Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas! Let's talk about music.

Great year for music! In my humble opinion.

Let's start off with the mild disappointment of the year: Purity Ring, Another Eternity. Merely a great pop album. Lost a lot of Shrines's weird Grimm charm.

Top N Albums that didn't come out this year but I just first listened to them now:
5. Qualité Motel, Motel Califorña: Silly fun electro pop from Montreal. Lots of guest stars including Mrs. Paintbrush on the excellent Grandfarceur.
4. Nicolas Jaar, Space is Only Noise: great for traveling and feeling out of place.
3. Flying Lotus, You're Dead!: Progressive jazz hip-hop psychedelic techno. I don't know. It feels a little like a bad drug trip probably feels.
2. OM, Advaitic Songs: my favorite doomy/meditative metal I've heard yet. Also dug Sunn O))) and would like to hear more like this.
1. Bleachers, Strange Desire: if all emo-pop were this slick, polished, and unembarrassing, I would have listened to a lot of different stuff in the late 90s.

Top N Albums that did come out this year:

7. David Bowie, Blackstar
Ok, it's not actually out, but watch this video and tell me you don't want to see the sci-fi full-length movie this must have been based on. If The Next Day was his return to form but not groundbreaking, I feel like Blackstar will be the one that is groundbreaking. We can all hope.

6. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
This is the next Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, in that it's sprawlingly epic and catchy enough that it deserves a place on everyone's list. By King Kunta I was sold enough to listen to the rest of it deeper, and it makes me think.

5. Jlin, Dark Energy
This is a late addition and I'm not sure how it'll hold up, but it's a pretty consistent techno-nightmare that I'm really digging. After Guantanamo, you'll know if you're drawn in or just not into it.

4. FKA Twigs, M3LL155X EP
On her first album I didn't get her. But that's because she didn't fit naturally into any of my boxes. She's doing the Knife-ish creepy spectacle better than anyone else I've seen today. "Now hold that pose for me" is as weirdly spine-tingling as anything I've heard. Oh, and that video.

3. MADE IN HEIGHTS, Without My Enemy What Would I Do
The fact that this isn't my #1 pop album speaks to how great this year's music was. They pull off the sort of charming-silly bedroom pop, but it's minimalist, crystal clear and finely crafted. Start at the beginning; if you like DEATH then strap in and enjoy the dreamy, catchy ride.

2. CHVRCHES, Every Open Eye
This too: if all emo-pop were this slick, polished, and unembarrassing, I would have listened to a lot of different stuff in the late 90s. It's as earnest as anything, down to letting the dude sing a couple songs even though he's way outmatched, and as a result has a few duds, but especially tracks 1, 2, 3, and 5 are The Best to sing while biking downhill.

1. Grimes, Art Angels
This is where she proves that she is the pop star of our age. Over the first 6 tracks you go from epic symphonic overture to top-40 to aggressive Taiwanese hip-hop back to top-40 to... whatever Kill v. Maim is. Like, I want to say something about gender stereotypes, and how she's this baby-voiced girl, totally unassuming, expert at all parts of songwriting and production, and I would not want to mess with her.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Here's some things I'm feeling

(disclaimer: not an interesting-to-read post, probably, more of a log-for-logging's-sake.)

Weirdly bored? Like, I finish work and I don't know what to do with myself? And then I'm reading internet things and when anything is longer than a short info snack, I get bored and flip it off? As if I have less ability to concentrate than usual, even on fun things.

Caffeine-tolerant. I'm finally feeling like I can't really think until I drink one cup, and don't really get going until two. That's not awesome.

Socially tired. I want to go home and sleep more.

Negative. I realized the other day we saw the new Star Wars and came out and talked about it and I was the only one really poking holes in how great it was. (upon further reflection, Kylo Ren wasn't really that bad, guys.)

I am not super proud of these. (I'm not really ashamed, either, it's just like I have a cold or something, so I feel not-100% mentally-emotionally-socially.) I suppose it's a good time for a Christmas break, then!

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The rules to Contact

This is the best game that you can play without any physical things. It is hard to explain but easy to play. So, channeling Aaron Tarnow, I will try to optimize my explanation of these rules. Here is a first cut:

Alice is the Wordmaster. Alice has a Master Word in her mind. Alice tells Bob, Carol, and Diane the first letter of the Master Word. Bob, Carol, and Diane offer challenges to Alice, in the form of a clue, that can be anything. (example: Alice's word starts with C. Bob says "here's a challenge: my favorite food.")

Alice gets as many guesses as she wants. ("Cabbage?" "nope." "Celery!" "nope.") If she ever guesses it right, the challenge is defused and nothing happens.

Meanwhile, Carol and Diane, if they know the answer to Bob's challenge, they say "Contact." If not, they just don't do anything.

If Alice can't get it right and gives up, she goes "3, 2, 1, contact" and then immediately Bob and everyone who has Contacted says the word at the same time.

If they all match, then the challengers win and Alice says the next letter of her Master Word. If any do not match (or if nobody Contacted), the challenge is defused and nothing happens.

All challenges must begin with the letters of the Master Word that have been revealed so far. If a challenge ever has Alice's secret Master Word as the answer, the person who offered it is the new Word Master.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

What class AM I?

Back in 2008, I graduated and got a job making $80,000/year. This makes me a pretty lucky fellow, for sure! But how lucky? This was around the time that "The 99%" and "The 1%" started to become popular, and I saw a lot of people taking photos saying "We are the 1%, we stand with the 99%" and I thought I should do that too.

Wow, not at all! I was one of The 30%, maybe. Even given a lot of other factors that made life easier for me (no dependents, raises, bonuses, etc), there's no way I was close to The 1%.

This is not good, for a lot of reasons.

1. I left a ton of money on the table. Google told me the offer was non-negotiable, but everything's negotiable, especially if you have competing offers. You are doing nobody a favor by not negotiating, except a few thousand dollars stay in the company's coffers. That few thousand is pocket change to them and a real difference to you.

There was a successful anti-trust case over this. Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc. were making a ton of money by fixing employees' wages and agreeing not to compete. This is classic corporation vs. employees labor dynamics.

And I didn't know that. Watch something like Silicon Valley and you'll see caricatures of millions of dollars being thrown around at socially awkward children. I thought I was the new elite. I wasn't; I was the new labor.

2. That fat salary is not as much as it sounds like. Consider a tech employee making $80k in San Francisco. She wants an apartment. That costs $3000/month. $80k after taxes = $55k - $3000/month = $19k. Which is not peanuts, but it's hard to save money and start building wealth on that much income. (If she lived on the Peninsula, she might get by on $2500/month, but then she will need a car, which costs on average $6000/year, exactly eating up the savings.)

I guess my point is, I thought I was the new Upper Class. But I may have been the new Working Class. Certainly the new Middle Class. And that changes a lot of things about how you look at the world.

Everyone in America thinks they are just inches away from being a multi-millionaire. This is the only reason I can think of that anyone still votes for low taxes on the rich; we all assume we are basically them. Friends, even tech friends: most of you are not.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Grandy and Grandpa

Lost a couple of the greats these last couple of months. Here's a handful of thoughts.

So they started a family - they had 6 kids. Four of them had 2 kids, and one had 4. You can't give them full credit for each grandkid, but give them half, and they're directly responsible for adding 12 people to the human race (and counting!)
- is that the story of the 20th century? Going from 1 billion to 7 billion? Is this a one time blip? Like, we're going to level off at 9 or 10 billion (or have a pretty bad time), so this kind of multiplying won't keep happening for generations.
- is that arguably a good strategy for making a mark on the world?
- they made a great impact on their world. ("their world" being their family and friends.) Arguably not a huge impact on the Whole World - they didn't cure cancer or whatever. I am coming around to the idea that that is ok. Hmm.

Man, they really friggin' did it! Born to coal miners and ... I forget what Grandy's parents did. But they came up to Cleveland, defended the country, owned a house, had a bunch of kids, who all went on to become doctors or lawyers or equally successful things, who now have their own families - like, that is not necessarily our dream today - we don't say "ok, you had a family and a house, therefore a great life" - but to them it was! and they did it!

We all know the male history of our family more than the female history. I know Giuseppe Tassi came from Offida, Italy; I don't know where Mary came from. Mary... Nucci? Something like that. And Grandy's parents - the Warcabas - beats me. I imagine this is not an isolated case. I imagine part of that is because of the name. I hope that this doesn't happen to our kids as much; I want them to know Tati's history as much as mine. Also, naming strategies for kids. This will be interesting.

I barely even knew what Grandpa did. Grandy didn't have a job outside the home (five kids is work enough.) He was an HR director for Hauserman Inc, which made movable interior walls. Huh. Every company out there, every office or factory you pass, like Fortney and Weygandt Inc which I sometimes pass on the way to my parents' house, has people doing all sorts of various things, and they all have big ol' families like this. Sonder.

I'll miss 'em! It was nice growing up with them around. They were always super excited to see Cheryl and me, and we them. Even when we started rolling our eyes and saying stuff like "man, they really love the Old Country Buffet, don't they"... there's a deep current of love under there that we knew and appreciated.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

(The Mission/Lawrenceville/Capitol Hill) isn't dead. It's changing.

This NY times editorial is maybe the first one in the last five years that includes musings about New York or San Francisco neighborhoods that I'm glad I've read.

In short: you think the city/neighborhood/whatever was best at some imaginary time in the past, probably when you were young and cool and an "insider", whatever that means. (It probably includes a small circle of close friends and a rich circle of diverse secondary friends, and probably a connection to some kind of arts scene that's too obscure to google.)

See also Midnight in Paris; see also everyone who travels who wants to see "the real London/SF/Mumbai, not the tourist stuff", who probably just wants to feel like an insider there.

Look, I remember when Ritual Coffee in the Mission was a kinda dark place you could work on laptops. I remember when Capitol Hill had a Museum of the Mysteries and Bailey/Coy Books, and Coca Cafe in Lawrenceville was a new trendy thing. This all places me "back in the day", and maybe "way past back in the day", depending on who you are. Now they are not quite that anymore! Now on Valencia you can buy $5 coffee and $5000 furniture. That Capitol Hill apartment that had no doorbell so I rigged up a shoe connected to a string, it costs twice as much now.

But in the Mission you can still buy some good books, eat great Mexican food, see a tabla master in concert, join a secret society, discuss philosophy or play Magic cards over okay Turkish coffee, get a sweet haircut, see an underground arts fair or a street carnival, etc etc. It's changing, sure, but A. change happens slowly, and B. it's not always bad.

Maybe all our money now is going not to rich suburbs or rich fat cat neighborhoods (your Pac Heightses and Midtown Manhattans, right?) but rich yet active mid-city dense neighborhoods. That's not without its problems - we have to figure out how to avoid pushing out lower-income people, and how the lower-income people who do get pushed out don't end up in awful underfunded sprawled-out suburbs - but it's a better vision than white flight, anyway. Eh, we're trying.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Got doored today

door (v): to open your car door and hit a biker who is riding by

Luckily it wasn't bad, just some cuts and scrapes. I was riding between the parked cars and the driving cars, and some kids opened the doors of a driving car.

Some things that I want to say about this:

This does not mean biking is dangerous. I was lane splitting. This is where you ride between lanes of (usually stopped) cars. I don't recommend it for a beginner. You can just as easily bike without lane splitting.

However, biking should be safer. As usual. In particular, we should teach drivers about bikers and "dooring", and teach the Dutch door-opening thing where you open the door with hand that's farther from the door so it makes you turn around and look out the window by default.

Lane splitting (for bicycles, in stopped traffic, at least) is legal. At least, I'm pretty sure. I'm more sure in California than in Pennsylvania, but either way, I'd like to know some info if you've got it. It should be, anyway. Decongests the road and is normally reasonably safe. Besides, if you argue against lane splitting, you better not argue that bikers should get off the road and stop blocking traffic. We're all trying to reduce congestion.

The driver was nice. You hear a lot of horror stories about bikers getting hit by jerks or people who vanish. I've been hit twice in Pittsburgh now, both minor, and the drivers were both really nice and communicative by texts later. I think this is the norm.

If you hit a person, give them a minute. Saying "are you okay?" a lot is kinda counterproductive. I don't want to say "yes" because of insurance/legal reasons ("sorry, insurance won't pay your medical bills, you said you were okay.") but  you're basically asking me to make you feel better. There's nothing you can really do (unless you have first aid supplies), so just chill out for a second and let me collect my thoughts and survey my body and bike parts. Even then, I probably won't tell you "I'm okay" (even if I probably am). But I appreciate you stopping and hanging out for a minute. My adrenaline's going nuts here.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Foes Without Faces

Read this great post. I agree with it so much, and also with the blog's title. ("almost no one is evil. almost everything is broken.")

Man, you put a face on something, and it's so easy for us to pulverize it into the ground. Osama Bin Laden is a great example; I mean, he was like The Hardest to find, and it still took us, what, 10 years? That's nothing.

OTOH, global warming is going to totally F up the world and kill wayyyy more people than islamic extremists. But it doesn't have a face, so we can't kill it.

Maybe we need some Dr. Badguy, some Osama Hitler Jr., to come out of hiding like a comic book mastermind, unveil how global warming was his grand plan all along, and reveal that he feeds on atmospheric carbon and the only way we can kill him is to cut emissions 75%. You better believe we would get on that, right quick.

Bhimdatta (Formerly Mahendranagar)

One of the shadiest stops on my India-Nepal-Bhutan part of the trip was in the town of Mahendranagar. Nepal border town on the far west side of the country. After a long bus ride and a pretty decently long border crossing (not because of lines, but because you had to walk about a mile between where India ends and Nepal begins), I got in as the sun was going down, and after dark there were not a lot of lights. Asking around a bit, I got taken to the first "hotel" - a dark house with a dank room, with who knows what lurking in its shadows. My second attempt was a little better - ugly and fluorescent, but the bathroom that I expected to fail miserably actually worked, and the bugs that I expected to see were nowhere to be found. So, ok. The next morning I woke up at 4am, had the weirdest bitter-lime-sugar tea, and hopped on a bus for about a million hours.

I just learned that Mahendranagar has been renamed Bhimdatta. This is a little weird. I don't know why I feel any kinship with the place at all - I guess my TF-IDF for it is just higher than most places. Like, I spent a day in Agra, but anyone who's gone to India has spent a day in Agra... but I spent 12 hours in Mahendranagar, and nobody's been to Mahendranagar.

And then the more I talk about it, the more I feel like y'all might accuse me of trying to grab traveler cred. And you might be right. That's why I'm blogging it to this limited audience instead of Facebooking it. But much like I like to talk about a particularly good batch of coffee beans, I find it hard to disentangle cred-seeking from honest fascination sometimes. Like, in the age of the internet, we can get anything instantly. But we probably won't get a slice of Mahendranagar.

And so I care about Mahendranagar, and I feel like I'm losing a little tiny thing of memory now that it's renamed Bhimdatta. And I don't mind, I'm not saying something is right or wrong (in contrast to 98% of the internet, including my posts), just kind of... poignantly watching things change, I guess.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Art is a dialogue with the artist(s)

... is a pretentious-sounding thing I've kept hearing myself thinking recently.

When you're watching a movie, reading a book, playing a game, you know there are certain rules. Like, if the main character is in a dangerous situation 15 minutes into the movie, you know they're not going to die, because you know the movie is 2 hours long. Or if the story's pretty coherent and then there's a super-trippy unbelievable situation, you can imagine that it'll turn out to be a dream. If you're playing Final Fantasy XXVIII, and you see a treasure chest, I mean, open it. Take everything that's not nailed down. If you're Link, break all the pots; some will have a rupee inside.

If it's a big-budget Hollywood movie, you can expect a happy ending. If it's a Bollywood movie, it goes even farther: you know the star-crossed lovers are going to get together. Shakespearean tragedy? Not gonna be so happy. Game of Thrones episode: someone you love is going to die.

Which is why I've been loving it more when artists break these rules, or at least threaten to. Like in Psycho, when they (spoilers but not really b/c you know the shower scene) kill off the "main character" half an hour in.

A recent favorite has been the game Undertale, which looks like a Final Fantasy-ish game circa 1997, but keeps screwing with you. You meet a monster you can fight, or befriend! But then you get to a boss battle, and surely I've got to kill them, right? Nah, turns out you can befriend them too. Here's a minigame in which a robot jokes with you. Then threatens to kill you! But doesn't actually kill you. You've got to kill King Asgore and escape from Monster World before he steals your soul! Don't you?

And even deeper, the game's creator(s), mostly Toby Fox, keep this dialogue going on many levels. I know that I don't have to keep re-re-re-saving, because few things are impossible to recover from. I sure am spending a lot of time walking backwards, aren't I? Nope, there's a boatman willing to help me shortcut some of this, cool. Spend 1000 gold to send a minor character to college? They'll just laugh at me, right? Nah, you get something out of it. But it won't really change anything if I befriend or kill these bosses, right? ... there's not like whole other levels, right? It's a comedy game, not a tragedy or horror game, right?

Anyway, back to work, but check it out. It's like 5 hrs for a playthrough, worth playing through at least twice.

Things we Snake People have learned wrong

by "snake people" I mean "millennials"

This is not an exhaustive list.

1. "Finding a good relationship is a search problem."
It's not. I was reading this article, and while there are some good points in there, it's based on at least a partial misunderstanding of relationships. Finding a life partner is maybe like half a search problem. And then half a building problem: you found someone in the top N percent, who's good enough, and open to growth, and you together build a great relationship from there.

2. "Finding your career is a search problem."
Again, maybe like half a search problem. I might not ever be happy in a bunch of jobs. But there are a ton of jobs that I'd be at least good enough in, and the thing to do is just start building. Starting a new job usually sucks for a few months, and starting a new career sucks for a few years. You're at the bottom of the totem pole, you can't make any decisions that matter, and that's fine because you don't know how to make good decisions!

3. "You can do anything."
I feel like, if you tell 100 babies this, you'll get 1 superstar something, and 99 people who are average but feel like failures. If you tell 100 babies "you'll probably drive a truck or something", then you'll get 100 average babies who feel like successes. And maybe a superstar baby anyway! I don't know.

4. Oh yeah the whole "follow your dreams don't worry about the money" shtick, right, there's that.

Monday, October 12, 2015

More better cities?

As Detroit goes, so goes the nation

Rich young people are getting it; they're moving to San Francisco and New York and Boston and Seattle and DC and Portland and like four other cities. Ok, cool. Thanks, other rich young people; we all understand that driving everywhere is crummy, and we like to be close to "things that are happening." Now what?

If prices in cities just get really high, and poor people (and disproportionately minorities) get forced out to the suburbs, we have an even worse problem than the old days of White Flight: all the rich white people are here, and all the poor nonwhite people are there, but now the poor nonwhite people are not even close to public transit or services or anything else; they're dependent on the car now too, but all the rich young people have left cars behind. I mean, we should continue to improve suburbs; make them walkable livable places. But just due to geography, we may not be able to.

Maybe the solution is for people to move back to some less-marquee cities. Move back to central Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, I dunno, Nashville, Topeka, whatever's nearby. Do we lose them in all the fuss about these beautiful San Franciscos? I mean, maybe there's not enough space in SF for everyone who wants to move to SF. (SF's dumb zoning and height issues aside.) But if Boise or Cincinnati or Tallahassee were more appealing to live in, maybe they wouldn't have to?

It's a question I'm kind of interested in; we don't need more guides for "what's good in SF" or sweet apps for SF dwellers. But maybe we do for Clevelanders.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Coming up for air every now and then

I've been working a lot recently. Right now it's for 3 CHI papers. CHI is a big conference in our field, so we kinda submit everything we're working on to it. This is a minor problem because it's all the deadlines happening at once.

Funny things:
- when I was a first-year student, I couldn't imagine how these older students were always submitting like 5 papers to everything. The answer: it's mostly a lot of resubmits of things that have been rejected before :P Of the three, one is new (from summer work) one is half-new (half from a rejected paper from Ubicomp in the spring) and one is old (last summer work). And we just had a summer, which is kinda the only time you can work uninterrupted. So... if any newer students are reading this, worrying about how to make even one paper, let alone three... don't worry about it.

- I kind of feel a little bit excited to have this be *the most important thing I could be doing* - and the chance to finish three projects if all goes well! (that is a low chance. but I can finish at least some project, hopefully.)

- But that's definitely my #2 feeling about all this; mostly it's just a lot of work, especially writing-work, which is kinda the hardest kind.

- Why is writing the hardest? It's not the actual putting-words-down-on-paper, it's all the work that has to happen to put all the words down. Like, in the "related work" sections, you have to read a lot before you can write. In the "method" section, well, you have to write the code and analyze the data, and then go back and read through it all to remember what you did. For "results" you probably have to do some stats and make some charts and graphs. This all takes a while. So while we gripe about writing, it's really just the 100%-finishing everything that was 85% finished before.

- I like the first 85% better than the last 15%. Eh.

- When you step back a bit, all our papers are a bit silly, this whole thing is a bit silly. I've been trying to feel Sisyphus, like the happy-Sisyphus, like whatever magic Camus works to make Sisyphus a positive/fulfilled/noble fellow. I guess as it applies here: keep pushing the rock, don't look up to see how much more mountain there is to go.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Driving your elephant

Here's a model (more info) that I thought was an old Buddhist thing but is actually just from Jonathan Haidt, like a number of other cool things (like Moral Foundations Theory, and a fun test about it here). Anyway, it's been a useful model for me.

You've got an elephant (your impulsive, emotional self) and a rider (the cool, calm, rational self). You can't really control the elephant, but you can learn about the elephant and steering it the right way. The elephant is much stronger, so learning to work with the elephant is way more valuable than just trying to ignore it.

I guess when people say something is hard, they mean it's an environment that's hard to drive your elephant in. Grad school is hard like that. It's full of a lot of things that aren't really problems, but will spook your elephant. (Your paper got rejected! These senior researchers think you're a fool! Your work is meaningless!) If you get better at calming down the elephant, even if you just slowly plod along forward, you'll do fine.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Bernie Sanders and #BlackLivesMatter

As I understand it, Bernie Sanders held a rally in Seattle, some Black Lives Matter protesters stormed the stage before his speech and took the mic, said some stuff and had a 4.5-minutes of silence for all the black people who have been killed ... by police since Ferguson? ... and then Sanders did not go on to speak. That's about all I know. I like this article about it, by Pramila Jayapal, a lot. But since I have a place I can blog too, I will.

White people: the BLM protestors are right. (see point #1 in the article I linked above.)

BLM protestors: huh, maybe this worked. Got a lot of people talking. Maybe it didn't: alienate the people rooting for the most radical candidate out there. Shoot, this seems the best I've seen from any candidate so far. See point #5 in Jayapal's article above. How can we call people in as we call them out?

Ms. Jayapal: "But in the end, if we want to win for ALL of us on racial, economic, and social justice issues, we need multiple sets of tactics, working together. Some are disruptive tactics. Some are loving tactics. Some are truth-telling tactics. Some can only be taken on by white people. Some can only be taken on by people of color."

What are those tactics? What can I do? (not saying I will do them, because I'm trying hard enough to work on my work and stay sane otherwise. but I'm curious what I ought to/can be doing here. maybe talking about it on the internet is part of it.)

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Bloggin' about Political Correctness cause I don't want to argue this on facebook

I mean, that term is too loaded. It's either Bad (if you're republican) or Good (if you're not). Obv I think Good is closer to the truth, but it's more complicated.

Bad 1: using racial slurs (obv)
Bad 2: using insensitive words like "illegals" or "retarded" that we haven't yet elevated to the level of Really Bad Word, or other sort of language that indicates racist thoughts
Bad 3: "postman" instead of "postal worker" or other sort of uninclusive language

But like, these are different levels of badness. I feel like if your uncle starts dropping n-bombs, you should be like "dude. don't say that." But if he does a thing that is Bad 2 or Bad 3, don't jump all over him. Use the right word, and if he asks you about it, explain why in as non-confrontational and non-superior a way as possible.

If people have deep-seated racist/sexist/*ist beliefs, you're not going to change their mind by saying "that one word is bad" - they're likely to think you're just being "politically correct." And the cartoonish stereotype of PC is of course silly. Even though the sentiments behind PC are totally correct and most people who "hate political correctness" really mean "Can't things just be simple like they used to be back in the good old days?" without realizing that the good old days weren't so good for everyone.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Someone Did Something Bad Somewhere: Stop It.

We need a word for this. Articles where it's not a wider issue, but just one person doing one bad thing, and everyone freaks the hell out because it's easy or socially appropriate to. See: that guy who shot Cecil the lion, that pizzeria in Indiana somewhere who said they wouldn't serve a gay wedding, #HasJustineLandedYet.

Used to be, these headlines were just annoying noise on a slow news day, but now these cases end up with people's lives... drastically changed, if not totally ruined. For doing a crummy thing (or sometimes even just misunderstood; Justine Sacco's tweet about AIDS was just a joke misinterpreted by people she never intended, without context), in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"SDSBS" is the best I've got now. Example:

Facebook friend posts "hey this guy punched a puppy! how terrible! (link)"
Response: "SDSBS, move along."
OP: "oh yeah, sorry."

I don't know. It's a clunky term, but it'd be nice to have some shorthand for "stop sharing this."

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

But why us?

From today's Eat That Read This:

A Squirrel Hill resident wrote in to the PG to bemoan the fact that residents of the Penn Plaza Apartments in East Liberty are being evicted, concluding with "I feel sad and ashamed for every displaced person. Shame on us!" But why us? How about shame on LG Realty Advisors and the Gumberg family, who are directly responsible for forcing out these residents? This isn't some mysterious, invisible-hand-of-gentrification force at work--it's a decision made by several wealthy strip mall men who make up LG Realty Advisors' executive team: Lawrence N. Gumberg, President. Brian D. Gumberg, Principal. Zachary L. Gumberg, Principal. John W. King, Vice President of Operations. James F. Ayers, Vice President of Property Management. Dermot J. Morrin, Controller.

In fact, every eviction is the result of a decision made by (someone). That someone is not usually as cartoonishly awful as LG Realty Advisors, who judging by their own website make terrible garbage buildings. (Note that these are the Autozone folks.) Reframing it as the fault of "those whole-foods-and-lattes yuppies" is a really clever ploy by landowners.

You may argue: yeah, but look at the Gumbergs' side of the thing. (which is difficult, because they're not telling it, but anyway.) They've got this property that's now bringing in $x/year and could be bringing in $2x. Meanwhile, taxes are rising. Are they supposed to leave money on the table?

Yes. Deal with it. If we treated real estate a little bit less like a commodity, you'd know going into it that you're going to have tenants for a long time, and as long as they keep paying you rent, they're more or less entitled to stay in their homes. If we speculate on pork bellies, the worst case is we eat a little less bacon; if we speculate on houses, innocent people get forced out of their homes.

(and yes, people staying in their homes is a public good; building a community is hard enough already, and especially hard if you can't afford a car or live in a neighborhood without good transit. add in forced moves, and it's surprising that anyone knows anyone anymore.)

So I guess I mean, I'm talking a longer term change in the way we think about property: I want less speculation. If it happens overnight, then in this case, LG Realty would get screwed. They bought in thinking that property was a commodity, and now they're stuck holding a bag with all these restrictions. (I'm fine with that, but I could see how others might not be.) It could also be a more gradual change too, I guess.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

What I've learned from furniture shopping

Before this move, I knew of two reasonable ways to get furniture:
1. cheaply, whatever you find, yard sales and stuff.
2. IKEA.
I sort of had an inkling that there was a third way involving furniture stores but that it was hell of expensive, and it would make your house look like Martha Stewart.

This move, however, I figured we needed to get some "real" furniture. (because we can? because we'll be here a while? because we are a couple of Young Urban Professionals who have to have a respectable apartment? eh.) I started to dig deeper.

Thing #1 That I Learned: Styles
There are styles of furniture. Some of them are:

  • traditional
    • probably lots of subtypes of traditional but I don't like anything traditional so we skipped it
  • mid-century modern/retro
  • scandinavian modern

ok those are the only ones I learned about really. An important thing is to find things that you like and figure out what style they are. Once I honed in on Scandinavian Modern, and learned the name, it got a lot easier to tell whether entire stores were worth looking at or not. Here are some other style names I've heard more than once: beach house, industrial, shabby chic, mountain/rustic, antique, craftsman. (these also sort of sound like music genres.) Anyway, find some things you like and see what people call them, then go to stores and websites that specialize in that.

Thing #2 That I Learned: Where To Find Stores And Websites
Ok I did not learn this very much. Hopefully you will have more luck than I did. I asked my friends, and got a ton of choices. I googled and got a ton more. I didn't really know enough to narrow them down until I'd been doing them a while, so I went to:
Noe: Echo (liked it a lot! didn't have what I wanted in stock, and when I got a quote, it was a bit too expensive)
Mission: Salvation Army (nothing good), The Apartment (too vintage), Gingko (too pricey), Aldea Home (maybe that was the name? another pricey place), Monument (again, maybe? oh yeah also pricey), Blu Dot (nice stuff, but pricey), Harrington Galleries (vast. a few gems.), that thrift store on Valencia by 18th
Downtown: CB2 (turned out pretty good. a bit chainey. so it goes.)
SoMa: Funky Furniture (cool.), Stuff (too mid-century modern), MScape (3x my budget, 3x my apartment size), Design Plus (good place, nothing speaking to me), Modani (almost. nice prices.), BoConcept (another almost.), Room and Board (expensive, chainey, but really the problem was that it was expensive.)
The Internet: MoveLoot (I really wanted to like this! but nothing quite right), HauteLook (same), Overstock (same same), Design Within Reach (hah! it is a misnomer), West Elm (expensive), and Urban Outfitters (nothing jumped out at me, and I noticed that all their marketing is for me in the decade I'm leaving, not the one I'm entering, so maybe not a wise choice)

Or, let's sort by price tier:
super cheap: Salvation army, that other thrift store, yard sales
a little cheap: The Apartment, MoveLoot, IKEA
kinda our tier: Harrington Galleries, Design Plus, Stuff, CB2, Funky, Modani
a bit above our tier: Echo, Blu Dot, BoConcept
way above: anything on Valencia that looks nice, MScape, Room and Board

Thing #3 That I Learned: Anything Goes With Anything
Ok, not quite, but almost. If you just trust your gut and pick out a few things that you think you like, they'll work together. Especially wood: you can mix woods. I didn't know this at first, and it made it much harder to find stuff.

Thing #4 That I Learned: What The Hell Does Anything Cost, It Is Hard To Know
Like, how much should I expect to pay for a kitchen table? You can be off by an order of magnitude. And sometimes places don't have their prices online. Or you can't tell, until you walk into a place and think "that table is nice, it is $500, hmm" and then realize it is actually $5000 and walk right back out. Uh, here are some rough guidelines I found myself thinking:

- new sofa that you can sleep on: $1000 seemed not terrible. Likewise, a new quality bed would probably cost that much. for IKEA, you can halve it.
- nice kitchen table: in the high hundreds-of-dollars. Again, halve it or better at IKEA.
- chairs with cloth on them: $100 is cheap, 200 is not surprising, 300 is a bit much. (and this is for each chair! so like 300*6?! what the hell!)
- lamps: $100 or 200 for a nice floor lamp. Or 20 at IKEA.

Let me know, by the way, if these are way off from your experiences.

Thing #5 That I Learned: Get Stuff That Is Cheap Or Great
We went with some things that were cheap: thrift store chairs, thrift store work table, yard sale desk, thrift store desk chair, ikea bed, ikea dressers, a few LACK. And then three things that are great: a gray sofa bed that is really quite appealing in its simplicity and has convinced me at least that it is somewhat durable from CB2, two sturdy teak bookcases from Harrington, and a reclaimed Douglas Fir table from Funky Furniture. For the cheap things, it doesn't matter too too much if it turns out we dislike them after a while (though it seems unlikely); for the great things, we trusted our guts and both felt that they were top notch stuff that we really liked.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Got another bike, I am calling it James Murphy

Soma Smoothie ES. 2010. 60cm. Kept in great shape. It's big, it's light, drop bars, amazing parts. It's kinda perfect for everything I need, and I got a great deal on it from a nice guy named Jake.

Parts info:
Fork: Soma Classic Curve Road 57- Tange Infinity CrMo steel. This has a very long steer tube and a bunch of spacers. I kind of like it weirdly high, but I can always cut it down later if I want.
Shifters and derailleurs and brakes: Ultegra 6600 group. (Ultegra parts are usually on bikes that are way too nice for me.) 3x10 speeds. (You may think you only need 5 or 7 or 9 speeds; you're probably right, but for some reason, number of gears correlates with part quality these days.)
Cassette: 11-28 teeth. Wipperman chain, which I guess is a good German brand.
Wheels: Velocity Deep V Rims + Ultegra 660 Hubs. Handbuilt wheelset with wheelsmith DB spokes. Have I mentioned how this bike was a good deal and way too nice for me?
Tires: Continental GP4000 Tires
Handlebars, stem, seat post: Ritchey WCS Logic 2. 44cm wide bars (which seems to be wide enough for me), 90mm stem.
Saddle: Brooks Champion B17 Narrow.
It's almost too nice; I think I've overshot "good enough" and gotten up to "theft target." Oh well.
Ideas for the future: put on fatter tires (Jake recommends the 33mm Jack Brown from Rivendell), some center-pull road brakes (for longer reach), and bigger fenders.
Naming: James Murphy. This feels exactly like the kind of bike James Murphy would ride. Pretty cool, pretty fast, pretty trendy, but just a little gawky (e.g. the stack of spacers). A bike for someone who has kind of always wanted to be more "punk" than he is, but is actually a nerdy white guy from the suburbs hitting a new decade, and is okay with that. It's practical and sharp and fun.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

On making lifelong commitments

Wow. Those are words I don't say very often.

I mean, ever. When have I ever made a lifelong commitment to anything? Almost never. I mean, I think I might have accidentally gotten confirmed in some kind of Christian church before I knew what I was doing; whatever. I cannot think of a single thing in my adult life that I've said, yep, I am pretty sure of this until I die.

Until Saturday. I asked Tati to marry me. She agreed.

This was staged ceremony, as we both knew we were going to, but I guess ceremony gives you a little bit of something to hang on to when you're jumping through huge flaming whole-life hoops. And a way to note that the flaming hoops are there and that you've passed through them. I just googled and read the whole wikipedia article on "liminality"; you should too, it's fascinating. But I digress.

Here are some things that I'm feeling:

- elation, that someone this wonderful thinks that I'm worth spending her life with. Geez, I'm kind of a curmudgeon already, and I'm only 28. But she's not only cool with it, but excited! And how amazing she is, too! She's endlessly optimistic, upbeat, brilliant, charismatic, beautiful, and full of love like few people I've ever met. Sorry to gush, internet, but lifelong commitments means I'm allowed to.

- thankfulness: that I found this wonderful person. That we are now walking in the glow of each other's majestic presence, and aren't even old yet. (Ana Ng is just clever and humorous, as "soul mates" are of course nonsense, and relationships are more built than found, but there's a significant amount of finding, and that person you find does have to want to build a relationship with you!) And I have so much empathy for people who think they won't ever find this person. I hope that this serves as a data point of "love is possible and worth it."

- excitement: the world is our oyster as few worlds have ever been for few people! We share goals; most notably, immediately, we're off to San Francisco in a couple weeks, to start our new careers as Value-Creating Winners in Tech Wonderland Disneyworld 2.0. (and/or, finish a PhD sometime. yes.) And that's just career-wise. Don't want to plan out our whole life, but we'll begin our odyssey, sail around the world, share the same space for a minute or two.

- optimism: there's some old quote I've lost in the sands of time, something like "you can look at this whole big mess of life and you really only get one choice: to say 'yes!' or 'nah.'" Tati, more than anyone I know, looks at life and says yes. And when I'm around, I'm saying yes too. She's got such a positive effect on me, and that makes me sure, as sure as I can ever be, that she and I will have a great life together.

- love: ok this is just a big catch all but sometimes you can't put more specific words on feelings, and that's okay.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

*sigh* I have opinions, which correlate with Black Mirror episodes pretty well

I heard Black Mirror was totally the coolest, and it's not, but it's pretty great. I'd give it 4/5 stars. Minus two for being, in the words of my friend Beka, "gratuitous", which it kind of is. I mean, it turns the dystopia switch up to 11 sometimes. (S01E02, "15 Million Merits" in particular) But plus one for bringing up some pretty neat issues that I've not seen in a ton of shows.

ISSUE 1. Virtual violence

I wonder if our parents would ever have realistically imagined information to be a weapon. I mean, of course you could leak trade secrets or military secrets, but that's all movies. Nowadays, thanks to doxxing, identity theft, etc, it's a reality for everyone. Related: WikiLeaks screwing everyone who had the misfortune to be working at Sony. (Julian! It's harder to convince my parents that Snowden's a good guy when you're complicating the "leaking" story by doing stuff like this!)

S01E01 of Black Mirror took a unique take: terrorists leak a video to youtube that shows that they captured a princess, and they demand, for her release, that the prime minister have sex with a pig. (I told you the show was gratuitous.) If the video weren't massively public, there'd be less public pressure and the whole thing would kind of blow over. They cause a huge fiasco mostly by sending certain information to a certain place. Hmm.

ISSUE 2. Infinite punishment

If you believe that we might be able to upload our consciousness, that sounds great. Until a madman gets his hands on the technology, and decides to punish his enemies by virtually copying them each a million times and forcing them all to suffer for a million years. Or, the government decides that regular ol' punishment isn't bad enough, and that the bad guys should suffer more than that. The final episode (christmas special, really) takes on this theme, producing the best episode about consciousness-uploading that I've seen on TV in a long time. S02E02, "White Bear," looked at a similar issue.

Related: ADX prison in Colorado. Geez. I know some of you think "eh, screw em", especially when we're looking at our worst criminals: Ted Kaczynski, Eric Rudolph, Zacarias Moussaoui. But... I don't know, even with them, prison ought to be about rehabilitation, or at worst keeping the rest of us safe. Keep your bloodlust and revenge out of it.

Eh, I don't know why torture and inhumane prisons and whatever happens to our worst matters to me. There's tons of tragedies, shouldn't I focus on something worse? Yeah, I guess. But ... I dunno, Dostoevsky or someone: "You can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners." (or Jesus: "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.") I mean, I feel like we should try to raise the floor of our society. Make the answer to "what's the worst that could happen to me?" not that bad. I don't see myself getting sent to ADX, but man, all prison here sounds awful, and it's easy to imagine being in a protest or something and, due to justice mistakes, getting sent to prison, and then the rest of my life goes off the rails. Whereas, if I got sent to prison in Denmark, ehh, I'd be able to bounce back.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Seoul: It Sure Does Have Cafes

A week in Seoul is sadly over! First I will say, Seoul is kind of the best. I saw a nice temple, a modern art museum, a couple parks, biked along the river, ate weird fish, and all that. The modern art museum had a big room full of strings hanging straight down from the ceiling which you could walk through. It was like a sea of strings. At Noryangjin fish market, one of the weird fishes (an octopus) was still twitching and crawling when we ate it. I also shopped, which seems to be the thing to do everywhere. No, I take it back, that's the #2 thing to do everywhere; the #1 thing is to hang out in cafes. I like doing that.

I will spend this paragraph justifying how and why I went to so many cafes, then I will talk about all the cafes. At first I thought, I should be sightseeing more. Then I thought, nah, I have like 3 days, and it's semi-vacation, I am going to do whatever I want, and what I want is mostly to hang around in cafes and read books. To be fair, hanging around in cafes doesn't stop you from doing anything else. It's pretty quick. And I saw at least as neat a slice of Seoul as you did.

Here are some of those cafes. (if you're not interested, you can just see all my photos here.)

DK1744, Hongdae: nothing super special, but the first place I got to off the train. They specialize in "Dutch" coffee, which AFAICT is just cold brew. Which means, if they ask you "hot or cold?" the answer is "cold", because "hot" just involves a microwave.

5 Extracts, Hongdae: super nice! Run by Choi Hyun Sun, 2011 Korean national champion barista, and I can't remember wonderful things about the siphon coffee (just very good, not national-champion level), but the space was inviting. I met the guy, a very nice fellow too. I mean, this is kind of like if you went to a Gordon Ramsay restaurant and it was mostly empty and he was just cooking your food and chatting. (but less swearing.)

Bau House, Hongdae: this is a dog cafe. In exchange for you buying an overpriced drink, you get to pet all the puppies! There are like 15 of them. Two corgis even!

Out of Africa, Samcheong-dong: Most places that advertise different drip coffees from different countries do a pretty good job. This one is an exception; I was told no drip coffee, and I ended up with a push-button-machine americano. But the garden was nice.

Coffee Factory, Samcheong-dong: oh, this is the place around Samcheong-dong that I was looking for. 4 floors of coffeeshop, beans that you can tell they'll be good by the smell. I'd be back here often. Forgot a picture, I guess.

Coffee Monster, Samseong: uh, yes. I mean, the coffee is fine, but I love this decor. "This is because origin of coffee was from another planet and delivered by aliens."

Ikovox Coffee (formerly Coffee Kitchen, I think), Garosu-gil: yes excellent yay. Mini chain; they also had a branch in the Coex conference center. Amazing coffee in the conference center! How lucky! Get the Brazil, it's wonderfully dark chocolate and just a touch smoky.

(by the way, LEC coffee is no longer in Garosu-gil, as of 2015.)

Novac Juice, Garosu-gil. With the cactuses. Not technically a coffee shop, but it was beautiful.

221B, Samseong: Sherlock themed, but not good. Like, both things Beka and I got were undrinkably sweet, and it was uncomfortably silent and empty. Not recommended.

Coffee Libre: Best of the best. This was a little kiosk inside a big cathedral building (but like a new cathedral, not an old pretty one), and it still made the most memorable coffee of the trip: almondy and cantaloupe, a little fuller body than I'm used to... oh, and he made it on Aeropress. Huh! Maybe I *am* missing something about Aeropress. (note that this is one of ~4 locations, the others are bigger and probably nicer.)

Hakrim Coffee, Daehangno: super cool. Old fashioned, classical music and old photos. Coffee's ok, but great atmosphere.

Analog Coffee, aka Samseong Coffee Bokkneunjib (roaster), Samseong: speaking of great old-fashioned atmosphere, this place is awesome. Old records on the walls, and also great beans from all over the world. Plus, the lady is so friendly that, when I accidentally almost left without paying, she apologized to me and gave me a free pie. My friends were convinced that she was hitting on me.

Terarosa Coffee, at Coex: the second best coffee spot in the Coex center. Wah! We are spoiled for choice. Nice spacious place too, and they sell a bunch of coffee gear. Sprung for one of their COE offerings, which was super worth it.

Not pictured: Sedona Coffee, the *third* best place at Coex.

May Island, Gangnam station area: coffeeshop (meh) and library! It was *the most pleasant* place to sit quietly and work. Full of books. Nicely lit, good desks. What you can do: person1cup, wifi, book, no talk. What you can not do: external food, no out, mobile, skinship.

Coffee Gallery, Gangnam station area: well, also nice, but at this point nothing to write home about. Casual shop, decent beans.

And that is (mostly) all the coffee I drank in Seoul! I surely could have kept going. I quite enjoyed this.

Oh ok here are the rest of my pictures that tell the rest of the story, those are probably more interesting to you anyway.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A few neat links

Before They - a portrait of shrinking tribes worldwide

Requesting all the photos the DHS has of you - hah, kind of neat.

Antibiotics in meat are really bad, yes, still, let's stop this

How flavor drives nutrition: very cool. Nutrition and flavor are both getting worse, and this is not a coincidence.

Let them eat privilege- huh. Should we stop castigating ourselves for being in the 5% and start looking to where all the money is going? Hint: yes. And it's the super rich. Related, what's this about the estate tax? What the hell? How is abolishing the estate tax a good idea At All? Is this just bald faced plutocracy, sold to Americans as "conservatism"? How many Republican voters vote against their own economic interests because they've accepted some convoluted story of how "it's good for America"?

Rewire, filter bubbles, international news, and so on

I'm reading this book now, Rewire by Ethan Zuckerman.
Overall, totally dig it. He's pushing cosmopolitanism, the idea that we can be "citizens of the world", taking into account our responsibility and connectedness to each other.

He started this "Global Voices" site a few years ago, trying to offer views from bloggers worldwide. It's pretty cool, but as he notes, not enough. It's hard for me to care about what happens in Gabon. But in an age of SARS and Arab Spring, we kind of need to. At least, someone needs to.

Some useful concepts or other notes:

Hallin's spheres: the center is consensus, that's easy, we all agree. Next is the sphere of legitimate debate. Outside that is the sphere of deviance: ideas so ridiculous that no one seriously thinks them. This is the goal of revolutionaries and rabble rousers: to move ideas from the sphere of deviance into the sphere of legitimate debate. This is of course a double edged sword: it's good that, say, gay marriage and marijuana legalization made that leap; it's, you know, existentially dangerous that global warming has.

(Also, choice quote from cartoonist Ted Rall: "'no one seriously thinks' is brutarian to the point of Orwellian.") P86

How news works now: Galtung and Runge's "news values": short time frames, moral unambiguousness, unexpectedness, and reflection of preconceptions.

Apparently, of all newspapers in the US, only the NY Times, LA times, Washington Post, and WSJ still have substantial foreign bureaus?!

Goals of Global Voices: filtering, translating, contextualizing. Making good-enough translation transparent, enabling bridge figures, and engineering serendipity.

Human Libraries. Rent a person and talk for a while to learn things from their perspective. Awesome. P196

Community by arbitrary structure. Birth days of the week in Ghana. Livejournal birth month groups.

Discovery by breadth first search. Ish. "Impressionism? Might as well start with Monet. If not, Renoir. Now you have at least a sense of whether you like impressionism. Want to try Haitian food? Go to these top 3 popular Haitian places." The Dave Arnold algorithm (named after his friend). Where are the top 3 places for people who live in Greenfield? There's a lot of connection to cities here: people experience more serendipity in cities. How can we make online services more conducive to this? P228

Also, writing this on a tablet is awfully limiting. Ow. If you find any of this interesting, let's talk in person.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Levels of complexity (in the real world)

In CS school, we learned about computational complexity (and if you start tuning out you can just skip to the next paragraph). Some algorithms take "linear time" - an amount of time roughly equal to the data that you have. So if you have n pieces of data, computing on them will take about n units of time. (and if your data size doubles, it'll take twice as long.) Some take "quadratic time" - so if your data size doubles, it'll take 4 times as long. Some take "exponential time", like 2^n, so if your data set gets *just one piece bigger*, the program will take twice as long. (and of course you could fill in any other function; some things take n^3 time, or log(n) time, or whatever.) So you want to do as many algorithms that are "linear time" or "logarithmic time" (n, or log(n)) if possible, and avoid things that are quadratic if you can, and really avoid anything that takes exponential time.

In the real world, I feel like you get different kinds of complexity:
- problems with helpers
- neutral problems
- problems with adversaries
I am just making these up, this is not an official distinction or terms or anything.

Problems with helpers: these are great, and easy, and fun! Even if you don't do great, your thing will get done. An example: if you're a bigwig executive, and you can ask your secretary to book a plane ticket. Your secretary knows your preferences, they know all the billing info, all you do is tell them where/when you want to go. Another example: scheduling dinner with some friends. Even if you accidentally say the wrong place or time, you can call your friends and say "oops, I meant this other day", and they'll probably either arrange other things in their schedule to make it, or else just not make it and it's fine.

Neutral problems: kind of like you vs. the machine. Example: doing the laundry. Kind of difficult sometimes (and takes a long time), and if you put it on the wrong settings it'll mess up your clothes but (at least supposedly) you have all the information you need.

Problems with adversaries: these seem simple but turn out to be difficult because you have to account for all the ways your adversary *could* thwart you. Example: selling tickets online. The core thing is simple, but you have to account for the fact that some people might wire up some bots to grab all the tickets in one second and then scalp them, so it gets difficult. Or, counting votes. Simple process! But you ideally want to set it up so that even if you have one corrupt vote counter, the whole election won't be stolen.

Software tends to have adversaries, which is why most "simple" apps tend to take forever to build. Same with everything legal.

Seeing complex situations through one point of view

It feels like we, as humans, are not capable of processing certain questions above a certain level of complexity. For example, "should you be allowed to carry a gun in public?"

Some people say, "well, imagine a bad guy, who gets a gun illegally anyway, and opens fire on a bunch of good people; if one of those good people had a gun, they could shoot him back and save lots of lives!"

Sure. But you're taking a laser view into a complex system. We don't know what happens to everyone else in the scene (or everyone outside the scene), how often the shooting-him-back works, or even how often this situation would happen at all.

Similarly, you see one person on welfare buying a steak, you figure they're all living the high life. So you propose a bunch of new laws to stop this exact case (with a bunch of collateral damage). It's like balancing on a tightrope, and you start to notice that your left side is a little too high, so you have someone hand you a 50-lb weight in your left hand.

Service Design is a neat new concept (or maybe old, I lose 10 designer-cred points because I wasn't into it before it was cool) from designers where they at least try to give you a structured way to look at all the people in these situations. Most of the benefit, I think, comes from writing them all down on paper and arranging them in a diagram. At least you have to think about them all and consider more than one laser view in your response to a situation.

Eh, it's not perfect. But showing me a diagram would at least convince me more than your one-laser-view argument.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Pebble Scrabble Watch Faces

Three Letter Words

Two Letter Words
These were what I really wanted to do when I made Pokemon Watch. (I mean, besides have cute pokemons on my wrist.) Now I have words on my wrist, flashing by one a minute, so I can eventually pull out something sweet like "dap" or "uts" and dazzle all my opponents. Or, compete competently with Real Scrabble People.

Pain points:
- finding the damn list of 3 letter words.
- editing the dictionary so it's small and concise, so definitions (mostly) fit.
- dealing with only having 24kb of memory. I mean, I can't even load the whole dictionary into memory! I have to break it up into 4 separate chunks! This took me hours! Because:
- C is Hard. what do you mean, "split on whitespace" isn't implemented? really?! where did that segfault happen? do I have to get out my log statements again? and to top it all off,
- debugging is slow. Like 1-2 minutes edit-test-debug. Sometimes longer if my phone and watch and internet weren't cooperating. and we're ETDing dozens of times because all I know is "something broke." UGH BLAH.

Oh yeah, code's on Github. (three letters) (two letters)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Some thoughts about ISIS and war

Hey. Okay. If you want to get angrier, read this: 7 Reasons America Is Stuck in Never-Ending War. It's on Mother Jones, so those of you who prefer Fox News can brush it off as some wacko liberal, I suppose. If you're still here, here are some facts I would like to pull out of it:
1. we are apparently always at war.
2. war's really horrifying but you and I never even experience it, except in movies, so we can sort of tolerate it.
3. "Support Our Troops" is a really clever move by hawks. I won't argue that each individual soldier is a bad person; they're probably great. I mean, the soldiers I know are totally solid dudes. (I don't know any female soldiers.) So if I condemn war, I have to pull this awkward dodge like "yeah but I support our troops." It's like the part-for-the-whole fallacy or something; if I say "I oppose this war", then the response is "ok, so which soldier is the bad one?" Maybe none of them! The system can lead to unfortunate outcomes even if every part is doing the right thing. (the software engineers among you will agree on how true this is."
4. privatization of war (like privatization of prisons) really messes up incentives. Now we have a bunch of people who are going to actively campaign for more war, because it makes them more money.

Fox News readers, you can tune back in now! This feels at least relatively non-partisan to me:
A Thrive/Survive Theory of the Political Spectrum
So if you agree with this, then the conservative/hawk POV is that "we are really on the edge of extinction and we gotta fight back hard." Zombie apocalypse. The liberal/dove POV is "everything is wonderful, no problems." Utopia. Neither is true, but if you take the hawk POV, war seems to make a lot more sense.

Anyway, read this: What ISIS Really Wants
Super interesting! ISIS is not like "the next Al-Qaeda"; ISIS is a full on cult. This makes it appealing to some (giving people a purpose really draws them in) but

The conclusion I draw from these articles is this: ISIS is a terrible cult, but like most cults, they'll eventually self-destruct. (Also, if we were to attack them now, we could really make things worse.) So can we try chilling out the warring a little bit?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How To Buy A Bike If You Don't Usually Buy Bikes

Been thinking about this and figured it'd be worth writing up. In this guide I assume:
- you want to buy a bike to get around town, a couple miles at a time, nothing big
- you maybe don't have a bike now, or just have something now that you don't really like for whatever reason
- you don't know from bikes
- you're not currently interested in learning how to repair stuff
- maybe you're a little intimidated by bike shops, maybe not

1. Look at your budget. This may fall into ~4 categories:
- nothing or like $50: find your local build-a-bike workshop (Free Ride in Pittsburgh, Bike Kitchen in SF maybe) and learn to put a bike together or repair one. It'll likely be kind of a junker, but you'll learn a lot and it might be fun. Or else scour craigslist, buy whatever you can get, ride it, pitch it when it falls apart. (this is obviously not ideal, but maybe this is where you are. you can still ride a bike! don't listen to judgey assholes.)

- $200 or $300: you can get something decent and used. Scour Craigslist for a bike that even kind of fits you. A hybrid or commuter bike is ideal, as it will be both sorta-fast and sorta-comfortable, but you can't be too picky. Or, if you have a shop nearby that sells used bikes, check it out. Thick Bikes in Pittsburgh is good I hear. Or Bicycle Heaven. Do not buy a bike from Walmart or Target or Dick's; every part on those is terrible and it will probably fall apart faster than a used bike.

Above this range, look at the money you have available, and then subtract at least $150 because you need to buy extras (explained more later).

- $500: this is when it starts getting good, as you're in the new-bike range. Go to a local bike shop (again, not Walmart or Target or Dick's; REI is ok but an actual local bike shop is better, I'll explain why). Check the few shops near you, and ideally look for somewhere that specializes in people like you, that is, people who just want to ride around town (Iron City Bikes is my favorite here, or Pedal Revolution or Valencia Cycles in SF). If it's full of super-fancy pro bikes, that's not awesome, but may still work (Top Gear is my example here. But they're friendly and I like them too; they're just a little higher-end). If the people are friendly, that's good too. Ask them for a hybrid bike. Buy the cheapest one that you like.

- $1000: now you can consider fancier stuff. Same strategy as the $500 tier but you can just consider more bikes. Up until the $1000 level, whatever upgrades you pay for are probably worth it.

- above that: don't spend that much on your first bike. Buy a $400 hybrid or an $800 cross, make sure it's worth it to you, and then upgrade from there.

2. What kind of bike? I present to you, the Dan Tasse Bike Scale:

(click for bigger)

Probably a "fitness hybrid" (middle of this scale). Not super heavy, but not uncomfortable. Good range of gears for going up and down hill. Pretty cheap. For the second bike, you can decide if you want something lighter (then go up to a #1 or #2) or cushier (go to a #4 or #5) but start with a #3, Fitness Hybrid. Some examples are Trek 7.2, Specialized Sirrus, Norco Indie 4, Kona Dew; other good brands include Cannondale, Giant, Jamis... basically, whatever your bike store has is probably good. (incidentally, here's a good article about buying hybrid bikes.)

If you're a little more fit or want something that you can occasionally take for long rides, go up to a cyclocross or touring bike. (this will also cost a few hundred extra dollars, but you'll get better stuff; there's just not much available for $400-500 in cross bikes.) If you are a little unsure about biking, don't have to carry your bike up stairs, and live in a flat place, you might try a comfort hybrid. Or a "city" or "Dutch" bike - the kind you'd see in Amsterdam or Copenhagen. These are more comfortable, you sit upright almost like a chair. Downside is that they're heavy, which sucks if you need to carry them ever or go uphill a lot. Plus, the "comfort hybrids" are ugly. (city/dutch bikes, OTOH, tend to look cool.)

Get one that fits you. Try it out. Ask the bike shop worker if it fits you. Trust them.

3. This is a good time to talk about dealing with your local bike shop.
Why even buy from them? Why not just get a cheap one at walmart or online? A few reasons, and that article I linked to above deals with them well.
- You want to make sure your bike is good quality (walmart's will not be)
- You want to be sure it's safe every time you leave the place (and if you assemble it yourself for the first time, it likely will not be)
- You'll need repairs and maintenance every few months, so it's good to start building a relationship.

And because there are people recommending stuff you don't know much about, there are two ways you can go about this: always trusting them, or never trusting them. The one you should pick is "always trust them." Bike repair is not a lucrative career; they're not in it for the money. 99% of them (at a local bike shop) are in it because they like bikes. They are not trying to screw you. If they recommend something, it's probably worth it.

4. Buy extra stuff too.
- standing pump ($40-60)
- helmet ($40-60) - the cheapest one is fine; make sure it fits
- chain lube ($10) - just ask
- front (white) and rear (red) lights (probably $30 total; get the cheapest set that uses AA or AAA batteries because they're easier to replace. don't splurge, because someone will steal them.)
- lock: $30-60 - just make sure it's a U-lock. Cable locks are easier to cut. If your bike is $500, you probably don't need to go real heavy duty (esp if you don't live in NY or SF) but it's up to you. I find it convenient to store this in the lock bracket that comes with the lock; if you ask the bike shop folks, they'll probably attach this for free, it's pretty simple.

Really really recommended:
- fenders + installation ($40?) this is only not necessary if you only ride when it's dry, or live in a very dry place. They are so worth it, both for your clothes and for the bike's maintenance (grime spraying all over your bike is not great). Let the bike shop folks install them; they're a pain.

5. Maintain it.
Pump it up about once a week.
Lube the chain about once every couple weeks. (ask the bike shop worker if you are not sure how.)
When you feel the brakes getting less powerful, and you've already tweaked the barrel adjusters by your brake levers, or approx every 4 months of constant riding, bring it in to the bike shop for a brake pad replacement (probably $30). And then ask them too if anything else looks like it's worth fixing; wheel truing is common (esp if you hit a lot of potholes) but probably just do whatever else they recommend too.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Stop tying people's self-worth to achievement, particularly intellectual

Okay, goddamn, the thing that I was trying to say before in point 9 two posts ago is way better described by Scott Alexander here. (albeit in many more words)

He must be a really exceptionally hardworking writer. :P

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Pokemon Watch

File this under "fun class/side projects." A watch that shows one Pokemon per minute instead of a numerical minute. (no hour hand.)

Memory Palaces are a great way to remember a list of things. Take the rooms in your house, associate each one with an item, and then “walk through” your house to remember all the items. But I only have ~5 rooms, and that’s being generous – what if I want to remember, say, 60 things? It’d be great to have a go-to list of 60 things that I could just pull up whenever and use them as loci for whatever list.

Enter Pokemon. These little critters (there are over 750 now) are unique, distinctive, named, and numbered. Learning the first 60 would give me a pretty universal memory-palace list. Furthermore, they’re chunked into groups of 2-3 (Bulbasaur evolves into Ivysaur evolves into Venusaur), and I still remember some characteristics of them from the Pokemon video game when I was a kid, making for even easier learning. And they’re cute.

download 2:17pm, or 2:Pidgeotto, if you will.
download (1) 2:19 is now 2:Rattata.
More info on some hacking around to fit 60 144x144 images in the watch here. Code’s here. Images are from, for example Code includes uPNG port from Matthew Hungerford:, which is itself derived from LodePNG version 20100808, by Lode Vandevenne and Sean Middleditch.

Monday, January 19, 2015

links dump

I know nobody else reads posts like these but I kind of want to save them/mentally catalogue all these links I've been saving:


1. The Forgotten History of How Automakers Invented "Jaywalking" - this is fascinating, surprising, and frustrating.

Current Things

2. Ok, first things first, Vote More on net neutrality. (by "vote more" I mean "yeah you can only vote once, but email your congressperson to make your voice heard more, and call them for even more.")

3. Also about cities: the world's not urbanizing, it's suburbanizing. This is the sort of thing that galvanizes me towards some kind of life mission: use BIG DATA to make these emerging megacities more like cities, less like megasuburbs (with all their flaws), and just generally overall not terrible.

4. On Charlie Hebdo: the murders were an atrocity; as the magazine does satire, it walks the line of good taste and occasionally crosses over, but was not a racist piece of trash and we should not jump on it as one; we should be allowed to draw pictures of Mohammed, we should avoid doing so because we're nice people but if we do it should not cause a bigger stink than if someone graffitis "Jesus sucks" or "the Dharma is a bunch of poo" on the side of a 7-11; most terrorists are not Muslims, but the ones who are doing so are really strategic and doing a good job of "sharpening the contradictions", and as a result the French should do what the Norwegians did after Breivik: nothing. Mourn the dead and don't overreact. (don't remember the name Breivik? He was that guy who shot ~80 kids on an island a couple years ago. that's right, not a celebrity.)

5. I support voluntary euthanasia/assisted suicide. (what's the best term for this?) Slate Star Codex is a rare blog that I stumbled on that is not particularly about anything, but I think it's really smart, wise, and worth reading it anyway. Here's his article about voluntary euthanasia/assisted suicide.

6. Where should we spend money to Help The World The Most? I always point to Givewell, and yeah, their approach seems pretty good. Another answer I'd accept: fix the US government. One way we can help fix the government is to fix the lobbying system. The wiseguys at Cards Against Humanity sent a bunch of money to try to do that. (and some jokes at politicians' expense; for the record, these clowns are 11/14 Republican, and I hate that we have to pick Republican or Democrat only but stuff like this is why Democrats are usually the lesser of two evils. okay okay some of these are just one-liners of dumb things they said, but some are indicative of deeper issues.)

7. Taxes: wait, we might actually raise taxes on the 1%? This sounds like a great idea. Also, Elizabeth Warren running for president does too.

8. A metapoint about all current events is offered by this great Cowbirds in Love comic. News (including internet news, maybe especially internet) throws us through this tumbler (NPI) of ignorance-rage-ignorance again.

Personal Life

9. Doing a startup, even if it's the successful "work 80 hour weeks but get rich in 5 years" kind, might leave you kind of emotionally and developmentally stunted. Similarly, grad school. So doing grad school as the not-80-hour-weeks way feels like the least likely to make me Einstein/Larry-and-Sergey but more likely to have a better life.

But here's the thing! It's not like I can choose work 80 hours and be Einstein or work 40 hours and be a boring but happy guy. Being Einstein probably happens if you find your niche, enjoy it, get awesome at it, and get lucky too. So don't worry that you're "choosing not to be Einstein." Do you, and hope for the best. At least that's the life philosophy I'm following now.