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Brandan Lennox's

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Who Deserves My Money?

I recently backed after years of wishing I understood Twitter. Much has been said about’s pricing structure — $50 per year to be a member — and it got me thinking about which other services I pay for on either a monthly or yearly basis. Who am I happy to pay? Who do I pay because I have to?

These are the services I thought of in approximately the order I thought of them:

  • AT&T U-Verse ($48) — 12 Mbps↓, 1.5 Mbps↑. No television or landline service, although they snail mail me once a week with tales of the money I’d save by bundling said services and…paying them more money.
  • AT&T Wireless (~$70) — 200 MB of data, ∞ minutes of voice, no text messages (I send essentially all iMessages). Of the major carriers, this is among the cheapest iPhone post-paid plans that I’m aware of. I’ll be evaluating my options soon since my contract has expired.
  • GitHub ($7) — five private repos, one private collaborator. I don’t write much open source code anymore, but I do occasionally deploy a few private sites with Capistrano, and we use it at work all the time.
  • Instapaper ($1) — far and away the best return-on-investment of all these services. I read in Instapaper almost every day on all my devices. It’s indispensible.
  • Site5 (~$4) — basic shared hosting plan. It’s where this site lives. Shared hosting keeps getting cheaper, but I got tired of changing providers a few years ago, so I continue giving my money to these guys. They’re good.
  • Railscasts ($9) — Ryan Bates deserves my money. He deserves everyone’s money.
  • Typekit (~$5) — Portfolio plan. So far, I’m actually only using this on my resume. (How could I not take advantage of Brandon Grotesque?)
  • Hover (~$1) — one domain registered (you’re looking at it). I like Hover, at least as much as I’ve used it.
  • (~$5) — standard user account. Not being a Twitter user, I don’t have much to say about it re: Twitter. I can follow here practically everyone I’d follow there, and I like that Dalton is making money without advertisers.

This clearly doesn’t include one-time digital content purchases like software and music, but it’s fascinating to see that I pay about three times as much money to AT&T for access to the content I’m interested in than I do to the service and content providers themselves, and to consider how reluctant we web users are to pay even a minimal cost for a service we might love (like Instapaper) while inundating the infrastructure companies with hundreds of our dollars a month.

Still a Happy Mac User

A storm took out my power for about two hours while working from home last Friday. It was a minor annoyance since I was working over the VPN and couldn’t finish up what I was doing, so I decided to buy a CyberPower UPS from Amazon. Between Friday and today, when I was finally able to unbox it and plug it in, I had lost power three more times for a total of fifteen hours and burned up my cable modem. But that’s not important.

The UPS came with a CD of software. With no intentions of installing said software, I glanced at the instructions for Windows and OS X:

Instructions for using a CyberPower UPS on Windows and OS X

Here’s what they say, paraphrasing slightly:

Windows Users: Installing PowerPanel® Personal Edition

When you first get a new CyberPower UPS, you’ll need to install some software on your computer to control your UPS and begin using it.

  1. Place the CD in your CD drive and wait for the setup wizard to begin. If the wizard does not begin, go to your CD drive in “My Computer” and open the “PowerPanel® PE” folder and double click “Setup.exe”.
  2. Follow the instructions on your screen and complete the installation. The default settings offered by the installation wizard are acceptable for most users and can be changed at any time if necessary.
  3. After the setup is complete, plug the USB cord from your CyberPower UPS to an available USB port on your computer.
  4. You are now ready to begin using the PowerPanel® Personal Edition software.

Mac Users: Configuring the “Energy Saver” UPS Function

When you first get a new CyberPower UPS, you’ll need to configure the Mac UPS function to control your UPS and begin using it.

  1. Plug the USB cord from your CyberPower UPS to an available USB port on your computer.
  2. Go to “System Preferences” and open the “Energy Saver” control panel.
  3. Select settings for “UPS”. You are now ready to configure the settings for the UPS.

No third-party bloatware to install or plastic disc to lose; just a single setting in System Preferences. I’m not as crazy about Apple’s software as I used to be, but I’m still more than happy to stay away from Windows.

GoDaddy Scumbaggery

Many moons ago, I registered a domain at GoDaddy. I knew how to navigate their shit-tastic UI from my client work, and they were at least marginally less reprehensible back then. Since I planned to use the domain for a while, I stored my credit card information and turned on auto-renewal.

Times change. I no longer need the domain, and GoDaddy sucks. A few months ago, they started sending me auto-renewal reminders and warning me that the credit card on file had expired. I knew that, and I didn’t care about the domain, so I just ignored the e-mails figuring that the charge would fail and the domain would be released. I’m nothing if not passive-aggressive.

Today, while unsubscribing from unwanted e-blasts collected in my spam folder, I saw a notice for a successful auto-renewal of that domain. I never updated my card’s expiration date at GoDaddy. I thought they might have been lying or joking, but the charge showed up on my account. Shocking, no?

I have to assume that they guessed the new expiration date of my card. It seems like my expiration dates advance three years at a time, so maybe that’s the first thing they try with expired cards. I don’t know if this is generally accepted practice, but it disgusted me.

My time is worth more than the $12 charge, so I’m not going to dispute it. I did release the domain and remove my payment information, and if I could figure out how, I’d cancel my account altogether.

Fuck those guys.

“To iterate is human…”

“…to recurse, divine.”

That’s one of maybe five of these fifty programming quotes I can recall at will. I actually used it today. Super proud about this one!

At work, our thing uses a tree structure with a Rails model like this:

class Node
  has_one :parent, :class_name => 'Node'
  has_many :children, :class_name => 'Node', :foreign_key => :parent_id

We needed the “path” from any given node back to the root of the tree. It was originally implemented as a named scope and an instance method that called that scope:

scope :path, lambda { |id| 
    :select => 'parent.*',
    :joins => ', nodes AS parent',
    :conditions => ['nodes.left BETWEEN parent.left AND parent.right AND = ?', id],
    :order => 'parent.left'

def path

It’s was performing terribly on large data sets. Not only was the query performance bad, but we were only ever using the return value of the named scope as an array. There was no need for all the overhead of a named scope. We determined that it would actually be faster to hit the database n times for a node at depth n than to join all the ancestors in one query.

My first thought was to collect the node’s parents in a loop:

def path
  node = self
  parents = [node]
  while parent = node.parent
    parents.unshift parent
    node = parent

It worked. Tests passed. Performance was astronomically better (down to 1ms from 270,000ms). I almost checked it in, but I hesitated. I heard the faint voice of L. Peter Deutsch, snickering at me in that way he almost certainly must.1 “Loops?” he said. “Gfaw.”

In about two minutes, I came up with this:

def path
  parent.path << self rescue [self]

Shit! I mean, the syntax might be a little wonky if you don’t read Ruby, but that’s magic. From a named scope with a lambda doing some kind of SQL query that stumped three professional programmers2 to one beautiful tail-recursive line. I’m patting myself on the back pretty hard!


  1. If your quip about programming made it into a well-known list, you probably snicker at bad programmers.
  2. I still don’t know why we were filtering by left and right values and an ID.

My Pet Theory on Popular Music

Kurt Andersen wrote a great article at Vanity Fair detailing how American culture hasn’t changed in the past two decades. He goes into a lot of detail, covering art, fashion, industrial design, architecture, but I’ve noticed this specifically about music, or at least popular music. No genre has dominated music — and consequently style — since grunge and gangster rap in the early 90s.

Some Loose Reasoning

Since the gramophone became the dominant commercial recording format in the early 1900s, popular musical styles have come and gone very nearly with each passing decade:

  • 1920–40: swing dancing and big-band jazz groups, like Lawrence Welk, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie
  • 1940–50: the decline of swing, the rise of bebop and cool jazz (Bird, Diz, Miles)
  • 1950–60: rock-n-roll (Elvis, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis)
  • 1960–70: hippie and counter-culture rock (The Beatles, The Grateful Dead, Dylan)
  • 1970–80: disco (Village People, The Bee Gees, Kool and the Gang)
  • 1980–90: new wave and hair metal (The Cure, Aerosmith)
  • 1990–95: grunge and gangster rap (Nirvana, Dr. Dre)
  • 1995–present: ?

These are generalizations. Yes, the 70s produced more music than just disco. Yes, rap was around long before Dr. Dre. Yes, pop-punk had a good run in the late 90s.

But I’m looking at Top 40 cultural phenomena. When you think 70s music, you think disco. When you think 90s music (and you’re white), you think grunge. When you think 00s music, you think…of nothing in particular.

What happened?

Further Analysis

When I bring this up, a lot of people tell me that “pop” is the defining genre of the 00s, but that’s some kind of weird recursion. “Pop music” is exactly that: popular music. We only call Ke$ha “pop” because she doesn’t evoke a better description. Other than production quality and vernacular, how different is a Lady Gaga song from a Madonna song from a Gloria Gaynor song? “Pop” is too generic to incite a movement. It’s just furniture.

What else? R&B hasn’t changed. Rock hasn’t changed. Country hasn’t changed.1 Electronic hasn’t changed. And I can’t think of a single genre in Top 40 music today that wasn’t around twenty years ago.

Can you imagine Nickelback on MTV in 1992? Of course. Can you imagine Soundgarden on American Bandstand in 1972? Not one bit.


Andersen makes several strong arguments in his piece, this being my favorite:

In some large measure, I think, it’s an unconscious collective reaction to all the profound nonstop newness we’re experiencing on the tech and geopolitical and economic fronts. People have a limited capacity to embrace flux and strangeness and dissatisfaction, and right now we’re maxed out. So as the Web and artificially intelligent smartphones and the rise of China and 9/11 and the winners-take-all American economy and the Great Recession disrupt and transform our lives and hopes and dreams, we are clinging as never before to the familiar in matters of style and culture.

As it relates to music, technology has been even more disruptive. Look at this chart from Business Insider:

Graph depicting the decline of revenues in the music industry from 1973–2009

Revenues dropped precipitously around the turn of the century, inarguably because of Napster and affordable high-speed broadband. But Napster was more than just a means of mindlessly stealing songs: it democratized the process of discovering music.

Of the people I know who regularly pay for music — whether it’s from iTunes, Amazon, record stores, or live shows — none of them listens to FM radio. There are so many more sources of music discovery now. You can:

  • shuffle your iPod,
  • subscribe to a podcast like All Songs Considered,
  • browse sites like PureVolume and SoundCloud,
  • listen to playlist generators like Pandora and,
  • watch independently produced music videos on YouTube, or
  • exist on a social network.

We have such sophisticated artificial and human recommendation engines. Why would you listen to a generic radio station that’s required by contract to rotate the same nonsense day in and day out?

The early 90s were the last stand for Clear Channel radio and big music. Back then, if they decided to make something huge, they could push it to every radio station and MTV affiliate in Western culture. Now our attention is too divided. They can push the songs, but the people who hear them aren’t the trendsetters. Maybe they’ll buy an album or a ticket, or most likely a single, but there’s just no culture behind the music anymore.


Plenty of artists are still releasing great music. I’m not arguing against that. Some of it even goes mainstream. I just don’t think that we’ll ever again witness a sea change in popular music like we did repeatedly throughout the 20th century, and we’re no worse for it.


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