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Category Archives: Philosophy

Hisashiburi

Hey reader, it’s been a long time. I hope you’re doing well. You haven’t heard from me in a while, but it’s not because I’ve been busy. If anything, I’ve had more free time this year than ever before. I recently celebrated three hundred days of sheltering in place. In a couple of months, it’ll have been a full year. How long will it be before things return to normal? I’m looking forward to lots of things, including fetching my lightning charger dock from the office, eating fast food instead of cooking all the time, and for thousands of people to stop dying in overwhelmed hospitals (but mostly the fast food). On the other hand, I’ve felt grateful for lots of things during this pandemic. I’m grateful that my comfy job lets me easily work from home. I’m grateful for… more →

The case for pro-death

Political polarization is a hot topic right now. People say it comes from misinformation or social media, but I think it goes deeper than that. So today, I’ll be playing devil’s advocate and explaining the perspective from the other side. I’ll tell you why they always seem to be not only wrong, but also stupid. I’ll show you that sometimes a difference of opinion is just a difference in values, so hopefully the next time you get the urge to high five your whole face, things will make a little more sense. You see, I’ve written before about how not everyone is interested in the truth, but I’ve also discovered that not everyone is interested in life either. By that, I mean things like helping people, reducing suffering, and generally preventing unnecessary deaths as much as possible. Hero work, you… more →

The rules are unfair

It’s 11pm. I should go to sleep. But sometimes, when it’s 11pm and I know I should go to sleep, I don’t. Instead, I stay up and watch dash cam videos on the internet. Nowadays, you can pop open your web browser and watch what are perhaps the worst moments of someone’s life, on repeat, in glorious high definition. It’s tragic, but also viscerally entertaining and conveniently packaged into small bite sized clips for easy consumption. Of course, not all the videos involve car accidents. Some of them just show bad drivers doing stupid things that happened to be caught on camera. In any case, I’ll probably read some comments, have a chuckle, and then eventually feel guilty enough to go to bed. Dash cams are impartial observers. They give us rare glimpses into the real world, without the taint of… more →

Computer programming

I think I like being a computer programmer. Really. It’s not just something I say because it sounds good in job interviews. I’ve written computer programs almost every day for the last five years. I spend so much time writing programs that I can’t imagine myself not being a computer programmer. Like, could you enjoy food without knowing how to cook? Or go to a concert, having never seen a piece of sheet music? Yet plenty of people use computers while not also knowing how to reprogram them. That’s completely foreign to me and makes me feel uncomfortable. Fortunately, watching uncomfortable things also happens to be my favorite pastime. In fact, I spend a lot of time just watching regular people use their computers. If we’re on the bus and I’m staring over your shoulder at your phone, I promise it’s… more →

Feel bad

The hardest truth I had to learn growing up is that not everyone is interested in the truth, and maybe that’s okay. I’m not talking about material truths like the mounting evidence for climate change or incredible importance of space exploration. There’s nothing to debate about material truths, and while some people dispute them, you can hardly argue that ignoring them is okay. I’m talking about truths about people. I’m talking about whether our laws are fair to the poor. I’m talking about whether certain races or genders or social classes are predisposed to be better or worse at their jobs. I’m talking about whether regulated capitalism is the best we can ask for, whether crime is a racial issue, whether homosexuality is a mental illness, whether the magic sky man really does watch everything you do, whether abortion is… more →

Something else

I talk a lot about one day giving up computers and moving out, far, far away to a place where there aren’t any people, in order to become a lumberjack or a farmer. Well lately, it’s been not so much “talking” as instant messaging or just mumbling to myself. Plus, I don’t have the physique to do either of those things. My palms are soft and I’m prone to scraping my arms all the time. I like discipline as a virtue, but I also don’t really like working. And finally, my hobby is proposing stupid outlandish half-joking-half-serious expensive irresponsible plans. It’s fun, and I guess you can’t really say something’s a bad idea until you’ve thought it through yourself. Joking aside, my motivation comes from truth. Computers are terrible. It becomes more and more apparent to me every year that passes.… more →

Training angst

Have you ever used Incognito Mode because you wanted to search for something weird, but you didn’t want it showing up in targeted ads? Or have you ever withheld a Like from a YouTube video, because although you enjoyed watching it, you weren’t really interested in being recommended more of the same? I have. And since I can’t hear you, I’ll assume you probably have too. People have gotten accustomed to the idea of “training” their computers to behave how they want, much like you’d train a dog or your nephew. And whether you study computer science or psychology or ecology or dog stuff, the principles of reinforcement learning are all about the same. The reason you don’t search weird stuff while logged in or thumbs-up everything indiscriminately is that you’re trying to avoid setting the wrong example. But occasional slip… more →

Life lessons from artificial intelligence

If you speak to enough software engineers, you’ll realize that many of them can’t understand some everyday ideas without using computer metaphors. They say “context switching” to explain why it’s hard to work with interruptions and distractions. Empathy is essentially machine virtualization, but applied to other people’s brains. Practicing a skill is basically feedback-directed optimization. Motion sickness is just your video processor overheating, and so on. A few years ago, I thought I was the only one whose brain used “computer” as its native language. And at the time, I considered this a major problem. I remember one summer afternoon, I was playing scrabble with some friends at my parents’ house. At that time, I had just finished an internship, where day-to-night I didn’t have much to think about other than computers. And as I stared at my scrabble tiles, I… more →

Child prodigy

I watched a YouTube video this morning about a 13 year old boy taught himself to make iPhone apps and got famous for it. He took an internship at Facebook and then started working there full-time. There were TV stations and news websites that interviewed him and wrote about how he’s helping his family financially and how any teenager can start making tons of money if they just learn to code. And the story was nice and inspiring and stuff, except there are tons of kids that do the same thing and nobody writes articles about any of them. He’s probably 18 or 19 now1 and still working at Facebook as a product manager. How’s he feeling now? On the other hand, I’m a college senior, dreading the day when I have to start working like a grown-up and wondering if I’ll miss… more →

Grown ups

I haven’t posted anything to my Tumblr blog in 649 days, but in that time I’ve gained maybe 50 new followers, and they’re all strangers. I don’t think any of them are bots either. They found a link on my homepage and maybe they decided I would some day post something again. Sometimes, I click on their profile picture and check out their Tumblr blogs too. I open up web inspector and grab the URL of their avatar thumbnail, and then I change the _128 suffix to _512, because I knew that Tumblr offered avatar thumbnails with sizes in powers of 2, between 32 and 512. And then I remembered that a few years ago I built a tool to uncover Tumblr avatars and put it on RogerHub, and suddenly it feels kind of creepy checking out 512px thumbnails of… more →

Miscellaneous things

Last friday, there was an outdoor concert on campus and I went with some of the people I lived with in the dorms last year. I hadn’t heard of either of the bands performing, but that didn’t worry me. I try not to be stingy with my time, and I feel uncomfortable when other people are with theirs. It’s not like I am doing something important with every minute of my waking day anyway. Also, I don’t put a price on anything that concerns my mental well-being. I am not on the edge of going insane; that is not what I mean. I just mean that some things are more important and should not be valued the same way you value unimportant things. It just so happens that at the moment, I can’t think of very many unimportant things to… more →

Dead man's switch

A few years ago, I started toying with the idea of leaving behind contingency letters in case I died an early and unexpected death. I usually like being fairly well-prepared for all kinds of data disasters, financial disasters, and natural disasters, so death seemed like a sensible thing to prepare for too. It sounded kind of shocking and morbid at the time, and I didn’t want anybody worrying I was some depressed teenager, so I didn’t tell anybody about it1. These things usually work better when nobody knows anyway. I got the idea from this animated TV show where a scientist leaves behind computer programs that activate automatically when he dies, so that he can get messages across to people and manipulate events from beyond the grave. If anybody ever tried that in real life, I doubt it would work… more →