Posts Tagged rant

Who Wins the Thread?

On the way into work today, I was pondering the difference between the Magic metagame and internet message boards.  At first, you might think like I did – what connection is there even between the two that they could be comparable?  And why is my brain considering the two of them right now? (In your case, it’s because you’re reading my blog, but in my case, I was curious about my apparent mental leap.)  By the end of the car ride, I had uncovered my own intuition: on internet discussions, one person often believes they have “won” some argument or thread or what have you, but everyone else is lessened due to their inflamatory / fallacious / content-light contributions.  But in a metagame like the one built around tournament Magic, when one player performs their best and wins an event, everyone is enriched because they get to see and learn from their skill and choices.

I think this difference in community success vs. individual success comes in the structure of the activities.  Since Magic and games of its ilk have one primary goal in something like a tournament setting – winning – all contribution toward that goal that’s public adds to the knowledge and awareness of all players involved.  This can be further evidenced by looking at other sub-communities that don’t value winning above everything, and seeing that they disparage or ignore some of the contribution of the competitive sub-community.  So, closer alignment to one goal axis means more ancillary benefits to a community from individual performance.

On the other hand, communication online is about one of the least-structured activities you can imagine.  But still, some individuals treat it as a game, and “play” against their fellow online denizens by arguing and attempting to “win.”  In this case, despite there being many community members who do not treat it as a game, they are drawn into a metagame-style activity by the actions of the individuals who make it into a game.  Since not everyone thinks they are playing a game, there’s no way they could all agree on the rules, much less the goals, and so there’s no contribution toward a single goal (or there often isn’t).  Lots of people who don’t want their communication activity to be a game become forced to interact with someone who *is* playing a game (of their own design, essentially) and that contributes to the generally negative community effect.

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Slight break from the Yesterdave theme today: I wanted to talk about a situation I have been finding myself in, and my thoughts on treating it.  When I am very stressed, no matter the cause(s), I tend to lose my natural vigilance about my attitude toward friends, co-workers and stuff I’m doing.  By this I mean I allow the stress to show through and affect my behavior in negative ways.  I sweat more small stuff, I spend more energy and attention on things that don’t matter, and I take offense with things that I should have been able to tell weren’t intended that way.

I’m not sure the correct solution is.  Thinking about it this morning, I think one symptom that might be treatable is how difficult it can be for me to communicate my positions in discussions while my total stress level is high – both in the sense that I don’t really intuit my own position well and can’t devote brainspace to explicitly thinking it through, and in the sense that I can’t let the other people know what I intend.  Because I get upset by this, I tend to make it worse.

My normal plan would be to break myself out of the pattern, but when there’s a lot of stuff that’s very important to me and I feel like I can’t drop any of it, I am bound to the stress by my nature.  Saying “no” to doing things that are important to me is not really something I ever do, even if an outside observer (assumedly even one who shared my principles) could say “obviously you should not also do that thing; you already have bitten off more than you can chew!”

It’s easy to talk about time management when everything can be given nonoverlapping importance, but what about when lots of things are all “the most important”? :-/

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Ditch Day 2001

(You may want to read yesterday’s Ditch Day 1999 first, if you haven’t already.)

I had a great time with my Sophomore year stack (themed “Sneakers” and put on my some of my favorite college friends), but I feel like most of that experience was just good times with friends, and good tips on how to build my own stack when it came to that.  Today I wanted to talk about my Junior year’s Ditch Day, though, because of how upset I was.

You see, at that point I had already teamed up with Todd, Tom and Garrett to start designing this awesome, totally fun and highly themed Ender’s Game stack.  Unfortunately for us, when we woke up for 2001’s Ditch Day and started perusing the available stacks, one of the Seniors had “scooped” us with an Ender’s Game stack of her own.  I was so upset, thinking about how much work we had wasted, and what sort of plan we would have to come up with to “fix” this problem.  The four of us even all went on the same stack, which was an excellent mystery-style concoction that had the same fun feel as the Redhead Conspiracy, but I was grumpy and complained much of the time about the Ender’s Game stack.

Three interesting mistakes I made that day: I didn’t go on the Ender’s Game stack, which would have been a good mood check and also a good source of interesting ideas (I was later made aware of how unthemed it really was, when you got right down to it); I dwelled on why somebody else doing our theme was bad for us, instead of focusing on constructive stuff (like working on a new theme, or why it could be good for us); and I missed out on some of the fun of the stack I actually did go on.

I know one of my weaknesses is that I dwell too much on the negative potential of situations, but that day put it in sharp relief for me when later I looked back and realized what I was doing.

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Price of Progress

As I was going over my “bucket list,” or better known as Things-I-Want-To-Accomplish, I noted that I have a wide array of fields in which I want to make an impact (business, academia, personal, global).  But the nature of our advanced society is that people are highly specialized – they spend a long time training or doing work that is one very small piece of the whole effort of humanity.  I am sort of sad that there are no/few true “generalists” around these days.

As hard as it is to do one thing really well, I long to be really really good at a lot of things.  In my brain, I understand that we specialize because (a) it is more efficient for society, and thus incentivized, and (b) because people who do everything themselves (as in, growing/catching their own food, and making their own clothes, etc.) don’t have any free time, and people place a premium on free time.  I also understand that beyond these fundamental “required to live” tasks that have been specialized away, more skilled tasks have become so complex that to master two or more of them (like being a doctor and being a lawyer) takes so much time that most people don’t really want to devote the energy to them.

But!  I think I am enamored with being a “secret master” in a bunch of disciplines.  I think I place too much personal happiness in surprising people with how much I know and/or can do.  I may also be too ambitious.

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Semicolon End-Paren

I love emoticons – by which I mean, :) and 😉 in their raw text forms – and they make tons of sense for instant messages (including text messages) where you want to impart some specific emotional tone to a message.  But in the slower written contexts (like email or forum posts or what have you) and sometimes even in those fast contexts, I have two issues with them.

The first is ambiguity.  I don’t always feel like the emoticon I used will be interpreted properly.  It’s way different than a smile in person, for example, because a face conveys 1000x the information of the limited available text-smileys do.  For that reason, it can be frustrating to try to find (a) the right emoticon for the emotion you want to convey, and (b) the best way to wrap text around the emoticon in the case where you can’t get an exact match.

Which brings me to the second issue I have: fidelity.  It just feels like when I spend a lot of time selecting and “wrapping” an emoticon, it’s gone from “show my emotion as well as my thoughts” to “sculpt an exact emotional tone in my reader” — which just sort of feels insincere.  Maybe it’s just in my overreaction to the ambiguity part that I project my feelings about this onto other people’s emoticons, but I feel like (a) I overuse them, and (b) I too often worry that I’m being disingenuous with my 😛 or whatever.

I have never really gotten into video chat systems, like Skype, but maybe that’s the solution?  Or just video phoning, I guess.

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Due to emergency preparedness scenarios at work, many people I know – including nearly all the people in my group – are receiving laptops in trade for their normal desktop machines.  I spent the better part of yesterday and today coordinating with our TS folks to setup said laptop.  I am not thrilled about this.

Pros of the Laptop

  • I have a work computer, with work stuff on it, that I can bring on work trips and into meetings in rooms without a computer.  So that’s nice… but I already had a laptop for bringing with me on work trips! 😛
  • It has a cool docking station, and is basically as good as my desktop – but those are just parity with the desktop I already have!

Cons of the Laptop

  • I don’t work as efficiently on a laptop.  The existence of the keyboard and mousepad, and the smaller size of the monitor, both conspire to make my workspace uncomfortable.  I do have a second monitor at work that I have plugged into it, which helps, but I need to investigate a way to put the laptop off to the side and just use two regular monitors, a regular keyboard and a regular mouse (i.e. remove the laptop from the equation – which sort of defeats the purpose)
  • I have to lug it back and forth each day, or else I am shortcircuiting the plan if and when there is an emergency.
  • I have a ton of resources and random files on the ol’ desktop machine that I either need to transfer or delete… and I don’t really have the time to spend doing those things!

As you can tell by my negative tone even in the Pros section, I am definitely not thrilled about this.  The new laptop case, which I was able to select from a catalog, is pretty sweet, but man, I find these interruptions in my normal workflow (to switch systems, etc.) to be frustrating even if they are determined necessary for the business as a whole.

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Taking a Break

I’m stuck at Seattle Tacoma International for a while, on the way to the third of three vacation weekends out of town. But for all of these “vacation” trips, I end up returning and feeling rushed or terribly fatigued. Part of the problem, and I’ve whined to various friends about this before, is the feeling of having no “free” time. This is true especially when work becomes draining during the week – it feels like all of my time not at work (or eating, or asleep) is planned out or taken up by activities with friends.

It’s not like I am upset about spending time with friends – far from it! I think there’s just something about my personality where if I don’t have a night or two a week where I am decompressing and relaxing, I feel super stressed.

That’s why visits with friends that are more optional feeling (not scheduled commitments) tend to be great, all the more so when it’s with an entire group I feel very comfortable with. The creation of mutual comfort with friends is not something I have spent a lot of time thinking about, but maybe I should.

Of course, this is probably all in my head. There’s a definite activation energy required for me to get out and do stuff even when I feel exhausted, but once I’m out, it never fails to be an excellent (even rejuvenating) time.

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Rational Action

Does it make sense to consider people rational actors, in the economic sense?  Rational action, as I understand it, is defined as a person taking into account the costs and benefits and making decisions based on a comparison of the two that doesn’t put them at negative value.  People make “smart” decisions in that they choose things that benefit them given the costs.

However, I have also heard it stated that even people “being irrational” – as in, doing things for others at no apparent benefit to themselves – is still covered under the rational action premise.  Those people are gaining internalized benefit – happiness at helping others – that necessarily outweighs the costs of their action.

The issue I have with this latter philosophy is that it seems rather circular.  Here is an example: I am interested in a girl, but she is not interested in me but wants to be friends.  She comes to me for advice about another guy she likes, and I help get them together.  Is it rational in the sense above, that I am gaining benefit by helping my friends?  I believe so, but often not that outweighs the anguish of the moment.  People make decisions like these, putting themselves in a negative benefit situation now for some potential happiness down the line.  Does economics claim to be predictive in cases like this?  It seems foolish to think that without a detailed psychological analysis of the individuals in question, one can predict this apparently self-detrimental behavior.

I think humans are capable of being irrational locally (in the moment) to be rational in the extended sense.  By this, I mean that you can consciously (and sometimes unconsciously) take a local hit  – costs outweighing benefits – for a global increase in your happiness.  The best example of this in my experience is making oneself moderately unhappy (spending time ignoring one’s own needs and wants) to make a friend much happier.  One could imagine an even more extreme example, like asceticism – giving up worldly benefits for some potential intangible mental/spiritual benefit later.  For economics to be predictive, I believe it needs to incorporate the nature of extended rational action.

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The Fix

I’m leaving whether people are essentially good or evil to a later blog (I think it’s a bigger question), but I believe it is pretty apparent that what people do and how they behave is influenced (in, I believe, a negative way) by our “animal brains” – that is, the part of us that is still around from before we evolved to be big abstract thinkers.  That part is geared to survive, and often causes us (influences us) to do things that are cruel, thoughtless and ironically self-destructive (e.g. using drugs because they ‘feel good’).

(Whew, that was a lot of parentheticals!)

So I got in a conversation with Kelly and then with Zac about the fix to this “problem” with humans – that we are still burdened with our unenlightened animal brains – with a thought experiment.  What if I (the hypothetical scientist) created a technology that could remove the animal part of our brains in a reasonable way.  Leaving to the side for the moment the question of whether this would be feasible, I could imagine that the resulting being is not really human – the being has engineered itself to be different than natural selection would have brought about.  Call it a human-prime.  A human-prime might be a better person, ideally, than a human, because maybe they are more rational, or more compassionate, or any number of other things that we (as humans, now) value but have a hard time synthesizing with our more animal behavior.

So, we have (in the thought experiment) the technology.  Would you use it?  Would you recommend it to others, as a human now?  And finally, is it even okay to consider administering it to others?  What about without permission?

I have a deep-seated paradox of thinking on this point.   I don’t, as Kelly so aptly put it, believe that “being human” has any intrinsic value, more than say, “being human-prime” does, just because I am human now.  If human-primes are just better – human emotion and thought without the baggage of “destructive” emotions and thoughts – then I would definitely support converting us to them.  But I also value freedom of the individual, and think that forcing someone to convert is morally abhorrent.  I hate giving someone the freedom to destroy themselves (which is essentially what you are doing if human-prime > human but you let a person stay human), but taking away freedom (the good and the bad kind) seems worse.

Of course, it’s possible that my initial thoughts on this matter are wrong, and human-primes are NOT better than humans… maybe this is another case of the good and the bad together and inseparable – losing the “humanity” that involves “destructive” emotions and thoughts also loses the other totally important part of “humanity” as well.  And who am I (or anyone) to judge where the boundary lies and how much of one can be traded for the other?

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Review: Legion

I thought Legion was a bad movie.  Bill’s theory is that the director made one of those “I bet I can make something so bad…” bets with his yes-men.  I think the movie was bad because there were a couple simple things that could have been done to make it so much better and they weren’t.

I’ll attempt to avoid spoilers, even though I would not recommend seeing it.  In short, the plot is derivative (of Terminator, as Ryan astutely pointed out), the characters were wooden, and the promise of ass-kicking angels did not bear out (in fact, this movie is more like a zombie apocalypse movie than a biblical apocalypse movie).

The pacing was way too slow for an action movie, and not really right for a horror movie either.  I wanted there to be more character development and conflict for the angel-protagonist played by Paul Bellamy.  It was great that he’s instantly recognizable from his name, but there was no payoff in terms of rich character depth – he was full mostly of one-liners and gunshots.

Two of my favorite “religious” literature pieces – the graphic novel series Preacher and the book God: A Biography – treat the God of the Bible as a character in his own right.  This movie hinted at God-as-a-human-emotionally, but it would have been waaay better if God had actually had any screen time.  Having his angels talk about him was sort of a letdown.

Finally, there were a lot of plot points that were just plowed through with implication but without explanation, and would have been way more interesting had there been any discussion of them amongst the in-universe characters.  Foremost of which was, why was the baby so important?  Nobody says, and they have the frickin’ Right Hand of God there to tell them the Truth, but nobody demands an answer!

The ending was of course pure deus ex machina, but I don’t think I’m allowed to complain about that, given the material. 😛

Final Grade: D+

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