Archives, page 8

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

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

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

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

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

Ethics and Friends and Sponsors
Date: 2018-Jun-10 21:31:43 EST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shamelessness of the Feet
Date: 2018-Jun-24 02:40:21 EST

This last week I finally materialised an idea that's been floating through my head for awhile, and joined a gym for the first time in my life. This is mostly because I'm getting a bit tubby and I want to fix that, and partly that I'd like to see if I can generally improve on my perpetual tiredness with (what feels counterintuitive) exercise. I went with a place about a block from where I work, and at least initially I'm trying to settle in to about 20 minutes on the rowing machine and then as much time on the treadmill or exercise bike (haven't done the latter yet) as I need to get too tired to go on. I like how I feel just after the exercise, although it's left me feeling generally sore the next morning.

Today I hung out with another former coworker; we met up in the morning near where she lives in LIC and walked to Park Slope. Was good to catch up; I've met a lot of interesting and decent people over my career and they're usually pretty good company.

I have more to write about ; been thinking some more about restarting Oyschlisn (old gloomy webcomic). I don't think I can continue after the ending, but the comic doesn't have a firm grip on time (or a plot, really) so I could probably just stretch the middle. I sometimes think it'd be nice to be retired so I could just work on my creative things.

I have a mild migraine. Wanted to write more, maybe some thoughts on current events and ideas I came across recently, but I want to see if I can sleep this off rather than let it get worse. They're not always sleep-fixable, but it's worth a shot.

The Unending Beat
Date: 2018-Jun-24 18:57:21 EST

There's a pride parade today in NYC. I find it mostly irritating. Largely because my current apartment is close to the festivities and there is no room in my apartment where the tacky music is below conversational level (not that I have conversations here apart from with my cats, it's just never quiet). I'd be fine with it if I didn't have to hear it and if it didn't disrupt my travel; most things I can ignore I'm fine with. A long time ago I decided I was done with non-straight communities ; too much ideology, too much fighting, and an increasing tendency to push for acceptance or approval rather than toleration. In general, if it's not violent or discriminatory in ways that matter (job, access to finance, legal status, ability to buy goods), I am unlikely to care. And there are some grey areas too. Too many activists, I think, insist that everyone fully accept every bit of human variance, and I think that's an unacceptable demand.

I still have a mild migraine from yesterday, and this music is not helping. But it's at least still mild. I briefly went to work yesterday to test a neural net I've been training. The results were garbage and suggested I wasn't using it right (or some bug). I might pop back in today to see if I can figure out what went wrong.

At an event at work recently, there was a presentation on a very broad genomic effort for all eukaryotic life. They mentioned on the side that Illumina's HiSeqTen systems were one potential took, and as I occasionally do (being sometimes a hardware/pricing geek), I looked up the company, brought up a spec sheet and common cost estimates on the internet, and tried to figure out the markup. I used to rage at companies that use this captive market to make proprietary (and usually bad) hardware/software systems at high price, at least partially because when I was doing human subject experiments at CMU I had to use a system called ePrime (which was legitimately awful), proprietary with frustrating limits. In the years since, having seen a lot more of this, I'm nore understanding of the mark-up, primarily because there are development/testing costs that need to somehow be paid. I still prefer the academic model, where there are grants to develop things and they're free in the end, but that has its own problems (the "should we even do this given the risk" is very heavily tilted towards "yes" assuming one can get funding). So that side part of "how many developers and scientists-locked-into-product-mode does this take" can be pretty difficult to match and can bump up the per-unit cost pretty high, particularly if the market is relatively small. It's unfortunate, but nowadays I just hope some open-source or academic-model product replaces those old creaky systems.

I had a discussion recently (on Twitter) about AirBnB that remained pretty friendly (other person was generally pro-AirBnB; I'm generally against). In my writing, I recognised I may be seen as a Useful idiot by the hotel-industry-sponsored group that did the sponsored post that started the debate. But I think people should not be afraid to be so; it'd actually be muddy thinking to actively try to avoid that, because it would amount to bending one's perspectives (or being picky on where to advocate them) based on the interests of others. Better, I think, to know what one stands for and press it regardless of who's on the same side, for narrow or broad points. If I find myself with company from groups/perspectives I dislike on some issue, it should not bother me.

Some news:

  • Canada legalises recreational cannabis. Seems like a good thing; it will create some awkwardness on the border, and a lot has been written about that (the US often refuses people entry if they admit drug use even where it was legal). There's a feeling of inevitability to this and so a number of more cautious political types are warning about how much stronger cannabis is than it was when it was first illegalised. That may be true, but we can manage that with alcohol; everclear is only legal in some states, and everybody knows it's dangerous and nasty. Perhaps Cannabis will get a similar rating to our proof system
  • I like this write-up on philosophical points in the second Incredibles movie. Sounds like there's some worthwhile complexity in there, welcome for American audiences.
  • Steve King doesn't want Muslims preparing pork; I don't think this view is compatible with our societal traditions. In general we should not allow a workplace to investigate people's (quite diverse) creeds for purposes of employment, and his preference to have his food prepared by people with a certain mindset? That's deeply intrusive (presumably it'd also rule out vegetarians). Near the end of the story there is a perhaps-legitimate complaint - that inappropriate accommodation was made in a soccer tournament that would have many Muslim players in that pork was not to be served. That does not excuse his attempt to push his views on this matter.
  • Like a number of other people with a lot of views, I'm deeply bothered by the ACLU having internal policy leanings to stop pushing for free speech when that free speech might not aid other social-justice type values. I prefer the old, purist ACLU that would press for free speech even by highly nasty actors. I had a rather long argument on this with someone who turned out to be fringe-left. Was kinda interesting, although he seemed not to care about truth and seemed unable to get out of "always insult your opponent and make wild accusations" mode. Not uncommon, sadly.

In the heat of the evening
Date: 2018-Jun-30 18:12:15 EST

I'm reminded by another summer that NYC can get hot. And now I'm thinking about what it's been like to change cities; the building of new habits on a blank slate that can't happen fully in a city one already knows. The making the best of things particularly ; we value the process of learning, and the process of having learned, but the former diminishes if we focus on the result rather than the process. And both are enjoyable in their own way.

When I first moved to Pittsburgh, I got an initial impression of it, having driven with Debb up through Schenley Park into SqHill but not really knowing the area at all, that it was a city with its roads in ravines and its houses looking down over the road. That would be an interesting city, but it's not the city I came to know. And I'm aware that even now, as I project a narrative back over an image rooted in my mind, that it may have come from a dream - one of those dreams that's a twisted parody of real life, rather than an initial impression; all these thoughts are based on uncertain ground. But it's still the perspective I nervously choose among alternatives, thus a highlit part of myself. So does all this mean I'm thinking of leaving NYC? Not practically, but maybe in theory. I like it here, but it is also a place with some doors closed. Tradeoffs.

Sitting in Vineapple at the moment. 235W18 apartment is generally working out well, but my usual no-AC-ness is not that great on the hottest of days. Work? Going well. In the early stages of using our own in-house GT for machine learning, and having interesting difficulties with borders of regions and non-cubic training data. Plus the incredible amount of training needed to make the networks perform. That's a broader concern that humanity will need to work on. Health? Gym is doing me good I think. Today I got some running shoes to make it easier to exercise there. I still sometimes get dizzy spells, but they're brief. Migraines are still a regular agony.

This morning before I went out I found the old Oyschlisn stuff - the originals. Was worried they were lost. Likely to pick that up and move on with it.

A few things I've been thinking about:

  • I recently saw on my YT "things you might want to watch" section a video on people who can understand the accent of people that cannot understand theirs - it was treating this as a surprise that weirded me out (I did not waych the video); my expectation is that this is quite regular because understanding distant accents is a skill that some people probably have intrinsic variance in but also people can learn to improve it. I'm more puzzled by people that expect a symmetry there.
  • Internally we had a talk on Lie Groups as a mechanism for frameworks for how visual systems recognise objects across sets of regular geometric operations - shifts in the visual field, or rotations. It got me thinking about related shifts that are trickier - recognising an object after damage or aging. Interesting though that with aging in particular and maybe damage to some extent, decays in internal representation happen in the same time axis where these transformations are most common (although not always in the modern era, with TV flashbacks and old photographs).
  • Been wondering if the reason we don't have a Lexis-Nexus for medical issues is that the raw data feeds are tied up with ethical concerns over the medical records of individuals while in law most things are naturally public record. This is not a hard constraint for medicine, but maybe nobody wants to navigate that trickiness and take the legal risk
  • Peeved that companies that help people cheat in essays are brazenly out there on twitter with only the barest difference of their phrasing between theirs and outright saying "pay us to help you cheat" - example is thefreelancehub

How we spend
Date: 2018-Jul-08 14:17:18 EST

Earlier today I spent a bit of time looking up a science encyclopedia I read cover-to-cover as a kid; the image of one of the covers in my room back in Brecksville popped into my head but I couldn't remember the name of the thing; with a bit of time on image search it turns out it was a Funk and Wagnall's Science Encyclopedia (multi-part, as encyclopediae generally were back then), with a grey cover and a "portal" in that with a topic-specific picture as I remembered. More or less. Was good to see it again.

Also amused at a thought that's sometimes run through my head over the years - how my two cats have some resemblance in personality (with maybe some persistent parsing in this direction too) to my childhood teddy bear pair - one light-coloured and female and more nurturing, one dark-coloured and male and more mischevious. I now wonder if I read some of my parents' personality (or role) dynamic into that.

Finally picked a Chirico artbook to get; was expensive since these things only rarely see print and in small runs, but I've been super interested for awhile and it seems like a reasonable thing to spend money on.

Just about ready to get NYCCHAOS, a local Chaos Engineering Meetup I'm starting, going. Organising a classroom for the first meeting, which limits the space but will be good until I know how many people will turn up. Starting an introductory talk, and as always trying to figure out what should go in fully, what should go in as a teaser for a future meeting, and what should be left out.

The ideas are flowing for more Oyschlisn stuff. I have one reasonably complete one and some partials. Will need to review against past content to see if I've done anything substantially similar to these or not.

Dubin's going to be in town this coming monday, at least for a bit. Grabbing a meal. It's been years. Will be good to catch up. Visiting my two uncles in Texas the week after; two-city trip. Should be fun.

Accountability for Words
Date: 2018-Jul-15 19:33:37 EST

It looks like Sasha Baron Cohen's next expose is set for release too, this time poking fun at the willingness of some American pols to endorse arming of preschoolers. I find his style of humour right on the border of being too cringeworthy to watch; funny, but a little bit too mean. And this brings to mind the question of whether it's fair.

I don't believe in comedy or journalism as "speak truth to power". I think it should rather be, at least in that framing, simply "speak truth". Less powerful people today may be powerful tomorrow, and they're as ridiculous, and poking at the bizarreness of everyone helps us build perspective in humility rather than staring at clothes in a tumbler and cursing at them when they're at the top.

And so, having dispensed with that popular framing, we're left with some questions:

  • Is it possible in conversations to nudge or manipulate most people to say bizarre things based on conversational implicature?
  • If so, is it fair to judge them when this happens?
  • Do the pols involved have bizarre beliefs that they're careful not to say on camera absent prodding by journalists?
  • If so, is what Cohen gets them to say more of this than the former explanation?
  • Are there times people might "agree" with someone just to get them to go away?
  • When is it appropriate to go after people for their statements or beliefs?
These are tough questions. I would like to believe that people should be careful with what they say, that they should own their words, and that it is always fair to judge them for it (at least for a reasonable time after they say them; people change). That said, I think sometimes people let off steam and say things they don't mean, misrepresent their own views, and are easily dragged into saying things they don't mean unless they're very careful. People who study rhetoric or philosophy or who take part in debates may have an edge up in really paying attention to words, particularly if they're already less socialised and more resistant to peer pressure, but most people? Not so much. So there may be unreasonable standards. Most people, I suspect, were we to follow them around invisibly and hear all their conversations, would say things out of the general public sphere that are unacceptable in it. It may be unreasonable to only accept in public office (or other high-profile roles) people who are entirely fit for public consumption, and I feel that people may be realising this and becoming unhappy with PR (even as the most available examples right now far overreact).

Most people I have gotten to know have said some things that bothered me and which, if recorded, would end their political career. I have also said such things.

I think it's possible to take Cohen's works in a positive way where we adjust our expectations of what people say and become more tolerant of people's foibles, steerability, and speech, although that requires our mind to be set on that path already. It's also possible to want to want to purge such people from public life and in theory replace them with less quirky people but in actuality replace them with people who are more PR-careful. The latter seems a shame.