Friday, October 30, 2015

What is Heritage

What is Heritage

We went to an Oktoberfest on the 24th of October in Staunton. And while the music was good and there were many food offerings by local shops of somewhat German cuisine, it was smaller than expected. Fortunately the location was quite interesting itself.

The Frontier Culture Museum is quite similar to a museum that we visited in 2012 in Norway, the Norsk Folkmuseum. It seems to be a favorite type of museum for Jessie, and I quite enjoyed wandering around as well. Looking at the houses brought in from around the countryside and talking to the recreators made me think about how we interpret history, both culturally and personally.

Since the festival was based on a royal marriage in Munich, Germany, it is definitely a German festival, though often people love it for the beer. I am about half-german with my mother’s side mostly German peoples, or nearby as I have learned from my mother. This certainly influenced my decision to take German in Junior High and High School.

Did my heritage influence more than my language selection in school? My grandfather and my great-grandfather were both engineers, and despite both my parents having formal training in biology, my brother and I both pursued engineering. I went with computer engineering and my brother mechanical.

It would have been easy for me to pursue a biology degree, at least I am pretty certain. In fact I still enjoy going out to count birds or help out in other volunteer capacities. Was my outlook for imposing order on the universe ingrained so much so that I needed to be a doer rather than an observer? Was I more entranced by figuring out how to make something work than to watch a process?

I know that this could easily turn into a debate of nature vs. nurture. I really don’t think it is one or the other. Even though my mother never did formal engineering she has been doing “quilt engineering” which for some patterns is really about the engineering. And the most influential toy other than rocks, sticks, and mud was probably Legos. I spent hours making buildings and spaceships just to keep them for a few days and then make a new design.

I could draw parallels between the way I approach software, always tweaking, sometimes tearing down a whole design to build fresh.

But also just the enjoyment of building things that work. There is such an innate feeling of satisfaction when something that I built works smoothly, maybe this is a bit learned but it feels more basic than that, like it has been passed down.

It isn’t just the joy of making something work, it is also the persistence. In general I am easily distracted. Even if the bunny-trails are all work related I find myself tracing back on paths of thought that were all relevant, but quickly got into the “not now” realm. However, when it comes to it I can really make solid progress on my projects, quickly depleting known requirements.

I think part of the heritage question is just confirmation bias. I know that my ancestors were engineers, so when I became an engineer it was like, “Of course, I am predisposed to becoming an engineer.”

Then the question becomes, what heritage are we leaving the next generation? Partly I think we are leaving a pretty poor heritage, there is just so much “me” going on that the next generation is either going to rebel or become even more deeply enthralled by the focus. I just wrote a whole post about myself, why should you care?

We should all be looking at our actions, what heritage we are leaving. Even if it isn’t for our direct descendants we have a lot of influence with people not much younger than ourselves, not rebuking or chastising, but by being a model, and a friendly ear.

The festival was pretty good, especially the Band from Munich near the end. A festival based off of a festival that started 205 years ago, let’s keep it going and not forget why it’s celebrated. Just like we shouldn’t forget why we need to think about our heritage, even at my age.

How do you look at your heritage? What are you hoping to leave as your future heritage?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Write a Novel

This is just as an addendum to yesterday’s post. The reason why I was talking about time allocation and routines is because I want to write a novel. So here’s the math for a 50,000 word novel for Nanowrimo or National Novel Writing Month:

50,000 words really isn’t that large a novel. Assuming 300 words per page it comes out to about 167 pages. So it isn’t anywhere near some of those Russian behemoths that people either love or could leave resting on a shelf, but it is still a substantial amount of writing for a single month.

November is 30 days, and for one of my friends, yes the Thanksgiving is on Thursday this year. But that brings up a valid point. If I was to write every day then I would need to write about 1667 words every day. Yes I rounded the number in both cases if you are keeping track of the math. But I won’t. Even with a routine I will need to write less some days and possibly not write at all others, such as the one that requires a bit of cooking.

But let’s see what amount of time I would have to set aside every day to write 1667 words in a day. As I am writing this I am flowing pretty freely, even with the math, and am writing about 1200 words in an hour. My typing speed is not so great, but i just saw that I might be able to voice-type with Google Docs. It might be an editing nightmare, but maybe I can learn to speak faster than I can type, probably at this point.

All of that aside, it means that 1700 words a day is going to take me just under an hour and a half. Time I must set aside every day. Pretty unrealistic, maybe I can dictate in the car… That would give me about an hour on the commute and the transcript from a crash would be pretty hilarious, except for me, my body, and my wallet. So what if I put in two to three hours on the weekend days and then a lighter load on the weekdays.

There are nine weekend days. If I just wrote on the weekends that would put me at a bit over 5,000 words per day, meaning around four to five hours of writing. Oof. Not the way I really want to spend my weekend if the weather is as nice as it has been these last two weeks. Also it cuts out on the routine and starts stinking of inspiration, which in itself is not a bad word but fails me at critical points.

Alright, let’s figure out an hour count for the month, and give it 20% padding. 50 hours. If I take 2.5 hours every weekend day then that gets us to 27.5 more hours to distribute throughout the rest of the month, which isn’t much of a reduction, and still means if I miss a day I will have to make up quite a bit of time.

I probably need to approach 3 to 4 hours on the weekend days and keep writing on the weekdays to my dictation experiments in the car and hopefully up to an hour otherwise.

Are you interested in writing novels? How would you approach writing 50k words in a month?

Oh yeah, this was way more math than the last post that I named “Doing Math.”

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Doing Math

There are so many things that I run calculations on it is weird when I can’t because there are too many unknowns.

For instance a budget. Really no problem. Figure out how much we are bringing in, plan for expenses, keep extra money for unknowns, done. No sweat, other than just getting it done. But for some reason planning time is drastically more difficult. In fact my ability to waste time has probably hindered my growth; there are plenty of things on the internet to look at and read. In fact if I am so lucky, you are reading this now.

The problem with time is that you can’t really keep a reserve in an account, it’s use it or lose it, and now. Many people will sacrifice one way of spending time, friends, family, sleep to get ahead or play more games. But that’s just what it is at that point: a sacrifice. In order for an unforeseen time commitment to get its necessary commitment for getting done, it needs sacrifice from some other activity for the push to actually happen.

But there are people who will continue to push, sacrificing their time consistently. Some of these people believe in what they are doing, either that they will get some big payout in the end, or that they will help so many others. Too many do it because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to support their family that they never see.

Both of my jobs since college have been mostly regular, forty hour a week jobs. However, there is the chance that I could spend much more time with the current one. And it is right on the edge of I enjoy this/they don’t pay me enough. I do enjoy my 40 hours a week, and I know I could put in more for some of these projects because over the summer a few weeks I put in eight to sixteen more hours of coding on my masters degree projects. I was lucky in the fact that Jessie was working out-of-town for the weeks, so I didn’t have to worry about spending too little time with her during the week.

But now that the job is over I find it very hard to balance my priorities and I think both school and Jessie suffer because of it. Oh yes, causes me stress and then I waste time and not spending it at least somewhat productively reading, writing, or learning. One thing I read this week has worked on my mind: Inspiration is for Amateurs by Art of Manliness.

With Jessie around I get out of habits and try to schedule my time around hers. This works to some extent but often it leads to me dropping things that I planned to do because I no longer have enough time. On the other hand this balancing also helps me to focus the time I can manage in more productive ways.

But what about the routines mentioned in AoM? I think I am missing out quite severely on my potential because of my lack of routine and lack of discipline. So I must put my foot down and have a routine that allows me to progress and have a regular schedule on which I can build my discipline. It will be harder as the winter months are colder and it is tougher to roll out of bed, but it will also be at a lower cost than other parts of the day. Jessie doesn’t like mornings. She will get up if she thinks it is worthwhile, like for our hike in the park this last weekend, but the morning really starts at 8 for her.

So, although she doesn’t like missing me in the mornings before I go to work, it is still better than staying at work later because I didn’t get in until 9. It is a sacrifice, not eating breakfast with her, but it is somewhat like banking time that I can spend with her in the evening. But it has its other benefits too:

Traffic is lighter if I leave for and leave from work early, the office is quiet and I can get some big rocks (code and such) done before the standup meeting, I am fresh for those tasks and can generally think more clearly than in the afternoon. I just have to continue with the routine, otherwise it will be easy to spend the mornings cozily in bed and then not get home until late in the evening.

I want to become a “creative professional” but I need the discipline and need to set my routine in stone. I love doing math, but I know that my equation needs to be regular in order for me to be more expressive.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Balance Humbleness and Credit

What is more sought after? Praise from someone who seems to praise you at every turn or praise from someone who seems to always be at odds with you?

My wife often praises me for many things, and it isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes it just feels like I would have done it anyway, so I don’t need praise. However, I would rather her continue to offer praise then to cut it all short because I don’t think I deserve it, as in quite a few situations I feel loved because of her words of affirmation. I have to admit that I sometimes am seeking praise from her, but not too often.

On the other hand I have a coworker that often greets my ideas with scoffs or sarcasm. The usual story goes that I would be seeking praise from him because it would be more awesome than anything, but that isn’t true. That is why his praise earlier today caught me off guard. It makes me think of how I regard people, I know that they are probably deep and complex, but really they are just a caricature drawn from my interactions with them or stories I have heard.

In my mind my coworker gained a bit more dimensionality, becoming less of a stereotype that I may have assigned subconsciously, and more of a person. But this whole delving into my mind about assessing characteristics isn’t the whole idea of this post, it is also to look at reactions to praise.

I have a hard time reacting to praise. I grew up and had things easy, school was a breeze, memorizing piano pieces the night before (really wrankled my teacher’s nerves), but also good feedback from family. Praise often came in the form of a ribbon or paper award, all I had to do was accept it and not blush too much.

The ease for which things came to me did not help in the transition to college. With a whole different paradigm I floundered and praise was hard to come by, especially hanging out with kids that were often as smart or smarter than me.

Then after college I had two totally different worlds. My job, where everyone was so smart that I hardly ever was recognized to the people I met who would praise me for things that I thought were general knowledge. And now I was hungry for praise.

Hunger for praise has another name, pride, and it can lead to some odd behaviors. I was overly competitive with fencing and other sports, getting very upset when I couldn’t perform as well as I thought I should. After years of working for the company I thought I deserved to be recognized, but maybe I was lucky that I got to work there at all. Perspectives change greatly.

Jessie confronted me about the fencing. I had to take a breather for months after fencing every week just to calm down enough to realize that I was pushing my stress level up and making mistakes that were hurting both my form and my body. Going into a bout with a mindset of having fun and learning greatly reduced that stress and allowed me to enjoy fencing quite a bit more, as well as be able to use my right hand without too much soreness from a death-grip on the foil.

Back to today, getting praised at work felt weird, especially from an unexpected person. However, self-deprecation won’t really do any good in that instance. Humbleness, sure, but abasing yourself to the point where the person is never going to say anything to you again, much less praise you? It wasn’t that bad, I mostly stuck with saying that it was what I was trained to do. I didn’t go into further detail and left him to draw his own conclusions. Mainly there is credit and yes I am passing credit to my training, but I was there administering it.

It is a tough balance, sure I still want credit for doing good things so that I can advance my career, but I don’t need praise just for praise’s sake, any more. I certainly don’t want to take other’s credit, or attack them in order to advance myself.

If I act too humble then I am proud that I am humble, and if I wheedle praise out of every passerby then I am most certainly proud. Neither of those things will help me grow and understand how I need to interact with other people.

Continue to do good and be humble, credit where credit is due, and don’t over do it.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Fall Photos

Jessie and I went out to the National park to take photos of fall and waterfalls. She mainly took pictures of falls, and me, fall. So here are some of my favorites from many more. The main ideas were hiking, photographing, and enjoying fall on the Blue Ridge.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, immature

Fungus Snag, big ones and a myriad of little ones.

Drops and Green, leaves still green in front of a close up of one of the falls.

Giant's Ear, okay, tiny ear? A fungus a few millimeters across.

Moss on a Log, in front of the upper falls.
Took several shots of this at slightly different angles,
and I think this has the best proportions.

Maple on Fire, not many red leaves out compared to yellow and brown.
This one was even better with veins of gold.
Just fun to get out there and fiddle.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Wellington and Django

There are few things I like more than learning, though Jessie did make a splendid Beef Wellington this evening. Learning has much longer lasting effects than just a perfectly executed dinner that came from me joking that I wanted it for dinner. Okay, dinner was awesome, now to more serious matters.

Seeing as the Django project has been out for the last 10 years, it isn’t really anything new to those who have been developing websites with Python by any stretch of the imagination. For seven of those I have been working on telescopes, not websites, so I only knew of it tangentially when I started to explore Python.

After finishing my previous projects at work, after a big project that took a bit longer than expected, I was given an administration project, using an Admin interface that had been an R&D project for two of our interns over the summer. They are both still around, working part time, so it wouldn’t be nice just to tear up what they had been doing all this time, especially since they are still working on it.

I talked to a few people familiar with Django and through some experiments and more conversations came to the conclusion that adding the module as an app to the Flask project was probably the best idea at the moment. Though typing that it seems to be quite a silly thing to do. However, it is my intention to make the Django app as modular as it can be, so if we decide to rip all of our models out of the website and package them, we could in fact remove the admin app and make it a service, or a “micro-service” if you so prefer.

I just wanted to mention that we got a book for the office: Two Scoops of Django: Best Practices for Django 1.8. It is already a pretty good read and I am only a fifth of the way through the 480+ pages. The Greenfelds definitely deserve the ice cream that the cost of the book will buy.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Risk and Reticence

One of my favorite topics is technology. I work everyday with technology, I read news about current discoveries, and I drool over new inventions (and some new products), and dream of the possibilities. Why? I may be a pessimist, I prefer ‘realist’, about situations and being prepared, but I am optimistic about technology and that it can improve our lives.

I was talking to a friend and neighbor the other morning. He was kind enough to give me a ride as my car is in the shop and Jessie is out working. I have been thinking about conversations in general with people and realize that almost all of the conversations fall into complaining about things that will never change incrementally, or being excited by forecasted advances in technology. And I am tired of complaining without result.

The issue came up that technology removes the need to interact on a human-to-human basis. Specifically, self-driving cars will remove the need for us to interact with friends and family that need a ride because they themselves can’t drive. Broadly: we will incur less risk, or investment in those people that need help today. I agree to some degree, but I believe we are shifting risk and have to be willing to interact with others despite the enforced interactions slowly decreasing.


My brother is managing the mechanical side of a lab developing exoskeletons to assist people in walking. This is a great technology, imagine people who have never, or no longer have the ability to walk being able to walk independently other than an assistive set of legs. There are people already benefiting from this technology. But pessimistically: what does this mean in terms of interaction? This person being assisted by technology no longer has to ask for the same assistance as they did when they were in a wheelchair. Not so terrible. Really I think that there is really no real risk, in fact it helps these people go many places that the Americans with Disabilities Act never touched before: a friend’s house, trails, and many other places. Of course there is the risk that the battery may fail, or the apparatus may malfunction, but as long as they have a reasonable way to recharge it, like a standard plug, it is several steps above a wheelchair in mobility.

In the future this technology might be expanded to be helpful to people with more widespread paralysis. More independence for basic movement might lead to more ability to socialize.

Self-Driving Cars

Delving deeper into this idea. Everyone could make use of a self-driving car, but let’s look at previous advances in technology that have led this way.
  • Walking to riding
  • Riding to carts/wagons
  • Cars and other transportation
  • Self-driving cars
Each one of these advances we could say has cut down on our self reliance to some degree. Each advance in transport has added layers of support that we need in order for it to function, but it also gives us massive freedom. In fact today’s cars allow us to escape into our own world, even while driving through the real world. Look at a traffic jam, even though there is a shared frustration, each driver has their own music, audiobook, or conversation going on.

All things happening in a car is a distraction to driving, including driving. Looking to see if a lane is clear could mean that you smash into the car in front of you. Essentially we are our own worst enemies, and as a friend mentioned last night: “We put our lives in the driver’s hands.”

By switching to self-driving cars we will become even more reliant on a piece of complex technology to transport us. That is a risk, but to see that as any worse than right now suggests that somehow today’s cars and companies are more reliable than tomorrow’s self-driving cars and producing companies. This is false. Today’s cars are easily hacked/disabled to the point that we could be left with only cars running for people that haven’t upgraded in the last 20+ years or are interested in classic cars.

So what does the convenience of not driving actually shift the risk to? I think there will be many small shifts, but I don’t think that there will be any big risk socially, physically, economically that isn’t already present, and in fact it might allow for distracting conversations to happen in a car that might otherwise cause an accident.

Really Internet?

Yep, technology has allowed more socializing, maybe. Or maybe it is just interactions. I could go into the long debate about how the internet has made people more or less social, suffice it to say that it has certainly been the main technology in promoting asynchronous communication beyond the book, and books have long been blamed for “making” people anti-social.

It is a measure of risks and benefits. In most cases, realizing the risks and countering them is enough, but there are certain technologies that end up riskier than we first thought. Being well informed is our first defense. Developing a well informed, positive, constructive outlook can help.

Monday, October 12, 2015

I do not do what I want to do

I do not do what I want to do

If you do not recognize this, it is okay, you are living life to its fullest. You can move on and ignore these thoughts. However, I do invite you to ponder:

This is part of a longer, pretty confusing, passage in the Bible written by Paul in Romans 8. Maybe it’s just because I am contrarian and like things other people have a hard time dealing with because I also enjoy Ecclesiastes. Despite all of this talk of the Bible, I think that it is extraordinarily practical, even if some claim may that it can only be understood in a religious context.

One more thing before I dive into this and its application. Many people will claim that many parts of the Bible are impractical to be applied in someone’s life outside of being a Christian. In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis contends that we either have to take Christ as God, or a raving lunatic, never just a “good teacher.” While I agree that believing in salvation through the sacrifice of God is certainly a tall order and colors much of the rest of the book, and I hope more people would believe, but it is false to believe that there can’t be some positive understanding without being a believer. C.S. Lewis is right to say that calling Christ just a “good teacher” is impossible, but basically Christians fall into the pride trap and often look like the Pharisees in their words and actions believing that all the teachings can only be understood through relation with Christ. A humble view will show that, yes, salvation is a black and white subject, and not decided by us, but understanding specific passages can be done.

So what brought up this topic? Partly it was reading Strip or Retire post by Art of Manliness, but also having been in a discussion of this passage recently. What is better: To risk nothing by doing nothing? To risk everything doing something that the only reward is anxiety? Or to risk something or everything in order to do better?

If you read the AOM post I think you will know which one I am pushing toward, but still I am going to see if I can make sense of it.

First and foremost I must admit to being in the first camp. I don’t much like it when I think about it and often times I want to get out. But how comfortable it is to just let the status quo keep its status just where it is. But that is partly why I am writing this, to get myself toward the bank of the river Status; to think critically about subjects and expose my thoughts to a wider audience. This is risk, small but still more than I would otherwise consider normally.

What about that second camp? If we risk ourselves on things that are only going to cause anxiety, why do we do it? And does it really cause anxiety for all people?

The people who take these type of risks get an immediate rush, would anyone jump out of a plane or off a cliff to only see the view? Probably, but most people are doing it for the thrill, even with current technology the threat of death is right there. And to the skydivers, there are no personal consequences, at least insofar as they haven’t already reasoned away, who needs life insurance if you die doing what you love?

But these selfish actions, even as mundane (today, at least) as skydiving, do have consequences for other people. Skydiving is socially accepted, but there are many things that are not which people are taking risks all the time and hurting themselves and others for just an ever-diminishing rush. There are also some things that society views as not as bad as previous generations viewed it. Certainly some of these views may have been wrong, but to stir the fire: We all joke about politicians being liars, and the fact is there is no way they could ever keep all their promises, not unless they become god-like and tyrannical. But the US is currently looking at many candidates for an election that is more than a year away, and seemingly seriously considering a self-proclaimed liar.

I am sure you can attach a name to the man who has taken loans, promising to pay it back, and then those companies have gone bankrupt. Certainly unforeseen circumstances could crash a company once in a lifetime to the point that it requires bankruptcy, but when it becomes a pattern there is obviously some reasoning that allows it to happen again and again. Also the attitude is not one of contrition, but rather bombast. Just the person I want to run the country.

I do not want to move from the nothing camp into the negative side. Yes, I may get things wrong, but I want to be doing things right, for the betterment. Probably not altruistic, but certainly not selfish. And those who are coming with me need to know that there are risks, and the possibilities. But first I need to cut down on the nothing and start finding the risk that will pay dividends in the long run.

Some things that I feel I could invest my time in, either more or at all:
  • People - Right now I only really invest time in one person. And even that I do not do too well.
  • Constructive hobbies - lighting for a shadow box doesn’t happen without a bit of work. Also there are other projects around the house that could use my knowledge and/or quick learning to solve. There might be a bit of risk, but the reward will be a more comfortable, or usable, house.
  • School - I would like to be an expert, and to have done well. I feel like I can actually put more effort into doing well. With my recent post I am considering quitting this semester, does this mean I am no longer taking a risk? Or am I increasing my risk for, hopefully, a better reward?
  • Work - with my first major project taking too long in my estimation, we are switching to an agile system. I am in charge of getting a spam admin page up and going, but I am also angling to take charge of a small team to some extent. I am doing my work, but risking rebuke by trying to organize developers’ efforts.
  • Also work - I had a constructive talk with two of our community team to figure out how I could get better at speaking about COS and developing so that I might be on the shortlist to go to conferences. I really need to start booking myself with local meetups in order to practice my speaking about subjects and hooking the COS pitch. I am not afraid to speak publicly, but what interests me I have found to bore other people.
  • Writing, it sort of goes with the constructive hobbies. If I risk spending my time writing and delaying gratification (no one has clicked on an advertisement yet) rather than getting near-immediate gratification with games, then I could possibly become a better writer and start making money with this whole writing thing, hint, hint. But truly it is a side project.

All of these things are certainly good, but they are hindered by my outlook, I really am not great at taking risks. And reading Johnathan Mead’s blog I really can trap myself into not doing something by over-preparing, or previously visited, over-analyzing.

My biggest issue is the immediate discomfort that I believe I will face. My fight with myself every morning I intend to go running: “It’s too cold/dark, and I won’t do as well as I want.” But after every run, even though it isn’t a race, I am glad I ran. I might not be so happy that I ran too fast, or too slow, but I am glad that I got out there and did it.

Speaking of running, I signed up for a 5k. What does this do for me? It sets a goal, a date that I need to be ready for. Running is nice, a road or trail race isn’t a go/no-go decision, unless injured. Otherwise you can always run the race, maybe not as fast as you want, but I just need to show up and run, and I am a winner!

“Oh no. Everyone who runs can’t be a winner, did he just say that?” Nope, I will most certainly lose unless there is no one else in my age group, however, I gain a bunch of positives: Experience, exercise, a time to beat on my next 5k.

What it really boils down to is taking a risk, or many smaller risks to improve myself for the longer term, hopefully also looking to help others improve, through my example, encouragement, and exhortation.


I am sure that no one has ever questioned their chosen path. Ever, in the history of simple reasoning. On that false assumption, let me be the (very-large-number)th.

I probably just failed my class, on a midterm no less. It wasn't that I didn't know the material, rather I knew most of it, the problem was the proctoring system. I am certainly not a fan. I make one mistake, reloading the proctoring software because it took me to the wrong page, and it goes south from there. I won't say what was on the test, but by the time everything was figured out, I had 30 minutes to complete a 90 minute exam. Not a good position to be in.

I am sure I caused it, but the software did not help at all in that regard. But enough about that. I am looking at dropping the class and taking again at some other point. Life has been going a bit too quickly and I really haven't been keeping up with it like I need to, so if this pretty much makes it unlikely that I can even attain a B, then I will take it some other time.

Not that I like that path, withdrawing is one of my least favorite avenues. It makes me feel as though I am quitting and will be on my record. However, I feel that with a full time job it is much more acceptable, or at least a bit less frowned upon. Life marches on.

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