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Budget for my first employed month in a new city [Feb. 7th, 2016|11:32 am]
sparr
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Here's an approximate breakdown of how I spent two paychecks across the first whole month I spent in the bay area after becoming employed:

27% repaying debt
21% transferred to short/medium term savings
11% for two weeks at a collective home / hostel in SF
8% on renting and furnishing a storage unit (shelves, bins)
7% on food including groceries and dining
7% for vehicle maintenance and fuel
6% for a new bike and accessories
3% in cash withdrawals for misc purchases
3% for event tickets
2% on a new suit
2% for my cell phone bill
1% for online video services
1% on laundry (including significant over-charge to be refunded/disputed)
1% on "misc"

The above is all based on net paycheck amounts. Here are the proportionally equivalent amounts from my gross pay:
57% taxes (36% of my total gross income)
21% 401(k) contribution
2% health insurance
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Your definition is useless to me [Feb. 3rd, 2016|01:02 pm]
sparr
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Trigger warning

"Your definition is useless to me". I find myself saying this a lot. People interpret it as an insult or a dismissal. It is probably both, but that doesn’t stop it from also being a practical message that is important to convey.

When you and I are disagreeing over the meaning of a word or the value of a word having meaning at all, part of my position is usually based on my practical need for a word to mean something useful. By useful, I mean that I can put that meaning to some use, potentially including uses that we both agree are desirable.

Whether we are talking about a verb or a noun or an adjective, the purpose of any word is to differentiate between things that match that word and things that don’t match that word. “Rain” means liquid water naturally falling from the sky, and situations that aren’t liquid water naturally falling from the sky aren’t “rain”. “Jump” means propelling yourself into the air, and actions that don’t propel yourself into the air aren’t “jumping”. When I say it is or isn’t raining, or that I did or did not jump, those definitions help you understand the state of reality that I am describing. If you want or need information about whether liquid water is naturally falling from the sky then our shared definition of “rain” allows me to convey that information to you using that word.

The first category of useless definitions are definitions based on things that haven’t happened yet or can’t be known yet. If I were to say that “rain” only includes falling water that reaches the ground, and then we went to the top of a tall building and observed water falling from the sky, we would be unable to classify it as “rain” or “not rain” because we don’t know yet whether it will reach the ground or evaporate/freeze before it gets there. That definition of “rain” would be useless to us. Doubly so, as not only could we not accurately describe our observation, but someone else using a more common definition might tell us that it’s rain and we make a mistaken conclusion about the water reaching the ground below us. This category includes definitions of the word “consent” or “rape” that are subjective or non-deterministic. If your definition of those words leads to “you can’t know whether that sexual act you’re engaging in right now is consensual or rape” being a valid statement, then your definition is useless to me. And, again, I mean that in the most literal sense. There is no use to which I can put that definition, even in pursuit of our [presumably] shared goal of avoiding rape. Your definition actually reduces my ability to communicate by eliminating or making ambiguous part of my vocabulary.

The second category of useless definitions include words that mean exactly and only what the speaker wants them to mean. This category frequently includes words like “art” or “artist”, “pornography”, “right” or “wrong” or “good” or “bad”, and “enterprise”. More controversially, and the inspiration for this paragraph, it includes trans-inclusive definitions of “man” and “woman”. While I am supportive of these definitions, that does not stop me from categorizing them as useless. As these definitions are adopted, the information content of the words drops towards zero. When you tell me “Pat is a man”, do you intend to convey any information via this statement? If so, you must be using some definition of “man” other than the circular one of “anyone who identifies as a man”. If not, why say it at all?

I am not immediately seeking comment here, although it is welcome. The primary purpose of this note is for me to link to when this concept comes up in future discussions.
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Another attempt to figure out what you mean by “racism” [Feb. 3rd, 2016|12:30 pm]
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I'm trying to wrap my head around the social justice definition of "racism" (and other -isms) and have failed to successfully research the topic, or to glean effective insight from others' comments on my previous discussions. Here is my latest attempt to rephrase my confusion.

On average, around the world, Japanese people are discriminated against by Caucasian people. Attempts to eliminate oppression and discrimination are rightfully aimed at this situation.

However, in Japan, a small subset of the world, the situation is reversed. Japanese people hold most/all of the power in a given situation, and Caucasian people are discriminated against.

I can accept the idea that a single black person without power/authority who discriminates against white people in America is not racism.

I cannot accept the idea that a hundred million Japanese people WITH power/authority who discriminate against white people in Japan is not racism.

If you disagree with me about the situation in Japan being racism, then we are simply speaking a different language, and your definition of racism isn't useful to me in any practical capacity. I am unable to make effective decisions for addressing the situation based on that definition.

If, however, you agree with me about Japan, (and about the other case, where agreement is more likely) then I need your help to figure out where the lines between the two cases are. I need to be able to look at a situation that's in between those two and figure out whether it's racism or not. Help?
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Dark Odyssey Surrender 2015 [Nov. 17th, 2015|11:46 pm]
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While living on the east coast I heard great things about the Dark Odyssey events. They host some camping and hotel kink/sex events each year near DC. I never made it to them due to a mix of travel distance, timing, and cost. This year I happened to be in the bay area when their sole west coast event, Surrender, was taking place. Between volunteering and continuing with my RV lifestyle, attending was extremely affordable, so I decided to check it out.

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Overall, the event was quite enjoyable. I would certainly go again to a Dark Odyssey event, if I am ever again in the right part of the country at the right time and can do it again on a <$100 budget rather than the $500+ budget that seems more typical (travel, ticket, hotel).
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Epic Road Trip, Nevada to Oregon [Oct. 31st, 2015|02:16 pm]
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After parting ways with our Burning Man campmates we did some touristing and ran some errands in Reno. As we were deciding which way to go from there, a friend invited us to join her at Lake Tahoe, so we headed that way. A late night of cleaning playa dust out of the ambulance led to us arriving in Tahoe after midnight, so we crashed in the ambulance and met my friend and her campmate the next morning.

We spent a couple of days around Lake Tahoe. There was hiking, time on the beach, and gazing at the sunset. We had some good food, some comfortable decompression time, and the novel experience of a timeshare presentation (for free breakfast and $100 gift card!). One fun hiking moment had us choosing between paths to "Cascade Falls <--" or "--> Desolation", giving me a strong Choose Your Own Adventure / RPG feeling. We opted to avoid Desolation :)

Leaving Lake Tahoe involved driving back through Reno, where we spent another night. I played some poker again. In the morning we proceeded up through northeast California. We stopped when crossing the Pacific Crest Trail for Emma to do some hiking, with an eye towards a much longer PCT hike in the future. At Cave Campground we walked through a lava tube which was really cool. For our overnight we made it up to Eagle's Nest RV Park, a place that had advertised free post-burn camping for burners and whose website said they had metered electrical hookups, but upon arrival they cajoled us out of twenty bucks for a flat rate hookup. I was too tired to argue, but probably won't stop there again.

Around this point in the trip Emma started to do some serious planning of the stops she wanted to make in Oregon and Washington. Unfortunately, we figured out that most of the places she wanted to see had schedules that didn't match up with our travels at all. Many of the places were only open one or two days a week!

On the way from CA to OR we stopped at the Tulelake County fair, which was fun and silly. There were prize winning baked goods that we weren't allowed to eat, prize winning livestock that Emma turned into a five year old in the presence of, and the most appalling religious anti-sex propaganda booth I've ever encountered in person. I took one of each of their flyers, which Emma couldn't even stand to read, and plan to post about that separately. We continued north up to Crater Lake National Park and made it just in time for the last guided hike of the season. Fun fact: the non-snow season at Crater Lake lasts about three months; they have often-impassably-deep snow cover from October through June. We hiked up to a great lookout, learned some things about trees and birds, took some photos, and then headed north out of the park.

Or, at least, we tried to head out of the park. Switching from all-8%-up-grades to all-8%-down-grades quickly illustrated that my fuel gauge was misbehaving at steep angles, and we ran out of gas on the way out of the park. Luckily for us, I carry an extra gallon of fuel for emergencies. Unluckily, the nearest gas station was 16 miles away, and the nearest we were sure would be open was 25 miles away, since it was pretty late at night. Both of those numbers are significantly higher than my average MPG. So, in goes the fuel. We get up to speed, and I see the most beautiful sight of the trip... two signs, "Altitude 4000ft" and "4% down grade next 8 miles". Terminal coasting velocity for the ambulance on a 4% grade is about 45MPH. Plenty fast enough that I wasn't afraid of being rear ended by an inattentive motorist. Now, the scariest part of the trip... Driving the ambulance at 45MPH without power steering. The brake cylinders hold plenty of fluid for a complete stop, so I wasn't afraid of failure to stop, but having direct mechanical control of the steering was nerve wracking. On the bright side, the dead zone in the middle of the wheel was gone. We made it to the 16 mile station with the idea that we would just overnight there if we needed to. It turned out to be unnecessary as it was a ski resort in the off season with a phone at the station for calling a maintenance person down to sell us gas. He seemed cheerful and happy for the break in the monotony. We set out for western Oregon (having decided nothing in eastern OR or WA excited either of us enough for a 6+ hour detour) and spent the night somewhere along the way.

The next day we drove up to Portland, where we both had touristy plans and a friend had invited us to use their driveway. Next journal entry will cover Portland and Seattle.

PS: This entry covers September 9-14, 2015.
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Berkeley CA USPS general delivery shenanigans, part 2 [Oct. 26th, 2015|01:28 pm]
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It's Monday morning and I'm writing this as I proceed.

First up, trying to call some POs in Oakland and San Francisco and other nearby cities to find out how widespread this situation is. Also to try out USPS Customer Service's suggestion that I call POs in advance to let them know I'll have GD mail coming. 20 rings each and no answer at 94612 (Emeryville), 94188 (SF), 94706 (Albany), 94801 (Richmond) (with an automated message every 5 rings). Finally giving up on main post offices and trying a detached delivery unit (a term I learned on Saturday). Fremont DDU answers quickly, a human transfers me to "Aung". Aung says I don't have to do anything at the post office beforehand to receive GD in Fremont, and that they do have the same 30 day limit as Berkeley.

So now I'm calling USPS Customer Service once more. On Saturday they gave me a lot of info that matched the DMM, and they walked me through finding DMM section 508.6 on the USPS Postal Explorer website. That section contains most of the relevant info, but not the "No application required" that they quoted to me from their internal system. I've reached customer service again and am speaking to Rana. She tells me that this info comes from their internal documentation system, called "Franklin", and it is in document number 7461. Verbatim: "No application is required for general delivery. Persons interested in general delivery should speak with the post master".

Now I'm calling the Berkeley DDU intending to speak to Leo (supervisor) and then Ray (Postmaster) as instructed on Saturday. I've reached Richard who tells me that Leo and Ray are both unavailable at this time. He offers to try to help. I explain the whole situation, including all of the new information I've gathered since Saturday. He says that he is documenting this all, including the Franklin document and new PS1527 language, and that he will begin the process of getting the correct information out to the supervisors and clerks. When I ask for a timeline he says that he aims to have this resolved by the end of the week.

I also tell him that I aim to file a formal complaint against the clerk on Saturday who refused to talk to customer service after telling me to call them. He says that can be handled as all of the corrected information is handled. I tell him I will follow up at the end of the week, both with him and with local homeless task force and action center groups in order to spread the word that general delivery is finally available in its intended form in Berkeley.

Next up I'm calling Fremont again, to correct their misconception about the 30 day limit. I reach Edward and he offers to give me the person I spoke to earlier. Instead, I ask for the manager or postmaster. I speak to Manny, explain what's going on with the 30 day limit and the errata verbiage on the new PS1527, tell him that I spoke to Richard in the Berkeley DDU, and he says he will look into this.

I'm leaving a voicemail for Augustine Ruiz, the California media contact for USPS, to inquire about this situation.

I'm leaving voicemails for Mary at the Alameda County Homeless Action Center and Yani at the Berkeley Food and Housing Project, to ask about others who've encountered this problem and how to spread the word when it's resolved.

I doubt this is the end of the story, but I'm done until someone calls me back or Friday, whichever comes first.
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Not every insult is misogynistic. "geek" [Oct. 25th, 2015|03:49 pm]
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It really bothers me when someone tries to frame *every* discussion about men or women being oppressed or insulted as being based in misogyny. I get it, misogyny is a problem. It's a bigger problem than any of the other problems in question. It's big enough that it has side effects that some people might misrecognize as misandry. But it's not the only problem. Not everything is about misogyny, and I don't need to have experienced misogyny for that conclusion or my reasoning in reaching it to be sound.

Most of the ways you can insult a man for being un-masculine also imply that he is being feminine. If being feminine is an insult, that's misogynistic. Most of the ways you can insult a woman for being un-feminine also imply that she is being masculine. If a woman not conforming to her gender roles is an insult, that's misogynistic. There's a whole argument to be had about whether misogyny is to blame for every possible insult of that sort, where someone of one gender behaves similarly to the common perception of the other gender. For the sake of this post I'll agree that it is; every such insult is rooted in misogyny. But those insults only make up *most* of the insults that can be levied at someone just for being farther from the social perception of their gender. Try on this counter-example:

"Geek". This word is commonly used as an insult in school-age settings, although it's gotten a lot less insulting in the last 20 years. Applied to men, it often includes connotations of not engaging in "masculine" pursuits. Geeks don't like sports, etc. Applied to women, it often includes connotations of not engaging in "feminine" pursuits. Geeks don't like fashion, etc. However, unlike the majority of cases, where being farther from feminine makes you more masculine, and vice versa, in this case you can be farther from both at the same time. Like the political spectrum, it's not one-dimensional, no matter how common that perception is. Libertarianism can mean being farther from the left without being right, and farther from the right without being left; Geeks can be farther from masculine and feminine at the same time.

I would welcome more examples in comments, or discussion of the phenomena mentioned above. If you're guilty of the generalization I've pointed out here, I hope you'll make it less often after reading this. If you want to try to convince me that "geek" being an insult is somehow rooted in misogyny... good luck.
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Murder is bad because the sky is orange [Oct. 25th, 2015|01:29 pm]
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You: "Murder is bad because the sky is blue."
Me: "What you just said is wrong."
You: "Why do you think murder is good?"
Me: ...

You: "Murder is bad because the sky is orange."
Me: "The sky is not orange."
You: "Why do you think murder is good?"
Me: ...

These two examples represent a fundamental failure of communication that I'm trying to figure out how to address when and where it happens, without confusing people further. It took me a long time to figure out that a lot of people can't tell the difference between me contradicting their argument or premise and me contradicting their conclusion. Since that dawned on me, I've only ever managed to successfully navigate this conversational space by accident. Starting from "Murder is bad because the sky is [blue/orange]", how do I get to a position where you understand the following things:

1) I agree with you that the sky is blue / I disagree with you that the sky is orange.

2) I agree with you that murder is bad.

3) The statements I have made that do not include the word "murder" are not about murder

Anecdotally, I can report that simply breaking the statement apart into those components does not have the desired effect. If anything, using more words in such a straightforward way makes things worse. Actually naming the logical fallacy being employed, more so. So, I am looking for different words to use.
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Berkeley CA USPS general delivery shenanigans, part 1 [Oct. 24th, 2015|02:29 pm]
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TL;DR: Personal project ruined by local USPS misbehavior. Follow-up and escalation might improve mail service for local homeless people.

Good news. I got accepted to present a project at FIGMENT Oakland 2015.
Bad news. The acceptance was at the last minute, so I need to build my project from scratch.
Good news. All of the components were able to get here with just enough time to spare.
Bad news. Berkeley CA sent one of my packages back to Virginia because they have some outdated and/or unsubstantiated policies about general delivery[1].

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Smart ticket prioritization [Oct. 21st, 2015|12:08 pm]
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A long time ago when I worked in ticket/email-based technical support, I had an idea for ticket prioritization. I never convinced any of my bosses to try it, but here it is in case anyone is in a position to give it a try:

The user is presented with three(ish) levels of priority. Low, Medium, High. They prioritize their tickets when they create them.

The support person is presented with five levels of priority. Back burner, Low, Medium, High, Critical. By default, the user's levels map to the middle three levels. Every ticket must be [re]prioritized by the support person *when it's closed*, with informed hindsight of what the actual importance and urgency were.

Now, here's the fun part. After a user has submitted a few tickets, the system can learn how well they prioritize their own tickets. If a user's "High" always earns a "Critical" from the support person, then eventually their High tickets will automatically get upgraded to Critical before a support person sees them (and might get seen sooner!). If a user marks everything "High", they will probably all get downgraded to "Medium" internally.

If you ever implement this, let me know, please. Also, if you ever want this implemented in your ticket system, I'd love to take a stab at it.
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You keep using that word... "Resident" [Oct. 13th, 2015|03:01 pm]
sparr
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"Resident" is today's word that most people don't understand the implications of. Specifically, being a resident of a place, for legal and bureaucratic purposes.

Let's get the core misunderstanding out the way first. Unlike almost every other linguistic argument you'll find me involved in, there is no single common definition for this term. There isn't even a clear plurality; with tens of competing definitions in relatively typical usage[1]. In general, there is no social or legal control over who is considered a resident by an organization, at any level, for any purpose. Every single institution, organization, club, or group, government or private, gets to make up their own definition of this word, and most of them do. It is uncommon for anyone to accept anyone else's definition here. If you think that there's one national definition of residency that everyone uses or agrees on... you're wrong. If you think that whatever your state says, goes... you're wrong. It's a complicated morass that I hope you remain blissfully ignorant of, but suspect most of you will encounter at one point or another in your life. Understanding this misconception might help you get through that encounter a little faster than if you were caught flat-footed and confused by this situation.

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So you say there's a better approach to communication to solve this issue? [Oct. 1st, 2015|03:42 pm]
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I get this a lot. I'm engaged in a heated discussion, perhaps even an argument, on the internet. Not a pointless discussion, but one with real world consequences. The topic might be consent, or safety, or event planning and policies. Something that people have strong opinions about, even when those opinions aren't necessarily well thought out. I'll have a position in this discussion that I'm trying to promote or defend, and someone else will be contradicting, refuting, or attacking that position. At some point, the conversation will shift. One or more people will stop (if they had started) discussing the topic, and start making comments about how I communicate. I will get called counterproductive, disruptive, confrontational, etc.

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Finally, in both cases, and more in line with the (1) point that I quoted above... If you believe you have a better approach to achieving a goal that we both believe is good, you can sidestep any need to convince me otherwise by simply implementing your own approach. Alternately, you could convince someone else to implement it, someone who isn't already committed to a differnet approach. The fact that we are having this conversation tells me that either you aren't able or willing to implement your own solution, which hints at some hidden cost or requirement that you aren't considering in pushing that solution on me, or that your solution doesn't actually achieve the goals in question. If those two things weren't true, you would have already solved the problem, and I'd never have started down the path of trying to solve it myself. This response applies at every level of meta related to most such issues. It applies to actually solving the core problem. It applies to eliminating uncomfortable discussions about the problem. It applies to discussing how to eliminate uncomfortable discussions about the problem.

So, as long as you aren't willing to explain to me how my approach is net-bad, or willing to get yourself or others to implement your better approach, we're just going to continue disagreeing about the appropriateness of me using a maybe-not-optimal approach to achieving positive goals.
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I am shy. No, really. [Oct. 1st, 2015|02:59 pm]
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I'm one of the more shy people that you know. Most of the people who see or hear me make this claim, probably including yourself, are incredulous. That goes double for people who have spent a significant amount of time around me, but with whom I don't have a close personal relationship. This is because most of the people that I interact with on a regular basis have a strongly filtered view of me. I interact with most of you mostly in environments where one of a few mitigating factors come into play. Outside of those environments I'm the typical socially awkward and mal-adjusted loner geek, and most of the world falls into that category.

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Burning Man 2015 [Sep. 26th, 2015|10:55 am]
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My first trip to Burning Man was a matter of convenient timing. I've wanted to go and see what all the fuss is about for a while, but the circumstances have never been quite right to make it affordable and feasible. This year, I had given 3 months' notice to leave my job in Chicago and made plans to take a counterclockwise tour of the US through the fall and winter while seeing the country and visiting old friends. By happy coincidence, this meant I would be driving near or through Nevada in late August, just in time to visit Black Rock City.

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This was an enjoyable burn experience for me. Overall, much more so than any single regional burn. I am not sure if I'll be back, because I could spend the same money going to half a dozen regionals, and that might appeal to me more. Time will tell, and future travel coincidences could have a significant impact on that decision.
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The selfishness of being in the closet [Sep. 23rd, 2015|01:03 pm]
sparr
If you keep part of your life secret because of potential negative consequences to yourself, but social trends indicate that more people making that part of their life not-secret reduces the negative consequences to others in the same situation, then you are responsible for a share of the negative consequences, actual and potential, faced by anyone else with that same secret.

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Epic Road Trip, South Dakota to Nevada [Sep. 14th, 2015|12:40 pm]
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I've fallen behind on posting trip / event / ambulance updates, mostly due to having no internet access, or no time. This is the first in a series of catch-up posts. I'm going to cover the road trip after my last post, skipping anything related to ambulance improvement, and stopping at Burning Man, which deserves its own post. I already posted about my stop in Rapid City, SD, where I failed to get a new driver license, so let's pick up from there...

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I'll post about Reno later, when I cover before/during/after for Burning Man.
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South Dakota driver licensing shenanigans [Aug. 22nd, 2015|10:18 am]
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Yesterday (Friday) I tried to get a driver license in South Dakota, having [I thought] fulfilled all of the requirements for doing so. I failed, due mostly to incompetence on the part of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety.

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Old affidavit form: http://dps.sd.gov/licensing/driver_licensing/documents/RESIDENCYAFFIDAVIT_000.pdf

New affidavit form: http://dps.sd.gov/licensing/driver_licensing/documents/RESIDENCYAFFIDAVIT_001.pdf
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Epic Road Trip, first few days [Aug. 21st, 2015|09:51 am]
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My laptop died on my Boston moving trip, so this post is a bit delayed. Also, future posts in this series will probably not have exact date labels, so things can flow a little better.

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That's all I've got time to write right now. Time to grab our laundry and hit the road. Next post will probably be from Denver in a few days.
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Last rounds of ambulance prep before road trip, and a sad few hours. [Aug. 21st, 2015|09:23 am]
sparr
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2015/08/10 dashcam, tire compression

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2015/08/11 shopping, crafty stuff, power outlets

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2015/08/12 kitchen stuff

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2015/08/13 maintenance woes

Today, things took some turns for the worse, with a happy ending.

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2015/08/14 Sleeping, organizing, swamp cooler

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2015/08/15 Final touches

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That's all before I run off to move my storage belongings to Boston. In a few days, I'll be back in Chicago and starting the road trip. Future improvements and updates will be done/written on the road!
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Ambulance almost road-trip-ready, entering the home stretch of prep [Aug. 9th, 2015|09:12 pm]
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2015/08/08 Organizing, fridge test, solenoid resistance, swamp cooler

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2015/08/09 Fuel efficiency, test drive, nap

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Ambulance prep, research, wiring, packing, parts [Aug. 8th, 2015|12:04 pm]
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2015/08/05 Unpacking, packing, air conditioner

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2015/08/06 Wiring diagrams

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2015/08/07 Goo-gone, unnecessary wiring, lighting mistakes, and ordered parts

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Next on the agenda, designing additional shelves/cabinets, for the "kitchen" stuff, appliances, electronics, clothes, etc. This will all go in the space previously occupied by the gun racks.
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Ambulance organization and wiring [Aug. 4th, 2015|08:48 pm]
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2015/08/03 Voltage shenanigans

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2015/08/04 Unpacking, exploring

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That's all for now. More news to come tomorrow! Maybe more organization, maybe more wire following, maybe the start of the actual wiring diagram.
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Electrical and mechanical exploration of the ambulance [Jul. 26th, 2015|09:34 pm]
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2015/07/25 continued

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2015/07/26 Under the hood and mechanical bits

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Ambulance back from the mechanic and first electrical exploration [Jul. 25th, 2015|11:36 pm]
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2015/07/24 The ambulance returns from the mechanic.

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2015/07/25 Let there be light!

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Bought an Ambulance, first of many journal entries [Jul. 23rd, 2015|11:29 pm]
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I'm going to try to keep a journal of my adventures in owning a 1986 Ford E-350 ambulance. This is the first post in that journal, covering the first few days. If all goes well, future entries will come one day at a time.

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Jealous for the first time [Jul. 6th, 2015|05:49 pm]
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I recently experienced jealousy for the first time, in a situation with no especially novel components. I would like to figure out why.

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Almost interviewed at Palantir today [Jun. 30th, 2015|04:42 pm]
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Today I had a job interview with Palantir in Washington, DC. Read more...Collapse )
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Tax shenanigans [Jun. 24th, 2015|01:37 pm]
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The Massachusetts Department of Revenue says I owe them money.

In 2012, someone with my name worked in MA, earned money, and had taxes withheld from their check.

In early 2013, someone with my name filed a tax return in MA claiming that amount of earnings and withholding.

MA doesn't believe these are the same two people. They say they don't have enough identification info* from me (the person who filed the tax return) to prove that I'm the person who paid the withholding, so I owe that amount [again].

I have a few questions, the answers to any of which might help me navigate this problem:

1) If they don't have enough info to connect my tax return to my withholding, how do they have enough info to levy my bank account?

2) If I'm not the person who paid that withholding, then once MA collects the money from me that they say I owe, they will have an extra thousand dollars or so from someone who doesn't owe them taxes. How can that person (who also happens to be me) get that money back?

3) If MA says that I owe them the money AND the person who paid the withholding also owed it, then that other person should be in trouble for not filing a tax return, right? Is there something I can do to trigger an investigation for that?

* - I don't have a social security card. I lost mine ~10 years ago. For the first 3-5 years, I couldn't replace it because MS didn't believe I was me when I requested a new birth certificate. They've since changed that. Now that I've got it, the SSA dislikes my birth certificate for some reason. I don't really care, since it virtually never matters that I don't have one. In those ten years, the MA DOR is the only organization that has made a fuss about it.
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Lakes of Fire 2015 [Jun. 22nd, 2015|12:40 pm]
sparr
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Last weekend I traveled from Chicago to Lucky Lake Campground in Rothbury, MI for the Great Lakes Regional Burn, Lakes of Fire, which is a spinoff event from Burning Man, similar to Alchemy, Firefly, Transformus, Burning Flipside, etc. This writing will be about my experience and observations.

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Overall, I'd say that LoF is one of the most enjoyable and well-organized burns that I've been to. I will definitely be attending again if I'm in the region, and I'd consider traveling for it.
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Mothers vs corpses, bodily autonomy [Jun. 3rd, 2015|11:41 am]
sparr
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Our society refuses to take organs from a corpse without the person's consent, even when it would save multiple lives. We refuse to take blood or bone marrow from an unwilling donor, even when it would save a life or cure a disease.

However, we are quite willing to subject a woman to months of pain, risk of injury or death, and mental trauma in order to preserve the life of one fetus.

This analogy has been a commonly occurring meme in pro-choice internet discussion communities recently, and it's an amazingly good one. It's so good that my powers of devil's advocacy are failing me. I need someone more creative than me, or a real anti-abortion advocate, to answer this question for me...

Why does a corpse have more right to bodily autonomy than a pregnant woman? Why do we give the dead body more rights than we give the living person?

PS: No arguments here about whether a fetus is alive, please. That's another issue for another thread. For the purpose of this discussion, I will concede that a fetus is a living person.
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Career progression [Jun. 1st, 2015|04:53 pm]
sparr
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A friend in search of a job in a field somewhat related to my career path recently posted that they are looking for a new job. They described themselves as "mid-career" in their field with ~2 years of job experience and ~1 year of education. This irked me, in a lot of ways.

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So, in summary... No one with 1 year of school and 2 years of experience is "mid-career", no matter how good they are at their job.

Unless they are a rabbit.
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Nomadic musings [May. 28th, 2015|08:09 pm]
sparr
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Allowing my thoughts to wander to how I want to spend the fall and maybe the winter, I've got some ideas that involve going nomad for a while...

2 months, attend Burning Man:

Aug 15, leave Chicago
Aug 16-29, cross the great plains, probably stop in Denver along the way
Aug 30 - Sep 6, Burning Man
Sep 7-20, California (mostly San Francisco)
Sep 20-31, cross the southwest and south, probably stop in Austin
Oct 1-5, Alchemy (large regional burn near Atlanta)
Oct 6-15, Atlanta to Nashville to ?? to NYC to Boston

2 months, no Burning Man:

Aug 30, leave Chicago
Sep, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida(?)
Oct 1-5, Alchemy (large regional burn near Atlanta)
Oct 6-30, Georgia, South Carolia, North Carolia, Virgina, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, ... Boston

6 months, week long stops in cities, multi day camping in some parks:

Aug 15, leave Chicago
Aug 16-29, cross the great plains, probably stop in Denver along the way
Aug 30 - Sep 6, Burning Man
Sep 7-31, Cascadia
Oct, California
Nov, southwest
Dec, southeast
Jan, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio
Feb, Pennsylvania, New York, ... Boston

Anyone have any input that might totally derail any of these ideas?
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Shibaricon 2015 [May. 24th, 2015|07:35 pm]
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This weekend I'm at Shibaricon for the first time. I'm living in Chicago right now, so this may be my only chance to attend without paying for travel. I'm writing this on Sunday evening, while things are fresh on my mind. The event goes until Monday afternoon, so there's still one more night of play and a half day of classes ahead of me, but I don't expect those to significantly change what I'm going to write here.
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Geekway to the West con report [May. 17th, 2015|06:14 pm]
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After discovering the very thriving tabletop gaming community in Chicago I looked around and discovered that there are at least a few good medium size gaming conventions in the midwest that I had not previously heard of (aside from Origins and GenCon, which are rather large). The top one on my radar was Geekway to the West, where maybe 2500 gamers congregate in St Louis each spring. A number of folks from irc://freenode/#boardgames recommended it, and I read good things about it, so I decided it was worth a couple of days off work to check out.

I took Amtrak from Chicago to St Louis, which worked out pretty well. It's about a 5.5 hour ride for $34 each way, which compares pretty favorably to $100 for a plane ticket for a much less comfortable 90 minute flight plus an arbitrary number of hours of airport hoop-jumping. I'm actually on the train home as I write this.

The first major hiccup came after I reached St Louis and took their Metro train and bus out to the convention hotel on Thursday afternoon. I had made plans elsewhere in the city for Thursday night and my last decade of big city living left me making the spoiled assumption that I would be able to arrange transportation in the few hours before those other plans. That was a mistake. At the convention hotel I found myself with no reasonable way to attend a late night event ~25 miles away. The closest zipcar and relayrides were 5-10 miles away, with light to no taxi infrastructure to get me to them. Calling a taxi to take me into the city would cost $50+ each way. All of the non-airport car rental offices within reasonable distance of the hotel closed at such ridiculous times as 5-6PM on a week day. Their airport counterparts remained open, but had nothing for less than $100 per day. In hindsight, I should have rented a car downtown, rather than taking the train and bus to the hotel. If I visit St Louis again, I'll keep that in mind.

Having my Thursday night plans ruined, I ended up working a volunteer shift and then being a hermit for the night. I decided that I'd rather start fresh on Friday morning. That turned out to be a great idea, despite the loss of some hours of evening/night gaming.

Between Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I probably spent about 40 hours gaming, which I call a successful gaming weekend regardless of what else went on.

Regarding the gaming, Geekway has an amazing game library, where I spent my volunteer time. I donated a couple of games, the convention owns a few hundred, and a couple of board members also loan their own few hundred each as well. It was the best stocked game library I've seen at a con, and I'm including Origins' tabletop room and board room in that. Some resident techies have developed a library system to make checking games out and in as easy as barcode scanning the game and the person's badge, which allowed us to operate at a staggering pace, sometimes handling a dozen games in/out in a minute. This library, combined with many gamers' personal piles, kept a couple of 500-1000 seat rooms near capacity for most of the day, with just a few dead hours in the morning each day.

Separately, there is also another game collection entitled "Play and Win", filled with games donated by publishers and vendors and designers. Players record each time they play a game, and are entered in a drawing to win a copy of the game at the end of the event. That arrangement led to a lot more focus on repeat plays for some great games, which was a neat alternative to events where tournaments provide the only consistent recurring play opportunities. I played about a dozen such games, and ended up winning copies of two of them (Heroes Wanted and Scoville).

The event officially facilitates a number of ways for gamers to trade/buy/sell the games they want to get or get rid of. This year their "trade table" had about 500 games on it, with each person getting to choose whatever game they wanted after their own game was chosen by someone else. 60% of the entries did not get traded due to time constraints, but it was a neat event overall. They hosted a flea market for gamers to trade and sell with each other, which I did not get to attend due to a schedule conflict (read: I slept through it). Also, hosted by myself, they had a math trade arranged ahead of time for the first time this year. 41 of our 47 participants had at least one trade and 168 of the 477 games listed were traded. It was one of the most successful math trades I've participated in, by most metrics. If I attend again, I'll definitely run another one.

On the mediocre side, I found Geekway attendees a lot less likely to use "Players Wanted" signs at their tables. There may have been the normal number of people willing to play with strangers, as I encountered many groups who were willing or even wanted to, but many of them didn't know about the signs or didn't have them handy to use. As someone attending alone and relying on finding strangers to game with, this was annoying, especially during events (like the trade table and the closing ceremonies prize drawings) where I was forced to stay in one room for hours at a time, when I'd have been able to find a game to play much more easily in another room.

Aside from my transportation problem, nothing really bad happened. The worst things were just 'meh'. If I wasn't likely to move a thousand miles further away between now and next spring I'd say that I was relatively certain to attend again. As things stand, that's up in the air.
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Can you put rape, torture, and murder in order? [Apr. 17th, 2015|11:51 am]
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Trigger warning

I recently included a clarifying footnote in a post: "the belief that rape is worse than murder, which is not universal". I had two people contact me to inquire about this. They were otherwise reasonable and informed people who did not think they had ever encountered any belief contrary to this one. I write a lot about value systems, priorities, decision making, and outcomes. I'm surprised that I've overlooked such a good example, amid the few others that come up with regularity. In this writing I'll try to elaborate on why this matters.

Rape, torture, murder. Even the most rationally ethical people can have different opinions about the ranking of these three evils, based on how they value others' lives, agency, happiness, etc. In the general case, considering each of these as a whole, they can go in any order. In more specific cases, it gets even trickier. Some people believe it's worse to murder an infant than someone on their death bed. Some people believe it's worse to rape a virgin than a whore. Some people believe it's worse to torture for fun than for information required to do good. And many (most?) people who have one of those beliefs also allow them to overlap. Torture can be generally worse than murder, while murder of an infant is worse than torture of an octogenarian for good reasons. Making it even more tricky, that good reason could be saving a life. Skipping rape, both torture and murder can often lead to saving one or more lives, and even a completely rationally ethical person can decide that it's preferable to intentionally murder one person than to let two others die through lack of action (look up the Trolley Problem).

Now, to throw some irrational, but very prevalent, people into the mix, consider devout religious adherents. The holy books of many religions give strict rankings of some types of evil, often including some of these three. Consider a Catholic, to whom suicide may be the only unforgivable sin, followed by the mortal sins that include idolatry, adultery, murder, slander, etc. Depending on their precise sub-sub-sub-sect, rape and torture might not appear on that list at all, not having been entirely proscribed by their deity. I know less about various other religions, but I do know that other Abrahamic religions have similar aspects, if not such a rigid ranking, and some even include rules mandating these actions in certain situations.

All of these factors combine to form an environment where it is often not fruitful to have a conversation with someone about avoiding or preventing evil, or doing good, without first getting at least some hint of whether their value system and priorities align with yours, and the ways in which they conflict. If you disagree on whether murder is worse than rape, or even whether slander is worse than rape, you'll be spinning your wheels trying to reconcile conclusions that stem from those base premises.
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Think positive [Nov. 16th, 2014|08:28 pm]
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When I moved to Chicago I knew that there would be colder winters and warmer summers than in Boston. I committed to toughing it out, and I've experienced worse in the past (barely, rarely). Tonight, I saw an animated sign outside a bank with the temperature on it. It read "+33°F". Can you guess which character in that string got me thinking about how cold the winters here get?
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Three free copies of the video game Insurgency [Nov. 11th, 2014|03:39 pm]
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https://www.humblebundle.com/?gift=4MZCRdt67WhP3A3f

First come, first served.
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I've had better days [Nov. 5th, 2014|05:24 pm]
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That moment when you tell a partner "I would be better off without you", and they know you're right. :(
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Livejournal needs a fresh start, or a wrapper. [Nov. 3rd, 2014|12:19 pm]
sparr
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LJ is the best social network. I cannot count the number of times I have seen (or made) a complaint about Facebook or G+ or Ello or Fetlife that could not be countered with "LJ does that better".

What they don't have is the best interface, or the best marketing team.

I would love to wake up tomorrow and learn about a "new" social network launching, which is really just a new domain name and front end for LJ. A modern web interface (AJAXy, dynamic, etc). A more convenient interface. A new marketing campaign, and a "new" thing to tell my friends about.

Dreamwidth isn't much better. None of the LJ clones really match what people want out of the user experience of a social network. But the back end is SO MUCH BETTER. One-way friends, per-user and per-tag subscriptions and notifications, threaded comments, markup in posts...

Some day, maybe.

Ello, if you're listening, just clone LJ.
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Asexual vs antisexual [Oct. 16th, 2014|07:37 am]
sparr
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I have a number of friends who describe themselves as asexual, in one form or another. I've heard the term defined in a few ways, mostly boiling down to something like the first noun definition from google, "a person who has no sexual feelings or desires".

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If you place negative value on all sexual activity, such that you avoid it in circumstances where the net value is otherwise positive, and your partner asking you to have sex is mostly/always a no, then you are not asexual. You are antisexual (or some other word that I am not familiar with). If you want "asexual" to describe that situation, then there's a lot of work to be done on the popular definition of the term, including the definition actively promoted in pro-asexuality literature and events.

(This note may be revised based on feedback.)
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Visiting Boston [Oct. 14th, 2014|06:09 am]
sparr
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I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit back to Boston. Saw a few friends and made some new social and professional networking acquaintances at Barcamp Boston. Got to spend (never enough) time with Kat. Saw many other friends at Honk and cuddle parties on Sat and Sun nights. Flew back and straight to work this morning.

I failed to make solid plans with a lot of people who I wanted to see, and aim to rectify that when I visit again next weekend. I fly in on Friday around 7 and am headed straight for NECTR. If you'll be there, I'll definitely see you there, and you should seek me out if you wish to converse or interact in some way. Non-NECTR folks, here's the plan:

Sunday afternoon I return from NECTR. I have no plans Sunday evening, Sunday night, or Monday morning. I may be busy on Monday afternoon. Monday evening I'm having a meeting for a sexy/kinky play space project I'm trying to organize for Firefly next year, which I'd love more input or help with. Monday night I'm free. Tuesday morning I fly back to work in Chicago, again.
So, anyone who wants to see me, get in touch here or directly and let me know. I'm probably going to try to host something social, at the Sanctuary or elsewhere, on Sunday evening or Monday night. Maybe dinner, maybe gaming, maybe cuddle party.
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A month ago I moved from Boston to Chicago. [Sep. 29th, 2014|11:06 am]
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I moved because of a job offer. I accidentally applied for a job in Chicago, thinking it was in San Francisco due to some website filtering shenanigans. Fast forward a few days and I get an email asking "are you willing to relocate to Chicago", to which I respond with a cautions affirmative. A few phone interviews and some negotiation later and I discovered I'd be moving on a week's notice.

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If not for all the people I left behind in Boston, including the person I love most, I'd call Chicago the clear winner. After 2.5 years in Boston I had finally managed to establish some long lasting friendships and other relationships. Hopefully those will persist despite the distance, and I can convince people to visit me, and I'll be able to find more good people in Chicago. As with all things, time will tell.
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Firefly 2014 [Jul. 12th, 2014|10:56 am]
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Firefly 2014

The good:

lotsCollapse )

The bad:

someCollapse )

The ugly:

littleCollapse )

The whiny:

littleCollapse )
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My Perfect Girl, redux [Jun. 26th, 2014|11:34 am]
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Three years ago I wrote "Day 13, My Perfect Girl". It was part of a writing challenge, and I tried to describe a set of traits that define my perfect match in a partner, intellectually, romantically, sexually, etc. I've changed since then. I've dated and played with more people in more ways and over longer periods of time. I've also gotten to know myself and what I want/need better. That is how I find myself re-writing this post.

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Who loses when someone bails out? [Jun. 19th, 2014|11:07 am]
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When someone commits to buying a ticket to an event from you, or sharing a hotel room, or riding in your car, when other people also want to, and then they bail, do they still owe you the money? If they tell you they aren't coming a month in advance? A week? A day? During the event? Or if they just don't show up?
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Rumors about me? [Apr. 29th, 2014|12:44 pm]
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Some of the things I've written lately have prompted people to inform me that there are rumors about me that I did not know about. I would greatly appreciate hearing those rumors. I am allowing anonymous comments on this post.
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Hosting my own events [Apr. 24th, 2014|02:31 pm]
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There are events and venues in my chosen communities that I am not welcome at. The majority of these cases are due to my views on the subject of consent and determinism, and the discomfort of others who have trouble with rational discussion and spotting contradictions in their own beliefs and actions. Would I like this state of affairs to change? Sure. Am I willing to give up on my beliefs, and the actions predicated on them, which I believe to render a net good to my communities and society? Not a chance.
To a much less severe, but more widespread, degree, there are people who simply don't enjoy my company. I have an abrasive personality; I'm somewhat loud; I am not particularly attractive; I am not wealthy to the degree that often engenders companionship. I am on the wrong end of a dozen different trait spectra that lead to fewer people choosing to be around me. Many people will tolerate my company, despite these things, out of some overriding unrelated priority, but that doesn't speak to my value at all.
These are things that have driven me towards hosting more of my own events. By hosting my own movie nights, play parties, educational events, etc, I can ensure that I am mostly, if not only, surrounded by people who actually value my company, or at least actively choose to endure it. People who feel threatened by me can easily opt out of my company. People who do not enjoy engaging in conversation with me can be sure they will not accidentally encounter me.

This post was prompted by, but not even remotely entirely based on, my recently hosting some of my first "adult" events in MA, in close temporal proximity to being explicitly not-invited to a number of similar, vaguely or not, events in other community I'm part of. Please do not read this as directed entirely, or even mostly, at any specific event or venue. While I welcome replies on the topic of specific events, venues, or people, the scope of this post is meant to be more general than that.
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Frolicon 2014 [Apr. 21st, 2014|12:49 pm]
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A bad Frolicon is still better than a good weekend at home. This was my worst one yet, but I still had fun.

The good: I got to do decorative rope, including a couple of large corsets and my first serious attempt at a rope bra, with a bunch of new people. I got to see a lot of old friends and acquaintances. I learned/tried a few new tricks for improvising a working vacuum cube.

The bad: I had to improvise a working vacuum cube, again. I didn't get to spend more than a few minutes with any of the people that I miss who weren't my roommates at the hotel. Half of my potential "wishlist" play dates fell through, and people took my cards off the wish board without contacting me.

The ugly: 40 hours in the car for 48 hours at con is an entirely unacceptable ratio, especially with just 2-3 drivers. I won't make that drive again with fewer than 3 drivers, or for fewer than 4 days in Atlanta (which is entirely plausible for Frolicon, DragonCon, Alchemy, or Euphoria). I missed Thursday entirely, spent most of Friday tired, and fell asleep early both nights, missing out on a lot of fun and opportunity. Next year we will either extend the trip by a few days, or fly.
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How can I invite people for impromptu board games on short notice, with results? [Apr. 13th, 2014|11:54 am]
sparr
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I want to invite people over to play board games frequently but irregularly and on short notice. This could extend to movies or dinner plans, but for now it's just board games. I want to invite 10-30 people, so that hopefully 1-5 people show up. I do not have a good way to accomplish this.

I can use a FB Group. I can Post to that Group's Wall. FB will make sure most members of the group never see the post.

I can use a FB Group. I can create an Event in that Group, and Invite people to that Event. FB seems to also filter those invites from some people (which is news to me), and I don't think most of my friends use FB event invites in a real-time manner.

I can post to my own FB Wall. More people will see that than the Group Wall method, but it will also reach up to a thousand people who don't care, and it may be delayed in reaching people.

I can tag people in my FB Wall post. This reaches people more quickly, but is also tedious and manual, and is still visible to a thousand people who don't care.

I can filter that FB Wall post to a list. This solves some of those problems, but not the delay and FB filter shenanigans issues.

I can create an email list. My primary objection to this is that I do not think that most of my friends use email for realtime communication. This particular kind of invitation expires after an hour or three, and that's more quickly than most people check their email, I think.

I can send individual IMs and FB messages. This is, by far, the most *effective* solution, but it also requires the most work (although a third party IM client might be able to fix this) and would lead to more people opting out as the notifications became too frequent.

I can send group IM/SMS/FB messages. This is unacceptable because of the forced-reply-all and opt-out nature of those messaging systems. People seem to almost universally hate these systems.

Help? Feedback? Suggestions?
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Let's talk about games and rules and cheating. [Apr. 5th, 2014|09:25 pm]
sparr
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When two players want to engage in a game together, they first have to agree on what kind of game it is going to be. They have to agree on what the rules of the game are, how the game works, what they are going to do independently and with each other during the game, etc. Read more...Collapse )
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