Feb 15

Trash Bird Fix

Haven’t posted in a while, mostly because my life has been a complete fucking wreck for the past year or so.

Anyway. I fixed the trash bird with a chrome extension.

Question: How??

Answer:

ninplugin

Video of it in action:

Go download it: https://github.com/codercowboy/trashbirdfix

Oh. I also wrote a book about the disastrous past year.

Jan 23

Wasting Time

When I was young, my friend James and I liked to fish. Other kids would be dropped at the mall for the day, but we’d get our parents to drop us at Joe Pool Lake. We were strange.

In those days, I’d save my allowance from week to week, dreaming of new fishing lures and fishing rods. My brothers and I would ride our bikes a mile or so to a big box retailer called Oshman’s. It was there that I’d window shop and plan my summer’s allowance. The fishing lures never worked, but I kept buying them all the same.

For a long while, James and I spent our days at Joe Pool Lake trying our various fishing lures – deciphering purposely vague hieroglyphics that passed as instructions from lure packaging. If the lure never worked, you probably just didn’t read the instructions right – that sort of infomercial style marketing scam.

We never caught a thing – but we kept right on buying, over and over, all summer long. “I SAW SO AND SO CATCH SOMETHING WITH THIS EXACT ONE ON TV, IT MUST BE DIFFERENT FROM THE LAST FOURTEEN WE TRIED!” – that sort of thing.

Summer passed into fall, and finally into winter – enough time for even a dimwitted pair of 12 year olds to realize they’d been had, fishing lures were bullshit – or if they weren’t, the patience or skill required to make the things work were out of our reach. Truth be told, we didn’t know what we were doing.

A few years later I spent my summers writing polished little software packages. The first, Lan Chat, was an internet based chat application back when my father and I had networked the home computers. Lan Chat let my brothers and I negotiate upcoming Duke Nukem 3d deathmatch map choices over a wire, rather than shouting down the hall. Negotiating over the wire meant our parents wouldn’t hear us and realize we were staying up so late.

The following year, instant messaging file transfer was in a terrible state – no matter how perfect the setup, none of us could get a file to ever actually go. This was in the golden age of dial up modems, before NAT, and Port Forwarding, and other forms of networking hell. This was when sending a file was as simple as just specifying a I.P. Address and a Port – for whatever reason AIM, ICQ, and the others couldn’t get files to go over the very same connection all of those little chat bubbles went through just fine.

My dead-simple solution to this problem, File Messenger, actually worked. Hell, Lan Chat sent files more reliably than AIM ever did, but File Messenger added a queue, automatically resumed file transfers and auto reconnection.

The year after that, as a freshman in school, my high school CS teacher was on my mind. I had been her assistant, grading bits of high school code printed on ink jet printers – it was a disaster. Without fail, every class had the one student who insisted their program would work, when a quick eyeball of code on PAPER clearly showed it would not. Still, we’d suffer the delusion for a bit and let the student load his program and show us how it didn’t work.

Problem Student: “Oh, it was working, let me just fix this.” Me: Right.

Every time we graded an assignment, the CS teacher would have a stack of code half a foot hight on her desk from all of her students. Nightmare.

Class Project Manager, my third little software package, solved my teacher’s nightmare. CPM was File Messenger with a drastically simplified UI. Students could submit their code and their questions, and the teacher’s machine would collect this information in a nice organized folder structure, all without a half foot of printer paper per assignment.

My high school software had moderate success, a few thousand downloads, and a grand total of two $20 checks from users who actually registered the software. Various shareware “review” sites awarded some of my work ridiculous little 5 star award gifs that they handed out like candy – you know the type, the site’s logo in the gif was 30 point font, and the “5 stars!” bit was 6 point.

I was happy with my accomplishments. Unlike those damned fishing lures, I seemed to have the skill necessary to make a computer sing, but, in truth, I didn’t know what I was doing.

After college, I knew better than to trust my fate on the generosity of strangers. Self-contained hobby software packages were fun as hell to write, but they didn’t pay the bills. I signed on at Visa and learned to make software the way big boys do. Sending files from one computer to another was a neat trick, but Visa was another level.

My favorite Visa interview question: How would you create software that can be upgraded while it’s still running?

Next level.

While at Visa I started picking up Java, and iTunes was annoying me with terrible playlist export options. I wanted to be able to export a playlist of songs into a folder with a customizable file format, but also, I was extremely frustrated that there was NO export option at all.

I spent several weekends putting iPlaylist Copier together – a simple program really, it read in a terrifying only-apple-knows-why XML file format, made sense of it, provided the user with some options on which playlist and folder and such, and exported files as directed.

I posted iPlaylist Copier to the internet, and I received my first little bit of troll mail from a fan: “Why not drag and drop from iTunes, you can copy playlists that way?”

Why hadn’t I thought of that?

I knew how to upgrade software while it was still running, but I still didn’t know what I was doing – clearly.

After Visa and some other jobs, my friend Russell convinced me to pick up an iPod Touch – a non-phone mobile device that ran iPhone software. I cursed at my friend Russell for a fair bit of time – to this day I think typing on these devices is an exercise in pure masochism.

In time, we bought more iDevices, and my wife wanted to listen to some music while she ran. Her interval timer watch wouldn’t beep loud enough to be heard over music playing from her iPod, so she searched for interval timer apps.

We found half a dozen interval timer apps, several of them clearly made by very smart people. The trouble was, I’m not a very smart person. Remember, I can’t figure out how to work a fishing lure, or what “drag drop” is, apparently.

My wife is very smart, but she’s not a rocket scientist, and she’s not telepathic – so she, too, was at a loss, trying to operate any of the interval timer apps at all. Every app was far too complex for what she wanted, and several of them we could not figure out at all. We just wanted to set timer A to say X minutes and B to say Y minutes and click “start”, how hard was this?

At this time in my life, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had worked at Visa and some other places long enough to know that engineers are funny creatures. We’re all the time competing on feature count, rather than simplicity – something feels wrong to many an engineer to charge $2 for an app that’s not as complex as another $2 app. We never understand why our software isn’t being used or sold, and why the guy with the less-is-more approach is doing just fine.

My friend Russell is also a very smart person, like my wife. He spent most of his career coding software for mobile devices, long long before that was a fashionable thing to do. Russell cut his teeth on shitty PalmOS devices that never did what they promised to do.

That’s not a joke. The Palm devices were shitty. Ask Russell about reading back every write, and manually checking a checksum you wrote along with the data, to make sure the OS itself didn’t garble your write and say “SUCCESS!” when really it meant “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING!”.

Another time Russell was talking about a discussion at work with some colleagues, where the team needed to be able to tell if a single field had changed from one call to the next. Russell suggested the obvious answer of comparing a hash code over the fields, but his obvious answer was dismissed by lesser minds. A lot of software development works that way, sometimes we’re doing things the long way because our buddy Brandon on the team can’t be bothered to consider an idea he did not invent.

When my wife was out of luck for interval timer apps. I knew exactly who to call.

Russell and I put together rTimer in a weekend or two. That was my introduction to objective-c, rTimer. Christ, every bug fix we make these days, 5 years later, makes me want to shoot myself. Bakercode is bad, but new-to-the-language Bakercode is the fucking worst.

rTimer came together so quickly and easily that Russell and I thought we shouldn’t bother putting it on the app store – I mean, look at all those other interval timer apps with more features, right?

We didn’t know what we were doing.

Months after rTimer, we bought our first iPad, and I noticed Tumblr apps on the device were lacking, not unlike the interval timer apps on the iPhone were before. In an evening I threw together a sloppy but functional iPad Tumblr app that worked like a few iPhone Tumblr apps I already had – it looked like garbage.

I sent the code to my friend Adam, and asked him if he’d like to make a Tumblr app with me. A few weekends later his girlfriend and he brought over a photoshop file showing the beginnings of the TumbleOn interface, beyond pro-level graphic design, just astounding.

By day, Adam and I would practically sleep through our day jobs, stuck in a six month QA cycle that would never end, and by night we’d code our hearts out on this little Tumblr app.

We coded for months, 4 or 5 months, 80 or 100 hours of evening work every month, we had a blast.

As the app was coming to completion, I knew, I absolutely KNEW we were going to publish it. Our Tumblr app was going to be a success, we were going to be rich, and if not rich, we’d have resumes that look better than yours – we’d have the satisfaction, that finally, for once, we knew what we were doing.

As we spun up LLCs and business bank accounts, I did everything in duplicate, making my own personal “Coder Cowboy” LLC, with the intention of finally pushing rTimer out the door as well.

Work on TumbleOn had made figuring out the ins and outs of publishing an app as a legit business worthwhile – it had so much time invested in its creation. But rTimer had taken Russell and I 40 hours to put together, and we weren’t sure if Russell’s employer would fire him on the spot if it was discovered he had made an app on his own time – it was that kind of insanity over in the land that didn’t believe in hash codes.

We kicked out rTimer anyway, removing Russell’s name from the product, but still sharing the revenue.

I thought we knew what we were doing.

At first, both TumbleOn and rTimer kicked me over into a deep depression – nobody gave a fuck. We didn’t know what we were doing, I guess.

We started to suspect that maybe the reason there weren’t great Tumblr apps on the iPad was because there’s no money in great Tumblr apps?

Then, in time, we got over ourselves. I noticed in an airport one day that the only people using iPads were 50 year olds or 4 year olds. None of the teens and twenty somethings who actually like Tumblr or know what Tumblr is. We realized we had engineered a product for a device our target market didn’t care about.

We spent a season of the following year, 80 hour months, again, making an iPhone variant of TumbleOn, and finally, success. Finally, TumbleOn started selling well.

After a year and a half of scheming, cramming in features, listening to user feedback, the works, we had a third party Tumblr app that made a decent enough amount of money. For a month or two we made $1000, then $1500, then $2000.

We considered the possibility of quitting our jobs. Maybe hobbies could pay the bills? Especially hobbies like TumbleOn, with some 2000 hours of love per person invested in the product. Silly things like rTimer wouldn’t fly, and there was a good ethical, justified reason for that, right? rTimer took 40 hours to make, and TumbleOn took man years.

Then TumbleOn made $2500 in a month, then $2000, then $1500, then $1000, then it leveled off at making between $200 and $400 every month – not nothing, but split three ways, not enough to continue investing our time on the software.

Just when we felt like we knew what we were doing, we learned we hadn’t a clue – back to the day jobs, I guess.

One winter day, when I was 12, James or I had the bright idea to stop following the marketing. We left our useless fishing lures at home, and just bought some worms. We went over to the shack over in the marina – 4 tin walls constantly fighting a nasty, cold, and unforgiving wind.

That little shack was the best, they had these little space heaters hanging from the ceiling every so many feet, so you’d see these fishermen who didn’t know each other all huddled up under the space heaters, getting to know each other.

Bonus: When the water is freezing cold, space heaters make the water just warm enough to bring the fish in.

Some old guy told us that was why we were catching so many fish, the space heaters. We were catching these little 3 and 4 inch length perch left and right – the two of us were having a blast. By the end of the day, the both of us had two trot lines with 20+ perch each.

The old guy who was sure it was the space heaters laughed at us and with us throughout the day. He was using lures and waiting on the big one. He was waiting for a striper that as far as I can tell, has never existed in Joe Pool Lake over near Arlington Texas.

The old guy kept waiting and waiting, every cast with his infomercial lure a little lottery ticket – every cast an idle hope at winning big.

That night my mother thought me ridiculous, diligently fileting my 25 perch – every filet a half bite of food at best, all 25 of the fish making almost a full meal for me alone.

One time my father drove through fog that looked like ghosts to a lake to catch catfish with us, that was my most favorite fishing trip ever – the fog made the day feel ethereal, special, like we had visited some foreign land that only existed in that moment.

My second favorite fishing trip was the day James and I learned that lottery tickets are bullshit, and decided to have some fun instead – the day we caught fifty or more fish nobody in their right mind would bother taking home.

Over the years I’ve taken my fair share of lottery ticket attempts. Solving ultra important Duke Nukem 3D map communication problems, and figuring out how to send a bootlegged Nine Inch Nails mp3 to my friend Greg reliably.

Somewhere I’ve still got photos of a couple of $20 checks I received in exchange for entire summers of 17 year old effort.

TumbleOn has bought me a nice laptop, and my wife and I went on a trip, in exchange for so many hours spent on the thing that I might as well have had a 7-11 gas station job that would have paid more.

TumbleOn – that was my moment. Building something with friends, finally, after years, with the know-how to give the thing the best shot it could have had without breaking our bank on marketing.

We started counting images viewed per second in TumbleOn, and I was laid off from a startup full of know-it-alls, not unlike Russell’s hash code fans, I was laid off the very same day TumbleOn overcame 1 million photos viewed per day.

As the tidal wave passed us, TumbleOn maxed out at a steady 2.5 to 3 million photos viewed every day – viewing photos on Tumblr on your phone or iPad is an esoteric niche hobby, it seems – shared by thousands, but not millions. A revolving cast of 4,000 or so users use the app every week and there have been billions of photos viewed, thanks, in some small part, to us.

When I started TumbleOn, the sky was the limit. I aimed to quit my job and make apps forever, forever solving Duke Nukem 3D communication problems, stacking “passive income” over years and years. Indeed, as TumbleOn started climbing toward $2000 per month of income, it seemed as if all I’d need to do was seriously invest in an app until it made it – I just needed to stick with the lottery ticket and follow through.

But, rTimer.

When rTimer was released, it made about $10 the first month it sold, and the second month, and the third. Figures, right? Right. I didn’t put a lot of sweat into the app, so in this big make believe software engineering meritocracy world of ours, it makes sense that I didn’t have any success there.

Except, I did.

These days rTimer clocks $150 to $200 in income per month – while TumbleOn makes a slow and steady crawl downward toward zero. TumbleOn, the app we invested man years of effort in, one really expensive lottery ticket in terms of time, made $2500 in one month once – but it doesn’t anymore.

Meanwhile, rTimer, that 40 hour “I don’t know what I’m doing” app, rife with the worst Bakercode in existence, makes more or less the same amount of money as TumbleOn, and will continue to, long after Tumblr fades into wherever when Yahoo or the next Yahoo finally ruins it for everyone.

Financially speaking, TumbleOn was a wash – it will *never* make an ROI per hour invested that rTimer has made, but our hobby project has rewarded us in other ways.

So many evenings spent responding to user emails; so many evenings planning the next version; so many evenings coding the next feature that we were certain would make a difference and raise TumbleOn’s star – we were determined to have our moment, and we did.

For our man years of effort, my friends and I achieved a level of success we will not likely achieve again in our lifetimes – knowing we touched the hearts and minds of thousands of users.

It’s quite something to know that our after-hours hobby has been a part of no doubt millions of special moments for people we’ll never know – someone catching their breath and wiping tears after seeing their first lolcat; a teenager showing his class mates his collection of rare tasty memes he’s found with TumbleOn – begging them not to steal any; a budding photographer seeing inspiration in other’s work; a child identifying animals by name from theanimalblog; and so on.

My friends and I have put some afternoons into our fair share of lottery tickets, always hoping to touch the world in some way – to leave some dent, no matter how small, to create something bigger than ourselves.

Some of these lottery tickets pay a little, and many pay nothing at all, but the life lessons; the pride in our efforts; the emails from users; the billions and billions served image count; these things make the effort worth it, every time.

I still have no fucking clue what I’m doing. I’m not sure I’ve got another TumbleOn or even another rTimer in me. But I do know that no matter what we create next, I’m done with fishing lures and believing the infomercial marketing about one lottery ticket being better than another.

If you’re having fun, who gives a fuck if it sells?

Music: VNV Nation – Automatic / Judgement

Dec 15

#fear

At first, the google engineer cheered, knowing he or she had contributed to the world. It felt good knowing their contribution would save eons of man years of productivity that would have otherwise been wasted. They gladly marked their name down in wikipedia right beside bill gates.

Then, the numbers started rolling in. Who knew the #1 search term on the world’s biggest search engine, always, would be “yahoo“?

At first, the twitter engineer laughed. Knowing he or she had contributed to the world – a funny little thing, the trending hashtag. This engineer did not mark their name down in wikipedia by bill gates, because they had created something harmless.

Then, the numbers started rolling in. Who knew the most popular trending hashtags from day to day would carry the name “kardashian“?

Indeed, the twitter engineer slept soundly at night … until 2015.

In 2015 the articles started rolling in. Articles about marketing machines for presidential hopefuls capitalizing on the hashtag, capitalizing on the populace that searches for yahoo and kim kardashian – indeed, capitalizing on uneducated fear.

Who knew the undoing of democracy would be the fucking hashtag?

Dec 10

Music to Code By – 2015, or, how I learned to love the Dire Straits

Standard Disclaimer: My favorite band ever is The Smashing Pumpkins, or possibly Nine Inch Nails. In recent years my favorite genres of music have been EDM and Post Rock. If it’s dark, and/or mopey, I probably love it. If it starts off slow and sad and crescendos with catharsis 9 minutes later, I probably love it. Consider yourself warned.

This is the latest in a series of these posts. Like what you hear? Check out older editions: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011.

This Year’s Playlist

I’ve made this year’s playlist in Spotify. It clocks in around 4 hours, mostly because of 8 minute post rock/EDM tracks, but there’s a fair share of pop songs in there too.

If you need it, here’s the link to the playlist: https://open.spotify.com/user/1226261222/playlist/7ajRG03G6uPCj2rMqWHxht

I’ve designed the playlist to run in 2 acts. Act 1 is where you’ll find the pop, punk, and so on – and Act 2 is EDM / Post Rock. Act 2 begins with the track Los Alamos by Matthew Good – not a Post Rock track, but if you like that genre, you’ll love that track.

Best Albums of 2015

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Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor

Hold on a second, I know what you’re thinking – “Seriously? Marilyn Manson, in 2015?” – Yes, seriously.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the guy’s last 3 or 4 albums have been garbage, but good news – by the looks of it the dont-give-a-fuck party phase is over.

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The Pale Emperor is basically Marilyn Manson’s take on the blues. This is has-been washed-up lounge singer crooning in the back of one of those Las Vegas casinos you walk right past without noticing, on your way to a newer, more shiny, casino – on your way to a casino that plays the beatles every night.

Relatable lyrics are back, sarcasm is toned down, there’s more than a hint of remorse throughout – it’s good.

Who knew Marilyn Manson would get better with age?

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Circle Takes The Square – Decompositions: Volume One

NOTE: None of this band’s tracks are on the spotify playlist, because the band isn’t on spotify unfortunately. Instead, listen to their entire album, for free, here: https://ctts.bandcamp.com/

Circle Takes The Square opened for Caspian’s tour this year, and the thing that grabbed me was how much damn fun and sincerity the band seemed to portray. Self described as “Visionary Punk Rock”, CTTS is a genre bending blend between metal, hardcore (whatever that means), and screamo. In my opinion, they’re a promising younger version of The Paper Chase, except metal.

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If you dig CTTS, you’ll probably love The Paper Chase, and visa versa.

I feel like CTTS is a gateway drug to metal and various subgenres of metal. Various friends said “if you like that (CTTS), you’ll love Dillinger Escape Plan.”

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Silversun Pickups – Better Nature

The latest from the Silversun Pickups has a healthy dose of electropop or what you might call 80s resurgence sprinkled throughout – it’s one of those albums that will probably “sound like the mid 2010s” in years to come, but right now, it sounds fresh, it seems incredibly relevant.

Part of me wonders if this album is the band’s “adore”, we’ll see, I guess.

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Caspian – Dust and Disquiet

A fantastic post-rock record, more cohesive than their previous effort (waking season) – that’s not a slight against the band, I *love* waking season, probably a top-20 if not top-10 lifetime record, it’s just that waking season feels a little all-over-the-map when you hear this followup record. The band’s matured, you can hear it in the cohesion – this one sounds like the band was executing a vision, and in my opinion they excelled expectations.

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The songs on this new record are *fantastic* live, particularly the track arcs of command – the only adequate way to describe that track is to say it’s fucking ferocious.

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Jeff Rosenstock – We Cool?

A buddy of mine describes Jeff Rosenstock as a modern day John Lennon. If ever there was an indie DIY musical messiah, Rosenstock‘s it.

The record may come off as a respectable but possibly forgettable generic punk record, but then you see this photo of Rosenstock performing at his always-mandatory all-ages shows in the middle of who-knows-where:

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After seeing that photo, you start to wonder who this guy is, because he’s clearly fantastic. Then, you learn he’s from Bomb The Music Industry, and you hear his previous effort there, the Vacations album. Then, you see this fantastic trailer for a documentary that sums up Rosenstock’s mission in life in less than 5 minutes:

Then, you realize all of Rosenstock’s music is always free or pay-what-you want. Then, you realize my buddy’s right, if ever there was a second John Lennon, a Bono without the icky feeling that somehow a profit margin is being sold, Rosenstock is it.

When you realize Rosenstock’s the second coming of John Lennon, and you listen to his lyrics, you stop thinking generic punk record, and you smile every time you hear it.

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VNV Nation – Judgement

I heard of VNV Nation a lifetime ago. They’re a second or third wave EDM band heavily influenced by depeche mode. If you’ve heard depeche mode or erasure, you’ve heard VNV Nation, more or less. VNV Nation is 21st century depeche mode with a heavy-handed social-commentary lyrical style. In other words, VNV Nation is *awesome*.

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If you like Nine Inch Nails, or Marilyn Manson, or Depeche Mode, or Blaqk Audio, or Crosses, or AFI, or Deftones, or Erasure, or BT, or a thousand other Depeche Mode inspired acts, then you have to listen to VNV Nation.

The playlist contains tracks from several VNV Nation records. Judgement, Future Perfect, Matter and Form, Automatic, and Transnational are all worth a listen (all the way through, all tracks), in that order.

Judgement is my most recent favorite of the records I hadn’t heard before, but it’s incredibly hard to pick a favorite, because, in my opinion, many of their records are incredible.

Honorable Mentions

There’s a few tracks from Trifonic in the playlist. A friend of mine found him randomly on spotify or pandora radio. It turns out the Trifonic guy was a programmer on several of BT’s records. If you like BT, you’ll like this guy, and visa versa.

My wife discovered Telekenisis at random in a record store this year, the entire record is awesome. Highly recommended if you like the track from him/them on the playlist.

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I don’t think I mentioned Queens of the Stone Age last year at all, though a track or two from their album Songs for the Deaf was on the 2014 playlist. The meme above is accurate. Queens of the Stone Age are the shit. I listened to Songs For The Deaf probably 100 times this past year – such a great record. I’m enjoying Like Clockwork a fair bit too, which has a badass video to accompany it:

HBO published a pretty cool documentary on Kurt Cobain called Montage of Heck this year. In that docu, there’s this haunting choir version of smells like teen spirit. Turns out, there’s this badass choir from belgium called Scala and Kalacny Brothers. They have a few records full of choir covers of pop songs. Their version of Nothing Else Matters is also on the playlist, haunting, powerful, awesome. If you like this stuff, see also Vitamin String Quartet.

Two thirds of Sigur Ros put out a soundtrack to a film this year, the album and film are called Circe. It’s pretty good, forgettable, but good.

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The C418 guy is the guy who made the minecraft soundtrack, he has a couple albums out of minecraft music. Enjoyable for probably anyone, especially enjoyable for minecraft players.

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There’s a lullaby version of the track Cherub Rock by The Smashing Pumpkins on the playlist. That band, or person, Rockabye Baby, has a ton of lullaby albums covering various artists. Some are amazing, some not so much. Very interesting listening to some of them and realizing how many songs an artist has that are essentially lullabies already, especially the pumpkins and The Cure.

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Like everyone else who saw the Beach Boys biopic Love and Mercy this past year, I went through a bit of a Pet Sounds / Smile kick for a little while. I even bought a copy of Little Deuce Coupe on vinyl for $3 at one point. After seeing the film, I can appreciate the genius, and the madness, in Pet Sounds and Smile. God Only Knows is such a great song.

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Father John Misty is notable, because his lyrics are incredible. Not my style of music genre wise, but how can you not like a guy who sincerely croons something like the following?:

Someone’s been told too many times they’re beyond their years
By every half-wit of distinction she keeps around
And now every insufferable convo
Features her patiently explaining the cosmos
Of which she’s in the middle

Yeah. Father John Misty, check out his records, any of them.

Finally, There’s a Dire Straits song on the playlist, the track Brothers in Arms.

My father’s been on a huge Dire Straits / Mark Knopfler kick of late, and it’s spilled over onto my life.

I wouldn’t call myself a huge Dire Straits fan, but I can see how my father digs them. Years ago he was incredibly into Dave Matthews Band, primarily because the band was immensely talented and incredible, but also because the guy was a regular working class bar tender before he was a phenomenon. Dad’s also into Pink Floyd, aka the geekiest college educated nerds you’ve ever heard of – but they have a way with subversive sarcasm and taking you somewhere, on a trip almost, with their music. It’s no surprise to me then, when I hear echoes of Pink Floyd in the Dire Straits records my father’s played for me, and incredible talent, like Dave Matthews. Bonus: Mark Knopfler was a working class hero before the Dire Straits took off, too – he was just an average journalist, or something like that.

I’ve been watching the west wing far too often over the past two years. Seriously, I’m on my fourth watch-through in two years – I have a problem. I love the show, truly, beginning to end, all 150 or so hours of it – but there are a handful of episodes that get me every time, one of those being the season finale from season two.

Hang on! – Don’t go watch the season finale or the montage with the Dire Straits song finishing the season without watching everything before – the show’s like a post rock song, it makes no sense unless you’ve started at the beginning and listened to the full 9 minutes BEFORE the crescendo for full effect. When you take any one episode out of context, the west wing is just another law and order snoozefest, but when you play them all in a row, you realize there’s a common set of themes strung throughout – ambition, self-discovery, failure, overcoming obstacles, and so on.

The season finale to season two closes with the Dire Straits song Brother in Arms with incredible effect. The characters are going through an awful period in their career – death of loved ones, failure at every turn, incredibly important career-ending lies exposed, all of these things.

In the beginning of the episode, there’s this seemingly discardable plot line about a door that swings open from time to time due to a faulty latch. The president is annoyed by the door and wants it fixed. Over and over, throughout the episode, the door swings open at the most random times – a mild background annoyance among many hidden under these incredibly heavy major plot lines of death and doing the right thing, even when you’ve been caught in your lie.

As the episode goes on, the weather takes a turn – blue skies give way to a powerful and frightening thunderstorm – a torrential downpour that just won’t stop.

The president is alone in his office when the opening bars to Brothers in Arms start to kick in. A moment later, he is visited by an unexpected visitor and everything starts pouring out as the conversation between the president and the visitor escelates. At the most perfect moment, like the crescendo in a song, like the sound of a baby’s very first cry, the door with the faulty latch explodes open. Torrential amounts of rain pour in through the door, the door swings wildly in the wind, and the president stands in silence, letting the weather have its way with his life in that moment.

brothersinarms

He lets the waves of catharsis and emotion wash over him, and again, the faulty latch is almost meaningless background noise to the major plot lines of his life, indeed, it seems as if the faulty latch has all along been a key instrument in the president’s life of late – playing just the right tune to carry him through.

Anyway, I didn’t really notice The Dire Straits until I saw that montage set to the song. In my opinion, after seeing that, and listening to the record on my father’s couch, my father’s right: The Dire Straits are fucking incredible.

2015 has been a somber year for me and mine. There have been a thousand precious moments intermixed between the distractions of career and everything else that doesn’t matter. In some ways, I think the playlist plays like a soundtrack to my 2015 just perfectly, a dozen pop songs with frozen-in-time poignant moments that really matter to me in between.

I hope you like it.

Thank you:

  • Amanda for Telekenisis and the Smile Sessions.
  • Cory and Danny for the QOTSA recommendations.
  • Justin for finding Trifonic.
  • Lisa (nincure) for introducing me to VNV Nation a lifetime ago.
  • Brian for introducing me to Jeff Rosenstock and a thousand other bands.
  • Dad for introducing me to the Dire Straits.

Aug 26

Yet Another OSX Yosemite Wifi / Bluetooth Connectivity Fix

Some users have problems with OSX Mavericks/Yosemite wifi connectivity – there’s all sorts of things that can go wrong.

This stackexchange thread has a variety of solutions that you should probably try.

Did you reset your SMC, NVRAM, and a dozen other fixes as recommended from that thread? Yeah? Still have a problem? Me too.

Pro tip: DON’T reinstall a fresh copy of yosemite, that won’t fix it either.

In my case, we narrowed the problem down to bluetooth / wifi interference. Wifi and bluetooth both share 2.4ghz spectrums, and at least 1 (mine) of out 3 macbooks in our office has some problem going on. (Though, tbh, if it was just interference, it’d seem all 3 macbooks would have this same problem at least once in a while.)

Here’s how you can test if this is the same problem that you’re suffering.

  1. Open terminal.
  2. Run ping www.google.com.
  3. Watch output scroll by, usually something like: 64 bytes from 216.58.218.164: icmp_seq=1 ttl=53 time=15.730 ms
  4. Wait until you get something like this, consistently: Request timeout for icmp_seq 29
  5. While you’re seeing the request timeout responses in terminal, turn off bluetooth for your computer.
  6. If you’ve got the same problem as me, connectivity resumes and ping output comes back online the moment you turn bluetooth off.

Is this problem affecting you? Ok, Popular solutions to this problem:

  1. Re-situate your computer and bluetooth devices to avoid interference.
  2. Use a non-bluetooth mouse, keyboard, whatever; and turn bluetooth off.
  3. Change to a 5ghz wifi connection if possible.
  4. Remove the bluetooth pan network connection over in the network settings panel.
  5. Don’t spend $2500 on a computer and $70 on a bluetooth magic mouse and expect them to work.

That last solution is a joke, kind of.

Anyway, if like me, none of the above helps. I’ve written a bash script to auto detect the connectivity issue and auto cycle bluetooth on/off.

The script is annoying if you’ve got a bluetooth keyboard or mouse because input stops for a moment while bluetooth cycles off/on – but, the script works.

To run it, do this:

  1. Open terminal.
  2. In terminal, install homebrew if you don’t already have it. Homberew is awesome.
  3. In terminal, install the blueutil utility with homebrew (with brew install blueutil).
  4. Download my script, save it to your desktop.
  5. Review the code in my script, because we all know not to run software we don’t trust.
  6. In terminal, make my script executable in a terminal with cd ~/Desktop && chmod +x fixmacbookwifi.sh
  7. In terminal, run my script like so: cd ~/Desktop && ./fixmacbookwifi.sh 15 SOMEHOST, where SOMEHOST is a website or network computer that won’t mind you pinging it once in a while, like www.google.com (if you have no other option..).

It’s annoying, but it works for me on my 2014 Macbook Pro (Retina 15in mid 2014 / MacbookPro11,2 / OSX 10.10.5).

Drop me a line if you find a better / permanent solution to this problem.

Jun 13

The Coder Diet

A college friend of mine randomly decided that nutritional guidelines were bullshit. At the time, he was deliriously lost in a pipe dream of being rich before 30.

This may or may not have been the same time frame when he bought a house in California and rented it out to too many roommates at once. The theory was, California real estate value was only going upward – so buy, have some other fools pay the mortgage, and then sell for complete profit.

My friend was the extremely frugal sort, and a nerd, like myself. He examined his RichBy30.xls spreadsheet and tried to cut as many corners as he could expense wise. One evening, knee-deep in RichBy30.xls data, my friend decided he didn’t believe in nutritional advice – all his body needed was calories to consume, so why not optimize for the most cost effective calories there are?

Thus, the Ramen Diet.

For several weeks, perhaps a month, my buddy ate nothing but ramen and drank nothing but water.

We were in our early 20s, and we’d practically “lived on ramen” while on college from time to time. I was incredulous of the idea, but if nothing else, the Ramen Diet sounded like a worthy experiment.

After all, in your 20s, you’re immortal.

After about a month on the Ramen Diet, my buddy landed in the hospital for several days due to malnutrition. He came out okay, but his hospital bills were ten times more expensive than the monthly food expenses he had just cut. One month on the Ramen Diet costed my buddy one year’s worth of food expense, and nearly his life.

The Ramen Diet is, in many ways, a parable for the last decade of my life.

When my youngest brother was born, my body was on fire. Chickenpox was making the rounds at my school, and it was my turn.

During chickenpox week, our house was a scene from the movie E.T., this child quarantined in that room, the younger child in yet another room, and the baby a safe distance from everyone involved.

As my fever rose one evening, I began to hallucinate – my bed was an island in the midst of a room spinning like a top. When mother came to check on me I was covered in sweat, sobbing, hyperventilating, and holding onto the corner of my mattress as an anchor in the madness, as if my life depended on it.

Mother brought a cold rag for my head, and she told me of a magic trick: Focus on the nightlight in the corner of the room, if I do that, the spinning will stop.

The magic trick worked.

A few years after The Ramen Diet, a coworker of mine confided that when left to her own devices, she’d eat a can of beans or corn, unheated, for dinner. My coworker was 10 or more years my senior, and had her shit together in all the possible ways to have your shit together.

Another coworker, managing a very large high visibility project I was working on, offhandedly remarked on April 14 that he always waits until the evening of April 14 to do his taxes. In my humble opinion, that guy did not have his shit together.

Thus, it follows quite logically, that I tricked myself into a slower paced version of the Ramen Diet, but still did my taxes in February.

Nutrition was never a thing in our household. I mean, it was in the same way it is in every household, where your parents cook good-for-you dinners, and you stuff the broccoli in your milk so you can be the first to get the nintendo controller.

Vicious lesson in capitalism and being the first to market, being in a household of three boys with a nintendo that only had two controllers.

Our parents would buy sodas and fruit rollups (oh god, gushers fruit snacks!), four boxes at a time, intended to be rationed out over a month. The previously mentioned free market / first-to-market system we operated under would demolish those four boxes in two days, and we’d suffer with good-for-us sandwiches for the rest of the month. It was the worst.

Those two days when the nectar of the gods (various forms of corn syrup) would flow like rain at the beginning of the month were the greatest days of our childhood. Pure sugar-high delirium, with a high-stakes competitive game amongst ourselves to hide or consume more than our competing siblings.

There is nothing sweeter in this existence than eating the last fruit roll-up and staring right into your brother’s teary little eyes, watching a little piece of his soul slip away as the realization of the impending 28 days of sugar-free hell sets in.

Anyway, our parents taught us about food pyramids, but my takeaway was the same as my friend with the Ramen Diet, more or less – my body needs calories and if I eat the right amount I’ll be fine – got it.

Very strange, hallucinating, sitting in an ice-cold bath you logically know to be ice-cold, and yet your little body says the bath water is in fact boiling.

Cold baths for fever, and steaming hot showers running with closed bathroom doors for congestion, these were our family remedies that worked a charm, every time.

My chickenpox fever was dangerously high off and on through my week of hell, and every time it reached a certain point, the cold-water fever bath was necessary. Never in my life had I felt my skin boiling, and, fortunately, I haven’t again since.

The boiling ice water fiasco was my first personal brush with the concept of mortality and true pain. I tried very hard to forget about it, and believe instead that I was immortal.

“I don’t want this fucking fire truck.”

I probably didn’t know the f-word at the time, but the sentiment was the same, the last thing in the world I wanted was that fucking fire truck toy.

My youngest brother and I were spending hours that felt like years playing in a playroom, typical set of hospital toys – the one with the bendy wires that kids move blocks along from one end of the the wire to the other. We did that a thousand times, adding to the bacteria farm those toys were, like a bug light for every germ on earth, we were making our contribution with a sense of duty.

We were young, and confused. Our brother had a cough, then it got worse, and then he was staying in the hospital for a few days with a case of croup.

I’ll never forget seeing my middle brother laying in an oxygen tent – forever cementing the sheer horror of the movie E.T. I had seen years earlier – no contact, no touch, only tears as you watch your brother do battle.

Watching him there, struggling to breathe, helpless, I hoped in vain that his personal hell was somehow easier than boiling ice-water baths. I could not stand to watch him suffer.

When the wire bacteria farm gave way to worry and occasional hyperventilating and tears, someone, (my parents? my grandparents?) gave me this impressively large fisher price fire truck. I remember thinking this was easily the biggest and thus in some way the best gift I’d ever received, and I didn’t want it.

I might of (probably did..) thrown the truck against a wall in a tantrum, that would be classic Jason, unable to bargain with or contain overwhelming fear. I didn’t want that fucking fire truck, I wanted my brother to be better and out of this hell.

It wasn’t the fire truck though, it was mortality, suffering, and helplessness.

By the time the chickenpox vaccine came to market, I was already enamored with western medicine.

Doctors had saved my brother’s life with an oxygen tent, and stitched up little terrifying wounds for all three of us boys half a dozen times.

Grape flavored corn syrup with a pinch of medicine miraculously put us back on our feet from time to time. And who can forget the bubble gum flavored antibiotic we’d always get? Why couldn’t broccoli taste like bubble gum antibiotics?

When I heard the chickenpox vaccine was a thing, I remember thinking kids born after this are lucky little bastards, never needing to take a ride on the bed in the midst of the spinning top, or feel ice water boil their skin – incredible, really. Modern magic.

The cholesterol fad hit somewhere in my early teens, right around the time medicine for cholesterol was coming to market, funny how that works.

Our mother’s side has high cholesterol in the genes, and, bonus, not the type of high cholesterol that’s tamed by the previously mentioned cholesterol medicines.

For years my various doctors would prescribe lipitor, or zocor, or whatever the latest patent-protected big-pharma-pushed non-generic/full-cost cholesterol med fad was, and it’d never work.

I’d graduate from my high school doctor to one where my college was, and we’d have the same conversations repeated ten thousand times. No, doc, this shit really doesn’t work on me. Sigh.

I still trusted western medicine at that point, but I internalized the cholesterol battle as a personal curse, another checkmark on a very short list of perpetual health defects. Oh well, you can’t win them all. I guess I’m dying early then. Hopefully I make it to thirty, I guess?

I remember telling my wife about my coworker friend who would eat a can of beans for dinner sometimes. This was a justification on my part, and it worked. My wife continued to let me eat spaghettios and sugar cereal for dinner from time to time, and we happily and thoughtlessly called it “The Coder Diet”.

I didn’t ever tell my wife about The Ramen Diet, for obvious reasons.

After a few years of doctors threatening my 15 year old body with early death over cholesterol, I started losing faith in medicine. My previous naive trust in pills faded into a hazy grey middleground – to this day I feel there’s many things we can cure, but there’s still a ways to go, unfortunately.

I remember taking a day off of school once a year or so to go with mom to the children’s hospital – already a terrifying event in itself forever due to oxygen tent memories, and running on a treadmill for a few minutes, playing legend of zelda on a hospital NES, then later that day hearing yet another confirmation that yep I’d be dead really early in life. Cue metamucil fiber drink from hell, cut the eggs, we bought the entire cholesterol marketing machine hook, line, and sinker.

All of those times mom and I went to do treadmill tests, all of her fretting over her personal health and mine due to these damn genetics – so much effort all for naught.

During my first year of college, my mother caught a solar ray wrong, or some other factor caused a cancerous mutation in her body. She found a lump, a scan found nothing, six months later she was stage 4 all over her body, 4 years after that, she was in the ground.

When cancer’s aggressive, you’re often fighting a losing battle. She was terminal the minute she was diagnosed, and she endured 4+ years of hell – chemo and surgery galore, all the while just trying to buy more time to be a mother.

Every year there’d be some massive surgery, followed by two blissful weeks of not knowing if it was all over or not – not unlike those blissful days with fruit rollups in the family pantry.

We’d always hope for the best, and six weeks later some scan would tell us some new terrible.

While our mother was fighting these cancer battles, she tried anything and everything, drinking copious amounts of green tea, cutting sugar completely, exercising when she could – a thousand lottery tickets in vain.

At several points she participated in clinical trials for drugs coming to market – something I’d never heard of previously, indeed at the time I didn’t understand that the big-pharma marketing machine existed, or how drugs are made, or how studies are ‘sponsored’, and so on.

When she passed, I was angry. Extremely angry, facing boiling bath water oxygen tent mortality constantly in my thoughts. Angry at western medicine for failing my mother, for bullshit scans not seeing what was already there at the very beginning.

In that grieving process, someone somewhere told me exercise was a good way to deal with anger, so I started running on a treadmill. I was in my early 20s, and immortal. Within weeks of starting I was jogging fifteen minutes straight every day. I lost weight, and for the first time in my life, my cholesterol dropped dramatically.

Naturally, my pharma-bought doctor wasn’t happy with results and insisted I should still be striving for even lower cholesterol. It was about that time I quit the meds and started thinking I knew better than doctors.

Fast forward a decade, through several spells of running on a treadmill with my 20-something immortal body at random. Stop. Start. Never stretch, my immortal body, smarter than doctors, smarter than trainers – that 20-something body just keeps on going. No matter the nutrition or lack there of.

My delusion increases. Maybe I really am immortal, I almost never stretch, and I do only a couple of exercises, maybe gyms and trainers are a ruse, maybe they’re bullshit like nutrition food pyramids and all I need is time on the treadmill with calorie counting?

Around this time, I find myself a doctor who proudly hangs this informal certificate of membership for a group of physicians who steadfastly refuse big-pharma evangelists – the “free” lunches, the “free” latest-drug-fad branded swag, the “free” conferences in Hawaii about said drugs, etc. Finally, a doctor I can trust.

In my late twenties, I stop going in for routine physicals, because I know what the bloodwork says – my cholesterol is high, and I need to lose weight – tell me something I don’t know. I’m immortal, and starting to think cholesterol is a marketing machine.

Maybe it’s all bullshit and marketing. I start to think, maybe I can just eat Ramen for life, you know?

Around 32 I get the big payoff – the reward for sitting in front of computers 12 to 14 hours a day for more than half of my life – lower back pain that comes and goes.

At first, running on treadmills helps the back pain, then it doesn’t.

I start to think, I wonder if I should have paid attention to my gym teachers, and done leg-lifts and stretched in my 20s, rather than just running and doing bench-presses?

The months roll onward and I endure awkward phases of foggy brain and decreased energy levels, often looking at my work week as a shitty version of the lottery, will I make it through this week without any back pain?

This goes on for years.

One time my wife and I cut sugar for an entire week. We had heard that if you do that, then eat normally after about a week – wine tastes better, indeed everything tastes better. That first day after the week without sugar we binge like mad, worst sugar coma / headache of my entire life – not recommended.

A year or two later paleo became a thing, and our friends took part in the facebook gym post crossfit marketing machine. I collected an arsenal of memes to post in response to said posts, it was a glorious glorious day when facebook started allowing images in comments – not unlike that last-fruit-rollup moment staring in your sibling’s tearful eyes with your cold smirk fronting a mouthful of sugar.

My wife and I were incredulous of paleo diets and non-stop crossfit testimonials. “26.2” bumper stickers started popping up on cars everywhere and all I could think was “oh come on, fuck off.”

The Coder Diet, my decade long version of the Ramen Diet, persisted.

Right around the start of the crossfit marketing machine, the back pain starts, karma for a million gym post meme comments, no doubt.

At the time I wouldn’t say I was at the height of my irrationality, but I was climbing that hill.

My wife would recommend a deep tissue massage to loosen leg muscles leading into the back, I’d try it, it’d work like a miracle. My back pain would disappear, then I’d try to jog like a 23 year old again.

A month or two later I’d be in my doctor’s office with lower back pain again. He’d recommend muscle relaxers to get me through the current bout.

Next I went to physical therapy, that was fun, the unattentive gym rat physical therapist, costing me $100 a throw to watch me do some exercises that didn’t appear to help, no advice for improvement – too busy facebooking on his phone and chatting up every bro and ladybro in the joint.

Finally, I go see a trainer friend of ours, she sets me up with a set of exercises that sound logical. I start doing them, intending to meet her again in a month. We don’t meet up again, I was watching some netflix marathon as soon as the back pain went away, instead of exercising.

Back pain comes back, I half-heartedly try a standing desk for a week. A week later I’m just sitting in the living room working on the couch instead.

I start to realize I’m not an immortal early-20s guy anymore – and I cling for dear life to a childish delusion, maybe I can’t jog anymore and if I’m even lazier (no working out at all) my back will stop hurting – this works. Then it doesn’t.

In the midst of on/off back pain my wife constantly encourages me to really get serious about fixing my back. She pushes doctors, another physical therapist, regular visits with a trainer – she advises me to really work the problem and start acting like an adult and taking this seriously.

Instead, I think of my pocket book. Yeah, my back hurts, but I don’t want to pay for a gym membership or a regular trainer, and the doctors will just prescribe a pain pill for today, and the physical therapists won’t whatever.

The whole ordeal starts to remind me of my mother’s lottery tickets against her cancer battle, is green tea going to help my back? How many lottery tickets do I have to give a half-assed try? Oh god, is this my version of cancer screenings being bullshit?

Besides, I know better. I am smarter than doctors and trainers. Everything is marketing, everything is bullshit. Clinical trials exist precisely because of this problem. Back in the 19th century people could put anything they wanted on a bottle and sell it as medicine.

I am excuses, and my wife waits patiently.

We try a fad diet of sorts for 30 days. The goal is to see if we’re allergic to various types of food. Like the week without sugar, but this time its no grains, sugar, beans, or anything really. Lots of cashews, chicken, and carrots.

About two weeks into this food allergen experiment, my energy returns and my foggy brain is suddenly clear skies consistently. There’s something to this diet.

The annoying thing about the fad diet was that I learned some stuff I didn’t want to know. I learned that not every calorie is the same, and that nutrition isn’t bullshit. I learned various things that made my delusions of The Coder Diet and immortal 20s lifestyle just a little bit harder to believe.

My favorite take away from the book about the diet was a comparison of the human body and a car’s gas tank. Different foods send different signals to our brain, some of these signals indicate we’re full and it’s time to stop, while others (oreos, etc) tell the body never stop eating. You can think of this as filling a gas tank on a car. When you put gas in the tank, a sensor in the tank indicates your tank is full on the car’s dashboard. Eating oreos is not unlike putting the gas in the tank after first drilling a massive hole in the bottom of the tank.

The problem with calorie counting as a nutritional guide is that you’re using the wrong tool for the job. Counting calories is comparable to filling your gas tank with water. The full-tank indicator is lit on the car’s dashboard, but bad things will happen if you try to run the car on water instead of gasoline. An ounce of protein is not an ounce of rice. A hundred calories of broccoli is profoundly different nutritionally from a hundred calories of a snickers bar.

The diet ends. We’re not obviously allergic to anything. Eating right was a lot of work.

Three days later I am mentally early-20s immortal again: Fuck it. Oreos and pringles are worth it. Right? Right.

At 32, one year into the back pain chronicles, I give running another go. It’s always worked before, so why not? I do my same old slow-paced ramp up from walking for several weeks to jogging. For several months I’m jogging like I was able to as an immortal early 20-something, but all the while my back pain is coming and going.

Every iteration of the back pain gets worse. First it’s mild discomfort by Friday of a work week, then a month or two later it’s Wednesday, then another few months pass and I bend over wrong doing yard work and my back’s intolerable for the better part of a month.

After a half-month of pain, I start my “never work out again” plan, then that doesn’t work, then I half heartedly go to a trainer, then I never exercise, rinse, wash, repeat.

All the while I’m thinking more and more often on boiling ice water baths, oxygen tents, and cancer screening gone wrong. I build an impressive house of cards, each card some bullshit excuse to not man up and face the realities of being an adult and taking care of my body.

The fad diet kicked the first cornerstone card out from under the house, I just didn’t know it. The diet was an unexpected curve ball in my delusional quest to remain the 20-something immortal, living on the Ramen Diet. Not even two weeks of eating healthily cleared my brain fog and concentration troubles up for months afterward. Nutritional science is most definitely NOT bullshit.

Now I’m starting to wonder if there’s something to all of that advice about stretching and doing more than one type of exercise. Maybe the Nth chapter in the quest against back pain will do the trick. Maybe it’s time for a lifestyle change. A little less ramen, computers, and delusional immortality blanketed in denial.

My current programmer living in a chair for a career back-pain lottery tickets, that you may also consider if any of this hits close to home:

  • Walking for 15 minutes every two hours during work days, rather than sitting in a chair for 6 hours at a time.
  • Walking outside rather than on a treadmill, working different muscles as I walk on uneven terrain.
  • Consulting with a gym trainer regularly.
  • Trying the standing desk again, remember not to lock the knees!
  • Yoga.
  • Various tips from /r/fitness threads.
  • Learning how to lift weights correctly, the book Starting Strength keeps coming up on various threads I’ve been reading.
  • Regular calisthenics exercises, you know, all those exercises you were taught in elementry school. (Thanks, Nick.)

Finally, I’m not a doctor, but here’s some possible bullshit I’ve heard recently, maybe some of it’s true:

  • Our bodies aren’t made to run long distances, but they are made to walk long distances. Walking as a recommendation for back pain relief is common.
  • My doctor says every 10 pounds of weight over your ideal weight puts 100x the stress on your back, so being 30 pounds overweight is 300x more stressful on your back than being your ideal weight.
  • Lower back pain is often attributed to weak core strength. Crunches, squats, etc help this.

Music: R.E.M. E-Bow the letter, and Leave.

Apr 29

Act 2: The Surveillance State as Public Utility

A friend confides in me that they don’t feel as if their job is a ‘career’, because they didn’t need a degree for the career path they’ve been on for nearly 15 years. No degree, not management, not ‘career’.

I respond that if a career means endless promotion resulting in management positions, then I never want to have a career.

Early 2003.

I’ve recently broken up with a long time girlfriend, feeling as if I’ve been asleep for the previous four years of life – missing everything important. I sit in a daze, watching our country invade the middle east with non-stop televised live footage of the war at hand, this is a first. “Shock and Awe”, indeed.

I’ve been listening to a lot of the Matthew Good solo album Avalanche, and his band’s previous release, Audio of Being.

The albums strike me as a soundtrack for a future dystopia I am far too naive to realize already exists. One song in particular ingrains itself in the forever memory store:

Here’s a quarter for the phone
why don’t you call someone and find out
how it is we can all belong
to something that no one
wants any part of
one day you’ll wake up and there’ll be
advertising on police cars
and your death will sell you out
as someone smart,
somewhat smart

Baby don’t get out out of bed,
just lay back down your pretty head
and they’re advertising on police cars

Days or months later, the hundredth article on the up and coming surveillance state in the UK pops up on slashdot. The tin-foil hat crazies go on and on about how one day the entire world will be this way, cameras on every street corner, state-sponsored cyber warfare, and so on.

Whatever.

One comment on the slashdot UK surveillance state story catches my eye, a slashdotter recommends we read The Light Of Other Days by Arthur C Clarke and Stephen Baxter.

Arthur C Clarke? I love the movie 2001, on to the amazon “books to read” list the novel goes.

It’s 1999. I’m a high school junior sitting in a Barnes N Noble reading a book about the world before 9/11, before patriot acts, before twitter and selfies.

I’m reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes.

The atom bomb book is a massive book. I determine to finish it by the end of the summer, always forcing myself to go read bits of it at the store – an excuse to get out of the house and feel social in one of those weird ways introverts feel social without talking to anyone at all; also an excuse to not pay $25 for the book.

Rhodes starts his book talking about Leo Szilard, one of a few top scientists who made the atomic bomb a reality. Rhodes recounts how many scientists involved with the project had typical scientist delusional fantasies: this new, bigger weapon will cause world peace somehow, because of course it will.

In the book, Rhodes mentions Szilard in particular was incredibly influenced by a book H.G. Wells had written before World War I entitled The World Set Free.

Wells’ vision of utopia in The World Set Free entails the invention of an atomic weapon that renders a major world city a nuclear wasteland, uninhabitable for eons of time to come – after this unimaginable event takes place, all world powers unite and become peaceful – free of war.

How crazy it must have been for Szilard to read these sci-fi books about a future that in part came true just as predicted.

I didn’t finish the atomic bomb book. Instead I lost myself in H.G. Wells stories, finding his short story The Country of the Blind a perfect summary of every argument with the ignorant and dogmatic, ever. Idiots rule.

2009.

A local theatre shows 2001 : A Space Oddyssey on 35mm. My wife endures 3+ hours of amazing, and never lets me forget about her sacrifice whenever the movie comes up in the future.

The screening pushes me back into another Arthur C Clarke habit, reading the entire 2001 series of books again. Unsatisfied, I browse my amazon wishlist of books to read and find The Light Of Other Days, the book the tin-foil-hat slashdotter recommended several years ago in response to the UK becoming a surveillance state.

I read the book, finding it both fascinating and terrifying all at once. The plot supposes a brilliant technologist invents a machine that can instantly recall or ‘see’ any point in time anywhere on earth, all-encompassing youtube with instant recall for any GPS coordinate you wish.

In the book, the masses are terrified by this all seeing machine – it shouldn’t exist, or it should be highly regulated, or at the very least it shouldn’t be controlled by a single company. Like the machine gun, and the atom bomb before it – the machine exists, it cannot be taken back or wished out of existence. The work’s been done, and now the world must deal with the consequences.

That’s Act 1.

2012. George Zimmerman kills an unarmed 17 year old African American boy. He’s acquitted.

Say what you will about a country divided, at least in the case of Zimmerman, we’re fairly united in our outrage.

2013.

Edward Snowden blows the whistle on the NSA, revealing a world-wide surveillance state that dwarfs the early 2000s UK stories the slashdot tin-foil hats were so upset about.

Haunting echoes of The Light of Other Days Act 1, indeed, the all-seeing machine already exists.

The Light Of Other Days: Act 2.

After the initial shock of the all-seeing machine wears off. The world settles into a steady-state. Life as an ordinary citizen is not the same as before, because the all-seeing machine has eradicated privacy – but at least it’s a controlled beast – it’s not like your neighbor has access to the machine.

Turns out, the brilliant technologist who invented the thing is a benevolent type – he doesn’t want the all-seeing machine to fall into the wrong hands, so he sets it free – the all-seeing eye becomes public utility, accessible by all – another cultural atom bomb, just after the first had settled.

Chaos. A billion divorces. A million crimes solved on day one.

Remember when they shut down that town near boston for a day looking for the boston bomber and found nothing with thousands of police officers? Remember how one hour after lockdown was released an ordinary citizen found the kid?

You know how Microsoft spends 500 man years with 10,000 QA people testing windows before it’s released, but then on day 1 after the release a million bugs pop up anyway because 500 man years of time is just one hour for every 1 million users that use the thing?

Like that, but sci-fi style.

All over again, world-wide outcry – the machine was terrible for existing before, and now it was even more terrible with public access – the final crushing blow to privacy. Privacy eradicated forever.

2014. A Ferguson Police Officer kills an 18 year old African American boy. He’s not indicted. Riots ensue.

More Snowden documents leak through the year. Huge tech firms form alliances to lobby the government, begging them to cut it out. The US Government responds with ideas about surveillance security holes becoming law.

Meanwhile, security becomes a hot topic – and it seems things are accelerating.

Slashdot stories abound about security issues being found everywhere. Nevermind Microsoft’s patch tuesday – now our ten year old wifi routers with firmware that’ll never be updated have security holes being disclosed almost weekly. Remember when the TJMaxx credit card breach seemed like a big deal, then in 2014 it seemed every major retailer had the same? Heartbleed? Truecrypt developers saying don’t use the product?

In reaction to Ferguson, cameras-on-cops becomes a relevant social topic. If there’s going to be a surveillance state, why can’t an ordinary citizen tune in too?

2015.

Social media carries stories of the surveillance war being fought in the streets – police officers smashing phones and/or harassing citizens for recording police actions on video.

A friend of mine mentions how the police in Fort Worth Texas have had dash cams and cop-cams for the past half-decade and it’s done a world of good.

My friend’s statement reminds me of my earlier conversation, about career ideally being anything other than management. My theory being that a manager isn’t there for the all-stars, managers exist to keep the screw-ups in line. A manager in my line of work spends perhaps one hour a month one-on-one with their all star reports. The very same manager spends half an hour per day per screw-up who needs to be micro managed – the manager’s job is not awesome, the manager is a babysitter.

The manager is necessary because not everyone’s a model employee.

Riots break out in Baltimore, in reaction to a 25 year old African American Male suspiciously dying while in police custody.

One wonders if Freddie Gray would still be alive if the all-seeing machine were on Freddie’s side that day he took a ride with the officers. Perhaps it’s time for a manager, or babysitter, perhaps an all-seeing machine that’s above the control of local law enforcement CYA politics.

The all-seeing machine exists – it cannot be undone. Perhaps this is Act 2, the point when the surveillance state becomes a public utility – openly embraced, rather than feared.

See also: Pandora’s Box.

Apr 03

Erosion of Privacy

See, this is why the erosion of privacy and data convergence worry me.

Sometime in the future, I will skype video conference my doctor for my yearly physical. It will be convenient, because I won’t have to wait in a waiting room for an hour for my appointment. Bonus: No blood draws or treadmill tests, because my fitbit 5000 health tracker gizmo will tell my physician everything she needs to know.

My doctor will inquire about my health, and I will, as always, say everything is fine.

Unsatisfied, my doctor will grill me with further questions, testing my lying skills from differing angles. I will, as always, masterfully weave a magnificent tale of ‘truth’ about how healthy I’ve been eating and how I exercise all the time (thinking about exercise counts, right?).

My doctor won’t immediately yell ‘bullshit’ based on my fitbit stats, instead she will try to gently prod my tall tale of health for a number of minutes – not because she’s unsure of the truth, but because in this day and age, seeing patients squirm in their blatant lies will be a sport or treasured hobby for doctors.

There will be popular T.V. shows dedicated to video captures of the funniest video conference physicals, and my doctor will have a small betting pool going amongst colleagues about who’s patient will be featured on the show first. Anything to keep the day job interesting, right? Right.

With enough squirming out of the way, my doctor will proceed to open a shared computer screen window for our video conference and start typing my name into google’s search box. Type type type .. “J-a-s-o-n-space-b-a”

Right around this time, when my name’s being typed in, my doctor will receive a 911 notice on her smartphone, saying one of her patients, a “Jason Baker” has a blood pressure rate going through the roof.

At that most opportune moment, my wife will join the video conference and say hello. The doctor will pause her typing and exchange pleasantries with my wife. The 911 notice on the doctors smartphone will subside ever so briefly, at which point my wife will ask how the physical is going. Next the doctor will remember where she was, and start typing into google again.

“k-e-r-space-l-a-s-t-space-5-space-g-r-o-c-e-r-y-space-r-e-c-e-i-p”

It will be at this moment that a “flatline” notice will alarm on my doctor’s smartphone, you know the one, with the adorable stylized/cuddly skull and crossbones emoji? The ‘flatline’ notice will be for the same patient as before, naturally. The doctor will crack a joke about how this happens all the time, and she thinks the notification/alarm notifications for fitbit have some bug in the latest software update. My wife will laugh, and I will attempt a grin while trying to catch my breath and noticing my left arm is feeling funny.

The doctor will complete her search request, five grocery receipts will pop up in full 16K hi-res glory on the video conference.

For a brief glimpse of time, perhaps two seconds, there is silence. One of those beautiful but especially rare moments where you have this out-of-body experience and seconds feel like glorious minutes or hours, all in slow motion – the kind of moment where you savor the silence and just take it all in – especially if you’re me, and you already know what your wife and doctor are realizing.

Slow motion moment over, with a scream: “WHAT THE HELL, JASON?”

(Just to be explicitly clear, it’s my wife..)

“What the hell, Jason? Four fridays in a row where all you bought was those ‘drumstick’ ice cream cones?” – my doctor starts seeing dollar signs, thinking about how the betting pool with colleagues is up to about five grand – “I thought you said you were going to the corner store to buy an ice cream, and you came home with a single ice cream, but these receipts are showing that you bought four-packs of the ice cream 4 weeks in a row?! What do you have to say for yourself?!?!” – the doctor is deciding between somewhere nice in the carribean or perhaps a nice trip to tahiti – I am sinking in my chair, slowly dipping out of view of the video conference camera, VERY carefully checking my desk to ensure none of the candy bar wrappers are actually in view of the video conference camera.

“One moment ladies, I need a restroom break.”

I take the moment to collect myself. I wave my hand in front of the faucet with a gesture to the left and cold water comes on. Yeah yeah, the water is wired backwards – it’s actually piped in correctly, but we bought the microsoft or google faucet, not the apple one. It was half the price, sue me. Anyway, I splash some cold water on my face and towel it and the sweat from my face. I give myself a moment for my tell-tale nostrils to stop flaring the “he’s telling a big fat fucking lie right now” flare of betrayal – and I return.

As before, I weave a wondrous tale of something ludicrous, probably something that starts with “sorry honey”.

“Sorry, honey – I’ve been buying ice creams and splitting them with your dad – you know how he’s having a really hard time right now because they canceled the bachelor series last month after someone was killed on live tv (ratings and profits, they must go ever upward, right? right.) – so I’ve been buying a 4 pack to conceal our secret meetings, he eats 2, and I eat one.”

The moment I name drop my father in law, my wife will already be speed dialing him, by the time I finish my story his video will be starting to come online. 5 minutes later we’ve troubleshooted his video conferencing problems (poured water on the microphone again), and my wife will ask her father about our clandestine ice cream meetings.

My father-in-law will sense hot water so he backs me up in these fantastic lies.

Usually, in this type of scenario he’d be overly jolly to either make the lie more fantastic to poke-the-bear (that’s what we call it), or – if it were truth – he’d be excited to recount the fun he’s been having. My father-in-law is a smart man though, and he will have noticed the white-coat, and he will have noticed that my wife an I’s faces are the exact same shade of red, and he will notice my nostrils flaring like a maniac, so instead of weaving a tale, he’ll just stop with a confirmation of my fantastic tale, without adding his characteristic ‘enhancements’.

If my tell is nostrils flaring, my father-in-laws is an answer to any question being less than 300 words. My wife will of course pick up on this and immediately speed dial the oracle of truth, mother-in-law. Mom-in-law’s video starts coming online, and I will see my story and my ice cream adventures falling apart in my mind.

Being a computer programmer, and a good boy scout who’s always prepared when it comes to doctors visits, I will quickly execute a command on my computer to wget a super-secret crash-in-laws-computer webservice I had installed earlier in the month when I helped install a computer game (i knew i had a physical coming up, so sue me). At that moment my in-laws will mysteriously drop from the video conference.

I will muse aloud that they must have spilled water on the mic again, and note that our time’s almost up.

Some while back, our doctor will have decided on tahiti and made herself some popcorn to watch me sweat on the stand while testifying. With in-laws out of the picture, my doctor and wife confer on a diet plan for me and I start to become irate. “I didn’t even eat but one ice cream a week, give me a break, this is bullshit.” My doctor will calmly interject – “but, your fitbit 5000 is showing me that you had around 2000 calories of sugar within a half hour for each of these mystery ice cream trips?” – the doctor will silently think to herself: “ZING!”

The doctor tags out, my wife enters the ring and we go another round about truth and half-truths, my nostrils flaring furiously.

We’re getting nowhere, which is to say, I’m winning, and perhaps maybe, just maybe, saving myself from a fitbit 5000 monitored diet. If I win, I am most definitely going to the grocery store for a 4 pack of ice cream in celebration – naturally.

Time really is running out, and the doctor’s nurse has slipped her a note about a patient with the flu.

The doctor starts to wrap up, but she leaves us with a parting-shot. She quickly pulls up google again and starts typing again “j-a-s-o-n-space-b-a-k-e-r-space-5-space-y-e-a-r-space-g-p-s-space-h-e-a-t-m-a-p-space-n-e-a-r-space-g-r-o-c-e-r-y”.

At first, as I watch the doctor type, the pure geek in me will be curious what new google feature my doctor has found, I won’t be able to control my geek and I’ll start asking the doctor questions rapid-fire: what this will be and where she heard about this and so on, but before I’ve even started, she’ll click “i’m feeling lucky”.

And there it will be. A heat map of my favorite grocery store. You know the type, like a crime heat map where areas with no coloration indicate zero crime, green indicates non-zero crime, and bright-red indicates the-wire-style gentrification is around the corner? Right, that kind of map.

The grocery store map will naturally show a bright red area around the registers and the front doors, a token amount of green in the veggie aisle, but there in the middle, slightly more red than my face, will be what we all knew would be there: bright red lines from front door through the candy aisle and ice cream aisle.

The last thing I’ll remember will be my headset’s speakers clipping out from the sheer ferociousness of my wife’s instinctive tirade she’ll launch without pause, and then I’ll click the ‘hangup’ icon.

Don’t worry. I’ll go out for one last four-pack of ice cream anyway.

And that’s how I will become the four-pack-ice-cream guy on the hit tv show ‘americas funniest physicals’.

Mar 18

Link Dump – March 2015

Time for another collection of random amazing things.

Long Reads

New websites worth following or bookmarking:

Important Images

Video

Games

Random

Want more? See past link dumps.

Mar 15

Scala explained.

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