👍 The Queen of Versailles and Generation Wealth

The Queen of Versailles

While this documentary film was released all the way back in 2012, I did not learn about its existence until this month. The film introduces the Siegel family and their extravagant billionaire lifestyle as they begin construction on their dream mansion, which is inspired by the Palace of Versailles.

However, their plans soon come to a halt as the timeshare empire they built crumbles during the 2008 financial crisis. The family proceeds to engage in ever more ridiculous behavior as their budget tightens. You will want to tape your mouth shut for this film, otherwise it will spend a lot of time dropping to the floor.


Amazon Video


Generation Wealth

The Baader-Meinhof Syndrome was alive and well this week as I browsed Reddit. Having watched The Queen of Versailles only a few days ago, I found it remarkable to see an image from the film in my Reddit feed. However, instead of taking me to The Queen of Versailles, the post was about a new film and project titled Generation Wealth.

The film comes from Lauren Greenfield who also directed The Queen of Versailles. Her new project consists of multiple mediums: a museum exhibition, a photographic monograph, and a feature documentary film (July 20th, 2018 US & UK theatrical release). This work examines society’s increasing obsession with wealth over the last 25 years.

With her new film, Generation Wealth, she puts the pieces of her life’s work together for in an incendiary investigation into the pathologies that have created the richest society the world has ever seen. Spanning consumerism, beauty, gender, body commodification, aging and more, Greenfield has created a comprehensive cautionary tale about a culture heading straight for the cliff’s edge. Generation Wealth, simultaneously a deeply personal journey, rigorous historical essay, and raucously entertaining expose, bears witness to the global boom-bust economy, the corrupted American Dream and the human costs of capitalism, narcissism and greed.

I probably won’t get a chance to view this documentary until later this year, but nevertheless I am very much looking forward to it.


Generation Wealth website

🎵👍 Dan Deacon and Rat Film

Rat Film posterI learned about Rat Film through my appreciation of Dan Deacon, an American composer and electronic musician. “Trippy” is the first word that comes to mind when I listen to his albums.

In addition to producing his own music, Dan Deacon has produced the soundtrack to a few films. The soundtrack to Rat Film popped up in Spotify since I follow Dan Deacon and after hearing the first track, I knew that the film would look intriguing.

The film takes an abstract look at the relationship between rats and humans while exploring Baltimore’s history. I do not have any insights or revelations to share after watching Rat Film. I simply thought it was beautiful and fun to watch, so I recommend the film to you.


Amazon Video

💡 Akin’s Laws of Spacecraft Design

I stumbled across this list of rules to abide by when designing spacecraft and realized that many of the rules apply to other areas of life in addition to spacecraft design.

1. Engineering is done with numbers. Analysis without numbers is only an opinion.

2. To design a spacecraft right takes an infinite amount of effort. This is why it’s a good idea to design them to operate when some things are wrong .

3. Design is an iterative process. The necessary number of iterations is one more than the number you have currently done. This is true at any point in time.

4. Your best design efforts will inevitably wind up being useless in the final design. Learn to live with the disappointment.

5. (Miller’s Law) Three points determine a curve.

6. (Mar’s Law) Everything is linear if plotted log-log with a fat magic marker.

7. At the start of any design effort, the person who most wants to be team leader is least likely to be capable of it.

8. In nature, the optimum is almost always in the middle somewhere. Distrust assertions that the optimum is at an extreme point.

9. Not having all the information you need is never a satisfactory excuse for not starting the analysis.

10. When in doubt, estimate. In an emergency, guess. But be sure to go back and clean up the mess when the real numbers come along.

11. Sometimes, the fastest way to get to the end is to throw everything out and start over.

12. There is never a single right solution. There are always multiple wrong ones, though.

13. Design is based on requirements. There’s no justification for designing something one bit “better” than the requirements dictate.

14. (Edison’s Law) “Better” is the enemy of “good”.

15. (Shea’s Law) The ability to improve a design occurs primarily at the interfaces. This is also the prime location for screwing it up.

16. The previous people who did a similar analysis did not have a direct pipeline to the wisdom of the ages. There is therefore no reason to believe their analysis over yours. There is especially no reason to present their analysis as yours.

17. The fact that an analysis appears in print has no relationship to the likelihood of its being correct.

18. Past experience is excellent for providing a reality check. Too much reality can doom an otherwise worthwhile design, though.

19. The odds are greatly against you being immensely smarter than everyone else in the field. If your analysis says your terminal velocity is twice the speed of light, you may have invented warp drive, but the chances are a lot better that you’ve screwed up.

20. A bad design with a good presentation is doomed eventually. A good design with a bad presentation is doomed immediately.

21. (Larrabee’s Law) Half of everything you hear in a classroom is crap. Education is figuring out which half is which.

22. When in doubt, document. (Documentation requirements will reach a maximum shortly after the termination of a program.)

23. The schedule you develop will seem like a complete work of fiction up until the time your customer fires you for not meeting it.

24. It’s called a “Work Breakdown Structure” because the Work remaining will grow until you have a Breakdown, unless you enforce some Structure on it.

25. (Bowden’s Law) Following a testing failure, it’s always possible to refine the analysis to show that you really had negative margins all along.

26. (Montemerlo’s Law) Don’t do nuthin’ dumb.

27. (Varsi’s Law) Schedules only move in one direction.

28. (Ranger’s Law) There ain’t no such thing as a free launch.

29. (von Tiesenhausen’s Law of Program Management) To get an accurate estimate of final program requirements, multiply the initial time estimates by pi, and slide the decimal point on the cost estimates one place to the right.

30. (von Tiesenhausen’s Law of Engineering Design) If you want to have a maximum effect on the design of a new engineering system, learn to draw. Engineers always wind up designing the vehicle to look like the initial artist’s concept.

31. (Mo’s Law of Evolutionary Development) You can’t get to the moon by climbing successively taller trees.

32. (Atkin’s Law of Demonstrations) When the hardware is working perfectly, the really important visitors don’t show up.

33. (Patton’s Law of Program Planning) A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week.

34. (Roosevelt’s Law of Task Planning) Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.

35. (de Saint-Exupery’s Law of Design) A designer knows that he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

36. Any run-of-the-mill engineer can design something which is elegant. A good engineer designs systems to be efficient. A great engineer designs them to be effective.

37. (Henshaw’s Law) One key to success in a mission is establishing clear lines of blame.

38. Capabilities drive requirements, regardless of what the systems engineering textbooks say.

39. Any exploration program which “just happens” to include a new launch vehicle is, de facto, a launch vehicle program.

39. (alternate formulation) The three keys to keeping a new human space program affordable and on schedule:
1) No new launch vehicles.
2) No new launch vehicles.
3) Whatever you do, don’t develop any new launch vehicles.

40. (McBryan’s Law) You can’t make it better until you make it work.

41. There’s never enough time to do it right, but somehow, there’s always enough time to do it over.

42. Space is a completely unforgiving environment. If you screw up the engineering, somebody dies (and there’s no partial credit because most of the analysis was right…)


📷 West Windy Hill

Every so often I head outside to do some photography using a drone. It can be a difficult hobby to engage with in the San Francisco Bay Area because drones cannot be flown within 5 miles of an airport. This causes most of the Bay Area to be off limits.

Given this situation, I’ve been scouting in the hills on the west side of the SF peninsula for interesting locations to fly. The wind finally died down today so I headed up Old La Honda Road to see what I could find.

The air was full of haze and the sun’s position was not great, but with Adobe’s Lightroom program it’s possible to make nearly any image look okay. Here are a few photos:

👍 Bobby Kennedy For President

Bobby KennedyNetflix has become a remarkable player in the world of documentary filmmaking in the last 5 years. The film Bobby Kennedy For President is their latest documentary production and like most of the others it is a great film. This production is split into 4 individual hour-long episodes which introduce the Kennedys, portray Bobby Kennedy’s path into government, and delve into his eventual assassination.

While I certainly paid attention in history classes back in school, none of the classes I took even scratched the surface of modern American history from the 1950s forwards. This gap in knowledge has been gradually filled in over time thanks to books, articles, essays, and podcasts. However, seeing first-hand footage from history provides a layer of historical understanding that the written medium cannot. I certainly did not have a full understanding of Robert Kennedy’s contribution to government and the impact of his assassination until finishing this documentary series.

What I take away from this documentary is just how much the assassinations of the 1960s impacted the course of the United States. The strongest voices for equality and justice were silenced at a time where the country had the potential of going through a vast transformation. Instead of facing this reckoning, the country chose to stick to the status quo of rampant corruption and classism which we still live with today.


💬 Hyphenated Americanism

“There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism … the one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English-Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian-Americans, or Italian-Americans, each preserving its separate nationality, each at heart feeling more sympathy with Europeans of that nationality, than with the other citizens of the American Republic … There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.” -Theodore Roosevelt (Columbus Day, 1915)

President Woodrow Wilson, well-known for holding racist views against African-Americans, unsurprisingly espouses similar views:

“I want to say— I cannot say too often— any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready. If I can catch a man with a hyphen in this great contest, I will know that I have got an enemy of the Republic.” -Woodrow Wilson (September 25, 1919)


It is incredibly saddening to realize that the xenophobic views expressed by presidents in the early 1900s are no different than the views expressed by the current president in 2018, more than 100 years later. Diversity brings strength while homogeneity breeds weakness.

🎵 The death of Tim Bergling/Avicii

Deaths are never good news, but the ones which take people who had a part in your life are especially hard. I certainly didn’t know Tim Bergling as a person. However, the music he produced under the name Avicii is special to me. He greatly influenced my taste in electronic music and simply hearing a few notes from many of his songs takes me back to specific moments and years in my life. Avicii’s monthly podcast called ‘Levels’ was an hour of music I always looked forward to. He helped me dance in the shower, push through many tough workouts, and entertain myself on long drives. The world of electronic music is a little quieter today without Tim Bergling.

👍 Weather resources

There are two weather-related items I want to share with you today: Dark Sky and Weather West

Dark Sky

When it comes to weather apps, there are a million of them. Some are simple, some are complex, but regardless of what they look like almost all of them represent the same underlying data. That data comes from the National Weather Service (NWS), part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). However, there is a weather forecasting service called Dark Sky that is different from other weather apps.

Dark Sky’s main screen on iOS.

Dark Sky’s primary function is providing hyperlocal weather forecasts. Specifically, Dark Sky can provide precipitation forecasts which are accurate down to the minute-level. While Dark Sky is still using the same NWS weather data that other apps use, Dark Sky does more. They pull in NWS data, process it, clean it, and then use the results to build extraordinarily fluid precipitation maps like the one below. There’s a detailed post on the Dark Sky blog if you’d like to read more about how Dark Sky works.

A rainy morning and afternoon in the Seattle, Washington area.


The forecasts that Dark Sky produces are so detailed and accurate that many other weather apps use Dark Sky’s API to obtain weather forecasts instead of using NWS data. Sun, Weather Line, and Poncho are three app examples and other users include Yelp, Microsoft, Con Edison, and DuckDuckGo.

Dark Sky started life in 2011 as a weather app for iPhone. In fact, Dark Sky came to life with a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised about $39,000, which is how I became familiar with the service. Since then, Dark Sky has grown to include an app for Android as well as a full website.

One reason Dark Sky is able to provide accurate forecasts at the hyperlocal level is because of the reporting features that exist within the Dark Sky app. With a user’s permission, the app can periodically measure and report the barometric pressure sensed by their phone. Users can also manually report the current weather at their location. As Dark Sky collects this data, they are able to refine their forecasting system to produce more accuracy.


While Dark Sky is known for its precipitation forecasts, a lesser known yet particularly stunning section of the service is Dark Sky Maps. Dark Sky Maps provides a Google Maps-like view of Earth with different data layers overlaid. Temperature, cloud cover, precipitation, wind, dew point, UV exposure, atmospheric pressure, and ozone are all covered by layers in Dark Sky Maps. There’s even an emoji layer which fills the map with adorable little icons.

A look at the temperature across the United States during the afternoon.
A detailed look at the temperature across southeastern California and southern Nevada.
A map showing wind patterns in the Pacific Northwest.
A detailed look at precipitation over Washington.
A UV exposure map at 1:00pm on the west coast.
A map where the weather and temperature is represented by emojis.


Any of these maps can be embedded in a website too. Try interacting with the map below:


There’s even a “time machine” feature on the Dark Sky website which lets you view the weather conditions for specific dates in history, such as the day you were born. I don’t know how far their data goes back, but when I punch in the year 1950 I’m still able to see weather data.

I cannot recommend Dark Sky highly enough. While it’s not perfect for absolutely every use case, snow and surf reports come to mind, I have been a daily user of Dark Sky for many years and it has served me extremely well.


Weather West

When I need to know what the weather forecast is, I open up Dark Sky. When I want to know why the weather is going to behave as it is predicted, I open up Weather West.

Weather West is the online name of Dr. Daniel Swain. He is best introduced using the words from his own About page at WeatherWest.com:

Dr. Daniel Swain is currently a NatureNet Postdoctoral Fellow in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles. As a climate scientist, he studies the changing character and causes of extreme meteorological events. Daniel holds a PhD in Earth System Science from Stanford University and a B.S. in Atmospheric Science from the University of California, Davis. His full curriculum vitae is available here.

The California Weather Blog is where Dr. Swain posts 2-3 times per month with his perspective on the current weather affecting California. While he does use complicated words such as orographic, isothermal, and prodigious, Dr. Swain’s posts are actually quite comprehensible. It is fascinating to gain an understanding of the current California weather and climate from his perspective. If our climate is a machine, Dr. Swain can point out the individual gears and explain what they are doing. The breadth and depth of Dr. Swain’s understanding of the weather allows him to turn what is usually a dry subject into something engaging.

Dr. Swain’s study of California’s climate has been influential, even outside of the world of climate scientists. If you’ve heard anything about California’s Winter weather over the past 5 years, chances are that you’ve heard something about the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge (RRR).  That’s a term coined by Dr. Swain which is now widely used.

If California weather affects you in any way, or if you simply share a curiosity about the weather and climate in general, I definitely recommend subscribing to The California Weather Blog.

🏥 Thanksgiving weight goal

Last January I reached a low weight of 180 lbs for the first time in many years. Unfortunately, over the last 15 months I’ve allowed my weight to balloon back up to just under 220 lbs. While I would love losing weight to be motivation by itself, in early March I learned that I’ll be joining my family in Hawaii for Thanksgiving and I really, really don’t want to look like a pile of mashed potatoes when I go to the beach. To avoid that dreaded situation, I’ve figured out that I need to lose about 0.13 lbs per day (0.91 lbs per week) between now and Thanksgiving.

To help me reach my goal, I have implemented a weight tracking regimen. Each morning when I step on the scale my weight is uploaded to a spreadsheet. During the day, I write down everything I consume so that I can tally my estimated calorie intake before bed. This data is then automatically represented in the chart below:

As expected, when my calorie count is high, my weight rises on the following day. However, I’ve been surprised to learn just how much I’m consuming every day. A healthy male my age with my physical activity level needs roughly 1,750 calories per day to neither lose nor gain weight. I am averaging 3,000 calories per day, almost double what my body needs.

A life lesson I’ve learned is that goals are not achieved through the exercising of raw motivation. Like any emotion, motivation waxes and wanes. Some days it will flow abundantly, but on many other days motivation will be lacking or absent. Instead of hoping for motivation to carry efforts to success, goals are achieved by making a habit which is performed regularly regardless of motivation.

In my case specifically, losing 40 lbs is a very tall order. That’s not something I can easily wrap my mind around achieving. On the other hand, losing 0.13 lbs per day or 0.91 lbs per week should be doable. I can incorporate actions into my daily and weekly schedule to lose the necessary weight. Since weight change is simply the result of calories consumed versus calories expended, I need to focus on what I’m consuming and how much I exercise. Success now depends on my ability to stick to a schedule so that lots of small wins add up to a big win in November.