Minimalism: A Quilt Color Doodler

Try the doodler.

Bahiyyih is making a quilt, and she was looking for someone to make a color sketch of her design. She said the word gradient, and had to do it. But I had to do it quickly because I was competing with how long it would take to draw it physically.

Quilt Color Doodler
Quilt Color Doodler

Go play with the quilt color doodler. It does just barely enough to play with the colors. And the UI is hilariously terrible. Think of it, rather, as a puzzle. Can you figure out how it’s supposed to work?

It does let you change:

  • the colors — as long as you like diagonal gradients
  • the size — any rectangle you want
  • the color pickers … okay that was a diversion

It doesn’t let you change:

  • the pattern — Bahiyyih had already chosen Stars Ablaze
  • the direction of the gradient
  • what prints — it’s just the quilt
  • the default colors — resetting always takes you back to the colors Bahiyyih ended up choosing (although it does save any changes you make, until you hit Reset)

There are so many directions it could go next. I’m not used to working this way — make something quick and dirty, and then call it done and move on. It’s probably therapeutic.

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Belated Sigh

Publishing negative results helps everyone learn. Here’s my negative result: Instacart didn’t work out in the end. I had a great time there, but the combination of legacy code, a 3-hour timezone difference, and an on-site team of 200 programmers with just a handful remote meant that I was just not productive enough — even with many weekly video conferences — and they let me go after 6 months, back in March.

I think it was a learning experience for Instacart as much as for me. The FAANG prefer onsite teams, with exceptions for specialists, and now Instacart’s job openings reflect that. But I’m a generalist.

On the bright side

I’ve been doing contract work in agriculture software since April, and it’s been a good match. Hourly discipline has been good for my mental health, and I’m fortunate to have a spouse whose job provides benefits. If it weren’t for that, self-employed life would be much harder! Thank you Bahiyyih & Purdue, and hurry up US with affordable health care for all!

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The Middle Class and a Peaceful Planet

Join the Middle Class. Have a life that’s good enough. This morning I was just sitting at my dining room table, playing Threes, when the concept of the Middle Class poked its elephant head in through a window and explained its radical nature. “I’m not just a pleasant compromise,” elephant-middle-class said, “I’m an essential foundation for a peaceful planet.”

Elephant Middle Class

It went on, “Think about it. You keep ranting to anyone who will listen that we need to move on towards post-scarcity thinking. Run on love and planning instead of fear and coping. People are already doing that, and we call them Middle Class.

This elephant had a point.

I looked at the elephant, excited to talk with it but a little afraid it would grab me with its trunk and practice juggling.

Instead it used its trunk to pull a bundle of grass out of some kind of saddle bag on its back that had a red and yellow diamond pattern. I think it was made of wool.

It rested its head on the windowsill and munched.

“Wait, why are you telling me this?” I asked it, “Don’t you have important things to do? Don’t elephants have to eat, like 20 hours every day to avoid starving?”

It shrugged with its ears while its mouth kept working on the grass. Elephant eating involves a lot of chewing. I drank some coffee and looked down at Threes but wasn’t interested in my game for the moment.

It swallowed, licked its lips, and spoke up again, “Maybe it would help to call it something more than middle class.” Its dark eye blinked slowly. “For example, what is this place you live in?”

“A kitchen.” I looked around. “I mean a house.”

“Yes,” it nodded slowly. “And its spiritual significance? Isn’t it also a sacred environment where neighbors come to celebrate their companionship and have elevated discussions? And where children can develop and flourish as spiritual beings?”

“Yeah, it is — on a good day at least.” I looked around. It helped that the kitchen was in decent shape this morning because (just to brag a little) I did dishes last night.

“And all that is easier if the roof doesn’t leak and it doesn’t freeze indoors in the winter.”

The elephant — again — had a point. I offered it coffee and cantaloupe rinds (they still had some of the orange part on them) that I had gotten out for the guinea pigs. It took some cantaloupe and made quick work of it.

“The middle class is the same.” It lifted its head and ran its trunk along the window frame, then started to amble away.

“Hey,” I called after it. “Happy Declaration of the Báb!” I think it smiled.


In an earnest talk with the Rector of a Parish, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said: “I find England awake; there is spiritual life here. But your poor are so very poor! This should not be. On the one hand you have wealth, and great luxury; on the other hand men and women are living in the extremities of hunger and want. This great contrast of life is one of the blots on the civilization of this enlightened age.

“You must turn attention more earnestly to the betterment of the conditions of the poor. Do not be satisfied until each one with whom you are concerned is to you as a member of your family. Regard each one either as a father, or as a brother, or as a sister, or as a mother, or as a child. If you can attain to this, your difficulties will vanish, you will know what to do. This is the teaching of Bahá’u’lláh.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, Education

“The supreme need of humanity is cooperation and reciprocity,” said ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. “The stronger the ties of fellowship and solidarity amongst men, the greater will be the power of constructiveness and accomplishment in all the planes of human activity.” In the same way that the human being is more than the sum of the individual cells which comprise its body, so too the powers of a unified community far exceed the combined powers of its individual members.

Bahai.org, The Community

“A new life,” Bahá’u’lláh proclaims, “is, in this age, stirring within all the peoples of the earth; and yet none hath discovered its cause, or perceived its motive.” “O ye children of men,” He thus addresses His generation, “the fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race… This is the straight path, the fixed and immovable foundation. Whatsoever is raised on this foundation, the changes and chances of the world can never impair its strength, nor will the revolution of countless centuries undermine its structure.” “The well-being of mankind,” He declares, “its peace and security are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.” “So powerful is the light of unity,” is His further testimony, “that it can illuminate the whole earth. The one true God, He Who knoweth all things, Himself testifieth to the truth of these words… This goal excelleth every other goal, and this aspiration is the monarch of all aspirations.” “He Who is your Lord, the All-Merciful,” He, moreover, has written, “cherisheth in His heart the desire of beholding the entire human race as one soul and one body. Haste ye to win your share of God’s good grace and mercy in this Day that eclipseth all other created days.”

Shoghi Effendi, The Unfoldment of World Civilization

“Wait, isn’t the Middle Class founded on unsustainable consumption that is eliminating natural environments and causing catastrophic climate change?” I called after its diminishing form.

It called back over its shoulder, “You’re pretty good engineers — I’m sure you can figure it out if you work together.”

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Macro-commuting

Instacart
I plan to start working for Instacart, in San Francisco, in a couple of weeks — my first day will be September 10. I’ll still live in West Lafayette — for the first three weeks I plan to fly out Sunday night and come back Thursday overnight. Eventually I’d like to get that down to one week a month. So really it will be mostly remote work. Eventually.

How many people macro-commute? How do you make it sustainable?

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Produce

Teresa had an assignment to write a horror story recently for Language Arts. I don’t think I ever had that assignment, but it sounded like fun.

On a Spring day it’s easy to get fresh strawberries. Every store has them, overflowing from their swishy doors out into the parking lot in cornucopias of rustic wooden platforms covered in 2 for $3! signs.

strawberries-in-containers

But in the late Fall or early Winter? You need is to get there early. And be ready to pay.

My daughters love strawberries. As long as there are strawberries in the refrigerator, there are no fights. Chores and homework get done. Memes are happily shared around the kitchen table.

Wednesday night. The weekend’s berries have been happily consumed, and even if they hadn’t been, they wouldn’t be good anymore.

I set my alarm for 5:30 and go to sleep confident. Beep beep beep. Some people configure their alarms to be music. But no matter how great the song, if it’s an alarm, you’re going to end up hating it. But there’s no love lost on beeps. Like smashing a mosquito, I dismiss my alarm with no hard feelings.

I wake up. My phone says 6:56 am. Oh no!

The peace-creating strawberries rot in my mind and tumble into the kitchen garbage. “Hey, these dishes are dirty. Who washed them?” Verbal sparring begins. I know it will lead to a day or more of hard feelings, followed by a weekend of grousing.

Jump out of bed. Pants. Sweatshirt. No time for underwear. Wallet.

Keys? Where are they? Oh, on the floor. Nope, that’s my bike key. Okay, we’ll go with that. No, I’ll never have time if I try to bike to the store.

7:01. To the store and back by 7:30 or else I’ll miss the breakfast window. Keys, keys. Bathroom? No. Gotta pee. Keys. Okay, where else? Kitchen counter? No. Coat pocket? No, no.

In the garage, still no car keys. In the car? What, it’s locked? Squint through the window. No. Wait, there they are! On the passenger seat! No, that’s the set with the dog keychain. No telling where mine are.

7:04. Still in the garage. Have to bike. 10 minutes there, 10 back, allows 6 minutes for shopping. Possible. Maybe if I pedal fast.

The garage door rises, a mouth of darkness. As soon as it reaches head level, head out into twilight.

Whoa, frost! Augh! Slippery! Foot down! Relief and frustration rush through me.

Blinding light. Whoosh as a car rushes by. I follow it out onto the road.

frosted_bike_tire

Pedal madly and look in every direction at once. Merge with traffic. An antelope among lions and elephants.

Red hatchback ahead, dark SUV behind.

Red light. Exhaust fumes. The driver in the next lane gives a sideways glance. Resting face, or incensed?

Green light. An engine races behind me. My legs pump. Don’t look back. I can keep up with this traffic. Shift. Shift. Shift.

Brake light! Skiiiiid. Catch myself against Red Hatchback. Scraaape of bike frame against car

Something hot on my shin.

Inside Red Hatchback, the rearview mirror frames the driver’s alarmed eyes and mouth open in an “Oh”.

I’m still standing. Back up, wave hands to say “never mind I just need strawberries”.

Everyone is turning left into the grocery store lot. Pumpkins. Haybales. 20 cents off gas with card. Pour gas onto the haybales, but that would make it harder to reach the strawberries.

But I’m still in the road, standing over my bike frame in the left turn lane.

Someone ahead in line is being too cautious. There is a chance to cross the other lane.

Go! Jump the line! Pounce on pedals to get in front of a slow truck.

The pedals don’t move! Broken!

No, accidentally in high gear! Bike is moving so slowly. Oncoming truck is slowing down. The opposite curb is coming closer, closer.

Hooonnk

Foot down on curb, lift, pull bike out of road.

Whooosh. Angry yelling. My face is red.

Remember the strawberries.

The bike rack is at the far door. I’ll leave my bike propped by this door. No time to lock it.

A huge bin of pumpkins. Orange and useless.

Through the swishy doors. Apples. Pears. Peaches!? Blueberries.

Pumpkins. Bananas.

decorative-pumpkins

“Oh my gosh, is your leg okay?”

What? It still feels hot, but cold too. Oh, that’s a lot of blood.

“Yeah, it’s fine. Have you seen any strawberries?”

“Oh, honey. I’ve got some bandaids in my purse.”

“I’ll take care of it when I get home. Excuse me, sir, yes? Do you have any strawberries?”

“Well, I’m putting out the fresh stuff now. I think maybe some came in last night, but we don’t have any out yet. Oh, here are some.”

The rejects. Maybe there are some good ones in there, at the bottom.

“Thanks.”

I take both remaining packs.

7:14. Ahead of schedule.

Self check-out. Please …. place …. your …. …. in …. the …. bagging …. area ….

Please …. wait …. for …. an (No, not an attendant) …. attendant

7:17. Where’s my bike? Someone riding it away through the parking lot?

Wrong door. It’s still over there where I left it, behind a cart. Running.

Strawberry cartons in plastic bags, swinging from the handlebars.

Going back is so much harder. Is it uphill? Barely. Push through.

Look behind: A car too close. Ahead: so much distance to cover—I try to catch up, pump hard, but my legs can’t compete with internal combustion. The driver’s stare weighs on my back.

I hop a driveway lip to get off the street, my slow motion too antiquated for the motorized commuters.

Imagine the strawberries on the kitchen table. In time for the day to start. Hands reach in, pluck from the carton, pop them into mouths that are smiling and talking. A team huddle, all hands in for a cheer. Everyone’s making plans for the day. All is possible.

The frost is gone, leaving damp sidewalks. Almost there, but I still have to cross the street. I should have done it at the crosswalk. Maybe I should go back? Or go up to the stop sign? Suddenly sleepy.

Where did all these cars come from? It’s not time for the rush yet, is it? There’s a break. But not on the other side. Have to wait.

Finally back in the garage. Kickstand.

Inside door to the house is still open.

In the kitchen, munching teenagers, phones out, catching up on the instanet.

“I got strawberries.”

cut_strawberry

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College Essay

Teresa, Bahiyyih, and I are helping Georgia in this season of college application essays. Taking turns with the words. This one is for a local institution:

Dear Theodosia,

When I first ate Purdue sandwiches, my brother told me they were made
of real plastic. I never believed he actually was aware of their
plastic ingredients. This new technology has made spacefarming
undoubtedly better. The only way to master spacefarming is with
plastic ingredients for Purdue sandwiches.

A perfect bundle of lacey clouds went frighteningly close to a sunny
hill. But no teeth transformed the clouds today — or ever —
unfortunately.

Smoke detectors perform basic Purdue ballet while attached to my
ceiling.

Eddy Redmayn formed the original studio audience of his family’s large
Halloween mug.

In concussions, favorable lobes.
Georgia

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Predicting childrens’ interests: I can’t do it, Yay!

figuring out one's cultural identityTwo of my daughters are watching Black-ish, a sitcom about “an upper-middle-class African-American family” [wikipedia]. I think the characters are trying to figure out their cultural identity. Last year I was excited to hear about it and looked for it on, um, let’s say Chinese Netflix [1]. I watched the pilot episode [2] and filed it on the hard drive, where it sat inert for a year.

And a couple of days ago, one of the girls asked if I could find more of it.

“You like it?” I asked her.

“Yeah,” she said. “Can you get the rest of it?”

I don’t even know how she found it amidst the debris on that disk. Maybe looking through TV shows alphabetically? She must like it better than Adventures of Brisco County Jr and Big Bang Theory.

Even though I wouldn’t have guessed she’d pick it out, I’m pretty happy she’s watching it. She’s been out of the US for over 4 years, and by the time we get back, it will be 5 years [3]. I want her to know what’s happening there, but instead she’s getting to know a little slice of China. That’s also good, and it’s a big part of why we’re here, but it would be nice if she doesn’t feel like a complete alien when we return. I can’t say that Black-ish is the definitive guide to race relations, but if she’s choosing to watch it during her precious computer entertainment time [4], then I’d say it’s at least one and a half birds with one stone. I mean it’s fun (one bird) and at least somewhat informative (half a bird? Maybe more?).

Today at lunch, sister #3 is watching it too.

“Why do you like it?” asks sister #1 (the only one who still isn’t watching Black-ish).

“It’s the only thing we have that I haven’t watched already.”

“I’ll bet we have lots of things you haven’t watched,” challenges sister #1.

“Like what?”

Science Fiction

“Well, all the science fiction shows and stuff.”

“I don’t like science fiction.”

I jump in, “So you’re saying it’s interesting enough to watch?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Yeah, it’s interesting enough to watch.”

I’m pretty happy they’re watching it. Cultural identity and race relations are worthy topics, and it must have enough well-written funny bits to lighten up the serious. Maybe? I’ve only seen the pilot. The girls love family comedies [5]. I never would have guessed it would catch their interest, since it didn’t manage to hold mine. Is it a sign that they’re growing up?


It's hard to find legit TV behind the Great Firewall.[1] Hint: Its founder was recently released from Swedish prison. It’s unfortunately the only convenient way we’ve found to watch English language TV here. I told everyone we’d have to go legit when we move back to the Western Hemisphere, and use Hulu/Netflix/etc like civilized people.

[2] I like understanding race relations, but I think I’m just not a sitcom guy.

[3] We’re planning to move back to the US in summer 2016.

[4] They get an hour a day of messing around on the computer for entertainment. Okay, it’s not that strictly enforced, but it’s approximately an hour. Two hours on weekends. Plus some social time if they want to play Minecraft with their friends or something. Or make powerpoint presentations about kittens. And probably quite a bit longer on days when their parents go on long excursions. What I’m trying to say is we aren’t letting TV raise them entirely.

[5] New episodes of Modern Family bring all the girls to the couch, that’s right, and they all have advanced degrees in The Cosby Show.

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Computer Science Class

Audio: Computer Science Class

Today in Computer Science class, we did a demonstration of IFTTT, where we recorded something in SoundCloud, and IFTTT auto-published it on my blog.

If I point my microphone at my children, would this recipe be useful for sharing audio recordings with Grandma?

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Carbon Debt

We was just playing in the woods. Me and Sal had an old phone that didn’t have no minutes but still had good batteries and some stuff in it. We was just taking pictures of leaves and flowers and having it tell us about them. We had to use the light because it was so dark down under the trees, and it couldn’t tell us nothing if the pictures was too dim.

Well, the phone got warm, I guess, and we didn’t pay no mind, and then before we know it, it was hot and I dropped it, and then I saw smoke coming from it, and sparks, and them dry leaves caught, and then we was running from a fire. I practically carried Sal up the ravine to the house, and I saw Mom running at us the other way. We was keeping away from the fire, but the smoke got all around us, so our eyes was burning and we was coughing all dry.

“Fire, Ma, there’s a fire!” and I run straight into the house, pulling Sal.

“I know, god dammit Al! I ain’t blind!” She run straight past me to the machine shed, which we never opened because them machines is too expensive to run.

I got Sal down to the house basement. I heard thunder outside and wanted to go see what it was.

“Don’t go up there, Al!” Sal was crying and holding onto my hand like I was Mom or Dad. “We’s supposed to stay in the shelter.”

But I pulled my hand out of hers and run back outside.

The first thing I noticed, was the helicopters. There was two of them, yellow and as big as our house, and they was what sounded like thunder. They was spraying orange goo into the trees in the ravine.

Smoke was pouring up like a gray dirt cloud out of the tops of the trees, where the helicopters was spraying. I couldn’t see no flames.

Then I saw Mom, tearing down the drive on the tractor, with the big empty spray tank on the back. I couldn’t hear nothing from it, but smoke was coming out of it’s pipe, so I knew she was running the carbon motor and everything.

I started to run down after Mom and the tractor, but a huge voice from one of the helicopters practically knocked me on my butt. “Please stand back from the affected area and all emergency vehicles. Find a place of safety immediately. Please stand back from the affected area and emergency vehicles …” It was saying the same thing over and over. Me and Sal still like to say it. “Please stand back from the breakfast area and all eatin’ brothers.” Mom and Dad don’t particularly like it, but Me and Sal laugh at it every time.

I got back into the house and watched out the basement door. Sal was crying down below, but wouldn’t come over to the door to look out. For a minute I saw fire in the smoke, but then I guess the orange stuff started to work, and the fire didn’t keep going.

Mom come by later to check on us, just to see we was okay, but she didn’t come inside the house. It was night before she and Dad came back in.

So that’s how I was practically born in carbon debt. I had to bank it and bank it, my Dad made me bank it every day, which is why I didn’t play learning much, like Sal did. Sal never got blamed for that fire, even though we was both there, because she was only five, and I was seven.

My Dad gives me credit for stuff like branches I cut off his trees — if he seen me cut them — if I also haul them to the swamp to bank in anox.

“Albert!” My Dad is calling. “Albert, you seen my axe?”

“Dad, I’m playin’ Emerald Kids!” Which I was. While we still had power. Our house batteries are shot, and we don’t have the carbon to replace them. And besides it’s summer, so we don’t need them at night anyway. “Can’t it wait ’til after dark?”

“Albert, I need that axe now, ‘n’ there’s still daylight. I’ve got a poplar ‘sabout to fall, an’ I got to get it in the ravine. If it don’t fall uphill, I’ll bust my back gettin’ it down to the swamp.”

“Can’t it wait until tomorrow, an’ we can cut the limbs off?”

But that’s going too far. “Dammit boy, you can’t let wood sit!” I can hear his face get red, “It’s goin’ to the swamp tonight or you’re goin’ with it!”

I put that game down. “I’m comin’!” I yell. I always mean to leave that axe on its peg, but I must have forgot, or else my Dad wouldn’t be calling about it.

I shiver because I remember where it is. “I think I left it on the Harp Slope!” I call to him, and I run out the front door past him, trying not to look in his face. It’s going to be darker before I get back with the ax.

He don’t let wood sit even a day above water, and it had better lay in anox too. He says rot starts right away. Foolheaded stubbornness, I say. Even though I mostly play a geosat boy in Emerald Kids, I know it takes years for all the carbon to come out of a dead tree. It sure don’t give up nothing appreciable its first day down.

Anox, that’s water that don’t got no oxygen in it. It’s dead water, and fish can’t live in it, which is a waste. But it kind of balances because if you put wood into anox, the carbon banks. It doesn’t rot out into the air. And the sats, they can see that you’ve done a good job, and you get to keep the credit you got from growing them trees in the first place.

Our place — our hills — they’s full of buried anox, more full every year. We dig out a lagoon at the bottom of a slope and we seed it with weeds to soak up the oxygen. Then we pull trees down into it with the battery hauler. When it’s full, we cover it up again. If we can find clay, we put that over the trees first. And that’s about it. We get credit for our carbon, so long as the sats can see it.

Problem is, carbon ain’t worth what it used to be. Mom says time was a couple of good trees could get you a month’s groceries. I can’t remember nothing like that. All I know is if I can get a tree underwater in the morning and another in the afternoon, it can keep the line above red for another day, and we can get net service, and Mom can have her pills every month that the doctor says she needs to take. And we can eat some kind of meat besides deer.

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Unemployment and a Spirit of Service

This is still a half-formed thought, and I need some help finishing it:

What is the connection between unemployment, economic productivity, fair distribution of wealth, and a spirit of service?

I’ve been thinking about it for a long, long time, and it’s still a bunch of ingredients that have yet to form a cohesive stew. Here are the ingredients; I’m pretty sure they go together to make something pretty good, but I’m not sure what it is:

I can think of a few implications, but does anyone know of examples of these principles put into practice? What kind of society can we build after they stew for a while?

  • If life is easy, what will motivate you to do difficult things? A spirit of service?
  • Can you truly be unemployed if you are looking for ways to be of service (and not desperately poor)?
  • What proportion of people take advantage of the system?
  • Where can innovation come from, if everyone has access to information, reasonable resources, and if we celebrate service?
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