Archives, page 14

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 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.