Birdwards

A couple robins outside

I still haven’t quite figured out how to focus my zoom lens on birds. As you can see above, they’re still slightly out of focus. I just want to take clear pictures of birds without actually understanding the functions of this 8 year old camera. That’s the kind of laziness I’ve come to expect and rely on in this modern life.

I found a decent deal for the Pixelbook with pen on eBay and I swooped in on it. I’m most excited to try it out as a development environment. I’ll post my thoughts when it arrives in the next couple weeks. eBay lacks the near-instant gratification of other online sites, leaving me to pine after dumb purchases and build up overblown expectations for a week or two instead of the now standard two day turnaround.

It gets dark here very early now, and there are a lot fewer streetlights than I expected for a city this size. I have a few clip-on LED lights that I wear and attach to the stroller when I walk to pick up my son from preschool. I’ve noticed more than few bikers wearing those LED enabled helmets, and they really increase visibility. I’m not ready to drop $179 on a bike helmet; I’m sentimentally attached to my current helmet. Instead, I’ll 3D print some brackets to attach to my helmet a discarded bike light I found.

Nemesis Mushroom

An orange capped mushroom with white speckles

I don’t know what kind of mushroom this is, but it looks like a sesame seed bun. I found it at the post office, and I wasn’t tempted in any way to eat it because mushrooms are gross. They all have that same slimy texture, and they hide frightening gills under the caps. Most if not all varieties of mushroom will shut down your liver or instantly kill you. On your dead body, mushrooms will shower enzymes upon you, and in a micro storm of death and decay, they will eat you too. Please don’t ever eat them, and whenever possible, avoid thinking about them.

Turquoise Friday

I’m really susceptible to peer pressure. Perhaps because I always been the quiet sort without a ton of friends. I’m very comfortable being alone, though. It doesn’t usually bother me. It’s also pretty hard to be alone when you’re married with a kid, so maybe let’s just forget this first paragraph and start again.

I’m pretty susceptible to peer pressure, and the marketing around Black Friday and Cyber Monday activates that weakness. I don’t fall for any of the sales, and I haven’t been in a door buster stampede, but I get the itch, y’know?

So, I’ve mentioned I’m into flea markets, and I used to frequent thrift stores like they were my house of worship. These days everything is online, including my pointless spending on used merchandise.

I was considering a few auctions for last year’s Pixelbook, but the reviews I read stated it was vastly overpriced. Those reviews were posted prior to a Chrome OS update that allows it to run containerized Linux apps. I hear that’s still buggy, though. I can sit on that purchase and wait for a better deal.

Instead I bought a giant turquoise ring. I was watching an old video of Freddie King using his guitar to narrate a story, and he had some clunky stone rings. That man had style to match his talent. We’ll see if I can pull it off with not much of either.

I’ll use it as my wedding band for a while, maybe.

In Defense of Chicago

My wife, Monica, questioned my retelling of why we left Chicago. Trees and access to nature were part of it, but surely there were trees in Chicago. Humboldt Park has a few, and so does Grant Park, maybe. No more than a light peppering, though. Never enough to enter into a clump of them, to turn around and see them guarding your path back.

Chicago has its share of other problems, with corruption and shootings, a despicable waste management stream, a winter wind that will race through the streets and slice you in two. But it also has an earnestness and community, a muffled unity against the cold, phenomenal Mexican food, the best public transit system (until NYC works out those ceaseless delays, if ever), amazing architecture and pale copies of that architecture, really lovely people, among a million other things.

We’ll probably move back in a year or two.

(I wrote this last night on my phone, so I haven’t broken the streak.)

Trees

A house among the trees

I just finished Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. I’ve read three of his books (or five, depending on how you count), and my favorite was the Wind Up Bird Chronicle, followed by Kafka, followed by 1Q84. I saw a lot of similar themes in Kafka and 1Q84, and it’s pretty clean advice to read Kafka before 1Q84, if you read 1Q84 at all.

I connected to a passage in the end of Kafka: “I don’t feel right unless I’ve got the sea and the mountains nearby. People are mostly a prouct of where they were born and raised. How you think and feel’s always linked to the lay of the land, the temperature.”

Living in Chicago for ten years, I found I really missed the forest I knew as a child. There’s something really calming about being among trees, and there are studies into how time spent in the woods improves one’s well being. When you live in the forest, you don’t have to go far to get that benefit. Chicago is a city of concrete and industry, and the trees were pushed from its limits. That’s one of the reasons my wife and I left.

Phonetic Similarity

I realized that the best first step, the begin, is to research topics in the NLP space. This involves reading papers, which I’ll start outlining here:

Phonemic Similarity Metrics to Compare Pronunciation Methods
This paper outlines a novel algorithm to score the similarity of pronunciations that based partly on how biologists compare protein sequences. A score is calculated based on the length and phonemes in the word, and the number of blank entries inserted to achieve that alignment. They also leverage the alternate pronunciations for words in the CMUDict, splitting out their different phonemes and use that as a basis for what should be considered similar.

 

 

Thanksgiving

In three minutes, it will be Thanksgiving. When that time comes, I’m going to sneak downstairs and quietly eat our entire pumpkin pie with a spoon.

I’m hung up on starting a project because I don’t know where to begin. One of my favorite quotes, or actually my favorite quote now that Papa John has revealed his true colors*, is “To begin, begin” by William Wordsworth. I did a project on him in high school and I can’t remember a single additional detail on him.

*Papa John’s Pizza has the marketing slogan “better ingredients, fresher pizza, Papa John’s”. I always used to say that when I described my cooking or drink-mixing philosophy. If you really care about the taste of something, forget about using dried or canned ingredients. Buy the source ingredients and build it up from there. That’s why my fresh lemon Tom Collins is always a hit. Recently Papa John revealed himself as someone who drops the n-word casually in conversations, so I’m really not trying to quote him anymore.

Pointless Games

I get addicted to video games sometimes. I get hooked, and I need to fully beat the game before I can give it up. Even after beating it, I sometimes still mess around in a game for a couple weeks before I’m willing to let it go. This is in no way unique to me, but I guess it feels better to lay it out. I actually just uninstalled FTL again. This time it’s for real. I’m an hour past my bedtime for the second night in a row, and I had to put a stop to it. Also, I just lost on the final boss on hard difficulty, and I can’t see myself dropping a dozen more hours to get back to that point. I have a lot of projects to complete in my free time, and it’s time to move on. Do you hear that, FTL? I’m breaking up with you and you can just toss all the stuff I left at your apartment.

I eventually forgave MF Doom

MF Doom, the masked polysyllabic master rapper, has a tendancy of sending imposters to his shows. These “doom bots” front around on stage and lip sync poorly to his songs. The dejected audiences pretty much instantly recognize them as frauds. I know because I attended one such show back in 2010 at the Congress theater in Chicago.

The Congress, shuttered in 2013 for flagrant safety violations, was a terribly managed theater and this show was a sour one. I was drawn to it because it featured two of my favorite MCs: Yasiin Bey (then Mos Def) and MF Doom, among other lower tier artists. It was clear that something was wrong early on. The time between artists kept dragging out, and one artist stayed on stage performing past the point where he had any songs left to play. I remember him trying to create mix up new songs on the spot. By the time Yasiin Bey came out much later, the audience wasn’t really there for him. He tried, but he just couldn’t recover the mood of the rowdy audience. His set ended, and “MF Doom” immediately burst onto the stage. Who was this guy in the MF Doom mask? What’s happening? Even Yasiin Bey looked confused

I left shortly after, and met some people at the el stop who had done the same. They were at least thankful they saw Yasiin Bey, and I connected with someone who said Black on Both Sides changed their life in the best way possible. Leaving that show, I felt an equivalent change, albeit a negative one. I couldn’t listen to MF Doom with the same respect and admiration I had previously. I felt betrayed as a fan.

It took me until this year to let those feelings go, when I heard Talib Kweli describe MF Doom’s booking philosophy on Hannibal Buress’ podcast. Apparently MF Doom never leaves money on the table and will always book the show if he’s requested. If the money’s not enough, though, he just won’t attend. It changed my perspective. He wasn’t doing this to be a jerk to his fans. He was doing this because the Congress, which I also detested, didn’t pay him enough.

I wish I knew that before I waited the entire night to see him.

Don’t overthink this

Today I disassembled the foldable keyboard prototype that I posted about a few days back. I wasn’t using it, and in truth, it was an over-engineered design. It was a keyboard with  three different layouts, and really only one layout that interested me—the vertical one—and in practice, it didn’t do that well either. It was wobbly and that rubberband’s placement was pretty annoying. No worries, though. The benefit of building things quick and mean is that you can tear them down just as quickly and start fresh.

Which brings me to my next prototype: the pedestal.

A scrap wood laptop base

Your first impression is probably: “did he buy that or make that?” The answer is that I built this puppy with pieces of scrap wood and my Viterbi keyboard. It’s likely a self-explanatory photo, but here’s one with the laptop installed just in case.

 

A scrap wood laptop stand with a laptop installed.

As you can see, this stand orients my keyboards vertically (and permanently) and elevates my laptop so the top of the screen is closer to my eye level, which is the ergonomically prescribed position. This stand is also portable enough that I can take it from my work-at-home desk to my work-at-home armchair, while only adding maybe 65 lbs to my lap. 65 or 6.5. I’ll get the scale and give you an exact answer when my legs get their feeling back.

So far, I’m actually using this prototype, which is winning out over the last one. I’ll let you know if I keep that up, or if I add any changes to it. Also, I’ve been keeping up yoga for these past few days, which is another win for new habits. I’m still falling asleep on the couch, though.