Friday, December 26, 2014

We need a word for this: taxes on "not worrying about it"

Cleveland installed red light/speed cameras. You speed, or you go through a red light a fraction of a second too late, and it takes a picture of your license plate and mails you a ticket. Ugh. (they then voted them down or something, cool, whatever.)

One friend, half-jokingly, said he supported red-light cameras because he knows where they all are and can avoid them. In effect, the city put in a tax on drivers that you can avoid (and therefore benefit from) if you do extra mental work to study the traffic maps.

This should have a name. Similar things:
- Ryanair. If you fly with them, you have to check a special box *not* to buy BS insurance, you have to carry on your bag (or maybe check it or whatever, depending on the day), you have to print your boarding pass ahead of time or pay $40, etc etc.
- Mail-in rebates. A bottle of wine is $15, or $10 after rebate, so they can advertise $10 but still make $15 because most people won't fill in the rebate.
- Credit card juggling for miles. (not carrying a balance, I mean signing up for cards to get the 40k miles bonus and then ditching the card.) I make a few hundred bucks worth a year doing this, but it does mean I have to monitor a few cards so I don't end up paying a bunch of annual fees.

If you have lots of free time and/or are good at organizing, you can easily do all of this. If not, you are taxed. This needs a name. "Simplicity Tax"?

(it probably goes without saying that I think most of these are monstrosities.)

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Been getting a little grumpy on the internet

Grumpy in general, I guess, due in part to the internet.

You know how Fox News and CNN are our parents' generation's hate machine? They show bad news 24/7 and get you mad at who you should be mad at. I think Facebook and Twitter are that for our generation. Yeah, there's the occasional conversation, but when you look at people talking about things in the world, a lot of it is echo chamber or "someone did something bad once."

Maybe it's a result of quality of attention. You're not going to pay good attention to Facebook; you're going to give it half-focused strung-out attention. Maybe I need to be doing less of that in general. (see, for example, the fact that I never blog anymore; feels like I have fewer deep thoughts.)

Oh, and Merry Christmas, y'all.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Saying "Let's keep this a calm and logical argument" is itself part of the argument.

"An open letter to privileged people who play devil's advocate". If you see that this is on a site called "" and immediately close it, then, unfortunately, you are one of the people that this is written for. Not sure how to fix this here, but it's a good article, please read it? :-/

This is particularly salient after the Mike Brown and Eric Garner cases. Some people's reaction to this might be something along these lines:
"A cop killed an innocent black guy. That doesn't happen in the world that I know. A bunch of people are angry about it. That's kind of unfortunate and annoying - I have enough problems in my life without having to confront some new police racism thing - and now they're rioting too? argh. Anyway, I kind of have to dismiss this, because I don't have time to actually process it, and I can't really believe it's real. But people are angry about it, so I've got to couch it in a well-thought-out logical argument. Let's see, I can pick out particular of Mike Brown's case where it's ambivalent whether he might have attacked Darren Wilson or something. Garner... uh, yeah, that was bad, but just an isolated bad cop."

On the other hand, some people's reaction to Brown and Garner might be something like "Raaaaaaaaaaarrgghh!"

In our society, the super-logical argument is privileged. The "raaargh" argument is dismissed as "emotional", "simple", etc. But sometimes we need the "raaargh" response. If you're arguing something "just because you want to get to the bottom of it", or you find yourself trying to pick holes in stories that a lot of your friends are arguing and you're not even sure why you're doing it anymore, maybe stop it. In being calm and logical, you are already adding a voice to the argument, and it's usually the voice of things not changing.

(appropriate analogy: think about why we shouldn't "teach the controversy" about evolution/god in science classes. "but what if--" no. this does not deserve kids' time.)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

We need a word for this:

Implementing a general rule that causes a lot of bad edge cases.

For example: in India, there's a rule that you can't leave and come back into the country within two months on a tourist visa. This is ostensibly to prevent terrorism, but it sometimes causes a lot of annoyance for regular tourists like me. (they've since amended it to exclude tourism to neighboring countries; whatever.)

In programming, we'd call it a bug. Then we'd fix the code so it is more complicated but hopefully works fine. At any rate, the more the world gets bigger and more global, the more general rules we get, which means the exceptions get more common, which leads to either super-complicated rules (the IRS approach) or lots of people getting screwed (or both).

It's a common thing. I think we could talk about it better if there were a word for it. (or is there one that I just can't think of?)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Vitamin B12 has made my canker sores better

Check this the hell out. Internet browsing plus real data making a positive change in my life. tl;dr: I used to get canker sores a lot, then I started taking B12 daily, and now they are much less bad.

Long version: since I've been a kid, I got canker sores in my mouth pretty often. They are painful. One day last year I started tracking them. Then one day this year I was browsing the internet and saw this great infographic about supplements. I noticed there's a study about vitamin B12 helping canker sores. So I bought some B12 and kept tracking.

Every day I recorded how bad my sores were, from 0 (no sores) to 10 (terrible). Here's a graph:

Darker red = worse. Also, if it's light gray, that means I recorded data and I had no sores; if it's white, I didn't record data. Got lazy a bit. Y'know. The day I started taking B12 was June 14 2014, so in the bottom row, about midway through.

Then I compared average badness per day. In 2013 it was 1.8. In early 2014 (pre-B12) it was 3.4. After I started B12, it was 0.9. T-tested pre-B12 vs post-B12, and it was y'know significant P < .0000 etc but that's kind of BS because for so many reasons I can't use a T-test here (data's not normal).

Also, there are many data sins of different magnitudes here: collecting data on arbitrary periods each year (both starting with a sore), ignoring seasonality, using colors that we probably don't perceive linearly, scoring differently at the ends (e.g. 2 means I have a tender spot but no sore, so I really don't mind) etc.

But! There's theoretical backing too: I asked my dentist if B12 should help canker sores. He said, oh yeah, whole B complex is great for that kind of thing. Well dang, why didn't anyone tell me? But anyway, now I know, and now you know too. At least for me, seems to be working.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thing about Ferguson I copied from Facebook

Ok I guess I talk about much more trivial things all the time, and it's enough of an issue that I better say a thing on Ferguson, so the few who are not in my echo chamber (older relatives?) might get a taste of what their 28yo white male privileged Facebook Friend thinks.

The one thing we as a nation, and particularly the sub-nation of white privileged people, have to learn here from Ferguson is that racism is alive and well here in America.

But bear with me! The word "racist" (and "racism") have become so toxic that you might have even written me off as an "angry liberal" even when I just said the word "racism". Please don't. I'm not trying to say that there are *bad people* being *purely evil*. It's just that we're dealing with a lot of broken systems, and the first step to fixing any problem is to acknowledge that it exists.

Here are some ways it is working:
- white cop shoots unarmed black teenager, gets not even indicted.
- said white cop gets $400k+ in "legal fund" donations - for what? he's not even on trial. Google "darren wilson fund".
- media coverage of teenager focuses on how he maybe smoked weed sometimes and might have stolen cigars, not the fact that he is an innocent human being whose life matters. Google "he was no angel".
- media coverage of aftermath focuses on "rioting" and "looting", while ignoring 3 things: 1. white "riots" are just as often called "celebrations", 2. looting is not the same as murder, 3. the over-the-top terrifying police-military response.
- you might not be able to imagine anything from their perspective. Google "why it's so hard for whites to understand ferguson."
- some people get caught up in the particulars of the case. Particulars of this case don't change the systemic issue. Getting caught up in the particulars is like saying "well, but look at that one game the Cavs won last year, see, they didn't need Lebron."
- there may be more but I should get back to work. Uh, I guess it may be good to google "respectability politics."

edit: ok, so anyway, those who would quibble over particulars of the Mike Brown case, now there's Eric Garner, so point is, institutional racism exists.

Monday, October 20, 2014

On caring

Interesting way to think about solving the world's problems.

In short:
Do you think it's worth it to give $3 to clean oil off a bird and save its life?
If so, then it follows that it'd be worth it to give $2.4 million if you could save the lives of 800,000 birds. (if not, why not?) Wait, but that's more money than I'll make in my entire life -- what about my house, my kids, etc.

So you (or at least I) really don't think it's worth $3 to save a bird. The reason is that there are way too many other problems in the way. Yeah, if I brought an oily bird to you, I could trigger some mental circuit that's a remnant from caveman days where you care about cute little animals, but our world is so big that if you cared that much about everything, you'd go nuts. There are a million huge problems and you can't solve them all.

The way I take it from here is: well, best to make the largest total contribution I can. Better to spend 30 years being a -1, then be a +1000 for a year. Don't worry about all the little birds along the way.

(which is convenient, as it's what I was realistically going to do anyway. Well.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"You won't die wishing you'd worked more"

Reading down facebook, clicking on every god damn thing because I'm tired, ended up reading
(warning: might make you sad, either because it's actually sad, or because some lady's dying words have been turned into Huffington Post clickbait)

Here's the thing: I'm working more than I used to. You won't die wishing you worked more for more money or power or glory. You might die wishing you worked more so you could get to that job you actually enjoy, instead of taking the easy road and working a boring-but-9-to-5 job your whole life.

Everyone says it's all about who is in your life, the family, and friends, and yes, it is. (I have to say that, or you'll think I'm a sociopath, but it's true.) But it's also all about what is in your life; the things you do, work and otherwise. Assuming we don't go sit on clouds or burn in fires after we die, the point of our life is to make the most of life here on earth, and if you spend it all doing something you don't love, or at least like, you'll have a lot of blah time in there. It's multiplicative: happiness = who * what. Which is why everyone says "it's all about the people"; if the "who" goes to zero, you're left with nothing. But if the "what" goes to zero, you're also left with nothing - a bunch of great connections and a slog filing TPS reports all day. (okay, it's not so bad, because you have the life outside work, but it's still a big loss.)

Well, look. I agree with the sentiment: don't work like crazy for external goals. (come on, you know me.) I just get tired of the phrase "you won't die wishing you'd worked more", because it's saccharine and because it paints with too broad a stroke. (kind of like "we should use our smartphones less." or "the government is too big.")

Monday, September 15, 2014

Why don't they build bridges like that anymore?

My parents and I were marveling at the pretty Pittsburgh bridges, and expressing our disappointment that the new Innerbelt bridge in Cleveland is so ugly and utilitarian. My dad, I think, wondered "why don't they build bridges like that anymore?" and his subtly veiled answer was "There's not enough competition. Nobody cares anymore. And the government is controlled by a bunch of corrupt cronies."

My subtly veiled answer was "There's too much capitalism. We don't value enough besides money and efficiency. Someone else undercuts the beautiful bid with something cheap but crummy, and in a desire to save a buck, they go for the cheap one."

Huh. Both could pretty well explain this particular case. I guess this is the danger of building in simple, vague demons into your world view.

I do think, if we as a society want pretty buildings, we should prioritize that and build it into our plans for bridges etc. Which means they'll cost more, and we have to be okay with that. Which means we should pay more taxes, and we have to be okay with that.
Or, maybe we're not collectively okay with paying more taxes because so many people are struggling to get by. In which case, we should admit that the US is lagging far behind some other countries, mostly in Europe, and see what they're doing right that we're not.

Of course, I just introduced a few more simple, vague demons! Maybe I'll go back to making burritos.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

I love fall. It is when things start.

Which is weird, right? For most of civilized history, spring is when things start, and fall is when things end. But for most of my life, and really most other students, everything starts in the fall. Pittsburgh is wonderful in the fall - and summer too, but definitely fall.

I'm writing a paper. I'm not sure it's fully nonsense. I'm teaching a class, and I'm not sure that I'm fully incompetent at it. (I'm not sure in the other direction in either case.) Summer was a trip.

The next year should bring a bunch of things. Might be a good one. My friend Ram once declared a year the "year of Ram", and I'm feeling sort of guardedly optimistic about this being the "year of Dan". Or, I mean, maybe not THE year, but a lot of planets and zodiac things must be lining up. I'm feeling mostly pretty good about it all. Occasionally even feeling creative again, which is kind of neat.

Still got too much work to do, still tired, still wishing I were a couple steps closer to understanding the oneness of all things, still terrible at my job, whatever, but maybe I've got a chance, which is sort of a step in the right direction.

Plus, season's turned. Time for some new (or old) music recs.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Avoid finite games; robots taking your jobs; gentrification

Avoid Finite Games
Daniel Lemire is a blogger who's vaguely related to computer things and I'm not sure why I still read him, but occasionally he comes up with posts like this: A Culture of Envy. His basic point: stop playing finite games (games where someone else has to lose for you to win), and play more infinite games (games where everyone can win).

Over the last say 7 years, this has, without me even knowing it, become kind of a guiding principle of my life.

Simply and obviously: I like games like Pandemic, Betrayal at the house on the hill, Dominion, Ticket to Ride, over games like Settlers or Risk. In Pandemic and Betrayal, most obviously, you're all on one team. (mostly.) Dominion and Ticket to Ride are basically solitaire - you're building up your thing, other people are building theirs, and eventually someone wins but it doesn't really matter. Also chess and Magic, because it feels more like you're figuring out something elegant together instead of competing against each other.
(and word games, because they feel more like sports; whatever.)

Also obviously: I don't like striving for money or, to an extent, fame. And it's not a moral thing; it's just less fun to win something that forces other people to be losing.

Robots Taking Your Jobs
Humans Need Not Apply- Robots are coming for your jobs - all of them - and unemployment might be high forever. Huh! Well, that could be good. (some jobs are super mechanized and dehumanizing; remember the data points in your system are humans, remember they are humans, remember they are humans, etc) Permanent unemployment could be fine - if our basic standard of unemployed life were high enough. Imagine if we had a guaranteed minimum income, and you could get the equivalent of, I dunno, $25k (and health coverage) without working. We talk about empowering artists and stuff - what if you really could?
A friend who was in India for a while: You see super-dire poverty in Calcutta, and we mostly don't have that kind of poverty here. We've decided as a society that the minimum bar is somewhat above that. But the minimum bar is still pretty low here! You can be stuck without the possibility of sleep! God, what kind of a hazy half-existence would permanent sleep deprivation be!
A friend who just got back from Germany: It's depressing, because the infrastructure and standard of living are so much higher there. We could have that! We have enough money! But we choose not to, because "people need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps" or something.

just sort of interesting: poor neighborhoods with >40% black people don't gentrify
- but, I mean, maybe gentrification is good overall?
- but read that closer: it's good for homeowners. Well, sure. I'm not real worried about the net worths of homeowners.
- but seriously, it's good for people. I guess they're saying, "it would be good if San Francisco had built more housing." No wait, overall, it's good; rich yuppie invaders don't drive out long-time residents. Huh. But on the ground, people are getting evicted. Aren't they? (or is it a sacrifice for a disproportionately small number of people to make a neighborhood that's better for everyone else, including the majority of poorer folks who stay?)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Dang, so long, San Francisco!

I'm gone already. How did that happen?

- my friends who live there. It feels like (surprise) a city of transplants, but the nice thing is, I'm a transplant, and I know a lot of those transplants. It was great reconnecting with some old friends, and staying connected with others.
- my roommates at Vegetable House. (I've named it that to distinguish from Pretzel House, where I live in Pittsburgh.) I still like having roommates. It's a good way to make deep connections when you're all transplants at some level or another.
- okay okay the coffee, look, it's absurd how good the coffee scene is there. There are at least 4 world-class roasters, so I get to decide that I dig Ritual and Four Barrel a little more than Blue Bottle and Sightglass. Also I've got my little rolodex of small roasters, and I can decide I don't like a coffee shop for no reason other than that it's not awesome enough. Short list includes Haus, Linea, Philz, Sextant, Papa November, Saint Frank, Matching Half, Workshop, Coffee Bar, Grand, and Wrecking Ball, but that's only the top tier. Honestly, I've got to make a map of these.
- and burritos, it must be said, I will put a Taqueria Cancun up against anyone but really anywhere you go it's quite nice.
- bikes, yes, a lot of people bike and it's pretty easy to get around, and more than that, it's a lot of fun and very pretty.
- nearby mountains and forests and other pretty places
- Caltrain. Not as nice as sitting at home or even in the office for those 45 min each way, but surprisingly not terrible. The ability to put a bike on it makes it all possible.
- occasional... things? that happen? that are just generally interesting? hat tips to the Long Now talks, Maker FaireMacroCity, and a handful of other things that I couldn't even go to. It's the center of some world. I appreciate that.
Scoot. Zipcar for electric scooters. So good.
- the ability for Tati and I to both get internships out there. I mean, I put it down here at the bottom, but I want to make sure I don't take for granted how wonderful it was that we were together out there.

- feeling bad about being a gentrifier all the time. Okay, so one solution is to just stop feeling bad. But then you're just ignoring a problem. (also, it's hard when there are flyers all around your neighborhood that say "EVICTED" with a picture of a Google bus. Or, you know, when this graffiti shows up literally on my house. arguably this is a good thing; better to confront our problems than ignore them. but it does put me in an uncomfortable spot.)
- um, commuting so long does get old. (gotta get a job with some Google buses! ... ideally without evicting anyone.)
- working three jobs is hard. (internship, preparing for teaching a class, and keeping up with my main line of research in a little way.)
- uh, it's crowded? I started looking for bars or parks or just places that had no other real qualifications besides being quiet. I mean, I don't like wanting the same things that a lot of other people want, and there, there are definitely a lot of people that want a lot of things. Some friends and I made a reservation for brunch a month in advance! A month!
- and, you know, the rent is too damn high, etc, see #1

but overall it was a super rocking summer. Hope to be back soon. Yes. Thank you San Francisco, it's been (ahem) hella sweet.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Consumer Blues

Okay, so ideally, you give something back to the world, right? You consume resources and stuff, but hopefully you do things that are so nice that it makes up for all that. So like your net impact on the world is -1 because you ate food and created greenhouse gases, but it's +10 because you also invented a cure for some disease, or you made truck tires 8% more efficient, or something, so in the end you're +9.

It's a long time of being a -1 before you start being a +10. I mean, I'm certainly not there yet. And indeed, a long time of being a -2 or -3. (living the high tech life with all my airplane tickets and fancy coffees and computers and almonds is not exactly the most low-impact kind of thing.)

I'm operating on the assumption that it's best to go -3 for a long time and then be +100. Like, if new shoes or a new computer would make my life go a little smoother, go for it; optimize my life in order to make myself a better human, not worry so much about the cost, and know that all these improvements will make me eventually a powerful producing force of good. (the alternative is to be kind of ascetic: live in a tent and be No Impact Man, reduce my negatives to -0.25. But if that hurts my ability to do good in the future, making me a +40 instead of +100, that's not so good.)

However, it is hard to feel like you're a -3 for your first 30 years and just sort of go on faith that eventually you'll make up for it.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

San Francisco!

Every day: ride my sweet new shiny impractical single-speed bike to a train that I can put my bike on, thus making a long commute doable.*
Tuesday: saw a film about coffee, called A Film About Coffee, playing at the beautiful old Castro Theater. Ran into a couple friends from CMU. Found out they're coffee geeks too.
Yesterday: ran into my friend Jared on the train coming home. Talked crowdfunding.** Enjoyed a beer (brewed at 21st Amendment, San Francisco). Rode my impractical single-speed bike up to Bernal Heights Park to catch the sunset (or, more appropriately, the fog-roll-in) over the city. Picked up new beans at one of my favorite roasters in the world, Ritual. Saw a creme brulee shop***. Of course I stopped in to the creme brulee shop. Practiced meditation with tips from a new meditation teacher, who I had read a lot online, and then just ran into at Maker Faire a few weeks ago.
Today: free Stumptown cold brew coffee from someone promoting their whatever delivery service. As I got on the aforementioned awesome train. Later heading to an EFF event and a local mashup DJ's show.
Tomorrow: Tati's arriving here for the summer! She'll be in Sunnyvale, which is not super close, but getting around is totally doable, thanks to bike, Zipcar, and that wonderful train.

* the pessimist could say that, in another city, I might not have to commute 40 miles. Fair enough. Not saying jobs in valley + Caltrain makes the city better than just having jobs in SF. But given that I happen to have a job in the valley this summer, the train makes a reasonable life possible.
** crowdfunding is one silicon valley buzzword that I don't think is just a buzzword. I like the world that it enables.
*** you know, because that's a thing.

Man! I am laughing about what a stereotype I am, but I am also just laughing because I so enjoy all of this!

Monday, June 02, 2014

Bikes don't get numbers if I just buy them off the shelf.

They do get names, though. My latest addition: Jeppe Laursen.

Q: What is it?
A: An SE Draft Lite single speed urban bike.
Q: What's special about it?
A: Basically, it's fun. It's sleek and pretty lightweight, it has only one speed, it still has flat bars so I can handle the hills, but it feels pretty snappy on flat ground overall. Hard to explain why it's fun to ride, but you know how running on sand is really difficult? It's the opposite of that. Plus, not that I'll own it long enough to do maintenance, but maintenance is pretty easy.
Q: Don't you already have a bike?
A: Sure, I've got four.
Q: But, don't you already have a bike in San Francisco?
A: Yes, but-
Q: isn't this inferior in pretty much every way to the bike you already have?
A: Well, yes. It's lowish-grade steel (my other bike's aluminum), and, well, it has no gears. But it's more than good enough. And at $320, I can't ask for too much. Plus, I can sell both of these bikes, so it's maybe not as silly as it seems.
Q: Who's Jeppe Laursen?
A: Senior from Junior Senior, of Move Your Feet fame. (stop right now and listen to that song.) Also, he later recorded this. So, you know, he is about as goofy and impractical, and fun for the summer, as this bike.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Interesting effects of moving to a new place

I feel a need to assert my identity. As if I need to start drawing lines, like "I'm a Mission guy, not one of those wacky SoMa nerds or bros in the Marina* or yuppie folks up in Russian Hill/Pac Heights/Nob Hill/whatever." I don't like admitting to people that I work in tech. I'm self-conscious about my Caltrain bike tag. I shopped for clothes, as if to say "I'm the kind of metropolitan guy who wears Beta Brand, not a techie rube who wears cargo pants and sneakers."

* I hear that there are bros here, and they live in the Marina? Huh? Whatever.

Relatedly, I always hear people complaining about gentrification, even though they're the gentrifiers. I mean, I'm one, right? But everyone always points the blame somewhere else. "Yeah, you just moved here, and you work in tech, but you're not like one of the problem people." Sure, nobody thinks they're a problem. It's like we're railing against some possibly-nonexistent Terrible Gentrifying People who just move in and make the city terrible by throwing money around.

But this is all just one story, right? You can tell a crummy story about any group of people. If your story is "Terrible Gentrifying People come in and throw money around", then you spend a lot of mental energy trying not to be one of those, instead of just doing good things.

(at some point, I was talking to someone about potential uses of tweets and stuff to help understand cities, and I mentioned gentrification, and he said something like "Don't do a project about gentrification. Stay away from gentrification. It's such a loaded, meaningless word.")

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Bike #...4?: A.C. Newman

Shiny, popular, fun, but your parents would still like it: I give you A.C. Newman. I needed a bike for my 3 months here, commuting ~5 miles each way daily, able to handle the hills of San Francisco, sturdy, ideally not getting many flats, hopefully not a super theft target.

A quick Craigslist search didn't reveal much that would fit all those needs. So I took the advice I recently gave to a friend on Craigslist and bought a $500 entry level hybrid, the Norco Indie 4.

Can I just take a minute and praise the $500 entry level hybrid? Bike companies should get together and give this a name. I'm talking about the Norco Indie 4, the Marin Larkspur, the Kona Dew, apparently the Trek 7.2, the Specialized Sirrus. They should get together and say "look, all these bikes are our versions of the $500 entry level hybrid", and then whenever your friend said "I'd like to try biking, what bike should I get?" you can say "go to your neighborhood bike store and get a $500 ELH." They're nice rides, smooth, comfortable, versatile, not super light or fast but they will get you where you want to go with a minimum of fuss. Quality bike-shop parts (not department-store), so you'll have a minimum of Bad Experiences (flat tires etc). They're not super slow, grumpy, or ugly either. This article calls them "fitness hybrids" (and in fact that article is a good guide if you're in the market), as opposed to "comfort hybrids".

Anyway, this one's got fat tires (but not like fat tires, 700x38c), fat aluminum frame, and flat bars. Disc brakes, which I don't really care either way about but might as well try. Low-end (but not like low-end) Shimano parts, but honestly I can't tell a difference, and it feels smoother than my mid-range Surly. (having pros putting it together probably helps.) I like it.

PLUS, I got to support Pedal Revolution, which seems like a darn cool place. Got some new gizmos too: locking skewers from Pinhead and a hardcore Kryptonite lock because I'm a small town boy terrified of theft in the big city, some Knog Blinder LED lights (USB chargeable!) because they're small enough for me to actually carry with me when I lock up the bike, and a sweet Giro helmet because I was not thinking enough to bring one (or lights or a lock) with me. Welp.

I call it A.C. Newman because it's from British Columbia and it's called the "Indie", and I don't know who's much more indie pop than the veritable BC New Pornographer Mr. Newman.

And if you're really stretching it, you could say it's got pretty fat tires and is not a super lightweight bike, so you could even call it (wait for it...) The Slow Wonder.

Goodbye Pittsburgh, Hello San Francisco, For Now

I think this is mostly a post for my future self. I have a pretty good record of a lot of my life on my blog, but the last year or so has been pretty blank. Some of that is busy-ness, some of it is really not feeling like recording anything. I don't have a hard life, by any measure, but recently it's been harder than it has been in the past.

Looking Forward: man! I'm in San Francisco! This is neat. I'm starting my internship at HP Labs next week. We're going to try to do something with smartphone overuse, to help people who think they use their phones too much to use them less. Tati's coming out for an internship too, but I don't want to speak for her too much; I'm just excited that she'll be here. This summer's shaping up to be pretty great.

San Francisco is a fun place. Big city! Bikes and coffee! Uh, exciting events that happen every so often! Point is, you can have the best things here, and you can meet other people who are also interested in having the best things. (it may be capitalist heaven, which is weird, but better than being a hell, I suppose.) And it turns out I know a lot of people around here already, from one thing or another.

Work-wise, I'm excited about work back at CMU too. Getting more into geography in many forms, trying to figure out what exactly we're going to do first, but moving right along. My advisor Jason is cool (would I write if he wasn't? regardless, it's true) and we both see a lot of potential in using social media data (tweets etc) to understand our cities better. Somehow.

Looking Backward: I've heard some people say the first year of a PhD is the hardest, and I've heard some people say the second year is the hardest, and I've heard some people say doing a thesis is the hardest, and they're all correct. At least, the first year and the second year are both definitely the hardest.

The hardest part is not knowing what I'm doing, and feeling like I'm not making progress. I *am* making progress, and I guess you could say I had my first paper acceptance this semester. It was a workshop, so that's not huge, but I guess it was a pretty competitive workshop actually, so it's something.

But anyway, other thing I did this semester #1: I built a bike. Other thing I did this semester #2: I learned a lot about design fiction. (a newish field blurring the lines between design and art, if you ask me. did you see the movie Her? that's kind of a good example of it: imagine the future, where we have some particular technology, but instead of focusing on the technology, focus on how it affects our lives.) I finished up the semester with a really fun project where I tried to make friends with some corporations on Twitter. Modern corporations are people, right, so I wanted to see what their personalities are like.

I'll be in Pittsburgh for at least three or four more years. Which is great, because I love it there. I feel like I have the best of all worlds: great close friends, and a wide social network too. Just wonderful folks. And I've got Tati, and a great family, and you know, I'm feeling more optimistic than I have in a long time. So that's something too.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

I built a real bike with gears!


I don't even know if I can remember all the parts that are on it, but at least I talked about a bunch of them in the last post. Further things:

Front derailleur: Shimano Tiagra R440 Double 9-speed braze-on, $31
Rear derailleur: Shimano Sora 3500 9-speed, medium cage ("cage" is the length of it, depends on the cassette), $28
Cassette (all the gears on the rear wheel): Shimano Tiagra HG50 9-speed road, 11-30 teeth. (so the smallest is 11, biggest is 30.) $19

Shifters: Shimano Tiagra R440 9-speed flat bar road shifters - $71. This was funny to me, that the shifters cost more than the derailleurs. I guess that's how it goes. Anyway, they're pretty good. They're trigger shifters, so you click with your thumb or pull the trigger with your finger to make it go up/down. Turns out a shifter for a double cog is just a triple shifter but you don't use all three speeds. Simple enough. Also, installing and tweaking these wasn't as much of a bear as I'd thought. Cables and housings were included with the shifters.
Cable stops (for shifter cables, that mount where downtube shifters would be if you're using those) from Iron City Bikes, $12. Turns out these ideally mount with the barrel under the screw, not above, but that's mostly a cosmetic difference.

Chain: SRAM PC951 9 speed chain, 114 links, $14. I thought I'd have to add/remove links, but I didn't; just put it on as is. I guess it's a 3/32-inch chain, as opposed to 1/8-inch (like my single speed). It's got a PowerLink connector, which seemed to me actually more difficult than just using a chain tool, but what do I know. I got this chain, the shifters, the cassette, and the derailleurs from

Brakes: Shimano... Alivio I think? V brakes, from Kraynick's, and I think like $15 each. Cables also $5 each, so total $40. Thing I didn't know: V brakes and road bike brakes aren't the same. They're both linear pull (as opposed to cantilever brakes) but V brakes look like this:
and road brakes look like this:

Pedals: cheap black metal platform pedals from Kraynick's, $15. I'm sold on metal pedals after some cheap plastic ones I had on my single speed actually broke. No clips or toe cages or anything; I find that annoying. (note: "clipless" does not mean "without any clips so you can ride it just like a normal bike pedal", it actually means "the kind of pedal you clip into", weirdly enough. if you want "normal" bike pedals that you can ride with your regular shoes, they're called "platform".)

Seatpost: Virtue Promax 27.2 integrated clamp seatpost, from Iron City bikes, $20. Not sure what Integrated Clamp means but this looks like all the other seatposts I'm used to.
Saddle: Virtue Rivet saddle, from Iron City bikes, $15 - this thing is pretty hard, I might change it with Brian Eno for a softer ride.

Handlebars: used flat black ones from Kraynick's, $3. I'm kind of looking for some new ones, as this is the single ugliest part of my bike now. But I do like them to be flat. Replacin' these with this XLC Comp flat bar, 25.4mm clamp diameter, 580mm long, 5 degree bend. I learned that 25.4mm is the old style, most new handlebars are 31.8mm, and that gives a smoother ride too. But this has to match the stem. Welp.
Grips: new ones from Kraynick's, $5. I did not know that hairspray really helps get them on. (and they're really hard to get on without hairspray.)

Fenders: like $20 from Kraynick's. Parts from Kraynick's, I can't really tell you much about them, because often I just ask him for X and he rummages behind a counter and finds X.

Front light: CatEye EL 135N, $22
Back light: Blackburn Mars 3.0, $19
Lock: OnGuard Bulldog Mini U-Lock, $37 - these are all pretty self explanatory, but I am springing for some pretty decent stuff because I am tired of my lights not working. I use lights that take AA/AAA batteries too, instead of watch batteries, because I can recharge them. Also, better bike needs a better lock? I don't know. I do know that a couple of my locks froze last winter and so I had to sort of worriedly breathe hot air and pour hot water on them to unfreeze them before I could unlock and ride them home. Ugh. Maybe this more expensive lock won't do that.

Total: $1302. Well, at least I got a good quality bike, and I must have saved some money by building it myself... wait. Oh well, at least I didn't spend way more than the bike costs. (and to be fair, I counted fenders, lights, lock, the whole deal, which I'm sure aren't included on that one.)

Interesting approx breakdown: frame $500, wheels/tires $250, drive train $125, shifter stuff $125, everything else $250.

But more importantly, hell, I learned a lot. And it was/is fun too! I'm riding it around, and it is nice to have gears. It is nice to ride on a bike that is made of really solid parts. It's nice to ride on a shiny new bike!

Name: "Stephen Malkmus" just doesn't fit. This bike is too shiny. Kind of sleek, dark, pricey, still just a little gritty, surly (hah), able to travel but really feels at home around a city... I'm now thinking Thom Yorke. (though willing to hear other recommendations.)

Thanks: to Jerry at Kraynick's, Ryan at Top Gear, Colin at Iron City, Stacey, and Dad for all in their own way helping make this bike happen!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bike 3 is on the way

I was going to just post when it's all done, but I better start posting or I'll forget some stuff. Here are some parts I have now, costs, and what I've learned about them.

Frame and fork: Surly Cross Check 60cm black. (Yes, another black bike. Well, it was black or this awful green.) $480 shipped.
It's a "cyclocross" frame, which means it's for people who do this crazy cyclocross racing, I guess; whatever. A little more durable than a road frame. If a road bike is 1 and a mountain bike is 5, and your hybrid is a 3, cyclocross seems like 2. So that's nice for me: I'm going over crazy Pittsburgh potholes daily, and would love to take it touring someday.
As for the specifics, Surly seems to be making bikes in the range I'm interested in: nicer than the bike shop entry level stuff, but not race/pro/hardcore quality. I think they're a good brand to consider if your budget is around $1000. That probably seems like a ton of money for a bike to people reading this, and yes, it is. But it's all relative.
Others I was considering include the Surly Pacer (more of a road bike), the Soma Double Cross (very similar to the Surly), Soma Smoothie (more roady), Velo Orange Pass Hunter (maybe an extra hundred bucks, and more touring-ish), and the Pake C'Mute (kind of a step down, and hard to find).
I got it faced and chased, as Surly recommends, for $40. Not sure if it's super necessary.

Wheels: double-walled wheels from Iron City Bikes. 700c x 28-38. 32 and 36 spokes. I don't know much about the hubs. They do have disc brake mounts, which is useless to me, but they were the ones that they had on hand. Quick release spindles, which maybe is not awesome. $144 for both.
Rim strips: there are some that you have to glue, and some that are stretchy. I got the stretchy ones. Not sure why you'd want the gluey ones. $7*2=$14.
Tubes: stock tubes for 700x25-32. Like $5 each.
Tires: Vittoria Randonneur 700x28 tires. (note that the wheels and tubes are both a range. I wanted 28-width tires and then bought the wheels and tubes to match. 20-25 are kind of road widths, so 28 is kind of the first step up into something a little more durable and softer, but still pretty light and quick. Good for touring.) They are supposedly pretty puncture resistant. $40*2 = $80. Got these from Top Gear Bikes. They're good folks too, have been helpful. I think they're a little higher than my price range in general; that $1000 is a small amount of money to them. But they're nice.

Headset: Cane Creek 40 Series 1-1/8" External Cup Threadless Straight 34mm Black EC34/28. $43. This is the part that connects the fork to the frame so you can turn smoothly. Cane Creek is a reliable brand, as far as I can tell; folks recommended it to me. But I don't think it's super critical; others work fine too. The only other brand I heard people talking about was Chris King, but those are crazy expensive and don't work any better.
Steer tube spacers: a handful of them, for $10. The weird thing about forks is that they always come longer than you want, so you have to saw the top off. Saw off! A part of my bike! Needless to say, I was terrified of cutting it too short, so I just got a bunch of spacers, more than I can possibly need, so I can try it as is, and then remove spacers and recut if I want it shorter.
Stem: at Kraynick's, they're all $20. Just got a regular threadless one. (I was toying with getting an adjustable one, but you don't see them around, and I think that's because they're just one more thing that can break, and they probably make it less stiff. Stiffness is good.)

Cranks: Shimano Sora FC-3550 2x9 Road Crankset 50/34T 175mm Black. That's the parts that the pedals attach to. The big choices here are: 2 or 3 front gears, and how many teeth? I picked 2, because it seemed easier. Then I picked 50 and 34 teeth, because those seem on the higher end, and I tend to pedal hard, rather than fast. (I've heard this is not a great thing. I guess I'll work on that someday.) Oh, also, decide whether you want square taper, splined, or two-piece. Two-piece is the future, I guess. It means you can have external bearings, which means that they last longer and do better. Okay. $60.
Bottom Bracket: Shimano 105 bracket. 105 is a step up from Tiagra, which is a step up from Sora, but whatever, they had it in stock at Top Gear and it was only $4 more. $30 total.

Okay, that's all I've got so far! Pictures will follow at some point. I'm thinking of calling this Stephen Malkmus, because hipsters respect it and it's best on Pavement. We'll see.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Another article about enlightenment
more from the same guy:

More for my own reference than for posting to y'all. I keep running into this stuff, mindblowing (literally) stories with some kind of brain imaging, same characters (Shinzen Young, Daniel Ingram), a pretty reasonable story for why it's not more widespread (we're just getting into the age of really understanding things in the west that Buddhists have known for a while, appropriating them into our own language and culture). Then I go read Dharma Overground for a while, and then I get fed up because it's all so much talk.

Wow, when I put it like that, it sounds like crazy talk. Well, I'm not sure it all isn't. But it seems like the most reasonable conception of spiritual experiences that I've got going, so I'm half-skeptically running with it for now. Speaking of which, I'm going on a retreat the week after next (March 10-16) at Bhavana Society so maybe I'll have more direct experience to report then. But based on past experiences, don't count on it :P

Sunday, February 09, 2014

A thought about the Olympics

Is this really what we want, as a celebration of world peace and togetherness and what have you? Rabid competitions, where bumping your leg once derails your four years of preparation? It's a spectacle, not of amazing sportspersonship, but of constantly tearing people down.

When I'm in charge of the world, we'll get all the athletes together and have them do some ski jumps and tricks, and after each one we'll point out what was so absolutely amazing about that trick. Or have the cross-country skiers race next to an average schlub so we can see how freakin' fast they are. Show why the speed skaters do that really fluid loping thing when it looks like they ought to be taking more steps. Show how much higher our athletes can jump compared to the last Olympics, or how much steeper moguls they can ski, or how much more accurately they can curl.

And no medals, and no nations. I realize we can't all get along on a day to day basis when there are important resources at stake, or cold wars, or snowdens, or whatever, but just for once, when we're all getting together to play sports, can we try to set a more collaborative tone instead of competing with other nations for the most gold coins? If I were an alien who saw this, I'd come back in a thousand years when we're a little more civilized.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

What a year.

2013 hasn't been the easiest. The careful reader may note that I posted a lot less here in 2013 than most years. Work has been difficult: trying to figure out my place and succeed at something here. As it is, I'm kind of starting over now on a new thing. Which is exciting, because I feel like it might kind of work, and I kind of know how to do it.

On the other hand, I think that for each of the last 16 months, I thought "next month will be better". So not getting my hopes up too much yet.

Still, at least it hasn't been boring! At least I'm not under-challenged. I'm probably learning something and exploring and growing and meeting people and so on. It's the sort of thing that's easier to know in retrospect, probably.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Dealing with the way some part of my brain deals with video games

I started playing FTL (warning: takes about an hour to get into but then is very addictive). I've gone through this cycle with other games: addiction followed by quick burnout. I know that I do this; it's fine, I just make sure that I burn out quick and then get back to my regular life. At first I reasoned I just had to beat the end boss, and then I'd be done. And I was, for a few weeks.

But then I picked it up again for some reason, and this time I decided I had to unlock all the ships. This seemed fine, too, because I was unlocking them all pretty steadily, except the Crystal ship. (I used knowledge from the wiki and I figured this was fine because I was still the one playing the game.) But then I looked up how to unlock the Crystal ship, and realized it was orders of magnitude harder than the other ships. It'd be hours of grinding! But I couldn't just put the game down, not with a ship still unlocked.

Then I decided that it doesn't require skill to get the Crystal ship, just luck. You have to get to the right planets in the right order, and sometimes they just don't line up right. So when I found some other post where someone posted his save game file that would allow you to effectively cheat your way into the Crystal ship, I grabbed it and unlocked it.

Somehow, my brain was okay with that, even after it wasn't okay with just cheating from the beginning. And now that I've unlocked all the ships, I'm effectively done with it. (I don't have to, for example, get all the badges.) Good thing that, even though I couldn't rationalize quitting without getting the Crystal ship, I could rationalize cheating for the Crystal ship and then quitting.

What a mess to have a brain!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bike #2: Frank Black

This is my bad weather bike. Batavus Navajo, classic Dutch style. I found it in my basement when I moved in. Not sure who it used to belong to (none of my roommates, current or recent past), so at this point, adverse possession or something, right?

Plus, it was a mess when I found it. It's not awesome now, but I've done a couple of key things:
- unstuck the seat post (and it was really rusted in there. The fix eventually involved taking the wheels and seat off, attaching a vise to the seat post, and turning the whole frame around it. Thanks to John at Kraynick's for help. If you ever have your seat post out of your bike, take this opportunity to grease the heck out of it!)
- replace the brake pads (these were "cantilever brakes", which are new to me. not too tricky, though.)
- remove a couple of European bike things: a wheel lock and a dynamo/generator/front light thing. The first is neat because you can lock your bike, low-security but quickly and easily. The second is neat because gathers power from the rotation of your front wheel, meaning you are powering your light by yourself! I had both of these on my bike in Maastricht (as did most people), and they were nice. I removed these from this bike here because they were broken. Took a little brute force; thanks to a couple random folks at Kraynick's.
- add one key European bike thing: fenders. It's so much nicer to get where you're going without being covered in rain/snow and ruining your clothes, especially for a bad weather bike. Most people in Maastricht had these too. They should come pre-installed for city/hybrid/commuter bikes. They're so good.

There are minor but important differences between Dutch and US bikes. I mean, this thing was all tricked out for the average person to ride around town. No lycra here. Plus, the handlebars are really high, so you're sitting upright like an average person, not a speed racer. Here, you bike if you're "a biker"; there, you bike if you're a person.

So why's it called Frank Black? Because it's a little grungy, and I ride this bike when (wait for it)... "it is time for stormy weather."