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Heir, A Parent

CMU is always so empty this week. It's funny how much even not seeing acquaintances makes a difference - it reminds me of the occasional trips to NYC for Opera I make, sitting in my favourite places there watching people go by. It's not my idea of a good place to live, but NYC is a great place for self-reflection. I haven't been to Paris often enough to know for sure, but I get the sense it's good for that too, perhaps better. Maybe self-reflection doesn't adequately capture what I'm trying to get across - tragic emptiness? People-watching-with-envy? Isolation from grand flows? Farraday cage/Huis Clos? Different state of awakedness? I think maybe the last two - sleep and wakefulness is a big metaphor in my Weltanshauung - on one side of the coin I think being incredibly self-aware (in the way Zaphod Beeblebrox wasn't) makes one more awake than most people, on the other, withdrawl from everything and feelings of numbness represent a way to be more asleep than most.

Still trying not to be the kvetch-monster. It's probably a losing battle..

Amused that the US Census sent me a post telling me to keep an eye out for their next post. Good job! Also, the second best product on Amazon.com has acquired some awesome delivery options, including some clever person who for $2500 will hand-deliver the product and make a Tiramisu. Tempting!

I may have neglected to formally sign up for table space at the only conference I attend for work, which might mean no demo, which would make going there pretty pointless. *facepalm* This is a pretty big oops. I guess I'm hoping to leave vaguely soonish anyhow, but I don't like letting them down. Hopefully I can smoothe this out and snag space instead of cancelling.

Been wondering - communities that are big enough tend to attract trolls and nutjobs. In-person communities tend to attract people who are problamtic in other ways (the terribly unhygienic, people with particularly bad Aspergers, etc). It is desirable to remove such people from the community (often over the objections of people who object on principle to exclusion), or possibly to use threat of such to get people to mend their ways (if possible). Online, it's particularly challenging to do so - maybe if we had better cross-site-reputation-based systems (ideally those that allow reputation to be multifaceted, where a person might be highly trusted by one community or circle of friends (site boundaries might not coincide with this) and distrusted by another, having all this based on some mechanical consensus over community members that would give individual members their own stronger rules they might apply (e.g. I and Helen read/participate in the same forum. I'm part of a group of secularists. The group kinda-sorta trusts her so most people in the group see her posts as reasonably prominent, but I think she's a crazy troll so I see her posts as faded and small. My thoughts contribute to the group defaults and I am reminded of the group defaults (and my difference from them) somehow (so if my opinions greatly differ from the rest of the group, I feel it). We thus have reputation systems that are kind of like those in real life, reasonably scalable, and hopefully applicable to kill spam and isolate those who provide noise rather than signal.

The question is - is noise-signal distinguishable in principle or practice from ingroup-outgroup? I'd like, for example, to imagine that this system would just semi-mute messages from those who have not built a positive reputation, messages that provide mostly noise to a conversation, etc. Would people have the discipline to see it that way? Is the notion of trolling approachable/evaluable this way?

There are some cases where by tradition we (do or should) defer to topic-authorities for good reason - academia merits a high position in the pursuit of truth to the extent that people can reasonably believe that were they to study the topic to the point where they deeply understand it (maybe Masters degree) and can contribute meaningfully to it (PhD?), they would exist somewhere within the academic consensus on the matter (provided they didn't enter with preconceptions they're shielding - in the US, some evangelical young-earth-creationist groups have sent some people through biology programmes in order to get them the title needed to be a talking head against evolution, climate change, etc). Questioning academic consensus is not trolling, but taking a hard position against it when one lacks reasonable credentials can get near the borders (but then, the fact of having an intricate system does not self-validate its conclusions - astrology and a lot of philosophy falls into the "intricate but terrible" category - if a field is not "difficult and discriminating" we probably shouldn't trust it to be empirical) and might be a category of things we'd prefer not to see.

I think people are probably not well-equipped for having systems for things they want to see (or not) for different reasons - judgement on one tends to bleed-over into the rest (maybe this is instinctual? If we only have two "real" categories of Good and Bad and everything else is a bit unnatural..). I would expect that people who are careful might be able to regularly distinguish things they disagree with from things that are trolling (and recognise all 4 corners of the cross-table), but few people are actually that careful - on the internet sites where I used to spend some time moderating, where there was co-moderation I often saw people having systematic biases to keep things that either amused them or well-met their values, regardless of the rules of the site (likewise, attractive people get away with a lot more).

Maybe a sufficiently flexible reputation system might be able to nudge people in the right direction, just as many of society's institutions (and customs) seem to be ways of getting a bridle onto, productive labour out of, and rough instincts tamed in the human spirit. Getting it right would be hard, and no doubt those who consider the online world a way to dodge responsibility for their faults would greatly resent such a system - just as they felt escape from the disapproval their actions merit, the icy hand of society reaches into a new realm.. but it's necessary, I think. It gets a lot more interesting when the increased interconnectivity of modern times causes group-Weltanshauungen to split off rather than dissolve into the mainstream - it would be amusing (perhaps alarmist to think this way) if this were the thing that unravels modern civilisation.

A good argument might be made that appropriate behaviour is not a "stateless" matter - that there are circumstances where it might be appropriate, in the context of a discussion with a nutjob or a troll, to mock (even as in ideal conversation with sane people with whom we reasonably disagree that should probably never happen) - if we were to accept this (not sure I do), handling that context suitably wouldn't be easy. It'd be easy to segue this into a discussion of "reasonable is what a reasonable good-willed person does" versus "reasonable is" perspectives.

Oddity when considering faces:It feels like I have two "working storage areas" when parsing faces, one for males and one for females - when I remember the face of someone I know of one gender, I can hold in my head the face of someone with the other gender too, but I can't hold two people's faces at the same time if they're of the same gender. I know that I parse the faces of males and females differently (it requires a lot of effort, but I sometimes wonder what someone would look like if we were to imagine a version of them across the boundaries of sexual dimorphism - some people would look very ugly (often confirmed when one sees other members of their family where the family traits make one gender much better looking than the other). I know that I also parse faces differently based on age-category - I have not yet determined if I seem to have separate working storage areas for those too (that is, can I picture a male my age and a teenage male at the same time or not? no no I don't mean it that way at all). The process of changing what face within an area I remember feels like I'm morphing a generic template into a specific person (reusing the same bit of putty?) - even when I think back through memories, only one person per category seems to have a face at a time, and there's just a kind of blank placeholder on the others until I attend to them and it steals the face.

It would be creepytastic but maybe cool to imagine a play based around this where the actors all wear white masks over their face and have an oversized face-mask-on-a-stick they pass between themselves (decorating as appropriate) during scenes.