Thursday, August 25, 2011

What if the universe were very small?

Say, the size of our solar system. What would life be like then?
- almost no chance of ever finding life on other planets
- we'd have to take better care of the earth I guess; even if we colonize the moon and Mars, that's only another 0.35 earths worth of surface area. We'd run out of rocks to live on, and soon.
- things wouldn't seem so boundless. You wouldn't get to look into the night sky and pretend you're going to visit all those stars, like Han Solo.
- speaking of which: would we still have sci-fi with many different star systems? or would that idea just be inconceivable, or hard to visualize, kind of like sci-fi over many different universes is now?

What if the Earth were the only planet? We'd be done: all the space on the planet would be all the space there is! There would be no more anything! How would that affect the way we think?

Don't worry, I'm not trying to make a point here. Just try thinking as if that were true for a minute; it feels weirder than I would have thought.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Meditator's log, stardate 8/22/11

Assuming I'm going to vanish into blissful nirvana in about 50 years, it'd be a good idea to leave behind some documentation. I guess I checked in for the first time about a year ago, so it's not a bad time to try again.

So I'm two years into daily practice now, starting at Burning Man 2009 with the BuddhaCamp, a group of Soka Gakkai Nichiren Buddhists, who I chanted with for a few months. After that I kinda did my own meditation thing for a year, inspired by the bits of zen and vipassana I'd picked up. For about January to July this year I've been guided by Ven. Dhammadinna, who runs Bodhiheart Sangha in Seattle along with Tenzin Jesse. Did my first retreat with them for three days in July. In August, I've just been keeping up the practice.

Some things I've noticed:
- I can sit quietly for 20-25 minutes, no problem, it is an easy thing, if I just let my mind wander.
- Meditating for 20-25 minutes, however, is still not easy. I'm talking about something along the lines of vipassana or insight or mindfulness meditation: focus on your breath, and note and know anything that comes up.
- Getting myself to sit down and meditate for 20-25 minutes is still not easy either.
- Sitting cross-legged like that for more than about a half hour in a day, as in a retreat setting, hurts my knees.
- I notice fairly regularly in real life when I am being not so mindful, or causing myself extra suffering. I can't do much about it usually, and I don't try to. Just note it and understand the feeling. And I don't get caught up in mental loops so much, like "argh I shouldn't feel this" or "why do I feel this" or whatever.
- Sometimes I'll be creating all these thoughts like "this is good" or "this is bad" and then there's a nagging doubt in my mind like "hey there's something else you should be thinking about here" but I lazily push it away.
- I feel pretty peaceful about the whole deal. I'm no longer looking too hard for external signals that I'm on the right track, because I realize that they will usually come too gradually to notice, and I trust that this is a good way to a better life.
- Similarly, I've disengaged it from my work a little bit. There's no sense trying to write software to help us be ... somehow mentally better ... before I actually have a better sense of what that means. So, when I'm working, it's less mysticism, more trying to focus on somewhat more concrete research tasks. Like designing for better focus/concentration/attention control.

Friday, August 19, 2011

This week's been a time warp.

Here I am again, in my parents' house, riding bikes around Westlake, and filling out apps for colleges. What is this, 2003?

Here's a bit more time warp:
I grew up here.

I used to play baseball here. Sometimes I'd get lucky and it'd get rained out.

I was so psyched when this Rite Aid showed up down the street, because it was a place I could get to on my bike (back when my range was about a quarter mile), and I could buy a candy bar or something. Oh childhood.

For a bit of the present, here's the Westlake coffeeshop report:
- The Copper Cup in Bay Village is great closed.
- The Java Cafe is not only great but also right near my house closed.
- The Arabica in North Ridgeville is the only remaining semi-independent shop around. It's also crummy: bland coffee, wireless that doesn't work, no people, and a depressing rural-strip-mall setting.
- Starbucks at Crocker Park has no seating anymore. (They still have free wifi. ... for while you're waiting in line?)
- Starbucks in North Olmsted is actually pretty good. The only downside is that you have to take Lorain Road ("a little slice of hell" - my dad, I think) to get there.
- Starbucks inside Barnes & Noble is actually not a Starbucks, but a Barnes & Noble Cafe Serving Starbucks Coffee with Starbucks Logos (and not accepting Starbucks gift cards).
- Liquid Planet actually serves decent iced coffee for cheap, but it feels like a fast food place. And 90% of their smoothies are full of apple juice. (<-- check it out, not only coffee snobbery but sugar snobbery as well)
- Caribou! Now here's a winner. A warmish atmosphere, standing desks (!), and Eels on the stereo. Well, it was. Music's gone downhill in the past half hour.
Just in case you were wondering.

And as for the future, I will be glad to be at a university and able to concentrate on research, instead of trying to concentrate both on research and on getting into grad school. I've had a few great people helping me, so I'm confident.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Consuming Well

It almost feels like a life stage: during the last three years, I learned to Consume Well. By "Consuming Well" I mean either consuming something that gives the most satisfaction or causes the least suffering. I learned the best local snacks (bluebird), uppers (victrola), and downers (stumbling monk). I started shopping maybe 75% at farmers' markets, and when I did eat meat, I ate sustainably fished or humanely-treated animals. I bought used furniture and smart brands of clothing and Seventh Generation toilet paper. I got to be a pretty good consumer. If I'd stayed on this path, I probably would have gotten good at wine.

But man, that is about steps one and two on the game of life! That's like learning how to be an artist by sharpening pencils really well! Consuming Well is like knowing the best brands of baseball bats: useful, sure, but only under certain circumstances, and it won't do the work for you.

I'm glad I've gotten better at Consuming Well. It's fun, and it helps bring people together. But I've been asking myself in many areas: can I create, or maintain, or improve here, instead of just consuming? And you too: can you move beyond Consuming Well?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The economy: super hosed, or just kind of hosed?

On the super-hosed side, there's the fact that we have so much debt. What, we're going to cut 2 trillion dollars... over the next N years... leaving us still with 13 trillion dollars? Or is that optimistic even? And won't interest on these loans end up putting us back to 15 trillion? or worse?

On the just-kinda-hosed side, maybe if we ever get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, don't invade anywhere else, and fix the incentives in our medical system, that'd cut a large part of our budget. Maybe we could even spend some money on schools or something.

What got me thinking about this? Big systems. Seems like everyone should have to study software, economics, neuroscience, or something where there's a big goddamn system with a million billion interconnecting parts. Have you ever looked at a website and said "man, they just need to change this one thing; how hard can that be?!" The answer is sometimes "very hard." Most engineers understand this. The medical, financial, military-industrial, educational, political, etc. worlds, similarly, are big friggin' systems!

Not that an understanding of some big web app grants me magical knowledge of how to fix our medical system. Rather, an understanding of how hard it is to do stuff in a web app gives me at least an appreciation of why these are very hard problems.

(also was spurred on by this; I like his definition of "usury".)

The Definitive Seattle Guide to everything Seattlean that is in Seattle

No better time to write the post than now. Here's a guide from a 3-year local who lived in Capitol Hill. Really, we all want lists, right?

Tourist things to do:
- Pike Place Market
- go hiking at Mt. Rainier! Or Olympic or Cascades NP as second and third choices. (requires car)
- well, explore some neighborhoods I guess
- get a copy of The Stranger and find things to do

- the Wing Luke Asian-American museum is neat
- the rest are kinda hit and miss

- Kerry Park, sure
- the Bridge of Good Views (where I think Belmont becomes Lakeview, over I-5)
- University Bridge, looking West
- under Aurora Bridge, on the Burke-Gilman, looking East

Neighborhoods that are neat:
- Capitol Hill
- Fremont
- Ballard
- Georgetown
- the International District

- pour over coffee from Victrola
- espresso from Vivace
- acceptable substitute for either: Zoka or Stumptown
- only a slight step down: Herkimer or Seattle Coffee Works

- beer from the Stumbling Monk or Brouwer's
- locally brewed beer from Hale's or the Elysian
- classic cocktails, or interesting inventions from the bartender, at Needle and Thread (above Tavern Law), Knee High, or Zig Zag; all will be crowded, the first two require reservations
- less-crowded drinks for $8 instead of $12, particularly with citrus, at Sun Liquor

- vegetarian or take the parents to Cafe Flora
- Bibimbap at Kimchi Bistro
- Indian at Travelers'
- Ethiopian at Habesha
- Japanese at Tsukushinbo or nearby in the ID
- for fancy eats: go to Poppy, Quinn's, or ask someone else, because I stopped exploring this quite a while ago

Ice Cream:
- Bluebird in a regular cone or a cup; try half stout, half coffee
- Molly Moon's for a waffle cone

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Quit Facebook and join Google+ already.

A month and a half ago, I looked at Facebook vs Google+ pros/cons. What's changed since then?
- this chrome extension hides the red notification square.
- I've come around on the reshare thing; if you post a photo of yourself smoking pot on facebook you're as good as fired anyway.
- Huddles is frustratingly tricky, because I can't huddle you to make plans tonight, because I don't know if you get it. I'll still give it time to catch on.
- Instant Upload is surprisingly wonderful for sharing photos from your phone; still a little buggy though.

So updated comparison:

Google Plus:
- circles are great
- Huddle and Instant Upload could both be amazing
- you can export your data
- Google doesn't own any rights to your photos
- it's not Facebook

- avoids slight Picasa public->more public weirdness
- it's not Google

... meaning I'm not going to beat around the bush with "there are ups and downs to each" stuff any longer. G+ is a lot better. So (warning: psychological trick ahead) get on that, or get left behind.