Archives, page 2

Appreciating Games as Systems
Date: 2018-Jan-30 05:04:45 EST

There are plenty of games that are interesting mainly because playing them is fun, but at least for tabletop RPGs, I often find reading their source materials and appreciating the stories and game mechanics inside is just as fun. The appeal of stories is obvious and probably built-into our cognition. Game mechanics tend to be more pretty-like-maths. And then there are things between - the kind of worldbuilding that you'd probably see on a wiki or an atlas of fictional lands. These are good fuel for our fantasy lives, including our dreams.

I'm trying not to buy new physical books in order not to fill my apartment (which made my trip to a bookstore the other day an odd choice; the place was packed and I felt my choice on this topic made me a kind of Bodhisattva of Bookstores), but I still sometimes will try to get digital copies of interesting RPGs despite having no intent of playing them (which isn't to say that if a group I liked were around here and wanted to play I'd say no, but rather that I don't have people in my life suitable for this). About 8 months ago I came across JAGS Wonderland (from a TVTropes link) and was happy to see that the author put his two sourcebooks up on the web for free. It's been great imagination fodder (more recently I reached out and paypalled him some funds as thanks for having written it).

I'd speculate that people who read a lot of the right things have more intersting dreams, but that'd be a very hard claim to either quantify enough to be meaningful or to actually get the data needed to substantiate (or disprove).

Date: 2018-Jan-31 02:00:47 EST

I find it hard to evaluate Donald Trump and not see one of the worst political leaders I have seen in this country. Before being president he had a business career best characterised as tasteless hucksterism. While running for president he ignored norms, some fairly and some not, that would've sunk other political figures. He's courted conspiracy theorists and brought the fringe into the spotlight, and made promises to do things that are alternatively idiotic (a wall wouldn't do squat) and disturbing (talk of killing family of terrorists). He's attacked rule of law and our legal norms (talking about removing limits on libel cases, pushing for personal loyalty rather than commitment to our country). And then as president he's appointed largely incompetent people, many of whom have expressed animosity for the department they were appointed to. He's adopted policies that buy a short-term win at the cost of the longer term (cuts to research, moving the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem). He's removed people out of personal spite, often after engaging with a prolonged public war with them. He's repeatedly obstructed justice in the form of interference with the probes investigating his election. He's used Twitter to act like a crazy grandpa, and shown himself to be exceptionally petty and uncaring about the truth.

I think he's a shit president. I think the nation would be better off if he were to have a heart attack right now and his VP were to take the reigns.

This doesn't mean that I like Hillary (I don't), or that I wish she were president (I don't, although I definitely don't prefer him). It doesn't mean I think every single thing he's done or tried to do is a mistake, but I think most are. And it also doesn't mean that I hope for liberals to win forever. I think a healthy and regular transfer of power is necessary for our country to function, and that each party ideally acts to keep the other in check.

As an example of the crazy that I see on the side I favour, consider this article by a group called 500 Women Scientists. They're going after Bill Nye for attending the SOTU right now, claiming that Nye, despite what he asserts, is supporting Trump's agenda by being there. To which I say that exclusive notions of meaning for an event cannot be attained; perhaps to them it has a meaning, but to Nye it has a different meaning and to the rest of us, we'll all attach our own meaning to Nye's presence. They pull out the (almost always wrong as a move in an argument, in my view) tool of attempting to dismiss Nye by claiming he has privilege. This is a bad move because it is facile and has no content; a claim of privilege is to claim that were somebody to have lived a different life they may have had different views, so we should dismiss them. It's empty. And likewise they claim to speak on behalf of "the scientific community". With that, either anybody in the sciences can, or nobody can; as a community we are naturally very diverse. Some support Trump, presumably. Some are very conservative, presumably. Not all of us are American, and not all of us care about their criticisms of ableism or misogynism or so on. Many of us do, but there is no unity. Not all scientists are "bold and progressive", nor should we be. Science is an ancient, international, and broad discipline with very little intrinsic ideology. I know that, despite my being a kind of liberal and as somebody in the sciences, "500 Women Scientists" does not speak for me. They speak for themselves. Whether we all can speak for the scientific community or none of us can is a matter of perspective.

Would I go to the SOTU? Probably not. But there are reasons somebody might decide to go - one might decide to make the best of the situation they find themselves in and get as much funding for the sciences as they can. I would not disrespect them for that. Instead, as is often the case, I condemn the activist that insists there is one path. Shame on them. Although as should be clear from my first paragraph, there's plenty of shame to go around.

Turning on Mistakes
Date: 2018-Feb-01 03:22:02 EST

One of the things I most recently changed my mind about was this: remote gaming PCs. Up until recently I dismissed these as useless fads based on the idea that graphics are generally the hardest problem and remote gaming PCs can't replace the 3d acceleration that a nicer video card can get you. This felt like a good argument, but I didn't appreciate how these can work. The challenge in rendering video isn't just getting the bits to the screen; it's doing the rendering involved. We know that fairly slow computers can still play a video of a game pretty well, that video already being prepped and ready for display. They can also play movies fast enough. What they're missing is the rendering, and what a remote gaming rig can get you is a way to hook into a video of the game and pipe your inputs over the network to where the game is running. This can work, it just means that the weak system "receiving" the game needs a dumb relay client. Whoops. There are challenges with this still - you need a fast network to have a fast enough round trip between your gamepad and your incoming video stream.

In other news:

  • The problem with this, a draft law in Poland aiming to make suggesting Polish guilt for Shoah illegal, has nothing to do with Shoah and everything to do with free speech. Disagreeing on historical fact should not be illegal, even on much more distasteful topics.
  • This is a really poor argument by Trump that fighting back against the Russia probe is not obstruction. It's wrong in the same way that arguing that something is not a plant because it is a fruit - because it is one does not mean it is not both. I think this is a longstanding fault in Trump's personality - an unwillingness to let things pass and an insistence that if he's fighting back it is necessarily excused in theory and the specifics. I think in general when people have broken worldviews, we should continually confront them on it rather than withdraw from the topic, as to do otherwise is to accept aberration and weaken the normal
  • I'm generally unfriendly to articles like this that reject testing and objective measures as part of teaching. Not because I think such measures cover all of testing, but I find the antijudgementalism problematic. There was a quote in there - "A student has only mastered something if she can do it when confronted with unfamiliar particulars", and a followup of "Think about training pilots — you would never train pilots by putting them in a simulator and then always running exactly the same set of conditions because next time you were in the plane and the conditions were different you’d die.", that makes more sense to me in another context - that of interviews. One of the big mistakes some tech companies make is that they, in the name of fighting bias, make their interviews far less effective by asking standard questions and having elaborate scoring mechanisms there to take judgement out. I reject that for the reasons above.
  • I've been reading a book by Lewis Dartnell on the theoretical task of rebuilding civilisation after an apocalypse; at least so far it entirely skirts the almost-central issue of dealing with human beliefs and perspective variance; this is a challenge at the best of times (and given how easily stupid optimism about the environment may doom our species, and how tempting it'd be to send scientists and similarly data-driven people to form a colony off-planet as insurance for our species, I worry that failing to focus on this is error.

Date: 2018-Feb-03 03:44:56 EST

One of the more unsatisfactory parts of my life is dating. Mostly that I'm not doing it at all. For the last .. long time, I was on OkCupid, but I never got much out of it.
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Being Better for the Next Generation
Date: 2018-Feb-03 06:04:01 EST

I recently read this article on Quillette on spanking in childrearing. I thought it was interesting; it's natural to think about how we were each raised and how we'd do it differently (some get the chance, some not).

For me, spanking and circumcision are two things I'd probably do differently; if there were demonstrated benefit to spanking and consensus on it being important, I might be swayable the other way although it's hard for me to imagine being comfortable with it. So articles like this feel like a happy resolution to an open question, although I likewise won't blame people in current or past generations that do/did it because they think it's good practice; that's a question on facts and something that can be relatively satisfyingly solved. At least, assuming good practice or its results are things we can agree on a foundation for resolving. For circumcision, it's my understanding that the health benefits are outweighed by the health harms, and I feel no particular cultural interest in doing it (and find such reasons pretty questionable). And yet again, my parents chose differently for me, perhaps because of hospital pressure, perhaps for health reasons, probably not for cultural reasons. For males, I don't see it as any kind of outrage or atrocity to circumcise, just something that's a bad idea. Female circumcision is a much bigger deal, in terms of effects; I would be comfortable with very harsh punishments for parents and doctors involved in such a thing.

More broadly though, I think we're continually getting data that helps us pursue any goals we might choose, and that helps us make better choices. I hope most of the time we don't feel overpressured to conform based on presumed unitary notions of the good, but likewise for things that are pretty close to unitary, we'll need to override that caution. An example that touches on cultural traditions but is also sufficiently harmful that we should probably override them would be playing some sports that involve repeated head impacts; the damage to the brain is now understood well enough that we probably should ban the standard form of some sports.

Being Older Than Tides
Date: 2018-Feb-04 06:28:16 EST

One of the things that I've noticed in aging is that I've realised something that I think some of every generation eventually figures out - politics slowly changes around you. Some people, I think, anchor themselves to an identity (like liberal or conservative) and their views shift as the consensus shifts. They'll likely never notice what I'm getting at here. Others pick their views on most issues as separate questions, reach conclusions, and stick with them over the years, picking a broad label just by what describes them best. I'm in the latter camp. The latter camp tends to lean against tribalism, at least partly because we don't fit in with the "true believers". Some of us once did but the shape of the ideas we're supposed to have has changed since we figured out who we were. Others never did.

This article, "Why Democrats have moved left on Immigration", is one example where I have a position that was not considered odd for a liberal, but now at least the Democrats have solidified on a belief that I don't hold and so it's a point of difference. Likewise for the belief in transgenderism, which I don't have (and in fact most feminist movements didn't have either when I was taking Women's Studies classes back in Uni) but is now a fairly strong left conviction. I still call myself a liberal because of the broad shape of my beliefs - socialist markets, extensive safety nets, technocracy and a bunch of other things, but the social aspects of that label don't apply because I step on too many taboos of the left. I suspect the older I get, the more this will be true. It's a lonely realisation, and it's strange how I often find it easier to relate to and have company with people who call themselves conservative or moderate-libertarian than with anyone really into calling themselves liberal. Having political views is not a social club; my belief in my ideas and the trust I place in myself to continue to evolve them as I evaluate data and consider arguments means I'm unlikely to waver (if I were, my views would've changed long ago as the other, less-respectable way to react to this tension).

Preparing for a move mid-2018
Date: 2018-Feb-04 18:21:08 EST

I finally got the question from my current landlord - do I renew? I've been thinking about this for awhile and imagine I will, but it's not entirely certain.

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The Weight of Judgement
Date: 2018-Feb-04 23:22:20 EST

I thought this was one of the more interesting things I've read recently - a famous chef deciding to ditch some earned status for their restaurant so they wouldn't feel the weight of judgement continually. In some ways I think this frees up the chef to explore more using his restaurant; in others it's more about how the weight of expectation of others can be unwanted. That's a funny bit of our psychology ; I think it's one of many social handles we tend to have that leads us to either be explicitly manipulated by others or just makes us feel burderened. On the rare circumstances I've ever felt someone looking up to me, I took care to either shake that off or add enough nuances to it that I didn't feel I'd be disappointing them when I'm just being me (my politics, my life decisions, so on). I also didn't want to start to censor myself out of a sense of obligation. I think for artists and chefs this must be even more constraining.

Like many parts of life that took me years to understand, one of my inner voices can still put together a simple argument for why nobody should feel this weight and how silly it is to ever do something like this. And that argument takes some subtlety to pull apart. I think the process of living means recognising these emotional handles and not trying to pretend we're not complicated emotional beings. Well, that and giving up on "rational actor" theories, because we're not even in the ballpark of that (and any rational actor would not be recognisably human nor would anything near one be emotionally functional).

Rolled Blogs
Date: 2018-Feb-05 05:26:27 EST

I rolled my new blog over the old one today; definitely lacks feature-parity, but the old content feels less important to me now. The new software doesn't yet support RSS or Atom; I meant to spend this weekend getting them both going, but I had bad migraines on both Saturday and Sunday and wasn't very productive (also missed out on a movie night which I was looking forward to - frequent migraines are awful). Migraine is still in effect, but I managed to get RSS mostly done, modulus an annoying bug and actually exposing the endpoint. Might be able to get it done with my next coding session. Although I also saw a nice Go library for feeds that maybe I should just depend on. Perl had those too but I wanted to avoid most dependencies. Maybe nowadays I would've gone the other way on that.

Age of Synthetic Miracles
Date: 2018-Feb-07 02:24:55 EST

A month or so ago, another marker of how powerful CNNs are, when configured in the right way, was revealed to the general public when Google Arts offered to take one's self-photo and find works of art that most resemble that. The match of mine that I like the most was that of Charles Simon Favart; I can see that he has a face similar to mine. Not quite a dead ringer, but still intersting. CNNs are a little less magical for me now because I'm used to them; I'm involved with two projects at work using them, and I've been learning Tensorflow. This (and other neural networks) are I think one of the most significant advances since the SVD. It's amusing how tools for thought are suddenly the most interesting technologies. We can ride these pretty far.

This article on nonfunctional harmony is pretty interesting; I was not aware of the idea before.

Migraines are probably the worst part of my life; I spend over 8 hours a week in agony that ranges from deeply distracting to effectively blocking my ability to think (or sleep, or do anything but experience pain). Migraines are frustrating in how many different forms they take between people; I keep an eye on efforts to understand and treat them. This looks promising, although the high cost is unfortunate. I'm already as of recent on cholesterol meds. Not eager to add something else to the mix.

In less pleasant news:

  • More of the almost-daily embarassments from our nutty president; calling people who didn't applaud him unamerican, and more recently getting jealous of another nation's military parade and ordering one
  • The White House wants restaurant owners to be able to mess with tips. In fairness, the existing tips system is imperfect in that non-visible restaurant workers don't usually get tips, but I don't think that's an excuse to let employers control tips; the tight loop between how much a server can control the other variables to provide a good experience and how much tip they get can't take much meddling. The one tweak I'd do to the system is not allow restaurants to count tips as contributing to meeting minimum wage
I find this effort worthy - to take past presidential norms that worked well and cement them into law. This might be touchy in that without a constitutional amendment, legislation aiming to restrict the executive branch may easily be considered unconstitutional. Our legal system is surprisingly complex because of the balance of powers thing.