Friday, June 19, 2015

Links and quotes, April 2015

From The New York Times comes this explainer on the mathematics of fair division. Highlights include an interactive visualisation of Sperner's lemma and a shout-out to the not-for-profit app Spliddit.

In an observational study, The University of Texas at Austin gave a group piano majors a Shostakovich passage to learn and perform a day later. They found that the amount of time spent practicing the passage didn't have much bearing on mastery. What did distinguish the top performers was how they handled their mistakes. The best ones took pains to individually locate and correct errors, addressed them immediately when they arose, and strategically slowed the piece down to address problem areas.

On the pros and cons of trigger warnings as standard classroom practice: "oh god oh god I want to be dead I want to be dead is just not a good mindset to be in when you’re trying to grasp the nuances of Derrida."

Still image of a cresting wave, backlit against the sun, from Ray Collins's "Sea Stills".
Sea Stills: Photographer Ray Collins captures giant waves in otherworldly moments.

"UX is like etiquette," writes Kevin Simler. "Both are the study and practice of optimal interactions." He riffs on this metaphor to draw an interesting picture of "personhood" as an abstraction layer. Reality comprises abject flesh and blood; reality belies the notion of discrete entityhood. All of this must be encapsulated (in the software engineering sense) to let society function frictionlessly.

In an earlier piece, Simler posits that consciousness (in its many modes) is externally imposed; a byproduct of social interaction.

"Consciousness is contagious... We are all, constantly, ‘catching’ states of consciousness from, and transmitting them to, the people around us. When we drink, we urge others to drink with us. When we yawn, our neighbors do too. When we watch sports, we get caught up in each other’s excitement. When someone is sad, we get sad too."

Apple Cider tackles the "sex positivity/negativity" debate in her Bayonetta 2 review, noting that despite the suggestive names and the frequent conflicts, both philosophies, on their best days, work towards the same goal. "If sex positivity in feminism is embracing women’s agency and sexual empowerment, then sex negativity is critiquing the structures that make enacting that agency and empowerment an issue."

Meanwhile, on Thing of Things, Ozy Frantz recasts the dichotomy/spectrum in a different direction, explaining and defusing the philosophical clash. Ze writes: "the fundamental distinction is [sexual constraint versus sexual freedom:] between people who think that someone other than you gets input into your sex life, and people who think that only you get input."

C4SS paraphrasing Susan Brownmiller:

The practice of rape by some men functions to give all men a position of power over women.

Daniel Fincke discusses that common objection to consent culture advocacy: "it would kill the mood!". He ties this to the false dichotomy of heart versus head, wherein romance and sex must happen naturally and mystically, unadulterated by rational thought.

This distinction, of course, is nonsense.

What gets built into our attitudes are the questionable assumptions that all true love and good sex comes “naturally” where “naturally” means without any active work or obstacles to overcome along the way. We have to passively fall into love and be overcome by sexual desires and orgasms. We cannot think our way there. With these sorts of crummy attitudes, many people find the often inevitable challenges to work on their love relationship to be a sign that the relationship is irreparably flawed... supposedly all this reality disrupts fantasy, all thinking breaks the spell of illusion, all this active choosing means not passively being overwhelmed.

Drawing of a disgruntled Jigglypuff Pokemon wearing a sign that reads, "I sing my lullaby to put people to sleep in the cold harsh winter storms and see if they could wake up again."

It is 1879. Manufactured food is still in its infancy. Con artist "Chevalier" Alfred Paraf is tried in court for making margarine.

Benjamin Gabriel on amnesiac game protagonists:

The assumption, which is never, ever acknowledged, because it sounds too similar to what we know to be Bad Writing, is that a video game's protagonist is merely an object among objects, a cipher for the player to control, with no internal life of her own.

Because video games are an interactive form, and because the narrative arc tends to rely on making the player fully identify with the protagonist, a video game's protagonist cannot have their own robust interior life, which would only get in the way of the player's identification with them. The most obvious way this is done is with the amnesiac protagonist. This trope is so common precisely because it is such an elegant solution to the demands of video games, which need somehow to have a character who is the center of the story and yet is totally devoid of interiority; the amnesiac that we control is precisely that, an individual with a history that we can discover, but no memory.

I used to be afraid even to be seen clothed at the gym because I felt like a weakling. I would change the pin on the weight machine before leaving it to the next person, suggesting I’d lifted at least twenty to forty pounds more weight than I actually had. This is like parking a few blocks from your host’s house on Rosh Hashanah. It is like a female-to-male transsexual raising the toilet seat after he’s peed sitting down. Look, God: No car. No seat. A hundred and fifty pounds!

I kept this weight lifting scheme up until I saw the reaction of one kid who got on the machine after me. In his eyes, I read: “Don’t tell me that you, a short, husky kid with concave pecs, actually lifted 150 pounds?” He moved the plug to half that amount for his own use. I realized that, in acting out of my own fear of what others thought of me, I had intimidated someone else. That snapped me out of my solipsism and woke me up to the reality that I was capable of inflicting the same intimidation on other people. How stupid and pointless it is — a roomful of people with the intelligence, pluck and determination to get ourselves to a gym to pursue our own health and fitness, and we’re all terrified of each other.

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