2016-10-26 10:28 pm

The songs that saved

Oh man. So, a conversation about Henry Rollins led me to dig up this goofy-ass video on YouTube. This goofy-ass video saved me. No lie.

I don't think I've watched the actual video since I first saw it some time in middle school (after which I acquired the album asap), and it's hard to see it now without smirking at Henry's "I AM GOING TO YELL AT YOU LIKE AN ANGRY GYM TEACHER ABOUT *FEELINGS*" thing, but at the time, it was exactly, _exactly_, what I needed.

I needed a model of masculinity that unapologetically had emotions, that yelled and screamed about them, and that told me it was going to be ok.

The post-guitar-solo pep talk (because that's a thing in Rollins Band music) at 3:30 still gets me, not because it doesn't seem silly and a bit too on-the-nose to me now, but because I still remember how 8th-grade me reacted to it. He was sitting on the living room floor crying at the TV. And he re-listened to that song a *lot*.

So now I'm wondering: if you have a song, one particular song, that did more than any other for you in your young life, what is it?

2016-07-22 11:50 am

SHORT NOTICE: Job training program for women, racial minorities, and veterans at Akamai

I feel like a total jerk for forgetting to post about this until the deadline (aka TODAY Fri Jul 22), but if you are seeing this and are or know anyone who meets the following criteria...
- Lives in the Boston area
- Is a woman, racial minority, or veteran
- Has a college degree
- Is not currently working in tech
- Is interested in working in tech

...then read on, and if you're interested fill out the application NOW (and again, sorry for the short notice! stupid distracting vacation).

So, everyone knows there's a shortage of women and people of color in tech (I don't know about the stats for veterans, but they're included in what I'm going to talk about here as well). A big part of the problem is that even if a company is totally on-board with hiring from a broader demographic, the qualified applicants we'd need just aren't there. We call this "the pipeline problem", and it's at that point that the industry usually sighs, shrugs, and moves on.

I am immensely proud that the company I work for (even though I'll only be working there myself for another week or so, but that's another story), Akamai, has been taking imaginative, proactive steps to address the pipeline problem directly. Earlier this year, they partnered with a company called UST, which specializes in training and placing contract IT workers, to pilot a program called the Akamai Technical Academy. This program sought out women, people of color, and veterans who were college graduates with demonstrated ambition and skill from fields other than IT, and who wanted to change careers. They spent six months (paid) doing intensive training with UST, basically a crash course on the minimum you need for an entry-level job in the industry.

After the training, the class is split up between various roles within Akamai where they work for six months as paid interns doing real work, with the option to come on full time pending good performance during the internship.

I was skeptical about this at first, and I should say that our first group of graduates have only just started their internships, so there is still room for the permanent jobs to fail to appear, but I know there is a lot of enthusiasm for this program within Akamai, and having observed some of the UST training, and then personally led the new-hire training for those interning in our NOCC, I can say that these people came in knowing their stuff, able to operate at the same level as interns we had coming out of college CS programs, and I think they're going to do quite well here.

So, the purpose of this post is to say that we're already planning a second wave! If you meet the criteria and are interested, you can apply here:

And there's a FAQ with more details here:
2016-04-05 02:06 pm

Random software plug for OSX people: Spectacle.

Hotkeys for "resize window to fill left/right/upper/lower half/quarter of screen", "fill screen", etc. Yes this should have all been built into the OS, but given that it's not, and how often I want to be able to read in one window and write in another without having to cycle between them, it's made a huge difference since I started using it a few days ago.


Related fun-fact: you may have to enable it manually, but OSX has a shortcut for "Move focus to active or next window", which functions much more like alt+tab in Win/Linux (cycle between windows instead of "oh, you want Chrome? here's five windows all brought to the foreground), another hugely helpful this-should-be-trivial feature.

2016-03-08 10:46 am

Gaming PSA: remastered version of Day of the Tentacle coming later this month

It's only going to be $15 normally, but pre-order is 10% off.

Now maybe I can finally get past the part where a scratched CD always caused it to glitch out and die when I had it back in the day. :(

2016-02-27 04:18 pm

I just started playing one of the most original games I think I've ever seen.

Here's the premise: your uncle has just died. It was sudden and unexpected, and no one knows exactly what happened yet. He was an old-school techie guy, and your aunt has given you a bunch of his old computers to go through, including the one he was using when he died, a weird old proprietary box of some kind. You power it up and it fails, but enters a sort of debug mode from which you can rebuild parts of the software using an assembly-like programming language documented in its manual.

I'm only a few levels in, but this appears to be a game in which you solve a murder mystery by writing code for a made-up piece of mysterious hardware and where has this game been all my life I am *fascinated*.

I'm very curious what both developers and non-developers think of this! If you don't code but are curious enough to give it a try, note that, like most assembly languages, the language used by the game is very simple, just 13 commands covered by 2.5 pages of documentation, so it's relatively easy to learn. Putting it into practice, though, can be another story...

2016-02-19 11:09 am

"entry-level" data science job rec

My company, Akamai, is hiring an entry-level data scientist (basically, crunching some really cool network operations data in Python and/or R). I have a sense that I must know *someone* who would be into this, but I can't put my finger on who, so if you are or know someone who's interested, the job description is below. If you're someone I know, get in touch with me *instead* of applying through the web page and I can put you in as a referral*.


(*full disclosure: Akamai offers a nice referral bonus, though if all I can honestly say about you is that I've met you and you seem like nice people, that's what I'll say (also apologies if I don't respond right away, as I'm going to be at a con for most of the weekend)
2015-12-27 10:38 am

Tunapanda.org is raising funds to bridge the "digital divide" in Kenya. Please help!

tl;dr: crowdfunding campaign to support a good techie cause.
There's a non-profit with which I've been working for the last couple of years called Tunapanda​ (which is a Swahili word, not a strange hybrid animal). ;)

One of the things I like about them is that they're trying to make a difference by bringing tech tools and education to places that wouldn't normally have access to them, but the group's founders, who are expats from the west, are explicitly not about the "savior mentality" that can sometimes plague the non-profit world. Most of the org's staff are former students, and its philosophy is very much about facilitating people helping themselves in a world where Internet access and technical literacy are increasingly essential, even (perhaps especially), in very poor places like the area outside of Nairobi where Tunapanda is based, and where a burgeoning tech industry seems to be in the works.

For an example of some of the work they're doing check out this video. I'm not involved in that project myself, but I it's one that I find particularly interesting and exciting, and it shows off the kind of stuff their students are doing.

The reason I'm posting this now is that Tunapanda is nearing the end of a big fundraising drive, and they could use your help. If you're looking for a good cause to support, go here to learn more and consider helping them out!
2015-12-24 12:49 pm

Who knew making imaginary weapons could drive you completely nuts?

I'm finding that I really enjoy creative sound design, but there's a special kind of insanity that goes with it.

First it's the kind of insanity where you spend literally hours listening to the same one second long clip over and over (and over and over) while tweaking effects to try and turn a box of cashews, some paper, and a synthesizer into a laser sniper rifle because your gut tells you it's possible, all before it actually really dawns on you that trying to make a laser sniper rifle out of a box of cashews, some paper, and a synthesizer is stupid and your gut is stupid and why did you just spend hours working on that?

But that's not where it ends.

*Then*, it becomes the kind of insanity where you decide that dammit your gut says it can be done, so by gum you're going to do it, and you spend another couple of hours listening to that one second long clip over and over (and over and over (and over and over))... until you actually manage to get a halfway decent laser sniper rifle out of the thing.

It's still barely a second long, and it's not the best effect ever (and, truth be told, I've already tweaked it twice since I started this post), but dang, if nothing else I'm coming to seriously appreciate all the work goes into those small but iconic sounds that give so much character to the shows, movies, and games we love.


EDIT: Ugh, y'know what the worst part is? One skill I know I need that I haven't yet learned is identifying when your ear is not longer capable of objective judgement. Because I just went back and re-listened and now I'm like "oh wtf was I thinking?? back to the drawing board!". XP Then again, the re-listen was using crappier headphones, which can make a surprising amount of different. Siiiigh.

EDIT, PART DEAUX: A ha! I think I've got it now! (...or do I...)

2015-12-22 07:03 pm

Shadownrun: Dragonfall is $2.99 in the Steam Winter Sale. Get it.

It's not much to look at graphically, and the interface can be clunky at times, but this is one of the best games I've played this year. It's also now on super duper sale as part of Steam's winter event.

The story and characters are on-par with a good BioWare game, and the combat draws easy comparisons to X-Com. In other words, it's basically scientifically designed to make me happy.

The only reason I wouldn't get it on Steam if I was you is if you own a tablet. I played on my iPad, and because it's very text-heavy (no voice-acting), the game is basically a book with dialogue options and tactical combat, which made it oddly satisfying to play while curled up in a blanket.

A couple of tips if you do play:
1) Mindy and I both always, always, make characters heavy on the charisma. It's practically a joke with us; we never met a persuade check we didn't like. But this time, playing on my own, I decided to do the opposite and go full melee bruiser, and while melee is actually remarkably effective (had a lot more fun with it than with my decker/hacker character in the previous Shadowrun game, tbh), Dragonfall rewards charisma a lot, and has a really interesting "etiquettes" system that lets you pick specific areas of social knowledge. So be a bruiser if you want, but be a sweet-talking bruiser.

2) For some reason the number of dialogue options that require points in biotech is second only to charisma-based options. So basically a badass, charismatic street-biologist seems to be the way to go.

3) Beware spoilers. The game's story has some really fun twists and turns!

2015-12-20 09:23 pm

Does anyone I know in the Boston area want an entertainment center?

It's basically the model linked below, but going for $50 instead of $150 because its owner (not me, a friend) is moving and doesn't have space for it any more.

If you're interested, let me know and I'll put you in touch!

usernamenumber: (bugman)
2015-12-16 04:01 pm

Recently discovered exploit makes bypassing bootloader PW in Linux trivial.

Today I learned that for the last six years it's been possible to root just about any Linux box to which you have physical access by pressing the backspace key 28 times at the bootloader password prompt (assuming the box was even protected with one, which a lot of people don't do). Fortunately, (hopefully) nobody else knew about this either until it was discovered and published by a team of security researchers earlier this month.

When I used to teach system admin stuff I always said that once someone has physical access to the box you're probably screwed anyway, but anything that makes it easier is still a pretty big deal. If you're at all familiar with code stuff, or just curious about how the guts of this sort of thing works, it's also a pretty fascinating read, and illustrative of just how damn careful one has to be when working in a language like C.

Question for people more savvy than me: is it the case that this particular issue wouldn't happen in a more modern language, and if so is it because it wouldn't be possible, or just that you'd have to go out of your way to circumvent convention and do weird stuff with memory in a way that exposes you to the risk?

2015-12-15 12:55 pm

Anyone have suggestions for rsync (or similar) friendly file hosting?

Question for my techie friends:

The one thing Dreamhost gives me that I do not get from a cloud provider is gobs and gobs of disk space for cheap (seriously, I currently have 2.2 TERABYTES free, and I don't think disk space used even factors into their billing). This is great because I do sometimes do projects that involve making gobs and gobs of data available to a small number of people.

Dropbox, gDrive and the like seem like obvious modern alternatives, but I need something that can be automated, anonymous (no per-user credentials, e.g. so files can be synced with a generic shell script or Ansible playbook), and with the ability to recursively download directories (though I could probably work around that if I really had to).

Anyone have suggestions?
2015-12-14 11:45 am

WTF, Dreamhost?

Angry tech rant:
So, I have a VPS (basically a virtual Linux box where I have admin rights) through Dreamhost. A while back they sent out an email saying that they were disabling sudo (the tool you use to run admin commands) for all VPSes, and encouraging users who need sudo to move to their new cloud computing service. Ok, that's irritating, but whatever.

Today I learned that by "disabling sudo" they actually meant "DISABLING YOUR REMOTE LOGIN ACCOUNT IF IT HAS SUDO ACCESS" (fun fact: just disabling sudo without disabling the account involves changing *one line in one file*)

The procedure, according to the helpdesk person to whom I spoke, is to:
1) Use their web-based admin console to create a new remote login account.
2) Submit a helpdesk ticket asking them nicely to give ownership of the old user's files to the new one, since of course you can't do that yourself without sudo.

This is beyond ridiculous. Maybe there's a viable technical reason for doing it the way they did, but I sure as hell can't see it, and even if it was, the communication around it was shamefully bad and also I am very very annoyed right now. Ugh.

tl;dr: Anyone know a good cloud VPS provider? Checking out digitalocean now...
2015-12-08 04:44 pm

You already know Trump is an idiot, but it's nice when he provides the data to prove it.

In the policy statement where Trump attempts to justify his "no Muslims allowed" nonsense (which I'd assumed had to be being exaggerated by the press until I saw it for myself), he cites a survey of US muslims to justify the assertion that "there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population".

Yay, a citation! I love it when people try to uphold stupid crap with citations, because it leads to some excellent object lessons in why you should always go to the data, not what some numbskull is telling you about the data. I'm home sick today and my brain has segfaulted on doing real work for a while, so instead let's play Fun Facts About This Survey!

Fun fact #1: 600 people were surveyed. 600! That's .0003% of the 2.77 million muslims living in the US (as of 2010, according to Pew Research). To put that in perspective, .0003% of the total US population is approximately equivalent to the number of people in the US who speak Hungarian at home (that's according to 2013 census data, and yes, I spent way too long trying to find a sufficiently obscure statistic to make this point).

(EDIT: I talked about this with a statistician friend, and it sounds like 600, while weirdly small, can be valid sample size for a population of this size depending on how the sample is selected, though it still raises questions about why so few people were polled. Anyway, mea culpa for the assumption. You never know what you don't know, and all that. But even if the sample is representative...)

Fun fact #2: Much is made in Trump's statement about the fact that out of that .0003% of the US muslim population, 51% said muslims in the US should "have the choice of being governed by shariah". And yet, for some reason he doesn't mention the most popular answers to questions like "how would you characterize shariah" ("a guide to the personal practice of islam"), and "if shariah and the US constitution were to conflict, which should win?" (the constitution), as well as a majority opinion that "it is up to the individual muslim to define shariah". There may still be a conversation to be had there about church and state, but it's not the one he's trying to have.

Basically, if you can't define your terms because doing so would sink your argument, you don't have an argument. And that's if you're working from statistically significant data, which isn't the case here either.

I know the fact that Trump is an idiot isn't likely to be news to anyone reading this, but citing a survey so obviously flawed and so obviously at odds with what he's saying really irks me because it just seems to highlight the fact that he doesn't expect people to actually read the damn thing. So read it, and get in the habit of reading, and seeking out if necessary, and critically analyzing, primary data all the time.

You never know what it's actually going to tell you.

usernamenumber: (devi)
2015-12-02 10:42 am

That feeling when...

...you run into a technical problem, go searching through the relevant forum for an answer, and find a post from someone with the same problem, plus a follow-up with the solution they found "in case anyone else ever runs into this issue"... and those posts are by you, you just don't remember ever writing them.

Thanks, past me?
2015-11-29 08:28 pm

(Not quite so) mini-review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

Today we saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. To say much about what I thought of it, I need to sort of pick it up and put it in a little bubble, a vacuum wherein you can talk about it on a technical level separate from its role as art in a larger context.

Inside that bubble, it is one of the best shows I've ever seen, and you should go see it. The staging is like nothing I've seen before. Other shows we saw use technology to great effect, but it feels like a distraction, something to make an OK show feel great. Here the script is excellent, the blocking and stagecraft are some of the most inventive and effective I've ever seen, the lead actor's performance is just mind-blowing, and then on top of that the show integrates technology on a level I've never seen, creating an experience that is both spectacular and feels like an organic extension of the drama. In short, this show is amazing, and it and Fun Home have absolutely been the highlights of our visit. If you're in NYC, see them both. (Pro tip: even with all the technical stuff going on, we got cheap nosebleed seats and had a perfectly good experience. In fact, we may have seen more than the people in the expensive orchestra seats did)


The thing is, theater, like any other kind of art, can't actually exist in a vacuum. The author of the book upon which the play is based has apparently said that it should not be seen as a window into autism, and indeed, neither the book nor the play explicitly says that the main character is autistic, but I think it's fair to say that the average audience member's take-away is that this is the case. It definitely was for me (worth noting: I had not read the book before seeing the play).

So I didn't think it would be right for me to write up a glowing review without first doing some research to see what people in the autism community had been saying about the show, and I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed by what I've read so far. For example, although the show, to its credit, paints the main character in a positive light and at least to me seemed to portray him as someone with great difficulties to overcome, but also much potential for overcoming them, it's been said that no attempt was made to cast an autistic actor in the main role, which rather undercuts the sentiment. One possible reason for this is that the technical aspects of the show are a barrage of light and sound, and I wonder whether this would have posed extra difficulty on an autistic person. This is perhaps a misunderstanding on my part of how autistic people interact with such things, but if it isn't, then the same might be said of the experience of autistic people in the audience, which would be a very sad irony.

But then, that kind of nails the problem right there: this show, which to reiterate is an amazing show worthy of all the praise it's gotten in every dramatic and technical level, isn't being made to give autistic people more of a voice, but to tell a compelling story to neurotypical people like (for the sake of argument) me, *about* someone who is, at the very least, strongly implied to be autistic. Not for or by, just about. Which wouldn't necessarily be a problem if the portrayal was realistic, but despite what I've no doubt constitutes an enormous amount of work on the part of the lead actor, resulting in a truly remarkable characterization, one cannot ignore criticisms by autistic people saying "hmm, no not quite right", nor laud the show without acknowledging them.

So I'll leave with this: it's a commentary by an autistic blogger on the book (not the play, though it sounds like they do share a voice) in which the author takes passages from the book and rewrites them in from a more intuitively correct. It's just one person's perspective, of course, but I found it fascinating, and I must give the show credit for being the thing that got me thinking enough to seek this piece out in the first place.

2015-11-27 11:04 pm

NYC mini-reviews: A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, and Fun Home

We started the NYC leg of our minimoon in earnest, seeing a matinee of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, followed by Fun Home in the evening.

I have to admit, Gentleman's Guide... just didn't work for me. Either of us, in fact. Which was odd, because the rest of the audience seemed to love it, and even went so far as to give it a standing ovation (is that just the default on Broadway nowadays?). There was one standout number that was absolutely delightful (the trio in the bedroom), but the rest was just too mired in hammy performances and juvenile humor (and please take into account that this is me calling something hammy and juvenile here). Some of these were in the book, but many were in the acting (and presumably direction), so we left unclear how much of what we didn't like was the show vs this particular production of it. Either way, I must admit to not understanding the rave reviews. If you're a fan, I'm very curious what you think of this reaction.

But then there was Fun Home. Oh my stars and garters Fun Home. It. Is. So. Good. I was afraid it would be more emotionally intense than I wanted to deal with, but while the show is tear-jerkingly weighty at times, it balances this perfectly with a clever sense of self-deprecating humor, and heartwarming scenes of childhood imagination and teenage discovery. There was a video that went around of the girl who plays young Alison Bechdel doing an amazing song at the Tony awards, and both she (we actually saw a different young actress, just as good as the one from the video) and the song are that good live, but to me the one that stole the show is Emily Skeggs, who plays Bechdel as a teenager. Her characterization has this awkwardness that is just so eminently relatable, and her voice is gorgeous voice to boot. If you're in NYC, go see this show.
2015-09-05 02:36 am

Holy unexpected nerdy public radio bromance for the ages, Batman.

So, you know how Bruce Banner and Tony Stark are Ultimate Science Bros? It turns out the hosts of the Reply All podcast are like the Bruce and Tony of NPR*.


*ok, technically this family of podcasts isn't related to NPR, but it's still "those people"

2015-08-16 03:34 pm

BOS ppl: Who wants to go see drunk shakespeare with me?

I haven't organized a theater outing in a bajillion years. Let's fix that. Shitfaced Shakespeare (which is exactly what it sounds like, and also awesome) just extended its run again, and Goldstar has cheap tix.

How about... Friday, 4 Sept? Who's in? :D If you're interested in attending, be sure to buy your own tix via the link above. As far as I know there's no group discount, and the venue is general seating, so no point in dealing with the logistics of a group buy.


2015-08-01 02:45 pm

Confluence Highlights, Part 2: Super Smash Opera!

Confluence Highlights, Part 2: Super Smash Opera​!

I have to admit, I went into this a bit dubious. The demo recordings on their web page are, by the cast's own admission, a bit rough, but then I saw it live and enjoyed it 1000 times more than I expected to.

It's basically a show entirely made up of nintendo-related parodies of classic arias performed by people who can actually sing (Zelda does the fraggin' Queen of the Night aria, a ridiculously showy and challenging soprano piece, and nails it, for example). If that doesn't convince you it's worth your time, then it may just not be your thing.

If you want a taste, I haven't watched all of it, but there is video of an earlier performance from MagFest up on YouTube. Really, though, if you get a chance to see them live, this is absolutely a thing that you should do.