Blog is Back

I recently migrated from InmotionHosting.com to DigitalOcean.com, and I’m slowly getting all of my sites back online.

I recommend Inmotion if you’re looking for a managed hosting solution, by the way – one of their techs went way out of their way to get me a backup of the site after I was dumb and let my subscription expire without saving everything first.

From Brooklyn,

–Erty Seidohl

Soylent Soylent Soylent Eggs

I’m trying Soylent as an experiment. This is my 7th day eating it. Here’s my blog post for the past 6 days of Soylent if you’re interested.

Woke up today tired, but enjoyed myself a glass of Soylent in the morning, made with some vanilla (for flavor) and salt (for not keeling over). Definitely bodily tired – a kind of dull aching tired that wasn’t exhaustion or sleepiness. It went away after I was up and about though.

Work went slowly today. I worked from home, and I’m either just checked out already for my upcoming wedding (I leave for Michigan next Tuesday and end a year of long-distance relationship for good!) or the Soylent is slowing me down. I’m actually going to say it’s the wedding. Body-wise I felt pretty great today.

Soylent for lunch, dinner. I had two cups of green tea with lunch which was enough caffeine to propel me until the end of the workday. Again, not tired today. I usually get exhausted at 8pm since that’s right after I eat a heavy dinner, but on Soylent I just kind of coast across these previously rugged ups-and-downs. This is pretty similar to what some other people have reported.

Way less gas today either. I didn’t eat as much Soylent as I did yesterday. The Chinese food is out of my system as well, I think. Plus I’m just finally getting used to the fiber and high Glycemic Index.

I was really craving some salt-and-pepper scrambled eggs around 1 a.m., though, so I just made those and ate them. I’m actually writing this blog post with my laptop perched on the stove. They were fluffy and delicious.

I think that means I’m still not getting enough salt, because salt tastes really good to me right now. Soylent only contains 45% of the RDA of salt, so that’s not a surprise. How does one go about monitoring their … blood-salt percentage? Should I keep track of my blood pressure?

I made it two full days on Soylent before eating something else. But midnight super-salty eggs are delicious and I’m glad I made them. I’m thinking that after I get back from my wedding (where I won’t be able to eat Soylent since I won’t have it with me) I might switch to just having Soylent for Breakfast and/or lunch. We’ll see.

From Brooklyn,

–Erty

Six Days of Soylent So Far

I promised Pedro that I would start blogging when I started on my Soylent diet, so here goes. I’m a bit late, considering that I actually started in on Soylent a few days ago, but preparations for my wedding have kept me away from the blagosphere.

I’ll assume the reader is familiar with the purpose and origin of Soylent. Otherwise, I recommend this well-written article on the matter.

I ordered Soylent ten months ago, and it is finally here! The wait is over, and I get to embark on this crazy experiment in food hacking.

Day 0: Paraphernalia

My Soylent Starter Kit arrived today. I’m excited.

Everything I Need To Make Soylent, Apparently

Everything I Need To Make Soylent, Apparently

That’s a 2L BPA-free container with a great twist-off top, a scoop, and some instructions. The actual soylent arrived the next day.

Day 1: Soylent Begins

A rather large, white box arrived at work. It contained four smaller boxes, each a week’s worth of powder, supplemented with seven tiny bottles of oil.

2014-08-01 19.47.16

The Soylent Arrives

2014-08-01 19.59.59

The large box contained four of these, each a week’s worth of powder and oil. Instructions were laid on top.

Instructions for Soylent

Instructions for Soylent. The full (amended) instructions are available at instructions.soylent.me

I’ve been anticipating this for a while – I was in the first batch of backers when the kickstarter-esque purchasing opened. I can’t eat gluten, dairy, or chocolate. So, while Soylent is *barely* not gluten free, it’s at least better than trying to figure out what will and won’t make me feel awful on a daily basis, and sometimes guessing painfully wrong.

Who knew couscous was pretty much entirely wheat?

Let’s make some Soylent!

Just add water

Just add water

2014-08-01 21.35.22

I added water

I describe the taste as “purposefully nondescript”. As Rob says on his blog:

I assumed I would quickly get tired of the taste but this does not happen. I accidentally stumbled on what the soft drink industry uses to make sure people never get tired of Coca-Cola, “sensory-specific satiety”. If a taste is pleasant, but not very specific, the brain does not tire of it.

I think of it as chalky pancake batter, but a bit thinner. It’s not bad. It’s not particularly delicious either, but I can see myself not getting tired of it.

Day 2: Soylent For Breakfast

With family in town, I didn’t have a chance to go full-on Soylent. I had Soylent for breakfast this morning, but nothing more.

No changes in appetite or anything else so far – it’s as though I ate a full breakfast. No gas, normal mental state.

Day 3: Soylent for Breakfast and Late Night Meal

Again, a light Soylent diet. Don’t worry – things are about to get interesting.

Day 4: Dizziness

This was the first Soylent workday! I poured myself a glass of the stuff, another liter into a Nalgene for later, and hopped on the subway.

At work I could already tell that my brain was off – I was feeling somewhat light-headed and definitely wasn’t all there. I would forget small things and push really strange errors in my code that I definitely would have caught if I had been running at full power.

Around 11 a.m. I was definitely light-headed and nauseous. I excused myself and sat in the bathroom for a while. Was it time to call off the experiment, so soon? Did I just need to push through this – navigate the Columbia River on my way to the Willamette Valley?

I posted on reddit. Responses indicated that I was either low on blood sugar, or there wasn’t enough salt in my Soylent. Not having a quick way to measure my glucose levels, I went with the latter and put some salt in a cup of Soylent and drank it, washing it down with about a liter and a half of water.

By 1 p.m. I had pretty much returned to normal.

Even today (day 6) I am still somewhat “distant” – as though my brain were operating on some sort of low-power mode. My memory is shoddy and I can’t do the kind of high-level abstract reasoning that is required for programming. I’ve heard from some other “Soylent Pioneers” that this goes away after a few days and the brain starts to run at 150%. We’ll see.

One of my friends had a birthday party that night so I decided to get some real food in me. For lunch I had a burger (no bun) and fries. I attended an excellent Hacker School talk by Daniel Espeset that night, and ate the delicious (Indian?) food provided.

I drank just under one “drink” of alcohol at the party, since I wasn’t sure what Soylent would do to my tolerance. Some reports say that it lowers your tolerance quite a bit, and for myself at 130lbs, I’m already unable to deal with much.

That one “drink” got me comfortably warm but not buzzed. So, yes, I think it does lower my tolerance even further, which I didn’t think was possible. Further testing is needed.

Day 5: Sleep In

With the full understanding that actions – not intent – is what matters, I’m pretty proud of myself for this being the first time I’d overslept since starting my new job. I have a pretty solid excuse as well – I woke up, hit the “one hour less” instead of the “one hour more” button on my alarm clock, and dozed peacefully until noon.

But, maybe this was the Soylent’s fault as well? I just (day 6) tried to turn on the lights in the room I’m in and spent a good five seconds swiping at the wrong wall, wondering where the switch was.

Either the Soylent isn’t powering my brain properly or I’m already becoming an old man. Hopefully the former.

Upon arrival at work, however, I was feeling better about the whole thing, and had a pretty productive day.

Chinese food for dinner – still not ready to commit 100% to Soylent.

Day 6: The Gas

A lot of people have reported having pretty bad gas on Soylent. There are some hilarious posts about this. From the second:

It was bad. These weren’t mere ha-ha toot kinds of emissions; this was hair-raising. It was room-clearing, horse-killing, World War I mustard gas-type gas. I migrated from room to room in the house like I was giving up territory to the Kaiser, my face fixed in an expression of horror as green hell-fumes trailed behind me, peeling paint and wilting plants.

Now! The chinese food I ate last night *probably* contained gluten, so it’s entirely possible that my sudden onset of why-don’t-you-work-from-home-tomorrow flatulence is from that. More testing is needed on this as well. This testing won’t be nearly as fun as the former.

I am working from home tomorrow, just in case.

I also tried drinking some caffeine today. Here’s one great thing about Soylent: I haven’t felt like I needed a cup of tea or can of soda since I started. I’m always comfortably awake, which also makes it a lot easier to fall asleep naturally. I have some problems with caffeine, namely that I’m very sensitive to it and drinking a coca-cola after about 3 p.m. makes me wide-eyed until 5 a.m.

I had one can of coca-cola today and It’s provided me with the power to write this post. Hopefully I can get to bed at a reasonable hour.

For the third time, further testing is needed. It would be neat to be able to run my brain at full tilt for an entire day on a cup of green tea.

I’m going to have Soylent for dinner, which will make this my first 100% Soylent day.

From Brooklyn,

–Erty

Meditations on Meditations – 1:4

It’s been a little over six months since my last meditations post. Let’s pick up where we left off, shall we?

4. MY GREAT-GRANDFATHER
To avoid the public schools, to hire good private teachers, and to accept the resulting costs as money well spent.

(Hays, 1)

 

My parents were huge believers in this method. As the story goes, they took me at the age of three or four to see Linda Silverman at the Gifted Development Center. Linda ran some tests on me and said something to the effect of, “this child has a real mind for learning, but you’re going to need to send them to some very expensive schools.”

My parents spent the next twenty-some years going in to debt on my and my sister’s behalf. We both attended private schools – namely, Rocky Mountain School for the Gifted and Creative. At RMS, as we affectionately called it, each student had an individualized learning plan, and teachers were careful to foster creative thinking, critical assessment, and a broad worldview.

I did not do well in public school. I spent six months at the public Red Oak Elementary in California and became so depressed, angry, and self-harmful that I can’t really even remember that time. I’m sure it was a wonderful school, but I was a really weird kid – extremely sensitive and emotional about everything – and couldn’t handle the “real world” of a 30-student classroom. I spent one year at Boulder High School before leaving for a private boarding school in Wisconsin.

I’m incredibly grateful to my parents and to my privilege that I’ve been able to attend private schools and have individualized education. I fully acknowledge that my position is only possible because I have parents who cared about my education enough to throw the full weight of their financial support in my direction.

I fully support the public school system and know that it’s a great option for thousands of students in our country and worldwide. I’m sure there are students in places around the world who would love to have a chance to go to public school. But for those who can afford it – and I work toward making that more accessible every day – I think that having an individualized, validating education with a focus on creative, social, critical, and abstract thinking is worlds better.

Someday I’m going to build that school.

Perfect Craft, Imperfect Art

I was talking with my good friend Evan, discussing our philosophies of making things. Evan, a classically trained pianist, recalled an aphorism of one of his mentors:

Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.

This makes sense in some fields. In playing a piano, if one practices sloppily, one will perform sloppily – incorrect finger positions practiced over and over again will be nearly impossible to correct. I worry about this when I play StarCraft 2: Without guidance from a professional, are the keystrokes I make a thousand times going to be so ingrained that I won’t be able to adjust myself to the practices that will take my skill to the next level?

Attempting to apply this method to creative works fails miserably! A writer cannot write perfectly every time, nor a painter control to the molecule what their paint will do. Designers cannot always know what the user is going to want.

A programmer attempting to make a thousand perfect programs will leave themselves mired in a death by a thousand cuts – they will have no code reach and no output. Which is why I strongly argued that Facebook’s old motto was better for any artist:

Move fast and break things.

What better way to learn the intricacies of impossibly large and complex systems? Even experienced programmers write bugs all the time, and better to do so at some speed which allows progress to be made.

What I was missing during this conversation with Evan was a distinction between Art and Craft. Art being the ability to create works (move fast and break things) and craft the skill that it takes to create art (practice perfectly).

A writer who does not take the time to practice sentence structure and when to break it will find themselves unable to write coherently. A painter who does not attempt to make each brush stroke perfectly will be left frustrated when their paint seems to disobey their hand. A designer who does not use their knowledge of color and proportion will be unable to guide users effectively. A programmer who does not use the right data structures and algorithms will find their code slow and unusable. All of these are separate from the actual “pieces” that each creates.

I think then my goal is to create lots of imperfect art, but practice my craft with skill each time so that I can avoid ingraining bad habits. Perfectionism in craft is important; perfectionism in art leads to procrastination.

Edit: Hacker School facilitator Allison Kaptur points out an excellent article that puts this very clearly (pun intended) at http://jamesclear.com/repetitions

Meditations on Meditations – 1:3

Some rather late-night rambling here, but a post nonetheless, so that I may move forward with this exercise. I attended a talk on blogging today by @jessejiryudavis which encouraged writing as practice for writing, so I’m taking that to heart.

3. MY MOTHER
Her reverence for the divine, her generosity, her inability not only to do wrong but even conceive of doing it. And the simple way she lived – not in the least like the rich.

(Hays, 1)

Marcus demonstrates agnostic tendencies later in his Meditations, but here praises his mother for her worship. However, in the Casaubon translation, the first clause is rendered “Of my mother I have learned to be religious”, which has a wildly different meaning.

A skeptic myself, I am fond of Hays’ translation – he allows that religion has a place in some peoples lives, and even more praises it, but (in Hays’) doesn’t say that he himself needs to follow.

I’m fascinated with the idea of Marcus’ mother not even conceive of doing wrong (pregnancy puns aside). I attended quite sheltered private schools for my entire education. For me, to cheat on a test was literally unthinkable – I didn’t even consider it. I remember being shocked the first time I thought “wow, I could cheat on this and nobody would notice.”

I don’t share this story to brag, but to examine myself and wonder in what ways I’m following what I think is right without making a conscious decision away from wrong. And: more worryingly, which ways I’m committing small wrongs every day without making a conscious choice to do so.

To live simply is something that originally attracted me to Buddhism. (As an aside: I enjoy Stoicism because it echos many of the tenants of Buddhism without requiring a belief in the divine, or reincarnation, both of which bothered me). The idea that with simple living comes clarity of thought and purpose strikes me. Try to purchase only that which you will actually use.

Meditations on Meditations – 1:2

MY FATHER (FROM MY OWN MEMORIES AND HIS REPUTATION)
Integrity and manliness.

(Hays, 1)

Marcus’ lost his father at three. I am fortunate to have ever attended just one funeral. We can say what the average life expectancy is for our day and age only for those that die during it; perhaps the first person to live forever is already doing so.

We will see the philosophy of this in book two.

Integrity. We know someone with integrity when we see them: they do not lie, cheat, swindle, or back down from bullies. They do what they say they will do, and they do not stray from it except to improve.

Integrity is wholeness in ones self. If you do not know something you may unintentionally lie about it. If you want a thing more than your willpower can handle, you will cheat or swindle it. If you are not assured in your own power and strength, you will back down from bullies.

Integrity is having a coherent philosophy. It is understanding where you fit in to the web of all things, connected. It is power that comes not from adoration, or wealth, but from within.

Manliness is archaic. We should discard this old, tired, gendered word and simply say, humanness. Why should a man act like a man? You should act with compassion, grace, strength and thought. None of those are reserved for men.

Seek humanness in your daily action. Stand proud and tall, regardless of stature. Stand your ground when you are threatened, but do not be so stubborn that you do not retreat when defeat is certain. This is humanness – a desire to live with purpose beyond filling a grave.

I seek integrity by reaching out to the world around me. My integrity comes from my ability to speak up when something is wrong. I am not perfect with this. Nobody is. But it is something to practice and remember. Only if we have integrity can we be certain in our humanness. Otherwise we will be offensive and rude.

From Brooklyn,

–Erty

Meditations on Meditations – 1:1

Introduction:

This will be a series of blog posts, time permitting, in which I examine each chapter of Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations”, as translated by Gregory Hays, Meric Casaubon, and George Long. I will use Hays’ translation mainly, as I find it the most approachable.

The posts will be personal and most likely wandering, like Aurelius’ writings.

I’m embarking on this exercise to better understand Stoicism, which I find fascinating, and to better understand myself in the context of this ancient philosophy. To any readers of these posts who have not read the Meditations: I recommend Hays’ translation, but also a book titled “A Guide to the Good Life” by William B. Irvine. Irvine lays out an approachable foundation of modern Stoicism without preaching, and I found the book both easy to follow and enlightening.

Without further ado, the first section of the first chapter.

1:1. MY GRANDFATHER VERUS
Character and self-control.

(Hays, 1)

I always enjoy when the first sentence of a work reflects the body of the work in its entirety. It’s hard to ascribe foreshadowing to a journal – Marcus himself at this point would not have known that this would be the main topic of his Magnum Opus. Yet here it is: Character and self-control.

I found it interesting to compare here the different translations. I find that in this primary section, myriad meanings surface:

Gregory HAys (2002) 1:1. MY GRANDFATHER VERUS
Character and self-control.
 George Long (1862) FROM my grandfather Verus I learned good morals and the government of my temper.
Meric Casaubon (2008) 1. Of my grandfather Verus I have learned to be gentle and meek, and to refrain from all anger and passion.
maxwell staniforth (1964) 1. Courtesy and serenity of temper I first learnt how to know from my grandfather Verus.

I gravitate toward Hays’ for a variety of reasons. His is concise, almost terse. The adjectives he chooses are generally considered attributes of strength (contrast the Casaubon translation, which almost seems the opposite). Someone who has character and self control is assertive.

Long’s translation falls short as well. Morals are subjective and often well intended but misguided. “Self Control” is a cleaner version of “government of my temper”.

I cannot read Greek, so attempting my own translation would be futile. I have to put my trust in one of the translators to be “the most correct”. I’ll attempt to insert references to other translations when they vary wildly in the future.

It’s somewhat ironic that I write this now, at 1:30am on a weeknight. If I had better self-control, I would have skipped on browsing Reddit and Imgur for hours earlier (and when Greta was wanting my attention as well! I’ve apologized since), written this article during that time, and been in bed by a normal hour.

My roommate Levi and I chatted about philosophy for three hours as well tonight, but I will save our arguments for more appropriate chapters of “Meditations”.

What is it to have character? Perhaps our best example comes from Calvin’s Father. Character is built through work, courage, and determination. A person who has character is someone who has been through trials and emerged stronger.

To imagine someone without character: they are ineffectual, lazy, awkward, not confident. If you ask them to work, or to motivate themselves they are unable to muster more than the minimum effort. I cannot say that I do not sometimes fit this description, yet by acknowledging a lack of character in those times, I am able to pull myself into action, and therefore into a fuller implementation of my self.

My friend Evan told me a story about his grandfather. He smoked and drank for many years, but on the day that Evan’s father was born, he put his last bottle of whiskey and pack of cigarettes on top of his dresser, and never touched them again.

We cannot verify this story but I believe it – there is a fulfillment that comes from simple acts of self-control. To delay gratitude, to spare some free time to share others’ burdens. Acts of self-sacrifice made for love. These are things that allow us to find self-actualization. People are addicted to a plethora of things. For example, I find it difficult to stop from visiting Reddit or Imgur when I’m bored.

When your basic needs are taken care of, you have no excuse to not search for self-actualization. Self control and character building take energy, inspiration, and practice. If you waste the time given to you to practice, you will find yourself unable to overcome the most minor of obstacles.

From Brooklyn,

–Erty

“Words cannot even describe the multitude of design flaws in your body, and yet it is still the vessel of your mind; it is still your connection to this world. Production code is broken, but so is nature.” —@jordanorelli

The Artist and the Scientist

I posit that there are two distinct ways in which people become fascinated by programming.

One way is via high-level languages, web development tools, and visual languages. This “way” in is for people who are more interested in the act of creating with code than coding itself. I call these people the “artist-programmers”: people who don’t care about pointers and arrays, and would much rather fiddle with knobs and buttons than bits and bytes to create something cool. Artist-programmers can trust what is under the hood, and use this metaphorical car to go very far.

On the other hand, some people start programming with coding as the goal. These people learn about the array and are FASCINATED. These people can spend an afternoon messing with pointer indirection and not call it wasted time. These “scientist-programmers” believe that typing, references, and pointers are important to understand – their metaphorical car sits in the garage, taken apart into its components, and yet they are more fulfilled than if they were out driving it without any idea how it works. These programmers usually arrive via C, Assembly, or even hardware.

I think both ways to learn programming are correct, and appeal to different people. One of the reasons I enjoy python as a first language is that it is broad enough to appeal to both types as people. Lisp is great for this as well. Teaching an artist-programmer C++ is going to be a painful process for everyone involved. And teaching a scientist-programmer Mathematica will leave them wanting to know what’s going on inside.

The “programmer-in-fullness”, however, is both an artist-programmer and a scientist-programmer. These programmers are driving the metaphorical car AND have a full understanding of what’s going on inside the hood. They can speed along in a high-level language, but know what is happening on the inside enough to optimize as they write, fix things when they break, and use the right data structures and algorithms without sacrificing time worrying about the details.

Edit: My friend and fellow Hacker School alumnus @jordanorelli provides a great distillation of this idea: “I think the distinction is that I’m driven to learn things because they allow me to create things, whereas many others are driven to create things because in doing so, they learn things. Do you learn to create, or do you create to learn?”

Some thoughts on the types:

Artist-Programmers:

  • Teaching Them:
    • Focus on high level languages and visual languages
    • Focus on process and outcome, not design or implementation
    • Focus on immediate feedback and not worrying about speed
  • As one:
    • Don’t feel bad about using tools and helpers (e.g. Dreamweaver)
    • Aim for large projects that you can use these big tools to complete
  • To become a programmer-in-fullness:
    • Take a course like NAND-to-Tetris, which will allow you to see how the parts all fit together in a project
    • Take an interest in optimization, as far as you’ll still be able to finish your projects
    • Take apart your favorite tool and see how it works

Scientist-Programmers:

  • Teaching Them:
    • Focus on the little things. Pointers. Arrays. Bytecode.
    • Give them an extremely restricted toolset and a slow processor.
    • Start them in on data structures and algorithms fast – they’ll eat it up.
  • As one:
    • Buy books on programming. Implement their examples. Explore hardware organization.
    • Don’t be frustrated by projects that you can’t finish, as long as you learned something in the process.
    • Contribute to larger artist-programmer projects which can use your optimization skills.
    • Don’t mock artist-programmers for using tools. They don’t mock you for not using tools!
  • To become a programmer-in-fullness:
    • Start to use libraries and packages which will allow you to complete projects faster, even if you don’t know what they do at the low level.
    • Focus on optimization less, as long as you still understand what’s going on inside.
    • Work hard to finish projects, as painful as the final sprint is.

And above all, understand that people might come to programming from a different perspective than you. The scale is most likely not binary, either – think of it as a float instead of a bool. And be able to use this knowledge to give people projects that they’ll be interested in and will do well with.

From Manhattan,

–Erty