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.



Shibboleth

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.


Branding

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.


QOTD

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


QOTD

The unsolvable problem Goodell has is that he runs a hyper-profitable entertainment entity that depends vitally on the destruction of the human body for a substantial part of its entertainment function

--Charles P Pierce


Automatically killing processes that use too much memory

Every other week or so, I run some sort of code on my workstation that uses more memory than I expect. If I'm lucky, I notice the swap space graph climbing in my taskbar's monitor, and quickly find and kill the process. If I'm not so lucky, it keeps consuming memory until my workstation is effectively frozen.

These processes are never system-critical, so I put together a little script that will find these jobs and kill them before they become a problem.

1) Drop this in a file of your choosing, replacing my username and paths with your own_

ps -o %mem,pid,comm,args -U cmiller | perl -ane 'if($F[0] > 80.0){print $F[1] . "\n";}' | while read i;do echo "$(date): Killing $_" >>/home/cmiller/logs/killbigmem.log;kill $i;done

It's using ps to grab processes, then looking for those that are using more than 80% of the system memory. This may or may not be the threshold that you want to use. Also note that it also logs the process it just killed, so you can figure out where your job went later.

2) Make the file executable_

chmod +x killbigmem.sh

3) Put the process in your cron so it runs every minute. Run crontab -e, then insert the following line (again, replacing paths as necessary).

*/1 * * * * /gscuser/cmiller/usr/bin/killbigmem.sh