Friday, December 31, 2010

Hey, I'll be in Pittsburgh tonight

And I don't really have any broadcast channel besides this blog.  I guess this is what Twitter is for.  Anyway, I'll be at Aaron's party; perhaps I will see you there.  Otherwise, want to hang out?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I thought I had a neat idea there with "let's abolish morality"

but it turns out that what I really mean is basically "I like consequentialism, not deontology."  (I've read about one whole paragraph of each of those articles.)

But argh!  Life is so much harder when you look at everything as good or bad!

(skippable elaboration: external morality is just a heuristic, right?  it's like when a kid says "why shouldn't you shoplift a candy bar?", you could say
- "well, then the store owner is out $1, and then it makes it harder for him to keep the store in business, and he might have to fire his workers, then they're out of jobs so they can't buy things, so other stores go out of business; it's got negative economic effects" or
- "if I steal, other people think it might be okay to steal, and store owners will get suspicious, and this creates a world of lies which I don't want to live in" and then explain the tragedy of the commons or
- "I might get caught and the chance of me getting caught times the badness of getting caught is more than $1", and explain how expected value works or
- "stealing is wrong."
In the adult case, it's even worse, because you don't even know the effects.  In either case, appeal to external morality is the quickest way to figure out "should I do X or Y?".  It's often a necessary hack, but it's still a hack.  And when you forget that it's just a hack, you start thinking "he loaded the dishwasher WRONG" or "she said the WRONG thing" and when people wrong you that really hurts!  But you're not really wronged in any grand true way, and because it's so minor, it's better to think about it as if you weren't even wronged.)

Urgh!  Deontologists stress me out!  Then I am reminded of a bit in "The Size of the World" by Jeff Greenwald in which his friend Sally comes to a great realization that, though she tries to be accepting of everything, she doesn't accept it when others don't accept things.  It's played for a bit of laughs in the book, but it's a lesson I'd do well to learn.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Weirdsmas!

Urgh okay I want to write a post about "can we get rid of so-called objectivity in cases of taste and see what happens?" and furthermore "can we get rid of morality and see what happens?", but that is kind of heavy, so instead I'll point out a few things that are really pleasantly droll about our Most Favorite of Favorite Days.

1. Stockings.  Okay, first of all, hanging up your sock to get presents has always been kind of silly, but okay, whatever.  But we don't even use real stockings, we use these fake things that are way bigger than feet and have a Santa stitched on them.

2. "Santa exists" jokes.  Santa Claus might be the biggest and best secular meme.  How did we, as a society, all manage to play the exact same trick on our kids?  It wouldn't even work if we all played different tricks.  Somehow we've all agreed that this red-suited dude is Santa and that is that.  I guess, once we've taken the work to establish this, we adults might as well milk this joke for all it's worth.  Well, it's only marginally more annoying than talking about the weather.

3. Quirinius.  I can imagine Quirinius being next in line to be governor of Syria.
Quirinius: but father I don't want to be governor!
His Dad: shut up I want this family to be famous for all time.
Quirinius: but we'll all be forgotten anyway!
Dad: no, the prophecy says that you will be remembered for thousands of years.  I wonder how.  That reminds me, you've got to get to work fighting those Marmaridae.  That will probably be what makes you famous.  Or maybe your campaign against the Homonadenses.  Perhaps you should concentrate on rectoring Gaius Caesar; when he is emperor, he'll surely reward you kindly.
Quirinius: I dunno, those all seem so meaningless.  I feel like I'll probably just be a footnote in history.
Dad: Son, if that's how you feel, you should get to work being the best footnote in history you can.
(75 to 100 years pass)
Dead Quirinius: booyah!

4. For some reason, my grandma can't find Wintergreen Lifesavers in Florida.  Those are like The Lifesavers.  That's like saying you can find pizzas but no red sauce: possible, but what kind of weird world exists in Florida?

5. Ded Moroz.  Why are we stuck with fat ol' Santa instead of this badass?

6. "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays": why is this an issue?  "Christmas" fanatics: regardless of what you think about Christianity and state celebrations etc, "Happy Holidays" might just mean "Happy Christmas And New Year's."  "Holidays" fanatics: Christmas is kind of cultural, it's a holiday, it's not a day of hating on anyone, so don't worry about it.  And Hanukkah and Kwanzaa: this is so goofy!  It'd be like if the US were run by Buddhists, and they decided to have Buddhaday, but it happened to be on the Feast Day of St. Stephen and Lars Ulrich's birthday, so they celebrated Buddhaday, St. Stephen's Day, and Ulrichday, to appeal to the majority Buddhists as well as the minority Christians and the Danish.  Nevermind that most Christians are indifferent to St. Stephen, and Lars Ulrich is a clown.
But, ok, Christmahanukwanza jokes are about as funny as airline food, so let's move on.

7. "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus": "Santa Baby" is a goddamn ridiculous song, but at least if you accept one conceit (Santa is a sexy desirable man) it makes sense.  To be able to reconcile "ISMKSC" with our world, we'd have to accept that: A. Santa is a sexy desirable man, B. he's makin' out with random ladies after sneaking into their houses, and C. seeing your mom smoochin' (and ticklin') another dude is not only acceptable, but also cute (nay, precious) enough to deserve a song on a Mitch Miller album.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

People vs. our memories of them

I was reading "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch, and you know how it goes, he tells amazing stories about his life and all these lessons he's learned, because he's dying of pancreatic cancer at 43 or something. It's really inspiring, both the book and the lecture itself- look it up, it's everywhere.  He was pretty much sainted afterwards, which is awkward, because saying "this person, as a whole, is great" implies that other people as a whole are bad, or at least not great.

There are stories in there that portray him as this superhero, this modern techie ubermensch who created the CMU ETC and Alice with his bare hands, while stopping by along the way to work at Disney and act in Star Trek and play football and complete all of his childhood dreams.  And yet, parts of the book hint at the fact that he might not actually be Jesus #2.  Take his living situation as a young professor: a $450/month attic apartment with a card table and chairs.  Now, I thought this a cool trait, but others saw it as him refusing to grow up.  Or an incident in which he pours soda on his car seat to demonstrate to his niece and nephew that people are more important than things: awesome, or just kind of preachy and dumb?  And those are the ones that he mentions; you'd imagine there are a lot of situations where he was kind of a jerk.

So what?  Well, I guess the thing I've taken from it is: don't get so hung up on whether Randy Pausch was a good or bad guy.  It's a book of his lessons, after all, not a book in which he tries to prove he's a great guy.

And on maybe the same note, I saved this article a long time ago because it pretty perfectly captures my two thoughts on Facebook (which thoughts are apparently important to have these days):
1. Zuckerberg is wrong because he thinks we are each no more than one self.  He wants a world without privacy, where privacy is unnecessary, where your grandparents see you drunk at parties but they understand because they used to get drunk at parties too.  This idea is flawed because we will always have at least two selves: public and private.  At least until mind-reading exists.
2. Zuckerberg is wrong because he thinks we each must be a self.  A large part of Facebook is explicitly "branding" yourself.  Creating a concept.  And we each must have one concept of ourselves that we throw out to the world.  How else will you get famous?

On an even further note: you can easily distance your current self from your past self.  "Oh, that was just something I did as a kid."  You can even distance yourself from your last-year self: "I've learned a lot since then."  Can you distance yourself from your yesterday self?  Can you distance yourself from your five-minutes-ago self?  And why not?

What I'm getting at is: self is an illusion, right?

Even more tangentially, I'm glad someone coined the phrase "spiritual materialism." (end of paragraph 2.)  It's a bit of a trap I could fall into by posting "deep" things here.  "look at me, my blog is all spiritual and stuff."  I'm really just interested in throwing some ideas out there and maybe sparking some discussions later.  I'm sorry if it comes across as spiritual materialism.

I'd sort of like to remember what my life is like now.

That's most of the reason I blog ever, right?

Here are some things:
- I work.  It is alternately fun and frustrating and scary.  Fun because I am writing code that I know how to write.  Frustrating and scary because I am sort of leading development of a server, and I have no idea how to lead a software project, so I feel like I'm spinning a lot.  (about once every two weeks, I have to organize a list of "all the things we need to do."  This list started out very useless, and with every iteration becomes closer to useful.)

- I've gone to a Rinzai Zen temple three times now, which means that there's at least sorta a chance that I might keep doing it, which means it might be worth writing about here.  It's... different.  Rinzai is the more rigorous of the two main Zen branches (the other being Soto), and Zen is one of the bigger branches of Mahayana Buddhism, and Mahayana is one of two main branches of Buddhism.  Rinzai is the branch that does the koans ("what is the sound of one hand clapping?" etc) but only for advanced students.  Anyway, it's intense: you just sit, totally still, concentrating on your breathing, for 25 minutes, twice in a row.  It's super quiet.  I'm intrigued; I don't know if the rigor will tire me out, or if it will continue to bring me back because I'll feel like I'm making more progress.  It's like playing a video game on a higher difficulty level.

- I still feel like I'm not very good at meditation on the lowest level.  I'm doing okay on the physical side; sitting for 20 minutes no longer fazes me.  (although my lower back tires out quickly, which makes me hunch, and sometimes I get real sleepy.)  The mental side is still a mess, though; thoughts all over the place.  I'm not ashamed, but I'm frustrated.

- I cook.  But it's just whatever the farmer's market has, stir-fried, roasted, or simmered.  So I'm not learning much more Thai right now, just repeating familiar methods.  This is fine.

- I'm becoming much more interested in self-experimentation.  I'm maintaining a journal of dreams and emotions; don't know what I'll do with that, but it's something.  It's convinced me that I can actually stick to a routine and get some meaningful data, so I'm not wasting money or energy by investing in self-experimentation tools.  So I got a watch that I'll try to program, I ordered a Wakemate to learn more about how I sleep, and I want to get an Emotiv EPOC developer kit or a NeuroSky MindSet, because that could really help my research, but I figure better to play with my existing toys before buying new ones.

- I've been hanging out with the Seattle Couchsurfing crowd.  In addition to hosting surfers, it's a bit of a social group, and they're pretty cool.  (I've signed up to host a couple people too.)  I just started showing up out of the blue, and they've been very welcoming.  This is nice.  I certainly appreciate my closer friends, but I've been looking for a bit wider experience for some time now.

- I'm gearing up to leave Google, start research, and travel.  I told my team about my plans.  They're all very very cool about it.  It's amazing how supportive everyone at the company has been.  I'm going to be full time at Google for January, part time for February and March while I start at UW, then full time at UW starting in April.

- Christmas is in a week!  I'm quite looking forward to going back home and seeing my family.  I'm in Cleveland Dec 24 to Jan 2.

And this is not a big deal right now but it came up and I'm posting so here we go: three interesting posts about certain drugs.  The food/drug/herb distinction keeps seeming more and more fake.  (from grade school: what is a drug?  anything you put in your body that has an effect, besides food.  what is food?  well, you know, it's food! I'm glad I didn't know more logic as a kid; I might have been a real brat.)

Poetry from the Dream World

It's late and I ought to be sleeping, but I dreamed hella dreams last night, and I don't want to withhold this from the Internet:

I dreamed that I heard the most amazing hilarious profound poem and that I had to record it, and then I had a series of dreams in which I was trying to wake up and record it.  I managed to carry three fragments of it into the waking life.  I suppose there were a lot of missing parts, but I may never remember them, so I will just present the parts that I remember.

Let me also preface this by saying, it continues to amaze me how much my unconscious mind is:
- creative
- dumb as hell
- unfettered by notions of what does or doesn't make sense.

Okay, enough introductions.  Here it is.

"The Bees"

Humbling crumbly brumbly dumb bear.

Are you hungry hungry hungry?
What are you hungry
  hungry hungry
  hungry hungry
  hungry for?

Are you fighting?
What are you fighting
  fighting fighting
  fighting fighting
  fighting for?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas songs that are allowed.

LENGTHY PREAMBLE: Are you a creator or a taster?

(this is of course a false dichotomy, but I imagine it's a good headline for this lengthy preamble.)

I've lately been seeing the world a lot in terms of creation and taste.  Taste is something that we all try to cultivate, and it's really kinda the opposite of creation: winnowing the cream from the chaff, or whatever.  If you have good taste in music, you're good at cutting down everything that you don't like, and (presumably) really savoring the stuff that you do like, but mostly you know what not to like.  Similarly with food or movies or whatever: if you "have good taste" it mostly means you don't like crummy stuff.

It's everyone's problem with hipsters: by cultivating taste so hard, they just end up sneering at everything.

Far better, I think, to just create a lot.  My best moments of taste, of explaining why Lady Gaga is an acceptable and praiseworthy pop culture icon while Katy Perry is not, or why "Feels" is better than "Merriweather Post Pavilion" despite what Pitchfork thinks, pale in comparison to even okay moments of creation.  Beertable and my door knocker, and even One Photo Every Minute despite its lackluster success, are the sort of things I'm proud of.

I really want to work "maintainer" into this, so we can group people into creators, maintainers, and destroyers, and thereby connect this to another grand concept that's been around since sorta the dawn of time, lending it some grain of Truth with a capital T.  More likely that this is all just nonsense, and I dreamt it all up so that I could proclaim myself a creator and tap into various cultural biases there.

END LENGTHY PREAMBLE; commence main post:

Despite all that, and how I like to create things blah blah, I heard some Christmas songs in the Trader's Joe last night, and remembered how I am a great destroyer of Christmas music.  Up until this year I was convinced that all Christmas songs should perish, except for 13: The Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack and You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.  However, maybe I should be a little less humbuggy; some other ones are nice too (only when performed traditionally, and not melodramatically):

- O Come O Come Emmanuel
- O Holy Night
- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
- Good King Wenceslas

... okay, I'm spent.  Well, we're up to 17, anyway.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Nothing bad ever happens ever.

Great trip to the SF Bay Area this past week!  It was for work, but it was hell of great, because:

- Chrome Web Store launch event!  Okay, so I didn't actually contribute code to this release, but it was my team's release, and all is well, so that's great.  Also they talked a lot about Chrome itself (still getting faster and awesomer) and Chrome OS.  My former team, Chrome Sync, got great coverage, and further press in this video (the Chrome leads have a great dry sense of humor).  At any rate, it actually did get me re-excited about my job.  That's nice.
- A good chance to visit old friends.  It is nice when your job will send you to visit old friends.
- Winchester Mystery House.  WINCHESTER MYSTERY HOUSE.  Okay, seriously, it's just a big house with the wonkiest architecture.  But boy is it wonky.
- Korean noodles and Indian ice cream.  The Bay area has Seattle beat for ethnic food.  (I mean Seattle proper; I'm sure you could get equally good food if you included everything within 30 miles of Seattle in any direction.  The Bay area is huge.)
- got to meet the client Extensions team.  Cool folks!
- go-karts with the team.  Surprisingly fun.  Skidding around corners and stuff; felt like real-life Mario kart.
- I stayed in the Mission in SF.  I like it.  It's a neighborhood I could probably live in.
- Ritual Coffee Roasters makes good stuff.
- I continue to be thankful for my commute, especially my half-hour bike commute to Seattle.  The Bay area is huge.
- In an uncharacteristic but awesome move I picked up this box of useless things at the Google store.  I am pretty excited about them.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

What's your phone number?

I got a call from Little Nipper's Pizza, saying he had my pizza, and didn't I order something?  I remembered that my Google Voice number is a 412 (Pittsburgh) number.  I said "I'm sorry, I think you have the wrong number."
Him: What's your phone number?
Me: (about to say 440-... but paused instead, because this is where the recognition kicked in.)
Him: I dialed 412-(something something), isn't that your number?
Me: uh...
Him: (frustrated) Well, what's your number??
Me: Wait- it's 412-5-uh, 3-2- uh
Him: ah, nevermind. (hangs up)

Because, you see, I know my Pittsburgh number as being 412-5-then the first 6 letters of my name.  Har!

In other news, so in my completely entirely unbiased view, Chrome is The Best browser, but Firefox just got hella more awesome:

Friday, December 03, 2010

Well, that was surprisingly easy.

I am not such a fan of procrastination.

For some reason, I have done it more recently.  Maybe this is because I've had to do things on my computer that are hard on a couple different axes.  Most of the things have just been email anxiety (like sending emails to professors out of the blue- eep!), some of them are the difficulties of trying to spin up one job (research) while the other one (err my real job) has fried my brain all day, some of them are just other logistics like buying plane tickets.  If this is the case, it's not an easy problem to solve.

Maybe this is because procrastination has gotten easier thanks to Google Reader, The Facebook, and Twitter.  I'm not sure this is the case, because I feel like I just want some information to eat.  I got into Hacker News for a while until I quit that, and now I go to the Stranger when I want some more info.  So I could quit the Facebook or something, but then I'd just snarf up more info elsewhere.

Maybe the trick is to take my hard problems more seriously.  When I say "I need to email this professor, because maybe our researches will overlap and we could meet and talk about ideas or something", I should treat it as if I were going to do 20 push-ups.  Not easy.  But doesn't really take that long, and better to just meet it head on.

But man, this is the kind of thing that's tough, because you don't even know you've lost the fight until it's over.  As I was writing this, I suppressed an urge to check my email once- if I had waited a half second, a little ctrl-T and bam, my brain is scattered between this post and gmail.  It's as if I need a mindfulness Chrome theme or something, that instead of displaying a shiny new tab page, says "WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO NOW" and then freezes for 5 seconds before I can continue.

Hey, that's a neat idea.