Joined

(Previously on Star Trek: An Algorithmic Lucidity.)

The morning of Thursday the eighth, before heading off to see the new LCSW at the multi-specialty clinic, I was idly rereading some of the early Closetspace strips, trying to read between the lines (as it were) using the enhanced perception granted by the world-shattering insight about how everything I've cared about for the past fourteen years turns out to be related in unexpected and terrifying ways that I can't talk about because I don't want to lose my cushy psychology professorship at Northwestern University. (Victoria tells Carrie, "Not to mention you don't think like one of 'them'"; ha ha, I wonder what that means!) When I got to the part where Carrie chooses a Maj. Kira costume to wear to the sci-fi convention, it occured to me that in addition to having the exactly the right body type to cosplay Pearl from Obnoxious Bad Decision Child, I also have exactly the right body type to cosplay Jadzia Dax from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, on account of my being tall—well, actually I'm an inch shorter than Terry Farrell—thin, white, and having a dark ponytail.

Okay, not exactly the right body type. You know what I mean.

Continue reading

RustConf 2016 Travelogue

(Previously on An Algorithmic Lucidity.)

sfo_reflections

The other weekend, excited to learn more and connect with people about what's going on at the forefront of expressive, performant, data-race-free computing—and eager for a healthy diversion from the last two months of agonizing delirium induced by the world-shattering insight about how everything I've cared about for the past fourteen years turns out to be related in unexpected and terrifying ways that I can't talk about for reasons that I also can't talk about—I took Friday off from my dayjob and caught a Thursday night flight out of SFO to exotic Portland (... I, um, don't travel much) for RustConf!

The conference itself was on Saturday, but Friday featured special training sessions run by members of the Rust core team! I was registered for Niko Matsakis's afternoon session on lifetimes, but I arrived at the venue (the Luxury Collection Nines Hotel) early to get registered (I had never seen socks as conference swag before!) and hang out with folks and get a little bit of coding done: my coolest Rust project so far is a chess engine that I wrote this time last year (feel free to go ahead and give it a Star!) which I wanted the option to show off (Option<ShowOff>) to other conference attendees, but the pretty web application frontend had broken due to a recent bug and my JavaScript build pipeline having rotted. I fixed it just in time for the lifetimes training session to start.

Continue reading

Is There Affirmative Action for Incompetent Crossplay?

So I was at San Francisco Comic Con the other day. I don't think I find conventions themselves to be as fun as a lot of other people seem to (I didn't even last all of Saturday at BABSCon 'fourteen and 'fifteen before getting ponied out and BARTing home, and didn't even bother attending this year), but I had never cosplayed before, and had been thinking lately that I have exactly the right body type to play Pearl from Obnoxious Bad Decision Chil—I mean, Steven Universe, on account of being my being tall, thin, white, and having a big nose. (She's even pretty flat-chested!) So I ordered the Pearl dress from Hot Topic (I maybe should've gotten the XXXL instead of merely the XXL), a pink (really should be more peach, but close enough) wig, yellow gym shorts, and pink socks; improvised a gem from medical tape and the bowl of a plastic spoon; and set off Saturday morning to catch the train to the city and a short walk to the San Francisco Marriot Marquis.

The con itself was about what you'd expect, with the usual events and the usual vendor hall. The part that I found striking (enough so that I'm bothering to blog about it) was just how many compliments and photo requests I got for my costume, wholly disproportionate to its actual quality. (I enjoyed the opportunity to ham it up, proclaiming "We are the Crystal Gems!" or singing a few bars from the extended theme during photo ops.) Since this was my first time cosplaying, I don't have calibration, so it's quite possible that I got the ordinary amount of positive attention given costume quality and character popularity, but I suspect that there was something more than that going on having to do with gendered cultural expectations.

Femininity in males is stigmatized more than masculinity in females; that's why I changed in the bathroom at the con rather than wear a dress on the train, and why I don't feel like including any photos in this post despite having shared them on Facebook (visibility settings: "Custom: Friends; Except: Family") and sent them in for the next Beach City Bugle cosplay compilation post. So incompetent MtF crossdressing is "loud" relative to men playing male characters, women playing anyone, and the competent crossdressers (who were clockable on the timescale of ten seconds, but didn't instantly read as "man in a dress" the way I did), and loud things that would be stigmatized in everyday life (probably even everyday life in the Bay Area) are celebrated at Comic Con. Thus, "man Pearl is best Pearl," as I was told by a young woman (who was cosplaying a male character), even after I insistently pointed out that the other Pearl was way better than me.

Mirage

(just some quick notes, hopefully in the spirit of delightfully quirky symmetry-breaking)

In her little 2010 book The Mirage of a Space Between Nature and Nurture, Evelyn Fox Keller examines some of the eternal conceptual confusions surrounding the perennially popular nature/nurture question. Like, it's both, and everyone knows it's both, so why can't the discourse move on to more interesting and well-specified questions? That the oppositional form of the question isn't well-specified can be easily seen just from simple thought experiments. One such from the book: if one person has PKU, a high-phenylalanine diet, and a low IQ, and another person doesn't have PKU, eats a low-phenylalanine diet, and has a normal IQ, we can't attribute the IQ difference to either diet or genetics alone; the question dissolves once you understand the causal mechanism. Keller argues that the very idea of distinguishing heredity and environment as distinct, separable, exclusive alternatives whose relative contributions can be compared is a historically recent one that we can probably blame on Francis Galton.

The "Bay Area" was ostensibly hosting the big game this year. They blocked off a big swath around the Embarcadero this last week to put on Super Bowl City, "a free-to-the-public fan village [...] with activities, concerts, and more." I really don't see how much sense this makes, given that the actual game was 45 miles away in Santa Clara, just as I don't think we (can I still say we if I only work in the city?) really have a football team anymore; I like to imagine someone just forgot to rename them the Santa Clara 49ers. Even you don't think Santa Clara is big enough to be a real city—and it's bigger than Green Bay—then why not San Jose, which is a lot closer? I think I would forgive it if the marketers had at least taken advantage of the golden (sic) opportunity to flaunt the single-"digit" Roman numeral L (so graceful! so succinct!), but for some dumb reason they went Arabic this year and called it Super Bowl 50. Anyway, on a whim, I toured through Super Bowl City after work on Friday. It was as boring as it was packed, and it was packed. I wasn't sure if my whimsy was worth waiting in the throng of people to get in the obvious entrance on Market Street (the metal-detection security theater really took its toll on throughput), but I happened to hear a docent shouting that there was a less-crowded entrance if you went around and took a left each on Beale and Mission, so I did that. There were attractions, I guess?—if you could call them that. There were rooms with corporate exhibits, and an enormous line to try some be-the-quarterback VR game, and loud recorded music, and a stage with live music, and an empty stage where TV broadcasts would presumably be filmed later. There was a big statue of a football made out of cut-up beer cans near one of the stands where they were selling beer for $8, which sounded really expensive to me, although admittedly I don't have much of a sense for how much beer normally costs. In summary, I didn't see the appeal of the "fan village," although I do understand what it feels like to be enthusiastic about the game itself—I really do, even if I haven't been paying much attention in recent years.

Continue reading

Ideas Have Expirations

One often-overlooked aspect of the crime of not-writing is that the harm isn't just about the things that deserve to be said that you never get around to saying because you don't put in the time and effort. It's also about the things that you can't say anymore even if you suddenly had the will, because the opportunity to say it was bound to a particular time, and trying to recapitulate the thoughts months or years after the fact would be irrelevant, or impossible.

This phenomenon comes in degrees. Start with irrelevance. Often the inadmissibility of tardy words isn't absolute: you could say things late, but the product would be less valuable than if it were timely—especially in a medium like blogging, where the posts being dated and displayed reverse-chronologically creates an expectation that the entries are associated with a particular point in time—at least, that they were written not too long before their publication date, even if the actual content isn't about the ephemera of the day or season. This has contributed to An Algorithmic Lucidity not being as good of a blog as it could be.

Continue reading

RustCamp Reminiscences

On Saturday the first, I attended RustCamp, the first conference dedicated to the newish (in development for fiveish years, but having just hit version 1.0.0 this May, with all the stability guarantees that implies under the benevolent iron fist of semantic versioning) programming language Rust!

badge_and_lambda_dragon_shirt

Why RustCamp? (It's a reasonable rhetorical question with which to begin this paragraph: going to a conference has opportunity costs in time and money; things worth blogging about are occasionally worth justifying—even if no one actually asked me for a justification.) A lot of the answer can be derived from the answer to a more fundamental question, "Why Rust?" And for me, I think a lot of the answer to that has to do with being sick of being a fake programmer living in a fake world that calls itself Python.

Don't get me wrong: Python is a very nice place to live: good weather, booming labor market, located in a good school district, with most of the books you might want already on the shelves of the main library and almost all of the others a mere hold request away. It's idyllic. Almost ... too idyllic, as if the trees and swimming pools and list comprehensions and strip malls are conspiring to hide something from us, to keep us from guessing what lurks in the underworld between the lines, the gears and gremlins feeding and turning in the layers of tools built on tools built on tools that undergird our experience. True, sometimes small imperfections in the underworld manifest themselves as strange happenings that we can't explain. But mostly, we don't worry ourselves about it. Life is simple in Python. We reassure our children that that legends of demon-king Malloc are just stories. Everything is a duck; ducks can have names and can be mutable or immutable. It all just works like you would expect from common sense, at least if you grew up around here.

Continue reading