Thursday, June 30, 2016

China update, one day in

China update, one day in:
Internet wise, I can still access this site sometimes. Project Fi is miraculously working a bit; sometimes I get edge (remember that? The thing before 3g) but I stumbled into an internet games cafe ("I would like some coffee." "uhh, we don't have coffee." "your sign literally says 'coffee loft.'") and am getting LTE now, hence the update. WiFi should work sometimes but I'm 0 for 2 so far. (sometimes the signal is bad so I can't get WiFi + VPN to be fast enough to load anything.)
Language skills should work, but sometimes they don't. I'm pretty sure I was repeating, "I would like this" while pointing to someone's food, and that still did not quite work. Still, relatively successful with hotel and taxi so far :P
We are killing time in Kunming before heading to Lijiang, tiger leaping gorge, and Shangri-la, in that order. Just so's you know.

It feels useful to remember how helpless you are when you don't speak a language in a place! And yet, being a white English speaker is still easy mode.

Anyway, if you want to communicate quickly, hit me up on Wechat (dantasse)!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Wedding tips I can think of right now

OK, this weekend was totally the best, but it started out about a year ago with a giant "wtf do we do" so in case you find yourself in a similar situation, here are a few thoughts I can brain dump.

It may seem like a lot of little choices that make up your budget. But it's not; it's really a few big choices:

1. Where is it? The bigger/more expensive the city, the more expensive the wedding. I recommend Pittsburgh.

2. Is it small (<40 ppl), medium (110 ppl), or huge (200+)? I don't see a ton of weddings in between those sizes, though I don't know why not. I think small or medium is the easiest to find a venue for.

3. Is it on a summer Saturday? No, stop, don't do that. Everyone wants a summer Saturday. Especially if you don't want to book a year in advance, pick a different day. (But don't worry if you really want a summer Saturday; we did it and it was OK.)

4. What's the venue + catering + booze cost? The Mattress Factory was expensive, but not actually, once we factored in that we could bring our own caterer and bartenders. As a counter example, Phipps Conservatory seems kinda reasonable at $3000, but you then have to use their caterer, who is at least $90/person. Calculate this all together.

5. Are you gonna DIY hardcore? We are both super job busy and across the country, so our answer was clearly "no" - our MO across the board was to hire good people and let them do their thing. But if you want to save a lot of money, I think the answer is to do a lot yourself or hire volunteer friends. Note: this is way more difficult; it probably helps if at least one of you is unemployed or part time or something. The amount of work feels like the order of magnitude of putting on a college theater play or two.

Small or medium sized choices you can make once you've figured out the big ones above:
1. How much photography? We went for "a lot" and had 2 photographers and 2 videographers. This was, all in all, a big expense. People say it's worth it though.

2. There are not many! Once you make the big choices, the small choices will kind of be locked in, and you're talking hundreds of dollars more or less that you can spend, not thousands.

Things we did that I was proud of:
1. Indian food catering. Tamarind was awesome, everyone loved it, and it was $25/person for the food, or $45 including full service catering and tablecloths and silverware etc. For a medium sized wedding, catering can definitely be your single biggest expense.
Doesn't have to be Indian if you don't like Indian - you can do Mexican or Thai or whatever you like that is served in big portions. (so also like Japanese would be bad I bet.) Just get outside the expensive-and-blah "American food."

2. After party. Find a bar you like that isn't super crowded or has a back room, and rent it out. If your budget is blown, they'll often give you a minimum instead of a fee, and then your guests can pay for their drinks at this part and it's basically free to you. This was such a great decision - instead of going to bed at 11, we got to stay up till 2 - like multiplied the length of our wedding by 1.5.

3. Hire great people. Everyone was top notch 100% awesome. I don't know how you do this really besides meet with them, screen them, get lucky, and also be willing to pay for it. Our photographer and we just clicked; we knew as soon as we met them that they were on the ball, super skilled, matched our energy, within our budget, and we just booked them right there. The DJ, I went to his weekly gig, and though it was a college bar and therefore a little different atmosphere than we wanted, I felt like he was good at reading the crowd. Our bartender Matt is a friend who I know has bartended professionally and we've talked about drinks, so I knew he'd be great at coming up with fun cocktails and good ideas for beers/wines, and at serving them up. Plus Amanda and the Mattress Factory crew - I mean, the space is awesome, I got a good vibe from meeting with them, and they have a million great reviews on Yelp etc. We had a pro do most of our flowers, but my mom made centerpieces because she'd done that a bit before and knew how to make them simple, cheap, but elegant. Our friend Killian, a professional artist/tattooist, was super happy to make us a drawing for our programs. And our officiant John is a friend and a professional chaplain, so I knew he'd be great too. See a theme here? Friends/family + pros. If they're one or the other, that's fine (and err towards "pro" as much as you can afford), but if you can find someone who's a friend (or feels like one) and also a pro or otherwise experienced, that is a great thing and you'll be fine.

4. Trust your great people! Once you go in with someone, don't micromanage them. They've done this way more than you and have probably thought of everything you've thought of. Feel free to ask them stuff, but try not to worry. (this is more for your sanity; your people will do great, don't worry about it.)

5. Have it at a place you like. I think we lucked out with the Mattress Factory, but I mean, if you like nature, have it at the Aviary or zoo. If you like history, have it at the history museum. If you like baseball, there was this baseball ish venue we saw. Do you. Plus, then it's more fun for other people.

6. Oh oh oh, honeymoon registry. I mean, if you want a bunch of household stuff, go ahead, register at Bed Bath and Beyond etc. But if you are like us, getting married at 30+ so you have some dishes already, and have a small apartment anyway, do this do this do this. You will not ever use those fancy kitchen gadgets. But you can instead use people's gift-giving instincts to pay for a killer once-in-a-lifetime wedding.

If you are planning a wedding, feel free to ask me stuff! I can share more exact money numbers too, I just feel a little self conscious posting them online. I will say that when we googled for wedding price estimates, they were actually pretty accurate (for our medium, summer-Saturday, Pittsburgh, independent-caterer-and-bar wedding). We might have beat them by a little.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Man, what a friggin amazing weekend.

There is nothing like having 100 of your family and friends come in from out of town and throwing the biggest best party you can think of. It's a whirlwind for sure, the kind of thing you wish you could make last forever. Uh. Man. I want to thank so many people, and I will do so more privately also, but for the record, the following people have been extra special amazing:
John Figdor for a wonderful ceremony - and all the work that goes into it, and guiding us through putting it together
Heather Kresge and co-photographer Robert were so on the ball, thoughtful, artistic, and calm the whole time; seriously, hire her if you need photos ever
(Alexa and Wes the videographers were great too!)
Alex Homer for totally great DJing - the kind of skilled DJ whose timing is always perfect, and who can work in a whole list of stuff we like but also know that, yeah, everyone actually *does* want to hear Don't Stop Believing
Amanda and the rest of the Mattress Factory crew for running the show at the super coolest venue I can imagine
Krishna and the folks at Tamarind for delicious Indian catering - way better (and cheaper too) than standard ol' American catering (and Jen and volunteers at for saving leftovers even, maybe!)
Matt and Charlie Wein for helping us come up with a bar menu we loved, buying a ton of drinks, and serving them up to a hundred thirsty partygoers
Cheryl, Natasha, Ivana, and Miya for being a great Bridal Party and being game for doing readings kinda on the spot
Daniel and Killian for being the Best Man and Best Woman, seriously, waiting on us hand and foot, knowing exactly what we needed all the time, and helping everything go smoothly

All of you for being my loving family and friends! Ok going to go Like everything on Facebook now, be back in a couple hours.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

This is what I wanted to say about Trump

Not surprisingly, Scott Aaronson says it better than me.

"Against those considerations, I recently realized that there’s an argument for speaking out, which goes as follows.  Suppose Trump actually wins (as of this writing, Predictwise still gives him a frighteningly-high 27% probability).  Suppose my family somehow survives whatever comes next, and one day my daughter Lily comes to me across the rubble of the post-thermonuclear hellscape and says, “daddy, in the Good Days, the days before the War of the Small-Hands Insult, the days when there was plentiful food and water and Internet, didn’t you have what used to be called a ‘blog’?  Then why didn’t you speak out on this blog, why didn’t you do whatever tiny amount you could to prevent this?”  So, alright, this post is my answer to her."

My answer to my future daughter is this: in the goal of not adding more noise, I won't write my own long thing; instead, I refer my (four) blog readers to Aaronson's post. It's so good - all of it, about why Trump is totally unqualified, why he's possibly Hitler but more likely "only" Putin or Pinochet and that's still not ok, why social media vindictiveness and life-destroying is counterproductive, why we need to understand why people are voting Trump instead of assuming they're just racist imbeciles, and about how we should probably do something to stop him but it's really unclear what will work. (I'm surprised the Black Mirror episode "The Waldo Moment" hasn't been referenced more often.)

Monday, June 06, 2016

Why economic revolutionaryism now?

Man, basically this. (I used to read Tim Bray for some Android things or something, but he's one of the few I've kept around for being just pretty interesting at blogging kinda in the way that I want to be?)

I guess why I was psyched about Bernie despite it no longer being cool was this: an economy that looks hopeless and broken forever, for a lot of (most?) people.

Like, my future looks bright in the short term. I'm one of the people that mainstream Democrat party cares about, I've got a 401k, I've got steady housing and employment and food and I'm unlikely to get all revolutionary, I'm demographically likely to support rather safe progressive values (e.g. LGBT equality)... but look, we need the unsafe progressive values, the ones that Buddha (our salvation is all bound up in each other) and Jesus ("whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me") and Gandhi/Dostoevsky/Churchill/Whoever ("you can judge a society based on how it treats the least of its people"). A functioning society that only works for me and my 401k doesn't work. But this is obvious; go back and read that Tim Bray post and the ones he quotes like the Unnecessariat post.

Especially the one about how moral appeals don't work for some issues. Which is why am I focusing more on the chunk of the world that's our economy than some of the other pressing issues. It seems likely that enough people are going to get angry enough that they're going to overturn the NC bathroom law; it seems less likely that we're going to get so straightforwardly angry about the economy. I mean, the series of small cuts that's giving us the ongoing long-burning economic crisis (and heroin and suicide crises) is leading some of those people whose lives have been hosed to... Trumpism? That seems like some people are taking advantage of the complication of all these issues.

Maybe global warming or malaria are still bigger issues. Ok. There's also the argument that, if you take the (maybe?) most powerful country in the world and let it eat itself with bad economics, you're not going to solve global warming or malaria. But I'd believe that we should focus on global warming or malaria too.