Organizing the lab

I finally bought proper containers for my tools and parts!

I wanted a solution that wouldn’t require me to put every part into ziplock bags when it was time to move to another apartment, so this is what I ended up with. The lids have sliding locks and ridges that help keep the compartments tight when the boxes aren’t sitting flat.

I made sure to buy a system that used little boxes instead of movable walls. In my experience, movable walls aren’t tight enough to keep small parts from spilling over into other compartments.

It took about two days to find all my parts and tools and put them in there, but it was worth it. No more digging for lost parts in random bags and containers.

Moderately correct

We all know that anti-immigration people are bigoted and intolerant, right? I’m here to give a shocking revelation…

Being politically correct is just as bigoted and intolerant as being anti-immigration.

Why? Because instead of having the whole country as your in-group, your in-group is other politically correct people. You see yourself as morally superior, yet openly mock and criticize everyone who doesn’t share your opinion. You are demonstrating the very same bigotry and intolerance that you criticize the anti-immigration people for. At least they are consistent, and don’t believe that they’re holier-than-thou…

…and why accuse everyone of racism? Racism is defined as “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.” Think Adolf Hitler or slavery. If you believe that the anti-immigration people are in it for the racism, you have badly misunderstood their position.

bluecollar

This whole political conflict is class warfare in disguise. Uneducated westerners compete against uneducated immigrants for the same blue-collar jobs, so they’re naturally against immigration, because it’s hurting them directly. The uneducated don’t benefit as much from progress either due to low income, so they also tend to be conservative, because less change means fewer costly adjustments. Their position is very natural, given such circumstances.

white-collar

On the other hand, highly educated white-collar workers notice only minor job competition from immigrants (because very few of them are educated), and they benefit from progress almost immediately due to high income. The competition they do get is from a small group of highly educated immigrants, who integrate into society far better than their blue-collar counterparts, and are thus easy to tolerate. Naturally, the white-collar workers are going to be pro-immigration and progressive.

Before we can have a proper immigration debate, we must acknowledge that two different realities exist. The anti-immigration group has acknowledged it, which is why they believe that mainstream politicians  are out of touch with reality. There is a working class out there, and it’s definitely being neglected.

Mainstream politicians have painted themselves into a corner. If they begin to acknowledge this other reality, the politically correct group will abandon them. If they continue to ignore it, the anti-immigration group will continue to abandon them.

What this world sorely needs is more nuance. Sadly, the ability to unify opposing positions into a whole seems to be a rare ability. The left may hate the right, the right may hate the left, but everyone hates a moderate.

Perfectly ridiculous

Recently, I tweeted this:

Every decision we make is ultimately driven by our feelings and emotions. Those are in turn driven by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Simple, right? So why do we all try so hard to hide it?

Shame and fear.

Do you really like to work, or are you just ashamed to admit that you depend on it for food and shelter? Do you really think your spouse needs to change, or are you just afraid to admit that your spouse has certain unchanging behaviors that upset you and no one else, and you’re worried that uncovering these irreconcilable differences is going to cost you your marriage?

The fact is that our behaviors and thoughts are all rooted in feelings and emotions. Political opinions are often rooted in basic feelings: Libertarians love choice. Authoritarians hate it. Left-wingers hate that life’s unfair. Right-wingers take it to heart. These basic feelings, stances, attitudes, are not altered by something as insubstantial as a rational argument. They are only altered by emotionally powerful events.

If you’re looking to influence a person, find out what his basic feelings are, and see if your argument can be adapted to satisfy those feelings. If this is impossible, you will not be able to influence him. With a rational argument, you may be able to force him into a corner. While this may be immensely satisfying to you, this only serves to humiliate him. He will reject everything you said and substitute self-affirmations in order to repair his shattered ego.

For example, if you wish to convince an authoritarian left-winger of your libertarian right-winger views, you must convincingly argue that your policy proposals will lessen the burden of choice and make life fairer. There is a good chance that is impossible to do without lying. This, of course, explains why the politicians who tell the best lies are the most successful ones.

If we were all honest about our basic feelings, I suspect there would be fewer friends and lovers in the world. There are simply too many irreconcilable differences. In order to get along with each other, we must tell lies.

And it’s all perfectly ridiculous.

 

Programmer on a Diet

For the past 20 days, I’ve been keeping meticulous track of every single calorie I have put in my body. I’ve read the nutrition labels on everything and I’ve weighed and measured it. When I can’t find a nutrition label, or can’t weigh it, I check online and make an estimate. I’ve been logging all of this, plus a target calorie intake, to a big spreadsheet that keeps a running calorie balance.

I’ve been working very hard to keep this balance equal to zero.

The balance started out at -3720 kcal/day, the amount I needed to eat to stay at my current weight. Each day after that, a computer program has been emailing me a new target intake: 3682, 3645, 3607, 3570 and so on, that I have input into my spreadsheet as a negative number.

These numbers don’t reflect my metabolic rate anymore. Rather, they are gradually zeroing in on a calorie deficit of 1100 kcal/day, scheduled to happen in about 10 days. At that point, I will be dropping about 1 kg/week. I have about 80 kg to drop until I reach an ideal weight.

“Why the computer program?”, you may ask. Well, it turns out that metabolic rates depend on your current weight, height and age. If you’re tall, heavy and young, you need more calories than if you’re short, light and old. And I’ll necessarily be getting lighter and older as the diet progresses.

No matter how much you weigh, a 1100 kcal/day deficit gives a weight loss of about 1 kg/week. To maintain it as your weight drops, your calorie intake must slowly decrease over time, to reflect the lower metabolic rate caused by your prior weight loss. If you don’t take that into account, your weight will eventually plateau instead of falling at a steady rate.

If I were to do that calculation by hand, I would be doing this every day:

MR = 1.2 × (88.362 + (13.397 × kg) + (4.799 × cm) – (5.677 × years)) – 1100

And it would actually be even more complex, because I’ve been slowly stepping up that 1100 kcal/day deficit over the course of 30 days, so I’d actually have to start at 0 and add 36⅓ to it every day.

Instead of all that hassle, I opted to write my own computer program. It sends me emails like this every day:

Day ? of ?

Current weight: ? kg
Target intake: ? kcal

Breakfast: ~? kcal
Lunch: ~? kcal
Dinner: ~? kcal
Supper: ~? kcal

Remember to log what you eat!

The “Current weight” value is an estimate based on how much weight I should have dropped. I don’t own a bathroom scale at the moment, so this is how I’m tracking my progress.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that this diet doesn’t seem to involve any specific foods. That’s because I’m not eating anything out of the ordinary. All I’m doing is controlling my calories.

I can eat unhealthy food if I want to, but because my calorie balance is kept as strict as a bank account, it has to replace another meal I was going to have that day. There have been days when my “dinner” was a bag of potato chips, because, well, I wanted potato chips. I stayed within my calorie budget, and had normal food the next day. No problem.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to lately. Wish me luck!

New Monitor Speakers

I ended up buying Yamaha HS8 monitor speakers instead of the Dynaudio Professional BM5 mkIII ones I had on my wish list.

Yamaha HS8

I had heard some bad things about the old Yamaha NS-10 that this model is supposedly based on, so I had neglected to take a closer look at it. However, reviews on the Internet now favored it over the BM5 mkIII.

Before going to the shop, I had actually set out to buy its little brother, the HS7, but they were out of stock everywhere. At the shop, they had the HS7 and HS8 hooked up to an A/B switch. While the HS7 sounded better than my old Tascam VL-X5, the HS8 made them both sound boxy and constrained. It was a stretch for my wallet, but I went for the HS8.

I took my new speakers home and placed them in my small bedroom studio. They sounded terrible. I should have anticipated that the size of the room would be a problem with these bigger speakers. After thinking about it for a while, I spent a few hours moving all my equipment into the living room.

I placed the speakers a few feet from the wall, as per manufacturer recommendations. Better. But the sub-bass notes were all over the place, nothing like what I had heard on the shop floor. Following some further research on speaker placement and some acoustic measurements and calculations, I moved them as close to the wall as I could. Better still, but not optimal. At this point, I concluded that only acoustic treatment of the room would improve things further, and called it a day.

There is an inherent contradiction in optimizing your audio mixing room too much: Your audience will nearly always listen to what you produce in a vastly inferior room, on vastly inferior equipment. What sounded great in your mixing room may sound terrible on the Bluetooth speaker that your neighbor keeps in the kitchen.

I have found that the producers of the music in my personal collection have mostly opted to minimize sub-bass content. When it’s there, they have kept it very simple, which helps it sound acceptable in environments with poorly controlled acoustics.

I have found the same to be true of my own music. I don’t find myself more actively using sub-bass in my music simply because it’s available to me. More often, it actually alerts me to unwanted sub-bass in my mixes. There have been several instances in the past where I have released a track, only to realize, with the help of headphones, that the sub-bass was out of control. Now that I have speakers that can detect it, I’m more often using filters to remove it.

Why I Don’t Like Games

Before I begin, I should state that I don’t hold a grudge against games or people who play them. They are a fine form of entertainment. Rather, in this article, I will aim to explain, in depth, why I personally don’t enjoy games.

So, what kind of games am I talking about, exactly? For this article, I’m going to limit my scope to video games, but many of the things I say will also be true of board games, card games and sports.

Let’s start simple: Games fail to hold my attention.

I have tried first-person shooters, role-play games, open world games, puzzle games, racing games, fighting games, a number of different genres. I have had plenty of exposure to video games, because I used to believe people when they told me that a particular game would be fun to play, and would give it a try.

Let me start with an analogy: Books and movies have to pull off something called suspension of disbelief, or immersion if you will, which is when you forget about your surroundings and start to believe in the story and the characters. In order to do this, it all needs to be believable. The setting, even a fantastic one, must feel like a real world. The characters, even if they are exotic, must be relatable.

Video games? If there are cut scenes, they always get my hopes up, but once the game play starts, the floor falls out. The rich, warm and detailed world in the cut scenes abruptly goes cold and mechanical. Your character is a soulless puppet. The supporting characters turn into predictable NPC’s with canned responses. Any hope of story immersion evaporates right there. The plot was just an excuse for the game mechanics, and I’m not buying it.

Obviously, video games are often not meant to tell a story, even when they pretend to. And I think that’s where they lose me, really.

I like reading, hearing or seeing stories or facts, whether it be through a book, a movie, or listening to a person talk. What I don’t understand so much is the urge to interact with a machine in order to accomplish imaginary goals, with nothing to show for it after it’s over.

Unlike the real world, games are often very predictable. They’re designed around a pattern of action, and you repeat that action pattern until you accomplish a goal, and to me, a given game feels more and more pointless as you learn that pattern, and you realize that you’re just going to be performing the same pattern, or minor variations on it, for hours and hours and hours, until you’ve mastered it.

Now where have I encountered that before? Oh! That’s right:

Homework.

Games are like homework. Math homework. The kind you get in elementary school in order to cram the rules for arithmetic. The kind where you have a whole page of assignments, but they’re actually the same assignment repeated over and over, and only the numbers are different.

Somehow, enthusiastic gamers are either blind to this, or they like math homework way more than I do. Once the pattern becomes obvious, something dies inside of me. No matter how elaborate you make the plot, it’s still a plot that must be resolved by doing math homework.

“What about open world games?” I hear you scream.

Oh great! A game with no clear purpose at all? That’ll definitely get my blood pumping. At this point, I should add that I didn’t play with Lego bricks as a child. I was never very fond of toys. Instead, I read books, watched documentaries and learned about the world.

Games are a form of toy, so at this point, you may be wondering why I didn’t like toys. I think it’s because they are pretend objects. And why would you bother to obsess over pretend objects when the real world is so full of interesting things? Why escape reality in favor of a game when you can simply take your eyes off the part of reality that you dislike, and direct them towards a part that you do like? For example, if you are tired of people, why not learn about big cats in the wild, or the day-to-day life of an astronaut aboard the ISS, or why The Beatles began to experiment with classical instruments on their later albums? I can think of thousands of things that are more fascinating than the comparatively narrow world of video games.

And that’s why I don’t like video games.

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

It’s 12:45 AM and I have just seen the new Star Wars movie.

So, what’s it like?

First off, The Force Awakens will not bore you. The dialog sequences are short, but not too short. There are many funny lines, but not too many. The characters get serious, but not too serious. It’s exciting, and you will eat a lot of popcorn.

The prequels didn’t feel like Star Wars. This movie feels like Star Wars. It’s a convincing continuation of the Star Wars saga. J. J. Abrams is a better George Lucas imitator than George Lucas was.

A few characters feel out of place, mostly the new ones, in the sense that they could be characters in a contemporary Science Fiction or Fantasy movie and are somewhat deficient in the charisma department. It doesn’t detract too much from this particular movie, because the old cast is there to support them. But I don’t know if I would’ve liked this movie as much without Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill in it, and there’s a chance they won’t be there in the rest of the trilogy.

If you love Star Wars, this film is probably what you’ve been waiting for. I rate it a 4 out of 5. It’s not deep, and it won’t blow your mind, or challenge you in any way, which is what I reserve my top score for, but it does exactly what a Star Wars film is supposed to do. If you liked the original trilogy, I recommend that you watch this movie.

Update: Some people are calling it a remake of A New Hope. While there are several plot similarities, it’s definitely not a remake. Other people are saying good things about the new characters. To me, they just seem a bit bland.

Politically Correct

The phrase “politically correct” betrays a refusal to accept that some people are genuinely progressive.

I was reading an article about how extremists on both sides of the fence in the War on Terror, with neo-nazis on one side and terrorists on the other, hate the gray areas, or the colorful middle, if you will. They both want to eradicate societies of mixed backgrounds.

If you’re an extremist, or, let’s be accurate, a fascist, you want purity in a society, and you can’t wrap your head around pluralists. You hear their words, and they fail to convince you, so you develop a theory that, deep inside, they feel the same way you do, and are just faking it to score popularity points.

I saw a video talk between two electrical engineers, and one of them said “Don’t you think everyone should have a bit of knowledge about engineering and science? Isn’t all this ignorance bad?” and the other guy said “I used to believe that, but I have a daughter, and even though she got straight A’s in math, she tells me she just can’t get her head around it, because she’s not wired that way. She had just memorized every possible answer for the tests.”

There are a lot of people who don’t believe that humans are “wired” for certain things. This lends power to the idea that “You can do anything / become anyone you want.” In a cruel twist of irony, those who want to control people take that notion and turn it into “We can change them into anything we want!”

I happen to think that one of the fundamental ways in which people come prewired is in their predilection for fascism versus pluralism. In any society, there are going to be people who insist on one or the other. The fascists will tend toward conservatism, while the pluralists will tend towards progressiveness.

Now, I’ve talked to people of all political convictions, and the the thing they all have in common is a refusal to accept that some people are bound to differ. There is a refusal to accept that fundamental differences in how our brains are wired lay at the core of the human condition. They believe that the way we’re wired doesn’t touch on political conviction, and that any person can, in principle, be convinced of anything.

I happen to think that this is wrong.

Humans like to think that they’re rational beings, especially when it comes to something so lofty as politics. But ask yourself: What prompts you to think and act in the first place? More specifically, what motivates you? If you take an objective look at yourself, you’ll find that, more often than not, your thoughts and actions are prompted by some emotion or feeling. Maybe not directly, but if you start asking yourself “Why?” repeatedly about everything you do and think, the arrows always point back to some urge, desire, fear or resentment.

Feelings are the fuel of humanity.

And how often have you not carried out some action, or had a thought, only to find yourself in a mild panic if you’re later prompted to come up with a justification for said action or thought? This process is called rationalization, and we are all experts at it. Rationalization, the process of finding explanations for how we feel, think and act, is a finely tuned skill for most of us, to such a degree that we don’t even notice that we’re doing it.

Politics is a glorified game of rationalization. We all “just feel that way”, and when prompted to explain why, we refer to our political convictions. It follows then, that, deep down, we vote with our emotions. We may be able to moderate and suppress our emotions, but we can’t stop them from occurring in the first place.

From this, you might infer that I’m not a big believer in free will, and you’d be correct. I think our thoughts and actions stem from our circumstances, whether they be genetic (nature) or environmental (nurture), to a far greater degree than most of us are willing to admit. We like to think that our minds are mysterious. Have you ever had someone see right through you, only to deny the truth because you’re so embarrassed about being found out? Me too.

Music Gear Wishlist

Behringer DEQ2496

deq2496

I will probably never have the optimal listening room I keep dreaming about, and prerecorded audio will always have problems. This processor does room correction and can fix a number of other audio problems. It will replace my dusty old Radio Shack GEQ. If I can’t buy new studio monitors for a while, this should help my old ones sound better.

Dynaudio Professional BM5 mkIII

My old Tascam VL-X5 monitors are due for an upgrade. They don’t sound very transparent, they have developed issues with mains hum, and the rear inputs are worn out. Other contenders for new monitors were Adam A7X and Yamaha HS7. In tests from Sonic Sense, the HS7 had too much mid-tone and the A7X had too much bass. Of them, I preferred the A7X, which otherwise sounded balanced, however, the BM5 sounded more balanced than both of them.

M-Audio Keystation 88 II

My old E-mu Xboard 49 is showing severe signs of wear, lacks weighted keys, and isn’t wide enough for full-range piano playing.

Telecaster

The plastic on my old Stratocaster is disintegrating. The middle pickup has fallen off and the nut is coming apart. I got it as a gift some 10-15 years ago, and I want variety. I currently own an Epiphone SG that works great for jazz, but I need something crisp and punchy for funk.