Seven Things – Tagged by Keith Casey

Keith Casey tagged me about a month ago and I decided to go for it. However, I went a little overboard with the editing, thinking, and pulling out all sorts of tangents, so it took me a while.

Anyway, here are seven things you might not know about me:

I’ve worn a rat suit – My sister took ballet lessons from some young grade all the way through high school. Two of the schools she attended closed, leaving VanDyke and Company in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania as the closest school she could reasonably attend. Every couple of years, Joan VanDyke would organize a production of The Nutcracker. Being a small town production (and the lack of male ballet enthusiasts), she would always ask for volunteers to fill in some of the male parts. I volunteered, as I knew the difficulties of trying to do something different in a small town (don’t say I never did anything for the arts ;) ). I started off doing one of the more formal ballroom scenes, but then she also needed people to fill rat suits. Before you knew it, I was doing a 90 second transformation from a statesman into a grey leotard-clad rodent.

At less than 7,000 people, Punxsutawney is definitely a small town. Joan could have used this as an excuse to just teach some 2nd graders the different ballet positions and have a cutesy little show done to the music of Beauty and The Beast. But she didn’t; not for one second. She was so obsessed with the art of ballet that even after I was in college, she would ask if I was continuing my dancing. (She asks everyone this!) Instead of getting away with an average dance school, she spent day and night pursuing excellence, resulting in well-attended and loved productions.

Lesson learned: focus on your craft and your passion instead of the limitations you think you have.

I used to have a stupid mustache – early on in college, I had a mustache that didn’t quite meet in the middle, but no beard. My school had a well-defined dress and grooming code at the time that prohibited beards. For whatever reason, mustaches were okay so a lot of us had them. Also, you had to wear a collared shirt and tie to class, but you were allowed to wear jeans. You ended up with a lot of limit-testers who wore mustaches, baggy jeans, and duct tape ties.

These rules were written in the sixties and have been almost entirely abandoned since I graduated. The intent of them was never to produce such ridiculous looking wardrobes, but to prepare people for the business world.

Although many American business have loose or unwritten dress codes, people still tend to dress themselves to a particular standard. Once in a while, I hear fellow geeks complaining about company dress codes. Some of us are non-conformist types, while others just prefer to dress functionally without a lot of bother. Frequently, the argument is “I don’t see how this tie/shirt/pair of pants affects my performance one way or the other.” The problem with this argument is that dress codes are not about you, they’re about others. What you wear sends messages about what you think of the people around you. You might think it’s silly, but people (often unconsciously) notice when you aren’t putting any effort into your personal appearance. This gets interpreted as “that guy doesn’t care what people think of him.” If you have a job where you almost never interact with others, this may not be such a big deal. But the more your job involves meeting with others in your company (and possibly clients), the more important it is to start things off on the right foot.

When people aren’t distracted by what you’re wearing, they will be more likely to listen to you when you are trying to convince them that running your PHP application on that creaky Windows 2000 server in the closet isn’t such a great idea. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on your wardrobe, hours in front of a mirror, or stay up to date on the cutting edge of fashion trends. Just find comfortable clothes that match the prevailing standard. With the salaries most programmers command, cost shouldn’t be an issue. I’ve known unpaid interns on Capitol Hill who definitely dress better than jeans and a t-shirt.

I’m a former SimCity addict - I don’t play many video games, but the one I’ve played the most by far has been SimCity. I’ve played every version for PC: classic, 2000, 3000, and 4. The user interface on 4 is supposedly unusable; evidently I didn’t notice as I kept on playing. Now that it’s available as an iPhone application, that gives me another reason to (not?) buy an iPhone. The iPhone version appears to be based on the 3000 engine from the screenshots I’ve seen. Hmmm… we’ll have to see. No deep lesson here about life, the universe, and everything; I just wish I had spent more time reading books instead.

I exhausted QBasic’s 64k file size limit – I wrote a tile based game in QBasic when I was 12. Unfortunately, I was unaware of the concept of arrays and proceeded to define variables for each tile on the screen. I think the grid was something like 16 x 16, so this resulted in several chunks of code dealing with 256 different variables. Naturally, this filled up 64k pretty quickly and I couldn’t write any more of the game. Long after I abandoned the project, I was poking through the QBasic documentation and discovered the section on arrays. I wanted to go back and rewrite the game, but couldn’t find the source code :(. Lessons: read the documentation often and use version control!

Nearly electrocuted myself with a Capsela set – Capsela sets  were these plastic balls with gears inside that you would connect together to build machines. You could also connect wheels or floatational extensions to make cars and amphibious contraptions. The power for your model came from a AA battery compartment with wires that would connect to specific plastic balls with powered gears. The set came with a sort of tutorial you could walk through to learn about the basics of physics and electricity. When I was 8, my dad and I read through one of the lessons; I believe it was either about positive and negative charges or AC vs. DC. We finish reading through the lesson and he walks off to work on the computer (which I had crashed earlier that day). I start building something with the set, then start wondering “what would happen if I stuck each of these wires coming from the battery compartment into the holes of the electrical socket over there?” The answer to that could have been a lot worse than what happened: there was a loud pop and the battery shattered inside of the compartment. I was pretty shaken that day, but I wasn’t injured. I thank God that I’m still here today to tell this story! I guess the lesson here is to check your voltages and to explore carefully!

Blog: Carless in South Tulsa – When I started blogging, I was just out of college and living in suburban Tulsa without a car. I was also (and still am) keenly interested in urban development, so why not write a blog about this? I just so happened to not have a car and wanted to show other people what it was like to live without a car in a heavily suburban environment. It probably would have made a halfway decent blog if I had spent the time writing it. I ended up just going with a self-titled blog and published it with Mambo, then Joomla!, and finally now WordPress. I eventually did change the name of the blog to Sidewalk Advocate for a while and tried my hand at covering urban development topics. However, there are much better sources for that like Planetizen. I’m now becoming enamored with the small house movement, but that’s another blog post.

I mailed out one of those “Guiness Book of World Records” chain letters – Long before email, there was this institution called the United States Postal Service. In my town, it was the way you could send a message to anyone in the world and they would be able to read it without any additional equipment whatsoever. Throughout the years, people started “chain letters” where you would send the letter to six of your friends, asking them to send the letter to six of their friends. You added your name to the bottom of the list of people who got the letter before you and then passed the message along. (Kind of like this 7 things blog post meme.) You were supposed to take the person off the top of the list and send them a postcard. If people didn’t break the chain, you were supposed to get back lots of postcards because your name would be bubbling to the top of people’s lists as the letter was passed around. Sort of like the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, only with people you’ve never heard of and nifty postcards.

There were some problems with this chain though. There was no way to centrally track the reach of the chain. Supposedly the postcards would have done this, but your name is off the list once you reach the 7th person. The USPS later asked people not to send these; I remember some poster mathematically showing how a chain letter could shut down the system. Since then, the Guinness Book of World Records has specifically announced they won’t publish chain letter records.

At the time, I mailed out all six letters and sent out the postcard. At this time, we did not have a computer, so I hand copied each letter in my best penmanship. That’s right, I copied the sucker by hand six times. The letters went in the mail, but I never received a single postcard. However, I did receive the chain letter again, only with four people instead of six on the list. If you ever got this letter and Joseph LeBlanc of Indiana, PA was at the top, you owe me a postcard. My address has changed, so email contact [at] jlleblanc (p-e-r-i-o-d) com to get it from me. I’ll be waiting…

In the meantime, I’ll keep this chain going. I’m now tagging you if your name is…

The rules (I broke #3 slightly as I don’t know where everyone’s blogs are. If you’re on Facebook, you can write a note.):

  1. Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog.
  2. Share seven facts about yourself in the post – some random, some weird.
  3. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  4. Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs and/or Twitter.

5 Responses to “Seven Things – Tagged by Keith Casey”