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My beloved aunt and her All-Adoption

Across the ocean lives my superficially kind, perfidiously manipulative aunt. Before I talk shit, I must note she was a second mother figure for me growing up. My actual mother is not quite a functional human, and my dad came to see me every two weeks. The occasional visits I had from my dad, along with visits to my aunt, were invaluable to me. It helped me grow up less screwed up than I could be. I needed that, so I am eternally grateful.

My aunt has also gone out of her way to help me. Most recently this year, she spent quite a bit of effort on a favor I asked, while refusing compensation beyond the costs. Back in 2007, she contributed awesomely at Jana and I's wedding with games*, poetry, and singing. Overall, in my life, she has been a kind, if subtly calculating presence.

She comes across as the nicest person. Practically a saint. That makes it disconcerting when you realize she finagles her way to be everyone's friend – only to smugly judge and diss them when they'r…

Forced-birth activists as paperclip maximizers

Related to previous post: Life continues, not begins, at conception

Through further arguments with forced-birth fundamentalists – those who call themselves "pro-life" – I've come to some interesting conclusions.

They don't care about suffering! The fact that their policies lead to suffering is irrelevant to them.

They care about minimizing gray areas. What fundamentally bothers them is how, if the rights of a person are granted at any other time than conception, the stage where these rights are granted is a judgment call. It bothers them there's no one-size answer that fits all.

The ultimate purpose of forced-birth activism is not to reduce suffering, or to maximize the number of people, or to increase happiness. It's a cover-your-ass, bureaucratic type of ethics that provides deniability. If the rules are clear, we can be sure we didn't break them.

The purpose is not to try and do what's most right, but to avoid being wrong at any cost. This makes th…

AI can change scenery, can't fix suffering

A number of people I respect work on the problem of AI friendliness. The problem is how to ensure that when a highly capable artificial intelligence arises – either as a sentience, or as a tool for some humans to use – this doesn't kill us.

This is a legitimate problem, because highly capable AI will arise – it is arising right now – and humans are problematic. We create a lot of suffering for ourselves and everything that has the misfortune to meet us. To a super-intelligent AI that wants to maximize happiness, ending us might seem a merciful and desirable outcome. The AI could then replace the entire planet with a quivering mass of neurons in a stable, never-ending state of bliss. Maximum happiness!

It appears our continued existence – and also all of its accompanying strife – could be ensured if an AI is engineered to respect and defend human free will, including – no, especially! – when this leads to unfortunate outcomes.

Lots of people have hopes beyond that: that AI will rel…

"Support" incompetence at Amazon (and elsewhere)

For a while now, I've been paying Amazon an extra $29.00 per month in hope to get at least perfunctory support if ever needed. Now, I need the most basic thing - remove the SMTP sending limit and create a reverse DNS record for a new IP address - and those $29.00 are accomplishing nothing. I have filed three requests already over several days. I'm just getting canned and inappropriate responses, and it seems nowhere closer to being done. I stand a real risk of not being able to reply to customers if this is not sorted.

I've been happy with Amazon Web Services in general. 99% of the time, it works great – as long as you don't have to interact with anyone. But when you need a human to look at something, it's only happening if your request is so ordinary that it just needs to be rubber-stamped.

I had no trouble, two times in the past, having Amazon process a similar request for new instances. But now, I'm trying to move an existing email server to a new Elastic IP…

What's wrong with computing?

What's wrong is that we are:
Using a bad universal data format.Depending on a universe of tools that make this bad format seem like the best choice.The bad universal format are text files. HTML, XML, JSON, and most programming languages are based on them. The universe of tools are all manner of utilities to create, search, process, edit, compile, compare, and store versions of them.

We need that universe of tools. But we need them for a better data format.

What's wrong with plain text, then?

It is fundamentally incongruous with the data we store. Almost all data is structured: HTML, XML, JSON, TOML are all ways to store structured data in text files. Programming languages are structured with complex grammars. Where we use binary formats, almost all of them store structured data. ZIP files, DOC files, PNG files, everything is structured.

The incongruity is in the use of in-band signaling to delineate data. We can signal start and end of data in two ways:
Length-prefixed encoding.

The case for SSH over UDP

I was recently led to the following excellent, humorous article about the current state of Internet protocols – and the winding road that brought us here:

The world in which IPv6 was a good design
I agree with Avery as he identifies a future necessity: replacing TCP with an encrypted, UDP-based protocol like QUIC that will no longer identify sessions with a 4-tuple (clientIP, clientPort, serverIP, serverPort), but instead with a random session ID. This would allow clients to change their IP address, e.g. between WiFi connections, while continuing the session state. This is not currently possible with TCP, with IPv6 or not.

The Secure Shell protocol is built on top of TCP. This creates for SSH a number of problems:
Anyone can send a TCP RST in your name (faking the IP and port; it can be brute-forced), which breaks your connection. Routers that unilaterally decide your connection is "taking too long" are in a special position to do so.If there's a data transmission error (p…

Water heater does not work, but no fuses are blown and all circuit breakers seem closed?

Solution: Not all circuit breakers are closed. Check the GFCI for the garage outlets.

In case anyone else runs into the same problem...