Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Poly correlations

I noticed something odd recently about the people I met last summer.  When I went to the World Boardgaming Championships in July I met a ton of new and interesting people and ended up being Facebook friends with 9 of them.  Over the past year I have seen their posts on Facebook and discovered that 3 of the 9 are openly polyamorous.  This is a surprisingly large number because only 5% or less of the population identifies this way and a great many of those are closeted and wouldn't discuss their relationships on Facebook for fear of retribution.  Also some of the 6 rarely post to FB so I have little information and I haven't asked anyone directly about it.

I had a vague suspicion that one of the 3 poly people was poly at the time, but it was nothing more than a suspicion.  The other two were a complete surprise - not that they did anything to suggest otherwise, but rather I received no information at all.  I don't think this is a case of me having some sort of poly radar.

It makes me wonder about the correlations between various character traits.  It makes lots of sense that the people I would like at a convention would have similar political leanings, we clearly have the same hobby, and I might also share values on things like religion.  What I don't know is how much these other things correlate to being polyamorous.  Are political lefties more likely to be poly?  I would suspect so since left wing parties would tend to be a lot more accepting of their lifestyle but I certainly can't offer convincing proof of that.  Left wing politics and polyamory are also both correlated to higher education, and I tend to like talking to people who have been in school forever, so that could be a factor also.

I would also expect a correlation with atheism or agnosticism because religions tend to push traditional family structures.  Not all of them do, and not everywhere, but there is a trend for sure.  People who refuse to listen to authority seem more likely to independently reject religious orthodoxy and mononormativity too.

Before I came out as poly I thought that there were hardly any polyamorous folks around.  Now I know so many!  I wonder how much of that is tapping into new parts of the web of humanity that lean that way, and how much is an actual shift in the number of people being poly and being open about it.  The news is constantly putting out new articles about polyamory so people are more aware, and acceptance is increasing.  Clearly both of those things are changing my social network, but I honestly have no idea how much of the changes I see I can attribute to each.

I don't develop an instant liking for anyone who is poly, that much is certain.  I joined a bunch of Facebook groups over the past few months centered around polyamory and I left the great majority of them while clutching my ears and moaning "No, not like this."  The only groups I stayed in were ones that were built around my social web, so I certainly gravitate towards people that share my values more generally.

Of course I must end with the note that this could quite easily just be entirely random.  The sample size is obviously quite tiny so I can't draw sweeping conclusions.

Also if you happen to be a person I met at WBC and you are polyamorous feel free to send me a message because I am curious if there is more to this trend than I know!  (I won't discuss names publicly, obviously, unless you want me to.)

Monday, June 19, 2017

An unnecessarily happy ending

I saw the movie Chappie this weekend.  It was a bad movie that managed to entertain me despite its badness.  Throughout most of the movie I would have deemed it quite fun indeed, but unfortunately the ending really fell to bits.

Chappie is about a robot called Chappie in the near future who acquires self awareness and begins to rapidly learn, growing up from unable to speak or understand anything to functioning roughly like a teenager within about 5 days.  Chappie is involved with criminals and desperately violent makers of war robots so there is some action involved too.

A lot of the time when people try to write science fiction movies I end up being really disappointed by them.  I don't mind preposterous assumptions as long as the movie makes those assumptions clear and then writes a good story that makes sense afterwards.  Chappie was normal in that regard because the way that Chappie acquires consciousness is unrealistic and the rate at which Chappie learns is ridiculous.  However, the story of a robot growing up and trying to cope with the terrible conditions it finds itself in worked for me.

The problem is that the movie should have ended tragically.  Chappie and most of the humans surrounding it should have perished.  There was only one reasonably sympathetic character in the movie to my mind and it still made sense for him to die the way the story played out.  However, that doesn't happen.  The plot instead calls for Chappie to personally discover the secret of completely learning, digitizing, and transferring consciousness from body to body, including from human to robot.  This way instead of everyone dying in a savage battle most of the main characters get to have stupid and unsatisfying resurrection scenes at the end of the movie.

I can cope with resurrection scenes, but when you just randomly tack them on to the end of a movie it cheapens everything that went before it.  A character's heroic death suddenly isn't much of a thing when the writers randomly and without foreshadowing simply bring them back to life.

There is also the problem with the visuals.  A lot of the scenes in the movie involve using computers and mostly they manage to make it look reasonable.  Some hacker movies can't stop themselves from having the hackers manipulating giant 3D constructs when 'writing code' and Chappie at least avoided that... until the consciousness mapping part.

Apparently you can look at a digitized consciousness as an animated image, and it looks like a pixellated random colour map on a computer screen.

I know you want the characters and audience to see *something* when the main character suddenly acquires the ability to replicate human and robot consciousness, but having it randomly be a splatter of colours with a constant shimmy to it just makes me cringe.

The movie could have been so much better if either the foolish and unnecessary consciousness mapping was removed or if it just didn't work and all the characters died in the end.  A tragedy would have been infinitely better than the Deus Ex Machina (seriously!) mess that comprised the denouement of Chappie.

It is just sloppy.  Tell me what bullshit I have to believe for the story to work, then write a good story.  Don't get halfway through and then decide to make up a bunch of new bullshit to desperately scavenge an acceptably happy ending out of a story that shouldn't be that way.  The best science fiction explores what happens in a world with a twist, it doesn't keep adding twists until the story can be turned into pablum for the masses.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How to be sad

Two weeks ago I wrote about a youtube video describing techniques to make yourself sad.  It contained 7 guidelines to making sure you stay as depressed and down as possible.  It was a refreshing change from happiness tips, because you can easily see what to do to reverse the advice and it added a little bit of humour on top.

I am reading the book How To Be Miserable:  40 Strategies You Already Use.  It is much the same sort of thing, just more thorough.  Since 40 is greater than 7, you know.

The book covers a wide range of things you can do to make yourself unhappy.  It starts off with the most obvious and powerful one - exercise.  Don't get any!  That is extremely effective at staying miserable.

It moves on through a variety of techniques from making sure to compare yourself to the most skilled person in the world at any given thing, setting your goals to be vague, amorphous, pie in the sky, irrelevant, and delayed, to maximizing your screen time.

You will also learn how to have exacting standards for the people you will associate with, especially if those standards are written down and specific enough that you won't find anyone who will meet them all.  If you do meet anyone, the book will tell you how to make everything you do with them into a pointless contest with defined winners and losers.

For example, the book directs you to "Dwell on how wonderful that old bohemian apartment of yours was - or that relationship, that job, that city, that sparkling halcyon time in your life - and remind yourself that it is now over.  You have lost it forever."

How To Be Miserable is written by a psychologist who specialises in treating things like depression and it clearly comes from a place of experience.  The author says (and I agree) that it isn't meant to be a cureall for someone with serious mental health issues, but it could be a useful gentle reminder for people to make the changes that they know they need but have forgotten about, or perhaps let people see their own behaviour and realize that perhaps it isn't the right way to live.

The book is a quick read and has enough humour in it that even if you don't get much out of it in terms of fixing your life you will likely enjoy it just on its own merits.  However, I think that even if you don't actually use the advice within, it will give you some moments of clarity where you recognize yourself in this book of truly terrible advice.

Most books are worth reading once and then are fine to return to the library.  This book is different though.  I think it warrants a place on all kinds of bookshelves where it can be found and quickly read through every few years.  Even people who are aware of how they might make themselves happier can use a reminder every so often and this seems like a fine way to get it.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Showdown at the playground

This past Saturday I helped run the Fun Fair for Elli's school.  I was the volunteer coordinator, which means I was the one panicking when half of my volunteers either didn't show or showed up late.

On a related note, damn teenagers.  I had eight of them signed up to help for the whole day to get their volunteer hours to graduate high school.  They all confirmed they would be there from 8 until 2.  Now, being the realistic person that I am, I assumed they would be late.  An hour late, say.  At 8:30 the first teenager rolled in, a couple more arrived at 10:30, and several didn't get there until 12:30.  Then they acted like nothing was wrong, and said "Oh... but I didn't know when it started....."

Yes.  You did.  Because I got you to confirm specifically that you were going to be there from 8 until 2.  I have it in writing!  ARGHERKHGH.

Anyway, despite teenagers being incredibly unreliable we got great weather and had enough people to make the thing work and overall it was a successful endeavour.  The children got to spend a ton of time standing in lines in the hot sun for bouncy castles and fair food, and for some reason they liked this.

All that stuff was predictable.  Obviously scheduling volunteers for an event like this will be a disaster, and obviously teenagers will sleep in and be unreliable.

What surprised me is how close I got to getting in a fistfight.

Fistfights, for the record, are not usually a feature of elementary school Fun Fairs.  Although if they were we could rope them off and probably bring in a lot more people... <scribbles notes furiously>

During the Fair one of the people running the bouncy castles for us who worked for the bouncy castle company came up to me and asked for my help.  He was scared, he said, because one of the people at the Fair was getting aggressive and shouting at him.  He wanted me to help.

I wandered over to the man he pointed to, and instantly I realized that the man was kind of drunk.  Drunk Guy looked at me in a way that made it clear he knew I was there to fuss at him and he was immediately defensive.  He was sitting down so I crouched down to talk to him in the hopes of keeping him calm, but Drunk Guy quickly stood up and launched into a tirade about how terrible the bouncy castle person was.  The basic story came out that children were trying to leap over the edge of the bouncy castle, the employee told them to stop, and the Drunk Guy was angry about this.  He demanded of the bouncy castle person "Do you work here?" which is actually kind of a tricky question in this circumstance, and the bouncy castle worker walked away, which enraged Drunk Guy.

Drunk Guy then proceeded to yell at me about how terrible it was that someone walked away from him.  He yelled it at me several times to make sure that I knew that it was terrible.  He was obviously worried about being kicked out and had nothing useful to say in his defence.  He got really agitated and started demanding that I agree with him that the bouncy castle person was way out of line.

I wasn't at all sure what to do.  Obviously Drunk Guy was being a shithead and it was all his fault, but it wasn't clear to me how I should handle the situation.  Should I tell him he had to leave?  Would that result in him taking a swing at me?  Should I yell at him and hope to intimidate him into shutting up and leaving?

In this sort of situation size and intimidation are key pieces of information.  Drunk Guy was close to a foot shorter than me and lightly built, so barring him having combat training I rate to be able to toss him out physically without any trouble.  But obviously I don't want to actually fight anyone if I don't have to.  Being that much bigger than another man in a showdown tends to make them defensive and keyed up, but it does mean that they are afraid of actually throwing a punch.

I decided to do what I normally do in this sort of situation, which is to just stand there and listen but adamantly refuse to get excited or angry.  I let him spew his nonsense at me for awhile until he had repeated it all a couple of times and I never really engaged with it.  Eventually my refusal to escalate at all seemed to wear him out and he stopped telling his story and demanded to know if I was going to kick him out.  I hadn't even had a chance to answer that when he said "Hah, I knew you couldn't kick me out!" and turned and wandered away from me.

Something deep inside me *really* wanted to yell "Buddy, not only do I have the authority to kick you out, but if you don't do as I say I will toss your ass over the fence myself!"

But that probably isn't a good idea.  Deeply satisfying in the moment, makes a good story to tell the grandkids, but not a good idea nonetheless.

So I just stood there and watched him wander off.  I kept a really close eye on him for quite awhile, figuring that if he gave anybody any more trouble I would have to make a scene, but Drunk Guy seemed determined to behave himself after that.

I think what happened was he realized that he was in a terrible bind.  If he escalated the conflict with me he stood to 1.  Look like an asshole in front of hundreds of people.  2.  Lose a fight.  3.  Get arrested.  But he desperately didn't want to back down and apologize, so he settled for pretending that he won the argument.

Everybody knows that when you are in a staredown with someone as part of a yelling argument and you mumble quietly about how you won and walk away while the other guy glares at you... you lost.  But by fussing about how I couldn't kick him out anyway he clasped his tattered dignity to his chest and got out of there.  Shortly thereafter he left the Fair, so the problem went away on its own.

I am glad it was me that had to deal with that.  All the other people running the event were women of much more moderate size than me and I don't know what he would have done if they had shown up to chastise him.  It might have gone better potentially as maybe he got more aggressive because I am a man, but he might well have decided that he could just trample all over them and/or threaten them.  I am quite sure that I was the one who would be least upset about that sort of confrontation, in large part because of the lack of fear of what would happen if he decided to get physical, so I am glad I was there and that I was the one who got the call to deal with it.

I do wish I knew if I dealt with it correctly.  Hell, I don't even know if me going over to him at all was productive.  I know that I don't want to let people be assholes like that, especially because of the possibility that this had a racial bigotry element to it.  (The Bouncy castle worker was a person of colour, and Drunk Guy was white.)  However, it might well be that me going over to him was really what got him wound up, and I escalated just by being there.

My suspicion is that an intimidating stare combined with the stubborn refusal to get angry or excited was the right way to handle the situation, but again I don't know.  Sometimes people really want other people to share their emotions and they get angry when that doesn't happen.

Delivering a lecture on his drunkenness, his entitlement, or his aggressiveness would have been satisfying, but probably counterproductive.  And yet I really want him to understand why he fucked up... though likely that is impossible in the state he was in.

I can say for sure though that I am glad for the training I got in sales surrounding these situations.  The more times you have to practice coping with someone who is frothing mad while maintaining professionalism the easier it gets and the less scary it is.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The 4 hour bullshit

I got The 4 Hour Body, a book about how to make yourself superhuman by using all kinds of tricks.  It is written by Tim Ferriss, who got famous primarily by writing The 4 Hour Workweek, a book about how to make lots of money only working 4 hours a week.

I am not going to link it or show the cover because I do not want you to buy or read this book.

There are things in The 4 Hour Body that are true, and other things that are good.  The book is aimed at straight men, and part of the 'be amazing at sex' section is a bunch of stuff about how to focus on women's pleasure during sex, and even a bunch of stuff on performing clitoral massage without the masseuse involved having any sort of stimulation at all.  Convincing straight men to think about this stuff is good!  I like it.

But much of the rest of the 'be amazing at sex' section is rubbish.  It follows the pattern of the rest of the book, which is that Ferriss talks about how you can do magical things just by taking some supplements or eating a particular food.  Become irresistible sexually!  Heal like Wolverine!  Pack on muscle in ways that are literally impossible without sewing meat onto your body!  A pack of lies and nonsense packaged in a pseudoscientific shell is most of the book, complete with links to help you purchase the products he recommends.

On the other hand Ferriss does provide a really useful critique of many of the issues with mainstream science publishing including issues with methodology that you should watch out for.  This stuff is actually totally reasonable and there is a lot of information on how exactly experiments and data can be twisted to show things that aren't really there.  This is useful information and surprisingly better written and informed than I expected.

But then he concludes that instead of actual science you should trust his personal experiments where he randomly does stuff to himself and then draws broad conclusions from that single data point.  The fact that 'I did a bunch of weird stuff all at once and saw changes anecdotally so my hypothesis must be true!' is far *worse* than the other crimes of science that he talks about seems to have escaped him.

You can find useful things in the book if you are hunting for them.  He talks about vitamin D, and I realized that I often don't get much sunlight.  I have since been spending time reading in the sun on my balcony regularly and that seems like it will be enjoyable, even if it has no effect on my health.

But then he goes and talks about how you can put on 34 pounds of lean muscle in 28 days with only 4 hours spent in the gym.  Just eat this handful of supplements and get HUGE INSTANTLY.

Hint:  If people could put on 34 pounds of muscle in a month by eating random supplements half of the population would already be doing it.  You can't, they don't, it is bullshit.

Honestly what it comes down to is Ferriss is selling a pipe dream.  People want instant answers, effortless gains, magic pills.  He tells them that they can become magicians, if only they follow the proper incantations and rituals he has written down.  He forgot to include eye of newt and feathers of a cockatrice but other than that he might as well have been selling spells from Dungeons and Dragons for all the good it will do anyone.

It bothers me.  I get why people want answers, and they want to believe that there is hope.  After traditional methods have failed, surely it is good to believe that there is some way forward, a hidden path to utopia that has been so far overlooked?

Maybe there is, but Ferriss isn't the one who is going to find it.

If you want to find the things that Ferriss does well there are other books that will give you the same information without the hype and the snake oil pitch.  Go out there and find them.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


I have been eating protein powder for a month or two now and it is kind of a silly routine.  I get my morning glass of juice, dump a ton of white powder into it, stir it up as best I can, and chug it down.  I often get chunks of powder about the size of a M&M in the juice so it certainly can't be said that it goes down smooth.  After I empty the glass there is inevitably some powder left on the inside of the glass so I refill the glass with water to try to get it completely clean.  After all, I paid for that damn powder, I am not going to waste it!

The water never works perfectly.  I end up with a glass with a bunch of gray protein sludge slimed around the inside of it and I just scoop up the sludge with my finger and gulp it down.  What could be better than gray slime with the occasional chunk of crunchy powder left in it?

This does not bother me.  I seem to have been born with a lack of appreciation for texture in food.  Most people place a great deal of importance on mouth feel and how things tickle their tongues, whereas I would generally be perfectly content to grind my entire dinner up in a blender and shovel it all in with a spoon.  More efficient that way!

I can tell what the textures are.  My nerves work fine.  I just don't *care*.

Yesterday I watched a youtube video about weightlifting which was talking about rookie mistakes that wannabe bodybuilders make.  One of the big ones was protein powder.  The guy making the video laughed about how when he first tried protein powder he put it in his orange juice!  How absurd!  How foolish!  What a noob!  The commenters agreed, and they shared a great laugh at how silly a person must be to do such a thing.

And this was my drink this morning.  I wasn't even using orange juice, which at least can dissolve things marginally well.  Oh no, I was trying to dissolve powder into V8.  I mean, not trying exactly, since I know for damn sure that it won't work.  V8 doesn't dissolve much of anything.  Mostly I was just trying to find something better than straight up shovelling powder into my mouth with a spoon.  Because that, it turns out, is actually a problem.

Apparently everyone else eventually figures out that you need a ton of material to dissolve your protein powder into, and a blender to smash it all into an enormous shake.

Screw that!  Washing a blender every damn day?  Never gonna happen.

I am going to keep on leveraging my extreme lack of food texture reaction and shoving that sludge into me through my morning drink, even if it does mean that I remain forever a noob and have to face the internet mocking me with 'bro, do you even lift?' meme pictures.