— Peter Seebach
So, there were bombs in Boston recently. You may have heard. And there are people in Boston, and a lot of them feel that this is sort of a thing which affects them. It may in fact affect them significantly. And if they run, say, a company, one of the obvious things to do would be to collect some money and donate it to a charity.
One such company is Turbine. They make MMOs, most notably Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online. I play DDO. It’s a fun game. And they’re doing some stuff pertaining to the bombings, like donating to the One Fund.
But there’s an issue. See, Turbine’s primary way of selling things isn’t dollars. It’s “Turbine Points”, or TP. You can buy TP for dollars; the conversion rate depends on how many dollars you spend. Sometimes there are sales where the conversion rate is different. Sometimes there’s deals where, say, buying a particular thing entitles you to buy TP at a particularly good rate. If you maintain a “VIP subscription” to one of their games, you get additional points over time. And, perhaps most interestingly, you can generate the points simply by playing the game. As your hero makes a reputation in the world, you are occasionally given small additional pools of points. (I’m told that people have worked out a way in which you could unlock all of the “premium” content by playing the content you get access to for free.)
So, they are selling in-game “ribbons”, at a price of 100TP. There’s a coupon to get them free if you want, but if you don’t use the coupon, you spend 100TP.
Now, obviously, the intent is that the proceeds would go to the charity, right? Only. We don’t know how to define “the proceeds”. If I spend 100TP on a ribbon, how much is that in dollars? I have no idea. I don’t think the question is well-defined. And I suspect the charity would not be particularly happy with a donation of “100 Turbine Points”, because they’re not a very negotiable currency.
Consider the simple case: I go to their store, I spend $20, I get 1,550 points. I buy 15 ribbons. I’ve clearly spent most of $20 on ribbons, right? Okay, now say instead I spend $200, and get 23,000 points. I buy 15 ribbons. 1500/23,000ths of my $200 comes out to about $13.04. Have I spent $13 on ribbons? Probably.
Now, what if six months ago I spent $50 on points, so I had 5,000. Since then I’ve picked up 3,000 points that were given as bonuses from my $10/month subscription, and I bought a $10 expansion pack code that included 500 points, and I’ve been adventuring a lot and my characters have earned me 750 points, and I’ve spent 6,000 points on stuff in their store. So that’s 3,250 points left. And I spend 1500 of them on ribbons.
How much was that in dollars? I have no idea.
One simple approach: We sum all the expenditures, and assume that’s the cost of the points. So that’s $120 of spending, for 9,250 points. Only the subscription and the expansion pack thing both contained things other than points. And I don’t know what those things are worth. And it gets more complicated.
Let’s look at an easier case. I spend $200 on points, getting 23,000. I then spend 22,000 points on various in-game shinies. I have 1,000 points left, which cost me roughly $8.69. Now I spend another $50, and get 5,000 points. I now have 6,000 points left. I have spent $250 on points, getting 28,000 points — 112 points to a dollar. But the points I have right now are 6,000 points which cost $58.69 — only 102 points to a dollar.
Which is to say: There is no way to make a sensible decision as to what the “proceeds” of such a sale are. No definition is unambiguously correct.
Turbine’s solution is to admit this, and say that they are making a donation out of their own funds, and they are not trying to exactly tie the amount of that donation to the sales of ribbons. And a lot of customers are mad at them for this, because they want to know where their money is going. And I don’t entirely blame them for wanting to know, but… It’s not possible. So I’m gonna go with “I think these people care more about this issue than they do about trying to cheat their customers.” And probably buy some ribbons.
— Peter Seebach
A poster on tumblr recently expressed some unpopular views; to wit, the hope that Dzokhar Tsarnaev would escape and never be captured or killed. Lots of people have expressed the hope that he’d be captured alive, and some have hoped that he might one day be rehabilitated. Not so many have thought to show off their empathy by hoping a killer escapes to kill again.
There’s a lot to be said for trying to care about people whom everyone else does not care about. It is, in principle, a good idea. It can be the thing that provides a path to redemption in an otherwise horrible situation. However, that doesn’t mean that everything that looks like this is actually a good or healthy thing.
Occasionally, I see Christians who are starting to think a little more thoroughly about their beliefs come to wonder what the right response to the Devil is. One answer, which I personally quite like, is “to love him, and pray for his redemption.” After all, we were asked to love our enemies. Not just the easy ones. Not just the weak ones that aren’t a threat. And from that, you can get to a stage of thinking that it might be quite reasonable to love, and hope for the redemption of, just about anyone.
In Diane Duane’s “young wizards” books (So You Want To Be A Wizard and its sequels), the canonical greeting given to the Lone Power is “Greetings and defiance, fairest and fallen.” The key point I wish to call your attention to: “and defiance”. To love an evil person is not to love their evil, or to make excuses for it, or to paper over it. You have to accept and acknowledge the evil, and to react to it in the best way you can — with unceasing opposition.
The problem with the poster on tumblr isn’t the notion of wanting to empathize with and care about a very troubled young man. It’s that, finding the man unlovable, she’s decided to ignore him and instead make up a fictitious man who is lovable, but not actually evil. She’s making excuses for his choices, and denying the reality. This does no one any good. There is no redemptive power in finding out that people have invented someone very different from you because they wanted to love something, and you were beyond their ability.
It is a good and noble thing to try to love people who are hard to love. Not everyone can do it. Virtually no one can do it all the time. And the thing is, if you can’t do it… Don’t fake it. Don’t pretend to love someone, while actually loving an imaginary thing you constructed because the real person was too horrible. Recognize what you see, see it truly, and go from there. You may find that some people are beyond your ability to love. That happens. It’s okay; not everyone has to be a saint today. Keep being honest, keep plugging away, and you might get there. Give up on the honesty, and you won’t even be making progress anymore.
— Peter Seebach
So, I have ethernet, but I don’t always use it. If I’m not plugged in, I want my laptop to use the wireless. If I am, I want it to not use the wireless.
Some guy solved this.
His solution is pretty clever, but I’d point out a couple of quibbles: First, I’d probably use
LaunchAgents, for this so it’d be up before I logged in. I would NOT use
/System/Library either way; this is a local change and belongs in
/Library. Also, I put the script in
The gimmick is that the system can run a script any time the configuration changes, and the script can then, say, evaluate the current state of the wifi and ethernet connections, and select accordingly. This means that simply plugging or unplugging the Ethernet cable causes a toggle, which gets the result I want.
— Peter Seebach
While I was out picking up delicious pizza last night, I noticed that our local convenience store (Casey’s General Store) was doing fundraising for Autism Speaks. This makes me unhappy. On the whole, I like existing.
Autism Speaks is a pretty awful entity. First off, they are a classic money grab; the bulk of their money goes into fundraising and expenses, with very little going towards programs that are even nominally intended to actually benefit autistics. However, that’s the good news. Because their programs are by and large directed towards eradicating us, and many of us are unhappy with this. We do not want to be “cured”. We are not necessarily highly enthused about research on ways people could abort fetuses that might turn into autistic children, either.
Autism Speaks has a long history of excluding autistic voices. For a long time, they had no autistic participation whatsoever, and I think they now have a single token autistic involved in their work. They sued a 14-year-old autistic child for making a parody of their website. They refused to hire a woman when they found out she had an autistic child. They actively promote language designed to medicalize autism and present it as a horrible affliction from which people ought to be freed. This leads directly to increased hostility to, and discrimination against, autistic people.
I don’t think this is an accident. Their aggressive anti-autism propaganda benefits from any suffering associated with autism. If austistic people are discriminated against, that means they have bigger numbers to point to for how much worse off autistic people are, so they can make even scarier films about how horrible it must be for us to exist.
If you are looking to have a highly-recognizable charity affiliation, I think you have chosen reasonably well, except that Autism Speaks is starting to have a much worse reputation over time. Under the threat of having the only organization nominally speaking for us telling everyone that we are the horrible monsters that replaced the real children our parents could have loved, autistics have started organizing and educating the people around them, and most of the people I know are now aware that, by and large, autistic people find Autism Speaks a very threatening organization. And that tends to make them work out less well as a reputation booster.
If, on the other hand, you were looking to do something that actually benefitted autistic people, well. You pretty much got that one exactly wrong. I am not aware of a program or organization more hostile to us. If you would like to put some resources towards organizations that are actually interested in the wellbeing of autistics, I would call your attention to the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN), an organization mostly run by autistics who would like to be permitted to speak for themselves.
Thank you for your consideration.
(Submitted via contact form, also posted on my blog.)
— Peter Seebach
There is a fascinating dialect quirk which has caused occasional confusions, which I think ought to get talked about. Many people who learned English in India tend to use the word “doubt” where most other English speakers would use “question”. I have been told that this is because, in one of the common languages around there, there’s a single word which is the best translation for both “doubt” and “question”, and people get told to translate it to “doubt”.
This occasionally causes confusion, because doubts and questions are not the same thing in English. For one thing, a question is a request that someone else provide information. A doubt is merely an uncertainty. For another, “doubt” has the connotation that you have been given information already, but think it may be incorrect.
What this means is that if you haven’t already got at least some information, it is at the very least highly unidiomatic to say you have a “doubt” about a topic. And if you have got some, there’s a worse landmine: The connotations of “doubt” allow it to be used as a way to not quite explicitly accuse someone of lying. If someone tells you something, and you say you have a doubt about it, you are asserting that you do not find what they told you believable for some reason. This requires that they are mistaken or lying, and a lot of the time, being mistaken about an issue would imply lying about one’s expertise or competence. Especially with technical issues.
If you have an awareness that you do not fully understand something, call it “uncertainty”. If you have a desire for other people to tell you about something, or tell you more about it, call that “a question”. Only call it “a doubt” (or doubts, plural) if you have information but suspect that it isn’t true.
A lot of people will know what you mean anyway, especially if you have other similar signs of English as a second language and they’ve encountered the idiom before, but even then, using the same word for all of these different things reduces the clarity of your communication. Every time you make people guess at your meaning, you create doubts…
— Peter Seebach
Music tends to rely heavily on the use of recognizable themes; little bits and pieces of melody and/or rhythm which are repeated to create consistency in structure. In the simplest form, a theme may simply be repeated. The “rounds” often used in early music classes add the complexity that each part may be at a different point in the theme than the others, but all the parts are still the same. The famous example is “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, a piece of music which still has the power to enthrall children up through the age of seven or so, but tends to pale a little after that.
What really makes themes interesting, to me, is that they are subject to variation. You don’t just play the exact same melody over and over; rather, you start seeing different presentations of the theme, pieces of it taken individually, or presented in a different order. Changes in key, changes in progression, notes added and removed.
And this leads to one of my favorite forms of music, the fugue. I love me some fugues. My favorite ever is the Little G Minor fugue (link is to a video showing the MIDI notes in color and space rather than in musical notation; this can be really helpful if you want to visualize what’s happening).
Now, here’s the thing. If you were to take the main theme of that piece, and just repeat it a lot, you would not end up with nearly as awesome a piece of music. The inclusion of things which are not the theme, and especially of things which are similar to the theme but not quite identical, is not some sort of newbie error. Bach did that to highlight and strengthen the theme.
So, where am I going with this? When you have a clear theme or pattern, it is easy to identify when something does not quite follow the theme, and then easy to assert that this is an error; that one has “failed” to follow the theme. And I am arguing that it’s not necessarily an error, or a failure to conform. It may be a variation, intended to reflect, and highlight, and support that theme.
I occasionally encounter people who insist that, for instance, marriage which does not fit a particular model of “traditional” marriage (roughly as practiced in the US in the 1950s, only with more divorce), is a “deviation” from God’s Plan for Marriage. And I don’t believe that, because I don’t think God writes plans with all the subtlety of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”. Let us stipulate for the sake of argument that there is a Divine Plan of “marriage” which is one man, and one woman, who are married until one of them dies. What should we make of all the other things we see, which are similar enough to be recognizable, but not quite exactly fitting that theme? Are they “deviations” from that? Not always, certainly. Sometimes, they are variations on that. They are things which, while different from the theme, reflect the theme’s essential character. They are things which allow people who might otherwise be outside the plan’s scope to find that they are in the plan after all.
So when people get divorced, the Plan is that they are done — they have failed at marriage, and it’s over. Indeed, the Catholic Church still won’t perform a marriage for someone who’s been divorced, in general; you have to get an annullment declaring that you were definitely not actually married before. And many people do feel that remarriage is in some way invalid. But our society, as a whole, has come to think that letting people remarry after a divorce is not such a bad thing. It’s not exactly the same as the original marriage, but it’s a fundamentally similar thing, so similar that we call it by the same name and give it the same legal and social treatment, in general. It serves the same role in our society. Perhaps more importantly, it draws people in and includes them.
Our society is starting to recognize that the same principle applies to marriages with two men, or two women, instead of one of each. They may not be identical to the form we’re most familiar with, but they are clearly related to it and built on it. With rare exceptions, even people vehemently opposed to legal recognition of these relationships seem to acknowledge that life-long committed romantic relationships between two men or two women are fundamentally similar to marriage, arguing only that they are defective in a way which should exclude them from legal recognition. But the fact is, they aren’t defective. They are not deviations from the theme; they are variations on it. They may differ in some ways from the theme, but they reflect it and harmonize well with it. They make our culture and our world richer. They are a new voice joining the fugue, revealing that what seemed like a complete and coherent whole had still more space for additions which contributed depth and vibrance to the experience.
— Peter Seebach
As commented previously, there’s a lot of outrage because a couple of kids who raped underage girls got sentenced as though they had comitted a crime.
First, some baseline facts:
- These kids identified themselves as “the rape crew”.
- These were not crimes of opportunity, but premeditated setups.
- They openly bragged about what they’d done, until someone revealed that you could in theory get in trouble for raping people.
- The boy whose house the rape occurred in was not charged. His mom is the prosecuting attorney for the county…
- I’ve read allegations that she also tried to pressure the victim not to press charges.
- The victim was drunk, and possibly drugged, enough that she didn’t know what happened until she saw pictures and heard comments through social media.
Now, normally, if you have people demonstrating a clear plan of arranging to get someone unconscious enough to be unable to even comprehend what’s happening, let alone consent to it, that’s considered pretty good evidence of bad intent. But! This happened in a big football town, and the boys are big football stars. So there’s a ton of commentary from various bystanders (mostly apparently unaware of the details of the case) asserting that it was just a girl who got herself drunk and then regretted her actions the next day, not “rape” at all.
There’s a lot of problems with this; for one thing, do we generally expect a sixteen-year-old to be competent to manage her alcohol intake? Do the allegations that she was drugged, not merely drunk, matter?
But you can see the real nature of the problem through a little thought experiment: Imagine that the crime weren’t rape. Imagine that it were basically anything else. Say… Theft.
So, consider the hypothetical town of Bustenville, a small town with a very popular and avidly-watched youth hockey league. It comes out that some of the players on the hockey league have taken to calling themselves the “mugging crew”. What they do is, they have parties, and arrange for people at those parties to get really drunk — so drunk they can’t remember what happens — and then take all their valuables. Cash, jewelry, and so on. They post pictures of this, they talk about it, they brag about how much money they’re taking in. And finally one of the victims comes forward and complains. Videos and pictures are recovered showing the unconscious victim and the “mugging crew” lifting cash out of the victim’s wallet. It comes to trial, and the kids are found guilty of having stolen money from their victims, on the grounds that they took money without any consent from the victims.
Would you expect to see dozens of posts on social media sites defending the kids? Calling it youthful hijinks? Explaining that the people they took the money from were probably just really generous and then regretted it the next day?
No, you wouldn’t.
If these kids had killed someone, you might see attempts to claim it was a tragic accident, but if they had been calling themselves “the murder crew”, and talking about it and planning it and posting pictures, and making it clear that the resulting death was an outcome considered in advance and actively sought… Do you think you’d see a lot of people outraged at the suggestion that they could be called “murderers”? No.
And that’s the point of the little thought experiment. What’s happening here is not that these kids are facing unfair charges. It’s that people have very different standards for rape, which are mostly that they don’t think it’s all that serious. Change it to theft or murder, and the general feeling is that people who commit crimes are criminals. Change it to rape, and suddenly there’s a lot of people who think it’s horrible that these boys will be known as rapists. Well, maybe they’ll be known as rapists because they are.
I’ve been told that the distribution of rape among rapists follows a power law distribution. I can’t find a way to verify that — because it’s really hard to construct search terms that involve “rape”, “power”, and “law” and have to do with distribution curves rather than legalities or imbalances of strength or capability. But it seems pretty reasonable. I am pretty sure I don’t know any guys who have comitted any rapes. I certainly don’t know any who brag about it. On the other hand, if these kids hadn’t gotten in trouble, do you really think they’d have stopped?
That said, there is one point where I think it makes sense to suggest that maybe people other than these kids are at least a little culpable. Where the hell were the adults? Why was the football coach threatening people who asked questions about this rather than getting involved and investigating the students? Why was the mom, who is presumably at least basically aware of the law, not more involved in finding out what was happening and educating her kids? Why were multiple parties acting to defend these kids, and help them cover things up, rather than cooperating with getting them busted?
Heck if I know. But I’d guess the very sympathetic reporting about the horrible loss of these kids’ football careers is a factor.
— Peter Seebach
I used to be pretty skeptical of the notion of “rape culture”. The idea that there was a strong cultural bias towards excusing, justifying, and overlooking rape struck me as, frankly, insane. I have since been reminded: Humans are, in fact, generally insane.
The linked article captures the essence of “rape culture” in a way that is clear, simple, and direct. A couple of rapists got sentenced to jail time. The news coverage on this is about how horrible it must be for them. See, they were football players, and they were popular, and they will now be in jail long enough that they are unlikely to get good scholarships and go to college and maybe get to make a name for themselves in college football. This, we are explained, means that their lives are falling apart. And that is a grave and serious tragedy, that these promising young men will suffer so.
Seriously. People are distraught that rapists might do jail time.
If the argument were in terms of the need for restorative justice or rehabilitation or anything like that, hey, I could maybe get behind that. I am not at all convinced that punishment is a sound model for how to correct wrongdoing. But it’s not. It’s just that these kids are losing out on opportunities because of our society’s mysterious belief that raping a sixteen-year-old girl is in some way a bad thing. None of the distress has to do with the suffering of their victim, or the problems in a society that led them to think that this behavior could be remotely acceptable. No, it’s just that it’s tragic when rapists get caught and face some kind of consequence for their actions, because these kids were promising football players.
In America, it is a tragedy if a football player goes to jail for rape before making enough money playing football to never have to work again.
Dear Mister Rogers, please pray for us sinners.
— Peter Seebach
I was, at one point, derided for attempting to explain intersectionality (the awareness that people might be “privileged” in one category, but “opppressed” in another) to someone who was, I was informed, an autistic female person of color, and thus presumably aware of it. But given that I was explaining it in response to an allegation that white males cannot comprehend oppression, I somehow suspect the awareness had not quite percolated through to application.
There is a widespread understanding that, since women and minorities are oppressed, white males do not experience oppression. At least in the US, it is generally true that no one is oppressed particularly for being white or male. (There may be exceptions, but we can ignore them for the purposes of this point.) But, at the same time, obviously some are oppressed; they might be gay, or trans, or autistic, or in any of a number of other categories which are actually subject to oppression. And people who talk about this stuff a lot certainly know that. So why do they keep forgetting it? Why do they keep assuming that any white male is necessarily unaware of what it is like to be oppressed?
Allow me a moment of digression. One of the reasons many people are so vehemently opposed to gay rights is that they think gays are disgustingly sex-obsessed. I’ve never seen anything to make me believe that gay people are particularly more sex-obsessed than straight people, and honestly I doubt I’ve ever met gay people who think about gay sex as much as the folks at Focus on the Family appear to. But this belief is common enough to inspire the question: Where does this come from?
I think the answer is simple: It’s the fallacy of division. If the category “gay people” is defined entirely by sexual orientation, then presumably the members of that category are defined by sexual orientation. These are people whose defining trait is their sex lives; that would make them pretty sex-obsessed. And as long as you are thinking about them in terms of their group membership alone, you have no other traits to consider that might make them seem different. (Kahneman refers to this as the “what you see is all there is” error; since you only have one piece of information about these people, it is presumed to be the most important piece of information.)
And once you have that notion in mind, the problem of the always-privileged white males is explained; if all you know about them is that they are in two privileged categories, and you don’t know about any other categories, there’s nothing telling you that any given member of the category is in any particular oppressed category, and there’s certainly a possibility that some aren’t in any oppressed category we know of. And there might be some who are oppressed, but we don’t know how many, or which ones. Simplest answer is that white males are not oppressed.
This is precisely as true as the theory that gay males are obsessed with and defined by their sex lives, and appeals to the mind for the same reasons.
— Peter Seebach
Occasionally people mention the importance of “curing” autism, and a lot of autistic people usually react with a little concern; while the strangers who would replace us may be very nice people, they are not us.
Someone asked Jesse about this on tumblr, and I’m just gonna quote the conversation because it’s persuasive:
hey so in response to the “cure for autism”, now im not autistic so i dont have very much right to speak for anyone, now my cousin is severely autistic, all he can really do is moan and yell with a few words, but mostly talks through pictures, now what do you think about giving the “cure for autism” to those folks? as it would help them function on their own? it seems like its a huge disability for them??
i think, if it existed, you’d have to ask him, not me. he’s a person and should be allowed to make his own decisions, even if he has to communicate them to you in pictures.
just because you don’t understand him doesn’t mean he’s not human.
i never said he wasn’t a person i was simply wondering about if you think it would be good for him, as i was asking your opinion, as if if you were in his position would you want it? or even if he would grasp the concept and what it means, as a lot of what we do must be extremely strange to him!
i’d like you to take a step back and look at this conversation from a bit of a distance, if you can.
you’re asking me, a stranger on the internet, what is best for your own cousin, whom you know personally.
you’re asking me whether a person i’ve never met would ‘grasp the concept’ of his own autism and whether he would want it changed. you’re not asking him, because he communicates in pictures. because you don’t understand his language, you’d take a stranger’s opinion over his, when he himself is the topic under discussion.
this is why we hate Autism Speaks. because they have this attitude. ‘they’re so impaired they don’t even understand the conversation, so we’ll just talk about them over their heads, and make decisions about them without consulting them.’ the fact that you’re asking a mildly autistic guy what’s going on in a strongly autistic guy’s head doesn’t really change what’s going on here.
i’m not going to flip out and call you ableist or whatever, because i don’t want you to feel bad, i want you to understand. if you aren’t willing to learn how he wants to communicate, then you need to stop having opinions about him. or asking other people to have opinions about him. his situation is only any of your business if you make the effort to understand him. has anyone even given him a text device? does he get enough quiet time to ever recover from overload? are people driving him silent by constantly pushing him to fake ‘normal’? i don’t know! do you know?
there is no ‘cure’ for autism. it’s purely hypothetical. but there are definitely ways to make it a whole lot worse, and a whole lot of people with autistic friends and relatives systematically do those things that make it worse, and then they think the reaction to this well-meaning abuse is what autism is. you’re talking like your cousin is severely retarded, like he has no actual thoughts, like he’s some half-sentient animal. but some ‘severely autistic’ people who supposedly can’t communicate… turn out to be able to type quite coherently if people stop doing ‘quiet hands’ and forcing them into public and making sudden noises around them!
tl;dr: i’ve never met the guy. you tell me.