(Because I needed a hobby)


Posted June 24, 2015

People have a bad habit of complaining. Sometimes it's about themselves, sometimes about others. It's easy to do, which is why I think people default to criticizing one another in casual conversation. You've certainly heard others doing it, and you've done it yourself. You complain about how busy you are, your job, your friends. You criticize people you do not know based on first impressions, and you critique the work of others.

It's a way of relating, a way of shouting your value into the world, but a destructive one, almost by definition. You tear down, you deconstruct. It's habit. It's easy.

It's safe to criticize, and scary to dig deep into your soul, create something that expresses your self, and share it with others. I wish we formed this new habit, so when we feel the urge to complain and criticize, instead we turn that energy into something creative.

On rudeness

Posted June 16, 2015

As I get older, I am noticing more and more how rude some people can be. Whether it's in email, on the phone, driving, waiting in line. Someone mutters something under their breath, takes an exasperated tone in conversation, cuts you off, or worse. Of course, the remoteness of the internet intensifies the problem. It's not everyone, but the brain remembers the negative encounters more than the neutral ones, and active kindness is infrequent among strangers.

So I guess I have two things to say.

First, stop being rude to people. It's not cool. I notice some people proudly share their rudeness like they're comparing battle scars..."You should have been there, I asked to see the manager and I told him off, completely chewed his head off..." Good for you?

Absent repeated instances of intentional disrespect (and probably even in that case), being rude is never necessary. I somehow doubt this is the kind of situation people encounter daily, and yet people are rude every day. I think the reason is that we have a tendency to assign intent to what is probably 99% of the time a complete accident. People aren't out to get you, but if we're rude, we kind of make it so...which brings me to my next point.

Be nice. Stop taking minor things so seriously (and yes, most of the problems we encounter daily are minor, with obvious exceptions). And let it go.

Ben Brooks on the Apple Watch[Permalink]

I use and check my phone a lot less than before. In fact, 90% of the time my iPhone is on silent (silent on my iPhone doesn't vibrate anymore) and I don't touch my phone much during the work day, or play time with the kids. My iPhone has stopped making noise. My watch doesn't make noise either, it just taps my wrist.

This has been my experience as well. One of the things I hear people say about the Apple Watch (who don't own one) is that it's overkill. They see strapping a piece of technology to their wrist as scary -- essentially, that physically attaching a device to the body is letting technology run your life. But this is not my experience at all.

I've only owned The Apple Watch for less than a week, but in that time, I am actually checking my phone less often. The Watch gives me a little tap every now and then, which I typically dismiss quickly, instead of checking my phone and getting sucked into Instagram.

The same applies to features like weather. There was a time before smartphones when I would log on to to check the forecast. Then I was able to check the weather on my phone. Now it's on my wrist. That's not scary, it's just convenient and less distracting.

Rational Ignorance at the Patent Office[Permalink]

If you are at all interested in patent law, Mark Lemley is a must-read. In 2001, Lemley wrote an article titled Rational Ignorance at the Patent Office, in which he challenges the assertion that the PTO should spend more time weeding out bad patents.

The article is only 35 pages long, but I took notes, and I can sum up his argument using a few of the numbers he provides. Of course, I recommend reading the entire piece, but here's the gist:

Note that even if we (unrealistically) assumed that doubling down on patent examination would eliminate every single patent that turns out to be invalid during litigation (almost half), that would save approximately $1.31 billion, still less than $1.52 billion in annual costs.

Check out the full article to find out where Lemley gets these numbers from.

I'm learning JavaScript, and I helped someone

Posted January 21, 2014

I have a "Someday/Maybe" list, on which I wrote, "Learn to code software" (also, "Dungeons and Dragons?"). One month ago, I stumbled upon Codecademy and thought it a brilliant opportunity. So I created an account and began my journey.

I started with the "Web Fundamentals" lessons, although I already knew a good deal of HTML and CSS. Still, I learned a few new tricks, including proper use of CSS positioning (apparently you're not supposed to just randomly try block, inline, and inline-block until something looks right). But it was JavaScript that I was truly excited to learn--something I'd never written before.

As it turns out, writing code is an experience I enjoy. Though I cannot say it has come "naturally" for me, I do believe I am picking things up nicely. Last week, my wife, Elizabeth, called me:

E: Hey, you think you can help me with something?
Me: Yeah?
E: So this graphic designer is creating a website for a dentist in Brooklyn, and she wants the greeting text on the homepage to change every time you refresh the page. Is that done with CSS, or JavaScript, or something?
Me: I don't think you can do that with CSS. Maybe. You can definitely do it with JavaScript.
E: Well good, because I told her you could code it.

Well alright then.

Fortunately for us, what the graphic designer was trying to accomplish was relatively simple, and I had actually learned enough about random numbers and arrays to whip something up. Now it might not seem like a big deal to some, but I was extremely proud of this:

<div style="font-family: verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 42px; font-weight: bold; color: blue;">
<script type="text/javascript">
var greeting = ["Hello", "Bonjour", "Greetings", "Hi there"];
var random = Math.floor(Math.random() * 4);

Boom. It worked. I emailed the code to the designer, explaining how she could customize the styling, add her own greetings, and how she had to change the number "4" to the number of items in the array. Indeed, I felt like a champion. I told Elizabeth how much fun it was, and she encouraged me to continue learning, which I certainly will.

Hojo Tea Company[Permalink]

I recently discovered an amazing Japanese tea company called HOJO. They sell gorgeous hand-made teapots, cast iron tetsubin kettles, and teas. I am very excited about this company, and I cannot wait to make a few purchases.

I happily stumbled upon HOJO while looking for a new teapot. Teavana recommended cast iron teapots ("Cast iron does an excellent job of distributing the heat evenly throughout the teapot, so it extracts the most flavor and nutrients from the tea leaves"), which is where I came across the word tetsubin. I ran a couple of Google searches, eventually searching "cast iron tetsubin," and HOJO popped up.

Now here's how HOJO earned my trust. When you click "Tetsubin" in the navigation bar at the top of the page, you are brought to an informational page explaining the history and function of the tetsubin tea kettle. In big bold font, HOJO explains, "A Tetsubin is not a kettle for brewing tea, but for boiling water."

The Tetsubin has been made in Japan since the Sixteenth Century. When we use the word "Tetsubin", in Japanese, we are referring to a kettle that is used only to boil water. The interior is either bare iron or only coated with Urushi.

There is no enamel or glazing on the inside of a Tetsubin.

Recently, in the Twentieth Century, there are many cast iron teapots that have appeared on the overseas market as well as the online market. These cast iron teapots have enamel or glazing on the inside. These teapots are meant for the brewing tea.They are completely different from so-called "tetsubin". Most of them are made by factories either in Japan or China. In particular, a lot of cast iron teapots are made in China at very low cost.

So from what I can gather, some tea companies are sloppily using the word "tetsubin" to describe cast iron teapots lined with enamel, which should not be placed on the stove.

At any rate, HOJO goes on to explain the true function of the tetsubin kettle:

When brewing tea using water boiled in Tetsubin, the taste of the tea becomes very mellow and sweet. In addition, thanks to the iron content of the kettle, the resultant water gives us additional health benefits.

The tetsubin pictured above is the Shudama Gata Arare 1.0 liter kettle, part of the Kunzan family, and cast by Sasaki Kazuo.

The two teapots are part of the Niigata Tsuiki Do-ki line (tsuiki do-ki means hammered copper). According to HOJO, these copper teapots "significantly [improve] the intensity of flavor and the depth of after taste." I can't decide between the two different handles!

Their products are on the pricier side, but that is to be expected, and I trust the quality is worth the expense.

Tea kettles, teapots, and steeping

Posted May 27, 2013

Recently, I learned that there is a difference between a tea kettle and a tea-pot.

A tea kettle is a tool used for boiling water. It usually has a spout with a whistle on it that signals when the water is ready. It might look something like this.

A teapot is a tool used for steeping and serving tea. It also has a spout, but probably no whistle. It might look something like this.

I only started drinking non-Lipton-brand tea ("real tea") as of yesterday, so forgive me if this information was already abundantly clear. If it was, then I suggest that you stop reading, because what follows are the troubles of a tea newbie.

My frustration now is figuring out a decent system for making tea. Essentially, any method whereby boiling water is poured over tea leaves and left to steep for several minutes would suffice, but there are several methods. For my own benefit, I would like to lay out a few of those methods right now.

(All of these methods use loose tea leaves, because they are cheaper, taste better, and probably healthier for you.)

Disposable tea bags and mesh tea infusers

Loose tea leaves may be placed into a disposable mesh or paper tea filter, much like your standard "Lipton" tea bags, and boiling water poured over them in a cup or mug. This seems like a fine option for quickly making a single cup of tea with little mess involved, as the bag can easily be disposed of after brewing.

I would probably prefer this option to mesh tea ball infusers such as this one. Though the method is essentially the same, cleaning out the ball after every use feels unnecessary. On the other hand, I would only need to buy the mesh ball once, whereas I would have to constantly re-stock the disposable bags.

Brewing baskets and tea nets

Brewing baskets and "tea nets" such as this one are also decent options for quick and simple brewing. Loose tea leaves are placed into the basket or net and submerged into a cup of hot water for the proper steeping period.

The pros and cons are largely the same as for the mesh ball infusers, though there is one additional benefit to brewing baskets: It is easier to scoop loose tea leaves into an open basket than to scoop them into the mesh balls, which need to be opened and sealed prior to steeping.

On the other hand (and this goes for the mesh ball infusers as well), there is just some peculiar, irrational thing that I don't like about these bulky tools. A big metal cage or a basket and the natural quality of "tea" just don't seem to mix well. (Perhaps then, the disposable tea bags are best-suited for me.)


I will admit, this option feels the coolest. Loose tea leaves may be placed on the bottom of a teapot and boiling water poured over them. You place a lid on the teapot and let the leaves steep for the appropriate amount of time before serving the tea into individual cups or mugs. Of course, since the leaves were loose in the teapot, you need to pour the tea through a strainer first (unless you want a mouth full of leaves). Small strainers such as this one sit on top of the individual cup and catch the leaves, which may then be disposed of.

Certainly a little more work than the other options, but I am not ashamed to admit that I like the "idea" of brewing tea in this fashion. It also gives me an excuse to purchase a cool-looking teapot.

If Elizabeth drank tea, I could justify this method on the fact that it allows me to easily brew more than a single cup, but Elizabeth does not drink tea. I suppose I could still justify it on the fact that I, myself, may very well drink more than a single cup of tea. Or perhaps I may have tea-drinking company over.

* * * *

If you have read this far, thank you for indulging me. It seems after writing this entry that I am biased in favor of the disposable tea bags and teapot methods. At any rate, this is all a matter of idiosyncratic preference and probably has little to no effect on the actual taste of the tea. But that won't stop me from mulling things over.

Two chaotic days later. Blogging with Jekyll and Github

Posted May 06, 2013

For the record, it was worth it. Presumably, installing Jekyll is very easy. I, however, rarely spend more than a couple of minutes at a time in terminal. Two days ago, I didn't know what Ruby was. That should give you some solace if you are a newbie like me. It only took a couple of days, and I built my blog from the ground up with Jekyll and Github pages.

I would probably have installed Jekyll a lot sooner had I read these two articles first:

At first, I kept getting errors when running sudo gem install jekyll. In the end, it turned out that my problem was simple, yet elusive, given that many Jekyll tutorials are a bit dated. Ultimately, I had to uninstall Xcode and install GCC here (for whatever reason, installing Command Line Tools from Xcode wouldn't cut it).

Here is the quick tutorial that I used to set up my custom domain.

The CSS styling is simple, but I'm proud of what I was able to accomplish. It feels good building a blog from scratch. I never realized until now what a hassle it was inheriting someone else's coding.