Pop-Up Storms

We are doing a whirlwind family tour this summer to introduce Timothy to the farther-flung reaches of our immediate family. Fortunately for us, that really only goes as far west as central Kentucky, where we made our first stop to see my sister and her family.

On Friday, we were having lunch when it started raining and thundering outside. Unaware it was supposed to rain, I checked my weather app to see how long it would last. Watching the radar history, I commented that it seemed to come out of nowhere. My brother-in-law said that that’s what they do there—sometimes from this way, sometimes from that, sometimes out of nowhere, and in the heat of the summer, you're not surprised when it comes.

I thought about that again on Saturday when I looked at my phone that evening to read about the shooting in El Paso. The popular term for it is stochastic terror. You can't predict anything relevant about a mass shooting—where, how many, by whom—except that it will happen. Or at least will happen with some probability over a given period of time El Paso, Poway, Pittsburgh, Dayton (at the time yet to happen), Sandy Hook, Dallas, whichever ones you want to add on the list, whichever ones you can even remember. You're not surprised that it happens, you just don’t know when and where.

Of course it's not exactly true that there are no common threads between any of the shootings, just as it's not the case that any place expects these pop up showers out of nowhere. That's why I spent a while awake Saturday night, thinking of my (Mexican-American) nieces and sister-in-law, wondering if and when LA County is due for the big one, and not entirely sure how much safer suburban Detroit is in the long run.

A Happy Mother's Day

Jamie and I had planned a date night in Saturday night to celebrate Mother's Day. My folks would come over and watch our two year old and we would go to Clarity in Vienna for dinner. I'd had a necklace made for her and some flowers would arrive sometime in Saturday from bouqs.com.

Someone else had different plans. After Jamie had taken a shower and settled in to bed, her water broke. She wasn't due for another couple of weeks, so we hadn't had any bags packed or anything. We called my parents to come over and left for the hospital when they arrived. We got to the hospital a bit after midnight and by just after 3am Timothy Matthew  was born, weighing 9lbs 1oz. He is just as perfect as his mom and his sister before him. The rest of us are tired, but doing well.

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Notre Dame

This is the only photo I took of Notre Dame the one time I went to Paris, six years ago. I was only in Paris for a little more than a day, so I didn't go in. I've often had mixed feelings about Catholic cathedrals. Perhaps that's just me being a little extra Protestant, but I still feel something of a loss at today's news, it is still the loss of a great and historic work and I am glad that the devastation was not total.


My in-laws screen phone calls to their landline, so when we were there over Thanksgiving, every now and then the phone would ring [loudly] and then we would hear the answering machine pick up. Their message was interesting, as it started with a warning that their phone number had been spoofed and was being used by scammers, and that they had nothing to do with it. I kind of imagine the first few calls they got before they realized that.

I've had a noticeable uptick in spam phone calls to my cell phone lately, and I usually just go into the recent calls and mark the number as spam so that it doesn't call back. If I'm feeling particularly interested, I'll google the phone number to see what it comes up with, usually nothing useful, and I wonder if it's some random family's number and if they get all sorts of irate return calls.

Whenever I think about that, I think of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. The basic premise of the show is that some particularly enterprising company has developed the technology to be able to reprogram humans to do whatever they want. It's mostly used by ultra-rich playboys for ultra-rich playboy reasons. In a handful of flash forward episodes some number of years after the main events of the show, events have taken their eventual dystopian turn as nation-states and hackers have essentially figured how to hi-jack just about anything with an electric current to reprogram humans to fight for their side or another.

The stakes are a little lower when it's a phone number, but it's just a small example of the sort of thing we have so little ability to really possess that we tend not to think about. We're not too far away from realizing our phone number has been stolen, or our Facebook account, or our bank account. I wonder how long until it is so rampant that our current systems based on honesty and customer convenience collapse under the weight of bad actors.

Incidentally, the setting for Dollhouse's dystopian future was 2019. Happy new year.

Suburban Snowscape

The first snow of the year came on a Sunday, gracefully, and has been plenty pretty to look at and enjoy without the concerns of having to get anywhere. The roads are likely fine as well by now, but why should I leave the fireside?

Industrial disillusionment

From an interview with an anonymous Silicon Valley engineer:

When you’re an engineer, you’re constantly being told to do things that are clearly not good for the user. If you’re building any kind of app or platform that makes its money from advertising, you are trying to maximize “time spent”—how long a user spends with your product.


But every worker knows this is bad. Every engineer and designer knows this is awful. They’re not happy making these features. But they can’t argue with the data. The engineer and the designer who care about the user don’t want to put these features out in the world. But the data says those features are increasing time spent—which means they’re good. Because more time spent means selling more advertising, which means making more money.


But there's no way they can push back on it. They can talk about it—in their company Slack, in their public forums, at their all-hands meetings. They can express a lot of malaise about it. But they can’t argue against the experiment succeeding, because you can’t argue against increased profits.

"Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!""