Hey, I’m Parker.

Creator of music, photography, and (mostly open) software.


Members of the Cornell University Glee Club and Chorus were asked to perform at a wedding on campus yesterday, and as a member of the Glee Club, I volunteered to sing. This wedding, being a Catholic one, was quite traditional, and left me feeling quite uneasy about my participation in the ceremony.

I have renounced any belief in the Judeo-Christian God for about 8 years. I grew up in an Episcopalian church in Rochester, NY and it was quite a liberal experience. Though I appreciate what religion can do for many around the world, I find it stifling, and often quite demeaning. As I listened to the prayers, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of unease. Questions filled my head: How can anyone subject themselves to complete obedience to something of which they know so little? How can anyone find this comforting, to relinquish control to some "being" that most likely does not exist? Why do members of our society, despite incredible evidence against it, continue to believe in such an archaic set of beliefs?

I found myself wishing I could get up and leave. My heart began to race, fueled by the "fight-or-flight" instinct. I felt threatened, not only personally, but also I felt a threat to our entire society. We see, on a practically daily basis, how the Abrahamic religions are holding us back in many different ways. We are paralyzed by our fear that disbelief will mean condemnation, but all forget that the concepts of hell and purgatory are Medieval conceptions fabricated by the Roman Catholic Church to provoke incredible fear. These conceptions are just as despicable, just as reprehensible, as the tithe. These conceptions invoke a fear that is very real, but it has been seen time and time again that obedience caused by means of fear always falls.

There is hope. The population of "non-believers", those who do not profess a belief in the God of Abraham, is growing rapidly. With the ability of science to definitively answer questions that were historically answered by religious doctrines, we are able to let our belief in the Judeo-Christian God go. We no longer need a priest, an imam or a rabbi to interpret the scriptures for us — we have scientists that can do this for us! Our scientists, their theories based upon facts (things we know to be true, not just a guess or a belief), have given us verifiable beliefs. Skepticism is welcomed. It is a wonderful thing to be a part of the scientific world!

Listening to the prayers professing ultimate devotion to some being no one actually knows, I became uneasy. Our society can do better than this. We must be determined to live in a more fact-based society… we must.

Thank My Lucky Stars

Last night, I experienced the most significant car trouble that has ever occurred while I was driving. As I and a couple friends were leaving the city of Rochester for home in our respective suburbs, I ran over a pothole that was quite large (it is Spring in a city which experiences incredible snowfall, so they are to be expected) and heard a thud and a "whooooosshhh". I stopped the car.

I hopped out of the driver's seat and inspected the vehicle. My front left tire had popped and I was now riding on the rim. No good. I turn off the car and switch into crisis mode. I've done this before, I think as I remember back to helping my father change the tire on the back of our minivan a year or so ago. The other guys in the car behind me (we had two cars, luckily) hop out to help. I grab the spare tire, jack and wrench from the trunk and begin the process. Loosen the bolts. Jack up the car. Take out the bolts. Replace the tire with the spare. Reattach the bolts. Put the car back on the ground. Tighten the bolts.

As we are working on the car, we realize that the car is not on flat terrain. The road upon which we've stopped is an incline. We jack up the car with incredible trepidation, with two guys on the lower end of the car, applying pressure to ensure that there are no issues with the car falling from the jack and ruining the axle.

All goes as planned and we lower the car. Once the car is on the ground, we notice that the spare is flat! Jeebus, this is annoying. Bereft of a pump or any other way of putting air into the tire, we're stuck. I finally cave and call AAA, only to find that I'm not on the plan and that "the plan covers [my father], not the vehicle." After about 15 minutes of calls (it's easily 12:15AM by this point), my father sorts it out and is able to convince AAA to add me to the plan. They give me a call and I'm (finally) able to request a tow truck. Whew, that was annoying.

All while I'm on the phone with AAA, I suggest to the other car that they head out (a couple of them had to wake up very early). They agree and go to leave, only to find that their car won't start. Now this is quite a turn of events. Two cars, out-of-commision on the highway very late at night — this is how horror films start.

As we're waiting for the tow truck to arrive, a friend and I are talking while keeping a look out. We see a tow truck drive by and we flag him down, but he's not the tow truck which was called for us. A kind-hearted guy, he agrees to help us out. He maneauvers his vehicle over to where my car was disabled and inspects the spare. He pumps it up and determines that it's not leaking! What joy! One car back to road-readiness.

The other tow truck arrives as we're working to blow up my tire and he jumps the other vehicle. All is well.

Couldn't have asked to deal with this with better people. Was so glad they were there to help. Thank my lucky stars.

Improvements for Instapaper

I am a heavy user of Instapaper, an app that allows one to save webpages to read later. I am a subscriber, and I have chosen to keep the ads turned on, to support the creator and sole developer, Marco Arment, because, well, he's a great guy and he deserves it. Marco works tirelessly to not only create something that he finds useful, but also something that might be useful to others. Thus far, Marco has done a fantastic job with Instapaper, as we have seen with his 4.0 release. He has added much-asked-for features, and nixed features that customers didn't feel were useful, or downright hated. The iPhone and iPad app is absolutely fantastic, no doubt about that. Today, however, my gripe is with the Instapaper Webapp.

The Instapaper Webapp, the preferred way to access one's Instapaper account from a computer, is, it is sad to say, sub-par. Being a web developer myself, I can imagine that much sophistication lies behind the webapp, but it doesn't appear to "just work". There are several actions which have non-intuitive outcomes, and others which are very clunky. Along this same vein, I would like to suggest improvements to the webapp that I believe to be quite reasonable, as well as necessary.

In the interest of time, I provide for you a list of "gripes" that I have with the Instapaper webapp:

  1. When clicking "+ Add" from a folder, it does not add the new item to the folder, but to the general "Unread" folder
  2. No way to search through folders or one's entire Instapaper library
  3. Articles (as list items) are too large, therefore causing the issue that an "at-a-glance" view of the page shows only about 4 or 5 articles (MBP 15", 1440x900 screen res)
  4. No "label" concept

1: Adding an Article using "+ Add"

I have a folder called "News to Read", where I store news articles as they arrive in my inbox from various daily news digests. I was adding an article I had found to what I thought was this folder (I navigated to the folder, and clicked "+ Add"), and, after it didn't appear in the folder, I was a little confused. I navigated back to "Unread", and there it was. Needless to say, I was irked.

I would like to see a <select> menu on the "+ Add" page that autofills with whichever folder referred me (though allows for a change, if the user desires), and that article be added to whichever folder is listed in this <select> menu. That'd be great.

2: No Searching

This is actually my biggest grievance. I find the inability to search through my (>1000) articles to be quite annoying. Oftentimes, I will read an article, refer to it in a conversation and have no way to find it and send it to the person(s) with whom I discussed the article, because it is buried deeply in my archive. If there were a search bar at the top, I might be able to type in the first few words of the title or perhaps the site url (e.g., "http://www.nytimes.com/", or just "nytimes.com") and have a list of articles show up -- a much easier pile of articles through which to search!

This could be relatively easy to implement: when a new article is saved from the iOS app or via a bookmarklet, then the Instapaper engine could construct a few keywords or tags that identify the page. For example, if "NYTimes" is in the title, it is safe to assume that the article is either from the New York Times or somehow relates to the Times. In addition to this, we could have the option of adding our own, custom tags to a saved page both via "Edit" and when using "+ Add" to add the page.

EDIT: Some search functionality is available for subscribers.

3: Listed Articles are HUGE

In this case, we want to diverge from Billy Fucillo's famous line, and go for "small". The fact that I can presently see only about 4 or 5 articles in my viewport at once does not allow for any ability to scan. I tend to do this -- I will scan through article titles and find something of interest and read that.

Here's an idea: why not try creating a skin for Instapaper that looks a little like Gmail's new compact view? Given the large number of articles I have (386 in my Unread folder, 1500 articles not in my Archive), I would love a way to perform mass actions (like "archive", "move to folder", "apply tags") to various articles, and to see far more (maybe 25 or 50?) at once.

4: No Concept of "Labels"

This one is more a "nice-to-have" feature, but would be fantastic. I think Google really pioneered a different way of thinking about folders when they introduced the concept of labels into Gmail. This is a nice way to search and organize, because it is typical for one to have an article that applied to several topics they may have labeled for folders (e.g., "Tech" and "WebDev"), and allows for both of these labels to "house" the article. This also makes finding articles in the Archive far easier, because I can go to a label, click "View Archived Articles with this Label", and see all of the archived articles with this particular label! Parfait.

You would have to change Instapaper's API to return an array of folders for any given bookmark, but that's very doable. And, when getting a list of the bookmarks in a particular folder, as long as that folder's ID is in the bookmark's belongs_to array, then add it. But that's a no-brainer.


So thanks for reading. These are my improvements for Instapaper, one of the greatest webapps of all time. A huge "thank you" to Marco, who had the forethought to create something that the rest of us didn't even know we needed, and now, can't imagine living without. Thanks!

Also, Marco, I'm free this summer to help out with implementing improvements such as these. I'm a webdev with a lot of experience with PHP-heavy apps, and have used CakePHP and CodeIgniter before, which is what I believe you have written this webapp with. But take a quick look at my online resumé for a more detailed description of my qualifications.

Waleshark, Waleshark, WALEShark

This post is merely to preserve a moment in history. On December 9th, 2011 at 11:25am EST, I received the following email:

"It is with great pleasure that I send you this invitiation to compete in the 2012 Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod. Please accept my congratulations. We very much look forward to seeing you in Llangollen. The Music Department will be contacting you separately via e-mail with further details of your competitions."

Dear CUGC,

We're in. We made it. In a few short months, we'll be crossing the pond to compete in the world-renowned Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod. If we win all our competitions, we will be granted the title of "Choir of the World."

Well, ain't a that good news!

[ names redacted ]
International Tour Managers
Cornell University Glee Club

One of the most exciting events thus far in my life. I can't wait.

Hacker Newsletter

As a diligent member of the Web Dev & Tech community, I have subscribed to a number of weekly newsletters that focus on a particular programming language (such as the much beloved Ruby Weekly) or a particular occupation (e.g. Devops Weekly). Despite this great abundance of weekly tech newsletters, I look forward to no newsletter more than Hacker Newsletter.

First and foremost, the newsletter is intelligently & beautifully designed. It's very readable, very well-organized and simply perfect for my scatter-brained mind to parse through and enjoy. Kale Davis, the curator of Hacker Newsletter, does a spectacular job of rounding up important news stories, new & noteworthy libraries & such, and great examples of awesome things people are doing on the web.

Austin, of MailChimp, couldn't have said it better:

In an age where information comes via an increasingly overwhelming deluge, Hacker Newsletter combines relevant tech topics with discerning curation. Founder and web-app builder Kale Davis does the work so you can catch up on all the important topics developers are talking about in one easily digestible email.

If you haven't signed up for Hacker Newsletter yet, do so immediately! No time to waste!

Brilliant job, Kale. Keep 'em coming!

Life Without the Internet

As I write this, Cornell's network is down. It happened at about midnight - all of a sudden, everyone was receiving timeout errors and refused connection errors. I had some more offline work to do, so it didn't worry me too much, but I found myself anxious. I was anxious about the fact that I couldn't connect. In mere moments, the full realization that my connection to the world at large (alas, I have a dumb phone) was severed. After a minute or two of contemplation, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm: the world that I am in — the world of Cornell, and of Ithaca — was still very much accessible to me. The lack of an internet connection didn't stop me from going down to the café and enjoying a cappuccino and a nice book, nor did it hinder my ability to see those I care most about here. I felt at peace.

In addition to a newfound realization for what is around me here at Cornell, the internet's incessant nagging was finally put to rest. No more "1 Unread Message" or "248 Articles to Read". My lack of connection with the world was, for a moment, a wonderful escape from the unending barrage of information the internet presents on a daily basis.

This got me thinking. Born in the early nineties, I have always known the internet. In fact, I have never known a world without the internet, the personal computer, cell phones, and much more. I am truly a child of the information age. But have I been missing out on something? Constantly battling the perpetual influx of emails, tweets, status updates, and so forth, I wonder if I lose sight of ourselves. Moreover, I wonder if we lose sight of ourselves. (I know I'm not alone when it comes to the relentless flow of information heading my way.) I have a moment, indeed many moments, to truly self-reflect. This, I do believe, is what my generation lacks the most: time for self-reflection.

Thus, I challenge you today, to turn off your internet for an hour, or perhaps two. You may find yourself delighted to see what is awaiting you on the other side.

Student Entrepreneurs: Don't Over-burden Yourselves

I was reading Teens in Tech's blog post about how student entrepreneurs ought to manage their business while they are at school and in class. I have to disagree a bit with what Ben Paster advised we do.

Ben implicitly encouraged the use of every moment of downtime to answer support tweets and emails and to purchase a smart phone to help do this on-the-go. Though this seems like a great idea on the surface, I would strongly advise against this. For one, you begin to allow these minor issues to follow you around. I opt to keep all of my business emails in a place that is, yes, readily accessible, but also out of sight. While at school, and especially in high school, the distraction of a smartphone certainly means that the student will not be fully absorbing all of the information he or she is being taught. Few students, even those of the entrepreneurial type, have the self-control to keep the phone out of sight, even during class. An entrepreneur may be brilliant and resourceful in his or her area of business, but may not grasp the meaning being extracted from A Raisin' In The Sun or Hamlet during English class if he or she is also trying to answer support queries at the same time. I know from personal experience that a distracted student is usually not a very good one.

I would also argue that the phone would be a distraction not only in class but also out of it. I see it all the time: two friends walking next to each other, one speaking, the other trying to listen and text at the same time. That will certainly put a damper on your relationships with friends. Same goes for the relationships with your family members. Trust me: the smartphone can be used for good, but will often just get in your way.

So my advice to the student entrepreneur: find a way to be able to tuck the constant barrage of information away while enjoying life and learning. They don't need to be instantly answered - take the night off, go see a movie and enjoy being with your friends or family. You deserve it!

On the Future

Following my arrival at Cornell, I began considering my future much more seriously. What would I like to see myself doing in 5 years? How will I get myself there?

To answer the former question, I see myself working in my career in five years. I will complete my B.S. in Information Science in 2014 and will follow that up with a one-year M.P.S. in the same department. That brings me to May 2015, only four years and a half from how. I expect to find myself applying for full-time positions the previous semester at various tech firms such as Google, Etsy (my hands-down favorite), Hulu and other young firms. I'm working to build up my resumé and fortify my skill set with new languages, algorithms and the like.

Writing this, however, and having been a philosophy/political science/linguistics major last year at McGill, I can't help by wonder if it's all worth it. Our society dictates a certain path for future success. Those who are successful have earned a degree from an accredited institution such as Cornell, have perhaps pursued a graduate degree and go off to find a job that pays well. If only we valued our own happiness as much as our salaries, the world might be a better place. I hear talk of hopes to be millionaires and billionaires from students on campus and something about that appalls me but simultaneously excites me. Wouldn't it be great to have a net worth of over one million dollars?

But we mustn't forget that some of the happiest people on Earth live on a couple dollars a day. I wish to discover what it is they have that we are so lacking. Quality relationships with our families (the divorce rate is sky-high and I hear stories left and right about parents abandoning their children), perhaps? Or possibly an overwhelming sense of self-worth that our magazines and tabloids deny from us? If we are to have a happier future, collectively, then surely we must figure this out.

Pondering my future is a constant source of worry; not because I don't think I will be able to find a job, but because I don't wish to be a slave to my job nor dislike it. Do you know what I mean?

Getting Busy at Cornell

I've been at Cornell for a little over a week and I can honestly admit I've never been this busy. Thanks to my time at McGill, I have been able to manage my time well, but this is a new level of busy for me!

Coursework has been relatively do-able; I've had 3 assignments and 7 readings to do. All in all, not too bad for 3 days of classes. Judging from what I know at this moment, CS2110 is probably going to be the most work. Much of the theory behind the algorithms and mathematical problems is new to me and I suspect that will be the most difficult aspect of this class. INFO1300 (Intro to Web Design), if I can't obtain an exemption from the course, will be a cinch. I really don't expect any issues with that class at all. INFO 2040 will be lots of work, but the concepts we're learning don't seem too difficult to grasp. It's also a huge class, so there's plenty of opportunity to ask questions to others. It has a good reputation, too. EDUC2710 is already turning out to be one of my favourite classes. Going to be a lot of work, but it'll be worth it. I was recently given permission to enroll in CS4999, a class where I conduct research and write web apps for college credit. All in all, a good deal.

Cornell offers wonderful academics, but I would argue that the extracurricular opportunities rival those in the academic world. I have chosen to get involved in the music scene here, having been accepted into the Cornell Glee Club just last night! A Cappella auditions are this week, and I'm still working on those. I'm also hoping to get involved with the Cornell Daily Sun as a web developer. There are a couple other clubs I'm looking into, but those are sort of on hold while auditions ensue.

In addition to all of this, I am a free-lance web developer/designer. I'm really excited to continue my Cornell experience. It's amazing here and I don't want to waste even one minute. Let's end in song:

Far above Cayuga's waters,
With its waves of blue,
Stands our noble Alma Mater,
Glorious to view.

Lift the chorus, speed it onward,
Loud her praises tell;
Hail to thee, our Alma Mater!
Hail, all hail, Cornell!

Far above the busy humming
Of the bustling town,
Reared against the arch of heaven,
Looks she proudly down.

Lift the chorus, speed it onward,
Loud her praises tell;
Hail to thee, our Alma Mater!
Hail, all hail, Cornell!

I look forward to sharing more with you about Cornell and my experiences here.