Year and a Day

Personally, I subscribe to the “one year and one day” concept in matters of learning a vocation, skill, belief, or hobby. During that period, a person is considered an initiate, a neophyte, a newbie. They may know a few things, but they’re only learning. They can’t be promoted to higher levels of trust during this lockout period; they have to pay with time and dedication. By no means are they to be considered a journeyman or a master of their class.

So January 20 came and went, and I forgot to write up a thing. January 20 is the one year anniversary of my first amateur radio grant, a Technician Class license (General Class upgrade came in April). I’ve been a ham for over a year and a day. I’ve gone through a heavy bit of learning by the books to shore up my knowledge and comprehension of radio communications, but the true learning comes by experience. I have to actually do the thing to know the thing, and this past year has been a lot of that.

I wish I knew more, did more, understood more, talked more, made more contacts. Even at my age, I feel like I still need to earn my stripes to gain some levels of respect in myself and from others. If I’m going to be talking the talk, I better be walking the walk. People ask me for advice, but more than half of it isn’t backed by any personal experience. Without experience, I’m just a blustery blunderbuss spouting off what I believe to be true. In the back of my mind, I can feel the real pros rolling their eyes when they listen in.

On my anniversary evening, I was asked to host the AARC ElmerNet because the usual host, Jeff N5MNW, was down with illness. I was glad for the privilege to do so, and thankful that he thought well enough of me to ask for a fill-in. I think it’s apropos that this happened on my year-and-a-day.

I’m no longer an initiate. I’m set loose from the nest to fly on my own. Learning is life-long.

So, from my QTH, to the F2 layer, and down to you all. 73.

Future Propagation

It’s massively unfortunate that amateur radio puts me in close proximity with doomsday conservatives and people who talk about zombie apocalypses as if movies were real. They talk as if knowing how to use a radio is a vital survival skill, right up there with firearms, hunting, and shelter.

When unlicensed people talk to me in the park while I’m operating, chances are that at some point they’ll mention the end times. Even some of my friends say, “when they come for all of us, you’ll be allowed in my bunker because you know radio.” They laugh, I oblige, but deep down, i still bristle at the connotation.

Believe it or not, I’m not so fatalistic. I like radio for its technical, atmospheric, and super-national communications aspects. It’s a series of puzzles to solve, not a preparation for the end of days. I raised myself up in a religion that continually talked about the end times, about Armageddon, about rapture, and fervently prayed that the end would come to fruition in our lifetime (can you believe that?). So I’ve had my fill of that talk. No thanks.

I’m in the hobby for the pure pursuit of the hobby. Why does everyone see it differently?

Palabra Jot

I’m thinking I need to sign up for some sort of creative writing class. I mean, sure, I like to write, and I think I’m fine at it, but I want to be more together with it, more regular, more devoted, more productive. Y’know? Something to knock me out of my doldrums.

See, I don’t do well when left to my own devices. I need a regimen, a schedule, a habit, a hobby. Y’know? So if I was in a class, or a writing group, I’d be more with-it. Seems the only time I write creatively is to rise to the challenge. My previous short, “To Dust“, was  written for an anthology I was invited to join; I had a deadline. I finished the first draft in a hard week or writing, finished the second and final drafts the next week. I rose to that challenge and wrote a good piece.

But that was over a year ago. I haven’t written anything since. I need motivation; I need a pitchfork in my back. Y’know?

The Austin Library has a Write Club class that meets every month for a few hours; thinking about joining along, see what’s up. Can’t hurt, right? I need to get more involved my hobby. Something. Something.

C Is for ANSI, That’s Good Enough for Me

In a bid to expiate myself, I’m currently reading “The C Programming Language, Second Edition.” Written by Brian Kernighan and Dennis Richie, the inventors of the language, this book is the bible when it comes to learning the language. Most modern languages owe their existence to this one. All modern operating systems are primarily written in C. Most client applications are written with C’s direct descendants. Since I work at a high technology company, it would behoove me to bother trying to learn it again. Most of the high-level languages I’ve used in the past 2 decades cannot match the speed, specificity, and hardware-level capability of C. But these aren’t reasons enough for me to learn it.

When I say “expiate”, I mean to make amends for failing a semester of C in college. In a class of 3 students, it was difficult to stand alongside my classmates and lean on them for support. When they started excelling, I fell behind and somewhere around a month after learning about pointers and indirect references, I just gave up. I swore I’d never bother learning the language again. But that’s all changed now. I could do well if I could wrap my head around it and succeed where I failed before.

What bothers me is I still have a lack of support from my fellow programmers. Even the guys who I thought would support my decision to take up the language again are saying things like, “Man, why are you messing around with C?” or “You must really want to punish yourself.” I say they’re missing the point. I’ve had my time with the high-level languages. I know that I can split a sentence into an array of words in three lines in Perl; I know that doing the same in C would require a bit of memory allocation, a handful of variable declarations, and a set of functions to perform each bit of the search and copy operation. But you know what? I don’t care. I’m getting thrilled with seeing how it all actually happens under the covers of all the other languages.

I want to succeed in this. I want to use C to make stuff that runs fast. I want the chance to flip bits in hardware without needing special libraries. I want to have a shallow learning curve if I decide to go into microcontroller programming. Some people put puzzles together; I have this.

In Which the Fool Admits Defeat on the Fields of Dreams

So I’ve come to an internal agreement. Actually, it’s more like an admission of defeat. Either that, or it’s a sudden ability to see that the easist path has been plainly in front of me the whole time. Call it what you want, but I ain’t happy about it.

See, for the past eleventy-thousand years, I’ve been trying to build a website to showcase my music. After spending countless hours drooling, shit-for-brains, while staring at my laptop hoping to spontaneously grok everything I needed to do and write all the code to my own fluidly-custom specifications, I’ve given up. I’m stupid. So stupid, I’m gullible. I managed to convince myself that I had enough mental energy left over at the end of my workday to set up to the task of building a website from the ground up. How foolish I am!

So, having gotten half of a notion last summer to give up coding a full Ruby On Rails website, I decided to try some pre-rolled frameworks. I looked at Drupal and WordPress, among a few others. Since I already had some modicum of “experience” with WP, and since Drupal has a steep learning curve, I went with WP. And what did I discover? WP version 3 unleashed a new feature where you could make your own custom post types, so you can create a Song and have it display along with your regular Posts, Pages, and Attachments. “Astounding!” I exclaimed. “Just add my Song code and build a template, and I’m home, sweet mother of god, HOME!”

Herein, we shall call this moment The Second Great Con of the Man On Himself.

The problem, you see, is that WP 3.0 has half-assed support for custom posts. It doesn’t pull posts made from different types into feeds, doesn’t include them into the front page, doesn’t support archives. For that, you need a WP plugin developer’s mind, and the free energy, street smarts, and tenacity to navigate the byzantine WP wiki in the hopes of finding the help you need to make this happen. As it turns out, custom post types just aren’t user-friendly.

Since my job requires me to be task-based and results-oriented all day, every day, I just can’t summon up the smarts or desire it takes to actually make this stupid little dream of mine into a reality. When I’m settling down for my evening coffee, trying to unwind my head and get into my projects for the night, you know what I really want to be doing? Absolutely nothing. Now I understand the attraction to clicking on the TV and turning yourself off. I can’t do this anymore.

I lost my love for the web. Giving up. And now my task is much simpler. There are plugins for WP that allow me to stream media and set up podcasts. They make things on the back end much easier, but they are neither custom nor completely intuitive to use. That’s the tradeoff. And right now, I’m trading in my programmer’s hat for a dunce cap. The internet has won.

Hurp a derp.