Monday, August 27, 2012

Negative thirty pounds in three months

Those of you who don't regularly see me in person (or check out Sarah's photos) may not have noticed me inflating to 280 pounds over the years. Or when the balloon popped, May 28 of this year, and I started watching my weight go down. I crossed 250 this month and wanted to share a few things.

It's hard to put my finger on how it started. I used to eat unconsciously. I inherited a love of great tastes and rich foods from my parents, and I've been addicted to junk for a long time.

I'm not very image conscious, for myself or other people. I can go without looking in the mirror for days. So I didn't notice my appearance myself, for a long time. It came out in smaller ways. I would feel sad when favored shirts would cease to fit. At one point, The top corners of belt buckles started cutting into my gut (tucking in shirts, of course, was impossible), and I would get sore after a day dominated by sitting and programming. Occasionally I would catch myself in the mirror, and see a guy who looked a bit bigger on top than I felt.

I got plantar fasciitis, which is a foot problem caused by strain on your arches. It feels like walking on a nail. It also feels like it should go away if you could just stretch out the appropriate muscle, but this doesn't help. I started to fight it with arch supports in my shoes.

But mostly I just kept going the way I had been going, interrupting my routines with occasional spurts of recumbent biking and dance and exercise video games.

The trigger was finding out my wife had diet-related medical issues, but it could just as easily have been my father's struggle with Type-2 diabetes or my ancestry's struggles with addiction, obesity, and heart disease. For some reason this flipped a switch in my head. I still don't know if it's fear, resolve, camaraderie. I haven't gotten to the center of it yet.

I had no special dietary restrictions other than eating many lower calories. In practice I've been going along with my wife's meal plans, which has cut out a lot of starchy carbs.

It's hard to estimate my calorie intake before, but it was surely over 3000 calories per day, spiking whenever I got ice cream or chips at the store (which happened a few times per week). The calculators told me extreme fat loss, at my weight, would happen somewhere around 2800 calories.

I've ended up around 1800 to 2000 calories per day. I felt that I could do it and just never stopped, but there was something more important behind it.

I had to relearn something I'd forgotten: how to live with hunger. Getting to the end of a work day and really being hungry for dinner was a real wake-up call. So was needing to start with breakfast and eat many small snacks throughout the day, just to keep level.

Calorie counting on the smartphone was what made my life change. For Android, I found Calorie Counter, the one from FatSecret, was good enough. It has a barcode scanner and decent text/product searching. You can add things that aren't in the database from the phone. You can search through the catalogs of all common restaurants. And you can copy things from your wife's food diary when she did the hard work of entering in the thing you made and ate. (I didn't try other apps, I just stopped at the first one that seemed reasonably complete.)

From the first, I resolved to get absolutely every bite accurate in the phone. I felt this was important because I didn't know anything. And also, because I wouldn't know what was going on if I wasn't honest. It developed that random snacking got annoying because I would need to look up or scan something before eating it. This switch from freedom to friction turned out to be a secret weapon.

Eating at restaurants, especially local places without the info, also became frustrating. You have to look for analog dishes from other places. Sometimes the chains were also frustrating, because the dishes are insanely bad for you. Once at a restaurant, I got really upset just looking through a massive nutrition info for something, anything, under 500 calories. I ended up with a salad with a grilled piece of chicken on top. I used a tablespoon of dressing. My son ate the croutons.

This process was very important, because it turned out my intuitions were wrong. Simply, bewilderingly, ignorant. I had no idea how many calories were in an ounce of chicken or cheese or cucumber or chips. I used to think of tortilla chips as a "salsa delivery system", even proud of all the vegetables I must be getting compared to  something like onion dip or other condiments. And a hundred other items that I have grown to know and count over time.

A digital kitchen scale has been very helpful in measuring how much food we are eating. It turns out I don't know how many ounces there are in a bowl of curry, much less how much sugar it takes to flavor popcorn bowl (we like ours with butter, cinnamon, and sugar now; it turns out a teaspoon of sugar is good enough). One thing that really caught me off guard was an ounce of mixed nuts, or of almonds. They barely cover the bottom of a bowl.

I've made new nutritional friends, like greek yogurt, salads, protein bars, and almonds, and bade goodbye to ice cream and candy. I left in chips, because I was worried I might go crazy without them. But I measure them carefully, and they're the sweet chili rice ones from Costco. Juice, beer, and soda became something I drink 8 ounces at a time on special occasions; water is what I eat to trick myself into feeling full.

It's hard to sum up, and I have a number of war stories for another time. If I had to pick three things from the preceding to focus on, it's the calorie counter app, the scale, and hunger. If you want to lose weight, you have to be hungry. This sounds like an oxymoron because being hungry seemed to be the thing that caused you to gain all the weight in the first place. But I know now, I wasn't overeating because I was hungry. If I had been, I would have stopped when I was full.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Excommunication was only the beginning

I have been reading some Facebook discussion of a church discipline situation at Mars Hill, which is a large church in the Seattle area.

The basic story is that a prominent church member, Andrew, was engaged and acted immorally with a woman he used to date. He told his fiancee and other church members, and Mars Hill began a discipline process to, as they put it, bring Andrew to repentance and reconciliation with the church. You can read what appears to be Andrew's side of it here, in a couple of linked blog posts. I encourage you to read them, including the documents from the church.

There are two details that make this case stand out. As a condition of discipline, the church asked him to sign a contract saying, among other things, the following, quote:

* Andrew will not pursue or date any woman inside or outside of MH
* Andrew will write out in detail his sexual and emotional attachment history with women and share it with XXX.

He refused to sign it, and essentially walked away.

Then, the church sent a memo to its internal social network telling them not to associate with Andrew, to the level of refusing to share meals or participate in activities with him. Conversations are to be held strictly to the topic of Andrew's church discipline.

This all feels totalitarian to me. And whatever else it is, it's turned the church into a barren desert for this guy. In my eyes, it is damaging their witness. Having heard this story, I would never join Mars Hill.

They have their reasons. Here is the church's response:

I know that we do not know all the circumstances that surround this church decision. I also agree that the church is within the boundaries of Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 to demand that he either part ways with them or submit to discipline.

Where I get off the train is the church telling its members not to eat with him or go out with him. As in, for example:

I don't think that is scripturally supportable. Matthew 18 says "treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector". Those were the people that Jesus partied with! So I don't agree with the Mars Hill interpretation, which I can find no support for, that "This means we no longer have normal, casual fellowship with the believer but instead use any encounters to bring the gospel of reconciliation to him and lovingly urge him to repent and turn back in obedience to God."

For me it seems that this is less about Andrew and God and more about Andrew and Mars Hill.

And this from the same section is off the deep end:

"If someone under discipline begins attending another church, we notify the leaders of that church that they are unrepentant and have been removed from fellowship in our church. We ask that they also deny that person fellowship in their church so that we can continue working to bring the sinning one to repentance in a holy fashion."

To me it sounds like they don't understand when someone is just not that into them.

Having read the contract the church wanted this guy to sign and the letter sent to its internal social network, the passage that comes to mind for me is not about church discipline, but about Pharisees. Matthew 23: "do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Getting hacked was only the beginning

Here's a great article about what happens when someone malicious takes control of your Gmail account. It's by the person that knows best: the person who got burned. Without spoiling it, they were in a world of hurt. Go read it.

One way that this whole thing could have been avoided was turning on two-factor authentication, "something you know plus something you have". The basic idea is that you don't just have a password, you also have some randomly rotating key that is attached to a physical device in your possession. For something like a corporate network, it's a little keychain that looks like the readout at the top of a solar calculator, with 6 numbers that change every 30 seconds. You type in your password with the 6 numbers at the end.

For Gmail, it requires that every time you log in to Gmail using a new device, and once per month after that, you have to type in the 6 digit code that they SMS to your cell phone. If you have to pay for texts this might not be the best. You can also print out backup one-time use numbers that will work as codes. Do this if you want to feel like a spy.

The great thing about two-factor authentication is that even if somebody knows your password, their ability to guess random numbers you have no control over is limited. For well designed systems like Gmail, they won't be allowed to try your password plus all million random numbers they need to enter to get into your account. Instead, after a small number of failures, they'll get locked out.

Another way most of this could have been avoided is using a program like Thunderbird to download all your mail to a local backup. You still might lose control of your account, but you won't lose years of your personal lifestream.

Without putting too fine a point on it, I'm proud of the way my company, Amazon, puts the customer first. Like good design, security, and scalability, you can't bolt on the customer service after the fact. Getting there might be painful for Google.

Lastly, I think this is not the last wake up call for personal data. Over the past several years, like all of you, I have outsourced some personal data to big corporations who may not be aligned with my interests. I've thought twice about how to own my own data and send it out to everyone. I think I'm settling on Blogger plus RSS to Google+ and Facebook. Eventually I'll host my own blog and email, as soon as I can think of a killer domain name (not surprisingly, most variations of are already taken). That's just the first step toward decentralizing the big sprawls these social networks have become.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Voyage begins

So maybe I'll restart this blog with an ending.

Sarah and I finished watching Star Trek: Voyager a couple nights ago. It didn't catch my interest while it was on. I distinctly remember my college roommate Rob watching, I think it was the black-and-white pulp episode.

Like all the Star Treks it had highs and lows. There were truly sublime episodes, like the one where two people are fused into one joint body and personality by a transporter accident, or the one where the crew go to work on a factory planet, or the one with the perfect prison, or the one where the crew is observed by aliens through the eyes of the doctor. And there were truly stupid ones, like the one with the big ball of water, or the space race, or the one with the self-aware ship. I actually called the entire plot of that last one from the cold open, you have to admit it's completely predictable.

I just noticed a pattern here. I loved all the doctor episodes (and more) and hated all the Tom Paris episodes. Similarly, loved Seven and Janeway episodes, hated B'Elanna and Chakotay episodes. Tuvok, Neelix, and Kim were somewhat hit or miss.

It was Star Trek, so there were Borg episodes and Q episodes and special appearances by the crew of the Next Generation and lots and lots of time traveling. And the techno-jargon got to me this time. I can't remember how many times I guffawed at officers solving problems by "trying a recursive algorithm". (For non-computer-scientists, this is a very fundamental way to write extremely simple functions.) There was a lot of reversing of shield polarity, subspace and gravimetric distortions, tachyons, and warp signatures. I even found a website that generates the babble.

I would up or down episodes early, and almost always be right. This annoyed Sarah immensely.

I had so many problems with the technologies the crew did and didn't have that I made it a personal snowclone: "They don't have X in the 24th century?" And tried to work it into every episode. It wasn't hard: body armor, personal shields, independent power sources, file permissions (there's one episode where Tom Paris rewrites a holo-novel written by the doctor without authorization), backups, lifestreaming, surveillance systems. These simple technologies, presumably ubiquitous, would have broken entire episodes.

Sarah's (or my) personal favorite was an episode where the ship shut down the warp core and main power and wandered around with flashlights stuck to their hands. So I said, "They don't have glowing glow globes in the 24th century?" Everybody knows, of course, that a glowing glow globe is a ball that floats in the middle of a room and sheds light on all angles. It has an independent power source and can float and glow for a long time. But I think all Sarah really heard was that I had said three different consecutive words that all start with 'glo'.

Despite these disadvantages (or lovable hangups), every two or three episodes one would come along that blew your socks off. And that's what Star Trek's really always been about.

At its warm heart, the show was about adrift people trying to get home, and their personal voyages of self-discovery and growth. It worked on that deep level for me most of the time. Sarah and I miss it already.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Dan's 2010 mix

Ok, so it's a little late, but...

I like putting together mix CDs. Who doesn't right? But there's a certain challenge in making it flow and giving it a kind of story and ending it all in 80 minutes. That's right, all my mix CDs are concept albums.

My brothers and sisters started a tradition of making these for each other for Christmas last year. I found myself putting together a bouncy album and a depressing album so in 2009 we had the Down album (featuring Radiohead) and the Up album (featuring Garrison Keillor). You get the idea. I had a mix for Groundhog Day, for traveling, one with all songs about death, one for Vancouver, you get the idea.

This Christmas, all the songs and albums were from 2010! It was a very good year. I can recommend all the individual albums, although The Lady Killer can get... dirty.

I keep coming back to this mix for listening pleasure, so I wanted to share it.

Yes, my CD contained Arcade Fire before they won the Album of the Year Grammy. :o) My album of the year was Sufjan Stevens' dizzying, outer space apocalypse symphonic dance rock album, The Age of Adz, but it's not for everyone. I was not surprised at all that Arcade Fire won. For me it was a no-brainer. It's got tons of musical variety, some big ideas, and real emotion behind it all.

01 Suburban War - Arcade Fire, from The Suburbs
02 Enchanting Ghost - Sufjan Stevens, from All Delighted People EP
03 Anyone’s Ghost - The National, from High Violet
04 This Is The Song [Good Luck] - Punch Brothers, from Antifogmatic
05 England - The National, from High Violet
06 I Can See Your Future - Belle and Sebastian, from Write About Love
07 We End Up Together - The New Pornographers, from Together
08 Next to the Trash - Punch Brothers, from Antifogmatic
09 Wasted Hours - Arcade Fire, from The Suburbs
10 Futile Devices - Sufjan Stevens, from The Age of Adz
11 Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk - The New Pornographers, from Together
12 You Were A Kindness - The National, from High Violet (Expanded Edition)
13 Up In The Dark - The New Pornographers, from Together
14 Read The Blessed Pages - Belle and Sebastian, from Write About Love
15 Old Fashioned - Cee Lo Green, from The Lady Killer
16 Get Real Get Right - Sufjan Stevens, from The Age of Adz

If you're looking for a mix CD, let me know and I'll send you an ISO.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Mac Willems memorial service: 7/31, 1:00, in Des Moines

Hi people. I am posting to Twitter, Blogger, and Facebook for widest possible distribution. Please forgive me if this hits you more than once.

Mac Willems, one of my high school teachers, died this month. His memorial service is in the Seattle area on Saturday, July 31, at 1:00, at Midway Community Covenant Church in Des Moines.

Here is a map.

If you know anyone who would want to know, please pass it on by Saturday.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The end of Lost (with obscure spoiler alert)

I was fooled. I really thought in the last episode we were going to learn the golden light held a nanobot cloud from the future, trapped on the island by The Incident, which became sentient when the nameless one floated into the cave. And the crash was intended to unwind the events folded in and out of time, so that one timeline didn't happen (explaining the parallel time streams). Et cetera.

The masterful head fake when they flashed back to Season 1 finding the stones in the cave led me to believe we were coming to a final clash of good and evil of King-ian proportions, one that had indeed been planned from the beginning. In other words, a genre story. But instead, they punted on all the major story elements in cussworthy fashion.

The comparison to The Prisoner is apt. Remember when Rover takes off in the rocket ship? I thought we were going to see the smoke monster do something very similar. And Sawyer says "I'll be seeing you" in the last episode too (apart from the credit sequence, probably the single most quotable and quoted line from The Prisoner). But the difference is that The Prisoner was episodic and every storyline resolved in the space of one hour. There is debate about which order to even watch the episodes in because there is so little continuity.

There can't be any such debate about the right order to watch Lost in. It was all so plotted and deliberate, or really (now) deliberate-looking. It was building. But in the end the climax fizzled out.

So on the one hand, I think people will be studying Lost the way they study great art. But I take it as kind of a failed experiment in making art without catharsis, and ultimately without the unities.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Neverwhere on Wii Netflix Streaming

I watched the mid-90s BBC miniseries version of Neverwhere tonight. It's six episodes written by Neil Gaiman, one of our great writers. The story is about the under-world of London Below, and what happens when Richard Mayhew is dragged into it as a result of an act of kindness.

I had read the book first, so I knew how it went, but it was still good. Sure, you have to look past the cramped scenery, the dingy lighting, and the constantly panning camera so characteristic of the BBC, but you also have to give credit to the fine British tradition of surreal, fantastic (in both senses) television.

I got to watch this gem on my Nintendo! We received a disc for Wii that allows us to stream Netflix to our television. Alex is watching the complete run of Blue's Clues. As I might have mentioned, I caught up on Lost this way. There's 30 Days, Mythbusters, Monty Python...

The only bummer, and it is a major bummer, is the major missing feature: search. Onlline, Netflix streaming has search that will get you to any title available. On the Wii, it doesn't exist. The best workaround is to put stuff in your queue when online, then use the Wii to watch it. I suppose you could use Wii Internet (and this probably will basically work), but it feels pretty clunky.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Getting Getting Things Done Done

If you are, like me, a disorganized schlub, the last time you received formal instruction in "study skills" was fourth or fifth grade. Life was simpler then. We had workbooks that had blanks to fill in, book reports to prove we actually read something (in 4th grade I put a Paul Gallico novel on my reading log. I'm sure now my teacher had me dead to rights), TOPS cards to let us practice math with story problems. Instead of looking at girls you could run around the track (capped at 6 laps). You could even accidentally jam a pencil in your hand and get the lead stuck in there until you're almost 30.

But I digress.

Outlining and time management didn't really stick in there, and so for the next fifteen years, in and out of school, I managed to avoid learning it. I would write 10-page research papers over a weekend, and stay up real late playing video games before finals.

Not knowing this skill killed me for years and years. I can say this with perfect hindsight. I was good at times, just never as good as I could have been (valedictorian good? we'll never know).

I just never knew how bad off I was until I got to Amazon. Here I finally started to see that I had to do something or I was going to drown in minutiae and errands.

Thus, Getting Things Done by David Allen. I finished it recently and it's been a huge eye-opener and relief. The basic point is that your brain has a limited ability to focus, and when you haven't solidly nailed down your commitments and the projects that are important to you, they consume your focus with worry.

Instead you need to feel comfortable that every loose end in your life has a concrete action tied to it. The loose ends could be as complex as buying a house or as simple as writing an email. The point is to think ahead a little bit and figure out how easy the single next step would be to move that loose end forward. Then you have lowered the barrier (activation energy? A little chemistry there) to actually doing that thing.

Best of all, when there are less loose ends in your life, you get peace. You feel like Augustine, who could say truthfully that if he discovered Armageddon was coming tomorrow, he would still go hoe his vegetable patch today.

There are many ways to run a system like this, with a bunch of lists of things to get done. For me, a program called Shuffle made my phone even more indispensable. It's simple, but it does all I want it to in terms of organizing tasks and integrating with my calendar.

Any system you use to get organized? Tell me now, before I turn 30.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Alex's prospects

We had a meeting with Alex's teachers on Monday. On the bright side, his academic skills seem to be coming along nicely. Although he doesn't use language as much as we'd like, he appears to be cutting at a first grade level, and coloring, and writing words, and understanding sequences and stories. This is all very encouraging given his early speech delay. I have felt for a while like Alex is learning the same set of things that other kids would, but delayed a year or two.

In fact, the main barrier to his entering regular kindergarten now is behavior. He hits his teachers and headbutts, screams, and throws tantrums. His teachers are doing heroic work keeping everyone safe and putting him in time out. We are learning that Alex is set off when he doesn't have options.

He seems to respond well to structures like "X or Y" and "first X, then Y". So we are now saying things like, "Do you want to get out of the tub by yourself, or do you want Daddy to help you?" and "First put on your clothes, then we can have breakfast."

I've noticed lately that when we tell other parents about Alex's autism, they definitely look at us differently, like we're doing this heroic thing to raise a boy with this problem. I tell them that we're happy with how things have turned out so far. We got Alex into early intervention because Sarah was monitoring his development very closely.

But Alex is our only child so far. This is all we have ever known. I don't measure Alex against kids his age. I don't compare him to another kid who would be telling me stories and talking my ear off.

I wish he was. I can't wait until he does. I think he will someday.

Every parent is challenged. We have just had different challenges. We're not super-parents. We're just muddling through, picking our spots to place our effort, and praying for our child.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The secrets of your DNA

I've been reading an interesting book called The Language of Life. It is by Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome project, which provided a complete sequence of human DNA.

As a geneticist, Collins has a lot to say about an emerging revolution in the way we treat disease. His prediction is that within the next five years, you will be able to obtain your own complete sequence of DNA, in the billions of base pairs long, for about one thousand dollars. The applications are virtually endless, from genealogical study to disease risk prediction.

At this point, commodity DNA testing does not sequence the entire DNA strand. Rather, it checks certain small portions with a well-established cause-and-effect relationship with important diseases like cancer or diabetes. Collins found that he had an increased risk of contracting adult-onset diabetes. He made some lifestyle changes to lower his risk.

To me, this is the key point about getting your DNA sequence. You can learn your predilection for horrible disease, and then do something about it. For instance, Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google, learned that he was marked for Parkinson's disease and has a chance now to do something about it. As time goes on, and more important tests and markers are revealed, there will only be more reason to have your DNA on file to check against these new discoveries.

This immediately hit my computer scientist brain though. I hate typing my password into the third-party Blogger interface. Who can I trust with the secrets of my DNA? How will it be kept encrypted and secure? How will I provide access to it for medical testing or genetic studies without my insurance company crapping on me? How can anyone anonymize information that distinguishes me from everyone else on the planet?

Some bright people are going to solve these problems. It's an intriguing area, and at least some of it can be studied before the first consumer DNA sequencer opens for business.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Oracle of Stupid

Someone at work pointed this out. You can ask the magic box any question, and this is the best we can come up with.

Reproduce: go to Google and start typing a question. Google will start giving you suggestions that are relevant and popular. Best, try to imagine who would have searched for that and why. Sometimes it is tragically obvious, sometimes it is not.

Here are a few more to try:

  • is there
  • are there
  • who was
  • why
  • why is
One word of warning: "can" and "could" questions seem to be dominated by questions about pregnancy...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Software installs for a fresh Mac

Here's a list of software I had to install to get closer to normal in the Mac:

  • Firefox (with NoScript, AdBlockPlus, Greasemonkey, Ubiquity, Firebug, and Vacuum Places)
  • Carbon Emacs
  • Xcode with developer tools
  • Quicksilver
  • X-Edit 2.0 (for my guitar pedal)
  • Nethack
  • Crossover Games (running Steam and thus, Team Fortress 2)
  • GarageBand extras
  • GrandPerspective (hard drive dissector)
The terminal situation on the Mac seems pretty hopeless. I could use a good recommendation. I'm looking for Command-means-meta and high color, tabs would be nice. At this point I'm just running M-x shell in Emacs, but Emacs has problems in the remote shell (in particular, I can't get remote completions to work because Emacs consumes the Tab).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Adventures in Media I

I'll try to put my adventures in media all in one place, so you can skip them if you like.

The Prisoner
Where have you been all my life? Seriously, I am glad I ran across this last weekend. I haven't finished them all, but this is my kind of show. It's creepy, surreal, inventive, epic.

It's strange because I recognize a fair portion of the motifs from a Simpsons episode where Homer is taken to a sinister island because, as Mr X, he publishes an internet rumor that shows that he knows too much. The constant drugging, the replacement of number 2, even a cameo by the star.

You can see it on demand if you have Comcast. They provided all the episodes as a teaser for the AMC remake miniseries (looks like 6 episodes, starring Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellen).

If you have been waiting for an excuse to buy a Blu-Ray player, it looks like they've remastered the entire series in surround sound, and since it was originally filmed in 35mm, in high-def as well. It's coming out tomorrow at my fair employer.

Anna Karenina
In the words of Apu, "Mmmm... that's some good adultery!"

I have been rereading the epic novels of my youth lately. Dune held up, no surprise there. The Belgariad actually suffered a bit on my reread, somewhat to my surprise. The Eye of the World, also surprisingly, remains pretty cracking good.

And then there's Anna. My copy is twelve years old now and it's a bit the worse for wear. I have to retape the preface again because the pages have ripped off and are falling away from the binding. The page edge is covered in transferred ink from fingers and hands that rested too long on the words. It's got six colors of ink on the pages. By any standards, I've defaced it beyond recognition.

What keeps me coming back? As I've grown, I've found this novel growing with me. Now that I'm a family man with a young son, the pressures and paradises of married life stand out more starkly to me in Anna. I continue to see myself in her and Levin.

Anna escapes from her bourgeois life into a more dangerous one. For that much, she has to be admired. The part of us that cries out for more than the world around us must be listened to. But what we escape into must be carefully decided. Anna's passion and lack of wisdom leads her down a dark road, but it could could have been otherwise.

Thom Yorke at the Orpheum
Thom Yorke, the lead singer/songwriter of Radiohead, has been touring with a rock band, including longtime producer Nigel Godrich on keyboards and Flea, the bassist from the Red Hot Chili Peppers on bass. They are performing Yorke's solo material, including The Eraser album in its entirety, Radiohead B-sides and some new songs.

The new stuff will require some more listening (read: it's difficult, live)... but what they are doing to The Eraser is really fascinating. A somewhat methodical, bleeping and blooping "apocalyptic dance" album is transformed into wild rock.

I picked up the mp3s for one of the shows, so if you have trouble finding them, let me know and I'll post them.

Meanwhile, here is a study in contrasts. This is "The Eraser", the first song on the solo album, from the album, from a solo performance, and from this latest one with the band.

Album version

Live at Latitude Festival, solo

Live at the Orpheum, with the new band

Back in Mac

I know it's time to buy Windows again or whatever, but... I got a Macbook. The year of Linux on the desktop is coming, maybe soon, but... I got a Macbook.

So that's that. I've joined the ranks of the smug, latte-drinking weenies. I'll spend my life looking down my nose at well-meaning gents and shatter their illusions of love.

One of the many consequences is that I now have a platform to establish my online identity from. Before, sharing my wife's iMac, it was hard to just take over. I'd want to blog something and be on it all night. Now that I have the laptop, the resource contention is over. So I friended 40+ people on Facebook, I'm blogging tonight, I have a place to get back into reading the internet one RSS feed at a time, I even got a Google Wave invite. Look out world, here I come.

Also, I have a mobile recording station. Along with a helpful tip from the makers of my multi-effects pedal and a shiny new vintage white solid-body electric SG, I've been making recordings in Garage Band. And they sound like real music! It's hard to try to fake that sound with a plugged-in acoustic guitar. Now it sounds pure and sharp.

I'm gaming with the details turned up. It turns out that Team Fortress 2 has a ton of shiny lighting effects that I never saw before. It has actually been hard to play because it's so cool looking...

The only feature I am really missing compared to my Amazon laptop is a number pad accessible under the uiojkl keys. As it is, I either have to accept the dangerous yubnhjkl (You have much trouble lifting a large box. Continue? [ynq] (q)) or the hard to reach 123456789 for moving around in Nethack.

This may not sound like much of a missing feature to you, but you don't play nearly as much Nethack as I do.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Inventions to improve car network behavior and communication

  • proximity warning and online driving safety tips delivered by The Computer (you're tailgating too closely for a construction zone, Dave)
  • a GPS with bird's eye display of nearby cars that broadcast their location
  • text nastygrams to bad drivers' license plate number
  • new codes for head and taillights ("preparing to change lanes" is only the tip of the iceberg)
  • gun to write messages on sticky notes or with dissolvable paint balls and shoot at doors of other cars
Please steal these ideas. Their time has come.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Studio Unleashed II

Once again, a song from the studio redone live in a fresh and interesting way.

This is by Sufjan Stevens. It's called The Transfiguration. You can read an "official" version here for context.



Sunday, May 31, 2009

Everything in its right place

That is the title of a seminal song on Radiohead's Kid A album. It was the first album to follow what is, for my money, the greatest album of the 90s, OK Computer. Instead of staying with the same sound that won them deserved fame, fortune, and critical acclaim, Radiohead experimented and remixed their way to a strange new sound. The song is not about everything being in its right place, when everything is jumbled and patched together.

That is a bit how I feel about this last several months. It has felt like a transition to a brave new world full of experiments and risk. Gone is the stability of a home and routine. Even though we are staying in the home I grew up in, I have never felt so rootless. Maybe it has something to do with having all our stuff in storage.

Along with feeling my way around at work (Greasemonkey is my new pal), we've been searching for a house. It hasn't gone great, with our most promising candidate running into issues at the inspection stage. We want to cut the cord and be done with it.

Trying to work around this sense of disorientation has not been easy. I have taken up incessant media consumption in response. It's been Sufjan Stevens and the Decemberists on the radio, Team Fortress 2 and Zelda and Nethack and Dwarf Fortress for video games, Gordon Ramsay, soccer, and Top Gear on the TV, the internet on every screen in the house and in the phone in my pocket, on which I am typing right now... It's a good thing I have a family or I'd be a mole person right now.

It's not all bad but it is starting to feel like a dangerous new normal. For me it seems to be about forming relationships with machines rather than people. I start to resemble what I spend all my time with. You take a little break from being yourself and before you know it, you can't get back. I already feel disconnected and foggy. This has to stop.

Time to retreat like a turtle back into my shell... but at least I am awake again. Hope you and yours are well.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


I just figured out what went up on my blog a couple weeks ago. I sent a command to a mail daemon that allowed me to blog from my phone. And I thought I'd written something in between now and then...

Anyway, I'm alive, no worries. I'm in Seattle, working for Amazon, living with my parents while we save for a house. Life is strange, but ok.

I need to start catching everyone up soon.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

And the thing I meant to say earlier

I was cleaning out my desk and happened upon a great fortune-cookie fortune. It reads:

Your future is whatever you make of it, so make it a good one.

It was great to see this on the eve of a fascinating new future, of course.

This is not really a fortune at all. It is an anti-fortune.

Fortunes tell you what is going to happen, in such a way that you feel powerless to prevent it. "A guest will arrive unexpectedly." "You will meet with success." "Lucky numbers: 2 4 13 25 36 39". "Someone close to you will die soon."

This one tells you that you can shape your own destiny. Paradoxically, it critiques other fortunes but it is a fortune. It is a universal truth that is uniquely personal, yet it was one of thousands of copies distributed randomly to Chinese-food lovers.

Without warning

The end of my time at Lockheed has snuck up on me. My last day is tomorrow, and it's basically a half day.

On Monday, my coworkers treated me to a farewell lunch. They had all signed a poster and we had a good time.

My heart is getting a little full with it all. I started getting misty as I piled up a year and a half of notes and file folders, ready for the memory hole. I've been finding things in my desk that remind me of people. There are about twenty people on the team, so I have already started wondering if I've seen some of them for the last time. I hope they'll email, but I don't know.

I had this guitar in my garage for several months and I told our janitor lady that she could have it. I finally brought it in today, but I didn't see her. We talk whenever she comes around on her rounds. I'll leave it with someone if I don't see her.

The transition has been incredibly fast. It is an off season for the relocation company, so the movers are coming tomorrow. They take our car on Friday and we fly out to Seattle on Saturday. And I start with Amazon on Monday. Our house is in disarray. Alex seems to be worn out and irritable because of all of it. Sarah is working hard as usual.

In a way, I feel like it's better than the alternative, so I won't be pining away after my colleagues while I take vacation on a beach somewhere.

I'm a little nervous about the job, but I am eager to dive in too. My new manager sent me some reading material on software metrics, so I've been dusting off my data mining skills and learning about what makes a useful metric.

I'll be working downtown in the Columbia Center, whose parking rates are highway robbery, so I'm considering taking the bus instead. From my parents' house, the 132 is pretty direct all the way into downtown. That would make home less accessible in an emergency, unfortunately. Maybe I can find a cheaper garage. Amazon would subsidize my parking to some degree, but I don't know what the rates are like.

Give me a mail if you want to see me after we're settled in.

I'm also thinking about starting a technical blog now that I'm outside the Lockheed Martin firewall.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Fate, it seems, has a strange sense of irony

I'm moving back to Seattle! Believe me, I am as shocked as you are. I haven't lived in my hometown for seven years.

As you may know, I've been working on defense software for Lockheed Martin in Littleton for the past year and a half. I'm proud of my work at Lockheed and I don't regret the last several months by a long shot.

Over that time, Sarah and I came to realize two things: we are not mountain people, and we're not really outdoor people. We've made some great friends and had some fun times, but we're ready to be close to family again, in the wet and woolly and green Pacific Northwest.

I'm starting work for Amazon shortly (yes, that Amazon) as a software developer. As an AI guy interested in getting out on the cutting edge, this was a chance I couldn't afford to pass up. To be honest, I racked my brains after my on-site interviews, replaying them for several sleepless nights afterwards, finding ways I could've answered technical questions better. I read somewhere that rat brains do this after the rat runs a maze. Their neurons actually fire in the same pattern that they did while running the maze, dozens of times.

My C++ and SQL questions were fun and interesting. I was thinking about "find the longest palindrome in a string" for several days afterward, still looking for performance hacks.

I was pretty sure I blew my last interview after venturing into some chancy territory about internet technology, with which I have a nodding familiarity, but no great expertise. You can imagine my surprise and my relief when, after my last sleepless night, I looked up the difference between a GET and a POST and found out that I had basically remembered correctly, in a somewhat stressful situation. That was when I began to believe it all might happen.

Last Friday, the hiring manager talked to me again about the position, proposing an interesting project for my first several months, then all was go. The recruiter made me an offer I couldn't refuse, and we were off.

I'm suppose to be there two weeks from today, but I have trouble believing the relocation can happen so quickly. On the other hand, I've been surprised already.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I have been lost in contemplation for the last month or so.

Christmas break was good, just very full.

How sweet that inauguration was. I watched it on Fox News at work (the channel of the TV cannot be changed) with forty other people. I only laughed once. President Obama was talking about restoring the rule of law, and Fox cut to former President Bush. The latter had this look on his face. Otherwise I was kind of on pins and needles. The last week has been pretty riveting for me.

It's not because the president is a liberal president. I feel a profound sense of relief that we might have truth, justice, science, and the American way back on our side again. Changes in tone like that come from the top. It has been good so far.

Sarah and I finished watching Six Feet Under. Every six months or so, we happen across a TV show and we decide to watch it together, cover to cover on DVD.

It's a hard show to watch in many ways. I would rate this show adults only for all the regular adult reasons, it's a hard R at the minimum (D L N S V and so on). But that's not what was hard for me. It challenges your sense of balance, your emotions, your personal meaning of life. It reaches from the vulgar to the sublime, the hilarious to the heartbreaking. 

I think I mentioned before it's about a man who returns to his boyhood home when his father, a funeral director dies. Little by little, he decides to become a funeral director alongside his brother, and to rejoin his family. The show juggles all their stories deftly, and has many surprises in store along the way. It is just about note-perfect television.

I have never dealt well with death. Whenever I've encountered it, it has always been an occasion for soul-searching and pain. I didn't become a Christian because I was frightened of dying, but the deaths of friends and family in high school set me on the path of thinking and living that led to my Christianity.

While I talked to Sarah about it, I noticed suddenly that I had, for a long time, been using my Christian belief as a way to ignore my fear of dying. I found things like the following comforting:

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."

"Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?"

-- First Letter to the Corinthians

And I do still find such beliefs comforting. It's just that I don't want to use them to avoid the grieving and the pain that also come with death. As the show's creator said in a retrospective on Six Feet Under, yes, the title of the show is about burial, but it's also about the emotions that we shove below the surface of our behavior and our consciousness. As the funeral directors say repeatedly in the show, sometimes people like to view the body of their loved one to feel a sense of closure. Similarly, our emotions and our pain need a viewing before we lay them to rest.

If you can bear it (and you'll figure out pretty fast if you can), I recommend this show as highly as possible. It's basically perfect.

I'm heading back to Seattle for two nights only on Thursday, for Dad's 50th birthday. It sounds like we are blowing the doors off on Friday night, not sure what's happening yet.

Oh, and my personal data was involved in two major breaches in a week, on a website and compromising my debit card. So far I do not appear to be the victim of fraud. However, this goes a long way toward explaining how quiet I have been on Facebook. If I can get over it, I'll start updating my statuses (statii?) along with the rest of you.

Hope you had a nice hiatus over your break as well.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tunes Questionnaire

I saw this out on the internet. Here goes:

1. Put your iTunes on shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
4. Pass it on.

"Kamera" - Wilco

"The Setting Sun" - Switchfoot

"McFearless" - Kings of Leon

"The Bends" - Radiohead

"Across the Land" - Sondre Lerche

"Narrative: Cinco de Mayo" - Brian Wilson

"Strong Hand" - Emmylou Harris

"Peace of Me" - Natasha Bedingfield

WHAT IS 2+2?
"Old Backstage" - Garrison Keillor

"Say the Word" - The Beatles

"Under the Floor" - Switchfoot

"You Don't Know Me" - Emmylou Harris

"Symphony # 3 - Mvt 2" - Philip Glass

"How to Disappear Completely" - Radiohead

"Moonlight in Samosa" - Robert Plant

"Only For You" - Garrison Keillor

"Angel in the Snow" - Elliott Smith

"Ten Years Gone" - Led Zeppelin

"Big Weekend" - Tom Petty

"Unknown Legend" - Neil Young

"There Once Was a Shy Young Man" - Garrison Keillor

"Cymbal Rush" - Thom Yorke

"I Know There's An Answer" - The Beachboys

"Icky Thump" - The White Stripes

"Paranoid Android" - Radiohead

"I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)" - Louis Armstrong

"Lion's Jaws" - Neko Case

"Setting Sail / Muineira de Frexido" - The Chieftains

"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" - The Beatles

"Weird Fishes / Arpeggi" - Radiohead

"Hymn for a New Age" - Ray Davies

Some observations:
  • Radiohead and the Beatles are probably actually underrepresented on that list.
  • I only have one Garrison Keillor album, and iTunes' shuffle feature apparently sucks.
  • I really need to get that Robert Plant album out of there.
  • Notably missing (with multiple albums and no hits): Pink Floyd, Nickel Creek (and any of their side projects and solo albums), Arcade Fire, Beck, Bob Dylan, Glenn Gould, The Rolling Stones, The Who.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The end of all things

I have been reading and watching a lot of media about the end of the world and death lately.

A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller Jr. Rated PG-13 for violence. As promised, this was a story about the preservation of human knowledge by monks in the wake of a nuclear war. The war was blamed on intellectuals, politicians, and scientists, so a kind of pogrom was carried out against them, ushering in a new dark age. The story picks up centuries later, as humanity begins waking up from the nightmare. The book is bittersweet, as is any story of history repeating as tragedy and farce. A Hugo winner, a thinking person's book, a true classic. Highly recommended.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, by Tom Stoppard. Rated PG for adult themes. This is the play that focuses on two minor characters from Hamlet, staying with them when the action moves elsewhere. Hamlet is larger than life; this play is kind of the same size. I still remember the first time I saw this live, in 1997. I've read it and seen it many times since. I think it was just time again. It's about being lost, and about living without a sense of meaning. It's about what you lose by wandering around and doing as you're told. There are many possible interpretations, of course. It's witty and brilliant. Read it yesterday.

Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Rated R for nudity, language, violence, disturbing images, adult themes. This is the only comic ever to win a Hugo award, the only graphic novel on Time's list of the best 100 novels of the 20th century. It was trailblazing in many ways, and it's as epic a tale as you will ever read.

It's set in an alternative America where superheroism was briefly in vogue, but has since fallen out of fashion. The world's only real uber-man, Doctor Manhattan, was created in a nuclear accident. He has control over matter, time, and space, and allows himself to be pressed into service as America's Doomsday Device, Missile Shield, and Blitzkrieg all in one. He ends the Vietnam War victoriously, but the tensions of the Cold War, the specter of nuclear annihilation and the end of the world still hang over the story.

For all that, it's an unforgettably human story, with complex characters. And a metafictional extravaganza that embeds an entire pirate horror story in parallel with the action. And the best ending ever. It's heartwrenching, and so rereadable, even the writer said he had to read it several times to catch all the details the artist put in.

And then there's Six Feet Under, and I haven't really brought all this together yet... but I'll get there.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

How The West Was Won: Led Zeppelin Live

In another instance of Studio vs. Live, let me recommend How The West Was Won, a three-CD set of two Led Zeppelin shows from 1972 merged into one long concert.

I wouldn't dream of taking anything away from the Led Zeppelin studio material, which is about as solid and meaty as rock has ever been.

But being pummeled by the Led Zeppelin live show, I kept saying to myself, "Thank you sir, may I have another?"

There's a continuum of great guitar music, between the delicate, beautiful folk of, say, James Taylor and then the insanely awesome power playing. This incarnation of Led Zeppelin is way over on the other end. That's a recommendation and a warning in one.

Here's the first track, Immigrant Song:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Studio Unleashed I

I'll borrow a trope from Andrew Sullivan and start naming posts that are actually about the same thing the same way. I think I want there to be more than one of these.

I am a big fan of live music, as you may know by now. One of the things I like best about it is when a band that does really great things in the studio is forced to do something different live. It can get rawer and more personal, although sometimes you have to sit back in awe at how much of the original album can be reproduced without overdubs.

So, Studio Unleashed: great songs from the studio that stayed great live.

Here is a gem by Arcade Fire. I don't know why I think it's so beautiful. It's on their first album, the Arcade Fire EP. The song is called "Vampire/Forest Fire". I suggest you listen to the studio version first. There are lyrics at the bottom of the post for your inspection.



You wanna be set apart?
Burn all of your art repair the wasteful part
I'm a vampire in a forest fire
Hey! we all gotta keep warm
driving towards the storm

Your father was a pervert
Face down in the dirt
He taught you how to hurt
My father was a miner who lived in the suburbs
Let's live in the suburbs
If I let where I'm from burn I can never return!

My brother reads you and me his new poetry
How embarrassing
Your sister pours the gasoline
I'll fix your meals
while your burns heal!

Find a house you don't have to rebuild
Stone by stone, brick by brick, nail by nail my father never meant to leave me this
Let this love last
I drive too fast
Said I'd return if I'd ever cared
But there's no Interstate I'd find to take me there.
to take me there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I wanted to surface a comment really fast

In the wake of the election, I've been talking a little about how progressive priorities might be just. I want to get deeper into this in response to a comment my friend Aaron left on a previous post (also Tina's comment on third parties a month ago; I think they actually make a lot of sense together). I don't have enough time this second, but let me show you that comment thread in case you missed it:

tori said...

Robin Hood has one fatal error. Stealing from the rich to give to the poor sounds great... but in the end, it is still stealing. Clear as that. Whenever you choose to vote to take something away from someone and not yourself, once is stealing. I'm trying out this new idea...I've only thought about it for two days. But I think an equal percentage tax on all Americans would be most just.
Glad that you won't get mad at me for saying this, Dan. We can just debate and not let it get personal.

Dan Lewis said...

I won't get mad, Tori. Be welcome!

I don't know how far we want to take the Robin Hood analogy. By this reasoning, if I don't like the tax structure I call it stealing.

For instance, in the status quo, I say the Bush tax cuts are stealing from poor people and giving to rich people. Someone might argue to the contrary that rolling back the tax cuts would be stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Both sides can make an equal-and-opposite argument, and they basically cancel each other out. Maybe it's not the best label.

We will have a tax structure one way or another. The question is whether it should favor the poor at the expense of the rich, favor the rich at the expense of the poor, or somewhere in between.

When I quoted Warren Buffett, the richest man in the world, he said he pays less total taxes as a percentage of his total income than his janitor. That is, we have a deeply regressive tax structure in this country, even though on paper rich people may be paying more.

There are lots of reasons why this is so. One obvious one is that if you become rich enough, it becomes cheaper as a percentage of your income to pay a lawyer to lawfully evade taxes than it is to just pay them straight down the line. That leads into another reason, which is that it's cheaper to lobby Congress to pass laws to create tax loopholes than it is to just pay them straight down the line. It is big business for rich people to game the system to keep more of their money. The working stiffs do not have the time or the money to play in this game.

The point of all this is that our tax structure is unfair, but it is unfairly skewed to benefit the rich. If you want a fair system, it probably needs to swing back the other way even harder.

We have a lot of policies that aid the disadvantaged in society. For instance, we have homeless shelters. The homeless do not pay for them, but we do it anyway. We all pay for health insurance for poor families (Medicaid) and the elderly (Medicare). It goes on. We do unemployment for people between jobs, welfare for people who are poor, food stamps for people who would go hungry. And so on.

These are "unfair" taxes on people who have food, shelter, enough money, jobs, their health. "Why should I have to pay for that? I don't get anything back for it. I'm doing just fine on my own." People who have money are giving to those who don't have it. It is not equal or even fair.

There is a secular argument to be made that these policies really do pay for themselves. When we invest in crime prevention or preventive health care, these pay large dividends down the road. And there are similar arguments to be made for the societal costs of not caring for the elderly, the poor, the hungry, the homeless, and so on.

But I think there's a more telling argument for people who follow the way of grace. I think it is natural that we who are rich should give out of our abundance to those who are poor without expecting anything in return.

As Christians, the principle that the greatest among us will be the servant of all, that we will lift up the humble and cast down the proud, that the poor will always be with us, is even more strongly pronounced. We have special duties to care for the poor and defenseless, the widows and orphans, the outsiders.

One way we can do this is by voting for the engines of government to reflect our values. That's not stealing, it's empowering our representatives to work toward the balance we think is just.

Aaron said...

Hey Dan,
Thanks for your response...and for taking the time to explain so much on your blog. I can see where you are coming from...and even why you are for the pendulum swinging in favor for the poor rather than the rich.
It sure would be nice if taxes could be and would remain just. And it would be nice if the church would do the job of the church and care for the "orphans and widows in their distress." I'm just not sure that the main way the church should do this is through the government. Did the church fail in this? Is this why the government has to take over this role?
Unfortunately, because of the fall, the poor are no more righteous than the rich. You are in the minority... in voting on economical issues not for your own gain, but out of concern for those who are barely making ends meet. Many are openly voting for whatever will help their own bank accounts. Many of the "poor" think that they have the right to have their needs met by the government. This takes away the whole idea of grace and generosity. Instead it becomes something that is forced.
The whole point, I that people are totally depraved and will all look out for their own best interests as far as they understand them. The rich, in not paying even an equal percentage to the poor who have so much less- are (if we are to compare sin here) the worse sinners. They should not be able to get out of their equal percent for any amount of money. This is turning into a great conversational illustration of the doctrine of total depravity! So long as we are sinful and living in a Genesis 3 world... our economic policy will never be just. And then the question comes... are we as fervent in our giving to the poor outside of our own taxes (what we are obligated to pay the government) as we are to see legislation pass that may or may not help the poor?
Guess this leaves me at this point wondering what the real solution is? Do we implement unjust means to achieve justice? Perhaps the ends do justify the means in such murky waters? I'm not sure that the real heart issues will ever be discussed in politics....
and perhaps it is the church's job to call the government into account for "stealing widow's houses" as the Leaders did in the day of Jesus. But I'm not sure what that looks like. I'm not convinced that it takes place through a vote. The government will answer to God on the day of judgment. God has ordained the leaders and those in power... in His sovereignty (whether the person has what we consider to be "Christian values" or not) and on the day of judgment they will answer to Him (as the rest of us).
Oh... and what are your thoughts about proposition 8 in CA? If it gets overturned again... just what does our vote mean anyway? Government for the people by the courts?
OK... please explain where I obviously don't understand. :)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008