Wednesday, September 28, 2016

More pieces of thoughts from notebooks

It's easiest to get along with someone when you're going through the same challenges. I guess this is just a rephrasing of "the best way to make friends is to suffer together."

There's an "investment" in academia that's nicer than "just a job." Grad school is all us going through this same grand challenge. I get why people want to stay in it. I suppose the thing to do is get a job that lets you feel that way too.

You can never thank everyone as much as you want.

Offloading mental work to parts of the brain that are good at things. This is a whole topic. I was thinking about it in the context of emotional regulation, but then just heard about it on a podcast: a memory expert talking about how he memorizes decks of cards by associating each with a famous person, and then telling stories about all the people. Way easier than trying to straight-up memorize letters and numbers. (and different than the old trick of chunking, which also helps.)
But back to emotional regulation: one thing I've learned (from therapists, mostly) is that it's important to be gentle and kind to all the people in your head. I'm not talking about multiple personality disorder, or tulpas, just the common thing where you have lots of sometimes-conflicting thoughts in there. But I'm calling all those thoughts/voices "people", because they're all just versions of yourself at different times. And we're good at being kind to people and incorporating them into a group; we're less good at incorporating facts and opinions. (and we're not often kind to ourselves.)

The problem about rules changing is when they exclude more people. Rise above tribalism. More on this maybe, if I can form my swirling thoughts into a coherent narrative.

We used to tell kids "follow your dreams! you can be anything you want!" That's a little bit true but also very misleading and not at all the thing I'm going to tell my kids. Some things that are true:
- you can maybe be anything. You cannot be everything. You've got to narrow it down. But narrowing it down is hard because:
- some things will not work, due to inherent limitations (short NBA star, etc.)
- some things will not ever fit your passion. You don't know this until you try. Imagine your passion as a little puppy, and you're trying to figure out what this puppy likes.
- some things will fit your passion, but later. It's a puppy, not a big dog; it'll change over time.
Passion does exist! But it's a thing you grow and actively discover, not a thing you decide or passively discover.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

the internet: bringing us together and pushing us apart since Jan 1, 1970

Some things that are on my mind:
Chris Arnade's tweets - I don't know who this guy is, just stumbled on his posts, and couldn't stop reading. I guess here's a decent starter. He's a reporter who used to live in the "front row" (wall street) and now travels among the "back row" (small cities throughout non-coastal America).
An interview with Will MacAskill - guy behind 80,000 hours and Giving What We Can and philosophy prof. You don't have to listen to all of it (it's long) but you should (it's great) - the one point that's relevant to this post was about tribalism (especially in election season). Why should your view on abortion have anything to do with your economic policy?

With that context, sleepy and trying to wake up, I opened Facebook. Came across a post by a family member (keepin' this all super vague b/c public blog and don't wanna embarrass anyone I guess) expressing regret over some recent riots that came out of a vigil for a black guy killed by police. Other family (some close, some less close) jumped on, "yeah it's so sad," "violence is not the way," etc. And I found my mind doing a couple things:
1. assuming that those family members were all therefore invalidating the struggle of black people to not get killed
2. getting angry because black people are getting killed!
3. spiraling into rage, thinking about my other friends who are posting about black people being killed
4. writing off my family members' opinions because they're so sheltered in their white middle class lives or something

and... that's mostly ridiculous, to say the least:
1. man, who knows! I know that some of the family involved (again, staying super vague) care, and get it, about black people getting killed. posting about riots (happening in a place they're living) doesn't mean they don't believe protests are justified.
2. ok, this is not ridiculous
3. ... but this is silly. I'm getting a daily dose of anger fuel without doing anything about it. Like, I see posts running the gamut from "black people are getting killed, that is bad" -> "holy cow this is actually really bad" -> "if you disagree, you are wrong" -> "if you disagree, you are bad" -> "if you even less-than-fully-agree, you are bad". The later steps are usually said through sarcasm, not outright. Somewhere between "holy cow this is actually really bad" and "if you disagree, you are bad", this stops being useful and starts being tribalism.
4. oh gosh! first of all, I'm living in the biggest bubble city there is. I guess I see more poor and not-white people on a daily basis than they do, but I can't say I interact meaningfully. Second of all, what good is it to close yourself off from someone you disagree with? Third, I mean, these are family relationships, too, and those are important, and yeah you can disagree with someone's politics without writing them off as a person, but it's hard when you're in the "if you disagree, you are bad" mental state.

The result of all this is that I'm angry, and feeling closed off from family members. (and nothing has happened to help stop black people getting killed by police.) Maybe, looking at this real optimistic-like, I should focus on this as a practice opportunity to:
- remember not to take anyone beyond their word - if you say "riots are bad" it doesn't mean "the thing that caused their riots isn't bad"
- not close off, in case people do disagree with me
- love my family despite disagreeing with them sometimes

Well, at least I'm awake.

EDIT: to be clear, I didn't mean this post to be about the riots or police violence at all. I was trying to say more something like "Facebook surfaces the angriest views on anything to me, which changes my reactions enough that I'm unable to even relate to people normally; this is frustrating" and "I wish I could read my friends' news in a way that doesn't bathe me in anger." To be further clear, my points #1-4 above (the first time I talk about them) are mostly wrong, and I referenced them all again a second time to disprove them all. Anyway, if this post makes you want to discuss anything about riots or police violence, then sure, let's do so, but I don't mean to be taking any particular stand here. (well, ok, I guess I'm taking the stand that black people getting killed unjustly by police is bad. but that's hardly a stand.)

also: I was trying to anonymize everyone, and I'm pretty sure I succeeded in anonymizing it enough that an internet rando couldn't google the people involved, but obviously didn't anonymize it to the people involved (or people who know the people involved, or who also got the shared facebook post.) I'm not real sure how to do this. I could say "I saw a post from a person about an event, and it made me think ____" but then it's like reading math: so abstract it's hard to tell what's even going on. not good reading, anyway. Also, when I say "some family members", the wrong family members might think it's them. Open to suggestions on how to do this better.

also also: who am I writing for here? good question. first of all, me. there's a reason I hardly ever try to publicize this blog (and start all sorts of new ones for sub-audiences). I guess (and this is an unintentional thing I'm only now realizing) second of all might be pretty close friends and pretty close family? folks who know me and my context and life and might be interested in ramblings?
It's the kind of thing where it'd be nice if all my close peers were around a lot and I could process my feelings through them, but now we live all over the place.
And I want it to be super opt-in-whenever; like I don't want to facebook push it to you, but if you want to go check a blog, go ahead.
But it does leave me with a super uncertain audience, which means I'm sometimes not sure about who I can talk to about what. Eh.

(thanks to my mom for an interesting conversation about all this)

Anyway, if anything I say makes you feel bad in any way, or if it seems like a thinly veiled dig at you behind your back, let me know, let's talk it out.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A bunch of small thoughts from an old notebook

1. Listen to the "autism isn't what I signed up for" episode if Death, Sex, and Money podcast. Oh god! That's the most terrifying thing I've heard recently (b/c possibility times harm is really high).

2. Apparently there are people who pretend to be soldiers, wear combat gear, etc, just around town to get discounts, praise, etc. Uh, OK. And apparently there are people who like to find these people and discover that they're lying and publicly and loudly embarrass them. Again, uh, OK. They call their crusade "Stolen Valor." Predictably, sometimes they're wrong, and they just make a scene screaming at some poor old guy who couldn't answer their impromptu inquisition to their satisfaction.

I guess this is a perfect example of all kinds of terribleness that happens on the internet, ostensibly for a noble cause, but in reality caused by people's love of feeling superior and casting out the infidel.

3. Is there something to intermittent fasting? For general health and living longer because your body cleans up all the nasty damaged pre pre pre cancerous cells?

4. I just have one sentence written down and I forget the context: "the political discourse is more dangerous than ISIS." Upon reflection... Yeah, I can see that. Like if you pull some trick to get elected but then it also lessens public trust in government, and then we fail to pass a carbon tax or something. Like, if you're trying to drive a car a thousand miles, the most dangerous thing that can happen isn't a bumpy road, it's if you let your engine degrade. Eh, this requires some kind of large scale thinking to look at relative risks of various large problems. Gosh, wish I knew someone who did that :P

5. "You have to do a hard thing in your 20s. Grad school was/is OK for me I guess." - tongue in cheek, but like, one of the real upsides of grad school is I know I've been challenging myself and haven't wasted the last 5 years, career wise.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

A travel and embroidery project 5 years in the making

Over the past 5 years, I've been lucky enough to take 3 more-than-a-month trips to some pretty neat parts of the world. 2011-2012, while waiting for grad school to start, I took off to India (and Cambodia and Singapore and Australia/NZ), came back to the states for a month, then went to Eastern Europe (and some Western too). 2016, after Tati and I got married, we went to central-western China.

Each time, I brought one button-down shirt. They tended to be khaki-colored, which is partially just coincidence and partially because I want to be Indiana Jones. Each time, by the end of the trip, after I wore it for 50+ days, that shirt was pretty beat up. For some reason, I still saved them. And here's why: I had this idea to stitch the routes I took onto them. Finally I got around to doing it.

India, plus Cambodia and NZ. In Singapore and Australia, I was just in a couple cities for a few days, so they're not as interesting to map. Blue is flights, green is ground travel. Only two flights here, from Kathmandu to Paro and Trivandrum to Bangalore; I try to stay on the ground as much as possible.

The countries I went to in Europe. Had to add another color for this: red is travel on my own two wheels. (125cc Aprilia Leonardo scooter, in this case.) Maybe should have redone my NZ trip with the bicycle trip, across the center of the South Island, in red; too late now.

Technically cheating with this shirt, b/c the India one made it as far as Lublin, Poland, and then I bought this shirt there. And this shirt then survived back to the US and I wore it sometimes here. But it's already complicated enough :P

No two-wheeling in China. But luckily, no flights either. There is a lot of China, and we saw only a slice of Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu. Kinda like if you went to the US and stayed in the Mountain time zone.

Things I learned:
"Embroidery" just means sewing decorative things. (Thanks to my friends Erin and Iris for some tips on the process btw!)
Stitching across pockets is hard.
A "Transfer pen" is a thing you can use to draw on fabric then stitch over it and easily wash it out. Here's the one I used.
There is "embroidery thread" that would have made these lines a little thicker and prettier. Whoops.
Every project about your own travels is pretty navel-gazey unless you're Paul Theroux or Pico Iyer. I'm fine with that.
We have a nice frame shop in the Mission at 20th and Valencia where you can get nice premade frames.
I can be an artist in my spare time. That is both possible and ok. Furthermore, I can call myself an artist regardless of how much art I make or how good it is. Doesn't mean I'm claiming I'm as cool as most artists, just means "I make art sometimes."
Being Done with a capital D with a long project feels good.
Being Done with a project that feels really awesome, that has personal history and meaning embedded within it, feels extra good.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Avoid Brazil (The Movie)

Another half formed post, but if I wait until everything is perfect I will never blog.

If we talk a lot, you probably know that the dystopia I fear the most is Brazil. (The movie, I mean.)

1984: we kinda figured out how not to have that one for the most part. (granted, parts of it keep showing up, Snowdenleaks and all, but the whole vision is unlikely.) (we can debate this I suppose but the point is

Brave New World: again, we got parts of it, but I feel like we're getting better at non-eugenics, and nobody I know makes me think we're likely to drug ourselves into unthinking oblivion. (If you think we're doing that: name *a person* who you think is doing that. people like to say we're doing this in a society-as-a-whole level, but when you try to find it in individuals, it's difficult. I am optimistic about individuals.)

Terrorists Win: again, unlikely. (even though the danger from terrorists is not the suicide bombers who kill 3 people a week, or the 9/11ers who kill 3000 people once a decade, it's the terrorists who steal a nuke and kill 3 million people once a century. is this a more hedged view than I've had before, which was essentially "do not worry about terrorism At All"? yes. have you figured out how to change my mind on anything at all? yep: get Scott Alexander to blog about it. but I digress.)

The Matrix or Skynet or Paperclip Maximizers: now, this one is more likely than any of the above! But I'm not very good at figuring out small probabilities over large time frames, and multiplying by the harm caused by each of them. So I will simply say that this maybe should get bumped up my queue, but in the meantime I figure it's still not as likely as...

Brazil, though: the bureaucracy dystopia. The system that Squashes You. (maybe because of a typo on some form somewhere.) Here's an example, an account of a harrowing Heathrow deportation experience. (tl;dr: someone was going to give a perfectly legit talk at a perfectly legit conference, and said so at immigration, but for whatever reason, UK officials turned her away. This is not just an annoyance, it is a really distressing 48-hour-or-so experience.)

Likelihood of Brazil: AFAICT, 100%. I mean, this future is already here. (It's just unevenly distributed.) The richer (and whiter and maler) you are, the more you can opt out of some of the Systems, but still, every so often, one will squash you.
Likelihood of Brazil getting worse: 98%? I mean, we keep doing more Machine Learning to categorize everyone every day. More, more complicated systems, which each have a 2% false positive rate, but 2% of Everyone is a huge number of people getting hosed by each one. (and it's a non-independent 2%.)
Problems of Brazil: are obvious I think - esp if you're a Muslim flying on a plane or a black person stopped by police or whatever. TODO: more detail here.
Problems of Brazil even if you're a richwhiteman: it just narrows your universe. I mean, Ahmed Mohamed, the kid who made a clock - you can't even make a clock and bring it to school anymore. You can't wear funny clothes and fly on a plane. You can't take risks with your money, start a business or something, if you want to buy a house someday.

What can we do about it? I don't really know. Like, some of the work going on with making your algorithms not profile people is a nice start, but there will always be false positives. Make sure your System has a solid (quick, easy) appeal process?

What exactly do I mean by Brazil? TODO: more detail here too. Roughly: complicated systems with false positives?

And this is even leaving out the stuff that's not really one system squashing you, but a bunch of systems letting you fall through the cracks. Rents rising, can't make ends meet, etc. (Pittsburgh! Not SF. Kinda just wanted to highlight another great article from my friend Margaret.)