Sunday, February 28, 2016

Don't fear the Trump

Everyone is ranting about how awful Trump is.  A former CIA director spoke out against his plans, claiming that they are unlawful and that the military would refuse his orders.  Trump's plan to make Mexico pay for a wall across the border is ludicrous; Mexico would say something along the lines of 'HELL NO'.  Trump's plan to let people sue news outlets for saying mean things about them and his idea for a travel ban on Muslims would run into the Supreme Court and stop dead.  Which is to say that everyone is freaking out about Trump even though most of his most silly crap is completely impossible and would amount to nothing.

Which is a big part of the reason why Trump winning doesn't scare me.  You know what actually terrifies me?  Cruz or Rubio winning instead.  Those two are scary because they might actually get people to do the stupid and awful crap they want.

Cruz and Rubio are sexist, racist asshats just like Trump.  The real difference is that Trump just says stuff that makes his position clear, while the other two (much like a lot of the Republican establishment) push for policies that are terrible for women or people of colour and pretend that it is all about doing the right thing.  Trump just says outright that he thinks that the reason Megyn Kelly was giving him tough questions during a debate was because she was menstruating.  He doesn't even pretend, doesn't sugar coat his sexism, doesn't beat around the bush.  People love that!  They want to support someone who owns their bigotry.

Which is a pretty sad indictment of the American electorate, but I can't be too high on my horse when Toronto elected Rob Ford who is, by most measures, the exact same thing, albeit on a smaller scale.  People all over seem to love their honest bigots and support them for important jobs.

Trump's particular brand of clownishness is awful, no doubt.  But the hidden agendas of the Rubios and Cruzes of the world terrifies me far more.  Trump is going to be a blustering idiot in power, much like Rob Ford was here in Toronto.  Ford got sidelined by council and had a lot of his power stripped away because nobody would work with him.  Trump would be in a similar boat - while no one could reasonably remove his podium it is clear that the establishment of both parties wants nothing to do with him.  If Rubio or Cruz gets a mandate and the support of Congress and the House they will nuke Planned Parenthood from orbit, try to institute laws that will make abortion nearly impossible (though not strictly banned because of SCOTUS) and do all kinds of other terrible things, and they will have full cooperation in trying to get their projects implemented.

The wall across the Mexican border with the US will never happen.

Erosion of women's rights in the US could absolutely happen.

It is simple:  Trump, while he is the biggest show on earth right now, is by far not the scariest threat.  I think the media would do far better to showcase just how scary the alternatives are rather than try to tell people about how bad Trump is.  He is no worse than the others, he is just honest about it.  That isn't a virtue, but it is how it is.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Mighty alligators

Today Elli was telling me about a game she and her friends are playing where they have magical powers.  Elli has fire power, and her two friends have ice and vines.  I asked Elli what sort of power I could have and she had no good answers; I decided that my power should be alligators since she didn't have any better suggestion.  Elli informed me that her fire power would defeat my alligator power but I think the record will show that alligators are the safe bet against fire any time.

First I told her that I would summon alligators to bite her.  Seems pretty lethal, right?  Not so, she says!  She claims her fire would burn up the alligators before they ate her.  Faugh, says I, I just summon MOAR alligators.

She had the gall to state that her fire would blow up those alligators too.  Can you believe it?

Then I told her that I would start summoning alligators above her to fall on top of her.  Again she said that she would burn them, but then I pointed out that even should her fire incinerate the alligators some amount of dust would remain.  With enough alligators summoned above her head the dust would eventually surround her and she would sink to her death in an endless pile of dust made of alligator ashes.  Victory, right there.

She came back with the assertion that she would would burn the dust to nothing, preventing it from stacking up and killing her.  I told her that conservation of mass prevented this from happening, and certainly no fire summoned by a small child is capable of getting the iron in an alligator's body to 2862 degrees C where it would be vapourized.  Obviously.

But still she insisted that her fire power would be enough to defeat the might of endless alligators.  I tell you, this younger generation has *no* respect for physics.  What do they teach them in school these days?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Gravity is a harsh mistress

I watched the movie Gravity this week.  It definitely had great production values, and despite rampant criticism towards the acting, I actually really liked the job that Sandra Bullock and George Clooney did.  I mean, Clooney was just playing that guy he plays, but he does do that guy really well!  I shouldn't be too critical of a guy just doing that one job that everyone knows he is good at.

Unfortunately for the movie there was one particularly unforgivable crime against physics that made me really grumpy and tarnished one of the pivotal scenes in the movie.  The scene in question is where the two astronauts are tumbling past the space station, trying desperately to grab on, while the cord tethering them together gets caught on various things.  They fail to get a hold and are almost past the station when Bullock's foot gets caught in ropes.  So far, so good.  Her foot is entangled, the pair of them are stopped, and Clooney is still attached to Bullock so neither of them is going anywhere.  Clooney then gives a long speech about how he has to let the tether go to save her, and Bullock predictably objects.  They sit there, immobile, having this long chat... then Clooney untethers and rapidly zooms off into space.


They were stopped.  The slightest tug on the tether would pull Clooney back in, and both of them would be fine.  There was no force acting on Clooney to pull him away!  It was noted by all the people who critiqued the science of the film as a major hole, and it totally broke the scene for me.  The worst part is that most of the zero G movement in the film is done well.  They have people tumbling and hovering and moving pretty much just right.  However, somebody wrote this damn scene and had to have it just this way so they slapped science silly and made a hack job of it.

Now I don't mind science being sacrificed for plot.  If your plot needs faster than light travel, then add it in.  Don't belabour the point with stupid pseudo science, just say "FTL works, moving on".  But this was totally unnecessary.  If instead the two of them had *just* missed stopping on the station they could have drifted away with agonizing slowness, and then Clooney could have shoved Bullock back toward the station, saving her and causing him to drift off into space.  Bam!  Same scene, same emotional impact, no physics violation.  That took me 30 seconds to think up.

I don't mind breaking physics when there isn't another way.  But when you can fix the holes with a trivial solution that maintains all of the emotional impact there is no excuse.

There were other issues in the movie with science, but honestly they were far more minor and didn't break me in the same way.  In particular the debris coming in towards the characters at 50,000 km/h shouldn't have been visible - random holes and explosions should just have happened without warning or visual cues!  That might even have been cooler, honestly.  Still, it didn't trigger my sense of scientific horror in the same way.

So yeah, break science if you have to.  Just don't do it when you don't need to, that's all!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Putting faith in context

I watched a rather interesting and fairly long video recently that got me thinking about how we might decide on the practical benefits (or lack thereof) of religion.

Haidt finds himself in an argument with a bunch of the New Atheists (Dawkins, Harris, and others), and because I find both sides interesting I read more about the disagreements here.  Needless to say I don't fully agree with anyone, but I do think looking at how they think and what they say about each other's positions is likely to be really thought provoking for anyone who is interested in thinking about the effects of religion divorced from any question of whether or not its supernatural claims are true.  Everyone involved in this debate thinks God doesn't exist; they just can't decide what should be said about religion given that basic fact.

One of the things that stirs up a lot of controversy is the fact that in numerous studies religious people give more to charity than atheists.  The difference is only 10%, but it is there.  Note that this is after giving to religious organizations is stripped out, and that similar findings exist for blood donation and volunteering.  Haidt uses this as a reason for us to consider the usefulness of religion and sanctity in general, and suggests that we might well be able to harness the power of belief to improve society.  It is a worthy area of consideration because if we can make people's lives better than we ought to try to do that, I think, even if the methods might be distasteful to some.

The obvious counter argument is that religion, and sanctity in general, rely on falsehoods.  At the very least they require guesses to be presented as facts and hopes to be presented as truths.  We could argue that doing so is inherently wrong but that would hold up truth as something worth pursuing regardless of its effect on human well being, and I don't buy into that.  I think truth is worth pursuing, but I think it is worth pursuing because it improves human well being, not because of any value inherent in it.  Truth itself is not sacred, it is just a really good tool.  Given that, I think that there is a huge downside to religion because I think truth itself is more valuable.  However, I can't prove that; it is just my supposition.

A more appropriate counterargument, I think, is that the data showing that religious people are more giving is based on a highly biased sample.  If you ask people in the US about their giving you may find that religious people give more, but you are asking that question in a country where serious president candidates say that an atheist cannot possibly be a good president.  In that country bans on muslim immigration are being proposed, and muslims are increasingly being brazenly attacked on the street, certainly in some part due to inflammatory comments by political leaders.  In that same nation atheists are even *less* trusted than muslims, but they suffer far less because they cannot be easily identified by their appearance.

In a nation so thoroughly dominated by a single religion you can't seriously expect that the charitable behaviours of religious and nonreligious people will be unaffected by that fact.  Having your holidays be celebrated by most businesses, being able to wear your religious artifacts without question, and being able to get away with assuming that everyone is of your religion unless stated otherwise changes your place in the world.  The question is, would religious people give more if they were the minority who was pushed out of top positions of power?  If atheists ruled the US and the idea of a Christian president was laughable would those surveys still show religious people giving of themselves to others more than the majority?

I doubt we would see the same thing in that reversed scenario.  I can't prove it, obviously, but I can suggest that people who are in a minority that is pushed to the margins spend greatly of themselves just trying to carve out their own space.  They have less time / money / energy to spend, and they probably are less inclined to spend it on others.  If you could do surveys about giving and generosity across many cultures and locations my suspicion is that you would find that the dominant groups were more generous to charities regardless of their religion or lack thereof.

Again, I can't prove that.  But I don't think I need to, particularly.  What I can say with confidence is that in a world where Abrahamic religions are extremely dominant you find that those in those religions donate slightly more to charities than those who do not believe.

That statement does not lead at all to saying that religious people would give more or less to charity in an unbiased sample.  Unfortunately I don't see any good way to acquire such a sample, but if we ever do I will be terribly curious to see what it contains.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sensing my ship

I read a great little piece today on comedy and censorship.  It can summed up as a call for comedians and entertainers to stop being lazy with their comedy and spend their time punching up against the powerful instead of down against the weak when making jokes.  I support that idea, especially because it makes it clear that it is entirely possible to make jokes about difficult topics like race or gender or rape without those jokes being terrible.  You just have to approach such topics carefully, and make sure that you aren't beating up the victims a second time.  Comedy can and should push boundaries, but it shouldn't actively make the world worse by reinforcing the nasty bits.

The responses to it were fairly predictable, largely consisting of people complaining that censorship is awful and social justice warriors ruin people's careers and campuses are full of people who can't take a joke.  I find all of these sorts of complaints empty and ridiculous.  Nobody is calling for a ban on 'women are totally emotional, amirite fellahs?' humour.  You can make those jokes, and the government definitely shouldn't stop you.  However, you will find a large number of people who will call your jokes stupid, cruel, and sad.  You are not owed laughter, no one is required to glorify your attempts at humour, and a career telling jokes requires you to entertain people... if they hate you, you have failed and you ought to find a new career, or get better at your current one.

Criticism is not censorship.

Write that down.

Criticism is not censorship.

People saying that you suck and refusing to give you money for your performance is not an undue hardship, nor does it make you a downtrodden minority.  Comedians that refuse to do college and university shows because the audiences boo them are not people who desperately need our help and protection.

I am forever irked by the idea that comedians need 'the freedom to tell whatever jokes they want' as if that is a thing anyone is trying to remove.  You have that freedom.  We all do!  (And if anyone wants to remove that freedom they are a fool.)  You don't have the freedom to force your audience to laugh with you, and you definitely don't have the freedom to force people to praise your work or hire you to work again if your work is bad.  Unfortunately what the people who call for such freedom really want is the freedom to ignore the real problems that their jokes highlight.  They want the freedom to hurt people without consequence, to be venerated regardless of what they do.  That isn't a freedom any reasonable society grants, and it is one that nobody will admit that they want, so they frame it as a freedom of speech thing rather than an entitlement thing.

But it is an entitlement thing.  We all have the freedom to speak our minds in this regard, and to pretend we do not is absurd.  What we don't have is the right to force others to pretend our shit don't stink.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


In the past I have made the mistake of doing things without consulting the internet first.  When first starting dating a few years ago I wandered into a few random sites with a notable lack of success before I finally figured out that "polyamorous internet dating" would return lots of Google hits that all sent me to the right place.  I tried cooking lots of things on my own until I found out that effectively leveraging Google results like "cream of mushroom soup" created way better food than my paltry experience could produce.  A few weeks ago I started an exercise routine that mostly is focused around lifting weights and I thought AHA! I must consult the internet!

Turns out the internet is pretty stupid when it comes to exercise.  There are lots of sites urging me to consult my trainer, which is entirely useless.  If I wanted to pay a person a boatload of money to tell me stuff, I wouldn't be on the internet looking for free advice, now would I?  More specifically, if I *was* paying somebody a ton of money to train me my money demons would lead me to quit training in a hurry, so that isn't of any use.

The advice is also all kinds of contradictory.  Don't exercise too much, you won't gain strength!  Don't exercise too little, you won't gain strength!  Sure, right, but how much is too much?  I know that multiple times a day is too much, and once a week is too little, but some solid advice in the middle would be great.

Unsurprisingly there is also a ton of advertising and special workout routines you are supposed to pay for and all kinds of other nonsense like strength pills and other junk with less plausibility than homeopathy.

Now I am sure if I dig deep enough I can find something useful on the internet.  There must be people out there with concrete advice I could put into action.  Unfortunately it is buried in endless mounds of useless and worse, and sifting through it is tricky because I can't just test what I find.  Unlike dating websites, I can't make an account in thirty minutes and figure out if this is for me.  Unlike recipes I can't average a ton of results and find out an hour later if it tastes good.  Averaging some random advice and then waiting three months to see how much stronger I am is far too slow for my tastes.

So, given that the internet isn't actually able to communicate the truth to me this time, does anyone who is into weight training able to point me to a good resource for developing a basic routine?  Focusing on upper body strength and general health, as those are the two things that interest me at the moment.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Stop reading

Elli has taken to reading late into the night.  She loves fantasy stories, particularly ones where old fairy tales are retold with big twists on familiar characters.  Both of these things are great in a lot of ways, mostly because it is cool when I see her doing the things I used to do.  I remember very well reading in the wee hours, and desperately turning off my light when I heard footsteps thumping up the stairs as my parents came to yell at me to go to sleep already.

And fantasy stories too!  Mashups of fairy tales with modern storylines!  Retellings that take the traditional hero/villain roles and reverse them!  Love it!

But there is a price to be paid.

Just as in the past, the price is bruised looking eyes, grumpy mornings, and exhaustion.  Elli just won't get the amount of sleep her body craves and it is definitely affecting her school performance as well as general likeability.  It is harder to be friendly to someone who snaps at you because they can't cope with the world, especially when you know they could fix that.

It makes me feel all sorts of weird things.  I want to train her to sleep enough to be functional, but I don't want her to stop reading.  I want her to acquire good habits, but I know that parents rarely can do much about this; it is mostly random.  Plus it is hard to say "Don't do all the things I did, you know how badly *that* will go!

So I fuss at her and tell her to put the book down.  I think she should know that I recognize the difficulties her reading is causing her.

But I don't put too much torque on it.  I know that it isn't likely to matter much if I do, and she will be all right in the end.  There are many worse things a kid can do to their long term prospects than be an avid reader.

I wonder if my parents reached the same conclusions with me back in the day when I was reading the Twins series by Weiss and Hickman for the billionth time, and they saw my light on after midnight.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Rules of Engagement

Recently I have seen a bunch of Facebook posts by my friends doxxing Roosh.  Doxxing is the act of publishing home addresses and other identifying information online.  Roosh is also known as Daryush Valizadeh, aka the asshole behind the website Return of Kings which is a site about pickup artist technique, misogyny, and anti feminism.  Roosh is the worst.  He advocates for all kinds of disgusting regressive things including but not limited to not letting women vote, forced gender roles, and outright male supremacy.

But doxxing Roosh isn't the right path here.  I see this as similar to capital punishment, in that it can feel great to see the guilty punished savagely, but we must take care not to become evil in the process.  While the things Roosh has done are much worse than doxxing him, we should not be so quick to punish people in ways we would not tolerate in return.

Many of the people doxxing Roosh have been horrified at the way Gamergate has doxxed or threatened feminists.  But how can we criticize it when we engage in the same behaviour?  Can we in all honesty talk about how we must protect one person from a heinous act while gleefully inflicting the same on another?  I think this is terribly hypocritical and is definitely not the just course.

We can and should talk about how awful and wrong Roosh is.  When he tries to hold meetings we should talk to businesses he associates with and make them see how they should drop him immediately.  If he can be brought to justice for crimes committed, by all means we should pursue that vigorously.  We should, in short, do all the things we can to stem the flow of filth from this man, but we should not stoop to terror tactics and violence, because that is tacitly condoning those tactics as a legitimate way to deal with these disagreements.

Moreover I think that Roosh may even *want* this.  His message consistently tries to portray men as the victims, as the ones being punished by the matriarchy.  Doxxing him and threatening him just furthers this part of his agenda.  He has cancelled events on the basis of threats against him, citing safety concerns, and I think that is actually his plan.  Getting his followers to believe they are being oppressed cements his influence.

Roosh isn't likely to suffer from his address being published.  He cultivates this image of himself being under assault at all times.  But doxxing being a normal thing we do to people we don't like is something that will cause a lot of real suffering among other people.  We need to spread the idea that it isn't okay, at all.

You can't go about saying "Do as I say, not as I do." and expect to change the world for the better.  It is hypocritical, wrong, and, perhaps most tellingly, ineffective.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Material for starting a fire

This week I decided to try out Tinder.  I usually use OKCupid for dating, but since Tinder is The Next Big Thing I figured I should at least figure out what is going on with it.  The general impression I have is that Tinder is a hookup app, mostly there to help people find one off sex partners.  That isn't something I am especially interested in.  If I got randomly propositioned by somebody I was attracted to then I probably wouldn't turn it down, but the idea of slogging through hours of texting and swiping and dates with people I find tedious to get laid once seems not worth it at all.

But in the interest of discovery, I gave it a go anyway.

The two main takeaways I have from my limited experience is that Tinder is heinously buggy and that dating on Tinder is a complete waste for people like me who are only interested in a tiny minority of the population.  The bugs I experienced mostly related to Tinder constantly giving me turtorials and then when I get to using it, reverting back to 'new user experience' and giving me tutorials again.  It also had login problems, constant loading issues, and was otherwise a complete mess.

Tinder is mostly a waste for me because it is built on the idea that people will spend time chatting with one another about inane stuff before actually figuring out if they have anything in common or have a bunch of deal breakers between them.  Notably I am married and polyamorous, so the great majority of Tinder users run screaming when they realize who I am.  I put that up front in my profile of course but it seems that nobody reads profiles; they just swipe based on pictures.  As soon as I match with people though they show up in my match section, and then shortly they disappear again.  I can only assume that they see the match, read my profile, recoil in horror, and then swipe me away.  I only tried to send two messages but in both cases the message recipient vanished from list shortly after.

I suspect my technical difficulties may be related to my sorting difficulties.  Tinder, noticing that I have zero matches, assumes I must be a new user and tries to give me the tutorial again.  It isn't a surprising algorithm but it is super annoying in my particular situation.  I had matches Tinder!  They just went away when they learned the horrible truth!

At any rate it seems like a pretty worthless endeavour.  People who would be interested in dating me are a tiny chunk of the population, mostly because of the polyamory thing, but also because I have plenty of other weird stuff going on.  I don't match well with people because of my strong atheist beliefs, socialist political tendencies, and nerdery.  Tinder works about as well as chatting up totally random strangers at a bar would and holy hell am I not interested in doing that.  My chances of actually finding somebody who would tolerate me are not good and my chances of finding somebody I can tolerate are even worse.

I could presumably not mention my lifestyle, take off my wedding ring, and use Tinder as a way to generate a bunch of one night stands.  Which, to me, sounds remarkably unappealing.  Deception sucks, small talk with randoms sucks, and sex with no connection is just not that exciting.

I think I am far better off using a system that leverages the power of computer sorting algorithms to help me find just the people I want, because that is awesome, rather than a system that emulates chatting up a cute random person at a bar, which is the worst.  Back to OKCupid it is.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Sell those beds

This past weekend Full Throttle and I were talking about my career prospects.  He was surprised that I never became a stock trader since it seemed to him that I would be extremely talented at it.  After all, if I spend my life trying to optimize my way through games why not play the big game and win gigantic sums of money?

I think the answer is similar to why I never ended up being a professional poker player.  In both cases I think I have the raw talent to succeed but I couldn't bring myself to be such a leech.  Neither of those careers brings anything to the world.  Both traders and poker players just move money around, hopefully taking a bunch for themselves, but neither can say that they have ever done anything to improve the world they live in.  They simply use other people's effort for their own gain.

While most people wouldn't consider a mattress salesperson to be bringing a lot to the world, I think doing that job suited me because it was clear that if nobody did it things would be worse.  People need to know how their delivery will work, they need to find a bed that suits them, and they want to be comfortable so they can make a choice that is good for their health.  If I do that job right, I am helping people.

I was making good money doing it, no question, but I don't have qualms about gaming a system to make more money while also being a net positive force.  Both of those things together work really well for me.

It got me thinking about my co-op placements in university; which were an absolute disaster.  I was writing code and I absolutely despised the work.  I got very little done, was miserable, and dropped out after just two terms.  I wonder now if the real problem was not the coding but rather that my efforts seemed completely worthless.  In particular my first coding job was a make work project, since my direct manager cared not at all if I did the work and refused to help me figure out how to tackle the project.  Nobody else in the organization even knew that my job existed.  Why work when it is clear that completing the work will accomplish nothing?

I have this struggle going on between my enjoyment of relatively theoretical, esoteric challenges and my apparent dislike of projects that don't have any concrete benefits.  In one sense I would be happy with a job shovelling dirt from one pile to another because at least the job matters and something concrete gets done.  On the other hand I would be bored silly.

It makes me wonder if this is something influenced by my dual personalities.  Passion wants to be challenged, to do something hard, to think about obscure stuff.  Passion likes competition and would find stock trader or poker player to be glorious professions!  Smash your enemies!  Keep score with giant wads of bills!  Director, on the other hand, would despair that all that is for naught.  He would be sad that nothing is being accomplished, that I might as well not exist.  Director is happy shovelling dirt (so long as the dirt needs to be shovelled) but Passion would be miserable and bored.

Rolling that around in my head a bit makes it seem reasonable as a theory.  It would explain why finding a job was always such a problem for me... not in that I couldn't get a particular job, but that I couldn't figure out what job I would even want if it was offered.  One half of me or the other would be disappointed bitterly by almost any job I got offered.

How do you find a job that works for someone who on one hand is a cross between a bloodthirsty berserker and a mathematician, and on the other hand is a twitchy, anxious nerd, always worried about having done the wrong thing?  It would be easier if I was a mix of all of that, but instead I am either one or the other, but never both at the same time.

I guess being a homemaker kind of works in this way.  Passion loves to play games, and I have time at home to be competitive and get my fix.  Director is perfectly happy with a job that consists of cooking, cleaning, volunteering at school, and parenting because those things have to get done - they fill his need for doing something useful in the world.  It isn't a perfect fit, but it does tick the necessary boxes for me to cope.

The more I think about this the more I am glad that I randomly walked into a job I could live with right out of university.  There are a million alternate lives where I wander from job to job, hating them all, being alternately bored by the work or depressed by the pointlessness of it all.

Better lucky than good, I suppose.