I’m a little late in mentioning here that Jessica and I are moving to Denver after we return from Peru. The possibility first came up a few months ago, but we just signed a lease this weekend, so it’s fairly certain now. I also signed a contract this weekend, to become a web developer at the Integer Group. Astute readers will notice I am already a web developer at the Integer Group. I’m just moving from the Des Moines branch to the Denver branch.

I’m also moving from working remotely back to an actual office. For much of my life, my dream job was to work from home online. When Jessica found work in Illinois after searching for teaching work in Des Moines, I actually had the opportunity to work from home online. I was surprised to discover it wasn’t all I had hoped. It was certainly a luxury to be able to fold laundry while thinking about issues at work, but it was also somewhat of a burden to be thinking about issues at work while folding laundry.

And living in a small rural town didn’t help much either. I wasn’t especially excited about Denver itself until our visit this weekend, but now I am. There’s a lot more going on near our new place in the middle of Denver than our old place twenty minutes outside of Carbondale. I wasn’t really happy with working from Carbondale, and Jessica wasn’t really happy with working from Des Moines, so hopefully we can both be happy working from Denver.

My work transition is actually a bit more than just moving between two branches of the same company; my job will actually be changing slightly. For example, I’m currently one of three full time web developers in Des Moines, but I will be the only full time developer in Denver. The company is twice as large in Denver, so I’ll have a bit more responsibility. But I also won’t be doing any work for client websites as I do now, only making internal tools for the people at Integer.

So I still have two more weeks in Des Moines, helping to train my replacement, Dan. Then we have a week and a half in Peru for vacation (scheduled before Denver came up). Then I head out to Denver, with Jessica to follow shortly after. Hopefully I’ll be done moving and travelling for a while after that. It’s exhausting to be in a different city almost every week. But Denver was certainly worth the visit this weekend, and I have high hopes it will prove worth the move later this month.

 

As I was attempting to buy gas last week, I was somewhat startled to read this error message:

Invalid Loyalty

You may recall a few years back, the Defense Department had a Total Information Awareness plan to data-mine credit cards for suspicious activity. And the FBI had its own Carnivore program to survey online activity. Put these two programs together, and the government could shut off my credit card after discovering I didn’t support the war. INVALID LOYALTY.

Thankfully we’re not there quite yet. I was using a gas station affiliated with the local grocery store, and apaprently I pressed the wrong button to indicate I wanted to use my discount card to get a discount on gas (in exchange, apparently, for my loyalty). So when prompted to scan my card, I scanned my credit card. And the result was this, I think, funny error message: INVALID LOYALTY.

I was in a bit of a hurry on my way out of town, but I thought it was worth repeating the process to get a picture of the gas machine apparently questioning my patriotism.

 

A few weeks ago, I helped conduct two interviews for open web developer positions at my employer. I’ve written in the past about the unfortunate lack of diversity in my industry, so it’s a little embarrassing to admit that not only were both candidates white, male, and relatively the same age, they also had the same name, Dan. Oh, and they're both from the same city too. I don’t think we could have found more superficially similar candidates if we’d tried. I wasn’t really involved in the early hiring process, so I’m not sure if anything could have been done to cast a wider net in the search. Maybe there are just a lot of similar people looking for web developer jobs in central Iowa. Nonetheless, the irony is not lost on me.

But beyond the irony are some, I think, interesting and unique Dans. It’s true, they both added The Airbag Blog Advisory System to their blogs yesterday, but they did get different advisories. Interview number one was Dan Conner, whose advisory is currently "elevated", and who just this morning wrote about his interview process:

Ian and Scott remain in the conference room atop the Butler Mansion, watch on another MacBook connected via Remote Desktop (or whatever that is on a Mac) to the one I have, and break out some microwave popcorn for the show. it feels awkward at first. I giggle a bit with an uncomfortable but accepting feeling, and the awkwardness starts to recede.

For the record, I recall no microwave popcorn. But it was awkward (maybe popcorn would have helped), and I’m glad Dan was able to get past that and have some fun. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to accept the job offer, so I won’t be working with him. The second interview was Dan Hellerich, whose advisory is currently "asshat" (though I don’t see any rough language at all), and who posted yesterday about his move. His technical interview was equally awkward, but hopefully it was also somewhat fun. He accepted the job in any case, so I’ll be in Des Moines for the next month helping him become familiar with our projects before my trip to Peru.

I hope we can reduce the awkwardness factor in future interviews without reducing the fun. But overall, the interviews turned out well. We only ended up with one of the Dans we wanted, but that may turn out to be for the best. At least now we don’t need to come up with nicknames to differentiate. There’s still another opening for a web developer at my employer, if you know anyone who might be interested. The name Dan is entirely optional.

 

Playing Here is a website I’ve been working on in my spare time for a few months now. It’s still a little rough around the edges but I discovered earlier today that Yahoo is returning the site in search results (despite no links on the web yet), so I guess the cat’s out of the bag. The focus of the site is local music listings, and the core functionality for that is available in four delicious flavors: HTML, email, JavaScript include, and feeds. Here’s an example of a JavaScript include:

I have a long list of planned improvements, but I’d love to get some feedback on the site so far.

 

Recently I’ve read two apparently independent analogies between bite-size internet media and junk food. The first was Aaron Swartz, who founded and sold Reddit, a website offering bite-size internet media, for millions. Aaron self-critically wrote:

The same goes for reading stories on Reddit or your friends' pointless twits about their life. Looking at photos of sunsets or reading one-liners takes no cognitive effort. It's the mental equivalent of snack food. You start eating one and before you know it you've gone through two cans of Pringles and become a world expert on Evan Williams' travel habits.

The second analogist was Dave Rogers, who ironically likes to post photos of sunsets between repetitions of a one-liner Technology changes how we do things, it does not change what we do. Dave wrote:

But these online interactions are mostly shallow, almost two-dimensional projections of real interactions. That third, "physical" dimension includes some important features that we've evolved to help us get along with one another. But since the two-dimensional interactions can provide most of the same rewards, (With greater immediacy and convenience! Just like "fast food.") as "real" interactions, we invest too much time in this simulated reality of the network, consuming far too many "empty calories," and growing socially "flabby" and unhealthy.

As it happens, between my steady diet of junk-food short articles such as Aaron’s and Dave’s, I’m slowly (four months!) reading a book about the actual food half of this analogy, The Omnivore’s Dilemna. So I like this analogy, probably because it’s convenient for me. But I don’t care much for the conclusions Aaron and Dave draw from the analogy.

Specifically, Dave suggests we should all go outside more, and Aaron suggests we should read more books. These are both good things to do, but I don’t think the suggestions really help much more than saying “go vegetarian” helps improve our standard diet. All of these suggestions presume a consciousness to our decision-making that doesn’t often exist. One might argue that we need to live more consciously, and I wouldn’t disagree, but I still don’t think that would be especially helpful advice for a world awash in junk food.

Recognizing that most of our decisions are made out of habit, and also that it’s very difficult to change our habits in ways that conflict with the norms of society, I think a better solution is to change the norms of society such that our habits lead to better results. This is the solution I see working to solve the actual junk food problem.

Following this analogy, let’s assume we eat too much meat (we do) and we want to convince everyone to eat less meat. One strategy, notably that of PETA, is to change the way we all think about meat. Meat is murder, PETA says. This doesn’t really work, though, because we can consciously recognize that yes, animals probably suffer to some extent in the production of a hamburger, while still craving that hamburger. This problem with PETA’s strategy is humorously captured in the following image.

MEAT IS MURDER. Tasty, tasty murder.

Photo source unknown

The other, I think better, solution is veggie burgers. Veggie burgers work because they allow us to eat more healthy food without fundamentally changing the way we think about eating. I know this works because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to eat a vegetarian diet, as modern vegetarian food is almost indiscernable from actual meat. But the result is the same whether or not we are conscious of the change: lower meat consumption is a healthier diet.

Taking this back to the metaphorical junk food of a web-based snack-size media diet, I think we can best increase the depth of our media consumption subtly. If we can make ideas of more depth look and feel like the quicker stream of information to which we’ve become accustomed, we can benefit without needing to fundamentally alter our habits. Newspapers, for example, do this by breaking up a longer article into multiple pages. By the time you get to the bottom of a four paragraph article and realize it’s actually longer than four paragraphs, you’ve invested enough in the article that you continue to the next page. And the longer you read, the more you’re willing to continue. This way, a twelve page article can slowly suck in a reader who would avoid the same article simply out of habit if the length were immediately obvious.

So I agree with Aarom and Dave that we eat junk food and consume a media diet analogous to junk food because it’s easy. And we could fight against doing what’s easy, but we could also make it easier to do better. I think it’s tempting for those who are doing better to expect everyone else to follow suit. I think eating less meat is better, for example, but it wasn’t long after becoming vegetarian that I stopped expecting everyone else to eat less meat because it’s the right thing to do. I now expect everyone else to eat less meat because I’m making it easier.

I recognize the irony in suggesting that the best way to make people more thoughtful is to decrease the thought required to change. And I’m also not sure what the media equivalent of veggie burgers is. But I thought it worth mentioning nonetheless.