical to the source material as I, Robot was (well, almost — I, Robot was filmed on opposites day). But there’s money in the franchise; they keep making more. Tonight I saw a promotion for another Mission: Impossible superhero flick, this one shamelessly bearing “part one” in the title.

Honestly, I don’t begrudge them the franchise. They are making movies people who are not me will pay to watch. What angers me is that they burned the name, without paying it any respect. Now it will not be possible to make a Mission: Impossible movie true to the source and use the name to sell it.

4

This is What We’re Left With

Remember when the Internet was big? Remember when you would explore and find fun things — fun people — and tiptoe into their worlds?

The internet, the web, they are smaller now. I’m guessing you have five places you go. I’m guessing that you have no RSS feeds.

Me, I have four places. Two sites I pay for (Defector.com is the pinnacle of journalism), and two I visit. One of the two I visit is this very blog. There are a couple of other places like Wkikpedia that are useful resources, but not destinations.

There was a time when I would think, browsing bleary-eyed late at night, “shit, I’ve got to get out of the wormhole and get some sleep.” That doesn’t happen anymore. In fact, it’s the opposite: I’ve read the articles, checked the scores, rolled my eyes at the idiot congressmen and then… I’m done. Nothing more to see here. Gone is Dr. Pants. Forgotten is Izzy. FaceTwitaGram invited us in but left us on the stoop.

There are nights I stare at my computer, sure at a biological level that there is some entertainment to be provided if I knew where to look. But it’s all dead. The world wide web is now just six places with a bunch of people shouting.

This humble blog is just a shadow of its former glory; we all know that. And even its glory wan’t all that much. It’s a dinosaur, but one I like.

6

I Went Back to East Hagbourne, and the City was Gone

Today I was reading an article that linked to a real estate listing in England. It includes a video. (DANGER! Ear worm!)

That was fun and cute and all, but it reminded me of a time I lived in a cottage some distance from London. I decided to pay a visit. I fired up Ye Olde Mappe Appe, zeroed in on East Hagbourne, and scanned up Blewbury Road looking for the pub near the brook.

No pub. That side of the road is now occupied by large, modern homes. The solar panels on the rooftops don’t fool me, these are English McMansions.

It makes sense. Nearby Didcot hosts the last super-high-speed train stop before London (at least it did in 1980). If I worked in London, East Hagbourne would be an ideal place to live, although only one of the three pubs I knew still stands. The Fleur de Lis was always the choice of the gentlemanly class in town, and now apparently that’s the only class remaining.

With all this change, I was not certain right away that the place I had called home for a little while still existed. I typed the address into Apple Maps, and was relieved to see it was still there, and a little bit delighted that the pin showed not only the address, but the home’s colloquial name. The cottage still stands.

Beyond the large new homes that line Blewbury Road, the fields remain. The land here is fertile, the rain reliable, and agriculture…

Holy shit Didcot has grown so much, usurping farmland to the point it has almost swallowed East Hagbourne. East Hagbourne also has doubled in size or more; entire neighborhoods of homes that look identical from space.

Compared to Orange County, the growth of Didcot is negligible. Just a little dot among the fields. But we have seen this show often enough to know how it ends. And if I worked in London, I would likely contribute to the destruction.

5

Year 19.000 begins

Happy Road Trip Day, to those who still observe. Elevator Ocelot Rutabaga, my friends! It is a prime year, and we all know that that portends.

There are about 1.2 million words in this blog, all written by me. Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas is, in blog years, ancient. Today, as the Muddled Calendar rolls over to 19.000, I can only look back on the time since I drove away from San Diego and think of all the things that have happened and ask myself, “shit, that was only 19 years?” It seems like another life.

Another two lives, actually. Maybe two and a half. You can read all those words and decide for yourself. (I do not endorse this idea.)

This life I’m in right now, while a good and happy life, doesn’t generate stories that fit in the intersection of “interesting to other people” and “things I can talk about” and not “things that aren’t your damn business”. And to be honest, I’ve been cheating on you, loyal reader(s), by rambling in other venues. I was born a ramblin’ baby; lately I’ve been roaming with my rambling. This coming year I’m going to work on pulling some of my roamin’ ramblin’s back home.

Meanwhile, I set a goal to reach by Muddled Year 20.000, a big goal, but minor annoying health issues have one after another knocked me off track. I’m going to make a run for it this year, but if I don’t reach the summit until 21.000, I will forgive myself. As long as I am moving forward, it’s all right. I will start moving forward as soon as I wake up later this morning.

But for now, another sip of inoffensive Canadian Whisky seems like a good idea. Tooooooooooast!

6

When Coding, Always use Descriptive Function Names

This evening I’ve been coding up something on a tight deadline. A few minutes ago I wrote a function named:

handlePluralTypeNameBecauseRESTWasInventedByIdiots()

REST is an acronym for… you can look it up if you care. It’s a way for code running in your browser to communicate with services off somewhere else. Some guy got his Phd making this nonsense up, and it has now become an industry standard. That guy is very lucky I was not one of the ones to review his dissertation, and the rest of the world is very unlucky that I wasn’t.

Like with HTML before it, someone came up with a half-assed solution to a real problem, and before the smart people in the room could say, “hey, that has some pretty serious flaws, but with only a little more effort we could fix most of them” the whole world went romping off with the flawed solution. And here we are.

Not only does REST violate previously-existing standards, it does so for no technical advantage. Servers and programming languages had to be updated to accommodate those violations. Maybe that should have been a red flag.

It would be SO DAMN EASY to fix most of the problems with REST. Use your head(ers)!

But here we are sweating over REST. And here’s a fun thing: for no technical advantage people who use this standard-violating standard have to understand the rules of pluralization in American English. At least in any implementation of REST I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Not only is that fucking annoying, it’s exclusionary. Sorry, kid in Senegal, we’re making a standard that disadvantages you.

Sure, you can get a code library to do plurals for you, and with any luck the rules in the browser code will match the rules on the server. Up until now, I’ve chosen the approach, “always name your data types in a way that just adds ‘s’ for the plural.” Tonight that wasn’t an option, so I a made a way for specific REST servers to keep only the rules relevant to them. More efficient and more reliable than someone else’s library.

And as I’ve often said, your code should express what it does without resorting to comments.

5

Quantum Leap is Out of Focus

Much like many of you out there, the Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas and I will choose a show on television and watch the whole damn thing from beginning to end. Right now we’re working on Quantum Leap, with Scott Bakula.

I will not bother explaining the conceit of the show to you; but for a brief respite during season two, every episode starts with an explainer. Note to producer: The last six people watching your show in season five already know what is going on. But the explainer does eat minutes of airtime that would otherwise have to be filled with newly-produced entertainment.

In season one, there were some serious technical problems that made it all the way to my screen. Focus was dicey, and whoever was holding the boom mic was fully incompetent. Audio quality during a tedious monologue would degrade until suddenly it shifted to terrible ADR. No attempt was made to make the dubbed audio match the sound that had come before.

And no show I have ever seen has piled the stereotypes up in such a magnificent heap. Sexy Nun, Nice-Girl Stripper, and evil fight fixer were all in the same episode! Hoo, boy, when you get to the serious issues, the straw men and insulting archetypes come swarming out of the rafters. When a story about desperate measures so a Native American can die under the sky on his own land suddenly turns to scalping, you just want to kick Hollywood in the balls.

One of my favorite performances from Johnny Depp is when he played Ed Wood. Wood was perhaps the worst director ever, but Depp turned him into a hopeless optimist. As long as the words were there, as long as the actions were there, the kids watching would see through all the flaws and love the story as much as he did.

I do not credit the makers of Quantum Leap for such a fantasy. They were making a TV show for a major network, and it is baffling to me that simple, fixable flaws made it to the screen. Ed Wood would roll a scene and shout “Perfect! Move on!” even though the shot was a disaster. Somehow, the directors and producers of Quantum Leap were allowed to do the same thing.

“Good focus on Al’s ear,” I said last night.

There is a person on most sets whose entire job is to get the focus right. In some shots that’s incredibly complicated, keeping tight on a particular part of the action as actors move thought a scene. Other times, when people are holding still, it’s just about carefully measuring the distance from the subject to the lens, and getting everything set up right.

All that assumes, of course, that when the camera is rolling, that the subject is still at that same distance from the camera. Maybe the focus puller did their job, and then the actor moved. But these are professionals. Someone has to notice and speak up when the actors are off their marks.

And if you shoot three episodes in a row with serious focus problems, maybe you should realize that it’s time to change something. If you suck at focus, stop down the camera to make it more forgiving. Maybe the background is more distinct, and maybe your Director of Photography doesn’t like that, but tough shit, asshole. We’re putting the training wheels back on.

OSMRHBI and I have only four episodes left in the series, and we will watch them. We’ve come this far; we will see it through. At this point, I think the entire crew is saying the same thing — let’s just end it and go home — with the possible exception of the two stars of the show. It seems like they still give a shit, most of the time. Bakula is still the earnest doofus he was in the pilot, and that is the only thing that has earned this show a fourth season, let alone a fifth.

I have to say that this show confronts racism without blinking, and I appreciate that. The n-word is used by white cops, with all the bile and violence it carries. The word is also used by people who imagine themselves better, and prove they are not. Sexism is confronted, and while it took a few seasons, homophobia is brought into the network TV spotlight as well. This is a show with justice as a pillar of its very existence, and they are mostly brave about that.

The fifth and final season, when the writing was already on the wall, put our leaper in and around famous icons — Kennedy, Monroe, Presley. It felt desperate, but Official Sweetie and I started making shark jokes at the opener of season four.

And they all keep saying “leaped” instead of “leapt” and while the dictionary doesn’t support me on my distaste for that form it still bugs me.

* * *

Official Sweetie and I, in the scant hours since I wrote the above, have watched the final episodes of the series. The last episode is really pretty good. Well-written, and almost always in focus. If there is a little last-show-of-the-series indulgence, it’s thematically accurate and not overwhelmingly sappy. It could go down in the annals of great series endings but first you have to wade through a bog of shit to get there.

It’s over, now. We are done. There is better TV to watch, and better things to do with our lives.

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