Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pop Culture and Cowboy Abuse

Just as Manson stole Helter Skelter from the Beatles, so did George Bush and SlashDot steal Cowboys from the Old West. Of course, my appreciation for the end of the 1960s comes from an '80s remake of "Helter Skelter" by U2 instead of from having been there myself. But it still makes for a great analogy.

"Cowboy diplomacy" and "Cowboy coding" are terms that disparage an American icon by suggesting that such folk were reckless, foolish goons who charged in without forethought or planning. In our pureed, air conditioned and pampered lives (at least while our inflated mortgage payments can still be met), we tend to think that the cowboy lifestyle was similarly easy and mundane. Why wouldn't it be? After all, you just throw on some boots and a hat, forget to brush your teeth for a while, and then sling a rope around some fat walking hamburger while singing like a castrati.

And who knows? I wasn't there for any of that either, so maybe that's the story of it. But chances are there's more to the picture. Let's say you're a cowboy in 1850s Texas. You headed West with your family as a kid, only to see that journey end prematurely (let's make it fun and say that they got scared of the Rockies by reading about the Donner Party in the papers). I should check to make sure that my time period is correct, but it's missing the point to nitpick about when exactly the Donners started to eat each other! Ok, back to my story. So you're this kid who ends up living poor off the land in pre-Civil War Texas. You need money, so you hire on to a remote ranch in the panhandle.

The "cowboy" job looks easy enough to slide into, so you make it through your interviews and now it's show time. Where to begin? Well, you're going to need to get used to harsh working conditions in Texas heat. And growing up back East didn't prepare you for scorpions and other creepy crawlies who like to curl up beside you at night or hang around in your boots and skivvies. What about harsh weather, rations, first aid, or even how to keep your hat on in high wind while tying that cravatte just right? Yes, like I was saying, "Cowboys" and "lack of preparation" just don't go together in the least.

So that's why this is called "The Coding Cowboy". Actually, it's called that because I program for a living and live on a hobby farm out of a joy for sadomasochism. And my wife and kids think it's a blast, so it all works out in the end! But there's a real disparity between the two worlds – by day I'm creating business data solutions, and by night I'm trying to trick my wife into doing things like taking horse butt temperature readings.

Maybe something can be learned from having a huge interest in learning how to drive a horse and wagon while simultaneously desiring to master WCF or whatever new "F" (F#)? that F'ing Microsoft (hey, they started it) has come out with most recently.

Well there you have it – my first blog entry! If you enjoyed it, please encourage me to write some more and I'll certainly comply. If you didn't, it was my wife's idea, and I just might keep writing anyway!

Happy trails, or remember to keep a version history before implementing changes – whichever flips your trigger or your "bit". I really need to stop now!