Don't blame the medium

Much of the resistance to change found in rural america or among senior citizens comes from unfamiliarity. When you work with Muslims or have gay friends, it's a lot harder to fear them. I once saw great hope in the internet as a medium for spreading that exposure. In reality, it's become just like television and created enclaves and echo chambers (Think Fox news or your Facebook feed).

It's easy to blame the medium, and say Facebook should do more, but I think that's shortsighted. The real issue here is the powerful instinct that leads us to seek out validation of our views. It's easy and fulfilling, but is also lazy.

So to all of my friends, I challenge you to expand your circle. Go read the Atlantic or the Wall Street Journal, listen to Rush Limbaugh or watch John Oliver. Challenge your beliefs daily, because those that cannot survive such tests don't deserve to be held. And while you're at it, search for understanding. These divisions in our nation are not so deep as they seem.

Confidental to "Bernie or Bust" voters

Elections are pragmatic. Who is most likely to enact policies that you agree with? Note - this question is different from asking who you agree with the most or who you like on a personal level. Winning is a prerequisite - if they have no realistic chance of winning office, then they cannot enact any policies.

So the question is simple - do you agree more with the vision for the US laid out by Trump or Clinton? If the latter, then pulling the lever for Hillary is a no-brainer. Who is going to fill Supreme Court vacancies with progressive voices? Who one is going to protect the EPA's mission, rather than gutting it? Who is going to protect gay rights, women's rights, and reduce income inequality?

Hillary is a deeply flawed candidate, but like her or not, at this point, she's the only viable candidate who can keep this country moving in a progressive direction.

Time Travelling

In 'Back to the Future', the protagonists start in 1985 and travel thirty years into the past. Next year, marks the thirtieth anniversary of the film, so we will be as far away from 1985 as the filmmakers were from 1955.

If that doesn't make you feel old, how about this one? Kids born in 1993, the year Jurassic Park came out, can now legally drink.

Carpe Diem

Do not act as if you were going to live 10,000 years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.

-Marcus Aurelius

End Mass Incarceration Now

For more than a decade, researchers across multiple disciplines have been issuing reports on the widespread societal and economic damage caused by America’s now-40-year experiment in locking up vast numbers of its citizens. If there is any remaining disagreement about the destructiveness of this experiment, it mirrors the so-called debate over climate change.

End Mass Incarceration Now

Who Should Store NSA Surveillance Data?

This question is much bigger than the NSA. There are going to be data -- medical data, movement data, transactional data -- that are both valuable to us all in aggregate and private to us individually. And in every one of those instances, we're going to be faced with the same question: How do we extract that societal value, while at the same protecting its personal nature?

Bruce Schneier - Who Should Store NSA Surveillance Data

Physician, heal thyself

Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.

A doctor writes about his cancer diagnosis in How Long Have I Got Left?

New year, new look, new backend

I'm dusting the cobwebs off of this site, and planning to write more in the new year. My current goal is at least two substantial posts per month, which would far exceed the 4 (!) posts I made all of last year.

While cleaning up, I migrated away from the Wordpress blogging platform, which had become too bloated for my tastes. Thanks to advice from the fine folks at Ask Metafilter, I've switched to Anchor, which was easy to install and sports a clean interface. The post creation screen looks like this:

anchor screenshot

"Just write". That's the kind of focus and simplicity I'm looking to create more of this year.

Followup to 30 day challenge: Media diet

At the beginning of August, I started a media diet, where I pledged not to visit a whole host of distracting and addictive websites. Being a parent to a 1-year old and having a demanding job mean that my time and attention are my most valuable possessions. These distractions were cutting into that time and giving me back very little in return.

The experiment went really well and I made it through the month without using facebook, twitter, reddit, hacker news, or my feed reader. The whole experience was really freeing, and I found myself spending more time on things I cared about. That time wasn't just shunted into work (though I did get a lot of work done). I also read a few books, caught up on some projects around the house, and spent more time just enjoying the company of others in the real world. I highly recommend it.

At the end of the month, I went back onto each site and did some evaluation. Despite having a few thousand unread items in my feed reader, it didn't take long to sort through them, because I realized that I didn't even care what I missed from many of the feeds. I've now unsubscribed from those, and the signal-to-noise ratio is much higher. Twitter was a similar story - dropping about a dozen feeds really helped, and it's now more of a useful tool for keeping up on interesting scientific papers and trends than it used to be. I can honestly say that I didn't miss facebook and reddit at all, and I plan to continue that hiatus.

So far, I haven't slipped too far back into old habits in September and October, but I will admit that the temptation is still there. It's just easier to open a new tab and look at some stupid memes than it is to start a new project - the activation energy will always be lower, and the quick hit of dopamine is an addictive thing. This is all about creating new habits, though, which takes time, and I feel like I'm still on the right track.

After giving this a shot, I can offer this advice: Try cutting out some of the chaff from your daily internet routine. You won't regret it.


If you've ever tried to log into a web app unsuccessfully, you may have seen a error page that contained the word "Shibboleth". In this case, it's referring to the single-sign on authentication app, but in more general terms, a shibboleth is an indication that you're a member of a group. This might be a certain word, pronunciation, or a concept with which you're familiar, but are opaque to outsiders

Gilead then cut Ephraim off from the fords of the Jordan, and whenever Ephraimite fugitives said, 'Let me cross,' the men of Gilead would ask, 'Are you an Ephraimite?' If he said, 'No,' they then said, 'Very well, say "Shibboleth" (שבלת).' If anyone said, "Sibboleth" (סבלת), because he could not pronounce it, then they would seize him and kill him by the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites fell on this occasion.

30 day challenge: Media diet

For the month of August, I'm going on an information diet.

Media like Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit are sugary snacks. They provide quick, tasty hits of information (and dopamine!) but are ultimately unsatisfying and unhealthy. I also have a somewhat dysfunctional relationship with my RSS reader. Though I've reduced my number subscriptions quite a bit over the past year, there are a lot of blog posts that I only read because when they appear in my stream, it feels like there's an obligation to do so. This is the equivalent of eating because something looks good, not because I'm hungry.

Clay Johnson has written about this extensively, and while I haven't read his book, here's a 60 second summary that gets at how I'm feeling_

Going completely offline isn't really an option, given the nature of my work, but I've blocked a bunch of sites from my browser, and deleted the apps from my phone that make social media just one click away. The plan is to use the time I save in all sorts of productive ways. I'm going to read some real books, do some projects that I've been putting off, and generally focus on being present and thinking more deeply, instead of skimming along the surface of the information stream.

So far, it's been really liberating. Come September 1st, I'll see how it went and evaluate which, if any, things I want to re-introduce.


Since the 2012 elections, the Republicans have been divided between those who believe their policies are the problem and those who believe they just need better marketing—between those who believe they need to make better pizza and those who think they just need a more attractive box. Cantor, who is known among his colleagues as someone with strategic intelligence and a knack for political positioning, argues that it’s the box.

(From this New Yorker profile of Eric Cantor)

While I won't argue that their brand could use a little polish, the GOP's problems are way more fundamental. Demographic shifts and changing opinions on social issues are making them more and more irrelevant. If it weren't for gerrymandering, they'd have lost the House soundly.


I wish the world was getting better at a faster pace. I doubt I'll live to see the society that I wish I could live in. But except for when I'm in an especially bad mood, I don't hold others responsible for not helping to create that society for me. The fact that I can envision something better means I'm responsible for sharing my vision, piece by piece, person by person. It's up to me to help others dream for my dream.

via Metafilter

Why is voting so hard?

Because the GOP wants it to be:

In America in 2012, poor people and elderly people and students should not have to wait seven hours to vote. They should not be restricted in this fashion by elected officials who justify the hardships they impart upon black voters by calling those voters "lazy." By allowing this ugliness to endure, year after year, election after election, we don't just subvert our own democracy. We preclude ourselves from turning to the world and proclaiming that we respect the value of a single vote and the dignity of a single voter. We don't practice what we preach.

via The Atlantic