Tuesday, January 31, 2023

My 2022 Books and Movies

In 2022, I read 28 books (Goodreads) and watched 91 movies (Letterboxd).

My book reading story for 2022 can be summed up in one title: Infinite Jest. It consumed a month and a half of evenings, and even now I'm still thinking about certain scenes and moments. When I look at the other books I read from last year, the two I would highly recommend are The Descendants (Kaui Hart Hemmings) and Life in Code (Ellen Ullman). I also am grateful to discovered The Gray Man thriller series.

For movie watching in 2022, the thing that stands out to me is that I rewatched more movies. In 2022, 29 movies were rewatches. Some I have just recently seen (Margin Call, Green Room), but others were from further back (Marathon Man, The Black Hole). I will try to put together a list of "reliable rewatches" inspired by The Rewatchables podcast. Of the new movies I watched, I most especially recommend "Stillwater" and "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent".

Some 2022 movies (Letterboxd)


Saturday, December 31, 2022

Wordle

Wordle is my favorite new thing from 2022. It's a part of my morning routine to sip coffee and eat cereal while solving this puzzle. I like comparing my solves with my wife. At one point our daughter played the game, and it was fun trying to have the fewest guesses.

I like Wordle's history: Josh Wardle, a programmer, makes a game to play with close friends and family. He makes a website for this game, which allowed more people to play it. He created a nifty emoji-based scorecard which was easy and fun to share. Within a year his game becomes viral. Frustrated by copy-cat versions of his game, he made a deal to sell his game to The NY Times.

Like other programmers, I took stabs to solve Wordle programmatically. However, the enduring challenge is solving it with just the clues that emerge from the game itself. The fact that you can only play one game per day is another draw. At first, Wordle allowed every five-letter word to be in the puzzle, but he whittled that down to the most popular 6000 words. At one game per day, we're talking 15 years of puzzles!

Some Wordle words are fiendishly difficult. Double consonants and double vowels add difficulty. If I can identify the first letter, it's usually easier. Some words are hard enough that I wouldn't finish the game during my breakfast. Instead, I'd let the puzzle linger in my head, turning over the letters until an hour or so later, usually in the bathroom, I'll remember my game and when I open it, I'll instantly solve it. 

Someone on Twitter said that the ideal starting word is TASER, because it contains the most popular letters. My brother said AUDIO is another great starter: you identify the vowels early! In the end, what's worked best for me is to come up with a brand-new five-letter word every morning. Before it was a word  from the cereal box (WHOLE, WHEAT, HEART, GRAIN), but nowadays I pick something out of the blue, like my mood for the day: CRANK, FUNNY, SMILE.

I am competitive with my Wordle score. I always try to get the word before the sixth and last guess. My Wordle statistics show 100s of solves in 4 and 5 guesses and I like to keep it that way. Ultimately it's a guessing game, so I try not to get too down about not getting the word (breaking my streak). Of late I've been posting my scores on a public Facebook group. Look for my posts there if you want to see my recent puzzles!



Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Started Invisalign

A few weeks ago I started Invisalign.

I used to think that Invisalign was strictly cosmetic, but my regular dentist over many visits persuaded me of its health benefits. Moreover, the crowding in my lower teeth would only get worse over time. She said that it would eventually impact my ability to keep that area clean and healthy.

I've been aware of my lower teeth crowding for the past several years now. In my normal smile, you only see my upper teeth, but when I show my lower teeth you can see one tooth bent backwards (#25), almost as if it wanted to hide behind the other teeth to its side.

The orthodontist said that the entire Invisalign procedure would take less than a year. She also said I'd probably need to wear a retainer for the rest of my life. When I finished wearing braces back in high school, I may have received a retainer to wear, but I have no memory of it. However, if I had received a retainer and had worn it regularly, I wouldn't be doing this today.

The Invisalign aligner was tricky to insert and remove from my teeth, but I lucked out because I only have to wear them on my lower teeth. That said, my random snacking is greatly curtailed: removing them is enough of an irritation.

Hopefully by next Summer I'll be able to report a successful treatment!

My Lower Teeth, and Tooth 25


Monday, October 31, 2022

My (Almost) Self-Driving Car

Earlier in the year, I bought a new car, a Honda CR-V. It has two remarkable features that make me think the self-driving car is perhaps a bit closer than I thought.

The first feature is LKAS, which stands for Lane Keeping Assist System. It uses a windshield mounted camera to identify lane markers, and if the car drifts from the center, it applies some torque to the steering wheel to guide the driver to adjust the car.

When I first tested this on the highway, the steering wheel felt tight and somewhat locked. It took a few moments before I realized that LKAS was keeping the car centered by holding the steering wheel appropriately. When I got more comfortable I actually let go of the steering wheel, but after a few seconds the dashboard flashed a "steering required" warning. Still, the feature lets me keep a lighter touch on the steering wheel, making highway driving more bearable.

The second feature is ACC, which is Adaptive Cruise Control. I've always been a fan of cruise control but in my previous car the cruise control keeps the car at the selected speed. If you needed to slow down because the car ahead of you is going slightly slower, you had to disengage cruise control and drive. With ACC, the Honda modifies the speed based on the car ahead of you. If the car ahead slows down or even stops, the ACC controls the speed such that I never have to touch the brake!

The ACC feature has made long highway trips much more pleasant for me. In heavy traffic, I experienced the car slowing down to a full stop. After sitting idle, the car acts as if it was at a stop light and shuts off the engine. This is the Idle-Stop feature. When the car ahead moves, I tap the accelerator to take it out of Idle-Stop, and the car resumes driving.

Both features let me think that the car was driving me, instead of the other way around. Of course it's not entirely hands-free. I still have to navigate and steer! But both features made me think that self-driving cars are getting closer to reality. These two features coupled with anti-collision give me a strong sense of safety. (I only recommend these systems for highway driving only.)

Each iteration of the "smart car" is about the human helping the computer drive. One day, it'll be fully autonomous!

 



Friday, September 30, 2022

Procrastination

In a little over three weeks I have to give a presentation. It's about eBooks and how to make them. I haven't started preparing for it however. Since I made the commitment a week ago all I have done was mull over my topic and mildly groused about how I got into this.

I take solace in the fact that my presentation isn't tomorrow. That's happened before, usually with papers in high school and college. I'd have a some kind of draft but the evening before I'll bang out a final version in a feverish all-nighter that still makes me nervous thinking about it. I had a similar mindset with computer projects but staying up all night writing a program was "fun" to the younger version of myself. 

One of the things I learned is the simple power of just taking even the smallest step towards my assignment. I open up PowerPoint and make one or two slides. Just the title page. Maybe part of the agenda. A bullet point. Even a picture. Anything. Just starting is the hardest part but once I'm past the first few sentences it begins to build on itself. It starts to grow and the effort to add to it becomes easier. 

Putting things off make me think about process versus product. Maybe I like to think about the product and the reward of making that product, rather than embracing the process of making that product. Procrastinating doesn't help with either though. Wish me luck!


Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Heal Thyself

About three weeks ago, I cut my left index finger. I was drying a serrated knife and it slipped out of the towel I was using. The knife was in mid-air and like a fool I thought I would reach out and grab the handle. Instead, the knife cut into my finger then clattered on the floor.

I didn't feel anything initially, but when I picked up the knife I noticed a clammy wet feeling coming from my left finger. I looked down at it. The knife had sliced a small quarter-inch pad of skin off my finger tip. It looked like those round pieces of paper that you get from using a hole-punch, except the hole-punch didn't make a clean cut. This hung off my finger by a sliver of skin. I was strongly tempted to pull it off, but I thought that would hurt.

I pressed down on the now bleeding cut. I went to the sink, turned on the faucet and held my finger under running water. The cut wasn't deep. The bleeding slowed down in less than a minute. I turned off the faucet then walked to the medicine cabinet. I dabbed some bacitracin ointment on my cut then put a band-aid on it.

I somehow became determined not to lose this piece of skin. I knew this meant wearing a band-aid on my finger for a while. The band-aid would get loose and mangy after a few days, since I showered and washed my hands and did the dishes with it on. That first week I changed it every night. Later on, I kept it on for two and even three days at a time.

Each time I changed the band-aid, I checked the cut. As the days wore on, the loose piece of skin began to reattach to my finger. The edges of the cut blended into my finger pad. I reapplied ointment with each new band-aid, but towards the end I stopped. I wish I had taken some photos or videos of this healing. It felt miraculous to me.

A week ago I stopped wearing the band-aid. The cut is gone. My finger's skin is smooth and restored. I am amazed and grateful that my body knows how to heal minor injuries like this.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Math and Me

I used to pride myself at being excellent in math back in high school. That pride quickly disappeared in college, when I started taking truly hard math classes like advanced calculus, differential equations, and graph theory. My math struggles were demoralizing. I'm glad I'm no longer obliged to think about higher math. Plain math is enough for me.

Some might ask me, since I work in computers: Don't you have to know math to be a programmer? No, you do not. Of course, some programmers do need to be well-versed in math. Some of those include those who program 3-D games, or those who work in scientific simulations. I'm a garden-variety programmer, and I can assure you that math isn't required.

I thought about my past and present math prowess while looking at some FAANG job listings. I saw this sentence in a Facebook job post:

"Facebook's software test engineers can make $131237, which is 32% higher than the national average!"

The sentence was framed like a math problem from high school. What is the national average? To my surprise, it was a slight struggle to come up with this number. I pulled out pen and paper, defined my variable ("x"), then did some dividing and distributing, trying to recall basic algebra. After a few minutes I came up with the answer:

131237 / (1 + .32) = 99421.96

I threw this math problem at my wife, inviting her to figure out the national average. To my surprise and mild dismay she quickly said "it's around 99,000." She didn't even use a piece of paper! We had a lively conversation about how she got to the answer so quickly. (Her intuition involved calculating 30% of $100,000.)

As I said, it's a good thing I'm not required to do any math for my work. 

From Internet Archive Book Image