Week 314 / aibo

I spent this weekend at Write/Speak/Code. I’m having a day off today.

Alex got us a robot dog.

I really, really, want a furry pet, but Alex is very allergic to almost everything (including most of the trees and grasses in California) so we’re not able to have pets, unless they’re behind glass.

Aibo ERS-1000

The aibo is part 2 of the very nicest thing that Alex has ever done for me.

Part 1 is that he’s doing sublingual immunotherapy to hopefully relieve him of his symptoms (I mean, I say it’s for me, but honestly his life would be drastically improved dog-or-not), but because the process can take years to be effective, the robo-dog is a placeholder until the day we can maybe a adopt a warm-blooded version.

I’ll probably write more about the dog on Sensors and Sensibility in a few weeks once we’re more familiar with how it works. He’s pretty adorable, though.

Week 312 / 6 years

My San Franiversary was this last week, so it must be week 312 or so.

6 years! That flew by. Some summaries and findings:

  • San Francisco still sucks. I actively dislike the “city”. It’s really small and badly designed, lacks the proper transit network a real city would have and refuses to build anything new so that people can actually find homes. It literally smells bad (either pot or pee) and the insane disparity between the mega rich and the super poor on the streets is actively depressing, and everyone works in tech. I continue to look forward to the day I can leave.
  • On the plus side, I am very fortunate – Alex and I found the perfect place for us in Bernal where I can hang out with the wild birds and breathe the fresh foggy air. I have a good job and good friends, curiously made up largely of Canadians with a few Aussies and Japanese folks thrown in there.
  • I’ve made almost no close American friends who weren’t immigrants in someway before they got here.
  • I have resisted learning how to drive – or rather, I did try to learn to drive a couple of summers back (I know how to operate a car, but I did not pass a test) but I discovered I hate it and don’t understand how people can operate heavy vehicles at speed. It’s terrifying. The over-under is I still can’t legally drive and it’s made me a nervous passenger. I continue to hope that the Bay is the kind of place that’ll get autonomous cars early.
  • I got my US citizenship and I’m looking forward to my first general election voting opportunity next year.
  • I really miss a proper selection of crisps, biscuits and M&S sandwiches. If you ever visit me, the room & board will cost you a packet of Walker’s prawn cocktail and some chocolate bourbons.

Week 310 / Norway

Snuck up into the 300s while I wasn’t paying attention. For those new here, the weeks are the number of weeks since I emigrated to the USA. The idea being that one day I’ll un-emigrate and I’ll have known how many weeks I’ve spent in the mad place.

We’re just leaving Norway right now – a much less mad place that is over 98% powered by hydro energy whilst it’s main export is oil.

Alex wanted to come and see the midnight sun, and so far we have seen the actual sun only once in Oslo. It has been daylight the whole time though and boy, that’s awful on the jet lag. Nice people, nice place, though. It’s a bit like IRL Skyrim.

I finished reading “Why We Sleep” by Dr Matthew Walker. Super fascinating overview of the scientific literature on how and why we sleep and dream as well as the ramifications of not sleeping enough. It’s a really refreshing view and the antithesis of the typical silicon valley attitude to rest vs working as much as humanely possible. This quote caught my eye regarding a gene they’ve found that seems to allow some folks to do just fine on less than 6 hours sleep (exactly the kind of thing every tech CEO claims):

Having learned this, I imagine that some readers now believe that they are one of these individuals. That is very, very unlikely. The gene is remarkably rare, with but a soupçon of individuals in the world estimated to carry this anomaly. To impress this fact further, I quote one of my research colleagues, Dr. Thomas Roth at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, who once said, “The number of people who can survive on five hours of sleep or less without any impairment, expressed as a percent of the population, and rounded to a whole number, is zero.”

I’m now reading “Who Goes There? by John W Campbell Jr. It’s better know by it’s movie name: The Thing.

Week 282 / Hong Kong

One of my more bourgeois week notes this time, but I’m currently sat in the Cathay Pacific first lounge in Hong Kong waiting for our flight home.

We just finished up a really lovely Christmas trip to HK. My first time here and Alex’s second. We ate a lot of good food, saw a very big Buddha and did a lot of uphill wandering.

Alex in his dim sum element

I walked about 50 miles total over the last 7 days.

Happy 2018. See you next year!

Birds

A couple of months ago I read Jenny Odell’s transcript of a keynote she gave at a conference. It’s a good talk and well worth a read/watch, but the part about her bird encounters caught my attention the most.

I ended up reading “The Genius of Birds“, which she mentions and that book referenced some sections of “Gifts of the Crow” which I read immediately after. The latter covers a lot of the same topics as the first, but focuses on Corvid research. Since reading them, I’d say I’ve become mildly obsessed with crows and their kin – I generally have nuts in my bag now just in case I meet a friendly one.

I highly recommend at least reading The Genius of Birds – it’s an easy-going read in a light-hearted tone and just generally full of fascinating little stories about bird research and their obvious intelligence and charm.

I just moved house, and it turns out that a member of the corvid family already frequents my yard – a pair of bright blue Scrub Jays. On just the first day of my hanging out with them, they already know what the deal is. So happy about my new neighbours!

Americanized

I became a US Citizen today.

I’m still British. It turns out that it’s actually relatively difficult to lose your British status – you actually have to apply to give it up. “Dual-citizen” is one of those weird international legal grey zones, but at least it’s understood and known to be a thing in both countries. Here’s hoping I remember which passport to use when.

It’s not a popular time to become American, not that being British (with all the colonial baggage that comes with it) is really that much better. The leadership in both countries is somewhat up the creek without a paddle at this point, but at least now I can actually vote (and yes, I am voting in tomorrow’s UK General Election).

Plus, now Alex and I share a nationality and that security feels good. It’s the end of a long administrative process we started in 2013 to ensure that we could always stay together.

I recognise the immense privilege I have to obtain a second nationality in another first world democratic country. You don’t generally get the choice in your first nationality, and getting the opportunity for a second is basically winning some kind of life lottery.

Bastille Day, Nice 2016

I’ve been asked a few times what it was like being in Nice last year. I am only writing it down now because memory is a tricky thing and if I don’t now I’m liable to forget completely or fabricate details one day. Comments are closed. This is an aide memoire and nothing more.

We’d been in Nice for a couple days, after visiting my parents in Chateauneuf-les-Bains earlier in the week.

On Bastille day, we’d spent the day time up in Èze mostly just wandering around, eating and having a glass of wine while admiring the view. We knew there’d be fireworks for Bastille Day and headed back to Nice proper, and walked down to the seaside where many thousands of people were gathering. The were plenty of police around, in anticipation of the crowds and it hadn’t been that long since Paris’ attacks, so it was understandable. I recall commenting that the militarised police with machine guns in the town centre made me feel uncomfortable. I hate being near guns.

The sun went down, the crowds increased. Irritating teenagers made us move on from our first spot, but mostly the crowd was families, lots of little kids. People sat on the wall or on the pebble beach below. We walked down the length of the sea front, towards the central area of the promenade where the largest crowds were, before eventually doubling back and stopping at a less hectic spot on the western end of the road, standing on the wall above the pebble beach. We were about here.

our view

The fireworks went off, they were really quite good. Having them over the ocean is quite spectacular, since the reflections multiply the effect and the wind was barely there. It was lovely and the mood was fantastic.

Fireworks

Once they were done pretty much everyone began to walk back away from the sea – after the sea wall road is the old town Vielle Ville. We were going to try and find some food. Most of the people walking with us were locals, families, heading back towards the transit stops in the park that divides the older part of the town from the newer.

As we walked away from the promenade and passed into the old town, we heard what I said was “probably kids with fire crackers” and carried on. It was slow going in the narrow streets with so many people moving at once.

As we turned a corner towards the park areas, a very large crowd of people came running, screaming, towards us. Honestly, I’ve never seen or felt anything quite like it. I don’t even know how to describe the feeling. Instinct and adrenaline took over, and we turned and ran with them for about a half block back into the old town, back towards the sea, away from the park.

I grabbed Alex by the arm and said “Stop running.” and pulled him into a doorway (I think it was the Apotheka front, because I recall the stepped decks). I said “We don’t know why these people are running, we shouldn’t run.” And we stopped and listened. I used all my French comprehension to listen to the crowds – people said there was a shooter, multiple shooters, in the park. A pair of young women asked us, in French, if we knew what was going on and I said we didn’t. We listened and waited, and heard no gun fire.

We decided to start back to the hotel, this time doubling back into the old town a little, then making a beeline around the park where the people had come from before, putting down the first crowd to some misunderstanding or prank gone wrong (or maybe there really was a shooter in the park). Either way, we probably had no business to be there and we certainly didn’t want to walk into a situation. We walked past little restaurants hoping we might still find some food, but they were mostly closing up or on the phone. Something had happened, but no one seemed to know what.

We made it another block or two before a second crowd charged towards us “There’s a shooter!”, this time from almost the opposite direction of the first. This time we didn’t run with them, we just stepped back into another doorway. I said “I still haven’t heard any gunshots, so I’m not sure that can be what’s happening”. Alex reminded me of what I thought were “firecrackers” earlier, but it was a day of fireworks so we didn’t know for sure either way and at this point, it was probably getting on to 15-20 minutes since we’d heard those.

But we knew something was up and that no one seemed to know what.

We decided we should just get back to the hotel, and made a very out of the way route trying to avoid the town centre, assuming that whatever was going on was no place we should be, but everywhere we passed small groups of people running or anxiously fleeing something. We passed people sobbing, some looking for family and friends they’d lost in the confusion and panic. A group would be walking along, and another group would run from somewhere causing the first to take off at speed with them.

Cars sped over zebra crossings, not stopping to look. We were most in danger of being in a car accident or trampled in a stampede caused by panic at that point.

It was tense and we felt tense but we carried on walking, making our walk longer and longer to avoid crowds as necessary, but we came across the same groups the whole way.

I looked at Twitter, found tweets saying there were roaming gunmen, a bomb, an explosion.

It wasn’t until we were back at the hotel with a live TV feed that we could actually filter for the truth. It had taken probably an hour and a half to get back (the sea front to our hotel would normally be less than 15 minutes).

We had texts from family who’d read the same bad information on social media and thought we were in immediate danger, we had thirsty journos contacting us for our on the scene story (which they weren’t getting – we were fine and not willing to be hysterical for entertainment purposes, nor feed the speculation mill). We even had a call from Alex’s work incident team at 2am to check we were OK (we didn’t even know they knew where he was).

The information vacuum felt like the most dangerous after effect.

We would later know the act of terrorism had been just a few minutes long (5 minutes, apparently) and was likely over before we’d encountered the first running crowd, and was isolated to the seafront promenade. There were no roaming gunmen or bombs, no danger in the park, and the “firecrackers” we had heard were the short round of shots fired by the perpetrator and the return shots by the police. The van had driven just over a mile along the promenade, which explained why so many people initially had needed to run in so many different angles to get out of danger. Everything after that was confusion and panic.

The next day, we found breakfast in the old town, and later met one of Alex’s colleagues, his wife and their two young children. They live right next to where the event had happened, and had watched the fireworks. Their children’s day event had been cancelled because people weren’t travelling into the town centre, so we had coffee outside on a sleepy street, while the kids played inside.

We were sad for the those who had been hurt or killed and upset that it had happened at all, we fretted about how people would react and what changes might come, but we didn’t feel terrorised.

Here’s a semi-interesting thing. I was thinking about this and trying to get my memories correct, when I got an email from Google reminding me that I have their travel log service turned on. It’s a not very well advertised feature called “Timeline“.

I wondered if it had recorded that night, and if it had, did I remember correctly?

Well, I wasn’t far off. You can see where we did the first switch-back just below the corner of the park, the elongated route home, and I was roughly right about how long it took. Who needs your own fallible memories when the Big G is keeping tabs? Weird.

Hey, guys

“I’m making this slightly theoretical point because it helps to explain why I don’t agree with Sherryl Kleinman’s suggestion that women who use terms like ‘guys’ and ‘dude’ are trying to claim ‘honorary man’ status. Rather I agree with Scott Kiesling, who argues that women use ‘dude’ for the same reason men do: because they want to express cool solidarity—especially, the evidence suggests, with other women. Rather than displaying internalized sexism, they’re like the little girl who sometimes wants to play with toy cars rather than dolls. It’s not that she wants to be a boy, she just doesn’t see why girls shouldn’t play with cars.”

From Language, a feminist guide