Nov 262014

man with no eyes - cool hand lukeIf my friend’s statuses are any indication, in the wake of Monday’s acquittal there’s been a wave of people defriending each other on Facebook. Which is both the least important impact of the Brown situation, and the only one personally felt by almost everyone in my social circles (which says a lot on it’s own).

The vitriol gets heated, because both sides are obviously right, and both sides know that they are right, so the other side must of course be evil monsters. In the interest of maybe helping to re-humanize the other side and de-escalate the new civil war we’ve been sliding towards over the last decades in the USA, please consider why the other side is right. First, to my blue friends:

Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted, because he’s most likely innocent. Larry Correia covers the legalities of shooting people in a recent post, which gives us some groundwork to work from. The objection of course is that Darren Wilson was never in danger, Brown had his hands up, etc. That is not what the grand jury found. We are all very good at telling climate change denialists that when 97% of the experts in a field, those with the relevant knowledge and expertise, all agree that the planet is warming due to greenhouse gasses being emitted by human activity, they don’t get to say “nuh uh” just because they really dislike those results. But when the evidence doesn’t support our pre-determined conclusions, suddenly we forget all that. The evidence that is publically available is both limited and contradictory. When the entirety of the evidence was placed before a panel of jurors they determined that there was no reason to charge Wilson with a crime.

For us to demand that their judgment be overturned is the same thing denialists are doing when they dispute global warming. In both cases it’s the willful dismissal of the facts determined by those who are best qualified to determine them. It is the shunning of the evidence-based approach in favor of emotion and gut-feeling. Unless you have a compelling reason to think there was misrepresentation of evidence or jury-tampering, we should feel compelled to defer to the evidence-based system that is in place. Even when it produces results we dislike. Accepting reality even when it says we are wrong is an extremely difficult skill, and it is the reason most people can’t do science.

To my red friends:

Michael Brown was the victim of a racist system. In much of the country, black people still live under a system of state-sponsored terrorism. To them, police are not protectors and allies. They are the stormtroopers that you have to avoid and kow-tow to on a daily basis to avoid having your teeth kicked in. Here is a collection of short anecdotes from parents of black boys telling them how to avoid being targeted by cops at shockingly young ages (7!). For large portions of the black population, life isn’t unlike residing in a country occupied by a hostile force. Under these conditions, tell me you give two shits if one of the occupiers was justified when he killed yet another of your friends. This retaliation is not against an individual person, because individual people are not the problem. This is anger and outrage at an entire system of oppression.

That is the mistake people make when they say “The owner of that Little Ceaser’s they burned down sure was taught not to be a cop shooting black kids!” This is not personal retaliation. This is an attack on the entire system. Humans aren’t completely retarded, history has shown us how to threaten a system. The senators of the Roman Empire constantly worried about the anger of the mob, and they weren’t the first by far. The dispossessed don’t have much to worry about from rioting and looting – they don’t have much to lose anyway. Those who are threatened are property owners and, nowadays, business owners. You know – people with power. Maybe not a lot, individually. But that’s why you don’t threaten them individually. That would be dumb. You threaten the entire structure, burning and looting businesses and interests of (semi-)powerful people at random, so that anyone could potentially become a victim. The Walton family is never going to personally feel the loss of one store, but you keep the business centers of major cities on fire for long enough and you bet eventually the people who can make some actual changes will take notice. What actions they will take are unknowable, but the bet is that things can’t get much worse.

So, rather than screaming at the other side “You want to lock up an innocent person! And you’re punishing other innocent people who were entirely uninvolved!”, or yelling “You want to perpetuate a system of terror and oppression!”, please acknowledge that the other side has a valid fucking point, and realize that we are extremely similar to each other. We’re simply focusing on different aspects of the situation, because different things are more or less personally relevant to us. And maybe we can find a way through this without further polarizing into parallel words of mutual hatred and misunderstanding.

And while I have your attention, let’s get more police wearing body-cameras while on duty, until we get to the point where any officer not wearing one is viewed as a renegade operative, and testimony without camera back-up is viewed as inherently untrustworthy. This helps both sides.

(*this blog post’s title is shamelessly stole from Jai’s blog)

Nov 182014

AlzheimerI’m extremely happy this is happening in Colorado before it’s too late for me. Having my brain destroyed via dementia before I can have it preserved is one of my greatest fears. This will help to prevent that.

And yes, I realize there’s a 6-months-until-death clause in this draft, which wouldn’t help for those being brain-killed by dementia. But this is a first step. Fighting evil is a long, hard slog.

I’m donating to Joann Ginal today, and sending her a personal note to thank her as well. You can donate too if you like, here. I’m going with a physical check & letter, since I figure those have slightly more impact. Hopefully this will help some.

Nov 132014

RoboCop-Food-2So after years of delays, I finally got my Soylent a couple months ago. I was absolutely stoked about this product. I don’t spend a lot of time on food prep as it is, but I am forced to spend some amount of time on it, as well as the buying, the eating, the cleaning up afterwards, etc. This product looked to be something akin to the washing machine – freeing a vast amount of time from the necessity of drudging human labor, and all the gains to productivity and quality of life (and in some cases gender equality) that this promised. Plus I never know if I’m actually getting all the nutritional stuff I need to function at full capacity. This would help with that too. And it was so damn cheap! Enthusiasm levels were high. :)

When I first poured a glass it was exactly what it promised – kinda bland, but not bad. Certainly drinkable. And the blandness was a feature, it prevented one from gorging and/or craving more.

But the more I drank it, the less I could stand it. It digested very quickly, and so I was constantly a low level of hungry, but when I tried to bring it to my lips I felt kinda nauseous. It wasn’t a taste thing, it tasted fine, I was just forming an emotion sense of disgust. I suspect my body didn’t recognize this as fuel, and was getting extremely upset at me for putting non-food things inside it when it wanted food. It’s ridiculous how quickly this tanked my quality of life – I was constantly miserable, dreading the thought of swallowing anything, but internally crawling with hunger. I came to loathe everything around me, and my stomach in particular. By the second day I had developed an active hatred for the product, and come lunchtime I dumped it all down the drain and went out for “regular” food.

It tasted so good I almost wanted to cry. I knew at that point Soylent wasn’t going to work for me.

And that’s really disappointing. I was never a fan of food, and philosophically I’m still against it. But I guess it’s something I have a visceral attachment to, and it looks like I’m not as free of those biological cravings as I had hoped. I will miss out on  that aspect of the awesome cyber-future. :( At least until we can hack that part of our brains, which I assume will be quite a ways down the line.

Also – and I know this is a common complaint – it made me gassy. But like, in a ridiculous way. Less than two minutes. Literally under 100 seconds and I would start feeling bubbly and bloated. This isn’t even physically possible, right? It had to have been some psycho-somatic thing, having been primed by other’s reports. I was hoping to resolve that in some manner, but I never got that far, having to give up in less than 36 hours due to the problems stated above.

I tried a friend’s DIY Soylent too, with similar results. I have some MealSquares now, which are quite a bit better and don’t provoke a disgust reaction, but I’m too wary of my previous results to go full-replacement with them, I just use them from time to time when I don’t have time to eat. I’ve come to accept that I will be a slave to real food for quite a while. Plus they’ve also got the gas problem, though to a lesser degree. WTF is in these meal-replacement things that does that? Are they secretly 40% baking soda and 40% hydrogen peroxide?

Nov 112014

DNA KnittingIn an attempt to not fall too behind the conversation, here’s things I stumbled upon in the past two days.

An NPR headline claims “Combining The DNA Of Three People Raises Ethical Questions.” I was all sorts of excited, cuz I like arguing, and I wanted to jump in on this. I’m already on the record as pro-eugenics (in the sane sense), this could be fun. Then I found out the headline is click-bait bullshit. It gives the impression that the DNA of 3 people is being combined into the human genome of a single new person. Instead, it’s just a mitochondrial transplant.

Any science writer worth their salt would already know these are vastly different things, and most people seeing the headline will assume, as I did, that it’s referring to modification of the base human DNA. This leads me to believe that it’s intentionally misleading in order to drive shock/outrage and draw clicks. This is shameful, I expect better from NPR.

Also, a friend pointed out that the illustration is nothing like how knitting works, so there’s that too!

Seriously though… there’s “ethical questions” being raised over mitochondria transplants? Seriously? This is the equivalent of a heart transplant. Anyone getting outraged over this is either a lunatic, or someone who makes a living generating outrage. Lame.

Thing the second: Science fiction author Benjanun Sriduangkaew is found to secretly be the same person as a blogger called RequiresHate who uses social justice rhetoric and out-of-context quotes to rile up mobs, send them to harass and threaten competing writers, and damage their careers.

The linked full write-up by Laura J Mixon is… very long. It lists the names of authors Sriduangkaew targeted, including ones I like quite a bit, such as Bacigalupi, Jemisin, Sullivan, and Rothfuss.

And it contains such jems as “she is … stalking, threatening, and harassing” and “She has issued extremely explicit death, rape, and maiming threats”

Lovely. >:( On the plus side, the SFF community is rather loudly making all this known, and it seems like this sort of cancer will have a harder time getting a foothold in the future. Hooray for my in-group! They are a just and righteous people, shining light into their own dark places!

Nov 072014

AI flowchartI haven’t done this since 9/18? Blarg!

Flow chart of AI results. Every now and then it’s nice to have a reminder of what we’re working for/to avoid.

Eliezer’s writing a series on how to write Rationalist Fiction, and it’s really good. Most of it is applicable to writing all forms of good fiction.

“If you’ve ever typed anything into a Google Doc, you can now play it back …This is possible because every document written in Google Docs since about May 2010 has a revision history that tracks every change, by every user, with timestamps accurate to the microsecond”

The first self-identified Less Wrong (aspiring) rationalist has just been elected to a state rep position. This feels weird. Is this what hope feels like? (It is a very small district, one of 400 in NH. Still… step 6 of Bayesian Conspiracy – complete!)

This is awesome. I <3 humans, so much more fun to watch than puppies or cats! “The oil paintings were initially thought to be the work of renowned forger Elmyr de Hory. But they actually turned out to be “fake fakes“… they had really been painted by London bookmaker Ken Talbot. Both paintings were promptly removed from sale.”

Maybe you want to maximise paperclips too. For anyone familiar with the threat of a universe tiled in paperclips, this is hilarious!

I don’t care what they say about Philosophy majors, I think this is good news.
“Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the Education Department wants to make sure loan programs that prey on students don’t continue their abusive practices. Now Kimberly Hefling reports that for-profit colleges who are not producing graduates capable of paying off their student loans could soon stand to lose access to federal student-aid programs.”

OK GO kicks ass again. One take. Used a drone, due to high-altitude shots. Choreography was done at half-speed (accompanied by half-speed score), and the video is played double-time to make it match the original music speed.

” Kulash says the dancers “were like automatons. One of [Airman’s] deputies would shout something to this whole battalion of Japanese schoolgirls, and they’d run like they were in military school, and nail it every time.”

Look, even Bryan Caplan says you should read Scott Alexander (of Slate Star Codex)

Gotta love humans. “There is a war raging within Dogspotting — a war that is shaking the very foundation of the sport and replacing the friendly sharing of cute dog pics with bitterness and vitriol.”

Can’t leave out GamerGate:
We really need to acknowledge that the “internet troll” problem is a cute name to gloss over what is becoming a festering pit of the most violent and vile people alive. Somehow they managed to get stalking and death-and-rape-threats under the radar (freedom of speech??) and they’ve moved on to actual terrorism.
“Even if they’re able to stop me, there are plenty of feminists on campus who won’t be able to defend themselves,” he wrote. “One way or another, I’m going to make sure they die.”

From Felicia Day: “I was walking around downtown Vancouver on Saturday, sampling all the artisan coffee I could get my throat around. At one point I saw a pair of guys walking towards me wearing gamer shirts. Black short-sleeved, one Halo and one Call of Duty.
Now in my life up until this point, that kind of outfit has meant one thing: Potential comrades.”
If you know anything about GamerGate, you already know where this is going. I’m trying not to get sucked into the echo-chamber, but seriously, fuck these terrorist assholes.
Also – 50 minutes after she posted this, she was Doxxed. /sigh

OK so, in the interests of honesty – yeah. You got us. Or at least me.
“regardless of the merits of the proposal [Basic Income Guarantee], there’s a lot to learn from the fact that it’s becoming popular today.”

Why I Stopped Writing Recommendation Letters for Teach for America.
“faculty allow these well-meaning young people to become pawns in a massive game to deprofessionalize teaching […] the more TFA has become aligned with [the corporate reform movement], the more it has also become a union-busting organization.”

The fact that there is a niche as specific as Stand-up Economist fills me with happy. And the jokes I did understand were hilarious.

What The Hell Was Megadeth, Arizona? A bit scattered, but a very interesting story about what the early internet was like. Hearing stories about shapers of the primordial web is fascinating.

Japan: 40,000+ protesters (and at least one self-immolation) against re-militarization. I didn’t even realize remilitarization was a thing Japan was doing, but apparently it’s been a major issue for years.

Ducktales Meets Metal. Really quite good!

geekiarchy created a sonnet about me! :)

Scott Alexander writes about what real tolerance actually looks like. At this point I wouldn’t be uncomfortable nominating Scott as King of All Humans.
“There are certain theories of dark matter where it barely interacts with the regular world at all, such that we could have a dark matter planet exactly co-incident with Earth and never know. […]
This is sort of how I feel about conservatives.”
“my hypothesis, stated plainly, is that if you’re part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn’t al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists – it’s the Red Tribe.”
“My arguments might be correct feces, but they’re still feces.
I had fun writing this article. People do not have fun writing articles savagely criticizing their in-group.”

I learned of a new (to me) ideology – Qutbuism. Keep it on your radar, might be the known as the next Leninism in the history books. Or: A very short history if ISIS.

A short comic about stripping <3 treating people like people. Favorite line: “Then you are seriously in the wrong club”

“The number of individuals who know how to make a can of Coke is zero. The number of individual nations that could produce a can of Coke is zero.”
And he didn’t even go into everything that’s required to make the machines that make the coke!

Apple’s “warrant canary” disappears, suggesting new Patriot Act demands. This was a good idea that needs spreading. I, for one, have not been served any sort of secret warrant by the government. I’ll post a Transparency Report yearly saying basically the same thing.

Hey, if you live near Denver, we’re having a Less Wrong meetup next week, and maybe monthly.

Nov 062014

Recently seen on Facebook. For those who can’t view the pic, it says “1. Guy Fawkes was not an anarchist, or even an anti-monarchist. The Gunpowder Plot was a religiously motivated attack, with the intent of replacing a Protestant King (James I) with a Catholic ruler (Princess Elizabeth). The notion of Fawkes as an anarchist revolutionary comes entirely from Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s imaginations. 2. Time Warner owns the rights to the popular Guy Fawkes image used by groups like Anonymous. With each purchase of a mask, you are actively giving money to one of the largest media companies in the world, thereby feeding the beast that you claim to be opposing”

It’s things like these that make me love watching the dance of humanity. We’re fascinating to watch. It’s much like the fact that Che Guevara shirts/images make tens (hundreds?) of thousands of dollars for capitalist companies every year. In the end, does that really matter, or is it what people nowadays make of it that matters? Jesus (or the person he’s based on) certainly didn’t intend to become a religious icon, but his re-interpretation by Paul has had more impact on human affairs than the original man could have ever imagined, or likely even wanted. Aren’t Moore/Lloyd/Time-Warner modern Pauls, and therefore creating modern myths that channel the zeitgeist in a very valuable way?

This is all to say – I like my myths, and I don’t care about original intent. This is the application of Death of the Author to real life. I think these tales are more romantic and I like that they’ve been twisted and mythologized)

Nov 052014

I voted. Not because I expect my vote to make a difference, but because I think that when making a decision, you are also deciding for all entities that run a decision algorithm that’s similar enough to your own. It would be stupid if all entities sufficiently like myself opted out of voting because they individually wouldn’t make a difference.
Also because it was super-convenient. Colorado is awesome like that.

Oct 302014

The very first illustration of Frankenstein and his creature, by Theodor von Holst, published in 183By Mary Shelley

Synopsis: The original 1818 Frankenstein.

Book Review: Ugh. Frankenstein has been called the first work of science fiction. But the person who called it that defines science fiction as “hubris clobbered by nemesis,” (at least if I’m to believe Neil Gaiman) which really should have been my first clue. But I was really excited to get to my roots, so I wasn’t paying much attention. And it started out great. All gothic and dramatic and Lovecrafty (yes, I know it predates Lovecraft by a century). The language is extremely pretty, as is the case for most things written around this time.

Unfortunately it seems that writing technique hadn’t yet been well developed. I’ve said before that this isn’t really the author’s fault. We can’t fault pre-Renaissance painters for not knowing of perspective and proportion, those techniques just hadn’t been invented yet. But it’s still painful to read. Do we need to have the same piece of “The maid is guilty!” “No, actually she’s innocent!” dialog repeated THREE TIMES IN A ROW by six different characters? The second and third repetition added nothing. Furthermore, the past seemed to not know that Showing is preferable to Telling. I can’t count how many times Shelley basically wrote “I was really really really upset” rather than showing us the emotion in some way we could feel it ourselves. And speaking of superlatives – good god, she went through the entire list and started again from the top, twice. Frankenstein’s monster was never really described – I still don’t have a very good idea of what it was supposed to look like, aside from being eight feet tall. What we got instead was line after line after line of “Very, extremely terribly, indescribably, superbly, ultra-extra-mega-UBER UGLY!!” Which helps me not at all.

Getting away from technique though, Miss Shelley also fails to deliver a believable world. It seems the universal human reaction to seeing a really ugly super-tall guy is to IMMEDIATELY ATTACK HIM MERCILESSLY AND BEAT HIM WITH STICKS UNTIL HE RUNS AWAY. Without any good reason, and without exception, regardless of how gently the monster tries to approach them. I may not know a lot about 19th century Europe, but I’m pretty sure there were at least a few ugly motherfuckers walking around, and I believe most of them managed to exist in society somehow. As far as I can tell, “evilness” and “goodness” in Shelley’s world are native characteristics you get at birth that are unalterable, and are immediately obvious to others at a glance. It’s very much a Disney-esque “pretty is good, ugly is bad” philosophy. It’s reinforced multiple times across multiple characters, and is most striking when our lame-ass and objectively vile protagonist is repeated described as one of the “greatest examples of humanity, that all strive to emulate” by everyone in the novel, including the monster he treated like shit.

But let’s set aside nit-picks and get to what really sucks about this book.

I’ve mentioned on a few occasions that I can’t stand plots that only exist because the protagonist is completely idiotic or pathetic. If your story is about someone lamenting how awful it is to be starving to death who is inside a room full of food but is too lame and pathetic to reach out and put some in his mouth, I have nothing but disdain for your inability to write an interesting story. There are amazing stories about people doing their best to get calories by any means necessary and STILL nearly starving to death! Write something like that! Don’t waste my time because you’re too lazy to figure out how to put non-idiotic/pathetic people in tough circumstances.

Victor Frankenstein is the worst kind of pathetic. His every action is whining and shirking responsibility. I would not trust him with a pet rock. Seriously, every pregnant teenager you’ve ever seen on Jerry Springer has orders of magnitude more responsibility and self-control than this wanker. He goes about bringing a new sapient life into this world, and upon awakening it he realizes that it’s really very-super-ultra-ugly. So he abandons it. That’s right – a few minutes after it wakes up in a confusing and hostile world, without any experience or knowledge or ability to talk – he walks out on it and leaves it to die, because it was ugly. This would’ve been a simple story of infanticide if Victor hadn’t been unlucky enough to create an 8-foot tall infant that managed to feed itself on nuts and berries. And he doesn’t even think twice about it. A few hours later Victor runs into a friend and they return to his apartment. The monster has left by then and Victor says “Whew! He’s gone. Guess I dodged that bullet!” and never once feels any sense of remorse or worry, either for his monster or for his neighbors who now have an 8-foot-tall unsocialized infant unleashed upon them! Good thing that’s not Victor’s problem anymore!

This continues throughout the book. Later, when Victor finds out his monster is killing people, he resolves not to tell anyone about it, because… reasons. And when an innocent girl is accused and convicted of the murder, instead of standing up and saying “Look, she didn’t do it. I know exactly who did it, why he did it, and what he looks like. Release this poor innocent girl!” he decides to just shut up and let her go to her death because, look, being a decent human being with a smidgen of responsibility just isn’t the sort of thing Victor does! He’d much rather let various other family members and friends of his be killed instead, including his new bride.

Also, here’s Victor Frankenstein’s reaction to first re-encountering his monster after it had killed his brother:

“Devil! do you dare approach me? and do not you fear the fierce vengeance of my arm wreaked on your miserable head? Begone, vile insect! or rather stay, that I may trample you to dust!”

That’s the extent of his action. Bluster, and contradictory bluster at that. W.T.F??

Seriously, the monster should be the protagonist of this piece. It survives without any guidance, teaches itself language, and pursues its goals successfully across multiple countries and several years.

One good thing did come from reading this. If anyone ever again says that Frankenstein is about the dangers of scientists “playing God” I will immediately know that they’ve never read the book and have no idea what they’re talking about. Victor’s scientific achievement is creating a new human life. The same “playing god” that nearly every post-pubescent woman since the dawn of history has been able to do, and which most of them do actually do. This isn’t a story about playing god; this is a simple story about a negligent parent abandoning his child, with an SF twist, and the wrong protagonist.

Needless to say, Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: Everyone else seemed to enjoy it a fair bit, and there was a decent amount of discussion. Plus it’s historic, and you’ll get to say you read it. And it’s short and very skimmable. If you can stomach child-abandonment stories that try to make the abandoner the hero, you may want to check it out. Very Mildly And With Great Hesitation Recommended.

Oct 282014

GeorgeCarlinI’ve run into a weird form of selfishness lately.

Anyone who knows a writer can attest that writers are neurotically insecure about themselves. I don’t know if the following is the case for other writers, but my every act of creating something and putting it out is a plea for attention. “Look at what I did. Affirm my existence. Validate me.” I am unapologetically narcissistic – I write because I want attention, and I strive to write well because I want a lot of attention.

As such, I consider writing to be a fairly selfish activity. I’m not doing it to better the human race, I’m doing to feed my own ego. I feel that if I really cared for the human race I’d go back to college and become a research scientist.

But working for myself on something no one else will see triggers selfishness feelings as well! Right now I’m building a chicken coop with my SO (OK fine, she’s doing most of the work, I’m just helping). It feels good to be bringing something new into the world. We are literally creating wealth. Huzzah! But who will be the beneficiaries of this labor? No one but ourselves. No one else will enjoy it or get use out of it. It is, again, something I’m doing for myself. And despite the fact that it’s making a new thing, it feels tainted.

Our house renovation feels similar. Who, right now, benefits from this house being fixed up? Who will enjoy this new beauty? Primarily just us…

Oddly, I consider going to work somewhat altruistic. I’m doing something unpleasant for someone else. Or if not unpleasant, at least something they can’t do for themselves. The fact that they are willing to give me money to do it means they value what I’m doing. I wouldn’t do it without that bribe, so it’s obviously not something I want to do. Unpleasant, and for someone else – fits the basic criteria for altruism. Furthermore, since I’m working at a for-profit company, they are making some amount of money off of my labor (no point in going through the trouble of employing someone if you aren’t making money in the process). Whatever that extra amount may be, it is wealth I’ve created and not taken for myself – thus an altruistic contribution.

At some point, either in the school system of middle-class suburbia, or the Puritan churches of middle-class suburbia, or perhaps a mixture of both, I managed to internalize an ethical system that works out really really well for good ol’ American Capitalism, by keeping the working class solidly working for others and non-bootstrapping.

This is kinda fucked up.

I will take solace in my 40-hour-a-week communion.

Oct 222014

berlin-wall-flagMy parents escaped from communist Poland when I was a wee baby. And there was a level of actual “escaping” involved, the country was trying to prevent their leaving. Preventing one’s citizens from leaving a country, despite their wishes, is a pretty infamous characteristic of totalitarian regimes, especially communist ones. Our media still criticizes North Korea for it.

How are the Western countries trying to stop people from leaving their state any different?

For that matter, can anyone figure out why the UK (and other countries) are trying to prevent their citizens from running off to the middle east to join IS? Shouldn’t that be encouraged? It’s gets dangerous radicals out of your country, and it makes them happier. AND it makes all their former neighbors safer and happier as well. What is the downside? Everyone wins. And you aren’t faced with the bad publicity of attacking your own citizens within your own borders, which has always been a red flag of totalitarianism. Do we really want to become more like the very societies we’ve been taught are evil for so long?

What am I missing here?