Posted by: CJ | April 7, 2013

The Four Filters

I was talking to a friend recently about what I want out of a relationship, and why I’m haven’t had a serious relationship since I was an undergraduate. After talking, it seemed to basically boil down to the following four “filters”. I have other preferences, but these are the 4 things that are deal-breakers, and I’ve met various people over the past several years that have some but not all of these. Or if they’ve met all then they were already in a serious relationship. 

  1. I will not have children. 
  2. I cannot be the more socially aware one, and I cannot be the person that works harder at having social contacts. I view myself as socially clueless, so I have no patience for people that aren’t more capable than me.
  3. I have to be able to engage the other person intellectually. I live in my own little world of facts, theories, numbers, and equations. If they aren’t able to come visit me in that world then it’s just a casual relationship.
  4. I need the other person to have some drive and some ambition. Not necessarily the, “I want to be rich,” or “I want to be in a position with power over lots of people,” or “I want lots of people to look up to me,” sort of ambition. But some degree of drive and ambition to help shape and change the world.

What I’m unsure about is how reasonable all of the above is. But I know I currently won’t seriously date anyone that doesn’t meet all of those. What I’m unsure of is where to find such people that are single. I certainly haven’t run into them here…

Is there a difference between snobs and hipsters? I can’t really tell, other than a stereotypical snob has money while a stereotypical hipster doesn’t.

The follow-up question: Am I being a media snob or a media hipster when I am filled with schadenfreude-happiness at David Brooks getting a fairly brutal (by journalist standards) smackdown on his recent Obama/Sequestration opinion piece? In a more just world, David Brooks & Thomas Friedman would cleaned up their opinion pieces or lost their job ages ago.

More broadly, I’m not sure what it says about me that (1) one of my great joys in life is seeing old media outlets die out, or (2) that I (sometimes) harshly judge people that take mainstream media outlets more seriously than Nick, Jr.. Outlets like NYT and Washington Post are infamous for being factually incorrect jackasses during the Clinton/Bush years. So I won’t even shed crocodile tears with their passing, and I certainly won’t believe something someone tells me just because they read it in some mass media source.

Not that there’s a single place I consider the gold standard. I believe in both reading widely AND weighting what you read by the trust-worthiness of the author. If you don’t trust the author then don’t believe it, regardless who published that author. As David Brooks and Thomas Friedman demonstrate on a regular basis.


Posted by: CJ | February 23, 2013

Theory of Pop Science Books

I have some rules of thumb regarding pop science books. At least when the reader is fairly educated and scientifically literate.

  1. Don’t buy it, read it, or respect it if it isn’t by an expert that’s spent years researching the subject.  If the author isn’t a subject matter expert then odds are excellent they’ll screw up the facts and come to the wrong conclusion. This is sometimes called the “Igon Value Problem” after a particularly egregious case. 
  2. If it’s by a subject matter expert, odds are excellent that their best book–likely their first or second–will be far and away better than any others. This is simply because it’s SO HARD to know something with much more to say than that. There are many excellent examples of this phenomenon, but my favorite is the first freakanomics book vs. the second. The first was excellent and based on one of the author’s original research. The second was based on material both authors were much less familiar with, and both the facts and conclusions suffered.
  3. Don’t take what the author says at face value. They’re writing for a pop audience, which means loads of caveats in the empirical studies and the theoretical underpinnings will be left by the wayside. Incidentally, this is how you can end up with clueless ^#%*-tards that took Econ 1 in college and start spouting off some of the most intellectually lazy anti-government regulation crap you’ve ever heard. They were taught the simple version of the material without absorbing that you can’t mindlessly generalize extremely simple models to very different scenarios. 

The above rules are a weaker version of the rule: “If a book is popular and it’s based on scientific articles then just go read the original articles.” I’d prefer just reading the original articles, but that often requires both background reading and reading followup studies as well. That’s a lot of time. 

Anyways, back to trying to figure out which pop econ and pop psych books on Amazon I might want to buy and which I should avoid like the plague. 

Why are there so few females moving to the West Coast, at least compared to males. There are many stable, middle class jobs here. And, just as importantly, many single, stable yuppie males with those jobs as well. The sorts of jobs that provide ample time and money to raise a family. But there aren’t many females. And it’s easy to see there’s a mismatch–just look at any listing of “Best Cities to be a Single Female”.

(By contrast, there are horror stories about dating–from the female perspective–in the Washington D.C. area. There are too many professional, well-educated single females there relative to the professional  well-educated single males.)

As a wild over generalization  do females value relationships more than career opportunities to the point that they are less willing to move to far off lands–abandoning all their existing relationships–just to go hunting for the “right” career or marriage partner? Or is this symptomatic of fewer professional career opportunities for women in general?

Posted by: CJ | February 9, 2013

System 76

In the future do not buy laptops from the Kingdom of the Apple, for they oppress their software developers with their annoying toolchain and false unix hopes. 

Do not buy laptops from the Windowed Empire, for their developers are beloved but banned from following the path of the terminal. 

I shall buy a System76 laptop, and dwell in the warring *nix kingdoms, where developers are given free reign and ample materials to build dwellings for all or shoot themselves in the foot, according to their whims and needs. 

In fact I may make such a laptop a graduation gift to myself, to rid myself of this annoying apple laptop.

Though there’s the inconvenience that System76 laptops are all pretty heavy. No light, thin notebooks like Apple offers. I guess the obvious solution is to just get a System76 laptop and some sort of tablet. Not like I could use the laptop for serious development work anyways. The tablets even have some limited ability to compose text documents now, too, so there’s less of a trade-off between the light,thin notebooks and the tablets. 

Posted by: CJ | February 4, 2013

Me and my standards…

I just talked to my best friend from college. I’d asked her why since college I’ve twice become close friends with someone who is weird, self-involved, and rude.

Her hypothesis, and recommended course of action, intrigued me.

Her recollection was I had a higher tolerance for BS-filled, self-involved people than most of our mutual friends. I don’t seek out such annoying people, but I also will listen to them, be as polite to them as I am to anyone else (which isn’t amazingly polite, but I try), and in general avoid confrontational exchanges. And this was ok in college because for every self-involved, full of BS student there were several more empathic, mostly kind, and able-to-listen people I could be around instead.

Most other students intuitively realized, “Person X is self-involved and an ass, I can’t change it, but I’m certainly not going to tolerate it”. They would be as rude as necessary, as early as necessary, to ensure Person X didn’t get a chance to hurt them.

Where things started to go wrong was, potentially, after college. I no longer had my accumulated group of interesting but not self-involved assholes around me. And my college friends were both interesting as people (i.e. friends I could talk to about life) and intellectually. But I’m (very) shy, and so I find it extraordinarily difficult to meet people when they’re surrounded by other people. It’s much easier for me to meet and introduce myself to people that aren’t part of a close group of friends.

And so that’s what’s seemed to happen at least twice to me. I ended up meeting and befriending a couple of narcissist social misfits that could be good to talk to for a few weeks but really bad close long-term friend material. And I missed the warning signs. Conversely, as my college friend said, “These sorts of people tend to be incredibly lonely. They’ll latch onto whoever gives them some non-abusive attention.” So I would meet these people, miss the warning signs, be happy that I could interact with them and without a giant crown surrounding them, be even happier when a closer friendship developed, and then realize that this friendship is full of crazy that I didn’t sign up for. And then have major issues trying to manage it, and not being sure if it’s me or the other person or what.

My friend’s advice: I need to stop beating myself up and, in the future, up my standards. Don’t become friends with someone just because they’re socially available, don’t miss/ignore the warning signs that someone is going to be emotionally abusive, and don’t confuse “interesting person to talk to for the next 2 weeks or during this year’s classes” with “interesting person to invest lots of emotional effort into for a life-long friendship”.

Posted by: CJ | January 13, 2013

fashionable nonsense

I’m much better at technical things than choosing clothes. But people who are much better at technical things than choosing clothes often end up, like I have, in grad school. And people in grad school aren’t exactly renowned for riches.

I also have a decidedly non-standard body type. So getting clothes that fit well isn’t super-easy.

I’m thinking the way to go is to wait until I have a real job and then get a fashion consultant to help me choose some outfits. The fashion consultants are expensive by the hour, but it (1) shouldn’t take too many hours, and (2) is cheaper and faster than me buying clothing that turns out not to work but I was too clueless to tell that in the store.

Rationally, this seems like the sensible thing to do. Since there are a lot of contexts where showing up in trashy, over-sized jeans and t-shirts is considered bad taste. Even for people much better at technical things than any particular non-technical thing.

Still, it also seems quite strange….

Posted by: CJ | January 1, 2013

Breaking! Mystery Solved!

It just struck me that probably a lot of the news specials about “mysteries” being solved that are about things that were neither mysteries nor solved reflects the ignorance of the viewers.

I guess people aren’t too interested in watching specials on “things scientists have known for 50 years” compared to a special on “breaking: new stuff that was just discovered like right now!”. I’m not sure if there’s a word for that sort of bias. It’s something the tech community is prone to, but I hadn’t realized how broadly applicable it probably is.

Seems weird to me. There are many, many, many areas of science that I simply don’t know anything about. Why would I try to learn about something new when I’m well aware that I don’t have the proper context to put it in?

Posted by: CJ | December 17, 2012

DeLong’s Interesting Point

In an interview (with a slightly annoying host with a way-too-loud mic), Brad DeLong made an interesting point. For someone to become  a senator, they have to have gotten lucky. But not just lucky, they must have gotten lucky many, many times in their lives.

So the basic idea is the following. Suppose we decide who becomes senator based on flipping a coin. Let’s assume it’s a fair coin, and there are 300 million people in the US. Then we’d get 100 people for senate by letting everyone flip a coin 21 times and saying whoever gets all heads becomes a duly elected senator.

So what’s the effect of this? Even with just coins the person would start to think they had a special skill. But in real life they’ll get lucky in more complicated ways. And as a result a senator will (1) think they’re smarter and more talented than they are, and (2) always be over-optimistic. Because if you’ve just flipped heads 21 times in a row you’ll think you can do it again without a problem. This combination of over-estimation of their abilities and over-optimism about outcomes is proving to be very toxic…either one would be bad enough, but the combination is awful.

Posted by: CJ | December 8, 2012

Seeing the best in me….

I usually don’t bother trying to be empathetic with most people. Just not worth the hassle of finding a socially acceptable way to express, “I guess I don’t want you dead in a ditch, but remind me why I’m still listening to you? You haven’t said anything in the past 5 minutes that reminds me.”

But there’s also a class of friend I will work hard to find emotions for. It’s pretty rare, but there are at least a few girls I’ve met in the past several years that seem to share some common traits. They’re no-nonsense, down-to-earth, emotionally-driven, but willing to see the best in people. Generally also goths grown up. I don’t know why, but . Possibly because they won’t waste my time telling me boring stories, or looking for me to solve their problems, or wanting someone that’s sunshine and rainbows to tell them everything is ok. They’re alright with me being supportive in my own rather negative way. (i.e. They’re ok with “Awww, I’m sorry. That sucks. If you lose it there’s a great bell tower a few blocks from high-powered rifle shop X” instead of, “So sad! Kittens and rainbows!”)

I vaguely wish I knew how to find more people like that. I enjoy hanging around them, and find them far more supportive–in their own way–than the sunshine and puppies crowd.


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