Emotions Are Simply What You Feel, Not Who You Are #

Chade-Meng Tan:

Thoughts and emotions are like clouds—some beautiful, some dark—while our core being is like the sky. Clouds are not the sky; they are phenomena in the sky that come and go. Similarly, thoughts and emotions are not who we are; they are simply phenomena in mind and body that come and go.

Possessing this insight, one creates the possibility of change within oneself.

What is Code? #

Excellent, epic writing by Paul Ford. The lead ‘Hello World’ picture is by nice person and photographer I’ve coincidentally met in NYC: David Brandon Geeting. I warmly recommend his book ‘Infinite Power’ if you can get a copy!

A few highlights from the gigantic, in web parlance, ‘wall of text’, to help convince you to go read the whole thing:

Compilation is one of the denser subjects in computer science, because the lower down you go, the more opportunities there are to do deep, weird things that can speed up code significantly—and faster is cheaper and better. You can write elegant, high-level code like F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the computer will compile you into Ernest Hemingway. But compilers often do several passes, turning code into simpler code, then simpler code still, from Fitzgerald, to Hemingway, to Stephen King, to Stephenie Meyer, all the way down to Dan Brown, each phase getting less readable and more repetitive as you go.

You rarely see TMitTB in person, because he’s often at conferences where he presents on panels. He then tweets about the panels and notes them on his well-populated LinkedIn page. Often he takes a picture of the audience from the stage, and what you see is an assembly of mostly men, many with beards, the majority of whom seem to be peering into their laptop instead of up at the stage. Nonetheless the tweet that accompanies that photo says something like, “AMAZING audience! @ the panel on #microservice architecture at #ArchiCon2015.”

Your meetings, by comparison, go for hours, with people arranged around a table—sitting down. You wonder how he gets his programmers to stand up, but then some of them already use standing desks. Perhaps that’s the ticket.

C is a simple language, simple like a shotgun that can blow off your foot. It allows you to manage every last part of a computer—the memory, files, a hard drive—which is great if you’re meticulous and dangerous if you’re sloppy. Software made in C is known for being fast. When you compile C, it doesn’t simply become a bunch of machine language in one go; there are many steps to making it really, ridiculously fast. These are called optimizations, and they are to programming what loopholes are to taxes. Think of C as sort of a plain-spoken grandfather who grew up trapping beavers and served in several wars but can still do 50 pullups.

But there’s another way to interpret all this activity around Python: People love it and want it to work everywhere and do everything. They’ve spent tens of thousands of hours making that possible and then given the fruit of their labor away. That’s a powerful indicator. A huge amount of effort has gone into making Python practical as well as pleasurable to use. There are lots of conferences, frequent code updates, and vibrant mailing lists. You pick a language not just on its technical merits, or its speediness, or the job opportunities it may present, but also on its culture.

Python people, generally, are pretty cool.

Back in the 1980s, while the Fortran programmers were off optimizing nuclear weapon yields, Lisp programmers were trying to get a robot to pick up a teddy bear or write a sonnet.

HyperText Markup Language, the encoding format for Web pages since the Web began. Programmers argue over whether HTML is “programming” or not because they are paranoid about status and don’t want to allow mere tag-wranglers to claim blessed programmer status. So the text that appears here doesn’t count as “code” but as “markup.” The difference between an expert markup person and an expert coder is, from experience, somewhere between $20K and $70K in favor of the programmer.

Oracle makes you pay thousands of dollars to use its commercial enterprise database, but more and more of the world runs on free software databases such as PostgreSQL and MySQL. There’s even a tiny little database called SQLite that’s so small, so well-behaved, and so permissively licensed that it’s now in basically every smartphone, available to apps to help them save and load data. You probably have a powerful SQL-driven database in your pocket right now.

Academic researchers often produce things that basically work but don’t have interfaces. They need to prove their theses, publish, and move on to the next thing. People in the free software community often code to scratch an itch and release that code into the digital commons so that other people can modify and manipulate it. While more often than not this process goes nowhere, over time some projects capture the imagination of others and become part of the infrastructure of the world.

Anything Java can do, Clojure can do. And since it’s built atop the JVM, it can do it on any computer. There were already Lisp editing tools out there, and it was pretty easy to modify them for Clojure. It was joined to Java like a remora to a shark. Or more accurately, it’s a remora attached to a remora, because the JVM itself is a fake machine running inside real machines.

The point is that things are fluid in the world of programming, fluid in a way that other industries don’t seem to be. Languages are liquid infrastructure. You download a few programs and, whoa, suddenly you have a working Clojure environment. Which is actually the Java Runtime Environment. You grab an old PC that’s outlived its usefulness, put Linux on it, and suddenly you have a powerful Web server. Now you can participate in whole new cultures. There are meetups, gatherings, conferences, blogs, and people chatting on Twitter. And you are welcomed. They are glad for the new blood.

An ecosystem. “Ecosystem” is another debased word, especially given what we keep doing to the real, physical one around us. But if a few hundred thousand people are raising their kids and making things for 100 million people, that’s what they call it.

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Philosophy of Joy on a New York City Bus

The metro wasn’t running and we needed to take the free shuttle bus instead. We sat near a large woman next to a small boy and listened.

Whatchyou talkin’ ‘bout the end o’ the world’? It be just a storm, not the end o’ the world! Who been givin’ you ideas ‘bout the a-po-ca-lypse anyway?! You wake up in the morning (snap) — happy. You go outside for a walk (snap) — happy. That’s how it’s done, son! There be no time for bein’ pessi-mistic! Look at me! I still have some years in me and I don’t have time fo’ dis shit! (loud joyous laughter)

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Timeline of the Far Future #

Upcoming events in the cosmic calendar.

Google Photos #

Very happy to see this! Facebook and Apple need competition from somewhere that embraces the open web. Also kudos for using astronomical bodies’ & spacecraft names for the filters!

The filters interface.

Ask for Help #

As often as you can, work with people who are smarter than you.

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Be Kind, Damnit!

Here’s another poster using Google’s Roboto typeface, quickly made to celebrate it becoming an open source project!

Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind.

Text from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut. Exclamation point mine. Download an infinite resolution version for printing (36kb PDF).

And here’s a free, open source web typography template using Roboto (demo), made especially for you, dear writers, readers.

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Wabi-sabi #

Wabi-sabi (侘寂) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.

Your Websites Suck #

Baldur Bjarnason:

The web doesn’t suck. Your websites suck.

You destroy basic usability by hijacking the scrollbar. You take native functionality (scrolling, selection, links, loading) that is fast and efficient and you rewrite it with ‘cutting edge’ javascript toolkits and frameworks so that it is slow and buggy and broken. You balloon your websites with megabytes of cruft. You ignore best practices. You take something that works and is complementary to your business and turn it into a liability.

The lousy performance of your websites becomes a defensive moat around Facebook.

Of course, Facebook might still win even if you all had awesome websites, but you can’t even begin to compete with it until you fix the foundation of your business.

Chade-Meng Tan on Neuroplasticity #

More Krishnamurti-like thinking at Google, this time from Chade-Meng Tan:

What we think, do, and pay attention to changes the structure and function of our brains.

ALA: Meta-Moments: Thoughtfulness by Design #

UXD strives toward frictionless flow: removing impediments to immediate action and looking to increase conversions at all costs. This approach delivers some great results, but it doesn’t always consider the wider story of how we can design and build things that sustain a lasting relationship.

TaskBuster Django Tutorial #

Came across a good, current tutorial (Django 1.8 and Python 3) by Marina Mele while brushing up on Django skills.

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When In Doubt, Move

I’ve been experimenting with Google’s Roboto typeface which now clothes this website and I quite like, and with embracing things I usually can’t stand such as the ill-typeset quotations that litter social network feeds.

Result: A simple poster with D.H. Lawrence’s lifelong credo, which narrowly won me over both Jesus’ and Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade’s versions of the same good evolutionary advice:

When in doubt, move.

Download an infinite resolution version for printing (412kb PDF).

Roboto Slab is set against a background with a golden pattern tile which I somehow managed to put together years ago and recently came across while navigating the ‘cutting room floor’ folders of an old hard disk.

I better move outside while I can still see. A dopo!

Update: Roboto is now open source. Here’s another poster to celebrate!

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Hello, Roboto #

Lets live with you for a while and see how things go.

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I Heart Earth

I Heart Earth

Download a 3.8mb PNG suitable for printing in A4 size. Dedicated to the public domain.

Original idea by Milton Glaser. Tiny Earth image (the blue pixel in the letter ‘I’) is PIA00452: Solar System Portrait - Earth as ‘Pale Blue Dot’ by NASA/JPL. PT Mono typeface by Alexandra Korolkova with participation from Isabella Chaeva. Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF)1 image (inside the heart) by NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team. The Hubble Space Telescope has been in orbit for 25 years. Large Earth satellite view of the Americas on Earth Day 2014 by NASA and NOAA.

Earth day is every day.


  1. Read about the iconic predecessor to this image, the Ultra Deep Field photograph, also made by the Hubble Space Telescope

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Margaret Hamilton During the Apollo Program #

Margaret Hamilton

Taken by the Draper Lab photographer in 1969 (during Apollo 11). Here, Margaret is shown standing beside listings of the software developed by the team she was in charge of, the LM and CM on-board flight software team

What a great photograph!

A Map That is Just Good Enough #

Reminds me of Alex Martelli’s talk in EuroPython 2013.

Deep Space Climate Observatory #

Falcon 9 carrying DSCOVR, 2nd stage with Earth in background (16673034486)

Falcon 9 carrying DSCOVR, 2nd stage with Earth in background. By SpaceX, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite launched just two months ago and will reach its designated orbital position approximately one million miles from Earth in June. I’m looking forward to seeing its pictures of our planet!

Via Neil Fraser.

Hover.css #

Thanks to encouragement from a friend I’ve been working on my site design and exploring CSS3 animation.

I apologize if I cause your computer’s fans to speed up while experimenting here. Browsers seemingly still need to be optimized to run the effects efficiently, without burdening the processor, though it is most likely me causing issues :)

Much like developing a photograph from the negative or raw file, designing a good website involves subtle changes, not too much and not too little, but just right. As the great designer Milton Glaser put it, just enough is more (PDF 176kb).

This Land is Mine #

Incredible work by Nina Paley, who Amber introduced to me through Sita Sings The Blues.

Avoid Gratuitous Negativity #

The key word here is ‘gratuitous’.

The GNU Manifesto Turns Thirty #

torrent-of-ions’ in the HN discussion is right on:

It’s not really about “giving back”. There’s no obligation to give anything back at all and neither should there be. Rather, the GPL is designed to globally maximise the freedom to use, modify and distribute a piece of software. The only freedom the GPL does not provide is the freedom to take these freedoms away from future users.

GPG and Me #

As usual, a thoughtful essay by the awesome Moxie Marlinspike.

Realtime View of Earth from ISS #

We live in an amazing time and place. Here’s a live view of our planet from the International Space Station from the High Definition Earth Viewing experiment:

While the HDEV collects beautiful images of the Earth from the ISS, the primary purpose of the experiment is an engineering one: monitoring the rate at which HD video camera image quality degrades when exposed to the space environment (mainly from cosmic ray damage) and verify the effectiveness of the design of the HDEV housing for thermal control.

See also a nice map showing the station’s location updated in realtime at Satflare.

U.S. Digital Services Playbook #

Good advice for building good software.

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International Symbol for an Observer

Tl;dr: I couldn’t find an international symbol for an observer that was mentioned in an astronomy lecture, so I made one, dedicated it to the public domain and submitted it to the Unicode Consortium. This page details the rationale for my submission including files and usage examples.

UPDATE · Tuesday 3 February 2015: U+23FF Observer Eye Symbol o was accepted at UTC-142yay! ❣ ❦ ✧

Rationale

While there are many symbols for astronomical bodies and atmospheric phenomena in the Unicode Standard, there is none for an observer of these. A symbol for an observer can be useful in illustrating scientific discussions.

Baily's notes depicting the observer symbol.

An international symbol for an observer was mentioned and drawn (image above) by Charles Bailyn in ASTR-160: Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics Lecture 2 - Planetary Orbits. I went looking for it on Codepoints.net, a site dedicated to all the characters defined in the Unicode Standard, and in Unicode’s own Miscellaneous Symbols and Pictographs chart (PDF, 830kb). My search has been unsuccessful as it seems there is currently no unicode symbol for an observer.

Existing Eye Symbol

While a symbol for an eye 👁, also known as sight, does exist (U+1F441 EYE — I do not have a font in my system that displays it), I believe it is still worthwhile to have a specific symbol for an observer because the existing eye depicted in a frontal view is more representative of the organ’s anatomy rather than the act of observation, which is better represented by a profile view of an eye indicating a direction.

Examples of Existing Glyphs an Observer Symbol Would Complement

Proposed Symbol & File Downloads

Below is a symbol for an observer I made, dedicated to the Public Domain. Files in AI, EPS, PDF, PNG, PSD, SVG and TrueType formats in a ZIP archive are available for download here. In the embedded font, the version looking right is typed using a lowercase ‘o’ and the version looking left using an uppercase ‘O’:

o

Usage Examples

Observing a star and a cat:

o - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
🐈 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - O

Unicode Consortium Submissions

  1. international-observer-symbol-submission-simon-griffee.pdf
  2. observer-symbol-submission-simon-griffee-updated-20150129.pdf
  3. observer-symbol-submission-simon-griffee-updated-20150226.pdf

I will continue providing updates here should this little project progress further.

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How Accurate Is That Number? #

From the transcript of Charles Bailyn’s ASTR 160: Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics Lecture 2: Planetary Orbits (emphasis mine):

Student: How accurate is that number?

Professor Charles Bailyn: How accurate is that number? It’s accurate to about one digit, which is why I only wrote down one digit of accuracy out front. This is a pro—excellent question thank you very much. This is appropriate because remember I’m using 7 times 10 minus 11 for G, where it’s actually 6.6. So, I’m already about 10% off from there. I did my little calculation to come up with one year equals 3 times 107 seconds. That’s about accurate to one digit or so. And so the whole thing is done to one digit accuracy. If you’re dealing with one digit accuracy, it is true that 7 divided by 4 is 2. It really is true, because if that wasn’t true, then you would have to have more digits on your unit for G or something like that. In particular, let me make an official rule for this course. Three equals π, equals the square root of 10, all right. That will solve an enormous amount of arithmetic problems and it will not get you into any serious trouble. So, we don’t have to worry about the .14159 and however many more digits you all memorized it to. And when you multiply it together you get ten. Yes?

Student: Are you expecting this kind of calculation for problem sets?

Professor Charles Bailyn: Yes. The question was, “Am I expecting this kind of calculation for problem sets?” The answer is “yes.” Here’s the rule about calculators. Let me put it this way: You can only use calculators if I can’t tell that you’ve done it. So, that means you can check your work to make sure you’ve it right or something. But if you start coming up with numbers like 7.1516397, that’s eight digits of accuracy and I’m pretty sure you haven’t worked it out yourself. So important, no calculators on the tests, okay? So, get some practice doing this kind of thing. And this will—this I promise you will be useful to you in everyday life because this is how you catch the politicians doing screwy things with big numbers. You do it in your head in scientific notation and you figure out whether the answer is meaningful or not.

This whole business of significant digits, I think, is badly distorted; by the way, it’s taught in high school. In high school you, and also I should say in laboratory courses sometimes at the college level, you often get situations where people say—give you a whole sheet of rules on how to figure out how many significant digits you have. This is nonsense. All you have to do is behave like a human being. We say to each other, I’ll meet you in the dining hall in ten minutes. That doesn’t mean—that means something different from I’ll meet you in the dining hall in eleven minutes and twenty-six seconds. Even if the person happens to show up in the dining hall in exactly eleven minutes and twenty-six seconds. Ten minutes means I’ll meet you there in ten minutes, we all know what that means. I’ll meet you there in eleven minutes and twenty-six seconds means you’re a character in a bad spy novel who’s just synchronized his watch. So, this shows up in science fiction too.

I don’t know how many of you are Star Trek fans, I certainly am [laughter]. And in all the different Star Trek movies [inaudible comment]—thank you. In all the different—a friend [referring to person who made comment]. In all the different Star Trek movies there’s always a second in command who isn’t a human being, right? A Vulcan or an android or some damn thing or another. And to emphasize the non-humanness of these characters, what they do is they make them use too many significant digits. And so that makes them inhuman and so the captain will say, “When are we landing on omicron M?” The second in command will say, “Well, we should assume standard orbit in 2.6395 minutes,” emphasizing somehow superior brain power or something. But it’s nonsense because it takes the guy ten seconds to say that sentence, so what is this time calculated to a 100th of a second? Does it start from when he begins the sentence? From when he ends the sentence? What’s the other end of that time interval? Can you say you assume standard orbit to the 100th of a second? What does that even mean? When you start beaming down? When you end beaming down? Also, keep in mind it takes more than a 100th of second for the sound to travel from his lips to the captain’s ears, so the whole thing is just nonsense. And so, you don’t need any special rules, just behave like a human being; don’t behave like an android. So, no androids. And that’s the only rule I’m going to give you [laughter]. These two are the only rules I’m going to give you about significant digits, just do the right thing, okay.

Two rules:

  1. 3= π= 10
  2. No androids!
Our Solar System and the Pluto Problem #

From lecture 3 in professor Charles Bailyn’s ASTR 160: Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics:

Bailyn first reminds us of the scientific method and that astronomy is an observational science. He then talks about classification and the six categories of objects in the Solar System:

  1. Sun (a star).
  2. Inner, sometimes called terrestial or rocky, planets.
  3. Asteroids.
  4. Outer, also known as Jovian, planets.
  5. Trans-Neptunian, or Kuiper Belt, objects.
  6. Comets in the outer region, or Oort cloud.

Chapter 5. Classification and Interpretation of Celestial Objects 00:35:13:

So, here are the six categories that I would claim exist in the Solar System. And here’s my problem with the whole Pluto debate. The Pluto debate was basically about whether these guys are going to count as planets. But the thing is, “planets” is already a bad description, because it contains two quite different categories; namely, these inner terrestrial planets, and the outer Jovian planets. So, it seems to me that arguing whether category five should be part of some category that already contains two fundamentally different kinds of objects is kind of a strange argument to be having. Either we should split these two things off from each other, or, if we’re going to join these two kinds of the categories, fine, bring in anything you like. I don’t care, add the asteroids, too. And, in fact, in the original proposal, one of the asteroids qualified as well. And so, it doesn’t seem to me that this controversy was really paying justice to an appropriate classification of the things in the Solar System.

We’ll soon find out much more about Pluto when NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft passes by in July 2015!

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Digital Universe

A view of some stars nearby through the PartiView software which can be downloaded from the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium Digital Universe website.

The Digital Universe, developed by the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium, incorporates data from dozens of organizations worldwide to create the most complete and accurate 3-D atlas of the Universe from the local solar neighborhood out to the edge of the observable Universe.

I’m looking forward to going to the Hayden Planetarium for the first time tomorrow! The Director is Neil DeGrasse Tyson, host of the current version of Cosmos.

Mordecai-Mark Mac Low, curator of the current Dark Universe show at the planetarium reminds us that the museum is also a research institute:

Since 1998, the American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium have engaged in the three-dimensional mapping of the Universe. This cosmic cartography brings a new perspective to our place in the Universe and redefines our sense of home.

Happily a version of the PartiView software and data sets used in the planetarium is available for download to fly around the known universe in your own computer. I will use this as a scouting tool for my next destinations in Elite!

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2015: International Year of Light #

On 20 December 2013, The United Nations (UN) General Assembly 68th Session proclaimed 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015).

This International Year has been the initiative of a large consortium of scientific bodies together with UNESCO, and will bring together many different stakeholders including scientific societies and unions, educational institutions, technology platforms, non-profit organizations and private sector partners.

In proclaiming an International Year focusing on the topic of light science and its applications, the United Nations has recognized the importance of raising global awareness about how light-based technologies promote sustainable development and provide solutions to global challenges in energy, education, agriculture and health. Light plays a vital role in our daily lives and is an imperative cross-cutting discipline of science in the 21st century. It has revolutionized medicine, opened up international communication via the Internet, and continues to be central to linking cultural, economic and political aspects of the global society.