Category Archives: Uncategorized

ISO good readings on “mastering fear”

I’m noodling the topic of “mastering fear”, partly for personal reasons — gotta master The Fear one of these years — and partly for possible writing/blog/book topics.

I recall the comments in Dune on “fear is the mind-killer”.  I recall Carlos Castenada’s Don Juan on the topic of fear: I believe he thought fear was the first Great Enemy (btw, the last great enemy is Old Age, that creeps up on you while you’re battling the other Great Enemies).  Actually, I may well re-read Don Juan on this subject; he’s worth listening to.

I recall Aristotle’s idea that courage was the mean between fear and foolhardiness, but I don’t recall he gave much practical advice on how to move into the Zone of that golden mean.

I’m after practical steps Average Joe’s and Jill’s can use to master fear rather than hymns of praise to courage.   Would appreciate any help you can offer.

A day that will live in mini-bar infamy

Just got back from a week-long project in Sao Paulo.

Great people, good work, our team did a great job.

The hotel they put us up in was nice, and very pleasant.

Except that the only way to get a drinking glass was to “buy” one from the mini-bar.

I’ve had my share of plastic drinking glasses, plastic-wrapped “sanitized” drinking glasses, and fancy ones too.

But I’ve never been in a hotel where you had to buy your drinking glass.

A day that will live in min-bar infamy.

To Find a Backer, See Who Backed Your Competitors

I get asked for referrals to investors a lot, and since my writing has spun up I also get asked for referrals to publishers and agents.

I read a bunch of years ago some advice that seemed quite sensible for finding an agent:

Find one or two books that are just like the one you want to do, find out who agents those authors, and ping them.

Of course, no book is “just like” your baby, but there are cousins, maybe even fraternal twins.

Maybe this is terrible advice, but, like I said, it made sense to me.

And it makes sense in the investor context too.  Find one or two startups that are doing something similar or cousin-ly to what you want to do, find out who invested in those companies, and ping them.

One might say that I’m just letting myself off the hook of actually daring to refer somebody to an investor or agent I already know.  But I’ve done that.  I’ve done that enough to know that you can’t force oil and water together if they don’t want to go.

Maybe this is awful advice.  If so, please let me know and I’ll pass on your POV.

Cycle for Survival

My friend Elizabeth was raising money for research into curing “rare” cancers, and she mentioned it when she came to “guest lecture” at my class this last fall.  March 6 seemed a long ways away so I volunteered to do some spinning with her team.

I put “rare” in quotes because, collectively, these cancers account for 50 % of all cancers, but there’s a lot of them, and individually each one is unusual.  They don’t get the TLC $$ that the “big” cancers get, so I thought it would be a good deed as well as a chance to get in some spinning.

I’ve been spinning since my left hip got replaced five years ago.  It’s a great way for someone like me — not a runner, not a swimmer — to do some interval training.  I’ve really enjoyed it for the most part, although there’s a school of spinning — I imagine that SoulCycle is this way — that thinks “Too Much Ain’t Enough.”  That’s not me.  I do the work, but I don’t bellow or yip or carry on.

Surprise surprise, March 6 came and much sooner than I would have thought.  I realized in mid-February that the event was almost upon us, and started doing some fundraising.

Fortunately, several friends leaped into the breach and funded me, so I felt like could hold my head up with the rest of the team — I didn’t know anyone except Elizabeth, I thought — when Cycle Day came.

I sort of imagined doing the equivalent of punching in at work: I would walk in, register, spin for my allotted time, and leave.

It was much more wild than that.

Imagine a huge spinning studio — I’m talking 100 bikes here — filled with garishly-dressed teams with boas, pompoms, beach balls flying through the air, 115dB music and peppy spinning talk.

My kneejerk reaction to stuff like this is to Sneer and to Cower.  Sneer: I get angry back at all the peppiness and cheer.  Cower: I want to just get my job done and get out without any shenanigans.

But my team was so nice, they engaged me, they got me to dress up in an orange team t-shirt, and they got me into it.  As you can see in the photo (I’m in the upper right), I’m present and accounted for if not exactly bouncing off the walls.  (You can’t quite see the cute little sparkly fedora on top of my head.)

Shucks: it was actually fun, and I loved getting to know the rest of the team somewhat at the Point of Sweat.

Thanks Elizabeth and thanks Kelly for having me.  And thanks to the rest of Team Pedaling Sunshine Bethesda.

Make-Ahead Lunches

As those of you who know me a bit know, I take New Year’s resolutions pretty seriously, and try to lay out ambitious, but attainable, goals, objectives, values, principles, and such-like every New Year.

(Nothing sacred about New Years, by the way.  But nothing wrong with it either, and it does have the virtue, like summer vacation, that I have a bit of down time to step back and thing about the Bigger Picture.)

So one resolution (or goal, or habit, I’m not entirely clear on the distinctions) for 2016 is: Make-ahead lunches.

There’s a couple of converging streams of better-ness here.

  1. Save Money.  I’ve been scheming to get down the price of my lunches over the last couple of years, and have gotten them down to $5-6 a lunch going to our local Asian steam-table restaurant.  Not bad, and a lot better than the $12-15 I started with.  But getting under $5 seemed to involve either excessive deprivation or making lunches at home.
  2. Nutritious meals.  Making my own lunches seemed to be the ideal way to get into them exactly what I wanted (although, as we shall see, the making-ahead aspect introduces some constraints.)
  3. Fascination with bulk methods in food prep.  Something about making the lunches ahead — in bulk — captured my imagination.  As you may or may not know, there’s a OAMM (Once-a-month meals) meme out there on the Net with something of an infrastructure, thought leaders, etc.    Check out the (commercial) site or just Google it.
  4. “Productivity”.  I’m not 100% sure that make-ahead meals are more productive, but I’m prepared to believe it, and prepared to experiment with it.

So, if you Google “make-ahead lunches” you will get a hodge-podge of once-a-month, once-a-week, and “night-before” lunch recipes and schemes.  I did some reading and digging around and Web clipping over the holidays, and ended up learning two things about myself:

  • I’m not ready for once-a-month prep — lunch or all meals — at this time (and maybe never).  Too much of a hump for me, plus I’m not sure I believe the hype about how it saves you time.  Plus I had a hard time seeing how you could get the variety you wanted for a whole month in advance.  No flexibility in it.  You’re stuck with the work of the You who made those meals at the beginning of the month.
  • I want minimum same-day prep.  My morning routine has a lot of moving parts — writing, meditating, helping the dog, etc. — without adding more stuff to it.  My perfect same-day lunch routine would consist of fetching a container out of the fridge or freezer and adding it to the heap of gear I take with me out to the car.

So, that means once-a-week prep of 1-3 different lunch meals that I can freeze or refrigerate and will last the week in that form.

As far as I can make out, that kind of puts the kabosh on make-ahead salads, because they either they don’t last out the week (soggy, wilted, etc.) or they require same-day prep (add the dressing, croutons, whatever).  I’m still open to salads, but for now I’m focusing on soups, wraps, and possibly sandwiches.

For Week 1 (this week), I made a batch of burritos using this approach from and shredded chicken made this way from Picky Palate.  I wrapped each one in aluminum foil and froze them.  I also made a couple of servings of Italian Wedding soup from a big batch my wife had made up on Sunday.

I’m scheming ahead for Week 2, and would welcome any links, tips, pointers, or suggestions.

But What Framework to Use?

My son called last night to find out what toolset I would use to build a website.

I had a hard time answering him, for several reasons.

First of all, I wanted to know what his use case was.  And, as I suspected, the aim of the exercise was to build some kind of web application, not just a content site.

But I hardly know what toolset I want to use myself for building web apps.  I spent a surprising amount of (elapsed) time in 2015 dithering about this topic myself.

My reading and talking with tech friends has led me to focus on JavaScript in general and the JS MVC frameworks in particular.  But I wasn’t sure I wanted to urge that on my son.

He’s just learning how to write code, whereas I wrote code for years.  Why inflict a horrible language like JavaScript on someone who’s just setting out?  It’s like the old advice I got to start with BASIC, which I did and then had to unlearn most of it when I started using Pascal and Lisp.

(I was charmed and blown away to read that Paul Graham and Co. had used Lisp to implement their eCommerce startup ViaWeb, and even more charmed by his argumentation about why it was a sound choice.  Bravo, Paul Graham!)

And the MVC bias for me is probably just that, a bias.  I love elegance as much as the next geek, but, as Albert Einstein said so many years ago, “If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor”.  The MVC frameworks like Angular and Ember lay a big trip on you the coder; I’m happy to accept it, since power comes from observing constraints, but why inflict that on my son?

I ended up saying that I thought the #1 criterion for adopting one of the many frameworks was the level of support he could get for his choice.  Support comes in different flavors of course:

  1. Online support, like documentation, tutorials, discussion groups
  2. Meetups and other real-world interactions
  3. People you know well enough to ask them for help at 1 am

I laid stress on the last one, although I was careful to let him know that I was hardly someone whom he could ping for help, not because I wouldn’t drop everything to help him at 1 am or any other time, but because I’m still a babe-in-the-woods about Angular — the one I think I’m going to work with — at best.  My advice would be possibly one step ahead of what he could do for himself, if that.

He mentioned that his girlfriend had mentioned Django as a possible framework that she had used at some Hackathons.  I’ve read a bit about Django and said I thought it would be great if she knew something about it and could help him figure out problems.  But he said she knew very little.

So I ended up plumping for Angular and disclaiming my advice at the same time.

What advice would you give?

Two Casserole-style “one-pot” meals

Debbie was out of town at the end of last week and so I was forced into  cooking action.

It’s a paradox, since the original intent (and much of the moral juice) for the Crummycook effort was to spell Debbie at cooking.  Which I do from time to time, but, sadly, I really jump into action when she’s out of town.

At least part of the problem is that I have nowhere to hide when she’s gone.  I have to cook, or, after I run out of leftovers, I might starve.


My scheme last week was to do some of Rachael Ray’s “30-minutes tops” meals.  And somewhere along the way I got the idea of doing a one-pot meal.  Heck.  I have penchant for one-pot meals.  I sort of like the mixture of flavors, and they’re easy as leftovers.  Just measure and nuke.

Unfortunately, Rachael Ray’s magazine website was terribly slow when I first went to look for recipes (Tuesday or Wednesday).  I didn’t have the sense to look at RachaelRayShow or Food Network, which might have been alternatives.

So my first shot at one-potted-ness was from Epicurious, which yielded, together with an old Ziploc freezer bag full of boneless chicken thighs, this Moroccon Tagine-style dish.

I see “tagine-style” because my impression is that real tagines take hours of slow cooking and maybe even special cookware, no?  This recipe was easy-peasy.


Here’s the meal just before serving.  The couscous, the raisins, the garbanzos, the red onion, all visible.  The chicken is a bit back-in-the-mix.

By Friday I actually got onto the Rachael Ray site and did her Savory and Sweet Pork Stew with Ancho Chiles.

I like her stuff, and I like her TV persona (FWIW).  It’s simple, but, unlike others, it’s not cheesy.   Count me as a fan.


Here’s the stew ready to eat.  I didn’t have tortillas so I put it on corn tortilla chips.  It was really pretty good.

And when Debbie got home on Saturday night she had some of this and thought it was pretty good too.  So a minor-league “spelling Debbie at cooking” Crummycook function was served.

AOL’s problem was not that it was a walled garden

As I think about my last post on walled gardens and dumb pipes, a simple thought occurs to me: AOL didn’t fail because it was walled garden.  AOL failed because it was a dumb pipe.

The value proposition of AOL back in the day was, “We’ll pre-digest the Internet for you, and put it in a safe, packaged form that’s good for beginners, children, and digital immigrants”.

Actually, the value proposition back when I signed up in the early ’90’s was, “We’ll give you an Internet ID that’s a name, not a number”.  Recall that their big competitor walled garden at the time, Compuserve, had User IDs that were a pair of numbers.  <300129, 1235> or the like.

But by the time we got to the beginning of the end for AOL, they had a walled garden: they figured that their inmates would be too terrified to leave.

I suspect what happened, however, was that the “inmates” began to receive offers from other service providers that were 1) competitive in price and 2) better in terms of bandwidth and latency.  So it’s not that people became tired of the walled garden, it’s that another service provider — in what became essentially a commodity market — had better service for a lower price.

Classic Dumb Pipe stuff.

Now, to be fair to the argument, the “features” of AOL — especially AOL IM, which was hegemonic for a while — should have kept AOL as a “smart pipe” and didn’t.  But it’s amazing how quickly people found those features irrelevant when the price was right.

How Do We Stop a Bad AI from Hurting Us?

I just published a review of Nick Bostrom’s book “Superintelligence: Paths, Danger, Strategies”.

Pdf of the review: Gordon – Superintelligence Book Review (Spring 2015 IST)

My basic thesis?  AIs need a Freudian superego to keep them from getting uppity.

The review appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Issues, the thought magazine of the National Academies of Science

Let me know what you think.