Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday, June 6, 2009

CNN or The Onion?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Throwing Down

Tonight was the first meeting of the weekly ceramics class I decided to take in order to humanize myself to Ilan and Lauren (little do they know I'd still kill them to save a computer!). I got into ceramics in high school after I stopped complaining about the mandatory art class and decided to give it a try -- this is the last time I can recall an authority figure being right about forcing me to do something. (Authority didn't even get to enjoy the feather in its cap -- I never really got to thank my ceramics teacher for exposing me to something I will love for the rest of my life, and anyway the bulk of her daily experience was yelling at people for making marijuana paraphernalia).

There are basically two pottery aesthetics. One is "make something that has thin walls and is functional. Spend as little time glazing as possible (i.e., dip it in the glaze instead of painting it on). Now make 11 more exactly identical things", and the other is "I just carved a frog into into the side of my pot!". Obviously I belong to the first school, with the additional qualification that the identical bowls (mugs are probably more useful, but the handles are annoying) look like they were made by a machine.

On the other hand, the rest of the class is very human:

(Carol, the instructor, spots me throwing away an attempt at a bowl)

Carol: Wait, did you just throw away that ball of used clay?
Me: Well, wedging it again would be a pain in the ass -- it's $20 for 25 pounds, right? The replacement cost of this small piece can't be more than a few dollars.
Carol: Oh, that's not really how I think about it ... for me it's more like "I can use that clay to make another pot".
Me: Hmmmm, so I guess this is a bad time to ask whether I can pay someone to clean my wheel for me?

I didn't want to get into it at the time (as with the gym, after awhile you learn that correcting people in the pottery studio is a waste of time), but life truly is too short to re-wedge slimy used clay. Does she have any idea how many vodka tonics people buy even though they're about to leave the bar and aren't really even in the mood?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Luddites Have a Point (or Do They?)

David Bradley writes:
What scares me is the pride with which many of the people who claim they don’t understand “computers” brandish their ignorance
One reason for this is people don't think learning technology is a legitimate intellectual activity. Many people envision the problems of computer science to be more complex versions of "how do I install this printer?" They can follow the instructions if they have to, but they'd prefer to just ask their grandchildren.

Which is a shame because the reality is that there's a whole world of ideas out there. Understanding, say, object-oriented programming or the idea behind a relational database is analogous to reading Hamlet or Mill. People don't brag about not having read Hamlet.

But anyone can read Hamlet -- you just pick up the book. On the other hand, how can you learn about object-oriented programming? Well, the wikipedia article is gibberish*, every book is too technical -- I'm out of ideas.

People get more exposure to math and science, but it's taught in a similarly unpleasant and inaccessible way. For example, any high school calculus student can tell you that the integral of x is (x^2/2) because "it's the anti-derivative". None are likely to know why differentiation and integration are inverse operations.

One problem is that to really understand this stuff you have spend a lot of time working out, e.g., what a "real number" is. This is a) is pretty boring, and b) unnecessary if all you need to do is use the equations in physics.

This is a shame though, because like computer science, math and science contain some accessible and compelling ideas. Unlike computer science though, there are a few good popularizations of math and science that require no background. The most prominent example is probably Godel, Escher, Bach, but more straightforward books like The Elegant Universe are pretty good as well.

Takeaways:
  1. Someone should write a good popularization of applied computer science!
  2. Everyone who's good at technology should stop pretending the boring stuff is so fucking interesting! Despite what my 16 year-old self would tell you, building your own computer is not fun. It's a time consuming cycle of experimentation and googling. (and pirating DVDs is a waste of time!).

    So I guess the luddites have a point in that a lot of perceived technological "expertise" is really just familiarity with the boring and arbitrary implementation details that computers unnecessarily expose to us all the time. I.e., it seems like one could reasonably say "I'm not interested in learning to install a hard drive for the same reason I'm not interested in learning to change my oil."

* Object-oriented programming (OOP) is a programming paradigm that uses "objects" and their interactions to design applications and computer programs. Programming techniques may include features such as information hiding, data abstraction, encapsulation, modularity, polymorphism, and inheritance. It was not commonly used in mainstream software application development until the early 1990s. Many modern programming languages now support OOP.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Power of Less

Ilan and I have been experimenting with Fresh Direct.

Delivery Guy: Where do you want the boxes?
Me: (Excited) Put them on the island, I guess? (Inside: I had no idea you offered this level of service!!!)
Delivery Guy: No problem -- whoa, it smells good in here!
Ilan: Yeah, this is our first time ordering from Fresh Direct; do you have any tips?
Delivery Guy: What? Oh, yeah, I accept tips.

Needless to say, it took some maneuvering to get out of this pickle (IRL it was me who asked if he had any tips -- you run out of things to talk about!).

Anyway, buying groceries is a balancing act:
  1. You want to buy a lot at once so you don't have to transact as frequently
  2. You can't buy so much that it will rot before being consumed
Of course the latter depends on how good the grocery is -- red cabbage goes bad more slowly than avocados, but it's also consumed more slowly and so you can buy about the same amount of each.

There are only a few groceries that are both tasty enough and last long enough to buy in enough quantity that it's worth the pain in the ass. Here they are:
  • Jumbo carrots
  • Pickles
  • Apples
  • Grapes (to freeze -- these are only necessary if you're planning on caddying or having sex and want to eat them afterwards)

Monday, April 6, 2009

I find videobox commenters only moderately more intelligent than Matt Yglesias

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

If You Don't Like What The Numbers Are Saying, Get Some New Numbers

TechCrunch speculates that Apple and Google could replace Citigroup and GM in the Dow. It's a pretty incoherent post, but the point made at the end, though sad, is important:
Some might say that the Dow Jones, with the limited amount of funds to track, is inaccurate and insignificant compared to the reach of the S&P 500. But still, it is the Dow that most Americans know and follow.
I don't believe that "most Americans" know or follow the Dow, but I do know that simply swapping out the underperformers for better performers undermines any scant remaining legitimacy the Dow might retain as a broad, American economic indicator.