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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Christopher tm Herdt's LiveJournal:

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Sunday, February 24th, 2019
1:11 pm
Reading List for English 317: Quest for Utopia

Taught by Prof. Gorman Beauchamp, University of Michigan, Fall 1995

  • The Republic, Plato

  • Utopia, More

  • "Of the Cannibals", Montaigne

  • Gulliver's Travels, Swift

  • Looking Backward, Bellamy

  • News from Nowhere, Morris

  • Notes from Underground, Dostoevsky

  • We, Zamyatin

  • Brave New World, Huxley

  • 1984, Orwell

  • Woman on the Edge of Time, Piercy

  • The Handmaid's Tale, Atwood

My top reading list from college.

Friday, August 17th, 2018
11:52 pm
S24O - Sub 24-hour Overnighter

Apparently that's a trend now: camping trips that take less than a day.

Anyway, inspired by a co-worker who biked to Duluth this week, I decided I needed to bike somewhere too. It was time to load up my bike with tent and sleeping bag and head back to the Carver Park Reserve and find the bike camping site.

I left on Wednesday night at about 7 P.M. Although I made very good time, sunset was around 8:30 P.M. and soon I found myself riding in the dark, under a canopy of trees, with just a sliver of a moon. I have lights on my bike, but they are really intended to help other people see me, not to help me see the trail.

And I had my sunglasses with me but not my regular glasses, so I got lots of gnats in my eyes. What a weird way for a gnat to die. You're just flying along, and then splat: a giant eye hits you.

In the darkness, I saw a large shadow cross the trail. A dog? A deer? A wolf? An axe-murderer? A mountain lion? Bigfoot?

I finally got to the turn off the main Minnetonka LRT trail to the Carver Park Reserve. It had an eerie feel in the dark, like I was the only person on this slightly strange planet. And then, around a blind curve, 2 other cyclists riding 2-abreast come careening at me. "Sorry!" one of them said.

Signs that in broad daylight would be hard to miss were suddenly inconspicuous, and I had to stop at every fork and see which way I needed to go.

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Monday, July 2nd, 2018
11:48 pm
Bike Ride: Minneapolis to Carver Park Reserve

After a miserable hot and humid Friday and Saturday, it rained Sunday morning and the weather cooled. The sun came out and it was a beautiful afternoon. I was inspired to go for a ride. Looking at a map, I picked Excelsior, on the southern shore of Lake Minnetonka.

I took the Cedar Lake Trail/North Cedar Lake Trail to Hopkins, and missed my turn to pick up the Minnetonka LRT trail, which I realized when I stopped to admire Shady Oak Lake and discovered I was on the wrong trail. Note to self: turn north just past Luther Hopkins Honda.

Ride a block or two through downtown Hopkins, catch sight of a giant raspberry statue, and then catch the Minnetonka trail. It's a crushed limestone trail, but is a smoother ride than many of the asphalt trails. There are frequent stops while you are in town, crossing mostly quiet residential streets. There's a Lunds & Byerlys supermarket right off the trail between Hopkins and Minnetonka if you need to refuel.

Somewhere along the way I saw a sign that said "Carver Park Reserve, 16.1 miles." I've been contemplating an overnight bike camping trip there for some time, so I adjusted my destination accordingly. Excelsior was still en route.

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Monday, June 11th, 2018
10:45 pm
Bike Ride: Minneapolis to Stillwater

This ride was recommended to me by my doctor, who is also a cyclist. Usually I head west, where you can get out of town in just a mile or two. Instead I headed east, through St. Paul.

The Route:

  • Dinkytown Greenway to Transitway

  • Transitway to Como Avenue

  • Como to Avon (?)

  • Avon to Wheelock Parkway

  • Wheelock Parkway to Gateway Trail

  • Gateway Trail to Brown's Creek Trail

  • Brown's Creek Trail to Stillwater

29 miles each way. There are sections on Como, Avon, and Wheelock where bike lanes disappear, but other than that you are not sharing the road with cars.

Stillwater is on the St. Croix river and features a Main-Street-turned-Mainstreet-of-Yesteryear tourist attraction vibe that I honestly can't stand, but at least you can get food and Gatorade and sit a spell before you hit the road again.

Much of the two state trails are heavily wooded and provide plenty of shade. Look out for turtles on the trail, while are, as you might expect, slow-moving.

In spite of replenishing electrolytes with the previously named sports beverage, I still managed to get muscle cramps in about 3 different leg muscles almost immediately into the return trip. I kept the bike in a very easy gear and just pedaled through the cramps. Remember, potatoes have more potassium than bananas, so...pack some French fries?

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017
7:23 pm
The Dream Syndicate at Fine Line Music Cafe, 5 Dec 2017

This was my first visit to the Fine Line. This venue is 3 blocks from my apartment, and it's charming inside. Exposed brick, streetlamps along one wall to make it look like an outdoor cafe. I bought the slightly pricier reserved table seating in the balcony. You walk upstairs, and there is a table that literally has your name on it, a carafe of ice water and plastic cups waiting for you. I would absolutely do it again. Any band at all. It just felt first class.

The guy at the door put my 21+ wristband on. No one was carded. If you've heard of this band, you are definitely over 21. 21 twice over and half again! Part of the light show involved the reflective surface of the many bald heads in the audience. The crowd was a little thin, I suspect the recent snow and resulting road conditions kept a lot of people at home.

I only know this band via Pandora, where a couple of their songs ("That's what you always say" and "When you smile") have been popping up on post-punk stations I've created for years. Apparently their first album was a college rock hit in '82, but that star must have faded.

The opening act was Elephant Stone, laid-back psychedelic rock, fun but less Stone Roses than the name would have you believe. One of the members played a sitar for a song or two, sitting barefoot on a dais. At a table near me, an audience member impressed her friends by identifying the instrument as a sitar, which I thought was a little sad, but I can't tell an oboe from a clarinet so who am I to talk.

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Friday, November 24th, 2017
6:09 pm
Movie review: Inception

Like your Thanksgiving leftovers, here's a hot take served cold: I just saw Inception for the first time, and it wasn't a very good movie.

First of all, have you seen Dreamscape? From 1984? Just so we have that out of the way.

OK, so now we have layers or levels, dreams-within-dreams. So what? A big part of my problem with the movie is that the various levels are all action-packed garbage. It's action that doesn't even advance the plot: it's there to try to create suspense or a sense of urgency because the death of a character in a parent dream means they die/disappear from the child dream.

The problem is that it's hard to create suspense if you're not invested in the characters. And I definitely was not invested in these characters. You get to the end after an hour or so of feeling like you're flipping aimlessly between channels showing 3 different James Bond flicks. The final shot is where you're supposed to think, wait, is this a dream? or is this real? does he care if it's a dream or if it's real? Instead the feeling I was left with was who cares?

As far as people who get really into discussing what this-or-that means in the movie, I have a feeling they are the same people who found The Matrix exceedingly clever.

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Saturday, October 28th, 2017
11:25 am
Ministry w/Death Grips, Minneapolis, 27 Oct 2017

I had been indecisive about whether I was going or not--did I feel like showing up?--but the day of the concert I went out to see if tickets were still available.

I made it about 2 blocks before I turned around and went back for a jacket. It was cold! A benefit of living downtown.

The line to get in went down the street and around the corner. I walked past the venue to see if there were separate lines for have-tickets and need-tickets but it looked like one line to me so I added myself to the queue.

I often have remarked that no one smokes anymore. That was not true of the people near me in line. I was surrounded by some of the trashiest people I've rubbed shoulders with in ages. And the eavesdropping -- they were clearly idiots. Although I overheard a conversation where people were proud of some younger relative winning an essay contest, and he would be traveling to D.C. He's so smart, look how much he's grown, etc. One Ministry fan said that Death Grips was too avant-garde for her tastes.

Venue staff were coming around checking IDs and applying wristbands. "Is this the line to buy tickets?" No, he said, up by the doors there's a crowd of people smoking. You should go there.

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Sunday, September 17th, 2017
10:20 pm
Minneapolis Bike Tour
Reading over the Star Tribune, I found an article describing all the traffic woes for this weekend, including numerous road closures for the Minneapolis Bike Tour. I mean, I just did the St. Paul Classic last Sunday, and the weather was looking good, so why not?

Somewhere within Theodore Wirth Park, I heard a hiss-hiss-hiss sound and realized I'd blown a tire. I pulled off to the side and went through my pannier bag to find my spare inner-tube and bike tools. I popped the wheel off and quickly pried the tire off with a tire lever.

Several people called out as they passed by: "Got everything you need?" Yep, I said. I felt very scout-like, I was prepared!

Nevertheless, a man in an orange volunteer t-shirt arrived soon thereafter. Bob, one of the ride marshals, offered assistance. Much appreciated, since roadside repairs are a little different than garage/workshop repairs. He reminded me to check the inside of the tire for damage or debris that would puncture the replacement tube. It seemed OK. A couple more marshals stopped by, which was also helpful because we were having a hard time getting the wheel back on past the derailleur, in part because of my confusion around what high and low gear is on a bike.

Which, by the way, is the opposite of the terminology we use for automobiles. Which is, frankly, moronic. Seriously. Maybe there's some technical explanation, but it is not intuitive.

I was back on the road in just a few minutes. The day started out cold, but my hands were no longer numb and I was starting to feel good. Unlike the St. Paul ride, much of the route we took was familiar to me from my usual weekend outings.

Around mile 29 or 30 though: hiss-hiss-hiss. Not again! I pulled off to the side and checked the tire. This time, it was obvious: a big hole in the tire itself. Another participant called out: "Got everything you need?" The marshals could help me with a tube, but a tire? Maybe they could have, but it seemed less likely. Fortunately I was only a mile from home and, even better, only 2 blocks from Misfit Coffee. The pour-over Papa New Guinea there is my favorite local coffee.

Coffee in hand, I walked my bike home and locked it up, traded my biking shoes for running shoes, and jogged to the finish. Inspired by Ricky Bobby, from Talladega Nights. And after all, there was a free beer from Utepils waiting for me, and I'd told Bob I'd find him later to talk about the Tour of Minnesota ride.

So that's what I get for quadruple-patching a bicycle inner-tube! I stopped by the One on One bike shop later in the afternoon to pick up a new tire and 2 new tubes: a replacement and a replacement spare.

It was a beautiful day, and I regret nothing.
Saturday, September 16th, 2017
11:18 am
St. Paul Classic
Last weekend I participated in the St. Paul Classic, an organized bike ride around the more easterly of the Twin Cities.

I was initially planning on doing the full 45 miles (short loop + long loop), so the day before I decided I should fix the slow leak in my rear tube. Every morning before my commute I re-inflate it, and every evening on the return it's a little low. When I removed the tube, I discovered I had already patched it twice before. I inflated it a little, submerged it in water, and found 2 more small leaks.

I prepared to patch them and discovered the tiny tube of vulcanizing glue in the patch kit was either empty or dried out. I walked to Target and picked up a tube of Shoe Goo.

The thing is, I have a spare innertube! I always take a spare tube with me on long rides. I could have replaced the tube, now with 4 patches, with a new one.

I told Flaster about this, and he asked if innertubes had gone up in price, or if the university wasn't paying me enough.

I think I have a problem, I said.

It's not a bug, it's a feature, he replied.

It felt a little weird paying $50 to ride a bike, something I've been doing for free most days anyway. They did give out bananas and cookies every 10 miles or so. I ended up riding just the 30-mile loop, since getting to the start of the ride and back home was another 12 miles, and I still had to pack for my trip to Champaign-Urbana later that day.

Group rides and organized rides are weird for me, because I'm usually just by myself. And I wasn't there with anyone I knew, so I was still by myself, but surrounded by a couple thousand other cyclists. I think I ride faster when other people are around, it spurs a feeling of competition that I typically try to avoid. But it's fun to breeze past a group of riders with matching Lycra jerseys.

In case you were wondering, the new patches held up and my tire remained properly inflated. Good as new?
Tuesday, July 11th, 2017
8:23 pm
How to do research

My father recently wrote to me wondering if I could help him find the abstract for a doctoral dissertation from 1947. The abstract wasn't available online, and it appeared as though one of two physical copies was at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Library.

My niece was visiting the same week, so I thought, what a good opportunity for her to see how old-fashioned research was done, as in the days Before Google!

We drove to the St. Paul campus and discovered that the first challenge was getting to the library itself. It was on the 4th floor, but the elevator was out-of-service. We took the stairs but arrived at the 4th floor to find a closed door with no handle. We descended a floor and accosted a graduate student who gave us proper directions.

Perhaps because of the difficulty accessing the library it was not surprising to discover that it was devoid of scholars. Only one librarian, a student worker who reminded me of Travis from Clueless, was present. Demonstrating good research techniques, I asked him where I would find the volume in question. My niece wandered off and plopped herself down in a chair.

I quickly located the thesis. I cajoled my niece into joining me and showed off some of the more intriguing features of the volume: typed with a typewriter on pages bearing a watermark of the university's seal, the figures were photographs adhered to the pages with photo corners. Marvel at this book, I said, for it is likely that only 2 copies exist in the world!

I don't think she was impressed.

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Tuesday, April 25th, 2017
7:46 pm
LiveJournal and Mother Russia
LiveJournal has been owned by a Russian company for years, but now that the servers are located in Russia and subject to Russian laws, everyone is panicking.

Personally, my biggest concern is data continuity. I suspect whatever measures the company took previously to ensure data continuity are still in place. However, to be on the safe side I backed up my journal + comments using the following version of LJArchive: http://www.memory-prime.de/lja/ljarchive_setup.zip. I should note that anyone who chooses to use this should back up the installer as well, otherwise the .lja file would not be all that useful.

Although honestly, I think I should be more skeptical of installing a random piece of software on my system and providing my LJ credentials to it than to use an otherwise trusted service on Russian servers. I felt somewhat reassured that I found it via a comment from a known good LiveJournaler, xtingu.

Another alternative is Dreamwidth, which uses the same engine, allows you to import your LiveJournal, and apparently allows pretty seamless cross-posting. There was an exodus (or perhaps multiple exoduses) to Dreamwidth in years past. I am considering that as well.

After data continuity, my other concern is censorship. Although I am unlikely to be censored by LiveJournal as I am politically insignificant, more influential Russian LiveJournal users might be censored if they speak out against, for example, Chechen concentration camps.

In spite of my political insignificance, I will say that the camps are horrific, and Russia is allowing this to happen in the quasi-independent state of Chechnya. So go ahead, censor me Russia. The point is, why share a platform that supports censorship? Not that I have any evidence of censorship at this time but that's clearly what we all anticipate.

My third concern is security/privacy. This may be more of a concern for other users, but as open as I am here, I have paper-based journals for other material. LiveJournal has made some questionable technical changes. In an era where some are advocating for HTTPS everywhere, the site now defaults to HTTP. The session cookies are not secure, so users are vulnerable to session hijacking, particularly via session-sniffing. (The session cookies do use httpOnly and so are not as vulnerable to cross-site scripting.) I wouldn't log into the site from an untrusted network, and remember that your friends-only posts are only as secure if all your friends' accounts are secure.

The LJ user formerly known as boutell has been running the social blogging site One Post Wonder for years now. It's a good alternative to LiveJournal, although you won't be able to import your LJ entries and comments. I have 45 invites, in case anyone would like to try it out. I'm there too, even more quiet than I am here.
Saturday, February 11th, 2017
6:34 pm
another #selfie
You thought I'd forgotten this project. I only need a few more.

Selfie Print 11 February 2017
Saturday, January 21st, 2017
6:32 pm
steganography improved
Although it makes the interface more complicated and confusing, I've added a feature to use a random mask/key to create steganographic images on They Live Steganography.

It's using Javascript's Math.random(). I'm sure cryptography experts would have a big problem with that, but this is just for fun and not a serious attempt at encrypting data. It looks like it would be trivial to switch to window.crypto.getRandomValues() instead. Even as it is, I suspect it would be difficult to decrypt an image generated with a random key, but I don't have the expertise to say with any precision how difficult or trivial it would be.

Other image upload sites seem to preserve PNG files: Flickr, imgur, postimage.io, imgsafe.org, pasteboard, and imgbb all keep the hidden data intact. So while I can't share hidden messages on some of the usual suspects (Facebook, Twitter), there are still lots of other places to share images-within-images.
Sunday, January 15th, 2017
5:07 pm
steganography project
I created a simple steganography project that I call They Live Steganography.

I used it to hide a message inside this image file:

Hiding in plain sight?

It's not good for much, since it's not at all secure. Plus, I've tested it and found that popular sites (Facebook and Twitter) convert uploaded images to JPEGs and lose the hidden data.

It's still kind of fun though. And images uploaded to LiveJournal and Tumblr preserve the hidden messages.
Friday, May 27th, 2016
9:45 am
Last week I decided I was going to make a Spanish garlic soup from a recipe I'd made before. It has certain elements of a French onion soup, but with a lot less effort. It's basically beef broth, garlic, paprika, and saffron. Then you ladle it into bowls, crack an egg into each bowl, put a slice of bread on top, and stick the bowls into a 450-degree oven for a few minutes until the eggs set.

It called for a full tablespoon of paprika. Our tin of paprika didn't have anything that would allow a person to scoop out a quarter teaspoon, much less a tablespoon. I opened the "Pour" lid and tried to pour, but the paprika was coming out in little clumps. Must be humidity, I thought. I'll be able to stir that in. So I added a tablespoon, more or less.

As I stirred, though, the clumps were stubborn and held together. Well, no big deal, I'm not serving this to guests or anything, it's just us. I ladled the soup into bowls, cracked the eggs, topped them with bread, and put them in the oven. A few minutes later I took them out again.

After bathing in beef broth for a while, I could now clearly see that what I thought were clumps of paprika were actually bugs the size of sesame seeds, or slightly smaller. A lot of them. I tried to take a count. Maybe 500 of them in that tablespoon.

I opened the paprika again and tapped a little out into an empty bowl. Something red and dusty flew away.

As I capped the canister and threw it away, I thought to myself: an entire colony of critters, living on nothing but paprika and their own dead kin for generations, without a sliver of light. Then, one day, the bright light and the shaking. And then darkness again. They may go on living that way for many more generations in a landfill somewhere. What has changed? If beetles have bards, that day would live on as legend.

We could all use some bright light, could stand to be shaken up a little now and then.

We did not salvage the soup. It went down the disposal and we had a box of macaroni and cheese instead.
Tuesday, January 26th, 2016
11:20 pm
A Year of the Quiet Sun
Since well_lahdidah is out-of-town, it was time for another viewing of The Last Potato. This time, it was Krzysztof Zanussi's 1984 film A Year of the Quiet Sun, streaming on Amazon Prime. Starring Woody Harrelson as Norman, an American GI, and Kate McKinnon as Emilia, a Polish widow approaching middle age, it tells the story of an unlikely romance in Poland immediately following the war.

(OK, the actors reminded me of Harrelson and McKinnon.)

It has everything: burnt-out buildings, prostitution, corruption, death, scarce baked goods, Nazi flashbacks, exhumed corpses, and pointless sacrifices.

At one point Norman drags a translator along with him to meet Emilia. Norman takes the 3 of them somewhere private, where he tries to convince the translator to explain to Emilia that he loves her. Norman is at a loss for words and tries to enlist the translator's help, but the translator is either unwilling or unable. Norman and Emilia both start laughing at the translator. The translator is frustrated and basically asks both Norman and Emilia, in their native tongues, what they find funny, as he told no jokes.

The joke is that neither Norman nor Emilia share a spoken language, but they've communicated successfully, whereas the multilingual young translator they found to try to assist them is at a complete loss. It's a wonderful moment. It reminded me of the ice cream man in Ghost Dog.

The dance scene later is quite jarring, and the camerawork and manic whirling reminded me of Wajda's 1972 film, The Wedding.

All in all, though, it has the hallmarks of The Last Potato, and I can't recommend it unless you really crave that 1946 Poland vibe like I do.
Sunday, November 8th, 2015
6:59 pm
News from Northside
I like my neighborhood. Northside is a little smaller than I envisioned, not quite as self-contained as I'd hoped, but I'm enjoying it.

I haven't decided if I'm more of a Sidewinder Coffee or a Collective Espresso fan, so for now I split my visits between them both. Collective Espresso is the sleek & modern hipster coffee bar. Sidewinder matches better my 90s Gen-X cafe ideal, a third space, a neighborhood gathering place. OK, that makes it sound like I prefer Sidewinder, but I really enjoy them both!

Arcade Legacy: Bar Edition is the bar I've been to the most. They opened right after we moved here. Arcade games might not be the most social activity, but sometimes you're just looking for some light entertainment. Northside Tavern is a great neighborhood spot too, just don't be fooled by the locals ordering Hudepohl: it may be cheap, but it's among the worst beers I've ever swilled. Pay a couple dollars more for something decent. The Listing Loon I've been to only once, but the DJ was spinning a great set of punk and post-punk women for Ladyfest Cincinnati.

Tickle Pickle is a great place for a $10 hamburger. The Rob Zomwich is my favorite, although the rockstar-themed sandwich puns both entertain and pain me.

Today was my first visit to the army surplus store around the corner. The guy working there recognized my old $15 jacket, originally purchased from Harry's Army Surplus in Ann Arbor, as a Swedish military jacket. The pockets are distinctive, he said. That explains the 3 crowns on the buttons too!

With Shake It Records and Black Plastic just a couple blocks from each other, my eclectic vinyl collection is sure to grow, although I have a bad habit of passing up albums I know I like for intriguing dodgy selections that turn out to be duds. Why did I pass up Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA," which I have heard hundreds of times, for Consolidated's "Business of Punishment"?!

I've been to Ruth's and Django and The Littlefield and Melt, but have yet to visit the Comet, Bistro Grace, the Kitchen Factory, the Golden Tajine, or Barrio. I still haven't hit up the N/S Yacht Club (no boating here, but built in a flood plain!), Urban Artifact (although I'm not a fan of Belgian-style sour ales), or C & D's Cafe (which from the description is Northside's version of Bob and Barbara's). When we were looking at a house on Barvac, I thought for certain we'd be regulars at the Comet.

There's plenty of retail space available, as well as light industrial/warehouse type spaces. It makes me wish I was more entrepreneurial--or maybe just loaded with spare cash--because this seems like a perfect place to try something a little outrageous. I'm still entertaining a few ideas.

There's a free monthly paper that covers just the neighborhood. It usually features at least one or two local businesses. I read a write-up of Spun Bicycles a day after I visited the shop and Dominic, the co-owner, introduced himself to me. On Monday nights a screen printing shop hosts live music. There's a bicycle co-op (I haven't visited yet) down the street from me. The neighborhood reminds me a little of West Philly (in a good way!).

My favorite place though, is Parker Woods and the Buttercup Valley Reserve. I'm an addict. Hilly serpentine trails through the forest. A short walk and you'd hardly know you're in the city, although you can still hear traffic. I've seen deer more visits than I haven't, as well as snakes, a multitude of squirrels, and birds of many varieties. It's been a great place to explore as the seasons change. You occasionally run into someone else out for a walk, maybe walking a dog, and you say a friendly, but quick, hello before moving on--you're both there for the solitude, not the company.

Next door to the woods is the Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, a magnificent place that is great for walks, jogs, or cycling. Back in the day, obelisks were very popular memorials! I sometimes wish it had a little of the flashiness of Milan's Cimitero Monumentale, but German Catholics are somewhat less ostentatious than Italian Catholics, apparently. Perhaps due to the proximity of the cemetery, one of our neighbors is Schott Memorials, which has a display of unused memorials in disarray in their back lot. Perhaps they are from customers who couldn't or have not yet payed. Eternal rest, on layaway.

There's no real grocer in the neighborhood, yet. There's an African specialty market close by that sells a few dry goods staples and spices, but really lacks the variety of even a corner grocer. There's a weekly farmer's market that is convenient, but for every other day of the week there's a Kroger in the next neighborhood over. I've biked there several times, but cycling here is for the bold. There's talk of a food co-op--the Apple Street Co-op--which would be fantastic, but I have no idea at this point if it is a going concern or a pipe dream.

I'll admit that for dining and entertainment we frequently head to Over the Rhine, a downtown-adjacent neighborhood that features charming urban architecture and, at least at some times of day, on certain days, a bustling street scene. I do miss our little section of Philadelphia's Gayborhood, Midtown Village--I've come to realize that people-watching was one of my main entertainments. But even though it is quieter, Northside, Cincinnati, has many charms.
Sunday, August 9th, 2015
6:24 pm
On Friday night, a thought occurred to me: beautiful weather, and just a couple weeks left in Philadelphia. It's time to ride bell-to-bell.

Bell-to-Bell means from Philadelphia's Liberty Bell to the Justice Bell in the Washington Memorial Chapel in Valley Forge. It's about 50 miles, round-trip. I had talked about planning this as a group expedition that included tawdryjones and Simon, but I never got around to it and I felt like 9 hours notice wasn't quite enough. Sorry guys!
The journey...Collapse )
Friday, March 13th, 2015
6:05 pm
Watson, tell me a little about myself
Every year my department at work has a luncheon at which each of us presents an emerging technology, something a little out there, not necessarily ready for prime time. I selected IBM's Bluemix services, which basically comprise a Watson API--a way to ask Watson questions.

You remember Watson, right? He's the computer that beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy!. I have not yet found the Bluemix API that allows you to phrase your answer in the form of a question.

One of the curious services they offer is Personality Insights. You supply a corpus of text written by an individual, and Watson analyzes it and tells you about the author's personality. You can try it yourself at their Personality Insights Demo.

LiveJournals--and personal blogs in general--are a great source of text by a single author! So naturally I had to analyze myself and some of my friends.

You need to supply it with a fair amount of text for the analysis. Supply it with a single post and the results may be skewed: some days I am apparently driven by curiosity (100%) and have no interest in artistic expression (0%). But supply it with your past 20 posts and you may have something.

Watson reports on the Big Five personality traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. They re-labeled Neuroticism Emotional Range because, let's face it, Neuroticism sounds bad. An interesting choice, though, as all of these seemingly positive traits become negative if you score low. They also break down each of the Big Five into sub-traits, and report on several other areas as well.

I took my previous 20 public posts (6879 words) and ran them though. All results are scored relative to other people, which I take to mean that if I score high in one area it means that Watson thinks that I am strong in that personality trait relative to the average survey response in Watson's database. Also, this is a computer basing a personality evaluation on a subset of a subset of a subset of my writing.

Some traits for which I scored high were expected:
  • Authority challenging - yes, it's true that I don't believe people in positions of power are more likely to be right. They do more often think they're right....
  • Self-efficacy - yes, I can and often do set out to do things and then actually do them. Even if they are difficult. Even if they aren't the best ideas.
  • Uncompromising - you mean stubborn? I can't take credit. That runs in my family.
  • Sympathy - sometimes to my detriment, but yes, I am concerned about the well-being of the people with which I share this planet.

Others were unexpectedly low--I cannot speak to their accuracy:
  • Artistic expression - I guess I express myself in other, more prosaic ways?
  • Self-discipline - I don't buy this for a minute. Unless you mean that I have other more important things to do right now....
  • Gregariousness - according to Watson, I am full of cold, icy stares.
  • Melancholy - not that I think I'm particularly glum, I just didn't think I'd rank lower than average.

The thing that was a real surprise for me was a low score on self-consciousness. Apparently, I don't give a damn what anyone thinks of me! Good for me.

Whether or not the results are accurate or meaningful, it is interesting to view the results and recognize that an artificial intelligence has deduced these things about you from publicly-available data. This is interesting and frightening. What if a potential employer decides that someone so uncompromising and authority-challenging isn't right for their organization? What if a health insurance provider decides that high scores in the Neuroticism category represent a financial risk and charge you more accordingly? It's basically Gattaca, except that they don't even need a DNA sample: they just sample your online footprint.
Sunday, May 4th, 2014
7:16 pm
Two more for the #selfie series

I dislike the latter, I rushed myself through it and nearly forgot that I always include a thick border until I had already cut away most of the edges.
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