Category Archives: Life

T-Shirts, Feminism, Parenting, and Data Science, Part 1: Colors

Before I was a parent I never gave much thought to children’s clothing, other than to covet a few of the baby shirts at T-Shirt Hell. Now that I have a two-year-old daughter, I have trouble thinking of anything but children’s clothing. (Don’t tell my boss!)

What I have discovered over the last couple of years, is that clothing intended for boys is fun, whereas clothing intended for girls kind of sucks. There’s nothing inherently two-year-old-boy-ish about dinosaurs, surfing ninjas, skateboarding globes, or “become-a-robot” solicitations, just as there’s nothing inherently two-year-old-girl-ish about pastel-colored balloons, or cats wearing bows, or dogs wearing bows, or ruffles. Forget about gender, I want Madeline to grow up to be a “surfing ninja” kind of kid, not a “cats wearing bows” kind of kid. An “angry skateboarding dog” kind of kid, not a “shoes with pretty ribbons” kind of kid.

Accordingly, I have taken to buying all of Madeline’s shirts in the boys section, the result of (her boy-ish haircut and) which is that half the time people refer to her as “he”. This doesn’t terribly bother me, especially if she ends up getting the gender wage premium that people are always yammering about on Facebook, but it makes me wonder why such a stark divide between toddler boy shirts and toddler girl shirts. And, of course, it makes me wonder if the divide is so stark that I can build a model to predict it!

The Dataset

I downloaded images of every “toddler boys” and “toddler girls” t-shirt from Carters, Children’s Place, Crazy 8, Gap Kids, Gymboree, Old Navy, and Target. Because each one had their shirts at a different (random) website location, I decided that using an Image Downloader Chrome extension would be quicker and easier than writing a scraping script that worked with all the different sites.

I ended up with 616 images of boys shirts and 446 images of girls shirts. My lawyer has advised me against redistributing the dataset, although I might if you ask nicely.

Attempt #1: Colors

(As always, the code is on my GitHub.)

A quick glance at the shirts revealed that boys shirts tend toward boy-ish colors, girls shirts toward girl-ish colors. So a simple model could just take into account the colors in the image. I’ve never done much image processing before, so the Pillow Python library seemed like a friendly place to start. (In retrospect, a library that made at least a half-hearted attempt at documentation would probably have been friendlier.)

The PIL library has a getcolors function, that returns a list of

(# of pixels, (red, green, blue))

for each rgb color in the image. This gives 256 * 256 * 256 = almost 17 million possible colors, which is probably too many, so I quantized the colors by bucketing each of red, green, and blue into either [0,85), [85,170) or [170,255]. This gives 3 * 3 * 3 = 27 possible colors.

To make things even simpler, I only cared about whether an image contained at least one pixel of a given color [bucket] or whether it contained none. This allowed me to convert each image into an array of length 27 consisting only of 0′s and 1′s.

Finally, I trained a logistic regression model to predict, based solely on the presence or absence of the 27 colors, whether a shirt was a boys shirt or a girls shirt. Without getting too mathematical, we end up with a weight (positive or negative) for each of the 27 colors. Then for any shirt, we add up the weights for all the colors in the shirt, and if that total is positive, we predict “boys shirt”, and if that total is negative, we predict “girls shirt”.

I trained the model on 80% of the data and measured its performance on the other 20%. This (pretty stupid) model predicted correctly about 77% of the time.

Plotted below is the number of boys shirts (blue) and girls shirts (pink) in the test set by the score assigned them in the model. Without getting into gory details, a score of 0 means the model thinks it’s equally likely to be a boys shirt or a girls shirt, with more positive scores meaning more likely boys shirt and more negative scores meaning more likely girls shirt. You can see that while there’s a muddled middle, when the model is really confident (in either direction), it’s always right.

shirts_by_score

If we dig into precision and recall, we see

P(is actually girl shirt | prediction is “girl shirt”) = 75%
P(is actually boy shirt | prediction is “boy shirt”) = 77%
P(prediction is “girl shirt” | is actually girl shirt) = 63%
P(prediction is “boy shirt” | is actually boy shirt) = 86%

One way of interpreting the recall discrepancy is that it’s much more likely for girls shirts to have “boy colors” than for boys shirts to have “girl colors”, which indeed appears to be the case.

Superlatives

Given this model, we can identify

The Girliest Girls Shirt (no argument from me):

girliest_girl_shirt

The Boyiest Girls Shirt (must be the black-and-white and lack of color?):

boyiest_girl_shirt

The Girliest Boys Shirt (I can see that if you just look at colors):

girliest_boy_shirt

The Boyiest Boys Shirt (a slightly odd choice, but I guess those are all boy-ish colors?):

boyiest_boy_shirt

The Most Androgynous Shirt (this one is most likely some kind of image compression artifact, the main colors are boyish but the image also has some girlish purple pixels in it that cancel those out):

most_androgynous

The Blandest Shirt (for sure!):

blandest

The Most Colorful Shirt (no argument with this one either!):

coloriest

Scores for Colors

By looking at the coefficients of the model, we can see precisely which colors are the most “boyish” and which are the most “girlish”. The results are not wholly unexpected:

151.71
80.68
69.35
49.69
43.83
40.99
35.94
30.56
26.08
24.06
20.89
20.49
18.89
17.67
1.29
-17.37
-21.77
-29.95
-49.91
-56.4
-66.77
-69.52
-70.15
-82.17
-119.1
-175.2
-224.74

In Conclusion

In conclusion, by looking only at which of 27 colors are present in a toddler t-shirt, we can do a surprisingly good job of predicting whether it’s a boys shirt or a girls shirt. And that pretty clearly involves throwing away lots of information. What if we were to take more of the actual image into account?

Coming soon, Part 2: EIGENSHIRTS

Three Keys to Successful Parenting

Now that Madeline is two, it seems appropriate to declare myself a success as a parent. Which means it’s now appropriate for those of you with kids (as well as those of you thinking about having or abducting kids) to ask me, “Joel, what’s your secret?” Which means it’s now appropriate for me to say “I’m glad you asked,” and then write a blog post about it.

1. Improv

I’m sure many of you wondered why I took all those improv classes, and why I made you come watch my improvised musical where we could only use words that started with a letter suggested by the audience, and why I didn’t stop the guy in the second row from choosing ‘X’, and why my song “Xerox Xevious” sounded exactly like “Summer of ’69.”

Well, it turns out that improv is a very easy way to become a better parent. (And that all of my songs sound exactly like “Summer of ’69″.)

Before improv

“Daddy, can I have some more candy?”
“No. Go to bed.”

After improv

“Daddy, can I have some more candy?”
Yes, and after your teeth rot and you become obese and get diabetes and have to have your foot amputated, then you should go to bed.”

Before improv

“Daddy, where do babies come from?”
“Go ask your mother.”

After improv

“Daddy, where do babies come from?”
[sits down on a plain black box, mimes that it's maybe some kind of pirate seat on some kind of pirate boat, and starts in a pirate accent] “Yarr, ye land lubbers always be asking me questions about babies … [10 minute monologue in a pirate voice about pirate-y things that cleverly reincorporates elements from earlier in the conversation] Arr, go ask the first mate!”

Before improv

“Daddy, I need to go to the bathroom.”
“Again? You just went!”

After improv

“Daddy, I need to go to the bathroom.”
“DING! Now in the style of Shakespeare.”
“Daddy, I need to go to the bathroom!”
“DING! Now in the style of film noir.”
“Daddy, I NEED to GO to the BATHROOM!”
“DING! Now in the style of a fetish video.”
“Daddy, I peed my pants.”
“And scene!”

2. Radical Libertarianism

Most books (with the notable exception of *Praxeological Parenting*) will tell you that moderate libertarianism is all you need to be a good parent. But there are a great many parenting problems that a belief in the night-watchman state does little to solve.

For instance, when your kid doesn’t want to go to school because it’s a brainwashing factory designed to grind young impressionable minds into submission by (among other things) forbidding them from leaving their seats or talking “out of turn” or using the restroom without first obtaining permission, the moderate libertarian answer is typically to offer them a voucher that covers the tuition to a different brainwashing factory. Your kid is unlikely to find this satisfying, for obvious reasons.

Similarly, when your kid wants to BitTorrent the Criterion Director’s Cut version of Dora the Explorer, the wishy-washy moderate libertarian “you wouldn’t download a Dora the Explorer handbag!” position on intellectual property is not going to make her particularly happy.

And what will you tell her when she asks (as all kids inevitably do) how granting a monopoly on violence could possibly be a good way to prevent monopolies and violence? Or why the dinosaurs on “Dinosaur Train” are able to peaceably resolve their various conflicts despite living approximately 66 million years before the invention of government? Or why it’s OK for the government to take pieces of paper out of daddy’s wallet just as long as they don’t take too many, while she gets punished for taking even one, and don’t try to give me any of that John Rawls “veil of ignorance” stuff, I might have bought that crap when I was an infant, but now that I’m TWO YEARS OLD the flaws in his “logic” are pretty glaringly obvious?

Whereas radical libertarianism easily sidesteps all these problems, making parenting a breeze (relatively speaking).

3. Trolling

Did you ever imagine that all those years you wasted trolling that idiot Marxist kid on LiveJournal debate would end up being useful? Because they are! Kids love being trolled! Love it! Here are a few of Madeline’s favorite trolls:

“My Hippo”

This one’s easy, you just pick up something that belongs to the kid (e.g. a stuffed hippo) and troll that it’s yours:

“Hey, my hippo.”
“No, MY hippo!”
“I’m pretty sure this is daddy’s hippo.”
“No, MY hippo!”
“Does it have your name on it?”
“MY hippo!”
“It was just lying on the floor and I homesteaded it.”
“MY hippo!”
“Have your protection agency call my protection agency and maybe we can work something out.”
“MY hippo!”
“Behind the veil of ignorance it could just as easily have been my hippo.”
“MY hippo!”
[ several hundred lines of dialogue removed due to space constraints ]
“Yeah, but what does it really mean to ‘own’ something?”
“MY hippo!”
“And scene!”

“Science Project”

Part of being a parent is helping your kids with science projects, so help them “demonstrate” something that isn’t real, like cold fusion, or quantum computing, or evolution. Chances are their teachers won’t know the difference, which makes it also work on another level.

“9/11 Trutherism”

Kids will believe just about anything, even that that third WTC 7 skyscraper would just collapse on its own despite not even being hit by a plane. Even so, it’s not very hard to convince them that the towers were brought down on 9/11 by controlled demolition using explosives secretly planted in advance by the government in order to create an excuse to invade Iraq and Afghanistan in order to pave the way for a new American hegemony. And then they’ll repeat this on the playground, and then you’ll get called in for a parent-teacher conference at which you can reveal that you’d assumed that she’d picked these theories from the playground, which means that if she didn’t then maybe she just came up with them on her own? And that if the official narrative is so shoddy that a 2-year-old can pick holes in it, then maybe Alex Jones is onto something!

“The Craigslist Experiment”

OK, so possibly there are some kinds of trolling kids don’t like.

Vegas with a Lap Infant

Madeline is about to turn two, which is the magical age at which kids transition from fly-for-free lap infants to requires-a-ticket-and-some-sort-of-kid-specific-restraint-and-did-I-mention-a-ticket seat toddlers. Which meant we needed to squeeze in one last vacation. And since Seattle weather kind of sucks, we wanted to go somewhere where the weather was nice. And since flying with a lap infant also kind of sucks, we wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t too far away. Hence Vegas.

You might think Vegas an unorthodox place to take a two-year-old. Now that I’ve finally been here, I’m inclined to agree with you. Nonetheless, with a few caveats, Vegas is an awesome place to bring a lap infant.

1. You have to like to walk

Really, you have to like to walk. I forgot to own a pedometer, but based on the amount of grime that has accumulated on my shoes and a fairly elaborate spreadsheet, I estimate that we’ve been walking somewhere between 3 and 5 miles a day. Generally speaking, we are not stroller people, we are “let Madeline walk when she wants to, and carry her the rest of the time” people. This works fine when you walk about a mile a day. This does not work fine when you walk five miles, and our first day here ended with severe backaches.

Naturally, we didn’t even bring a stroller, so on the second day I hoofed it another 1.5 miles to the nearest Target and bought their cheapest $20 stroller, which was pink. (Then I took a bus back and got yelled at for trying to bring a coffee on the bus, where do you think you are, Seattle, and got chatted up by a junkie who assured me that if he had kids he never would have started using.) Being a $20 stroller, it is a complete piece of junk, and so of course Madeline has grown completely attached to it, has named it (“Pink”, imaginatively), and will probably cry when I throw it into the dumpster behind the hotel at check out, as is my plan.

Anyway, just about everywhere on the Strip is at least a 30-minute walk from anywhere else on the Strip. There’s kind of no way around this. Say you want to support your Wazzou Cougs, who are playing basketball in the Pac-12 Tournament, which — in order to show that gambling on college sports is in no way acceptable — is being held at the MGM Grand. Aha, you think, to make things convenient I’ll just stay at the MGM Grand myself. What you failed to account for is that the MGM Grand is itself a 30-minute walk from the MGM Grand, past a Rainforest Cafe, several Joël Robuchon Ateliers, and about a gazillion slot machines with Gen-X enticing themes like “Ghostbusters” and “Ghostbusters II” and “On Our Own (Theme from Ghostbusters II)”.

Additionally, in most non-Strip parts of the world, if you can see something it is generally close by. However in Las Vegas all of the hotels are built at grotesquely unintuitive scale, so that if you can see (say) the Bellagio then it’s likely (but not certain) that you could probably walk there in less than an hour, although your walk — despite both starting and ending at street level — will involve a bewildering variety of elevation changes, most of which involve escalators that you will get yelled at by security for bringing a stroller on, requiring you to ride a bewildering variety of foul-smelling elevators with a bewildering variety of obese people riding a bewildering variety of rented mobility scooters.

2. You have to like to eat

Lap infants are not allowed to gamble, are not allowed near gambling, not even if you just want to sit in the Rockin’ Sensory Immersion Surround Sound Gaming Chair of the KISS slot machine one more time so that you can “UNLOCK THE STARCHILD”. Lap infants are not allowed to see PEEPSHOW, featuring Coco of E!’s “Ice Loves Coco”. Lap infants are not allowed into the bar at Cabo Wabo, Coyote Ugly, or the Tabú Ultra Lounge.

They are, however, allowed into buffets, which all have a “kids 3 and under eat free” policy, which makes them good places for your lap infant to practice eating with utensils, since even if she drops every spoonful of creme brulee on the floor or her lap you can just grab a few more ramekins and try again, and even if she pukes up an entire cheese omelet you can just get another one.

Suffice it to say that we ate a lot of buffets in Las Vegas, here is how I would rank them:

1. The Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace
2. The Wicked Spoon Buffet at the Cosmopolitan
3. just about every other buffet in Las Vegas
4. Le Buffet aux Paris Las Vegas

Supposedly there are also non-buffet places to eat in Vegas, many of them named after chefs who have appeared on television programs and/or have French-sounding names. I wouldn’t know anything about those.

3. You have to like to spend money

Vegas is not cheap. Sure, you could stay at Terrible’s, where I think they actually pay you to sleep and eat, and where the $9.99 Sunday Champagne Buffet Brunch is deservedly legendary. But it is a long, long walk from the strip, past a variety of foul-smelling homeless people, and past the same three HOT ASS ESCORTS advertisement dispensers over and over and over again. (Also, the hipsters at Yelp are kind of down on the place.)

However, if you want to stay and eat at one of the casinos named after birds, or dead people, or capitals of France, it’s going to cost you. If you want to eat at one of the buffets where “angry” describes the mac and cheese and not the service, it’s going to cost you. If you want your frozen sex-on-the-moon grape-raspberry dacquiri in the 32-ounce souvenir neck-lanyard yard-tube container, it’s going to cost you. And then you look back and realize that all the money you saved not buying the baby a plane ticket you spent on a dessert named after Emeril Lagasse and on getting your picture taken with a weirdo dressed like SpongeBob SquarePants dressed like a showgirl.

4. You have to like kid-friendly activities

Surprisingly, there are a few kid-friendly activities in Vegas. Lap infants are kind of at that sweet spot where they like to look at flashing lights and captive flamingos and garish costumes, but where they are too young to ask awkward questions like “Daddy, what’s a ‘hot ass escort’?” and “Daddy, isn’t it cruel to clip flamingos’ wings and put them on display for a bunch of drunken gamblers?” and “Daddy, what does ‘Cabo Wabo’ mean?” at which point you have to have the talk about the unlistenable “Van Hagar” years.

The Circus Circus (“What kind of circus?” “A circus circus!”) has an “AdventureDome” that contains three rides suitable for lap infants (who ride free as long as their parent buys a $5 ticket), one of which is a terrifying school-bus-themed ride which helps prepare lap infants for their mind-numbing trips through the public education system.

The Mandalay Bay (“What kind of bay?” “A Mandalay bay!”) has a “Shark Reef” that is not actually a reef (due to acquarium acidification, I suppose) but does have a handful of sharks and a manta ray petting zoo that’s surprisingly fun to frighten lap infants with.

The Excalibur (“What kind of caliber?”) has a “Tournament of Kings”, which involves horses and swords and broasted chicken and pyrotechnics and a mediocre A/V system that makes it impossible to understand whether Merlin the Wizard is telling you that you’re supposed to tip your servers or that you’re not supposed to tip your servers.

The Bellagio has a pretty incredible fountain show where they play Lee Greenwood and shoot water around in patriotic patterns, and the Mirage has a pretty incredible volcano show, which is fun to explain to your lap infant as a manifestation of the gods’ anger, which can only be assuaged by throwing a lap infant into the volcano.

If your lap infant has reached the age of obsession with choo choo trains, then you can spend the day riding the Las Vegas Monorail (after a bewildering trek through one of the casinos using a bewildering variety of elevators to reach one of the stations), where she can happily yell out “choo choo train!” over and over again all the while watching a bunch of drunk bros putting their lamest moves on a group of amateurishly-tattooed girls from Canada (“whoa, you’re from Canada, that’s so awesome, eh!”).

There is also a supposedly-family-friendly “Tribute to Red Skelton” show, which Madeline refused to see for political reasons.

All that said, bringing a lap infant also means you can’t eat at one of the Joël Robuchon Ateliers or see the “Steve-O and Tom Green Stand-Up Comedy Extravaganza” or slap Kathy Griffin, not unless you’re willing to pawn your father’s watch in order to afford the services of a Vegas Babysitter, who is sort of like a nanny except infinitely more expensive. (And you would have already had to pawn your father’s watch in order to put a deposit down on your Joël Robuchon meal anyway.)

In conclusion, Vegas is sort of like Disneyland for lap infants, except

(a) Vegas is cheaper
(b) Vegas is more fun
(c) the Mickey Mouse impersonators in Vegas have crappier costumes
(d) Vegas is marginally less evil

Highly recommend!

The Hardest Job There Is

One summer during college I was stringing together temp jobs in order to make money so that I could afford to go out with my friends at night and play “Star Trek” pinball. (I would have preferred, of course, to spend my summer developing my idea for a “group couponing” website, but as the summer in question predated widespread adoption of the Internet, the decision was out of my hands.)

These were super-boring temp jobs, involving things like data-entering anonymous “secret shopper” surveys for Jersey Subs, filing papers alphabetically, and going through medical bills with a red pen to make sure that the prices didn’t exceed prescribed rates. (The last was the worst, as their computer system ran on OS/2, which some genius decided should have chess rather than Minesweeper, which made it very difficult to blow off steam after decimating a particularly tough bill, which is why I originally took up amphetamines.)

At some point the temp work simply dried up, possibly because there were no more medical bills, possibly because no one was willing to eat at Jersey Subs anymore, possibly because of the amphetamines. And so my dad arranged it that I could work for a friend of his who owned a warehouse of surplus metal parts.

What were these metal parts? I have no idea. They were large and heavy and in bins on pallets, and it’s possible they were used to repair trains, or in air conditioning, or as weapons. They came in various shapes and sizes and weights (heavy *and* very heavy), and every day orders would pour into the warehouse that some company wanted 137 of the metal pieces from bin A17. My job, then, was to retrieve bin A17 (which involved a forklift, which was sort of cool, except that I never got the hang of rear-wheel steering and always ended up crashing into things) and get an empty pallet and then manually choose 137 of the least-rusty metal pieces from bin A17 and pile them onto the empty pallet, all the while counting (and then double-counting) to make sure that there were indeed exactly 137 of them. Then I’d put the bin back and move on to the next order of 94 metal pieces from bin C29, and so on, and so forth.

(To this day, it is tough for me to imagine a job that is a worse mismatch for my aptitudes and preferences, except possibly for building model histories of men’s shoes.)

At the end of each day I would collect my pay (which was itself in non-descript metal pieces) and go home and take painkillers and try to scrub all the fine metal grit off my skin and try to cough all the fine metal grit out of my lungs and then cry myself to sleep and have nightmares about counting metal pieces. All of which, quite obviously, left no time for “Star Trek” pinball.

And so after a week, over the vociferous objections of my parents, who insisted that the metal pieces I was earning were likely to represent the difference between success and failure in life, I quit. Accordingly, I have blamed the various subsequent failures in my life on the metal pieces that never were.

So it stood until this week, when Hilary Rosen (who, for reasons inexplicable to me, is still allowed to show her face in public after her stint running the RIAA) made some crack disparaging Mitt Romney’s wife for being a stay-at-home mom. Tactically this was moronic, as everyone knows plenty of admirable stay-at-home moms, and also everyone knows that the most fruitful line of attack on Mitt Romney’s wife is that she married Mitt Romney, and let’s see how her “the angel Moroni pointed a shotgun at us and said we had to” excuse plays in the court of public opinion.

Which means that everyone and his brother is rushing to throw Hilary Rosen under one of a variety of buses. Bill Donohue, for instance, wants to throw her under some sort of “lesbian parent” bus, which I’m pretty sure runs on biodiesel, and I would love to throw her under the “she ran the RIAA, which means that nothing she says should ever be listened to by anyone ever” bus, but most people are focusing on the old “parenting is the hardest job there is!” bus.

It turns out, though, that I’m a parent, and so I happen to know that PARENTING IS NOT EVEN CLOSE TO THE HARDEST JOB THERE IS. Metal piece warehouse was a harder job. Burger King was a harder job. Even MATH FREAKING GRAD SCHOOL was a harder job. (As some versions of the bus insist that only mothering is the hardest job, I double-checked with Ganga, and she agrees with my analysis.)

That’s not to say that parenting isn’t work. It is, and occasionally it’s even very unpleasant work, like when it’s 3am and the baby won’t sleep and will scream if you don’t rock her, and you still haven’t prepared your slides for your 8am meeting with Hilary Rosen to present your new plan for permanently ruining the lives of music-downloading teenagers, and all you want to do is sleep and use your dreams to figure out a way to pretend like you care about “artists”. Or when she poops on you. (The baby, not Hilary Rosen, although that also sucks.) Or when you’re trying to write a blog post making fun of Hilary Rosen and the baby won’t stop screaming in your ear and banging on your keywinevsoivdkdsvl

But parenting is also a lot of fun. It’s a huge joy when you finally teach your kid how to Chicken Dance, or when she learns to swear, or the first time she asks you “please can you read me one more chapter before bed, daddy?” of Atlas Shrugged. No metal part ever even asked me about The Fountainhead!

I recognize that it’s uncharacteristic of me to stake out the middle ground like this, but I guess having a kid has been a deeply moderating influence and has taught me the value of compromise. So can’t we all just agree that parenting is nowhere near as hard as sorting and lifting and counting metal parts, that Hilary Rosen has no place in polite society, and that babies love Atlas Shrugged?

Why Have You Not Signed Up For BIL Already?

I’m sure you’ve heard of TED, which is a really expensive, really exclusive annual conference at which famous and/or accomplished people give lectures to wealthy and/or lucky people. Surprisingly, despite my fame, accomplishments, wealth, and luck, I have never been invited to attend or lecture. (Actually, it’s not that surprising, given that they once gave their TED Prize to Karen Armstrong, my mortal enemy, and that they seem to like Nathan Myhrvold, my other mortal enemy.1)

Luckily for me, there is a non-union, Mexican equivalent an open-source equivalent, the BIL conference, which costs only $50, and which is open to pretty much everyone. Three years ago they were kind enough to let me give my “Your Religion Is False” talk, and then two years ago they didn’t firm up the date until it was too late for me to make travel plans, and then last year they let me give my lukewarmly-received “How To Be Funny” talk.

This year I plan to outdo them all with my balanced discussion of intellectual property: “Hitler Loved Patents”. Although I have spent the majority of the past 10 years arguing on the Internet about intellectual property with various weirdos and libertarians and weirdo libertarians and libertarian weirdos, it has only recently become acceptable to express my views in public. And what better way than through a profanity-laden speed-talking Powerpoint presentation?

There will, of course, be a large number of other talks, many of which will be almost as entertaining and/or compelling as mine. There will also be, I’m told, a “sex-positive boiler room”2 and some sort of lockpicking workshop, one or both of which certainly addresses your hesitations about attending.

If it’s anything like last year, there will also be interesting breaks between sessions, where BILders socialize and where crazy people grab the empty mics and perform spoken-word-poetry-ish rants about free energy and capitalism, all the while people chuckle nervously and wonder whether this is a scheduled part of the performance or simply the result of too little security. There might be coffee too.

There will certainly be a huge assortment of burners, transhumanists, futurists, cryonicists, libertarians, anti-libertarians, polyamorists, monoamorists3, objectivists, subjectivists, artists, crossfitters, politicians, entertainers, hosts of invention-related television shows, hackers, humorists, Paul Grasshoffs, atheists, and doers and makers of all types. Many of them are my good friends, and many more will be by the time the weekend is over. (Also, many of them will be my enemies by the end of the conference, since you can’t exactly tell people that the industry they’ve dreamed of working in their whole lives is morally on par with the death gulags without alienating a few folks, but such is the price of progress.)

In addition, the whole event takes place on a boat, which has some sort of giggly significance that is lost on me but probably has something to do with some creepy anime that everyone except me downloads and watches illegally.

Anyway, Long Beach really isn’t that far from wherever you are, and $50 is less money than you’d spend buying a dozen Original Six Dollar Burger®s at Carl’s Junior, so why have you not signed up already? And in the event you need burgers that badly, Simone gave me this code for 20% off the registration, which will save you $10, which means you’ll still be able to buy two of those tasty, tasty Original Six Dollar Burger®s4 and have the conference weekend of your life.

So I guess I’m not really sure what your objection is at this point. Sometimes I hear “Joel, you’re biased because the whole event is organized and produced by your friends,” and sometimes I hear “Joel, surely you’re on the take from the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau and/or Carl’s Jr.,” and still other sometimes I hear “Joel, you recommended that I attend the Libertarian National Convention in Anaheim in 2000, and that really sucked,” to which I can only respond, “were you at the same Libertarian Convention I was at, because I guarantee you that that was the most fun that anyone’s ever had in Anaheim in the history of mankind.”

So can you just go ahead and sign up already?

1. I’m only ten and I already got two mortal enemies.
2. No, I have no idea what this is either, although I suspect it has something to do with high-pressure stock trading.
3. Monoamorists. It’s a word. Look it up.
4. Six-dollars is what you put on your tax return, but the cash price is closer to $4.

I Am Tired of 9/11

Is it too soon to be tired of 9/11? Because I am.

I’m tired of not being able to bring my pinking shears on plane trips. I’m tired of conspiracy theories (except for ones involving reptilians.) I’m tired of pointless wars that waste trillions of dollars that could otherwise be funneled to unprofitable, politically-connected “green energy” companies. And I’m especially tired of having to refrain from referring to my penis as “the Top of the World observation deck” for fear of getting nasty looks from some girl who knows someone who knows someone who almost went to work that day.

I’m also tired of all the people constantly (by which I mean annually) exhorting me to “NEVER FORGET” what happened that day. All sorts of terrible things have happened to me over my life. There was that time I got tricked into watching Napoleon Dynamite, and then there was some sort of incident involving Nancy Drew’s dog, and there was even that one time that I almost got killed on 9/11. But after tens of thousands of dollars of psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, craniosacral therapy, sandplay therapy, and reiki work, I’ve learned that “NEVER FORGET” is pretty much the worst advice there is, with the possible exceptions of “Be yourself”, “Girls can’t resist a guy who can chug a bottle of Tabasco sauce”, and “Vote for Obama”.

That doesn’t mean I can’t remember some of the lessons of that event, like “avoid Manhattan” and “don’t ignore the ‘STAY HOME FROM WORK TODAY JEWS!’ phone message” and “don’t wait too long to see that tourist attraction, lest some Muslims hijack and crash an airplane into it.” But these are lessons to put into practice everyday, not just in early September, and not just in years that end in a 1. And the more you “NEVER FORGET” the last crisis, the less prepared you are for the next different one.

So, sure, wear your patriotic shirt and eat your patriotic foods and click “like” on the “Like this if you are watching this on September 11th” comments on patriotic YouTube videos. But while you’re busy trying to “NEVER FORGET” what already happened, I’ll be thinking up jokes for what’s happening next. Advantage: Joel.

If Trees Could Scream

So far parenthood isn’t all that different from non-parenthood. I still eat at the same five restaurants and drink myself to sleep at night and occasionally get peed on. I just now have a car seat wedged into an upside-down highchair, am less discriminating about my liquor choices, and try not to let “careless urination” incidents turn into fistfights.

Jack Handey once Deep Thought,

If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.

I suspect that Handey had an infant in or near his life when he came up with the preceding. Baby Madeline doesn’t necessarily scream all the time, but quite often she has no good reason.

Or possibly it’s just that her reasons are so opaque. The scream for “I’m starving” sounds a lot like the scream for “I couldn’t eat another drop.” The scream for “I have soiled myself. How embarrassing.” is pretty indistinguishable from the scream for “if you remove my diaper, I’ll pee all over you.” And the scream for “please bring me my Sophie the giraffe” is quite similar to the scream for “I hate Sophie the giraffe, and if you squeak her one more time I’m going scream (which you might not be able to distinguish from this scream, but so be it).”

When she’s not screaming, she’s pretty delightful, although so far she’s shown no interest in Hilbert spaces, Objectivism, the Priory of Sion, or any of the other myriad topics I’ve tried to teach her about.

For entertainment she mostly enjoys being sung the “Where’s the Tiger?” song, which seems to be the Indian version of “Frère Jacques,” which (I figure) gives me license to sometimes sing it as “Where’s the Cobra?” or “Where is Gandhi?” or “What is Dharma?”

I also downloaded a bunch of rock-songs-as-lullabyes compilations, but once she realized the Dark Side of the Moon ones didn’t sync with The Wizard of Oz, we both lost interest and abandoned the project.

Anyway, she is a funny kid, and grooming her to take over the world someday really cuts into my writing and blogging time. (Also, not sleeping on account of her screaming really cuts into my writing and blogging energy.) But I now have a good idea for a parenting book, and an auto-repair manual, and a short story about a kid who likes baseball but is no good at it, so I’ll try to ease myself back into writing. Also, I’ve been criminally neglecting promotion for the spreadsheet book, so if you want to push a few copies of that on your friends, that would be kind.

Too Much Grope

The last time I flew anywhere was January May 2010, which predated all of the “don’t touch my junk” craziness, toward which I’ve maintained an extremely passive sense of outrage.

Somehow I assumed that only some small fraction of travelers were getting X-rayed, but I arrived at Sea-Tac this afternoon and discovered that every security line was being routed through an imposing-looking “RAPISCAN” machine.

I stuck my computer and luggage and shoes on the belt and then cheerfully informed the TSA lady that I didn’t want to be X-rayed.

She gave me her best “are you fucking kidding me?” look, shunted me off to the side, and then told her compatriot “we’ve got an opt-out.” She said “opt-out” in the same tone that a teenager might say “mom, you’re embarrassing me.”

So I stood there and stood there and stood there, all the while my computer and luggage and shoes were sitting unattended on the far side of security, until finally the TSA lady from the next line over noticed me and asked if I was “an opt-out,” after which she fetched a male groper.

The groping itself wasn’t too bad. The TSA guy who did the groping was polite enough, I guess. The idea of getting groped bothered me, but apart from that it wasn’t particularly upsetting. I don’t, however, look forward to explaining to little Joelene why the TSA agent gets an exception to the “no one should ever touch you like that” rule.

Anyway, other than the first TSA lady’s look they didn’t give me much trouble for opting out. If any part of it was distressing, it was this: the whole time (~10 minutes) I was hanging around the security stations, not one other person opted out.

Spreadsheet Book Now Available

One reason I haven’t been posting here very much is that I’ve been scrambling to put the finishing touches on my spreadsheet manifesto. I’m pleased to announce that it’s now available:

I’m hoping this means more time to write about non-spreadsheet-related topics.

Endogeneity, or “The Skill of the Brewmeister”

The latest OkCupid blog post is one of their more interesting ones:

No matter their gender or orientation, beer-lovers are 60% more likely to be okay with sleeping with someone they’ve just met. Sadly, this is the only question with a meaningful correlation for women.

Of course, once every dude starts asking this question on the first date and every girl figures out that her answer is a signal of how easy she is, the correlation will almost surely vanish. Even if a woman is willing to put out on the first date, that doesn’t mean she wants to advertise the fact early on. (It’s at least possible that I am out of touch with the youth of America and am wrong about this.)

Accordingly, I predict a brief surge in beer-lover questions (and guys trying to bring their first dates to Bierstubes, Bierhausen, Bierhalls, and the like), followed by the evolution of non-committal, correlation-breaking answers to “do you like the taste of beer?” like

  • Only if it comes from a big keg,
  • It depends on the skill of the brewmeister, and
  • I do like the taste of beer, but not on the first date.

If OkCupid were evil (which they probably are, now that they’re a division of IAC), they’d instead sell a limited number of subscriptions to this sort of information, so that dudes could use these questions without having to worry that the dating pool had been overfished.

If they were really evil (which they probably are, now that they’re a division of IAC), they’d report false correlations and then laugh at people who tried to put them into practice. However, I assume that if they’d done this they would have chosen a funnier question than “Do you like the taste of beer?”

I’ll explore this further in my next post, “The Only Question That Correlates With Whether Women Put Out Is ‘Did you ever find Bugs Bunny attractive when he put on a dress and played girl bunny?’”