Note to Prospective Employees

The police work for me, and for us. They are not a foreign military or a sovereign nation, and if they were, they’d find us (as we’ve found us) pretty much indomitable, ungovernable, independently minded, occasionally lawbreaking, often acting out, free people. Working for us is hard, especially when that work involves getting us to follow our own rules.

We, the people, hire a lot of staff (millions, of whom I am one, speaking for myself), and we give our staff a substantial amount of leeway in performing the services we require of them. We hire more staff to manage them, and near the center of what turns out to be a substantial bureaucratic mess, we elect people who can exert our will directly by providing rules and regulations for all the staff.


Killing us, either on purpose, or accidentally, is not part of that leeway. This message needs to come across, loud and clear, throughout the entire bureaucracy that manages the services we provide ourselves. All the staff, all the managers, all the elected officials. You (we) work for us, and it is not okay to kill any of us. Nobody should have to say that.

In particular, it is not okay to operate in such a way that sub-groups of your employers face an exceptionally high risk of bad treatment including (but not limited to) excessive force and/or death. Again, all of this should be obvious without being said by anyone, but recent events have left me feeling that I should have been saying it.


I wrote a thing on Medium:

You can read it over there, if you care about Binary.

Medium, as far as I can tell, is oriented around prose that is medium length. It has a simple editor for “Everyone’s stories and ideas” and I generally didn’t find it too bad. From what I can tell, the secret sauce, though, is that there is other stuff on Medium that people want to read, so people come to Medium to read, and then maybe they read your thing.

What I don’t understand, and what I don’t like not understanding, is what the business model for Medium is. Clearly, they’re planning to “sell” whatever I put on Medium, but it’s not at all clear to me what they’re selling it for.

If I wrote a Medium-length article for a magazine, I would have some expectation of being paid for it. Is medium just “selling” me their audience? What does Medium get out of it? Is it a fair trade? I don’t think I’ll keep using it for now, because I don’t think I understand it. If that changes down the road, maybe I’ll evaluate it again, but in the meantime, I’d like to have the value proposition be a little clearer. Maybe I’m just looking in the wrong spot.

The downside of is that nobody visits. The upside of it is that I understand what I’m giving up by writing here.

Eating Dinner

Now that I’m not on facebook any more, I find I have a need to say things like what I had for dinner and how awesome it was, but I don’t have any obvious place to do so.

Local bison burgers, courtesy of our friends over at Bear’s Honeypot. Citrus basil pesto, courtesy of the garden. Scamorza affumatica, courtesy of the cow. Fresh rolls, courtesy of Lina.

SO YUMMY! Was that less than 140 characters?

Sunday Morning Music Archives

David Petty has added a new page in celebration of a year of podcasts: Archives of Sunday Morning Music. The podcast has grown and changed over the year, and it’s fun to listen to the archives and hear the evolution.

Another time, I’ll post my top five favorites of this, my favorite podcast, but in the meantime, go listen to this week’s episode. Nice way to spend a sunday morning.

How To Find Me

I recently stopped using Facebook and LinkedIn. I love the Internet, but lately those two places in particular had started to feel like the walled gardens of the eighties and nineties (e.g. AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy), and I don’t like that feeling.

I started college in 1993, which coincides with the tearing down of the walls in the walled gardens. The so-called “Online Service Providers” started adding access to the open Internet, specifically adding the ability to connect to email, newsgroups, and the brand-new World Wide Web. The Web exploded in popularity, and I had a mental narrative that “openness has won.” But in retrospect, it was not quite so simple.

Over time, the Web became as centralized and balkanized as the online service providers had been. One cannot use Twitter to make a status update to Facebook or LinkedIn or Google Plus, just like one could not use CompuServe to send email to AOL thirty years ago. It’s an obnoxious and unnecessary state of affairs, which benefits only the oligopoly.

Facebook is awesome in many, many ways. Same goes for LinkedIn and all the rest. But I’m not sure I want my love notes to my wife to have ads on them. I’m not sure I want Facebook to be in a position to decide whether I see that the cancer treatment of a friend is going well, or to alternatively see something that makes me more likely to “engage” with Facebook’s ads. I’m not sure that I want my health problems, my triumphs, and my family to be used to build a profile of me that is, in turn, used to sell me things that I genuinely want, but also to charge me more for health insurance.

So, if you need to find me, post a comment on the blog, or call me on the phone, or stop by. If you must, you can still reach me via email:, but I have to be honest: I don’t like Google any better than Facebook, with advertising on my most personal thoughts. But at least you can still email me from wherever you have your email account, which counts for something, and at least Google doesn’t sort your update down to the bottom of the feed because health problems are such a downer, which counts for a little something more.

It’s not so much that I want privacy. It’s that I have a hard time reconciling a world where I routinely watch television without ads, but that my most intimate thoughts include them. It’s that I don’t want to wonder whether my friends have been silent merely because their status updates don’t merit sorting to the top, or because they’re sick or sad or have some other malady that is not conducive to selling advertising, so their pain has been made invisible to me.

I am still trying to figure it all out. I’m not saying I won’t be back, just that I’ll be outside the walled garden for a while if you need to find me. My so-called social network won’t know that, of course, because I won’t be posting this anywhere other than here. Maybe you could pass it along for me?


I asked a question on Math Overflow yesterday that didn’t get a very good response. Basically: it’s a dumb question, please ask a better one or ask it somewhere else. It was a good point, and I hope I can do better. I’m going to try here, and maybe post it there if it seems worth the time of the professional mathematicians when I get done.

Without further ado:

From Berge’s Hypergraphs I paraphrase this definition:

If X is a finite set, a hypergraph on that set is a family, H, of subsets of X such that an element of H is not empty, and the union of the subsets in H is X

The elements of X are called vertices, and the elements of H are called edges. There is sometimes a further constraint that if one of the sets in H is a subset of one of the other sets in H, then they are the same set. That makes the hypergraph simple, or a Sperner family. But let’s leave that out for a bit, since it has a bit of interaction with my question (or it may, I’m not sure).

I think the question I was really trying to ask, is: “What it is called if the elements of X are hypergraphs?” Are the elements of H all hypergraphs in their own right?

Another way of asking the same question (I think) is, “What is it called if the elements of H are always subsets of H?”

Maybe a third way of asking is, “What are the hypergraphs that are *not* Sperner families called?” I’m not quite sure about that, though, which makes it hard to know if the answer to the question is right.

Does the incidence structure with the elements of H on both the rows and columns have substantially different properties from the one that has edges on one and vertices on the other?

Why do I ask?

Mostly because I’m curious, partly because I’m lost, and ultimately because I’m trying to write some code that keeps trying to take this particular shape, and I’d like to read the stuff that people have already written about it.

Reading back through, I suppose it’s not ready for Math Overflow yet, but maybe after another round or two it will.

Chicken Master

“My master,” he began, but she interrupted him.

“I am not your master.”

“Yes, master.”

“Now go and put the chickens into their coop for the night.”

“But master, the chickens are wild and stupid.”

“Then you will learn a valuable lesson about mastery of yourself.”

He left, contemplating all she had said. She was not his master. Rather, she was mastered. In their conversation, the day before, she had said, “I must,” and he had stopped her to say, “There is no I.”

“Of course there is,” she said. “If I am part of everything, and everything exists, how could it be that I, then, do not exist?”

Upon returning from his hours of chasing chickens through grass and chicken shit, he showered and went to the master, who was reading.

“Do you want to know,” he asked her, “how I got the chickens into the chicken coop?”

“The chickens which were on the outside, you moved to the inside, and the chickens which were already on the inside, you let remain there.”

“Yes, master.”

“But I see there is a chicken still outside the coop.”

“Yes, master, that chicken is wild and stupid.”

“I see you have learned a valuable lesson about yourself.”

“No, master.”

“But you have. Now go, and do not try to outsmart the chicken, because that wild, stupid bird is beyond your ken.”

Hours later, he showered again and returned to the master.

“Now tell me how to outsmart a wild, stupid bird.”

“I mastered myself.”

“Bullshit, answer the question properly.”

“I stilled my body, and the chicken flew up to roost on my shoulder.”

“And now you are as wise as the branch on a tree, which caught all the ancestors of that wild, stupid bird every night for untold generations.”

That Thing Mathematicians Do

The thing the mathematicians do that I like, is to often begin with an exercise that lacks any semantic content. For instance, if I define a family, I define them as A, B, and C instead of Jimmy, Jane, and Babs. Lacks semantic content is an overstatement, but let’s just say it has less, and it’s mathematical in nature, mathematicians loving the capital letters the way they do.

A mathematical sentence of this variety might look something like this:

A B C D E F.

I say sentence, but it’s not really a sentence yet, it’s just a sequence. The graph of this sequence might look something like this:

A -> B -> C -> D -> E -> F

In order to rewrite the sentence into a syntactic graph, I have to have a bit more syntactic information about what sort of thing A, B, C, D, E, and F are. So I say that A is a thing that always connects to a B and a C. B is a thing that always connects to an A and only an A, but C is a thing that connects to an A as well as a D, an E, and an F. D, E, and F, respectively, always connect only to a C.

Now I can make a graph that has a bit more structure:

ABCDEFOne way of describing what we’ve done here is to say we have rewritten the graph, but another way is just to say we’ve taken some syntactic (semantic?) information and organized what was formerly a sequence into a graph.

Now, if you imagine we give A, D, and B all more definitions of the prior sort: A connects only to a C, D connects to a B, and B connects to a D. Now we can draw a different picture of the graph:


Think of it not as two graphs, but as two pictures of the same (hyper)graph. We’ve composed it inside out, but that’s one of the tricks I always have to use when I’m trying to think n-dimensionally. Obviously it’s a shortcut, but it gets me there while I’m retraining my brain.

Of note, I will add that I just oriented the graph arbitrarily. A doesn’t need to be at the “top” for anyone who isn’t used to graphs of this sort. The rules, presented here together

  • A connects to B and C
  • A connects to C
  • B connects to A
  • B connects to D
  • C connects to A and D and E and F
  • D connects to C
  • D connects to C and B
  • E connects to C
  • F connects to C

are the lexicon that allows us to compose this sequence (and others using those terms) into a hypergraph.

Picking which view of the hypergraph works in a particular context is the kind of work that brains are used for.