Lazy Dogs

Wednesday marked two years from the publication date of one of my favorite articles of all time: Productivity is Dangerous. I read it every December and I recommend you read it too. Now you might be wondering why a borderline-workaholic, always-on program-project-technical-manager-engineer loves an article praising doing nothing and describing LinkedIn as a death cult. I think, at the very least, the article is an excellent call to slow down and evaluate what is important and what is not.

Last week I saw a TV show set on the Mekong river in Cambodia with plenty of b-roll of families living along the river banks. They appeared to do occasional odd jobs, get food and water from the river, and spend remaining time with each other doing leisurely activities. I understand that this may be a massive simplification.

This is Jones. He is taking a nap after pooping in the shower.

The past two days I have been working remotely from Florida, furiously typing into my laptop, while two dogs spent the entire day sleeping on the floor, occasionally getting up to bark outside the window. Before the industrial revolution, before society at large, I suspect this is generally how most humans behaves. Lounging around, searching food food, helping each other out. Probably I’m wrong here, but it’s an interesting thought.

I hope everyone has a lazy holiday.

Floating

Before I took my two months off at the beginning of the year, I had heard about this place in Float Boston in Magoun Square that has sensory deprivation tanks. You essentially float on very salty water in a sound-proof, pitch black chamber. I was intrigued, though I never got around to it before I took off for the west coast. Upon my arrival, I similarly failed to make time to try it.

Fast forward more than six months and I found myself thinking about Floating again. Rather than trying to find time during the middle of a day on the weekend, I signed up for a 60 minute Float on Tuesday night at 9pm.

Upon arriving, I entered into a small room with a shower and a bench to hold my things. After rinsing off, I inserted silicone earplugs (though not well enough, because I still have salt in my ears today). I entered the tank and was surprised to find it was only about a foot deep. It was about 7 feet long and 4 feet wide with the ceiling taller me. There was an ambient blue light coming from the bottom of the tank and small star-like lights on the ceiling.

The biggest shock was the sensation of Floating. The saltiness of the water buoyed me up much more than I was expecting. I could lie completely relaxed and still have my entire face and most of my ears well above the waterline. The water was also rather cool—93ºF, I’m told, the temperature of skin.

I floated for a few minutes, trying to figure out how to relax. I’d read that sometimes people see colors or even hallucinate. I was hoping for an experience like that, though I had some minor concerns that I would get panicky in the dark, quiet space. I turned my palms from face down to face up, and that helped a bit.

I still couldn’t hear my heartbeat and felt rather awake so I pushed a button to turn off all the lights. That changed everything. It was pitch black. Whether my eyelids were open or closed, it all looked the same. Suddenly, I could hear my heartbeat loud and clear, along with any other sound in the chamber. Losing sight made all my other senses hyper aware.

I started to drift off a bit. I can’t say I entered a trance, but I was emptying my brain. Thoughts would come in, I’d note them, and gently let them pass through. Many memories from college surfaced. I thought of my cat, and how much she would hate this.

Sixty minutes seems like a long time to do nothing. I wasn’t sure how long it would feel to me. After some time, I started to hear faint music, my queue that the hour had passed. Having drifted further from reality than I thought, I sat up awkwardly and accidentally splashed some water in my face. It’s difficult to describe just how salty the water was. It almost felt thick and slimy. My eye began to burn, which was unsurprising given all the warning signs about keeping your face completely dry.

I pushed open the chamber door and got a towel to wipe down my face. I rinsed off in the shower and got home around 10:30, whereupon I found myself exquisitely relaxed and ready for bed.

The experience was different than I expected. It was a completely unique feeling to Float, unlike anything I’d experienced before. I was a bit disappointed that I did not have any revelations or supreme changes in my state of consciousness. Likely I set the bar too high. It was enjoyable, perhaps as enjoyable as a nice bubble bath, though notably different. It’s something I’d definitely recommend anyone who is interested to try.

Strangely, the my next day was the opposite of relaxing. In fact, I’d say it was my most stressful day since returning to work in May. I had various stressors coming in from all directions on a variety of different projects and from different people. Generally, I handle stressors well in that I don’t actually experience anxious stress. It’s a feeling that I have generally banished from my life.

But today I felt stressed. And I didn’t deal with it well. Rather than simply absorbing it and moving on, I cast it back out, creating stressors for others. Which is really the last thing I want to do. I made some hasty decisions and communicated them poorly. So now I have some cleanup to do. But that is OK. These things happen. They can be fixed. It’s good to acknowledge them, so I can take the steps to make them right.

And I’m less than a week from being on the beach in Florida.

Apparently the Form 2 is in a Comcast Business ad

While checking the other day, I saw a few friends posted this 30 second TV spot by Comcast Business. It shows a user story of a dog getting a 3D printed foot prosthetic made on the Form 2. It doesn’t mention Formlabs, but it looks like a video that could have just as likely been made by our marketing team. I’m not sure what the video has to do with Comcast Business, but I am not complaining.

It’s nice to see some of the good things that our customers, especially in the medical field, have made with our printers. Our customers do this kind of thing for humans too.

An Exercise in Supports

For a while I have been interested in incorporating auto-generated support structures into the final part geometry for 3D print jobs using PreForm, Formlabs’ printer driver software. Over the year, the team at Formlabs has done a decent job reducing the amount of resin spent on generating support structures (especially with the mini rafts introduced earlier this year), but at the end of the day support structures end up as waste.

If all of that sounds like gibberish to you, allow me to explain. Many parts that are 3D printed are not self-supporting, and they require additional scaffolding (known as support structures) to be printed along with the part. The support structures cradle the part and ensure that the geometry can be formed as expected. Once the print is done, the part is removed from the supports, and the supports are discarded.

Version 1 was not very good. The “phone” was impossible to remove without destroying the supports.

A few weeks ago, a coworker asked if I could help her print a phone holder for her desk. I got to thinking that it would be awesome to have a phone holder that was entirely made of support structures, each touch tip cradling the phone. So I printed an iPhone 6 model, angled 25 degrees from vertical. The idea was that I would remove the model, post-cure the support, and then be able to put my phone where the model was. Immediately I ran into the issue that the model was fairly robust but the support structures were easy to break and remove. Any attempt to remove the supports resulted in their destruction. I also realized that the small support structures could scratch the phone body. So I abandoned this idea.

Next I designed a thin part that cradles the back perimeter of the phone as well as the bottom edge. To add some fun to it, I put a snail sketch in the middle of the part that is also held up by support structures. Once imported into PreForm, I didn’t adjust the orientation at all because ultimately the support raft will become the base of the part.

The first version came out great, printed in tough (V5) with 100µm thick layers.

Another coworker suggested that I design it to allow for a charging cable. Because I have a relatively old iPhone 6, it loses power quickly, and I found myself often putting the phone in the holder horizontally with the cable sticking out the side. This was silly, so I added a feature to hold a cable in place. It resulted in a much taller part, but it’s essentially the same.

Latest design with charging cable

What do you think? Have you made any parts that incorporated PreForm-generated support structures into the part design?

Do-It-Yourself

I’ve recently been using Onshape quite a bit, and I modeled this part in Onshape. The CAD design is public, and you can find the document at this link. With a free Onshape account, you can copy the document into your account. Configurations (well, Part Studios) already exist for the iPhone 6 with snail and cable routing (specifically for Amazon Basics lightning cable) and for the Moto G5 Plus with Welsh Terrier.

I have a lot of good things to say about Onshape

Changing the variables #phone_thickness, #phone_height, and #phone_width should rebuild the model to the right size for your phone. Note that the height I used for the iPhone 6 is actually a bit shorter than the phone in order to avoid the protruding camera lens. To change the animal, simply edit the “Terrier Sketch” or “Snail Sketch”*, use the “Insert Image” command, position the image to where you want it, and trace the image with the “Spline” command. Make sure that the spline you sketch is closed and that you delete the sketch entities from the snail/terrier for error-free feature rebuild.

Setting up in PreForm is pretty easy. I printed the part using Tough and Color Kit, but I think most resins should be fine. I turned up the touch tip size by about 0.1mm (we don’t want the supports coming off here). This part was printed on the Form 2, but for Form 3 I would increased touch tip size by at least 0.2mm. I also increased density to 1.20 and slope multiplier to 1.50 for extra supports. Lastly I viewed the supports from the side and eliminated any support structures that generated inside the region where the phone would sit. In the images below, the “before” is on the left, with support structures breaking the phone plane. On the right is the “after” when I eliminated the touch tips that contributed to the plane break.

Export the parts together by right clicking the Part Studio and clicking “Export…” using the STL option. Print the part, wash the part, cure the part.

If you used the model with cable routing, you may need to snip away a few support trusses in order to weave the cable into place. Other than that, it should be good to use.

I had to snip away the trusses in the circled region in order to snake in the cable

*the snail shape was actually derived from a Solidworks Block body that I inserted, so the feature tree for the Snail – iPhone 6 Part Studio is a bit convoluted.

An Open Letter to JJ Abrams

Dear JJ Abrams,

We all know that the Rise of Skywalker is going to be a terrible movie. Oh, what? You don’t know? I’m sorry that I have to be the one to break it to you, but the Rise of Skywalker is going to be a terrible movie, no matter how much lens flare you add.

“Remember how everyone loved the Force Awakens?” you might interject. That’s half true. Yes, moviegoers generally enjoyed the film and it was a box office success. In part, the success came from it being a soft reboot of the original Star Wars. In part, it was due to the Disney-Lucasfilm marketing machine that ensured you couldn’t go to a kid’s birthday party in 2016 without seeing Kylo Ren paper plates and Chewbacca party balloons.

Since its release, I have seen the Force Awakens five times, three of which were in theaters. The first few times, I enjoyed it immensely. It was a breath of Star Wars fresh air after the prequel trilogy. To share a secret with you, sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat, with the angry thought stuck in my mind: “why is Attack of the Clones such a terrible movie? It makes no sense whatsoever!” So when I first saw the Force Awakens, I was ecstatic to see a movie that reminded me of the originals and that wasn’t just blatantly terrible. Your clever first line of dialogue “this will begin to make things right” was a direct shot at the prequels and we all know it.

But the more I watched the Force Awakens, the more I realized that it was basically the same plot as the original Star Wars, with better special effects and leaning heavily on nostalgic elements. So why would I watch the Force Awakens when I could just watch Star Wars, which is just a better movie?

Then came the Last Jedi. I know, I know, JJ, you didn’t make the Last Jedi. That was Rian Johnson. I really, really wanted to like the Last Jedi. I was even in denial the first time seeing it, believing that it was a good film and the Star Wars film we needed in world of 2017. And I would say that if you see it in full IMAX and don’t think at all about what you’re watching, it’s a lot of fun. But the last Jedi is a terrible move that doesn’t make any sense. A movie filled with ethnic diversity and strong female characters seemed a fitting feel-good escape from a world just beginning to feel the effects of a Trump presidency and rising right-wind authoritarians globally. But the strong female characters were written poorly and made terrible decisions. JJ, please tell Rian that if he wants to write strong female characters that he needs to make them competent.

OK, I am digressing here. The point is that Disney has handed the reins back over to you and you have to deal with the shit show of a story line at the end of the Last Jedi to tie up this trilogy that exists for no reason other than to make Disney shareholders money. Of course, Disney is not going to give you completely free rein here. That’s what they did with Rian Johnson to disastrous effect. And the creative brilliance of Rogue One, arguably the best Star Wars film made since 1980, was a bit too wild for the execs at Disney to let happen again. You’re on a tight leash, JJ, with a huge task in front of you.

I hope you can now understand that no matter what you do, the Rise of Skywalker is not going to be a good movie. There’s nothing you can do here.

So let me cut a deal with you. There is one way that you can make the Rise of Skywalker somewhat tolerable for audiences: include Porgs.

Yes, Porgs—the puffin-like creatures on Ahch-To in the Last Jedi. The only aspect of the Last Jedi that everyone can agree is good is the Porgs. They’re fucking adorable and everyone loves them.

Just include Porgs in the Rise of Skywalker and I’ll go see it. Hell, I’ll even go see it again in IMAX so I can see them bigger and hear their cute Porg noises from the speakers under my seat. If there’s anything that we need more of in the Star Wars universe, it’s Porgs. As a bonus, if you feature them prominently in the film, maybe they’ll get their own ride and section at Galaxy’s Edge. They’ll fill the Millennium Falcon model with animatronic Porgs that are distracting enough that everyone will forgot how much money they spend to get in. You know what? You should just go for broke and end the film with a Porg and Chewbacca becoming co-chancellors of the Third Galactic Republic. At least it will be a better ending than Game of Thrones.

Please.

Copyright 2015 Disney, or whatever.

Bun Alert System

Yesterday was a remarkable day. In addition to staying late at work and talking with coworkers reminiscent of years past, I saw three buns during my walk home. The first I encountered a couple blocks from the office, just before 11pm. It was chilling outside the community garden nearby, probably looking for a good snack. The second and third buns were spotted together, maybe five minutes later, sitting in a driveway. A passing pedestrian noted that they had been there a half hour before, when he walked by in the other direction. They seemed rather fearless, unafraid to let me get closer for a better picture.

In lieu of a legitimate bun alert system, one of my friends and I simply text each other when we encounter buns. What makes bun alerts so wonderful? When I see a bun, I get extremely happy inside. They are magnificently adorable creatures who have learned to survive in the city and coexist with people. When I receive a bun alert, I assume that the sender is feeling just as elated as I do when I spot a bun, and it’s good to know that there exists such simple, raw joy in the world.

The first bun, by the community gardens on South St
The second and third bun, chilling in a driveway on Wyatt St

Terrariums

About a month ago, a friend asked me whether I wanted to have pet snails in addition to collecting thousands of plastic snails. I demurred, objecting that they would be difficult to care for—a cat at home would try to eat its habitat. He then suggested I build a terrarium and sent me a link to a YouTube page.

Typically, I don’t watch many videos, whether it be YouTube videos, TV shows, or movies. But I decided to watch one of the shorter videos at roughly 10 minutes. And I was hooked.

Day 2: the big terrarium

SerpaDesign posts a new video each week, often focusing on DIY terrariums. The videos, usually ranging from 10 minutes to 30 minutes, are accessible and educational. I soon found myself watching these videos for hours at a time. Go watch some! They’re great!

A couple weeks after I watched the first video, a different friend messaged me to see whether I wanted go for a bike ride. No, I said, because I had hurt my back a few days earlier, but I wanted to build a terrarium. So I went to the hardware store to pick up some supplies and I headed to his house, where he had a backyard full of plants.

We started by making a false bottom from gravel, covered with a plastic window screen, covered by crushed lump charcoal, covered by the soil substrate. Wandering around the yard, I found a couple of sticks and stones that I liked for the environment. I then grabbed some plants—oxtails, an ivy-like vine, and some others I couldn’t identify—and added them.

As soon as the next day, the plants were looking better in their new environment. Some plants have doubled in size and one is beginning to flower. The vine has grown tons of new roots and leaves. Soon I’ll need to start trimming some of them.

Backyard moss

But the terrarium didn’t feel quite done. I continued watching these SerpaDesign videos on YouTube. After watching one describing mosses, I found some moss in my backyard and added it to the terrarium.

Before I can add any snails, I want to get some springtails, which I am expecting to have by the end of the week. Springtails are little white bugs that generally live in the charcoal layer and perform essential mold control and decomposition for the ecosystem.

Tremendous growth

I probably only need another day or two of the terrarium open to dry out (I overwatered it to start) before I can seal it up for good. In that time, I should be able to get some springtails and snails.

Returning to the Flow

It’s a bit wild to realize that I have been back in Boston for longer than I was away on the west coast. I will admit, though, that my trip to the west coast is beginning to feel like a more distant memory.

Aayla’s pre-bedtime nap routine

I’ve been back at work for nearly five weeks, and just now I feel like I am getting back into the flow of things. It is worth noting that this morning my supply of Oregonian CBD-infused espresso beans ran out, so I am back on the regular non-calming espresso drip. Perhaps it is good that this change coincides with me diving into a major project as well as getting into the thick of some minor projects. On top of that I’ve been good about going to yoga several times per week and biking nearly every weekend.

The other day, I came across a journal that I had started a little over a year ago. It only had a handful of entries, and the last one was written exactly one year ago from yesterday. The journal itself, no bigger than a post-it note with a rubber cover in the shape of a chocolate bar with a corner bitten off, was from a Scandinavian novelty store in Alexanderplatz Berlin. On the first page, I titled it “Book of Fears, Thoughts, and Progress”. After one year, it seemed like a good time to look back and reflect on these fears and thoughts as well as evaluate progress.

Of note, one year ago I was pretty sick. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I was sick with, which was an extra layer of scary. To be honest, to this day I’m still not entirely sure what ailed me. I was sleeping 12+ hours per day, and feeling exhausted for the remaining waking hours, usually with a splitting headache, malaise, or some kind of nausea. I had virtually no appetite and no alcohol tolerance, as I felt I was in a perpetual hangover. This went on for months, along with several useless trips to urgent care or the ER, with ups and downs, before it slowly went away.

It was in this state of mind that I penned by thoughts one year ago. It is always a strange phenomenon reading notes from a previous self. Without going into too much detail, I found my entries distant, unfamiliar, and at times naïve. I’d say that’s generally a good thing. Progress was real, at least in terms of my health and general mindset.

So I have now begin to add some new, shorter entries into this notebook in the hopes that in a year from now, I can look back and see fewer fears, deeper thoughts, and more progress.

Walk for Victory 2019

tl;dr you can donate here

Nearly twenty three years ago at the close of the summer my sister Marissa was born. At her birth, she was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder affecting the connective tissue. I didn’t know this at the time—I was only six. She soon began to live a life different from a healthy child. She had frequent hospital appointments, a home health aid to help my parents take care of her during the day, and many physical therapists. To me, this all seemed normal; I had nothing to compare it to. During her life she had two open heart surgeries and a spinal surgery, but the two of us treated it more like business as usual rather than a brush with facing mortality. That was how the two of us faced hardships—not necessarily oblivious to their existences, but filled with unflagging endurance, unconcerned with the potential disasters that may lie ahead.

I have shockingly few digitized photos of Marissa and me

A few years before her sudden death when she was four years old, I began to raise money for the Marfan Foundation. Shortly after her spinal surgery, I shut myself in my bedroom and spent the afternoon crafting a “Surf Side Lemonade” sign. I wheeled a wagon with the sign down to the end of the street along with a friend and shouted “lemonade for charity!” After a few days, I had managed to raise over $70 for the Marfan Foundation. Years later, as I approached the end of middle school, a tumultuous time in my life dealing with my Marissa’s death, I teamed up with my family and karate studio—surprising fact: I earned a black belt in Shotokan—to launch an annual “Marissa Walk” in her memory. For five years we held the walk, bringing together family, friends, and strangers to raise more than $100,000 for the Marfan Foundation.

I built this lemonade stand with my dad and went on to sell snow cones and novelty toys

Time went on, I went off to college, becoming self-absorbed in the focused life of an MIT undergraduate. Going home, though only an hour drive away, felt like a transatlantic journey, and so much of what I did before college firmly took a backseat. My fundraising efforts subsided, until several years ago when the Marfan Foundation began their nationwide Walk for Victory program. No, the walk was not centered on Marissa or her memory, but instead focused on the families affected with Marfan Syndrome and their efforts to combat the disease.

My family at the first Marissa Walk in 2003

Though our lives have changed—and the Marfan Foundation has certainly chained too—my family comes together each year to raise money in my sister’s memory.

Over the past couple decades since my sister’s death, groundbreaking research funded by the Marfan Foundation has shown the potential to mitigate the complications caused by Marfan Syndrome. The Marfan Foundation has stepped up their tremendous outreach and education efforts, as well as the care and support that it provides to families. We are entering a time when those affected with Marfan Syndrome are living longer and healthier lives. At an unprecedented pace, more lifesaving diagnoses are being made and quality of life is improving.

I am walking in the Walk for Victory to support the Marfan Foundation in their efforts. If you are able to, I ask you to support me in my fundraising efforts and give what you can. You can check out my family’s page here.

[A quick addendum about donations, as I am always hesitant to ask for them. There are many wonderful non-profits worthy of your donations. If you’re reading this page, there’s a good chance that you could send $1, $10, $100, maybe $1000 to help people and organizations that need the cash more than you do. I certainly hope that you give to these organizations what you can. And if you cannot give, I hope your finances are either in order or trending that way. If a donation to support me fits into your donations, that is terrific and I am so glad for your support. If not, that’s cool too.]

On Buying Books

I’m currently between books, which means that I am catching up on the pile of the Atlantic magazines sitting on my nightstand. While on my trip to the west coast, I found myself in lots of unique book stores, whereat I picked up several books. Typically, I read books on my iPad bought from Apple for around $10 – $15. Since you cannot buy ebooks at a book store, I found myself with several old-fashion dead-tree books.

It’s a nice feeling reading a real book. I can flip around more easily. I don’t need to charge your book. I’m not staring at an illuminated screen. I don’t get distracted by notifications or temptation to check email. There are of course downsides. I can’t look up a word by clicking on it. I don’t have an entire library at your fingertips. Navigating to the endnotes and back is finger acrobatics.

But overall I like reading paper books and my iPad has become painfully slow to use. So I’m switching to paper books—at least for now, noting that I typically alternative between books and ebooks every five years, n = 2.

So how do I buy books now? The books I picked up on my trip were from independent bookstores. They were priced higher than the Apple Books, and I suspected they were priced higher than on Amazon. Now that I need to get some books, I decided to take a deeper look.

OK so here are three books that I want to get. It comes out to just under $40 on Amazon if I include the 5% back from my Amazon Prime credit card. Diving a bit deeper in to the math, based upon my 2018 spending at Amazon and Whole Foods balanced against the $120 cost of Prime, I end up getting a bit north of 3% back.

Compare this to Porter Square Book, my local independent bookstore. These books come out to just under $60, or about 50% more than Amazon. There are some other comparison points. Amazon has free two day shipping. For Porter Square Books, I (have to) go to the store to pick up the books in person—otherwise shipping is $10. I also figure it will take them a couple days to get Marcuse from their warehouse. Well, they are in the People’s Republic of Cambridge, so maybe Marcuse is on the shelves.

The short term cost difference here is a notable $20—or 50% more if you want to look at it that way. It’s a bit harder to measure the long-term cost difference, whether to me or to the community. On their website, Porter Square Books claims that 68% of the money I spend stays in the community compared to 43% if I use a national chain. I am not sure whether this comparison is to a brick and mortar store like Barnes and Noble or to Amazon. Things like creating local jobs and ensuring that the business tax dollars get reinvested in Cambridge are much harder to quantify. Amazon generally doesn’t pay any federal taxes, but they do pay state taxes. I’m not sure how their state tax rate compares to Porter Square Books and how much of that would actually go to Cambridge.

None of those things I described actually save me money now. I’m not actually sure any of these things would save me money later. The hardest to quantify part is how buying local and independent betters (or I guess worsens) communities. Perhaps these things are not meant to be quantified.

It’s hardly controversial to say that Amazon is evil, yet I, like so many others, have a Prime account and find the convenience of “free” two day shipping hard to resist. There’s even an Echo Dot in my apartment! And of course, many of the things Amazon has done are obviously not evil. Improvements to delivery logistics, data storage, and streaming have probably gone on to help people doing very good things. While I, on a medium to high horse, could ask “who really needs something delivered in two days?” I’d bet that reduced delivery times or cloud web services championed by Amazon have literally saved lives. And I don’t want to attempt to balance that against lives ruined or lost due to the “evil” parts of Amazon.

I can’t actually come to a conclusion which option costs less in the long term. Or rather I am not going to invest the time and make the assumptions necessary to do so. For what it’s worth, I bought the books from Porter Square Books. The $20 difference is roughly the cost of two drinks out at a bar, and I barely drink these days.

The cosmic joke here, I write now one day after drafting everything above, is that I need to get an older book before the weekend and the only way I can reasonably do so is to order it via Amazon. So both Amazon and Porter Square Books get my book business this week. Hah.