Programming for Non-Programmers Recap

The four weeks of One Month’s Programming for Non-Programmers (PFNP) course covered the following topics:

  • Web Development Cycles
  • Front- & Back-end Developers
  • Choosing a Programming Language
  • A Short Exercise in Front-end Coding
  • Content Management Systems
  • Hiring the Right Candidate for Roles

The typical Web Development Cycle can be divided into four major components:

  1. User-Experience – understand the target user and his goals, and how best to join them.
  2. Information Architecture – creating a visual blueprint using wireframes, sitemaps and flow diagrams to communicate with your visual designer.
  3. Visual Design – using comps and style guides to determine the exact aesthetic of a site.
  4. Development – front end and back end.

Front-end developers are involved with everything a user sees onscreen and work in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.
Back-end developers are involved with how a site works, data, and can be proficient in whatever language is necessary to fulfill the project’s objectives, e.g., Ruby, PHP, C++, etc.

Choosing A Language
Determine whether you want to develop a web app, a native app, or other.

One Month recommends discarding pre-web languages that don’t cross into the world of mobile/web development. Specifically, they recommend concentrating on:
1. PHP
2. Ruby
3. Python
4. Java
5. .Net
6. C++
7. Objective C

The four main criteria in choosing a programming language for your project are:
1. Difficulty Level: How difficult is it to learn this language?
2. Community: How large and supportive is the community of developers?
3. Development time: How long will it take you to develop your project with this language?
4. Your resources: Who is currently available to help you?

Responsive Design
When designing for mobile/web, it’s important to be aware of the responsiveness of your design, which are the CSS elements that allow a site to reproduce clearly on a number of different-sized devices.

Also, know your tech stack (or at least the top three):
* Front-end language
* Server-side language
* Database
* Web Server
* OS

Front-End Coding:

HTML, CSS, & JavaScript are like nouns, adjectives, and verbs that describe meaning, style, and behavior.
When it comes to JS, be familiar with the big 8 concepts:
The 8 Concepts
1. Events
2. Comments
3. Print
4. Variables
5. Datatypes
6. Conditionals
7. Functions
8. Arrays

Choosing a CMS and Hiring The Right People

One Month generally recommends just choosing WordPress, although one can monitor trends in CMS popularity with trends.builtwith.com.

In order of customization and skills required:
Squarespace has very polished themes, but one can only customize the CSS and choose from ~100 themes.
WordPress.com is generally for beginners who need little customization.
WordPress.org is for users who are self-hosting and would like a lot of flexibility with the build of the software.
Custom CMS – you choose everything because you’re making it from scratch.

One Month endorses the practices described in the book “Who – The A Method for Hiring”.
Scorecards are a good thing to prepare when looking to fill a job. A scorecard requires one to list the mission of the job, objective goals that need to be met, and required competencies to meet those goals.

My objective for the next three months is to run a beta test of my company’s software in order to validate MVP status and establish a product roadmap based on actual user feedback. Our 12-month goal is to have 1,000 paying customers.

I learned a good deal over the past four weeks, including the broad overview of how responsibilities for front- and back-end development are divided and the challenges that developers face when they are asked to create changes and features.

My next learning goal is to flesh out how front and back environments interact with each other.

 

 

Coding Secrets Revealed: How to Start Fast & Be Successful

Click-bait headline aside, my interviews with two developers revealed that getting ahead as a coder is a relatively straightforward affair: learn by doing and one’s process is as important as lines of code.

I spoke with Chris M., a software engineer at Netflix, and Mike C., an independent developer who builds accounting systems for small-to-medium (SMB)-sized businesses. Both recounted early experiences in their grades school days experimenting with variants of the basic C programming language. In the pre-Internet days, regular exposure to the world of computers was limited, but these early experiences with coding set a hook of interest that determined their choice of majors in college, where they didn’t specifically become coders, but were exposed to a variety of different computing languages.

Getting Started
Mike emphasized that although the Internet and the proliferation of coding academies and learning resources make it easier than ever to learn coding, nothing is more effective than actually sitting down and coding yourself. Like learning to play the piano, theory is great, but there’s really no substitute for time spent banging on keys yourself. Once a beginner is feeling comfortable, Mike advised her to take advantage of online resources. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel for every problem you’re trying to solve. Use the programming community to find existing code solutions to your problems and modify them to suit your needs.

Chris’s advice for beginners was equally straightforward. Start with a simple language like C to learn the basic concepts of coding. Once you have a grasp of how coding works, think about what your goals and primary interests are as a developer. Do you want to start as a front-end developer? Back-end? Do you need to develop hardware-specific code? When you know what your goal is, the beginner can then make an easier choice of selecting a language suited to those tasks.

The Hire-worthy Coder

Successful coding is the art of solving problems. And both Mike and Chris emphasized that process is as important as syntax when evaluating job candidates. Programming languages are always being innovated and originated. A good programmer has a solid thought process for evaluating problems and devising a solution in a code environment. Practically speaking, Mike advised that it was important to code for the unexpected: bugs and exceptions. Plenty of documentation—logging messages, exception handling, and comments inside the code—make for an easier time with the inevitable debugging that is required.

Grit is a less concrete but perhaps more valuable attribute in a successful coder. The ultimate purpose of a coder is to solve problems and that is not always easy. There will not always be a pre-existing solution to adapt for one’s purpose. One may be bedeviled by bugs that will not let your code operate properly. This is the time when a coder can show his or her value, but one needs to persist until a solution is found and the problem is solved.

Advice For Non-Programmers

Code something, anything. Go online and find a tutorial on the simplest programming task. It could be a run command to display a repeating phrase—doesn’t matter. This allows a non-programmer to dip their toes into the world of coding, compiling, executing commands on a computer. This may pique your interest to learn more, or not. But just this small task should allow one to communicate better with coders.

Keep your developers in the loop.
Developers are not just code robots. One can hand them a spec and a deadline and they will return the required code, but you’re selling your organization short by not getting developers involved earlier in the product process. Have a conversation with your developers rather than submit a product or feature request. Your devs will have thoughts on UX, architecture, and other factors that may streamline the process of delivery. Communicating with coders is as important as communicating with customers: it’s an opportunity to save wasted effort and deliver a truly valuable product.

Trump’s Support of Highway Robbery

An interview with the Texas state lawmaker who Trump threatened to destroy for attempting to end the practice of civil asset forfeiture in her state.

If you don’t know what civil asset forfeiture is, read this illuminating 2013 article from The New Yorker.

Canada’s New Immigration Minister: Muslim & Anti-Islamist

At the same time, Hussen’s record suggests that he recognizes the clear difference between practical support for the victims of extreme cruelty on the one hand, and sinking into nebulous cultural relativism or knuckle-headed bigotry on the other. Partisans of both Left and Right would do well to consider that.

“Don’t you wanna know how they got in there?”   -Elaine New…

image

“Don’t you wanna know how they got in there?”   -Elaine 

New Yorkers missed an opportunity to catch the classic comedy “Sack Lunch” this winter, just like Elaine missed it in Season 8, Episode 17 of Seinfeld, when she had to endure repeated viewings of The English Patient instead.

I was walking past the now-shuttered New York Regal Cinemas on Second Avenue at 64th St.—complete with outdated listings on its marquee—when I spotted some full-size promo posters for “Sack Lunch” taped in the windows.

Clearly, someone with access to the vacant theater has some free time, Photoshop chops, and an abiding love for the quintessential NYC sitcom about nothing. 

Seinfeld featured a number of fictional movie titles during its long run on network television. Which fictional titles would you like to see advertised as real attractions coming to a theater near you?

“Don’t you wanna know how they got in there?”   -Elaine New…

image

“Don’t you wanna know how they got in there?”   -Elaine 

New Yorkers missed an opportunity to catch the classic comedy “Sack Lunch” this winter, just like Elaine missed it in Season 8, Episode 17 of Seinfeld, when she had to endure repeated viewings of The English Patient instead.

I was walking past the now-shuttered New York Regal Cinemas on Second Avenue at 64th St.—complete with outdated listings on its marquee—when I spotted some full-size promo posters for “Sack Lunch” taped in the windows.

Clearly, someone with access to the vacant theater has some free time, Photoshop chops, and an abiding love for the quintessential NYC sitcom about nothing. 

Seinfeld featured a number of fictional movie titles during its long run on network television. Which fictional titles would you like to see advertised as real attractions coming to a theater near you?

“Don’t you wanna know how they got in there?”   -Elaine New…

image

“Don’t you wanna know how they got in there?”   -Elaine 

New Yorkers missed an opportunity to catch the classic comedy “Sack Lunch” this winter, just like Elaine missed it in Season 8, Episode 17 of Seinfeld, when she had to endure repeated viewings of The English Patient instead.

I was walking past the now-shuttered New York Regal Cinemas on Second Avenue at 64th St.—complete with outdated listings on its marquee—when I spotted some full-size promo posters for “Sack Lunch” taped in the windows.

Clearly, someone with access to the vacant theater has some free time, Photoshop chops, and an abiding love for the quintessential NYC sitcom about nothing. 

Seinfeld featured a number of fictional movie titles during its long run on network television. Which fictional titles would you like to see advertised as real attractions coming to a theater near you?

“Don’t you wanna know how they got in there?”   -Elaine New…

image

“Don’t you wanna know how they got in there?”   -Elaine 

New Yorkers missed an opportunity to catch the classic comedy “Sack Lunch” this winter, just like Elaine missed it in Season 8, Episode 17 of Seinfeld, when she had to endure repeated viewings of The English Patient instead.

I was walking past the now-shuttered New York Regal Cinemas on Second Avenue at 64th St.—complete with outdated listings on its marquee—when I spotted some full-size promo posters for “Sack Lunch” taped in the windows.

Clearly, someone with access to the vacant theater has some free time, Photoshop chops, and an abiding love for the quintessential NYC sitcom about nothing. 

Seinfeld featured a number of fictional movie titles during its long run on network television. Which fictional titles would you like to see advertised as real attractions coming to a theater near you?

Mr. Alaska (by thelexiphane)William Seward looks out over 23rd…

Mr. Alaska (by thelexiphane)

William Seward looks out over 23rd St. and the Flatiron in a swirling snowstorm. Sec. of State Seward was ridiculed when the U.S. purchased the Alaskan territory—identified as Seward’s Folly, or more awesomely, President Andrew Johnson’s ‘Polar Bear Garden.’

Tragic Metaphor AlertWriter, comedian, and “Parks &…

Tragic Metaphor Alert

Writer, comedian, and “Parks & Rec” executive producer Harris Wittels died from a drug overdose this week. Wittels had a recurring part in the show, where he played a dimwitted animal control officer in the fictional town of Pawnee, IN. 

A recent episode had him experimenting with a friend and co-worker in a literal mind-altering experiment: slowly squeezing his head in a vise. The dialogue is a tragically apt metaphor for drug abuse.

“We are on our OWN quest, which is to squeeze this [vise] just tight enough to make my eyes bulge out a little, but not so tight that I die.”

It is a tightrope walk that Wittels did not survive.

What Are You Giving Up By Staying Online Always?A Verizon…

What Are You Giving Up By Staying Online Always?

A Verizon commercial that aired during Super Bowl 49 was a montage of situations that ostensibly would be ruined if an individual ever found themselves removed from the umbrella of the company’s ubiquitous wireless broadband network.

The final sequence shows a family camping together. The warm glow of their tent is actually the family huddled inside, using a pico projector device  and a mobile phone to project a Star Wars cartoon against the wall of their tent. They are, in effect, just watching tv.

The commercial ends by switching to a wide shot of the small tent illuminated by the family’s crappy reproduction of a living room experience, under the awesome expanse of an endless sky filled with millions of stars. The voiceover asks rhetorically, “If you’re not on the largest, most reliable network, what are you giving up?”

I will ask, what are you giving up when you are?

[Full ad: http://ift.tt/1BW9QoY]

Is This The Cheapest Apartment Along The High Line? A rooftop…

Is This The Cheapest Apartment Along The High Line?

A rooftop tent at West 23rd Street has the potential to bring a Hobo Chic vernacular back to residences on The High Line.

Who hasn’t strolled along The High Line—the elevated park that stretches from the Meatpacking District to the Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s west side—and thought about living in one of the many architecturally innovative buildings that have sprung up alongside it in recent years?

Alas, the carefully cultivated rustic railway esplanade is now a Millionaire’s Row, with the price tags on most new residences easily sending the most ardent daydreamer’s fantasy off the tracks.

But there on top of 509 West 23rd St, however, is a one-room abode fit for the New Yorker who’s not afraid of a little frost on his bedclothes and meals of beans cooked over a camp stove. Sure it may seem like roughing it, but the real estate cliché, “Location Location Location”, exists for a reason.

A quick pricing comp shows that the unit directly across The High Line at architect Neil Denari’s acclaimed building HL23 rents for $12,500 a month. That full-floor unit has five rooms, two bedrooms, open living and dining areas, and a separate library/media room. Amenities include a doorman, bike room, storage, washer/dryer, and the LEED-certified building has a roof deck. 

The tent at 509 West 23rd St. has a rain fly cover, would most likely pass LEED-Platinum certification due to its small carbon (and literal) footprint, and is located…ON A ROOF DECK! No listing details are available, but inquiries would likely be received if lobbed via crumpled paper request from the park onto the roof of the building.

Is This The Cheapest Apartment Along The High Line? A rooftop…

Is This The Cheapest Apartment Along The High Line?

A rooftop tent at West 23rd Street has the potential to bring a Hobo Chic vernacular back to residences on The High Line.

Who hasn’t strolled along The High Line—the elevated park that stretches from the Meatpacking District to the Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s west side—and thought about living in one of the many architecturally innovative buildings that have sprung up alongside it in recent years?

Alas, the carefully cultivated rustic railway esplanade is now a Millionaire’s Row, with the price tags on most new residences easily sending the most ardent daydreamer’s fantasy off the tracks.

But there on top of 509 West 23rd St, however, is a one-room abode fit for the New Yorker who’s not afraid of a little frost on his bedclothes and meals of beans cooked over a camp stove. Sure it may seem like roughing it, but the real estate cliché, “Location Location Location”, exists for a reason.

A quick pricing comp shows that the unit directly across The High Line at architect Neil Denari’s acclaimed building HL23 rents for $12,500 a month. That full-floor unit has five rooms, two bedrooms, open living and dining areas, and a separate library/media room. Amenities include a doorman, bike room, storage, washer/dryer, and the LEED-certified building has a roof deck. 

The tent at 509 West 23rd St. has a rain fly cover, would most likely pass LEED-Platinum certification due to its small carbon (and literal) footprint, and is located…ON A ROOF DECK! No listing details are available, but inquiries would likely be received if lobbed via crumpled paper request from the park onto the roof of the building.

WORD

20150104-20150104-Harvard_Wreath_Logo_1.svg-2
“What is a Lexiphane?” is probably the first and most frequently asked question when people come across this site. Fortunately, the braintrust over at Harvard Magazine deigned to perform the yeoman’s work of answering my FAQs a few months back:

Lexiphane, n. |lɛkˈsɪfən| – Last week, I overheard one editor at the Crimson accuse another of being a lexiphane. The accused, quick to his wit, replied that to indict someone for lexiphanicism is the surest way to confirm one’s hypocrisy. Meanwhile, I surreptitiously tapped the OED app on my iPhone to find out what all of this meant. Lexiphane: someone who fashions ostentatious exhibition of an eclectic vernacular via uttered or indited discernments declaimed sempre sans prudent jocosity, fatuous futility, sagacious garrulity, and sesquipedalian rodomontade to ingratiate some semblance of highfalutincy that resonates more as pleonastic philosophunculism than connatural erudition. Lexiphane, I read: “someone who shows off by using big words.”

The author prattles on for a few more grafs, fulfilling a word count requirement, or the definition of the topic.

  • “Word-Upmanship”, Harvard Magazine20150104-20150104-Harvard_Wreath_Logo_1.svg-2
  • See New York’s Best & Brightest in Dyker Heights

    If one looks past the gargantuan tree and ice rink at Rockefeller Center, the elaborate store windows along Fifth Avenue, and the frenetic kinetic light displays newly dancing atop the Empire State Building, one might find New York’s greatest Christmas attractions along the lesser-heralded suburban streets of Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Every year, this residential community nestled between Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst reaches a critical mass of fever pitch decorating. It becomes a holiday lodestar, guiding tourists and families in cars and vans, photographers on foot, and people from all over the city to south Brooklyn, where they circle the usually quiet streets and emit oohs, aahs, and occasional shrieks of delight.

    Attractions range from gigantic one-of-a-kind Santas to off-the-rack angels and snowmen, assembled in awe-inspiring legions. Many home owners have signs indicating that they hire professional firms to come in and erect the decoration schemes in the weeks before the holidays. Still, one sizable home suffered a mini-blackout, with exactly one half of Toy Land plunged into darkness as the other half blazed bright and spun in place.

    Recent mild weather means that visitors can spend more than a few frozen minutes speed-walking up and down the streets before retreating inside. Take advantage! One can take the R train out to the 86th St. stop and then walk southeast until you hit Dyker Heights Beach Park on your right. Turn left at 11th Avenue and you’ll soon start spotting decorated houses, or just follow the cars packed with excited children. You won’t be able to miss either.

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    Block Beautiful Spirit Lives On With Xmas Decorations

    Outstanding Christmas decorations that adorn an Upper East Side mansion are keeping alive an architectural spirit to make residential housing more exciting. The Block Beautiful movement was pioneered by architect Frederick Sterner in the early 20th Century. His goal was to replace blandly repetitive streetscapes with non-uniform housing design and a variegated street pallate that transformed rowhouse or brownstone monotony to a celebration of eclecticism. Sterner debuted the Block Beautiful method on East 19th Street in Manhattan (here is a 2009 slide show of that block’s architectural hetero-style), but Sterner moved uptown to East 63rd Street in 1914, where he combined two brownstones and began a new block-long transformation.

    Sterner’s outpost on the block was his own home—that double-width house at 154 E63rd—which he resurfaced with a tinted rough stucco. According to a 2008 Streetscapes column in The New York Times, the architect replaced the two houses’ stoops with a fenced-in garden area along the street, and installed a double-height studio on the fourth floor with dramatic glazed skylights breaking up the roofline. Several homes on the block between Third and Lexington Avenues got similar groundbreaking makeovers, many of which were occupied by celebrities, millionaires, and power brokers.

    Tastes change, however, and many of Sterner’s buildings were razed or redone to assume a more traditional, homogenous, or conventional appearance. One can see the changes most clearly in Sterner’s former home. Up top, the dramatic skylights were replaced with a trio of unremarkable arched dormer windows. Half of the street-level garden space was traded for a garage—certainly a Manhattan rarity, but the worst type of alteration to stand out in a crowd in my opinion. Around the windows, the minimalist sills and lintels have been replaced with fuller window surrounds including moulding. The tinted stucco is long gone, and simple string course masonry separating the second and first floors is now a cornice with dentils.

    Today the building stands out from the crowd with its fun and full-throttle Christmas decorations, which feature three decorated trees along the second-story parapet, flanked by two wooden soldiers, and an elaborate tiny Christmas theme park model with accompanying electronic carols in the enclosed garden. It’s a fantastic sight that draws passersby to stop and examine the mini-winter carnival tableau and snap pictures. The house at 154 East 63rd Street may no longer bear Frederic Sterner’s unique architectural imprint, but its residents make up for it with holiday enthusiasm. I asked a contractor who was working on a job in one of the home’s upper floors if he was responsible for the decorations. “Oh no,” he answered. “The family does all of this themselves.”

    · More history and photos of 154 E63rd St.at Beyond The Gilded Age

    Williamsburg’s Container House

    Click to enlarge
    David Boyle & Michele Bertomen’s shipping container home on Keap St. in Brooklyn.
    There is an unusual looking home on Keap Street in Williamsburg, right next door to the Awesome Bunnies Childcare Center. Bucking the trend of glass and laminate box buildings, restored factory lofts, and neo-federal rowhouses, the lot at 351 Keap Street was the recipient of six standard trailer-sized shipping containers, which the contractor/architect husband/wife team of David Boyle and Michele Bertomen turned into a four-story home.20131011-20131011-IMG_4040

    The project was an exercise in originality and took years, because Boyle and Bertomen ran into miles of red tape from the city as it struggled to comprehend an out-of-the-box project involving large metal boxes. A photo from 2010 shows the unaltered containers dropped into place at the start of the project. Continue reading “Williamsburg’s Container House”

    Charles Hynes REALLY Wants to Remain Your Brooklyn DA

    Charles Hynes wants your vote for Brooklyn DA, very very badly.
    Charles Hynes wants your vote for Brooklyn DA, very very badly.

    If you live in Brooklyn, the District Attorney Charles Hynes would really like your vote so he can keep his job. After losing a primary battle to fellow Democrat Ken Thompson, Hynes became the first incumbent Democrat to be voted off the ticket in more than a century, and is running on the Republican side of the ballot to keep the office he has held for 24 years. NYC leans heavily Democrat, so a primary winner is usually the winner of the general election unless a candidate is capable of spending Bloombergian sums of money to secure a victory, or the political wind is blowing in the right direction. Those winds are not blowing in the right direction for Hynes this year.

    Former federal prosecutor Ken Thompson pasted Hynes solidly in the primary, so Hynes is campaigning full speed ahead to stage a comeback as unlikely as his ouster. Out in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn for the marathon (around Mile 3 at 82nd and 4th Ave.) Sunday, it seemed to me like there were more canvassers in red pro-Hynes “Vote For Integrity” shirts than spectators. I was offered “Re-Elect Charles ‘Joe’ Hynes” handbills at least a dozen times. And it was hard to miss Hynes’s giant double-decker open-top tour/campaign bus looping the neighborhood, filled with people chanting “Let’s go Joe! Let’s go Joe!” I don’t think I’ve ever seen a candidate campaign so hard in NYC in the last 15 years.

    Politicker had a great piece on a series of music videos the Hynes campaign has released on YouTube, including the one above, which is a “dub-step-version of The White Stripes’ ‘My Doorbell’,” along with a pro-Joe reggae jam and other interesting choices.

    With the economy still in the doldrums, New York voters seem to favor a clean slate in electoral politics. Mayor Bloomberg is legally barred from running for an additional term and his heir apparent City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was rejected in the primaries in favor of leftist stalwart Bill de Blasio. Name recognition seems to be running against candidates’ favor this year. Social media porn manqué Anthony Weiner’s comeback failed to get a rise out of voters, and former NY State Attorney General and Governor Eliot Spitzer failed to climb back into office as a candidate for NYC Public Advocate.

    New York City’s general election is tomorrow. All the above facts notwithstanding, Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes is not fading away, but rather seems determined to cross the finish line of his career in public office having burned every last drop of fuel in his tank.

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    Halloween Dogs Invade Brooklyn’s McCarren Park

    Dozens of Brooklyn dogs and their owners showed up costumed ears-to-tails Saturday afternoon in Williamsburg’s McCarren Park for the Second Annual Howl-O-Ween Costume Party and Contest. Williamsburg is a relative newcomer to the seasonal tradition of pet costume contests, but the lack of history was more than made up for by the creativity and enthusiasm of northern Brooklyn dog owners. Almost a hundred dogs made it to McCarren tricked out as lobsters, tacos, athletes, and devils.

    After several hours of judging, however, the finalists were selected as Domino the Spaceman with his alien handler, a dog decked out in a legitimate UPS delivery man uniform, Machito the backpack dog, Fig the Halloween Jester, Civil War General Winston, and Elvis & Thea—a baller and his cheerleader.

    Fig the Jester (with his pumpkin-headed companion Mimi Flow) won the talent portion of the competition for his quartet of tricks. General Winston of the Northern Army won Best in Show for his homemade outfit and Civil War companions (including companion nurse Laura Stuart). Ruby Rivera was unrecognizable in her green alien costume, but she and Astronaut Dog Domino were unforgettable and won Crowd Favorite by a light year. Congratulations to everyone who participated.

    Thanks to the organizers of the Howl-O-Ween dog costume party. It’s an event I hope flourishes for many more years. And let’s not forget the event’s sponsors, who help make the event possible:

    · Dog-E-Dog – pet sitting and walking
    · Empire of The Dog – training and consulting
    · Greenpoint Veterinary Hospital
    · Lucky Dog – the dog loving drinker’s best friend in Williamsburg
    · PS9 – pet supplies
    · Waggo – swag for dogs, “Happiness Unleashed”

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    Mister & Pete: How I Survived My Summer Vacation

    Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon play hardscrabble survivors Mister & Pete.

    The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete is a narrative on the dividing line between the softness of childhood and the hardness of an upbringing surrounded by poverty, desperation, and heartbreak. Mister Winfield (Skylan Brooks, and Mister is the character’s first name), is an 8th grader who will not be moving on to high school. The movie opens with tears splashing onto a final exam with a failing grade. He is soft and vulnerable as he weeps in bathroom stall and desperately tries to rub out graffiti that insinuates his mother Gloria’s (Jennifer Hudson) profession: prostitute.

    As Mister rides in a car from the seemingly suburban milieu of his middle school into the Brooklyn housing projects where he lives, his persona seems to harden to accommodate the change in geography. Mister’s neighborhood is not one that accepts weakness. It is a cruel place where children are torn from their homes and sent to “River View”, a facility for children whose parents have failed them. Cops are to be avoided at all costs, and the local crime boss Kris (Anthony Mackie) has as much benevolent investment in his community as a mining corporation has for a mountain.

    Adults in Mister’s world are there to accentuate his isolation. Not only are they unhelpful, they are obstacles, failures, frauds, persecutors, and pursuers. He lashes out at his mother in an early scene, asking why the children in these projects have to be the ones who suffer for the collective mistakes of the adults who brought them to this world.

    Enter Pete (Ethan Dizon), a smaller, younger, even more delicate-looking child than Mister, who the older boy is tasked to look after while Gloria is getting high. Pete’s character is a bit of a mystery. He is the victim of horrific sexual and physical abuse, but he is also shockingly naive, like someone who has just been dropped off the bus from a life spent at church camp. His wide-eyed disbelief after seeing a man shoplifting from a neighborhood bodega is a bit over the top. After Gloria is snatched up in a police raid, however, Pete becomes Mister’s sole meaningful human connection. The pair spend the summer trying to survive until the magical date of a television audition arrives, which Mister fiercely believes will deliver him from his life of hardship to one of television stardom in Beverly Hills.

    The final act of the film is in danger of being seen as melodramatic, but the movie needs rescuing from unremitting bleakness as much as Mister and Pete. Writer Michael Starrbury has created a hard tableau upon which he tests his main characters. The women Mister is closest to are either prostitutes or perceived as such, and only disappoint and abandon him. A malignant neighbor Dip Stick (Julito McCullum) is a spiteful bully, who relishes persecuting Mister for his relative weakness in the projects’ social pecking order. Kingpin Kris is not anyone’s friend, and literally turns his back and walks away from Mister as the child is being choked by another adult—it’s not Kris’s problem and there’s no profit in aiding a child. Ironically, it is Mister’s pursuer, Sgt. Pike (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) of the housing cops, who comes closest to unselfishly caring for Mister.

    Throughout the movie, Pike is played as a devil to be avoided, a specter in a white sergeant’s shirt and eyes hidden behind dark aviators. The character is reminiscent of Boss Godfrey in Cool Hand Luke. But Pike is the only man who delivers Mister to a place of safety, and along the way recognizes the courage it took for him to survive on his own with Pete for as long he did. He tells Mister that there is no way the world will be able to hold back a person of such strength. And at the close of the film, it is difficult not to believe him.

    Giant Robot Vertebrae Unearthed at WTC


    Eventually Santiago Calatrava’s $3.5 billion World Trade Center transportation hub will be a gleaming white bird with wings spread, or a spiny burrowing animal depending on one’s perspective. Two years from estimated completion, however, the project now looks like a massive archaeological dig to excavate huge segments of giant robot vertebrae.

    I would recommend going down to take a look, but to be perfectly honest, the World Trade Center site seems more of a chaotic shitshow for visitors than it has been in the last ten years.

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