1kBWC: 302-Messenger Robot

Another Paradroid.
This was my favorite 'droid:
really fast, reasonable number of logic gates.

Vast Liberal Conspiracy

I'm giving some thought to "vast political conspiracies". I didn't think they were possible in our "Open Society", until taking a moment to seriously consider Iraq.

Specifically, I wondered: if I were a neocon wingnut hell-bent on making America a Conservative Christian Nation, how would I go about that?

I don't know. I'm not a neocon.

I am a liberal, though. So I asked: if I were hell-bent on making America a heathen, pot-smoking, sodomizing nation of rock and roll, debauchery and recklessness, how would I go about that?

Well. As I recently stated (look back a few post on my blog), I think most conservative beliefs are rooted in not understanding things. Like homosexuality, for example.

So my conspiracy would be to get these people to understand these things. I'd start by sneaking in "nice gay couples" into their preferred media. I'd make bad-guys into homophobic assholes. I'd make funny movies and TV shows where people smoked pot like it were no big deal, and have them be funnier while doing it. I'd create shows and movies where the main characters were--powers preserve us--atheists, and give them amazing powers of deduction that seemed like magic to others, blurring the line between strong faith and good science. I'd unleash skeptic magicians into society. And I'd make damn sure that grocery stores started playing Guns'n'Roses or some-such. I'd pay attention to what kids wanted, then inject whatever media they preferred with hyper-sexuality and open-mindedness.

I'd "take over" by exposing people to the fringe, until the fringe became commonplace.

My point, which I hope is obvious: that's already happening.



Last night, I gave more thought to the discussion on Feminism and the Sex Industry.

I think the argument boils down to people's definition of feminism, and I think this is an interesting way to characterize the distinction:

Most of the people there seem to think of "feminism" in a psychological sense.  One person, and her ability to do what she wants.  This is valid.

I think of feminism in a sociological sense.  That is, a feminist is one person who struggles against society's misogyny.

The former has every right to be a porn star, prostitute, or stripper.  Have at it.

The latter, however, needs to carefully consider what their actions are doing for society's predispositions.

...Interestingly, there's a post by a woman in the porn industry, where I commented on some of this stuff.  She wrote a very interesting article on the subject, from the "psychological" standpoint.  Of course, be prepared to see some nudity if you follow that link (not much, though).  ; )

Taking my Toys and Going Home

This is a "dear diary" style post.  No need to comment.  :)

One of my pet peeves on the internet is when people say their "last words", and storm out of the room (virtual as it may be). "I'll never post here again 'cause you're all stupid fuckwads" kind of thing. It's compounded when the person posts again ten minutes later.  : )

Yet I found myself doing something similar today on Skepchick's Afternoon Inquisition.

I made a faux-pas (comparing a prostitute to a slave), but I did it as part of an analogy.  I got called on it, which was frustrating... but for whatever reason, I'd had enough.  (Another commenter called it a "pig-pile", which is how it felt.)

For the record, I felt unnecessarily vilified for essentially stating an opinion (namely, I don't think women in the porn industry are legitimate feminists). And, for the record, I'm not proud of my mistake (slavery is not at all like prostitution), nor of my little hissy-fit in my last comment:

BAH! I'm angry, now. Bailing on the conversation. Sorry.

The conversation was a trap... but I understand why I was jumped on.  Sexuality is something that, once we've come to grips with "owning" it, is not something we want to subject to scrutiny. It's private.

Still, it's awfully convenient to believe such things are well and good, 'cause then we don't have to have any of the guilt that comes with feeling like we're part of the problem.

However, I get a little disturbed when I'm jumped on for trying to help fix the problem. I can understand defensiveness... I just have trouble appreciating it.

I'll try harder.


The Ultimate Cop Out

I was just thinking about the legalization of marijuana and its relation to a quote by Seth Godin: "It's easy to be against something that you're afraid of. ..and it's easy to be afraid of something that you don't understand."

I wondered if this were one of the reasons we're having so much trouble convincing religious folk that so many personal freedoms are (largely) harmless. Gay marriage, for example.

Religion gives you the ultimate cop-out: you don't need to understand something any further than what's in your religious dogma.

...Thankfully, not everyone stops inquiry at the sodomites intending to rape an angel*...  But it does seem to be common.

* Paying no attention to the fact that Lot tries to avert the rape by offering up his two virgin daughters to be raped instead...

Cost of Data

How much do you think it costs to get one MB of data from Hubble? ...The answer, pessimistically, is about $668.

How much does it cost to send a text message?  About 10 cents.

So if you do the math, data in the form of text messages are over 4 times as costly (to us, the user) as data from Hubble.

By the way, Hubble is out of commission as of last night.  Crap.


What if you knew the rules of American life?

For example, what if you knew that you could be a Millionaire--have anything you want--if you:
  • Acted like an upper-class, white male
  • Went to church
  • Took a job in sales, then sales management, then VP of sales, then president of a company, then chairman of the board?
  • Invested in stocks
  • Voted republican
...Would you do it?

If you answered "yeah, probably", don't you believe those rules are true (for the most part)?  Why aren't you doing it, then?

I believe those rules are (for the most part) true.  I've believed it for a long, long time.

I'm not interested.

This Just In: ...Uhhh... I don't know yet.

No, I don't know what it means, either. But I guess we'll find out on October third.

I should add: it will almost certainly have something to do with one of the world's recent "wars".

Antarctic Weather

I know, I know: too many posts today, I should shut up already. But Bad Astronomy posted this video, and I thought it was cool enough to share.

It's only a minute long. Do it. DO it. DO it:

1kBWC: OMG! Dalek!

...I wanted to see what it was like to draw a Dalek.  I think a Dalek would make a superb main character for a comic strip.

You've been reading too many blogs...

...when you're on your own damn blog, and you click "Refresh" to see if anything new has been posted.


(That said: Oooh!  Now I can refresh!)

Sweden's Financial Crisis

A fellow skeptic points out [here] this neat article about Sweden's financial crisis in the 90s. They survived... by taking very different action:

Sweden did not just bail out its financial institutions by having the government take over the bad debts. It extracted pounds of flesh from bank shareholders before writing checks. Banks had to write down losses and issue warrants to the government.

That strategy held banks responsible and turned the government into an owner. When distressed assets were sold, the profits flowed to taxpayers, and the government was able to recoup more money later by selling its shares in the companies as well.

(...Now could someone stop the NYT from popping up windows whenever I highlight text? Fucking obnoxious.)

1kBWC: Extrapolation from a Point

My Theory: Obama Wins

I think Obama will win the next election.

Put another way: I don't think enough corporations want McCain.

1kBWC: Paranoid Android

...Yeah, I know, silly drawing... I was just listening to the song (by Radiohead), and wondered what a boxy droid would look like with worried eyes, and ended up in Painter. [shrug] So it goes.

update: errmm... the picture disappeared. I just re-uploaded it. Weird.

The Big Five, Part V: Neuoticism

Neuroticism is the tendency to experience negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, or depression. It is sometimes called emotional instability.

I'm generally a happy guy, but it's not all peaches and cream.  I get depressed (meaning: quite "down", for days on end) every now and then... less so of late.  I experience anger more often that I would like to admit, but it happens.  I'm not very anxious, though.

On the whole, I would probably rate myself "average" on this scale, but I don't have a whole lot of data to go on, so I would give it a very large margin of error.  I fear I may be selling myself short.

The Big Five, Part IV: Agreeableness

Agreeableness is a tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others.

Yeah, that's me.  Often to a fault.  I shun conflict, and always have. However, the definition doesn't really carry what questions are asked to elicit agreeableness is psych tests.  For example:
  • I am interested in people.
  • I feel others' emotions.
  • I have a soft heart.
  • I make people feel at ease.
...On these tests, I fail miserably.  So, while I generally think I'm agreeable, that's not really the case.  So I would probably, overall, rate myself average on this one (it would be incorrect to say I was suspicious and antagonistic).

Sometimes I Get Carried Away


The Big Five, Part III: Extroversion!

Extroversion is characterized by positive emotions, surgency, and the tendency to seek out stimulation and the company of others.

Heh.  Yeah: not so much.

The interesting thing is, that, in Myers-Briggs terms, I've learned to "activate" my extroversion.  My default stance is strongly introverted, but when I need to, say, GM, or talk at work, or teach, I can "turn it on" and give a fairly good performance.

However, I once heard a wonderful characterization of Extroverts versus Introverts: E's get their energy from people and spend it when they're alone, and I's get there energy alone, spending it when they're with others.  (Of course, both of them eventually need both states, but still.)

I definitely get my energy from introspection.

I would give myself a moderate negative score in Extroversion.

The Big Five, Part II: Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness is a tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement.

Put another way, conscientiousness is the trait of being painstaking and careful, or the quality of acting according to the dictates of one's conscience.


For me, this is moderately high.  There is a distinct influence on my conscientiousness around others: I am on very good behavior when I'm being watched.  On my own (or with immediate family), far less so.  For example, I don't clean the house as much as I should, but I try.  I eat more than I should, but not to the point where I'm too overweight (I'm 5'11" and weigh 185--I should weigh 154-166). I don't drink, do drugs, or have many other addictions.  I spend a healthy amount of money on myself.  I have focused on my career, and am doing quite well.

For the most part, I listen to my conscience.

Still, this is not one of the first things that comes to mind when I describe myself.  I'd say I'm roughly average.

The Big Five, Part I: Openness

"Openness is a general appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, imagination, curiosity, and variety of experience."

This is a trait often linked with liberalism/conservatism: the more open you are to experiences, the more likely you are to have liberal political leanings.  (As you may recall from the previous TED video I posted.)  In fact, I would (personally) prefer to stop thinking of things in political terms, and start talking about them in terms of personality traits and moral aspects: it seems a better approximation of reality.  And, for whatever reason, I think by using these characterizations would make me less emotionally involved in the topic.  ...which has been a problem for me, of late.

Where do I stand on the scale of Openness?  Well, I'm fairly open to new experiences, though that is often out-weighed by my appreciation of comfort.  For example, I would rarely choose, on my own, to go on a day trip to some new location.  If someone else suggests it, though, I will generally play along and will soon become excited about it.

Furthermore, I am very hard to shock. ...short of sadism.

That said, I must admit my sense of "adventure" is generally limited to fantasy games.  : )  ...I'm not sure what that says: I just see fantasy adventure as a "safe" way of satiating my curiosity.

I score very low on appreciation of emotion. It's just part of who I am: I admire stoicism.

On appreciating every other measure (art, unusual ideas, imagination, curiosity), I think I'm not only "high" on the scale, but probably in the 95th percentile.  Put another way, I think I'm more interested in those things than any other given 20 people.  ...Actually, as I think of it, this may be closer to one in 50.

In more general terms, however, I would say "Openness" is the most dominant part of my personality.  It's certainly the first thing I think of when describing myself.  ...Or at least aspects of it.

Distribution of Primes

Mathematics may be the most "pure" science... but, interestingly, it is completely removed from reality.

Sociologists?  Studying the behavior of groups of real people.
Psychologists?  Study the behavior of real individuals.
Biologists?  Study real living things.
Chemists? Study how real materials interact.
Physics?  Study the mechanics of real things.  ...Well, except black holes and dark energy and the like.  ; )


Show me 1.

You can't!  There's no such thing as 1.  It's just a concept.  Completely abstract.  Beautful?  Sure, if you're into phallic things (I prefer 6, myself).  Useful?  Absoultely.  Real?  Not at all.

Mathematics fascinates me.  It's the ultimate abstraction layer--and I like abstraction.

And the fact that you can get completely lost on some concept like the distribution of primes...  that's cool.  (If you haven't looked into the topic, I highly recommend it.)

But it strikes me as a distraction from reality.  : )

Leaky Thoughts

I just learned about Wikileaks, thanks to the whole Anonymous-hacks-Palin thread on the news.

My thoughts on the matter:

  • I don't think hacking Palin's email account was warranted.
  • I read the emails anyway.
  • The emails were harmless, and shouldn't have been posted. The hack was fruitless; they should have kept quiet.
  • I do think hacking is warranted in some cases*. Specifically, when the hack is intended (and succeeds in) exposing an abuse of power, such as Anonymous's hacks against the church. If the fishing expedition doesn't clearly reveal abuse of some kind, it should be immediately tossed and never mentioned again: people's (and even corps') right to their privacy then immediately trumps our right to investigate corruption**.
  • I do support whistle-blowing. Strongly. So I like the idea of this site, even if it's difficult to substantiate many of its claims.

...As an aside, I really like the new version of Blogger, when it comes to embedding images and videos. Much improved.

* Proving my "moral landscape" is devoid of the "deference to authority" trait, heh.

** I don't mean to make this sound so cut-and-dry. For example, who has the right to decide when we have the right to investigate? Who decides when evidence is "clear"? It's grey. I'm just sayin'.

"For" or "Against"

I wrote this to a friend (in email) this morning:

Why is it that we so vehemently oppose people's opinions when they don't match our own?  How does R.A.W. do it: accepting everyone's belief systems and just enjoying the diversity?
Interestingly, this afternoon, the following video was posted on TED, talking about the biological source of morality.

...I vaguely remember posting about a Stephen Pinker article on this subject, but clearly, that lesson was lost on me.

This was quite timely.

Microwave Popcorn

...I have been snacking too much.

In an attempt to make this happen less (and be more healthy when it happens), I have picked up two new habits.  One is chewing gum.  The other is (light) popcorn.

While making the popcorn today, I wondered: why can't my microwave listen to the popping and just stop when the interval slows to the optimal level?

I imagine detecting each pop is a mechanically trivial task, and timing it shouldn't be much harder.  Of course, there would still be a timer as a fall-back, but... c'mon, why do I have to stick around and listen to my popcorn anymore?  That's so low-tech!

Define "Geek"!

This is the most succinct definition I can come up with for the word "geek" (in the modern sense, not the chicken-biter sense):

Geek: n. A person who studies s/t. in their free time.

...Got a better version?

1kBWC: Alien on a Tractor


Video from the Ocean Floor

Quite old (over ten years), but still quite cool, this is a video of deep-sea vents and the life around them.

Note to Shelf: Music, Language, Zipping

Some time ago, it was discovered that looking at the dictionary of the ZIP algorithm applied to literature could identify its source language. (I can't find the link, too many zipped binary packages about languages.)

I wonder if you can identify authorship using zip dictionaries.

I also wonder what you can identify by zip-dictionary-analysis of music.  Genre?  Performer? Composer?

Politics Again

...This morning, I asked myself, "how close have presidential elections been, historically?" (...I also wondered what Gandhi would have to say about Iraq (or, probably more importantly, North Korea).  But that's speculation, and for another post.)

That is, I was wondering if there were ever a clear leader.  A bona-fide "mandate" from the people.  (I'm talking popular vote, not electoral college bullshit.) 60% would be noteworthy, but wouldn't even override a bill in the Senate.  It's not a significant enough majority.  I'd give it to 2/3rds.  But what I really wanted to see was 75%.

So I decided to go look. ...Nothing breaks the 60% mark after Nixon, where 60.67% went to his re-election. 61.05% to Johnson in '64 (and 90% of the electoral vote, WTF?), and 60.8% to FDR in '36.

It turns out that the most recent clear, overwhelming majority (in fact, the only one to beat the 61% record) was 98.3% to James Monroe in 1820.

While these data are circumstantial, I think something is fucked up.  There seems to be something about our system that is biased toward a roughly even divide of the country.

Frankly, it smells of bullshit to me.

1kBWC: Rolfe: Conspiracy Theorist

1kBWC: Gnomish Businesscard

Spore: Fail!

Some time ago, I decided I would buy two games this year: Spore and The Force Unleashed.

Well, Spore was just released, so I thought I'd go spend the $50 to download it directly from EA.

I did.

...Then I realized: the WINDOWS version has been released. Ooops.

Okay, no big, I'll just email tech support and ask them to cancel the order.

I did.

....Then they tell me to go to their website to track the issue. I go, and find that, even though the menu on the left says I have one issue, it doesn't show up when I click on it. Nothing, nada. Full of void. ...full of fail.

I notice a handy link at the bottom-left where I can "rate this website!" ...I think that might help. So I click on it...

[sigh] I'm not having the best week.

Why I Love My Wife

Me: Did you like those comics I emailed you?

Wife: Sure.

Me: You know, over the past three days, I've read every single comic he's posted. They're quite charming, in a geeky, over-sexed way. And of course the dude is, like, 23 years old, which made me feel completely unaccomplished.

Wife: He's an internet comic.

Me: I wouldn't have minded being an internet comic!

Wife: It's not that big of a commitment. He only draws stick figures.

Me: Well. He doesn't only draw stick figures. ...Though that does seem to be his shtick.

Wife: [blink blink]

Please tell me you did not just say that.


The internet is an amazing thing.

A fucking monstrosity. An aberration of human sociology. A window to the most demented aspects of the human condition, to the darkest facets of our diversity.

But amazing.

How is it that, at the same time, I want to make better use of it AND want nothing to do with it?

I suppose the core lesson I've learned via the internet in the past week has been this:

I have strong opinions that have formed from my experiences and predispositions. When I'm faced with horrible truth that very few people share those opinions, I feel lost. These are not trivialities that I can choose to stop believing in, for the sake of better "connecting" to other people, and yet I feel remarkable loss every single time I hear someone say I'm wrong.

The only fact that keeps me going is that the internet is real. That is, whatever happens on the internet is something that actually happens. There's no denying it: only accepting it.

It's just not always easy to accept.

'Whom' Released

My latest album was finally released today.


I watched most of Trick or Treat, season 2 last night. (Not the finalé.)

One of the things Derren Brown accomplished was a teaching some guy techniques for memorization, "speed-reading*" and information recall.

After a week, he entered the guy in a pub-trivia contest. He came in second. (Well: there was a tie for first, so technically he had the third best score). ...This was out of a group of, if I recall, 34.

Mind you, the other episodes were awesome as well ("remembering the past (1940)" and "predicting the future"--which was quite cool because he did it with Dr. Who; forcing a girl to kill a kitten; turning a wimp into a hero; and tying up a girl, putting her in a bag, and dumping her in a lake: she escapes on her own, using skills** he teaches her). But it was the trivia episode that struck me hardest. I actually lost some sleep this morning thinking about it. : )

I've read his book. I know his memorization techniques. ...But he didn't really talk about this level of stuff. The guy he used for this wasn't "reading" and had no conscious idea of what he had accomplished. For all he knew, he was simply "looking at the pages" of several thousand (!!) books. But when anyone asked him a question from the books (how many species of hummingbirds are there in the Amazon rainforest?), he would just squint for a few seconds, make a guess without knowing why he made it (316), and get it right. Almost all the time!

Brown makes the point that this is only useful in the very-short term (the guy was looking at the books for a week, then immediately did his pub-trivia thing)... but even still, the very idea that this is possible excites me.

Part of me is embarrassed to write about this. It's very difficult to believe. This is the stuff that skeptics like to point to and say "totally fake". ...And Brown was certainly leaving out a lot of his techniques. But it really does seem to me that he took a guy who claimed to have a bad memory, had him look at books for a week while learning some techniques for recall, and made him come out of it with enough information to be in the top 10% of a tough-looking pup trivia.

Mind you: I don't want to learn trivia.

But I sure would like to learn programming languages, real languages, art and role-playing. ...And I wonder what further mnemonic techniques I could pick up to help those pursuits.

And just in case it wasn't clear: Derren Brown is totally my hero. : )

* Technically, he wasn't reading. Just looking.
** Holding her breath for over 1:30, untying knots, and escaping from a bag (she had the key in the bag)... oh, and endurance training (marine corps stuff) and puzzle-solving in general.

Flame On!

The background:

  1. My wife is a feminist.
  2. I hate comments. I mean, I hate flame-wars in comments... and more often than not, that's what happens in comments. So, I tend to just ignore them entirely.
  3. Except here, of course. ; )
  4. As I have stated before, I consider the abuse of power the "ultimate evil".
  5. I love questions. Particularly questions that make one introspect.
Apparently, my love of good questions out-weighs my hatred of comments. Recently, I have taken to participating in the Skeptics "inquisition of the day", where they ask a question of the skeptical community. One of the questions was... let's just say... biased. Despite that, and knowing full well that it would lead to flaming, I was in the habit of replying, so I did.

And then I got sucked in. To a flame-war, I mean. Specifically, about libertarianism and liberalism. I have learned several things from this:
  1. I was goaded into it by the "safe" environment--more people held my point of view.
  2. I don't know that much about supporting evidence for libertarianism.
  3. The root cause of my distaste of libertarianism is fear that it facilitates the abuse of power.
  4. I feel dirty.
It's been an interesting few days. Eeesh.

I'm done there. If you feel I made a complete ass of myself, feel free to comment here. Unless you're Shanek, in which case you should feel free to piss off.

UPDATE: I mean, I'm done with the politics there. I'm continuing to argue against prejudice, but I'm being very careful to comment on that and not libertarianism...

Language Learning

So, a "friend" of mine mentioned Michel Thomas, a late Frenchman who was a translator and interrogator during WWII, and developed a "remarkable" foreign-language learning system.

I decided to give him a try: I would really like to brush up on my German. So I picked up his course, and, ten minutes in, he's already said something that clicked with me.

The word for "would you like" in Germans is "wollen", and he pointed out that this word found its way into English as "volition". That is to say, "an act of making a choice or decision".


Maybe I can finally learn to speak this damn language!