Blog: Principle in the Void

Principle in the Void
Principle in the Void
Date: 2019-Mar-17 20:19:46 EST
{"Firewater - Monkey Song"}

Strange to see time change something - something much like personal development lead into rough seas. Sitting at what's been my favourite coffeeshop for the last year or so, but the owner's continued experiments with things he wants to do mean that an increased amount of the not-that-big shop are filled with a crepe station (their crepes are also not particularly good) and there's some low-talent musician with a guitar taking up even more space so I need to use headphones. It makes me wonder if I have a future here. This pattern is revisited every few years, mostly apart from settings in nature. Another tune in a choir of emptiness. GooglePlus is about to shut down. GoogleInbox is about to shut down.

I'm joining coworkers on a trip to Berlin next month for a neuroscience conference - will be my first time there so I'm going a few days early to explore the city. I've been putting together a few things I might do and it looks pretty great. I'm thinking of going to Spreewald for part of one of the days, and the Tempelhofer Feld looks like such a cool idea for a park. Something about the latter reminds me how learning to dispel the mystique about on-stage and off-stage (that is, breaking and thus examining the norms we have about airports in this case, stages and similar in others) can be enriching for some, disillusioning for others. In reality it's probably both for everyone, but the dominant feature in the evaluation lends it towards a positive or negative overall experience for individuals. I was tempted to try to fit in a trip to Svalbaard "while I'm in the neighbourhood", but apparently the best time to do that is summer, so perhaps some other time.

Finally had an idea for another ChaosEng talk, this time not basic, that I don't mind giving regardless of if many people show up or not. Probalby will be able to announce it next week for being a month out. This might end up being the last one unless I can get more regular attendance, but if it is, I'd like to end it on a high note, and if it is not, that's great too. I've had the itch to write a lot recently - recently started putting together another talk about what I call "Big E Notion", the E being naturally a play on words but in this case representing the number of engineers in a company. The core idea is the scalability of engineering practices. I have concrete examples and lots to say. Feels good. I haven't been good about providing Arietta content, but I feel the other productivity makes up for it.

Having gone with coworkers to the cinematic airing of an old 4th Doctor DrWho story, I've chewed a little more about the notion of canon that we each carry around for stories important to - namely, why might someone close their canon (meaning, detach their version of a story from upstream). Why did I declare the DrWho Movie (8th Doctor) noncanon and leave it closed (considering everything that followed noncanon too), and likewise with Star Trek after Voyager (which I still consider canon, but the end of my canon for it)? There are a few reasons:

  • First, if a storyline is still important to you but you either rejected a key piece of content or lost interest in following it further, this saves you exhaustion. By (in git terms) removing all your remotes, you're no longer on the hook for considering new input, changed meaning or context for these things, and new fans. Active series have manufactured drama to keep people hooked, and you can opt out (and resolve any mysteries on your own, in ways that make sense to you).
  • Second, if you've rejected some bad elements from upstream, there's no continued effort to deal with efforts of current authors to integrate the bad elements into continuity - otherwise you'd need to continually recast newly-added elements (which may be impossible if they're large enough)
  • Third, you can also avoid entirely any input from bad authors who wrestled their way to current authorship who may want large-scale stylistic changes (sometimes as petty as visuals - I can stick with TNG-era Klingon looks) or thematic changes (no social-justice stuff for me)
  • Fourth, you may feel that the body of work doesn't need further extension, or (functionally similar but distinct) that you've gotten everything you need from those stories
  • And finally, Fifth, you may feel that there's a natural cutting-off point where the series ended on a high note. For me, this isn't the case with Star Trek, but the ending to classic DrWho, at the end of an excellent episode called "Survival", was poignant and a suitable send-off that left you imagining the (seventh) Doctor and Ace still out there having adventures. Part of this was also the culmination of the Doctor's evolution from a loner with unwilling stowaways to a mentor (to Ace specifically but also the entire species of humanity) who uses adventure as therapy, to a more complex relationship where his protoge comes to still need him, but not as much as she gains some power and wisdom on her own. The (pre-remake) expanded universe explored this further, but there's enough there in the original continuity that the pattern is there, clear, and interesting.
A few takes:
  • Harris says it's outrageous that Pence doesn't do one-on-ones with women. I don't think it's outrageous at all - some people have limits to how good they can be, and they build fences around their rough bits. As a bisexual male, this strategy obviously wouldn't work for me, but I also don't think I have those struggles. There are legitimate concerns about the effect of this limiting career mobility for women, but I think the difference is not likely a large enough effect that, even were plenty of people to do it, it would actually create a large enough effect to be worth banning.
  • I wonder if China is actually at the point where it has economically feasible fusion plants. This may be a PR stunt, it may be part stunt part gamble, or maybe they actually are confident they've got it. Interesting.
  • A week after defending the existence of billionaires on Colbert's show, Gates steps back a bit and asks if they should actually exist. Interesting question. Some very wealthy people create institutions with that power that do good things (like waqfs of old). Others fund existing institutions (and possibly get a building named after them). For large parts of my career I've spent time inside such institutions (sometimes with the billionaire still around, sometimes long-dead). I often appreciate the institution, and feel that those institutions should exist in some form, but am uncomfortable with how they came about, and the features of the system that made that level of accumulated power possible. It's made worse when I know there have long been ways for the wealthy to dodge paying their dues to society. There remains the question of whether those institutions might have come about without the concentration of personal power. To be clear, I don't (intrinsically) fault the megarich so much as the systems that permitted that concentration. Were I certain that these institutions would exist without them, I would happily make it much harder to accumulate that level of wealth (or in some future society, structure things to make that impossible). If I were unsure, I would be nervous of those efforts - my commitment to academia (among other things) is stronger than my commitment to socialism.
  • Eric Higgins has a delightful metaphor of tetris for technical debt.