Thursday, June 30, 2011

Googlebook vs Facebook

Googlebook (ahem, "Google Plus") is out. I like it. It might actually let me quit Facebook. But it's not a toaster; I can't just choose one or the other based on how I'm feeling that day. If I were going to hardcore switch, I'd need to convince a bunch of people, and if I'm going to convince a bunch of people without fanboyism, I need to be honest about the pros and cons.

Googlebook pros/Facebook cons:
- Circles are really nice. It is intuitive how to share one thing with my CMU friends, one thing with my Seattle friends, and one thing with my family. Facebook has groups but they're not as much first class citizens.
- I could see Huddles (on the mobile app) being very useful. I've group-texted before and it's always been dumb.
- open data open data. I can get anything out of my Googlebook profile easily. I cannot get things out of my Facebook profile easily (if at all).
- wasn't there something about Facebook owning some weird rights to your photos or wall posts or something?
- I trust Google more than Facebook. Feel free to debate this; my opening volleys are the above two points. Furthermore, (warning: rhetorical trick ahead) nobody trusts Facebook more than Google.

Facebook pros/Googlebook cons:
- there's no bar above me on all Google properties reminding me of how many Facebook notifications I have. That's an attention splitter right there.
- your Picasa photos are in Googlebook. Particularly, those photos you posted a while ago on Picasa, which nobody ever looks at, are now right on your Google Profile, which is now as big as your Facebook Profile. Your public photos are "more public." That's going to go fine for most people, while some will have huge my-boss-saw-me-smoking-pot mistakes and complain about privacy. I think it's not a terrible change, but be careful!
- on Googlebook, if you share a picture of you smoking pot with your friend, your friend can reshare it with the world, unless you disable resharing. Again, not a killer, but it is a thing to learn.

Okay, that's what I can think off the top of my head. What am I forgetting?

EDIT: here's another thing: Some people are uncomfortable with Google owning all your information. As someone I spoke to recently said, "they already have my email, my calendar, etc, and now they have my social network too? Who knows if they start reading all my data and knowing where I'll be and when, etc etc" I guess in this case, an upside of Facebook is that it's not Google. And I can dig that: it's theoretically a lot easier to end up in "creepy integration" territory if you don't have to cross corporate lines. The best counter I have to this is that Facebook is trying to build the all-your-data empire too (e.g. fb messaging), and I'd much rather have Google do it than Facebook.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Caffeine fast complete!

I had always figured that, since I pretty reliably drink about 150mg caffeine/day (5 cups of tea, 1.5 cups of coffee, or some combination, and yes numbers vary a lot depending on who you ask), I was probably building up some sort of tolerance. I'm not sure how this tolerance manifests, but at least a part of it is that you get more adenosine receptors.

(layman's attempted explanation: when adenosine binds to receptors, you get sleepier. caffeine prevents adenosine from binding to receptors by binding to those receptors itself. but if you drink caffeine every day, the body compensates by making more adenosine receptors, so drinking the same amount of caffeine just returns you to your original non-caffeine baseline.)

I read this blog post and was intrigued to hear that it only takes 5 days of complete caffeine abstention to return to adenosine normality*. He didn't cite sources there, but Wikipedia corroborates. ("withdrawal symptoms... usually last from one to five days, representing the time required for the number of adenosine receptors in the brain to revert to "normal" levels") So I tried it.
*Arvind later clarified: tolerance may not be gone, but after 5 days you can function normally, at least. Not entirely sure what he means, or when tolerance does completely go away.

The results: On day 2, I felt kind of can't-concentrate-crummy. Day 3 was a little slow, days 4-5 were pretty normal. This could just be the result of other work issues, and the fact that days 4-5 were a weekend. And now I'm drinking coffee again for the first time, and I feel wonderful as usual. So, no big results, except that now I guess I have normal levels of adenosine receptors again. Not for long!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Live life as if it were a game you chose to play.

Normative Heuristic Microethic #3.

I'll try not to say much here, because Sebastian Deterding says it better. Flip through the entire presentation; the first bit just sounds like gamification research (and does a pretty good job of explaining the whole "field"), but the payoff to your life and mine comes at the end.

When I was a kid, I had to mow the lawn every week. Not a game: not fun. Once I was feeling creative so I mowed everything but a happy face, leaving the design in the yard. I wouldn't have admitted it, but it was kind of fun. Sometimes when I go back to my parents' house, I decide to mow the lawn, maybe to do something nice for them or get some fresh air. I decide it's a game: it's fun again.

What if I had a flexible enough mind that, whenever someone said "you must do X", I would immediately transform that into "I'm going to play this game"? I'm not sure how this fits in with my other rules of life, but whenever I decide something's a game, it usually turns out better.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Particularly seek fucking awesome experiences.

or, Normative Heuristic Microethic #2. And dear family: I'm allowed to swear on the internet if I'm just copying someone else's phrase. (that's Ben Rubin, founder of Zeo.)

Penelope Trunk writes about how some people seek happiness while others seek interestingness. (I'd substitute the word "contentment" for "happiness.") Sounds the same as Barry Schwartz citing Herb Simon about how people are maximizers or satisficers.

I always thought I was a maximizer. Then I tried satisficing for a few years, trying to build a comfortable life in Seattle. (I can only tell that I was doing this in retrospect; I never set out to say "I'm going to satisfice now!") Now I'm pretty sure I'm a maximizer through and through, mostly because I've felt more happy and alive with my current plans (travel around Asia and grad school, both of which are pretty maximizey) than I have in a while.

Tim Ferriss writes about how it's easier to pursue an incredible goal (win a worldwide weightlifting competition) than a realistic goal (complete a marathon). Maybe that's for everyone, maybe it's only for maximizers, but either way I think it's for me.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Avoid cravings. Seek opportunities.

Or, "normative heuristic microethics, part 1." You can skip the next paragraph if you want.

I'm searching for something. I think that doing good things will improve my life, and doing bad things will make it worse.
Ethics is the philosophy of right and wrong.
Normative ethics is about how to decide what's right and what's wrong.
But I don't really care about Right and Wrong. I'm not often confronted with the chance to bump a guy onto a train track to divert a trolley car to save 5 lives, or the chance to go to war or not. So let's just cut it down to things about my individual life, and call it Normative Microethics.
And even then, my ideal ethical philosophy would likely involve making some huge calculation at every turn: what are the odds that this will turn out like X or like Y, what are the payoffs if it does so, etc. This calculation is usually incredibly impossible to do in real life; I don't care about how to calculate it, because I'll never be able to. I'd like to know some heuristics. Hence, Normative Heuristic Microethics.

Basically, I'd like to develop a set of good rules to live by. (I think of them more as "tastes"; whatever.)

Buddhism has been helpful in this; I feel like (at least some) Buddhists have the right idea about a lot of things. WWBD? I think he'd say something about reducing cravings.

Now, before we go any farther, let me just say one thing: Buddhism is not about renouncing all desires. Say it with me: Buddhism is not about renouncing all desires. Buddhism is about renouncing the desires that hurt you if you don't get them: the cravings. Addicted to drugs? Pining over that girl or guy who doesn't care about you? Love your new car so much that it would kill you if anything happened to it? These are cravings. But if you kind of like cake and don't overeat it, or you get excited about X-Men movies (but it doesn't cause you pain when a new one is cancelled), or you love and appreciate your family, these are fine desires.

That's kind of a half definition, though. "Avoid cravings" tells you what not to do. And especially when we're talking real-world decisions here, I want to know what TO do too. Here's my hypothesis: seek opportunities, where by "opportunities" I mean "those fine desires." Seek out things that make you happy if they turn out well, and don't bother you when they don't. At work, I hear about so many exciting ideas that I want someone to research them all. If one doesn't turn out, there's always another. Traveling, I generally want to get from point A to point B, but if I don't, the detour is generally all the better. This seems a promising attitude to have about life in general.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I don't like feeling helpless.

And I don't like UPS.

If you send me a package via UPS, here is what will happen: I won't be here, because I don't stay in my house all day. They'll leave a door tag with a checkmark in box B, "The sender required a signature at the time of delivery."

(I'm not sure why it's always box B. I can't imagine all senders always pay for signature delivery. If they could have checked box A, "Your written authorization is required to leave package(s)", that would be fine; I'd sign the tag and they could leave it tomorrow. It might always be B because I'm in an urban area and we're all thieves here.)

I have a few options, most of which are not really options:
1. Stay home all day tomorrow. I've tried this before, and it results in me feeling like a prisoner in my house. It's terrible. Once I ducked out for literally an hour, right around the corner, for a cup of coffee, and put a note on the door asking UPS politely to leave the package or call me. I came back to find "Can't leave package. No phone." scrawled on the note.
2. Ask a neighbor to stay home. I don't know my neighbors beyond their names and saying hi; I'm not going to ask THEM to be prisoners in THEIR houses.
3. Ship it to my office. I don't have an office.
4. Ask them to hold it at the UPS main dropoff location, pick it up on my bike. This is about 5 miles south of downtown; at least a half hour bike ride in the opposite direction of everywhere else I ever go, through industrial wasteland, and that's if it's a small enough package that I can take it on my bike. Net cost: 1 hour.
5. Ask them to hold it at the main dropoff location, take a bus. Net cost: 2 hours and $4.50.
6. Just let it get returned to sender, ask them to resend it via USPS. I've tried this twice; once the company put up a big fuss and eventually agreed (but I discovered option 7 first so didn't end up following through), and once the company re-sent it two months later, again via UPS. Also, this is dumb. Also, it's not handled by websites or phone tree forms, so I have to talk to a human, so net cost: about 15 aggravating minutes, and my package gets delivered two months late.
7. Ask them to deliver it to the local UPS store. This is the same in their eyes as if I had asked them to deliver it to another arbitrary location; it's as if UPS and The UPS Store were separate companies. UPS charges me $4 for an address change, and The UPS Store charges me $5. Net cost: $9.

Nowadays I just do #7, paying $9 extra in shipping on stuff costing as little as $50. It's bad. But it's not the end of the world, though, which is why I'm intrigued by how angry this whole thing makes me feel. It's like yell-curses-around-my-(empty-)house angry, which is pretty much worse than anything else. Is it just that I really have no other stressors in my life of Riley? (could be.) Or is it that powerlessness angers me much more than most other stressors, and UPS is almost the only place I feel powerless?

Finally, is there a solution to this? I try to calm down and think rationally, but all I can think of is $9 (or worse: an hour of my life) going away for a totally avoidable reason.

Friday, June 10, 2011

No-meat experiment results: wow.

So I did the no-grains experiment a couple times, and I generally found that eating no grains made my stomach feel a little better. After taking out all the possible extraneous factors, it was a small positive effect, but not quite statistically significant.

I wondered, am I just feeling better because I'm thinking about my food a little more? So I went for another experiment: vegetarianism. This was not as difficult, as I've been used to eating not much meat, but eating no meat altogether made me think a bit. So I went almost a month, eating meat only once. (couldn't resist the opportunity to try a pig's foot at a Taiwanese place with my friends Will and Jing. FWIW, it was really good.)

Here are the results. Again, these values are arbitrary 1-5 ratings of how good my stomach felt, recorded whenever I remembered to do so.

Average stomach values when I was vegetarian:
['2.33', '3.00', '3.43', '2.00', '3.20', '2.71', '2.32', '2.50', '2.50', '3.00', '3.17', '3.14', '3.00', '2.33', '2.33', '3.00', '3.40', '3.14', '3.33', '3.33', '2.67', '3.17', '2.50', '3.33', '3.17', '3.00', '2.67']
Mean: 2.87710940708

Average stomach values when I was not vegetarian:
['2.88', '3.14', '2.37', '3.21', '2.70', '1.64', '3.14', '2.95', '2.53', '3.43', '3.00', '2.62', '4.00', '3.33', '3.11', '3.00', '3.43', '3.00', '2.68', '2.68', '3.42', '3.29', '3.33', '3.12', '3.50', '2.56', '2.83', '3.70', '2.80', '2.88', '3.00', '3.35', '3.36', '3.00', '2.80', '3.00', '3.36', '3.80', '3.56', '3.00', '2.83', '3.52', '2.66', '2.22', '2.78', '2.78', '4.00', '2.25', '2.50', '3.11', '3.80', '3.25', '2.62', '3.55', '3.20', '3.60', '3.81', '2.83', '3.60', '3.30', '3.51', '2.80', '3.22', '2.92', '3.51', '3.38', '2.83', '3.64', '3.71', '3.74', '3.00', '3.43', '2.70', '3.19', '3.08', '2.69', '3.68', '3.43', '2.86', '3.00', '3.37', '2.44', '2.29', '3.24', '2.29', '3.44', '3.00', '3.12', '3.14', '2.70', '3.00', '3.12', '3.77', '2.25', '2.20', '3.40', '3.27','2.89', '2.00', '3.34', '2.77', '2.93', '2.83', '2.90', '2.47', '3.67', '3.85', '2.60', '3.71', '3.00', '3.33', '3.22', '3.00', '2.99', '3.12', '2.70', '3.71', '2.92', '2.84', '2.65', '3.00', '3.38', '2.60', '3.14', '3.29', '3.16', '3.81', '2.36', '3.27', '3.30', '3.40', '2.62', '2.88']
Mean: 3.07318849872
t = -2.13426416275, p = 0.0343639577132

Huh! So being vegetarian makes my stomach feel a little worse!

Skippable side note: I did travel during some of the vegetarian time. Rerunning the data omitting those values, it comes out the same.
Average stomach value when I was vegetarian: 2.84902728756
Average stomach value when I was not vegetarian: 3.07318849872
t = -2.18353942908, p = 0.0305296553454

Side note that might be relevant: I've been recording fewer data points than I used to.
Number of ratings per day when I was vegetarian: 5.22222222222
Number of ratings per day when I was not vegetarian: 7.92481203008
t = -4.99546061942, p = 0.00000154006168467

Side note that also may be relevant: my mood ratings (which I've been tracking similarly) are almost significantly different as well. This could strengthen the "eat meat" conclusion, or it could be that I've been a little bit down the last couple weeks.
Average mood value when I was vegetarian: 3.33179694171
Average mood value when I was not vegetarian: 3.49920969731
t = -1.95361169902, p = 0.052513305171

Combined conclusions: if I combine my stomach ratings from the two no-grains experiments, my average rating is 3.26375. So by eating meat and not grains, I could ostensibly go from 2.87 to 3.26, an increase of 0.39. How significant is 0.39?
Well, I've been collecting data for 160 days. One day had an average value below 2, two days were above 4. The standard deviation is 0.43. So 0.39 is a pretty good jump; I could go from an average day to a day that is better than 2/3 of days. Hmm. I think I'll start eating (non-factory-farmed) meat again, and stop eating grains when it's convenient.

Attention and coffee (unrelated)

(although a well-researched post about the effects of coffee on attention would be really interesting. Someone go write that.)

How much is your attention worth? Furthermore, how much is your friends' attention worth?

I just heard about the Indie Games Summer Six-pack, which is $10, or $5 if you share on Facebook. So they're proposing that a shout out on Facebook is worth $5. I'm guessing this is roughly equivalent to a tweet, so let's talk about tweets because they're easier to think about than the 27897489 ways you can "share" or "like" or comment or whatever on Facebook. And let's talk about pretty benign things like indie games; we're not talking about paying someone to tweet racial slurs or political stuff or whatever. Is a benign advertising tweet worth $5?

I mean, clearly there is a price on tweets, even for folks like me who hate this attention-frittering spam. If you paid me $1000, I would tweet your benign advertisement. Probably for $100. Probably not for $5. I don't know where this thought goes, but it's kind of exciting, or maybe terrible, to know that celebrity endorsements are here on a micro-scale, and we are all micro-celebrities.

Topic switch, and now I'm on to copying down bits of my life to remember later, and in particular coffee. I spend a lot of time now in coffeeshops. Mostly the Victrola on Pike. Somehow it's better than working at home. Big and airy, full of people, and I can't really do much besides work. (oh, and fritter away time on the internet. whoops.)

I drink pour-over coffee (it's like a machine makes, but they pour hot water over the grounds while you wait, and the temperature and weight of grounds are precisely controlled). For the first time, I could taste the difference between different coffees. I'm developing a bit of a taste for coffee here. It's cheaper than wine, and you can drink it by yourself. I think I like rich chocolatey South American coffee best, but African fruity winey coffees are nice too.

I pay $3 for the coffee and leave a $1 tip. And maybe I go there 3x/week. That's about $50/month, or $600/year. But I'm getting an office, a morale boost, a caffeine boost, and an education for my taste buds.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Doubt, Uncertainty, and Fear

It's terrible marketing, and it's also all of the challenges in my life right now.

Doubt: meditation. I was all "why have I done this for two years without noticing any benefit? and why should I keep doing it?" The only answer I could come up with was "faith". This bugged me.

Rewind eight years and I'm a clever little snot meeting up after class with the best theologians at St. Ignatius High School. (my teachers, I mean.) I think I was honestly searching for something to believe in, although I might have been trying to be smart. We went through all the arguments for and against some divine something, and I fell pretty quickly on the "for" side of that. But then I said "well, what about Christianity? why should I dedicate my life to this Jesus fellow instead of any other wiseman?" and their responses boiled down to "he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven." That is a slam dunk argument if it is true! But given the ambiguities with early Bible history and folks' tendencies to worship (npi) their heroes until they're larger than life (npi), I wasn't convinced. The next line of defense was "well, of course you can't prove Jesus is God; you have to have faith." I can deal with faith in people, or institutions, or whatever, that have earned my faith, but making the leap from Jesus being a wise and good guy to that pretty astronomical legend, well, that bugged me too.

(it didn't help that this was popular on the radio about that time.)

So what's the difference? How is my current *ahem* faith in meditation better than my childhood faith in Jesus? I think to get at that, you have to take the Buddhism out of it. Faith in reincarnation, say, seems about on par with faith that Jesus is God. But faith in developing a stronger, happier, more fulfilled mind through meditation seems pretty believable even for the skepitickest skeptic.

At any rate, I'm back at it, plugging away no matter how futile it might seem.

Uncertainty: my work! I'm working on a short javascript sorta-game to test a hypothesis that just learning can be fun, if it is well structured. My timeline is: finish game by June 15, iterate until June 30, do some tests by July 15, have results and write paper by July 31. I am not sure if I can hit any of those deadlines. I'm not sure if I'll get any results if I do.

I guess the good life here lies in savoring the uncertainty. That's what I wanted, right? To work on newfangled things that might or might not work? Try them, see if they work! That is the fun of it all! It is good to remind myself of that.

Oh, and Fear: well, that comes from getting lost three miles into a snow-covered forest at midnight last weekend. Hah!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Two contradictions, one answered, and two questions, all unrelated.

Contradiction 1: it's better to be mindful of what you're doing, but the way to adopt a better behavior is to automate it.

Interlude 1: apparently I post about "mindfulness" all the time now. Well, deal with it, I guess.

Contradiction 2: being overly proud is obnoxious, but having high self-esteem is beneficial in just about everything all the time.
Answer to contradiction 2: focus instead on self-compassion.

Question 1: You keep up with movies and TV; why not music? (proposed answer: social pressures, plus we never take time out to just listen to a CD.)

Question 2: Why is "addiction" a negative feature in drugs, but a positive one in software?

I like San Francisco.

It's a nice place to walk around. I like the Mission, both hipster-Mission (16th and Valencia) and Hispanic-Mission (24th). (is it okay to say "Hispanic"?)

There is good coffee. I was just introduced to Philz, which I would instantly recommend to anyone who thinks all coffee tastes the same. They have 15 different blends; I like the Ambrosia. Then I had perhaps the hippest coffee I've ever had, at Sightglass. It cost $5.25, the point-of-sale machine was an ipad, everyone around me had awesome beards and jeans, and it might have been the first time I've ever been the fattest dude in the room. But hey, the coffee was on par with Victrola's, which is saying something, because they've got the home-field advantage. (and their coffee is really good.)

There is good ice cream. Yeah yeah, Bi-rite rocks, but man, Humphrey Slocombe is it. Peanut butter curry and Secret breakfast (bourbon and cornflakes) might be the most flavors I've had in one bowl.

I guess I'm lunch-tweeting. I got to thinking, y'know how reading and then reflecting helps you remember what you read better? I wonder if consciously lunch-tweeting would improve both my sense of taste and my mindfulness of what I eat.

Anyway, back to San Francisco. I'm thinking of living there, if I were to end up at Stanford. The commute would be really hard. 20 minute bike ride, hour train, 15 minute bike ride, and $6.50... each way. Maybe if I lived closer to the Caltrain station? But I was underwhelmed by SoMa and Dogpatch; they both have a cool warehousey charm but it feels like it'd be isolating to live there. (SFer? tell me if I'm wrong.) And Potrero Hill is close to the 22nd street station on a map, but it's on a huge hill.