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Status update

Mon 10 May 2010 by mskala Tags used: , , ,

I'm withdrawing from Facebook, and I'm probably not going to renew my paid account on Dreamwidth. This leaves Twitter as the only social-network type of site I expect to use regularly, though I'll continue lurking on several others. If you want to keep up with my doings you really should read my own Web site; of course, if you see this note that means you're already doing so. On my side, I'm going to make a little more effort to actually put updates here so there'll be something interesting to read. Some of that effort below the cut.

First, on the Facebook thing: people talk a lot about "privacy" but that's not really the point. Everything I put on Facebook was sacrificial anyway; most of it was stuff I gladly publish elsewhere. The point is that Facebook is evil in ways that go beyond the mere fact that they want to publish your personal information. They lie about what they'll publish: many pieces of information you can set to not be published at all, or not published widely, but in fact that only limits other Facebook users, at the human level, from seeing them. The information remains available through the API, to advertisers and application programmers and, basically, exactly the people you hoped wouldn't have access to it. Facebook would no doubt claim there is no fraud because this is all explained in the fine print you didn't read. I don't agree. They also use Javascript in malicious ways - that's actually their biggest offence from my point of view, but probably less exciting for most people.

On a more abstract level, I recently came up with the idea that evil is that which says "The problem is entirely yours, in no way mine." Facebook falls squarely into that - go to their privacy settings and there are some options for limiting disclosure of personal information, but they're interspersed with "learn more" buttons you can press to have explained to you why the disclosure is okay. The problem is entirely yours, in no way Facebook's. If I have a complaint, I expect better than an explanation of why the problem is my own lack of education. That is never the right answer to a customer complaint. (Of course, that only highlights what someone will jump in to say if I don't say it first: users who make profiles, are not Facebook's customers! Facebook will inevitably serve the people who really are paying customers, and those are the advertisers.)

I mentioned here once before a scenario that unfolded where a friend at the time of mine posted a link to an article by a third party, and made some comments about it with which I strongly disagreed. I called her on it, and she responded by saying that she refused to apologize for my reaction to the third party's article. There we go again: the problem is entirely your reaction, in no way my comments; and the problem is entirely your reaction to the third party's comments, in no way anything to do with my comments. "The problem is entirely yours, in no way mine." After she went on to ignore my attempt at making peace, and given that it was part of a larger pattern of consistently failing to respect the reality of my personal experiences, I don't call the person involved in that incident a friend anymore.

In general, I think we should be quicker to accept partial ownership of issues - and slower to demand that others take full ownership of them. That's the philosophical point for the day.

I'm living in Toronto at the moment, and doing part-time postdoc research work (adding up to a full-time job) with the Universities of both Toronto and Waterloo. This has me commuting to Waterloo on the Greyhound bus an average of 1.5 days per week. My current contracts last until the end of August. My current hope is to start a full-time postdoc in just one place, in September or a little later. Exactly where that will be, remains an open question.

At the moment I think I want to stay in academia. On that path it is reasonable, at this point in my career, to start applying for professor-type jobs instead of just postdocs. So far I have not done so. I feel that there are issues in my personal life that I really want to resolve, which are much more important than how I make my money now or in the future, and that if I become a professor at a university before I resolve them, then I never will resolve them. That may not be an entirely correct appraisal of the situation, but it is how I feel. If I'm going to stick to it and stay in the academic stream, though, I'd damn well better get things sorted out fast. I can't stretch out the postdoc thing more than a couple more years, and really, the amount I already stretched it is already too much. Continued failure on this level would be my main reason for switching to the industry path, if I do.

You may recall that I took the last four months of 2009 off from paid work to finish my novel. That was partly, not entirely, successful. As of mid-December I was an estimated 5000 to 10000 words from completion; I figured there was some chance I could have pressed ahead and forced it, but quality would suffer and that would be bad. So I left it at that point, to take a two-week trip first to Hawaii for a computer science conference and then to B.C. to visit my family. In the new year (this year, 2010) it took me a very long time to get back to the book. Other things, with sharper deadlines, just kept getting in the way. This past weekend I finally made some real progress again, adding more than 2000 words. I won't have to do that too many more times to reach the next milestone, which is the point where I have a complete manuscript with no "not yet written" sections. You can watch my word count by following my Twitter feed.

After that I will still need to go through and work out in what order I want to put the chapters; then fill in some names and dates, which I can't do until after I have the chronological sequence implied by the chapter order. After that it'll be another round of editing, sending it out to a small number of test readers, and look for an agent. Unfortunately, the bit where I get to call down legions of catgirl minions to smite mine enemies is still probably at least two years off, maybe as many as five; but I figure it's pretty good that that estimate is finite at all. Qualitative progress is being made. I've also got ideas for the next book, and have to remain disciplined to finish this one before I start that one.

Speaking of progress, my Japanese is now functionally greater than zero - that is to say, I can use it to successfully complete some real-world tasks outside the educational context. That is really cool. I'm reading 涼宮ハルヒの憂鬱 in the original and getting enough of it that (given I know the story well from watching the anime) I can reliably tell where I am in the plot almost down to the sentence level. I figure I'm getting maybe 30% of the words. Less for Koizumi's dialogue, of course. I still have a long way to go. I'm probably, again, two to five years from being able to truthfully say I know the language.

I attended pagan pub moots here in Toronto for a while during 2009. I made some contacts that way, and became involved in a group that's reconstructing the worship of the ancient Greek and Irish pantheons. It may be that I'm the only person who will understand this in the terms in which I mean it, but: although I think that's clearly my religious path at the moment, I'm not sure it's my spiritual path. I stopped calling myself a worshipper of Pele about a year ago now, and I don't have a clear replacement primary deity. I hate to recommend Facebook because Facebook is teh evil, but if you're on Facebook, look up the group called "Embolden" and you can find a bunch of photos of me and my co-religionists, doing the things that we do.

As I type this I'm eating Japanese curry. I don't know if eating the food will help me learn the language, but never mind that, it's very practical - I can make a batch, freeze single servings of curry rice, and then take one to work each day to heat in the microwave and have a convenient hot lunch, for a lot less money than eating out all the time, and less effort than packing lunches on a less organized basis. Probably better nutrition, too. Japanese curry is pretty wimpy on the spice front, though, from the point of view of someone who also eats Thai curry. I'm using the hottest Japanese curry seasoning they had at T&T, and I'd be inclined to classify it as barely "medium." I'm reliably informed that that's authentic - and it just makes the curry scenes in FLCL all the funnier.

Give T&T lots of your business, because I have a fair bit of stock in the parent companies.


Quite right about Facebook being evil, although I am in it. But evil is a huge cocktail party full of merry fellows anyway. And speaking of cocktail parties, I think the evil of FB goes way past the violation of privacy. What it's really about is sucking people away from places on the Web where they might do real mischief - or at least some real thinking and discussing - and into this inane whirlwind cocktail where nothing gets said that isn't trivial, sappy, ephemeral, and hypocritical. It is a black hole that draws entire populations into itself by the attraction of facile, instant social games. I belonged to a group on MySpace that until recently had lively, sometimes informative and solid discussions on astrology. Then somebody wrote, "Let's go over to Facebook, that's where everybody is," and in the blinking of an eye the MySpace group became a ghost. The same people are now on Facebook but they no longer discuss things in depth (and when I have tried to do this a couple of times my remarks have been erased by the recipient: everyone must be "positive"). Axel - 2010-05-11 07:48
It's possible to argue cause and effect endlessly when it comes to things not being like they used to be: are people wasting their efforts with trivialities because Facebook makes that easy, or are they using Facebook, which makes that easy, because wasting their efforts with trivialities is what they want to do? I'm still mourning the high-quality standard of debate we used to have on Usenet, and anyone who was around for Usenet will realize that that's saying a mouthful. As Danny Finkelman used to say, even if they made things like they used to, they still wouldn't make things like they used to.

The "everything must be positive" thing is something I think I've ranted about before, and it'll no doubt get some more commentary from me some day. I was raised in the New Thought religion, which makes positive thinking an article of doctrine (and pretty much the only article of doctrine). I don't think it's worthless and I don't think it's necessarily a mistake - I still feel at least sort of at home in New Thought - but I do think that an overly naive interpretation of "must think positive!" hurts our ability to get any serious thinking done, and there are a lot of people running around with those naive interpretations. In the pagan community we call them the "fluffy bunnies." Matt - 2010-05-11 16:16
I'm too much of an old Nietzschean ("think with a hammer") to be comfortable with unconditional positivery - I'm coining "positivery" because "positivism" demands empirical verification and we know how often that can be negative. I guess there is a generational split between the old pagans who read Der Antichrist in their youth and the young lot - that's why I wrote "Wistful" under Religion in my Facebook profile.

As for Usenet I totally sympathize. I used to get valuable help from the better minds of sci.astro and sci.math. No more. Axel - 2010-05-11 16:37
I actually like facebook. Partially because I'm, myself, rather lacking in depth and perception generally and sometimes it's nice to be around people who are my equals, or perhaps intellectual inferiors. The other main reason is that I can't enjoy a good family hillbilly throwdown any other way, given the distance between me and my family.

I do, at least, have the good fortune to be around people who are willing to own their opinions rather than explain to me how I fail or fall short because I disagree. Marci - 2010-05-12 06:07
Without going out on tangents, I am considering dumping facebook and recreating an account just for professional contacts. Facebook is a bane for a few web developers I know as it's connect &API functionalities are very broken and do break on their own as well from time to time.

I do miss usenet, with google groups burying what's left of dejanews. Its just that google groups is just another forum, as there are so many other ways interfaces with their own unique data pools. - thats why usenet was great single data source every one participated. Pavel - 2010-05-16 23:19

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