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The day the music died

It has been a long time since I cried.  I can’t even recall the last time. These past few years have been amazing with my wife and now my daughter. Life is amazing and wonderful.

I think the last time I encountered death was 5 years ago and that was of someone waiting to die. When someone dies, I think of the loss of potential. Some people, well, they gave up their potential long ago. I don’t mean productive potential, but rather, joy of life potential. A retiree who wants to enjoy life, being with their family, having fun with grandchildren, well, that to me is amazing. I have known teachers who are on the brink of such a life, such a retirement, and then they die all of a sudden. I cried for them.

Yesterday, Steve Jobs died. Yes, he has done amazing things in technology. But the sad loss is what seemed to me to be his love of life. From what little I know of him, he embraced life fully. It seems criminal to me for the world to lose that bright light. Love of life is all too rare.

I also reflect upon the impact he has had on me personally. Four years ago, I had no Apple product in my life except a small iPod which I barely used. If Steve Jobs had died, I might have even said “Who?” But now, I am typing on a MacBook Air. I have an iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, 27in iMac, and white MacBook. I, or my wife, use all of them. And I hope to get the new iPhone4s. Computers have become a joy to use.

My daughter turned 6 months yesterday. I have taken probably over 2500 photos and videos of her on my iPhone. I have posted nearly 1000 photos and videos of her. It is a joy to use the iPhone and iPhoto. I think about prior experiences with digital cameras and I cringe. Steve Jobs has given me the ability to focus on doing what I want and not what the computer wants.

I will read his, now sadly complete, biography when it comes out. And I will probably cry again when I am done.

And maybe, just maybe, I will follow my passions and create something wonderful. I think the most fitting tribute to Mr. Steve Jobs is for everyone to embrace his mantra of loving life, of seeing that death will happen for each of us and that we might as well go all in now since there is no later.

Steve Jobs, thank you. You will be missed.


Every project for me seems to go through the same loop. Have exciting idea. Do some quick prototyping, making messy code, but it works. Refactor into “cleaner” code that deals with some structural bugs. Get it working back to where it was before. Go “Wow!” it works. And then silence. What’s next? Every step is so hard and the trail of the past gets longer and longer.

I have been working on a math parser. I can, indeed, parse/evaluate arithmetic, functions, and I can graph those functions. Next is implementing the vast array of functions and graphing stuff into the language. None of that is hard. Implementing new language features should be fairly easy such as set notation. For example,  a replace of for in would be {f(x)| x in A}  Very simple. Very mathematical. One could throw in conditions. A sequence can replace for loops, an infinite sequence with a “good enough” condition could be a while loop replacement, etc. Much of that is easy to implement.

So why do I write this instead of code? Because what do I do next? In short, I lack a good project plan.

And this happens all the time. I try to mak a plan, but I try this and that, just to see if it works, and all of a sudden, my old plan is completely irrelevant.

I am a cowboy programmer.


So a recent post about the new Firefox versioning policy made me think about it a bit more closely. That post was concerned with how Firefox is weakening the meaning of versioning. But to me, the question is, as with grade inflation and economic inflation, what are the ramifications of this inflation.

For economics, it is exceedingly complicated, but basically those whose wages do not go up, savers, and creditors are all hurt by inflation. Of course, when saving and lending money becomes less attractive, economic development grinds to a halt. And no doubt all sorts of other things go wrong.

For grade inflation, what can be lost is the ranking. Top companies want top people. If a high GPA means someone is at the top, then it is useful. As mediocre students get high GPAs, that number becomes meaningless. So companies turn to something else, probably personal recommendations or internal test measures though both are certainly problematic as well. The quick filtering of taking the top students at a top school just sort of dies. In the long run, we can only hope that grade inflation deflates the notion that college graduation is relevant to having a job.

But what about browser updates? The basic problem for me is that it forces me to hit the upgrade button, downloads, relaunches, tells me various extensions are incompatible, upgrade those of them that I can, and hope that 5-10 minutes later, it all works out. As a good computer user, I can handle this. But others? It just is aggravating. And when it interrupts my workflow, it grates on my nerves.

I think for this to work out, upgrades need to be silent, not break extensions unless absolutely necessary, and have those extensions updated silently. It should just happen. I think that is what chrome does, but Firefox still does not seem to do it. They should have implemented that before changing their versioning system.

As I see it, it mostly hurts extension authors, extension users, and that’s pretty much the audience attracted to Firefox. Personally, I use Chrome and Safari almost exclusively on my new machine. They work well. They have adblocking extensions and built in developer tools. 1Password works with them. And that is about all I need. I also like Safari not needing to reboot when adding an extension.

If Firefox wants to make version numbers pointless, then they have accomplished it. If instead they want to have meaningful numbers, but different than what it has been, then one idea is to have a roadmap for what they are trying to implement, such as HTML5, CSS3, acid test compliance, speed/performance metrics, whatever, and have the “version number” be a percentage of each accomplished (well-defined in advance 0f their roadmap, of course). As every consumer product maker knows, having some numbers to brag about is key to good sales. “We have 12 megapixel cameras! 3 Ghz chips! We are 95%HTML5 compliant”


MacBook Air

So I ordered a new MacBook Air a week or so ago on a Friday. It started in Shanghai, China and by Tuesday, it was on my doorstep. That amazes me.

The device is also pretty nice. It is light, works fast, and I can use it pretty well. The key to efficient working though is the swiping. It has Lion so with appropriate gestures I can swipe back and forth between screens, go full screen on Safari (right now, I am doing that), launch an app with some swiping, etc. I love it.

I have not installed flash though I did install Chrome which comes with its own flash. I like browsing without flash. So far, I have not installed Firefox either. I see no point. Most of my time is in Safari full screen.

I am learning keyboard commands better. This size rather forces it. Finally, I am using gmail without a mouse. Can’t believe it took me so long. I did try the new mail app from Apple. It is nice, but the delete vs. archive issue trips me up. I saw no real advantage to switching so I went back to gmail.

I was amazed at all the dependencies I need. I had to install 1Password to access my sites and install DropBox to get the master file. I had to install git and textmate for development–still need to install node.js For my records, evernote. For my class, neoOffice (open office for mac) and GeoGebra.

Finally, I don’t have my iTunes, but that’s okay because Spotify just came out and now I have 15 million songs to choose from. So I choose none. Or maybe Meat Loaf.

I have been programming on it. Again the swiping is wonderful. I have textmate in one desktop, browser with console open in another to test the page, and then a full screen safari for looking stuff up. To sync my computers, I setup a github account and am using GitHub for Mac which is wonderful to use. I will be posting soon about that project, something that could finally realize my dreams from almost two decades ago. It combines node.js, websockets from, MathJax, JSXGraph, and, of course, jQuery, to make something that should have been made 10 years ago but as far as I can tell, has not been.

Right now, I am typing from my bedroom while my baby snores next to my very lovely wife. I am loving it. A natural question is, what do I use my devices for? Do I use them all? Yes, in fact, today I used all of my Apple devices:

1. MacBook Air (Jul 2011) gets the Lion share of my time.

2. ScarMac (27in iMac Oct 2009) use for living room music, some course stuff, multiple window copying, iPhoto-to-Flickr relay. Lion is not so impressive on that machine. Full-screen Safari on that screen is ridiculous. The magic mouse does not have all the gestures of the trackpad. Smooth upgrade though.

3. iPhone 4 (Jun 2010) use FaceTime with my parents today, take pictures and videos of baby.

4. iPad (Apr 2010) web-browsing, PDF reading, quick mail check (less so now with MacBook Air).

5. iPod Touch (Mar 2009) playing music, both from iTunes library and Acoustic Cafe (Sundays) from the radio station the Bay via their app.

6. Snow Mac (MacBook September 2007) is my wife’s machine and she uses and shares what she is doing with me.

I love Apple products. They frustrate me at times, but mainly they are a joy to use. And getting better all the time. If I had to choose, well, I think it would be a toss up between MacBook Air and iPhone. They are both just very useful and portable for their relative sizes.

Fireflies Have Returned

So tonight, after an anxious spring wait, I finally saw the fireflies dance in the dusk. I went and unfocused my eyes to see their dance. It was gorgeous.

I saw one firefly light up in front of me and dance up the sidewalk, lighting here and there, the dusk light just strong enough to let me see the unlit path.

When my daughter grows up, I have few desires for what she might do or become. But I do hope that she has respect for natural beauty and a fondness for it. Though I also hope she sees the beauty of humans as well, in all their varied ways, ugly and brilliant, anger and joy, all lit up in a dance of light that hums throughout all levels of life in this great planet.

Yeah, the fireflies have returned and I am not too busy to notice. I quit a job once because I realized that I was too busy to notice them. Never again, I vowed.

Being Married

A good friend just recently got married. **Sigh** Another one falls.

But seriously, marriage is wonderful. At one point, somebody asked about advice for the groom. I joked that there should be no compromise. But as I have thought about it, I think it is actually a good idea.

Let’s look at a compromise. Two people, X and Y, want different things, A and B. They settle on C in a compromise. Well, both X and Y are not happy with C. But even worse, for that poor outcome, they know their partner is not happy. So they have made the other unhappy while they themselves are unhappy. Who wants that? Lose-lose.

My suggestion is to figure out who cares the most. If X really wants A and Y kind of wants B, let X get A. Then Y has the wonderful result of seeing X be happy. X has the happy result of having A. Win-win. Remember, the goal of an argument, particularly with a spouse, is not to be the victor. So I think it is much better to relent, to revel in surrendering your own desires to give to the other, to delight in their joy. And to do it wholeheartedly.

Now, I should hasten to add that both X and Y should discuss why they want what they want. In my own marriage, we often find that we only disagree when we are not viewing the whole information. So we discuss and we come to a joint agreement. But it is not a compromise. It is coming to an understanding that D is better than A or B. So both people want D. And that is one of the greatest values of partnerships. Alone, we do a decent job of getting by. But together, we are so much more. Take one of the greatest supercomputers in the world and double its capacity. That is a partnership.

While one thinks about this for the big things (where to live, do we have kids, what kind of Apple device should we buy :), it is actually the small things that are the most important. Look at how the other likes to wash dishes, hang towels, toilet seat up or down, … and make sure that the environment supports how they like to live. Be considerate. This is the ultimate sign of respect and understanding. It is fanning the sparks of love into a fire with enough fuel to go the distance. And look for how the other delights you and revel that they are considering and loving you.

So, no to compromise. Yes to each other.

Judgement Day

Okay, so I have been living under a rock and just found out about the end of the world. It makes me sad to think that my lovely little daughter will not get to grow up. But if I believe, I get to go to heaven. Right? Sweet deal. My 6 week old daughter, she gets to go through torment and torture. Because she can’t believe yet.

Wow. What amazes me about it is not that people believe such BS, but that they actually embrace such a deity that would do this. If I believed this would happen, I would proudly disbelieve as an act of rebellion against such a nasty and capricious creature. Seriously, do they ever think to themselves, “What would Satan do?” and if it turns out to be what their god is doing, why does that not destroy their faith?

No news?

Yesterday , 5/1/2011, was a bad day to give  up watching the news…

Baby + Projects == ByeByeInfoClutter

In my previous post, I wrote about projects I would still like to pursue. I did forget one, one from about age 6: create an interactive fiction game. Perhaps one could play Mord on his adventures? Every encounter and battle must start with “I am Mord. I serve my lord Kord with my greatsword.” or the player comes to an abrupt and brutal end. Yeah, that would be fun…

But in any event, my sage wife said “So how are you going to get these projects done? How long are you willing to let them go on for? 5 years? 10 years?” Man, she cuts to the heart of the matter. “Can you do these in 5 or 10 minute pieces? Surely you can find some time to do these. You do seem to read a lot of blog entries and news….”

And so it has come to pass that I have unsubscribed to almost all blogs (just personal ones left and David Pogue). I cut Daring Fireball, Scott Adams, Bad Astronomy, Flowing Data, all of them. Plus a bunch of blog noise anyway. All gone.

Further, no more news. No more NYTimes (they never blocked my access those bums!), no more Google News. None of it. Not even the great and glorious Mac Rumors. All gone.

My Firefox opens up to my Flickr page of my daughter and Google Chrome opens up my various project pages. No more Google search page for a home page or a void to fill–work and baby. Trying to unplug from Gmail too, but that’s a bit harder.

I take care of baby, mama, house, and I create. Funny, I unplug myself so that I can create in the hope that others are plugged in. But really, what choice is there? How much of that info did I ever find useful, energizing, restive? So much noise and anger from all sides. Pointless jabber.

So it is that I start on 3 projects: Programming Math–goal of 1-2 posts a week,  Mord blog–goal of 1 post every two days until done (maybe July?), and the gamebook analysis/app–2 weeks to get a prototype on a short adventure and then 2 weeks per book.

A New Father

So I am a new father. I have a beautiful daughter. Both my wife and I are home, full-time taking care of her and it is exhausting. She does sleep quite a bit, but she also cries a lot and we do not know why. We have tried a variety of things, some help for awhile, others not at all.

But this post is not about her, but rather me. Or rather, my project desires. I was washing some cloth diapers by hand(!) and I began to think about my projects that I have wanted to pursue. Thankfully, the parsing project has mostly left my bones. I did enough of it, I think, to get it out of my system. To be honest, I think the easiest thing is to learn a programming language and use it as a domain specific language rather than writing a parser. The JSON format can deal with data and the language, particularly JavaScript, can deal with whatever crazy setup you want. But, most of my other projects still remain.

It started, in the cold soap plunging, with my thinking about programming math. This is something I have wanted to do, in one form or another, since high school. To learn mathematics by programming. And now we can do it. Currently we are about halfway through the foundational pages for learning JavaScript. They are pretty good, if I do say so myself. The latest one is defining functions. But we have so much more to do. And when I think about all that can be done, well, it seems immense and makes me yearn to work on it. Which I hope I will soon.

But then good old Mord calls to me during the hot soap plunging. Mordblog is probably 3/4 done. So close, and yet so far. I see the stories, there is no writer’s block, but I have yet to finish it. So it goes. But it would be nice to do that. And then pursue further fantasy tales, RPG stuff, etc. I enjoy creating such stories. I like the broad outline, the quick zoom-in, and then the fade  out. That is, I am not a big fan of detail after detail. I like epic, I like sweep, I like personal.

So far, so good. I knew these I would keep with me: full throttle on programming math, finish Mord. Clear goals. None of it happening anytime soon. I love my daughter and it is amazing to be with her, but I wish I could do some work on the others. Soon, I keep telling myself.

But then, as I plunged away in the cold vinegar rinse, the thought of Bohmian mechanics came to me. I had started a website dedicated to it. Made some decent progress, and then, again, I sputtered. But that is not what bothers me. There are these ideas about it that I wish to still pursue. Or rather, I wish someone would pursue. And no one else seems to be doing so. They are pursuing their own ideas, naturally enough. My thought is a simple one: quantum field theory which has at its core the creation and annihilation of particles is just an approximation to a theory of a fixed number of particles whose types change under the normal dynamics. There is some good evidence that this is at least possible, but it has never been pursued to see if it does work. My biggest problem is that I don’t know QFT and I find every book I approach on the subject to be rather unhelpful. So it is not a quick project. And I would probably work on various other things in BM along the way. It just sort of explodes with time and effort. There is no particular hurry about it, but it tugs at my heart.

Great, so two projects that I can work on and one to dream about. But that is not all. There is a project I have wanted to do since I was about 10. I used to play these gamebook adventures, and my favorite was Lone Wolf, an epic tale, actually. I would love to write a program to analyze all the possible paths in the books, probabilities of successes, characteristics such as minimun number of combats/maximum number, etc.  And then the ambition kicks in to design a play-along companion webapp and then that turns into leaderboards, tournaments, challenges, whatever. Though the stats I think is what I am most curious about. This is not a project that should take too long, but it seems the most derivative, least creative, of all my other projects.

And then? Well, now I was spinning the diapers dry, and I thought about trigger points. First, these are little muscle knots that irritate the nerves. Or so they say. I have successfully treated my pains, such as “carpal tunnel syndrome” like symptoms and random teeth pain (dentist: nothing wrong with teeth). I just massage certain knots away and the pains go away. I would love to write a webapp that helps train people to self-diagnose and treat their triggers. Seems reasonable. Again, not too hard, but just long enough to be put off.

Then I was thinking, you know what would be really cool? A site that tracks “alternative medicines” and ranks them from certainly implausible (homeopathy–just water!) to plausible but shown placebic (acupuncture, apparently) to plausible but not rigorously tested (my favorites?: coconut oil, trigger points) to the I-have-no-idea status (fish oil, allergy drops, allergy connection to epilepsy, gluten/food intolerances). This project is just pie-in-the-sky.

Hanging up my diapers, I reflected on how much diaper washing freed my mind to think. And this led to my final project, a religion for atheists. The basic idea is that of a Bohmian universe (a single wave guiding particles–that’s science) in which the wave takes on a spiritual role of essentially God. The wave is evolving into a conscious being, doing so through us. I love this idea. I see no potential for it to catch on as reason is a bad foundation for faith, but it works for me. This idea was most passionate in me when I was surrounded by some religious people. But they have faded out of my life and I am surrounded by atheists, entirely. They do not yearn for spirituality.

I had hoped my daughter would lead me to this again. That staring into her new eyes, her simple beauty, would give me a direct connection to the divine, much as the natural world usually does. But that has not happened. Rather, the reverse. I feel that I offer her a glimpse into the divine. She is so physical, so raw in the material world. It makes me realize that we grow into a relationship with the divine, if we choose. We are not born that way. Original sin, indeed, though hardly sin, I would say. If we are the emerging consciousness of the wave, of God, then the baby is far from that. The baby is just after the big bang, universally speaking. It takes time to get to our stage. So if I want to pursue the divine, I need to summon the desire to do so. Normal life would not do so.

At this point, as I put away the laundry equipment, I decided to write this post. And here I am, late at night, typing away at my new fatherness. Being a father is incredible. I think one needs to believe that, given how much energy it takes. But I also think it is true that it is the most profound contribution to life I can make. Still, the desire to create in the mental realm continues unabated. The conscious mind wants to express and create.

Becoming a new father was like becoming a butterfly after being a caterpillar all one’s life. But apparently I still crave the leaf even as I soar on the winds of fatherhood.