What’s Up?

April 19th, 2017 by helava

Now that I have some free time, I’ve been puttering around the house doing some stuff. I installed climbing holds on the top surface of our downstairs stairs. There’s a plywood board under the drywall, and the joists will hold a person’s weight, so it’s kind of fun having a 45 degree climbing surface in the house for the kids. It’s too easy, and they’ll get bored quickly I’m sure, but it was mostly just a $50 experiment to see if they’d be interested. ūüôā

I also installed a bunch of Lutron Caseta wireless lightswitches in the house. When we built parts of the house, we either didn’t correctly anticipate where certain switches needed to be, or we wired them into legacy places, or we changed regular doors to pocket doors and that necessitated certain placement, since you can’t have a box “inside” a pocket door. The Caseta system is nice – you can tie it to Alexa, or you can tie individual switches to remote controls that are all paired semi-permanently, and you can mount them to the wall in a way that makes them indistinguishable from regular switches. So we’ve got a downstairs lightswitch by the hallway, and bathroom switches where you’d expect them (instead of in strange places that aren’t quite intuitive), and our kitchen “spot” lights can now be voice-activated.

Been searching for a place for my parents, still, to no avail, though we’ve seen some wonderful places in Concord. Trying to get my mom’s tastes aligned with “things that actually exist” has been … difficult.

I suppose even though it’s a bit buried here, and it’s not something I really want to dive into, I should record that we put Mobius to sleep on¬†Thursday, April 13. Our poor old guy had a spleen tumor that was bleeding into his abdomen, and for the previous two days had been not eating, and having trouble getting up and around. After talking to the vet, we decided it was time to say goodbye, and not let him suffer. He was fourteen years old. He lived a long life, and a happy one, and it ended quickly without suffering. I’ll always second-guess some of the things we did – he got a lot less attention after the kids were born, and we ended up keeping the kids from really bonding with him, because since he could get defensive about his space, we never wanted to risk it when the kids were small. But he was a good boy. A sweet dog, adventurous and bright, willful, sometimes grumpy, and he loved people.

One of the images of him that lives on in my head is him, standing alert in the backyard in the darkness, his white fur reflecting moonlight like a shining spectre watching out for us. I imagine he’s out there still.

Strange transitioning away from that, because it is what it is. Even though it’s hard, life keeps going. The kids keep going. They’re great. Drawing amazing, amazing things. Developing their own little games. Kuno draws so much, and he’s really good at it for someone his age. He can make things that are sometimes indistinguishable from what Jin’s doing, and Jin’s been drawing up a storm for years longer. Jin’s big party trick is that he’s reading like crazy now, which is awesome. It’s been really great to see him diving into books – things he’s excited to read to the point where sometimes he doesn’t want to wait for us, so he jumps right in & gets going on his own. Fantastic.

It’s been interesting, not having work to do. It’s only been a few weeks, really, so I’m not beating myself up over it yet, but a lack of structure has led to some lack of direction. Improvements on the house are great, but there’s a lot I want to do – exercise & get back in shape (though being depressed about Mobi has led to some depression-eating that’s not great), do some personal work – both “work work” and “creative work”, do some work for other people and try to make some $, then spend time with the kids & do something with them while we have free time.

Chances are we’ll be heading out to Dublin to visit Alan & Becky this summer, then maybe jump around a bit, or spend a week in London. The kids are old enough to at *least* remember it, and most likely appreciate it, and that exposure will be valuable. We had thought we might also squeeze in a visit to Stockholm to see some friends, but it looks like that might wait for another trip in the future.

Anyway. It’s been a rough week, coupled with a strange month. A little discipline & structure will be really useful, and from there, we’ll see where things go.

Also – I know no one reads this, but just in case you do, and you’re a friend, I hope you know I really, really appreciate you. I don’t say that enough, and I don’t say it directly. But I do. Thank you.

Implicit Bias & Representation

March 28th, 2017 by helava

I was reading Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell last night, since I was bored & tired @ my parents’ house, and there was a chapter on implicit bias, and implicit bias tests. Basically you try to categorize things based on sorting them into two columns – like “white & good vs. black & bad” or “white & bad vs. black & good” – and the time differential is an indicator of your subconscious associations. You’d be quicker to sort the list w/ “white & good” vs. “black & good” if you have an association between white folks & good behavior.

I first read this book years ago, and I was really surprised by how hard the test was. The thing that was surprising last night was how easy it was to get my brain to “flip”. I just thought for a moment about police brutality, and white/black/good/bad felt like it wasn’t nearly as difficult a sort to make.

I think this is one reason, maybe, that every time a black person gets killed by the police, there’s always someone painting them as a villain of some kind. I don’t¬†necessarily think it’s intentional, but I think the thing is, as long as you can maintain that “white/good black/bad” association, you keep an immensely powerful advantage that relatively few people know exists in your pocket. If you¬†don’t paint them as the villain, you start to erode that until one day it’s flipped.

Which is of course¬†one reason representation matters (among many, of course). People are subject to implicit bias of their¬†own groups. Black people have a negative association of black people. Which sucks. But we’re all subject to the same overwhelming media messages, and it’s no wonder that the opinions we develop are shaped by them.

Which is one reason I really enjoyed Rogue One. (Yeah, yeah, that’s sort of a jump). Donnie Yen & Jiang Wen’s characters had this really great relationship that was sort of “traditional Asian-y”, but also really not. They were likable, charming, even in one character’s “inscrutability”, it fit the universe, and didn’t bug me that much. Baze Malbus might be one of my favorite characters in recent memory, but it’s not even really fair to say that I liked Baze, because it’s really how Chirrut & Baze interact that defines their characters.

It’s obviously not a coincidence that Force Awakens & Rogue One had female leads. And no coincidence that they had prominent “minority” characters (in that universe, who’s to say?). ¬†And I really appreciate that about Disney’s handling of the universe.

I get it, though – why some folks are bitter about not having white male heroes. A lot of folks say things like, “But you’re not losing anything,” or “there are plenty of white heroes” or whatever. But it¬†is a loss – it paints others in better light. Making the association “female/hero” or “asian/brotherhood” or “latinx/hero” – in the implicit bias test, it’s not exactly a zero-sum game because losing the association between “white/good” is a loss to that demographic, even if in the end, it’s because “everyone/good” wins.

For me, though, I’m happy progress is being made. I’m happy for “women/good”, “women/hero”, “asian/good”, “black/good” – happy for all of it. If white/good loses its very-long-standing grip on “good” it’s genuinely better for¬†everyone.¬†Imagine that world. Wouldn’t you rather live there?

Bouncing

February 16th, 2017 by helava

Wonderspark is running short on runway. The new app is getting a pretty decent anecdotal response, but it’s still a few days from having any kind of tangible data. So hard to say where we’re at. If the data looks good, we can figure out how to extend the runway. I’m less worried about that, and more worried that for whatever reason, we haven’t moved the needle.

Other things were pretty demoralizing today. Months of effort on the personal side were carelessly discarded by someone, which was … frustrating. Then an inadvertent conversation gouged open old wounds I thought had healed better than they had.

Still, gotta focus. Not much time left, and much too much that needs to be done.

Kids are good. As always. Sometimes things need correcting, and that’s part of the process. Nothing’s perfect. I hear myself, sometimes, in J as he talks to K, and I realize that¬†I have work to do, because I don’t like how it sounds. And it’s not just about telling J to not do that – it’s about¬†me being a better role model.

Reading time is among the best time.

I guess snack time is still right up there.

Recently got the front trim re-painted, because it had faded pretty dramatically over the last seven years. Shortly after this, we also had the front & side fences rebuilt, because the side fence had totally collapsed. In the process, we had the front fence & hedges cut down to 3′, rather than 6′, because Mobi isn’t gonna jump over a 3′ fence, much less a 6′ one – and that was the reason we’d originally had it built that way. Leaves the house feeling much more open.

One of these days, will need to do something about the stairs, retaining wall, front walkway, and side walkway to the rear.

But the back yard? Ooh. That’s in the works now. It’s gonna be awesome.

Also got a new-to-us grill off of Craigslist, because the old grill, which served us faithfully and often over the last … something like 13 years, finally kicked the bucket. The grill is dead. Long live the grill.

 

Organizing Closets

February 13th, 2017 by helava

This weekend, I organized our downstairs closet of boardgames-and-random shit, and then later organized one of the closets in the kids’ room.

There’s something really satisfying about cleaning out spots of in-home entropy – places where stuff’s gotten lost for a few years due to business & oversight. One thing I’ve found is that we’re very much an “out of sight, out of mind” family, where one of the reasons things are out all over the place is that when they get put away, they vanish for a long period of time.

I wonder if that is, in part, because when we moved in, we were constantly moving things around from room to room as construction happened, and so it took 10 years before things finally started settling down into “their place” – whereas if you move in and can plan things out from the start, those things get placed according to some better-conceived plan than the chaos of “wherever whatever now”.

It also feels satisfying to do some organization because so much is out of my control right now. We’re still looking for a house for my parents. Every day something in the news is misery. Doing something to clean up around the house feels like being able to organize my mind and exert some influence on my day to day life at a time when I feel like I have less control than usual.

Kitchen Nightmares

February 7th, 2017 by helava

Mid-last week, our dishwasher’s latch got stuck in the “closed” position, even though it was open. We cracked open the dishwasher (which has had its fair share of gremlins – I wouldn’t recommend a Jenn-Aire dishwasher) and checked it out. Seemed like a simple fix – the latch somehow got closed, and we just needed to pop it open.

Replaced the latch, screwed everything shut. After closing things up, the dishwasher refused to respond to button presses… about 3/4 of the time. Opened everything up, reseated various connections, same thing. Great. Ordered a new control panel for the dishwasher.

Sometime late last week, there was a sale on a small under-sink water heater. I thought, “Hey, that’d be great for our kitchen,” because our kitchen is all the way across the house from the tankless heater, which means that one specific faucet takes¬†forever to heat up. And so for the dishwasher, or for washing up or whatever, you’d always end up wasting a ton of water waiting for it to warm up.

So I got the small water heater. When it arrived, I went to install it, and as I was pulling thing out from under the sink, I realized things were wet. That wasn’t great. Fortunately, the wood bottom of the cabinet hadn’t warped, which meant we must have caught the problem at the exact right time (well, close to it).

I looked under the sink, and lo and behold – a cracked fitting on the disposal drain pipe. Went to Ace, got some connectors for the water heater and a replacement drain pipe. Got home, realized I’d made a mistake on the sizing of the connectors. Also realized… there was stuff still dripping from somewhere.

I reached up to rotate the disposal, since its drain pipe was in the way of the water valve, and realized my right hand was gunky – that wasn’t right. Turned out the disposal casing had cracked at some point, and it was¬†also leaking. Great.

Back to Ace for new fittings, and a new disposal. Installed the disposal (really, really easy as long as you’ve got the drain flange installed already), replaced the drain pipes, and secured that all so it wasn’t leaking. Great!

Then hooked up the heater. Realized I’d bought the wrong kind of cap for one of the pipes I was capping off, and that the splitter I needed to put on the heater (faucet & dishwasher) was leaking. Great. Back to Ace. Found the right cap, and realized the kind of pipe thread needed teflon tape. Got home, put the cap on, taped the thread, and … still leaking everywhere. The cap was leaking like crazy.

Turns out, if you have a compression fit connection, and you have a compression fit cap, you *still* need a brass ferrule under the cap or it won’t seal. Fortunately, I had one. Cap problem solved. The other one was an NPT connection that needed the teflon tape. Turns out that just needed to be cranked down until it stopped leaking, which it finally did.

So four and a half hours later, and something like five trips to Ace (I think I missed one or two in the description), I finally had it all together.

The next day, I realized I’d put the dishwasher and heater on a cheap power strip, and I couldn’t run one without tripping the breaker on the strip. And the dishwasher leaked on the kitchen floor, because I’d failed to attach the door exactly right.

So finally, almost a whole weekend of kitchen fixing came to a close. We’ve now got a new disposal, a new water heater, and well-functioning plumbing. Hooray!

Also last week, I tried grilling a steak. When I turned on the gas, FWOOSH – huge fireball. Why, I wondered. The flames were totally irregular. After letting it cool off, I popped off the grates & realized that the grill was just toast. The burners had all rusted through, which is why the gas was coming out in a fireball. I’d done some previous part replacement on the grill, but I knew it was wearing out. Turns out, a.) the burners rusted through, b.) the “flame protector” holders had rusted through, c.) the burner attachment points were rusted through, and d.) the edges of the firebox were completely rusted all the way through.

We kept the grill covered, mostly, during the rainy season, but I never really gave it a good solid internal cleaning, which is probably what it really needed. Still, the Char-Broil did a solid job, giving us something like 10 years of wonderful service. But it was dead. Repairing it would have cost as much or more than a replacement of similar quality.

I started looking into grills, and boy – grills are like bicycles. You can really go down the rabbit hole & spend tons of $. And like bikes, options that you start out not caring about suddenly¬†feel necessary as you’re shopping.

I decided that I’d stick with something on the low end. The Char-Broil had been great, and I’d never used a different grill that I thought was so much better. I realized I should check Craigslist. There’s probably someone who bought a grill thinking they’d use it & never did, and if so, they’d probably be among the nicer grills, right?

Sure enough. Found a nice Weber Genesis S320. Used to retail for about a grand. Got it for $300. It’s a lot beefier than the previous grill in almost every respect. Things that were folded sheetmetal on the Char-Broil were cast pieces on the Weber. The frame was square welded tubestock. The charbroil was folded sheetmetal.

The igniter on the Weber was busted (the seller was totally up front about it, so it wasn’t a surprise), so I poked around to see if I could fix it. I took off the button, and realized even if I put a battery in the igniter, there was only one side contacting anything. Huh? I looked up images of the button online, and sure enough, there was a metal bit that went on the underside of the button that wasn’t there. Folded up a piece of aluminum foil, shoved it in where the previous clip would have been, and voila. Works great.

So aside from some minor cosmetic blemishes (a discolored top side burner plate) and obvious previous use, it’s perfect. Fired it up today with the tiny tiny bit of propane that was left post-giant-fireball, and it worked like a champ.

So a weekend spent on fixing, repairing, and replacing various kitchen-related things. End product? Huge success! The process sucked, but compared to having to hire professionals or buy new stuff, it was way cheaper and way more satisfying.

Your Friends

February 7th, 2017 by helava

I think in the future, one of the criteria I’ll have for a person in power is, “Who are your friends?” If your friends are uniformly rich businesspeople, focused on getting ever richer, then you see regulations, unions, etc. as a problem because they want to do X to increase their wealth, and are frustrated by it. If they’re your friends, you empathize with their frustration, and trying to fix those frustrations makes sense.

On the other hand, if your friends are working class people, whose problems are paying the bills on a day-to-day basis Рwho work hard and barely get by, who strive and strive and the door of opportunity is repeatedly slammed in their face, then you empathize with those problems and want to fix them.

When I see the current power players going for deregulation, undermining labor and environmental laws, etc. – on a personal level, I suppose I get it. Your friends don’t like those things. They don’t live in the environment they’re poisoning. They aren’t being exploited by management , etc. You see the effects of these things through the lens of their lives, and they’re not a problem. The people who are choking on smog, who are working 16+ hour days to survive – you don’t know any of them, even if you’re employing hundreds of them. And it¬†seems evil. But I get it. It’s invisible. Your friends are what you’re worried about first and foremost. That’s true of everyone, to varying degrees.

So if you want a position of power, show me who your friends are. You may be a great person, but if the only people you know are millionaires and billionaires, I can say with certainty that in my eyes, you’re not qualified for the job, because you¬†can’t understand what the job¬†is.

If you’re in public service, you have to know what pain the public feels. You have to be friends with at least something like a representative sample of the public.

Sails

February 6th, 2017 by helava

I dunno what it is, but there are times when some small thing just sucks the wind out of your sails. It’s something that’s clearly not important, but still… sometimes a small detail just takes a day that was going fine & turns it all around.

Recently…

January 31st, 2017 by helava

Some images from the recent past.

Not a lot else to say. We’re working hard on the new app, and a lot of it is coming together nicely.

Recently did some things that needed to get done on the house. Re-stuccoed the back exterior wall. Had the side fence rebuilt after it collapsed, and also shortened the front & redid the gate. Likely going to get a deck in the back in Feb, which has been years in the making, and continually pushed off for various reasons. Thinking about getting some sort of climbing structure for the backyard. Still looking at houses for the parents. I thought the market had cooled, but apparently not.

I need to find something I enjoy doing that will get me back in better health, and some time to actually do it. Eating habits have improved somewhat, but not made a really tangible difference. Partly because I’m eating less, but I’m eating more carbs. If I can eat as much as I am now, and shift to a low-carb diet, I think that’ll make a huge difference. But it also makes cooking more difficult, and cooking has been a recently-revived pleasure.

I’m finding one of my favorite meals to have company at is Sunday morning breakfast. I made pancakes the other day…

…and they turned out awesome. They were a “Japanese Fluffy Pancakes” recipe, and basically yeah, that’s what they are. Pancakes that are 3-4x thicker than normal, but fluffy and light. Still taste like pancakes, with a pancake-like consistency.

Reading

Been reading The Daily Show¬†(The Book): An Oral History and it’s fantastic. It shows what goes into making something that was consistently great, and something new that didn’t exist before. As someone who watched it consistently for 10+ years, it’s a really wonderful read. Highly recommended.

Also been working through Three Parts Dead, which is the kind of book I wish I could write. Takes a neat premise, and then blows it out and builds a whole world & characters around a core conceit. Works beautifully, with interesting characters & a really interesting core idea. Sort of a murder mystery, in a world where magic and gods exist, but are governed by contracts. Weird but good.

Kids

The kids are good. Basically like before, but moreso. They’re making little books, and they’re continually delightful and surprising. K’s¬†starting to be able to read words, and is definitely putting a lot of letters together. Personally, I need to try to devote more time to spend on teaching him stuff. With J, he had the luxury of being the sole focus, and it’s harder with two, but something I need to really be conscious of and work at. Funny little guy. He’s in a “mom” phase at the moment, where basically I might as well be chopped liver, but he’s still such a joy to be around.

J lost his first top front tooth about a month ago, so he’s kinda funny-looking at the moment. He and his friends at school are continually making up games, and it’s great to hear about all the weird ideas they have. Mostly around monsters, different types of monsters, etc. He’s also been making up a lot of jokes. Funnily enough, K got in a good one the other day. “What does the rock say when it goes bowling? Rock and roll!” He apparently made that up on his own! J’s also making up a lot of jokes, and some of ’em have been really great.

Politics

I’ve taken a few months off of Twitter and Facebook – ever since the election. Recently, I’ve gotten to reading through them both again, and it’s just depressing. It’s not¬†surprising, per se, it’s just depressing. Eh, that’s not actually true. It is surprising how completely free of any hint of integrity the GOP has been. History will judge them poorly. As for me, I know it’s not the¬†right approach, and it’s not the¬†effective approach, but here’s my perspective. If you voted third-party, I think you’re an idiot. No, really. I think you have no ability to make coherent judgments about argument, you were fundamentally unaware of the world & the plight non-majority groups were facing, and whatever hissyfit you had about Clinton, you voted¬†like an asshole, and I think you’re an idiot. IF you¬†voted for the GOP candidate,¬†I will never forgive you and you are not welcome in my life in any capacity. I will not work with you. You are not welcome in my house. We are not friends, and¬†cannot be friends. Yes, I realize that is ineffective at bridging the divide or whatever bullshit. Oh well. I don’t care what you think of me – I sincerely do not. History will judge you poorly, and you deserve every bit of it.

Videogames

Since the election, I’ve found myself a lot less interested in playing most games. I’m sick of shooting man-children yelling homophobic slurs online. I’m bored of stories where everything is shoot everybody. But I’m¬†also bored of stories where I walk from place to place and watch things happen. If I want a story, I’ve found more interesting content in movies and TV. If I want interaction, with extraordinarily little exception, the kinds of interaction I find in games is unsatisfying now. I like some strategy, I like word games. I still like the game we’re making, and a lot of it’s coming together in interesting ways. But most console stuff? Eh. I dunno. Titanfall 2 was excellent. Clever, inventive, and tight as a drum. I still need to finish Uncharted 4, which is something I didn’t expect I’d need to say. It had some really wonderful moments. But then I got to some “shoot everyone” section, and … eh.

I wonder what my future holds, in that regard. If Wonderspark doesn’t work out (and sadly, we’re getting close to the end of the runway), I don’t know what I’d do next. I don’t like most of what’s being made in my industry. Most of what people are making is just … boring. And I don’t think I could do something like Wonderspark again. If we don’t make it, it’s because… well, reasons. I’ll do some sort of post-mortem if we get to that point. In the meantime, we still have one more swing at the plate, and we’re devoting everything we’ve got to it.

Summary

Yeah, I think that’s the bulk of it at the moment. Mostly just a sort of state-of-the-world-induced malaise. It doesn’t bother me most of the time, because work and the kids demand my attention. But in the quiet moments… yeah.

 

Oakland

January 30th, 2017 by helava

I love Oakland.

The fact that Uber is going to be a mainstay of downtown Oakland’s tech scene, and probably one of Oakland’s biggest employers,¬†disgusts me. I don’t want them in my city. They don’t stand for what Oakland stands for.

Companies are, in a way, expressions of who their leaders are. Uber didn’t make a solid statement against the Muslim Ban because¬†Travis Kalanick is a piece of shit. Uber, as a company, behaves like garbage because it’s leadership is garbage. Character matters because there are so many pressures to grow in a situation like this – to put money and growth over everything. Some companies do exactly that – they scramble for every dollar without any concern for their role in a larger world.

Other companies actually¬†stand for something. And if you look, simply, at the difference between Uber and Lyft, there’s a clear difference in¬†character between the two companies that isn’t situationally-dependent. You can tell because those differences are consistent, and because they make the companies’ behavior¬†predictable. I’m not a fan of the “gig economy” in its current form. I think in practice, it’s exploitative across the board, though some do it better than others. But if you look a the difference between Lyft and Uber, you can see the difference character in leadership makes. One company might figure out how to make the “gig economy” work, because fundamentally, they believe in something that isn’t garbage. The other is Uber.

Off to a start.

January 30th, 2017 by helava

I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that if you’re not out of your mind, 2017 is off to a worse start than say, any other year in my lifetime. I’d taken a break from Facebook and Twitter after the election because I felt like that moment was as insane as things could possibly get. That enough people in the country voted for this guy was crazy, but at least it would get better because once he was in power, he’d have to moderate himself to get things done. Guess not. The theory was that at least the GOP would push him a little centrist, but I have no idea why anyone would have thought that, because in¬†practice, the GOP has now completely revealed itself to be utterly spineless, and to stand for nothing other than power and self-aggrandizement.

Sure, you get posturing – Marco Rubio saying he was maybe not gonna approve Tillerson, for instance – but when the chips come down, every single time, everyone in the GOP reveals themselves to be a spineless, gutless sycophant. Surprise. So you’ll forgive me if I don’t think that McCain and Graham’s announcement about their opposition to the Muslim Ban means a hill of beans until they actually¬†do something, which I fully expect they won’t.

And this all ties into something that’s been bugging me for the last few years, but has come into focus over the last few months.

It really doesn’t mean shit what anyone says. The¬†only thing that matters is what someone¬†does when it¬†means something.

I can talk about my ideals all day. If I betray them in the heat of the moment, my ideals are worthless. I can claim to be someone’s friend. Whether I¬†am or not depends on what I do when they’re suffering. Values without action don’t mean¬†shit. What you¬†actually¬†value is what you¬†do. That’s the¬†only meaningful expression of what you value, and there’s¬†no way to go back to your values being what you say if what you¬†do when it counts is different.

That’s¬†character. That’s¬†who you are. You either put up, and act like you say you will, or¬†shut the fuck up, you hypocrite.

There are, unfortunately, still a lot of people who will choose to believe what you say, which means people are rarely held to account for their actions. And this applies to both personal lives and to politics. It’s a shame. I get it, people don’t like to be confronted with the fact that some people are gutless. It happens. You get to know someone based on what they say they believe, and those beliefs are in practice, rarely actually put to the test.

So yeah – both in politics and in personal lives… don’t listen to the words. Look at the actions.

That’s¬†all that matters.