• We Bought a Car Today

    Jim was sick of running the risk of getting stuck in the sand when he drives to the desert. So he bought a Subaru Forester. I had to stop by the dealership on the way home from work so that I could sign my share of the paperwork.

    In unrelated news, I have learned how to knit the “waffle” (thermal underwear) stitch. It’s kind of like one-color brioche stitch if you are very bad at following directions and do everything out of order.


  • Social Media Discourse about NorCal Power Outages

    Pacific Gas & Electric, the utility company that serves much of northern California, has been shutting off power to hundreds of thousands of people lately in order to prevent their poorly maintained infrastructure from producing sparks that cause wildfires. This, of course, is an absurd state of events, but have you been watching the way that people talk about this on social media!?!?!?

    Silicon Valley tech millionaire: Wind howls across the silent landscape. The sun glows an eerie red. My body grows weak from hauling supplies to my home, as my children cower in the dark. We are cut off from our community, and we huddle in our home afraid of the darkness. The ripe avocados go bad because we can not put them in the refrigerator. I can not charge my Tesla.

    People in Africa and India: Cool story, bro.

    Silicon Valley tech millionaire: You don’t understand! This is the United States! This should not happen here!

    People in Texas, Florida, and especially Puerto Rico: Oh, really? Tell us more!

    Silicon Valley tech millionaire (who made his money from exercising stock options from some ethically-challenged tech company): This is different! Hurricanes are natural disasters! This is happening because PG&E was maximizing shareholder value without regard for the societal implications of its actions!


  • Day of the Dead

    In San Diego we celebrate Day of the Dead. My understanding is that this holiday is called “Día de Muertos” in Spanish and “Día de los Muertos” in Spanglish. We had a Day of the Dead street festival about five blocks from my apartment this past Saturday, so I went and took some pictures. Sorry to those who follow my social media accounts and who have already seen this photo.

    girl dancing some mexican folkdance

    Also noteworthy around here is that Saturday it was everything-is-going-to-catch-on-fire weather. Hot, clear, and sunny (which helped the photograph a lot because I have neither Photoshop nor the skills to use it). Everyone at the festival was downing aguas frescas, and many of the costumed people who went out to the local bars on Saturday night were not wearing a lot of clothes.

    But on Sunday all that changed. All of a sudden, it became winter. We are all wearing hoodies and scarves and mittens. It might even rain.


  • Tales from the Workplace

    Task, dated six months ago, originally assigned to someone else.

    The task becomes mine; it is marked low priority. Eventually it works its way up to the top of my to-do list.

    Like so many of my tasks, the end result is a web page that displays some information as a chart, table, or graph. Like so many tasks, there are ambiguities in the spec. Does the “date” column in the chart represent the date that the initial event happened? The date that the situtaion started to change? Or the date that the change was fully realized? That’s OK, as the table that contains most of the information has at least three different columns for dates, so if one doesn’t work, we can try another.

    We want this information on a page because there isn’t an easy way to get at it. Sure, someone could write an ad hoc database query every time this information was needed, but what if it’s needed by someone who doesn’t have database access? Based on the current state of the universe, I expect that this is actually a pretty uncommon use case: The one person who would most want to know this information does have database access.

    Fun fact: The information that would populate this chart is emailed to the third parties to whom it applies. But we do not send copies of the emails to ourselves. If we had been bcc’ing ourselves on those automated emails, we could just search our email instead of looking things up in a chart. Sometimes it’s nice to look at things on a chart! I understand. I am planning on adopting much of the code that generates the email and using it to populate my chart.

    Secret: I am pretty sure that one of the requested columns for this chart is impossible. So far I have not found any trace of that information in the database. I have read through the code that does all the things that relate to this chart, and not one single function has a variable representing this information.


  • Ghosts

    1. Bug report: This [short answer, machine-graded] problem should say that you must use calculus to solve it. Repsonse: You could use a ouija board to solve the problem, but then you wouldn’t learn as much calculus.

    2. Cats running as if they were being chased.

    3. When looking for my allergy test results, I found a letter congratulating me for winning a poetry contest. I have no recollection of the poem, but based on the title I know what it must have been about.

    4. Last weekend I decided to run errands in the neighborhood where I lived from 1995-2000.

    5. A student’s subterfuge spiraled out of control, and he killed off his second account. The other students are mourning “her” passing. He still logs into the account. Daily.

    6. Last year around this time my Sunday New York Times delivery became unacceptably unreliable. Most weeks I wouldn’t get my paper at all, and I had to complain. Now we are getting a Sunday NYT delivered by the mailboxes of the building. No one picks it up. It sits by the mailboxes all week.

    7. The spirits reach out to me via my car’s messaging system. TIRE PRESSURE LOW. FILL WASHER FLUID. LOOK BEHIND YOU. BEWARE OF MIRRORS.

    8. Continues to exchange gifts with me in Pokémon Go. Stopped replying to my texts.


  • Winning at the Anonymous Sign Game

    The anonymous sign is a mode of interpersonal discourse that gets less attention than it deserves. Some people make bad decisions about their anonymous signs, and the long-term effectiveness of the sign suffers because of this.

    Let’s take an example the sign that someone in a neighboring building affixed to their dumpster in our alley.

    Dear neighbors please don't leave trash around the dumpster thanks

    Serious signs are never written on notebook paper. This is not a style of handwriting that people take seriously. Tape? Affixed with tape!? This is just not a serious sign.

    We had a package stolen the other day from the mailbox area that is inside the gates to our building. My neighbors tend to leave the back gate open. So I made an anonymous sign.

    please keep gate closed and locked stuff is being stolen

    Now this is a serious sign. Typeset in Akzidenz Grotesk Black (the same typeface used on the album cover for Nine Inch Nails Broken), trimmed to 5” x 8” on my nice papercutter and laminated. Attached to the gate with zip ties. This is a serious sign. I don’t have a corner-rounder, so the corners are sharp, but that is a minor detail. The next sign will have rounded corners. And once this sign starts to show its age, there will be a new sign. With a slightly different message. Possibly in both English and Spanish. My signs want everyone to read them.


  • Preparing for My Visit to the Allergist

    Subtitle: I don’t want to talk about my allergies.

    1. Blood test is, um, VERY SUGGESTIVE that I may have allergies. Not a surprise. My primary care doctor wants me to see the allergist! I agree because, fine, whatever. OK, I have reasons, but they are subtle and possibly not the best reasons.

    2. Nutella is delicious.

    3. The hackberry tree does not grow in San Diego. Hardly any plants grow in San Diego. This is a desert.

    4. This whole situation needs to be dealt with quickly. At this point I need the story in my chart to be short and uneventful. It is very suggestive that I may have allergies! I did have allergies in the past, and they bothered me in the past. Now I take Allegra. My allergies do not bother me. There is certainly no reason to worry that I might stop breathing or anything like that.

    5. Other allergens?

      Now I sat in the waiting room. And the nurses came to me, saying, “You also have cats.” But I denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are saying.” And when I had gone into the exam room, another nurse saw me and said to those who were there, “You have cats.” But again I denied with an oath, “I do not have any cats!” And a little later the doctor said to me, “Surely you have cats, for the fur on your clothing betrays you.” Then I began to curse and swear, saying, “I do not have cats!” Immediately a rooster crowed.

    6. There is a sharps container on top of my refrigerator. It contains more Aimovig injectors than I want to count and two Epi-pens that expired years ago but that I didn’t want to throw in the regular trash.

    7. Step 1: Records have been ordered from the allergist in Knoxville. I have printed off my own logs of five years of allergy shots. I had allergies. I was tested for them. I got allergy shots. They are no longer a problem.

    8. Step 2: I have been trying very hard to avoid getting sick because it is harder to support the “nothing is wrong” narrative when you are sick. When I remember, I have been defaulting to fist-bumps instead of handshakes when meeting new people in professional situations. I don’t care if they think I’m weird. It’s very important for me to not be sick when I see the doctor.

    9. Step 3: Sitting on the couch (which I do a lot of) sets off my allergies (which I do not have) because of all the cat-spit-proteins (what cats?). I keep meaning to vacuum the couch, but I can’t because there is always a cat (entirely imaginary) sleeping on it. Sometimes two.

    10. Step 4: Roughly two days before the appointment I’m going to start taking the steroidal anti-inflammatory nasal inhaler at the maximum short-term dose. About an hour before the appointment, I’m going to take a puff of albuterol.

    11. Step 5: I need to find an amazing lint brush or lint roller. Or to find cat-fur colored and textured clothing to wear.


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