Sleeping Cyborg

Jonathan David Page talks about whatever he happens to be thinking about. Sometimes other people join in.

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The value of talking, or, why you're missing the point

by on 26 May 2014
in , , ,
with some comments, maybe.

You’ve probably heard about the UCSB shootings already. Short version: a guy with mental issues and a history of disturbing rhetoric and behavior, which was apparently ignored by those around him, snapped and went on a killing spree, murdering his roommates Cheng Yuan Hong, George Chen, and Weihan Wang by stabbing them. He then went to a sorority house and attempted to enter it, with the intent—based on his manifesto—of murdering all of the occupants. Failing to get in, he instead killed two sorority members who were outside at the time, Veronika Weiss and Katherine Cooper, before leaving and shooting Christopher Michaels-Martinez, and finally, himself.1 All six victims were UCSB students. All six of them had lives and futures and dreams and friends and family.

The feminist community erupted with rage, like everyone else, at the murders. But soon, the rage was also directed at the reaction to them. It’s clear that the murderer—Elliot Rodger—had absorbed a lot of society’s endemic sexism. Hell, you want a citation for that? Take a look at the middle of page 11 of his manifesto:

Because of my father’s acquisition of a new girlfriend, my little mind got the impression that my father was a man that women found attractive, as he was able to find a new girlfriend in such a short period of time from divorcing my mother. I subconsciously held him in higher regard because of this. It is very interesting how this phenomenon works… that males who can easily find female mates garner more respect from their fellow men, even children.

Now, the disturbing part? Go back to the beginning. Read some of it. It’s the story of a perfectly normal little boy. This is how we raise perfectly normal little boys. This is the attitude that’s embedded in the media we consume, and the interactions we observe. And that’s why we need to talk about this.

Read more…

Tool Values Followup

by on 19 February 2014
in , ,
with some comments, maybe.

Before I continue, I’d like to credit the inestimable Ishan Raval as the “Mr. Salviati” from my previous post. During further discussion via email directly afterwards he asked:

If you think tools indeed aren’t value-neutral, then how can you justify that the loop could be broken on our end? Implicit in your making that claim is that people, through sheer will, can alter or disentangle themselves from the inherent value of a tool. Or that though tools aren’t value-neutral, the value isn’t inherent to the tool. Where do you stand?

My response at the time was:

Read more…

One Last Call

by on 11 February 2014
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with some comments, maybe.

Update, 12 Feb 2014: The banner is gone, but the tool should still be available at thedaywefightback.org for a while longer.

Sorry to belabor the point, guys, but if you haven’t contacted your representatives about the NSA yet, please do so. We need the bipartisan USA Freedom Act passed to decisively say that unwarranted mass surveillance is inappropriate behavior, and we need the FISA Improvements Act, which would make what the NSA is doing entirely legal, crushed.

For more information see thedaywefightback.org, and please, call or email your representatives! There’s a banner below which makes it super easy. You enter your phone number and zip code, and it gives you a script and connects you to their offices. When I talked to the lady at Senator Burr’s office, she mentioned that they’d gotten a lot of calls about this, so yes, we are being heard!

Again, sorry for the politi-spam, but this is really important stuff. Real content coming soon, I promise, so until then, ladies and gentlemen.

But seriously: have you called yet?

by on 11 February 2014
in , ,
with some comments, maybe.

Update, 12 Feb 2014: The banner is gone, but the tool should still be available at thedaywefightback.org for a while longer.

If you haven’t called or emailed your congresspeople about the NSA yet, please take the time to do so now. There’s a banner at the bottom of the page which you can use to automatically connect you to your congresspeople, and it gives you a script with a specific list of things that we want done to curtail this unconstitutional violation of our rights.

You can email too, but I would encourage you to call: it’s been shown to be that much more effective.

(Until next time.)

Day We Fight Back Logo Header

Today We Fight Back

by on 11 February 2014
in , ,
with some comments, maybe.

Update, 12 Feb 2014: The banner is gone, but the tool should still be available at thedaywefightback.org for a while longer.

You should be able to see a banner at the bottom of the page. I encourage you to use it to call your congresscritters and tell them that they need to tell the NSA to back off. For more information, take a look at the main site. That’s all. Until next time, ladies and gentlemen.

Tool Values

by on 24 November 2013
in , , , ,
with some comments, maybe.

Simplicio: The problem is not the tool, it's the monkey.

Salviati: No, the problem is the tool too. Tools are never value-neutral.

Read more…

Why I Hate Politics

by on 12 September 2012
in , ,
with some comments, maybe.

Okay, there are a couple reasons I hate politics1. The one I want to talk about right this instant is this one which I'm sure many engineers2 agree with: that the system itself is broken. Yes, the Constitution, as written, is a great basis. It's flexible, largely balanced between various branches, contains provisions for its own modification, pretty fair, protects human rights: all good stuff. Then again, a lot of people feel this way, and they can argue about politics all day. What is my point?

My point, and my problem, is that I regularly find myself looking at a political question and, rather than choosing a side, find myself unasking3 the question. In other words, I take the position that the question itself is wrong. Not only that, but when someone presents an argument against my opinion based on another government policy, my response ends up being "actually, that's broken too." (This response tends to be pretty well-received.)

I'm sure many other people with much more sense than I feel this way, but for some reason I find it crippling when it actually comes down to acting on my opinions. Perhaps they see the system, and realize that it's too entrenched4 to change, and so decide to make the best of a bad lot. Now that I am able to vote, I find myself struggling more and more to decide what the best course of action to take there is. I wish to vote, but I also don't want to vote for someone championing a suboptimal solution.

Perhaps I'm just too much of an idealist (read: hipster5) for my own good? How does everyone else handle this?


  1. When I say "politics" in this article, I specifically mean USA politics. Not because I think it more important, or because I like it better, but simply because I am far more familiar with it than other countries' politics. Perhaps what is written here is more widely applicable, or perhaps not. But I feel that this is a useful bit of context to have here. 

  2. An engineer's dream is to be told "You can tear this all down and start over from scratch with no strings attached, and design it in exactly the way you feel best." Legacy solutions are often kludgy and inelegant, and large-scale examples of clean, elegant engineering are sadly rare due to the fact that they go from small and clean, to large and patched, because a) it's really really hard to design systems which scale cleanly, and b) requirements change over time. In my terribly humble opinion, this particularly goes for bureaucracies6. But it is just that -- a base. And what we have currently built on it is, in fact, very flawed in a variety of ways7

  3. Take, for example, the question, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" (This is actually the traditional example!) Of course, you've never beaten your wife, so both "yes" and "no" are incorrect answers. Yet any other response does not answer the question, since it is a yes-no question. Therefore, one might suggest that the question itself is wrong, rather than any of the answers. You might therefore "unask" the question. Most people will do this implicitly by saying something like "I never started." Explicitly unasking the question names the problem so it can be discussed. I first ran into the concept discussed philosophically in the context of Zen Buddhism as discussed in Hofstadter's GEB8. In one chapter, he discusses the idea of mu -- a response which unambiguously indicates that the question was faulty. (One of my favourite things about being in the Honors program at Uni is that I can respond to a question with "mu" and not always get a funny look back.) 

  4. Is it? 

  5. It has been asserted (I use the passive voice intentionally) that the word I should use here is not "idealist", but "hipster". This is because I used the word "metadiscussion" once, and apparently only hipsters can use "meta". However, that is a rant for another day. 

  6. Sad but true: I can't spell "bureau" or anything derived from it without looking it up in a dictionary/spellchecker. 

  7. Trendy things to rant about as flawed: patent law, copyright law, social security, tax law, lobbying, campaigns, effectively over-strong executive branch, federal government is too strong, federal government is too weak, and any number of other things which are not the point. 

  8. Hofstadter, Douglas. Gödel, Escher, Bach. New York: Basic Books, 1979.