Dear thieves who rummage through the center consoles of unlocked parked cars in the middle of the night,
I leave my car unlocked because there's nothing worth stealing in it. The $20 Target sunglasses with scratched lenses and a missing chunk of plastic have no resale value. The similar pair that's missing one of the ear pieces is worth even less. Please leave all pairs of cheap sunglasses in the car: they aren't much use to you, but they will help me get to work in the morning.
the guy with a beat up Subaru
Last month, on the Thursday before the Saturday on which I was scheduled to fly across the Pacific Ocean, I couldn't bear to keep my right eye open for more than a second because everything was bright and painful. The eye surgeon gave me a prescription for durezol, a steroid in eye drop form, to be taken every hour while awake, plus dilation drops three times a day. He told me to come back the next day. "I assume I shouldn't fly to Australia on Saturday," I said, having already resigned to the honeymoon cancellation. "Not unless you're going straight from the tarmac to a doctor's office," he said.
It's Thursday again, and we've got tickets to Maui. Half as far as New Zealand and for half as long, but I have twice as many functioning eyeballs, so I'll call it even. I'm about as packed now as I was a month ago, but I feel much more ready to go.
Man, Maui isn't an easy place to set up last-minute travel. I'm definitely going to need a vacation after the stress of setting up accommodation for two weeks.
I miss the days of getting off the bus in a new town and walking around the square to see which hostels have space.
But I'm super glad I can get to Polynesia at all. Hawaii is half way to New Zealand, and two weeks is half as long as a month. Yet I've got all of my eyes
, so I'll call it a blessing nonetheless.
I also found it refreshing that you can identify a small local business by their complete lack of adherence to modern professional web design. Like this eco-friendly rental car company
I think "adoxography" pretty well describes a lot of web journalism.
Originally posted by prettygoodword
adoxography - n. fine writing on a minor or trivial subject; rhetorical praise of things of doubtful value.
Unlike most rhetorical terms, this is NOT from ancient Greek, but rather coined at the start of the 20th century to describe an ancient Greek practice of having students of rhetoric make speeches praising such things as gout or fleas. The roots are Late Latin adoxus, paradoxical or absurd, borrowed by Erasmus from Greek adoxus, inglorious + graphos, writing. As an example, we can again point to Erasmus and his Praise of Folly.
Sorry for the light posting this week -- external obligations. Which will continue next holiday week -- regular posting should resume on the 30th.
In Multiverse #A, I'm at Google's Sydney office right now, chatting with coworkers and preparing for a summit exploring options for some new technology. I periodically close my eyes and think about plans for our upcoming month-long honeymoon in Australia and New Zealand.
In Multiverse #B, I'm sitting on the couch at home. We canceled our airfare after an ocular irritation deteriorated over two weeks. Every hour my wife puts a steroid drop in my right eye with a dilating drop thrice a day. I periodically take care of house organization tasks that have lingered for months.
Unfortunately, Multiverse #B is the one in which we live.
We spent most of December reading guide books, looking at maps, proposing itineraries, sharing adventure ideas, and connecting with Australasian Burners. Then on Sunday, January 3rd I woke up with a localized headache above my right eye. Assuming it was a hangover, I spent most of the day taking care of small details and hanging out on the couch looking up things about the southern hemisphere on the Internet. In the evening, Kelly mentioned that my eye looked really red and I was coming around to the idea that it wasn't just a hangover.
Monday the 4th was the first day back at work for a lot of folks, though I'd taken the holiday period to write a bunch of code on a new-to-me technology stack while nobody was sending interrupting emails. The Colorado sun reflecting on snow felt especially bright while I was outside and I still had a dull headache, but I thought I might recover. On Tuesday morning, the eye was still red, so I called my eye doctor and got an appointment that afternoon, wanting to make sure this was resolved before I left the country on the 16th. Her diagnosis was a bacterial infection in the right eye and gave me an eye drop sample of antibiotics plus steroids, targeted at thrice a day.
Even before I put the first drop in on Tuesday evening, I was feeling much better; I think the drops put in for dilation and other measurements helped clear some of the infection. By my checkup on Friday the 8th, I was feeling really good: my eye was still red with irritation, but my headache had gone and my vision was great. My eye doctor recommended I continue the drops for four days, but didn't think I needed to come back if things were feeling good.
On Friday night, however, things got worse. My headache returned and I was feeling really exhausted. On Saturday, light felt really bright and my head felt really lousy. I took some ibuprofen (which helped with the head but not the light) and we went to REI for some travel supplies. On Sunday I was mostly able to muster the energy to buy two Sydney→Wellington tickets, pack my suitcase and figure out which items I'd want on the plane.
On Monday the 11th, the world seemed really bright as I drove to work early. I met up with a colleague from Sydney and one from New York who were in town to work with me that week on improving our integration testing situation. I started to draw an architecture diagram on the whiteboard, but the glare mixed with the early morning grogginess was too intense. I grabbed some Google Privacy Week swag sunglasses and was able to face the whiteboard for an hour, then scheduled an eye appointment for the next day after my big presentation. Ibuprofen in the afternoon and the pair of sunglasses helped me finish the rest of the slides for my talk, though I was pretty drained when I left the office around 8.
On Tuesday, I was able to get through my lunch-hour talk about a new internal service development framework of which I've led the adoption in our team. Several people congratulated me, though I'm not sure it was the greatest presentation I've given. I think the ibuprofen wore off at about 12:55, and our out-of-town visitors were pretty concerned about my eye as I toughed it out for afternoon meetings. When I saw the eye doctor around five, she could tell I was having a lousy time, but couldn't identify anything specifically wrong. There was no longer any sign of the infection, but there was plenty of unexplained inflammation. She recommended I stop the eye drops and she said she'd call at noon the next day; if things weren't clear by then, she'd have a colleague check me out.
When I got home, Kelly said "If you lose your sight in that eye, I really hope you get Odin's wisdom." I was still hopeful that things would get better, but I asked if she would be upset if we canceled the honeymoon trip down under. She hugged me and was reassuring, noting that not having humans away for five weeks would make our cat feel much better. I think I summoned the energy to place a couple items on top of my suitcase that I'd remembered to pack, then went to bed.
After a restless night of sleep and an early morning awakening in our bright bedroom, I felt pretty terrible and really didn't want to open my right eye. I had a handful of nuts, took some ibuprofen, put a hat over my face, and laid down on the couch in the moderately darker living room. At 10:45 I summoned the energy to call in to my team standup and say that I'd be working from home and taking it easy, but also planing to leave the country on Saturday, so send me anything that needs my attention. I took a shower in the dark and was finally able to open my right eye, rather alarmed that it was as if I was looking through an icy window: everything was really foggy. My eye doctor called and when I explained that things hadn't improved, she had her office make an appointment for me with a local eye surgery office. In the afternoon and evening I was able to pull together the energy to get through a bunch of one-eyed code reviews that had been lingering for a while, but it was clear that I needed to take a break from my daily work of reading words on a screen.
Thursday morning found Kelly and me in an ocular exam room with the doctor looking very worried and saying I was experiencing an autoimmune response. He ordered a battery of tests from syphilis to lyme disease, prescribed a strong steroid to be taken hourly, and eye dilation drops thrice daily. On my right side I was having trouble reading even the big letters on the eye chart and my eye didn't want to stay open for even a few seconds of light. I actually went in to work after that, but mostly because it was an appealing place to have lunch. I attended the final important meeting about testing, delegated some tasks on a bug, and set my out-of-office reply to say that I'd be available for important business but that I needed to spend a few days away from email.
I woke up fairly early on Friday, so I put in an eye drop, turned on a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan album, put on a blindfold, and spent an hour and a quarter meditating and stretching. Kelly had to work on Friday, so I put on my coat and sunglasses and took the bus to the doctor's office, figuring some walking would be good after a month of not bicycling. Eye pressure was down and after another round of poking and prodding and strong eye drops, I finally felt comfortable keeping both eyes open at once, as long as I had sunglasses to keep the light away. I was also able to walk twenty five blocks from the bank to my house, which felt pretty nice.
Saturday was another early morning visit with the eye surgeon, who had a couple other folks he was seeing. There were a couple guys who were clearly in more ocular pain than I was, so I was feeling reasonably positive, even when I took a sad glance at my calendar when my notification popped up for my Denver to LAX flight. On Sunday we went on a half hour walk to brunch and the super market, unpacked my suitcase, watched the Broncos win a playoff game, and made dinner for my parents.
Today's appointment saw not much change from Saturday: I can make out the general shape of letters at 20/20, but they're pretty blurry. All the blood tests that have come back were negative, though some are still outstanding. I keep both eyes open most of the time. Having an eye dropper next to my eyelashes doesn't cause me to flinch away automatically, though I've still got mad respect for the willpower of people who put in contact lenses every day. I've had seven visits to the eye doctor in 14 days; I think we'll hit the limit on our high-deductible health insurance plan pretty quickly :-) Although we're not in a scenic location in southern summer, Kelly and I have spent a lot of quality time together. And we're brainstorming an alternate honeymoon trip to the Hawaiian Islands for later in February, once I'm able to fully appreciate sightseeing. And I'm feeling really glad that this problem didn't develop a month later than it did.
Aye aye, mateys!
I started reading Paul Graham
when he wrote A Plan for Spam
, and I wrote a masters' thesis examining several variants on Bayesian spam filtering. He generally writes insightful articles about creating tech startups, in large part because he's a domain expert on startup companies.
Graham's latest essay, on income equality
is, however, mostly useless. (Perhaps because he's writing about economics and society, about which he is not a domain expert.) He published a simplified version of his argument
boils down to the claim that economic inequality is purely a measurement and an outcome. He argues that economic inequality is not inherently bad and that we should instead focus on the problematic subset of causes of inequality. There's a grain of truth in this, but Graham totally ignores the outbound edges from economic inequality in the graph of social ills.
Some specific fallacies
in Graham's essay:
- Straw man
- Graham seems to be arguing against the position that less wealth inequality is always better than more inequality. The end state of such a position is zero inequality, in which all people have the same amount of wealth, which is basically extreme communism. He says "You can't end economic inequality without preventing people from getting rich, and you can't do that without preventing them from starting startups." I'm not aware of anyone who actually holds that position. Even the Occupy Wall St. movement, a melting pot of some fairly radical ideas, wasn't advocating for the top 1% to hold precisely 1% of the wealth; they just thought the richest 1% should own significantly less than 50% of the wealth. The non-vacuous position Graham fails to argue against is the case for reducing income equality, not eliminating income equality.
- Anecdotal fallacy
- The long version of Graham's essay focuses on startup founders, with Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder) and Larry Page (Google founder) as anecdotes. Startup founders are probably disproportionately represented in the top 20 billionaires, but I suspect that they make up a smaller fraction of the full 1% cohort. Even if, as Graham argues, major wealth acquisition for startup founders is socially beneficial, that does little to support his argument that income inequality in general isn't problematic if most of the wealth is concentrated in non-startup hands. Graham's reliance on anecdote is so strong in this piece that he dismisses economic statistics as a way to analyze the situation.
- Appeal to consequences
- Graham suggests that reducing economic inequality would reduce or eliminate startup culture. Graham basically takes it as a given that startups are good, and therefore concludes that attacking economic inequality would be bad. There is plenty of room for both. Furthermore, startups might not contribute that much to wealth inequality. Initial startup funding generally comes from venture capital firms and individual wealthy investors. A moderately successful startup typically gets bought by a larger company, enriching the initial investors, the founders and early employees, and potentially the shareholders of the purchasing company (if the market reacts positively to the news). Wildly successful startups usually create wealthy founders when the company goes public and the stock market places a high value on the company. In both of these cases, the story is mostly about the already wealthy moving money around, some of which goes to a relatively small number of previously-not-wealthy folks. Even here, Graham doesn't address whether the existing wealth disparity between successful founders, ordinary tech workers, and folks in less-lucrative is better or worse than other potential wealth distributions. Should employees hold a greater fraction of startup shares? Should IPOs be taxed to support poverty reduction efforts? Graham's essay gives no guidance on such matters.
Graham's essay proposes an odd argument of inevitability, too. He cites the exponential curve of technological growth as evidence that economic inequality has historically and will continue to grow exponentially. This seems factually inaccurate: the western has significantly less wealth inequality today than it did under feudalism. I suspect too that technological and economic progress in the post-war era was greatly facilitated by the destruction of significant amounts of wealth which (naturally) disproportionately impacted the rich.
Graham points out the "pie fallacy"–that there's a fixed amount of wealth to go around–and spends much of the essay talking about creating wealth. However, he ignores the fact that many important components of wealth are finite resources for which pie-division is a very important concern. The most notable of these is land, a finite resource whose supply and demand imbalance is being felt particularly acutely in Paul Graham's back yard: Silicon Valley where even educated and skilled workers are finding it difficult to afford housing. A more subtle somewhat-finite resource is consumers. A society in which few people have disposable income is one in which building new enterprises becomes increasingly tough. The lower rate of income inequality in post-war America is an important example (though Graham tries to dismiss it) because well-payed workers play an important ecological role in a growing economy, providing a wide base which can buy new products in turn funding the creation of more new products. Perhaps such an arrangement is unstable: from a relatively equal distribution wealth will naturally accumulate with the institutions and individuals who reliably generate successful business. But perhaps there's another part of that natural cycle in which the wealth becomes too concentrated and the system destabilizes, leading to destruction and redistribution of wealth, starting the cycle anew. If that's the case, should we pursue a "controlled burn" approach of intentional wealth redistribution or should we follow a "forest fire" approach when wealth redistribution comes with little warning and dramatic upheaval?
As is often the case, when exciting things are happening they take up most of my time, so I don't blog about them. So what better use of a New Year's Eve at home than a recap of the annum.
My primary foci for 2015 were my wife, my job, and my esophagus.
As you may recall, I proposed to Kelly at the Temple
at Burning Man 2014. Planning and executing a wedding celebration took about a year, culminating in a wonderful gathering of 150 of our best friends on September 19th
. Knowing that we wouldn't be able to pay attention to everyone at a single wedding day event, we created several opportunities to spend time with people: bridal shower, game day, a hike, a storytelling evening, a union ceremony, a reception full of dinner and dance, and a Sunday brunch to recover and say farewell.
Most of the decisions we made turned out really well, in some cases being more key than we'd realized.
- Planning and conducting the ritual ourselves
- The yin-yang and I Ching theme and the eight friends and family that played trigram roles
- The grand-right-and-left movement across the circle that brought guests face-to-smiling-face
- Foothills Community Park in Boulder as a venue, even though nobody told us there would be six soccer games in the field where we wanted to set up
- My Mom's Pie in Niwot who made 20 pies to boost everyone's blood sugar after the ceremony; much better than cake
- The Dickens Opera House in Longmont which were very accommodating, served a great dinner, and had a great space for dancing
- Double helix rings from Zander's Creations; I didn't expect to enjoy wearing a ring every day, but it's been really nice
- Reusable wedding outfits; we looked fabulous for a wedding, but we can also wear them on anniversaries and other party occasions
- Not having an expectation for wedding night sex because we might be exhausted, but being sufficiently energized that we could have fantastic sex anyway
- A Google Sheets gift suggestion list rather than a specific store's registry; we got a wide variety of gifts that can't all be found in one place (except, now, our house :-)
- Tracking invites, RSVPs, food restriction, chair requests, and everything else with Google Sheets
I think it's a very good idea to plan a wedding before getting married. You learn a lot about your partner and have an opportunity to get a lot of significant arguments out of the way. If you can get through all the stress and conflict of wedding planning and still want to get married, I think it's a good sign you'll stick together. Along the way, we stressed about
- What sort of wedding to have
- When it should be
- Where it should be
- How many days it should last
- How many people should be involved
- How the ritual should be structured
- How the reception should run
- Timelines for invitations
- Making homebrew in time for the big week
- Construction of flagpoles
- How to move humans in lines and circles
- Who was going to attend, even though they hadn't RSVP'd
- Where guests would stay
- What car to take
- Folding chairs
- The position of celestial bodies
- … and probably more I've forgotten
That's all a lot of chaos for a couple of introverts, so we had a separate private commitment ceremony in advance: just Kelly and Trevor and Joan the cat and a marriage license under the blue moon. This was the yin side of the wedding: inward looking and nurturing at night, establishing fortitude before the yang energy of crowds and movement in the sun.
Rest and Recovery
The traditional follow-up to a wedding is a honeymoon. But planning a wedding is a lot of work; planning a long vacation immediately afterwards would add undue stress. Instead, we set the intention of doing little but sleep, eat, and screw for the next month. Around our mensiversary we took a four-day agave moon
to Valley View Hot Springs for further relaxation and a side trip to the Colorado Gator Farm
and the sand dunes.
Moon of Honey
We'd been talking for some time about a honeymoon in Iceland. Winter isn't our ideal time for adventures near the Arctic Circle, so we figured we'd plan something for the summer time. Fortunately, we got an opportunity for an early summer. I've got a business meeting in Sydney in mid-January, which sounded like a great starting point for a month of adventure in the Southern Hemisphere. Wondering if there were any interesting Burner events in Oz, we discovered that Kiwiburn
is the week after my meeting. It turns out that New Zealand has a more compact set of adventure opportunities, fewer things that will kill you, and less intense summers. We're still working out the time balance between former British colonies, but it looks like we'll spend more time near the flightless birds than pouched mammals.
In 2014 we moved in with some friends in Ranger Outpost Cherryvale. Despite good intentions, the arrangement didn't work out. We got a great opportunity on a place we call Lucky Gin, with ample gardening, a nice kitchen
, and plenty of space to host friends and family in case a wedding should break out. Providing a safe home was one of my key wedding commitments to Kelly, and we hope to stay here until we have the opportunity to buy a house.
Googling and Alpha Bets
One of my big work accomplishments this year was the full launch of the new Google Drive web UI
. I led the handoff of production management and oncall duties to our great site reliability team. I then turned my attention to migrating the invisible and lesser-seen parts of our old and crufty server to smaller, easier to maintain homes. This led to a project of introducing an internal framework suite to our organization, evangelizing its use where appropriate, and coordinating things to make the transition feasible.
After six years on the team and my natural inclination to absorb information, my brain has become a repository for a lot of disparate parts of our system. My day to day work often involves answering lots of questions by email and reviewing lots of design documents. This means I don't spend as much time writing code as I would like, but it does mean that I'm demonstrating impact and scope
, so several people have told me I should go for promotion. I declined to spend energy on that process this year because the performance review cycle was the same month as the wedding and I was busy working on my promotion from fiancé to husband
. The next performance review cycle starts when we get back from our honeymoon, so it may end up feeling like an unproductive quarter.
The Esophagus is Connected to the Stomach
The least fun part of this year has been my gastrointestinal experience. Around the beginning of the year I had several sudden onrushes of an acid feeling, often expressed as tightness in the chest or pain in the jaw. They would often happen at night, waking me up and making me worry that I had heart trouble. I would also experience sudden trouble eating, finding it difficult to swallow. This was often on the third or fourth bite of a meal, but would also happen if I had a bready snack. Sugars like dark chocolate and dried papaya seemed to keep the issue somewhat at bay, and could provide relief after a sudden acid attack. At first I thought the feeling might be a side effect of wisdom teeth removal
, but it became fairly clearly gastrointestinal.
Western medicine didn't do a great job on this one. I saw my primary care physician early in the year. After a suite of tests ruling out heart trouble and a variety of other issues, he prescribed omeprazole
(brand name Prilosec), a proton pump inhibitor that helps reduce acid reflux. A course of that takes a while and didn't seem to solve the problem, so a few months later I saw an enterologist. That led to an endoscopy a few weeks later, in late April. That turned up partially elevated levels of an inflammation sign, but was otherwise unremarkable. So they prescribed a stronger dose of omeprazole, tapering over two months. That seemed to help a bit, but not a huge amount. In August I returned to the enterologists, who prescribed a modified barium swallow, which is basically a video X-ray of me eating. Of course the condition didn't end up triggering while the speech pathologist was working with me in the lab, but we determined that there didn't seem to be a structural problem in the throat. As the omeprazole course ended and I still had no better idea of the problem than eight months before, I returned to the entorologists. The next prescription was an inhaled steroid, with the goal of reducing the acid in the throat so it could recover on its own (IIRC). I picked up the prescription, but was wary of taking it, so I paid a visit to the naturopath who diagnosed me with a milk allergy over 20 years ago. As I described my symptoms she immediately inferred the problem: the top of my stomach stuck in my esophagus, likely from a night of intense vomiting last December (one of two likely proximate causes I mentioned on every doctor's visit). Her attempts to pull my stomach out of my esophagus were unsuccessful, though. Finally, I paid a visit to a massage therapist who's worked with my family for years. He was similarly very familiar with this condition and with half an hour of body work got my GI system in the best shape it's been all year. The problem isn't fixed entirely–I still often have trouble swallowing and occasionally get awoken in the middle of the night by an acid shock–but it's a case where a holistic approach was able to both diagnose and mostly solve the problem way faster than the western approach focused on data, hypotheses, and attacking symptoms.
Aside from marriage, work, food consumption, moving, and gardening, my time has been occupied some this year by brewing. It's a hobby I'd wanted to get into, but had put it off until owning a house so that I didn't have to worry about moving a fermenting 5-gallon carboy. My cider foray in 2014 got me started with equipment and I took the opportunity of a more convenient kitchen at Lucky Gin to get into beer brewing. In the late spring I made a by-the-recipe Belgian wit that's been well received; even some non-beer-drinkers have said they enjoyed it. In the summer I took advantage of the juniper tree and mint patch in our back yard and made a batch of ginger juniper saison. (Intended to be ginger-mint-juniper, the mint is basically undetectable.) This brew has been a hit with homebrewers who've called out the juniper aroma without it being an overpowering taste and the complex flavor profile from the ginger. Finally, Kelly and I started a batch of honeymoon mead this week. We hope to rack it before leaving so the yeast can be cheering us on from the secondary fermentation while we enjoy a more figurative honey.
In the kitchen, I also made at least four good rhubarb pies with our bumper garden crop as well as a couple rounds of banana and zucchini bread. Maybe one of these years I'll master pie crust.
I raise a glass of mead and a slice of pie to my friends and wish you all a happy new year. I'll see you on the flip side, so to speak.
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 badidea.example.com bettername.example.com
Of course, if you've got a post like "Update your old links; we're no longer badidea.example.com" then it'll say "we're no longer bettername.example.com." But at least this is an automatable process.
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.
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
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.
 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.WOMAN AT BAR:
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.
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.
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.
- Location:Lucky Gin
- Music:KGNU - The Present Edge
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
 More about this move later. The destination is a wonderful house in northwest Boulder we're calling Lucky Gin.
If you ask a PhD student what she'll do tomorrow, she might say "just dissert."
Originally posted by prettygoodword
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.