Category Archives: Not Design

Reading #61: The Inquisition, Vikings, and Cossacks

I’m skipping twenty or so books I’ve failed to write about in a timely manner in favor of some more recent ones.

London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets London Under by Peter Ackroyd

I love London, history, underground things, and spooky things–therefore this was a pleasure to read. It’s not a linear history or narrative, more a series of vignettes focusing on different underground aspects of London (sewers, wells, lost rivers, Roman ruins, the Underground itself). I could fault it for its glancing and non-specific references to things I then had to look up elsewhere (like the Roman bath-house in the basement of a Thames-side office building) but I enjoyed the looking up as well. The next time I visit London I’ll try to find some of the hidden sights–the Clerk’s well at Clerkenwell, the spots where you can hear the underground rivers flowing, and the section of Roman wall in the middle of a car park.

The CossacksThe Cossacks – Leo Tolstoy

The preschool my kids attend has a fundraising auction every year. This year one of the things up for auction was a large set of Russian books (in translation) along with a bottle of vodka. I’d only read two of the set before and was unable to resist bidding. So … now I’m committed to reading all of them. Easing my way in, I started with an early and short Tolstoy novel, The Cossacks.

It’s a little odd to be reading it when Cossacks are actually in the news, but it’s a fine romance–more romantic toward the place and the people Tolstoy and his wealthy Moscow hero encounter than a woman, though there is a woman. Read it when you’re in the woods.

 The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at The End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

Short, sweet, creepy, and a little brutal. All very history / memory / loss / childhood (and creepy things) and so very like The Graveyard Book or Coraline, except for adults.


God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern WorldGod’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World – Cullen Murphy

Quick summary: The Inquisition–Cullen Murphy’s not a fan. It’s a very opinionated history. On the other hand, the various Inquisitions were pretty nasty, and don’t have a lot of defenders. Murphy does a nice job of laying out the different Inquisitions that have existed and their interrelationships (something I was totally unclear on before reading this).

Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths

Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths – Nancy Marie Brown

Two books in one. One is a history of Snorri Struluson, author of the Prose Edda and ultimate source for a large majority of everything we know about Norse legend. Sadly, I found this (the majority of the book) pretty dry, even as I understood it shouldn’t be–Snorri is a central figure in Icelandic history even apart from the Edda. It shouldn’t have been dull, but it was. The other part of the books talks about the process through which the sagas (Snorri’s and others) found their way into other histories, art, literature, right on up to Wagner, Tolkien, and the Marvel Comics version of Thor. That part was well done and fascinating.

I do love that 700+ years after he dies you can go visit his hot tub, though.

Also read:
A Crown of Renewal by Elizabeth Moon
Satisfying final chapter of a fantasy series that dragged on a bit long.

Fifteen years in San Francisco

Postcard from San Francisco, with cable cars
My grandfather sent me this postcard from San Francisco in 1981.

Fifteen years ago today I arrived in San Francisco. Not for the first time–I’d been here once as a kid on summer vacation–but this time I intended to stay, at least for a little while. The plan (such as it was) was to get some sort of a job, attach myself somehow to Internet culture (as conveyed by Mondo 2000), and maybe go to this new graduate program I’d heard about from my Anthropology professor, who had it turn heard about from Esther Dyson’s Release 1.0 newsletter. It was going to be extremelycyber.

My plan arrived in the evening, and I was whisked into the city and to my room in a rickety South of Market Victorian rented by a friend who had arrived only a few months earlier (thus saving me the trauma of the early Internet bubble apartment hunt).

The next day I sent this email to the woman who I had not yet figured out I was going to marry. When I tell this story to my grandchildren, I’ll need to explain to them about Internet cafes.

Got here late last night. Wandering around all morning. House is lovely, neighborhood is questionable.

Other than being dazed, confused, unemployed, alone, and feeling so far out of my depth it’s not even funny, I’m doing fine. :)

Fifteen years later, the neighborhood is still questionable, but a room in that lovely Victorian will cost you $300 a night. I did eventually go to grad school. I did become involved in Internet culture, although not in the way I expected. I now live on the far west side of the same city with my wife and our two children, who were born and are being raised in this city.

My life shifted the night I first arrived here. Fifteen years later I’m still living that shift. I’m not alone, I’m only a little dazed and confused, but I’m still completely out of my depth, and I’m still doing fine.

Stamen design & why my commute used to suck


First, go look at this Stamen Design project. Here's how they describe it:

Historically, workers have lived in residential suburbs while commuting to work in the city. For Silicon Valley, however, the situation is reversed: many of the largest technology companies are based in suburbs, but look to recruit younger knowledge workers who are more likely to dwell in the city.

An alternate transportation network of private buses—fully equipped with wifi—thus threads daily through San Francisco, picking up workers at unmarked bus stops(though many coexist in digital space), carrying them southward via the commuter lanes of the 101 and 280 freeways, and eventually delivers them to their campuses. 

It's a pretty neat project. I have a few questions in response, and one big reaction.

The questions:

  1. How similar or different would this look if other industries were represented? I know that Genentech has shuttles. Beyond tech, are there other industries moving their workers around l like this? If you did an equivalent map of construction job sites and the day worker centers (formal and informal) where workers hop on trucks for a days pay, how different would the streams be?
  2. Private bus systems are interesting. The biggest factor here is public transportation not cutting it for these workers and these routes–but do the big tech companies really want their workers sitting next to workers from other companies anyway? I know from the Y! shuttle that the commute was culturally considered part of the workday in ways time on public transport usually isn't.

My main reaction, though, was more visceral. I took one of these shuttles while working at Yahoo for two years–starting at one of the 19th Avenue stops. It seemed like a good idea at the time: I'd been doing car commutes previously, some of them pretty long, so a shuttle ride seemed like a great deal. It took me two years to figure out that the problem was the commute, not the car.

(You know your commute is killing you, right? It causes physiological damage, increases stress, decreases happiness, and harms your relationships. Transit commutes, public or private, are probably better than driving yourself, but commutes of over one hour are going to be a bad deal no matter what.) 

I might have been fine if I'd lived in the Mission and worked at the closer of Yahoo's then-multiple campuses, but as it was I spent 15-20 hours a week in a van each week. Not good, and worse: as my first child became a toddler and started sleeping through the night, I started going two or three days in a row without seeing her awake. That was completely unacceptable. I needed to either move south or move my job north.

I did the latter–joined a startup in the city. That brought my commute down to less than an hour, and more, I could bike it in good weather (and once I got over my fears of bike commuting in the city). Of course then my startup was acquired and I ended up driving to the Peninsula again for a while. But my goal had been formed–work near my home, here in San Francisco, in the Outer Sunset, near Ocean Beach, on the Western edge of the world. Where my children go to school, and where I can get a damn good cup of coffee with toast and a coconut. And that's what I'm doing now.

Looking back at Stamen's map, I see that not only are there no stops shown for the western 1/4 of the city–the private shuttles don't even cut through here on the way to somewhere else. That may change–I know more than a few folks out here who work in the Valley, but wanted to raise their kids in the city. But for now, they're almost separate worlds. And as much as I love the Silicon Valley tech world (and as much as I intend to continue working within it), that seems appropriate.  

A life lesson, or, what is seen cannot be unseen.


It was a lesson I should already have learned. I had learned it.

Many years ago, as a teenager growing up in Washington D.C., I worked a summer job at Reiter's Books on K Street. Reiter's was and remains one of the finest science & technology bookstores in the world. It was a great job, as long as I was allowed to avoid working the register (I was terrified of ringing up someone incorrectly) and avoid answering the phones (I was phone-phobic to a paralyzing degree).[1]  I did odd jobs like sweeping and taking out the trash, but mostly I unpacked books and shelved them. 

I loved shelving. The backs of these books gave me windows into whole worlds of knowledge that were unknown to me, that I could envision someday being a master of. I developed strong opinions about whole fields based on the covers of their textbooks. Advanced math, as represented by the classic yellow Springer-Verlag books, was serious, imposing, monolithic, and impenetrable. Computers were a muddle of garish covers and unlikely promises (learn C in 3 weeks!), but also contained a placid island of well-designed, nicely bound books that paired engravings of unusual animals with intriguing UNIX terms (sed! awk!). Those, I lingered over, though not as much as I lingered over the tall stacks of Edward Tufte books  (only three at that time) placed at the entrance to the store. The Tufte books I returned to again and again as I replenished the stacks, and could even occasionally understand.[2]

And then there was the back of the store, which was a whole different beast. It primarily served the George Washington University School of Medicine, and stocked most if not all of the core course material. There was never any question of my being interested in medicine, though I flipped through the textbooks as frequently as any other. I didn't like shelving that section, though, for two reasons:

  1. Medical reference books are really, really heavy.
  2. Illustrated textbooks of skin diseases.

This was in 1991 or so, before the World Wide Web. Full-color illustrations of horrifying medical conditions and procedures were not mere clicks away, as they are now. There were no trolls gleefully linking to eye-bleeding visual experiences in innocent disguise just for laughs. There was no reason to see a closeup of some terrifying pustule unless you were a medical professional, or actually had it on your body. Or you were shelving books in the medical section.

I'm not actually that squeamish, but I do remember vividly the experience of idly flipping open one of these books and wincing at what I saw. (And looking again, and wincing, and looking again … I was 16.)

So you would think I would have learned.

Fast-forward 20 years. I'm about to undergo a fairly minor outpatient surgical procedure. The surgeon tells me that the procedure is a fairly new one for this condition, but that his own experiences and some solid studies hadve confirmed its effectiveness. Now, everyone handles these sorts of things differently: some people might pepper the doctor with questions, others might just take his word for it, still others might get a second opinion. Me? I read the study.

I am emphatically not a medical professional, or anything like, but I have the basic "evaluate a study" skills that to some extend go across disciplines. Who were the authors, what was the method, how many subjects, does the conclusion seem to follow from the results, that sort of thing. I don't really expect to find anything when I do this, it's largely a way of both educating and reassuring myself. And as far as those things go, everything looked perfectly fine. But (I was to discover), studies covering surgical methods tend to include one extra thing I wasn't expecting.

Step-by-step pictures of the surgical operation itself.  


In vivid color.

I should already have learned.

[1] I got over the phone thing, eventually. The register thing too, somewhat

[2] An observer could have predicted my non-humanities academic path by noticing my early bookstore preferences: a brief foray into math, a longer but incomplete journey through computer science, a final landing in the world design.

What I’m thinking about this week


  1. Boots! In January 1996, I was in London briefly, following a semester at Glasgow University. I bought a pair of Dr. Marten’s boots from the flagship store in . They were a sort of wingtip half boot, and I loved them. That’s them up on the right there. I’ve owned various boots over the years, and these were worn more and over a longer period of time than any others. Only a pair of boots acquired from Stompers in the 90s came close. The latter have been relegated to “garden use only” for a while now, and the Docs are just thrashed. Neither model is still made (though there are some things that come close). So last week, we went over to the Haight St. and I picked up a pair of Langstons in burgundy. And I’m in love all over again …
  2. Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix. Despite being married to someone who knows a great deal about art history, I basically knew nothing about this painting or the painter (though I knew the image). I listen to the wonderful In Our Time BBC podcasts, so I got a thorough introduction from Melvyn Bragg’s usual group of slightly dotty British academics. 
  3. The history of finance, and investment theory. Not my usual area, but I’m being guided by Adam Nash’s personal finance reading list and working my way through one by one. 
  4. Visual (and to some extent audio) design in classic science-fiction movies. (And one newer one.) The ones with the white palettes, san serif typefaces and shininess.  Think 2001 and Saturn 3.  Also Tron Legacy, but the shiny white bits rather than the glowy black bits. Plus sinister computer voices like Hal and GladOS from Portal. The fun part is this relates to the previous item (at least in my head).
  5. How most of the important developments & conflicts in online identity & authentication were predicted (sort of ) by Max Headroom
  6. Occupy Wall Street. There’s a lot to think about, but this post pointing out how strangely some of the OWS dynamic echoes Bruce Sterling’s 1998 book Distractions I had to reread it. Sterling has a knack for predicting future socio-political events in ways SF doesn’t usually quite do (see: drone assassinations in Islands in the Net). Distractions isn’t nearly as good a book as Islands in the Net, but it has it’s moments, and it certainly resonates today:

    “Why are there millions of nomads now? They don’t have jobs, man! You don’t care about ‘em! You don’t have any use for ‘em! You can’tmake any use for them! They’re just not necessary to you. Not at all. Okay? So, you’re not necessary to them, either. Okay? They got real tired of waiting for you to give them a life. So now, they just make their own life by themselves, out of stuff they find lying around. You think the government cares? The government can’t even pay their own Air Force.”

    “A country that was better organized would have a decent role for all its citizens.”

    “Man, that’s the creepy part — they’re a lot better organized than the government is. Organization is the only thing they’ve got! They don’t have money or jobs or a place to live, but organization, they sure got plenty of that stuff.”

The secret origin of “log in”

We do it dozens of times a day, every day, but why do we call it logging in?

“Log in” is one of those phrases that sounds weirder the more you say it. It’s ubiquitous in online life, though it does seem like it’s being slowly overtaken by “sign in” [note 1]. But where does the phrase come from in the first place?

Clearly, a job for the Oxford English Dictionary. Luckily you can usually access the online OED through your local public library site. Thanks, libraries!

Representative terminal, not actually a CTSS terminal, CC LevitateMe

The OED’s earliest listed usage of “log in” in the modern sense of “to open one’s on-line access to a computer” is from the 1963 publication Compatible Time-Sharing System from the MIT Computation Center. [2]  I’m not sure if this is truly the first usage of “log in”, but it would make sense if it was, as CTSS, started in 1961, was arguably the first time-sharing operating systems, and so possibly the first system that you needed to log in to. (Before that we only had batch processing systems).

Whether it was CTSS or a similar system, I envision an engineer, probably at MIT, somewhere between 1959 and 1961, needing to describe a new user command for the system they were creating.We get a lot of neologisms from these situations, and it’s very possible log in dates from just this moment in history.

CTSS Timeshare: A Programmer’s Guide, MIT press

It’s also possible that “log in” was used in a non-computer sense before time-share systems, but I haven’t seen it in print. But of course the “log” part, meaning to record something or someone, predates computers by hundreds of years.

Ship’s log CC David Churbuck

That usage is in turn a shortening from entering something into a “log-book”, or ship’s log, (or captain’s log, if you’re in Starfleet) which the OED defines as:

A book in which the particulars of a ship’s voyage (including her rate of progress as indicated by the log) are entered daily from the log-board.

The first listed usage of log-book or  logbook is from roughly 1689 ( J. Moore’s  New Syst. Math). By travelling back 250 years in time, we’ve gone from identifying ourselves within a computer system to entering the speed of a sailing ship into a book.

But why was it called a logbook? Because of this apparatus here, variously called a chip log, ship log, or log:

Chip log log line, & reel, CC Kate’s Photo Diary

A log! Or at least, a piece of heavy wood, attached to a knotted rope. Which you throw overboard and time how many knots go by for a set period of time, or, as Wikipedia describes it:

When the navigator wished to determine the speed of his vessel, a sailor dropped the log over the stern of the ship. The log would act as a drogue and remain roughly in place while the vessel moved away. The log-line was allowed to run out for a fixed period of time. The speed of the ship was indicated by the length of log-line passing over the stern during that time.

This is also why we still measure nautical speed in knots. So, when you next log in to Facebook or Gmail, think about big hunks of wood being thrown off the side of a ship to measure speed.

P.S. This was fun and entertaining for me to put together, but I’m sure there are holes and inaccuracies. If you know more about the origins of “log in”, please chime in with comments, and I’ll update accordingly!

Update 8/6/11: In a comment, Andrew Durdin points to some non-computer uses of “log in” from the 1950s. Awesome!

Note 1:  A couple of years ago I did a survey of top websites in the US and UK and whether they used “sign in”, “log in”, “login”, “log on”, or some other variant. The answer at the time seemed to be that if you combined “log in” and “login”, it exceeded “sign in”, but not by much. I’ve also noticed that the trend toward “sign in” is increasing, especially with the most popular services. Facebook seems to be a “log in” hold-out. Login_survey

If the whole “sign in” vs. log in” debate is interesting to you, there are some debates here and here. My personal feeling is that either is fine, but “sign in” is marginally more friendly and probably the preferred usage, though I’ll miss the nautical association. On the other hand, I feel strongly that “login” as a verb is an abomination and not to be tolerated under any circumstances.

If you’re really interested, you might start noticing where sites show their own evolutions and inconsistencies of usage. For example, Twitter’s web UI uses “sign in” but the URL says “login”. But now we’re probably reaching the outer limits of obsession and should stop.

Note 2. Here’s a PDF of a CTSS manual from 1964. There’s an underlined “log in” on page 6.
Interestingly, CTSS is also the system that gave us the first email system, as described by Errol Morris in his history of his brother’s role in the creation of that system. The Wikipedia history of CTSS is pretty fascinating stuff as well, and contains links to oral histories of the creation of CTSS and Multics (the precursor to Unix).




Moral panics & things that we know that aren’t so

Poison candy image CC by Robbi Baba:

I’ve been thinking about moral panics. A moral panic is “the intensity of feeling expressed in a population about an issue that appears to threaten the social order.”

There were a series of moral panics that I remember from my childhood and adolescence. In some ways the 1970s and 1980s seem like a golden age for moral panics (D&D is satanic! Rock lyrics are dirty!) but there were a set that seemed different, in part because they had more specific trigger incidents, and so seemed more concrete.

I’m thinking of:

  1. The Central Park jogger case, predator youth, and “wilding” (1989)
  2. Satanic ritual abuse, especially the McMartin preschool trial (1983)
  3. “Crack babies” (1980s)
  4. Poisoned Halloween candy (1970s and 1980s)

All of these were the subject of endless sentationalstic media coverage. All became linked to larger narratives of how terrible our society had become. All resulted in significant legal and societal changes aimed at combatting these terrible scourges (or punishing the perpetrators of the scourges). Wilding was used as justification for harsher sentencing for juvenile offenders. Ritual abuse led to background checks and fingerprinting for daycare workers. Women who used cocaine during their pregnancy had their children taken away or were prosectuted and jailed. And anyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s knows how much fear of poisoned candy was instilled in our parents, leading many of them to stay up late checking our candy (and throwing away the homemade brownies from the nice old lady down the street).

And of course all of these things basically didn’t happen. A confession and DNA evidence from another (adult) suspect led to the vacation of the convictions of the teenagers (most of whom had already seved their sentences) in the Central Park jogger case. In almost all cases of alleged daycare abuse worldwide, either charges have been dropped or convictions overturned. Babies born of mothers who did cocaine while pregnant are nowhere near as badly off as predicted. And Halloween candy? Only one case every found, and not from a stranger (the kid’s father poisoned his candy).

We’re still living with the results of these moral panics. While many (though not all) of the individuals wrongly charged have had their names cleared, the laws passed and social habits formed haven’t really gone away. In part that’s probably because lots of people don’t know these stories have been falsified (falsification is harder to sensationalize), but I suspect that even if most people did know, societal inertia makes it hard to change things that have been normalized, and now seem common sense.

These are (relatively) straightforward cases. The convicted youths did not attack the jogger. Cocaine is no more (and no less) harmful to fetuses than other drugs (and probably less than alcohol). While some sexual abuse of children has no doubt happened at a daycare center, there were no Satanic cults, and no epidemic of abuse. No one has ever died from poisoned Halloween candy from a stranger. Most moral panics are probably not falsifiable; they may be triggered by a real incident but lead to overreaction.

Also, not all moral panics are about evil criminals. The 1980s also saw a backlash against “frivolous lawsuits”, and the most talked about frivolous lawsuit of all is the famous McDonald’s coffee incident. Which also may not be how it was represented at the time.


How do you know that something’s a moral panic when it’s happening? I’m not sure. For me, it helps to think about the things that I used to know were true, that I now know aren’t.

Poison candy photo CC by Robbi Baba



San Francisco through other eyes

An indulgence: seeing my home, San Francisco, through other eyes. With music and video.

One. Mike Skinner visits briefly.


Two. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs bust out of the Warfield (presumably) and wander (with some magic geography jumps) through a rainy downtown.


The latter captures, perfectly, how magical this city can be, especially when it's damp and rainy and you're wandering downtown at night. (With your leather on.)




Bits and pieces from Empire of Liberty

I just finished Charles S. Wood's Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815. It's an awesome book, and since I don't think any American history from this period stuck in my head from school more than "blah blah XYZ affair blah blah Hamilton Burr duel blah War of 1812" I really needed to read it.

Three unrelated quotes struck me enough to preserve. The first is Madison's description of Jefferson, which I think could apply to half the genius geeks I know. (Or me, excepting the genius part.)

Madison knew his friend and knew that Jefferson's fanciful and exaggerated opinions were usually offset by his own very practical and cautious behavior. As Madison later remarked, Jefferson had a habit like "others of great genius of expressing in strong and round terms, impressions of the moment." Indeed, it was often the difference between Jefferson's impulsive opinions and his calculated behavior that led many critics to charge him with hypocrisy and inconsistency. (p. 150)

Expressing in strong and round terms, impressions of the moment. Awesome. I love that.

The next bit starts by relating the fad of calling things "mammoth" and ties it in to a subject that will be slightly familiar to West Wing fans, the Big Block of Cheese. (I say slightly familiar because this story relates to the Jefferson cheese, and the West Wing episode to the follow-up Andrew Jackson cheese.)

The most exciting scientific find of the period was Charles Wilson Peale's exhumation in 1801 near Newburgh, New York, of the bones of a mastadon, or mammoth. Peale displayed his mammoth inhis celebrated museum and in 1806 painted a marvelous picture of what was perhaps the first organized scientific exhumation in American history. Peale's discovery electrified the country and put the word "mammoth" on everybody's lips. A Philadelphia baker advertised the sale of "mammoth bread." In Washington a "mammoth eater" ate forty-two eggs in ten minutes.  And under the leadership of the Baptist preacher John Leland, the ladies of Cheshire, Massachusetts, late in 1801 sent to President Jefferson a "mammoth cheese," six foot in diameter and nearly two feet thick and weighing 1,230 pounds. The cheese was produced from the milk of nine hundred cows at a single milking, with no Federalist cows being allowed to participate. The president welcomed this gift from the heart of Federalism as "an ebullition of the passion of republicanism in a state where it has been under heavy persecution" (p. 393)

I do not know how the cows were checked for Federalism. Perhaps their stalls were checked for copies of the New York Post. (Did you know the New York Post was founded by Alexander Hamilton?)

I can also recommend A Big Cheese for the White House: The True Tale of a Tremendous Cheddar to folks with kids who'd like to learn more about this important cheese incident in our nation's history. It's a great book with awesome illustrations, and totally answers any practical questions you might have re: how you make a cheese that size and transport it.

Finally, a bit that tells us American politicians weren't always enemies of science:

When am American captain seized a British ship with some thirty volumes of medical lecture notes, Washington sent them back to England, saying the United States did not make war on science. (p. 544)

“Don’t blame me! I voted for blood.”

Bruce Sterling just posted this transcript of a talk he gave in 2009. I read in on my phone on the BART this afternoon, cackling to myself like a crazy person. There's a lot of good in here, but this bit:

Why are Gen-X goths? Why are they goths rather than hippies, beatniks? Why do they like to dress up like dead people? That’s their temperament.

When you’re a young goth, you dress up like a dead person because that’s something grownups do. Dying.

But if you’re an adult Gen-Xer and you’re dressed up as a goth, it’s like “Don’t blame me — because I’m already dead! I’m not morally responsible, I’m not a political actor, it’s not my fault, look, I’m a vampire. Don’t blame me! I voted for blood.” Or, whatever. It’s gothic.

Ow. That hits home. Followed by:

Okay, I want to offer you a general principle here. For a Gothic generation like yours, this is going to be painful for you. I mean, really a cognitive upset.

“Stop acting dead.”

Now, you think that acting dead is a virtue. Because you’ve been trained to behave as is if you were dead for a long time, and it actually appeals to your temperament as a generation. It’s your default position.

But you have to stop it. Because Hair shirt Green, which is most of the things that you had on your action list there, Hairshirt Green just changes the polarity of the twentieth century.

It’s just the opposite of consumer culture. It’s like Satanism for a consumer culture. And all Satanists are actually Christians. It’s not really a different way to live. And it’s not something that’s going to fulfil you.

Now, how do you know if you’re acting dead? Well, there’s a test for this. It’s the Great-Grandfather Principle.

You’re saying: I’m going to do something morally worthwhile that’ll make me feel proud of myself. But does your dead great-grandfather do a better job of it than you?

For instance, saving water. Okay, water is indestructible, first of all. You cannot possible damage water unless you turn it into hydrogen and oxygen. Then it just spontaneously recombines.

But you’re trying to save water, because you’re told to save water. All right, your dead great-grandfather is saving more water than you. You cannot possibly save any more water than a dead guy. He’s greener than you in that regard.

Saving electrical power. Okay, you should be using less power, power’s bad, you need a lower footprint. Okay, your grandfather is not using any electrical power.

He’s much greener than you, you cannot compete with that. If you move into a smaller apartment, your grandfather is in a very, very small apartment. It’s underground, there’s no lighting, there’s no heating, he doesn’t have any broadband.

Recycling, okay, recycling is useful in some ways. Your grandfather is literally being recycled. You can’t actually out-recycle your dead grandfather.

And furthermore, in a pretty short amount of time compared to the length of the problems you’re tackling, you’re going to be dead, like your grandfather.

You’ll be saving everything at that point. You might be alive 70, 80, 90 years. You’re going to be dead for hundreds of millions of years. Billions of years of saving water, billions of years of having a light carbon footprint. It was carbon sequestration. You’re full of carbon, they buried you.

So you need to do things that you can do while alive. Do things you can do while alive. If your grandfather’s doing a better job at it, you can put that aside for later, when you’re dead, like him.

I'm so happy that I'm going to see him speak at SXSW this year — the last time I went was one of the few years he didn't speak, and that seriously bummed me out.