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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in GrendelFish's LiveJournal:

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Monday, January 23rd, 2017
3:16 pm
Improving protests
A problem I've been thinking over for many years is how to improve protests. It seems to me that the standard models are largely broken at this point, in that they don't motivate political change very well. If you read sources from the 60s, protests were scary back then. They were seen as a collapse of hierarchy, of basic social order. But we've developed cultural antibodies since then. We've learned to see the chaos of protests not as a threat, but as a humorous weakness. You've got the old hippies, you've got the same, tired old chants, you've got the people with the giant puppets, you've got hangers-on with signs for completely unrelated issues, you've got the wannabe anarchists breaking windows. All just a big, easily-ignored joke.

I've spent a lot of time trying to think of ways this could be fixed, how to break protests out of old ruts. There is a fine line to be walked: how do you convey power of the kind that politicians pay attention to, without it tipping over into bad kinds of power. The kinds that make you look like violent fascists, for instance. They used all the really obvious options, unfortunately.

The Occupy movement was interesting for this reason -- it was so weird and different, it managed to get a lot of attention at first. But camping doesn't convey power in the long run. It conveys homelessness, which is more or less the complete opposite in our society. So it fizzled. Maybe if they had standardized on some unique, homemade tent structures, like hexayurts? Getting people to make things to even a rough spec beforehand shows dedication and power. And hexayurts look so alien, it would have been very striking. And well insulated!

The pink "pussyhats" at the Women's Marches this weekend surprised me by being so effective. I admit I had dismissed the idea, in part because I didn't think they'd be so common. They provided strong visual cohesion, and they demonstrated many hours of effort beforehand. Being homemade clothing, they tied into some very deep American traditions of protest, providing a particularly nice contrast with mass-produced, foreign-made MAGA hats. They were uniform without being too uniform. They even worked to spread the protest out across the city after the march, as people made their way home. I was seeing them for the rest of the day around Seattle, providing a really interesting temporal echo to the protest.

Less well structured ideas follow:

I have long wondered about choreographed dance routines. Getting that many people to move in unity shows coordination and dedication, without necessarily being as bad-scary as marching in lockstep. It has the advantage of being able to dial in the exact amount of scariness, depending on how goofy the dance number is. But then I realized that this is exactly what the North Korean "Mass Games" are, and those actually trace back to Russian Revolution era practices. So, promising, but maybe not.

Brainstorming with someone (sorry, I forget who), we came up with the idea of radical construction as a protest activity. Imagine a swarm of people coming from every direction, each person carrying a custom, numbered strut. Working together in a way that could only come from practicing many times, they quickly erect a dome or tower. This could be in a park, or it could be in the middle of a busy intersection. Maybe they climb it and chain themselves to it, maybe not. But just the act of creation like that, showing literal coordinated industry, would be really striking in a new way.

Protest signs could use some innovation. How about a night march, protesters dressed in dark clothing, with signs lit up using LED strands and el-wire? 2017 is going hard cyberpunk, after all, so let's protest in style!

Who else has ideas? What is new/weird/different enough to break through cultural apathy, strongly visual, shows coordination and dedication and power, all without being the wrong kind of scary?
Wednesday, January 18th, 2017
10:35 am
Counterfactuals
Like most people, I've commonly wondered how my life would have been different given various changes. What if we had moved when I was young, what if I had other siblings, etc. How would I be different? At what point would that alternate me be an unrecognizably different person? That's a fine course for a daydream to take, but a serious analysis raises unsettling questions.

First off, what does it mean to ask how things would have turned out in a counterfactual? Any basic understanding of chaos theory and quantum indeterminacy should quickly disabuse you of the idea that there would be a single possible result. The instant you create the new timeline, an uncountable number of fundamentally random differences start building on each other. Create the same new timeline, different results. None of them would be any more real or correct than the other. So, on this level, counterfactuals are a pretty meaningless concept. Even if you had access to them somehow, comparing the prime reality to any one possible alternate would be meaningless.

We have to give up the idea of a single alternate timeline. The question cannot be "what would have happened?" but "what is the distribution of results that would have happened?". It's meaningful to think about the range of results that could have been. Assuming access to the other timelines, you could build up an understanding in terms of mean outcomes. On average, what would my life have been like if X? (Or, if the distribution is multimodal, a more sophisticated analysis than simple mean, of course.) That would give something I could really compare myself to, the me I most likely would have been if X. That would be the most meaningful, most real alternate version of myself to think about.

Great! Except... I can turn those same tools onto myself. Just as there is a cloud of almost infinite different timelines around every historical change we could make, prime reality has the same cloud. By the arguments above, if we re-ran history from a given point, even not making any changes at all, we'd get different results. I'm surrounded by other possible versions of myself, even without the ability to make changes! And that set of mes has its own distribution, showing the most likely me. Which raises the question, how do I compare to that me? How likely am I? And if I find I'm not very likely, that I'm living far out on the tail somewhere, what does that mean? I was quite happy previously to define the maximum a posteriori estimation of myself in alternate histories as the most meaningful version. The most real. I might be very far from the most real version of myself. I might not be very like myself at all.

I'm not sure what to do with this realization.
Friday, January 13th, 2017
2:31 pm
Kids these days
1) There is a natural cognitive bias, the older one gets, to see society as going downhill.

2) I have been increasingly worried about social trends for several years now.

It's getting very hard to write off my worries as just being a symptom of #1. All the antisocial behavior we kept excusing as something "just on the internet" has been leaking more and more into the physical world. We all spend all our time in an environment where the only response to the most hideous of attacks is just "oh, ignore it, it's not serious". Of course empathy is becoming increasingly unfashionable! Even traffic is getting more aggressive, with people breaking the speed limit much more consistently and to greater average degrees it seems. But obviously it's hard to trust those observations.

Is there an intellectually rigorous method for resolving this dilemma?
Monday, January 9th, 2017
12:18 pm
Urbanist thoughts
This is a weird time to be a dedicated urbanist. Cities are popular again -- everyone is finally acknowledging what I always knew to be right! Real development is happening in them again, with a focus on walkable, liveable neighborhoods. That's great... except for how it is pushing out all the diversity which made the cities interesting in the first place. The new construction is all so bland and safe and boring, and every few days we lose another neat old building to it just here in Seattle alone. I know I will never have the cool shop I've always wanted, in some old brick industrial building. They're all condos already.

I don't see any way around it, unfortunately. We failed to invest in cities for the entire second half of the 20th century in this country, during which the population more than doubled. They have a huge technical debt which will take decades to pay off. Even if there was some way to stop it (if you know how to reliably, easily subvert market forces on this scale, please let me know!), it would just mean continuing to throw resources in the cultural, environmental, psychic pit that is the American suburb at the expense of cities. No thanks.

Eventually, hopefully, we'll get back to balanced cities which have enough housing for everyone, with strong transit systems that help the poor instead of gentrifying them out into the exurbs. The current overwhelming sameness of the new construction will fade as things age and get remodeled. We'll end up with a healthy blend of buildings in various states of disrepair, supporting a wide range of uses like Jane Jacobs talked about. For much of my life, cities were seen as mostly for poor people. Now suddenly they're only for rich people. But both of those are anomalous on the scale of human history. Cities used to be for everyone, and I see no reason they can't be once again.

But it does really kind of suck right now, and likely will continue to for at least the next 20 years.

ETA: This was partly inspired by reading Happy City, and partly as a reminder to myself to walk the walk. The University District in Seattle is about to be considerably upzoned, since the light rail station will be open in a few years and students don't form NIMBY coalitions. Which is great -- creating a second area of truly dense urban living in the city is huge. But it'll inevitably destroy the squalid charm of the Ave, which I unironically love. There is also a good chance it will push away two of my favorite retail establishments of all time, Hardwick's Hardware and Thai Tom's. I can't help but feel conflicted, so I need to focus on the big picture.
Friday, December 16th, 2016
3:41 pm
A proof against epiphenomenal consciousness
For the last couple years, I have found myself thinking more and more about the nature of consciousness. It's just weird that we don't have any theoretical understanding of the single most evident fact available to us -- that we exist, and that we are experiencing things.

This gets longCollapse )
Tuesday, December 13th, 2016
11:10 am
A year in books
I was curious exactly how many books I had read this year. Turns out, quite a few! About half of them in audio format, of course, done while I was working in the shop. Which is good because it makes better use of that time, but not great because I can't claim I'm always devoting as much attention as I would be if actually reading them. But since I'd have never read most of those books otherwise, and reading the Great Books series is a deeply arbitrary goal, it's still an overall win I think.

The mostly complete list, in mostly chronological orderCollapse )
Monday, October 3rd, 2016
12:20 pm
Drug trial
Earlier this year I ran a drug trial on myself, in part to see just how rigorous such a thing could be. Here are the results.
Wednesday, September 14th, 2016
4:18 pm
2015-2016
I'm asymptotically approaching these being the only posts I make here, but I'm not giving up!

From September 4, 2015 to September 4, 2016 I...
...fabricated and installed two permanent public art pieces.
...visited Japan, rode the Shinkansen, slept in a capsule hotel. (And got to see slantiness!)
...took a letterpress printing class, designed and 3D printed a hand-mold for casting type, and finally found a better home for the printing press.
...read roughly 1/3 of the Great Books series.
...flew to NYC just to see Hamilton.
...received my first patent.
...built another bar bot, and a commissioned for piece Burning Man.

After the initial successes I had last year applying to public art opportunities, this year has rather been a disappointment. If I ever can make that my full-time job, it's going to take a lot longer to work up to that point than I was starting to hope. But the process has been pretty fun, and if nothing else it's funded some really great shop upgrades. And I was able to pay off a car loan using art revenue, how often does THAT happen?
Tuesday, July 19th, 2016
10:57 am
The Assembly Line
Hey, everyone. I made another bar bot!

Monday, December 21st, 2015
11:33 pm
SpaceX sticks the landing
Absolutely flawless. I was sobbing. I never thought I'd see this. I really thought the physics just didn't add up.



Can't wait to hear the results from the post-flight testing. That's the last question mark -- just how reusable *is* the first stage? 747 reusable? STS SRB reusable? We'll see!
Thursday, September 17th, 2015
11:25 pm
2014-2015
From September 4, 2014 to September 4, 2015 I...

...knit a sweater.
...got much better at 3D modeling and 3D printing.
...started really working towards doing art full time, applying to artist residencies and public art opportunities in order to build my portfolio of things that aren't flaming death-machines in the desert.
...wove 4 meters of scarf.
...did 2 smaller, temporary public art pieces and was tentatively accepted for 2 much larger, permanent ones.
...finally took some active steps to deal with mental health issues.
...and, oh yeah, designed and built the Hugo Award bases.

Quite a year. Some triumphs, some disappointments, but mostly a sense of really starting to work towards a sustainable change in my life. The Hugo work took up the vast majority of the year, with prototyping and then construction included. I had an idea, I figured out how to make it, and I produced 32 high quality versions of it. The public art applications have also been going much better than I expected. It makes me think that in a year or two I might really be able to do it full time, once I have the portfolio to start applying to the really big contracts.
Thursday, August 27th, 2015
8:11 pm
Tuesday, August 25th, 2015
10:40 pm
2015 Hugo Base
I can finally share what they look like!

IMGQ4602-Edit

Last Saturday 27 Hugo rockets mounted on my base were awarded at the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane. I still can't believe it really happened. This was definitely one of the biggest things I've ever done, or ever been part of.

Timeline of the entire ridiculous thing:

9-1-2013: Watched the Hugo ceremony, joked that I should have a base design in mind, just in case anyone ever asked me to make it. Haha, yeah right.

9-3-2013: Was struck with a real idea, looked into the process to discover they were usually selected by open competition. (The final product is more or less exactly this idea, though constructed through an entirely different process from what I was thinking then.)

Next 13 months: Spent thinking about how to make the damn thing.

10-6-2014: Started experimenting with design tools to craft the shape I saw in my head.

10-27-2014: Had the design finalized, tested it in paper.

11-6-2014: First attempt in steel, utter disaster.

11-23-2014: Figured out how to use a 3D printed prototype as a guide for bending metal pieces accurately.

12-12-2014: Solved the problem of how to align the pieces during welding with a 3D printed jig, with holes for press-fit magnets. One of the more clever ideas I've ever had.

12-17-2014: Hugo base competition officially announced.

1-4-2015: Decided to go with an aluminum base plate instead of wood.

1-27-2015: Finish first complete prototype base, including careful gun bluing and lacquer.

1-31-2015: Hand delivered my competition entry, including 3D printed rocket for proper comparison.

2-18-2015: Informed I had won the competition.

3-24-2015: Placed order for waterjet cutting of 40 complete base sets. These arrive in several batches, so bending and welding overlap for the next month.

5-10-2015: Finished bending the steel.

5-17-2015: Finished welding the bases.

6-5-2015: Got all the bases sandblasted using a commercial service, after much frustration (and many hundreds of dollars) trying to do it myself and realizing it was going to take a ridiculous amount of time.

7-1-2015: Finished surface treatment (carefully painting with gun bluing, scrubbing and buffing it a day later, then applying 3 coats of lacquer).

7-10-2015: Finished applying felt inside the bases (to cover over gaps) and mounting them on the plates. Done!

8-16-2015: Packed them into boxes, complete with care instructions and a small toolkit.

8-18-2015: Drove them to Spokane.

8-19-2015: Got the laser etched nameplates, which I had overnighted from LA to my parents' place.

8-21-2015: Spent 2 hours attaching nameplates and bolting on the rockets.

8-22-2015: Hugo Awards ceremony.
Sunday, August 2nd, 2015
11:16 pm
CLANG
This is what I've spent the last month working on:



It was originally an idea I had for Burning Man, but then the City of Shoreline was offering to provide a piano and some funding for people to make sonic sculptures. So, sure! It's on display now in the sculpture garden along the Interurban. Right next to Aurora, just north of 175th. Should be there for the next 6 weeks, or until the neighbors start to complain.
Monday, July 13th, 2015
6:52 pm
Hugo bases
Sitting on the dining room table are 37 Hugo bases. (32 is the maximum number that could possibly be needed.) No nameplates yet, since voting hasn't finished. But they're done.

It took 2.5 months of at least an hour or two every night of work, often many more. I'm really proud of the process I developed for making them, and as soon the design isn't secret I'll post details. But it's still pretty labor intensive, and anything times 37 takes a lot of effort to get done. I listened to 155 hours of lecture serieses over this period. That includes listening time on my commute etc, but I think it gives a good idea of the amount of time sunk in this project. I don't regret it in the slightest, but I can't deny I'm glad to have it done with plenty of time to spare.
Wednesday, July 8th, 2015
10:58 pm
Steppenwolf
I've been on an existentialism kick recently, and as part of that I just finished rereading Steppenwolf. It was one of my favorite books as a teenager, one of the ones that really resonated with me in enlightening and sometimes scary ways. It marked a turning point during my first real job after undergrad, when I realized how deeply depressed I was and needed to take active steps to reboot my life. I started rereading it about 5 years ago without finishing it, making me wonder if I'd just aged out of it, but this time I was utterly hooked once again.

It's a weird book to come back to 20 years later. The difference in perspective is dizzying. When I first read it, I was very afraid I'd end up like Harry Haller, too stuck in my own head to make connections with the world. I used to be quite angsty about that, actually. Now when I read it, much closer to Harry's age, my fears are very different. I have an interesting life, doing interesting things, with much love in it. So many of the lessons in living that Harry struggles to learn are an effortless part of my daily life. I know I can be a real person, connecting with others and enjoying the pleasures of the world. Those fears are long gone.

Looking back, though, I now wonder if I went too far. I've managed a very delicate balancing act between doing the things I'm actually interested in and having a financially stable, middle class lifestyle. It's not one many people pull off, and I'm proud of it at least on that level. But I wonder if I've restrained myself from really pursuing my passions because of this ghost of the growling, painfully lonely Steppenwolf. I'm doing pretty well, mostly drifting along the path of least resistance -- but what could I be doing if I really tried, took risks?
Saturday, April 18th, 2015
5:55 pm
Spice
Last January my spice tolerance, which was already fairly high, mysteriously jumped off the charts overnight. I haven't been even slightly challenged by a dish in months at this point. At first I was amused by my new superpower, but it's actually getting fairly annoying. I'm really missing the sensation of a tasty dish right on the edge of what I can handle! I at least managed to get a nice happy tummy glow going after lunch today at Thai Tom's, after begging them to make it extra extra extra spicy. That is also something I have been missing.

Oh well. There was a 9 month period in my mid-twenties where spicy food started giving me minor nosebleeds. (Weird not only for happening, but also for being minor -- I have a long history with nosebleeds, and they've always been gushers lasting for upwards of 30 minutes. This was just a random drip or two, like a slightly runny nose.) That was definitely worse.

Bodies are weird.
Wednesday, April 15th, 2015
6:43 pm
An open letter to Elon Musk


Mr. Musk, you and SpaceX are on the verge of accomplishing something truly extraordinary. It looks inevitable that you will manage to safely land the first stage sometime very soon now. For this, you have my respect and admiration. But I humbly ask you to consider the historic nature that event, when it happens. Thousands of people will be watching the stream, hoping to share in the experience in some small way. Please, if at all possible, provide a live video feed of future landing attempts. A fully reusable rocket stage will be the greatest advancement in space exploration in most of our lifetimes. Let us watch it as it happens. Let us celebrate it then, not hours later squinting at a short looping Vine. Our generation has never had a One Small Step moment. Let us have this, please.
Monday, April 13th, 2015
5:41 pm
2017
I have become obsessed with the idea of thru hiking the PCT in 2017. Why then? It's far enough out I can reasonably think about making it happen. (Particularly saving up the money I'd need to replace the lost income.) And that would make it 10 years since doing the Mackenzie. And I'd turn 40 while on the trail. Seems auspicious.

So, yeah. Long time out. Every chance it won't happen. But that's what is eating my brain these days.
Sunday, March 15th, 2015
8:37 pm
Inbox Zero
On September 17, 2008, Tony emailed me to remind me to update a configuration detail on the webserver I ran. I keep my inbox pretty clean, using it as a todo list as emails which need action come in. I never got around to fixing the server, since I hate messing with servers and the problem just never happened again, so that email was never archived. Others came and went, but it stayed, often alone.

Last summer that server died, and the web content got moved to a server managed by someone else. I still didn't archive the email, because I needed to ressurect the file archive part of that system for my personal use, and it served as a useful reminder.

Over Christmas break I finally retrieved all the contents of the file server, but I hadn't set up a server so I didn't archive the email.

Earlier this month I set up the server. I got the contents reinstated in it, even the ones that had been corrupted and had to be retrieved from ancient backups. I got my image indexing system running again, and modified it so I could still export images and groups of images to the web, even though that was now on a remote server. I set up an external drive, and scripts to back up the entire server to it, since 600Gb really isn't that much any more, so why not? (And an external drive is a lot easier to grab in case of a fire.) I went through the backlog of images that had built up since last summer, indexing them all. I even went through all my various external drives and laptops and found all the scattered bits and pieces that hadn't been consolodated properly, having built up over the last 8 years since I moved to Canada for grad school and no longer had the local file server to easily put them in.

And then... that was it. Everything was as good as I could make it. There were no more tasks to be done. My file and web infrastructure is complete again, better in many ways than it ever was before.

Tonight I archived the email. My inbox seems awfully empty without it. I didn't even remember what gmail looked like empty -- and I had never even seen mobile gmail empty, since it predated Android. It had become a symbol of the impossible goal, the task that you will never give up on even if you don't think it will ever actually happen. And yet it's done now. I feel kind of lost.
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