Trevor baby stare

Letter to my senators: An open and thorough impeachment process

Dear Senator Gardner, | Dear Senator Bennet,

I’d like to thank you for your cosponsorship of S.151, the TRACED act enacting tougher penalties for robocallers and supporting a framework for better detection and prevention of caller ID spoofing. This bipartisan bill shows that Congress can work together to defend the American people against shady practices that undermine public trust.

I’m writing you today regarding another subject of questionable behavior by powerful individuals that violate public trust. The Senate will hold impeachment hearings this month and the American people deserve an open, detailed, and impartial accounting of the accused’s high crimes and misdemeanors. The impeachment trial should be thorough and factual so that the public can understand what transpired, what crimes have and have not been committed, and hold our elected officials accountable.

In addition to the two articles of impeachment passed by the House, I am concerned about a pattern of disregard for the law and for the Constitution exhibited by the current administration, including the president himself. The Mueller report said “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Given the Justice Department’s conclusion that a sitting president cannot be indicted, this was a pretty clear indication that President Trump obstructed justice. It is up to Congress to take action on this illegal action by the President.

Furthermore, I am concerned that President Trump is in violation of Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution forbidding the President and others from accepting gifts and emoluments from foreign states. President Trump’s businesses are not held in a blind trust; this opens the President to potential influence by payments and business deals with foreign leaders, a state of affairs that worried the Constitution’s framers. The American people deserve a clear and honest examination of whether the President has thus violated the Constitution.

As we reflect this week on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., I am reminded that it is at times of trial and tribulation that we learn of a person’s true character. Dr. King urged us to rise to the vision of the founding fathers, a nation based on the rule of law that judges people based on their character, not their skin color or party affiliation. I urge you to set politics aside and push Majority Leader McConnell to hold an open and fair trial with lots of sworn testimony, ideally including testimony from President Trump himself. It is an important principle of American justice that a man has a chance to testify at his own trial.

Thank you for your service to the people of Colorado,
Trevor Stone

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black titan

Game Day Mailing List

I just noticed that the mailing list I use for game days at my house has a bunch of expired invites.
I don't reliably post to DreamWidth when I'm hosting a game day, so if you're interested in playing board games in Boulder and didn't get an email a couple days ago about the upcoming event this coming Sunday then let me know your email (you can do it privately at tstone at trevorstone dot org) and I can add you directly.

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Trevor baby stare

Flip Your Org Chart

My talk from Ignite Boulder 40 last month has been posted to YouTube. The basic idea is that organizations usually have a computer scientist kind of view: the CEO is at the top, with a pyramid unfolding below them. But what if you turned it upside down and treated it like a biology tree, with the root at the bottom and the frontline folks (who do the crucial work in most organizations) are at the top. If you've got five minutes and thirty-three seconds, give it a listen.

I've got links to the cool 1850s org chart, some info on the Black Rock Rangers, and downloadable copies of my slide deck on my Ignite page.

During the practice sessions, one of the Ignite Boulder organizers said that hat brims tend to hide your eyes. I wore a stovepipe hat and tailcoat anyway, since Decembers are the "dress fancy" Ignite Boulder events. The brim cast a much more notable shadow than I'd expected, but I like the result on the video: my cheeks look kind of washed out, making my eyes more prominent coming from the shadow. I was also really pleased with my delivery: during practice I was constantly feeling rushed to hit my slide timing cues, and worried I'd have to cut a few bits. But when I was on stage I simultaneously felt less rushed and managed to deliver all the material I wanted in each 15-second slide.

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Trevor baby stare

Update: Unwedge a Map Leaning Against a Door

Previously I asked for ideas on how to open a blocked door. I also posted it on my office's misc list, where it generated a lot of interest. I posted the following to that list after resolving the problem, but neglected to post here.

Thanks everyone for your good ideas. And your bad ideas, like rodents. My wife pointed out that introducing a new species to an environment to solve a problem rarely works out in the long run.

After our failed attempts to open the door on Wednesday night, my wife had a dream that I'd somehow brought home a wacky arm-wavy guy:
Blue inflated arm-waving guy animation

So last night, after my attempts to wedge a bamboo stick into the end of a long brewing spoon so that it could be turned upright didn't produce enough force, we experimented with inflation solutions. We experimented with inflating a trash bag in the hallway. Once we got a decent seal (trash bags are known for their rather wide mouths) we noticed that the bag didn't push out with a lot of force: it would just spread or pop when faced with a heavy object. Additionally, it didn't seem like it was long enough to reach.

My wife suggested that we use an air mattress, and we found one in the closet that's about the width of the door. (The first one we considered was a double, and I was concerned that it wouldn't inflate well if it was folded on top of itself.) We spent five or ten minutes stuffing the air mattress under the door gap; the handle of the homebrew spoon came in handy again. We then started inflating the air mattress from outside the door, with the other person pushing the door open a crack.

After a decent amount of inflation, the door opened wider than a crack and I was eventually able to slip my arm in. After some wiggling I was able to gain enough movement to put a hand on the frame and push it further back. I then had my wife start deflating the mattress so I could get the door open a little further and slide my whole body into the room. Victory! I moved the frame away and we deflated the mattress to the point that I could slide it out from under the door.

I think this mechanism may have worked not because the mattress pushed the frame up so much as because it managed to put pressure on the bottom hinge such that the pin popped out and the bottom third of the door had more freedom of movement; I'd previously noted that the top of the door was able to open a bit further than the bottom, where the frame was wedged.

Some recreated photos

An amusing coda: The 15+ pound frame fell while my wife was gathering items to get rid of, after reading Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. However, my wife hadn't followed Kondo's instruction (based on KonMari's roots in Shintoism) to ask the house permission before getting rid of things. So the room established a defensive posture. Ironically, the air mattress that we used to regain entrance to the room is one that I've been carting around from move to move, and haven't used in close to ten years. Thanks to my "You never know when you'll need it" archivist instincts, the forces of clutter were able to save the day.

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mathnet - to cogitate and to solve

Help Wanted: Unwedge a Map Leaning Against a Door

I've got an interesting problem at my house that I hope someone can help me solve.
TL;DR: There's a metal art frame wedged between a wall and the door to a room, and I'd like to move it a little so we can get the door open.

Our spare room has a door that swings in from the hallway.  To enter the room one must step in and turn left, because there's a closet wall that sticks out from the wall that's to the right of the door.

We had a large (4' tall? 3'6"?) map of Middle-earth in a sturdy metal frame standing against the closet wall.  Today the frame fell forward, pushed the door closed, and is now wedged between (I assume) the baseboard along the closet wall and the back of the door.  We're able to push the door just a little bit, but only to the point that there's a paper-thin crack next to the door jamb, not open enough to get something meaningful in.

The gap between the bottom of the door and the floor is perhaps half an inch: I can get my fingers under it but not my palm.  I was able to slide a long piece of bamboo under the door but wasn't able to get it between the art frame and the right-hand baseboard to try to push the frame to the left.  Based on a video I took by sliding a smartphone under the door, it looks like the frame is resting a few inches below the door knob, so I think it's got room to move up (and hence move the bottom away from the closet wall) if there were a mechanism to do so.  I think we only need to get the door open a couple inches past the jamb, at which point I could get a hand or other object in there to push the frame out of the way.

The room only has one door.  It's got two windows, but they're both latched.  (And the blinds are down, so I can't get an eye on the state of the room.)

So, wise and clever Internet, how can I get this thing to budge a little bit?

Without chopping a hole in the door with an axe, of course.  I'm leaving that as a last-resort option.

Other notes:
  • I'm okay with damaging the frame and/or the artwork; it was a gift that's been more of a white elephant than a blessing (and that was before it locked us out of its room).  Breaking a window seems more expensive than breaking the door.  (Also, it's cold outside.)
  • The hinges to the door are on the inside (so I can't easily remove the door) and the screws for the knob are also on the inside (so I can't take the knob out and reach my hand through the hole.)
  • There is a crawl space that goes below the room and ducting that I haven't investigated in detail.  The two air vents are far away from the door, but I think the cold air return is along the wall that's next to the door, so it might be possible to reach a very long object from there to the frame.  I don't know how detachable the duct work is, and I'd have to bust through the grate from behind (since the screws are on the inside of the room, natch).

I've been imagining a thin-but-firm object that can be inserted fully under the door, then somehow turned upward.  Getting the geometry right seems possible but tricky: the base of the frame is about 35" from the door; the door knob is about 35" above the floor, so I think the vertical height of the right triangle is a little less than the horizontal length.  The trick is getting the leverage/control to raise a long object once it's under the door.  Maybe a long, thin, firm object with an obtuse angle near one end?

A firm object longer than 3 feet with a hook at the end might also work if it can pull the bottom of the frame forward.

I'm sure there are other clever possibilities, too.

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Trevor baby stare

Speaking of Organizational Challenges

I'm speaking at Ignite Boulder 40 on December 12th at the Boulder Theater. I'm giving a talk titled Flip Your Org Chart about how to rethink the structure of your organization based on how you visualize it. Tickets are going fast!

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Trevor baby stare

A Decade

Ten years ago today I walked into the lobby. I got my photo taken and picked up my badge and a laptop. Or, as we say at Google, today is my tenth Googleversary.

Less than a month later Google's security team discovered Operation Aurora, an advanced cyberattack campaign conducted by China aimed at obtaining intellectual property from U.S. companies and, in Google's case, email data from Chinese dissidents. Before announcing this attack, Google instituted some fairly disruptive security requirements—Googlers around in 2010 probably remember entering OTP codes seemingly every time they wanted to interact with an internal resource. One of the things I've really admired about Google is that the security team didn't stop with a secure-but-onerous solution. They recognize that security and usability don't have to be in tension, and over the last decades internal security has increased while simultaneously being easier to use.

I've often felt like I joined Google at an inflection point in its history, and the history of the Internet. The Operation Aurora attack was one symbol of it: user data was quickly becoming the most valuable piece of the Internet. The early 2010s saw the decline of many open protocols—from CreativeCommons to OpenID to RSS to preventing Facebook from scraping contact data—as companies focused on capturing users in walled gardens and extracting value from user data. Internally, Google was adapting the scale challenges of tens of thousands of employees (in the early 2000s they'd shifted from hundreds to thousands and could no longer all be in the same place at once) and not long after reorganized from parallel org charts for engineering, product, and user experience to an org chart where each product-area was its own tree.

Google was also assessing its product strategy: for ten years they'd launched a lot of experimental products and features. Some had become wildly successful, like GMail and Maps, while others hung out in something of an unfinished state, not getting the investment to become truly useful. The Internet was shifting no longer was it email plus a world wide web of random interesting stuff. The iPhone was fairly new, and on my second week at Google everyone in the company got an Android Nexus One as a holiday gift. Social connections were also clearly a new important Internet dynamic, and Google invested heavily in addressing that gap.

User data, mobile, social, and security. And cloud computing. That's a good pass at the Internet themes of the past decade. Throw in some machine learning, because there's finally enough compute power to scale those algorithms. And while I wasn't at Google for the first ten years, it felt like I joined at the time of a big shift to play in this new sandbox.

Today, I think it's pretty clear that both the Internet and Google are undergoing another inflection point. Internally, Google's feeling the scaling crunch of a shit from tens of thousands of employees to hundreds of thousands. At quarterly engineering meetings we used to see detailed presentations on Search and Ads, and even folks who didn't work on those products were pretty well versed in their domain models. Today a meeting with a deep dive on every billion-dollar business would take all day, and most engineers don't have the context to understand everything that's going on in another product area. Google's also struggling with symptoms that are visible on the Internet at large: hostility towards perceived out-groups, lack of trust in institutions and processes, and a high-stakes focus on controlling the narrative.

Today when I hear about something on the Internet I'm a lot likely to say "ugh!" rather than "awesome!" which is a big shame. In the aught naughts and in the nineties the ratio was high on awesome, and a big slice of the ugh was for stuff that now feels trivial, like under-construction gifs and garish MySpace layouts.

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Trevor baby stare

Shelf Care

Being raised by a bibliophibian from a family of teachers and a recording engineer/radio DJ, books and music were ubiquitous in my household. I became an adult around the time that the Internet was hitting its stride as an endless repository of digital media, but I've still got an emotional attachment to physical media and the "save everything" instincts of a would-be librarian.

When we bought a house early last year I recognized that bookshelf-appropriate wall space was at a premium. I also had a jumble of cheap Target bookshelves I'd carted through seven moves. "Great," I said, "Now that I don't have to move for a couple decades I can invest in nice, solid bookshelves to cover this long living room wall." We made a couple forays into furniture shopping over the next 18 months but discovered that most bookshelves seem to prioritize "look nice with a few objects" over "conveniently hold hundreds of pounds of books."

About a month ago we lucked out and found two tall and stout oak book cases with plenty of shelving. Bonus: they were only about $100 each! So I spent several hours packing the books from the crapy shelves back into their boxes and onto the sun porch and moved the shelves with redeeming qualities into the guest bedroom. The next weekend I got to experience the great joy of unpacking a bunch of boxes of books, like a present I'd wrapped for myself full of great books that I'll surely get around to reading in this house. I also got to play the fun game of inventing a classification system while simultaneously satisfying shelf width constraints and adjusting for height. So in this library "Dusty hardcover fiction," "Fiction compilations and tall novels," and "Mass-market paperback novels" are separate categories on separate parts of the wall.

I then unpacked a dozen or so boxes of National Geographic Magazine, my favorite periodical. Those get to live in the guest room, along with art books and a few others that are good random-access reading. This in turn meant that the garage had enough space to set up shelving units and a full-height freezer, for a different sort of archival material.

The one remaining shelving issue was games. Two cheap Target bookcases had almost every cubic inch used up by board, card, and tile game boxes. Two weeks ago I managed to score again at the used furniture store and found an open-backed bookshelf that doesn't block the power outlet and fits precisely between the stately oak bookshelves and the mass market paperback shelf (which itself has lived on, despite being a rickety cheap Target shelf, because it's short enough to stay out of the way of the thermostat on the wall). This shelf makes the game day browsing experience much better, and nicely rounds out the library media setup.

Meanwhile, my digital media life was in need of some shelf care of its own.

When I got back from Iceland I noticed that my external hard drive, on which I store 1.3 terabytes of music (plus photo and document backups), was showing signs of failure. Fortunately I had (1) a hard drive of twice the size which I bought earlier this year when backing up a bunch of data that was about to be deleted from the web and (2) an old hard drive of half the size containing 1.1 or so terabytes of music. I was able to copy all the pre-2013 music to the new hard drive to cover most of the gap. I then used find, diff, and rsync Unix utilities to identify all the tracks I added in to iTunes the last six years. This managed to save perhaps two thirds of the music. Fortunately for my emotional attachment to media data, I haven't spent much effort downloading mp3s in the last decade; they mostly came from CDs I bought recently or that my family owns, so I can recover most of the music library by re-ripping, though it means I need to develop a shelving plan for the boxes of CDs in the garage :-/

On the other hand, in the last six years I've downloaded thousands of podcast episodes. And given my instincts for media preservation I don't delete podcasts after listening, and I feel oddly awkward knowing they're missing. So I whipped up a couple ruby programs to parse my iTunes library XML and the podcast RSS feeds, download the mp3s, and save them to the right filename. This was particularly complicated for a few podcasts that only provide a month or two of episodes in their RSS feed, so I crawled a few websites to get historic episodes. This felt a little obsessive, but I'm about eleven months behind on podcasts and not listening to regulars seemed like it would be disappointing.

A couple weeks after finishing resurrecting my pile of podcasts I got a surprise system error on my Mac. It's sort of the Apple version of the famous Blue Screen of Death: stylishly designed with a semi-transparent gray color scheme and rounded corners. I've seen this three or four times in the last two decades of using MacOS X, and two of those were in the last couple weeks. Worried that my system had a hardware issue or major configuration problem I hit the "Upgrade to macOS Catalina" button late that night.

After the new OS version installed the next day I immediately regretted the decision. In my tired and minor panic I hadn't thought to read the full "What's new in Catalina" story before upgrading. The two big changes are that 32-bit apps are no longer supported (I have a few installed, but don't recall using them for years) and iTunes was replaced by separate Music, Podcasts, and (audio) Books apps, following the UIs of those apps on iOS. The Music app looks okay, but I panicked when I realized that the Podcast app has almost none of the iTunes features I'd come to depend on. It imported my old podcast subscriptions, but only showed the episodes currently present in the RSS feeds, not my decade worth of saved episodes. Crap, that's going to disrupt my 11-month-behind listening sequence I said. More importantly, the new Podcast app doesn't have any real episode organizing tools. I listen to podcasts on an iPod Shuffle, which has two excellent features for listening to podcasts while riding a bicycle: it clips to the outside of my clothing and it can be fully controlled with a single gloved hand without looking at it. I load the iPod Shuffle by building a playlist of episodes I want to listen to (in chronological order, skipping lots of reruns and uninteresting TED talks) and adding the next chunk from that podcast once a week when I charge the iPod. The Podcast app no longer knows anything about connected devices, but the Finder window for an iPod Shuffle will let you pick podcasts or specific episodes to sync. Unfortunately, that sync interface doesn't show any date or play count information, and scrolling through 1,000 episodes of a daily series is not worth my frustration.

Since this iPod Shuffle setup has become a remarkably crucial part of my informational life in the last decade I decided that I needed to downgrade from Catalina to Mojave, the previous macOS version. (I tried just copying iTunes from a non-upgraded computer, but leave it to Apple to prevent a perfectly good application from working when you upgrade the OS.) Internet documentation intimated that downgrading the OS would erase all data on the drive, so I spent another week with find and rsync to identify and back up all the important files on my internal drive. But hey, I hadn't yet backed up my photos after the previous external drive crashed with its backup set. Last Friday my iPod Shuffle ran out of batteries and on Saturday I had completed all the backups I'd identified, so I downloaded and reinstalled Mojave. After the reinstall I noticed my drive's free space was suspiciously low, so I poked around and discovered that, in fact, all my old files were still around in /Previous Content/, so the restoration process was quick with moves instead of copies. By carefully copying folders from my Library directory I was delighted to find that Chrome launched with all my old open tabs (another piece of my digital hoarder profile) and my Google Drive database didn't think anything was different about my local folder, averting a large download from the cloud. And, blessedly, my iTunes is back, with the same information-dense list view I've come to love since I first downloaded it in 2001.

phew that's enough archivist labor for the year. I'll put off thinking about what I'll do if Apple stops providing security patches for Mojave before my iPod Shuffle stops working. It's more than ten years old, having outlived every mobile computing device I've possessed. It's one tough cookie.

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Trevor baby stare

Iceland Recap #1

[I started to write a blog post about my Iceland trip on the ride home, then promptly got busy on return, so didn't even post the beginning. Hopefully I can carve out some more time in October for blogging; there's plenty to share!]

International travel in the previous decade featured planned and opportunistic visits to a desktop computer to check email and post to LiveJournal. Many hostels had a computer or two in a common area and you could pay cash at cyber cafes to use the Internet for a few hours.

Traveling in 2019 means the Internet is always in your pocket and you can reply to an email at any ol' cafe (many of which offer free WiFi but none of which have a keyboard handy). Typing on a phone is a pretty miserable experience, so proper travel journaling tends to lose out to flipping through RSS feeds of publications that haven't woken up yet.

A brief Iceland trip report, written on a smartphone keyboard on a plane over the great plains…

The idea for the trip was to celebrate my parents' 50th wedding anniversary and Kelly and my 4th. Icelandair's Denver to Reykjavík flight features a totally reasonable early evening departure so we had ample time to show up at my parents' house early, focus my mom on finishing packing, and get to the airport with no need to rush around. The overnight nature of the flight had given me hope that plane-sleep would be possible, but with a flight time under eight hours you'd have to be a sleep ninja to get a good night's rest between beverage service and morning-over-Greenland (which was gorgeous, by the way, with black stony peaks poking up through white ice and clouds).

Upon landing we managed to take a bus into town, pick up a car, find a restaurant, and buy groceries (all praise the "Google Lens live-translate the words your camera is pointing at" feature of Google Translate for helping us avoid allergies and properly identify herring in wine sauce). Everyone else in the car nodded off while Google Maps led us to our rental cottage near Þingvellir lake. I guess travel in the smartphone era isn't all bad.

Þingvellir, ancient site of the Allþing the world's first parliament, sits dramatically between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The Öxará river plunges over the cliff face (the first of many waterfalls we saw) and then shifts suddenly back to a slow and wide steam. The seats of government power tend to be designed to inspire awe—think of the grand marble buildings in Washington, inspired by the marble ruins of ancient governments in Athens and Rome. But as upstarts with only the resources available on a volcanic island and whatever they can row across the North Atlantic, an annual gathering in a stunning outdoor setting saves labor for the more important work of building farmhouses that stay warm for the winter.

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Trevor baby stare

The ABCs of Unix

I got the following from the fortune program today, which Edward Gorey fans will appreciate. I hadn't previously known the join command, and there's a good chance I've written a hacky version of it before. I also learned about comm yesterday which has nothing to do with communication but was exactly the tool I needed to print all the lines in file A which don't appear in file B.
A is for awk, which runs like a snail, and
B is for biff, which reads all your mail.
C is for cc, as hackers recall, while
D is for dd, the command that does all.
E is for emacs, which rebinds your keys, and
F is for fsck, which rebuilds your trees.
G is for grep, a clever detective, while
H is for halt, which may seem defective.
I is for indent, which rarely amuses, and
J is for join, which nobody uses.
K is for kill, which makes you the boss, while
L is for lex, which is missing from DOS.
M is for more, from which less was begot, and
N is for nice, which it really is not.
O is for od, which prints out things nice, while
P is for passwd, which reads in strings twice.
Q is for quota, a Berkeley-type fable, and
R is for ranlib, for sorting ar table.
S is for spell, which attempts to belittle, while
T is for true, which does very little.
U is for uniq, which is used after sort, and
V is for vi, which is hard to abort.
W is for whoami, which tells you your name, while
X is, well, X, of dubious fame.
Y is for yes, which makes an impression, and
Z is for zcat, which handles compression.

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