Sunday, August 7, 2016

Searching for empathy

I do miss Hunter S. Thompson. Of all the elections I have been around for, this one seems by far the best fit for the description 'fear and loathing'. Though I have a fairly liberal social circle, I do have friends and relatives who are Republicans, and I have argued politics with them over the years. I am a partisan liberal Democrat, but I have at least been able to understand some of their opposing arguments. But Trump, damn. Trump is a different beast.

I have a visceral revulsion to Trump, and what he represents for our government, for our culture. The strongman, willful ignorance, and hatred of the other makes my skin crawl. The man appears to me as a literal monster. The worst parts of Nixon, Mussolini, and the dreck of Fox News rolled into one.

Yet, on the right, there are similar feelings for Hillary, and I have a hard time having empathy for this position. I have certainly tried. All the books and articles about the diverging cultures in America, the diverging economies, and it still gives me no intuitive understanding. I find it hard to empathize with the pro-Trump articles I read as anything other than frothing right-wing hatred and conspiracy theories that are suggestive of needing to be checked into a mental institution. In my social circles I do not have one associate openly advocating for Trump.

But the polls! Depending on your sources, the polls have been frightfully even at times. I have been a tremendous fan of FiveThirtyEight the last eight years, and only a few weeks ago it was painting a picture of close to even odds. Fortunately, the polls have swung back to Hillary, but it is still 90 some days to go. I honestly have a hard time grasping why Clinton is not, at minimum, up twelve points in the polls against Trump. Even the current odds, which are tremendously better than two weeks ago, are about the same as the odds of surviving a round of Russian roulette.

How would I explain what I have learned in trying to understand the millions of people that would vote for Trump? There is a tremendous amount of anger in America, from people across the spectrum. But why is Trump the result of this?

There is the economic side. Many people are left behind by the economy, with increasing wage inequality and the decline of middle class careers, especially for those with less of an education. I certainly agree that our economic system is more divided than ever, but, damn, why would you turn to the Republican party for salvation? Fair, if you can discern a pattern out of the incoherence spouting from Trump's mouth, he may be pushing the Republican party to the left economically. He is arguing for revising trade agreements, protecting social security, and increasing infrastructure spending. Still, that argument seems tenuous. First, it's hard to trust the Republican Party wanting to do anything for the poor or disadvantaged. Second, it's hard to trust Trump to do anything in particular.

Past economics, what of it is culture? There are many who do not like how our culture is changing, or feel imposed upon by the coastal urban centers. There are simply those who are partisan Republicans the same way I am a partisan Democrat. And then a lot, if not all, of Trump's support is racist, nationalist, misogynistic, culturally-conservative bastards who hate the other. That might explain things, but it doesn't give me much in the the way of empathy. I am for a political force that helps everyone, but that is a movement that deserves to be stamped out of existence.

So what positive could I say about Trump if I squint hard enough? He is anti-establishment, and a change from politics as normal. Not being beholden to the Republican establishment, he may shift policies in a new direction. He does pay attention to those left behind by the unexciting recovery from the Great Recession. And...

That's about it.

Let's hope we we survive through November.

Monday, June 6, 2016

June 7th Election in California

Voting tomorrow in California. I am less settled than I would like to be on a few points, namely the Hillary vs Bernie portion of the voting tomorrow.

It is, for the most part, a moot point, as Hillary has an essentially insurmountable lead in both the pledged and superdelegates. After the votes this weekend in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and the latest shuffling of superdelegates, the A.P. just called the race for her a few hours ago. Bernie is, of course, soldiering on and vowing to fight on to a contested convention, though I imagine Obama, Warren, and a throng of others will be endorsing Hillary tomorrow. Still, a win in California may prolong things.

Why my conflict with this? Why not say of course to the adamant fighting on for principle till the last vote is counted?

It is possible that I've become more supportive of Hillary, despite the private email server mess, and the unchanging aspects of her overly hawkish foreign policy, and unfortunately close relationship with the financial industry. She is after all, by most counts outside of the 2016 primary, quite to the progressive side of the Democrats, is extremely experienced, and an excellent politician.

It is certainly in large part because of fear of the festering boil that is Donald Trump, and a desire for the Democrats to focus on tearing him out root and branch.

Lastly, yes, some of it has been disappointment with Bernie. That is where my conflict is. I admire Bernie, I trust his personal ethics and commitment, and his desire for large scale revolutionary change. On the other hand, his policy plans, and the numbers behind them, seem near as wistfully inaccurate as the ones coming out from the Republicans. And at this stage of the game, he, and the followers he inspires, seem to be on the verge of tipping over from resolute defiance to self-destructive delusion. The Facebook friends of mine that swear they'll vote for Jill Stein if Bernie doesn't win the nomination make me want to scream. Doesn't anyone remember 2000? Christ, yes, I know we have a political system with a first-past-the-post system that forces us into a two-party system, and that that is hideously offensive to many of our beliefs, but we're not going to change that in the next six months. You want viable third party candidates, we'll need to rewrite the constitution. Believe me, I'd love to. I want a greater degree of proportional representation or instant-runoff voting, or at least abandoning the Electoral College. But right now, we have to keep Trump out. The odds on Trump winning are likelier than they should be. Would that more of our electorate were sane and educated and tolerant. I remember W far too well and that disaster of a human is head and shoulders above Trump.

So, there I am on the Democratic primary. I would still prefer Bernie to be president over Hillary, and so will most likely still vote for him, but I cannot say I will do so with as great an enthusiasm as I had hoped for.

In local news, I am likely to support the endorsements of the SF YIMBY slate and SPUR. As another personal conflict, that puts me to the moderate side of the local housing debate, as apparently resisting new housing is what makes you a 'progressive' in local SF politics.

Sigh. This may be the getting older I feared.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

I Am Not An Economist - Basic Income

Despite not being an economist, I am someone who cares about politics and reads far too much news from sources such as Bloomberg, Fortune, WSJ, The Economist, etc. Thus, I have opinions about economic policy. For this week's thinking to myself, I wanted to go over an econ policy idea that has been making itself increasingly loudly heard through some corners of the net. See YCombinator, Reddit with  r/BasicIncome, Vox's parade of articles on the subject, etc.

For those of you who don't read over my shoulder everything I skim on the internet, what exactly is a basic income? Wikipedia has the intro on basic income covered, but as I have seen it presented, the idea is to give every citizen, or every citizen at age of majority, a direct income. Simply a check every month or similar, with no means testing, generally so as to replace all, or most other, social programs such as social security, food stamps, welfare, etc. The amount of money that would be paid out in such a system is up for debate, with some arguing that it should be enough to survive on, and others wanting just a baseline level of aid. The minimal level of aid could be along the lines of what is already done with the Alaska Permanent Fund, or Norway's similar distribution of oil revenue through the Government Pension Fund of Norway.

Firstly, what is the reason one would want to do this? Looking at the collection of American law and regulation designed to provide aid and a reliable source of income, I see a complicated mess. As a software developer, it is the sort of situation that makes me dream of throwing it out and rewriting it from scratch, in as simplistic and direct a way as possible. Giving the same amount of money to everyone, through one singular program, with no means testing, is pretty much that ideal. Presuming it works, and is affordable, of course.

So, what might the benefits be? Beyond the simplifying of bureaucracy, there are, theoretically, a number. The system, being so simple, would be harder to corrupt. Furthermore, it removes a good share of the perverse incentives seen with many welfare systems. If you only get aid when you are below the poverty line, getting an income that would boost you above the poverty line is, if not a negative, is less of a positive than it would otherwise be.

The overall goal, of providing aid, and putting a floor on poverty is, in my mind, necessary. We've got a vast proportion of our population that's in poverty or unfortunately close to poverty. Wealth is becoming increasingly concentrated. There's a lot of risk in the future that jobs will be wiped out faster than people can train for new ones. Giving every citizen an equal amount of money will help equalize things and prevent abject poverty and social stratification.

There is the question of what to set the level of payments at. If set too low, you are providing less aid than with current systems, and some people are losing out. If set too high, you create a system that we cannot afford, and discourages people from wanting to work at all. Much as I would like to hope otherwise, I think we're at least a few years away from the futuristic utopia where robots do most of the work and we can all get by on five weeks of work a year. Maybe not too far, but not something we can just start tomorrow.

So, what could this basic income level be set at? Of all the papers about it I've seen on the net, I've seen very few with direct numbers.

As a first thought experiment, what would happen with a revenue neutral basic income? Do not change current tax rates, or total social program spending. Simply get rid of social security, food stamps, minimum wage, welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, etc, and just give every citizen a check each month. What happens then?

For the roughest of back of the napkin calculations, bear in mind I'm not an economist, it looks like we spend ~2.25-2.5 trillion per year on the programs I mentioned. And there are ~320 million Americans, ~240 million of them over the age of 18. So, if we gave each of them an even distribution of that money, that would be approximately, $10,00 a year for citizen over the age of 18. That actually lines up fairly well with what New Zealand, Finland, Canada, and the Netherlands are experimenting with,

Not enough to get by on, certainly, which mostly avoids the problem of discouraging people from working, but how would the end result work, and who suffers? If you're giving this money out to all citizens instead of some subset of citizens, there are going to be people getting less money. Looking into that, I realized that I had no idea what the max social security distribution is in the US. Apparently it's about $2,639, for people who have contributed the maximum taxable earnings for 35 working years. For maximum benefits through welfare, SNAP, Medicaid, etc, I have even less of an idea, but after a brief internet search looks like for some people is greater than one thousand a month.

Distributing all this money perfectly evenly, instead of targeting it, would thus, of course, create a number of winners and losers. Despite the efficiency gains of such a program, a number of people currently hurting the most, would have aid reduced.

Furthermore, what are the efficiency gains? There are all the potential benefits of removing perverse incentives, but measuring that is mostly up to ambiguous econ theory to debate, Then, how many fewer people would it take to administer such a program? As not-an-economist, and spending a few seconds looking on the web, I see the US currently employs 62,000 people in the Social Security Administration, and after that, sifting through docs from OPM gets complicated. I imagine a good number of jobs would no longer be needed, but hardly enough to have a sizable impact on the amount of payout such a system would be able to give.

What if you wanted to increase the amount of basic income, in order to compensate for those losing out due to decreased payments? As a basic income is being given to all people, tax burdens on people not currently receiving aid, but who would under a basic income system, could be increased without changing their effective income levels, but then it all becomes a question of tax policy.

I love the aesthetics of such a basic income plan, its ideals, and basic argument, but still need more details to have any idea how it would actually work. Glad they are experimenting with it in other parts of the world, and look forward to seeing what happens.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Investing in Cybernetics

By investing in cybernetics, I mean more the purchasing of medical devices to plug into your body, less so the buying stock in companies that make cybernetic components. Though I may want to do that.

This week, after taking care of a work project that had consumed a good share of my free time the last month or two, I finally got around to a number of the items on my to-do list that I'd been ignoring. One of which was plugging in my new Dexcom G5 continuous glucose monitor. Now I have not one, but two Bluetooth enabled devices that plug in underneath my skin. Woo! It's the 21st Century alright. Not long until my eyes glow and I can punch through walls, right?

I've been a type 1 diabetic for a little more than 24 years now. This is cause for a moderate amount of watching my diet, frequently testing my blood sugar via finger pricks, and adjusting insulin dosages five to ten times a day. For the most part it's an inconvenience, admittedly with a constant dread that my long term health will suffer. Frequently though the blood sugars do something unexpected, either spiking high and leaving me feeling like shit for hours, or crashing low and leaving me with less than full mental faculties, sweating profusely and stubbornly refusing aid while my friends have to consider wrestling me to the ground to stuff food into my mouth. Occasionally with the screaming seizures or sprinting off into the woods. Ah, memories!

Thank you all, family, friends, and loved ones who have dealt with me in those situations.

About four or five years ago, after one such attack, I made my first such investment in cybernetics, moving away from the traditional usage of syringes for insulin injections. I got a Medtronic insulin pump, and Enlite continuous glucose monitor. The insulin pump was a wonderful success, and dramatically improved my blood sugar control. The pump has the benefit of having a varying basal rate, that continuously drips a background level of insulin into me, that can be easily calibrated. It talks wirelessly with my blood testing kit, and calculates, based on the time of day and how much I tell it I eat, in order to give me a more proper amount of insulin.  Further, it remembers how much insulin has been injected into me. I had been doing this all in my head between the age of seven and twenty six, but the machine is a bit less prone to forget or overlook those important details.

Medtronic's Enlite CGM sensor system unfortunately left something to be desired. This was four years ago, and I'm sure Medtronic's tech has improved a good bit in the meantime, but the sensor then was so poor that I stopped using it after a few months.

For those of you not the most familiar with diabetes, a continuous glucose monitor is a system designed to, well, continuously monitor your blood glucose level. The ones on the market, both then, and now, do so with subcutaneous sensor that you implant in yourself for some number of days, and has a wireless/Bluetooth communication system, to beep out your blood sugar every minute or five.

As I was saying, the previous one I had left many things to be desired. Only lasted three days, had to be attached to the body with tape, easily fell off, and was inaccurate to the point of not being worth the trouble. I tossed it.

Over the years, the technology seems to have improved. Fellow diabetics recommended the newer Dexcom brand systems to me, and I finally took them up on their suggestion. The differences, though minor when describing them, add up to something that is exponentially better. The Dexcom G5 attaches without requiring additional tape wrapped over the top, and is a good share smaller and more comfortable. Most importantly, it has proved far more accurate, and to have less of a lag.

I have yet to see this Dexcom G5 be off by more than twenty percentage points or so, its alert system is timely, and in the week I've had it has kept my blood sugar in a much tighter range than I would normally be under. Don't think I've had a blood sugar above 190, and haven't had anything low without being awake and able to respond to it quickly.

The also checking while asleep is a significant benefit, one that of course existed in the previous CGM system I had, but with the added benefit of greater accuracy, and not waking me up without cause.

Managing blood sugars is a lot of dealing with lag. Insulin gets injected into your subcutaneous fat, and even with the quicker acting insulins, Humalog for me, it only starts to really have an effect half an hour after injection, peak effect perhaps hour and a half later, continuing effect out three or four hours. Eating food also has a similar lag time for raising your blood sugars. Non-diabetic bodies are a lot better with dealing with this, because pancreases are plugged in more directly to the arteries and veins, and can sense and respond to blood sugars much more quickly. Us diabetics though, with our putting insulin into subcutaneous fat, and with the continuous glucose monitors sensing the blood sugars in that tissue, we are on a delay.

Hence, once of the the great benefits of a continuous glucose monitor that happens to be accurate is that it can give you not just your close to current blood sugar, but the rate and direction of change. The derivative of your blood sugar, to think about high school calculus. Us diabetics are going to have the lag time in adjusting to our blood sugars, but being able to see the direction of change gives the ability to predict where it'll be in the next hour and to get ahead of it.

My other compliments to Dexcom are the very excellent UI, ease of viewing the data, and general ease of use.

Of course it's not perfect yet. Won't be perfect until we finally get around to curing diabetes, which has been promised to me as "five years away" since I was diagnosed in 1992. For more direct criticisms, I am irritated that there is software to access the data from the sensor for iOS devices but not Android. As an Android dev who often sees Android apps not started until a year or two after the iOS versions, I understand, but damn. Related, it's made by a different company than Medtronic, so it doesn't talk directly to my insulin pump, and I'm manually feeding data between the two. Sure be nice to have an open API for the two to plug into. Bloody corporate competition, and/or overzealous FDA regulation. Additionally, it's another thing sticking out of my skin, and I certainly can't do jujitsu with it. Then again, have to peel of the insulin pump insertion sight anyways to be able to do that, but now with two such peripherals stuck into my body, makes that sport less than practical. Some day, they'll either cure it, or it'll be subdermal. Then I'll get the Deus Ex future I've been hoping for since 2000.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter All

Been a busy week for me. The next Android launch that I've been building for work over the last three months is slightly behind schedule, but is close to release. It will be the largest single Android release we've done since I started at PlanGrid. That's been burning me out the last month, but am nearly there, and shall celebrate upon its completion.

Had a relaxing early escape from work this weekend, as I went down to Arizona for the wedding of two close friends from college days. Congrats to Anneli and Erich! Was a wonderful wedding, and great to see all the friends collected in one place. As another plus, got to meet all of my girlfriend's family, as they happen to live in Phoenix. Learned how to make some wonderful Puerto Rican food for Easter.

Outside of the work and social gatherings, haven't had too much time to think of things to write. Politics and the economy are trundling along. World news is about what it has been, perhaps with an unfortunate uptick in terrorist attacks the last few days. Sigh. Beyond that, perhaps I can write about the latest books I've been reading. You should all read The Expanse series, by the way.

For now though, sleep. To write later. Be well, all.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Continuing Last Post's Thoughts

When I started writing this post two weeks ago, I had hoped it would be my last political post for a while. Then after getting buried under work and not writing for two weeks, I feel I've regained my ability to rant about politics. Still a long campaign season to go, and hopefully some room to write about other things, but for now, damn. America.

Two weeks ago I was thinking about potential realignment in US political parties, and how I should first evaluate what it is that I would like to see out of our political system. I have seen some related articles in the last few weeks, asking what might come out of such a potential realignment that seems to be staring down America. If Trump wins the Republican nomination, and the more establishment Republicans flee in horror, what is it that the Democratic party would attempt to do in the general election? Appeal to the establishment Republicans, or follow through with Bernie's appeal to the working class?

Trump supporters, not that I particularly understand them, but most of what I have read describes them as primarily working class people who are pissed off that the economic system has deserted them. Of course, there is a good share of bigotry, xenophobia, and anti-intellectualism walking hand-in-hand with that economic insecurity, and that puts them in a rather different camp than Bernie supporters. Still, there are at least a few similarities, in so much as "the system is broken" is a similarity.

Personally, I would hope we do not have to make that choice. Why you can't both support the cosmopolitan intellectuals and the poor? Are these really the wedges that are opening in the American political parties?

That question might be too open ended. If I can dream of a political system, I can dream of all humans being intelligent, foresighted, empathetic, etc. Sadly, that's not that likely to occur. If I were instead to imagine what I want out of a political party, that is perhaps more productive, but immediately concedes to cynicism. Politics is tribal. As much as we would like it to simply be about the best way to organize the government and associated economics and so forth, it is as much about dividing into camps, and fighting the other side.

To get back to my earlier question, what exactly is it that I want?

As Ray Smuckles said  about his political stance, "People want to eat some fuckin' dinner and have some fuckin' money! What the fuck do you think gettin' up in the morning is about?!"

I can empathize, despite being lucky to be well off, a tech worker in 2016 San Francisco. Hard to complain, but, still, things seem askew. For many of my friends, 20 and 30 somethings, with no kids, making well into six figure salaries, the idea of owning property is laughable. That, in large part, can be blamed on local politics. In the grand scheme of things it is hard to complain, but still, far from ideal.

Speaking of wanting a narrative, what might it be? Blanket libertarianism is a horribly broken approach to the economy, but of course there are a number of economic or business laws and regulations that are awful for the public. Democrats pay some service to this idea, but I have yet to see a cohesive plan or argument made with it. Republicans are much louder in making this argument, but to no significant effect that I have ever seen. Mostly they bankrupt whatever state they gain control of. Both sides support the regulations that benefit their side of the aisle and attack the other's.

The political system is corrupt, in that it is often encouraging these inefficient laws. When writing the laws, legislators pay more attention to the lobbyists surrounding them then to the people. So, yes. I want electoral reform, campaign finance reform. All the stuff Lawrence Lessig is campaigning for.

Where is the leftist critique of bureaucracy?

So, what do I want?

I want a functional, fair, and non-corrupt political system.

I want acknowledgement of, and attempt to fix, the lack of fairness in our economy and our culture. We benefit the wealthy, the white, the male, and have been exploiting those not in that group since the founding of America. I would like at the very least an equality of opportunity, which should be a self-evident goal, but seems laughably distant at the moment.

I want a support of intellectualism, a willingness to support testing ideas and to defend them with evidence.

I would like to not worry that we are plunging towards future disaster, brought about by the shortsighted, greedy, and willfully ignorant. My main concerns with regard to this are climate change, resource depletion, and over population.

So, yes. Find me a political that supports the above and I'll be for it.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Political Realignment in the US

The election continues to grind on, and the number of thoughts in my head dedicated to politics continues to tick upwards.

Given the continuing influence of Trump, and the increasing bashing of him from the Republican establishment, there have been a number of articles coming out about how it seems like we may see a party realignment in the US, along the lines of LBJ signing the Civil Rights Act and Nixon pursuing the southern strategy. For example; by FiveThirtyEight, by Vox, and by miscellaneous academics.

The immediate reason people are talking about the potential for a realignment is Trump's unorthodox views combined with the Republican establishment's hatred of him, reaching a point where former Republican presidential candidates are pleading that people not vote for him. More generally, I and many others have been frustrated with the political process in this country over the last decade, and there are many still suffering economically after the Great Recession. The potential for realignment can be seen to some extent on the left with Bernie Sanders putting up a significant challenge to Hillary Clinton.

So, what might come of this? I have a combination of hope, excitement, and dread. Yes, I do think our currently political system is horribly corrupt and broken, and do want to see it shaken up and made functional. For the excitement, living in interesting times is at least interesting. With the dread, I do not exactly trust a good share of America. Still, if I want change, a time of upheaval might be my best hope.

With asking for political change, and seeking to take advantage of a potential party realignment. I should first figure out what it is I want out of the political system. I do not perfectly agree with any of the current candidates. Bernie Sanders might be the closest, but is certainly not perfect. I do know that I'll never find a candidate that agrees perfectly with me on every issue, unless I am one day so foolish as to run myself, but I at least want a narrative I agree with. I in part think we are ripe for a realignment, because there is no gripping, agreeable narrative, other than a terrifying fear of the other side.

As a software developer, first step is to define what you want. Write out a spec. So, what do I want with our political system? What should that narrative be?

And yes, yes, that is a broad open-ended question, but I should keep it somewhat contained, otherwise I'll be dreaming of a post-national anarchist utopia out of the dreams of David Graeber. To keep things at least somewhat in line with America, what might I hope for?

To be continued later as I flesh out these half finished thoughts.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

About That Election

Super Tuesday is nearly upon us and who isn't excited about the next step in the bizarre and fear-inducing competition to see who gets to be America's next president? The next several months will call for a lot of nervous news reading.

On the Democratic side, where my loyalties are most closely aligned, it is Hillary vs Bernie. Given my political leanings, which are somewhat idealistic and rather anti-establishment, I am supporting Bernie. My main concerns about the future of humanity are the environment, political corruption, and poverty and inequality. Bernie is much more direct in addressing those issues that Hillary. The current political and economic system in this country needs be shaken up. I do want to see the large financial institutions in America broken up, to have a single payer healthcare system, and to see Citizen's United repealed. I am very thankful that there is a voice out there adamantly demanding that, and thus, am fully behind Bernie.

Which is not to say I am opposed to Hillary in the general. Yes, she is quintessentially establishment. Worrisomely hawkish on foreign policy, unfortunately close to the financial industry and the private prison industry, etc. She is certainly much more moderate than Bernie. Yet, she's got endorsements from organizations I care about, such as the League of Conservation Voters, and I would be amazingly happy if her campaign platform were to be made into law. True, nobody ever succeeds in implementing what their platform calls for, but, while I prefer Bernie's, am also happy with the direction Hillary is going for.

As for who is most electable against the Republicans, I am actually unsure. On the one hand, it is hard to imagine an avowedly socialist candidate winning the majority of the American vote. On the other hand, there is a large proportion of the American electorate that has been been building a hatred of Hillary Clinton for more than twenty years, and anyone close to the establishment is going to have some issues this year. On the gripping hand, well, I don't have the best idea of what is going through the mind of the average American voter. Had I been alive and politically active in '72, I probably would have been a proud McGovern supporter, and would have expected him to win, because who the hell would vote for Nixon a second time?

Which reminds me, I should go back and re-read all of Hunter S. Thompson's coverage of the '72 race. Shame we don't have him doing reporting this cycle.

On the other side of the aisle we have the Republicans, and I am left at a loss for words. Since I started caring about politics, around the 2000 election when I was 17 and too young to vote, I've thought of the Republican Party as a rabid dog that needs to be taken out into the backyard and shot. If that was hyperbolic then, it has seemed a less and less extreme position as the years have gone by.

Never overestimate the American electorate, but damn, Trump? A man who has refused to disavow an endorsement from David Duke, who has been Tweeting quotes from Mussolini, and has called Mexican immigrants rapists. How the hell is he leading in the polls among the Republicans?

Oh, yeah. Republicans.


It is even more frightening watching the Republican debates and realizing that on some topics, Trump actually seems more sane than Cruz and Rubio. Admittedly, that does not take much more than pointing out that 9/11 happened while W was president and having the audience boo him, but that shows where the rest of the Republicans are.

So, yes. This year will be interesting, entertaining, and frightful. There is, I believe, more potential for drama here than there has been for years. With how well Trump is doing, and the how much the Republican establishment hates him, we could see a brokered convention, or a significant third party run. I am all for shaking things up, and I have been hoping for a civil war among the Republicans to burn that party to the ground for ages, but let us hope it doesn't get to the point of a fascist revolution.

Please vote, people.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

What Happened to Artificial Life Games?

I am a huge fan of simulation and strategy games, and one of my favorite subsections of this was the alife genre. Some of the better examples of this genre were SimLife, which came out in 1992, and the Creatures series that came out in the mid to late 90s. Yet, once we got into the 21st Century, the genre seems to have mostly melted away, and this leaves me fairly sad and wondering why.

Perhaps it was how horribly executed Spore was, and seeing that blow up with Will Wright behind it scared people away.

Even ignoring the large studio produced games, I remember in the 90s seeing and playing tons of simple freeware alife sims. The study of alife was at least a not completely ignored facet of academia. I found a lot of my way into it through that, reading books about complexity theory. See Conway's Game of Life,  Boids and Sugarscape. Even from that face of things, I have not seen much new come out. I suppose The International Society for Artificial Life is still doing things, but as a non-academic I don't see much evidence of this in the pop-science press. Even the /r/alife subreddit is mostly dormant.

And so I remain curious as to why. There seemed such an opportunity for growth in this field that simply turned to dust. Maybe I just haven't been keeping up in the right corners of the internet. If people could point me in a better direction that would be wonderful. I certainly can't speak for the potential for academic advances in the field, but simply as a toy, as a game, there is so much more that could be done. Processing power has expanded dramatically, and we have gotten tremendously better at making software.

Likely it is lack of demand, which is frustrating, if believable. Many people don't like the same things as I do. Yet, we have amazingly better simulation and strategy games these days, and not just because of Paradox Interactive. I would assume there would be enough range in the simulation genre for the alife subset to eke out some sort of existence.

Perhaps I need to better articulate what it is I loved about those games. I loved that you could have what was in effect a terrarium, that you could build with whatever configuration you wanted and restart at a moments notice, all at no cost. You could observe, and learned a good deal about how systems worked, about biology, evolution, neural networks, physics, genetics, and more. They were beautiful to simply look at.

If I can't find these programs already out there, I should write them myself. Just give me a thousand hours of free time or so.

Past Due For Maintenance

Having mostly ignored this site the last three or four years, and only recently getting back into regular updates thanks to Iron Blogger SF, I am continuing to find settings and UI elements that need cleanup.

For example, I just had a wonderful weekend of wine tasting up in Oregon for my friend Erik's birthday, and in the car ride back I spent some time sketching out my next post, which involved taking a look at my site through my phone. Eesh, there was some hideousness. Not just because I never bothered to set it up for mobile, but because my desktop browser has so many extensions, that I was never seeing the defunct AdSense plugins, navigation bar, and whatever else Blogger thought was good to install at some point.

My current extension roster on my default Chrome browser is AdBlock, Ghostery, Privacy Badger, and HTTPS Everywhere. I was speaking of filter bubbles last week, and here I am seeing a far different web than many people. I would recommend those extensions, but I should also put at least a minute into being a better web designer, and give a touch more thought into how this blog appears.

I may have gone into my moral opposition to advertising before, but love to return to that topic at some point.