February 18, 2013

the Nashville Software School

Filed under:, , , , — cwage @ 7:47 pm

The cover story in the City Paper this week is on the Nashville Software School. It's a great read, and it's about a great program.

The NSS is a game-changer for technology and education in Nashville. I'm immensely proud of everyone involved of it and incredibly thankful to John Wark for his tireless efforts to get it going. Years ago, Nashville's first ISP, Telalink, had an intern program that accepted anyone and everyone for weekly meetings to teach and discuss just what this whole "Internet" thing is, anyway. I learned about everything from ISDN channel bonding to CGI programming (in C, no less, until I discovered Perl). I am forever indebted to Thomas Conner, Bill Butler, Tim Moses and everyone else at Telalink that helped us out back then. The roster of people that came through that program (me notwithstanding) is a veritable Who's Who of incredibly smart people here and abroad. Nick Holland (also a Telalink intern) and I tried to revive a similar program years ago (and I believe a young Eliza Brock was a member!). It fizzled, eventually -- frankly, due to the hustle of running a small biz -- a testament to the time and energy required for something like this. I had wanted for years to start something up again and I'm delighted that I don't have to (yay, laziness!). The NSS has done all that and more.

I'm a product of the Nashville public school system, and an aborted failure of our country's higher education system. A year into it and roughly $17k in loans later, I learned that if I was going to learn anything about technology, it wasn't going to be at a university. So, I've been in the private sector ever since. I would have killed for something like the NSS to have been around then. It fills a huge gap in our education system, and it makes me tremendously excited.

Some ideas I'd like to see emerge from the success of the NSS in years to come:

  • The resurgence of an intern program more suited to younger people -- something to get high school-age students started and funneled into the NSS (or something like it).
  • Something more accommodating to people still working full-time -- either a less aggressive courseload and/or after-hours courses.
  • More advanced parallel tracts of schooling: systems engineering/devops, network engineering, and so on. These are all areas where schooling and expensive certification do exist, but pales in comparison to the education via the school of hard knocks. Something like the NSS could serve this demographic as well.
  • Local business/govt-sponsored scholarships. I realize that giving out money for education is a hairy business once you get into trying to decide how to hand it out (merit vs. need vs lottery vs who-knows-what), but it could be done well.
  • Failing that, or in addition to it: A way for federal money (Pell, Perkins, et al) to be available to students of the NSS. This is probably a long-shot for a variety of reasons, but it'd be nice to see this money redirected to grassroots programs like the NSS that are actually generating real skills and real jobs in a relatively short turnaround rather than padding the bottom line of elephantine institutions of higher learning.

February 12, 2013

diction

Filed under:, , , — cwage @ 2:02 am

It took all my willpower not to title this post "DICKtion". GET IT?! Moving on:

So, Southern/Alpha is sponsoring an event called Spark Nashville, which will feature some startup pitches, general tech-ey networking, and some speakers -- Marcus Whitney and Nicholas Holland, who were referred to in the press release as "patriarchs" -- a truly unfortunate choice of words.

Why is this a problem?

First, the definition of patriarchy, courtesy of wikipedia:

Patriarchy (rule by fathers) is a social system in which the male is the primary authority figure central to social organization and the central roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property, and where fathers hold authority over women and children. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and entails female subordination. Many patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage.

Now, stay with me here, but some wacky feminists of late have suggested that female subordination is a total bummer and should be avoided. If you stretch your imagination a bit, you can prrrrrobably imagine how this particular word might be a little off-putting to any women that read it.

Given that, do I think it likely that the author of the press release intended to promote the subordination of females? Not likely. Both Hanlon's and Occam's razor apply here. It's more like that whoever chose the word was simply ignorant of its implications. There really is no common ungendered colloquial sense of "patriarch", especially when so many other words would have sufficed (start with "leader" and go from there), so it's a bit weird. There it is. Patriarchs. A truly unfortunate choice of words in a city trying desperately to get women involved in many traditionally male-dominated fields, technology foremost among them.

I won't get into the details of any actual patriarchy in the industry (which of course does exist), and how hegemonies tend to be promulgated despite the best conscious intentions of everyone involved. I can't speak for Nick or Marcus, but I know that if anyone ever described me as a "patriarch" of anything I'd be annoyed and politely but firmly ask them to choose another word.

Related: this older blog post.

February 6, 2013

chili

Filed under:, , — cwage @ 5:02 am

I know what you're thinking. "Didn't he already post some stupid recipe for chili already? Again with this?" It's true. I'm gonna write about chili again. Like all true artists, I've grown since then. I simply must share my art with the world! (But not the chili.) As I mentioned in that post, I'm no purist. I put beans in my chili. I am not really even sold on something like chili requiring a recipe, per se. I think of making chili more like jazz. Sure, there are general rules, and, if you require it, a general melody to come back to. But otherwise just wing it, and have fun. Every pot of chili I make is the BEST CHILI EVER. Because it's always a little different.

I grew up with chili, but in the Midwest and the south -- and the chili I knew and loved reflected that: it had ground beef, tomatoes, and beans. It had little in common with either traditional Mexican dishes or Texas chili. There was nothing religious about it except that it could be made quickly out of cans and a tube of beef in an hour or so. It wasn't until my late 20's that I discovered the wonders of a more basic, authentic chili -- e.g. chile colorado, which my mom had actually made for me on occasion as a kid as well. You can google around for recipes, but for the uninitiated, it's basically the essence of chili: not much other than slow-cooked beef and chiles -- the combination of which delivers an amazingly complex bouquet of flavors on its own.

Lately I've started playing more with this, taking bits and pieces from the different styles I like. This weekend I made a batch of chili that is probably my favorite yet (although I say that every time). A rough recipe below, which this time isn't written in the style of a drunken fratboy:

Ingredients

  • 1-2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
  • 9-10 dried New Mexico chiles
  • 3-4 dried Ancho (Poblano) chiles
  • 1 beef Chuck roast, cut into 1-2" squares. (feel free to use any other cut of meat -- I prefer chuck for stewing).
  • 2-3 cups of beef stock (I used homemade, storebought is fine, water will work in a pinch)
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • Beans. Yeah, I said it. (optional, and to taste)
  • Cumin (to taste)
  • Salt (to taste)

The Chiles (not a Mole)

I won't call this a Mole, because I don't want a Mexican grandmother reading this and coming after me because I dared to compare what I did in 10 minutes to what takes her hours upon hours and generations of experience. And it's really not a Mole, but it's a Mole-like thing. That is, it's groundup chiles.

  1. Remove and discard the caps of all the chiles, and remove the seeds by shaking/clearing the pods with your finger. Getting every single seed isn't necessary -- they won't significantly add to the heat of the dish, but they can make it bitter.
  2. Put the chiles in a small saucepan and cover with water.
  3. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and cover.
  4. Let this sit while you prep the rest of the chili and then come back here when you're ready to mix everything together. They'll be well hydrated by now.
  5. Transfer the now-hydrated chiles into a blender or something similar with a small portion of the water they were boiled in. I use a stick blender for a relatively mess-free cleanup. Blend the chiles thoroughly until they form a thick paste.
  6. (Optional?) Filter the paste through a medium/large-holed colander or sieve. Sometimes the chile peppers, no matter how well hydrated and blended, have little bits of pepper that didn't blend down. These can be annoying or distasteful to some, or get stuck in your teeth, so filter it out if you want to get rid of them and any stray seeds that made it through.
  7. Add this to the rest of the prepped ingredients (see below)

The Chili

  1. (Optional but unnecessary step): Dredge the cubed beef in flour. Some people do this because they feel it insulates the meat while searing and makes for a better, more flavorful crust even though science says otherwise and they are wrong on both counts. It can help thicken the resulting chili, but my tastebuds and certainly my waistline don't require the flour.
  2. Coat a large stockpot with vegetable oil (I used peanut because it's what I had on-hand), and bring to a medium-high heat.
  3. Add the beef to the pot when the oil is shimmering (Just kidding. I have no idea what this means, but every recipe I read says it. Shimmering? What is this, Twilight?) Just add the meat to the damn pan when it's hot.
  4. Thoroughly brown all of the beef (do it in batches if you have a lot -- it's best to keep the temperature really high here). Remove and set aside.
  5. Lower the heat (let it cool so you don't burn anything) and add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, maybe 1-2 minutes.
  6. Add the beef stock to deglaze, and make sure to scrape up any little delicious brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  7. Add the beef chunks, the not-Mole chile paste, and if necessary, enough water to cover all the beef.
  8. Bring everything to a low boil and then adjust to a low simmer.
  9. Simmer until the beef is cooked and can be easily pulled apart with a fork. In the past, at this point, I've painstakingly pulled all the chunks apart with a pair of forks, until I had the GENIUS idea to just grab a potato masher and go to town. Don't go overboard, though: mash just enough to get a healthy balance of stringy beef incorporated in the dish along with some bigger succulent chunks.
  10. Add in any canned or pre-soaked beans at this point, and let them cook a bit.
  11. Add salt and cumin to taste. I am loathe to give specifics about cumin, because I like a lot of cumin. Do what you feel.
  12. Add the teaspoon of cocoa powder towards the end of cooking.

Et voila! er .. Y aqui! Note that there are no tomatoes in this recipe. After the past few years of experimenting with rehydrated dried chiles and of noting the amazing complexity of the flavors and richness of the color you get, I am now convinced that tomatoes really have no place in chili. So far I think the cocoa powder is a decent addition, but I am not 100% sold on it. It makes sense, given the presence of chocolate in many mole recipes. It stands out noticeably, though and it's very easy to overdo it. I am not convinced that the crappy Hershey's cocoa powder I am using is doing justice to the dish.

The result is a beautiful deep red chili, with beans interspersed with delicious chunks of beef. Ground beef could have easily sufficed if browned and added in order to save time. It's surprisingly unspicey -- new mexico and poblano chiles of course are very mild. Had I been making this only for myself, I probably would have added some dried habaneros, but I was happy to supplement my bowl with cayenne powder for kick. Enjoy!

January 20, 2013

a sentence that hayek wrote

— cwage @ 3:35 am

This is not the place to discuss how this change in outlook was fostered by the uncritical transfer to the problems of society of habits of thought engendered by the preoccupation with technological problems, the habits of thought of the natural scientist and the engineer, and how these at the same time tended to discredit the results of the past study of society which did not conform to their prejudices and to impose ideals of organization on a sphere to which they are not appropriate.

This is the sort of sentence that only a native German speaker could write. What the fuck, dude?

January 10, 2013

LP Field: we should demolish it because of how it sucks and is terrible

Filed under:, , , , — cwage @ 8:23 pm

River

Behold our east bank, withered and dying.

LP Field. I've said it before. I'll say it again here, so it's on the record. The construction of LP Field on the east bank will go down in our city's history as the worst thing that ever happened to its urban development. Aside from being hideous to look upon, this monstrosity occupies the entire east bank of the river -- urban space that could be put to any number of fantastic uses to develop and improve the downtown community. Instead, it sits empty most of the week, and it puts a stranglehold on connectivity between the two sides of the city -- an annoyance for the most part, an infuriating clusterfuck on gameday. I won't pretend to be an expert on the places it could have potentially gone, but I'd be hard-pressed to think of a location worse than where it ended up.

Now that the Titans are doing poorly, I vote we seize the moment and tear it down.

December 28, 2012

when NPR gets unlistenably stupid:

Filed under:, , , — cwage @ 6:06 pm

During elections, arguably during pledge drive season and, apparently, after school shootings.

I consider myself a pretty liberal left-leaning NPR-friendly sortof guy (describing what I actually am involves a lot more -isms), but I find myself turning off NPR in disgust a lot more since sandy hook. This story, for example, was so mindblowingly dumb I had to turn off the radio, because I was afraid I might plow my car into a telephone pole:

Yang is from China. She says that in college there, she studied math, and then suddenly — totally without prompting — I find myself in another conversation about possibilities and probabilities. Yang, it turns out, specialized in statistics, and since the shooting has been thinking a lot about possibilities and probabilities, reconsidering her original feelings about them.

Yang tells me that she had always assumed that she was safe because the chance of a shooting happening to her specifically was very small. But since the shooting she's been focused on this one rule of statistics she learned in college, which she calls the "large number certainty theorem."

"If the base is big enough," she explains, "even though the probability is small, things will happen with certainty."

By Yang's reckoning, this is how the large number certainty theorem applies.

...

"So, you know, mathematically, something somewhere will happen with certainty," she says.

And so though Yang previously depended on the idea that school shootings were so rare they would probably happen to someone else, the shooting has taught her that "we should not wait until it actually happens to us to take action."

Yang has decided to get more involved with fighting for gun control. This, to her, seems like the logical thing to do.

I .. I just .. What do you say to this? First, I love the hilariously awkward and blatant appeal to authority in the way that they present her as some sort of statistics expert because of a "rule of statistics she learned in college". See? It's a theorem! That sounds very sciencey! You can't argue with FACTS like that!

A fun mental exercise is to substitute literally anything into this line of thought:

Yang tells me that she had always assumed that she was safe because the chance of slipping on a banana peel and splitting her skull open specifically was very small. But since some other guy slipped on a banana peel and split his skull open she's been focused on this one rule of statistics she learned in college, which she calls the "large number certainty theorem."

...

"So, you know, mathematically, something somewhere will happen with certainty," she says.

And so though Yang previously depended on the idea that slipping on banana peels open was so rare it would probably happen to someone else, the dude that slipped on a banana peel has taught her that "we should not wait until it actually happens to us to take action."

Yang has decided to get more involved with fighting for banana control. This, to her, seems like the logical thing to do.

SCIENCED!!!

December 15, 2012

one more post about stupid guns

— cwage @ 11:05 pm

Okay, I know I said am not passionate about gun control, and I'm not. But I am passionate about irrationality. And boy, is this debate pervasive with it.

So, two things:

First, to gun control opponents: lay off the false equivalency. Regulating firearms is not the same as regulating (to take a recent example from facebook) alcohol. Firearms are a technological game changer in many ways (positive and negative, but that's a larger and more difficult debate). They allow one person to efficiently and rapidly end the lives of others. So let's not poison the debate by trying to pretend that this is an issue as simple as other issues of regulation. It's a different sort of problem -- you see it playing out in similar ways on a global scale with respect to nuclear proliferation. Warfare changed forever when humans obtained the ability to wipe eachother off the map. (Incidentally, technological progress is probably the reason this debate is entirely moot, as well: people are already firing off rounds from 3D printed weapons.)

Second, to gun control proponents: any honest intellectual debate about gun control's efficacy needs to start with a comparison of intentional homicide per capita between comparable industrialized/developed countries. A quick survey of the media's analysis of the issue is rife with comparisons between the United States and other countries with respect to their deaths by firearms. This is like identifying lung cancer as an epidemic, banning tobacco pipes, and then declaring victory because lung cancer among tobacco pipe smokers evaporates. People would still smoke, and people would still die. The problem is that people are being murdered, not that they're being shot. If you want to fix that problem, you have to demonstrate that eliminating firearms eliminates violent crime, not just gun crimes.

Rarely do you ever see the debate framed this way, but it has been done. Don B Kates and Gary Mauser published this survey of gun control policies and violent crime throughout Europe and the United States in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. Their conclusion:

This Article has reviewed a significant amount of evidence from a wide variety of international sources. Each individual portion of evidence is subject to cavil -- at the very least the general objection that the persuasiveness of social scientific evidence cannot remotely approach the persuasiveness of conclusions in the physical sciences. Nevertheless, the burden of proof rests on the proponents of the more guns equal more death and fewer guns equal less death mantra, especially since they argue public policy ought to be based on that mantra. To bear that burden would at the very least require showing that a large number of nations with more guns have more death and that nations that have imposed stringent gun controls have achieved substantial reductions in criminal violence (or suicide). But those correlations are not observed when a large number of nations are compared across the world.

Over a decade ago, Professor Brandon Centerwall of the University of Washington undertook an extensive, statistically sophisticated study comparing areas in the United States and Canada to determine whether Canada's more restrictive policies had better contained criminal violence. When he published his results it was with the admonition:

"If you are surprised by [our] finding[s], so [are we]. [We] did not begin this research with any intent to "exonerate" hand-guns, but there it is -- a negative finding, to be sure, but a negative finding is nevertheless a positive contribution. It directs us where not to aim public health resources."

My opposition to gun control is not because I have some fascination with guns or because I'm a constitutional purist. I have no desire to own one (and I find most gun owners' declarations that they own a gun for self-defense to be mostly bluster and machismo, or at the very least a poor understanding of risk analysis/game theory). I oppose gun control because there is no evidence that it works. When was the last time the government banned something that substantial portions of the country wanted and it was a success? How's that War on Drugs workin' out for ya? Convince me that there's a way to eliminate firearms in this country without savaging the civil liberties the country was founded and we can talk.

As an aside, I am also tired of hearing the "we need to figure out how to identify and institutionalize murderers, not ban guns!!" line, because it's basically the most idiotic thing I've ever heard. You're gonna argue against gun control but forcible institutionalization of, what, suspected murderers is okay? Libertarian fail. The mass murderer phenomenon is a problem that we need to fix. It's a hard one that gun control really has nothing to do with.

And another semi non-sequitur: Barry Glassner's Culture of Fear is not the best book in the world, but it's closer to the mark, and a lot of people having this debate would be well-served by reading it.

I'm goin to a christmas party now.

LET’S ARGUE ABOUT GUN CONTROL

Filed under:, , — cwage @ 8:13 pm

Just kidding, I don't want to argue. Gun control is not a passionate issue for me, and I've written just about all I have to say about gun control here. (Note that I focus on inner-city violence, which is really the largest and most tragic location of firearm violence in this country, even if it's not as headline-grabbing as school massacres.)

Mostly I just want to recommend that everyone read this article. Especially this part:

The general decline in gun-related violence and the inability even of mental health professionals to identify future mass killers should be the essential starting points of any serious policy discussion generated by the absolutely horrific slaughter at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. We should also add a third starting point: Few good policies come from rapid responses to deeply felt injuries. Many of the same people who are now calling for immediate action with regard to gun control recognize that The Patriot Act, rushed through Congress in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, was a terrible piece of legislation that ultimately did nothing to protect Americans even as it vastly expanded the state's ability to surveil law-abiding citizens. There's no reason to think that federal, state, or local gun control laws promulgated now would result in anything different.

If hard cases make bad laws, it's even more true that rare crimes make terrible public policy. In a piece for Quartz, journalist Lenore Skenazy recalls that the deadliest school massacre in U.S. history took place in Michigan in 1927, when a disgruntled school-board official blew up 38 people, including himself. She writes that the real difference between now and then is the immediacy of the media, which shrinks the distance between victims and the rest of us. Even as that allows us to have more empathy for the grieving, it creates the conditions for an overreaction that will ultimately be little more than symbolic.

December 4, 2012

something something in a nutshell

— cwage @ 1:33 am

This is a hilarious and very revealing quote:

"No, I got it from a doctor," Bryan says. And this is when Bryan tells me the other way he acquires many of his drugs. He sometimes visits psychiatrists, tells them about the art project, and asks them for "samples of some pain pill or sedative I've never tried. I say, 'Can you write me a prescription for just one so I can do my drawing?' And I take my book with me and show them my art project. And they always give me some crazy, crazy anti-psychotic pill instead."

"They never give you what you ask for?"

"Never,. Always something way worse."

From this article about Bryan Saunders, which is a good read.

November 7, 2012

a rare bit of pimping

Filed under:, , , , , — cwage @ 4:56 pm

I am not sure if I have much of a blog audience left, at this point, but those of you faithful: prepare for me to take advantage of you in pitching something to you!

Local (now, east!) Nashvillian Eric Powell is the mastermind behind the wildly successful and creative comic The Goon. He's teamed up with Blur Studio and David Fincher (yes, THE David Fincher (tm)) to get a movie based on The Goon. They've produced some test footage (seen in the below video), and they are now attempting to raise $400k to produce a feature length story reel for the movie.



Guys, I have seen so many fuckin stupid kickstarter projects funded. If I see another ipod nano hand-carved wood bluetooth watch dongle funded for $5 million and this thing doesn't get funded, I'll be sorely disappointed. The world doesn't need more shit for iphones, but it does need more good movies. Michael Bay's reign of terror cannot stand unopposed. There are 3 days left. Stick your thumb in the eye of both stupid kickstarter projects and Hollywood, and give this project some money. Tell your rich friends.

Kickstarter page for this project is here.

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