Friday, January 19, 2018

Buying concert tickets for a megastar in 2018

(the megastar being David Byrne.)

Tour's coming to Oakland and San Jose. Oakland's easy to get to, San Jose a bit farther. I hear of the show going on sale on Friday, so I make a note to buy tickets on Friday. Sure enough, I log on on Friday at 12pm and Oakland's sold out. Turns out they added a second show in Oakland, and it instantly sold out too.

Uff. So I try to buy tickets for the San Jose, and the company selling tickets to that one ("AXS") is super broken on the critical parts of "sign in" and "create an account."

So I go on Stubhub and end up paying about double sticker price.

This is weird. It's weird that Ticketmaster can't filter bots. (I guess it's because they don't have any incentive to.) But given that all the tickets went so fast, I suppose they were priced below the "fair" market price... so getting them to Stubhub or another similar auction mechanism is more economically efficient. But it does feel unfair for everything to be determined by money, when money is so unequally held. But... I don't really mind a system whose biggest failing is that some people can't afford concert tickets.

Like, why not just release tickets onto Stubhub first?  Would it be a PR issue? I guess it might look bad, like money-grubbing or something, but I'm not sure why. I mean, we already have a system where rich people can buy their way in, and poor people can't; the only thing that our current system does is make half that money go to a little industry of Ticketmaster bots instead of to the artist (or venue, or anyone who's creating real value here).

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Black Mirror S04, I have issues

(Spoilers for season 4 all over the place!)

I watch Black Mirror for a couple reasons. I don't really need it to get depressed; I can do that easily enough. (It certainly helps though.) I mostly want to:
1. enjoy some good entertainment
2. think about something new
3. get some tropes I can use to talk about future problems

And Season 4 only gave me #1.

"But Dan, it's still giving me all sorts of weird takes on all sorts of futuristic-yet-everyday ideas" - no, this season's not; it's only giving you weird takes on one idea. That idea is: "what if we could interact with your brain as though it were a computer?"

To be fair, this is kinda maybe my favorite future idea. I really like thinking about this. Mostly because it opens you up to the kind of vast, sublime, terrifying futures inaccessible this side of the Great Old Ones. Also, it lets me have opinions, and because I have studied computers and also humans, I feel qualified to have opinions, even though I'm really not very qualified at all.

But they already did this idea, as completely as I think you need to, in White Christmas (that holiday special with Jon Hamm). The lesson you will hopefully learn from that episode: if you could access your brain as you do a computer, it is effing incredibly horrifying because you can basically torture them forever.

This season, we've got: (for serious, spoilers)
- USS Callister. In which some nerdo creates a terrifying simulation in which he tortures some people forever (and he's a supergenius so he's thought of everything, except for the way that they get out of it.) Props, though, for: the scenes of the simulated people when the main guy isn't in the picture. That's an interesting side of things you wouldn't normally see.
- Arkangel. In which helicopter parenting by tapping into your kid's mind as if it is a computer is bad. This may be my pick for weakest of the bunch, because the mom is pretty unsympathetic. (Maybe because I've never been a parent? I dunno.)
- Crocodile. In which memory technology works like incredible magic. Surprisingly, brains=computers makes things scary and weird. And... guinea pigs have memory too? Upside: felt relatively un-normative. And the scenery! Holy cow!
- Hang the DJ. Ok, this one was really good. Surprise: they simulate your consciousness as if your brain was a computer! But the twist at the end is unexpected and great, and neatly answers your questions about "wait but don't they like... go to work?" And the bit where revealing the time they have together makes it shrink was really cool; by learning that information, he does indeed change that information.
- Metalhead. As an episode of any other TV show, I'd think "cool sci-fi action movie." As it's Black Mirror, I was disappointed, because it didn't make me think much at all. Plus, the twist of "it was a teddy bear!" just seemed dumb. Upside: the ideas of ways to fight the dog (throw candies at it all night, send the tracker down a river, paint) were pretty clever.
- The Black Museum. I do want to see more of the first vignette, "the pain doctor." That offers at least a slightly different take on "brains = computers", and its interesting and weird consequences. The second one (monkey*) and third one (guy getting electrocuted repeatedly) less so. Surprise: reproducing your consciousness out of a body is pretty bad because it leads to torture forever. Also, by killing Rolo Haynes, our hero does stop one crime - but 99% of the crime is still out there, in the thousands of consciousnesses trapped in the little "souvenirs" he's distributed! And in taking a souvenir herself, she's participating in the endlessly cruel infinity we've set up!
*this story especially can go take a hike, because it's based on "we use 40% of our brains." whoever wrote that one: go sit in the corner and think about what you've done.

So, 5 about brains=computers, and one about those Boston Dynamics robot dogs. Frustrating. Especially because brains=computers is a heckofa long time off. I guess that's why I was so into episodes like "Shut up and dance" (and even "The national anthem"); it could happen tomorrow. Or "Hated in the nation" and especially "White Christmas", which gave us a lot of new things to think about. I want to end an episode and go "huh, I didn't imagine (technology x) would feel like that when it happened."

(OTOH, there were some I could skip in earlier seasons too: Nosedive, 15M Merits, Be Right Back. Ok, maybe this season was fine, and I'm just holding this show to too high a standard.)

Monday, January 01, 2018

Thinking about reclaiming a chunk of brain

Three famous, influential, VC/tech guys:
Sam Altman: this
Anil Dash: this
Benedict Evans: this
... and it devolves from there.

A weird thing about this is that I now feel like I have to have a fully formed opinion on this debate*, just from having read it. But like, they're all talking past each other. It's like someone saying "we need GPS so we can tell where our car is, and how fast it's going!" and someone else saying "but quantum uncertainty; you can never know the location and velocity of anything!"

This kind of thing is... a lot of discussions of real, important issues online. So maybe I'd like to disengage from it a bit.

One objection from one part of my mind: "disengaging is reckless! you're just abandoning the world to its sordid fate!" I don't think so. Choosing not to argue online doesn't mean choosing not to do anything. In fact, I can probably do *more* if I spend less time thinking about online arguments.

(*using the term "debate" loosely. for the record: my opinion is: Anil's right, Sam's also right (his later post also helps), Benedict's question was asinine, Anil's response to it is also asinine, and I can't really blame Anil but if you're gonna argue online you kinda gotta be Superjesus, which nobody involved is.)

Article about millennials and finance sticking in my mind

Specifically this one: "Millennials are screwed"

I don't have a ton to add, and it's got the annoying scrolly whizbangs, but it's a pretty decent look at the... four?... pronged assault on "the younger generation" that I think the "older generation" doesn't get:

1. work is unstable. it's never a 40-year 9-to-5. At best, it's a 9-to-5 for a few years with a decent company. Unemployment is a never-ending abyss that we're always one step away from, whenever our dear employer decides we're disposable. And we sure don't have unions to negotiate for us.

2. healthcare is insane; ok, y'all old people kinda know this. But you don't feel it if you've still got (job-sponsored) insurance. Otherwise, we mostly just go without, and hope we never get sick. Again, we're one step away (one illness, one car accident, one random thing) from the abyss of infinite hospital debt.

3. housing is insane; y'all have no idea about this, and you're making it worse. The places with the jobs have no houses, thanks to years of zoning and NIMBYism. So if we're in the lucky few that can make it to a job, we've got to rent an overpriced studio in a crowded market. And hope you don't tick off the landlord, or you're a "problem tenant" (or worse, evicted!) and who would ever rent to you again?

4. civic disenfranchisement: you might think "well, vote!" I mean, we're trying. But we're dealing with gerrymandering and voter suppression on one hand, and just the lack of time to get more involved on the other. Housing decisions, for one, are often made with minimal public comment periods at 2-4pm on Wednesdays. Sorry, we're busy either hustling at our jobs or hustling to find a job.

I say all this as one of the lucky few who's making it in this economy. (Getting a fancy degree in Computer Science helps.) All of the above are much easier for me than for most. But... can we make things better for everyone else?

(I'm not sure what I'm trying to do by writing this. Like, ideally convince a boomer to help with these things? and stop figuring we can just cut taxes on the rich and trickle-down will fix any of this? More likely, I'm just recording my feelings for later consumption. And/or, getting this on paper so I can stop thinking about it for now. But more on that later.)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A coupla' dumb thoughts


Okay, you know how sometimes there's a "M.P." on fancy menus? "Market Price." For a lobster or something, because lobster price varies a lot. But like, it's gauche to ask how much the lobster costs, I guess. But restaurateurs can't just say "Lobster is always $30" because maybe sometimes they'd lose money.

You could say, "well, Lobster is always $30, sometimes we'll make money, sometimes we'll lose it, whatever." But then, there's an opportunity for Lobstarbitrage: if you know there's peak demand for lobster, and you can't get it elsewhere for less than $40, you could still take the $30 deal for cheap lobster.

What if, instead, the menu said "Lobster costs N(30, 5)": Lobster cost falls along a normal distribution with mean=30 and SD=5. It's set each day (and the menu updates if, say, lobster is getting long-term more expensive), but you don't know exactly what the price is going to be until you get the bill. (You can, of course, ask, if you don't mind being gauche.) They get to smooth out their costs so that they'll usually make about $30 per lobster, but you don't get to arbitrage them. You also get to know approx how much you're going to pay.

(Ok, yes, this is solving a problem that doesn't exist.)

Related: the Post Office

I didn't know this, but apparently you can use their DIY scales to measure how much something will cost, before you box it up! And then you can make a Real Informed Decision about whether to use their fixed-price boxes, or not, or just not even send the damn thing.

Information avoidance games

Are, generally, great. I'm talking about Whamageddon or LDB or Lastman. It's a very 2017 kind of game; in a world where information is everywhere, the only game we can play with information is just "see if you can run from it." It's a kind of fun flavor of weird.
For the record, I have not heard "Last Christmas" yet.

Speaking of games that are great

Have I mentioned yet how much I like Crypt of the Necrodancer? It's very good. Action/arcadey.

I also like

These "extremely genre-specific" electronic playlists. Deep House is my favorite so far.

In other news

I don't have a lot of other news! Turns out having a job takes a lot of time? And that's okay? And the fact that I can't be goshdarn Da Vinci and renaissance everything is also okay? Okay.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Experiencing heaven and hell in real time

A few stories, and forgive me if I'm repeating myself:

1. Greg BoyleA really cool interview with Fr. Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest and entrepreneur I guess, who's started Homeboy Industries, a series of businesses run by former gang members in L.A. Worth listening to the whole thing. I want to call attention to how he talks, though, more than what he's saying. You can tell he very much believes it when he says stuff about "delight in one another", or awe, or mutual benefit from a relationship that others would imagine is more one-way. He's not doing a Good Deed for some Poor People for the vague promise of future rewards; he's being fulfilled from real human relationships.

2. Minimalism: When I went to college and for the first time really had my own space, I got kinda minimalist. Some of my family thought it was this ascetic holy thing, like an environmental impact minimization or whatever, and to be honest it started out as that. But as life went on, it just became not a big deal and pretty smart. If you live in a dorm, or a small city apartment for that matter, you'll just be happier if you don't have a ton of things.
(this is also a privilege afforded by making decent money; if you know you can always buy what you need, it's easier to not have to keep it around the house.)

3. Soda: When I was a kid, I used to like soda. My favorites were, I think, Mug root beer (we all make mistakes), Dr. Pepper, and cherry coke (or honestly, cherry pepsi; we were a pepsi household). I'd also get canker sores sometimes (still do). Eventually I developed a feeling that my mouth was dirty when I hadn't brushed my teeth, and especially dirty after drinking soda. (it kinda coats your teeth; you can probably notice this if you try.) Then I'd kinda connect that dirty feeling with canker sores, and realize I'm probably making this all worse by drinking soda ever. Eventually I basically stopped ever drinking soda, because the tasty sugaryness didn't outweigh the dirty feeling. Great! No "should" involved.
(I've backslid on this a bit in recent years. Not really relevant to this post, but just so you know if you see me drinking an extra-spicy ginger ale anytime soon; not tryin' to be holier-than-thou.)

4. Heaven and hell: So, Christian point of view: there's a heaven where afterlife is very good for some definition of "good", and a hell where it's all very bad. You do good deeds, you go to heaven after you die; bad deeds, you go to hell.

(Growing up, I thought it was harps and clouds vs. devils and fire. Then I started to think, well, it can't be that simple! In high school theology class, I learned that there's heaven and hell, and then there's the Kingdom, which is after the second coming of Jesus, so it's more a temporary holding cell; there's also purgatory, where you wait if you died after unconfessed venial (but not mortal) sins and you suffered a little bit until you purged them out. Plus we can nitpick the details - I think the harps and pitchforks seem real absurd on their face so we all agree it's not like that, but it's still heaven=good and hell=bad. Whatever. Point is, there's a reward or punishment that comes after the fact. I tried asking "but like this is just a metaphor, right?" and the answer I always got is kinda "like, well, yeah, but not really, it's actually there too" kinda like when I asked "but Jesus isn't really physically in this bread, like it's a symbol, right?" - the Christian theologians here are welcome to comment here and tell me how wrong I am.)

Bringin' it together:
Heaven and hell: you do good things and you get rewarded, you do bad things and you get punished. I wanna say this is how most of us in, say, the US (and likely wider but I don't know how wide), see ... everything? Everything's a big marshmallow test, and the more you can delay gratification (until after death, if you're really good), the "better" a human you are.

I don't want to throw this out, because it's a useful way to learn how to be a pretty decent human. But I want to say it's a stepping stone. It's the grade school version of morality. Maybe high school - you can get pretty far with this kind of morality.

But grown-up morality feels a lot more like Greg Boyle. You're not trying to override your desires; you're trying to skillfully mold them so that you get the benefits at the same time as the costs.

If you can do that, it becomes really easy and really rewarding to be "good", and really unappealing to be "bad." Like, I don't even want a soda; that just doesn't even sound good. I'm not going to be tempted into a soda when my defenses are down, or feel worn down by trying to resist a soda all day. Greg Boyle isn't going to try to skim off the profits from his companies, or be a jerk to any of his homies; that'd be like screwing over your friends or family.

This may be what distinguishes people that we say have a "magical presence" of some sort; their actions are so fully aligned with their goals that it's so easy to be "good", so they do the right thing without hesitation or artifice. Mr. Rogers, not Bill Cosby.

This is my goal these days. To become one of these fully aligned people, to understand all the wants and needs in this mess of cells we call a mind and body, to understand the causes and effects of everything I do, and to learn to experience heaven and hell, not after my death, but right now.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Constant spam fighting, but each round is 10% bigger than the last and the whole world's at stake

Something is wrong on the internet by James Bridle

He tells an interesting, and weird, and interesting-because-it's-weird true story of how we got to mass-produced semi-nonsense animated youtube videos that span a range from "maybe educational" to "nightmare fuel." Youtube, he argues, has become not only a victim of platform abuse, but a participant in widespread child abuse*. But most importantly, near the end:

Bridle: "The asides I’ve kept in parentheses throughout, if expanded upon, would allow one with minimal effort to rewrite everything I’ve said, with very little effort, to be not about child abuse, but about white nationalism, about violent religious ideologies, about fake news, about climate denialism, about 9/11 conspiracies."
Youtube is complicit in ISIS recruitment, in the spread of Breitbart, in the Birthers and the 9/11 Truthers.

I'm not sure what the answer is. But the pattern is troubling:
1. some Bad Guy discovers a way to beat The System.
2. Bad Guy does Bad Thing X; some harm gets done.
3. company that runs The System patches it and says "with our new algorithms, nobody will ever do this Bad Thing X again."

This hasn't been catastrophic in the past, because the harm in step 2 is something like "spam gets sent out" or "some people with old janky computers get virused." But it's been getting worse: "Nazis congregated on our platform," "ISIS recruited new people," and even "we elected the wrong guy."

So this is going to end apocalyptically, right? (rather, it's already begun - or is Trump not a bad enough moment for you?)

Tim O'Reilly in an email newsletter I subscribe to:

"Facebook’s fake news problem shows that even present-day algorithmic systems can optimize for the wrong thing; by telling its systems to show people more of what they liked and shared. Facebook thought that it would encourage deeper social connections and build a great advertising business. It didn’t intend to amplify hyper-partisanship and the development of fake news. And when economists told companies that the only social obligation of business is to make money for shareholders, they thought they would make businesses more efficient. They didn’t mean to increase income inequality, hollow out the US economy, and create an opioid epidemic. But these were some of the unintended consequences when we told our companies to optimize relentlessly for corporate profit and treat humans as a cost to be eliminated. This is why I say we’ve already had "our Skynet moment.""

Scary as this is, it vaguely points towards a way out. There's no reason we have to be in this upward spiral of speed and complexity, besides ad clicks and shareholder value. I don't know the exact measures by which we can turn Facebook and Twitter and Youtube into pro-social tools instead of hotbeds of anger and sensationalism, but I'm pretty confident that as long as the ads are paying the bills, the social networks aren't going to figure it out themselves.

(*aside, back on the Youtube-freaking-out-kids topic: Geoff Manaugh talks about how the problem is not that these videos will freak kids out - it's just that it'll make them think really weirdly. Like, of course these things are connected (say, Aladdin characters and the kid from Despicable Me) - why not? Everything is connected to everything else. I ... I dunno, I kinda think this would just be great? This kind of free-association is sort of my jam; it's what I love about Labyrinth or the Phantom Tollbooth or Twin Peaks or Mitch Hedberg or Janelle Shane)

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

I'm not sure how this happened, but

this was awesome. shout out to todd, ram, and aaron.

dj jazzy jeff gordon ramsay snow white walker texas ranger rick james franco harrison ford mustang sally beauty and the beastie boyz ii men without hats off to youtuberculosister sledgehammer time zone defensepost traumatic stress disorder in the court of lawrence of arabian nightmare on elm street fighter flight response variabletonberry manilowridermatologistickettlebellwether or notting hillary clintoni braxtony danzagrebbe nachmanchester united kaczynskee ballerinatasha leggerosie odonell carterduckentymology en cee lo green day of the dead mans chester arthur miller litecoinsurancid meier's alpha centauri amos'n'andy serkis from a rose tyler the creatori spelling bee movie fone home alone sharknado re mia farrow row row your boticelleonardo da vincheeseburger in paradise lost in translation and rotational inertiakira knightley harvey oswaldo emerson lake and palmer luckey strike three times a lady bird johnson and johnson of sam I amtrak and field daylight come an me wan go homer 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