Thursday, February 18, 2010

You Can Pick Your Friends, But...

DH and I don't fight often, but when we do, ten chances to one, it's about his daughters. Last night in the heat of an exchange, he said something to me that really stunned me. He said, in frustration, "You treat your friends better than you treat your family" (by family, meaning his daughters.)

Um. Well, yeah. Of course I do. My friends are my friends precisely because we're compatible. I like and respect my friends, otherwise they wouldn't be my friends.

As for family, the only member of my family I get to choose is my husband. Everyone else, from my brothers and sisters to aunts, step-daughters and in-laws, I inherit as part of the package deal. I don't subscribe to the notion that you have to like everyone in your family just because you have some genes or other tenuous connection in common. I believe that every individual needs to prove their worth... not necessarily their worth to me, but their worth as a person in general. They need to demonstrate traits that I find admirable before I like them; they need to do something worthy of my respect before I respect them. TANSTAAFL.

The fact that I hold each individual responsible for their own worth should be no surprise to my husband; for many years my adoptive brother and I have been distant; I disapproved of his lack of direction and purpose and his general fecklessness, though as of late we're getting a little closer as he matures and shows ambition and drive.

Likewise, my step-daughters have (thus far) failed to impress. There was a brief span where they seemed to shed the self-centeredness of childhood and a glimmer of the women they were to become gleamed through. I genuinely enjoyed their company for those few months, and looked forward to the relationship that I saw might be possible. However, then the hormonal tides began and it's been frankly awful since. They are sulky, deceptive, devious, conniving, thieving, vindictive, selfish, whiny, lazy and spoiled rotten... typical young teen girls. I see nothing worth liking or loving about them 90% of the time, and the 10% when they are sweet isn't enough to carry me through.

Perhaps it is asking too much to expect children of 13 and 14 years to be likable. I don't know. What I do know is that we're at a bit of an impasse; my husband expects that I love/like them just because we're "family" and I won't pretend to like them all the time in order to smooth things over.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Take it Easy

In my first programming class, we had a prof who had been around the block a time or six. He was close to retirement; in fact, ours was the last class he taught. He had started his career as a procedural programmer, which I suppose is a redundant statement, considering that object-oriented (OO) programming wasn't the dominant programming methodology until the mid-1990's, and at a guess, I'd say this prof learned his coding skills in the 70's. Long story short, although he learned OO programming and taught it (some might say with varying success), he was still procedural at heart.

This was exemplified by his choice of development environment. He recommended that we do all of our coding in simple Notepad and execute at the command line. This made sense to us, as we had no other point of reference. This was ironic because our textbook came with a hefty book called "Eclipse Distilled" that looked so intimidating that neither us or the prof touched it (and that was just the condensed version of the book!).

A brief aside for anyone still reading that doesn't know what Eclipse is. It is to programming what MS Word is to word processing. Sure, you can type in text on a blank screen in a pinch. However, context-sensitive help, auto formatting, spell check, thesaurus and a hundred other tools make Word so much more powerful than Notepad. Same goes for programming. Eclipse is your Java on speed. It compiles, outputs, debugs, helps and offers an insane amount of power and control when coding.

It wasn't until towards the end of that first semester that some students explored Eclipse and extolled its virtues to the rest of us. I fought the steep learning curve to develop a deep fondness for Eclipse, and the more I learn about coding and Eclipse itself, the more helpful it is to me. I doubt I'll ever plumb its depths; the full documentation could be substituted for a boat anchor in a pinch.

I am not ashamed to say that I have been spoiled by the power. When given a project to complete at work, I held out until they installed Eclipse and the appropriate plug-in to allow me to use it to program in Perl. Though it is absolutely possible to program Perl in UNIX using vi and the command line... why would you want to? Why would you willingly deprive yourself of the power-tools and use a manual screwdriver and hammer?

Three things I've learned along the way: coders are lazy; laziness is a virtue, and it is the real mother of invention. To borrow an example from the O'Reilly "Learning Perl" book, the wheelbarrow was invented by someone who was too lazy to want to carry heavy loads. IDE's were invented by programmers who loath working in Notepad. Masochists need not apply.

Monday, February 15, 2010

On Risk and Consequence

Life entails a certain amount of risk. Getting up in the morning increases your chances of dying. Driving is a statistically dangerous activity. Choosing to submit yourself to the forces of gravity and physics while attached to or riding on bits of slippery fiberglass is dangerous. Whizzing around on bits of sharp metal on ice is dangerous. Inhaling a toxic cocktail of nicotine, additives and pollutants is dangerous. Eating food high in sodium and fat is dangerous. Drinking alcohol is dangerous.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, there are risks associated with every single minute of our lives, and with every choice we make. Ignorance of the risks is not acceptable grounds for whining about the consequences if and when they catch up with you. Similarly, feeling that you are invulnerable and above the consequences of your actions does not excuse you from paying the potential price.
Take as an example the young girl who died while skiing at Calabogie a couple of weeks ago. She lost control, hit a tree, and died. Outraged readers in the comments section cried "cut the trees down!" The reason she hit a tree (which are not generally known for hanging around in the middle of ski runs) was because she was going too fast for her abilities and therefore went where she wasn't supposed to.

Another more recent example was the young Georgian luge pilot who lost control and died the day before the Olympics started. The response was to pad the luge run support poles and decrease the length of the overall run. I don't think anyone who saw the video of his death harbours any illusions that hitting a pole, padded or not, at 120-160 kms/hour will result in anything but instant death.

Both of these incidents are sad, no doubt, but utterly preventable... no-one made the child go skiing; no-one made the young man choose luge. And at the end of the day, it wasn't the tree or the ski hill operators or the luge run that were to blame: it was human error and/or hubris.

Sports "accidents" are not what really gets my goat, though. Pursuing exhilaration and glory for sports may not always be the safest thing, but it's somewhat forgivable. No, it's the other idiots that really get me: smokers who get cancer and then whine about how they didn't know it was bad for them. Obese people who try to sue fast food companies for their own inability to make sound nutritional choices. People who sue when their coffee spills and burns them.

Know the risks. Make your choices and accept full personal responsibility for your own actions. If you die from smoking, it's not the government's fault for not making them illegal, it's because you were dumb enough to start in the first place, and sincerely believed that little fairy tale "it won't happen to me". Let me tell you now... you're nothing special. God or fate or destiny doesn't love you more than anyone else, and if you put a gun in your mouth and pull the trigger, the odds are excellent that you'll end up just as dead as anyone else.

But go ahead and try it, anyhow. The world is a little too cramped as it stands, and you'll at least do us all the courtesy of removing your genes from the pool as you excuse yourself. One final favour? Kill yourself quickly with your vices so as to minimize the strain on our health care system. K, thanks, bye.