When I was in grade school, music was easily the most boring subject there was. Music was about playing the recorder (a music instrument I’ve never heard of anyone using outside music class), and singing. I remember one time, for like five classes in a row, I ended up playing the triangle. The triangle. But it was still better than the recorder.

But stuff like this makes me wish I had grown up appreciating music more:

Rather than teaching us musical notes on the recorder or playing Vivaldi, how about letting us goof around with computer-interfaced keyboards? It seems less-academic, but you’re actually planting the seed instead of actively turning us off from the subject.


Once upon a time, I played a little Orisinal game that would, for lack of a better term, temporarily rewire my brain. I’d play it for a while, but when I was done, I found that I couldn’t use a computer. I’d see a pattern on a webpage and try to circle it. I’d talk to someone and be really distracted by their eyes and how I could circle them. And then someone else would walk by and I’d want to circle the two people side-by-side. Eventually the compulsion subsided, until I played the game again.

Pandora has really done the same for me in life. (For the uninitated, Pandora streams music, and allows you to thumbs-up or thumbs-down songs. It learns your preferences and plays music to suit. My Daft Punk-based station became absurdly good, to the point that I started a second Tumblr blog just to reference the awesome songs I was finding through it.)

I have recently found, with great disappointment, that Pandora currently cannot improve the following areas of my life:

  • Broadcast radio. Sometimes there are great songs on the radio. Usually there aren’t. Worse, even after identifying certain songs as terrible (by shouting at the radio), it continues to play them again.
  • The news. Thumbs-up to a lot of interesting stories. Thumbs-down to more news articles about Donald Trump.
  • TV episodes. The episode of Modern Family from a couple weeks ago was absolutely hilarious, and I really want to communicate to the producers that I liked it, and to Hulu that I want to see more episodes like that. On the other hand, after watching the episode of The Office from a couple week ago, I’d really like that portion of my life back. I want the producers to know that I thought the episode was a disappointment, and want Hulu to know that I’m not a fan of similar episodes. (Maybe this should apply to TV in general. It’s no accident that I don’t have cable, and just watch Netflix and Hulu.)
  • The cafeteria at work. Sometimes it has good food. Sometimes it has great food. Other times, it doesn’t suit my fancy. Steak-and-cheese sub? Thumbs-up, more like this! Meatloaf? Thumbs-down, please don’t serve again.
  • Email threads. Some mailing lists enjoy beating a dead horse about a topic that didn’t interest me in the first place, and I’d like to preemptively nuke the continuing thread from my mail client. Other times, I want emails like thumbs-up’ed emails to be prioritized in my inbox. (Gmail’s Priority Inbox rocks for the latter.)

Incidentally, there are several awesome business ideas in here. “Pandora for the News” in particular.


This is partly a throwaway post to keep the main page non-blank, but I figure I’ll actually convey some useful information…

The main page is now serving static assets (stylesheets, JavaScript, and images that are part of the template) from Akamai, via Rackspace’s Cloud Files service. This should hopefully speed things up a bit, though the bottleneck remains an underpowered VPS. Akamai has an obscene number of “edge nodes” to cache and serve content, and reportedly pushes something like a Terabit a second. This Akamai + Cloud Files partnership is quite handy for small sites that couldn’t really sign up with a good CDN on their own due to lack of obscene amounts of cash. (Cloud Files can be made to work with paperclip, too, for all you Ruby fans.)


I’ve been going out of my way to avoid politics lately, but I just watched Donald Trump on national television complaining that if you dare question Obama’s citizenship, people jump all over you.

Here’s why people jump all over you: Occam’s Razor. (Also, common sense.)

Scenario A: Obama was born in Hawaii as he claims, and as the valid birth certificate he released before he was elected confirms.

Scenario B: Obama was born in another country and an elaborate conspiracy is afoot:

  • His campaign released a forged birth certificate to the press.
  • lied when they said they have seen it and verified that it is embossed with a seal and signed on the back, and that it does, in fact, meet all State Department requirements for obtaining a passport. (They also have photographs showing the certificate number that was blacked-out in the scan released by the campaign, explaining that, during the campaign, they rushed to release it but weren’t sure if it was confidential information, so they erred on the site of caution.)
  • Hawaii’s Director of Health and Human Services lied when she said she had seen it.
  • Hawaii’s Republican governor, Linda Lingle, lied when she said the President was “in fact, born at Kapi’olani Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii” after viewing the original birth certificate.
  • His parents were in on the conspiracy decades ago, planting birth announcements in two Hawaiian newspapers claiming he was born in Hawaii — even listing an address. (These birth announcements were uncovered, by the way, by an anti-Obama, pro-Hillary “PUMA” activist, who really had every incentive to try to make it look like Obama was not, in fact, born in the US.)
  • Barbara Nelson, who was one of Obama’s teachers in Hawaii, is lying when she said that she spoke with the doctor who delivered Obama at the time. The incident was remarkable because Obama’s mother’s name was Stanley, hence the doctor’s quip about Stanley delivering a baby. She wrote home to her father about it, also named Stanley. She also remembers Barack as a grade-school student.

Which situation seems more plausible?

Also, some in the “birther” movement have committed fraud themselves:

So next time someone asks why Obama hasn’t released his birth certificate, point out that he did, back in 2008, and that a whole slew of people have authenticated it.

Telemarketers and Numbers Stations

One of the more intriguing things about HF radio is the concept of numbers stations, which just pop up at certain times on certain frequencies and read a long string of numbers. The general belief is that they’re reading off data encrypted with a one-time pad, but the intended recipients are more unclear. People have located many of the transmitters and they’re often — but not always — military complexes. Rumors exist of some  being associated with drug traffickers or others, not just government spies.

I keep getting a call from 240-787-1342. A couple of months ago it was sometimes several times a day. The first few times I picked up, and no one was ever there. The next 50 times or so, I’ve just ignored the call. In Googling it, a lot of people get this. A few report telemarketers, but most report that it’s juts silence. I just blocked the number.

But now I’m really intrigued. Who are they, and what do they want? With dirt-cheap VoIP providers, it’s entirely feasible to start an overseas telemarketing firm and brazenly ignore the Do Not Call list. It’s been done before. But this isn’t a telemarketer, unless it’s the world’s least-competent telemarketing firm. These are calls to lots of people, lots of times, but with no one ever picking up. It makes no financial sense for anyone to be doing this. So what’s going on? Is it grand ineptitude? Some nefarious plot I can’t figure out?

Paying Taxes

I know a lot of people that dodge taxes. Sometimes it’s legally exploiting loopholes, sometimes it’s doing things that can’t possibly be legal. The business owner who “forgets” to ring in all-cash sales to skip out on taxes. The Massachusetts resident who drives to New Hampshire to buy expensive things so they don’t have to pay taxes. The business owner who buys a new luxury car in the business’s name with the profits so the business doesn’t have to pay taxes.

For some reason, we almost glorify these people. They’re clever. They’re beating the system; sticking it to the man. But this makes no sense to me. We all, collectively, have a (massive) bill to pay to keep the country running. The people that find shady ways to avoid their taxes are like a friend who skips out on the bill at dinner. We end up having to pay the slack. (Albeit more indirectly.)

And yet a lot of the people who skip out on the bill are the same ones who complain about people mooching off the system. I’m sure they exist, though I’ve never met a single one of them. I have, however, met a ton of people who don’t pay their taxes for one reason or another.

To keep up with the analogy of someone skipping out on the bill at a restaurant, now imagine two criminals. One walks one wearing a ski mask and makes off with $100 from the cash register.  But then there’s the guy over at the table who enjoys a delicious $75 steak and a $25 fine wine, and then pretends to choke on the steak and demands a free meal. Or the restaurant supplier who, when totaling the receipt for what he’s delivering, “mistakenly” raises the total by $100 to see if the restaurant notices his error, and walks out with $100 extra as a result.

We all despite the first guy, the robber. His crime was brazen and unforgivable. I think this is like the people who “mooch off government handouts.” I hear about them in the news, and totally agree that it’s bad, but think blaming them for all our problems is a straw-man argument. But then there are the two people defrauding the restaurant of the same amount of money as the ski-masked robber. And for some reason, there’s a novelty. Instead of being aghast at what we’ve just witnessed, we laugh. “They really fell for that? Man, you’re sneaky!” These are like the people who find “loopholes” to get out of paying the taxes they really owe. They’re ultimately sticking us with the bill just as much, but we for some reason are less eager to point the finger at them.

And then we, as supporters of the white-collar criminals, make nonsensical statements to justify them. “Yeah, the prices at that restaurant were too high! That’ll show them!” “It was just going to be stolen by a robber anyway!” Or, even less-sensibly, “That restaurant carries a ton of debt! It’s only fair that I skipped out on the bill.”

All of this said, I hate how high my taxes are. But I pay them, because we have roads (in terrible shape) to repair, kids to teach, and a country to defend. I have to pay for the fireman that put out the burning building across the street to keep it from spreading to my apartment, the police that catch hypothetical masked restaurant-robbers, the guys that repaired the gaping hole in the bridge I used to drive over every day, the military that keeps deranged despots from attacking us, the cost of repairing the 4′-deep pothole in the highway that I used to hit every single time, and even the cost of running the constellation of satellites that permit my GPS to function. I wish it were all cheaper, true, but I pay what I owe and am proud in the knowledge that I’m doing my part in supporting my country, state, and city.