Dec 182014
 

getting-published-introduction (1)When I was a kid, SteamPunk basically didn’t exist. The Difference Engine had come out, sure, but there wasn’t a recognized genre. Nowadays even people who aren’t big into SF/F know what SteamPunk is.

We like Rationalist fiction. I would like for it to be a genre, so I could go and pick up a novel marketed as “Rationalist,” rather than having to hope someone stumbles across one and shares with the rest of us. We’ve adopted several books/author’s as Rationalist (Watt’s “Blindsight”, much of Greg Egan, most of Ted Chaing), but it’s not a recognized genre in the wider culture, and none of them self-identify as Rationalist writers. There are those who could accuse “You’re just appropriating especially well-written SF and trying to use it to make your genre look good!” We currently only have one really exquisite and shining example of self-identified Rationalist fiction, and it can’t be published via traditional means for legal reasons.

So what can we do to promote rationalist fiction? I think the most important step is to continue what we’re already doing – promoting HPMoR via word-of-mouth. It is/will be to Rationalist fiction what Perdido Street Station was for New Weird – the amazing ground-breaking work that gets a core base excited and wanting more. But this alone isn’t enough. Right now, only rationalists read Rationalist fiction. OTOH, a fair number of people regularly read SteamPunk and New Weird, even if they aren’t hardcare fans of the genres, because the genres exist and are accepted in the SF spectrum. They are genres that writers write in. They are genres that publishers publish. And both of these things are true because people are willing to pay money to read those genres.

To expand from a niche internet interest to a full genre there must be money in the game. There are people whose job it is to find stories that they think readers will be willing to pay money to read, and buy those stories from authors. If they are right, and the works are popular, and readers start asking for similar stories, those editors will start to pay attention to the label being used to describe that type of story. “The last rationalist story was well-received. I should try getting another one of those.” And as other authors are exposed to the same works, and find them intriguing, they’ll want to write stories in that style as well. Most SteamPunk writers didn’t create the idea Ex Nihlo, they discovered it via reading and decided “This is really cool, I want to do something like this too!” And when this happens enough times, a genre comes into being.

Right now a lot of us are cutting our teeth, figuring out how to write a thing. But eventually we need to up our game. Maybe you don’t much care if it becomes a recognized genre, you prefer the close-knit community of internet publishing. If you’re like me though, and you want this to bloom, take that next step – try to get published in a recognized market, while publicly identifying your work as “rationalist fiction.” Ideally in a pro-paying market, which SFWA guidelines say is $0.06 per word or more. Failing that, semi-pro is a good close-second.

Yes, it’s hard. It’s painful to be rejected over and over again, often after months of waiting. But it makes you better. It makes the writing better. And it will help the genre to become established. We can’t all be Eliezer (some people would claim only one of us can be!), but we can help expand the genre in other ways.

Dec 162014
 

darned millenialsWhy do people post pics of text, rather than actual text? Is it just to make it impossible to copy/paste, search, find, google, and share easily? Damned kids these days…

Shave without shaving cream.
I’ve been doing this for over a month. Yes, it works, very well. Shaving cream must be a relic carried over from an age before stand-up showers. Nowadays just running a razor over your face at the end of a shower works better than all that shaving cream crap. After 10 minutes of soaking in water, your facial hair is powerless against sharp steel, and your skin will thank you.
It even works just fine vs my Monday Morning Mangle, which surprised me.

The UK lawmakers’ weird porn obsession keeps growing. Reminds me of Dan Savage’s first rule of anti-sex lawmakers “The more virulently anti-gay a lawmaker is, the more recently he’s had a cock inside him him.” (Paraphrased)

Sooooo good. How Humanity Killed An Ancient Mad God. (A true story of science)
“You are a member of the species that did that. Never forget what we are capable of, when we band together and declare battle on what is broken in the world.”

The best Christmas Carol. :)

Cool thoughts on personhood.
“A person (as such) is a social fiction: an abstraction specifying the contract for an idealized interaction partner. Most of our institutions, even whole civilizations, are built to this interface — but fundamentally we are human beings, i.e., mere creatures. Some of us implement the person interface, but many of us (such as infants or the profoundly psychotic) don’t. Even the most ironclad person among us will find herself the occasional subject of an outburst or breakdown that reveals what a leaky abstraction her personhood really is.”

I’m not an anarchist, I think anarchism is stupid. But here’s some interesting thoughts on violent opposition.
“Riots are especially useful when passive protest is widely acknowledged in certain circles to be laughably useless and indicative of protesters unwilling to commit. It doesn’t matter if a riot is directly successful on the scale of burning down city hall or permanently evicting the police from a neighborhood, what matters more is the change in perceptions.
[…] That’s why politicians and police consistently go apeshit over things like measly storefront windows. Their control is dependent in no small part on being seen as in control. Certain boundaries to what’s considered feasible must be secured at all cost lest they begin to lose the illusion of invulnerability that dissuades the subjugated from rising up.”

Vitamins disappear from non-GMO cereal. Anti-GMO people hate nutrition! :)

The “Do The Right Thing” clip.

Typeset In The Future! Alien edition. Intensely informative and entertaining.

Someone’s actually doing something about this time-change bullshit that happens twice a year (at least in Colorado)!

Ginny is amazing again, this time covering The Hanging Tree. I love slow, low-toned songs like this.

I think I’ve found the most concise article to point people to when they ask “What is rationality?” And it’s a reply to someone who gets the answer completely wrong, which is exactly how humanity works.
“Life is made up of limited, confusing, contradictory, and maliciously doctored facts. Anyone who says otherwise is either sticking to such incredibly easy solved problems that they never encounter anything outside their comfort level, or so closed-minded that they shut out any evidence that challenges their beliefs.”

Bible Verses Where The Word “Philistines” Has Been Replaced With “Haters”
I like this. 1. It’s kinda fun. 2. It makes the bible more sympathetic. (Who *doesn’t* want to slay all the Haters? Screw those guys!) 3. It helps us relate to ancient peoples, by pointing out that back then “a different ethnic group” was synonymous with “Haters”, and so you realize our ancestors weren’t evil monsters, they just despised Haters as much as we all do! and 4. It hammers home that yes, the bible is racist and an awful moral guide, because “a different ethnic group” is synonymous with “Haters” in God’s eyes (according to the writers, at least)

For the First Time Ever, a Prosecutor Will Go to Jail for Wrongfully Convicting an Innocent Man. I was about to complain this could put the whole adversarial system in jeopardy but… he hid evidence? Yeah, screw that, throw the book at him. Hope he spends at least as much time in jail the innocent guy he locked up.
 
Hm. If you want readers (rather than critical acclaim, or money) you’re best off writing fanfiction.
“fimfiction accounts for 2-3% as much reading as do all of the new books sold in America. That makes ponyfiction more popular than Westerns, and nearly as popular as horror.”
This is just ponyfic. Add in all the other popular fanfic worlds, you likely have more words of fanfic read per year than all original fic published by a fair margin.
 
Metallica’s “One” played on medieval instruments. I wish they’d gotten to do the full song rather than an abbreviated version.
 
Advice on modern life’s struggles, delivered by Conan. Good stuff.

Zipper Merging – do it. I long wondered why people start getting over so damn early. Turns out it’s because that’s considered polite. /sigh
“[late merging] reduces backups by a whopping 40 percent on average”

USDA approves a GM potato that reduces a suspected carcinogen. Anti-GMO people love cancer!

If you haven’t seen the Amazon Echo yet, this parody is the first thing I actually saw about it. It’s funny, but also – now I must have one. IT IS LIKE THE COMPUTER FROM STAR TREK!! (Next Generation)

I just found out The Fecal Transplant Foundation exists. Whoever started it should get a medal for Doing Good.

Dec 082014
 

road-upwardFor the culmination of a year-long leadership training course at work, I had to give a presentation in front of some Senior Management types. Everyone was instructed to pitch something in 15 minutes or less that would make the company better/more valuable/etc. I chose Pay Transparency. The presentation went well. And because I hate to simply let the work I put into it curl up and die of neglect in a corner, I’m posting it here, for anyone else to use as a template, or for ideas, or whatever. Parts of it are lifted wholesale from things I read, and everything else is highly borrowed, so please don’t attribute any of this to me, I’ve simply collated and compressed what other people said much better than I could. Claiming any of this as original to me would be plagiarism. :) I’ve removed my company’s name, and some changes were made on the fly as I spoke, but this is basically it. I hope someone finds it useful.

 


We are [corporation]. And these are our values

[slide: Values]

They’re good values, they guide us well. By following these values we create a culture of trust and openness, which leads directly to exceptional performance.

But how do we apply this philosophy when it comes to paying our people? Without even thinking about it, we’ve just gone along with the received wisdom that compensation is one of those things that’s best kept secret. And that’s unfortunate, we are ignoring low-hanging fruit, and going against the grain of the values we live by.

In keeping with the spirit of what I’m proposing, I’ll skip the build-up and get straight to the point – Pay Transparency is the future of top-tier companies, and [we] can get the jump on our peers.

The term is fairly self-explanatory, but to dispel any confusion, yes, Pay Transparency is a policy of making everyone’s pay open information to everyone in the company. This has three immediate positive impacts for [us].

  1. Employee Performance

In 2014 Bamberger of Tel Aviv U and Belagolovsky of Cornel published a study on Pay Secrecy.

It found that secret payrolls weaken employee perception that a performance increase will be accompanied by a pay increase. Study participants unaware of their peers’ earnings tend to underestimate how much successful performers earn, while overestimating how much poor performers earn.

“When the economic gap is imagined to be so minimal between good and bad performers, the employee thinks that working harder just isn’t worth the effort,” – Belogolovsky

Pay secrecy degrades the perceived link between performance and reward.

In a separate 2013 Study Bamberger and Belogolovsky found that the demotivating effect was especially strong among talented workers. High-performing workers are more sensitive than others when they perceive no link between performance and pay. Pay secrecy led to decreased performance and increased turnover. When there is some pay transparency, top workers are the most motivated to achieve.

Of course those who were paid below the median were generally dissatisfied. In theory those who are paid less are poorer performers, and managers want strong performers. Pay transparency helps both parties in this case, as poor performers are encouraged to look for work that better suits their natural talents and abilities and thus brings them better pay, while managers can fill these now-vacant positions with candidates better suited for the job.

Interestingly, in practice Pay Transparency can have positive effects even on poorer performers. Whole Foods has been Pay Transparent since 1986, and CEO John Mackey states “I’m challenged on salaries all the time ‘How come you are paying this regional president this much, and I’m only making this much?’ I have to say, ‘because that person is more valuable. If you accomplish what this person has accomplished, I’ll pay you that, too.’” When employees see what others are making and can see clearly how to get to that position themselves, they are much more motivated to apply themselves.

Understand how to get from Point A in a salary range to Point B is crucial, and this leads me to the second positive impact of implementing Pay  Transparency

  1. Company Structure

It forces good practices in an area that is otherwise often overlooked. Let’s take SumAll as an example, a start-up of about 30 employees that implemented Pay Transparency from Day One. Its leaders consider these to be crucial to their pay system:

  1. The company’s employees are each assigned to one of nine fixed salaries
  2. Anyone hired into the company must be comfortable with the system
  3. Workers who feel they’re unfairly paid can easily bring that up

What can we tell just from looking at this?

  1. There is a clear, unambiguous pay structure
  2. Only those who are a good cultural fit will be hired
  3. Employees have clear, formal channels for raising concerns about pay fairness.

These are all important, but the last point in particular tends to be conspicuously missing from most companies’ playbooks. There are very few formal pay policies, leaving employees who feel they are not being fairly compensated in the dark as to what they can do about it. This results in office gossip or silent brooding, neither of which are beneficial, and neither of which can be directly addressed by a manager. An employee who has a way to address her pay concerns may not get a raise, but she will at least get an honest explanation from a knowledgeable source. SumAll has built a culture and policies that are both transparent and defensible so that management is held to a standard of fairness, employees have information in context, and there is a path for remediation of issues. This is a structural improvement that all companies would benefit to implement regardless of their stance on Pay Transparency, but it is very easy to ignore in cultures of Pay Secrecy.

Pay Transparency forces management to confront such issues in a forthright manner. What matters to employees isn’t that their pay be equal but that the system for awarding it seems fair. As such, it’s important for managers to be transparent about the methodology used to arrive at compensation decisions, and come prepared for tough conversations. They must clearly understand the company’s compensation policy before trying to explain it to employees.

Companies need to arm themselves with fresh, credible data, and share how they make decisions on all jobs.

In addition, such structural changes protect companies from the games that bad bosses can play. Capriciousness and incompetence in pay practices cannot survive openness. Tim Low, VP of PayScale, which provides compensation data to companies, says. “If you are going to be transparent, data is your friend. Employees will feel reassured if they have access to the relevant market information showing how their boss arrived at each salary.” When compensation is open and well supported with credible reasoning it is very difficult for an employee to claim systemic bias against them.

Implementing such changes also allows [us] to harness Market Forces rather than fighting against them.

  1. Market Forces

Basic econ tells us that if a certain set of skills and experience has a market-based wage (which is assumed to be the case), then any variations on that wage will be slight and shouldn’t provide a large competitive advantage to a company. But this is only the case in efficiently operating markets. As we all know ideal market models assume perfect information, so one of the best ways to gum up markets is to hide information. This is the key insight that drives Pay Secrecy – if an employee is unaware of the true value of their labor then they may offer it at a lower-than-market rate, and the employer can save costs on the difference.

However this puts employers at odds with the market, they will always be fighting against the trend for wages to return to their fair market rate. This struggle is costly in several ways.

On the micro level, it increases turnover rate, especially among the highest-value employees. If that wasn’t bad enough, the poor performers stay, as they are already being paid their fair rate.

It also incentivizes things we don’t actually want. The employees who end up getting paid the most are the ones who have the best salary-negotiation skills. While there are positions where such skills are what we want to pay for, there are many positions where what we want from an employee has nothing to do with the ability to negotiations wages. We want to reward extraordinary talent in skills that pertain to the job. Why then are we paying for talent in a skill that has nothing to do with the job? We are creating perverse incentives.

And on the macro level, we exist in an environment with many competing employers. Even if we are successful at hiring people at below the market rate, and thus getting the most value for our dollar, over time people tend to notice and we develop a reputation for underpaying employees. What was a boon at first becomes a drag on the company as high-talent employees avoid us, not even bothering to apply, due to a bad reputation.

Pay Transparency isn’t an instant fix, but it does bring us into alignment with market forces, rather than fighting against them. We can explain our pay structure to potential employees, show them where and why we differ from local averages, and assure them they will be paid fairly. Where we need top talent, we can attract it.

We also gain a competitive advantage over our peers that don’t practice pay transparency. They are currently over-paying some employees who have strong negotiation skills, but average job-related skills. Likewise, they are underpaying employees who have poor negotiation skills, but strong job-related skills. Employees with strong job-skills but poor negotiation skills will be attracted to our Transparent Pay system, as they will no longer be penalized for their lack of negotiating skill and will be able to take a wage that more accurately reflects the value they provide to their employer. We will slowly gather high-skilled non-negotiators, while leaving our competitors with strong-negotiators that are overpaid for what they can produce.

IMPLEMENTATION

There are two schools of thought as to how to implement Pay Transparency. The method I prefer is Full Transparency, in which a file is made available to every employee which lists every Employee’s name, title, and their previous year’s salary & bonus. These are grouped by location and department, to allow for most applicable comparisons. I prefer this method because it leaves no room for suspicion or doubt. It is the method used by every company I talk about in this presentation.

However there is a second method which has many of the benefits I’ve covered without quite as radical a cultural shift. I call it Anonymized Transparency due to its central feature of keeping people’s names out of sight. In such a system the salary of every employee in the same position is averaged, and only that number is made publicly available. Using this resource employees can see about how much they would make in other positions, and can compare themselves to the average of their peers.

This does have two downsides. The first is that there is no way for an employee to verify the accuracy of what is reported, they have to trust the numbers as given. The second is that they cannot look as specific peers and see that “Jill works like a madwoman! But she’s getting paid a fair chunk for it… I could get more if I worked like her.”

However both systems remove the information vacuum that exists around pay. They provide a rich source of information to employees which can be used by them in a feedback cycle with their supervisors to refine expectations and career goals. Both have the advantage of making the employees paid more than average feel appreciated, and causing the employees paid below average to question why that is, which allows us to explain how we view compensation, and more importantly, what those workers need to do to earn more

The costs of implementing such a system are difficult to quantify. The mechanics of it are simple and basically cost-less, but just throwing the numbers out there is a terrible way to implement this. Communication is vital. If they can’t get a clear answer as to why they make less than someone else, employees might begin to resent each other and the company.  We must take time to really think about how we’re rewarding employees, what we’re rewarding them for, and make sure the pay policies and practices we have in place are supporting our strategy and compensation philosophy. Managers must be prepared with data. Employees feel reassured if they have access to the relevant market information showing how their boss arrived at each salary.

This requires a fair bit of preparation and some training on the management side. Let us assume an average of two (2) full days of labor per manager to develop such preparation, as well as a full-day training session each. Training is aprox $100/person/day, for a direct cost of $AAAAA. The greater cost is the XX man-days of diverted productivity. If we assume that every manager would also have to spend eight hours addressing employee concerns after the roll out, that increases the number to YY man-days of diverted productivity. At [company] we don’t have a standard cost we assume for such things, as they fall within the scope of one’s job as a manager, so I couldn’t put a precise cost value on this. However the additional workload, while not extreme, would not be trivial.

This leads us to the basic question underlying all business:

Is It Worth It?

This depends in part on our business model.

For a work-a-day business just looking to chug along through another quarter, maybe not.

Good-Enough pay policies, resulting in Good-Enough employees and a Good-Enough product can be… Good Enough.

But top tier companies serving top tier customers require top tier employees, and the next-generation policies that attract, motivate, and empower such employees.

Whole Foods is one of the companies that focuses on higher-value products to a more affluent customer base. Their share price has increased 250% over the last 10 years, with over $12.9B in sales in 2013. They’ve have been on Forbes 100 Best Companies to Work For for 17 consecutive years – since the list’s inception. Whole Foods has been Pay Transparent since 1986. They have over 80,000 employees, and in the grocery industry employee turn-over averages 100%. But in 2013 Whole Foods enjoyed their 4th consecutive year with under 15% turnover.

I quoted their CEO Mackey earlier. What does he have to say about the role Pay Transparency plays in their success?

Mackey believes that a culture of shared information helps create a sense of a “shared fate” among employees. “If you’re trying to create a high-trust organization, an organization where people are all-for-one and one-for-all, you can’t have secrets,” he says. Pay Transparency has resulted in a highly motivated workforce with a deep sense of community who value productivity. And that is the greatest strength of Pay Transparency.

Pay Secrecy pits employees against employers where wages are concerned. As much as we’re all on the same team in every other aspect, when it comes down to brass tacks – who gets what money – management and labor are on opposite sides, wrestling for advantage. This undermines all the talk of trust and team-work we focus on at all other times. It’s accepted because it’s the way things have always been, but it is adversarial at its heart.

Pay Transparency reverses this. Management and Labor finally can work together in an open way. When the employee feels like management is an ally that works with them rather than an opposing force, they are freed up to put all of THEIR focus on the customers we serve – our residents. Mutual collaboration and respect leads to employees who view their own future as intertwined with the company’s. They work with their employer with the same dedication they would work for themselves.

In the past perhaps we didn’t need this level of passion from our employees. Maybe back then our business model was served best by sticking with Good Enough. But as we move into the highly competitive and more rewarding top-level markets we face far more demanding customers, and ones with a lot of options before them. If we want to keep the best customers we need the best teams in the market. We won’t get those by living in the past. We have to push forward on the leading edge of business. Pay Transparency is that edge.

Dec 042014
 


The way our economy is currently structured, we require constant growth. Of course this will someday come to a head, because as Robin Hanson has pointed out, even at extremely low growth rates we’ll run out of atoms in the galaxy well within 10,000 years. As someone who suspects we may already be beyond the sustainable carrying capacity of the planet, I fear the problem may be closer than that. So I’m already against anything that incentivizes greater-than-replacement procreation.

I also despise the lottery, for all the normal reasons. It hijacks normal thinking patterns to trick people into wasting money on false hope. It targets those who can least afford it, and are least able to resist it. It is morally repugnant.

So I really dislike things that combine the two, like the Procreation Lottery. As pretty as the song “Mary Did You Know” is, it fans the flames of procreation by igniting the hope that maybe your child will be the special one that solves all the problems. Or at least a few of your problems, because hey, let’s not be greedy.

No. Chances are any particular child will not be that special. Even if they’re above average, children in the modern age are a net cost to parents. If you want your life to be better, or to be special, or to mean something to the world in some way, do it on your own. Don’t pin your hopes on a child. Anyone can do that, and it doesn’t make any of them special. Others who use the same decision-making-algorithm will simply make more children as well, and since this subset of people generally includes your children, you’re just passing on the “breed a lot” imperative without getting any “do something special” results.

I know this post sounds grumpy. I’m sorry. I would get equally annoyed at a beautiful song praising the serene grace of being a Powerball Winner.

Dec 022014
 

steerswomanBy Rosemary Kirstein

Synopsis: A rationalist monk investigates why the wizards of her world want to destroy her order

Book Review: I’d heard this was a rationalist novel. I was not disappointed. Much of the meat of this book is in applying the tools of thought and observation to puzzle out what is happening, or to evaluate options and choose between them. Clues are fed to the reader constantly, some just before the puzzle’s solution is presented, others far in advance, and several things are left unknown to the protagonist at the end of the story which we as the reader have figured out (though we do have a massive advantage which I won’t get into due to major spoilage). A lot of the remaining action is in the domain of subterfuge and misleading your opponents, while attempting to see through their subterfuges. Unfortunately the writing of actual physical action (there are a few fight scenes) is kinda clunky. It doesn’t feel exciting, and it’s hampered by over-analysis, which takes the urgency out. That’s ok, I’m not here for the fight scenes, but it does detract from the book a little.

It endeavors to teach the reader a usable skill as well. I was pleasantly surprised to see the protagonist say (not literally, but close enough) “I notice I am confused” and go on to explain that there is no confusion in reality, and therefore something she thought she knew about the world is incorrect, and now she must find what it is. Written almost 20 years before Yudkowsky’s Sequences, and yet the similarities were astounding. Rationality is timeless. :)

The humanist/transhumanist ideals are there as well, from the protagonist’s deep-seated emotional aversion to spreading untruths, to the statement at the end that while the villains can kill individual rationalists, they can never defeat human progress, and thus as long as it’s possible for humans to grow in knowledge the villain will ultimately be defeated. It’s good stuff!

And the primary conflict is between value systems rather than good-vs-evil, which again fits the rationalist motif.

But is it a good story, you ask?

Yes. It is. The writing is solid (although there is an epidemic of people laughing their dialog that felt unrealistic). The plot keeps moving at a strong pace, and the characters are likable and relatable. So much so that I was angry at one of the characters when she did something reprehensible, and I was sad when one of the villain’s lieutenants was killed. There’s one really gripping scene near the beginning that gut-punched me with its unexpected tragedy – a prime example of no one being evil but the system being broken – that I won’t forget for some time. It has some rough patches, and a few errors I could do without, but overall it’s a good book, and I’m glad there’s another rationalist novel I can point to proudly. Recommended.

Book Club Review: If you’re not a rationalist, the novel isn’t quite as enthralling. As I said, it’s a good story, but it’s not stellar. I was told that the rough parts stick out more when you aren’t enamored with it. And it turns out that if you aren’t reading with some attention it’s possible to miss the puzzle altogether.

Also of interest – a couple readers couldn’t figure out the Steerswoman’s motivation, so the entire thing felt kinda rambling and unfocussed to them. At first I was confused. “What do you mean there’s no motivation? There’s an existential threat against their entire way of life!” It turns out that for people who don’t already deeply identify with a philosophy of pursuing truth and growing the knowledge base of all mankind, if an outside force threatens to both curtail all explorations of certain phenomena and permanently hobble the scientific spirit… that’s not really a big deal. I know, that sounds crazy to me too! But I guess not everyone places as much importance on those ideals, so they don’t see why others would risk their lives to defend them.

There are some great things for rationalists to talk about if they read this. There are a couple instances of the Steerswoman failing at rationality, which make for good topics. More importantly, there are a couple of systemic flaws in her order’s approach to rationality that really seem very glaring in my opinion. The merits of these are arguable, and one can speculate as to whether this was intentional on the author’s part and will be addressed in later books, or was oversight.

There were plot points that non-rationalists can discuss as well, in particular a couple moral decisions/shirkings that happen near the end which spark a fair bit of emotion. But in the end all I can say is that, as an aspiring rationalist, I am completely unable to say whether or not this book is a good recommendation for book clubs in an objective way. I liked it, and I am excited about it. If you are an aspiring rationalist as well, and you want to expose your book club to rational fiction, and they’ve already read Blindsight, this is a good book to go with.  With the caveat that my judgment is colored – Recommended.

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!