Thursday, March 24, 2011

No Mac Java: are you kidding?

Jesus Christ. I just heard about Mac deprecating Java.

Java is English. Not the best language, but a pretty okay language that a lot of the world (like Android and, recently, InPulse) speaks pretty well. Shutting out English is misguided at best and a calculated ploy at worst.

I find myself sometimes trying to articulate to non-programmers why Mac is increasingly evil and why my next computer will be Linux, and the best I can come up with is: As the Apple programming world becomes more separate from the rest of the programming world, developers will increasingly have to choose between learning Apple/iPhone/iPad and everything else. Apple entices users to its walled garden with shiny toys. Apple entices developers to its walled garden by having lots of users. (especially lots of rich users.)

And once developers are Apple wizards (at the expense of their non-Apple skills), they're at Apple's mercy. They have to play by the rules of the App Store, like it or not. They have to deal with ridiculous languages and frameworks, no matter how they change, like it or not. And so, consumers: with Apple you get shiny toys in the short term, but in the long term developers gets stifled, squeezed and bled dry. And then nobody wins except a certain black-turtlenecked figurehead.

God damn. I'm so glad that I've spent the past 2.5 years working for a company that is actually making the world a better place.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fully externalizing memory

Thoughts in your head exist in a wonderful state. Each thought is like a whole tree of spindly little branches and leaves connecting to other thoughts and providing context. When you write down a thought or bookmark a site, it's like just getting the trunk.

Sometimes you can get more. When I write down a thing to do on a future date on my calendar, it's accessible in a nice state. If I take a photo of a memory, it's often easier to remember the full context of the memory than it is if I just write it down. But you can never get the full memory tree.

But you do get two benefits from externalizing memory. First, (semi-)permanence. Especially when it's in The Cloud. My blog will last at least as long as Google. (maybe longer, if I back it up myself too.) This is useful even in the short term: the other day, I forgot that I blogged this article, and then I found it again, and now I'm starting a new post based on EEGs and wakefulness.

Anyway, the second benefit to externalizing memory is the ability to quit worrying about it. Working memory is crucial to everything, and tiny (that old "7 +/- 2"). Say I have "remember to do this thing next Saturday" holding up one chunk of memory, now I'm down to 6 +/- 2. Losing a chunk of working memory is like losing a finger. So I write it down on Google Calendar, tell it to email me a reminder, and then I get my finger back.

So I feel like I'm down a few fingers. Here are some things I'd like to externalize:

- Instead of worrying about "creating jobs" and making more work, let's use our prosperity to work less. Or redefine "work". Hell yes! I imagine a world where people work because they want to, not because they need to survive. Post-scarcity world. I'm pretty friggin' lucky enough to live there now. What happens when everyone does? Could the US, big as it is, survive this transition? Could any country?

- I continue to dig Alex Pang's Contemplative Computing blog. Quote from the Buddha: "The Buddha's laboratory was himself, and he generalized his findings to cover all human beings." Follow the link to "program of weight loss"; it's pretty good. Well researched, yet readable, and touches on a lot of things I'm interested in.

- Another link off that, this time to "What Actually Was the Stone Age Diet?", maybe the best explanation of "caveman/paleo/etc" diets. It's somewhat professional, remarkably free of histrionics, not affiliated with anyone who wants to sell his own book, and boils down to:
1. There was no one "Stone Age Diet." Over the last couple hundred thousand years, humans ate roots and berries and meat, or cooked roots and tubers, or a wide range of plants and some meat, or a ton of meat.
2. The only things that we certainly haven't eaten for more than ~5000 years are cereal grains and milk.
3. Even then, we don't know how long it takes our body to adapt to a new diet.
My conclusions remain mostly the same: I'm not interested in counting carbs vs. proteins, but I remain open to the possibility that grains aren't awesome for us. Still gotta run that next experiment. (my plans are to do this in April, when my life has stabilized a bit.)

- arg side note on food which is disappointing because I had a great segue to get back into talking about self-monitoring. I don't know where or why I picked up Josh Whiton's blog in my Google Reader, but it's great. He talks about food here; I'm intrigued. (he just wrote about monks too. Always cool.)

- arg arg side note about monks: if I were that 93 year old 70-year monk, I feel like I'd be sort of upset about my life! I'm sure he's not. But still! This is why I'm feeling the "worldly AND monkly success" path instead of the "mountaintop" one. (possibly I am brilliant; more likely I am too naive and restless.)

- okay back to self monitoring/experimenting. It's hitting the mainstream. Also led me to Seth Roberts, who might be crazy (ad hominem alert!), but has written some stuff that's inspiring about research I care about anyway.

- incidentally, Readability is a breath of fresh air in the smoggy Beijing of the internet.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Cross posting my Goodreads: How to Live on 24 Hours a Day

Here's the link, and I provide it so that you can friend me if you also use Goodreads.

I won't do this often either, but my modes of putting info on the internet are a bit fragmented: when I read a book, I post about it in Goodreads, but when I get to thinking, I blog. When I read a book and it gets me thinking, that's a pickle.

So I read this book (free pdf/kindlebook/etc! time management book from 1910 England!) and here's what it got me thinking:

This guy is quite a baller. "What I suggest is that at six o'clock you look facts in the face and admit that you are not tired (because you are not, you know)..." "'I hate all the arts!' you say. My dear sir, I respect you more and more." and a lot more badass quotes that I forgot to write down.

But also, he's an example that proves that this "lifestyle design" or even "time management" stuff wasn't born yesterday. He's writing this for the common middle-class you or me, who wishes to "accomplish something outside [his] formal programme." He points out how, in 1910, a bunch of people went to work, came home, and twiddled away their time, while growing upset that they're wasting their lives.

His solution, part 1, is to set aside 90 minutes 3x/week and dedicate them to learning in depth about something. Literature if you like (poetry, not novels); other arts if you don't; or just a sense of in-depth knowledge and wonder in all things. The whole thing smacks of being very English: "Just Try Harder!" But at the same time, there are a lot of Buddhist undertones:
"You can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose."
"When you leave your house, concentrate your mind on a subject (no matter what, to begin with). You will not have gone ten yards before your mind has skipped away under your very eyes and is larking round the corner with another subject. Bring it back by the scruff of the neck. Ere you have reached the station you will have brought it back about forty times. Do not despair. Continue."
"The most important of all perceptions is the continual perception of cause and effect- in other words, the perception of the continuous development of the universe"
"Let the pace of the first lap be even absurdly slow, but let it be as regular as possible."

It's a spot of enlightened jelly wrapped in a doughnut of stiff-upper-lip. Well, better than most Englishness, which doesn't even have the jelly.

Great idea of the day

Quick: name a tablet computer! Name 3! (err, Galaxy Tab, Xoom, grumble grumble Ipad)
Say you tell me that I should get a Vortex Nebula tablet. I've never heard of Vortex Nebula tablets. Immediately I know that this is either:
- a very new tablet
- a specialized tablet (and I'd expect you to give more reasoning as to why I would like it particularly)
- a bad recommendation

Okay, now name a cognitive architecture. I can think of one, ACT-R, and it helps that my undergrad Cog Sci advisor at CMU was its inventor, and that I spent a summer working on tools based on it.

I'm not currently working with cognitive architectures. But say I wanted to get into the field. You can imagine how it'd be useful to have this sense of "what's kinda standard" before I start.

Why do I know "what's kinda standard" in tablets, but not in cognitive architectures? I'm going to guess it's advertising. Even though they're totally brain dead and content free, ads for these things are around you all the time, so you get to know at least what the mainstream is using.

So here's the great idea: you have Adblock in your browser, right? What if, instead of removing ads, it just replaced each ad with the title of a paper you care about instead? (specifically, you give it a field, and it throws in paper names in that field, randomly according to how often they're cited, say. or author names.) You'd get to absorb useful names instead of ads! Instant sense of "what's kinda standard"!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Career is only one letter away from Careen

Life can go all sorts of ways! Here are a few I'm thinking of, in descending order of preference.

1. the Dynamo. Love your job. Do something interesting, get expert at it, rock around the clock. Examples: Herb Simon, Cal Newport, anyone who works at a nonprofit. Sometimes these people are academics or doctors. They're always driven.
Upsides: you're Making A Difference. It's widely socially accepted. If you're an expert, you probably won't have trouble making money. The hours you're at work are wonderful.
Downsides: work might consume your life. Family and friends will require some effort. Unless you really work on developing your attention, mindfulness, and compassion, you might become a one-dimensional scatterbrained pencilhead. Also, the academic life is not easy.

2. the New Rich. Examples: Tim Ferriss, Chris Guillebeau, any number of bloggers and internet businessmen. Make some money somehow. Do it using the least effort possible. (beat the system a bit maybe.) Now that you have enough money to survive comfortably, spend the rest of your time pursuing any passion you want.
Upsides: how does this not sound great? This, not the 40-hours-for-40-years grind, is the standard of the new world. You still get to be your own boss. Making A Difference is overrated anyway.
Downsides: other people might try to drag you down. It's not as easy as it sounds. The hours you spend at work might be crummy. You might wonder why you're selling Pokemon Beanie Babies instead of Making A Difference. You have to keep up your personal development in your free time, because what is life if you're not somehow learning?

3. the Mercenary. Examples: a couple friends I won't name b/c y'know the internet. Travel around, get a job, make some money, quit your job, live for a while, when you're out of money get another job.
Upsides: as a softwareman, this is totally feasible. It's like plan #2 except when you're not working, you're totally not working.
Downsides: you might spend your life implementing a points-and-badges system for someone's social Web 2.0 AJAX mobile local foursquare twitter blatz. You have to lie to others because not liking your job is generally socially frowned upon. If you start to take it too seriously, you may have to lie to yourself to stay sane. 

4. the Monk. Examples: some travel bloggers I guess? Oh and maybe the Buddha but that was like 2600 years ago. Whether you actually become a monk or just start wandering for a long time is up to you. This is always a remote possibility that I will probably never have the guts to actually pull off.
Upsides: Enlightenment!
Downsides: don't be an idiot. (honestly. I don't mean this sarcastically. It's a legit choice, at least for a while. But you'd have to take extra care not to be an idiot.)

5. other kinds of specialized lives. Like say you're a lawyer; you'll undoubtedly have different paths than this. Or a field linguist or a veterinarian or whatever. 

6. the 40x40. Put in your 40-hour work week for 40 years. Make a lot of money doing something you don't like. Get a gold watch when you retire.

Anyway, there is no great wisdom here besides that I like to organize things and give them names. I'm trying out Career Plan #1 right now; I feel like I could definitely hit it in the academic world. If it doesn't work out, let's give 2, 3, or 4 a try. I wonder if there are any big categories I'm missing.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Clearing out my Google reader

Somehow, even though I spend all my time staring at fluorescent rectangles, there's not enough time to organize and output all my thoughts. Here are four.

First, Tim Bray posts about making money in mobile, concluding that yeah, making money selling apps is tough, but there's a lot of other ways to make a ton of money here, and we have no idea how big this market will end up being. He links to Anil Dash's post about running "lifestyle businesses" on the web. My thoughts: this is awesome. This is really great. It supports the idea that, should my research dreams not work out, I could potentially support myself by doing internet things for myself without going crazy.

I've been wanting to write this post about speaking D-list languages for years. If you speak Spanish, and you meet another Spanish speaker, great, you can communicate. But if you speak y'know Ukrainian or something, and you meet another Ukrainian speaker: instant friends! This is most of why I want to learn Dutch. Also, it applies to more than languages: if your favorite food is pizza, and someone else's favorite food is pizza, meh. But hey, if you like herring, let me know, because then we are chums.

Tim Bray again! About input. I agree. Wish I could vomit words into a computer faster. Particularly when doing things like transcribing a dream journal. (one of my coworkers' responses to this was: 90 WPM isn't fast enough for you? Nope.)

I follow a lot of blogs about "lifestyle design or whatever." I find them exciting. And it's great to think that a lot of people are sculpting their own lives in this Internet Age of Change All the Time, instead of just falling into predictable (damaging) ruts. The downside is that a lot of times this overlaps with "making money on the internet" in sort of annoying ways. (and, god forbid, "social media.") So I'm excited to hear about this change-of-mind from one of these lifestyle-design-or-whatever bloggers.