Archives, page 16

Date: 2019-Sep-01 05:34:12 EST

The marathon continues. Today was, despite neck problems continuing a bit, a fairly good day.

  • I started the day with a Naval War College presentation on Russia on the world stage. Kind of interesting assessment, but nothing particularly new to me
  • Popped back into the mall to have a cheap-ish indian street-food meal. It's not particularly good, but at least it's cheap
  • Next was "Bill Corbett's Funhouse", a live podcast thing where they talked about the phrase "Unpopular Opinion". This got a bit political, and one of the people who came up was also a religious person tired of people looking down on them for that. My guess is that people often use the phrase because they know they'll get some people pushing back against them if they're pushing against some existing taboo or societal consensus and to let those people know ahead of time that they don't much care. Gave Molly a lanyard from one of the neuroscience conferences I've been to (she put out a call on Twitter) and briefly chatted and .. elbow-high-fived with her. Was pretty rad
  • Then, a science of food panel which talked about a lot of things but mostly about recent advances in fake meat. Interesting stuff.
  • I had a break and chatted with some fellow con-goers, and then a former coworker (another ex Dropbox SRE). Didn't really have the time to catch up as she was there with friends, but I chatted with those friends a bit too
  • Then, a really great talk by a collector of antique instruments, where I saw a viol (da gamba family) and also a Strad. Heard him play some Afghan music, which was really magical. I regretted needing to slip out early to make it to the next event on time.
  • I attended the first half of a marathon of comedy and music, with more Bill Corbett and Molly Lewis (and some others before and after). Some of the people before were pretty meh. I liked their bits though, and slipped out when they were done.
  • Dinner at Mariott's nice restaurant. Same as yesterday. Same waiter. Same meal (almost - they were out of mashed potatoes so they gave me another kind instead). Not surprising given how narrow their veg options are.
  • Finally, went to a talk about the M87 black hole. This reminded me of an internal talk at work on the same topic, but they stressed somewhat different things. I asked how well we've characterised the stars orbiting M87 as I've had a tough time finding information on them (e.g. are they main sequence?). They said people are working on it.

So yes, generally a good day. I'm also pretty tired.

Date: 2019-Sep-02 04:19:22 EST

Things are coming near the end here. This is probably a good thing, as I'm getting pretty tired and a bit socially exhausted and I really miss my cats. Looking forward to heading back home (and getting back to work). I think next year I'm going to need to do better with snacks, bringing granola bars on the trip down and back. I don't have a lot of access to food at odd hours here, and that's a little uncomfortable (and occasionally expensive).

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Anyhow, before I left on this trip I was down to having about 30 tabs open on my phone. I'm back up to 80-ish, with things to read about, media to check out, and things I might write about. Unsure if that's good or bad, but it's a lot of stuff. Probably good to have that prepared for the trip home. My phone has not been amazing on battery for this trip; I should have brought a battery.

Tomorrow's sessions wrap up around 17:00. That leaves plenty of time for me to make it to the train station by 20:00.

Date: 2019-Sep-04 23:38:08 EST

I'm back from DragonCon now, and did a normal workday, but let's wrap up coverage.
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It's always sad when these things are over, but people are also pretty tired near the end. It was good to get on the train and start the trip back, and great to see my cats again when I got home. A few more general thoughts:

  • It was good to briefly hang out with a former coworker. I wish we had had more time to actually catch up, but she was there with boyfriend and other friends.
  • I need to get better at getting/keeping people in my life. It was pretty lonely at times
  • Packing granola bars for snacks would've been smart. I should also try to keep a stock of these in my apartment in general
  • It was a little weird to hear about the tragedy in the Bahamas while all this was going on.
  • Also was weird that so many more people are terribly fat there. I think this is a leaving NYC thing
Anyhow, good to be back. I have a few action items for the near future. Also, I realise that the "Expand post" text I implemented in my blog software probably should be clicky, because right now it's not super intuitive that the LINK text in the lower left is how people expand text. It's been awhile since I've changed that code. Probably time I refamiliarise myself with it (and maybe flesh out the review part of the code that I never really made into something I'd actually like to use). So many projects, so little attention to spend on individual ones.

Integrated Handcuffs
Date: 2019-Sep-08 02:50:52 EST

Thought of a better way to explain the issues I see with when people design software for only the most common use-cases, leaving out APIs, preferences, and all the rest - I dislike such things because they put people in the habit of reduced intent. When I use software I want the ability to write policy for whatever the software does - to write rules that are automatically applied. The one-size-fits-all software gets me out of that mode of thinking and pushes me to only have the simplest kinds of intent towards my data. In doing so it simplifies me, reducing me as a thinkier. Consider a music app that lets me rate my music. I should be able to tell it when I'm in the mood to just enjoy music I already like, and when instead I'm in the mood to listen to new stuff that's not classified yet so I can decide what to keep and what to discard. I can easily do this if I write my own software (and in fact did, with my pre-Google-Play music setup. Unfortunately, Google Play Music is awful at managing music it doesn't provide, periodically deciding something you gave it is corrupt and refusing to ever play it again. So I stopped using it, but the app is designed for that kind of "only want simple things" person. We should want more from our software.

Been thinking about how music in films can act as a substitite narrator comment that you might see in a book that's been adapted to film - for some reason we've become disused to narrators, and we can at least get a bit of what they did back. Although perhaps we should get used to them again, and films should see their return.

Been wondering, for long term life partners, whether it makes sense to commit to sharing the same world-of-terms as well as judgements on matters where only one person sees the relevant info. I've been thinking about fairness that transcends family again, namely the idea that our commitment to be fair and our commitment to justice should take precedence over relationships in our life. And I still believe it should - if I knew that someone close to me had committed a serious crime, I would not pretend it had not happened, and I likely would turn them in. But what if I did not know that and they claimed it did not happen. Would I remain neutral? Previously I think I would need to. Now I'm realising that where there is uncertainty, it may be acceptable to commit to, when lacking information, always accepting the claims of a life partner. I would want it clear to the world beforehand that I have made this commitment (as a matter of integrity), and be sure that it's limited to when I lack information and when the claims are at least plausible. And that it really should just be limited to a life partner (readers will remember that I assume monogamy and don't think we should treat polygamous relationships as life partnerships or marriage for any of the people involved in them), because if we extend this to family, solidarity turns us into some Confucian monstrosity rather than a potentially just society.

Issues in Giving
Date: 2019-Sep-27 04:48:53 EST

This Thursday was an interesting day.

  • I woke up oddly early, and decided to go into work much earlier than I normally do. Worked out well, because I left work early too
  • I joined the NIH AllOfUs programme sometime back, and had an appointment at 16:00 to have some measurements taken. This was mostly fine, but they had trouble getting blood from me, and after a first attempt failed, my tendency to faint with needles was starting to activate so they didn't try again. I'm disappointed in myself for not having managed. But they still got some good measurements out of me, including a urine and spit/DNA sample. So that's good. And now that those measurements are on the site for me to see, I'm reminded that I really need to work on my health. Fortunately, I am. This week I've started running in the evenings. Still figuring out pacing (in terms of how many times a week), but it's going okay.
  • My boots came back after warranty service yesterday, and I immediately took them to a cobbler to have sole savers put on (at the advice of Allens Boots, who managed the warranty service). After all that I picked them up. I might wear them to work tomorrow; they've been gone awhile so it'll be good to wear them out again
It's delightful that by taking more care of my neck, I've dramatically reduced my migraine frequency. Hoping I can keep that up; I've suffered so much from those headaches for the last two decades. I don't expect the issues to entirely go away - neck strain is a posture issue and something that happens to everyone, and I may be more sensitive to it because of the osteocytes, but it'll trouble me far less. I hope.

Looking forward to the upcoming trip to Janelia.

There are some big ideas I've been playing with, including things I'd love to someday take some time off and write a book about. One thing is to talk about living philosophy and the practice of diluting pure ideas, as well as what it means to accept a philosophical idea.

Response to malfeasance
Date: 2019-Oct-05 22:46:41 EST

Sitting in a coffeeshop near Union Square, and was thinking about having just kept an eye on my laptop while in line to get the drink. Was realising that I would, with no hesitation, go after anyone trying to take it even if there were a good risk of damaging the laptop, but also was thinking about some people I once knew who, things having been stolen from them, they were angry at the event but hoped the resources would see a new good use. By contrast, I would rather property be destroyed than taken, and would prefer to do significant damange to the person as well. The underlying metric for proportion being that the value of the item and the likelihood of getting away from it should be balanced by a proportionally stronger response to the threat if I manage to get them, in order to make it not just not worth it, but *really* not worth it to try to take things that way. An eye for an eye is not quite good enough if a person has a good chance to get away, having taken the eye and suffered no loss of their own. This would not justify unlimited retribution though. Just exaggerated.

The endless summer suddenly ended last week; thoughts still consumed with thoughts of octobers past.

A few thoughts on things:

  • Recently there was a news story where a passanger threw a fit on an airline because there was a long line to use the restrooms and the first-class restrooms were empty. Thinking through it, while my initial inclination is that people should never make a fuss in an airport or on an airline, when people need to use the restroom there's a biological need that I don't expect them to squelch. And the airlines should bend in that case. THat said, he apparently went way overboard once he started to raise a fuss, threatening violence against people. Still, airlines should fix this with a policy change.
  • Here's an interesting article on how secularism started to make major inroads in American society.
  • There is enormous incentive for active funds to find ways to push people away from index funds. This is another such argument. Although if they think existing indices are immoral, it would not be hard to make an index fund that simply filters out the companies that they deem immoral. There are a few things they'd miss out in doing that - shareholder activism (which takes a lot more effort and hence salaries than an index fund), but it'd accomplish most of the desired effect and still offer the appealingly low expense ratio.
  • This is a fairly comprehensive article on how California made homelessness so bad through activism.

The Wind-down
Date: 2019-Oct-28 17:17:59 EST

I'm doing my usual wind-down of my work mode before travel, taking some extra time off this week as I'm travelling for work to do three days of neuroscience collaboration at Janelia. Looking forward to that, but travel is exhausting and there are chores to do in prep for it. The timing for this travel means I won't be around for Halloween, and that's a bit of a bummer; some coworkers dress up (maybe I would've too had I been around) and that's fun to see. The travel also means I'm missing some IQ2US debates and some other stuff, although later tonight I'm going to a Sum 41 concert and that sounds fun. Tomorrow's a travel day.

Been feeling a little more social recently; I almost had a date sometime this week - saw someone on OkC who I was actually attracted to and started talking. We were making arrangements for the where when she shutdown her account. No messages or anything. In theory I should be annoyed, but I get that people usually do that when they've met somebody promising and want to shut out the other potentials. And I'm also just generally kinda scared of meeting someone too. I don't like being alone, but I'm very used to it and there's a lot of hassle and management of hopes and so on in trying to figure out if someone's good for me in my life. We can't skip all that with someone new, but I dread it at the same time I want its result - a stable, happy relationship with someone.

I've found a few good NYC social orgs that might have events through which I might meet somebody, or just have a good time. When I get back I'll get started with those.

Earlier this month I went to a Rights-and-Religions forum organised by groups that help people who are transitioning out of insular religious communities - in this case there were three orgs, one for ex-Muslims, one for ex-Amish, and one for ex-Haredim. I was mostly aware of this because Sarah Haider runs the ex-Muslim group and she's one of the interesting people I've followed on Twitter for a long time. The forum went well, and they're tackling some difficult social problems. This was my first time seeing some of the people there in person.


  • Reading an article on tipping: While I think it makes sense to not classify tipping as income for purposes of offsetting minimum wage (and to generally treat it as a side transaction directly between a consumer and employees), I don't think it should be abolished. Author's points are interesting, but I'd focus on two counterpoints. First and tailored tightly around Uber, there are some driver characteristics like body odour that are fixable by drivers and which, while they would not usually make the transit unacceptable if done badly, merit signalling for a better experience. Second and more generally, tips are a mechanism by which wealthy people can choose to pay more for a service. Our economy does not have a lot of structuring for that; we can tell vendors to keep the change, but that's monir and on the side and anything else is awkward. I see this possibility as desirable. There are some downsides to the tipping system (is customer judgement better for the worker than employer judgement? How often are either unfair and in what ways?) but overall I think it's worth keeping.
  • On that topic, I laud airplanes booting people who stink off planes.
  • I've written about this kind of thing before - I think it's positive that we start exploring this space of genetic alteration of humans. In my view it's unlikely that we ever will if we start the discussion on conditions, and unlike in editing crops or illnesses, the scope of work on fixing a defect is narrow and the benefits large. Given how many humans we produce and neglect in various ways, the chances that this would take the problems out of one or two stddevs from our existing range seems small.
  • That said, this advance, where people are growing human neutral tissue for various purposes, is something I think *should* be regulated and if we never decide to allow it, that would be fine. Unlike fixing defects, this has the potential to introduce all new realms of suffering.
  • I thought this was a fun article about a neat idea in art - remixing classic art with the muppets.

Age and qualification
Date: 2019-Oct-31 23:20:49 EST

Broadly, I am comfortable with some paternalism in our laws and institution, when it serves a valuable societal end. Recently I spotted a Twitter quiz asking people to think about age minimums for various things. And so, some thoughts.

  • Having sex - I think there's a valuable interest in preventing disparities of power from entering sex, and recognising that in many areas of life, youth are uniquely vulnerable to disparities of power (or of their rights). We may not be able to lock away all disparities, but locking them out of certain areas of life is worth trying. And so, knowing that law is a blunt tool, I advocate that the state broadly forbid consensual sexual relations between people over 21 and people under 18.
  • Getting a tattoo - This is generally reversible without too much difficulty (even though reversal can be unpleasant); with that understood, I don't think we need an age limit (although if any forms are particularly difficult to reverse, revisiting this may be desirable)
  • Produce sexual video content - I don't think we can prevent its production by individuals acting alone, but we should try to prevent any hosting for a broad audience or recompense. We are loathe to censor private collections of any kind of content, but preventing an industry from forming around this (which would incentivise commercial production) is a valuable and achievable end
  • Be able to consume porn (of any kind) - No limits. This is not harmful.
  • Voting - This is part of being a full citizen, which should coincide with an age where people have full legal rights and are believed to be financially independent. I am comfortable with this being a higher age than 18 in order to achieve these ends, although I believe "practice" voting, with results tallied but not effective, should begin much earlier to establish the habits of good citizenship.
  • Marriage - I believe the minimum age for marriage should also be tied to being a full citizen, and even more importantly should be at an age where people are already financially independent from any caretaker. I realise this contrasts with some traditional cultures, and am enthused about breaking those traits of those cultures.
  • Buy alcohol - Same as consume alcohol. No age limits. I believe waiting until 18 lessens responsibility people feel, as people are beginning to leave their family nest and are already facing too many new responsibilities. Best to get this one in earlier.
  • Join army - Again, should be contingent on being a full citizen, and dependent on the freedom from influence that comes from being financially independent.
  • Drive a car - I think this can come a bit earlier than being a full citizen, but the responsibility people take when getting behind the wheel (and potential from harm that comes from bad judgement rather than malice) means that I'd like to set the age on this one at 16 or 18.
  • Get hormonal treatment for transitioning - I don't believe the state should recognise transitioning and should define gender in terms of genetics (that said, businesses should not be able to refuse to hire people based on these claims). That said, once someone is fully financially independent, they can do what they like with their body (although I believe no healthcare plans should cover this)

Healing among the chafing
Date: 2019-Nov-18 04:31:00 EST

Earlier today I went to see Bettlejuice - the play. I found myself initially weirded out at the large plot and characterisation differences from the film, but once it was clearly far enough from that that I had to let go, I was fine - it was as if they took the original film, put it in the blender with a sprinkle of the cartoon series and few other ingredients, and made a very new echo. And it was a lot of fun on those terms. And in some ways they had more fidelity to the original plotline than my memory did - I had forgotten that Lydia was a stepdaughter rather than daughter of Delia, for example, and the married-for-immigration-status thing was an echo of a joke in the original. There are a few topics in the play that are .. difficult for me, in that they touch on some emotional trends that I normally like to keep mostly-buried, but overall I had a great time and I loved the set design.

Was hoping to get tickets for Hadestown, which was advertised in the playbook, but it seems to be quite hard to find affordable tickets. Not that I couldn't afford it, but I have a notion of reasonability for tickets and I'm not willing to go above that or to accept less good seets to stay below.

This past week I went for tea with some coworkers. Had a good time - some of the best desserts I had ever had. We're going again at the beginning of December, at least partly to give our fourth member, who wasn't able to make it this time, a chance to see it.

Glad that the shot Tortfeasor got seemed to cure his nose-cold, for now. Hoping that the thyroid meds Beefalo is now getting as an ear cream are working well for her.

Ethical Splits
Date: 2019-Dec-26 22:18:13 EST

Playing along with the artifice of the boundaries of the clock, and at peace with it right now because of the idea of constraints being helpful for creativity. Physical analogy: bridges over gaps.

Yesterday, on Christmas, I decided to have Chinese food, and it led me to a very nearby restaurant (less than a block away) that had very good food. Perhaps that's another example. I liked the experience of seeing NYC with slightly fewer people - still more than a normal Pittsburgh day by a wide margin, but comparatively desolate for here. Novelty is something I worry about getting enough of, particularly as I am alone and need to take care to feed myself enough of it to avoid ossification.

Been slowly growing close to some more coworkers, although some of them look like they're preparing to lift anchor and the pain of that loss is already something I anticipate and resent.

My body has been reminding me that although I now understand my headaches and can mitigate them somewhat, they're not gone. Still helpful.

I'm starting to put together the set of ideas that will turn into my DragonCon 2020 costume idea; I am pretty sure I'll be going as Tychoides (from Mage:Ascension). The problem here may be that it's a bit underconstrained, as the character was never very well described in the official source material, and interactions and persona are entirely lacking. But that's fun too. Brainstorming into a Google Doc. I also should be starting to plan the trip to Buenos Aires next year; I had hoped to get a feel when the neuroscience conference at Janelia will be so I can steer clear of that, but I can't wait on that forever.

Having a bit of fun with the New Year in that I selected a new set of sounds for my phone. Been nostalgic for "The Critic", and its nice smooth intro seems like it would be good to wake up to. As one example.

Some inputs and thoughts:

  • Interesting musings from Salman Rushdie about how he writes, and the purpose of writing. I don't know which I prefer, but I see some nobility in his earlier "write what you will, people will show up as they will" and his latter "writing for comprehension is a craft". So long as it is a deliberate choice between.
  • Late Night with Seth Meyers and Conan are the two nightly late night shows that I regularly watch (on Youtube, having no other TV); I really love how Karen Chee and Sona Movsesian have their little moments of stardom. I don't know if they have a shot at eventually inheriting the shows, but the camera loves them
  • I comntinue to be both pleased and perturbed that the major culture-hosting companies are losing power and competitors (to either their funding model, e.g. Patreon replacing streaming returns, or to their entire platform, e.g. Youtube to Twitch to Mixer). Negative because this makes finding things harder, but positive because the family-friendly and controversy-phobic policies people are fleeing are harmful and too much centralisation is dangerous to free expression.
  • Having read over the details of Berners-Lee's Contract for the Web, I find myself opposing it. It's not that it's entirely bad, but I think we should read creeds and platforms carefully and if they significantly work against our interests in significant ways, we should reject or oppose them. In this case, I don't like that it looks to come near support for the Right to be Forgotten, that it pushes for diversity as a value in itself (rather than just limiting those who oppose diversity - the difference is subtle but crucial), and that more broadly it looks to limit free speech beyond the narrow acceptable justifications for doing so.
  • I continue to be deeply disturbed by Evo Morales' intent to remain politically active in Bolivia; for me, the twin red lines of people remaining in office past known term limits, and them modifying those limits primarily for benefit of themselves mark him (and anyone else doing the same) as beyond the pale; use of any means necessary to remove and keep someone who breaks those rules from office is justified. It is unfortunate that there are no "good guys" in Bolivia, in that the conservatives who swept into power are likewise immoderate, but the red lines come first.
  • I love that there are juicy mysteries to be solved about the (thin) atmosphere of Mars. I'm hungry for humanity to build interplanetary comms and a permanent basis for exploration of most of our solar system; I have little doubt there are many more mysteries to find and solve out there.
Starting to collect my thoughts of the last year and last decade. Not sure that'll go in a post. Maybe.