John Richter
Exploring innovative ways to connect people to the environment. Artist-, filmmaker-, scientist-, technologist-, entrepreneur-wannabe. My Tumblr is floatingintrees.tumblr.com.       more...
Twitter: @jahnreektor
johndavidrichter@gmail.com

Writing Samples

Does Food Aid Hurt the Food Sustainability of Recipient Nations? - written for Global Political Economy in junior year (age 20)

ASEAN Integration: An Analysis of Progress and an Assessment of Its Future - written for International Institutions in sophomore year (age 19)

Narrative Modes in If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler  -  written for the Art of the Novel in senior year, age 22

My personal statement to UT-Austin for my application to the computer science program - age 22

Generating a Change in Behavior - EcoNexus - age 22 or 23

New developments on the horizon...

A few new developments on the horizon over the coming months...

Blogs

VizualizeEarth.com - My friend Mihir and I are starting a data visualization blog on alternative energy, climate change, policy,  and alternative systems (e.g., bitcoin and local food systems).  Mihir graduated from Emory with a math degree, and he is a data analyst and consultant in clean energy.  The site will be a lot of R and D3 visualizations.   I think the trend towards decentralization with alternative energy (see Mosaic), local food systems, and cryptocurrencies is an important and fascinating one.  Personally, I hope this blog serves as a launching point in getting involved in those issues (ideally, starting a company!)  Unlike this blog, which captures my free form ramblings from my college years, Visualize Earth will provide high quality, semi-quantitative and qualitative analysis a la some of my favorite blogs like GNXP (genetics) and Information Processing (genetics/physics).  That's the idea, anyway.    

JohnRichter.io  -  I'm finally getting rid of the first-middle-last name moniker for my portfolio site.   My new site will house my portfolio as well as more experimental/creative projects driven by my personal voice, combining art, science, and narrative.  I strongly believe that people are emotional before they are logical and that art has the capacity to induce mental states (erm, transport people to "higher planes of consciousness") that simply aren't possible via a purely analytical frame.  I have specific ideas of a project I want to do along the lines of those media/narrative exposes you find at places like the Rolling Stone, OPB, or the Seattle Times.  I have all the concrete skillsets required.  Will I realistically have time to complete this project?  It remains to be seen...

Other

Pale Blue Dot Activist House - I cofounded a climate change-centered activist house with a friend of mine.  (We had previously cofounded 350 PDX.)  It was a half a year in the making, and there were several times when it looked liked it wouldn't happen.  We somehow found two more awesome climate change activists.  We're gonna have an urban homestead with chickens and gardens. 

Startups, startups, startups - Oh yeah, that.  I need to get back in on this.  Got a solid idea or two, just need a smart ambitious partner.  Portlandia, land of the slackers, makes this hard.

My resume

Unlike the resume I sent most companies, this one actually shows samplings of my work (i.e., screenshots).  My portfolio site (johndavidrichter.com) is currently under re-development.  

econexus.co/JohnRichter_resume_long.pdf

//updated.  accepted a job!

My personal statement to UT-Austin

The following is the statement of purpose I wrote for my application to UT-Austin's computer science program.  I wrote it while I was a senior at Washington University and about to graduate with a degree in political science with a minor in economics.  It's interesting looking back on it, as it depicts my psychology at that moment: I had just finished four years of liberal arts training, and I was convinced my path to doing something that matters was through computer science.   (I was right!)

If I were to write a similar essay today, it would be significantly toned down.  I think my idealism would still shine through, but it would be less cheesy and have a harder edge.  :-) 

Seeking the Infinite

One and Zero.

At first glance, these digits appear meek and unassuming.  Too, they seem limited, primitive even.  But I warn you: while you may scoff at the perceived inadequacies of a one and a zero, don’t be fooled by their deceptively simple appearances: these digits are revolutionaries.  In the right hands, they have elected leaders of the Free World, united the peoples of distant lands, and shaken the boots of dictators.  Indeed, I know this because I once doubted the power of a one and a zero.

When I first embarked on my college experience three and a half years ago, I came in with distinct notions of who I was.  Keen on understanding how the world operates, I gravitated towards the liberal arts, immersing myself in the study of great literature, political ideas and movements, and the workings of society.  Through my chosen major and extracurricular activities, I came to be defined, by myself and others, as a specific breed of student: that vague stereotype of one engaged solely in the liberal arts and endowed with a heightened emotional sensitivity.  But in embracing my liberal arts moniker, I allowed the label to overdetermine my identity, simultaneously erasing my past experiences with the sciences—those evenings watching PBS science programs or teaching myself web design—while confining my future progression; I circumscribed my identity between self-imposed borders.

Similarly, one might misinterpret the humble exteriors of these ones and zeros as signs of limitations.  Be wary of such characterizations: bit by hardy bit, these digits form a cohesive unit of functional capability and the logical underpinnings of modern-day computing.  Though their individual responsibilities are deceptively scant—representing one of two states—they can be coaxed and prodded into an infinite array of concerted forms.  Limited these ones and zeros are not: it is through the creative arrangement of these characters that economic productivity and exchange has increased, in turn uniting peoples formerly isolated from one another.  It is through these binary values that, in the 2008 US election, an unlikely candidate of atypical origins was able to win the presidency—an accomplishment scarcely conceivable without the rapid dissemination of information provided by web 2.0 technologies.  And it is through these ones and zeros that, a mere six months later, an authoritarian regime in Iran was shaken to its core when citizens opposed a rigged election, rapidly relaying protest plans through cell phone texts (Twitter)—despite the best efforts of the government to stymie communication.

Over the ensuing years at Washington University, I interned in a variety of sectors related to my liberal arts degree, including nonprofits, documentary filmmaking, and the government, ultimately finding the lack of creative control and the dearth of analytical opportunities frustrating.  Ironically, it was through my internships at the Sierra Club, where I developed a variety of websites, that I started to become aware of my passion for computer science: in each of these projects, I was forced to logically plot and systematically construct dynamic websites through a calculated combination of HTML, CSS, and PHP, incrementally building on prior foundations and isolating errors through deduction.  In immersing myself in the nitty-gritty of web design, I stumbled upon the steady and persistent gratification of analytically solving many small problems and acquired the deeper understanding that these individual components were inextricably tied to a larger picture. 

In youth, our minds tend to overflow with idealism and a sense of the big picture; almost universally, we harbor the preternatural intuition that the world can not only be better, but radically better.   In coming of age, we are forced to apply our idealizations to the reality of the world; often, the amorphous theories of life germinating in our minds don’t measure up to our real life experiences.  Through these disillusionments, we slowly gain a keen awareness of the lurking possibility of failure and existence of limits.  Some of these limits are real, and others are imagined; however, some limits are simply real because we imagine them so—and in the mere process of imagining them, we sanctify and substantiate them.  If not careful, this process of reconciling our real life experiences with our idealizations comes to deleteriously shape our being: it shades our decisions, our concepts of self, and even our notions of a higher power.  We ignore the infinite parallel realities waiting to be culled into existence by an enterprising spirit—realities of a more connected, just, and sustainable world and realities of a more fascinating and meaningful personal life.

Through my circuitous path, I have come to realize that computer science is not just a series of ones and zeros, but in fact much more; that like the letters in a great novel, the components of computer science can be arranged in an infinite array of possibilities, undergirding a limitless number of realities.  Moreover, not only are the logical bases formulated in computer science dependent variables precipitated through the ingenious will of men and women, they are also independent variables unto themselves, enhancing the agency of men and women and unleashing his and her potential.  It is through computer science that I would like boldly shake off internalized limits and imaginatively articulate the pending future—a better one that I know exists.   

 For somewhere in the depths of our beings, we all understand that, just beyond one and zero, lies the infinite.  And it is our task, if not instinct, to seek it. 

 

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Casting off the dull and uninspired and achieving a sustainable planet

[An old post before the great crash]

One transition I've noticed in former climate change skeptics is that they now believe in climate change, but they just argue we shouldn't do anything about it because it's not "worth it", economically or otherwise.  This phenomenon might be worse than outright climate change skepticism because it suggests an underlying deficit of imagination, conviction, and spirit.  (Not to mention, they're just plain wrong.  It's far more expensive to do nothing than something.)  It's the antithetical personality to the "American" archetype: cynical, small, inert vs.  optimistic, courageous, and vigorous.   These skeptics are the dull and uninspired, DU-skeptics for short.

As Colbert says, "Thanks for literally nothing."

More wars over water resources in desertifying third world regions?  No big deal!  Lower crop productivity due to warmer temperatures?  Eh, who needs food!  Mass extinction?  Screw animals!

DU-skeptics couch their viewpoints in some sort of common sense wisdom: "We can't address climate change!  It would affect the economy negatively!" (Never mind the fact that countries like Germany will be 100% renewable energy by 2050.)  It's so silly, it's so small, and, to be frank, it's dumb.

Fortunately, there is a silver lining: the future hasn't been and won't be made by the dull and uninspired.  If the world were exclusively made of people who thought they like they did, we would live in a sad, small world, lacking art, creativity, vigor, and innovation.

Forging a sustainable future is the story of our times.  Society has spent the past 200 years living beyond its means, and we're only now realizing that there’s only so much carbon we can pump in the atmosphere and only so many resources we can consume.    We live on a finite planet with finite resources and finite lives.

And within our lifetimes, we will have the privilege (or misfortune…TBD) of seeing this transition:  new energy technologies will form, policies (hopefully) will be enacted as the picture becomes more dire, economists will even have to reconsider that we don’t, in fact, live in a planet with infinitude.  

The goal is to make that transition happen sooner rather than later, and sweetly instead of tragically.  

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I tumble

The weird thing about blogging for me is that I often have battles with how much I want to give away--how much I want to distill into hard prose.  Sometimes I just want to let things float around in my mind in free form.  When you make it persistent, it warps how you think, for better or worse, as you revisit those thoughts more often.  And when you give away too much, you make yourself more vulnerable...

Sometimes I just want to post a video, or a quote, or a song, but that looks like shit on a blog.

So now I tumble.  

Basically, it's F***ING MAGIC! 

[This post originally appeared 02/08, before the great crash.]

Holidays and Thoughts

[This post originally appeared 12/28, before the great crash.]

Holidays and thoughts.

What people need vs want

Need implies something that a person objectively needs in order to prosper. Obvious examples include food, shelter, and other ingredients to good health.

Want introduces a new layer of a person's agency and motivations. This layer can exist in combination with need or independent of it. (Sometimes, people decouple wants from needs, creating a dichotomy between the two where wants tend be frivolous while needs are, well, necessary.) For my purposes, the key to getting people to change behavior--especially for the purposes of sustainability--is to make change something they want and not merely need.

(thoughts spurred by sister's in-laws)

Appreciation of Platforms/Mechanisms vs Culture/Content

Computer science-oriented people tend to appreciate mechanisms over the role of culture and content. Tech companies often create platforms or structures that facilitate certain interactions and the creation of content; the platforms themselves are quite neutral entities. On the other hand, non-tech or logically minded people tend to place too much emphasis on the role of culture and content, often overlooking the role that a good structure, platform, or mechanism has in creating change or facilitating interaction.

In an indirect way, Linus Torvalds made note of this in a lecture he gave about Linux. I saw the lecture many months ago. He basically said that one of the Linux distros created content very well--an area that he personally overlooks. I obviously don't remember much about his lecture other than his aside on the role of content, which shed light on my increasing tendency as a computer science student to overlook the value of content since I was largely involved in designing structures and mechanisms that facilitate content.

Meme Wars: The Creative Destruction of Neoclassical Economics (Amazon Link)

This book critiques the pitfalls Neoclassical economics, especially the assumption of endless growth and infinite resources. It challenged a lot of my thinking, and it was a refreshing counterpoint to my econ background. Some areas of it I obviously disagree with it, but its voice is a deeply important one.

Mark 8:36

What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?

On Ecological Deficit and Surplus

It's clear that if trendlines persist--with 25 species going extinct everyday, with carbon dioxide accumulating, with landfill trash piling, with population overflowing, etc--that we will live in a drastically less ecologically vibrant planet with each passing year. That's just math. At some point there isn't much left to take away.

And it's hard to overstate the devastingly sad impact a world without intact natural areas and rich biodiversity will have on the human psyche over thousands of years.

One way to think of the dilemma is that certain nations are in ecological in deficit while others are in ecological surplus. Certain nations, like the US or Canada, are living in ecological deficit: we have used or are using our resources at too fast of a rate, and we must rely on nations that are in ecological surplus--generally poor nations that have not consumed their natural resources (or do not have restrictions on them) and do not consume enough by themselves to do so.

Progress

Progress.
Progress.
Progress. 
Progress.
The End.

- a handwritten scrawl in Meme Wars, implying that an economic mindset predicated on endless growth will result in ecological destruction


Blame

You blame China. You blame India. You blame America. You blame the CEOs, the oil companies, the vague and incoherent ‘system,’ the international regulatory regimes, the hypocrisy of the left, the righteous of the right, the educators, the economy, your parents, your childhood, your job, your bank account, your mental health, your government, everyone and everything but yourself. Wake up! This is no joke. Ecocide is actually happening and your five planet-lifestyle is the primary cause of it. - Meme Wars

You Promised Me Mars Colonies. Instead, I Got Facebook. (Why we can't solve big problems - MIT Technology Review)

Society faces big challenges like climate change or traveling to mars, yet most tech companies tend to focus on trivial challenges. The only only tech company created in the modern era with grand aspirations is Google, which wants to liberate the worlds information. Compare this to Apple, IBM, or Microsoft, which wanted a personal computer in every home.

STOP SUCKING. BE BOLD.

Think like a Genius - Scientific American Mind

Geniuses tend to have a many interests and a common process of discovery.

We need to cultivate environments where geniuses thrive, since nearly all innovation comes from people in the top 1% of ability.

You are Not a Gadget - Jaron Lanier (Amazon Link)

Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist, father of virtual reality technology, multi-talented instrumentalist, and dred-locked hippy. I'm still slowly reading through this book--but I have a lot of other books on my plate simultaneously.

On "Lock-In"

A technical engineer is also social engineer. - Jaron Lanier

As I've written about in my own essays and on this blog, software engineers have the power to redesign how people interact with each other and the planet. Lanier summed up this sentiment more succinctly with the quote above.

The issue is that a great bulk of computer scientists tend toward the anti-social/autistic side of the spectrum, which colors the type of technologies they create. These suboptimal designs, which often have limited perspectives of personhood, often get "locked-in"--permanently imposing their narrow views of what it is to be human and realizing a lower, more limited form of our species. A good example of this is Facebook. Many kids are growing up letting their Facebook identities overdetermine their real identities.

I have discussed this basic hazard before, when I talked about how I was sometimes afraid to write down my thoughts because I might realize them in a lower form dependent on how I was able to express at the moment I wrote them.

Free Will - Sam Harris

Sam Harris argues that we don't have a free will. It's crazy how much I've forgotten about this book in just a week. I'll have to look over it again and update this post.

 

Blog erased

[Edit: Google cache to the rescue!]

My blog data was erased.*

The last backup I made was at the end of September, shortly before I moved to Portland. I lost several entries on Portland, climate change, my startup, and miscellaneous thoughts.

On the one hand, I'm angry: the photos I uploaded over the past 1.5 years--of my trip to Big Bend and of my garden--will simply cease to exist. On the other hand, I feel a little relieved. As I wrote in one recent entry:

"The weird thing about blogging for me is that I often have battles with how much I want to give away--how much I want to distill into hard prose. Sometimes I just want to let things float around in my mind in free form. When you make it persistent, it warps how you think, for better or worse, as you revisit those thoughts more often. And when you give away too much, you make yourself more vulnerable..."

I had written a lot of thoughts on climate change, statistics, and politics, that, while true, had a lingering negative ambience about them. I revisited those thoughts more often simply because they were most recent on my blog. Now my memory has been erased all the up until the eve of my departure to the Pacific Northwest. From my new vantage point, all I can see is the rise before the journey--that sense of generating lift before my great flight.

P.S. I have a Tumblr, and it's f***ing magic!

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