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This is What Privilege Feels Like…

This is what privilege feels like…

So, I was walking down the street at lunch today, and I had been walking behind someone for a while. We got to a point where I could pass them, and suddenly I was passing them like they were standing still.

Normally, I would think nothing of this, as it’s happened too many times to count. But thinking about it, I really hadn’t sped up that much. It *must[1]* have been that the other person, sensing that I wanted to pass, read my small signals, and slowed down so that I could pass more easily. Not thinking about it, or even noticing it, I took them up on it.

When you’re walking or driving, these little non-vocalized communications are essential for safe movement of traffic.

Outside of that, when someone defers to you and you don’t even notice?

That is what privilege feels like.

[1]It is entirely possible that the person became uncomfortable with someone following them[2], and let them pass for that reason. The privilege argument above still holds if the follower who is stood aside for does not notice, or bulls through anyway.

[2]The case above was around noon, outside on a busy street in an affluent neighbourhood. But I know that I don’t like it when people follow close behind me, and perceptions can vary.

BrVenn Diagrams:

There has been a considerable amount of discussion about the ‘UK European Membership Referendum‘ which happened this week[1].

I currently remain optimistic, and not too concerned, but I was struggling to put words together to explain why, until I saw this diagram, which dovetailed with many of my thoughts:

A Venn Diagram showing many of the treaties binding European nations together.
A Venn Diagram showing many of the treaties binding European nations together.

To put it bluntly, the UK is already quite entangled with the other nations of the EU, economically, geographically, and by treaty. This referendum result may end in something further away from a completely united Europe, but there are already a number of nations which are already at arms length from the EU. (The UK still had its own currency, for example.)

Hopefully they’ll just use this vote as a negotiating tactic to get more of what is good for the people of the United Kingdom (although they’ll probably use it to get more of what is good for the people in power).

Now that David Cameron has resigned, I feel like they need some leadership which can take this immense amount of frustration which has just been expressed[2], and channel it into positive change. Looking back at my knowledge of current and recent UK political history, I don’t know who that would be (or whether there has been such a person in recent memory).

But I remain hopeful that people will step up, and the sensible party will bring people together.

[1]Here, and here, I’ve said some words on the topic, for example.

[2]Not that it hadn’t been being expressed before, it’s just that those in power were listening even less than usual.

The Opposite of a Puzzle

What is the opposite of a clown car? S asked and answered this question earlier today, but before we get to that, a commentary about what an opposite is and isn’t from Roy Greenhilt:

“Two things need to be almost the same except for one or two factors to be opposites.” [Cartoon violence and argument]

So, getting back to our initial question, we need to start with a description about what a clown car is:

“A car from which many clowns emerge.”

So you could say something like:

“A car from which few (or no) clowns emerge.”

Or perhaps a ‘Clown Truck’:

“A truck from which many clowns emerge.”

Or the ‘Anti-Clown Car’:

“A car which absorbs clowns with no end.”

(Although any clown car would probably have to gorge clowns anyways before it could disgorge them.[1])

But my favourite is S’s:

“A clown from which many cars emerge.”

We tried oppositing other words as we were talking, but none of them really caught on. The opposite of a fire truck was done in Fahrenheit 451[2], the opposite of a cat is clearly a dog, and what is the opposite of a duck?[3]

Or perhaps this one:

“What is the opposite of a puzzle?”

[1]Or merge them before they could emerge.

[2]I always found this disturbing.

[3]Not ‘What is the difference between a duck?’ The answer to that is well known.

Burning Man in Pictures 2015 XV: A New Day Dawns and Portapotty Commentary

Note: Mild possibly nsfw cartoon nudity in this post.

To finish closing off day 3 (Saturday), we check in on Fire Tetris:

Fire Tetris is up!  Check out all the pilot lights! (Note that this is a back view.)
Fire Tetris is up! Check out all the pilot lights! (Note that this is a back view.)

And Fire Tetris is up! Note that each of the pixels are individually addressable flame effects. You can see the pilot lights from the back in this pic.

Also, we check in on the front of house, looking sharp:

Front of house and a peek at Riskee Ball, night 3.
Front of house and a peek at Riskee Ball, night 3.

Then, a new day dawns.

I check on my boots. Proper footwear is key for Burning Man. If you go barefoot or wear sandals, which you may be tempted to do because of the heat, if you’re not careful, you’ll end up with ‘playa foot‘. I have plastic plates put on the heels of my boots[1] because apparently I walk really heavily and wear down my heels. The plates help my heels last to prevent knee pain. You can also see in the picture the pernicious playa dust:

My boots, after 3 days on playa.
My boots, after 3 days on playa.

Heading to the portapotties, we see some of the most recent expressions of ethos:

The Anarchy Love Equation.  For some reason, it seems to fit well on a portapotty door latch.
The Anarchy Love Equation. For some reason, it seems to fit well on a portapotty door latch.

Also on the same trip, we see a very nice, but pretty standard inspiring saying:

An inspiring message.
An inspiring message.

Followed by a zoomed-out picture showing a slightly different expression of the idea:

An inspiring Burning Man.
An inspiring message…at Burning Man.

Last, but not least is a message about baby wipes. Baby wipes are one of the most important currencies at Burning Man, used for your daily cleanup, as most people don’t use showers. However, if they get into the portapotties, they will clog the equipment used to empty them, causing a very bad problem:

A commentary about baby wipes in a portapotty context.  Also, I'm about 90% sure that 'Gonzo Frothwood' is a pseudonym.
A commentary about baby wipes in a portapotty context. Also, I’m about 90% sure that ‘Gonzo Frothwood’ is a pseudonym.

If you’re counting, we’re now in day 4 (Sunday), which also happens to be opening night for Burning Man. Thankfully, during day 3, we had completed the structure for Mirror Blaze, so all that remained was the cosmetic ‘big top’ bunting. Before we get to that, let’s check in on how the rest of Charnival was doing.

Here’s Riskee Ball looking mighty fine from the front:

Riskee Ball looking might fine from the front...
Riskee Ball looking might fine from the front…

With all of the intense construction activity happening in the back, tightening all the joins, attaching all the piping:

Riskee Ball intense construction activity behind the scenes...
Riskee Ball intense construction activity behind the scenes…

Fate was continuing Hellblazer[2] trenching (to attach propane lines to the fuel depot, I assume), with one of my most favourite hats ever:

Hellblazer trenching, accompanied by Fire Tetris and Francis the Fantastic.
Hellblazer trenching, accompanied by Fire Tetris and Francis the Fantastic.

Next time, we’ll check in on Mirror Blaze, and see how things are progressing!

[1]Nick’s Shoe Repair on Dupont. They are excellent and timely. Why not give them a call?

[2]Hellblazer was (and still is!) a highstriker.

Burning Man in Pictures 2015 XIII: Windstorm Equipment and Accessories

Most recently, we covered a windstorm.

I spent most of the day looking like this:

This is how I spent most of my day.  Does my hair always look like this?
This is how I spent most of my day. Does my hair always look like this?

And when I went out on expedition:

Me on expedition.  (t-b Tilley hat, motorcycle goggles as seen on Downton Abbey, the same Stanley respirator my dad always used for woodworking).
Me on expedition. (t-b Tilley hat, motorcycle goggles as seen on Downton Abbey, the same Stanley respirator my dad always used for woodworking).

For those interested in the individual items:

Tilley hat, the hat that can be eaten by an elephant, multiple times, washed, and is good as new. Also UPF 50+, critical if you’re going to be in the sun all day.

Motorcycle Goggles, I liked these ones because they had really good visibility, and they weren’t curved glass, so I felt I could see better[1].

Respirator, an old standard. The same or similar model that my dad uses for wood working.

[1]They’ve also appeared on Downton Abbey!

Goal-less Games

A couple of days ago, we were talking about different ways of making computer games challenging, and the question came up:

How do you design a goal-less game[1]?

One step along the way is to remove all of the explicit goals. You could make a sandbox game like Minecraft, and only allow ‘Creative Mode‘, but people will just use that ‘sandbox‘ to build things, or to define their own goals, which they can then achieve.

Here, we are attempting to design a completely goal-less game.

You could start the game by removing all the in-game knowledge of the player character, a la System Shock, or Planescape: Torment. However, this merely focuses the player on the goal of ‘figuring out what is going on’.

So, you want a game with no explicit goals, where the player is enjoined from forming goals of their own.

S and I talked about a few ways to do this:

You could try something like ‘Papers, Please‘, where the goal is survival, but very difficult to navigate. S suggested something along the lines of a ‘Kafkaesque‘ game that we had been discussing, with constantly moving goalposts, where the goal always seems possible, but probably isn’t. (Pac-Man level 256 might fall in this category.)

You could go one step further and combine this with a sandbox game, where the game somehow detects what goal(s) you are trying to reach, and subtly moves that goal just out of your reach.

But these are examples of games with goals, just seemingly reachable but actually not reachable ones.

You could also go a completely different direction and make something like ‘Desert Bus‘, which has a goal, but reaching that goal is so boring that very few people will ever achieve it.

This brings us to the concept of the ‘Grey Game’. Not a reference to ‘Grey Aliens‘, or to ‘Grey Goo‘, but a game which is similar in concept to an isolation tank:

The player is suspended in a featureless grey landscape. They can move in every direction, but nothing changes. Nothing ever changes. You might think that parts of the background are different from other parts, but unlike COBE, all you are seeing is pixelation, and the universe is grey and featureless. Forever.

[1]As a thought exercise, it’s often useful to explore the limits of many or all of the assumptions you can perceive, to see what happens when you negate or change each of them (or multiple ones in tandem). We may discover a new goal-less game or goal-less genre of games, or we may discover this is actually impossible[2], and find some interesting ideas which are partway towards the negated or changed assumptions. I think I want to write about this some more. Watch this space!

[2]Some might say that the very definition of ‘game’ assumes the existence of a ‘goal’. I say ‘to-mah-to‘.

Differently-Named Atoms: I

1: Most people know it by its colloquial name, ‘Hydrogen‘, but in more formal settings, it is known as ‘Hyllodrogen’. These more formal settings are usually at ISM[1] meetings, where Hyllodrogen wears its classier allotrope, H3+.

2: Similarly, most people are not aware that ‘Helium‘ actually has atoms of multiple genders. The two most common are called ‘Helium’ and ‘Shelium’.

3: ‘Lithium‘ is more properly known as ‘Lilithium'[2], due to its properties of reacting with whichever molecules it wishes, ignoring the restrictions of others. It is postulated that this aggressiveness is what causes its therapeutic effects.

4: ‘Beryllium‘, or ‘Beeryllium’ was made up long ago on a drunken dare, but then was surprisingly discovered to actually exist.

5: ‘Boron‘ and ‘Boroff’ are two sides of the same non-interesting coin. Specifically, not interesting to stars in the main sequence, as they have to wait for cosmic rays to make it.

6: The name ‘Carbon‘ comes from the Latin ‘Carrusbon‘, meaning ‘what is left behind when you burn a vehicle’.

7: ‘Nitrogen‘ was originally dubbed ‘NitroGennifer’, after Daniel Rutherford’s stage name. It is said that his bonding flexibility is only exceeded by that of his namesake.

8: ‘Oxygen‘ was a favourite of the ‘Oxygentry‘, the name for the select group of chemists who did work on the Phlogiston and acids since ancient times.

9: ‘Fluorine‘ is the past participle of ‘Flyrine’, which explains its intense reactivity and corrosiveness.

10: As we reach the foot of the second row of the periodic table, it is only fitting that we mention ‘Neon‘, or ‘Kneeon’, so named because of the bend in early versions of the periodic table, before the discovery of noble gases.

[1]Interstellar Medium.


‘Memorize! No Time to Derive!’

Back when I was in engineering, there was a story told about one of the profs:

He would say ‘Memorize! No time to derive!’, meaning that in order to do the questions on the exam quickly enough, you would have to memorize the formulae in their applicable form, instead of deriving them from first principles each time.

For me, there is a clear analogy to the regular brain remapping you do everyday through your choices of what to do and think about.

There’s also a clear analogy to performance, whether that is singing, dancing, or powerpoint. It’s important to know your ‘words and notes’ off by heart, backwards and forwards, so that you can focus on the task at hand, whether it’s entertaining people, conveying a message[1], or solving a problem.

[1]These are often one and the same.

Fortune Favours…

It’s often said that ‘Fortune Favours the Bold’, a translation of a number of associated latin mottos[1], originally quoted from the Aeneid.

But what else does Fortune Favour? In different circumstances, Fortune could Favour many different things.

For example:

If you are a newspaper:
– Fortune Favours Above the Fold

If you are researching a new type of cheese:
– Fortune Favours the Mould

If you are a manufacturer of desserts containing cryptic messages:
– Fortune Favours the Mould[2]

If you are hoping your ice sculpture will last:
– Fortune Favours the Cold

For those colonizing a new world and hoping for horses:
– Fortune Favours the Foaled

For those hoping to move houses:
– Fortune Favours the Sold

For those hoping to not fall off their gondola:
– Fortune Favours the Poled

Nelson[3] is thought[4] to have said:
– ‘Fortune Favours the Coaled.’

Other associated sayings:

For those who enjoy canned pineapple:
– Fortune Flavours the Doled

For those who evade blame:
– Fortune Waivers the Scold

For those overheated who luckily find shelter:
– Fortune Savours the Cold

For those working with Filo[5] pastry:
– Fortune Flavours the Rolled

And finally, for those of a musical persuasion:
– Fourtune Favours the Multiphonic (my favourite)

[1]And a DS9 episode.

[2]From S!

[3]Somehow, Horatio Nelson does not appear in the first ten(!) pages when you search for ‘nelson’. Even Nelson Mandela doesn’t appear until page 7! What?!?


[5]Not to be confused with their enharmonic equivalent[6] ‘Lifo pastry‘.

[6]The enharmonic equivalent for ‘Filo’ would actually be ‘Lofi’, but that sounds silly, and I had already written the joke.