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How to Survive When the Air Itself Hates You

July 25, 2021

Around a year ago, I woke up to find that the sky was tinted orange.

As terrifying as this image looks, it was even worse in person. It was hard to capture just how orange this was, because the auto white balance in my camera kept “correcting” it.

This was around September. We’d been dealing with bad air quality on-and-off for a few weeks by then, because the CZU Lightning Complex Fires were burning in some of the nearby hills, leaving us choking whenever the wind blew the smoke our way.

But this day was different. Instead of being low-hanging smoke from nearby fires—which tended to leave the sky a hazy grey—this was high-altitude smoke from fires burning all the way up in in Oregon and Washington. As a result, the air quality was counterintuitively less bad than it had been on the worst days of the past month.

But then the ash fell.

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Segmented Identity as Necessary for Daily Life

January 17, 2021

This is going to be a bit of a long post. I’m going to take a deep dive into a view of identity that, depending on your background, might either seem unconventional or completely obvious. I’m going to talk about how this view relates to privacy, consider how it interacts with technology, and explore the values that underpin what we build.

But first, let’s talk about a scenario that’s probably been rare for most people this past year: meeting someone new.

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The Correct Way to do Sentence Spacing

August 16, 2020

Back when I first redesigned this blog, I mentioned that I drew a lot of inspiration from the online ebook Practical Typography by Matthew Butterick. That book helped guide a huge amount of this website’s design, from the font choice, to the line length and spacing, and is arguably responsible for the reading experience you’re having right now. I still recommend it to this day, since following its guidance can help make any text you write readable and pleasant to look at.

Butterick is a very opinionated guy, and the book bears this out. One of the early chapters in his book is titled One Space Between Sentences, and it’s best summarized by quoting the first two sentences:

Some topics in this book will offer you choices. Not this one.

Always put exactly one space between sentences.

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Know Your Historical Context

May 17, 2020

I recently turned 30. For a lot of people, capping off another decade like this can a pretty sobering experience.

For me? Eh. I saw it coming.1 Back when I turned 27, I remember noticing that the addition of one year caused people to change from rounding down to 25, to rounding up to 30. “I’m not old yet,” I thought, “but I do think I’m running out of youthfulness.”

But there’s a silver lining to all this: I now have more social license to be the grouchy old man that I was always meant to be. “Get off my lawn!” I’ll shout, assuming I can ever afford a house big enough to have a lawn.

So I’ll start now with one example: it’s really striking how things that you saw develop over the course of your life end up being taken for granted by those who are younger. For them, this is the way things have always been. For you, you can trace it back through your memories: these were decisions that were made in a specific historical context, and have been maintained due to inertia even when the context for them breaks down.

So in this article, I want to focus on a specific example of this from the tech world, that I’m surprised people don’t talk about more explicitly:

A screenshot of me messing with Twitter's character limits.

Twitter’s character limits.

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