Time Heals All Wounds, Then Kills the Patient

A blog by Pat Gunn
The Mood to Act
Date: 2019-Feb-17 02:12:49 EST

I've been learning to deal with what seems to be a pinched nerve in my neck. It's been less than good - near constant pain, but I've learned how to modulate it and how to adjust my pain coping techniques (a mental imaging exercise I've done since I was young to deal with regular migraines) to help cover most of it. There's a good chance I'll need some kind of surgery (or PT) to actually fix it though - still trying to make the needed arrangements. It's strange how dealing with it has made a number of minor pains that I normally would barely feel (or not notice at all, probably due to a mix of migraines and that technique leaving little attention for minor pains) quite noticable. An example being the area of my mouth where I had a root canal last year actually hurting, which I never noticed before. Last week I had a prescription for sleeping pills which helped a bit. I'm also trying to learn some self massages to get knots in my neck and back out. Not entirely successful. It's wearing me out.

On Tuesday I went to an event on gender differences with Debra Soh and Christina Sommers. Wasn't sure what to expect or how much I'd agree with them, but exposing myself to ideas I might not agree with is part of my life. When I got there I was a little surprised to recognise it was in a building I've passed and noticed on the street a few times - the Women's National Republican Club. I'm more used to the idea than a lot of people I know (women in my family tend to run more conservative than men, to the point where I find self-congratulatory stuff from my side of the political spectrum that Women are naturally oppressed by conservatives - to be ridiculous), but I still usually find it a bit strange to go into a space devoted to a worldview fairly different than mine - like entering a church or mosque or scientology centre. I think overall the event ranked as okay. It was at times a little like a rally in that some people cheered when ideas they liked were said by one of the speakers, and I could've done without that. And there wasn't a lot said that I hadn't already heard. The takeaway I got was that Soh and Sommers represent different wings of American politics, both enthusiastic about free speech and science, and both concerned about progressive activism controlling discourse. And I can get on board with that, locating myself closer to Soh (being the free-speech liberals). Something more substantial might've been nice, but there's a good chance anything more substantial by my book would've also been niche. There was a question I was thinking about asking in Q-and-A at the end, but I decided not to because I wasn't sure I could convey it concisely on-the-spot - Soh and Sommers argued that there are biological differences shifting the population-mean of interests from women and men apart, and that these lead to different career preferences. If I were to grant that to be true (I never studied human gender topics in neuroscience), I still wonder about representativeness as something that shapes what initially-equally-interested-and-skilled individuals of either gender are likely/able to achieve, and whether anything can or should be done about that (knowing that it might impact the meritocracy and individual-determination-focused setup that Soh and Summers push). I recongise that not all harms are addressible in principle, but wonder if this one might.

Was also intrigued by the assertion that Soh made (which she is most suited to do, as she studies sex and relationships) that most women prefer more masculine, non-feminist men, and vice-versa. Not that it's a new idea, but I know that I've generally been more attracted to aggressive women whom others described as masculine. Maybe this is normal for bisexual males, or maybe we have a higher variance to the level where there are no strong patterns (in the same way that left-handers don't lateralise function the opposite of right-handers, but rather have far higher variance even to the per-feature level).

A new song stuck in my head - "Rave in the Grave". Also has a great music video with some rather good dancing that seems to tie in accidentally to those thoughts on more masculine women.

Scattered thoughts

  • Read an exceptionally stupid essay on someone trying to find a way for all religions to be true. It tries to squirm out of the central issue with the idea and doesn't manage it - at the core of most of these religions are fundamental ideas about reality and faith that cannot be uprooted and made compatible without adjustment to their axioms, and they naturally notice and reject those axioms. Peter Simon's "Instructor" idea may provide a way of manifesting mundane claims, but it can't get at ideas of fundamental truth - a simple unvirtualisable belief being "there is no instructor, there are just the cosmic entities we believe in". And most perspectives if you take them seriously are just as deeply rooted - the closest you could get in Simon's garden is a tofu version of those perspectives.
  • Interested to see what people use for chat - the criticisms in that article seem reasonable (albeit hard to fix without messing up Slack's funding model). Naturally I'd love IRC to win but it also has faults (if a company really wanted to fix it with bots and custom web/mobile clients, it could). I've used Slack for the last few jobs (also a bit of gitter). Wondering what'll be popular in a few years



Cruel Humour
Date: 2019-Feb-09 21:29:39 EST

I don't think of myself as a particularly cruel person; I don't make a lot of effort to be kind, but nor do I usually enjoy the suffering of others. I don't think the world can consistently avoid the broadest notions of harm, and I see it as the business of politics to decide what harms are worth avoiding and what are not. For most harms, serious efforts to avoid them would cause, in practice but also often in theory, another harm. And so the harms we sweep under the rug get a categorisation as nonactionable harms and we don't think about them nearly as often.

None of this, at least at a societal level, is a priori; we're continually squabbling over it, and there are all sorts of things some groups call harms nowadays that were not even in the public consciousness when I was growing up. The process is continual. And like all politics, we have a choice to stand for or against (or to refine) these ideas when they seem to come rolling up for consideration. Different subcultures will take different sides if they're interested, and if (temporarily or permanently) those subcultures are nearly entirely convinced of a stance, they will likely, using the same mechanism of society at large, mark it as rude to not side with them on the norm. Among other societal tools for consensus. How might people resist proposed norms that strike them as bad ideas? Often humour, and this is what I often do - I will almost never be rude to an individual face-to-face, but I make fun of weird ideas, often in cruel ways, and usually when I see another argument for their adoption. For something that's an idea but not a norm, a good example would be the "chosen people" rhetoric I sometimes hear in Jewish circles - I find it terribly self-centred, and so I mock it to deflate the respect the idea can have. And to let off steam, and for a number of other reasons. So long as I'm not rude to a particular person, I don't usually feel very bad about it; the pain of others (even when trying to limit it would cause much greater harms by my metrics, and they're pushing hard for that) usually bothers me, but the notion that they have to lose for their bad ideas to go away (or at least remain non-influential) greatly reduces that. It still makes me think occasionally, thus this (I recently did a tweet poking fun at BdB's efforts to let people revise their birth certificates to be based on what I call gender-identity rather than gender).

Recently got into another unpleasant exchange with someone I follow on Twitter - a conservative professor of history (who focuses on the cold war). Not so much on politics per se, but rather on linguistic absolutism - he bragged about having gone to some forum and having insisted that his definition of socialism is the true one; I find it odd that this kind of debate is often surprisingly heated but its specifics are usually orthoganal to politics - I think it might be a larger gulf in perspectives than that of religious folk versus not. At least for the last decade and likely longer I've been firmly convinced that every individual has subtly different meanings of terms, that there are no true meanings of these things, and that we should learn to navigate differences when we spot them on a conversation-by-conversation basis. My opponents on this front love to bring up dictionaries or just insist their definition is correct - I call them linguistic absolutists. I recognise that definitional diversity can sometimes make conversation difficult, but my claim is that it already is, and unavoidably is, and efforts to centralise definitions are the equivalent of perspective-injection and pose a danger for clear thinking (as individuals) and intellectual freedom.

This week has been very difficult healthwise - had a very bad migraine last sunday night that persisted until Tuesday, left work early on Monday and didn't go in on Tuesday, but I wasn't recovering - went to an Urgent Care center, then wandered around the city in a haze of pain to get perscribed meds. The one bright side of it is that the urgent care doctor offered an insight that might help unravel my current most common migraine trigger - she noticed that my neck is incredibly tense and speculated that I have a pinched nerve in a particular spot (that has been bothering me for awhile) - this would explain a lot. It would be great if this is true and can be solved and I can get my migraine frequency back down to maybe once a month. Seeing a specialist again (for the first time in a long while) at the beginning of next month. Feeling at least a little hopeful.

I'm still feeling particularly great about having a new member on one of my teams at work - an early-career programmer who has machine-learning expertise. He can do things I can't, and while those skills will be hard for me to learn, I can at least get a trickle of learning. Plus the project benefits. That corner of my world, at least, makes sense and is alright. I still often feel worn down in life more broadly - I often don't like the directions broader society is moving, I don't think there's anyone out there high-profile that's pushing my values, and the things I need for more happiness (even things like an absense of physical pain) are hard to get. I feel I have peace without contentment. But maybe in that I'm not that different from other humans, I just think about it more than most I think.

Some takes:

  • While I think this take by FIRE that it's a good thing that UIowa can't bar student orgs that discriminate as part of their creed, I think it's important to tread lightly and to enter this ground means being willing to dive deeper into interpretation and possibly not treat each case entirely on its own. Meaning that while I think it's acceptable that a student Christian org wouldn't want someone who's not straight in their leadership, and might even explicitly bar it, I think the ability to do that should be limited to groups where that creed is central - a knitting club, for example, shouldn't be able to claim a creed and perform a similar exclusion (and I hope that other Christian clubs would be permitted that have beliefs that, however intellectually strained, are more open to such leaders).
  • I have a high bar for when stifling open sharing of information should be stifled, but as this example on speed cameras offers, it's not impossibly high - I don't know if it should be illegal to share such information, but it's at least, I think, irresponsible to broadly share info on speed cameras.
  • I'm impressed at this story of how a board member helped unveil problematic governance within the company she was serving for. I still sometimes think about board service somewhere; were I to do it I'd like to do a good job and, if necessary, do these kinds of things.
  • It may be wise to change how our legislative bodies appoint people to committees; it sounds like a mess.
  • Impressed at the very high recycling rate reported by this article for Oregon. If the bottles themselves are highly recyclable, this is a very big win.
  • I find it strange that I actually substantially agree with the platform for NYC social progressives and still dislike them so much. I think it's largely that their platform is phrased in ways that hint at a number of other things I strongly disagree with that they might take action on. It also hints that the "how" of their approach to these issues is something I'll dislike. Their 18th clause, which would give voting rights to permanent resident immigrants is the thing I disagree most strongly with, I'm not fond of the idea of closing Rikers, and I'm wary of providing legal counsel to illegal immigrants. Otherwise, I'm at least theoretically on board with what they want.



OOBs of Electoral Logic
Date: 2019-Feb-03 19:07:40 EST

Two things that have been floating around in my head to talk about:

  • The out-of-bounds of electoral logic
  • The problem with conspiracist logic
On the first, I think there are a number of values we should hold, as participants in a democracy, that rule out simple consequentialist judgement. By which I mean that such judgements are considered laughable, not that people trying to make such judgements are muzzled (we believe in free speech, after all, but not the equal regard of all views). There are two sides to democracy - people live in society, learn about and elaborate their values, and debate others to whatever extent they want while engaging in any protests they want. When a poll comes up, they might or might not sharpen their research on the specific topics, then they may choose to go vote using whatever criteria they see fit on how to cast their vote (although it should be about what they see is best for society, and we reject both efforts to directly offer them payment for their vote or to have them prove any particular vote as these would interfere with the meaning of the vote by letting private power enter into it). When they emerge from the poll, they return to their lives, and the poll may or may not change society, but their hands are washed of responsibility for it. On the other side, people who feel they want to get much more involved and divert their lives and careers further can stand for office (if eligible), run, and win or lose. That act is also divorced from raw consequentialism - what entry would do to the race can be a downstream effect but people don't have moral responsibility for entering or not; the process washes those concerns away. As such, I reject efforts to punish or shame voters for how they vote or what strategies they use, as well as efforts to punish or shame candidates for entering the race. I am at times regretful when ineffective candidates (e.g. Hillary) enter the race, but I don't resent their decision to enter so much as hope they lose quickly.

On the latter, the societal failing that I see fueling a lot of conspiracy theories is a desire for meaning in life that's hard to find in modern society. Some of this is fueled by our false-sugar-like substitute - the worlds of fantasy we build in novels. These give us peeks into realities that are more interesting than ours (or at least more interesting than the immediate surroundings of most humans). If we're good at separating these worlds of fantasy, just like with bizarre and disturbing fetishes, it's harmless. Some slim portion of society is not so good at that, which is not sufficient to ban the fantasy (we'd honestly need to pass a very, very high bar to ban or even hope to stifle fantsies), but gives us people who view reality using the judgement they've built from reading spy novels. I don't criticise the romantic spirit or the search for meaning, but I think the best results of this comes from the tension between that desire and a realisation that reality itself won't accommodate our desires so we need to build these worlds of meaning within ourselves; the conspiracy theorist is missing that.



Shivering at the Wind
Date: 2019-Feb-02 19:11:53 EST

We've had a strong cold snap, and I'm guessing that that's somehow been triggering my near-constant migraines for the last week. Fortunately, they're mild as migraines go, leaving me in constant pain but not quite so bad that I can't focus and do things. Still, I find not getting a break from the pain to be pretty wearing. This is also something new - these clusters haven't happened to me before, and they closely resemble my nightmare scenario of unending migraine and being unable to work. Really hoping this ends soon. At a coffeeshop now, but my head is throbbing and this is the kind of migraine that also brings me a lot of sensitivity and pain in my neck (and oddly some tooth pain too).

The snap itself has also been unpleasant - my apartment does not do a great job at staying warm enough, and even the short walk to and from work has often been miserable.

Went to the IQ2US debate I mentioned in earlier posts. It was great - good company, interesting topics. Maybe I should feel strange that I was undecided both before and after, but I also was happy that the question I was going to ask (about microbiomes for deextincted species) was handled in the intro for one of the speakers. I thought of a second question (for the "do not bring species back" side) - if they would support it in a "Seveneves" scenario, but I thought of it too late to actually ask it. I am likely to get a membership, as I want more of this in-person.

Some takes:

  • I am disappointed to see the Progressive Caucus standing in the way of efforts to stop shutdowns. The most reasonable way to fix the issue, which I have proposed directly, has apparently been proposed by Rob Portman (I am unsure if a regular law could do this or if a Constitutional Amendment would be needed). Sadly, according to the article, there's been another proposal from a Democrat (Mark Werner) that's continues funding for all departments except the White House and Congress, which is incredibly stupid and counterproductive (if a deal is desired, the people who need to draft a bill and approve it lack resources?). Vicerality is not a desirable feature in governance.
  • While Google's execs may choose to use employee confidence as an extra sanity check, we should be wary of placing too much concern in employees not having much faith in management vision. In many tech jobs, people are not there for the company vision - sometimes they even disagree with the primary way their employer makes money, and more often they're neutral - what motivates people is often the ability to do good and interesting work with good coworkers in a good environment. Infrastructure engineers in particular often don't ever use the product (I never felt any particular reason to cheer MongoDB or Dropbox when I was working for either).
  • I'm generally hostile to cultural sensitivity efforts, and find it delightful when reality provides a reminder why those efforts seem to me to be a waste of time. Critical Theorists worry excessively about rote and unintelligent criticism of the status quo and their hegemony and victim perspective - these examples poke holes in that.
  • Disappointed to see Salon going after fact-checkers when someone they like screws up. We need neutral rules and scales of judgement if we want our discourse to improve. Tribalist populism, left or right, is a dangerous temptation that ruins societies.



Ebb and Flow and Cold Winds
Date: 2019-Jan-28 00:48:07 EST

One of the things that's come up often in conversations between younger people in my workplace is relationships (in the abstract) - what people need, how our schticks and personalities figure in, and things like that. I find it's rare that people my age discuss it - usually they have one or are so bitter that they don't want one. I think the younger coworkers are just in the part of life where they have one and they're using that experience to figure out more about them. Which is healthy. When I'm around and privy, it gives me insight into both how people of that age think about it, and also naturally acts as a substitute (a lesser one, surely, as they're coworkers rather than friends, although some may become friends someday perhaps) for a circle of friends for me to chat this stuff over with. I value it, but the age difference is always something I need to navigate (at least in my head) and I don't want to get stuck in the role of providing the older perspective, at least partly because I clearly haven't figured out as much as I should at my age because of years of solitude. Really, I wish I could somehow sort my head out and then get a mulligan on life. I value these years of pain in a way - they're part of me the way happiness is part of others, but if I ever find a way out I still want plenty of years of opening back up and learning to be more content with life. A recent conversation reminded me of how many people I've passed by in life whom I've never even explicitly let know that I wanted more with them. People who made my heart sing. I wish I had at least let them know, even if nothing had come of it. Or if things had worked out with any of my exes.

Been thinking more about that annoyance with the coworker - also was annoyed at something that looked a lot like he doesn't care at all for fairness, by blaming a march he disagreed with for making us late to our train back. I find it hard to believe that he'd blame a march for a cause dear to him for making us late, and really the march wasn't to blame to start with. But maybe he was just letting off steam ; we all do that sometimes and it's probably healthy. I hope it's that. But really, the inner lives of people I'm not close to shouldn't bug me. In such cases I should just apply that general preference for a just and fair society (both in the formal sense that populists often lack) and my specific technocratic-socialist sense. It's reasonable to gently shape those around us if they matter a lot to us (knowing that they may want to shape us right back), but to try to do it to everyone is to dilute one's efforts. I suppose there may be another conclusion to all of this - maybe he matters more to me than is immediately obvious to me. Hard to say - I think we like to work in the mental model of imagining people really know themselves and are authoritative on those topics. I strongly believe that's not true. We can rapidly do experients, and learn techniques to try to learn things more quickly, but most people don't, and those things don't guarantee actions. I have countless experiences of feeling deep pangs of emotional pain over the years and never reaching satisfactory conclusions as to the origin. Maybe many of these were biological, but how would I even know that?

The next time I have a long vacation, or even a week, with nothing I need to do, I hope to spend the whole thing getting in the mood to write about philosophy. I find it hard to get into the mindset to do that on weekends, and when I do I need to make sure not to let my shorter-term foci (from videogames to reading to hikes) consume the time.

This coming week should be interesting - will be attending my first IQ2US debate, and one of my former mentors in undergrad is visiting FI. I like that the week is not packed but not vanilla.

A few takes:

  • I'm writing Cortez off for this - it strikes me as deeply irresponsible - Trumpian, to hold off on funding the government because one has reservations on individual programs. There's room to haggle, but in the end holding out is unacceptable for our elected representatives. And in doing this, I have my answer - that she has too much populism and too little responsibility to be trusted in government. Too bad - I had hoped for someone young to demonstrate to the populace that socialism doesn't mean scary radical stuff and is compatible with caution and a sense of responsibility. I'll keep hoping for someone else.
  • We need more of this, from both sides of our society. Polarisation weakens us as a nation. And while I'm deeply bothered by Biden's foreign policy, he remains someone I'd vote for if I had to



Corrections in the Air
Date: 2019-Jan-27 00:20:17 EST

Today one of my sisters, her husband, and my nephew came down from Boston - we did museuming, had a meal, and then I walked with them to their hotel to grab their stuff and then to GCT. Good visit.

Later on today I was handling chores and I passed a parent talking with his small child (probably roughly the same age as that nephew, around age 4) about homelessness - the kid wanted to know why someone was sleeping on the street. Sometimes you get more clarity in how you think about an idea when you hear someone else talking to a child about it, or if you were to imagine talking with a child yourself about it. This parent offered a dramatically oversimplified "billionaires don't care" explanation that I think wasn't helpful at all. Admittedly, the answer I'd give, par for the course, is pretty complicated, noting that each case is different, there are systemic failures from society and also individual failures from many of the homeless, there's mental illness in many cases, and so on. It'd be a pretty long talk, and I'm not sure how to best abbreviate it for a 4 year old. Although maybe that's a lesson in itself - complex social issues often can't be simplified for people without a long attention span and capacity for nuance.

Recently was bothered more than I should be that a coworker who I'm reasonably friendly with at work who suggested that he prefers not to interact with others at the gym (we go to the same gym) turned out to invite a different coworker to go to the gym specifically with him. This really shouldn't bug me because, based on my understanding of friendships, he's just a coworker rather than a friend - we don't make any effort whatsoever to hang out outside of work even though we work fairly closely together, and differences in our politics and worldviews are fairly stark. He's not someone I'd mind being friends with (in the past many of my friends were people who've seen the world fairly differently), but it hasn't happened and there's a chance he's compartmentalised his work friendliness from his personal life. And it's not my place to push on that. The casual deception hurts a bit, but it's the material of which work-personal-life boundaries are built. Pretty normal.

The recent government shutdown is stopped for now with a bandaid. One of the things I find most frustrating about the shutdown, apart from it being an attempt to use blackmail to bypass Congress, is that flight delays were seen as a forcing function rather than so very many other far more important things. My feelings would've been the same if it had been about something other than funding a wall, and largely the same had this been a Democrat doing it for a cause I favour. The abuse of power is the deepest problem here. I think a full wall across the entire border is a dumb idea, not an evil one. I don't want to spend money on it and in areas where it's not needed I don't want it there (ecological effects). To me this really wasn't about the what though, it was about the how.

On the topic of the wall as a legislative proposal passed a non-democracy-breaking way:If someone offered to wave a magic wand that would make an invisible magic wall across the border that's too deep to dig under, too high for humans to throw things over, that other animals would pass right through (provided they're not carrying things humans gave them), that would have no maintenace, gaps at points of intended entry, and do all this at no cost, I'd take it. Even though I wouldn't see it covering the entire expanse as having great benefit. A real-world wall is simply not a good use of funds, it'd be too easy to get under or break, and too expensive to maintain for the full length. Selective walls? Sure. They already exist in some places and I don't want to get rid of them when/where they make sense. Human and technological enforcement in problem areas? Sure. Surveillance? Sounds good. And even though there's a point to be made that many illegal immigrants are simply people who have overstayed their welcome and who legally entered, there's a point as well that they both passed a bar to enter and were doing it the right way, as well as a note that porous borders are not always so much about immigration as it is smuggling of goods. Targeted walls help there. I could support efforts to boost funding for improved control of entry were it done in intelligent ways. But this physical wall across the entire US-Mexico border is something a 5th-grader would come up with, and it's a shame that so many people somehow got on board with it.

Recently I've been fascinated by how much our parsing of human faces and bodies impacts everything about how we understand individuals. For most of the people I know, I'm pretty sure if I flipped their faces around and preserved everything else (and removed and replayed all my interactions with them in my memory), I'd likely reach fairly different impressions of them - I may be more forgiving to some faces, more drawn to others. And, like most people, I prefer to be around attractive people (of both genders, regardles of whether there's a romantic spark or not) and not to be around ugly people. I don't believe there's much of a racial element to my parsing (diverse family and circle of friends throughout my life), but there are definitely other effects. I am not ashamed of any of this - I see it as being so central to being human that I can't imagine it not being there, although I take care to override (or at least check) it in certain domains of life, largely at work, and most importantly in actions that directly impact someone's progress in their career path where I'm asked to evaluate them. Outside of work, where finances are not involved, I don't and don't want to override that; the concepts of fairness are mostly not applicable (although in certain cases, other reasons may enter - if I were more likely to accept philosophical arguments from people I find attractive, that would represent a blight on my judgement even though the idea of fairness to the arguer is not something I apply). I've been trying (a little bit) to look for more regularities in these things (for example, I tend to parse quirkiness and emotiveness in small people much more positively than in taller people - a small person jumping around might be cute or amusing, but a tall person doing that is more often irritating to me).



Strapping on the old arms
Date: 2019-Jan-24 03:57:20 EST

While I still am not good at maintaining nonprofessional social ties, I've recently been plumbing some dormant past professional ties to get a bit more motion in my life. And it's working out pretty well. Recently I had dinner with Prof Chandra from my undergrad (one of the people in the AI lab I worked in, with whom I always had great conversations) and it was fantastic. Trying to set up a meal with someone I knew at Dropbox, and at work I'm going to a games night tomorrow that I'm looking forward to. With one of my sisters coming down to NYC this weekend it's feeling a little busy and I need to make sure I'm not overwhelmed by not enough quiet, but I'm at least getting my social needs throughly met. I wish managing this were not so hard; if I didn't need people at all, my introversion would feel more a neutral trait and less something to manage. But alas, we can't control our circumstances.

I usually try not to go too deep into political discussions at work, but today I had a rare open discussion on activism and politics; one person I work closely with is pretty heavy into critical-theory-flavoured activism and we had some back-and-forth on that. Largely, I'm bothered at the self-satisfied way that flavour of liberalism tends to embrace, and don't want to see that thought-pattern grow in the world. Although, to put it in context, I feel that way about a *lot* of perspectives, and I don't want to let it get in the way of good workplace relations (and generally am ok with it in friends although I'd probably prod at it if they tried to control our discourse; at work I won't but in other areas I lay all my views right out there).

Onboarding someone new this week at work. I love it. His role isn't meant to parallel mine, but at least in a lot of areas I expect him to pick up some of the things I know exclusively, and add some of the things he has that nobody else on the project has. Plus I love teaching, even very informally. Maybe better to say that I love conveying information. When I was younger I used to be a lot more proprietary on information, but I'm well over that now, to the point that my former view on the topic is now one I despise. Helps to have seen the end result of that in another pretty terrible coworker.

Some takes:

  • Seeing advertisers come to face the idea that nobody likes seeing ads is strange - they never seem to fully accept it (maybe for personal-perspective-on-their-lives reasons). It seems obvious to me - if content is actually decent, whether TV or a website, nobody wants to get distractions from it to see someone peddling something instead. There's no getting around that.
  • A nice obituary for LiveJournal
  • I disagree with Leslie Jones's take on the next Ghostbusters sequel. The one she was involved with was not well-received, it reportedly smelled like activism, and it was a reboot. All that is not that important though - I feel people should reach peace with the nature of stories and series - a given story doesn't have a true form, and different authors will construct their own canons and include or exclude various media in that, whether in official media or not. No individual work or story element is guaranteed a spot across everybody's version of a story. I know that I've talked about how in my view, Doctor Who ended with the 7th Doctor, at the end of the "Survival" episode. I felt the movie some years after that broke with continuity too hard and the remake series felt different, so I never accepted them. That's fine, but I don't demand others follow me on that, and I feel they'd be wrong to demand I do - would amount to thoughtcrime. I'm not suggesting these things be exempt from criticism (we should be comfortable criticising what we like), but rather that such criticism should not generally be taken seriously.
  • On a similar note, this criticism may be entirely accurate but it doesn't matter in that there is not a duty in creation of games and books to cover history accurately if they're not trying or claiming to do history. This is as true for things set in worlds close to the real world as for things quite different.
  • Recently got the chance on twitter to talk about how moral elevation cannot be an entirely individual pursuit - being dramatically more principled than everyone else around is a recipe to lose big. To advance against selfishness/paranoia, society must slowly advance and build trust in its members in the new rules. And any serious regression that's left unpunished can undo decades of this advance. I don't mean in this to reduce moral change to a single dimension, and it is not always the case that this kind of advance is positive, but I believe that on a very rough scale, and in the long view it often is
  • I saw this post on the use of tar in filesystem images and significantly disagree with it on subjective matters and feel it's history is somewhat lacking. A few quick points (was thinking of doing a long-form rebuttal, but I won't have time to do that for awhile) - first, let's just talk about gnu tar and not worry about the other variants. Second, the lack of deduping in it helps keep archive size more consistent and avoids COW expansions. Third, bit-for-bit reproducibility is actually a bad idea and file ordering should not be forced towards that unhealthy metric. Fourth, representing deleted files is a failure of the layering technology, not of tar. It should be handled in metadata for each archive (make a json file that never lands in the unpack target, problem solved). And finally, tar is a nice format that's not specific to the end, so it's easier to build tooling around it and a good blocker from excessively specific solutions. It should be kept.
  • A past conversation on doubting maths, from probably about 12 years ago - person I was speaking with was a platonist (I don't think he knew the terms, but believed maths are transcendant truths). I expressed my view that maths are an invention that came about through practical needs and that we should doubt them. He made the argument at the time that if I look at any single step in maths and apply doubt to it, only being 99 percent certain of the results, the doubts should multiply and eventually accumulate to complete disbelief. My argument of now against that is to suggest that applying even small amounts of doubt to maths acts more like a multiplier over the entire enterprise, like a factored-out coefficient. Or alternatively to just think of that doubt not itself acting mathematical at all (he probably would reject that as an idea given what I recall of his views). I didn't make the argument at the time though, and regret it.
  • I am less comfortable with the ACLU these days as its become far more partisian, but it's not entirely changed so much as infected. I'm happy to see articles like this as well as what they're reporting on. It's surprising and unfortunate to me that the response to undercover reporting leading to food recalls was to ban the investigative journalism that led to the public discovery to begin with. I wish more fuss had been made over that law and its sponsors, rather than us relying on courts to fix it.
  • I like this take on free speech in Jacobin
  • I think it's unacceptable for our civil oversight to demand that essential workers continue their jobs while they're not being paid. We're seeing government at its worst because of the President, but these defects were there all along, unexercised. I hope we fix them.
  • There's a lot of good in this criticism of the Drake equation, but I think it goes too far; efforts to quantify the unknown this way are flawed but they're better than nothing, and some of their faults can be mitigated by discussing particular points that are raised and suggesting alternatives. I wouldn't defend the Drake Equation exactly as stated, but rather that style of reasoning. Author doesn't actually offer an alternative, which wouldn't be a problem if these ways of thinking were useless, but they're not. If we apply them to our daily lives, we can begin to map things we don't know for sure in the same way.



Linear Shadows
Date: 2019-Jan-20 05:02:03 EST

Tonight I went to a 59th birthday party for a longtime acquaintence. It was impressive how many people he's met in the NYC area that came out for him, and when he talked about what he did this year, I saw he had a lot to be proud of. It was nice. And it made me a bit jealous. I think were I to try to do the same thing, it'd be a nearly empty room, or alternatively heavily dependent on coworkers.

Had some good conversations with some of the other people there; he's a moderate conservative, and there were a number of others of that sort at the gathering. As I'm the sort of liberal that prefers the company of moderate conservatives over that of radical liberals, this was kinda refreshing - some of them were trying to find ways of buiding consensus on dealing with climate change on their side. They complained that the Kochs dominated the elected pols and believed that many conservative voters share their views. I can just wish them luck ; I believe our nation only functions well with two main parties that see each other as the loyal opposition, and which prefer reaching across the aisle than reaching out to their own extremists. And while perhaps I am an extremist in some sense on economic issues, I'm pretty moderate on social norms, and that's where I think this is most important.



Ancestral Home of the Future
Date: 2019-Jan-19 15:00:11 EST

For Thu-Fri of this week, a coworker and I visited Janelia research lab in Virginia. Our project is heavily tied to them - we got our dataset from them (from a specimen that in turn was collected by another overseas collaborator), we use a lot of their software, and our PI came from there. It was fantastic to sit down with people we knew as well as people doing similar tasks to ours (on a bigger scale out there). The campus is also amazing, and a bit surreal. In some ways it's the kind of place I've long dreamed of living in - secluded, academic, embedded in nature. Although I realise that I may have too much noise in my soul to ever be content in such a place for more than a few months. Still, it was a great place to visit and I hope we get to do it again at some point. And following my habits from visiting the mothership when I worked at Dropbox, I had a big list of things I wanted to learn from each meeting and made sure I got through most of them, leaving me with a lot of followup for next week. There was one thing - the sharp distinctions from the inside of the building to the outside led me to fantasise about the facility being on Mars instead of in the woods. I think that would work and it'd be pretty amazing.

I had a migraine for much of Friday, sadly. And although it was mostly bearable, it started to get pretty bad near the end of the day, making the transit home nightmarish. Migraines are already pretty nightmarish to begin with, but mixing in travel makes it the worst thing I've experienced; this has occasionally happened before. Glad it's over now, but while that's going on, it's one of thise "I wish I could just die right now" kinds of things. Not sure, were an easy way to actually do that present itself during the travel+migraine experience, that I'd actually resist the temptation.

Deeply fascinated with this bizarre star system. I love how much we're learning about the quirks that nature occasionally produces. I was also thinking on the train ride back, in the tail end after the migraine ended, how I'm actually proud of our star for being massive enough that we think it will fuse helium for awhile. Go Sun.

I've been pretty unhappy about the direction one of my former employers, MongoDB, has taken with their recent license change that no longer makes them simply OpenSource. They're using their license to prevent competition, based on the idea that only they should be able to provide MongoDB as a service. As a result, while Amazon's new compatible database as a service is also not opensource, I welcome it because it still provides some level of alternative to MongoDB and we need that now. More ideally the community will either build more ways to break out, or we'll find a way to kill the company. While I have a lot of fondness of a lot of people I knew while there, I wouldn't mind the latter. I believe it needs either a lot of changes (starting with the CTO and this license stuff) or to end, from the perspective of industry-openness and good governance.

I was weirded out to see the ACLU call for big tech companies not to sell face-recognition to governments, in that it's a pretty clueless thing to ask for on the tech front. The technology is no longer in the "you need a dedicated research and development staff to spend years" phase. It's in a "you need a small number of the right academes and a few engineers" phase - probably 10 or less of the right people to produce something good in a year. And nations can just hire that if they want to. Meaning there's little point in pretending it can be capped. As of right now, it's going to work as well as the surface justification of crypto bans on repressive nations - there's no way in the modern world to keep that code out of a nation (the actual/functional useful thing it does is make it hard to do business with those nations by preventing businesses from using those technologies across those borders).

Looking forward to catching up with someone I used to work for early next week - haven't seen him for around 17 years. I guess I'm old enough now that thse numbers are a thing. Still seems weird to me. Also going to an IQ2US debate (my first) at the end of the month.

I'm wary of Cortez's efforts here to elect more people like her until we see more of how she's going to function in office. Part of it is that she's so new, but part of it is also that I'm hostile to some forms of progressivism and I'm not sure whether she is (or will become, or will remain) in that "we must redo culture and weaken free speech" crowd or not.

I'm disturbed by China's control over Churches and need to control narratives within its nation. It's not that I think Christianity is that great to begin with - it's a largely shallow philosophy tied to a fairy tale - but even highly disturbing things in that shape (like scientology or objectivism) should be evaluated (and ideally rejected) for what they are. Revisionism is terrible enough that even if there are legitimate social harms from a perspective's power, it outweighs them.



Finding the End of the String
Date: 2019-Jan-12 18:43:18 EST

Today I finally wrapped up some low-grade detective work - some months ago I first heard of a programme called Gangstas to Growers, based out of Atlanta. The idea being that they offer agriculture-centric opportunities to people after they leave prison in an effort to fight recidivism. I believe this is a great thing, but the first few times I went to look for a way to offer them financial support, I wasn't able to find a place to do that or even contact info. So I eventually forgot about it. Late last week, when looking at an upcoming talk where I work, I was reminded of G2G and spent some more time digging, this time focusing on the name of the founder. And with enough poking around I finally found a contact address and dropped them an email. Today I got a response and was able to offer support. Finally. Although this was more difficult than it should've been.

Next week a coworker and I are heading to Janelia in Virginia to learn more about some of the tools we're using. I've tried to make our collaboration non-draining to them by being a good coding citizen ; I've been doing a series of diffs to add type-annotation to some of their python projects. It's a bit challenging in some ways because I don't know Django and they also use some language features I'm not familiar with, but in LINK I'm discovering that maybe I should have been using them all along. Function decorators are pretty cool, and the way it's used in this codebase is to extract boring and repetitive permissions-checking from dispatch functions; the wrap-up is pretty elegant. There is a cost though, in that you no longer can tell at a glance what parameters a function uses. Probably worth it, although it's good to step forward in ways that recognise this pain. Feels like a weaker version of closures. The trip should be interesting; I've heard Janelia described as a sibling institution to where I work, and it'll be good to meet in person with some people we've collaborated with for the time I've been here.

From a number of recent internal talks, I've come to revise my earlier impression of redundancy in codon encoding, in that I've come to appreciate that the chemical-structural encoding of base pairs itself can be significant to gene expression (from "will this ever actually make the protein" to "in what cell lines will this see expression"). That dimension was entirely absent from my earlier understanding, and makes me appreciate that genetic engineering is going to be more challenging than I anticipated. There may be some ways to get around that (in that rather than doing direct low-level encoding, we may treat sequences as a compile target with extensive compiler layers between). Happy to have this chance to revise my mental models.

Idea that Cortez should hold back and learn from seniors in legislature - interesting. Not sure if I agree. On surface it seems good, but when people elect a representative it's not the same thing as joining a business. Yes, there is wisdom to be learned and excess passion to be replaced with prudence, but this is highly informal and unlike employment where these relationships are implicit and intended. When I vote for someone new to office I'm not asking them to be timid.

Still very enthused at the 2018 highlights book I made from my Google Photos; I know plenty of other photo services offer this exact thing, and it's the kind of thing that's a win for everyone. I'm likely to go back through photos from prior years and have highlights books made for each of those too.

Been thinking again about how I'd design a home if I got the chance. In the more distant past I've dreamed of converting an observatory, with a raised middle section and four separate lower sections for different areas of life. Given that I'll likely never have such a home, maybe I'll do a more realistic design this time. Partly because living in NYC means perpetual dissatisfaction with living arrangements.