The Bastard of Istanbul
The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a book I noticed was on a banned book list and ended up being one of two I started during ALA’s Banned Books Week. The author, Elif Şafak, was sued by a Turkey prosecutor for “insulting Turkishness” by writing about Armenian genocide as part of the fall of the Ottoman Empire in this novel. She probably expected this reaction as one minor character faced a prison sentence for having drawn a government official as a penguin.

Turkey bridging Europe and Asia has elements of both in its culture. Şafak demonstrates this contradiction through her tale by contrasting American and Muslim cultural views.

In approaching the climax I hoped for a surprise that it would turn out as something else. But, no, it completely deflated me as low as the hardest of books I have ever read.

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OK, the year is about three quarters done, so here is where I am with each resolution.

  1. Read 52 books. Three-quarters of 52 is 39. I am close to done at 49. My Goodreads user challenge. With 5 in progress now, and 3 more than half read, this should be complete soon.
    • Read at least 50% by female authors. Of the 49 books read so far, 37 are by female authors, so I am on well above with 75%. (I’m unlikely to fall beneath 50% by even reading all male author books through the end of the year.)
  2. Weightlifting:
    1. Bench 185 pounds (1RM equivalent). My best during the past month or so is 171 1RM. That is 64 up from the 107 1RM back at the start of the year. And 20 up from three months ago. Just 14 more to go by the end of the year, I think I can do it.
    2. Squat 245 pounds (1RM eq). Completed at the half.
    3. Deadlift 300 pounds (1RM eq). My best during the past month or so is 278 1RM. Looks like since July the gain has been about 62 pounds. This looks manageable as I just need another third of that progress to hit the goal.
    4. Drop to about 15% body fat. No progress.
    5. Bring HIIT up to about 50-50. No progress.
  3. Take a trip at least 300 miles away from home. Completed first quarter.
  4. Declutter Part II. No progress.

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David Grady shows a clip, but here is the whole thing. It feels quite familiar.

His TED Talk:

2015-04-11 15.51.22 Personally, I hated status meetings for one project but liked them for another. The bad one was purely about going over the project plan every week and 40% of the time was spent telling the project manager what to type in order for the director to understand the item. The good one we talked about what everyone was doing and spawned side discussions about dealing with where people were stuck.

Certain people I know respect everyone’s time, so I’ll blindly accept everything they throw at me. Anything my boss sent me to I’d just go. While I may not know why, my time was never wasted.

The worst? A certain vendor in investigating issues affecting thousands of users in production, would schedule a time for us to meet about their findings. The content of the meeting would be, “We have not found anything yet, but this is still our top priority. Can we meet again at <new time>?” Yeah, this is a waste of everyone’s time. Just send an email a quarter hour ahead of time explaining you need more time and pick a new one. This is so important people will MAKE time to be there.

For years, I have tried to make sure I include the why of a meeting in the invite. And if my “bad meeting” radar goes off, then I will inquire about the why for it.

I love Sci-Fi teeshirt

I love Sci-Fi

So I wear lots of geeky teeshirts. Many of these shirts have text on them. Maybe it is just me, but I want the text to be oriented the correct way when I take a photo of it. (You all are smart people, so it is not that I think you would be unable to read it backwards. More likely I do not want to appear cluelessly unobservant about what I am posting.)

Originally I tried to take this photo with Instagram. And then I realized the text was backwards. So I pulled up Facebook and took the same photo. Facebook flipped the backwards photo so that the text was correct. It did a face recognition thing prior to taking the photo.

What mystifies me is that Instagram, the king of cellphone photo sharing does not already do this? And that Facebook who also owns Instagram does. I can rotate the photo to its side or upside down, but not flip it over. Probably I could find another app to do this, but now that I know Facebook takes it correctly maybe I will not bother.

Once Facebook has taken the photo and oriented it, I can then go back and use Instagram to post it. This cumbersome method will bother me until Instagram works out how to correctly take the photos. Kudgy workarounds make me hyper-aware I should seek an alternative.

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The legal system heavily relies on eyewitness testimony. The erroneous thinking is that human memory works like a movie: events are committed to an infallible permanent storage system. Instead each time we recall a memory, we recall the memory of an earlier memory. If a detail was missing, then we can fill in information. The danger is that a questioner can lead the witness to plant false information and make people absolutely certain of details that convince a jury but never actually happened. People freed by DNA evidence often were convicted by evidence heavily reliant on eyewitnesses.

Elizabeth Loftus studies false memories.

It might be interesting to control behavior to make people feel disgust to soda or sugar and enjoy leafy green vegetables. Of course, it is also pretty ethically questionable.

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Is there a search engine that already does this? If not, then I hope one adds it.

Please make it easier to find the quote context. Someone posts a quote on Facebook. I want to see the quote in context. When I search for the quote the results are of the same quote over and over.

Google has a cool feature where if you put “define” at the start of a search, then it will just give back results from dictionaries. It picks a definition or two to highlight in a box above results.

It would be really cool if they added a feature where putting “context” provides results which displays the quote in context. Google Books search shows the search item in the context of the page. The top GB result could be shown in the highlight box.

Another possibility is a feature where putting “source” displays the source of the quote in the highlight box. Several sites list the quote and author, but they leave off the book name. Excluding those results would be helpful.

The cause for this rambling was a friend posting:

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
― Marcus Aurelius

I highlighted the quote, right clicked, and searched against Google. As an example, brainyquote lists the quote plus author and lots of author bio without the text source. I went back to the results and saw Goodreads who did list the book source as . So I looked up Meditations in Project Gutenberg. The HTML version did not have it. Back to the results and picked the Wikiquote page who also did not list it, I knew controversial stuff would be on the Discussion page, so I did find it there under “Is this a real Marcus Aurelius quote?” Turns out the quote is a simplification of various quotes into something easily remembered.

Remember that all is but opinion, and all opinion depends of the mind. Take thine opinion away, and then as a ship that hath stricken in within the arms and mouth of the harbour, a present calm; all things safe and steady: a bay, not capable of any storms and tempests: as the poet hath it.
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Twelfth Book section XVI.

This is why I’d love for search engines to make it easier to track down stuff. I spent probably half an hour on this triviality. Few people I know would bother. And while features to make it easier probably will not result in many bothering to fact check, maybe there will be the one who does and prevents me from having a stroke.

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Choice overload first came to my attention through reading The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. (Schwartz’ strategy.) Sheena Iyengar has some newer research on choosing.

The difficulty is people BELIEVE they need more choices to make a good decision. Lots of choices make us happier in part because we invest more time making one which in turn we need to justify those spent resources with pleasure. (I’m thinking this is similar to how that $100 HDMI cable makes me feel better about the signal quality when technically it is not much better than the $5 one.)

The funny thing, though, is that all these choices prevent the making of them. Sales go up with fewer.

  1. Cut : get rid of useless alternatives
  2. Concretize : make it real
  3. Categorize : make differences understandable
  4. Condition : order choices obvious to nuanced

Funny enough, I also posted Malcolm Gladwell’s Pursuit of the Perfect Spaghetti Sauce. This is an illustration of how we get to choice overload. The revolution was that relying on self-reported data is unreliable because people say what is the conventional wisdom not their true desire. Taste tests are better because it measures what they actually like. BUT people are terrible at understanding what they want, which is why I think they bog down in choice overload. Too many options makes it difficult to figure out what is right for “us.”

Iyengar has another TED Talk which has a good primer on choosing. The end has a great story about her experiment with choosing a nail polish (she’s blind and suspected those advising her were influenced by the name).


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April 1865: The Month That Saved America
April 1865: The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The statement in the first chapter Americans were born to secede and rebel caught my interest. Winik then went on to back up the claim describing how this country was founded by people crossing an ocean to flee oppression. They seceded from England. The Whiskey Rebellion arose in 1791 just two years after the Constitution went into effect.

Each central figure has his back story told developing an insight as to why he behaved the way he did. This style of organization feels not so much, but I understood the purpose.

Southern apologists want to see Lee and Davis (and the South) as in the right. Northern defenders want to see Lee and Davis as traitors. Confederate leaders received humane treatment despite by Winik being traitors. Union generals also gave generous terms to the surrender, so this treatment is not unprecedented. The Union leaders received a somewhat deified status compared to other Civil War books I have read.

I should have read this book a few months ago for the 150th anniversary of the events it described. August also starts with an “A”, so good enough, right?

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The history of what I have looked at in my web browser should be a feature I like. I know I read something this weekend about work ever expanding to fill the time. Even as efficiencies make things easier, there are places where waste balloons to make people work more than they really need. I eventually thought the example used were lawyers creating work for each other by overwhelming the opponent with too much information so they have to sift through more. It turns out that was correct.

In the middle of the week I ran across a couple articles about how automation while killing off some jobs will create others. I wanted to include the article from the weekend, but find it was a royal pain in the ass. About ten minutes in I wished that I had sent it to my boss like I thought I should just so it would be easier to find.

Eventually I located it to include in yesterday’s blog post. All it took was finding the right keyword.

I hit so many web pages, search is really the only way to find something so specific. And even then, I have to my library training to find something I want.

Bookmarks or Evernote or save later for services are not that helpful because I have to have the forethought to save them. All too often the things I save are not what I need later and things I failed to save are what I do.

I guess what I want is a smarter web browser history search which can figure out from my browser history what is related to a specific page.

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Saw a tweet about and interesting piece in ABC News Australia Digital disruption: How science and the human touch can help employees resist the march of the machines. Basically, many jobs are going away due to automation. W.I.R.E.D. has a similar story: Robots Will Steal Our Jobs, But They’ll Give Us New Ones.

One of the long struggles I have ever pushed in my career is automation of machines. My approach falls along the line of: if it is going to be done more than once or will take a really long time by hand, then it needs to be automated. This is hard to do. The temptation is to do it by hand once, see how it went, then write a script which does it for the next time. The trouble being that if this is done between having completed the first one and the second, then there is little incentive. Best is to make the automation part of doing it the first time, the second time can include any remediation necessary to make it more perfect.

All this automation makes us more effective employees. My team of three managed hundreds of web servers and dozens of database servers for ten sites. Without automation that would have been a nightmare. The replacement product was more difficult to automate so with fewer servers we needed more people. Yet the drive to better automation is making lives easier. (Technically I left that program about a year ago when my replacement was hired and took over my spot in the on-call rotation.)

A fear I hear about automation is that people will lose their jobs. It reminds me globalization and manufacturing moving overseas to China. Highly repetitive, mindnumbing jobs were the most at risk and as those work forces got better, what was at risk moved up the complexity ladder.

The fear of both globalization and automation led to books like A Whole New Mind. The idea is that if your job is highly repetitive or analytical, then it is at risk to these forces. Becoming the person who designs, describes, coordinates, or finds meaning in stuff (aka “right brain” activities) is the way to survive the coming storm. This book very influenced how I started thinking about my work.

Back in 2003, I automated everything I could because I was overwhelmed with work and little resources beyond great computers and my own skill to make it better. My supervisees focused on meeting with the clients to talk about the web site they wanted and build that. I wrote code to report about or fix problems to prevent people needing to call or email about problems.

Where I wish we would head is more like You Really Don’t Need To Work So Much. I meant to send this to my boss (maybe he’s reading this blog)? All our efficiencies should mean we have less to do not more, so why do we work so hard?

The past fifty years have seen massive gains in productivity, the invention of countless labor-saving devices, and the mass entry of women into the formal workforce. If we assume that there is, to a certain degree, a fixed amount of work necessary for society to function, how can we at once be more productive, have more workers, and yet still be working more hours? Something else must be going on.

From my experience, the to-do list gets ever larger. Not because there is more to do, but because more is possible. I’d just rather spend more of my time on solving hard problems than easy repetitive tasks.

P.S. This post really only exists because I loved the phrase “March of the Machines” enough I wanted it as a title for something on this blog.

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