Hi, Sierra!

This is how you Japanese Jazz/Blues. 🎵

Ride The (Ambiguous) Rocket

You get on a subway car and see this electronic display above the opposing exit. Which way is it going?

Triumph of the Aeropress

There’s something particularly satisfying about a simple, cheap, easy to acquire device that does the job better than the complex, expensive, fancy one. Such is the case of the AeroPress coffee maker. A surprisingly elegant way to make an outstanding cup of coffee with minimal fuss. The taste rivals the fanciest of grind-and-brew espresso machines, even in blind taste tests with discerning connoisseurs.

While I am not myself much of a coffee snob, I have found that I do prefer the taste of an AeroPress cup made by me, to my own liking. It remains superior to any of the other methods I have explored. It is hard to pinpoint the particular special flavour, but it seems to be a pleasant combination of fullness and richness of flavour with minimal bitterness. A properly made espresso is wonderful too, but I still find the AeroPress preferable overall.

Of course, blogs extolling the virtues of this form of coffee making are a dime a dozen, so I won’t say much more about it. However, do read this fascinating article about the origin of the device, and its inventor, who is also known for inventing.. the Aerobie frisbee. Yes, really. There’s also an interesting interview with said inventor with some helpful advice on tasty coffee-making.

There's No Plan

In a recent interview for The Director’s Cut, The Last Jedi writer and director Rian Johnson described to Spike Jonze how he wrote the script for episode 8 of the Star Wars franchise. To the likely surprise of many, he was not provided with a Grand Plan for the new trilogy.

Johnson apparently started off by having a chat over a meal with The Force Awakens director J. J. Abrams. Abrams gave his view on where he thought the story should go, and that was that. Johnson then wrote a first draft of the screenplay and submitted it to the powers that be, presumably important Disney and Lucas folk such as Kathleen Kennedy.

It’s unclear how much was changed by the keepers of the Star Wars story, but this interview suggests that he had broad leeway to do as he pleased with the movie, and that there wasn’t much if any interference on the larger points.

The grand theories proposed by us fans were wrong to a large degree because the only one who really knew what was going to happen was Rian Johnson. Now that EP8 has been made and the “baton” (as he put it) goes back to J. J. Abrams for EP9, even he doesn’t know how it ends! The whole thing is a Shroedinger box for a couple more years.

The Mundane Future

A bit of news popped up regarding a pair of paramedics in Ireland who delivered a baby before the mother could reach the hospital as planned. This is not in itself newsworthy, however the woman, a native swahili speaker, spoke only limited english. The solution was to use Google Translate to assist with communication in real-time as she delivered the baby.

What's remarkable about this story is not so much that this technology was used in such a way, as it is that the story is not particularly remarkable, today. We have become so accustomed to such a constant, rapid pace of technological innovation that what would have been science fiction just a few decades ago is not only commonplace but mundane. This despite the enormous complexity of recognizing and translating spoken natural language, and the monstrous amount of research performed to get to this state. By any rights, Google Translate should be a huge story, but it has appeared and grown over the years with relatively little fanfare.

The reality is that we are so accustomed to amazing technologies appearing and becoming commonplace that we've largely stopped noticing. In retrospect, this seems like an inversion of the "future shock" problem, where technological change happens too rapidly. Rather than resisting and fighting change, we've become downright blasé.

A Lifelong Skill

For the past month or so, my older son has been showing increasing interest in the alphabet and letters. He was always big on the alphabet song itself, had yet to appreciate the true utility of the letters. Over the holidays, after some extended reading sessions with his grandparents, he seems to have made that connection between printed and spoken word. To a parent this is of course most exciting!

The most apparent manifestation of his discovery is a newfound obsession with pointing out recognized letters as we read, and actively seeking his favourites. I have been introducing new ones regularly which seems to be going well. He also seems more obsessed with the alphabet song than before, which is really saying something.

While adding header files to new code modules at work this week, I realized that I still make regular use of my ability to order things alphabetically on a near-daily basis. I no longer truly require the song, as that knowledge has long since gelled. However, I do remember singing the song to myself in my head through elementary school when doing alphabet-ordering tasks. It is one of the oldest and deepest intellectual skills I still rely on.

Learning the alphabet - not simply the first steps of literacy, which is of course a critical skill, but the simple ordering of the letters - is in itself a life skill. It is gratifying watching and helping my son through the early stages of what I hope will be a fulfilling journey, and knowing that he is learning something he will use for the rest of his life.

The Artist, Not The Tool

My introduction to RedVsBlue occurred over 10 years ago courtesy of enthusiastic coworkers. Only a season or two existed at the time. I did not continue to follow it afterwards, and largely lost track of it soon after. I came across it recently on Netflix, of all places.

One of the earliest successful instances of Machinima, RvB was for a time an interesting phenomenon. The creators used the first Halo game on the original Xbox to render a surprisingly entertaining story about two opposing groups of space marines. Despite the limitations of the game console and engine, and the consequently primitive visuals and animation, the series was well written and amusing, albeit very silly.

The stark contrast between the limitations the creators worked with compared to the quality of the result reminds me of an earlier example of art emerging from strict constraint. Years prior, a competition was held to see what manner of music could be composed using only simple sine waves. There were a dozen-ish entries, but one shone brighter than the rest: Stranglehold, by one Jeroen Tel, AKA Wave.

It is said that to ask a photographer what kind of camera they use is to miss the point. I believe this to be true for many domains of creative endeavour.

I still listen to this wonderful piece on occasion, in part to remind myself that I am not fundamentally limited by my access to fancier tools, but my own creativity, effort, and imagination.

Home-made “churros”!


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