mangosteen: (allwork)
I've been flying quite a bit for business, lately. By the end of this month, I'll have 15,000 butt-in-seat miles from the beginning of 2014. It's a truism that one conference room looks very like another*, but every now and then I get free time and get to explore a bit.

Earlier this week I was in Los Angeles, and I want to give a megaphonic shout-out to [livejournal.com profile] pseydtonne for giving me the urban-planning nerd's tour of West Hollywood and the surrounding area.

Note: I have a thing for statutory demarcation points. Kilometre Zero in France, IND chaining zero**, etc. This trip I added the geographic center of the Studio Zone (aka the "Thirty Mile Zone" or "TMZ")***. I'm open to more suggestions.

As we were driving around, it became pretty clear that LA is finally catching onto the idea of needing public transit, and unlike other cities, it has a lot of land to build on due to current lower density, and enough leeway in rights-of-way to route around transit-blockers such as Beverly Hills****. The "subway to the sea", "streetcar to the sea", and expo line extension projects are all really interesting, because a new generation doesn't actually want to be driving as much. They have built it, and people are using it. The only way that a transit line direct to LAX ever happens is over the car rental and taxi lobbies' collective dead body, but it's a good start.

Another interesting point is how there's a whole bunch of buildings/areas that don't look terribly iconic, but look very familiar for one reason or another, typically because they were used in a movie set for something. When you live and work in the dream factory, you make dreams out of the the stuff you have around the house.

Realization: I've always thought of LA as "25 suburbs in search of a city", but it's actually much more accurate to say that it's "six or seven crystallization nuclei that all ran into each other" (h/t [livejournal.com profile] palmwiz)

In short, I really wouldn't mind going back and exploring more... and this incredibly biased kid who was born in Queens is slowly beginning to understand how people can live in LA.





* When your head's down over your pieces, brother.
** Rather hard to stand at that one.
*** Yes, the middle of the intersection. Only for a moment, and it was late.
**** Which now joins the club that counts as members Arlington (MA), Georgetown (VA), Cobb County (GA), San Mateo County (CA), and Chris Christie (NJ).
mangosteen: (Default)
So, business school (successfully) taught me the lesson that leadership is a service-oriented discipline. That is, you provide leadership by serving the people you lead. I've seen this play out at my current workplace and it makes sense to me.

Similarly, there's a lot of discussions about executives-as-sociopaths, and how there are not only strong correlations between executives and sociopathy, but it's a requirement of the job because it allows for faster decision-making, etc.

I'm trying to reconcile these. Any help would be appreciated.
mangosteen: (Default)
J and I have had a lot of stress over our condo over the past 9 years, i.e. as long as we've owned it. It's a 125 year old 2-family house that got condo-converted, we were first-time homeowners, our inspector was just okay, etc.

The upshot is that practically all of the money that we've spent on the house has been for significant repairs/improvements to the infrastructure: new roof, chimney rebuild and lining, sealed support columns in the basement with a new poured floor, new electrical meter box, etc. Whoever gets this house next is going to be in pretty good shape, because J and I (and the other owner) paid for the economically rational decisions of 80 years of landlords who came before we decided to live here.

We had all of the not-fun parts of homeownership, and practically none of the fun parts, because all of the money has been spent offstage. Combine that with the "well, you pay a mortgage and you hold a title, but you don't really own the place" no-man's land of a 2-3 unit condo, and it's no small wonder that our relationship with the condo is a little complex. Owning a home is always expensive, but somehow I felt like we were constantly getting the short (and expensive) end of the stick.

It's really the smallest things that help, though.

In preparation for selling the place, we've been running down the list of stuff that must repair/replace before we sell, which included the faucets for all of the sinks. So, we went to the Big Orange Box, picked out some stuff that looked nice and had a highly-recommended plumber (who we'd recommend to anyone) install it. Done and done.

The faucets? They faucet. They look nicer than the old ones, there are no leaks, and, you know... water, hot, cold, etc.

But.

They're a material update to the space, they feel good to use, and I use them multiple times a day. They're an on-stage improvement to the house, as opposed to just impressing an inspector.

It's sad that it's all happening now when we're going to put it on the market, but I think I finally have a glimpse into why owning a home can bring some happiness, and I'll take that.
mangosteen: (Default)
Of all of the Arisia conventions I've attended, there have been two or three where I got home on Sunday, sat on the couch, and thought "Did I go to Arisia, or did I just take an expensive cab ride around the block?" That is, there were a couple of times when my experience at the con was so frenetic and fragmented that Arisia wasn't an event.... it was a discontinuity.

This year was the precise opposite of that, in a good way. I helped to run a science fiction convention that I love. I had great discussions with great people, and re-connect with people I've drifted away from. Also, I sang show tunes in a hotel lobby at three in the morning...and sang "Bring Him Home" from Les Mis on key. So there. Neener.

Many thanks to the convention staff, and friends new and old, for helping to make this all happen.
mangosteen: (Default)
Things that I never thought I'd say, because they're said in movies:

"I'm letting you progress, but I'm doing you no favors. The next step is much harder, you have four days, and you're only partially prepared. Good luck."
mangosteen: (Default)
The weekend started on Thursday.

It didn't start on Thursday because I didn't go to work.
To be sure, Thursday and Friday found me in the place of work doing work things.

It started Thursday because I started Thursday.
I started to do something I'd not started before.
I started to assert the following thing, as follows:

When I decide to do work, I will do work.
When I decide to not do work, I will not do work.
I will not worry about whether I should or should not do work.

So, that's exactly what I did.

Thursday was work, then Medford Spinjam.
Friday was work, then The Penny Jive at Oberon.
Saturday was work, then Ignite! in Union Sq. Somerville.
Sunday was work, then a Theater@First meeting, then a wonderful dinner.

All of these days had work; it's unusual, but it happened.
But then the work was put down, and I did not look back.
"I have done work, it was good, it will wait, and I will come back to it."

I came back to work on a day of work, and I felt rested; which is no real surprise.

After all, the weekend started on Thursday.

Present.

Apr. 15th, 2013 04:51 pm
mangosteen: (Default)
Present and accounted for.
I'm a few miles away in Cambridge, and nowhere near the Boston Marathon explosions.
mangosteen: (Default)
"YOU! WHO ARE YOU? NO, I'M NOT GOING AWAY. WHO ARE YOU?"

That was me, about 3 hours into a 4-hour Live Action Role Playing game (i.e. LARP). My character had just about Had Enough, and I decided to Do Something About it. It was great. People were still talking about it the next day.

More to the point, it was the first LARP I ever played in. A game called "Desperadoes Under The Eaves", based around the songs of Warren Zevon. I'm betting that most of you who Warren is, but for those who don't, he typically wrote songs about archetypes, as opposed to situations. This means you can have a character embody a song. It worked.

This was the second time the game ran. I only heard about it the first time in retrospect, and told one of the game's creators (also a friend from way back) that I've never LARPed before, but if he ran it again, I would find a way to be there.

"There", in this case, was INTERCON, a 400+ LARP convention held in Chelmsford, MA. I showed up Saturday afternoon, checked into the hotel, and then started to find my sea legs around a convention where I had never been to that one, *or* its ilk. Fortunately, the cultural UI was familiar enough that I managed to get everything I needed for my game pretty quickly, went to dinner, came back, and then suited up.

The game masters (GMs) requested that everyone show up in 80s clothing, for some definition thereof. I was playing a harried bond trader who had Stuff Go Wrong (This is a Warren Zevon song. Stuff goes wrong, is about to go wrong, or started horribly wrong.), but I was lacking 80s gear, per se. So, I went for the 90s. Blazer, Trousers, Boldly-Colored Shirt(tm), Strongly-Patterned Tie(tm), and Big Chunky Alphanumeric Pager(tm).

I arrived at the game room (think a small hotel ballroom), the GMs called us 'round, went over the general setting and mechanics of the game, and then sent us on our way. Which is to say, "You have 4 hours in which to interact with each other and acheive your goals. Go."

Terminology: This was a "Theater-style LARP", i.e. "put together a bunch of characters, give them each a few goals and some loose rules, shake well, see what happens."

My secret superpower was that I could ask the GMs about the goals/motivations of all other characters in play, one for each character. However, I was an otherwise very underpowered character. I was on the run, couldn't win a fight, couldn't defend against people using their powers on me, etc. The net effect of this was that I had a character with full information and no leverage.

Let me repeat that... I had a character with full information and no leverage.

As it so happens, I know what to do in such circumstances. So, over the course of the evening, I bartered information back and forth. I connected people, got more of the story, and did what every good information broker does, and did it pretty well.

One problem. I still wasn't relevant to any of the main story lines... my only goal was to get out of trouble. Also, I didn't know how to play this kind of game well enough to lever myself up to the more pivotal people, quickly enough. This was frustrating.

This was very frustrating.
This was really really frustrating.
It was so frustrating that I did the one thing that no one really expected.

I created a massive confrontation with one of the most pivotal characters in the game and unloaded the (in-game, legitimately obtained) full information of what needed to happen next on him, and everyone around him in a 20 foot radius, including disclosing the identities of about half the people in the room to the other half.

Put another way, I loaded all of the plot points into a shotgun and pulled the trigger.


"YOU! WHO ARE YOU? NO, I'M NOT GOING AWAY. WHO ARE YOU?"
Cut for spoilers, and screaming. )

What happened next was a whole bunch of people scrambling around the room very quickly to accomplish all of the things that I had revealed to them, which was all rather satisfying. The rest of the game was rather anti-climactic. I didn't exactly rehearse the meltdown, so it didn't help me get to my own goals (which were irrelevant to the main plot), and I'd just used all of the agency I had in one Moment of Awesome, so I just chilled out and wondered at what I had wrought. I was feeling down for about 15 minutes in a fit of "Did I just do it wrong?", but that passed.

The game ended, we wrapped up, All Was Told, and that was that. Once we all left the game space I had a friend introduce me to a few people from the game. They were all amused (and a little surprised) that that was my first LARP, mostly because who the hell would do something like that. I just assumed that if there was a tvtropes of the LARPing world, what I did would have to be an entry (but I can't seem to find one).

Would I do it again? Yes, yes I would.
mangosteen: (Default)
A friend had asked why the Newtown shooting discussions have provoked so much more vitriol than other discussions on similar topics. I wrote the following in a comment, but it deserved its own post.

A lot of the problem is that the Newtown shooting was so horrific that everyone started talking about it to everyone else.

One problem with that. There are a whole bunch of half-baked arguments/ideas/etc. about guns in the USA that never escape their respective echo chambers. This time, some of them leaked out, and the discourse collapsed in a huge pile of "Do you *really* believe that? You're just a dumbass.", which was met with "Well.... double dumbass on you!"

Put another way, people who have never spent any time actually debating the topics at hand (and therefore understanding the complexity of the issues), started debating them in order to express their grief... and so you had a bunch of emotional people who never had to defend their ideas all attacking each other.
mangosteen: (allwork)
I've been responding to all of the story fragment requests in the previous posting. I do believe this is the first time I've actually put any thought into writing fiction. I'm still taking prompts.

In the process of doing that, I also believe I wrote my first piece of fanfic, and I'm calling it out for posterity.

The prompt: Buckaroo Banzai Vs The World Crime League (from [livejournal.com profile] woodwardiocom)

My response:


"I'm gonna kill him. No. Wait. I'm going to rip him apart, make him watch, put him back together, and *then* kill him."

Buckaroo waited for Reno to stop frothing.

"Calm down. There are a lot of evil people in the world, but for every one of those, there are a thousand desperate ones, and if you're all the way back here, they look about the same."

Reno wasn't interested.

"Let me put this another way. Hanoi Xan is vicious bastard. He's ruthless, and frankly, he's also a total asshole. I'm a goddamn orphan because of him, but he only did it because my parents did something that jeopardized him and his entire crew."

Buckaroo was in full lecture mode at this point.

"This means that he's not evil." Pause. "He's desperate. He's desperate and he's scared."

Reno cocked an eyebrow, having retained nominal control. "So? Let me mess him up."

"We'll take him out. But we're taking out a desperate man... Lizardo was evil. Xan is going to require a different approach. I need your help, Reno. You're the best closer I have, and I can't have you in a blood rage when we do what's next."

Reno, somewhat mollified, conceded "If your ballet ends with 'Xan is going down.', I'm in. Give me the plans and we'll get to work."

"Okay. Good. Talk with Jersey about the plans; he found a couple of ways in."

Everyone started walking off.

"Oh yeah.... and grab the watermelon. We'll be needing that."

mangosteen: (Default)
This particular meme has been traveling through the LJ-Verse, and I like it quite a lot. Here we go:

Meme: Tell me about a story I haven't written, and I'll give you a sentence from it.
mangosteen: (Default)
So, let me just say that I love DropBox. It's a useful tool, it generally does the right thing, and it gets out of my way and lets me get my work done. That is to say, it does many things a well-engineered tool should do.

When I talk with a group of fellow geeks about DropBox or other cloud storage tools, there's always one person who says "I don't see the big deal. I can make that in a weekend with python and rsync. Files in any place I want, synced over, with some auth logic; done and done."

To them, and anyone like them, I have two words: "Execution counts." Raw functionality is never the whole story, and solving it for yourself in a complex but understandable-by-you way is not the same as making a general-purpose tool that can be used by everyone.

There are a couple of layers of bothersome in there.
First, I'm concerned that the person doesn't understand the problem domain.
Second, I'm really concerned that the person has just said "Usability can be ignored."

This is typically the same person who says "I don't know why you spent money on Adobe Lightroom. I built a few shell scripts to resize and upload things to my gallery." Very limited knowledge of the problem domain *and* ignores usability. Check and check.

Most unsettling of all, though, is that this is the person who thinks solving a problem for themselves simultaneously absolves them of solving it for anyone else and allows them to look down on those who have the same problem because it's so easy to solve. It's typically in the pattern "Why don't they just do X? It works for me."

Come to think of it, not understanding the problem domain and thinking that solving it for yourself is the same as solving it for everyone is inimical to a whole bunch of futile political discussions, too.

In fact, I think I like that litmus test quite a bit. To restate:

Eli's Litmus Test for Subject-Specific Futility: When discussing a specific subject, if the person is:
1. Displaying severely limited knowledge of the problem domain and considers any uncovered area to be a "small modification" to their solution.
2. Confident that their usable-to-them local solution means that it's a universally solved problem.
....then just walk away. Their brain is full, and there's no place for additional knowledge to soak in.
mangosteen: (Default)
Fill In The Blank:

The good news about _________ is _______________________.

The bad news is roughly the same.
mangosteen: (Default)
Observations: A few thoughts on the 2012 US Presidential Election:

While the US system is structurally geared towards two dominant power bases, each of those is a parliamentary-style coalition. The GOP coalition looked a lot more fractious than the Democratic one this time around, and the Tea Party segment made it harder for Romney to adapt.

Obama, going by historical standards, is a moderate Republican. The Republican party had only two places to run for differentiation: 1) The far right. 2) "He's a Republican, and he's doing it wrong." Sadly, they chose the former.

I do not know how, but the Romney campaign seemed completely surprised that people a) used the Internet, b) in real time, c) to talk with each other. I don't know if Obama could have pulled this election out if it weren't for real-time fact-checking.

The GOP's favored demographics are dying out from under it. This was the last election where they could have run the "get all of the middle-aged and older white people on the bus" play, and it didn't even work this time.

And finally:
I sincerely wish we could go back to a presidential election where I can choose between one candidate I agree with, and one I agree with somewhat less (but has enough interesting views to make me think about that decision), as opposed to one candidate I'll hold my nose and vote for because the other candidate is holy crap terrifying.
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One of the persistent geek intellectual fantasies is that of the lone genius showing their fully-formed brainchild to an astonished and adoring public.* Being a geek who has fallen to the allure of this particular myth more than once, I get it. No one wants to look stupid in front of their peers (Humans! We are them!), so there's this urge to downplay works-in-progress to the point of them being completely invisible. In my experience, this is even worse with geeks, because there's this desire to not just show a beautiful final project, but to ensure that all tracks that could even implicate incremental progress/failure are eradicated.

Now, to be sure, there are geniuses, and they do produce masterworks in complete solitude. There just aren't that many of them, and most of the ones you can think of probably didn't do it that way, either.

Mechanically, here's what happens: Someone starts working on a problem. They stumble and fall a lot, but let's say they've been persistent and have an inital prototype working. If it's in the software realm, and they mean to open-source it, they may even have put it on github or Google Code or one of the other similar sites.

Up to this point, precisely no one else knows about their project. Our hero probably is so involved in creating the thing they're creating that they don't even really think of publicity at this point. Heck, even if they do think about publicity, they wouldn't be interested because who would want to see the project in its current state? Minimal documentation, haven't even cleaned up the code yet, and well, the place is just a mess and who would invite company? So, they keep working.

Pretty soon, they have something they'd consider an alpha, maybe a very early beta product. This could be years after they started. So, now they tell people, and since there's an actual there there, people start talking about it more, it (hopefully) gets critical mass, and people start talking about how there's this genius who made this incredible program overnight. Even once multiple people start working on it, the founder/creator will still get credit for starting the phenomenon, which makes them even more of a genius because now they get credit for the whole multi-person project, just by being there at the beginning.**

Put another way, the reason that it looks like people spring full-fledged genius products on the world is because no one is listening before that point. The typical geek brain fills in the "Sole genius working alone in solitude by themselves, without anyone else." narrative. It's awesome, and compelling, and typically wrong.


* There's a thorough debunking of it in the Google I/O talk "The Myth of the Genius Programmer", and I do recommend watching it when you have an hour or so.

** There's an interesting point to be made about American corporate mythology, and how the CEO is typically tagged at the source of ideas and the primary creator, as they represent the direction of the company. More on that later.
mangosteen: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] lifecollage and I were out at brunch today, and we decided to play a version of The Phone Stack Game:

Rules: [livejournal.com profile] lifecollage and [livejournal.com profile] mangosteen's house rules for the Phone Stack Game:
0. Everyone should stack their phones/pagers/etc. in the center of the table, face down.
1. First one to pick their phone up out of compulsion to "check something" pays the bill.*
2. You have to declare if you're expecting a call/text at the beginning of the game. This is for posterity, so please, be honest.
3. Emergencies and/or previously expected calls/texts don't count.
4. You are allowed to have a memo pad and pen to write down the things you'd otherwise check on your phone.
5. If you're playing the advanced version, leave the ringer audible so there's the temptation.

I have to say, it was an interesting game. It's pretty clear that having the Internet in my pants contributes to an urge to actually use it with the convenience it offers. I came up with about four things over ~45 minutes that I wanted to check/verify/read, all of which could be done with the smartphone.

Observation: It's pretty amazing how many times I thought about communicating with someone who was not in front of me during that meal. It's similar to the way I think of fasting on Yom Kippur. Every year, I get a visceral reminder of how many times my mind wanders over towards thinking about food (i.e. a lot), and I start wondering its place in my life versus other places it could be.

Assignment: Try the game. Tell me how it goes.

Oh yeah, and it was a tie. The memo pad really did help.


* Or pays the whole group's tip, or $2 of each person's bill, or whatever you feel like so people have some skin in the game.
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Eli's Law of Professional Services: Keep your promises, and set your boundaries.
Even More Important Corollary: Know when you're making promises, and know when you're setting boundaries.

In the past 19 months at the new job, the hardest lesson I've learned is that "people want you to do what they want to think you said you were going to do."

Wait. Rewind. Too many articles. Let me try again.

In the past 19 months at the new job, the hardest lesson I've learned is that "customers consider every statement to be a promise."

It's one thing to say "Yes, it'll be done on Monday." Of course that's a promise. It's quite another to say "Yes, it'll be done on Monday", and have the customer therefore assume "it'll be done by the time they wake up Monday morning, and you'll be working through the weekend to get it done, with twice-daily updates."

Similarly, it's one thing to say "I'll definitely be around until 5:30pm, but after that I can't guarantee availability." and completely another to say "It will be done by Monday at 5pm EDT subject to 24 hours notice to extend the deadline. There will be no expectation of contact or support over the weekend, being defined as Friday 5pm to Monday 9am. Time spent on the phone or communication over email will bump out the deadline on a 2:1 basis etc."

Observation: Slamming between the extremes of "doing whatever it takes, to the point of burnout" and "setting up boundaries to the point of onerousness" is a recipe for an unsatisfying life.

Realization: It all comes down to having a love-hate relationship with conflict. More specifically, having no guidance or subtlety in understanding power. Avoid conflict, and one eliminates their own leverage. Seek conflict, and trash the relationship, thus eliminating future leverage.

Note: This was my professional life for a distressingly long time.

One of the interesting things that has come out of this job is that I've learned how to set my boundaries without being reactionary, aggressive, and otherwise dickish about it. As an added bonus, I've gotten a lot more comfortable with conflict and living in the moment of tension.

Much like in a dance, the moment of tension between the participants represents the connection point in a dynamic system. More often than not, the customer wants the tension. They need to know the boundaries. If I don't provide any counter-force, the customer will start asking for ridiculous things, because they will have made ridiculous promises to their management as a result of my ability to do "whatever it takes".... right up until the point where I can't. Unsurprisingly, this helps no one.

There are so many things in the past couple of years that have re-shaped how I interact with other people (good) and that have made me more "slick" in some ways (not as good), but have made me so much more solid and reliable in others (very good). A bunch of this is attributed to my current job, but the more important part has been sitting down with myself (and others) and figuring out what I actually want, and how to get it.

I'm not there yet, but I'm certainly closer than I used to be.
mangosteen: (Default)
Observation: There is a real gap between "that's not supposed to work" and "that won't work".

Accurate gauging of that gap is the secret to a great many successes.
Inaccurate gauging of that gap is the source of no end of mystified failures.
mangosteen: (Default)
In the continuing effort to transcend the stereotypical culinary roles of my gender (breakfast foods and grilling), I've decided to learn how to bake things.

1. I can safely say that I have an aptitude for baking. There's something about the precision and preparatory experimentation* that appeals. You get the proportions right, put them in in the right order, make sure the transformations happen in the right way, and then add heat and wait.

Things baked so far, a slightly incomplete list:
- Pretzel rolls
- Bread boules (lean dough, white and wheat)
- Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough**
- Beer Bread
- Cream Puffs***

Next come more interesting breads (have to figure out a starter, though), interesting cream-puff structures, and probably some cakes. Point is, I've never had this much fun in the kitchen.

There's another thing, though.

2. Read the book "Ratio", by Michael Ruhlman. Find it, read it. No, really. This is the book that helped me figure out how to bake. It goes into the fundamental ingredient ratios for various kinds of food (e.g. bread = 5 parts flour to 3 parts water, (plus some yeast and salt)). It also goes into why each ratio matters, the effects of varying it, and next steps.

3. I will admit that all of this is aided by having a "Why Do I Have a 1 Horsepower Motor In My Kitchen" Kitchenaid mixer. It's a recent acquisition, and totally worth it. I didn't know that "enough torque to knead two loaves worth of bread dough" was a requirement, but clearly it was.

4. There's something very essential about baking, and kneading dough, and creating food from ingredients. Now that I'm baking on a regular basis, it feels like it's one of the hidden requirements for being useful in the world.

More on baking and essentialism later. This is clearly something I need to poke at more.

But trust me on reading Ratio.


* Yes. Kitchen scale *and* lab notebook. Why do you ask?

** 15 minutes from "I'll make some chocolate chip cookie dough" to "Okay, I'm not going to eat 2 lbs. of chocolate chip cookie dough. Now what?"

*** Okay. Cream Puffs are both cooked and baked. They're probably the best bang for the buck in terms of impressing people, though.****

**** I feel confident in saying that no one gets through making their first batch of choux paste without doing something that will later be referred to as "The Choux Paste Incident"
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Being a connoisseur of weird song covers, it's pretty hard to faze me with "Did you hear that they slammed X into genre Y?"

That being said, nothing prepared me for Erasure putting out a live album full of country covers of their own songs.

If you're a child of the 80s, you will find this both disturbing and awesome. It was only due to my chair having arms that I didn't fall out of it while listening to "Chains Of Love".

Erasure - On The Road To Nashville.
Mango-Bob says: "Check it out."
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