Time Heals All Wounds, Then Kills the Patient

A blog by Pat Gunn
Cursive on the Page
Date: 2019-Jun-10 06:17:37 EST

Been reading a lot recently, but I'm not making good progress on reducing the massive backlog of things to read because I'm getting more books at the same time. It's a bit frustrating, even though maybe a backlog should not bother me so much. There's just a simplicity in my life that I'd like to have in an area where I clearly don't. And those simplicities (or their lack) contribute to how much peace of mind I have. I want to spend my attention on the right things, and I typically tune everything else to a low-but-acceptable payment. Even if it means I'm not dressed particularly well, or don't enjoy life all that much, and so on. I don't think this is that weird though. Most people just don't realise they're doing it, and a few oddballs really try to split their attention so they can get solidly good results from the basics before going after the hard stuff. I think that likely gets them worse results for the hard stuff (like having the most interesting ideas), although maybe I'm wrong on this and effort is upwards-trainable.

This weekend I had some very odd sleeping habits that led the weekend to feel like it had an extra day. It worked out pretty well overall, although I doubt it's repeatable. Was great for feeling like I got a good use of the weekend. Apart from some good walks and some reading, I also enjoyed playing through a new DLC for Borderlands 2. The plot wasn't particularly good, but that's been true of that series for awhile now - the environments and the gameplay are the real draw.

Recently been weirded out to see some political bother over rainbow flags for pride month. I think were I a national leader I'd prefer not to have flags of social movements be part of a state that's trying to represent everyone, for the same reason I wouldn't want the flag of my political party (let's assume I actually belonged to a party, and that parties have flags) be flown as part of national imagery. I'm not suggesting that nations shouldn't actually have leaders that try to enact policies that reflect their values, but flags-for-causes are actually a value-loss because without themselves actually advancing anything worth advancing, they lessen the vestedness of other people towards their nation. In the long rum, that's dangerous. So I think it's actually appropriate to curb that, and would respect politicians more for declaring that their administration will disentangle the state from such things.

A few other thoughts:

  • I would respect the ACLU more if it either did not celebrate this, or did it slightly differently - I don't feel specific accomodation for religions is a good thing if it amounts to giving people of those faiths permission to do something that others cannot, and although it's a lesser harm, I also don't think "we want to be compatible with faith X" is a good reason to reshape law even if it's done in a way that's completely general. Good law comes from considering the general good absent particular cultural movements/identities. So perhaps in the general case if clothing restructions are not necessary for military function, they should be loosened or lifted, but that's the why and they should be lifted for everyone.
  • I found the story behind How to Draw a Horse to be charming. Maybe lightly weird how far people might be willing to go to win the attention of another person, but many good things in life come from strange starts.
  • If people thought more clearly about names and the role they play in language, they would not get excited about the ability to name exoplanets or stars, because everyone in the world has the ability to name anything they like. Same with every nation. Names are not enscribed on the universe, they're things we make up, and everyone gets to do it.
  • A despotic move from Trudeau - trying to embed in Canadian government practice an unnecessary requirement that participating orgs have certain perspectives on social issues.
  • I was disturbed to hear about an Alabama mayor fantasising about killing a number of his opponents on social and political issues. I understand the fear of losing on issues that are important to us and the nation coming to feel alien to our mental lives and concerns - liberals and conservatives here both have to deal with that, and we all lose sometimes. It's easy to get scared and lose that feeling of vestedness. And unfortunately, when people feel those fears it leads them to irresponsible willingness to act - they call for unsustainable or destructive policies, or consider vigilantism, and these things harm our social fabric even more (to some degree even if suggested, although acting it out is usually far worse).
  • I'm wary of accepting this finding on quantum leaps as true without more evidence, but I am intrigued by the idea of the jumps being gradual and possibly controllable.
  • And on the other side, I'm a little disappointed that the galaxy seemingly sans dark matter probably actually has it and we just got the distance wrong. The sad thing about this is we lost what seemed to be both a fun little mystery and a bit of extra confirmation that dark matter fits certain gross models by its ability to be absent somewhere.
  • It's unclear to me why the FDA would approve a medication that costs two million dollars, or why insurance would ever cover that. At some point the costs of meds are more expensive than average (or even well-off) people could produce for society, and in my view a hard ban on medicines above that range makes sense. It's not a good use of societal resources, and those same resources spent elsewhere would produce far more benefit.
  • There's a fascinating little nugget embedded in the memory-alpha entry for Measure of a Man, where Roddenberry and the director of the episode disagreed on whether lawyers would exist in the future. I side firmly with Snodgrass that lawyers bring value, that an adversarial legal system has a lot of merit, and that Roddenberry's idea that criminality is simple and his preferred solution to it is creepy. I also enjoyed LegalEagle coverage of that episode.
  • Recently-ish discovered another great science/philosophy channel by the name of UpAndAtom. Great stuff.

Relations between public and private power
Date: 2019-Jun-02 22:27:13 EST

Been recently thinking about the different emphasis different political philosophies put on public versus private power - I eventually came around to be concerned about both, and to see both as potentially decent tools to check the other. I think good societies keep an eye on challenges coming from both camps. A good example is when a company - typical holder of the most potent private power - has control over a public forum of some kind, and decides on acceptable expressions of views there. I am not a fan of anything but the most minimal rules for any broad forum (Twitter, Youtube, so on), even when there's substantial other public goods to chase with these efforts. And so I would be happy to see government attempt to ban such private censorship, or at least see if the lines culd be drawn. But likewise, even though I believe the state is generally more accountable to the public interest than corporations, the public interest is sometimes fragmented, with voting being just one measure of it. Efforts to clamp down on dissent, whether supported through elected representatives or not, are often circumvented through privately written tools, and this too is to be lauded. I don't feel this is a conflict so much as a productive tension - there are some cases where we must put all our trust in one entity (or class of entities), but such tensions are generally healthier long-term than a single guardian of society's interests. In this, the entities ideally become resigned enough to potentially dominate the common cases without being able to provide a complete lock on a topic - in frustrating the purists society wins.

This weekend I finally, having found the missing set of screws and other components a few weeks ago, put together my keyboard stand. Feeling very good about it - it's now actually convenient to play keyboard (don't need to pull it from leaning against a wall to weighing down on my lap - the thing is ridiculously heavy). Been working mostly on the Spinach Rag, but also a few other songs. It's a joy to play so conveniently. And this in turn has me thinking back on being a memoriser rather than a sheet-music reader. Most other people in the orchestra used sheet music to play, to the level where they had a tough time playing without it, while for me reading music was a burden and while I could usually manage to read along as I played, I got little from it. I think I've been leaning towards the understanding that most people actually rely much more strongly on memorisation than they think, so the difference probably is actually is that I'm a little more honest plus I'm just missing a capability. My reasoning is that if most musicians were as sheet-music centric as they think, they wouldn't need to practice specific songs, just reading music itself plus musical proficiency - the need to practice specific songs tells me that they internalise the music as I do, just maybe not as strongly.

In April there was a Quillette post on divorce that I was vaguely aware of - while at present I financially support Quillette at some low level, it's mostly that I want them to exist to counterbalance the wrong kind of liberals - I'm frequently frustrated with them too. Some of the chatter in their community runs much more conservative than they do, and some of their articles are more for that part of the community - I got the impression from some of this, before reading the article, that this was one of those weirdly-far-right articles rather than their standard faire, thinking this was people railing against divorce in general rather than the much more narrow point that lying in the courts to get divorce on suitable terms is a terrible thing. I was thinking of railing harder against this article (I'm contrarian there too), but was relieved to see the narrow point is solid. Still, I started to gather my thoughts on divorce (as my parents divorced near the end of my undergrad in a far less civil way than would have been ideal, most of the blame for that presumably sitting on my father's head, although we're again on speaking terms years later), bringing in some context from my life (to be clear, I have never been married). I don't think divorce per se is a bad thing, and I don't want people to be reluctant to do it if they think it's probably the right thing to do. I believe it should be doable by either party, and I don't think having kids actually makes it worse compared to the alternative - a nonfunctional marriage is in my view a worse environment in which to raise kids than a divorce-properly-done. One fairly healthy model I'd have would be that there's something that starts to feel missing in the marriage, both sides talk about it, they try to fix it, but after a month or more, one side becomes convinced that the marriage cannot be repaired and decides it should end. After more conversing, it's clear to both sides that things are busted, even if one side would like to keep trying. And so they file for divorce and start the messy business of disentangling their life. If they have kids, then provided it's practical (nobody's heading off to another country), they don't disentangle entirely, but enough to back down to civility that might rebuild into a strange kind of friendship or sibling-like tie sufficient for them to remain good parents. That's the ideal. It's not what happened with my family, but had it played out that way I would have been largely emotionally unaffected by the divorce and would see it as not that differently desirable an outcome than had things remained solid all the way through. Why little different? Part of it is that I don't see marriage as being about trying fairly hard to make a shared life, rather than a promise to make it work or pretend it's working regardless of facts. And I think the consequences of pretending it's working (or trying to force it) as usually worse than ending it. I don't disgregard the possibility of rough spots in a relationship and the value of trying to work through them, but I trust people will use their judgement on their specifics, and even if they sometimes give up too early, they might likewise stay too long in something that can't work (or even can't work for the now - occasionally people remarry people they divorced, later in life after having figured some things out). Returning briefly to Quillette, there are a few things in their portrayal of divorce that I see as wrong and unhealthy - one example being "Lies are at the messy heart of divorce" - this may be true for a certain set of circumstances around divorce, but they're not a necessary trait (hoping I'm not misunderstanding the context).

Finally feeling mostly recovered from last weekend's trip. Still pretty sunburned.

The Boiler
Date: 2019-May-20 05:36:15 EST

I'm a little frustrated that wildcard DNS certs are fairly expensive with the registrars I want to use. I'm not a fan of LetsEncrypt, but this reminds me of one reason why people like it. Anyhow, it's finally become solidly Summer-weather, and NYC is muggy as it always is this time of year. I've been catching up on a number of health-maintenance-y things recently - regular checkup (with bloodwork), cat checkups (also with bloodwork), and have been reminded by the latter how much subsidies count for keeping costs down for human healthcare. I'm glad I finally have a vet that doesn't do alternative medicine though.

The yearly trip for work is coming up. I still feel I'm not good at vacations - I don't really know how to relax and I don't get a lot out of luxury. Maybe I'm learning though - the opportunity to get out into open water and swim is something I dig. Probably the best part of the trip. Recently I've had the oddest sensation of finding it the best thing in the world to just hold my hands underneath water for a prolonged period of time. Feels weird that it's so good.

I've been poking fun at a British coworker for liking PG Tips (as it's made by the Lipton company under another name), but she finally nagged me into trying it again, so I bought a box for my apartment. Having tried it a bit, I still don't think it's great tea - it's a blend that has a very particular unusual taste profile, a little like Earl Grey (which is kinda bleh compared to proper teas - the Bergemot masks the taste of the tea too much). I guess I can understand why people like it though - it's okay in a sense mostly distinct from what tea snobs actually look for in a tea. Still, I'd be unhappy if I had to drink only this tea for the rest of my life (or in fact if I had to drink it very often).

A few takes:

  • I've been thinking about the recently-introduced effort by the SAT Board to introduce a metric for adversity. I think I understand why they're doing it, although I'm not sure I like the goal, and it's easy to miss dimensions of hardship that some people face if one is to actually try to use the measure for what it's intended for. In its current implementation, it looks like the score is gathered by zipcode and high school. That said, my feelings on all of this are not strong - I believe that affirmative action in the schooling system is probably the sole area where I think it's still acceptable to consider the history of race in qualification (I reject all this recent "make sure panels in tech conferences are racially or gender diverse" stuff), although in another decade or two it'll probably be time to start winding down affirmative action too and insist on race-blind admission like in other areas of life.
  • This is an interesting article on dating for bisexual men, and it lines up with my experiences. I wasn't expecting so many women to be put off by my not being straight (and while I haven't dated many guys, I also saw some of the described behaviour from them as well). I'm not willing to grumble about this though - I don't think there are any justice concerns with what individuals or groups want in their partner in almost any regard, and if people either want reliable masculinity (whatever that means to them), or otherwise have concerns about our capacity for monogamy, or whatever else they might worry about, that's their business. I think people who somehow see a value-add for their partner not exclusively going after their gender are going to be pretty rare.
  • I've been disappointed that all this Green New Deal stuff seems to often be paired with anti-Nuclear-Power activism. Seems damned stupid to me, to the level that it makes the whole effort infeasible. I wonder if it's an aesthetic thing - that somehow they want to paint environmentalism as an escape from industry and factories and things like that, replacing it with outdoors and solar panels and windmills and other pretty things.
  • For an org that I often support, the ACLU continues to frustrate with what look to me to be bullshit argument that banning RVs amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. That's not what that legal standard means.

Repairing Mental Bridges
Date: 2019-May-11 14:51:21 EST

Earlier this week I had a morning where I woke up and some of the details of PCA that had become fuzzy to me (where I had meant to spend some time to clear it up) became entirely clear again. It felt like I hadn't spent much time on it, it just was suddenly clear, and it's remained clear since. The accessibility of intuitions are like that - it reminds me of past (tough) interviews at big tech companies where there are brute force solutions, and then a series of insights that offer headway on the problem and increase the efficiency. PCA is more pass-fail (although approximate PCA is another matter).

Over the last few weeks my sinuses have been really bothering me - this happens twice a year, but it finally seems to be on a downslope today - slept a lot last night and a lot of the discomfort was gone when I woke today. Optimistic that it's gone for good. The yearly company trip is coming up, and I'm glad it probably will be entirely good by the time I'm out there.

Been feeling a little less politically threatened recently because two radical groups finally have a counterweight - I'm coming to learn that I mostly care that no energised group feels that it's winning, rather than who is making headway. Just as it took society some time to learn to argue against Libertarians in the 90s but now people are used to it, there needs to be time for people to learn to argue against other kinds of activism, and having more than one side show up at the various debates helps make nobody show up with feelings of triumph that lead to terrible outcomes for those that disagree. These two examples are a group called "Code Pink" that's spent a lot of credibility supporting Maduro (surprisingly), and another where NYU's sociology department has been trying to cut off the israeli branches of the same university - they're getting strong pushback and that's great. Although I think they're also not entirely wrong (I generally loathe sociology departments for being radical activists demeaning academia by pretending to be scholars, but it's also important to push back against Israel's being allowed to be the one terribly regressive place that gets a free categorisation of being highly civilised despite these failings). I hope this tension never ends because it's productive.

A few takes:

  • I've been thinking about this politico essay for awhile - It strikes me as being both potentially historically ill-founded (most founders were quite wealthy and involved in industry of some kind) and possibly ill-founded in the present day as well (physical proximity is not that important - companies hire lobbyists or fly someone in to meet with a politician if there's benefit). The most that physical proximity would provide is a local worker base that depends on that industry, and it's unclear whether that would be dangerous. More broadly this is an example of an essay that sounds convincing to intelligent people if they're not in the habit of asking "yes, but really?" to a lot of its claims.
  • It's fascinating that some groups of Catholics can consider accusing the current Pope of heresy - liberation theology as a movement sits among many others with varying intuitions on handling some topics, and Bergoglio came from that movement and has naturally pushed its conclusions. The thing that strikes me as strange is that in theory a pope can speak ex cathedra and define doctrine for the church moving forward - from a power perspective that means doctrinal conflict is risky (and risks the accuser either needing to back down or becoming literally heretical). Although there's a lot more to disputes like this than power politics.
  • Recently I went to an event at AMNH where I saw some data visualisation props - inexpensive cubes with markings on them sufficient to let a tablet or phone immediately notice the orientation and rotation of devices (people would hold the cubes and rotate them with their hands), responding by putting a 3d overlay of something over that part of the image. The result was someone was rotating a cube with their hands (or moving it closer/furher from the camera) and what they'd see through the "photo preview" would be, say, the head of a lizard (or bones) rotate and zoom exactly in time with their hand manipulation. It was pretty great - very immersive. I ordered a few of the cubes (from a company called MergeVR) and will spend some time with coworkers (this is a great way to toy with new technologies) to see if we can get our wasp dataset visualised this way
  • Very cool that the recent boom in exoplanet surveys has led to more mature theories on planet formation. Still curious about observability bias in planet type distribution - I'm guessing our planet would be hard to spot with current methods from any distance away
  • I think I can support the "remain in mexico" policy, and add a few other policy preferences - that residency in the US should be denied to people who were not travelling from a place of conflict to the nearest place without conflict, that would help eliminate migration that is actually economic in nature rather than refugee in nature. I'm still surprised that "open migration, no real borders" has become a popular liberal policy position, as it strikes me as more libertarian than anything else. I'd rather us be more like Switzerland - selective and restrictive in migration with almost no refugees, definitely no lotteries, and entry based on education and perceived benefit to the US
  • There are various things the current POTUS is doing where I wouldn't mind them as much if I felt they were part of a careful and intelligent plan, but given who's running the show they're likely devoid of any plannning or thought and could get us into a lot of trouble. Foreign policy is going to be a huge mess for the next sensible president we have
  • I can entirely empathise with the theatre for removing someone with a mental illness that would lead them to be disruptive in a film - I've been in situations at least a few times in life where a mentally ill person was making a scene and nobody would remove them because they were mentally ill. Accommodation should only go so far - if someone can't be somewhere without being disruptive, they shouldn't be there (same goes with people bringing small children that can't keep quiet into performances)
  • It's good to see that parents that restrict medical procedures for their children out of boneheaded beliefs (whethe religious or new-age) can lose custody. This should be the norm.

The Other Side of a Body
Date: 2019-May-05 19:05:43 EST

Been thinking a bit about placid and turbulent notes in lake weather, and human bodies that are easily ill and easily treatable versus those that are locked to a course and slow to change. And whether my life has enough noise in it. I often think not, despite the benefits. Although the idea of changing these things makes those benefits seem like a lot to give up, and I balk.

This past week I had a checkup w/ my Doctor. I had left this undone for too long, but I still always enjoy it when I have the right rapport with my Doctor. Maybe it's one of the few remaining "check in with a parent" type thing I have in my life - at this point I interact with my parents like generic family rather than the specific "check in with the authority" type relationship I had earlier - it's not that I think they still don't have things I might learn from them, but rather that that trait has come to resemble that of other family, just leaving the "we have a bond" thing that family have. With a doctor, there's expertise in what's otherwise a generic realm of life, and a certain (admittedly paid-for) feeling of care, just slightly abstracted into being one-directional (would we weird to ask my Doctor about their health). Still, these ties are true even if the economics arranges them. In the same way that older co-workers still feel like elders to me sometimes. The roles just fade a bit as I age and the differences-of-percent fade. I sometimes wonder with much younger coworkers if the opposite should build... but that would make me even more lonely.

Life has given me a lot of painful memories. Recently been trobuled by my one marriage proposal and getting a no. I realise it may not have seemed as much to the other person, but it actually meant a lot to me. I still wonder what life had been like had she been at a point in hers where she felt like taking that leap. Although perhaps it would have failed for different reasons. I am amused at recalling the "let's work this out" I did in calling my parents and telling them. Guessing they would've thought it was me being daring for one of the few times in my life. Perhaps reckless. Although I think they met her once? My memories have grown a bit fuzzy. I guess that was 8 or 9 years ago now.

On another note, I wish I were better at emotionally handling confrontations, even when necessary. Recently I asked someone to shut off their car radio when they parked on my street and were sharing their reggae-and-blues music with the neighbourhood. And I was polite and careful not to insult their musical tastes. And they did. So it worked, but I really didn't like doing it. It's really only on some issues that I can do that without any of this emotional stuff, and even then only sometimes. I try to act tougher than I actually am. I think it's harder when I need to start the conversation - if someone comes to me, and I can categorise the way they do it as rude, it's easier for me to be rude - someone threatens me with a car (knowingly or no) and I can wave my middle finger at them. Soneone comes up to beg money off of me? I can swear at them with little guilt. It's more the "hey, do you mind cutting this off" that I need to do that I don't like doing. Not sure that can change easily. Last weekend at Union Square, on the edge of preachers doing their thing, there was a guy going nuts because some interpersonal tie he had to another heckler had really broken down. The whole time he was talking about how much he emotionally gave with the other person having betrayed him, I was just thinking "when I get angry enough with someone in my life, I just cut them out of my life, often without even expressing my anger". I was wondering why he didn't just do that, because I wasn't sure how things could've resolved okay (the other guy didn't think he had done anything wrong). I was a little weirded out at the end that after the angry guy vented enough, the other guy expressed that he probably wasn't being thoughtful, and they reconciled, and seemed to be friendly again at the end. It was strange because for a time it looked like police were going to be needed to resolve things .. and now as I write this it makes me wonder about my "cut people out of your life when things don't seem to be working" thing. In that case, I would've just cut the ties and walked away and never seen the other person again, and I would've missed out on the reconciliation that I saw (which I really did not expect). I guess I also missed out on the people stepping between me and someone I was angry at multiple times, and on all the versions of that scenario that ended badly, but how many times did I step away from personal ties that would've remained turbulent but possibly worthwhile? And are there other times in life, like jobs and other things, where having a bit of a tussle or some noise could've saved things worth saving? These questions don't easily get answered - they'd need to boil down to specifics and specific analyses, and a conclusion could only come from careful cross-event analysis (which I have not done). I hate this impression of loss and of having missed out on so much in life though. I strongly suspect I've missed out on a lot because of a low tolerance for drama.

Thirst of Pen Caps
Date: 2019-May-03 04:39:02 EST

Today at work, at one of the regular lecture-meetings, the speaker (a relatively young post-doc) provided a really nice framework for understanding machine learning without a set number of layers, with all the right incentives, to go after some aspects of cross-domain learning. I loved it - some years back when I was considering getting a degree in neuroscience at CMU, I thought that cross-domain learning, if I were to enter neuroscience, would be a problem I might devote the rest of my life to. At it turned out I didn't do that, but I always wondered what would've happened if I had (another possible scientific question that's interesting enough for me to have considered this would be to study mechanisms of cell specialisation. It's strange at this later date to have met people who did the specialisation and have insights to share. And sometimes a little sad. I like the path I've taken in my career for the variety, but the path not taken often invokes curiosity.

The other day there was a public lecture I attended - the speaker tried to address the question on whether theories can get at topics that are not directly empirical, the example being whether other universes exist in a multiverse structure (the talk was on physics in counterfactual universes). It was a good talk, but on this question I think he reached the wrong conclusion - he argued that if an existing theory that is itself strongly empirically supported on empirical topics also implies conclusions on these less-empirical topics, it can give us strong reason to reach conclusions on these topics. I believe this is only true if we have good reason to think that the link between those empirical topics and the less-empirical ones is present in all theories that can fit the facts, and consider the space of all possible theories that do so. Without at least a good reason to justify the presence of side-commentary and soft dependencies on those other topics, a successful theory risks capturing more conceptual space than is warranted.

Recently I've been learning that for my own sanity I shouldn't read anything written about MongoDB by people who are still employees there. There's so much misunderstanding of industry and the product by executives of the company (who still like talking about it), while people with more of an engineering bent don't understand industry at all and seem to be really into .. motivated reasoning .. which usually manifests as desperate somewhat-troll-y logic. It can be fun watching someone chew through bad posts, but it's probably best not to read the crud to begin with - there's no value-risk in doing so as I can already make the case for only using Mongo in cases where it's strongly justified, and using Postgres in most other cases.

I think we need to develop a societal consensus (and laws protecting) against the views in this article - while the opening example he raises are fine (work uniform being a voluntary matter), in the general case workers should be able to live their non-work hours as they see fit with no interference (or threat of being fired) from their employer, with only a few obvious restrictions that are avoidable. And if that personal life leads people to pressure the employer, the employer should ignore that pressure (and should in fact be legally required to do so). I would accept a few reasonable limits:

  • Wearing work-provided clothes lessens this independence - employees should wear their own clothes to fully enjoy this independence
  • Attending a conference on the employer's dime deeply lessens this independence
  • Speaking about the employer or other employees largely eliminates this independence, even if it's clear one is not offering official views
  • Speaking about work-relevant notions of fairness or behaviour, particularly when it would imply behaviour relevant to the current workplace, deeply lessens this independence and may require clarification at work (e.g. "I do not trust people of a particular race" suggests issues for interactions with coworkers of that race)
Still, outside limits of these kinds, this is a worker's rights issue and protecting personal lives, even for views that may be reprehensible, is the right thing to do.

I find scorecards to be interesting vehicles of values propogation - Foreign Policy For America is a liberal-leaning org that recently entered the game. Looking over that, I find that I largely (but not entirely) agree with their values. Disagreements and things I'm not sure about:

  • (House) While I support the (past) Iran Deal, I would not think less of people who disagreed with my stances on it
  • (House) I don't think the Hartzler Amendment 183 is a foreign policy matter and I question its inclusion in this metric. I would be mildly supportive of such a measure, as I don't think surgery to help people manage their identity is a good use of military funds.
  • (Senate) I am neutral on what they call the AUMF.
  • (Senate) On Cuba .. they have half a sentence missing in the version of the scorecard that's up as I read this. On this topic, while I support cautious opening of travel ties to Cuba, I think protections and planning should be in place to permit rapid closure of such ties should there be incidents of detention, and a recognition that Cuba's government is despotic leading it to be a dangerous place for American citizens (particularly given our free speech traditions) to travel means we should strucure this opening in ways providing executive flexibility
  • (Senate) On Military Service and the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, I am neutral - I did not like the old policy, but people discharged under it were largely doing so knowingly - I don't see adjusting the outcome to be particularly important. Particularly given that the policy has since been fixed. I'd probably leave it be (open to hear other arguments though)
  • (Senate) On S.1979 which they call the Muslim Ban, at least on its face the actual ban was limited to a few particularly iffy countries, with the only argument as to its unjustifiability being the President's talk on the ban rather than its content. I am wary of taking strong stances on such a legally complex matter (although I condemn the President's talk on that matter)

Shedding the Conceits
Date: 2019-Apr-19 21:33:50 EST

Got back from Berlin late Thursday. Gave me a lot to think about - the two sides (vacation first, then conference) were pretty different, but they had some common themes. With both, the role of other languages was brought into focus - for a very long time I've lived with a number of languages I kinda know as extra parts of my mental world - they didn't play the role that human languages do so much as a private code, part of my personal myths. And my cosmopolitanism was turned at an angle because I've become reclusive; I've hoarded these things for primarily myself, and rarely tested them against other people or reality. In that sense, the trip to Germany dragged a lot that was private for me out into the light, letting me see them from other angles. This is hard to express correctly, but I think the above does at least a reasonable job.

The trip was, the above complexity aside, a good practice of my German language skills, and I learned that apparently my pronunciation is not bad once I'm immersed, and I usually can make myself understood with little effort, although any followup questions easily go outside my vocabulary. I think it wouldn't be a lot of effort to hit fluency if I were to have more frequent exposure. More difficult was navigating a foreign city - not knowing how to navigate the transit system, cultural norms (e.g. not eating pizza with hands, and tap water being largely unavailable), things like that. Broadly, I found it easier to interact with people there in some ways - my concerns and interests are less alien and the cosmopolitanism that I believe in is also fairly common. I was able to get answers to some questions on the meaning of some lyrics in German bands I like, talk about things that felt consequential, and I felt far less lonely than I normally do. There are still some things that I regret, as usual - a need for connection often means I open up more than I wish I had, and when I revisit the conversations in my head I wish I had kept back more.

Things to see:

  • Checkpoint Charlie - Terrible tourist trap, like Times Square
  • Museum of Technology - Very nicely done
  • Tempelhof Former Airport - Conceptually interesting, beautiful building. I wish I had been more warmly dressed, but I'm very glad I went
The flight back (which had a connection in London) was also nice - chatted with some Brits in Tegel while waiting for the flight. One of whom was pretty friendly - we talked politics a bit. He voted leave (for largely the same reasons I likely would - that the EU is not bad as an idea but as currently implemented it's not representative and a huge mess) but felt that the government had entirely failed to manage the leave successfully - if there were another vote he wasn't sure which way he'd go. Heathrow Airport, meanwhile, is the worst airport I've ever been in. The terminals have very poor mutual accessibility, and there were parts where the only way to get to your gate were to go through a designed-to-be-long winding path through a gift shop.

The day after I got back I went to an IQ2 debate on whether solar engineering to assist in lessening climate change is a crazy idea. I brought a coworker whose company I enjoy and his wife. It was a good, educational, debate, but also strange in that it was won (for the nay side) by a very wide margin based on their successfully framing the debate a certain way - that more research is warranted, and that the proposal of the debate (interpretation of crazy) was that it was so clearly a bad idea that no further research is warranted. Having successfully done that, their victory was sealed. I wasn't caught by that framing, but I think most of the audience was and so they won by one of the biggest swings I've ever seen. A strange win.

It's good to be back home with my cats, in a city which I entirely know how to navigate, and whose norms and how I fit into them I understand fairly well.

Listening to Echoes
Date: 2019-Apr-12 21:40:33 EST

Another day's adventures in Berlin. I slept in until noon today, and then set out for the local museum of Technology, stopping at a greek restaurant along the way for something like a large spanikopita (wasn't so much a conscious pick as being hungry and stopping at the first place that looked okay). Leaving there, I passed by Checkpoint Charlie that felt like a tourist trap (it was nice to see some stern words to Russia on a flag outside about their occupation of Crimea). Further on the walk I saw a fascinating building structure - two concentric rings surrounding a park, with one ring being small stores and the other being residential dwellings. The homes were not large, but the design felt very social and I imagine it would be nice to live in a community like that. Wikipedia now tells me it's called Mehringplatz. Walking west on the south side of the river, I ran into two Irish gentlemen and had a very pleasant conversation in English - my first real conversation outside of work for quite some time. I liked them - I think they were hoping to ask me for directions but after it was clear I knew little more than they did but I was from the States, there was some instant camraderie. I have a certain positive prejudice towards people from Ireland that this fed into. We walked the same way for a bit until they reached their hostel, at which point we parted ways and I continued to the MoT. It was pretty great. I stayed for a few hours (was clear this was the kind of museum you can't reasonably get all of in one visit), seeing exhibitions on:

  • Computers
  • Communications technologies
  • Fabric
  • Boats
  • Airplanes
  • Production of Sugar
On my way out, I initially was unsure where I wanted to go next, so I sat for a bit - realised I'd be hungry in a bit so I decided to head over to a Fondue place that caught my eye during my gmaps-scout of the area - this was fairly far east of the city and would also get me entirely out of the tourist area. And so I started an hour-long walk to the east. The buildings started to feel artsy-funky as I reached and passed Prinzenstrasse, and I saw building and street layouts I've never seen before. I was happy that the timing seemed to be working out well as I was set to arrive at the restaurant not long after it opened. Saw some political demos, lots of graffitti and store signage that seemed to be about radical-left politics, and signs that this was a working-class neighbourhood with a fair amount of immigration. I don't think I mentioned that the weather was cold - it was. This whole trip has been more chilly than I thought it would be, and the jacket I brought has been not quite adequate. When I reached the restaurant, I saw that it was actually to open an hour later than I thought, so I had an hour to burn (without getting too cold). So I first got a Fanta from a nearby convenience store (at which I realised I probably was being a bit rude to everyone around me by local standards in that people expect hellos and goodbyes before other interactions here) and sat at a bench near a fountain for most of the remaining time to let my feet rest. It was good to rest, but this left me even colder, so with about 20m left to burn I walked around the neighbourhood some more, taking a few more photos and seeing a lot more interesting architecture. Finally I returned to the store slightly after it opened, and made an unfortunate discovery - that they only serve Fondue to two or more people. So I left and started to walk back to my hotel, stopping at a pizza place along the way for some pizza and a coffee. The Pizza was decent - somewhat higher-notch than NYC dollar pizza. The people were friendly, although I think some fellow customers may have been surprised I ate the pizza with my hands rather than silverware. I had forgotten that detail. Although I suppose in general on this trip I haven't been high on remembering local social graces. Not sure how different I'd be if I had remembered - I have a lot of thoughts along the lines of "It's okay to be from somewhere", although I think saying hello and goodbye to people before chatting is something I'd change if I remembered (and as the trip still has another free day tied to it I will try to do better tomorrow). Rest of the walk was uneventful.

A few more impressions - lots of people ride bikes here and the city is well organised for it. Seems that almost everybody smokes. I wonder if part of it is the cold. It's unsurprising that I only felt I was seeing the real city once I ventured far enough east - comparing the highly-public areas was still interesting but less so than the places people actually live. And I'm also glad I visited during the political campaigning - I can understand most of the campaign posters at least reasonably well. One of them talked about someone having worked a very long career and how that earns respect, another about how Europe was the best idea Europe ever had.

All this walking has given me some pretty bad blisters. Good to have my feet up. Have had plenty of time to think about plenty of things - thoguht a bit about the cslounge events and am still deeply angry and hurt over that. But also about work, and shape-of-life kinds of things. And language - the more I relax the more that German words are coming back to me. I'm using translation apps to make sure they're coming back correctly, but they often are. I'm not sure this is a place I could live long-term, but if for some reason it came up, perhaps it could be. Had some fanciful daydreams of needing to flee the United States for some reason and just endlessly walk around Berlin in exile, somehow given funds for food and nightly shelter and nothing else, as part of a larger community of people doing so, each mostly keeping to themselves. Lots of other daydreams too.

Tomorrow's the last day that I have entirely to myself - on Sunday I check out, travel down to the conference centre, check in, and the conference starts. I haven't yet figured out what's on the agenda for tomorrow - may go to the park or another museum. Will likely rule out the day-trip to the south because I'm not warmly enough dressed and don't want to stray too far from stores. Today was colder than I'd like and that trip sounds like it'd be another cold day.

Erster Besuch
Date: 2019-Apr-12 01:15:40 EST

In Berlin a few days early for a neuroscience conference. This is my first visit to Germany - been enjoying walking around the city and learning its sense of normal. My level of German is turning out to be useful but limited - I can reasonably easily make myself understood, but people often ask me questions involving words I don't know. So for me it's like a write-only language. Kinda. Simple exchanges work well, particularly if I talk first. English is fine as a fallback, and there's a surprising amount of (slightly off) English around. If I lived here I'd be tempted to drop off sheets of corrections to storefronts that have English below their German. Still, I'm trying to speak as much German as possible while here, and I'm getting used to the tonal patterns in nearby conversations I don't quite hear. The city Berlin reminds me the most of so far is Philadelphia, with some street design from San Francisco, and much cleaner than either. One of the things I was curious about was whether the former boundary would mark a dramatic difference in architectural style or general feel, and while I can still trace that boundary by many streets changing their name over certain lines, most of the differences are subtle if still present at all. It's been too long - I regret not getting to visit closer to reunification. Berlin in general seems to take culture pretty seriously - like Boston I see a lot of mention of famous musicians and philosophers of the past, and one nearby store offers a curious service - a personal cello concert (the cellist was playing alone in a storefront as I walked by). I think it's also election season - there are endless adverts for various political parties on the streets, talking about healthcare, attitudes towards the EU, and so on. People? Nobody here would be out of place in New York (even speaking German there). The one surprise that I've seen so far is the canals, which are quite prominent. Foodwise I'm doing okay - not great (travel is always hard on that front, but just like my visits to San Francisco, people here seem to have a different food aesthetic than I'm used to, and the attitudes towards water in restaurants or availability of other drinks are frustrating). I slept poorly on the plane last night so I was tired today, but I expect to have more energy tomorrow to see museums and other things. There's a lot to do.

I'm more lonely than normal - I don't have many people in my life at home either, but the familiar habits help there. As I write this I'm telling myself that I should try harder to build connections because work will only last so long and I don't want that to be all there is for me. But I know promising myself things is cheap and I've done it countless times over the past years. Anything real must come from more than a realisation that things *should* change. On some level I'm impressed that I can function without a social life because at times it really rips at me emotionally, but on another it's deeply miserable and not even something I feel I should do out of some ethics or choice.

About the Never Trumpers - I've followed several on social media as Trump's presidency continues. I don't think they're pulling me towards their view, but it pleases me to see one bright spot in Trump's disasterous presidency - that principled people on the other side stand out. And that in this era they're probably becoming more principled and that helps me see principles I have in common with them. They still occasionally remind me of our political differences - Tom Nichols, for example, recently rattled off a list of major government agencies he'd like to remove, sometimes with very flimsy reasons (e.g. the Ed, with a justification that most people don't understand what it does). Still, a belief in princple and long-term thinking is refreshing. Particularly given that it's about as rare on the left, and presidential hopefuls are eagerly exploring ideas that either strike me as a bad idea (Sanders looking to use precedent-breaking ways of trying to pass a universal Medicare plan, or Warren looking to end the filibuster in the Senate) or as crossing a red line (Cory Booker pushing a reparations commission bill, which is to me an absolute disqualifier for my vote).

On that last point, I feel I should explain - progress in fixing divides in society is primarily about moving people's behaviour to the level where in the important domains of life (employment, finance, daily necessities) they ignore the distinctions at hand, generally treating both genders and all races the same. That's the primary driver of dealing with these issues - there are some rare, time-limited circumstances where we might accept other methods that are in fact incompatible with that primary driver, but they run the risk of damaging it or just not achieving much good. I believe that reparations are a logistical nightmare which are unlikely to accomplish much good and which significantly damage that primary driver (I support affirmative action in education precisely because supporting it for a limited duration limits damage to the primary driver).

Anyhow, I should probably be asleep right now to make sure I'm up at the right time tomorrow - time zones are tricky.

The Good Kind of Confusion
Date: 2019-Apr-06 18:49:55 EST

Just wrapped up my taxes (selling most of my MongoDB stock meant I paid NYS and the IRS a lot of money this year, ick). Feels good to have it out of the way, and to have made all the transfers needed to pay for it.

Preparing for my trip to Berlin next week. Brought my work laptop home so I can use it for the poster session (if needed), otherwise trying to flesh out a list of things I can do if I feel like it while there. Right now learning about options for fondue. One of the places I'm considering, Schwarze Heidi, weirded me out because, as I read some reviews on Yelp and visited Google Maps to see how close it is to where I'm staying, I mentally transposed it to "Black Heidi" (english translation). I've often had this kind of confusion before - I don't think it's exactly that I translate it to English as I read it so much as my inner representation for the languages is not particularly distinct-for-each. The effect is more pronounced when I have the translation absolutely solid in my head - the subset of German words that I'm almost certain not to forget. Interesting to think about how all this works.

Perhaps there are parallels - the list I'm building is like translating lives - I want to have as many readymade evaluations of places I might go to as if I were to be a resident. I'm not making a plan, I'm simulating a glimse into another life.