Monday, May 15, 2017

Random Thoughts IV

Learning the Japanese Anthem



It took a bit, but I finally memorized the Japanese anthem. I can sing it fairly well now.

Why did I bother to learn this? Have I gone full weeb? Well, maybe. I'm an immigrant. I live here now. I think knowing the anthem is the least I can do to show appreciation for my new home culture. I think it is actually a decent litmus test for immigrants and their level of assimilation.

The Denial of Identity

All human beings look to the sky and struggle with one basic existential question: Who am I? They answer this by looking inward and outward. They derive an identity. Our identity is a composite of our biology and environment. We get it from family, friends, neighbors, television - the wider culture. We also get it from those immutable unchosen characteristics - our sex, our ethnicity, our height, etc. These things matter. Being a man is fundamentally different from being a woman. Most black people would be offended at the suggestion that white people can fully understand what it is like to be a minority. Being black makes us different. Stand up comics, friends talking honestly among themselves, and individuals in their private moments all understand this. And it isn't a bad thing.

This is an area where I disagree with leftisim. The militant insistence that there are no differences between races, no differences between men and women - it takes something away from us. Healthy well-adjusted people learn to appreciate their identity. Most women I think are happy to be women, and appreciate men for the ways in which men are unique. Men I think often enjoy being around only men, but at the same time love femininity in women. Living in Japan has made me appreciate the ways in which Japanese people are unique. We've got to celebrate our differences.

It has become fashionable to complain about identity politics of late. So long as people seek an identity, identity politics are not going anywhere.

Are Transgender People Offensive?


I had a conversation with a conservative Chinese girl the other day and she expressed strong opposition to transgender women. She said that she found it offensive that a man could put on a wig and a dress and have equal standing with natural born women. "These men do not know what it is like to grow up as a girl. They never get a period. They can never get pregnant. They don't have our hormonal differences. All they do is mimic some female stereotypes. They degrade the concept of womanhood with their role-playing." I expressed a more agnostic view. While I think gender dysphoria is a real mental condition I am skeptical of surgical reassignment as a proper clinical response given the high suicide and depression rate among transgender people. Still I respect people's right to do as they wish with their bodies.

This girl then brought up Rachel Dolezal and asked me how I felt about white people claiming to be black after darkening their skin. "How would you feel about a white guy putting on baggy clothing, talking Ebonics, and acting stereotypically black and then claiming he is now a black man?" I thought about it and decided that yeah, that would actually be pretty offensive. It wouldn't matter if he had some weird brain condition that made him act that way. Being black is not about matching some stereotypes. Hell, I don't match most common black stereotypes at all, yet I am a black man and my being black is a fundamental component of my identity. A man who likes wearing dresses and acting feminine is still a man, just as a tomboy with short hair and a gun collection is still a woman. Again, I don't have any personal issues with transgenders, but I get why other women would not see them as "true" women.

That Poppy


I am becoming obsessed with this girl. What is her deal exactly? Her music is tolerable, but the weird "promo" videos she does on her main channel are hypnotic. There seems to be some subtle political and cultural commentary. For example Famous Politician and This Red Pill. Her "creator", Titanic Sinclair also has his own goofy channel. I really appreciate high concept art and just the commitment to a bit shown here. I'm genuinely captivated. Looking forward to see where they go with it.

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy 2


The Marvel formula is not complicated: 1. Lots of humor 2. Lots of snazzy special effects 3. Charismatic and sexy leading men. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Doctor Strange, and Guardians of the Galaxy have all successfully applied this template. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 continues the tradition with two hours of reddit-approved fluff. You get another disposable one-off villain. You get plenty of 80's references and music. You get an inoffensive story that (happily) isn't connected to all the other Marvel movie madness and basically leaves things in the same position as the start of the film. There are two legit awesome action scenes, a few solid one-liners, and a surprisingly powerful ending that will give you the feels for a brilliantly cast supporting character. Overall I enjoyed it. It's a simple movie that entertains without leaving much of an impression. It is the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy or a 90 second roller coaster ride.

Japan Hologram Girlfriend



Japanese men are apparently turning to virtual girlfriends more and more as the technology gets better. This new hologram girlfriend offers an interesting example. Many commenters call the men who use such things "pathetic," and lament that it will only reduce Japan's birthrate. The thing that struck me however, is just how little these artificial girlfriends actually do. They don't cook, they don't have sex, they don't earn money. All they do is greet you cheerfully in the morning and say nice things. To think that a man might actually buy such a thing and then conclude he now has no need for a wife or girlfriend. It shows just how little men actually want from women. Men are simple, self-sufficient creatures. Ladies, take this to heart: You don't need to be beautiful. You don't need to be a gourmet chef. You don't need a fancy job. You don't need to be a sex goddess. You don't need to be smart. All men want is that little bit of sugar - that little bit of feminine sweetness. Just smile, be cheerful and nice to a man, and he will happily serve you until the day he dies.

Neoteny and Japanese Women


Neoteny is the phenomena of adult organisms retaining characteristics from their childhood. Karen Straughan did a good video thoroughly covering the topic. (start at 12:11 for the key part) The fact that women are far more neotenous than men is extremely important. Neotenous features are perceived as more attractive by males and inspire an instinct to protect and provide. In general men are attracted to youth. This is why cosmetics for females are designed to make them look younger.

In Japan female neoteny is on another level. For one, Japanese women just tend to look much younger than they are. I have seen women in their 50's that would easily pass for late 20's. Furthermore, the whole concept of 'kawaii' is centered around a kind of childish innocence. It isn't just the schoolgirl fashion or makeup either. It is the behavior. The high voices, the childish mannerisms, the body language, the attitude toward sex - all of it creates this general cultural feeling of masculine = parent and feminine = child. I think a similar dynamic exists in most societies actually just because of how we have evolved as a species, however it is just hyper-emphasized in Japan. It can be very hard for westerners to adjust to this, particularly some of the lolita artwork you might see that appears to sexualize children. Excessive fetishization of neoteny leads to pedophilia.

A Movement Not a Club

I have seen a lot of silly Twitter arguments in both left and right wing communities lately that always seem to boil down to purity testing. People always want to have these different litmus tests to decide if you are a proper right-minded progressive or conservative. On some fundamental issues I think this is fair, but it is important for activists to understand the difference between a movement and a club. A private club can be as pure as it wishes. In fact that's precisely what the membership like about clubs - that they are exclusive. In this regard I think it is great for men, women, Asians, Star Trek fans - whoever, to have spaces to themselves. A social movement by contrast has to grow in order to create change. Progressives handicap themselves to the extent that they are hostile toward whites and males. Similarly the Alt-Right has a lot of people that seem to want to hang a "No Girls" or "Whites Only" sign on their front door. Good luck getting anything done that way.

A Quote

"Programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute." ~ SICP first edition

Keiyaku Kekkon Update


My side project: https://keiyakukekkon.com

Still fixing bugs in my spare time. Got some help from a contractor on some annoying UI things. The site has a few dozen users and is still coming along. Probably a few weeks out from what I would comfortably call a Beta version - something stable enough to market aggressively.

I think the Japanese Konkatsu (marriage matchmaking) industry is ripe for disruption. There are so many sites and services these days and many of them charge ridiculous prices. People are just so desperate to find a partner. I think with the right marketing Keiyaku Kekkon could be a major player.

I also think there is a wider market out there for someone creative enough to tap it. The basic concept behind Keiyaku Kekkon is the idea of pre-negotiated peer-to-peer relationship contracts. A person wants some type of relationship with another human being. Instead of cruising bars / churches / 4chan, they use a web platform with a community of people offering contracts. The closest thing I can think of to this today is Craigslist with its personals section, but this is far from optimized. Whether you want offer a spare room in exchange for having a tall woman throw tomatoes at you, or you need a friend to help you fix old motorcycles - we all have things we can offer in exchange for getting some type of desired interaction from a fellow homo sapien.

Keiyaku Kekkon is, to my knowledge, the first stab at this idea in a formalized way. I hope to see the concept validated.

The Perils of Remote Work

I have worked remotely a lot over the years. Here are some things to look out for if you are seeking to get into the "work all day in my pajamas" game.

1. Physical Health


Having to commute to a job guarantees a minimum amount of exercise. Working from home does not. You can easily have days go by where you never leave the house. This could be because you are swamped with work or responding to alerts, or any number of things. Since you are working alone you don't get those natural little bits of physical activity from office life - going for a walk with a manager, grabbing lunch with someone, walking over to a colleague's desk to ask a questions, etc. You have to make a conscious effort to get out daily and do something. This can be harder than you think if you're an introvert. You may have several days where there is really just no need. So you need to get a good routine in place lest you end up putting on weight.

2. Mental Health


Some people are antisocial. For them the isolation of remote work is a feature not a bug. I found this true for myself to some extent. I genuinely like being alone when I can. However over the long term, working remotely will blunt your social skills. Whether or not you consider your coworkers friends, the daily close proximity I think is helpful to most people if only because it keeps them practiced in manners and social cues. In the worst case scenario the isolation of remote work can exacerbate other mental health issues - everything from minor neuroses to depression. When you are around other people there is at least the chance that someone might notice if there is something wrong with you.

Having an active social life outside of work hours can mitigate much of this. That will at least help you to avoid the sense of loneliness that can sneak up on remote workers. The trouble is that even if you keep busy outside of work, you are still missing out on an important category of socialization - professional interactions in a work environment. I experienced this firsthand after a long stretch of working remotely and then attending a company conference. It was really jarring. I recall feeling very anxious and being really awkward around everyone. After enough time passes you sort of forget how to act in an in-person team meeting, or business conference.

3. Work Habits



What's the old quote? There are lies, damn lies, and working from home. It is true that working from home requires more accountability. The office environment at least offers peer pressure. Every now and then someone might look at your screen and catch you on reddit. If you are slacking you might notice it in people's body language and eye contact. You can feel the atmosphere and detect a lot of nonverbal cues. When you're on your own at home, you have to hope that your manager is giving you sufficient feedback and that your JIRA ticket record speaks for itself. Unfortunately I think it is human nature to take advantage sometimes - to squeeze in an errand or some Dark Souls PVP because why not? I've got two monitors and extra time. Who's going to know? There exceptions to this issue of course. Some people do their best work from home. Still it's something to keep in mind.

4. Acculturation


This is only an issue for immigrants. I have found that working remotely while living in Japan has stalled my ability to properly integrate into society. Since I am not in a Japanese office with coworkers, I don't get to practice my Japanese speaking as much as I would like. I have found that my knowledge of Japanese social etiquette is lacking, and that I am not as up on current events and culture as I would like. In other words, working remotely in a foreign country can solidify your position as an outsider. Again, it's solvable with planning and deliberate efforts, but the problem largely disappears by just working on-site.

5. Career Progression



This one can sneak up on you. In a company where most of the employees are on-site and a handful are remote, it is easy for the latter workers to be overlooked when promotion time rolls around. It is a natural human bias to have more trust and concern for people that are physically present. Sure, Andy out in Toronto pushed some great features last quarter. But he wasn't out drinking with me until 1 am like Tim. I haven't been able to shoot the shit with him in the break room like with Mike. I don't actually see him with that determined look in his eye at his desk 10 hours a day reviewing code like I do with Sarah.

No matter how great Andy is, he just can't leave the same type of impression as the people that are there. I have seen some orgs where it is implicitly understood that off-site guys are not to be considered for leadership roles. Sometimes it is explicit, as happened with Yahoo and their crackdown on remote work. This issue is the hardest to solve because ultimately it is out of your hands as an individual. It is up to your company to have a strong remote work culture that puts off-site people on an equal footing. That doesn't just happen - it takes effort and entails a cost to the company. Most will not incur that cost if they do not see the benefit.

Conclusion

The point of this post is not to trash the concept of remote work. I think remote work is extremely important for the future of the global economy and all developed societies. It is critical that we have more flexible work arrangements, particularly for parents with small children and talented people with other unique situations that make on-site work difficult.

However there are pitfalls to consider. It's not as simple as having a wacky Slack chatbot. All of the issues I bring up in this article are solvable. The problem is that the solutions often take carefully planned deliberate efforts. People are not always capable of this. Thus you have to look at the real human toll of long-term remote work arrangements and find ways to mitigate the negatives. Remote workers need to be mindful of the physical and psychological effects over the long term. Companies need to be honest about how remote work can influence career progression.

Like anything else people need to consider the tradeoffs. Remote jobs can be a godsend or a curse depending on your situation.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What is Keiyaku Kekkon?


 Here's a good song for this post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5CuZzIexfc

"Keiyaku Kekkon" is a Japanese phrase that literally means "Contract Marriage." It is basically a marriage arrangement where the husband and wife write down their expectations of one another for their relationship. The contract can include anything from housework, to financial responsibilities, and even sex life details. The concept of "Keiyaku Kekkon" became popular in Japan over the last year because of television drama called Nigeru No Wa Haji Da Ga Yaku Ni Tatsu. (The drama also created the Koi Dance meme)

I watched that drama and got the idea of creating a Contract Marriage service.

So why is Contract Marriage a good idea?

Imagine going on a date with someone and knowing, before you even shake their hand, that this person has the exact same vision of married life as you. All the hard questions about children, career, household roles - all of it is already settled.

That's basically what Keiyaku Kekkon does by matching people on contracts. It removes a lot of the anxiety men and women have about committed relationships. Many men today are skeptical about the benefits of marriage. With Keiyaku Kekkon, they can see up front and in writing exactly what they stand to gain from having a wife. Women similarly benefit. They need not waste years of their time trying to entice a man to commit to marriage. They can know at the start whether the man intends to support her career, allow her to be a stay-at-home mom, or seek some middle ground.

I think the concept has value to a lot to people who dream of marriage but worry about finding a compatible partner. It may ultimately be a niche market, but we have to start somewhere to try to improve the institution of marriage. Marriage is important for society. Healthy cultures encourage marriage. But unfortunately marriage has been in decline in developed countries for some time. Declining marriage rates lead to a number of social, economic, and demographic problems. I think there are four big reasons for the decline of marriage:

1. The economy - the transition to two-income households
2. The culture - attitudes about marriage, sex, and gender
3. The legal system - family courts and welfare policies
4. The logistics of dating and matchmaking

I will dive into these issues in more detail in later writings. For now I'll just say that the severity of each of these problems differs by country. In Japan for example, I think number 4 is a much bigger issue given the relatively high rate of virginity and the greater separation between men and women. In America I think numbers 2 and 3 are much more serious. Keiyaku Kekkon cannot do much to help with problems 1 and 2, but it can help a bit with problem 3 and a lot with problem 4.

Keiyaku Kekkon is only a week old. It is still in alpha and only has a few dozen users. It is completely free to use during this period, so I encourage people to sign up and tell their friends. Over the next few weeks I will be busy fixing bugs, promoting the site on social media, and going to startup events to pitch the idea. I have spoken with a few seed investors and registered Keiyaku Kekkon with several startup sites. With a little funding, I think I could make the site much nicer and do more aggressive marketing.

Check out the site to learn more. Still in need of more alpha users for feedback. Let's make marriage great again!

https://keiyakukekkon.com

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Alpha Launch

https://keiyakukekkon.com

So there it is. Keiyaku Kekkon. It actually works.

I'm quite proud of myself. Even though it is still a buggy piece of shit, at least it's finished. I have so much trouble actually following through and finishing my various side projects that it feels good to actually see an end product. It is a real thing that could actually be useful to other people. Maybe it won't ever get any traction. Maybe it will never amount to much. But no matter what, it exists.

The site is in an alpha testing period, so I am not promoting it too aggressively. Just hope to see a few users trickle in so I can get feedback and squash more bugs. Once I feel like it is battle tested, I'll move into a beta period and have regular paid accounts.

Once it gets to beta I'll probably promote on Reddit and do a "Show Hacker News" post. Going to need to think a bit about marketing and business development. Marketing isn't really my area so I'll probably have to do some research on how to advertise. Still, I think the basic business concept has legs if it is pushed the right way. Time will tell!

Theme for this post:

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Book Review: A Troublesome Inheritance by Nicholas Wade



Since joining Mensa (and Japan Mensa) I have met literally hundreds of exceptionally brilliant people. In all of the gatherings, I have always been the only black person. This spurred my interest in studying racial differences in intelligence ultimately leading me to the ‘race realism’ movement and discussions with various alt-right figures. To gain more insight I decided to do more serious reading on the subject. I had already read The Bell Curve by Charles Murray some years ago. I sought out something more focused on biology and evolution. Thus I was led to Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance.

The basic thesis of the book is that there are meaningful biological differences between races that influence not only physiology but also behavior and intelligence. He argues that human evolution has been, “recent, copious, and regional.” By “recent” he is referring to the last 50,000 years, the point in time when scientists believe the first humans migrated out of Africa eventually settling in Asia and Europe. These three groups gradually adapted to their local environments beginning a process of differentiation that would have eventually led to them becoming separate species. The clearest evidence of these regional adaptations is the difference in appearance – skin color, bone structure, face shape, etc.

At this level few people argue the biological reality of race. Where things get thorny is when we examine what evolution may have done to differentiate our brains. Wade dives deep into studies of the human genome and presents evidence of differences between ethnic groups in the expression of alleles that influence the brain. The evidence, though not conclusive, suggests that some of the differences in behavior and intellect between races may in fact be genetic.

With race relations in America as tumultuous as ever, the question of group differences has only grown more relevant. What the national dialogue needs is more clarity, honesty, and courage. Wade brings all three to the table in Inheritance. He engages critics head on in every chapter. He skillfully tackles the "race does not exist" argument. He addresses the legitimacy of IQ studies. He examines the cultural and economic arguments for group differences. Perhaps most importantly, he makes the case for why we must not be afraid of examining human biodiversity. Wade cites several examples of social scientists willfully ignoring evidence of racial differences out of fear that it could lead to unpleasant consequences. Early in the book Wade discusses the reasonableness of this fear by showing how the American eugenics movement influenced Nazi Germany. Yet in spite of this Wade argues that in order to improve the lots of people all around the world, we must follow the science, and the science points to race being a very influential phenomena.

He makes a strong argument. Why would evolution halt virtually all progress 50,000 years ago choosing to change nothing about humans save their appearance? Clearly there is more difference between say Africans and Chinese than just their appearance; under the hood there seems to be some different wiring. Evidencing that this isn’t simply culture is the fact that those differences tend to persist even when these groups are put into different environments and even across generations.

The popularity of websites like Ancestry.com and 23andme suggest that people are actively seeking out this knowledge. People want to know their ethnic heritage. It is the most fundamental of human questions: Who am I? Clearly race is part of the answer in most people’s minds. Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics all intuitively recognize that their race constitutes part of what makes them unique. We see this in memoirs, stand up comedy, and unfiltered conversations among friends. The same is true of sex. We understand much about our fundamental nature by identifying as a man or a woman. I wish Wade had actually tackled the subject of evolved differences between the sexes but alas, that topic needs its own book.

Inheritance is a great read because it is not very long (~200 pages) and yet it is extremely informative. The subject matter does not feel dumbed down, as many science books for lay people often are. Wade’s prose does a lot to help the medicine go down. He knows how to spin a good analogy. Each chapter tells its own little story. The structure of the book is excellent as it leaves you feeling like you are learning something tangible every few pages. One great example of this is in his section on Ashkenazi Jews and how their unique history has led them to a position of disproportionate success and influence in the modern world.

The difference in outcomes among the various ethnic groups is a key topic and one that Wade handles carefully. He walks a tightrope, arguing on the one hand that there are evolved differences that have led some racial groups to greater success in the modern world and on the other hand that no group can claim to be superior to all others. Though you could call it a “race realist” book, it does not support White Supremacism or racial discrimination against any group. Nazi types looking for evidence of the superiority of their Aryan genes might be a bit disappointed by the evidence and history presented here.

By what standard would we argue that Whites are superior to other races? They are not the smartest – east Asians have a higher average IQ and Jews outperform them by numerous measures. They are not physically the most capable - Africans, the 'prototype' and most genetically diverse racial group, consistently outperform them in athletics. They are not the fastest growing – Africans, Indians, and Middle Easterners have far higher fertility, evolution’s gold standard for a group’s success. They don’t control the most territory anymore – Europe abandoned its colonies last century for various reasons. As the Indians and Chinese get better at copying Caucasian economic and technological ideas, Whites will eventually lose their title as the wealthiest and militarily strongest.

The argument I generally get from the Stormfront crowd is an appeal to history - the impressiveness of European innovations and cultural dominance over the centuries. Yet even this is a weak argument. Caucasians dominated for only a few hundred years, far less than the Egyptians, Chinese, and Saracens. For most of their history, Caucasians were at the mercy of their neighbors, lucky to benefit from geographic land barriers and well-timed plagues and civil wars among their enemies. Europeans just happened to dominate at a historically important moment – a technological tipping point leading toward a new globalist paradigm.  When we take the longer view of human history, the claim that Caucasians have been the "master race" becomes ludicrous.

So no, Whites are not the superior race. But then again, neither are any of the other racial groups. As Wade meticulously explains, each group simply adapted to its unique environment. This led to the founding of very different cultural institutions. The European adaptations led eventually to the concept of the rule of law and capitalism. White Europeans pioneered the very concept of liberalism and open societies. The idea of the 'melting pot' - the notion that a foreigner can come to a country, settle for a few years, and then enjoy the same standing as a native - this is a uniquely western idea. It is alien to Japanese, Arabs, Nigerians, etc. This concept enticed the best and brightest from other civilizations to immigrate to White western countries, fueling their economic growth. This migration has proliferated in recent decades, perhaps best demonstrated by the illegal immigration problem in the United States and the refugee crisis in Europe. Given demographic trends, it is possible that western civilization may ultimately be undone by its own value system. Or perhaps not so much 'undone' as displaced or transformed.

This would not be a good outcome for our species. Diversity actually is a strength. I strongly agree with the point made by Wade towards the end of the book – that humanity has benefited tremendously from the fact that different races evolved in the first place. Had our ancestors all stayed in Africa 50,000 years ago, we would likely not have advanced as much as a species; we may very well still be living in huts just as the Europeans discovered Africans were a few centuries ago.

I genuinely hope a thousand years from now there are still Africans, Asians, and Caucasians. For this reason I respect the right of people to establish ethnostates – nations that willfully maintain a dominant ethnicity. While I think some migration and miscegenation is also good for our species, I think primarily single ethnicity states can have lots of advantages, as my time in Japan has shown me. In fact the majority of nations today qualify as ethnostates anyway. Whether it is South America, Africa, Asia, or Europe – what you find is that most countries have a single racial group that vastly outnumbers all others. People generally do not seem to take issue with this except for in the case of majority Caucasian countries, which may seem curious but actually makes sense in a way. It is only the Caucasian countries that have espoused a philosophy of liberalism and pluralism, thus people are simply holding them to that standard while not expecting other countries to follow suit.

Inheritance does not prescribe solutions to this or any other dilemma. Wade suggests that there may be evolutionary reasons for why some racial groups (such as blacks) perform below the level of Caucasians by various metrics. He does not make any sort of recommendations as to how to resolve this. There are no easy answers offered here and for that I give Wade credit. A less confident or less honest writer would have opted for some cliched feel-good call to action. A topic this serious deserves better. Inheritance is a concise book to a fault. My biggest criticism is that it does not offer enough evidence to feel very conclusive. To be fair much of that comes from the fact that the jury is still out on a lot of the science. We still know relatively little about how specific genes affect the brain. Inheritance will put ideas in your head, but it will not make you an expert. Still, I liked the starkness of the book's concluding sections. The ending feels like a splash of cold water in the face. It spurs you to think harder about the issues raised. I know I did.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

So You Want to Make a WordPress Site?

Note: This post is improved by listening to the soundtrack from Always Sunny in Philadelphia while reading it.

I'm a backend and operations developer by trade. I spend most of my days working with NoSQL databases and automating infrastructure. I have basically zero skill at making websites or doing any sort of web design. So when I decided to create a web service as a side project, I naturally looked for the easiest approach possible. That brought me to WordPress, a platform I know a bit about but never worked with at any length.

And several weeks of hilarity ensued.

Some highlights:

1. Plugins

Holy Christmas is it annoying dealing with plugins. I didn't even need that many too. Just support for multiple languages and paid memberships. My goal was to avoid having a mess of dependencies that end up draining the app's performance.

The plugin ecosystem is something of a clusterfuck. You try to search for plugins from the WordPress admin panel but quickly learn that a lot of important ones aren't there. For example WPML, one of the language plugins that was recommended to me. Searching from the console you will find knockoffs and supplemental plugins, but to get the real thing you need to go to their website. Lacking a single, authoritative catalog of solid plugins, you end up spending a lot of time on Google trying to gauge the reliability of one site or another. Sure, you can look at the code in many cases and maybe check stuff out from github and play around with it on a test site. But this is time-consuming and not very helpful to less technical people.

What's also aggravating is that even the more popular plugins are not terribly well documented. You end up breaking part of your app after changing the config and then find you have to dig through discussion boards for half-answers. Some plugins offer support if you pay for a PRO version, but even then you can end up waiting days for answers or being referred to a forum post from 2009.

2. Backups

I found out the hard way the importance of backups early on when a config change with the SSL plugin borked my site completely. I am using Amazon Web Services for hosting with a WordPress AMI. My backup strategy had just been to take an image of the server once a day. It worked well enough, and with my load balancer and R53 settings it was only a couple of minutes of downtime to relaunch on a new instance if needed. There are some plugins available as well for backups such as Duplicator, but it was also a pain in the ass to set up.

3. Contractors

I had a decent experience with a contract web designer early on in the project. He helped improve the look and feel of the site. Then I ran into an annoying bug with two language plugins I needed to make the site function in English and Japanese. Rather than fight with it myself I decided to put out an ad on Craigslist and see if a more experienced web developer couldn't solve it for me much faster. The first ad I put on Craigslist Tokyo did not get much response - only about 3 replies, none worth pursuing. I then put an ad on Craigslist San Francisco (which was a pain in the ass to do from Tokyo since they require verification with an American phone number, so had to hack around that shit) and in a day I proceeded to get over 100 responses.

How do you sift through 100 emails for a minor WordPress job? I don't have time to thoroughly vet and interview these people. It tempts your not-so-nice instincts - you know, just delete all the people with "weird" names or something. I suspect some people do this with "minority" sounding or female names. Being Black myself and finding that kind of icky, my better angels prevailed; I did actually click on every response in my inbox. I quickly deleted dozens upon finding emails that were incoherent, unrelated to my ad, sent by middlemen, or just otherwise creepy / shady in other ways.

I narrowed it down to 10 that met three specific preferences: 1. It was a single person instead of a team. 2. They had included links to their previous work, and their work looked good. 3. The email itself was short, professional, and didn't have too many typos.

Of the 10 I responded to, 5 never got back to me. 1 insisted I call him on the phone. I told him that I always do Google Hangouts because I like to look into the other person's eyes while I ask them some simple technical questions. He wasn't crazy about it but I felt justified given past bad experiences. He did the video call. I asked him what SSH is (I did some custom PHP work on this app so the contractor had to be prepared to mess around in a shell session). He started explaining SSL instead. I told him that gently and he tried again, clearly demonstrating he had no idea. I thanked him for his time. He sent three more passive aggressive emails over the following days.

Of the four remaining, three ended up wasting my time. One guy interviewed well, so I gave him access to the git repo and admin console on a test site. He messed around for two days then said he had no idea what to do. The other two washouts did the same but were faster about it. The last dude ended up solving the problem in an hour. I kept him on to do more design work and bug fixes. Pretty cool guy.

Also, I deleted the ad weeks ago but I am still getting inquiry emails. Some people email multiple times too. I now sympathize a bit with employers that don't send a reply to rejected candidates. (some of whom also demand an explanation!)

tl;dr - Hiring contractors is a pain and it may be faster to just solve the issue yourself.

Moral

WordPress really isn't so bad. If you're building a site from scratch it can cut a lot of the headache. Just know what you're getting into and plan carefully. It is very useful for making a proof of concept of something in your spare time. I wouldn't recommend it for larger or more complex sites though. I know for certain that if my project gets any traction, I'll be migrating away from it with the quickness.

If I had infinite time I would do a lot of things differently. I'd probably use more AWS services, such as RDS for the data layer, S3 for some content hosting, and maybe CloudFormation with Autoscaling for bootstrapping and configuring the service. Would love to have a full-time frontend guy make a slicker UI from scratch too. A simple dating site doesn't really need a complex microservices architecture, though you want to be flexible and have room to scale and add features.

Got a big wish list in the project's Trello board. We'll see how it goes. Hoping to launch Alpha next week.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Musical Interlude: Five 'Blue' Songs

1. Rhapsody in Blue - George Gershwin


To this day one of my favorite compositions. A brilliant example of modern storytelling through song. Simple, evocative melodies combined with powerful orchestrations in the form of a classic piano concerto - it just works so well. Endlessly enjoyable and always makes me a bit nostalgic for New York, my home town.

2. Blue Train - John Coltrane


I played clarinet and saxophone up through college. As a former jazz man Coltrane of course was a big inspiration. He wasn't just a great soloist; he was also a great writer and arranger. Blue Train, the title track, was written by him. I loved playing this song because of the double time sections on top of a fairly simple blues progression. Lots of fun for improvisation. That whole album is great thanks in no small part to Coltrane's creativity and the other very talented musicians he had with him (Paul Chambers on bass, I believe).

3. Blue - Yoko Kano


Cowboy Bebop is one of those animes for which I am unapologetic fangirl. I'll acknowledge it has some flaws, but music is not one of them. From opening theme, "Tank," to ending credits music, "Real Folk Blues," every episode of that show has brilliant original songs. "Blue," is one of the most powerful. The children's chorus really gives it a big boost, as Patrick Bateman would say.

4. Blue Moon - Frank Sinatra


I love Sinatra. I mean who doesn't? Blue Moon is an old standard but Sinatra really did I think the iconic version of it here. It has just the right blend of comfy jazziness and melancholy. This song practically made Fallout: New Vegas for me (well, this and Big Iron). I still love sniping death claws with the anti material rifle while this song is bumping.

5. The Beautiful Blue Danube - Johann Strauss II


Strauss is, of course, the undisputed waltz master. The Blue Danube is easily the best known, though it isn't my personal favorite of his. I always preferred the melody of Viennese Blood. Emperor Waltz is also amazing. Yet the Blue Danube endures I think because it is just so well-structured and memorable. I find myself listening to it frequently on plane trips and long train rides. It always puts my mind at ease and makes me want to do a waltz class with wifey.

Honorable Mentions

Blue Velvet - Bobby Vinton
Kind of Blue - Miles Davis (whole album)
Blue Skies - Ella Fitzgerald
Don't Fear the Reaper - Blue Oyster Cult (lol cowbells)
Blue Moon - The Marcells (another popular version)