Coming in under the wire this time, but I have my reasons. See yesterday’s post if you’re wondering about those.
Title: The Phoenix Project
Author: Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, George Spafford
This one was, in a way, assigned. My predecessor as CTO, who is now an investor and board member, suggested I read it as part of training for a position that I will freely admit I am still unprepared to hold. That said, it wasn’t all bad. I could justify reading it during working hours if I had downtime, so there’s that.
The premise of the book is that it’s a guide to implementing DevOps practices, but disguised as a novel. The story follows Bill, an IT manager at an automotive corporation, as he attempts to right the sinking ship his company has become. Their latest creation, the titular Phoenix Project, is long overdue and far beyond its initial budget, but the company is in such disarray that they can’t make any headway on it. Instead, management pushes them through a disastrous deployment, and our hero is left to clean up the mess.
Yeah, I get that. And I get how it relates to my own position. We’re pretty close to that rollout right now, so the advice is…timely, I suppose.
As non-novel novels go, it’s not too bad. Characterization is scant, dialog sometimes feels forced, but the story progresses in a relatively normal manner. It reads like a novel, not a manual, although the manual qualities come out a lot more often than in other attempts at the format. (Is there a Manga Guide to DevOps yet? There should be. That might actually get me interested in the art style!)
If the book has any major failing, it’s that far too much of the “story” revolves around the Mary Sue character of Erik. He isn’t there to create or resolve conflict; his only purpose is to recite MBA mantras cloaked in mystical thinking. As you probably know, I detest mystical thinking. It’s why I couldn’t continue CBT. It’s why I tried to reinvent humanism. When people start blathering about threefold paths and pretending their way is the only way, that’s when I tune out.
So it was here. For the business improvement aspects of The Phoenix Project, I would rather read a bulleted list than the monologue of an author insert. At least then the lack of criticism and skepticism surrounding it would make sense.
Despite that, I consider this a good read, but only because it has useful information. Forget the story part. That’s nothing to write home about. But the business advice, even presented in this form, does have merit. And that’s not a bad way to end the summer.
As this summer nears its end—I promise I’ll get that last Summer Reading List post up before Labor Day!—I can’t help but look back and see what a difference three months makes. And, for that matter, what a difference a partner makes.
I’ve mentioned her many times on PPC, but it was always with a note of sorrow. For three years, I alternately tried and gave up on trying. Whether it was my inability to get a job, a lack of transportation, bouts of severe depression, or a global cabal attempting to establish a New World Order by creating an overblown pandemic, something always kept me from getting to her. Nothing brought me down harder than getting a simple text message (“I miss you” always did the trick) from the woman I love and knowing in my heart that I could do nothing. I couldn’t even respond with anything approaching truthfulness, because I didn’t miss her. You can’t miss what you never had, after all.
A few weeks ago, however, the stars finally aligned. I drove into a city I’ve never visited, through a storm even more turbulent than my emotions, to a nice house on a nice street. As I parked my mom’s car—the only vehicle I had available at the time—I felt like I was going to throw up, and my mind was flooded with questions, worries, doubts. Would she recognize me? Would she want to talk to me? What would her family think? It was all I could do not to turn the car back on and back out of the driveway.
She came out to meet me, but…not exactly. I’d imagined that we would embrace like long-lost lovers desperate for one another’s touch; instead, she stood a few feet away, staring at her phone. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I thought was indifference on her part was actually the same fear I felt.
Since then, we’ve spent four weekends together, and Labor Day will mark our fifth. They aren’t really “dates” in the traditional sense, although we do have date-like activities. We go to restaurants, visit landmarks, and she even convinced me to try an escape room. Twice, we’ve stayed at hotels in our respective towns, and that was out of both caution and respect. At home, we’ll watch movies or play games, but that’s so much different with her.
What I’ve learned most in this time is perspective. We’re a lot alike, and it took seeing her in person before I truly understood what that meant. The problems I thought were mine alone are, in fact, something we share. And that means we can solve them together, just like we did for that escape room. Sure, working out a future in a fast-collapsing world is much more difficult than finding the clues that unlock a door, but I don’t have to do it alone.
That’s the thing. When you’ve gone so long without any kind of hope at all, even the simple knowledge that you might not have to face the future by yourself is…well, it’s a feeling that goes beyond mere relief. It makes you want more. Not necessarily in a physical or sexual sense, the desire and passion you expect when people talk about love and relationships, but every aspect.
If I act over-romantic, it’s because of that. I want her in my life, and I would do anything to keep her, because I know what it’s like to go without. I don’t yet know if we’ll last. But I hope we do, and I know I couldn’t have done even that much when this summer started.
We will walk this road together
We will face this hand in hand
With music and love on our side,
We can’t lose this fight
Tomorrow our dream comes alive
— Dream Theater, “Ravenskill”
This one took a lot longer than I anticipated, due to all the upheaval in my life. I’ll have to rush to finish the third before Labor Day, but I think I can pull it off.
Title: I, Citizen
Author: Tony Woodlief
Genre: Political Science
“A blueprint for reclaiming American self-governance,” reads this book’s subtitle. Knowing me, you’d wonder how I managed to miss it until a fediverse friend posted about it a few months back. I’m glad he did, because it was an interesting read. Not great, mind you, but interesting.
Woodlief introduces the problem that we already know, but in more detail than anyone would think to provide: America is divided, almost irreconcilably so. Our hyperpartisan country is tearing itself apart before our very eyes, and everything the so-called elites do only seems to make things worse. Of course, that’s by design, which he explains fairly well.
This isn’t how America is supposed to be. Our founding documents make no mention of parties—except for a denunciation of them in Federalist #10—or lockdowns, or social justice, or any of the other problems plaguing the United States of today. We have, at some point, turned our collective backs on the guiding principles of our nation, and only a return to that tradition would stop the coming calamity. All that is well and good. When he sticks to the topic, the author does a good job laying out the reasons for our fall and the things we need to do to avert it.
Unfortunately, Woodlief spends far too much of this book getting off topic, or making illogical leaps that only serve to paint him as just another Washington hack trying to make a quick buck. His “solutions” are only found in the final chapter, and he spends most of that trying to convince people to join his network of do-nothing think tanks. Yes, this push is prefaced with some sensible advice about love and community, two things sorely lacking in modern society, but his only guidance to build those boils down to, “Join a church.” For the growing numbers of us who find Christianity (or religion in general) distasteful, that’s no help.
It gets worse than that. The author’s true colors can be seen throughout the book, in fact. Often, he falls victim to the fallacy of false equivalence, painting both major parties as equally responsible for the decline in community. But only one “side” is censoring its opponents. Only one party is sending jackbooted thugs after its political rivals. Woodlief wants us to reach across party lines, but who would extend a hand in friendship to those who have spent the past two years wishing death on us? The truth is, some very vocal people in America want nothing more than to destroy America. Yes, he’s right when he says these make up the minority, but they wield power far beyond their numbers, and he’s wrong not to call that out.
Likewise, the final chapter makes mention of the dictatorial edicts of state governors during the so-called pandemic, as this book was written in 2021. But Woodlief only calls out the most heinous offenders: Whitmer and Cuomo. Never mind that 49 governors (all but Kristi Noem of South Dakota) are culpable in this destruction of basic human rights. The author is a traditional conservative, so Republicans like Bill Lee and Greg Abbott were…just following orders?
My last gripe is much more minor, but it illustrates the underlying hypocrisy of the book. In every case, Woodlief refers to the “Founders”. The correct term, as any student of history knows, is “Founding Fathers”. They were all men, and there is nothing wrong with that. To use the politically correct phrasing shows the same spinelessness that is part and parcel of any conservative call to action.
To be sure, this is an informative book. It’s a good book. But it’s not a blueprint for regaining our rights. Nowhere in it does the author talk about, for example, how to get Critical Race Theory out of schools, or how to reform police departments so they can be held accountable. His advice can be summarized quite simply as, “But if we talked to each other…”
Maybe that made sense in 2021. Now, though, we may very well be past the point of talking.
Before this year started, I set myself four goals, four Great Works, for 2022. I did this mainly because, in my depressed state, I didn’t expect to see another full year after this one, and…I wanted to have something to leave behind as a legacy, something that others could look at after I’m gone.
This Monday’s post should explain why I don’t feel as hopeless as back in December, but it’s worth it to take a look at those works and how they’re progressing.
The First Work
Alana is the biggest winner in my great works. That’s because, no matter how I feel, I still roll out of bed every weekday morning for work. I’ve sometimes hated myself for doing it. I’ve started most days wondering if I would be fired for my inadequate performance. But I didn’t stop.
We’re not ready for launch yet, but we’re definitely in a beta state. Now, part of the reason why we’re so far behind (the original deadline was last September!) is because of scope creep: instead of the simple “dating site for car-buyers” my boss envisioned, we’re practically building a whole new social platform. Lucky for me, I’ve tried doing exactly that on no fewer than three occasions. (Themis, Pixeme, and Clave, in case you’re wondering. I want to revisit the second of those eventually.)
The team has expanded, too. I’m working with an actual designer. I have a front-end developer to handle all the things I’ve never really been good at. We’re ready to hire more of each. There’s a QA team, a security consultant, and too many marketing types waiting in the wings. Best of all, we’ve been getting hits from the sales pitches on both the consumer and business sides.
I’m never more than cautiously optimistic about anything I’m doing. Anyone who has followed me on here the past seven years understands that. With this project, I feel as good as I dare.
The Second Work
No matter what happens, I am on the ballot in November. The deadline for removing myself has just passed, so I’ll be listed as the sole challenger to a Republican seeking her 5th term.
The thing is, I don’t want to do it. The whole point was to get a platform for some of the things I felt Tennessee really needed: anti-lockdown measures, a ban on mask and vaccine mandates, school choice, constitutional carry, and so on. While the incumbent doesn’t support all of those, her colleagues in the General Assembly have done an admirable job dragging our state toward greater liberty without her…or me.
I can’t handle the publicity, the crowds, the interviews. I’d rather not have to. This was never more than an excuse to say I’d done it, and a way to tell those who are better suited for office that anybody can do it. So I’m on the ballot, and thus I consider the second Great Work complete. I’m content with that.
The Third Work
Technetism exists. It’s a real, valid philosophy that attempts to return to the roots of humanism, before the term was hijacked by nihilists. There’s a website that I haven’t updated in months, but also a Substack column I write weekly.
You can check it out over in the sidebar (or the menu, if you’re on mobile) to see what I’ve been writing. The gist of it, though, is that technetism is about finding your own path to personal betterment. Whether that comes from religion, politics, community, meditation, or whatever, it’s your choice. Your duty.
Since working out the tenets of the philosophy, I’ve tried my best to live up to them. I seek out knowledge, as I always have, and I’m willing to share it with others. I eschew dogma; more and more people are doing that every day now. And it really does help. Maybe it’s not great for alleviating depression and anxiety, but it does solve the problem of a lack of purpose, something I’ve suffered for almost as long.
I will continue to explore technetism in as many venues as possible, and I still want to get The Prison of Ignorance released by the end of this year. Even without it, however, I’ll consider the third Great Work to be achieved. Not finished, because something like this is never truly done.
The Fourth Work
The idea of extraterrestrial communication had mostly left my mind for a few months. I worked a little on the “beacon” message I described initially, which I’ve since named ICONIC, but that’s about it. This week’s first-light images from the JWST have now made me want to go back to the project.
A message for aliens has to start at the beginning. First, you need a way to establish that you’re intelligent, that your message is more than just the random noise of stars and quasars and whatnot. This is done through patterns, repetition, and structure.
I have that done. Drawing on sources such as Cosmic OS and Contact, I’ve devised a simple sequencing pattern that works to give any listener a good picture of what we’re sending. From there, I started work on a section introducing basic arithmetic—aliens intelligent enough to receive the message would obviously know this already, but it provides a basis for further communication.
That further communication is where I stopped. Next on the list would be simple algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. These would complete the math “chapter” of the message, allowing me to move on to physics and chemistry. Following those would be biology, I think, and then a simple language based on the concept of semantic primes, a kind of universal meta-language. (I like to think I’m good at creating languages. I’ve been doing it for more than half my life, after all.)
So the fourth work is also the one farthest from completion. Two of the others are basically done, and the last—first—is well on its way. That’s…not quite the outcome I expected when I laid out the initial plan.
Of course, a lot has changed since then. Leslie and I got back together, and now we’re making plans of our own, plans that don’t abruptly end next October. My job is steady and stable, at least for the time being. My family is recovering from the trauma of the past few years. The world is still no better, but circumstances have made it possible for me to look beyond some of the sore spots.
But you know me. I’ve spent so long at the bottom that it’s hard to look up. And…I don’t want to fall back down again. I’ve worked too hard, on these and on so many other things. It’d be nice to win for a change.
Some things are worth the wait.
Over the past three years, I’ve written quite a lot about Leslie. She’s usually “the woman I love” in my posts, and that started for two reasons. One, I didn’t know how she would feel about her name being used in my writing, especially of the nonfiction sort. Two, I’ve spent so much time wondering if I’d lose her that I didn’t want too many permanent reminders of my failure.
Because I have thought I’d lost her on multiple occasions. Almost always, that’s my fault. My depression and anxiety were too much to handle, and it just became impossible to even imagine the notion that she and I would finally get to meet and live the life we wanted in each other.
I endured three years of anguish, doubt, and self-loathing. In that span, I lived through an overblown pandemic, a national coup, four times when I seriously contemplated suicide, periods of up to three months without talking to each other, and more breakdowns than I can count. I dreamed of her. I cried for her. I asked myself if life was worth living without her, and I could never make myself believe that it was. I still can’t say for sure, but now I know I don’t have to.
We waited three years to meet in person. Most people would have given up long before that. And, to be honest, sometimes I gave up. Even when I did, though, she never gave up on me.
Last weekend taught me a lot of things, but the biggest lesson I learned is that other people just don’t see me the same way I see myself. Sure, my boss—to name one example—can tell me he sees something in me that I try to hide, but those are just words.
I know words. I’ve written millions of them, and I know how hollow they are. All the words in the world mean nothing if you don’t back them up. “I love you” is little more than a pleasantry when you send it in a text or say it over the phone, but it finally becomes real when you’re hearing it from the woman who has told you she wants to spend the rest of her life with you because you’re the best man she’s ever known.
Depression is like looking at yourself through a lens of smoky glass. All the colors are muted, details are hard to make out, and everything just looks darker than it really is. I’ve lived like that for so long that I forgot what it was like to be truly happy. Hearing the emotion in her voice, seeing the light in her eyes, feeling the way her body relaxed the second I put my arms around it…that is happiness of I kind I’d never known until Friday evening.
I’m not a womanizer. I could never project the confidence to be a pick-up artist. If I had a headboard, I certainly wouldn’t use it as the scoreboard for my sexual conquests. That’s just not how I am. So I’m not happy because Leslie complimented me. I’m happy because she made it possible to see that I was worthy of receiving compliments. That I deserved to be spoken of in such terms. That I can be loved, and love her in return.
This is what I was missing. It’s why I’m writing this post with tears streaming down my face, because my emotions have been in overdrive for the past 72 hours.
We talked about everything, it seemed. We learned things about each other that no amount of internet connectivity can teach. For me, one of them was that she thinks she’s the one coming out ahead. That was hard to accept. When we first met online, I was nobody, nothing. I had no job, no reliable transportation, and no future I could see. I was a week away from giving up on the idea of relationships entirely, because who would want me?
We made promises to each other, and first among them was this: never again. Never again will we be kept apart by outside forces. Yes, it’s another three weeks until our next chance to meet—assuming I don’t do something crazy before then—but we both understand that. We won’t let it stop us.
I’ve been dead inside for far too long. Last weekend gave me a chance to feel alive again, and it gave me something—someone—to live for. I never want to lose that, or her.