The future is here.

(Personal, GeekStuff)

2014-07-12 11:22
Comment

This is a world that I could not have anticipated, or really even comprehended, when I was 18.

So, we’re in our car, which gets ~50 miles to the gallon. Music is coming from a handheld device that holds enough music that I think we could play songs for something like two weeks without repeating anything. Korean hip-hop comes on, which I’m unfamiliar with, so I start typing the fragment of the song’s name that the car stereo displays, and the computer suggests the full name of the song; seconds later, I’m looking at information about the band, album cover pictures, and things like that. On a display which is higher resolution than any display I had seen in my life when I was 18, with better color reproduction, and which is under a quarter-inch thick. The person driving is a gay guy. We have the right to be legally married in our state, and the federal government recognizes such relationships. There are five devices in the car, at least, which can tell me where I am within a meter or so basically anywhere on the surface of the planet. I have Internet (a thing I barely knew about when I was 18), and my phone has more computing power than the mainframes which served the entire student body when I was in college. The laptop probably has more computing power than every computer on campus did; definitely so if you include the GPU.

Peter Seebach

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Failing to understand the word "disability"

(Personal, Politics)

2014-07-08 07:31
Comment

I know a number of people who have disabilities, ranging from fairly mild to fairly severe. Most of them have some amount of interaction with social services of one sort or another, whether in the US or elsewhere. And everywhere, there is a single constant theme:

The entire system seems predicated on the notion that people with disabilities do not face more difficulties in doing things than other people would. And I am pretty sure this is a really bad idea and does not make very much sense at all.

In general, social services seem to rely heavily on maintenance of paperwork, and failure to maintain paperwork means you don’t get services. But the paperwork is fairly hard to maintain. It involves requirements that you keep and provide copies of various evidence, that you process paperwork and hand it in in a timely fashion, and so on.

One of my friends recently got shifted from medication which was having a bad side effect to different medication. Which hospitalized him. It was about two months before he was pretty recovered, at which point he could at least conceptually handle tasks other than trying to survive individual days. So he checked his mail, and he had overdue paperwork which means that his food stamps are now gone until he does new paperwork which will then have to go through a long bureaucratic procedure.

Now, if you’re not disabled, it may seem strange to you that merely being hospitalized would prevent someone from keeping up with their paperwork. It will almost certainly seem strange to you that having been hospitalized a month ago would leave someone unable to keep up. But the fact is, disabled people really do run out of spoons. And then the system punishes them for not having been well enough to keep up with things.

I’m not sure how to solve this, but a first pass would be to simply declare that, if someone has any disability, no matter what it is, whether cognitive or physical, the duty of keeping up with the paperwork is not theirs to manage. Paperwork should be handled by the bureaucrats who so want the paperwork kept up with. You need bank records? Get a standard form you can fill out exactly once, ever, which authorizes the bureaucrats to pull copies of bank records for purposes of updating the paperwork.

And this might increase costs, but honestly, compared to the paperwork storms that ensue when people get their paperwork screwed up, I am not sure at all that this would even be more work overall for the bureaucrats. I think it would save them a lot of work. They wouldn’t have to go through forms filled out by literal-minded autistics and “correct” all the places where someone answered the question on the form rather than the question intended. They wouldn’t have to do three rounds of back-and-forth to find out why some questions were left blank.

So far as I can tell, the current system is rooted mostly in a combination of things, but comes down to the common perception that disabled people are just being “lazy” when they don’t keep up with things.

The US system in particular creates additional problems with its focus on trying to prove that people aren’t really disabled. I know more than one disabled person who has turned down short-term paying work because if you ever get paying work, that can be used as evidence that you must not really be disabled. Even if there is no more work. Even if you lost the job because you actually couldn’t do it. So if you work now, you may end up not working later and also unable to get any kind of support services.

What if, having determined that someone was disabled in a way that does not usually magically clear up over time, we just kept that information forever? What if we allowed them to get jobs without losing their “disabled” status? Yeah, doubtless there would be someone somewhere collecting disability money and also working. But the chances aren’t bad at all that they would be earning less working than they would be if they weren’t disabled, and furthermore, if they’re working they’re paying taxes, which is sort of a nice improvement over the current situation, where they don’t work because working could lead to them starving a few months later.

I think people tend to underestimate the impact of the paperwork for a number of reasons. One is that the paperwork is a lot harder for many disabled people than it is for other people. But there’s a more subtle one. Say we conclude that a given amount of paperwork should consume, say, four hours a week. That doesn’t sound too bad; it’s only 10% of a full-time job. But if your functional cap on productive effort isn’t 40 hours a week, but 20 hours a week, that just turned into 20% of your time, instead of 10%. And if the paperwork takes you twice as long to do as it takes other people, it’s 40% of your time. Now consider all the lovely research we’ve got on how stress affects people’s ability to do things. And consider whether “you will probably end up not eating if you do not do all these complicated poorly-defined tasks correctly, and will not know until it is too late if you’ve screwed one up” might create stress. What happens? That “reasonable” 10% of your time is now consuming at least half of your available effort, and what you have left is a lot less than half of what effort you would have had available otherwise.

Mostly, this comes down to the general observation that if you’re going to try to save money on a system, you should consider carefully whether what you propose to do will actually reduce costs at all, and you should also consider what your goals were, and whether you will also reduce your achievement of those goals.

Peter Seebach

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Why terminology is hard...

(Personal)

2014-06-07 23:06
Comment [1]

One of the joys of the Internet era is having teenagers explain things to me. Teenagers explain to me what gender is, and what sexual orientation is, and why it matters whether or not gay people are discriminated against. And this is, by and large, mostly just sort of charming.

The thing that fascinates me, though, is that occasionally the dogmas they latch onto are a little surprising. For instance, people are occasionally referred to as “trans”. This might be short for any of a number of words, but two in particular stand out: “transgendered” and “transgender”.

Many of the teenagers find “transgendered” extremely offensive. Why? Well, the reason they usually give is that the “-ed” suffix indicates the past tense of a verb, as though this were a thing done to someone. And that’s not at all how English works, in two ways. First, English just plain isn’t stable or consistent enough to propose any simple rules like that. Secondly, this ignores the entire family of similar constructs used with nouns, rather than verbs: “red-haired” or “long-legged”.

The history is rather more complicated. Both words were seen at least occasionally in the 1970s. The earliest citation I’ve yet found was a 1970 TV Guide reference to a character as “transgendered”, but the words are both pretty widely-used by the late ’70s.

Here’s the most comprehensive overview of the terminology I’ve yet found.

What’s interesting to me, though, is that the majority of the trans people I know have a noticeable preference for “transgendered”, and find “transgender” at least a little upsetting because that’s only part of the word. Of course, that could be a survivable state; we could just let people use the word they prefer, and eventually one of them would win.

Unfortunately, some organizations, like GLAAD, jumped in with the assertion that since someone somewhere said this was offensive, they were going to back that interpretation, and have pushed for its inclusion in style guides. This means that a lot of people now have formal rules that they will edit text to use their preferred nomenclature, and a vague perception that the other nomenclature is “bad”… Which means that the people who spent years or decades identifying as “transgendered” are now suddenly subject to random harassment from enthusiastic kids who have read the sound bites and aren’t aware that this was an actually disputed point in the recent past.

Of course, either answer would be upsetting to at least some people, and it’s probably even the case that the situation where both were in use was leading to confusion or upset. I just resent that so far as I can tell, the decision about which word will be in widespread use was made based on claims that are pure invention without any basis in fact or history. Even an arbitrary “both transgender and transgendered are in use, but the community seems to have gravitated towards transgender” would be less distasteful than the present state of advancing the claim that there was a meaningful linguistic basis here.

Peter Seebach

Comment [1]

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Pathfinder's polymorph rules, presented in a usable format

(GeekStuff)

2014-05-17 22:05
Comment

Well, maybe not totally usable, but. Pathfinder’s various polymorph-type spells are all presented in a format where each spell past the first in a series gives additional powers, but then refers you to the previous spell. So they never give you the complete list of things you can get from them. In general, qualities are given only if the creature you assume the form of has those qualities. So, if you want scent, you have to assume a form that has scent and use a spell which lists scent as a quality it can grant.

Alter Self

Small and medium humanoid forms.

Stats:

Small: +2 dex
Medium: +2 str

Qualities: darkvision 60 feet, low-light vision, scent, swim 30 feet

Beast Shape

Beast Shape I

Small and medium animal forms.

Stats:
Small: +2 dex, +1 natural armor
Medium: +2 str, +2 natural armor

Qualities: climb 30 feet, fly 30 feet (average maneuverability), swim 30 feet, darkvision 60 feet, low-light vision, scent

Beast Shape II

Tiny, small, medium, or large animal forms.

Stats:
Tiny: +4 dex, -2 str, +1 natural armor
Small: +2 dex, +1 natural armor
Medium: +2 str, +2 natural armor
Large: +4 str, -2 dex, +4 natural armor

Qualities: climb 60 feet, fly 60 feet (good maneuverability), swim 60 feet, darkvision 60 feet, low-light vision, scent, grab, pounce, trip

Beast Shape III

Diminutive, tiny, small, medium, large, or huge animal forms. Small or medium magical beast forms.

Stats:
Diminutive animal: +6 dex, -4 str, +1 natural armor
Tiny animal: +4 dex, -2 str, +1 natural armor
Small animal: +2 dex, +1 natural armor
Medium animal: +2 str, +2 natural armor
Large animal: +4 str, -2 dex, +4 natural armor
Huge animal: +6 str, -4 dex, +6 natural armor

Small magical beast: +4 dex, +2 natural armor
Medium magical beast: +4 str, +4 natural armor

Qualities: burrow 30 feet, climb 90 feet, fly 90 feet (good maneuverability), swim 90 feet, blindsense 30 feet, darkvision 60 feet, low-light vision, scent, constrict, ferocity, grab, jet, poison, pounce, rake, trample, trip, web

Beast Shape IV

Diminutive, tiny, small, medium, large, or huge animal forms. Tiny, small, medium, or large magical beast forms.

Stats:
Diminutive animal: +6 dex, -4 str, +1 natural armor
Tiny animal: +4 dex, -2 str, +1 natural armor
Small animal: +2 dex, +1 natural armor
Medium animal: +2 str, +2 natural armor
Large animal: +4 str, -2 dex, +4 natural armor
Huge animal: +6 str, -4 dex, +6 natural armor

Tiny magical beast: +8 dex, -2 str, +3 natural armor
Small magical beast: +4 dex, +2 natural armor
Medium magical beast: +4 str, +4 natural armor
Large magical beast: +6 str, -2 dex, +2 con, +6 natural armor

Qualities: burrow 30 feet, climb 90 feet, fly 90 feet (good maneuverability), swim 90 feet, blindsense 30 feet, darkvision 60 feet, low-light vision, scent, constrict, ferocity, grab, jet, poison, pounce, rake, trample, trip, web
Resistances: Resist 20 to any elements the creature resists or is immune to. Gain vulnerabilities the creature has.

Elemental Body

This spell is quite a bit different, because it only lets you use the four base elemental types, not any of the others.

Elemental Body I

Small elementals only.

Air: +2 dex, +2 natural armor, fly 60 feet (perfect), darkvision 60, whirlwind
Earth: +2 str, +4 natural armor, darkvision 60, earth glide
Fire: +2 dex, +2 natural armor, darkvision 60, fire resist 20, vulnerability to cold, burn
Water: +2 con, +4 natural armor, swim 60, darkvision 60, vortex, water breathing

Elemental Body II

Small or medium elementals.

Air: +4 dex, +3 natural armor, fly 60 feet (perfect), darkvision 60, whirlwind
Earth: +4 str, +5 natural armor, darkvision 60, earth glide
Fire: +4 dex, +3 natural armor, darkvision 60, fire resist 20, vulnerability to cold, burn
Water: +4 con, +5 natural armor, swim 60, darkvision 60, vortex, water breathing

Elemental Body III

Small, medium, or large elementals. All forms gain immunity to bleed damage, critical hits, and sneak attacks.

Air: +2 str, +4 dex, +4 natural armor, fly 60 feet (perfect), darkvision 60, whirlwind
Earth: +6 str, -2 dex, +2 con, +6 natural armor, darkvision 60, earth glide
Fire: +4 dex, +2 con, +4 natural armor, darkvision 60, fire resist 20, vulnerability to cold, burn
Water: +2 str, -2 dex, +6 con, +6 natural armor, swim 60, darkvision 60, vortex, water breathing

Elemental Body IV

Small, medium, large, or huge elementals. All forms gain DR 5/-, as well as immunity to bleed damage, critical hits, and sneak attacks.

Air: +4 str, +6 dex, +4 natural armor, fly 120 feet (perfect), darkvision 60, whirlwind
Earth: +8 str, -2 dex, +4 con, +6 natural armor, darkvision 60, earth glide
Fire: +6 dex, +4 con, +4 natural armor, darkvision 60, fire resist 20, vulnerability to cold, burn
Water: +4 str, -2 dex, +8 con, +6 natural armor, swim 120, darkvision 60, vortex, water breathing

Form of the Dragon

Each version of the spell has some common traits, then some traits that are specific to the kind of dragon you change to.

Form of the Dragon I

Medium chromatic or metallic dragon.

Stats: +4 str, +2 con, +4 natural armor
Qualities: fly 60 feet (poor), darkvision 60, breath weapon, energy resist (see list).
Attacks: one bite (1d8), two claws (1d6), and two wing attacks (1d4)

Breath weapon is 6d8 damage, reflex save for half, and can be used only once during the spell’s duration.

Black dragon: 60-foot line of acid, resist acid 20, swim 60 feet
Blue dragon: 60-foot line of electricity, resist electricity 20, burrow 20 feet
Green dragon: 30-foot cone of acid, resist acid 20, swim 40 feet
Red dragon: 30-foot cone of fire, resist fire 30, vulnerability to cold
White dragon: 30-foot cone of cold, resist cold 20, swim 60 feet, vulnerability to fire
Brass dragon: 60-foot line of fire, resist fire 20, burrow 30 feet, vulnerability to cold
Bronze dragon: 60-foot line of electricity, resist electricity 20, swim 60 feet
Copper dragon: 60-foot line of acid, resist acid 20, spider climb (always active)
Gold dragon: 30-foot cone of fire, resist fire 20, swim 60 feet
Silver dragon: 30-foot cone of cold, resist cold 30, vulnerability to fire

Form of the Dragon II

Medium or large chromatic or metallic dragons.

Stats: +6 str, +4 con, +6 natural armor
Qualities: fly 90 feet (poor), darkvision 60, DR 5/magic, breath weapon, energy resist (see list).
Attacks: one bite (2d6), two claws (1d8), two wing attacks (1d6), and one tail slap attack (1d8)

Breath weapon is 8d8 damage, reflex save for half, and can be used only twice during the spell’s duration, 1d4 rounds apart.

Black dragon: 80-foot line of acid, resist acid 20, swim 60 feet
Blue dragon: 80-foot line of electricity, resist electricity 20, burrow 20 feet
Green dragon: 40-foot cone of acid, resist acid 20, swim 40 feet
Red dragon: 80-foot cone of fire, resist fire 30, vulnerability to cold
White dragon: 40-foot cone of cold, resist cold 20, swim 60 feet, vulnerability to fire
Brass dragon: 80-foot line of fire, resist fire 20, burrow 30 feet, vulnerability to cold
Bronze dragon: 80-foot line of electricity, resist electricity 20, swim 60 feet
Copper dragon: 80-foot line of acid, resist acid 20, spider climb (always active)
Gold dragon: 40-foot cone of fire, resist fire 20, swim 60 feet
Silver dragon: 40-foot cone of cold, resist cold 30, vulnerability to fire

Form of the Dragon III

Medium, large, or huge chromatic or metallic dragon.

Stats: +10 str, +8 con, +8 natural armor
Qualities: fly 120 feet (poor), blindsense 60, darkvision 120, DR 10/magic, frightful presence (same DC as spell), breath weapon, energy resist (see list).
Attacks: one bite (2d8), two claws (2d6), two wing attacks (1d8), and one tail slap attack (2d6)

Breath weapon is 12d8 damage, reflex save for half, and can be used as often as you like during the spell’s duration, 1d4 rounds apart.

Black dragon: 100-foot line of acid, immunity to acid, swim 60 feet
Blue dragon: 100-foot line of electricity, immunity to electricity, burrow 20 feet
Green dragon: 50-foot cone of acid, immunity to acid, swim 40 feet
Red dragon: 100-foot cone of fire, immunity to fire, vulnerability to cold
White dragon: 50-foot cone of cold, immunity to cold, swim 60 feet, vulnerability to fire
Brass dragon: 100-foot line of fire, immunity to fire, burrow 30 feet, vulnerability to cold
Bronze dragon: 100-foot line of electricity, immunity to electricity, swim 60 feet
Copper dragon: 100-foot line of acid, immunity to acid, spider climb (always active)
Gold dragon: 50-foot cone of fire, immunity to fire, swim 60 feet
Silver dragon: 50-foot cone of cold, immunity to cold, vulnerability to fire

Giant Form

Giant Form I

Large humanoids with the giant subtype. All forms grant low-light vision whether or not the target form has it. (This surprises me, but that’s what they wrote.)

Stats: +6 str, -2 dex, +4 con, +4 natural armor
Qualities: darkvision 60 feet, rend (2d6 damage), regeneration 5, rock catching, and rock throwing (range 60 feet, 2d6 damage)
Resistances: Resist 20 to any elements the creature resists or is immune to. Gain vulnerabilities the creature has.

Giant Form II

Large or huge humanoids with the giant subtype. You gain low-light vision and a 10’ enhancement bonus to speed.

Stats: +8 str, -2 dex, +6 con, +6 natural armor
Qualities: swim 60 feet, darkvision 60 feet, rend (2d8 damage), regeneration 5, rock catching, and rock throwing (range 120 feet, 2d10 damage)
Resistances: Gain resistance or immunity to one element if the creature has it. Gain vulnerabilities the creature has.

Monstrous Physique

This spell can grant you additional subtypes. The Monstrous Physique spell series are not listed as options for Shapechange, but the book they’re in came out later.

Monstrous Physique I

Any small or medium monstrous humanoid. If the creature has the aquatic subtype, you gain the aquatic and amphibious subtypes.

Stats:
Small: +2 dex, +1 natural armor
Medium: +2 str, +2 natural armor

Qualities: limb 30 feet, fly 30 feet (average maneuverability), swim 30 feet, darkvision 60 feet, low-light vision, scent

Monstrous Physique II

Any tiny, small, medium, or large monstrous humanoid.

Stats:
Tiny: +4 dex, -2 str, +1 natural armor
Small: +2 dex, +1 natural armor
Medium: +2 str, +2 natural armor
Large: +4 str, -2 dex, +4 natural armor

Qualities: climb 60 feet, fly 60 feet (good maneuverability), swim 60 feet, darkvision 60 feet, low-light vision, scent, freeze, grab, leap attack, mimicry, pounce, sound mimicry, speak with sharks, trip, undersized weapons

Monstrous Physique III

Any diminutive, tiny, small, medium, large, or huge monstrous humanoid.

Stats:
Diminutive: +6 dex, -4 str, +1 natural armor
Tiny: +4 dex, -2 str, +1 natural armor
Small: +2 dex, +1 natural armor
Medium: +2 str, +2 natural armor
Large: +4 str, -2 dex, +4 natural armor
Huge: +6 str, -4 dex, +6 natural armor

Qualities: burrow 30 feet, climb 90 feet, fly 90 feet (good maneuverability), swim 90 feet, all-around vision, blindsense 30 feet, darkvision 60 feet, low-light vision, scent, blood frenzy, cold vigor, constrict, ferocity, freeze, grab, horrific appearance, jet, leap attack, mimicry, natural cunning, overwhelming, poison, pounce, rake, sound mimicry, speak with sharks, trample, trip, undersized weapons, web

Monstrous Physique IV

Any diminutive, tiny, small, medium, large, or huge monstrous humanoid.

Stats:
Diminutive: +6 dex, -4 str, +1 natural armor
Tiny: +4 dex, -2 str, +1 natural armor
Small: +2 dex, +1 natural armor
Medium: +2 str, +2 natural armor
Large: +4 str, -2 dex, +4 natural armor
Huge: +6 str, -4 dex, +6 natural armor

Qualities: burrow 60 feet, climb 90 feet, fly 120 feet (good maneuverability), swim 120 feet, blindsense 60 feet, darkvision 90 feet, low-light vision, scent, tremorsense 60 feet, blood frenzy, breath weapon, cold vigor, constrict, ferocity, freeze, grab, horrific appearance, jet, leap attack, mimicry, natural cunning, overwhelming, poison, pounce, rake, rend, roar, sound mimicry, speak with sharks, spikes, trample, trip, web
Resistances: Resist 20 against energy types the creature is immune to or resists. Gain energy vulnerabilities. If the creature is immune to poison, you gain +8 on saving throws against poison.

Plant Shape

Plant Shape I

Any small or medium creature of the plant type.

Stats:
Small: +2 con, +2 natural armor
Medium: +2 str, +2 con, +2 natural armor

Qualities: darkvision 60 feet, low-light vision, constrict, grab, poison
Movement: If the creature can’t move, your speed is reduced to 5 feet and you lose all other forms of movement.
Resistances: Gain vulnerabilities the creature has.

Plant Shape II

Any small, medium, or large creature of the plant type.

Stats:
Small: +2 con, +2 natural armor
Medium: +2 str, +2 con, +2 natural armor
Large: +4 str, +2 con, +4 natural armor

Qualities: darkvision 60 feet, low-light vision, constrict, grab, poison
Movement: If the creature can’t move, your speed is reduced to 5 feet and you lose all other forms of movement.
Resistances: If the creature has resistance or vulnerability to an element, gain resist 20 to that element. Gain vulnerabilities the creature has.

Plant Shape III

Any small, medium, large, or huge creature of the plant type.

Stats:
Small: +2 con, +2 natural armor
Medium: +2 str, +2 con, +2 natural armor
Large: +4 str, +2 con, +4 natural armor
Huge: +8 str, -2 dex, +4 con, +6 natural armor

Qualities: darkvision 60 feet, low-light vision, constrict, grab, poison, DR, regeneration 5, trample
Movement: If the creature can’t move, your speed is reduced to 5 feet and you lose all other forms of movement.
Resistances: If the creature has resistance or vulnerability to an element, gain resist 20 to that element. Gain vulnerabilities the creature has.

Undead Anatomy

Note that Undead Anatomy is not listed as being available with Shapechange, but that Shapechange was written before Undead Anatomy existed. Check with your GM before making assumptions.

These spells cause you to detect as undead, and to react to cure and inflict spells as though undead, but doesn’t prevent true seeing from revealing your true form, or affect other spells (such as searing light) which have special effects on undead targets.

Undead Anatomy I

Any small or medium corporeal undead, “vaguely humanoid shaped (like a ghoul, skeleton, or zombie)”. You gain darkvision 60 whether or not the form has it.

Stats:
Small: +2 dex, +1 natural armor
Medium: +2 str, +2 natural armor

Attacks:
Small: one bite (1d4), two claw or slam (1d4)
Medium: one bite (1d6), two claw or slam (1d6)

Qualities: climb 30 feet, fly 30 feet (average maneuverability), swim 30 feet, low-light vision, scent

Undead Anatomy II

Any tiny, small, medium, or large corporeal undead. It’s not explicitly stated whether this still has to be “vaguely humanoid shaped”.

Stats:
Tiny: +4 dex, -2 str, +1 natural armor
Small: +2 dex, +1 natural armor
Medium: +2 str, +2 natural armor
Large: +4 str, -2 dex, +4 natural armor

Qualities: climb 60 feet, fly 60 feet (good maneuverability), swim 60 feet, darkvision 60 feet, low-light vision, blood drain, DR 5/bludgeoning, scent, freeze, grab, mimicry, pounce, shadowless, sound mimicry, trip
Resistances: +4 bonus on saves against mind-affecting effects, disease, poison, sleep, and stunning. Gain vulnerabilities to special attacks (such as sunlight).

Undead Anatomy III

Any diminutive, tiny, small, medium, large, or huge corporeal undead. It’s not explicitly stated whether this still has to be “vaguely humanoid shaped”.

Stats:
Diminutive: +6 dex, -4 str, +1 natural armor
Tiny: +4 dex, -2 str, +1 natural armor
Small: +2 dex, +1 natural armor
Medium: +2 str, +2 natural armor
Large: +4 str, -2 dex, +4 natural armor
Huge: +6 str, -2 dex, +6 natural armor

Qualities: burrow 30 feet, climb 90 feet, fly 90 feet (good maneuverability), swim 90 feet, all-around vision, blindsense 30 feet, darkvision 60 feet, low-light vision, scent, constrict, disease, DR 5/—, fear aura, grab, jet, natural cunning, overwhelming, poison, pounce, rake, trample, trip, unnatural aura, web.
Resistances: Gain resist 20 to energy types the creature has resistance or immunity to. +8 bonus on saves against mind-affecting effects, disease, poison, sleep, and stunning. Gain vulnerabilities the creature has, both to energy and to special attack types.

Undead Anatomy IV

Can take incorporeal forms, though duration changes to one round per level instead of one minute per level. Incorporeal creatures gain incorporeal touch attacks instead of standard claw/slam attacks. Note that stats for tiny/large undead change from those for Undead Anatomy III.

Stats:
Diminutive: +6 dex, -4 str, +1 natural armor
Tiny: +8 dex, -2 str, +3 natural armor
Small: +2 dex, +1 natural armor
Medium: +2 str, +2 natural armor
Large: +6 str, -2 dex, +2 con, +6 natural armor
Huge: +6 str, -2 dex, +6 natural armor

Qualities: burrow 60 feet, climb 90 feet, fly 120 feet (good maneuverability), swim 120 feet, blindsense 60 feet, darkvision 90 feet, lifesense 60 feet, low-light vision, scent, tremorsense 60 feet, breath weapon, constrict, DR 10/magic and silver, DR 15/bludgeoning and magic, fast healing 5, fiery death, fire aura, grab, incorporeal, jet, poison, pounce, rake, rend, roar, spikes, trample, trip, web
Resistances: Gain resist 30 to energy types the creature has resistance or immunity to. +8 bonus on saves against mind-affecting effects, disease, poison, sleep, and stunning. Gain vulnerabilities the creature has, both to energy and to special attack types.

Peter Seebach

Comment

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Some thoughts about living with depression

(Personal)

2014-05-07 14:11
Comment [4]

A fair number of people I know have long-term depression, and it can be hard to deal with. For them, obviously, but also for me. And of course, then they feel bad because it’s hard for me and that makes them feel horrible and worthless (see also: depression). And I want to try to help.

That turns out to be hard, because the things that people usually want to suggest to help with depression don’t actually help at all. And they can even make it worse. And after a couple of recent experiences some friends have had, and written about, I thought I’d try to write up some information aimed at the people who are trying to live with someone who has depression. (Not necessarily “live in the same building”, just the people who are a part of your life.) This isn’t exclusively aimed at non-depressed people, but my experience is that they are a lot more likely to need it.

Depression is a long-term disability.

For some people, depression is temporary. That’s rare. For most people, depression is going to be a long-term disability. And there’s two key pieces of information here. First, depression is likely to be long-term. Like, life-long long-term. It may go into remission, but it’s very likely that it will also come back. Secondly, it’s a disability. Depression doesn’t just make you unhappy, it prevents you from doing things.

Mental health issues are especially troublesome in that you don’t look sick or injured. If someone’s got a badly-mangled leg, it can be pretty easy to see by looking at it that they can’t plausibly be expected to walk on that. But if someone’s depressed, you can’t tell just by looking, and the ways in which they fail to act can’t be obviously distinguished from “just lazy” or “just stupid”.

Unfortunately, this gets us to one of the most severe ways in which other people will, while doubtless meaning well, severely hurt their depressed friends and loved ones: Accusing them of being lazy. This does not help. And it’s not just that it doesn’t help; it’s that it feeds directly into the nasty feedback loop in which feeling bad about who you are makes the depression stronger and the disability more severe.

Someone pointed out: “Major” depression is fairly often shorter-term. However, this doesn’t necessarily change the claims made above. First, many people have only “not-very-major” depression. Second, even if a lot of cases are shorter in duration, your chances of encountering a longer-duration case are better simply because you have more opportunities to do so.

Depression is, very often, a physical disorder

Yes, depression is a “mental disorder”. But when we say “mental disorder”, that doesn’t mean that it’s purely a matter of cognition, and if you just did things differently you’d be fine. Mental disorders are disorders which happen in the brain, but the brain itself is a physical thing. Mental health issues are often related to chemical imbalances, and sometimes adjusting chemicals can help. But it’s very, very, rare for them to completely solve a problem like depression, and they can have pretty significant side-effects. The fact that many people will stay on an anti-depressant which eliminates their sex drive should give you some idea of just how much depression sucks, though.

Getting antidepressants working can be pretty difficult, even if they do eventually work out. Generally, assume it will take at least two weeks, and usually a month, to try a single specific dosage of a single specific medication and see roughly what it does. Each attempt to adjust the dosage will take that long again. It can take a while at a given dosage level to observe effects, or side-effects. And if you want to change from one medication to another, you may need to taper off the old medication (reducing dosage gradually over weeks), then start the new one at a low dosage, and gradually build up to the desired dosage. So you could easily spend six months without any effective/functional medication at all in order to see whether a different medication might work better. You can’t just try them for an afternoon to compare.

And, of course, something can stop working after ten years and no one knows why, but now you get to start the entire long trial-and-error process over. Are the new meds giving you insomnia, or are you just having trouble sleeping because you’re stressed from worrying about whether the new meds will work? You don’t know!

One of my friends was on medication (depression-related) which made him hypoglycemic and caused him to gain 50 pounds. Doctors, of course, told him to exercise more and “eat six small meals a day” — a course of action entirely incompatible with his disabilities. Finally he got to a doctor who had at one point actually read the list of side-effects, observed that weight gain and hypoglycemia were common side-effects, and suggested trying a different medication.

So, when you’re about to express your frustration with someone who’s depressed and is just not doing anything about it, stop and think about how you’d handle a comparably severe physical injury or disability. If you have to wheel a friend around in a wheelchair, you quickly notice how inconvenient this is. You suddenly become aware of all the stairs and escalators you weren’t thinking about before, for instance. But you tend to intuitively grasp that your friend is not being unable to walk because they’re rebellious, or just to spite you, or anything like that, so you’re not likely to blame them. But if someone’s depressed, the fact that you can’t clearly see the boundaries of what they can and can’t do may make it feel like they’re just being lazy. Only, the chances are, they’re not.

It’s true that not everyone needs, or significantly benefits from, medication. These are two separate issues; some people don’t need medication, some people would be a lot better off if there were any that worked for them, but there isn’t. Also, medication is often a very useful tool for improving things enough that someone can work on the more fundamental changes that will allow them to progress to not needing medication. So some people really will be better off without medication, or will make good progress without it; this all goes back to “this is not a simple fix that eliminates the problem”.

Ego depletion and emotional energy

One major aspect of depression is a tendency to tire out easily. Tiring out in and of itself is not unique to depression; all humans tire out in similar ways, just not as quickly. So a little discussion of how this works might help understand what’s happening with depressed people. (For another way of talking about this, you may appreciate spoon theory, which provides another nomenclature.)

The official fancy term for this is “ego depletion”. This is the general term for the thing where your ability to “force yourself” to do things gets used up. This is not unique to depressed people. In fact, it’s not even unique to humans. Dogs and cats also experience the same thing. There’s a particularly elegant experiment demonstrating this in dogs. A brief excerpt:

They had their canine participants sit and stay for 10 minutes, which seems like a very long time indeed (even for the owners). The dogs were then praised and given a treat. Then they received a toy from which ordinarily another yummy treat could be extracted, and the dogs had experience doing this. For the experiment, however, the toy was sealed and the dogs struggled in vain. The finding of interest was that after having gone through the taxing sit-and-stay exercise the dogs were quick to give up on the toy. Dogs that did not experiences the prior strain of having to stay in place were more persistent. A second experiment showed that if the sit-and-stay dogs received a shot of a glucose drink, they persisted with the toy as long as the control dogs did.

What this tells us is that something is happening when we expend mental effort to control our behavior. There is a kind of effort involved. So if you’ve had the experience of having unpleasant experiences accumulate until you just can’t take it anymore, now you know why. You’re burning through a resource that takes time to recover. And working through unpleasant tasks is one of the things that burns this resource. So’s confronting things you’re afraid of. So are lots of things. And most of us can, on occasion, reach our limits. There comes a point where I’m not tired, I’m not sleepy, I’ve just been Doing Things too long and now I need to take a break.

In depressed people, the effort required to do things is significantly higher, or the overall amount of effort available to spend is lower. (I don’t know which.) The net effect is that the amount of Do Things available is more limited. I might be able to go run three or four errands in a day; a depressed friend might be lucky to make two. I’ve known people who can apparently run errands pretty much all day, stopping only when they are physically tired from all that moving around.

There’s a secondary effect, though, which is that once you know you have a very limited budget for doing things, you tend to start conserving it. You avoid doing things you don’t really need to do, because you can run out and if you haven’t managed things like “eating” yet, that can kill you. (And yes, people do die from inability to keep up with their basic self-maintenance tasks.) And to an external observer, this can look like laziness; after all, we know you can do these things, but you won’t do them, so presumably you’re lazy. But that misses the point; what is the cost of doing them? What is the other thing that won’t get done if I do this one first?

Long-term prognosis

In general, depression doesn’t get cured. Depression gets treated, and that treatment is usually life-long. Assuming reasonable health care options (hah), people have a good shot at ending up with medication which makes them functional enough to survive, and can be pretty happy. But even with that, they’re still disabled. Most people wouldn’t take the fact that someone in a wheelchair was laughing and apparently happy as evidence that they weren’t disabled and should be expected to start running again. But people frequently take occasional moments of happiness in depressed people as evidence that the disability is gone and we can expect you to just be normal again. And again, it doesn’t work like that. And this is another way that people can be pretty hurtful, because as soon as you latch onto that happiness as evidence that the problem is solved, you’ve made that happy moment a source of guilt and stress and shame. Which usually at least solves the problem that someone is visibly being happy even though they’re disabled; they’ll stop being happy. Whee. You win.

This isn’t to say things can’t be livable, or even pretty good, but it’s really important to not spend your time waiting for them to get completely better and not be bad again. And, especially, not to place that expectation on someone who’s already probably pretty thoroughly overloaded and doesn’t need anything more to deal with.

Try to avoid the thing where someone mentions a breakthrough in therapy, or is trying new medication, and a week later you’re expecting them to be All Better. It’s not like that.

Things that don’t help.

I’ve mentioned a couple of things already, but there’s a few things I want to stress particularly that you should work hard to avoid.

  • Any variant whatsoever on “cheer up” or “you shouldn’t be depressed” or “you have nothing to be depressed about”. Depression is a disorder. It’s not intended to be, or portrayed as, a well-considered and strategically-valid response to one’s life experiences. You don’t need a “reason” to be depressed any more than you need a “reason” to have cancer.
  • Explanations about what the real world is like. The overall evidence is that depressed people tend to have a very good idea of what the world is like, and how inhospitable it’s going to be to them if they don’t magically get better. Reminding them does not help. It doesn’t help, because the information can’t suddenly change their characteristics. Telling someone who can’t walk “well, you should try walking, because you’re in front of a bus” will not help them any. This isn’t much different.
  • Accusations of laziness. For one thing, they’re false. For another, they’re hurtful. And last but not least, you are frankly completely outclassed; you cannot even hope to be nearly as hurtful and false as the things they are saying to themselves every hour of every day. Leave that to the experts, and spend your time trying to be supportive and recognizing the efforts people are making, even if those same tasks wouldn’t be hard for you.
  • Cheerful enthusiasm and encouragement can easily go horribly wrong. Be wary.
  • Talking a lot about how much frustration, pain, or stress they cause you. Again, they already know. They’d have done something about it ages ago if they could.
  • Empty praise or encouragement. Either they’ll figure out that you’re lying, or they’ll feel even worse because they’re not as good as you apparently expect them to be.
  • Have You Tried? The odds are that whatever you’re about to say will be something that they have tried, or that they can’t try. This is one of those experts-only things; if you aren’t intimately familiar with the situation you are almost certainly going to make things worse through any sentence starting this way.
  • Talking about other people who have it worse. This tends to come across as insulting. Furthermore, it’s usually based on the false premise that “depression” is about a response to your circumstances, rather than a mental disorder.
  • Explaining that the depressed person “needs to try harder”. One of the major components of depression is dysfunction in the part of the brain that does “trying”. Telling them to try harder is like telling someone to outrun the inability to move their legs.

Things that help.

(The temptation to leave this section blank was successfully resisted.)

Patience. Kindness. Acceptance. Helping out by chipping in with things you can do to help them catch up on the backlog of things they can’t do.

Some of the feedback loops that make depression toxic and dangerous can be significantly mitigated if you’re trying to do things for other people instead of yourself. I know people who are depressed who help each other out with chores, and get a lot more done than either of them could do for themselves. Even if you’re not depressed, helping a depressed friend out with some things, and asking them for favors, can result in them being more successful than they would be trying to do things for themselves.

Concrete praise for specific accomplishments can be useful, depending on the person. The problem with empty praise is mostly that, well, it’s empty.

Try not to let the depression dominate your interactions. There are going to be days when they aren’t showing much sign of difficulty, and then, hey, run with it. Try to avoid being yet another therapist when not being asked to.

How to tell whether praise is empty.

I’ve had a couple of people ask about this. And it is sort of tricky. The basic idea of empty praise is that it’s not really connected to things you’ve done. Praise for who you are may or may not really qualify, but very often does. But if the praise has no connection at all to anything you’ve done, that’s empty praise. As a quick starting point: If you’re thinking of saying something, try to imagine someone it wouldn’t be true of, or different choices the person you’re talking to could have made so that it wouldn’t be true of them. If you can’t, you’re not actually offering meaningful praise. Even if you are, it might still be sort of pointless. And if someone’s really struggling, you can have the additional problem that even things that maybe really are hard work for them will sound sarcastic if you comment on them.

If you’re not sure, usually, you are better off avoiding trying to give praise, because it’s not generally all that helpful. Note also that sometimes commenting on a thing without praising it can be more useful; “I can tell you’re really working at this” is at least as useful as “wow, you are working on that so hard! You should be proud!” and often better.

Peter Seebach

Comment [4]

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ImageMagick/RMagick: Why your text is coming out blocky and unreadable

()

2014-05-03 16:24
Comment [2]

I found a ton of threads various places asking about this, full of really nice advice that was totally irrelevant and didn’t change anything.

It’s not your DPI, it’s not the resolution, it’s none of that. Every thread I found was full of suggestions or ideas which were irrelevant, and which suggested that things only look good at large font sizes. Nope.

It’s that you want transparent strokes and a colored fill for rendering. The reason this shows up more at smaller font sizes is that if you have a fairly likely default stroke width of 1px, that’s really noticeable on 10-point characters, and barely noticeable on 50-point characters.

So in RMagick:

#!/usr/bin/ruby -w
require 'RMagick'
canvas = Magick::Image.new(240, 63) { self.background_color = 'white' }
gc = Magick::Draw.new
gc.text_align(Magick::LeftAlign)
gc.text_antialias(false)
gc.font('Monaco')
gc.font_style(Magick::NormalStyle)
gc.font_weight(100)
gc.stroke('transparent')
gc.fill('black')
gc.text(2, 12, 'Transparent stroke, black fill.')
gc.stroke('black')
gc.text(2, 26, 'Black stroke, black fill.')
gc.fill('red')
gc.text(2, 40, 'Black stroke, red fill.')
gc.font_size(20)
gc.text(2, 60, 'Black/red.')
gc.stroke('red')
gc.fill('black')
gc.text(122, 60, 'Red/black.')
gc.draw(canvas)
canvas.write('fonts.png')

produces this output:

Peter Seebach

Comment [2]

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The simplest autism diagnostic test.

(Autism, Personal)

2014-03-26 22:33
Comment

So, I have stumbled across a lovely test for autism, which … well, I’ve now lost count. But so far, I have never once gotten a confirmed-false-positive from it, and I’ve confirmed well over half a dozen positives.

Test methodology: I talk to people. Mostly, I eventually get this sort of hard to qualify sense of annoyance. If I don’t, after a few minutes, I suspect they are autistic. Quite a few have been already-diagnosed, and I’m somewhere over half a dozen cases of people for whom this diagnostic led me to suggest that they talk to a specialist, and they have since had a properly qualified professional diagnose them. In one case, it’s not a “formal” diagnosis with all the fancy tests, for budget reasons, but nonetheless a qualified, licensed, psychologist considers the evidence good enough to justify using that as a basis for treatment.

This really seems like a wonderful example of a thing which, even if true, is completely irrelevant on any kind of large scale. I don’t think I could teach anyone how I do it. I couldn’t do it enough to really save that much time or money or anything. And yet. For six or ten or however many people, it has made a difference, so I guess that’s a thing.

Peter Seebach

,

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How to make poor people more responsible

(Personal)

2014-02-26 15:22
Comment [1]

I see a lot of complaints about how poor people are irresponsible. There’s plenty of existing work being done on the question of why this might be the case, and the obvious answer (“being irresponsible makes you poor”) appears to be only a very small part of the story. Most noticably, being poor deprives you of cognitive resources, while vastly increasing the cognitive cost of many things.

Meanwhile, the standard answer is to try to crush people’s souls harder in case maybe they just aren’t despairing quite enough. So people running, say, housing projects for poor people? They are gonna typically be really hostile to pets because why should you ever have anything nice? You don’t deserve it.

However, there’s plenty of research on ways to help people develop greater mental resilience, motivate them to try harder, and so on. And there’s one thing that really stands out in this: Taking care of others makes people stronger, and gives them reserves. Also, pets are cheap.

And there’s some pretty fascinating examples of just how effective this is; for instance, consider A Street Cat Named Bob, the story of how a guy finally kicked drug addiction because he had to take care of his cat. This is not a unique occurrence; I know several people who are a lot more functional now that they have pets. When you’re depressed, you might not feel like you deserve basic care, but you’re not going to think your dog doesn’t deserve care. And the dog will make it clear that you deserve care.

So here’s my idea: What if we inverted this? Instead of trying to discourage poor people from having pets, what if we actively, aggressively, promoted pet ownership for poor folks? For instance, any and all subsidized housing or similar things aimed at people who can’t afford apartments would be required to accept pets, period. Support programs could include pet care. That might sound expensive, but it’s not super-expensive, and most places already have animal shelters, which would be able to reduce costs a lot if more people were taking in pets.

The payoff? People who had nothing to drag them out of bed in the morning suddenly having something other than themselves to take care of. Affection and company for lonely people. Things that we know make people more effective, more successful, happier, and more motivated to succeed.

This is part of my general theory that social services should be structured around spending the least possible money to get the job done, rather than being an endless battle over how much money to spend without any thought given to whether the job gets done.

Peter Seebach

Comment [1]

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Kaiju

(Personal)

2013-12-31 18:47
Comment [3]

One of the things I like about Pacific Rim is its introduction of the term Kaiju to English. I remember loving Godzilla movies as a kid. And there’s a thing to them I always thought was fascinating, which is that Godzilla sort of started out as the monster which destroys Japan, but ends up being the monster which defends Japan. And this, I sort of empathize with, if that’s the right word.

For a long time, I’ve been sort of aware that I am, even among autistics, pretty low-empathy. Furthermore, for someone who’s autistic, I am unreasonably charismatic and effective at manipulation, a highly unusual trait in autistics. I’ve spent some time talking to a psychologist about this, and concluded that I just-shy-of sweep the diagnostic criteria for what the DSM-IV called “antisocial personality disorder”, and the DSM-III called either “sociopathy” or “psychopathy”, the distinctions between those categories being a little fuzzy.

But, of course, obviously I care about other people, quite a bit. Which is sort of atypical, to put it mildly. So you might ask, why do I still think about this? And the answer is: I don’t think what I’m doing is the same thing that most people appear to be experiencing. I think I’m adopting a stance based on consideration and philosophy, rather than having some kind of innate preference in the matter.

What do you mean, no preference in the matter?

It’s hard to express the distinction I’m getting at. When cats are happy, they typically purr. Sometimes, cats will add a sort of high-pitched noise to their purr, which some researchers suggest is intended to be about the frequency of human baby crying, to obtain food. My cat does that when there’s a food shortage or just because she’s happy. I think purring is cool. I like that sound. I will make cats make that sound.

So, there’s another sort of similar sound cats make. A cat which is cornered and really does not want to fight may hiss, but if it’s really terrified or mad, it will growl. A lot of people don’t even know cats make this noise, because they don’t make it very often normally; you have to have a cat and an animal it really dislikes to get this noise much. Or just be really mean to the cat. When I was a kid, I would sometimes catch one of the cats and prevent it from escaping until it got really upset and started growling. Why? For the same reason I made them purr: I liked the noise. I was vaguely offended that the cat would not switch between these noises easily, or would avoid me because I’d been scaring it. I have stopped doing that, because I have a more complicated model of the world, and I’ve decided I want cats to be happy. But… I didn’t have any particular innate sense that terrifying or upsetting animals was a Bad Thing. I just observed that it produced a result I like.

Perhaps a little spookier: I don’t really have any remorse to speak of here. I recognize that this behavior was “bad” in some way. I note that it fails to align with what I now believe about moral actions. I don’t do it anymore. But I don’t have any experience which is even remotely similar to what I hear people describe when they talk about remorse. I experience distress when things I do fail to produce desired results. I don’t experience distress just because the results I desired at some point in the past are now results I don’t desire.

Ice, glass, and souls.

I like breaking things. Mostly, I like watching things break. Ice, glass, you name it. I like watching things shatter. And most of the time, people are a kind of things. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve learned a thing: You cannot shatter a thing and still have it. And if you like having the thing, you may want to specifically avoid shattering it. I still have a heck of a mean streak, though, because I am innately skilled at finding weak points in people’s sense of self, and hitting them in ways that cause them to experience structural failures. And I love it. Only… Well, I have objections to it. Philosophical objections.

People have told me that having these objections means I don’t really have that instinct or whatever, but I don’t buy it. If you know bacon is bad for your blood pressure, so you don’t eat bacon, that doesn’t mean you’re an innate vegetarian who doesn’t like the taste of bacon. It just means you’re able to make tradeoffs between different kinds of gratification, including highly abstract ones like “living longer”.

Originally, the main reason I stopped being mean to people was just that I realized I couldn’t beat them all, and that I couldn’t go around randomly being mean to people and not have to beat them all. Over time I have gradually adapted a little better, and since then I’ve developed philosophy. And yet, the fundamental reason I’m not randomly destructive of other people’s sense of self is not that I’m kind and compassionate, it’s that I know I cannot have pleasant interactions with people who have been destroyed. In fact, I’ve developed a really nice strategy for getting opportunities to smash people up occasionally. Bullies. I go around emitting social cues that bullies tend to look for as signs of targets. Then I get people to play with. And that’s fun, but it’s also just socially useful enough that people are inclined to tolerate it and not get too freaked out by it, mostly.

Goal-directed behavior

Frequently, when I see fictional villains, I am not particularly upset by or horrified by their evil schemes, except that they’re doing it so badly. I don’t tend to get the visceral reaction of aversion and horror to a person wanting to do a horrible thing. I do, however, get a very strong negative reaction to people doing something that’s not well-considered and likely to lead to success. I don’t really get why people pursue some of these things, but ultimately, most motivations are sort of arbitrary. That someone’s motivation fails to align with my philosophical beliefs about morality is not horrifying to me. That they are wasting their time doing it badly, or failing to recognize an internal inconsistency in their motivations, does bother me quite a bit.

There’s a sort of recurring trope in religious debates, which is that sooner or later, someone asks why people who don’t believe in God don’t just murder, rape, etcetera. And this always struck me as pretty stupid. Seriously, if you’re trying to decide between going to work and collecting a paycheck, and wandering out and killing people, and the big deciding point is that someone told you an invisible man will set you on fire later if you pick the wrong one, I don’t really feel a lot safer knowing that you believed them.

There’s a similar thing going on with empathy. People seem surprised that I’d claim to have no particular empathic response to people most of the time, or at least the ability to turn it off (or forget to turn it back on), and yet be nice to people. Why is this surprising? If most people do it by instinct, presumably that instinct exists for a reason, right? Like, it was useful to have that instinct? People with that instinct were more successful? So. Why wouldn’t you expect a reasonably competent person to act that way anyway? I mean, it works. It is an effective way to get things of value.

I grant that I am a lot more likely to occasionally and unexpectedly act in non-empathic ways than most people, but there is the further question of what goals we adopt. I’m pretty well aware that I am not immortal in any practical sense. If I want to have goals, I should probably pick goals more interesting than short-term personal gain. So I have adopted goals involving trying to change the world so it is more like I want it to be. And that, it turns out, means making things nicer and safer for people. And it turns out that sometimes, the ability to behave in non-empathic ways to achieve those goals is a benefit. There’s some fascinating reporting suggesting that there are people in a number of fields, such as brain surgeons, who are unusually likely to have sociopathic traits, because they can’t do their jobs competently without them. I sort of get that. I see people who are crippled by doubt and indecision because if they screw up someone could get badly hurt. Well, yes, and if you do nothing someone could get badly hurt. Sucks to be you, I guess? Just make a decision and go with it.

Seeking excitement and challenge.

One of the things I’ve heard claimed is that at least some serial killers, etc., view “getting away with it” as a challenge. I can sort of get the idea of wanting a challenge. One of the reasons I find most modern “trolling” in MMOs annoying is the complete lack of effort or challenge. People enter a chat system which has hundreds of participants, say obviously stupid or abusive things, and then gloat about how they got responses. Uh. That’s sort of like bragging about your martial arts skills, then showing off a series of videos in which you hunch over and punch toddlers, who fall down. Toddlers of an age where they tend to fall down fairly often anyway, no less. Provoking people to react is not a major accomplishment. Provoking people to react without being personally engaged is utterly, totally, trivial, because being disengaged offends people in and of itself, and not being personally engaged is extremely easy. (Well. It is for me, anyway.)

And this is where things start to come together a bit. I sort of get the idea of wanting to seek some kind of excitement or challenge. I enjoy the metagame of old-school “trolling” in the form more typical of Kibology. And then there’s the bullies. See, the thing about bullies is, at least some of them are pretty sociopathic, or at least, have disconnected enough from what they’re doing that they aren’t emotionally engaged, making it hard to have any effect on them.

And a thing which is hard to do could be a challenge, and thus a thing which is interesting. A thing which might be fun. And as a side-effect, well, any time a troll spends fighting me, they are spending not fighting other people, most of whom are frankly going to be easy pickings for a troll.

Kaiju

So tying this together: It occurs to me that, at some level, Godzilla may not be primarily interested in defending Japan, so much as in beating down other kaiju, because they’re the only things it’s interesting to fight. And maybe that defends people, but the real point of it is just finding something that it takes some exertion to fight. Something challenging, and fun. Fighting bullies is an opportunity to let loose and be as destructive as I want without worrying too much about people getting hurt.

With slight apologies to Nietzsche: Whoever is already a monster should see to it that he fights monsters. And if I gaze long enough into the abyss, the abyss is gonna break eye contact first.

Peter Seebach

Comment [3]

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Human nature

(Religion)

2013-11-23 18:56
Comment

People talk a lot about human nature, often fairly cynically. I do it too. People say things like “in theory, only people who actually need the aid are supposed to apply for it, but human nature being what it is, lots of people apply fraudulently”. And, barring some dispute over what constitutes “lots” of people, that kind of thing is true. It really is the case that people steal, that people commit violent crimes. It is true that people try to get ahead without regard for others, and even at other people’s expense. It is the truth, and nothing but the truth… But it is not the whole truth.

This guy I know recently wrote a blog post entitled, and I quote, Amazingly good things wow oh my god. Theo’s a nice guy. He’s not rich or famous, he’s just some guy. Going around being a person, meeting other people, and doing people things.

So here’s a little snippet of his story from that particular day (edited to remove a last name):

So my friends come out of the cafe with some other peeps and they all get into conversing so I go inside to sit with Dan and Alex, who were reading and talking and playing chess. A few minutes go by as I watch Dan dance all over Alex’s face and checkmate him when a dude walks in. His eyes are bloodshot and tired, he’s wearing some raggedy clothes, and he walks up and asks us “hey, man, you got a couple bucks you can spare so I can get something to drink or eat?” I of course proceed to hand him what cash and change I have in my pockets, an impressive 2 dollars and something, and he thanks me and goes up to the counter, but the stuff is still too expensive for him and he starts walking away dejectedly when I’m like “hey, man, I can get you something. Want a coffee and a bagel? It’s cheap, and I got it covered.” He thanks me and takes the coffee but passes on the bagel, so I grab it and a while later I’m talking to him and the dude’s not wearing socks and it’s been raining and it’s almost freezing so I ask him if he wants my socks, but he doesn’t take them and I ask him if I can buy him some and he just nods his head and says something to the effect of “I don’t know if they’d have them, but can we go down to the 7-11 and check? They have those sweaters and hats maybe they’ll have socks, too.” I don’t go to 7-11s very often, so it was worth a shot. We start walking, and he tells me his name is Bruce, and starts telling me his life story, how he got homeless, how his parents were dead and he walked 10 miles from where he had been staying at a motel that he’s been making his home for 50 bucks a week or something (I don’t remember because I’m a terrible person) that had finally kicked him out because he couldn’t find and another job, to downtown Grand Rapids where he could have a chance to panhandle some money to get a bus ticket to Muskegon.

Like I said, Theo’s just this guy. He’s not some saint who’s spent years in a monastic order training for compassion. He’s just some ordinary guy, but since he noticed that the guy he was talking to had no socks, and it was cold, he tried to help. It’s sort of surprising, because mostly people don’t do that. But I assert that this isn’t because human nature isn’t like that; I think it’s because our culture spends so much time teaching people not to do things like that. People are told all about how it’s irrational, and it won’t work, and it won’t make a difference anyway, and so on. They’re told to watch out for themselves. And the people advocating this just sort of ignore the question of what to do about the guy with no socks.

The story continues. Bruce eventually gets a ride to Muskegon, which is a nice thing if you happen to want to go there. Theo is happy because he got to make a difference. And I get a chance to ramble on about how human nature is not always such a bad thing, perhaps.

Peter Seebach

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