Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Joel from MST3k Halloween costume

October 31st, 2015

Joel from MST3k costume

This year for Halloween I’m just another face in a red jumpsuit: specifically, I’m Joel from Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Much like last year’s costume, this is one of those where you either get the reference or you don’t. If you were watching a lot of Comedy Central in the 90′s (or you had friends that did) you probably remember the show where a silhouette of a guy and his two robot pals sat at the bottom of the screen, watching unbelievably terrible movies and making wisecracks the entire time. That show was Mystery Science Theater 3000, or MST3k for short.

The costume itself is remarkably simple: it’s a red jumpsuit I got from Amazon with a Gizmonics patch I bought from Etsy hastily sewn on. The hard hat (which Joel wears in the intro to the show) is a cheap yellow hard hat from Amazon. I found the “G” logo from Google Image Search, printed it out, and hot glued it to the hat.

A more advanced builder than I might have made a Tom Servo and/or Crow T. Robot puppet to go along with the outfit, and indeed many folks have done exactly that. Instructions are a quick Google search away for those with a lot of spare time on their hands.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got movie sign!

Poorly Drawn Robots In Space

July 25th, 2015

Poorly Drawn Robots In Space screenshot Poorly Drawn Robots In Space screenshot Poorly Drawn Robots In Space screenshot Poorly Drawn Robots In Space screenshot Poorly Drawn Robots In Space screenshot

Yes, I had to resort to taking these screenshots with my phone.

Recently I started poking around an old hard drive I found and uncovered a treasure trove of old selfies, homework, and even a diary listing the first time I ever kissed a girl (January 13th 2000.) Among other historic artifacts was a game I made for a computer science class during my junior year of high school called Poorly Drawn Robots In Space.

Of course, this had nothing to do with whatever so-called “assignment” I was supposed to be doing for the class. I liked making games more than learning about for loops or whatever, and besides — you try telling a 17 year old what to do. Go ahead. See how that works out for you.

The game is your typical Lode Runner knockoff: you walk around avoiding the bad guys and collecting keys to get to the exit. There’s a total of three levels.

When I found the game I was shocked: it still actually runs! So I put the whole thing up on GitHub, ugly source code and all.

Keep in mind the game is for Windows only, and some of the colors are screwed up because it was designed back when 256 colors was the norm. Oh, and there’s no sound. Extract the .zip and run robots.exe.

Download here

Controls: Left/Right to walk, Ctrl to jump
License: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

One weird trick to induce lucid dreams and out of body experiences

February 23rd, 2015

What if I told you that I have one weird trick to help you have a lucid dream and/or out of body experience? This particular trick has been well documented elsewhere, but if you don’t want to read an entire book I’ll give you the quick version here. Also note that this is intended for weekends or non-work days in general, because it requires sleeping in a little.

What’s the difference?

Now you may be asking what the difference is between a lucid dream and an out of body experience. In the former it’s like a traditional dream, except that you’re lucid enough to do what you want — it’s not just a passive dream experience. Yet all the normal weirdness of a dream still applies.

In an out of body experience you typically start by “waking up” but soon realize that your surroundings are a little off. This is known as a false awakening. For me at least these out of body experiences don’t feel like a dream, yet are recognizable thanks to suffering from dream-like continuity problems. Additionally, physical things that don’t usually work in dreams (mirrors, light switches, etc.) will often function to some extent. In many ways it’s like a lucid dream only more grounded.

There’s no real yardstick for determining whether an experience is one or the other. Dreams, lucid dreams, and out of body experiences can and will blend together along a spectrum of consciousness. For the rest of this post I’m just going to stick with the term “lucid dream,” but I’ll be referring to a variety of conscious sleep experiences.

Cut to the chase

So here’s the trick: wake up around an hour or two before you normally would. Use this time to read a book, check Twitter, or anything else that requires little effort and won’t wake you up too much.

At about the time you’d normally wake up, go back to sleep. Ideally you should be a little tired at this point, but more or less fairly alert. You’ll probably have trouble falling asleep, which is a good sign — focus on keeping your mind clear of distractions. Any meditative exercise will do, my favorite is slowly counting your breaths backwards from 100.

Now comes the important part: relax. At this point your brain will take you directly from being awake to being in a dream, so it’s important not to let anything that’s about to happen startle you into waking up. For some folks this will take a bit of practice.

The first thing that will happen as you transition into sleep mode is you’ll hear a buzzing, almost chainsaw-like sound that fades in and out. Even though it’s all in your head it can sound both loud and real. Don’t worry about it, it’s natural and happens to everyone.

Next, you’ll see a series of images float into your mind’s eye. You might see people, animals, etc. Sometimes they’ll be a little scary, but again it’s all in your head. The images will slowly start to move, and then *POOF*! You’re in the dream world now!

With any luck, the transition from being fully awake to your body being asleep will leave you in a fully lucid state. Congrats!

How it works

Many lucid dreaming books explain the same technique. Technically it’s called a Wake Induced Lucid Dream (or WILD) because you’re inducing the lucid dream from a fully awake state. But most of the books leave out one key detail: this type of dream induction only works in the morning hours.

Why? Let’s look at this sleep diagram from Wikipedia:

First note that dreams can only occur in the REM cycle, which is marked in red. As you can see, the time between when you fall asleep at night and the first REM cycle is over an hour long — most of us can’t maintain consciousness that long while asleep. But as the night progresses, the REM cycles get longer, and you can go (as the diagram indicates) directly from being awake into REM.

Waking up an hour or two before your usual time deprives your brain of that last extra long REM cycle, which means that when you finally sleep again, it will almost certainly jump straight into REM and thus a dream. The only tricky part is maintaining consciousness during the transition.

Having any dream right before you wake up makes you far more likely to remember it. If you’re serious about lucid dreams, keeping a dream diary will also help build your ability to recall any and all dreams.

By the way, if you’re wondering what to do in a lucid dream, just explore! You may be amazed by what you find hidden in your own mind. For a strange experience, try looking at your hands for a minute. Shoot me an email when you find out what happens — as they say, “You’ll never guess what happens next!.”

Assassin’s Creed Halloween costume

October 31st, 2014

Nothing is true,
Everything is permitted.

     – The Creed

Assassins. Seems like they’re everywhere these days, murdering it up. So for Halloween this year I made my own modern-style Assassin’s Creed costume.

The white hoodie is pretty much standard as far as assassins go these days. The felt patch on the hood is a tribute to Connor Kenway’s patch in AC III. It’s clipped on with safety pins.

And for good measure I’ve got dual hidden blades.


My hidden blades use a pair of telescoping drawer sliders from a local hardware store. The “blade” is made from a freebie paint stir stick painted gray. It’s held to the slider with fishing wire.

For the wrist straps I bought some old belts at Goodwill, cut them down to size, and bolted them to the opposite side of the slider. I glued a couple excess pieces of belt to this side for extra grip.

The blades pop out with a flick of the wrist and can be held in place with a finger.

Hidden blade Hidden blades


And of course we have an Apple of Eden. You can’t really call yourself an assassin if you don’t go around collecting artifacts from the First Civilization, so I made this one by dremeling out the lines in a styrofoam ball and painting it.

The apples vary from one game to the next, this one’s more or less like the one Ezio found in the second game.

Apple of Eden


And that’s all there is to it! If you spot anyone dressed as a Templar, please let me know.

What I learned from my HyperCard middle school digital portfolio

November 15th, 2012

In middle school we were all required to build a “digital portfolio” of our work. They taught us HyperCard so we could link each essay we wrote and our photos into a personal HyperCard stack. It was a portfolio that “we’d add to until we graduated” because computers were the future, or whatever.

But what really happened is that HyperCard was discontinued and most of our essays and photos were saved in unreadable formats. Even the floppies themselves that we’d saved our data to were obsolete. After a couple of years the project was scrapped and never spoken of again.

What did this all teach me? Here’s what I got out of it:

  1. If you’re going to work with technology, you have to keep your skills sharp. Today’s computer skills are tomorrow’s distant memory. It might sound cliche but it’s true.
  2. Care about your digital data? Then keep an eye on it. Make backups. Don’t keep it one place. Data can become unreadable for many reasons.
  3. Not all change is for the better. HyperCard was an app that made it easy to create your own software. (Remember Myst? Built in HyperCard.) There’s nothing like HyperCard these days that novice geeks can pick up and play with. Good ideas can be forgotten.
  4. Paper is still hard to beat for longevity. But then again, do you care about the reports you wrote in your seventh grade social studies class? Not sure I give a shit.

There you go. Sometimes the lessons we learn aren’t the intended lessons; but they’re still valuable nonetheless.

30 days without wheat: the end, and looking back

December 7th, 2011

Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on my wheat-free diet, I thought I’d post the results.

But first, let’s recall the ground rules:

  • No wheat. This means no wheat-based breads, tortillas, beer, etc. The food selection process would be based on a combination of common sense and reading labels.
  • Try to maintain my caloric intake. I didn’t want to skew the results by intentionally “dieting” here. I decided to throw away flour tortillas and buy corn tortillas, get sugary (but fresh and in season) fruit for snacks, drink wine instead of hefeweizen, etc.
  • Continue existing exercise routine. of light-moderate cardio for 30-45 min/day.
  • Allow myself a one meal exception for the entire 30 days (a pizza event I already had planned.)

Based on those rules, I had a few potential results in mind to look out for:

There were two main factors I was looking for in this experiment: weight and the more difficult to quantify general “feeling.” Theoretically lowering your blood sugar should cause both weight loss and lethargy. Giving up something as addictive as morphine shouldn’t be pleasant either. But there was also the possibility that I’d “feel” healthier if wheat is linked to inflammation and joint pain.

Simple enough, right? Almost! One thing I neglected to account for was that I might eat wheat by accident. On two occasions I took a single bite of a desert before realizing it had wheat in it. I only mention this because sometimes these diets can be trickier than expected.

I also did a terrible job weighing myself for the first 10 days, something that I don’t think skewed the results much (as you’ll see shortly) but I could have done a better job and keeping track in the beginning.

So, how did I do with sticking to the rules? To put it simply: not bad.

Avoiding wheat was never all that difficult. I take serious issue with the idea that wheat is “addictive” because I simply didn’t find this to be the case at all.

Now on to the results.

As for weight? Zero difference. I made up for the carbs in other ways, and I still weigh what I weighed a year ago.

That said it does seem like wheat is “empty calories.” It’s easy to eat a bunch of bread, pizza, etc. compared to say a bunch of cheese or vegetables. You can keep eating bread without feeling full and that’s not a good thing. Thing is, you can do the same with chips and fries. Carbs are easy to snack on because they don’t make your stomach feel full, so eliminating wheat might be enough for some people to lose weight.

At the 10 day mark I did feel “really lethargic,” which I thought might be a result of the promised lowered blood sugar. But that feeling quickly went away. Compared to my attempts at low carb diets in the past, I now suspect it was unrelated to diet.

I can’t say the diet really made me feel any better or any worse. It was so easy to stick to that I considered going a few more days for the hell of it, but ultimately decided to return to wheat so I could sum up my experiment.

But the diet was not a total loss! There was one positive result that I did not expect. As I wrote at the 20 day mark:

There is one positive change that I didn’t anticipate. My skin has never looked better. I’m starting to think I might have been wrong about my acne. Could it be a simple wheat allergy? Or is there another variable at play here?

Guess what? Now that I’m back to wheat the acne came back and my skin took on a reddish tint. Now again, this couldn’t have been due to a lack of carbs because I ate foods with corn and potatoes in them. So what caused this? Does my skin have a wheat gluten allergy?

A few minutes of Googling suggests this is within the realm of possibility. Could our fetish for bread is the reason us European-blooded folks have such terrible skin?

Soon I’ll embark on another “30 day” journey. Not sure what the theme will be yet: check back and find out soon.

Do you get canker sores? Read this.

November 27th, 2011

Time for another gross health-related post!

It used to be I’d get canker sores once a month, often more. They come with a subtle pain that never quite goes away in your mouth. Nobody should have to endure this, and if you get canker sores I might have the solution for you.

The problem started when I was a teenager and all the conventional “cures” didn’t help much. Topical ointments taste bad and can’t reach the back of your throat. Peroxide mouthwash stings like crazy and takes a few days of use to work.

When I was in college I got frustrated and started searching for a better solution. Turns out, there was a ridiculously simple answer: switch toothpaste.

The theory is this: most toothpaste contains sodium-sulfate based cleansers, also known as “SLS.” These naturally derived cleansers are really powerful — so powerful they may irritate your mouth.

Fortunately there’s a few toothpastes out there containing other formulas. The cheapest and easiest to find is the Biotene toothpaste, which you can buy at Safeway and Target. My favorite is Squiggle, which you can find at Rainbow and other health food stores. To me, Squiggle has a better taste and texture, but they both work equally well. Both Biotene and Squiggle contain fluoride and a second natural cavity fighter, xylitol.

So if you get canker sores, find a toothpaste without SLS and try it for a while. (If you use mouthwash, make sure you get one that doesn’t contain SLS either.) It doesn’t cost much to try this for a while and see if it works for you.

30 days without wheat: the first 20 days

November 19th, 2011

What a difference ten days makes.

Ten days ago (more or less) I told you about my 30 days without wheat diet self-experiment. I decided to try going for a month without eating any wheat at all. No breads, crackers, pizza, wheat beers, etc. for a full 30 days.

It’s now been 20 days since I started the diet, and 10 days since the previous post.

The diet so far hasn’t been terribly difficult to stick with. As much as I love getting sandwiches at local favorites The Sandwich Place and/or Clare’s Deli, I stopped thinking about these dining options entirely. Substituting corn tacos for wheat burritos was a refreshing change, and you can’t go wrong with corn arepas (they’re delicious.) Plenty of Asian and Indian food is wheat-free. Honestly I wouldn’t have a problem eating nothing but sushi for the rest of my life.

It also seems I’ve inexplicably begun eating smaller meals. Somehow fruit and cheese started becoming my default breakfast recently. For reasons I can’t explain, everything else seemed disgusting all of a sudden. I started craving more rice and potatoes at lunch and dinner.

The scales, however, don’t show a lot of meaningful change. I’m starting to think carbohydrates are more addictive than wheat, since if I remove one with my diet I just add more of another.

There is one positive change that I didn’t anticipate. My skin has never looked better. I’m starting to think I might have been wrong about my acne. Could it be a simple wheat allergy? Or is there another variable at play here?

My “cheat meal” is coming up, and I feel somewhat bad about doing it. I want to push myself further and see what happens after a completely uninterrupted 30 days. On the other hand, it might answer whether there’s a link between acne and wheat, at least for me. Also, I never say no to a pizza making party. NEVER.

30 days without wheat

November 6th, 2011

Could wheat really be bad for you?

While reading BoingBoing the other day, I happened across a post claiming wheat is addictive, responsible for many health problems, makes you fat, caused the Holocaust, etc.

Some of the claims are really out there. But let’s assume for a moment that there might be a grain of truth to his assertion that wheat is bad for us. Certainly at my last job I gained weight when I switched from yogurt for breakfast to the free bagels they were always giving us.

That’s where I start thinking he’s on to something — those bagels never once made me feel full. But the yogurt? Always. The bagels contained more calories than the yogurt and less nutrition. So why did I keep eating them? I’m not really sure. I tried switching to healthier breakfasts, but the temptation of bagels was difficult to resist.

The Experiment
I decided to make a pact with myself: avoid wheat for 30 days and document the results.

Why 30 days? A short TED talk by Matt Cutts explores this simple concept: try something new for 30 days. It can be anything, from training for an athletic event to writing a novel. It can also involve removing something from your life — like wheat.

Additionally, the BoingBoing post specifically mentions that four weeks without wheat should be enough to convince yourself that wheat isn’t wonderful.

There were two main factors I was looking for in this experiment: weight and the more difficult to quantify general “feeling.” Theoretically lowering your blood sugar should cause both weight loss and lethargy. Giving up something as addictive as morphine shouldn’t be pleasant either. But there was also the possibility that I’d “feel” healthier if wheat is linked to inflammation and joint pain.

Here’s the ground I set for myself rules:

  • No wheat. This means no wheat-based breads, tortillas, beer, etc. The food selection process would be based on a combination of common sense and reading labels.
  • Try to maintain my caloric intake. I didn’t want to skew the results by intentionally “dieting” here. I decided to throw away flour tortillas and buy corn tortillas, get sugary (but fresh and in season) fruit for snacks, drink wine instead of hefeweizen, etc.
  • Continue existing exercise routine. of light-moderate cardio for 30-45 min/day.
  • Allow myself a one meal exception for the entire 30 days (a pizza event I already had planned.)

Results: First 10 Days
Yesterday marks 10 days since I started the wheat-free experiment. I didn’t eat any wheat during this time; I also ate a lot more corn-based products than usual.

Here’s the results.

Weight: a bit tricky to judge. Even though my scale has wifi (what a strange world we live in!) I haven’t been as rigorous as I should have been at weighing myself at the same time every day. Still, I think there’s enough data to say with certainty that I haven’t gained any weight.

Feelings: just as predicted, I’ve been feeling really lethargic as one often would on a low-carb diet. Although unpleasant, it also gives me hope. After all, I’ve been going out of my way to NOT cut carbs; if my blood sugar is causing this reaction there must be another reason for it.

Addictiveness: every now and then I find myself craving a pizza or a sandwich, but once I remind myself that I can’t have it the feeling moves on to another food. So I’m having a little trouble buying into the idea that wheat is as addictive as morphine when I’m able to avoid it so easily.

So far, these results are marginally promising, but not very conclusive. I’m going to monitor my weight more thoroughly for the next 10 days and see if there’s any meaningful results.

An American tourist’s reaction to visiting Mexico City, Toluca, and Metepec

March 31st, 2011

This is part of a series about my trip to Mexico City and the surrounding area. Also see part 1, part 2 and part 3.

There’s cultural differences between Mexico and the United States that surprised me during my recent visit. There were pleasant surprises, and not-so pleasant surprises. Let’s explore them all.

Latino Americana tower from the Palacio de Bellas Artes

The good stuff
Mexico City is in many ways a world-class major city. Good restaurants, hotels, street food, and the entire place is huge and packed with people and businesses. They have easily the best public transit I’ve ever seen, with a Metro where trains are spaced less than two minutes apart, bus rapid transit, electric trolleys, as well as traditional buses. (Traditional buses in Mexico are independently operated, sort of like shared taxis with pre-planned routes.) I never got to try the bicycle sharing program, but it looked like something to try.

It’s also a beautiful city with art everywhere. They’re big on statues. Certain parts of the city are very walkable, with pedestrian streets.

I’m told safety is an issue, but I never really saw any crime; of course, I was traveling with Mexicans who knew the country much better than I did and were aware of which areas to steer clear from. The police in Mexico City often have automatic weapons. They seem to mainly patrol tourist areas, which is nice if you’re a tourist but I’m sure is infuriating if you’re a local.

Some of the things surprised me not so much as an American, but as a San Franciscan. Sidewalk vendors seem to have free reign in terms of the space they take up and what they do. Street food was everywhere and often delicious. I can safely say I had better Mexican food in a Toluca parking lot than anywhere else, ever. One guy was selling homemade sorbet right outside of an elementary school, a concept that would make American parents’ jaws drop.


Now all this said, there’s a few big issues that Mexico needs to address, the sooner the better.

Lack of trust
We take it for granted in the US that we can walk into almost any store without surrendering our bags to the front desk. In Mexico, this is unheard of. In most stores, everything is either sold from behind the counter, or you have to check your bags before they let you go in. (Why I’m supposed to trust someone who makes $3 a day with a $500 camera was never explained to me.) There were exceptions to this, but they were mostly convenience stores or stores swarming with security guards. One store even had security guards standing on stools to watch over everyone. Another store insisted on putting cable ties on the zippers on my backpack so it couldn’t be opened.

But the lack of trust extends much further than shopping. Most homes in and around Mexico City are small buildings made from cinder blocks. They line the edges of the roofs and balconies with broken glass, sort of a cheap alternative to barbed wire. The outside of these homes is almost never painted, because to paint your home would suggest that you have money, which would be like putting up a “Please rob my house” sign.

It’s hard to imagine why everyone is treated like a criminal. I’m sure there’s a good reason for it (i.e. lots of crime) but unless you’re used to this sort of treatment, it’s damn insulting.

Poor sewers
It’s funny, but I thought the worst plumbing I’d ever have to deal with was in my trip to Greece. There, toilets simply couldn’t handle toilet paper. I was told many toilets in Mexico had the same problem. But in my entire visit to Mexico, I never had a problem with flushing TP.

But there was a different problem — stinky sewers. I don’t know know a lot about plumbing, but whatever they’ve done in Mexico can’t be right. All three hotels we visited had major odor problems in the bathrooms, especially at night. Street sewers often smelled terrible, even worse than our stinky street sewers in San Francisco (exception: foul street sewers on 19th Ave outside of SFSU which could probably kill a person.)

Someone from the Mexican tourism bureau needs to get a team of plumbers together and go around fixing this ASAP.

Another issue which may or may not be related is the foul-smelling rivers! This was especially noticeable in Toluca, where a river a couple blocks away from our hotel smelled so bad that I was able to smell it inside hotel, even in spite of having a stuffy nose due to my cold.

Lack of customer service
I think part of this is related to the lack of trust (described above) but there’s also an issue of just not caring or trying very hard. It’s not like Greece, where everybody moved too slow. This was something much worse about Mexican customer service that was hard to pin down.

Some examples:

  • On many occasions, when asking for help finding something at a store, they were simply unwilling to help. I found this not only to be bad service, but also generally rude.
  • The aforementioned bag-check at many stores as not only an insult, it was a hassle as well.
  • Larger stores tended to have long, slow moving lines. There wasn’t any rush to get people through the checkout.
  • We went to extend our stay at the first hotel we were at, but they insisted we had to pay 700 pesos ($70 USD) per night instead of the 350 pesos ($35 USD) we had bought the original two nights for via They said it was fine though if we wanted to order online to get the discount. So we did that, and then they told us we’d need to print out the e-mail confirmation, and “no you can’t use our printer.” Would it have been that hard for them to explain that we would need to print the e-mail BEFORE we placed the order? It would have saved about 20 minutes, and wouldn’t have been hard to explain in the first place.
  • One more example: a cashier at a drink stand refused my 100 peso ($10 USD) note for a bottle of water that cost 10 pesos ($1 USD). She claimed she didn’t have change. I didn’t buy anything there, including the cashier’s lame excuse for laziness.

Granted, this wasn’t true everywhere. But for the most part, I really got the impression that everyone who worked for someone else was doing the bare minimum necessary to keep their jobs. Were it not for the fact that I was visiting my girlfriend’s family — who were all very nice to me — I would have been under the impression that most Mexicans were lazy, self-centered assholes.


Overall, I’m a little torn on whether I’d go back to Mexico or not. On the one hand there’s still a lot more to see and do. I need to finish climbing the pyramids! But on the other hand, between the problematic customer service, the stench, and the way everyone is treated like a criminal, it’s a bit hard to justify returning.

I hate to say this, but perhaps the deciding factor is the price; Mexico is a cheap place to go, and it’s close enough to the United States that traveling there is inexpensive as well. Round trip airfare was less than $200 (USD) per person even after taxes and fees, rides on the Mexico City Metro were 3 pesos ($0.30 USD!!), and there’s excellent food for mere dollars.

So yeah, I’ll be back in Mexico someday. But it’s not at the top of my list.