3,833 words
@raritetdotco

Home-work and stationary digital nomadism

I was going through my notes and I see that my first post was about being a stationary digital nomad, if that makes any sense. (It doesn't make sense, but you can probably figure out what I mean.)

It seems that in this day and age it warrants a closer look.

With lots of us working from home, we're doing a lot of the things that digital nomads would do, without having to quit our jobs. I'm not entirely sure yet if, on balance, this is a good or a bad thing.

I can say that, in my line of work and geographical location, we're as busy as ever. So even though I'm at home, I have less time to pursue my ideas than before. (I must say that, in practice, the outcome is comparable at precious little progress, so perhaps I shouldn't complain?)

There is also the concern of job security, which seems to be a serious issue these days. I'm in a pretty sweet spot, so I feel safe. But I none the less tend toward anxiety and look for any excuse to not make large life changes (says the yoyo with two kids and third on the way). So I know this will complicate my attempts at independence.

On the other hand, it might simplify keeping my job and cutting my hours to work on other projects. With everyone at home, my absence will be less conspicuous. (I should note that the concern is not management. I plan to work this arrangement out with management. The concern is just nosy coworkers, especially those that would complicate management's life, thinking I'm getting some sort of special treatment.)

Anyway, that's what I've been thinking about lately. No answers. I guess we'll just see what happens as I pursue opportunities.

On applying a dollar value to life

I was reading an article a few weeks ago -- probably a few months ago at this point -- explaining to the layperson how it might be possible to compare the economic damage due to stay-at-home orders against the loss of life that could occur if people continue their daily routines.

Pretty quickly the discussion comes to the fact that this disease disproportionally impacts the elderly and infirm, which then gets us thinking about how to value individual lives as opposed lifetime lived or lifetime to live. The implication here is that, when we apply a value to a human life, we should consider what it is we value.

Some argue that we should value, essentially, the experience of life. That is, we should value life for the time left to live it. This is pretty clearly reasonable at the extremes, where most of us would feel more sad about a child dying than an 89 year old, terminally-ill, cancer patient. But aside from that extreme example, it doesn't quite sit right. In fact, when the US government proposed a similar method of calculating cost-benefit analyses, they got such vigorous pushback from many, including the AARP, that they promised to never even consider it again.

That said, not thinking too hard about it, the logic seemed sound to me. But it felt wrong. And it took me a little time to understand why.

What we value is not the number of seconds a person has left in their life, or even what their life could be used for. We value the person's life because that person values it. They don't want to lose their life and we respect that.

Put another way, it's a question of property rights. You own your life an no one should be able to take it from you. It's no one's business that you might die tomorrow. Your life is solely yours to live now.

I'm trading in silly stereotypes here -- I apologize and please understand that this is a rhetorial device to make a point more clearly -- but this property rights approach should make more sense to the engineer/libertarian/do-the-math crowd that might initially approach the valuation of life in terms of a function of time left to live.

Response to anti-media nihilism

This post was inspired by a conversation between a couple people on Facebook beneath this image:

Diptych of lioness carrying cub, each image from a different view so one looks sort of like she's eating the cub.

Without linking directly to the conversation, essentially the original poster said the usual thing about the mainstream media manipulating reports and presenting them in a way to warp real events. The solution presented was, of course, to "do one's own research." As you may guess, this person leans conservative and the post was made in the context of unrest regarding police brutality and racism in general.

In one way I might even say I agree regarding the media. Showing video of people looting is way more exciting than people just standing there, chanting for justice. So you will certainly get an unbalanced view of how much looting is going on if one can't balance in one's head the necessary salaciousness of a news story against the always more moderate truth of the comparatively boring real world we live in.

That said, overall, this rejection of basically everything we see on the news sounds uncomfortably close to nihilism. And since pretty much no one is an actual nihilist except maybe those anarchist agitators Soros buses in to rural neighborhoods to fuck shit up, it ends up meaning that people just rely on their gut instinct instead, which is based on even less evidence and has even fewer checks and balances than the mainstream media boogeyman that everyone loves to deride.

What the original poster described sounds more like an indictment of Facebook and similar media aggregators rather than the actual news sources themselves. Facebook, for example, relies on commenting and sharing -- "engagement" -- for their very existence. Facebook shows us things that fire us up because we will then respond and "engage" with each other, thereby spending more time on Facebook, exposing ourselves to more ads and making them more money. So Facebook will feed conservative Cuban-Americans incendiary pictures of goofballs in Che shirts stepping on the American flag not because it's news, but because it will make them mad enough to share and comment, which will get their likely like-minded friends to do the same. All the while, this makes it seem that idiots in Che shirts are a problem of any consequence whatsoever, when out of 7 billion people in the world, or 350 million in the USA, Facebook manages to show us the pictures of the two that actually exist.

The mainstream media, however, are not quite as beholden to this kind of feedback loop, though admittedly they are businesses and do need to make money to survive.

Not having the infrastructure of a large news organization full of rule-oriented nerd editors and scaredy-cat lawyers afraid of defamation lawsuits at our disposal, "doing our own research" ends up being sharing photos of questionable origin from the Facebook page of www.goTrumpUSAforAmerica.biz or whatever the equivalent liberal version is (I wouldn't know).

I'd argue that the benefit of sophisticated, well-funded mainstream media is that, while you can only see the lion eating the cub, they can send a journalist over there and snoop around and eventually snap a picture from the other angle.

And there's a cold, calculating business reason for this as well. Despite all the talk of "agendas" or whatever, journalists are always first trying to scoop each other. They LOVE to prove other journalists wrong, and if they can get the real news, they win, their paper gets more traffic for this hot item, they get more ad revenue, and so on.

I know this is not the cool thing to say because everyone loves to cry about "the media" and "politicians" or "whatever other source of all our problems (not ourselves)" such that it has no meaning anymore. But generally trustworthy, experienced, established media organizations have value, even through the truth they uncover may not comport with our beliefs. Our beliefs are just that, beliefs, and should simply change a little bit when presented with confounding evidence rather than make us all agitated.

Do not attribute to malice...

Do not attribute to malice what can be attributed to anything else.

We've all heard that before. Though many of us have heard it as "... what can be attributed to stupidity," I find anything else to be more accurate and certainly better for my mental health.

But as I think about it, there is more to the story. Context is critical to the application of this maxim.

This saying is a way for one to interpret the world for oneself: If someone cuts you off in traffic, assume they didn't see you. It'll save you a lot of frustration and they probably really didn't see you anyway.

But when it comes to interpreting the actions of someone toward a third party, we need to approach those interactions in the way that will lead to the greatest good. It pains me to use royal gossip to make a point, but the treatment of Meghan Markle in comparison to Kate Middleton comes to mind. Someone told me that the issue is probably that Meghan Markle is not British, so that's why everyone treats her unfairly -- if even they are treating her unfairly. And that's probably the approach Ms Markle or really anyone on the victim's side of the interaction -- even people of color everywhere -- should take to interpret her treatment for their own mental health.

But when it's me, nominally on the aggressor's side as a white person commenting on royal gossip online, and certainly not possibly a victim in any way whatsoever, I need to view the interaction suspiciously, assuming that the complaints of racism could very well be true.

Why? There is no benefit to me assuming that racism bears no import on the situation. Well, I suppose it would let me feel better about the world being less racist than it is. But that's about it. However, if I assume that there may likely be a racist component in the public's treatment of Ms Markle, then I can look more critically at people's actions to attempt to get closer to the truth, I can look at my own actions to make sure I'm not being racist, and I can look at the actions of people close to me and help them look into their own motivations.

Put another way, it's healthy to accept certain inconsequential injustices on oneself, chalking them up to the stupidity or ignorance of the aggressor. But we need to expose and fight injustices elsewhere so that they can be routed out and eliminated.

The aesthetics of multicoding

I guess esolangs, espteric programming languages, are my thing. Or one of my things.

I was particularly delighted by this line about a particular esolang called Whitespace from this article:

Whitespace (2003) uses only tab, space, and return. In Whitespace, commands are multicoded as what is normally read as their absence. These characters are treated interchangeably by C and C-derived languages, meaning Whitespace programs can be embedded between words in these programs, creating polyglot programs that function in both languages.

Primify

I just like this idea. Give this software an image and it finds a prime number that can represent it in ASCII art.

Like so:

77777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777
77777777777777777777777777777777779888388897777777777777777777777777777777777
77777777777777777777777779111111111111111111111111197777777777777777777777777
77777777777777777777711111111111111111111111111111111111777777777777777777777
77777777777777777911111111111111111111111111111111111111111977777777777777777
77777777777777711111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111777777777777777
77777777777791111117777311111111111111111111111111111877771111119777777777777
77777777777111111177777777791111111111111111111117777777777111111177777777777
77777777711111111177777777777777777777777777777777777777777111111111777777777
77777777111111111177777777777777777777777777777777777777777111111111177777777
77777791111111111117777777777777777777777777777777777777773111111111119777777
77777711111111111177777777777777777777777777777777777777777811111111111777777
77777111111111117777777777777777777777777777777777777777777771111111111177777
77771111111111177777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777111111111117777
77771111111111177777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777311111111117777
77771111111111777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777711111111117777
77781111111111777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777711111111118777
77781111111111877777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777811111111118777
77771111111111177777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777111111111117777
77771111111111117777777777777777777777777777777777777777777771111111111117777
77773111111111111877777777777777777777777777777777777777777811111111111137777
77777111111111111113777777777777777777777777777777777777731111111111111177777
77777711111111111111111777777777777777777777777777777711111111111111111777777
77777771111117777711111111113837777777777777773831111111111111111111117777777
77777777111111117777111111111117777777777777771111111111111111111111177777777
77777777781111111777773111111187777777777777779111111111111111111118777777777
77777777777111111177777777777777777777777777779111111111111111111177777777777
77777777777771111111877777777777777777777777779111111111111111117777777777777
77777777777777781111111111111137777777777777779111111111111118777777777777777
77777777777777777781111111111137777777777777778111111111118777777777777777777
77777777777777777777773111111197777777777777779111111137777777777777777777777
77777777777777777777777777789777777777777777777788777777777777777777777777777
77777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777784651

Step back, squint, and you might see Octocat.

Via Esoteric Codes.

Why do meetings exist?

I'm talking about the boring office park cubicle farm conference room meeting that we all hate. So why do they exist if everyone, at least the rank-and-file, seem to hate them? I have a theory.

When you get to a certain point in your career, your job ends up being little more than forwarding emails or firing off incomplete, one-line responses to the well-thought-out emails of your staff.

I'm sure you've gotten those. You ask your boss two questions and get something resembling an answer to only one of them. This happened to me Monday and I just gave up, made a reasonable guess, and will wait and see what happens. If my guess was wrong, I can at least say, "hey, I asked."

The only way to get those questions answered is to trap the boss in an interaction where they are forced to respond, such as by stepping into their office holding list of action items with check boxes next to them. Bosses know this, though I suspect they do only unconsciously, and therefore schedule meetings when they think something actually needs to get done.

The problem is that they think the whole team has their inability to attend to detail. Their progression from worker to manager was gradual enough that they didn't notice when they went from producing deliverables to barely keeping up with emails, or Slack messages depending on your workplace.

Managers feel productive after a fair to good meeting because they actually did something other than forward emails. But workers feel unproductive after all but the best meetings because they actually do have the ability to produce just fine at their desks, at a reasonable pace, in response to thoughtful emails bounced around the team.

Concept radio for amateur satellite communication

This Listed platform might also be useful to serve as an idea and project log. In a way, I can pretty much just set some of my personal notes to publish on Listed, with only some minor additional context provided for the reader. So here goes...


You may or may not know that there are satellites orbiting the earth carrying amateur radio equipment, allowing people to make contacts across much larger distances than they normally would be able to. Working these satellites is fun because it is a little challenging, but it can be done with inexpensive and even home-made equipment.

Here's a picture of one being assembled:
The D-Star One amateur radio satellite being assembled by a worker on a lab bench.

Look how small these guys are. And this is, comparatively, a big one.

There are two main types of amateur radio satellites, simple FM repeaters and linear transponders. The FM repeaters are very easy to use and the regular Joe with his inexpensive handheld can make acceptable contacts without much special equipment. The linear transponders require a lot more fiddling and more specialized equipment. This is mostly because the equipment is not available in a handheld form factor.

So I thought, why not? If I can build a radio to make working the linear transponder satellites almost as easy as the FM satellites, well there might be a market there. And it at least seems like it would be an interesting project.

So, I have the education to design an analog circuit to do the job, but it would certainly be a lot of work (likely much of it trial-and-error). But in this day and age where there is a breakout board available for almost everything, it seems like I should be able to string together a pile of circuit boards to do this task. That doesn't seem to be the case for analog. But SDR is the cool thing now, and that's where we might be able to make this work.

Fast forward to a couple days ago after snooping around the internet off and on for a few weeks and I think I've settled on a concept. I've set aside some better but more complicated ideas for the moment and have what I believe to be, essentially, the makings of a minimum viable prototype. (Not yet a minimum viable product.)

As my English teacher used to say, let me amplify.

To receive the signals, the RTL-SDR dongle should be fine, especially with some filtering and preamplification. We can feed that into a Raspberry Pi running some SDR software, with the audio going out to the user via the built-in pins, some sort of "hat," or even a USB sound card. For transmitting, there is a software package called Rpitx that toggles a pin on the Raspberry Pi fast enough to make it a radio transmitter. Run that through some filters and amplifiers and you've got yourself a full-duplex radio ready for satellite operations. I'd want to add a few more bits and pieces like a screen and some buttons and encoders, but we're pretty much good to go with just the handful of components I describe above. (Well, an astute reader might have noticed that I didn't explicitly mention audio in, but you get my drift.)

I suppose my next step is to make a list of the parts to see if this thing can really go together like I want. I see a few issues on the RF input and output side, particularly how I want to multiplex the filtering and amplification since we will be working with two frequencies on two different bands which can either be used as transmit or receive frequencies depending on the satellite.

My email signature is bigger than your email signature

I don't believe I'm the first one to notice this, but the longer the email signature the lower on the totem pole the employee.

To wit: My employer's CEO signs most emails with a single letter.

First Post

So, this is clearly not my actual first post, but I'm starting a new project where I keep the internet informed about my progress toward financial independence and freedom to do with my time what I will. I hope that this project will keep me on track, if at least to not embarrass myself before the entirety of the internet.

Entirety is probably a bit of a stretch. I'm not even sure if more than one person will read this.

None the less, I hope to explore both the whys and the hows of becoming a hashtag vanlife digital nomad or whatever the kids are calling it these days. I'm not actually planning to live the #vanlife, and I have a family that probably doesn't want to live nomadically. Rather, I simply want to spend a little more time with my family and with myself. And I believe a lot of the techniques you see online for digital nomadism can be applied to a more staid life that even a boring nerd like me would want to live.

So if things get rolling, I hope to be able to show others that it can be done and, more importantly, that they can do it themselves.

At Least What You do Means Something

At least what you do means something.

I had someone tell me that, partly to compare themselves to me (in a purposefully unflattering manner for themselves) and partly to make me feel better -- to make me feel more fulfilled and less stressed, trapped, and stagnant.

But it got me thinking.

So, what I do does mean something. I design a significant part of major infrastructure projects that will last for many years. People will be driving over them, safely, on their way to vacations or work or delivering goods for half a century or more. That is objectively cool.

But it's also true that what I actually do every day doesn't matter in the same way. As we gain experience and get more adept at the engineering, learning how to complete our tasks more quickly, the balance of our time gets filled with new tasks. Notably, most of these new tasks do not seem to be centered on our goal of designing a safe, efficient bridge, but rather they facilitate some sort of administrative or leagalistic CYA process.

Now, I don't want to be just another guy complaining about the bureaucracy. That's old and lame and not particularly productive. I get the value of the administrative aspect of our projects because that's how they actually get done without too much graft. That's how they get bid fairly and how we ensure that they get built with the quality materials we designed for. But it just feels like it is getting out of hand (especially when I interview my predecessors who worked, successfully, in a very different world).

I wonder if this administration inflation is actually a thing, almost like a fact of nature. It's as though we make sure to keep each man-hour as complicated as it ever was: Even as we simplify or automate processes, we make sure to add new things to do. And those new things are invariably boring. They are things like generating paperwork, reviewing checklists, reformatting margins, sizing type, and so on.

Is it some failing of our human minds that we can't just enjoy the benefits of progress without burying them in new, extraneous filler? According to Keynes, we were supposed to be working four days a week by now. But as we got more productive, we just did more stuff in the same time (more stuff of, I suspect, marginal utility toward the end goal). I think these are related. And, perhaps optimistically, I think it is a matter of psychology and not nature per se.

Hopefully some day, as a species, we can escape the rat race we built for ourselves. And, in the meantime, perhaps I can free myself and my family while I wait for the rest of us to catch up.

FIGlet Test

I thought it would be cute to use FIGlet for some of my notes. So this is just a test. Let's see how it looks exported to Listed...

      ___                     ___                         ___                 
     /  /\      ___          /  /\                       /  /\          ___   
    /  /:/_    /  /\        /  /:/_                     /  /:/_        /  /\  
   /  /:/ /\  /  /:/       /  /:/ /\    ___     ___    /  /:/ /\      /  /:/  
  /  /:/ /:/ /__/::\      /  /:/_/::\  /__/\   /  /\  /  /:/ /:/_    /  /:/   
 /__/:/ /:/  \__\/\:\__  /__/:/__\/\:\ \  \:\ /  /:/ /__/:/ /:/ /\  /  /::\   
 \  \:\/:/      \  \:\/\ \  \:\ /~~/:/  \  \:\  /:/  \  \:\/:/ /:/ /__/:/\:\  
  \  \::/        \__\::/  \  \:\  /:/    \  \:\/:/    \  \::/ /:/  \__\/  \:\ 
   \  \:\        /__/:/    \  \:\/:/      \  \::/      \  \:\/:/        \  \:\
    \  \:\       \__\/      \  \::/        \__\/        \  \::/          \__\/
     \__\/                   \__\/                       \__\/                
                  ___           ___                 
      ___        /  /\         /  /\          ___   
     /  /\      /  /:/_       /  /:/_        /  /\  
    /  /:/     /  /:/ /\     /  /:/ /\      /  /:/  
   /  /:/     /  /:/ /:/_   /  /:/ /::\    /  /:/   
  /  /::\    /__/:/ /:/ /\ /__/:/ /:/\:\  /  /::\   
 /__/:/\:\   \  \:\/:/ /:/ \  \:\/:/~/:/ /__/:/\:\  
 \__\/  \:\   \  \::/ /:/   \  \::/ /:/  \__\/  \:\ 
      \  \:\   \  \:\/:/     \__\/ /:/        \  \:\
       \__\/    \  \::/        /__/:/          \__\/
                 \__\/         \__\/                

It seems to me to be ideal for a note-taking app that is meant to be text-based.