Programming by Any Means Necessary



I’ve been a part of a lot of projects while working under weird circumstances.  Build a completely new stage for a show overnight by 10am?  Done it.  Rip out an entire broadcast news camera setup and replace it with robotic cameras in four hours?  Cakewalk.   Make up a commercial on the fly while shooting on a frozen lake with Santa Claus in -21 degrees?  Easy.

Ken“This is the last take, right?”   “Just one more Ken, just one more.”

Being in the entertainment industry we get more than our fair share of weird situations.  But the one that stands out recently happened on the Black Jack App last week.

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This thing.  It’s a book for your iPad.  It’s awesome.

There are four of us working on the app right now and we’re all busy.  Getting all the developers together into one room took about 40 days to wrangle.  We had reschedules, last-minute bailouts and even a trip to the hospital for acute abdominal hemorrhaging.


Why, O why did I get the BK Triple Whopper?

 But at long last, we all got together.  We had a nice dinner, sat down in our chairs ‘round the ol’ app-making table to hash out all the remaining issues with the app and…blackout.  Total darkness.  Pitch black.


It was so dark even Vin Diesel was scared.

I run upstairs and check the breakers.  Nothing.  Check the rest of the house.  All dead.  Run outside the check the neighborhood.  The entire development is lights-out.   It’s like a satellite picture of North Korea at night.  The entire township is so black it would leave fingerprints on charcoal.  It’s so black—


So here’s the problem:  we’re all there to work.  And rescheduling is not an option.  So this is it.  There’s no lights.  There’s no power.  The solution?   Well, let’s go all Little House on the Prairie on this biznitch and get some beeswax & string working for us!   We’re programming by candlelight!!

Candlelight HelmetI have seen the way, and the way is the antler-lamp.

So here we are, the four of us, sitting in the dark, digging through creative problem-solving, iOS menu interfaces, UI layers, binary trees, responsive user input and conditional code paths, all in the warm glow of a half-dozen Yankee Candles.  And when you mix that aroma of Apple Nut Butter with Seagull Wind plus a little Cranberry Chutney you can start to trip out a little.


         “…then the pixies come out and crawl up your fingers and whisper a Push Notification in your ear…”

We hunkered down at the table for the next several hours; nobody missed a beat, nobody griped, nobody complained, everybody just buckled down and got to work.  It’s amazing to work with a crew like that.  When you’ve got a team constructing 21st Century software by 6th Century technology, you know you’re working with good people.


I Don’t Read Fantasy Books

If you are seeing this, it is a (nearly) given truth that you read a lot.  All I write about or think about are stories and how they are told.  It doesn’t really matter if it is a traditional novel, a comic book, a movie, a television show, or even a commercial with a good tale to tell; I spend nearly every waking hour thinking about storytelling and how it can be done well.  Black Jack, my current project, is an adventure story told in a fantastical setting.  When I talk with people about it, some perk right up and want to hear the broad strokes, but I am amazed how many times I have heard the same reaction:

“Oh, I don’t read fantasy books.”

head-scratching-kidSay whaaaa?

When I ask why not, they usually mumble something about “well I’d rather read something that took place, you know, in the real world” and a vague note of dissatisfaction with “stories that aren’t logical”.  If pressed further, people will flat-out say, “Well all that stuff is for kids.  And I don’t want to read books meant for kids.”

smart-kidMy data shows you need to get over yourself.

Curiouser and curiouser, thought Alice.  We’ll I’d like to introduce just a bit of Vulcan logic for your consideration.  The prize for the best-selling fiction novel of all time is tied between two books at 200 million apiece.  Those books?  A Tale of Two Cities and The Little Prince.  Hey what do you know?  One is fiction, the other is fantasy.

250px-LittleprinceIn third place with 150 million?  The Lord of the Rings.

Fourth place is tied again, between a Chinese fantasy story about two aristocratic families called Dream of the Red Chamber and our old pal The Hobbit.


Dream of the Red Chamber

Well wait a second: 3 of the top 4 best-sellers of all time are fantasy novels.  Also in the running?  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Alchemist, Watership Down, Charlotte’s Web, Johnathan Livingston Seagull, Peter Rabbit, The Wind in the Willows, 1984, The Hunger Games and oh yes, that little heptalogy called Harry Potter.

1984Fantasy novels represent the best of what we have to offer; stories that exist outside of time and place that blend rules and situations created from whole cloth for one purpose only – to reveal the character that is universal to all mankind.  What does it mean to suffer and persevere, what does it mean to face your fear, sacrifice yourself for another, or come of age surrounded by forces too dark and terrible to comprehend?  If I tell you the story from the perspective of never-was in never-land, somehow, inexorably, inevitably, it becomes more true.

If you don’t read fantasy novels, may I take a moment to suggest you may want to begin.  There are a good number of people over the last several hundred years who have found something worth discovering in places where others fear to tread.


“If I can’t carry it, Mr. Frodo, I’ll carry you.”

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Click here to get Black Jack FREE for your iPad.

It’s Pronounced Dumas

Alexandre Dumas' hideaway on the grounds of Monte Cristo Castle in Marly le Roi, France

This is Alexandre Dumas’ hideaway on the grounds of Monte Cristo Castle in Marly le Roi, France.  It is absolutely beautiful, constructed to be his studio during his heyday as a writer.  Could you imagine this being your creative nook?

But let’s get back to that castle for a second.  Named after his most famous book, the castle was constructed by Dumas during his heyday as a writer in 1846, after he had built himself up from nothing.  And I mean nothing.  Here’s a guy whose father was born from a slave, was held as a prisoner of war and died of cancer, bankrupt, by the time Dumas was four.  His mother was so destitute she couldn’t even send him to school.  He was one-quarter black, which was enough in Napoleonic France to discriminate against him in a crippling fashion.  So here’s this poor, black, uneducated kid with no hope of success in life beyond a life nasty, brutish and short.

And then he wrote a book.

And then he built his own castle.

If you’re feeling down, if you feel like hope is eluding you, if you feel like the world is simply too much…think of Alexandre Dumas.  Think of the Count of Monte Cristo.  Think of the Three Musketeers.  You have power within you…and nothing in the world can stop you.

Be bold…and mighty forces will come to your aid. dumas3