Archive for October, 2011

One way to achieve gender neutrality

October 31, 2011

From Beats Now and Then:

“The detective’s moment of stillness before he slowly reaches for the matchbox tells us that she’s realized something important”

Namely, that he’s a woman.

Wherein I am made teary-eyed by a stupid pop song

October 23, 2011

Yesterday Amelia, five years old, started singing a song in the car with great enthusiasm and volume—or part of a song anyway. Something about “light the light … something, something … the 4th of July.” It took me a bit to figure out that this was not one of the many official songs being taught in her kindergarten class but rather something she had learned from friends at recess. (Those of you more au courant vis a vis pop music may already have figured that out.) Her rendition was dramatic if somewhat mumbly. As we were at the end of the long day, I grouchily had to insist that if she must sing, she had to sing softer. She claimed, with some justification, that it really needed to be sung loud.

This morning she was at it again when I was within reach of a computer so I was able to google up the actual song which turns out to be “Firework” by Katy Perry. Soon I had a video of the song going while she sat, enthralled, trying to master the lyrics of the chorus. Even little Tabby, sixteen months old, seemed to be joining in on the “oh-oh-oh” parts.

Now, this is not great music. I know that. The lyrics don’t really bear up under even cursory analysis. But the theme is at least something I can get behind, especially as a father—don’t be afraid, be yourself, show the world what you can do. And the chorus does build musically, the melody stepping slowly—almost one note per measure—up the scale over pulsing strings and a slow crescendo that leaves Perry belting out the key line, “baby you’re a firework” over a driving drum machine beat.

For whatever reason, something about the whole scene—the heartstring-tugging musical effects, Amelia’s little-girl-growing-up interest in her first pop song, and the fact that this is no doubt just the first of many interests, infatuations, and obsessions she’s going to bring home from the world outside—kept getting me all choked up.

End of the line for Code Quarterly

October 17, 2011

A bit over a year and a half ago I announced that I was starting a magazine for programmers, Code Quarterly. Today I’m pulling the plug.

So what went wrong? There were three parts to the theory that led me to start Code Quarterly:

  1. There’s a market for high-quality, in-depth articles for programmers.
  2. By working with other writers and providing extensive editorial support, I could produce more high-quality content than I’d be able to write on my own.
  3. New ways of publishing (Kindle, iPad, print-on-demand, etc.) have opened up opportunities to publish (and sell) different kinds and different lengths of writing than had been feasible in the past.

As far as I can tell, I was right about point number one. Over two thousand people filled out the form on our web site to express interest in subscribing to Code Quarterly and the comment and emails I’ve received have been very enthusiastic and encourging.

Point number two, however, turned out to be the sticky wicket. I couldn’t find enough people to write the kind of stuff I wanted to publish, even with me doing a lot of editing. There was interest: almost four hundred people indicated that they might like to write for the Quarterly. But I wasn’t able to turn that interest into actual pieces: from that pool of four hundred I got thirteen writers to the point where I actually sent them a contract. Eight of those finished a first draft, three persevered to a second draft, and only one got all the way to a published article.

For a while I thought, “Okay, I’ll just do most of the writing myself.” Unfortunately there turned out to be two problems with that theory: one is that I couldn’t write enough, quickly enough to make the Quarterly a viable publication. The other, even more serious problem, was that I found myself losing interest in writing on the topics Code Quarterly was supposed to be covering. I have, for some time, described myself as a writer turned programmer and a programmer turned writer. These days I’m feeling more and more like just a writer and one who wants to write about things other than just programming and computer science.

As a result, I never got Code Quarterly to the point where I could find out whether the third part of my theory was right. I’d like to think it was: two out of three wouldn’t be bad, even if not good enough for success.

I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to pull this off. It’s certainly possible that there’s something I could have done differently over the past year and a half that would have led to a more successful outcome but to continue now would be to fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy—the time and money I’ve spent are gone and spending more when my heart is no longer in it is just a recipe for ending up with less of both with no more to show for it.

My thanks to everybody who encouraged me along the way and my apologies to those who are still waiting, hoping to see something come of it. I especially want to thank Adam Solove, who did some beautiful design work, both print and web, which now, sadly, will never see the light of day and Michael Fogus, my one writer to complete an article, his interview with Rich Hickey.

Up next, I try to figure out a new career as a writer and editor. I hope to write more books but I’ve discovered, working on Code Quarterly, that I also enjoy editing other people’s writing. So if you know anyone who’s looking for a freelance or part-time development editor send them my way.