What happened to the promise of the internet?

Back in the fall of 2004, I had just entered high school and was really enjoying learning German. I had taken the first year of the sequence back in middle school, but then worked so far ahead in the workbooks that I ended up moving to the third year once I entered high school.

Just four years prior, Wikipedia was first launched, and I had already learned to ignore my teachers’ persistent warnings against it. Only having just entered high school, I quickly realized that whatever expertise I had was far below the current level of quality on Wikipedia. So I looked further, and found Wikibooks, a sister site focused on developing high-quality, open-source educational materials. From my experience, I had some ideas about how German should be taught, and spent my free time in the evenings building some of the content for that Wikibook. (For a taste of how I described my work there a couple of years later, see my user page.)

The emergence of Wikipedia and its sister sites was the first of the really special things that emerged last decade, the aughts or whatever we want to call it. The free access to information came with it the promise of universal education. And if widespread education could raise entire populations out of poverty, it invited us to believe that the 21st Century would bring us to higher and higher standards of living and public discourse. Little did we know…

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Cherish Thick Communities

Since graduating from Caltech five years ago, I have gone back to visit on eight occasions, for at least a week each trip. Why? What keeps drawing me back there?

It’s definitely not because of the location; as much as I like In-N-Out and boba milk tea, they aren’t worth flying across the country for. Actually, each visit has driven home more and more to me that I don’t really want to live in LA long-term, with its ridiculous sprawl, traffic, and general lack of a third dimension.

Photo courtesy of Brynan Qiu, who was riding with me in a rental car I was driving.

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How’s Married Life?

Grace and I will be celebrating our first anniversary this coming Sunday, June 11th. While it’s difficult to grasp it’s been a whole year already, it’s also becoming harder and harder to remember our lives before it.

Happily ever after, right? No, life’s ups and downs continue to go on, and we thought we’d share some reflections on our one year of marriage so far.

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The Virtues of Living in a Small Apartment

In Empires, the tenth and latest expansion to the game Dominion (one of my favorite games), there is a Landmark called Wall that changes the rules of the game to penalize every player by a point for every extra card in their deck beyond the 15th.

Wall

If you’ve played Dominion before, you probably recognize that this makes any cards that trash cards from your deck super valuable, like Chapel:

Chapel

And people wonder why religious conservatives support Trump… 😛

Chapel is already widely considered the strongest card in the game for its cost, because trashing the relatively bad initial cards can dramatically increase the average value of your deck. But with Wall, it becomes even more important to cut down on the low-value cards, since they actually start hurting you.

There are other types of trashing cards that give you some sort of benefit depending on what you trash. A classic from the Seaside expansion is Salvager:

Salvager

Salvager isn’t quite as powerful as Chapel when playing with Wall, but it does let you keep your deck lean as you keep improving cards. These so-called “trash-for-benefit” cards tend to make it even more reasonable to exchange your best non-victory cards in the late game, since this way, you get some added value out of them, and with Wall, an extra point from not having them in your deck anymore.

Events, another new innovation from the last two Dominion expansions, also allow you to improve your deck in some way without adding cards, which is more valuable when playing with Wall. If there aren’t any Events or trashers, though, playing Wall becomes especially interesting. Every player who doesn’t sit on their hands will be losing points to it, but it’s still not enough to offset those 6-point Provinces or 3-point Duchies, so perhaps your strategies might look similar on the surface.

With Wall, though, you are forced to consider tradeoffs in a different way: maybe it isn’t worth the 1-point loss to buy anything if you only have $3 or $4, even as early as the mid-game. Estates (which only give 1 point) are now completely useless, so you might as well ignore them. In other words, your standards for what is worth buying go up, as your calculation is no longer about whether a card would improve your deck, but whether it would improve your deck by enough.

Why do I bring up the strategy around this one particular card in Dominion? Well, I’ve realized that living in a relatively small apartment has very much the same feel, and we’ve found ourselves adapting all of these strategies from time to time. Yes, this is another post where I derive life lessons from a board game.

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The Highest Form of Flattery

Fox News founder Roger Ailes passed away last Thursday. Among his more surprising mourners: MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow. Take a look:

Think about this for a second. Maddow is as liberal as cable news commentators go, but she still considered Roger Ailes a friend, going so far as to credit him with essentially inventing the way we process politics through polarized cable television. She admits to asking him technical questions about colors and angles, but I’d expect that wasn’t the only thing that liberals’ version of Fox News learned directly from Ailes.

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