it's a blog, yo

by brian copeland

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.

Summer Update

ribs, maybe sexy?

Fourth of July has come and gone, we’re in the depth of summer now. I made ribs.

 

 

thezissou

It’s been the summer of biking for me! I found The Zissou at a garage sale and have been rocking it around town. Not every day to work, but at least one day a week.

 

Unlimited Coffee This Summer!

It’s been the summer of Peace Coffee, where I bought their unlimited anything deal. They’re located on Minnehaha Ave, which is undergoing major street renovation. As in, don’t-drive-here-if-you-can-avoid-it street renovation. To lure in customers like myself, they offered a flat rate. I’m probably not getting my money’s worth, as I only go about every third day. That said, the flexibility of any drink I want is pretty sweet. Mostly, I love the excuse to wake up early and bike over before work.

 

Favorite Couples Costume

Convergence is a Minneapolis area convention that has lots of drinking and cosplay. Alicia and I returned for our second year, it was a blast. Here’s a photo of my favorite couple’s costume, Waldo and Carmen.

 

Outdoor loving cats

Summer is here, thus the cats are out. Here’s Leela in a barely-feral pose.

 

Pride Parade, TargetStyle

Once again, I rocked the Pride Parade – this time it was TargetStyle.

Other photo-less updates:

  • Good friend Carl Cooley got married!
  • Work is awesome
  • New favorite-show-as-of-late: Veep
  • New albums being played in my house: Radiohead, Kaleo, The Avalanches, Mick Jenkins
  • Old albums being played in my house: Father John Misty, Cake, DJ Shadow
  • Speaking of music, Alicia and I have seen several musical acts lately! Violent Femmes, Tyler the Creator, The Kills, plus several random bands at the Kitty Cat Klub
  • Back to running again, hit a 22:20 5k and a 49:50 10k. Ya know what? Screw running longer. An hour is a _really_ long time to run.
  • I learned the value of white paint. The garage has never looked better, and it all it took was covering up some of the less clean spots.

I’m off enjoying the best months of Minnesota, hope your summer pleasant, to say the least.

ruminating

San Diego Recap

Work has been treating me pretty well, lately – I was sent west to California to a Big Graphs Conference (housing data in a graph instead of a table has some nice advantages). Here’s a photographic recap!

Arriving at San Jose International Airport on Sunday evening, visitors are proudly greeted with an upcoming event:

Fur Con was proudly advertising it's upcoming conference in San Jose - interesting!

Fur Con was proudly advertising it’s upcoming conference in San Jose – interesting!

Furries are an interesting new trend growing in the world. Mark my words, it’ll be as popular as the 50 Shades of Grey stuff in ten years.

Having no where to go on a Sunday night but my hotel, I didn’t mind the 30 minute delay on baggage return. It’s actually one of my favorite things – being around a bunch of frustrated people when you’re perfectly chill. There’s just a tension in the air that washes right past you. Here’s an action shot:

Angry passengers waiting for their bags at San Jose International Airport

Angry passengers waiting for their bags at San Jose International Airport

I spent Sunday – Wednesday in Sunnyvale, CA at the Target office. Just work stuff there, nothing super special to report.

Wednesday, three coworkers and I headed to San Diego to the University of California – San Diego campus for a Workshop on Big Graphs. I haven’t done much graph theory since my Ph. D. studies back in New York, so it was fun to get a taste of academia again.

I was reminded how important sampling is (and how nuanced it is to sample a graph and maintain the same structure), important questions to ask about graphs, and generally get a sense of where current development is in large graphs. I’ll post more of that stuff in later posts, let’s talk the UCSD campus:

Just an epic view of one of the libraries on the University of California - San Diego (UCSD) campus

Just an epic view of one of the libraries on the University of California – San Diego (UCSD) campus

That’s the Geisel Library off in the distance (recognize the name?). It overlooks a decent size ravine that we had to cross walking from the parking lot to the auditorium. I fear the picture doesn’t do it justice, but it really sits god-like over you.

There was a ton of varied and interesting architecture on the UCSD campus! What do you think of the Engineering building?

Notice the house? Gotta notice the house!

Notice the house? Gotta notice the house!

The conference itself was in the IT Building and had this performance space going:

Photo Jan 06, 2 59 42 PM

That’s 24 flat screen TVs connected to one PC. This wasn’t even where the talks were given, it was just where attendees were fed. UCSD goes big and goes home. I have a hunch why – here’s an ad I found in the CS building:

 

I certainly didn't see ads like this at my alma mater - this was spotted in the CS Building

I certainly didn’t see ads like this at my alma mater – this was spotted in the CS Building

I guess the competition is strong down here – Snapchat is looking for programmers, btw.

So talks were all day Wednesday through Friday, with nights being taken up by movies (surprisingly). My coworkers had kids and usually don’t have a chance to get away and see a film. Ended up seeing Star Wars and The Revenant. Other highlights? Lox:

I tried Lox!

I tried Lox!

It was fabulous. I don’t think I’d had lox like this before – I didn’t know how well capers, tomato and onions mellow out the smoked salmon. Yum.

Pillow for sale in San Diego.

Pillow for sale in San Diego.

I found this pillow that I forgot to pick up for Alicia. It’s poop!

Had some fabulous mexican here!

Had some fabulous mexican here!

As advertised, the mexican cuisine was legit.

Headed home on Saturday, by way of Seattle (so many cursed Seahawks fans were on this flight). On the plus side, it sure looks like the future arrived. This was only a 3 hour flight, but had inflight entertainment in every seat.

Delta's Seattle -> Minneapolis flight really looks like the future

Delta’s Seattle -> Minneapolis flight really looks like the future

So, fabulous trip. I should totally go back sometime this year. Heck, April maybe?

Ice Candle

Got one of those things you really like, but never remember to use? For me, it’s this Mathmos Ice Candle.

What's that tantalizing glow?

What’s that tantalizing glow?

You’re seeing a cylinder of ice surrounding a tea light. The ice is sitting on a grate with a rubber bucket below to collect the water as it melts.

It’s all frosty in the beginning, and then physics kicks in:

Mathmos2

As the fire melts the ice, it gets more scandalous… in that it remains a candle

It’s pretty cool that the tea light doesn’t burn completely: the surrounding ice prevents all the wax from melting. It lasts about 1.5 hours, which is a lot longer than you’d think ice could withstand sitting next to a candle. I usually go through at least two tea lights in one sitting.

I’ve been trying to get rid of the useless junk I own and this almost certainly qualifies. Not only do I have to store it for the sole purpose of being pretty, it takes up space in the freezer, which is much more valuable space than your usual knick-knack. Fuck it, it’s cool.

/pun

Kanye West iPhone Cover

It’s been two years, but it’s time to retire the Kanye West Exclusive Art iPhone Case.

Exclusive art by Kanye West for my iPhone

Exclusive art by Kanye West for my iPhone

I snagged this guy for $0.54 at the Office Depot that closed in downtown Minneapolis. It was grey, tacky, and suitably prevented scratches on the back of my iPhone.

Should you have doubted the AUTHENTICITY of this iPhone case...

Should you have doubted the AUTHENTICITY of this iPhone case…

You know it’s good when it’s signed by the artist himself. Lesser art certainly doesn’t have a CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY.

I normally go sans-case, as I don’t mind scratches and hate adding precious millimeters to my designed-to-be-thin devices. But I broke my screen last February and decided I was no longer worthy of a sexy case-less phone. Luckily, this bad boy was amazingly tacky and my favorite color. Plus, it claims I donated to charity by purchasing this for less than a dollar. Win-win!

Interestingly enough, the case started causing my phone to crash starting in November. I don’t know if it was holding a button down, or simply not dissipating heat. As the phone is now over two years old, I’m just going to risk it and go sans-case again. Bare-back is better, anyway.

Backyard Fire Pit

Close up of some winter flames

Close up of some winter flames

One of my new year resolutions is to spend more time outside, even in the winter. As a result, this sexy propane fire pit (a Christmas gift two years ago from my folks) is getting a lot more use. It’s peaceful outside, it’s great getting fresh air, and it makes the winter suck less.

Copeland backyard in the dead of Winter

Copeland backyard in the dead of Winter