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Oct. 11th, 2019 @ 08:35 am Friday Five: Gender differences

1. Do you think you are treated differently because you are a man or woman?

Obviously lots. I think you know what I think, and the same for the next two questions.

I find it really strange imagining what woman-Jack might be like. I don't know how much that's my own conception of gender, and how much it's just that even if I'm the same, SO MUCH about how society treats you is different.

Although ironically, I think some of the things I have problems with, like being taken seriously, are things often made problems for women. Except people didn't just look at me and treat me like that, it's how I act, when many people have the same problem however they act.

4. Do you think women should take men's last names when they marry? Why or why not?

I think everyone should have the choice to do what they want with their name. I think trying to mandate anything doesn't help.

I think if you're going to have children, the real question is "what surname do the children have" because you have to choose a single name per child and double-barrelling only postpones the problem. And then one or both parents choose to change their name to match or not.

There's a benefit in everyone having one name, for simplicity, and showing a genuine commitment to the family as a long term thing. But since there's enough families that aren't "two opposite sex parents, and some children", I think society will just eventually have to get used to that not being the case, and then everyone can do what they like.

I think the only stable solution is something like, "every parents choose which surname they prefer". I think trying to stick to a system will just not work.

But in answer to the question, the old status quo of "the man doesn't change his surname, the woman does, and we've never heard of any other combination of genders" is -- obviously -- sexist, and damaging, even if it works out ok for many individual couples.

5. Do you think a woman will be President of the United States in the near future?

Under the circumstances I really freaking hope so! Anything other than Trump is needed so urgently :( But I don't know how likely it is. It feels like we have enough creditable non-male primary candidates that it will happen sooner or later. But I don't know if there's anyone who will get there this election or the one after. Warren is getting more popular, but I find it hard to believe anyone with detailed proposals and a commitment to changing worrying trends will actually get anywhere :(

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Oct. 6th, 2019 @ 11:39 am Belated Friday Five: A bit of everything
1. If you were President of the United States, what would be your top 3 things that you would like to change?

Jesus fuck. I don't know where to start. High on my list would be:

* Stop invading foreign countries on spurious pretexts
* Fix the electoral system. Most importantly, elections shouldn't be under the control of partisan officials, and there shouldn't be so many loopholes allowing dodgy money to buy elections. Hand count ballots instead of paying swinging sums of money for "scan all the ballots and then say the party who bought the machine won" machines. Have, enough voting stations there aren't queues, have them at times people can get to them.
* Abolish the death penalty, bring murderous police to account.
* Invest in non-fossil-fuel energy with the same fervour previous pursued in wars and moon landings.
* Fund public transit enough people want to actually use it.
* Free healthcare for everyone, whatever you want to call it. Yes, food and housing too. I'm honestly right there with internet access too.
* The constitution is a pretty good idea! I like the rights! But there's some pretty good rights we have in Europe, maybe you'd like those as well?
* While we're abolishing whole industries, maybe the IRS should just work out how much tax you have to pay and then take that much automatically rather than forcing you to guess, taking twice as much, and then fining you. If you absolutely have to have them take 10% more and then refund it, make it optional.
* This doesn't rise to the level of the others, but maybe be a bit less creepily cultish about the flag?
* And I mean, things like open borders, but that applies to every country.

But I'm not sure how to pick three. Do they have to be ones congress will allow, or can I just do them? That would probably determine it, which ones I can do as president.

Of course, right now, just "not being Trump" would be incredibly good even if I didn't achieve anything at all.

2. If you had to survive off of one specific type of food, what would it be and why?

I really don't know! I used to be completely content to just eat one thing for ages, but now I find myself seeking at least some variety. I need some carbs, but 100% carbs is too much. A fair bit of protein. I often make "rice with veg heavy sauce and cheese", if that's one thing, that's probably ok.

3. If your life were a play, what would it be (tragedy, comedy, drama, etc.)?

Wow, I don't know. I kind of screwed up a lot of things but muddled through somehow. It doesn't seem funny enough for a comedy. Or a tragedy. It's not dramatic enough for a drama. It's just life.

4. What community is your favorite and why?

Don't have room for this one as well!

5. When did you realize you were finally an adult and how did it make you feel?

...When? It feels more like a process. I never really felt "ready" for life. But at some point I realised I'd picked up enough adulting competence compared to 20 year olds it was ridiculous to deny. But I still feel behind a lot of people.

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Sep. 24th, 2019 @ 10:13 am Scott Aaronson: That press release was for real

I feel like Scott's FAQ needs its own FAQ

Q. So, I heard on twitter there was some big news about quantum computing. Is that for bullshit?
A. Until now I've basically assumed all big announcements about quantum computing are bullshit and haven't been proved wrong yet.
Q. And this one?
A. Scott Aaronson thinks its for real and he's generally right about this sort of thing and not prone to quantum bullshit.
Q. So... wtf is "quantum supremacy"
A. This sounded like super bullshit to me, but according to wikipedia, it's a term for a quantum computer which can solve a problem no existing non-quantum computer can.
Q. So... that happened?
A. Scott Aaronson thinks so. The official publication hasn't happened yet.
Q. And this is... out of nowhere?
A. It sounds like no, actually, just that the number of qubits in quantum computers was slowly growing until through some engineering brilliance they reached the point of being able to do non-trivial calculations. But having a quantum computer which is actually better than a classical computer at SOMETHING is still pretty impressive.
Q. So... better at what?
A. Um... some contrived problem made up to specifically show that there's something quantum computers can do and classic computers can't.
Q. Oh. But, like, it really is, a problem you can try and solve on a classic computer and fail and try on a quantum computer and succeed?
A. Apparently so.
Q. Apparently?
A. That's basically the situation. No-one can PROVE you can't do it on a classical computer: no-one's even proved large travelling salesman problems or other NP-complete/NP-hard problems are impossible for classical computers yet. But no-one expects otherwise.
Q. Any other big caveats?
A. Apparently this particular problem is probabilistic, you sample the result N times and show it's more-likely-than-chance in the right answer.
Q. And how do you know what the right answer is? Is this a hard-to-find-each-to-check thing?
A. That's what everyone hopes to reach in future, but sadly no, apparently this is a "solve it in seconds on a quantum computer, then simulate the quantum algorithm in months of giant compute clusters on classical processors, check the results match"
Q. But then you CAN do it on a non-quantum computer. Wasn't the point to find a problem you can't?
A. Yeah. But (a) with this method, if they build a quantum computer even slightly bigger, it would be unmatchable, but then they wouldn't have any way of checking the answer and (b) if the method works and it is seconds vs months, everyone agrees that is quantum computers doing something useful.
Q. So, does this break crypto?
A. Not for a while yet. They'll need a fair bit bigger quantum computers to make that practical.
Q. But those are coming?
A. I don't know, but it sounds like it.
Q. And that breaks all crypto?
A. Of course not.
Q. It breaks all crypto we use in real life at the moment?
A. No.
Q. But?
A. It would break MOST crypto we use at the moment. Anything that lets you set up secure crypto without secretly sharing a key in advance.
Q. Wait, not just RSA, other systems too?
A. Apparently the same factoring works there too?
Q. But someone will come up with some crypto which quantum computers don't help against?
A. As I understand it, we expect that from a theoretical point of view, but people haven't actually got round to it yet.
Q. Do the NSA have a bigger quantum computer?
A. I really don't know. I think installing spyware everywhere is probably easier. But they're filled with ethics-flexible maths nerds who'd probably WANT to build a big quantum computer.
Q. So what are the next steps after this?
A. Quantum computer with more bits. Solving a less contrived problem or finding a problem to solve that can actually be checked. Working out how many extra quantum bits you need to account for errors from losing the coherence of your qubits (10% more? 1000000% more? somewhere between?). Eventually, getting a computer that can run Shur's factoring algorithm, and breaking existing cryptosystems in practice. Find a problem that's actually useful -- not sure what that is, but modelling some physical processes?

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Sep. 15th, 2019 @ 10:27 pm Conspiracy of Truths, Alexandra Rowland
I kept putting this off because it looked really good but there wasn't an ebook.

The cover

E.g. see on goodreads: www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/34328664-a-conspiracy-of-truths It's so beautiful, it somehow conjures the exact feel of the book, of illustrated manuscripts (even though there aren't any, it evokes a monastic tradition)

The premise

The main character is a Chant, belonging to an order of wandering story-tellers and lore-preservers. At the start of the book, he's been arrested for witchcraft in an overly-bureaucratic country he's never been in before, and constantly complaining how his trial is run.

The characters are amazingly vivid: his advocate who doesn't get on with him but takes his case because it's prestigious, looking for a boring cushy job, or looking to support her family, depending how you look at it; his assistant, young, earnest, well meaning, slowly learning the role of a chant; several rulers of the country, stern, or wavering, or mysterious, or flighty but cunning.

It's reminiscent of other books that bring a monastic tone into a fantasy world, even though the wandering chant has no connection to other chants.

The good

The way they describe the story telling, trying to keep the heart of each story, but being open about how the details vary according to the listener, and that they try to preserve as much good stories as they can, but they know the history will be lost.

It does an excellent job imagining a fantasy world that's not male dominated: there's three notable male characters, and at least eight women. Similarly, there's passing mentions to diseases which are not understood, but are recognisable to a modern reader, but the world doesn't have an unrealistic level of knowledge about them, but isn't just "you never meet people like that" either.

It's clear there's a variety of cultures in different countries with different mores about all these things, so it's not just "everyone has modern sensibilities", but also the book is set in a culture which isn't aggressively bigoted about things modern readers wouldn't agree with either, which is a nice balance.

The main character spends most of the time in prison, but the book manages amazingly well to tell his story, while also telling the story of the political upheavals in the country, mostly inadvertently triggered by him.

The less good

Some things just didn't ring quite true. I didn't know enough to say if I was right, but I felt like the monetary system (including paper money, and a government controlled mint), the political system (kind of corrupt, but run on elections), and level of technology (I'm not sure) didn't all fit together quite right. And some of the politics felt a bit too pat when I looked back. But fwiw, they FELT right, the book wove a story where it all felt like a real place with real characters and things actually happening, not conjured into existence by authorial fiat.

The annoying

I often rant about annoying things in books I otherwise like, but this book wins my occasionally-awarded "some books don't have anything annoying about them but that doesn't mean they're perfect but no-one believes me until I exhibit some examples" award.

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Sep. 12th, 2019 @ 10:37 am Daily Diary: September 2019
Still following the resolution of giving a daily diary for one day in the month.

I'm quite tired. I had a long thing last night that ended up running until about 1:30 or 2:00, and then I slept inconsistently too. I used to stay up that late all the time, but I don't know. So this morning I was tired, but I think my regular sleep routine.

Liv is living at home now, so we get up together! It's so nice to just have lazy getting up, hugs, tea and breakfast, etc. Except today I got up 20 min late. I have a radio alarm for 8:00 and usually get up then, or within 10-15 min at worst. So much better than I used to, when I used to sleep an alarm regularly.

Our house guest has found somewhere more long term, so we can be more relaxed about being dressed in the public areas of the house.

I usually check email and read daily webcomics while eating breakfast. There's some that update every day, some that update every weekday, one mon/wed/fri, one mon only, one mon/thu (but updates mid-afternoon our time and I somehow ended up thinking of the first update as tue).

And some chat with Liv. We try to chat a little in the morning but avoid too-interesting topics.

Then drive to work. A14 is constantly changing due to ongoing roadworks, but my commute is usually not impeded, except for all being 40mph, and sometimes a big queue leaving bar hill appears.

Day at work. Lunch break, with pot of something vege with cheese and bagel.

Tonight, gym. The last couple of weeks have been a bit disordered, so I'm still jogging but my stretches and weights have been a bit disruptive. Tue I swam, just a couple of lengths, but it was so nice. Need to keep that regular.

Then home, hopefully with few/no responsibilities tonight, but dinner, chat with Liv, maybe some reading or TV. Resisting the urge to do-all-the-things-I-haven't-had-time-for.

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Sep. 11th, 2019 @ 01:01 pm Cash vs bitcoin vs banks vs what
Tags: ,
Currently we have:

Physical money
- partially traceable
- no way of undoing transactions

- partially traceable
- no way of undoing transactions
- is destroying the planet

Traditional banking
- mostly user friendly
- transactions can be rolled back if there's fraud
- lets the government spy on you
- for weird historical reasons, "consumer protection" and "get credit for everyday use" are bundled together

New faux-banking (including both things like paypal and cryptocurrency exchanges)
- perform many of the roles of banks
- some of the convenient, some of the protection, but sometimes not
- race to see how fast existing banking legislation covers them

There's a natural two tier system. Banking is built on top of money (originally physical money, now electronic money). Most significant bitcoin transactions use an exchange, even though someone can in principle make the transactions themselves.

Bitcoin was an ingenious technical innovation which unfortunately made so much unneeded cryptographic calculation it significantly impacted global warming with farms of graphics cards :( Probably it won't last.

Likewise, as with many "disruptive" technologies, the new banking systems had some benefits (you can just send someone money by doing so, without giving VISA veto power over whether your purchase looks kosher or not) and many problems (they started deciding for themselves whether to claim your transaction was fraudulent and keep your money, and were a power grab by people hoping to put the power in the hands of random tech companies, instead of governments)

So, "traditional money and banks bad, new fake money and banks good" is not a convincing narrative.

But in my opinion, "the new systems are destined to fail, therefore everything is fine as it was before" isn't convincing either.

There are extensive problems. If you're a small organisation, can people make small purchases from you? In person yes. Online, only if it's socially acceptable and you give patreon or VISA N%. Can you travel without the government knowing exactly where you go? Only if the transport takes cash, or TFL start taking anonymisation seriously. New systems helped temporarily with some of those problems.

Anything similar to consumer banking will need regulation the way consumer banking does now for the same reasons. Fraud will happen and there needs to be answers. Sufficiently large transactions probably do need to be scrutinised by the government for illegal activity.

But it would be nice if there were a more systematic approach. If there was an easy "just pay cash" equivalent where you accept a small risk of fraud in exchange for convenience. Where transaction fees didn't make small transactions so hard. Where everything you'd ever done wasn't stored in a convenient database one damoclesian law change away from being audited for "is this person sufficiently 'our kind of people'". But I don't know how we get there.

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Aug. 12th, 2019 @ 09:57 am Daily Diary: August
A couple of friends started writing daily diaries in dreamwidth again. Sometimes that seems to work really well and sometimes it doesn't and I don't really understand the difference.

Anyway, I think my dreamwidth has suffered for lacking "what I did today" in comparison to "what I was thinking about". But partly, I don't have time to write that every day, and partly, I don't usually have the sort of "will Jack have the energy to go to the party? if he stays in, will he go out to the shop" tension I used to have, because my day-to-day life is much more settled.

So I decided a compromise was to write a slice of life for one day, but only once a month :)

Last time was in the midst of Dad's death, so I didn't write it up. It wasn't very representative anyway.

So, what about today?

I woke up at 8 with the radio alarm. That's been my standard for a while, but I've varied between procrastinating in bed for another 20 minutes, and leaping up promptly 5 minutes before. Liv got up with me which was really nice: it always used to be that she had to get up earlier to get to work on time.

My morning routine is usually "wash face, get dressed, have tea and toast". I'll shower in the evening because often I'm going to the gym anyway. And aim to leave for work by 8:45. That's been mixed as well, it used to often be 9:30 before I left, but recently I've been doing ok.

Then drive along King's Hedge's Road to A14, and to Bar Hill. Fortunately all the commuting traffic is in the other direction.

Then work until 5:30 or so, with approx an hour for lunch.

Tonight I'm hosting roleplaying. Group 2 in my Underlabyrinth world is on hiatus because everyone was v busy over summer, so I never really got to try the "two groups at once". And I've really enjoyed the campaign, but I'm thinking of bringing it to a finale is a couple of months. I've really enjoyed it though, I would like to run another, either in the same world or another.

Liv needed to skip tonight as it was the only time she could see ghoti. But Houseguest might sit in. Then there's the four other regular players. We'll arrive about 6:30, start about 7:00, finish about 10:00. Which pleasantly gives me a little but of time to relax/tidy before bed.

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Aug. 11th, 2019 @ 12:58 pm Piles of post
For quite a long time I had quite a good system for post, after I set up a filing system a la David Allen's Getting Things Done. Basically, have a file for each company/org that sends you post. When you receive the post, put it straight into the file.

The secret is, if filing it is easy, then it's easy to just do, and if you're behind, you can file a bunch at once.

If there's stuff you need to DO, you can put that in a physical in-tray. Although I just filed it and used a virtual todo list instead.

But since I moved into this house I got behind. Mostly, I think, just that the filing cabinet slowly filled up, and then filing anything became a chore, and when my "willingness to file" fell below "amount of incoming" even a tiny %, then a backlog just slowly mounted up.

I had a few attempts, like separate files for "post to open", "post to process", "post to file". I used to be intimidated by post because I'd often have stuff I hadn't dealt with, and have urgent letters saying "you need to have done this by last year" (not because I had no money, but because I was bad at dealing with post). But one way or another it didn't help.

This weekend, I started a new set of files, basically the same but creating them new for stuff which is "current". And sorted most of the backlog. That was pretty easy. I found one or two important things I'd put aside. And nothing I'd forgotten I shouldn't have.

Because fortunately, my organisation was on top of things enough that a usual amount of reminders was more than enough to get me to do something.

In fact, I weirdly became someone who deals with important things, neither immediately, nor last minute, but a couple of weeks before the deadline, which is about perfect, and better than I ever expected to reach :)


At some point I need to go and throw out anything I don't need to keep from the old system to make more room. But that got less scary too, when I know realistically what I will need (bank statements, certificates) and what I won't need (all the extra bumf which comes in the envelopes)

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Aug. 7th, 2019 @ 04:39 pm OK Maybe We Have Free Will 40% of the Time
Do we have free will?

Forget your preconceptions. If you ask, "what does it look like to have free will" or "what does it look like NOT to have free will", it rapidly becomes a lot more obvious what you actually mean by that question.

What does it mean to NOT have free will? Well, think of examples:

* Someone asks you to pick a number between 1 and 10. You felt free to choose any number! But it unbeknownst to you beforehand, it turned out that you were more likely to pick 7 than any other number
* You are trying to concentrate on something. But there's some delicious food / a person you're fond of / a persistent worry in your brain which keeps stopping you
* You're drunk, tired, too young, or otherwise impaired, and can't fully understand the options and have to choose between them based on a very limited understanding

All of those where you're TRYING to do something, but something stops you. Often something INSIDE YOUR BRAIN. And I mean, that bit is still you. "Being bad at choosing random numbers" is just as much a part of you as anything else.

I used to stop the argument there. That's who you ARE. It's still that 'you' choose. If you don't like that you're not a pure abstract reasoning machine, that's not a "don't have free will" problem.

I used to jokingly phrase it as a syllogism

Premise: You are actions are predicted by deterministic rules.
Premise: You control your actions
Conclusion: You ARE deterministic rules.

But that's not actually the whole story. Sometimes those "something in your brain stops you" happens more than others. Choosing to do something else instead of eating when you're hungry is HARD, but you usually can if you try hard enough. Some things are harder to suppress. And you can't choose to "not sleep" or "not breathe" by strength of will however much you try.

Sometimes more free will, sometimes less.

What about all those OTHER times. Everyone knows that sometimes something overrides your attempt to decide something. But the rest of the time, when it feels like you have a free choice, do you really?

Well, there's some other exceptions. But... we know a lot of the time, your brain is running on heuristics that produce weird answers like "the first choice offered" or "the choice most like what you remember from childhood". Even when we don't know that it's half-assing the analytical reasoning, it probably is some of the time. That's just who we are.

What about what when people say "no free will". Like, an implacable force forcing you to certain outcomes? Well, if you count the laws of physics, then yes, we already covered that. If you mean something else, then, "there's no way to tell, but probably not".

What about practical consequences? Well, yes, act like you have free will. And what about other people? Well, sometimes they do and sometimes they don't -- interact with them in ways that work, not ones that meet some theoretical standard of "fair".

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Aug. 5th, 2019 @ 02:28 pm Dividing "things I need to do by categories"
It took me a long time to develop a normal amount of "doing necessary things". Partly I had problems getting started on things (from big projects to every day things like getting out of bed). Partly I resented learning a rote system that didn't fit what I prioritised, so I didn't learn a system of "do this amount of housework every day" routine that I might have benefited from. Partly I was very perfectionist, so it felt futile to do *some* when I still wasn't doing *all*

I've got a lot better in various ways. Partly I have built up routines for day-to-day stuff. I have through various different tricks/habits/self-therapy slowly de-mystified "getting started". But there's a lot I'd still like to improve on.

I used to survive by basically living a status quo that had terrible housework, and a lot of regular socialising, but almost none of what you might call "working toward things". So in some ways that worked well, but I didn't want to get to age 80 and discover that I still went to the pub twice a week, but had never achieved anything and still lived in a similar student-style flat to when I was in my early twenties. Although I mean, maybe I should have been happier with that trade off, but I wasn't. But because my brain is infested with counter-productive perfectionism, as soon as I started to get better at things, it felt like I needed to be getting better at things ALL THE TIME.

Ideally I'd have regular self-care time. And regular socialising with other people. And time for the creative hobbies I enjoy doing: writing, GMing roleplaying, designing board games, programming, etc. And time for self-improvement, time for self-therapy, learning to dress better, learning to be a more pleasant person to be around. And time for "we really should have done this at some point" chores. And now I'm adding to the list "activism" as the crises I'm living through have ever more impossible to ignore. And so on.

But that is... a lot. I probably *can't* do all of that. But I can't bring myself to officially decide not to bother on any of them.

I've been through several previous systems. Recently I've been trying out "no responsibilities sat" where I can do just nothing, or work on what I feel like, without feeling constrained by "what I feel like I should do" which often killed my motivation. And I added "overdue chores Sunday", not the entire day, but basically I'd try to do SOME chore/chores which had been lingering with me never finding time for it, without feeling guilt for whether it had been on the list for days or years.

I realised the reason those worked is that it didn't make so much difference if I did the self-care and chores a lot or a little, as long as there kept being SOME at a steady rate, but not so much they took over everything else, or so little that they never happened.

Partly, I made the effort to stop thinking of all the chores as "I'll catch up once and then I'll be a Functioning Adult TM" but instead, "if I do a little bit every week or so on necessary house-ownership care, or necessary body-having appointments, or buying things that we might need but were never urgent, then over time I will be mostly up to date on the important things". And new things will always arrive, but as long as the new stuff is added.

Now I'm seriously considering... should I do that for everything? Not so much have a dedicated day, as I don't know if I want to do all those things the same amount. But maybe have a shuffled list, where if I have some time, I can say, "pick one or two of these at random, work on one of those for a bit", to ensure, I keep doing SOME stuff on all of them.

What does everyone else do? Do you have a way of balancing so many demands? Or do you in practice live in a status quo of "if things keep going like this, then in 20 years I'll feel it went well", and responding to additional demands as they come up?

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