The irresistibly unbearable Steve and Rob

Ricky Gervais cemented his comic talent in 2005 with the two-season series Extras, in which struggling actor Andy Millman keeps himself and the dream of a real acting career alive with freelance gigs as a movie extra. Each episode he rubs cold shoulders with a genuine star for some truly unforgettable awkward moments. Kate Winslet, Samuel L. Jackson, David Bowie, and Ian McKellen were all game. The bit where Diana ‘Miss Emma Peel’ Rigg gets a condom (albeit unused) flung into her hair by teenager Daniel Radcliffe amazingly sounds far grosser in words than it looked on screen.

Under this genre of celebrity embarrassment porn – a term I just made up – you may class the films that veteran Michael Winterbottom made with his favourite comedian Steve Coogan. It started with The Trip in 2010. Steve is asked to write a series of culinary reviews for the prestigious Observer newspaper and takes along his old friend and fellow comedian Rob Brydon for the trip. In between footage of busy kitchen staff dousing steaming pots of scallops with alcohol, our heroes sit around, eat, bicker, and laugh in a barely adult effort to outwit and outsmart each other. There’s a hundred minutes of the stuff per serving, with not much more plot to go round.

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How Can We Ever Forget Jim Carrey?

Today I want to talk about remembering and forgetting, and particularly the vast difference between human and computer memory. Popular fiction likes to cling to some flawed analogies, but any AI expert or neuroscientist knows better. The brain doesn’t distinguish between software and hardware. Memories are not pieces of data. You can’t upload them to the cloud. Everything worth remembering is stored associatively and will fade without context. There are no neat folders and drawers in your head to keep work and private affairs organized. If only there were.

Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein from 2012 is a respectable piece of immersive and participatory journalism. While researching his book about the workings of human memory he took an active and successful part in memory championships. These are as the name suggests: competitions to store and reproduce random facts against the clock. The winners are experts at creative mnemonics, the age-old practice to connect random facts into a memorable narrative by making links that stick, however far-fetched.

Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (c) Focus Features
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Keith Jarrett’s Agile Craftsmanship

Many non-technical skills, qualities, and mindsets are part of software craftsmanship. Today I want to talk about two:

  • Resilience
  • Improvisation

Resilience helps us cope with difficulties by not giving up too soon. Improvisation deals with compromise and creativity in the face of the unexpected. The intuition to distinguish negotiable best practices from unchangeable truths is what agility is about. In earlier posts, I drew analogies between people from art and fiction (Stanley KubrickWoody Allen, and Gomer Goof).

Here’s the story of an agile musician I find very inspiring.

© ECM records
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Dave Eggers’ World of Autocorrect Is a Hell on Earth

Dave Eggers’ new novel is a darkly comical techno dystopia. The Every (no link: buy it from your local book shop) is the sequel to The Circle. Its eponymous company is an unholy alliance of the major tech behemoths whose names need no mention. The Every is well on its way to wipe out or enslave all competition when our heroine Delaney joins it, on a secret mission to bring down the system from within. But after the first chapters we already know that resistance is futile.

Winston Smith from George Orwell’s Ur-dystopia 1984 likewise knew he did not stand a chance against the omniscient, all-seeing Party. Yet whereas the surveillance technologies that Orwell conceived were science fiction in 1948, most of The Every’s toys are already here or available soon in an Apple Store near you. Every new addictive app is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, adding more data points to your privacy profile. Eggers’ mission as a techno sceptic is anything but subtle.

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Peter Dinklage Was Right About Snow White

Near the end of a laid-back chat in Mark Maron’s WTF podcast, actor Peter Dinklage let his irritation suddenly run free over the planned live action remake of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The casting of a Latino actor as the female lead did not warm him to the project. It was still an excuse to rehash an archaic story, for no better reason than to cash in on its legendary status. “Have I done nothing to advance the cause from my soap box?”, he jokes, 56 minutes in. I agree. You can rewrite and re-cast all you want to make it more palatable, but you’re still telling Snow White. Why not spend that energy on new stories?

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Stop Calling Them Soft Skills: It’s Crude and Confusing

I consider soft skills crucial to success in an IT career, but I find the term crude and confusing for two reasons. It suggests a tidy separation into non-overlapping categories which doesn’t exist, and it carries a hidden, more pernicious value judgment by hinting they are less important than hard skills.

I hope professional coaches have a clearer understanding of the scope of these skills than a layperson like myself, who is regularly encouraged to keep up his soft skills, with little idea where to start. I duckducked into the definition and present you with this unscientific motley array:

Photo by Meruyert Gonullu through
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The Piña-Colada Delusion of the Digital Nomad

I have something to say about digital nomads, or rather the phenomenon. I don’t like to generalize, but there’s a certain archetype that really gets under my skin. It’s the freelancing thirty-something who at quarterly intervals migrates to whatever continent has the best beach weather, to build a cool web shop while sipping a tropical cocktail. You can picture the stock images without a Google search. I shouldn’t target certain millennials and their destructive travel habits, being free of student debt myself and happily settled in my low-mortgage house. I used to have a big carbon footprint at one time, but at a time when the environmental impact of flying got a fraction of the airtime it gets now.

Image by Andrea Piacquadio from
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Don’t Make Me Think (More Than Needed)

(Previously posted on DZone)
In three earlier posts on DZone and this blog, I drew a lighthearted comparison between types of developers, two veteran film directors, the relentless perfectionist Stanley Kubrick and passionate amateur Woody Allen as well as comic book anti-hero Gomer Goof as the disaster artist. I wanted to highlight overlapping tendencies, not suggest strict categories. Stereotypes like Roy and Moss from the tv show The IT Crowd work great in fiction, or the evil and funny Nedry (anagram for nerdy, LOL) from the first Jurassic Park movie?

Illustration by Sandra de Haan
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You’re no rockstar, but you have more Yoda appeal than you think

I don’t like to blog about blogging, but there’s an opinion regularly put forth by fortysomething developers that gets me worked up. The gist runs as follows: the writer no longer likes being a software developer and based on their own anecdotal evidence wonders why so many other similarly disillusioned old hands flock to management positions. Disappointed that real progress in the art of programming is stagnant, they complain that people – not them! – keep making the same stupid mistakes. As if history doesn’t repeat itself everywhere all the time.

Not a dead-end career yet!
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