alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
While web-browsing, I happened upon the following startling bit in a wikipedia article about a minor David Lynch project: ...a paper entitled "The Common Pain of Surrealism and Death" suggested that acetaminophen acted to suppress the effects of surrealism.

[livejournal.com profile] siderea, have you heard about this?
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
While visiting Rick and Libby in Chicago, they took me out to see Facing Angela, a play written by a friend of theirs, Scott Barsotti. They warned me up front that Scott writes disturbing plays about the nature of identity, and this certainly qualified. I didn't actually *like* it, but I have a lot to say about it, so it's successful art in that sense, at any rate.

First, here's the official blurb:
Angela has lost her face. Acquiring a new face alters more than skin and tissue, cutting into Angela's relationship with her husband, Wes, and mutating her sense of self. As Angela re-constructs, re-invents, and re-defines her identity, Wes ceases to recognize the woman he loves, and doubts whether he really knows himself either. This re-imagining of Barsotti's 2003 play, explored over the course of the season with the cast and company, will delve deep into how we recognize ourselves and those we go to bed with, and the collateral damage of transformative change.
Though the blurb doesn't mention this, Angela suffers from a chronic skin condition, and subsequent body-image issues and persistent low self-esteem. Her husband does his best to be a supportive partner, but (spoiler) ultimately fails.

I had what I expect is an atypical reaction to this play. I am myself married to a woman with chronic medical issues and subsequent self-esteem problems. If her problems had been worse, and I had been stupider, "Facing Angela" could have been our story. Thankfully, rather than psychodrama, we live in a screwball comedy :-) But it made the story very personal for me, and made me frequently want to smack the characters: "*NO*, you idiot! You're doing it wrong!"

This identification also made me sensitized to all the things the playwright *didn't* show. Does Wes have a job? Does Angela? Where does their health insurance come from (and is that putting extra strain on their relationship)? Do they have any friends? Does Angela have *anything* positive in her life, even a hobby, or does she literally spend *all* her time in self-loathing?

As depicted in this play, Wes and Angela are each other's only emotional support. That is a doomed scenario. It's not that great an arrangement with fully healthy people, but it can't possibly work when low self-esteem is a big factor in the mix. If person X has low self-esteem, then no single person Y can counter that by affirmations. From the point of view of person X, Y can -- must -- be written off as an anomaly, and their affirmations as, at best mistakes, at worst, outright deception. "Since I clearly have no value, then this person who *claims* to value me must be mistaken or lying." And this reaction, naturally, erodes person Y's self-esteem in turn. It's only through socialization, through showing that *many* people find value in person X, that their self-esteem issues can be ameliorated. (Partially at least. It seems to be like alcoholism; one can be in recovery, but never quite 'cured'.)

I had some very interesting conversations with Rick and Libby afterwards. I complained at one point that I don't like stories that are so negative. Rick argued that my response to that negativity was to figure out what the character's were doing wrong, thus engaging deeply with the text, and thus fulfilling the goal of the Artist in communicating ideas. As a counter-example, he posited that "You have to watch a lot of Thin Man movies before you realize what a healthy relationship Nick and Nora have, and start to wonder why." I wanted to reflexively argue against that, but then realized than my own history suggested he was right. Early in my romantic relationship with Kestrell, I successfully communicated an important-but-complex point to her by comparing a problem we were having to a problem Buffy and Riley were going through (it was early season 5 of BtVS when this happened). Art that shows characters making dumb decisions demonstrably *can* help people to "not be that guy".

Having spent a lot of time complaining about various aspects of the writing, I'd like to mention that the production was excellent. Excellent acting. Set and costumes were simple but effective. Makeup was brilliant, and far more impactful than in most plays. The sound design *hurt*, but I think in ways that were intentional. [Sidenote: the Athenaum has the creepiest bathroom acoustics I've ever encountered. Seriously Lovecraftian gurgling.] The writer and director do a bunch of fascinating things with identity and the uncanny valley. I can't precisely *recommend* the show, but I hope I've given you an idea of whether or not you would like it.
alexxkay: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] siderea has written an excellent post about Mental Health Awareness that I feel is well worth signal-boosting. Go read.
alexxkay: (Default)
Check this out: A customizable MMO that grants XP for doing household chores. I suspect that this could make a *big* difference in several households I know!
alexxkay: (Default)
A frustrating, but ultimately important work.

Read more... )
alexxkay: (Default)
I was lent this book by a colleague, who desperately wanted someone to discuss it with. And indeed, there is much to discuss. I have returned the book, though, so this discussion is filtered through my faulty memory.

The basic thesis of the book is that, as far as diligent scientific research can detect, there is no such thing as 'inborn talent'. Achievement of excellence, even at the very highest levels, comes from what he calls 'directed practice'. The more of this you do, the better you get, all the way up the scale, in every field of endeavor.

Read more... )
alexxkay: (Default)
So, it turns out that the Soviets actually *did* build a Doomsday Device. This happened back in the late 80's (the article doesn't mention a specific date, but that much can be inferred). You may be asking yourself, "Why didn't I hear about this years ago?" After all:
"The whole point of the doomsday machine is lost if you keep it a secret!" cries Dr. Strangelove. "Why didn't you tell the world?" After all, such a device works as a deterrent only if the enemy is aware of its existence.
But it turns out that there's another reason one might want to build a Doomsday Device, one that I had never considered before:
According to both Yarynich and Zheleznyakov, Perimeter was never meant as a traditional doomsday machine. The Soviets had taken game theory one step further than Kubrick, Szilard, and everyone else: They built a system to deter themselves.

By guaranteeing that Moscow could hit back, Perimeter was actually designed to keep an overeager Soviet military or civilian leader from launching prematurely during a crisis. The point, Zheleznyakov says, was "to cool down all these hotheads and extremists. No matter what was going to happen, there still would be revenge. Those who attack us will be punished."
I have long noticed how human psychology seems to be hard-wired to put a high value on 'punishment'; a value which may not be logically justifiable. Here is a strange example of two things which individually seem awful -- the desire to seek revenge at all costs, and the construction of a Doomsday Device -- combining in order to *prevent* a disaster. Food for thought.
alexxkay: (Default)
Human beings are capable of complex, abstract thought. This is usually a fine thing, but can lead to problems as well. Sometimes ( more for some folks than others), thoughts get into loops, and have trouble breaking free of them. "What's my purpose in life?" "Why do bad things happen?" "Where did the universe come from?" And so on. These questions are fundamentally unanswerable, and spending lots of mental effort trying to answer them is, at best, a waste of time, at worst, a ticket to serious mental illness.

I know four broad strategies for breaking free of such loops, which I will discuss in presumed order of when they evolved. Read more... )
alexxkay: (Default)
Fascinating discussion going on over here about convention structure in general, and Readercon in specific. Lots of talk about what various types of panel structures either encourage or discourage. I asked a question asking for more data that started a sub-thread.
"discouraging small or individual book conversations among people who are not panelists"

I am not aware of any convention that has mechanisms in place to encourage such conversations, nor do I have any clear notion what such mechanisms might be. I'd be interested in having this ignorance corrected, if you know of any examples.
A bunch of examples were provided, though none of them seemed close enough for me to easily check them out.

The more I think about this, though, the more I realize that my problems with various panels don't *seem* (to me) to have anything to do with structure.

When I go to a panel, I want to hear interesting, non-annoying people talk. "Interesting" can include any of the following: Informative, Witty, Insightful. Conversely, "Annoying" includes things like: Pompous, Sexist, Self-absorbed. Qualities like Rambling and Off-Topic can be positive or negative, depending on what other qualities they are paired with.

The problem, then, is to give the Interesting people lots of time to speak, while squelching the Annoying ones. Unfortunately, 'being on a panel' is only weakly correlated with this divide. Someone on a panel is *slightly* more likely to be interesting, whereas an audience member is *slightly* more likely to be annoying -- but there have been plenty of times when an audience member proved more interesting than a panelist. Indeed, it was the feeling that *I* was more interesting than some panelists that prompted me to start being a panelist at Arisia.

The one significant thing on the panelists' side (to me, as a consumer) is that I can (eventually) have some advance knowledge of what they are likely to be like. I know that any panel with at least two of Greer Gilman, Faye Ringel, and Sonya Taafe (sp?), is going to be entertaining. I have identified a few people who (naming no names) will reliably piss me off if I attend a panel they are on. Audience members, on the other hand, are catch-as-catch-can.

Is there any structural way to promote Interest, and reduce Annoyance? I can't think of one off hand. Strong moderation is one approach, but that can fail drastically when the moderator himself turns out to be Annoying. Further discussion welcomed.
alexxkay: (Default)
Fascinating pair of interviews, ranging over neuroscience, game psychology, ethics, futurism, and other interesting topics.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7G0fPb-w-0
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFiT9p6NkxQ
alexxkay: (Default)
Fascinating pair of interviews, ranging over neuroscience, game psychology, ethics, futurism, and other interesting topics.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7G0fPb-w-0
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFiT9p6NkxQ
alexxkay: (Default)
(Meant to post this yesterday, but got distracted by work stuff.)

Thursday morning, I ran into [livejournal.com profile] devoken on the T on the way to work. We had a very pleasant chat, sitting next to each other until I had to get off at JFK.

I did experience some amusing cognitive weirdness during the conversation, though. There I am, on the T, sitting next to a short, dark-haired woman, having an intelligent conversation on diverse topics... My subconscious 'recognizes' this situation, and keeps trying to get me to cuddle up, scritch, smooch, and generally Publicly Display Affection. I managed to restrain myself from doing so, but only by frequently reminding myself that this was *not* [livejournal.com profile] kestrell! (Not that I would *mind* cuddling with D, but it would be Impolite in the extreme to merely assume such familiarity :-)
alexxkay: (Default)
(Meant to post this yesterday, but got distracted by work stuff.)

Thursday morning, I ran into [livejournal.com profile] devoken on the T on the way to work. We had a very pleasant chat, sitting next to each other until I had to get off at JFK.

I did experience some amusing cognitive weirdness during the conversation, though. There I am, on the T, sitting next to a short, dark-haired woman, having an intelligent conversation on diverse topics... My subconscious 'recognizes' this situation, and keeps trying to get me to cuddle up, scritch, smooch, and generally Publicly Display Affection. I managed to restrain myself from doing so, but only by frequently reminding myself that this was *not* [livejournal.com profile] kestrell! (Not that I would *mind* cuddling with D, but it would be Impolite in the extreme to merely assume such familiarity :-)
alexxkay: (Default)
Freud was full of it. Flying dreams are nohow about sex. *Sex* dreams are about sex. I had one of each last night, and they were clearly distinguishable.

Hmmmm...

On the other hand, flying dreams could make a good metaphor for romantic love, at least in my experience of both. In order to fly, you need to keep moving forward; hovering in place doesn't work. It's almost impossible to keep a steady altitude, you're always going up or down (see Andreas Capellanus rule 4: "It is well known that love is either increasing or decreasing."). It's thrilling when you get really high, but also terrifying, because there's so much further to fall if you make a mistake.
alexxkay: (Default)
Freud was full of it. Flying dreams are nohow about sex. *Sex* dreams are about sex. I had one of each last night, and they were clearly distinguishable.

Hmmmm...

On the other hand, flying dreams could make a good metaphor for romantic love, at least in my experience of both. In order to fly, you need to keep moving forward; hovering in place doesn't work. It's almost impossible to keep a steady altitude, you're always going up or down (see Andreas Capellanus rule 4: "It is well known that love is either increasing or decreasing."). It's thrilling when you get really high, but also terrifying, because there's so much further to fall if you make a mistake.
alexxkay: (Default)
Fascinating, if depressing article:
Although the public may not have caught on, ask any urban library administrator in the nation where the chronically homeless go during the day and he or she will tell you about the struggles of America's public librarians to cope with their unwanted and unappreciated role as the daytime guardians of the down and out. In our public libraries, the outcasts are inside.
...
And if the chronically homeless show up at the ball, looking worse than Cinderella after midnight? Well, in a democratic culture, even disturbing information is useful feedback. When the mentally ill whom we have thrown onto the streets haunt our public places, their presence tells us something important about the state of our union, our national character, our priorities, and our capacity to care for one another. That information is no less important than the information we provide through databases and books. The presence of the impoverished mentally ill among us is not an eloquent expression of civil discourse, like a lecture in the library's auditorium, but it speaks volumes nonetheless.
alexxkay: (Default)
Fascinating, if depressing article:
Although the public may not have caught on, ask any urban library administrator in the nation where the chronically homeless go during the day and he or she will tell you about the struggles of America's public librarians to cope with their unwanted and unappreciated role as the daytime guardians of the down and out. In our public libraries, the outcasts are inside.
...
And if the chronically homeless show up at the ball, looking worse than Cinderella after midnight? Well, in a democratic culture, even disturbing information is useful feedback. When the mentally ill whom we have thrown onto the streets haunt our public places, their presence tells us something important about the state of our union, our national character, our priorities, and our capacity to care for one another. That information is no less important than the information we provide through databases and books. The presence of the impoverished mentally ill among us is not an eloquent expression of civil discourse, like a lecture in the library's auditorium, but it speaks volumes nonetheless.
alexxkay: (Default)
Productivity is being slow today for various reasons, so here's another amusing link I came across:

How I Failed the Turing Test
alexxkay: (Default)
Productivity is being slow today for various reasons, so here's another amusing link I came across:

How I Failed the Turing Test
alexxkay: (Default)
Most of you are probably familiar with the famous Milgram experiments in obedience. Though fascinating, they raised severe ethical concerns which have led to that line of research being largely abandoned in recent decades. It may be re-opening again, though. Researchers have found that performing these experiments in a virtual setting produces similar results.
Our results show that in spite of the fact that all participants knew for sure that neither the stranger nor the shocks were real, the participants who saw and heard her tended to respond to the situation at the subjective, behavioural and physiological levels as if it were real. This result reopens the door to direct empirical studies of obedience and related extreme social situations, an area of research that is otherwise not open to experimental study for ethical reasons, through the employment of virtual environments.

I recommend reading at least as far as the section titled "Speculations on Obedience in Virtual Reality", which reveals (to me, at least) some interesting blind spots in the experiment. First they say
...the problem of major deception that arose in the original experiments by Milgram was avoided here – since every participant knew for sure that the Learner was a virtual character, and therefore no one could believe that they were inflicting pain on anyone else.
But then they reveal how this experiment was described to the participants:
...they were told: “Thank you for taking part in this experiment. As part of our research program a virtual character has learned a set of word-pair associations. The learning is sometimes not exact, but we are testing a reinforcement learning procedure, to see if the infliction of discomfort motivates her, the virtual character, to remember the word-pair associations better.” The Learner had a quite realistic face, with eye movements and facial expressions; she visibly breathed, spoke, and appeared to respond with pain to the ‘electric shocks’. Not only that but she seemed to be aware of the presence of the participant by gazing at him or her, and also of the experimenter - even answering him back at one point (“I don't want to continue – don't listen to him!”). Finally, of course, the electric shocks and resulting expressions of discomfort were clearly caused by the actions of the participants.
To someone who gets most of their knowledge about AI from the movies (which probably describes most of their participants), it's not clear to me that this virtual actor would be perceived as "not real". If the participant thinks they are causing real pain to a real (if computerized) individual, does that actually avoid the original ethical issues?

Someone at work forwarded me this article, which has obvious implications to game design...

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Alexx Kay

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