Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Toilets and Pagers

I just read "No Impact Man" and it was very good. He was really earnest and yet easy to relate to. And he did some things that made me think. I don't plan on turning off my electricity anytime soon, but I realized that I ought to start making small improvements one by one, because that way I'll actually get to a way of life where I use a lot less than now. (it's worked for some areas of my life: daily language practice and "no desserts alone" have stuck.)

So, small improvement number one (no pun intended): I won't flush if I pee. Eww, right? No! It's not really gross. "Gross" is arbitrary and self-reinforcing, and so the more people who don't flush when they pee, the more commonplace it'll become, and the less "gross" people will think it is.

Small improvement number two (pending): find a straight razor! Save a few disposable plastic things, and become a badass in the process.

On another topic, I think I've been quite a whiner about pagers, so I'd like to formally man up and quit sniveling. (backstory: I'm going to start having to carry a pager 1/5 of the time for work, so I was complaining a lot.) I ended up standing only on principle. I maintain this principle, I maintain that I'd rather not carry a pager and it should be doable to live without pagers, and I maintain the right to retract this whole post in the future, but the actual downside in my particular case will be probably pretty small. And I've never even tried it! Maybe it is kind of satisfying.

I think a big mental block is that I saw it as somehow shameful. Like "this idiot is working too hard, he's got his work/life balance out of whack" or "this poor shmoe carries a pager because he doesn't value his free time enough". Maybe. Or maybe they're putting in the work for a project they care about.

Finally, the rest of the job is pretty good, so I can't really complain. Bring it on! I'll keep your Google Analytics coming to you 23.999/7! I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sockmeisters, breathe your socky wisdom into me

Really. I need some socks. Sandals weather has ended and my beautiful Zorro tan on my feet will begin to fade. (well, "Sorro" on my left foot I guess.)

Foot comfort is paramount to entire body comfort! If your socks don't breathe, you'll feel all clammy; if they have holes, well, it's kind of crummy. And let's not even get started with wet socks (among the worst things that exist).

Furthermore, foot style is paramount to entire body style. And I don't just mean shoes, although if you can recommend any sweet clogs (or other no-hands shoes) too I would be quite intrigued. The socks make the man! I present as evidence Brian "Argyle socks" Gray.

I would like some socks that are super-comfortable for indoor and outdoor weather (not super-heavy mountaineering socks), breathe nicely, and have some color and/or pattern. Price is not as important. I'll take recommendations of fabrics, brands, guidelines, whatever you've got.

I've already tried some Smartwool everyday socks, for the record, and they seemed kind of clammy and too warm. Plus they look like they're falling apart after once in the washer/dryer. Every cheap sock I've bought has been thin and awful. I'm still rocking a couple pairs of many-year-old Champions, and they're surprisingly nice, but they're white athletic socks.

In return for your recommendations of socks, I'll offer some wisdom from some other people that I agree with:
"I know it intellectually but I don't really feel it." If you talk to me a lot ever you must have heard me say this.
"Avoid feature creep in everything." This goes two ways for me: I hate feature creep in software so I really hate it in my life, and I hate feature creep in my life so I really hate it in software.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Five questions for two religions and one group of people

Dear Christianity,
Why do you have this belief that people are inherently not good?

Dear Zen Buddhism,
Why do you put such emphasis on the instantaneous one moment of enlightenment ("Kensho")? Okay, I guess I can see the emphasis; I imagine such an experience would be worth the years you put into it. But how are people supposed to follow Zen with no promise of said enlightenment? Furthermore, is it still worth following even if you can't sit in a monastery and contemplate "Mu" for six years and reach this Kensho?
(readers may note that I am like four pages into "The Gateless Gate".)

Dear history scholars,
If Christianity posits that we are all sinners in the hands of an angry god, and Buddhism posits that we all have a Buddha-nature within us, is this a cause or an effect of the differences between the Eastern and Western world?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Yeah, this guy!, rip city, pagers, and huge top N lists!

Umair Haque sounds a rallying cry for idealism, collaboration, and more of the same things that I like a lot. And disses the entire older generation. (well, not all of them, just some.)

Portland is fun. Daniel and I went there last weekend. We hung out with Henry, and went to brunch, and went to a movie and drank beer, and went to a couple of parties, and went hiking, and I went to Powell's books. Far as I can tell, these are the quintessential Portland things, and I quite enjoy them.

Another note to my college self: if you go into software development in the web apps world, well, web apps have to be up 24/7. Someone has to carry a pager, and if the app goes down at 2 AM, someone is going to get paged. That someone might be you. It might not; your team might not have to deal with it. But you might. Just so's you know.

And in other news, Pitchfork released their "top 200 albums of the decade." AND the "top 500 tracks of the decade". Yeah, there's quibbling to be done*. But still, I look at the list as a whole and I am happy! This is my music! I can intelligently debate it, and I can look back and relive it. I can get shivers reading the top 50 songs. And I will be proud to tell some young whippersnappers in a half century about how they made good music back in my day.

* Blueberry Boat down at 140-something, In Case We Die not even on the list, Hey Ya not being #1, the weird half-assed hip-hop coverage that Pitchfork is known for, that weird ironic(?) coverage of mainstream pop like "since u been gone", and... Kid A? Really? Come on, giving Radiohead the best albums of two decades is critical laziness. Sheesh.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Quick post from a slow day at work

Things that are cool, two out of three of which are in the "most popular" on the NY times today:
Zen Vegetarian Cooking (which I've not actually used yet but I'm going to tonight)
Social Cognitive Neuroscience (which I don't actually know a damn thing about but it seems cool)
Things that are hilarious because these people are crazy (right? I mean, they're just insane, right? but are they really?):
I have a problem with the idea that "traveling back in time and killing your grandfather is a paradox, but traveling back in time and saving your grandfather's life is not a paradox". What sort of universal rule of physics etc would understand that some changes you make in the past are harmless but some would unravel space and time?
But then, I don't know from physics, so I'll refrain from commenting.

Finally, after a week or so trial period, I think I'll actually swear off desserts, but as always with me and food it's nuanced:
- it's about the food itself, not the role it's playing. So if someone serves fruit as dessert, I'll gladly eat it. Really, it's a "refined sugar" thing.
- similarly, refined flour is also out. But it's not 100% out because so many things have some refined flour. I'll just take a much more careful look at anytime I would eat refined flour.
- only things with non-trivial amounts of refined sugar are out; I'm not giving up, say, a half teaspoon of Sriracha.
- booze is straight sugar, and I'm not giving up alcohol. But I mostly drink beer anyway, which is healthier than liquor (debate postponed for another day), and pair this with the next rule:
- biggest nuance, which makes this all a lot wussier but also more better for real life by solving the "birthday cake" problem: I'm not giving up all desserts, I'm giving up all desserts alone. If it's a celebration or something, great! Or even if I'm out for friends with ice cream.
You may snicker, but adopting this very complex "rule" will probably cut my white sugar/white flour intake by ... 80%? Good enough for me.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

How much things cost

Part 1 in a series that I'll publish every so often entitled "things I wish I knew in college." (not that I'm in the "real world" and oh me oh my it's so difficult. it's not. it's different. just things I did not previously understand...)

What do things cost in the real world? Note that this is slightly different from actually discussing finances, because that's gauche in person, let alone on the web. I'll just explain how much I spend on things. I hope this might help you if you're still in college.

My apartment, in Capitol Hill, Seattle, pretty much in the epicenter of places I want to live, trendy hip and close to everything, half of a 1000 sq. ft. 2br 2ba sweet pad with a big kitchen and a hell of a sunset view: $850 + utilities (about $100) per month. Used to be $975 + utilities, until the market for everything collapsed. (this is expensive: it's $1700 total. Most apartments around here cost $1600 or less. It's pretty spacious, built in the 90's, and we've never had any problems with water, heat, utilities, anything. Yes, maybe we could pay less... but maybe also we could frustrate ourselves trying to find a "better deal". I'm currently not optimizing here.)

Travel: $6300. That's 2 weeks in India, 1 week in Japan, 2 flights to Pittsburgh, 1 flight to Chicago/Cleveland for Christmas, a car trip to Hocking Hills, 2 Zipcar trips to Portland, and a trip to Burning Man. I like to think I'm pretty frugal, but trips are expensive, especially if you have to fit them into a workingman's schedule. (for example: 1 week in Japan was maybe $1700, but $1200 of that was a plane ticket.) Nevertheless, travel is something I will always spend money on if I can afford it.

Groceries: $200/month. I shop at farmers' markets and coops. However, I also eat close to half my meals at Google, so that's not really fair. Take this number with a grain of Portuguese fleur de sel.

Entertainment: $470/month. I don't really economize much here either. This is my biggest expense, after housing and travel. Strange, eh? A lot of this is meals or drinks, although it also includes classes and any "extracurriculars" I do.

Bike upkeep: $185/year. Per year! You could pay that for parking in 2 months. And this is a bike I rode for about 8 miles every day. (I should have probably spent a little more; I let my chain get too worn out and it wore down my gears, so I'll be due for a $150 hit soon enough. Still a lot cheaper than a car, though.)

A quality suit and 2 shirts and ties: $582
A nice overcoat: $100 (on a big sale)
A pair of hiking shoes: $100
The rest of my clothing expenses for the year: $181

Medicine/health/things: $172/month. Most of this is probably because, in January, I started going to a counselor for $75/week, and later found out my insurance wouldn't cover him because he's not in their system. Pro tip: most counselors are probably pretty good, so if you want to go to one, check and see if he/she's in your insurance plan (if you're lucky enough to have one) first.

Total expenses for one year of living without worrying about money at all: $31072.

Do I feel a little uneasy at this number? (Considering that many families live on less than this?) Yes. Especially the entertainment and housing costs: what kind of a hedonistic life am I leading? But total up your own numbers; I wonder if many of you aren't paying the same. And if you are, don't necessarily sweat it. Quality is worth it; quality of things, quality of experiences, quality of life. "Money can't buy happiness, but it can make life a lot easier" -Gramp. I don't think I go to tremendous excesses, I save plenty, and I don't have to worry about money, which is the end goal of having a high-paying job. If the finances could work out this well forever, I'd have no complaints at all.

Again, the point of this is not to brag or complain about my own expenses (although I do get a little kick out of telling you how little my transportation costs). It's intended for those of you who are not in "the real world" yet, so you have some idea of how much things cost me in particular. YMMV etc. It may also interest those of you who are in "the real world", to have a point of comparison, say if you live in another city or something.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

What I do with about 25% of my life

Sometimes people ask "what do you DO as a software engineer?" (not often. it's not really sexy or really confusing. but it's a little of both, and sometimes people are trying to make conversation.)

Well, it's about 25% coding, 25% organization, and 25% looking stuff up.

Coding: this is "doing things." Ever take a programming class? it's kind of like that. I'm writing mostly java code to put little buttons on pages or deal with objects and save them to databases or call other services and stuff. Sometimes it's a little complex, but the real codey code is nothing that you couldn't learn in a year in college. This, incidentally, is the fun part. This is the part where I (like every engineer) am a wizard! Where entire worlds flow forth from my fingertips like Zeus's lightning! Where I merely cough and mountains of data get processed into pudding! Where I make furniture fly and books flap in your face like that haunted room in Poltergeist! It's a real kick when I actually get to write code.

Organization: this is "doing things right". There's a million ways to sort a list, say, but half of them are horribly slow. And you wouldn't even know it until you tried it on a list of a million things. You could also call this "software engineering". Knowing which algorithms or data structures to use when, knowing what will be easier to reuse in the future, structuring your code so it's easy to read, making tradeoffs for speed and efficiency. This is a thing I almost never learned in school. Or maybe they alluded to it in some classes (like "you should really write unit tests", say) but we never actually worked on it. And it is kind of fun.

Looking things up: this is "figuring out how to do things". It's a weird job where, if you don't know how to do something, the answer is "google it." (or maybe that's not so weird anymore.) Sometimes it's "I need to understand this concept" (like asynchronous RPC's or dependency injection); this is sometimes kind of fun because I feel like I'm "leveling up" every time I can do a new thing. Sometimes it's "argh what is this thing called, I know what I need I just don't know the exact syntax" and that is not fun at all. One could argue that my quibbling here is BS: if I don't know the exact syntax, I don't actually know the thing. You don't actually know something until you implement it. This is the same school that advocates actual writing code during job interviews. I think I partially agree. (Looking Things Up is still boring though.)

And maybe 25% is just overhead/meetings/tech talks/etc. So it goes.

And this is why working on my own projects is fun too, because it's a different balance. At work, everyone's done all the easy parts, and we have to polish a lot around the edges. When I'm coding on my own, I can just put on my welding goggles and call forth a firestorm of code. But the cool part about the Organization and the Looking Things Up is that it gives me new spells in my spellbook, so next time I want to do a side project, I can cast a friggin' meteor swarm instead of just a magic missile.

Add it all up, it is a pretty good deal. And I have the jitters from summoning fiery code demons today and yesterday. Boy am I tired.