Friday, April 27, 2018

My relationship with Scott Adams

When I was a kid I loved cartoon strips. Garfield, BC, Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes. They were one of my favourite things and eventually I managed to write a handful of my own (to varying degrees of success). In there somewhere was Dilbert. While not my favourite, I voraciously read it and eventually got my hands on the Dilbert Principle. The principle itself was that incompetent people get promoted to where they can do the least damage.

It was a lovely silly idea with a gentle whiff of plausibility within. Scott Adams’ books continued the thread. The Dilbert Future, and then God’s Debris. I connected with them both and signed up to his newsletter. It was filled with commonly held processes being unpicked in unnatural ways.
  • Can you make a meal that is exactly what the body needs and nothing else? (The Dilburrito)
  • Can you select which branch you travel in through the multiverse using affirmations?
  • How deep does the holy land go and could you take an inch thick layer off the top and spread it out someone else to make twice as much holy land?
It compartmentalised problems to make them seem more manageable and taught me how to think perpendicular to the problem. Crucially, you would need to distance yourself from the emotional energy of an idea. It becomes a clever riddle rather than an overwhelmingly emotional problem. I love thinking about ideas like this and it certainly helped me develop my sense of humour. Even now when I’m discussing a piece of science on Smart Enough to Know Better I can feel those humour muscles pulsing.

The problem with training yourself to distance yourself from emotions and empathy when thinking like this is that a phrase that seems like another part of the puzzle is still going to have emotional weight that you don’t intend. When Scott was pondering cultural behaviour he wrote "women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently."
The f### you just said?
This is incredibly offensive to read and yet, deep in the puzzle side of things, I didn’t even register it at the time. It’s correct to think that we allow children concessions that we don’t allow to adults. In our culture men will almost always end up carrying the heavy stuff or cleaning up the really gross stuff. In the midst of the puzzle this seemed clear, but taken out of context or coming to it with fresh eyes it’s impossible now to see it as anything but offensive. ( And indeed I believe that he later removed that post )

Almost all of Scott Adams spare energy at the moment seems to be pointed towards the Trump Administration. Unpicking emotional charged ideas and playing with the puzzle aspect of them has left many calling him alt-right despite him actively stating he leans left and is only interested in the tools being used.

Living a life thinking like this is socially dangerous. We are, each of us, primates at heart. Storytelling monkeys. Our default state is emotion. It’s how we communicate. If we hear someone trying to find the good in someone or something our tribe has learned to hate we react emotionally. If we’re attacked we develop emotional defences to see the attackers as the other tribe. And then to connect with the people who agree with us. I don’t think Scott Adams is immune to this.

I still like to follow Scott Adams. He gave me the tools to analyse my own biases and, in doing so, to analyse his. I’ve hopefully now got the skill-set to take just the right amount of salt with everything he says. I love to address complex social issues with the same dispassion, but I’ve learned to make decisions based firstly on kindness, then, a distant second, on being right. This has helped me rebalance the puzzles and ideas side of me with the social animal, and being a kind social animal is like a monkey super-power.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Black and white

I decided that I wanted to make myself a chess board. I'd been searching around for a piece of wood that would match my requirements and then realised that my dad's old skimboard matched those requirements perfectly.

Skimboard by day, play draughts by night.
I flipped it over. (Didn't want to destroy the art deco design now did I) then sanded her back and grabbed some deck stain.

Two coats baby. I ain't cheap.

I then grabbed a six by six tile of smaller white tiles and the same of black and peeled them off their backing in order to glue them straight onto the board.

And to finished up I created a simple bevelled edge. This actually took me the most time.

I'm still looking to maybe add some embellishments to the plain wood but for now I'm ready to play. These pieces are plastic and light (I jammed blue tack up inside them so that they feel like they've got at least some weight) so I'm on the look-out for the perfect chess set. I do like this one from Etsy but $110 might be a bit to much for me.

What project have you been up to? Anything to show off?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Seedy Dive - Short Story

“… and another one of whatever this guy is drinking.”

I was startled from my personal reveries…
I say ‘reveries’. What I really mean is my musings re: underpants and the lack-there-of on cartoon animals.

What ever they were I was startled from them by a tall fellow decked out like some sort of military bookkeeper.

“Thanks.” I muttered, then, upon hearing how unenthused I sounded, tried again.

“Thanks so much”, I verbally oversteered.

I tried to reel myself in so that I sounded a little more like a normal human being, though in hindsight it may not have been necessary being that he was the guy in the charcoal three piece buying a complete stranger a welcome pint of Stella Artois.

“Celebrating something?” I asked.

“I am”

His head nodded with self-satisfaction looking not unlike a recently vacated rocking chair.

“I just closed a big case and I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself.”

“A case? You an MP?”

“Military police? No. I work for the commercial air carriers. I’m a safety investigator.”

“So what was the case?”

He bit his bottom lip with his top teeth and sucked air in under the pretence of deciding whether he should say or not. We both knew what was coming but there’s always a dance to this type of thing.

“Okay. Totally off the record, but here’s what happened. When you’re flying anything the size of a 737 or bigger there are certain limitations for what you’re allowed to do to them. If you pitch it forward further than 8%, or bank it further than 18% it’s got to be sent through to our office for review.”

“What happens if it goes beyond those limits?” I asked.

“Nothing. The tolerance on these things is amazing, but the passengers get freaked out. Anyhow, back in 2006 a pilot by the name of Jones has an incident. Wind sheer. We’re good at avoiding them these days but not perfect. Anyway, they’re on approach in an airbus 747 and a microburst pops out of nowhere and the whole jet drops 400 feet in a matter of seconds. He’s got plenty of space but it gives everyone a nice scare including the stewardesses. If you’re in turbulence and you want to know whether to panic or not, watch the face of the flight crew. If they don’t panic, then you don’t need to either. If they scream...”

He raised his thick eyebrows like his face was the castle that protected the joke and he was allowing me inside.

“So the plane was okay?”

“Yeah. He recovered almost immediately. Dropped the bird dead centre on the tarmac. We took a look and radar indicated it was definitely a microburst. Case closed.”

“It doesn’t end there” I surmised from his eager grin.

“Well spotted. Less than a year later we’ve got another incident with the same model of plane. Airbus 747. LAX to Miami. Thirty minutes before descent the entire plane drops into a dive. Ten degree pitch. The pilot pulls it out of the dive. Plane lands. Everyone is shaken but otherwise fine. My guys come in and can’t find the problem. We go over it with a fine toothed comb. The plane is fine. I submit my report. It goes down as an aberration.”


“I’m just getting started”, he takes a mouthful of scotch.

“Two years later it happens again. Plane drops, the pilot recovers. A handful of minor injuries and one thing linking them all together."

“Which is?”

“Jones. He’s the pilot on all three incidents.”

“Is that normal?”

“Lord no. I mean, statistically there has to be one pilot that this happens to. His buddies started calling him Horseshoe.”

I cocked my head.

“Because he was unlucky” he clarified.

I was under the impression that horseshoes were lucky rather than the reverse but I let him continue.

“It happens a fourth time and we get him into the simulator. We’ve ruled out mechanical fault so it must be a problem with the pilot. But he aces every issue we throw at him. Jones has over 12000 hours under his belt. He knows what he’s doing. It’s not mechanical and it’s not pilot error."

“So what did you do?”

"I looked at the logs and Jones does a lot of cargo runs. He’s never had an incident running cargo. I then go through the logs and find the co-pilots. The first guy, he backs up the story. Micro-burst. The second guy can’t help. He was in the bathroom while this all happened. So was the third. And the fourth.”

“They were ALL in the bathroom?”

“Each time. Jones was alone every time the problem occurred. What does that make you think?”

“I think he’s doing something he shouldn’t be when his co-pilot is absent”

“That’s what I figured, so I get special permission to rig his flight decks with a camera. It takes a while. Two more incidents but in cabins that didn’t have the hidden cameras. Finally I get him.”

He smiled a wide grin like a labrador locked in a biscuit factory.

“He was doing it on purpose”, he whispered.

“What? Why?!”

“You ever been in a bad landing?”

“Yeah,” I said “I landed in a bad storm in New Orleans once."

“You remember what happened when the wheels hit the ground?”

“We bounced around a bit and one of the overhead bins jumped open dropping backpacks and duty free booze all over the floor.”

“Did anyone clap?”

“YEAH! Everyone burst into applause. People even cheered.”

“I confronted Jones and he sits there and looks shifty. He lowers his eyes like he can’t even bare to say it, but then he says, real quiet, that he always wanted to be a comedian. I can’t figure out where he’s headed so I just keep my mouth shut. He says he’s never got a round of applause like that first time he landed the jet after the microburst.”

The pieces dropped into place.

“He wanted acclaim?”

“And the best way to do that was to force the jet into an emergency situation and then save them all”.

“That’s crazy!”

“That’s what the judge said. He’s been suspended and received a massive fine. And you know the worst part? It was a closed court, so I didn’t get one pat on the back.”

He smiled a wry smile and took another mouthful from his glass. I put my beer down and gave him a slow, sincere round of applause. He looked up startled and chuckled. He finished his Scotch and gave me a wink.

“Thanks. That means a lot.”

He patted me on the shoulder and made his way to the exit.

“Thanks for the beer” I called after him.

“Another?” asked the bartender.

"This guy just told me an amazing story" I responded.

“Did you applaud him at the end of it?”

I looked at him in confusion.

“They always do that” he scoffed, and poured me another beer.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Slut Shaming

I’d like to think that this is a well thought out position but it’s such a hot button and so filled with triggers that I’m sure there’s an eagerness to pick it to pieces. I embrace that and would always prefer to be stubbornly corrected than stubbornly incorrect.
It’s nice to think that because of their short skirts and flirty demeanour, that rape victims ‘had it coming’.

Well… I mean, it’s not nice to think. It’s awful to think about it at all, but once you’re up to your ankles in sexual assault consideration the reassuring opinion to hold is that she deserved it.

Well… maybe not deserved it. That’s pretty awful. But she at least had control over the situation and simply refused to engage that control.

Okay… maybe not control, I mean… she has the option to inspire less lust in her potential attackers or maybe to not inspire a senses of justification in them.

But… It’s nice to think that she had some control over her actions and intentionally waived them, because I have some control over my actions and I’d like to think I could avoid sexual assault. (I’m wrong)

I try to be emotionally resistant to the death of celebrities. I didn’t know them. They rarely mean something to me personally, and I find it’s easier to do so when their death is less tragic.

Chris Farley - Lived too hard and too fast. Didn’t look after himself.
Steve Irwin - Animal attack, who would have thought.
Amy Winehouse - People were predicting her death for years.

They ‘had it coming’.

They all seem to be their own worst enemy. They shouldn’t have been living that lifestyle. I feel like they had control over their behaviour and waived it. (I'm wrong again)

Then I heard that Amy Winehouse died because she had tried to clean up too fast and her body freaked out at the rapid detox. I felt awful. What a tragedy. How could you control that? Wait, Coroner’s report came out. It was drugs.

Phew, She deserved it.

Old age... or heroin?

That’s what made the death of Heath Ledger so upsetting. He’d died doing something that seemed so justifiable. Plenty of us have snuck a Strepsils lozenge an hour earlier than it says to on the box. It’s not such a leap to think that we could suffer from a similar tragedy of prescription medication overdose.

It’s that horrible reminder that we’re not in control of our own mortality, and it seems easier to write it off as their fault than to struggle with the empathy of knowing that a real human with friends and passions was ripped so violently from their heartbeat.

It’s nice to think that we could wear whatever we want where ever we want and still be safe. Short skirts, bikinis, a bright pink tuxedo *sigh*.  Of course we can’t be safe anywhere in a universe that wants us dead and injured, and how we appear is a big factor in what makes us targets. It’s one of the most effective deciders in evolution. How we appear makes us prey or available mates.

And here’s another thing evolution does that may not delight you. It doesn’t make a moral judgement on rape. Some species of duck practice gang rape. Some bugs actually fire sperm through the female’s carapace and into the womb. And a small percentage of humans every generation are the product of rape. It’s a viable reproductive mechanism which means that there’s an instinctive force in humans urging this behaviour. It doesn’t happen because the attacker wants babies, sex, or even power. It happens because it works.

Hi there, can I buy you a... KABOOM!! YEAH!!

We can overcome these instincts. We’re smart, we have willpower, we have society keeping us in check all the time.

Well… not all the time. In fact the entertainment culture seems to be a little gentle on rape. Oh, it despises child rapists and villainess attackers, but it still sometimes finds Rohypnol kind of funny and it positively delights in rape by deceit (See Revenge of the Nerds). The good news is that it’s slowly getting better as advocates bring these issues to light, and anyway…

We have willpower.

Well… not all the time, obviously. I mean, I don’t think there’s any one of us who hasn’t been overcome with passion and punched a wall, or promised to diet and then eaten hot chips and regretted it, or stolen a faulty printer, dragged it into a field and beat it into a pile of electronics while listening to gangsta rap. They’re emotions. If we could control them all the time they wouldn’t be emotions. They’re an instinctive force.

But… we’re smart at least. We’re all definitely smart all the time.


The lessons to take from this are hence.

  1. Society can be better at denouncing rape culture and advocacy against it can have a big effect.
  2. There will always be rape until we can shut off the mechanism that makes it a viable reproductive strategy.
  3. In some instances (but by no means all instances) we can exert some limited control over whether or not we are a target to predators, sexual or not.
  4. We take the emotionally lazy route when we cast blame on the victim.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Highly Reactive

There's an episode of Doctor Who where The Doctor explains why he travels with a companion. He's so old and jaded that he can only see the delights of the universe through naive eyes. I’ve just discovered the world of ‘Reaction videos’ and I’ve started to get a grasp of what he means.

I first came across this phenomenon in relation to the extremely horrible ‘Two Girls, One Cup’ video. I’d seen a bunch of reaction videos and couldn't even conceive of what could inspire such horror and disgust in people. It just seemed unreal that a simple video could spark an almost comic book style reaction.

“It couldn’t possibly,” I told myself “be that bad?”

On a side note, curiosity didn’t necessarily kill the cat but it certainly nauseated it with coprophilia.

I didn’t see any reactions for years and then suddenly it return with gusto. The infamous ‘Red Wedding’ episode of Game of Thrones. You see when it comes to fans of Game of Thrones, there are two types. One of those types knew exactly what was coming, and they appear to have decided on-mass to film the other type. What resulted was a plethora of videos of unprepared viewers flipping the hell out at the big event.

It’s a huge amount of fun to watch and you’ll get a few laughs but then I found something even more joyful.

I can only watch the emotion packed punches of Doctor Who for the first time once. Watch it again and it’s a process of diminishing returns. But now people are taping themselves watching every single episode and that means that I may never run out of enjoying their moments of heartbreak. What’s even better, is that some of them are young, cute and very, very drunk.

Oh, that unfiltered human emotion. I just want to drink your pretty little tears. The sobbing. The delicious sobbing.

But there’s joy too. And the ChiqueGeeks are not the only ones involved. One of the more contrived moments of fan service from the 50th Anniversary special inspired a lot delight and you can enjoy it again and again, although just beware, it can be awkward to see a lot of young adults who watch the TV dressed up and carrying toys.

If you've found a reaction video you really like please do mention it in the comments. It will not be ignored.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

How to remain calm amongst a sea of idiots.

There are few things that can make you feel as impotent as watching an angry burly fellow chucking trash on the ground. What can you do? Risk your safety to make a point about the environment? Why would anyone throw garbage onto the street like that anyway? It just doesn’t make sense.

Why are people getting so drunk that they can’t stand and then taking swings at random passers-by. Why are people raising their kids to lack respect or the skills to be a decent human being?

And that’s the crux of this. Why are so many people so bad at being decent human beings and what can we do about it? Well, I’ve figured out a mental trick that makes all this rage go away.

'Everyone is a fucking idiot’.

Not a pointed piece of abuse to make me feel calmer. Simply an explanation of behaviour.

No one is getting judgemental and frustrated by a tiger’s behaviour. Ants have tiny brains, but no-one is trying to change them into decent examples of ants. Birds snap their frigging necks by flying into windows. But when it happens we feel only pity. We don’t put them in a list with other birds that have taken themselves out of the gene pool and call it the Darwin Awards.

We have such a high opinion of what we feel the fabric of human endeavour should be, that we get frustrated when it unravels. Our expectations are simply too high. It’s all we can do to repress our natural inclination to be a fucking idiot all the time.

Question: Why is that guy throwing beer cans and polystyrene into a protected wetland environment?
Answer: He’s a fucking idiot.

It’s a simple explanation. Of course he’s acting like that. He’s a fucking idiot. That’s what fucking idiots do.

Question: Why is that driver risking his life and the lives of others by speeding and cutting people off?
Answer: He’s a fucking idiot.

It works for everything.

Question: Why is Bayer trying to strike down a law that would allow them to marginally increase profits at the cost of exterminating almost all bee colonies?
Answer: It’s filled with people who are fucking idiots.

Question: Why would someone publish such a useful piece of information but use such reactionary language?
Answer: Because I’m a fucking idiot.

Exhibit A

And this can help you get on with your life. Are you ever overwhelmed with guilt for foolish decisions you’ve later regretted? Well it turns out that when you made those decisions you were a fucking idiot. You were a primate that had barely made it off the plains of the Serengeti dressed up in plastic cloth and cow skin, packed into a monkey hive filled with far too many others and forced to sit still moving your fingers and refolding your poor little brain to deal with cinema trailers and wedding RSVPs and YouTube comments and product packaging.

You weren’t created perfectly adapted for this world. You didn’t even evolve for it. You’re just another animal confused and trying to deal as best you can, like a sparrow caught inside a classroom.

You’re a fucking idiot, and this will be your salvation.

And if you’re lucky you won’t snap your neck next time you run into a glass door...

You fucking idiot.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Where are you?

'A gunman? In the city?’

Let me digest that information.

'No shots fired. Police have evacuated the mall. Lunchtime shoppers have been locked into local businesses for their own protection.'

It's very unlikely that my wife would have walked a kilometre from her work at lunchtime to have put herself in harm's way. I'm sure there's nothing to worry about. I'll just send her an unrelated text message. Totally unrelated. Not checking her situation at all.

Okay, she hasn't responded. That's fine. That's normal. She has a busy job. It would be a total over-reaction to call her.


Okay, so she let it go to voice mail. That's normal. She has it on silent a lot. She'll probably call back as soon as she sees it. There's not much for me to do about it, but I'll tell you what I'm not going to do. I'm not going to panic. I'm certainly not going to do that.


Not panicking at all.


And this is the point that the product review begins.

I installed 'Find my Friends' on both my iPhone and my wife's. (This was done with her consent I should add. I'm not the over-controlling type who sneaks looks through her messages, nor can I figure out her security code.) A single click and it sends a signal to her device, it pings a bunch of satellites as they race around the planet and then it sends back her location.

Blam! Nowhere near what was delicately referred to as a 'police incident'.

I breathe again.

I installed it initially as a novelty and have been surprised at just how useful it's been. I can now tell just how late she's running in the evening and if she's been held up in the mornings. Is she still ten minutes from work at nine am? Well maybe she'd benefit from an empathetic comment regarding the reliability of the Brisbane City Bus Service.

Even during the working hours it's kind of reassuring just to ping that blue dot. In the same way that you might both silently work on separate projects it's nice to look up and just remind yourself that the person you've paired with for life actually exists.

The biggest surprise is that she loves it too. If I'm out she can check whether or not to put extra food on for me if I'm obviously on my way. And if I end up going on some crazy late night adventure she can remind me to tell her what the fuck I'm up too with a simple 'what the fuck are you doing in [location of caper]'.

It has also brought piece of mind while my non-English speaking sister-in-law has been staying with us. If she ends up lost in this big brown land, I can at least pin point her location and go and pick her up. Also it gives me warning as to when it would be prudent to put on pants.

I imagine this would be a great app for long distance relationships. Being able to connect with your partner's location without having to disturb them doesn't replace having them in the room, but it does echo it.

The same for kids. I don't know how many kids get to carry an iPhone around but if they do  it's the next best thing to injecting a tracking chip under their pelt.

The only downside is that GPS tracking is expensive on the battery. If your beloved is a little bit of a control freak she may drain both her phone's battery and yours.

Also it makes sneaking off to your mistress's apartment tricky.

Four stars.

photo attribution Brian Finifter
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