A phew phun phrisbee phrases phor nerds

Throughout my time at Carleton I have dabbled in the world of intramural (IM) Ultimate Frisbee. I played on a few different teams early in college, but became loyal to the computer science IM team (the Floppy Discs) later in my college career.

One of the most delightful things about that team is the CS-Frisbee jokes. For instance, a popular chant went:

– “What do we want??”

– “Score++ !”

– “When do we want it??”

– “time.now() !”

Being something of a nerdy pun aficionado (I sometimes tell people “everything I learn, I learn it for the jokes!”) I found myself sometimes getting distracted during games, struggling to piece together elaborate wordplay at the intersection of CS & Ultimate.ven diagram: cs, frisbee, these jokes

Anyway: here a few of my concoctions:

  • Whenever you call playerName.huck(), they return a long (with a whole lot of precision!)
  • I think instead of a stack, we should try implementing a heap. That way, it’ll be easy for us to go to the max.
  • I think playerName is a recursive Fibonacci function with memoization implemented, because they go really deep and still run really fast.
  • The other team says the disk was out of bounds so the point was null, but I think it was totally boolean!
  • Come on people, focus! We’re playing like a neural network right now— no one understands what we’re doing.
  • If we’re gonna win this thing, we’re gonna have to refactor some of our loops into higher order functions, so we run faster.
  • We had a pretty bad merge conflict out there when two players committed at the same time: nothing a little force push couldn’t resolve.

To any fellow CS loving Ultimate players out there… please use these, and tell me if you come up with some more!

The Meditative Joy of Cleaning a Community Kitchen

For three-out-of-four of my years at Carleton College I have lived in Farm House– an exquisitely lovely “interest house” centered around food, farming, sustainability, and community living. The house has been a central feature of my college experience. It has helped me keep busy and social, and many of my fondest college memories occurred within the houses walls or in its expansive yard.

The house is loosely associated with the student farm, which is located just outside our door. (The farm is managed by a farming club and two or three student workers over the summer, but there is often overlap between the farmers and the residents.) We divvy up household chores, take turns cooking, eat communal dinners, and put on events for the campus.

It occurs to me that I have devoted a great deal of time to cooking in, and cleaning up, this house’s kitchen, a task that is absent the lives of many of my peers who opt to remain on the meal plan all four years. Some say “I’ll have to cook and clean for the rest of my life, I want to enjoy the dining halls while they are here.” And I understand that sentiment. But I have found the cooking to be quite manageable when we share the responsibility, and cleaning the Farm House kitchen often feels less like a chore and more like a soothing respite from the bustle and stress of college– a kind of meditative joy. Continue reading “The Meditative Joy of Cleaning a Community Kitchen”

On Dylan’s “Mama You Been On My Mind”

Mama You Been On My Mind

See lyrics

Perhaps it’s the color of the sun cut flat and coverin’
The crossroads I’m standin’ at.
Or maybe it’s the weather or somethin’ like that.
But, mama, you been on my mind.

I don’t mean trouble please don’t put me down or get upset.
I am not pleading or saying I can’t forget you.
I do not pace the floor bowed down and bent but yet,
Mama you been on my mind.

Even though my eyes are hazy and my thoughts they might be narrow
Where you been don’t bother me or bring me down with sorrow.
I don’t even mind who’ll you be waking with tomorrow.
Mama, you’re just on my mind.

I’m not askin’ you to say words like yes or no.
Please, understand me.
I have no place I’m callin’ you to go.
I’m just whispering to myself so I can’t pretend that I don’t know.
Mama, you been on my mind.

When you wake up in the mornin’ baby look inside your mirror.
You know I won’t be next to you. You know I won’t be near.
I’d just be curious to know if you can see yourself as clear
As someone who has had you on his mind.

This is one of my all-time favorite Dylan songs. It provides a rich and moving glimpse into a relationship that is at a “crossroads”– forced to pivot into a new phase by some unnamed force. It’s a love song that is not cut from a clean template. It’s not about love sought or love achieved or love betrayed or any of those timeless motifs that abound across musical genres. It’s about something subtler and more complicated. It’s about a love that burns but does not consume; love required to exist in ambiguity.

To my mind, the song is doubly tender– tender in its show of affection, and tender in its show of restraint.

Dylan doesn’t say “I need you” or “you complete me” or “baby come back” or anything like that. Instead he sings “I’m not asking you to say words like yes or no, please understand me / I have no place I’m calling you to go … Mama, you’re just on my mind.” It’s a kind of half-hearted resignation. It’s both childish and mature, and ultimately just genuine. And beautiful and tragic.

It’s a song about love that should be acknowledged but not manifested for the time being. It’s about love that should be seen but not touched, like a painting. A song about love differed. I have long been enchanted with the way the words fall together in every verse, and the honest, instantly intimate scene they create.

Taking a stab at data mining Dylan

UPDATE (June 3, 2018): About a year after initially attempting this project, I decided to take another stab at data mining Dylan. With more programming experience, especially in the world of “data science”, I wanted to try to do things in a cleaner and more sophisticated way, and produce a more interesting end product. You can view the result at data-mining-dylan.dustinmichels.com.

My goal was the same: count references to cities throughout Bob Dylan’s lyrics and make an interactive bubble map of the results. However I made a few interesting changes. The second time around:

  1. Scraping: I did the web scraping with Scrapy instead of Beautiful Soup.
  2. Data formats: I saved the web scraped data in a structured way (JSON) instead of plain .txt files
  3. Data processing: I did the data processing using Pandas within Jupyter Notebooks, rather than using pure Python. So much nicer!! (See code here.)
  4. Identifying cities in lyrics: I identified cities by using a simple regex to search for one or more capitalized words and then cross-referencing those words against a csv file listing world cities. This was much faster, simpler, and more effective than my original approach of using the nltk package to do named entity recognition, and then cross referencing that against my list of cities.
  5. Making an interactive map: Finally, for the end product, I created a custom mapping widget using Javascrpt, leaflet.js, and vue.js. Previously I just uploaded a csv of mapping data to CARTO. My tool is much better custom-tailored to this project: it let’s you click on a city on the map and easily see exactly which lyrics mention that city.
Summary of different techniques for data mining Dylan project, the first time vs. the second time.

I got to present my project to digital humanities scholars at Carleton College’s “Day of Digital Humanities 2018,” which was a gratifying conclusion to this independent project. (See slides here). The current version of my map is live at: data-mining-dylan.dustinmichels.com.

We know that the freewheelin’ Bob Dylan rambled and roamed all across the United States. He grew up bored and cold in the mining town of Hibbing, Minnesota. When he learned that his musical idol, Woody Guthrie, was on his death bed, he made a pilgrimage to NYC in hopes of seeing Guthrie in the hospital. Once he was in New York, Dylan hung around Greenwich Village for a while, soaking up new musical and lyrical styles from that 1960’s creative hub. He recorded an album, got himself famous, and went on to travel all over the US and the world.

We know he went lots of places. But which places did he sing about? To answer that question, I made a tentative foray into text mining with Python and its web scraping/ natural language processing modules, then mapped the results with Carto.com. Here’s the result, so far:

Continue reading “Taking a stab at data mining Dylan”

Notes on Forming a Bandana in College

Excerpts from my diary, on the process of forming a bandana in college:

January 14, 2015
I was in a bandana for a while back in high school, but then I graduated and I guess we just sort of went our separate ways. I imagined getting into a bandana again once I started college, but I’ve had trouble finding one that really suits me. None of the bandanas around here are really my style, ya know? Oh well.

February 8, 2015
A friend of mine pointed out that I don’t have to wait around until I stumble upon my dream bandana– I could form my own from scratch! I think this is a great idea. I already put an ad up on Craigslist, and made posters to hang on bulletin boards around campus:

College student looking for some dedicated, yet laid back fellas to help me form a bandana! I already own most of the necessary equipment… just need a few bandana mates willing to meet a couple times a week and make this thing happen. Call me!

Exciting stuff!

Continue reading “Notes on Forming a Bandana in College”


To make my content accessible in a variety of forms, I’m adding audio versions of selected blog posts, which can be played on this site, on SoundCloud, or through various podcasting apps. Perhaps you prefer listening to reading?

Note: the intro song is “Heliotrope” by Blue Dot Sessions.

Love Is [Poem]

love is admiration
of the essence
of another

at best, it inspires —
compels you to contort
like a vine, twisting and turning
as it climbs to new heights

love is always a delusion
but it’s a healthy, vital delusion
like optimism
like purpose
like self



world map


backpack with divest symbol attached


An image of a java version of "if it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down."
Science/ Technology

Jokes / Satire

Illustration of the fable The Emperor's New Clothes
Jokes/ Satire





The Insult and Absurdity of ‘Make America Great Again’

A "Make America great again" hat.

Of the many dangerous untruths espoused by the Trump campaign, perhaps none was so flagrant as the one embedded right in the campaign’s central promise, “Make America Great Again.” That phrase seemingly asks us to recall a period when the United States still offered freedom and prosperity to all– when the American Dream was alive and well, unmarred by today’s excesses of bad regulation, Washington elitism, and so-called “political correctness.” But when was that time? When was America great?1

  • Was America great in 1917, when President Wilson asked congress for a declaration of war against Germany, asserting “we are glad [to fight] … for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples? 1917, when suffragist Alice Paul was being force-fed raw eggs through a tube in the psychopathic ward of the DC District Jail, for the grave offense of suggesting women should be allowed to vote?2
  • Was America great in 1962, when President Kennedy rallied support for the audacious national effort to land a man on the moon? 1962, when US troops plodded through puddles in Vietnam, burning the huts of the rural poor, and Americans were “faced with the cruel irony” Dr. King would later remark “of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools?”

The United States has harbored an abundance of great ideas, great individuals, and great moments. But they have always existed in tandem with profound and unconscionable violence, oppression, and anguish. Moreover, the freedoms and liberties of American life have always fallen disproportionately on the white, the male, the straight, and the wealthy, while the nation’s crimes and atrocities have always fallen disproportionately on the black and brown, the non-straight, the female-bodied, and the poor. For these reasons and more, we cannot nostalgically label as “great” any period of American history.

Continue reading “The Insult and Absurdity of ‘Make America Great Again’”

Make New Humans (A Meiosis Song)

For my genetics class, we were tasked with reviewing meiosis and then producing evidence of our review. To that end, I give you: “Make New Humans (A Meiosis Song).”


Double-stranded DNA
Gets undone by helicase
But you don’t really care about interphase, now do you?
The subject here is meiosis
The first prophase the cytokinesis
The process by which we make new humans

Make new humans [x4]

Well mitosis works pretty well
For cloning autosomal cells
But if you want real evolution, baby, it just won’t do you.
But imagine if during anaphase
Cohesin kept the chromatids in place,
So homologous chromosomes were the ones split by microtubules

Microtubules [x4]

Now when you’re making up haploid cells
Independent assortment is swell
If you wanna guarantee your progeny don’t look just like you
But why not pick up even more variation?
Through interchromosomal recombination
“Crossing over” helps us make new humans

Make new humans [x4]

[For lyrics with chords, click here].