Ryan’s notes

February 2022

February was a pretty shit month for me, a fact that probably won't come through here. While I enjoyed some trips and kicked off solo projects, I never got into the groove of working consistently or collaboratively, which is something I'm itching for more and more these days. It's getting tiring deciding what is worth doing each day on my own.


I finally began reading Winners Take All by Anand Gridharadas. It's a critique of elites trying to address big social problems with mission-driven private companies like Even (which is discussed for six pages). I feel like I better understand software's limits and venture capital's traps after living in the Bay for a decade and working on Instagram and Even, so disillusionment with Silicon Valley doesn’t pack much punch for me. But reading the book did help me reflect more clearly on where we over-sold what Even could accomplish. It also pushed me to grapple with the tension that arises when the best way to solve a problem isn't what I'm good at or enjoy doing.

I read A Big Little Idea Called Legibility and it resonated like a tuning fork. Legibility is an idea that powerfully explains so many successes and failures in our world, as well as my own craving for order (Me, the Mayor). Legibility is distilling student performance to lettered grades that can be ranked, sorted, aggregated, and easily compared. Making messy things legible (like how a student learns) is how we coordinate at ever larger scales. We model and categorize the world and in the process we (over-)simplify it in order to make decisions. Sometimes the simplification leaves important information behind, at which point legibility becomes a failure mode. I think the key lesson here is to remember that behind every number, category, or neatly ordered thing is a richer and more complex reality. We must dip into the real thing regularly to evaluate whether our legible, more actionable model is actually the right one to act on.

After the invasion of Ukraine, I felt that I was in a filter bubble echoing a two party foreign-policy consensus from the same politicians and media outlets that delivered us Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Vietnam, and the rest. The common explanations for Putin's invasion just didn't add up for me. My Russian friend in the states (with anti-Putin sentiments I might add) sent me a different perspective: Why is Ukraine the West's Fault? by John Mearsheimer. This contrarian thinking seems important to consider. It's not a defense of Putin's actions, just a different lens to look through, one that I find compelling.


I've been fascinated by the patterns chocolate makes when fats and sugars separate from the cocoa solids (when it "blooms"). These patterns are beautiful and can look like the surface of another planet. I started experimenting to create different kinds of bloom. My goal is to create a large-format print of Chocolate bloom art, but lately I've been thinking: why not mount a sheet of bloomed chocolate directly on the wall?

A sample in my first chocolate bloom experiment

I've thought about growing leafy greens and herbs for awhile because I eat so much salad, buy so much lettuce, and waste so much plastic. My friend Steve introduced me to Home hydroponics which has some benefits over soil: you can do it inside, no pests, no mess. I created a scrappy setup in my room and germinated my first seeds this month.

My hydroponics setup with the grow light hanging from a bike stand

Sometimes you have an idea that just won't go away. I've thought about this one for eight years: given a cycling route, could I generate a timelapse video from Google Streetview images to give me a sense of what it might be like to ride? Well, I built a little prototype (which I call Streetlapse) and the itch is now gone.

Streetlapse of the back side of Hawk Hill


I can't believe how common dry falafel is at restaurants. Making falafel both crispy and moist at home is easy. Stuffing them is even more fun: Stuffed falafel.

A few friends came together to make Hand-pulled noodles. Fun, messy, playful, tasty.


My sister encouraged me to run a 10k at Old Man Winter, a snowy bike / run festival outside of Boulder in the middle of February. Weather varies a lot year-to-year. This year was mild, which meant running ~2 miles on packed snow. We ran fast, savored the novelty of it all, and enjoyed recovering in some hammocks, listening to live music. Would recommend.

I skate skied for the second time in my life and managed to feel reasonably competent after an hour of losing my balance and falling down repeatedly. I love the constant motion and the rhythm of cross country skiing. Given increased lift ticket prices and a conspicuous elite-ness of resort skiing that makes me feel uncomfortable, I'll opt for more cross-country skiing in the winters to come.


I'm thinking more seriously about what a return to work might look like. I know I'm tired of software which means being a beginner again in something else. I have a vague interest in "fabrication:" working with wood, metal, fabric, and other materials, but this is too broad to be actionable. I'll be looking for specific ways taste different kinds of collaborative making, stay tuned.

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