Seeing J. Michael Straczynski

Saturday night we went up to the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco to see J. Michael Straczynski speak in promotion of his memoir, Becoming Superman. The talk had been postponed from mid-August because JMS had a freak accident and badly dislocated his shoulder while leaving for the airport.

The museum is in one of the busiest parts of the city, next to Fisherman’s Wharf, so we went up early and got an early dinner so we’d be there on time. We walked past the museum and noticed the talk had been moved from 7 pm to 8 pm. Huh, just a typo? I checked Twitter, and it seemed Straczynski had been stuck at the airport in Burbank for hours due to fog in SF. (The SF airport is actually about 10 miles south of the city, but in an area that arguably gets much more fog than the city itself!) Nonetheless, after killing some time at the Musée Méchanique, we were first in line when the doors opened at 6:30.

Fortunately, Straczynski was able to get a standby seat on an earlier flight and managed to arrive nearly to the original schedule! However, since the event had been announced to have been postponed until 8, he and his interviewer vamped for half an hour. The vamping, however, was just as enjoyable as the talk!

I haven’t yet read the book – I bought a copy as part of my ticket to get it autographed – but I’m quite looking forward to it. Because this event showed that Straczynski is as good at telling stories about himself as he is at telling fiction. (I’m a huge fan of Babylon 5, and have enjoyed many of his comic books as well.) After the “warm up” where he told a few stories of his previous visits to San Francisco, he bantered with the interviewer and related tales of his early life and career, through The Real Ghostbusters and Murder: She Wrote. Unfortunately time ran short for later stories and turned to questions from the audience, but nonetheless it was well worth the trip. He was funny, self-deprecating, and thoughtful. Afterwards he signed books and briefly chatted with attendees. I had him sign Becoming Superman and Midnight Nation, although if I’d thought of it I might have had him sign The Twelve instead – though they both hit me in similar ways, they just take different paths to get there.

Now, here’s the paragraph that I’ve written several times and just can’t get quite right, but I hope my meaning comes through:

I don’t really have “heroes” or “idols” among media figures. Many of them seem like good people, many of them have admirable stories, but it also seems like they often don’t live up to the hopes we vest in them. And, well, they’re only human. That said, I’ve been following Straczynski since the early 90s when he was promoting Babylon 5 online before it aired, and I’ve always thought of him as a good guy, a straight talker, someone who deals with people fairly. These days he’s quite active on Twitter and watching him politely but firmly stare down Twitter trolls can be a sight to see. His writing is fun, engaging, and thoughtful, and he pulls back the curtain to explain where he’s coming from. He owns up to his own failings. He’s not the only person with these traits, but what he writes and who he is speaks to me like few others do. And I was delighted to see that all of that comes through when seeing him in person, too.

Oh, and he was willing to have his photo taken with this guy:

I highly recommend seeing him speak if you have a chance. And I’m very much looking forward to reading his new book.

On Daylight Savings Time

I’m a fan of Daylight Savings Time. Basically because I don’t like to get up in the dark, and I like it to stay light as late as possible. My ideal would be for the sun to come up about 15 minutes before my alarm went off every day, but that’s not very realistic.

Lots of people hate Daylight Savings Time. I recently tweeted that Daylight Savings Time is like the Designated Hitter for non-sports fans. (Non-sports fans didn’t seem to get the joke; the existence of the Designated Hitter has been a major controversy in professional baseball since it was introduced in the early 1970s, with both sides being so entrenched that it’s unlikely anything will ever change. Long, long ago I wrote a short essay in defense of it. But I digress.) I have some appreciation for why they hate it, but I don’t agree with them. And rants I read about it often make me feel like they have no appreciation at all for why I like it.

This article, Why I Like DST, has been making the rounds this week, but I think it obfuscates its point (in particular, I think all his talk about computers is just a sideshow; automation has nothing to do with whether someone likes DST or not). Being one of those “arrogant programmers” he talks about, I thought I’d try fixing his article. 🙂

I think Daylight Savings Time basically comes down to this: Here’s when the sun will will rise and set in San Francisco on the shortest and longest days of the year of 2013, on each Standard Time and Daylight Savings Time:

  Longest Day
(June 21)
Shortest Day
(Dec 21)
Pacific Standard Time
(Winter time)
Rise: 4:48 am
Set: 7:35 pm
Rise: 7:22 am
Set: 4:55 pm
Pacific Daylight Time
(Summer time)
Rise:5:48 am
Set: 8:35 pm
Rise: 8:22 am
Set: 5:55 pm

(Table from the United States Naval Observatory, from which the article above also got its table.)

I don’t want the sun coming up at 8:22 am in the winter – winter can be depressing enough (expecially for people with seasonal affective disorder, which I think I have a mild form of) without waking up in the dark every day. I’d rather the sun came up closer to 7 (around the time I get up). On the other hand, I don’t really want it coming up at 4:48 am, several hours before I get up, in the summer; I’d rather have it come up later and stay light until nearly 9 pm.

And I’m happy to change my clocks twice a year to get closer to those ideals.

Now, your mileage may vary: You might get up or go to bed at a very different time from me, you might always get up in the dark year-round (Debbi gets up at 4 am most weekday mornings, well before sunrise in any of the squares on the chart), you might just hate changing your clocks twice a year. It’s really a matter of opinion. But it seems like people who hate the switch just don’t understand why people might like it. For me, it serves a purpose: I’m a light fiend, and I want to have as much of it during my waking hours as I can.

If we do someday end it, I’d rather we land on Daylight time year-round, since it’s closer to what I’d want (more daylight later in the day). I guess it would be some consolation that in the dead of winter I could watch the sun come up when I’m sitting down to breakfast.

But switching between the two times, as we do, is even better.

Oh, and I’m also pretty happy with the change made a few years ago to start DST earlier in the year and end it later, since it means I can bike to work for a few more weeks without having to bike home in the dark.


The Scientific American podcast recently had an episode titled “Psychopathy’s Bright Side: Kevin Dutton on the Benefits of Being a Bit Psychopathic”. In it, interviewee Kevin Dutton says:

Psychopaths in everyday life, if I’m talking about what kinds of psychopathic characteristics serve people well in everyday life, well, psychopaths are assertive, psychopaths don’t procrastinate, psychopaths focus on the positives, psychopaths don’t take things personally, they don’t beat themselves up when things go wrong, and they’re very cool under pressure.”

I listened to this bit and thought, “Wow, I’m pretty much the anti-psychopath.” Not completely (I’m assertive in many circumstances and I sometimes focus on the positives), but mostly.

Psychopaths probably make good poker players.

(Dutton’s book on the subject is The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success.)

Teatro Zinzanni

Those of my readers who know I work on Apple’s developer tools may have heard that we recently shipped Xcode 4. But this entry isn’t about that (since, well, this isn’t a work or an Apple blog). Rather, it’s about our ship celebration, which was dinner at Teatro Zinzanni in San Francisco on Thursday night.

Debbi and I decided to take the bus up with most everyone else, mainly because driving into the city during rush hour wasn’t attractive, but also because driving home after dinner wasn’t real appealing either. It only took a little over an hour for the bus to get there, so it wasn’t much of a compromise.

Teatro Zinzanni is – literally – dinner-and-a-show, the show being similar in some respects to Cirque du Soleil, but with a dash of vaudeville and audience participation thrown in. The show alternates a comedy bit – usually plucking an audience member for their involvement and a little embarrassment – with a musical and/or acrobatic performance, and one of the five courses of the dinner. While the style of the comedy bits were not really my thing (although seeing my cow-orkers’ involvement was greatly humorous, which made up for it), the other performances were very impressive. I was particularly amazed at the feats of strength and acrobatics performed by “Les Petits Frères”, which were frequently amazing.

(I’m amused that Zinzanni’s slogan is “Love, chaos and dinner”, since in order to perform these stunts in a dinner setting what they’re doing is anything but chaos.)

Almost worth the visit all by themselves are the available mixed drinks (PDF), of which I think I had one more than I really ought to have had. (Another excellent reason to have taken the bus.) I think the “Bella Donna” was my favorite.

We had fun socializing before dinner. Debbi met many of my cow-orkers, whom she mostly hadn’t met since I moved to a different team last summer, and we caught up with a few people we don’t see very often.

It was around midnight by the time we made it home, but it was well worth it. We have some friends who are big fans of Teatro Zinzanni, and I can see going back sometime.

I’d just rather not be one of the people picked to participate in one of the comedy bits!

Regarding “Against Camel Case”

Caleb Crain’s article “Against Camel Case” in the New York Times is part informative historical information, and part silly exhortation. And through it all he doesn’t address the most important issue, that being, shouldn’t it be spelled “CamelCase”?

Actually, what I think he misses is the more interesting issue, which is that while the advent of writing initially helped to “fix” language so that it evolved somewhat more slowly (well, English, anyway), the greater use of writing for a wider variety of communication has cause the written form of the language to evolve rapidly and in unpredictable ways: The ubiquity of acronyms (LOL, WTF, IMHO and their brethren), which evolved (sort of) into L33Tspeak and text message lingo (which seems closely related in spirit, if not in derivation), which has started creeping out of the Internet and into student papers and such.

Language evolves. These things happen. I’m as pedantic as the next guy (probably much more pedantic than the next guy) about using correct grammar and spelling (typos and my meandering run-on sentences notwithstanding), but arguing for uniformity seems hopeless at best, senseless at worst. Set against some of the linguistic developments of the Internet age, camel case seems relatively innocuous.

Crain’s historical notes on the subtraction and later restoration of spaces in Latin is fascinating (separation of words by spaces was dropped completely? Wow), but I think he’s missing the forest for the trees: It’s pretty drastic to drop what is the functional demarcation between units, but not nearly as much so to drop a demarcation within a unit. “Bank of America” doesn’t mean “this is the bank of the entire nation” (there are, after all, other banks), but rather “this is a bank whose unique name is ‘Bank of America'”. That’s probably not that BofA wants their name to mean, but in practice that’s what people use the name to mean. And I expect that BofA recognized this when they changed their name (if only temporarily) to “BankAmerica”. (They might also have wanted to avoid people accidentally abbreviating their name with a term that could be pronounced ‘boh-fah’, though I have always heard people pronounce it as ‘bee-of-ay’.) The whole term is a unit, and the spacing is almost irrelevant.

Camel case is currently used in terms intended to sound trendy or cool (or that’s how I interpret it, anyway). Obviously, YMMV as to whether it sounds that way, but the intent, I think, is to convey that little extra emphasis. (Whether or not camel case is appropriate for a given company or product is another matter.) But I hardly think the loss of a few spaces is worth much fuss. At best, it might be grounds for a slippery slope argument, and we all know how much those are worth. It seems more likely that camel case is just one of Crain’s pet peeves.

The evolution of language is a fascinating thing, and it’s going to happen whether we want it to or not, and probably in ways we can’t anticipate. It’s just one more way the information era is changing and challenging the nature of our lives and our world.

Snow Leopard Celebration

Often when we ship a new version of Mac OS X, there will be a celebration event for the organization. We were trying to remember the other day whether we’ve had one for every release (I’m pretty sure we didn’t have one for Puma), but I’ve thought in any case that none of them equalled the party for shipping Cheetah (OS X 10.0), which was held in Hangar One at Moffett Field.

But I think we just surpassed that one, with the party for Snow Leopard, which was held on Friday evening at the newly-rebuilt California Academy of Sciences. The museum shut down for a private party for just us, and even though there were hundreds people there, I’m told by people who have been to the new building (this was my first visit) that it wasn’t anywhere near as crowded as when it’s open to the public, so it was totally worth it. I don’t even want to think how much it cost to rent the place for a Friday evening.

I visited the old Academy a couple of times before it was demolished (like the De Young Museum nearby, Cal Academy’s old buildings were damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and had to be rebuilt from scratch), and I recall it being interesting but quaint, in an old stone-and-concrete structure which felt too small for the Academy’s ambitions. The new building is huge, three stories tall with a garden that covers the whole roof, and a spacious floor plan based around the Morrison Planetarium in one wing, and the tropical rainforest in the other. It’s quite a structure.

I love rainforests and we made a point of visiting before it closed at 8 pm (the party started at 6:30). You start at the bottom and walk upwards, with the air getting more and more humid as you progress. There are butterflies and birds in the habitat, and you’re asked to check yourself for butterflies before you leave. We also made a point to get Planetarium tickets, where we saw a show titled “Fragile Planet” about the possibility of life on other worlds. The script was a little dodgy at times (although it might play better to someone who hasn’t been reading science fiction all his life), but the visuals were fantastic, especially the opening sequence of lifting off from Earth. Well worth the visit.

The “living roof” was disappointing only in that you can’t see as much in the dark; I suspect it’s better seen in the daytime. Certainly it looked stunning in the Planetarium show. But the interior didn’t disappoint, with African dioramas, the giant pendulum, fossils and skeleton reproductions, displays and interactive presentations, and the Steinhart Aquarium, which is not as impressive as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but is still fun. The party lasted until 11, which was enough time to see everything, some things more than once.

Debbi came with me as my guest, and were socialized with many of my cow-orkers and their guests. Over the last 10 years I’ve gotten to know quite a few people at Apple, though it’s always a little surprising how many people I don’t recognize, even from just walking around campus. It’s a big company.

Debbi and I left a little early – although things were starting to wind down – and went to Ghirardelli Square to wrap up the evening with ice cream.

I didn’t take pictures of the party itself, but we did take some good pictures of the academy, for your viewing pleasure. I certainly recommend going if you’re in the area – assuming you want to brave the crowds.

Hanging whale skeleton
The hanging blue whale skeleton
(click for larger image)

Blue Butterfly
Large blue butterfly in the rainforest

Blue Lizard
This lizard is smaller than my hand

T Rex skeleton
Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton
(click for larger image)

Sea dragons
Sea dragons
(photo by Debbi)

Sea turtle
A lively sea turtle

White alligator
A rare albino alligator
(click for larger image)

Tortoise and Me
Me and a model of a large tortoise
(photo by Debbi, of course)


A few months ago I wrote about how I’ve been walking to more places near my house this year, and later how walking to get lunch was a nice fringe benefit of working from home. Now J.D. Roth has written his own entry on walkable neighborhoods.

J.D. emphasizes his most important point:

To me, a “walkable neighborhood” doesn’t mean a neighborhood where people could walk to-and-from stores; it means a neighborhood where people do walk to-and-from stores. That’s a subtle but important difference.

I agree totally. While I could walk to more places in my area, in reality I mostly head into our city’s downtown, which is much more interesting than any of the local neighborhoods (and is, indeed, one of the nicest downtowns in the county, in my opinion). But it’s a 30-minute walk away, and I’m rarely motivated to spend a 60-minute round trip just commuting to and from downtown. In reality, I only walk there when I’m going down to catch the train up to San Francisco. Plus, downtown has abundant parking. So I drive there instead. I think the presence of downtown in easy driving distance, but somewhat more difficult walking distance, greatly reduces the walkability of my own neighborhood. Consequently, although was have a few little strip malls within half a mile of my house, I think the presence of downtown dissuades potential restauranteurs and retail stores from opening up in my area. They’d rather be downtown, where the people are.

Serious walkers – and I know several – may laugh at my being daunted by a 30-minute walk one-way, but honestly my time is more important to me than either getting some walking in or reducing my environmental impact by driving less. I’d rather spend that time biking, and I tend not to use my bike to commute, except to work, for various reasons. Also, my environmental footprint is already fairly small; I drive a Honda Civic, and only put around 7K miles on it a year, which is a minuscule impact compared to most of my fellow Americans, I’d guess.

The other neat thing in J.D.’s post is a reference to Walk Score, which will compute the “walk score” for any address. I both love automated computation engines like this, and view them with suspicion. That doesn’t stop me from playing around with them, though, so, I checked out walk scores for many of the places I’ve lived:

  • The house where I grew up has a score of 62, “somewhat walkable”. This surprised me, since the nearby town center has a Starbucks, grocery store, hardware store, post office, bank, and subway station. Not much retail or dining, though, which might hurt it.
  • The apartment I lived senior year of college has a score of 86, “very walkable”. It was a 30-minute walk from campus, and a 5-minute walk from the New Orleans streetcar line, plus various other stores. It didn’t feel quite this walkable, though.
  • The apartment I lived in during grad school in Madison has a score of 86 too. It was right next to a 7-11, a 20 minute walk from downtown, and had many other things in easy walking distance. It was a great location.
  • The apartment I moved to after grad school has a score of 89, also “very walkable”. It was close to a grocery store and a 10-minute walk from downtown, so this makes sense.
  • The apartment I lived in when I first moved to California has a score of 49, “car dependent”. It was a 10-minute walk from downtown, and downtown was a pretty desolate place at the time (it’s better now, including having a light rail station). But yeah, getting around was difficult. I hated the location, mainly because all my friends lived at least a 20-minute drive away. (The apartment was nice enough, though.)
  • My current home has a score of 75, “very walkable”. This seems high to me, although I agree the area is not really car-dependent.

As you might guess, when we next move Debbi and I would like to get closer to downtown. Though overall our current place is a pretty good location. And it has another advantage that’s the exact opposite of walkability: Outstanding freeway access.

The Doctor and the King

Pop culture tidbits from teh Intertubes:

First, a two-page spread of all ten Doctors by Kelly Yates, from an upcoming Doctor Who comic book. (via The Beat) Nice idea, but the art isn’t a style I’m into, and something about the figures seems rather off: arms a little long, legs a little short, faces not quite right…

More ridiculously, here’s Warren Ellis, King of the Internet. (via Warren Ellis)

A Phelpsian Post

The Olympics seem to be on everyone’s mind lately, so here are a couple of the neater things I’ve found on the Web about them:

First, frame-by-frame evidence of Michael Phelps’ 0.01-second victory in the 100-meter butterfly. Looks pretty conclusive to me. (via Daring Fireball)

After winning 8 gold medals at this year’s contests, maybe Michael Phelps would like to star in some film roles. Here’s one he seems well-suited for.

Well-suited! Har! But seriously, the resemblance is uncanny.