Archive for the 'geekery' Category



22
Apr
13

Ads make the ‘net go ’round

Robin Hanson has a very Robin Hansonny post up:

It’s fairly short, so you should go read the whole thing, but I’m a big fan of this bit:

Many see ads as unwelcome persuasion, changing our beliefs and behaviors contrary to how we want these to change. But given a choice between ad-based and ad-free channels, most usually choose ad-based channels, suggesting that they consider the price and convenience savings of such channels to more than compensate for any lost time or distorted behaviors. Thus most folks mostly approve (relative to their options) of how ads change their behavior.

I’ve been arguing for some time that the news media exist primarily to sell advertising space and only incidentally to provide whatever acts of journalism they may inflict upon innocent consumers.  If you want a paper without ads, you probably want a paper that costs twenty bucks a copy (and for which there’s no market, which is why you can’t get one).  Oh, are you one of those clever fellows who uses something like Adblock Plus?  Congratulations, you’re a moocher!  Savvy folk like you evade online ads, but the sites that depend upon ad revenue don’t get any less dependent — so they make ads ever more intrusive, to the detriment of people like your grandmother who aren’t quite as savvy.  Dick.

But if most people dislike ads, it’s interesting to ask why.  Robin has some ideas:

One plausible reason is that ads expose our hypocrisies – to admit we like ads is to admit we care a lot about the kinds of things that ads tend to focus on, like sex appeal, and we’d rather think we care more about other things.

Another plausible reason is that we resent our core identities being formed via options offered by big greedy firms who care little for the ideals which we espouse. According to our still deeply-embedded forager sensibilities, identities are supposed to be formed via informal interactions between apparently equal associates who share basic values.

Permit me to offer a couple more:

First of all, the story that “ads are an evil destructive manipulative force that exists only because big bad firms run the world, and use ads to control us all” isn’t just a great piece of anti-corporate, pro-the-rest-of-us in-group signalling (which is useful by itself, as you’ve noticed by my use of the word “signalling”).  It’s also a great way to abrogate responsibility.  “Oh, it’s not my fault that I just devoured a large cheese-crust pizza and washed it down with two litres of Coke — teh ebil corporate ads brainwashed me into thinking I wanted it!”  It’s a fantastically (heh) effective fairy tale to tell when cognitive dissonance rears its ugly head: If someone (or some group) is behaving in a way that’s inconsistent with your world-view, it must be because an evil corporation or special interest group or even the Goddamn Liberal Media has advertised to them.

Were that the case, I don’t doubt that McDonalds and &c. would have brainwashed us all into believing that soyburgers are the tastiest things on the planet — surely it’s more profitable to turn soy directly into a burger patty and sell that to the consumer than it is to run tons of it through a cow first.  The fact that they haven’t — indeed, fast food menus are chasing consumer preference rather than creating it — suggests to me that advertising isn’t quite so goddamn powerful as we like to pretend.  But rather than acknowledge an unpleasant truth, we prefer to double down (heh) and impute to ads ever more astonishing powers of persuasion.

My second suggestion is unrelated: We feel cheated by ads.  Here I am, trying to watch a football game on a cable channel I’m already paying for.  All of a sudden, play stops, and General Motors is trying to sell me a Buick on the startlingly unlikely premise that the fucking thing’s sporty.  This isn’t what I bought!  I bought a (subscription to a (cable package which includes a)) sports channel!  Get the fuck off of my TV, General Motors, you parasitic wretch, and get back to the bittersweet spectacle of the Bengals breaking my heart again!

Nobody subscribes to a basic cable and ads package, or reads a blog for political commentary and ads.  The ads tag along in an unwelcome symbiosis.  The only exceptions that spring to mind are movie trailers and Super Bowl ads — welcome and expected parts of either experience.

(I’d add something about most ads landing somewhere in the realm between banal and idiotic — no, AdSense, I don’t need to know the one weird tip that a mom discovered to give me striated glutes — but people read Buzzfeed and watch Two And A Half Men, so I’m not convinced that the ads are any worse than the content.)

In any case, if you’re not paying through the nose for some content you enjoy, you should probably thank advertisers for the privilege.

09
Apr
13

Second-order Randallanche

So today’s xkcd what-if covered FOOF, with the obligatory Derek Lowe link.  Rather to my surprise, my own linky-love post on Satan’s kimchi picked up a not-insignificant traffic spike, presumably from people who couldn’t get enough FOOF in their diets.  The internet is a weird place.

08
Apr
13

Plexiglass won’t save you this time

Do you want to watch people blow shit up with chlorine trifluoride?  Yes you do.

(Hat tip, of course.)

06
Apr
13

Maybe you shouldn’t ask me for advice

This doesn’t happen very often, because I’ve put all of my Social skill proficiencies into Creative Misanthropy, but every once in a while someone will mistake me for a helpful person.  (Mysteriously, this happens all the goddamn time with people asking me for directions.  Joke’s on them!)

Now, the reason this is a problem is that most people, when they ask for advice, are asking for validation — they’ll start out by hinting subtly (or otherwise) at what they want to hear, then expect me to tell them to do what they’ve already decided to do, with a little personalized twist that they can ignore but which lets them maintain the fiction that I’m not just parroting their own biases back at them.  This works out great in code reviews, because it’s usually bluntly honest: “So, I copy-pasted this code two different places… I should probably just make it a function.  Tell me to make it a function and I’ll do it, but it’s just enough of a pain in the ass that I haven’t done it yet.”  “Yeah, I think that’s worth making a function.”  “Okay, done.”  My colleagues are awesome that way.

Most everywhere else, the pattern breaks down.  If someone asks me for tips on losing fat, for example, they’ll probably hint that they really ought to spend more time walking their dog and should probably drink a bit less wine, and expect me to add in something safely iconoclastic like “try to avoid processed grains”.  Haha, nope!  When you ask me how to do something, my brain goes into Nerd Mode and you get a blithely honest answer based on my obsessive research into the topic and roughly tailored for what I think your situation might be, or maybe just what I’m excited about at the time.  I’m not going to tell you to walk your dog and cut back on the alcohol; I’m going to tell you to join a powerlifting gym and eat keto with a carb load one night a week.  And then you’re going to stammer out a half-dozen half-formed excuses and avoid me for the next week and a half.

So mission accomplished, I guess, but the part that boggles my mind is when you ask me the same question a month later and expect a different result.

05
Apr
13

Forced Force-choke meme chokes

I don’t really give a shit about vadering, I just needed to get that post title out of my head.

But seriously, when the CBC thinks you’re trying too hard, it’s probably time to rethink your life.

16
Mar
13

It’s gotta be the shoes

(This is a nitpicky lifting post.  If you want something else, I suggest Axis of Oversteer or EconLog.)

If you read a book on lifting, it’ll eventually have a section on gear, and if it’s any good that section will talk about shoes.  Most will tell you not to lift in squishy-heeled cross trainers or the like — not that this stops anyone — because the lack of heel stability will fuck you right up.  Instead, they’ll tell you to pick a shoe with a “flat, solid sole”.  The better books will briefly mention weightlifting shoes, then suggest Converse All-Stars and simply lifting in your socks as “practical” options for “real-world” lifters.  I presume some of the newer books mention minimal shoes like Vibram Five-Fingers.

Mark Rippetoe doesn’t fuck around in Starting Strength:

Shoes are the only piece of personal equipment that you really need to own.  It takes only one set of five in a pair of squat shoes to demonstrate this convincingly to anybody who has done more than one squat workout.  […]

Just buy the damn shoes.

I squatted for years in a pair of Converse All-Stars and “never had a problem with it”.  About a month ago I just bought the damn shoes.  (I’m linking to those shoes because they’re the ones I bought, not because I think they’re the best there is or because I’ve sold out to Rogue.  This post is about lifting shoes in general.)  I really should’ve bought them earlier, say five years ago.

The lifting shoes give me two things that Cons or Vibrams or skate shoes don’t.  The first is a slightly raised and rock-solid heel.  It’s not an enormous lift, but it helps free up my ankles at the bottom of a squat, and I think the heel-to-toe slope helps my knees track better over my toes.  The second, most transformative, thing is incredible stability.  Between the tarsal straps and the shoe’s construction, my feet just don’t fucking move within the shoes.  I didn’t think they moved in the Cons either, until I switched.  Basically that means that there’s less slop in my feet and ankles and I’m more efficiently putting power into the floor.  One of the strong people at the campus gym where I used to lift claimed that proper lifting shoes would put forty pounds on your squat, and now I believe him.

The downside is that the sole doesn’t flex, at all.  This is part of the upside, but if you like to bring your feet way back towards your shoulders when setting up your bench, as I do, you’ll need to find another way to do it.  Also you’ll need to bring along another pair if you want to sprint after lifting.  If you have to mix up squats and sprints, or whatever you Crossfit guys do, these look like a decent compromise.

I’ve done a bunch of lifts in these shoes and have some comments on each:

  • Squats — back, front, or overhead, welcome to the easiest PRs you’ve set in years.  All that tension you used to spend trying to stop your feet from squirming around — “spread the floor apart!” — now gets to go straight into moving the bar.  You’re probably not going to ditch all of your form issues — for me, the big one is corkscrewing counterclockwise as my right knee compensates for my lack of  left ankle mobility — but they’ll probably get a lot better.  And because you’re not wobbling around in the hole, you might find yourself sinking a couple inches deeper than usual and thinking “man, that was easy” as you drive out of the hole.
  • Cleans and snatches — as long as you don’t get shoes with a stupid-high heel your pull from the floor shouldn’t be affected.  When I started doing cleans in lifting shoes, I realized that I was a lot closer to a full squat clean than I’d expected.  No shit, Sparky, huh.  Maybe weightlifting shoes really do make weightlifting easier.
  • Deadlifts — see previous comment about “pulls from the floor”.  You might be pulling the bar an extra half inch depending on how much of a heel you get, so lifting shoes might take a pound or three off of your absolute max.  I haven’t pulled an absolute max in about five years, so I have no basis for comparison, but if you’re that serious about your deadlift you probably pull in socks anyway.  SGDLs and RDLs seem unaffected.
  • Bench — the bad news is that I can’t set up the way I like.  The good news is that I have slightly better leg drive in the setup I don’t like.  If I was training for powerlifting I’d probably bench in different shoes; as it is I probably lost five or ten pounds.  That might come back if I find a better setup.
  • Press — in theory I should have a stronger base; in practice I probably need to put in more core work before I can get anything extra out of the shoes.

I’m with Rippetoe on this one — just buy the damn shoes.

06
Mar
13

“When it works, it’s magical!”

That’s great.  How often does it work?

Frances Woolley writes on Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to forbid telecommuting:

I think you can get the point of her post from the title.  But on to specifics — as a supporting anecdote, Dr. Woolley offers this:

Last week I had lunch at Nuffield College, Oxford. It was a wonderful experience. All the members of the college – faculty, graduate students, administrative staff – roll up some where around lunch time and help themselves to a free all-you-can-eat-buffet. They sit together on long wooden tables and talk about everything under the sun – from hitchhiking adventures to the latest research projects to academic politics to philosophy. Intellectual bliss.

Collegial mind-meetings are great when they happen.  How often do they happen?  Perhaps Oxford is an enchanted paradise where learned collegiality is always right around the corner and staff lunches that discuss academic politics never turn into wretched hives of academic politics manifest — we can hope that Oxfordites are not only aware of the use-mention distinction but are also able to apply it — but that argues more for the exceptional nature of Oxford than it does for having lunch with your colleagues.  (Also, how many of us can rely upon a free all-you-can-eat buffet to draw us into that intellectual bliss?)

Dr. Woolley also enumerates some positive externalities of working on site:

When a collegial, creative, sensible or helpful person comes into the office, he or she creates positive externalities – unpriced benefits – for co-workers. When that person stays at home, they produce negative externalities – a closed door, an empty space, a crackling conference call connection.

Well, okay, the positive externalities of on-site work are implicit, while the negative externalities of working from home are enumerated.  This boils down to “great co-workers are great to have around”, which is hard to argue against… except that not all co-workers are great in all ways all the time.  That gregarious extrovert who manages to make meetings fun?  His cellphone buzzes like a giant angry wasp every time he gets a text, which is every five minutes.  The cheerful veteran who knows the codebase inside and out and is happy to take the time to walk you through it?  Talks so loud you can hear him through three office partitions and a concrete structural wall.

Collegiality is great… some of the time.

Alex Tabarrok takes a more skeptical view of the live experience, this time related to teaching:

A common responses to my article, Why Online Education Works, is that there is something special, magical, and “almost sacred” about the live teaching experience. I agree that this is true for teaching at its best but it’s also irrelevant.

[…]

In The Trouble With Online Education Mark Edmundson makes the analogy between teaching and music explicit:

Every memorable class is a bit like a jazz composition.

Quite right but every non-memorable class is also a bit like a jazz composition, namely one that was expensive, took an hour to drive to (15 minutes just to find parking) and at the end of the day wasn’t very memorable. The correct conclusion to draw from the analogy between live teaching and live music is that at their best both are great but both are also costly and inefficient ways of delivering most teaching and most musical experiences.

Yes, quite.  I’ve spent a lot of time in classrooms, and I’ve had a lot of memorable experiences.  Problem is, the bad memories outnumber the good memories by about ten to one.  (Remove public school from consideration — focus only on postsecondary — and the ratio drops to about two to one.)  Furthermore, I’m not convinced that there’s any correlation between “memorable classroom experiences” and “subjects I learned well”.




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