Monthly Archives: May 2011


I’ve played around with Git before. In fact, I used it when I was writing the code for the Chalkboard Manifesto redesign. Today, I looked through the Pro Git book to expand my knowledge more about Git. The internet is amazing: Free books! Well, I guess the library has that too, but I feel like it’s harder to get new stuff in the library than online.

I also read this article on the US Postal Service, The U.S. Postal Service Nears Collapse (h/t Andrew Sullivan). It details how the US Postal Service is in financial trouble. First class mail — the main source of revenue — is declining, which means the US Postal Service more and more on junk mail to keep it afloat. Even that, though, took a hit during the recession. In addition, the USPS spends a lot on worker benefits, and the government had to inject money to keep the USPS going. The article goes into how the USPS could emulate postal services in foreign countries (who were more successful in adapting to modern times) in order to save itself. However, the article seemed like it relied heavily on the testimony of Phillip Herr to make its points. Not that I want quote-both-sides “balance,” but neither am I going to take this article as gospel.

Well-informed Nonsense

Kevin Drum, in Mindshare vs. Demographics, links to a Gallup poll that shows people overestimating the percentage of guys in America. He surmises that people are overestimating because gay and lesbian issues are prominent in the news. Even though personal experience doesn’t support that, for example, 20% of people are gay, the amount of news coverage makes them believe it’s more. It’s similar to how people always think crime’s going up because that’s all they see in the news. (Let’s ignore recent news coverage of a drop in crime for now. If you want a better example, let’s compare how threatened people feel about terrorisms and random kidnappings despite the really low chances they’ll be affected by this.)

I don’t know if Kevin Drum is right. I haven’t talked to any of these people. I don’t know any data other than the numbers from a Gallup poll that I never looked at myself. (I’m apt to believe that the real answer is more complicated than Drum’s speculations.)

Still, I brought it up just to show how knowledge doesn’t necessarily come from finding more information or being well-informed. In fact, those who follow the news (especially cable news) closely can have a very distorted view of the world. News stories exploit our cognitive biases toward narration and the shocking.

In a similar vein, Jonah Lehrer also has an interesting story on the wisdom of crowds.1 When you ask a large group of people (one at a time) to estimate how many marbles are in a jar, the average answer can be very accurate. Apparently, people can cancel out each other’s wacky guesses. Cool. Someone recently performed an experiment where they modified this a bit. Instead of giving them a question and having them answer it individually and isolated, they let people see what the group was thinking. The answers became more inaccurate because of groupthink. The range of answers narrowed as people adjusted their guesses to the crowd. Even worse, the people were more confident in their answers when they saw what the group was thinking.

I find the last part more troubling. That adding more information can make us stupider is a problem enough as it is. That it makes people more confident is even worse. People can read the news, think they’re well-informed, and be more confident in their base of knowledge, but they may be worse off than someone who doesn’t pay attention to the news at all. But at least the person who doesn’t read the news knows that he doesn’t know anything about current events.

1Just want to make a note that I’m really annoyed that I have to summarize what’s here before commenting on it, but it’s good practice. I don’t want to be too lazy with my writing.

Lazy Day


I’m having trouble motivating myself to do anything today. I did one load of laundry and vacuumed half of my apartment. The rest of the time was taken up by Angry Birds. It’s a high-quality game, and I’m considering shelling out for the full application.

The sound effects are hilarious but not annoying, which I find an impressive touch.


I want to write more about technical things because those things take up more of my time. I’ll have to experiment with ways to do it that are less boring than straight forward how-to’s.

I’d really like to find partners/mentors for programming. Self-learning is great, but I do need some type of feedback when I’m learning things.

Lately, I’ve been working on a Ruby on Rails application called RackView. I’m just playing around with a way to replace an increasingly unwieldy Visio diagram of the racks of one of the labs at work. I’d like to share what I’ve done. I can’t do it now because all the code’s on a VM I installed on my work laptop. My work laptop is at… work. I prefer doing rails development on a Linux machine over a Windows machine, which is why it’s on a VM.


I read Game Frame and found it very disappointing. It’s supposed to go through and show how you can apply game mechanics to everyday life. I found it way too breezy to be useful. Anyway, it’s kind of soured me on a genre of books. I picked it up in the science section, but it’s more of a business/self-help book. I guess what attracted me to the book was that I like philosophies that can be put into practice. In general, I find the books I’ve been reading too shallow to be useful. I’m also going to be more careful about avoiding pop psychology books and anything written by a journalist.

The last 3 books I picked up were: a collection of DFW essays, How I Became Stupid, and The Bed of Procrustes. I already finished the last one listed, which is a book of aphorisms by Taleb. He’s got a great aphorism about business writers. I don’t have the book with me, so I can’t share it. Sorry. Haha.

I’m really excited to start reading How I Became Stupid. I originally read this in high school during my existentialism phase, and I really, really liked it. I’ve looked for this several times and couldn’t find it, so I’d concluded that I lost the book. Recently, I saw it at a bookstore in Berkeley, on top a stack of books. I decided it was fate, and I had to buy the book. I was worried that it wouldn’t hold up — The Myth of Sisphysus didn’t feel as brilliant the second time around — but the store clerk ringing me up said it was really good.

I have prided myself on buying interesting books (and I’ve been complimented on this). Many of the last books I’ve picked up have been duds, and I started to doubt my prowess. I think I can change this by leaning more towards literature and discounting recommendations from certain sources.

Working at Oracle

I found the following picture on Oracle’s website to be a very insightful window into their working conditions and hierarchy.

Java Developers are at the bottom of the food chain. They have to sit on the floor. I wonder if a pillar is available for everyone, or just the senior Java developers. Even so, I can’t imagine that this is ergonomically sound.

Database Admins are a step up. They at least get a pillow beneath their asses.

System Admins get to work on the limited number of stairs. I imagine that there are twenty other System Admins in a row behind that young man in the picture.

I had no idea that the recession had hit developers so hard.

However, Architects appear to be safe. They are sitting in cushy offices, controlling computers without the use of their hands or arms. They made out like bankers! Er, bandits.

I do hope Oracle can soon afford chairs for their developers.

Hitchens on the CIA

Today, I revisited what Hitchens wrote on the CIA in 2007:

And now we have further confirmation of the astonishing culture of lawlessness and insubordination that continues to prevail at the highest levels in Langley. At a time when Congress and the courts are conducting important hearings on the critical question of extreme interrogation, and at a time when accusations of outright torture are helping to besmirch and discredit the United States all around the world, a senior official of the CIA takes the unilateral decision to destroy the crucial evidence. This deserves to be described as what it is: mutiny and treason. Despite a string of exposures going back all the way to the Church Commission, the CIA cannot rid itself of the impression that it has the right to subvert the democratic process both abroad and at home. Its criminality and arrogance could perhaps have been partially excused if it had ever got anything right, but, from predicting the indefinite survival of the Soviet Union to denying that Saddam Hussein was going to invade Kuwait, our spymasters have a Clouseau-like record, one that they have earned yet again with their exculpation of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was after the grotesque estimate of continued Soviet health and prosperity that the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan argued that the CIA should be abolished. It is high time for his proposal to be revived. The system is worse than useless—it’s a positive menace. We need to shut the whole thing down and start again.

They got away with it. Just like Blackwater got away with the massacre of 17 Iraqi civilians on September 16, 2007. What a dark period in American history.

A new president… and these assholes still haven’t been brought to justice.

Facebook Won’t Let Me Share

There’s this option in facebook that allows me to use facebook as The Chalkboard Manifesto rather than Shawn McDonald. I’ve been taking advantage of this to share content with my fans. I’ll often click on the “Share” button on my website to post things on The Chalkboard Manifesto’s wall.

Yesterday, I found out that facebook has introduced some new feature or rather that doesn’t allow me to do this. It kicks me to roadblock.php and tells me “To access this page, you’ll need to switch from using Facebook as your page to using Facebook as yourself.”

Bullshit. I thought you were all about sharing, and now I can’t share content with my fans? What am I supposed to do? Copy the URL into facebook? What is this — the year 2000? Could you make this more difficult? Do you want me to put in the <a> tags too?

I need to send an e-mail to facebook that is decidedly less obnoxious than this blog post.

Hedgehog Syndrome

This blog entry won’t have any examples with specific citations because I don’t have my books with me right now. However, I want to share this idea down before I lose it. I hope that I can expand this idea later.

I find it annoying when a book covers one topic and claims that understanding this one topic will explain everything and radically transform the way you live your life. I got partway through a book on loneliness before I got annoyed. Similarly, a business book might hammer one little idea over and over, applying it to everything. Ugh. What they propose may be one useful tool, but I don’t need to it be the one idea that changes everything. Sometimes this is a less a book problem and more a blurb problem. The blurb tells you how this book explains everything, but the text itself isn’t as epistemically arrogant.

I don’t self-identify as a one-idea person. I find Platonic forms and perfection troubling. I’m not much of a system person either, although that’s another topic and I’ll explore that more at a later date.


It is strange that having too much to write about produces the same effect as having nothing to write about. That is, I end up not writing anything. I have a large backlog of links, but I haven’t posted them here.

Anyway, I wanted to post something on the killing of Osama bin Laden. Immediately before and after I heard the news, I was playing Portal 2. The news did not affect my playing in any fashion. My workweek wasn’t affected by this either. When I go to the airport, I will still have to take off my shoes and get the option of being electronically or physically groped.

The one thing different may be that I was slightly more annoyed than usual. It doesn’t annoy me that everyone needed to have an opinion, but it was annoying that everyone was so predictable.

I suppose I would like to find out what affect this might have on al Qaeda, but alas, all I can find are debates about whether we should release pictures of a dead bin Laden or not. Oh how quickly Obama went from being tough for finally getting bin Laden, to being soft for not releasing pictures. I’m too unsurprised to be outraged at how idiotic the media can be with these stupid storylines.

Oh wait, I was wrong. This did have some effect on my life. I had a comic ready for Wednesday that was rendered null by the death of bin Laden. You can’t very well make a joke about him being killed 2 years ago when he was killed the day before yesterday. I was able to post mock outrage on facebook, and then I posted a modified comic on the website.

I also a fantastic tweet: “CIA cracks into Osama’s laptop. Finds treasure trove of key intel plus 132 hours of cute kitten videos.” I was rather proud of that and may turn it into a comic.

By the way, expect to hear “treasure trove” a lot. Now that you will notice it, it will become annoying. Sorry.

Finally, I would like to note that some people are using the killing of bin Laden to justify torture. Those people are sick fucks.

UPDATE: Sorry, I couldn’t end it like this. I had one more joke to share. I had an idea for a terrible sketch comedy character. One that’s hilariously bad. Remember how the one mom on Mean Girls wanted to a be a “cool” mom? Well, there should be a terrorist who’s not like other terrorists… he’s a cool terrorist. His name is Osama bin Awesome.

That is all.