Cultural observations

I’m invading the Domain of Culture.

People close to the movie industry sometimes complain the lack of original plots together with the dominance of comic adaptations (hey there, Marvel!), sequels (who said “Fast and Furious”?), and other secondary content. Book adaptations occur in this list, too, but I prefer to consider them a different case since books are, in general, original content (I said “in general”, there are some counterexamples). While this is not bad as such, this has the obvious drawback that plots become unimportant and predictable. The extreme case are horror movies, there, you just have the same scary flick with adrenaline and naked bodies. Unimportant and predictable plots are, in my opinion, a bad thing since I have a preconception that I should get out from a movie with a feeling that I have seen something interesting. Something interesting means interesting characters, however, a predictable character is not really interesting.

It is, however, an understandable tendency. From the perspective of big studios, a movie is good if it earns money, and money is easily earned with another sequel of some well-known franchise. Sometimes, it even has an interesting plot, but this does not have to be the general case. Sometimes, it works out if Disney/Pixar is bringing out another tale, but, other than that, the conservative policy seems to work well. From the perspective of the customer, it is safe to go to a movie with known qualities, especially if you liked the last installments in the same cinematic universe and would like to see the same, but in a different colour.

This has happened in human history at least once, a couple of hundred years ago. Before the Enlightenment, the art market was completely dominated by the church and the upper class. So, what we see in the art of thhe early Middle Ages, is the Bible, in different settings, but still, the Bible. A fixed number of themes, with little variation. However, at some point, art moved to different topics. Why?

I’d argue it has to do something with the new citizen class that could afford some bread and butter and there still was something left for entertainment. And since they were not church, they probably wanted to see on the paintings in their homes something that was closer and more concrete, like a scene from their (or possibly their) lives. Which, in turn, was a perfect incentive for artists to draw for profit in industrial capacities. The Netherlands were particularly famous for industrializing art.

This is probably the key to my question. Whenever a new class, with its own cultural context, and some ability to pay, appears on stage, art will react and generate something that appeals to the new audience. So, probably, the Chinese will somehow stir up the movie market. Or the Russians. Or LatAm. Someone will, eventually.

Internet usage patterns

It happens pretty often that I think about Web technologies and how cool it would be if the web sites were responsive and all the websites would turn into shiny rich internet applications.

And then I end up in one of these hotels where the only source of Internet is the lobby with really poor, dialup-quality bandwidth. Then I ask myself whether it is really, really necessary to build megabyte-sized websites that contain mostly text and a metric ton of fancy design.

The links of August

Like every blogger, I probably should start collecting links to interesting stuff. Posting them on FB is nice, but FB has a rather short half-life of content.

Science and semi-science

Financial Crisis of 2015: written in 2011.

Predictability of Android lock patterns: Not as secure as you’d imagine.

Sex and cognition: It’s complicated. Very, very complicated. Seems like jumping to any conclusion whatsoever would be wrong.


Sabaton – Poltava

“I love you” – “Shiny”: Princess Leia x Mal Reynolds

Random things

Tesla automated car charger: another toy for rich kids. (All other comments by me would reference a certain kind of animation.)

Antifragility: Nassim Taleb furiously promoting buzzwords.

Military spending is like Christmas: An interesting detail to the Silicon Valley story.

A motivational quote

I have found myself confronted with lots of “inspirational quotes” and inspirational texts, so I decided to go with the flow and write one, too. Main writing criteria were nonzero non-trivial content and avoidance of first person plural. So, here it goes.

Forget whatever you have been told about your life. It is not yours, and never has been. You ride, together with a lot of other human beings, on this immense carousel called Earth. Your behavior influences their lives as their actions influence yours. You are not done, you have not destroyed the One Ring and living happily ever after. Actually, you are never done. Life is scary and unjust, and good things tend not to happen magically all by themselves. Whatever happens, ask yourself about your role in it, because you could have influenced the process a tiny bit, even though your influence is small compared to existing systemic factors. You personally can make this place a better one.

Not deciding anything and not wanting to decide anything is a decision, too, almost always the worst one. You are responsible. Always. For everything.

Enjoy the ride.

Your next gate of Hell

This post is motivated by a not very recent discovery of people who are propagating the cause of oppressed social groups. [0] I have stumbled upon some very dramatic (and in my opinion exaggerated) posts that have hit me in the general area of empathy and could be very roughly generalized as “everything is very bad”. Since my empathy actually exists, it was (and still is) somewhat emotionally straining to read all that. And the question that rises in my head is, then, what can I do? Because watching people suffer is worse if you have no idea how to stop that suffering.

At this point, I have installed in my mind a Great Divide [1], a non-Maxwellian demon, that tries to filter texts from the “everything is very bad” department into two categories: the ones that disclose what the authors actually want and everything else. To make clear what I say, let me provide an example. Suppose someone laments about lack of medical supplies in a given area. Then it is actually possible to say something like “Hey, I happen to have a car and some logistic capacities.” and actually do something. For contrast, suppose someone laments about how the evil NSA is spying on you and is manipulating your local politicians, hence DOOM DOOM SURVEILLANCE GRAVEYARD. Then it is actually impossible to ask anything. Obviously, the person does not want DOOM DOOM SURVEILLANCE GRAVEYARD and probably making the NSA go away would be a good beginning, but there is no possibility for this to happen. As you can not possibly solve the problem even in the tiniest way possible (other than ejecting yourself into some safe place where no bad things happen), this realization makes you feel bad.

The reason for the Great Divide is somewhat complex and requires further explanation. The first of the sub-reasons for me is actually very selfish: My personal willingness to deal with things I personally cannot change is limited. My personal willingness to hear lamentations about things that must be “dealt with somehow” is also limited. Most of all, my capacity for dealing with (mine and other people’s) emotions is finite, and currently rather full.

The second sub-reason is rather ad hominem [2]. People who regularly write dramatic posts of the “DOOM DOOM SURVEILLANCE GRAVEYARD” often promote themselves to online authority figures because they write about things that the general audience considers interesting and relevant (because conspiracies, Hidden Complex Plans and similar stuff are always interesting and relevant). This is a system with positive feedback; thus, the author who writes dramatic posts feels compelled to write more dramatic posts to gather more audience. Finally, this leads to induced stress on the side of the audience (which is an unforgivable sin already) and something my 4chan part of the brain would call “attention whoring”. My non-4chan part of the brain tend to call this “clickbait” or “commentbait”. Either way, if someone’s goals are more and more skewed towards gathering more attention, then, probably, this is a less trustworthy source of anything.

The third sub-reason is also a little ad hominem. Multiple lamentations on how something is very bad and how we are all going to die reveal that the author has no willingness to get rid of this something. Even more, since this kind of “socio-humanitarian thinking” comes at zero cost (plus or minus some efforts for rationalization), it is a reason to suspect that this certain someone is actually either rooting for the “other side” or generally unwilling to put any effort to change the current state of affairs, which is from the result-oriented point of view indistinguishable. Either way, this person has lost her personal conflict. Raising awareness by hysteria does not count; even if you are willing to protect your cause by lethal force, even then it is best to keep calm. And do whatever you consider right, actually protect your cause and not whine about it.

Hence, my rising suspicion against people who regularly write hysterical posts about every kind of conflict.

[0] If you think that I am talking about “social justice” and evading the term, then you might be surprised, there are more causes than social justice. I describe very general patterns; this is applicable also to some of the so-called “patriotic bloggers” and all conspiracy theorists without exception 😉

[1] I notice that I am inventing terms. Please tell me if you have a problem with that. Please notify me immediately if I start furiously promoting my freshly-invented terms.

[2] Ad hominems are, however, not all bad. Sources of information may be more or less trustworthy. A non-trustworthy source with strange objectives is cognitively not more useful than white noise.

Being offline

TL;DR: I have been offline for a week, talking to people, and it was a good thing.

I don’t really want to propagate all the stuff you can read in your favourite online medium on the topic of “living offline”, but I have to say that being offline for a while really helps people who are addicted to some online news sources. The general idea is to substitute content consumption by content creation, or at least by fruitful discussions with interesting people. At some point you can just ask yourself: Will something change if you do not follow the latest news from $SOURCE? In the most cases, the honest answer is a “no”, and you can happily go interact with real life people.

I’m aware that this post is getting somewhat chaotic. What I’d like to begin with – and there is not much more, really – is that the whole “Web 2.0” hype did not lead to real “user generated content”, as the marketing department tells you. What I observe is that the most popular platforms are being used mostly to repost, retweet, and share, not to create content. Surely, something is being created. But generally, the use case is “hey, look at this nice item”, which is not bad in itself, but I feel that this is considered to be the only use case. Just think of pictures with the only information being text on it. Seriously, guys and gals?

This is also one reason why I am somewhat irritated by (also my own) internet dependency. Ideally, one should create content as well as consume some, but in fact, the trend seems to show towards consuming more than creating. Which brings me to the original question: if the only thing you can do with internet content is to consider it as entertainment, then why not consider an alternative world where you create some entertainment for yourself just by talking to real, living people? Not even face to face, online communication is sufficient.

Public discussions on the Internet

I generally try to avoid public discussions. There are some reasons (partly emotional), but there is one thing in public discussions that puts me off and makes me uncomfortable. In general, the point of a discussion should be, funny enough, to make a point, ideally in such a way that you both agree on some conclusion. In the best-effort case, which is the best you can hope for in most situations, at least the audience shall have the chance to understand the topic, its complexity and come to a conclusion (which may be “I am not qualified”, “Not enough data”, “X is the right way to do”).

However, in most public discussions this contradicts the goals of the participating parties. On the Internet, nobody knows you are a cat the audience is virtually infinite and this is something that makes discussions harder as they devolve into virtual dominance competitions, because the parties at some point (the bigger the audience, the sooner) decide that losing would mean actually taking reputation damage and losing face. No matter how often you say “This is not about dominance”, the results seem to be the same.

I fear, this is an inherent problem. Though, there are spaces where these effects are not observable, and in general, they are characterized with

  • limited number of benevolent participants
  • a more or less strict intolerance towards any kind of superiority attitudes

Is this the final solution of the shitstorm question? I don’t know.

Games, rules, cooperation

Disclaimer: This is to be read as a personal position, not a hardcore philosophic work (For hardcore philosophic works, read Kant, he seems to say the same, but in a different way). Thus, the text may contain simplifications, logical shortcuts and things derived from personal or second-hand experiences and may not be generalizable to everyone.

Let’s talk about rules. Even in the age of Enlightenment, it is customary to consider rules as something holy and unalterable, like the Ten Commandments. Examples include the infamous “dating rules”, laws, and the (un)written social code. However, it is important to remember that rules have a purpose: they constrain everyone’s actions and thus impose a bound on entropy. Rules are a good thing, because they enable you to limit the diverse possibilities and allow you to concentrate more on the “allowed” alternatives; rules allow to expect behavior.

Continue reading “Games, rules, cooperation”

Identities and stuff

I have recently thought and talked about the concept of identity (or identities), and, while what I’m going to write is probably neither new nor unexpected, I’d like to write it down to at least laugh about it in a year or so.

So, basically, by “identity” or “identifying” with a group people mean that somebody belongs to a certain group. But how do you decide this? As with nearly everything, it seems that there are two (mainstream) radical opinions on this matter and one is compelled to align somewhere in the (suggested) spectrum. Continue reading “Identities and stuff”