Brain Buffet

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You can contact me at crystalopera@protonmail.com

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Building worlds and interactions - 36

I wrote this for a casual discussion on game design in shared virtual spaces, and wanted to capture it here.

Make your lore[1] accessible and changeable

Ideas are cheap. Execution is expensive because that is where costs of time and energy tend to concentrate. The brain is engaged in an almost constant stream of ideation, so much so that practices have grown out of learning to silence the chatter[2].

What does this mean to me in the context of worldbuilding and making your lore interactive and engaging? In particular for a collaborative community that engages through forum media?

To me it means that it's very easy to make something "cool", something which on the surface appeals but which further probing reveals has little substance. Because execution is what makes the substance; it comes later, after ideation.

In the digital age with countless generators to use as starting points or for inspiration and unparalleled accessibility to information, from the full text of public domain and open source works, to samples or snippets of commercial products, to analyses of texts and shared knowledge on YouTube, Wikipedia, news websites, etc. Ideas as germs are in hyper-abundance. Having a cool idea is not enough to make it popular because cool ideas are actually very common. On its own a cool idea is just a pitch. A pitch needs to be developed into a full work before it can hope to actually compete.

So in this context, what makes an idea valuable? How accessible it is to players and how much it can be transformed via that interaction. In terms of following paths of least resistance, I speculate that more players are more drawn to lore they can easily change or adopt[2], and that they can see the realization of this change as a result of their character's actions.

1: Essentially "intellectual property"

2: Meditation

3: In video games this translates to the open world and sandbox games steadily gaining in popularity; in the analog world we see this with TTRPGs like D&D and Pathfinder. Another more recent and more direct example is Gloomhaven, where character actions physically alter the board game equipment.

A change in tune - 35

You know about the Equifax breach[1]?

Did you know about the settlement[2]?

If you knew about both of these things, see item number 5 for an update. After promising a settlement to refund people 125 per person that filed a claim, Equifax received so many claims that they can no longer promise that settlement and anyone opting into it is likely going to get far less than they expect. So they recommend going with the free monitoring instead.

They knew how many accounts got leaked. When arriving at a fine and settlement offering, how did this take them by surprise?

1: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/09/equifax-data-breach-what-do

2: https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/cases-proceedings/refunds/equifax-data-breach-settlement

Food for Trash - 34

Places like this already have a presence in some parts of the US and Europe, but what puts this one ahead of the pack in terms of intrigue is that the program then plans to repurpose the plastic waste to build more durable roads[1] in the city of Ambikapur.

If you've never gone really, truly hungry for an extended period of time, you may not know what it's like to be so desperate to food that you're willing to do almost anything. It's literally a matter of life and death, and people pushed to the edge of their limits by starvation isn't good for anyone. Although this isn't a panacea for all of the world's ills, and there will remain plenty which require attention and solutions, I think a program like this is beneficial for all parties involved at lower and higher levels.

On the lower level you have someone being able to easily earn themselves food they can live on, and not just cheap junk food. On the higher levels you have a crowd-sourced initiative to clean up the streets. Littering is so serious a social offense in some countries that in Germany it moves the needle of empathy nearly a dozen percentage points when it comes to helping out a perceived outsider. The study is really showing the power of social norms and littering was chosen because of it being race and culture neutral, but I think it still sends a strong signal.

And plastic in particular is an issue for the human animal, so putting it to task on improving infrastructure, which improves transportation not just of people but of goods and of services, is one of the best things we could be doing with our plastic waste, if it has to be produced at all.

1: https://www.vice.com/en_in/article/xwnb3j/people-can-exchange-trash-for-free-food-at-indias-first-garbage-cafe

2: https://www.inverse.com/article/58124-discrimination-against-immigrant-study

Ethiopia leads the charge - 33

By planting 350 million trees in 12 hours[1]. Back in July I wrote about[2] how planting trees could be the "game changer" for how we approach the fight for climate change - just one pillar of many but an important one that's both cheap and effective.

Ethiopia is 67th when ranked by GDP[3], and they are leading the charge for the rally against climate changes and the apocalyptic disaster that climate change promises to visit on the human species and the global ecosystem.

According to the world happiness report4, Ethiopia is 127th in ranking. I'll be curious to see how this effort affects Ethiopia's GDP, as it courts positive attention on what I hope is an international scale, maybe leading to some extended good will, maybe leading to some commercial interests, but am also curious how the country will rise in happiness index with the mounting evidence that shows that trees, and not just low lying vegetation, provide a mental boost to the human animal[5].

1: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ethiopia-plants-350-million-trees-12-hours-breaking-world-record-2019-07-30/

2: https://listed.to/@brainbuffet/6787/plant-trees-to-fight-climage-change-26

3: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)

4: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Happiness_Report

5: https://www.sciencealert.com/increasing-urban-tree-cover-gives-community-mental-health-a-boost-says-new-study

Active vs passive consumption

Passive consumption - mindless entertainment. Reality TV often falls into this category since it is often a scripted simulation of reality whose events and interactions are engineered, to various degrees, to provide entertainment. Sort of like the junk food version of media. You can find this version in any medium. There's junk food magazines, websites, books, movies, and even activities, like games; there's a big divide between a game like scrabble and a game like farmville.

Active consumption - Unlike food, at least part of how much value can be squeezed from a piece of content is how you're actively digesting it, but it starts with making a conscientious effort to seek out high quality content. Shows that challenge perspectives, that give you new information, whether in the non-fiction arena or just an insight into human behavior (improved theory of mind applies to fictional content the most). It isn't enough to just sit in front of good content being thrown at you, you have to engage your mind into noticing and doing things with that content. This is where you get improved retention and fodder for creative inspiration later on in life.

Aquaman - a review - 31

Genre: Action; adventure; fantasy
Rating: 6/10

Minor spoilers - just assume this is the case every time.

In short - it was fine. Mediocre might be an equally suitable word.

Things that I liked were the fight choreography. I'm not very familiar with what trident combat would look like in the hands of superhumans or in the more buoyant environment of the underwater kingdoms, but it looked good and was exciting to watch.

Things that I didn't like were that the movie felt very busy, trying to cram too many plot points into an already over-extended and puffy movie. I didn't like how much of it backgrounds and set pieces were CGI. I especially didn't like how many times clunky and exposition heavy dialogues were interrupted by conveniently timed/placed explosions. On that note the Black Manta antagonist was too quickly introduced and shuffled off, and the alleged moral crisis / wound which should have been afflciting our hero was only touched on here and there.

It was fine. If you found yourself watching it by happy accident or convenience you'd live but I don't think this is something a movie-goer should seek out.

Under the silver lake - a review - 30

Genre: Comedy, crime, drama
Rating: 6/10
Minor spoilers.

I didn't know that this had a comedy genre tag when I started watching it. The description and trailer make it seem more like a mystery than anything else, but knowing that adds an extra special shine on one of my favorite moments in the movie. Around the 18 minute mark the protagonist finds that his car has been keyed. He hears some noises up the block and goes to investigate, there discovering a few pre-teens keying cars and pissing on them. Enraged the protagonist goes up to one and punches him in the face. One of the fallen's friends runs up and gets punched in the dick. I thought it was hilarious.

That moment aside the movie was pretty aimless. There were unresolved questions at the end of it, in a way that detracts from satisfaction rather than enhancing it. There's no real explanation for the Owl's Kiss for example, especially what happened to her after her second appearance.

I believe the protagonist to be an unreliable narrator as they describe some past behaviors that fit into the scope of one or another kind of mental disorder, schizophrenia with a little OCD/OCPD and a rage issue or two, or something along those lines, enough to have me wonder for at least part of the movie if it was all or mostly a concoction of the main character's imaingation. At the end of the movie I'm pretty confident that most of it is real enough, and that I know who the dog killer is which is important for no real reason other than that it gets asked a lot.

I thought the scene with the songwriter was interesting. Although it was a bit much in attributing every popular song to one songwriter, the idea of popularity being pumped out with machine-like regularity is an interesting one and not too far off from at least one real world example[1].

Ultimately the movie was entertaining enough, but also frustrating, maybe transparently so, and not a movie I would prioritize seeing over something with better structure.

Incidentally this movie was made by the same guy who did It Follows, which I like da lot more

1: https://nypost.com/2015/10/04/your-favorite-song-on-the-radio-was-probably-written-by-these-two/

Mobile and rentable spaces - 29

An interesting survey in Japan found that people were renting cars for: naps, as temporary work space, temporary storage, to charge devices, to have a private conversations, to eat lunch, and a few other things.

This is fascinating for a number of reasons. As the article points out a good amount of money that these companies make is from the miles that get driven. If a car is rented and then parked, they don't get as much money and so may start trying to tack a fee onto these stationary renters. Which they shouldn't. They should continue to provide the same value for the same product regardless of how the customer is using it and the fact that some people have found useful-for-them ways shouldn't be financially penalized.

But this is a very interesting thing to consider. If we abstract away from thinking about this as rental cars and instead as temporary contained space, the applications can get very interesting. Imagine being able to go to an empty lot, requesting a giant cube, throwing a party over the course of a few hours or hosting an event over the course of a few days, with septic tanks and gravity-fed water add-on options of course. General purpose, movable, temporary space-units could make for an interesting (good and bad I'm sure), future.

Intelligence won't always save you - 28

Sometimes it's the problem. To a certain degree, more intelligent people, which here I'll define using the theory of multiple intelligence as having a high general G factor, can just as easily make mental traps for themselves as can less intelligent people. The reasons for these traps or the way the traps look may be different but they're traps nonetheless.

A great example of this is Isaac Newton's fascination with alchemy and his habit of drinking mercury to extend his life. He lived into his 90s, so maybe it worked, but he also died of mercury poisoning - who knows how long he might have lived or what else he might have contributed to the scientific fields if not for that little thing he managed to convince himself was the truth? Newton was an absolute genius, but even he . . .

This particular case may seem more excusable because it was dealing with something not as easily verified in Newton's time as in our time. But it turns out there's relatively simple biases that shortcut the mental defenses even of people with higher intelligence and an analytical thinking style.

In this case, simply repeating something over and over again will lend itself to the appearance of credibility. This is already recognized as having hypnotic power in music, in slogans and propaganda, and really breaks down the veneer of things in the world. If you ever ask yourself why you see something being said over and over again, even when its blatantly and obviously not true or just a pandering to an audience or a party, here it is. The more you say something, the more something is allowed to be said, the more it seems like the truth. This, I think, is extremely important to keep in mind when making your way through the world, and can help inform a lot of the decisions that corporations take with regards to the nature of content they allow on their platforms.

What do parties watch? - 27

This study separated their demographic into Blues, Reds and Purples. I won't bother to define them since I'm providing the link and you can dive into them for more details as needed.

In this study Blues made up 47% of the population, which has the most women and the largest number of African Americans. The reds are 35% and made up the highest proportion of senior citizens. And the Purples made up 18&, and had the largest share of Asians and Hispanics, had the most religious people, and the people most satisfied with their lives (hybrid vigor at play?)

Blues liked: "Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons, South Park, and Law & Order: SVU."

Purples, who watched the most TV (is this at all related to the happiness? escapism and improved theory of mind from consumption of fiction?) liked: "The Voice and Dancing with the Stars, but they also like Saturday Night Live — a favorite among Blues as well — and Duck Dynasty, which is preferred by Reds."

Reds claimed they didn't watch much entertainment TV but when they did, preferred: "Hallmark, History and Ion channels, and NCIS"

Where it gets the most interesting is where the parties overlap: "America’s Funniest Home Videos, Bones, Criminal Minds, MythBusters, and Pawn Stars".

Pawn Stars is the least liked show by all parties, and the four remaining shows, which are liked by all the parties, share the distinction of being oriented around valuing and seeking "Truth".

Plant trees to fight climage change - 26

I imagine most people are aware of the massive existential / catastrophic threat posed to humanity by climate change.

There are a couple of propositions that have been put up on how to address this. There are a couple of things to consider. Transportation and electricity production make up more than half of the tracked sources of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA. But 10%, which is not an overwhelming number but still large enough to factor, is produced by livestock.

So after you factor in the very real need to cut back on emissions by using renewable energy and vehicles (not just cars) with alterate energy sources, one very real way to combat climate change is to reduce meat in the human diet in favor of vegetables, or insect protein, or lab grown meat.

Getting past these practical and preferred solutions that involve changes to the way human beings live life, one interesting approaching one company is taking is pulling the carbon straight out of the air.

But one method which could prove to be fantastically effective (and we still need to do the stuff mentioned above) is planting about a trillion trees. They pull carbon for energy, combat heating by providing shade, and young trees pull even more carbon than old ones so we would get a lot of the benefit upfront rather than later on. It's by and far the cheapest method and has the additional benefit of helping to prevent the loss of biodiversity. Which is good for us too, of course. Plus I think it would be really neat to re-forest and cover the earth in green again.

Bitcoin - a country's worth of electricity - 25

I recently found out that Bitcoin uses more energy than Switzerland.

I don't really know if this is a good or bad thing, but I do know that thinking about it in those terms is pretty intense for me.

It should come as no surprise that it doesn't come close to touching the consumption rates of the G7 countries. I am surprised to find that China uses more electricity than the United States by a factor of nearly 2x, but looking into the source table for the consumption rates of countries "below the fold", it got even more interesting.

Bitcoin uses about 64 TWh annually.

There are over 50 countries whose consumption is less than one million. That means that the amount of power being consumed mining bitcoin is not too far off from the same amount of power it would take to power 50+ countries for the year. Although I think the block chain, as a technology, is awesome and will lead to a lot of interesting things in the future, I'm not sure that cryptocurrency is the best use of the blockchain's technical capabilities, and am even less certain that its worth putting that much power into the mining of it versus distributing some of that demand to countries which can use it to power their infrastructure and bring services to their people . . . assuming the political infrastructure is in place to support that, which is admittedly a pretty big assumption.

The problem with immortal characters - 24

At least for live action, is the fact that they aren't immortal.

This pretty obviously stands to reason but I thought it was worth exploring the implications of it as well. I started thinking about it as a result of watching this show Lucifer.

A long running urban fantasy show called Supernatural has protagonists that are human. The characters around them can run the gamut from human to supernatural themselves, but the main characters are plain mortal. Another show, Angel, didn't run as long but it's widely accepted as being great and influential. A lot of the side characters are mortal but the main character is a vampire.

Angel got cancelled by its parent channel after five great seasons, but even if the showrunner, writers, and actors wanted to go back and capture some of that magic, even if they had the support and funding, they couldn't write around the fact that the main star has gotten many, many years older.

In animation, you don't see this. The voice doesn't change as much as skin does over the years so you can have a protagonist pretend immortality pretty well. Look at the Simpsons; they're ageless and have been for 20 years.

But in live action, people get older. Or they change in other ways; get pregnant, get scars, get ill, all things which can visibly impact their character on a show in which they should be functionally changeless.

I've held for a while now that animation is the future because of this. You don't face the same problems that TV does with actors who may want to do other roles, or who may quit acting altogether. For better or worse it's easier to find a voice stand in then a face stand in, so a show can continue running even if the voice actors for the major characters have to change.

This might change with Deepfake technology, if it can overlay a youthful appearance over an actor's face. I suppose time will tell.

Media literacy and the new age - 23

Finland is waging a war against fake news

At one of their education centers, a teacher works their way through a powerpoint presentation and provides the audience with a checklist of methods that Russian trolls use to deceive readers, including media manipulations, misrepresentations of facts and half-truths, group intimidation (voting down certain people and voting up themselves), and bot profiles.

On another slide is a diagram of a Twitter profile page showing them to look for things like stock photos, post volume, and lack of personal information. And at the end of it is a lesson on deepfake technology . . . back in 2014.

If the US took media literacy as seriously as Finland did, who knows where US citizens could be now in identifying propaganda? By a large degree this happens on an almost instinctive level on social media and during social media interactions. The catfish-era baked a certain degree of suspicion into people so they know not to take people's claims of identity and capabilities at face value, and to ask for proof. But there's some kind of disconnect in people on applying this standard universally, and not to get baited into deliberately misleading conversations with trolls and even the well-intentioned but misinformed or ignorant.

One thing that will help is that Google has joined the fight.

Pacts with the devil - 22

My first introduction into the idea of making deals with the devil was with Robert Johnson and the Cross Road Blues. This was before rock and metal had been invented, let alone stigmatized, and Blues was considered "the devil's music". As the myth goes Robert Johnson was a middling to shoddy guitar player who went away for a year and when he came back, he was able to do things with the guitar that stunned other players. It quickly built up that Johnson had traded his soul for the ability to play music like a virtuoso.

I later discovered the Goethe play about Faust, the doctor who made a deal with the devil to give up his soul so that he could learn all there was to learn about earthly science. He wanted to learn more than any other human in history has been able to learn and the devil takes him on quite a wild ride indeed.

I very recently came across an article that was talking about how a particular European folktale pre-date the Bible and Greek myths. This one is so old it existed before written record and was passed down largely intact by oral storytelling tradition. This tale was of a blacksmith who made a deal with the devil, exchanging his soul for the power to weld any materials together, then fixes the devil to an immovable object so the devil can't collect on his soul.

There are many more examples of people making deals with devils, and with mischievous elves, and with djinni which offer a similar take on making deals with supernatural beings and the good and bad ways those deals can end up.

The advancing state of biometrics - 21

Biometrics have been around for a little while. I first encountered them in a Mission Impossible movie, where they have to break into a secure room that requires a fingerprint, an iris scan, and facial recognition (I think). For me, at the time, it was firmly in the realm of sci-fi. The technology caught up pretty fast after that, if it wasn't already in play and I just didn't know about it, and then I saw fingerprint and then facial recognition hitting smartphones. It turned out to be a little klunky but as time has rolled on it's effective enough. The main caveats against it are:

1) Anyone ranging from commercial third-parties to governments can build or buy these databases to scan for their own purposes. Most recently this has happened with the genetic data from heritage websites

2) These can be easily spoofed. There are anything from 3D printed fingerprints to holographically projected faces which can break the biometric authentication methods of devices.

Something interesting that popped up at the tail end of the biometric development history is gait technology. I think I read something like >80% accuracy, something like 86%, based off of how a person walks / comports themselves. I can't remember if this has been spoofed yet or not but since it requires whole body movement it seems at least harder to pull off, for those situations where the threshold it has is sufficient.

The most recent development in this field is a Pentagon developed laser that can identify people by their heartbeat. It requires that a person sit or stand still for 30 seconds to be accurate but it's over 90% accurate and, so far but we'll have to wait until people actually get their hands on the tech, seems much more difficult to spoof than other biometric methods.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre - a review - 20

Genre: Adventure; drama; western
Rating: 8/10

Minor spoilers ahead.

A quick interesting note is that although many scenes were filmed in the studio and elsewhere in the US< this was one of the first Hollywood films shot on location.

Some of the dialogue would have been difficult to decipher without subtitles, especially when it comes to the old prospector, but I'm just picking at nits with that one. Although I don't consider it flawless, I ended up enjoying the movie immensely, enjoying the setting pieces that they staged for the camera, the realism in meandering about the plot and some of the characters so that some may seem random and happenstance and end up having a greater significance but does not forget that sometimes, shit just happens. The director's decisions didn't sacrifice a properly structured story for the sake of realism.

Not by accident, I'm sure, Bogart's character was the most interesting. His character is the one who has the most extreme arc, starting at one point of the moral spectrum and ending up somewhere so different from where he started that if he could look into the future to see the kind of man he becomes and the kind of things he does and the reasons for doing them, I'm confident the character would feel like he's looking at a stranger.

To capture the theme in a sentence, it's about "the corrupting influence of greed". I remember I saw a Tiny Toons cartoon a while ago called "the green-eyed monster" or something along those lines. While the characters were concerned about fending off an actual monster they later come to find that the green-eyes are the eyes of jealousy/envy, and that greed has made monsters of them. Now that I've seen Treasure I'm confident it was a nod to this because that's exactly what comes across - what can happen to perfectly ordinary, perhaps even good, men, who are tempted by greed and are alone in a remote location where they are, in effect, the only authority.

Great film.

Is that a ransom or are you just happy to see me? - 19

There's a better than decent chance that by now you've heard about ransomware. WannaCry, and later NotPetya, catapulted ransomware into the private consciousness. It hasn't been great for humanity at large, especially because these take advantage of unpatched systems and you tend to see unpatched systems the most in areas like government departments and hospitals and so those tend to be the places most frequently and most deeply hurt. But it has had the benefit of highlighting the importance of security, security professionals, and the standards to which we hold service providers.

Unsurprisingly where there's a problem, there tends to be a solution, and in the space between one and the other you're usually likely to find someone with a gate in front of the solution and their hand out to make sure you can pay your way to the other side of the gate. So firms have popped up in the wake of ransomware campaigns to help businesses reclaim their data without giving in to the data-nappers.

But all is not well - these firms are faking. At least two companies, and very likely more that just haven't been caught yet, have been found to actually just give in to the data-nappers rather than have any technical ability whatsoever to reclaim or salvage the data. Some fine-tuning of the wording around their services on their page may help them duck out of legal issues now that they've been caught, but these companies don't even make an effort. From the article, within minutes of being contacted by someone posing as a "victim", the company immediately reached out to the "bad actor" to negotiate an amount for the decryption key.

They managed to talk the bad actor down on the fee, which I can argue at least brings some value to the customer, except that they then turn around and ask four times the amount to which they've managed to negotiate. Often times it'll be more than the ransom and they'll try to play on a customer's desire to simply not negotiate with the bad actors.

What a sham.

Infosec Recommendations - 18

Maybe you already know this stuff but maybe some of it is new or as a collection it's something you find useful enough to share with someone you think needs it. Anyway, a few basic recommendations:

  1. Don't give out personal information to people you don't know (online, over the phone, or in person). This can include phone number, address, full names and personal social media accounts. Don't underestimate what someone can do with seemingly harmless information, especially with all of the people finder type websites available in the US.

  2. Enable two-factor authentication where possible. This is almost a given nowadays but you can add to this by making sure you use an authenticator app which rotating pin rather than one that gets SMS/texted to you, and where possible modern authentication that provides an approve/deny prompt is even more secure.

  3. Use strong passwords. Not patterns. Not simple passwords with letters switched out for numbers or characters. Passphrases are more secure and easier to remember. Personal biases make them easier to guess so avoid movies, books, and song titles, and use diceware if possible, which generates random words to make your phrase. Use spaces where possible as it adds entropy.

  4. Use a password manager where possible. All of them have their issues, have been hacked or exploited in some way, but they are still in every way superior to recycling passwords, simple passwords, or recording them in a spreadsheet.

  5. Use a secure search engine for anything you don't want tracked, such as DuckDuckGo.

  6. Use a privacy-oriented browser, such as Firefox or Brave.

  7. Use encrypted messaging where possible. SMS to SMS is not encrypted. iMessage is. WhatsApp is but as they are now owned by Facebook, who knows. Signal is the golden standard of secure messaging. Telegram, Line, Wickr, Wire, ChatSecure and Confide are a few more options.

  8. If using public / unsecured wireless, such as at a cafe or library, use a VPN where possible to encrypt your communications inside of the public and open wireless.

  9. Although HTTPS is always better than HTTP, don't put absolute faith in HTTPS either. Bad actors can also get domain verification and certificates, all the more so with third-party sellers of certification authorities like Comodo and things like OpenSSL.

  10. Haveibeenpwned is a useful website that will let you know if your email has been a part of any known security breaches. You can also sign up for alerts.

The concept of megascale desalination - 17

Israel is already doing it.

This company is building floating desalination barges.

The planet is mostly covered in water but less than 3% of it is fresh water and only 1% of it is accessible to human civilization. Absolutely essential to life; some places are stricken by drought while others get it for free or cheap. All of that is 1%. I can see the future having a market for double the earth's potable water supply. Once Israel continues to prove that economically lucrative it won't dominate that market for long.