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Photos of the Month May 2020

June 1, 2020

An object falling to earth, for example, is being continuously accelerated by the force of gravity. It has no fixed velocity for any finite interval of time, even one as brief as a thousandth of a second; every "instant" its speed is changing.
Jim Holt, "When Einstein Walked with Gödel"
This raises an interesting question for me: are there any places where we really notice gravity is an acceleration, really feel that it's not just a constant speed applied once an object topples from its support?

I suppose the way a thrown object arcs is one, and we can trace that with our eyes.

Sometimes it seems unsurprising that flat-earthers exist. There are a lot of physical phenomenon that our monkey brains use the crudest approximations for. (Also, I think of my despair that I don't know of a good kitchen sink science demonstration that would clearly show how matter is divided into atoms...)

I worry that the way our senses can be fooled - that we need to be taught round earths and atoms and accelerating gravity (tempered by air resistance and terminal velocities!) bodes poorly for our intuition in other matters, such as morality.

I guess one could argue morality is different, maybe its definition arises from our collective intuitive feelings? I don't find that view very satisfying, it seems like the old parable of building on shifting sands.
(Earlier I had a further thought that everything is a simplification. Like in theory you can't TRULY describe the arc of a ball without describing every atom in it (for a moment I toyed with the idea of a comic or movie villain whose power was access to a computation source powered by... I dunno, like the multiverse or something-- enough of an overwhelming multiplicity that the villain COULD run simulations of every atom, and through this power of simulation, complete in both scale and detail, conquer the real world.)

May 2020 New Music Playlist

June 2, 2020
Afternoon Fireworks
Duke Herrington
Nice and jazzy with a little funk.
(background to this animated infographic)



Alive
Beastie Boys
Nice hip hop, not sure how I missed it. "Isn't it nice, to be Alive..."
(random youtube suggestion)



Chicken Noodle Soup
Webstar & Young B featuring AG aka The Voice of Harlem
I totally missed this in 2009 - love the woman rapper in this, and I kind of always like that air raid siren.
"Today kids will never know the adrenaline rush us 10 year olds got when we heard DJ Webstar’s Chicken Noodle Soup at the school dance" (via)



Use Your Brain
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Awesome NOLA street music.
(via Street Brass Podcast)
Rollin' Stone
Muddy Waters
Blues classic.
(Melissa was asking - why both the band and the magazine named after the same thing...)



It Ain't My Fault 2
Mystikal & Silkk the Shocker
I really like Mystikal's flow.
(this brilliant tweet that has King of the Hill's Boomhauer lip-syncing it.)



People Who Died
The Jim Carroll Band
Adore the cheerful macabre vibe of this, it's like "88 lines about 44 women" for dead people
(Melissa randomly thought of this song after the premier of “Solar Opposites” ended with an “in memoriam”)
Send Me Some Lovin'
Little Richard
The man invented Rock and Roll.
(RIP Little Richard - via Little Richard’s Music Was Dangerous, but So Is Freedom)
When Doves Cry
Prince
The lyrics of this are such a reflection of the way he was balancing masculine and feminine energies...
(realizing I only had covers of this song, after Prince's recent "live" concert stream)
Caravan
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Cover of a classic.
(via Street Brass Podcast)
You Were a Good Hand
Long Haul Paul
Kind of long, but touching tribute to a real driver.
(Over the Road podcast, where Long Haul Paul is the narrator.)



We Will Rock You
Max Raabe
Charming 1930s-radio cover.
(via)
Junko Partner
Dr. John
Aw, I miss Dr. John. Glad I got to see him live.
(Melissa got her dad a Dr John cd for his birthday, and he recommended this song to me.)



Here Comes the Hotstepper (Heartical Mix)
Ini Kamoze
Surprised this hadn't made it into my collection before. Also, didn't realize the echo chorus was "Murderer". Tempted to try and back a HONK cover of it.
Always Sunny in Philadelphia waterpark episode.


One thing I miss is the time when America had big dreams about the future. Now it seems like nobody has big hopes for the future. We all seem to think that it's going to be just like it is now, only worse.
Andy Warhol, "America"

It's sort of my philosophy--looking for the nothingness. The nothingness is taking over the planet.
The Andy Warhol Diaries

If it's dumb to think all cops are bad, then let's not think all protestors are looters.

(Also, tear gas a church to go stand in front of it waving a bible, good look.)

for the love of the atari 2600

June 3, 2020
Recently walking with a friend I found a Sylvania 20" TV ("6420FE") waiting for trash pickup - I had been thinking of looking on FB Marketplace for a CRT TV for my Atari 2600...

Its excellent picture kind of revitalized my interest in the Atari. I had a Harmony Cartridge that lets you put as many ROMs as you want on an SD card and play them on the Atari, and nostalgia led me to recreate the collection of games I grew up with.

(My parents managed to get a lot of closeout games during the crash (a lot of overstock was being dumped to their Salvation Army employers) so I had a relatively huge collection, and that was my main system even as it all became pretty "retro")

I went through Wikipedia's List of Atari 2600 Games (Oh, look, technically I am on Wikipedia, via my homebrew JoustPong! Just not enough to have my own page yet, sigh) and assembled the list of games I had - amazing how easy it was to do that by memory, these games have really stuck with me.

I angtsted for a bit on how to sort the games on the cart - no one wants to scroll through a list of ~120 titles - and realized "by publisher" was what made the most sense - that's how I would organize them with physical carts (many of which I still have!) since each manufacturer had a distinct look and feel.

Atari: Adventure, Asteroids, Basketball, Battlezone, Berzerk, Breakout, Centipede, Combat, Crystal Castles, Defender, Dig Dug, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Galaxian, Haunted House, Indy 500, Joust, Jr. Pac-Man, Jungle Hunt, Kangaroo, Krull, Mario Bros., Missile Command, Moon Patrol, Ms. Pac-Man, Othello, Pac-Man, Pele's Soccer, Pengo, Phoenix, Pole Position, Space Invaders, Space War, Star Raiders, Stargate, Super Breakout, Vanguard, Video Olympics, Video Pinball, Warlords, Yars' Revenge

Activision: Boxing, Chopper Command, Commando, Crackpots, Dolphin, Dragster, Enduro, Fishing Derby, Grand Prix, H.E.R.O., Ice Hockey, Kaboom!, Keystone Kapers, Laser Blast, Pitfall II, Pitfall!, Pressure Cooker, River Raid II, River Raid, Robot Tank, Seaquest, Sky Jinks, Spider Fighter, Tennis

Parker Bros: Amidar, Frogger, Gyruss, Popeye, Q-bert, Reactor, Return of the Jedi - Death Star Battle, Spider-Man, Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back, Super Cobra, Tutankham

M-Network: Adventures of Tron, Armor Ambush, Bump n Jump, Burgertime, Dark Cavern, Frogs And Flies, Lock 'n' Chase, Super Challenge Baseball, Super Challenge Football, Tron - Deadly Discs

Imagic: Atlantis, Cosmic Ark, Demon Attack, Dragonfire, Fire Fighter, No Escape!, Riddle of the Sphinx, Star Voyager

CBS: Blue Print, Gorf, Mountain King, Wizard of Wor

Coleco: Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Junior, Front Line, Venture

Sega: Buck Rogers - Planet of Zoom, Spy Hunter, Star Trek - Strategic Operations Simulator, Tac Scan

US Games: Entombed, Gopher, Name This Game, Sneak 'n Peek, Space Box, Squeeze Box

20th Century Fox: Deadly Duck, M.A.S.H, Worm War I

Xonox: Ghost Manor, Spike's Peak

Apollo: Lost Luggage

Finally, I decided to complete the nostalgia trip by thinking on what games from this pile really mattered to me, and why:

SIGNIFICANT TO MY STORY GAMES

IMPRESSIVE GAMES GAMES OR WITH SOME DETAIL I LOVED GAMES I PLAYED A LOT OF IN COLLEGE GAMES MY MOM GOT GOOD AT REALLY GOOD HEAD TO HEAD GAMES GAMES I JUST REMEMBER PLAYING A LOT OF
Last night some friends and I had a Zoom/NetflixParty to watch Michelle Obama's "Becoming" - it talked about her father - a man who never had opportunities to equal his intellect - and who was a lover of Jazz. Last night I line in a dream, something like "Most Jazz is like a 747, it will fly you there ok, but Bebop is like one of those F-17 Fighter Jets..."

spring 2020 one second everyday quarantine edition

June 4, 2020

Reading about Weirdest Things Escape Room Employees have Witnessed, it sort of reminds me - I don't think I'll ever have an urge to do an Escape Room. (Yeah, I might be persuaded someyear, but just to be social.)

Mid-career and the trajectory seemingly established, comfortable in a role that's generally as "senior independent contributor" and not a manager... at my last job I was reporting to people significantly younger than myself. An anecdote about those young, more ambitious folks - beyond the way they seemed willing to devote more time and after hours attention to their jobs, one time when we were setting up crude online Pictionary for quarantine fun, they seemed more inclined to crank up the difficulty even before they knew what the game was.

I consider it a bit of a weakness that I am challenge adverse and prefer tasks that don't risk deflating my puffed up ego, but I still just don't deeply get "challenge for its own sake". Challenge for the sake of some other creative goal, yes.

Conversely, "challenge for its own sake" is good because then you get practice at standing up to those other more meaningful challenges. So there's something to it. Still, I prefer games and interactions that encourage creativity and innovation in myself and others.
Is this film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?
Gene Siskel
Tying into the last ramble, I apply that same lens to games. A think-y strategy board game is generally less interesting than a nice conversation over beers.

The Warrior of Light and Strategy

June 5, 2020
A sword can last a short time, but the warrior has to last a long time. That is why he must not let himself be fooled by his own capacity and so be taken by surprise. To each thing he gives the true value that it deserves.

Often, when he is faced with serious matters, the devil whispers in his ear: "Do not bother about that, that's not serious."

Other times, when he is faced with trivial matters, the devil whispers: "You need to spend all your energy on solving this situation."

The warrior does not listen to what the devil is saying. He is the master of his sword.

Pay attention to your allies

A warrior does not associate with anyone who wishes him harm. Nor is he seen in the company of those who want to "console" him.

He avoids whoever is only at his side in moments of defeat. These false friends want to prove that weakness has its rewards. They always bear bad news. They always try to destroy the warrior's trust, under the disguise of "solidarity".

When they see him injured they break into tears, but deep in their hearts they are happy because the warrior has lost a battle. They fail to understand that this is a part of combat.

A warrior's true companions are at his side at each and every moment, in times both difficult and easy.

Negotiating with the enemy

When the moment of combat draws near, the Warrior of Light is prepared for any circumstance. He analyzes each possibility and asks himself: "What would I do if I had to fight against myself?"

This is how he discovers his weak points.

At this moment the adversary approaches, carrying a bag filled with promises, agreements and negotiations. He has tempting proposals and easy alternatives to offer.

The warrior analyzes each of these proposals; he also seeks an agreement, but without losing his dignity. If he avoids combat, it is not because he was seduced – but rather because he decided that this was the best strategy.

A Warrior of Light does not accept presents from the enemy.

On the defense and on the attack

The warrior is careful with people who think they can control the world, determine their own steps, and are certain that they know the right path. They are always so confident in their own capacity of decision that they do not realize the irony with which fate writes everyone's life.

The Warrior of Light has dreams. His dreams carry him forward. But he never commits the mistake of thinking that the road is easy and the door wide.

He knows that the Universe works like alchemy: solve et coagula, say the masters. "Concentrate and disperse your energy according to the situation."

There are moments to act and moments to accept.

In the face of defeat

The Warrior of Light knows how to lose. He does not hold defeat as something indifferent, using phrases like "well, it wasn't all that important", or "to tell the truth, I did not really want that".

He accepts defeat as a defeat; he does not try to change it into a victory or an experience. He suffers the pain of his wounds, the indifference of his friends and the loneliness of loss. At such moments he says to himself: "I fought for something, and I failed to get it. I lost the first battle."

This phrase will give him strength. He is aware that nobody wins all the time – but the courageous always win in the end.

I hunted this down via a tattoo "Existem momentos de agir, e momentos de aceitar", on a tattoo in this article on Survivors of human trafficking becoming coders
Unused concept art for the Atari 2600 game Breakout. Between the beefcake and the rainbow colors of the game it's kind of perfect for Pride Month!

via

(I measure time by how a body sways)

June 6, 2020
I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
The shapes a bright container can contain!
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,
Or English poets who grew up on Greek
(I'd have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek).

How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin,
She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and Stand;
She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin;
I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand;
She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake,
Coming behind her for her pretty sake
(But what prodigious mowing we did make).

Love likes a gander, and adores a goose:
Her full lips pursed, the errant note to seize;
She played it quick, she played it light and loose;
My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees;
Her several parts could keep a pure repose,
Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose
(She moved in circles, and those circles moved).

Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:
I'm martyr to a motion not my own;
What's freedom for? To know eternity.
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.
But who would count eternity in days?
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
(I measure time by how a body sways).
Theodore Roethke, "I Knew a Woman"

We are all livestreamers now.
Speaking of livestreaming - my old JoustPong got twitch'd (around 1:20 in). I definitely see some things I should have done differently in the game.

June 7, 2020

One could criticize no-code for not offering the flexibility and nuance you can get by writing your own code, line by line. But the truth is, for all the hoopla about Silicon Valley's innovative genius, a huge number of apps don't do much more than awfully simple things. Seriously: Silicon Valley's main trick is just shoving things into a database and pulling them out again. I'm exaggerating, but only a bit.
Thompson is so right about the "trick". There's lots of details to get right - making sure people shove in the right stuff (UI) making sure the wrong people can't then pull out other people's stuff (security) ensuring lots of people can shove (scalability) and coaxing people to put the stuff in (UX) but 80-90% of everything is this database shoving.

That's also adjacent to a model I had to make to describe the priorities of some new-fangled systems for UI - there's been a strong tend towards "declarative" programming for making web apps - with an assumption that the best thing a UI toolkit could do is make it super easy to have the webpage instantly update itself to reflect the content of the data in the browser's memory - that way the programmer doesn't have to manipulate the page, just massage the data. It took me a while to realize that one reason I was slow to see the appeal is that I never thought the "in browser memory" mattered much - the stuff in your server's database is what really matters, and the presentation of it on the webpage to the user matters, but anything in between (like the data in the browser's memory) is just an artifact.

June 8, 2020

Busy day yesterday! My band has been dabbling with carefully socially distanced outdoor rehearsals:


Before that I had a facetime with my superniece Cora. Two only-children, we setup some parallel play. I made this Lego dragon-y thing...

I have to say, my reconstituted Lego collection (the ones from sets I got over the past few years, having split my old collection up among dear friends' kids) is frustrating. Bricks have gotten so specialized, or I just don't have enough of them, or something. It's cool there are so many joint-pieces, but annoying when you don't have enough of the same type.

Finally, I went back to my 2015 Global Game Jam game for the Atari 2600, Loaded4Bear, and created Loaded4BearAI the same game but with an option for a computer opponent... an idea I've had in the back of my head since we first made it. I also love video games where a computer opponent is playing by the same rules as the human...I contacted the musician (whose original chiptunes stuff is low-key the best part of the game) and the artist who touched up the old cover art.

Here's Loaded4Bear AI gameplay:

June 9, 2020

On my devblog, how CNBC published just about the worst chart imaginable to display the 12% "bounce" we got against the unfathomably huge job losses this Spring...
Love is like a bottle of gin
But a bottle of gin is not like love

i think humanity's love affair with the sea is perhaps the sexiest thing about us

June 10, 2020

Heh, this is pretty cool... ZeroPage reviews new Atari homebrews with a Twitch livestream - tonight they will cover my own "Loaded4Bear AI"
My devblog Atari 2600 Programming: 88 lines about 32 pixels is a joke I'm not sure many people besides me can love.

Smart people always wear glasses because their brains turn down the graphical settings to run faster and get higher IQ
This is a great point and ties into the way I think I sometimes perform smarter than I actually am... I skim information very quickly (obvious parallel to viewing the world at a lower-res setting, or a bit of blurred vision!) and get the gist, and understand how things relate. But I'm often oblivious to fine detail.

June 11, 2020


Decide to sticker my work computer to celebrate my new employer Monster...

the hothouse flowers of morality thought experiments

June 12, 2020
Listened to a podcast with ethicist Peter Singer. He brought up the "sheriff problem", where a law enforcement officer has the option to prevent a sure riot or lynching of multiple people by framing one innocent person. (Damn it, come to think of it I listened to the podcast and made a note to write about it before the killing of George Floyd, which gives the racial aspect in that scenario a different frame.)

For a utilitarian ethicist like Singer, things boil down to a numbers game: if the sheriff can save 4 of the 5 by unfairly declaring one in the group the known guilty person, he should do so. Furthermore, he might pick the sacrificial candidate based on, say, which one had the least amount of years to live.

Many people are troubled by this conclusion... and I think they're right. As with other variants of the "trolley problem", these setups rely on perfect knowledge for the actors, or general complete faith from the story listener that the conditions of the story are absolute - and that's just not how the world works.

There will always be vast amounts of uncertainty in the relation between our actions and the outcome, and no situation lives in a vacuum. These hothouse flowers of morality tend to expire when exposed to the real world. If the sheriff was to placate the angry mob this way to prevent a riot, say, he's not just diffusing this situation in isolation; he's helping to set a precedent for how the world conducts itself. And we are compelled to struggle for world that leans towards justice, and the faith we should have is not in the people setting up a fake-y thought experiment like this one, but in the idea that a more just world is a better world.

Another Singer story is if about seeing a kid drowning in a pond - you're the only one who can save them, but you're going to ruin your expensive outfit. Should you do it? Most people would say yes, of course you should. Singer then parlays this into a question, if you'll sacrifice a few hundred dollars worth of nice clothes to save a kid, why aren't you sacrifice less money to anti-malaria campaigns that are almost guaranteed to save multiple kids?

Singer labels that disconnect as the "identified victim effect", and goes on to imply that it's clearly wrong. I put it in the same category as the observation that we feel more compassion (as measured by willingness to open our wallets) when shown a picture of a single suffering child than when shown a picture of that child with her brother - and the wallet clamps up further when shown a picture of the whole classroom full of hungry kids.

I guess I am more forgiving of that reaction than Singer. The "identified victim effect" relies on the reframing of a situation: from a distinct case where I an uniquely able to help, to "well that's the way the world is, and probably will remain, despite my efforts." I'd take that further: there are too many good causes out there! In Singer's logic, we probably should all become martyrs of self-sacrifice. Unless of course the libertarian stance is more correct, and intervening in patching bad situations just leads to people taking advantage of your kindness.

I'm no libertarian... but I would say you should often look to fix underlying causes and systematic problems rather than only dealing with symptoms as they emerge. And overall I have to admit, most everyone has more room to take more positive action than they are, and they should think about what fraction of their comfort might be usefully sacrificed in a way that has great net utility.

Finally, Singer talked about our squeamishness in dealing with hopeless cases of babies with spina bifida. (I believe he got deplatforemed in New Zealand for this) In the worst, most tragically helpless cases a doctor might suggest not intervening. But actively ending a life is generally off the table both legally and morally. Or in a similar note, Melissa and I were watching Seth Rogen's "Hilarity for Charity" for Alzheimer's support. It got us talking about end of life decisions, and why euthanasia is often in the realm of unthinkable for many people, despite the overwhelming burden on families and the fact that the victim is at a point where they can't possibly be getting any happiness out of life.

And again, it's because these situations don't happen in a vacuum. There is a wise hesitation before granting permission to use all the life-ending tools we have, because even if the cases seem obvious and clear-cut and on the side of preventing suffering now, it means we now have a powerful and dangerous option in the world, and can imagine the argument shifting in ways we know are unacceptable. "Why this group of people aren't REALLY people... they can't be happy with this demi-life they are 'living'... we should do us and them all a favor and end things."

I'm in favor of pragmatism and maybe even utilitarianism and looking to maximize happiness, buta ny system of philosophy and morality has to take the uncertainty and interconnected/precedent setting nature of their conclusions into account, or else it's not a very good system. (This might be an argument for why long-lasting systems of morality - like religion - should be regarded with more respect than modern jerky atheists with their clever thought experiments and hypotheticals would grant them.)
I recall a discussion somewhere of Singer's drowning-child example that pointed out that by Singer's own reasoning, you should actually let the kid drown and save your expensive suit so you can sell it and give the money to UNICEF.
Matt M. on facebook, in reply to the above.

Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.
John Wayne


Two sentence horror stories

June 13, 2020

Nice day for a little woodsish walkaround with Liz (Melissa had to stay home, she banged/scraped her little toe something fierce, like blood-soaking-paper-towel fierce) We went to the Hammond Pond Reservation near Chestnut Hill.

June 14, 2020

Welp, I know my no-nuance, get-to-the-crux-ness, don't pay your dues just find fun low hanging fruit that seems pretty core to my way of engaging with the world probably prevents me from really achieving art, but silver lining I don't have the perfectionism of this guy...

June 15, 2020


(I just read a new description of the answer to this and I updated the 2006 entry with my javascript simulation of it.)

June 16, 2020

Just added a cheap monitor for use in portrait mode, for background stuff. Some might say "but six screens? isn't that too many?" To which I say... too many? or JUST ENOUGH. (laptop for music and quick social media diversions, phone, 3 screens for work, and an iPad for a todo list... also as a 4th screen w/ a stylus to act as a tablet.)

Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson ain't got nuthin' on me.
(As I actually go to use this setup more... I think I can go back to using my phone for music and leave the other laptop aside... a little clear deskspace is nice to have. Glad I kept my phone cradle that has lightning + aux passthrough)
The seed must grow regardless of the fact that it's planted in stone.
Tupac Shakur

Interesting that some universities are at least suspending SAT/ACT test requirements. Obviously a pragmatic move when there might not be places to actually take the test, but I wonder if it bodes poorly for the test in the long run?

I came from a well supported background (in terms of family and a public high school good high level classes) but nothing elite, and the test felt like a bit of an equalizer - even if now I understand I'm more a fast thinker than a smart one, and that there are all sorts of other biases that can be depressing the score for other folks.
Heh. Just noticed the React tutorial is the same programming task I gave myself as a 9 or 10 year old kid: a 2-player only Tic Tac Toe game. (Ok, no, this is not demonstrably better than a piece of paper, that's not the point!) What's really striking for me is that it uses the same method of determining if there's a winner that I came up with as a kid - just see if any of the 8 ways of winning are filled with all "X"s or all "O"s. (I remember my Aunt saying she was impressed that I came up with that when I geekily showed off the method to her...)

June 17, 2020

And just to think, all of these billions of stars...
...have no use to us. They're rubbish, there's nothing on them. It makes you think how great we are. That's... whenever I look into the sky, I think how much bigger we are than all of this nonsense.
Richard Ayoade in Iceland, waiting to see the Northern Lights, on the show "Travel Man"
Super funny show! I think good too if you want some sour grapes about travel, but also vicariously enjoy seeing things - the cinematography is weirdly good, like things really "pop" (I think Liz suggested it so thanks!)

He also had a good line about how collecting anecdotes... that's the point of travel really...

June 18, 2020

"Now wait," he interrupted before Richard even had a chance to start, "don't I vaguely remember that you had some sort of computer when you were here? When was it? 1977?"

"Well, what we called a computer in 1977 was really a kind of electric abacus, but..."

"Oh, now, don't underestimate the abacus," said Reg. "In skilled hands it's a very sophisticated calculating device. Furthermore it requires no power, can be made with any materials you have to hand, and never goes bing in the middle of an important piece of work."

"So an electric one would be particularly pointless," said Richard.

"True enough," conceded Reg.

"There really wasn't a lot this machine could do that you couldn't do yourself in half the time with a lot less trouble," said Richard, "but it was, on the other hand, very good at being a slow and dim-witted pupil."

Reg looked at him quizzically.

"I had no idea they were supposed to be in short supply," he said. "I could hit a dozen with a bread roll from where I'm sitting."

"I'm sure. But look at it this way. What really is the point of trying to teach anything to anybody?"

This question seemed to provoke a murmur of sympathetic approval from up and down the table.

Richard continued, "What I mean is that if you really want to understand something, the best way is to try and explain it to someone else. That forces you to sort it out in your own mind. And the more slow and dim-witted your pupil, the more you have to break things down into more and more simple ideas. And that's really the essence of programming. By the time you've sorted out a complicated idea into little steps that even a stupid machine can deal with, you've certainly learned something about it yourself. The teacher usually learns more than the pupil. Isn't that true?"

"It would be hard to learn much less than my pupils," came a low growl from somewhere on the table, "without undergoing a pre-frontal lobotomy."

"So I used to spend days struggling to write essays on this 16K machine that would have taken a couple of hours on a typewriter, but what was fascinating to me was the process of trying to explain to the machine what it was I wanted it to do. I virtually wrote my own word processor in BASIC. A simple search and replace routine would take about three hours."

"I forget, did you ever get any essays done at all?"

"Well, not as such. No actual essays, but the reasons why not were absolutely fascinating [...]"

Douglas Adams, "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency"
This anecdote - in particular the "I could hit a dozen with a bread roll from where I’m sitting" line - has always stuck with me, and I thought of it when I was talking about programming to a friend (she brought up a lesson she had had at computer camp, where you have to give painstakingly step-by-step directions for making a peanut butter sandwich to another camper who has to follow them extremely literally.)

I do think that anyone who can write down a recipe a beginner can follow is in good shape to try programming.

June 19, 2020

Man, I love P5.js and creative coding -

The use of clmtracker to do some basic webcam face recognition work was especially inspiring.
A reminder that the word "sex" was inserted into Title VII by a segregationist Democrat to try and kill the Civil Rights Act. One of the great self-owns of American legislative history. link

June 20, 2020

So f'in tired of witnessing utterly half assed mask wearing. How stupid are people?
hat for my hat's hat

June 21, 2020

Even in a non-quarantine year, nothing like solstice and the inexorable swing towards shorter days to trigger the ol' FOMO.

quotes from Jim Holt's "When Einstein Walked with Gödel"

June 22, 2020
ignoramus et ignorabimus
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Latin for "we do not know and will not know", like on the limits of scientific knowledge
Einstein, too, was unable to make a clean break with time. "To those of us who believe in physics," he wrote to the widow of a friend who had recently died, "this separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, if a stubborn one." When his own turn came, a couple of weeks later, he said, "It is time to go."
Jim Holt, "When Einstein Walked with Gödel"
Mathematical beauty, like the beauty of, say, a late Beethoven quartet, arises from a combination of strangeness and inevitability.
Jim Holt, "When Einstein Walked with Gödel"
Higher mathematics was invented by the Pythagoreans, a cult whose tenets included the transmigration of souls and the sinfulness of eating beans.
Jim Holt, "When Einstein Walked with Gödel"
Science is a differential Equation. Religion is a Boundary Condition.
Alan Turing
"Well, one day," Wheeler recounts, "I was at the Institute for Advanced Study, and I went to Gödel's office, and there was Gödel. It was winter and Gödel had an electric heater and had his legs wrapped in a blanket. I said, 'Professor Gödel, what connection do you see between your incompleteness theorem and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle?' And Gödel got angry and threw me out of his office."
Jim Holt, "When Einstein Walked with Gödel"
Truth is what your contemporaries let you get away with.
Richard Rorty
"[Richard Rorty] also liked to cite Nietzsche’s observation that truth is a surrogate for God. Asking of someone, “Does he love the truth?” Rorty said, is like asking, “Is he saved?”"
Jim Holt, "When Einstein Walked with Gödel"
That last line really struck home for me, since it so mirrors what I've come to realize lately, how my early religious upbringing provides me with a well-nigh unshakable faith in an absolute truth... but the only thing we can know for certain about this truth is that we can never be certain how well we know it.

This kind of steadfast unfaith completely overthrew the more typical religious faith I had had up to that point, kind of like Zeus overthrowing Cronus.
Ya'know... WWI ended in 1918, and WWII started in 1939. That's not a ton of time after "the war to end all wars", like when I think about how long life has felt since Y2K.

June 23, 2020

Japan is the Land of Must, I decided as soon as I set foot in Tokyo, as surely as America is the Land of Can.
Pico Iyer, in "A Beginner's Guide to Japan"
A monk is sitting behind me. I can feel his smirk on the back of my neck. The secret of the monk's success: he believes in nothing. Everything is. There is no need for belief.
Brandon Shimoda, from "The Grave on the Wall", a collection of dream narratives.
Both via September 2019 Harper's Magazine.

June 24, 2020

A piece going over some of the features of the Hey e-mail service, and how they cleverly borrowed interface patterns from other things like social media and the MacOS dock to make a better e-mail experience.

It makes me realize that I've been using gmail for about as long as I've had my current car, about 16 years. Besides the value of 16 years of mail archive (and my hesitation to use an email service where I assume I'd lose my account if I stopped paying - "free" is a dangerous and addictive drug!) the gmail feature I'd miss if it wasn't well-replicated is sorting my inbox into "Important and Unread" vs "Everything Else" (with a little section of starred items to get back to.) That separation of the sheep from the goats works better for me than more fine-grained categories.

Nice tribute to AOL Instant Messenger. I feel like my friends and I were funnier on AIM than we are on the current chat options. Maybe it's the setting? Like it's easier to think of something clever typing on a normal computer with a keyboard and a big screen than tip-tapping on a mobile device?

The article mentions the art of the away message... I think that tends to be a youth thing. Like in college, we had ".plan" files, what people would see when they ran the "finger" command on your account (and yes, the jokes about that verb were plentiful and rarely subtle). It shared that youthful romance energy as mentioned in the article, wistfully seeing if your crush had logged in and checked your email and not bothered to reply, and leaving a message that you hoped they might see but might never know if they did.

(Not even sure if there's a social media equivalent of "away messages" and .plans - maybe avatar photos and what the banner image on your FB profile page?)

June 25, 2020

Two pointless notes from the quarantine:

1. When I break from WFH for the day, I generally grab my personal laptop, my phone (that's been providing music) and my iPad mini (that's been on todo list duty) and grab the pile to trundle with from my desk to the living room or wherever. I call this pile... "my tech stack", har har.

2. A silver lining to the dark cloud of never put in the work to learn to cook is that small discoveries seem amazing. Like, my go-to breakfast for quarantine is "banana with nutella on a flax/oat bran/whole wheat wrap". 3 months in and many bananas later I realize it's like twice as good if you slice the banana first, rather than just treating it like a fruity hot dog. The mouth feel is greatly improved and I think there's more surface area for the flavor, more "banana meets that-permitted-in-the-morning-frosting-that-is-nutella" action

June 26, 2020

"There's nothing in our lives that says we're supposed to be here forever," he says. He reminds me that his father had died unexpectedly when he was in college. "We expect we're going to get certain things in life, but we're never actually promised them. And I was given a chance to know that there will be an end coming at some point in time. I had the option to either be pissed off as I went toward that end or to say I'm going to enjoy this and embrace every minute that I can. There may come a point down the road that I get upset, but if I'm angry now I miss whatever time I have left."
Brian Wallach talking to Brian Barrett in this Wired piece about his fight against ALS.
I never got to know my Aunt Jean - said in some ways to be star of her family - who had ALS when pregnant with my cousin (also named Brian - odd synchronicity) and died not too long after. The ALS lifespan is measured in years instead of decades, but I think Wallach's point applies to everyone, even if they have hope of an order of magnitude more time to live.

If I had ALS, I'd imagine being kind of salty about all panicked resources being poured into COVID. As a society we're fortunate the former is uncommon, but that's a small consolation to the ones who it hits.
There's another photo I found, this one in our senior yearbook, page 93. It's our fifth-grade class picture. I'm standing in the back, awkward in huge glasses. Brian's sitting in the front row, legs crisscrossed, face serene. I like this one because we're not quite fully formed. The long arc of our lives had not yet been fixed. And then I remember that there is no arc. Nothing's fixed. There's just a box, and what you fill it with.
Brian Wallach, ending the previously mentioned article

It's weird how some folks' Zoom headsets really sound like the mics used by the TV news helicopter traffic reporter. Especially the ones that even put the mic on a bendy stick right in front of the face.

June 27, 2020

BABAM! has been less active this year - torn between public health and safety and wanting urgently to use our music to boost messages of Black Lives Matter and housing justice.

As evidence has come in that masks reduce danger brass instruments project sound waves more than aerosolized particles, we've started to join in with socially distanced involvement at protests: at the State House with percussion with All Out Against White Supremacy! to counter alt-right jerks, and then in JP to support City Life/Vida Urbana in "Tenants Rise / Cancel Evictions" - we can't let COVID put people on the street.



June 28, 2020

I just saved a ton of money on Christmas presents by discussing politics on social media.

the joy of craft

June 29, 2020
My friend linked to Craft is Culture which had a big emphasis on Working From Home as standard practice. (Oddly I think that's what is using the term "Digital by Default" for, which is a rather misleading way of putting it, IMHO.)

Danco writes
There are many reasons why the west coast won, but one of the most widely agreed-upon was the fact that California state law forbids non-compete clauses.
I only agree with the part of that before the comma. For my career since the mid 90s at least, they've always been thought of as probably not-enforceable and generally ignored, though obviously the same explicit-IP-protections apply.

I'm not sure of all the reasons for the coast migration. MIT + Harvard and then military contracts like Lincoln Labs and Raytheon were early anchors. But other companies like Intel, Microsoft, Atari, Apple, those were all West Coast, and the new anchors.

I think that there's a limited time when a techie is likely to make a big move to follow a job (though I guess I can think of more examples than I first realized if I try). But there's a big anchoring effect... you go to college, then you either stay in that area, return to your hometown, or maybe land a new job someplace new to you. Then there's about one period in your late 20s where you might relocate again.

The thing about follow your craft is... I think the majority of techies are rather bad at monetizing their craft. They really rely on businesses to make money. Many coders are as stupid about the very basics of how a business can scale up to afford salaries (and health care) and rent - as stupid about those basics as the non-techies are about a full website works. So the 40 hour grinds continue.

It follow from that that I think most techies are fairly risk averse. They might takes some swings w/ a low salary but uncertain high reward in a startup, but that's about it. Entrepreneurial crafters are not so common.

Danco brings up the Cathedral and the Bazaar - and indeed, Linux is amazingly impressive. But I think projects like that work by programmers "scratching itches" as they say. I think Linux was an usually fortuitous mix of some folks who wanted to take on the "big itch" of a whole damn OS, and a legion of people happy to work a bit smaller. Going back to my earlier point, folks coding for the love of craft are usually not working on something that will be as universally useful as Linux has been - or anything that they have a real hope of making a living off of.
There is a great big online game list but some of my buddies are working to make a more curated version (also going to be useful for work)

you can't stop reality from being real

June 30, 2020
Been thinking about how Flavor Flav once said "You can't stop reality from being real" - as Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad points out, he meant the reality of America's race construct can't be hidden by not talking about it. That message is of crucial importance these days.

But to move from the cultural to the philosophical - for me that line is even more universal and absolute. It's why I'll never deeply understand/grok people who say how they are comfortable living intuitively. Like, there is a reality - albeit one that can never be confidently known - and either your intuition is in tune with it, or not, and I think it's pretty important to do that check as soon as possible!

I mean, it's more complicated than that since beliefs inform actions which in turn make changes in that shared reality. So there are feedback loops and the ability to kind of project your interpretation on others and so make the your subjective interpretation go from idea to a more important part of objective reality.... but still, at some point you get to the point where your intuitive model is self-consistent AND in tune with the physical universe we all inhabit, or it isn't.

(But that said - our intuitive selves HAVE done some deep learning - basically the "muscle memory" for the universe. That's profound stuff. But that doesn't mean it's right, because it may be a product of a bad environment, of consistently wrong inputs. For example: If you grow up in a ceaselessly racist environment - whether hard and explicit racism or the softer racism we get a ton of up here in the liberal north - than your intuitive mental "muscle memory" is likely to also be racist.)

I think too of my weird empathy for terrible "Only God Can Judge Me" tattoos. It's trite, and if you get such a tattoo many, many people will be eager and able to contradict that tattoo...but I find it to be a more important and true sentiment than, say, "Man is the Measure of All Things". Humanity is a bendy, irregular yardstick for all things. The "Measure" is the map, not the territory. If everyone was racist, that wouldn't make racism right.

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