6/27/2013

06-27-13 - Some Media Reviews

Light Asylum - umm, yeah, amazing. Light Asylum is a modern band that recreates the 80's goth industrial sound. It's perfect, tinny synths, that bad operatic singing, it's exactly like what the kid who painted his finger nails black listened to. So, long story: every few months I just go see what the hip kid websites are recommending and download all their favorite stuff, then I gradually get around to listening to it. About a year or so I got Light Asylum and put it in my playlist. The first time it played I was like "WTF this is awful" and skipped it. But I was lazy and left it in my playlist. Then over the next few months, once in a while I would listen to something else (mainly "Hooray for Earth" and Grizzly Bear's Shields) and Light Asylum was after those in the PL order so it would drift into there. I would be in the other room and not skip it immediately and I started thinking "this is hillariously bad, but kind of addictive". Flash forward and now I can't get enough of it, I'm listening to it over and over. In every objective way it's just awful; the beats are repetitive, the songs are very basic and don't go anywhere, the singing is terrible, but somehow that's all just right. (I think "IP" is the best example; it's so boiled down and repetitive, and the "25 to liiiiife" is just awful, but wow it works). Amazing.

Top of the Lake - great. My first impression was "bleh it's just The Killing in New Zealand, not this shit again". But it's much better than that. It's intense, the character development is superb, it's hard to watch, you really hate some people and are afraid of what might happen, which means they're doing something right. It is also a bit disappointing in the end; there are some weird Lynchian tones hinted at early on, making me think it might drift into a semi-Twin-Peaks territory and it never develops that thread. And the last episode really sucks; all the episodes before the last are slow and develop things gradually and beautifully, and the last one just wraps everything up neatly in a rushed way. Totally worth watching. It did all feel a bit disjointed, as most modern TV shows do, like they were writing it as they went along without a great overall plan, and it had a lot more promise than it delivered, but still just way more real and powerful than almost anything else on TV.

The Fall - meh, good. Totally straightforward BBC-style crime serial. Not really anything interesting about it, hey there's some crime and some detectives, with no particular twist or local character, but it's very well made, the acting is good, it looks beautiful. Watchable.

Nobody Walks - underrated; simple little obvious movie, but nicely done; it flows well, some good little moments of human interaction. It's right in the early-Lena-Dunham wheelhouse of disfunctional upper class intellectual families.

BBC Storyville - "The Road" - really well done slice of life doc. I love this kind of thing; reminds me of "The Tower". Sad and beautiful, this world.

Endeavour - old-school BBC style detective show, in the sense that it's sort of charming but the "mysteries" are totally retarded, the local characters are shallow stereotypes, and it sets you up from the beginning to let you know what you're going to get and then gives it to you. It's like a warm bowl of milk and a cardigan, very comforting. I think it's great, carried by the delightful Shaun Evans and Roger Allam.

Out of the Wild - trash reality show survival thing, but I'm a sucker for this and found it addicting. Better than Survivorman or Man vs Wild for my taste. The group dynamic is pretty interesting and much nicer than the typical vote-them-off reality format.

Crap : Orphan Black, The White Queen, Silver Linings Playbook, Rectify, lots of other crap that doesn't bear mentioning.

Lots of good food docs on Netflix right now. "Three Stars" is the best, really superb, but I also enjoyed "Step Up to the Plate", and "A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt", both interesting.

6/19/2013

06-19-13 - Baby Blues

I had my first real day of "baby blues" a few days ago.

Baby gets these bouts of colic that I believe are mostly from gas. When she has it, she can't stand to be horizontal, and really just wants to be held over the shoulder and patted. That's okay for a while, but sometimes it goes for an hour, which is exhausting. Most days it only happens once, but rarely it occurs over and over throughout the day.

We had a pretty bad day, and I found myself just losing my mind. You get so hungry and tired, but you can't take a break, and you start thinking "shut the fuck up! WTF do you want god dammit". In a real bad moment I started getting these weird impulses "like maybe if I throw the baby on the floor it will shut up" or "maybe shaking a baby isn't that bad". And then you just have to go whoah, keep it together, calm down.

It made me realize that if I was somewhat more irresponsible, more prone to rage, or less in control of myself, I easily could shake a baby, or one of those awful other things that people do (just lock it in a room to cry itself out, or give it booze, or whatever).

In fact it made me sort of understand those moms that kill their children, or the dads that go out for cigarettes and never come back. There's this feeling that these fucking kids are ruining your life and you can't do anything about it and you're going to be stuck with them for the next 18 years and there's this sudden feeling of helpless desperation. I can sympathize with the impulse, but of course that's where being an adult with some self control comes in.

I'm in awe of the women who had to take care of their kids all alone, with no help from their selfish misogynist husband that wouldn't touch a diaper or cook for the family, and appalled at those husbands.

Part of my thinking in having a baby was that I understood perfectly well that I would lose going out to eat, and travel, and pretty much every activity out of the house. And I'm okay with that, because those things fucking suck anyway. I don't understand what old single people do. I feel like I've done pretty much everything (*) there is to do in this life, and I don't need to keep doing the same shit over and over. I'm fine with losing all of that. But I do miss the ability to just have a quiet moment for myself, especially at the end of the day when I'm exhausted and frazzled.

(* = obviously not actually everything, nor everything that I want to do; what I have done is everything that's *easy* to do, which is all that normal people ever do. Things like going to restuarants and driving cars on race tracks and skydiving and travel and watching movies - how fucking boring and pathetic is all of that, don't you have any creativity? That's just the easy default consumerist way to waste your time - pay some money and get some superficial kicks. The actual good activities are things like : make your own internet comedy, assassinate an evil politician, find sponsors and be a motorcycle racer, go horseback camping on your own across the Russian steppe. But everyone's just too lazy and boring to ever do anything good with their life, and so am I. So just have a kid.)

One thing I've realized is that a good parent is never annoyed; a good parent never says "not now". You need to be always able to drop what you're doing, or get up off the couch and help your kid. I've always been the kind of person who has moments where I'll socialize and other times when I really want to be left alone, and if someone tries to talk to me during the left alone time I'm really pissy at that them. That's not okay for a parent, you can't be pissy at your kid because they talked to you when you're tired or hungry or trying to work.

(I suppose this is related to a realization I had some time ago, which is if you believe you are a nice person except when you are tired or hungry or cranky or busy or having a bad day - you're not a nice person. Your character is how you behave in the difficult times.)

A good parent doesn't only love their children when they're behaving well. If you only like them when they're being quiet and happy, you're an asshole. A good dad has unconditional love that is not taken away when they misbehave; if anything you need to have more kindness in your heart when they're bad, because that's when they need it from you the most. Don't be a pissy little selfish whiney baby who's like "whaah the kids are being jerks to me so I'm justified in yelling at them or just running away to my office". You're the adult, you're supposed to be the bigger person than them. (in fact a good adult treats other adults the same way)

I really miss sleeping. I'm getting way more sleep than my wife, but it's still just not enough; I suppose the draining hard work of caring for baby is part of the problem, I really need even more sleep than usual and instead I'm getting less. I can feel my brain is not working the way it used to, and that feels horrible.

Maybe most of all I miss being able to have a moment where I know I don't have to do anything. So I can finally stop working, so I can let down my guard and just relax and know I'm not going to get have to start up the diesel engine again. I may never have that again in my life, because kid issues can occur at any time; you can't knock yourself out on heroin anymore; you never get that time when you know you can just shut off your brain. Parents have to be always-on, and that's just exhausting.

I guess one of the problems for me is that I give my all to work; I don't stop working for the day until I feel completely drained, like I have nothing left, and then I just can't deal with any more tasks, I need to crash, be left alone. That's been a shitty thing for me to do my whole life; it's been shitty to my girlfriends and wife that I get home from work and just have no energy for them, but perhaps even more so it's been shitty to myself. Even morons (smarter than me) who work retail or whatever know that you shouldn't give all your energy to the stupid job; of course you should be texting your friends while you work, planning your night's activities, and when you get off work you shouldn't be drained, you should have energy to hang out, be nice to people, have a life outside of work. Anyway, when there's a whole mess of baby work to be done when you get off work; you really can't afford to work 'til you drop.

In other shitty-but-true news : if I was hiring programmers, and I had the choice between a dad and a single guy, I would not hire the dad. They would have to be massively better to compensate for the drain of children. Only young single guys will stupidly throw away their lives on work the way a manager really wants.

6/18/2013

06-18-13 - How to Work

Reminder to myself, because I've gotten out of the habit. In the months before baby I had developed a pretty good work pattern and I want it back.

There is only full-on hard work, and away-from-computer restorative time. Nothing in between.

1. When working, disable internet. No browsing around. If you have a long test run or something, usually it's not actually blocking and you can work on something else while it goes, but if it is blocking then just walk away from the computer, get your hands off the machine, do some stretching.

2. No "easing into it". This is a self-indulgence that I can easily fall into, letting myself start slowly in the morning, and before I know it it's close to noon. When you start you just fucking start.

3. If you're tired and can't keep good posture when working, stop working. Go sleep. Work again when you're fresh.

4. Whenever you aren't working, don't do anything that's similar to work. No computer time. Fuck computers, there's nothing good to see on there anyway. Just walk away. Avoid any activity that has your hands in front of your body. Try to spend time with your arms overhead and/or your hands behind your back.

5. When you feel like you need to work but can't really focus, don't substitute shitty work like paying bills or online shopping or fiddling around cleaning up code pointlessly, or whatever that makes you feel like you're doing something productive. You're not. Either fucking get over it and work anyway, or if you really can't then walk away.

6. Be defensive of your good productive time. For me it's first thing in the morning. Lots of forces will try to take this away from you; you need to hold baby, you need to commute to go to the office. No no no, this is the good work time, go work.

7. Never ever work at a laptop. Go to your workstation. If you feel your ergonomics are bad, do not spend one second working in the bad position. Fix it and then continue.

8. Set goals for the day; like "I'm going to get X done" not just "I'm going to work on X for a while" which can easily laze into just poking at X without making much progress.

9. When you decide to stop working for the day, be *done*. No more touching the computer. Don't extend your work hours into your evening with pointless trickles of super-low-productivity work. This is easier if you don't use any portable computing device, so just step away from the computer and that's it.

10. Avoid emotional disturbances. Something like checking email in the morning should be benign, but if there's a 10% chance of it makes you pissed off, that's a big negative because it lingers as a distraction for a while. I've basically stopped reading any news, and I think it's a big life +EV and certainly productivity +EV.

6/06/2013

06-06-13 - Baby Misc

You're old when you it takes you a while to remember how old you are.
You're older when you have to do the math from your birth year to figure it out.
You're really old when you have to do the math and get it wrong.
You're really really old when you do the math, get it wrong, and insist you're right despite everyone else in the room telling you a different number.

Pooping baby looks like an alternating sequence of Angry Andy Richter :

and O-face Gollum :

(baby made me realize that Andy Richter looks just like a giant baby)

On TV you always hear people gushing about that "great baby smell" , like mmm let me stick my nose in and smell that baby. WTF there's no great baby smell. I suppose what those people like is the smell of Johnson&Johnson shampoo and baby powder (both of which are rather out of fashion now). In our house we always try to avoid scented products (the better to smell you by), so our baby gets none of those. The real natural baby smell is mainly sour milk. Milk vomit, milk spitup, milk poos, spilled milk. Yum. It's mixed in with a faint whiff of that really nasty toe-jam funk, because babies have all these awkward fat folds and no matter how thoroughly we bathe her, we seem to miss some fold or other that accumulates crud.

One of the baby diaper-changing suggestions is "make sure to wipe front to back so that you don't spread poo towards the genitals". Umm, have you ever seen a baby diaper? It's like someone set off a poo grenade in there; there's poo everywhere; it's leaking out the top of the diaper, it's way deep inside the vagina. Oh, let me carefully wipe all that poo from front to back, ok, that'll make it all fine.

Baby is finally starting to spend some time awake that's not just eating or burping. That's kind of nice, she is starting to make some more expressive "eh"'s ; the other day she head-tracked her mom across the room when she was hungry for the first time.

Before baby was born IC made this note to me that "babies are boring", that I thought was charmingly honest. Yep, it's true, babies are boring as fuck. Sure they're cute and all, but there's just endless hours of feeding, burping, rocking; yeah, yeah, baby I've seen your cute arm waving before, just go to sleep already so I can do something else. At first I was kind of trying not to watch TV while holding baby or just put her in a mechanical rocker, I thought it was better to engage and talk to her and play with her and such, but now I say fuck it, there's just too much time to kill.

There's a sort of Stockholm Syndrome with babies. They're so hard in the first few weeks, constantly demanding attention, that it makes you grateful when they do the most basic things. Like, oh great baby overlord, thank you so much for sleeping for 3 hours in the evening, we are so grateful for your kindness. It's like the classic dick boss/dad trick of being really shitty to people so that if you are just halfway decent they love you for it.

6/04/2013

06-04-13 - Reader Replacement

Can anyone suggest a good Reader replacement? (WTF Google, seriously).

I tried a few of the Win32 RSS Readers and absolutely hated them; they all tried to be too fancy and out-feature each other. I don't want anything that has its own built-in html renderer. I certainly don't want you to recommend related feeds to me or anything like that. I just want a list of my RSS subscriptions and show me the ones with unread updates, then I'll click it and you can open the original page in Firefox. (even Google Reader is too fancy for my taste; I don't like the in-Reader view of the feed, which often renders wrong; just open the source page in a new tab).

(actually I suppose I don't really care for RSS at all; don't send me the text of an update, all I want is a date stamp of last update so I can see when it changes).

Anyway, suggestions please.

Also if someone knows a webmail + spam filter that can integrate with a POP3 reader, I would drop gmail too, and be happy about my pointless solitary boycott of Google.

6/02/2013

06-02-13 - Sport

I've been watching F1 for the past few years. There are some good things about; for me it satisfies a certain niche of mild entertainment that I call "drone". It's a kind of meditation, when you are too tired to work or exercise, but you don't really want to watch anything either, you just put it on in the background and it sort of lets you zone out, your mind goes into the buzz of the motors and the repetitive monotony of the cars going around over and over in the same order. I particularly like the onboards, you can get your head into imagining that it's you behind the wheel and then sort of go into a trance watching the left-right-left-right sweeping turns.

One thing that clicked for me watching F1 is just how active it is in the cockpit. When we drive on the street we're mostly just sitting there doing nothing, then there's a turn, you are active for a second or two, then it's back to doing nothing. Even with my limited experience on track, I'm so far below the capability of my car that I'm still getting breaks between the corners. A proper race driver lengthens every corner - that's what the "racing line" is all about - you use the whole track to make the corners less sharp, and you extend them so that one runs in the next; the result is that except on the rare long straight, you are actively working the car every second. Also, F1 cars are actually slipping around all the time; you don't really notice it from the outside because the drivers are so good; from the outside the cars seem to just drive around the corner, but they are actually constantly catching slides. The faster you drive a car, the less grip it has; you keep going faster and faster until the lack of grip limits you; every car driven on the absolute limit is slippy (and thus fun). I've been annoyed by how damn grippy my car is, but that's just because I'm not driving it fast enough.

F1 has been super broken for many years now. I suppose the fundamental thing that ruined it was aerodynamics. Aero is great for speed, but horrible for racing. In a very simplified summary, the primary problem is that aero makes it a huge advantage to be the front-runner, and it makes it a huge disadvantage to be behind another car, which makes it almost impossible to make "natural" passes. (more on natural passing shortly). 10 years or so ago before KERS and DRS and such, F1 was completely unwatchable; a car would qualify on pole and then would easily lead the whole race. Any time a faster car behind got up behind a car it wanted to pass, aero would make it slower and unable to make the pass. It was fucked. So they added KERS and DRS, which sort of work to allowing passing despite fundamentally broken racing, and that's how it's been the last few years, but it's weird and unnatural and not actually fun to watch a DRS pass, there's no cleverness or bravery or beauty about it. The horribly designed new tracks have not helped either (bizarre how one firm can become the leading track designer in the world and do almost all the new tracks, and yet be so totally incompetent about how to make a track that promotes natural passing; it's a great example of the way that the quality of your work is almost irrelevant to whether you'll get hired again or not).

(the thing that's saved F1 for a while is the combined brilliance of Raikkonen, Alonso, Vettel, and Hamilton. They continue to find surprising places to pass; long high speed passes in sweeping corners where passing shouldn't be possible, or diving through tiny holes. It's a shame they don't have a better series to race in, those guys are amazing. Vettel is often foolishly critized as only being able to lead, but actually some of the best races have been when he gets a penalty or a mechanical fault so that he has to start way back in the pack, he charges up more ferociously than anyone else, just man-handling his way up the order despite the RB not being a great car for racing from behind)

Anyway this year I just can't watch any more. The new tires are just so fucked, it takes a series that already felt weird and artificial and just made it even more so. The whole series is a squabble about regulations and politicial wrangling about the tires and blah blah I'm done with it.

Searching for something else, I stumbled on MotoGP. I'd seen the Mark Neale documentaries a few years ago ("Faster" etc) and thought they were pretty great, but never actually watched a season. Holy crap MotoGP has been amazing this year. There are three guys who all have legitimate shots at the title (Marquez, Pedrosa, Lorenzo). Rossi is always exciting to watch. Marquez is an incredible new star; I can't help thinking it will end badly for him, he seems too fearless, but until then he is a threat to win any race.

The best thing about MotoGP is there's no aero. No fucking stupid aero. So of course you don't need artificial crap like DRS. The result is that passing is entirely "natural", and it is a beautiful thing to watch; it's a sort of dance, it's smooth and swooping. The bikes are just motors and tires and drivers, the way racing should be. (actually without aero, it's a slight advantage to be behind because you get slipstream; giving an advantage to the follower is good, that's how you would design it as a videogame if real world physics were not a constraint; giving an advantage to the driver in front is totally retarded game design).

Natural passing is almost always done by braking late and taking an inside line to a corner. The inside line lets you reach the apex sooner, so you are ahead of the person you want to pass, but you are then badly set up for the corner exit, so that the person you passed will often have a chance to get you back on the exit; you therefore have to take a blocking line through corner exit while you are at a speed disadvantage due to your inside line. It's how racing passing should be; it's an absolutely beautiful thing to behold; it requires courage to brake late and skill to take the right line on exit and intelligence to set it up well.

Watching the guys ride around on the MotoGP bikes, I wish I could have that feeling. Puttering around on a cruiser bike (sitting upright, in traffic, ugh) never really grabbed my fancy, but to take this beast of a bike and have to grab it and manhandle it and pull it over to the side to get it to turn, it's like riding a bull, it really is like being a jockey (you're never sitting on your butt, you're posted up on your legs and balancing and adjusting your weight all the time), it's a physical athletic act, and yeah fuck yeah I'd like to do that.

I believe the correct way to fix F1 is to go back to the 70's or 80's. Ban aero. Make a standard body shell; let the teams do the engine, suspension, chassis, whatever internals, but then they have to put on a standard-shaped exterior skin (which should also be some material other than carbon so that it can take a tiny bit of contact without shattering). Design the shape of the standard skin such that behing behind another car is an advantage (due to slipstream) not a disadvantage. Then no more DRS, maybe leave KERS. Get rid of all the stupid intentionally bad tires and just let the tire maker provide the best tires they can make. Of course none of that will happen.

I've also been watching a bit of Super Rugby. You have to be selective about what teams you watch, but if you are then the matches can be superb, as good or better than internationals. There have been a couple of great experimental rule changes for Super Rugby this year and I hope they get more widely adopted.

1. Time limit on balls not in hand (mainly at the back of a ruck). The ref will call "use it" and then you have 5 seconds to get the ball in play. No more scrumhalves standing around at the ruck doing nothing with the ball at your feet.

2. Limitting scrum resets, and just generally trying to limit time spent on scrums. The refs are instructed not to endlessly reset bad scrums; either let them collapse and play on if the ball is coming out, or call a penalty on the side that's losing ground.

The result is the play is much more ball-in-hand running, which is the good stuff kids go for.

If you want to watch a game, these are the teams I recommend watching, because they are skilled and also favor an attacking ball-in-hand style : Chiefs, Waratahs, Rebels, Blues (Rene Ranger is amazing), Brumbies (too much strategic field position play, but very skilled), Cheetahs, Crusaders. The Reds and Hurricanes are good for occasional flashes of brilliance. The Bulls are an incredibly skilled forward-based team, but not huge fun to watch unless they're playing against one of the above.

The Chiefs play an incredible team attack that I've never seen the like of in international rugby. The thing about the international teams is that while they are the cream of the talent, they don't practice together very much, so they are often not very coordinated. (international matches also tend to be conservative and defensive field-position battles, yawn). The Chiefs crash into every breakdown and recycle ball so efficiently, with everybody working and knowing their part; they go through the phases really fast and are always running vertical, it's fantastic.

Quade Cooper is actually amazing on the Reds. I'd only seen him before in some Wallaby matches where he single-handedly threw away the game for his side, so I always thought of him as a huge talent that unfortunately thought his talent was even bigger than it really is. He plays too sloppy, makes too many mistakes, tries to force moves that aren't there. But on the Reds, it occasionally all works; perhaps because he has more practice time with the teammates so they know where to be when he makes a wild pass out of contact. I saw a couple of quick-hands knock passes by him that just blew me away.

I'm continually amazed by how great rugby refereeing is. It occurred to me that the fundamental difference is that rugby is played with the intention of not having any penalties. That is, both the players and the refs are generally trying to play without penalties. That is completely unlike any other sport. Basketball is perhaps the worst, in that penalties are essentially just part of the play, they are one of the moves in your arsenal and you use them quite intentionally. Football is similar in that you are semi-intentionally doing illegal stuff all the time (holding, pass interference, etc.) and the cost of the foul is often less than the cost of not doing it, like if a receiver gets away and would score, of course you just grab him and pull him down. That doesn't happen in rugby - if it did they would award a penalty try and you would get a card. If someone is committing the same foul again, particularly one that is impeding the opponent from scoring, the ref will take them aside and say "if you do that again it's a card". It's a totally different attitude to illegal play. In most sports, it's up to the player to make a decision about whether the illegal play is beneficial to them or not. I think it reflects the general American attitude to rules and capitalism - there's no "I play fair because that's right" , it's "I'll cheat if I won't get caught" or "I'll weigh the pros and cons and decide based on the impact on me".

old rants