Sunday, June 27, 2010

Use of Force

Today was tons of fun. We met in a grimy tavern in a grimy part of town, most of us martial artists for a decade or more, for a self-defense seminar taught by the pretty darned impressive Rory Miller, a man I consider one of my best fighting arts teachers.

We practiced what techniques we knew, and then practiced some things we thought we knew, like power generation, which we now know better. We did scenario fights with weapons and cars and and padded attackers, and after each one discussed how we'd justify use of force. Say you actually do hurt someone in self-defense, how do you explain what you did to a judge or a jury?  You have to understand legal issues of force and self-defense. You have to think.

The range of experience in the room was impressive and a delight to work with, but for me the great part was watching myself and those around me think in new ways about self defense.

Too many martial arts schools are clean, well-lit studios that teach that self-defense is about a bad guy attacking and you defending, and it's that simple. But in the real(er) world, there are chairs and tables, stuff on the floor, coolers with handles. There is your kid in the back seat of your car. There are guys with egos who won't back down, and there are innocent bystanders, and in the thick of it, you can't always tell the difference.

And there are many, many times when the best thing to do is to walk away.

What, Miller asks us in each scenario, is your goal?  What do you want? As much fun as thumping on each other is to us fighting arts geeks, what most of us want is to go home in one piece, not to engage in violence.  To study safety in the midst of danger and go home unharmed, to look at this subject after decades of training and learn new things -- wow.

I had a blast.

Friday, June 25, 2010

"This should not happen!"

Just today a friend reported this message as output from a large software system.  Any code base of sufficient size will include a variation of this statement, often as debugging output. Why?  Because the programmer can clearly see that the possible path in question should not happen.  Because he or she can look at and see that you just can't get there from here.

But you can.  You very much can.

It makes me laugh and it makes me quite nostalgic, because with some minor rewording, this was the very first output message that my first program spat out at me.  There I was, running my first ever code (PLM, since you asked) and suddenly I'm trying to hide the whole thing and blushing as well, because, you see, in those days the output went to a printer, not a console, and it was loud.  The same message, over and over, saying, in effect, "programmer looses."

Of course, it's not just us programmers who say this sort of thing. All of us have asserted, at one time or another, that something could not possibly be, that an event's occurrence was -- inconceivable.

"That word.  I don't think it means what you think it means..."

It doesn't.  And it's not.  And you can, indeed, get there from here.

And what does this tell us?  Perhaps that we don't understand cause and effect anywhere near as well as we think we do, even (and perhaps especially) those of us with more than our share of smarts.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Me? No way!

I did my first Toastmaster's speech today, and it was recorded, so I watched it.  Sure, I've been recorded before.  Tons of times.

No, now that I think about it, not really very much.  A bit here and there, some of the dancing, but not really much in the way of presentations.

As I watched I realized with growing astonishmen that I'm actually a pretty good speaker.  At least this time I was. Funny, clear, charming.  Adorable.


I don't think of myself as adorable.  Me, adorable?

I watched it again, just to be sure.  Yep, that woman there, talking about tango and love, she's - adorable.  No two ways about it.

Me, adorable!  Who would have thought?

Sunday, June 13, 2010


So I bought a bike the other day.  Test rode it and discovered to my annoyance (but, alas, not my surprise) that my bike-riding condition is not what I imagined it to be.  Man, this stuff is hard.  I'm assured by men with big smiles that it'll get easier with time.

When I bought my first bike, it had ten speeds on one side, and two on the other, and I was very confused but pretended to know what I was doing.  Now I'm mature enough to not need to pretend any more.

"So one is the easiest?"


"And if I'm going up a steep hill and it's too hard for me, one ought to do it?"


"And for the other thingie on the other side, one again?"


"And what if that's still too hard?"

He didn't seem to have an answer for that.  Turns out the answer is you walk the bike, and for someone who's walked a 90 pound occasionally resistant dog, walking a thing with wheels and no resistance is no big deal, no matter how steep the hill.

And mostly, I did ride.  One-one a lot of the time, but ride I did.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Magic of the Dance

The amazing thing about this dance is what's unspoken: you're talking to someone without words. As you become a better speaker, as you find people who you can talk with more easily and often, and now and then profoundly, the conversation gets more intense, more delicate.

Think about this for a moment: what sorts of conversations do you have with people without words?

So when it works, when two people somehow make this dance work, this non-verbal communication of some fair subtlety, well.  Those are some fine moments.  They can be very affecting.  Intimate.

Tonight I met a stranger, and with barely two words spoken between us, we stepped onto the floor and we danced. From the first movement I knew it was something special.  Uncommonly smooth, slow. Velvety. As the music gathered itself and leapt, luxuriated, and wound around, I remembered why I do this insanely hard dance, with all its frustrations and agonies.  For a few dances, I felt the grace and rightness of the world.  It was a bit like being in love.

But this fellow who was a stranger before we danced and was something else after was no more to be held onto than a rainbow. So we exchanged a smile, a thank-you, and we both went on to our next partners. That's how it goes.  The moments are what you get.

And for a few glorious moments last night, it all came together. For a few moments last night, the birds sang, the flowers bloomed, and I Danced.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

That Oil Spill Thing

How about that Oil Spill, eh?  Sure is big.


Yeah, I was angry. Outraged. Then I was incredulous.  Then I was angry again.  Pissed.

And then, somehow, I stopped thinking about it. At least until the news came on again, and then - angry, outraged, incredulous.  Then I stopped thinking about it.  Why?

It's just too big, and I'm just too small.  My fantasies about stuffing BP execs down the hole to see if their big [egos / capatalist short-sighted stupidity / asses - pick your fave] might plug it notwithstanding, there's just nothing I can do.

Nothing I can do about what could be the biggest environmental disaster of our time. If I think about it, I'll feel - sick. Scared. Angry. Outraged.