Travel

Triplog: Italy (Part 5: Lake Como)

In 2009 I posted part 1 and part 2 of my log of a family vacation in Italy.  While looking for something else (Ben Folds concert location — long story), I discovered that I had composed but never published some additional entries.  Part 3 (Florence) is barebones, part 4 (Cinque Terra) needs some revisions, but this final entry is basically complete.  So here it is, better late than never.  In keeping with my posting style of that time, it includes some Deep Thoughts at the end about Life, the Universe, and our place in it all.

Continue reading “Triplog: Italy (Part 5: Lake Como)”

Performers And Staffers At “Sleep No More” Say Audience Members Have Sexually Assaulted Them

I saw the original production of Sleep No More in Boston twice, as well as the New York production. The show is immersive and charged and incredible, one of the most amazing theater experiences I have ever witnessed. I was pulled aside into private spaces by actors, given objects, told by actors to go places and to do things. In one scene, an actor handed me his clothing as he undressed. I never once, not for a second, would have considered touching the actors. There is immersive theater, and then there is assault. The line, actually, is pretty clear.

I guess it is not shocking how some audience members behave, because so many human beings are terrible. But it is absolutely shocking and abhorrent the way the show management treated these incidents, and the ways in which they allowed their actors and technical staff to be abused by patrons night after night. Even worse are their feeble but repeated denials of responsibility.

[T]his week, my advice regarding time would be (in this order):

1. Try to restrict your caloric intake;
2. Consider shifting some of your qubits into spin 1/2;
3. Accept that we’re thrown into our circumstances, regardless of how shitty they may be, and greet whatever fate rises to meet you with resolute defiance.

Tim Carmody, summarizing the latest in longevity research
Geeking Out

What does it mean to “lose” weight?

Apologies in advance to the chemists in the room, because I’m going to butcher the science on this.  But the lay explanation is fascinating.

Weight loss discussions typically focus on two pathways, or both in combination: caloric restriction (i.e. eating less) and exercise.  In both cases, the goal is to “burn” more calories than we take in and, thus, remove excess fat.  But what does this mean in practice?  Calories are a measure of heat energy, so the term “burn” seems to make intuitive sense.  But the theory of conservation of mass tells us that mass cannot be created or destroyed.  We are not losing weight through heat.

If the common wisdom is a lie, the next idea is that we lose weight through digestive excretions, i.e. feces.  But this, also, is incorrect, for somewhat obvious reasons.  The digestive system is concerned with taking in fuel, breaking it down, using it, and getting rid of all the useless bits out the other side.  Nowhere in that system is there any “burning” or converting of stored energy.  In short, we don’t lose weight through our poop.

Losing weight actually comes down to metabolizing triglycerides, the primary component of fat.  Triglycerides are essentially a bunch of carbon and hydrogen with a bit of oxygen thrown in.  This is basic chemistry, and I have forgotten most of my chemistry.  But wait, carbon?  Hydrogen?

So, it turns out that the vast majority of “burned” calories are expelled through breathingEighty-six percent, to be precise.  How?  Well, just how we were taught in elementary school — O2 in, CO2 out!  Most of the remainder, i.e. those hydrogen atoms, leaves as water, H2O coming out of all the various places that we get rid of water, such as sweat, spit, tears, and urine.

Hearing this for the first time, it seems utterly crazy.  But actually it makes a lot more sense than the idea that all that fat is being magically “burned” away.

★★★★★
Review

To the Moon

This review contains spoilers for the first half-hour or so of gameplay but nothing you wouldn’t easily derive from reading the description of the game. It also covers some of the major thematic elements.

What if technology existed that allowed memories to be rewritten? If you could have a “do-over” on your life, would you take it? And if so, how would you change your path? To the Moon begins at a sickbed. Two technicians hook a frail, dying man to a machine that allows them to map and catalog his memories, and then to change them. Before his life ends, the man is given one brief chance to “relive” things as he wanted them to be. In doing so, he must forfeit his old, real memories. But, with only days to live, does it matter? Will the technicians make the right choices, and will the man die content?

His dying wish is to go to the moon. But he can’t articulate why: he doesn’t know! And before the wish can be granted, the man’s memories, a whole lifetime of memories — trivial and deep, happy and sad, readily apparent and deeply hidden — must be mapped, linked, and interpreted. And then changed. Deeply, profoundly changed.

This interactive story takes the form of a pixel art game with written dialog. The old-style gameplay belies the depth of the storytelling. The music is integral and captivating. The plot twists and turns, and then all the pieces lock together to reveal something beautiful and sad. I was guessing to the very end. The game is short enough you can complete it in one long evening. As soon as it ends, it starts over, and I won’t dwell on what that cyclicality means. It is worth playing through a second time to pick up on all the clues and connections. Plus, the little twist after the credits role is delicious.

Lovers of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will be well-served by this lovely, captivating game. And afterwards, you will surely want the soundtrack.

In a way, I wonder how much of this sensation was subverted by Infinite Summer. Reading this book should be a terribly lonely experience. It is so sweeping and detailed and consuming. No one outside the novel can possibly understand what you’re talking about. And if you’re reading it twice? Three times? Before the acceleration of the internet, how many similar obsessives was the average reader likely to run into? Most people don’t read this book, and most who do don’t finish. Those who did finish and find themselves trapped were in for a lot of alone time. A lot of time drawing out theories that no one else would understand on piece of paper.

Ezra Klein on Infinite Jest
Geeking Out

The current state of commercial vehicle autonomy, from the perspective of a casual driver

Selfishly, I would like to live as long as possible. The top causes of death among adults in the United States are heart disease, cancer, and automobile accidents. So I attempt to maintain a reasonably healthy diet, exercise regularly, and avoid smoking harmful substances. And I try to both limit my driving and drive in the safest available vehicles.

Living in LA for the last six months, daily long-distance driving has become unavoidable. Consequently, I have continued my studies of the latest in car safety, which, these days, primarily revolves around vehicle autonomy systems.

Continue reading “The current state of commercial vehicle autonomy, from the perspective of a casual driver”

The Elon Musk Endgame

What are the minimum necessary components for a viable and sustainable long-term colony on Mars?

First we have to get there, so we will need inexpensive and reliable rockets.  They should be reusable both to keep costs down and to allow for return journeys.

Once we are there, we will need to be able to produce and store energy.  This will require extremely durable solar panels hooked to efficient battery packs.  We can use this energy to power our transportation — the small battery-powered vehicles (let’s call them “cars”) to transport people and supplies, and the larger heavy-duty construction equipment (“trucks”).

Mars is extremely cold and has minimal atmosphere, so it will make sense to build a a substantial portion of our colony underground.  For this we will need advanced tunnel boring equipment.

With thousands of people across multiple settlements along with hundreds of vehicles and other bits of autonomous equipment, it will be critical to have an advanced communication and geolocation grid.

And we will need highly optimized mining and manufacturing techniques.

I’m surely not the first person to notice this, but Elon Musk is pursuing every single one of those goals.  SpaceX has made remarkable advances in reducing the cost of spaceflight and the reusability of rocket components.  Tesla (along with its SolarCity acquisition) have produced efficient electric vehicles, stationary battery packs, and have just unveiled their extremely durable solar roof tiles made of glass.  The Boring Company, Musk’s latest endeavor, is aiming to improve the efficiency of tunnel boring machines by 10x or more.  And as for communications, SpaceX recently announced plans to build a low Earth orbit communications satellite swarm consisting of twice as many nodes as all currently existing satellites combined.

If Musk’s master plan is to build every component necessary for successful Mars colonization, his logical next step would be to invest in breakthroughs around food production, packaging, and storage.  We are also going to need environment suits, so maybe he will start looking into new types of fabrics, breathing apparatus, and the like.  And of course he will eventually need to pivot from factory automation to include advanced automated manufacturing of stationary buildings.

The Musk portfolio of companies has cranked out in a little over a decade a substantial portion of the breakthrough technologies necessary to make us an interplanetary species.  He is fighting a desperate battle against time as the effects of climate change compound and produce more disruption.  We need to get some people off this rock before other people, driven by greed or desperation or hatred, do their utmost to destroy it.

More Tales of American Health Care

I periodically post here, on Facebook, or elsewhere about confounding health care experiences. I’m relatively young, relatively healthy, and have very simple care needs. The failures I experience worry me because they imply that people with more complex or urgent needs are likely being even more poorly served. All of my experiences are with managed care providers. The most recent is with Kaiser Permanente.

I had symptoms that presented as a simple stomach ailment. I won’t go into the details because, as you might expect, they are not fun. After 96 hours of being barely able to eat, and having lost over 6 pounds of body weight, I decided it might be worthwhile to call the Kaiser consultation line and get an expert opinion as to whether I should take any further action or simply let it run its course. I was specifically concerned because I was going to need to travel for work, so I thought talking to a nurse would help me decide if the trip should be cancelled.

The phone tree was mystifying, as always. I kept being transferred to the wrong place, but after talking to three people I landed on a pre-screener who asked a few simple questions and, based on the answers, determined that I had no use for a phone nurse but instead needed an in-person appointment. He transferred me to appointments. They told me that none were available, and I should go to urgent care instead. And so off I went.

After the expected hour or so of waiting around and repeating my symptoms to three different people, the doctor gave me a cursory exam and confirmed that it was, indeed, a simple stomach virus which would run its course. He offered to do additional blood work, which I declined, and prescribed some medication to help with symptoms.

This is all fine, I suppose. If someone could make a cheap home combination blood pressure cuff, pulse/ox, and stethoscope that plugs into an iPhone, that would probably eliminate 20% of routine office visits. It’s the 21st century, where’s my telemedicine?

Anyway, the interesting bit is the prescription. You see, modern pharmacies have complex software to check for possible drug interactions. That’s in addition to the job of the doctor and the pharmacist, of course. I’m no expert, but reading the printout that came with the prescription immediately raised alarm bells. Dr. Internet suggests that taking this stuff could be a Very Bad Idea as in some cases it interacts with something I’m already taking to cause fun symptoms like coma. Now, I’m no expert, and I may be wrong about whether this is really dangerous. But yikes!

So I called Kaiser. The pharmacist I spoke to suggested tapering off the other medication while taking this one. I suggested that seemed ridiculous given the other med’s long biological half-life. He stumbled around a bit, and said he would have my doctor follow up. Right. In the meantime? Unclear.

Maybe it’s fine. But I’m sufficiently freaked out/miffed that I’m not touching the new stuff, and am just going to have to suffer the old-fashioned way. And I’m concerned about Kaiser’s capacity to effectively treat me while keeping me safe from iatrogenic effects.

Update (2017-05-04): I never received the promised follow-up call.

The internet is weird. While trolling through YouTube I stumbled upon a “related” video by a channel called SourceFedNERD. The hosts were hilarious and the content enjoyable, so I clicked over to subscribe. The very next video of theirs I watched turned out to be an announcement that the channel was shutting down. It was posted last week. I could have found this channel at any point since early 2012, subscribed, participated and enjoyed their content. But instead I found it today.

How Subtle Class Cues Can Backfire on Your Resume

This study of hiring practices by top-tier law firms comes to unsurprising conclusions. But the methodology and specifics are interesting. For example, “even though all educational and work-related histories were the same, employers overwhelmingly favored the higher-class man. He had a callback rate more than four times of other applicants and received more invitations to interview than all other applicants in our study combined. But most strikingly, he did significantly better than the higher-class woman, whose resume was identical to his, other than the first name.”

Spit and polish

My grandfather, Ralph Silverman, trained as a chemist at Indiana University on the GI Bill after serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II. In 1960 he uprooted his family and moved to California to form his own business manufacturing cleaning chemicals. Through grit, hard work, determination, and a little luck, he built a successful enterprise and gave his family a better life. It is a classic American Dream story, and fifty-seven years later, Maintex is a thriving facilities solutions company.

As a child I would go into work with my dad and help grandpa open the mail: checks in one pile, bills in another. As a teenager I worked part of my summers on the company’s catalog and web site. My first major programming accomplishment was designing a content management system for Maintex at age 14. While in college I helped maintain the servers that ran the web site, email, and FileMaker database.

While some employees assumed I would move into the family business, my parents and grandparents encouraged me to pursue my own dreams. I had the privilege of graduating from university with no debt thanks to my grandparents’ generosity, and I was able to successfully pursue a career in information technology.

The rest is well documented on this blog. I built a life in Boston, forming friendships, getting married, buying a house, and working in tech. I moved between several jobs, advancing my career but never quite satisfied with my role and level of responsibility.

All along, Maintex kept gnawing at the back of my mind — the amazing opportunity and awesome responsibility of potentially stewarding a multi-generational company. A company with a mission and purpose. A company that provides for the livelihoods of hundreds of employees.

It was a massively difficult decision. Meghan and I eventually came to the conclusion that I needed to give it a serious try. I plan to spend the next six months learning the ins and outs of the business, and contributing as much as I can. As I do so, I am very cognizant of the risks and potential pitfalls of coming into a family business in the third generation. To that end, my aim is to observe as much as possible and ask a million questions, especially in the areas where I know the least. I think I’m in a good position to do this — I have never been afraid to expose my ignorance!

Once this insight is offered, it must be said, everything else begins to fall in order. The recent Super Bowl, for instance. […I]t is exactly what you expect to happen when a teen-ager and his middle-aged father exchange controllers in the EA Sports video-game version: the father stabs and pushes the buttons desperately while the kid makes one play after another, and twenty-five-point leads are erased in minutes, and in just that way — with ridiculous ease on the one side and chicken-with-its-head-cut-off panic infecting the other.

Adam Gopnick, “Did the Oscars Just Prove That We Are Living in a Computer Simulation?”