Jan 14, 2015

The Cult of the Coffee Cup

Let's face it, coffee is the life blood of programming. Oh, you can take your caffeine in other forms, Jolt cola was very popular at one time, I know a fellow who drank Mountain Dew by the gallon. There are other, newer,  powerful stimulant drinks out there And, of course, there are people who swear by Dexedrine and Adderall. Personally I am not a fan of Dexedrine or Adderall. Speaking from experience they are bad for both your mental and physical health. 

If you are in tech at all you will have noticed that we all drink a lot of coffee and as a result there is a Cult of the Coffee Cup. Since we all drink coffee one way to exert our individuality is to own a unique coffee cup. Companies that advertise to us have learned this and give out coffee cups as trade show swag. Companies that employee us have learned the same thing and give out coffee cups as rewards for completing projects or serving on a design team or.. or.. Hey if it weren't for the desirability of coffee cup swag Cafepress.com wouldn't be in business, would they? That is what they are for? Right? How else would my wife have managed to get me a grumpy programmer T-shirt and coffee cup for Christmas?

I just recently broke my Siggraph 2000 coffee cup. I loved that cup. It can not be replaced. I have a coffee cup from a company I worked for more than 30 years ago. And another from the company I worked for before that. Coffee cups mark our time in the tech world. They prove that we were there, we did that. Sometimes they prove that we were stupid enough to work for that company or take that class.

T-shirts are used much the same way as coffee cups, and they are more popular with some people because they are much more blatant, more out there and in your face. But, lets face it, T-shirts do not age well. A 30 year old T-shirt is a wash rag, not a garment. That's why I have gone through several "You can go to hell, and I will go to Texas" Davy Crockett T-shirts. 

Ok, I figured out the Cult of the Coffee Cup while working at the University of Utah as an undergraduate. I started collecting coffee cups and trying to walk around with subtly odd cups just to see how people would react. It takes a very observant person to get a subtle sight joke. People who got the jokes, and told me about it, were worth knowing.

When I moved on from college I went to work for Sperry Univac corporation. I was working in a converted manufacturing plant with bare concrete floors, high ceilings, and metal partitions that were only a few inches higher than my desk. We were crammed in four desks to a cube. The place did not have a great work environment. But, the work was fun, the folks were mostly interesting, and my managers were actually pretty good. Not to mention that it paid pretty well for Salt Lake City in the '70s. Oh yeah, did I mention that the place had no windows? During the winter I came to work in the dark and left in the dark without ever seeing the sun.

At Univac we had access to lots of coffee. Often stale, semi cold, poor quality coffee. But, it had caffeine and it was black and it kept the brain ticking over. Of course, everyone had a coffee cup or three. A few people had unique cups, and they were admired for it. Most had pretty generic cups that looked like they had been "borrowed" from the cafeteria. 

One day I was looking for a book at the U of U book store and came across a shelf of U of U themed beer steins. One of them was shaped just like a coffee cup. This cup was unique. This cup could hold nearly a quart (US). I bought it and took it to work and started using it as my coffee cup. I had the biggest coffee cup on plant. 

That huge coffee cup messed with people heads. One day I was filling that cup and a fellow walked up, looked at the cup, and took a startled step back. I said some thing like "I'll be done in just a minute" meaning that I would be done with the coffee pot in a minute. That poor fellow said "My" then stammered "that is a big coffee cup!". To which I replied truthfully "Yes, I have the biggest one on plant." He blushed. He turned and walked away.

For some odd reason I found out later that behind my back people were referring to me as "the guy with the big one." I do not think that hurt my career at all.

Many years later I was working for the company now known as AT&T. At the time they were SBC (Southwestern Bell Corporation). There is a long story about how one of the baby bells grew up and murdered it mother company. But, I am not going to tell it here.

SBC had the coffee habit something fierce. It came by it naturally from the need to have people fixing telephone lines on high poles during blizzards on the tops of mountains. SBC believed in coffee. Really bad coffee. They also believed in coffee cups. They gave out coffee cups to acknowledge truly outstanding accomplishments. Most accomplishments only rated plaques or nice formal letters. But, on occasion, they gave out coffee cups.

I was in Seattle visiting Microsoft (weirder in person than from far away) and wound up walking through a shopping mall. The mall had a Seattle's Best Coffee shop and I got a nice double espresso there. I could not help noticing that their initials were SBC and since I worked for a different SBC I decided to see if they sold coffee cups.

SBC sells coffee cups. I found the most amazing solid black coffee cup with the letters SBC in faux gold leaf surrounded by a laurel of faux gold leaf holly leaves. It was a thing of beauty. I bought it and took it to work.

For years after that I was questioned about that cup. I was stopped in the halls by corporate executives and asked what I had had to do, who I had had to kill, to be given a cup like that? I always answered truthfully that I bought it at Seattle's Best Coffee in Seattle. The look of stunned confusion on their faces was worth telling the truth. Messing with people's preconceptions is good for their mental health, isn't it?

Don't get me wrong. I am a member of the Cult of the Coffee Cup. But, once you know about something like that, it is OK to have a little fun with it!

Jan 12, 2015

Vive la France!

We have all heard the sad news about the attacks in Paris. By now you might have heard that the US messed up more than a little bit by not sending someone really important to participate in the million+ person march that took place the next day. The failure to show on the part of the US is pretty hard to understand. The only thing I have been able to think of is that most of the attacks of this sort have been against countries, and the US has had our share of those attacks and our representatives thought of the Paris attacks as pretty small compared to 9/11. Yeah, that sounds good. I think I will stick with that story.

But, the new attacks were not against France. They were against basic concepts of civilization as I know it.

The attacks in Paris were targeted against basic human rights. To be specific, the rights of free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. Not to mention Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. To my mind those rights transcend any one nation or time. They are greater than the US and France and deserve a much greater reaction than does an attack on any single country.

Oh well, we definitely messed up on that one. And, you know... I hope the French cut us a little slack. No matter what our government did or didn't do a lot of Americans shed tears over those attacks. I was really hard not to write a knee jerk emotional blog post titled "We Are All Charlie". But, I decide to write something in a lower key and maybe try to tell people how I see the relationship, the deep and abiding relationship, between the US and France.

The US and France have a "peculiar" relationship. I have spent much time and too much research on trying to come up with an analogy that comes close to describing the relationship. I finally decide that the US and France act like brothers, but brothers who both think of themselves as the older wiser brother.

People say that the US has a special relationship with the UK. Fine, I suppose we do. But, it is nothing like the relationship we have with France. It doesn't take much knowledge of history to be able to justify the claim that if there were no France, there very well may have been no US. On the other hand, if the US did not exist the modern history of France would be very different. France may not have survived at all. That is a tie that goes deeper than blood. We are family, adopted brothers in a very dysfunctional family perhaps, but historically when the chips are down you do for family, and the US has always -eventually- shown up for France, and vice versa. We are both countries born in revolution against tyranny. Both countries try (really the US does try) to remember that we are dedicated to the concepts of freedom, liberty, and justice for all people of all nations.

It certainly isn't all roses between the two countries. We can always count on France to let us know when they disagree with us, just like an older wiser brother would, and every time they do some know-nothing in congress tries to change the name of "French Fries" to "Freedom Fries". But, nothing can match the way the French can sneeringly say "filthy Americans". I won't even try to represent in text a sound that only the French can make. That French sneer is high art and deserves to be respected.

I just hope that the French, and everyone else, understand that the US is in this fight. We all need all the help we can get. Watching the way the French and the rest of the world reacted to this set of attacks made me proud to be a human being. The trouble is that the other side are also human beings. This is a conflict between incompatible cultures. Those do not end well. Not well at all.

Jan 7, 2015

Web Comic #2

The good folks at readwrite.com have posted the next episode of the web comic based on good old grumpy me!  It is about my life as a clueless noob...

As you can tell I am soooo lucky to have met my wonderful wife! Of course, it helps that she is a geek too. She is an PE ME and she has been putting up with my cluelessness for nearly 40 years.