San Francisco Quarantine

This drone video of the empty streets of downtown San Francisco is eerie. I can’t attest to it. I haven’t been downtown for weeks due to the shelter in place order. In my neighborhood, most businesses are closed and traffic is lower than usual, but people are still on the sidewalks, and parks are more crowded than they should be.

— March 29, 2020

That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief

Harvard Business Review interviewed grief expert David Kessler about the response to COVID-19:

HBR: People are feeling any number of things right now. Is it right to call some of what they’re feeling grief?

Kessler: Yes, and we’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 911, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.

You said we’re feeling more than one kind of grief?

Yes, we’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.

This resonated with me. I have felt anxious about the epidemic, but I didn’t apply the word “grief” to the feelings. I think it’s the right one.

COVID-19 will pass someday, but things will be different. We will lose friends and family. Local restaurants and businesses will close. Jobs will be lost. Relationships will end. People who can’t afford rent will leave. The poor will suffer more than the rich. All these things were happening before COVID-19, but it is a discontinuity, a society-wide shock. The dread of the uncertainty it causes is palpable.

— March 29, 2020
Jenny with flute. May 2005

I found some old rolls of film. I had no idea how old they were (at least a decade), what was on them, or if any photos would turn out. Every roll had usable photos from the early 2000s. Film is amazing.

— March 11, 2020

Minimum wage machine

Artist Blake Fall-Conroy has created a machine that reifies what it’s like to work for minimum wage:

man using minimum wage machine

The minimum wage machine allows anybody to work for minimum wage. For as long as they turn the crank, the user is paid in pennies as time passes. For example, if minimum wage is $7.25/hour (the current US Federal rate), then the worker is paid one penny every 4.97 seconds. If they stop turning the crank, they stop receiving money.

— March 2, 2020

Four-alarm fire in San Francisco

I was writing email last night and happened to look out the window. There was a huge fire in the Bayview. While I was watching, blue fireballs exploded. It was unnerving, to say the least. The San Francisco Fire Department upgraded it to a four-alarm fire and finally contained it around midnight. Twitter was the best source of news while it happened (the Chronicle has a story about it today). The SFPD media account and the fire fighters union posted running updates. The building was totally destroyed, but there were no injuries.

— March 1, 2020

What Happened with LEGO

My daughter recently got interested in LEGO, so this post is up my alley right now.

The author’s analysis shows that LEGO sets are not more expensive than that used to be on an inflation-adjusted basis. It is not true that licensing brands like Star Wars and Harry Potter has made LEGO sets more expensive. However, the top-of-the-line sets are now larger. Imperial Star Destroyer aside, the average set now contains about 300 pieces versus about 150 in the 1980s and 1990s. This contributes to the perception that LEGO sets are more expensive now.

Indeed, the author notes that LEGO sets have always been expensive. It’s a high-quality product that lasts for decades.

— February 23, 2020


It’s been over two years, but I still think about the eclipse of 2017. It was an amazing experience.

We took a road trip to Oregon to see it, and ended up in in Molalla, a small town near Portland, where totality would last a little over one minute. The weather was perfect, warm and not a cloud in the sky. A small crowd gathered at the library. Volunteers passed out safety glasses. Kids played at the playground and adults projected the developing eclipse onto the ground.

Nia with Eclipse glasses

The first thing we noticed was the crescent shadows. Like pinhole cameras, the gaps between leaves projected hundreds of crescent moon shaped shadows onto the ground.

crescent-shaped shadows

Perceptually, the sun stays fully bright until right before totality. What surprised me first was the chill in the air. As the eclipse progressed, it went from a warm summer day to feeling like late autumn. Avery Pennarun made a visualization of the difference between perceived heat and light during an eclipse that shows how this works.

perceived heat during an eclipse perceived light during an eclipse

At the moment of totality, the sun shut off like a light. A chorus of “Oh my God!” went up from the crowd. The inside of the moon was the deepest black. The sky was the dark of night, but strange. Stars were visible but the horizon was rimmed with twilight all around. In photos, the corona looks white, but in real life, the moon is ringed with a ghostly blue fire. I swear it moved as I watched. I watched videos and looked at photos beforehand, but pictures don’t do totality justice.

At the end of totality, volunteers shouted, “Glasses on!” As quickly as it began, it was over. I turned away after a glimpse of Bailey’s beads and spent the rest of the trip home worried I’d ruined my vision.

I didn’t bother taking any photos. I don’t have the equipment that would have made it worth it, but I did try to draw what it looked like in my notebook.

my drawing of the eclipse

My daughter was scared, not just of the sudden darkness but the shouting. I wasn’t sure if she saw the corona, but the whole way home she kept asking to “Talk about the dark.”

— February 17, 2020
A stack of tech interview books being given away

A stack of tech interview books being given away. Only in San Francisco…

— February 11, 2020

What Future?

Michelle Goldberg, The Darkness Where the Future Should Be:

[William] Gibson is famed for his sensitivity to the zeitgeist, and I asked him if he thought that part of what he’d picked up on here is a growing sense of the future as an abyss. “In my childhood, the 21st century was constantly referenced,” he said. “You’d see it once every day, and it often had an exclamation point.” The sense, he said, was that postwar America was headed somewhere amazing. Now that we’re actually in the 21st century, however, the 22nd century is never evoked with excitement. “We don’t seem to have, culturally, a sense of futurism that way anymore,” he said. “It sort of evaporated.”…

The right and the left share a sense of creeping doom, though for different reasons. For people on the right, it’s sparked by horror at changing demographics and gender roles. For those on the left, a primary source of foreboding is climate change, which makes speculation about what the world will look like decades hence so terrifying that it’s often easier not to think about it at all.

Ezra Klein, Why Democrats Still Have to Appeal to the Center, but Republicans Don’t:

Republicans are trapped in a dangerous place: They represent a shrinking constituency that holds vast political power. That has injected an almost manic urgency into their strategy. Behind the party’s tactical extremism lurks an apocalyptic sense of political stakes….

The alternative to democratizing America is scarier than mere polarization: It is, eventually, a legitimacy crisis that could threaten the very foundation of our political system. By 2040, 70 percent of Americans will live in the 15 largest states. That means 70 percent of America will be represented by only 30 senators, while the other 30 percent of America will be represented by 70 senators.

It is not difficult to envision an America where Republicans consistently win the presidency despite rarely winning the popular vote, where they typically control both the House and the Senate despite rarely winning more votes than the Democrats, where their dominance of the Supreme Court is unquestioned and where all this power is used to buttress a system of partisan gerrymandering, pro-corporate campaign finance laws, strict voter identification requirements and anti-union legislation that further weakens Democrats’ electoral performance. Down that road lies true political crisis.

These two pieces were published on the same day. Each one has a lot to do with the other.

— January 26, 2020

Master of Orion

The Digital Antiquarian has a great article about the history of the 1993 game Master of Orion. I didn’t play it at the time, and I haven’t really played games since Half-Life. But sometimes I have some time on my hands and I’ll play a game. I have vivid memories of playing Master of Orion, discovering the Guardian, getting wiped out by it, then designing more and more powerful Deicide-class ships until I could defeat it.

Master of Orion ship

This is the Deicide 3 design. I think I got up to Deicide 6 before it was good enough. Note the number of ships (0), because they all got destroyed.

— January 26, 2020