Sunday, April 26, 2015

*sigh* I have opinions, which correlate with Black Mirror episodes pretty well

I heard Black Mirror was totally the coolest, and it's not, but it's pretty great. I'd give it 4/5 stars. Minus two for being, in the words of my friend Beka, "gratuitous", which it kind of is. I mean, it turns the dystopia switch up to 11 sometimes. (S01E02, "15 Million Merits" in particular) But plus one for bringing up some pretty neat issues that I've not seen in a ton of shows.

ISSUE 1. Virtual violence

I wonder if our parents would ever have realistically imagined information to be a weapon. I mean, of course you could leak trade secrets or military secrets, but that's all movies. Nowadays, thanks to doxxing, identity theft, etc, it's a reality for everyone. Related: WikiLeaks screwing everyone who had the misfortune to be working at Sony. (Julian! It's harder to convince my parents that Snowden's a good guy when you're complicating the "leaking" story by doing stuff like this!)

S01E01 of Black Mirror took a unique take: terrorists leak a video to youtube that shows that they captured a princess, and they demand, for her release, that the prime minister have sex with a pig. (I told you the show was gratuitous.) If the video weren't massively public, there'd be less public pressure and the whole thing would kind of blow over. They cause a huge fiasco mostly by sending certain information to a certain place. Hmm.

ISSUE 2. Infinite punishment

If you believe that we might be able to upload our consciousness, that sounds great. Until a madman gets his hands on the technology, and decides to punish his enemies by virtually copying them each a million times and forcing them all to suffer for a million years. Or, the government decides that regular ol' punishment isn't bad enough, and that the bad guys should suffer more than that. The final episode (christmas special, really) takes on this theme, producing the best episode about consciousness-uploading that I've seen on TV in a long time. S02E02, "White Bear," looked at a similar issue.

Related: ADX prison in Colorado. Geez. I know some of you think "eh, screw em", especially when we're looking at our worst criminals: Ted Kaczynski, Eric Rudolph, Zacarias Moussaoui. But... I don't know, even with them, prison ought to be about rehabilitation, or at worst keeping the rest of us safe. Keep your bloodlust and revenge out of it.

Eh, I don't know why torture and inhumane prisons and whatever happens to our worst matters to me. There's tons of tragedies, shouldn't I focus on something worse? Yeah, I guess. But ... I dunno, Dostoevsky or someone: "You can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners." (or Jesus: "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.") I mean, I feel like we should try to raise the floor of our society. Make the answer to "what's the worst that could happen to me?" not that bad. I don't see myself getting sent to ADX, but man, all prison here sounds awful, and it's easy to imagine being in a protest or something and, due to justice mistakes, getting sent to prison, and then the rest of my life goes off the rails. Whereas, if I got sent to prison in Denmark, ehh, I'd be able to bounce back.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Seoul: It Sure Does Have Cafes

A week in Seoul is sadly over! First I will say, Seoul is kind of the best. I saw a nice temple, a modern art museum, a couple parks, biked along the river, ate weird fish, and all that. The modern art museum had a big room full of strings hanging straight down from the ceiling which you could walk through. It was like a sea of strings. At Noryangjin fish market, one of the weird fishes (an octopus) was still twitching and crawling when we ate it. I also shopped, which seems to be the thing to do everywhere. No, I take it back, that's the #2 thing to do everywhere; the #1 thing is to hang out in cafes. I like doing that.

I will spend this paragraph justifying how and why I went to so many cafes, then I will talk about all the cafes. At first I thought, I should be sightseeing more. Then I thought, nah, I have like 3 days, and it's semi-vacation, I am going to do whatever I want, and what I want is mostly to hang around in cafes and read books. To be fair, hanging around in cafes doesn't stop you from doing anything else. It's pretty quick. And I saw at least as neat a slice of Seoul as you did.

Here are some of those cafes. (if you're not interested, you can just see all my photos here.)

DK1744, Hongdae: nothing super special, but the first place I got to off the train. They specialize in "Dutch" coffee, which AFAICT is just cold brew. Which means, if they ask you "hot or cold?" the answer is "cold", because "hot" just involves a microwave.

5 Extracts, Hongdae: super nice! Run by Choi Hyun Sun, 2011 Korean national champion barista, and I can't remember wonderful things about the siphon coffee (just very good, not national-champion level), but the space was inviting. I met the guy, a very nice fellow too. I mean, this is kind of like if you went to a Gordon Ramsay restaurant and it was mostly empty and he was just cooking your food and chatting. (but less swearing.)

Bau House, Hongdae: this is a dog cafe. In exchange for you buying an overpriced drink, you get to pet all the puppies! There are like 15 of them. Two corgis even!

Out of Africa, Samcheong-dong: Most places that advertise different drip coffees from different countries do a pretty good job. This one is an exception; I was told no drip coffee, and I ended up with a push-button-machine americano. But the garden was nice.

Coffee Factory, Samcheong-dong: oh, this is the place around Samcheong-dong that I was looking for. 4 floors of coffeeshop, beans that you can tell they'll be good by the smell. I'd be back here often. Forgot a picture, I guess.

Coffee Monster, Samseong: uh, yes. I mean, the coffee is fine, but I love this decor. "This is because origin of coffee was from another planet and delivered by aliens."

Ikovox Coffee (formerly Coffee Kitchen, I think), Garosu-gil: yes excellent yay. Mini chain; they also had a branch in the Coex conference center. Amazing coffee in the conference center! How lucky! Get the Brazil, it's wonderfully dark chocolate and just a touch smoky.

(by the way, LEC coffee is no longer in Garosu-gil, as of 2015.)

Novac Juice, Garosu-gil. With the cactuses. Not technically a coffee shop, but it was beautiful.

221B, Samseong: Sherlock themed, but not good. Like, both things Beka and I got were undrinkably sweet, and it was uncomfortably silent and empty. Not recommended.

Coffee Libre: Best of the best. This was a little kiosk inside a big cathedral building (but like a new cathedral, not an old pretty one), and it still made the most memorable coffee of the trip: almondy and cantaloupe, a little fuller body than I'm used to... oh, and he made it on Aeropress. Huh! Maybe I *am* missing something about Aeropress. (note that this is one of ~4 locations, the others are bigger and probably nicer.)

Hakrim Coffee, Daehangno: super cool. Old fashioned, classical music and old photos. Coffee's ok, but great atmosphere.

Analog Coffee, aka Samseong Coffee Bokkneunjib (roaster), Samseong: speaking of great old-fashioned atmosphere, this place is awesome. Old records on the walls, and also great beans from all over the world. Plus, the lady is so friendly that, when I accidentally almost left without paying, she apologized to me and gave me a free pie. My friends were convinced that she was hitting on me.

Terarosa Coffee, at Coex: the second best coffee spot in the Coex center. Wah! We are spoiled for choice. Nice spacious place too, and they sell a bunch of coffee gear. Sprung for one of their COE offerings, which was super worth it.

Not pictured: Sedona Coffee, the *third* best place at Coex.

May Island, Gangnam station area: coffeeshop (meh) and library! It was *the most pleasant* place to sit quietly and work. Full of books. Nicely lit, good desks. What you can do: person1cup, wifi, book, no talk. What you can not do: external food, no out, mobile, skinship.

Coffee Gallery, Gangnam station area: well, also nice, but at this point nothing to write home about. Casual shop, decent beans.

And that is (mostly) all the coffee I drank in Seoul! I surely could have kept going. I quite enjoyed this.

Oh ok here are the rest of my pictures that tell the rest of the story, those are probably more interesting to you anyway.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A few neat links

Before They - a portrait of shrinking tribes worldwide

Requesting all the photos the DHS has of you - hah, kind of neat.

Antibiotics in meat are really bad, yes, still, let's stop this

How flavor drives nutrition: very cool. Nutrition and flavor are both getting worse, and this is not a coincidence.

Let them eat privilege- huh. Should we stop castigating ourselves for being in the 5% and start looking to where all the money is going? Hint: yes. And it's the super rich. Related, what's this about the estate tax? What the hell? How is abolishing the estate tax a good idea At All? Is this just bald faced plutocracy, sold to Americans as "conservatism"? How many Republican voters vote against their own economic interests because they've accepted some convoluted story of how "it's good for America"?

Rewire, filter bubbles, international news, and so on

I'm reading this book now, Rewire by Ethan Zuckerman.
Overall, totally dig it. He's pushing cosmopolitanism, the idea that we can be "citizens of the world", taking into account our responsibility and connectedness to each other.

He started this "Global Voices" site a few years ago, trying to offer views from bloggers worldwide. It's pretty cool, but as he notes, not enough. It's hard for me to care about what happens in Gabon. But in an age of SARS and Arab Spring, we kind of need to. At least, someone needs to.

Some useful concepts or other notes:

Hallin's spheres: the center is consensus, that's easy, we all agree. Next is the sphere of legitimate debate. Outside that is the sphere of deviance: ideas so ridiculous that no one seriously thinks them. This is the goal of revolutionaries and rabble rousers: to move ideas from the sphere of deviance into the sphere of legitimate debate. This is of course a double edged sword: it's good that, say, gay marriage and marijuana legalization made that leap; it's, you know, existentially dangerous that global warming has.

(Also, choice quote from cartoonist Ted Rall: "'no one seriously thinks' is brutarian to the point of Orwellian.") P86

How news works now: Galtung and Runge's "news values": short time frames, moral unambiguousness, unexpectedness, and reflection of preconceptions.

Apparently, of all newspapers in the US, only the NY Times, LA times, Washington Post, and WSJ still have substantial foreign bureaus?!

Goals of Global Voices: filtering, translating, contextualizing. Making good-enough translation transparent, enabling bridge figures, and engineering serendipity.

Human Libraries. Rent a person and talk for a while to learn things from their perspective. Awesome. P196

Community by arbitrary structure. Birth days of the week in Ghana. Livejournal birth month groups.

Discovery by breadth first search. Ish. "Impressionism? Might as well start with Monet. If not, Renoir. Now you have at least a sense of whether you like impressionism. Want to try Haitian food? Go to these top 3 popular Haitian places." The Dave Arnold algorithm (named after his friend). Where are the top 3 places for people who live in Greenfield? There's a lot of connection to cities here: people experience more serendipity in cities. How can we make online services more conducive to this? P228

Also, writing this on a tablet is awfully limiting. Ow. If you find any of this interesting, let's talk in person.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Levels of complexity (in the real world)

In CS school, we learned about computational complexity (and if you start tuning out you can just skip to the next paragraph). Some algorithms take "linear time" - an amount of time roughly equal to the data that you have. So if you have n pieces of data, computing on them will take about n units of time. (and if your data size doubles, it'll take twice as long.) Some take "quadratic time" - so if your data size doubles, it'll take 4 times as long. Some take "exponential time", like 2^n, so if your data set gets *just one piece bigger*, the program will take twice as long. (and of course you could fill in any other function; some things take n^3 time, or log(n) time, or whatever.) So you want to do as many algorithms that are "linear time" or "logarithmic time" (n, or log(n)) if possible, and avoid things that are quadratic if you can, and really avoid anything that takes exponential time.

In the real world, I feel like you get different kinds of complexity:
- problems with helpers
- neutral problems
- problems with adversaries
I am just making these up, this is not an official distinction or terms or anything.

Problems with helpers: these are great, and easy, and fun! Even if you don't do great, your thing will get done. An example: if you're a bigwig executive, and you can ask your secretary to book a plane ticket. Your secretary knows your preferences, they know all the billing info, all you do is tell them where/when you want to go. Another example: scheduling dinner with some friends. Even if you accidentally say the wrong place or time, you can call your friends and say "oops, I meant this other day", and they'll probably either arrange other things in their schedule to make it, or else just not make it and it's fine.

Neutral problems: kind of like you vs. the machine. Example: doing the laundry. Kind of difficult sometimes (and takes a long time), and if you put it on the wrong settings it'll mess up your clothes but (at least supposedly) you have all the information you need.

Problems with adversaries: these seem simple but turn out to be difficult because you have to account for all the ways your adversary *could* thwart you. Example: selling tickets online. The core thing is simple, but you have to account for the fact that some people might wire up some bots to grab all the tickets in one second and then scalp them, so it gets difficult. Or, counting votes. Simple process! But you ideally want to set it up so that even if you have one corrupt vote counter, the whole election won't be stolen.

Software tends to have adversaries, which is why most "simple" apps tend to take forever to build. Same with everything legal.

Seeing complex situations through one point of view

It feels like we, as humans, are not capable of processing certain questions above a certain level of complexity. For example, "should you be allowed to carry a gun in public?"

Some people say, "well, imagine a bad guy, who gets a gun illegally anyway, and opens fire on a bunch of good people; if one of those good people had a gun, they could shoot him back and save lots of lives!"

Sure. But you're taking a laser view into a complex system. We don't know what happens to everyone else in the scene (or everyone outside the scene), how often the shooting-him-back works, or even how often this situation would happen at all.

Similarly, you see one person on welfare buying a steak, you figure they're all living the high life. So you propose a bunch of new laws to stop this exact case (with a bunch of collateral damage). It's like balancing on a tightrope, and you start to notice that your left side is a little too high, so you have someone hand you a 50-lb weight in your left hand.

Service Design is a neat new concept (or maybe old, I lose 10 designer-cred points because I wasn't into it before it was cool) from designers where they at least try to give you a structured way to look at all the people in these situations. Most of the benefit, I think, comes from writing them all down on paper and arranging them in a diagram. At least you have to think about them all and consider more than one laser view in your response to a situation.

Eh, it's not perfect. But showing me a diagram would at least convince me more than your one-laser-view argument.