Still alive

Been feeling a bit nostalgic. Not about to return to LiveJournal - their new ownership is unfortunate, but I wanted to briefly note what's been up and where you can follow me if you're so inclined (assuming somebody will read this someday).

I'm living in Manhattan. I worked in industry for awhile (for some big tech companies), but now I'm back in academia (research foundation) doing neuroscience again, now with a heavy dose of machine learning.

I've picked up a few new programming languages. I generally like Python now, do some coding in Go, still love Perl and C.

My political views are still largely the same - techocratic socialist, anti-PC, for large supportive social programmes, against allyship and identity politics. I still write about it sometimes.

I worry about many of the large actors in the tech space, and also about political polarisation destroying both our political traditions (like free speech and trying to be careful when coming to judgement on things) and expertise.

My hair is starting to go grey. I get a lot of migraines nowadays - 4-20 hours lost most weeks. Depression and despair come and go. As of this writing, no kids, been single for a very long time. The years will eventually take me, probably not soon.

I look back on my times in Pittsburgh with a mix of happiness and regret, and deeply resent the polarisation of the cslounge crowd. It's following broader trends in society, but that's a shoddy excuse. I still miss many individuals, and allowing myself to miss the best version of people (before kat and some other sources of polarisation showed up), I miss many more.

Current contact information:
GChat - same as above
Blogging: (new platform - wrote this in Go)
Twitter: dachte

If you feel like reaching out, chatting or hanging out on twitter, go for it. Or if you're in NYC, reach out - maybe we could grab a meal.

G+ seems kinda dead. In the last few months I've been weaning myself off.
  • Current Music
    Daughter - Human

Unplugging LJ

It's about time I pulled the plug on the LJ version of my blog:
1) I'm much more active on G+ than I am with general blogging. I post many times a day there, most days, and I get a lot more community engagement there
2) While I still occasionally do my own blogging, hosted on my own site as always and so far mirrored by that software I wrote to LJ, I don't think that mirroring is doing anything interesting for me anymore
3) The people I interacted with here are, with rare exceptions, people I no longer interact with. Some of them have bought into a liberal form of intolerance, either thanks to Kat or one of a handful of other SJ-warriors. Some I've just drifted apart from. Doesn't mean I've found a lot of new social ties in the years since I left Pittsburgh, or even the last years there, but rather that the old ones are mostly gone. The most recent times I've visited Pittsburgh I've had far fewer people to visit. Which is mostly okay, actually. I might be willing to reopen some doors if some of the people involved offer apologies (particularly for the ridiculous BS in #cslounge), but I don't expect that to happen; youth may be responsible for their problems, but people generally experience personal growth in a way where they bury their past mistakes, not atone for them. I've learned this lesson the hard way. (Note that this largely applies to people I knew via CMU/Pittsburgh; very few of the people from my pre-Pittsburgh times were people I interacted with on LJ, and none of this commentary applies to them)
4) I'm a bit uncomfortable with the Russian ownership of LJ given social and governmental aggression from Russia recently. There's more to say about this given things I've noticed with the site, but if you're still active on LJ you can probably find out more than I have with just a bit of research.
5) I almost never visit my friends page here anymore.

So, I'm going to disable the mirroring. I expect to keep posting frequently on G+, and occasionally posting on my blog, with shorter more living-live stuff on Twitter. If you're interested in any of that, follow me over there. If not, no worries. At this time, I don't expect to purge my old entries (no promises I won't ever decide to do that though, but then they're mostly available on my personal site anyhow so little content would be going away if I did). I will be trimming down my profile here though.

If any of you ever find yourself in NYC (or wherever I'm living at the time) and want to hang out, if we're on good terms, drop me a note at the time. Even if we're on bad terms, I'd still probably be willing to grab tea once, time permitting, *even* if you have some big conservative or liberal or libertarian or whatever analysis on how I'm a bad person for not agreeing with whatever goals you have for society. It'd be amusing, or at least I'd probably be willing to listen for a bit.


Mutual Trust

I don't know which should be considered more remarkable:

  • That a cat should trust a member of a far larger and stronger species that it can't communicate with that well enough to snuggle into its arms
  • That a human should trust a member of a clawed and fanged carnivorous species that it can't communicate with that well enough to snuggle it into its arms
Either could mess the other up very badly - it'd probably be hard for a cat to kill even a prone and sleeping adult human, but blinding and mangling it? Not hard. And a human could reasonably easily kill a prone and sleeping cat. The mutual trust is remarkable.

Typing in Colours

(Cross-posted to G+, but it's more of a definitive statement of views so it goes here too)

A recent instance of 「Wasted Talent」: here

I'm not normally the kind of person to post links to episodes of webcomics, but maybe I can spin this one into being about philosophical topics. It coincides with a recent XKCD(note 1): , and together we can use them to approach three related topics: abstraction, framing, and deconstruction. In these two comics, the humour comes from choosing to look at a task (programming) from a very unusual frame, in particular one that's much more low-level than the one we normally use; the "typing in colours" and the "working with sand" are akin to a common flight of fancy from desperate programmers struggling against a deadline - we often quip that our job is to push bits around, and if only one could know some right sequence of keys to push that would generate a program (or program component) that meets the spec, one might meet a deadline that's looking like it's going to slip because .. well, we need to think and test a lot to actually work out the right code structure we need. Even though it's true that what divides us from being done is "just bits", what divides any person from being a great (and rich) novelist is "just words", or any person from being a great musical composer is "just notes"; the creative act is not that easy even if the physical motions are.

So, the terms. Abstraction is the layering of conceptual levels at which we might work with something, with the lower levels being a "zoomed in" view, the higher levels being a "big picture". Looking at humans at a high level of abstraction might have us seeing societies and their traits, at a lower level subcultures, at a lower level individual people, at a lower level organs, at a lower level yet cells, and at a lower level molecules, then atoms, and so on. In theory, most physical things have a common origin if you look low enough (although, interesting for epistemologically-focused people, we have a practical-world-outlook system where we don't know the root(note 1)). The further we get from reasonably physical areas of our abstractions from the universe, the more we're projecting meaning onto the universe (and treating things as pattern-object hybrids) ; does it make sense, for example, to include subcultures in our model? The question of whether conceptual objects in higher abstraction levels actually exist becomes fuzzy - not even necessarily empirically fuzzy, but philosophically fuzzy(note 3)

Framing is the act of wrapping around a set of relatively bare facts a set of ideas - metaphors, historical context, stories, other information, in order to suggest structure for (dealing with/thinking about) those bare facts. We may work with one framing (and this is easy to do; framing relieves the stress of not knowing how to think about something), or we may develop habits where we try to find multiple framings for the same relatively-bare-facts and compare/contrast them.

Deconstruction is a discourse-technique(note 4) in which one takes an existing framing, in whatever particular form it is exposed (a narrative? even a word?) and examines its roots enough that its hold is weakened; this works best on framings that have strong(note 5) competition or weak construction(note 5).

Abstraction and Framing have a complex relationship. One classic example is Margaret Thatcher's statement: "they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people". Here Thatcher offers an argument(note 7) to deconstruct the notion of society, noting that is composed of individuals and asking us to give up on the higher-level of abstraction because the lower level is adequate. It is a kind of "there are no forests, there are only trees" type statement, but it has a certain force to it (note that I am not sympathetic to the statement, but it is a good example of this). Not all framings are physical-chain abstractions - in fact, only a few are. Looking at an attack as an isolated event or as part of a historical chain that involves recent other attacks the other way is a type of framing. Although we might decide to build abstractions higher up from a chain of events, building some conceptual object that encapsulates features we find common and salient about them, and possibly dividing them from similar-ish events that have a few differences. "Freedom fighter" versus "terrorist", perhaps? "Justified response" versus "atrocity"?

One of the features of society is that we have a seeming coherence between people in the concepts and language and framing we use to understand the world. We can communicate, usually, and we don't seem mentally that alien to each other; we trust that the fact that we're living in the same universe and seem to be speaking the same language makes sharing meaning between our mental world to be easy. One of the great difficulties between people is that this is not particularly true. There are many degrees of freedom in the concepts and frames we use to parse the world, and the people who think deeply about these things(note 8) rarely enough converse with enough depth or discipline to expose the deep differences that are inevitable when people build meaning alone (or in subsets of society). Some people have enough skill with language and navigating differences in meaning to actively shape framing - debaters and philosophers both have this as their craft (with different emphases). Still, we expect the world to be full of people who haven't reflected enough on their own world-of-terms and concepts to really understand them(note 9), with innumerable differences between people lurking just beyond the surface - the differences are usually masked by language not being high-enough-bandwidth to expose the gaps, but the differences are also not usually so large that the basic ability to communicate, particularly on mundane/functional matters(note 10), has too low an actual conceptual bandwidth(note 11).


  • 1) Even were I the sort to share webcomics, XKCD is one I'd steer clear of because it's often obnoxious in a way that illustrates the worst parts of geek culture, although it's also often interesting, enoughso that I often read it.
  • 2) Or at least one kind of root - the physical one; we know the methodological root as pragmatism-derived empiricism, a.k.a. science
  • 3) I navigate this by defining existence as things that have a reasonably-tight corrispondence to particular objects in the universe, and then having a separate family of concepts - patterns, that don't exist (nor not exist; trying to apply existence to them is a category error) per-se, but have a number of other conceptual primitives, like "instantiated", "selected/perceived", and so on. We then (surprise!) decide on pragmatism as a means to decide to whether to incorporate such patterns as meaningful-in-our-worldview; "is this concept helpful? Does it provide a useful clarity?".
  • 4) Even if it's just as useful for the discourse between different factions in a single person's head; language is as much a way to structure oneself as it is to communicate with others, and the strongest argument I know against Wittgenstein's "No Private Language" idea is that one uses language extensively in this way where the person-language-person relationship has the same person on both sides, possibly immediately, and possibly in notes to self.
  • 5) By the metrics of conceptual aesthetics, an underinvestigated field in philosophy (Note 6)
  • 6) Largely because too many philosophers find the idea that something as arbitrary as aesthetics is essential to how we conduct philosophy to be demeaning. Particularly those operating from the (IMO highly flawed) Analytic tradition.
  • 7) In metaphorical language, I read "there is no such thing as X" to be a kind of shorthand for "X is not a useful abstraction layer to look at this issue"
  • 8) And even, to a lesser extent, the people who do not
  • 9) I'll assert, without an argument here, that without routinely trying to construct many frames to understand most bare facts and attempting to navigate between them, one has deep structural blindness to one's own thought.
  • 10) On concrete matters, e.g. "The cat is in the car", the pragmatic nature of language-building in individuals is convergent enough to make the gap in perspective between people negligible.
  • 11) I am using this as a conceptual metaphor and don't want to commit to a quantifiability

Fry's Out There

Stephen Fry's documentary on homophobia was released earlier this year, and if you find the right places on the internet, you can (and should) watch it. I watched part of it last night (got too sleepy to continue, will watch the rest of it tonight I think); well-done (even if at times a bit shouty; nobody's perfect).

Usual disclaimer: You don't need to recognise or approve of all paths people take to decide to tolerate them; people with religious or other objections to others with non-traditional sexuality should realise that while an intolerant fringe will demand validation and will not tolerate any views but their own on gender/sexuality issues, most of us will tolerate people who tolerate us, provided that tolerance doesn't amount to discrimination in employment, requiring us to be silent about our sexual preferences in a way straight people never have to be, threats of private violence, or laws that criminalise our bedroom behaviour between consenting adults.

Kudos to Fry for making this.



I was pointed at two articles, and decided to add a third. The topics should be familiar (activism, feminism); the post would be a bit long to host directly on G+, so I'll do it here. My thoughts are as much on the topic as the article.

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In general, if you want to send me articles for commentary that are related to philosophy, activism, transhumanism, or other topics, and if I find them interesting enough, I'll write about them.


Pittsburgh visit Nov 2013

Dear Pittsburgh,I'm visiting from 21-24 of this month. I'll be staying in Oakland. If you want to hang out, let me know; the visit is purely a vacation and I have very little planned so far. As you may know, I live in Brooklyn now, and I haven't visited Pittsburgh since I moved away about 2 and a half years ago.


NYC's Rivers are Psychological

Living in NYC, I've come to see the rivers as being more psychological barriers than physical ones, at least in the time of modern transit. It's not hard for anyone in the 4 main boroughs of NYC to get around, and provided one isn't in the outer bits of any of them (maybe Jamaica in Queens, or Coney Island in Brooklyn), the whole city is pretty accessible. The rivers provide a minor hassle and a line in the sand, and that's enough for us to use as a start for larger groupings of neighbourhoods. It perpetuates as people choose where to live or where to place businesses on these perceptions. Maybe sometimes a bit like race, but with sharper differences.

The fascinating thing is how much stronger the perceived and created differences are than is justified given the ease of communication; Manhattanites generally don't go into other Boroughs without a lot of arm-twisting, people don't generally like to move from Queens to Brooklyn or vice-versa despite similarities of many communities, and so on. There's little good reason not to build tech businesses in Brooklyn or Queens, but only recently have select parts of those Boroughs seen significant growth of those industries.

I've seen parallels of this in other cities I've lived in, although generally without the level of connectivity that NYC has. My constant thought experiment is to wonder, if the rivers were to be erased, how long would the current barriers exist? Would there remain a scar like the path of the Berlin Wall, years later?


Polarization Pointer

I came across this tonight; it's a good partial explanation for the flaws I've found in the various movements I've been involved in (or opposed) over the years. It's part of that story where various good-intentioned people and movements end up with a cultural rot that hurts rather than helps their cause, where people judge claims not by their soundness but rather by their being on the "right" side of an issue, and how some people eventually convince themselves that "fuck you" is actually something reasonable people say in an argument.

I say it's a partial explanation because it doesn't deal with memes in discourse, and those are pretty important; movements develop little verbal tics that are easily confused with actual points, and it takes an unusually careful person to be able to notice those and challenge them in order to get discourse back into good shape.

(I've been posting here a bit less often; been more active on G+ recently, and I'm trying to save this space primarily for longer original content rather than commentary)