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the golden mean

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4th August 2019

2:46pm: Directions
On the way home from a delicious dinner at Jean and Lee in Newton Upper Falls, I passed the famous West 16 South 3 East 2 sign at Alewife and got to wondering which way that road actually went. And the answer I came up with was "Widdershins". Literally true in the polar coordinate system of the Hub, but also expresses the very Boston concepts of "the navigation techniques you may be used to will not help you here", "no we're not going to call anything what you expect us to call it" and finally "driving down this road is probably bad luck".

2nd August 2019

11:13pm: Faster than bike
I logged in to my Bluebikes account for the first time in a while and on the splash screen it told me some info about my last ride. But they've moved stations around since I last used them. The station I rode from is now at Clarendon Hill. The station I rode to is now (and maybe even was then) at Somerville City Hall. These are 2.4 miles apart. Apparently I took 4 minutes and 42 seconds to get between them, for an average speed of a little over 30 miles per hour. I wonder where that start station actually was back when I did that ride. Because I don't think I'd be so reckless as to bomb through Davis Square at well over the speed limit on something with brakes as bad as the ones on a Bluebike. :)
3:37pm: xkcd movie challenge
Today's XKCD is a challenge to name a movie that:
  • You genuinely like
  • Came out after 2000
  • Scores under 50% on Rotten Tomatoes
The challenge for me is the "After 2000" part. So many movies in the late 90s (or in 2000 itself) fit the rest of the bill. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas! Orgazmo! The Perfect Storm! Alien 3! Robin Hood Men In Tights! But I'm A Cheerleader! Tank Girl! I think that leaves K-Pax (2001), at 41%.

14th July 2019

5:16pm: day trip to New York
My cousin Lorna just graduated from UMich's musical theatre program and took an understudy role in Dear Evan Hansen. Yesterday was the main Alana's first day off since then and the theatre is right around the corner from the Port Authority so I booked bus tickets to New York leaving Boston at noon and leaving the Port Authority a little after midnight. I planned to meet up with a bunch of other family at a diner in between the Port Authority and the theatre around 5:00, and fortunately Lorna's call was late enough that I didn't miss her when the bus down left half an hour late. After dinner, with Lorna off to get ready, we all went to City Kitchen for dessert and just as we were leaving the fire alarms went off, and the traffic lights at one end of the block were out, and some but not all of the other lights in the area too. I picked up my will call ticket around 7:15 and hung out in the line with my family until 7:30 when the house was supposed to open, and then until 7:45 when we got a text back from Lorna that they were working on getting a generator going, and then until 8:15 when the house manager came out to say that for the first time in the 30 years he'd been there, the show was not going to go on.

Meanwhile we'd heard that the outage extended many blocks north and west (but hardly at all south and east) from where we were, and also rumors of a fire at the Port Authority, and I got an email from Greyhound saying to call them about my bus. I tried doing that but had very little signal (perhaps some of the nearby towers were down, or perhaps everyone was trying to use them) and couldn't hear what they had to say. The police closed the street for crowding and encouraged people to disperse and most folks did, but we waited for Lorna to come out of the stage door, which she did holding her phone for a flashlight. Some folks from CBS radio interviewed her, and later some CBS TV folks did the same. I headed back to my aunt's house to get some phone coverage before the TV interview so I could figure out what was up with my bus, and because she was the family member present with a spare bed in case it came to that. The buses did turn out to be running, so I headed back across town to get to mine. The fire rumors turned out to just be false fire alarms. While I was waiting to board another fire alarm (or maybe two) went off and everyone just ignored it, which seemed kind of sketchy to me, but then again this is the Port Authority we're talking about. I did manage to get a bit of sleep on the bus, and a bunch more once I got home (4:30 is a little late for me but not all *that* late).

I hope Lorna has a better experience at her next Broadway debut. It looks like that will be a Tuesday, so I don't know if I'll be able to make it. But we all got a hell of a story out of it.

25th January 2019

2:05pm: translations
I recently commented to someone, as I've mentioned here before, that when I say "sure" I usually mean "no". That got me thinking about other words I tend to use to mean their opposites, and how that is. For instance, I find that I use the words "awesome" and "terrible" much more often when I am being sarcastic, with the result that I tend to use them to mean each other. It's not that I'm sarcastic all that often, it's just that those words are go-tos when I am, and I don't use them so much when I'm not.

I consider the word "honey", applied to people, almost universally to mean "bitch". I use this very seldom (there are zero examples in my 15 year archive of sent email) and when I do, I do it knowing that's what I'm doing, and in the expectation that the person I'm speaking to knows as well. That is: it is directly and intentionally an insult and I am using that word and not the other one because there might be small children within earshot. Interestingly when I do honey someone it is almost always a cis man, and I'm aware of the overtone of misgendering being part of the insult, and I'm both uncomfortable with the idea of misgendering people as an insult and also pretty comfortable with the idea that I reserve certain kinds of insult for people with power.

17th January 2019

12:50am: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Tonight you shall sleep in peace.
All packed for the weekend. All the printing and email for today is done. Plenty to do once I get to the hotel and a long day tomorrow, but now I rest, in my own bed. Good night, Arisia. I'll see you in the morning.

2nd January 2019

10:35am: Where I Slept 2018
Melrose MA
Somerville MA
Boston MA
Gaithersburg MD
Madison WI
Milwaukee WI
Williamstown MA
Woodstock NY
Lake Katrine NY
Pittfield VT
Leyden MA
Half Moon Bay CA
San Francisco CA
Timonium MD

Not too much, and not too little. I got a little more depth out of my travel this year than I sometimes do, and that was nice.

10th May 2018

5:26pm: Bike ride rescheduled!
The forecast for Saturday is for rain, so I am postponing my birthday bike ride to Sunday, still at 10am.

We'll be riding a little over 48 miles, out the Minuteman, through Carlisle and Chelmsford to the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, south through a corner of Acton to Concord where we'll have lunch, and then back in via the Minuteman. There are a few hills but MapMyRide says nothing steeper than 3%.

We'll be riding slowly -- between 10 and 12 mph -- and taking lots of breaks. We'll probably get back to Somerville between 4 and 5 in the afternoon.

Feel free to join for all or part -- hope to see you then!

3rd May 2018

4:41pm: Memory leaks
Many years ago I was working on a project that was leaking memory at an astonishing rate -- the server would stay up for only a few seconds before a memory allocation failed and it fell over. We defined a speed metric for memory leaks where Mach 1 was equal to one byte leaked per byte processed. By this metric the code we were working on leaked memory at 7.5% of the speed of light. We eventually got it down to a walking pace before moving on to other bugs.

There's a third party library I'd like to encourage the use of at Akamai. But it too leaks memory quickly -- off the shelf it's faster than Earth escape velocity. With a few hours' work I have gotten a copy of it down to about half that. For now, though, it's still the fastest memory leak I've worked with since that relativistic leak 15 years ago.

23rd April 2018

3:43pm: Birthday bikeride!
On May 12 I will be going on a liesurely 48 mile bike ride, in the general direction of Concord and Carlisle. Want to come with me? We'll probably take six or seven hours including a bunch of stops including a nice lunch.

27th March 2018

4:56pm: Bylines
Today on the New York Times' website are two bylined editorials: One by John Paul Stevens, described in his byline as "a retired associate justice of the United States Supreme Court", and one by Isabelle Robinson, "a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School".

I love that these contributors are getting equal consideration -- and I especially love that they absolutely deserve it.

14th February 2018

10:13am: Low-hanging fruit
Dear anyone I know at a company that's working on self-driving cars,

I write to you as a person who regularly rides a bicycle in the Boston area to say that I think what you are doing is great and I look forward to seeing the results of your work very soon. You don't have very far to go before your cars can drive better than the drivers here! But what I am most looking forward to most of all is that unlike Boston drivers, self-driving cars use their turn signals! In fact I wonder if you couldn't implement self-signaling cars right now. Many drivers are already running a navigation app on their phone and have a bluetooth connection to their car. The phone knows when the driver is going to make a turn and these days the car's computer has all the connections it needs to be able to connect that to the strange yellow flashing things on the sides of the cars the purpose of which people around here don't seem to understand. Maybe you could even use the blinky things on the dashboard (and the handy synchronized audio feedback) to help guide drivers so they don't miss their turns.

Much love,


PS: Sorry for spoiling the patent idea if you hadn't thought of this.

9th February 2018

7:41pm: Arisia wrap-up
Art Show is one of the things in Arisia that has the most post-con work to do -- in most years it is 50 hours or so, not that I have been tracking it super closely. I've finished the biggest chunk, which is to get our accounting of which pieces sold to the point where it can be reviewed by Treasury and compared to the money we took in. Hopefully we'll be able to get checks out tomorrow when our Treasurer and I meet to go over the data. There is still a debrief to write and email to send out and webpages to update. But the little light at the end of the tunnel is appreciably larger every day. Maybe I'll even pick up the blogging now that everyone else seems to be doing that here. Not that I did all that much of it even back when it was the only game in town.

7th January 2018

10:39pm: Approaching like a freight train
... that is, slowly but inexorably. Arisia starts, for me, in 83 hours and 21 minutes. I've made five visits to the NESFA clubhouse this weekend, and three to Arisia storage. I have a long to-do list including three things that I should really do before I go to bed and one that I should get up early for. But I also have lots of help. Not just the people who signed up for the worksessions this weekend, but random friends pitching in for small things here and there, and bystanders helping out for an hour, and my awesome co-director Megan and assistant director Julia. Thank you all! You're fantastic, and I couldn't do it without you.

2nd January 2018

5:41pm: Where I slept 2017

  • Somerville, MA
  • Melrose, MA
  • Boston, MA
  • Gaithersburg, MD
  • South Portland, ME
  • Wellfleet, MA
  • Lake George, NY
  • Inlet, NY
  • Ravenna, NE
  • North Dartmouth, MA
  • Paris, France
  • Clermont-Ferrand, France
  • Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule, France
  • La Charité-sur-Loire, France
  • Gien, France
  • Nyack, NY
  • Woodbury, NY
  • Timonium, MD

A pretty full year, for me.

20th December 2017

12:05am: worksession
Arisia worksession tonight. Two of my best volunteers showed up and the three of us got what I thought would be eight task hours of work done in two and a half hours. That was a lot of fun, and we're much closer to ready for the convention now.

Over the last three worksessions, at Arisia storage (as with this one) and at NESFA, we have gone through all 750 or so pieces of pegboard in Boston and selected the 293 in the best shape to come to the convention. Of these, 287 belong to Arisia and 6 belong to NESFA. I had been thinking it would be a good idea to merge the two collections. But now that I've seen the condition of NESFA's pegboard I don't think that's a good idea any more.

I'm still grateful to NESFA for allowing me to cherry pick their pegboard, though. Those six pieces match some of ours in color and mean that we'll have enough of that color to do an entire section and not have to worry about it being next to a color that doesn't match.

9th December 2017

4:44pm: snow day
Five inches of snow in this morning's forecast. Was it:

  • Time to make sure the electrical connections in the light display are nice and watertight?
  • Time to catch up with online paperwork with a hot beverage?
  • Time for a bike ride?
  • All of the above?

6th August 2017

8:19pm: the real use of the north south rail link
Buried in this article is a bombshell of a lede: there is a regulatory limit on how fast a locomotive can switch "ends" from inbound to outbound and this is by far the limiting factor on operations at Boston's two terminal stations. Through running trains are not subject to this timing constraint and can make several times more efficient use of available station tracks. Four through tracks at South Station, even if they were conversions of existing tracks, would do much more to improve capacity there than the currently-planned expansion from 13 dead-end tracks to 20.

Our current state Governor has a strongly suburban base that would greatly benefit from improved operational efficiency at South Station. I can only imagine he doesn't know -- as I didn't -- how much more impact the North South Rail Link would have; it's really the only explanation for his advocacy of the South Station expansion.

21st June 2017

7:37pm: sunrise, sunset
Today was the longest day of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere. But it wasn't the earliest sunrise, or the latest sunset.


The length of a day -- 24 hours from sunrise to sunrise, on average -- comes mostly from Earth's rotation. But a few minutes of it comes from Earth's orbiting around the sun. It takes Earth 23 hours, 56 minutes, and a bit over 4 seconds to rotate 360 degrees, at the end of which time the stars will be in the same positions in the sky as they were the previous day. But because the sun isn't in the same place in the sky as it was the previous day, Earth has to rotate about 3 minutes and 56 seconds more to bring the sun back into the same apparent position it had been in 24 hours previously.

The catch is that "about". Two things affect this number. First, Earth's orbit isn't perfectly circular. It's closest to the sun in early January and furthest in early July. When it's further, it moves more slowly in its orbit, so it doesn't have to turn as much extra to make a day. When it's closer, it moves more quickly, so it has more to make up. Second, and right now more importantly, at the equinoxes some of the sun's apparent motion is north-south so Earth doesn't have to rotate as far to catch up to the sun's new east-west position. At the solstices, Earth has to turn quite a bit further to make up for same amount of orbital motion, because all of the sun's apparent motion is east-west. This makes the day/night cycle longer than average -- right now, it's about 24 hours 15 seconds from one sunset (or sunrise) to the next. The effect is even more pronounced in December when it's aligned with the eccentricity effect instead of opposed to it.

The longer days mean that here in Boston, though we've missed the earliest sunrise by about a week, we have until June 26 to celebrate the latest sunset of the year.

1st May 2017

10:59pm: open studio
For the first time, I am exhibiting my work as part of Somerville Open Studios! I'll be open 6pm-9pm Friday night, and noon-6pm Saturday and Sunday.

I'll be showing over two dozen framed photographs on the ground level of Mad Oyster Studios, including this pieceCollapse ).

5th January 2017

1:09pm: volunteer shaming
Can we please please please stop responding to negative feedback with "If you want better, volunteer to do the work yourself"? Not everyone can and no one should have to. People have more important things to do, maybe even more important within the frame of the conversation, maybe just more important to them. Maybe they just don't want to, and that should be fine too. It's not that people are entitled to have everything better. Negative feedback might go unaddressed. But the feedback is valuable whether it comes with an offer to do something about it or not, and volunteer shaming stifles a useful flow of information, most often accomplishing nothing but a little bit of false comfort.

11th December 2016

9:22am: the four noble truths, reframed
In the past month my Buddhist community has been working with the difference between acceptance and acquiscence, the former (as the opposite of denial) being an important step towards action and not the passivation that Buddhism's inward focus brings to its reputation. Equanimity is important, but so is anger.

Yesterday I sat a retreat with Rod Owens on the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. That wasn't the reframing one might imagine from Rod, but the reframing came easily to mind, so here it is:

  1. There is injustice in the world, in good times and in bad, endlessly and in endless variety.
  2. Injustice is caused by people. All people, individually and collectively, intentionally and unintentionally.
  3. Injustice is a call to action, always. The opportunity to act may change but the obligation does not.
  4. The fight against injustice is not a ticky box. It must imbue every aspect of your life. No single action absolves you of responsibility.

28th June 2016

5:36pm: typical nasa efficiency
NASA isn't interested in building big rockets, but Congress is interested in them spending a lot of money in Utah, so they're developing some Shuttle-derived solid rocket boosters there. The boosters behave differently at different temperatures, so they test them once at 40 degrees and once at 90 degrees. It was 90 degrees out for today's cold-temperature-limit test, requiring lots of expensive airconditioning to get the motor down to temp. And it was 40 degrees out for the hot-temperature-limit test in early March of 2015, likewise requiring lots of expensive heating equipment. I'd say this is why private space can operate so much more efficiently than NASA, except actually NASA is being super efficient at its mandated task: spending as much money as possible. Maybe the equipment can even be put to some useful purpose now that this test is over.

2nd June 2016

3:39pm: progress
I've mentioned before that one of the major ways to frame my 2011 transcontinental ride is as a tour of US energy policy. Among other things I rode across Iowa, then and now a leader in wind power. I saw and photographed a great many windmills, and some of the roads I traveled seemed to carry more turbine parts than any other kind of traffic. At that time they boasted that 4% of the electricity generated in the state came from wind power, and that it was doubling every 24 months. 5 years later and sure enough, 25% of electricity generated in Iowa comes from wind.

Now those numbers aren't really as impressive as they look, because three separate nuclear power stations stand within a half a mile of Iowa's borders in various neighboring states, conveniently located for their power to count against electricity consumed in the state but not against the generation count.

Still, it's pretty interesting to read this morning that the biggest of those three is closing because it no longer makes economic sense to keep it running.

21st March 2016

1:06pm: senate calculus
Yesterday morning, The Hill published a list of the top ten most competitive Senate seats. This list looks a lot like a bunch of similar lists people have been publishing. But for people like me who are looking for where to contribute money, it's in the wrong order. What I'm looking for is the race that's most likely to be the tipping-point for control of the Senate. If only Republican states were in play, this would be the fifth state on The Hill's list. But some Democratic seats are also at risk. A 40% chance of flipping for a Democratic seat equals a 60% chance of Democratic control, so ordering the states by chance of flipping isn't the same as ranking their chances of winding up in the D column. Plus, once you identify the most-likely tipping-point state, what's the next-most-likely: the one above it, or the one below? Most of these lists don't have Nate Silver-style probabilities on them.

So, to help you decide where to contribute money, my personal assessment of the ten most likely tipping-point states, in order:

  1. Ohio. So likely that my primary vote for President was based on who I thought would have longer coattails here. The candidate himself, Ted Strickland, does not particularly excite me. But he would be the deciding vote for someone like Jane Kelly to fill the next vacancy on the Supreme Court, and generally for anything getting done in Washington for two years.
  2. Pennsylvania. The Senate primary here is not until next month, but Katie McGinty has a good shot at the Democratic nomination. Might be closer than Ohio, or might be less close.
  3. Florida. An open seat that's also likely to be pretty close. Ranked here for now but will likely move up or down once the primaries are over.
  4. New Hampshire. Maggie Hassan has a good enough shot that this is probably around the third most likely to flip, and thus not the tipping-point. But I'll be contributing money here just in case.
  5. Nevada. Catherine Cortez-Masto is favored to keep Harry Reid's seat blue, but of the seats the Democrats are defending this is the most important.
  6. Wisconsin. A rematch of the very close 2010 election under more favorable conditions for the Democrat. Not a slam dunk to flip, but pretty likely.
  7. Illinois. Tammy Duckworth is the Democrats' very best shot for a pickup, and isn't likely to have trouble raising money. A targeted donation strategy could reasonably consider her a sure thing and skip contributing to her. On the other hand, she's just so awesome.
  8. North Carolina. Back to the less-likely side in terms of chances overall. Deborah Ross might well squeak out a win if the Democratic coattails are long, and it's nice to have some insurance.
  9. Missouri. There hasn't been much polling here, but the state makes a lot of top-ten flip lists, usually in a pretty similar position to the spot I'm giving it in mine.
  10. Arizona. This isn't likely to be the tipping-point race, but a serious threat from Ann Kirkpatrick will certainly help the Democrats' chances overall by making the Republicans spread their resources more thinly, so she's getting some money from me.

You may notice a very interesting trend among the candidates I've mentioned. I don't think it's a good idea to leave Ted Strickland off your list because he doesn't fit it. But I'm mightily pleased at the potential makeup of the Senate nonetheless.

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