Dec 31, 2014

A real exit interview

So, you've had a good run here. We're sorry to see you go. I've got just a few things to cover before we're done.

First, did you get my email about where to leave your things? Ok great. You don't have to leave your shoes, those will be hard to find a new owner for. Undies and socks go in the trash.

Now, how many of your coworkers know you're leaving? All of them? Good good.

Where did you put the flower pot? George has been following the treasure map you tried to throw away two weeks ago, but he hasn't been able to locate it.

Do you have a forwarding address for us to send the data we've been collecting on you? I think you'll take particular interest in the germ count on your tea mugs.

Are there any unresolved office romances that we need to clean up? Jenny and the cleaning crew are going to do a sweep next Monday. I'll add yours to the list.

Is there anything that you'd like to confess?

No?

Are you sure?

Well then, that about wraps it up. It's been a real pleasure. Best of luck in your future endeavors!

Dec 29, 2014

Tips for Myself, version 2010

Don't use a big knife where a small one will do.

Buy delightful, colorful, impractical, mundane things. Its literally investing in a brighter future.

Toothpaste makes a great souvenir. Ditto for deodorant. When you run out, you know it's time for the next trip.

Dec 28, 2014

Sam

I loved his bed more than him. It was a luxurious bed, musky smelling. The mattress sagged. The sheets were often knotted in hot, sweaty lumps. He had propped it up on risers, such that you were above the chaos that existed outside its sheeted edges.

The room itself, like the rest of the old clapboard house, was dusty, inhospitable. The ancient floorboards creaked when anyone in the whole two story affair headed to the toilet, which with four roommates, was often. The ceiling rattled when someone climbed the stairs.

The floor was often strewn with clothes. There wasn't much of one - a dilapidated corner sofa occupied much of the open space. In the corner was a clapboard white, now more grayish with grime, door  that led directly to his roommates' equally dusty, darker room. It was, as far as I could tell, never used.

He had a small desk in the corner, where I'd watch him play internet poker well into the afternoon, luxuriating beneath the covers as the sun snuck its way through the cracks in the dusty blackout curtains and across the body hiding there - me. He teased me for being lazy, but didn't seem to mind my woozy hungover presence.

I always wondered who else he had in that bed, if anyone. Who else it belonged to when I was not there, to fill a small corner of it. Time sharing, my love.

There wasn't much outside that bed. We talked sometimes, but of what I don't know. We went out for dinner once, at a fancy Italian place south of town. At parties, he smoked cigarettes, sometimes, when he drank. His kisses were heady, smoky then, wet and rich as my own drunken haze.  

Even now, I'm not sure how or why really, but without fail, every Friday for one long, sunny spring semester I would find my way back into that lovely, lonely bed.

Dec 27, 2014

Dear Abby, Fuck Endorphins

Dear Abby,

I need to preface this letter with a disclaimer.  I'm planning to complain about something that I feel guilty about complaining about.  I find it kind of fascinating though, so I'm going to ignore that guilt and write you about it anyways, mostly because it's become a serious problem in an otherwise great current state of being.

I ran the New York City marathon about 2 months ago.  I finished.  My time was solid, respectable, but nowhere near Boston quality marathon time.  The race was all kinds of terrible and I'm pretty proud of finishing it.

From August until race date (Nov 2nd) I invested an enormous amount of time and effort into training.  In three months, I logged over 238 miles, or about 40 hours of running[1][2].

All that investment paid off, and has continued to pay off.  I'm in great shape.  My recovery time from the marathon was about 4 days.

To put this into perspective, I ran my first marathon in Toronto in October 2012, a little over two years ago now.  After the Toronto marathon, I was totally broken.  My legs ached for days.   Two weeks passed before I wanted to run again.  I eventually ended up in acupuncture to help with a debilitatingly tight tendon in my left heel[3].  It took about a month and a half of semi-weekly sessions to fix the tendon.  I went through this then, but the injury and lasting physical exhaustion made it less noticeable.

So what's the problem?  I have no plans of running another marathon in the immediate future, but I'm still in great shape.  The maintenance on this great shape has gotten expensive, but I can't quit.  I'm addicted to the endorphins.

The great shape part is great, if you're using it.  If I spend a few days without a jog, my legs start aching from the lack of exercise.  I've got too much energy.  When I do go for a run, the miles I put in are never enough.  The endorphin rush that used to kick in after a quick 3 miles now takes at least an hour.  As a result, my attitude and overall well-being depends on logging bigger numbers of miles.

Running is great, but it's a huge time suck.  I don't want to be spending hours on the pavement in the middle of winter.  Is there some magic pill that I can take that would dial my endorphin dependence[4] down from "Marathon level" to "Half-Marathon level"?  I'm interested.  I may be talked into taking the "5K level" pill if you're selling one.

- Frustratedly Antsy


[1] This math works out -- that's just under 6 miles per hour.

[2]  Using the maths further, 40 hours divided by 12 weeks is about 3.33 hours per week.  This isn't exactly right, as with tapering up and down, some weeks were definitely busier than others.  Even so, in retrospect, this doesn't seem like *such* a huge time investment.

[3] I'm not sure why I eschewed normal physical therapy and jumped straight to eastern medicine.  Living right next door to Chinatown at the time may have been an influence.  Whatever the reason, it worked out for the best.  My foot was back to normal in about 6 weeks, and I've never had a relapse.  Also a plus, there were zero 'homework' stretches or exercises associated with treatment.  All the 'work' took place in the clinic.  They also took my insurance; I didn't pay anything more than a co-pay.  #winning

[4] I went on a 'short run' today.  It'd been 3-4 days since my last jog and the jitters were reaching a fever pitch.  I ran on a route that I'm really familiar with but had never done before (linking up old and new hoods), and at what felt like a leisurely pace.  I didn't bring a watch or a phone, so I had no idea how much time I was running for. Based on intuition, it felt like a 6-7 mile run.  When I mapped it out, the truth was almost double, closer to 11.5mi.[4a]

[4a] I'm still jittery.

new new new new new

The new year bears down with a slow creeping insistence.  It moves closer, one day at a time, the same pace as always, but closer such that you can feel the wind from the void of 2015 just beyond the bend.

I met a talented woodworker in Nashville but a few weeks ago, and in the way that full hearted artistry does, I've been inspired. Everyday there's a new photo in my Instagram feed of a spoon he carved that day. We're but 5 spoons from the end of his project. I wonder if the time passes the same for him now as it did in the first five. (How much of mastery is of yourself, not your craft?)

I've been thinking about year long projects for a while now. What would I dedicate a year to studying? Julia Childs dedicated six months to learning French cooking (which became a lifetime). A Nashville carver made spoons. An artist and dear colleague at Etsy drew cats.

It's not a resolution. It's a project. I've had much success in the past by throwing myself into new things. The 5 day a week veganism. Portuguese. 750 words of writing a day, for a month (I made it 40 days straight before quitting, cold turkey one hungover morning in July.) Taking singing lessons.

But what to dedicate myself to? There are many things that I'm interested in getting better at, or exploring more deeply. Picking just one and sticking to it for a year is daunting.

Commitment is a hard problem.

I've already narrowed the list of options a bit. I'd like it to be an output project, such that by the end of the day I have something that didn't exist at the beginning of that day. That leaves out any "consumption" projects - read an article a day, listen to a lesson in French a day,  eat an apple a day... et cetera.

It also needs to be tractable. Something that no matter where I find myself in 2015, I can do this thing. Nothing that requires an inordinate amount of equipment or tools. If need be, Id be willing to take a break during a trip (backpacking, rafting). It needs to be doable within the time frame of a single day. Repeatable, but with room for improvisation.

Current ideas include:
- sew a pocket a day
- bread making
- short story writing
- a photo of the sunrise or sunset
- a problem from SICP
- a new knitting stitch
- ???

Dec 26, 2014

Feedback loops

A few years ago, more or less with the prodding of my mother and paleo sister, I made some life style changes.

I stopped eating most forms of sugarcane. And I stopped using aluminum based* deodorant.

These are hard things to do. Assuming that you're stopping from a normal American lifestyle, chances are your system is used to being chock full of sugar, and ditto for aluminum under your arms.

There's a detox period. It's horrible. If you're giving up aluminum, something in your body overcompensates for the sudden lack of the metal. The result is a terrible personal stench. It goes away after a few weeks as the microbe ecosystem that is your sweat glands recalibrates itself. But the in the meantime, you're standing 10 feet away from everyone and avoiding all stressful situations. I used to try to time this with spring break or winter holiday when I was in college. It took more than one try to drop it completely.

For sugar, it's also a few week adjustment period of insatiable cravings and irritability.

But! Once your over both of these and your body has recalibrated to be sugar cane / aluminum free, strange cool science shit happens. You can smell when you eat sugar!! My BO changes, not in a good or bad way, it just smells a bit sweeter the day after having a slice of cake. Same goes with veganism and meat. My diet makes me smell different. I find this amazingly cool.

The smell changes, to me, are a bigger indication of the impact diet has on your body composition. What I eat matters for more than how I feel, or how much the scale says I weigh**. It also matters for the dude sitting next to me on the bus.

What a sweet feedback loop!

*Aluminum is an antiperspirant. You can buy deodorant that doesn't contain aluminum.
**Weighing yourself is a sloppy proxy measuring health.

Dec 22, 2014

"Jesus Christ It's Cold Outside, Is That a Savoy Cabbage? How Hard Could Soup Be?" soup recipe

I made this for the first time a few days ago; it's delicious.  It lasted me for three days, and tasted as good on the third day as it did on the first.  It'd work well for a hearty starter or as the main attraction.

Ingredients:
- 1 head of savoy cabbage
- 2 Idaho Potatoes
- 1 bunch of green onions
- 8 cloves of garlic
- Heaps of freshly ground black pepper (~2 tbs?)
- 1 1/2 tbs flakey sea salt (+/- a bit to taste)
- 2 tbs Olive Oil
- ~2L water*

Directions:
In a large pot, add the water and olive oil.  Bring to a boil.  Add the salt. 

While the water is boiling, remove the two outer leaves from the cabbage, and chop cabbage and potatoes into chunks, no bigger than an inch thick.  De-paper the garlic cloves, and chop up just the white parts of the green onions.  Leave the green tops for garnish later.

Once the water is boiling, add the cabbage, potatoes, green onion whites, and garlic cloves to the pot.  Pepper heavily.

Lower to a hair above a simmer, cover and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are mashable with a spoon on the side of a pot, checking in every 5-10 minutes.

Season to taste.  If it needs more salt, add it.  Note that using table salt will probably result in needing less of it than large flake sea salt.  Ditto for black pepper.

Chop and sprinkle on the green tops of the green onions.  Serve piping hot, with day-old french bread.

Serves 2 - 4


* I used a shallow pot called a rondeau to cook this in.  With the potatoes and cabbage, it about came up to the top of the pot.  That's how much water I put in.  I've since measured, it was about 2L of water.  I'm not sure if having everything that close together was a hindrance or a help to the soup, but it came out fucking delicious, so who cares.  A bigger pot's probably easier to stir.

Dec 21, 2014

A Bitchy Perspective on Audience and Sin

Some perspectives are hard to write from.  Take for example, that of being a beautiful woman with problems.  Let's say that you wanted to write about a problem that, in your experience, seems to stem from being a pretty female.

First, you commit the sin of calling yourself beautiful.  Not just pretty, but mind-blowingly beautiful.  This is a cardinal sin, one of the Seven.  It goes by the name vanity.  All of us have sinned, but usually in some empathy building way, like gluttony or sloth.  These are sins that we can all work on being better at, together.  Vanity is a consensus destroying sin -- it's the sin that we'd all be committing if we weren't all gluttonous and lazy.  Since we are all not able to be vain, the sin of vanity engenders the sin of envy.

What a terrible sin vanity is.

Second, you have enough self-confidence to see that others, particularly those with no stake in your personal well-being, see you as beautiful.  Most people can find at least one person who finds them beautiful, how do you know that you are not falling into a pit of lack of perspective?  In the process of discovering if you are suffering from impostor's syndrome, suddenly you find your physical attributes questioned, and in the process see your original self-confidence destroyed.  What a fugly bitch, the internet will say.  If you're so pretty, come on then, show us your tits, someone else will comment.  I've never seen a face that looks more like a horse, will be a common, and, if you're as beautiful as you say you are, erroneous response.  In science, they call erroneous test results such as these "true negatives".[1]

To summarize, if you come out as a beautiful woman writing about issues in your life, you may as well chalk up "having your self-identity questioned" as the next issue on the list of grievances to write about.

Third, you must commit the sin of complaining about a thing that others pay hideous amounts of money, submit themselves to torture and starvation in order to obtain.  This is not as cardinal of a Sin as Vanity, but it is whining.  Whining is a cardinal sin of the modern world[2].  To that audience that you're relying on to tell your story to, you've just revealed to them what a whining bitch they're spending their time reading the words of.

All this sin and self-questioning can detract from the story you're attempting to tell.

These problems in creating a relatable character or persona undermine your reason for writing about your problems in the first place.  These reasons normally fit into two categories: A) make yourself feel less bad about your problems by opening them up to a public forum, usually accomplished through B) engendering a modicum of either sympathy or empathy from you readers.  Connecting with an audience that probably cannot relate (are they a beautiful woman? If not, what are the chances that they've encountered the problems that you're ascribing to this position?  If they are A) not a beautiful woman and B) have encountered the problems that you're experiencing, then god what an asshole you are for even assuming that only beautiful woman have that problem in the first place).

All of those sins committed, and for what?  The lost goodwill of a once eager, but now disinterested and slightly disgusted audience.


[1] A "true negative" is the inverse of a "false positive".
[2] See #firstworldproblems.

Dec 17, 2014

Superego

And don’t let that superego eat you, he said.

Once about a year ago, I woke up and she stayed sleeping.  That day was the best day I’ve ever had.  She stayed asleep for a week.  That week changed my life.

Whatever the price, I would pay it if it would put her to sleep forever.


Sometimes I worry that I drunkenly made that deal, and every day since that one has been payment.

Dec 11, 2014

Hungover

Somehow it doesn't make sense. A bunch of assholes with a grudge hijack a few planes and terrorize Manhattan and in response we build a culture of fear and loathing. Ten years and change later and we're going to war with ourselves. A bunch of fat, mostly white dudes killing black men and throwing pepper spray at privileged Twittererz.

Dec 9, 2014

Wind of Fortune

She placates herself with mulled wine and well phrased quips that she posts to the micro-forum.  They're well received, by and large.

I'm not sure what she told you about herself but I'm here to set the record straight. She was right about karma.

You know, all too well perhaps, of her paranoia with fortunes. Every time a good thing would happen she'd be walking around with her head down, just waiting for the next thing to drop.

It never really quite worked out that balanced but she couldnt help but worry, all the same, about the misery her own luck was bringing down about the heads of others. Raining it down like hail in the Sierras in the late summer, angry and relentless in its fury.

Like the time she got that promotion at work and then the tsunami struck the East coast of Japan, knocking out a nuclear power plant.

Or when the boy she liked made a reply to one of her oblique posts on the 'forums. Her sister's cats escaped. They were found a few hours later when they returned home for supper. Their fleas wouldn't be discovered for a few days. It took two weeks to rid the house of them.

In the same way, she took a grotesque pleasure in her own misfortunes. She was happy for a week when her driver's license application was denied on the basis of lack of proof of residency. 
Her laughs could be heard echoing throughout her apartment complex when Jake, her new beau, called to break it off.

I asked her once, about her lighthearted approach to misfortune. She replied, at least someone else is making profit from this, my madness of a life.

Nov 2, 2014

Retrospective: TCS New York City Marathon 2014

 I just finished my first New York City marathon!  Unoffical time: 4:15:29.  A bit above my goal of 4:00 hours, but not too far off my PR from Toronto 2012 of 4:09.

Training plan:
Run a lot. Concentrate on doing lots of 13-14 mile runs and just getting the mileage in. No scheduled speed work or tapering.  I also stopped eating cane sugar in August, as an attempt to make training a bit easier.

Running gear:
Shoes: Feelmax Osamas, no socks.
Top: Long sleeve black thermal shirt layered over Etsy running club shirt.
Bottom: Cotton, unpadded bike shorts under bright green shorts.
Hands: Black, cotton gloves.
Head: nothing originally. I grabbed a discarded Dunkin Donut's fleece hat (they were handing them out at the start village, but I didn't manage to figure out where) right out of the gate, before we headed into the wind tunnel of a Verrazano bridge, and ditched it on the other side.
Outer wear (to be tossed): Sweatshirt (no hood) and some thin fleece pants.

The Start:
This was by far the worst part of the whole marathon experience.  I woke up at 5:30am with my alarm, and biked the two miles from my apartment to the Staten Island Ferry.  My bib had me scheduled to be on the 7:00am ferry, but since I was early, I went ahead and got on the 6:45am one.  I don't think this was a huge deal - arriving later may have saved me some time in the cold, but not a whole lot. The ride over to Staten Island was pretty pleasant, the bus ride from the ferry terminal to the start fairgrounds was not - it took a long time and I was standing up.

Our marathon advisor at work (he's run a zillion, and is more or less responsible for sending out announcements about us to the rest of the company) suggested dressing warmly for the start village. I didn't have time to make a run to the thrift stores for extra warm tossables, so I decided to ditch some much beloved, old sweats instead.  I made a huge mistake in not bringing a hood and/or a hat and socks.  The wind at the start village was freezing, and to make it worse, there was little shelter in my start village.  The wait was also interminable.

I arrived off the bus around 8:00am, I didn't start until 10:05am.  This is considerably later than my usual run time of 8 am.  I ended up just sitting on the ground, shivering while slowly eating the bananas and cheese blocks breakfast, while trying to warm up my feet. Some nice German guy literally saved my ass by letting me have his tarp-blanket, so I wasn't sitting on cold asphalt.  I probably should have looked for a place more out of the wind, but was too cold to move.

Around 9:15am, I gave up on my feet, checked in my bag (and the warm clothes that I didn't want to toss), wrapped myself in my tarp-blanket, and went to go wait in the corral.  There was about a 20 minute wait before we started moving up toward the starting line.  I ditched the tarp blanket then.

My feet are really sensitive to cold.  At the slightest suggestion chill, they proactively shut down and turn themselves into white, bloodless blocks of icy flesh.  When this happens, most sensation in them is lost.  Unbeknownst to me, they had been in the process of shutting down while I was waiting.  I didn't realized how bad the situation was until I started jogging up towards the start line.  I had no idea where my feet were.  On one foot, it felt like I was running on my heel (that was where the sensation ended), on the other a fleshy piece of the ball of my foot that wasn't numb was screaming like I was mashing it between a rock and hard place (the hard place being the rest of my foot, which was frozen).  It was like running on blocks of unfeeling flesh.

Verrazano:
The cannon went off to mark the start, and off we went.  I was in the Green corral, which meant we started on the lower level of the Verrazano.  It was literally a wind tunnel.  Luckily, not a headwind - it came from our left side (North), whistling between the levels.  Some people lost their hats.  It was a bit of a struggle to stay on my feet.  Already unstable as I couldn't feel where my feet were hitting the ground, gusts of wind would drive me a foot or two sideways, usually into the next person.  It was rough, and by the end of it I was seriously doubting how on earth I was going to finish the next 24 miles with ice block feet.  Luckily, by mile 3, my feet had come back to life and the wind was back to fairly normal.  Looks like this race is happening after all. :)

The Race Plan:
I intentionally did not wear a watch or set a pace goal for this race.  I was counting on diet, consistent practice, and "bare" feet to provide a bit of an advantage.  Here's the pre-race plan that I came up with last night:

Mental Marathon Prep
Tomorrow's goal is to have fun.  To run free. I won't be wearing a watch.  I'm not going out super fast.  The first 5 miles are gonig to be warm up.  I'm going to just focus on keeping moving, and working the fuzzies out of my brain.  The next 7* miles (this will take me up to the half way point) will be zoning in on form - making sure that I'm keeping my feet low and the bounce -out- of my step.
The next seven* will be on rhythm. I'm going to run mile 13 to mile 21 in a steady beat, the same one that I've established over the first 13 miles.
The last five will be pick ups. Can I drum my feet a little quicker, shorten my stride without losing form?  Push my heart rate up a little bit, giving a good swing at the pace. So that on mile 26, I'm effortlessly flying up hills, and around the corner to the finish. 
* Math is hard.  8 miles is the actual rest of the distance.

How It Panned Out:
The five mile warm up was a good idea.  When my feet turned out to be ice blocks in the first three miles, I just counted it as a part of getting warm.  If the had still been blocks at the 5 mile mark, I may have tried to do something, but it worked out.  Here's my splits -- they're pretty awesome for warm up.



The next 8 miles to the Brooklyn/Queens bridge was the (as expected) easiest part.  Having a goal of just coasting through this portion kept me from lighting off in a fast frenzy when the mood struck me.  It's also some of the most populated for cheering.  The first 10+ split was a bathroom break, the next 10:min dip was the bridge (I think).  Overall, I was pretty happy with my splits.  Pushing it here would have meant times closer to 8:30, but I kept them hovering at or around 9:00s, which was where I would have needed to be to hit a 4:00hour finish.


The next 8 were pretty good too. I freaked out a bit when I hit the 16 mile mark -- this is where I cratered in Toronto 2 years ago, but 16 and 17 passed without much ado.  By the time 18 and 19 rolled around, I was starting to get worried about the upcoming wall -- still moving pretty well, but not as fast.  Somewhere between 18 and 19, in an attempt to stave off an imagined upcoming crash, I ate half a banana.  I few minutes later my stomach started cramping -- oops.  I'm not sure if this contributed to the huge slow down, but I'm pretty sure it was a terrible idea.  It's hard to tell though if this actually did stave off later problems or what, but either way it wasn't good - my average time moved from the 9:00 mark up to the 10:00 mark.


The last 5 were not pretty.  My leg muscles started cramping.  I forgot why I was even trying to run a a marathon.  According to the plan, this is when I was supposed to be pulling up my stride, and starting to let loose, but I couldn't find the motivation to keep moving. Everything hurt.  The finish seemed so far away.  Looking at my times, you can see when I did get motivated again -- when I ran into my roommate and her boyfriend who were cheering for me around mile 25 in central park.

I'm pretty proud of the last two splits -- as soon as I realized that the hellish ordeal of running 26 miles was almost at an end, I decided I could in fact get the hell out sooner.  I finally started tightening up my stride, pushing more of the work into my quads and hips.  It was a really good finish - I just wonder how it would have ended if I had started kicking it in a few miles earlier.  I definitely had the energy, just not the motivation.  Also, running faster might have helped with the muscle cramping -- running faster uses different muscles.



Overall, I'm really happy with the whole day.  Big thanks to everyone that came out to cheer me on -- friendly faces were a welcome sight!


Mistakes that I'd fix for next time:
- Bring socks and a hat for the start village.

Things I'd like to experiment with:
- No eating during the run.
- More speed workouts during training.
- Bringing headphones and music for the last 5 miles.  I intentionally didn't bring them because A) I didn't want to carry them, and B) I would have had to wait to the last 5 miles to put them in, so as not to get out of the gate fast too early.  I was counting on the bands, but they went by so fast that it wasn't long enough to get my feet moving, which was what I really needed at this point.
- Wearing my name on my shirt.  Having people yell your name in encouragement is a game changer. More of this would have been awesome.
- Getting friends to cheer from the Bronx/Upper Manhattan.  This stretch was long, and psychologically hard.  I got a huge boost from seeing friendly faces 2 miles from the finish -- maybe having someone push me around mile 21 would have helped me get over the "wall" of pain and second guessing earlier in the race.
- Not flying back from Europe the day before.  My clock was off, and I felt energized really early in the morning.  This may explain why the last 5 miles were so rough -- it was late in the day (in London time).

Oct 11, 2014

Grow up

Grow up, said the man to the cheetah.

The cheetah looked at the man, shrugged his shoulders, and then darted away into the reeds.

Grow up, said the man to the giraffe.

The giraffe could barely hear the man from way down below.  He leant closer, and huffed in the man's face.  The man repeated himself.  The giraffe took it to heart, and thought, yes, I can grow taller.  So he stretched himself up on his legs and pushed his nose closer to the cloud puffs hovering, just out of reach in the light blue sky.  He was too busy nosing upwards that he didn't notice til much later that the man had walked away.

Grow up, said the man to the dog.

The dog barked twice and then fetched the man a stick.

Grow up, said the man to his reflection in a pool.

And then burst out laughing at the funny face that stared back.

Grow up, whispered the lover to the man.

Down went the children's book about bees and birds and giraffes and dogs and cheetahs and selves.

The man stood up, gingerly kissed a sleeping child goodnight, and shut the nursery door quietly, behind him.

Sep 20, 2014

Halfsies

I booked a room at a halfway house.  How long, they asked, are you checking in for?

18 months, I replied.

Halfway houses are strange.  You admit that you have a problem, but you don't give into having the problem completely.  You declare yourself halfway cured.  I'm halfway on the road to better.

I'm only halfway broken.



(No, I don't really know what the word halfway house means.  I assume it means what it says it means.)

The Other

Self definition rooted in what you are not.

Cry forever. Run until the end of days.

Cry forever. Run until the end of days.

How do you make friends that want to gel in the sunset too?  That want to loll in meadows and read and write angry treatises about the sky beyond the horizon?  Where the stars come out and we all have so much life to live but I don't know where the pen stops.  If I just sit back and let the choir pitch drown me out -- is that living?  What is this life?  It feels so anchorless, there are to many possibilities and not enough directions that will weigh me down towards the grounding that I feel I need.

Our time is now. This is a part of it.  Confusion, pain, scars, anger. This is a part of it.  This is all that there is of it.  This is all that there will be of it.  (So many letters written. So many emails unsent.  So many words not spoken because of ... fear?  Because of uncertainty?  Because I don't trust my own sly, slinking motives that meddle in all things.  And a growing uncertainty about the darkness that births itself, each night anew, in the center of my breast.

There is a hole that I've been keeping.  Have I wanted to keep it open?  That's open for debate, but it's open.  It's huge.  It's eaten me alive.  Like a piercing that took too long to heal, You can see through me there.  There's nothing there.  Nothing.  I don't know what else to fill it with.  Maybe nothing.  The hole lives on, scarred and pussed, with smooth edges that bely the weight that it has.  It pulls down on the corners of my mouth and weights heavily on my chin.  There is no lightness in my gaze. Just empty sad. Empty. Sad.  Empty.

The sun is setting on today.

I am so afraid that my dreams are but false prophets of an age that will not come.

They are naught but small passing blips on an infinite sea of rudderless, unmanned sailing into the dusk.


(Gazelle on the horizon, slinking lion beneath the ladder that stretches up into the stars wide and high and tall like hope, and forever out of reach).

Sep 15, 2014

Equality

A: The equation has changed.
B: What do you mean? Equations don't change. They're equilibrated.

A: It is no longer equal.
B: You must be mistaken. Perhaps what you're trying to say is that you've changed the equation that you're using to solve the problem. The problem space changed.

A: It's the same equation. But it doesn't equal out any more. I'm putting in the same digits as last week. It's coming out differently.
B: That's impossible.

A: I know.

Sep 5, 2014

Dockumentary moments.

I went to see No No : Dockumentary tonight. Our CEO knew the film-maker, so he bought tickets for everyone that wanted to go.  As the director's first feature-length film, he knocked it out of the park.

I had never heard of Dock Ellis before our CEO gave us an opening to watch this film.  I was quite struck with how charming and full of life the man was, as a character.  Throughout the movie, and the stories that are told about him, we're told who he was, as a man.  He's alive, he's irreligious, he's a gifted ball player.  He was well loved, and his loss was a great one.  Watching Dock, we not only get an into his personal life, but also an rare peephole view to the culture that was the Major Leagues in the 70's.  The drugs, the management structure, the racial tensions, the 70's were a time of big changes to a classic American pasttime.  Dock Ellis was at the forefront of those changes.

Most of the film was constructed from footage of Dock from games, photos, and a long interview he did with HBO from 2005.  We see his life reconstructed through interviews with those closest to him - his ex-wives, his sister, his teammates.

Watching them reminisce I couldn't help but wonder about memories.  They're fleeting things.  Does pulling them back up into the present, as each interviewer did, re-write them not just as that moment in time that happened, but also forever defining the moment that was spent in remembering?  Those few seconds that you spent reliving the past, in a way, redefined the past by bringing it into the future, or your present, with you.  How much of future rememberings will, in some way, be influenced by the time that you spent remembering it now?  Pieces of experience that get mosaiced one, on top of the other, like tie die washes on the same heavy canvas.

When these people who knew Dock Ellis are gone, what will be left of him?

In a way, memories are temporal.  But the outcomes of those memories are what we live with.  The trajectory that we find ourselves on is in some way an outcome of the memories that we carry with us -- in a way our day to day is a reflection of the compounding of the moments that we have lived up until this very one.

Dock may be gone, but the lives that he has touched, they go on.  Forever with his memory built into the fabric of them.

Jul 24, 2014

Cognitive Fuel is a Myth, or an Alternative Explanation for Corporate Greed

There is a classic psychology experiment that theorizes that humans have 'cognitive' resources and that these resources can be consumed: either by doing mental work or self-restraint.  This blog post by Serious Pony sums up the research that has been done in this area very well, but here's my attempt to rehash the idea behind cognitive fuel.

The basic experiment goes as follows: two people come in for a psychology problem.  One person is asked to memorize 2 digits.  The other person is asked to memorize 7 digits.  At the end of the 'task', each subject is offered a treat: either a bowl of fruit, or a piece of chocolate cake.  More often than not, the test subject that memorized 2 digits will reach for the fruit.  The test subject that memorized 7 digits will reach for the chocolate cake.  With this as evidence, the researchers concluded that mental energy is limited, and that doing a more grueling cognitive task eats away at the amount of 'mental energy' you have available to resist temptation.

This conclusion is flawed.  There is another explanation.

My objections to this conclusion are rooted in a long running experiment I've been doing on myself.  It involves giving up sugar.  I've gone off and on of no-sugar diets for almost 3 years now.  I always go back to it, and I always go back to it for the same reason.**  That reason, I believe, is the same reason that the students tend to pick the sweet treat when they've done more cognitive work.[1]

In the United States[2] (and perhaps other countries), we are taught what is work and we are taught what is reward.  As students in school, we learn that memorization is work.  We also learn that math is hard.  We are taught, culturally by our parents and the implicit attitudes of most of our teachers, that numbers are not easy.  Given that these are true, then it follows that memorization of numbers is non-trivial work.

Further, as children, we are taught that sweets are a reward.  They are rewards for birthdays, for holidays, for finishing your supper.  For being good at the store.  For cleaning up your room.  We, in the United States, train our children to expect and to look for a reward after they have completed work.  It is a cultural norm that any amount of work or hardship will be rewarded.  That reward is usually (but not universally) something sweet.

Now to bring this back to the experiment. For the first subject, the task of memorizing two numbers is trivial.  This task is so simplistic that the task doesn't qualify as work.  Memorizing seven digits, on the other hand, is hard work.  In the experiment then, one subject did hard work, the other did not do much work (if any).

After completing the task, the subjects were then promptly presented with a choice of reward.  Perhaps it wasn't phrased that way, but that is how the situation is most likely to be interpreted.  The subjects were asked to complete a task, and then walk up to a box (which they cannot see into until they have reached it), and are asked to choose one of the snacks.  I can practically hear the subconscious of the 7 digit memorizers yelling "I've done work, here is my reward".  It's a simple pattern match for your brain: work, reward.  The experiment made me do work, here is my reward.

Seeing the experiment from the lens of work equals reward, the interpretation of the results changes.  Cognitive load is not a limited resource that gets spent.  Rather, our rationalization of what work deserves what reward is piqued.  The study participants, most of them, recognized 7 digits as work and the cake as their reward.  Even if they were on a diet, it's easy for them to rationalize that they had earned the chocolate cake - brains take energy, you know!

Under this re-interpretation, if you want people to buy your product, make them feel like they've earned it.  Or at least, deserve to be rewarded.  Give them some trivial task that we culturally have defined to be difficult or at least 'work', and they'll choose the best reward presented.

If we want people to lose weight, we need to either decouple sweets as a reward mechanism or stop telling ourselves that work deserves reward.  We need to declassify what work is, and what it means to be rewarded.


As a further corollary: Why is corporate greed in America so bad?  Because we all deserve it.


[1] Or a task that, at least culturally, is labeled as being a larger cognitive work load.
[2] Relevant because both of the researchers live and work in the United States*, and that all of the students (or at least a high percentage of them) are US undergrads.

* Baba Shiv [was] an assistant professor at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242-1000, and Alexander Fedorikhin [was] an assistant professor at Washington State University, Richland, WA 99352.

** I go back to sweets because without sweets, I never get 'rewarded'.  Not eating sugar is hard, not just because it is addictive, but also because it feels like punishment for doing something wrong.

Jul 23, 2014

Why Hiring Women Is Hard

A lot of arguments around hiring and promoting women are based on their inherent value to the company, as an entity.  This website, hiremorewomenintech.com, strongly makes that case.  As the site points out, women are smart workers, they're competent managers, they are good for the bottom line.  I'll go one for further: they're also cheaper than men.  You can pay them less, in fact, if you're a company reading this, chances are good that you probably do pay them less. Women will bring much hard, paper and books success to your company, at a fraction of the cost of a man.  Why wouldn't you hire them?

This is a hard thing to write about, but it's the truth.

Here's another, harder truth.  It's hard to hear because it cuts at everything our neo-capitalist society tells itself about the point of a business or why we go to work every day -- that it's to make more money for our shareholders.  The hard honest truth about most day to day business workings (especially start up workings), is that we care about making money, and being profitable, but not if it means hiring a woman to do it.  Put in other terms, being profitable and successful in the monetary and business sense is not as important to us as hiring people that we want to be profitable and successful with.  Or rather, people that will by extension make us feel also profitable and successful, by the things that they do and just, maybe who they are.  Hiring and working with women will cheapen our success.  Think about it.  They're worth less. If you need proof of this, just look at our pay rolls.  We pay them less.  We employ them in portions of our company that are not as critical to our success.  That's because, as men, if we hire and promote women into positions that are critical to our success, and we are successful, our own success won't be worth as much, because we had to hire women to help us do it.

Men are worth more.  So if we hire and pay and promote more men, when we are successful, as a business, it will be because we are company of successful and worthful men. What's the point of making money if you can't belong to this club of worthful, successful men who make successful companies?

Jul 6, 2014

Tweak, Run, Repeat

One of the most frustrating things about Android development has to be the opacity around API interactions.  I'm having a lot of trouble at the moment getting a SearchView in the ActionBar to behave the way that I want it to.

Desired experience: The search bar appears as a search icon when you first open the app.  When you click the icon, it expands into a search text box which covers the entire ActionBar.  As you enter a search term, the list view contents update, magically.  If you rotate the phone, the state should be saved (search text box open with text in it, list view has the same results).

Keeping the search query around is rather trivial, but maintaining the open state of the search view has been frustrating.  And it's frustrating that it's frustrating.  There are 2 different methods I can call to show/hide the search view, one of which is called the unhelpful "setIconified".  Then there's the action modes for the ActionBar menu item, which all behave differently.  I'm not sure what's going on yet, but I'm just ... frustrated!  I can't be the first person to try to do this.  It'd be one thing if there was clear documentation around the different interactions between the different states and settings, or if the official documentation wasn't wrong or if it just worked as expected.

If you consider the time to develop a phone app as being a function of the number of times that you change the code, compile and then run the app -- debugging a problem in the Android source is developmentally expensive.  When it's my own code that I'm attempting to debug, or even not something so closely tied to the Activity creation loop, I can hit break points and spend a little more time thinking through the problem.  This bug has turned into a tweak and run time suck.

Things would be different if a re-run didn't take so long or if the API was better documented or had better control handles for manipulating the state of a collapsible action view.


*This post was written in between compile time loops*

Jun 7, 2014

General ideas about teaching programming : 'apps' vs. 'programs'

Apps are hard.  I wrote my first Appery.io app today*.  (It was a version of the homework we ask job candidates at work to complete.)

From a certain perspective, writing an app is rather easy.  You throw up some buttons, wire the data to the views, and ship it.  That wasn't so bad, right?  But the amount of knowledge you need to write an app is a bit daunting.

First, you need an idea.  You need to be able to clearly articulate the audience, the scope of what the app will and won't do.  Second, there's the layout and navigation flow of the app.  A poorly designed navigation experience can kill an application.  You need coding know-how.  What the classes are, how the different underlying APIs work together to make the views happen.  To say nothing of the necessary pre-reqs of understanding programming primitives, like variables, control flow, language syntax.  Finally, unless you're writing a local app, you need to know how the internet works.  What a RESTful API service is, how HTTP works with headers and params.  How to get an API key, how to authenticate.

Appery's a low entry point for building a very simple app, and maybe for copying tutorials you could get something a bit more dynamic, but the seams between knowing a very little to knowing pretty much everything there is to know about writing an app are close together and a bit rougher than you'd hope for a tool this simple.  There's a lot of places where you fail over into JavaScript, or where you need to know what a web proxy is (so that you're can get around making Cross Domain Requests**.)  Writing a mobile app in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript requires a surprising amount of web domain, app, and just plain networking knowledge.

That's asking a lot for new developers.  Admittedly, maybe the target market isn't new developers, it's companies that don't have the developers/time/money/inclination to create a native Android/iOS/Windows phone from scratch for each of the platforms.  It's significantly easier to throw an experienced dev at Appery and get a workable mobile app than to create a native app from scratch.  (Disclaimer: In no way is this an endorsement of Appery's product -- if anything, this experience has only deepened my belief that there's no substitute for a natively written app experience.)

But for a new dev audience (one without an experienced dev who can blunt corners and abstract away the rest of the considerable amount of knowledge that you need to write a native app), Appery seems like a terrifying and frustrating experience.  (Though if you know web development, well, then you know web development).

What would be better for young devs to spend a weekend doing?  Other than learning wire framing and writing very leakily abstracted apps?  They should learn programming.  They should write programs, not apps.  It could use quite a bit of set up to get going, but I really liked the challenge at the Hackette's Spotify Hackathon they held last year (https://github.com/pbos/spotify-hockey).  It basically involves writing a hockey team algorithm.  It's a good problem for a weekend project because a) the end product isn't about presenting your ideas (you just load up the different hockey teams and let them have a tournament style show down), b) it'd involve a non-trivial amount of programming, and c) it's kind of fun.

Or maybe that's a bit too advanced for completely new programmers.  Something like Scratch (http://scratch.mit.edu/) or even some format for writing text adventure games could be fun.  Basically, make it less about building a product, and more about writing a small program, with a code editor and a runtime environment.

/rant


* I work professionally as an Android app developer.

** If you clicked on this link, you just proved my point about needing massive amounts of previous knowledge.  Bonus points to you if you now get why CORS is a problem.  You're probably in the minority.

May 15, 2014

The Dust Mote

It was a small dark cabin.  I'm not sure how long I had been there, nor how long that he had.  Without a doubt, he had been there far longer.  There was a refrigerator stuffed full of bulky dark paper packages, with grease stains forming on the creases.  It was musty, as if daytime was an event that never happened inside the cabin.

We use everything, he said, gesturing downward at a grease stained sack, where charred bones had once sat.  It takes hours, he said, to skin a chicken, to de-feather it, to remove all the innards, and organs.  But we do it.  Not a thing is wasted.  At the end, all that's left is the bones.

What do you do with the innards? I asked.   The workshop was small.  He was talking massive amounts of slaughter, that would have filled the entire back room.There was nothing back there but an old crate, some dust motes, hazing the light from the gas lamp, and a rough hewn hickory trough filled with blackened bones and a greasy burlap.

We sell them, he said.  As he turned toward me, the light from the gas lamp pooled deep in his black eyes.  It takes a long time, he said.  To truly use a chicken.  It's hard work.  There's no stopping til it's finished, each one stripped down to just bones.  Used up.

Sometimes, he said gazing off at the wall as if at a thing unseeable, a speck of dust gets caught in my eye.  It gets caught deep -- it becomes a part of myself.  And in it, I know the creature that the dust came from.  I know it by that mote of dust, it's how I find them again in the dark, to keep at my work.  By that dust, that piece of the hen in my eye.  I can't wipe it free  until it's over, til they're nothing but bones.   By then they're old friends, familiars.  I know their stories, where they're headed next.

The dark pools turned toward me.  I shivered.

That's where I saw you, he said.


Apr 24, 2014

Ringelnatter

We were in a space ship, intergalactic travel from the earth to an unknown destination. We had a fearless leader who directed us to set down on an alien planet for a picnic lunch. We unbundled ourselves from our tent ships (my sister and I were sharing one, that later I couldn't figure out how to rewrap to make "space tight".) We were boarded up in a makeshift classroom with the two of us on the far end near a closed door. We pulled out snacks, but the next thing I knew there was pain on my hand. A ringelnatter had gotten a hold of my hand, bitten it clean through. It was the skeleton of a Ringelnatter, dangling from its jaws, hinged through me. When I looked up to try and locate the origin of the snake, I noticed a skeletal foot under a door, a few feet from where I was sitting. There was a commotion from the front of the camp and suddenly our base was beseiged. The skeleton foot belonged to an entire race of skeleton people. I left some earrings on the ground which they were trying to take from beneath the door. I passed them over instead of fighting to keep them.

We didn't manage to escape.

Apr 21, 2014

Earthquake. Richter Scale: 10

My world shifted three days ago.  Almost like an earthquake, but more subtle than that.  Sort of like being in the Gale's house, but sleeping through the whole part where the tornado moves from Kansas to Oz.

Everything is different.  Different.  I feel different.  Different how?

My heart feels rounder.  Like the edges are those rounded corners squares.  Detached, but grounded. Dreamlike reality.

Externally, nothing's really changed. I'm still going to wake up tomorrow morning and go to work.  Still going to berate myself for not being perfect.  Still worry about all the promises I've made and today's work that I'm putting off until tomorrow.  Still going to pick stupid fights and be upset about the tightness I can feel in my lips and the stress that I'm holding in my shoulders.  Still going to freak out when I don't know what someone's talking about and worry that I'm leaving something important out.  Or that I'll be passed over for a promotion or that someone else is going to steal my cookie.  I'm still fearful.  I'm still stressed.  I'm still a day dreamer.  I talk about plans too much, and I don't spend enough time in the trenches.

But it's all _different_.

I saw my future.

Apr 20, 2014

Musings on Motivation

The weirdest thing about working for Etsy is that I like all of my coworkers. Every last one of them. Almost unilaterally. It feels unnatural to be in a group of people that are so genuine and real. And it really has been forcing me to confront my own insecurities of self presentation, my expectations of others, etc. Basically, why do i assume that the whole world is full of backstabbing, sycophantic jerks that really aren't interested in your stories (my stories have gotten worse lately, mostly because ive admittedly lost what little faith I had in my own ability to relate something with another human being and as such I find myself mostly giving it up.

Also strange aside, is it just me or do most engineering women (not all, I'm entirely open to the idea that I'm blinded to the actual proliferation of the stereotype I'm about to put forward mainly on my fascination with it - as in im aware that I'm generalizing something I've seen in a few individuals to an entire group. Guilty. Call me on it). But. Stereotype that I have noticed and am now putting forward as such - higher indice of women engineers that are, well, obsessed with over engineering things. Maybe I'm just sensitive to it because I feel that I don't rigorously plan and then follow through on things. But I find myself, when confronted by a highly planned and organized person (who's using organization as a crutch for motivation) I tend to retaliate by playing unplanned. I feel undermine d, overwhelmed by the other persons ability to force themselves into a thing via a plan. I think its a massive misunderstanding. As in there's some part of my brain that doesn't understand the beauty of setting out a detailed schedule and then following it. Am I undisciplined? Is my issue with people with plans and regulations really just a form of admitted self deprecation? 

Self interpretation aside, I feel like this quality of forced discipline is more prevalent in women than in the men I know. Maybe I just make friends with less ambitious men. Maybe I don't have enough men friends to do a survey on.  I take issue with it because it feels unnatural. Why do something if you don't enjoy doing the thing that you're setting out to do? Don't use a plan and a detailed short term goals sheet to get you to a difficult goal. Oh that sounds silly when reading it... 

This really has to do with running. I enjoy running. I'm decent at it. I set goals for running - I get upset when I don't hit my goals. But I don't really train to hit the goal - I train because I enjoy it. I go for runs because they feel good. I run fast and barefoot because I feel free and powerful and light. Its fucking fun. I run races so that I stay motivated, so there's some discipline to getting up and going - but not enough that I can't just run how I feel. So it pisses me off that others run with a schedule. That they do it with short term plan, that they try and engineer a thing so beautiful as being light and free.

I need to be less selfish. Maybe that's it - I don't want to share my joy with these other people. I want them to fall down a well timed hole and simply disappear.

This was started as a commentary on dfw.

Apr 13, 2014

Talk to them

You want to talk to people?  To get on their level?

Yeah, she said.

Make them music.  Make them music that makes their souls jump.  Make them deep derogatory beats and uplifting chords and solemn sounds, sounds good enough to come out of their laptop speakers.

Make them want to dance.  Make them sing along with you in the shower, make them hum you on their way down to the subway in the morning, make them vibrate to your radio pulsations.

=--=-=--=--==--==--==--==--==--==--==-=-=-=-=---==--==--==--==---==--==--==

Apr 9, 2014

Silicone Valley - Episode 1

I watched the first episode of Silicon Valley tonight with some other engineers from work.  Overall it was flat.  I've been convinced to give it another episode, but here's somethings that blew.

- None of the characters seemed to be anything bigger than caricatures of roles in tech.  I wanted to like at least one of the developers.  Or be impressed by them.  Or feel like I had met one of them in person.  Not a single one of the 10 or so characters mapped to a single developer or person that I know.  Or would want to know.  Their caricature of the super nerdy, very brilliant software developer that starts a website by himself wasn't like any person that I've ever met.  I know a lot of people in software.  Albeit, successful people in software.  I've also met a lot of people not in software.  All in all, they came across as inflated depictions of stereotypes about what people who work in tech and at start ups are like.

- None of the tech dialog really seemed to have any real backing to it.  It is not possible to have proprietary algorithms in a website that's posted on Github.  If it's on Github, it's open sourced.  Open source software means that anyone can read or inspect the code that you have written.  By definition, software that is freely published is not proprietary.

- There wasn't a single girl developer.  The only women that appear in the entire show are wearing skirts and high heels.  Both of the females with speaking roles use their few lines to croon about a male character.  Or offer one of them a ride home.  Snore.  You know what this show needs?  It could use a female foil.  Or two.  Instead of having five geeky men that fit the 'asian, east asian, pony tailed, tall white guy, weird bearded' stereotype, why not throw in a couple of women into the mix?  There's episodes, hell even story arcs of entertainment and character sub plots to explore.

Dear writers of Silicon Valley, I sense that you need some suggestions.  Here's some ideas for future Silicon Valley episodes:
- An entire episode built around a text editor civil war
- Have the main character struggle with an unexpected homoerotic attraction to his angel investor
- A whole episode about Twitter gender flame wars
- An episode dedicated to winning the top spot on some Hacker Daily website that in the end proves to have been manipulated the whole time (via an authenticity bug in the core security layer) by an AI project being run out of North Korea
- A Halloween episode featuring trolls
- Replace (or augment) some of the *very* bland core developers with multiple female developers characters.  The hyper femme who paints her nails in five colors of neon, and won't stop spamming the internal list serve with cat gifs.  The punk rebel coder girl who hacked her way into the Pentagon at age eleven and now spends her free time contributing to the Linux file system and talking about unmentionable body piercings.  The uber nerd girl that no one wants to sit next to because she has bad breath and a slew of Final Fantasy stickers adorning her laptop.  The hyper code bunny who does nothing but check in software bugs and check out the brogrammers at the code conferences.  Sure, maybe none of these females exist in real life.  To be fair, neither do any of the other characters in the show.

Mar 30, 2014

Proxies

I never wanted to be beautiful. I wanted to be special.

The kind of special where people are always happy to see you. The gold star kind of special. The saved an extra dessert for you kind of special. The dancing at sunlight on a July morning kind of special. The down comforter on a cold night kind of special.

So special that I shone, beautifully.

Mar 28, 2014

Riptide



I got lost in a wave of the past tonight. It came up over me, a flood of unmoored memories.

I let go. My feet clenched into the sand, but my back arched up as the water pulled me away, a gravity all its own.

I was floating. Reminiscing in a tide of nostalgia that tasted of salt tears and burnt sugar marshmallows. The years flowed around me, echoes, bodiless entities, fluid.

2000 Block party champagne fear of the dark firecracker sparkler thirteen too young to be two thousand

2010 destiny graduation disbelief reality unanswered telephone calls walls vellum parchment processions

89 cupcakes yellow brick roads desert desserts blue bell ice cream wooden paddles barbie parades red flyer wagons sand dune oceans

The wave crests and crashes over my head, toes reaching for purchase in the silty soil but finding nothing but blue sky as my lungs fill with briny sobs.

I am lost to the wave.

Feb 23, 2014

First Milestone - XBee Project Retrospective

A. How long did it take you?

Saying it took a lifetime seems disingenuous(1), so I won't say that.  Practically, in the context of this project, it took about 6 months.  Roommate ordered the Pi's forever ago.  There was getting the Raspberry Pi online, via some config file configuring.  The XBee parts took a long time to come in.  Then there was the learning how to solder, the soldering, the Google flailing looking for how to connect a Raspberry Pi to an XBee.  Figuring out what a serial port is.  How a GPIO works.  What UART stands for. (I still don't know.)  Recognizing that I didn't have everything I needed.  That the XBees I had bought weren't compatible with the Raspberry Pi.  What's a volt?  More waiting while more parts came in the mail.  Realizing that making it work was beyond me.  More time spent staring at a computer screen, Googling things.  Triumph, and then static.  Asking for parts on a mailing list.   How do I get more current?  Or less resistance?  Ohmmmmm.

Unanswered questions (still unanswered) on Stack Overflow and the Digi forums.  A helpless email to tech support on a federal holiday.  "If I twist it really tight, that counts as soldering, right?".  Stripped screws, multiple trips to RadioShack.  (Always a different one.  Can't let them see you struggle.)  A phone call to Grandpa.  (Vacuum tubes?  Nope, none of those here.  But dust.  Lots of dust).  And then, illumination.

B.  What did you learn?

The difference between API and AT mode.  The value of persistence.  How satisfying hardware projects are.  That I am not done yet.

C. What are some open questions from this point?

I still don't know what a transistor is, why the xbee-python library isn't working as promised, what a hardware flow control toggle is supposed to do, or why minicom is still Offline.



But hey, the lights are on.





1. (Wow. No no, wait for it... nope.  That red line ain't comin'.  Spelled right on the first time)

Ambitions

Are you thinking of me now, Methuselah?

She bent her head down over the cradle, watching as her tears soaked ring-lets into the pillow.

Feb 2, 2014

Running tips.

Talking to someone yesterday about training for their first half marathon, I realized that there are some small things a beginning runner may not realize when starting to train for their first big race.  Here's just a few things that I find helpful when maintaining or getting to a point where I'm ready to train for something big.

Strive for consistency over distance.
Logging a consistent number of short runs is more helpful than a smaller number of long runs.  In a week, five days of 2 mile runs is worth *a lot* more than two days of 5 mile runs.  This is especially true when you're just starting out.  The goal is to get your body used to running, so more exposure in short bursts is way more beneficial than hitting any distance goal.

Early on, count your effort in minutes, not distance.
Depending on the day, a two mile run can take anywhere from fifteen minutes to a half hour.  A slow day, especially early in training, can be disheartening.  On the other hand, a stopwatch doesn't care how far you go.  If you're able to finish 30 minutes of running, five days a week, you'll be in great shape when you start ramping up for longer distances later in the training schedule.  This also means that you'll already be taking advantage of the next point, running farther on good days and not so far on bad days.

When you feel like running faster, run faster.
Don't worry that you won't be able to keep it up for longer than two minutes.  If you feel energetic, go for it!  Run faster until you're tired of running fast, then jog or walk until the end of the time you've set out.  Sure, your pace will be all over the place.  That's kind of the point.  It's early still, you just started training.  It's hard to figure out what your pace should be if you don't know how fast you can go.

The last 3 weeks of training are the most important.
If you're following a schedule to get yourself in shape for a race, it's ok to futz around with the first half of planning, as long as you're logging time consistently.  If you need to add some extra weeks or take them out, the first or middle half is when you're going to want to do it.  The last month or so on the schedule will usually include some of the longest runs, followed by a week or two of tapering.  These are the most important weeks to follow to the letter.  The build up gets your body exhausted and the tapering gives it a chance to recover.  Recover too much and you'll start to lose stamina.  Don't take enough rest and you'll be feeling that last long training run during the race.  Three weeks out is the time to be settling into a pace, pushing hard to get some good last long runs in and then relaxing before the big day.

What you eat matters.
Getting hungry after a big workout means that your body needs nutrients to replace the ones that you just sweated out.  I often find myself craving fruit juice, almond milk, rice and beans, kale, chips and salsa -- basically anything vegan GF.  (And a steak on Sundays!)  In my experience, sugar is the biggest destroyer of my ability to run well the next day, but maybe your mileage will vary.

Feb 1, 2014

My Bob


"Bob Dylan," you said "don't you know who that is?"

I did not.  I had no idea.  He's great, you said.  He's a legend.

I listened to Bob Dylan all the way out to SF, seven groggy hours of his gravel voice on my tinny speakers.  I made a playlist in Spotify of all his songs, ever.  Duplicates of the Titanic song and the one about a big brass bed.  And Orphelia, and Hamlet and Scarborough Fair.

Her only sin was lifelessness.

Bob kept me company on my month out West.  He sang to me as I jogged out to Land's End.  My constant companion on the longish bike rides to work - up over the Presidio and then along the windy coast.  He set the rhythm that my fingers knit to on the 38, westward bound from Embarcadero to the rolling hills of Outer Richmond.

His playlist is still on my Spotify account, like a forgotten, dismembered limb.  When I hear from him now, I feel chilly.  Cold to the bone, a chill that no amount of fuzzy sweaters or space heaters can quite combat.  There's a hint of yeasty, slightly stale sourdough that dances around the corners of every exhale and inhale, like the kind I lived on for a few weeks, topped with spoonfuls of honeyed almond butter.

Jan 25, 2014

Coming down off coffee is the wurst

The number of things that she said, she said, she said.  Was someone counting?  I wasn't.  Should I have been?

Mouth opens.  Vocal chords vibrate, together.
Apart. Dissonance.
Tongue moves, teeth clack.
Palavråo.

Knowing within instants if this is a song that you're going to like.
Knowing within minutes if this is a gig you're going to like.
Knowing within hours if this is a day you're going to like.
Knowing within days if this is a year you're going to like.
Knowing within a heartbeat...  a breath... a flash of the strobe light... if this dance is forever.

 *interlude beat drop*
 *power outage*

No one sees me.  No one knows me.  And so no one becomes me.

blank canvas

this canvas is blank. does that mean it's time for me to start afresh? that's one of the side effects of blank canvas -- it brings...