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Preview: Jon Aquino's Mental Garden

Jon Aquino's Mental Garden

Engineering beautiful software

Last Build Date: Mon, 10 Jul 2017 06:39:12 PDT


Moving to a new blog

Sun, 23 Nov 2014 19:42:42 PST

I'm moving my blog to a different system. It still needs some tweaking and prettying up. Anyway, it's at

Git command to show you the largest commits you did in the past week

Mon, 29 Sep 2014 12:28:00 PDT

At Ning, we have a weekly meeting where we give feedback to the team based on how the week went. However, it's hard for me to remember the most important things I did in the past week.

The following git command will help. It gives you the commits from the past week sorted by number of lines:
git fetch; git log --author=Aquino --shortstat --pretty=format:'%C(yellow)%h %C(blue)%ad (%ar) %C(green)%cn %C(reset)%s' --date=short --since='1 week ago' "--remotes=*" -C | perl -ple 's/.*, (\d+ insertion).*/\1/' | perl -0 -ple 's/(.*\d\d\d\d-\d\d-\d\d.*)\n(\d+) insertion*/\2 \1/g' | sort -nr | less
(Make sure to replace Aquino with your name.)

It produces output like this:
90 0d9214a 2014-09-26 (3 days ago) Jonathan Aquino ABC-487: Extract uploading code into AbcUpload class.
68 0978007 2014-09-25 (4 days ago) Jonathan Aquino [no-jira] Remove hardcoded numbers...
54 d28dc90 2014-09-23 (6 days ago) Jonathan Aquino ABC-330: Make cropping actually work.
52 94afa2f 2014-09-24 (5 days ago) Jonathan Aquino [no-jira] Show full text of post in the detail view.
47 77e4710 2014-09-25 (4 days ago) Jonathan Aquino ABC-487: Extracted controller function into AbcCamera...

Final causes

Fri, 01 Aug 2014 08:40:18 PDT

I'm interested in understanding more about final causes, after reading Edward Feser's blog post, The Return of Final Causality, and the paper it links to, Does Efficient Causation Presuppose Final Causation.

What is a final cause? From what I understand, Aristotle said that every change requires four things (four "causes"):

  • efficient (the doer of the change)
  • material (what the changing thing is made of)
  • formal (the nature of the changing thing, common to all things of that type)
  • final (the normal result of doing what the doer is doing)
For some reason, most contemporary philosophers reject #3 and #4. I'm not sure why.

The basic idea of a final cause is given by the last sentence of the paper:
It is not empty to assert that all efficient causes are aimed at something.
Sometimes when you do something, the result is different than normal. Regarding this, the paper quotes Aquinas: inanimate beings, the contingency of causes arises from imperfection and deficiency: because by their nature they are determined to one effect, which they always produce, unless there be an impediment due either to weakness of power, or some extrinsic agency, or indisposition of matter. For this reason natural causes are not indifferent to one or other result, but more often produce their effect in the same way, and seldom fail.
 I am going to re-read Feser's book The Last Superstition. Some questions I will have in mind while reading it are:

  1. I would like to understand Aristotle's ideas better (act and potency, form and matter, the four causes.)
  2. What reasons have we to believe that these ideas are true?
  3. Which of Aristotle's ideas do moderns reject and why?
  4. What problems does the rejection of these ideas cause?

Media Files:

Growly Notes - like OneNote but for Mac

Wed, 06 Feb 2013 13:13:26 PST

I'm trying out a free Mac app called Growly Notes. I need a kind of "space" in which to record ideas, and I need it to be organized so I can find it again quickly later. This app may fit the bill. It has a bit of a following. And it's colorful, which is nice.

Also see the Lifehacker review.

Pine cones open up when you bring them inside

Fri, 23 Nov 2012 07:56:16 PST

My fiancee has been collecting pine cones for room decorations, and one cool thing we discovered is that they open up after you bring them inside. I'm not sure if it's caused by the warmth or the dryness or something else.

A day or two after you bring them in, you'll see that they gradually splay open. Evidently they are doing this to expose the seeds inside.

Two life-changing questions to ask yourself each day

Sat, 06 Oct 2012 09:00:24 PDT

There is a traditional practice of asking oneself the following two questions at the end of each day. It also works great with other people – my fiancée and I enjoy asking each other:.

1. What are you most grateful for today?
2. What are you least grateful for today?

There are other ways to ask them as well: What increased/drained your energy today? What brought you consolation/desolation today? What part of today did you really like/dislike?

The idea is that by reviewing your day and looking for what brought you life vs. what drained your energy, over time you will see patterns in the things that give you joy, and the things that don't. And you can make decisions that lead you to more of the former and less of the latter.

I read a recommendation for this book which talks more about it.

Favorite drink: Milkshake

Thu, 09 Aug 2012 16:05:20 PDT

Man, I just love milkshakes. I don't like pop or coffee that much, but it's nice to have a good, thick milkshake. I am enjoying one made out of cookies-and-cream ice cream right now. Better than a Frappucino or a Blizzard.

I was watching how they make a milkshake, and it seems that (at least at Just Desserts at SFO Airport) all they do is stick ice cream in a blender. Good 'nuff.

A better way to brush your teeth

Wed, 30 May 2012 08:16:19 PDT

Yesterday Mila informed me that various people have pioneered improved ways to brush one's teeth. One of the ways is the Bass Method. Basically, you point the brush into your gums at a 45 degree angle and jiggle the brush. See description (scroll down to "Modified Bass brushing technique") and video.

Make your own mini Moleskine notebook for (almost) free

Mon, 21 May 2012 20:04:12 PDT

Moleskine makes these nice mini notebooks that are so small you can slip them into your wallet. But they cost $10 for two. Here I'm going to show you how to make something pretty similar using materials you probably already have at home. All you need are:

  • a 3x5" writing pad
  • a 3x5" index card
  • a stapler
First grab a bunch of paper from your writing pad, and put it on top of the index card:

Next, fold everything in half:

Add a couple of staples along the fold:

And voila, you have a mini Moleskine-like notebook that you can stick in your jacket or wallet. I like to write the date in front – since these cost essentially 0 cents to make, I end up making a lot of them over the course of a year. Enjoy!

New todo-list system: One-Minute Todo List

Sat, 19 May 2012 22:08:44 PDT

I was trying a todo-list system called SuperFocus, in which you keep your todos in a notebook, and you must do at least one item on each page before moving on to look at the items on the next page.

But I got frustrated with it because tonight I had 10 minutes to do something from my lists, and I had a ton of important stuff in the last few pages. But because I have to do at least one item on a page before moving to the next page, I was stuck a few pages back on: polish shoes.

That tells me that there is something wrong with this system.

So I'm trying yet another todo-list system. This one is called the One-Minute Todo List. Here is a link to the free e-book PDF. The basic idea is to have three lists:

  • Critical Now (stuff that must be done today). Max 5 items. 
  • Opportunity Now (stuff to do within the next 10 days, when you get an opportunity). Max 20 items. Review daily.
  • Over-The-Horizon (stuff that could be done after 10 days). Unlimited items. Review weekly.
The third, unlimited list scares me a bit - it could get really huge. Anyway, we'll see how it goes.

One of the advantages of trying out a new to-do list system is that you can start with an empty list :-)

Media Files:

Spotted license plate 000 NPE

Fri, 18 May 2012 11:02:09 PDT

The significance of this odd spotting will probably only make sense to computer programmers (NPE = Null Pointer Exception), but a few days ago, Mila and I were following an SUV with license plate 000 NPE, which is quite amusing. I don't think it is a customized vanity plate – here in British Columbia, license plates have three numbers followed by three letters, or three letters followed by three numbers. It could be a genuine coincidence.

Figured out my favorite kind of music: poetry recordings

Tue, 08 May 2012 21:59:45 PDT

I don't have a favorite kind of music that I like to listen to. If you ask me, "What's your favorite kind of music?", I have no answer. I like a song, but I soon tire of it.

But there is a recording that I enjoy listening to over and over: The Caedmon Poetry Collection: A Century of Poets Reading Their Work. Here you can hear T.S. Eliot, e e cummings, Auden, Yeats, Pound, etc. reading their work. I wish there were a link to a page with some audio samples that I could share with you.

Is God fond of us?

Wed, 25 Apr 2012 09:50:55 PDT

Last night I was at a coffee shop with Mila and in the course of our conversation, she mentioned that "God is crazy in love with us." Father Dave said something like this a few weeks ago as well. My question is, is it proper to think of God as being deeply or "crazy" in love with me? It "would be nice", but I haven't heard or read this viewpoint from an authoritative source.Is God vengeful or loving? This question disturbed me, so I have spent the past three hours this morning Googling around for something, anything, that can help me to come to grips with this question. Is he both? Check out the famous icon of Christ Pantocrator below:Note how the left half of the face is gentle and the right half is stern, representing his human and divine natures. I like the gentle side but am a bit worried about the stern side.Many Christians intellectually believe that God is unconditionally loving, but in their hearts they believe that he is stern and vengeful. Here's a not-bad article that I came across on the subject. Google also linked me to an excerpt from the book What Catholics Believe which asks, "How can a God of love also be a vengeful God who demands suffering of his son?" It then starts to get good and talks about the parable of the prodigal son, but then suddenly, page 59-61 are not shown in this preview.Another book I turned to this morning was Good Goats, which was recommended to me some years ago. One idea from it that rings true for me is that God loves you at least as the person who loves you the most. Nice idea, right? I can believe it, but unfortunately the book is spoiled by some ideas that strike me as heretical, at least to a Catholic - it questions mortal sin and hell, which are traditional Catholic teachings, and this despite the authors being Catholic. So I needed to look elsewhere for answers.Long story short, I finally turned to Pope Benedict XVI's 2006 letter Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love). It is a long letter, but I needed to read it this morning. I was getting confused by all the various viewpoints on the question, and I needed something authoritative, a dose of sanity. I won't go into detail here (if you have the same question as me, go read it - it's great), but below are some highlights:While "God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being", he is "at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love"."Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa.""This divine activity now takes on dramatic form when, in Jesus Christ, it is God himself who goes in search of the “stray sheep”, a suffering and lost humanity."So my understanding now is that, yes, it is proper to view God as being "a lover with all the passion of a true love". Not the "puppy love" that the words "crazy in love with us" may evoke, but the deeper love that is more like that between husband and wife. Have I fully figured out what the love of God is like? No. As Augustine said, "If you understand it, it is not God." Is God vengeful? Maybe, in an odd, roundabout way - he can get angry (as husband and wife can), but he also provides a way out. Do I fully understand this? No. But I'm a bit more at peace with the idea of God being a lover, with the image of marriage being a key to understanding it.[...]

Rembrandt's painting "The return of the prodigal son"

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 16:03:10 PDT

You gotta love Rembrandt's painting, "The return of the prodigal son". That's the elder brother peeking around the column in the background.


Henri Nouwen has a highly reviewed book about this painting and the parable behind it. I haven't yet read the book, but it seems to be about moving from being the prodigal son, to being the elder brother, to being the welcoming father.

The Compleat Gentleman: 10 Favorite Quotes

Sun, 22 Apr 2012 14:08:05 PDT

There is a book called The Compleat Gentleman (2009) on what it means to be a gentleman. To be honest, I found a good deal of it boring, but it did have some good bits. Here are ten of my favorite quotes:

1. "He is a man who stands up for others - sometimes even for his enemies - often when those others have no clue that he is there for them."

2. "Most of the time a gentleman is just a mild-mannered fellow whom folks may take for granted. But when the job of saving the world comes up, there's a change in the man."

3. "There is simply no substitute for strength of character, and in boys, or men, this requires two things increasingly rare in our time: knowledge of the past and a vision of the future."

4. "The process of character development begins and matures in the home."

5. "Protect the weak and less fortunate."

6. "He is also a man of silence, a man reconciled to his own death."

7. "A gentleman is dedicated to the virtue of goodness. He believes he ought to do the right thing."

8. "He respects her, listens to her, and does all that he can to give her what she desires. This is true in terms of her existential ambitions, and it is equally - if not especially - true of her physical needs."

9. "Some of the most important things about a man are the things he keeps from most people all the time and from those closest to him until the time is right."

10. "'A gentleman,' Confucius said, 'is distressed by his own lack of capacity; he is never distressed at the failure of others to recognize his merits.'"

Canada Food Guide

Sat, 07 Apr 2012 18:56:08 PDT

In Canada we have something called the Canada Food Guide, which recommends that each day, adult men have 8-10 "servings" of vegetables/fruit, 8 of bread/rice/grain-products, 2 of milk/alternatives, and 3 of meat/alternatives.

Reading this makes me realize that my bachelor's diet of Mr. Noodles, eggs, and cereal is not enough. I'm definitely going to be changing how I eat to be healthier and more in line with this guide.

Are you making sure you are eating healthy?

Media Files:

10^24 (a trillion trillion) = number of stars in the universe = number of atoms in a cubic foot of air

Thu, 05 Apr 2012 09:51:10 PDT

First, go look at this picture of a tiny patch of the sky at night. Be amazed: those aren't stars – those are galaxies.

Consider that there are estimated to be a trillion (1012) galaxies in the universe:

And that each galaxy contains about a trillion (1012) stars:

So how many stars are there? About a trillion trillion (1024):

This is hard to imagine. In our everyday experience, do we ever come across a trillion trillion of anything? Actually, yes – there are about a trillion trillion molecules in a cubic foot of air:

Another way to remember this is that it is roughly the same as Avogadro's number (about 6x1023), or the number of atoms in a gram of hydrogen atoms.

(Pondering immense quantities like these can make an atheist or a theist out of a person, the latter particularly if you accept Aquinas’s proofs that God is, among other things, existence itself.)

The 5 Love Languages

Mon, 26 Mar 2012 20:14:23 PDT

That's the title of an interesting book by Gary Chapman on 5 different types of communication that people like to receive:

  • Words of Affirmation (praise, compliments, etc.)
  • Quality Time
  • Physical Touch (hugs, etc.)
  • Acts of Service (doing the dishes, taking out the trash, etc.)
  • Receiving Gifts
Above I have arranged them starting with the ones I like best. Feel free to praise and compliment me :-). Quality time is also good. And, what can I say, I like to give hugs to my family. On the other hand, acts of service and gifts are nice, but honestly they don't do a lot for me.

I want to know: what are your top 3?

Tech news recommendation: Hacker News

Sat, 17 Mar 2012 11:20:22 PDT

I gave up on RSS feeds (after many years of tracking dozens of them) because they consumed too much precious time each day. At work I asked for someone to recommend one good news source for tech news.

Golf recommended a great one: Hacker News. It's a great 1-page list of top tech news of the day. I find the items there relevant, to me anyway.

Jesus had a beard

Wed, 07 Mar 2012 13:15:55 PST

If the Shroud of Turin actually shows the face of Jesus, then it is interesting to note that, yes, Jesus did have a beard, and quite a full one. His face is also stockier and more rectangular than the delicate face we are accustomed to seeing in paintings.

Mila (the woman I am courting) pointed out to me that it is notable that this image had to wait for modern technology (i.e., photographic negatives) before it could be clearly shown.

The face on the shroud (left) and its photographic negative (right) (source).

GTD Overwhelm

Sat, 03 Mar 2012 23:08:17 PST

I've been practicing GTD for, I don't know, 7 or 8 years now and I feel overwhelmed. I'm not doing the stuff on the lists, and I have too much stuff on my lists. I'm going to start fresh with a new system called AutoFocus.

Line drawings (free, royalty free)

Sun, 05 Feb 2012 17:08:06 PST

There's a great online collection of free line drawings from copyright-expired books. I used some recently to spice up a booklet I made. Here are a couple of examples:

On being late

Sat, 04 Feb 2012 18:10:57 PST

Argh. I just made the woman I am courting 25 minutes late for a meeting. I feel very guilty about this. I have this tendency to "squeeze" time - trying to be "productive" by doing things before I need to leave, then not giving myself enough travel time.

Enough is enough. Based on articles like this one, I'm going to promise myself to double the expected travel time (according to Google Maps or whatever) and add a 20-30-min buffer (depending on familiarity/importance).

May we all be LATE NO MORE. Do you have trouble with being late? Any tips on getting rid of this bad habit?

On forgetting an anniversary

Sun, 15 Jan 2012 20:26:15 PST

I have been trying to buy some roses each month for the woman I am courting, on the monthly anniversary of our courtship. Today, it didn't go as planned - I actually bought the roses, but I forgot to give them - I left them behind in the car when I picked her up for Mass. And she told me later that she was expecting them too. So I felt a bit bad.

How does one deal with the guilt or regret that accompanies failure? She said that I could just bring the roses tomorrow, but you still feel bad because things didn't go perfectly. One approach is to follow the advice of the AA prayer ("God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change...") and just accept the fact that it now lies outside of your control, and just move on. But still, you feel bad about the failure. Is there another way to look at it?

You could say, it's God's fault/will (or it's fate). Then you wouldn't feel so bad. But then you'd start feeling bad again because you know deep down that it actually was your fault.

The way that works for me is to realize that yes, it is my fault, but God can make some good come of it. Aquinas demonstrated that God is existence itself; so as I see it, when we mess up, he can order things so that good can come of it nevertheless. There is also a Bible verse that says that "in everything God works for good." So it is interesting to see, when bad things happen, whether any positive things can happen as well.

Such as this blog post! It's something good that sprung up from my failure, and maybe there's someone that will be helped by it.

How to shred a document by hand

Sat, 31 Dec 2011 10:37:07 PST

Here's a simple way to shred a document by hand. It's easier and more effective than just ripping it up haphazardly.

First, take the thing you want to shred (a document, or just your address), and fold it many times:


Then cut it once:


Finally, put one half in your recycling bin and the other half in a garbage can. If you do that, it should be pretty safe.