2013-12-31

Why World of Warcraft?

Jana and I started playing World of Warcraft in early 2010. It pretty much immediately became and stayed our main hobby, and a major source of our enjoyment.

Most people - including us before we started playing - have the idea of WoW players as insufferable nerds, addicted to a game, with poor hygiene and no social contact. In addition to that, there's the concern about paying $15 per month for a game.

So let me tell you why I think World of Warcraft is the perfect hobby.

First off, the price. $15 per month is probably the biggest bang for the buck you're ever going to get for entertainment. Compare it to the cost of a single dinner with friends, or tickets to a movie. Then consider that you're likely to play WoW a lot more than the two hours it takes you to watch a movie.

WoW occupies as much or as little of your time as you want it to. You can play it 3 hours a week, or 30. There's always something to do - raiding and battlegrounds if you feel like high-stress action. Dungeons for a medium-stress activity. Questing for a low-stress way to spend time.

The main character you play is a lasting investment. Once you find the class that most fits you, the skill you develop with it allows you to enjoy the pleasure of mastering something you love, and it pays out for years. One of the main payouts, for me, is the smug satisfaction from when I see how much better I'm at it than people who haven't played as long as I have.

You can play alone, play socially, or play to test yourself against other people. You can play the game every day for years, and still not explore everything.

Some self-control is necessary to enjoy it. The game is so huge, you can't eat it all in one sitting. It's better if you don't try. For it to be a good part of your life, you need to treat it like a long-term hobby; something you can separate from, and come back to. Something that's going to be part of you for a while to come.

I've played other games; I've even quit World of Warcraft for a while. But I keep coming back to WoW because it's an enjoyable game that's not ephemeral; a game where your investment is worthwhile.

World War Z vs. The Last of Us... and other games

World War Z came out the same week as The Last of Us, but I only saw the movie now. I played the game in August.

World War Z is a movie version of the game. You got your deserted hallways with flickering lights, inhabited by clickers, who trudge around with zombie steps and are disadvantaged in the vision department, but are keenly attracted to sound. Once they hear you, they rush at you and you're dead unless you bash them with a crowbar, or hit them with several bullets (they never stop after just one).

If you're going to play the game, you obviously also have the time to watch the movie. It's not bad. But if, for some reason, you had to choose - play The Last of Us. The relationship between Joel and Ellie; the story that unfolds; the genius melancholy music... it comes together so well. If you only watch World War Z, it's... a much more plain and shallow play at the topic. The game is intense, frightening, moving; the movie, Jana and I watched as a comedy, laughing at how much it's like someone ripped off the game.

Yes, by all means, play the game. Sadly, it only runs on PlayStation 3. For me at least, though, it was worth buying a PS3 for.

Assassin's Creed IV is pretty good, except I'm not really into the pirate fantasy. It's cute, it's fun, it's well done, it has things going for it; but I still have more fun playing World of Warcraft.

GTA V, on the other hand... that really sucks. You would probably have fun with that if a life of crime is something to which you aspire. For me, there's just no way I can identify with low-life scum who go around robbing and killing and stealing. Yuch. Disgusting. I have zero motivation to play past the point where you finish that first joyride, and bring the guy to his house.

Oh and, gosh - the above is mostly games released this year, but I can't not mention one of the most amazing games ever: Portal 2. I still have fond memories of going up through the old, decaying remnants of Cave Johnson's test sites.

2013-12-30

Insulin, diabetes, exercise, and frequent urination

I've been meaning to get around to this follow-up for a while.

I posted in May about how I got scary glucose and insulin results in a blood test. This was a sign of growing insulin resistance, which would lead to Type II diabetes if allowed to progress. I suspected two factors might be to blame: (1) the high quantities of zero-calorie soft drinks I was ingesting, and (2) despite my strict diet and general fitness, a lack of aerobic exercise.

For the following 3 months, I addressed both suspected causes. I eliminated most artificial sweeteners from my diet, and I started to exercise heavily. I believed exercise would work because: (1) studies show that regular aerobic exercise mitigates the risk of Type II diabetes; (2) all pregnant women develop insulin resistance, yet 99% get better afterward, so the condition must be reversible; (3) it would be compatible with my hypothesis about the workings of the underlying mechanism.

My hypothesis is naive, but it's compatible with my experience, and it might help someone, so here it goes. When your muscles have full energy stores, they move insulin receptors away from the cell surface. By doing so, they stop extracting glucose from the blood stream, because they have nowhere to store it. When all the muscles in your body have full energy stores, glucose stays in the blood stream. The pancreas detects this, and starts pumping out more insulin to clear the glucose. Your muscles react by hiding their insulin receptors even more, so the pancreas starts to crank out even more insulin. In effect, the pancreas is saying "come on, this glucose has to be cleared from the blood stream", but every muscle in your body is saying "I'm full, someone else take it". If you don't do something about this, eventually the pancreas burns out, and then you have Type II diabetes. But if you do regular aerobic exercise, the insulin receptors in your muscles move back to the cell surface; the pancreas doesn't have to crank out as much insulin, and your glucose and insulin levels stabilize.

In May, I put my hypothesis to the test by immediately starting a heavy-duty exercise regime. The first month, I did 40 minutes of aerobic exercise nearly every day of the week, burning about 480 kCal per day. After the first month, I reduced this to 30 minutes, or about 360 kCal. As soon as I started this, all subsequent blood tests came back clear. But not only that; I also noticed a major improvement in an embarrassing symptom that's been going on for years. Suddenly, I no longer had to pee every 90 minutes.

For years, my urination problem has been getting worse. Like many people, I ignored it. Only after the blood test, I became aware that frequent urination is a sign of insulin resistance, and a herald of Type II diabetes.

What's happening is, because of the insulin resistance, your body has continuous high levels of glucose and insulin, which are toxic in high concentrations. Your kidneys have a threshold at which they will start expelling glucose into urine. When this is happening, you notice that you're often thirsty; you have to urinate often; your pee is relatively clear; and the pee is sweet. (This last one might be awkward to verify; I didn't.)

At the peak of this problem, I would have to take a bottle of water with me wherever I went. I wasn't able to sleep through the night without getting up and peeing before going back to bed. When I went to the movies, I urinated immediately before the movie, and by the time the movie ended, my bladder was hurting again and ready to burst. But after a few weeks of heavy aerobic exercise, the problem was gone completely. I was now able to go to dinner, followed by a movie, and didn't have to pee the entire time, until after I got home.

After about 3-4 months of exercise, during which my symptoms went away, there were personal events which plunged me into several months of depression. I was in emotional agony, which was worse when I didn't have something with which to occupy my mind. This made it difficult for me to exercise, because my mind would wander and think about things that were very painful. For the 3 months from September to November, my aerobic activity dropped to near zero. It took until December for me to start noticing the insulin resistance creeping back. One morning, I had to get up an hour before I intended, because my bladder was about to burst. I finally started exercising again, and the symptoms again improved quickly.

I'm now using an exercise bike for 30 minutes at a time, burning about 340 kCal every other day. This seems to be sufficient to keep the symptoms of insulin resistance at bay. I'm still avoiding artificial sweeteners, but not as religiously as in the first few months: my diet includes Greek yoghurt and protein bars. I've also started eating chocolate again, while staying within the bounds of my controlled calorie intake, high-protein diet. So far, as long as I exercise, what I'm eating doesn't seem to be hurting.

Subsequent News


A study published in 2014 found zero-calorie sweeteners cause diabetes through changes in gut flora.

2013-12-29

Unnecessary engineering

Look at this guy.

He crashes his old Citroen in an African desert. He's 20 miles away from the nearest village - about a day of walking, perhaps 2 on rough terrain - but he "didn't want to risk making the trek on foot". Instead, he spent 12 days in the desert, surviving on scarce supplies of food and water, sheltering under the car's chassis during sandstorms. He used that time to convert the Citroen into this ridiculous, dangerous motorcycle. Then he rode the motorcycle to the nearest village, arriving about 10 days later than if he just walked on foot.

This reminds me of how programmers often go about things... Instead of doing an awkward task by hand, we think of a clever way to do it with a program! Then we spend three times as long writing and debugging that program, as it would have taken to do it by hand. :)

2013-12-23

Rick & Morty

I just discovered Rick & Morty. It's ridiculous. And by ridiculous, I mean it's awesome. :)

Here's a quick GIF, just so you get the idea:

2013-12-22

Oblivion

Just watched Oblivion.

Wow.

If you haven't seen it, this is a very good film.

2013-12-17

More photos! #3

Aaron is now nearly 7 weeks old. :-)

Here's a third set of photos from last time - oldest to newest:
















As you can see, he's starting to get blond hair. :)



Paintings!


Also, we finally received, and were able to get help to hang, the paintings from our St. Kitts apartment!

This is how they look in our new place:








Monogamy kills

Check out this awful story:
Wife and I have been together for 14 years, and on October 24th we celebrated our 12 year anniversary. Together we have 3 children: Martin 10 years old, Casey 7, Tiffany 4. Wife was a fantastic woman, and even better mother.

A month before her suicide she was acting very strange. She began withdrawing affection from me. It has always been a routine that before I would head out for work I would give her a kiss. However, whenever I went for a kiss she would always pull away.

When it came to talking, she would rarely give me eye contact. I tried many times to try to see what was going on and she would just play it off.

Last week, when I came home. I noticed that the kids were home alone. I started calling my wife, after 3 hours of no answer. We ended up calling the police. The next day she was found in her car dead; she had committed suicide. There was a suicide note, where she confessed to cheating on me, and that she could no longer handle the guilt.

My heart froze then and there; all I could think about was having her back. I would have worked things out with her, this could have all been saved. I want her to know that she wasn't alone.

Right now, my kids are taking it really hard. My youngest daughter, still asks when mommy is going to come back and it breaks my heart. My wife left me all alone.
Here's a great woman, a good wife and mother, driven to suicide because she's conflicted between what she feels (love for her husband and children, as well as love for another person) and what she feels everyone is expecting of her (to be "loyal" to her family by never loving anyone else).

This is tragic and unnecessary. There was no reason for this woman to not love freely.

2013-12-10

Zero-tolerance schools kill

I don't normally post stuff that's on top of the Reddit front page anyway, but - this really pisses me off:

Ontario mom urges schools to let asthmatic kids carry puffers

Ryan Gibbons, 12, died after a severe asthma attack during recess at Straffordville, Ont., school

Many schools in the US and Canada have zero-tolerance policies, in which everything - including essential emergency medicine, like inhalers and epi-pens - is considered a dangerous drug that must be kept out of kids' hands, whatever it takes. An asthmatic kid can't carry an inhaler. An allergic kid can't have an epi-pen. Instead, if an emergency arises, the kid has to go to the principal's office, or to the school nurse, and kindly ask for her emergency medicine. You know - if she doesn't die on the way there.

Obviously, this is dangerous. At the very least, the delay makes any health incident worse. Reasonable parents work around this policy, and give their kid a spare inhaler or epi-pen, to hide. Reasonable teachers pretend they don't notice.

Well, Ryan's mom did that. He's had his contraband inhaler confiscated many times. Then one day, he experienced an attack, didn't have an inhaler, and had to be carried to the principal's office. The office was locked. He died. Because, you know, keeping drugs out of kids' hands is more important than that they live in the first place.

How schools are able to get away with this is beyond me. Designing and enforcing this policy is outright, deliberate child endangerment. Every official who took part in confiscating inhalers from this child directly contributed to his death.

2013-12-09

My experience with an (NSA?) prankster

Remember the movie The Mothman Prophecies? A major feature of the film is Richard Gere's interaction with an entity who calls itself Indrid Cold; a being with supernatural abilities who apparently knows everything there is to know about the present, as well as the future.

A person claiming to be Indrid Cold appeared in YouTube comments one day. It impressed other people who commented, by sharing apparently supernatural knowledge about them. Some people exchanged correspondence with it in private, and it impressed them with its abilities even more. One of those people posted about it on Reddit, and that's how I got to know about Indrid Cold.

I was naturally curious, so I sent Indrid an email. More than a month later, I received this reply:

Hello, Mr. Bider,

Your are the co-founder of a software company called 'Bitvise'. You are originally from Slovenia but moved to the Leeward Islands with your wife, Jana. You both enjoy fresh seafood and online gaming. You recently canceled your World of Warcraft account due, in part, to the mishandling of Affliction Warlock class balance. You use 'Elo' as a prefix for your World of Warcraft characters with the exception being your Undead Mage, 'Creepybones'. Your wife uses 'Rheo' as the prefix for all of her World of Warcraft characters. Your main character is 'Elocyn of Stormrage' and your wife's main character is 'Rheolynx of Stormrage'. You are an atheist, yet are fascinated by the nature and mysteries of perceived reality. Your wife is quite fond of cats. You very much enjoyed the film 'Inception', though, the ending, while seemingly happy, left you wanting. You supported Ron Paul for President of the United States. You wrote a fairly popular user guide for the software 'Crypto++'. You almost broke your ankle, once, near Brimstone Hill Fortress on Saint Christopher Island. You would love to see an explosion of Free-Market Libertarianism sweep across the Balkans. You fancy yourself as an inventor.

Greetings, Mr. Bider. My name is Indrid Cold. I have noticed your interest in a post by the Reddit user known as Griffdude13. How may I be of service?

- Indrid

This is nearly entirely correct, except that at the time I received it, I had no recollection of almost breaking my ankle. What memory I did form since then could very well be false.

I received this a week before any of the Snowden revelations, but one of my immediate suspicions was that this could be a prank played by someone at an intelligence agency. What's especially telling is that, with the exception of the ankle thing - which is dubious - Indrid mentioned nothing outside of what's easily accessible in English and online, with the proper access.

Today, I find this article:

Spy agencies in covert push to infiltrate virtual world of online gaming

(The Guardian, December 9, 2013)

[...]

The NSA document, written in 2008 and titled Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments, stressed the risk of leaving games communities under-monitored, describing them as a "target-rich communications network" where intelligence targets could "hide in plain sight".

Games, the analyst wrote, "are an opportunity!". According to the briefing notes, so many different US intelligence agents were conducting operations inside games that a "deconfliction" group was required to ensure they weren't spying on, or interfering with, each other.

If properly exploited, games could produce vast amounts of intelligence, according to the NSA document. They could be used as a window for hacking attacks, to build pictures of people's social networks through "buddylists and interaction", to make approaches by undercover agents, and to obtain target identifiers (such as profile photos), geolocation, and collection of communications.

The ability to extract communications from talk channels in games would be necessary, the NSA paper argued, because of the potential for them to be used to communicate anonymously: Second Life was enabling anonymous texts and planning to introduce voice calls, while game noticeboards could, it states, be used to share information on the web addresses of terrorism forums.

Given that gaming consoles often include voice headsets, video cameras, and other identifiers, the potential for joining together biometric information with activities was also an exciting one.

But the documents contain no indication that the surveillance ever foiled any terrorist plots, nor is there any clear evidence that terror groups were using the virtual communities to communicate as the intelligence agencies predicted.

The operations raise concerns about the privacy of gamers. It is unclear how the agencies accessed their data, or how many communications were collected. Nor is it clear how the NSA ensured that it was not monitoring innocent Americans whose identity and nationality may have been concealed behind their virtual avatar.

[...]

Since the Snowden revelations, I've heard nothing from Indrid, so I can only assume that the prank ended when the extent of NSA monitoring came into the spotlight.

The NSA claims that abuses aren't common, but pranks like the above are a clear indication of how easy they must be. If analysts could feel free to prank strangers with this kind of data, it's nearly certain they can get the same data, or more, about anyone in whom they have a personal interest.

2013-12-04

2013-11-27

Doubters and Bitcoin

Bitcoin is becoming sufficiently well known that people on reddit post topics like I believe that BitCoin will be a spectacular failure (granted, this was in the Change My View subreddit).

Here's my response:



Bitcoin is the same kind of "bubble" as gold. A comparison between the two:
  • Gold has ornamental use, and niche technology uses, neither of which contribute much to its perceived value. Gold is valuable because everyone thinks it is - because other people use it as a store of value.
  • Despite its relative lack of inherent value, gold served as an economically stable medium of exchange for thousands of years.
  • Gold is inappropriate as a medium of exchange in an online economy. It's impractical to trade at a distance without relying on third parties.
  • Bitcoin lacks ornamental value and niche industry use, but is even better suited as a store of value.
  • Bitcoin is extremely easy to send to anyone, at any distance, anywhere.
  • The value of Bitcoin will stabilize once it approaches wide acceptance.
  • Bitcoin may overshoot its ultimate value at some point, but right now it is far from the value it will need to have, if a significant fraction of people are ever going to use it.
  • The main obstacle for Bitcoin is the inherent insecurity of most today's computer systems. It's currently hard even for an expert to hold Bitcoin securely.
  • Once secure hardware wallets are available, and assuming governments don't band together to intervene, there's no reason for Bitcoin not to supersede gold as a preferred store of value.
  • The current value of all gold in the world is about $6.4 trillion.
  • The current value of all Bitcoin is approaching $12 billion. It can easily grow by another factor of 100 before it begins to compete with gold in market cap.
Pyramid schemes crash when they run out of investors, i.e. when most potential buyers already have a position, and there's no one left to sell to. But when Bitcoin reaches this point - when most potential buyers already have it - at that point, it becomes the global currency. Acceptance is the very measure of its value.

It would take a very significant concerted effort, a sabotage, or a discovery of some completely unexpected technological flaw, to sweep the floor from under Bitcoin, at this point.

Disclosure: I did purchase some Bitcoin. Stupid me didn't bother to buy in 2011, when I first heard of it; nor in 2012, when it was still at $5, even as I was seriously looking into it. But I finally got some this year. I'm planning to hold onto it indefinitely; there's just never any reason to dump it. Even when it reaches $100k, it's likely still going to grow. Besides, what would you exchange it for? USD? Is that going to grow?

2013-11-17

New Relationship Insanity

LoL. :) I definitely suffer from this.


2013-11-15

Windows 8.1 upgrade blues

I wouldn't say my upgrade to Windows 8.1 was smooth.

The laptop first crashed soon after the upgrade. When I connected my external HDMI screen, Windows blue screened and pointed out the NVIDIA display driver as the culprit. I disconnected HDMI and updated NVIDIA drivers to the latest version, but now blue screens started to occur when attempting to open the NVIDIA Control Panel. When it didn't cause the computer to crash, it still failed to open with an error stating that no NVIDIA graphics card is currently active. I checked the Device Manager, but all it said was that NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M is operating correctly. That's even though it clearly didn't: I tried starting a game to make sure, and the frame rate, which should be about 100, was between 1 and 2. I didn't even try HDMI at this point.

It turned out the problem was that the upgrade to 8.1 disabled the Intel HD Graphics 4600 driver. I had to download a new one from the Intel Download Center. After installing the new Intel HD Graphics driver, the NVIDIA graphics also started to work fine. I've now been able to connect my external HDMI display, and the game shows a normal frame rate.

Here's to hoping that's mostly the end of Windows 8.1 upgrade troubles.

2013-11-12

Kimchi Cuddles

I just love Kimchi Cuddles. It started earlier this year, and there's already hours worth of it to read. If you're trying to wrap your mind around poly - if you're looking for insight into what it's like as a mindset - then this is it.

Follow this link to read it from the beginning.


2013-11-07

The cost of giving birth in Costa Rica, and more photos

So, the bills are in:

SurgeonUSD1,600
AssistantUSD400
AnesthesiologistUSD400
PediatricianUSD400
Hospital (24 hour stay)USD1,980
TotalUSD4,780

Not too bad, for no insurance, and a C-section. I've seen reports of total costs such as $25k in the US.

We were happy with the quality of service, and found the professionalism comparable to what we would expect in the US.

Why no insurance?


Folks have asked why we don't have medical insurance. Well, we sort of do. We have access to the public system, we just pay out of pocket for private health care.

Costa Rica has one of the best health care systems, in my opinion. There's a system of public hospitals that's available to everyone through social security. We pay a significant amount for social security every month, so we have access to that. However, we prefer to use the services of private hospitals. Private hospitals charge rates much more reasonable than in the US, so we can afford to pay out of pocket.

If we lived in the US, where you can expect to go bankrupt if you lack insurance and need medical care, we would definitely be insured. But the US is probably the only country where, if you're not insured, you can expect to be charged a factor of 5 times more than what the fair cost would have been, if it were charged to your insurance instead.

Bonus photos!


I'm sure the grandparents will want to see these. :-) (More photos earlier)






Dan Savage on (non)monogamy

Hear, hear. Dan Savage makes an appearance in The Guardian:

Why is non-monogamy such a dangerous idea?

I don't follow his writing, exactly, but I've so far read nothing from him I didn't like.

2013-11-06

People who can't use lifts

More specifically - people who:
  1. Press both the up and down button when they call the lift. As if they're going to go both directions.
  2. Board a lift going the wrong direction, even when the direction is clearly signaled before they enter the lift.
  3. Fail to notice that the lift refused to register their floor selection, because it's going the opposite way.
  4. Grumble when they need to select their floor again, once the lift has reached bottom.

Our parking is in the bottom basement of our building. When I call a lift, and it arrives with a person already in it, and that person doesn't disembark, I immediately know:
  • They're a dumb fuck who pressed both the up and down buttons when they called the lift, causing the lift to stop on their floor when it didn't have to. This wastes my time waiting for the lift.
  • They're a dumb fuck who entered the lift going the wrong way. This wastes their time, because now they're going with the lift, all the way the wrong direction, before they can even start to go where they want to. And it wastes the time of others, because now the other lift, which goes the right direction, but which they did not board, is going to stop on that floor without anyone boarding or leaving.

It doesn't happen just to kids, either. I keep seeing middle-aged people who have no business arriving at basement E, and really should have known better.

If only folks could learn to press only the button for the direction they want to go, and then board a lift that's actually going that direction. No one's going to say anything, but we will silently thank you.

2013-10-31

Halloween Baby

Our son Aaron was born in the CIMA hospital in San José today, after 37 weeks of pregnancy, at 14:37 local time, October 31, 2013, by Caesarean section. He's tiny - 47 cm and 2300 g - but vivacious and hungry, and appears to be healthy despite his size. His weight seems to be mostly in his balls, which are bigger than his penis. His feet are tiny, and he arrived into the world with a head of dark hair, just like his momma.

We expected he'd be premature, but we didn't expect it would have to be by C-section. Towards the end of the pregnancy, ultrasound showed calcifications in the placenta. According to the ultrasound specialist, these calcifications were signs of an intrauterine infection, which could have resulted from a week of a flu-like illness which Jana experienced in August. There was a low level of amniotic fluid, and the baby had been behind with weight progression for a while. Since the amniotic fluid is composed to a large extent of the baby's own urine, the gynecologist interpreted its low level as a sign that the baby wasn't getting the nutrition it needed. He recommended that Aaron would be better off outside, and that a C-section would be preferable to induced labor, because dilation hadn't yet taken place.

(Edit: According to another doctor we heard from, calcifications are as expected in late-stage pregnancy as wrinkles in an 80-year old woman. She argues that a lower than average weight is still normal, and a low level of amniotic fluid has no relationship to the nutrients the baby is getting. The CTG results were perfectly normal, so she thinks the C-section was unnecessary.)

Jana received epidural anesthesia, which was administered painlessly, and was awake throughout the procedure. I held the baby for about an hour after he was born, waiting for the mommy to come out of surgery, experiencing a variety of emotions, but mostly awe.

Jana and Aaron are now in their room at the hospital, where I'm returning shortly with some goodies.




The mommy's first look at Aaron




First time in his mother's arms




In the room now, and hungry!


Edited to add: Day #2




With daddy!




At home. :-)

2013-10-26

Couple Privilege

I found this awesome blog article describing couple privilege. It's literally the top search result for that search phrase, and for good reason. I've been irked by people expressing opinions that derive from couple privilege for years now, but I never had a coherent name for what they're doing, let alone what's wrong with it. This is the first time that I find such a stunning, exhaustive, concise explanation of what couple privilege is, and why it isn't a good thing.

The part that speaks most loudly to me is from Part 3 onward.

2013-10-22

Mad Men vs. Breaking Bad

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the person who got Jana and I to start watching Mad Men. You know who you are. Thank you.

We started watching Breaking Bad before Mad Men. Whereas we've already consumed all 5 Mad Men seasons available to us through Netflix, we've hardly progressed past Breaking Bad season 2. The following are the reasons.

Mad Men has brilliant character development. Each character is multifaceted and shown in a variety of situations, exposing their depth. Breaking Bad has static, two-dimensional characters, who always have the same problems, the same shallow relationships, and behave the exact same way.

Mad Men follows what might be plausible life stories of professionals in the 1960s. The narrative develops naturally, one never has the impression it's contrived or forced. Despite that, the story manages to be titillating, interesting, amusing, thought provoking, and diverse; sometimes stunning.

In Breaking Bad, the narrative is contrived and forced. The characters keep running into unnecessary, arbitrary setbacks, just so the story can reset itself, and keep going. The characters don't learn from their mistakes; they don't improve. The relationships between them don't change. They just keep bumbling about and falling over themselves, in one incident less probable than the other, just so the story writers don't have to shift gear, and events can continue to unfold in the same pattern.

Mad Men is about mastery of script with subtlety and nuance. Breaking Bad is about as subtle as a jackhammer, and about as nuanced as a nail in the head.

We're currently stuck at a Breaking Bad episode where the characters experience yet another arbitrary, completely contrived setback, just so the status quo can be prolonged for another few seasons. Meanwhile, we can hardly wait for Mad Men season 6, when it comes out on Blu-Ray. Or even season 3 of Game of Thrones.

Edit: Several months later, we finally gathered the willpower to keep watching Breaking Bad, and it surprised us. It went in a much better direction than we feared. I posted a retraction of the above here.

2013-10-19

Louisa Leontiades - "My Problem With Monogamy"

The following is an excerpt from a post by Louisa Leontiades, which corresponds with my views on the topic:

My Problem With Monogamy - Comfort Instead of Happiness


Everyone asks why. Why take the risk of having an open relationship when you have children? They perceive open as 'non-committed'. Why take the risk of being polyamorous when you are so happy together? They perceive polyamory as a selfish choice rather than a realistic choice supporting an inclination. Rather than argue those misconceptions, my answer is this.

The reason we are so blissfully happy is because we have an open relationship. Being monogamous is a horrible risk. And for us at least, a greater one than polyamory.

Monogamy is designed to keep couples together by creating barriers of exit; socially; financially and psychologically. One cannot look at the divorce statistics to ascertain how successful it is; this only proves how many couples remain married. Not how many couples remain happily married... Judging by how many marriages now end in divorce since it became more socially acceptable, that's not many over the long term. Nor does it show how many couples are monogamous by law and yet have some element of infidelity within their configuration, be it emotional or physical.

No. In the final analysis, statistics mean very little (and being a financial analyst by trade, I know that underlying motivations for variance can tell a completely different story). I cannot, and will not prove anything to anyone with statistics.

People may choose to be monogamous or polyamorous. But the monogamous system has evolved from a principle involving control and property/resource management. It has not stemmed from values of freedom, acceptance and love. To my mind a system which has evolved freedom, acceptance and love sounds far better than a system which is grounded in control and property/resource management. We are a culture who tries to assuage uncertainty and establish boundaries to control our fear. We are living in a fear based culture. And our society exemplifies this in numerous ways.

[...]

2013-10-15

The doghouse: Costa Rican traffic accident law

Costa Rica has the stupidest traffic law I have ever seen. In the tradeoff between preserving evidence about an accident and avoiding congestion, Costa Rica firmly chooses the side of evidence preservation. In other words, if you're involved in any sort of traffic accident - however minor - you're supposed to leave the car exactly where it was, ignore the congestion this causes, and wait several hours for the police.

Just today, when returning from the shopping mall, it took us 20 minutes to overcome a distance of 250 meters, because of this:


The accident was absolutely minor; only the fenders on the cars were out of shape. Yet, these two cars stood like this, almost completely blocking a major roundabout, waiting for the police.

How anyone in Costa Rica thinks this kind of legislation is acceptable, is beyond me. Economic damage caused by the congestion is tremendous, and in most cases, by far exceeds the cost of the accident.

There might be a case of leaving the wreckage where it is if there's a major accident involving heavy injuries, but if people leave their cars in the middle of the road after a fender bender, the fines should be stiff.

2013-10-13

Alpha, beta

I recently stumbled over a Reddit community called The Red Pill. The central tenets of this community appear to be as follows:
  • There is such a thing as an alpha male. The main trait of the alpha male is that he's confident, and doesn't fall for women. He doesn't let women use him. Instead, he uses them. In modern times, an alpha man would likely not be married.
  • According to The Red Pill, marriage is exploitation of men, and implies submission to the female. Laws are written such that (a) females have no repercussions if even after marriage, they still have sex with other men; (b) divorce benefits females through division of property that favors females, child custody that favors females, and alimony that favors females.
  • There is such a thing as a beta male. This is a guy who doesn't control women, but lets a woman control him. He puts a woman on a pedestal, buys her an expensive engagement ring, and marries her. The woman then proceeds to cheat on him, and he might get stuck raising children that aren't his. Eventually, she divorces him, gets custody of the children, and takes half of his property and half his future income, reducing him to the role of a slave, while she finds another guy to screw (over).
  • The beta male might have an ideal of romantic love, which The Red Pill argues women are unable to provide. According to The Red Pill, a woman's love is conditional, and dependent on circumstance. The beta male might yearn to commit to a female he can trust; someone he can open up to; someone who will support him when he is vulnerable. According to The Red Pill, women are physically incapable of this type of relationship. When the male shows vulnerability, instead of understanding him and supporting him, they will lose their attraction to him, and seek out an alpha male who is tough.
  • The alpha male knows to never seek emotional refuge with a woman. If he needs emotional support, that's what his male friends are for. To women, he knows he must always project toughness, and never let a woman think that she has influence over him. The minute he opens up and becomes vulnerable, he has become beta - a loser that the woman will manipulate, consume, lose respect for, and eventually discard.
Let's consider an example:
  • If a woman asks you for a favor, and your reaction is to be slightly miffed, and you ask her for something in exchange for you to provide that favor - you are in an alpha disposition towards her.
  • If a woman asks you a favor, and you jump at the opportunity to help her, as if the mere fact that she asked you is sufficient compensation - you are in a beta disposition towards her.
I find it sad to talk about all this, because for the most part, it is true. Yet, there are exceptions, and there are different ways of looking at it which I think do not support the cynical Red Pill conclusion - that a man should forever find satisfaction with a variety of casual partners, and never become attached.

Many of the Red Pill views are true in an obvious way. The person who cares less about a relationship has the power in it, and suffers less if the relationship suffers. It's attractive to argue that, if you can always be the person who cares less about a relationship, this will be the most advantageous to you. But is there really an emotional benefit to always being in relationships about which you don't really care? Where is the richness of experience? Isn't it boring to never care?

I would argue that a healthy balance of alpha and beta traits is crucial to a successful relationship. If I think of the relationship I have with my wife, my behavior towards her is mostly alpha. I usually decide about most things, and my opinion usually prevails. It's not uncommon that I go too far; I sometimes dominate so much that she feels put down. This makes me feel uncomfortable and regret my behavior. Yet, she is also my best friend. I can be vulnerable to her, and expect to find support and understanding. I can open up and talk to her, truly, about anything. And ultimately, I provide for her desires; even if the order, and the method, is up to me.

Beyond my primary relationship, I can probably say I've had a fair amount of experience with women, in a variety of ways - from hopeless infatuations, romantic relationships, friends with benefits, to encounters that were purely sexual. My experience, sadly, supports the Red Pill view: regardless of what I bring to the relationship, in no circumstance do I ever recall succeeding with a female that I put on a pedestal.

But if you can't put what you want on a pedestal... what good is getting it? The sad conclusion of the Red Pill is that if you want it, you can't have it; and when you know how to have it, you don't want it. This might be the rule - but if you don't work to find an exception, it seems to me you might as well not live.

Finally, there's another reason I feel the Red Pill views are distorted: the misguided emphasis they put on sexual fidelity. I very much do not believe in strict monogamy - I've previously written about that.

2013-10-04

Disabling hot keys in Windows 8 using AutoHotkey

I have written previously about my disappointment with the design direction of Windows 8.

One of the most annoying "features" of this new Windows are the plentiful hot keys for things I really don't need, including WinKey + Enter (starts Narrator), WinKey + Plus (starts Magnifier), and of course the classic, the Windows key itself. When playing a game - I play World of Warcraft - it's very easy to press the Windows Key by accident, helpfully replacing your entire screen with the Start Menu, usually when it's needed the least.

I finally downloaded AutoHotkey to solve these problems. The following is the script I use:


; Disable WinKey + Enter (Narrator)
#Enter:: return

; Disable WinKey + Plus/Minus (Magnifier)
#+:: return
#=:: return
#-:: return

; Remap the Start menu to WinKey + S
#s:: send {LWin}

; Disable WinKey when pressed alone
~LWin Up:: return
~RWin Up:: return

; Set NumLock state to always on
NumLock:: SetNumLockState, AlwaysOn

; Disable extra mouse buttons being sent to Firefox (they act as Forward and Back)
; Disable Ctrl+W - closes current tab, frequent work destroyer during text editing
#IfWinActive ahk_class MozillaWindowClass
XButton1:: return
XButton2:: return
^w:: return
#IfWinActive


I prefer to have my NumLock state locked to remain always on. Your preference may vary.

To have a script like this start automatically:
  1. Save the script somewhere and give it an .ahk extension.
  2. Press Ctrl+C with the script file selected in Windows Explorer.
  3. Open the Windows Startup folder. On Windows 8, you can get there via Start menu > type "shell:startup" > Enter.
  4. Right click and select "Paste shortcut".
AutoHotkey will now run in the background with this script whenever you log into Windows.


Edit 2015-03-17: Added section to disable extra mouse buttons (mouse buttons 4 and 5) being sent to Firefox. It's super frustrating how an accidental squeeze of those buttons discards any work you might have been doing in the browser window - and this behavior cannot be turned off in the browser.

2013-10-03

Slow download on MSI laptop with Killer network cards

I've written recently about my limited satisfaction with my new laptop, an MSI GT70.

Another problem I discovered recently was that download speeds were limited to 1.5 Mbps. Since this slow rate persisted regardless of whether I tried the wireless or Ethernet connection, I thought the blame was with my ISP; but after extensive testing, it turned out that other laptops were able to get better speeds, up to 15 Mbps, through the very same connection. It was only my MSI laptop that was seeing very low download speeds. Interestingly, upload speeds appeared to be unaffected, and the download speeds were also fine when using USB tethering through my smart phone, which used the same internet connection, but bypassed the Killer network cards.

Eventually, it turned out that I needed to install a driver update for the Killer network cards (both wireless and Ethernet) that come with the MSI laptop. I was able to download new drivers here. After removing the old drivers and installing new ones, I'm now seeing download speeds I expected to see.

2013-09-26

Free tarot readings for all

I want to get better at tarot, and I don't have that many ponderous questions of my own to ask. If you want a shitty tarot reading from someone who has no clue, drop me a note. :-)

Post mortem

I hate Atlanta already.

First, it's the reason I'm here. It shouldn't have to be like this. I hoped to win back the heart of the person I came for. Instead, I've had to flee Birmingham, so she could no longer feel threatened by my presence.

Not that she even has a way to know that I left. But I couldn't in good conscience stay, after she reluctantly reached out to me while drunk, only to tell me how much she now hates my guts; how much it scared her I was there; and how she wants me to suffer...

Second, the room is a dump. Compared to the comfortable suite they had for me at the Meadowbrook Hampton Inn, this Holiday Inn Express is a cramped, poorly ventilated shithole, at a higher price. The desk is tiny and it shakes when I type. I shouldn't have chosen downtown.

I would write more, but I'm dead inside. Maybe tomorrow. In the meanwhile... I wonder if I can read tarot.



At my 5'7", I never thought I'd find a hotel bed in the US that feels too short for comfortable sleeping. Well, there's a first time for everything.

Jana asks me if I'm sad. That word does not quite capture my feelings correctly. A better expression would be terrified. I find myself in the worst possible outcome I could have imagined. How could my good intentions lead to this? It reminds me of the driver from the advertisement who was texting "I love you", only to run over three kids.

I had an opportunity to experience something I very much wanted to experience. If I had seen the other person for who she is, and acted on her terms, we both would have been able to do it. Instead, I saw her for what I wanted her to be, and I wanted it to happen on my terms.

I wanted it too much. I could not keep my desire in check; and over time, it only kept growing. I did not want to keep it in check because, for one time in my life, I wanted to be utterly in love, and consume it. I wanted this to be the opportunity for that; I thought it was the opportunity for that; but it wasn't.

Then, there's a side of me that seeks fairness and justice; a side whose passion is passing judgment, and making sure that things are righteous, and correct. On multiple occasions, this indignant side of me has sabotaged what I wanted. It is perfectly willing to harm my goals, even my cherished goals, if it means adhering to a sense of justice.

The cards spoke with surprising clarity. "Study the failure." "Concern yourself with money." "Work, prosperity, success." "Move on."

There's nothing else to do now.

2013-09-20

Some things are worth it

I did something that might be considered creepy.

Okay, super creepy. I traveled 1,700 miles to another country, in a desperate attempt to win back someone who had already expressed intent to change her phone number so she would no longer be contacted by me. I had other reasons that compelled me to travel, but I could have gotten that done somewhere else, if not for this.

I was humiliated and failed miserably.

I expected that. I hoped for a different outcome, but I really couldn't have expected something other than what I got. I did it anyway, because to do otherwise would be to betray what I value most.

I believe emotion gives meaning to life. Most people try to control it, repress it, make it tame. I think emotion is to be experienced, and an opportunity to experience it should be cherished. It should be cherished like a unique opportunity to taste a new and mesmerizing dish - but more so, because emotions are much harder to come by.

Many people think emotions should be restrained, so that reason can prevail. I think this is a waste of life. Reason ultimately needs to serve what we feel. I see no other purpose for it. The only thing to avoid is lasting damage. Otherwise, emotion should be experienced unrestrained.

Why do we watch movies and TV, and play games, and read stories, if not for the emotions they make us feel? We don't do it just for the nice feelings. We watch comedies, tragedies, dramas, even horror, because we enjoy the entire spectrum of experience. We watch it because without these experiences, our lives would be poor.

I don't know if it's age, or it's just me, but I have reached a plateau where few things in the world are new to me, and storytelling gimmicks are having less and less of an impact. I've almost finished reading the trilogy His Dark Materials, and I find it boring. I read Machiavelli's The Prince, which some people consider abominable and shocking; I found it an insightful booklet by a candid writer pointing out obvious things that few dared say. Amusing for its frankness, but not shocking. If you're shocked to learn that politics, in the Middle Ages or today, involves murder and betrayal, you have things to see.

Blood doesn't move me. Gore doesn't move me. Death doesn't move me. I've traveled the world, and seen it. I sometimes feel like I'm 90 years old, and I've seen it all. It is hard for me to pick up a newspaper, or watch news, or see a movie, and feel something powerful. I'm rarely surprised. The events of the world unfold according to my cynical expectations. Most news and stories laid out for our consumption are forgettable crap.

You can imagine, then, how much I would value something that genuinely made me feel. And she did. For the first time in a decade, someone - something - made me feel so intensely, I could hardly work, or think about anything else. For the past 146 days, and counting, she has been on my mind every day. She made my days giddy with expectation, trembling with uncertainty, beset by despair. We fantasized, we talked, she broke off contact. I won her back, we talked again, we fantasized, we fought, she broke off contact. I could not believe she would do it for good, based on what seemed like a petty principle. She did.

I knew what I felt was infatuation. I knew it was irrational. That wasn't any reason for me not to feel, or make it go away. If you're going to discard the one thing in the world that makes you feel like this, why do you live? For the unchanging routine of daily life? To go to work every day in the morning?

So I did this, for a 5% chance, nay, a 1% chance, that it might have ended differently. Because I could continue to feel so strongly. Because we both could feel.

In the last few days, I was hit by the full pain of irrevocable loss. This was almost too hard to bear. I always knew it was going to be; that's why I tried so hard to avoid it. If it wasn't for Jana, I could have done something to myself. Thanks to her, I didn't.

Honey - you've been there all along. Thank you for supporting me, and standing next to me. Most any other partner would not have let me experience this. But I was able to share everything with you. You were happy for me when I was giddy from the adventure. You lit my way when my despair was at the most dense. You did not stand between me and where I wanted to go, even when you were worried about the ending.

You are wonderful, and the most perfect life companion I can imagine. I owe you so much. I love you.

2013-09-17

Elysium

Elysium is an awesome movie. It's worth seeing. A sci-fi spectacle with Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, William Fichtner, and lots of blood splatter. What more do you want?

Like most such movies, of course, it has a fundamental flaw that completely undermines its premise. It makes heroes of the wrong side.

Spoilers below.


The real villain of this story isn't Elysium; it's a lack of population control. The real hero aren't the people of Earth; it's life-saving technology.

The movie's naive conclusion is that, when all the billions of people on Earth are made citizens of Elysium, the life-saving technology miraculously becomes available to all.

This is not how things work. When a resource is only available to a few people, it's usually because it's scarce. What makes a resource scarce usually isn't a decree from government, but a law of nature that we have not yet learned how to overcome. In order for a major new technology to become more cheaply available to more people, scientific and technological breakthroughs are needed. If you don't solve the scientific and/or technological bottlenecks, the resource remains scarce, regardless of legislation.

So the movie, really, is depressing. The protagonist helped prolong the lives of many people; but his effect on the world's population had to have been negligible, and ultimately disappointing, because the life-saving technology of Elysium would not be available in sufficient quantity to help more than a fraction of people on Earth. If it were, the technology would not have been restricted to Elysium in the first place.

Meanwhile, the real tragedy is no population control, and it continues unresolved at the end of the movie.

Oak Mountain State Park

Went hiking today. These are from Oak Mountain State Park, minutes out of Birmingham. There ought to be more water in the falls, apparently it hasn't rained in a while.

2013-09-16

Photos from Birmingham, AL

I never thought I'd sing praises to a place in Alabama. As recently as half a year ago, I didn't think I'd ever visit here. Based on what little I heard of the state from the media, I imagined Alabama as a backward place populated by country hicks who sing corny songs and believe in a flat Earth that's 6,000 years old. Sadly, such people do live here. But for the most part, I had preconceived ideas which, in hindsight, were as accurate as the education about Kazakhstan that can be obtained from Borat.

For one thing, I didn't expect Birmingham to be this wonderful. I may have had excellent luck with weather - sunny every day I've been here - but it stands to reason this place would be lovely all year. Everything is so green. There are trees everywhere! Forests in the middle of the city! And everything is so well maintained. Wherever you look, the grass is manicured, flowering bushes adorn intersections, and elegant homes are gently nestled under the trees.

I've seen a fair number of cities in the US. I've been to New York, DC, Miami, Seattle, Las Vegas, L.A., San Francisco, and more come to mind. Birmingham is easily one of the nicest, if not the nicest city I've seen. It doesn't have much in terms of attractions - there isn't a Seaworld here, or an Eiffel Tower, or a Sydney Opera. But it is so pleasantly liveable.


Downtown




Neighborhoods




Botanical Gardens




The Zoo