Glosoli by Sigur Ros

This video by Sigur Rós is basically as good as it gets in my book. You have to watch to the end. Beautiful and innocent.

Life lesson: Not enough data

Here’s an obvious life lesson: You can save yourself a lot of stress when making big decisions if you can recognize when you don’t have enough data to make the decision.

When we moved from Atlanta from Boston last year, I kept getting overwhelmed by specific decisions I had to make. I felt pressure to just make the decision, but many of these actually had dependencies which had to be researched and finalized first.

I didn’t recognize it for far too long and was just spinning my wheels trying to invert a singular matrix.

Another example: When my daughter was a newborn, I did what every parent does. You analyze every parameter you can find in hopes that you can optimize the mixture of sleep, happiness, eating, etc. The problem is the number of unknowns vastly outnumbers the number of equations. You become a lot happier when you accept that it’s an impossible system to solve and give yourself permission to just do the best you can.

Circular reasoning and your model

Here’s a quote I enjoyed1 from an interview with the inimitable John D. Cook:

It’s easy to get caught in circular reasoning. For example, how do you decide what data points are outliers? They are points that have low probability under your model. So you throw them out. Then, lo and behold, everything that’s left fits your model!

So how do you break out of the circle? You can start by visualizing your data. And after you select a model, validate it. If you’re fitting a model in order to make predictions, and your model indeed does make good predictions on new data, you can have some confidence that you’re not just playing mental games and that your model may be an approximation of reality. (emphasis added)

Full interview here.

  1. I found this quote buried in an old draft post when I imported everything into the new site. There are over 200 of these drafts – what else will I find in there??

Not quite dead yet

I’ve been feeling the pull, so here I am.

About a year and a half ago, I finished grad school in a fit and fury. My family and I got on with the business of getting back to a normal semblance of life. And just like any recovering grad school workaholic trying to strike a balance would do, I joined a consulting firm and moved my family across the country to Boston. Now, to be fair, my company has exceeded every expectation I had going in (more on that later). Boston has been a revelation. We survived our first real winter. So many firsts.

But a consequence of all these firsts has been a lack of interest in anything involving a computer outside of work. My evenings have been filled with being with my family, getting up to speed in a stretching work environment, making new friends, forging hobbies, and you get the picture.

But I’ve been missing this outlet. I saw a friend on a trip to DC a few months back and he asked me, “What happened to Only A Model?” His words hit something in me and I remembered how much I used to love this.

This blog has seen me through a lot – some good times, some tough times, some in-between times. From almost quitting grad school to defending. From programming hacks to struggling through answers about my faith. This is probably over the top, but it feels like a part of me. I’ll never forget the early days of blogging when all my friends wrote frequently, commented on each other’s stuff, and we generally felt like we were decoding and discovering the world. Now, I’m a hundred times more nostalgic about this than I should be, but that’s blogging as I remember it.

Even though I can’t convince half of those old friends to pick up the pen again, at least I can.

Programming Notes

Honestly I’m not sure what I’m going to write about. Probably similar topics and themes, but different voice. I can tell you that I used to think about this site in terms of focusing on a niche, building a platform, even thinking that one day I might make some money from writing. I used to think I had a lot of great advice to give. Now I don’t.

But I still ruminate on things and can’t help but think that, one day, it’d be nice to be able to look back and see how far I’ve (hopefully) come. Now, that type of thinking doesn’t have to happen publicly. But on the other hand, what if we all thought out loud more, put ourselves out there more, shared our mistakes and lessons learned, and generally turned the realness up a notch?

That could land somewhere pretty great on the whole.

One post at a time, we’ll see where it leads.

Archives

Before I ever started writing Only A Model, I kept a pseudonymous blog where I struggled through topics around my faith. That period involved my deconstruction of institutional Christianity and my explorations into simple, off-the-grid pursuit of Christian community that was a lot more real and authentic than anything I’d experienced before.

Those posts disappeared from the ether and landed in a Wordpress export file buried deep on my hard drive. After a lot of thought, I’ve decided to bring those posts into Only A Model now, for anybody who might look for those thoughts. You can find those posts toward the bottom of the archives.

There’s a lot in that material that’s kind of embarrassing to look back on. But I should hope that in in another eight years I feel a tinge of embarrassment over what I’m writing today. It’s one way you know you are growing.

Also, just because I’m archiving that content here doesn’t mean I’m going to start writing about spiritual matters regularly. But I might, occasionally.

Technical Details

Let’s talk platform for just a minute. One of the last posts on this site detailed my migration to Octopress. I published exactly one post after that. Octopress is great and all, but there’s way too much technical overhead for me, for now. I needed something simpler and my search for that landed me, believe it or not, at wordpress.com. Say what you will, but I have a Wordpress install that I don’t have to manage, MultiMarkdown composing1, and with the custom CSS update, I have pretty much all the customization power I want. There won’t be comments. I won’t be trying to build an audience and monetize this site. Just the default template, a few custom fonts and colors, and just like that … we’re off

Update September 2014: this blog is back on Octopress.

Current listening: Bon Iver at AIR Studios (give it 5 minutes)

  1. Proof.

Octopress

I decided to move my blog to Octopress. I have enjoyed Wordpress and the Standard Theme for many years, and have pointed many friends in that direction.

But recently, I’ve been more and more intrigued by Octopress and the like. I have wanted to dig deeper into git and play around with Amazon web services, both to save money and learn something new.

For the uninitiated, Octopress is a static site generator which is written in Ruby, based on the Jekyll codebase, and closely allied with the git ecosystem. An Octopress blog is basically a folder of text files on your computer. You type some commands, and your blog is generated as a static html site that you can host wherever you want.

After you convert your blog from Wordpress to Octopress, it’s customary to write an excruciatingly detailed post explaining how (by an act of God) you got everything to work. I imagine that it’s straightforward to set up if your line of work means you already have the dependencies installed. I did not.

But the transition went much easier than I expected. The Octopress docs are great, and by constantly breaking it down step by step, I was able to get things up and running over about 6 or 8 hours. Noting that many of the following steps was preceded by 20 minutes of Googling, I:

  • Exported my Wordpress database.
  • Synced existing comments to Disqus in case I wanted to keep them.
  • Installed Octopress.
  • Installed any missing dependencies with Homebrew (highly recommend).
  • Ran exitwp on my Wordpress database.
  • Cleaned up a few errors and copied my posts to the Octopress _source folder.
  • Copied my wp-content/uploads folder into the source directory so I didn’t have to rewrite image links.
  • Modified the deploy file to send to S3 using s3cmd
  • Generated and deployed the site.
  • Created a Cloudfront distribution pointing at my S3 bucket.
  • Created a cname alias at my registrar.

And that was pretty much it. You can find ten blog posts around the Internet detailing how to accomplish every one of those steps, so there’s no need for me to reinvent the wheel with more detail.

A static blog is not for everybody, but I really resonate with the philosophy. I found it incredibly liberating to see my blog as a folder of plain text files. Every blog post I’ve ever written right there, a click away from editing in Sublime Text or iA Writer. I also learned a lot in the process and will save quite a bit in hosting costs.

Aside from collapsing the sidebar and tightening up the horizontal dimensions to improve readability, I have decided to keep the default design for now. I plan to redesign it at some point, but I’m content to make this transition in stages.