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Mar. 24th, 2015 @ 01:12 pm Theoretical mathematical utopia
Jack's Brain: It's been nice for weeks, lets go to the library without bothering to take my coat.
Jack: No! You don't live in a theoretical mathematical utopia now. You can't predict everything. It's English Spring, it can rain AT ANY TIME whether you expect it to or not. Take a coat!
Jack's Brain: But we never lived in a theoretical mathematical utopia...
Jack's Body: EXACTLY! TAKE! A! COAT!

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Mar. 24th, 2015 @ 10:57 am Broken streak
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For I think the first time since starting habitRPG I failed to shave and get to work by 9:30 just because. I did do most of the other parts of my morning routine.

I'm proud of keeping it up so far, and hope that I can get over the hurdle of keeping it going even when one failure. That's often the riskiest time, when you start thinking "well, I can't do it perfectly, so what level of imperfection is ok?"

I think this what some of habitRPG's class features are for, to allow you to fail occasionally but maintain a "perfect" record, except I haven't started trusting them because previously I didn't need to and didn't know if they were well-balanced or not.

I think my problem is that for the first few weeks, checking things off was exciting and made me feel good. Then I started to get complacent and doing the minimum didn't feel like an achievement any more -- so I lost motivation and didn't do it, which is exactly what I was trying not to do. I think maybe I need to start watching the streak counters, how many days on the trot I've done it. If I can say "every day for N months", it gives me just a small amount of investment in keeping it going even when it's become normal.

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Mar. 23rd, 2015 @ 10:49 am Film review: Insurgent
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Thank you to ghoti and B for taking Liv and me to the cinema, which we wouldn't have otherwise got round to do. And it was nice being with someone who could say what interesting things there were in the background that you only knew by reading the books.

I made a giant effort to be positive and not give in to the desire to nitpick, because there were lots of worldbuilding things that made NO SENSE (see rant below), and I do enjoy ranting about that, but I don't have anything more to say about that than I have in previous rants. Whereas it's easy to miss the good things in a flawed film, even if they're actually really interesting and exciting.

Brief summary

A post-apocalyptic world is divided into five factions: clever, brave, selfless, peaceful and honest (erudite, dauntless, abnegation, amity and candor). Except for people who don't fit who are taboo.

Things I liked

I liked that the middle book/film of the trilogy had the big climax, and the third is what's beyond that climax. (I loved the scouring of the shire at the end of LOTR.)

The protagonist had agency, and made decisions, and generally mattered.

I liked the characterisation of the factions, and the rest of the city, the visuals of each were very impressive.

The plot wasn't just a linear a-to-b, it goes through several iterations where different people's decisions matter.

There's a reasonable number of female characters, including amongst the soldiers and leaders. It passes the Bechdel test not as much as it might, but clearly.

Is this a VR sim? Is this still VR a sim? How about now?

Jack Kang (leader of candor, played by Daniel Dae Kim)'s face.

Things to think about

Is complete non-violence possible without a police force backing you up? (I'm leaning to no, that non-violence is an ideal which is attained by increasingly large proportion of society, but you always need to police people who don't agree somehow.)

When is it ok to make the decision to execute someone, if ever? (I'm leaning to, when they're clearly going to go on killing people if you don't.)

Divergent factions. Hogwarts houses. DnD alignments. Chalion gods. Myers-Briggs personalities. Real and fictional, which are the most interesting ways of categorising people? Which are useful? Are any a clear division rather than a spectrum? Are you more like onion-layers, or a mix, or a this-means and this-end?

Nitpick rants

Where is the train going from? Where to?

How can a post-apocalyptic society have 20% of people be solicitors and nobody work in factories? Where does all the high-tech come from? What proportion of people are faction-less and how do they live?

Why don't they use truth-serum in trials by default?

When people do unethical things for bullshit reasons, is that because the bullshit is bad worldbuilding true within the confines of the story, or because they're lying to themselves, or somewhere between?

Why does everyone expect evil power-grabbing woman to just stop when it's proved her reasons for power-grabbing were bullshit?

The whole thing feels like a small town level of population, but the propaganda and council politics don't seem to make sense on that level.

I think some of these make more sense in the book. But I'm trying not to dwell on them, most don't make a difference to the good bits.

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Mar. 18th, 2015 @ 12:28 pm Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality
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Random thoughts on http://hpmor.com/

Scientific method

It's one of the only books supposedly about science that actually centrally presents the scientific method. Harry's natural inclination is very much clever-person-flaw of "try to figure it out by thinking hard" and several times it's emphasised that he should have just tried things more, and that he didn't question his assumptions enough. And that even when the evidence gathered is truly bizarre and contrary to scientific common sense (eg. why DO spells come in faux-latin or faux-Aramaic?) but incontrovertible, Harry and the plot both immediately assume the right thing to do is accept that and try to figure out why. This is the sort of thing it tries to do, and I think it deserves praise for succeeding!

Someone criticised it for not being scientific-method-y enough and I think that's also a valid criticism. A lot of the key insights come from "thinking very hard under pressure" not using the scientific method. That which CAN be a valid source of insight (mostly when you accept the guess you hadn't previously wanted to admit), but isn't usually. The article I can't remember the name of described it as Aristotelian, deriving insights by pure intellect. And I think that's partly that that happens sometimes, but intelligent people often wish that it was more common, and partly that for a plot to work, it often has to involve things being discovered suddenly.

Characterisation of Harry

The characterisation is somewhat inconsistent, trying to meld canon Harry Potter, Yudkowsky, and a theoretical perfect rationalist into one personality, but often feels genuine, and shows aweness of the strengths and weaknesses those people would display.

However, it does try to have it both ways a bit, in showing the mistakes Harry is prone to some of the time (mostly, failing to recognise that someone else might know something he didn't, or that people's feelings are important) but not as much as they maybe need. (Not necessarily saying it's unrealistic, obviously Harry as an 11-year-old wizard with bits of Voldemort's power imposed on him IS going to be weird, but not perfect in the story.)

Especially, it exhibits a flaw in Yudkowsky's writing when he uses something unthinkable as an example, and know's it's doing to be controversial, but apparently underestimates how MUCH blathering about [things you need trigger warnings for] might hurt people. This is one of the many things that, despite liking his writing, makes me also Very Cross about it.

Overall plot

It does much, much better than almost any book at constructing a complicated plot with multiple people scheming at cross purposes, and mostly has everything tied up neatly with all the time-travel, misunderstandings, secret agendas all legitimately justifying why people did various things that seem bizarre at the time.

Yudkowsky tries to do what I always want, of a plot where no-one holds the idiot ball. He writes about this in a series on his tumblr. And does it better than most other things!

But, inevitably, he writes a giant sprawling epic, posted episodically so he can't edit the earlier chapters to fit things that come up later, and doesn't achieve as much consistency as he aimed for.


Ooh, boy. Did I mention sprawling epic? It's surprisingly good considering -- I was certainly gripped all the way through. But it's nigh-impossible to digress in the middle for hundreds of chapters about rationality games and then try to return to the plot of Harry Potter book 1 at the end, even though that's what the medium sort of demanded.

Raising interesting ethical questions

It raised lots of interesting questions in my mind. Unsurprisingly, I didn't agree with all the answers suggested -- I've stopped even being surprised by that, I think that's just how interesting questions work.

Often there's something I'm sure is wrong, but I think I benefit from understanding why I think it's wrong. Like, should you do something for someone's own good? Or do something to society for society's own good? I think we implicitly do this all the time in small ways -- eg. say hello to someone if they say hello to you, respect it if they ask you not to, but don't assume you MUST say "is it ok to say hello to you" if they've greeted you first. But for making big decisions, it's often disastrous, because you think you know what's best, but most of the time, it depends on lots of things you don't know.

Edit: Fix spelling of 'Yudkowsky' twice. Sorry, EY!

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Mar. 18th, 2015 @ 12:21 pm Captain Awkward comment section good advice on avoiding criquing doom

cinderkeys: It seems out of character...

Editor: “It seems out of character for Megan to react so negatively to Fiona’s good-natured teasing. Consider softening her response.”

Writer: “Hmmm. I think it’s obvious why she’d react that way. But maybe I haven’t made it obvious to readers. I’ll keep Megan’s reaction the way it is, and I’ll add clues in earlier scenes about why this is such a sore subject for her.”

Aimee: We’re allowed four basic responses

Aimee: The rules my crit groups use are very similar. We’re allowed four basic responses:

I like this
I am confused
I don’t believe this
I don’t care about this

Fixing suggestions are not allowed, just the reactions and reasons for them. Seems to work out nicely.

owenmontbrun: If 5 people tell you you’re drunk

I had one writing teacher say: “If 5 people tell you you’re drunk, you should sit down. You may have not had a drop to drink, but there’s something wrong!” Readers might identify THAT there’s a problem, but it’s up to the writer to identify the fix. If enough people problems in the same spot, start looking for the source of it.

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Mar. 17th, 2015 @ 02:41 pm Thoughts on Flex
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Flex is theferrett's novel. I'm always excited when someone I read online has a traditional novel published.

The central characters: the protagonist Paul Tsabo, an ex-cop insurance investigator who loves methodical paperwork, his reserved young daughter, his ex-wife are very movingly painted, and much more involved with the main character and the plot than most families in urban fantasy. I was really moved by his description of how paperwork makes civilisation.

In the acknowledgements at the end, he describes specific improvements to the novel people suggested, not just that they helped a lot, that was really interesting.

He does what I always try to do, to make a magic system that's dramatic and cool and full of cool ideas (make something from a videogame! make anything from paperwork!) but also clear what's going on so it's clear when the hero has an instant-win button and when he doesn't. Not out of arbitrary pedantry, but so there's actually any form of tension in the story whatsoever. Ferrett describes why this usually makes a better story very very well here: Avoiding Doctor Strange Syndrome. And he does it much better than most books. Although, unfortunately, I felt he didn't succeed as well as I'd hoped: in the vast majority of scenes, it was clear what the possibilities were, what was easy, what was possible with a cost etc, so naturally you didn't even think about it. But some of the big "this is how the magic system works" moments I felt relied too much on "some sense of fairness drawn from the practitioner's subconscious", when honestly, it could have been made up either way and made as much sense.

Did other people post reviews yet?

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Mar. 15th, 2015 @ 10:52 pm Weekend
On Sat, I went with Liv to illusive_shelle's party. It was really nice.

Someone brought non-alcoholic white beer, that was surprisingly nice!

Driving with Liv for less than an hour was really pleasant, compared to gruelling 3hr journeys with no company.

We stopped out of curiosity at a couple of places on the way. We wandered around Cambourne playing Ingress and adding to our "hack unique portals" count. Cambourne was sweet, it's like a construct town, like a large orchard park or small Milton Keynes, but with some effort to having nice little nature reserves and so on. And it had this marvellous A-Frame church :)

On Sunday we visited Liv's grandmother so she had some company while her parents were away, and had a lovely Sunday lunch, and spent some time with her.

And then I just about managed to have a lazy afternoon, even though my head is full of things I meant to do. And I managed to get a (very few) things done this weekend as well.

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Mar. 11th, 2015 @ 12:45 pm Press-ups
Last week I did a full press-up for pretty much the first time ever! I did 15 on the trot, and managed it a couple of times since.

I think I accidentally got indoctrinated into two contradictory ideas, that press-ups were surprisingly hard but that everyone could do at least some if they tried... and I really couldn't, I could just about get off the ground, but only by levering myself up one part of the body at a time. And I was embarrassed to think about that.

But I started doing occasional press-ups from my knees, and for a little while I've been doing sets of those, plus sets of sit-ups, and last week I suddenly felt inspired to see if I could do a full press-up, and apparently I could! I could hold my body straight, but it was hard work for my arms to do even 5. But that's probably good practice.

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Mar. 10th, 2015 @ 09:50 am Ordered books from an actual library
I ordered books from an actual library! Thanks to rmc for the idea!

I looooove libraries, both big and small, but not since I was young have I ever regularly actually *used* them for getting books. Partly that I wasn't organised enough to return books unless there were more I wanted. And I wasn't organised enough to order books for several days time and know I'd have time to pick them up. Partly that most books I really wanted I usually wanted to own, and were often a bit obscure, or more easily available cheaply online than by *going* somewhere.

But now, I suddenly realised when someone pointed it out, I _am_ organised enough to borrow books and return them and I _can_ order them to arbury, and there's several books I'd like to read but don't want to own, or want to buy but don't want the hardback for and the paperback hasn't come out yet. And I can order them to Arbury Court library, and go and pick them up on the way to work, and it's ok if I go and pick them up and am not in the GIANT library to browse because I already know what I want.

PS1. And I feel more like reserving books I want to read is usefully supporting the library rather than denying them to someone who needs them more (?)

PS2. Why don't they make more SMALL hardbacks? I'd be happy to pay more for a book sooner and sturdier, if it didn't take up the place of three of my other books!? :)

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Mar. 9th, 2015 @ 04:19 pm Having done all the things...
Last week was quite hectic, not because of any things that were urgent in particular but because there were several things that were important at once, like fixing the internet which became a blocker for everything else...

I am mostly recovered. And more importantly, I feel like I'm getting used to the _process_ of recognising being blocked, and dealing with the things. And recognising the state where I come out of crunch mode and I used to drift rudderless unsure which important-but-less-urgent thing to do next, and now am slowly learning the skills of how to pick something without being paralysed by choice, and working not under time-pressure to get _ahead_ of the firehose of things...

Otherwise, I had a good week. I managed some relaxing things. Liv and I saw "Big Hero 6". We went sofa shopping (didn't succeed yet but got a very nice folding dining table). We signed some paperwork which was overdue. I'm keeping up jogging, morning routine, etc even when stressed by things, because they're starting to feel "normal baseline, do automatically before buckling down to stressful stuff" not "agh I can't think about this when something else is urgent".

My parents are here for a couple of days. Last night we went to the pub to play pool, today my parents went for a long walk while I was at work and tonight we'll probably do something similar.

I'm mulling over the role Ingress played in my week. I think having the feeling of progress (closer to this badge, closer to the next level) was distracting but served a useful function of not letting me drift, of preventing free moments becoming me being sucked into a quagmire of some task that would consume my attention and not be easily dropped. But now I'm considering, can I solve that same program without the addictive time sink of augmented reality games? I think maybe I need to consciously schedule one NEW thing every week, even if it's tiny, as something to look forward to arranging. But that's not as easy as something which gives me convenient numbers on what to do next.

In theory HabitRPG could solve that role, but the progress feels sufficiently arbitrary I unfortunately don't really get a sense of "ooh, if I have some time I could see if I can level up again". Maybe if I reorganised my tasks so they were more consistent, and got something more specific for levelling up? But I'm not sure. Or find another hobby which I can always do without being blocked on, and yet always represents progress towards SOMETHING. Language-learning? Knitting? I think unfortunately drawing would be too open-ended...

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