Tell Don’t Show

Continuing my closing tabs blogging series…

Here’s a small rabbit hole I went down, originally looking at how “show, don’t tell” isn’t objective writing advice, but the result of CIA anti-communist propaganda. (Full disclosure: I was definitely super pro show don’t tell. As of now, I barely write so I have no writing philosophies. But when I watch TV, I do prefer economical story-telling and that typically means I don’t enjoy too much exposition, but I suppose a little tell can go a long way.)

The CIA Battled the Kremlin With Books and Movies (this one is related bashing of show, don’t tell)

Also, I might get these two books:

The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters by Frances Stonor Saunders
The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing by Mark McGurl

Social and Kids

Found this article very interesting. I read it with Stevie: What I Gave My Kid Instead of a Smart Phone.

Might get an art table for Fiona. Will have to discuss this with other parents too I suppose. I don’t want to be alone on this. (Part of discussing this also means getting a broader support system for myself as a parent.)

On a related note, I can’t imagine giving my kid access to YouTube given all the terrifying shit on there.

Stevie and I recently did a digital detox. I’m failing at reintegrating digital stuff into my life. Kinda binging now. This blogging is an attempt to close some open tabs so that I don’t get distracted when I use Safari on my phone.

Sorry, no deeper thoughts on this. Just wanted some way to record that I read this besides leaving an open tab or saving it on a bookmark and never revisiting it.

I want to get my own digital life in order before I figure out how I’ll handle my kid’s. Luckily, I have years.

CRDT Rabbit Hole

I went down this rabbit hole looking at Conflict-free Resolution Data Types. Needed some place to put these links and here will suffice. I think distributed is the future of the web and it won’t be blockchain. Anyway, still in initial research phases. Maybe automerge is the future of AIC.

Distributed Systems and the End of the API

Good Morning, Apocalyptic Sky

The haze is unsettling. The sun is trying to shine through and the room is filled with this eerie red light. I remember the first time this happened, after the big fires. The air quality was terrible for days. I wondered if the sky would ever return, or if this was my new normal. Eventually, the sky turned blue again, I rejoiced, and promptly forgot about it.

But here it is again, and it’s clear that this is the new normal. California is burning. A whole city has been razed. The residents are climate refugees, even if that terminology hasn’t entered the popular lexicon. Puerto Rico and other islands in the gulf were smashed by a hurricane.

I predicted this, but I thought that these changes would happen on a longer time scale. We talk about climate change as if it’s this future disaster we must save our descendants even though it’s happening right now. We’re already living through the apocalypse. Already, some changes are irreversible, locked in. The best we can do is hope to avoid even worse disaster, but the time horizon for political change is too long, exceeding the time we have left. We no longer have decades.

How can I not feel despair? How can I not choke on this air and think anything but that humanity is truly fucked?

Gaming as a Parent

Being a parent has made me think differently about games.

The board games I’ve played tend to be longer, complex and immersive experiences. My favorite game right now is Spirit Island, which I haven’t played since Fiona was born. My other favorite game, The Resistance, is a social deception game, but it requires a long time commitment as well. You have to be paying attention every moment. The last game night I had with fellow parents, we played Pictionary. In between rounds, we snacked and took care of the babies. Finishing the game was not really important, and we may have switched teams at some point. So I need games that are more interruptible — discrete actions are shorter and you don’t have to pay so much attention the whole time, so there are more natural breaks — and/or ones where players can drop in and out more easily. Usually, dropping in and out would break the game. With Resistance, everything would be immediately imbalanced; it wouldn’t work. It’s probably be easier to accomplish this with a co-op game. The best game for dropping in and out is something like Codenames. As long as you still have one teammate, something can still happen. You can easily come back by being reminded of the clue. You may miss some context (like if the other team was contemplating a card so you want to avoid it), but it’s easy for teammates to provide when needed.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about asymmetry. A lot of board games are designed either as complex games for adults or easy games for children. Cartoons will sometimes have jokes only parents can appreciate, or good stories that work for both parents and adults. So, if I have a board game, are there games that have complex strategy for the parents and fun tasks for children. One time we played Codenames, we improvised and let a kid do the pointing; it’d be nice to have this kind of thing built-in. The same applies to video games. Fighting games tend to favor the more skilled, and they introduce balance with more randomness (like turning items on) which isn’t fun for those who want to hone their skills. Co-op platformer games are less forgiving for those who aren’t as good. They’ll have to be carried and can get bored. Or they have different characters that do different things but are still balanced. I want a game less balanced. For example, let one character work hard and let one character be basically invincible so the kid can play too.

Some Updates

Fiona is smiling and “talking” which is just so much fun. Her crying is more varied and expressive — she makes noises that are upset but not crying — but I still have trouble telling the difference between tired, hungry, and bored. She finds it really amusing when I scat. It’s so bizarre. It so far never fails to make her smile. She doesn’t laugh, but she has behavior that seems to indicate she finds it funny. I found this out after shuffling through various weird noises playing with her IKEA bug mobile. I always wondered about those studies that infer a lot of baby behavior just based on how long they stare, but babies really do stare really hard at things they find interesting.

I’m currently looking for a new job, which at this stage is mostly answering emails and talking to recruiters. A few things look promising.

I’m still teaching this year, although I feel less prepared than usual. I want to make changes to the curriculum. It’s hard, though, to reify my ideas/wants. I’ve had trouble making the time to do this between baby-care and the phone calls. The calls don’t take up much time, but they really disrupt the day. It’s also difficult not to experience some amount of anxiety before and after, which doesn’t me get on track. (I suppose some anxiety is natural because of the stakes and I’m early in the process so I’m still stumbling. I also just usually experience anxiety about talking on the phone though.)

I’m having some thoughts right now about what I want out of the class and I think it’s just that the traditional classroom structure feels so stifling after following some people on twitter. Yet, I remember taking a baby class and feeling relieved that I was receiving direct instruction and I didn’t really need things to be too student-lead because a designed curriculum was reassuring. When the problem space is so large, it helps to have someone lead you through it. I’m also struggling with the tech stack. Like, the reason for teaching PHP is actually very pedagogically solid. The initial learning curve is easier, which fits the 6-week accelerated model. But PHP doesn’t bring me joy. I think RoR might be too much to grok, and when I used Sinatra, I had to do too much reinventing of the wheel. Perhaps Django could be an alternative? I haven’t used it. The JavaScript space is also rapidly evolving. ES6, to me, has radically changed JavaScript syntax. jQuery is losing steam, while React is king. I don’t have enough experience with component based frameworks to judge them, but they feel too enterprisey, and I just want kids to be able to build fun toys, not worry about fitting into a job. The class also really crystalized into working by oneself on class exercises, and so the daily agendas need revision to make things more social. I’ve also been thinking about how tech needs more of the humanities, especially lately with all the talk about privacy, worker rights, and gentrification. Luckily, I have models for injecting that into the class, but how do I do that and keep all the programming topics? Also, I hate grading and kinda wish that at some point in the future I could get rid of it completely.

My parents might move, which is something that hangs over my head but I usually try to ignore.

I’ve also lost a few family members semi-recently (my last grandmother and Stevie’s uncle) and I’ve barely let myself feel bad about it. I didn’t have a great relationship with my grandmother, but it still sucks.

When it comes to politics, I feel like I’ve picked up a lot of vocabulary. However, I don’t feel like my actions necessarily live up to my principles, nor do I feel like my principles are well thought-out. I credit twitter with a lot of learning, but in a lot of ways, it’s probably holding me back from thinking deeper. I often think about taking a break, but I never pull the trigger. I wanted to do Lent. That did not happen. I’m also often tempted to just delete everything off my phone altogether. I can’t switchover to a dumb phone, though, because I need maps. I have no sense of direction. (See, I always think of exceptions.) Or maybe I should ditch the phone altogether because it’s essentially a tracking device? I should read more books — to think deeper, and to model being a reader for Fiona.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned here that I do a podcast. It’s called TV Analysis with Whisper and Trouble, and it’s on iTunes. Me and Jason talk about TV shows that we watch. We try to focus more on discussing themes than on recaps and nitpicking. It’s not bad, in my opinion. If we kept at this for like two years, I think we could be really good.

What I’m Watching Now

Mostly I’m watching FX and HBO.

I’m watching Atlanta, the best show on TV right now. Love it so much. This season has met all my expectations. I’m also watching Legion, another FX show, which is a lot of fun. Kinda self-indulgent, although it has taken until episode 5 for me to get enough Lenny and Oliver.

Silicon Valley has surprisingly managed to stay relevant, with references to dumb pizza apps and crypto. It’s take on tech is usually good, but it was wrong about crypto being anonymous. Westworld is… I still feel like the flaws of Westworld haven’t been fixed, but I’m still optimistic.

Aggretsuko, on Netflix, was really good. I recently watched Dark (on Netflix) and Fortitude (on Amazon Prime). Oh and this season of Bob’s Burgers continues to be great. I could say more, but there’s other stuff I should be doing now.

Smart Lights

Imagine if Twitter controlled your light bulbs. You’d get up to poop one time at 3am, and then every night at 3am, your lights would switch on. You can never disable this setting. All you can do is hit “see less often” forever and ever in perpetuity.

Shaving my dad beard

Shaving my scraggly dad beard today. I haven’t shaved since my daughter was born and I have some gross looking half-Asian scruff. Whenever I watched makeover shows, I never really understood why people got emotionally attached to hair. But somehow, I got emotionally attached to my ugly beard. For two plus weeks, my only focus has been caring for my daughter, as a team with my wife. Shaving meant a return to outside responsibilities, doing taxes and fineing a new job. I can also be vain and it was nice to not worry about that. I do want to note how barbaric our society is, with short or nonexistent parent leave and then forcing women to bear the brunt of the work by having shorter paternity leave. Capitalism, man. Anyway, I’ll feel better once the beard is gone.


There’s a scene in Mindhunter — I have very few anecdotes these days that aren’t TV references — where a cop is trying to empathize with a mom who has an infant, telling her that him and his wife were zombies for the first few months from the lack of sleep. He mentions that people talk about the good about having a baby, but they don’t mention the bad. This show takes place in the 70s. I wonder if as a society we have overcorrected, or if I’m just exposed to the wrong kind of media, because I rarely hear about the good of having babies or even kids in general. Anyway, I’d like to hear more about the sunshine and roses that other people supposedly only hear.

Gummy Tummies

I ate a lot of Gummy Tummies today.

Related note: I rather miss those Trader Joe’s noodle boxes. I lived on them in college.

Another related note: I like the 7-11 gummy bears. They are cheap, squishy, and come in lots of flavors.

I’ve decided to blog about more mundane things, though not exclusively.

TV Top 12 for 2017

Here are my favorite shows for 2017. This list is kinda arbitrary. Ask me on a different day and I’ll probably switch the order. This is in order of my personal favorites, which doesn’t necessarily overlap with how good a season/show is. Gonna list the shows first, then give spoiler-filled commentary afterwards.

1. The Leftovers
2. Comrade Detective
3. The Young Pope
4. Bojack Horseman
5. Rick and Morty
6. Attack on Titan
7. Legion
8. Bob’s Burgers
9. Mr. Robot
10. GLOW
11. Steven Universe
12. The Good Place

Other shows I enjoyed: Game of Thrones, You’re the Worst, Silicon Valley, Veep, Insecure, Master of None
Unfinished, but enjoying: Mindhunter

If it’s not on the list, I either haven’t watched it or I forgot about it. In fact, as I was writing this, I had to add Bojack Horseman.


1. The Leftovers

The Leftovers, wow. Season 3 started airing and critics all loved it. I skipped season 1. Partially so I could catch up before it ended, and partially because Andy Greenwald didn’t really like season 1 and my tastes tend to align with his. Season 2 starts with kind of a soft reboot, so it wasn’t a problem for me figuring out what was going on. Season 2, which aired last year, is an almost perfect season of television. Season 3 is not as perfect, but I think season 3 sticks the landing perfectly for a season finale. It does ambiguity right. It’s kind of an anti-puzzle box show, I think. We don’t know if Nora really went to the other side or not at the end. I’ve convinced myself either way multiple times, and I love the show for it. You can look at the evidence either way, but there’s no mathematical formula to decide which one is correct. Part of the reason I convince myself either way is that both ways make sense thematically.

2. Comrade Detective

I had to rank it so high because it was just so different from anything else on TV. The premise is amazing and ridiculous. But then the show takes that ridiculous concept and plays it straight. It’s not really a parody. The acting is good, the voice acting doesn’t use any cheap jokes. The whole thing isn’t a laugh-a-minute jokefest. In fact, it’s less a parody of a pro-Communist show, and more of a funhouse mirror look at American propaganda. We get to see New York as a horrible place, depicted on a cheap set. Christianity is shown as a cult. Plus, the show has some really great lines, and I wish it was more well-known because the memes would be fantastic. I particularly loved Daniel Craig as the religious villain, and the stuff about Monopoly.

3. The Young Pope

This show surprised at every turn, without being about twists. Every time I thought I had the show figured out, it became a different kind of show. The acting is superb. I mean, Jude Law should get an Emmy just for that wink in the intro, haha. The show is gorgeous; it’s amazing how they created a Vatican City out of thin air. I almost put this as #1.

4. Bojack Horseman

I don’t know how this show gets stronger and stronger. It continues to do a good job having you empathize with Bojack being shitty but not excusing his shittiness. This season, we get to see more of Bojack’s family before he even existed and how the ghosts of the past affect his actions now. Also, I really, really like the Princess Carolyn episodes now. When this show is over, it’ll probably be one of the best ever. I’ve already watched each of the first three seasons probably three times each. And that’s actually watching, not leaving them on in the background while I wash dishes.

5. Rick and Morty

I feel weird putting it this high. The show is so popular now, and the fans so obnoxious, that it feels a little weird to be praising it this much. Part of the obnoxiousness has to be a function of the show because people can’t figure out that you shouldn’t emulate anti-heroes. (See also Breaking Bad, which is actually a pretty good critique of toxic masculinity. Bojack Horseman doesn’t fall into this trap because they make sure not to make Bojack cool. I read this somewhere, but don’t remember where.) But I think part of it has to just be because of its sheer popularity. Anyway, the season didn’t disappoint after a long hiatus. Pickle Rick was a highlight, not just for its inventive brutal violence, but for a surprisingly healthy take on therapy. Oh and it’s one of the funniest shows on TV.

6. Attack on Titan

This is ranked high merely because this was the show I most looked forward to watching every week. Every week, it left me wanting more. I dunno, it just got me hyped. I guess it was the action. I like the Titans as villains because the show doesn’t shy away from how grotesque they are.

7. Legion

This show was less convoluted than people thought it was. Plot-wise, and backstory-wise, things are actually very straightforward. But I liked what it did to put you in this confused mood, so that you could empathize with David. Mostly, I ranked it this high because I love Aubrey Plaza and she knocks it out of the park with her performance as the villain. Best villain of 2017, by far.

8. Bob’s Burgers

Recency bias helps put the show this high for me this year. I’ve just really enjoyed the new episodes I’ve been watching. The show leaves me with a smile on my face every time I get to the end credits and a goofy song is playing. The newest season has been really strong, and the Christmas episode was particularly awesome.

9. Mr. Robot

This season was really great. It feels like less people are watching the show because they didn’t like season 2. I still enjoyed season 2. Thematically, it was weird to make the whole struggle be about finding balance with Mr. Robot, and yet they aren’t working together at the end. So could’ve been better, I guess. Season 3 moves a lot faster. The use of the Knight Rider theme is one of my favorite TV moments this year. The highs this season are really high. The episode where E-corp’s building is attacked by protestors is an excellent piece of TV. I felt like I had to rank it high because it works as great TV. Still, I’m a little less enthused about this show because I feel like it has lost its revolutionary fervor. (It’s ultimately not that surprising for liberals to argue for the preservation of the status quo.) We’ll see what happens in Season 4.

10. GLOW

Hm, don’t have much to say about this show besides that I liked it. Alison Brie and the rest of the cast are great. The story they told was good. I do wish, though, that the rest of the ensemble could’ve gotten more story.

11. Steven Universe

Normally, I’d rank this show higher, but I looked at the actual episodes that aired in 2017 and they weren’t super impressive. The problem is that Steven Universe gets graded on a curve. Last year, had Mindful Education and Mr. Greg. This year, we got a lot of Lars. And while I am impressed how his character is developed and we get an empathetic look at social anxiety, Lars is still not my fav. And this is a ranking of my favs. Also, changing it so that Pink Diamond wasn’t killed by Rose Quartz was a bad move. I thought it brought a lot of complexity to Rose Quartz’s character and also made things interesting for Steven’s future choices.

12. The Good Place

Hard for me to figure out where to rank this because I’m talking about 2017, but this is a fall show, so am I judging this based on half of Season 1 and half of Season 2? Season 2 seems good so far, but I want to see where it goes before judging it more. Season 1 was great, and I actually binged all of it this year on Netflix. Anyway, this is probably the best non-animated sitcom for 2017. It’s a really fun show.

Other shows:

I thought Master of None had a strong season 2. It’s a show that takes risks and largely succeeds at trying different things. The thanksgiving episode was my favorite.

Game of Thrones is still as epic as it was, but it’s a more flawed show now that it has outpaced the source material. I don’t think this season was as bad as some people claim because I think its flaws this season are still the same flaws that its had before, aside from instantaneous dragon travel. It’s still one of the most impressive shows on TV. The Loot Train battle (what a fucking shitty name) had a great sense of drama and geography.

You’re the Worst had a solid season, after last season was a bit disappointing. Silicon Valley and Veep continued being good. I will miss Erlich a lot. I still really like Insecure but I wasn’t as excited about this season as last season for whatever reason. That’s not a critique. It’s a great show. And I liked it more on rewatch with my friends, than I did the first time around.

I decided not to put Mindhunter on the list because I haven’t finished it yet, but I am thoroughly enjoying it. It probably is one of Stevie’s top shows for the year.

I also finally gave in and watched Westworld. There’s a lot to like about the show, but I didn’t think the character arcs were particularly good.

Build Your Own Surveillance State

In case the video dies: Chinese surveillance cam tracking people and objects in what appears to be real-time.

I think you could actually build this off the shelf. AWS has Rekognition, which does object recognition and facial recognition. Well, I’m not sure it would be real-time, but you could get fairly close sending frames from a video. You could also build a database of faces just from scraping social media.

As for the phone, technology is getting close. iPhone 7 and up support ARKit. I believe ARKit just does surface recognition and the facial tracking is more for Snapchat-filter-esque stuff and only looks at one face at a time. iPhone 7 and up also is when we got CoreML, which means phones can run trained machine learning models. So, the tech is all there, I think, to be able to do this, but I don’t know if it can quite be done software-wise yet.

Anyway, we’re a short hop away from people running surveillance AR on their phones. This will be especially bad when cops can do it. Apps will be built for real-life doxxing from any rando on the street. The current crowd-sourced identification will be hyper-powered. Also, any store will be able to run surveillance AR and then connect that data to facebook to retarget.

One small note on accuracy:

These things won’t be 100% accurate. One of the most powerful uses of AI right now is FB’s advertising system. False positives aren’t that big a deal. It just means that someone was served your ad who wasn’t interested in your ad and they don’t click on it. But false positives in other instances can potentially be deadly. For example, facial recognition already is less accurate on black people because Silicon Valley is very white. Cops with real-time AR facial recognition could get the wrong people. This doesn’t mean we should try to make surveillance more accurate to help cops. I mean this more as a warning. That facial recognition will be less accurate, cops will not care, and it will be used to increase oppression.

I posted on facebook

Normally, I leave politics off facebook. Instead, I post on twitter, or my blog, or talk on Slack, where I feel better expressing more radical views. Way too much anxiety to post on facebook and I’d likely post in a way that would alienate people.

But I posted something that pointed out that the rally at Berkeley was pretty overtly a white supremacist rally (despite being labeled as pro-Trump vs. anti-Trump protestors by more traditional media), and that expressed solidarity with antifa. It got more likes than I thought it would. However, I think that’s because the latter portion was behind “See more,” so most people didn’t see that portion. I suspect most of my facebook friends are liberals, and they’re more mushy about violence being a legitimate tactic against violent oppressors.

Regardless of whether people saw it or not, it still was encouraging. I had another conversation in someone’s facebook comments where I expressed solidarity, and the person I was talking to was unsure about the efficacy of antifa tactics but at least refused to condemn the violence. I’ve also tried to open up a bit more about how I think the world will be radically reshaped (still working along that framework I posted), and I feel more confident.

I want to start posting more radical stuff on facebook, educating people about the unjustness of our current economic systems, the possible eradication of work, abolishment of the prison-industrial complex (not reform), direct democracy, and more. It makes sense to post here to figure out my thoughts first. I suspect I’ll have to be more gentle on facebook, so hopefully I don’t scare too many people away. My goal is to expose them to more radical ideas and tip them towards radical critiques of capitalism and imperialism. I want to expand the discourse leftward. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t.

So, here’s the actual text I posted:

Alt-right = white supremacist hate group. They were holding a white supremacist rally in Berkeley. Stop pretending this is some type of “both sides are bad” “clash between pro-Trump and anti-Trump protestors.”
Here are the ties between the speakers/organizers at the rally and white nationalism/neo-Nazis:…/
Here’s an alt-right flag based off a third reich flag:

Here’s somebody giving a Nazi salute:

Here’s them with an anti-semitic sign:

One of the groups organizing the rally was Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group:

You can’t just ignore them. Their candidate is president, enacting terrible policies. White terrorists like James Harris Jackson and Dylann Roof have killed people.
I support those who defended us from white supremacist scum. 🖤🖤🖤🖤🖤

Decentralization and Corruption in Alabama

This is a great article on the sources of corruption in Alabama.

Of course, the main part that interested me was the stuff on over-centralization.

The legacy of centralization is closely related to Alabama’s recent scandals, not just those in Birmingham. In most states, if a lobbying group wishes to gain influence, they not only lobby in the capital, but they must also go to areas where they hope to work and lobby the mayor, the county commissioner, and other local officials to gain their favor. In Alabama, only Montgomery’s voice matters, leading to a city populated by special interests. Mike Hubbard used this centralized system of favors and kickbacks for his own material gain.

This shows how a centralized system is more fragile to being taken over by special interests. They can buy less people in order to have their will enacted.

The centralization is also closely tied with racism and classism. Power was specifically centralized to lock out “poor whites [and] black voters.” Instead of being able to control their own lives, the state capital had control of the laws. Even more recently: “When Birmingham tried to raise the minimum wage, they were struck down by the state legislature.”

The project of decentralization is not a rationalist utopian project. It is a practical project against the fragility of centralization. Centralized hierarchies are more easily corruptible. I’m not saying that localized control cannot be corrupted, but that it would require much more power and money to control more territory. Decentralized control can create bulwarks against corruption, preventing corruption from spreading.

Giving control to cities like Birmingham would not erase class distinctions. However, they would at least be able to raise the minimum wage. This is not possible in their over-centralized system. This is why I advocate for city-power over state-power and what makes me uneasy about projects like Calexit. In fact, if you magically erased nation-states and allowed cities to collaborate, we would already have the political will to do something about global warming. Again, it’s not that decentralization would automatically solve the problem, but it would make it more likely to be solved. With the Birmingham example, specifically, a lot of people would be materially better off. It’s harder to achieve this on the state level because of the aforementioned corruption.

So now, with just this specific example of Alabama, we can point out that on a utilitarian level, lots of people would likely be materially better with a more decentralized system. We can also show that it’s much less fragile when it comes to corruption by the elites. When we extend the example to include the state-level disenfranchisement, we can also show that the people have more power in the decentralized system. They may not necessarily choose to make their lives better, but at least they have the option, whereas they didn’t before. Morally and practically, decentralization is a better option than what we have now.

The VPN Saga

Sometimes an easy task becomes a giant chore. Like, when you’re about to cook dinner, but then you need to wash a pot, but the sink is full so you have to clear out the sink, but the drying rack is full so you have to put away the dry dishes first… etcetera. Anyway, I thought getting a VPN would be an easy process, but alas, it would not be so. At some point, I decided that I should set it up on my router. That way, it would protect traffic from the chromecast and gaming devices. And, I wouldn’t run into the device limits. This decision led me down a deep rabbit hole.

I have an Asus RT-N56U. When I checked the router, it only had support for PPTP, which is less secure than OpenVPN. I upgraded the firmware, and still no luck. I guess my device was too old? Other Asus devices supported it. I seent the screenshots.

I had to start researching alternate firmware. There was AsusWRT, which didn’t actually support my router, so that was out. There was something from someone going by Padavan. but it seemed like a project done by just one person and I wasn’t sure how much I trusted it. It’s probably fine. However, the process of buying a VPN put me in a more paranoid, and I decided to keep looking.

I finally stumbled upon OpenWRT. As I dug deeper, I discovered that there were two versions of my router that were indistinguishable. One version supported OpenWRT and one, the newer one, didn’t. (Newer routers aren’t as hackable because of FCC regulations. They don’t want you changing the antenna to get to channels you’re not supposed to be on.) I didn’t know which one mine was. Finding out if mine was too old to be the incompatible one would help. I dug through my Amazon records to see when I bought it, but couldn’t find it. Eventually, I came upon a forum post pointing out that there were actually visual differences. Mine was the right one!

I borrowed a usb-ethernet dongle from a friend to flash the firmware. Otherwise, I would’ve been forced to dig up my old-ass windows laptop and wait 15 minutes for its physical-drive-having-ass to boot up.

The setup wasn’t too bad. Initially, I wasn’t sure whether to use tcp or udp. (TCP was right after a bit of research.) I installed sftp on the router, which wasn’t too difficult, to move files because I didn’t want to use scp. It worked, even with Netflix.

And then, Netflix stopped working. Proxy error.

There was no easy way to disable it. If I stopped OpenVPN, it restarted itself because of the scripts the vpn recommended to prevent leakage. And I didn’t want to delete everything. That would’ve been annoying. So, we went a few days without Netflix. What a dark time.

When I tried a different vpn server, after finally having some free time to fiddle, it still didn’t work. Did I want to give up on having a VPN altogether? Netflix and other services block VPNs to prevent getting around geolocking. They geolock because the rights to the content are different in different countries. People don’t talk about this enough. Most people aren’t going to inconvenience themselves this much for privacy.

I chose to sacrifice some of my security as well. I kept the vpn, but researched a way to allow netflix traffic through directly. It was a bit of a hassle. I had to set up another repo because the vpnbypass package wasn’t part of the official repo. It worked, though, and is still the set up I have now.

I have more thoughts on VPNs and selling traffic in general. However, I’ll save that for a separate post.

Chemical Weapons

The alleged use of chemical weapons by Assad is being used as a pretext to attack Syria. So I should be researching more about Syria, but instead I did a little digging on some other users of chemical weapons.

In 2004, the US used white phosphorus against insurgents in Fallujah. Initially, the US claimed that they weren’t using them against people, only for illumination. This was a lie.

During the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons. The US provided intelligence to Saddam, basically telling him where to use them. And they also provided other arms and sold materials to help them create chemical weapons. This wasn’t revealed until years later.

Um, so when are we getting regime change in the US, lol

Another thing that bugs me is that chemical weapons were sold as part of Saddam’s WMDs when the case for the Iraq War was made. However, that weapons program had been dismantled. When some remnants were found (that weren’t part of any active program), they were again touted as proof of WMDs when they couldn’t claim the nuclear thing anymore.

Assad supposedly had to end his chemical weapons program too several years ago. Yet here we go again. Maybe he didn’t get rid of them? Maybe he did? Now I see why people love conspiracy theories.

In any case, even when one can make the case about foreign dictators being bad, that still doesn’t necessarily justify invasion. In fact, the US keeps losing wars, the same way whitewashed Hollywood movies keep losing at the box office. Well, this is a terrible analogy because whitewashed movies don’t help create space for ISIS.

So yeah, I’m not too well-versed in the particulars of Syria, but I am generally against bombing, especially when it’s done unilaterally by a US president.

Clinton likely would’ve done the same, and pretty much said so in her last interview. Can’t wait to see all the Democrats, the press, and moderate Republicans start standing with Trump. This is why centrism is garbage because the main thing both parties agree on is killing people abroad.

Shows I’ve been enjoying

Some of my favorite shows for 2016:

People vs OJ
Steven Universe
Young Pope
Regular Show
The OA
Mr. Robot
Game of Thrones
Bob’s Burgers

This is just off the top of my head. There are other shows I liked but forgot to list and other shows that I haven’t watched yet. There are also shows that I like but didn’t have strong seasons in 2016 so I didn’t list them.

I also watched a lot of Mary Tyler Moore, a lot of Friends, and all of Seinfeld, which continues my sitcom education. I’ve previously watched all of Cheers and Frasier.

I’m currently really enjoying Legion.

The Future Looks Like This

This is incredibly inspiring: How Progressive Cities Can Reshape the World — And Democracy

I think this is what the future should look like. Smaller units of governance, with the ability to collaborate on larger levels. Smart use of technology to get closer to direct democracy, seeing what the people really want. It’s also a very practical guide, insofar as it looks to occupy current institutions and combine that with work outside those institutions. It also acknowledges our very real problems, whereas neoliberalism denies them. In that way, it presents a true alternative to the autocratic, xenophobic right-wing that’s gaining steam worldwide.

Gonna do more research.

Brave New War

I devoured, over two days, Brave New War by John Robb. If you want to understand how modern day conflicts are fought, this is a must-read. It came out in 2007 and is still relevant (helps explains Trump) and will be relevant for a long time. I also recommend his blog.

Not Going to Make a Go Pun Here

Crepes-a-Go-Go is moving from downtown to closer to San Pablo, near the library on University. When I talked to the owner, he said that some big New York developer had bought that entire block and kicked everyone out. They had been in that location for something like 29 years. He added that Berkeley isn’t a place for mom and pop shops anymore. Later, Stevie told me that she thought maybe the University had owned the land and then sold it to the developers. I don’t want Berkeley to get San Francisco-ized. Is there anything that can be done?

Not a Utopia

I believe society should provide for everyone’s basic needs. Everyone should have food, shelter, education, and mental and physical health care.

Some would call this utopian. I disagree. I would call it the bare fucking minimum for a just society.

Providing for basic needs wouldn’t solve a lot of humanity’s problems. We’ll still fight. There will still be a lot of injustice.

But it’s a necessary start. I truly believe that providing for basic needs instead of forcing people into wage slavery would unleash a lot of human creativity. It’s not about problems magically being solved, but allowing people to use more of their time and energy to start working on those problems.

It speaks to how poor our imaginations are that this counts as utopian thinking. There’s enough for everyone. We have the technology to provide for everyone and the technology to make the distribution possible. It’s all within reach. It’s not pie in the sky thinking. We live in an age where this is doable.

Note that I didn’t say we’d all be perpetually full and jolly. I didn’t say we’d all live in mansions with everything we want. It’s only the basic needs that I’m talking about right now. That’s not utopian at all and fuck capitalism for making us think that it is.

Twitch Plays Pokemon and New Forms of Government

I could see myself looking at back at this and thinking I was really stupid to write this, but I’m going to write it anyway. I already cringe at a lot of what I previously wrote anyway. Blogging is for this, I guess. Putting out your proto-thoughts into the void so that you can laugh at them later. No, really, though, this is helping me reason through things. And more importantly, get them out of my brain so I can move on to reasoning about newer things. I’ve mostly been focusing on trashing liberals because it helps me collect my thoughts so that I can be nicer on Facebook and push the conversation leftward without people muting me right away. When people are rehabilitating Bush (and even saying they’d rather have Nixon), I feel like this is important work. I use the word important very loosely. Please don’t think I’m that full of myself. Anyway, I do want to spend some of my brainspace thinking of more positive views of the future. Even if those first attempts are awkward. So here we go.

Twitch Plays Pokemon was a massive success in decentralized decision-making. In case you don’t remember, TTP was when someone hooked up a hacked version of the original pokemon game to Twitch and let people enter commands to play. It was chaos. Anyone who could chat could play. You typed in A, B, start, select, up, down, left or right and your command was put in the queue. When I first saw it, I was like, “Oh, haha, that’s neat” and then peaced out. I was later drawn back in after a co-worker told me that it was amazing. And indeed it was.

What emerged was strategy and mythology. People posted strategies on a subreddit. (I imagine everyone is familiar with reddit, but people were talking on a forum that was just for people playing TPP.) They proposed where what we should try that day. There were competing ideas. They were upvoted and downvoted accordingly. But in the end, the vote that mattered was the hive mind. People voted by posting the moves they wanted in the TPP chat. You could see the struggles. The character would move up and then down again and then up and slowly (or quickly) one side would win the tug of war. The hive mind moved it and it obeyed. The strategies were actually being executed. All this just from a bunch of people typing commands.

I remember in particular an argument about whether we should put a pokemon in the day care or not. I disagreed. The character wobbled back and forth as the argument raged on. I kept trying to push it in the opposite direction. But I could see we were losing. We made it to the day care and deposited a pokemon. You could feel yourself as part of this collective.

As the game progressed, people posted tactics too. Ledges are one-way barriers. To progress through the game, sometimes you have to make it through a pathway with ledges. If you drop down the ledge, then you have to go all the way back around. As you can imagine, this is a much more difficult task when you have a bajillion people typing in commands, not all of whom agree with the direction you’re going. At the beginning, people were spamming up to keep from being pushed down. Eventually, the tactics changed to where people were not spamming up because it actually made going through ledges harder. (I won’t bore you with the full details because I’ve probably bored you enough.) So, the collective intelligence managed to not only move around strategically, but it managed to get smarter and more efficient.

There were also trolls. Most of the people wanted us to beat the game. That was the goal. Some people didn’t want that. They’d do things like push us towards the computer and try to release pokemon. The collective pushed back, though. What made this so inspiring is that we won. In so many other arenas, trolls win. They poison the discourse and get people to leave. They harass and destroy. They graduate to doxxing and swatting and even shooting. But if you structure the rules correctly, anarchy can produce great results. You can win even with the participation of bad agents. More importantly, most of us wanted this to happen. It truly followed the will of the people. I remember being emotionally moved when we finally won. I stayed up late to watch. At the time, we had no idea if it was possible to win or not. We won, and it was a triumph against trolls everywhere.

I used the word anarchy earlier. It might be misleading to say it was all “anarchy.” To progress through the game, you have to get some stuff in the Safari Zone. It costs money to enter and you only get a certain number of steps. With the rules in place, we would’ve run out of money and then could never complete the game. So, the game was changed. A new mode was created. Democracy mode. In this mode, there was a timer. Everyone inputed their commands. Instead of the character moving in every direction, it only moved in the direction that got the most votes in that time. Tick tick. Move move. It worked. Then, we were given a choice. You could put in the normal commands, or you could place a vote for anarchy or democracy. When it reached a certain threshold, the mode changed. The collective used this to our advantage. You see, we dynamically changed our mode of governance in order to best meet our challenges. It’s really amazing when you think about it. Usually, it’s very hard to enact such constitutional changes, but we flipped back and forth. New strategies arose in reddit and the collective mind moved.

Besides the strategy, reddit also became a compendium of mythology. The game screen showed one thing, but we narrativized it further and imbued the game with even more meaning. The collective mind would sometimes do silly things, like look at the helix fossil a bunch of times in a row. This became a meme where “consult the helix fossil” was a phrase and the helix fossil was deemed an oracle. Then, there arose counter-mythologies about how the helix fossil was a false prophet and the dome fossil was the truth. I even own a helix fossil t-shirt. When pokemon were released accidentally or due to trolling (or a little of both), we eulogized the lost. Some of our pokemon became heroes. A single venomoth took out a dragonite. ATV slew dragonite all by his lonesome. Fan art arose. And people also explained the mechanics of the game that allowed this unlikely event to happen. It’s part of what made the game so fun. Also, because the game was global, I’d sleep and then Asia and Australia would play. I couldn’t watch or rewatch what they’d done. (Besides, literally rewatching would be boring.) However, I did get narrativized recaps through reddit. It was fun participating and it was fun spectating.

The other half of this blog post’s title is “New Forms of Government.” Now this is where I get silly, but I think this social experiment proves that this type of anarchic decision making isn’t doomed to failure. Some think that the people can’t be trusted with power, but I think they can. People point to popular votes where the “wrong” outcome was given. People vote for the less talented, but more palatable individual in a reality singing competition. People pick “Boaty McBoatface” as a boat name. However, in a world more complex than pokemon, government by an elite few actually can cause more harm. Think of the very serious foreign policy types who always argue for military intervention. Decentralized decision making was right for pokemon and it is right for the world. And one thing that is often missing from these discussions is that pokemon was a much more enjoyable experience this way. If it was run by an elite few, it would’ve been rather boring to watch. Boaty McBoatface is a great name, by the way. It elicits joy.

Even beyond actual government, so much of our world is actually tiny dictatorships. Companies are run by CEOs. Employees often get very little say. Even open-source projects, which is thought of as collectivist (because anyone can contribute), are mostly governed very hierarchically. Pull requests are committed based on the decision of the person who owns the repository. Or they endow some people with the power to approve. But it would be interesting to make git repositories that were governed different. Maybe with some type of voting system? Forums and comments are governed by admins and moderators with the power to banish or edit. What if people could be voted in or out, and this could be done without mods? While content is created in a more decentralized manner on social media, its distribution is determined algorithmically but not neutrally. That is, Zuckerberg can decide that live video is important and boom, it’s privileged more in your feed. In a more decentralized world, the platform would be open and algorithms would compete.

I truly believe that technology can positively reshape the way we govern ourselves. With new software, we can come to collective decisions more instantly, more dynamically, in a more decentralized fashion, and that this will improve humanity. I know, it sounds techno-utopian. I’m often more curmudgeonly about technology. But think about what we have already collectively accomplished. As programmers, we have collectively contributed to Stack Overflow and created this hive mind so we don’t have to waste time solving the same problems over and over. It’s free and amazing. It has collectively made us so much more productive. Open-source projects are similarly a boon to us collectively. Projects like Ruby on Rails make humanity better. Instead of reinventing boilerplate code, we can collectively create abstractions and work on what truly matters. Beyond even using an open-source plug-in to add a feature to make our lives easier, we can create infrastructure. So much of this is done for free, for the collective betterment of society, not for profit.

And, oh, we also beat Pokemon.

Imagine a world more like this. And imagine instead of administrators of these open-source projects being bogged down by fatigue, the project was maintained collectively, not just collective contributions. How much more could we improve society? This is why I am sometimes optimistic. We are in an age of instantaneous communication across vast distances. We should be able to harness this power to turn our governments into decentralized, dynamic units.

Liberalism Can’t Answer Trumpism

So, Trump is saying that Obama wiretapped him. Liberals say Trump is a liar. I mean, he is generally prone to making shit up. I do doubt Obama literally had a wiretap in Trump Tower. At the same time, he presided over an expansion of mass surveillance over Americans. Liberals can nitpick but offer no substantive critique of surveillance.

People are shitting on Ben Carson for saying that slaves were immigrants. Yes, Ben Carson made crude, offensive, stupid, illogical remarks. But in response to the Muslim ban, these same people were unironically, proudly saying that “America is a nation of immigrants” and “Immigrants built America.” These phrases feed into American exceptionalism all the same. Here’s a good pieceon what’s wrong with those phrases.

These are just two examples based on recent news. Liberalism offers no real answer to Trumpism. All its critiques don’t go far enough. They actually uphold fascism (mass surveillance) and colonialism.

Goodbye Sushi Ko

Sushi Ko recently closed. I only started eating there because the Japanese place across the street had closed after a fire. (I miss that place. Decent sushi, good non-sushi, never too crowded.) Eventually, I started eating there every Wednesday with my business partner. They had a really good lunch special with gyoza and teriyaki chicken. The regular lunch bento where you got to pick and choose was already a great deal, and the lunch special was an extra dollar off. The special switched days, our work schedule changed, but we still kept coming back.

One day we were going to walk in. The door was open, but no one was sitting at the tables. It was just the owners packing things up. Are you closed? Is it just for the day? Forever? Why? They told us it was closing because the rent was going up by a lot. We thanked the owners.

It makes me sad to see a nice restaurant like that close, not because business was bad, but because rent was going up. In its place will be some dumb wings place, or so says the sign indicating someone in that spot is applying for a liquor license.

Nearby a Tender Greens has opened. I ate there and it was good. It’s much more expensive, though. (The portions are big enough that it’s not a rip-off.) A Blue Bottle recently opened in the WeWork building. They serve avocado toast, the current fad food used to rip off hipsters.

Games of Berkeley has moved. I was glad to see it wasn’t closed forever. They had a red tag sale, but I didn’t see anything interesting. It’s weird seeing the iconic building empty.

I recently ate at Long Life Veggie House. It has very generous portions for a good price, especially the lunch specials. It’s a trip being inside because it’s at the old SpoonRocket HQ. I look around and I can still see the tangle of wires in the closet, the router where I replaced the cable with one of my personal cables, the shelving stuffed with stickers and whatnot, the curtains, and of course, the wall of Cambros. Oh and I remember the people. Anyway, Long Life Veggie House used to be downtown. I suppose its rent went up a lot too.

Restaurants always come and go. It’s a high turnover business. But I hope we don’t see more Berkeley restaurants replaced by chains. Don’t you dare touch Top Dog.

The Other Side

I’ve seen liberals want to understand the other side. For them, this means trying to read more conservative/Republican sources.

I recently read a tweet (can’t find it, ugh, but I’ll try again later) about how from a global perspective, US Democrats are considered to be a party on the right side of the political spectrum.

So, if liberals really want to look at the other side, they’d be better served reading non-US leftists.

Perhaps this is what was bothering me when people were talking about bubbles after the election. That liberals need to look beyond capitalism and imperialism to truly get outside their bubble.

UPDATE: Found the tweet. I think someone else I follow quote tweeted it and added more, but I can’t find that.

Gacha Gotcha

I recently downloaded RollerCoaster Tycoon Touch. I have fond memories of the original RollerCoaster Tycoon game, managing a park’s finances and building cool coasters. The touch version is garbage. I mean, it’s slick for what it is. But I have what mobile games have become. Rides make money. Then, you have to come back every so often to tap them and collect the money. Rides have a maximum amount of money they can hold, so you have to come re-open the game. It’s very Farmville-esque, but hyper-powered as games chase engagement metrics. Then, there’s the stupid slot machine mechanic. In order to build things, you have to collect cards. Cards are random. So, it could be forever before you get the thing you need.

Building a roller coaster wasn’t even allowed until I reached Level 5. Once there, the game noticed that I didn’t have the cards I needed, took pity, and gave me more. (Meanwhile, people leave the park because I can’t get the cards to give them the types of food they like.) The actual process of building a roller coaster was a disaster. The controls are difficult and unintuitive.

The game is completely joyless. I’m so tired of free-to-play. All of these mechanics make for things that aren’t actually games. They’re optimized for extracting revenue.

Some of the first games I played on iOS brought me so much joy. When I first played World of Goo on iPad, I thought it was magical. It felt like it was the way the game should be played. Lost Winds was similarly amazing. It was a platformer where you drew lines of wind to move your character around. The characters and story, the background and the villains, were all charming.

Lost Winds will be unplayable when I update my iPad. I’ve been putting it off. I wish we could preserve this history better. iOS versions go up and up. The game doesn’t make more money. Eventually, the game is no longer compatible. It disappears. In fact, Apple recently purposely purged a lot of unworking games from the store. I can’t download the games anymore. They’re gone forever. A lot of games from my childhood are better preserved. I can still boot up a DOS VM and play old shareware games. But what will happen to these old games?

With Lost Winds, I can still download the game from Steam, but it loses its magic when not played on the touch screen.

There are still a lot of amazing mobile games. I recently downloaded Causality. I’ve also been playing Mini Metro and Hoplite. Amanita Design’s wordless adventure games remain among my favorites. Monument Valley is beautiful. None of them are free-to-play, though. Maybe I’ll try paying for RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic.

It makes me incredibly sad to see these joyless games and to see some of my favorite games disappear. Are there any projects to preserve them?

Trump Doesn’t Need a Fire

I saw an article or articles going around about how Trump could possibly use his own Reichstag Fire to consolidate power and enact emergency measures. I’m not sure why, but these articles troubled me — not because I thought they were true, but because something in the framework that creates these types of pieces is wrong. I guess I’d like to explore why I think this.

What’s interesting is we already had a moment like this with George W. Bush. Bush used a terrorist attack to compromise civil liberties. The Patriot Act expanded the government’s ability to surveil us. Beyond the Patriot Act, there was illegal spying. All of these were essentially approved of by the Democrats, including when telecoms were given immunity for helping the government with illegal surveillance. Clinton voted for the Patriot Act, in fact. The world we live in now, with the NSA able to listen in to anything, where Western countries help each other spy on their own citizens, is directly a result of what happened under Bush. Obama promised constitutionality, but did not dismantle any of this. Trump now has control of this. So why does he need to create some type of false flag operation to gain power? What additional surveillance powers would he gain? How, in this case, is Trump unique?

In addition to spying, the CIA engaged in torture. Obama promised to close Guantanamo, but never did. Trump has promised to start torturing again. Now, liberals are starting to rehabilitate Bush and Romney as “reasonable” Republicans. Bush already used a terror attack to start torturing people. Romney promised to “double Guantanamo” when he was running for office. People cheered for this shit. Trump doesn’t need an additional terrorist attack.

Our domestic police forces have become increasingly militarized since the war on terror. This includes not only the way they approach things, but equipment. Yeah, the police has military grade equipment. And they used it at Standing Rock, attacking water protectors. This happened under Obama, paused, and then resumed under Trump. Trump didn’t need to do anything special. We’re worried about hypothetical shit when what’s already happening is not that far off from worst case scenario.

This is just analyzing the Bush era. Let’s not forget that America has continuously attacked minorities. The way the police treat black people is already fascistic. This is a part of America’s past and it is part of our present, as witnessed through countless cell phone videos. This is propped up by the prison-industrial complex. The US already locks up a higher percentage of its population than any other country. Our so-called rule of law and systems of justice are Kafkaesque nightmares. Poor people are locked up for years before they even get a trial because they can’t make bail. The conditions inside our prisons are inhumane. Oh and remember when I mentioned torture, let’s not forget Chicago’s own “black site” for torturing its own citizens. In Ferguson, the city systematically targeted its own black citizens, using the police force to extort them with fines. All this, and Trump didn’t even have to lift a finger.

So I guess I wonder why we have to invent dystopias when we already live in one.

I do recognize that it can get “worse.” That me in my privileged bubble and my privileged friends could have our bubbles popped. I’m in the middle of reading a cartoonist’s account of the conditions in Serbia during the war and sanctions. We don’t have hyper-inflation going on here; we have running water and electricity. Lucky us, I guess. Oh and neo-Nazis don’t freely roam the streets yet. And myself, I haven’t taken up arms for a revolution. So, maybe my actions show that I don’t really believe it’s so bad as to be a dystopia. I am thinking and learning, though… and writing. But even with all that, I think if we truly want to be free, we need to look clearly at what has already happened. If don’t normalize Trump but normalize the pre-Trump status quo, then we have lost. If we worry about Trump using a terrorist attack to further erode civil liberties, but “miss Bush,” then we have lost.

The final thing that bothers me is the idea that Trump could perhaps use a protest as pretext to further grab power. That perhaps if it became a riot, then he could crack down. Beyond the fact that this ignores the already militarized response to protests (which I’ve already covered above), it seems to disempower those who would want to protest. That Trump and crew are omnipotent evil villains and everything we do somehow plays into their plans. It’s just a cleverer way of dressing up the normal liberal complaints. When it comes to radical demands, they’ll pretend to agree with the principles but disagree with the means or disagree with on’s tone. In the past, they thought actions of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s were all counterproductive. Oddly enough, though, none of the right’s moves are ever counterproductive. It’s an inconsistent framework.

I do understand that some actions are counterproductive. I recognize this in foreign policy where intervention can cause more problems. One of my favorite parts of Avatar: The Last Airbender is when King Bumi is attacked by the Fire Nation and decides to do nothing (and then waits for a better moment). Doing nothing is sometimes awesome. But not now. We need swarms of people trying different tactics.

Hm, so I think I have adequately figured out why I find those types of articles troubling. Time for sleep.

Silly Engineers

Software engineers can be such clods.

Several big companies, including Apple and Google, engaged in collusion to keep wages down. The capitalists aren’t on your side. (Our side, I suppose is the better way to phrase it, as I’m also a developer.)

The startup world often isn’t any better for non-founders. The equity given to the first engineers is usually not as good as what they think it is. Especially in a less than ideal exit where investors grab their share first and the engineers are left with scraps (or nothing). When an exit does happen, they’re usually not consulted and don’t get to fight for their share. It’s especially bad when you consider the hours they’re expected to put in. Then, factor in that their work product belongs to the company. Their upside is rather limited even with the small share they get. (Perhaps I will google links to stories to show what’s up, but I’m tired right now. If you’re experienced in the world, you’ll understand this intuitively.)

Really, engineers at places like Uber should be allies with the lower-income contract workers. Not the capitalists who have proven that they will engage in pretty much literal theft.

The solution is to go beyond capitalism.