Ryan Barrington Cox bio photo

Ryan Barrington Cox

Ryan makes things in Asheville, NC.

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Welcome to Trail of Sparks!

Ryan Barrington Cox bio photo

I'm somewhere between
the arrogance
of youth
and a cell phone holster.

Norm 09/28/2016

Joke-writing interests me.

I think up something I think is funny and usually find out later that it’s not funny to others. Or worse, it’s offensive.

What is humor anyway?

My working theory is that funny ideas have an underlying conflict (i.e. surprise, contrast, exaggeration).

I found this interview with Norm MacDonald where he talks about “writing” long-form jokes without ever writing anything down. Here is an excerpt I found interesting.

So, what I try to do now is whatever honestly interests me. I kind of try to ruminate on that subject for as long as I can, and if I can find some dissonance—like for instance just yesterday I was thinking about my friend who is a vegetarian. Now this is not very funny, but I know it will be very funny when I’ve figured it out. But I suddenly realized, as I was talking to this girl, who I always kind of thought was nuts, and I suddenly realized as she was talking to me that I agreed with her. Ethically, it’s not right to kill animals if you don’t have to to survive, but I will never be a vegetarian. I do now kind of believe it is akin to murder, but I’m willing to do it for a juicy Carl’s Jr.

I know that there is comedy right there in that dissonance between what I do and what I believe in my heart. I know there is comedy in there and I know that if I ruminate long enough, I know that I will have fifteen minutes of material on that exact subject, because there are things that are always percolating in the back of your mind that you are too lazy to catch and grab. It’s very hard to be aware of what you’re thinking of because you are just thinking of it in the moment.

As long as the subject is important enough—I shouldn’t say important—as long as the subject is interesting enough, then I can find variations on the theme. A thousand variations on the theme. Just attack it from every possible angle.

So what I do is I have the idea, and then I go on stage and just talk for as long as I can until they stop laughing. And then usually well beyond when they stop laughing. Then eventually it winds down and becomes very strong after that. I have to take a beating before I get there.

Rails 09/27/2016

This post
has gone
off the

Yum 09/23/2016

Train howls in the distance.
Sipping beer on the porch.
Crickets harmonize.
Good night.

Blackbirds 09/21/2016

Here’s one
for the blackbirds
who caw at steel trucks
from the fingers of trees,
sharpening their beaks
on blades of grass,
still laughing.

Joke 09/12/2016

Jokes are crazy little critters
that can bring people joy,
offend them or,
in most cases,
just get swept away
in the cyber winds of time.

911 Jokes 09/11/2016

There’s something kinky about hoses.

Can’t wait to meet my daughter’s boyfriends and destroy them with bad jokes.

That horrible guy that shot up the doggy day care with a semi automatic chocolate gun.

If earth’s life was compressed into one year, human beings would appear at 11:35pm on New Year’s eve and they’d be trying to get a sloppy kiss.

When you look up at all those distant shining stars and think, “Damn… I forgot to take those clothes out of the washer.”

Sax is like pizza.  Even when it’s bad, it’s pretty good with Springsteen.

With a heavy heart, I had to take a shit in your bathtub.

Liners 09/09/2016

I envision an America where no one pays extra for Guacamole.

As a kid, I played alone in the tunnel behind my house. A little game called “The Last Pringle.”

Buy my album and 100% of the proceeds go towards making the next album that I will pressure you to buy.

It breaks my heart when I see a soldier come home from war to his family cause we need that guy out there killing people.

What would Jesus do?  Probably something amazing or brave cause he has superpowers, but not everyone can walk on water and do magic.

It’s quiet simple, Watson. I knew he was the murderer by the way he stabbed his Capri Sun.

There was a killer commute working from home today. My daughter left her ponies on the stairs.

There was nothing we could do, sir.  The place went up in smoke when Brad Pitt got an erection.

Slow down and package those gifts carefully, Eric. This is not a wrap battle.

Life Hack: If you can’t afford a white noise machine, sleep next to seashells.

Hipster bartenders are like cats. You have to ignore them to get service.

Free Bird: Another classic tune about shitting in the sky.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of diarrhea.

Disappointingly, breakfast at Tiffany’s was cold cereal.

Wikipedia: Hey can you spare a few bucks for progress?
People: Yes, but I don’t have my wallet on me right now.

Has anyone found a blue coin purse full of jellybeans?

An old early worm is one tough fucking worm.

I liked Rubik’s early work, like the Sphere.

I’m just peachy. How you like them apples?

Sometimes you just gotta bite the snake.

Random 09/07/2016

Spelling is hrad.

Tarzan was well hung.

I remember a time when people set clocks.

Hey Chewbacca, can I get one of those Tic Tacs?

You guys are looking at me like I’m some jerk who doesn’t leave Amazon reviews.

It’s cool that firetrucks are helping people, but I wish they didn’t have to tell everybody.

While we were out of town, a cat burglar broke into our house, scratched up the carpet & drank all the milk.

I’m like Vincent Van Gogh, without the burden of being unforgettably talented.

Why does everybody hate Monday? It’s one of the top ten days of the week.

The Beatles and the Stones are like apples and oranges. Very similar.

He’s the best I tell you, a real natural born plastic surgeon.

My cool, calm demeanor crumbles in the checkout line.

It’s crazy how some people think everything is crazy.

Crap. I accidently clicked “Skip Ad ».”

I feel better now that I’ve said this.

Soften 09/03/2016

and jaw.


Radical Acceptance 09/02/2016

Some key takeaways from Zara Brach’s wonderful book, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha.

  • Love yourself.
  • Forgive yourself and others.
  • We are all connected. Helping others is helping yourself.
  • Pause and accept. No need to react, say too much or add tension to difficult situations.
  • Come home to the body. Make time every day to sit in stillness. Watch the breath. Thoughts and feelings dance. Watch them without judgement.
  • Desire is part of the human condition. It’s normal to compare yourself to others, to want more than you have. Be aware of desire and its tendency to bring suffering.
  • Be grateful for what you have.
  • Let things be.

More Lines 08/29/2016

Babies are like transistor radios. You have to keep moving them around to get good reception.

Dry cleaning makes about as much sense as desert drowning.

The opposite of a cold front is a pair of sideburns.

If pigs could fly, I could eat ham wings.

The voices in my head get a bad rap.

The last thing I want to do is die.

RSTA 08/23/2016

Last week, I took a Rapid Software Testing Applied (RSTA) course from James Bach. It was a fantastic, three-day intensive about managing complexity and doing quality, creative work under stress and time constraints.

I believe these methods can be applied to any type of learning and process improvement, whether it’s writing jokes/music, learning a programming language, exercising, improving relationships, etc.

Here are some RST takeaways I don’t want to forget:

  • RST is about rapid, self-regulated learning, when there is nobody to tell you what to do (the way I like it).
  • It’s normal to be disorganized, overwhelmed and confused when you start a new project. Don’t panic. Be patient. Grow your ideas over time. Most people crumble. Confidence is key.
  • You can only do good testing when you’re engaged. Turn on your brain.
  • Good testing starts as play. Fiddle around with the product, perform sanity checks, then do survey testing, which builds mental models of the product in your head, creating a foundation deep testing.
  • Deep Testing keeps you sharp. You must constantly practice determination and deliberation skills.
  • Create a Product Coverage Outline (PCO) early on, describing the aspects of the product your testing will cover.
  • Create a Risk Coverage Outline (RCO) that addresses all the specific risks you are aware of. Does you have tests that cover each risk?
  • All your documents are in constant flux. Keep them lean.
  • Testing involves:
    • Oracles: A means to recognize a bug.
    • Environment: People, technology, procedures and much more
    • Coverage: What I’m examining
  • Session-Based Testing is a continuous create-perform-evaluate loop. Perform in focused exploratory chunks of time (i.e. ninety minutes). Always take notes, describing what you did in enough detail to remind yourself what you did later on. Notes also serve as credible reporting. Start your notes with:
    • Name, date/time, length of test session
    • Product version/environment
    • Charter statement: A clear mission for the session.
    • Any way in which you have not fulfilled charter
    • Any bugs you found
    • Any questions or issues that came up
  • Sessions help you find flow and rhythm, keep you from getting stuck on one thing too long, help you track where time is spent. This is a valuable metric.
  • Threads keep tasks going over multiple sessions, keep focus in chaotic environments i.e. If you’re stuck waiting on something, switch to a new thread. A single testing thread might stretch over several sessions.
  • Learn to critique yourself and alternate between spontaneous and deliberative testing.
    • Spontaneous: Feels easy, following natural impulses, playful, energetic, fun.
    • Deliberative: Careful decisions are made. You stop and think, “What really needs to be done? What are the steps to get there?”
  • “Bug reports are the single most important deliverable that tester produces.” You must support all claims you make.
  • A Test Strategy is a set of ideas that guide your choice of tests, not necessarily a document, can be in your head. Strategy influences what you do, but isn’t rigid. Strategies can and will change. Any time you’re testing, you have strategy.
  • Test lead should always be able to report status of testing of the top of her head.
  • Strategies are product-specific, risk-focused, diverse and practical. When making a strategy, consider, “What’s easy? What’s important? What’s expected by people who matter?”
  • Learn the product, think of important problems and potential bugs, think about how to search for those problems, how to search product in general.
  • Safety Language gives honest feedback without giving false confidence. i.e. “So far, apparently, I think, I assumed, it appears.” Don’t give false confidence. Never say, “The feature worked.” Instead say, “I have not seen any failures in the feature.” Caveat: If you overuse safety language, it sounds like you’re not taking responsibility. Walk the line.
  • A basic test report, in three levels:
    • A story about status of product “It looks pretty good.”
    • A story about how you tested it “We tested it in this specific way…”
    • A story about the value of testing. “What are the risks and costs of testing, how testable is the product, recommendations.”
  • Consistency Heuristics may be used unconsciously. These are not authoritative oracles, but they are useful. Oracles often start with a feeling and you must explain the essence of the issue. Consistency Heuristics examples
    • Familiarity: I have seen another product that handled this better.
    • Explainability: Product works in a way I can’t explain. It’s either a bug or something I need to learn. Either way, speak up about it.
    • Also - World, History, Image, Comparable Products, Claims, User’s Desires, Product, Purpose, Statutes & Standards
  • Relationships are important so people see your name or you and listen, pay attention.

Socks 08/16/2016

I washed my socks and they shrank.

Now my feet get hugs.

Heart 08/15/2016

My heart is a cone-shaped muscle
thumping oxygen
& nutrients

How cool is that?

BB 08/12/2016

If I was a BB,
I would sleep
in a dimple.

Lines 08/09/2016

Your daddy issues are not as bad as your dad’s daddy issues.

My best childhood friend shot himself with a digital camera.

I don’t think I’m better than anybody, except people who ride segways.

Nothing makes my skin crawl like walking down a long hallway towards anybody else.

Rock n Roll peaked in the 70s - 1971, Stairway to Heaven, 1979, Highway to Hell - and by the 80s, Rock was Living on a Prayer.

My doctor says I can’t sleep at night because I have insomnia, which is like saying, “You can’t sleep at night because you can’t sleep at night.”

Pressure 08/06/2016

Lean in to pressure.

Hug it.

Two Years 08/02/2016

This blog just turned two years old. This is my 250th post.

It’s been great writing regularly on self-improvement, health, workflow optimization, and experimenting with fables, poems, jokes and more.

This blog doesn’t have a cohesive theme like the blogs I read. Perhaps I’ll get there one day. For now, it mirrors my curiosities and obsessions, my life’s work with family, health and art.

Thanks very much for reading these posts. I always love to hear readers’ thoughts, positive or negative, so don’t be shy and email me.

Here’s to the next two years!

Hecklers 08/01/2016

Fifteen to twenty bikers showed up at the comedy open mic last week. They were shouting at the performers. It was interesting to get up and give it a go under such chaotic circumstances. At times like these, you can’t just do your jokes and pretend insanity isn’t happening. You have to acknowledge the room.

I enjoyed my five minutes on stage. Those guys kept me on my toes. I didn’t sense any hostility from them. They were there to have a good time and participate, even if it was a bit obnoxious.

I’m throwing this recording up to document the experience. I’ve been trying to move away from memorization and break down “the fourth wall” more. Hecklers give you the opportunity to do just that - drop the script and pivot!

I’m grateful for this opportunity and enjoyed performing for these guys. I think I won them over by the end.

Next time, I’ll try to curse less and still keep control of the room.

You can check out the recording here.

The Thirsty Cat 07/25/2016

There was an old log farmhouse next to a thick dark forest. On the farm grew fresh lettuce, peppers and pumpkins. In the forest lived a yellow cat in a tree stump.

The cat was the biggest, strongest creature around. When other cats came near the farm, the yellow cat would scratch off pieces of their ears and send them on their way.

The cat was fast as rain. When he was hungry, he caught farm mice easily and ate them. When he was thirsty, he sipped crystal water from a stream that ran through the forest. The cat had everything he needed. Or so he thought.

One day the cat wandered into the dark crawl space beneath the farmhouse. He had never been here before. He found a small room in the corner of the crawl space. The room was filled with books, string and other tools the cat had never seen before. The cat start flipping through the pages of a book.

“Do you like to read?” a small voice called out behind him.

The cat turned and saw a tiny, gray mouse with only three legs. The cat was surprised. Mice always ran from him. He drank in the sight of this curious mouse and then laughed.

“Read?” the cat roared. “When you’re as strong and fast as me, you don’t need to read!” The cat laughed again, louder than before.

The mouse remained still, his eyes steady. When the cat’s laughter subsided, the mouse replied, “When you’re as small and slow as me, knowledge is power.”

The cat was taken aback. No creature had spoken to him with such authority before. The cat leaned in close to the mouse and grinned widely, showing his sharp, yellow teeth. He ran one of his razor sharp claws along the mouse’s cheek and hissed, “I could eat you and your knowledge right now.”

The mouse did not flinch. The cat blinked a few times, turned and meandered out of the crawl space, muttering, “Who wants to eat a chewy old three-legged mouse anyway.”

That summer there was a terrible drought. It didn’t rain for days, weeks, a whole month. The stream that flowed through the forest dried up. The cat became thirsty. When the farm sprinklers came on, the cat would try to catch water in his mouth but it was not enough to quench his thirst. The cat searched the forest and farmland high and low but found no water.

The cat grew so weak and dizzy that he accepted his fate. Death was near. He crawled through the tall grass to die in a clearing.

There before him stood a tall glass pitcher with water inside. The cat perked up. He leaped onto the pitcher and dipped his face inside. The water was too low. He couldn’t reach it. He tried flicking his tongue but the water was too far down.

The cat started pushing the pitcher with all his might, trying to knock it over, but he had grown weak and the pitcher was heavy.

Suddenly, the three-legged mouse came sauntering into the clearing, whistling brightly. The mouse watched the cat pushing the vase with his wise, steady eyes and said, “You know, even if you do manage to knock that pitcher over, you’ll only get a few drops of water before it evaporates. Then you’ll be back where you started.”

The cat’s heart sank. He knew the mouse was right. He collapsed on the dirt. “Well, where are you getting your water!?” he shouted angrily at the mouse.

“I have studied the farmer and the house,” replied the mouse. “I come and go as I please. I may not be strong or fast, but I know how to get plenty of water and food because I work smarter, not harder.”

The cat started weeping on the dirt, which dehydrated him even more. He was ready to die. The mouse picked up a small pebble and threw it into the pitcher with a splash. “Think about it, my friend,” the mouse said. “There may be a solution to your problem if you work smarter, not harder. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to pee. I must’ve had too much of the farmer’s water.”

With that, the mouse left the cat to stare at the pitcher long and hard. After several moments, the cat noticed the water level had risen ever so slightly. He looked at the pebble in the water. He picked up another pebble and threw it into the pitcher. Splash. The water level rose.

The cat leaped to his feet and started throwing more pebbles and rocks into the pitcher. The water rose higher and higher, to the top of the pitcher. The cat dipped his head in and took a sip of water. He emerged smiling, wiping the moisture from his whiskers and exclaimed, “Ahhhhh!”

The cat had never felt so satisfied. The water had not only hydrated his body. It had quenched his hidden thirst for knowledge.

The cat ran excitedly to the mouse’s house in the crawl space and gave him an affectionate lick. “Thank you, thank you!” he exclaimed. “I now see the error of my ways.”

The cat and mouse became friends. The mouse taught the cat to read books on software, philosophy, history and more. The following year, the cat and mouse moved to San Francisco and started a software company called “The Thirsty Cat.” The company was an instant hit. After two years, they sold the company to Google for an enormous sum of money.

Now the cat and mouse spend their days reading books by a crystal swimming pool in their California home, sipping fresh lemonade, working smarter not harder.

Loosely based on Aesop’s Fable, “The Crow and the Pitcher.”

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