Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Some Dodgers are colder than others

Dee Gordon: thermal sleeves, balaclava, puff of frozen breath. 

Adrian Gonzalez: thermal sleeves, balaclava up to the nose. 

Brian Wilson. Tattoo sleeve, full beard. 

I've just sucked 75 minutes of your life away. I might one day go as far as installing Windows 8, but I really don't know what that would do to you.

Just spent 1¼ hours watching the helpdesk in DC put three Microsoft programs on my desktop.  It felt like Wesley in Count Rugen's basement, except that it was a straight one to one real-time torture.  My fellow citizens and nominal employers, you are welcome.
I won't take a bullet for you, but I also won't get involved in a drugs-and-prostitutes scandal while on public time in Cartegena, or the Netherlands, or South Florida, or El Salvador, or Panama, or Romania, or China, or any other foreign country.

Get some rest. If you haven't got your health, then you haven't got anything.


The fact I spend hours of time getting trivial maintenance done on a four-year-old laptop so that I can work on a government hiring computer system is not an accident.  It is a direct reflection of what the American people want:
A friend of mine once did sysadmin-style work for a hedge fund's trading systems - as he put it, 'keeping an eye on the machine that prints money'. He said it was the best job he ever had, because since the systems were responsible for generating that much cash they were well-engineered and tended not to break too badly too often, but since they generated SO MUCH cash the firm didn't mind paying a bunch of people a salary to mostly sit around and read blogs, just in case something DID go wrong. (Metafilter)
Americans think that unemployment is a serious problem, but doubt the government can do anything about it. And from this data it is perhaps not too much of a stretch to infer that Americans, on average, don't see any connection between a) hedge funds making so much money in the current legal/economic system that they can provide cushy jobs to minions to tend to their money-stealing machines, and b) everything and everyone else coming up short.  Some economic things are positive-sum, but plenty of things really are zero-sum or worse.

Monday, April 28, 2014

An addition to the Sit/Stand/Walk/Flowerpot desk

Now with LED Lightbulb Functionality.  Unfortunately, heat-gun glue is not Enterprise-grade, so still some room for improvement.  An unsightly power cable dangling in the way is, in my experience, very much consistent with "Enterprise-grade" but I'll probably tidy it up anyway.

 (All posts about the Sit/Stand/Walk/Flowerpot Desk Index)

Scenes from the Monday morning walk

Kona begs outside the breakfast shop.

Some other stuff is happening a block away.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The problem of recursion in work breakdown

I've been struggling with recursion and depth of task breakdown.  (A simple explanation of recursion is the term GNU, which stands for GNU's Not Unix.  Sadly, RAS Syndrome is not an example of recursion.)  When I try to accomplish tasks, I tend to take a recursive approach, or perhaps a discursive one.  The biggest project in my avocational life is to rebuild my personal website, which serves several functions, including being a platform for me to experiment with ideas on planning work.  But I keep getting stuck in the programmer syndrome classically explained as, when you give a true programmer four hours to solve a problem, they will spend three hours and fifty-five minutes writing a program that can solve the problem in five minutes.

As a project manager, it's my job to gently point out that even though the programmers claim that only one more minute of debugging is required, it's in fact next Thursday already and maybe we accept that success is not six minutes away, while simultaneously demonstrating to management that it was probably always going to take at least a month and here are some useful intermediate deliverables to play with.  Despite all that, I have no more immunity to programmer syndrome than the next shmuck.  For example, before I could start working in earnest I wanted a better workspace, so I built my own sitting/standing/walking desk.

That's been done for half a year, but I'm struggling to get started on the more direct aspects of the work.  I'm trying to figure out what to do next.  Naturally, I want to make a list of all the things I could do next (i.e., work breakdown) and then pick one.  But I might as well use a professional work planning product to do this, so that I can see what the state of the art looks like, right, and get exposure to other solutions to this problem?  Since I already use and like and pay for Toggl to keep track of my time, I decided to try a tool that integrates with Toggl: Pivotal Tracker.

Pivotal Tracker has a very standard Scrum implementation: the work comprises stories.  Okay, so I have a story:
As someone with a bunch of old content in a niche format, I want my own website to publish my old stuff, so that other people will read it and learn from my experience.
Or, from the perspective of those hypothetical other people (that's you!):
As a random person on the internet, I can see Joel's old blog posts on his blog,, so that I can read something that I found in search results or found or was sent a link to.
In my head, this breaks down as:

Rebuild personal website
  - Select Tools
    - Pick Language

      - Long story short, it's Python
    - Pick Platform - Django

      - Long story short, it's Django
    - Pick CMS
      - Make a list of possible CMSes
      - Look for easy ways to rank CMSes
      - Try out all of the candidate CMSes on their demo sites
        - Create a list of test tasks
        - Try all test tasks on each candidate CMS demo

  - Migrate everything from the old
    - Get the most recent backup is
    - Figure out how to preserve all of the old URLs
    - etc
  - Migrate everything from this temporary Blogger site
    - etc
  - Etc

By the time one gets to something small enough to actually do in a sitting, one is at least five levels deep.  But Pivotal Tracker doesn't really have that many levels.  At most, it can do

- Project
  - Epic
    - Story
      - Task

One approach to task breakdown is to outline everything as deeply as necessary until the lowest-level tasks are small enough to plan and track and complete.  The counter-approach, embodied in Pivotal Tracker and in Scrum itself, is I guess that work breakdown should be fairly shallow, under the theory that one can go nuts drilling down infinitely but at some point one simply has to start working, and being a bit imperfect in modeling the work breakdown is a reasonable compromise.  I tend toward the recursive approach but then, upon reflection, I just had to stop myself from checking on how to get a better monospace font into this blog entry which is a diversion from doing the work breakdown necessary I think is necessary to take the first concrete steps toward building a website that I will ultimately use both for postings like this and to prototype my theories of a work planning tool.  So I'm not in a strong position to argue the merits of the infinitely recursive approach, or to argue about where the line is between indefinitely recursive work breakdown and pure, unadulterated procrastination.  Also, while I'm at my Sit/Stand/Walking desk, it's currently in Sit mode.

Anyway, I made the Pivotal project public and you can follow my struggles here.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Another day, another hat

Hat #35.  For an adult, not a baby.

I got on an airplane and picked up the knitting bag and found the pattern had gone missing.  I was just past the plain ribbing, having cabled the bigger cables once.  I decided to live la vida loca and just wing it (no pun intended) without the pattern.  I did another fifteen or twenty rows.  When I landed and (practically) rushed immediately to Atelier for a new pattern, I discovered that the smaller cable was supposed to twist twice as frequently.  So I ripped out all the bogus rows, which gave me a chance to practice threading a circular needle into a work in progress in order to unravel back to it, an activity that has haunted my dreams ever since I first conceived that I might some day need to do it.  The key lesson here, of course, is to never take risks, because they might break bad and you could find yourself doing something you never wanted to do.

The Ravelry project.

Friday, April 25, 2014

I love the free market

I'm a few chapters into Piketty, and I have reams of notes to type up from David Graeber's Debt.  Nonetheless, the world is not simple and the free market has many good effects.  When I want to each junk food for breakfast, I have to wait until 8 am for the Walgreens drugstore a block away to open.  But a CVS drugstore just opened up a block further, and it opens at 7 am.  Of course I can't actually go there at 7 am because there's no place to put Kona and it's a sketchier block.  But.  Today when I went for my store-bought smoothie at Walgreens I saw that they are changing their hours to open at 7 am.

On the other hand, the market fails pretty often.  The ground floor of this buildinng was a grocery store that closed in 2006, and it's been on the market since 2011 (maybe it was a different grocery store between 2006 and 2011?  Why doesn't the internet have this information more handy?).  But since before we moved in several years ago, it's just been 34,200 square feet of nothing.  Rumor has it that much of the real estate for blocks around has been snapped up by health care interests in anticipation of the new hospital.  And, on that note, you can still see the top of the old hotel at the new hospital site:

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Knitting Update: Wolverine blanket second try; hats, hats, hats

I have three active projects right now and two queued up. I'm on the second try for the Wolverine blanket. It seems to be coming out okay this time. The Honeycomb Brioche stitch is kind of annoying because it's fairly hard to read, and fairly hard to repair even a single stitch mistake. Using the dark yarn and knitting in dim light isn't helping. Also, it very clearly has a good side and a bad side, which I regret. And I have no real idea how to knit vertical color stripes: if you just switch yarns at the border, you get two parallel pieces of knitting that don't actually touch each other. So I'm sort of improvising, and I haven't discarded the idea of getting professional help to learn how to do this properly and then dropping those seams and re-knitting them before binding off the blanket.

This plain blue hat benefited greatly, in my opinion, from the addition of the while flower-petal-thing, neatly sowed on by MiL.

This funky beanie is Monica's present to me.  Well, the yarn, needles, and pattern are the present; some assembly required.  I'm done except that I don't know exactly I'm supposed to do with the tail?

Next in the queue: a hippie-colored triangle hat thing.

Also I did some test patterns with this tiny, tiny yarn I was lent for a request.  I had to get size 0 needles to work it, but it's actually fine.  I do think I'm going to stick with a simple pattern, probably stockinette, since it will be so many stitches.

The Ravelry projects.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The story of a run, in pictures, OR, Choose Your Own Caption

a. I think I can make it to second base.
b. Don't stop, Can't stop.
c. Until we reach the top.

a. I no longer think I can make it to second base
b. I wish my helmet fit better
c. I believe I can fly.

a. I REALLY wish my helmet fit better.
b. I should have been a pitcher like my father before me.
c. Yeogiseo pogihamyeon andwae (I can't give up)

a. What the hell, let's steal third.
b. I wonder if there's some other way to slide into a base.
c.I believe I can touch the sky

a. I have GOT to get a better helmet.
b. Ow.
c. Two thousand innings pitched.  No stolen bases.  No caught stealing.

a. I'll bring you home, Dee!
b.There are miracles in life I must achieve/But first I know it starts inside of me, oh
c. (top right) Do I have neck wattles?

a. Not without my helmet.
b. Not. Without. My. Helmet.
c. If I can see it, then I can be it

a. 2PM Forever!
b. Ow.
c. Hum, fly-eye-eye

Meanwhile, the true master, Vin Scully, shows how it's done:

Monday, April 21, 2014

San Francisco Real Estate eaten by giant claws

On this morning's walk I saw someone with a tripod, presumably making a time-lapse movie of the Cathedral Hill Hotel demolition. Turns out he didn't have to:

The construction company has cameras of the demolition, including (if you dig for it) a time-lapse movie of the whole thing for each camera.  There are also a bunch of pretty renderings from the developer, Sutter Health, which denies that its huge share of the Northern California market is the reason health care costs more in Northern California than in Southern

“Sutter is a leader — a pioneer — in figuring out how to amass market power to raise prices and decrease competition,” said Glenn Melnick, a professor of health economics at the University of Southern California. “How do hospitals set prices? They set prices to maximize revenue, and they raise prices as much as they can — all the research supports that.”
In other countries, the price of a day in the hospital often includes many basic services. Not here. The “chargemaster,” the price list created by each hospital, typically has more than ten thousand entries, and almost nothing — even an aspirin, a bag of IV fluid, or a visit from a physical therapist to help a patient get out of bed — is free. Those lists are usually secret, but California requires them to be filed with health regulators and disclosed.
(New York Times)

See also detailed plans of the whole thing.  Every hospital I've ever been in has been a horrible, confusing maze; perhaps this one will be better?  See for yourself.

Nope, it looks like they decided to stick with the traditional "completely incomprehensible set of twisty passages", complete with the classic "elevators hidden over there behind three turns and a door" gag.  Maybe they'll put up some nice signs or something.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Puig Triptych

Leading off the top of the second, Montero hits the ball into the right field corner and tries for two.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Good old, or, spoilers as a form of cross-universe travel

I put on the Dodger game, a few hours after it started.  I forgot that, on the desktop computer, starts the game live.  On the Roku, it always provides nice options like, start from beginning, or start from inning N.  And most importantly, it doesn't show you any baseball until you choose.  So it doesn't show the score.  Live sports is so weird: glimpsing the score erases most of the value of hours of media.

So, instead of watching at the beginning and going up the whole slope, I started watching at the red arrow, with the Dodgers down 4-3 but bases loaded, no out.  Would it have been worth it to emotionally surf the whole mountain?  In exchange I would have had to watch the Dodgers fall behind 4-0 first.  Has a German philosopher addressed these questions yet? has been, if possible, even glitchier than usual this year.  Rumor has it that the technicians that normally keep it almost working have been sent over to the instant replay bunker.  I believe it's still the case that I have never watched an entire glitch-free game on

UPDATE: They have an option that fixes the instant spoil problem.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Pop Quiz

Which blurb describes the worst book?

a) When a movie crew asks to film on Logan McCormack's cattle ranch, he doesn't expect Desiree Jenkins, the sought-after star, to be so down-to-earth, or so intimately interested in him.

b) A Wharton professor's research discloses that success depends on how we interact with others.

c) A boy's encounter with Jesus and the angels.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Like Katamary Damacy brain but with pairs

Does anybody else, after playing too much Benedict Cummerbatch vs Otters, find themselves eying, e.g., two cars of the same model or two people with the same color shirt, wanting to squish them together to see what comes next?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The design challenges and failures of the Sit/Stand/Walk/Flowerpot Desk

This is Part 3 in a series about my Sit/Stand/Walk/Flowerpot desk.  See Part 1 for why I built it and Part 2 for how.

Reality Check

In this picture of the desk, I removed all of the cables and put some space around the desk so you can see the design clearly.  (I also used a good photographer.)

Here's what it actually looks like in normal use.

I use it every day.  Sometimes in the sitting mode, usually in the standing mode, occasionally in the walking mode.  The treadmill is a little noisy (not treadmill whooshing noises, more intermittent clattering) and the controls are unpleasant to use.  The flowerpot mode doesn't really work because the monitors don't go down far enough to get out of sight and because the muehlenbeckia is surviving but not thriving.  I was sitting too much so I got rid of the chair and in day-to-day use it's now a stand/walk desk, probably 80/20.

Original Goals

So how did it go, as judged by my original goals?
  • I can build it using only hand tools appropriate for an apartment balcony. YES.
  • It costs no more than a commercial equivalent. YES.
  • It supports my pair of 30" monitors (~20 pounds each, total width of bases around 35 inches). YES.
  • It has sitting, standing, and treadmill walking modes. YES.
  • It accommodates my chair (an Aeron). YES.
  • When sitting, I can put the keyboard in my lap. YES.
  • It can change between sitting, standing, and walking modes with less effort than moving 20 pound monitors up and down, and without any unplugging and replugging. YES.
  • It must be pretty enough to be in the living room, and ideally the large monitors can be put out of sight. YES.
All goals achieved.  But I wouldn't build it the same way a second time.  It took a month and far more manual labor than I expected, and it cost as much as a commercial equivalent; it didn't save me any money.  The main shortcomings of the desk as built include:
  • It took more time and money to build than I was happy with
  • It's a little bit wobbly
  • It has a big footprint
  • It's not super-easy to change modes (i.e., move the monitor, keyboard, and mouse up and down and switch between chair and treadmill)

Time to assemble

Three main factors make this take a month to build.  First, I used a lot of trial and error to finish the design.  This even included changing the lengths of the vertical pipes, which meant buying new pipes.  With a proven design, this wouldn't be a factor.

Second, sanding all of the black paint off of all of the pipes and then masking them, priming them, and painting them white took a week or so.  And was even less fun than it sounds.  One obvious step would be to buy galvanized, but it would still have to be painted.  And the front pipes, that the monitor and arms slide up and down, has to be bare metal.  I left it sanded but not polished, and it works fine, but it would probably work better, and it would certainly look much better, if it were polished.

Third, the wooden bar that holds up the monitors required a bunch of tricky hand-sawing, drilling, and screwing to get the two wedges per monitor mount needed to get the monitors level.  More expensive monitor arms could help, but even many $200 arms can't handle a 30° tilt.  Another option would be to make the front bars vertical instead of tilted back.  The reason they are tilted back is to give the whole frame a triangular shape, like a swingset, in order to improve rigidity.  Since the counterweight hangs straight down, the front pipes have to angle to keep the monitor bar from interfering with the weight bar.  Another possibility would be to make the front pipes vertical, so the monitor goes straight up and down, and to tie the weight bar to the rear (angled) pipes in the same way that the monitor bar is tied to the front pipes.  This could also reduce the total depth of the desk.

The A-frame shape works well in one dimension; the frame is rock-solid in a forward-backward direction.  However, swingset feet can be bolted to the ground, whereas this desk rests on felt pads on a wooden floor in an apartment; between that and the square shape it has from the front, it has some jiggle side to side.  The diagonal brace in the back helps but only up to a point.  So, since the A-frame isn't perfect, maybe abandoning it for a space frame would make sense. This would complicate the design, though, since many more bars and angled Klamps would be needed for rigidity.  Also, two sets of pulleys would be required to transmit the weight from the front vertical plane to the parallel rear vertical plane.

Difficulty changing modes

I modified the design of the monitor bar many times, both before and after building the desk.  Originally I thought the bar might roll up and down pipes on little wheels like skateboard wheels.  When I was ordering the parts I decided to try this design, with the Kee Klamp sliding up and down the pipe and the wooden bar connected to the Klamp.  The nice thing about this design is that the monitor bar can't fall off the pipes completely and break your feet.

But it works terribly as a slide.  The metal Klamp jams into the unfinished steel pipe at the tiniest impulse, and there's enough slack (a few millimeters) between the inside of the Klamp and the outside of the pipe that lifting one side up a few inches jams the other side.  Worse, the weight of the monitors is enough to twist the wooden bar enough to put twist the Klamp enough to lock it in.  What finally worked was to line the inside of each Klamp with a strip of teflon sheeting 0.020" thick.  This prevents outright metal-on-metal locking, and I suspect the slipperiness is secondary.  With a bit of effort to lift the monitors, the Klamps then slide up and down quite easily—thanks to the counterweight—and there is very little locking when one side is higher than the other.  And, there is enough tension in the system normally that the bar is quite stable and doesn't slide up and down with a simple touch.

The U-bar visible in the picture is a sort of added bit of security that doesn't normally do anything and is probably useless.

The keyboard and monitor are on their own arms, and have to be unbolted, slid, and bolted back each time I change modes.  This is not a big deal for the wireless mouse, but my keyboard doesn't come in a wireless model, and I have to move it carefully or the cable pulls it off the shelf.  I considered attaching the mouse and keyboard trays directly to the monitor board so they would all move together, but this design is simpler and cheaper than articulated arms.  Also, I put the keyboard in my lap when I set and so I need to be able to move that arm completely out of the way.

Large footprint

It's over three feet wide and six feet deep and seven feet high, and since the monitors stick out almost a foot on either side, it's even wider.  With a pure box design instead of the A-frame, it could be a lot shallower.  Also, there's nowhere to put the computer CPU, so that's another two feet square of footprint.  I used a tall Elfa shelf thing on wheels, but it would be nice to suspend that all within the desk.


Even though the keyboard and mouse are not directly attached to the monitor board, typing action can still cause the monitors (which are hanging at the ends of swing arms) to jiggle a little bit.  The whole frame is rock-solid in a forward-backward motion but has a bit of sway when pushed side to side.  The treadmill doesn't touch the desk (and the apartment building has very solid cement floors under the fake wood flooring) and walking on the treadmill does not affect the monitors at all.


It seems fairly safe?  The pulley system is supporting a bit less than a hundred pounds; that weight goes to the top Klamps, which sit directly on more Klamps, which sit on the tops of the pipes so they can't slide down.  Therefore the weakest point is the connection of the cross-pipe in the A shape, which is held in tension by the bolts in the Klamps.  Those connections haven't given any sign of slipping.  If the pulley wires somehow failed, most likely at the wire clamps, the weights would fall a few feet; the monitors would slide down but should be stopped by the other Klamps bolted to the front pipes.


If I were to do it again, I would experiment with a shallower, box-shaped version instead of the A-frame.  I might put the mouse and keyboard on a separate stand to minimize vibration, but probably not.  And I would buy galvanized pipes instead of black, I would still go through the hassle of hand-painting them, and I might polish the front pipes.  I would consider spending more on a nicer treadmill so that I would want to use it more.

(All posts about the Sit/Stand/Walk/Flowerpot Desk Index