Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Basic Income and borrowing from the future

When I look at economic growth numbers for the United States over the past century, I sometimes get the sense that we as a country have stumbled and for a while now have been trying to sprint faster and faster so that we can avoid doing a face-plant. The face-plant isn't inevitable, if we can just pick up enough speed, and if we don't run into anything...

One non-show-stopper obstacle that affected us has been the introduction of the standard 40-hour work week, whereas in previous times working much longer than that wasn't uncommon. Also getting rid of a lot of child labor affected us. But we've compensated with adding women to the workforce, and the tremendous amount of power the computing and automation ages have given us. Individuals have also compensated by going deeply into debt, borrowing from the future that in theory will have access to more resources than the present. But it still seems like we're barely capable of sustaining our incredible growth, and recessions like the kind we're more or less out of have almost ended us.

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User testing ought to include extra dimensions on the User attribute

Disclaimer: I'm not a designer, but I wear the hat from time to time. I think by now in 2013 a majority of interface designers have arrived at the conclusion that user testing is really important to help shape an interface and designers who don't do user testing are met with "wat?" as the response. This user testing can take many forms: from hallway usability testing with an actual web mockup, or paper and sticky notes, or a whiteboard, to live A/B testing, and beyond. Designers try to find the best interface for everyone, and that's what gets deployed.

There's a problem, though: some users are different in important ways. Is the user young and presumably knowledgeable about modern UI idioms (like pinch-to-zoom), or is the user old and this is their first time with a touch device? Is the user English-speaking or alternate-language-speaking? Is the user introverted or extroverted? Is the user an active user or infrequently-active user? Is the user a "technical/power user" or a "non-technical user"? Don't you think it's worth exploring alternate designs for each of those alternate categories? You should be exploring alternate designs anyway, but if you have some theory driving some of your choices, you can apply what theories say about different user groups.

For instance, generally "flat" designs work better for technical users who are willing to spend some time learning and remembering where everything is on the screen, and "nested" designs work better for non-technical users where they are presented with only a very limited set of choices. Sometimes you might want to support just one or the other: for instance, who would design an airplane cockpit for someone who's not a pilot? And who would design an installation wizard with all sorts of power user features and a single screen when almost every user just wants to install the thing and go through the steps as quickly as possible, with the only choice they want to have being the "Next" button?

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Kings make swift policy changes

In a democracy, or any form of government that relies on voting to get anything done (such as America's "constitutional representative republic"), it's really hard to change anything about society. This includes a resistance to changing the 'good' things about society (perhaps an indication why it took so long for the US constitution to just be slightly ignored during the civil war to more or less completely ignored in our present time), but it also includes a resistance to changing the 'bad' things about society. To escape the issues of good and bad, it also makes it hard to change stupid and smart things about society.

With an absolute monarch, his word is law. The stability of his beliefs is all the protection his subjects have against change. Therefore it's very important that an intelligent monarch is in charge. Suppose a kingdom had a king with multiple personality disorder -- not a very good choice! One day gay marriage is okay, the next day people of the same sex caught holding hands are sentenced to prison for 5 years. Suppose instead the king represents the best the kingdom has to offer: he is a man of many talents, possesses an even temperament, has a high IQ, and so on... Now suppose other smart people in the country start believing something about the society is stupid. Such as daylight savings time. They make some noise, and they only have to convince the king that it's stupid, and the king being a smart individual will tend to agree with other smart people, and daylight savings time could be abolished overnight.

Contrast that with the US, where "pretty much everyone" who is intelligent or who has thought about the matter thinks DST is a dumb idea, yet no one seems to have the authority to end it. A few states have individually ended it, which just makes matters even worse for the rest of us. What would it take to end it nation-wide? In theory, enough political pressure to make Congress get around to drafting a bill that ends it and voting on it. I hope the word "Congress" has made the reader sigh and start imagining all the bureaucracy and arguing and politicking that would have to go on to even have a chance. The bill would need to go through committees and avoid getting extra stuff added on, but it would be attractive because if "both parties want it" they both have an incentive to add party-line things to it and then complain the other party is rejecting the thing they both want when really they're rejecting the add-on that opposes their party's beliefs. Ugh. This is what democracy has wrought! I'd much rather have the king who, in his wisdom, would see that DST is pointless, write up a one-page document saying as much and setting a fixed time(s)-of-the-land forever more (or until he changes his mind, which if he's smart he wouldn't do without good reason), and that would be that.

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Two Simple Solutions to the Abortion Problem

I've mentioned these two here and there on my blog and other places, but I realized it's useful to have a centralized post for them. Especially if I ever do more in-depth research and want to share my notes.

The first simple solution is kind of totalitarian and I don't think it's likely to be done by America. Maybe one day in Asia. Basically as part of a larger eugenics program to create more perfect humans, the State forces every male to undergo a RISUG treatment with follow-up treatments every 5-10 years. People are thus free to fornicate as they desire, and if they want to reproduce they must demonstrate fitness for such to the State and the State will arrange to reverse the RISUG. Since the State will only select breeding partners that are serious about it, there will be no abortions -- and as a bonus, no unwanted children.

The second simple solution, which I think may be more feasible in America, is to alter the abortion procedure into cryogenically preserving the embryo until such a time as a mother wishes to carry the embryo to term. This could be the original mother or not, and the birth-mother may not end up as the parenting mother. (There is a market for infertile women to pay fertile women to carry the preserved embryo to term and then the infertile woman adopts the child.) If you the original mother decide you don't want the child but are too far along in the pregnancy where cryogenically preserving the baby gives less than say for argument 50% chances at survival post-revival/thaw, then too bad, you have to carry it to term (and probably put it up for adoption) or be tried for infanticide. Research will be done into extending the period where a mother can have second-thoughts all the way up to birth (with the research also being useful for adult cryopreservation).

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What I'm Not Writing About

For the past several months (or has it been over a year?) I've been trying to orient myself in which cultures I value, which political theories I most endorse, and teaching myself truths that were once known generally but are now known to just a few.

And what I've found is at such odds with the public opinion that I don't want to write about it publicly. At least, not at length. And a lot of it I'm still shaky on. So much relies on a careful examination of history, which I have to do completely on my own, as no secondary educational institution (and probably very few if any post-secondary institutions) adequately prepares one for the task. The knowledge of history I gained growing up is completely suspect, and for the past year I've slowly been fixing that. One day when I have ample historical knowledge to have strong evidential arguments, not just strong arguments from logic, I may write about the things I'm currently thinking about.

It's interesting to find something that's very at odds with public opinion. I've also realized that "internet culture" (mainly that which exists on reddit, youtube, 4chan, tumblr, facebook, and twitter), while not equivalent to the larger offline culture, is nevertheless big enough that it counts as public opinion. Even though the internet culture is sometimes at odds with the offline culture, there are certain things the two agree on that if you disagree with can result in a bad time for you. And if the two disagree, you can still lead a happy existence. Anarchy's not so cool offline, but online anarchists are all over the place. Same with atheists. Same with furries. Criticizing the military is A-OK. What's not cool online or offline? The stuff I'm thinking about.

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Brief thoughts after reading Military Nanotechnology

I just got through reading Military Nanotechnology: Potential Applications and Preventive Arms Control by Jürgen Altmann (

This book covers a lot of ground. It discusses what sorts of research projects are being done worldwide (mostly in the US, mostly military funded (though a lot medically motivated and funded)) on nanotechnology, how much money is being spent on them, and lists specific technologies that are on the horizon for 5-20 years or longer. It also discusses the challenges/benefits of molecular nanotechnology. It's amazing how close to reality sci-fi can be...

Perhaps the most interesting section of the book breaks down and evaluates military applications under the criteria of preventive arms control. Broadly, there are three categories:

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Just a little longer...

I've got two more semesters of school left, but only a total of 22 credits. Next Spring I'll only be taking two courses, if all goes well this coming semester which I start on the 3rd.

What am I taking this semester? I need to satisfy an Art requirement, so I'm taking a class on user interface and experience design on the recommendation of a housemate. I'm not entirely sure what I should expect, but I think it will be easy enough to pass given I've had jobs designing application screens. Maybe my UI ideas aren't the best but I can do the work. I need to satisfy a 4-credits-of-anything requirement, so I'm taking a database course which is beneath me (it was beneath my housemate and I know more about databases than he does) for three credits, then a 1-credit "job preparation" course which only lasts the first few weeks and shouldn't be a problem as I've already got a good resume, LinkedIn account, business card (even if outdated), and previous job experience...

I'm taking a project course which will continue my radar project from last semester. I'm also taking an intro Electricity and Magnetism physics course, which I'm not looking forward to. Giancoli is shit. The professor isn't known as a good teacher (fine person of course). I want to learn electrostatics as a special case of electrodynamics and in the language of geometric algebra, not learn electrostatics as a series of disjointed statements and unreal examples followed by "and hey, here's Maxwell's equations!" during the last few weeks. Feynman's book takes the right approach by starting with Maxwell's equations and simplifying for electrostatics, I just wish he used geometric algebra instead of vector components...

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