Sep. 4th, 2017 10:58 am
jack: (Default)
I've been thinking about antagonists, or anti-heroes, maybe, people in general. Ones I liked as people, ones I liked the writing of, ones I didn't like, what worked well and what didn't.

And it occurred to me, what commonly works well, is that they have a sympathetic/plausible/justified motivation. But that they go too far or do bad things in the cause of it.

That most of what they think, what you'd see in a story from their point of view, is what you might agree with. That doesn't apply to everyone, some people genuinely spend all day doing horrible things, but there are several advantages to using a character like that, the audience finds it easy to sympathise with them, and so does the writer.

But the other half of the equation is that they do bad, unjustified things, but they usually don't *think* about whether they're ok, they're usually not "here is my complicated justification for why X is ok", they just take it as the way the world is.

You can recognise a spectrum. Some antagonists are not really better or worse than the protagonist, we just empathise with the protagonist because it's their story, the differences is that each just happen to be opposed by circumstance, their moral choices aren't very different. Some antagonists do clearly horrible things.

A common choice is a character who *usually* does bad things but isn't *right now*, and you can get invested in their story and then see if they redeem themselves, or if you get to know them before deciding they're still a horrible person even if you came to like them.

It can also be done inconsistently where the villain see-saws back and forth across "can the audience empathise" because the writer picks some things which are kinda bad and some things which are really horrible without regard to an overall arc.

The first couple of Game of Thrones books do this very well, most of the viewpoint characters I find very sympathetic, even if I hated some of them when reading about what they did from the outside.

An example prominent in my mind was Magneto. I recently saw someone saying "Magneto was right", and I thought that a lot after the first film I saw: that if he *could* fight back and do anything to prevent mutants being systematically contained and abused by society, that makes a lot of sense. It's possible Charles' approach is more likely to work, but it's possible Magneto's is (or more likely, both approaches together are more effective than either alone).

However, as I watched more movies that characterisation seems lost. It seems like in every single movie, Magneto's noble goals lead through a train of tortured reasoning, to "and then mass murder", or "and then genocide". And then the X-men get to be the 'good guys' without having to ask whether a more targeted campaign of violence they'd be wrong to oppose. I'm inclined to put that down to the characterisation suffering for the needs of the plot, because I like the character and don't want to condemn them. Or that it's pushing the message that "any violence leads to too much violence" which I *generally* agree with, but probably not for a minority fighting against their extermination. Or that Magneto has a character flaw where his justified hatred of non-mutants, leads to all his plans ending "and then a massive indiscriminate slaughter of non-mutants" which doesn't seem to actually help.
jack: (Default)
I've had several conversations about why "secondary" is such a loaded concept in poly relationships and feel like I'm slowly getting how people feel. But still, I feel there's a lot that's important to people I'm missing.

1. Not enough

It seems like many people are starting from the assumption that nobody *wants* to be a secondary, and the concept is basically synonymous with "I'll probably want more but I'll settle for what I can get". And yes, if that's how you feel, then that might be ok, but there is an inherent source of tension which is likely

I never had that assumption, only as I've met a wider variety of relationships have I started to understand it. It seemed to me, some people had many parallel relationships (either a small number of permanent partners who are equal priorities in organising your life whether or not they're different in other ways, or varied relationships each negotiated individually etc). Or they had one or two main partners, and other partners as well, usually people who themselves had many other partners, or had other major commitments, or otherwise were at a point in their life where a relationship *might* become much more, but they weren't looking for more, they were looking for something which fit their life right now, even if they had limited time and energy.

But if every relationship is "I fall deeply in love" then it makes sense that anything other than deep and permanent is really hard. Likewise, if you only have room for one relationship, it's a very painful choice to be with someone who wants to be with someone else more, if that's not what you want, and either "they need to have room for their relationship with you to grow" or "they need to realise that they may not be kind by having a relationship with you" may be issues.

With the benefit of hindsight, that looks to me like, "here's a form of relationship that suits some people but not others, don't choose it if it doesn't suit you". But if you have no experience of possible relationships, and the only model you have is "A and B are the love of each other's lives, and C is there too but is treated with absolutely zero respect", it's easy to fall into that model, and come out feeling like it should be burned to the ground.

2. Negotiating from a position of weakness

The other thing I had to say is, it's common for a relationship (not romantic, any form of association) to involve people with different amounts of power. Sometimes that's seriously unfair, as in a bad boss and an employee who needs the job: the boss has every opportunity to take advantage, to not just be unfair but to manipulate the interactions to their advantage by changing the rules all the time.

Sometimes it's completely fair, as in A wants to date B and B doesn't want to date A: then B deservedly has completely control over who they want to date, and they may reject A politely and compassionately (if A is not a jerk) or harshly (if A is a jerk, or if B is for that matter).

"Fair" doesn't mean "half and half". Although in most healthy ongoing relationships, jobs, romance, etc, both sides get comparable good things out of it.

A relationship can be unequal. Say, A has young children, another partner, and many other commitments. And they have a fortnightly date with B, whose commitments are a lot more flexible. That's just how their lives are, no-one is deliberately being unfair. But it does turn out, B has more flexibility than A, so they end up rearranging things more often.

Now here's the distinction. At the moment A doesn't really have the power to offer a lot more time to B. But they do have the power to make arrangements respectfully, by being clear in advance what commitments they can and can't make. By being honest about what time they have. By being upfront that occasionally emergencies will happen but that won't be a default. By not changing plans at short notice and expecting B to cope, can we emphasise that one.

Maybe B *could* cope with that if they had to, but if A forces them to for no reason, or for unfair reasons like, "My other partner is jealous if I spend ANY TIME WITH YOU AT ALL so rather than talking about it I'm just going to constantly jerk you around in the hope that eventually they're happy", then A is not treating B at all respectfully.

The reason I mention this particularly is that it seemed to be a common complaint from people familiar with certain sorts of history, that A had apparently logical reasons why they needed to constantly change stuff around. But it's possible for A to be unfront about what's not really changeable, while also being respectful and communicative about everything.

This is obvious in some relationships: most people with friends know that sometimes a friends' job or partner need them right now, and most friendships, if you move away your friend will usually stay with their job or family, not move with you. And that's just normal: almost all humans have many relationships and give different things to different ones. But it's also normal that friends are not jerks about it, and (a) don't constantly talk about how something else in their life is more important than you and (b) make time for you sometimes and don't just cancel all the time without telling you.


Hopefully this is obvious, but this is, me trying to understand many thoughts I've heard from different places, and not about any particular relationships of anyone (especially not anyone I know). Hopefully that postscript isn't needed, but I know it's possible for me to post "thoughts on X" and people to worry "is this about me".

News recap

Jul. 13th, 2017 01:05 pm
jack: (Default)
Unfortunately, I often lose track of events when they're no longer headline news, even important ones.

I'd not realised how long the situation in eastern Ukraine had been :( But apparently, it's mostly in the same situation, with several large areas controlled by separatists backed by Russia, with continued fighting but not a lot of movement in lines of control.

Everyone condemned Russia and instituted sanctions, but it doesn't seem to have made much difference :( I guess eventually, the current situation will be formalised. Unless someone offers military aid to Ukraine which might even be worse, more proxy (or not proxy) wars :(

I think I sort of knew that, but I wasn't really sure.

I looked this up while checking what happened under NotPetya, the malware that used the same exploit as WannaCry, but also sought administrator privileges on networks to spread throughout organisations. It seems it didn't go globally apocalyptic as it temporarily seemed it might. But was pretty bad in Ukraine. It was initially spread when a commercial accounting package widely used in Ukraine was hacked to include it in a software update.

That's scary in two ways. One, it was targeted at Ukraine in several ways. It superficially presented itself as ransomware, but actually just did damage, the "accept money and decrypt" stuff was half-arsed.

Secondly, most people don't have a good defence against a legitimate software update. Image if chrome were hacked, or windows! That's hopefully not likely, but if it were possible, and someone used a new exploit to subvert their software updates directly instead of spreading indiscriminately first, it could infect *incredibly* widely.
jack: (Default)
Every so often I hear someone talking about modelling traffic jams as waves travelling in a queue of cars. After some thought, I came to some tentative conclusions, without having actually tried any modelling or anything.

Imagine a long long stream of cars along a somewhat congested motorway without much overtaking.

The first observation is, whatever you do, you can't really affect the car in front as long as you're driving legally/safely. And whatever you do, you don't end up significantly behind them: if there's any sort of traffic, the average speed is much under the fastest speed you could drive in an empty road, so you can always catch up with them. So whatever you do, *you* will reach your final turnoff shortly after the car in front.

However, over a long run of cars, it seems plausible (I haven't double-checked the maths) that cars driving at 30mph have a greater throughput than ones alternating 60mph and 0mph, mostly due to needing more than twice the distance between at 60 than at 30. That means that if traffic is dense, there's a natural tendency for small disruptions to sometimes get magnified, when each car reacts a little slowly to the car in front, and hence makes a slightly larger correction. Whereas if you go a bit slower and give yourself a bit of extra space when the traffic in front of you starts of but you suspect it's more stop-start, hopefully the traffic behind you will experience *less* disruption.

I'm not sure, does that sound right?
jack: (Default)
Whatever time you start, apologise for being late, but contrast the situation to other people's tradition which would have been even later.

Argue whether you should avoid eating things like rice which are absolutely definitely not leavened bread, but there is a tradition of avoiding them. Agree that everyone coming to the seder agree that you shouldn't avoid them, but decide to avoid them anyway just in case.

Don't eat anything until you're explicitly told to eat it. Don't finish any cup of wine until the last one.

Announce how Rabbi Hillel invented the sandwich.

"Seder" originally comes from Hebrew meaning "Judiciously skip ahead without telling anyone the page number because everyone has different books"

Try have everyone recite things in unison using different translations.

Explain the story of the first passover and the exodus from egypt, but repeating that every year would get a bit repetitive after several thousand years, so spend most of the time telling stories about other people telling the story.

Argue whether parting the red sea and letting the israelites get halfway across and then stopping and letting the water roll back over them could reasonably be construed as "sufficient" or not.

Tell everyone you don't usually exchange presents before exchanging presents.

Sing the jewish version of Partridge in a Pear Tree, starting "One is our God, in heaven and on earth."

Just when you've got used to switching between english and hebrew, to shake things up, there's suddenly an aramaic forerunner of House That Jack Built, that ends with God destroying

Sing the jewish version of the House that Jack Build about a little goat, that ends with God destroying the angel of death.

The year you first came was the first time people did the animal noises while singing, but because it's been every year you've been there, you're firmly convinced that's a tradition about eighteen hundred years old.

Comment that that's a recent addition to the passover liturgy (recent in this context meaning "a continuous tradition of barely more than 400 years").

Stay up too late discussing different interpretations.


Jan. 18th, 2017 11:37 am
jack: (Default)
I've kicked this idea around before as a possibility, but I've been thinking more about it since.

People have a great tendency to expect to find underlying truths. Introverts and extroverts are *really* like this underneath. Men and women have blah blah bullshit different brains. Etc.

But my idea of introversion is almost the reverse. I speculate that it's best understood as a catch-all for people who are less social for whatever reason. Two axes I think of (I don't know if this makes sense for other people) is "how much you NEED interaction with other people" and "how EASY you find interaction with other people".

And some of that is who you are, and some of that is circumstance: lots of external factors can make socialising easier or harder, which forms a self-reinforcing feedback loop in how easy you find it. This would predict that some people who aren't that interested, some people who naturally find it difficult, and some people who are prevented by circumstance, are similar in many ways.

And it also ties into the "extroverts gain energy from interaction, introverts spend energy on it" idea which many people endorse. In my way of thinking, that's more of a consequence than a root cause, that you need it a certain amount, and it takes a certain amount of effort to do, and if it refreshes you more than it costs, it leaves you net positive on energy and if it's the other way round, you need a reserve of energy to spend on it.

For instance, I notice with Liv and I, when we're interacting with each other, we need quite similar amounts of time. We can spend a *lot* of time just interacting, but we both need a certain, not that large, amount of time having a break from it too. But it seems to me, Liv is like that with *more* people. Whereas the number of people I can interact with basically indefinitely is quite small.

So my theory is, some people don't *need* that much social interaction, whether or not they find it easy when they need to do it. And other people find it difficult to varying degrees, but act quite similarly when they're with people they *can* interact easily with, but vary in how often they are.

But I don't know if that sounds like it applies to other people, or just how it helped me to think of it.
jack: (Default)
A recent conversation about Defence against the Dark arts teachers made me realise I use "evil" in two different ways. Sometimes I mean, "doing something bad on purpose". Sometimes I mean, "doing harm to other people". The greatest harm is often done by people who are indifferent to it. But people who maliciously hurt others are awful is a special way.

A couple of the professors were very indifferent-evil. They didn't set out to hurt people, but they didn't see any of the awful things they did to people. Others were malicious-evil, they were killing people all over the place.

And of course, it's more complicated by that. Most people who cause harm by inattention SHOULD notice, and exist somewhere on a scale from "I'm 8 and I haven't broken away from the worldview I'm immersed in" to "I'm really really really wilfully ignorant, and I must be actively avoiding thinking about this."

But insofar as it's helpful to be able to think about bad things, it's useful to realise that they often overlap, but when I say "very evil" I might mean one of two different things.
jack: (Default)
In Lucky Number Slevin, there's a bit where a guy who's life is a disaster gets a second hand tip and makes a bet on a horse race with an (illegal) bookie he can't afford, and unsurprisingly it goes horrible wrong and they try to kill him.

The main moral is "prohibition makes for good films and disastrous government policy".

But then I got to thinking about the mechanics of running a bookie without access to law enforcement and banking infrastructure, and I didn't actually understand it.

I assumed, illegal bookies would exist on a spectrum. The more honest implementation being like a legal bookie: accept bets with cash up-front, or from people you're pretty sure are a good credit risk. Pay out if they win. That's it.

The other end of the spectrum being like a loan shark: extend credit to as many people as possible, let people get in over their heads, and then milk them for as long as possible before their life falls apart in ruins. If anyone decides to just not pay, force them or make an example out of them with physical violence.

But in Slevin, it seems like, the organised crime people knew in advance the mug was broke and could never really pay. So why do they accept the bet at all? As soon as the horse loses, they make a move on him. So they never expected to get *any* money from him whatever the race outcome. Even if you're *willing* to messily kill people, what do they gain by getting into that in the first place?

Is it just to get a splashy example so other people pay up? But don't you want them to dig themselves in FIRST? If you START by scaring everyone, maybe they just won't borrow money from you?
jack: (Default)
I sometimes think of things I enjoy doing, just like things I need to be able to do, as skills. Not that the main enjoyment of reading a book is the challenge, but I think *some* of it is. I enjoy reading books where I DO have to work to follow what's going on, even though I enjoy that less often than I enjoy reading books that aren't as hard work.

But that partly means, I'm always slowly getting bored with the sort of books I used to like. Because if you can read the first few pages and say, "right, I bet the tough protagonist talks like an asshole but actually always does the right thing and the female lead flirts with him for some reason and the morally ambiguous manipulators switch sides several times but end up essentially working with the protagonist in the climax even if he doesn't like it", and all that happens, the only bits I'm really experiencing are the bits that *don't* fit into that mold.

And it also means, reading books in a different genre can be *difficult*, I need to consciously practice in order to follow when much more of the book is new to me. But rewarding, because a bit of practice can open up a lot of other books.

And it also means, "how much do you like this book" can vary a lot, "it's good, but only if you're familiar with that sort of thing" or "it's good, but you may have read it all before", can be the norm, not the exception.
jack: (Default)
I've a lot of unformed thoughts related to this topic recently. Likely there some existing theory of value I don't have the concepts for which would resolve it, anyone know?

Preamble: minimum price, maximum price, real-world price, and "fair" price

Suppose Alice does some work for Bob (making something, repairing something, helping with something). I'm going to start by considering the simplest case of "they agree what Bob will pay Alice, then she does it" and try to work towards what would actually happen if this was a repeated (eg. as a wage for ongoing employment, or as advertising goods/services for sale en mass). There are going to be a LOT of complications which overwhelm this basic idea coming shortly.

What price might they agree? I'm considering four relevant prices. Firstly, the minimum price Alice will accept, presumably the minimum that she expects to cover materials, any intangible benefits, and the minimum compensation for her time that will make it preferable to do this rather than something else. Second, the maximum price Bob will pay, presumably the benefit he expects to gain (in pleasure, or in saving spending money elsewhere, or making more money).

These may be very subjective and hard to quantify! I'm not saying they need to be fixed, or known, just that they're a way I find it useful to think about the question in principle. The third price, is the price actually agreed at in real life. Most of the time this will be between the minimum and the maximum, though there will be exceptions when people make mistakes. But the place in the range varies wildly depending on lots of messy real world factors, and a lot of theoretical and practical economics cover describing HOW it varies.

Both people will have limited knowledge of their own position and even more limited knowledge of the other person's, so will not always know what offer to make that might be accepted. There are significant transaction costs in reaching an agreement, eg. if one party strings the other along and then adds price at the last minute, or if Alice's main job is working for Bob, it will take her a lot of effort to get a different job which may or may not be better. If there are lots of Alices and only one Bob, or vice versa, the single party will almost automatically negotiate a more favourable price, as the multiple parties compete against each other. Is it more advantageous for Alice to mass-produce what she can offer and sell to as many Bobs as possible, or seek out the few Bobs to whom it's most valuable and sell it to them for more? Or both?

The "fair" price

Most people have some intuition what constitutes a "fair" price, although I'm not sure if there's a single best definition. Some people say that whatever people agree to is "fair". Most people would say that a deal that is massively one-sided, paying Alice the absolute minimum you can get away with -- even if it's better for her than doing nothing -- is unfair, if it means that she can barely eat, or that her work produces tens of millions of pounds of profit, of which she gets none.

People disagree about whether how unique Alice's offer is should affect what's a "fair" price. If she's got a talent most people lack, most people accept she deserves to earn more, but is that because she has a stronger bargaining position, or because the maximum price is higher so a fair point "somewhere between" is higher?

Supply and Demand

The idea of supply and demand, that if a market is at least somewhat liquid, it will reach a natural level is so embedded in a lot of discourse, it's easy to assume that's what's "fair". Many people naturally accept that if someone is the only person in the world who can do something, they get SOME benefit from doing that for people. Others say, no, everyone should put in the same EFFORT and get the same reward, and the benefits of natural talent, luck, etc, should be divvied up amongst all people equally. I suspect the best answer is toward the direction of "divide equally", but there are benefits to everyone in allowing people freedom to choose what benefits they want and what work they want to do for whom, and that implies _some_ amount of some people getting more (as long as everyone gets enough).

What did other people think? That supply and demand has something to do with a fair price? Or everything? Or nothing? Or not sure? Or you think something different after reading this?


Another implication, is that the COMBINED benefit to Alice and Bob is mostly determined by whether Alice does the work or not. The effort spent negotiating may be necessary to make things more fair, or may be perverted to make things less fair, but is a zero-sum game -- it's pure loss to humanity as a whole, Alice only engages in it to avoid being screwed over by Bob (or to screw Bob over) and vice versa.

Sometimes we're fortunate and the obvious best strategy for one party happens to be the best strategy for everyone, eg. something is useful to EVERYONE and there's no benefit to trying to negotiate individual deals, it's best to just sell it to as many people as possible as cheaply as possible and you'll make lots of profit and help lots of people.

Other times, the best strategy for one party generates almost no benefit at all: they have a monopoly over something, and it doesn't provide any benefit AT ALL over the alternatives, but network effect, or cost of switching, or corrupt legislation, etc, etc, prevent people switching away unless they can all do it at once.

You always need SOME willingness to negotiate, if you just accept whatever the other party offers, then everything in the world gets gobbled up by the greediest least scrupulous people. But not to get into ongoing bidding wars about it. It would be better for both parties if "fair" could be imposed from above, even imperfectly, although it's impractical, there would often be too much temptation to game the system.

What WOULD be a "fair" price?

Suggestions? One answer is a completely marxist economy, but even if you view that as "an economy where everything is fair", you need to know what "fair" is. Maybe it DOES depend on the value created (eg. two jobs might be equally morally valuable, but if one is more immediately valuable to the other person, it's paid more), but DOESN'T depend on how good your bargaining position is (but you might have to strengthen it in order to reach a fair offer, eg. by presenting a united front with other buyers/sellers to counteract a monopoly on the other side)?

I feel I left out the important examples, but I think I need to get this posted and get to bed... I will try to follow-up later if possible.
jack: (Default)
I remember people pointing out that Harry Potter genetics didn't make a whole lot of sense. The observed traits seemed to be:

* Children of muggles were occaisionally wizards
* Children of wizards were almost always wizards, but sometimes had weak magic, or very rarely nonexistant magic.

It seemed roughly like, magic arose in muggle populations a bit like recessive carriers breeding together, but once someone had it, it was dominant.

Although now I think about it, if the wizarding population is "thousands", maybe those two rates are actually the same, just that the population of the UK is that much bigger than the wizarding population.

I didn't think about it too hard. It was clear how it was _intended_ to work, which to me is the important thing. I didn't care too much whether the worldbuilding was genetically plausible, when obviously magic flouted the rules in so many other ways. In fact, I think it was fairly good worldbuilding, in that the rules were explained clearly but without overemphasis at the beginning, both implicitly and explicitly, and then background events supported them throughout.

And I also remember an article that said some genetic traits could work like that, although I don't remember the details.

And then Liv said something which was obvious to her but I'd never thought of. That she assumed that it was a _recessive_ trait, but that wizards primarily had children with other wizards.

And I realised that could be true -- we have one (or more?) examples of mixed marriages, but we don't actually know if those are common. (I infer Rowling would like to think so, because it's more inclusive like that, but I don't remember it actually being stated, and it would obviously be impractical in many ways -- most wizards don't live in muggle society much at all).

If so, everything mostly works. Muggle-born wizards happen because of recessive carriers breeding together. Wizard-wizard marriages always produce wizard children, except when something else goes wrong producing a squib. And the wizard community, especially purebloods, but others too, tend to inbreed. And there are occasional mixed marriages which have approx 50% squibs, but they're not common enough to be talked about, and the squibs have an out into muggle life via their muggle parent if they want.

She said it was similar to how some real-life communities, like deaf communities, or Ashkenazi Jews, often accumulate recessive genetic traits.

And I had all the knowledge to be able to put that together in theory, but not enough experience that I actually _did_. I didn't notice that one of my assumptions, even if likely true on balance, wasn't as well supported as the others, and if I let go of it, everything could work. Which reminded me, even when you're sure, you can be _too_ sure.
jack: (Default)
I've said similar things before, but I'm feeling like "capitalism" is used both to mean "fluid competition" and also "its natural end-state, entrenched monopoly" (or "whatever people with money want") and I almost want different words for those things.

Like, the recent problems with the EU trying to close VAT loopholes between different countries. I think the basic concept of trying to tax companies which are big enough to invest in ways to cheat the system equally with those that don't is a good one. But in doing so, effectively shutting down all micro-businesses because they have to pay thousands of times more in time and energy dealing with VAT regulations for all EU countries than they make in profit, is a bad thing.

That latter is a case where capitalism was doing great -- person A had a thing, person B paid for it, it was good for everyone... and then the government shut it down. It actually fits a stereotypical libertarian nightmare of "government taxes things so much they don't work any more". I've actually shifted more towards that position! It would be surprising if regulation was ALWAYS the right amount or ALWAYS too little or too much. But I'm shifting more towards saying "on average we need significantly less capitalism, but there's definitely ways we need more capitalism".

That might be a better explanation of why I think of myself as socialist, but still uncomfortable with saying I'm "anti-capitalist" without further qualification?
jack: (Default)
It reminds me of Crowly and Aziraphale in Good Omens. I had a lot of Chesterton portal keys already, and on the way home from work captured the unshielded opposite-faction portal blocking most of the potential links, and then captured the golden hind and linked them all to that. And then did it all over again at least once as some high-level players I hadn't known were inside knocked it down as fast as I could build it.

Which makes the exercise a bit pointless in terms of maintaining a friendly field over the area, because they would always win. But I couldn't help but notice, performing an entirely futile action twice, got a LOT more points. I stopped when I ran out of keys, I didn't want to stand there all night re-capturing and re-deploying. And I was out of lev 6 and lev 7 resonators and running out of lev 5. But fielding twice over got a bunch of points.

I've noticed before, there's two senses of progress: if you capture and hold area for your faction, your faction does better; but you personally get points for capturing things. A highly contested area gets you more points than an area you've "won". Which makes sense, both in terms of keeping the game fun and keeping people playing. But it seemed like a metaphor for business or war when it looks like a truce would be better, but individual people may be better served by ongoing conflict...
jack: (Default)
Liv suggested a written version of a couple of rants I've often delivered, on how to explain things. I've little experience teaching, never formally, but when I can I really enjoy explaining things to people who are as intelligent as I am and really get them.

Here's a grab-bag of different thoughts.


It's really easy to forget it may not be obvious why you're explaining something. Most people have some natural curiosity, or even if they don't care, are willing to follow your instructions. Sometimes this happens automatically, eg. "someone says how can I do X" or "why is X" (and explaining when you don't need to is often just clutter). If you ask yourself "do I need to explain why", it's usually obvious whether you do or not. But it's easy to forget to ask.

And, as with step two, explaining why doesn't just mean saying why, but confirming that they get it and are onboard with it. If they are, this is often over in less than a sentence each way! But sometimes it isn't.

Read more... )
jack: (Default)
Oh, excellent question I hadn't stopped to consider.

I've noticed some fiction I enjoy, and some fiction I immediately want to extend, and sometimes they're the same and sometimes they're not. Sometimes whether something is really good or quite dire, but it trips the "I want to do this RIGHT" switch. Every Shakespeare play, I come out saying "But why...? Well, I think...". And Startrek, most of the individual episodes were meh, but the accumulated experience was invaluable, so it's really made for "these tiny hints about the characters personal lives, where could they go?". Sometimes I love something, but feel I have nothing to add: I have no idea how those characters would behave in some other situation, I don't want to ruin the magic by thinking about it, I just want to be told.

I've occasionally written little bits of fan-fic, but never got into it as a regular thing. I think I'd like it, but have never had the time! I have often enjoyed reading other people's fanfiction though, even for shows that I don't think I could write myself, or even that I've never actually seen. (I loved toft's story about John and Rodney as composer/violinist!)

It's interesting to ask how interactive a book or film is as I'm experiencing it. And the answer is, it varies a lot. Sometimes what happens is really interesting, but there's not much to think about as it goes along, and a habit of inhaling anything vaguely good in one go is mostly harmless. Sometimes a book or film really values thinking through the implications as you go, and I try to do that, but it's hard to deliberately stop if the next bit is already available...

Some books and films, just sink in, and I only realise how much they affected my thought in retrospect. Others feel like they impressionistically painted a whole universe, leaving the reader to mentally delve into any of hundreds different aspects which were introduced but not delved into. In some ways, it's like the different ways of looking at a piece of maths: sometimes it's clearly beautiful from the start, but you just want the emotional reward of experiencing it again; sometimes it's really obvious but only when it's pointed out; sometimes it's layers on layers on layers and each time you examine it you learn more.

Likewise, it's common when I nitpick, but it's not just "this is what's wrong". If a film makes no effort to keep something consistent, it usually just rolls off me, unless it goes out of its way to be INCREDIBLY egregious. I often nitpick things I find really interesting. Or things which seemed perfect in most ways, but there's just one thing I want to fix.

Or, not that it's wrong compared to reality, but it ruined the plot for me (and maybe other viewers) -- I don't care if the assumptions are plausible as long as they're clear, but "clear" can vary between different people. If the film says "don't examine the time-travel too deeply" that's fine. If it says "here's how it works even though that only makes sense to human intuition, it couldn't be a physical law", that's fine. If it says "as far as we know it works like this, but we don't really know", that's fine. What I REALLY HATE is "here's how it works, we know it makes no sense, just accept it" and then at the end of the film "THAT WAS A LIE WE JUST BROKE THE BIG RULE AREN'T WE CLEVER, YOU DIDN'T SEE THAT COMING".

Likewise, for general plots, I would prefer to experience the plot, and only later analyse it. To experience the highs and lows along with the characters. But as you read more books or watch more films, it's impossible to avoid getting more and more experience with how plots often work -- certain patterns are reused because they work well, or because people like them. And often, one establishing shot can tell you "ok, there'll be a chase to start with, and then a set-back, and then the middle, and then a lot of bad-assery, and then the good guys will win, and the most prominent male and female leads will get together".And when you KNOW that's going to happen there's no tension -- it's a delicate art to make the audience feel like the plot is actually happening, and not just up to the whim of the creator, and it works at different levels for audiences with different experience. Usually, children's books are not exciting to adults, and often, the books which retread all the most obvious tropes of a genre are more interesting to people new to that genre, but the books which subvert and change them are most interesting to long-time readers. And that's ok, but it means there's not a standard standard of "how good a book is".

And sometimes, you can have a film which sucks you in EVEN THOUGH you know what's going to happen -- a horror film which is tense even when you know what's going to jump out, a romance which is touching even when you know the ending, a climax which is exciting even when the film starts by telling you they succeed. But I don't know exactly when that works.
jack: (Default)
This is something I've been introspecting a lot about recently, it's interesting to try to distil the latest thoughts down into written form. I've deliberately shot for the moon, on the theory that it's useful to have reference points on either side of the right answer, and build up from what's plausible and down from what's ideal, rather than only assume that you must take baby steps forward and never reach. But I'm ashamed if that makes me sound really arrogant :(

1. Hard things

Trying to synthesise what I enjoy doing and am good at, I think I like doing hard things that work. Both learning new hard things, and putting into practice hard things I've already learned. Probably slightly more to towards the practical than pure academic research, but in that direction compared to most jobs. I like understanding hard things, and putting that understanding into action.

Which all fits programming very well, yay! Other ways programming is well suited to me is that I don't like flying without an undo, and I don't like nebulous things where it's not clear if they worked or not, and you get those in programming, but lots of programming is about avoiding them.

I like building complicated systems, and then looking and them working and saying "wow".

This doesn't have to be programming. If there's a surplus of good programmers, and a dearth of good managers, entrepreneurs, UI designers, economists, politicians, artists... I could maybe do some of those things, which do involve hard, accurate thought and building systems that work. The thing I am best at and enjoy doing isn't automatically actually in demand! But on balance, I hope that actually the best programmers are sufficiently in demand that it's a worthwhile contribution to society (both in terms of contribution I make, and what I might expect to get in return).

My fantasies are still embarrassingly adolescent-mathmo, of people saying "we just couldn't figure it out, and then Jack thought very hard, and then explained it to us and now it's fixed, yay!"

And not necessarily alone, I'd like to lead creating a larger system than I can manage myself, but ideally if the work is primarily in technical design, not in communication overheads and management.

2. Making something that perpetuates

This kind of blended through from the previous point, but is different. I'm not sure how much it's something everyone would like but isn't arrogant enough to hope for, and how much it's just me. But I always want the idea of looking at something worthwhile and saying "I did that". And ideally that would go on being worthwhile when I'm not there doing it any more!

I want to make something awesome, not just do worthwhile things that get absorbed.

3. Worthwhile

Worthwhile, both in the sense of having a measurable impact, and in being socially worthwhile. I probably can't hit both of those poles 100%, but I'd like it if I could. Currently I think I'm making software which is useful, and not actively anti-social, which is generally a plus to society, but I the more my work is immediately needed (by anyone) and makes a real positive difference to people's lives, the more I would like it (although I've not really expected to be able to do that without giving up #1, unless I do it in a completely different way).

4. Respect

I'm embarrassed to call this out specifically, but it would be nice if other people recognised the other points, and generally had an attitude of "thank goodness Jack's doing this, yay" not "ugh, more Jack".

And ideally about multiple different things, not just "here's a black box with Jack in where we throw equations and coffee in and get answers out, but we refuse to discuss whether those are the RIGHT equations, or we're working towards the right goals". Like, maybe I could work with other people who are competent at other things, but are able to explain them enough in broad outlines that I can trust them, and know where they interface to my areas of expertise, and occasionally make constructive suggestions based on my work.

Like, fame would be nice but not necessary, but it would be nice if when I told people what I'd done they said "wow, thank you" not "boring" or "why bother".

I'm embarrassed to list this because it feels like I shouldn't care, and that it's not something you're entitled to ask for, just to get or not. But this is list of things I'd like, not necessarily things I deserve.

5. Financial security

Talking it over with Liv, I don't want more money in the short term, my lifestyle has mostly reached a level I feel sufficient. I only want a larger salary because it represents respect and job security: that people should pay you what you're worth, and if they don't, and there's no specific reason for that, even if it's not bad for it's own sake, it's a pointed reminder that you don't have as much control over your own life as you aspired to...

And, linked to the previous point, respect from friends and peers, not just employers, which shouldn't depend on money, but I feel like everyone always assumes I'm a loser because I don't have anything obvious holding me back, I don't have an obvious disability, I don't have a family, I didn't deliberately make a trade-off to do something I thought was worthwhile, and yet, I'm not wildly financially successful :(

However, there are ways earning lots of money would make a lot of difference, not in terms of getting a better lifestyle, but in terms of preventing it getting worse. Enough of a cushion that if I lost my job, I wouldn't need to worry at all, or that if I decided that I'd rather spend two years developing some piece of software I thought was worthwhile without being beholden to investors, I just could. Enough that if some other disaster happens, to me personally or my financial situation, I can ride it out. Enough that I don't need to worry about my lifestyle when I need to retire, or if my parents need a lot of support as they get older. Enough that if Liv needed help I could give it.

And lots of small ways that a superfluity of money would not enable me to be decadent, but would make lots of things easier. Maybe I'd like to spend a month every spring or summer working from the med coast. Maybe I'd like to spend six months living in a completely different country to see what it's like. To split my time between Cambridge and Keele however I liked, or to be able to stay somewhere else for a week working from home without worrying about arranging accommodation, negotiating leave, etc. I'd like to not waste time on all the little things that waste time every week, if I could just buy my way out of them. Money can't be immortality -- but it can buy more life, by removing time spent waiting for buses, wrestling with bureaucracies, fixing problems, etc, etc.

6. Good process

It would be nice to work somewhere with a clear shared understanding of what we're trying to achieve, and measuring success working towards that. Including a clear sense of achievement and progress; clear decisions about what we're doing and not doing, not just assuming that everyone that some things will never be finished; that we'll be realistic about important goals and have stretch goals and actually MEET them, not always have too-ambitious goals that we fail every single time.

I work so so so much better when I've got something to work towards, not swimming in shared and unshared assumptions...

Moving from the general to the specific, from a software point of view, it would be nice to have all the obvious good practice:

* requirements
* unit tests and release tests
* coding standards
* clear procedure for committing, building, releasing
* nightly builds, fast builds
* agile-ish (but not too scrum-y)
* clear process for bug database
* as much communication as needed (hopefully daily), but not endless rehashing
* etc, etc

7. Low but not zero hectic-ness

I hate sudden disasters, especially ones that everyone thinks, or I feel, are my fault, because I didn't have enough control over how much advance planning to do. (That doesn't mean, I think everything should be polished until it's perfect, it means there should be a positive decision on how much to prioritise perfection and reliability, and if that's underchanged, we should budget for future problems coming to light, not just treat them as bolt-from-the-blue "oh look, Johnny McWeDidn'tAllowHimToTestOrTellHimTheRequirements fucked up again,")

But I do like a certain amount of handling real-time response, when I have the freedom to anticipate it and assign priorities, because I like the satisfaction of doing it well and not panicing :)

So, ideally, not big one-shot events which succeed or fail, nor constant fire-fighting, but maybe rapid and flexible release cycles? I'm not certain of what I DO want, but I'm certain of what I DON'T want :)


If I put that together into a little story, how might it go? Someone comes to me and says "I was talking to a mutual friend and I plan to do [socially constructive thing], but in order to do that, we need to do [hard things] and it seems like your experience and ability to learn new things rapidly would be perfect. I've a lot of experience with [field] and with hiring good people, but not with building software. I'm thinking of several other good people, but I'd like your input on them. Can you handle a small team of committed techies? No problem if you think someone else would lead better."

"We don't have infinite money, but we have resources to tap for anything that seems important, and we don't want to scrimp on day-to-day comforts for the team. Most of the time you should probably work from Cambridge, but you'd have to travel occasionally and you can arrange it however you like. You'd have [some fancy job title] and a [serious salary], plus a significant stake in the success of the organisation."

"The code should probably be open source, because it might be useful in other fields even though the real advantage in what we're doing is the people not the code base. Is there anything else you think I should know?"

I also note, I'm mostly agnostic whether the organisation is a new department in large company, a start-up, a non-profit, or something else -- I think any of those can fit the role of "doing something worthwhile".
jack: (Default)
It's common for people into maths to also be into music. But it never really happened for me. In fact, I like music, but still haven't got into any music in a major way, unlike almost everyone else in the world, which I'll talk about more in a later post.

I've heard descriptions of how maths and music go together for some people, but for me, they seem to trip completely different parts of my brain. Maths is a process of free-associating possible approaches; tracking each through methodically until it reaches some sort of conclusion, and repeating until you've got somewhere. Music trips my emotions. I can imagine how a sort of pattern-spotting could apply to both[1], but I find it hard to see music like that, I'm barely beyond "I like it but I don't know why" and "I don't like it but I don't know why".

I am somewhat interested in pop explanations of music theory when it's explained in terms of frequencies and "this is why these notes go together and why these notes don't go together". But I find it impossible to grok explanations that involve learning a bunch of terminology according to how various things were discovered. I need things laid out with "these concepts are fixed because physics, these are cultural, these are an artifact of the notation system, these are basically the same but slightly different, etc" :)

I do feel a cultural affinity for the sort of music which mathematicians stereotypically often like, though, even if my actual exposure to it is small :)


[1] Come to think of it, that's an interesting observation about maths, that one foundation of actually doing maths, rather than applying previous maths, is generalising between different things that are similar in some way that's hard to explain. This proof and this other proof are the same, but one has 3 and one has 5 -- can I replace 3 with "any odd number" or "any prime number"? The method of solving this integral and that integral are very similar -- can I generalise to a method which works on any related integral? Category theory is this tendency on steroids.

But I don't know if this is something that really good mathematicians are much better at, or just something that you need a minimum amount of.
jack: (Default)
I could have found an answer that fitted this question and yesterdays question both, but I decided they were interesting in different ways.

Technological innovations I think we're groping towards, which I'm impatient to have already:

A programming language with a syntax as straightforward as python, but works like C++14 is trying to, of letting it all compile to blazing fast code, even for embedded systems, by default, but letting you easily use dynamic typing where you actually want it. And of letting you use static type checking MOST of the time, but lets you be as dynamic as you need when you actually need it.

Widespread 3D printing of replacement parts, etc. We're nearly there, but we're waiting for a slightly wider variety of materials, and a wider database of possible things. Where you can say "I want this £10 widget holder from the supermarket, but can I get one 30% longer if I pay extra? OK? Thank you!"

Private cars replaced by mega-fleets of robot taxis and universal good public transport throughout/between all population dense areas.

Everyone uses git, or another dvcs, and the interface is actually consistent and friendly for everybody.

Decent, standardised, change-tracking and formatting for non-plain-text documents that allows sensible merging. (OK, this seems to be two steps forward and three steps back, so maybe there's no point waiting for it, but I'd still like it! :))
jack: (Default)
Good question. There's lots of things I might talk about, and it's hard to pick a particular one. Like most geeks, I would be happy if space travel existed as much as science fiction hoped. But even we do start building towards missions to mars and asteroid mining, it probably won't be a revolutionary change. I hate the energy wasted (by me and society as a whole) on travelling to places we need to be, I'd be interested to see how society would change if you could open a zero-hour almost-free transport link from the middle of one area to another, or even from each house.

Many fictional inventions have come a long way to existing. I'm really used to always having a map and encyclopaedia in my pocket, and widely-used asynchronous communication that lets me build friendships with people who are similar to me as well as people who live in geographical proximity to me. And being able to deal with many bills, forms, etc, with the press of some buttons, without having to go places. I don't think I was cut out for the 20th century :)

But one example that especially springs to mind is Bujold's uterine replicator, that can safely gestate a baby without a human womb, for what it symbolises about society. It's the sort of thing that sometimes rubs some hard science fiction fans the wrong way, because it's not physics or mechanical engineering, and the focus is on the societal implications, not how the technology could be built. But I think the same is often true of hard sci-fi, of building something which seems plausible, but not always from actual blue-prints, and seeing where you go with it.

On the one hand the uterine replicator is a symbol of how society could change, if gestating babies wasn't randomly assigned to half of the population. And all sorts of secondary potential changes: like Athos, the planet of only men[1]; or the possibility of centralising child-rearing completely, and people can be parents only if they'd like to be; or of reducing the need to unwanted pregnancies.

On the other hand, a lot of the inequality in society is cultural, not biological, in the assumptions that mothers should be primary child-rearers more than fathers, even apart from gestation and breast-feeding. So maybe it wouldn't make that much of a difference :(


[1] I thought Athos was interesting example of Bujold's worldbuilding, in that she postulated Athos as originally populated by monastics, but that after a couple of generations there was a mix of monastic celibate farmers, and essentially gay cosmopolitan culture, but because she didn't NEED to, she never specified if the proportions were 90%/10% or 10%/90% and the reader could assume either way.

This post brought to you in the past from the future by the power of cheating! :)