gfish: (Default)
Tuesday, February 21st, 2017 02:46 pm
About once a year, I'm struck by the urge to knit something. Sometimes this is triggered by a coworker having a baby.

I often knit on the bus when I'm working on a project. And that has lead me to an interesting observation: other men will sometimes give me far less personal space if I'm knitting.

The archetypal situation has me sitting in the back of the bus, my feet on up the seat in front of me. (I, of course, am ready to contract the space I'm using as the bus fills up, but I see no reason not to be comfortable until then.) Normally, when other men get on, they will naturally space themselves around the back seats, leaving large gaps between each other. Having another man sit next to me -- even counting seats in the row perpendicular to where I am -- is basically unheard of unless it's filling up and they have no choice. Yet when I'm knitting, and only when I'm knitting, I've had someone sit right there when the back of the bus only has 0-1 other people in it. This has happened enough times I lost exact count, maybe half a dozen now. It's very noticeable, because I have to jerk my feet back as they sit down. And then I look up, thinking I had been rudely unobservant and let the bus get more crowded than politely allows the feet-up position. But no, it's still super empty.

The thing is, I don't get an aggressive vibe from these dudes. They aren't trying to punish me for acting insufficiently masculine. (Trust me, it's been a few yearsdecades since high school, but I know what that looks like.) And they aren't then looking up, registering that I'm male, and looking disappointed/disgusted/whatever that I'm not a woman they wanted to hit on or anything. As far as I can see, I'm just not being seen as someone whose personal space needs any consideration. I don't think it's conscious, I just don't entirely register any more. They won't sit on me, quite, but other than that I have no claim on any personal space around me. They don't apologize for making me move my feet, they don't even pause when sitting down. I might as well be a potted plant. All because I'm engaged in a stereotypical female activity.

So that's interesting.
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Thursday, February 16th, 2017 03:59 pm
I've been trying to blog more regularly again, after a couple years being largely inactive. I've been doing that for the last few months, but I just remembered I should be posting here and letting it crosspost to LJ. So if you haven't been following there, hey, there is some new content you could go check out. And from now on, it will all be crossposted properly, I promise.
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Thursday, February 16th, 2017 02:31 pm
As it does on a regular basis, the subject of gerrymandering has come up again. And, as always, I'm seeing people make the perfectly reasonable suggestion that we deal with it algorithmically. I'm all for that... until it is claimed that this would somehow make it non-political. And that's just bullshit. Dangerous bullshit.

The Gerry-Mander Edit.png

Districting is hard because it's very hard to define an obvious set of criteria by which to rate potential districts. We have some basic parameters set for the federal level: break each state into n districts, each containing roughly 700K people, and don't allow the districting to artificially limit the political power of racial minorities. Specifically, it wants to avoid "cracking" (breaking a group's voting power over many districts, so their votes are overwhelmed everywhere) or "packing" (lumping all their voting power into a small number of districts, giving them a few safe seats but still reducing their representation far under what it should be going by population).

The problem is, obviously, that these are very squishy guidelines. So can't we firm them up with some hard mathematical definitions, write up a segmentation algorithm, and let it do its absolutely objective magic? Sure! We just need to define some kind of scoring system to judge how good or bad a potential set of districts for a state is.

Here are some factors I can think of that such a system could use for its scoring:
* District shape -- the eponymous gerrymander was a point of satire because of how strung out it was. Keeping districts reasonably compact is usually a good thing.
* Geography -- we don't want a district that extends across a mountain range or other significant barrier, since the people on either side probably have little contact with each other and don't make sense as a single political unit.
* Road/train networks -- same as above.
* Racial composition
* Cultural composition
* Age composition
* Education level
* Religion
* Types of economic activity
* Economic ties to other parts of the country/world
* Climate
* Soil types
* Favorite NFL team
* Literally a billion other possible options

But which of these factors does that is best? In what ratios? I could certainly come up with a solution I like, but it wouldn't be perfect. There isn't a perfect solution to this problem. It's not the kind of problem where "correct" even has a meaning. Given a defined algorithm, math can give you a perfectly objective answer, but it can't choose the algorithm in the first place.

And that's where I find this talk gets really dangerous. It wants to pretend we live in a world with provably perfect solutions to messy human problems. If we just let some smart math/computer types work on it, they can fix everything, and save us from the dreaded specter of politics. But that would just be putting the imprimatur of unquestionable objectivity on yet another arbitrary decision. Governments based on that kind of thinking tend to get all great-leap-forwardy and mass-starvationy.

The real error in this thinking is that it assumes politics is a bad thing. It isn't. Being political isn't a bad thing. Politics just means the process by which we come to a decision when there are conflicting human desires. You have to accept that deciding on something as hopelessly complex as districting is, yes, going to be political. And that's okay!

Personally, my solution would be to set up a framework for an official, national algorithm, running against standardized data provided by the Census Bureau. Let the politicians fight over the definition of the algorithm, let them tweak it as much as they see fit. Just use the same algorithm for the entire nation and make its definition public. Would that process be political? Fuck yeah it would be! But it would be transparent and it wouldn't undermine faith in democracy. That is what is important here.
gfish: (sketch)
Tuesday, February 14th, 2017 04:04 pm
FYI, I currently have an installation called Time Machines in a store window at 11th & Commerce in Tacoma. It will be there for another 6 weeks. And hopefully, now that I have a timer rebooting things every 4 hours, the triggering electronics should even be reliable!

(Oh, and yeah, I'm doing more in Tacoma over the next year, as I was chosen as one of the artists for this project.)
gfish: (sketch)
Monday, February 6th, 2017 12:12 pm
So, you know that thing where a Roman emperor would decided if a gladiator should die by turning his thumb down or not? Turns out... maybe. All we actually know is that thumb turning (pollice verso) was involved. They might have been turned down. They might have been turned up, or hidden inside the fingers. I have my own theory.

Imagine the scene, the Colosseum at the height of imperial Roman power. A mighty gladiator stands in the bloody sand, his sword held against the throat of his fallen foe. Panting heavily, he looks up to the emperor. A hush falls across the audience as all turn to see the verdict. Slowly the emperor stands, looking sternly out across the masses who worship him as a living god. He raises his hand, holds out his thumb, drawing out the moment to make the most of his crowd-pleasing investment. Then, decisively, he sticks his thumb in his mouth and pulls it out with a loud *POP*. After a moment it is echoed by the other officials in his box. The sound quickly spreads in a crackling chorus through the stands, turning into raucous cheers as the sword is thrust home below.

That's got to be how it happened.
gfish: (sketch)
Monday, January 23rd, 2017 03:16 pm
A problem I've been thinking over for many years is how to improve protests. It seems to me that the standard models are largely broken at this point, in that they don't motivate political change very well. If you read sources from the 60s, protests were scary back then. They were seen as a collapse of hierarchy, of basic social order. But we've developed cultural antibodies since then. We've learned to see the chaos of protests not as a threat, but as a humorous weakness. You've got the old hippies, you've got the same, tired old chants, you've got the people with the giant puppets, you've got hangers-on with signs for completely unrelated issues, you've got the wannabe anarchists breaking windows. All just a big, easily-ignored joke.

I've spent a lot of time trying to think of ways this could be fixed, how to break protests out of old ruts. There is a fine line to be walked: how do you convey power of the kind that politicians pay attention to, without it tipping over into bad kinds of power. The kinds that make you look like violent fascists, for instance. They used all the really obvious options, unfortunately.

The Occupy movement was interesting for this reason -- it was so weird and different, it managed to get a lot of attention at first. But camping doesn't convey power in the long run. It conveys homelessness, which is more or less the complete opposite in our society. So it fizzled. Maybe if they had standardized on some unique, homemade tent structures, like hexayurts? Getting people to make things to even a rough spec beforehand shows dedication and power. And hexayurts look so alien, it would have been very striking. And well insulated!

The pink "pussyhats" at the Women's Marches this weekend surprised me by being so effective. I admit I had dismissed the idea, in part because I didn't think they'd be so common. They provided strong visual cohesion, and they demonstrated many hours of effort beforehand. Being homemade clothing, they tied into some very deep American traditions of protest, providing a particularly nice contrast with mass-produced, foreign-made MAGA hats. They were uniform without being too uniform. They even worked to spread the protest out across the city after the march, as people made their way home. I was seeing them for the rest of the day around Seattle, providing a really interesting temporal echo to the protest.

Less well structured ideas follow:

I have long wondered about choreographed dance routines. Getting that many people to move in unity shows coordination and dedication, without necessarily being as bad-scary as marching in lockstep. It has the advantage of being able to dial in the exact amount of scariness, depending on how goofy the dance number is. But then I realized that this is exactly what the North Korean "Mass Games" are, and those actually trace back to Russian Revolution era practices. So, promising, but maybe not.

Brainstorming with someone (sorry, I forget who), we came up with the idea of radical construction as a protest activity. Imagine a swarm of people coming from every direction, each person carrying a custom, numbered strut. Working together in a way that could only come from practicing many times, they quickly erect a dome or tower. This could be in a park, or it could be in the middle of a busy intersection. Maybe they climb it and chain themselves to it, maybe not. But just the act of creation like that, showing literal coordinated industry, would be really striking in a new way.

Protest signs could use some innovation. How about a night march, protesters dressed in dark clothing, with signs lit up using LED strands and el-wire? 2017 is going hard cyberpunk, after all, so let's protest in style!

Who else has ideas? What is new/weird/different enough to break through cultural apathy, strongly visual, shows coordination and dedication and power, all without being the wrong kind of scary?
gfish: (sketch)
Wednesday, January 18th, 2017 10:35 am
Like most people, I've commonly wondered how my life would have been different given various changes. What if we had moved when I was young, what if I had other siblings, etc. How would I be different? At what point would that alternate me be an unrecognizably different person? That's a fine course for a daydream to take, but a serious analysis raises unsettling questions.

First off, what does it mean to ask how things would have turned out in a counterfactual? Any basic understanding of chaos theory and quantum indeterminacy should quickly disabuse you of the idea that there would be a single possible result. The instant you create the new timeline, an uncountable number of fundamentally random differences start building on each other. Create the same new timeline, different results. None of them would be any more real or correct than the other. So, on this level, counterfactuals are a pretty meaningless concept. Even if you had access to them somehow, comparing the prime reality to any one possible alternate would be meaningless.

We have to give up the idea of a single alternate timeline. The question cannot be "what would have happened?" but "what is the distribution of results that would have happened?". It's meaningful to think about the range of results that could have been. Assuming access to the other timelines, you could build up an understanding in terms of mean outcomes. On average, what would my life have been like if X? (Or, if the distribution is multimodal, a more sophisticated analysis than simple mean, of course.) That would give something I could really compare myself to, the me I most likely would have been if X. That would be the most meaningful, most real alternate version of myself to think about.

Great! Except... I can turn those same tools onto myself. Just as there is a cloud of almost infinite different timelines around every historical change we could make, prime reality has the same cloud. By the arguments above, if we re-ran history from a given point, even not making any changes at all, we'd get different results. I'm surrounded by other possible versions of myself, even without the ability to make changes! And that set of mes has its own distribution, showing the most likely me. Which raises the question, how do I compare to that me? How likely am I? And if I find I'm not very likely, that I'm living far out on the tail somewhere, what does that mean? I was quite happy previously to define the maximum a posteriori estimation of myself in alternate histories as the most meaningful version. The most real. I might be very far from the most real version of myself. I might not be very like myself at all.

I'm not sure what to do with this realization.
gfish: (sketch)
Friday, January 13th, 2017 02:31 pm
1) There is a natural cognitive bias, the older one gets, to see society as going downhill.

2) I have been increasingly worried about social trends for several years now.

It's getting very hard to write off my worries as just being a symptom of #1. All the antisocial behavior we kept excusing as something "just on the internet" has been leaking more and more into the physical world. We all spend all our time in an environment where the only response to the most hideous of attacks is just "oh, ignore it, it's not serious". Of course empathy is becoming increasingly unfashionable! Even traffic is getting more aggressive, with people breaking the speed limit much more consistently and to greater average degrees it seems. But obviously it's hard to trust those observations.

Is there an intellectually rigorous method for resolving this dilemma?
gfish: (sketch)
Monday, January 9th, 2017 12:18 pm
This is a weird time to be a dedicated urbanist. Cities are popular again -- everyone is finally acknowledging what I always knew to be right! Real development is happening in them again, with a focus on walkable, liveable neighborhoods. That's great... except for how it is pushing out all the diversity which made the cities interesting in the first place. The new construction is all so bland and safe and boring, and every few days we lose another neat old building to it just here in Seattle alone. I know I will never have the cool shop I've always wanted, in some old brick industrial building. They're all condos already.

I don't see any way around it, unfortunately. We failed to invest in cities for the entire second half of the 20th century in this country, during which the population more than doubled. They have a huge technical debt which will take decades to pay off. Even if there was some way to stop it (if you know how to reliably, easily subvert market forces on this scale, please let me know!), it would just mean continuing to throw resources in the cultural, environmental, psychic pit that is the American suburb at the expense of cities. No thanks.

Eventually, hopefully, we'll get back to balanced cities which have enough housing for everyone, with strong transit systems that help the poor instead of gentrifying them out into the exurbs. The current overwhelming sameness of the new construction will fade as things age and get remodeled. We'll end up with a healthy blend of buildings in various states of disrepair, supporting a wide range of uses like Jane Jacobs talked about. For much of my life, cities were seen as mostly for poor people. Now suddenly they're only for rich people. But both of those are anomalous on the scale of human history. Cities used to be for everyone, and I see no reason they can't be once again.

But it does really kind of suck right now, and likely will continue to for at least the next 20 years.

ETA: This was partly inspired by reading Happy City, and partly as a reminder to myself to walk the walk. The University District in Seattle is about to be considerably upzoned, since the light rail station will be open in a few years and students don't form NIMBY coalitions. Which is great -- creating a second area of truly dense urban living in the city is huge. But it'll inevitably destroy the squalid charm of the Ave, which I unironically love. There is also a good chance it will push away two of my favorite retail establishments of all time, Hardwick's Hardware and Thai Tom's. I can't help but feel conflicted, so I need to focus on the big picture.
gfish: (sketch)
Friday, December 16th, 2016 03:41 pm
For the last couple years, I have found myself thinking more and more about the nature of consciousness. It's just weird that we don't have any theoretical understanding of the single most evident fact available to us -- that we exist, and that we are experiencing things.

This gets long )
gfish: (sketch)
Tuesday, December 13th, 2016 11:10 am
I was curious exactly how many books I had read this year. Turns out, quite a few! About half of them in audio format, of course, done while I was working in the shop. Which is good because it makes better use of that time, but not great because I can't claim I'm always devoting as much attention as I would be if actually reading them. But since I'd have never read most of those books otherwise, and reading the Great Books series is a deeply arbitrary goal, it's still an overall win I think.

The mostly complete list, in mostly chronological order )
gfish: (sketch)
Monday, October 3rd, 2016 12:20 pm
Earlier this year I ran a drug trial on myself, in part to see just how rigorous such a thing could be. Here are the results.
gfish: (sketch)
Wednesday, September 14th, 2016 04:18 pm
I'm asymptotically approaching these being the only posts I make here, but I'm not giving up!

From September 4, 2015 to September 4, 2016 I...
...fabricated and installed two permanent public art pieces.
...visited Japan, rode the Shinkansen, slept in a capsule hotel. (And got to see [ profile] slantiness!)
...took a letterpress printing class, designed and 3D printed a hand-mold for casting type, and finally found a better home for the printing press. roughly 1/3 of the Great Books series.
...flew to NYC just to see Hamilton.
...received my first patent.
...built another bar bot, and a commissioned for piece Burning Man.

After the initial successes I had last year applying to public art opportunities, this year has rather been a disappointment. If I ever can make that my full-time job, it's going to take a lot longer to work up to that point than I was starting to hope. But the process has been pretty fun, and if nothing else it's funded some really great shop upgrades. And I was able to pay off a car loan using art revenue, how often does THAT happen?
gfish: (sketch)
Tuesday, July 19th, 2016 10:57 am
Hey, everyone. I made another bar bot!

gfish: (sketch)
Monday, December 21st, 2015 11:33 pm
Absolutely flawless. I was sobbing. I never thought I'd see this. I really thought the physics just didn't add up.

Can't wait to hear the results from the post-flight testing. That's the last question mark -- just how reusable *is* the first stage? 747 reusable? STS SRB reusable? We'll see!
gfish: (sketch)
Thursday, September 17th, 2015 11:25 pm
From September 4, 2014 to September 4, 2015 I...

...knit a sweater. much better at 3D modeling and 3D printing.
...started really working towards doing art full time, applying to artist residencies and public art opportunities in order to build my portfolio of things that aren't flaming death-machines in the desert.
...wove 4 meters of scarf.
...did 2 smaller, temporary public art pieces and was tentatively accepted for 2 much larger, permanent ones.
...finally took some active steps to deal with mental health issues.
...and, oh yeah, designed and built the Hugo Award bases.

Quite a year. Some triumphs, some disappointments, but mostly a sense of really starting to work towards a sustainable change in my life. The Hugo work took up the vast majority of the year, with prototyping and then construction included. I had an idea, I figured out how to make it, and I produced 32 high quality versions of it. The public art applications have also been going much better than I expected. It makes me think that in a year or two I might really be able to do it full time, once I have the portfolio to start applying to the really big contracts.
gfish: (sketch)
Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 10:40 pm
I can finally share what they look like!


Last Saturday 27 Hugo rockets mounted on my base were awarded at the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane. I still can't believe it really happened. This was definitely one of the biggest things I've ever done, or ever been part of.

Timeline of the entire ridiculous thing:

9-1-2013: Watched the Hugo ceremony, joked that I should have a base design in mind, just in case anyone ever asked me to make it. Haha, yeah right.

9-3-2013: Was struck with a real idea, looked into the process to discover they were usually selected by open competition. (The final product is more or less exactly this idea, though constructed through an entirely different process from what I was thinking then.)

Next 13 months: Spent thinking about how to make the damn thing.

10-6-2014: Started experimenting with design tools to craft the shape I saw in my head.

10-27-2014: Had the design finalized, tested it in paper.

11-6-2014: First attempt in steel, utter disaster.

11-23-2014: Figured out how to use a 3D printed prototype as a guide for bending metal pieces accurately.

12-12-2014: Solved the problem of how to align the pieces during welding with a 3D printed jig, with holes for press-fit magnets. One of the more clever ideas I've ever had.

12-17-2014: Hugo base competition officially announced.

1-4-2015: Decided to go with an aluminum base plate instead of wood.

1-27-2015: Finish first complete prototype base, including careful gun bluing and lacquer.

1-31-2015: Hand delivered my competition entry, including 3D printed rocket for proper comparison.

2-18-2015: Informed I had won the competition.

3-24-2015: Placed order for waterjet cutting of 40 complete base sets. These arrive in several batches, so bending and welding overlap for the next month.

5-10-2015: Finished bending the steel.

5-17-2015: Finished welding the bases.

6-5-2015: Got all the bases sandblasted using a commercial service, after much frustration (and many hundreds of dollars) trying to do it myself and realizing it was going to take a ridiculous amount of time.

7-1-2015: Finished surface treatment (carefully painting with gun bluing, scrubbing and buffing it a day later, then applying 3 coats of lacquer).

7-10-2015: Finished applying felt inside the bases (to cover over gaps) and mounting them on the plates. Done!

8-16-2015: Packed them into boxes, complete with care instructions and a small toolkit.

8-18-2015: Drove them to Spokane.

8-19-2015: Got the laser etched nameplates, which I had overnighted from LA to my parents' place.

8-21-2015: Spent 2 hours attaching nameplates and bolting on the rockets.

8-22-2015: Hugo Awards ceremony.
gfish: (sketch)
Sunday, August 2nd, 2015 11:16 pm
This is what I've spent the last month working on:

It was originally an idea I had for Burning Man, but then the City of Shoreline was offering to provide a piano and some funding for people to make sonic sculptures. So, sure! It's on display now in the sculpture garden along the Interurban. Right next to Aurora, just north of 175th. Should be there for the next 6 weeks, or until the neighbors start to complain.
gfish: (sketch)
Monday, July 13th, 2015 06:52 pm
Sitting on the dining room table are 37 Hugo bases. (32 is the maximum number that could possibly be needed.) No nameplates yet, since voting hasn't finished. But they're done.

It took 2.5 months of at least an hour or two every night of work, often many more. I'm really proud of the process I developed for making them, and as soon the design isn't secret I'll post details. But it's still pretty labor intensive, and anything times 37 takes a lot of effort to get done. I listened to 155 hours of lecture serieses over this period. That includes listening time on my commute etc, but I think it gives a good idea of the amount of time sunk in this project. I don't regret it in the slightest, but I can't deny I'm glad to have it done with plenty of time to spare.