Ready Player One

The first trailer for Ready Player One just dropped:

I read the book and it was a nostalgia-bomb. Laser targeted at my demographic and I loved it. I was still surprised when I heard there was a movie coming out. The book is so chock-full of pop culture that it’s a licensing nightmare. It seems that brands are much more open to being on board with Spielberg directing.

From an intellectual property standpoint, it’s a little weird that the book was fine legally but there were a bunch of hoops to jump through when the story got translated into a different medium. Lawyers ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Carcassonne and Boss Builder

Last night was game night!

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First game was Carcassonne, a city builder. Jenny got this for me as a gift and I’ve been itching to try it out. The game is really quick to pick up and play, and moves quickly. I think I like this better than Catan. There was some deal-making at the table, and there’s something satisfying about building out a landscape. I think it scratches the same itch as jigsaw puzzles – order emerging from chaos.

One strategy that was identified early-on was that you could get 4 quick points by connecting 2 small city tiles (like the 2 cities just left of the big road loop in the pic above), which felt cheap. We checked the rules and it was legal, but it still bugged me. It turns out those cities used to be only worth 2 points, but the rules changed (maybe due the expansions?).

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Second game of the night was Boss Monster. The first thing I noticed were the pixel-art graphics on all the cards. Gorgeous! In this game you are the boss at the end of a dungeon, and you have to set your rooms up to beat the heroes. Each room has abilities.

This requires a little more strategy than Carcassonne, but I was lucky enough to get some cards that worked well together. We used an expansion deck to accommodate all 5 of us. It also went a little slower, but I think with fewer people it would be smoother.

Aside from the games, the highlight of the night was Tim’s Old Fashioneds, but that’s because he’s an amazing bartender.

LiveJournal, Russia, and Reddit

Friends and Blasphemers is a pretty great episode from the podcast Reply All. They dive into what happened to LiveJournal when it got popular in Russia.

One of the interesting parts was a breakdown of how much Russian trolls got paid to disrupt LJ:

PJ: Emails actually leaked out later that had the rates that these guys were getting paid to troll Alexey and his friends. It would be 85 rubles for a comment, and then a bonus: 200 rubles if you could trick somebody into arguing with you.

That part reminded me of some stats on /r/The_Donald:

It turns out that the biggest growth in subscribers happened roughly 3 days after Donald Jr.’s Russian meeting.

Anyway, the point is that I’m going to see if I can import all my old LiveJournal posts here to make it even cringier.

 

Criticize with Empathy

I love these rules from Anatol Rapoport on how to criticize:

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

Imagine if Twitter (a well-known argument machine) dedicated space in replies for each of these. Changing form fields can change minds.

These rules jumped to mind when I was reading Search Inside Yourself, which is about Google’s mindfulness program. One of the prescribed activities is mindful conversation, which has a pretty similar component:

Let’s say there are two people involved in this conversation—Allen and Becky—and it is Allen’s turn to speak. Allen speaks for a while, and after he is done speaking, Becky (the listener) loops back by saying what she thought she heard Allen say. After that, Allen gives feedback on what he thought was missing or misrepresented in Becky’s characterization of his original monologue. And they go back and forth until Allen (the original speaker) feels satisfied that he is correctly understood by Becky (the original listener). Looping is a collaborative project in which both people work together to help Becky (the listener) fully understand Allen (the speaker).

I think the thing linking these is empathy. If you build your empathy muscles you probably don’t need these rules, but they are still a good reminder.

17,500 Anagrams

Did you know that there are 17,500 anagrams for “George Hotelling”? If you are doing the math right now, you’ll probably come up with a different number because we are working off different word lists. For example, my word list includes “Google”. Did you know “Googler Eel Thing” is an anagram for “George Hotelling”?

Now that I have a list of anagrams, I wanted to automate changing my Twitter username to an anagram periodically. I set up a script to do that, but had to choose the frequency. After messing around for a bit, I realized that 17,500 was almost exactly the number of hours in 2 years (17,520 or 17,544 hours, depending on which years). So, for the next 2 years (or until Twitter blocks my script) (or until my bot fails) (or until I give up) you can pop over to @revgeorge for your hourly anagram fix.

Code is also up on GitHub.

“Rhino Egg Lot Glee” signing off.

Driverless Bus Prototype Coming to Ann Arbor

This is cool, a prototype autonomous bus is coming to Ann Arbor in the fall.

The service will use two fully automated, 15-passenger, all-electric shuttles manufactured by French firm NAVYA to transport students, faculty and staff on a nonstop two-mile route between the Lurie Engineering Center and the university’s North Campus Research Complex on Plymouth Road.

Mcity will study how passengers react to the vehicle as a way to gauge consumer acceptance of the technology. Exterior cameras will capture the reaction and behavior of other road users, especially bicyclists and pedestrians. Mcity will also track ridership and usage patterns, and survey users about their experience.The data gathered will help researchers understand how to design safer vehicles and how to operate them more efficiently.

The shuttle service will run on U-M roads during business hours to start. There will be no cost to riders, and the two shuttles will cover the route roughly every 10 minutes. Hours of operation and the service area could be increased later if the technology proves effective and consumer acceptance supports expansion.

The article says it’s a 2 mile route but this is my best guess for the route:

 

Tabs vs Spaces: Are we even arguing about the same thing?

The big news this week (other than all that political news) is objective data in the ongoing battle of Tabs vs Spaces. Stack Overflow’s annual developer survey uncovered an interesting correlation: collectively, devs who use spaces are earn more than those who use tabs.

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That is sure to add some fire to never-ending war, but what if the data is bad? What if people don’t actually know which camp they’re in? Stay with me here.

To explain, first some back-story. Computers cannot actually deal with letters. Oh sure, it looks like you are reading letters on a computer, but they are actually numbers. Just like a kid’s A=1, B=2… cypher, computers represent letters as numbers. In the case of ASCII, A=65, B=66

So, when it came time to indent code, there were a couple obvious choices: space (32) or “horizontal tab” (9). 32 (space) was attractive because it was obvious, 9 (tab) was attractive because it was a single character that could be configured to be any width. The ultimate winner was anyone who could figure out how to turn this stupid nerd fight into pageviews – like me and Stack Overflow. Even Silicon Valley weighed in:

But what if… people didn’t actually know which one they use?

A lot of code editors recognize that people want to insert 32 four times when they press the “tab” key on their keyboard. These are frequently called “soft tabs”. With that setup, a person presses the “tab” key but inserts four space characters (32). Do these devs really think they are in the tab (9) camp?

When I first heard this theory from my friend Adam Kaump I was incredulous. But, it turns out there is evidence for this line of thinking:

Here’s someone who is saying that if you are pressing the “tab” key then you are in the “tab” (9) camp. Even if your editor is inserting four 32s.

Another someone else who apparently thinks that the argument is about which key is pressed, not 9 vs 32:

Doesnt using spaces to indent code waste a lot of time? I mean sure if you’re only indenting once, it takes a few extra key presses to make 1 tab worth of space bar clicks but if your code gets really deep, then you’re talking about wasting a lot of time hitting the space bar key per indent PER line…each subsequent line of indented code doubles the amount of space bar clicks…

Could it be that many who think they are in the Tab Camp are actually on Team Space? If anyone has any more examples of this line of thinking, please leave them in the comments.

As for me, I’m happy to be on the right side of this debate, and urge all devs to turn on their editor’s “visible whitespace” feature.

WordPress.com in Detroit

Automattic (my employer) has been partnering with Rebrand Detroit to get 100 local, small businesses online.

I’m thrilled that our international company is focusing on Detroit. If you are too (and you are reading this on May 17, 2017) you should come to the Rebrand Cities Salon this afternoon in Midtown.

Matt Mullenweg, the CEO, just posted these new ads showing some of the work that has been done so far:

Workaround for IKEA Bekant Sit/Stand Desks

When I set up my home office in 2015, I knew I wanted a motorized standing desk. The easier it is to raise and lower, the less commitment there is in standing up. The less commitment, the easier it is to stand up. At the time, IKEA had just released their Bekant Sit/Stand desk for about 2/3 the cost of the competition. I wish I had paid more to get a better desk.

The problem: It’s well documented that the Bekant has a power supply issue. The symptom is that it stops after raising just a few millimeters, then later refuses to move at all. This is caused by the power supply not putting out enough juice, according to some reports. My desk got stuck in a standing position for a week, maybe the longest work week I’ve had.

The workaround: Unplug the power supply when you are not actively raising or lowering the desk. Leave it unplugged until the moment you feel like switching between sitting and standing. I’ve been doing this for the past week and have had extremely consistent success. My power supply is hanging in the netting under the desk so I just need to pop the cord into that. No need to mess with the outlet.

The real fix: Keep returning your power supply to IKEA until you get one that works. Some people report never having an issue, and maybe you will get a power supply as glorious as theirs.

The good news is that the desk has a 10 year warranty – if you have your receipt. And your return will be much smoother if you get an employee who doesn’t demand that you disassemble your entire desk just for a detachable power supply.

I was lucky to have an employee tell me that they accept scanned copies of receipts, so mine lives in Evernote and comes out once a year when I want to try to fix my desk yet again. It takes about an hour to do the exchange in my experience, and I’m on my 3rd power supply. I also happen to live 10 minutes from an IKEA; I can’t imagine driving a couple of hours to do the exchange.

You may have some luck in contacting Rol Ergo directly for a replacement, according to this Facebook comment.

[Photo credit: mastermaq under CC 2.0 BY-SA license. Because my desk is in no condition be seen by anyone.]

Coworking at Workantile

One of the challenges of distributed work is isolation. Our third places are already disappearing, losing the office as a second place can be tough. So, about once a week, I drive over half an hour to Workantile, a coworking space in Ann Arbor.

It started with the Ann Arbor Software Co-Workers. I attended a few of those meetups at a coffee shop and was reminded that there is something energizing about being around people. At the same time, I wanted somewhere that I could hop on a video call. I wanted somewhere I didn’t have to make sure that someone watched my bag when I went to the bathroom. Somewhere I didn’t have to OD on caffeine to make sure I’m paying my rent. So I wound up at Workantile.

[As an aside, my employer has a coworking stipend that covers traditional coworking spaces as well as coffee rent at coffee shops. Companies that want to support distributed workers, take note.]

Workantile is part of a vanishing breed. There are plenty of coworking spaces that are “you pay money, get desk, end of story.” There are also plenty of incubators that want to host your startup. What Workantile focuses on are the independent contractors and the remote workers that want a second place. Here’s how they put it:

At Workantile our goal is to support the work and social needs of independent workers typically already established in their job or business, whether they’re self-employed or remote employees. Workantile creates a diverse workplace environment without the office politics. Our social network isn’t for smarmy business-oriented “networking,” but for real social interaction and camaraderie.

Quartz has a great write-up on how coworking has moved from the Workantile model to the other models. Companies like WeWork have been focused on flexible office space, ignoring any sort of community aspect. That probably makes financial sense, but I’m not really interested in “Office Hotelling.” It’s kind of disheartening that as more workers are becoming remote and distributed, social coworking is on its way out.

There’s a new coworking space “Pastel” opening much closer to me – a 5 minute commute instead of a 35 minute commute. Their vision is “a place for independent business women to find support, balance and connection.” That’s not quite me, but I’m glad to see other coworking spaces opening to focus on something other than real estate. I will be keeping an eye on them but for now it sounds like Workantile is a better fit.

Don’t get me wrong: I still loathe commutes but once a week is the right balance for me right now.

[Photo credit Chris Salzman]