it's a blog, yo

by brian copeland

The Burger Hunter

tl;dr: The Burger Hunter ‘dissed’ White Castle, but still wrote solid burger reviews. I studied him and used machine learning to replicate his reviews after he quit writing.

I subscribe to Secrets of the City. It’s twice-weekly email that informs you of stuff coming up in the Twin Cities. Super good.

Back in 2017, it had a regular feature called “The Burger Hunter”. This guy reviewed hamburgers around the Twin Cities, ranking them from 1-10 on Flavor, Presentation, and Originality. Even better, this guy had a very specific writing style:

As you can imagine the meat gets dominated by onion and renders that smell we all know from 50 feet away. I order mine without the O’s because they’ve been pretty much marinating in um. Topped with cheese and tbh it’s the only contrast you’ll get in the flavor on this ride. It’s so BOM bun onion meat that the cheese actually stands out.

[Quoted from the White Castle review, for which I hate him for]

Seriously, Mr. Burger Hunter had such a distinctive voice: liberal emoji’s, acronyms no one understands, sentences to make an english teacher cry:

First off it’s a hot mess. But glorious. It’s like I hope nobody’s looking kinda good. Just dig in.

[Quoted from Joe Sensor’s review]

I originally started paying attention out of hate. If you sum the three scores, he gave my beloved White Castle a 17.1, the lowest ever. Which is also bullshit: his only four in any category ever was White Castle’s presentation. Those boxes are a national treasure. I’m not sarcastic at all – just look at this photo from the review of the burger tavern:

That’s ugly as shit. Especially compared to these beauties:

[photo stolen from godairyfree.org]

Enraged, I did what any Data Scientist would do – I scraped his corpus and made a dataset. Definitely explore for yourself, but some highlights:

  • Only one perfect score ever was granted to The Red Cow
  • The worst two scores were the first review (Annie’s Parlour, 17.5, which he still called “A damn good burger”) and last review (White Castle, 17.1)
  • Flavor exclusively exists between 7.1 and 10, making a ten point scale strange
  • The third lowest score ever (Miller’s Corner Bar) is described as “Before us is probably my number 1 most favorite hunt so far”)
  • To be fair, he starts his top review ever, “Have you ever woke up and said, ‘I had too much to dream last night?'” (Red Cow)

Needless to say, this guy is somewhere between, “I love hamburgers” and “BOW BEFORE YOUR HAMBURGER GOD“.

3D plots suck, but here’s every score he gave:

Really, they suck. See how Matt’s Bar looks high on presentation and low on flavor? It’s a Originality:10; Presentation;5, Flavor:10. The lightness of the dot is supposed to tell you it’s low on the presentation scale. Or not, I don’t really know. 3D plots suck. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

More important than pivoting on 90+ reviews (such as discovering that Kelly’s Depot Bar is the best flavor, in spite of its originality or presentation), we need technology to fill the empty hole left by the Burger Hunter.

Enter Andrej Karpathy. This guy is writing about “Recurrent Neural Networks”, a brand of machine learning that’s good with sequences (like the sequence of letters you’re reading now!). Train a RNN with enough text, it can learn how to spell. Seriously – just give the model a seed of a few letters in a sentence, it guesses the next letter.

For example, let an RNN run through Shakespeare. Then, start it out by providing the first little bit of a text:

PANDARUS:
Alas, I thi

It starts guessing that the next letter is ‘n’. Shift one space over, it thinks the next letter is ‘k’. Eventually, it writes:

PANDARUS:
Alas, I think he shall be come approached and the day
When little srain would be attain’d into being never fed,
And who is but a chain and subjects of his death,
I should not sleep.

I’m glossing over details, but the takeaway here is that this is not a quote from one of Shakespeare’s plays. This RNN model is writing brand-new-Shakespeare. Let’s do this with the Burger Hunter!

I trained a model on every word the Burger Hunter ever published. It’s really entertaining how bad my model is at the beginning. Here’s an excerpt from early in training:

ed burger is a burger is a burger is a burger is a burger is a burger is a burger is a burger is a burger is a burger is a burger is a burger is a burger is a burger is a burger is a burger is a burger is a burger is a burger is a burger is a burger

Notice, the RNN gets the idea – after the sequence ‘burg’ comes the letter ‘e’. But it’s stuck in a loop, it doesn’t realize that ‘i’ does not follow after ‘is a burger ‘. But that’s okay, this was only about twenty minutes of training. Let’s zoom forward an hour:

e is so the burger is a sertise shat conled of cheese and the burger is a big burger cutter frilled and some fresh and they don’t spedite. the bun is soft, fresh and the burger is a secret saled frinl. the burger is topped with a secret sale a burger

It’s gibberish… but not bad! After only an hour of training, it’s starting to write coherent phrases, like “the bun is soft, fresh and “.

More training!

juicy & old timey! but the burger is to food in and the bacon is a big slice and down that are so good that anla to the sime cause they are doubling to the slime chute the meat flavor is fooding and put of some garlic just a smoked galf po y

That looks like something that a human might have written a little (a lot) drunk. It falls apart at the end… but notice, there’s no repeating. It’s just shy of cohesive sentences that tell a story. This is trained off only ~90 reviews. While this was the best result I achieved back in late 2017, technology is constantly getting better. 

We’ll meet again, Mr. Burger Hunter. 

Squirrel Burgers

Here’s a story about sacrificing quality for delivery: don’t make squirrel burgers.

I’m usually a centrist. If there’s two competing moral principles, the best moral compass is probably somewhere in the middle. I’ve been on the side of rehabilitative criminal sentences (fix what caused the crime, don’t eye-for-an-eye ’em), but then some really awful case makes me want to just execute the asshole.

Thus, I really like when something pulls me towards the center. My father instilled the following principle in me when I was growing up:

At some point in your career, there’s going to be a day when the janitor doesn’t show up and there’s a huge mess in the bathroom. It doesn’t matter if you’re a mailworker or the CEO, that mess has to get cleaned. Don’t be the kind of person that says, “that’s beneath me!” Get the job done. [Paraphrased, not quoted]

I still think that’s a good lesson and has served me well. But the squirrel burger article makes another point – not every job should get done.

 

Micro Posts and Finding Meaning in Life

I’ve been a bad blogger. I see interesting content on the internet and don’t share it. I think, “eventually I’ll write an intelligent and meaningful post about it.” Then, months (years) later, I haven’t ever done anything and this blog goes months (years) without new content. Today is the day I stop the bad habit. Here’s the first in a (hopefully) long line of posts about small little things I like, or at least things I find insightful.

Fittingly, my first share is about someone displaying the kind of discipline I can only dream of:

A videogame player once spent 500 hours reaching level 99 in the first area of Final Fantasy VII via random low level encounters, in order to express his hatred for a player called Dick Tree

Long story short: Mr. “Dick Tree” had a theory that you could max out your character at the very beginning of a video game. That person promised a follow up proving it was possible, then fell off the map. Frustrated, anonymous internet writer “CirclMastr” did it himself. He spent five hundred hours manually beating the smallest enemies in the earliest stages of the video game to prove it was possible. This is boring, menial, tedious labor, to say the least.

Necessary disclosures:

  • Final Fantasy VII was (is) my favorite video game of all time, but this sounds like torture
  • I’ve made a career out of “just doing it to get it done”, so I totally get the attitude of CirclMastr, but this still sounds like torture
  • I dream of being the kind of person with the kind of discipline this would take, but fuck that, discipline for discipline’s sake is torture

I think my initial reaction was probably the same you feel right now: what a fucking waste of time. Even if he’s listening to podcasts while playing… or working out… or some other distraction… it is a shocking amount of time to spend with no pay off. I mean, this guy will get no money from it. No one will invite this guy to speak at a video gaming conference. Heck, he did it to spite someone that may never know he did it.

So… meaningless? Should we laugh at this guy?

CirclMastr has a response:

Life does not have inherent meaning; to say that our lives are pointless and our achievements meaningless is to state the obvious. No matter how grand our achievements or how broad their scope, time turns all to dust and death destroys all memory. But that does not mean we cannot ascribe our own meaning to what we do. It is because nothing has meaning unto itself that we are free to create meaning, to make metaphor, and in doing so reflect on ourselves and our world.

I found this article via reddit back on September 1st, 2017, but I still think about it. This story is perhaps the most meaningful thing I’ve read in recent memory. When it comes down to it, stupid passion is still passion.

PyData Recap

PyData (https://pydata.org/) is a fairly regular conference put on by NumFocus (https://numfocus.org/), a non-profit that sponsors most of the big Python projects (NumPy, pandas, Jupyter, Julia, Bokeh…). Within the span of a few weeks, they’ve put on conferences in Washington DC, NYC and LA. Three weeks ago, I attended the PyData NYC version – here’s my highlights:

– Lead Developer for pandas (Jeff Reback) talked about the next version of pandas (due mid-November) which will treat NaN as a first class integer system (currently, NaN forces a column to convert to float64, which is really annoying when you’ve got Int64 columns).
– James Powell gave a really entertaining talk about the nitty-gritty of unicode and identifiers in Python (Poo Emoji is a valid identifier, but an ellipse is not – he dug into the C code to prove it). I had previously seen his “So you want to be a Python expert?” talk (https://pyvideo.org/pydata-seattle-2017/so-you-want-to-be-a-python-expert.html), he’s fantastic.
– giphy is using session browse data as sentences, passing it into word2vec, and using that for gif recommendations. Sound familiar?
– Bokeh is worth checking out, Luke Canavan (developer of Bokeh) made a browser-side face recognition model easily
– Lightning Talks are amazing. Five minute presentations, hard cut-offs. It was really refreshing to see short subject presentations boiled down to the bare bones.
– Julia is getting hot.

So – should you attend one yourself? It was certainly not very academic: very few talks had papers associated with them. PyData struck me as much more business/hacking/results oriented. A general theme was, “hey, this works, isn’t this cool?” On the plus side, attending this conference very seriously supports open source (most presentations were by open source package authors) and it was inspiring to see short subject talks.

Bottom line: Soft Recommend

The Latest

Yo!

Despite the dead cat post that sat up on my blog for awhile, I’m doing fabulous. Here’s the latest in my life:

Hot Peppers Are Amazing

Still rocking the hot sauce stuff. I’ve reported it previously on Twitter, but I like hot things a lot. Which is fun, as I distinctly remember thinking Sriracha was unbelievably hot. But around 2016, Alicia started watching Hot Ones, a YouTube show that interviews people while eating progressively hotter hot saurces. It inspired Alicia and I to start trying hot sauces, which resulted in me upping my hotness-tolerance.

If you’re not into hot things, I get it. I love it because that hot-feeling in your mouth is strangely unique. You can start sweating, it coats your mouth, and you can even feel it as you breathe. Even better, there’s different types of “hot”, like tip-of-your-tongue-instant-pain versus slow-building-back-of-your-throat pain.

I even learned from work colleagues originally from India that “hot” isn’t the same as “spicy”. Spicy refers to a flavor explosion, which sometimes includes hot peppers. Hot just refers to that burning feeling. After bringing my favorite hot sauce into work, it was sadistic fun watching taste it then start freaking out. As water poured out of one colleague’s eyes, he exclaimed, “You said this was spicy! It’s not spicy, it’s just freaking hot!”

Sadly, you build a tolerance. Sriracha is about as spicy as ketchup to me now, which has me chasing hotter and hotter things. Which brings me to this:

That’s me eating a ghost pepper at the Minnesota State Fair in 2018. I had just bought a new hot sauce from Caribbean Heat at the International Bazaar and I was tasting it (pouring it into my mouth). The shop keep chuckled and asked if I wanted a ghost pepper, which led to what you see above.

The aftermath was rough/funny, mostly because I’d been drinking. Good times.

PyData in New York City

I just returned from NYC for a conference around using the programming language Python for manipulating data. Lots of fun, I learned a ton, but even better, I got to return to NYC! I didn’t know how much I missed that smell.

It’s weird to say it, but I was way better at NYC this time than when I actually lived there. A combination of being more physically fit (able to handle walking long distances better) and having actual money (not living on student loans) made my trip amazing. You should see some of the street art – that city is brimming with culture. Here’s a curated sample of some fabulous.

Livia

Not everyone in the Copeland house was upset about Leela passing… Livia, our other cat, has never been happier. When we adopted Leela (our second cat) a year after getting Livia, people all over told us, “Oh, they fight now, but they’ll be best friends later.” LIARS! They fought (more specifically, Livia attacked) until the bitter end.

As a result, Livia has the run of the house now. She seems to love it.

Unfortunately for her, it also means she gets double the attention lately. Somehow, she got this shirt plopped on top of her…

She eventually got out! Well, kinda…

Good to see her happy, at least.

New Orleans

For her birthday, Alicia got a trip to New Orleans, that lucky hussy. Look at her, in her fancy chair:

Oh wait, I went with.

Just a lovely city, it was our third time there together (though our first time was only two non-consecutive nights surrounding a cruise, and I didn’t drink much at the time). Highlights include Superior Seafood (top five meal of my life), the music (I was too drunk to remember where), and our hotel. Lowlights were few and far between, but the weather kinda sucked (rain every day) and I shouldn’t have gotten one of those super sugary boozy drinks (bleh, made my kidneys hurt).

It’s a top three city for me (of the cities I’ve visited), so I cannot recommend it enough.

A New Love

To close, I thought I’d advertise something near and dear to my heart.

They’re amazing. Just trust me.

Leela

I’m sitting here bawling my eyes out, so maybe writing will help.

Cats are strange animals. Oddly self-reliant. How does the joke go? Everyone imagines a cat thinking, “Yeah, I’ll live with you and eat your food… but I could be outta here in a split second, sucka.”

That’s exactly how Leela was. My then-future-wife and I were in Brooklyn and this raggedy looking cat had been coming to our window begging for food for two years. When it was a beautiful warm June night, we’d say “piss off, cat.” But when it was a cold January night, we’d usually find something in the fridge (ham worked well!) and put it on a plate for her.

Of course, you do that once and cats love routine. Suddenly, she’s back like never before.

The problem with New York City street cats is you don’t know whether they’re just a neighborhood cat or a stray cat. Even the most well-fed cat is a food-slut, ready to give away salacious purring for some sweet, sweet ham.

But one night, after a particularly long “Rock Band” jam that ended at 3am (the video game, I’m not cool enough to be in an actual band), and there she was, ready to rub against my leg and beg for more ham. That was the tipping point: this was probably not an owned cat.

So waited a few days, checking on her at 9am and 9pm and weird hours in between. She was always outside. Crap, by feeding her, we’re probably as close to an owner as she gets. Time to form a cat-napping plan.

It was too easy. Just bring some of that sexy ham out and creepy-abduct her when she takes the bait. Luckily, cats are stupid and it worked like a charm.

Plan accomplished. It’s night one, she’s our cat now. In our apartment, she seems okay with her new circumstances. Overnight, we leave the window open so she doesn’t get hot. Granted, we had these thick bars on the window. We’re on the first floor, so it’s not a big jump, but this little shit would have to squirm to the size of a Snickers bar to get out.

…which she did. We wake up the next morning to a cat-less apartment, feeling like horrible people. “We’ll never see her again, we tried our best, oh man.”

But did I mention that cats are stupid? About an hour after we woke up and discovered she was missing, she came back to beg at the window for more ham. What a dumb-ass!

But the sweetest cat you’ve ever met. She was always prim-and-proper. Feet always together, purring constantly. The cutest meow you’ve ever heard. We moved to Minnesota with her, where she got to discover the beauty of a real backyard. She gave us nine years of love before a tumor in her mouth made her stop eating.

She’s gone today. I’m still bawling, I guess the writing didn’t help.

Rest in peace, Leela. I’ll miss you so much.

[first posted on reddit.com/r/petloss, go read some other people’s pain, it’s super real]

End-of-Sumer 2017 Update

Cold as ice, paradise

Taken at the Winter Carnival 2017

I can’t even call them mega-updates if they only happen every half a year. But at least they are content filled. Rest assured, dear reader, that I have every intention of posting more, but I’ve had that same intention for more than a decade. Oh well: progress not perfection, right?

Let’s go in chronological order.

The Cats

They’re good.

For the record, that image was taken Feb. 17th 2017, so I have no idea what that thing is on my floor. Boxing glove? Portable urinal? Probably-shipping-material-from-an-e-retailer? It’s lost to the history books.

Salt Lake City

End of March, I traveled to Salt Lake City for a business conference (Domopalooza, if you’re curious). It was pretty crazy. Great concerts, open bar, and semi-interesting business stuff. Why do I mention it? Because I came prepared.

I brought a black light for my hotel room.

I brought Bullseye for the dance floor (which, I should note, was my own decision and does not reflect the views or opinions of Target Corp).

I even skiied Snowbird, which gave me the worst sunburn of my life. I learned in the airport why the conference had conveniently provided sunscreen. This photo is prior to the burn, I will spare you with the after-burn photos. Just know that my face was blistering-red for five days. I ended up using makeup just to look presentable at work on Tuesday – after working from home Monday from embarrassment.

Why brag about going to a business conference? I’m by no-means a veteran. But these things are so sterile, the moral is that any signs-of-life are well received. Take ten minutes to plan some fun ahead of time and you’ll be the hit of the party.

Boston + Maine

One of my favorite parts of transitioning into my thirties has been semi-financial freedom. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not rich and still feeling my student loans. But now that Alicia and I have a house and a car, there’s some extra saving money for vacations. The hallmark of my thirties thus-far has been determining where to spend it.

My current favorite splurging on vacations with friends. Above, you can see Alicia and I traveling with the Bernses to Boston, then Maine. It was April, so not the warmest climate, but it was awesome. This was our third vacay with the Bernses; easily the best.

Brian the Artist

So, here’s the deal. I stuck with STEM in college. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel things, yo. I have something to express (shut up, I’m being vulnerable and sharing here). So when I was walking home from work and saw this canvas on the street…

… I told myself I could make something of it. I still don’t know why some artist decided to discard such a huge canvas, but it had a note saying “Free to anyone that will create.”

Me, I’m a fan of minimalist art. I’m not going to create some photo-realist work. I’m not even good enough to create pixel-art yet. But I loved the size of the canvas and thought, “I can draw some lines.” And so I did. I picked some sexy colors, used painter’s tape to make straight lines, then set out to make a masterpiece. After I was done, I let it sit out overnight to dry.

The next morning, the wind decided to destroy my work:

The cut in my new canvas, le sigh

But when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. The canvas was free, for goodness’ sake. So I cut the canvas in half, right at the tear, and it hangs on my wall to this day.

It doesn’t have the same amount of open space as the original, which breaks my heart. But if I’m honest, the original size of this canvas was WAY too big for the wall. The new, smaller size fits much better. And the colors (I think) match the wall. What do you think? Ugly?

Brian the Gardener

After several years of killing stuff in Alicia’s raised garden-bed, I finally found winners. I planted a rose bush that has just loved me. About once a week, I dead-head it and it’s rewarded me with roses all season. I’ve got the cuts to prove it! …seriously, I thought gardening gloves were stupid fashion statements until I started dealing with rosebush thorns.


But I’m even prouder of the flower boxes on our windows. In previous years, I’d forget to water these boxes for a few days, then they’d dry out like crazy. From 7am until 2pm, these boxes get crazy sun. So I decided to put some Hawaiian flowers in there and they are thriving! I guess it helps that I water them every day, but let’s just chalk that up to my disciplined thirties-something lifestyle. Next year, I’m going crazy on exotic flowers.

Eclipse

Don’t expect a photo of the eclipse from me, you had to be there to experience it. I wasn’t about to waste my time trying to point my cell-phone at the sun. But we still had fun!


This is Alicia and I (on my pouch-couch) in a casino parking lot in Boonville, Missouri. We managed to find a parking lot with a bar and open backyard-jenga set, then camped out. It was worth it, completely. I won’t attempt to describe it to you, just go see a total eclipse the next chance you get.

Almost as amazing was the drive back. Totality finished at about 1:10pm. We thought we were being conservative by leaving the casino at about 3pm, “just to give traffic a chance to die down.”

You probably know where I’m going with this. We didn’t get home until 1am. It was a six hour drive to get there, it was a ten hour drive to get home. I’ve never seen a busier Highway-35. On the plus side, Mother Nature decided to provide a crazy show that day.

I know the photo won’t do the clouds justice, but it was a breathtaking view at this Iowa rest stop. Also, +1 for Iowa rest stops, they have their game together.

Brian the Charitable

That’s me in a Yoobi truck unloading pallets at the Rooseville Kids in Need location. My Data Science team had a volunteer event to pack backpacks for school kids. 8 of the 10 members of my team packed four pallets of backpacks with school supplies for ready shipping to kids affected by catastrophic events (think Hurricane Harvey). While she was introducing the back-packing process, the coordinator casually mentioned, “By the way, if anyone is willing to lift stuff (no pressure), we have a truck to unload.” And unload I did.

These boxes were only 25lbs each – each was a classroom full of school supplies – but there were hundreds. I was the lightest, so it was my job to step on the boxes and pick up from the top of the truck and hand down to someone to assemble the pallet.

I’d love to complain about how much my arms hurt, but it was great. This was a secular charity that is aiming to make sure kids have everything they need to learn, which is fucking amazing. We’re talking pens, notebook paper, folders. It re-ignited my passion for academia. I haven’t been so proud in a long time. Even better, Yoobi is a huge Target partner, so it made me just-a-tiny-bit-more-proud to work for Target. I couldn’t have more evidence that Yoobi lives up to their promise of “You buy, we give.”

Seriously, I’m not sponsored by either Target nor Yoobi to say this, and this is my own opinion – but they’re totally delivering on their promise.

Conclusion

Given my blogging rate, I’ll probably write again in 2018, so take it easy, yo.

Winter 2017 Mega-Update

Geez, has it been six months since an update? Let’s do it mega-style.

Overview

I’m still a Data Scientist at Target, still living in Minneapolis, and still loving Jenga.

Life is good, cats are healthy, and there’s no major drama. Whereas my 20’s were spent worrying about what person I should be, what hobbies I wanted to cultivate, and whether I was headed in a good career direction, my early 30’s have me becoming more and more satisfied with where I’m headed. I think the biggest difference is fomo (fear of missing out). I used to have a lot of it. I’d wonder what cool people were doing on a Saturday night, or if there were career-developing activities I should be pursuing. Now, I’m pretty relaxed about it all.

Alicia is also kicking ass. We’ve been married seven years now and she’s still my best friend. She’s a budding competitive jigsaw puzzle solver, a voracious reader, and practically an academic on the subject of Horror Movies.

I know it’s against the zeitgeist to compliment 2016, but it was a pretty good year for us.

Hawaii

The biggest 2016 news for the Copelands was a trip to Hawaii in November. We seem to manage to save up for a biggish trip every 2-3 years and our last biggish trip (a Caribbean cruise) left us wishing we had more time at the beach. So we decided to try a new style of vacation; a “go somewhere and do nothing” trip to Maui. It was interesting – vacation lifestyle is different lifestyle, for sure. Everything seemed to shut down around 8pm and we never really adapted to island standard time – I think I was awake by 7am every morning, which is out of character for me.

Our days had ample time for lazy sun-soaking, running along the beach, day drinking, and even reading. The most unexpected highlight was a road-side food truck serving a traditional Hawaiian lunch:

That’s pork, chicken, glazed pineapple, rice, a light salad, and orange wedges – all served on a banana leaf. Even the chop sticks were chopped off of fresh bamboo. We found this stop along the Road to Hana and ate it off the trunk of our rental car – a brand new Ford Mustang.

I think Alicia and I are go-explore vacationers, so I doubt we’ll visit a tropical location soon, but it was still unforgettable.

Halloween

I was a squid. It was fun.

Glasses

It had been two years since I had gotten glasses, thus it was time for a prescription update and some new looks. I decided to go with a few thicker frames. If I haven’t raved to you about Zenni Optical yet, please allow me to do so. Glasses start at $6.95, and by that, I mean that’s frames + lenses. I spent just under $100 for six pairs of glasses and that’s me “splurging” on two fancier $25 models. They take about two weeks to arrive from California, where they manufacture everything and charge $4.95 flat for shipping. It takes all the fear out of new glasses – who cares if you don’t end up liking the style, they were super cheap!

Xmas

I doubled down on lasers, even decorating our “Christmas trees” with lasers.

The holiday was the most relaxing in years. Christmas Eve being on Saturday meant no rushing home from work. Alicia and I held off from exchanging gifts because we’d splurged in Hawaii, so shopping was a breeze. I even got some interesting gifts, such as this sample of gallium:

It’s a metal that is liquid at slightly above room temperature, which means it melts in your hand and has all the freakiness of mercury without any of the decreased cognitive functions. Great holiday, all around – especially the Prime Rib at my parent’s house!

Websites

I’m always an internet fan. Here’s some of my favorite website as of late:

Salty Bet – A website where you watch two computers fight in a Street Fighter style competition. You bet “salt” on which side will win, which is purely meaningless. Because it’s just for fun, the fights can almost be nonsensical – you get a Sponge Bob fighting an anime samurai chick.

/r/internetisuseless – my new favorite subreddit that collects the most useless websites (read: my favorite types of websites). For example, see http://isitthursday.org/  or http://www.howdoeshomeopathywork.com/ or even http://www.iraqlobster.com/

ZenPen.io  I’m not afraid to admit that I journal. It’s just one of those things that helps me process my thoughts, de-stress, and collect my thoughts. I’ve also found that there’s a lot of things I think about that no one needs to hear, such as my todo list or when someone makes me cranky (sure, I could rant at Alicia, but that is rarely a fun conversation – I’d rather chat about fun and happy things).

So, when it comes time to write up things, I love a simple “just let me type” editor. ZenPen is my favorite, and I’ve even reviewed the source code – it’s a beautiful example of simple HTML5 code.

Shout out to Writer, which is also a solid option. I really love single-purpose websites.

The SCP Foundation – It’s a fictional website that outlines the “Secure, Contain, and Protect” protocols of various phenomenon. It scratches an X-Files itch with lots of omitted and classified information everywhere. You simply pick an entry (such as SCP-087) and start reading it. They usually reference each other and provide a ton of eerie reading.

Spicy Food

For me, it started with my diet two years ago. I wanted a low calorie snack and carrots + hummus fit the bill. But soon, hummus wasn’t enough, it had to be red pepper hummus. Then “supremely spicy” red pepper hummus. Suddenly, foods I thought were stupid hot (such as sriracha) were plesant.

For Alicia, it was watching Hot Ones, a YouTube series that features interviews with celebrities while eating progressively spicier hot wings. It made her want to try some hot wings. Then hot sauce. Then really hot sauce.

Now, we’re putting hot sauce on half the food we eat. Salsa gets doused in Cholula. Buffalo wings are usually too tame. Carribean jerk is a treat. We’ve even polished two bottles of Sriracha within the last two months.

I vividly remember being about 12 y/o at my parent’s house, having a hot wing, and practically crying. It’s crazy how things can change.

New Year’s Resolutions

To wind down the post, here’s some low-commitment resolutions I’m hoping for in 2017.

Pixel Art – I’m not sure if I want to create it myself or just be a patron of the pixel arts, but I want more pixel art in my life.

Weird things – I stumbled upon the below picture of a useless fence and I just love it.  It’s the kind of thing nine of ten people might pass and not put a second thought into, but that tenth person will stop and wonder “why does this even exist? Who constructed a twelve inch fence??”

I love it. I really hope I can contribute some weird things into the world in 2017.

Jenga Party – 2016 went by and I didn’t host anything (see poker party of 2015). I really want to host a Jenga tournament this summer.

Running – As much as I hate running, it’s good exercise. What makes me cranky is how much faster people are than I am. For example, there are competitive “Beer-Mile” runners that will chug four beers and run a mile in 5:00. Now, this is competition winning-speed, but the fact that they are pausing four times to chug a beer and still running a mile significantly faster than I (my fastest mile time is 6:30) is frustrating.

So for 2017, I’d like to run a mile in 6:00 and I’d like to run a 21:00 5k. Just recently, I managed to hit 22:00. It was stupid painful and I know that shaving the next minute will be damned-near impossible, but I might as well dream big, right?


Take care and have a happy 2017!

– B

The Library of Babel

There’s a story written in 1941 by Jorge Luis Borges called “The Library of Babel” that describes a library that contains every single possible 410 page book written with a basic alphabet. The ordering of the books is random and most of the books contain gibberish, but this library also contains every book ever written.

And every book never written.

And alternative versions of every book ever written.

Pause a moment and think about that.

Let’s go a step further. In that library is a vivid description of your death. And the lottery numbers for next week. Every single useful piece of information is in this library. Everything. This sounds like fiction, right?

It exists on the internet: https://libraryofbabel.info/ – You should go browse it.

For example, here is the first page of Genesis. Here’s the powerball numbers for 12/24/2016. Both of these books can be found by browsing. They are in the same place in the library for me (writing this) as for you.

In Borges’ story, “librarians” roam the library looking for a mythical index that provides order to the library. In theory, you could do this as well – you could start browsing the library looking for predictions of the future. It’s a fact that it’s contained in there.

But good luck. To say that 99% of the Library of Babel is gibberish is a gross understatement. That’s what is beautiful about the Library of Babel – it’s a fantastic demonstration that “meaning” is something we provide.

Rest in peace, decent shirts

One of those hard things in life is learning to let go.

Wait, Brian. You mean loved ones? Did someone die??

No, far more vapid than that. Stuff. Strangely, it’s really hard to throw away stuff you own that aren’t specifically broken. Take these t-shirts:

The Filthy Hippies

Mario Kart Tutelage

These T-shirts are awesome. The top one comes from a time when Alicia and I really enjoyed bashing ironically on hippies back in New York. Did we actually hate hippies? Naw. But they’re so friendly, peace loving and generally easy-going that the irony of hating them is delicious. It’s like hating astronauts.

And the second shirt it’s a subtle reference to Mario Kart 64, a video game that introduced the blue shell – far superior to the red or green shell. Okay, not that subtle, but if you’ve not played Mario Kart, you have no idea what this shirt is about. That’s my favorite kind of pop culture reference – on the down low.

Both these shirts were purchased from http://shirt.woot.com/, back when I was really loving woot. Frankly, I still like these shirts and would consider rebuying them.

So what’s the deal? 

I lost 50 lbs. These are large sized shirts. They’re American Apparel large, which means not as large as normal, which is why they survived the cut I did to my clothing last summer (I purged upwards of two dozen articles of clothing). But I don’t wear ’em. They look dumpy on me and as a result, I just don’t feel good in ’em.

What’s more, they represent a bygone area of my life. I don’t want to be a guy that wears the same t-shirt for a decade. That’s one of the reasons I love Forever 21 now-a-days. Their clothing is super cheap, both in price and quantity. During my purge last summer, I bought 6 shirts from them for 3.97 each. Are they going to hold up? Probably not – I’ve thrown two out already because the stitching was coming undone. But that’s perfectly fine for me.

The big lesson here is that I threw these out back in June and haven’t thought of them since. These things we hold onto because we think they’re amazing, they deserve a profound thank you, a spot in a scrap-book (or blog?!?), and a spot in the donation bin.

I’m hoping you’ll see more of these posts from me ditching stuff and immortalizing them on my blog and I hope you’re not hanging on to crap you don’t use.