So.. my impression of meditation is that it is supposed to make me more mentally adept, somehow.. but I feel like most things I hear about meditation talk about relaxing and clearing my mind, which seems helpful if my problem is being stressed or anxious — which I definitely am sometimes — but mostly I'm depressed and unmotivated, and I'm sortof hoping to become more mentally adept so I can alter my brain to be the opposite of that. I wonder if meditation is the right tool for this..

When my brain chemistry has no "excitement" neuro-something-or-others floating around, and isn't interested in doing anything.. I wish I could get it to work on stuff that my future self would be appreciative of.


My adviser from grad school sent me a poem he thought I might like: No Title Required, by Wislawa Szymborska. I did like the poem — I like the idea of an introspective poem that traces a line of thought in situ, as it happens — but I thought it was too verbose. I trimmed it down a bit here:
I'm sitting under a tree
beside a river
on a sunny morning
I have come from somewhere
and before that
I have turned up in many other places
So it happens that I am and look
Above me a white butterfly is fluttering through the air
and a shadow skims through my hands
When I see such things, I'm no longer sure
that what's important
is more important than what's not
I'm not sure Wislawa would approve my changes. But I enjoyed making them.

I've thought about writing in the past. I've even tried writing a story — a very short story. But I'm not great at it. One idea that crossed my mind for becoming better was essentially copying someone else's story, but making some minor changes to it. Of course, this idea is just a copy of a previous post, it seems.


My sister wanted to know how expensive gas is in the bay area..

This is not photoshopped — the sign was just having an error — though it would have been so easy to photoshop that I suspect many people assume that's what I did.

This was posted on Facebook as a sortof experiment — see this post. I mean, I did think it was funny and worth sharing, but I usually don't post things on Facebook. Anyway, I'm reposting it here because someone pointed out that doing so would make more sense, and I agree.

Also, here's the original photo. It looked too small on Facebook, so I cropped it, though the preview image was really small, making me believe I needed to crop it more than I really did need to. Note to self for next time.


communicating with the world..

I had thought a good idea might be to generate a good reputation for some web presence so that people would come there all the time, and I could use it as an outlet to communicate thoughts to the world,

But now I think that people are directed to specific bits of information from sources like Facebook, Twitter, Hacker News, Reddit, etc, as opposed to checking up on their favorite blogs or websites,

So now I'm thinking that I should be trying to figure out how to send messages that get noticed in-and-of-themselves on sites like that, with no care given to attribute it to me, except that Facebook and Twitter will show my name, but I'm thinking that doesn't matter.

So I posted a thing on Facebook, and we'll see how many likes it gets, and iterate from there..

notes: posted at 7:17pm Pacific on Facebook.. todo: put likes after given amounts of time here..

update: about 6 likes after 24 hours.. let's see if I can beat that..


Caltrain vs Shinkansen

judging by a speedometer app on my phone: 79 mph vs 168 mph

I'm actually surprised that the Caltrain goes 79 mph.. I wonder if that's right..


Hm.. I wonder if and how the word "oDesk" has increased in research papers since it's existence.

idea: Facebook app "who's the most X person you know?"

..to find the most X person in the world.

exploration vs exploitation

This notion of exploration vs exploitation has come up a number of times over the past few days. I hadn't heard of it before. The idea seems to be this:

when you're trying to improve something, like your happiness, there are at least a couple high-level strategies:

exploration — try out new things to see if they make you happy. Has the risk that they won't make you happy, so exploration may sacrifice some near-term happiness in the hopes of finding some sources of happiness to exploit in the future.

exploitation — mining known sources of happiness, like watching more episodes of a TV show that I like.

On a side note: is there a name for cases where people take two things that they think are opposites, and come up with difficult-to-distinguish names for them that people always need to remember the meaning of each time? Like quality vs quantity? or sensitivity and specificity?


par 1

Are you thinking the same thing I'm thinking?

hiring an artist

So, one thing that's been working well as a filter hiring programmers is asking applicants to answer a simple programming question in their cover letter.

I decided to try the same thing with art.

Here's my oDesk job post:

draw this better ($20)

please spend an hour drawing this better:
to apply:
- submit a 1 minute sketch of a nose, with your name on it


I asked applicants to sketch a nose. There was a bit of confusion about this, since my drawing doesn't include noses on the faces, so some applicants thought they were meant to sketch a nose on the face.

I hired the first three people that submitted a nose sketch, and I kept the first drawing they submitted — I didn't ask for any improvements. The whole process from job-post to final results happened this afternoon/evening. Here's each person's application sketch, and their final drawing:



I often send notes to myself as e-mails. I got an e-mail from myself last Friday at 8:52pm, a couple minutes after I parted with a couple friends from work, and a few minutes before I boarded a Caltrain.

The note said just: Clearness.com

I have no idea what it means.


I figured it out. A friend had recommended a musical artist named Clare Means, who has a website claremeans.com, which my android device auto-completed into clearness.com.

So my subconscious self isn't planting notes to myself behind my back. Phew.

batch processing

I've shifted my batch processing routine.

I had been putting items to process in a json file, reading them all into memory, processing them all, and writing the results as json into another file.

But too often — like just now — I'd wait a long while until it was almost done, and then there'd be an error, meaning it wouldn't write anything to the file, losing all the work I had waited for.

So now I find myself putting everything into a temporary mongodb collection, querying the collection for a non-processed item, processing that item, and writing it back into the collection.

mongodb is so great.


stupid thought: it just occurred to me what it means to bite off more than I can chew — it doesn't mean to take on a project that's too big, but rather to take a step toward a project that's too big of a step

stupid thoughts

Occasionally I have thoughts. Sometimes I think, this is a good thought, I want to remember it, or share it with the world.

But often these thoughts are stupid. I know that because sometimes I write them down, and when I read them later I think: that was a stupid thought.

But maybe it's good to share even stupid thoughts.

I'd like to designate them somehow. I often say things like "this is a brainstorming thought", or "this is a hand-wavy idea".

I'd like to disassociate myself from the thought. I want to remove any endorsement of the thought, or even of its understandableness.

I'd like to effectively say: I just found this thought lying by the side of the road, and it caught my eye for some reason, and here it is.

Maybe a new word, like "blar". Blar: we need a new word to designate ideas from nowhere.

Maybe "blar says", or "dev/null says", as if the thing is coming from nowhere.. maybe "random says"..

Hm.. maybe "eval", like in JavaScript. Eval: run this statement in your brain, and see what it does.

"random thought" — hm.. if it's a thought that someone's heard before, then they might want to say "hey, that thought's not random, someone already thought of it"..

"some words" — closer.. this is pretty detached..



Lies are easier to understand than the truth.

Lies are sometimes easier to understand than the truth.

Distorting the truth sometimes helps explain a complex idea.

When explaining a complex idea, it sometimes helps to reduce the complexity of the idea at first — which is effectively a lie — and then add layers of complexity to that. If an idea is explained in its full complexity from the start, it may not be understood at all.

skype fail

While in Japan, relying on Skype for communication, Skype locked my account due to suspicious activity — I assume the suspicious activity was me being in Japan.

So before travel, I need to call all my credit cards, and also Skype. How do I even tell Skype I'll be travelling? (update: I talked to a skype agent, and they say this isn't currently supported, but they promised to put it in the suggestion box)

I hate automated fraud detection. It doesn't have me in mind. It is meant for lay people who's password is "password", who don't travel, who don't write scripts to login and automate their web services using machines running in EC2.


stories from Japan

under construction: I'll add more here later

My friend wanted to take me to a night club. I had never been, and this seemed like a good opportunity to try it. I asked what clothes I needed. He said I needed a nice shirt. He offered the one he was wearing, but I wasn't sure it would fit. So I went to buy a shirt at Tokyo Midtown, which is where I happened to be. I went into a shop and inquired about a shirt. $150. Plus, an undershirt, because the shirt isn't meant to button up all the way. $100. Plus, a "scarf", because they said those were popular at clubs. $150. When the time came to go to the club, I couldn't wear the "scarf" — too fancy.

Before going to the club, we went to a dumpling place, and got what turned out to be a gigantic bear (neither of us finished this). Then we went to "R2". It was packed, and not all that big. I saw no place for dancing. I asked my friend about it, and he said "no, this is a bar, the club doesn't open until after midnight". I had what my friends were having — a gin and tonic, followed by a shot of Jack Daniels. Then we went to "ColoR", a "night cafe". Cafe, not club, because apparently it was illegal to dance after midnight except at restaurants. We stood in line, and we were handed a thing telling us what we couldn't do there, which included "dancing". Apparently Japan was cracking down on dancing at clubs (or possibly cracking down on drugs at clubs, using antiquated dancing laws as an excuse to raid them). Anyway, we weren't supposed to dance. The first thing we did was get a Vodka Red Bull. I had never had Red Bull before. There was opportunity to drink more, but I stopped there. The night consisted of wedging my way through people trying to follow my friends, then stopping for a bit so we could shout in each other's ears and still not understand anything, and then go somewhere else, until we finally all lost track of each other. The music was mostly songs I liked, except modified to all sound like one continuous song with one monotonus beat. Maybe not that bad. I probably would have liked it more if there was dancing. People did kindof dance a little, but a club had been shut down the previous weekend, and I think people were legitimately making an effort to not dance. A friend attempted to get some girls to talk to me. He would shout something in their ear, and then they'd look at me and shake my hand.. I'm not sure what I was meant to do after that. Whatever it was, I don't think I did it. I left at 4:15am.

My friend and I were going to meet someone at Hikarie at 11am. I had difficulty getting there, and didn't arrive until 11:20am. Now Hikarie has about 11 floors with restaurants, and I didn't know which one, so I called my friend using Skype. He was also running late, and told me to call him back in 5 minutes. Then, my Skype app crashed, and wanted my password to login. I didn't know my password — I keep it in a password manager on my computer. I couldn't make regular phone calls from my phone, so I looked around to borrow someone else's. I saw a guy talking in English on his phone, and I was standing near him waiting to ask if I could use it when he said "are you Greg?" Apparently this was the guy we were going to meet, and my friend was calling him to say we were running late. Phew.

We ate at a place that sold "French Toast". My "French Toast" had salmon on it. It turned out to be amazing — one of the best meals I had in Japan.

After meeting, we decided to go to Kyoto. I wanted to ride the bullet train. My friend planned to stay there over night, but I planned to come back the same day, since my flight left the next day. The bullet train was nice. It had a power outlet. I got a speedometer app for my phone, and it said we were going 168 mph. We also had a great view of Mt. Fuji:

We walked along the river to a place with restaurants. It felt to me a bit like the river walk in San Antonio. There were some great smelling flowers. My friend wanted to show me some sort of barbecue place. We went to one, but it had a long wait, and I would need to leave soon for my train. A woman there spoke some English, and offered to help us find a place. We ended up at a place with absolutely no other people at all, just a chef, and an assistant to the chef. The meat was good, but I worried a bit about getting food poisoning, since maybe nobody else in town trusted this chef, and that's why nobody was there. It was also like $40, so maybe that's why other people weren't there. Anyway, I didn't get food poisoning.

At one point, my friend asked for some water. The chef didn't understand, and I got an opportunity to use a kanji character that I learned. I drew 水 on my chopstick's wrapper, and showed it to him, and he brought us some water.

With 3 hours before my flight, I went to my hotel to retrive my stuff. I asked Google how to get to the airport. It said, slowly. It didn't seem like I could get there in under 2 hours using public transportation — something about the timing of trains. So, I ended up in a taxi, paying about 10x what I would have paid, but I made my flight.

I was in the window seat. There was a couple next to me. When the women fell asleep, she would occasionally rest her head on my shoulder. It didn't seem appropriate to push it off, but I felt a bit guilty, because it felt good to have a women resting her head on my shoulder.

Of course, my flight had three legs. The first leg landed in Hawaii. I had a two hour wait before going to LA. But the plane had a problem. They kept pushing it back one hour at a time, and after three or four hours, they moved us to a different gate.

On the walk to the new gate, some people were talking to a guy who seemed to be the pilot. He was having difficulty doing something on his phone. I offered to help. While I was working on it, he brought us to a restaurant. The delayed passengers had been given food vouchers to eat dinner. The flight crew was apparently not given vouchers, and I offered to pay for his meal. He asked why. I said, "well, I paid about $200 for a taxi getting to the airport because I miscalculated how long it would take to get there on public transportation, and that's not a great story. But, paying for a pilot's dinner and having a conversation, for under $10, is a great story." It was a good conversation, but a bit awkward since this was not the pilot.

After more time, I asked if there was a direct flight to San Francisco. They put me on a red-eye that would leave in 5 hours, and I'd still get home sooner than my delayed LA flight, since I'd have to wait in LA for an early morning flight to San Francisco.

I got some Cold Stone ice cream, found a power outlet in the airport, and watched the new Arrested Development on my MacBook Air using my phone's unlimited 4G date connection. I had both devices plugged into a small power brick that I had purchased in Akihabara for just such an occasion.

Before boarding the San Francisco flight, they called me to the desk. "Are you travelling alone?" "Yes." "Would you mind giving up your seat, we're trying to get a family together." "Sure.. do you have a window seat in an exit row?" "Yes." "Fantastic."

Of course, this exit row seat did not appear to have a screen to watch TV on. So I got busy downloading music on Spotify on my fully charged phone while people boarded the plane — though the plane had a power outlet under my seat, so I suppose it didn't matter that my phone was charged. Midway through the flight, the person sitting next to me found out that we did have a TV thing — it came up on a weird arm under our seats. I finished the episode of 30 Rock that I started on the previous flight.