Rabbit hole: subway mysteries of New York

The other day I was looking something up on Wikipedia. And then I followed a link. And followed a link. And so on. You know how it goes.

This trip ended up in a completely different world: hidden subway stations in New York City. I had no idea. I wasn't looking for it. But after I learned about one—the never used lower Nevins Street station—I was hooked.

I'm just going to offer some links I found, sans context, and let you trip down the rabbit hole yourself. Enjoy.

Here's how I got there:
List of incidents of civil unrest in the United StatesKnow-Nothing RiotKnow Nothing movementBowery BoysThe BoweryProposed expansion of the New York City SubwayNevins Street station

Joseph B. Raskin, The Routes Not Taken: A Trip Through New York City's Unbuilt Subway System

WNYC: The Lost Subways of New York

Zoe Rosenberg, In an Abandoned Subway Tunnel, an Art Installation Condemning Gun Violence, Curbed, 2016-04-25

John Del Signore, Photos: Inside An Illegal Party In An Abandoned Subway Station Deep Under NYC, Gothamist, 2013-06-24

Control, The River Nevs, LTV Squad, 2007-11-25

"76th St. Station":

The Underbelly Project, South 4th St. Station:

Bradley L. Garrett, Place Hacking, 2012-01

Preparing for a trip to southwest Canada

I'm going to Canada in a few weeks. Some places I've visited in a previous life (Vancouver, Banff), and some I've never visited (Victoria). With inlaws. Hi ho. Chen is handling the practical details. Hotels/AirBnB. Flights. I'm thinking about the impractical details. That's how things work at home.

How far can I drive around Vancouver Island? Where is the freshest fish? What local non-export beer do they have? Which trails lead to bear attacks? (Avoid.) Where do they keep the Stanley Cup around here? (Sorry.) Where should we eat? How did they get that mouse in that bottle? What are the best books written by or about the region? And my favorite impractical question: what are the native languages in this region?

And so on. That sort of thing. If you have a suggestion, please leave a comment.

I'll collect some travel info to /travel/canada as I go along.

Slouching into training shape, 2

Slouching into training shape

One of my conditions for signing up for the Rockin' Rockwoods 53km—or any race for that matter, even just the 10km race at the J—is to be able to steadily walk up the mileage week-to-week. Mostly this isn't a physical thing (although obviously it is that), it's a mental thing, a confidence thing. When I was training for Western States in 2012, my routine was: from a starting position (50 miles/week), run two weeks at that level, then bump it up 10 miles/week, two weeks at that level, etc., until I got up to 102 miles in a week. Just like that, I went from fairly lousy shape (discovered what an IT band is while recovering from Ozark Trail 2011) to getting a silver buckle.

I didn't really log that mileage at the time in a permanent place, just kept track of it and then wrote the series of weekly mileage levels on my wristband so that I'd remember the work I'd done to get there. It's not like I would have forgotten, but it strengthened the message-to-self when the going got tough. After that I stopped logging altogether—it was stifling. I just ran and let the distance flow by like a river, not bothering to catch it or name it.

In 2016 I started logging mileage on my mobile phone (manual entries in Runner's Log—no tech on the run, wear running shoes and throw wooden shoes). In 2016 I still had some residual monster shape left. In 2017 I had some second-order residual shape (30 miles/week wasn't too tough, but no 40s). 2018... vapors. Some 20s, no 30s.

Logging is mostly for purpose of shame now: look at the horrible thing you're doing, self.

That's where I had to pick it up in the last week of June: 20 miles. Then 25. Then 30. Then this week 30 again. Even better, this morning was a 15-mile run, which I've not done since January. (The pace is still very much no bueno.) So the legs are still there, for the most part, but the habit is not. That's the next frontier.

Adi Boulos, Flight Director

Here's a great bit of news I saw today: NASA Names Six New Flight Directors to Lead Mission Control.

The second one is a guy I know: Adi Boulos. Back in the day, he was a member of the Illinois Space Society and helped us organize SpaceVision2005, the SEDS National Conference, at the University of Illinois. His job was to get the volunteer t-shirts. (Looked it up. Still have the files.) Good kid—none of them are kids anymore but they will always be kids—and I'm really happy he made it. With the upcoming moon missions, the proper post-Shuttle era of human spaceflight, he should have some pretty interesting missions to lead for the years to come.

Special work from home benefit: cop chase

(Theme music while you read—because You're Worth It.)

I decided to work from home in the afternoon. Why not? Nearly the entire team was traveling elsewhere for work. It gets a little unsettling to listen to the wind whistle down the rows of the cubicle farm. And I can work in basketball shorts at home.

So there I was. Doing work and definitely not sleeping. I know this because I saw, out of the window, a police SUV with red and blue lights following another white SUV into the apartment complex parking lot. Busted.

And the guy immediately gets out of the car. Uh oh. Post-July 4th fireworks.

The cop tried to urge him back into the car. Doesn't comply. Cop talks to his shoulder. Driver walks around the car. Cop walks around his own car, getting a safe angle to offer some more advice. Driver walks back around the car. Cop keeps his distance, talks some more to his shoulder. Driver walks down the driveway. Walks. Walks. Trots. Runs. Cop runs after. /Scene

Intrinsic motivation vs extrinsic motivation vs get real paid

David Harrison and Eric Morath, In This Economy, Quitters Are Winning, Wall Street Journal, 2018-07-04

You know what? I wasn't going to say anything about this article. I posted it to LinkedIn. Then deleted it. I didn't want to look like a whiner. And I recently connected with my manager on LinkedIn.

Then today another engineer I enjoyed working with said sayonara. Jumped on the outbound train. I'm getting good at making hilarious responses to "goodbye I'm leaving/retiring" emails, if only because there are plenty of opportunities recently to practice.

Regarding the article: good for everyone cashing in. You should. Why not? If wage growth sucks: get paid. If your company thinks you're a commodity: get paid. No party lasts forever: get paid, sock it away, you might need it later.

Everyone knows you can bounce out of one gig and get paid to move to another. Bonus, moving bonus, raise, promotion, etc. But here's the kicker: imagine bouncing out, and then getting recruited to bounce back. Bonus, moving bonus, raise, promotion, etc., take two. Many people are saying that it's happening. Yes. If you decided not to listen to the poachers I mean recruiters, you missed two jumps.

I don't want to get mad about it. Or be jealous about it. But I also want to get real paid. I was thinking of buying a house this summer. Then I didn't—came up just short of the stake we wanted to post. So I have to answer to that while knowing that the solution to that problem was offered to me, but I declined.

Here's a fun article: Roland Bénabou and Jean Tirole, Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation, The Review of Economic Studies, Volume 70, Issue 3, 1 July 2003, Pages 489–520. (a .pdf copy for you to read here)

The short story is: people respond to incentives, except when they feel that what they're doing has some kind of intrinsic meaning, and then it gets fuzzy—fuzzy in that incentives can cause a negative reaction. But if the opposite is true—if the work doesn't have that intrinsic meaning—there better be some kind of obvious payoff, like a child being bribed with some candy to not be a jerk.

I have no conclusion to this post. From here, everything devolves. Talking about money is hard—for me, at least. It was never a Prime Motivator. I shifted jobs for Social Reasons (what we'll call, for the time being, blowing up a career for a girl... twice, although the second time can be filed under Good Decisions), not for Money Reasons. Out of those shifts, only once did it resolve in: get paid. So, in the final analysis, there's this uneasy tension between doing what seemed right at the time and counting dollars today. I'm not sure I won on either front, really. Maybe the tension is more like: making decisions on globally important factors that weren't locally important, and then paying for them later.

The worship of the yardstick

I just read this article (the text of a presentation, really): James L. McConaughy, The worship of the yardstick, Educational Review, Vol. 55, No. 3, March 1918, pp. 191-200

(Yes, that is: nineteen eighteen.)

How did I get there? First, I read The Tyranny of Metrics, which cited Education and the Cult of Efficiency, which cited this article. (I like to follow the citations because I'm a Super-Fun Guy.) All three of them, for me, have ineluctable titles—tyranny, cult, worship—that leave little doubt about which direction they're approaching from. Moreover, they're all related to a problem that drives me crazy nearly every day: the unquenchable, unquestioning love for measurement at work.

It's out of balance. On a recent project, metrics (the word that means "measurement" at work) accounted for nearly 50% of our group's time—so much so that it was necessary at the culmination to bring in extra people to actually do the work. Here's a natural question to ask: did the work get done? Of course not. Mission Accomplished.

Here's where I drive people crazy: I push back. But I think I'm misunderstood. Because I'm such a smooth talker when I get worked up. I'm not against metrics or measurement—I use measurements unprompted in my own life—but rather the mindless way in which they're applied. I get upset when the project bureaucrat asks why a document is only 84% done when the plan clearly states that it should be 87% done. It's like someone knocking on the bathroom door, upset that you're only 84% done taking a dump when you've clearly been in there long enough to be 87% done. What? Anyway. It's not a real measurement. There is no such thing as an 84% done document. It's a heuristic. It's not real. But measurements become very real when everyone pretends they're real. And measurements become the standard against which rewards and punishments are meted out. After a while people forget that the numbers aren't real, and they don't think very deeply about what the measurements mean. And they don't have any feeling in their hearts for the product itself, which is just some sort of abstract byproduct of the process.

I will die on this hill.

Here's one other worry that I have about the cult of metrics. Whenever I get saddled with some new measurement, I try to find a way before the end of the day to automate the calculation. I get to do a little bit of thinking while setting up the algorithm, and it costs me less time over the long haul. Win-win. But what becomes of the people who every day, every week, etc., devote non-negligible amounts of their time to manually calculating things that are easy to replace with a program? I guess we'll find out.

Side project loss limit

Here's an episode of Side Hustle School that caught my ear last week: #529 - Unemployed Polish Guy Launches Rocket-Fueled Vodka Line, 2018-06-13

The product itself isn't interesting to me. (I am into rockets. But not vodka.) However, the idea of trying to start a new product with a loss limit was interesting. $10,000—if it grows, keep going; if not, cut your losses and go home.

That's not a revolutionary idea. That's how I do it in Las Vegas—go out with $100 or $200 in one pocket (and no debit card), and play until it grows or it's gone. That's how I do it buying stocks—buy and set a stop limit. But I had never thought about doing it with a side business. I think I'm going to steal the idea, although not with vodka or $10,000.

What could I do with $100 or $1000 in a month?

Develop the instinct to be comfortable doing things that feel uncomfortable

Here's a long riff by Seth Godin from the Q&A section of an episode on his Akimbo podcast, The long term.

It stuck with me when I heard it a few weeks ago. For one thing, I'm not a very compliant worker, so I guess I ought to find a way to be a pathfinder before getting reassigned to the Island of Misfit Toys. Another reason it stuck with me is because I recently finished taking a machine learning course at the U of Illinois this spring. About a third of the way through the course, there emerged this mania among the students for having a defined rubric for the homework problems. What a waste. The main thing that I took from the course was that there is plenty of room for art in machine learning—the answers aren't completely defined. There is a mathematical underpinning to the work (for the most part) but there is room to try things, in some cases very simple things, to make the algorithms provide better results. But I'd hesitate to call the results answers.

I sympathize with the students for demanding some determinism on how their results would be graded because their grades will have a bearing on their probability of employment and how much they earn. I get the pressure to do what it takes to pump up those variables. But that comes at a loss of the real reward from that class, which would be to explore the problems and see how they work, explain the approach and results, and accept that there may be no answer. I enjoyed the freedom, as an old guy taking a single class with no GPA to protect, to play.

Anyway, here's the riff:


Consider the typical day in the typical school.

Of those six or seven hours that the student is at school, how many minutes are spent on compliance? How many minutes are spent on doing what you're told? Then let's look at how much time is spent on finding the right answer. Minute by minute. Compliance. The right answer. Getting a good grade. Fitting in. Doing what you're told.

Of the 400 minutes that someone is going to spend in school--300 minutes that someone is going to spend in school today, how much time are they spending on those two tasks? I think if we're honest, in the typical school, we'd have to agree it's between 90 and 95% of the time. The rest of the time, perhaps, the student is left alone to daydream, to think bigger thoughts, to come up with something new. But rarely.

Leadership, and relevant to the last podcast, genius, an act of genius, isn't about that. It's about solving interesting problems. We rarely give our kids a chance to solve an interesting problem. We'd prefer to give them a problem where we already know the answer. Because the purpose of giving them the problem isn't to develop their creativity, their insight, their ability to lead. The purpose is to gain compliance, predictability, to produce compliant workers who will do what they're told for years to come.

So the answer to your question, I think, is that we need to figure out how to give students the chance to solve problems that they are probably going to be unable to solve. Not because they're too hard, but because there is no answer. There's merely an attempt, and then another attempt. That we can train our kids for ourselves to get comfortable with the idea that we can be uncomfortable. To be okay with the thought that we can write something down that isn't the right answer.

So, how do teach somebody to write something original? How do we teach them to work at figuring out an advanced math theorem that has never been solved and might never be solved? How do we help them pathfind? Because pathfinding is the task that is in highest demand right now. Pathfinding says, "We're lost, not completely lost, just a little lost. We're not exactly sure where we want to go. We're not exactly sure how to get there. Does anyone want to help us find a way?" And if we can help kids--6 year olds, 10 year olds, 15 year olds--develop the instinct to be comfortable doing things that feel uncomfortable, then we develop the ability to act, at least for a little bit, like a genius.