What am I reading? (January 2017)

I love browsing other peoples’ reading lists!

My culture tells me that reading books is something a respectable intellectual should do a lot of, but it’s been pretty far down the list of priorities ever since I had to seriously come to terms with the fact that sustaining a regular sleep and exercise schedule is key to holding off crippling depression. Well now I’m on a nomadic sabatical and there is time for books again!

When I was back home over winter holiday, my brother was dragging his face through a book club book he hated, with the explanation that he found fulfillment in figuring out exactly what it was about a book that he hated. So I started a spreadsheet about my feelings of all the things I’ve been reading, because I too love dissecting my feelings and analysing my reactions to a precise degree yet still having very little command of my emotional muscles and tendons (a duality of theory/execution understood by anyone who has tried learning handstands or the butterfly stroke).

Here I’ll clean up and publish the monthly spreadsheet book reviews for your browsing pleasure!

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Say it out loud to make it real. Promise to not use your powers for evil.

If you’ve ever criticised leadership in any way, you know how hard it can be to move a muscle against an invisible wall, endlessly high and dispassionately immense. When something seems wrong enough that you, a single tiny person in a big world machine, feel moved to action, you start doubting yourself. If this is so horrible, why hasn’t someone else already done something about it? Surely this would never be allowed to happen? When you open your mouth to tentatively voice your concerns everyone is suspiciously quick to violently agree. They already know it. Dysfunction is obvious. Action is hard. I’m a good person. I needed the experience. I needed the money. It was a good career move that couldn’t have come a moment sooner. All valid and important and so it is crucial that we act as an uncompromising unit.

Because tech companies won’t come out and say it, individuals in tech are signing a pledge that’s circulating the tech-o-sphere to remain diligent against misuse of user information and ethically questionable corporate maneuvers in light of recent political developments:

We have educated ourselves on the history of threats like these, and on the roles that technology and technologists played in carrying them out. We see how IBM collaborated to digitize and streamline the Holocaust, contributing to the deaths of six million Jews and millions of others.

http://neveragain.tech

Ok I have already learned something new today.

Friends, you are overwhelmingly like me: young, passionate, concerned. If you don’t want to commit yourself to a what is almost definitely a public watchlist, you don’t have to. Write it in your diary. Tell your friend over brunch. Do any small thing to make it real.

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representative governments are more important than ever

Sometimes I think about how many YEARS of schooling and discourse with friends and experts and self-studying it took me to read and understand the context of 1 sentence about science and I am filled with a huge amount of dread that the gap between the total amount of human knowledge and the amount of time a person has in this life for a sufficient overview to have a legit opinion is exploding out of control and we can never ever depend on referendums ever because individuals don’t and can’t have the time to know enough to decide everything (or maybe even anything).

signaling in tech is some fucked up shit

I am exactly as cool as I was before I started writing clojure.

I’ve had a short, short life as a programmer and I’ve spent a lot of it making websites. Back in the day (as in a couple years ago) when I told other software people I’m a web developer, I got treated like shit. I was a lower class of coder because I wasn’t “solving cool problems” because making web sites is easy. It was sad and confusing to receive unjustified hatred but I loved the internet and I thought it’s pretty neat to make things that everyone can use and I like the visual component to my projects so I’d just go secretly cry in the bathroom (cool tricked I learned in college) like an ordinary functioning adult.

Somewhere along the way there was a massive rebranding so then I was doing literally the same things but now I’m a Frontend Engineer or UI Engineer. Occasionally I’d still get trashed by other coders but that’s ok, I even get to sit with the other software folks sometimes!

I found web and design communities where people do good web things and encourage each other to be better. It’s cool. Love is out there.

A month or two ago I started picking up clojure. I don’t know why other people learn new programming languages, but I didn’t know anything about clojure’s rich history and I wasn’t chasing the Beauty of Lisp or the superior mindset it would teach me or hoping to harness the performance or flexibility. I had no fucking clue about any of that. I’d just started reading SICP because I missed computer science after bumping around in industryland, and it seemed trivial to swap scheme for clojure while doing the exercises in the book and end up being competent at a language I heard rumours that people use sometimes rather than a language I knew people used never.

And I liked it! It was my first lisp and yeah coming from javascript and python I liked the quaint syntax, and the way everything is all about these couple of data structures, and thinking functionally and non-mutably (word salad word salad). More significantly, I’d just left my previous job pretty much hating programming, and clojure was reminding me about why I like programming, and that was lovely. I noticed it was possible to use clojure to make UIs via clojurescript and figured it’d be a cool way to connect these two interests and go full circle.

I mentioned to some people I was learning clojure. Everyone was super into this. People started telling me I was really cool. I noticed people making all these wildly positive assumptions about my programming ability despite not having read a single line of code I’ve written ever. I instantly get elevated to a respect-worthy status for free and maybe for people who are used to being treated well that’s not a big deal, but coming from being treated like trash after telling people I am a web person the contrast was super intense and really obvious. I felt like I stumbled into a mystery bizarro-verse where you get dignity by default. It was SO WEIRD.

It’s fucked up that being interested in this random programming language, not even for the reasons the fangirls love it, suddenly caused everyone to start being nice to me when I’m in fact the same trash can that I’ve been all along. Coming upon the Correct Signal by accident made it all feel extra wrong and extra strange, like I killed a man and wore his skin for a suit and suddenly inherited all the achievements ever made in that body.

I know railing against signaling is itself a signal that I am a naive member of society who has yet to smash out of my youthful optimism chrysalis into the apathetic reality machine. Signaling is going to be there no matter what, because human nature. All I can do is reflect in stupid amazement at this experience and compel you to treat others with respect by default. Seriously.

everything I do feels so trite

civic guilt, cultural privilege, and a flurry of other lovely thoughts in the wake of USA election 2016.

I have never seen so many people publicly acknowledge being brought to tears.

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A week on the Swiss Via Alpina

daiyi unable to face the camera due to overwhelming beauty of alps

I spent a week walking the Via Alpina trail in Switzerland from late September to early October 2016. I inevitably collect cool thoughts and cool photos when I hike for 8 hours a day and have always wanted to write a trip report, but motivation/time is eaten when I rejoin society and work/school. I have neither of those responsibilities right now! Posts will be serialised under the Via Alpina category.

when you go to a fancy modern country to sleep on the side of the road

I love that the alps are super accessible (grandmas and dogs and babies all over the places, rails running out of every town to the top of every pass), and people go there specifically to enjoy the European charm and convenience of mountain cabins/huts. So of course I ignored all the modern comforts the country had to offer, wild camping and hitchhiking instead. I took one train, two hours from Zurich to my arbitrarily selected trailhead in Engelberg, which was a fresh and smooth experience that, like all the other Swiss things, put the quality of their counterparts in other countries to shame, but also used all my food budget for the month. It was lovely for being the only train I pay for my entire stay in Europe.

The trail was really developed and full of cows and people, so we got pretty creative about finding places to sleep! (Ominous foreshadowing music)

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I went to IndieWebCamp

or, justification for satisfying annual urge to completely revamp web presence.

I am inspired by the promises of an Indie Web. Owning your data, cool. A single source of truth to your content and identity, nice. Possibility of sinking countless hours into configuring your own corner of the internet, ok you got me there.

I’m hearing some rattling in my internet social spheres about how content silos are making the internet more homogeneous, forcing you to conform and contort your thoughts into prescribed formatting, that force of nature that causes experts in their fields to blast out 50-part tweetstorms that should be written in an article instead. Hey you sound exactly like the indiewebcamp people!

Go check it out. They’re nice, too (:

personal minutia

This is going to be a static site because it is just a blog; if I am generating enough content to need a database behind it I should probably be getting paid for it. Fun fact: in middle school, my diary was a series of .txt files.

I know everyone and github is really into jekyll, but I decided to use hexo to generate my static site for the following reasons:

  • I’m a node developer (bring on the hate) who is too lazy to install ruby stuff on my computer.
  • hexo’s developer community is surprisingly full of chinese people. I am forced to face my illiteracy and read a lot of chinese. It will be good practice :D

Speaking of which, I’m pretty surprised I don’t encounter a lot more chinese developers on the internet, seeing as how there’s a lot of cool people and technology in china. It seems the Great Firewall runs deep.

Cool, hopefully you can see some longform appear here in the near future! Or this will devolve back into a nature photoblog (I’ll keep that going on my tumblr). Either way.