Words I have apparently been saying wrong all these years?
"Necromancer" is pronounced "Neck"-cromancer? I've been saying "Knee"-cromancer.
"Chimera" is pronounced "Kai"-mera? I've been saying "Chee"-mera.
"Behemoth" is pronounced Be-"hee"-moth? I've been saying Be-"hem"-oth.
I play enough nerdy fantasy games that I use these words regularly. How embarassing!
Obviously I've heard the other pronounciations before, but I thought they were just alternate correct pronounciations, like "coo"-pon / "Q"-pon or nuc-"le-ar" / nuc-"you-lar".
Today is the day I've got two job interviews scheduled, with one company in the morning and another in the afternoon, so of course last night is the night my brain decides it's not going to let me sleep at all. It seems like this has been happening at least once a week lately, sometimes more. Other nights I've been nervous or agitated or freaking out about some disaster scenario, or my brain is caught in a tight spinning loop and can't quiet down, but last night wasn't any of those. Last night my brain was just "Sleep? What is that?".
Stupid brain. Grrr.
Minecraft clock tower
It's been a while since I blogged about Minecraft, but me and Aleksa have been playing together almost every Sunday morning. It's a great way to keep in touch. We've built some pretty cool stuff and had some great adventures.
I'm currently running a creative mode server which was set to flat terrain, maximum NPC villages. So it's a mega-city world, like Trantor or Coruscant or something. Aleksa and her friends have built rocket launch pads, pet stores, banks, fancy Frank LLoyd Wright houses, rollercoasters and waterslides, deadly obstacle courses, and all sorts of other cool stuff.
Here's my latest contribution. I wanted to make a clock or a windmill or something but I was frustrated there's no way to make a rotating object.
Then I realized I could fake it by having pistons behind the clock face push out blocks to simulate a "hand" being at different positions.
This clock currently advances one "hour" (out of eight) each time you press the button. The plan is to use a very slow pulse generator to make it fully automatic and synced with the Minecraft day/night cycle.
Let's take a look around back!
To build the control system, I had to get deeper into redstone than ever before. It was a pretty fun challenge figuring out how to duplicate digital logic and fit everything in without getting wires crossed.
I used different colors of wool blocks for each part of the circuit to avoid confusing myself.
There's a cycle of eight flip-flops (purple), one for each clock hand position. Each flip-flop, when activated, turns off (yellow) the flip-flop preceding it in the cycle. It also turns off one input of the NAND gate (orange) which waits for the pulse signal (green) to turn off the other input; the NAND gate activates the forward channel (blue) to activate the next flip-flop in the cycle.
The black wires carry the signal from each flip-flop to its corresponding piston array, so if the flip-flop is on, that hand position gets pushed out of the clock face.
Redstone is fun!
I just had my first session with a psychotherapist about my depression.
For years I've been like "Yeah I'm depressed but I'm not like, clinically FOR REAL depressed, it's just thatlife is meaningless and I'm a terrible person and everything sucks and we're all gonna die. And you know that voice in your head that recites everything you've ever done wrong and how you're a worthless fuck-up who's wasted your life? I couldn't sleep last night because that voice was going ALL NIGHT. But no, therapy is for people who have REAL depression, if I see a therapist they'll just say I'm making it up and laugh at me."
And I'm not depressed ALL the time. Some days I'm pretty happy, like days when I see friends and play taiko and focus on the here-and-now. It's just when I try to think about the future (my own or the world's) that I get into a Doom Spiral of negative thinking.
But after three different people independently told me, within a week of each other, that I really needed to go see somebody about my depression, I took that as sufficient independent corroboration and I made an appointment.
One thing we talked about was how most important things I want to do involve reaching out to somebody -- writing job applications, school applications, looking for project collaborators, maintaining or renewing social contacts after I move away or change jobs or otherwise leave a group, etc. And I get super, super anxious when I'm trying to make that phone call or write that email, because I'm, I dunno, afraid of rejection or something, and I procastinate about it for hours or days.
And while I'm procrastinating I'll start reading news links on the internet, right? Cuz they're right there, and cuz I should stay informed about what's happening, right? But I tend to be attracted to reading very negative news. Basically I have carefully curated the news feeds I follow so they're all about human rights violations, creeping loss of civil liberties, war in the middle east, environmental disasters, injustice, man's inhumanity to man, all the many ways our civilization can destroy itself, and other assorted doom and gloom. So I sit down to write a job application and before I know it I'm reading about the melting polar ice caps and the rate of species extinction and peak oil and how many civilians our drone strikes have killed in Pakistan and that we're force-feeding prisoners in Guantanamo and racist stop-and-frisk searches in NYC and how Google Glass is going to lead to a totalitarian surveillance state and oh my god have you seen what the Turkish government has been doing to peaceful protestors?
The therapist proscribed me a week of Not Reading Internet News. I think this is probably a Good Idea.
I'll still blog here but no more depressing news links for a while. I'll still answer email. And I still have to use parts of the internet for job searching, reference for projects, etc. But cold turkey on Twitter, Tumblr, Hacker News, Daily Dish, the Atlantic, Wired, 538, the ACLU blog, etc. etc.
Podcast 5: Bishonen Star Trek 2 Starring Headcrusher Cumberbatch (MEGA SPOILERS)
Do not listen to this podcast unless you've already seen the movie or you don't care about MEGA SPOILERS!
0:40 - A certain older Star Trek movie that Sushu's never seen
2:15 - Kirk Punches Everything!
3:40 - My relationship with Star Trek is complicated
4:30 - The action scenes were very fun... but utterly fluffy
7:00 - Desperately searching for a theme
9:00 - Kirk hasn't learned to be responsible! He hasn't learned shit!
9:40 - The in-medias-res opening sequence
10:30 - There are no consequences for Kirk's actions
11:40 - Violence solves everything
12:30 - Kirk-Spock is my OTP
13:45 - Star Trek captains represent changes in our ideal of heroic masculinity over the decades
15:15 - How is this guy fit to be a captain?
16:15 - Spock's inconsistent characterization (despite the actor being awesome)
19:00 - Sacrificing character integrity for plot points
20:15 - The BIG REVEAL! Playing with expectations from older movie
21:30 - I attempt to summarize the older movie for Sushu's benefit
24:30 - How did that surprise twist work for you?
26:45 - I wish they'd have followed through with that ending
27:35 - Comparing the villains
28:30 - All the threats that don't materialize; stuff that's only there as winks to the fandom
30:00 - Uhura and the Klingons
31:30 - Despite my complaints, I actually did enjoy this while I was watching it
32:40 - The admiral's daughter - why was she in this movie?
34:15 - Photon Torpedos are a Big Deal
35:00 - The Admiral's Plan Makes No Sense
37:50 - Cumberbatch's Plan Makes No Sense Either
40:45 - Nobody's Plan Makes Any Sense!
41:15 - The difficulty of satisfying the fandom without being incomprehensible to the casual audience; the weight of Canon
When I saw a link on hacker news called How I Stopped Eating Food, at first I thought it had to be a joke. Some kind of stealth parody of weird San Francisco lifestyle fads.
I hypothesized that the body doesn't need food itself, merely the chemicals and elements it contains. So, I resolved to embark on an experiment. What if I consumed only the raw ingredients the body uses for energy? Would I be healthier or do we need all the other stuff that's in traditional food? If it does work, what would it feel like to have a perfectly balanced diet? I just want to be in good health and spend as little time and money on food as possible.
I haven't eaten a bite of food in 30 days, and it's changed my life.
So the guy measures out the recommended allowance of all his nutrient needs in powder form, mixes it with water to make a gross beige-colored sludge, and...
It was delicious! I felt like I'd just had the best breakfast of my life. It tasted like a sweet, succulent, hearty meal in a glass, which is what it is, I suppose. I immediately felt full, yet energized, and started my day. Several hours later I got hungry again. I quickly downed another glass and immediately felt relief. The next day I made another batch and felt even better. My energy level had skyrocketed at this point, I felt like a kid again.
Surely this story is going to get to the punchline soon.
But on day 3 I noticed my heart was racing and my energy level was suddenly dropping. Hemoglobin! I think, my heart is having trouble getting enough oxygen to all my organs. I check my formula and realize iron is completely absent. I quickly purchase an iron supplement and add it to the mixture the next day. I have to be more careful not to leave anything out.
Perhaps this is a morality tale about how these Silicon valley wunderkinds always think that, since they're good at computers, they're automatically good at everything else (e.g. nutrition) without having to put any effort into studying it. Which leads to potentially life-threatening newbie mistakes like not getting any iron.
Anyway, this is all fake, right? Please tell me this is fake. Please tell me this guy is not really doing this to his body.
No. It's real. Now they're crowdfunding it.
We are incredibly excited that so many of you share our vision for Soylent: the easy, healthy future of nutrition! We reached our funding goal in under 3 hours, and every additional dollar we raise will go directly towards improving the formulation, manufacture, and distribution of Soylent.
It's at 300% funding.
Here's an excerpt from their pitch:
50% of the food produced globally is wasted, and food makes for the largest component of municipal garbage. If not for this waste there would be plenty of food to adequately nourish everyone alive. 2 million people are killed annually by smoke inhalation from indoor cooking stoves alone. 70% of americans are overweight or obese. 1 in 7 people globally are malnourished, and 1 in 3 in the developing world suffer from deficiency. Countless others are living hand-to-mouth, subsistence farming, hindering economic development. Even in the developed world, agriculture is the most dangerous industry to work in by occupational injuries and illnesses, and obesity is on the rise.
So, all you have to do is convince all the world's malnourished poor people who rely on indoor cooking stoves to give up food in favor of your $65/week beige milkshake, and all their problems will be solved! That's the plan, right?
Or is this just that thing that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs do? That thing where working on experimental technology for the fun of it doesn't give them enough sense of importance, so they have to convince themselves that their pet projct is a world-saving advancement? So they list a bunch of extremely difficult, long-standing real-world problems that are kind of related, in some nebulous way, and they stop short of explicitly claiming that their iPhone app (or whatever) is going to overthrow all the world's dictators (or whatever), but they imply it enough to satisfy their delusions of grandeur. (See also: every TED talk ever.)
Wait, am I stereotyping unfairly? Let's check the crowdfunding page to see if the team is five white 20something hipsters in San Francisco... oh hey look, what a surprise.
The Economist picks up the story:
Nutrition: Gruel today, gruel tomorrow | The Economist
Its creator, Rob Rhinehart, a 24-year-old computer scientist, assures Babbage that his version of Soylent contains no human flesh. In fact, Soylent promises to be as tasteless as its name, comprised as it is mostly of powdered starch, milk proteins, olive oil, oat fibre and various trace minerals and vitamins. When reconstituted with water, Soylent becomes a unflavoured beige liquid.
They're really going with "Soylent" for their product name? Really??
Mr Rhinehart is no nutritionist and early versions of Soylent had their problems. Omitting iron from his original formula made Mr Rhinehart’s heart race and an absence of sulphur caused joint pain, while (deliberate) overdoses of potassium and magnesium resulted in cardiac arrhythmia and burning sensations.
And he's selling this to other people to be used as their sole source of nutrition? As long as he was only experimenting on himself, his lack of nutritional science knowledge was just stupid and dangerous, but now that he's potentially hurting other people's health, his lack of expertise becomes a serious ethical problem. This isn't like writing mobile phone apps, where it's easy for amateurs to break into the field because the worst that happens when they screw up is somebody wastes $1.99 on an iPhone game that doesn't work right.
Anyway, the Economist throws cold water on the supposed price and environmental benefits of Soylent:
Adam Drewnowski, director of the Centre for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington, will not be among them. “To some extent, Soylent is an expensive glass of milk,” he says. While Soylent’s $65 weekly price-tag is certainly cheaper than eating out, it compares unfavourably with the cost of cooking for yourself. America's Department of Agriculture recently calculated the weekly cost for a family of four to eat a thrifty but healthy diet at home as $146, even allowing for some spoilage.Mr Drewnowski is also sceptical of Soylent’s environmental credentials. He notes that the bulk of food’s carbon footprint and greenhouse-gas emissions come from production and processing, rather than distribution, cooking or waste. Mr Drewnowski calls the carbon impact of Soylent’s milk protein "not insignificant".
Today I learned: the origins of Memorial Day
How Memorial Day Was Stripped of Its African-American Roots | Dominion of New York
What we now know as Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. Civil War. It was a tradition initiated by former slaves to celebrate emancipation and commemorate those who died for that cause.
As I'm now learning from reading Howard Zinn, there was a period in the late 1800s when most of the gains African Americans had made during Reconstruction were rolled back. The Northern Republicans in power essentially reneged on their promise to push for full equality for black people. Deciding it was more important to get the South on board with the project of nationwide industrialization, they stopped pursuing Reconstruction policies in order to appease racist Southern Democrats.
It was in that context that the modern version of Memorial Day as an apolitical holiday, honoring dead soldiers in general, got propogated. Celebrating emancipation was considered too divisive by a national government trying to bring the South back into the fold.
I did not know this! Memorial Day is going to have a whole different meaning for me from now on.
Embryonic stem cells created by nucleus transfer (with the help of caffeine)
It's Okay To Be Smart - ES from SCNT: Another Human Stem Cell Milestone ...
Using donated eggs (obtained by consenting women from certfied IVF clinics) robbed of their own nucleus, a whole skin cell was injected and given an electric shock to stimulate cell division. That that even works is amazing. But the harvested stem cells acted like normal ES cells, and appear to be just as useful. They can be used to create patient-matched cells to study specific diseases in the petri dish, or engineered into neurons and other tissues to implant into a donor’s own body. All without destroying embryos.
Edit: found more details in an article at Nature:
The success came through minor technical tweaks. The researchers used inactivated Sendai virus (known to induce fusion of cells) to unite the egg and body cells, and an electric jolt to activate embryo development. When their first attempts produced six blastocysts but no stable cell lines, they added caffeine, which protects the egg from premature activation.
Wait, caffeine ?!? And what the heck is "Sendai virus"?
Biology is cool!
This dude sure makes math sound sexy
An Unheralded Breakthrough: The Rosetta Stone of Mathematics | Guest Blog, Scientific American Blog Network
Weil suggested that sentences written in the language of number theory could be translated into the language of geometry, and vice versa. “Nothing is more fertile than these illicit liaisons,” he wrote to his sister about the unexpected links he uncovered between the two subjects; “nothing gives more pleasure to the connoisseur.”
Podcast #4 - Board Game Ending Conditions
Podcast 4 continues our game design theme from last time. Inspired by Sushu's pulse-pounding stealth victory in a recent game of Power Grid, we talk about why we like Power Grid, the genius of its winning condition, and the difficulty of designing a good win condition for a game with > 2 players.
0:50 - What's Power Grid?
2:20 - The importance of game ending conditions
3:15 - The Munchkin ending problem
5:50 - Settlers of Cataan vs Monopoly
7:20 - The Monopoly ending problem
9:30 - The Settlers of Cataan ending problem
12:30 - The fixed-number-of-turns ending (e.g. Small World)
13:10 - Analysis paralysis and decidability
15:15 - The Power Grid ending condition
19:05 - The thought process around ending the game
20:00 - "Mulitplayer solitaire" and how well-designed games avoid it
23:10 - Power Grid's rubber band balancing mechanic and the interesting ways to exploit it
27:00 - Miscalculations, drama, and heart-pounding endings
28:55 - Bidding and bluffing
30:30 - Short-term vs. long-term gain and unpredictable ending conditions
32:45 - Playing with mixed-skill players; inflicting German board games on your friends
35:30 - The very very weird place of Monopoly in our culture
38:07 - The Risk ending problem; comparison to Small World
40:00 - How much do you want to WIN?
42:50 - Games as socialization; playing to win vs. playing to hang out
44:45 - What people on Board Game Geek hate
45:45 - Only fun when you're trying to win?
46:10 - "It's only a game, why are you taking it so seriously?"
47:20 - Games that we care about winning and those we don't
Government whines that spying on citizens is too hard, demands new backdoors in internet software
Also wow is this a lot of depressing links to see in one go. You need to spread these things out. Also, possibly balance out your reading of depressing stuff with some positivity.
Hahahaha, nope! The depressing links are JUST BEGINNING!
Obama May Back F.B.I. Plan to Wiretap Web Users - NYTimes.com
The F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, has argued that the bureau’s ability to carry out court-approved eavesdropping on suspects is “going dark” as communications technology evolves, and since 2010 has pushed for a legal mandate requiring companies like Facebook and Google to build into their instant-messaging and other such systems a capacity to comply with wiretap orders.
Lawfare - Susan Landau on Obama Administration’s New Wiretapping Proposal
On the face of it, the new FBI proposal to fine companies that don’t comply with wiretap orders seems eminently reasonable. If law enforcement satisfies the Wiretap Act requirements for a court order, surely the communications provider should deliver the goods... This view of wiretapping is mired in the 1960s, when each phone was on a wire from the phone company’s central office, and a wiretap consisted of a pair of alligator clips and a headset.
This proposal, if enacted, would essentially make it a crime to develop a secure communications technology. Software developers would be required to build in a back door for the government to spy on their users.
Also, notice the FBI's logic: unintended flaws of telephone tachnology (you could stick alligator clips on a phone line and hear what they were saying) used to make wiretapping easy, so we made laws restricting when it could be done. But oh no, improvements in communication technology have made wiretapping harder, so we demand that you replicate the flaws of the old phone system (at your own cost, for the FBI's benefit).
Of course, they're saying that they'd only use these backdoors with court approval... while at the same time, they're also arguing that they don't need court approval to read your e-mail!
DOJ: We don't need warrants for e-mail, Facebook chats | CNET News
The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI believe they don't need a search warrant to review Americans' e-mails, Facebook chats, Twitter direct messages, and other private files, internal documents reveal. Government documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union and provided to CNET show a split over electronic privacy rights within the Obama administration, with Justice Department prosecutors and investigators privately insisting they're not legally required to obtain search warrants for e-mail.
So the ACLU filed a Freedom of Informatoin Act request to the Justice Department to find out about the government's warrantless snooping, and...
Most Transparent Administration in History Releases Completely Redacted Document About Text Snooping - Hit & Run : Reason.com
Here's what they got back:
A memo header: “Guidance for the Minimization of Text
Messages over Dual-Function Cellular Telephones” and then 15
pages, completely blacked out.
Reminds me of that guy from the NSA who said they can't tell the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee (!) how many Americans they've spied on, because telling would "violate their privacy".
So, the government gets to know everything about what we're doing, but we don't get to know anything about what the government is doing. Hmmm. Sounds fair, right?
The whole idea of a representative democracy is that, in theory, if the citizens don't like what their representatives in government are doing, they can vote them out.
What happens to that when the citizens are not allowed to know what the government is doing in their name?
Apple and Google's income tax evasion strategies
For anybody who still somehow thinks of Apple as some kind of fuzzy, benevolent company:
Apple Avoided Billions in Taxes, Congressional Panel Says - NYTimes.com
In 2011, for example, one subsidiary paid Ireland just one-twentieth of 1 percent in taxes on $22 billion on pretax earnings from various operations; another did not file a corporate tax return anywhere and has paid almost nothing on $30 billion in profits since 2009... Over all, Apple’s tax avoidance efforts shifted at least $74 billion from the reach of the Internal Revenue Service between 2009 and 2012, the investigators said.
Of course, Google does it too:
Google Revenues Sheltered in No-Tax Bermuda Soar to $10 Billion - Bloomberg
In Google’s case, an Irish subsidiary collects revenues from ads sold in countries like the U.K. and France. That Irish unit in turn pays royalties to another Irish subsidiary, whose legal residence for tax purposes is in Bermuda. The pair of Irish units gives rise to the nickname “Double Irish.” To avoid an Irish withholding tax, Google channeled the payments to Bermuda through a subsidiary in the Netherlands -- thus the “Dutch Sandwich” label. The Netherlands subsidiary has no employees... Last year, Google reported a tax rate of just 3.2 percent on the profit it said was earned overseas, even as most of its foreign sales were in European countries with corporate income tax rates ranging from 26 percent to 34 percent.
It's really weird for me to read comment threads where Apple fanboys and Google fanboys cheerlead their chosen team, as if either of them was anything but a typical rapacious multinational corporation.
This is all completely legal, too! They've got teams of lawyers making sure of that. (Teams of accountants to find loopholes, teams of shareholders demanding the exploitation of loopholes, teams of lobbyists pressuring government to create new loopholes...) That's the power of a multinational corporation in the modern age: the ability to pick and choose which sets of laws they want to apply to each subsidiary at any given time. Ala carte, from out of all the nations of the world. Which, of course, causes the race to the bottom in worker and environmental protection laws.
If fiscal conservatives really want to balance the budget and reduce taxes on the middle class, maybe they should take a look at all the behemoths who aren't paying their fair share? Just a thought.
(Extra irony: Google was built on the back of a technology initially developed by taxpayer-funded research initiatives.)
Podcast #3 - You Gained a Level!
In this episode we talk about Phantasy Star 2 and other super-grindy JRPGs; the evolution and applications of "levelling up" as a game mechanic; the disconnect between story and gameplay; and what relevance these things might have to designing an educational game.
0:43 - Old school video games on the Wii
2:30 - More intutive? Or I'm just more used to them?
3:45 - Despite my nostalgia, old school JRPGs are super grindy, segregate story from gameplay
5:30 - Spoilers for a 24-year-old game
6:00 - The feeling of progression
9:00 - Regular death vs. plot-relevant death
10:30 - Why subject yourself to random encounters?
11:00 - The browser-based JRPG engine I'm working on
13:55 - I'm not just randomly wandering around, I'm EXPLORING the BIOSYSTEMS LAB while leveling up my chosen team!
16:00 - Wizard 101, and why are MMORPGs so repetitive
18:40 - The Guild drama IS the story!
20:30 - Can't we just watch this story as a movie?
21:15 - Why stories, and games, have to END
23:00 - Learn Chinese: the JRPG
24:40 - Keeping players engaged through five years of practicing a langauge
25:00 - Design constraints of edu-tainment. Subgoals.
26:40 - Balancing the game part with the learning part
28:00 - Limitations of what can be learned in a game format
29:00 - There are only so many fruits you need to know in Chinese!
31:00 - The effort/payoff ratio of designing custom content
33:30 - Begging your friends for nails in Farmville
34:30 - Leveling Up is such a powerful game mechanic
36:15 - Leveling Up is a meaningless overused gamification strategy
37:30 - But does it let you kill stronger monsters?
38:30 - Silicon Valley ran that idea into the ground
39:30 - Why leveling up in Bejewelled is pointless
40:15 - What does leveling up simulate?
41:45 - External rewards
Our solar system is a bit of a freak?
Our Very Normal Solar System Isn't Normal Anymore - NPR
As of this month, we've discovered 884 planets, 692 planetary systems, 132 of them with more than one planet and, strange to tell, almost none of them look like us. "We are now beginning to understand that nature seems to overwhelmingly prefer [planetary] systems that have multiple planets with orbits of less than 100 days," says Steve Vogt, astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "This is quite unlike our own solar system, where there is nothing with an orbit inside that of Mercury. So our solar system is, in some sense, a bit of a freak and not the most typical kind of system that Nature cooks up."
An interesting observation -- but isn't it the case that our methods for finding planetary systems depend heavily on seeing a gravitational "wobble" in the star's spectrum? The more massive a planet is and the closer it is to its star, the more it makes the star wobble. In other words, our methods are especially good at detecting planetary systems with "hot Jupiters". We may be overlooking a lot of planetary systems without hot Jupiters. So it may not be that our solar system is a rare configuration, but rather that the other systems we're looking at are a systematically biased sample. No?
Robots are gonna take all our jobs
Even if we survive the displacement from rising sea levels, and the food shortages from climate-changed induced droughts and the bee die-off, we can look forward to a future where robots have made us all obsolete:
The robot threat: In the long run, we are telepathic androids | The Economist
Assuming Moore's Law keeps churning away at its normal exponential pace, Mr Drum figures that will happen somewhere around 2040, and it will gradually make our current economic assumptions untenable: most humans will become permanently unemployable since there will be nothing they can do that a robot can't do better and cheaper, which means there will be too few consumers to create demand for the products the robots can create.
Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don't Fire Us? | Mother Jones
Increasingly, then, robots will take over more and more jobs. And guess who will own all these robots? People with money, of course. As this happens, capital will become ever more powerful and labor will become ever more worthless. Those without money—most of us—will live on whatever crumbs the owners of capital allow us.
Of course, this disruption is already happening. People are already losing their jobs to "robots", even though they don't look much like science-fiction robots -- they're mostly internet-connected algorithms.
There used to be a job called "video rental store clerk", for example (I used to be one) but Netflix has rendered that job obsolete. There used to be a job called travel agent, but Expedia and other airline-search websites eliminated that. And of course Google is putting a lot of research into taking away the jobs of taxi drivers and truck drivers with their driverless cars.
Jaron Lanier (author of "You Are Not A Gadget", which I highly recommend) says in an interview with Slate that The Internet Destroyed The Middle Class:
At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion. They even invented the first digital camera. But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has become Instagram. When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people. Where did all those jobs disappear? And what happened to the wealth that all those middle-class jobs created?
If you think about it, software is only profitable if you can sell it to an organization. An organization is only going to buy the software if it saves them money. And how does it save them money? By letting them fire workers.
Whenver startup guys talk about "disrupting" an industry, what they mean is "we're going to fire all your workers and replace them with software, so that we -- the controllers of the software -- can be the new middlemen".
There are currently a lot of startup guys talking about "disrupting" education. Which means that teachers should be very, very afraid.
I can imagine a world where robots do all the work. In that world, capitalism and the current social contract of labor-for-wages are simply untenable. They'd have to have some other economic system for distributing the goods and services produced by all their robots. But how do we get there from here? In the short term, capitalism isn't going anywhere. And capitalism is going to ensure that technological advances continue to displace workers, while all of the productivity gains from the new technology are captured by the owners of industry.
It's a lot like what happened during the industrial revolution. If you take the very long view, you could say that the industrial revolution ended up making the economy better for everyone -- worldwide living standards and education levels and so on are higher now, and we have new jobs that are better than the old crappy jobs that were eliminated. But the long term benefit was small comfort to the people who lived through the industrial revolution and saw their jobs replaced by machines.
I'm not saying we should stop technological progress, even if we could. Instead, I think that the ongoing destruction of jobs by technological progress should be an argument for re-examining our economic system and our social contract, to try to come up with a system where the benefits of technological efficiency gains can be shared across society instead of accruing only to the top.
Why are the bees all dying?
Soaring Bee Deaths in 2012 Sound Alarm on Malady - NYTimes.com
A mysterious malady that has been killing honeybees en masse for several years appears to have expanded drastically in the last year, commercial beekeepers say, wiping out 40 percent or even 50 percent of the hives needed to pollinate many of the nation’s fruits and vegetables... A conclusive explanation so far has escaped scientists studying the ailment, colony collapse disorder, since it first surfaced around 2005. But beekeepers and some researchers say there is growing evidence that a powerful new class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, incorporated into the plants themselves, could be an important factor.
Why You Should Care That Nearly A Third Of U.S. Honey Bees Died Last Winter | ThinkProgress
In April, the European Union implemented a two-year ban on three neonicotinoids... Despite the fact that at least 30 laboratory studies have linked neonicotinoids to bee die offs... the multibillion-dollar chemical industry has fought against a ban on neonicotinoids, rejecting the scientific evidence that the pesticides are contributing to bee deaths.
Terrifying Global Warming Links
Arctic "death spiral" leaves climate scientists shocked and worried | The Vancouver Observer
As the chart above shows, three-quarters of the "permanent", year-round sea ice in the Arctic has been cooked away in just 30 years. Over half of it has disappeared in just the last eight years. A vast expanse of ice larger than the European Union has vanished. What's left is half the area and only half as thick. Now some ice experts are saying what remains could be gone in as little as ten years -- or even four... This jaw-dropping acceleration of Arctic sea ice collapse is completely out-stripping the worst case scenarios of the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The Last Time CO2 Was This High, Humans Didn't Exist | Climate Central
The news that CO2 is near 400 ppm for the first time highlights a question that scientists have been investigating using a variety of methods: when was the last time that CO2 levels were this high, and what was the climate like back then?... There is no single, agreed-upon answer to those questions as studies show a wide date range from between 800,000 to 15 million years ago. The most direct evidence comes from tiny bubbles of ancient air trapped in the vast ice sheets of Antarctica. By drilling for ice cores and analyzing the air bubbles, scientists have found that, at no point during at least the past 800,000 years have atmospheric CO2 levels been as high as they are now... That means that in the entire history of human civilization, CO2 levels have never been this high.
Even in the best-case scenario, climate change will kick our asses | Grist
2 degrees warming probably equates to about a one-meter rise in sea level this century. That’s enough to displace hundreds of thousands to millions of people in low-lying nations, and, as of now, there is no plan to deal with environmental refugees... The environmental-refugee problem becomes eye-poppingly scary when you look at the 150 million people living in Bangladesh. A one-meter sea level rise would swamp about 17 percent of the country.
Direct air carbon capture technology must be developed to help fight climate change. - Slate Magazine
Indeed, even moving relatively quickly toward a carbon-neutral economy will still result in a net increase in CO2 in the atmosphere for the foreseeable future. But that is moot, because we are nowhere close to moving quickly in this regard anyway. Fossil fuel reserves have effectively increased, due to improved technologies for extraction, and investment in alternative energy sources has been limited due to artificially low prices on carbon-based energy. As a result, 2012 was likely another record year for human-induced CO2 production.
... As an upcoming paper being prepared by 15 of the participants* at the meeting will argue, we came to a broad consensus that there is an increasingly urgent need to seriously consider removing and sequestering CO2 directly from our atmosphere.
Carbon dioxide and global warming: More is NOT better - Bad Astronomy
This idea that CO2 isn’t dangerous has been a denier talking point for some time now, but that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous. They claim that CO2 is just a natural and “harmless byproduct of nature”, which is bonkers; try living on Venus to see why.
Loneliness is bad for you
I finally finished writing that Firefox add-on for quick blogging of links.
The Science of Loneliness: How Isolation Can Kill You | New Republic
Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking.
Or as KRS-One put it in "Health, Wealth, and Knowledge of Yourself":
Lesson two, make sure you got a dope crew
Podcast #2 - Seirei no Moribito
Here it is: Podcast 2.mp3. (35:45, 32.7 MB) Recorded Thursday, May 2nd, 2013.
0:00 - Visiting Chris in the hospital
2:00 - Our anime "book club".
4:40 - Anime cons then and now; the fragmentation of fandom.
8:00 - Awkward homestucks; cutting-edge cosplay.
11:00 - Today's anime: Seirei no Moribito. Kicking butt; pacing.
13:00 - What's this show about? Is it set in the distant past of Japan, or an alternate history, or a fantasy world?
14:00 - Balsa's characterization.
15:30 - Role-playing games and martial arts philosophy.
17:00 - Setting development without infodumping.
18:00 - Introducing characters via their actions.
21:00 - Trying to learn how to introduce characters better in our comics, Squanto and We Can Regrow That For You.
23:50 - Making the outer represent the inner in comicking.
24:30 - What's up with these fake kanji? Is this Japan or not? (round 2).
27:30 - More about the pacing and setting. Characters who aren't good or evil, just trying to live their lives.
29:00 - Balsa's challenges are about trust, not fighting. If she was a PTA character.
31:30 - The prince's character development, and his silly hairdo.
33:30 - Other shows we might watch for anime book club.
35:00 - Robotech and stupid "vehicle" Voltron! "Lying to a child!"
Tai Chi Zero (Me and Sushu made a podcast)
After Taiko practice every Saturday, we usually hang out with our friend Chris in Oakland for a few hours, watching anime and kung fu movies, role-playing, or playing board games.
After that there's an hour drive back from Oakland to Palo Alto. There's not much else to do besides talk about what we just watched or played. That leads into talking about two of my favorite topics - game design and storytelling! We've had a lot of interesting conversations on this weekly ride home.
Last week, as an experiment, I decided to record us and call it a "podcast". 99% of podcasts on the internet are just an hour some friends giggling about their inside jokes anyway (people seriously need to learn to edit that stuff out). Surely we can do better than that!
This week we mostly talked about a kung-fu movie called Tai Chi Zero. It's notable for incorporating steampunk elements and comic-book-style visual effects into the story of a very dumb guy with a "berserk button" literally growing out of his forehead.
If there's enough interest in it for us to keep doing them, I'll make a proper page with an RSS feed and stuff. For now here's just a link to the raw mp3 file. Total length is about 40 minutes.
Contents with timestamps below the fold:
0:00 - What's this podcast.
1:12 - Tai Chi Zero and its incorporation of other media
- Comic-style visuals
- Connection to martial arts novels
- How ridiculous this movie is / 4th wall and trope awareness
- Literary chinese/cultural background
- Skipping through time and space, split-screen, saving time
10:50 - Comparison to Sherlock Holmes
- We don't like sherlock-vision and shakycam
- Showing the audience what's going to happen before it happens
- Time confusion
- The unspoken plan guarantee
- Jono is slow on the uptake
18:45 - Why are all the women in this movie needlessly in love with boring tophat guy?
- The mistake of making a character's backstory more interesting than the real story
- Crossdressing is "fucking hot"!
20:35 - A tangent about playing loner characters in RPGs
- You can't non-consensually involve Cyclops in your kink!
27:30 - Back to Tai Chi Zero and Top Hat Guy.
- Everybody in the village has the same name?
- Top hat guy introduced too late
- Too much brooding before we know the reason why
- What a slap in the face!
34:55 - What happened to that rebellion, anyway?
- Jono was confused by the change of plot direction.
- Jianghu prologue scenes
- In western fiction that the story is about whatever is the biggest threat introduced up to then
- Internal kung fu: a typical Wuxia McGuffin