Saturday, August 28, 2010

T minus nine hours, plus eleven grants.

7AM tomorrow: we go to Burning Man again.  Should be interesting, a year later!  I feel less crazy in the head than I was then.  It's good to be improving.

On another very related note, we just finished our final grant decision process meeting for the Social Justice Fund's Next Generation Giving Project.  We've raised over $110k (that's "k" as in "kthousand"!) to be given to 11 groups in the Northwest- WA, OR, ID, WY, and MT.  (I don't think we've made our decision public yet, or I'd say which ones.)

It's been a great process!  I've learned a lot about how philanthropy works.  I've learned a lot about listening and being open, too.  I've not been great about this in the past, as I've got both a somewhat conservative upbringing and a somewhat insecure personality, so I'd often tend to think "ehh this is peacenik hippie dreaming-in-the-flowers highfalutin nonsense" about these topics*.  Just so I could feel superior!

*"these topics" being: causes, giving, social justice, community organizing, leadership development, and particularly class.  Class (as in "upper-middle class", "working class") is everywhere!  It's more of a thing than race!  It's so pervasively woven through my subconscious!  Yeesh!

Anyway, that was a ridiculous mode of thinking by me in the past, I've made a conscious effort not to think like that during this process, it felt really good, and now enough about me, we'll give a bunch of grants.  The effects will take a long time to manifest, if they ever do.  It was a lot of work, of a type that I don't really enjoy.  But the atmosphere, the people, and the possible large amounts of good that will come out of this have made it definitely worth it.  As a wise man once said: what goes around comes around.  Or, all things are interconnected.  Or, karma karma karma karma.  At any rate, this probably will do some real good.  Woo!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Another day, another two grand truths I have to keep reminding myself

1. It is most likely not about you.

I am in a stressful spot at work.  You can't really have stress unless you have responsibility, and my current position involves the most responsibility I've had.  And I am, relative to all my coworkers, a Dumb Guy.  Thus, I constantly feel like I'm failing.  But the thing to remember is, nobody is looking at me working and saying "man, this project is in a rough spot; must be because Dan is a dumb guy!"  Everyone is on the same side.  Everyone wants the project to succeed.  Whether or not I'm a dumb guy is secondary, or tertiary, or whatever, geez we'll worry about that later, we have work to do!

2. Wanting things stresses you out.

I want some things, particularly at work.  For example, a job that I love.  But worrying about days when I don't love my job only stresses me out more.  And whenever I set some target in my sights, I feel better after letting it go.  There's something wonderful about wanting something but not really caring if you get it.

(I'm not sure how that squares with really wanting something.  What if you were hungry and you really wanted food?  You can't say "meh I don't really care if I get that food."  But if you can choose to want something or not, it's nice not to be too fussed if you don't get it.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Internet round up

Awesomeness Reminders: this is cool.  Super low tech, and maybe helping people's lives.  (maybe hurting them too!  there's a case to be made for that, but I think it's harder.)

Ooh some guy just spouts about what he thinks is the future of software!  I like the part about object orientation going away.  I'd love to try some other paradigms.

"There's a metacognition deficit. ... of the problems that afflict the country, that is the underlying one."  I hope this is true too, because it means that the way to change the world truly is to change ourselves.  That seems easier to me.

... okay for now, there's burningman packing to do!

Microlending, Moderate giving, and Megasaving

Or, time to put my money, quite metaphorically, where my mouth is.  (to do so literally would just be putting money in my mouth, and even I'd agree that's pretty dirty.)

Have I mentioned that it's absurd how well they pay software engineers?  So I have some money saved.  And that money is doing me totally no good in a bank credit union account.  Let's talk about three things I will do with it.

1. Lending money.
How much money involved: medium
How much money it will cost me: very little; most loans are repaid
How many lives it could change: a lot
How much it will change each of those lives: probably a medium amount
How much I know about it: not much
How much info I need from you: not much

I'm planning to put a significant chunk of this money into Kiva.  (or another platform?  I'm open to suggestions.)  Within a month.  There, I said it on my blog, now it's for serious.  I'll post again when it's done.

2. Donating money.
How much money is involved: probably less than I microlend
How much money it will cost me: well, all of it.
How many lives it could change: potentially a lot
How much it will change each of those lives: also potentially a lot?
How much I know about it: a medium amount
How much info I need from you: not much

I gave some money to the Social Justice Fund NW.  This has been part of a 6-month-long-ish project that we've been working on.  Some awesome folks from SJF have been handling all the hard work (putting out the call for grant applications, organizing all the site visits, etc), leaving about 18 of us young folks (age 20-40) to decide where our money goes.  It'll go toward organizations in WA, OR, ID, WY, and MT.  I'll let you know more when we figure out exactly which organizations will receive grants.  (right now we've narrowed it down from 63 applications to 20.)

I'm planning to put together a drive at Google, too, to help fund some schools in foreign countries.  I'll let you know how that goes too.

3. Saving money.
How much money is involved: a lot
How much money it will cost me: well, the goal here is that it'll make me money
How many lives it could change: one.
How much it will change each of those lives: infinitesimally.
How much I know about it: meh?
How much info I need from you: some!

For the rest of my savings, I'd like to put it into an interest-earning account.  This has two purposes: to earn some interest, and to be disconnected from my ATM card in case my wallet is ever stolen.  I'll put about a half year's salary in here.  And it's my "emergency fund", so I want something that's no risk, and pretty liquid.  Where should I put it?

Finally, in keeping with the spirit of "talking openly about money because nobody does anymore", I'd be willing to put dollar amounts on these items, in case you're interested to have something to anchor to; at least one data point to give you a ballpark.  But this is all about donations and stuff, so posting it on my blog would be braggy.  So let's say, if you'd like to know amounts, email me.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Suave shampoo or conditioner costs $1 for 22 oz.

Since I got it in my head that it's worth it to spend $35 for a haircut now (it totally is, my haircutter lady Kate is fantastic, well except she keeps trying to get me to cut my hair not like David Tennant, but I got called Matt Smith the other day (no lie) so it's fine she's great, and also she got me back into 80's music), anyway since I got it in my head that it's worth it to spend $35 on a haircut, I figured well I might as well buy some good shampoo and conditioner to maintain my hair nicely and not hurt it real bad with awful chemicals or whatever.  So when she asked if I needed any product (I think that's the word she used, because y'know "hair products" do not have an S on the end) I resisted the urge to snap "I would if I looked like David" and instead suavely (har!) asked her for a shampoo and conditioner, whatever she recommended for my beautiful new Matt Smith locks.  Turns out it's "Mop" "Glisten" organic shampoo and conditioner.

Seventeen Dollars Each for Eight Point Five ounces.

Hey, that divides nicely: two dollars an ounce.  Which means it's (roughly) (not actually roughly, actually pretty exactly) forty four times more expensive than cheapman's shampoo.  The only other item I can think of with a 44x variation in cost that I'm likely to run across in daily life is salt.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Oh, HERE's what I've been doing wrong:

Not killing enough experiments.  Especially with my Android apps, I'm not very comfortable with unpublishing them or otherwise letting them die.  I want them to be in my "portfolio", so that when people want to know if I'm good at programming or research or whatever, I can say "yes look at these things that I've made."  The irony is, if I just killed the ones that end up being hard, useless, and joyless, I could probably have made a lot more cooler things by now.

Well, or maybe not.  Maybe the point is I'm trying too hard.  Maybe I've set goals that are too high.  (get into grad school by wowing everyone with mad sick hackery and profound thoughts aplenty while I keep working a regular job; nay, a demanding intense job that also requires said hackery and thinkery?)  Maybe I shouldn't be setting goals at all!  Well now that sounds profound and profane and provocative, so it must be right.

No, but seriously, though.  I feel a little lighter every time I stop thinking about end results.  Whenever I stop worrying about whether I'll get into grad school and start reading more papers or exploring more whatever in my spare time.  I get bouts of "whatever happens, I'll probably do pretty okay", which really takes the weight off, and lets me live by curiosity that I can explore at will instead of goals that I need to grind out.  It's a really sane, sustainable world view.  (then it all wears off and I worry about success and failure again, but what can you do.)

I'm sure there's a good case to be made for goals.  And y'know, everything in moderation, and sometimes goals are good, yeah yeah.  But consider, maybe there's a good case to be made against goals too.  I never really thought about that.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

News is unfair, pop songs are awkward, and P probably doesn't equal NP.

1. News is unfair.  Nobody knows the whole story.  I recently heard about a right-wing talk show host investigating Oregon state representative candidate Cheryl Myers for some BS crime that there's no way she committed, just so they can say "she was investigated for this heinous crime..."  Bah!  Similarly, results of the Google- and Verizon-backed policy proposal have yet to be seen, and it does sound like a step backwards, but it's not a behind-closed-doors secret plan to steal the internet, as the NY Times reported.  How can they just throw stuff on the news that's not true?  They didn't even retract it!  Blah blah media is broken etc blah grump complain!  Let's move on to something lighter:

2. Is it just me, or have pop songs gotten really awkward?  I don't just mean Soulja Boy's newest hit "Birdwalk" or the fact that the #1 pop star in the world is 11 years old.  The finest example is, of course, Kesha's "Tik Tok", a song that just makes no goddamn sense.  The subject matter is "I'm gonna party a lot"; fine.  But the music!  It's like they threw together a bunch of beats and decided "we'll end this chorus whenever we feel like and then throw some 'oh oh oh's on the end."  Her voice is generic pop plus an occasional ... drawl?  (whatever you call that bit at the beginning.)  The chords sound like a keyboardist found tabs for "Hella good" and said "hey why don't you talk-sing over this."

Anyway, example number two: I present "OMG" by Usher.  Again, the lyrics are mostly simple, but understandable, so I'll gloss over those for now.  And it keeps lulling you into periods where the beats almost make sense... until he stutters out "oh my gosh" and then there's a break for football-stadium cheers.  What?!

It's like there's a trend to just throw out everything we know about making tunes that kinda work.  And I don't mean to say this judgmentally- it could be kind of cool, even- I'm just befuddled!  It's like pop stars ran out of inspiration so they turned to outsider music.  But two does not a trend make, but I can't think of another song that's on the awkward level with those two yet, so I'll just let this be for now.

3. On the P != NP proof: this is fun news!  I don't know a damn thing about whether it's right or not, nor does anyone else yet.  It's 100 pages of intense math.  I don't really even care to look at it.  But consider that this is the computer-science version of curing cancer or landing on the moon.  It's a super friggin' big deal.  And this guy is like "hey look, I solved it."  And now everyone else is having a fit trying to prove or disprove him!  Another bit of admiring Mathematicians and Theoretical Dudes, I guess.

"Managing Things"

I've noticed an unusual fellow creeping into my speech recently: the phrase "managing things."  I usually accompany the utterance of this phrase with a sort of confused/annoyed face and a waving of hands.  Here's an example:

"What does (name)'s job entail?"
"Oh, I don't know.  Marketing?  Talking to clients?  ... managing things?"

I use this generally when I talk about vague things I don't know about and don't care about.

What does it mean?  I don't know.  There's a large overlap with the way I think about "business."  It's generally stuff that anyone can pick up relatively quickly*, where success or failure depends on how conscientious and organized you are.  I did this for a year as an executive board member of Scotch'n'Soda Theatre at CMU, and in numerous smaller capacities since.  I've never thought of myself as someone who's good at a particular thing, and even picking a preference is risky (as you lose the chance to do all the things you didn't pick), so I did some "managing things."

*I tend to think anyone can do anything.  I guess what I'm saying here is that there's nothing conceptually difficult about business, and there's nothing mind-blowingly Hard about it.  It's not advanced mathematics or pro basketball or juggling 7 balls.

Anyway, a couple thoughts about this phrase:

- it's a way for me to sort of lump together a lot of things I don't understand.  Like "supply chain management", "operations research", "office management", "purchasing direction", etc.  I'm sure a lot of people have a similar phrase when they talk about "computer things."

- I don't want to do any more of it.  I don't actually find it fun.  It usually doesn't involve much creativity, and therefore I will probably not find any joy in it.

- that said, I value it.  I respect people who are good at Managing Things, because it is a difficult thing that I am not great at.  And I am trying to value it more, because the alternative is the nerd's arrogance, the "well that powerful businessman probably got a 2.2 in high school and went to No Name University and couldn't find an integral if his life depended on it, but look at me, I'm clever!"  People hate on "managers", but as with everything, the problem isn't managers, it's bad managers.

So here's to you, Businessmen who Manage Things.  Is your salary a little overblown?  Yeah, maybe.  But so's mine.  If you do it well, keep on Managing.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The blog post I wish I'd written about the valedictory speech I wish I'd given

is here.

I mean, not really.  The speech is a little (a lot) excessive, and I didn't hate school hardcore.  I didn't hate it at all.  I do think it needs a big reform though.  The whole structure, with points and exams and stuff.  And the tough part is, by the time people like me get around to thinking that things could be different, we're out of school and don't want anything else to do with it.

Also, does anyone share my enjoyment of the whole comics-mashing-up-comics thing that started with Garfield Minus Garfield?  It's gotten super geeked out at Square Root of Minus Garfield, but today's comic made me laugh.  (for the record, Lasagna Cat may be the best Garfield riff.)

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Wow, this dream thing is getting more fun already...

I just re-read my dream journal from last night.  Sentence number one:
"I could do that shake-your-hand snappy thing!"
You know that thing?  Where you let your index finger go limp and you shake your hand around in the air and if you're good then it goes "snap" when it hits against your other fingers?  My dad and my friend Pete can do it, independently, so I think it's a pretty well known trick.

I could never do that... before last night.  Now I just tried it again.  And I can kinda do it.  Whoa!