Building a Geodesic Shade Tent, Part 1

Last year for Burning Man we built a classic ‘Monkey Hut’ shade structure. It worked, but barely. It was imprecise to assemble, didn’t provide much shaded area, and its structural integrity was awful. With winds capable of reaching 100mph, and unforgiving desert sun, I wanted to have something more substantial.

This year I’ve decided to bring a Geodesic Dome. Domes can be tricky because they require precise angles and strut lengths, however, if done properly they are very sturdy and provide a lot of space. Most dome guides suggest building a dome out of electric conduit piping. I don’t like this idea for two reasons: 1) I woke up to a lightning storm last year, so a metal frame seemed suboptimal, and 2) The ‘hubs’ where the pipes come together are secured by a nut through the pipe itself. This means that the dome is restricted to the size it was originally designed at.

An alternative design is to use a specialized hub with pipes inserted into the hubs. The pipes can be replaced, and extended if a larger dome is desired. After a considerable amount of searching I found Natural Frequency who sold exactly what I was looking for: pre-constructed hubs, made from plastic, that can accommodate PVC pipe. The hubs come with either 4, 5, or 6 spokes depending on where they will end up in the dome.

Natural Frequency Dome Hub, 6 Spokes

After I purchased the hubs, my next task was to cut up the PVC pipe in the appropriate lengths. This proved a pain for several reasons. PVC pipe typically comes in either ‘Schedule 40’ or ‘Schedule 80’ variety. Schedule 40 is most common. Schedule 80 is a grey color, and is more sturdy. I decided on Schedule 80, aiming to improve structural integrity. Schedule 80 is pretty uncommon, and I had to go to a pipe specialist yard here in Austin. Unfortunately, they sell the pipe in 20 ft segments, which would not fit into any vehicle I had. I purchased a $120 hand operated ratcheting 2″ PVC pipe cutting tool. I purchased 380 ft of PVC pipe (19 pipes), and cut them into 10 ft segments before loading into my vehicle. Unfortunately, I initially pushed the pipe in too hard and cracked the windshield of the Zipcar I was using. Then I went back with a much bigger truck…

20 ft Schedule 80 PVC Pipe

hand operated ratcheting 2 inch PVC pipe cutting tool

Once I got all the pipe moved to our storage unit, the hard part started. The 38 pipe segments had to be turned into 30 57.5625″, and 35 50.25″ pieces. That turns out to be a total of 84 cuts using the PVC pipe cutter, and now I have forearms of steel. I ended up doing it over a few weekend days, as it was too much to do at once.

Even Gotham was getting bored

Even our dog Gotham was getting pretty bored with this task… Eventually it was finished though, and now the PVC pipe pieces stand in my storage unit, waiting to be assembled into a dome.

Completed struts

Stay tuned for upcoming posts. After I ensure that the dome can actually be put together and will work, I’ll be posting about a dome cover and the work involved with getting the dome to the playa.

Apparently Mt Gox Has Been Hacked Again…By People Trying To Find Out What Happened

Right now in ##mtgox-chat someone named nanashi____ claims to be speaking for a group of hackers who have gotten into Mt Gox in an attempt to figure out what happened. Nanashi says they have a DB dump and are looking at what to do with it. Nanashi gave these links:

A conversation in Japanese with Karpeles and a Banker
Some Mt Gox Code

Nanashi also posted personal information on those employed by Mt Gox including phone numbers and addresses. Nanashi says the group plans on releasing more info. Nanashi also said the group plans on not releasing the huge store of passport scans they found… Hopefully this group has the public’s best interests at heart.

UPDATE: Here is a link to the (quite long) conversation involving Nanashi

Just Called Mt Gox

I just called the support number on Mt Gox’s website. After a 15 minute wait on hold I got through to a very friendly woman who was just barely capable of speaking English. She took down my name (not sure why). I asked her if I would get my money back and she said that no one was sure. Then I asked what is going to happen, like, whats the plan? Whats coming next? She said she couldn’t comment on individual accounts, but that an announcement would be appearing on in 2 hours. (That would be 9PM Pacific March 2nd).

I’m a little worried there may have been something lost in translation (at first I thought she was telling me it takes 2 hours to update’s homepage). However I pushed for clarification and she said it again that there would be more info on in 2 hours. Hopefully it will be some positive news about BTC I intended to use to pay off my student loans…

Fun with a Quadrocopter

I recently purchased the Syma X1 from Amazon, a $35 quadrocopter with great reviews. I also got an $8 keychain camera which is light enough to strap to the X1. I just used packing tape. Overall I was very impressed with the X1. After learning how to fly it properly, it felt very responsive.

I even felt comfortable enough flying it to take it up to the roof on a windy day. I’m still not very skilled flying it, but I got some fun video. The X1 also does flips, which you’ll see in the video.

If you end up getting an X1, you should know that it resets its gyro sensor apparently as soon as the battery is plugged in. So be sure to have it level when you plug the battery in, or else the X1 will think gravity is where gravity is not, and not balance well.

Thoughts on SF After Six Months

Tl;dr: it’s good, not great.

I moved to San Francisco in June from RTP, North Carolina to start a new job as a software developer. I moved with hopes of one day being financially successful enough that I could pursue my personal interests daily for years at a time, without needing to work. These are the things which stand out to me after being here six months:

It’s unbelievably dirty here. My coworker introduced me to a sad game called “Guess the Animal” for the droppings left on the sidewalk. That such a game exists is sad, that I have many opportunities to play daily is gross. Not to mention the drug needles I’ve seen on sidewalks, the countless mattresses, clothes, spilled oil, and people who haven’t showered in weeks. All of this, along with the cracked and uneven sidewalks, make drifting into post-apocalyptic fantasies easy on the walk to work.

The services here are amazing. Uber, Zipcar, Google Shopping Express, Amazon Fresh, and TalkTo are amazing services that have changed the way I live. Living in a test market for services often means first access, and free access! Even my doctor’s office has a very useful website and iPhone app.

Everyone seems strangely comfortable with their financial situation. Or, they aren’t doing much about it. I expected everyone to have side gigs, passive income, personal product launches, etc. Talking Bitcoin prospecting with folks falls flat. No one seems to care how high the taxes are. I’ve met a couple people who are interested in making money, but, they are the extreme minority. The only segment of people who don’t fit this description are the people who already have lots of money – VCs and execs.

Acquaintances are easy, but I have no idea how to make friends in a new city. I’ve met hundreds of people, but keeping up a relationship when you don’t implicitly see each other regularly seems impossible. Outside of coworkers and room mates, the best avenue for regular contact I’ve seen is the gym. Other options are dinners or weekend outings. These are tough because they must always be planned, and I rarely feel like going out after work with someone to have surface level conversations. I doubt few others enjoy that either. I am toying around with the idea of no longer participating in surface level conversations and only bringing up topics with people as if we’ve been friends for years. Undecided on that currently. However, the lack of meaningful conversations is really beginning to bother me. It’s also very difficult to balance evenings which I want to spend building things which will make me money, with evenings which can be spent socializing.

I am in a much bigger pond. The general tide of technical ability is higher than in RTP, not surprisingly. What I didn’t account for is the unnerving effects this would have on me. From self doubt, to impostor syndrome, to anxiety. I need to get over this, as stress effects can compound…but realizing the effects compound makes things worse! On the other hand, being in a much bigger pond does mean learning a lot more. If/When I decide to leave, I’ll be much more capable than if I had not come to SF.

Noise. I may be biased by my early rising, high-heel-wearing, foot-stomping, throw-up-every-morning (seriously), upstairs neighbor…but the noise of the city is enough to drive someone crazy. Aside from my neighbors there is the Mexican food truck which plays La Cucaracha every day at 12:26, the emergency vehicles with their freakishly bassy sirens, the endless road construction, or people regularly shouting on the sidewalk. I’m really looking forward to trying somewhere else in the city. Somewhere up high, away from the noise of the street level.

Beautiful places are very close. The coastline is like nothing I’ve ever seen before – cliffs right next to the ocean. Napa is an enjoyable hour ride away. The Embarcadero in SF has some great views. Golden Gate Park is beautiful. Twin Peaks, Dolores Park, and many other places around the city all have some beautiful views. Tahoe is close enough to drive. The city is in an impeccable location.

The government must be terrible. Taxes are very high. Services are terrible (particularly bus). The city is gross. There are so many homeless people. I almost never see police. (Want to clean up areas of the city? Put a cop on every block!) New housing is not being allowed, rents are skyrocketing. After re-reading this list, it seems as if the city is falling apart…and, for now, it presses on.

Overall, living in SF is not as easy as living in NC. Some things, like being in a bigger pond, are difficult and will cause personal growth. Some things, like rent and the dirtiness, are unnecessarily difficult. Some things, like making friends, are just facts of life. SF is, however, the most likely place where I can achieve my original goal of being financially successful enough that I could pursue my personal interests daily. So, thats where I’ll be for a while, until I see somewhere better or my goals change.

Generous Behavior

I’ve often wondered if there are general characteristics of people that lead to success. However, that question requires a definition of success, which I think is hard to fully encompass. There is financial success, there is personal satisfaction/happiness success, there is enduring success (like Newton). Given that success is so hard to define, I decided to reframe the question: what are general characteristics of people I respect, or people I think “have it made” in one way or another?

When I lived in Key West I was lucky enough to attend many dinner parties. The people at these dinner parties were the most gracious people I think I’ve ever met. Aside from ensuring everyone was well fed and seated comfortably, the attendees would work to ensure no one felt left out of the conversation. The attendees would ensure that whoever was speaking was able to express the idea they were trying to communicate, and help if need be. I remember watching these things unfold and couldn’t help but wonder if there was a connection between these people’s concern for others, and their personal financial and happiness success.

Key West dinner parties are one isolated example, except, the evidence mounted when I began looking at my work history. At previous jobs I had coworkers who were extremely friendly and helpful. They’d go out of their way, even drop the project they were on, to go and assist others. Much like the people in Key West, they worked hard to make sure other people were comfortable. Interestingly, these people who had so much concern for other people also seemed the happiest of my coworkers. They had achieved happiness success, and because they were so well respected on the team, they had achieved financial security success.

It still wasn’t clear to me what was going on, so, I looked for other instances of this hard-to-define phenomenon in my life. As a freshman and sophomore in college, I lived next to some folks who (I think) considered themselves hippies. These people didn’t have much physical wealth, however, one was getting a PhD in computer science, his girlfriend was an amazing acrobat, and all of their likeminded friends were all very unique. It was easy to see that they had more than achieved happiness success.

In each case, the individuals were so endearing that I couldn’t help but feel a willingness to return the favor. However, they are so kind I know they wouldn’t ask for things that would be a significant strain on me.

And that is where the magic happens. Let me explain…

It seems nasty to quantify friendship, but lets do it any way. Lets say the kindness of these people is worth 1000 “friend points” to me. After all, being introduced to new people, having a work problem solved for me, or just having a nice weekend is valuable to me. I am now 1000 points richer, but I am indebted to them 1000 points. Well, next time they have a problem in one of my areas of specialty they know they can come to me. In Key West I was always doing computer repairs. For people who don’t know about computers, computer repairs are worth at least 1000 points. However, to me, computer repairs are easy and maybe only cost me 400 points.

So what we have done is created wealth, out of thin air. The 1000 points I originally received was easy for them, costing them 200 points. In return I was willing to spend 1000 points before I felt like things were unfair. However, from their point of view I have given them back 1000 points. In the end I view myself as 600 points richer, and they view themselves 800 points richer. We have created that which did not previously exist, much to Newton’s befuddlement.

There are some considerations I wanted to mention… First, one must be able to give in order to have an ongoing relationship where one receives. This implies that one must work hard in order to be valuable to other people. This also implies that one must be able to understand other people in order to understand what it is that would help them. It also implies one is not going to be able to be friends with all people unless he or she has got something that all people find valuable.

One of the things people value most is time. Finding a balance between enriching yourself so that you are more valuable, while simultaneously engaging in relationship building is difficult.

To answer my original question about general characteristics of people I respect, it seems the answer is that they all have specializations/strengths different from me, and are wiling to share that with me. In the end, it really is all about giving yourself to people.


There are relationships between this model of “friend points” and economic success. Think of the value of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, etc have to offer and their financial success.

The Beatles said “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” I have no idea how they knew so much…

Specificity and perfectionism can make for an awkward speaker

Recently I heard someone give advice that when speaking you should sound confident because when people are listening to you, they listen to how you sound more than what you say. Its interesting advice that I think may be true, particularly in cases where people don’t know exactly what you’re talking about. I think we’re very emotional creatures and when we use our voice, we can arose emotions in others. Those emotions can then influence – so the best speaker is also the best artist.

My friends and I have developed a habit of speaking slowly, with pauses that allow us to direct our words carefully. We are very competitive and will argue a point ad nauseam until truth is identified. We also communicate through digital formats which allow us to choose our words slowly and deliberately. All of these things reenforce a habit of speaking slowly, speaking without passion, and not being able to string together emotions in a convincing way while speaking.

Its a habit thats tough to break. There is a constant fact checker mechanism running in your head when you speak which takes up processing power that could otherwise be used to be more like Bill Clinton – awesome at speaking to crowds.

Another thing I’ve noticed is there are words I resort to that are essentially safety words which protect my statements against future attack, but also make my message weaker. These are words like “perhaps”, “some”, and “chance.” They offer a comfortable shade of grey to my arguments but when comparing these two statements: “Perhaps there is a chance we are doing the wrong thing?” and “We are doing the wrong thing.”, its clear which has more emotion, more power.

The delicateness and backtracking that a perfectionist may be tempted to use can also make speaking awkward. I enjoy watching the Apple executives mix up words in a sentence, or mispronounce a word, and just plow right through it like nothing happened. Its the right thing to do – everyone still understands what they meant. However, imagine someone who is really concerned with extreme perfectionism correcting themselves, rewording their phrases, and correcting when they say a word incorrectly. Its hard to keep up with, and it breaks their rhythm – suddenly their speech is not as effective.

Its interesting to me how similar speaking and music are when it comes to emotion. Both have rhythm, both use tone, both often have a message or meaning. Hopefully I’ll be capable of moving people with words as much as some music moves me.

Why do we communicate?

I’ve developed a fundamental model of what an individual is, though, my model tends towards an optimal individual and is not necessarily geared towards explaining humans as they currently are. Like most ideas that try to explain the mind, its not perfect, but it does provide some tools for understanding and roll the ball closer towards truth. Part of this model is understanding why one optimal individual (OI) would ever communicate with another OI. The conclusion I’ve come to is that these OIs would communicate to influence other OIs, and since an OI is defined by an individual with goals it aims to achieve, the communication would be an attempt to further its own goals. So then the question becomes: why would one OI assist another OI in furthering its goals? This stumped me for a bit, but OI1 would help OI2 because OI1 expects OI2 to assist OI1 with OI1’s goals in the future.

Pretty interesting, since this is what a lot of society is based on – particularly more formalized parts of society like government and business. This doesn’t explain everything about why we people communicate, though. I also don’t think people regularly calculate “Oh I should help this person so I can use them in the future.” Sometimes the cost of communicating is so low that even if the communication recipient doesn’t further our future goals, we receive benefit in other ways. We may feel good about ourselves for helping, or we may gain status in a community by advertising that we are a friendly person, we may ourselves feel better just by talking, and there are probably other peripheral benefits achievable.

Theres another form of communication which isn’t made clear by understanding communication in this model: communication with no intended recipient. Going again to the Moody Blues, they have a lyric “Letters I’ve written, never meaning to send”. I think in this case, he’s using communication to reason something out – to explain it to himself. Another example of communication without an intended recipient may be this blog. Apparently people read it, but, I’m really just writing this for myself. I was already writing these sorts of things in notebooks (or not at all), and I thought I should put them online to increase my probability of luck (plus I get to imagine someone might one day answer the questions I drop in the posts from time to time). Its a bit like shouting “Hello!” into a big dark cavern – there isn’t an intended recipient per se, but the message may be received. (The potential outcomes seem similar too: either I could find help, or, an angry tribe of cannibals could come tear me to pieces!)

The question captured in the title of this post is something I’m still trying to unravel. I think I’ve done a decent job at capturing most of the impetus for communication, particularly in the OI model, and also have a reasonable handle on why humans communicate. I’d be curious to hear if there are other types of communication that are not represented by what I’ve described so far. I’ll need to eventually describe more about what an OI is, but thats a really really big topic that I’m slowly putting together material for a video on.

Apparently I may hear the world differently from other people

You may not know I take singing lessons, and one of the things I’ve been struggling with is starting out a note spot-on.  Typically what I do instead is sort of slur or bend onto the note from my starting pitch.  Katherine, my instructor, kept telling me things would be much better if I could nail the note from the get go – and I told her that I think part of the problem was that I was imitating the sound the piano makes.  She had no idea what I meant, of course.  Piano keys only make one note, right?  Not quite.  If you’ve never read about Overtones, you may find them interesting. On a piano, the key you strike produces a frequency called the fundamental frequency, however, it also produces many other frequencies called overtones. The when you want to talk about the overtones and the fundamental frequency together, you call them partials.

To examine this further I made a recording of Katherine’s piano. I struck a variety of notes one at a time and saved them for later analysis. I then played back the recording and attempted to vocally recreate precisely what I heard, perhaps with some exaggeration. I then took those recordings and loaded them into a software called Praat. I used Praat in several linguistics classes and find its great for analysis, plus, I was already comfortable with it.


This is a screenshot of the analysis of one of the notes I recorded. The red dots are a trace of what Praat identifies as the formants, which are (as far as I can tell), the word linguists use which can be considered roughly analogous to musical partials. The fundamental frequency is the lowest line of red dots. See how it bends at the beginning?


Now take a look at the analysis of my imitation of what I hear when a piano note is played. This time its my voice, not a piano, so the picture looks different. What I’m interested in, though, is the shape thats formed of the pitch line – the blue line.


Seems similar? To me it does (especially when taking into account how well I feel like I can mimic the sound I hear). Whats interesting is that before I started this activity I suspected that volume was influencing my perception of pitch, as there has been shown to be a correlation between those two. In this investigation I just happened to notice this other correlation because I was playing with all of the Praat settings and luckily realized the similarity – I did nearly miss it.

So what does it all mean? “Not sure” is the best answer. I haven’t confidently nailed down what is going on, this is just a lead to me so far. (Unfortunately a lead that won’t get pursued until I figure out how to not require sleep or how to not die.) It also doesn’t seem to have many practical effects, except that it may be related to why I seem to like music more than most other people I know. It also means that I should probably practice singing with a pure sine wave generator. Check out the Praat analysis on one of those:


Being critical of other people is often just a display of unawareness

When I was young, my dad would get very angry at other drivers.  He was constantly in a rush, so anything which hindered him from getting to his destination was a minor catastrophe – and it was always the other driver’s fault.  After watching this, I began to realize that the other cars were just behaving like normal drivers, and couldn’t have accounted for my dad, the unusually speedy driver.

I think thats what influenced me to trust that other people made sense – and that if someone does something that doesn’t agree with what I know or would want, its because their history is causing them to do so.  I think individuals are very explainable – our own stories make sense when heard in full.  So when someone wears clothes I think look ridiculous, I can draw the conclusion that its their background causing them to wear those clothes.  You might say “Shouldn’t they know those clothes make people think X, Y, and Z?”  Perhaps they do know that, or perhaps they don’t understand that clothes give people impressions, or perhaps they can’t afford something else, or perhaps a million other things…  The end result doesn’t change the fact that they are wearing those clothes, and they’re probably doing the best they can.

Trusting that people are doing the best they can is another interesting idea.  People who are labeled as lazy are often doubted to be doing “the best they can.”  However, when you look at what causes laziness, its not so clear if its truly their fault.  Fat people are often thought of as lazy.  If they’re fat, its typically because they have poor nutrition.  Do we expect someone with poor nutrition to be anything other than lazy?  So then, why don’t they improve their nutrition – surely they know poor nutrition is bad?  Maybe they use eating as a coping mechanism for something else going wrong in their life, maybe they don’t have enough time or money to eat better, or maybe they are really unaware of the differences being healthy could have for them (probably because they don’t have any role models to see what it would be like).  This is part of why I like Waypoint because it makes it clear how to improve yourself, and what the benefits will be.

I sometimes wonder how blame, or condescension, or judgement works at all.  Unless the rules are made explicitly clear to people, and people feel they have security to express when they are compelled to break the rules – so long as people are willing to change their ways, then I don’t see why long term evaluations of a person should be formed.  To be clear, I think some rules are explicitly understood: don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t physically harm others are all rules everyone should be held accountable for if they break.  However, rules like what you should wear, how you should speak, what your interests are, and what you believe in should all be breakable without judgement.  (However, repeatedly performing suboptimal activities after having been properly informed of their negative consequences is something that may permit judgement.  It certainly requires individuals to be capable of fully expressing themselves in both directions.)

The reason I’ve been thinking of this is because its easy to get caught up in being critical.  Sometimes its funny, sometimes its self-affirming, sometimes its just lashing out…but it always comes from a place of being unable to understand someone else’s situation.  So then, to me, its a challenge to never be critical – because the better alternative is to know the other side, and then to inform.  The Moody Blues have a great set of lyrics on this topic:

And he thought of those he angered,
For he was not a violent man,
And he thought of those he hurt
For he was not a cruel man
And he thought of those he frightened
For he was not a evil man,

And he understood.
He understood himself.
Upon this
He saw that when he was of anger
Or knew hurt
Or felt fear,
It was because he was not understanding.
And he learned, compassion.

And with his eye of compassion
He saw his enemies
Like unto himself,
And he learned love.
Then, he was answered.