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financial institutions in America broken up, to have a single payer healthcare system, and to see Citizen's United repealed.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.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Crack In The Filter Bubble

As much as I am interested in and opinionated about politics, I rarely see political arguments in person. I sit here writing this in my room, with books on politics and economics scattered across my line of sight, and yet it feels like the closest to a political argument I observed in 2015 was a discussion about the proper level to set a universal basic income to, which is a wee bit different than what most of the rest of the country is arguing about.

Part of the reason there aren't those arguments is my own filter bubble. Not just the internet software filter bubble that the Wikipedia page I linked to talks about, but how we filter our friends and acquaintances. Homophily as sociologists say. People tend to associate with those who are similar to themselves. I am a fairly liberal person, and so are most of my friends, and hell, I live in San Francisco. A good book I read a few years ago, The Big Sort (not to be confused with The Big Short), makes some good arguments that clustering of like-minded American subcultures and political groupings has accelerated significantly in the last several decades, making it much more likely for people to mostly be surrounded by those of similar political and religious beliefs.

Still, I do have friends, and relatives, that I know to vote Republican. At least three. Yet, I rarely see them get into arguments either. I believe most of the reason for that is wanting to be polite, not wanting to ruin Christmas dinner, or simply knowing that our beliefs diverge so wildly that there's not much of a chance of one of us to change one another's mind.

With that level of non-confrontation and self-filtering in our daily lives, there are some rather unfortunate effects. If the only people I argue with are mostly anonymous asshats on the internet, it does lead to dehumanizing the other side. And believe me, my internal conception of the other side is rather dehumanizing. I see conservatives in America as either idiots, willfully ignorant, ideologically insane, greedy, or bigoted. So, yeah. Not much of a beginning to argue about.

Which is why the last month has been very interesting for me. I certainly feel as though I've seen more political argument in the last month as I have in the last seven or eight years. Possibly longer. The reason for this, is of course, the Hillary Clinton vs Bernie Sanders primary. I've actually seen friends get into long extended arguments with each other in public view! It's wonderful!

Of course, yes at least three quarters of those arguments quickly degenerate into either shouting, or passive aggressive sass, but at least it feels like a step in the right direction.

So, what makes things different now? I'd posit that it's a few main things. The positions are relatively new enough that we haven't had time to set up our filters and know who already agrees with us. Then, because we don't know other's opinions already, we tend to assume our friends agree with us, and get a good bit offended when they don't, thus throwing the wanting to politely deescalate arguments out the window. The surprise is a bit of a shock, and leads us to argue.

It certainly makes me wish I saw more arguments in our daily lives. Actual arguments, with the potential for allowing minds to be changed. Not sure what that would lead to, other than shouting a your uncle over Christmas break, but, damn. Better than ignoring each other for fear of causing an upset.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Never Too Late For New Year's Resolutions

Not being too late for New Year's resolutions doesn't mean I'm finally settling on what I want to be doing for 2016, it means I'm getting back to a resolution I abandoned three or four years ago; writing a post here at least once a week. As a means of encouragement, I have signed up with Iron Blogger SF in a beer money competition. Thank you, Matt Spitz, for the intro to them. Not a bad year for blogging given the US election. If I follow through on other past New Year's resolutions on this schedule, I might actually end up with a tattoo in three years. Still need to figure out 2016, but I've got some time for that.

So, yeah, where is humanity in 2016? What the hell am I doing with my life?

Myself, things are good. Working away at the best job I've yet had at the wonderful PlanGrid. Personal life is enjoyable, good friends, wonderful relationships, and I'm mostly on top of things. May need some new excitement before too long. That, or what I'm sensing is the general 30's worries about getting a house, getting married. The "am I doing adulthood right!?" story.

The rest of the world? Eh... Fear of ongoing environmental destruction and increasing economic inequality. Mildly happy with the rate of technological and scientific improvements. Mostly happy with improved social tolerance in the developed world, with the general wealth improvements in the developing world.

Trends seem to be as they have been the last few years. Still waiting for one of those sea changes to mix things up. Closest thing I've seen to a sea change in my adult life was probably the Great Recession, and that, though painful, doesn't seem to have shaken up any of the larger economic or political systems out there.

Shall see what the year brings, as always.