recent readg

I re-read The Blue Sword and The Knot in the Grain by McKinley. Sword was once the most forgettable book I'd ever read; not that I hated it, but I literally forgot having read it, twice. It's very odd when your sense of deja vu itself triggers a sense of deja vu. I remember it more now. It's an engaging book, though I just now had the thought that the most powerful people in the Not!India Damar are white foreigners. The master mages Luthe, Agsded, Aerin's mother, Aerin herself... (well, she's half-Damarian but the paleskin redhead genes were strong.)

Knot was still fun, though I wouldn't say most of the stories are about anything, they're just like modern fairy tales. Though the titular story does have a nice portrayal of an uprooted teen finding a new community.

Invisible Agents by Nadine Akkerman, on female spies in 1640s England. Less about tradecraft, more about trying to even find evidence of them in the literature, and on attitudes toward such spies. Royalists were friendlier to their lady spies than Parliamentarians were to their paid commoners, but the Royalists also destroyed themselves in factional infighting. No strong recommendation.

An Empire of Air and Water, Siobhan Carroll, a friend from grad school. On portrayals of 'atopias', uncolonizable places, like poles, ocean, atmosphere, and underground, in British literature, followed by how those were used as metaphors for the complexity of London. Somewhat interesting. If you're not a fellow academic I recommend skipping or at least skimming the preface, which is largely "This is how my work is situated in the context of other people's work".

Currently reading Mary Beard's SPQR, already a strong recommendation. 2015 book on Roman history, so based on more data than anything in my childhood. I'll give one just bit: an interesting theme of foreigness or low origins in Rome's myths. Versions of the Romulus myth have him killing his brother, and recruiting people by offering asylum to slaves, criminals, and refugees; the Aeneas myth obviously has the proto-Romans as very foreign, and one later Roman contorted himself to somehow read 'aborigine' as "wanderers" rather than the obvious "ab origine", original inhabitants. Contrast to Greek polis myths that often had the people springing from the soil, and compare to Rome's unusual generosity in incorporating people (Beard says the freed slaves of Roman citizens themselves became citizens, which is new to me) vs. Greek tightfistedness.

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CrashMouse, food

food asymmetries

Back in 2010, KFC unleashed the "double down" chicken sandwich, with chicken tenders replacing the bun.

"two slabs of fried chicken intersliced with two pieces of bacon, two slabs of cheese, and the Colonel's "special sauce." It comes in the form of a sandwich, with the fried chicken where the bread used to be."

End (or triumph) of civilization, various articles cried. But people on noted:

"If they actually put this in a bun, it would suddenly become a mere double chicken sandwich with bacon and cheese, and no one would bat an eyebrow. Less is more!"


"Aside from the Nantwich novelty of it, it's just like ordering two fried chicken breasts with a side order of bacon and cheese, no?"

I was thinking tonight of something similar. My bag lunches to school were often a ham and cheese sandwich: bread, butter or mayo for fat and moisture, ham and cheese. Considered healthy enough to be a daily staple.

Put the ham aside, flip the buttered bread around on a hot skillet, and suddenly it's a grilled cheese sandwich, which feels rich and decadent, or a ham and cheese melt if you leave the meat in. Same ingredients.

Granted the ham and cheese sandwich in a baggie often also had some lettuce, but you can work that into the melt too if you try.

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Hollywood, Jan 24

Whoops, 2 weeks of catchup to do.

* My mother grew up in Hollywood, actually quite close to here, so I got to go look at the houses she grew up in. (Siblings had adjacent houses.) And discover she grew up a block from the entrance to Griffith Park. Also that the Park has a nice plant trail.

* I've had Thai food more often than not the past two weeks. Discovered I like red and yellow curry, not their green curry so much; panang is decent but rather sweet, mussumaun was pretty good though I don't know if it's worth the $2 over red and yellow.

* Also another restaurant here, Northern Thai Food Club, had northern pork curry, which was pretty different but I liked it. Reminded me of beef stew in texture and meat lumpiness, though spicier and with lots of ginger.

* Little Tokyo, discovering a kaiten place (Kura). At $2.90/plate, more expensive than the Australian places I mostly skipped, let alone Sushiro. OTOH $3/pair of nigiri is still good compared to "order your sushi places" in the US. Kura also has a lot of flavored salmon and tuna: marinated, garlic, ponzu, "umami", making it more interesting. Also the grocery story in Little Tokyo had mugicha, in proper large tea bags. Whee!

* Wandering around found an Armenian art gallery one block down.

* Aaron invited me to a trivia night with his friends, my first such. Our team won, I contributed, and the scores were close so I might even have made the difference!

* Took the train to North Hollywood (not the same as north Hollywood) to explore. Found a restaurant with savory meat pies, and a winding sidewalk on Vineland that was visually interesting, but nothing too exciting.

* This morning I was trying to get more sleep when Adam emailed about having lunch. Following my principle of seizing rare social opportunities, I met him in Little Tokyo, going to Kura again. More expensive than the udon he suggested but he liked it. He gave me a tour of City Hall, including the observation deck on the 27th floor, and various suggestions, which I followed up on: Bradbury building with its atrium and cast iron elevators, a funicular, Grand Central Market, the main library...

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CrashMouse, food

I had X food last night

Some people I know will refuse to go out for X (Chinese, Thai, Mexican, etc.) food if they've done so in the past week, say. This has always struck me as weird, as if a whole genre of cuisine -- one that many people eat three times a day[1] -- can be lumped together as a single exotic thing to sample once in a while. These same people of course have no problem eating 'American' food all the time, and often have the exact same meal every day for breakfast...

Brought to you by my having cheap Thai food almost every day for the past week.

[1] I think it was Calvin Trillin who pointed out that in China, a billion people have Chinese food every day.

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Hollywood Jan 10

S wanted her living room back and I didn't have anywhere urgent to go as I look for a new job, so I moved over to a Craigslist sublet in Hollywood for the month. My housemate Alex is a composer from Germany, very pleasant to talk to. Given that S's family has me redefining my scale of possible introversion, that's a nice change.

I've mostly been exploring locally, but I took the Red Line one station over to get to TJ, and a couple stations back today to get home after heading west for a while.

* There are open seats at 5 PM. A subway that isn't standing room only at rush hour?! Feels wrong. It's not like it's super high frequency either, just 10 minute headways (which is pretty slow for rush hour!)

* Audible but not visual stop announcements.

* Line map inside cars but no system maps.

Other notes:

* cheap Thai food; lunch specials for $5.50.

* Barnsdall Art Park, including the LA Municipal Art Gallery, which has an exhibition celebrating loitering.

* I grew up reading various books of essays, e.g. by Lewis Thomas, Loren Eisley, Russell Baker, and others, but haven't read such in a long time. The exhibit suggests The Book of Delights by Ross Gay. What I sampled was interesting, and a black essayist would add a bit of diversity to my reading.

* West eventually brings me into Hollywood 'proper': Walk of Fame, Mann's Chinese, Ripley museum, Madame Tussaud's, etc. A few cosplayers on the sidewalk: Vader, Joker, blue person from Avatar. Lots of Scientology buildings around the area, I guess it probably started in LA?

* A two-story strip mall, which at least makes more efficient use of the parking lot in the middle, though I wonder if it's in violation of the modern parking codes.

* Daiso, basically a 100 yen store. Default price $1.50, but lots of prices in yen, and scaled so that obviously maps to 100 yen. That's with a big import markup, by exchange rate 100 yen is 91 cents right now. They had bottled hojicha though it did not match my memories of Japan.

* Years ago I used to go out for Thai every week with Jane, usually ordering some curry. I never did sort out what kinds of curry were what, and the Web was young and nascent then. Since, I've tended to order basil rice, drunken noodle, larb, or pad thai, and not concerned myself with curries. But they're some of the cheap lunch options, so I finally looked them up, 26 years late...

* This place doesn't have a microwave. I haven't lacked one since some of my stays in Europe. Kind of crimps my usual approach to cooking leafy greens and broccoli, not to mention warming up leftovers.

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introversion thoughts

I have a dim memory of an article, which I can't find again, arguing that it wasn't really that introverts didn't enjoy socializing, but that they anticipated not enjoying socializing.

I found this both flawed and intriguing: flawed in that it certainly seemed that some socializing drained me, per the the MBTI definition of introversion; intriguing in that it was also true that I often found myself reluctant to go to something but enjoying it when I forced myself to.

I was ruminating about that recently, and had a thought about some kinds of socializing I don't like:

* loud bar or party, where I can barely hear the person in front of me, and I have to speak painfully loudly to be heard.

* big party where I don't know anyone to talk to, or know people superficially and hardly anyone is talking to me, or conversation is about things I don't care about.

* small group, a couple or some friends, who again are mostly caught up in each other and ignoring me or discussing things I can't get into even as a friend.

What struck me is that these are simply poor forms of socializing. It's not really socializing if you can't talk to anyone, or no one talks to you, or it's physically painful!

If someone enjoys the big party more, are they more extroverted, or do they have better hearing that can filter the noise better?

(Not to mention the effect of alcohol.)

And if someone at the big party has the skills and attractiveness to meet a new person and end up making out with them in the corner, it's not that they enjoy it more, it's that they're having a much better experience than I am. I would enjoy it too but that doesn't happen to me.

My own introversion has long seemed "in between": drained by big groups, energized by tete-a-tetes with or small groups of close friends. I can coast for a good while by myself, reading and such, but I also enjoy getting *some* social contact, even a bit of superficial (retail) contact if nothing else.

Well, I think I'm rambling. I'll close with one 2015 link I found again, on alleged types of introverts:

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"human scale" cities

This comes up a lot in discussion of density. The idea being that 2-4 story or such buildings are "human scale", vs. skyscrapers. My gut has some sympathy with it. OTOH...

A few years ago I took a bus to NYC. As we crawled down the avenues of Manhattan, I looked out at the 18 story or whatever buildings and felt intimidated.

But once I was living there, walking around those buildings was usually fun. What you see at ground level is a lot more salient than what's above, and lots of narrow businesses provide tons of options and stimulation; if it's more than human scale, it's less from height and more from the sheer overabundance of options. Also a poor people/sidewalk ratio.

Likewise, when I first visited central Tokyo, after some years in Indiana, in a way I felt at home, despite the different culture and language. Tall buildings, busy-ness of shops and pedestrians, knowing there was a good transit nearby... it felt more human *friendly*, anyway, than even downtown Bloomington.

Tangent on how many options: say you're standing on a Manhattan avenue, and are willing to walk 10 minutes, or 1000 meter. If stores are 4 meters wide, that's 250 stores. x2, because often two stories of businesses. x2, because both sides of the street. And x2 again, because you can walk 10 minutes north or south. So 2000 small businesses in a 10 minute walk! Well, no businesses in intersections, so take off 1/4 or even 1/3. And some are probably bigger, 6 m or more. 2000 * 2/3 * 4/6 = 888 businesses... still a lot. And not counting anything that might be on cross-streets, or walking over to an adjacent avenue.

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thoughtful, robot

self-driving car skepticism gloat

When self-driving cars first started getting talked about, like 10 years ago, many people were enthusiastic and anticipatory. I was skeptical, because as someone who walks around dense cities, driving safely and effectively in such felt like a human-complete AI problem, needing theory of mind, social interaction, and a large amount of adaptation to unforeseen circumstances.

Also because while in some things like chess or Go, rather dumb computers beat humans through powerful search, a more common AI pattern is that a fairly simple system can get 60-90% of human performance, but then stalls despite a lot of effort. Which is fine when you're making models for targeting direct mailing, and poorer performance can be balanced by much faster turnaround time and it's just moderate amounts of money at stake anyway. Less fine when even a missing 1% of performance may mean people die, or alternatively that traffic is frozen as cars can't figure out how to safely push through busy streets.

(The direct mailing example is from my first full-time job; we could build a decision tree, to predict response rates to a direct mailing, that was said to be 60% of a hand-crafted model but took a few hours instead of a few months to create. A machine translation course in grad school included various systems that could do 60-95% as well as humans, on fairly narrow word tests, but improving that was Hard. Statistical translation, rule-based, hybrid, all stalled.)

Basically an application of the Pareto principle: 20% of the work can get you 80% of the performance. Except it might be more like 1% of the work gets you 80% of the performance; since we don't *have* human-equivalent AI in most of these domains, we can't even say how much work it actually takes.

Early articles were along the lines of "we're making lots of progress! (but can't drive in the rain or snow and are tested mostly in low-density sunlight)", which for some people sounded like "we're almost there but for a bit more work" but to me sounded like "we're already spending years on the *easy* stuff, imagine what the hard stuff will be like."

More recent articles have been more like "wow, this is harder than we thought", with even the executives in charge of developing and selling this stuff saying like "thirty years away" or "never" or "far in the future", or "decades away".

Singapore reportedly has deployed them, as someone on Facebook likes to keep saying, but a friend there observed various caveats: 10 MPH, a bounded area, not mixed with other cars, safety driver, and attendants trying to shoo pedestrians out of the way. Also see. And this is the state of the art!

So, "ha ha!"

I'll also include a FB thread I made two years ago about predictions, and include just one example of receding predictions:

2014: Volvo promises fully self-driving cars by 2017, 3 years later.
2017: Volvo promises partial self-driving cars by 2021, 4 years later.

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needing cars poll result

I did a survey on (It's on a members-only forum so non-signed up people won't be able to see it) on having and needing cars, in the US or elsewhere. Final results:

I have a car, need it, and live in the USA Votes: 155 42.0%
I have a car, don't need it, and live in the USA Votes: 8 2.2%
I don't have a car, need one, and live in the USA Votes: 11 3.0%
I don't have a car, don't need one, and live in the USA Votes: 25 6.8%

I have a car, need it, and live outside the USA Votes: 59 16.0%
I have a car, don't need it, and live outside the USA Votes: 18 4.9%
I don't have a car, need one, and live outside the USA Votes: 5 1.4%
I don't have a car, don't need one, and live outside the USA Votes: 88 23.8%

Total voters

The poll was inspired by memories of a German poster saying that while Germany has a lot of cars they were more of a luxury item, possessed because you want one (country drives, easier grocery shopping) rather than because you need it. This was kind of a test of that, and as you can see the claim is somewhat falsified: the majority of non-US car owners still say they need it. Most respondents everywhere either have a car and say they need it, or don't have one and say they don't need one.

OTOH there are differences. 1/4 of non-US owners do in fact say they don't need it, vs like 5% of American owners. More strikingly, 62% of non-US respondents say they don't need a car, vs. 17% of US respondents; 52% of non-US respondents don't have a car and don't need it, vs. 78% of US respondents having a car and needing it. The difference in societies is quite stark.

The poll technology was primitive, thus clumping all non-US countries together, but based on comments and past polls, the main countries are Canada, UK, Ireland, Germany, and Sweden. The site has a liberal tilt; if you're vocally not okay with feminism or queer rights, you get banned, and 10 years ago even the otherwise conservative US posters generally seemed fine with universal health care. OTOH I don't know if it has any particular urban bias, nor the age distribution -- though I've been around long enough that I can say many of the posters can't be that young any more.

Many of the US comments were along the lines of "transit sucks" and "but how can you even go shopping without a car???", what I'm starting to call "virgins talking about sex" discussions.

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