San Fran Fun Part One

So, we landed late on Friday, and took supershuttle to our friend Bryan’s place.

Saturday was brunch with Tom at Herbivore, board game browsing, then homemade dinner with Josh and Brennan on the peninsula, before coming back and dropping by Jeremy’s Birthday drinks.

Sunday was brunch with Tom at Saturn, board games at Nathan’s, then pizza and project Runway at Tom’s with Nathaniel.

Monday I finished drafting a union survey, we had brunch with Bryan, I got new shoes (tossing the old ones in a trash can right outside the store. They were seriously worn out.) Got a week membership at the most convenient (and coincidentally gayest) gym in town, did a leg workout, met Matthew and played RFTG and then Wizard (for the first time ever), had dinner with Nathaniel at Golden Era, and called it a night. And then I sent out the union survey.

Tuesday, I started off with a transition committee meeting for the new bargaining unit with our union, worked out chest and back, grabbed lunch at herbivore, played board games (glory to rome specifically) with new folks we met through the wonders of proximity based social networking (aka scruff), bounced on trampolines with friends new, old, and just-moved-to-SF-from-Chicago, then dinner, now back home.

Themes so far for vacation: vegetarian restaurants, board games, old friends, and a few people from chicago. =)

The Value of Democracy: Asking the Right Questions

I’ve seen a few people reposting this article which claims that people aren’t smart enough to make democracy work. I wasn’t sure about the author of the study behind the article, so I did a bit of digging. Most of his work is not related to politics directly, but rather to self-evaluation of skill. And according to a UK radio interview he apparently does agree with the political application of the work. And I think they’re missing something critical, which makes the direction they’re going with this rather pointless.

Democracy, whether representative or direct, is about political decisions ultimately being made by the people affected by them, not the technical competence of elected leaders or enacted policies. “No taxation without representation” is a slogan from the pre-revolutionary and revolutionary decades of what is now the United States, and a close variant of that shows up on DC license plates. That’s not a cry for more technically competent leadership, that’s a complaint about not being involved in the decision making process. They may have wanted more technically competent leadership, but really, they wanted their needs tended to. And that is what democracy looks like. Democracy is the answer to “Let them eat cake,” not the answer to “How do we determine the optimal arrangement of taxes and services?”

Democracy is a system of political decision making, a way of resolving conflicting interests. We may aspire to perfect governance, but for that aspiration to even make sense, we have to agree on our values. And we have chosen to express those values through a generally peaceful, mostly democratic framework. While I might have ideas for how this system could be improved, those two principles at the very least seem well worth maintaining.

I agree that a more technically competent electorate would produce more technically competent leaders and decisions. I support the idea of increasing the electorate’s technical expertise, along with our freedom, security, compassion, curiosity, hope, and creativity. But I cannot support that at the cost of disenfranchisement. No matter how technically inexpert, I think citizens have a right to contribute their voice to the definition of their governance. I do not buy that there is a single “competence” factor that would magically produce better governance for all.

Health/Exercise Aside

After the birthday party I went to last night, the multiple hard lemonades, the cake, the bread, and the cheese, I figured that my weight goals were more boned than ever. Turns out, I’m down another couple pounds from Friday to 169. (yay random fluctuation?) Which is the least I’ve weighed in years, but I’m not losing strength. I am pleased by this. Results are visible.

And to the naysayers, weight is just a convenient, non-invasive metric that I can track on a daily basis. Nothing magic about 160, really. But lower weight has a few advantages, including a reduced risk of diabetes, which is a serious concern given my genetics. And I’m nowhere near health risks from eating too little.

It has occurred to me that people talk about how they don’t want to have to watch what they eat, because they want to enjoy life. But when I keep eating past the point of fullness, I’m not really enjoying the food that much. And when I’m actually hungry (including after long, intense cardio), food tastes amazingly good.

Regardless, maybe I should actually get back to tracking things. And save the next all I can eat Indian buffet until I’m well ahead of my goals.

Personal MMO History

I’d like to talk about the three MMOs that I currently have active accounts with, though I’m barely playing any of them, but first a little history.

I played a few MUDs in college. Specifically, as a computer lab monitor. And I was chastised by the boss lady for not yielding my seat at the end of my shift on one occasion because “I just have to finish one last thing” that took about 15 minutes. This was not a high point. Years later, as my time at CMU was coming to an end, I played Everquest for a few months, until I found myself getting bored fishing in game. And I remembered that fishing was something I didn’t like doing in reality, so why the hell was I doing it for pretend?

I think I stayed basically MMO free for another several year stint after that, until I moved to Minneapolis, and met Brian (aka, ludomancer. He was playing Final Fantasy XI (FFXI), the first Final Fantasy MMO. I thought it looked cool, and I loved the final fantasy series, generally speaking, so I gave it a whirl. And actually plunked more down on a video card than I spent on the game itself so that I could run it. At first, I spent a great deal of time trying to explore the crafting systems, and not so much joining parties with internet strangers to grow in levels. The game wasn’t built with this in mind, and I think Brian found my fascination with this point a little odd. He encouraged me to go for the higher levels and branch out. Which I eventually did, though I never got close to the maximum level for the game, and always liked the crafting system.

The summer of my internship with my current employer, I was new in town after 4 years away, and had just been exposed to World of Warcraft (WoW). I tried it in part because I had an Apple laptop and FFXI wouldn’t run on it, this being the pre-x86 architecture Macs, and I wasn’t about to move my tower for a three month internship. So, I gave WoW a whirl. I was pretty intensely into it for a couple weeks. But I didn’t know anyone who played it, and it mostly fizzled for me after that. I went back to playing FFXI when I returned to Minneapolis, and kept it up until my credit card changed, and I realized (mid-way through entering the new credit card info in early April) that graduation was more important than leveling up, and let the game go.

I started playing WoW for real in the span between grad school and work, when I embarked on the biggest travel spree of my life (so far). I spent a month and change in Europe (first time ever!) then spent several weeks with my peeps in the bay area. I really started with WoW in California. Spending time with them, and knowing I’d be seeing much less of them soon, it was actually fun to play the game socially, and join them in taking characters from the beginning of the game through to max level, together. And Nathaniel, aka tyedie joined us not long thereafter, rounding us out to 5 (the preferred number for the in-game group activities).

We almost made it to max level as a group before the first expansion came out. We did make it to max level before the next expansion came out, but we’d already started to “lose friends to real life” at that point. I recruited some people to join us, as did my other friends. And it was a point of personal pride for me at one point that I’d met everyone we played with in person. And, technically, I was the only one who had. But real life is relentless, and more people stopped playing. And due to some factors that disadvantaged smaller guilds, some started playing with different groups that were more oriented towards accomplishing the higher level game challenges.

But probably one of the biggest hits to my involvement was taking an active role in my union. I regret nothing. I continued to pay for WoW for quite some time after I’d functionally stopped playing it. And there were brief times when I got more involved in the game, particularly a few months after the beginning of each expansion, but it was essentially over for me. I let my subscription end in November. But like cutting off a hydra’s head, others rose to take its place. And that will be the subject of my next post.

Internet and Recent Political Events

It’s fascinating to see two internet-driven political victories for progressives in rapid succession. The first was the tanking of SOPA and PIPA in the face of massive online strikes by key online information providers, particularly wikipedia. The second is the ongoing and, apparently, largely internet driven, backlash against the Komen Foundation’s decision to drop grants to Planned parenthood. I think both are cases where the broadcast media largely showed up after the interesting stuff had already happened. I don’t have any particular grand thoughts or expectations here. But I wouldn’t mind if this heralded the beginning of a pattern.

What I Miss about Blogging and Getting it Back

So, for those not in the know, I had a blog on Livejournal which I used actively from 2002 to 2008. (I have now ported the posts, complete with user comments, to my vanity domain blog: — I’m trying to think of a better domain name before I have renew it in the next few months.) Prior to my internship with GAO in summer 2005, I posted several times per day on average. It fell off somewhat when I began my new profession, but the biggest slowdown happened when I became active in my union. In addition, my decline in usage roughly coincided with many other people switching to other services, particularly facebook. The company changed hands, and of course, there were ongoing complaints about privacy and information control, as with so many free services.

I loved Livejournal, and miss it greatly. And the thing I miss most is the interactive community, with long, thoughtful, original posts. Like many online social networking sites today, including facebook, google plus, and twitter, there were certainly posts consisting largely of recycled memes and re-posted links without much original content added, but I found LiveJournal richer, more personal, and ultimately more rewarding than its more modern, faster-paced bretheren. My blog has also been a great place for me to articulate, examine, and refine my thoughts, whether individually and interactively. And I met some wonderful people through my blogging, including a roommate or two. If not for my blog, I would not have checked out the place I ended up choosing for grad school.

I want to reclaim what I can of those advantages. Livejournal isn’t dead yet, but many of the hundreds of people I interacted with on that site no longer use it. Facebook is now more popular than Livejournal ever was. Hell, google plus is probably more popular. I want to set my blog up so that I post to it, and copies automatically show up on facebook, google plus, and livejournal, depending on the how I categorize or tag it. I’m comfortable with comments showing up in multiple locations.

The less obvious factor is how to aggregate the information streams from others. Livejournal included a way to subscribe to other bloggers on the site, though regrettably, it used a reciprocal “friendship” rather than single direction subscription model. I can piece together a ton of different sources via RSS feeds, and I may not be able to read them any better than I do facebook, but I don’t think I can read the facebook or plus streams from outside their sites (they need to pay for it somehow afterall). I tried this before to keep up with my livejournal subscribers, but it never quite worked right. It’s a project, among many projects to work on.

A statement of values

Second favorite thing about blogging: getting to work out ideas in writing (first favorite was the community.  When I figure out how to get that back, I’ll be in touch).

1.  I love intellectualism.  Our brains are useful assets, we should use them.  And just because not everyone can follow what someone is thinking does not mean they are wrong (nor does it mean they are brilliant and misunderstood).  However, if you can take whatever insights you have, especially if they are esoteric and make them readily accessible, that’s great.  Especially if you can do it without losing the elegance and completeness of your thoughts.  Being right is not just good, it’s one of the most important things.

2.  Being different is not inherently bad, and may have some inherent value.  Evolution couldn’t happen without mutation.  Diversity makes a collective strong.  I don’t care if you wear funny clothes, talk different, or have obscure hobbies.  Who am I kidding?  I think all those things are awesome.

3. Honesty rules.  I spent too many miserable years lying about who I was and am to value privacy and secrets over open-ness and honesty.

4. One should generally assume the best about others’ intentions and attitudes.  Most people mean well, and we all make mistakes.

That’s all I really feel like writing on that front at this point.  This has been a test of Stephen’s RSS broadcast setup on facebook.