June 30, 2011

Google+ and identity (, )

by fluffy at 8:43 AM

If you're reading this, you probably know me as "fluffy." You might be aware of what my real name is (or at least my real first initial), but that's probably not the way you think of me in terms of my identity, unless you're one of the few real-life friends who calls me by my real first name (usually because you're a coworker or family member or the like).

I am of course now on Google+, but Google+ has done something insidious: they've taken the same route as other social networks where they champion the real name as being a much more valid identifier than the way that people actually know me. They've always required a "full" name (so I used the standby "fluffy <3" for that), but now they also specifically prevent non-letters in the fields. Sucks to be you if you're one of the people who have legally changed their name to a mononym or to include a numeral; also sucks to be you if you're one of the people who don't want to broadcast their real name to the Internet.

Google's public policy blog shows that they understand the need for pseudonymous identities, but they seem to have completely forgotten that such a need extends to Internet social circles (despite one of their top examples of such a need being Twitter). In particular, while most fields have a "restriction" field (to show who gets to see it), the real name field does not have such a restriction possibility. Just as with Facebook, your real name is your Internet name.

But even worse, when you change your name on Google+, that applies to all Google products, so suddenly GMail and Reader Shared Items and +1 and so on would refer to me by my legal name. I'm concerned that when my GMail for Domains account is finally merged with my apps account, suddenly my email will be sent with my Google+ name instead of my separately-configured email name. It'll also apply to any other identity-based Google services which may come about later. It's very insidious.

It's also a bit interesting how for all the talk they have about the fine granularity of "circles" for item sharing, they don't apply that granularity to the profile information. There's no way to restrict, say, your phone number or your mailing address only to your "friends" and "family" circles, for example — if someone is in a circle then they get all your information. Maddeningly, this is something even Facebook got right.

Oh well. At least they allow a gender of "other." For now, anyway. Who knows when some product manager will get a hair up their butt about being binary-normative.

See also: The case against drop-down identities, which I just found while searching for other thoughts on this issue. It's only going to get worse.

June 24, 2011

5 Things Organisms Need To Understand To "Succeed" (, , )

by fluffy at 11:01 AM

5. PARENTS: Reproducing asexually is a load of work. It is also very difficult to introduce beneficial mutations into a population if every offspring only inherits from a single genetic line. Unless you have a perfectly-set genome and a nutrient-rich stable environment, it's probably a good idea to reproduce sexually. Ideally with a mate you can trust. Someone with a matching genome. Someone who has also shown great survival traits. Someone who is willing to partake in a genetic exchange with you in which one of your gametes becomes fertilized by the others'. If your partner isn't willing to provide EVERY chromosome - e.g. bilateral symmetry, further reproductive ability, the ability to take in nutrients and excrete waste products - for you, chances are the organism in control of your future lineage (yes, survival is based on the ability to procreate further) may not have the best intentions for you or your species. Remember, everyone is looking to carve out an ecological niche and propagate their genes, too. Know who handles your genitalia, how they're handled (stimulated, bitten off after copulation, etc.), and how this partner plans to share the child-raising duties.

4. PARASITIC ATTACHMENT: What does this mean? The organism you're about to pair with is going to attach themselves to your body and make use of your own biological processes. Usually, this means there will be some up-front stimulation effect, but in the long run you're going to be doing extra work to sustain two lifeforms while only the attached one will benefit. Eat an apple. Parasite gets a cut. Eat a fermented soybean. Parasite gets a cut. Feeling heroic and want to burrow in a river bank. The parasite lives right there with you. Essentially, you do the work, parasite gets the benefits. That's the price you pay for an initial surge of dopamine. Even your excretory system is used to spread their eggs. Literally. Understand the tradeoffs and how your food intake is shared. A parasitic attachment only makes sense if there is a symbiotic relationship (e.g.the production of an enzyme which allows you to digest wood pulp or complex sugars) without having an ongoing drain on the resources you would otherwise be able to process through normal digestive mechanisms.

3. SURVIVAL INSTINCT: Normally, I'd put survival instinct before food intake, but since survival instinct is often less important due to herd strength or more advanced societal evolution, survival instinct falls just shy of food intake in order of importance. But survival instinct = your ability to survive. OK, think of survival instinct this way: You have a chance to become directly subservient to your hive queen and be responsible for protecting the safety of the colony. 92.3% Guaranteed. But you must attach your...uh, weapon directly to your entrails, and harming any interloper will mean certain death. There's no way you'd sacrifice your survival ability for a bit of pollen. Right? That's survival instinct. Don't compromise it. Ever. Why? Let's say you do compromise your survival instinct, 'cause those things that looked like berries tasted REALLY GOOD, or your tendril extended over an unfortunately placed barb, etc. You have ONE eye stalk that gets invaded by a foreign entity and a bird (it's possible!) thinks your eye is a tasty worm. The bird eats your eye and spreads the contained eggs aerially, 12 million infestations in 1 year. Everyone's getting infected by it. Awesome! Guess how much personal benefit you get from it? Zip! True, you may've regrown your infected eye stalk a few times and had it eaten by more birds, but the entity that infected your eye stalk gets the lion's share of the procreation. They get to continue in their large ecological niche throughout the rainforest, while no female will mate with you because of your missing eye stalk. Own your eye stalk. After eating (great) detritus, it's all you really have.

2. FOOD INTAKE: Eat the fucking food! Don't ignore food. Don't gloss over entire sources of nutrition to get to the "Highly fermented sucrose" cache. Yeah, you want to know if you'll have enough food to construct a nice nest, but understand that food is scarce for a reason. And it's not for your benefit. Look to see what others of your species are eating; don't assume you know whether something is edible or not. Also, get an immune system. One you can trust. This is your biome and you don't want Cordyceps Bassiana - the brain-invading fungus you saw infect those beetles over there - inducing you to climb up to the top of a tree, only to leave your head swollen with spore sacs shortly before it explodes and spreads itself everywhere. The food chain is complicated. Species are protectionist, usually in favor of the species providing their own intake (i.e., silk worms -> tea leaves). For every species that says "We got fucked!", "Oxygen-producing phytoplankton made the waters unsurvivable outside of oceanic vents!", "Fuck those anglerfish... I was promised a tasty snack!", or "That cuckoo bird engaged in brood parasitism!", I wonder if they learned to gather their own food properly. Food scarcity and niche encroach create planet-shattering havoc. Always know where you eat before offering your nutrition to a competing genus. Always.

1. REPRODUCTION: OK, if survival instinct = your ability to live, what is reproduction then? Everything else. Without reproduction - you know, the kind that allows your offspring to continue your positive traits - you got nothing. You can't cell divide forever. Egg sacs for a creature without a penis won't ever get filled (though maybe there's a reproduction idea, but it'd only work for certain species of lizards and insects who reproduce via parthenogenesis via lesbian stimulation). A female won't accept your sperm without a delivery mechanism. Really, focus (like a spherical lensed eye, like a mammal, like an avian) on reproduction. Yeah, I know. You're excited, you want to stimulate yourself orally, get a dopamine response, ejaculate, make burrows, eat slime molds every night... the works! But if your reproductive ability isn't good (mom's sexual proclivity doesn't count), then forget it. I'm not talking about "long-term hibernating" your reproduction cycle. We all know the seventeen-year cicada story. But without solid reproduction, confidence (not attitude!) in your abilities at mating, and the physical stamina to back it all up, well, what's the point in going through with points 5, 4, 3, 2? Because you want to? Seriously, go get an RNA retrovirus instead. There's nothing wrong with being a pond goldfish or a colony of diatoms that clump together. 99.9% of biodiversity is made this way. But want it out in the public as a successful documented species then make sure the reproduction rates are better than a cryptozoology study.

June 13, 2011

Exorcising demons (, , )

by fluffy at 1:26 PM

For the last several days I've been back in NYC for the first time in six years, for Song Fight Live. The show went pretty well; there were some logistical problems and some equipment issues and of course things didn't go as amazingly as most people ever expect them to, but there isn't really anything new there. It was fun and a good time, when maintaining an appropriate perspective on what it was we were actually doing (PROTIP: we are not actually rock stars).

The main thing I was worried about is that much of our time would be spent treading old ground that represents about a year's worth of really bad memories for me, and I did everything I could to ignore the fact that I was physically in a place where mentally I was very bad off. Trying to ignore the familiar sight of the L train and Union Square and the like, in particular, made me feel twinges of ickiness (even obsessively pre-planning transit before flying here made me feel twinges of deep pit-of-the-stomach sickness), and I very purposefully let Mike (a fellow songfighter from Seattle with whom I was sharing a room and most of my time) lead the way everywhere, and basically played willfully ignorant about how to get around.

Last night, though, I ended up getting, shall we say, sufficiently intoxicated, and ended up getting separated from Mike, having gone with a different group that was going to do some further bar-hopping, but certain members of that group had much better judgement than myself and said I should probably head back to the hotel rather than drink more. (I fortunately had enough sense to realize that I was probably on the verge of feeling like I was going to die if I didn't get some water and lie down very soon. Even if it meant less time hanging out with certain friends who will remain nameless.)

So, of course, the way back to the hotel was very familiar: the L to Union Square, then the 6 up to my hotel in Midtown. It had aspects of trips I'd done many times before, and normally the majority of that would have been in order to go to work (L to 5th Ave, F/V to 25th St - or just walk, if no train was there). I also used to take a bit of extra time to myself to just walk to Union Square after work to clear my head further, so that particular station is also quite familiar to me.

But it might have just been the alcohol but I just plain didn't care. The whole journey was simple and easy and came completely naturally, and it was actually comforting in a way to be alone in the middle of a crowd of strangers. I got to thinking about my relationship with NYC and so on. I came to the realization that I'd gone to NYC to begin with because I needed to launch my career and I was just so desperate that I was willing to take anything, and the reason I put up with the hell I was in was simply because I had no self-worth to speak of. But now I know better, and while I still wouldn't want to live in NYC, I no longer hate it, because it's where I finally started to learn to appreciate myself.

June 3, 2011

Nex-5 (, )

by fluffy at 8:57 PM

I decided to splurge a bit and ordered a Sony α NEX-5. I got it in a bundle with both lenses (16mm pancake + 18-55mm zoom), an 8GB SDHC card, and a carrying case, and I also added on the fisheye conversion lens. Today I received it, and had a bit of fun.