I Prefer Simple Gifts^W^WSocks

Receiving gifts is something I’m not particularly good at doing. I don’t look excited enough, I’ll often make comments that undermine the pleasure of the gifter, and in general I just don’t seem very grateful. Due to this, I tend to prefer simple, practical gifts that people don’t expect me to gush over and have an easy to point out use.

In the traditional sense, I am not an easy person to buy gifts for. People tend to want to give things that somebody has expressed interest in having, but I tend to immediately acquire everything I want when I first come across it. I’m a quick, effective shopper both online and in person and I put some effort into being up-to-date on the kinds of things that I might want, so finding me something I haven’t seen but want can be rather difficult.

(Towards alleviating some of that difficulty, I make a conscious effort not to buy all the things I want for myself during gift-giving seasons.)

Even before opening the gift I begin to feel nervous in the way one feels nervous for a dancer during their solo, I don’t want the gifter to have to respond to an awkward situation in which I am not as excited as they had hoped.

There are three kinds of gifts I usually receive:

One kind, the most nerve-wracking, are from people who know me well and are aware of the difficulty in finding me something new that I like but decide to try anyway. They’ve put extra effort into finding this gift and they really want a pay-off of excitement that I am terrible at providing.

The second kind are significantly easier to handle. They’ve come across some easy knick-knack that they felt I would enjoy, wrapped it up and gave it to me. The chances of me liking the knick-knack are still fairly slim, but at least they haven’t put any hopes and dreams behind it. The gift is casual and so is the response.

The third kind are the ones I like the best and the gifts they give fall into two categories, handmade (by the gifter) or simple basics.

For handmade gifts, pretty much anything goes, I love having things that a friend made, I love getting an excuse to think of them every time I use or notice what they made for me. I’ll keep the things forever, and I’ll keep them safe.

Simple basics are really what are easiest for me to receive. I can never have enough socks (size 10, quarter cut running socks, puma and adidas), if I could put on a new pair of socks every day for the rest of my life I think I’d be pretty damn happy. Underwear with random stuff on it (medium, boxer briefs with the shortest legs / trunks / briefs / brando briefs, from h&m / diesel / d&g / burberry / gucci) are great. Solid color American Apparel t-shirts (medium, crew / v / deep-v) are always useful. … And that’s kinda it.

So, when in doubt: socks. Eso si que es.

We’re In This Together

The people you know now are, for the majority, people whom you will be aware of for the rest of your lives. At least, I suspect as much. And if you are going to know these people that long, maybe you should be thinking about what to do about it.

I’m probably significantly above the bell curve, but for a good portion of the population in well-connected cities we’ve hit a critical mass of digital archiving, presence and casual acquaintance. Barring major catastrophes and radical changes in faith, it will be very easy to check in on anybody you know from this point onward. Light acquaintance is already very easy to maintain over long distances in time and space and will almost certainly only become easier as more people become aware and comfortable with the technology. Those people that are your friends will always be available, even if you don’t actively communicate for years.

What does this all mean to me?

Some friends just had a baby, many others have had theirs in the past couple years and more are expected. I am going to watch all those little people grow up. I am going to have stories for them about when they were kids (and I should be making sure to stockpile embarrassing ones to tell when they are older).

If I am going to be a useful person for my friends’ children to know in the future, I better damn well pay attention to how the world is changing so I am not just some old guy living in the past when they come to me for advice. I need to plan a little bit for who I am going to be in 16 years so that I will be a person who can help them.

What did my parents and grandparents do? What influence did their friends have on their lives? Which of those influences do I want to be most like? To be like the people I loved growing up, those people that I watched helped my family and make them happy, I still have a lot to learn (mostly about responsibility). I’ll also need to make sure I am healthy enough to be able to do some of the heavy lifting.

And I’m going to need their help down the line, so I need to cultivate respect and trust and when they excel I need to learn from them.

P.S. I guess this is my 500th published post on this site. Huh.


For many years I lived a somewhat nomadic lifestyle. As a child I rarely lived in the same place for very long, and each move resulted in a variety of broken or lost toys. When I eventually found some stability for a couple years, things all went up in the air again. As a result, I’ve never been the kind of person who is overly attached to “things,” always prepared for their inevitable loss at the time of acquisition. But, now, I have been living in the same house for 5 years, more than I’ve ever lived anywhere else in my entire life, and, well, I bought a desk.

In most of my travels I’ve always stuck to cheap IKEA-type furniture, always expecting that at any moment I might decide to leave it all behind. While I still have some defenses up with this purchase — it would not stop me from leaving — it represents the first time in my life that I’ve bought nice, quality furniture that I expect to be able to use for a long time.

Becoming attached to a place like my house, like San Francisco, is a scary prospect for me. I still have so much to see and do that I can’t stay here, but I am beginning to think that I might be happy if it is always somewhere I can return to. If I manage to get the money, at some point I think I’d be pretty happy buying this house, and that’s certainly a change for somebody who only planned to live here for 2 years.

Is this what it feels like to grow up?

The Return of Medium Format

I’d love to write this post about cameras and photography, I’m pretty happy shooting on 120 with my ancient Hasselblad, but I digress.

Let’s talk about blogging. I am writing this on my phone. I love computers, I miss the days where generating content in computers was the way it worked. But now, when the moment of creation comes the device that is always in my pocket keeps winning.

I miss the old days, before the number of characters was our constraint, when our clever, overly long, overly punctuated sentences were the norm. Hell, they were even something to be proud of in that somewhat inward giggling way that nobody else was ever going to understand (but maybe that one person did and might laugh with you in your mind). Period before parens? Who cares anymore.

Some things never change. Some things do change.

I am beginning to accept this.

Lasting Statement

A couple weeks back I ran into the website for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. On it they had a large table listing the men and women who had been executed since 1982. There were quite a few.

As I started clicking on random last statements I ran into many that were deeply moving and wanted others to be able to read them in a format more personable than the dry experience that the TDCJ website provided.

The website is up at lastingstatement.com, read through it and try not to just skip to the end. You can find the source in the github project.

The page itself is long with many images, so you probably don’t want to open it in a mobile browser (if anybody wants to put in the work to provide a better mobile experience, the source is all there).

P.S. Thanks to Timoni for help with the design 🙂

You Finally Made A Monkey Out Of Me

I just got back from my first Burning Man. Oh. Em. Eff. Gee. So amazing. I am such a fucking hippie now.

I hugged so many people, I cried so many times. I danced, and napped, and gave gifts, and accepted gifts and the whole time everyone was so welcoming. When you arrive, people at the gate give you a hug and say “Welcome home.” How cool is that? It felt like home.

People tell me that after a while it starts to feel like it was all a dream and I am afraid of that happening. I want to carry back some of the person I was there, the emotional part, I already physically dress and act pretty much the same. I was kind and happy and carefree.

The whole thing feels like a massive group brainwashing that somehow manages to trick everybody into being loving to each other. What a wonderful world that could be. Perhaps the shared hardship of the desert helps bring that out in people, gives them something to rise above.

Endless words could be written about the art, the community, the setting and the experiences. I’ll be going back.

Thank you so much to everybody who helped me prepare and made my world such a bright and wonderful one for the past week.

1.e4 c5

Try as I have to make Starcraft 2 our office game of choice, chess has recently emerged as the leading contender.

I played chess quite a lot as a kid, I felt pretty good at it as I won all the games I played against random family members and kids in school. As I got older though I realized that others were actually much, much better at it than I so my interest fell off. A similar plot arc happened with Scrabble, actually, but more on that later.

Some of my coworkers have been playing short games of online timed chess to take a break from work for some time, but it wasn’t until one invited me to a game on lichess.org that my interest began to re-kindle.

While the more common online variant of chess will be short timed games (blitz which is between 3 and 15 minutes a side, or speed chess which is 3 minutes and under), it is also quite acceptable to play the long, slow, correspondence type of chess. Both approaches take a lot of the time commitment out of playing the game and allows me, somebody rather out of practice, to either experience many different games quickly or to consider my moves more carefully at an asynchronous pace.

Words With Friends has done the same to me for Scrabble, being able to juggle multiple games at a time means usually having a move waiting in one of them, and playing more games means learning the patterns more quickly.

Of course, because we all started playing together we also purchased a couple chess clocks and boards for the office so we can play Bughouse chess, a fast-paced team variant of chess played with two boards. Not recommended for learning chess as the strategies are rather different, but definitely an exciting game between coworkers or friends that produces a surprising amount of adrenaline.


When I was a child, I acted as a child does, I spoke as a child does… erm, I called my grandpa “Boompa.” I think it is because he’s the kind of man who takes up a decent amount of space and is loud, he has a habit of speaking from his diaphragm when getting points across and always has the right song to sing.

He’s getting old. If we’re lucky we will all get old, but watching the man who was one of the largest influences on my life, the man who taught me through who he was what it really means to be a man — the ups, the downs, the sacrifices and the victories — get old is hard.

In his handling of it he is still teaching me, though it isn’t a lesson I feel very prepared to learn. Don’t leave me yet Boompa.

Just Gonna Have To Be A Different Man

There’s nothing quite like coming home from a short trip and having the world be radically different from when you left.

My girlfriend of a couple years and I broke up a couple weeks ago (generally mutually and on good terms so far). We lived together, so I went on a trip for work for a little less than two weeks to give her time to figure out what she wanted and she decided to move out during that time (she told me, so it wasn’t a surprise). There is an emptiness in the air and in me that is hard to keep away.

As a youth I, like many, would get depressed or melancholy in these situations and write a lot, at the time on LiveJournal. That is somewhat what I am doing now, and I expect it will still be a little bit before my coping mechanisms take effect, but at some point along the way in life I found that working with my hands and getting exercise really help me to think more clearly. It’s probably because it forces me away from tech or into healthier introspective activities.

One thing it usually results in is a very clean house so I guess I can look forward to that.

Will Somebody Fix Forms Already?

One of the great things about working with the government, becoming a full-time employee or having your company acquired is that you get to fill out forms. Lots and lots of forms. They all want the same data. They all want to be printed out, signed and scanned.

My fingers crack and bleed just thinking about it.

I know there is probably some module for some heinous system like SAP that has a copy of every form ever made and will pre-fill in those details, and there are also probably a couple HR companies that do some of that to a certain extent, but I have yet to see anything designed for actual users that solves this problem.

On the publisher side the interface I imagine lets you upload PDFs/images of forms, and using an interface similar to Flickr’s image notes draw boxes and tag them with which kind of content goes in there (“first name”, “checkbox”, “date of birth”). Let everybody in the world upload their forms and tag them, perhaps add some full-text search and tagging to assist in finding public forms that others have made.

On the consumer side, let users enter in the data for popular fields and autofill those (you could probably even generate html forms and have the browser autofill for you), and let them click on checkboxes and enter text in general purpose text fields. You probably want a general service for letting users draw a signature and store it for re-use for the companies that will allow you that — or just make it look suitable hand-drawn and scanned to fool them.

Forms will still be annoying but 90% less so. Who’s with me?