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May. 18th, 2018 @ 12:36 pm Cycling to work
I cycled to work again, hoping for once per week. It was just under an hour for about 8 miles, mostly fairly easy flat cycling although there's a few roads or bridges. That's not a great speed, but it feels like I'm doing well enough it's worth keeping it up. I think it was about 40 minutes coming home last time when the wind was less inimical.

I took the Oakington-Dry Drayton route. I think it's about the same distance but avoids the slightly intimidating Longstanton-Bar Hill road that had fairly fast traffic the last time I tried it, and avoids negotiating the roundabouts and A14 bridge at the entrance to Bar Hill. And Dry Drayton and the little cycle path are just nice. The cycle path is a bit too narrow to go full speed, but I often appreciate going a little gentler in the last ten minutes.

This time I came up the busway to the east end of Oakington. That felt easier than coming round via not-quite-girton on the on-pavement cycle paths -- I always hesitate going full speed when you might encounter a pedestrian or car stepping out of a driveway, and cycling in the road risks 60mph cars who think you should be on the pavement. And the busway through the fields is quite pretty. But it is slightly longer, so maybe I should get used to the other way.

I felt pretty good for it, we'll see if I improve if I keep up once a week. The slightly shorter distance to Bar Hill not Over, and having a bike in slightly better repair, and doing even some on busway is a lot nicer, so I found it a lot easier than the last time I was commuting out this way.

Unfortunately, I think I need to keep up gym as well, and I don't really want to do gym AND cycle 8 miles home, so I can't easily build up to every day. But I could hope for twice a week (especially if I have enough clothes to cycle somewhere in town after, not only home). And even only occasionally, it feels really nice, both for the scenery and the exercise.

I don't know if I'll be able to cope in winter or not. I'm mostly fine the the cold, I will probably skip it in the rain (even if I can cope with the unpleasantness, glasses make it impossible to see), but I'm still uncertain cycling in the actual complete dark. If I'm still cycling when sunset gets earlier, I'll see how I feel.

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May. 14th, 2018 @ 06:44 pm The Geass
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OK, lets talk about how Lelouch uses his Geass and what it can do. As of near-the-end-of-S1.

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May. 13th, 2018 @ 12:57 pm Code Geass: Bloodstained Euphie
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OK, right, yes, that episode where the fairly significant turn from the previous episode is amplified a lot. Many feelings.

Spoilers (this may still be interesting if you haven't watched the show at all, but probably don't read if you're mid-way through the first season)

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May. 12th, 2018 @ 07:13 pm "It was a joke"
Tags: ,
"Oh, it wasn't offensive. It was a joke!"

How the fuck is this a thing? I mean, like, 100% of the blame is on bigoted knobheads who seize on any opportunity to run their mouths off at other people's expense and get away with it. AS WITH TOO MANY OTHER FUCKING THINGS IN SOCIETY! But, like, why is there a loophole here for people to exploit.

Them: Ha ha [racism]
Me: Don't say that. That's horrible.
Them: Oh, it's ok. I wasn't setting out to hurt people for no reason.
Them: I just wanted to hurt people because it's amusing to me that I can.

Like, if you asked people, "can a joke be offensive" or "if someone made fun of you, is that usually ok?" or "if someone threatened you, but then laughed at you for it, would that make it ok?" they'd pretty clearly know the answer. But somehow "no offence, it was a joke" is a thing?

I think the thing is, it's sometimes a thing. Teasing friends is something most (but not all) people do some of the time, of mildly criticising things about their friend, or criticising imaginary things about their friend, with both people knowing it's not actually a criticism, is a way people often do friendship. But because human brains are cobbled together with rules of thumb and primate neurons, people do things without understanding them. So someone who makes fun of their friends (ok) or their friends who don't actually like it but they don't listen (not ok) or people they're don't even pretend to like but are bullying (not ok) or just everyone indiscriminately (no, still not ok) can kind of look the same if you don't turn your brain on for three seconds.

It can be hard to explain what's ok when, if people are used to just learning the code of behaviour for one social situation, and don't have the basic human empathy and decency to think "wait, maybe this was ok for person A and B but NOT for person C who constantly tells me how much it hurts them begs me to stop". But people should understand the difference.

Obviously people tell bigoted jokes because they can get away with it :( But why can they get away with it? Apparently because "it was a joke" is an explanation and implicit apology in one situation, people's brains just randomly imagine it excuses some completely other transgression. Like, just saying something that completely superficially sounds like a reasonable apology, and apparently that helps? Even though it has nothing to do with what they actually said?

Talking about offensive topics

In general, how might people talk about anti-X bigotry? Well, they might just say something bigoted about X people. That's obviously wrong. Or they might be an X person complaining that people say bigoted things about them. There's nothing wrong with that (although it would be better if they didn't have to).

Or someone might be talking ABOUT bigotry without actually SAYING those things. That's not inherently immoral, but you should exercise caution wrt (a) are you inadvertently perpetuating the stereotypes even if you're debunking them? and (b) are you forcing the topic on X people who might not want to relive all that right now. This is where advice like, "if it's YOUR pain it's usually ok to talk about, but if it's SOMEONE ELSE's pain, you should consider them first before jumping in with what you think" comes from.

And, surprise, EXACTLY THE SAME applies to jokes. Is a joke where the main content is "X people have negative characteristic Y"? I mean, that's a joke. It's not not a joke. But it's a joke specifically for people who have bigoted opinions. The problem isn't "it's a joke" or "it's not a joke", the problem is BEING BIGOTED.

Is it a joke, by X people, for X people, about bigotry X people experience? Well, not all X people will want to hear it, so step lightly, but X people generally get a say, and most people have at least some jokes about ways they're badly treated (mildly or seriously).

Is this a joke? Or is it offensive? WTF people? Is a tiger dangerous or is it stripey? Is the moon round, or white? People should stop being bigoted ALL THE TIME. INCLUDING when telling jokes.

When is this genuinely confusing?

Well, ok, I admit, there are SOME situations when you need a cursory knowledge of the topic in question. Like, if you tell a joke about a MILD criticism of someone, or a major criticism intended not to be taken seriously, or a tendency which is in theory neutral but you make a big deal of. Well, take a look. Is the joke only funny if you hate them and think they're worthless? That joke is probably NOT OK. If you described "why the joke is funny", would they mostly say, "yeah, that's me *self deprecating laugh*" without feeling coerced to do so? Then you should check with them, but you've passed the first hurdle to "should I even think this".

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May. 11th, 2018 @ 02:40 pm Brexit questions
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The situation now seems very similar to how it originally looked, except that "the government won't jump without having arranged a parachute" became "how long will the government wait after jumping before trying to arrange a parachute" :(

I do admit, if my disagreements with EU policy were larger, I don't know what I would want the country to do, if the choice is basically "join or not".

There's been no progress on a magic solution to keeping customs posts off the Irish border without retaining single market/freedom of movement. Nor to retaining single market without freedom of movement or vice versa. So the original assumption that the government were basically going to have to choose one of the obvious options ("soft brexit", "sea border", or "we're fucked") still seems most likely.

Questions I have. What are different levels of border controls here? I really should understand this and I don't. We already have SOME border controls because you need to show a passport when you enter the country. Except not at Ireland? Do UK and Ireland have identical entry requirements or what?

Single market/freedom of movement mean no more border controls than we have now. Is that right?

Customs union but not single market -- that means SOME border controls? But maybe only on major routes or for large shipments? Is that right? If labour and conservative shift that far but no further how screwed are we?

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May. 11th, 2018 @ 10:35 am Steven Universe, the recent moon 2 parter
Wow, Steven Universe does better than almost anything else I can think of, bringing in additional worldbuilding which doesn't overthrow everything which came before, but adds to it.

I'm always interested in backstory and worldbuilding and how it's conveyed. I'm always annoyed when things that SHOULD be common knowledge are withheld from the reader (it can be a good effect, but it's usually just mystery for mystery's sake which undermines the story in the meantime), and SU does that occasionally but doesn't rely on it.

Successive revelation works well for SU for a few reasons. Because the protagonist is quite young, and grows over the course of the series, it's more natural that sometimes they don't explain all the answers immediately. And several times we've had revelations which aren't a massive twist, but, say, explain the background of the conflict in a way which simply wasn't dwelt on before.

Another thing I'm annoyed by is when shows over-rely on "everything you know is a lie". The worst case is things like "this character you've been trusting for years is actually a secret double agent" -- it usually doesn't really make sense that they'd be maintaining the pretence this long. But it often seems to come with a "everything you poured empathy into isn't actually what was happening". And that can work well, when it's a well-judged deliberate subversion. But usually the show poured a lot of energy into the supposed status-quo as well, and then the 'twist' comes across more as "suckers! we just change stuff at random, don't try to follow", or "just give up on caring about any characters, everyone is lying about who they are more than everyone else and no-one is worth rooting for".

SU manages to avoid that with revelations that add a *lot* to what was originally there, both factually and emotionally, but without just overwriting what was originally there.

Specifics (incl spoilers)

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May. 5th, 2018 @ 06:19 pm Jack knows nothing about ancient chinese history
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Wow, I knew *nothing* about ancient chinese history. Now, I still know nothing, but, you know, a slightly less unrelieved wall-to-wall nothing, thanks to ten minutes reading wikipedia. A lot of this will be tied to the reigns of such-and-and dynasties to keep everything straight even if that's not the best way of following the history.

So, before about 2500 BCE we have stuff we mostly know about through archaeology (I think) like so-and-so culture and domestication of dogs and silk.

Then we have a few hundred years of people known mostly through legend, like the Yellow Emperor and the (variously constituted) other "Three kings and five emperors", now considered deities.

At 2200 BCE (give or take... something) we start having the Xia dynasty, who controlled enough of China to be considered the first recognised dynasty (but not enough to be the first emperor). But this is still before any written records, so all these dates come from later histories or archaeological evidence, if any, and will be a bit off, but I'm going by the dates in wikipedia which seem to be the traditional ones.

Wikipedia says it was founded by Yu the Great who finally perfected the hot idea that the right channel-digging could stop the rivers flooding everything all the time and instead produce excellent arable land.

This lasted until 16xx BCE when the last Xia, who the histories say (a) was corrupt, had too high taxes and levies and (b) was overthrown by his nominal vassal, Tang of Shang, and a confederation of increasingly many other minor rulers, inaugurating the Shang dynasty. As with many of these overthrows apparently the previous ruler got to retire to rule a little fiefdom somewhere, and continued for many generations.

The Shang dynasty lasted from 16xx until 10xx. I'm skipping over a whole lot of intra-dynasty overthrow which I don't know enough to follow. They invented "saying that they overthrew the previous dynasty because they would be better rulers and so the Mandate of Heaven said it was their duty to do so" which was comparatively progressive. I should be comparing these dates to historical happenings elsewhere. Apparently this was shortly after the something dynasty in Egypt? And shortly after the apparent date of the biblical flood.

Somewhere in there was Shao Kang who was especially famous.

The last ruling Shang (ending 10xx) was apparently ESPECIALLY decadent, at least according to tradition. The example given is, digging a lake and filling it with wine and building an island on it with a tree whose branches were skewers of meat, and drifting around with all his concubines scooping wine and meat into his mouth whenever they liked, like a reverse Tantalus. Wikipedia says this persists as a byword for decadence.

Just to keep anglophones on their toes, apparently this guy was called Zhou, and was overthrown by the first of the Zhou dynasty, and as best as I can see from a ten second look at wikipedia, these names are completely different, they just happen to be spelled and pronounced the same in English?

The Zhou lasted from 10xx until nearly 2xx BCE, so for ages, but they exerted increasingly less control and controlled less territory, and until they officially fell before the Qin dynasty officially united China. The last couple of hundred years of this were known as the Warring States period, which I should probably return to.

This is too long so I'm going to rush the next but but maybe fill it in another time. The Qin dynasty started with THE emperor, famous for conquering all the warring states, uniting china, inventing a whole bunch of civilisation and bureaucracy, and overthrowing a previously-roughly-feudal social order into one run mostly by central control, standardising money, writing, etc, a centralised military, large engineering projects such as the first northern walls which eventually became The wall, etc. So a force for civilisation or dystopia depending who you ask.

But it only lasted two emperors. It was followed by four hundred years of Han, who are often thought of as the canonical example of ancient china. Which was followed by the famous Three Kingdoms interlude when three different states each claimed emperor-ship over all of China, romanticised and recorded in many novels and histories. Including Magic: The Gathering's abortive introductory produce "Portal: Three Kingdoms".

Do @ me :)

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May. 4th, 2018 @ 12:00 pm Data structures and stuff
The premise

I have a tile-based computer adventure game. The current state is represented in memory as a 2d array of tiles representing the play area, each with one (or possibly more) objects on that tile. There is also an "undo" history, tracking recent actions, and the difference (objects moved, removed or added) so the previous or following state can be recreated.

In addition, each object remembers the most recent undo step which affected it, so you can click "undo" on an object and return it to the previous state (also undoing any following actions), not just undo one at a time until you rewind to the appropriate point.

I need to check the code, but as I remember, this is represented by each object having a pointer (well, the python equivalent) to one of the elements of the undo sequence. And when you redo or undo the pointers are updated to refer to the newly-correct object.

Now I'm unsure, but IIRC the undo steps refer to an object by coordinates in the play area, not a pointer to the object (in general, we assume the play area might store game objects as just ids or something, not as ab object in memory).

What happens when we want to save the game

We need to be able to save the game -- indeed, a modern game (especially one where actions aren't irreversible) should just save as it goes along, not require a separate load/save action to do so.

This means my instinctive layout above doesn't work. You can't save "a pointer". The best option is probably to use an index into the undo list which the undo list understands.

That can also cut out other possible bugs. If you have a pointer, it could be anywhere in memory. If you have an index into the undo list, you can choose to have the list check that the dereference is valid (and retain the option to turn those checks off if performance matters).

There's other possibilities but I think that's the best one. It is uncomfortably close to designing our own ORM -- we could alternatively have ALL objects represented by a unique id and index things by that instead (either via some global list of ids or only when we load from disk).

I run into this often when I'm game programming, the best way of 'referring' somehow to another game object -- by value or reference? by game coordinates or pointer to memory? But not in other types of programming. Does this experience ring a bell to anyone else?

But now I'm thinking...

This also reminds me of a problem I ran into when I started thinking about rust's memory models. If you have a class, that creates a bunch of other classes, and those classes want to have pointers to each other, there's no easy way of doing it iirc.

I think you need to rely on reference-counted pointers even though it feels like you shouldn't. That's not a problem in practice -- the "store an index" method above also has an indirection every time you need to access the object. But it feels like, you shouldn't need to. And a similar sort of "I want to refer to one of the classes which this big class is responsible for".

But I'm not sure if there's a way of combining these thoughts.

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May. 4th, 2018 @ 10:02 am Fancying Pennywise (!)
I've often defending people's right to fancy fictional villains for various reasons. Often more interesting, less heteronormative, being specially picked by misanthropic character, just what people happen to like, etc. Assuming people keep fantasy separate, and understand what traits might be fun in fantasy but not good for a real life partner.

But I was shocked when this apparently started to include Pennywise from IT. In my head, he's a vile concoction of racism and child abuse. Roughly "rotten vomit in human form". And horribly unpleasant and obnoxious in person as well. I'm not surprised that ANYONE could be drawn to that, but I was shocked that just random people on my tumblr feed were. I'm I'm not sure, was he portrayed less vilely in the film?

Or was I just too willing to overlook characters who did really bad things but were less up in your face about it? It's a common trope of a sympathetic villain who the audience loses sympathy for when they do something particularly bad, even if in theory they've done even worse things before but not to characters the audience were rooting for. Like, many regular villains probably killed way more people than Pennywise, but I wasn't previously shocked they show up in pairings in fanfic *some* of the time.

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May. 3rd, 2018 @ 10:49 pm Vader's role in the empire
In fiction, when you see people reporting to the top person in a hierarchy, it's easy for the specifics to be really concealed. Like, their personal assistant, their bodyguard, their political advisers, and other senior members of government may all report to the president/prime minister/etc. But it's easy to just see B telling A what happened and A telling B what to do. But all those roles are quite different.

Think about what Trump's done too much, of putting people he *personally* trusts into key roles in government, basically bypassing those differences. Which means often, people less good at their jobs, but more willing to use their power to defend their 'boss' :(

People remember Vader so well because he's an amazing villain. But it can be confusing the relationship he has with Tarkin (or other, mostly unshown, senior functionaries in the empire).

My personal headcanon, which I think fits well even though it's not officially described, is that at the start of A New Hope, Vader is the emperor's personal hatchet-person. Like, the president's political adviser, or chaplain, or something -- no-one dares disobey him because he's the emperor's personal representative, sniffing for disloyalty, etc. But doesn't have any official senior role in the government -- lots of the usual military and government people are quite suspicious of the force thing, or even think it's mystical nonsense, tolerated only because the Emperor is their boss and they have to.

Whereas Tarkin is a senior administrator, the ruler of a big sector of the galaxy, trusted by the emperor to do normal day-to-day ruling.

And for that matter (this comes if you accept the prequels, but it fits the original trilogy quite well), if you realise the emperor might not entiiiiirely trust Vader, it makes sense that he uses Vader on anyone he wants to, but doesn't *want* Vader to have broad power or support throughout the empire (that's how you get coups!)

Tarkin can't do what Vader does -- the ruler of one sector can't show up all over the galaxy and demand accounting from random local functionaries who don't report to him, but Vader can. But Vader can't do what Tarkin can -- ruling a big chunk of the galaxy is HARD, it's lots of administration and complicated decisions, and Vader doesn't have the experience, doesn't have the trust of the subordinates. You can't rule COMPLETELY through terror, you can suppress people, but you can't get senior military staff to act effectively.

Hence, Vader is more terrifying, but temporarily under Tarkin's thumb in the original film.

But as the series goes on, the political situation gradually shifts. Dissatisfaction and unstability grows, the tenability of ruling competently wanes, the emperor is (likely) more reclusive and distrusted even by his senior subordinates. And out of necessity he begins to place more trust in his direct representatives, i.e. Vader, and less in his nominal political representatives. So now, Vader is expected to oversee basically everything he's involved with, at the expense of retaining political continuity, in order to ensure the emperor retains ultimate control over everything.

And by the end, things are crumbling as Vader and the Emperor are presiding over an increasingly tottery empire, even if there's a long way to go before it breaks (if the rebellion hadn't interceded directly).

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