Time Heals All Wounds, Then Kills the Patient

A blog by Pat Gunn
Jahrdammerung
Date: 2018-Dec-08 21:22:51 EST

A few other things today...

  • Been thinking about recent improvements in our ability to understand differences in gene expression between cell-lineage, thanks to some internal lectures. There are some good papers on the topic; it feels like progress towards understanding the topic is going well.
  • I've come to the position where I feel the recent death by a missionary to a closed tribe was a good thing, in the sense that they clearly didn't want him there, they should be able to control their borders, and (less substantial, more flavouring) missionaries are generally doing harm to the world. Took me some time to hit certainty, but I'm there now.
  • This is a good write-up of the existing thankfully-broadly-held concerns about letting people colonise Mars soon. It's irrevocable enough of an event that I think we should shoot down anyone trying until there's broad consensus that it won't limit our scientific goals.
  • Fun article on the physics of geckos running on water
  • It's been unfortunate to watch nationalism in Russia going even more mainstream than here. This dumping on Kant is not surprising - from one angle it's odd he was nominated to begin with given that he wasn't Russian, and that the region he was born in is both an exclave of Russia and one where there was considerable ethnic cleansing after WW2. Even if we decide that cleansing was either acceptable (not what I think) or understandable (which I think). In modern times, Kant would probably be considered German. Still, the anti-Kant vandalism remains an ugly marker, and Vice-Admiral Mukhametshin comes off as either unintelligent or someone whose passions exceed his reasonability.
  • Finding ways to help ex-convicts find jobs and improve their life trajectory is a huge win. They're a little radical for my tastes, but their results are more important I think.
  • It's pretty rough when the university you attend loses its accredition and then closes up. I'm wary of the for-profit motive at a university level, in that a number of things stop working if they might close up shop (even things like asking for confirmation that someone has the degree they claim). They may be intrinsically too-critical-to-fail, and merit takeover and insurance before they can even start, in order to avoid the unfairness of circumstances like this.
  • I'm intrigued at this criticism of the big index funds, in that the current system makes it possible/likely that we could have a unified governance of large business across the nation or world through a surprising route.


Scaling and sliding
Date: 2018-Dec-08 20:39:06 EST

Yesterday was my workplace's holiday party, and unlike a lot of previous parties I've been to, I think I'm starting to get some traction in figuring out how to navigate them. Perhaps it's that I'm less damaged now than I was before, and maybe a bit more socially aware. I'm starting to take an interest in conversational flow - figuring out what people are about and asking them about it. It's not intellectually that interesting, but the process of doing it brought me some pleasure at the time. And diminishes loneliness, and hints at future shared activities I can have with people I work with. So that was a win. Although unfortunately at a certain point, my body started to give way in a way it rarely does - my heart started acting up. Tachychardia is something I've dealt with for awhile, but it's rare enough that I can forget I suffer it between episodes (maybe every 4 months for minor ones, every year or so for major ones). This was a major, but even those are usually not that bad; I just stepped outside and let what I've come to think of as my mantenance self walk me home. That state of mind is something I willingly enter for distance from discomfort, mostly for migraines but occasionally for this. I came back into myself lying down on my bed at home, episode still underway but at least no longer at risk of passing out while standing up.

Today, reminded by being underdressed again yesterday, I got a haircut and then went to be fitted for a jacket/suit. This being manhattan, the haircut place was downstairs in my building, and the suit place was 2 blocks away. I don't know if I'll be in NYC for the rest of my life, but the hyperconvenience is pretty amazing. I'm a little surprised that, talking with the suit person, I was starting to get into thinking about style, what was matching with what, and so on. It's a side of myself that rarely comes out and I think my public persona almost pretends it's an antiskill or a deficit, but it doesn't need to be that way. Perhaps this is something I'll change the next time I reinvent myself (usually between jobs).

I recently pissed off some of the crazy kind of activist on Twitter; amused but also annoyed that some of them at least started towards doxxing and failed because I messed up my personal website migration, so they poked fun at my twitter URL pointer pointing to nothing. It's probably settled down enough now that I can follow up and fix it. Not that I pay a lot of attention to my personal site.

My heart's been acting up a bit today too. Hoping this is just a quirk rather than the start of a trend.

I think a fun name for the closing of the year might be Jahrdammerung (or would it be Jahre? not sure).



On the outside of windows
Date: 2018-Dec-06 20:25:20 EST

One of the things I've been thinking about since our last election is the long term effects of something we've been doing for a long time as a nation - our politics is a construct of the center, with various institutions from government to news media designed with filters on both ends for expression of politics, where we regularly ignore (even if we usually don't silence) views on the outside of that. It's not just directional - it's also anti-populist. And I think it's probably necessary to a certain extent - if we're to be a society that learns how to handle flame correctly rather than one that keeps touching and burning itself on hot stoves, we probably need some way to at least focus on some subset of discourse that's out there. And so we have. And in theory it's not terrible because people still usually keep freedom of expression (so long as we value that, which I'm worried we're not so much) so people on the outside can still holler. They just do it .. over there.

The problem is there's another mechanism of democracy - the way we handle not getting our way is knowing that our ideas got a fair shot in the battlefield of ideas, and we were not convincing enough to build consensus around them. And the way for people to actually accept not getting their way depends on that feeling that we, as holders of opinions, actually had that fair shot. Which the first idea has some friction with.

The issue then is when the non-center-stage-ness that comes from the first is strong enough, the people on the outside lose vestedness in society, and things like "tear it all down" or even overt violence stop looking so unpalatable. And this can be very dangerous, when there are still people who believe in the healing power of crystals, that vaccines cause cancer, that abortion is murder, that their god wants societies to be arranged certain ways, and so on, exist in sufficient numbers. I think it came to a head because of tactical errors - neither political party was aware of this tension or the results of breaking it, and our last presidential cycle pushed much harder than usual, but the tension was lurking.

It's a problem that admits no ready solution, particularly when a number of the people outside the windows wanted things that were and are impossible; the only way to satisfy some of them is to lie to them, and that creates debts that increase the damage further. Some groups were also presumably left outside the windows without need. I don't know if a society would be viable without some amount of attentional filter, and many views cannot be compatibly tested with others (or even at all - power tests ideologies and finds many wanting).



Crossing the Rivers of Humanity
Date: 2018-Dec-03 05:33:05 EST

I've been thinking, off and on, about He Jiankui's research, his experiment, and China's decision to shut his work down. With increased understanding of genetics, it feels obvious to me that eventually we'd cross the line of editing human genetics unless a very strong consensus develops against it, worldwide. And even if it does, that editing may happen among those who dissent. It seems most likely to me that the easiest thing to control is how uncommon this is, what funding gets attached to it, and whether economic drivers can operate in the open; human procreation is sufficiently decentralised and the necessary equipment is widespread enough that it's hard to imagine any two well-educated academes would be unable to do this to their children should they want to, or that anyone could detect it. And so I think most of the regulation will have to focus on prevalence (and perhaps liability should it be discovered). This is not the same thing as calling it ethical - we might rightly worry about consent for the child and their descendants and possibly disease vector concerns at least (a number of the other concerns are, in my view, invalid at small scale).

A number of the most difficult problems in society then come down to individual autonomy interacting with societal duties - boundaries between the two are at the heart of most popular politics. What then should we think about these early experiments and what will probably be increasing frequency of these kinds of events as the knowledge and the tooling continues to advance? I haven't progressed all the way to a conclusion yet; there are plenty of arguments I hear that I'm already willing to write off (such as the idea that we're going to avoid doing this forever), but I'm taking my time on this path.



Zauberheit und die Jahren
Date: 2018-Dec-01 20:32:57 EST

I've been looking forward to Mozart's Zauberflote for a little over a week now, and finally saw it today. The Met did an amazing job on it - the costumes were memorable, the sets looked amazing (I can't help but think they must have been built for something else, perhaps modeled after a bank, and repurposed or redreamed), and the music was grand. I had a great time, followed up with a trip to a bakery I like and now hopefully an hour or two in the coffeeshop I'm in now. I should do this more.

And yet. There were times when it didn't hold my full attention - moments here and there where I wish I had had a fast-forward button. Although that would no doubt have ruined the experience. I'm bothered a bit at this feature in myself. I feel my attention span may not be as long as I'd like - perhaps age or addiction to games or living in NYC has led to this. And the opera also touched a bit on issues of loneliness which are painful for me to contemplate, although I may be nearing the determination I need to try to put myself out there some more and see if I can end it.

Work has been busy recently with a lot of interviewing for CCB candidates. So many of them are actually good candidates; this is something I really like about academia. We've also been having some external visitors doing talks as another way of feeling out potential employment (at various levels). With one of them recently we heard about ways of measuring larger-scale folding of DNA strands, and I asked a question about how much the folding patterns are specific to a particular cell line (think skin cells versus cardiac cells). In another, we had a speaker talking about neural representation of bird songs, and I asked about whether teaching birds synthetic songs might risk memetic contagion (not sure if that's an ethical concern or not) and also if we could hear the song slowed down to make hearing the pattern easier. It was a great talk, and with that second speaker I talked with her afterwards about Dr Behrmann's work with greebles and then sent her a link to that paper. Great conversations. I'm awful at a lot of small talk, but at least in the sciences we can talk about ideas that inspired us. Although I always worry about running out of things to talk about, and whether that limits the possibility of social interactions that are not based on familiarity and character. Although although, maybe that's not a worry that should concern me because most longer-term things actually are about that.



From the middle of the wake
Date: 2018-Nov-23 19:44:03 EST

Recently my migraines have destabilised somewhat, and this worries me. I used to be able to depend on them happening every weekend, but the mildgraines have crept into the week, mostly into mondays as day-long (if mild) pain and distraction. I hope this is just a passing thing as the seasons change.

This is Thanksgiving weekend - a time with no real meaning to me except it marks the start of the real closing of the year; we got off of work a little early on Wednesday, I drank with coworkers a bit after, and spent most of yesterday hopefully breaking my little addiction to Endless Space 2 -- the game successfully makes playing with each faction feel very different, but I think I've played with the higher-priority factions ending Thursday (where I played a full game at epic scale through as the Rifters). I might return to the game later when they add a new faction in, but I think I'm happy putting it down for now. And at least for awhile enjoying full productivity with my non-work non-gaming projects.

Finally replaced my monitor with the line on the screen - next week I'll need to reattach its stand (when I was using it it was on a monitor arm) and see if Goodwill would take it; I lived with the mild annoyance for a few months, and for someone a little down on their money a nearly-free 4k display would potentially be a big win. Or so I hope. I used to know at CMU people who would be happy to find a nice display with a small flaw in the blue bins.

I'm a bit annoyed that I have a bit of a crush on someone at work, and occasionally have felt a strong mostly-sexual draw from someone else at work. I've come to dislike these things, in that almost certainly nothing will come out of either, and the desires thus have a tragic flavour. If I'm to be alone for the rest of my days, it's probably better to be alone without these reminders of an angle of life that's become pretty alien to my experience. Although admittedly my philosophically-romantic side has ways of doubting this, in that maybe it's better to feel something and weather one's self rather than experience nothing and slide through live unscathed. And I've never been consistent on this point. The Stoic versus the Romantic.



Recapture and Refailure
Date: 2018-Nov-17 22:35:30 EST

I had a conversation with my officemate about playing music recently - he's slightly older than I am, and has a background in databases and data visualisation. During it I remembered all the times I saw my dad playing piano when I was growing up - learning to do some jazz pieces and to play some Ragtime tunes. He went off in some different directions than I did - learned trombone and other "band" instruments and played in some Yugoslavian bnad (we have no such roots but he liked the company) in town, while I focused much more on orchestra, although the piano is a strong overlap, as well as an interest in more theoretical (or at least more generic, like beat and tone) aspects of music. Over much of my adult life, access to a piano has been fairly rare, but on occasion I had prolonged access, I've really enjoyed it, and often have eventually meandered into improvising new rag tunes. The conversation made me realise how much I missed it, and how frustrating it is not to be able to fit a piano into a NYC apartment. My officemoate noted that a lot of keyboards nowadays are very different than decades past and actually feel like real pianos. He suggested a place to check out. And on my way there I called my dad, who was also thinking about buying a nice keyboard (I've ceased to be surprised at odd similarities between my patterns of thought and my father's; when we share so much genetically and he provided at least a slice of my upbringing, despite not having been around that much and also being a bit on the reclusive side, examples abound. My father recommended a brand and a style, I went there, and after trying them out (yes, the key response is nearly perfect on these), I picked one. Great success.

Except. I then got a reminder that I'm not in my 20s anymore (or my 30s), in that lugging it home was very difficult, involving lots of breaks. After making it most of the way there, I found the weight on the box (in kilos), translated it to pounds, and .. yeah. about 90 pounds. I at least felt less bad about having a tough time. Age may not always be kind to me (although my gym time is helping), but this is heavier than most things I've struggled with, and the handles (made of tape and plastic bags, that a store employee built for me) were very point rather than distributed, and the whole thing interfered enough with normal walking that I tired more quickly. Getting it up to the 5th floor was also rough. Still, looking forward to when I have the energy to take it into the den, find a place for it, and get started. Yeah! Might even fit into some of my plans for Arietta, which now that I have the domain, I've been working out the website content. But really I mostly just want to play some rag.

I've also been reading up on things like functional and nonfunctional harmony, and checking out some musicians like Merle Travis and Bill Evans that've done some neat things with harmony and rhythm.

In art, I've recently become fascinated with the works of George Ault.

A few takes:

  • Amazon's "second HQ" is to be split, half of it going to Long Island City. My thoughts on this are complex. I don't really like Amazon as a company anymore (they ruined Whole Foods, they treat a lot of their low-end workers badly, and they engage in anticompetitive behaviour on their main store - not selling google products that compete with their digital platforms), despite them making some products I like (parts of AWS). I'm happy to see more tech growing outside of silicon valley, in particular in NYC, and I think it's wise they're ignoring people complaining that the city is full or somesuch rubbish - making a HQ where nobody wants to live (or does live) is stupid. Opening up shop in Pittsburgh makes sense, but Trenton would not. All that said, I really dislike that Amazon got some tax exemptions and other goodies from both cities that got half of its HQ2, and I think that should actually be banned (drafting the right laws to do that is hard but worthwhile, I think).
  • I haven't been impressed with what little I've seen of Cortez in her new office. At least on first glance she's much more populist than I'd like, an example being on how to arrange the committtes to deal with climate change where she's pushed for a structure mostly on the basis of the specifics having been in her platform, despite it having been made clear that the existing committee structure would likely do a better job. If she disagreed with that assessment that'd be one thing, but it's not acceptable that she's sticking to it just because she ran on it.



Slow sapping
Date: 2018-Nov-16 04:09:34 EST

It feels like today we suddenly entered winter; the walk to work was chilly, and partway through the day, during a talk on efficiency in olfactory encoding, I spotted the first snow of the year in NYC out the window. I held the third NYCCHAOS meeting after work, and then afterwards went out to a world of slush and light snow; was cold enough by the time I made it home that stepping inside felt like a huge win. Right now there's intense wind outside the window and I feel the building is not quite managing to stay warm enough; I will need to remove the AC unit from the window soon to get a better seal.

I'm still disappointed in my inability to get more turnout for my meetup. This time there was bad weather, but even had there not been I still imagine I would not have gotten too many.

I feel strange about the passage of the seasons - how strongly I forget during the middle seasons how hot summer is and how cold winter. There's enough time, but I still feel that the cycles over the years would end this visceral shift through the fog of memory and leave a lasting emotional impression of the seasons. Maybe that only seems to make sense and I'm seduced by my own poetry into hand-waved imagined meaning.

I have so much to do. Need to actually spend time doing the things I tell myself are important.

Some takes:

  • As always, I am appalled at how incompetent our current president is. Failing to get used to it.
  • Not sure why it's on the BBC, but this is a nice set of thoughts on the Peanuts comic strip
  • I'm intrigued by this read of the anti-pornography movement, and hope it's actually an obituary for activism on this front. As I think porn is free expression and healthy, even though most forms of its production have some very serious issues.
  • I'm glad to see at least one European nation taking violence and persecution against gays as a blocker for foreign aid.
  • I'm not sure what to think about redoing HTTP to work over a different protocol than TCP. Is that fundamental kind of network replumbing worth it given the enormous installed base and body of software designed to work with it? Maybe we're better off sticking with HTTP 1.1 forever. Although the new technology does seem well-thought-out.
  • Recently one of the other meetups I sometimes goes to mentioned hiddentribes, a website that tries to estimate which tribe we're in as individuals. I was measured by its questionaire as a Traditional Liberal, which maybe I have the most similarity to culturally, but in a lot of specifics I don't think I actually fit (being socialist, for example). Still, it's fairly rough-grained.
  • I feel weird about this message from Lessig on Beto, primarily because I think it's trying to draw really big conclusions from a fairly tight race. I think any time someone's doing that, they're usually making a mistake; if a race is close, then most points one can make about feasability are naturally weak because either result was feasable.
  • This kind of thing is tragic - I refuse to blame the technology; I think the culture must change, and for it to do so there must be a public education campaign combined with very strict, very visible consequences for people inciting as well as following that incitement.



Post election
Date: 2018-Nov-07 06:51:55 EST

Yesterday I got notice that one of my two VPCs was sending out email spam. Highly embarrassing, but I think it was likely due to some somewhat lax configuration I did on the older host allowing SMTP relaying from anywhere provided the from address was mine. And so, horrifyingly, people were sending spam with my old from address, including some extortion attempts that were naturally demanding payment to bitcoin. Ick. I suppose the only bright point is that when I was pointing out that this *would* happen many years ago, some of the people I was arguing with demanded concrete data. And so years later, I could provide it if I could remember who they were and if I were still in touch with them (I probably am not). Yeah, this happens a lot, and I'm left with a lot more "I told you sos" without memory of whom to give them to.

We have preliminary election results; looks like Repubs won a few senate seats, Dems won enough house seats to take it back. Beto didn't quite beat Cruz. Unsurprisingly, Cortez got her House seat and I'm wondering whether she'll turn out to be radical or reasonable.

Other takes:

  • I'm intrigued at the renaming scuffle around Boy Scouts of America. Will be interesting to see, now that the two orgs are losing the key dividers that meant they were never competing for the same members, how things work out going forward
  • This first answer to "Why won't slack let me disable at-channel, on Stack Overflow, is some of the most amazing nonsense I've ever seen. Somehow the answerer looked over a description of how things work with Slack and decided that it is some contract, and that allowing it to be disabled would break the contract. Yikes. I've sometimes come across people who make this particular kind of logical leap before. Seems to be a tendency in how some small portion of the population thinks.
  • Some neat discussion on mapping technologies between Google Maps and Apple Maps. From a cartography blogger, which is one of the more awesome things I can think of
  • I support Hungary's ban on sleeping outdoors in cities. I think it's generally good policy, provided that cities provide shelters with sufficient capacity to house everyone. I think it works out better both for society at large and for the homeless that they're not just wandering the streets or sleeping wherever they can.
  • While I became disenchanted with TED some years back, I appreciate the tack TED takes here relating to mockery of their mission - they've selected their favourite parodies and talked about why they actually would not make good TED talks; it's amusing to read, makes good points, and talks about the quality bar they're aiming for. Which is pretty perfect for responding to criticism. Largely because the actual solid critique of TED, as far as I'm concerned, is really hard to make funny. The problem being that ideas, or their brief takeaways, are not nearly as important as TED portrays them as, and while they may make a certain kind of go-getter feel good, they're actually wasting people's time by drawing attention away from the boring things that actually lead to good results - a steady hand, sober analysis, the right backdrop, and a lot of work.



How I voted 2018
Date: 2018-Nov-06 23:22:10 EST

Ballot Measures

  • Yes to Ballot Measure 1, to reduce contribution maxes to campaigns for city offices. I did this because I think funding is an unfortunate side of our politics and I believe this ballot measure would help fight that
  • No to Ballot Measure 2, which creates a new institution for civic engagement. I don't trust how this institution would be formed, and feel that like community boards, it would be another fake representation.
  • Reluctant yes on Ballot Measure 3, which limits tenure on community boards. I want to abolish CBs or make them elected. This is a second best.
US Senate
  • Yes to Gillibrand. I find her views broadly acceptable and believe her to be competent
  • No to Farley. She's a Trump supporter, and is also heavy on the pro-Israel stuff. Both are in my view really bad.
US House District 12 (no vote)
  • Maloney - Bad on foreign policy, iffy on domestic
  • Rabin - Is a fucking clown
  • Hutchins - Is clueless
Governor - Miner
  • Cuomo - Absolutely not for many reasons
  • Molinaro - He's undereducated. No.
  • Hawkins - Lots not to lick but not terrible
  • Miner - Looks actually pretty good
Atty General - Sussman
  • James - I am very wary of her stances on illegal immigration, I like her salary history ask ban, she's generally a mixed bag
  • Wofford - Doesn't seem to have many public positions
  • Sliwa - Excessive focus on animal rights. Regardless of how I feel about that stance, the job is far bigger than that
  • Sussman - Looks to be a moderate Dem running on a Green platform. I can support him with no regrets
Comptroller - Trichter
  • I have no strong opinions on either of them after having done some research, and when that's the case my belief that offices should regularly transition between parties decides it
My selection criteria are, for future reference (no provided examples are exhaustive):
  • Has the campaign or individual had major ethical breaches as part of this campaign or earlier-if-unrepentant-or-unpunished? If so, I cannot vote for them
  • If the candidate is unqualified for their role and their opponent is not, I cannot vote for them (this includes no particular expertise or not having a respectable education)
  • If the candidate has a poor grasp on reality (conspiracy theories, is antivax or christian scientist, disbelieves global warming, believes in astrology, is a young-earth creationist), I cannot vote for them
  • If the candidate regularly insults people they disagree with, uses schoolyard insults, frequently threatens lawsuits, is generally petty, or can't accept criticism (think Trump, Elon Musk, and others like this), I cannot vote for them
  • If the candidate has a particularly disorganised demeanor, has a history of breaking the law, not paying bills, or otherwise is not particularly responsible, I cannot vote for them
  • If the candidate has a strong obsession with certain topics (you never hear them talk about anything else), I cannot vote for them
  • If the candidate's ability to delegate and give credit to underlings is poor, or they look like they'd be a bad or abusive boss, I cannot vote for them. This includes public statements that make it hard to believe they'd treat both genders the same in the workplace, as well as a tendency or history of romantic involvement with people beneath them in the org chart
  • If the candidate does not take a fairly hardline perspective in favour of free speech (even for views very different than theirs), I cannot vote for them.
  • If the candidate is heavy into identity politics, wants reparations, calls people racist without really strong evidence, persecutes other definitions of gender, or on the other hand is in favour of violence or prison for non-straight people and actions, or is into persecuting people over religious matters, I cannot vote for them.
Once all those filters are done, I look for competence, relevant skill, and finally broader ideological compatibility. I can't guarantee the list above includes all my red lines, but it includes most of them.