Probability and decision making

Humans are really bad at evaluating odds and acting rationally (see casinos, fear of flying, etc) – this reminds me I want to read The Biggest Bluff and compare it to Thinking in Bets. I’ve decided there’s acceptable risk to things like riding my OneWheel, driving, riding my bike, drinking alcohol regularly, etc, but COVID is so much harder for me.

The information overload and politicization doesn’t help. At the end of June, when my brother and his wife were visiting (pre-delta spike) we debated whether it was prudent to recommend indoor masking, and I was thinking it was irresponsible of experts to talk about indoor masking while the country was trying to re-open; the news was full of optimism, with the idea that SF may be at herd immunity, indoor dining being a thing again, etc. Of course, today, it looks like those folks advocating for masking/caution around delta were the canaries and not Chicken Littles.

Last week, my brother was saying that SF was fine, that it was back, at which point he pulled up the case chart and we could see the numbers were basically similar to the summer wave (and probably peaking/trending back down). It’s interesting that the declining numbers had been enough for my brother to suggest things were fine, while I was thinking the numbers are the same as the summer, and I wouldn’t have considered traveling then. Now there’s the calculus of what’s riskier, i.e. less people vaccinated but delta not really having traction or more people vaccinated and engaging in protective behaviors (e.g. masking, distancing, etc), but with high rates of delta?

Delta of course is another factor now. I trust the vaccine, I know that my odds of serious illness are less, that early signs point to the vaccines reducing the risk of long COVID (my biggest fear, as brain fog sounds absolutely horrifying). I know that the case numbers I see today are predominantly the unvaccinated. That vaccinated folks have lower viral loads. I know I’m masking, socially distancing, avoiding indoor activities.

Yet I’m still scared to travel. Even last week, before I went to the airport, I ended up doom-scrolling, seeing tweets about outdoor events of fully vaccinated groups ending up witb breakthrough cases, and debating canceling my flight then and there. I found some N95 masks, though I didn’t realize that the airlines didn’t allow masks with exhalation valves, the CDC says they’re fine for source control as long as you don’t need fluid resistant respirators – i.e. surgical settings:

A NIOSH-approved N95 filtering facepiece respirator with an exhalation valve offers the same protection to the wearer as one that does not have a valve. As source control, findings from NIOSH research suggest that, even without covering the valve, N95 respirators with exhalation valves provide the same or better source control than surgical masks, procedure masks, cloth masks, or fabric coverings. In general, individuals wearing NIOSH-approved N95s with an exhalation valve should not be asked to use one without an exhalation valve or to cover it with a face covering or mask. However, NIOSH-approved N95 respirators with an exhalation valve are not fluid resistant. Therefore, in situations where a fluid resistant respirator is indicated (e.g., in surgical settings), individuals should wear a surgical N95 or, if a surgical N95 is not available, cover their respirator with a surgical mask or a face shield.  Be careful not to compromise the fit of the respirator when placing a facemask over the respirator.

Regardless, my step-sister’s ask for her first-baby shower and seeing some family in person I haven’t seen for close to 2 years seemed like it was worth the risk, and I got up at 4 AM and spent 4 hours trying to get to Oakland, but was thwarted as the flight was cancelled. Some paranoia the next day as I had a tickle in my throat (I’ve had them on and off all summer and it seems to correlate directly with the AQI; yay for my overly sensitive body).

In any case, I’m still trying to think about going to visit my family, not sure if I’d go to SoCal or NorCal (i.e. my parents or my siblings), but I’m still very hesitant to travel (and I was a home body even in the pre-pandemic times), but realizing just how bad I am at making a rational decision around travel and being comfortable with the risk.

mountains or mole hills?

The press has been commenting on the Oregon Republican Party‘s condemnation of the 10 Republican Representative who voted for impeachment. The actual text is pretty bonkers, stating the 10’s act of voting for impeachment was “conspiring to surrender our nation to Leftist forces seeking to establish a dictatorship” was analogous to Benecid Arnold conspiring to surrender West Point to the British. They also go on to say that “there is growing evidence that the violence at the Capitol was a ‘false flag’ operation”.

The amount of press this has been getting is kind of interesting. The press release (link to Twitter photo since I can’t find it on their website. Ironically, the “News” link results in a 404 Not Found/”There’s Nothing Here”) makes it clear this was just the Executive Committee, which their bylaws state is 22 people. Quorum for the EC is only 10 members and a two-thirds vote is needed to adopt resolutions (Article XII, Sections F and G respectively) , so this was anywhere from 7 to 22 people (their meeting minutes don’t seem to be on their website).

Kind of surprising how much noise is generated by those 7 to 22 people.

curtis lies

Oh man, was perusing reddit, when I stumbled upon this post. As I have fond memories of Curtis from when I lived in Helena (some of my friends had a running joke of yelling “Curtis Lies!” whenever we’d run into him at the bars).

Not sure how he was injured, though he’s doing just fine on December 15th, and looks like he was out for a bit, but then on the 21st he’s reporting from a chair. Looks like he’s been having a little fun with the knee scooter he’s using now though:

Nice little throwback to my days in Helena!

time machines

I didn’t think about how much serialized media is a reflection upon our time until the pandemic.

A few years ago, I decided I couldn’t listen to This American Life unless I was on a run. Injuries and poor adherence to running mean that it goes in fits and bursts. I was on a pretty good streak for me from March to mid-July this year, probably going through 3 or 4 episodes a week (I listen around 1.4x, so that’s 40 to 45 minutes an episode). I remember taking wide berths to give others way more than 6 feet while considering the contrast to what was being piped through my jaw, the auditory pictures of the before times, where people were going out to bars and restaurants, working from their offices, and not wearing masks. I think Everyone’s a Critic (episode 695, February 28, 2020) was the first episode that mentioned coronavirus, though strictly in the sense of its impact in Wuhan and China.

I ended up injuring my ankle, and haven’t put in any significant time/miles since then. The last episode I’ve listened to was Black Box (episode 701, April 17, 2020). Act Two of that episode was talking with EMS workers in NYC, and just how they were getting overwhelmed with calls (“This past Sunday, I did 13 cardiac arrests in a 16-hour shift.”). It’ll be interesting to listen to these episodes which are mini-time capsules to our journey through the pandemic as I ease back into running (my ankle is still giving me issues) and hopefully they’ll be a contrast to the worst of the pandemic versus our easing back to normalcy.

I’ve had similar thoughts while I’ve been binge-watching Law & Order: SVU. This is a similar time machine, but with the dial turned up since it’s been on since 1999. The early episodes were particularly jarring as people were having to run to a phone to call 911. I’m almost caught up to the present, and just started Guardians and Gladiators (S22:E1), which starts with a scene inspired by the Central Park birdwatching incident, and folks are also masked up. The episode aired on November 12, 2020, not sure when it was filmed, but the masks, the birdwatching incident, and COVID references definitely timestamp this episode just as surely as the lack of cellphones date the early seasons.

(Oh, and as an aside, I’ve mainly been using SVU for escapism. Not having to think about what I’m going to watch has been nice, and SVU is one of those shows you can just have on in the background and still have a good idea of what’s happening without giving it 100% of your attention. I’ve avoided thinking too deeply about the intersection of the portrayal of law enforcement versus defund the police and other current events, but there’s some interesting stuff there, especially with Elliot Stabler in the early seasons.)

new years past

A look back over posts on January 1st . . .

  • In 2003, I was navel gazing about if I should have talked to a girl at the keg at a party in Cinci . . . and Dick Clark was still alive
  • In 2004, a whooping two years out of college, I was thinking 21 year olds were too young for me while at another party in Cinci
  • In 2005, I just posted a link to a Flickr album from the night out in Helena. My hair then was atrocious. I wrote a more complete re-cap of the holidays the next day.
  • No post in 2006, though I did write about March of the Penguins the next day
    “The fact that they go months at a time w/o eating is amazing”
  • No post in 2007 till January 4th. I definitely remember the storm in Reno then and the streets were coated with sheets of ice.
  • No New Year’s post on 2008, but another weather/snow post on January 2nd.
  • In 2009, I was musing on a random text message from SF, as well as a second post where I noted Tim DeChristopher’s bidding in a BLM auction for oil and gas leases.
  • No post till the 4th in 2010, and it was a resolutions post, but it’s also when I stopped saying “I’m too old for this” (apparently since L was making fun of me)
  • Took me till the 11th in 2011 to make a post:

    Quick recap of last year would involve an excellent relationship, getting laid off, finding a great new job, trip to Hong Kong and a trip to Tokyo.

  • 2012 I waited till the 8th, and apparently spent time reminsicing through Facebook and LJ. I apparently looked back at the resolutions from the previous year (which is a common theme for most of my January posts back then)

Looks like my writing something about the year past and the year to come ended in 2012, so 9 year later I’m back at it. 2020 was definitely a rough year with the pandemic. Lots of bumps over the year, none of which I really want to go into detail about. The year seems to have been incredibly short, but also felt like it would never end. Here’s to hopefully returning to a sense of normalcy in 2021 🥂

new digs

I’ve moved to!

I’ve been on LiveJournal since the navel-gazing days of blogging, even paying for a permanent account during one of the early pushes. I remember running my own instance of one of their servers, back when it was open source. I definitely write in fits and bursts, and I’m sure there’s some embarrassing posts and thoughts, but I think that’s to be expected considering 18+ years of posts. Having been around so long, it feels like it’s worth preserving the posts.

Picking was mainly since it seems like the best free option these days for a personal blog. My currently reading The Year Without Pants likely influenced the decision as well. I’d also recently assisted with moving the Montana Destination Imagination page from Drupal to WordPress and had been pretty impressed with the software as well as the ecosystem. The political bits about LiveJournal being owned by Russians and concerns over free-speech were also a factor.

I’ll still be a sporadic poster, with random thoughts and no cohesive theme to anything here. Just a place to dump my thoughts.

Portland and Protests

Truth is complicated. Memes and tweets serve as news for many today, and folks cherry pick their sources and the items they want to believe.

Portland is not in utter chaos, nor are the protests absolutely peaceful.

And as much as I hate this and realize how it’s the exact thing I’m raving against, realizing that many won’t read past the first few sentences, the TL;DR; is that the protests in Portland are predominantly peaceful with a handful of highly visible provacateurs that have grown an order of magnitude since the Feds escalated things (grabbing folks off the street and shooting them in the head)

For about the last two months, there have been nightly protests at the Multnomah County Justice Center numbering in the hundreds and taking up maybe a city block. Generally peaceful, but as the nights would start easing into the mornings, there were provacatuers in the crowd who would escalate, throwing things, shining laser pointers, modifying the fence, shooting off fireworks, etc. Eventually this would lead to the Portland Police Bureau declaring things a riot, and dispersing the crowd aggressively.

After the Feds grabbed people off the street, things escalated, with the protests growing from hundreds to thousands, spreading from a single block to a handful now, and the national attention again being drawn to Portland. The story hasn’t changed much though – it’s still peaceful protests, and as the night grows long, provocation leads to escalation, a riot is declared, and crowds are dispersed.

The national attention has resulted in two narratives, and you can see much of this divide by comparing the hashtags #portlandriots vs #portlandprotests.

Acts of violence by the provacateurs are not being hidden from people, it’s that they are on the edges of the story. The media doesn’t spend a ton of time on it since they only have minutes, if not seconds, of your attention span. I encourage everyone to remove their blinders and try to see more than the narrow tunnel of stories that appear in their social media feeds.

This post was motivated as I started seeing Dr. Roberts story circle back to me from when I originally saw it shared by his son-in-law/a friend of mine from my time in Reno. Most of the above is a rewrite of some of the comments/discussions I had as a result of that original post, before it blew up.

For context, I work ~6 blocks from the Justice Center. Many of the buildings along my walking commute are boarded up from months ago, covered with beautiful street art/graffiti murals, but the plywood is from the initial wave of protests 2 months ago, not the prolonged protesting at the Justice Center. Unless I walk 5 blocks or so, I would never know of the strife.

Random Thoughts

Lots of time to listen to podcasts and think/process these days . . . a few items that have been percolating in my brain …

Being a poet/imposter syndrome

I really like the Make Me Smart podcast (and adore co-hosts Molly Wood and Kai Ryssdal), and they end their regular episodes with   "What is something you thought you knew but you found out you were wrong about?", and the answer from an episode last month (starts at the 31 minute mark or so), and is by Kate Baer:

One thing I thought I knew was what it meant to be a poet.  I've been reading poetry my whole life, but I thought if you wanted to actually be a poet, you had to be a grad student, smoking a pipe in a haunted alley in France, so I stayed in my lane.  I wrote short stories, I wrote first-person narrative, I wrote whole novels.  I wrote anything but poetry, because I knew what a poet looked like.  I knew what she wore, what she ate, what she smelled like – pine needles and the earth bathed in the moonlight, probably.  And then Mary Oliver died in early 2019, and I started re-reading her work and picking up other poetry books written by all kinds of authors and I thought "why don't I just try it?"  It doesn't have to be perfect, it doesn't have to be for anyone else, I have nothing to lose for trying.  As it turns out, you don't have to be a pipe smoking wanderer to write poetry.    In fact, you can live in the suburbs.  You can be a wife.  You can be a mother.  You can enjoy really unpoetic things like the Taco Bell drive thru.   And wow, it has been the best surprise.

This one resonated first as I thought about a co-worker who’s a poet and the few times we’ve touched upon her writing. A second pass at it made me recognize that this was really just another take on imposter syndrome and it reminded me of a good tech specific presentation on this by Berlind Bergsdóttir at PNSQC a few years back.

Enthusiasm beating intelligence

Next up was 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice by Kevin Kelly, as featured on Freakonomics Radio. The actual item from the list as written was “Being enthusiastic is worth 25 IQ points”

Host Stephen Dubner and Kelly spend a bit of time discussing this, talking about how we want to hang out with enthusiastic people, and that enthusiasm leads to improvisation:

In improv, there’s this fantastic bit of advice that you always want to say not “no,” but you want to say “and.” You want to add into what someone had built before you and add onto it rather than kind of undermine it.

Definitely bumped on this one as a few years ago at work, we did this exact workshop during a team offsite, but it was done as “yes and … “, which has resulted in some coworkers who seem to use the phrase “yes and …” in very stilted manners, to the point where whenever someone now says “yes and …”, the connotation is effectively the same as the “but” that would have been used previously. The speakers seem to think it’s a get-out-of-jail-free card; one that lets them ignore what was just said and add whatever they want.

The lack of enthusiasm of some of my coworkers when they use the phrase is obvious, and just makes it one more bit of useless business jargon.

Why America?

Lastly, I was listening to OPB’s Think Out Loud, where they had an episode with Viet Than Nguyen (who’s got some impressive credentials including a Pulitzer and being a MacArthur Fellow). While there are bits throughout that resonate with me, I was really drawn into his comments about the difference between the terms immigrants and refugees (question starts at the 26:45 mark). This is apparently a common theme in his work, as noted on Fresh Air with Terry Gross:

And the way that I think about it is that I have to insist all the time that I am not an immigrant and that I – the story that I’m telling in my novel is not an immigrant story. I’m a refugee and the story I’m telling is a war story because one of the ways that the United States tries to contain the meaning of these histories is to think that all of these Asians are here because they’re immigrants, and that their story begins once they get to the United States. But again, my understanding is that many of these Asians are here because of the consequences of wars. And many immigrant stories and refugee stories need to be understood as war stories.

This made me wonder about my father and his background. As far as I know, his parents came to the US, and all his siblings did as well, but they came separately, and I’ve never asked him what brought the whole family over, in bits and pieces. Nguyen talks about how his parents were reluctant to talk about much of their past, and I feel similarly about my dad, though I’m not sure why – for all I know, it’s just because I’ve never asked. In any case, on my list to ask him about it tonight during our family Zoom session.

Crazy Rich Asians

I had told myself earlier this week that I needed to go see Crazy Rich Asians during opening weekend, especially as I heard an interview from someone who went to one of the early screenings, and how there was something about them clicking with some of the experiences portrayed and feeling the commiseration in a theater dominated with Asians.  I even made an exception to my having to read the book before I see the adaptation rule.

First things first, it's just a solid rom-com.  There's lots of interesting sub-plots and fun characters, and many of the themes are universal – i.e. strong matriarchs, having to balance family and individual, respecting your cultural past vs. modern values, whether appearances matter, etc.

Even without being Chinese (or Singaporean), there were tons of bits that I feel did resonate with me more from being Asian-American: there's a tiny joke in the beginning about how to spell protagonist's Rachel Chus name (Choo, Chiu, Chew, Chu), which made me laugh as I thought about the various ways my last name can be romanized.  Nick being the first son and being told by his best friend that he could do no wrong reminded me of how Aimee keeps referring to me as the "favorite", and that no matter what I do, my parents won't get mad.  And no disrespect to my step-mother Angela, but there is more than a passing resemblence between her and Eleanor.

Definitely a movie I want to see again, especially with Leia, as I'm sure much of culture shock that Rachel experiences as she meets Nick's family is somewhat similar to her experience.  Even the bits of Michael and his attempts to maintain his identity while not being the breadwinner in the family hinted at what it might be like for me one day.

TedXPortland 2018

I went to the local TEDx event yesterday. All day event, split over four sessions. The morning sessions were particularly impressive. Video doesn’t look like it’s online, but some quick notes:

  • Kevin Cavenaugh talked about the contrast between having enough and Friedman economics. He talked about reducing the CEO to employee pay gap, starting at his company of 5 where he’s flattened the pay so everyone is equal, as well as giving each employee 0.27% equity in buildings for each year they’re at the firm. He also talked about a housing project that he crowd funded, with 5 of the 11 single-residency occupancy (SRO, dorm-room style) rooms being reserved for Street Roots vendors. It’s a rad example of the solidarity economy, and something I wish I had known about so I could have invested in it.
  • Colleen Yeager gave an impassioned talk about her experience as the mother of a 7-year old transgendered son, talking about how amazing kids are, e.g. “I always though Nora was a boy” and worrying about how there were now more boys than girls in the class as Nora was now Eli.
  • Tyrone Poole spoke about being a non-traditional tech entrepreneur and how his personal experience with being houseless has led to, which sounds like it’s essentially a rental application clearinghouse. He talked about how even though he had qualified for a housing voucher, but he couldn’t find a rental as he kept getting rejected due to things like a past eviction, debt, etc (he had ended up in the hospital/traction for 6 months due to an accident while training to be a firefighter). Definitely an inspiring story, and a reminder that tech is only part of the solution – the best ideas often come from non-tech folks.
  • Albert Chi and Johny Matheny talked about the Modular Prosthetic Limb, which is freaking incredible. As an engineer, it’s rad to see so many disciplines coming together for this kind of work – prosthetic arms that folks can feel through, that individual fingers can be manipulated, etc. Gripe about military funding all you want, but even at $120 million dollars of DARPA funding, this kind of research is amazing. Looks like Chi has also done some other cool things like this 3d-printed prosthetic working with Enabling the Future

Excited to see the talks go online. Even though I was feeling super introverted yesterday, and sat alone, didn’t interact with anyone, etc, it was a pretty amazing experience, and definitely one I’d like to do again.