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March Challenge!

Whoops. Kind of dropped the ball here. So for this month I decided to do something hard given last month ended up being so easy. For the first time in years I actually knew what the movies up for Oscars were!

For the month of March I won’t be buying anything off of Amazon.com. I do most of my kitchen/home supply shopping stuff like filters and trash bags off of Amazon. Not to mention Kindle books, physical books, shoe laces, etc. I mainly use it for stuff I need right away and won’t be able to take time off to get during the week.

And so, after seeing that article in January about not using any of the big five tech giants, I decided to see how hard it would be to just not use Amazon. [He writes, currently editing this post on an EC2 server.]

The compulsion to just order it on Amazon and get it done is so real. In just the last week of February I definitely leaned on that convenience because we hadn’t made a trip to Target in a couple of weeks.

It’s funny but Lent started this past Wednesday. While I’m not a practicing Catholic, I did it long enough to still be aware of the holy days when they come and go. The period of Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday is one that resonated with me the most when I was a kid. I think it had to do with watching my mom make a real sacrifice for Lent (and God) every year.

If you’ve been reading this site for a while you know I’ve done challenges in the past. I only listened to music released in 2010 (in 2010), then only music released in 1986, then again in 2012 (in 2012). It’s fun to reflect on what happens when you add a constraint and I find myself doing it all the time in my life.

I hope to check-in a bit more on this one as I’ve already bought a paper book at a local book store and bought some bike rollers from my local bike shop (even if it was cheaper online). I also didn’t link to anything on Amazon with my associate’s ID in this post. 😂

posted on Tuesday March 5th, 2019

Movie Challenge Accomplished

So it turned out a few things contributed to my already hitting the 10 movie challenge I set out for myself. First: I got incredibly sick with a cold I couldn’t shake. I thought I was well last MONDAY and still stayed home a couple days last week.

(I still feel pretty miserable!)

The second thing that helped is quite a few of you sent me your top movies from the past couple of decades and so it became quite easy to find ten worth watching though most were from the past couple of years.

Here’s the list of movies I watched. They weren’t in any particular order, just ones that I’d heard about or was curious about.

  1. Moneyball
  2. Death of Stalin
  3. Arrival
  4. Mad Max: Fury Road
  5. Sorry to Bother You
  6. Annihilation
  7. Game Night
  8. Blockers
  9. Baby Driver
  10. Dunkirk

I signed up for Letterboxd (/andretorrez) and will leave some reviews in there soon.

I liked all the movies I watched. SORRY TO BOTHER YOU lived up to the hype. GAME NIGHT was better than I expected. ARRIVAL was based on a short story I’d read a few years ago. I didn’t realize this until the first few minutes and my brain was trying to resolve how I’d seen the movie without ever having seen the movie. I also regret not seeing MAD MAX: FURY ROAD at the theaters like everyone said to do.

Thanks to everyone who sent me suggestions! I still have a long list of movies to watch.

(I also watched a few kids movies with the kids. Both PADDINGTON movies are great!)

posted on Tuesday February 12th, 2019

The Movie Idiot

Because I don’t watch movies I opened the Apple iTunes Store and looked at the charts for this challenge. I was paralyzed by choices, especially given so many Oscar options being pushed, that I closed it and literally Googled “Best movies decade”.

Of that list I saw Moneyball and figured since it was local (Oakland), about a subject I like (baseball), and another one I think I like (math), I should watch it.

About ten minutes into the movie I realized I had not only watched the movie on a plane flight eight years ago, I watched it again on the flight back. It’s a good movie so I finished it.

Now I realize I wasn’t explicit enough on my previous post: I don’t know what movies are good from the past ten years. I have watched a lot of kid’s movies (we saw Spy Kids last night, it was good!) but every year I seem to miss 99% of what everyone else has seen.

If you have some suggestions for me, please send them! andre+movies@torrez.org

posted on Saturday February 2nd, 2019

New Challenge For February

So I missed on my January challenge. I didn’t think I’d fall that short, but I’m still only a hundred or so pages into my fourth book. I did realize last night I’ve read over 200 pages of Artemis Fowl with my son this month but that doesn’t seem to count in my opinion.

I also had a “shadow” challenge I didn’t want to mention in case I couldn’t do it and that was to avoid sugar as much as possible. This meant no more breakfast cereal, no more post-ride madelines, no sodas, very few of the snacks at work (that I want to eat), I did allow myself fruits because they’re fruits, but also I had to say “no” to cakes and sweets that appear daily in the lounge next to where I sit.

And I did it! It turned out to not be that hard, although I felt weird not having cake for someone’s birthday. But it turns out turning down alcohol at parties has given me ways to duck out of it.

For February I’m going to watch 10 movies. I swear these challenges won’t always be media based. I very rarely watch movies and haven’t been to a theater to watch a grown up movie in years. I can’t even remember what movie it was!

I am going to keep the no-sugar challenge going as well. And possibly throw on another “shadow” challenge, I’m not sure.

(I did try a 5am wake-up time a few days this week to test it out and it was a badddd idea.)

posted on Friday February 1st, 2019

Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace

Orbiting the Giant Hairball

Ahahah, so I pretty much failed on this challenge. I got so far behind I didn’t even post two weeks ago that I finished Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace.

A few things about this book: first, it’s only sold as a bound book. These days it’s pretty rare for me to not buy a Kindle version but it came recommended from Mark Christian (again!) and so I ordered it without even reading a sample.

Second, it took me about 100 pages before either the book hit its stride or I started to understand what the book was saying. Probably the latter. Usually if a book doesn’t click for me I put it down and never think about it again, but since this was for the challenge (and the book took up physical space on my side-table) I plowed ahead and I’m glad I did because I did enjoy the second half.

Third, I’m not sure I liked this book, I definitely enjoyed reading it. Part of that is probably due to not really connecting with it for the first half. I might start it over some day when I’m feeling like reading it again.

I’m mid-way through Douglas Adams’ The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul which I haven’t read in over a decade. Speaking of books where the journey might be more fun than the destination: I think the Dirk Gently series might be the ultimate example.

posted on Wednesday January 30th, 2019

Dispatches from Pluto

Dispatches from Pluto

Mark Christian recommended Dispatches From Pluto, along with 20 other non-fiction books, and I absolutely loved it. It was very much a “can’t put it down book” and I ended up reading all 300+ pages in about two days. Perhaps no better recommendation is the number of Mississippians on Amazon recommending it.

posted on Wednesday January 9th, 2019

The Seas

The Seas

As part of my 30 Day Challenge for this month I finished The Seas by Samantha Hunt this weekend. I knew nothing about the book when I started reading it. I had added it to my Kindle once while looking at someone else’s reading list because I liked the cover.

This book reminded me of when I was in my 20s and I’d go to the video store and browse the independent movie aisle. I’d pick up movies I’d never heard of but maybe recognized an actor, or just liked the synopsis on the back. Six out of ten times I’d end up with something worth watching, but one out of ten I’d discover something truly incredible. I liked this book a lot. So much that I’ll surely read it again–that’s a rare thing for me.

Next up is Dispatches From Pluto by Richard Grant.

posted on Monday January 7th, 2019

A Trip To The Scientology Celebrity Centre

Keith Calder (co-producer of BLINDSPOTTING) started up his blog over on texting.com (damn, what a domain name) by filling it with a few things he’s written over the years. Definitely check out his re-published Quora post “What does it feel like to finally stop biting your nails?” sub-titled “A Trip To The Scientology Celebrity Centre”.

I also enjoyed his posts “Echoes of Echoes of Echoes” and “Why I’ve Never Seen The Highlander Movie”. And that’s literally all the posts I’ve read so far but I had to link to it now before I’d forget.

posted on Thursday January 3rd, 2019

Thirty-Day Challenge 1

Nelson reminded me of Matt Cutts’ 30 day challenges and so I’m going to try a few of my own this year.

First up is just read five books. A few years ago I challenged myself to read 40 books in a year and I did manage to achieve 36, which means five in one month will be a record for me. I have a very slim window at night to read before going to sleep, and I usually devote that time to YouTube videos or burning through some tv show that everyone was talking about a year ago.

Five books is pretty ambitious but I feel like I’ve fallen into a rut recently. If you have any must-read books from the past year, or from whenever, please let me know!

posted on Tuesday January 1st, 2019

2018 Resolutions Results

Last year I resolved to do three things: Quit Twitter, Quit Alcohol, Quit Coffee

Quit Twitter

Done. I deleted the apps. Signed out of Twitter on my phone. Didn’t on my work computer so I could check in on DMs and @-mentions, but only caught myself a few (dozen?) times opening it up and reading in the first couple of months. While it was hard to stop Twitter I knew I still needed something to check throughout the day so I threw myself completely into Instagram. It worked. I don’t even THINK about Twitter anymore other than occasionally getting linked there to read a funny thread or get more info about some news.

Another interesting stat that might reveal how deep my addiction went: I currently have 66,300 liked tweets. I hit like on tweets over 66,000 times in 11 years. Hah.

The point of this one was to reclaim my time and I think I did except for that little Instagram addiction I have. It’s not nearly as bad for me though.

Quit Alcohol

This turned out to be easier than I expected. I estimate I drank one to two beers a day, nearly every day, since about 2008. The year my son was born I began doing the grocery shopping. Our local store had a huge selection of craft beer from all over the country and so as a treat I’d buy a different brand (or two) each trip. I became pretty familiar with all the local breweries and styles. IPAs were getting huge back then so my tolerance was sky-high for nearly a decade.

In 2015 I started noticing how much trouble I was having getting to sleep or staying asleep. And in the morning I’d feel pretty bad for not sleeping or just sleeping poorly. Around the same time I developed eczema on my foot. It became clear after cutting foods out of my diet that my sleep and the eczema were both caused by alcohol. I tried wine. I tried hard liquor. Nothing changed unless I quit alcohol entirely for a couple of days.

Last year during our annual December anniversary trip I had a few beers, slept terribly, and decided the next morning I was just going to flat-out quit alcohol this year. I didn’t plan much further than a year out, but I felt like if it worked for me I would just quit forever. Now looking back on the year I think I’m going to quit forever.

The funny thing about not drinking is the little bit of social awkwardness it presents. I was at a kid’s birthday party and the parents were obviously huge drinkers. We arrived a bit before everyone else had gotten there so it was just a few parents and the dad started handing out beers. I waved off a beer saying “I don’t drink” and got a sad, uncomfortable, almost pitiful look from him.

Another time the sommelier arrived at our table before we started our five course meal. I again said “I don’t drink” and felt complete coldness from her every time she came back to the table to serve my wife. (Incidentally I discovered just having water with a multi-course meal turns out to be a great way to enjoy the food.)

It only took a couple of these interactions to realize I should say “I’m not drinking” as it sort of suggests a temporary reason like being a designated driver or perhaps a medication interaction.

Quit Coffee

This was a lot harder to do. While I enjoyed my morning cup of Earl Grey I definitely missed the caffeine burst that coffee delivered. I decided to quit because I thought it would also help me with sleep but I don’t think it mattered as much as the alcohol.

A few months ago my friend started up his coffee delivery business on Kickstarter (Yes Plz Coffee) and I backed it. When it arrived I tried a cup and instantly knew my morning cup of tea days were gone. Drinking a cup now.

2019

I don’t know yet what I’m going to do in 2019. In 2017 I wanted to learn French and I completed the Duolingo course over the year. I have been toying with the idea of keeping a media journal where I write down all the books, tv shows, youtube videos, articles, and movies I watch in a year. I’d likely put them into a weekly blog post here.

In 2018 I did start keeping a paper journal using Tamara Shopsin’s Five Year Diary. This is a very clever diary that stacks five years for every date on one page so that as you pass through days again you can see what you were doing in the years prior on that date. Because of the format there are only a couple of lines available so you have to keep your entry brief. It’s become a habit for me to sit down before getting into bed and write out a summary of what happened during the day.

See you next year!

posted on Sunday December 30th, 2018

Choco Mountain The History of Mario Kart 64's Most Infamous Track

My son signed up for Nintendo Switch Online and with the subscription came access to about 20 classic NES games. Although the box art excited him he didn’t think much of the games themselves. I totally get it.

I, however, got hooked on playing Super Mario Bros., which led to watching some speedruns, which led to a YouTuber (and speedrunner) Summoning Salt. His documentaries of speedruns are so well done you don’t even have to care about the game to enjoy them. I found myself watching the entire fifteen minutes on the history of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! world records (it’s good!).

Even better is this one about a glitch and world record chase in Mario Kart 64.

Next I’d recommend this one about Mario 64.

posted on Saturday December 29th, 2018

Archive page!

This morning over coffee I added an archive page to my little CMS. I’m just starting to hit that “oh crap, it’s all just text files” phase of this project. Since I don’t have a database to query I have to do some array juggling to sort and format my posts. While I’m not ruling out adding a temporary sqlite db to load the files into at publish time, for now I’m able to get away with using the OS’s file name sort ordering (files are something like Y-m-d-title) and Python sorting functions.

I only have like 16 posts so far so it’s still all fun and games. Once I have more posts I’ll break it down by month and year, but that’s going to take a while. :)

posted on Saturday December 29th, 2018

feeds.txt

My friend Adam Mathes posted an idea called “feeds.txt” back in August where he decided to publish his current subscriptions to a human readable text file. A file a bit like robots.txt but for humans.

So now in my build script for this site I added a function that pulls my current subscriptions from feedbin.com’s API and puts them in /feeds.txt (and in a more usable /feeds.html) every time I hit publish on my site.

I blew out my feeds when I rebuilt my site and have been slowly adding sites as I remember them so that list should grow soon.

posted on Thursday December 27th, 2018

Two-Bit History

If you are reading this site then you are very likely going to be a big fan of Two-Bit History.

Here are the titles of some recent posts:

posted on Tuesday December 18th, 2018

Tyke.app Features

Hi! You might remember earlier this year I wrote an app called Tyke that I always wanted in my menu bar.

The thing is: I have no time (and lack experience) to add the updates people have been asking for. Are you, or your friend, a Mac developer who would like to add some nice features to Tyke.app? Please let me know.

I’m willing to work out any kind of arrangement to get the features added because I want them myself! I just have no clue how to do some of them (hot keys, persistence).

posted on Monday December 17th, 2018

The Purple Flash

I’ve been thinking a bit about my “career” as a developer over the past 25 years and there’s a few stories that stick out in my mind. Moments where I learned something or observed something that made an impression on me and seemed to embody this job of making software.

In the mid-90s I was working at a software company in southern California that made online learning tools. The mid-90s is when “online” still just meant connected to a network, any network, and so much of our work wasn’t internet based, but installed on networks inside of large companies.

The software we made was loaded onto computers and shipped to the customer who would then use them to train and test their employees. Imagine you’re a fast-growing global shipping company and you need to teach 100 new employees every month how to use your internal software. We’d write software courses the employee could take and get tested on that would generate reports to the administrator who could be assured the new employee was trained.

We distributed not only the software but the hardware as well. And so when after a major release we started getting reports of a “purple flash” on the displays during startup, the investigation began. The developers stopped what they were doing, grabbed a production unit from the lab, and dragged it into the area surrounded by our cubicals.

A few things here: I was a very junior member of that team. The code was all C and OpenGL and I had joined as a Java/HTML developer with less than a year of writing applets under my belt. I was 100% a spectator through all of it. But it was exciting to me. My job to that point had been fixing text rendering bugs and nudging form fields that had bled into instructional copy. Suddenly I was able to watch more advanced engineers dig into a problem that confused everyone.

And second understand that this wasn’t important. It wasn’t important on the scale of THINGS WE HAVE TO DO and it wasn’t even important on the CUSTOMER IS ANXIOUS ABOUT X list either. It was a small bug on a very long list of bugs, and technically it wasn’t even our bug, but something we should pass on to the hardware vendor.

But there was this flash…

The computer sat on a tiny table and we crowded around it. One of the developers flicked the power switch and the computer booted up, BIOS messages scrolled past, and then there it was: the purple flash. The screen went from black to a quick flash of purple for a half second. The actual title screen followed and the test was ready to be taken.

Something I just remembered about the Purple Flash incident is that the color was actually magenta, one of the components of CMYK, but for the next couple of weeks it became known as the Purple Flash. Someone did contact the video card manufacturer but they either never responded or simply thanked us and added it to their bug pile. I never remember hearing from them about this.

The Director of Engineering did not sit in the (self-named) engineering pit. Only the programmers did. So at this point nobody outside of us and customer support knew about this issue. It was all anyone could talk about that day.

For the next few weeks work went on as usual but front-of-mind for every engineer was the Purple Flash. It was immediately determined the video card driver included in the update caused this, but because that patch was a compiled update given to us by the manufacturer it was difficult to debug. At the edges of the workday conversations about the Purple Flash would break out. One of the engineers actually had video driver experience so he demonstrated how you could step through the instructions on the chip and tweak them so code took different paths.

Nothing he did made it better.

Naturally by this time others on the team had heard about the Purple Flash. The Director of Engineering (my first real engineering manager) was well aware of it. He joined in sometimes to hear the latest theories about the problem while making sure we covered more pressing work. He never once told us to stop and seemed to enjoy the subject when it would come up, but never more than just understanding it was a novel problem for us.

Days passed and ideas came and went.

Eventually it was solved. An engineer figured out one night that during startup a memory location contained garbage data that consistently, when flushed to the display, rendered the magenta color. That was the problem. The solution was still to be written, but now everyone was excited about it again.

The fix ended up being, according to my memory, a trick. They couldn’t stop the driver from reading from that location or the garbage being written in the first place, but they could alter the garbage data just enough so that when flushed to the display it rendered the exact color of the title screen. The quick splash of color still happened, but nobody would notice.

The Purple Flash incident felt like it was quickly forgotten. A system level patch was QA’d and released to the client and I don’t think it was ever spoken about again. But for some reason it’s stuck in my mind all these years for a few reasons.

First it made me realize what it felt like to actually be on an engineering team. To actually work together toward a goal. To watch engineers bounce ideas off each other and build off each other’s talents and experience to get to a solution. Even as a spectator I felt like I belonged.

Second I realized much later when I was a manager myself, that it was a healthy, positive diversion for the team. I’m sure our manager knew this back then and that’s why he never discouraged work on it. He had a team that worked well together and having these diversions, where the whole team could sink its teeth on a problem, was good for it.

Finally, the solution was clever. Given a multitude of constraints and dead-ends, systems that were opaque and out of our control, the fix turned out to be possible with a very tiny bit of code inserted at just the right spot.

posted on Friday December 14th, 2018

Bloggin’

A few things!

  1. I added some CSS to the site so it: “looks less like ass now” —Mr. Howie.
  2. From this post by David Wertheimer, I found Arrival in San Francisco, 1989 which is just a great example of the form of blog writing.
  3. As are lists, maybe.
  4. A reminder this blog is now running off a custom script that pushes flat pages to Amazon. I’m still working on details like archive pages and categories. If there is anything that looks incorrect let me know!
  5. Still plugging away on learning how to make my own circuits
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posted on Friday December 14th, 2018

Dead Bug Soldering

While I did give up the idea of getting a PCB printed and back to me in time to hang on the tree, I ran into something last night that gave me a little hope, provided I can get better at soldering, of finishing some kind of ornament.

I was looking at circuits last night on Instagram (heh) and I ran across a term I’d never heard before: Dead Bug Soldering. And I also found an example of the technique that blew my mind.

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His whole feed is a completely different way to think about circuit construction that didn’t even occur to me https://www.instagram.com/mohitbhoite/. It’s interesting to me because it’s low voltage, so it’s safe to handle; the support comes from brass hobby rods that double as wires; and the resulting circuit is much closer to a sculpture.

Update: After reading a bit more I realized the correct term is “freeform”, where “dead bug” refers to specifically soldering the IC pins in this fashion. Also I added the ability to update my posts so they get updated in your newsreaders. :)

posted on Friday November 30th, 2018

Getting Electric

About a month ago I got the idea I was going to make a circuit (including custom printed circuit board) tree ornament for our tree. Fast forward a few weeks and I now know how to do it, but don’t think I’ll find time in the next couple of weeks to actually get it done.

Because I still want to hang something on the tree I bought a Circuit Playground Express which is the approximate shape of what I had hoped to make, but with a whole lot more. At least my son and I can spend some time writing programs for it over the holiday break.

You can use the Arduino IDE to write programs, but you can also use code.org to write apps in your browser. My son uses Scratch at school so it’ll be familiar to him.

posted on Monday November 19th, 2018

Our Spooky House

My parents’ house was actually a farm-house that’d been moved into the small town I grew up in sometime in the 40s. There was a spookiness to it I could never put my finger on. I even once saw something as a teen I couldn’t explain.

One time over dinner as adults we went around the table and shared stories like that. Small things that happened that seemed odd but weren’t worth mentioning at the time.

Now the story: My mom was home alone in their bedroom upstairs sewing. The house creaked a lot, so odd noises weren’t new, but my mom distinctly heard the rhythm of footsteps going down the staircase.

She assumed it was my dad or maybe the cat, but it the rhythm seemed odd to her. Thunk thunk thunk thunk thunk thunk.

Soon after she needed to go downstairs so she walked down the hall, turned the corner, and saw hung on the wall at the top of the staircase a picture of Elvis. An uninteresting, airbrushed, and honestly kind of creepy looking picture of Elvis.

The thing about it was: there had never been a picture of Elvis on that wall or in our house ever. My mom didn’t even like Elvis. My dad did about as much as anyone who grew up hearing him as a kid. Neither of them would hang a picture of Elvis in the house, much less that spot.

When we had moved out my parents took over our bedrooms and redecorated the rest of the house a little bit.

My mom’s favorite band was The Beatles by far. She had all their albums and would play songs for us when we were kids and we’d dance around the living room.

A picture of them is what my mom hung in that spot (now occupied by Elvis) when we moved out. It was a landscape photo of them from their later years as a band. Much longer hair. Mustaches. Each looking in a completely different direction and nobody smiling. Serious Beatles.

The other thing my parents started doing when we moved out is traveling to the coast with friends. They’d spend a weekend as tourists in towns like Morro Bay or Cayucos. These are towns with streets lined with second-hand shops and craft stores that they were using to redecorate the house.

That’s where she found the picture of The Beatles, brought it home, and hung it at the top of the stairs. And that’s where it hung for about a year until that day it was suddenly replaced with spooky Elvis.

Thinking my dad had hung it up she decided to go downstairs to ask him about it.

Except he wasn’t there. He had gone someplace earlier in the day and hadn’t been back since.

For the next few hours my mom became more and more freaked out about Elvis. Had someone snuck in the house, replaced the painting, and left?? Had it been there for weeks and she just didn’t notice???

Finally my dad came home and my mom told him everything. They went upstairs and examined the Elvis picture. There was nothing special about it. It was cheap and uninteresting. Hung on the very nail the Beatles picture has been. They took it down (because it was so creepy looking) and started looking for the original picture.

Walking back down the stairs my dad noticed at the bottom, behind some boxes they’d been meaning to take up, the picture of The Beatles tucked behind those boxes and against the wall. Suddenly it all made sense.

When my mom had found the picture in the second-hand store it was among a stack of pictures of other bands and singers. The picture of Elvis fit neatly inside the back of the Beatles‘ frame. It snapped in perfectly.

She bought it and hung it like that. The whole time Elvis was tucked behind until that day when the top picture frame popped off and cartwheeled down the stairs and rolled to a stop behind some boxes.

posted on Wednesday October 31st, 2018
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