Three State Solution

“Major: If you’ve got a problem with the world, change yourself. If that’s a problem, close your eyes, shut your mouth, and live like a hermit. And if that’s a problem… [cocks gun and presses it against his head].

—Ghost in a Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Avoid politics and the multitude of irrelevant struggles designed to channel your energies into someone else’s agenda. Adapt, keep your head down, and/or die. Those are the realistic options for most people.

Google’s Sidewalk Labs Plans to Package and Sell Location Data on Millions of Cellphones

“We audit their practices to ensure they are complying with industry codes of conduct,” said Bowden. “No Google data is used. This extensive audit process includes regular reporting, interviews, and evaluation to ensure vendors meet specified requirements around consent, opt-out, and privacy protections.”

—Ava Kofman, “Google’s Sidewalk Labs Plans to Package and Sell Location Data on Millions of Cellphones.” The Intercept. January 28, 2019.

As these ideas go, this is a good use of the kind of data phones are collecting. For urban planning, it’s great to be able to look at real time road, sidewalk, public transit, building, park and other infrastructure usage.

But, it always starts with good ideas and then, the incentives encourage implementations and extensions that are a net negative, such as using real time location data and artificial intelligence to look for anomalous movement patterns for policing. That’s only the tip of the iceberg of ways this information, packaged in aggregate, could go horribly wrong.

Also, no Google data is being used? Even if true, the key word missing is “…yet.” They are seeing how it is received first, putting it on telephone service providers, before they add in Google data. A Google service of this type will eventually use Google data.

Keep Striking the Flint of Love

“Escape is the purest form of resistance.”

Joseph Kelly, “The Masterless People: Pirates, Maroons, and the Struggle to Live Free.” Longreads.com. October 30, 2018.

God. The United States Government. Money. You, yourself. They are all ghosts, and it is your head that is haunted.

There’s all kinds of ghosts in our lives. People fading in and out. Ideas and memes that are minds suddenly latch on to or let go of.

It’s interesting that it took a juxtaposition of telecommunications, computer hardware, and software to turn the noun, “ghost” into a verb. It wasn’t a term you heard before the mobile phone.

Yet, ghosting has clearly been a fact of life in human relationships since it has been possible to move between large communities and not have your reputation follow you. From the proverbial man who goes out for a pack of cigarettes and never comes back to the prejudice against nomadic groups like the gypsies, there is always been worry about people that can enter a community or a relationship with an individual and then leave it with little consequence. It undermines the social fabric. It creates distrust and fear, particularly in places where distrust and fear are already prevalent.

Certainly, this was why divorce had such a high stigma for so long. It was thought to undermine families and communities.

But, it is the modern variety of transient relationships, with the ability of apps to create new connections that transverse diverse social networks, that has made the behavior so pervasive that it has become necessary to give it a name. It seems everyone is out buying cigarettes, getting away from someone.

Of course, we can mitigate the damage it can do to us personally by adopting new mental models, such as the theory of visitors. If you view everyone in your life as a visitor, one that can leave it any moment, then you only focus on your experience in the moment. We take people, moment-by-moment, rather than trying to forge lasting bonds.

But, this is a difficult view to adopt because most of us want lasting connections with other people, where we can love them and be loved in return. We don’t only live in this moment, but our mind is haunting both the future and the past.

We also want to be part of a community. We want to be accepted and have lasting connections to others. But, it is probably worth considering the basis for those relationships.

I was recently watching the Kung Fu television series from the 1970s. There is this touching dialogue between Caine and Master Po that gets at this point.

The Scene: Caine is about to present Master Po flowers but stops when Master Po rejects the flowers of another student. Seeing this, Caine is scared he too will be rejected, so he comes up short and stands off in the distance. Master Po, seeing what has happened, starts an exchange about love that this leads to this bit of dialogue:

Master Po: Do you seek love or barter?

Caine: If I love others and they do not love me, I will feel great pain.

Master Po: That is what you risk, Grasshopper. Great pain or great joy.

Kung Fu (television series)

It makes me think that ghosting is an idea based on this transactional model. With cell phones, our culture has evolved where there is a sense of always on, instant accessibility to the people in our lives. I send one message, they should send me one back. The more quickly, the more important I am to you.

There are also call logs. So, you can see the history. Who tends to contact who? At what time? Am I investing more of myself than they are? The accounting is built in because that kind of accounting is what computers are good at doing. But, it isn’t good for developing our love for one another.

And, this transactional view is particularly acute when we are first meeting someone. When we don’t have a lot of interaction, then each data point, each interaction bears a lot of weight.

You go to a first date. It seems to have gone so well. You spent hours together talking over dinner. You wandered through a local neighborhood for a few hours, talking. Perhaps you even slept together. Not hearing from the other person over the next week makes you question your whole experience. Did it happen? Did the other person feel the same as I did? If you are insecure, you might also wonder if there was something you said or did that caused them to ghost.

Even if it is true, maybe you spent a little more time talking about your infatuation with a co-worker than you should have with a possible new romantic interest, it’s not personal. It’s just how things happen sometimes. It’s largely random chance.

Sometimes, the timing is not right. Sometimes, the chemistry isn’t there or perhaps, something is going on in your life that makes you less attractive in that moment. Maybe you reminded them of a previous relationship that turned out poorly. Sometimes relationships just end, or more frequently, they never get started in the first place.

Love is like fire. You can start a flame. But, you cannot control how it burns. In a hard world, where fire fizzles out 999 times out of a 1000, it can be hard to keep motivated to keep striking the flint of love. But, counting strikes is easier on our psyche than counting fizzles or flames.

Related: Closeness lines.

Why People Ghost — and How to Get Over It

“If a friendship feels like too much work, maybe it is. The good ones shouldn’t feel like a chore on your to-do list, or that one side is doing all the communicating). Sometimes the best course is to let someone go, even if you were once close. Growing apart can be a friendship’s natural evolution; ditto for lovers, an even touchier discourse. But it’s the way you let go that matters…

…’Being vulnerable is the number one thing that creates intimacy between people and if you worry about being hurt all the time, you’re not able to be vulnerable and it affects the quality of connection.'”

—Adam Popescu, “Why People Ghost — and How to Get Over It.” The New York Times. January 22, 2018.

Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) on StarDict on Ubuntu/Debian

So, after reading “You’re probably using the wrong dictionary,” I thought I would give installing Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) on a Debian-flavor of Linux a try and write it up the process and some observations of its use.

Installation on a Debian-flavor of Linux is straight-forward:

$ sudo apt-get install stardict
$ cd Downloads
$ wget https://s3.amazonaws.com/jsomers/dictionary.zip
$ unzip dictionary.zip
$ cd dictionary
$ tar -xvjf stardict-dictd-web1913-2.4.2.tar.bz2
$ cd stardict-dictd-web1913-2.4.2/
$ sudo mv *.* /usr/share/stardict/dic/
$ stardict

This launches the main application. There is also a mini-window that can be moved to where you like and then you can use it with other applications by highlighting text. Here’s a screenshot of this article:

When you highlight a word, it will automatically be searched for and displayed in the mini-window.

Entries include pronunciation, etymological origin, related words, definition and an example of usage, often from literature. I can imagine this being a very useful tool. It might be worth checking if my writing from this date changes in an appreciable way and whether it is an improvement or not.

You’re Probably Using the Wrong Dictionary

“I don’t want you to conclude that it’s just a matter of aesthetics. Yes, Webster’s [1913] definitions are prettier. But they are also better. In fact they’re so much better that to use another dictionary is to keep yourself forever at arm’s length from the actual language.

Recall that the New Oxford, for the word ‘fustian,’ gives ‘pompous or pretentious speech or writing.’ I said earlier that that wasn’t even really correct. Here, then, is Webster’s definition: ‘An inflated style of writing; a kind of writing in which high-sounding words are used, above the dignity of the thoughts or subject; bombast.’ Do you see the difference? What makes fustian fustian is not just that the language is pompous — it’s that this pomposity is above the dignity of the thoughts or subject. It’s using fancy language where fancy language isn’t called for.

It’s a subtle difference, but that’s the whole point: English is an awfully subtle instrument. A dictionary that ignores these little shades is dangerous; in fact in those cases it’s worse than useless. It’s misleading, deflating. It divests those words of their worth and purpose.”

James Somers. “You’re probably using the wrong dictionary.” jsomers.net. May 18, 2014.

Worth reading in its entirety. You never know what you’re missing or how cheap the tool is that you are using until you see the tool, or the word, that expands your imagination.

Dead Poet’s Society: Past, Future & Forgiveness

“If our lives are the tales that Allah tells, then we are the audience as well as the players, and it is by living those tales that we receive their lessons…Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough.”

Ted Chaing, The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate. Burton, Michigan: Subterranean Press, 2007.

I was reading Ted Chiang’s The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate, which is a wonderful little book. The quote above made me think of the scene from The Dead Poet Society:

“This is a battle, a war. And the casualties could be your hearts and souls.

Thank you, Mr Dalton.

Armies of academics going forward measuring poetry. No! We will not have that here. No more Mr. J. Evans Pritchard. Now in my class you will learn to think for yourselves again. You will learn to savor words and language. No matter what anybody tells you words and ideas can change the world.

I see that look in Mr. Pitts’ eye like 19th Century literature has nothing to do with going to business school or medical school. Right? Maybe.

Mr. Hopkins, you may agree with him thinking, ‘Yes, we should study our Mr. Pritchard and learn our rhyme and meter and go quietly about our business of achieving other ambitions.’

I have a little secret for you. Huddle up.

Huddle up!

We don’t read and write poetry because it is cute.

We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.

And the human race is filled with passion.

Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life.

But poetry, beauty, romance and love, these are what we stay alive for.

To quote from Whitman: ‘O me, O life of the questions of these recurring. Of the endless trains of the faithless. Of cities filled with the foolish. What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer: That you are here. That life exists and identity. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.’

‘That a powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.’

What will your verse be?”

Dead Poet’s Society. Peter Weir. Los Angeles: Touchstone Pictures, 1989.

This scene from The Dead Poet Society is the viewpoint of someone young, or perhaps someone just starting out in their career as John Keating is beginning his career. It is a perspective almost drunk on the possibilities, the opportunities that stretch before them.

But, by the end of the film, it is also clear that many possibilities do not end well. Sometimes cutting a new path leads to disaster. Sometimes there are politics that cannot be avoided. Sometimes a particular fork in the road shows something about our character, such as whether we are willing to step on our desks and risk expulsion as a sign of respect for a teacher we love.

And what of John Keating? What happens to him in the years after? And does this gesture from his students transform his life in any way, as surely as it will transform their own? Would his life have been different if Todd Anderson hadn’t had the courage to stand on his desk?

What of Neil Perry’s dad? Did losing his child destroy his marriage, as so often happens when a couple has a child die? Does he ever recognize his role? Or, does he live the rest of his life blaming Neil’s teacher? Is he overcome by bitterness and resentment? Or does he repent, atone as he is able and find some small measure of forgiveness?

Also, I love Mr. Hopkins. As a side character, he’s kind of casually against everything and appears resistant to John Keating’s teaching. But, he’s there standing on his desk during the last scene. It was as if he was an advanced student that already understood the material. At the end, he shows he was on the same page all along.

It seems like there is a drift between these two perspective as we age. As we make mistakes and windows of opportunities close, repentance for failing, trying to make right what we can and asking for forgiveness are what remain when all else has left.

We cannot erase the past. There is no escape from our roles and the lessons our lives have to teach us. The question is: then, what?

Protecting Your Online Privacy is Tough—But Here’s a Start

“Algorithms make decisions based on statistical correlations. If you happen to not be a typical individual, showing unusual characteristics, there is a chance that an algorithm will misinterpret your behavior. It may make a mistake regarding your employment, your loan, or your right to cross the border. As long as those statistical correlations remain true, nobody will care to revise this particular judgement. You’re an anomaly.”

—Katarzyna Szymielewicz, “Protecting your online privacy is tough—but here’s a start.” Quartz. January 25, 2019.

So, algorithms are just like people then?

There is a need to regulate data aggregators. But, you have more technical options to avoid surveillance than this article suggests. Here’s a good start.

For one, instead of trying to control the information you put into social media and limiting your “likes”, opt-out of social media entirely. Data aggregators don’t need many real data points to make an accurate profile, and these will be correlated against real records, such as credit card purchases to complete the picture.

You can also not log into a Google account on your Android device. It still may phone home your location data, but at least it isn’t associated with your account. You also can control whether to share location data with social media apps, which again makes the job harder.

Also, using a VPN or Tor Browser can create some distance between your digital and real identity. It certainly makes the job of creating marketing profiles of individuals harder.

Like security, privacy is a process. The more layers you put between you and the surveillance apparatus, the more difficult you make it to profile and surveil you.

Dystopian Fever Dream

It's lonely, a technician in psychospace                                                                                 
a cursed world, an immortal cancerscape
residual runoff of human desire, the interface
with incessant demons and no hope of escape.

The lumpen digitariat, creating the villages
necessary for the village idiots, Radio Rental.
Sympathy for the monks, drunks and cabbages,
they say, "Authoritarian deliberation is coinky-dental."

The Mean World thrives on adrenaline poisoning.
Refuseniks, just another demographic of the dumb.
Honor dies where interest lies, darkening
what you see is all there is, all you'll become.