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Trevor Stone's Journal
Those who can, do. The rest hyperlink.
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daemon tux hexley
I just spent a bunch of time reading old arguments about whether WordPress should support root-relative URIs to assets and content. It boils down to:
Web developer: Relative URIs would make it much easier to test my site on a different host before I make the changes live.
WordPress developer: Absolute URIs everywhere is better than relative URIs everywhere because there are cases where relative won't work.
Web developer: Yeah, but absolute URIs make testing and migration a pain in the ass.
WordPress developer: Just edit /etc/hosts to think that your live webserver runs on your workstation. Or run a find and replace on the SQL export of your database.

There's also, apparently, config values for base URLs, but just setting those on a site you're trying to migrate apparently doesn't have any effect because the real problem is that WordPress stores internal links as URLs. The proper solution would be for all links to other WP content to be stored as a reference, then turn references into URLs at render time. This, for example, is the approach of every wiki system: [topic] turns into a link to http://example.org/wiki/Topic

Unfortunately, this isn't the sort of problem you realize WordPress has until you've already built a site and need to move it around (like, say, to the production server) and you discover that you've just built your site on a platform that doesn't prioritize release processes. But by then, the cost of rebuilding on some other system is probably much higher than doing something hacky and limping along on a platform with dorky production hygiene.

Update: The handy wp-cli command line utility can do a global search and replace for your host name: wp search-replace http://badidea.example.com/ http://bettername.example.com/
Of course, if you've got a post like "Update your old links; we're no longer $old, we're now $new" then it'll say "no longer $old, we're now $new". But at least this is an automatable process.
31st-Oct-2015 02:38 pm - Plants and Microbes 2015
cthulhufruit citrus cephalopod
Samhain seems like a good time to reflect on the last six months of biology hobbies. In April we moved into a house whose owner had invested a lot of time into gardening. We thus had free reign of a few raised garden beds and a modest harvest of some established plants. The mint patch had a great time, churning out stalk upon stalk of three varieties of mint. Aside from the stomach-comforting benefit of "Stroll in the back hard and nibble on the mint," we didn't take full advantage of this crop. Our first attempt at dried mint seemed a little off and the mint I added to a batch of beer was totally undetectable. We've got quite a bit drying now, we'll see how well that preserves.

The hawthorn trees produced a nice crop of berries that I've frozen with plans of a haw-mead. The pear tree produced a measly five or six pears, almost all on the branch leaning on the side of the house; perhaps it got enervated by the wacky late spring snows. I was looking forward to making something with the Oregon grapes in the front yard, but deer beat me to them. Four rhubarb plants were on overdrive, producing fodder for a couple pies, some stand-alone compote, and two gallons of chopped stalks for future use.

Of the crops we planted, tomatoes, chili peppers, and some tiny orange hot peppers did well. Our attempts at genus allium (onions, leeks, and maybe some shallots) did almost nothing. We got a few jalapeños, four small eggplants and two mystery gourdlike squashes, one of which the squirrels devoured. The tomatoes, peppers, and mint went into some excellent salsas. I'm mulling over plans for the chili peppers, maybe I'll use them for our office's annual chili contest.

Combining plants with microorganisms, I made two beers this year: a Belgian wit and a ginger juniper saison. The former involved a few mistakes, including turning down the heat when it boiled over and then forgetting to turn it back up. This led to a remarkably smooth beer without strong hop bitterness; several people who don't normally enjoy beer have expressed delight at it. The latter also came out quite well; despite my kitchen tendency to turn flavors up to eleven, the ginger isn't overpowering and the juniper is subtle. I used fresh juniper berries from the backyard tree and their flavor from the initial boil was basically undetectable. Just before bottling I added water boiled with juniper berries and mint leaves to just the right taste and aroma. The mint quickly disappeared, though.

The nice thing about homebrew and gardneing as hobbies is that non-human biological agents do most of the work. A weekend here and there of cleaning, cooking, and weeding lets the real work of converting sunlight to chlorophil and sugar to alcohol to entities which don't have to go to the office five days a week.
26th-Sep-2015 11:37 pm - Year of the Goat
pensive goat
I turned 36 today.
36 is a multiple of 12, so this year matches my birth year in the Chinese zodiac: year of the goat[1].

I got married last week in what my wife points out was my dream wedding.
There's still a pile of presents on my floor from people who love us.
On brunch the day after the wedding, my dad played a very touching song whose opening had come to him a week before I was born but the remainder hadn't formulated until last week.
My wife and I had waffles this morning betwixt bouts of gettin' it on.
We gathered produce at the farmer's market and collaborated on a tasty salad.
We joined my parents for a gorgeous sunset at the Center of the Universe followed by a wondrous dinner at The Gold Hill Inn.
Three friends in distant parts of the country, from different parts of my life, emailed to wish me a happy birthday.

Things are pretty good; it's nice to baaahsk in the sun.

[1] Often translated as "year of the sheep," but next to a picture of a goat, with 羊 (yáng) a character for any member of that family. I briefly toyed with the idea of using 山羊 (shānyáng, "mountain goat/sheep") as my Chinese name.
copán ruinas stone face
A realization this evening:
I am much better at remembering that than I am at remembering to.

I have always had a fantastic memory for facts I read in a book or learned in class, events I was involved in, or things people said. But tell me to do a dozen things and I'll probably forget that I was going to seven of them. Then, over a few weeks, I'll remember five of them one at a time and wonder if it's still important.
15th-Aug-2015 09:14 pm - This Tale Suits Me
Trevor cartoon abi-station.com/illustmak
Kelly and I have a great relationship in part because we're fluid about gender roles. In our wedding, she's playing yang while I play yin.

Today's dose of non-traditional wedding gender balance: My outfit costs more than hers, and has a longer train. However, in keeping with traditional gender power dynamics, my clothes have pockets and hers don't.

I'm also amused that no menswear or formal wear stores seem to have tailcoats, but costume stores had several to choose from.
Vigelandsparken heels over head
It's a good thing that planning a wedding is a lot of work, because it provides ample evidence of whether the couple is good at collaborating and communicating with each other. If you have someone else plan your wedding, you might not realize that you and your spouse don't play well together until things get much more complicated.

Most of the critical wedding bits are done or planned and Kelly and I are still totally getting married. Paper invitations should be landing in people's mailboxes over the next day or two. If you want to come and haven't filled out the contact info form, let me know.
5th-Jul-2015 10:59 pm - Hovercycle
Vigelandsparken circle man
A few mornings ago I dreamt that I was exploring a possible shortcut on my bicycle. After jumping up some stairs onto a guy's porch1, I rode down a raised wooden trail, across some grass, and stopped when I came upon a pond. Pondering how to get around it, I noticed a guy on a unicycle booking it down the hill towards the pond. When he got to the edge, he jumped a few feet forward, then started furiously pedaling backwards. The spin of his wheel kept him afloat, like a one-wheeled water skeeter. After a few seconds he jumped backwards to shore.

In the dream I was concocting a physical explanation of the stunt, I think involving downward thrust and the fact that the unicycle tire is full of air, plus an allusion to skipping stones. In my waking mind I'm sure it wouldn't work (skipping stones don't work in place), but it was still really bad ass.

1 "If it was easy, they wouldn't call it a 'short cut.' They'd call it 'the way.'" – Road Trip
24th-Jun-2015 12:10 am - Effective Consent Education
I *kiss* linguists
This American Life recently ran a show called Birds & Bees about explaining tricky things to children. The first act focuses on university freshmen attending presentations about sexual consent. The presenters' goal is to get students to internalize that explicit, specific, verbal consent is required before having sex. But the students are perhaps more interested in the subtleties of how to get a "yes" than the need to obtain one.

If we followed the "consent workshop" model literally, it would lead to some really awkward conversations:
MAN AT BAR: Hello.
MAN: I think you are attractive.
WOMAN: Thank you for the compliment.
MAN: Would you like to engage in sexual intercourse?
WOMAN: Yes, I would like to do that.
Actual consent negotiation is way less direct and more fluid. Importantly, it also builds on a lot of context that is basically impossible to simulate in a room with a whiteboard, a few dozen chairs, and a bunch of curious teenagers.

Since sexual negotiation, not to mention sex itself, is almost always done in private, people don't have a lot of opportunities to learn how to do it by observation. "Can I watch while you obtain consent to have sex with your partner" would be an off-putting question to almost anyone. Media doesn't help much either: movie sex usually looks spontaneous not because Hollywood has an anti-consent bias but because it makes for a more enjoyable story. The hero and heroine don't negotiate the sex they're going to have for the same reason we don't see anyone making exact change or tying their shoes in a movie: it doesn't usually advance the plot or add to the value of a scene.

So if people don't want to demonstrate actual sexual consent in public and it's unlikely to be modeled in popular cinema, what can we do? Let's create our own consent-focused short films. In a one minute YouTube video a few people can easily create a realistic context and have a reasonable conversation about negotiated consent. Rather than a stilted conversation in a classroom it can be set in an actual bar or a bedroom. Instead of an all-verbal skit, actors can show the crucial role that body language plays. And with a lot of videos available, the negotiation can take a lot of different directions: sometimes ending with a "yes," sometimes with a "not now," and sometimes with a "no thank you" and showing folks how to gracefully respond to each answer. People would learn not just that consent is crucial but also how to effectively get consent. People would learn not just "No means no" but how to both give and receive a "no," life skills that a lot of people struggle with even in nonsexual situations.

So let's make this happen. Let's get thousands of people making YouTube videos about how consent works for them. Let's upvote the ones that are impressive or wise or funny. Let's hashtag the pants off this thing and have it go viral like HSV. Let's get videos from straight folks, gay folks, kinky folks, vanilla folks, confident folks, shy folks, polite folks, and blunt folks. Let's get amateurs and professionals. Let's get people talking about how they like to be asked and finding out how they can be better askers. Let's have less rape and more consensual sex.
2nd-Jun-2015 11:41 pm - Error Message Hall of Shame: Paypal
bad decision dinosaur
Attempting to make a purchase from a website using Paypal, I got the following message.
You will have to come back and confirm your bank in order to use it to make payments. In the mean time, please enter a credit card to continue.

Sounds nice and helpful, right? Like I can log on to PayPal's site and they'll have a friendly "Confirm your bank account" dialog or something.

Nope. "Coming back" to PayPal's site accomplished nothing useful. My "wallet" showed the checking account I've had associated with my PayPal account since the late '90s, plus two expired debit cards, both linked to that checking account. I noticed my billing address was out of date, so I changed that. No help.

I googled the first sentence of the error message, hoping to find a PayPal help page explaining how to confirm a bank account. Instead, I discovered that PayPal runs a whole online community for people who can't figure out what's going on with their account. This error has been confusing people since at least 2012. Fortunately, some user speculatively interpreted "confirm your bank" as "add a credit card", which made the bank-related error message go away. Maybe their system only has a single E_BANK_STATUS_ISSUE error.

When checking out, there was an explanatory message that the debit card I'd just associated with my account would be used if there were insufficient funds in my checking account. But since the debit card is backed by the checking account, that's not a very robust risk mitigation strategy.

User interface lessons:
  • Make sure your error message contains enough information for a user to take useful action.
  • If your backend can't distinguish between two error conditions that require different resolution steps, send a feature request to the backend team to add a new status code.
  • When a user flow involves "Give us money," make sure you do extensive user testing, covering many possible error conditions. How people fail to use your product is some of the most important knowledge you can gather.
black titan
We've moved across town once again, because apparently we really enjoy building and disassembling box forts. This time we live in northwest Boulder at a house we call Lucky Gin. If you're in my circles on Google+, you can see my address on my profile. Otherwise, email me and I'll give you details.
31st-May-2015 11:50 pm - Active Vegitation
red succulent
Kelly and I are moved out of Outpost Cherryvale and have unpacked and organized a lot at Lucky Gin, so it looks much less like a box fort.

One of the exciting features of this house is a yard ringed with plants and a set of raised garden beds ready to grow our bidding. We hit up KGNU's annual [the frequency, not just the plant facet] plant sale this morning. We mostly got Allium, but also tomatoes, an eggplant, a jalapeño, and catnip. We turned soil and planted them, then wondered what to do with all the extra space.

Since that's not enough plant-based activity for the day, I took advantage of our gas stove, extensive counter space, and kitchen we don't have to share with roommates. I started my first batch of homebrew beer, having gone through the easier process of cider last fall. Brewing is roughly two parts cleaning and one part cooking. Since I tend to do both rather slowly, the process took on the order of eight hours. And I'm not quite done: I'm taking a break from scrubbing the malt off the bottom of the pot. It burned, I think, because I turned the heat down to avoid boiling over and forgot to turn it back up, so it spent over half an hour not at a rolling boil. Fortunately, the sage advice of my old friend Charlie Papazian comes in handy: Relax. Don't worry. Have a homebrew. I only followed the first 66% though, opting for cool water instead of homebrew to tide me over.

Now that I've made bread tea and mixed it with bread syrup, the five gallons in a bucket will quietly sit in the corner while the yeast turns it into bread soda. Which is a very different culinary output than soda bread.

We also harvested and prepared to dry a whole bunch of mint from the garden. I'm considering a mint ginger beer for my next homebrew sally.
bug eyed earl
My iPod Shuffle full of podcasts was out of batteries this morning, so I grabbed one with a bunch of audiobooks. Not realizing it was on shuffle, I listened to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

I had not previously experienced the story in its intended sequence, but I think the experience is enhanced by hearing chapters in a random order. It gives the sense of piecing together a crazy weekend in sin city, which is basically what the story is about. A bit like the cut-up method under listener control.
20th-Apr-2015 12:04 am - New Friends, Old Posts
playa surface
I just spent an hour and change reading old LJ posts from people I know now, but didn't really know when they last updated their LiveJournal.

Back in the day, I picked reading strangers' journals as one of my 150 interests. There's something unique to the culture and style of LiveJournal that got people to write about their lives in a really engaging way. Sometimes strangers journals are full of major life events and insight. Sometimes they're full of the annals of an ordinary life. And since LiveJournal's design rewards people with long attention spans, the latter journal can be just as engrossing as the former.

A series of writings in personal voice gives me a stronger sense of someone's life and personality than hundreds of photos or a mishmash of minor commentary on other stuff on the Internet. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but paragraphs are the heart of expression. Maybe LiveJournal seems like it's in decline because people don't use real keyboards to browse the Internet any more, and writing something interesting is a total pain in the ass on a phone.
pentacle disc
There's an old computing proverb (emphasis on the old): Never underestimate the bandwidth of a hurtling station wagon full of 8-track tapes.

In the process of moving[1], I put all 600 or so of my CDs in my Subaru and took them to the other side of Boulder. Assuming an average length of 40 minutes (350 megabytes) and a 20-minute transit time (Foothills Parkway is the only part of the trip where I was really hurtling), the bandwidth was 1.4 gigabits per second, which is faster than most Ethernet. And my station wagon was only half full.

Of course, I spent about two hours putting the data into cardboard-protocol packets. And my back was sore after moving them all up stairs, through the house, and to the car. So maybe there's something to all this copper wire.

This is also the sixth time I have carried over three decades of National Geographic, a very dense publication, to a new location. Reading material relocation is my primary form of upper-body exercise.

[1] More about this move later. The destination is a wonderful house in northwest Boulder we're calling Lucky Gin.
17th-Mar-2015 11:44 pm - dissert
I *kiss* linguists
If you ask a PhD student what she'll do tomorrow, she might say "just dissert."
Originally posted by prettygoodword at dissert
dissert (dih-SURT) - v., to discourse at length on a subject.

What a dissertation does. Adopted around 1620 from Latin dissertāre to set forth at length, the frequentive form of disserere, to arrange in order, from dis-, apart + serere, to join (the root of series).

4th-Mar-2015 11:36 pm - Reader's Proof
darwin change over time
Long before web comics were "a thing," my mom would often respond to my puns with a groan (she was a groan up, after all) by telling me to write it down and start a comic in the vein of The Far Side. My graphic arts skills are very limited, but if they weren't, I might have produced something like Prooffreader's Whimsy. The first few comics particularly seem like my style of word play.

The artist, David Taylor, also has an interesting blog with an apparent focus on data visualization.
4th-Mar-2015 10:24 pm - Berber of Seville
fun characters
The Berber of "Seville" is "ⵙⴻⵠⵉⵍ". Or, if you don't have a Tifinagh font,

It turns out I'm not the first person to think up the phrase Berber of Seville. Bombay Dub Orchestra has a groovy track of that name name.

Apologies to any Berber speakers if I've completely butchered my Neo-Tifinagh letter choices.
If you liked this pun, you might also enjoy The SHA of 'Iran'.
black titan
The forecast for the next several days involves more snow, so why not plan to spend Sunday indoors with friends playing games?
(Oh alright, you can also go have fun in the snow in the mountains if that's your kind of game too.)

Bring your friends and family, food and drinks, games and stories.

When: Sunday, March 1st, 2pm (ish) until sometime before bedtime
Where: 1062 Stearns Ave, Boulder, CO 80303
There should be plenty of street parking that isn't a snow bank.
If you have questions or get lost, cal 303-EEL-WANG.
17th-Feb-2015 01:11 am - Know Your Enemy: The Islamic State
carmen sandiego
What ISIS Wants, well-written piece by Graeme Wood in The Atlantic argues that, despite Obama's well-intentioned statement that the Islamic State is neither, ISIS/ISIL is quite Islamic in a very literalist way. Similarly, one wouldn't reasonably claim that the Spanish Inquisition was non-Christian, even though its doctrine was far from the present majority position.

Wood explains the Koranic ties to many of the group's actions and elements of propaganda and discusses how their total devotion to 7th Century practices and prophecies may be understood to help defeat them. One key prophecy is a battle at Dabiq (near the Syrian border with Turkey) against the "army of Rome." Wood says that Rome might be interpreted as the Eastern Roman Empire (Constantinople), which would mean a battle with Turkey. Rome could also easily be interpreted as the West in general, and an American ground presence might only make things worse by energizing the group. Wood mentions Persia only in passing, but it seems to me that if the Islamic State pushed far into Kurdistan and Shi'ite Iraq, Iran might get involved. A conflict in which Washington and Tehran (and perhaps Ankara) were united against a common enemy would be interesting to say the least.

Reading about the apocalyptic goals of the Islamic State, I'm glad that the apocalyptic neoconservative faction of the American right wing has fallen out of favor in the last eight years. What we really don't need is an American Armageddon movement with an an excuse to militarily engage a caliphate which (in this instance) is also eager for a world-ending battle which will bring forth the messiah and God's plan of resurrection.

I am reminded also of The Alphabet versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image by Leonard Shlain. The Salafist focus on words brings with it a mindset of violence, exclusion, and other masculine traits and a repression of imagery, inclusion, and femininity. ISIS should serve as a warning and a reminder that adherence to the literal interpretation of a book which does not evolve and adapt is a dangerous practice in a dynamic world. Meanwhile, the majority of Muslims around the world, raised in a culture with access to TV, magazines, and an image-rich web, oppose the Islamic State as violent extremists, unbecoming of what most believers see as Islam.
31st-Jan-2015 08:10 pm - A Random Walk in Fancy Stockings
currency symbols
I remember thinking, in 2010, that the stock market was likely to rise for a while after falling precipitously in 2008 and 2009. I also had a significant chunk of cash (earning really low interest) from five years of living below my means. "I should do some research, figure out how to actually buy stocks, and invest a bunch of that cash."

With the exception of maximizing 401(k) contributions, I didn't do that research and didn't invest anything. Partly this was because I had a continual sense of "I might decide to buy a house in the next two years," so the chance of losing a bunch of money due to market fluctuations was unattractive. But mostly it was because I like to do a lot of research to understand significant decisions and financial research is both endless, in the sense that there are thousands of securities one might invest in and their prospects change frequently, and boring, in the sense that finance takes everything that's interesting and unique about companies and governments and human decision making and reduces them to a whole bunch of numbers about the past and present accompanied by verbose disclaimers that past performance is no guarantee of future results.

It turns out that not investing in the broad U.S. stock market in 2010 came with a significant opportunity cost: the S&P 500 has roughly doubled in value in the last 5 years. International stocks haven't done as well, with non-U.S. developed markets growing around 4% per year and emerging markets growing by less than 1%. Had I invested $50k in 2010 in half-U.S./half foreign indexed funs I would today have about $30k more I could spend on a house (which I'm still not ready to buy). [It's not totally clear that not investing was a terrible decision, though. I spent much of the energy I could have devoted to poring over financial data becoming a better software engineer and making friends and having fun. The total future outcome of these activities in terms of future salary and well-being may well be worth tens of thousands.]

In December I happened to be looking at charts of the S&P 500 over the last few decades and noticed that the shape of the graph has a recent slope comparable to the slopes leading to 2000 and 2008, but with a present value significantly higher than when the market crashed in those two years. I spend a lot of time at work looking at graphs of web traffic and server performance, so a graph shape that matched historic trouble zones looked worrying to me.

After a checkup on and a rebalancing of my 401(k), I set out to the book store in search of a sensible volume educating readers how to invest in the market. My selection criteria mandated a copyright date after 2009, figuring that a book without the lessons of the worst financial crisis in nearly 80 years would be an incomplete read. Fortunately, there's a new edition of A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton G. Malkiel. This book argues that investors (particularly average folks) can achieve no better return, over the long term, than to put their money in a low-cost fund tracking a broad stock market index. When the book was initially published in the early 1970s, one couldn't actually invest in the market as a whole (short of buying a few hundred stocks, which a person with modest means can't do). Malkiel's advocacy of this strategy led to the creation of mutual funds based on indexes like the S&P 500 and the Russell 3000.

The reasons for the primacy of an indexing approach to investing are several. Perhaps most fundamentally, the demand for securities which outperform the market exceeds the supply of such securities. With demand exceeding supply, prices will rise until the securities are priced so high that they no longer outperform the market.

More concretely, in order to outperform an indexed fund, the total returns of the security must exceed the index by more than the cost of maintaining the fund. This cost is expressed as "expense ratio" in mutual fund documents and represents both payments to the people responsible for selecting the components of the fund and the transaction cost of buying and selling the underlying stocks when they become attractive or no longer attractive. Index funds of U.S. stocks often have an expense ratio below 0.1% while actively managed mutual funds typically have an expense ratio between 1 and 2%. So to outperform the market, an actively managed fund must not do better than the average stock in the index but must do so by one or two points. Assuming an average return of 10% for the broad market, an active fund must provide a 11 or 12% return; in other words they must be 10 to 20% better than the average. Among professional investors, it would be surprising to find individuals who are consistently 20% better than their peers. And in years when the market goes down across the board, you lose more money the higher your fund's expense ratio.

In addition to the core point of index-fund investing, A Random Walk covers a fair amount of ground in financial education. Malkiel starts by explaining several historic periods of rapid growth and sudden decline in asset prices from the famous Dutch tulips in 1637 through the global financial crisis in 2008. He then explains two general approaches to investing: Castles in the sky, also known as technical analysis, is focused on figuring out what price people are likely to pay for something in the near future, even if it's much more than the asset is worth. Firm foundations, also known as fundamental analysis, focuses on determining an absolute value of an asset based on facts about it, like how much money the company earns. Malkiel then argues against these approaches, proposing instead the efficient-market hypothesis. He uses both the theoretical basis of EMH and plenty of academic studies and comparisons of historical returns to make the case that long-term, low-cost index funds are the best investment vehicles. You can't beat the market, he argues, but you can match the market. And the market, over any long period in history, has done significantly better than other types of investments. The market doesn't need to be efficient for indexing to be a good strategy.

A Random Walk also has several chapters of practical advice on how to go about investing in the market. Though the book is primarily focused on stocks, Malkiel explains how to understand other types of assets and create a diversified portfolio. He discusses how to plan for situations when cash flow is needed like retirement and major expenses. He also broadly covers the impact of tax on investment returns (essentially: invest as much as possible in tax-free accounts like a 401(k) or IRA to take full advantage of compounding and reinvestment of dividends). Finally, he gives his thoughts on the near-term prospects for investing: the stock market is unlikely to grow at the rate it has for the last several years but will probably continue at a modest growth rate, less than 10% total returns. With low interest rates (though the Fed is expected to slowly start raising them), most bonds will not be very attractive for a while.

Having read the book, I've spent much of my free time in the last several weeks working out an investment strategy for some of the pile of cash sitting in my bank account. There are a few tricky aspects to this. First, my high tax bracket as a well-compensated programmer combined with historic low interest rates means that income-producing assets like bonds in a regular brokerage account would produce returns only slightly better than a certificate of deposit in an insured bank, meaning that interest rate risk leading to a decrease in the value of a bond fund could lead to a loss of money. So much for diversification of asset classes.

The second problem I'm encountering as I scour available ETFs is that recent security valuation history seems somewhat at odds with global economic trends. U.S. markets have doubled in value in the last five years despite stagnant conditions for the median American household. As one would expect, foreign developed markets haven't grown much, with the slow-moving Euro crisis playing a large role. Yet with most of the world economic and population growth growth coming in emerging markets in the last ten years (leading to the creation of acronyms like BRICS), emerging market stocks haven't been rising accordingly. One interpretation of these trends is that "emerging market growth" is mostly about folks in the third world having more money they can spend on products made by multinational companies based in the U.S.A. Another interpretation is that a lot of this economic growth is occurring among companies not (yet) listed on stock markets. While I think that's a great trend that may support sustainable communities, as an investor it's much more difficult to take advantage of ("obtain exposure to") such growth. A third interpretation is that the Giant Pool of Money went looking for the next target after the housing, commodities, and debt markets collapsed and the Pool decided that U.S. equities had the best chance for returns. As the S&P graph flattens out, the Pool may head off on the next quest for above-market returns, leading to a decline in U.S. markets and unhealthy growth somewhere else.

So what am I going to do about it?
I'm contributing as much as possible to my tax-free 401(k) with a several-decades-to-retirement allocation. That's the easy part.

I still think it's likely that I'll buy a house in Boulder, with a target date of 2018 or later to allow my sweetie to establish a stable job, reducing the risk that we'll decide that we need to live somewhere else. Three years is too short a period to rely on positive stock market returns, so I'm going to keep most of my pile of cash invested in cash.

I'm planning to take some cash and sell some company-granted stock (which has grown in value but isn't well diversified and can only be sold at certain times) and invest it in a variety of index-tracking exchange-traded funds, which are much like mutual funds but requiring smaller tax payments when not held in a tax-free account. I've spent several dozen hours this month looking at graphs and numbers and portfolio distributions and holding lists and building a spreadsheet. And due to the paradox of choice and information overload, coupled with the uncertainty of returns of a random-walk market, I'm not sure my plan is much better off than it was before.

My plan so far involves investing 45% in U.S. markets, 25% in the "All non-US companies" index plus major developed countries (which make up the bulk of the all-world index), 20% in emerging markets, and 10% in real estate investment trusts. Typical investment advice for someone my age would suggest 20% bonds, but with low interest rates and high income tax, I don't think bonds will be a good investment for several years. This portfolio isn't going to generate much current income in the near future, so it's not going to contribute to the house-buying fund but instead be treated as a long-term investment; a general bet on overall economic growth, particularly in the third world.

So what should you do?
First, take any investment advice with a healthy dose of skepticism. Don't bother reading most short-term focused writings (articles with titles like "7 Energy Stocks that are a Strong Buy" or anything on CNBC). Read books and articles like A Random Walk Down Wall Street that are focused on long-term investing and don't make bold claims about beating the market.

Second, take full advantage of workplace retirement programs. In the absence of a robust welfare state, the two tools most folks have for surviving old age are tax-free investment accounts and kids with good jobs.

Third, carefully examine any investment opportunities for cost. The more money you have to pay someone to manage your money, the less money you get from investments. Index funds tend to be the best investment choices.

Fourth, live below your means. There are hordes of people who would be happy to lend you money so you can make poor financial decisions.

Fifth, if you've got extra money to invest, think carefully about how you want to approach investing. Know that you're not likely to make a huge profit in the near future and that your investments might suddenly shrink if the global financial system suddenly discovers that was again acting on incorrect or incomplete information on a massive scale.
28th-Dec-2014 09:41 pm - A Fall of Apples
cthulhufruit citrus cephalopod
Peaches in the summer time
Apples in the fall
If I can't have the fruit I love
I still want to eat them all
mollybzz, private correspondence
2014 was an apple year in Boulder.
After getting a year's worth of rain in September 2013 and a fairly snowy winter, the long-thirsty soil in Boulder County swelled with moisture. The apple trees took notice and appled up a storm.

As we poked around the yard of our new house after signing a lease at the end of May I excitedly announced that the small fruits on the two trees in back were apples, not crabapples. As the summer past I impatiently picked and consumed some very bitter, small green apples, figuring this might be a natural bitter, small green apple tree. As August turned toward Burning Man the apples grew larger, turned a lovely red, and shifted to a sweet taste.

In the weekends after Burning Man, a housemate and I gathered bins and commenced to shaking trees and picking fruits. I discovered that we had four, not two, varieties of apple hanging, though distinguishing the trunks is still a trick. As I stood in the kitchen washing and slicing apples for preservation before a game day, my friends Josh and Laura came by with an offer of cider pressed fresh the day before. Remembering that they'd brought a few jars of "forgotten" cider to a game day over the winter, I was excited to taste the latest delivery. Sweet, smooth, full bodied, and deliciously unfiltered. They then hurried off to the homebrew store to prepare the cider's future.

Half a gallon of tasty cider and a couple bushels of sliced and sauced apples would've been the extent of my apply autumn, but then bassist posted an entry about the fun of cider pressing with the teaser that there would be another, ahem, pressing engagement on October 11th.

I got the details and eagerly packed my big camping water container and a pair of leather gloves in the car and headed to Longmont that Saturday morning. When I arrived, the operation was in full swing. Apples were dumped on a table and the gooey and wormy ones removed from the stream. They were then passed to a repurposed sugar beet washer, cleansing the fruit and blasting out any remaining pockets of goo. The mouth of the washer opened and glistening apples tumbled out for a final quality check to remove twigs, leaves, and that one bad apple. They then rolled down a chute onto a home-made rotating blade which deposited nicely diced apple chunks into a bucket. We carried buckets to another table where the apple bits were packed into cloth-covered squares on wooden pallets. The pallets with cloth and apple (and sans squares) were then placed in a home-made press which slowly pushed the juice from the pulp. The cloths were then shaken and scraped off so we could hustle and load up another batch of pallets. The sweet juice from the press was then piped to a large milk cooler which slowly stirred it until we were ready to fill our jugs.

The next day I read up on brewing cider and made my own run to the local homebrew store. Brewing is a hobby I'd considered pursuing, but had always told myself I'd wait until I owned a house so I didn't have to move with a delicate glass jar full of mead. But cider only takes a month or two, so the gear will be empty by the time I have to pack it up.

I left the wild yeast in one gallon of cider and pasteurized five gallons and added wild ale yeast, not wanting to trust my whole initial zymurgy experience to whatever yeast is ambient along highway 66. Then I did what you spend most of the time brewing doing: wait a couple weeks. The next step is the second most time-consuming brewing activity: clean and sanitize all the things. In the middle of racking from one jug to another I discovered that I only had one gallon size, the other was smaller. So we got to try half a pint or so of the wild cider. By itself it was a little hard to drink, but when we added some of the original unfermented cider to the mix it was quite delicious.

The subsequent step is to wait for about a month. But then as I was about ready to start the bottling process a month later, I got sick with a virus. Which is definitely a bad time to handle beverages you intend to give to friends. After recovering from my stomach rebelling, my body losing too many fluids, and my brain struggling with complex activity it was Christmas time, which meant lots of family and social engagements. So after pressing on October 11th and racking on November 1st, I spent Boxing Day cleaning and sanitizing all the things, racking once again (to leave the sediment behind), and then filling 27 beer bottles and 7 larger flip-top bottles. With the long delay, my hydrometer suggests that the final brew is a strong 6.5% alcohol, and after a day of measuring and tasting, we felt quite fruity.

The wild cider remains in the jug, having stopped bubbling several weeks ago. I think I'll add some of its brethren cider which my parents had been sending on the path of vinegar. We'll call that the by-the-seat-of-the-pants jug.

Of course, my autumn apple adventure didn't end with cider. We've still got several bags of apple in the fridge and freezer. Some went to a curry apple pie for Pie Nite. I'd meant to make more apple pies for the holiday season, but my folks and my brother's new girlfriend had the pie course well-covered. And then there're the amorphous plans for cinnamon spice apple sauce.

In the back yard, I think there might still be a couple very committed and stubborn apples hanging from twigs. A week or two after the first frost burst expanded the juice and broke all the cell walls, the trees still had a dozen or two brown apples hanging as poetic symbols of fall and the lack thereof. Dozens more apples started decaying on the ground before we could collect them, slowly providing nutrients for future bumper crops of apples.
28th-Dec-2014 03:44 pm - New Years Day Games
black titan
Excited for the new year?
Got new (to you) games?
Why not combine both?

Come to my house on New Year's Day to ring in the increasing sunlight with friends old and new, favorite snacks, and my fresh batch of homebrew cider. Bring any combination of friends and family, food and drink, games and toys, stories and jokes, cheer and sneer. Compete in the Dice Bowl, the Card Bowl, or the Hummus Bowl.

When: January 1st, 2015, from 2pm until you're too tired to stay.
Where: 1062 Stearns Ave, Boulder, CO 80303. Come around to the back of the house and downstairs.
Huh: Call 303-EEL-WANG if you get lost or confused.

Here's hoping you get a head start at playing 2015 rounds this year,
25th-Nov-2014 10:00 pm - Sunday Games: Wisdom vs. Constitution
black titan
If you're overwhelmed by your blood family this week, share Sunday with your dice family at Ranger Outpost Cherryvale! Also a great opportunity to pawn off extra leftovers.

As always, you're welcome to bring any manner of sustenance and snack to game day. However, if you're hoping I'll try your dish, be advised that I had my wisdom teeth removed last Friday, so if you're hoping I will try your dish, make sure it's squishy or can be eaten primarily with the incisors.

When: Sunday, November 30th, 2pm until late
Where: 1062 Stearns Ave, Boulder, CO 80303
(If no one's upstairs, come to the back door and down the stairs.)
Bring: Games, friends, food, family, drinks, stories…
If lost or confused, call: 303-EEL-WANG

In addition to several shelves of games I've got several shelves of hats. Folks at our housewarming party last month discovered that wearing a silly hat provides a +2 skill bonus when drawing cards.

Let's find out if my -4 wisdom penalty is effectively counterbalanced by reduced encumbrance and a new bite attack.
24th-Nov-2014 12:45 am - -4 Wisdom, +2 Intelligence
intense aztec drummer DNC 2008
Despite a long-time hope that my jaw would remain whole, I accepted prudent dental advice and had all four wisdom teeth extracted last Friday. They were all pointing in unhelpful directions, endangering the future of my more useful chompers.

In preparation for this adventure, last weekend I spent $170 at Pacific Ocean Market, mostly on foods that sounded enticingly soft. Six flavors of refrigerated udon and ramen, frozen shrimp balls, miso, dried black fungus, and seaweed for soups, avocados, papaya, plantains, burro bananas, Thai bananas, and red bananas, and frozen jackfruit for smoothies. Small cups of coconut mango jelly for quick snacks and a pile of coconut yogurt and frozen berries from the health food store for times when umami might seem overwhelming.

My most important preparation for healing was planning to take it easy. I tend to deal with injury and illness by doubling down on will and focus. When I'm fighting a cold I often end up staying late at work, my brain determined to get through my inbox or finish all the design and code reviews on my plate. The voice saying "You'll feel better if you go home early" usually loses to the voice that says "If you focus on a single task, you can get it done." Plus, when I feel sick it's a lot easier to stay in a chair and stare at a screen than to get up and leave the building.

I'd been fighting some sort of minor body attack for a couple weeks, somehow managing to survive New York City, a week of cold and snow, and an annual exposure to milk products at Pie Nite with little more than an occasionally queasy stomach and a morning sore throat. I could tell that fighting a cold wouldn't help my face heal, so I focused my Thursday late stay at work on making sure I'd be set up to work from home for several days between painkiller-induced naps and soft meals.

Most importantly, I made sure I didn't have any goals to accomplish anything this weekend. It was dedicated to lying in a hammock, eating soup, and reading National Geographic magazines (with a focus on my current geographic and historic interest in the Black Sea and Caucasus regions), enjoying the intellectual fruits of my summer physical labor schlepping glossy printed material from house to house.

The first few hours after the surgery were pretty surreal. I was prepared for the grogginess of post-general anesthesia but hadn't considered the challenges of a nerve-deprived bottom lip. I could manage tiny spoonfuls of coconut mango jelly and managed to get most of a coconut yogurt in my mouth, though an embarrassing amount ended up on my beard. Hot food was off limits for day one; I was glad that my shopping foresight remembered a tub of fresh-ground peanut butter, a spoonable protein that can reach the roof of the mouth even with minimally cooperative lips and tongue.

Friday was, I believe, my first experience with narcotics. (I think my only prior adventure with prescription painkillers was IV morphine when I broke my arm in middle school.) I really don't see the attraction: reduced coordination followed by a sudden nap onset. It's like the downside of being drunk without the fun of a tasty beverage and boisterous carousing to kick it off. Fortunately, when I woke up on Saturday I was mostly pain-free with a dull sense of soreness in my jaws that I was happy to let relax while I read RSS feeds in bed.

Kelly observed that she doesn't really have to take care of my family so much as remind us to follow doctors' orders. In this case it was "Oh yeah, even if I don't need medication for pain, ibuprofen will reduce inflammation and help healing." I also took this weekend to absorb her energy of home relaxation and media consumption, letting the things sit still and the future details fuzzy.
16th-Oct-2014 09:53 pm - Celebrate Chuck Berry's 88th Birthday
octagonal door and path
This Saturday, Chuck Berry turns 88, a very auspicious number.
While he rocks around the clock, why don't you reel and rock around our yard?

We spent much of the summer moving in to a house in east Boulder with two Ranger friends of ours. Then the moving boxes got swapped out for Burning Man boxes. Then those boxes came home and had to get the dust wiped off.

But now we've put everything away, cleared off the porch, and would love for our friends to help warm our house before it gets too cold. The weather looks good; highs in the upper 60s. Croquet and chili by day, beer and glow bocce by night. Plus board games, burn barrels, socializing, potluck, and all the other things you might do at a party.

If you didn't get my address from an invite on Google+ or email, drop me a line or call 303-EEL-WANG.
30th-Sep-2014 12:22 am - A Western Proposal
tell tale heart
Be Love and a colorful umbrella
The spiritual heart of Burning Man is the Temple, a beautiful, intricate wood structure. It serves as a blank canvas for the joys and sorrows, hopes and despairs, intention and letting go for the city. After three weeks in construction and a week in communal expression the Temple, along with all its messages and offerings, is burned to the ground as thousands watch in a circle of quiet reflection.

For the last year or so, my girlfriend Kelly has frequently asked if I want to marry her. It became something of a game: "Will you marry me?" "Not right now, I'm going to bed." "Will you marry me now?" "No, there's a cat on my lap." Kelly has played along, but I sensed she was getting annoyed by my non-answers.

On Tuesday of Burning Man, Kelly (aka Oasis) and I went on an art tour adventure in the outer playa, with the temple our final goal, hoping to leave offerings to Margot Adler and Robin Williams, two wonderful spirits the world lost this summer. But with construction delays from the August rains, it was not yet open to visitors.

On Wednesday morning, Kelly had a shift scheduled to give manicures to volunteer Rangers, a great way to keep her hands moisturized in the desert. I slipped away to the Temple with something of a plan. I found a good place for my photos of Margot Adler and Robin Williams and wrote Margot a farewell. I then walked around the inner sanctuary and the outer wall, searching for a blank slate that felt right: right shape, right position, right surrounding energy. I found it in a pair of wooden plates at eye level just north of the west door. After a lot of thought and grounding, I took out a sharpie and wrote on the left piece
Kelly, my love, my oasis,
will you marry me now?
Yours forever, Trevor 石胡子
and on the right wrote
Kelly's response? _________
I cried and smiled and then headed back to camp to await the moment of unveiling.

After a hot afternoon in the shade at Ranger Outpost Berlin I eagerly invited Kelly to ride out to visit the Temple in the sunset light. After five days of the environmental stress that makes Burning Man what it is, we were having trouble communicating when we arrived. I could tell she was stressed; my response was to ask lots of questions about what she wanted to do which just led to more annoyance. To ground and prepare ourselves, we walked a clockwise circle around the outer wall, setting a spontaneous intention to each cardinal direction. We then entered the southern gate and turned to face the inside of the outer wall. The first message we saw was someone else proposing marriage. "Will you marry me now," Kelly asked. "Not… right this minute," I replied. She grumped a bit while I kept a poker face. We continued a counterclockwise walk; I placed a hand on her back because I could sense her energy was still off kilter and I wanted to pass on some calm.

On the east side we saw a photo someone else had left in honor of Robin Williams. Kelly posted her photo of Robin and wrote him a message. As we continued along the north wall I realized there was a kink in my plan: she would see my Robin Williams photos before my proposal and I'd have to think of an excuse. She was angry when she spotted it, upset that I didn't wait to enter the Temple together with her. She continued walking along the west wall, a storm of emotion brewing. As we approached the gate, I placed my hand on her back and gently guided her to turn to the right. As she read the words I wrote, the bundle of tired and grumpy and upset melted into a great big kiss and embrace. I offered her a choice of sharpie colors to fill in her response. "Hell yes!" she wrote and then appended "– Dr. Stone." She's coveted my last name for a while.

With a chaotic summer, I hadn't had a chance to be a ring-seeker. I was also hesitant to buy an engagement ring that Kelly hadn't approved: what would be more awkward than a marriage proposal with an ugly ring as the centerpiece? In place of a circle of metal I brought a small bag of Mayan bracelets from a craft cooperative in Zunil, Guatemala. She selected one for me to tie around her wrist and I picked one for her to encircle mine. We kissed and hugged and cried and laughed and hugged some more and took photos and talked about our love for each other.

Took photos and kissedCollapse )

After we celebrated our moment in the west we saw a group of Rangers and artists from Element 11, Utah's regional event, carrying a banner honoring the man who ended his life in the flames of their effigy this July. We stepped into the central pyramid and the honor guard made their way to the west, parting the crowd between Kelly and me. We helped hold space as our comrades marked the tragic loss of a community member. Quick emotional transitions from fighting to uneasy to joyous to sorrowful: this compression of intense feeling is why Burning Man holds such a strong draw. We are fortunate that we could share this vulnerability with each other and we had a fantastic community to support and celebrate our choice.

On Sunday the Temple burned hot, serene in the crowded silence. The bones of the structure held strong as the details fell away and then the core collapsed together in a beautiful spiral a fire dance I've never seen before. The pillar with our proposal was one of the last parts to burn, an auspicious sign for a strong union.

Post Script: So… wedding? We're brainstorming ideas for our wedding in 2015. For family scheduling reasons, Memorial Day weekend is attractive, though no firm plans have yet been made. We're thinking about holding a variety show so our friends can help us celebrate through their many talents. We're also talking about making it a multi-day event so guests can get to know each other and enjoy the Colorado mountains in summer. We may also perform a marriage ritual at Dragonfest in August and we're digging through mythic sources in search of a good wedding story to play with.
18th-Sep-2014 12:56 am - Game Like A Pirate Day
black titan
Avast, Mateys! This Friday be Talk Like A Pirate Day! And this Sunday be Boxing Like A Pirate Day Observed! So make 1062 Stearns Ave yer port o' call an' try yer luck at cards, dice, and maybe a rousin' game o' Rum and Pirates!

Landlubbers are also welcome.

As usual, the details:
On Sunday the 21st, come to 1062 Stearns Ave, Boulder, CO 80303 any time after 2 pm. Come around to the back of the house; we're probably in the basement (or ring the new rear doorbell). Call 303-EEL-WANG if you get confused. Bring any combination of food, friends, drinks, games, and pirate accents. Be advised that the house is populated by four adult humans, one rapidly expanding human, two felines, and one canine.

Also, save the date: we'll be having a housewarming party on either Sunday the 5th or Saturday the 4th of October. Games will probably be played at that gathering too in addition to a casual bike ride, socializing, and sitting by the fire.
step to the moon be careful
Margot Adler passed away this morning, after living with cancer for 3½ years.

She is probably best known as a long-time reporter for NPR. Yet she is also one of the most recognized names in the Neopagan community, and introduced many of us to that world through her book Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and other Pagans in America Today. The book was published in 1979, a time when it was often difficult for people with minority interests to find like-minded people. In addition to cataloging the ideas and practices of a lot of different individuals and groups the book had an extensive section of contacts and resources, enabling the curious and isolated to plug in and learn more. The book was also an opportunity to educate outsiders: given a long history of Pagan persecution, most Neopagan groups in the 1960s through at least the 1980s kept a low profile. Since the Neopagans weren't telling their own stories in public, it was left to paranoid parents who watched Rosemary's Baby and fear-mongering evangelicals who conflate all non-Christian religious practices with Satanism. While Margot's book probably didn't make it onto Focus on the Family's bookshelf, it provided a non-sensationalist journalistic source that someone could point to which demystified the contemporary occult.

Margot used her three decades at NPR to share the stories of many other subcultures and marginalized groups, religious and otherwise. She approached her work as an educational conduit. Her stories didn't have a sensationalist bent with the unusual habits of a minority group used to titilate mainstream listeners, nor were they partisan promotions. Rather, she dove deep into the culture and brought their world view and social context to curious ears.

Margot was a frequent visitor to Boulder, attending CU's Conference on World Affairs 22 times. She came to CU in the fall of 2001 as part of the CWA Athenaeum speaker series. The main subject of her visit was journalism and her reporting on post-9/11 New York City. What neither she nor the CWA organizers realized was that CU's Pagan Student Alliance group was working through Drawing Down the Moon to learn about the history of modern Paganism. I managed to get on the list for the Athenaeum dinner and happened to choose a seat next to Margot's. She seemed a little surprised when I told her I was part of a group reading her book and asked about how the Pagan community had changed since the 2nd Edition was published in the late '80s. With true reporter skills she turned the question back to me and my perceptions.

At a CWA panel one year, an audience member talked about an African community she was involved with. She said there were people in powerful positions who used witchcraft as part of their trappings to remain in power and make decisions the questioner felt negatively impacted the village. She asked how she could bring up the negative effects and suggest change in a culturally-sensitive way. I remember Margot answering "Not all witches are wonderful" and suggesting that there were likely village members who were unhappy about the state of affairs and that they might be a good place to start organizing. This is what I love about Margot Adler: even though she was perhaps the most famous witch in America, she was really just a radical who happened to be a witch just as she happened to be Jewish and happened to be born in Arkansas.

I hope Margot's journey to the other side was the start of a fantastic new story. I'll toast her fondly in a week and a half as I dance and draw with Colorado's Neopagans.
21st-Jul-2014 12:26 am - New House, Old Games
black titan
After a hiatus full of box moving and parking challenges, it's time to restart the tradition of monthly games at my house.

HOWEVER! "My house" has a different referent. Get thee to
1062 Stearns Ave, Boulder, CO 80303
It's in the Cherryvale neighborhood of Boulder. Brief directions:
* Take Arapaho or Baseline east of Foothills Pkwy.
* Turn south (from Arapaho) or north (from Baseline) on Cherryvale.
* Turn east on Baseline (even if you were previously on Baseline).
* Stearns Ave is the first left past Platt Middle School. (Any of the first four lefts will eventually lead to Stearns, in case you miss.)
* My house is on the east side of the road, with a bunch of bushes along the street. There is ample (and I mean *ample*) street parking.
* Games will be happening downstairs, where we can't hear the doorbell or knocks. Come in the back door (through the gate) and down the stairs.
* This house contains four adult humans, one baby, one dog, two cats, and a large yard. Consider yourself forewarned if you're allergic to any of these things.
Arrive any time between 2pm and your bedtime on Sunday the 27th.
Bring friends, games, children, snacks, drinks, or whatever moves you.
Call 303-EEL-WANG if you need directional assistance.

See you this weekend!
14th-Jul-2014 11:58 pm - Why Do People Run Into Fire?
drum circle w/ fire
This past weekend, a man ran into an effigy burn and died, apparently as a premeditated suicide. This occurred at Element 11, a regional Burning Man event in the Utah desert. The Utah Burner community and others who attended the event are doing some serious processing and supporting this week and there's a lot of discussion happening in the broader Burning Man community. On my favorite mailing list, someone asked Do we know why people run into fire? I don't know any particulars about why this particular human ran into this particular fire, but I had a lot of thoughts about humans and our general relationship to fire.

There's a lot of symbolism and human cultural context wrapped up in fire. It's long been an element of mystery, harder to predict and control than air, earth, and water. We are often drawn to what we don't understand. Fortunately the discomfort of a fire's heat usually keeps us from playing too closely with fire, though many a young child has received a direct lesson as a result of their curiosity. Many people at Burner events cultivate a state of childlike wonder and, at times, lack of awareness of personal safety.

One of my favorite quotes about religion goes:
There are three ways of knowing a thing. Take for instance a flame. One can be told of the flame, one can see the flame with his own eyes, and finally one can reach out and be burned by it. In this way, we Sufis seek to be burned by God.
Fire and community are intertwined; it's a big part of why Burning Man works. From burn barrels to camp fires to bonfires, humans are drawn to the warmth and the light. Encircling a fire, you can see (because it's light) everyone (because it's a circle) and you see that they can also see you. We tell stories around fires. We cook food on fires. We bring fire to all our major ceremonial events. This is how community grows.

Since fire is a key ingredient in story and spectacle, death by fire is often a very public death. Burning at the stake was often a punishment for heresy, witchcraft, and other cultural crimes in which authorities wish to set a cultural expectation with the execution.

The myth of Icarus also shows an ancient warning about drawing too close to the fire and the dangers of hubris and brashness. He didn't even make it to the fiery sun, but his quest to do so killed him nonetheless.

Suicide by fire, much less common than execution, can also reach a much larger audience than many other forms of self-harm. Thích Quảng Đức brought global attention to conflicts between the South Vietnamese government and the Buddhist community in one of the most famous protests of the 20th Century. I doubt he would be remembered today had he died by hunger strike.

I don't know if or how the decedent at Element 11 planned his immolation, nor do I know what message he expected the community to take from the act. I suspect, though, he chose (perhaps subconsciously) this way to die in part because of its publicity; he knew this act would be known to the community. Had he wanted a private death he would have chosen a different method. There were surely inward reasons as well, whether it's fire's symbolism as purification, mystery, dynamism, emotion, passion, or some other way that flame spoke to him.

Fortunately, the community which was shocked by this act can also support each other in recovering. And that community has a larger, encircling community that can provide support for that network of support.

Footnote: Wikipedia's Icarus article has links to a few other cultures' myths of similar characters. Not to mention the cultural mythology of my teenage years, Pink Floyd, with this great live performance of Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun with a gong on fire.
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