Gone but Not Deleted

06/17/2018

This piece really hit home with me on this Father’s Day.

via Boston Magazine:

I don’t remember the final conversation I had with my father. Toward the end of his life, he was hard to understand on the phone, as years of substance abuse and failing health had garbled his voice. He’d call at inopportune times—from a rehab center or hospital on the Cape, or the home of a friend in Florida he had somehow charmed his way into—and I’d hurry to get off the phone. Sometimes I’d find myself annoyed by his attempts to reconnect and let the call go to voicemail. It had been more than 15 years since we’d had anything resembling a normal relationship, and more than 30 since he and my mother had. Even in my frustration, though, it was hard not to think of his looming existential deadline. I may never get the chance to talk to him again, I’d say to myself. I always did. Until, of course, I didn’t.

[…]

I do, however, remember the exact day and time of our final few text exchanges, because they’re still on my phone, where, for at least as long as the cloud exists and I stay current on my bill, they’ll live forever.

We lost my dad in 2011, but I probably have every text message and email we ever exchanged. It’s still hard to look back at them, even the conversations from the better times, before he got sick. Our typical messages about sports or farming became mostly one-sided in the latter part of the year as I encouraged him to keep seeking treatment and continue fighting. He lacked the strength to respond.

I have a text history with my wife, one that extends back to 2008 (the first year of our marriage, and when I got my first iPhone; not that the two are equal in any way, but staying in the iOS ecosystem has allowed me to maintain message continuity through the years.) Our thread contains everything from the past decade — kids, family, photos, reminders, jokes.

Look, they aren’t the romantic letters full of carefully drafted prose that previous generations might have exchanged, but it is an intimate record of our shared experience. They might not be on paper, but they’re still precious.

Definitive Ranking of Nuts

04/22/2018

This will likely be the most divisive thing that I have ever written here, but it’s time to get this off my chest.

In Order of All Around Awesomeness

  1. Macadamias
  2. Cashews
  3. Pistachios
  4. Peanuts
  5. Brazil Nuts
  6. Almonds
  • And sometimes, hazelnuts.

Pecans are trash. Come at me.

Mas Subramanian’s Quest for a Billion-Dollar Red

04/18/2018

via Bloomberg:

The world lacks a great all-around red. Always has. We’ve made do with alternatives that could be toxic or plain gross. The gladiators smeared their faces with mercury-based vermilion. Titian painted with an arsenic-based mineral called realgar. The British army’s red coats were infused with crushed cochineal beetles. For decades, red Lego bricks contained cadmium, a carcinogen.

More than 200 natural and synthetic red pigments exist today, but each has issues with safety, stability, chromaticity, and/or opacity. Red 254, aka Ferrari red, for example, is safe and popular, but it’s also carbon-based, leaving it susceptible to fading in the rain or the heat. “If we sit out in the sun, it’s not good for us,” says Narayan Khandekar, director of Harvard’s Straus Center for Conservation & Technical Studies and curator of the Forbes Pigment Collection. “That’s the same for most organic systems.” One red is stable, nontoxic, and everlasting: iron oxide, or red ocher, the ruddy clay found in Paleolithic cave paintings. “It’s just not bright in the way that people want,” Khandekar says.

I imagine that back at my parents house there are a few buckets of highly toxic old Legos. Who knew red was so difficult?

Ancient Roman Bathrooms – What Did They Do Without Toilet Paper?

04/05/2018

via Sapiens.org:

In the same way that we use an American-style toilet, a Roman user would sit down, take care of business, and watch number two float blissfully away down the sewer system. But instead of reaching for a roll of toilet paper, an ancient Roman would grab a tersorium (or, in my technical terms, a “toilet brush for your butt”).

Experience: I’ve played a game of tag for 23 years

03/26/2018

via The Guardian:

Since we had busy lives and lived hundreds of miles apart, we agreed on three rules. First, we would play it only in February each year; second, you were not allowed immediately to tag back the person who had tagged you; and finally, you had to declare to the group that you were “it”.

Now we are grown men, we don’t run like Usain Bolt, so subterfuge and collusion have become our weapons. Eleven months of the year are spent planning. Collaborating with a friend is where the fun is – we can spend hours discussing approaches.

I was tagged spectacularly a few years back when a friend popped round to show me his new car. As I approached it, Sean sprang out of the boot where he’d been hiding and tagged me. He’d flown 800 miles from Seattle to San Francisco just to stop being “it” – to shrug off the “mantle of shame”, as we call it. My wife was so startled she fell and injured her knee, but she wasn’t angry; she was pleased to see Sean. All our partners are good-natured about the game – they even get involved in the sting operations.

How wonderful is this?

Burning Out: What Really Happens Inside a Crematorium

03/02/2018

via Popular Mechanics:

Four decades ago, less than 5 percent of American were cremated when they died. Now that figure stands at nearly half. This is how cremation actually works, and the story of what happens to a culture when its attitude about how to memorialize the dead undergoes a revolution.

Really interesting article. I had a surface-level understanding of this process, but they really dig in with some interesting details about the cremation process.

The cremator’s rule of thumb is that 100 pounds of human fat is the equivalent of 17 gallons of kerosene. If you have a body that weighs 400 pounds, at least 200 of it will be fat that will burn rapidly. If you put that person into a very hot machine, as the cremation unit tends to be at the end of the day when it’s been running for hours, the chamber may emit smoke and odor out of the stack.

I don’t know if it’s a matter of growing older or simply growing up, but I do find myself thinking about death more often these days. I suppose I should have a plan in place for what to do with my remains, but I have no idea what to do.

Why I Quit Google to Work for Myself

02/28/2018

via Silly Bits:

The pipeline didn’t record many metrics. The ones it did have made it look like things had gotten worse. My bug discoveries caused the overall bug count to increase. The pipeline’s failures increased because I made it fail fast on anomalies instead of silently passing along bad data. I drastically reduced the time developers spent repairing those failures, but there were no metrics that tracked developer time.

Believe me, I’ve been there — working for organizations which value the wrong things. It’s sort of surprising to see it happen at a place like Google though. Institutionally, it would seem they should better understand the issues with the metrics they collect (or do not collect.)

I spent the early part of my career working for political campaigns, where the only metric that mattered was the number of hours you worked (this is still the case today.) As long as you are on the job 18 hours per day, nobody cares if you are doing your job well or doing it efficiently. If you dared to leave the office before 8pm, you would probably find yourself fired.

I do not miss campaign life.