The Wisdom of Bob Ross

Perhaps the most soothing videos you can see on YouTube are the full-length episodes of The Joy of Painting available on the official Bob Ross channel. Last night, I was watching Bob paint a wonderful scene of a forest at night, lit by a camp fire, and Bob told a story with a message that really resonates with me and how I feel about learning to program.

The story is Bob's explanation of why he doesn't do any portraits on the show, even though many viewers have asked him to do so. He says that for two years he studied portraiture, until one day his instructor took him aside and told him to stick to painting bushes and trees, because that's where his heart was. Then he goes back to talking about the camp fire painting he is working on, before adding the following:

We talk about that sometime--about talent. What is talent? Talent is nothing more than a pursued interest. In other words, things that you're interested in, you'll spend a lot more time working at than something you're not interested in. So that's all talent is. It's if you're willing to spend the time to perfect something.

Video here, if you want to hear this in Bob's own ultra-soothing voice. Story starts at the 20:00 mark, if this doesn't start at the right spot when you play it:

The older and more experienced I get with learning and teaching, both when I am the teacher and when I am the learner, the more I realize the simple but profound truth of this statement. It definitely holds for programming, and indeed, for pretty much all skills that require diligence to learn.

It's important to note that the message cuts both ways. If you have real interest in programming, time and effort will make you a programmer. By real interest, I mean that programing, on some level, has to be enjoyable. It won't necessarily be fun, but you have to get a psychic reward from the task. Many programmers share stories of when they first wrote a simple program and the joy they felt knowing that they were making the computer do what they wanted. If you get this feeling, you should eventually succeed in making yourself a good programmer, even if at some times you are so frustrated, you feel like throwing your computer in the trash.

But if you don't have a real interest in programming, it doesn't matter how smart you are; you're going to be in trouble. You might think so someone without a real interest in programming wouldn't persist in trying to program, but it happens quite a bit. People are being bombarded every day with pitches that suggest that programming is the golden ladder to success in the 21st century. Politicians and others that should know better absurdly suggest that all of us should learn programming. And so on. All of this leads people to think that if they enjoy working with computers, or even if they don't but still want a good job, they need to learn to program, and pronto. What's worse, when people with no real interest in programming fail in the attempt to learn, they think of themselves as deficient--because if we're all supposed to learn programming then anyone who can't do it must be less than fully intelligent, right?--when the problem is nothing more than people pursuing a goal that lies out side their talents...outside their interests.

I encourage anyone who believes he or she has an interest in programming to try it out, and there's no harm in trying it out to see if the interest is there. Just remember that Bob Ross stunk at painting portraits, no matter how long he studied.

But he painted the happiest bushes and trees anyone ever saw.

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My Conversation with Fake Neville

I went to high school with a nice fellow named Neville Aga who is part of the fonder memories of my youth. He introduced me to The Simpsons and his mother introduced me to mango ice cream. A year or so ago, he and I reconnected via Facebook. Then, just today, I got a friend request from him, alerting me to the fact that at some point he must have unfriended me—or something. I re-friended him, if that is even a word, and almost immediately Neville started up a chat, the transcription of which is as follows.

"Neville":

Hello

Me:

Weren't we already Facebook friends? Did you unfriend me and then regret it?

"Neville":

So sorry friend i had to

How are you doing ?

Me:

Doing fine, thanks. You? So wait, it says you have just three Facebook friends? This sounds like the worst witness relocation project ever.

"Neville":

My facebook account was hacked

Me:

Ahhhh...

"Neville":

I was so happy though cause on Tuesday seems to be the most happiest day of my life

Me:

Wait a minute, are you Neville or the hacker? That statement makes no sense.

"Neville":

I'm Neville

Me:

Well, sure, but wouldn't the hacker say that, too?

"Neville":

I got $150,000,00 in cash from facebook in on-going seasonal facebook freedom award promo

That was why my account was hacked , I should have called you but i switched of my phone because of families and friend calling and asking for money

Me:

Is this where you ask for my credit card? I shouldn't give you any assistance, but in case you are trying this on other friends of Neville, I'll give you this tip: Neville is fully literate.

"Neville":

Have heard about Agent Mitch Niccum who works for the Power Ball Empowerment ?

I am serious Spraul ,You know how i hate Hoax and Scam

Me:

Yes, I do remember that about you. No one could question your hatred for hoax and scam.

"Neville":

Just trust me Spraul This is real and i was hoping if you have gotten yours ?

Me:

I did get mine, but it was damaged in transit. I had to return it.

"Neville":

I mean if you have received your own winning from the on-going power ball empowerment cause i saw Your name on the winners list when the Claim Agent And the Delivery Man came to deliver my Cash

Me:

Are the claim agent and delivery man the same person? Or is this a two-man team? Do they really deliver cash? Seems like they ought to be more careful. Lots of criminals out there these days!

At this point "Neville" ended the chat and unfriended me (again?). Soon thereafter, I received another friend request: from "Agent" Mitch Niccum.

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Must You Ask My Name?

More and more, restaurants that have you order at a counter are asking for your name. I'd like to start the official pushback against this practice here and now. This position has been arrived at after due thought; in general, I prefer the personal to the impersonal. I almost never do any business in a drive-through if I can help it. I'd much rather park and go inside and talk with another human being face to face. On the whole, I concur with Patrick McGoohan that we shouldn't be referred to by numbers.

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"I'm not a number! I'm a free man!"

But you know what? When I've just given you my order, please, just give me a number and let me go on my way. Don't ask for my name.

Perhaps I would feel differently if my name was Steve or Bob. But it's not. I don't know what people on the other side of the counter think I am saying when I say my name, but clearly, it's not "Anton." So I've gotten in the habit of always spelling the name afterwards: "My name is Anton. A-N-T-O-N." Strangely, that never works. Sometimes they type those letters, but in a random order, so that later I must hold up my hand when someone calls out "Natno" or "Anont." In other cases, they ignore my proscribed spelling altogether and assign me a similar name more to their liking. Most often this is "Antoine," but occasionally I'll be "Antonio." And while those are fine names shared by fine people, they aren't my name.

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Poker pro Antonio Esfandiari hugging $18 million

It's gotten to the point where I try to scope out when my order is ready so I can cut off the name-calling before it happens: "Is that a chicken parmesan? That's me."

The alternative is to come up with a fake identity for use when ordering food. But what name to use? At first thought, the best choice would be a simple name like John, but then you open up the possibility of standing next to other people actually named John, and then the moment of delivering the chicken parmesan to its rightful owner turns into the scene where everyone claims to be Spartacus.

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"No, I'm Spartacus!"

So then maybe the right idea is an unusual name but one people can spell, like Mars or Pony. But then I think, if the whole point is that I don't want to be called by someone else's name, isn't this just surrendering before the battle starts? The ultimate solution is for restaurants to ditch this cheap attempt to conjure up instant familiarity and go back to the time-honored system of giving each customer a number. Is it impersonal? Yes. Does it work? Yes.

So look: I'm all for treating people as people, as individuals with intrinsic worth in the eyes of their fellow men and their Maker. That said, sometimes in life you just have to stand up and proclaim that you're a number.

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"Who am I? 24601!"

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Think Like a Programmer: In (Simplified) Chinese!

Although this news has probably already been widely disseminated through Chinese media outlets, I need to tell the rest of the world that Think Like a Programmer is now also available in Chinese.

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"Chinese," in this case, means Simplified Chinese, which is how books are generally printed in mainland China. Traditional Chinese, which has more characters, is still dominant in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao. (Why yes, I did just return from a trip to Wikipedia, thanks for asking.) Chinese must be the most textually dense language this book has been printed in, because it's  the most slender of all editions. The cover price is a mere 49 yuan, which at today's exchange rate is $7.71 US. At that price, there's really no reason why every programmer in China shouldn't pick up a copy, right?

In all seriousness, I love to hear from readers so if you do pick up a copy of this edition, let me know what you think.

Now, if you were really hoping for a Traditional Chinese edition of one of my books, stay tuned; I may have some news shortly.

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The Letter I'd Like to Receive

At this point in my life, I'm not big on complaining when something's not up to par at some restaurant or store I'm at. I'm more inclined to chalk it up to someone having a bad day and move on. But sometimes you feel something needs to be said, so I've decided that instead of actually making a formal complaint, I'd pretend that I did, then craft the response I'd like to see in return. So below, I present the letter I did not just get from the Embassy Suites.

Embassy Suites Page 1

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