Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Low pass filters

"We've gotta keep this traffic flowing and accept a little sin" - Cake

Nerd Rage: when you get mad at something that is Definitely Wrong, but not at all important. I am inspired/annoyed/awed by a guy I used to vaguely know at Google who would send you whole changelists/pull requests that were just him correcting your whitespace, irrelevant punctuation, 80-char lines, and other code style/lint issues. He was right, but I dunno, pretty annoying about the whole thing. Nerd rage comes up more often, but I don't have as good examples of it.
Etymology of this term: I made it up.

See also related terms: BikesheddingYak shaving. (Did you know that was named after a Ren and Stimpy episode?) Bikeshedding and Yak shaving are mostly the same, minus the rage.

Well-Actually: someone says something that is technically true but irrelevant. The worst case of it is when you just want to sound smart. A more forgivable, but still bad, case is when you don't realize that you're adding more information that isn't helpful here because you're not skillful enough to realize that's what you're doing.

Righteous fury: (this doesn't really need definition but I can't break the format now.)

Low pass filter: a filter that lets low frequencies through but cuts off high frequencies.

Nerd raging usually doesn't feel good when you're doing it. Righteous fury, or righteous-fury-filled nerd rage, feels good when you're doing it, but feels bad as soon as it's over. Bikeshedding and yak shaving don't really feel good when you look back on the time you spent doing it. Well-actuallying doesn't feel good when you've developed enough social awareness to realize that you're well-actuallying. Life's easier with a well-tuned mental/emotional low-pass filter.

(I'm not sure if "high pass filter" would have made this work better. I'm thinking, cut out pops and hisses, right? Hmm, sorry, filter doesn't let me care about this :P

So, there we go! Just stop worrying about small stuff, right? Like cars parking in the bike lane, or whether an online game could be 1% better! Of course, this is easier said than done. But as a general principle, I think: if Calm You thinks something is not a big deal, then anything you can do to make Angry You care less about it is probably in the right direction.

(If you want to be like Herodotus said about the ancient Persians, you could sub in "Sober You" for Calm You and "Drunk You" for Angry You.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Animal Hot Springs and telling the story

Remember Neko Atsume (Cat Collector)?

That game was great! Put out some treats, have adorable kittens come visit, maybe take pictures of them if you want. And that's about it. I think the cats give you fish, and you can spend that on new cat toys.

I recently was linked to a knockoff called Animal Hot Springs. I started playing it, and thought it was great! Animals come in to a hot springs, they ask for stuff like a drink or a towel, you drag it to them, and they give you acorns. You then spend the acorns on new hot springs gear.

This eventually became less fun. Dragging the stuff to the animals was not so fun. Hoarding acorns was not so fun. Sometimes you had the option to watch ads to speed up your progress. (I think Richard Garfield would be displeased.) Most of the ads were for other crummy games, like match-3 clones and Farmville knockoffs.

Why was it less fun? I don't know, I guess it was just less tuned. I felt like I had to grind for a long time. Plus, the basic loop of "drag food to animal" was less fun than the basic loop of "look at kitties." Oh, and the ads.

Anyway, it seems very psychically helpful to tell stories of things that happen to you. (See also: recent bike guy story.) In this case, it's not just "I'm an idiot who played a junky game", it's an opportunity to wax philosophical about what did and didn't work about that game. (And to marvel at how silly it is that I didn't like that but I'm now playing Antimatter Dimensions, aka the most recent Number-go-up game.)

And this blog is one way I do this. In a space that's mostly psychologically safe (somehow, despite being on the internet); that is, where I know that if anyone's listening, they're probably friendly. Thank you for making it so!

Friday, January 25, 2019

On mystery hunt, and doing things you really quite like

I got a chance to join the MIT Mystery Hunt with a friend's team this past weekend. This is one of the biggest puzzle-hunt events, open to anyone and drawing in a crowd of a couple thousand to Boston every January. I was a little worried that I couldn't hack it; looking at a couple puzzles last year, I solved zero of them. I was also worried about the group coordination - I get kinda nervous when I'm trying to solve a thing with other people all at once. (Pair programming, for example, I find pretty challenging.) I was excited because, well, when puzzling is good, it's great.

And this was great! I met a few new friends (the 4 of us who represented the team out here in SF), and mostly sat around in a room puzzling all day. It feels like, I think, if you're a runner and you go for a nice long run, or if you're a real strongman and you go weightlifting. (ok, maybe not quite that good. (audio NSFW.)) Time really melts away, and you're just there trying to think about this weird thing from 12 different angles, until finally you get it, and then you feel like pumping your fist and dancing around like Coach.

I solved, I think, wholly or partially, 6 puzzles. I hesitate to even say this because:
- count of trophies is kinda not the point
- wouldn't really want this to become even a friendly competition
- don't want to dissuade anyone reading this who can't solve even one
But I like to have it out there as a metric to measure myself against, I think. In the same way that runners track their PRs, I can track my progress in terms of Mystery Hunt puzzles solved.

The puzzles, too, were great. Mystery Hunt puzzles seem to be a notch above puzzles in e.g. the Microsoft College Puzzle Challenge. Like, stack 3 MSCPC puzzles together, and you get one Mystery Hunt puzzle. Before I thought I was just too dumb to solve MH puzzles; turns out you just have to stick with them longer.

Coordination turned out to be great. I could mostly grab a puzzle and go into my little world, which I like. Sometimes I'd get stuck on a thing and then I could ask my 3 fellow puzzlers, and we'd brainstorm together for a minute. Sometimes I'd get really stuck and then I'd just abandon the puzzle; with our sweet Google Docs synchronization, someone else could pick it up.

Anyway, I think it's valuable to do things you really like. I'm happy to have found a way to do a new one, and am looking forward to continuing to puzzle more.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

In which I meet another David Tennant wannabe, but he's a big jerk.

Previously in the "Dan is mad at bike lane parkers" saga.

I've moved on to Tactic 8: I bought some nametag stickers and wrote on them "I parked in a bike lane", and have stuck them on a couple cars that are in bike lanes. A change to what I proposed before: these stickers are not bumper stickers, they are harmless and easily removed; the goal is to either spark people to think about it (not likely) or to give them 5 seconds of annoyance as a penalty for doing a slightly annoying thing.

On Wednesday, I try Tactic 5a: stopping in front of a parked car, and kind of waving "hey, can you move out of the bike lane?" (this has been somewhat effective, really!) The driver, a ~30 year old white man in an Audi unfortunately with a resemblance to David Tennant more striking than my own, waves "no." I go "come on, please?" He goes "nope!" So I put a sticker on the hood of his car.

Guy gets pissed, jumps out of car, pulls sticker off, and shoves me off my bike onto the ground. (I am unhurt.) We start yelling at each other, crowd gathers, etc. He's maintaining that I put the sticker on his car, he shoved me, so we're even. I think I said "you think so? want to let the cops settle that?" He says sure, call the cops. So I do.

A couple of other cyclists are going "come on, you two, just shake hands and make up, don't waste the cops' time." I coax a gritted-teeth apology out of him: "I'm sorry." "You're sorry for..." "For pushing you." "And for parking in the bike lane." "... uh, for double parking." "No, for parking in the bike lane."
These other bikers are pressuring me to shut up and accept his apology (as well as scolding me for stickering his car in the first place), so I do, and I ask the cops to cancel the call.

Guy and I then talk more, and I think "ah great, we're all calmed down, we might come to some mutual understanding!" Nope. He goes on to explain that it's just traffic, deal with it, dude. I'm saying "yeah, but this makes me swerve around you, which is dangerous, and this is exactly what a bike lane is trying to prevent." He says he doesn't care and is going to keep parking in bike lanes anyway. Eventually he goes "Look, I don't want to be having this conversation anymore. Have a good one." and climbs back in his impervious metal box.

I'm unimpressed with his... basically, his retraction of his apology! When I thought we might be cooling nerves and he might be realizing he's taken it too far... instead, turns out he's just saying what he really thinks now that he knows the cops won't actually show up. I call back the police and ask if there's anything we can do at this point. We did get his license plate, and it's in the incident report, so in fact yes, we can still file charges.

I go into the police office the next day to make a statement. I try to figure out what happens next - turns out it'd probably be that he'd get charged with misdemeanor battery (possible sentence: up to $2k fine and 6 months jail and/or probation), we'd both have to show up in court, and we see what happens. I decide to take the statement home and think about it.

So many thoughts at this point! And this is 3 days later. I think I've let them settle to where I can put them in order. (and post them publicly on the internet? *shrug*)

  1. The primary feelings are anger and frustration because I feel somewhat powerless here, and because he "won."
  2. What happens if I do file a report?
    1. Probably nothing happens - the case gets dismissed somehow.
    2. Maybe we both go in front of a judge and the judge says "you two play nice now, ok?" I would feel good that Dude was inconvenienced; I would feel shitty because he "won." He would continue being a terrible person.
    3. Maybe the judge would convict him of this, and he would get a fine and/or probation. That'd be great. Maybe it'd be a "oh geez, I'm kind of a jerk" moment, and he'd clean up his act.
    4. Maybe the judge convicts him, and he actually goes to jail! Uh, I would feel... kinda bad about this. Like, he's a rich white kid so I think he'd be ok, but... I dunno, this would feel disproportionate. (to be clear, if he was nonwhite, I probably would not have even bothered him in the first place and certainly would not call the cops on him!) However, the chance of this is (I hope!) miniscule.
    5. Maaaybe I get hit with some fault of my own for putting a sticker on his car! I mean, who knows. He'd probably try to make a case that I was "menacing" him or something because I made physical contact with his precious Audi.
    6. In any of these cases, I have to deal with it longer, and that exacts a logistical and emotional toll on me, which I could very easily not do. I mean, it's not like I have medical bills that he should pay for or something.
  3. What happens if I don't file a report? Guy continues to be an ass. This is kind of a problem. I hate to let that guy continue to exist in the world. Probably he is not as much of an ass usually, but I do feel bad letting him be out there in the world and thinking that whatever he does is ok.
  4. Hold up - this case is dumb as hell, right?
    1. But remember, this is because of the shove, not the bike lane.
      1. However! If there were no bike lane, I would shrug it off. Like, I start arguing with some guy at a bar and he shoves me - there's no way I'm filing a police report.
      2. If there were no shove, I wouldn't even think about it either! As a result, this makes me think that I'm playing "gotcha" - the result is, "I tweaked you enough that you fought back, and now that I've got a concrete instance of you technically battering me (though I was totally fine) I'm going to take you down."
      3. Why am I playing gotcha? Is this maybe a case of misdirected anger at other things in my life, surfacing as righteous fury at bike lane jerks?
  5. Ok, but this whole bike lane fixation is dumb as hell and I should get on with my life, right?
    1. Well, "grant me the courage to change what I can, the serenity to accept what I can't, and the wisdom to tell the difference, right? (see also: Ram's answer to my last post)
    2. Which category does bike-lane-parking fall under? ... probably a "serenity to accept what I can't." Fighting bike lane parkers one by one is Not Very Effective.
    3. But overall bike infrastructure is a "courage to change what I can." Organize lobby phonebank vote etc!
      1. On the other hand, I hate doing this kind of work.
      2. So maybe this is a "serenity to accept what I can't, while doing the normal background amount of courage like voting and donating and stuff."
      3. Yeah, ok, I can deal with that. Based on the last point on #4 here, this might be just misdirection of anger from just the general stress of life.
  6. Still, f this guy.
    1. But: maybe I caught him on the worst day of his life, who knows.
    2. If that is wishful thinking and he is always an ass, well... that tends to be its own reward, and it's ok if I don't accelerate it.
    3. For my part, usually I've found the best thing to do with Very Unpleasant People is to just stay away from them forever, if possible.
  7. F these other bikers too. Seriously: what the hell? Nattering on about "well, you shouldn't be stickering people's cars"... I have little patience for this sentiment of "the status quo is wrong but let's not make anyone upset ever." If someone is standing up for what's right, you take their side 100%.
  8. I get why people don't report crimes sometimes. Not at all saying this is anywhere near the same magnitude as sexual assault survivors but I kinda get the feeling of "I think I have a 90%-solid case to hammer this terrible human, but that's not 100%; I might just get laughed out of the room; and this whole thing is embarrassing and it would just feel really bad to open it back up."
  9. That said, all the cops I talked to were remarkably cool about this whole thing! I can imagine them rolling their eyes a lot at this case, but nobody did. The lady at the station who was helping me figure out what would happen in this case, particularly, seemed very adept at conflict resolution and interested in helping me sort through what I wanted out of it.
  10. Finally, notice for a moment all the weirdness that the metal box of the car adds to this situation. He feels threatened when I touched his metal box. (probably because many metal-box-damages cost hundreds or thousands to fix.) He has the luxury to withdraw from any situation he doesn't like, into his metal box. The size of his metal box is the problem in the first place (a double parked bike/scooter/longboard/etc probably doesn't even impede anyone). So: electric cars, rentable cars, self-driving cars, Uber/Lyft cars, (fill in the blank) cars are no solution. As long as we are addicted to these metal boxes that take you out of your environment, we'll have drivers (or passengers) being obnoxious because of them.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

that "burnout generation" article, and catalogability

I'm sure if you're on internet things, you've seen "How millennials became the burnout generation."

1. It's well written and should be required reading if you're inclined to think "kids these days" are lazy!

2. I'm lucky to have been spared most of these problems, and I can mostly manage my life today. However, I have no kids, stable corporate job, no family members depending on me for medical care or anything, and no student loans or other unmanageable debts. I have no idea how people manage if those things are not the case.

3. It would be nice if you could put all the things you need to do into one nice list, then just do them. Unfortunately, they are uncatalogable, and probably have become more so in the last N years. Surely, the internet is partially to blame for this increase. But the worst excesses of the internet are kinda just symptoms of unchecked capitalism. Our economy is great at adding *more*, and it's great at consumer goods (and sometimes services) - but our problems are that we need less, and we need things that can't be fixed by consumer goods.

4. A lot of my time vanishes into bouts of blogging or otherwise reading/writing like this! I feel like this will likely drop off eventually. (post kids?) I wonder if I will just not even miss it, or if I will feel even more like I can't make sense of the world and then that will bother me.

5. This linked article ("Laziness does not exist") is great. I don't think I've ever met someone who I'd say is "just lazy." Literally everyone is doing their best given their circumstances. Nonjudgmental help is always 100x more useful than telling them "deal with it." Even when the answer needed is "deal with it", delivering that in a compassionate and understanding way is way more helpful than judgment. And this holds true at all levels - whether you're talking to a person one on one, or writing legislation. If you're inclined to give someone (or write legislation proposing) "tough love", you've gotta really be reflective and honestly answer "am I doing this because it's really right for them? or am I doing this because it's easier for me?"

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

2018 movies and albums

1. Annihilation - trippy sci-fi horror, moderate squeamishness, not all loose ends tied up, great soundtrack. More on this.
2. Over the Garden Wall (ok this was a couple years ago but I just watched it this year and it blew me away) - delightful silly-but-serious animated adventure, like a Phantom Tollbooth but with characters you care about. Beautifully drawn, amazingly voice-acted. Some example clips.
3. Free Solo - unbelievable rock climbing videography (and well explained for those of us who don't really know rock climbing) and a fascinating portrait of Alex Honnold, masterful but humble climbing legend. Like, I found him more relatable than most movie heroes.

1. Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer. A couple years ago, I thought Grimes was the defining pop star of our age. Nope, I was wrong, it's Monae, who can collaborate with Prince, Brian Wilson, and Pharrell on the same album and outdo them all. Crazy Classic Life evoking the rosy-skied American dream while pointing out that these dreams don't come true for everyone equally; guitar on Screwed; driving Django Jane; ethereal lyrics on Pynk; funky cool-down on Don't Judge Me; cathartic So Afraid; Americans bringing the opening theme home.
Like, of the two frequent collaborators, Grimes is a technical hero and aesthetic visionary (and we can separate the artist from the art when it comes to dubious choice of romantic interests) but Monae is all that and she has a lot more to say. Anyway, the critics got it right: this is just a front-to-back brilliant album. There's nothing to skip.
2. Gang Gang Dance - Kazuashita. Well, if you like Animal Collective and Bjork, then let's hang out and talk about how great this is. If Dirty Computer makes me feel like a beautiful Californian summer, Kazuashita makes me feel like I'm still traipsing around the world, still brave and hardy enough to keep getting as confused as possible.
Honorable mentions:
Yves Tumor - Safe in the Hands of Love (slightly experimental electronic)
Jon Hopkins - Singularity (grandiose electronic)
Young Fathers - Cocoa Sugar (pop/hip hop)
A.A.L. - 2012-2017 (house?)