Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Why don't I care?

I've written code in Java, C++, C, PL/1, Pascal, Wang VS Assembler (clone of IBM 360/370 assembler), Fortran, and Basic. And I'm sure I'll learn new languages soon, because, like many others, I'm sensing that Java's reign is waning.

I'm obviously not a compiler engineer, because when I look back at the code I've written, I don't really focus on what language it was written in, but what the program did, and how it made people's lives better in some small way. I can't really say I prefer any of the above languages, except maybe they're all faster than Assembler, as that could get tedious (though the tedium was sometimes rewarded by being able to do something with particular Yankee efficiency).

I get frustrated when reviewing resumes with people who say that the candidate "must have" Java. I'd far prefer a C programmer who writes clear and beautiful code than someone who knows Java maybe a bit too well and is focused on playing silly language tricks that obfuscate the code. Just as in human languages, it doesn't matter what language is being used to express the thought, it's the thought that matters. And in engineering, clear and simple thought yields (in my opinion) the best code.

I didn't always feel this way. Is it cynicism? I don't think so, but maybe. I used to worry that I'd be out of date, unmarketable if I didn't make the jump from PL/1 to C, and the other language transitions after that.

Or maybe it's just evidence of the subspecialties in software engineering. Some English majors specialize in linguistics; others in literature. I'm glad the linguists are out there, because someone needs to make sure these languages parse and make sense. If I have to learn a new language soon, ok, bring it on. But until then, I prefer the literature :-)

Monday, December 26, 2005

next year....

I will not wait until two days before Christmas to start shopping for Christmas. I will not wait for two days before Christmas to go out and get a tree.

I will try to balance things better between project deadlines and caring for my family. I will *enjoy* the holiday rather than approach it as a vast to-do list.

Amazingly, even with such a late start, we were in the end ready for Christmas. But I feel like I missed it for all the rush.

When I was a teenager, my mother and I would go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and I had a shearling muff that I would wear only that night - I suppose much of this is yearning for days of less responsibility, but I missed looking at the clear Christmas Eve sky with my hands warm in my muff. I missed the quiet and stillness of those nights.

The stillness is still there - I know it. I need to be still within, and that is so hard to do with all the commotion of a family and a career. I used to love Christmas Eve. I used to know how to relax and enjoy. This coming year, I will remember. I am going to find another muff. And this moment, I am going to close my laptop and bake Christmas cookies for my kids.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The world ain't slowing down....

The Google thing has bothered me for a while - one company having so much data - what we think (blogs), what we're looking for (search), our mail (gmail), where we're going (maps), etc. At first people thought I was crazy, after all their motto is don't be evil... But driving to Maryland, I was listening to NPR, and heard an interview with one of the authors of this amazing short video:


This is different from my worries in many ways. But you have to ask, what is the future we're asking for? We should be careful, because we may get it....

Sunday, November 20, 2005


My field spaniel Georgia had her first litter yesterday morning - 2 boys and 1 girl. The two boys are black, the girl is liver and tan. I was going to try really hard not to keep one, but I think I'm going to keep one of the boys (and Georgia's co-owner and breeder will be keeping the other two).

This picture was taken when they were about 12 hours old. I haven't seen them in person yet - if Georgia sees me, she may think her work is done and it's time to go home, and she does still need to take care of them for a little bit longer!

It was a worry this week, wondering if everything would go ok, but everything went well and Georgia was a champ! Which of course she is: http://www.westminsterkennelclub.org/2005/results/breed/fieldspa.html

Sunday, November 13, 2005

two and a walnut

A week later, Raz is still huddled in the corner of the cage, now sitting on two eggs and a walnut. The walnut is right in there with the eggs. They are very close in size, and she must have just decided it was an egg, too....

I am getting worried - when is this going to stop?

On another front, (real) puppies are imminent. Our field spaniel, Georgia, who went to Westminster last February is due to deliver any time this week. I am trying very hard NOT to want to keep one - we have five dogs, that's really more than enough. I just know that I am going to melt when I see them....

Trying to be strong...

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The W word

So I don't like wizards. Those who work with me know this well. It's one of those things I feel deeply about.... One of my hot buttons.

Wizards have become fairly ubiquitous - to the point where sometimes you have to take a stand to *not* do a wizard. Especially when dealing with Eclipse UIs, where wizards rule the day.

But to me, a visual development tool is, well, visual. Wizards are a fill in the blank experience, not visual at all. They just don't fit - it's a bad feeling to have a wizard mixed in with drag and drop stuff - oil and water, a sense of not belonging. There is definitely a *feel* to a program, a piece of software. In a fluid drag and drop experience, a wizard (to me, anway) is jarring.

When you are filling out a wizard, the program is telling you what to do, taking you down a prescribed path. The wizard is in charge, not the user. The point of course is to make the process easier - but I think the first question to ask is what is wrong with the design in the first place that the user can't navigate it him/herself? And once the user is finished, the user has to deal with what has been created, presumably then in a dynamic way, as relaunching the wizard wouldn't feel as natural on an existing object. So the dynamic editing experience also needs to be built, and it needs to be excellent - and a good measure of how excellent it is is often if the artifact could be easily built from scratch using it.

I guess I just don't like programs telling me what to do...

ok, it's gone too far now

I just got an email from my son - autogenerated from his birthday wishlist from amazon.

With such salient phrases as "as kids"(as in when we were...) and signed "best wishes"....

So he's made an automated gift registry for his birthday and emailed it to me (from his gmail account, of course).

I think I want to unplug all the devices and go live off the land....

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The mystery ends

We have a 24 year old scarlet macaw - my husband got it a long time ago, long before he knew me. You can't tell a boy scarlet from a girl scarlet without a dna test, and it didn't really matter to us, so we just always referred to the bird as a "him" - his name is Erasmus, and Erasmus was a guy, so it was as good a guess as any.

In the middle of the night (it felt that way, but was probably in that nether space between when/if teenagers go to sleep and when we do), one of our sons burst into our room saying, "Raz laid an egg!"

And he, um, she, did. The now known to be feminine Raz has been sitting on an egg all morning, turning it, and being rather protective of it (scarlet macaws can be dangerous!) She's going to be disappointed as she is our only macaw, so nothing will hatch from that egg. And we don't really need to add to our menagerie, so fixing that problem is not on the agenda.

So now we need to find a girl's name that has a nickname of Raz...

And wonder why after 24 years, this bird would decide to start laying eggs.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Breaking ground

As I woke up this morning, the radio station was interviewing a professor at the BU medical school who did some breakthrough research in the effects of green tea on cancer cell movement. Yes, I should drink green tea, if I can get over the fact that it tastes like grass...

But that's not what affected me in the interview. They spent an entire 5-10 minutes on *her* groundbreaking in another area - being a female science student in the early 70's. She was one of 3 chemical engineering students in a school in NYC (sorry, it was early and I don't remember the name!) She spoke of being challenged by professors, and given more difficult assignments (the unknown compound she was given to identify in organic lab was a lachrymate).

I started college in the fall of 1972, as a Chemistry major, as the only female out of 17 freshmen in the department. My college, Canisius, had been all male until about 3-4 years before, and I think I was their second female Chemistry major. Overall, the school was still about 80-90% male. So I guess I was an anomaly, but I didn't really focus on that, nor did those around me. If a school is 90% male, it doesn't seem unrealistic to have one major be 95% male. My grades were high because I answered the questions correctly; in science, there's no doubt of that. If I was treated differently, I just didn't notice, and I really don't think I was.

I can't point to the cause, maybe it was being an only child, maybe it was supportive parents, maybe it was that my mother had a college degree as well as my father, but I just have never considered it a possibility that my academic pursuits would be different because my birth announcements were pink instead of blue.

So I don't quite know how to react to hearing interviews like that. My career so far has also been in a traditionally male arena, but only rarely have I encountered anyone assuming I should be bringing them coffee instead of building a product. Maybe the gift my parents gave me was an understanding that any reaction like that was the other person's problem, not mine.

Which brings me back to the fact that if I'm supposed to be one of these women groundbreakers, why are my experiences so different? Why do I not value that experience the way a radio interviewer would? I want to be evaluated by the code I produce, not the amazement that someone of my gender could write it. I am happiest when praised for my work, not that I have done it as a female.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Goodbye Samantha

Sam was 15 years and 1 month old, and we have had her since she was a puppy. She was never a brave dog, but she was always very sweet. Today we took her to the vet one last time - it was time to let her go peacefully. I'm sad today, but also glad she is no longer in pain. This picture was taken this morning - she's clearly a tired, old girl. A few years ago you would never have been able to see a picture of her without a tennis ball in her mouth, and I hope they have a fresh can of them ready for her at the Rainbow Bridge.

Long may you run, Sam.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Home again :-)

The demo went well, and after that worry was removed, I had a beautiful day in Paris. The sun was shining, it was warm, and I walked through the Jardins de Tuileries - an amazingly beautiful place full of flowers and incredible statues, fountains with little sailboats in them, a carousel, and children on pony rides. Looking in one direction, I could see the Place de Concorde, down to the Arc de Triomphe; doing a 180, I could see the Louvre and the Arc de Triumphe de Carrousel. Just magically beautiful.

Had a strawberry-filled crepe for lunch sitting on a bridge over the Seine... Wore my feet out in the Louvre, and only managed to see a small fraction of what was there (the Mona Lisa and Winged Victory, of course), but was actually really intrigued by the medieval Louvre and the underlying older sections. Went shopping, but the prices were pretty astronomical, so didn't do too much.

I was tired enough I was going to just grab some food at McDonald's (somehow when I'm alone, I don't really think of eating more formally), but an IM from Brian set me straight... So I had dinner at a little cafe not far from the hotel. And it was much better than McDonald's!

So I guess I'm glad I did this. It was a stressful few weeks preparing, but it was a beautiful day. It was kind of lonely being by myself, but also fairly peaceful - a mother of 6 boys doesn't get time alone very often.

I arrived home yesterday afternoon - and it's also good to be home. And I want to go back someday to see more!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

je suis arrive

That's probably not quite correct French. After three years in high school and a year in college, I really ought to be more fluent, but I have forgotten much of what I once knew. I can almost read some of the signs, and maybe being here will awaken whatever part of my brain that knowledge once was in - but it is frustrating to feel that I should understand and I really cannot follow a spoken conversation. It's more than possible that data has been overwritten....

The flight was actually nice. I was able to sleep in cat-nap intervals. In between two of the catnaps, I opened up the windowshade and looked out. The big dipper was hanging upside down in the sky. It looked huge, and so much closer than it normally is. I suppose I was 35000 feet closer, but that should not really be significant. But it was beautiful - and I felt a peace looking at the night sky that I have not felt in the past few weeks putting this demo together. I think it is the sense that there is a world around us so much bigger than what seems so huge in our daily lives. Regardless of how the demo goes tomorrow, the big dipper will still light the night sky, and as long as I can see the sky, everything will be all right.

And I really am jet-lagged right now.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Paris in a day

So I've been quiet for a while. Work is eating my life again.

There's an Ellis Paul song called Paris in a Day that keeps running through my head - next week I will be doing a demo in Paris. After the demo, I have about 24 hours in Paris to relax, be a tourist, and maybe shop a little :-) It's hard to decide what to do with 24 hours. After all the work this demo has been, some time is bound to be sleep, but still... Jim Morrison's grave? Le Louvre? Not sure yet. Hard to even think about life beyond the demo.

I get obsessive about things - demos loom large and consume my attention until they are fait accomplis. I hope I can get my brain back soon... Intense focus helps me do my job reasonably well, but it isn't great for a balanced life.

Maybe it will all make sense when I'm drinking a cup of tea on the Champs Elysses. Maybe this cycle of focus will just repeat with the next stress point. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

thirty four days

Two days after Dylan left for New Orleans, I mailed three boxes to him. In complete innocence, I labeled them "safe to leave without signature" thinking he would surely be in class when the boxes arrived. Two days after Katrina, I asked if it would be possible to flag the boxes for return, and they said they would try. The first arrived back at the UPS Store I mailed the boxes from today, thirty four days after it was sent. Given that Dylan left New Orleans with a backpack containing only his laptop and three changes of clothes, this box is a welcome return. The other two appear to be taking a more circuitous route, but this one's route was certainly roundabout enough....

9/28/2005 2:37:00 PM DELIVERED US
9/22/2005 11:53:00 PM LOCATION SCAN JACKSON, MS US
9/22/2005 11:40:00 PM UNLOAD SCAN JACKSON, MS US
9/22/2005 12:25:00 AM ARRIVAL SCAN JACKSON, MS US
9/19/2005 11:41:00 PM LOCATION SCAN JACKSON, MS US
9/8/2005 3:07:00 PM UNLOAD SCAN JACKSON, MS US
9/7/2005 12:05:00 PM ARRIVAL SCAN JACKSON, MS US
8/29/2005 10:59:00 AM UNLOAD SCAN HODGKINS, IL US

Monday, September 26, 2005

so I have a weak spot for quizzes.....

You scored as Yoda.



Padme Amidala


Anakin Skywalker




Obi Wan Kenobi


Mace Windu


General Grievous


Darth Vader


Clone Trooper






Emperor Palpatine


Which Revenge of the Sith Character are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

Sunday, September 25, 2005


I was doing some research today, and found myself googling an article I had written in a former life - when I was a graduate student in Theoretical Chemistry at Boston University. The article is here: http://scitation.aip.org/getabs/servlet/GetabsServlet?prog=normal&id=JCPSA6000071000011004249000001&idtype=cvips&gifs=yes (OK, I admit it, I needed a break and my mind was wandering backwards...)

Looking back at that, I have trouble putting myself back into the self that wrote that paper. I do remember arguing with my research advisor about publishing some of the results. He was *sure* I had made an error. The results for the OCS scattering graph were significantly (factor of 10 at least, I think) different than the known experimental results. Once we double and triple checked my results, we went with it, but with a possible explanation for the large deviation. Turned out (in another paper published a year or two after mine) that the experimental results had been wrong - they had made a major calibration error! That still feels cool when I think about it. There's something very sweet about uncovering the truth.

I can't say I could do the same calculations today, or even understand much of what I wrote back then. But that thread of my life has had a life of its own. There have been 25 citations for that paper - as recently as two months ago! http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-ref_query?bibcode=1979JChPh..71.4249L&refs=CITATIONS&db_key=PHY

I don't think I would have been as happy as a theoretical chemist as I am as a software developer. But it still feels good to know that something of my scientific self is still living on - like a wave hitting a distant shore.

So if there are many possible lives we could have lived, how do we know that we are living the best of all possibilities? I think I may be in way too nostalgic a mood today.

Friday, September 09, 2005

learning from history

From 1992 to 1995, I was working at Lotus with a great group of engineers on a product called ViP. It was a relatively small, but well bonded team that built an amazing product (ok, I'm prejudiced, but it WAS cool!)

Back then, someone on the team posted this article on his door: http://dave.thielen.com/articles/US-MGMT.DOC

Reading it today, it is in many ways dated, but very much still very true. It is in synch with how I feel good code is written, as well as Pete's "hippie programmer" article. Probably not the article to be re-reading when I am supposed to be writing specs, but then maybe it is exactly the thing to be reading when writing specs. The heart of the code, the vision of what we are doing has to breathe through whatever process we do to get the code out the door. And the trick is to keep the mind on what we are building!

Sunday, September 04, 2005


The past few days have been intense to say the least. Watching the news has been an exercise in suspending one's disbelief that a situation could actually be so grave within our own country. And I am sure the suffering is far worse than we are allowed to see on TV. I'm sure it's far worse than words can even express. I just can't fathom what those in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are going through.

But we caught a ripple of the storm in our lives here. Dylan was fortunate (and prodded enough) to leave New Orleans before the storm. He spent three days with the family of another student a bit north of Jackson, Mississippi. They were without power, but stayed at their home until I could fly him out back to Boston on Wednesday. He arrived home with three days worth of clothes and his laptop. But safe.

Once home, and once it was clear that Loyola University New Orleans would not be having a fall semester, the next step was to see if we could enroll him in another school for the semester. I can't and won't even begin to compare this ripple to the disruptions suffered by New Orleans residents, but there was a significant amount to be done in just a few short days.

And I watched Loyola's Jesuit sister schools make that process painless. Today I moved Dylan in to Holy Cross, where he will spend the semester, and where he was welcomed with open arms by the administration, faculty, and students. The school has made room for Loyola students, working on the weekend to make sure they could be enrolled in classes that would keep them on track towards graduation; students left a holiday weekend with their family to make sure they received an orientation and a tour. I watched him smile and look forward to the coming semester - something I had not seen since he returned. I can't comprehend what he's dealing with, either - never in my experience has a university had to close for a semester. Who thinks going off to school that it would become inoperable for such a large chunk of time?

So in the end, I am overwhelmed by the kindness of others, in an equal and opposite reaction to my shock at the conditions in New Orleans. All my own Jesuit training should have prepared me to understand that service to others is what it's all about - but to see it in action is to understand it at a level I never realized was there.

I hope that kindness is another ripple that can travel back to the New Orleans refugees.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

safe, I think

I got a message from Dylan at 5 this morning, and he says he's safe. The plan he settled on was to go with a friend about three hours north up the river into Mississippi. I hope that's far enough away. So the only worry left now is (other than for all those people who can't leave NO) whether he'll have an apartment to return to when this is over....

But he's safe, and that's what matters most.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

I spoke too soon

Just after getting Dylan to New Orleans, I now have to get him out. He has a friend whose family is in Baton Rouge, and they are trying to get there - but with the roads closed into New Orleans, her mom can't come pick them up.

So now I am waiting for him to see if he can get a Greyhound bus ticket from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, and then to find a way to get to the bus terminal. cnn.com shows the gridlock of traffic, so even once on a bus, that bus has to be able to move.

Life is a bit too much of an adventure sometimes.

Friday, August 26, 2005

and off they go again

Two of my sons went back to school this week - the oldest to start work on his PhD in the Classics, and another to begin his sophomore year in college. Three more return to school after Labor Day. I feel really guilty about this, but it really is nice to have them back at school.

I left graduate school a while ago (with an MA and an ABD) but every September I feel that same pull. To go back... I find myself going through the Harvard Extension school catalogue looking for courses to take in the evening. This year I'd love to take Introduction to Modern Irish. I never seem to find myself looking under the Computer Science category - I find myself craving the liberal arts.

But I made the mistake of telling my (fourth) son (a high school senior). He wants to take it, and I don't want to put him in the situation of having Mom in his class, that would be totally strange. And then I think of the reality of my life, and a course for fun just doesn't fit right now.

But I can guarantee that next September, I'll look through that catalogue again...

Friday, August 19, 2005

post-partum depression

So after saying I really don't want to talk about computers, I guess I can't get away from it. While I have a rather crowded and eventful life (six sons and six dogs will do that to you), I spend a lot of my time and energy doing this computer stuff.

I've had a lot of babies, and I've shipped a lot of products. Yes, these thoughts are connected. Think about a software project for a minute. It's actually a LOT like a pregnancy. There's the initial idea phase which is fun (conception), the first few months of putting it all together, which is exciting but sometimes difficult (the first trimester), then a period of relatively smooth sailing where a lot of the code gets written (second trimester), then the third trimester when the baby is getting ready to ship - that can get difficult, tiring, and you are just plain working really hard. Finally, the delivery stage - labor. Even the stages of labor apply, where everything peaks at transition, followed by pushing the baby out the door. So working VERY hard and intensely, the product/baby finally ships. All of a sudden the product you worked on for months is on its own - and in the hands of others (release people, marketing, customers, etc).

And I think the analogy goes even beyond pregnancy/birth to the post-partum stage. I always feel a little disoriented making the transition from shipping to having shipped. Having worked so hard for the end game, it's hard to abruptly stop. Yes, it's badly needed, but it's a very abrupt change and there's a sense of loss, too. There's the happiness of having shipped, but that work is now finished, and it's on to the next release, the next child.

But software kids seem to go right to kindergarten - you start getting the report cards pretty soon, and you are really hoping the reviewer is happy with the result.

A vacation in the middle helps (maternity leave), and I did that, but still feel a bit down. And software engineers have to turn around the next baby pretty quickly - is there the same effect on the mind that having continual pregnancies would have on the body?

It would be good to have a longer maternity leave...

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


I'm a software engineer - have been for 20 years now. I love to code, to create, to build things that work well. But I think I may approach my work differently then the men I work with. And I think that difference shows up in our blogs.

Now maybe it's just because most of the people I work with (and thus know) are men. But most of the blogs I am aware of are written by men. And they are full of programming tips, thoughts on the current state of the industry, and things like that. They are good reading, but that's not what I feel I have to say.

I wanted to blog - and I felt that was the pattern I should follow. But I just didn't feel I had anything I wanted to say on those topics, so then I didn't feel like blogging. Finally I decided I'd just try my own voice and see where it would lead. I still have no idea where, but maybe over time it will become clear.

I love my work intensely. But when I come home (and when I'm not still coding even there), I read novels and magazines, knit, and I just don't pick up a book on programming for entertainment. I love to *do* the work, but it ends there. I worry that makes me a less serious engineer than those around me. I love to code at work, but programming is not an extracurricular interest for me. I wonder if that is because it was not my college major.

I guess I'm also a heretic in that I view programming as an art rather than a science. I write my best code when I am connected to my muse - it's not after reading a book or about a particular technique (though I do look things up for reference). But it's an expression of a vision in my head about how something should work, what's the cleanest, most understandable path to make something work. And when I can factor something out to reuse - to make something general rather than specific, it makes me happy. I have never gotten over the sheer joy of seeing something work - it's an adrenalin kick.

So I don't know if this is a female approach to engineering, or if it is the approach of an untrained artist. But it works for me.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Fathers and Daughters

I think my dad would have liked my new car. And it may sound strange, but I think he told me so.

When I picked up my car on Wednesday night, I sat down, adjusted the mirrors, etc, and turned on the radio. The song? John Mayer's "Daughters." Maybe I'm a bit too superstitious, but that told me that he approved.

It's Father's Day today - I feel a gap. My husband is a great dad - and I hope to make sure we all tell him so today. But I can't help thinking of my own dad, too. He died when I was 13 - and there's part of me that still misses him. I wish he could have seen (and occasionally disciplined!) his grandsons. I hope he sees them through my eyes, if not his own heavenly ones. And I want to wish him a happy father's day....

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Retail therapy has its purpose

And I can't say that I didn't need a car. I've driven my 1994 Camry wagon for almost 11 years and 172,000 miles now. She has taught four sons to drive (so far), and is nary (well hardly) the worse for wear. The car (Blueberry is her name) is going strong, and is a joy to drive. But over the past year, there have been things to fix, all fixable, and I just feel that maybe she needs to stay a little closer to home. And with a new driver in the house (who hopefully will be staying close to home), I need to give her up once again to a teenager.

So what to do? Toyota has walked away from the wagon market, and I will never drive an SUV. But with kids and dogs and things to tote, I need more room than a sedan.

And ever since I was a little girl, I've wanted a Jaguar. Practicality has always won that internal battle, but this year, there was no fight. Jaguar makes a wagon. And on Thursday, Blueberry will have another wagon in the driveway.

Debt is evil, but it's a Jag :-) Life is short, it may as well be good.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

take a breath

So I've been silent for quite some time, though since I haven't mentioned this blog to anyone yet, I suspect that that has gone unnoticed. Work has eaten my life lately - where lately is way too long a time.

I did finish a chunk of work recently, topping it off with presenting to a very friendly audience of kind people last night. And today feels different. There is a measurable amount of work that needs doing, and I can even think about attaining some balance.

So part of that balance is to restart my blog. They say journaling is good for the soul - so I will try. Maybe I'll even tell someone I'm writing. First, I just need to remember what I was doing before I started working all the time.