October 02013

So ends the month of October.

 

Fogbanking: An Overview August-October 2013

August (started writing mid-month): 4 posts, ~5,600 words, post to revisit: Kludge.

September: 8 posts, ~11,400 words, post to revisit: Developing Organizations (I talked about TIMN, which uses some vocabulary that I use and abuse pretty frequently. My definition of ‘tribe’ has expanded from this post, for instance). 

October: 21 posts, ~25,700 words.

This trend of prolific writing is not sustainable. I have a job. 

I had no idea I was writing that much, but looking back I was scheduling posts for consecutive days most weeks. I don’t think I’m worried about abandoning my enforced writing anymore, that’s for sure.

This month, I wrote some notes outlining a few historical and philosophical views I’ve been exploring, I wrote a sequence of posts on my own interest in apologetics, wrote a sequence on a few ideas of Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West that I found interesting, and after some navel gazing I decided I wasn’t done being depressed and picked up some Moldbug and other DownWing material, which I decided was my vague direction right now.

Next month, more of the same in topic but probably not in quantity.

 

Reviewing Five Week Plan I

Quoting my to-do from last month:

  • Take more walks. Maybe establish a small workout routine. (Not for any reason other than health, really. I’m incredibly sedentary lately.) [Meh. Not well defined.]
  • Finish A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History- it should be done in short order [DONE]
  • Work out a to-read list for Q3. Otherwise I’m going to drift aimlessly. [DONE]
  • Decorate my place a bit for Halloween. Because I want to. [I got some colorful lights. I realized that’s all I really wanted.]
  • My girlfriend is teaching me Cantonese, a little bit at a time. I can count to ten (poorly), tell time (really poorly), and talk about what I’m eating and drinking (as long as it’s rice and tea/water). I suck at inflecting. [If anything, I’ve gotten worse.]
  • Maybe take a better look at Spengler, who is a big influence on a lot of sources I’ve been visiting lately. [Spent quite a bit of time with Spengler.]
  • I’ve been reviewing my school notes on the Pragmatists, maybe I’ll come up with something there to write about. [One post and a few references, it didn’t bloom into a full sequence of posts like I expected]
  • Manage fewer projects at a time (or at least smaller roles in those projects). I’m going to hurt myself otherwise- September was an unnecessarily intense, backheavy month. [Working on this- I definitely have fewer projects now]
  • Maybe begin scratching together more content that is my own and less explicitly a summary of my influences [Meh. I think summarizing is where my most fruitful content ends up coming from, personally.]
  • Play with more hardware. Maybe purchase something that can help me learn on that front. [Hard Failure.]
  • Plow through at least a one language on Codecademy. Partly to experience the UX of it and partly because it would feel productive. [Python]
  • Coursera: Financial Accounting; Video Games and Learning, 21st Century American Foreign Policy. (Maybe: Analysis of Algorithms, Logic) [ongoing]
  • More posts on what I am presently working on. [A post-mortem, some book notes, some aimless wandering/wondering. I’d call the small-backlog decision a success.]

 

Five Week Plan II

  • Take more walks. Maybe establish a small workout routine. This time for real. It will get much colder soon.
  • Be a grownup this Christmas. Get gifts for more people, you’re not a hermit.
  • Work on my Cantonese. I really ought to have more defined goals so I can’t write them off later.
  • Plow through at least a one more language on Codecademy.
  • Read some more fiction. Biographies count, because all biographies are sort of fiction anyway.
  • Coursera: Financial Accounting; Video Games and Learning, 21st Century American Foreign Policy. [still ongoing]
  • Want more money outside of work. Haven’t won anything in a while. Provide a plan to make at least $1000 additional (outside of work payment) by 2014.
  • I saw some interesting Khan Academy videos, including some on BitCoin, which I’ve known of for a while but lacked the sophistication to tell (or know who to trust) on whether or not it’s a sucker’s game or what. I want to improve my financial literacy in general, reading one book on investing (The Young Person’s Guide), and taking a course on personal and business finance. It’s something adults should know about (right?!)
  • Buy an arduino set by Christmas.

“Beginnings”

For ages they had been without heads. Headless they lived, and headless they died. How long they had thus flourished none of them knew. Then something began to change. It happened over unremembered generations. The signs of a transfiguring were being writ ever more deeply into them. As their breed moved forward, they began crossing boundaries whose very existence they never suspected . . . and they trembled. Some of them eyed their surroundings as they would a strange land into which they had wandered, even though their kind had trod the same earth for countless seasons. And during idle moments after dark, they looked up at a sky filled with stars and felt themselves small and fragile in the vastness. More and more, they came to know a new way of being. It was as if the objects around them were one thing and they were another. The world was moving farther and farther away, and they were at the center of this movement. Another world was forming inside the heads they now had. Each of them, in time, became frightened in a way they had never known. In former days, they were frightened only by sights and sounds in the moments they saw or heard them. Now they were frightened by things that were not present to their senses. They were also frightened by visions that came not from outside them but from within them. Everything had changed for their kind, and they could never return to what they once had been. The epoch had passed when they and the rest of creation were one and the same. They were beginning to know a world that did not know them. This is what they thought, and they thought it was not right. Something which should not be . . . had become. And something had to be done if they were to flourish as they had before, if the very ground beneath their feet were not to fall away from under them. They could do nothing about the world which was moving farther and farther away from them and which knew them not. So they would have to do something about their heads.

-T. Ligotti, from Conspiracy Against the Human Race

 

Happy (early) Halloween.

Tomorrow: monthly review.

 

Two Books on Incomprehensible Man-Made Systems

Two books: One I’m reading and one I just heard of. Their essences below, no detailed notes yet.

 

Normal Accidents

“Normal” Accidents: What Perrow calls System Accidents. Normal Accidents have two characteristics:

  • The complex interaction of multiple discrete failures that are not in operational sequence.
  • Opaque processes: due to that complexity, the systems are incomprehensible, making identifying and correcting these accidents difficult and compounding the situation through apparent operator error. Often times System Accidents are wrongly labelled as mere operator error.

The accidents are inherent in the system because it is so complex. The accident may not be common but it is inevitable (thus, “normal”).

Coupling: Tight coupling is where events are dependent on each other. Loose coupling is where independent events occur in the same sequence.

Perrow is interested in the top-right quadrant here specifically, in reducing the coupling or the complexity of interactions in order to make systems safer and more comprehensible. Some systems may not be salvageable.

It’s a fascinating book, and I’m looking forward to investigating Perrow’s future books, building on this. I know that his 2007 book discusses strengthening fragile systems through “target reduction” (as opposed to more preventative measures, or faster disaster response), which appears to be about decentralization but I don’t know for sure yet.

Good notes from Jordan Peacock here: intro, pt1, pt2.

 

Reflections on Judging

In a book I just heard of today, Judge Richard Posner is concerned with two judicial problems regarding complexity: one, that judges may not understand the increasingly complex fields that they are making important decisions about, and two, that judges own internal decision-making systems are becoming needlessly esoteric, internally complex and contradictory (perhaps by lack of collision with pragmatic failure in the outside world).

Posner (circuit judge, U.S. Court of Appeals; [..]) uses his judicial experience as a platform for an in-depth discussion of the challenges facing the federal judiciary, chief among them the growing complexity of federal cases. He examines the impact of complexity as it pertains to the subject matter of cases being heard and as it exists in courts’ own systems, habits, and traditions. He analyzes the difference between legal formalism (adherence to established principles for interpretation of laws and the Constitution) and legal realism (fact- and context-based jurisprudence) and advocates for a wider application of the latter. There is an excellent chapter in which the author indicts appellate opinion writing as needlessly verbose, esoteric, and rich in “gratuitous internal complexity.” He proffers solutions to bad writing with rigorous yet practical guidelines for improvement, which, though directed toward appellate opinion writers, might be applied in all legal writing. […]

—Joan Pedzich, formerly with Harris Beach PLLC, Pittsford, NY

 

Mencius Moldbug II

In which things become a little hairy. 

This post is now my official longest, but it’s mostly Moldbug quotes and the guy wrote up a storm, so I don’t think it properly counts.

After his discussion of the American Revolution, Moldbug quickly turns his attention to what many might consider his most caustic positions: to Moldbug, Anthropogenic Climate Change is an iron triangle ideology touted for power-seeking reasons more than truth value; mainstream economic thought is obviously broken; “human neurological uniformity” (i.e. that there is no difference in intelligence by, for example, race) is a falsehood pursued for ideological reasons. He then begins prescribing an ideal economic and government solution: “Plan Moldbug” which I found very interesting (especially in his concerns on forms of government). 

I found his climate change bit to be the least original of his work (despite his personal connections to the people involved- or maybe because of it), and also in general it’s a subject I’m not interested in noting or commenting on. I’m not advocating any of his views anyway, but to be clear, it’s not so much distaste as simple disinterest that compels me to move on from this one.

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Mencius Moldbug I

The Ninety Degree Revolution

This article on Aeon Magazine proposed a new political dichotomy based on (as ever) views of human nature and what kind of future we are prepared for.

The new dichotomy: Green (or DownWings) vs Black (or UpWings). [As opposed to Red/Blue (or Blue/Red if you’re American) Left-Wing/Right-Wing]

Of course, the strength of any dichotomy is also its weakness: obviously it filters information in a way that supposes a certain kind of dialectic, and it ignores ideas that don’t fit easily on its single dimension, etc. But categorizing makes thinking of matters much more manageable. If we all admitted that all dichotomies are false and left it there, we’d still have to grapple with the practically infinite different concepts and artifacts out there that compete or cooperate or resemble or negate each other. Better to struggle with the simple tools- they’re flawed but they’re useful enough. If you need to capture new data, build a new dichotomy. Or, if you need more dimensions, go for it- but more dimensions doesn’t mean more Truth (if you’re still into that capital-T stuff), and it is not a sure thing whether it means more Usefulness either (although it certainly can be).

I’ve decided to continue, for a little while at least, to survey more literature of interesting DownWing thought. UpWings have enough cheerleaders already, they couldn’t keep my interest easily right now since I’ve been surrounded by them for years.

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Mulling Over

More only-vaguely-connected notes on things I’ve done and things I’ve considered.

I’m kind of wandering in the desert right now, I expect to find a direction again soon. This one may be especially incoherent or especially uninteresting, I could certainly see that complaint.

 

I. (Notes and Lists)

I scribble notes. In college my desk was stuffed with post-it notes of half-thoughts, most of which are lost shortly after birth. I have ancient, barely-cogent notes on the backs of yellowed receipt paper because it was what was there when I had the idea. Virtually none of them are worth a god damn but I still do it. Sometimes they fuel good conversation.
The Pleasures of Merely Circulating

My New Year’s Resolution last January was to make more lists. I didn’t bother getting more specific because the act of list-making was really what I was looking for. I just wanted to create data about myself to look at and build from. Maybe a list has one more dimension than a note and in some stupid abstract way I wanted more out of my compulsion to scribble.I wrote lists about what I ate, on-and-off for months. I began seriously recording my dreams. I began more consciously compiling links to stories I found interesting.
I think for the next year I’m going to intensify that effort. Again, it’s not a big new habitual thing, but it’s a small activity I think I can keep up with and build towards something.
What You Do Today is Not Essential

So far, writing has been easy for me. I hope to make it harder for myself and maybe write something more worth reading someday. Part of the reason it’s easy is because I haven’t constrained myself to a strict topic (although I do return to the same kind of themes here). (Other reasons why it’s easy: I hardly edit, I have no pressure to write, I don’t have much to say). I have a Pearltree where I’d organized many of the related links I’ve referenced here, constructed months before I started blogging here. I have a workflowy that I develop loose strands of stuff that link together things I’ve read across the internet. I’m also really happy with my social network streams and the material that gets shared with me. So a lot of post topics get triggered by a new link or book but I already had a jumble of related stuff in mind that I can draw a line through and call a plot.
I particularly like this one: “What Is Your Water Talent?

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In-Flight Notes

It’s becoming a ritual: writing on my work laptop as I fly home to New York every week, armed with Feedly (via over-expensive in-flight wifi) and free liquor. This particular post is probably derivative of some earlier thoughts I’ve expressed (this time more concisely!), and also borrows vocabulary liberally from recent reads/experiences.

 

I.

Even without getting into Whorfian linguistic relativity, there is something to be said about rhetorical frameworks that we use as cognitive tools.

I recently took a course on impromptu speaking, and they introduced frameworks for smoother speaking on-the-fly. For example:

On the one hand [  ], but on the other hand [ ]

You know there are two hands. If you’re improvising a speech, you can run with one hand as long as you’d like. The other hand is waiting for you when you hit a snag, and you’ll be thinking about that other hand as you speak on this hand as well. Setting up an answer this way telegraphs your moves to the audience and creates two jars for you to fill with stuff before you come to a likely concluding though (agreeing with one hand or offering some compromise position, having ‘demonstrated’ a knowledge of the field in question).

Metaphor/metonymy

The Method of Loci is one of the oldest tricks in the book, connecting spatial intelligence to matters of fact. More broadly, using a phrase or metaphor as a central idea provides an anchor (x is like y. X does this thing, and so does Y. X does this other thing, similarly to how Y does). Having a clear theme to return to gives the audience an expectation, and provides a framework for the speaker to relax and work his way through while thinking ahead to the next aspect of why x is like y.

Specifically, [  ] but more broadly, [  ] (or the reverse)

This version is good for bad news you need to acknowledge or brush off (or a topic you only know about in broad strokes)- excellent for politicians. The reverse is useful if you are an expert and want to make a point more concrete.

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On Choking Your Enemies to Death

Some free writing that came out strangely focused. No idea what set me off.

I wish I could credit the standup comedian who suggested this idea I’m elaborating on. I honestly can’t find the video again (I think it’s an old special), but I remembered this idea. I will edit this with the source if/when I find it.

If you intend to punish an institution, you aren’t performing maximum damage [within the confines of the law] by setting up a boycott. In fact, (obviously) by announcing a boycott you’re providing publicity and giving partisans an opportunity to draw a line that could even benefit the institution (ex. protesting Chik-Fil-A for backing of anti-gay groups; boycott was followed by smug conservative-staged consumption drives. It was brilliant- better than the usual “make-people-feel-good-for-doing-nothing” causeway, they found a way for Southerners to eat fried chicken sandwiches in support of a cause they believe in. Holy shit.) Even in situations where no one cares to oppose you, boycotts are often ignored, and protests are usually not all that disruptive to anyone (and if it is, especially to third parties, you will be villainized).

No, if you want to perform massive damage (again, within the confines of the law), you want to find ways for the institution to burn massive amounts of capital (monetary or otherwise) just to get through the day.

Don’t try to starve your enemies. Choke them instead- they’ll feel it sooner.

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A Survey of Futures

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve burned out my backlog. Scribbled this out on the plane and cleaned it up afterwards, hopefully it makes sense.

Futures (By Rate-of-Change)

Before moving onto a new sequence of ideas, I wanted to play with some other notes I have, about views of futurism.

Quick pick-me-ups before I get started:

  • Here’s a warm keynote on seeing the future by Warren Ellis.
  • Here’s a great passage from Peter Watt’s “Blindsight” shared by Kartik Agaram. “Technology Implies Belligerence”

In this post, I wanted to scribble out a few other kinds of futures (very broadly speaking!) just to kind of help myself (and you, my poor reader!) to zoom back out from Spengler’s cramped, grey, uniquely German space.

The central metric that I tried to order these futures by is the “rate of technological change”, and whether that change is increasing or decreasing human productivity.

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Spengler on Pseudomorphosis

Pseudomorphosis is one of my favorite surprises in reading notes on Spengler. Quotations are from Decline, and I’ll let the quotations carry the points here. I had some guidance by selected quotes cited by this site. This is my last post on Decline for a little while. I scribbled some notes on my flight, and I’m cleaning that up for my next post.

 

Pseudomorphosis

In mineralogy, a pseudomorph is a mineral or mineral compound that appears in an atypical form (crystal system), resulting from a substitution process in which the appearance and dimensions remain constant, but the original mineral is replaced by another. The name literally means “false form”.

Terminology for pseudomorphs is “replacer after original“, as in brookite after rutile.

Wikipedia: Pseudomorph

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