I upgraded my iBook G4 to have an SSD


2024-03-31 14:32:35 -08:00

I did take some notes which I’ll present below, but this isn’t a full how-to. I used iFixIt’s guide plus occasional reference to the official Apple Service Source repair guide (those are not strictly public but can be had from your favorite abandonware site).

For this year’s #MARCHintosh, I decided to replace my iBook G4’s 30 GB spinning-rust hard drive with an SSD.

The #Marchintosh logo, depicting a smiling compact Mac icon with a four-leaf clover and a stripe of six-color Apple rainbow.

This was my second SSD upgrade, as I’d previously replaced my G4 Cube’s hard drive with an SSD. (The pictures on that page show a hard drive because, before the SSD upgrade, I’d replaced the Cube’s hard drive with another hard drive, and that was what I originally documented on that page. Then, after that, when I decided to upgrade to an SSD, I used my own tutorial. iFixIt didn’t exist yet.)

I rather despise working on laptops, though this wasn’t as bad as I’d worried it would be. (Upgrading the memory in my Mac mini was harder. I pointedly did that as soon as the machine arrived so that it would be done and I’d never need to open the machine back up for the rest of its life.)

The thing that motivated me to go forward with it was that the iBook was absolutely filthy. It had been Mom’s, and she was a smoker in her life; she would routinely be smoking a cigarette and working on the computer, and getting so absorbed in the latter that ash would fall from her cigarette onto and into the computer. So I resolved to clean the disassembled parts as well as upgrade the storage.

For the cleaning, I mostly used paper towels wetted with diluted all-purpose cleaner. A couple small spots of deposited nail polish were resolved with cotton pads soaked with nail polish remover. It worked fine, at least so far—if I’ve started some chemical process of plastic deterioration, I don’t know it yet.

The iBook in question, closed, and visibly dirty even on the outside.
Before cleaning.

The iBook in question, closed, now thoroughly cleaned and spiffy.
After cleaning.

Once I decided the project was go, I also added in a memory upgrade, because it was less than $20 and I was already buying stuff from OWC for the operation anyway. The machine had 512 MB of RAM; now it has 1 GB. (Plus the 128 MB on the logic board.)

One key difference from the Cube upgrade: The iBook, being a laptop, doesn’t have as much space for the upgraded drive. The Cube had some wiggle room taken up by brackets; the iBook has basically none. In the Cube, I installed a standard-size SATA SSD plus a SATA-to-PATA adapter; in the iBook, that wouldn’t have fit.

So my first thought was an M.2 SSD, that being the form factor that today’s computers generally use. I ran into a problem: There are like three different signaling protocols that all run over the M.2 form factor, and M.2 correspondingly has three different keying combinations to guard against protocol mismatches (an incompatible SSD won’t physically fit, though an SSD that fits isn’t necessarily compatible). I noped out of trying to sort that out.

What I went with instead was mSATA. This form factor is kind of dying off as M.2 takes over, but Kingston still sells mSATA SSDs directly from their own website, and I found a suitable adapter on Amazon. (I buy from alternatives like Micro Center or direct from manufacturers whenever possible, but it wasn’t in this case. The manufacturer’s website links to their Amazon store.)

The two-and-a-half-inch spinning-rust hard drive, and the mSATA SSD in its IDE adapter, side by side in my hand.
The old spinning-rust drive is 30 GB; the new SSD is 256 GB.

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High-resolution Creative Commons badge


2023-10-26 19:45:07 -08:00

I noticed that the pointers tutorial‘s Creative Commons badge had gone missing. I guess they got tired of people hotlinking it.

So I grabbed it from the Wayback Machine, and when I did, I noticed that it’s in the classic 88×31 format used by so many miniature promotional images. If the phrase “Netscape Now!” means anything to you, you know what I’m talking about.

There’s been a growing trend of making new 88×31 images, some in higher resolutions for modern hi-DPI displays. So I thought I’d do one: redrawing the classic Creative Commons bug as a vector image that could be exported as SVG and as high-res PNG.

Here you go:

The Creative Commons logo on a gray field, with “Some Rights Reserved” in white on black beneath it.
The double-resolution PNG.
The Creative Commons logo on a gray field, with “Some Rights Reserved” in white on black beneath it.
The SVG.

I think the original image falls under the CC-BY (Attribution) 2.0 license that was then current. I’m happy to place these new images under the same license or the newer 4.0 version.

The third option: Novavax’s covid vaccine


2023-10-24 19:06:23 -08:00

I’ve had four mRNA-based covid shots so far: Pfizer, Pfizer, Moderna, Pfizer.

They’re great protection, of course, but I get harsh side effects from them—two or three days of alternating fever and chills. Not fun. Some folks take ’em just fine, and if you’ve never had an mRNA-based vaccine, I’d encourage you to try it at least once—my experience isn’t universal. But I always have a rough time.

I wanted to get this year’s covid shot back in September, which was the anniversary of my previous one, but I had to wait for availability to settle a bit since shots were hard to come by for several weeks, and I know folks who had appointments and then found out they’d been canceled on the day of due to shortage.

The longer that went on, the more I wanted to get my shot ASAP since we’ve already been in a covid surge for months by this point (per wastewater data) and we aren’t even to the holiday season yet.

Screenshot of Biobot's nationwide covid prevalence estimates for the past six months. It starts ramping up in July and has been fairly steady at high levels for the past two months. It's dipped a little bit this month but it's not down to anywhere near pre-July levels.
Pictured here: Everyone I know, and everyone they know, who’s been coming down with covid over the last few months.

Then I heard that Costco has Novavax. (I later found out that Rite Aid also carries it. CVS might have it but apparently you can’t just book it through the website, you have to ask—weird.)

I went on Costco’s website (which offers both Moderna and Novavax), made an appointment for what is now this past Saturday, and stocked up on my usual post-vax supplies: Gatorade, water in the fridge, clean laundry, and a few low-effort meals and snacks.

Saturday, I got the shot. No difficulty, and my insurance covered the cost—I paid $0.00.

Sunday, I spent the entire day feeling like I had a mild cold. No fever, no chills, just lots and lots of sleeping. Drank lots of water, some Gatorade, and even ate on my usual schedule.

Monday… I was fine. By Tuesday, I was back to 100%.

I spent one whole day with the symptoms of a mild cold.

This is a night and day difference from my experience with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. It’s more like my experience with a flu shot: sleep like a cat in a sunbeam for a day, then right back to normal.

The efficacy of Novavax is comparable to the mRNA vaccines—it might be a little lower, but close enough that the difference in post-vax experience makes it well worth the tradeoff. Doubly so if you’ve already had, or might get next time, an mRNA-based shot and want that “all of the above” protection.

If you also have a rough time with mRNA-based vaccines, try Novavax.

If you don’t have RSI, ergonomics are for you


2023-09-29 21:56:20 -08:00

This was originally posted as a tweet thread back in February 2022. For this Director’s Cut Extended Remix, I’ve added the photos and applied styling.

I used my laptop as a laptop for about an hour yesterday and my wrists still hurt. It’s fading but slowly.

So I guess I don’t get to do that anymore. Split keyboard+vertical mouse or nothing.

My Matias Ergo Pro two-piece keyboard, splayed out on a lap desk sitting on my chair.My Kensington Pro Fit Ergo Vertical Wireless mouse, on a printed mousepad background on a cutting board on the (mostly flat) arm of my chair.
2023 note: I’ve since replaced this keyboard with an ErgoDox EZ.

Maybe a split keyboard and vertical mouse seem like luxuries, because that’s their market position (the high end), but I promise you there’s nothing luxurious about this.

Really it’s more that there are keyboards and pointing devices that hurt people, and those that don’t.

But I use a one-piece keyboard and a regular mouse/trackball/trackpad and I’m fine!

Well, maybe. Or you’re not injured yet. Or not enough yet to notice without trying ergonomic hardware for a week and gauging the difference.

Ergo hardware can help you stay uninjured.

I cannot emphasize enough how important prevention is. How important it is to protect your hands before they’re injured.

You can’t un-injure them. You can only avoid injury… or not.

The trillion-dollar coin is an idea for one way that Democrats could get around Republican threats to throw the United States into default. (There are other options, including standing on the 14th Amendment clause that says “the public debt… shall not be questioned”.)

The basic idea is this: The Department of the Treasury has the authority to direct the US Mint to produce a platinum coin at any denomination they see fit. The value of such a coin is its face value—that is to say, whatever it says it is. So when the Republicans start throwing around threats like “you need to cut off services to these groups of people or else the government is going to run out of money!!!”, as they have been, one option is to simply literally make more money—in enough of a quantity that it will pay for all the US Government’s expenditures for the next year or so and take a lot of the hostage-takers’ leverage away.

I’m not qualified to debate the policy or economics of it, and most likely, neither are you. But what I can do is think of any number of ways that someone—intentionally or otherwise—could fuck it up.

Mis-striking the coin

The last step of the process of producing a coin is called “striking” it. That’s the part where the design gets pressed into the faces of the (hitherto) blank.

Normally coin production is a mass-production process; the country’s mints produce up to tens of thousands of coins per minute. In this case, we’re talking about a one-off, so I don’t know whether they’d do the process differently or just run the machine for a very, very short amount of time.

Either way, it’s certainly possible for the coin to be mis-struck, or otherwise produced in a way that it is obviously defective. This has happened in a variety of ways to nearly every type of coin, and normally, mis-struck or otherwise defective coins are worth significantly more than face value.

What does that look like when the face value is $1,000,000,000,000?

Most likely, the mis-struck coin wouldn’t stay that way—they’d melt it down and try again. (After all, platinum ain’t cheap.) We might never know that there was a mis-struck trillion-dollar coin in existence for some short amount of time.


The specific section of the US Code that authorizes this stunt says:

The Secretary [of the Treasury] may mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe from time to time.

The trillion-dollar coin wouldn’t be a bullion coin, which is a coin defined by its amount of some precious metal—that would be a “this much platinum” coin, not a coin with a dollar denomination. So the trillion-dollar coin would be a proof coin.

The Mint regularly issues platinum proof coins, such as this coin for this year. That coin contains 1 ounce of platinum, and has a face value of $100, but is sold at a price dependent on the value of its platinum content, which is somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000—ten to twenty times its face value.

So, for a trillion-dollar coin, how much platinum would they need? Does there need to be a particular ratio, or could they make a zinc coaster with 1 oz of platinum mixed in?

Or does it even matter? Could they make a 1-oz platinum coin, not much different from the ones they’re already making, and just add ten more zeroes across the back of it?

Speaking of which…

The design

There’s at least one artistic rendering of what such a coin could look like, but it’s just one artist’s conception and not an official rendering from the US Mint.

Presumably they’re not going to just type in “ONE TRILLION DOLLARS” in Impact and call it good. This is The Coin! It’s got to look like something.

On the flip side, this whole idea is an emergency measure. They’re not going to have time to go through the usual processes for coming up with new coin designs—not when the US Government could reach the statutory debt limit in… not even a couple of weeks at this point.

Hopefully they’re coming up with a design now that they can have ready to go if and when it’s needed. (And make absolutely sure it has no typos in it.)

Of course, having the design ready to use at a moment’s notice gets into issues of…

Operational security

It’s easy to say “the Mint should do this” or “Treasury should do that” but it’s worth remembering that these are granfalloons, in the sense in which Don Lancaster used the term (slightly different from Kurt Vonnegut’s original meaning):

tactics secret—beware the granfalloon, my son

A granfalloon is any large bureaucratic figment of people’s imagination. For instance, there’s really no such thing as the Feds or the General Veeblefeltzer Corporation. There are a bunch of people out there that relate to each other, and there’s some structures, and some paper. In fact, there’s lots and lots of paper. The people sit in the structures and pass paper back and forth to each other and charge you to do so.

All these people, structures, and paper are real. But, nowhere can you point to the larger concept of “government” or “corporation” and say, “There it is, kiddies!” The monolithic, big “they” is all in your mind.

If the Mint produces a trillion-dollar coin, it’s because people designed it and people fabricated it. If Treasury deposits the coin into the Federal Reserve, it’s because someone from Treasury personally visited the mint where the coin was struck, took possession of it, carried it to the Federal Reserve, and deposited it.

There are so many ways that could go wrong.

Every person involved in this would need to be vetted sixteen ways to Sunday. No foreign allegiances, no debts, not even a whiff of past criminal activity.

And you’d need a significant number of people. Nobody gets to go alone; you’d need multiple people monitoring each other, all with bodyguards, while also trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible and not look like they’re carrying the most valuable single object in the country.

Assuming, of course, that it remains a single object. I mentioned above that the production run would be a one-off. It would be supposed to be, at least—but as soon as the die exists, it’s theoretically possible to strike a second blank and make another trillion-dollar coin. Either a counterfeit, if it doesn’t actually contain the platinum, or a duplicate if it does.

You could argue that theft or counterfeiting are not actually as big of a concern with this project as they might be with, say, one-dollar coins. Supposing you stole the trillion-dollar coin, or struck a duplicate—what could you even do with it? Nobody will accept it as tender. No commercial bank or credit union will accept it in deposit; they’d immediately phone up the Secret Service and be like “yeah we found your coin”. What could you do, put it on eBay?

Small things, easily lost

Even barring any acts of malice or greed, what if the Custodian simply… lost it?

Coulda sworn it was in that pocket.

Did it fall out when I was paying for lunch?

Hope it didn’t roll into a storm drain…

But let’s say none of that happens and the Custodian makes it to the Federal Reserve with the solution to the debt ceiling crisis safely on their person.

Then what?

When you deposit hard currency—including coin—at your local banking institution, they put it in their drawer and mark up your account. From that point, the physical coins you left behind are then eligible to hand out to any other customer in service of a withdrawal, or to be transferred between tellers or between branches. They are fungible; the bank has hundreds or thousands of them and there is no particular reason to care about the location of any single one of them.

The trillion-dollar coin would be an extremely different situation.

To be fair, it is a (mostly) solved problem. The New York Federal Reserve stores gold and other reserves on behalf of various governments, including the US. It may also be that other Federal Reserve Banks around the country offer similar services. The trillion-dollar coin would likely end up at any of those locations.

Buuuut there are some differences.

First, it’s not a stack of gold bars. It’s a coin. Its value wouldn’t derive from its scrap metal value (as noted above, somewhere in the 1- to 2-kilobuck range) but from its denomination.

A stack of gold bars is hard to exfiltrate. Maybe a thief could remove a bar or two (if they somehow got past all the security) without anybody noticing. It’d be an extremely high-stakes game of Jenga. (Don’t ask me for tips; everything I know about this sort of crime I learned from heist movies, and I haven’t watched many heist movies.)

A coin is, well, a coin. People regularly carry dozens of them on their person without anyone noticing. When you go through a metal detector, you dump your coins into a pile in a little plastic tray and nobody looks at it.

Where would they even keep The Coin? Do they have little safety deposit boxes at the New York Fed?

That leads to the other problem: Keeping track of it.

Somewhere there needs to be a record of where, in the New York Fed or wherever else, the coin is kept. It needs to be in a place where (theoretically) someone from Treasury could retrieve it if there were ever a need to do so, not to mention a place that could be checked if there were suspicion of theft. Of course, that would also be sensitive information; you wouldn’t want anyone in the whole organization to be able to look up where the USG’s trillion dollars is.

Some of this is, again, solved problems or otherwise not worth worrying about. It’s a bank; not a normal bank but still a bank that (one hopes) has a means to keep even something as small as a single coin in a safe place, remember where that is, and guard access to both that location and the knowledge of it. And, as I mentioned above, theft is of limited concern for a coin that there is (or should be) only one of and that no place will accept.

On a more serious note

None of this is to say that they shouldn’t do it; that’s more of a policy and economics question. Government works on hard problems all the time, and usually does better than we give it credit for. (Especially better than libertarians give it credit for.) Success is the expectation, and I’d argue it is actually the norm, but we don’t notice it and don’t appreciate it. Failure stands out, and certain actors are ideologically motivated to spotlight it. I’m more interested in anticipating failure as a means to ensuring success.

A lot of the difficulties I’ve outlined arise from the unique nature of this particular minting job. It’s a singular coin of exceptionally high face value. Processes that are normally routine become high-stakes; hazards that are normally negligible become serious concerns.

I really hope the folks at Treasury have thought about this more than the couple of hours I put into this blog post. Because with less than a couple weeks left of “extraordinary measures”, if the Republicans keep trying to hold the country hostage by threatening to throw it into default, we might need this to go from “wild idea” to “thing we are actually doing” in a hot second.

Radical is relative


2023-05-16 10:48:56 -08:00

This was originally posted as a tweet thread in September 2019, back when Sen. Elizabeth Warren was a Presidential candidate advocating for a wealth tax. I have lightly edited it, mostly to account for the change in format plus a few other tweaks, but otherwise this is as I posted it then.

I went looking at Senator Warren’s wealth tax proposal.

Two things.

First: Wealth taxed includes “residences, closely held businesses, assets held in trust, retirement assets, assets held by minor children, and personal property with a value of $50,000 or more”.

I was looking at this because I was wondering how much it would apply to (as an example) Jeff Bezos. Bezos has a big pile of Amazon shares, but not a majority stake, so it’s not “closely held”. Not sure if any other criteria (e.g., trust) would cover it.

I like the wealth tax idea (though I’m sure it’ll get challenged in court if it ever happens) but want it to go farther: Include all stock directly held.

IMO, holding more than $50 million in stock should qualify you to start paying 2% of the overage as real money in tax.

Like, I would consider not wealth-taxing all stock to be a big loophole leaving a shit ton of money—and of “oh shit, gotta stop hoarding wealth” effects—on the table.

Bezos’s wealth-taxed net worth should be ~$110 billion [as of September 2019], not some number of millions.

Second: Senator Warren’s proposed wealth tax (somewhat famously but I probably shouldn’t neglect to mention it) kicks in at $50 million.

So imagine a thermometer. All them assets—your nine houses, $51,000 car, etc.—fill up the thermometer. If it doesn’t reach $50 million, you’re not wealth-taxed. But if it does pass $50 million, every dollar of total assets after that gets taxed 2%.

So if you have $50,000,000.00, you pay $0 tax—not $1 million.

If you have $50,000,001.00, you pay 2¢.

(Disclaimer: I am not a tax attorney.)

So both observations are why I think Senator Warren’s proposal is a moderate plan. A truly radical, socialist, wealth-redistributing proposal could go much farther!

I still like it. This isn’t an anti-Warren thread post by any means.

All’s I’m saying is: Fight for this, then fight for more.

Always remember the frame of reference you evaluate something in.

In our society, billionaires are normal. Low income tax rates upon them: normal. $billion corps paying $0 tax: normal.

Senator Warren’s proposal seems radical because it is: It’s corrective action to a tilted economy.

It’s radical in the sense that it is a significant deviation from the status quo. A change. No more full speed ahead—here we turn left.

Repealing past tax cuts is also a change. But less radical.

A more expansive wealth tax? More radical.

Radical is a spectrum.

So reject the idea that “radical” is necessarily bad—radical is just change. What change? That’s what matters.

How much is warranted? How much is too much? How much is not enough?

How much should we fight for, how much should we accept, how much more should we fight for after?

Senator Warren’s wealth tax is radical. It is also moderate.

It is corrective action on a damaged economy. A change, and I think a necessary one.

It could go farther. It’s a good start.

I hope it gets enacted. And I hope it gets improved.

Moving away from algorithmic curation


2023-04-24 15:28:04 -08:00

This was originally posted as a tweet thread back in November 2019, which is why it starts off with some suggestions about how best to use Twitter that are irrelevant now, since Twitter was killed by a dipshit billionaire with more money than sense and it took out the third-party clients in its death throes. But the rest of the thread holds up and I felt it worth resurrecting.

  • Tired: Helping Twitter refine its algorithmic profiling.
  • Wired: Switching to reverse-chronological timeline, as persistently as Twitter makes necessary.
  • Inspired (but admittedly not available to all): Switching to a good third-party client like Tweetbot or Twitterrific.

A few weeks ago, I saw a tweet from someone who’d switched to the algorithmic timeline experimentally and saw absolutely nothing about a then-current major news event that folks they followed had been tweeting about.

I still think about that.

It increasingly seems to me that the best things you can do with these services—recommendation engines, algorithmic timelines, and such—is (1) don’t use them when you can help it, and (2) lie to them at every opportunity.

Poison the well, and don’t drink from it.

I say this because we need to re-learn how to find each other, to recommend things ourselves, and to try each other’s personally-offered recommendations.

These are things that we should not give up to the control of companies, nor any other unknowable, unaccountable entity.

This also comes out of my thoughts about Twitter itself. And the degree to which social media has replaced RSS as our means of receiving fresh content.

It’s been good in some ways. Some of us have learned a lot, met new folks.

But we can’t depend on this.

We can’t depend on getting more of what we’ve expressed we want, if the algorithmic timeline can override that.

We can’t depend on discovering new things (and good ones, not bad ones) because the algorithm is unaccountable, built on profiling, and only seeking engagement.

A discovery algorithm’s job is to introduce people to things they don’t know they want or need.

How do you do this without introducing them to fascism, outrage fuel, shock content, or other trash? Without humans seeing that shit to screen it out?

How do you do this ethically?

Assuming the answer is “you can’t”, we then need to take up the mantle ourselves.

Spread positive things. Things you’ve made. Things you’ve learned. Skills, ideas, thoughts, actions.

This must include anti-fascism, the only other alternative being silent neutrality.

And we’ll need to use social media as best we can as long as we can, because of its amplifying nature, but we must also re-learn the other ways, the older ways. Online and off.

The old ways still work.

Print still works.

Person-to-person still works.

It’s gonna be hard to break dependency on social media, because of network effects and because of the addictive nature of it.

We probably need to start DMing each other email addresses, for a start.

And regularly contacting each other, Christmas-card style.

We’re going to need to make some changes in order to not keep heading down the same directions we’re currently going.

Not just “we” in the first person but “we” as in society. What “we” in the first person do must be chosen with that goal in mind.

I do hope, though, that whatever we ultimately replace social media with, it still has cats.

Grieving Twitter


2022-12-12 22:36:46 -08:00

Some have analogized Twitter to a sinking ship, while others have expressed anger that folks are leaving when Twitter has been so important—even life-saving—to so many.

Thing is… Twitter (the company, and very likely the website) is a sinking ship. That much is indisputable at this point. It’s dying*.

When you’re on a sinking ship, you either sprout gills or swim for it (metaphorically). The ship is going down and you will be underwater unless you leave.

(You can decide for yourself what “underwater” means in the context of Twitter. In fact, I encourage you to: What is your red line? What conditions—including both destruction of things you got from Twitter and establishment of things you abhor—would cause you to leave?)

So folks have been leaving, mainly to Mastodon and some to Cohost; I’m not surprised by the skew toward Mastodon, since Mastodon is much more Twitter-like, whereas Cohost is more Tumblr-like. There’s also Post.news, which I haven’t looked deeply at since they’ve been openly disinterested in making their website accessible.

All of this means that Twitter (the community) is dead.

Not dying. Already dead.

A community is made of its people first, and the tools available to them second. The community that was pre-Musk Twitter is sundered; split between new websites with different tools, and the old website that is in its death throes. Many of the people have gone, and their tools have changed.

Both Mastodon and Cohost have Content Warnings, a tool created to meet the needs of people with PTSD and anxiety. Both have longer content limits (Cohost has no limit at all), to enable more expressivity. Both have better visibility control, to reduce context collapse. Both have no discovery algorithm, so you entirely control what you see—you see what folks you follow have published or boosted, and nothing else. Both have search for tags only, not full text, to thwart name-search brigades.

The change in people and the change in tools will create new communities, in all these places.

Twitter is already not the same place it was just a couple of months ago. It will never be that place again. (In some sense this is always true; you never cross the same river twice.) That threshold has been crossed; the Twitter we lost, is lost.

It’s not on Mastodon, either. Mastodon is technologically similar, but not the same, as I already listed off. The set of people is different, partly because of the people who joined it years ago and haven’t been part of Twitter for some time, and partly because not everybody’s come over yet (and some won’t, or have left). Some folks have been making different following decisions there than on Twitter, so the social graph is different.

Each is now a new community.

Mastodon is not the new Twitter; it is the closest extant thing to the old Twitter, but still different. On Twitter, what’s left of the old community remains (though, as I write this, further events have caused another wave of people to say “fuck this, I’m out”) and those who remain will ride the ship into the deep, until “sprout gills” becomes truly the only alternative to leaving.

Cohost is an entirely different thing, since even before its launch. It’s a good thing; I like it there. It is not trying to be Twitter, and in some ways it is trying not to be Twitter, and on both fronts it is succeeding.

And while I call each site a community, communities are rather smaller than that. Each community is many communities, with blurry edges. Maybe the Fediverse or Cohost or some other alternative wasn’t right for you the first time, or even the second, but maybe the right mix of people is there now, ready for you to find them. And some of us are on both, to varying degrees.

Mourn the communities we have lost, and choose what communities you’ll be part of.

* I would be remiss if I neglected to mention that Twitter is not simply dying as if by consumption; it is being murdered by a dipshit billionaire with more ego than sense. Twitter’s death was foul play. None of this had to happen; a billionaire did it to us.

Props D and E (2022-10)


2022-10-30 08:01:51 -08:00

If you aren’t a San Francisco voter, this post is going to be academic to you.

I’ve filled out my entire ballot by this point, except for two of the local propositions, on which I’ve been dithering: Prop D and Prop E.

The two are set against each other, and in fact one is a modification of the other. They’re similar enough that it’s possible to diff them, although doing that didn’t clarify as much as I’d hoped it would.

Part of the problem for me is that I know precious little about housing policy. I am neither a developer employee nor a tenant advocate. I’m just another San Francisco voter trying to make sense of this mess.

The resources I’ve been drawing upon are:

I really wish I had something like a Prop E version of SPUR’s article: a detailed, policy-wonk explanation of why E is better and will get housing built without screwing the low end of the market. Sadly, I have not found any such thing. The League’s argument is the best I’ve got on the Prop E side.

What I have is the following overall sense, and enough awareness of my own housing-policy ignorance to warn you that half of this might be wrong:

The shared goal of these propositions is to cut red tape. Housing development is often held up on a number of processes, including CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review and discretionary review by the Board of Supervisors.

The upside of these processes is that they’re used to drag developers kicking and screaming into building affordable housing so that the low end of the market—people who can’t afford market-rate housing—don’t get left out and priced out.

The downside of these processes is that the developers, as you might have gathered, don’t want to build affordable housing for people who can’t pay market rate, so they keep on dragging their feet, and if the process goes on long enough, sometimes they’ll sell out and profit off the appreciation of the land value rather than actually build any housing, setting everything back at square one.

(That downside is, from what I can tell, what YIMBYs refer to when they label Supervisors who vote down unaffordable housing projects as “anti-housing”. If you aren’t letting developers build whatever they want so it can trickle down, you must not want any housing to exist at all.)

What Props D and E have in common is, they both cut through some of that red tape to get affordable housing projects from plans on paper to shovels in ground faster. (D calls it “streamlining”; E calls it “acceleration”. I have no idea what that change was meant to signify.)

There we start to get into the differences.

Prop D cuts through more red tape than E does. In particular, E (the Board of Supervisors’ prop) leaves the Board’s discretionary review power intact. That then means, according to SPUR’s comparison, that these projects are subject to CEQA review.

It does seem to me that holding dense, multi-family housing up on CEQA review makes no fucking sense. SPUR notes that CEQA applies to housing in order to help curb sprawl, which does make sense, but dense urban housing getting caught in that seems like a bug worth fixing. The environmental impact is hopefully some people will get to live closer to where they work and take transit instead of highways. I consider taking CEQA review out of the way of building housing in cities to be a desirable goal.

Moreover, both props apply only to affordable housing projects (but not all the same ones; I’ll address that in a moment). Why should Prop E preserve discretionary review and thus CEQA review on 100% Affordable Housing Projects? What’s to review? It should be a rubber stamp.

So the trade-off Prop E makes is that it leaves some pretty big knots of red tape still in place.

Prop D makes a different trade-off, which has become one of the principal arguments against it (it certainly features prominently in the League’s analysis): Prop D greatly expands the set of “affordable housing” that it would apply to, well beyond housing affordable to the low end of the market.

(The Voter Information Pamphlet’s summary of Prop D and summary of Prop E include breakdowns of what “affordable housing” projects they would “streamline”/“accelerate”.)

SPUR, one of the sponsors of the measure, is explicit about this as a goal in their comparison:

Prop. D would expand the streamlining to include moderate and middle-income households. A 100% affordable project that provides an average affordability level of 120% of the Area Median Income (AMI) would be eligible for streamlining, compared to 80% AMI Income under state law. Under Prop. D, this would allow 100% affordable housing projects to also include some middle-income units for households making up to 140% of AMI.

So the trade-off Prop D makes is that developers get to build “affordable housing” for a more profitable segment of the market, but that might mean people at the low end get screwed.

In summary:

  • Prop D cuts through more red tape, but has what might be an overly generous definition of “affordable housing”.
  • Prop E leaves Supervisorial power to hold up housing projects intact, but uses the existing, stricter definition of “100% affordable housing”.

Ultimately, what I want is something of a mix of the two. I want Prop E’s explicit effort to promote housing for the low end of the market that developers are eager to make Somebody Else’s Problem, but without Supervisorial review because why do you need it on projects that are already “100% affordable” by definition.

But that isn’t on the ballot, so I’m left with these choices:

  • Vote for Prop D and hope the trickle-down fallacy doesn’t screw poorer residents too hard.
  • Vote for Prop E and hope the developer lobby’s veiled threats that this will stop housing production don’t come to pass.
  • Vote for both of them, if I consider either one to be an improvement over the status quo. The perfect is the enemy of the good, so maybe it’s better to just pass one of them now. (If both pass, whichever one gets more votes wins.)
  • Vote against both of them, and hold out for my ideal proposition, which will definitely land on some future ballot through no action on my part.

Dash mini rice-cooker review


2022-09-24 21:29:27 -08:00

I originally wrote this review on the product listing on Target’s website, but unfortunately Target’s website isn’t really designed for reviews longer than a paragraph. So here’s the Director’s Cut.


  • Overall: 3 out of 5
  • Design: 3 out of 5
  • Quality: 4 out of 5
  • Ease of use: 2 out of 5
  • Easy to clean: 5 out of 5
  • Value: 4 out of 5


  • Yup, it’s smol.
  • The lid and pot are dishwasher safe.
  • The pot is non-stick and indeed the rice did not stick.
  • Comes with a rice-measuring cup (160 ml) and rice paddle.

And it does make pretty good rice, assuming you get the ratio correct. If you like yours a little crispy on the bottom, this’ll do you well. If not… well, me either, but we’ll live.


  • First thing out of the box, I had to repair the lid, which was assembled incorrectly. (The lid screw was drilled into the knob off-center. I unscrewed it and screwed it into the hole it was supposed to be in.)
  • The rice-making instructions are almost useless. Like most rice cookers, they tell you to measure the rice using the provided 160-ml cup. But then they give you the rice:water ratios in terms of US 240-ml cups! Treat them as ratios; for white rice, 160 ml of dry rice needs 200 ml of water. (You could use a regular measuring cup, or use the rice cup to measure 160 ml of water and then 40 more.)
  • The marks on the inside of the bowl are completely useless. They’re labeled as “0.5 cup” and “1 cup”. They’re actually 1.5 and 2 US cups! Pour in water up those lines and then pour it out into a 2-cup measuring cup and you’ll see. The “1 cup” line marks how much rice you’ll get from 1 rice-cup of dry rice—which is exactly no help when trying to measure the rice or the water in the first place. If you dump in water up to that line, it’ll be way too much. (Remember, the right amount of water for that much white rice is 200 ml. 2 US cups is 480 ml!) I knocked a star off of “Ease of use” for this.
  • The LEDs are surprisingly dim. In a bright kitchen, it’s hard to tell whether it’s on Cook or Warm.
  • There’s no on/off switch, so plugging it in immediately turns on Warm mode. Fairly typical of low-end rice cookers like this one. You may want to get a switch tap if you’d like to leave it plugged in.


Soooo there’s a bit of homework. But once that’s all sorted, it works fine. Made decent rice.

Bonus tip that I didn’t mention in the Target review: Add one-quarter teaspoon of garlic salt to the rice+water for tasty garlic rice.

I recently switched from one-piece keyboards to two-piece keyboards—first the Matias Ergo Pro, and then the ErgoDox EZ. These keyboards enable me to separate the halves and set them at an angle to each other so my wrists don’t end up bent as I try to bring my hands in to meet the keyboard.

I’ve been using these keyboards on my lap, rather than on any kind of desk. (I’m way more comfortable seated in a relaxed posture than seated upright, but a recumbent posture puts me too far away from any desk I’ve ever encountered.)

With a single-piece keyboard, I can just lay the keyboard across my lap—the best keyboards for this are 60% to 80% keyboards, such as the Mini M; full-size keyboards (what used to be called “extended” keyboards) end up with the keypad hanging off to my right.

With a two-piece keyboard, this doesn’t work. Each half doesn’t have a flat bottom; they typically have three separate feet, particularly in the tented configuration that I’ve come to favor, where the inner side of each half is raised several centimeters, while the outer side remains more or less on the desk surface (or equivalent).

So I need a keyboard tray to be able to use a split keyboard in my lap.

In the setup I have in HB, I use a commercial lap desk with cushions underneath it and this works great. I bought a second one to bring to SF… but my setup here is different, with me sitting on my couch rather than in a gaming chair. The cushions raise the keyboard up too high in this configuration. I needed something thinner.

Fortunately, I already had a rigid work surface that I had made for painting my nails. Unfortunately, that work surface has a crease in it that doesn’t cause a problem when I’m painting my nails, but does cause a problem with supporting one of the halves of the keyboard. The ErgoDox’s feet also slipped a little on the bare cardboard, and the size wasn’t quite right.

So I made a new one—poetically enough, from the box that the commercial lap desk came in. This one is 17 by 10 inches, and has white duct tape across the upper surface and sealing all four edges.

The structure is simply two sheets of corrugated cardboard, with the corrugations of one sheet perpendicular to those of the other. One sheet is 17 by 10, while the other is 10 by 17. With one rotated 90 degrees and the two taped together into one unit, it becomes a very lightweight but rigid platform, not flexible in either axis because the corrugations along that axis prevent it.

Scan of the measurements on graph paper for the project, along with a bill of materials consisting of two sheets of cardboard (one 17 by 10, the other 10 by 17), plus white duct tape or vinyl for the surface and duct tape for the edges.

As I noted in the diagram, 17 inches is a width that works for the ErgoDox (and my separation distance), but might not work for the wider Matias Ergo Pro. The remedy for that is simple: Use wider/longer cardboard.

Photo of the keyboard tray in use, sitting on my lap, with the ErgoDox keyboard on top of it.



2022-01-03 15:06:25 -08:00

Some of you have probably seen some mysterious tweets on Twitter consisting of several rows of yellow, green, and white or black emoji squares (much to the consternation of screen-reader users), sometimes also containing the name “Wordle” and what appears to be a score.

Screenshot of a Wordle tweet, bearing the name “Wordle”, the number 196, the score of 3 out of 6, and three rows of five emoji squares: the first having four black and one green, the second having two green and one yellow, and the third and final being all green.

Wordle is a word puzzle game by Josh Wardle. The game is this:

  • Every day, there is a new five-letter word to guess. The word changes every day at midnight.
  • You have six tries to figure out what the word is.
  • In each of your guesses, the game highlights which letters were right but in the wrong place (in yellow) and which were right and in the right place (in green). (There’s also a color-blind mode that changes the color assignments to blue and orange, respectively.)

If you guess the word, the victory screen includes (at least on some browsers; it doesn’t show up on my iPad) a Share button that gives you the spoiler-free emoji representation of how you did.

There have already been two reimplementations that remove the one-word-per-day limit and simply give you a new random word every time you play:

The former also has a slider for word length, so you can try for longer words if you want. The number of guesses doesn’t increase, though.


If you’re happy with your Wordle game as it is, feel free to skip this section.

Solving word games (including Boggle and similar games) generally starts with the approximate high end of the frequency distribution of letters in English text, “ETAOIN SHRDLU” (or, more freshly but less pronounceably, “ETAOIN SRHLDCU”).

Based on that, my opening gambit in Wordle consists of the following two words:

  1. EARNT
  2. SOLID

The other two implementations don’t recognize EARNT, so my alternate opener is:

  1. LEARN
  2. STOIC

Either of these openers will usually give you at least a couple of letters that are somewhere in the puzzle, and get you started on eliminating the remaining letters of the alphabet. You still have a few other common consonants and a couple of vowels (U and Y) to try before moving on to the less-common letters.

My other tip—really more of a heads-up—is that the game does sometimes use words that contain multiples of a letter, so don’t assume that the fifth letter you’re looking for is one you haven’t already picked—it may be a double letter (e.g., SPOOL) or a letter that appears twice (STAYS).

My covid scare


2021-11-24 23:10:46 -08:00

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I’m one of the most cautious motherfuckers on the planet about this damn virus.

  • I was wearing masks in public before it was cool, and have been ever since—first an N95 from my wildfire stash, then cotton masks of increasing sophistication, and then back to N95s this year now that they’re plentiful again.
  • I got vaccinated as soon as I was eligible and could get an appointment. I became eligible April 15; my first shot was the following Monday. I got Pfizer, and got my second shot exactly three weeks later.
  • I’ve continued to mask up everywhere outside of my home and car, even after being fully vaccinated, and have been a persistent advocate for this layered strategy—vaccination and masks are complementary; they work together to provide better protection than either alone.
  • And I never, ever dine inside of restaurants. I get drive-through, or occasionally take-out, or I eat at home.

I was planning to get my booster on Friday, November 12, the day after I arrived back in Huntington Beach.

When I got back to HB on Thursday, shortly before heading to bed, I got out a BinaxNOW test kit (I’ve made a video on how to use those) and made myself another covid test lollipop, as I’ve done proactively twice a week for months.

(Yes, that’s expensive, here in the US. These kits come in two-packs for $24 each and are often sold out in many areas. In other countries, similar tests are free or close to it. Here’s some analysis of what the US has done so far and how far remains to go. Plentiful, cheap-if-not-free tests would be a game-changer for helping people detect infections early and hunker down before they spread the virus to all their coworkers or classmates.)

After the 15 minutes were up, I got a surprise: A very, very faint positive.

If I hadn’t known to look hard, because the manual makes a point of telling you that—among other things—even a very faint positive is still a positive, I might’ve missed it.

But there it was.

Photo of a BinaxNOW covid test card, showing a very, very faint positive line.

I had had a mild but persistent cough on the drive down, starting Thursday evening. I’d chalked it up to dry winter air. Maybe not.

The cough had mostly resolved about 24 hours later, though it’s come and gone since then.

Even so, I did my duties of notifying friends I’d hung out with over the previous weekend, and I booked a mostly-unproductive telehealth appointment on Friday.

I’d hoped to be referred for a PCR test, but the physician’s assistant basically told me since I was young and healthy and vaccinated and mostly fine, just self-isolate and self-monitor and contact them if I worsened. He even said I could go to the grocery store, a permission I availed myself of (with mask, as always), at least for a big stock-up run; anything else, I’ll order for delivery.

Since I didn’t get a PCR test that way, I instead tried my local pharmacy chains. CVS didn’t have shit. Walgreens had appointments for Saturday afternoon.

Saturday afternoon it is.

The PCR test is important not just for being a second opinion to the rapid test, but also for getting the authorities notified. I want to be counted in the number of new cases recorded in California in November. I want to set off the exposure-notification system.

As I write this part, it’s 15:30 on Saturday; my appointment is in about 40 minutes.

It’s now Monday, and I’ve received my PCR test result.



It’s now the day before Thanksgiving, almost two weeks to the day after my positive test. I completed my self-isolation and have returned to my normal routines.

Few things, if any, are truly binary; even the positive/negative division can be fuzzy, depending on a number of things:

  • Sample interval: The BinaxNOW manual notes that you shouldn’t use both test cards less than 36 hours apart, which is one reason why I wasn’t terribly mad about not getting a Friday appointment. Each sample is a snapshot of that moment in time; things can change in between.
  • Vaccination status.
  • The tests sample your nostrils; this is a proxy for whatever might be in the depths of one’s lungs.
  • PCR tests, which are basically just genetic matching, can have false positives if your nose is a viral boneyard; rapid tests are notoriously prone to false negatives, but can also have false positives.

Nothing is ever perfect or absolute.

My mask reduced the amount of virus that (might have) infected me. My vaccine primed my immune system to mount an effective defense quickly. (Maybe more quickly if I’d already had my booster.) So maybe I was truly infected, but only briefly—a true positive, in the strict sense that there was virus in my nose, followed by a true negative. A glancing blow off my layers of armor.

The only things I know for sure are the test results themselves and my minor, possibly irrelevant cough. I tested positive; then I tested negative. The possibilities:

  • The rapid test gave a false positive, and I was never really infected.
  • The rapid test gave a true positive that was cleared by the time I took the PCR. (Thank you, vaccine!)
  • The rapid test gave a true positive and the PCR test a false negative (rare, but it can happen), and my hunkering down for 10 days was completely warranted.

I will never know which is the truth. So it is; we don’t always get to have perfect knowledge even of things that happened to us.

So learn from my experience:

  • Yes, you should absolutely get vaccinated. If you did already and it’s time for your booster, get it.
  • You should also wear a mask, any time you’re outside of your home or car.
  • You can still get the virus despite doing both of those things…
  • … but you’re still much less likely to get it, and more likely to come through without serious harm, if you do them.
  • Get tested, but don’t expect perfect knowledge. Err on the side of caution.

Aftermarket headphone earpads


2021-06-19 06:42:54 -08:00

I have a pair of Sony MDR-ZX770BN headphones that I’ve had for the better part of five years. They’re discontinued, replaced by another model, which I already bought one of to succeed this pair when its service life ends.

I had thought that day was nigh, as the earpads on these headphones had started to fall apart:

The stock earpads have each developed a hole along the bottom curve, exposing the foam inside. Each hole is vainly patched over with poorly-sticking electrical tape.

As shown in the picture, I tried patching the holes with electrical tape. This basically didn’t work; the tape simply doesn’t stick to the pads’ exterior material.

So I went researching alternative methods of patching the holes—and in so doing, discovered that you can buy new earpads for some headphones, and replace the old earpads with the new ones. This is fantastic; it means that instead of replacing perfectly-working $150 headphones, I get to replace the one deteriorating part with a $20 replacement.

There are two vendors for these that I’ve found: Brainwavz Audio, which makes a wide variety of products including earpads, and Wicked Cushions, which is specifically focused on earpads (and has some repair/DIY info on their website as well, which is cool).

Neither one has products specifically for my headphones—but it turns out that the Sony MDR-7506 uses the same size/shape earpads, so Brainwavz lists my headphones as a compatible model on their 7506 earpads. Wicked Cushions also has earpads for the MDR-7506, as well as “upgraded gaming earpads” for my HyperX Cloud Mix headphones.

(Why do I have two pairs of headphones? Partly because I’ve had the Sony ones longer, but also, I bought the HyperX Cloud Mix this year for videoconferencing, which its boom mic makes it much better at. I still use the Sony headphones for music listening.)

It turns out the “upgraded gaming earpads” also fit my Sony headphones, even though they’re not listed as compatible with them.

Here are the earpads’ thicknesses:

  • Sony MDR-770BN stock: Approximately 16–18 mm (this is tricky to measure because both earpads had ruptured near the bottom curve, which allows the foam to expand in that area and makes the unopposed thickness uneven; the unopposed thickness around the rupture is 21 mm)
  • Sony WH-CH700N stock: 17 mm (these are the successor model to the MDR-770BN, and I’ve confirmed that the earpads are interchangeable between them)
  • Brainwavz MDR-7506: 20–21 mm
  • Wicked Cushions MDR-7506: 21 mm
  • Wicked Cushions “upgraded gaming earpads”: 24 mm

Photo of one stock earpad from the Sony MDR-770BN headphones in front of a height scale in mm.Photo of one stock earpad from Sony WH-CH700N headphones in front of the height scale.Photo of one Brainwavz MDR-7506 earpad in front of the height scale.Photo of one Wicked Cushions MDR-7506 earpad in front of the height scale.Photo of one Wicked Cushions “upgraded gaming earpad” in front of the height scale.

L–R: MDR-770BN stock, WH-CH700N stock, Brainwavz 7506, Wicked 7506, Wicked “upgraded”. Click each to embiggen.

The difference between the Brainwavz and Wicked Cushions replacements may seem slight, but I actually find the Wicked ones more comfortable for extended wearing. They’re firmer as well as ever-so-slightly thicker.

The “upgraded gaming earpads”, however, between their greater thickness and their rectangular rather than round cross-section, are more comfortable than any of the rest. I’m quite sure I could comfortably wear these all day. Any compatible replacement would extend the life of my headphones, but the “upgraded gaming earpads” truly are an upgrade.

Installation, on my headphones, is easy; the old earpads can be simply slipped off the rim they sit on (if you’ve ever changed a bike tire, it’s kinda similar), and the new earpads pulled on. I found it easiest to put the earpads on at a right angle to their normal orientation, with the top or bottom edge of the headphone rim going into a broad side of the earpads, and rotate the earpads into the correct position as I pull them onto the rim.

Wicked’s website notes that some headphones have the earpads glued or otherwise anchored on. Luckily, my Sony headphones are not in that category.

Wicked also included a little instruction sheet in their package, which was a nice plus.

Wicked Cushions Upgraded Gaming Earpads installation instructions. 1: Gently pull the [old] ear pad out. 2: Notice the gap, this is where you will need to insert the cushion lip [on the new pad]. 3: Gently insert the ear pad lip to the top of the ear cup. 4: Move around the ear cup and insert the lip. 5: Tip: Insert your finger inside the cushion to have a better grip of pulling the lip, it is very flexible and it will not rip.
Click to embiggen.

Based on these findings, I can recommend Wicked Cushions’s replacements, both the straight-across replacement and (if compatible with your headphones) the “upgraded gaming earpads”.

Since originally writing this post, I did switch back to the Wicked MDR-7506 earpads. They’re still plenty comfortable, and I might as well use ’em since I bought ’em.

“After” photo of my MDR-770BN headphones with the Wicked Cushions MDR-7506 replacement earpads installed.

What got this post out of my drafts and onto the web is that Wicked Cushions is having a sale this weekend, June 18–20, for 30% off of their products with the coupon code “WCPrime”. So if you want to order some replacement earpads for your headphones, now is an excellent time to do that.

Masks are good and we should keep wearing them


2021-05-16 20:33:34 -08:00

First: Masks are good in their own right

Masks are stylish. Cloth masks in particular. Some of us have a variety of cloth masks that we cycle through whenever we go out, much like some people have a wardrobe of T-shirts or full outfits. The “cloth face covering” is one more way for people to aesthetically express themselves.

Me wearing a mask with a gold-colored scrolls pattern printed on a blue-and-green batik fabric.Me wearing a mask with stars printed on a blue outer-space pattern fabric.Me wearing a mask with a gold-colored ivy pattern printed on a many-colored batik fabric.

A variety of my masks—including the above masks—lain out on a table.
Here are some masks I’ve made (including one that was in progress at the time, seen completed in one of the photos above).

Masks prevent the spread of disease. Especially when we wear them as a community—and each and every one of us can and should contribute to that by wearing our masks.

A presentation slide, with a bullet point and couple and subordinate quotes (of example messaging) that read: “Wearing masks by both the infected and uninfected person gives the uninfected person the most protection; ‘Masking can protect you and works best for you when everyone does it’; ‘When you wear a mask, you protect others as well as yourself’”
Slide from a November 2020 CDC presentation on mask necessity and effectiveness.

Remember, if you’re infected, you can spread the virus to others—who may be not-yet-vaccinated or vulnerable for other reasons—without having developed symptoms. And while the vaccines provide a staggering reduction in the chance of infection, it’s not 100%. Breakthrough infections are rare but do happen—and if you’re one of the unlucky, you can then be a vector unless you’re wearing a mask.

Another presentation slide, with a stacked graph of covid transmissions broken down by symptomaticity over time (0–15 days post infection): Asymptomatic patients peak at about 5 days and are 24% of transmissions; pre-symptomatic patients peak at the same time and are 35% of transmissions; symptomatic patients peak a day or so later and are 41% of transmissions. 59% of transmissions come from patients who weren't symptomatic at the time.
Slide from the same November 2020 CDC presentation on mask necessity and effectiveness.

Getting vaccinated protects you (and very, very well!), but wearing a mask also protects everyone around you.

We’ve known for over a hundred years that masks work; they were a key part of the response to the 1918 flu pandemic. And that was before modern mask technologies like non-woven polypropylene; today’s masks are even better, as Asian countries proved in 2003 during the SARS outbreak.

Oh, and speaking of flu… Have you seen our flu numbers? We fucking rekt the flu this season! That’s not all due to masks—it includes staying home and social distancing—but I’d love to see what we could do with the masks but without the restrictions.

A graph of deaths by US children of flu, week-by-week, over the 2017–2018, 2018–2019, 2019–2020, and 2020–2021 flu seasons. The first three show 188, 144, and 198 deaths respectively; the last has one death.
Screenshot taken 2021-05-16 of one of the graphs on CDC’s weekly US flu surveillance report.

Do we want to go back to killing 150–200 children a year?

Masks prevent the spread of disease. They reduce the chance of the wearer catching something, and they’re even better at reducing the chance of the wearer spreading something. And they’re more effective the more of us keep masking up.

Defense in depth. Positioning masks’ effectiveness as something to be left behind in favor of vaccines’ effectiveness poses a false dichotomy: that we must choose one or the other, and the vaccines are better. We should instead recognize that, well…

GIF of the main characters of the film “The Road to El Dorado” saying “Both? Both. Both is good.”

Defense in depth means layering multiple defenses to create a better defense than any single layer could achieve on its own, because even when one layer fails, other layer(s) can still stop the failure and keep you safe.

The right answer isn’t a false choice between masks or vaccines; the right answer is masks and vaccines.

Masks are a signal that “I am (still) taking this seriously and you should too”. We are still in a pandemic, and it’s not yet certain whether covid will ever be Behind Us Once And For All, or will instead become a permanent fixture of life that everyone gets sooner or later and has some percentage chance of mortality, not unlike flu, or permanent disability.

Masks communicate to everyone around you that you know covid and other airborne illnesses are dangerous and to be taken seriously, and that you are taking this simple, positive measure to protect them as well as yourself.

I have a much longer rant on the notion of “virtue signaling”, but what it boils down to is that whinging about “virtue signaling” was always disingenuous pap, and that modeling good behaviors is actually a good thing. Setting a positive example is a good thing. Leading by doing is a good thing. Fuck the haters; be a positive example and proud of it.

This is the social component of public health. It’s not enough for CDC and your state and county health departments to yell from the mountaintops “you should do X!”. The way to get everyone to do X is for everyone around them to do X. You can help by being one of those examples.

Masks protect numerous groups of people against harassment, violence, or other unpleasantness. Julia Carrie Wong wrote the definitive piece on this. You have:

It’s easy to be OK with losing masks if you don’t feel like you’re losing anything. For some folks, masks were a big net gain in ways that have nothing to do with disease transmission.

Second: Abandoning masks is premature and ill-advised

The pandemic isn’t over. As I write this, the CDC’s data tracker shows approximately 35,000 new cases of covid in the United States each day. This is not the time to start scaling back the non-pharmaceutical interventions that keep that daily number from being higher.

Lots of people still aren’t vaccinated yet. 12–15-year-olds only just became eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. That vaccine comes with a three-week period between jabs, plus the two-week period afterward for immunity to build up. It would be five weeks from now when we could consider people in the 12–15 age range protected, if we could vaccinate all of them at the same time, which we can’t.

12–15-year-olds won’t be fully vaccinated for another two months at minimum. So keep your shirt on.

On top of that, there are plenty of adults and 16- and 17-year-olds who either haven’t started or haven’t completed their vaccination series yet. Yes, some will be unreachable anti-vaxxers, but we should try to get as many as possible started, and wait until they are fully vaxxed.

And it’s not just about age—access is also a tremendous factor. Many people can’t afford to take time off work, especially up to three days for jab #2 (one day to get the jab, then up to two days of potential side effects). Some disabled people can’t get vaxxed unless people administering vaccines come to them.

Just because everyone you know is vaxxed doesn’t mean we’ve finished the roll-out.

We don’t yet know whether certain groups of people are protected by the vaccines. Particularly immunocompromised and immunosuppressed people. They can still get a vaccine, but the jury’s still out on whether it’ll actually protect them. It’s plausible (but yet to be proven) that it won’t, because the purpose of the vaccine is to train the immune system to respond to the virus’s spike proteins. If the immune system is suppressed or compromised, what can we expect from that? We don’t know yet.

For the sake of their safety, we kind of have to assume that them getting vaccinated will not be enough to protect them.

Both of these last two facts combine to mean we cannot jump to the conclusion that we have vaccinated enough people by this point for us to leave masks behind. It’s simply too early.

We don’t know yet how long immunity built by vaccination lasts. Antibodies from natural covid infection last at least 8 months, possibly longer. Covid reinfections do occur, though they are rare. With the vaccines being only a few months old, we haven’t had enough time yet to know how long vaccine-induced immunity will last.

Even if we all get vaxxed, if we all drop our masks and then the immunity fades after a year or so, covid could come roaring back.

And if that happens, it’ll be a couple of weeks of growing community transmission—likely in numerous locations all over the country and the world in parallel—before we know it. Remember, most covid transmission happens without symptoms, and each new case takes a median of 5 days to develop symptoms (if they do at all). By the time we realize that there’s a resurgent outbreak, it’ll already be a big problem.

Strong community masking can help prevent and impede such outbreaks.

CDC does not consider the social aspects of public health. This has become abundantly clear over the past year-and-a-half.

CDC does a lot of good work gathering evidence (especially that—if you want a relevant study, the CDC probably has it on their website) and maintaining updated recommendations, but sometimes, their guidance is overly skewed to what you can do to protect yourself, without consideration to social aspects like what these actions imply to other people or building interest in protecting your community.

Take the CDC’s disastrous new guidance: “Fully vaccinated people can stop wearing masks.” As a statement of actual necessity, this is true: if you’re vaccinated, your risk of disease is low and your risk of transmission is infinitesimal. It ignores the concept of defense in depth (vaccine plus mask is better than vaccine without mask), but it’s fair enough to say that a mask on a vaccinated person is no longer strictly necessary.

But consider the social aspect: We now have the implication that mask-wearers are the unvaccinated. The implied intention seems to be to incentivize vaccination—“you can leave your mask behind!”, ignoring that masks are good, actually—but I think this could send exactly the opposite message, that all these mask-wearers you still see suggest that maybe the vaccine is not such hot shit.

Further, suppose mask-wearing gets rarer down the line. Then, the implication that mask-wearers are unvaccinated could lead to some unpleasant (not to mention invasive) “why haven’t you gotten vaxxed?” questions. This is why the false dichotomy is harmful; we need people to know that both is an option.

We should be sending the message that getting vaccinated is popular, because the vaccines are good and fantastically effective, as well as free to literally anyone and by this point extremely plentiful. And that masking is also good, and you should do that, too.

Mask-abandonment as incentive to get vaccinated also supports anti-mask rhetoric. Fuck those people and their bad-faith whinging. They’ve already had more influence on public health than they deserve to have had; leave them behind and focus on promoting all of the things that actually help.

“Need to” is the wrong question. CDC and other public health authorities, at least in part motivated by trying to satisfy the bad-faith whinging of anti-maskers, have been trying to draw a precise shape dividing when you do need to wear a mask and when you don’t need to, based on vaccination status, mixing of households, distancing, indoors vs. outdoors, and on and on and fucking on.

This is the wrong question. The right question is whether you should wear a mask, and the right answer is yes.

There are exactly two exceptions:

The latter is why we shouldn’t go around policing people’s mask-wearing—they might have an actual reason that is none of your business—and why the anti-maskers are assholes for abusing that as an excuse to spread disease.

Notice how simple this is. Unless you are younger than 2 or otherwise medically contraindicated, wear a mask whenever you are outside of your home or car. Simple. Easy.

Trying to precisely circumscribe when people “need to” wear a mask and when they don’t is doomed to failure. Nobody can remember that shit. The more you complicate it, the more you ensure people will get it wrong in one direction or another, or will give up on understanding it and consequently ignore it.

If you want everyone to do the right thing, you have to keep the right thing simple:

Wear a mask whenever you are outside your home or car.

A screenshot from one of the “The Lord of The Rings” movies, showing Gandalf, Legolas, and Gimli hiking up a hill (with the others behind, out of frame), edited to have masks on all three visible faces, with the caption “Keep it simple” above and “Keep it safe” below.

Some acknowledgements

Universal masking has been rough on d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Lip-readers, particularly.

I don’t have a simple answer for this. The National Association of the Deaf recommends clear masks, but those are few and far between and my understanding is they kinda suck. They have other recommendations, too, including whiteboards and phone apps and, as a last resort and only upon request, standing two meters away and pulling down your mask to talk.

I know some lip-readers wear buttons that say “Please face me—I read lips”. We may start seeing buttons that say “Please lower your mask—I read lips”, though asking disabled people to take on an expense to accommodate people without that disability is always problematic.

Certainly the vaccines—once enough people are fully vaccinated—will make it much safer to drop a non-clear mask to talk to people. I hope we do get to a point where it will be safe enough to reserve masks for when one is exhibiting symptoms of illness, and trust our vaccinations to prevent outbreaks.

We are traumatized. The pandemic has been a year-and-a-half of hell, more for some of us than others, but even folks like me who are privileged and generally introverted have still had a rough time of it.

I do think this has gone both ways: There are people who are hesitant to give up the safety of masks, as well as people who just want to “go back to normal”—including no more masks—right the hell now. I think these are different expressions of the same year+ of trauma.

Give people time and space to come out of this in their own way, at their own pace. Don’t rush people “back to normal”—all that does is compound the harm and prolong the pandemic.

At the same time, be compassionate with those who want the pandemic to be over (not to be confused with covid deniers)—we all want the pandemic to be over, and in order to make that happen, it’s important that we not rush to abandon our protective measures prematurely. Short cuts make long delays.

In conclusion

Do otherwise-healthy, fully-vaccinated people need to wear masks? I won’t try to argue against the evidence: Generally not most of the time.

Can we wear masks? Yes, especially when many of us do it and normalize it.

Should we wear masks? Yes. Cloth masks can look cool as hell and wearing masks helps protect everyone. You especially should wear a mask when you are sick.

Will we wear masks? That’s up to us. The new guidance doesn’t have to stop us.

Will I continue wearing my masks? Abso-fucking-lutely.

Cooling yourself without air conditioning


2020-09-06 16:16:18 -08:00

San Francisco is notorious for forgoing air conditioning in most homes, since we ostensibly “don’t need it”. But the climate emergency is rapidly changing that, and as I write this, it’s powerful hot out there.

In previous years, we’ve been able to go to malls and movie theaters and other air-conditioned venues to cool off. But being in any such building is a risk now due to the pandemic, and going outside at all may not be an attractive prospect due to wildfire smoke.

So, from my experience cooling myself off in multiple pre-AC ways, here are some ways to keep cool at home without air conditioning.

  • Drink water. Even straight-from-the-tap is better than nothing—remaining hydrated will help you self-cool.
  • If your fridge doesn’t have a cold water tap, put another glass of water in the fridge. When your current glass runs dry, refill it and swap it with the one in the fridge.
  • Take a shower or bath. It’ll wash the sweat off and the water will help cool you—as will the air over your wet skin when you get out.
  • Point a fan at yourself and spray yourself with water from a spray bottle. This is essentially a manual swamp-cooler. The water will help conduct heat out of you into the wind, and the water’s evaporation from your skin will cool you further.

Cutting way back on Twitter


2020-07-19 20:21:33 -08:00

The person who invented the word “doomscrolling” deserves a Nobel Prize for Literature.

Twitter, at least the way I’d been using it up to now, which I think is coincidentally in broad alignment with how Twitter wants to be used, is two things at once: Both a social network, and a news site.

Its news function, particularly when viewed through a third-party client not subject to Twitter’s injection of hot garbage into the web client’s timeline, consists of curating one’s news intake by following people who retweet the news you want to see. Some, but not necessarily all, of these people may be your actual friends; at any rate, the two almost inevitably mix, as your friends may retweet what you have retweeted and vice versa.

Thus, the place where you hang out with (at least internet) friends becomes the place where you learn what’s going on in the world, and vice versa. Whereupon you can no longer have one without the other—at least, not without ditching Twitter and replacing it with something without that mixing.

Friday morning, I woke up in a peaceful, energized mood, and proceeded to begin my day, like every day before it for the past decade-plus, by reading Twitter.

After half an hour of that, I was too depressed to do anything but hold down my couch for most of the day. Well, that and read more Twitter.

I did basically nothing all of Friday. Like most days before it.

My greatest achievement that Friday was noticing the clear contrast between my mood upon waking up and my mood after looking at even a little Twitter. Whereupon I made a resolution.

Since Saturday, I have hardly looked at Twitter at all. When I have done so, it has been with a Tweetbot filter turned on that blocks all retweets, so I only see original tweets by the people I follow.

The filter helps a little bit, but the mixing is unavoidable; when people aren’t retweeting, they’re quote-tweeting, or subtweeting, or commenting, or venting.

And so my Twitter exposure lasts for only a few minutes at a time now. There isn’t as much there without taking an unfiltered look at the fresh horrors device, and I know what happens when I do that.

As the world (and the United States in particular) has been descending into fascism and climate crisis and long-overdue reckoning with a lot of things that a lot of us have ignored or accepted for far too long, the news on my timeline has gotten more and more captivating in the wrong ways.

This isn’t a new problem; it’s been true for years, even before the 2016 election. But it has gotten worse over time.

Often, I would spend most of the day reading Twitter. Lately, when I had my fill of Twitter—or ran out by hitting the top of the timeline—I would simply lie on my couch, unable to do anything.

How did I spend that time of doing nothing? Thinking. Thinking about the problems in the world; thinking about how I, or we, might solve them.

Not actually doing anything in such a direction. Just thinking about it.

One of my catchphrases is “awareness is not a substitute for action”.

Twitter makes it possible to be very aware of things that we do need people to be aware of. But it is possible to be too aware; to fall into “staying aware” by doomscrolling, or “raising awareness” by retweeting, QTing, etc., and never get around to actually doing anything.

We must be aware, but we must also do something about it.

In the past two days, as I have looked at Twitter for maybe a total of two hours (as compared to my previous daily average of… most of the day), I have had so much more energy to do things.

Much of this has been long-neglected tasks around the home. I’ve done two loads of laundry; put some things away; made some mask pieces. I’ve also made progress in reading a couple of books.

But also, I’ve had more energy for the political activism that has been my focus for a few years now. I can do things more than I’ve been able to do for a long time.

Looking away from Twitter is an immediate remedy, but creates a longer-term problem.

Twitter had been my main news source. “How do you stay so well-informed”, people would ask me, and I’d apologetically tell them that I spend way too much time reading a well-curated and completely irreplicable Twitter timeline, and that I absolutely do not recommend trying to get your news the same way I do.

(Which is completely, seriously true, and not just for doomscrolling reasons. There’s a lot of bullshit out there, from the factually untrue to the misleading to the technically-factual-but-incendiary-instead-of-actionable, which I have experience spotting and rejecting/avoiding and a lot of people do not. Getting your news from social media is highly inadvisable without it.)

Awareness is not a substitute for action, but action requires some awareness in order to not just be dancing in a void. Action is often reaction, which means knowing what’s happened to react to.

I have ideas. Maybe I’ll check NPR’s front page on some schedule. Maybe I’ll check Google News. Maybe I’ll just have to trust that people I work with who have stayed plugged into the news, or the occasional glance at my (retweet-free) Twitter timeline, will fulfill my need for some awareness without overloading or depressing me into inaction.

One way or another, in the meantime, I’m happy to be doing stuff.

I’ve been pretty quiet on Twitter since I stopped reading it, but I may actually start posting more, as I start doing more things worth posting about. Masks and other projects; things I’ve made; some political actions; nail polish.

I have long been intentional in what I tweet and retweet, especially about the sociopolitical. I try to keep things actionable, not contribute to people’s rivers of mood slime. I also try to uplift wins, to highlight the achievability thereof. That will likely not change, though I will probably be retweeting much less simply because I won’t be coming across things I would retweet in my timeline.

So you may see more tweets, and will definitely see fewer retweets. I’ll still be reading my mentions and occasionally replying to tweets I do see. I don’t think I’m leaving Twitter entirely, at least not yet—but my approach to it has already changed and I like the change a lot.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this goes.

Awareness is not a substitute for action


2020-07-19 20:20:26 -08:00

There’s a pernicious, though well-meaning, sort of mindset around “raising awareness” of various evils in the world.

The idea—such as it is—is that it’s vitally important to raise as much awareness as possible of whichever evil, and important as an individual to “stay informed”, which is to say, tuned into some daily dosage of news coverage.

I have a couple of problems with this.

First off, moment-to-moment news coverage, such as you typically see on TV/radio, on most news websites and newspapers, and indeed in all major news outlets regardless of medium, is extremely bad for actually being informed.

Moment-to-moment (often, but not necessarily, “breaking”) news coverage only tells you what just happened. This is insufficient in three ways:

  • what: but without much delving into who (or who else, or who didn’t) or when (or when else, or when it didn’t)
  • just: only the most recent event/act, with little to no history
  • happened: agency may be subtracted or actively denied (language such as “officer-involved shooting”, as well as more generally reporting on events rather than acts)

Truly informative coverage provides history, context, and depth—the sort of information that requires time and work and knowledge to assemble into a coherent and informative story.

Moreover, “staying informed” is only beneficial as a means to an end.

The opening cutscene to “Watch_Dogs 2” bothers me particularly because of this. The player character describes a system of corporate-administered mass surveillance—a system whose name is emblazoned on numerous hackable in-game objects, at least for the player’s convenience but seemingly diegetically as well—and concludes that the hacker group he belongs to, DedSec, needs to expose this system, its nature, and its ramifications to the world.

The problem I have is: That’s a start.

Playing that game in 2019*, I felt like there would’ve been at least four news articles about the fictional system in question already. One in WaPo, one in ProPublica, two in Reason magazine, and assorted reblogs and other coverage on Boing Boing, HuffPo, and various other sites. Plus innumerable tweets and Facebook posts.

And yet the system persists.

It persists because everyone is vaguely aware of it already—it’s directly involved in their lives; part of the problem is that they functionally can’t escape it—and they have accepted it.

Dig into the ramifications of such a system—enabling discrimination; enabling unwanted disclosure/privacy violation; etc.—and most people will go “Wow. Sure hope that never happens to me.”.

We are trained—mostly by news media themselves, passively, as a side effect of how stories are selected, reported, packaged, and delivered—to regard news coverage as spectacle. That thing happened, over there, apart from you, apart from your life. It happened without you, and so you have no influence upon it.

I haven’t played far enough into “Watch_Dogs 2”’s main plot to know whether this spoils a twist or not, but I feel like if it happened in real life (arguably it has; the game’s reflections of its inspirations are not subtle), the consequence to DedSec blowing the lid off the story and revealing ctOS’s true nature to the world would be a worldwide collective shrug.

Not just because that particular story is about a computer system and most people’s eyes immediately glaze over when you start talking computer shit, but because it is a part of their lives already, and such an exposé, with the implication that the system being exposed is bad, in turn implies that a part of their lives is bad.

For each individual person, the response to this is as follows:

  • Wow. So what can I, individually, do about it?
  • Well, I need to be in this system to get hired, to pass credit checks, to rent an apartment, etc. So, I can’t opt out of it, even if such a thing were theoretically possible. And I cannot personally destroy it, even though I wish it didn’t exist.
  • So… nothing. I shall do nothing.

So, what did that exposé accomplish?

Here in 2020, look at the mask thing. It’s so hard to get people to understand that even a mask that only protects other people protects everyone when everyone wears them. Americans don’t grasp collective action and the importance of it.

We really need to fix that. We need to start to see ourselves as part of a society, able to take actions that affect more of that society than just ourselves and able to choose actions that improve rather than harm.

We can’t just stop at awareness forever. It’s exhausting to be aware of problems and just watch them happen. We need to choose some subset of the problems and take action, and encourage others to take action along with us.

As long as we do nothing, nothing will continue to be done, and we’ll all be very aware as it happens.

*It’s now 2020 and I still haven’t finished it. I got distracted by side missions and driving around the fictionalized version of the City. And now there’s a pandemic, so “Watch_Dogs 2” has become the Going Outside In The Before Times Simulator.

Long hair, care and feeding of


2020-05-16 12:12:16 -08:00

As some of you know, I used to have long hair—down to my waist, kept in a ponytail. I’ve gone back and forth a couple times; currently I have short hair.

The ability to maintain short hair is kind of hard to come by right now, which is hard on people who are not used to growing/were not intending to grow their hair out.

There are a couple of solutions to that. One is to acquire a hair-clipper, even if it takes you awhile, and teach yourself how to use it, almost certainly with some hair-styling fails along the way. (There is nothing wrong with this; “sucking at something is the first step to being sort of good at something”, and you can consider this the cultivation of a skill that you will then have available to you for the rest of your life.)

This post is about the other solution.

Hair is a set of trade-offs. Short hair chooses one set; long hair chooses its complement.

Short hair Long hair
Maintenance Regular trims/haircuts Optional maintenance of bangs or sides; doing nothing at all works too
Shampoo Very little Buy it by the liter
Styling Part of the haircut itself Done by accessorizing the hair; e.g., adding things to it, curling or flattening it, putting it in a ponytail or braid
Cleanliness Can vacuum up the clippings after a trim Finding random fallen long hairs all the time

One of the best parts of long hair is not having to do anything to it. It just grows, and doesn’t need my help to do that. No regular visits to the barbershop, no having to mow my own head every few weeks. All I need to do is wash it.

On washing it: Yes, the shampoo consumption rate difference is real. As your hair grows longer, the amount of shampoo needed to wash it—and the amount of water needed to both wash and rinse it—will increase. Part of why I’m keeping up my short hair is to make my shampoo supplies last longer; if I didn’t have my hair-clipper, I might have gone back to long, and would see my shampoo consumption just starting to tick up about now.

Styling short hair consists of how you cut it—that is, how short you cut the various sections of it (front, sides, back). There’s also how you part it if the top is long enough for that, bangs/fringe, etc. Styling long hair consists of shaping it or putting things in it. I kept my long hair in a ponytail, which meant I used a ponytail band.

Cleanliness is an underappreciated benefit of short hair. All hair naturally falls out after a certain amount of time; coupled with growth rate, that means hair typically falls out at a certain length. That length is the maximum length you can grow your hair out to. It is also the length of the innumerable fallen hairs you will find on the carpet and on random things all the time, and for years after you switch (back) to short hair—I still find random long hairs occasionally, and I’ve had short hair for over a year now.

Growing your hair long happens in multiple phases.

Phase 0 is when it isn’t long yet—it’s still short, maybe out to a few inches at most.

Phase 1 is when, if maintaining short hair, you’d consider yourself overdue for a haircut.

Phase 2 is the worst part. This is when it is definitely no longer short but isn’t long enough to put into a ponytail. It hangs in front of your eyes, gets in front of your face, and is generally messy for a period of months. (This is the point at which I start wearing bobby pins above the corners of my face to keep my hair out of it.)

Phase 3 is when the hair gets long enough that you can put it into a ponytail or—after even more time—a braid.

Hair is different from one person to the next.

What everyone knows is that hair comes in different shapes. From straight, flat hair to waves to loose curls to really tight curls. My hair is naturally straight with subtle waves, so that’s where my experience is. Different shapes require different techniques, and your hair may require tools and techniques that I can’t speak to.

Less well-known is that hair also comes in different thicknesses. My hair is really thick, which is why I’ve never been able to braid it. (Or at least that’s what I blame it on.) Some people’s hair is really thin. It’s a spectrum.

There are some things you should buy while your hair is growing out (in addition to the 55-gallon drum of shampoo).

One is bobby pins. They come in different colors to match your hair; find yours and buy a big pack of it. You will lose them, and sometimes the paint wears off or a pin looses up and loses its grip.

You’ll also need a hairbrush. I recommend the Wet Brush; where most brushes get a lot harder to use on wet hair, the Wet Brush actually works more easily on wet hair.

Relatedly, buy a metal comb with widely-spaced teeth. Use this to pull hair out of your brush. Throw the clumps of hair in the compost or garbage.

Lastly, buy some ponytail bands (also called “hair elastics” but that’s a more general term). These come in different colors (including both hair colors and decorative colors), thicknesses, and cross-sectional shapes (round or flat). I buy flat black ponytail bands in packs of 15 at the dollar store, and Daiso has some neat round ones that have an ornament on them, which are a fun way to accessorize your ponytail once you have one.

Bobby pins, brushes, and ponytail bands are all consumables. I already mentioned how bobby pins wear out and become trash. Brushes lose detangling effectiveness and eventually start losing bristles; ponytail bands lose elasticity. You will need to replace your brush periodically, and you will need to replace your ponytail bands regularly.

Oh, one more thing: a metal wire brush for sweeping up fallen hairs from the carpet. Way easier to pick hairballs out of this than off of a vacuum roller. Trust me.

One thing that becomes important as hair grows out is its texture.

Hair is not a perfectly smooth cylinder; it is, essentially, barbed. These barbs will catch on each other, tying your hair in knots. These knots will happen, and you will have to remove them.

First, use shampoo with conditioner. Conditioner smooths out the barbs and makes hair less likely to tangle. I’ve always just used Pert Plus but some people prefer to use a separate shampoo and conditioner. You might also look into “dry shampoo”, which I’ve never tried but some people swear by. Use whatever works for you, and consider changing it up and finding a new favorite that may be more suitable for your long hair.

Second, brush your hair every day. (Put your comb away. Once you get to Phase 2, you won’t need it, unless you have a beard and you comb that.) If you skip a day, you will regret it. Brush it every day. If you have a Wet Brush, you can do this right after you get out of the shower, or even in the shower.

Third, sooner or later, a knot will happen. Usually you’ll find it with the brush. If the brush doesn’t pull it apart, you’ll have to do it yourself. Sometimes you can (and might need to) pull it apart piecemeal, pulling small sections of your hair out of the knot at a time; even then, you might just be working to the point where you can tear the knot open by brute force. You will develop a particular kind of strength, doing this. One way or another, the knot—or pieces of it—will come out, and you’ll throw the hair away in the compost or regular garbage.

There are flat ponytail bands that have a grippy coating on one side. These are a scam; the grip layer does nothing but act as a pivot point, and the band immediately tips over to the non-grippy side.

To put on a ponytail band, you will need hair that is sufficiently long—at least down to your lower neck/shoulders—and freshly brushed.

I’m right-handed, so the following instructions are written accordingly. Swap left and right if you’re left-handed.

  1. Put the band on your left hand, holding it taut around all of that hand’s fingers, or all but the pinky.
  2. Gather up your hair, at the base of your neck, into your right hand.
  3. With your left hand, grasp the bundle of hair. (You’re now holding your hair in both hands, one of which has a ponytail band stretched around its fingers.)
  4. Take your right hand off of your hair and pick up the band where it’s over your left fingers. Hold onto the band with your right fingers. Pull your hair through the band with your left hand, which will pull the band off your left hand and fully onto/around your hair.
  5. Still holding your hair in your left hand and the band in your right fingers, use your right fingers to put one twist in the band. Add your right thumb inside the band, and use your right index finger and thumb to expand the side of the band that has no hair in it until the twist is in the middle of the band and the band has one side with hair in it and one side without.
  6. Use your right index finger and thumb to grasp the hair just below where the band is around it. With your left hand, let go of the hair and pick up the band, and pull the hair through a second time.

You now have a double-banded ponytail.

Becoming a Democratic voter


2020-02-20 19:58:56 -08:00

This month, I did something I once thought I would never do.

Screenshot of the online voter-registration form on the California Secretary of State's website, with my party preference filled in as Democratic.

My whole adult life, I have been what’s known as a “no party preference” or NPP voter. (Sometimes called “independent”, but this is ambiguous as there is a party called the American Independent Party, and they are very much not centrist or big-tent.)

Largely this has been because I don’t like political parties. And I still don’t. In theory, they’re money and resource pools for candidates to draw on; in practice, we often see them working against insurgent candidates who are proposing change. I’d much rather have campaign finance restricted to some equal share of a publicly-funded pool, with strict laws and even stricter enforcement. (Yes, I know there are risks there, too. There are no perfect solutions.)

I also have always held a somewhat idealistic openness toward third parties, largely as a result of all of the shitty things that politicians of both major parties and the parties themselves have done—some credible competition might help keep them honest.

But now?

John Wick, from the first movie, with his lines changed to “People keep asking me if I have a party preference. And I haven't really had an answer. But now yeah… I'm thinkin' I've got a party preference!”.

On top of the significant difference between the two major parties these days, there is also some realpolitik involved.

For one, I’ve accepted the fact that as long as we have a first-past-the-post voting system, our elections will always tend toward two polar parties, with all the other parties and all the candidates and voters arrayed around them like iron filings around a bar magnet. Ranked-choice voting is a prerequisite (but not the only step by any means) to dismantling the two-party binary. And until we get there, power resides with the two major parties and power must be won and wielded to make change.

But more immediately, the current election in California, which started this month and ends March 3rd, is not only a primary—it’s also used by various Democratic Central Committees (county party organizations, basically) to elect their board members.

As a NPP voter, the Democratic Party in California would let me vote in their Presidential primary—this is called requesting a crossover ballot, and it’s done through the same form through which you request a vote-by-mail ballot. You then get a ballot for NPP voters that includes the Democratic Presidential primary.

But a NPP voter cannot vote in their county’s DCCC election. That’s for registered Democrats only.

So that’s what pushed me over the edge. In San Francisco, we have two roughly-defined slates of candidates running, one formed of current and former elected officials looking to transition from holding power in state or City government to holding power in the county Party, and the other a slate of activists who want the Party to drive progressive change.

One of those Democratic Parties sounds a lot better to me—and I want to cast my vote accordingly.

As I mentioned, the election has already begun—I had already received my crossover ballot when I made the decision. I emailed the SF Department of Elections and got confirmation that once I re-register (and check the box to receive mail-in ballots, same as I did last time), a new ballot would automatically be sent to me. So I did the thing, got my new ballot, and will discard my crossover ballot.

(If you want to do this, the deadline to register and get a Democratic mail-in ballot was February 18 here in California, but you can do Conditional Voter Registration at any polling place/voting center in your county. If you’re in another state, check with your Secretary of State or county Department of Elections.)