Time Heals All Wounds, Then Kills the Patient

A blog by Pat Gunn
Ethics and Friends and Sponsors
Date: 2018-Jun-10 21:31:43 EST

This last week I figured out the details of hosting a Chaos Eng meetup in my workplace - it's very doable. I might want to wait until the 2nd floor of 162 is done (likely end of July), but I could also do it in a classroom. Neat. I'm thinking it'd be interesting to run a tech meetup, but out of ethical concerns, I'd like to do it independent of Gremlin because they're a vendor. I know it's probably a bit pedantic to draw lines, but in all things I think it's good to be wary of certain kinds of ethical entanglements, and I think in the long term if everyone plays by these rules some kinds of drama or impropriety is avoided. I've sometimes found orgs and people who are offended by this - don't hire a friend or a relative? Makes you a bad person. And so on. But that to me is a taste of the mess one gets into by not avoiding those entanglements.

I wish I were better at getting enough feelings of relaxation from the weekends. I'm just not good at resting, or relaxing. I spent a good part of yesterday at the Coney Island beach, napping. Which was nice, but I still didn't feel rested. And I still don't. Helps that I like my job and it's not particularly wearing, but I still wish I could somehow capture a genuinely refreshed mind and body. Doesn't seem available anymore.

I'm pretty excited about the further discovery of organics on Mars by the MSL-Curiosity. And it's neat to read about the intended capabilities of its successor, what has what I assume is a tenative name of Mars2020. I don't want to pin my hopes on discovery of (past or present) life on Mars, but damn if it isn't an interesting question. Stuff like this really feels like the point of our species - to understand.

California is pretty amazing at trying out the dumbest ideas. This we will try not to call the police again idea is one of them. I have occasionally heard milder forms of this argument - that people should be reluctant to call police when minorities are involved, on the assumption that the risks are too high for them in terms of discriminatory treatment. I reject even that. Both out of principle - it's a form of bigotry (even if there is some mild statistical evidence, I would likewise not decide to avoid doing business from someone from a poor part of town on the idea that some kinds of criminality are more common there, even with evidence) and because I feel we really have no alternative so we'd best focus on improving correctness of police action where we see problems, rather than giving up on them. A society without police won't work (although some of their coping mechanisms for their bad idea sound fairly productive).

Recently had occasion to read about weebles (the wobbly toy from the 90s). Having reminded myself why they work, I realise I've learned this before, with this particular topic as the inspiration for learning about center of balance the first time. Fascinating to have forgotten that and to follow the same line of curiosity to reopen that topic that time closed.

This article about Mr Rogers and his way of speaking was interesting. I don't advocate people generally try to live under a speech discipline - it's a heavy burden and limits self-expression and comfort and ways of dispersing stress. In particular circumstances (e.g. a debate, or his show) it's appropriate, and it's fascinating seeing the care he took to maintain it. I grew up with his show's practices bouncing around in my head, and while in adulthood I may be slightly wary of his involvement in Christianity, I still have deep goodwill towards the (deceased) man.

My thoughts on the cake case lead me with a nuanced pro-baker position based on the sevice being custom; I don't want to compel speech. That said, on this matter, where someone doesn't want gays to shop somewhere, strikes me as unacceptable. There is no excuse not to provide the same, non-performance, non-custom sale of goods; I expect and hope to see it prevented.

I am endlessly frustrated by stupid things said by people at my former employer, MongoDB, on the topic of relational databases. From their earnings calls to SEC filings, there are statements (like "every app needs a database", or "relational databases can process data, but they have a 30 year old design and can't scale") that are deeply ignorant of the way the market works, and I strongly suspect this nonsense comes from Eliot Horowitz and nobody's correcting it internally because they mostly hire people straight out of college, people who have never learned a variety of databases. It just keeps coming, and they should know better.

The H1-B is pretty complex as a topic for me. The big tech companies are basically lying about the necessity to hire foreigners for jobs (they could just as easily find people locally, and they turn down people because their interview pipelines are broken because everyone's is), and that bugs me, but that said, it's probably in the national interest to keep granting lots of H-1B visas anyway; in terms of immigration these are the most desirable people to have lining up to come here and become residents and perhaps citizens. We're significantly injuring ourselves to restrict that. I can understand cracking down on a number of other forms of immigration (I'd probably refuse all refugees and lottery-based immigration, for starters), but this? No. I'd probably accept a practically unlimited H-1B immigrants and fast-track them to be citizens if they want. We could even, without justice concerns, achieve some other beneficial social ends along the way, for example attaching strings to where they can live (e.g. you can't settle or work in California, in order to force decentralisation of tech).

I am glad to see Valve "giving up on responsibility", as this unfortunate article suggests, because that equates to acting as a fairly neutral marketplace, which sits best with my notions of free speech and marketplace neutrality. Bravo.

This article pushing an "anti-semitism awareness act", seems like it would be a very bad precedent. The idea being that existing laws mandating investigation of anti-semitic intimidation has been hampered by no clear definition of anti-semitism. Reasonable concern, but the definition the act offers is overbroad. First, in my view it must not consider rhetorical attacks on Judaism; secular advocacy including mockery of faith should not be considered possibly harassment (existing notions of harassment without awareness of those topics - namely things akin to stalking and other unwanted interaction - should be sufficient), and secondly, Israel as a topic must be detached entirely from consideration in these matters. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to be unhappy with Israel, either in its acts or its existence. Giving special protection or consideration to it as a topic is unwarranted and stifling. The article correctly argues that free speech cannot be overridden by a law, but free speech as a legal concept is both distinct from free speech as a social norm, and it is erodible by notions of harassment - an existing exception to our commitment. We would do well to be extraordinarily reluctant to allow things to be tacked onto those exceptions if we actually value free speech in practice.

I have considerable discomfort with how NYC treats the homeless; in my view, it should always remove them to a shelter on request, no choice. That said, this article suggests that other aspects of our homeless policies are having good effect in getting people off the streets. And so for those policies, provided they work, I'm happy to see them in place. Although I still want mandatory removal and until that is done, support shaping public infra (park benches should prevent people from lying down, for example) to keep them from using it for purposes contrary to the intended purpose.

In terms of API design, this intro to v2 of the Git wire protocol is a great example of a longstanding principle in API design (protocol design, file format design, so on): Always leave space near the start of your header for a version flag. They didn't in git, and the workarounds described sound really unfortunate to deal with that shortsightedness. Even good programmers make rookie mistakes sometimes.

Into Summer
Date: 2018-Jun-04 05:42:27 EST

Since I last wrote, I went on a trip with the rest of the Foundation, out-of-country. It was better than I thought it was going to be ; I think it would have been fairly ill-suited-to-my-specifics as a trip I'd take on my own, even with the activities, but I appreciate that it brought me closer to my coworkers. I am sunburned, but I also swam in the ocean a lot, and that was cool. This weekend should've been my big rest from it, but I spent all of Sunday with one of those rare top-tier migraines. It's not quite gone yet, but far less bad than it was for most of the day.

Saturday, I went to an art tour at AMNH, which was pretty interesting; there are paintings and murals in some rooms that I somehow never noticed before despite walking by them dozens of times. Some quite faded. On the tour there was a bit of annoyance as the guide talked about how some of the halls might not be easily remade nowadays because of politics; one of the murals for example was a (reportedly accurate) image of a tribe's dog-eating ceremony, and it may be that the values of being accurate and respectful may be in conflict and that discussion would be reopened. I'm of the persuasion that finds most concerns of respect-for-a-culture to be hogwash; it irritates me to no end that anything accurate might be avoided because it smells like revisionism. Still, was a good tour.

I wonder if I might be able to get enough of the Orc thing done, as an RPG setting, to maybe run it at this year's DragonCon. Not sure, kinda doubt it actually, but it might be fun to try. I've been adding bits to it over the last few weeks, but I was hampered by forgetting where I keep it and just starting anew, leaving me with the task to reconcile all the efforts back together again. Which isn't always bad because sometimes those efforts lead to interesting options. But it's more the kind of thing you'd do as a second pass, while I don't even really have a first spread over all the topics laid out in a consistent manner.

My father's been having health issues recently. Worrying. I'm realising I'm not that close to my family right now, and the time to be close is not unlimited. I have a trip scheduled later this year back to Cleveland, and a separate trip to Texas. I hope to fix some of this, but few things that are from habit are fixed with one event. I sometimes think about setting up a Slack for family, although I don't know how many of them would use it.

What your fading feels like
Date: 2018-May-21 19:43:23 EST

Occasionally I get a very particular impression ; if reality is normally a 3d grid oriented the way I normally see things, this is all those lines that have fallen a bit further than 45 degrees, with a definite impression of movement. It's not a good feeling; leads to some strong vertigo and a feeling that standing up is nearly impossible even in theory. Some parts of me whisper that this is what dying would feel like for me in particular, and that everyone probably has their own broken states of mind on the way down. Feels plausible. I sometimes wonder about the states of experience between awareness and the rest; I feel I can almost catch the transition between paying attention and letting time pass without. Like catching the back of my own head. And in the occasional meeting where I'm underslept and have trouble following the topic, I still make memories of the disjointed thoughts, and notice they're disjointed at times, and sometimes manage to pull myself together at annoyance at the nonsense. Maybe death would be like one of these transitions. Assuming a natural death, of course. Anything that'd physically obliterate my brain, or other non-natural ways to go would probably not produce any transition whatsoever, just an end.

Today I had occasion to use Amazon Workspaces to test some code at work that external users are having issues with. When it works, it's quite nice (and it usually works). Some operations you might want to do (e.g. enlarge an instance you already made) fail with a super-unhelpful error message and a pointer to a FAQ that has no help for you, and it's unclear why you can't make more than one of these workspace instances per user. But then, all of this is un-ideal, in that it should all just be instances on EC2. Oh well. Works well enough.

I'm intrigued by this call to break up Facebook. I understand why people might want to break up FB to reduce the concentration of power, but this particular plan would probably lead to the immediate demise of Messenger at least, and possibly the rest if they could not be profitable. I don't really know what a general plan to do breakups would look like, but they probably should not result in one viable central old company locked into a narrow market, and then corpses all around it. I suspect somehow splittimng up the core company in ways that leave viable narrower companies is what would have to happen. And if we're doing this often, we should adjust the factors that make large gloms of power so likely.

Preparing for the work trip this coming weekend. There's not a ton to arrange, but it's enough outside my comfort zone to be annoying. Plus I'd like to see Deadpool 2 sometime this week before I go. Maybe tonight.

Weirded out a bit that the idea of "having a pool body" or not is bothersome to some political/social-values persuasions. Although I really should've expected it; body-positivity is a movement I never believed in (despite not having a particularly amazing body), and for those that believe in it, they presumably have removed from themselves (or at least have gone into denial over) a lot of conceptions of presentability and beauty and so on that others believe in. And on that note, I should get to work on losing weight.

Made mujadara this last weekend. Predictably, my body feels like it's pushing out a bit of onion through my skin, and my eyes are tearing up a bit continually. Not fun. Wondering if it's coming out, or if it just got stuck in from external exposure. Next time maybe I'll do gloves and goggles and find out.

On Wanting America to Win
Date: 2018-May-13 20:25:00 EST

Dissecting a bit of discourse here, I think the argument of "don't you want America to win" deserves some analysis, particularly when used under Trump. There must be room to believe that first, we might not be all that attached to any particular nation so much as notions of the way things should be, and second, a mixed form of this where we believe that in the long run, America (and western civilization) is best off with good institutional forms and norms, and that it's not worth going for short-term advantage (one particularly bad leader with autocratic leanings and his ideas) if it means giving up on the things that make our nation work well (lack of centralisation of power, non-pettiness, being expertise-driven). The public interest is not a ring through our nose that we'll walk towards with shortsighted eyes; it is a long and slow path with room for long-term thinking.

Rounding our Logs
Date: 2018-May-03 02:56:44 EST

I sometimes daydream of being in a world where people spend a lot more time thinking about what valid arguments look like ; not the kind where pedants codify rules and insist others ahere to them, but rather the kind where people use those rules as signposts in adolescence, continually hold debates in their heads, and by adulthood develop a deep awareness of rhetoric, persuasion, and how we may think. In a mix between a daydream and an inner debate (on the walk to work, where I get a bit of thinking done most days), the phrase "We have no obligation to round all our logs" popped into my head as a way to refer to an intuition - given that any maxim will lead to actions that will be seen in many evaluative contexts, we should not feel obliged to defend that maxim as if it were designed for the particular context we're debating; some amount of mis-fit is to be expected for any rule that applies to a broad set of situations, and we should accept at least a reasonable amount of this. To do otherwise is to either stay forever in a learning mode (never settling down on views because any log will have some rough edges), to discard important axes of analysis to avoid that, or at least to be easily manipulated.

Another inner debate - an argument about the level of brandedness of certain strata of society, with one side seeing it as a terrible defect, and another seeing the style of higher strata as being little different in substance because the style of that strata amounts to the same thing; is the brandedness itself the shame, or the obedience? To muddy the waters interestingly - if only a few companies, or even just one, were to make the stylish clothes and just market them under different names, is that not as tight a leash? Or is the fixation on the brand transformative? I don't have an answer to this.

At a recent software event at DigitalOcean there was a talk by someone I once interviewed with there. She looked to be a pretty good manager, and her talk made it clear that she really thought about things and put in the effort to communicate well. There was still part of her talk that bothered me ; it sounded like she wanted her people to bring their personal lives a bit into work as a bonding thing, and I've come to feel that that's likely actually a bad thing because it introduces areas of conflict that would not be visible if we just interact with each other at work on a fairly surface level, or at least don't have the expectation to bring our whole selves in. Most of the people I've worked with, for example, I've had no idea if they were religious, and in some jobs I never talked about being non-straight, or having been single for a long time, or having been depressed for a long time. Even having everyone else sharing creates an unwelcome pressure to do the same. During the interview process I came to feel there was a cultural incompatibility between her and I; maybe it's for the best that we didn't end up working together, although I still believe that she's probably generally a good boss (despite the disagreement on how much of oneself to bring to work).

I sometimes wonder how much our evaluative contexts might be embedded into our neuroscience/genetics ; it seems plausible to me that there are shared parts of being human in games of "king of the hill" - maybe even brain regions that are always contributing to our motives based on power, advantage, affirmation of a community, and a number of other distinct ends that provide security to humans in the EEA. If this is so, I wonder if we might be able to extract their content, or if like in a Hopfield network, we can only weakly infer from the effects.

A little more prudence in Jurisprudence
Date: 2018-Apr-30 00:49:14 EST

As much as I'm sometimes frustrated when my intuitions on how the city should be run, on some topics I care a lot about, have little weight (particularly WRT the homelessness situation), at least on some topics I have hope. One of the things about the Subway system is if we actually want people to use it and use cars less, it needs to be a reasonable way to get around the city, and that means that we don't shut it down without a really good reason, and even when we have such a reason we do it for as little time as possible. I'd like to see this taken a lot further - we get notices sometimes that a sick person on a train is delaying an entire line and I think the priorities involved justify *always* moving them promptly off the train. 30 seconds. Even at cost to their health. Because civilisation can't stop for one person. But at least there's this push not to let a police investigation of a fight delay things, and maybe we can apply this intuition more broadly in the future.

I can see both sides on this commentary on Chick-fil-A in NYC. There are some orgs, like Salvation Army, where I won't interact with them because of how they treat homosexuality. There may be some tribalism in that, in that I'm not straight and haven't pretended otherwise for quite some time. It's limited in scope and based on what I see as an injury; I would not give more of my business to gay-owned (or even explicitly gay-friendly) orgs/companies; I don't seek some kind of dominance for such group, nor do I seek kinship, but I seek to end something I regard as an injustice. So it's a little more limited. This article makes a few good points though - at least what it's criticising is focused on a dislike of Christianity, and that's more complex to interact with. I find it broadly acceptable that different groups in society dislike each other and want each other to, in some sense, lose out. This happens all the time in politics; I don't want libertarian ideas to win and would be happy were people to be convinced away from those ideas. I expect the same in faiths, and on various topics. That understood, these disagreements should not be brought to a boil; ideally they should amount to individual dislikes, or "we tolerate people when they believe this but would prefer they not believe it and would like to persuade them away from it". There's another way to read this - that liberalism as a tactical matter should be wary of taking on as a defining characteristic a dislike for religious folk. I'm less sure about that angle, although I don't want to let this concern stop individuals who are liberal and secular from advocating secularism.

This is an interesting concern for seeing life elsewhere in the universe that I had not considered before - that larger planets may have an easier time hosting life but may have sufficient gravity to make launches difficult. I wonder if high-gravity-evolved entities would have more of a structural dependency on gravity than we do ; we already have issues with deformation of some organs under prolonged-zero-G, but maybe this is the easy end of the scale.

This is an interesting, if disquieting look at dating site impersonators. It got me thinking a bit about the role of tricks-of-discourse in flirting, and how personal those things are; most of the chat-up lines quoted in the article would actually infuriate rather than intrigue me ; if I ever heard "answer this question once and for all" in any context from someone, I'd be disinclined to speak with them again because that manner of speech is awful.

It's interesting when a politifact debunking ends up still being worrying; I support a ban on gay conversion therapy (and probably a number of other invasive change-who-you-are therapy), at least until people are adult and financially independent, but efforts to cleanly ban that without introducing problems with laws are quite tricky.

Bravo to Larry Moneta (of Duke) for standing up for free expression. I don't think campus speech codes are acceptable, no matter the form of University.

In the past I've expressed support for leaving up past memorials to things we find immoral now, because we don't believe in iconoclasm and revising past meaning is much uglier than creating new meaning in new spaces. Likewise, I support creating new meaning in new spaces, and this story about a memorial to lynching victims in Alabama is a good way to tackle unfortunate bits of our history. At least these ones. There's a lot more to cover.

I played Far Cry 5, and although the plot of the game was rubbish, the gameplay was fun and the area was beautiful. The idea of visiting Montana actually has some merit, and it's pretty neat that Montana's tourism board recognises that. I can see myself visiting someday. Probably mostly for hiking.

I'm in the middle of trying to write an open letter to Quillette to suggest they make some small course corrections to do better. It's turning out to be more work than I thought it'd be. This is true for a lot of things in life; it's so easy to have ideas, and sometimes a bit exhausting to chase them. I hope I haven't become lazy. I think I'd like to try to pull together some more readers for my stuff, not as fans, but to generate some useful back-and-forth for intellectual growth. Companions. Fellow thinkers. Not that I'd object to readers, but that's not really the point. I rather admire what Jason Steele (of Filmcow) has done. Although he has the advantage on this front of having a bunch of great voices and being super active in this space.

Conversations among the grasses
Date: 2018-Apr-27 23:06:28 EST

Had a thought - possibility of ideas happening in parts of our brain disconnected from potential body-output, or at least not recorded into memory and with relatively limited influence. Could we know? What would it be to be one of those if they were a thing. But if they have limited potential influence, I think they miss out on at least some of the features, developmentally, we attribute to most forms of intelligence; little experience with causality, and that experience being necessary to train a mind. Unless there were a transfer of trainedness from our main personality. Fascinating idea. But then, if intelligence is just a pattern on states, as I've spoken of before in other writings, perhaps this is not that odd an idea.

Went to a infra-software conference this week. Hung out a bit with a former coworker from DBX. Was nice.

Rebuking one's Past Self
Date: 2018-Apr-22 19:23:17 EST

This last Friday I mentioned to Aaron, the person with whom I share my office at work (another SCC member), that I sometimes make trips to Philadelphia and was thinking of going this weekend (usual coffeeshop and walking and Wawa reasons), and he suggested I check out the Barnes Foundation Museum. I missed going on Saturday (have been feeling physically exhausted a lot recently, spent almost the entire day in bed), but today on Sunday I felt fine - reinvigorated even, and I woke up at 8AM and was out the door around 9 to make it here (by noon, roughly). I walked to Wawa, and then to Barnes; it turns out I had passed this museum many times in past visits and when I lived in the greater PHL area; going in, I was struck by countless details of the (super interesting) architecture, from wall panels that were woven from sheep, to an underground garden area, to really interesting ideas of space, stairs, and open air. The roof had a reflected light theme (was impossible to see the top window but there must've been one, supplemented by a little bit of artificial light like make-up done well.

Artwise, two artists lept out at me in particular (but there were great works by others):

  • Jean Hugo - His works felt like places I could walk into, and my brain kinda ran away from my body seeing them as captured slices of reality, perhaps an eternal afterlife in such a place. First maybe like What Dreams May Come (film), and then like an episode of Randall and Hopkirk where an older detective agency had its better member happy but placid in a peaceful and very personal existence. What would it be to be in such a world, at that resolution, with those boundaries being the boundaries?
  • Giorgio de Chirico - Who had a fascinatingly different way to parse reality. "The Mysterious Swan" in particular amused me. The paintings keep hinting at other ways reality could be organised, sticking in my head suggesting things to learn that are interesting but not real. Captivating.
  • Maybe Jules Pascin too.
It was a really nice way to spend a few hours. I was underdressed, having just dressed for maximal comfort for the train.

After that, I took a nice very long walk to Chapterhouse Coffee to sit for a few hours; feels good to sit after that hike, and I needed to look up Chirico's name (it escaped me during the walk). Spotted someone who reminds me of a former coworker at Dropbox that I had a bit of a crush on, and amused that the internet here is as bad as it ever was, and a bit surprised that the walk was considerably longer than I remembered. Not looking forward to the hike back to 30th Street Station, whenever I decide to go.

Edge of understanding
Date: 2018-Apr-20 17:31:41 EST

I've been helping with a paper at work, and one of the things it talks about is use of a machine learning technique, applied framewise over time, that will threshold (kinda) if/when data becomes significant enough to become an ROI. I feel I'm on the very edge of an insight that the algorithms in play (a CNN), when viewed stepwise (more or less a 90 degree rotation) might take a very different form and be much more efficiently calculated were they revised towards thresholding rather than independent (but stateful - based on data available so far) invocations. It's a strong instinct, but it's just at the edge of my slippery grasp; if I understood a bit more I feel I could figure out a general transformation of algorithms, or at least develop a means to do so, to realign it along these lines.

A lazy version of this would just be to memoise a lot of the intermediate state.

Denying the Power of Words
Date: 2018-Apr-20 02:07:25 EST

There's a beautiful paradox in modern (and perhaps historical) American society, and certain philosophical trends in European society that influenced us. Words have a lot of ability to affect things; en masse they decide if a leader is effective or weak (particularly in monarchies), they can push on our emotions both directly and in how we define things, en masse they help establish or destroy notions of legitimacy (gaslighting is direct manipulation of this facility to destabilise somebody's worldview), and they help shape our well-being, our feelings of safety and its lack, and all sorts of other things.

A direct, full-throated recognition of this is a powerful reason to drop a lot of constraints on speech, whether done as laws, as expectations of violent or career-altering responses, or as social norms. We can prevent all kinds of harms this way. It also, depending on how we recognise it, leads to ideas of crimes of honour (insult somebody in some ways and they might, in order to preserve their status which is essential to their mental well-being which you probably unjustly decided to step on, need to make things right).

So, in contrast to a lot of other societies still extant in the world, we have decided to go for free speech as a legal and social norm, and when it comes up against all these harms, we decide that the harm done by restricting speech, on whole, is worse than any of the harms that speech can do. We get a lot out of this bargain. Some of us consider free speech a direct good (I do); a good independent of its effects. Some consider this a good bargain even if they see free speech as a means to an end, perhaps noting that while it offers potential for a lot of potential harm, it also lets the targeted person blow off steam, laugh at the person who went after them, and lets them go after them right back (as speech, at least).

The way we resolve that tension then, is to dismiss the harms that can come from speech, and teach our children to try to ignore them (sticks and stones, etc). It's not always simple.