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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Morbid Curiosity's LiveJournal:

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Wednesday, August 28th, 2019
12:30 am
Catching up is hard to do
I spent some time today catching up with someone who I went to primary and intermediate school with. Neither of us fit in especially well, and in a time of "boys will be boys, they get into fights" we both paid a heavy price for that.

Our lives took some pretty radically different paths in the intervening years. Most of our conversation tonight was about a wide variety of other things, from experimental music to Weimar Germany to jail time in Korea to life on a farm, but that common past we shared was touched on...

"You helped me to survive school."

Hearing someone tell me this, even after so many years, is affecting me more profoundly that I can really say right now.

It also makes me miss Rowan, my neighbour and closest friend for a lot of my early years. His family moved away from our neighbourhood around the end of primary school, and we lost touch. From the days of the worldwide web and later social media, the only thing I was ever able to find about him was old genealogical records. I can't say for sure, but I get a strong feeling that he didn't make it. He planned to study to become an archaeologist. I think he would have been quite good at it.
Wednesday, February 20th, 2019
12:44 pm
Thoughts about "playing the Devil's Advocate"
This phrase came up again in conversation with a particular friend of mine, so I took the time to try to clarify an issue I see with this kind of "play" in the discourse of the Internet Shouting Factories.

The original principle of the historical role of Devil's Advocate was that extraordinary claims require extraordinary scrutiny, and thus must pass an ordeal of extraordinary challenge to be accepted. Sometimes, that is not the best frame for a conversation to have.

Not every discussion needs to be combative, nor treated as though it's all within the frame of some kind of reductionist ideological football match, where everyone's wearing team colours and pushing each other around for yardage.

As I get older, I'm increasingly not interested in pouring my energy into fighting for the sake of fighting and scoring points. It's nice for in-group cohesion and social performance of values and all, but it doesn't tend to do much to convince anyone of anything.

We can try to build things, too - but that requires more care and more collaborative action, rather than just hammering away at anything that looks nail-like and declaring a victory when it lowers its head.
Tuesday, December 4th, 2018
2:28 pm
Monday, September 17th, 2018
10:24 pm
Today, I had more than a few frustrating things happen in various places. Six months ago, a year ago, five or ten years ago, it probably would have been a Most Terrible Day.

Today, a couple of good things have happened too. Not incredibly special or momentous, but just a couple of positive points. So now it's really not that bad a day at all.

I don't know how much of this is maturity and how much is recovery, but all in all it feels like strong progress is being made.
Thursday, August 2nd, 2018
10:17 pm
Guess Who's Coming to Bespin

this scene is so sad. vader made a nice meal for everyone and han solo just starts shooting like a dickhead
  -- @jester174

G: "Lando opens the door. The room contains a table, set for a lavish banquet. As you enter, who should stand from the head of the table but Darth Vader, raising his hand in--"
C: "Hey, Lando's my old character! He can't betray us to the bad--"
H: "We're not entering the room. I quickdraw my blaster pistol and shoot him."
G: "...GodDAMNIT, Harrison! Again? I'm trying to advance the plot here. And Carrie, Lando's an NPC now. Vader begins to speak..."
H: "Yep, and I'm definitely beginning to shoot him, George." *rolls*
G: "19? seriously?! *sighs deeply* Okay, okay. Darth Vader uses his, uh, magic Jedi powers to deflect the blaster bolt with his hand."
M: "Hey, no fair! How come he can do it with his hand? Doesn't he need to draw his lightsaber first?"
G: "Well... because his hand is made out of metal, okay?"
M: *eyes widen as he furiously scribbles a note on his character sheet*
G: "Vader uses ~The Force~ to take the blaster, and says `We would be honoured if you would join us.' And who should step out but your old bounty hunter nemesis... Boba Fett! Also now there are Stormtroopers behind you."
H: "...I hate you, George. Screw your magic space knights and plot dumping - next time we're playing my Nazi-punching campaign!"
Wednesday, April 25th, 2018
10:13 pm
Software, projects, and teams.
Discussions elsewhere about this article on scrum methodology for software projects prompted me to have many reckons about doing these things right. So let's put them here, too.

I'm not sure I've ever seen a functional team doing "pure" scrum. Heck, even "pure" agile. I think it's probably best treated as a first step, rather than a fully-realised development methodology. Indeed, a lot of the pain points seem to come in when people try to treat it a the fully-realised development methodology that it simply isn't.

A good development framework is strong but flexible. It scaffolds the thing you're building, and doesn't get in the way of it. Too brittle, it splinters. Too heavy, it collapses under its own weight. Too little attention to structural integrity, and it can't hold together. In each of those cases, the project - and the workers - come crashing down in a screaming heap.

Furthermore: effective processes for building a Thing are different from the effective processes for building a Team. If you're relying on a project management tool to do the heavy lifting for the team's leadership needs, you're a damned fool and your project is probably damned too. Management and leadership are complementary and non-interchangeable skillsets. They don't always need to be concentrated in the same people, but they need to be present and actively engaged.

Scrum does put a lot of emphasis on having a product owner and them being responsible for triaging the things that are valuable to work on next. This is useful, but only to a point. When you have a team full of technical professionals, accomplished in the art and science of their jobs, you have a wealth of domain knowledge that can and should be part of the equation for determining what "valuable" means.

It is vital, for both technical and human morale reasons, to treat your professionals as professionals - and this means involving them in the whats and whys of the project, not just the hows and how-longs. It means developing Will to go with the Skill, both as individuals and as teams.

The movement of information and flow of decision cannot just be a top-down "push" process. The people doing the work need to be enabled - and supported - in pushing back when they see a product owner's priorities are out of whack. If there's a good chance your wheels might fall off at speed, you should fix that first no matter how much your product owner really wants a supercharger installed. This is a common agile failure mode, and something you should protect against in your contracts / statement of work. A customer who can't or won't understand the basic principles of quality assurance and risk mitigation is probably one you should be walking away from. Before they take you down with them.

(This post inspired in various parts by the works of Lev Vygotsky, Abraham Maslow, Col. D.M. Malone and Mike Monteiro.)
Saturday, April 21st, 2018
11:43 am
Early morning thoughts about needs.
Since submitting my PhD thesis, I've been giving my body time to get various of its equilibria back. Muscles unclenching, tracts tracting, and sleep patterns starting to pattern again.

Around 4a.m., prompted by a Big Think article posted over on the Book of the Face, I found myself having thoughts about pyramidal models. Posted to the Twitters at the time, but I'll keep it here for posterity.
How about, instead of treating Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as a mountain that people have to climb from level to level, you treat it more like a healthy food pyramid?

Satisfy all of the needs in balanced proportion with each other, to maintain your healthy balance as a person.

Worth considering also: when some of your needs aren't being met, and you have no ready means of meeting them, then you look for more of other needs to fill the gap - to make you feel full, even if it's not the best option for your health.

A poverty across any needs can have a lasting effect on someone's psychological wellbeing. On their morale, their self-efficacy, their ability to live a better life.

It is at its most stark and obvious among those who lack in those "eat most" needs like food, health and security, but those are not the only deficits that can have a crippling effect on people.

Those large basic needs should certainly get triaged first in emergencies, but if the support is only limited to keeping people alive at a subsistence level, you could still end up with the psychological equivalent of malnutrition if the "eat less" needs are not fulfilled at all.

Long term, people need sufficient energy to grow, pathways to grow along, and a good balance of all of those psychological trace elements to keep them healthy, and keep them going.

Thinking that starving someone will encourage their growth is perverse.
Tuesday, April 17th, 2018
12:01 am
This remains my favourite song of the day.
My PhD rewrite triage list is at zero items. I have an extra 51 pages. Pending last feedback from supervisors, I resubmit today.

Man, interdisciplinary doctorates. What a slog.
Tuesday, September 12th, 2017
9:00 pm
Prestige class: Moulin Rogue
Bonus feat: Windmilling (+4 to Tumble checks)

Capstone ability: Born Toulouse: the greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to flank, and be flanked in return. (+4 flanking bonus for every opponent threatening the Moulin Rogue.)
Thursday, September 7th, 2017
8:06 pm
Someone elsewhere on the internet asks:
What do you do when your partner and yourself are both in the "everything pisses you off" cycle of your respective mood swings? Feedback loops suck!!!

That was the cause of 90% of the fights between my sister and I when I was growing up. Mild irritation would be picked up on, reflected and magnified until it escalated. It's happened occasionally in relationships since, too - usually when my partners and I have had different, incompatible stress-coping strategies.

The best thing I've found, seriously? Time out. Even for adults. Activities of pretty much any engaging sort that you can do alone and not bother each other with for a while. If it helps, agree to check in after a while / occasionally and see how the other is doing.

Important to make a distinction, though: it helps to have a "called" timeout, not just "avoiding each other". If you make it an explicit, even formalised cooldown period, then it can help to establish a common basis of understanding, intent and expectation. Otherwise, it's very easy for cooldown time to turn into stewing-on-it time, and you come out swinging rather than looking to reconnect.

Sometimes a "we're just pissing each other off right now and need to get out of each other's hair for a bit" is just what my relationships have needed to stay healthy. (Whether I realised that at the time or not.)

[Brought to you by $Me Learns Things the Hard Way.]
Sunday, August 13th, 2017
8:05 pm
Musings on boot camps and criminality
It's election season, and thus also the season to get tough on crime™, with our Prime Minister floating the idea of year-long "boot camps" for Serious Youth Offenders. This in spite of research here and overseas that suggests that this kind of "get tough" approach isn't effective and often backfires.

This ended up with me having a discussion with friends, one who's been in the military and has attempted to train people in this kind of circumstances. The following are my own thoughts on the matter. Would be keen to know if any of this sounds like it doesn't make sense, but no "but some people are just plain evil!" please. I'd like us to fix what we can for who we can.

People seem to think it's the ordeals of basic training in the armed forces which "straightens them out", but it's really not that at all. Those who flourish in a military environment tend to do so because they're in a place where they can build skill, will and trust in their relationships with other people. Perhaps counter-intuitively, because it's a safe place with a lot of predictability and clear paths of positive action.

Taking a large number of deliquents and social misfits and putting them through a "toughening exercise" doesn't usually give you that. It gives you hardened delinquency. If they are forging relationships, it's more likely to be camraderie against the experience instead of with it.

Even the very best leaders and teachers will have trouble getting good results out of people if they have to start out as wardens rather than mentors.

Harsh discipline may train them to obey you when they must, but it won't make them respect you. And as soon as they don't have fear of immediate retribution to motivate them anymore, they have no reason to continue being compliant. It gives you short-term suppression, not long-term prevention.

If you're from a rough home environment where betrayal and manipulation is just a part of daily life, where trust is seen as a weakness rather than a strength, you can't just say "okay, you're in a team now" and have it magically happen. There needs to be some kind of anchor in respect and trust first.

Ironically, that mindset is one of the reasons that some do gravitate toward towards gangs and other forms of organised crime: they're a social structure with rules about respect, trust, loyalty and belonging; an outlaw society for when the rest of society has already turned its back on you, that finds value in some of your antisocial behaviours and turns them into a kind of positive.

To get away from that, you need to find people other ways to make a real positive difference. That doesn't just mean being going from an all-stick approach to an all-carrot approach, or putting them in a hug-box to talk about all their feeling. Those won't work for another set of reasons. Giving someone a place where they can gain some mana for choosing to do good things, even very simple things, can be a place to start.

At the moment, some do get that in the armed forces. Some eventually get that through the prison system, in one of a variety of ambulance programmes at the bottom of the cliff. And some, some never do. If we want to help at-risk people at scale, it's better (and cheaper overall) if we can do that earlier, before they start letting the poor choices of people in unstable circumstances dominate their path in life.
Thursday, August 10th, 2017
11:06 pm
Today's crime against language.
Everyone comes out with eggcorns, mondegreens and their elk occasionally on the spurt of the moment. Firstable, not everyone has the time to dusk off a dictionary every time they hear a bran-new term. You don't need to bloodgeon people with how smart you are just because it isn't of upmost importance to them. It's not like you'll become a social leopard just because you don't half-hazardly intergrade fancy words into your everyday conservations.

When it's all set and done, if you can curve your enthusiasm, resist the urge to signal people out for criticism about their mixmatched words and chuck it up to experience, you won't be straddled with all this hard take and you'll have a new leash on life.

It's not worth getting a mindgrain over. I mean, who among us is really beyond approach?
Monday, August 7th, 2017
9:05 pm
In which I argue with the internet again...
It's election season in New Zealand, which means that struggle for the hearts and minds and wallets of the country for another three years again. Along with all the regular and irregular chaos of political party dramas, I've been having Those Conversations with people again. This particular one came about from someone being incredulous at the idea that I might actually want to pay more tax. (I didn't even tell him that I haven't bothered to file for a tax return this year because I'm fine with them keeping it.)

I'd rather have a social welfare and healthcare system that genuinely works, so that my friends don't have to be personally beholden to my charity to keep their lives going. It puts a bit of strain on friendships that shouldn't be there, y'know?

So, I'm putting those thoughts down here too. I'm probably not going to sway anyone who's diametrically opposed to my values, but there's always opportunity for collateral education. Share and enjoy.

"Why do you want to pay more tax when you can not only choose to help those who you KNOW needs it, but they might actually show some gratitude for it?"

Because I don't need people to show gratitude. I don't give people money to feel better about myself, and this isn't some kind of medieval barony where the poor should live or die by the whims of the wealthy. Last I checked we were a modern first world democracy, not Sierra Leone or Saudi Arabia.

Helping people is cheaper at scale, with proper infrastructure. I can't afford to go and buy all my friends' surgeons a set of proper surgical gear so they can stop using the inferior stuff cobbled together from down at Mitre 10, but if the DHB got enough money we could have proper first world operating theatres, and shorter waiting lists to boot.

None of the people I know in bad situations like being in that situation. They all want to be doing better for themselves, and they're all trying to do better for themselves with the energy and resources they have. I'd rather they had a proper hand up, but our infrastructure has been run down so much that it's hard for people to even get a basic handout anymore without jumping through countless hoops.

One of the main things that makes it so hard to prosper is the sheer instability of the benefit: you can't plan ahead if you're not sure whether any income is going to be there or not. When you can't plan ahead, it's bloody hard to get ahead.

(Their kids are pretty decent human beings, too. The most amok kids I've seen recently? Spoiled rich brats from up the hill, and farmers' sons who've finally made it to the big smoke and don't know how to behave when their parents can't see how much student loan money they're pissing away on booze.)

"Surely its much more human to have to see where it comes from and show some gratitude and realize we are all in this together?"

Human, sure. But plenty of things in human nature are frankly pretty crap. Having friends in circumstances so desperate that they have to come begging feels bad for me, and it's abject humiliation for them.

I'd rather be humane, even to people I don't know. Because we are all in this together, and we shouldn't need to be dependent on a constant stream of pleases and thank-yous from mates who've fallen on hard times to keep us doing right by our fellow New Zealanders.

That would be real moral poverty.
Tuesday, July 4th, 2017
11:22 pm
The fr(Agile) Anthology
A friend of mine suggested publishing a book of bad poetry about the miseries of software development. So this happened:

I switch(context)
Return to my case:
.toLower() the noise to a roar
Break; repeat until fixed
&& breathe, curling
To brace myself for more
Sunday, May 21st, 2017
12:51 pm
My partner posted a link to this PC Gamer article: "Telltale's choices aren't about plot, but something more significant". I also happen to be playing through their title The Wolf Among Us at the moment. Reflections thereon:

I sat in on an English course at university a few years ago: ENGL242 - Digital Narrative and Digital Culture. One of the interesting points made about narrative was that there's a couple of levels to it: story and discourse, or what is told and how it is told.

When they talk about branching and funnelling in Telltale's games, that's largely about plot - the structure of the discourse. You've got a bunch of beads on a string, and they can move around a little, but the string is still there and the plot moves forward along it.

What changes, though, is the story. Your actions and dialogue choices move around the emotional tone, characterisation of the relationships between various characters, and occasionally enable or disable particular choices further down the line, but the overall structure of the story remains the same throughout.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my Bigby is a bit softer and less of a jerk to those around him than canon. I am tempted to play through again in full "Frank Miller" mode just to see how the story changes. If I can stomach it.
Tuesday, April 25th, 2017
12:01 am
Sunday, April 23rd, 2017
1:56 pm
I find myself wondering if typographical errors are one of the side effects of my medication. I seem to have been making a lot more of them in the last month or two.

On the other hand, at least I'm writing things without having to fight past a paralysing feeling of dread. Here's hoping I can start applying that to my thesis rewrites again soon.
Monday, April 17th, 2017
12:41 am
The traditional song has been listened to, in accordance with the prophecy. 39.
Sunday, April 16th, 2017
4:45 pm
Memetic aikido, or an encouragement to be better.
Over upon the Book of Face, I posted a link to Dr. Michelle Dickinson's excellent open letter on fluoride, science and kindness. It's an excellent informative piece, and it rounds out with the simple and powerful phrase: "We’re all smart. Distinguish yourself by being kind." Excellent advice for anyone in academia or science in the broader sense, really.

This ended up being shared around quite a few places, spawning interesting and largely constructive discussions as it went. It also attracted not a small amount of scorn for the person who the letter was addressed to. This got us into a conversation about the social effects of scorn and ridicule, their effects on persuasiveness, and how to invest your energy in arguing well. My comments follow - I'd be interested to hear yours.

It took me a while to get to the point where I realised that making a persuasive argument is about more than laying out facts (as I saw them) and the (i.e. my) line of reasoning that links them. That whole theory-of-minds-of-other-people thing was admittedly slow to develop, in the way it often is for geeks.

I find it helps to think of it in terms of working out where their thinking is at, and trying to lay out a clear path for them that acknowledges their values. You may not be able to bring them all of the way all at once, but you can mark a trail that will be easier to follow in future.

Boiled down into two fancy words: memetic aikido.

The good thing about doing things that way with an audience is that, like the article above, you have the opportunity for collateral education, rather than collateral damage.

A direct, hard push doesn't usually get good results. It just tends to harden opinions on both sides of the argument. The "no, that's ridiculous..." or "well actually..." often makes someone's firmly-seated opinions dig in further. It might make you look strong to any sympathetic onlookers and those who respect a performance of strength, but it's a dead loss to everyone else.

Shame has little constructive potential if someone doesn't already care about what you think of them - and even then, laying it on too thick becomes a burden rather than an encouragement to be better.

That, in essence, is what I think we should be looking for if we're going to invest in arguments: the encouragement to be better. If we're not doing that in some way, isn't everyone better off if we use that energy somewhere else?
Friday, April 14th, 2017
7:50 pm
A Person of Some Importing
So, I am now also over in this place, should you prefer to converse somewhere other than Виртуальная Москва.
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