Shared posts

13 Sep 00:35

New & Improved DIY Cat Onesie: Skip The Cone & Make This Out Of An Old T-Shirt, Instead!

by Jen

Tormenting (I mean helping) cats. Awesome. Clearly I need to make one of these for Duck :)

John keeps telling me I need to update you guys on the cats, which seems strange since the cats are pretty much ALL I post about over on my Instagram Stories, ha. I know most of you aren't over there, though, and yesterday we invented something sanity-saving that I think you cat Moms and Dads might appreciate:

These strappy one-piece numbers that really bring out their eyes. :D

Ok, really it's a recovery onesie, since both girls were spayed on Monday. We never intended to make these, though, because I thought I was prepared with these inflatable collars:


Both girls wriggled out of them in under 5 minutes. Turns out their safety collars inside the rings just popped open when they kicked at it. So we tried collars without the safety clasps... and Eva nearly strangled herself struggling with it. Terrifying. So, no.

We briefly tried our old DIY cat onesie, but it was way too big. Cute, but big:

Eva was still able to reach her stitches through the lower end.

At this point, desperation levels rising, John went out and bought the standard plastic cones. Suki did... ok?... in it, but Eva lost her furry little mind, instantly transforming into a 6-pound wrecking ball, flailing against every hard surface and giving me a succession of heart attacks as her little head bounced across the hard floors and walls. We tackled her, took the cone off, swaddled her tightly in the onesie again - plus a blanket for good measure - and sat down to regroup.

This is what a rough day looks like.

That's a long windup to tell you I found this "recovery suit" on Amazon while looking for a better collar:

It's only $9 and ships with Prime, but after squinting at it a moment I said to John, "We can make that out of an old t-shirt right now." John grumbled at first, like he always does, but then he got that thoughtful, calculating look that means MAGIC is about to happen. 

Furry Stegosaurus!
John's first prototype just had leg holes and straps, and it worked pretty darn well. The neck part stretched out quickly with the girls chewing on them, though, causing the whole thing to slide down after an hour or two.

Prototype #2 had a head hole and extra front straps. This was the winner for Suki, and she's still snug and happy in it two days later:
» Read More
08 Sep 19:32

Boathouses and Houseboats

The <x> that is held by <y> is also a <y><x>, so if you go to a food truck, the stuff you buy is truck food. A phone that's in your car is a carphone, and a car equipped with a phone is a phonecar. When you play a mobile racing game, you're in your phonecar using your carphone to drive a different phonecar. I'm still not sure about bananaphones.
05 Sep 23:05

Rolle's Theorem

I mean, if it's that easy to get a theorem named for you ... "a straight line that passes through the center of a coplanar circle always divides the circle into two equal halves." Can I have that one? Wait, can I auction off the naming rights? It can be the Red Bull Theorem or the Quicken Loans Theorem, depending who wants it more.
02 Sep 03:43

In celebration of progress on the “get a new job” front I...


And so begins the awkward task of trying to sell some of my creatures. I don't need the money, but I think I do need the minor sense of validation of someone else liking one of my dudes.... hoping to get a listing of about 5-10 creatures up before the year is out...

In celebration of progress on the “get a new job” front I finished the Pink Book Buddy.  It was half of this WIP post.  Vellum pages, questionable headband stitching, and a reasonable proof of concept.  

Listed on Etsy because I’ve got to start moving some of these “books” out of my house… 

31 Aug 23:15

Dr. Sketchy’s September 2018 event!

Good evening Sketchy folks! Still working on some details, but our next event will be WEDNESDAY, September 26th, at DNA LOUNGE! Be sure to join us for an amazing night. Specifics to come soon! #keepsfsketchy

26 Aug 16:59

Do You Like Small Adventures? Do You Like Mail Surprises?

by Donovan Beeson

trying to ramp up the letter output again...

Lea kickstarter
Inventor, illustrator, and all-around inquisitive person Lea Redmond with Leafcutter Designs, leader of World's Smallest Post is at it again. We are big fans of her small letters and packages here at L.W.A. I think I do a posting on her perfection once a quarter due to the sheer volume of awesome she manages to put out. One of her newest genius moves is called S.A.S.E. Treats! Small, mailable, shareable fun things that encourage interaction and exploration. Send her a S.A.S.E. (that's a Self-Addressed-Stamped-Envelope) and she'll send you a treat. The froggies were but the beginning. She has new surprises in store! Send your S.A.S.E. to: Leafcutter Designs/329 15th Street/Oakland/CA/94612

And if you, like us, are just delighted by all things Leafcutter offers, check out their new Kickstarter for a package full of small adventures. Lively Matters focuses on getting back in touch with the wonder contained within mundane things. "The marvelous world of materials is always calling out to all of our senses." Here, here!  Donovan

17 Aug 19:30

Chemotherapy update - Wigs!

by floresita

Hmmm... maybe you could comment on her blog, Suko?

Here's another post I hope will be helpful if you or someone you know is losing their hair. I knew nothing about wigs and hair loss before this, so here is what I've learned so far!

I did a lot of online research about the hair loss process, so I would know what to expect. It really helped me to have a plan - I did my wig shopping in advance, knowing that when I was on chemo, I wouldn't have the energy or emotional stability to get through it.

Haircut and Hair Buzz
First, I cut my hair into a cute, short bob - I knew my hair would fall out, but there would be less of it to fall out. 2 weeks after my first treatment, it started falling out in handfuls, so I took the plunge and got it shaved off. I had no idea what to ask for, so, I asked for the shortest setting on the clippers, which is a 1. I didn't want to look like Mr. Clean just yet. :)


It is hard to look into the mirror and see a shaved head, but I was a lot less emotional than I thought I would be. I won't be winning any beauty awards, but it looked a lot less terrible than I thought it would. I kind of felt like Ripley in glasses. And my head was a lot less lumpy and awkward than I had imagined. Ugh, but all those spiky little hairs as they fall out and poke me in the head are a real pain!

Wig Shopping
My goal was to have at least 1 moderately priced, good-quality wig, and a bunch of other cheap fun wigs for running to the store, going out, etc.

After a lot of research on Youtube, I settled on a cute side parted bob by Estetica called Jamison:
Jamison by Estetica

Jamison retails around $216, but many online stores have good sales that could put it in the $150 range. After wearing this wig for several days, I do think it is a nice quality wig that looks very realistic. It is very light and pretty comfortable, even for people with large heads like myself. The permatease in the scalp is pretty scratchy, but the bonus is you get more body in your hair if you want it. You can also manipulate the part a bit and the mesh / lace makes the scalp area look very real. Everyone who has seen this wig says it looks like real hair. I had some quality issues with the wig I received and had to exchange it, you can read more about that farther down.

Color Issues
Color is a challenge - because all you have is this one small photo of someone with a hair color not even remotely like yours. Being Hispanic, there is a real lack of models who look like me, so I really have to use my imagination and go out on a limb when ordering.

The first color I ordered, R4-6, looked like my hair color in the tiny thumbnail:
But when I received the wig and tried it on it just wasn't right - it was way too brown, and kind of a golden brown, that doesn't really show in the thumbnail. Again, I think this reveals a limitation for Hispanic, and Asian wig shoppers - there aren't a lot of colors with the right tone for us.

On my second try, I ordered R2-4, and that was a better match, but still a lot more brown than it appeared in the thumbnail:

But seriously guys, look at those tiny thumbnails - do they not look the same to you?

My best advice is to go into an actual wig store and try on to find the right shade. But in my experience the saleslady refused to give out style numbers and colors, assuming I would order it online. That was really off putting because I would happily order in person, and pay more if I had a good experience with her.

Ordering Wigs Online- Exchanges, Ugh
Exchange policies - do your research! The Jamison wig arrived with damage I could not see, but since it was shipped directly from the wig manufacturer Estetica, I have no way to prove it was damaged by them and not me. When I sent it back to the store they saw the damage and assumed I was responsible. I have been going back and forth with the store for 3 weeks - they are charging me for 2 wigs, even though I only have one. The customer service people have been very unsympathetic, even though I told them I was a first time wig buyer and a cancer patient on chemo with a limited budget.

So my advice is do your research on the store return policies and ask as many questions as possible upfront. I think I could have saved myself a lot of time and money that way. Based on my experience I would not recommend the store I purchased from, I don't even want to name them, but I'll let you know when I have a better experience.

Inexpensive Wigs
I found a great local wig shop with really affordable prices and the best part was that all the wigs were in the middle of the store and I could just put on a wig cap and try on every single one! I highly recommend visiting a local wig store like this because you really can't tell from a photo if a wig will look good on you or not. It's a great way to find which styles work for you.

My favorite inexpensive wigs so far are Bobbi Boss wigs:

Bobbi Boss Jesse wig - Color 4

Bobbi Boss has full price wigs in the $50-$60 range, but you can usually find them on sale for $25 and less. Their color options are a much better match for me, they do have lighter colors but their strength is dark colors.

I had a great experience ordering from They had a good sale going, and with their $4.99 Flat rate shipping, I ordered my wigs on a Sunday night and had them by Thursday. They also had the lowest prices compared to other stores I saw.

So that's my experience with wigs so far. Do you have any good wig recommendations? Please leave a comment and let me know, or ask me any questions you might have!
14 Aug 15:39

Pie Charts


now I want to see one of these animated...

If you can't get your graphing tool to do the shading, just add some clip art of cosmologists discussing the unusual curvature of space in the area.
14 Aug 15:32

for New Scientist magazine

for New Scientist magazine

14 Aug 15:31

Robot arm seeks out Waldo, using machine learning

by Nathan Yau

The camera on the slightly creepy arm takes a picture of the pages in the book, the software uses OpenCV to extract faces, and the faces are passed to Google Auto ML Vision comparing the faces to a Waldo model. The result: There’s Waldo.

Tags: machine learning, robot, vision, Waldo

06 Aug 18:58

Character Design Tips

by simply-sithel

I think this is an amazing post and really describes a lot of things I struggle with in my sketches but so desperately wish I could conquer. It looks so easy...


Some people have asked how I went about drawing the Overwatch cast, so I threw together a list of things I think about when designing characters: shapes, silhouettes, colors, and inspiration.

1. Shapes

There are three basic shapes in my toolbox: round, box, and triangle. If I follow my intuition, each shape conveys a personality. For example:

  • Round = charismatic, harmless, endearing
  • Box = reliable, uniform, traditional
  • Triangle = cunning, dynamic, competent (downward pointing more aggressive)
  • Shapes can also be combined for more complex characters

2. Silhouettes

Block in the character. If I can still recognize who it is, then it has a strong, readable silhouette.

3. Color

Sometimes less is more. Limit the palette for unity and impact. When working with three colors, keep the 60-30-10 rule in mind. Pick one color to make up about 60% of the character, a second color to make up about 30%, and the last color is about 10%.

When working with just two colors, use the 70-30 rule. One color is about 70%, the second is about 30%.

4. Inspiration

Designs come to mind easier when I’m listening to music, or when I have a mental image of something in mind. For example, I was listening to Klezmer music when drawing Reaper, and I was thinking of a chicken when I was drawing Lucio. It can take a while to warm up, so a good source of inspiration is important to stay motivated.

Beyond that, it’s up to you! 

[If you want to see the specific artists I drew influence from, click here to see my influence map.]

01 Aug 15:32

How to make a dressing gown/bathrobe from two towels

by opusanglicanum

I appreciate the idea of using the existing edges as much as possible...

which is also pretty much how to make a lightwieght jacket from a nice shawl.

This post brought to you courtesy of the fact that M and S were having a sale on beach towels.

from thisto this


and I thought Gareth might like one with cacti.

You will need to measure how long you want the garment, and the circumference of your upper arm, as well as judging how long you want the sleeves to be.

The aim of this is to not hem anything, instead you use the selvedges and already finished edges of your towels.

Therefore the first step is to cut a strip about four inches wide along the long edge of your first towel – this will become your collar strip.

Next measure how long you want the garment to be and cut a piece from the middle. Remember to keep the bottom of the towel as your finished hem. This will be the back of the garment.

Now you’re going to concentrate on the smaller square. The larger square is about 20 inches across and will be one of the sleeves, again with the hem as cuff (unfortunately due to the pattern on this towel the sleeve cacti will be upside down). For a dressing gown you don’t normally want full length sleeves, it’s best if they come to mid-forearm.

The smaller square will be one of the pockets, and the scraps will be saved in case we need them later.

So that’s the layout of the first towel – two collar strips, the back panel, one sleeve, one pocket, and some emergency bits.

Cut across the second towel to make a square the same lenght as the back you already cut from towel one.

Fold this in half lengthways and cut up the middle. This will make the front panels.

Whilst the two pieces are folded cut a small triangle from the top inner edge to allow for your neck. I’ve cut a bit about four inches by ten – this is on the conservative side, because it’s best to cut smaller than you need and adjust later if needs be.

Then from the remaining part of towel two cut another sleeve and pocket to match the first, and cut the remainder into four inch strips. Remember to use the hems.

This is the layout of towel two.

If you cut the hems off the two small triangles from the neck you can save them to use as belt loops.

First step is to place the pockets. You’ll need to measure roughly where the ends of your arms are, then place the pocket in the middle of the width of fabric. The hem of the towel becomes the top edge of the pocket.

This is the only bit you sew with a striaght stitch. For the rest of the garmet you need to use either a zigzag or that stitch that looks like two rows of straight with a zigzag in between (I have no idea what it’s called but I know where it is on my bernina)

Next sew the shoulder seams and take a good look at the remaining neck gap. Mine ended up being only three inches, which was far too narrow, so I trimmed it out to about six before proceeding.

Next sew on the collar.

Start at the bottom hem. Place the strip so the wrong side of the strip fabric is on the right side of the body fabric – you want it to flip over and make a collar so it needs to be wrong side/right side. THe hem of your strip should be the outer edge.

Note that I’m sewing a flat overlap seam rather than a folded one.

Sew to the centre back of the neck, then stop.

Trim any excess overlap.

If you’ve done it right it should fold over to show the right side with a built in hem.

Repeat with the second strip so they meet at the back of the neck.


Overlap and sew.

Nice collar. Or nice enough for a dressing gown, at least. I mean, I wouldn’t wear it to a formal dinner or anything, but it’s nice enough to slob around watching what passes for the morning news and drinking tea.

Someone really ought to tell Naga Munchetty that a few men who didn’t get the right GCSEs to work at Sainbury’s kicking a ball around isn’t actaully news, and that they have special channels for that sort of thing these days.

Sew on both sleeves. Again remember to make the hem of the towel the hem of the sleeve, so you’re sewing cut edges at this point.

Sew the sides and sleeves together. (remember to sew your belt loops in about four to six inches below the armpit.)

Don’t sew the whole thing in one go though. Start by sewing from the bottom hem up to about an inch from the armpit, then switch round and sew the sleeves from the hem to about an inch from the armpit – this will ensure that all the integral hems line up, and if there are minor discrepancies you can sort of fudge the resulting armpit hole and make it fit.

You have two choices for the belt. You can either buy a piece of satin upholstery rope and make an old fashioned tassel ended belt, or you can sew the leftover bits into a strip.

When I was a kid I always found the satin rope option on bought dressing gowns quite annoying, so I go for the self made strip option. It’s best to make a three fold with a seam down the centre, rather than an edge fold because an edge fold means you end up trying to sew through four thicknesses of towelling (the centre fold is only three) which is just that little bit too much for most domestic machines to handle – trust me I’ve tried it.

Towelling is extraordinarily messy stuff, so this really is one project where you want to remember to clean your machine after each garment.

Cacti for Gareth, which has been put away for Christmas

And tasteful Orange and pink with heffalumps for me



17 Jul 16:27


by Evan Stewart

that pop song is amazing (and good)

One major part of introducing students to sociology is getting to the “this is water” lesson: the idea that our default experiences of social life are often strange and worthy of examining. This can be challenging, because the default is often boring or difficult to grasp, but asking the right questions is a good start (with some potentially hilarious results).

Take this one: what does English sound like to a non-native speaker? For students who grew up speaking it, this is almost like one of those Zen koans that you can’t quite wrap your head around. If you intuitively know what the language means, it is difficult to separate that meaning from the raw sounds.

That’s why I love this video from Italian pop singer Adriano Celentano. The whole thing is gibberish written to imitate how English slang sounds to people who don’t speak it.

Another example to get class going with a laugh is the 1990s video game Fighting Baseball for the SNES. Released in Japan, the game didn’t have the licensing to use real players’ names, so they used names that sounded close enough. A list of some of the names still bounces around the internet:

The popular idea of the Uncanny Valley in horror and science fiction works really well for languages, too. The funny (and sometimes unsettling) feelings we get when we watch imitations of our default assumptions fall short is a great way to get students thinking about how much work goes into our social world in the first place.

Evan Stewart is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota. You can follow him on Twitter.

(View original at

17 Jul 16:16

naamahdarling: naamahdarling: rhube: bastardlybrendan: fucking...







I spent like 15 hours on this.

*impressed slow clap*

This was ridiculously pleasing to read out loud. 

This is a legitimately fine poem. I say so with my BA in English and Philosophy and my PhD. It’s DAMN HARD to write something like this. Be impressed, yo.

Transcript of poem in screenshot:

First the cracker batter baker bakes a cracker batter batch
then the cracker batter mixer door will open and unlatch
so the batter mixer nozzle can descend onto the patch
where the cracker batter spreads out for the nozzle to attach.

When the cracker mixer nozzle sprays the cracker batter spray
and the cracker batch emulsion lies a-soaking in its haze
then the cracker batter mixer starts to stir up all the glaze
that the final cracker stacker needs to lubricate the way.

Once the cracker stacker handle stacks the cracker batter squares
then the cracker batter’s hardened into double stacks of pairs.
Now the cracker separator breaks the crackers in the stackers
so the wrappers on the stackers fit the finished stacking crackers.

Then they’re distributed to Wal-Mart.

I forgot about this magnificent poem, and you probably did too. Here it is again.

I highly recommend trying to read it aloud, it feels delightful and is almost impossible.

17 Jul 16:14

Japanese babies are upending the world of linguistics, one mora at a time


I have tried (and failed) several times in the recent past to wrap my head around the "mora" idea...

Japanese babies are upending the world of linguistics, one mora at a time:

A really interesting article about how babies learn Japanese. Excerpt: 

Nissan, Toyota, Honda — three universally recognized car manufacturers, two of which are also common Japanese surnames. If you ask an English speaker to tell you which name is longest, they’ll say Toyota, with its three syllables. A Japanese speaker, on the other hand, will say Nissan. This difference reveals a lot about the underlying rhythms used in human vocal communication, says developmental neurolinguist Reiko Mazuka of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, and also casts doubt on universal theories of language-learning that are mostly based on studies of English speakers.

So why is Nissan longer to Japanese ears? It’s all based on ‘mora’, a counter of linguistic rhythm that is distinct from stress (like in German or English) or syllable (like in French). Most people are familiar with this pattern of counting from haiku, the five–seven–five pattern that defines the classical Japanese meter. The ‘syllables’ in haiku aren’t really syllables but rather morae. Nissan thus has four morae of equal duration (ニッサン or ni-s-sa-n), rather than just the two syllables picked up by Western ears.

But Japanese babies are not born with an internal mora counter, and this is what got Mazuka so interested in returning to Japan from the United States, where she completed her PhD and still maintains a research professorship at Duke University. “The Japanese language doesn’t quite fit with the dominant theories,” she says, “and I used to think this was because Japanese was exceptional. Now my feeling is, Japanese is not an exception. Rather, what works for English is not universal” in terms of mechanisms for language learning.

Mazuka’s lab on the outskirts of Tokyo studies upwards of 1,000 babies a year, and she explains that infants start to recognize mora as a phonemic unit at about 10 months of age. “Infants have to learn how duration and pitch are used as cues in language,” she says. And Japanese is one of the few languages in the world that contains duration-based phonemic contrasts — what English speakers think of as short and long vowels, for example — that can distinguish one mora from two morae. Dominant ideas in the field suggest all babies, from birth, use rhythm as a ‘bootstrap’ to start segmenting sounds into speech, first identifying whether they are dealing with a syllable- or stress-based language. “The theory says that rhythm comes first, but Japanese babies can’t count morae until they’re almost a year old,” Mazuka exclaims. “You can’t conclude that rhythm is the driving force of early phonological development, when evidence from Japanese babies shows it’s not an a prioriunit.”

Read the whole thing.

05 Jul 04:07

thequantumwritings: Sometimes i think about the idea of Common as a language in fantasy settings. On...


Sometimes i think about the idea of Common as a language in fantasy settings.

On the one hand, it’s a nice convenient narrative device that doesn’t necessarily need to be explored, but if you do take a moment to think about where it came from or what it might look like, you find that there’s really only 2 possible origins.

In settings where humans speak common and only Common, while every other race has its own language and also speaks Common, the implication is rather clear: at some point in the setting’s history, humans did the imperialism thing, and while their empire has crumbled, the only reason everyone speaks Human is that way back when, they had to, and since everyone speaks it, the humans rebranded their language as Common and painted themselves as the default race in a not-so-subtle parallel of real-world whiteness.

In settings where Human and Common are separate languages, though (and I haven’t seen nearly as many of these as I’d like), Common would have developed communally between at least three or four races who needed to communicate all together. With only two races trying to communicate, no one would need to learn more than one new language, but if, say, a marketplace became a trading hub for humans, dwarves, orcs, and elves, then either any given trader would need to learn three new languages to be sure that they could talk to every potential customer, OR a pidgin could spring up around that marketplace that eventually spreads as the traders travel the world.

Drop your concept of Common meaning “english, but in middle earth” for a moment and imagine a language where everyone uses human words for produce, farming, and carpentry; dwarven words for gemstones, masonry, and construction; elven words for textiles, magic, and music; and orcish words for smithing weaponry/armor, and livestock. Imagine that it’s all tied together with a mishmash of grammatical structures where some words conjugate and others don’t, some adjectives go before the noun and some go after, and plurals and tenses vary wildly based on what you’re talking about.

Now try to tell me that’s not infinitely more interesting.

25 Jun 02:39

What 'translation problems' aren't: here's an amazing German word that describes the smell of spring !! No other language has a direct translation of this word !!

What 'translation problems' aren't: here's an amazing German word that describes the smell of spring !! No other language has a direct translation of this word !!
What 'translation problems' are: there are thirty different words to denote 'levels of intimacy' of a given relationship in terms of friendship in Polish, and the strongest one seems to translate to 'friend', which makes social interactions with English-speakers very confusing when they start calling you a friend 30 minutes in, and you feel like they'll get lowkey offended if you call them anything else back, and you feel either fake if you refer to them internally as 'friend', or extremely cold if you refer to them internally as 'acquaintance'
25 Jun 02:34

Don’t run towards the fire (the on-going problem with emoji directions)


I’ve written about the problem of emoji directions before, but this is an example of a communication-fail that happened in my life because of the problem of emoji showing up as different directions on different platforms.

After messaging with someone about their terrible day at work, I suggested they get away from the (metaphorical) flaming wreck, and then sent this emoji string from Twitter (on my admittedly rather old phone) to illustrate the point:


I was met with a string of question marks, and a screen cap of what the other person saw on their newer Google Emoji enabled phone:


NO!!! Don’t run into the fire!!! Save yourself!

Twitter Emoji on my computer showed the same (but a much snazzier door):


My phone is still using a much older emoji set, but one that (at least for fires that start on one’s left) shows the correct safety procedure.

As Emojipedia shows, all major emoji sets have now reconcilled the running person to be left facing. Other emoji have also had inconsistent directions on major platforms before (and some still do), including the Hocho knife, thinking face, lizard, airplane, rocket, water polo player, handball player, and trumpet.

Of course, all of my angst about emoji directions may soon be moot - Unicode are in the process of considering a proposal to be able to flip emoji, using the same technical process that allows for different skin tones.

18 Jun 16:04


by Donovan Beeson

LetterlockingLetterlocking is a technique of folding a letter so that it becomes its own envelope. The letter is often secured with a wax seal and is designed so that it cannot be easily opened and resealed. To read the letter, seals must be broken and/or some paper must be torn. This provided security to correspondence long before the advent of micro-printing and obscuring envelopes.

The expert of letterlocking is Jana Dambrogio, a conservator at MIT Libraries. She's found examples from Queen Elizabeth I, Machiavelli, Galileo, Marie Antoinette and others. There are numerous ways to lock a letter, and many can be found at the well-researched and resource rich Additionally, there's a YouTube channel featuring different styles, including ones from the Harry Potter movies.

Letters locked this way always remind me of notes that we used to pass in school, with their elaborate ways of folding to keep our secrets safe. I've gotten a few letters mailed to me like this and it always hurts me a little to rip into them. I was reminded of this art by pen pal and book artist Sara, whose photo illustrates this post and who sent me a great recreation of a Butterfly Lock. Don't they look lovely? Have you sent or received a locked letter? Do you have a favorite technique? Donovan

09 Jun 15:49

Wrists & Apprentices

by (Ian Gilman)

always been fascinated by this... I worked with Ian a bit at Rdio. I met one of his "hands" at the time and she was super cool too. Gives me hope when I fret about future injuries I might sustain in life...

I've been working with apprentices since the early 90s, but I haven't really written about it here; I suppose it's about time!

Every year or so my apprentice graduates and I hire a new one. I recently went through that hiring process, and I'm always a little overwhelmed by all of the interested (and interesting!) people. It's distressing that I can only hire one, especially since I seem to be one of the few people offering this sort of thing in the web development industry.

Anyway, a little history… I started programming when I was 9 and went pro when I was 17. I became obsessed and didn't take care of my body, and by the time I was 20 I had developed a chronic wrist injury that I still have decades later. Maybe I should have walked away from computers, but by then I was hooked! That was a dark time, but eventually I struck upon a solution… I could dictate my code to someone else who could be my hands. Turns out this can be very effective and rewarding (even if it does require some patience).

I use the term apprentice because they're never just a typist… It's impossible to be the conduit for all of that code without picking up a lot of things along the way. I liken it to learning a foreign language by going to a foreign country and hearing people speak it all day long. As we work, I try to explain things along the way, and encourage my apprentice to ask questions. At the beginning I may have to spell everything out, but over time the apprentice picks up the patterns and I can speak at a more high level. The more they understand of what we're doing, the more powerful a team we become!

When I started doing this in the early 90s, pair programming wasn't a widely known practice, but nowadays it's much more common. What I'm doing with my apprentice is much like pair programming, except that the experience gap between my apprentice and me is wider than for most pairs (sometimes my apprentices start out knowing nothing about programming, though that's rarer these days with all the online code learning resources), and we never swap who's typing. Many of the benefits to pair programming still apply:
  • Two pairs of eyes on the code means fewer mistakes
  • We are focused on the job all day long; having someone else there makes it harder to procrastinate
  • Knowledge exchange; my apprentice is learning from me, and I'm learning from talking things through with them
  • We are able to discuss design challenges and alternatives to come up with better solutions
You might think all of this communication must slow us down, but quite the contrary… When we get rolling we really fly! Two minds are better than one.
    It's a very close working relationship… We sit just a few feet apart and talk constantly together all day long, week after week. Many of my former apprentices have become lifelong friends of mine. It's also very satisfying to see their careers develop after they move on to the next thing.

    Often people ask me about my "apprenticeship program" and how they can replicate it at their company or in their region. First off: yes, you should! There are tons of promising novice programmers out there who just need a bit of guidance and an opportunity to grow. There seems to be no shortage of software jobs, but it's difficult for someone new to break in. Anyone who can tap into that budding talent gets a competitive advantage. Meanwhile, the apprentices get a head start with invaluable learning by being directly involved with real projects. Better training and knowledge exchange means better developers, which means a better industry. For more thoughts on why (and how), see Software Training Sucks: Why We Need to Roll it Back 1,000 Years from Rob Walling. I've also written about the benefits of apprenticeship culture before.

    I think what I've been doing gives pretty good results, but of course it's also tuned to my situation… After all, the driving need here is for me to be able to get my work done. If I didn't need them to type for me, I would want the apprentice to move to greater levels of individual contribution gradually over time. As it is, I do recommend my apprentice use their off time to focus on their own projects and bring them in to discuss with me, to help cement their learning.

    Anyway, my recommendations:
    • Pick someone who shows promise and passion but doesn't have a lot of experience. Don't just go for college students on break (like many internship programs), or you'll miss out on all the folks coming out of boot camps or who've learned with online resources. 
    • Get them working on real projects right away (whether this be in a company setting or on open source). Real projects are the only way to turn theory into skill. The sooner they get started, the sooner all of the lessons and exercises they've done will actually make sense. Besides, this way they're being productive from the beginning.
    • Start them out pairing with someone who's already established. Make sure the mentor/apprentice relationship is explicit and that both sides understand what's expected. I think it's good for the less experienced programmer to do the typing, because otherwise it's easy for them to zone out while the more experienced programmer whizzes around, but your mileage may vary. It may feel slow at first, but you're sharing valuable information, and things will speed up as your shared experience grows. 
    • Next step would be to have them make their own pull requests and have the experienced programmer critique them. This exercises different parts of the brain than the pair programming, and helps them move into the driver seat. Actually, I suppose you could do this step live, with the more experienced programmer doing the typing based entirely on dictation from the apprentice, but giving feedback along the way. Either way, you'll already have a rich shared understanding to build on.
    • Move them gradually up to more levels of autonomy, until one day they become the mentor for the next apprentice!
    So that's my story, and some thoughts on bringing apprenticeship to your neck of the woods. I know it's already happening in some parts of the industry (within companies and at places like Apprenti), but I think it would be great for there to be more of it! Any skilled trade with a complex set of tools and a rich culture can benefit from the kind of cross-pollination and dialogue engendered by apprenticeship, and I'd say software development certainly fits the bill.

    What do you think? I'm sure I've just scratched the surface… Hit me up with questions if you've got 'em!
    03 Jun 17:58

    etirabys: Given names in Korean are almost always two syllables, with the first syllable usually...


    Given names in Korean are almost always two syllables, with the first syllable usually being shared with your siblings and cousins (all the children of the same generation of a family, basically). I just grew up with this and didn’t think it was weird until I had cause to explain it to someone yesterday, at which point I stopped and wondered if I was making all of this up, it seemed so weird, how the heck do they coordinate that? Do the parents of the first kid of the new generation decide, or something? That doesn’t sound right. I looked it up, and it turns out that family lines keep a constant character array in a poem:

    The sequence of generation is typically prescribed and kept in record by a generation poem (bāncì lián 班次聯 or pàizì gē 派字歌 in Chinese) specific to each lineage. While it may have a mnemonic function, these poems can vary in length from around a dozen characters to hundreds of characters. Each successive character becomes the generation name for successive generations.[1] After the last character of the poem is reached, the poem is usually recycled though occasionally it may be extended.

    Generation poems were usually composed by a committee of family elders whenever a new lineage was established through geographical emigration or social elevation. Thus families sharing a common generation poem are considered to also share a common ancestor and have originated from a common geographical location.

    Which is mindblowingly cool, I think.

    28 May 16:44

    learninglinguist: Linguistics alignment chart from Nathan...


    Linguistics alignment chart from Nathan Sanders on Twitter.

    Linguistics takes on the alignment chart meme.

    15 May 20:22

    What Scientists Saw When They Put a Crocodile in an MRI Scanner and Played Classical Music



    What Scientists Saw When They Put a Crocodile in an MRI Scanner and Played Classical Music:


    Our brains are the product of millions of years of evolution. Scientists would very much like to know how some of the most ancient brains functioned and evolved over time, but that’s obviously not possible, owing to the complete lack of primordial brains to work with. As a good consolation prize, however, scientists can work with crocodiles—an animal that originated more than 200 million years ago, barely changing over the eons. Accordingly, scientists can study crocodiles to understand at which point certain brain structures and behaviors first emerged.

    The point of the new study was to determine how the crocodilian brain might respond to complex sounds, and to see how the resulting brain patterns might compare to those observed in mammals and birds. The scientists were hoping to identify precursor brain structures and functions that allow for the processing of complex sights and sounds.

    To observe how complex visual and auditory stimulation triggers activity in the reptilian brain, a team led by Felix Ströckens from the Department of Biopsychology at Ruhr University Bochum set about the task of scanning Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) brains using a functional MRI (fMRI) scanner. These devices are typically used in diagnostic and research settings, and even for studying mammals such as dogs, but this is the first time a cold-blooded animal has been analyzed in such a machine. The results of the new study now appear in the science journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. (Full Story)

    I believe the best summary of the results is “Crocs like Bach.” 

    For the experiment, the researchers exposed five juvenile crocodiles to various visual and auditory stimuli. The visual cues consisted of flashing red and green lights, which flickered on and off at changing strengths and intervals. Simple auditory cues involved random chord noises between 1,000 Hz and 3,000 Hz. For the complex sounds, the researchers played a part of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 (which was used previously in other animal studies, thus providing a good baseline).

    Results showed that different areas of the crocodilian brain activated in the presence of complex sounds compared to basic noises. And in fact, the patterns observed resembled those seen in mammals and birds exposed to music. These observations suggest that the structural and functional aspects of sensory processing are present in the reptilian brain, and that these abilities were preserved and passed down the evolutionary family tree (assuming that modern crocodiles share similar brain structures as their ancestors). It’s a fascinating result, said Ströckens, since crocs are a relatively ancient group of species. “Thus it could be that these processing principals evolved much earlier than we thought before,” he said.

    13 May 20:39

    The International Phonetic Alphabet consonants found in English,...

    The International Phonetic Alphabet consonants found in English, with keywords and relevant parts of the mouth highlighted and colour-coded. (Source.) 

    04 May 02:30


    #tbt to when I walked out of a steakhouse/salsa club dreamworld looking like this...thanks for showing me a good time in Colombia @sophieh.chung 🤗
    03 May 19:00

    Cloning Napoleon’s Nieces

    by Marc Taro Holmes

    I was at the museum traipsing through a show on Napoleon. Ran across this double portrait by Jacques-Louis David portraying Napoleon’s nieces Zénaïde and Charlotte.

    In the painting, (according to the didactic panel), they are posing as steadfast echoes of the Empire.

    Crowned with gold tiaras, perched on a chaise decorated with imperial bees (?) < apparenlty a Bonaparte logo), brandishing a letter from uncle Joseph, no doubt encouraging them to produce lots of sons who might yet become future emperors. (Zéni. had 12 kids, Lottie – dunno –  couldn’t find that info – but they both died in childbirth).

    In any case – I felt like making a study, and so, here it is. And, as always, it’s about as faithful as anything I paint :) I want to learn – but I learn by play :)

    I’m no expert, but it’s my understanding the jury is out on the practice of master copies.

    Other than the secluded chambers of artist’s ateliers or the Chinese art factories – is anyone else doing them?

    Send me some links if you are! Please post in the comments. I’d like to hear what other people are doing.


    When I went to school, we were discouraged from copying historical painting. Other than as appropriation in the context of critical analysis. Which is a fancy way of saying – other than making fun of them.

    I understand of course that we were being positioned against of all the misogyny and class warfare and imperialism inherent in the work. (I can get behind that). And as good students, we would turn our backs on the patriarchy of representation and make conceptual art. (That — I couldn’t quite get there).

    But isn’t it more interesting what we can learn from this painting?

    I find it fascinating how this is a kind of propaganda. The use of art, beauty, and elegance to portray a kind of right thinking young lady doing their part for the empire.

    What virile King of Spain wouldn’t want one of these ladies as wives?

    Deposed King Ferdinand as it turns out, refused Zéni’s hand. Forcing her to marry her cousin Charles – sire of those 12 pure-blood kids.


    The best thing you can say (about the death of master-copies) is that art colleges are not trying to produce skilled-but-slavish craftspeople any longer. Rather, we want free-thinkers.

    I think this is fallout from the post-war obsession with originality in art, which is can be blamed on the explosion of (artificial) value in contemporary art, and the perceived need for every single piece to be 100% from our own mind – so we’re always adding value to our portfolio.

    This is something collectors want – as they need a body of work they can collect, market, and profit from.

    It’s not necessarily anything artists should want – as they need to be thinking first about developing their skills.

    You know – if you ask me :)


    18 Apr 15:56

    Heaven’s Vault is an interesting-looking symbol-deciphering game...

    Heaven’s Vault is an interesting-looking symbol-deciphering game that’s apparently “like Guitar Hero for linguistics.” From a review in The Verge:

    Initially, the premise for Heaven’s Vault sounds like a typical video game. You play as a young woman named Aliya Elasra, accompanied by her temperamental robot Six, and together you explore a series of moons that were once home to a mysterious ancient civilization. But the ruins aren’t filled with violent aliens to kill or powerful weapons to discover. Instead, what the civilization left behind is words, and it’s your job to figure out what they mean. […]

    The first time you see a hieroglyph, you essentially have to guess what it is. The game will show you a pictorial, and then give you a few options for what it might mean. A symbol could mean either “temple” or “garden,” and, initially, all you have to go on is the context of where the symbol is and what it looks like. If you guess wrong, you aren’t punished. In fact, the game lets you carry on thinking that could be the meaning of the word. As you explore, you’ll keep seeing symbols repeatedly and learn new ones that can give you a better idea of what others mean.

    Eventually, if you’ve guessed wrong, Aliya will realize that it isn’t right, and the definition will be reset. By that time, you may have worked out what it really means by discovering other hieroglyphs or by learning something new about your location. It’s a system designed specifically to make you feel unsure and thus more like a real archaeologist. The game’s creators want you to fumble around. “We deliberately delay that process a little bit so that it goes on for slightly longer than you might be comfortable with because that feeling of not quite being sure is important,” says Inkle co-founder Jon Ingold.

    The language itself has around 1,000 words, and the team describes it as being “logically constructed.” The idea is that the symbols aren’t random; each has a meaning, and that meaning is always the same. […]

    While the language itself is real, the team admits that, in order to make it work for the purposes of the game, it’s not exactly the most functional language. “It’s complete in the sense that it’s fully logical, but it’s also not a super useful language,” Humfrey explains. “We have around 1,000 words, which is just enough to be useful for the purposes of the game.” He likens it to Guitar Hero for linguists: it’s enough to make you feel like you’re doing the job, but it cuts out a lot of the more tedious busy work. 

    Read the rest of the review.

    This game reminds me of the symbol-deciphering puzzles in the Linguistics Olympiad – I hope it leads people into wanting to learn more about linguistics! 

    11 Apr 16:12

    SFIFF 61: Day Two

    by Adam

    A perfectly serviceable documentary about Hal Ashby, which wins one over through the force of clips from his best movies (Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Being There). The film focuses intently on the art, and on the process of making that art (long, marijuana-fueled sessions in the editing room), with only a glimpse here or there of biography. The 1980s output is mostly left out of the story, acting as a source of frustration leading up to Ashby's untimely death. The presentation is largely conventional, with many talking heads, but a few touches stand out, particularly the use of clips from his movies to illuminate passages from his letters. In the end, one is left with the intense desire to revisit these films again (hopefully on the big screen).

    First Reformed

    Writer-director Paul Schrader returns, yet again, to the themes of Taxi Driver in this stark tale of a priest searching for something, anything, to hold onto. Ethan Hawke, as the priest, is magnificent. And the formalism of the film is something to behold: shot in the nearly-square 4:3 format, the framing of every scene fits its subject perfectly, while leaving the audience on-edge. As a statement about the state of the world today, the film is not entirely successful. But considered on its own terms, it's a gripping and visceral treat.

    11 Apr 16:06

    SFIFF 61: Weekend One

    by Adam

    Adam is blogging again! Yay!


    I went in hoping for an ethnographic documentary in the tradition of past festival favorite The Iron Ministry. But the intimacy of this film, with its singular attention to one man (Kabwita Kasongo, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo) and one activity (manufacturing a load of charcoal and taking it to market 50km on his bicycle), gives the movie a conflicted identity. It seems to aim for a fully observational mood, with no interviews or recognition of the camera by the people onscreen. Yet being so close to the subject throughout an arduous journey makes it hard for the audience not to wonder why the director (a white Frenchman, unseen but keenly felt due to constant fluid camera movement) doesn't offer Kabwita a helping hand. I found the end result uncomfortable to watch, even if the film itself is compelling and well-crafted.

    Some online research suggests that this may be a "hybrid" film, with the protagonist playing a fictionalized version of himself, and if that were so, it would make me feel better. I appreciate a "show, don't tell" style, but this is one place where just a little bit of context would have improved the experience greatly.

    Claire's Camera

    I still can't grok Hong Sang-soo.

    Winter Brothers

    The biggest disappointment of the festival so far, this did offer great visuals and atmosphere, as promised. But the story, about a miner whose moonshine starts to make his coworkers sick and who pines after his brother's sister, did not develop coherently. And the characters offered the audience nothing to hold on to.


    A universal tale, out of Brazil, of the way children eagerly leave home, and how parents (especially mothers) cope. Fernando, a high school handball star, gets an offer to join a professional team in Germany; he has to leave in three weeks. Meanwhile, his mother Irene is about to finally get her high school diploma. What stands out most from this piece is the palpable sense of family-ness, especially between the four brothers (two young twins, an awkward 12-year-old, and Fernando) and between Fernando and his mother. On paper, this would be all-too-heartwarming for me, but the end result, with such a specific sense of place (a crumbling house, next door to a house yet-to-be-built) and feeling, won me over.

    Composed entirely of shots of stars, compiled from hundreds of films, this exceeded my already-high expectations. Like any compilation, one of the joys is identifying familiar scenes. Sometimes this is straightforward enough, but the similarity of the shots, and the refusal to show anything other than stars, makes it amusingly maddening at times. But as fun as it is, what really struck me was how this is actually a history of cinema: the clips are arranged in chronological order, beginning at the dawn of the medium and going straight through to the present. You can see tropes emerge and develop over the time, sometimes for technological reasons and sometimes just for storytelling purposes. As soon as it ended, I wanted to watch it again, but so far it seems to be a festival-only phenomenon, but I intend to closely follow the movie's website to find out when it'll be nearby. I recommend you do the same.

    Bonus content
    Guy Maddin: State of Cinema Address

    Always something of a wildcard, this annual festival tradition fell to Guy Maddin this year (the programmer introducing Maddin jokingly noted that it was just an excuse to bring Maddin to San Francisco, since he doesn't have a new film this year). Clearly uncomfortable with the responsibility of talking about something as momentous as the "State of Cinema", Maddin nonetheless mostly succeeded in giving a fascinating lecture on the psychological vulnerability and openness inherent in authorship, and how that ties into the history and present of cinema, from Finnish melodrama to Ed Wood to Tarnation, and on into the YouTube era.

    04 Apr 15:52


    by Dyson Logos

    Sometimes you want a map or document to look like an old-school illustration in an adventure book. Well, sometimes I do at least. Hand-drawn parchment scrolls and similar borders were a big thing in books, magazines and advertisements when I was getting into D&D.



    So I went all meta and drew paper on paper. I tried to go for a slightly different style of paper than I usually do. And now that I’ve done that, I figure I should let you use it too! So here it is, free for your own personal (non-commercial) use.

    I’ve drawn enough little (and big) pieces like this that I should probably go through the blog and collect them all into one place for your convenience… maybe later this week.