Great Design

El Dorado Is In The Mind

Technically, El Dorado – if it exists – is massively distributed underneath South American soil and in similar South American sites, at locations that only Inca record keepers had memorized.  According to a documentary I just saw, this is a close and in fact probable approximation for the El Dorado that many (including myself) had considered to be mythical.

When Pizarro held the final Inca Emperor Atahualpa hostage, and demanded gold, an untold amount was brought to him, from parts unknown, and without any understanding of how it could have possibly been stored somewhere.

The best theory is a large, distributed set of Inca record keepers memorized countless hidden locations where portions of the mammoth Inca gold reserves were individually secured.  After Atahualpa  was killed, the details of any such system may have died with him.

The suspicion is much more Inca gold remained hidden throughout that part of South America, and in fact treasure seekers still haunt that region and occasionally find more Inca gold that unfortunately ends up on the black market instead of museums.

Great Design

Use The Bottom Half Of A Spray Cleaner Bottle To Soak Paintbrushes

I needed to soak a paintbrush in paint thinner overnight to clean it.  While it’s said that used paint thinner is still usable, my goal was to use as little new paint thinner as possible, and no typical container really met that goal.

I find it hard to believe no one else has ever thought of it, but none of the most popular internet articles and instructional videos suggest using the bottom half of a spray cleaner bottle.  In fact one of the more popular videos – by someone who obviously had a lot more experience than me – illustrated how one can balance a cylindrical can on its edge precariously so that the gasoline he put inside the can would soak more of the paintbrush.

We had dozens of different spray cleaners – 409, Lysol, generic brands, and a near-empty Frosch-brand cleaner.  The Frosch bottle had a thinner profile, fit the paintbrush like a glove, and worked perfectly.

Great Design

Diphthong Mnemonic: The Spanish Language Is Greater Than You & I

In Spanish, two vowels side-by-side may be pronounced as one syllable or two syllables, depending on the vowels in question.  (Note that the order of the vowels doesn’t matter.)

“Strong Vowels”A  E  O

“Weak Vowels”:  U  I

• 2 strong vowels together = 2 separate syllables

aeropuerto:   a – e – ro – puer – to

• 2 weak vowels together = 1 syllable (diphthong)

ciudad:   ciu – dad

1 strong vowel + 1 weak vowel together = 1 syllable (diphthong)

pueblo:   pue – blo

An accent mark on a weak vowel will undo what would otherwise be one syllable.

día:   di – a

The true pronunciation of aeropuerto still kind of messes with my mind.  I also used to think of ciudad as 3 syllables.  That’s the whole idea behind having the mnemonic.

As for the mnemonic itself, it’s simple and pretty self-explanatory – just convert “you & I” to “U & I”, and those are the two things noted as being smaller or weaker than something else.  It helps you remember which two vowels are the “weak vowels”.  As for the rest of the rules, one could make up something like the following: Two “strong vowels” side-by-side will each demand their own limelight; they each demand to be pronounced separately.  Conversely, two “weak vowels” will band together to be pronounced.

Of minor interest is the fact that if you perhaps disagree with the jingle, in its surface-level reading, then that mental dissonance would, in general, probably create a more effective mnemonic for you.

Great Design

Committing To Advance The User-Experience State-Of-The-Art

Like millions and perhaps even billions of other people, it happens to me at least several times a day: I’m prompted by a computing device to make a decision I don’t care to make.

In most cases, I don’t want to make decision.  In fact, I don’t want to even read about what the decision is about, much less make the decision.  But if I had to make a decision, I would usually just want to keep the current state of whatever it is the prompt it talking about.

But of course, the prompt almost never tells you what the current state is, nor how your potential decision might affect the current state.

A lot of times, there is an ‘X’ somewhere that you can click to make the prompt go away, but even that is not ideal.  I usually have to think for a split second and translate that ‘X’ in my mind to “probably non-committal so I’ll click that”.

The industry standard for user experience (“UX”) ought to be updated such that this entire idea is finally recognized as a first-class concept.

Specifically, there ought to be a separate button, that is at least as prominent as the other buttons, and which says something to the effect of “Non-Committal”.

The collective amount of time that would probably save humanity can not be under-estimated.

Poor Design

Cheating Windows Out Of Cheating You (The Fingerprint Reader)

For all I know, this is a well-known problem with an easy solution, but after searching online, it seems like many people have the same problem, and nobody has a solution.

The problem, for some reason, is this: If you have a fingerprint reader (as a faster log-in method so you don’t have to type your password), and the sensor/Windows doesn’t verify your fingerprint after about 3 tries, Windows will require you to type your password.

It seems like Windows is being insane.  I can’t think of a reasonable security rationale for not allowing unlimited fingerprint tries, when of course you have unlimited password attempts.

The workaround is this: Alternate the fingers you use in between unsuccessful fingerprint verifications.

If finger #1 doesn’t work, try finger #2 next.  If that doesn’t work, go back to finger #1.  Windows allows you to register at least two fingerprints, so everyone who has this problem ought to be able to use this workaround.

When you use this workaround, the number of tries that Windows gives you goes way up.  It seems like more than enough to eventually get a successful fingerprint verification, at which point you’re logged in.

Of course, this makes the whole thing seem even more insane.  If there were no security rationale to begin with, then I really, really have no idea how to describe the security rationale for this extended workaround.

Great Processes

Chicken Or The Egg, When To Really Learn Spanish Tenses, And What Has Worked For Me

One challenging aspect of language acquisition is the chicken or the egg problem.  Languages tend to have many moving parts, which in turn are all dependent on each other.  Thus, there is not a strict, orderly sequence of lessons you can simply march through to learn the language.

Although I suspect language experts and theorists have studied this concept in detail, as well as specific manifestations of the problem, I’ve never really heard anyone talk about it as it pertains to learning tenses in the Spanish language.

In my experience, you can only learn so much Spanish before a lack of proficiency in the tenses start to become an learning bottleneck or roadblock.

To illustrate with an overly simple example, you can learn how to say different colors in Spanish, without any comprehension of the Spanish-language tenses, but it will be quite painful to at the same time study general Spanish idioms, which have a much greater dependency on tense knowledge.

The interesting question is this: Where would one draw the line in Spanish curriculum, and say that Spanish-language tenses must really be learned before this arbitrary line in the sand is crossed?

I’m definitely not an expert, but I’ll share my personal observations and use popular Spanish educational books as a proxy for Spanish curriculum and the Spanish language in general.

You can really learn up to, and probably finish, Spanish 3: Advanced Conversation, without really learning Spanish-language tenses.

However, starting with Ultimate Spanish Beginner-Intermediate: A Complete Textbook and Reference Guide, I would say you really want to have already learned Spanish-language tenses.

I read Spanish 3: Advanced Conversation while concurrently writing and learning Flawless Recall: Universal Memorization Method For Conjugating Regular Spanish Verbs, For Students And Teachers.

My results have been very good.  Where as I would have previously been blocked or significantly slowed down while trying to read Ultimate Spanish, I am now able to read it normally.

I would also point out that Spanish 3 and Ultimate Spanish (both by Living Language) are pretty good books.  I definitely recommend both of them.  Just looking at the marketing, I was worried Ultimate Spanish might be a rehash or regurgitation of Spanish 3, but it’s not.  It’s a completely separate book, and it’s definitely a step up from Spanish 3.  Finally, both of those Living Language books have some typos that might tend to really confuse you if you don’t have a decent understanding of the Spanish-language tenses!


ChatGPT: A Wily Son Of Gun

I previously shared my thoughts on the new,  experimental AI-enhanced search engines.

Here I’ll share some chat excerpts that showcase some colorful and interesting discoveries.  At this early stage, you really can’t read too much into them.  However, one has to suspect the following: The heart of these issues will be difficult to tamp down.


Vintage Quotes

Traditional double-sided poster for Reminiscence (2021).  Back of poster has reverse image to enhance colors when backlit.  Film did not achieve financial success, due in large part to the COVID pandemic.

No such thing as a happy ending.  All endings are sad.  Especially if the story was happy.

Reminiscence (2021)


Searcher Beware: ChatGTP, Microsoft, Google, and Bard 

There was recently a lot of buzz surrounding Microsoft’s heralding of ChatGPT, which is an AI technology that Microsoft is incorporating into their search engine Bing.  Google responded by announcing the release of Bard, which will add analogous AI enhancements to their own search engine.

I dabbled with some of the new technology, and my top 3 takeaways were this:

1.) If this had all occurred circa 1998, the value would be much higher.  But after 20+ years of people using search engines, we have already built up a native understanding of how search engines workWe have a native understanding of how to parse through search results, get what we want, follow-up on what we want, and so on.  At this point, it’s not really a burden to us, and it tends to facilitate us getting what we want, as quickly as possible.

If someone wants to try to synthesize those search results for me in a natural-sounding language, that’s great, but I imagine I’ll often want to dissect it back into its original pieces (i.e. the search results we’re all familiar with) and just process this at a lower level (i.e. the search results we’re all familiar with), to maintain a higher degree of search fidelity.

As an analogy, over the course of many years a software engineer will eventually build up a native understanding of a particular programming language.  Although there are certain scenarios where it would be useful to have a technology where a programmer can speak in a natural-sounding language to a computer, and have it spit out code, or conversely, have someone explain existing code in a natural-sounding language, often times that’s just not optimal and in fact it’s painful.

The best use cases for this type of technology were, to the best of my knowledge, actually being played out in cars and even homes years ago.  When you’re in a car and need a hands-free search, this is very useful.  When someone is not tech-savvy, this can be very useful.

You just have to take those synthesized search results with an extra grain of salt, and you accept that potential loss of precision and accuracy, because you’re driving and at that moment that’s the best you’ll be able to do.

The bottom line is classic search results, and the need for them, will never go away.  Many times we will prefer them.  In a lot of cases, we need them.  To articulate what should be a simple, canonical example of this truth, if one wanted a 2nd or 3rd medical opinion, they would not want a clever intermediary to synthesize the net cacophony of all those doctors’ voices.  To the contrary, they would want to hear the entirety of each opinion, and they would want each opinion siloed.

2.) Beware of insidious errors!

For reasons unknown to me, one of these new, state-of-the-art technologies refused to “talk like Sub-Zero ”.

OK, so then I asked a more modest follow-up question, at which point it rattled off some synthesized information, and buried in the middle of that synthesized information was the worst type of error possible.

Relative to its context, it was a critical error, but it was not an obvious error.

Nothing drew any attention to this error.  It was very inconspicuous.

It would not be immediately obvious to anyone else what your misconception is.  Instead, they would assume your sense of humor was just kind of off, you were acting kind of strange, etc.  They would not feel compelled to stop and correct you.

There is very little in the ambient environment that would cue you to the fact that you are mistaken!

Indeed, it is the type of error that you can have in your head for decades until you finally realize that you have it wrong!

It had claimed that Sub-Zero was the “main character” in the Mortal Kombat franchise.

And, if someone were using a search engine as they normally would, I don’t believe they would ever come to that conclusion.

3.) The top search companies will compete as they normally do.  Anything is possible, but there is little reason to expect this will fundamentally change the search engine landscape.

People noted that Bard got a question wrong.  For reference, when I used ChatGPT, most of the answers were wrong, or had one or more significant inaccuracies within the answer.  Not surprisingly, this all reflects what we get in our normal search results, and have a native understanding of how to deal with.  So in closing, I would also add that I don’t expect these AI enhancements to fundamentally change the accuracy of our searches.

Poor Design

“Red And Yellow (May Soon Again) Kill A Fellow”

One of the great things about living in the Rio Grande Valley is the sheer lack of natural predators.  In my experience, there are really only two natural predators that come up often enough to really care about: killer bees and coral snakes.

Coral snake photograph by elvissa under the cc-by-sa-2.0 license (

Both predators afford most people reasonable opportunities to avoid an attack, and up to the present, most people could also survive an attack if medical attention was rendered.

You might be surprised to know that the remaining supply of coral snake antivenom is scarce, and it expired a long time ago!  Since then, the FDA has repeatedly extended the expiration date of the remaining supply, using laboratory analysis of the supply to justify the extensions.

Well, you can probably visualize the sorry state of affairs if the FDA isn’t throwing out this expired product, but instead performing scientific analysis on it, in the hopes that it’s still good.  That alone tells you things can’t be good.

The science behind coral snake antivenom is simple by today’s standards, and there’s actually only one limitation to its production: cost.  The corporation that used to make it stopped making it because they decided it wasn’t cost effective.  In doing that, one approximation for the price of a human life has been implicitly calculated for us.

Google’s search engine displays text from inside the paywall of this medical journal, and it claims the expiration date of the existing supply is now set at 2024 – one year from now.

Without the antivenom, the current standard of care is essentially to let the patient die in a hospital bed, while simultaneously experimenting on the patient’s body with some slightly-better-than-random, unproven, erratic treatments.  This is indeed a sorry state of affairs for a country this advanced.

Is hope on the horizon?  Yes and no.  On the one hand, we have been looking at producing a novel coral snake antivenom from south of the border.  On the other hand, the official announcement regarding this is… fairly somber:

Trials for the coral snake anti-venom are complete and the product is now an investigational new drug, according to FDA standards. A private entity holds the Investigational New Drug Application and will make the decision about pursuing further FDA approvals needed to commercialize the anti-venom.

There is a great deal to be skeptical about.  A “private entity” owns this investigational new drug and will decide whether or not to try to get it approved medically.

Said differently, we are at T-minus-one-year until the remaining supply of coral snake antivenom expires, again, and the good news is a “private entity” is toying with the idea of having their new experimental drug studied to see if it might work sufficiently and also pass FDA standards.

While we should hope for the best, that small flurry of haphazard, seat-of-your-pants scientific activity is almost a distraction or an excuse for the few informed people that even follow this to feel OK about letting the remaining antivenom supplies dwindle to zero – thus silently condemning a new generation of coral snake bite victims to death.

To me, this is an unprecedented experience, and feels as vulgar and foreign as being informed that for some reason we don’t have any more tetanus vaccines, so new tetanus victims will probably die in a hospital.

The truth is this is a shining example of the need for government intervention.  Government should mandate the production of a reasonable supply of proven antivenom, and provide grants if necessary.

The whole truth is people that live in affected regions – like the Rio Grande Valley – have an interest in making that happen.