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Matt's Blog

A Most Stupendous & Audacious Undertaking

All done with LJ... it's been a wonderful 5 years!
I wrote up a post few days back on how I finally decided to quit LJ.  It failed to post properly.  I lost the post and tried again the next day.  After making sure it posted properly, I continued on to other things.  Today I looked back and discovered that the second post had somehow been lost as well.

I'm going to ignore conspiracy theories and keep this short.  

Basically, between the spammers, the DDoS attacks, and the relentless ads shown to nonmembers, I think it's time to leave.   LJ is like a warm bath that is gradually cooling down.  It's no longer pleasant or comfortable, but the anticipated brief pain of getting out to go somewhere better has been enough pain to keep me in.  It's hard to completely kill a community, even an online one.  There's always a small number of dedicated residents who will let things get really bad before they even think of moving.  (See the This American Life episode on the unreasonable persistence of cities)

I've had a good ~5 years here, and especially enjoyed using it during my travels in 2009.   The level of detail and richness I shared would not have been possible on Facebook.

No other web service seems to match the combination of depth, multiple privacy settings, and social that LJ does.  Google+ comes close but is not good for detailed multimedia posts.  Re: Dreamwidth, I am concerned that it does not have enough resources to stay current with evolving web publishing standards.  Facebook and Twitter are way too short and ephemeral and have limited privacy controls.  

I plan on mainly being active on google+ for short posts and a a not-yet-set-up wordpress blog for longer ones.  I realize that Google+'s pseudonym policy is preventing people from using it, but I have a feeling they are likely to give in on that one soon.  For the blog I'm debating between using the wordpress.com web service on my own domain and doing my own wordpress installation.  I'll do one more post here to note my blog's new location.  

Find me on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/thismattbell
Find my main web presence here: http://mattishere.wordpress.com/

See you all somewhere else on the giant tapestry of online social interaction.  May we meet again.  

You spammers...
The number of lj spam comments I have to delete per day (10+) is kind of insane.  The complaints about the heavy traffic of ads shown to nonmembers (despite me paying for a membership) are also rankling me.  If I'm paying for lj as a blog hosting service, it shouldn't show ads to people trying to look at my blog.

Surely the spamminess of an all-Cyrillic response to my all-English journal from an lj account created a couple of days ago and containing numerous links to sketchy online pharmacies would not be that hard to detect.

Comment settings are here:  http://www.livejournal.com/manage/settings/?cat=privacy

I just checked the "minimize comment inclusion in search engine results" ticky box... perhaps this will dissuade spammers from using my account if this setting something they can detect.

If that doesn't work...

I'm already thinking of ditching LJ as a public blogging service and using Wordpress instead.  I can point the wordpress blog to my own domain and get some pagerank.  I likely will keep LJ as an outlet for friend-protected posts.  

Here's what I'm thinking for public posts:

I'll use Wordpress for my blog.  I will encourage/force people to comment on the wordpress blog instead of here.  Cross-network identity management is fairly good these days.  Note that I can't disallow comments entirely or all existing comments will disappear (wtf?), so I will set it to only allow comments by friends.
I'll have the blog auto-repost to Google+ and Facebook.  Splitting a comment stream 3 ways is annoying, but I'm guessing Google+ will eventually start allowing comment threads to be embedded on different sites, and that will allow auto-sync.  I have less hope for Facebook.

Last week I watched papertygre  upload most of her books as she prepared to move out.

Seeing the process aroused a transhumanist sentiment in me, a glimmer of a future in which our world is gradually transformed into digital information.  It creates a sense of raw possibility and freedom, albeit tinged with a bit of emptiness.

The ability to liberate objects from reality is something I'm passionately working towards in my new startup; it's exciting to see another form of this process.

In the case of book scanning, it's a two-step process involving cutting off the binding and then putting the pages through a bulk scanner 100 at a time.  Hard-core book lovers might want to look away at this point...  :-)

(In case you're wondering, there are many reasons why she didn't choose to buy e-books and then donate the original books to the library, not the least of which is the annoyance of DRM.)

Here are some surgically mutilated books, post-scan.

Ratha digitizes her book collection
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Multisensory modalities for magnificent massage mastery
I recently had the idea that people could learn the art of massage more quickly if they could connect the hand motions to the sensations the motions create.  I realized that this could be accomplished by setting up a camera and display so that the person receiving the massage could watch a live feed of the masseuse working on their back.

It worked really well. 

Multisensory massage  Multisensory massage
It turns out that watching a live video of your back for an hour while receiving the sensations you see is a great way to achieve an out-of-body experience as well as a great way to learn massage strokes. 

Try it.

Results of Extreme Desserts Pt 3: Mochi
At the latest event, our intrepid crew took on the challenge of creating highly unusual mochi.  We created a couple of pounds of raw mochi mix (via this recipe recommended by Kate) and soon got our fingers extremely sticky as we learned just how hard it is to work with. 

My memories of exactly what was created that night are a bit hazy, but I recall the following flavors/fillings working quite well:

- Whole blueberries
- Tamarind sauce
- Mango ginger chutney
- Five Spice powder + hot pepper
- Unsweetened chocolate (mochi rice mix had some sugar already)

Chocolate + Liquid smoke didn't work as well.  :-)

Extreme Desserts Pt 3: Mochi
Extreme Desserts Pt 3: Mochi  Extreme Desserts Pt 3: Mochi  Extreme Desserts Pt 3: Mochi
Extreme Desserts Pt 3: Mochi  Extreme Desserts Pt 3: Mochi  Extreme Desserts Pt 3: Mochi
Extreme Desserts Pt 3: Mochi  Extreme Desserts Pt 3: Mochi  Extreme Desserts Pt 3: Mochi
Extreme Desserts Pt 3: Mochi  Extreme Desserts Pt 3: Mochi  Extreme Desserts Pt 3: Mochi
Extreme Desserts Pt 3: Mochi

View the full set on Flickr.

 Many of us have the habit of filling little voids of downtime with streams of trivialities on our cellphones.  Usually they're of little consequence.

Today I was in the check-out line at a supermarket, and while browsing Facebook status updates I saw a post about how the husband of a friend of mine had just committed suicide.

A moment later, the woman at the register cheerfully but robotically asked how I was doing.  I looked at her and said nothing, not even sure where to start.  She kept looking at me, expecting an answer.  No words came out.  Somewhere in the unconscious depths of my brain there probably was scenario planning going on, with analysis of recalled memories of times when I intentionally broke the social exchange script by being shockingly honest to a total stranger by describing exactly how crappy or ecstatic my day was, with a supporting detail or two.  This was too new, though, and I had no words for it yet.  Time kept passing.  I don't know how I looked to her, wrapped inside my own head of raw emotion but with my gaze transfixed on her.  Eventually I quietly said "I'm doing alright", and the world began to move again, social custom fulfilled.

I feel sorry for all those closer to the situation.  

 I'm on Google+.   https://plus.google.com/106167734331823180291/posts

I have this theory that most people are only active contributors to two general-audience social networks at most. It's been true for me since ~2004 when I dropped Friendster.

So LiveJournal vs Facebook vs Google+... who is it going to be?  I don't want to stop blogging.

[personaldev] Breaking and fixing healthy routines
 I've been spending the last couple of weeks working out of our new office in Mountain View.  Despite the fact that a couple of friends are generously offering me places to sleep in the south bay, the commute from SF is driving me crazy.  I'm going to need to move down to Mountain View soon.

It's taken me two weeks to realize that this has broken a lot of the healthy life routines that I'm used to.
- I used to take morning hill-walks up Bernal Hill, which is next to my house.  I had recently been using the hill-walks for walking meditation experiments.
- I've been using a makeshift sit/stand desk at home; I modified a cheap IKEA desk to let me switch from sitting to standing in a couple of minutes.  About a month and a half ago, I started developing pain from sitting too long, and this became very motivating.  
- I have been making most of my own meals, and I've found a range of ingredients that is very healthy yet easy to prepare.  
- I have been going to the gym regularly.  It's very near my house, so going there has been very convenient.  In addition to the rock climbing, I have been following the protocols from Body By Science, which is deserving of its own post.  In any case, I have continued to build a modest amount of muscle despite only going to the gym once a week.

Anyway, all of these routines are now broken because I'm rarely home now, and I've realized just how much this is affecting me.

I've been working on fixing them:
- Hill-walks -- Morning hill-walks are still feasible if I get up earlier.  Once I move to the south bay, this will be more difficult.  I've found walking on flat ground isn't physically invigorating enough, and running doesn't have the same meditative aspects.
- Sit/stand desks -- I'm about to drop $600 on the frame for a GeekDesk.  It's the cheapest motorized sit/stand desk I can find, and the option to buy just the base is not linked to from the rest of their site.  http://www.geekdesk.com/default.asp?contentID=629
- Food -- I've worked with the people at our startup incubator office space to set up the components of a real kitchen.  The social pressure to go out to eat with others is strong though.  :-)
- Gym -- I work from home one day a week, so that's giving me some time to get to the rock gym.  Otherwise the gym is usually closed by the time I get home from work.  There is a rock gym in the south bay, but it's way down in Sunnyvale, which is 15-20 minutes from work (more during rush hour).  

Tiny Wings is life
After exposing Angry Birds as a depressing tale of terrorism and genocide, I'm turning my attention to the next big iphone game sensation: Tiny Wings.

Really, Tiny Wings is your life.  It's about using skill and intelligence to transcend your biological limitations, but still being hemmed in by constraints of reality.  You can choose how you move through the world.   You can pass slowly through the scenery as you enjoy the mellow curves of the land, or you can shoot for the clouds, whizzing through life with barely a chance to rest or reflect, and always in danger of having your string of successes come crashing down if you don't time your actions just right.  If you are sufficiently skilled, you can go very far, but time continues to pass and the inevitable dusk approaches.  You can go gently into the night or you can fight to keep going until the end, working hard for the chance to live a bit longer and see a bit more. 

Meanwhile at the Tiny Wings conference, Ray Kurzweil is claiming that with sufficiently advanced computer automation, we will be able to move through the islands so quickly that night will never catch up to us, allowing us to continue to soar as long as we so desire.  Critics of course claim that night is a "natural" result of the passage of time, and believes that society will destabilize if everyone could soar into the great unknown past island 10. 

Personally, I can't get past Island 8.
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Ephemerisle Adventures
Epehemrisle is truly maturing.  I recently came back from our four-day floating-city-building adventure with a warm glow from new connections, new accomplishments, and the excitement of an ad-hoc community coming together and *working well*

Some thoughts in no particular order:

- I love the people who showed up.  The people really made the event.  We had a great mix, from hardcore engineers to yoga instructors. 

- Having a more complex city design that focused everyone's attention onto a central area was great.  It had a much stronger community feeling than the lines of houseboats from past years.  In the evenings, the central focus was intense and wonderful.  The only downside was that it was hard to have more than one loud event going on at the same time.  Maybe in the future we can create an S or T shaped city with two community areas. 

notephemerisle city v1.1

We made some effort to put the quiet boats at one corner of the city, but that effort was not well-coordinated and we ended up with quiet boats next to loud boats.  Next time it will be better.

The city's flexible design allowed us to accommodate other boats in a semi-ad-hoc fashion.  It also allowed us to not have to reach total consensus about the city structure -- so long as we had a group of people committed to comprising the core of the city, we could accommodate all kinds of changes over time.

- Ad-hoc decision making went relatively smoothly.  The nature of the people at the event definitely helped with that -- the boat captains were all rational, reasonable, and flexible.  It did also help that there was a small group of decision-makers that collectively could speak for most of the houseboats at the event.  These were mainly people who had rented multiple houseboats. 

- We really need to learn how to anchor the city properly as we build it.  We've screwed this up every year so far, and a little planning would definitely help.

- The community platform came together extremely well.  Ratha's rapid assembly system allowed a team to assemble a 20x24ft floating platform capable of holding around 50 people in only five hours or so. 

Not-Ephemerisle 2011  Not-Ephemerisle 2011

- The game board / cuddle tent that Kate and I built worked really well.  It was very popular and in frequent use throughout the event.

Not-Ephemerisle 2011  Not-Ephemerisle 2011

Sadly one of the balls Kate made for the board was lost by careless players, and the other one was too nice to put in there (see below) so I borrowed a contact juggling ball from one of the other attendees.

Not-Ephemerisle 2011

- My pool noodle sculpture designed to highlight the motion of the waves only worked for a few hours before being damaged.  In part this is because I threw this project together in about four hours; I could have done some things to make it more durable.  Joe's pool noodle tetrahedron (on the right) was a lot of fun.

Not-Ephemerisle 2011

- What to do about the drunk?  One first time attendee had way too much alcohol and passed out.  We had to watch him to make sure he didn't injure or drown himself, and eventually a nurse who was attending the festival decided his state was serious enough to merit taking him to shore for ambulance pickup at 1am.  Generally people out at the festival are very good at taking care of themselves, and we don't have a system of rangers like Burning Man does.  I resented having to spend time on a perfectly good Friday night dealing with the situation.  I do know however that there are people who enjoy keeping events like this safe for people who do stupid things or don't know their boundaries, so perhaps it's just a matter of finding the right volunteers to handle this.  It does raise the question of what sort of expectations people should have about the event -- I would not want people thinking that they could just show up and be taken care of.  I like the spirit of true radical self-reliance that pervades the event, and I wouldn't want to lose that.  I think that self-reliance bar helps create the culture at the event that I enjoy.

- There is some debate about growing the event further.  Current attendance is around 200.  Some people think that if we grow it much further, it will lose its character.  I think that potential danger is outweighed by the possibility of introducing more cool people to the event.  I think that due to the limited resources available (you have to build your own land!!), we will not experience a period of explosive growth like Burning Man did in the 1990s.  It will be difficult to grow at all with the current strategy.  We already rent out all the houseboats in the region.  Some alternatives:
-- Convince more boat owners to come.  I do think we'd want to be somewhat careful in doing this; we want boaters who care about seasteading and community-building as opposed to ones who are just coming to get drunk and party. 
-- Get really good at building floating platforms.  This is somewhat limited in that we would still need a way of getting the platforms to the event, and we'd have to eventually purchase a barge instead of continuing to squeeze heavy construction materials onto houseboats. 
-- Buy/rent a barge.  Surely there must be some ratty barges somewhere that we can buy or borrow to expand our footprint.
-- Invest in inflatable platforms.  One of the attendees was telling me that the technology exists to build very heavy-duty inflatable floating platforms.  Storage and transport of such platforms would be very easy relative to other alternatives.

The connection from Ephemerisle to seasteading is more symbolic than literal.  The engineering problems faced on the open ocean are very different from what we're tackling.  Even the social ad-hocracy issues we have explored will be at a very different scale out on the open ocean.  To some degree the event is just a chance for a bunch of smart and resourceful people to solve interesting problems in an unfamiliar domain while community-building, and that in and of itself has value.  However, I do feel that the event helps us psychologically wrap our minds around what life at sea might actually be like.