Thursday, December 01, 2016

No pain, no gain

Its pretty much a basic rule of online life not to read the comments.  Whether its trolls who somehow find time to comment on millions of hours YouTube videos or determined efforts by Russian and American military and corporate social media specialists to influence foreign and domestic populations, its very likely that if you look at the comments on pretty much any post you'll just into a fight.

What makes comments so particularly infuriating is that there are just so many people who are wrong, and they all show up with carefully-crafted talking points.  I say this without irony, because of course the people on the other side of the argument - the ones who you disagree with - believe you're showing up with predetermined and carefully crafted talking points.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Some thoughts on hyperbole

Perhaps you've been deep in a cave for the last week or so, but just in case: A man with the lowest personal approval rating of probably any candidate for president of the US won election last Tuesday.  His approval rating was even lower than his opponent, who won the popular vote but wasn't able to carry enough state-by-state votes to win the thing outright.  It may be that she can still win the election, as the Electoral College is the final arbiter.  And, as many who voted for Hillary Clinton are aware, the Electoral College was invented to ensure the Presidency doesn't fall into the hands of the unfit.

The water's fine

Editor's Note: I wrote this back in March...

What defines a "tribe?"  In the old days it was defined anthropologically, as

a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader.
"indigenous Indian tribes"  
At about the same time people in my neighborhood started going to Burning Man, when it was still just a group of artists and their families and friends getting together over the Labor Day weekend on a beach in the Outer Sunset of San Francisco to burn up some of the stuff they couldn't sell or didn't want to, the definition of "tribe" changed to something more like "affinity group."  One's "tribe" came to connote the people you wanted to hang out with, as opposed to say the ethnic group you might accidentally find yourself part of by birth.  San Francisco divided into tribes, as many of the people in Generation X made there way out from their homelands and migrated to different parts of their continents.  It was voluntary tribalhood, of course; the slacker image aside, very few of the people in Generation X chose their companions carelessly.  The definition of your local family or affinity group might have been as simple as "no needle drugs" but you'd surprised how meaningful and exclusive a club like that might be at various points in the '90s.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


When I was still a young man Beck released the song "Loser."  In 1993 the Reagan era was in collapse, Generation X was still a viable concept, Clinton was President and it appeared that a life of low-wage unfulfilling work loomed ahead of all of us who weren't Boomers.  I was in graduate school, living with a bunch of other graduate students in a newly gentrifying neighborhood in San Francisco, the students and white kids slowly moving into apartments recently vacated by African-American families.  (Not all of those families were economic refugees; our landlord was African American, and that was true for about half the places I lived in San Francisco).

Wednesday, November 04, 2015


My posts have been non-existent for the last few months because I've suddenly got things to do.  My job involves some combination of sitting around thinking about what the future looks like and relating that to senior management in pithy and catchy ways, and driving the execution of that vision by persuading engineers to do things and sometimes just telling people what to do.  For the first half of this year I spent a lot of time thinking about the future.  For the last half its been execution.

But I wanted to talk, for a minute or two, about the future.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Out here in the sticks

I've been reading a lot of ecology lately, because its hunting season again and after six months of spiteful sulking over my lack of success last year my hunter's heart has lifted with optimism.  Surely last year you learned something useful, it whispers to me, and you won't be left wondering whether you're blind or maybe all the prey animals have just gone on vacation.

Monday, April 06, 2015

The Unbearable Lightness of Seeing

A moment, if you will, for a philosophical reflection.

Once a month or so I do a talk for a local amateur astronomy club about what's available up in the night sky in the coming month.  I offered to do the talk a few months ago, just a few months after I joined the club, which was just a month or so after I bought a telescope and for the first time in maybe 25 years looked up at the sky with more than drunken longing.  (Astronomy is honestly my first love; I got into Philosophy and math because of the larger considerations explained below, but in all fairness I just married Philosophy of Math, intellectually.  Astronomy is the one I'll always love.)  The talk is designed to be useful and interesting for kids and adults alike, so we use simple flashy pictures and don't go too much into the science; the point of the talk is more slideshow empiricism than it is deep astronomical science.  I want the kids and the adults just starting to go outside into their backyards on a new-moon Wednesday night and take a look around with some binoculars.  That will provoke questions, but it helps to have some names on things.  In much the same way that people are able to understand the health of their neighborhoods if they can name the trees and shrubs and vegetables growing there as well as the middle schools and coffee chains and the name of the people with the purple fence down the street, people will feel more comfortable looking up if they have some sense of what they're looking at.  So to encourage that, we need to show them around a little, so they get a sense of the texture of the night sky and what's visible, and what's just out of visibility.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Frankenstein, version 1078.78, build 22

Medium has an excellent piece up ostensibly on the cozy relationship between the national security state and Google.  Its really much more about the foundation of American innovation since roughly the end of the first Bush administration, when the old cold warriors looked around at the wreckage of the world and, despite their eventual determination to burn their prophets, decided they needed to get the Internet into everything so they could control the world they'd won.