The Bay

Every time I'm in SF lately, I meet people who are making minimal amounts of money and sharing an apartment with a few people just to work in basically software sweatshops.

I feel like there's not a cool way to say that companies like to be based in the SF Bay / Silicon Valley area because they like the legal protections (for employers) that being based there affords. Software companies don't give a micron of a fuck if their employees can't afford to live there, and the more money that workers spend on basic living (rent/food/healthcare/transportation), the more beholden they are to the company. The less money one can save, the more impact something like a layoff will have. People can go from working hundred-hour weeks to living in their car really fucking quick. And I feel like no one is spelling this out for people.

At RightsCon, I was casually chatting with someone who's salary is partly made up of equity (stock in the company). The company is hoping for a Series B round of financing, which means that most employee stock will be diluted (lessened in value). He was not aware of this concept. Nor was he aware that, in his case, his best-case scenario is that his stock gets reduced in value. The worst-case scenario is that the startup doesn't get their Series B (which they need to continue being in business) and he gets laid off and the stock is worth nothing at all. In the interest of keeping it light, I did not quite spell this out, but instead recommended that he have an accountant or lawyer go over his equity agreement as it would spell out the terms.

Then there's the guy who I met in December who's spending ~$2000 a month to share a 4-bedroom apartment in the Mission with four or five other people (depending on the week). He doesn't even have his own bedroom. Listen. You have your whole life ahead of you. Move somewhere with less terrible rents, where the streets aren't covered in urine constantly, where you will be treated less like a commodity and more like a person.

Dead Air

Put a new sim card in my (rarely used) travel phone and it notified me of a voicemail to my old Google Voice number. No real message -- just some background noise and subtle breathing.

This happens about once a week on my regular phone, but usually from a blocked number. It's happened on and off for a few years now, and strikes me as the sort of thing I probably should care about. But I really don't tbh. It's not scary, it's not even annoying. It's boring. Someone is trying really hard to freak me out and it's weaksauce.

Lately I've been saving the voicemails, but not actually sure why. Maybe I should start posting them to this blog or something ;-)

Here's one from November 25, 2015 (requires flash, sorry)

Anyway, if I wind up hacked to bits, it's even odds between this guy and the reporter who said I was gonna get my brains blown out. That reporter then pre-emptively reassured me by saying that the brain can't feel pain, so it would just be a split-second of pain on the surface of my skin before oblivion. ...I don't give a lot of interviews. Inexplicable, really.

Anyway. I get a lot of weird phone calls, is what I'm saying.

Havana Travel Tips for Weirdos

Note: This was originally posted as a response to someone's mailing list post, so if it looks a little disjointed, it's definitely because of that and not because I'm a bad writer ;P

For those traveling from the Western Hemisphere, another common route is to fly to Tijuana or Mexico City and then take AeroMexico. Round trip from MEX>HAV is $350-$400 usd. When Americans arrive, border agents stamp a piece of paper and will refuse to stamp passports. When you leave the country, they will confiscate the piece of paper. The visa is easy to get, but visitors must have at least 3 days in a hotel (pre-paid and be prepared to present the receipt). Once let in, it's much cheaper to stay with locals. Also, US dollars will get you a lot farther than Cuban pesos. The poverty there is extreme, and various necessities are only usually obtainable with USD.

Many Cubans report paying their rent with US dollars, and sex workers will only accept US Dollars and sometimes Euros. It's certainly a strange detail, given that most American travelers do not have permission to go to Cuba.

In general, expect border agents to confiscate "excess" electronics. If you bring something that is out of the ordinary (for a sun-bathing tourist) it may be confiscated. The tradition is to bring extra and give to activists based locally (who have minimal access to hardware). Cuba is, of course, totally aware of this and will ask why you came with three phones and (if they let you in) why you're only leaving with one. If you're living the three laptop lifestyle, you might be better off leaving them at home and bringing a burner netbook that isn't encrypted. I'm not sure what the impact the conference will have, but I'm prepared to have things taken away on entry.

This likely doesn't apply to anyone on this list, but if you (or your traveling companions) expect to bring a lot of tech, look into arriving by boat rather than plane. The usual "tech class" travelers that most areas love to have, Cuba is more suspicious of.

When going anywhere that might be classed as "adventure travel" it's a good idea to have a second passport whenever possible. For US travelers, this is a very simple process -- write a letter supporting your need for two passports (traveling to A while waiting on visa for B is a common reason) and go to the Passport office or embassy. If approved, you'll be issued a second passport that is valid for two years, and can ask for a 'passport card' as well. The passport card is useful as ID but not really for border crossings. I'm going through this process now for travel to eastern Europe and central Asia. There's something very comforting about being able to leave one passport in Berlin with my work laptop & phone, and take only the bare essentials to wherever I'm going.

License to travel

You may be wondering whether you qualify to go to Cuba. If you're not American, this doesn't apply -- only Americans require a license to visit Cuba. If you're going to CubaConf in April, you likely qualify for a "general license" under one of the 12 broad categories recently put into place by the Treasury Department. With general licenses, you are not required to request a written determination before you leave. Whether your travel qualifies for a general license is an excellent question for your attorney. Treasury notes that your schedule while there must be "consistent with a full-time [working] schedule." This means you, guy who plans to Instagram every meal and daiquiri while there.

So sayeth the Treasury Department: Among other things, this general license authorizes, subject to conditions, attendance at professional meetings or conferences in Cuba relating to a traveler’s profession, professional background, or area of expertise...

Source: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cubafaqsnew.pdf

Algebra II

This is some #showerthoughts shit, but today I was thinking about the time my high school math teacher confided (apropos of nothing? I think?) that he’d had a date with a pretty Swedish woman. They ultimately went on a second date, but decided not to pursue a relationship. The teacher was in his mid-twenties at the time, and I would have been around sixteen, so the age gap wasn’t that large.

It didn’t strike me as particularly weird or anything at the time, but today I wondered whether he told me because perhaps he didn’t have anyone else to tell. Then I felt kinda sad about that for a few. Then I realized that this would have been around fifteen years ago, and that the participants of those two dates had almost certainly forgotten about them by now. And yet this is what chooses to occupy one of the lesser-used memory vaults my brain.

I can’t remember PHP but I remember this. My brain does not have its priorities in order.

The Day Without Coffee

The first cup of coffee I made today got knocked over by a cat, who proceeded to throw up on my kitchen floor.

The second cup was inexplicably strong and terrible, and got tossed out.

I was pretty excited about the third cup, but when I poured half-and-half into it, all I got were chunks. I literally went out, bought coffee, and their milk was rotten. I mean, who the FUCK--

Anyway, I don’t think I was meant to have coffee today.