October 30, 2008

Why Do We Procrastinate?

Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 2:53 pm

it occurred to me last night, failing to sleep due to an earlier nap gone wrong, that I use procrastination in a way that differs from most people: without it, I’d never pass any classes.

let me expalin: (I’m going to leave that typo right there.)

when I was in my first years at college, I had at least half a dozen projects that I poured my heart and mind into, and at the end of the day I didn’t have an ounce of energy (more accurately: time) for classwork. classwork was uninteresting, mundane, and unoriginal, while the projects I was working on were new, technically interesting, and highly engaging.

so I quickly failed out of school.

with the benefit of analysis and retrospect, I pretty much ADDed myself to death working on shiny things and ignoring the stuff that didn’t appeal to me, and the reliable way to avoid this is to prohibit working on projects that aren’t on the critical path to the most immediately goal (graduation). unfortuately, the improvement is good at best, because that doesn’t make me want to do the work any more than I would have. some night when a paper is imminently due, I’ll procrastinate until midnight or later, but at least I won’t forget that it’s due. after an all-nighter, the end result is that a paper got done where it wouldn’t have otherwise.

unfortunately, this also serves to steer me into a rut, as I can clearly see my overall productivity spiral downwards during the week when I really need it to soar. my only respite is that there are no assignments that span weekends, leaving me time to decompress and work on interesting things.

the projects are piling up, and just like in 2002 no matter how I try to spruce it up and rationalize, it boils down to a lack of discipline. damn.

October 28, 2008

Workflow? More Like Workarounds.

Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 5:39 am

let’s get right out and say it: the problem with the application-centric model of Mac OS X is that it’s a flawed solution chasing a worthy end. each application does something, and in Mac OS (classic), applications usually aligned well with tasks. thus Mac OS has traditionally been application centric in an attempt to also be task-centric. this worked well, The People were Pleased.

but then the web got huge, so browsers became one application used for multiple tasks (Fluid could be considered a workaround for this problem).

then OS X shipped, and we got a terminal, which I used for everything. about this time I also got seriously interested in code, so my editors (vim in Terminal, TextMate, and XCode) would commonly represent a half dozen or more tasks at once.

now, using this wanna-be task-centric system is a usability nightmare. the objective that was once in grasp has since been lost, and there’s no visible movement towards a fix.

thus, my life became one of workarounds in an attempt to return to a task-based life. Spaces (released in 10.5.0) is a phenomenal advancement towards task-centric living again; you can put each task on a different virtual desktop, which increases focus and decreases clutter. unfortunately, until they added the checkbox of justice (added in 10.5.3), it was totally unusable because switching applications would often fling me into another Space – the realm of another task – completely ruining my workflow while I sat staring at my monitor, temporarily stunned.

ok, checkbox of justice set correctly, but now I have two browsers on this space where I’m working on TMBO. one is the site itself, where I’m hammering smooth the trainwreck that is my UI prototyping (really, I’m the least qualified person to do some of the things I do), the other window(s) is(are) documentation for the various things I’m trying to do. unfortunately, using loopy-tab just puts me on Webkit, whose topmost window may or may not be what I want. while I’m at it, the dozen other applications that are open on the system are showing up in the loopy-tab list, even though they aren’t present in this task’s scope, further cluttering up my brain.

in desperation, I began using Witch. Witch has a lot of potential, but in reality it’s not a great workaround for my problem, crippled by an impenetrable WindowServer and being non-proactive in its data collection. if an application goes critical somewhere and I try to invoke Witch, the UI doesn’t appear immediately. it doesn’t even appear after a short lag. while we wait, it polls for windows, and we end up waiting for the application that’s spinning to time out or return to normal – a total switching buzz-kill. by then I’ve already used my mouse (ugh) and have moved on, at which point suddenly Witch comes back to life, switching my active window, leaving my workflow interrupted.

it’s not all bad though. Witch has options to only present you with windows on your current Space (well, Witch was forward compatible with Spaces in that the option really only shows visible windows), and the result is almost exactly what you want when all systems are responding properly (ok, maybe it’s a little ugly).

too bad I can’t bind it to loopy-tab, because it’s a super-special key command that the system won’t share, like a screaming child during playtime.

the problems aren’t all system-based, I guess. applications like Twitterific, the least wretched desktop Twitter app I can find, don’t help – its window doesn’t show up in Witch because it prefers to operate from my menu bar (diediediediedie) and this further hurts my quest for an organized and sensical environment.

but that’s fixable (write a better twitter client). I can’t rewrite

you know what, if there are any Dock team members reading this post, I would like to work on your team. my project: fix the switcher to work on a per-window basis in an intelligent, configurable (and pretty. pretty is good too.) way. call me.

October 27, 2008

Minimizing Real-Life NMIs

Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 5:38 am

So, I spent some time two weeks ago with Rasmus Lerdorf (of PHP fame) as he was at UCSD as part of Yahoo!’s Hack Day competition. He was straightforward, even-keeled, smart, and honourable. One thing that stood out in our interactions was people’s reaction to him not carrying a phone (shock, awe, ponderings as to how he lives his life were common responses). When asked why he opposed mobile phones (over and over), his answer was invariably that he didn’t like the idea of being at someone else’s beck and call, which is what a cell phone enables.

And I have to say that I understand his sentiment, but don’t agree with the result. I never want to work a job where I’m on call at odd hours on odd days, but I have a phone, and think it’s brilliant. What’s the difference? Sometimes I do like being available, and when I don’t, I switch the phone to silent, which (for me) includes disabling the vibrator (making calls, SMS, and email truly non-interrupting).

So, I still don’t quite understand why you wouldn’t have a phone when it lets you call out at any time and add internet access to your mobile life, while allowing you to passively reject incoming calls, other than ethical objections to the telecommunicatins companies (a very valid objection. in the timeless words of ozzloy: “How is this legal?”).

Anyway, it was great meeting you guys, and I hope we meet again soon.

Fetch Me my Shoehorn.

Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 4:37 am

maybe I came off a little bit as a religion hater in my last post on prop 8, but after a little thinking, I think I’ve come up with a better argument; certainly one that both sides can probably agree with. I found the real root of the problem: an obvious lack of separation between church and state.


Apple views this as a civil rights issue, rather than just a political issue, and is therefore speaking out publicly against Proposition 8.”

they’re right. in a (larger) nutshell:

marriage. church and state both call it the same thing, and in this campaign the church is operating on the principle that a “marriage” is equivalent between both church and state, regardless of when or how they were performed, so the government shouldn’t sanction marriages that the church would not sanction. however, this assumption shouldn’t be made in the first place, it’s fallacious.

here’s an easy solution. gays don’t care about the church by and large (all the gays I know are *very* strong atheists), and the church shouldn’t be acting against the rights of others (why else would we call them rights?), so why not instantiate a split between church and state?

one of them can keep the word marriage (to make things easier: the church, to appease them) and the state can have their own thing, where you get all the government-sponsored benefits of marriages today. see? all fixed. the church can have their religion-supported marriages and morals and stuff, and the gays can have their tax breaks and spousal health insurance.

if it were possible for my girlfriend and me to get a domestic partnership instead of a marriage, I would cut the church one little bit more out of my life. equal rights, guys!

The Grass is Not Always Greener

Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 12:42 am

why do we look at other people’s jobs, relationships, our own lives, and see how great things could have been if we’d made different choices? why can’t we be happy with our current situations?

this is the classic “grass is greener on the other side of the fence” problem, and in its most basic sense is really based on us seeing mostly the positive aspects (at least, not all the negatives) of other situations while knowing the all aspects of our current situations. hypothetically, and setting social constraints aside, why don’t we leave our wives for supermodels when given the possibility?

I think the answer is best explained with a financial analogy, but I’ll have to twist it a little, so bear with me (and my more-reckless-than-normal use of parentheticals). to model the relationships-like-stocks metaphor, let’s consider relationships to be like stocks with a constant price, but each have a varying value.

you marry someone. they’re pretty cool, and you get along well. you’ve now bought one stock of wife. congratulations!

domestically, you adapt to each others’ quirks and learn to work with each other (for example, I like to cook, and I dislike doing laundry). stock appreciates.

you weather some tragedy together, strengthening your bond. stock appreciates.

hopefully wife is pretty awesome and the relationship has mostly appreciated. now a supermodel comes around, and she’s way more comely than your wife.

now what, sell the wife and buy a supermodel? not necessarily; the grass-is-greener problem doesn’t consider the cost of starting from scratch with relationships. so what if it’s true that if you’d started with supermodel instead of wife in the beginning, your total “score” would be higher now? that option wasn’t available then, and if you do the switch now, you’ll be taking a loss both immediately and (probably) not making it back in the future. most of the time the grass-is-greener problem is just a logical fallacy.

there’s also the problem of risk. even if supermodel’s apparent worth is higher than your current relationship including all the value added over time, you have a lot of risk to factor. what if supermodel also has severely unappealing qualities that just aren’t observable from the outside? (it’s hard to research stocks) and there’s also no guarantee that this new investment will appreciate at all.

as an aside, it’s true that the financial analogy works the other way, too. say you have an old friend and they sabotage you, or do otherwise unfriendly things. the market on that investment crashes, and it’s worth it to sell. people-investments can go into negative values – having no friend is better than having a friend that will constantly go out of their way to hurt you.

people and social settings in general are a lot less volatile than the financial markets, and people don’t tend to fundamentally change quickly (when they do, it’s not very hard to make a snap-decision), so this problem isn’t very hard as long as you’re observant. your oldest (and hopefully most successful) investments are also most likely to retain their value over time, so avoid new opportunities that would destroy them.

this works for almost any sort of choice you can make, employers included (a company is really just a collection of people). if you want to make the financial analogy even more lifelike, consider that dividends are possible, where a friend introduces you to someone else, who also becomes your friend.

October 22, 2008

How did we get to this point?

Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 5:37 am

There were people demonstrating in favour of California Proposition 8 today at school. They were advocating it because being gay is wrong and this is a way to prevent people from successfully being gay. or something. The logic was so twisted, and the rhetoric so hateful, that I just had to come in here to draw you a direct analogy.

Let’s imagine a different election, where there’s a proposition on the ballot that forbids Catholics from marrying.

“How could that ever get to the ballot?!” I hear you interrupt. Trust me, I know how you feel. I can not understand how something like that made it on a ballot this year either.

Back to the example, I find this to be a reasonable analogy, because I think that Catholicism is sinful and wrong, and the last thing we need is to be raising children in such a homogeneous and closed-minded environment. But I’ll let you practice it. Even in public. Even married. I’d never support forcefully taking away your right to practice being wrong, that’s something for you to discover on your own. Even if you never come around, as long as you’re not hurting anyone then there’s really no loss on the grand scale of things.

So what gives us the right to permanently restrict the rights of same-sex couples? If you believe gays are wrong for what they do, removing their rights is not a way to make them see the light and recognize the error of their ways, it will only alienate them more from your organized cult. This isn’t a case of what’s right and what’s wrong, it’s a case of human rights. Everyone has the right to be wrong. In fact, I posit that most people exercise this right – it’s what brings us ballot initiatives like this.

I think that putting the church’s tax-exempt status up for vote is more valid than Prop 8.

Prop 8 is a hateful attempt at gay reform and it deserves to lose by a landslide. It’s unbelievable that we’d even consider writing something so flagrantly unconstitutional into the constitution itself.

October 20, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 5:47 am

I’d never actually succumbed to Wikipedia link-following until this weekend, when I followed a link from a professor about Maxwell’s Demon when I woke up on Saturday.

It’s now 11pm Sunday, and thanks to some scripting, I can show you what transpired:

digraph wikiweekend
      "Iron_Lung" -> "Ondine%27s_curse";
      "Maxwell's_demon" -> "Vortex_tube";
      "Maxwell's_demon" -> "Richard_Feynmann" -> "Richard_Feynman";
         "Richard_Feynman" -> "Michelle_Feynman";
         "Richard_Feynman" -> "Carl_Feynman";
         "Richard_Feynman" -> "Feynman_diagram";
      "Maxwell's_demon" -> "Laplace%27s_demon";
         "Laplace%27s_demon" -> "Interpretations_of_quantum_mechanics";
      "Maxwell's_demon" -> "Joule-Thomson_effect";
      "Maxwell's_demon" -> "Gibbs_paradox";
         "Gibbs_paradox" -> "John_von_Neumann";
            "John_von_Neumann" -> "Austro-Hungarian_Compromise_of_1867";
            "John_von_Neumann" -> "Institute_for_Advanced_Study";
               "Institute_for_Advanced_Study" -> "J._Robert_Oppenheimer";
                  "J._Robert_Oppenheimer" -> "Bhagavad_Gita";
                  "J._Robert_Oppenheimer" -> "Wall_Street_Crash_of_1929";
                     "Wall_Street_Crash_of_1929" -> "Dead_cat_bounce";
                     "Wall_Street_Crash_of_1929" -> "Rockefeller_family";
                     "Wall_Street_Crash_of_1929" -> "Great_Depression";
                  "J._Robert_Oppenheimer" -> "Lewis_Strauss";
            "John_von_Neumann" -> "Albert_Einstein";
               "Albert_Einstein" -> "Photoelectric_effect";
                  "Photoelectric_effect" -> "Heinrich_Rudolf_Hertz";
                  "Photoelectric_effect" -> "Compton_scattering";
                  "Photoelectric_effect" -> "Pair_production";
                     "Pair_production" -> "Strangeness_(particle_physics)";
                     "Pair_production" -> "Electron-positron_annihilation";
                        "Electron-positron_annihilation" -> "Feynman_diagram";
                  "Photoelectric_effect" -> "Nikola_Tesla";
                     "Nikola_Tesla" -> "War_of_Currents";
                        "War_of_Currents" -> "Great_Blizzard_of_1888";
                        "War_of_Currents" -> "Lord_Kelvin";
                        "War_of_Currents" -> "Mercury_arc_valve";
                     "Nikola_Tesla" -> "Vacuum_tube";
                     "Nikola_Tesla" -> "Geissler_tube";
                        "Geissler_tube" -> "Crookes_tube";
                        "Geissler_tube" -> "Cathode_ray_tube";
                        "Geissler_tube" -> "Xenon_arc_lamp";
                     "Nikola_Tesla" -> "Mark_Twain";
                  "Photoelectric_effect" -> "Electrostatic_levitation";
               "Albert_Einstein" -> "Critical_opalescence";
               "Albert_Einstein" -> "Brownian_motion";
               "Albert_Einstein" -> "Classical_unified_field_theories";
                  "Classical_unified_field_theories" -> "World_War_I";
                  "Classical_unified_field_theories" -> "World_War_II";
               "Albert_Einstein" -> "Critique_of_Pure_Reason";
               "Albert_Einstein" -> "Mass–energy_equivalence";
                  "Mass–energy_equivalence" -> "Max_Planck";
                  "Mass–energy_equivalence" -> "Photon";
                     "Photon" -> "Feynman_diagram";
                     "Photon" -> "Hadron";
               "Albert_Einstein" -> "Max_Planck";
                  "Max_Planck" -> "July_20_plot";
               "Albert_Einstein" -> "Einstein_refrigerator";
                  "Einstein_refrigerator" -> "Absorption_refrigerator";
               "Albert_Einstein" -> "Niels_Bohr";
                  "Niels_Bohr" -> "Rescue_of_the_Danish_Jews";
                  "Niels_Bohr" -> "Bohr-Einstein_debates";
               "Albert_Einstein" -> "Bohr-Einstein_debates";
                  "Bohr-Einstein_debates" -> "Nonlocality";
                     "Nonlocality" -> "Bell_test_experiments";
                     "Nonlocality" -> "Copenhagen_interpretation";
                  "Bohr-Einstein_debates" -> "Interpretation_of_quantum_mechanics";
                     "Interpretation_of_quantum_mechanics" -> "Copenhagen_interpretation";
               "Albert_Einstein" -> "Baruch_Spinoza#Philosophy";
               "Albert_Einstein" -> "Labor_Zionism";
               "Albert_Einstein" -> "Adolf_Hitler";
                  "Adolf_Hitler" -> "Eva_Braun";
                     "Eva_Braun" -> "Geli_Raubal";
                     "Eva_Braun" -> "Renate_Müller";
                  "Adolf_Hitler" -> "Geli_Raubal";
                  "Adolf_Hitler" -> "Papal_dispensation";
                  "Adolf_Hitler" -> "Ernst_Röhm";
                  "Adolf_Hitler" -> "Reichstag_fire";
                  "Adolf_Hitler" -> "1936_Summer_Olympics";
                  "Adolf_Hitler" -> "Mefo_bills";
                  "Adolf_Hitler" -> "Manchukuo";
                  "Adolf_Hitler" -> "Joseph_Stalin";
                     "Joseph_Stalin" -> "Vladimir_Lenin";
                        "Vladimir_Lenin" -> "Pogrom";
                     "Joseph_Stalin" -> "Nikolai_Yezhov";
                     "Joseph_Stalin" -> "Vyacheslav_Molotov";
               "Albert_Einstein" -> "Werner_Heisenberg";
               "Albert_Einstein" -> "Albert_Einstein%27s_brain";
            "John_von_Neumann" -> "Kurt_Gödel";
               "Kurt_Gödel" -> "Gottfried_Leibniz";
                  "Gottfried_Leibniz" -> "Isaac_Newton";
                  "Gottfried_Leibniz" -> "Charles_Babbage";
                     "Charles_Babbage" -> "Computer_History_Museum";
                     "Charles_Babbage" -> "Ada_Lovelace";
            "John_von_Neumann" -> "Minimax_theorem";
            "John_von_Neumann" -> "Nuclear_weapon_design";
               "Nuclear_weapon_design" -> "Trinity_test";
                  "Trinity_test" -> "Enrico_Fermi";
                  "Trinity_test" -> "Trinitite";
               "Nuclear_weapon_design" -> "Tsar_Bomba";
                  "Tsar_Bomba" -> "Toba_catastrophe_theory";
               "Nuclear_weapon_design" -> "Allotropes_of_plutonium";
               "Nuclear_weapon_design" -> "Operation_Sandstone";
               "Nuclear_weapon_design" -> "W88";
                  "W88" -> "Los_Alamos_National_Laboratory";
                     "Los_Alamos_National_Laboratory" -> "The_Black_Hole_(Los_Alamos)";
               "Nuclear_weapon_design" -> "Lawrence_Berkeley_National_Laboratory";
                  "Lawrence_Berkeley_National_Laboratory" -> "Cyclotron";

I learned a lot about theoretical nuclear physics (and physicists), history in the 1880s -> 1940s, economics, and a little about quantum theory (although it’s still frightening). Next time: vacuum electronics and quantum physics. Still got a lot of tabs open, but it’s time to call it a weekend.

This weekend’s travels on Wikipedia were especially notable in that I was able to avoid the math side of wikipedia, retaining large amounts of sanity.

October 10, 2008

I really need to graduate…

Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 9:59 pm

In the spirit of 72 Things Younger Than McCain, here’s a list of things at UCSD younger than my tenure as a student:

  • Tritonlink
  • UCSD’s Web2.0site
  • CSE Building
  • Pepper Canyon Hall
  • the ERC Campus
  • 6th College
  • Hopkins Garage
  • lame Sun God Festivals
  • El Mercado
  • Old Student Center Expansion
  • Price Center Expansion
  • Porters Pub’s Management
  • President Dynes
  • Chancellor Fox

Create a free website or blog at