On contemplating harder drugs

Every time I contemplate trying something stronger than alcohol, I remember this quote:
Remember, the college students who are using LSD and Marijuana today do not comprise a criminal class. They are not drug addicts seeking to escape. They're your best educated, your most creative, and your most courageous young people, and like it or not, they're going to build you a new civilization - Timothy Leary, 1966
Those kids gave us this goddamned civilization. Do you really want to take that risk again?

How we talk when we talk about programming languages

Last year, I worked my way through Lisp In Small Pieces, implementing several variants of the Lisp engine Queinnec described, most of them in Coffeescript. I’ve decided this year that I’m going to continue building out my language experience and write a scripting language. I’m still working out the details, but I’m working my way now through Scott’s Programming Language Pragmatics while reading a lot of extra stuff on the side.

One of the gems I found recently was a copy of the Smalltalk-80 Implementation Guide. It is, to say the least, a fascinating book. It introduces a virtual machine in the context of programming in 1980, which was 37 years ago, and the assumptions the authors make as to what I’m expected to know as a potential developer of a Smalltalk environment fascinated me.

The book describes a stack-based, tree-walking virtual machine. As Smalltalk is a purely object-oriented language, the tree is completely reified by the OO environment; you choose an object and a function to start, and the interpreter walks that function’s statements and subroutines until execution ends at the end of the start function. Methods are dispatched according to a lookup table, and primitives are encapsulated in a large switch() statement.

What fascinates me about reading this is that I know, at least theoretically, so much more about writing VMs. The VM described here is a nightmare of cache misses and branch prediction failures; fully a third of a modern CPU’s efforts will be going into loading, evaluating, and then disposing of anticipated operations that the VM will throw away unused. There’s no mention at all of JITting the program’s functions (converting long sequences directly into machine code) or even just its spine (writing the sequence of primitives as indirect, or even direct, unconditional branches such that the CPU’s branch predictor works most of the time; direct is cool but requires the primitives themselves be copied and modified for direct uncoditional branching back to the spine).

Since in Smalltalk almost any object could be a launching point and since relationships between objects can be changed with the swipe of a mouse, the speed with which we’d have to recalculate any given set of relationships would have to be a priority. It would have to have Go’s internal speed of recompiling, only to put the results into an executable anonymous mmap()’d space, and then map everything than needs it to be able to find that code.

A modern Smalltalk VM could be a marvel to use. It would be a nightmare to write.

Be that as it may, choosing to write programming languages today, even ones on top of a system language like C or Rust, is to confront an embarrassment of riches. There are so many interesting ways to do something now. We have JITs! We have Algorithm W! We have concurrency problems like you wouldn’t believe! 37 years ago, they had two options: compiled code, or a stack-based switch statement on top of compiled code. The writers assumed you knew more about those two ways, and absolutely nothing about all the other stuff.

Flights & Rights vs. Country Music Offensensitivities

Last night, Omaha and I attended the ACLU Flights & Rights fundraiser, where for a fee you get a flight of four small beers from a local brewer and get to listen to the local ACLU lawyer talk about the work she does.  It was actually a lot of fun, great people, good speech, hopeful messages, all that.

It was at the KEXP gathering space, which is right next to Key Arena.  The Key (which, by the way, is named for a bank that stopped paying its licensing fee in 2009, but no one else has bought the naming rights and it's too expensive to change the signage otherwise) was hosting a country music show.  And among the cowboy hats, brown heeled boots, bad flannel and blue jeans, were a ton of MAGA hats and t-shirts with things like "If you don't like Trump you probably won't like me" and "Trump: Protecting the First Amendment with the Second" (WTF?).  A truck parked on the side of the road had a "White, Christian, Heterosexual: Is there anything else I can do to offend you?" bumper sticker.

On the drive home, I flipped through the radio.  It was just the right hour for Michael Savage, one of the most spiritually deformed members of the right wing radio punditocracy, and literally the first thing I heard him say was, "Obama, the Obama people, he was dumping them, he was dumping the most illiterate, most diseased, most violent people he could find in the world and dumping them into communities that used to be white, Christian and heterosexual."

I've got nothing else to say.  It's just... 
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The Jam Session Model of Sex only works for a minority

The Jam Session Model of Sex, brilliantly described by Karen B. K. Chan, tries to model a sexual encounter between two (or more) people as a musical jam session. In a musical jam session, people of differing musical abilities, talents, and skills get together and play together. Jazz is the pre-eminent genre of the jam session, in which experience, knowledge, talent and practice are all merged into an exchange between players in which each tries to both collaborate on making interesting and entertaining music, and show off their own skill when the jam comes around to them. Jam sessions are both collaborative and competitive, and in the very best sessions the senior partners show off partly to encourage the less experienced musicians to learn something new and try harder.

The biggest problem with trying to apply the Jam Session Model to sex is right in front of us: jam sessions only happen among musicians. Chan says you have bring your instruments and your talent. But you also have to bring something else: your willingness to participate, and participate fairly.

Do you remember Home Economics class? I do. You don't learn about personal finance1. You learn mostly about food preparation. You learn how to cook. You learn baking, and sautee'ing, and knife skills. Two-thirds of the people who take that class never learn to cook for themselves. They go through their entire lives unfamiliar with a mandoline, a Kitchen-Aid, or a wafflemaker.

Cooking only happens among cooks. Omaha and I both cook. When we collaborate on a big dinner project, which isn't as often as I'd like in our busy lives: "Can you take over? I have to..." "What spices could I add...?" "What's the ratio between...?" Knowledge, experience, talent, and a willingness to work together to acheive the pleasure of a great meal all go into making food.

You can already see where I'm going with this. Try to imagine teaching a collaborative, playful, honorably competitive and openly communicative human sexuality to a bunch of sixteen year olds. Go ahead, try. Not only would their parents' heads explode, but even if you suceeded, you'd end up with a success rate about the same as Home Ec: Maybe a third would take anything away with them.

You have to like sex, and have a desire to deliberately practice it, in order for the Jam Session Model to work for you, and you have to have other people to play along with who also like sex and have a desire to practice with you. (The nice thing about sex and cooking is that deliberate practice in those pursuits isn't nearly as onerous as it is with say music or drawing.)

For millenia, human societies have been structured around power-law systems in which the vast majority of our ancestors found themselves constrained by law and custom. They had no choice about whether or not to have children, especially the women. Law and custom forced them into relationships, and forced them into arrangments that did not actually make many people happy. Our ancestors rarely had a wide variety of foods, and often didn't have enough.

Today, we have cooks and musicians. We have epicures and record collectors. We have folks who eat fast food and listen to whatever's on the radio. And there are even people who find giving a damn about food or music a chore and a bother.

We're going to need resources for all of these categories sexually. I, and I suspect Chan, and a lot of people who follow me, are in the first category. We like to create great sexual events. But we need a category for those people who just want to have sex without all the fuss and bother. And another for those who just want to get off.

Like I said, the Jam Session Model works for me... but I'm at one end of a spectrum of human sexuality. And not one anywhere near mainstream, sadly.

1 This is mostly due to Eleanor Roosevelt. America was just beginning to modernize: refrigerators and electric ovens were just beginning to infiltrate mid-size cities. America needed a program to teach women how to use these things. "Home Economics" was the art and discipline of using the home efficiently.

I wish Christians wouldn't affirm atheists' worst fears

When I was heavily active on the atheist boards, one of the most common "challenges" we got from Christians was "Why do you even bother to be good?"

They weren't even very subtle about it. "You should live the atheist lifestyle the way it is meant to be lived! Rape, pillage, and murder! If there's no god, you can satisfy your heart's every wish."

The obvious rejoinder is that obviously the speaker is projecting: it is their wish that they could rape, pillage and murder, and they would enjoy themselves doing so. Atheists would respond calmly (sometimes) that most human beings are tribal and eusocial animals, most people actually want to live in a functioning community. A rapine anarchy doesn't guarantee you food, water, and a comfortable place to sleep.

But now "reasonable people" like Ross Douthat and Rod Dreher are claiming that the atheists are wrong: most people are vicious, barely leashed animals. If you want to know why politics has become so vicious, it's because the authority of the Religious Right has declined, and now you're facing Klansmen and Nazis, The Post-Religious Right.

Now, needless to say, if we point to all the other civilizations that did well without Yahweh, we can pretty much conclude that any transcendent organizational scheme, even those that don't promise punishment in the afterlife (such as Buddhism, Confucianism or Judaism), works just as well. So why is "losing our religion" in America so damn vicious?

It's not. What we're seeing instead is the realization that the promise of white evangelism hasn't been kept: those damn brown people continue to be present, to infiltrate every corner the world, and to be loud (i.e. they say anything at all).

The Right isn't more vicious because it's losing its religion. It's losing it's religion because it wants what it has always wanted: a white America. They've just given up, in this day and age, trying to pretend it's what Jesus would have wanted.

The EMTALA, The ACA, the GOP, and The Liberal Ninjas

I hate tweetstorms. I'm too wordy for it. So let me expand on this:

Rothman's contention is that, somehow, the Democrats have managed to coerce the GOP into a situation where the latter cannot admit that it's real, "principled" stance is that the goverment cannot and should not provide universal health care.

Let's consider the argument against "cannot" as a given. Arguing out of ignorance is no excuse.

The "should not" is different. In 1986, Reagan pushed for, and Congress passed, The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). It did this not out of love for America's citizens, but out of shame. As cable news spread, a spate of news articles throughout Reagan's administration highlighted a phenomenon that had only once been a local issue: people dying in hospital parking lots, unable to pay. White people. White women giving birth in the back of cars in hospital parking lots, and then dying of completely treatable complications. The EMTALA exists because it was shameful to see in this, the greatest nation on Earth, the wealthiest nation on Earth, our ordinary citizens dying with an "Emergency Room" sign in the background.

The problem the GOP has is that, if they took Rothman at his word, we'd go back to that. We'd go back to people dying in hospital parking lots. Instead, what we have now is a weird, artificial distinction between acute and chronic conditions. Right now, they're perfectly happy to let people die where no camera is watching.

We have cameras everywhere. People are still dying of completely treatable causes, and now they're taking selfies of themselves as it happens.

Rothman's case is an absolute one: America should embrace the vision of people dying in parking lots as a sign of America's real moral value: If you're not rich, or can't demonstrate an ongoing return on investment to the rich, you may as well just die.

I really don't understand why the GOP can't just come out and say that.

White, lonely guys.

Last night I attended a pro-am dance exhibition, part of a fundraiser for a homeless shelter in our state capitol, and as I watched the young men on stage, many of whom hoped someday to dance for a living, I saw a phenomenon that I don't think I'd ever actually seen in the wild before. The further one of the men was from white or male, the more he allowed his face to express emotion.

The sample group was small, less than a dozen, with seven of them white. The white guys were positively stone-faced, only allowing themselves the briefest hints of triumph at the end of their performances.

The five darker-skinned guys were alive with emotion. Even in their complicated routines, they remembered that they were there to show the audience something. They smiled, they laughed, they were positively joyful in the face of a very friendly crowd.

This morning, I read an article in the Boston Globe about how the real threat of middle aged men isn't drinking or obesity, it's loneliness. One of my friends pointed out that the article highlights the line, "... until your wife gets all the friends in the divorce" and said, "That's because they let their wife do all the emotional labor of maintaining friendships. Without a wife, they don't know how to do it."

But what struck me about the article, and this may be an artifact of last night, is how white the article is. The illustrations are about white guys; the activities described are the stereotypes of white guy bonding activities (baseball, not basketball), the lifestyle described is the whitest one you could possibly imagine.

The training to be reserved, to repress any hint of emotion, comes early for white guys. Maybe they're terrified, in this era where we've fought to acknowledge the legitimacy of homosexual relationships, that any such expression might lead to, you know, that. We've somehow created a culture where being reserved and unemotional is privileged. They get to treat the fact that they're at the top of the food chain, the ones who don't have to express themselves loudly or forcefully or emotionally to get what they want. I'm reminded of the critique that there is no such thing as "white culture"; it's simply a marker for a position of power and privilege, and exists for no reason other than to preserve and defend it.

The young white men I saw last night aren't being taught how to express themselves, how to communicate their pleasure to an audience, perhaps even how to communicate their pleasure to themselves. They seemed to be onstage mostly to express their mastery of the subject. It's rather too sad that they didn't succeed.
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Ah, Pagan America

Jesus would disagree with Calvin.

Before we get to what Jesus was really saying, I have to say that by this logic, the police officer is "forced at swordpoint" to guard the peace of your community; the fireman is "forced at swordpoint" to rush into your burning home and rescue your children; the municipal construction worker is "forced at swordpoint" to create the roads by which you get to and from work, and by which your goods get to market; the people who forged the Internet we're currently using were "forced at swordpoint" to come up with redundant, self-healing network hardware and software protocols.

Towns, cities, states and nations all have, to different degrees, the responsibility to see those public collective needs that we cannot manage alone or through private collective action. As a nation, we came together to defeat many major diseases. As a nation, we came together to defeat the Nazis. As a nation, we came together and defeated the Russians. As a nation, we came together and went to the moon. We used to grumble about taxes, but we understood that with them we bought peace, civil protection, municipal roads and bridges, and yes, we even bought public health.

The fact that so many in our country have become convinced that this collective action is somehow "socialist" is mind-boggling to me. Every nation, ever state does something to ensure that its people are happy and productive.

Which brings us to what Jesus said. In Mark 14:7, as Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS) quoted, Jesus says, "For you will always have the poor with you, and you can do good for them whenever you want."

Now, I'm not Christian. I was raised as a Jew, but I know exactly what Jesus was saying there. So did the apostles he was talking to. They were Jews who had watched the pharisees pervert the temple and turn it into a bank. They were religious enough to be revolted by their corruption, and turned to a radical Rabbi. And sometimes he had to rebuke them. When Jesus tells them, "The poor you shall have with you always," he is quoting Moses. And they knew it.

And what did Moses say?

"The poor you shall have with you always, therefore the Lord God commands you to be openhanded to the poor and needy in your land.

If any are poor in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God has given you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Show no ill-will toward the needy among your fellow countrymen. Give genorously and do so without a gruding heart."

The rest of Deuteronomy makes it clear that this is not a personal commandment. This is an organizational principle of Moses' administration (and yes, Moses had an administration. It had a bureaucracy. Numbers talks about how it runs.) This how the State of Israel is to be set up. These are responsibilities by the nation to its people. Deuteronomy 14:22 is really freaking clear on this: if your harvest this year is great, you're supposed to give every increase to the state.

Yes, yes, if you have more than your neighbor, build a longer table, not a bigger wall. And yet, your reach is limited. Philanthropy is grey and unlovely; you pick and chose who gets your generosity, and by choosing you exclude others, condemn them. As God and Moses said, only the state is committed to the well-being of all the people. The United States Constitution literally constitutes the US on behalf of "the general welfare... of the people of these United States." Not on behalf of your local church, or some national group that represents your religious beliefs, or your ethnic beliefs, or whatever other arbitrary category that you treasure over others. All people. Whites, blacks, natives, men, women, Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists.

Deuteronomy 15 ends with a sad repeat: "And still, the poor you shall have with you always." Moses knows the people of Israel will fail. Jesus knew that a few centuries later, both Israel and Rome had failed. When the apostles object to his spending money on soap and oil, Jesus quotes Moses at them to rebuke their short-sightedness. "You can feed the poor for a day, sure. But without a true revival, without a wholesale transformation of the spirit from one that loves your neighbors more than it loves money, you will have fed them for a day. Tomorrow, they will be hungry again, and you will have accomplished very little."

I don't know what has happened to the country I love that it has become so cruel, so stingy, so vicious. Its spirit of generosity is blighted and ill. We say we're generous, but we aren't; we are lost of grace and favor. Countries that have better health outcomes through state-run healthcare still manage to have more private per-capita giving than the United States. We are fifth in our generosity and aren't even in the top forty healthiest countries.

It's not my place to question Calvin's conscience or the relationship between his soul and God. But the God of the Old Testament was painfully clear about what he wanted. God told Ezekial that the sin of Sodom was that it had wealth and power, and yet its citizens refused to help the poor and needy. God commanded Moses, and Moses said it was the duty of Israel: See to the justice due the migrant, the orphan, and the widow. Educate the child, heal the sick, relieve the distressed, and when necessary, bury the dead.

Moses and Jesus both anticipated we would fail. Buddha, Muhammad, Zoroaster, they all say more or less the same thing. The fact that we're limited, vain, and selfish beyond any hope doesn't mean we should wallow in it.

Why don't bros solve this problem?

Yesterday, I commented on how I'd tried the latest round of HMDs and discovered that none of them were quite to my liking. A friend of mine today mentioned that while she was on the metro the woman next to her was openly writing what could only be considered trade secrets or intellectual property. "Exactly my point," I said. "Why haven't the tech bros of silicon valley solved this problem?"

This one seems weird to me. Venture capitalists have thrown millions (even billions!) into developing next-stage head mounted displays without, I believe, actually solving a real problem: truly private interactions with the traditional keyboard-driven computer. The BT-300 was close, but it has no HDMI interface; the Avegant Glyph is basically like watching television; you wouldn't want to write code on the thing. (Who knows what the Avegant Suite will be? Right now it's at 720p and barely a prototype.) Seriously, all I want is a second screen that nobody else can see that doesn't also make me look like a refugee from the Borg.

I mean, take a look at the Suite again. That's $140 million dollars of technology for a multilayered optical solution. All I want is a simple bifocal S-OLED 1280x720 RGB display with a goddamn HDMI connector. This technology is already four years old. Is it so much to ask?

Hot take: I'd say that the reason bros haven't solved the problem is because there's a mismatch between what tech bros want and what real people want. The legendary corporate buses of San Francisco shield their riders from anyone who might not be privy to confidential information, and the ones who might pay for the development of such technology probably don't take metro anyway.

In the meantime, I may end up buying a pair of Miracast dongles (they're cheap, less than $30) and seeing if I can get it to work with my laptop.

Head Mounted Displays for the Writer

Yesterday I had a chance to try out two of the "better" head-mounted displays, the Avegant Glypth, and the Moverio BT-300, and I'm disappointed to say that neither is quite ready to be a desktop replacement.

I write smut. As you can see from my office, I often write in public, and as public transportation has gotten much more reliable, it has also gotten much more crowded. I'd like to have a heads-up display that I can reliably use to write in public without having to share my thoughts with the person sitting next to me.

The Avegant Glyph is an entertainment headset. There's no two ways to put it. It's a bit like sitting in the middle of a theater, and for my vision a bit too far away from the screen. It's fine for watching movies, but it lacks the resolution and close-up vision work necessary to make it a desktop replacement. It does, however, have an HDMI input line.

The Moverio BT-300 is at the other end of the spectrum: it's a workhorse. While you can see through the bifocal screens, if you focus on the screen it looks great, the resolution is high and crisp. The glasses are a bit odd looking, but nothing too horrific.

Unfortunately, the Moverio isn't a display; it's a full-on Android box with its own set of software and apps. One of those is Mira, an HDMI-over-WiFi standard that I'm told works pretty well, and in that case I could theoretically use it as a second display for my laptop, but the chipset in my laptop is too old to support it; I'd have to spring for a second WiFi dongle to support the WiFi Direct standard. That's not horrible, but it's annoying. On the other hand, if it works I could wear the BT-300 and I could probably figure out how to make it automagically mate with the laptop on-demand. I managed it with my bluetooth headphones, even thoough that actually took some hacking.

Still, I don't think head-mounted displays are really ready for the present. And that disappoints me. Maybe with the next generation Moverio, or maybe the new ODG R-9, will fit the bill. For the moment, though, I guess I'll just have to wait.

Sad, but true.
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