Sunday, February 22, 2015


Something occurred to me while I was taking a shower this evening. It was almost a daydream. I was imagining looking for a specific type of service person by emailing some mailing list, and then having to apologize because I didn't know more about this particular industry. This one thought lead my brain off on its own.

We all know that time in life is short. And there is no lack of things that we can learn about, study, research, become an expert (or even amateur) in. And I wish we had a word for describing those particular things I have chosen to be interested in as opposed to all the other, equally valid to be interested in.

"Interests" sort of seems to describe it. But that's not quite what I'm getting at here. Think of the "causes" you care about. For me, it's probably the death penalty (i.e., repealing it in the US) and the environment. Many of my friends care deeply about poverty, and women's rights. Don't I care about poverty?! I certainly believe that I do. But I have not studied them, I do not generally consume all articles about them, and most importantly I often don't know enough to have strong opinions about, say what should be done to help those in need in my city.

A lot of my coworkers have spent a lot of time learning about home repair, or stereos or electronics. I think those are all valid things to be interested in, but I know almost nothing. If I want to buy a new stereo, I just ask one of these people and more or less buy exactly what they tell me. Or decide that the good ones are too expensive, and give up.

This is, I think, totally normal. There's only so many things you can invest yourself in passionately. And there's opportunity cost to everything you choose to do.

Going back to the title of this article, there's probably a German word to describe what I mean, but no English one. And I truly think that's a shame, since in many ways life is all about choosing which things to focus on at the exclusion of other, equally valid, equally important things. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tech Videos Worth Watching: DNS

Here's another one from Defcon 21, which is just like the gift that keeps on giving for me. This guy is doing some really scary stuff with DNS, and as a security noob myself, it's really fun to learn about.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Email Response Time

Ever since I started a full time job, where I spend nearly all day answering work emails, it seems I am less and less interested in responding (or even reading) personal emails. At some point I realized Iwas being slow to respond, but I wanted to know, just exactly how slow.

So, I graphed it (numbers in days):

This data  comes from a Google App Script I wrote. Here's the source. Google App Script is great, it lets you write Javascript that has access to your Google Apps, like email, docs, etc. You can do stuff like send emails as a result of changes in your Docs, or in my case, run a script every day that reads your email and writes to a spreadsheet.

Here's how the script works, although there's definitely room for improvement. Every day it runs, it looks at my last 30 days of email, and for every email where I responded to someone else it adds up the delay between their email and my response. Additionally (and here's the kind of weird part that I think is creating the spikes in the above graph) I wanted to keep track of my outstanding responses and how long they were taking. My normal email workflow is that I keep things that I need to respond to in my inbox, so I decided to include for any email in my inbox, the time between the last email (as long as it wasn't from me) and the current date.

One final caveat was that, after 60 days I put a hard cutoff, since those are typically emails I just never respond to, and finally archive in shame.

So how does it look? For most (median) of my emails I respond in a few hours. But for the 99th%ile email, it is much worse, around 25 days, and even worse if you go back a month or so.

I definitely recommend Google Apps Script. It's easy, but super powerful because all of the useful data (i.e., yours) that the scripts have access to. I could even see it being a pretty good way to learn programming/JavaScript, since from day 1 you can do some pretty interesting things. 

Tech video worth watching: SIM Cards

Lately I've been getting much more into video as a means of self-education. Traditionally when someone shares a link on twitter/facebook that's all video no text I would get pretty annoyed. "I can't watch this thing on the bus, you know." But more recently (and due in no small part to YouTube's Playback Speed setting) I have rediscovered the pleasure that can come from a well-given talk.

The hardest thing now is finding them.

This one is "The Secret Life of SIM Cards." It's a talk from Deccon 21, via Adam Goode. The two speakers set up their own GSM network, and discovered some of the weirdness of on-SIM applications.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Kojima Jeans Street

After reading this great blog post on the Jeans Street in Kojim, Japan, my wife and I decided to make a day trip there. Now, bear in mind that I am no great jean or raw denim enthusiast, but I am definitely easily swayed by fashion trends that involve technical minutiae. That and I have a couple of friends who are in to denim so I figured it would be worth visiting.

The above blog post really does a great job of covering the Jeans Street, and if you are at all interested you should go there first. But, I did find a few bits of information that were left out of that post, so I thought I'd be helpful and post some of them here.

For a short bit of background, there's some famous Denim brands in Japan, particular famous to those who like 'raw denim.' The city of Okayama, which is otherwise none too notable, is the home more or less of Japanese Denim. But in the small city of Kojima, 20 minutes away by train, a number of these famous Japanese brands have set up a shopping street dedicated to nothing but denim. Like I said, the above blog post does the whole thing much more justice.

Anyway, here are a few things you might want to be aware of if you're heading there:

  • Getting To Kojima: Despite what I gathered from the above article, the Jeans Street is not in Okayama, it's in Kojima which is a separate town about 20 or so minutes away by train. To get there, first you need to get to Okayama, which has a Bullet Train (Shinkansen) station. Then from Okayama station, take the Seto Ohashi Line south towards Kojima. It goes about every 20 minutes and was very easy for us to find. Get off at Kojima Station.
  • Getting From Kojima Station to the Jeans Street: Once you are arrive at Kojima Station, you can get to the Jeans Street by Taxi or by Bus.
    • Location: The Jeans Street is HERE on Google Maps.
    • Taxi: A taxi to the Jeans Street costs about 700 yen, and the drivers will know where to go. Note that it will be very difficult to find a taxi back to the station unless you can call one.
    • Bus: Here is a map and bus schedule that I scanned. The bus costs about 140 yen, and will take you from the station to the place on Google Maps I linked above. When it finished its loop it will take you back from the same spot. 
  • Shops and Descriptions:
    • Map of Shops: This PDF has a map of all the shops and their names.
    • Description of Shops: This PDF has English descriptions of the stores in the above map. This Google Doc contains the same information, but also with Google's Optical Character recognition enabled, to act as better bait for Google's search engine.
  • Food/Drink: There are plenty of restaurants and cafes, so see the above map of shops for more information. 
Hope this helps! If you have any other questions I'm happy to try to answer them in the comments. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Dissatisfactory Doily, Revisited

This one dumb post of mine, "The Dissatisfactory Doily" about my 2010 SIGBOVIK paper of the same name gets way more traffic than most of my other posts combined. Here's a graph of the pageviews over the past month:
It comes out way ahead, even compared to how-to articles ("Buy a SIM card in Dublin," "Reading Google Spreadsheets from an Android App") that you think would naturally have Google juice.

And somehow the spammers have figured out as well. This post regularly (1/week?) receives spam posts of the "Dude I love this post, please check out my link" variety. Blogger is smart enough to label these posts as spam and not post them, but I still get an email every time. Thanks Blogger.

I can understand why you would want to leave your spam on the most popular article, but why is this article popular in the first place? Maybe the mention of the Terrible Towel? And I have this unproven suspicion that the traffic itself is fake.

I don't know... what do you think?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Flanders' Fields to Westvleteren

Today a friend and I planned a biking trip to visit the cemeteries and memorials of WWI around Ypres, Belgium, more or less the home of the legendary "Flanders' Fields." It was a great idea! The perfect, flat biking paths of Flanders. It's the 100th anniversary of WWI. I had the day off of work because of a Belgian holiday (Ascension, if you're curious). They even have a nice, 35k biking route planned out by the office of tourism in Ypres.

But somewhere along the way we realized that Ypres is only 16k from the Westvleteren Abbey/Brewery. Westvleteren is one of the 6 Belgian Trappist breweries, and it is famous for Westvleteren 12, occasionally referred to as The Best Beer in the World. Notoriously hard to buy, etc. etc. I had had this legendary beer once before, but still, it sounded like a great idea to me, since I had not yet visited a single Belgian brewery.

So our historical tour became a beer tour. It was definitely great, and I would do again. Here's the route we took:

It was nice and easy. Here's some advice if you're thinking about taking the trip yourself:

  • We drove to Ypres, but you could take the train there as well.
  • We rented bikes from this place. (10 Euros each for the whole day.)
  • We got a map from the Ypres tourist office, which is right in the center city. The map was the "Westhoek Zuid" cycling map, pictured below. The paths are really well marked in Flandres, and you just match up the numbers on the road with the numbers on the map. (Seriously, they are super well marked.)
A few pictures:

Sadly our trip was not without incident. About 1k from the brewery my friend's back tire blew out. We walked the rest of the way to the brewery, where we had a great meal and some great beer, but then we had to walk 5k to the town of Poperinge to take the train back to Ypres. Could have been worse, but could have been better too. 

All in all I rate it 4 beers out of 5.