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So you want to learn to program

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So, you want to learn a programming language. Most likely, you want to know how to get a nice, solid tech job that isn’t going to just disappear in the next wave of industry changes. How do you get there?

It makes a big difference whether or not you already code in any other programming language. If you don’t program at all, I would recommend that you start by learning Javascript. There are a thousand online resources for learning it, and you can get the instant satisfaction of seeing how it works right there, using technology we all have, in any web browser. Javascript will teach you basic program structure and all the different flow-of-control mechanisms, like if/else/endif, different kinds of loops, case conditions, and all that stuff.

Javascript will also get you familiar with the fact that in today’s programming world, you rarely get to live entirely in your language of choice. Javascript is typically embedded in HTML, and very often is used to generate HTML, as well as dynamically creating stylesheets in CSS, or generating and running SQL statements against data sources. You’ll want to learn a language that plays well with other languages, and Javascript does that as well as or better than anything. On my last contract I wrote a Javascript system using NodeJS that read Cobol programs and translated them to Python. This is typical of anything you’d want to do that rises to the level of being more than a toy. So make note: learning one language is where you need to start, but that one language is not going to make your career.

Once you have a bit of Javascript under your belt you’ll have a sense of whether you want to dig deeper. You could then learn Node JS, which is an excellent, enterprise strength version of Javascript that runs on a server instead of in a client – a web browser is a ‘client’; a ‘server’ is something like your own machine, or a remote Linux box that hosts a database, and that ‘serves’ pages to your browser. The great thing about Javascript is that it will run on virtually any machine, will function as – or with- a server system, and will function as – or with – a client. Even a tiny bit of Javascript knowledge will let you do something useful, and if you find yourself ready for the deep end, there is almost no limit to what you can accomplish with Javascript, up to and including enterprise level product development.

Utility languages

Any professional programmer worth her salt will have the language they’re working in for their client, their employer or their product – it might be Swift, it might be Java, Cobol, C# – it might be any of a host of things. They will also have a “utility” language. This will typically be a language that they can execute on their own local machine at the command line, a language in which they can read files off the hard drive and write some translated version of the file back to a hard drive. Your utility language is your go-to language when you’re supposed to be a PHP programmer (for instance) but the client hits you with some old version of a spreadsheet that nobody can open – you need to read it as raw lines of text, parse out the interesting stuff and throw away the old formatting and give the client back something they can read. You turn to your utility language for these things. Popular utility languages are Perl, Python, Javascript, C, Linux scripting language, Windows scripting language… your utility language might well be the language you use to earn your daily baguette, but it might not be. The important thing about your utility language is that you need it to always be close at hand, so it should be something that you can run on your own machine but can also install easily on a client machine, so no matter where you are, you’re never without it. This is another factor in favor of Javascript: combined with NodeJS it makes an excellent utility language.

Bi-Lingual by default

So let’s say you’ve got one utility language under your belt; you can either start to pick up a second language, just to get a feel for how different some of them are – in which case I’d strongly recommend Python, because there’s an excellent job market for Python. But there are also excellent job markets for C#, Swift, PHP, Perl, R, Go, Java and hundreds of others. In the end it won’t matter which you choose because you can do interesting programming on anything: But I started this post as an answer to a question on a Swift / IOS forum, so everyone there buys into, to some extent, the Apple ecosystem. Swift is an excellent language, and it has the added benefit of being one of the many languages that is converging on roughly the same syntax – C# is so similar that if you know one language you pretty much know the other!.

If there’s a negative side to Swift it’s this: Apple doesn’t really give a rat’s asset about backward compatibility. As I write this paragraph, in the closing days of 2020, I have a pretty complex Swift project open in XCode. In the couple months I’ve been working on it, I’ve seen the language change twice to the extent that I needed to change how a closure is implemented, and I’ve seen the need to remove some ‘self.’ references that had been required just weeks earlier. For backward compatibility you might want to look at C or C# – Microsoft, because it’s the bastion of big, necessarily conservative development shops, was still supporting code that ran on operating systems at the dawn of the internet, back in the early 1990s. So, for stability, think Microsoft, IBM, C, C#, PHP, Perl. For cutting edge, functional programming and beyond, think Apple, Swift, Go, R, Python, etc.

As you progress in your learning, you will need to absorb the concepts of Object Oriented programming (OO) because it underpins so much of what’s out there in the world. OO tends to follow a programming model called Model-View-Controller (MVC). BUT, you should not dive too deep on OO programming but learn instead Functional Programming (FP) which tends to follow a model called Model-View-View-Model (MVVM). You’ll want to learn what these models are and what they each have to offer.

Functional programming lets you step over a lot of historical detritus and get right into the kind of programming that will probably dominate for the next decade or more. Swift is an excellent language to concentrate on once you have some basics under your belt, and the course you’ll want to take is CS193P at Stanford University. It is available for free on YouTube, and you can start watching online. Most other online resources for Swift are slightly or badly out of date, but the Stanford course is nearly up-to-the-minute (as I write this, in late 2020). Accept nothing less, but take this one: https://cs193p.sites.stanford.edu/

Moving beyond ‘mere’ programming languages and getting into the whole world of things that you’ll need to work in the profession, you should be aware of GIT, and other code-management tools, you should try a variety of integrated development environments, IDEs, which offer code-completion, debugging features, and more. Use XCode for Swift development, but check out Eclipse and Visual Studio Code. All these are free, and there’s not reason not to try them all. Investigate Jupyter Notebook (especially if you’re moving into Python, R, Go or Julia…) Jupyter provides not just an IDE, but a whole new paradigm of partial and shared program compilations and data analysis.

It’s a big, rich tech world out there, and the important thing when you’re starting out is to pick the place where you’re going to dive in, and to dive deep. Stay focused, while also being aware of the complexity that surrounds you. Learning to program is like planting a tree – the best time to do it was 6 or 8 years ago. The second best time to do it, is now.

Just read a related post on Medium, by Quncy Larson. Really well done and funnier than my article, and he also comes down on the side of Javascript. Definitely worth a read.

Written by Alan

September 10th, 2020 at 4:05 pm

Posted in Writing

No Pain, No Gain

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Want to know the most painful experience known to modern man? Getting rid of an email address that you’ve used since The Dawn of Email, which is around Star Date 47005.1. I’ve been working on this for 2 weeks, and just passed the point where the email that I needed to get rid of, because it costs too much, has been auto-renewed for yet another year.

You think childbirth is bad? I’ve been dilated to 8.5 centimeters on this issue for 2 solid weeks. 2 WEEKS, and no epidural. I’ve removed the email from eBay, etsy, Amazon, Dropbox, Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter, Facebook, my Apple Developer account, Apple iTunes Connect, Apple iCloud, various other Apple things, Esquire magazine, the USA BMW club, The New Yorker, N¥ Times, NY Magazine, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian, BBC, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, most of my client accounts, I’ve taken it off 20 different WordPress sites that I manage, notified my friends and family, removed it from my client sites and payroll sites, the producer’s guild, the writer’s guild.

This email is a map of my existence for the past 27 years.

It’s not bad to have a map. I’ve been working on a Medium series recently about managing technical teams and so-called efficiency, so have been thinking a lot about how life – and therefore work – unfolds in time, but scheduling doesn’t unfold at all, it exists as static plans or pictures of the past, with no real ‘time’ dimension the static depictions of ‘planned’ time and ‘how it panned out’ time.

I will get rid of this email address… I just have to keep pushing.

Written by Alan

July 14th, 2020 at 8:15 pm

Posted in Writing

Moving Forward

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For the past 8 years my values and the values of the leadership of this country have aligned almost perfectly. As of January of next year, when Donald Trump becomes president, that will no longer be true.

In a country the size of America this is bound to happen. But honestly, sitting here 10 minutes before the markets open on the Wednesday morning after the election, with the expectation that a big chunk of my retirement money is about to disappear down a toilet flush of international distrust and despair, it feels as if someone I loved and trusted has just died.

But they haven’t. All that’s happened is that my identification with the country I love has been torn from me. I feel like a stranger in a country that could elect Donald Trump to represent us at the highest level.

When I look inside myself, my values have not changed. The values of my friends and political compatriots have not changed. I, and anyone else who is having these feelings, will just have to move forward from this moment not able to point to our country’s leader and say that he represents me or my values, or anything about me. We will, once again, have to stand apart and fight our way back in. What had crept into my soul the past 8 years was pride and, dare I say, patriotism, and that felt very good. I won’t have those feelings for the next 4 years, at least not the way I’ve carried them throughout the Obama presidency. But we will win it back – the same institutions that survived Reagan and George Bush will survive Donald Trump. The pendulum swings both ways and the pent-up racism, misogyny and anger that Trump has decided to make his platform will have its day and will end.

Written by Alan

November 9th, 2016 at 10:55 am

Posted in Writing

Shut the fuck up Donnie

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dope_queens-640x347We’ve entered the baroque period of this election cycle, where every little curlicue added to the already over-decorated structure of our national politics only has meaning in relation to the previous curlicues and frippery and dongles, and whatever actual structure is under all that commentary has long since stopped being necessary. At this point, the election narrative could hold itself up on nothing more than hard-copy stacks of end-of-the-world predictions, and all our shared and unshared hatred for Donald and/or Hillary and/or Bernie and/or whoever you want to write in to prove the point that you’re a totally independent minded, never-gonna-budge bad-ass doesn’t matter. You’ve made up your mind and I’ve made up my mind, and this latest bit by the FBI director who is creepily pawing through Anthony Weiner’s digital drawers can be interpreted in a thousand ways to suit any prejudice.

Enjoy splashing around in your Karo-syrup, fakey-ass, B-movie blood-bath, news media, I’m taking a little vacation from all that and from now until November 7th, will be binging on 2 Dope Queens, ’cause I’m not just with her, I’m with all the hers.

Written by Alan

October 29th, 2016 at 12:51 pm

Posted in Writing

Make the Supreme Court Great Again

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Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Ruth Bader Ginsberg

What’s really shocked me the most about the Trump campaign is how un-American it is. In spite of his campaign motto, it is not possible to make something great while undermining the pillars the hold it in place.

As Hillary pointed out in the early debates and as Obama has addressed in several speeches, we’re a nation of laws, not men. We do not, by law, and should not, by custom, gravitate toward politicians and candidates who point to themselves as the solution rather than to their policies as the way forward. Trump points to himself as a solution because that’s all he knows: he’s a creature of the media, he’s a brand, and what he sells is himself. The claim of Trump Inc. is that if you partner with him and he lets you put his name on your project, you’ll be able to sell whatever your product is at a premium, and what he gets is a big cut of that premium.

And Donald Trump believes he can sell this same scheme to the American voter: To be clear, he’s not offering to add actual value to America, he’s offering to add perceived value based on nothing but his name. He has succeeded so far because he destroyed the Republican candidates who didn’t understand the kind of game he was playing, and he steamrolled the Republican party who also didn’t understand. He’s partially succeeded in the general election by keeping the media focus on side issues that play to his strengths, which are bluster and trumped-up rage, rather than on core issues involving policy, budget ideas and clear alternate solutions, because he has nothing to offer at that level.

Donald Trump is like the kid who pushes his way into a pickup baseball game and then insists that the rules be changed to work around his few strengths and to ignore his weaknesses: 7 strikes and you’re out.

So this is another state in a conservative movement to make government stop working; in this case, by turning it into a clown show. The first stage was loading the House of Representatives and the Senate with people who think that digging in their heels will at least slow down the forward progress of the country which is all too clearly heading in a liberal direction. The direction can’t be stopped, so the game is to make it very hard and slow to get to where we’re going.

All evidence is that mucking up the works is the goal of the conservative movement. It’s clearest in the resistance to the Obama agenda, in the existence of people like Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, the repeated attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act or to stand in the way at the state level, of it having a chance to succeed. The agenda is always to obstruct and prevent progress of any liberal idea regardless of who it hurts.

The agenda is clearest and most damaging to the nation in the Senate’s refusal to consider Obama’s recommendation for the Supreme Court. By refusing to give Merrick Garland a hearing, the Senate has declared that they can decide which parts of their job they choose to do. Aside from the damage that decision does to the institution of the US Senate (and again, that works to the advantage of both anti-government and anti-American adherents), it does worse damage to the court and the nation. The court is diminished by being short a voice, short a point of view and simply short-handed, and America is diminished by being yet more fractured. Every time the court hears a case that results in a tie, or when it reduces its case load because it cannot handle the load, American law will be decided at a lower level. For every major decision made at a lower court level, and simply left in place because the higher court couldn’t take part, America becomes more regionalized, more fractured and less a cohesive country that moves in a single direction and that can make claims of being, in any way, great again.

Written by Alan

October 28th, 2016 at 9:46 pm

Posted in Writing

The Mainstream

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peaceI’ve been watching a sort of political harmonic convergence between my really right-wing, HIllary-hating, conservative friends and family, and my radical left-wing Bernie-hugging friends and family, and the Dark Matter pulling the two sides together appears to be a distrust of mainstream news sources.

Just a word of caution: in 2008, John McCain supporters thought he was going to win because the right wing only listened to right wing news sources and fooled themselves into believing the echoes of their own prejudices. All through 2009, the Republicans said they were going to re-think who they were and how they approached elections, and then in 2012, they ran exactly the same campaign, appealing to exactly the same voters, alienating exactly the same broad demographic with Mitt Romney, and congratulated themselves once again that the voices bouncing off exactly the same wall of the same echo chamber from 2008 were telling them they had a winner.

In the 2016 election things shifted just a bit – the Republicans ran another set of exactly the same kind of weak, angry, narrow-minded candidates only this time they were so weak and narrow that the media machine that is Donald Trump easily steamrolled them. Now the Republican machine is back to the same strategy of telling themselves that their polls are more true than all those silly mainstream polls, and there are still people this late in the game who believe that they actually have a shot with The Donald.

Well, it’s not true.

The reason the mainstream media is the mainstream is because it has the pulling power of the center of the river. The main-stream of news is the main-stream because it draws from many sources, weeds out falsehoods and faulty thinking, employs the bests minds and does the most legwork. For my friends on the right: The mainstream is too big and too diverse to be gamed by what you think is some Clinton cartel. To my friends on the left: The mainstream is too powerful to be driven by falsehood and conspiracy. There are too many good people out there in the strongest part of the currently working to make things right.

You can pull for whomever you want in this election. You can vote your single issue if that’s the only thing you care about. You can choose to be narrow. But we’re a big complex country with a big, complex population, and the best representation of it is not narrow or weak or small-minded. It’s not bigoted or angry or racist or misogynistic. We are the farthest thing from a single-issue country. America is a Mississippi River of humanity, pushing toward a more open, inclusive, strong, intelligent and sensible society. You can cling to the muddy bank of your narrow little news source or your screechy, single-issue blog if you like, but you’d be better off opening your eyes and seeing where things are actually going, grappling with that reality – because if you don’t, that reality will happily leave you behind.


Written by Alan

October 11th, 2016 at 11:30 pm

Posted in Writing

Make America Great Again

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statue_of_libertyWant to do something good for your country? Want to do something really good for both your country and yourself at the same time? Go take an adult ed course.

No, this isn’t some sort of snide joke about you or me or anyone else being stupid; we all need to smarten up and we need to smarten up fast. Taking a college course, right now, will help you and it will help America in the most tangible and long-lasting way. Behind almost every problem in America, be it street violence, jobs, diet, health, climate change or political engagement, is a lack of education, a lack of involvement and a lack of trust in the institutions of the country, one of the major ones being our education system. So if you claim to be a patriot, go prove it: Make America great again. The first step toward greatness is to improve things, and you’re not going to improve anyone but yourself. So get to work.

On September 11, 2001, when al-Queda managed to hijack a set of jets and use them as bombs, it was following a philosophy espoused by Osama bin Laden that the weaknesses in western culture could be used to destroy us. The man who used a truck to mow down innocent people in Nice, in July of 2016 was following the same philosophy, and the San Bernadino killers used America’s easy access to guns against us. In all cases the death and destruction was made possible by an open and trusting society that left the door unguarded to a powerful instrument of destruction.

And guess what’s even more destructive than a truck? More destructive than a van full of assault rifles? More destructive even than four airplanes full of jet fuel? How about a hundred million people who deny climate change because they don’t understand the science behind it, even though our military leaders list it as the greatest threat to American security? How about an estimated fifty million Americans who believe the 9/11 attacks might have been a US government conspiracy? How about all the people you know who can’t tell the difference between a fact-checking site and a propaganda site on the web? Or the millions of people who currently have viruses on their computers because they fall for online scams and bad links. Computer viruses are both a personal risk and a societal risk because we can carry that bad code with us into industry and government offices, infecting everything along the way.

You have the ability to not be one of these dupes – just get yourself down to a community college or your local adult ed office at a nearby university, and skill-up with a computer course.

Or how about this: Everyone currently hates the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but few people know why Obama has pushed so hard for it. Even if you’re a die-hard Obama hater, do you honestly think he just hates American jobs and is trying to give them away to Peru and Singapore? Take a poli-sci course and find out what’s actually going on there. Stop accepting easy answers because they’re exciting or simple or scary/fun/sexy/cool and make you feel all counter-culture-y, and be one of the people who actually knows the answer – you might still be violently against this trade agreement, but with some education you’ll base your argument on facts instead of a routine you saw on Comedy Central or Fox News.

How about jobs? The job market is actually pretty good at the moment, but the robots are coming, and guess where they’re coming the fastest? They’re heading for the most common jobs in America, because that’s where corporations stand to make the most profit by robotizing. If you’re a truck driver today and you’re 55 years old, you’re probably going to keep working until a standard retirement age. But if you’re driving a truck and you’re 30 years old, you will definitely find yourself out on the street in 10 years because robotic trucks will take over. Bank clerks, toll booth operators, automobile final assembly-line workers, gas pump operators, medical lab technicians, printers, typesetters, photo retouchers and hundreds of other jobs are disappearing or have already disappeared because computers – if not outright robots – can do the job for us and can do it more cheaply and often more more precision. A generation ago one of the top jobs in America was ‘secretary’ or ‘administrative assistant’. Look around you now: aside from the very top echelon of corporate America, there is no such thing as a secretary because most executives and office workers just don’t need them.

Even people like me, with deep knowledge of databases, security, network configuration and performance/tuning – 30 years ago you’d have hired someone like me to set up your database and you’ve have paid me $100/hour or more to do it because you had no choice. Now? Get a free account at Heroku or Amazon AWS, press one button and you’re done: you have a world-class, highly-secured, high-performance database, with file-design assistance and automated backups for absolutely nothing. A robot will keep it free of viruses and hacking, and another robot will recover it for you if you screw it up through your own mistakes. Programmers are constantly scrambling to learn the newest technology because we’ve written systems that automate the jobs we were doing just a minute ago. We technicians are snakes eating our own tails. I take classes all the time in my own area of expertise; because if I didn’t I’d wake up tomorrow morning to find that I’m no longer a database expert, I’m a Walmart greeter.

Constant and meaningful education is the only thing keeping me one step ahead of the ‘bots. So many people are standing up against trade parternships and unions, against offshore manufacturing and jobs moving the Mexico, when the actual danger to your standard of living is that your job will soon be done by a machine, or by nobody. Jobs in America are not disappearing, they’re transorming, and if you don’t transform yourself you will find yourself angry at someone who’s taken away your standard of living, only you won’t know who it is and you’ll be left pointing in the wrong direction by those who planned it.

Education will save you, a better educated population will save America.

And finally, you can’t talk about dangers to America and making America great again without addressing propaganda. All countries propagandize. America has radio stations worldwide that pump out pro-American messages. We export the American ideal with every film, book, television program, Apple product and four-wheel-drive truck we sell. Our spy agencies work to plant pro-American messages deep into the media of other countries. All well & good. We Americans don’t call this propaganda, we call it getting out the message of freedom and liberty.

Do you think China doesn’t do the same thing? Or Russia? How about Saudi Arabia? Iran? England? Germany? All countries put out messages in their own favor, but the messages differ in content and intent. America remains, since the end of World War II, the most powerful nation on earth. We are very hard to attack economically and we’re almost impossible to attack physically (beyond the aforementioned localized terrorism). But culturally we are wide open to attack, and the propaganda pumped at us is designed to undermine the trust in our institutions. Every time somebody posts about how all politicians are evil or untrustworthy, or refuses to differentiate between political parties, to take our politics seriously; every time someone fails to check facts before spreading innuendo, Vladimir Putin has a giggle, because we’ve fallen for a story designed to undermind trust in our society. If you don’t understand the institutions of your own government you will never trust them. If you don’t understand the mechanisms of the press, you won’t know which ones to rely on. If you’re afraid to be challenged by a teacher to defend your position or change, then you’ve lost faith in the American ideal of self-improvement. The goal of foreign propaganda is to undermine, and it’s all too easy to do that to an under-educated population.

Most people look at the Statue of Liberty and see the torch, but what’s she holding in her other arm? It’s called a tabula ansata, it’s a pair of hinged tablets. That’s right, the other arm of liberty is holding a book. You want to really make America great again? Go crack a book.

Written by Alan

October 8th, 2016 at 5:58 pm

Posted in Writing

Strange Attractors

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Mr. Tiger

Mr. Tiger

It is 1966 and I am 9 years old, standing in a field watching clouds. It is a hot summer day in Michigan and the clouds are puffy and thick. They must each contain thousands of tons of water and yet they don’t look like rain clouds, they look like giant ships, sailing on an ocean of air, white sails harnessing the power of the wind, their cargo of rain meant for distant lands east of the Detroit River. There are sounds too. Children playing a game in the distance, crickets creaking quietly in the grass, the sound of cars passing on Farmington Road, lawn mowers growling, the children shouting louder, the sound of a clunk and then a ball rolling in the grass.

The ball rolls past and the shouts grow louder. I lower my gaze from the clouds and see my friend, Tom, running toward me, pointing and shouting for me to get the ball. He barrels past, grabs the ball, turns and throws it back to the infield as a boy rounds second base on his way to an easy in-field triple. Tom smacks me on the back of the head with his mitt as he jogs back toward first base. I am red with embarassment and everyone glares at me before the ball is tossed back to Jan, our pitcher, and the next player steps up to bat.

The clouds move on, but they’re followed by another line of clouds, this one full of horses, galloping after the sailing ships on their endless passage toward the exotic shores of Ontario.

At 9 years old I was standing firm on my baseball record of always being picked last, a record that also, almost always, included being on the field in the traditional position of the last-picked player: Right field.

In pickup baseball, right field is where you go if you want to play with the other kids, but you won’t take the time to practice any of the basic skills, like catching or throwing, or just paying attention to where the ball is, even when it’s flying toward you (I mean, c’mon, that was not supposed to happen); in other words, any of the skills that make you a valuable asset or at least not a detriment, to your friends and your team.

In pickup baseball, the rest of the team calls out to the right fielder at the end of each inning to return to the bench, because they all know that the kid in right field won’t know that the last out just happened. I was that kid. I needed my friends to call me in to bat.

I was comfortable in right field. Right field and me, we were made for each other.

There’s a lot I don’t know about baseball, but I’d make the argument that right field is what mathematicians call an attractor, which is a set of values toward which a dynamical system will tend to evolve. So considering the dynamical system of how to position really bad baseball players, there is an inexorable draw toward Baseball Siberia, the Field Nobody Hits To, The Position of Least Damage… Right Field. You can argue about the relative importance of other positions, but nobody, nobody, would argue that the position that comes in 9th place is anything other than right field. If you had a group of kids like me wandering around a field – whether or not baseball was happening – we’d find ourselve inexorably drawn, for reasons that are hard to see, but which I would argue have deep mathematical underpinnings, to Right Field.

This is me in 1966. It’s September 8th. I’m walking home alone with a mitt and a ball. Baseball has happened but I’ve pretty much forgotten about it, and the embarrassment, and the ridicule. I’m thinking about where the clouds are right now.

Somebody told me that weather systems move at an average of 30mph, so I’m trying to figure out where the clouds are that I saw while on the baseball field (I won’t toy with your intelligence with the over-statement “while I was playing baseball”). Not as far as you’d think: The clouds are maybe 120 miles away. I eat dinner, head, literally, still in the clouds. School has just begun, but there’s no homework yet. So television is allowed, what television there is anyway – three broadcast channels and a scratchy Canadian thing we can sometimes pick up late at night.

But for once, it’s enough.

Becaues, in an instant, it’s not 1966.

It’s Stardate 1513.1 – some sort of decimal day system, and the first person I see in this new universe might not be a person at all – he has pointy ears and is wearing a stretchy leotard. A voice tells me that his name is Spock and that he is temporarily in command of the Starship Enterprise while the Captain and others head down to investigate a planet. A PLANTET. Some other planet than Earth, which is both strange and foreign and also, somehow, just like Earth. The Captain and his planet-side crew shimmer into existence – they are beamed down without the usual space-breathing aparatus, speaking normally, and joking about how the Doctor is about to meet an old girlfriend.

Beaming down makes immediate and perfect sense to me. Why are we not doing this already? I want to beam somewhere else right now.

These space travelers are like me and also not like me. They have burst the surly bonds of Earth, and yet they get teased about old girlfriends. They wear weird clothes, they are good at math and science; they know stuff, but they also have laser-like guns, they get beamed down to strange planets. They are geeks, but also masters of space and time. They are The Right Fielders Who Made Good.

It’s September 9th, 1966, and I’m standing in a field. Baseball is happening, but I am wondering what the Star Date is. Here on Earth, the last minutes of summer tick away, school has begun, and an afternoon baseball game is underway. But somewhere in the universe time is not ticking away in Earth seconds and Earth days. Star Dates are fractional and mysterious and tick to the beat of some universal truth, some Greater Clock. I’m attracted to space travel and the strange differences of being off planet the way I can only dimly imagine my friends actually want to play Second Base, and will argue for it. The Infield is probably a mathematical attractor for another type of 9-year-old, one who cares about baseball heroics and the speedy rather than contemplative part of baseball.

As a kid, my dad used to take us to Detroit Tigers games, and it turned out he was a big fan of Al Kaline, who played right field for the Tigers. We always got cheap seats, so we usually had a great view of Al Kaline’s backside. Kaline played his entire career in Detroit and is still alive today, working the front office for the Tigers. “Mr. Tiger” he was called. It’s even possible I was named Alan because of Al Kaline. I’m cool with that. I played right field too, so it felt right. And I always wondered what Al Kaline was like in real life. I wondered what television shows he liked to watch and I wondered if he ever spent any time out there in right field, watching the clouds go by, wishing he could beam down up to a starship and blow out of this dusty corner of the universe, maybe go shoot some bad guys with his laser, or hold on tight while his ship went into warp drive, instead of being a grown up person on Earth who, after all these years, was still picked last.

Written by Alan

September 16th, 2016 at 12:04 am

Posted in Writing

Chronogram reviews Indigo

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Hudson Valley food and culture magazine, The Chronogram just posted a nice review of Indigo in November 2013’s ‘Short Takes’ column. It’s Chronogram’s 20th Anniversary issue, so grab a copy if you’re in the Hudson Valley, or check them out online!

Written by Alan

November 7th, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Posted in Writing

Inner Life

without comments

Watched “On the Road” last night. A lot’s been said about this film, both positive and negative, but I thought it was great.

But what really struck me was how they captured the stillness you used to be able to experience when you went on the road.

No electronic devices. No constant flood of information. If you were lucky you might pick up one or two radio stations broadcasting local content and some doo-wop, but that was about it. On the road meant something different then; it meant you could be the center of your own life, the star of your own universe. You weren’t always prodded to see your life in the frame of everything else happening back home, or in Washington or Hollywood. You didn’t have a stash of 14,000 songs, books on tape and language lessons on your iPod.

I wonder what you lose when you lose your capacity to handle silence?

Am also sort of wondering if there isn’t an app to help with that.

Written by Alan

November 3rd, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Posted in Writing