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A Week Back East [Sep. 2nd, 2019|01:44 pm]
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 A Week Back East
I did not attend Burning Man this year, because Victoria is stuck in Toronto and I've discovered that I don't like attending big events alone. Instead, I decided to visit Victoria and other friends and partners on the east coast. I discovered later that some friends would have wanted me to go to BM with them, and was also invited to some alternative events that I didn't previously know about, but the decision was already made.
First stop, Savannah GA, to visit a comet partner of mine. Thursday night I flew from San Francisco to Charlotte for a short layover before flying to Savannah. At least, that was the plan. The flight into Charlotte was slow to land and slow to taxi to the gate due to weather, leaving me just minutes to sprint across the concourse to catch my next flight. I made it as they were announcing last call. A few minutes later the captain announced we were being delayed for weather. A half hour later some of our flight crew had still not arrived on incoming flights. After two hours on the plane (the legal limit), they told us our flight was canceled. Of course, this was just after midnight so all the hotel websites had just switched over to refusing to allow reservations or give vacancy information for the night. I walked off the plane to the sight of a hundred people in line to speak to a single gate agent. Fortunately the automated system called and informed me I had been rebooked for morning within minutes, but I still needed to talk to a human about a hotel. I called customer service and got in their queue, and spent a while standing in the barely-moving line in the terminal. I eventually gave up and left to have breakfast and find a hotel on my own.
First stop was a Waffle House, which is my favorite destination for filling food in the middle of the night if I'm in the right part of the country. Then I started the slog through dewy grass and mud (of course, in the land of no sidewalks, and few street lights so walking in the road wasn't even remotely safe) to check the dozen nearby hotels. In the half hour of meandering to six hotels I managed to get through to two on the phone, striking out eight times. I lucked out with number nine, an extended stay chain I had never heard of. The room was very much a one star sort of experience, but the linens smelled clean and the shower worked and that's all I really cared about. As I got in the shower before bed, an hour and forty six minutes after I called them, I finally won the privilege of speaking to an airline representative on the phone. I told them I was too sleepy to deal with the problem and that I would contact them later, then I showered and went to sleep. (note: I actually took a break from writing at this point to go send my complaint to American Airlines)
Friday morning went pretty smoothly, getting to Savannah on time on the rebooked flight. I took an hourly bus from the airport to my hotel, where my partner from GA had already checked in the previous night (and very disappointingly spent it without me). Friday afternoon we went out to see a bit of downtown Savannah. We found a wonderful little bookstore built into an old house, with every nook and cranny filled with bookshelves. Then we had burgers and alligator meatballs and some other unremarkable things for lunch. That evening we met a friend of hers and their date who was through an amazing coincidence also visiting from the west coast, and the four of us had dinner at a very tourist-trap-y place called the Crab Shack, right on the water somewhere in the maze of creeks and rivers near the swampy parts of the shore. We ordered a three person platter after one of them warned that the four person platter would be too much. That was fortunate, because what we got was still far more than we could eat. I haven't had crawfish in years, or locally caught shrimp and crab either. The meal was good, we waved to the captive alligators, then we headed back into town. The nightcap was a very loud rooftop bar at another hotel, with karaoke we could barely talk over, then a walk along the riverfront and an attempt to ride a ferry which we could have taken the last trip of the night on if we wanted to get stranded on the far side.
Saturday morning we went to the smallest farmer's market I've ever seen, maybe 30 vendors with the full variety of what you might expect at such a place. Unlike the abysmal airport bus service, the downtown area has two free bus routes which served us well. Later we drove around a bit farther from downtown, saw some sights, and did laundry at her house where through bad timing I met her roommate's girlfriend but not her roommate. Then for the evening we saw a drag show at Club One, famous as the home of the Lady Chablis who you might know through the book and movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil".
Sunday we had brunch at an amazing Cuban restaurant (Rancho Alegre) and spent most of the day in our hotel room. That evening I borrowed a bicycle from the hotel and did a little touristing on my own. With no bike lanes and not enough sidewalks it was a harrowing experience even in the light traffic, and not an experience I would recommend except to capable cyclists. I harassed a drive-thru that refused to serve me, then had some other local fast food, while wandering around and reading plaques about various historical people and events, mostly antebellum and civil war related, which was about the last time Savannah was relevant on the national stage.
Monday morning I said goodbye and made my way back to the airport, again on that once-an-hour bus which meant spending about an hour longer at the airport than I'd have liked. The flight to Charlotte was uneventful, as was the layover and ensuing flight to Boston. Once there I rented a car to make the 90 minute drive to what Boston residents might call "Western Mass" but everyone else calls "Boston suburbs". This was to visit a friend who is homebound due to illness and had posted online "I'm too tired to correspond and coordinate visitors; just show up". I was worried this wasn't meant for me, but I took a chance a few weeks earlier on sending them "If you don't reply to say no, I'll show up" to which they didn't reply. I helped them with some grocery shopping and some packing to move closer to their support network, had some chat about old times and our lives, met one of their other local friends, then departed. (note: taking a break here to go buy a nifty tiny bluetooth keyboard+touchpad that I saw them use and thought would be as useful for my home theater as it is for their inability to reach the computer from bed)
Monday evening had one of the highlights of the trip. 4-7 years ago when I lived near Boston, Artisan's Asylum was the only big public makerspace. It set a shining example in a lot of ways, but was also lacking in other ways. Around the time of my departure, some alternatives were starting to spring up in different niches and locations. One of which was the Worcshop, so named due to being located in Worcester which is way out in cheap real estate land ~45 minutes west of the city. An old friend teaches metalwork classes there but unfortunately I wasn't able to connect with him this time around. Fortunately a few folks were around including one of their general staff who gave me a tour. It was amazing. The tour started with half a dozen smaller rooms of various uses, sewing and 3d printing and general crafts and such, all of which would make a passable small makerspace in a city. Then came the punchline, their metal shop which appeared to be about 10k square feet of high ceiling warehouse. I won't bore most of you with a list of tools here, you can find that on their website if you like. Suffice it to say that it was the most well equipped non-private-commercial metal shop I've ever seen by an order of magnitude, and arranged in the "cluttered and densely packed where it doesn't matter but with clear paths to every tool and every work station" way that I love. I left with a brochure and membership pricing details to potentially take advantage of on my next visit, which might sound weird but will make sense when you read what comes next.
Two years ago on a visit to Boston a friend asked me to put them on track to having a bondage suspension tripod for their bedroom. I acquired some heavy duty steel pipe for them and pointed them at instructions for joining the apex with rope, in the same way you might lash bamboo traditionally. Unfortunately they were never comfortable with this approach so the materials languished. On a visit since then I re-measured one of the pieces so that I might fabricate a solution back home, but I never got around to it. This time, things would be different. That friend gave me a couch to sleep on Friday night, after I spent some time watching Blunt Talk with a gaggle of their friends. If you haven't heard of it, think "30 Rock" with Patrick Stewart playing the lead.
Tuesday morning I took the pipes and went hardware shopping. The first Home Depot I went to. where I had bought the pipes years earlier, had the fittings I needed but had given up their pipe threading station. This was unfortunate because the new plan called for the pipes to have both ends threaded, not just one as I had left them previously. A helpy associate sent me to a nearby store who should have had pipe threading capabilities except it turned out that their pipe cutting station was torn apart for electrical upgrades and the associate there couldn't be bothered to roll the pipe cutter over to the wood cutting area where there was the right kind of power available. So off I went to a local commercial plumbing supplier facility, the sort where pipes usually come out by the truckload, with my handful of pipes in need of just being threaded. For the low price of $15 per pipe end, $90 total (one end on each of the long pipes and the short cutoff extensions I had made previously) they got the job done.
Then I was ready to head over to Artisan's Asylum (https://artisansasylum.com/). I was a member there for years and saw a lot of people I knew and a lot of new faces. I had arranged in advance to purchase a day pass and to coordinate with the metal shop steward about any changes in tooling or procedures since I had been there last. Unfortunately the pipe threading shenanigans had cost me a couple of hours, so I had to break to do my day job at that point. Fortunately they have comfy chairs, good wifi, cold water, and friendly faces, so that wasn't too bad. On my lunch break and after work I was able to proceed with my plan. I spent a few hours in the metal shop turning three pipe elbows and some bar stock into a head for the tripod and gave it to her that afternoon. I look forward to hearing tales of its use.
Tuesday evening I had announced a dinner at a restaurant in my old neighborhood, open to anyone who wanted to catch up with me. I went in fearing nobody would show up, and was delighted as about ten people came and went during the three hours I had set aside for dinner then ice cream nearby. A lot of seemingly sincere hugs were shared, and reminiscing was had by all. I caught them all up on what I've been up to, and heard tales of what's been happening in Boston in my absence. I also made tentative plans to visit some folks more specifically and intentionally in the future, including a friend who recently bought a house in Rhode Island and is planning exciting things down there. Without calling out anything I did with anyone in particular, I do want to make note that this was not only the first time in my life that a woman has spontaneously invited me to share her bed when we weren't already currently recurringly intimate, but that it happened twice. It never rains but it pours, I guess.
Wednesday morning was breakfast with a friend on their way to work, doing my day job, then some thrift and mall shopping in search of full size luggage. While I normally only travel with a carryon, or sometimes even just a backpack, this trip I knew in advance that I needed to take a mannequin body home from Toronto and found out with less notice that I was being gifted 200m of retired climbing rope in Boston. I ended up getting something new from the mall, time will tell if it was worth it. I made my flight with plenty of time to spare and was in Toronto later that evening.
Arrival in Toronto was a new experience. Previously, traveling from and to San Francisco, I used the big airport outside the city. This time I got to experience the tiny commercial airport on an island right next to downtown Toronto. If you ever have the chance, I recommend flying into Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ). Due to some outdated signage, predating the digging of a pedestrian tunnel from the airport to the city, I ended up on the most ridiculous ferry. "Take the scenic route – the 90-second trip is among the world’s shortest ferry rides". Due to the existence of the tunnel, the three-story 100+ passenger ferry was a ghost town, but it would cost so much to make it smaller due to the connection to the terminal walkways being on the top floor. After making landfall yet again it was a quick car ride to Victoria's house.
Thursday I hung out with Victoria, did my day job, and spent a little time volunteering at the nearby location of the Toronto Tool Library. Victoria joined and started volunteering at the desk there recently, and apparently convinced them that I could help with tool repair. I showed up without her when she was running late due to a delay at work and introduced myself. The fellow at the desk showed me around and explained their intake process, then set me loose on incoming tools. My instructions were straightforward: take each new tool, test anything that I thought was important for functional and/or safety reasons, label good tools and sort them into categories, spend not-too-much time trying to do repairs on any obvious failures, and scrap anything beyond repair or too old to be worth dealing with. I spent half my time there chatting with the other volunteers, including Victoria, and the other half fixing a few tools. There was a sander with the brushes stuck against the commutator due to sawdust gumming up the springs behind the brushes, fixed by taking the brush housings apart to clean and lube them. Then there was a circular saw making an awful noise in use, which after a few dis-and-re-assemblies without finding a problem anywhere in the motor housing turned out to have absolutely no grease in the gearbox that we hadn't even noticed in our initial assessments. Unfortunately what was probably months to years of intermittent use in that condition had worn the gears down enough that adding grease didn't silence it, but it was good enough to put into circulation. I told the folks there that I would probably be back on a future visit; I love getting my hands dirty, fixing tools, and helping a good cause all at the same time.
Friday after work we went out for dinner and then to Oasis Aqualounge, one of the nicest and best equipped kinky and sexy play spaces I've ever seen. In addition to enough furniture and padded areas for at least a few dozen couples to be doing their thing separately, spread across three floors and ten rooms of an old victorian mansion, they also have a well equipped dungeon space with about 8 stations of various sorts, a sauna, a hot tub, a heated outdoor pool, two cash bars, and a private room that can be reserved for couples or moresomes in two hour blocks without additional cost. We went on a night that did not allow single men, which seemed to produce a mostly-couples atmosphere with not a lot of swinging or hooking up that I could see. When we arrived in the early evening the space was sparsely populated and we had our choice of rooms and stations. We left closer to midnight as the space was becoming much busier but looked like it had not come even close to peaking yet. I will definitely visit again when I am in Toronto.
Early Saturday morning I flew back to SF. I managed to snag a whole 4-seat row to myself on the plane and was able to lay down to sleep through most of the flight. I got back with plenty of time to prepare for the first outing with an escape room team I've recently joined, but that's another story for another time.
Overall this was one of the busiest and most enjoyable vacation / travel / seeing-friends trips I've taken, perhaps second only to the two weeks Victoria and I spent in Europe last year. I will repeat many parts of it on future trips, and am looking forward to the next time I can go this many places in a short time.

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PBEM Game Design [Aug. 12th, 2019|11:59 am]
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This post is my first attempt to write down my ideas for a game in a genre that has no name. Explanation of the genre with links to example games are in my previous post (https://sparr.dreamwidth.org/88186.html), and that is necessary context for most things below to make sense.
My primary inspirations here are Overlord (http://atrey.karlin.mff.cuni.cz/~shade/academy/), modern asynchronous board game platforms, and modern game mod systems.
Most previous games in this genre have existed in the form of a single instance that runs for a long duration. A few have had large enough player bases that the codebase of the game continues development and after one game has ended another begins with bigger and better rules, or some creative new twists. Only one, Atlantis, has directly spawned additional games based mostly on the same code that ran at the same time. I don't want to build a game that only gets played once (even if that "once" might last for 5-20 years if I am as successful as Atlantis or Eressea or Olympia), or that is the same every time it gets played. I want to build a game that is easy to modify, with a modern approach to scripted game mods that can alter fundamental aspects of the game without having to write detailed engine code to support the changes. Further, I want to build a platform that can run multiple instances of the game, and provide all the necessary tools for users to administer their own games with whatever settings they want.
The game will have a web interface and probably a mobile app. Every game in this genre has started out in a purely textual format, but then community efforts have produced GUI clients that make the game situation far easier to comprehend and interact with. Those have all been based on custom written parsers for the plain text output of the original game. There are some planned efforts underway to create a web client for Atlantis v5, but they will be pasted on. My game will be designed to produce machine readable data from the start, with transformation to pretty text or interfaces as a layer on top of that. Instructions from the player will also be in machine readable format, possibly with a parser for plain text instructions if some players want to play the old fashioned way.
In addition to the general grid of world map locations, my game will embrace the idea of smaller and nested locations that are fully distinct. Cities will exist separately from the surrounding terrain; it will be possible to guard a city to prevent entry without needing as many men as it would take to guard the whole region. Conversely, it will be possible to guard a region without entering the city it contains, which will enable laying siege to a guarded city. Caves and tunnels and portals will exist, leading to other locations in ways both realistic and fantastic, and the interior of at least some of those locations will be places units can exist without interacting with units outside.
The economy of a location and larger areas will be driven by systems that produce fluctuations over time even without player involvement. Cities will grow or decline on their own. Trade goods will become available and sell out over time, rather than being produced at entirely predictable rates.
Turns will be subdivided into discrete time slices, probably days. Many games in this genre simply handle whole turns/months at once, leading to silly situations where a unit that is otherwise capable of moving four regions per month can't make a two-region round trip in a single month if it needs to accomplish anything at the midpoint of the journey. I want a unit to be able to spend 5 days moving, pick something up, spend 5 days moving, buy something, spend 5 days moving, attack someone, spend 5 days moving, reach a destination, all in about 23 days.
Instructions given to units will have constructs to enable conditional orders so that units can behave more intelligently than just doing one specific thing or doing nothing. A scout will be able to travel until it hits an obstacle, then travel in a different direction or do something else in the obstructed location. A courier will be able to do something productive until someone hands them an item, then immediately depart in a direction that depends on the item they were given. An army will be able to decide whether to move based on the outcome of a battle, or whether to engage in a battle based on some criteria applied to the environment. Any unit performing an action with an unpredictable outcome, such as a random amount of production or a random probability of success or a random duration of effort, will be able to base their next action on the previous outcome without waiting a whole month for additional instructions.
Most games in this genre have a syntax checker for submitted orders, to tell you if you've submitted something that can't be parsed at all. Very few have any amount of order simulation and warnings, to tell you when you're doing something that may not or probably won't work, such as attempting to study a skill that a unit does not have the prerequisites for, or spending money they don't have. None can simulate orders to the point of knowing that the money you're trying to spend but don't have is money being earned or given/traded from another unit earlier in the turn. I want to simulate orders at least to that degree, including showing the player what the state of the world would look like if their orders were enacted without any other player giving orders. A stretch goal would be allowing a player to submit theoretical orders for another faction in order to see what the world would look like if those orders took place alongside their own.
Those are my thoughts for today. My next effort on this front will probably be to write a very rough draft of what a rules/intro document might look like, with a lot of placeholders for more complex content in the future, but nailing down some numbers about various game mechanics as well as perhaps describing/designing what the interfaces might look like.
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Distinction between community organizer choices and my choices? [Aug. 12th, 2019|10:56 am]

 I am part of a community that has some internal problems that require significant effort to deal with. Multiple organizers of the community have become burned out under the stress of this situation. Prior to being completely spent, they were subjected to the ire of many members of the organization who wanted them to do more to address the problems. They were also told they should spend more time avoiding making members upset while still making at least as much headway on the issues at hand. More reasonable community members point out that these people aren't getting paid, they are doing this out of their desire to see the community thrive and grow and continue and their commitment to the well-being of the community. They don't have to do all of this work. It would be perfectly reasonable for them to not do any of it at all. So reasonable that that is exactly what happens when they step down because too much is demanded of them. They are being perfectly reasonable when they offer a dichotomy of doing as much as they are willing to do or doing nothing, regardless of how many people suggest that a third option of them doing even more work would be better for everyone [else].
I see a parallel here to how people respond to my approach to dealing with controversial topics, or interacting with people in general. The same sorts of people who are upset at those community organizers for not doing more work for their benefit are also upset at me for not doing more work for their benefit. However, some of the people who recognize what is wrong with those demands of community organizers are also upset at me for not doing more work for their benefit. I am curious what drives that discrepancy. Where I see a very similar distinction between the two groups, the people in them must see something different for a significant number of them to draw the line in a different place.
To elaborate on my situation... I often do things that others find abrasive while I am intent on achieving some outcome that I think both myself and those others have as a shared goal. In some cases people tell me they don't see how my actions could lead to those outcomes, but that's a different problem for another discussion. Here I am thinking of the cases where they do recognize the good that comes of my actions, but they want to convince me that it is my responsibility to choose a different course that both achieves those goals and avoids causing strife. I offer them the dichotomy of me doing nothing or what I already do. They implicitly support doing nothing, by failing to in any way address the many people around us who choose to do nothing on a particular issue. But instead of accepting what I do, they push this third option on me, as if it is my responsibility to choose that path if I choose to do anything at all, rather than it being acceptable for me to choose any path that is better than doing nothing.
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PBEM game explanation [Aug. 10th, 2019|01:23 pm]
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I want a particular computer game to exist and be played by enough people that finding people to play and games to join is easy. The genre of this game does not have a name, and you've probably never heard of any games like it. Some example games in the genre are Atlantis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantis_PbeM), Olympia (https://www.pbm.com/oly/), Eressea (https://www.eressea.de/), Lorenai (https://sourceforge.net/projects/lorenai/), and my personal favorite Overlord (http://atrey.karlin.mff.cuni.cz/~shade/academy/). They are very niche, with a peak player base across the whole genre of perhaps 1000 people 10-20 years ago; recently a new game of Atlantis started up, the first in a few years, and players were excited to find a few dozen others across the whole community. A key term in searching for them is "PBEM", which stands for "Play By EMail", but that is a generic term that also includes a thousand other games played via email from chess to diplomacy to mafia/werewolf to thematic role playing games.
A rough outline of the genre is as follows.
There is a fictional world, often inspired by fantasy tropes. The world is laid out on some sort of grid map, with locations on the grid having properties such as terrain, weather, population, animal and plant growth, towns and cities, and perhaps less common things like magical effects. Some grid locations might contain natural or artificial additional smaller nested locations, such as towns and cities, buildings, caves, etc, which connect to each other in ways other than the typical compass directions of the main world map. Minor activity happens in the world outside of players' control, such as economic changes, city development, monster and animal migrations, and similar things, but most major events are driven by the players.
In this world each player of the game controls a faction or nation or other grouping of individuals sharing some loyalty or purpose. The player has full knowledge of everything the members of their faction can see, and controls the actions of those members by giving them instructions about what to do.
The game operates in discrete time units, often conceptualized as months, sometimes as days. On a regular real-world schedule each player finds out what happened in the world during the previous game-world time that has passed and has the opportunity to submit new instructions at their leisure. A common configuration is for 30 game days or one game month to pass for every real world week, with players experiencing the game in discrete 30-day chunks. To be specific, submitting instructions on Monday or Friday has the exact same effect on the month of game time that is about to be processed.
The player's faction is often divided into logical groupings of people and items, which can be treated as single recipients of new instructions and single sources of new information. There are various ways to handle this, with different restrictions on the total number of different units of people that can be controlled at once, and how they might be structured.
Here is an example taken from a game I am currently playing. Below is an excerpt from a game report which I receive every two days and represents one game month of time passing. This excerpt focuses on a single unit:
Scout (1234): Rides from swamp (15,11) in Linsstu'ist to mountain (14,12) in Wenhin.
Scout (1234): Rides from mountain (14,12) in Wenhin to mountain (13,11) in Wenhin.
Scout (1234): Claims 10 silver for maintenance.
mountain (13,11) in Wenhin, contains Tranlastan [city], 17154 peasants
  (humans), $17497.
  Wages: $15.1 (Max: $3499).
  Wanted: 116 grain [GRAI] at $27, 178 livestock [LIVE] at $23, 198
    fish [FISH] at $24, 30 leather armor [LARM] at $67, 52 wine [WINE]
    at $287, 32 perfume [PERF] at $290.
  For Sale: 38 vodka [VODK] at $76, 25 gems [GEM] at $130, 686 humans
    [MAN] at $48, 137 leaders [LEAD] at $845.
  Entertainment available: $1046.
  Products: 35 grain [GRAI], 22 iron [IRON], 10 stone [STON].
  North : ocean (13,09) in Atlantis Ocean.
  Northeast : ocean (14,10) in Atlantis Ocean.
  Southeast : mountain (14,12) in Wenhin.
  South : ocean (13,13) in Atlantis Ocean.
  Southwest : mountain (12,12) in Wenhin.
  Northwest : mountain (12,10) in Wenhin.
- City Guard (48), on guard, The Guardsmen (1), 120 leaders [LEAD],
  120 swords [SWOR].
* Scout (1234), Sparr (11), avoiding, behind, sharing, consuming
  faction's food, won't cross water, high elf [HELF], horse [HORS].
  Weight: 60. Capacity: 0/70/85/0. Skills: stealth [STEA] 2 (90).
- Unit (678), centaur [CTAU].
I have focused here on unit #1234 whose name is Scout. This is a unit under my control. In the previous turn I told it to move a couple of times, which it has done, ending the previous month in the described region which contains a city. The unit is composed of a single person, of the race high elf which has some effect on what skills they can learn to advanced levels later. The unit has a single horse, and ignoring some arithmetic could travel while carrying 10 weight units of cargo at riding speed or 25 units at walking speed. The unit has previously studied (under a teacher, as it happens, but that's not evident here) the stealth skill, which makes the unit harder for other factions to see and get information about, and also gives this unit the ability to attempt to steal or perform assassinations. Also I have a small amount of money available to any unit of my faction anywhere in the world, without them needing to carry it with them and I am currently spending 10 silver per month from that fund to keep this scout alive. My next wave of scouts are better trained in earning their own keep while they travel, but this one represents the earliest wave of scouts I sent out into the world.
Also shown are details about the region. In this game, the city itself isn't physically represented, it just describes a very high level of economic activity throughout the described region. Every region has some amount of wages that can be earned by working units, taxes that an army could collect, entertainment value that a performer or magician could earn from the population, and a few other aspects. Most regions have some resources that can be purchased and some that can be produced with the right skill. All of this is detailed here, and some of it might change over time depending on how I and other players interact with the region, and also on some background economic changes that the game itself implements.
There are also a couple of other units present. The city has a force of guards which are controlled by the game engine, and whose job is to prevent fighting or pillaging in the city, among a few other things. Finally there is a lone centaur controlled by some other faction that I cannot see any other information about.
Now I have a few days to talk to other players and consider my options, then I will send in a new set of orders telling this unit (and all of my others) what to do for the next month of their life. This particular unit has a future as a courier, carrying items and money from place to place, for which stealth and a horse (or, later, a flying horse or airship) are key.
I had intended to actually write about the game I want to build, but this explanation of the genre and the example have already run longer than expected. Next time I write about this, I will start to describe what I want to do differently than the previous games, in terms of interface and features and game mechanics. Stay tuned!
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Two years with Victoria [Aug. 7th, 2019|08:39 pm]
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I recently celebrated the one year anniversary of my marriage to Victoria, which is also pretty close to the two year anniversary of us doing something that you might label dating if you squint and tilt your head a little. My life has never been uninteresting, but the ride has gotten even more exciting recently, mostly thanks to her. We don't always get along, and we aren't always interested in the same things, but all the rest of the times are pretty darn good. When I started this writing challenge recently and asked myself "what's been happening in your life recently that's worth writing about?", she easily made the top of the list.
She has inspired me to travel more. My first trip to Europe, or outside the US at all, was early last year. In theory the trip started out for work, but I wouldn't have gone at all if it didn't present an opportunity to go places and see sights and do things with her. Even before the trip, the experience of planning all the stops and travel along the way was refreshing compared to similar attempts in the past with other friends and partners. When our styles differed, we could both get things done. When they meshed, even more so. After we started the trip separately for logistical reasons we met up in Amsterdam for my work thing. Then we made a mostly predetermined path to Berlin, Prague, and Rome over the course of two weeks. There were planned activities and spontaneous wanderings and midnight bike rides along the way, most of which worked out delightfully. And when I felt the urge to sit in the hotel room for a whole day playing video games, she was happy to take the day to herself and explore the city alone. I suspect some manuals on the care and feeding of introverts could take notes from her.
Now she is out of the country for a while and my desire to see her, as well as her influence on my desire to see new cities, has me traveling again. I've recently been to Toronto for the first time, which is where she has spent most of her life. And I'm going again soon, with stops along the way in places I've never been. I've always wanted to get out and see the world more, but never quite got over the initial hurdles until she came around to give me the push that I needed. I look forward to seeing how this develops and where we and I go in the future.
We have done more substantial things together than I have with any previous partner. Don't get me wrong, I've had plenty of fun before, but never anything that really made an impact. That's all changed now. Although I founded Buspatch on my own before we met, she really helped it come alive when she moved in and joined me in managing it. Without her, it might never have gotten into good enough shape to hand off the reins and let it survive after my departure. Together our influence and creativity and steering have gotten Loophole off the ground in a way I never could have alone. This house is doing things I've been inspired to do for a decade but never quite figured out how, and she's a big part of whatever missing puzzle pieces were standing in my way before. She has even given me small pushes toward creative and social projects that I've had simmering in the back of my mind for years and might actually see the light of day soon, or even the inside of a digital shopping cart somewhere if we're lucky.
She has provided an eager ear for many of the things I am passionate and/or knowledgeable about, and she soaks up information like a sponge. Not everything sticks, but she's always ready to try again or learn something new when it's topical or someone is just feeling the urge to share. She has also jumped into the role of a social filter for me on various occasions, trying to give me insight into other people's thoughts or them mine. This is often invaluable, and a welcome addition to my life.
I look forward to seeing where our relationship goes next, figuratively or literally. I hope that she is getting as much out of it as I am. Time will tell, I guess.
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A mid-year resolution [Aug. 6th, 2019|09:07 am]
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TL;DR: I'm going to write more long form stuff to post various places, and I'm going to post less negative and controversial stuff.
Starting today and going for at least a month, the precise duration TBD, I'm going to make some changes to my interaction with social media and online discussions.
First, the positive. I am going to do long form writing more often. I will probably use 750words.com which is a writing challenge site my ex introduced me to, and which I've used successfully for a month before. If anyone out there uses another site or app to track their writing commitments, maybe something designed around NaNoWriMo, I'm open to recommendations. Other than this post, it is likely that some of the first few things I write will be re-writes or updates of things I've written in the past about my life and world and outlook. At least one upcoming day will be a slight cheat day, where I post the ~5000 word document describing myself that I've been working on recently, although not much cheating since I will probably do at least 750 words of edits to it that day.
Next, I am going to stop making unfiltered top level Facebook posts that are entirely negative ("this sucks", "that is terrible", "you are dumb", "I am sad", etc). I will try to stop making them at all, although I am wary of this because I have felt positive support come out of some of those posts. If I feel the need to make those posts, I will create a mostly-opt-in filter for people who want to know this sort of stuff and/or who want to be there to offer support. This change is mostly inspired by observing the posts and interactions of a few specific people, including Victoria (my wife).
Finally, and probably most importantly, I am going to stop making unfiltered top level posts on Facebook about controversial topics, and I will not be the first person to make controversial comments on those posts on other people's or groups' walls. I have gotten direct feedback from a few people that they intentionally disengaged from me because of these sorts of posts and comments. As usual, it was not clear whether it was my positions they objected to or any discussion of those positions or my style of discussion, but I can address all of those possibilities by just not letting them see those posts int he first place. A lot of recent discussions about the feedback loop that my reputation is stuck in have included an element of the impact of new posts that I am making. While I believe that this impact is no longer significant[1], I am willing to make a good faith attempt to eliminate this factor to see if things get better. One reason that this experiment is of indefinite length is that it may take months or years to see a result on this front, but I may not have the patience to wait that long. Hopefully I can be patient and the results become apparent sooner rather than later.
I feel compelled to disclose that these changes to what and how I post are intended to be almost entirely for my own benefit. My ethical and value systems tell me that I am hurting other people by making these changes. I've written at length about the absolute and net positive outcomes of my approach to controversial topics, and no one has ever come close to convincing me that those positive things aren't happening. I am going to convince fewer people to behave in less harmful ways. Fewer people are going to come for me for support, inspired by my posts on the subject of whatever they need support on. People are going to commit consent violations that they would have known not to if I had kept posting where they could see it. What these changes represent is the success of the large number of people who demonstrate that their lives are more fulfilling when the people immediately surrounding them are happier about their presence and interactions, regardless of what the long term or widespread effects are. I am sorry for the harm that this change will cause, and I wish more people could see the consequences of their actions.
I am open to feedback on what I am doing here. None of this is set in stone, and I am open to making small modifications to each of these plans. Maybe someone has a compelling argument that I should only make controversial comment replies instead of making my own comments after someone else does. Maybe you want me to create the support-seeking negative posts filter now instead of waiting until I think I need it. Surely there are other things of that sort that you can think of that I cannot, and I would like to hear them.
[1] I believe the impact is not small, but also that eliminating it will not have much impact because other factors outside my control have much larger impact. The people who vehemently dislike me put a lot of effort into spreading rumors and lies about me. Those efforts are effective and tend to multiply, regardless of what I am doing and whether I ignore them or attempt to address them. Stopping all the negative things I am doing isn't going to stop people who I have never met, or who have never even heard of me before, from hearing those things, believing them, and then spreading them or making up new ones.
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Does my approach have any positive effect? [Jun. 20th, 2019|11:11 am]
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I was recently confronted by someone who proposed a utilitarian viewpoint valuing only people's happiness, calling it Good to make people happier and Bad/Wrong to make people less happy, with some inconsistent distinction between "upset" and "hurt" as categories of unhappiness. They were of the opinion that my aggressive and controversial approach to important sensitive topics like consent was not only net-negative, but that there were actually no good effects at all, even ignoring the bad effects. It has been a few years since I wrote something on the subject, so maybe it's worth revisiting, with a slant toward discussing the mere existence of the positive effects rather than their relative weight compared to the negative effects or the responsibility for those effects. In this post, I am going to elaborate on some of those effects, but first I want to call out some factors that are common to many such effects.
First, it may not be obvious to some people, but when I am arguing with someone about one of these controversial topics, it is not usually my goal to convince them to change their mind. These arguments happen in [semi]public forums, and among the audience there will always be some people closer to the fence than the people vocally engaged on either side. It may help to consider it like a political debate; the two candidates are not trying to convince each other of anything, they are trying to convince the [undecided, usually] voters in the audience. Changing the mind of even one of those people is an effect, as is simply making them aware of my position at all, and most of the people mentioned below were only ever spectators in those discussions.
Second, I cannot know every effect that my actions have. However, I can observe some effects, and predict or extrapolate from there what the effects I cannot see might be. If someone comes to me to privately respond to a public discussion, it is very unlikely that they are the only person thinking whatever they are thinking. Unfortunately this observation is biased toward positive responses, as I expect people with negative reactions to approach me much less often. However, that isn't a problem in this specific context, where I am illustrating any gross positive effect, without the need to consider net or negative effects.
Finally, some of the outcomes described below are at least partially based on prediction and confidence, compound probability and evaluation of likelihoods. If an outcome is not just plausible but probable, and the scenario repeats many times, I am comfortable acting as if that outcome had come to pass at least once, even if I will never be able to confirm it.
On to the Good...
Around the time I was becoming vocal on the subject of the nature of consent and consent violations, there was a serial date rapist and drugger-of-women active in the Atlanta area EDM/rave scene. He was unwelcome at some venues and in many homes, but otherwise free to continue acting. Some of his victims disclosed their rapes to me. Some of those victims told me, explicitly, that they were coming forward to me, and only to me, because of my vocalness and [uncommon, rational] opinions on the subject. I used that information to coordinate with other victims and the police to put him [back] in jail. I am confident in predicting that a double digit number of rapes, the ones that he would have committed had he remained free, were averted by this chain of events, and I count that as significant positive change in the happiness of those potential victims.
More generally, there are mental health benefits to be found in providing an outlet for disclosing violent trauma at all. Of the dozens of other women who have come to me to discuss their experiences with consent violations, many have told me that they chose me because of how they see me interacting in discussions on the topic. Giving them that opportunity, where no other extant approach had done so, would likely increase their happiness in at least some cases.
There are men who have come to me to confess that they did something in the past that my posts have convinced them was a consent violation. Some of them are thankful for this, and profess an intent to avoid that behavior in the future. I cannot know how many of them are being truthful or succeed, but I am comfortable predicting that of at least one of them. If those changes take place, some of them would lead to their partners less often feeling violated.
More broadly, there are people who have come to me to tell me that they had entirely dismissed the idea of modern consent culture due to the impossible and hypocritical standards of the people they had seen promoting it. I was, for some of those people, the first person they had seen give any model for consent that could be used to avoid violating consent. This opened them up to the idea that at least some modern consent culture ideas could be useful in improving their behavior. Whether their behavior actually improved or not, and whether that improvement made their future partners happier, is not certain, but again I am comfortable predicting that it has happened in at least one case.
On a closer personal level, I have had friends and colleagues and sexual partners whose connection to me was initiated or strengthened by my views and approach to these topics. People who explicitly thank me for doing what they cannot, often out of fear of the same repercussions that they see me facing. I like to believe that at least some of the people who choose to remain connected to me are enjoying some part of the experience, and I am certain that at least some of them would have never become so close to me if I were a different version of myself. Their (and my, for that matter) enjoyment of those relationships is a positive effect.
I have friends who have been in relationships with serial consent violators, some of whom I have attempted to intervene with. When I approached them about the situation, they explicitly told me that they were listening and weighing my counsel specifically because of my vocal views on the objectiveness of consent violation, where they had dismissed feedback from people with subjective and unpredictable ideas of what consent means. Based on this feedback, some of those relationships ended. While I may have made them unhappy by sharing this information, that is outside the scope of this post. Once they had the information I gave them, I am comfortable concluding that their choice to end the relationship was intended to, and hopefully did, improve their own happiness.
Similarly, I have friends who have considered relationships with serial consent violators, dismissing warnings on the subject from the people I described in the previous paragraph. Following a similar train of thought, my warnings were heeded where others' were not. I am comfortable predicting that at least some of these people were happier without that potential partner than they would have been with them, and that my warnings would have been dismissed with all the others if I thought and behaved as they do.
A friend of mine is authoring a book and blog on the subject of consent violations, mediation, community response, etc. Based on my vocal and unusual views, they came to me to request an interview to gather my insights. I do not know what they will do with this information, but I do know that they did not seek this level of detail from some people less like me in the ways in question. I am comfortable assuming that they think having this information from me can help them help other people, and given their profession they seem more likely to be right about that than I am. Even if they disagree with me and will only ever use my contributions as a negative example, my being vocal and aggressive about my position is what led to them seeking and acquiring those contributions.
I know people who have been inaccurately accused of consent violations. Not "falsely", because that phrase has a specific meaning in our culture. By inaccurate, I mean that there is no dispute about the events, only about the conclusion of what label to apply to them. These people felt able to speak to me and confide in me because of the content and intensity of my position on the subject, and I know that some of them were less sad and felt less isolated after having those conversations.
I'm going to stop here. There are a lot more examples of positive effects that I could bring up, but this is already running a bit long. Next time I write at length on this subject it will probably be about net good and ratios, and I'll bring up some other positive effects in the context of specific negative effects. I would appreciate feedback on any of these examples. I want to understand how so many people either don't see/predict/understand these positive effects, or do but don't attribute them as I do.
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Reflections on my social trends [Jun. 4th, 2019|10:22 am]
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 This last weekend has brought a few long term trends into focus for me, and this post is my start to seeing if there are any useful conclusions or resolutions that I might reach.
Over time, as I find communities populated by people with whom I am more compatible (more rational, less fragile, more agency-exhibiting, less emotional, etc), I upset fewer people with my choices and patterns of behavior. Also over time, the people who have become upset with me in the past spread their influence farther, dissuading other people (with whom I have never interacted) from interacting with me. And that latter trend also reduces the frequency with which I come into contact with people who I would upset. This weekend the two groups seemed of approximately equal size from what I could see. On top of that, there must be people in the latter group who I still haven't met. Have those two lines crossed already? Are there more people out there who are avoiding interacting with me now who I haven't met than those that I have? This isn't something that I have put a lot of thought into in the past, and it hasn't come up in previous conversations about the more obvious half of this phenomenon, but seems like it could be important to my decision making in the future.
Relatedly, there are those people who only [or more actively] engage in campaigning against me when my existence is brought to their attention again. I find myself attempting to avoid notice while going about my business in order to reduce that effect, such as not putting my name on events I am organizing, using my position instead of name as a radio callsign, stepping back from various visible duties, having someone else represent my work, etc. My goal is to maximize the positive effect on and for myself and others, while avoiding triggering the substantial negative effects that come from being noticed by the wrong people. I find myself wondering if I might be aiming for what is just a local maximum, and there is some better position much farther along the curve if I greatly ramp up my level of visibility in an effort to spread positive impact farther faster than prior negative impact can spread.
Over the last couple of years, fewer people have been "making nice" with me while saying negative things about me behind my back. This is obviously a difficult trend to track, given the sparseness of information about the latter, but it seems relatively consistent over a long period. I am thankful for this, despite not knowing what all is causing it. I suspect part of it is me just being me, driving a deeper wedge between us over time. Another part is hopefully at least a few people getting the message that this is not something that I want, because it greatly increases the danger to me from their friends and people like them. I wonder if there are other factors?
I finally saw someone very explicitly ignoring and avoiding me when surrounded by their peer group who spread that effect, and then interacting with me in an at least moderately friendly way (approach, greeting, question, hug) when in isolation. The most charitable interpretation that I can come up with is that they actually do consider me a friend and are only avoiding me when around other people who avoid me to avoid upsetting those people. But to act on that interpretation would open me up to those dangers mentioned above. If they are actually just pretending to be friendly, while actually being unhappy with my presence, then I am "creepy" or "obtuse" or "violating conversational consent" by ignoring all the signs that they don't want to interact with me. This problem continues to grow for me over time, and this new observation might help me figure out how to deal with it, although I am not sure how yet.
I welcome insights on any or all of the above.
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Damaging communication and people through weaponization of language [Feb. 7th, 2019|10:54 am]
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One potential goal of communication is to move a factual idea from your head to my head, something about the state of the world.
A different goal of communication is to implant a feeling in my mind, making me feel happy or angry or sad or worried.
Often, these two goals are compatible, and capable speakers/writers can accomplish both more often than the average person.
When you prioritize the second goal, specifically for negative emotions, at the expense of the first, you engage in "weaponization of language". That is, using words to propagate emotions regardless of how inapplicable their meaning might be to the given situation.
If there are people who are helped by emotions being attached to those words, you are hurting them. If there are people helped by effective communication of the ideas connected to those words or connected to the words that would better convey the idea you have in mind, you are hurting them.
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More recent less common example: "misgendering". When you use this word you know that you are evoking emotions associated with someone using "she"/"woman" to refer to a transgender man, or vice versa, or increasingly now using gendered words to refer to a nonbinary/genderneutral person. Most people do not think that "e" and "they" and "ze" are different genders, just different words for referring to nb/gn-ness. Using "misgendering" to refer to the situation where I use "they" instead of "ze" is detrimental to all future discussion about issues around gender and pronouns, and devalues the pain and struggle of transgender individuals who are frequently actually misgendered.

If you don't want to cause those outcomes, you should refrain from engaging in this behavior. 
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What do you think about pronoun preferences? [Feb. 6th, 2019|11:06 am]
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  1. She / her / hers (cisgender woman)
  2. She / her / hers (transgender woman)
  3. They / them / their
  4. E / em / eir (and other popularized sets)
  5. Unique invented pronoun set
  6. Ella / la / suya (and other foreign sets)
  7. She / her / hers / "call me a man"
  8. She / him / their
  9. You / you / your
  10. 9. I / me / my
These are a sample of the personal pronoun preferences I have encountered, plus the implied binary opposite for the relevant entries. They are ranked roughly in decreasing order of frequency with which I encounter people willing and able to honor them, and to punish others for failing to honor or at least try to. Everyone is ok with #0, most liberal/progressive people are ok with #1 and increasingly often #2, things get fuzzy past that, and nobody is ok with #9. Of course most people draw a line in the "only" "reasonable" "obvious" "respectful" place in between and consider discussion of where those lines are to be extremely disrespectful.
  1. What is the highest number you have seen in the wild?
  2. What is the highest number you have successfully trained yourself to honor for someone, and who?
  3. What is the highest number you would socially punish someone for not trying to honor?
  4. What is the highest number you would socially punish someone for failing to honor?
My answers are 7, 2 for an ex-partner, 2, and 1.
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Cognitive dissonance in "Creepy" labels [Feb. 4th, 2019|09:48 am]
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 This is a post about half of the people that I know. If this post is not about you then it is not about you.
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You: "Of course not, it's not his fault or responsibility that people react negatively to him just because he looks weird, nor does he deserve punishment for it."
Them: "A hot guy did X. I caught his eye I gave him a wink. We're having drinks tonight, wish me luck."
Also You: "You go girl!", "Woo", "Get some", "Lucky!"
Them: "A guy did X. It made me uncomfortable."
Also You: "Ugh", "guys like that are creeps", "that's why I avoid [place X happens]"
You appear to be exhibiting cognitive dissonance. Your beliefs seem to be incompatible with each other. If you think there is some line to be drawn here that explains your apparently contradictory responses then I would very much like to know where that line is. I do not fault you for having emotional reactions to things. I do fault you for using your emotions as an excuse to treat people in ways that your other actions show you know are inappropriate.

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New job, midwest travel [Jan. 2nd, 2019|02:24 pm]
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Before the holiday break I accepted a role at Granular, a farm management SAAS company. I will be working on similar infrastructure automation tasks as my previous roles, but with more cutting edge tech. I gave notice at HotSchedules today; my last day will be some time next week. I start at Granular on Jan 14, and will be visiting their HQ in Des Moines the week of Jan 28, with a possible detour to Chicago the weekend before or after. Any friends in Des Moines or Chicago, hit me up if you want to hang out, or even just to recommend things to see or do or places to eat or stay.
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My January events at Loophole [Jan. 1st, 2019|09:13 pm]
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Upcoming events I am hosting at Loophole (the coliving / art / event space I recently co-founded in SOMA, SF):
Sunday January 13, 2-6PM, Deception Game Night. Tabletop games built around bluffing, lying, and backstabbing. We might play Coup, Diplomacy, Resistance, Liar's Dice, Werewolf, or other similar games.
Tuesday January 8 6:45-9PM, Rope Bondage lesson+practice. Lesson will cover the munter hitch as a friction knot in tight rope cages. Afterward we have open practice and skillshare time.
Reach out if you're interested in attending either, or if you want to get on our mailing list where we announce all sorts of other events not hosted by me, such as yoga class, bouldering practice on our climbing wall, music documentary / concert film movie nights, meditation, and more every month! 
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Wiki sneak preview [Dec. 27th, 2018|10:34 am]
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screenshot of wiki paragraph describing Facebook posts and privacy settings

Day 1 of setting up my new wiki is done. Mostly configuration and template stuff so far, but I’m finally starting to dip my toes in the water of actually creating content.
If anyone out there is interested in helping catalog ways people communicate, including social networks and chat rooms and dating sites and parliamentary procedure, and the features that make them similar and different, hit me up.
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Starting my communication categorization wiki [Dec. 25th, 2018|07:22 pm]
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After at least a decade of wanting it to exist, I am finally taking a crack at starting a wiki to document all the various ways people engage in organized communication. The format will be similar to TVTropes/AllTheTropes, with pages for different sites and apps and formats, and then pages for the various features and traits.
The "Facebook" page will describe Facebook, and contain links to pages like "Activity feed" "Posts with comments" "Single level comment nesting" "Direct messaging" "Group messaging" "Public posts" "Web site" "Mobile site" "Mobile app" etc. The "IRC" page will describe IRC, and contain links to "Chat rooms" "Direct messaging" "Federated" "Text based" "Open Protocol" etc. There will also be pages for non-digital formats like parliamentary procedure, election caucus, etc. Each of the pages like "Activity feed" "Chat rooms" "Direct messaging" "Queue for attention" "Moderated" "Time limited" will describe that trait/feature, list some of its pros and cons and other features that are alternatives (public vs private posts, open vs closed protocol, free vs paid vs freemium, posts vs comments vs nested comments vs tumblr-reblog, etc), and list some/all of the sites/apps/formats/etc that implement that feature.
Obviously all of this is just a draft concept that could change before it's finished. I am not advertising the site yet, because it is currently empty. If you would like early access to help figure out the structure/nomenclature or to provide content, let me know. Mediawiki experts and people who have used a lot of different and competing IM systems or forums or social media platforms are especially welcome.
You are also encouraged to submit suggestions in comments here, especially regarding nomenclature. What is a one or two word name for the category that includes Facebook and IRC and parliamentary procedure and a forum and a physical bulletin board? My initial idea is "Format" or "Medium" (which is going to make Medium:Medium an excellent page name), but I bet there's a better way to phrase it. What should we call the category that I described above as "trait" or "feature"? What types of content should this wiki have that I haven't even thought of yet?
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Why should I use Facebook less? [Dec. 25th, 2018|10:01 am]
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After announcing or discussing my recent resolution to use other social networks and communication channels more often, people keep asking me this question. I am often momentarily dumbstruck, not knowing where to start. My general assumption is that people know at least some or most of the problematic (or even terrible) things about Facebook but choose to use it anyway because it is convenient. Of course, for people who get most of their news from Facebook, I guess I should not be surprised that they have missed a lot of important negative news about Facebook. And for people who mostly or even only use Facebook for online communication, I am not surprised they are blind to its failings. With that in mind, here is a list of reasons to rely on Facebook at least a little bit less than you do now:

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Seeking escape room partners [Dec. 25th, 2018|07:53 am]
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I had a lot of fun at Boda Borg Boston when I lived there. Sadly, nothing like that exists on the west coast. Despite the significantly higher cost, I am considering starting to do escape rooms. Anyone want to form a team and try to defeat some in the SF area?
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Goodbye MeWe and October, it was a boring week. [Dec. 20th, 2018|06:30 pm]
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MeWe and October are the first sites/apps to be eliminated from my attempt to use new social network / posting / communication platforms. They both have some novel ideas, but not nearly enough features or users (even strangers) to make it worth my time to be an early adopter. I might check them out again in the future, but for now my "sites to visit / read / post to before or in addition to Facebook" bookmark folder is down from 8 to 6.
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State of the Sparr, December 2018 [Dec. 20th, 2018|05:54 pm]
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It has been far too long since I posted a general update of the state and progress of my life, and I am joining a number of new (and long-ignored) social networks so this seems like a way to catch up quickly.

Currently I am working at HotSchedules, a restaurant management SAAS platform. I am living in a space that I co-founded, called Loophole, in SF, with 8-11 other people and that is going decently so far. I am slowly getting out of the vehicle-owning business, aiming to keep just one big bus for road trips and parties. Some vehicles I have sold, some I have given away, some have seen unfortunate ends. Marriage is going well enough, we are making some progress on her immigration paperwork, and I will soon reap the tax benefits (~$7k?) for the first time. I am going to fewer regional burns and big kink events, more big public and private festivals / retreats / parties. I continue to make small steps towards starting projects of significant scale or scope, and then give up out of lack of motivation. That's about all for now; below are some highlights (and lowlights) for the last five years:
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Subscription Software is Abandonware [Dec. 13th, 2018|03:34 pm]
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"Here is a book. You can read it for a month and then a hidden fuse inside will cause it to dissolve. You are forbidden from finding and disabling that fuse in order to keep reading the book longer. It would be both illegal and immoral for you to do so. Also, you can't buy a copy without a fuse."

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At the top of this post I offered a hypothetical quote that is effectively equivalent to what Adobe and other software subscription services are doing. I hope that at least some people reading this will recognize how ridiculous it sounds. I think this decision is long overdue: I will no longer shy away from pirating or cracking modern software that is not available for sale, particularly including software that has only ever been available as a subscription.
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Seeking: Taxonomy of textual discussion formats/modes [Dec. 12th, 2018|11:42 am]
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I want to see categorical comparisons between 1-on-1 instant messaging, group messaging, forum threads, social media posts, with comments, with comments and replies, with fully nested comments/replies, with Tumblr's crazy "only see this comment's lineage" interface, wikis, Discourse, plain text chat rooms, rich chat rooms like slack/discord/hipchat, etc.

I have a pretty wide experience with these sorts of things, but am only moderately skilled at organizing and cross-referencing this sort of data, and terrible at presenting that sort of thing visually or interactively. If someone out there is good with flow charts and diagrams and references, maybe we could work together to make this happen?

Maybe the format is something like TVTropes, where there's a page for every specific site/app, and each one gets a bunch of tags that comprehensively describe how it works, and each tab has a page that describes how that aspect works, which major sites/apps use it, pros and cons, etc.
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Resolving to use social network sites other than Facebook [Dec. 11th, 2018|12:06 pm]
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With Facebook and Tumblr taking further steps to alienate their users I expect now to be a great time to re-explore other social networks. My almost-new-year resolution is that I will only load the Facebook news feed on my laptop via a bookmark folder that also opens other social network feeds, to encourage me to read content outside my FB filter bubble and to post to other audiences on other sites. While none of them offer everything that Facebook does, all of them offer something(s) that Facebook does not. That folder currently contains (my profile name/link in parentheses for each):

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Hello again, Dreamwidth [Dec. 7th, 2018|09:21 pm]
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As a new wave of migration away from Facebook begins, I am looking at old and new platforms to maybe use again. I spent a lot of years having a lot of great interactions with friends on LiveJournal, but as people left due to the Russian connection I never really saw much of them here or elsewhere.

Should I be trying to get people to come to DW? Are there apps or tools that make it easier to use / better / more modern in terms of interface?

Are there other social network / blog / discussion platforms I should be considering?
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Winding down my involvement with Buspatch [Apr. 23rd, 2018|08:30 pm]
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It has been an exciting year and a half of planning and operating Buspatch, but it is time for me to move on. I don't know what I'll be doing next for housing, maybe still vehicle dwelling, maybe a mundane apartment, maybe something else, or what sort of project(s) I'll transition into spending time and money on. I am opening discussions with the current residents, and am inviting any other interested parties to reach out, about keeping Buspatch alive, but it seems likely that it will wind down leading up to my departure.

I have always said that I expect Buspatch to keep getting better all the way to its last day, and that remains the case. We will continue to host open house days and project days and other events right up to the end. I will continue engaging with the city of Oakland over the rights of vehicle dwellers, probably even for a while after Buspatch is gone. The information and experience we have gathered will hopefully be useful to other people in the bay area pursuing unusual dwelling opportunities, and we will do our best to put it into a format that can reach as many of those people as possible.

Part of this transition will probably involve getting rid of some of my vehicles and a lot of my tools and hardware. There will be Craigslist/Facebook/etc posts about that, but if you've toured the space and seen something you like then feel free to let me know sooner.
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Steam file bloat [Mar. 21st, 2018|03:46 pm]
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[Current Mood |annoyedannoyed]

TL;DR: Valve could save the world about two petabytes of storage just by deduplicating the contents of their localization/translation files, and it gets worse from there.

I've recently become annoyed as I realize just how bloated many modern games have become. This was a moderate problem 5-10 years ago, but it has gotten completely out of control since then. As I was making a short list of games I've recently considered installing but skipped due to their size (4GB for a top-down low-poly low-texture platformer? 30GB for a RTS? 83GB for a MMORPG?) I found myself installing a 117MB update for Steam itself. In the software-bloat mindset, this prompted an immediate "wait, what?", leading to the writing of this post.

First, I headed over to `/Applications/Steam.app` (yes, I am on a Mac, but [almost?] everything below is platform-agnostic except for the paths). Here we have a total of 4.6MB, comprised of 3.3MB for the binary, 1.1MB for a crash reporting library, and 0.3MB for translations. I'm not going deeper into the binary or library; let's say those are reasonably sized and necessary/useful. That brings us to the translations. Translations are great! I'm definitely not saying they shouldn't be there, or that they should be less thorough. However, I'm going to be specific about this problem, because it becomes more important later. The English strings appear number_of_languages times; Do we really need 26 copies of every string to be translated, including:

%appname% has changed where it stores game content from '~/Documents/Steam Content' to '~/Library/Application Support/Steam/SteamApps'. You have game files in the original location, and Steam was not able to move the files because files already exist at the new location. You may need to move the files manually, or delete the old files and download your games again. Continue anyway?

The labels for the strings appear number_of_languages*2-1 times, making 51 copies of "SteamBootstrapper_InsufficientDiskSpace". Finally, "[english]" appears a whopping 900 times, once for every string in every non-english language. A simple .tar.gz of this folder cuts the size by 92%. Assuming there's some good reason the files aren't compressed, the content could still be deduplicated and the necessary duplication handled in whatever code loads them, which might be an 60% reduction in size. I am hopeful that all of this was compressed when downloading, but that doesn't solve the problem of it wasting space on disk, which gets more important later.

Next, I went to `~/Library/Application Support/Steam/`. I realized there's a lot of user-specific stuff in there, so I created a new user to launch Steam once and get a clean slate. 202MB of downloads leading to 757MB of disk space used. I will mention here that installing apps and games for just one user, and requiring the installation effort and disk space to be duplicated for a second user, is a terrible paradigm when it's not explicit and intentional, but that's a different rant for a different post. Let's dive into that 757MB, and I'll skip any parts that I have no objections to.

168MB for `Steam/Steam.AppBundle/Steam/Contents/MacOS/package/` which contains a bunch of archives that *seem* to match up to extracted content in the other directories. Does `package/tenfoot_fonts_all.zip.vz.SOMEHASH` contain a copy of `tenfoot/resource/fonts/*`? If the Steam client can use these files to repair itself in case of damaged or lost files, that's great. If it can't, then why are they still there?

147MB for Chromium Embedded Framework. I can't blame Valve here; the fault for not sharing libraries like this with other applications and keeping them in a central place falls on the shoulders of Apple and Microsoft and the environments they have developed. I am potentially giving Google or Apple a bit of side eye here for 14MB of translations, 200-500kB per language, depending on who is to blame for the contents of the *.lproj/locale.pak files, and how much space is wasted in there.

137MB for the tenfoot (Big Picture) interface:

63MB for `tenfoot/images/` on which I just deleted 500 words of detail here upon realizing I hadn't covered even 10% of it. TGAs that should be PNGs, PNGs that should be JPEGs, including some that appear to already have JPEG artifacts, PNGs that should be vector graphics, and so on.

31MB for `tenfoot/localization/` which has the same data duplication problems as from Steam.app, writ large. 177856 copies of "[english]" and 26 copies of:

Intended to be used with a dual-stage trigger setup, Hip Fire allows a quick pull of the trigger to engage the click without engaging the threshold. A slower pull or hover will engage the threshold action. This allows for actions such as iron-sights to be set on the threshold and fire on the click, while still allowing a quick pull to click to fire without entering iron-sights. Additionally, once the click has been hit, the threshold won't be engaged until the trigger has been released outside of the threshold range, allowing it to be primed for additional clicks. Relaxed Hip Fire mode is a larger window before engaging the threshold, allowing a slower pull of the trigger to avoid it. This means the Threshold action will be slightly less responsive when intentionally trying to engage.

11MB for `tenfoot/sounds/`, most of which is ambient background MP3, but also a bunch of WAV sound effects despite the evidenced support for MP3s.

That's all for Big Picture, back to top level Steam contents.

36MB for translations in `public/`, again with all the duplication in the previously mentioned translation/localization files.

20MB for 'graphics/' which is full of TGA files that should be PNGs and/or procedurally generated, most notably the 4.2MB music_details_mask.tga that is just a checkerboard on top of a radial gradient, and clienttexture*.tga which are just gradients on a flat background.

The rest of the smaller directories contain many more examples of poor image format selection, duplicated translated strings, etc, which I won't further enumerate here. If Valve ever decides to address the problems above, they will probably solve the smaller instances of the same problems as a side effect.

Having gotten this far, my original "wait, what?" actually still remains unanswered. Almost everything I've just described seems mostly static, images and sounds and text files and third party libraries. The binaries and first party libraries are actually pretty small. I can't point to 117MB worth of content that I expect to have changed in the update today, let alone the ~300MB that I would expect from the compression ratio evident in the original client download. http://store.steampowered.com/news/38412/ has the changelog, where I see a lot of what should be code/library/driver changes, none of which touches on all the pieces of the client that seem to take up tens to hundreds of MB of space each. Maybe I'll find some insight into the update size. Maybe I'll go do this same teardown on those three games, or at least two seeing as how I don't even have 83GB of free disk space right now.
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Wherein Sparr stops being vague about consent discussions [Jan. 5th, 2018|12:01 pm]
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This post contains topics known to be traumatically triggering to some people.

This post is meant to give some context to many of my other posts about communication, right/wrong, sexual consent, worry, blame, etc, for people who have joined these conversations in the last 2-3 years and/or aren't aware of some of the history of their own local community.

All of the mentions here of "community" refer to the local strongly overlapping meta-community of burners, social dancers, social drug users, [neo]hippies, etc.

Multiple friends of mine in the Atlanta community were given drugs of dubious composition by a local predator (W) and then pressured into having sex with them. I personally observed W initiate sex with an inebriated friend of mine at a party while that friend was saying "no", which we (the sober and/or responsible partygoers) quickly put a stop to. An aggressive campaign of information gathering and sharing, led by myself, resulted in W being mostly to completely banned from most local public and private parties and venues, and then their return to prison. This campaign involved some tough decisions about how strongly to insist that victims share their stories and how hard to push when seeking information. W is out of prison now, and I still manage a Facebook page where people occasionally share information about his new okcupid and facebook profiles, what clubs he's hunting at now, etc.

A friend of mine was forcibly raped, by a person who regularly hosted large social gatherings in their home in Boston (X). This was not nearly that person's only such offense, just the one I knew the most about. Years of quiet "back room" discussions that I knew about, and surely years more that I didn't, had failed to put a significant dent in this person's access to people to further harm, or to dissuade people from attending their parties. Everyone who discussed the issue agreed that it was a serious problem.

Two acquaintances of mine (Y and Z) from Boston had sex at Burning Man. Some time later, it became known in the Boston Burner community that Z considered the interaction to be nonconsensual, and the label "rapist" began to be applied to Y. Over the course of months, both people told their story to friends and/or to Facebook groups. The unusual aspect is that the stories matched. As near as I can tell, and I put significant effort into pursuing details I might not have had, there was no dispute about any action or activity that took place between them that night. The only distinction that was made known was that one of them went home thinking (or later realized) it was a negative and nonconsensual experience and the other thought the opposite. A vocal minority of the community supported the label of "rape" based on Y having not verbally asked for consent for the various interactions (which Z also did not ask about). Another minority, silent out of fear of the same sort of reprisal I frequently choose to endure, disputed the label based on Z having initiated the sexual act.

I have said it before and will repeat it again. The moment I realized I couldn't figure out what Y had done wrong, that was the scariest moment of my life. I was struck with the realization that I might have been raping people for years, unknowingly. And I couldn't tell how to avoid it without doing things that almost no one was suggesting that I do (such as me asking for consent before someone else did something to me).

After that, it only got worse. The discussions prompted by these situations brought to my attention that a large and vocal minority of the people surrounding me were of the opinion that no matter what I did, how careful I was, there was no way I could be sure I was having consensual sex. This left me with the fear that those people were correct, that I might actually be committing rape with no way to avoid it other than avoiding sex (if that was even enough). It also left me with the fear that they could or would use their social power to ruin my life, or even just make it significantly less comfortable or safe, if they decided I had committed rape based on this impossible-to-honor definition of theirs (regardless of whether it was accurate or not).

For years, I was of the [non secret] opinion that the Boston community was doing itself a disservice by treating Y as bad as, or even worse than, X. This extreme level of dissonance suggested a serious lack of ability of the community at large to figure out and take action on problematic actors. Later, Y died. I brought that opinion up again, and was once again shouted down. However, around the same time and in a way that I refuse to believe is coincidental, the community finally started to take serious action about X.

The above lays the groundwork for a lot of the discussions you've seen me have. There are, of course, a thousand more pieces of context, which continue to accumulate even now, but these three and the conversations about them sparked almost everything that has come since.

When you see me talking about "appropriate" and "acceptable", for actions like "flirting" or "hugging", that is me applying a filter. I am actually trying to figure out things about consent and sex, without further alienating (for my benefit) or harming (for their benefit) people who don't want to be, or can't stop themselves from, talking about consent and sex. Of course, I am *also* trying to figure out the literal subject of the discussion; I do care about flirting and hugging in an acceptable fashion, those aren't just analogies.

I hope this gives some context to discussions that might have otherwise seemed hypothetical, edge case, straw man, etc.
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You can't quantify that! [Dec. 14th, 2017|01:36 pm]

Often in discussions about how to make better decisions, people will object to attempts to quantify something, to set a value or threshold for some action. They will say something like "you can't quantify that" or "you can't use math to solve this problem". Not only can you quantify it and use math to solve the problem, but most people already do those things unconsciously.

Consider that I might want to provide you with a meal that is spicy, but not too spicy for your tastes. It is easy to say "You can't quantify how spicy it is" or "There are too many variables", but neither of those are true. You might not even know what the variables are, but what you personally know doesn't actually affect whether or not the solution to this problem can be quantified. You might be thinking that simply measuring the amount of capsaicin in the dish won't give an effective answer to the question, and you're probably right about that. However, if you give me samples of ten dishes that you enjoy and ten that you think are too spicy, it is entirely possible to start narrowing down the other variables. We will determine that you accept more capsaicin if there is more dairy in the dish, and less capsaicin if there is more citrus in the dish. We will discover that concentrated ginger or garlic or cinnamon also trigger your "too spicy" threshold, but not in the presence of particular oils. These are things we can quantify, increasingly accurately as we get more samples or information. I can use those results to decide what to cook for you, better matching your spiciness preferences the more information I have.

The above is a good method if we can easily experience or remember or even [re]produce many examples across a spectrum. Another valid approach would be to take a single situation that exists on one side of a line, and ask you to imagine alternatives with small changes that would cross the line. When I ask "what makes an automobile look good to you?", you might say that can't be quantified, but you would probably be at least mostly wrong. We can take a single automobile that looks good to you, and then ask you to make a list of changes to the car that would still look good, and a list of changes that would make it look bad. From those lists we can quantify the properties of a car that make it look good to you. The more interdependent those properties are, the more examples it will take, but we can start approximating an answer with just a few. With that approximation I might become more confident in choosing a car as a gift for you.

Any time you make a decision, you are quantifying something, whether you realize it or not, whether it's intentional or not. While standing on the side of the street and waiting to cross, you are repeatedly classifying the current scenario into one of two buckets, "cross the street now" or "wait", and that binary classification is itself a quantification, albeit a simplistic one. It's actually more nuanced than that, again whether you realize it or not. You actually have some internal risk threshold about how safe the crossing needs to be in the context of your current situation, and you're evaluating scenarios to see whether they cross that threshold, so the buckets are really "this situation is above X% safe" and "this situation is below X%" safe, even if you don't know what X is. We could keep track of when you do and don't cross the street, and look up statistics about how safe those scenarios actually were, and come up with an approximation of the X that you don't even know you're using. You're also [probably-]unconsciously applying some function of how certain you are in your assessment; a blind turn nearby on the road will make you more uncertain about how safe it is to cross, adding wider error bars to the quantification, and you'll be choosing based on the extent of those error bars.

The examples above are casual, friendly, and relatively simple, but all of this also applies to harder and more controversial topics as well. Everything above applies to deciding whether or not to tap someone on the shoulder to get them to stop blocking the door on the train. It applies to deciding if you should lie when someone asks you about a secret. It applies to deciding when to ask someone out on a date and when to initiate sex. In every one of these scenarios, every variable that affects your decision can be quantified to some degree; most of them are things that you effectively quantify by the simple act of repeatedly making the decision one way or the other in different scenarios. Discussing the numbers and thresholds and ratios involved in these decisions doesn't make the decisions themselves more or less acceptable. Knowing what those values are is a tool for introspection. They can help you match your actions to your beliefs, or to another person's actions or a social norm, more effectively. There is nothing wrong with wanting to accomplish those things, or with using numbers in an attempt to do so.
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Goodbye, Firefly [Jun. 15th, 2017|04:58 pm]
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After waking up to some general announcement emails today, I decided that it's time to unsubscribe and unfollow various sources of information about Firefly. I won't be attending again in the near future, possibly ever, and being reminded of that loss has become more depressing than useful.

I never thought that Firefly was a popularity contest, but it seems that I was wrong. It was made clear to me last year that if more than one person is upset about where I'm camping or even just sitting, and they complain loudly enough, the board will force me to move, under threat of ejection from the event. I've been told that simply talking, in any place where someone who doesn't like what I'm saying might overhear me, is unacceptable behavior. I don't think there is anywhere I can exist at the event that there won't be at least intermittently two people upset with my presence, so any time / effort / money I spend on attending is now under the specter of risk of losing out on most of the best parts of the experience I would hope to have. I'm not going to spend a thousand dollars and take a week off work just to camp alone and watch my friends revel from afar.

I am disappointed in the people who lied to our camp, and me directly, about how such situations would be handled between us, about their support for plans and policies that they did not actually support, and in describing my own actions and behavior. If they had simply honestly told me they wanted me gone, rather than subjecting us to a year of discussion and meetings and policymaking just to discard it all, it would have been a much cleaner break. I am disappointed in the Firefly board for succumbing to the battle of who can cope least. It is poor leadership to choose the path of least resistance to mollify whoever complains loudest. I am disappointed in my friends who decided that keeping silent and avoiding the drama was worth more to them than my continued presence. Fortunately this has helped me reprioritize and filter people I thought were my friends.

This is more painful to write than the end of any other relationship has been for me.
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Am I bad at making social decisions? [May. 18th, 2017|02:12 pm]
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"Normal people don't need to ask that question, the answer is obvious to them."

I hear this a lot. I find myself needing to respond to it more often than I have time to, so I find myself writing this in the hopes of not needing to write it again.

I have two separate responses to this. They are independent, orthogonal, and stand alone. Either is sufficient to invalidate this statement in most contexts, but I present both in an attempt to be thorough and to preemptively avoid an argument with someone who accepts one of them but not the other.

First, I want to address "the answer" and "obvious".

In most cases where I hear this feedback, this simply illustrates the average person's lack of care or perspective regarding the issue in question. It's easy for an answer to be obvious if you only consider a small slice of the factors in the question or the consequences of the answer. Someone who is ignorant of those factors or consequences, or simply not mentally equipped to consider them all, will exhibit the Dunning–Kruger effect, thinking they have effectively made a decision that they aren't qualified or equipped to make.

In many other cases, it is plainly evident that different people come up with different, often contradictory and mutually exclusive, "obvious" answers, none of which are "the" answer. This can correlate to the previous paragraph, or it can indicate the use of different ethical or value systems. In that latter case, my mind automatically escalates the question to one of choosing between the two systems in question. The average person's tolerance for cognitive dissonance is something I lack; that doesn't make the answers any less obvious to me; if anything, I can see MORE of the obvious answers than someone who hasn't considered the values leading to their answer and the answers of others.

Second, I want to address my tolerance for causing harm.

I spent a long time in some really unhealthy communities, surrounded by hypocritical people who convinced me that everything I was doing was wrong, that I could never be sure I wasn't doing something bad. Those bad actions ranged from having sex to hugging people to sending messages to sitting next to someone on the subway. I am slowly escaping their influence, and sadly losing a lot of less aware but innocent friends in the process. Along the way, I've become a lot more aware of others' tolerance for unintentional consequences.

When you say that an answer is obvious, one of the things you're saying is that the risks of grave consequences from that answer fall below your threshold for worry/care. I am often, if not always, able to see that answer just as clearly, if not more clearly, than the average person. Where we part ways is in the decision about how acceptable the risks of that answer are.

I spent years afraid to engage in various sorts of actions and interactions with even a 1/1000 chance of causing another person physical or emotional harm. Those previously mentioned people were telling me that even that risk was too much, while also telling me that even attempting to discuss the acceptable amount of risk was itself emotionally harming to others. I have since come to realize that other people operate on risk-of-harm thresholds closer to 1/100 or even 1/20. In that context, it is easy to see how so many decisions would be "obvious" to them when they cause me consternation. The answer is just as obvious to me; I can see it just as clearly. I just don't take/accept it without having to think through an exception to my ingrained rules about risk of harm, or without changing those rules. If you told me an answer was obvious, then I pointed out that that answer had a 10% chance of killing someone, you'd rethink it, right? That's where I am with most of the answers that you think are obvious, albeit not as intense on the consequences.

I hope that reading this has shed some light on why decisions aren't as "obvious" to me as they are to you.
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Perspective. On having it, and valuing it. [May. 18th, 2017|02:11 pm]

Trigger warning: consent, rationality, emotion, subjectivity

I learn the details of another friend's experience of sexual assault approximately once per month. 8-15 times per year for the last 6-8 years.

I’m opening with that because I want it to make an impression, and to sink in. I have come to suspect that this piece of information, or its absence, is highly relevant to others’ accusations that I engage in hyperbole and hypotheticals, chasing edge cases and straw men.

How many victims’ stories do you know, to the level of detail of knowing who assaulted them, what was said before/after, and what happened between them? I anticipate that the average answer to that question among my social circles is 2, the average among people reading this post is around 5, and the average among people responding to this post will be around 10. I can’t even answer with certainty; the dozens have started to blur together over time. I predict the number would be much lower if I asked how many of the accused you’ve heard as much information from.

If you have been drawn into a discussion about consent and community, violations and rules, right and wrong, and it was a single event, or just a few, that got your attention, you’re probably not well equipped to be making decisions and drawing conclusions. As terrible as it sounds to say it, and the impetus for the trigger warning on this post... this applies even if that single event was your own experience. Until you know the common and uncommon threads connecting a dozen rapes in your community, you aren’t qualified to say which causes are most likely, or which solutions most appropriate. You don’t have the perspective to understand which interactions were and were not consensual, or seemed consensual or not to the participants.

When someone accuses me of engaging in hypotheticals on this subject, I am most often making vague statements with the goals of protecting a victim’s identity and/or consolidating the common factors of multiple real events.

When someone accuses me of setting up straw men to argue against on this subject, I am most often referring to a significant number of real people whose views and/or behavior are detrimental to our community and safety.

There are other people who have more perspective than I do. People with more information, more experience, and/or more education on the subject. Trauma counselors. First responders. Educators of those groups. Reformed rapists. Etc. I’m not saying I’m the most qualified person to handle this topic. I’m just saying that on one important axis, I’m probably more qualified than you.

Finally, I am left to speculate on why I have all of this information. It’s obviously not my caring nature or interpersonal appeal or conversational savvy that’s drawing people to tell me these things. I have said it in the past, and I’ll repeat my hypothesis here. I expect that my public engagement on this subject, and my attempt to remain rational and fair, is what convinces so many people to confide in me. I maintain the principle that having more information about a problem makes me more effective at solving it, and I also think that being able to tell their story is good for victims, so I am doubly motivated to keep doing what I’m doing on this front, until someone convinces me that it’s hurting more than it’s helping.
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Moving to sparr.dreamwidth.org [Apr. 25th, 2017|12:40 pm]


(note the lack of a zero)

Lots of reasons. None bear repeating here.
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Sparr bought a boat, day 1 [Mar. 21st, 2017|09:06 pm]
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Surely no one will let me win this boat with a bid as ridiculously low as $1000. Surely...

OK, so now I own a boat, and I’m out about $1000 total after paying $800 for the boat, some auction fees, and some DMV fees for the boat and trailer titles. It’s a Cruisers (Mirro Marine) Holiday 25, which is not an especially reliable set of terms to search for. Here’s what survey I could do while still at the auction facility. I’ll get my hands on it with tools and documentation in a week or so.

The interior upholstery and wood and plastic is all very aged. Sadly the previous owner and/or visitors to the auction site left the cabin open to the elements for a month or three during the SF rainy season. There’s a lot of probably-teak wood that hasn't been treated in years, maybe decades. Lots of stuff to clean there, lots to replace, but nothing in such bad shape that I was afraid to touch it.

The bathroom looks serviceable, as does the kitchen and dining area and the other padded sleeping areas. TBD if there is any mildew in/under the cushions and whether I need to replace them or not.

There are 4 sleeping berths. The dining table drops down to make one. The “couch” area converts into bunkbeds. And there’s a cozy wide but not-tall space under the stairs and pilot’s feet with cushions. All of them have lots of windows and natural light. Nothing inside feels trapped, despite a lot of it being cramped in the usual inside-a-boat way.

It has two batteries. #2 is totally dead. #1 reads ~11.5V, enough to run the bilge pump and make the volt meter needle on the dash rise. Turning the key to ignition causes a small voltage dip, no sound from the engine bay that I could hear. A future test will involve jumping 12V directly to the starter, probing the various places to see what’s getting power or might be disconnected, etc.

There are a few wasps. I saw a couple of detached/dead nests, one wasp flying, and one wasp starting a brand new single-cell nest. Maybe they will be lost during the transport, or I can deal with them soon and get the entrances sealed to keep more out.

The trailer tires are all holding air, some a bit low. The trailer itself looks to be in good condition, with significant surface rust around the more-often-touched parts.

The hull appears to be in decent shape, but I don't have much knowledge there. There are a few deeper-than-cosmetic scratches where I can see the not-surface layer of material. I expect I can seal those over with relatively simple off the shelf products. TBD whether there are any holes in places I can't easily see. I expect I'll need to clean and coat the whole thing, regardless.

If I can get the engine running, this will be my boat for Ephemerisle this year. If I can’t, it might still be, just towed to/from the site. Either way, it’s also possible we will park it at Buspatch for a month or three to work on it, and let someone live in it while we do.

Photos on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sparr0/posts/10211089973782037
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Memories and 11-year-old Sparr [Mar. 4th, 2017|01:47 pm]
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Found while organizing old documents, a folder labeled "Memories". Some of the contents:

The tickets from my first trip by plane.

Various holiday cards from friends and family.

The unopened invitations to my sister's college graduation and two old friends' wedding.

The letter sent to me by my mother just after she won custody of myself and my sister, before we moved to live with her.

The letter sent to me by my father just after we moved to live with my mother.

A couple of school assignments to transcribe a poem from a book and add color/art, probably including the first and last time I ever tried to draw a bird.

A long letter from my aunt when I was 15, about my impending early graduation.

A few pages from a journal I was required to keep as part of a class when I was 11 years old, with writing prompts, as follows:

Read more...Collapse )
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Discarded Art [Mar. 1st, 2017|01:28 pm]
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Prior to a few years ago, it never occurred to me that every artistic medium has as many unfinished / unpublished / unfamous works as are commonly associated with writing and painting.

A partner was involved in amateur screenswriting. Until she mentioned it, I had no idea how many people are out there writing the scripts for movies that never get performed, let alone filmed and published and distributed. She was part of a club where people met to discuss each others' work, almost none of which was ever published.

As I get deeper into board game design, I'm getting a sense of just how many designs never make it past an idea, or a few playtests of a paper sleeved copy. I'm in a community now where people are putting hundreds of hours into game designs, including high quality artwork, that only ever exist as a PDF somewhere.

My exposure to makerspaces and burner culture has enlightened me about how many LED installations and steel sculptures and such get made, maybe shown zero or one times, then put on a shelf or scrapped or thrown away. This one hit me hardest, and is why I so rarely engage in the pursuit.

I'd love to hear about others' encounters with this phenomenon.
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Samsung tech support shenanigans [Feb. 21st, 2017|06:57 pm]

My Samsung Galaxy S7 can't keep its wifi and bluetooth turned off. I turn them off, they turn back on a few minutes to an hour later. I called T-Mobile support about this months ago with no result.

Recently, I called Samsung tech support through the support app built into my phone (this will be relevant later). They told me that they have to follow a troubleshooting script, and had me reboot my phone into safe mode. They gave me the steps and the ticket number and told me to call back in later after seeing if this resolved the problem.

I gave it an hour in safe mode and the problem didn't recur, so I considered it fixed. I booted back into non-safe mode and called them back. They correctly determined based on this experiment that the problem is an app. Then they told me I needed to uninstall any non-essential apps on my phone to see if the problem goes away. I refused, and told them the problem existed before I ever installed any apps on the phone. More specifically, I said that some online forum posts made me suspect the problem was the Good Lock app, from Samsung. They told me they don't do any app support, but that if it's a Samsung app then they have a department for that, and I was transferred to that department.

A nice Australian woman's voice on the automated system told me I'd reached a department I hadn't talked to before, which was comforting. I talked to the person on that end for a few minutes and they said they also didn't do app support. They gave me the phone number for a third (or so I thought) department.

Calling that number brought me back to the first department. This time I told the person I was tired of being sent in circles. They again insisted that I needed to uninstall a bunch of apps, or do a factory reset on the phone. I again refused. I said I suspected a Samsung app of being the problem. They asked if they could remotely control my phone to see what I was seeing.

Now, recall to my mention of there being a support app built into my phone. It's called Samsung+ and it does a lot of things, including phone calls and voice+video chat with tech support, and a feature called Remote Access that lets me enter a code so Samsung techs can remotely control my phone. This tech asked me, instead, to go get a new app from the play store called Smart Tutor. I asked why she couldn't use the Samsung remote access system already built into my phone. She seemed to have no idea what I was talking about. I called the situation ridiculous, but did install Smart Tutor, and she managed to get access to my phone.

Now she looked at my app list and again said I had too many apps and needed to uninstall many of them. I opened the Good Lock app and she asked where I got this app. I tried to show it to her in the Play Store, which was fruitless because I had forgotten that it wasn't from the Play Store. While I was looking there, she repeated that this wasn't a Samsung app. I eventually googled for it and got reminded that it was installed by the Galaxy Apps system from Samsung. I opened Galaxy Apps and found Good Lock marked as Installed. She said she had no idea what that was, and that she couldn't help me with it. She said she could give me the number of a department that could.

I called that number and got a familiar Australian voice. This time the person on the other end let me explain the situation, and they also told me they had never heard of Good Lock. They said they only support a few Samsung apps, and not that one.

I ended up figuring out how to uninstall it on my own. This didn't actually solve the problem, so I'm still on the hunt for tools that can help me do that. I either need to find an app that will tell me which of all my installed apps have the permission to turn wifi on, or I need to connect the phone to a computer via USB and use adb logcat to look at the logs to see what's happening when wifi gets turned on and hope there's something correlated that I can track down. However, I no longer expect T-Mobile or Samsung to give me any assistance with that.

What blows my mind is that four different people at Samsung would tell me they've never heard of Good Lock and that they don't support it. Good Lock is one of Samsung's promoted apps in their own store, a cornerstone of the advertised user experience of the Galaxy S7 and other newer phones. https://news.samsung.com/global/good-lock-customize-the-way-you-use-your-galaxy-smartphone
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Responsibility for Mental Autopilot [Jan. 4th, 2017|06:40 pm]

Your brain is quite capable of performing tasks without you consciously thinking about them. You aren't making decisions along the way, your body just follows the instructions coming from the non-conscious part of your brain until the conscious part interrupts it. I call this your autopilot.

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Who is responsible for actions that you take while you're on autopilot?

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My Ethical Philosophy [Jan. 1st, 2017|09:29 pm]
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I follow a variation of consequentialism, filtered through the opposite of paternalism which doesn't have a more specific name.

My value system is how I decide which outcomes are better than which others. It is important to note that the philosophical concepts below are not dependent on that value system. Everything in the next few paragraphs holds regardless of what value system we are considering. Wherever you see "good", "bad", "positive", "negative", "better", "worse", etc below, those can mean whatever you want them to mean, especially if your value system is internally consistent and universalizable. I sometimes even prefer to operate in your value system, if we are discussing a situation where the positive and negative outcomes affect mostly to only you.

I apply a maximax criterion regarding the choices of other actors with agency. That's someone like you, in most cases. When I take an action that allows you to choose between two actions of your own, I am responsible for the most good outcome you could choose, and you are responsible for any less good or more bad in the outcome that you do choose. If I opt to not give you that choice because I expect you would choose the less good outcome, I am denying you agency in the situation, and that would be paternalistic. When I tell you that your dog is trapped in a burning building, you might decide to run inside; if the outcome of your choice is worse than if I had not told you then you are responsible for that outcome, not me. When the villain drops two people off a bridge and you can only save one, someone is responsible for the death of the person that you do not save, and it is mostly to completely not you.

I apply an expected value criterion regarding actions with random outcomes. When I play a game of Russian Roulette, the death of the loser is as much my responsibility as that of the person who made the unlucky trigger pull.

Finally, I do not recognize a fundamental distinction between action and inaction. If I tell you that pressing the button will do something and you press it, you're responsible for the outcome. If I tell you that not pressing the button will do that same something and you don't press it, you're equally responsible. Not pressing the button is just as much a choice as pressing it. This concern is most often illustrated with variations of the trolley problem where the two tracks are switched, which I don't consider to actually change the problem at all.

That's all I've got for now. This is my first real attempt to put this all together in a reference document. It will certainly be revised in the future, as I get a better grasp on the concepts that drive my decisions, and also continue to become better at describing them.
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New year resolutions for 2017: (starting now, because fuck 2016) [Dec. 14th, 2016|12:47 am]
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Put more money into savings. One year of 12.5% contribution to my 401(k) has made up for multiple years of low/no retirement savings. The first year worth of stock grant at my employer also just vested, so that's a start to my short/medium-term savings (so I can buy a house in a year or three, maybe).

Donate more to charity. Katarina inspired me to make recurring donations to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood already. My irregular EFF donations are going to be made regular, and I'm going to add some to that.

Buy more art. My friends make art and their time is not worthless. I also consume a lot of art/media/entertainment that I don't have to pay for. Thanks to Winter for the idea of making a bunch of $1/mo Patreon commitments.

Help my friends and acquaintances more, financially. I make more in a day than many of my friends make in a week. I think I can work at least one day a month for them. Starting today.

Do something more interesting for housing than just living in a bus. I have three buses. I am actively pursuing leads for a small building and parking lot somewhere in SF or Oakland, so I can invite 5-10 people to live with me and make something unusual happen.
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Uber: "Lie to us to get a job" [Dec. 12th, 2016|04:54 pm]
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I'm not actively looking for a new job. However, in my industry, recruiters just keep calling/emailing, and it's good practice to occasionally follow through. Even if they don't convince me to jump ship, new job offers give me data to use when I'm negotiating a raise or promotion with my current employer.

A recruiter at Uber approached me. I went through a few phone interviews and then came on site for a full day with a bunch of people. It went well. They made me an offer, in the form of an "offer agreement letter", which they needed me to sign and send back within a few days to them to accept. In this case, the offer was actually enough to convince me, if everything else had worked out.

I brought up three potential concerns with the agreement, directly to the recruiter who then brought them to the attention of their legal dept and my supervisor-to-be.

"without express written permission from a senior leader of your organization, you shall not render services in any capacity to any other person or entity"

The obvious intent of this clause is to prevent moonlighting. I don't have other employment or business endeavors, but I do a lot of volunteer and open source work that are the kinds of things people often get paid for (IT, development, management, etc). I offered to make a list of those things for a "senior leader" to sign off on.

"you have returned all property and confidential information belonging to any prior employer"

I told them I couldn't sign this part until I had returned the laptop owned by my current employer, which would happen in about 3 weeks.

"you are under no obligations or commitments, whether contractual or otherwise, that are inconsistent with your obligations under this Agreement. In connection with your Employment, you shall not use or disclose any trade secrets or other proprietary information or intellectual property in which you or any other person has any right, title or interest and your Employment will not infringe or violate the rights of any other person."

This one was the doozie. If you've ever worked in tech, or even visited a few big tech companies' offices, you've probably been required to sign an "NDA" at some point. Half the time you can't even get into the building to attend a meetup without agreeing to contractual terms at the door on the little kiosk that prints your visitor nametag. (search your email for 'envoy "document you signed today"'; kudos to Envoy for making it easy to keep track of SOME of these!)

A significant number of these agreements have some requirement outside of simple non-disclosure. As it turns out, the year preceding this situation was a pretty boring year for me, and I wasn't interviewing for a lot of jobs, so I only had two contracts that gave me pause.

The first was from interviewing at a healthcare IT provider. That contract said, in not so few words, that if I discovered someone mishandling HIPAA-protected information while using their system, I had to inform them.

The second was with my then-current employer, where I am required to notify them if I come into possession of their confidential information through a channel they have not approved. If you've ever seen the movie "Coming to America", this clause would be relevant if a McDonald's employee later worked at McDowell's and was handed the McDonald's operations manual by a McDowell's employee who wasn't supposed to have it in the first place.

I told the recruiter I had a couple of outstanding contracts that might be relevant. He asked for them, and I sent them over. Their legal team had a powwow for about a week. I had a phone call with my supervisor-to-be and he asked me what I would do if I found myself in the exceptionally unlikely circumstance of one of those contractual conflicts arising. I told him that after talking to him I'd talk to the company's legal dept to get official guidance. He asked what I'd do if they wouldn't provide any. That question left me stunned, and I ventured a guess that I would seek independent legal counsel. I suspect now that that was the Wrong Answer.

I originally expected their response to be simple and straightforward. "Hold off on doing tech/dev volunteering until your supervisor signs off on it. We'll amend the agreement to say you've returned the laptop by the time you start here. The contracts you sent are totally standard and nothing to worry about regarding the conflict clause." Instead, at every juncture I got strong implicit and weak explicit direction to simply sign the paperwork and stop making a stink. Of course, at the same time, my recruiter was praising me for reading the documents and being honest.

A week after that call, I was told by my recruiter the job offer was being rescinded and we would "part ways", due to the company not wanting to "take the risk" of hiring me.

The punchline of this all is that at various points in the process I was told, first and secondhand by and through multiple people at the company, that I was the first person to ever bring these issues up. At a company with ~8000 employees, apparently not a single other person has ever mentioned any of this when signing their employment agreement. I am confident that most of them were in at least one of the three situations I described above (including some people I know have signed the exact same contracts, having interviewed or been employed at those same places), and I'd wager that many of them were in all three of them. None of these concerns seem outlandish at all to me.

I post this both to warn future Uber applicants to either bail out early or be prepared to lie as required on the documents, and to ask my friends what I should do in the future in these situations.

Should I be reconsidering how honest I am with people asking me to sign things like this? I've only lightly questioned this policy in my life in the past, but this time it cost me what was probably a few hundred thousand dollars, possibly much more. To be told that thousands of people in the same situation have lied on these documents and I am the only squeaky wheel is giving me significant pause.
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Sparr Bought Two More Buses: DMV [Nov. 28th, 2016|11:52 am]
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After buying the buses and tag team driving them from Iowa to California, the next step was to get them registered ASAP so that I could park them on the street. To a first approximation, there are two major requirements for registering a bus as a motorhome in California.

First, you have to remove most of the seats. There are laws about how many seats a vehicle can have and not count as a "commercial" vehicle even if it's not being used commercially. There's a lot of nuance and variation between different states, and in some cases specific cities. As far as I've narrowed it down, the punchline is that 10 seats is legal everywhere in the US, and 15 is legal most places and doesn't draw much attention in the 10-seat states if it's registered in a 15-seat state.

Fortunately I don't actually want my bus(es) to have a lot of dedicated seats. One thing I learned on the road trip to Burning Man last year is that with so much open space, passengers are much more likely to be comfortable on the sleeping surfaces than the sitting surfaces, given that the beds are cushy and the seats are not. They even spread out on the floor with cushions and sleeping bags. That might change if I had comfier seats, which could happen when I add a sofa. For now, simply ripping out every seat in the rear section and half the seats in the front sufficed. The remaining seats are the fold-up seats near the wheelchair securements, as well as the few seats that have bolts through the floor and require someone under the bus to remove. I got one bus that far on my own on Sunday night and Monday morning, and it was the first that I drove to the DMV in San Francisco.

Along the way, I stopped by my old bus to get the kitchen cabinet, with sink and stove, a water tank, and the toilet. Along with a bed, which we already had from the trip, those things comprise the general unofficial guidelines for a motorhome conversion in CA. The actual law just says "permanently altered ... and equipped for human habitation", which gets interpreted by various DMV inspectors in different ways. So far I'm 3 for 3 on big vehicles with a raised mattress, self contained toilet, foot pump sink, and propane stove. People get by with less sometimes, including as little as a bed and a camp stove, but that tends to be much riskier to try.

On the way to retrieve the second bus from its parking in Oakland I also picked up J and D from their hotel. J was already on the hook for a day of work, since our original negotiation had him still full-time driving through Monday. I extended my deal with D for drive time to include wrench time.

The first major wrinkle in the plan developed shortly after I got the second bus to the DMV parking lot, while I was still making logistical plans with J and D. While I was inside the DMV, J and D were going to be busy removing and stacking seats from the second bus. Interrupting that planning, a DMV employee came out and asked me to move my buses out of the parking lot. I said that I couldn't, in not so few words. Her manager came out shortly afterward and repeated it as a demand, to which I calmly and politely responded that I couldn't drive them on the street again until they were registered. I offered to move them to other parts of the lot, but she didn't like those ideas (those parts might still be needed for DMV operations later in the day, like motorcycle driving tests). In the end she said she would call California Highway Patrol (the lot is technically state property, being the DMV's) and I went back to planning.

When I had a free minute, I found someone in line just keeping a friend company. I talked to that person and gave them $10 to stick around in line to the end, with promise of $20 more at the end. They were happy to take it, and seemed incredulous at the deal. Overall, that $30 saved me about 2 hours in line, and is probably what made the difference in success or failure for the day. With that settled, I went back to getting the first bus ready. I cleaned it up a little and rearranged the living facilities.

While doing that, two CHP officers arrived. I greeted them outside the bus and they seemed friendly. Apparently someone had implied to CHP that I was somehow driving "both buses at the same time", which they repeated with incredulity. We talked about my options, and one of the officers went inside to talk to the DMV manager. Some fuss was raised about the second bus not being qualified for conversion yet, and the lead officer did not believe I could have it ready in the ~4 hours we had to get through the other process. In the end, he negotiated for me to move the buses to the positions I had originally offered to move to, with the caveat that I must get them out of the lot by closing time, and a promise from the DMV manager to sell me another one-trip permit to move the unconverted bus without plates (the same way I moved them from Iowa).

After a couple of hours I met my proxy near the head of the line and got some paperwork and instructions to get the bus inspected after filling it out. I had to ask a few questions; the form has changed in the last 8 months. I got it filled out pretty easily after that, then waited about an hour for the inspector. This is the same person who checks car VIN plates, and multiple cars came, waited, and gave up waiting while I was there. Eventually both inspectors on duty came out; apparently an opportunity for the senior inspector to do a motorhome conversion was a teaching opportunity for their junior counterpart. He was a little dubious that the kitchen cabinet wasn't bolted down, but happy about its general heftiness, and everything else looked good. He didn't ask me to demonstrate the toilet, which is sad because I love showing it to people.

Fun fact: the CA DMV website gives average wait times at each station, but those times start when you get a number. So, after 2 hours of my proxy standing in line, and another hour waiting for an inspector, I finally got a number and my official "wait" started, advertised to be about 30 minutes. As this was going on, J and D were finishing the seat removal (on which they did an amazing job) on the second bus. I asked them to swap the two buses positions and discreetly move the kitchen and toilet between them. I did the paperwork on the first bus, got its plates, and then went back to the "get paperwork" step for the second bus. Thankfully not the "get in line" step.

Inspection and paperwork for the second bus went smoothly. The DMV closes at 17:00, but handles everyone in line by 16:59, so we weren't even close to the last ones out at about 17:30. We drove the two new buses to the same block where I park my old bus, did a little bit of tricky maneuvering, and declared an end to the bus handling for the day. After dinner at a local pub J and D both went their separate ways, towards overnight plans and/or the airport.
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Sparr Bought Two More Buses: Retrieval [Nov. 22nd, 2016|03:14 pm]
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I bought two buses at online auction, from the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART). I made plans with some friends to meet up in Chicago and drive them back to SF. There were some hiccups along the way, but (spoiler alert) we made it.

On Thursday and early Friday we all started to travel towards Chicago. I flew in from San Fransisco along with Z. D took a train from New York, and J drove up from Indianapolis with his friend M. I had breakfast in Chicago with Z and an old friend there. D, M, and J showed up shortly thereafter and we started driving west in the late morning.

The drive from Chicago to Des Moines was uneventful. We stopped for provisions outside of Chicago and made good time across Illinois and Iowa.

Once in Des Moines we were on a somewhat tight schedule. We went to the DART offices first. I filled out paperwork and the maintenance manager there gave me a walkthrough of the buses and their controls. We all spent about half an hour looking them over and testing various things. D was our resident mechanic for the trip and he poked at things under the hood. Sadly all of this took place after dark, so I postponed taking photos. After deciding both buses were roadworthy, we sent M back to Indianapolis with J's car. There were some contingency plans in place if one of the buses deserved to be scrapped at that point, but we didn't need them. We then went to a UPS store, where I'd had packages shipped ahead of time, and retrieved a bunch of logistical needs (mattresses, ratchet straps, 12V outlets, etc). The last stop in Des Moines was at an OReilly to get spare fluids and such, at D's direction.

After Des Moines we picked up some folks who responded to a Craigslist rideshare post that I had made. A family of five and their two dogs and 2d3 rodents. They had gotten stranded in western Iowa due to a family problem and wanted to get to San Francisco and Tucson. I offered to drop off the Tucson-bound folks in Denver, but they said they'd rather just all go to SF if I wasn't going any further south than Denver.

The next 1500 miles went by in a ~30 hour blur, trading off drivers and stopping for food and fuel and bathrooms every 4-6 hours. Along the way we discovered some mechanical problems with each bus. One was losing coolant at a manageable rate (4 gallons over the whole trip). One bus reports low oil pressure despite having apparently full oil. We also had occasional confusion about why a bus wouldn't go into gear or respond to throttle, although it's probable that we were just missing some interlock conditions rather than anything being wrong. My notes were not as good as they might have been, so it was only later that I narrowed down which bus had each problem.

As we drove through Nevada, we hit a bit of bad luck with timing. Donner Pass (the path through the Sierra Nevada between Reno and Sacramento) was experiencing freezing rain turning into snow, and CalTrans had declared a snow-chains-required condition. I spent 6-9AM calling truck stops and auto part stores and mechanics as they opened (what few were open at all on a Sunday) and in the end we found exactly four chains that would fit on the buses' ridiculously large tires. $550 later and we had the bare minimum number of chains that might get us through the pass, two per bus rather than the 4-6 per bus that might be required in certain conditions.

As we left the clear weather in Reno things got progresively worse on the way up the mountain, until we were in moderate snowfall and a few inches of accumulation at the top. At the agricultural inspection station we got a little card explaining which wheels needed chains on different vehicle shapes. There was no bus, so we decided to go with the 6-wheel 2-axle truck diagram. We pulled over along with all the other cars and trucks just before the chain checkpoint and spent ~30 minutes getting four chains installed. I learned a lot, and I think I could do them in 3-5 minutes each by myself next time, as long as I only had to do outer wheels. If I ever have to do my inner wheels, I'm just going to pull over and camp out if the storm isn't expected to be days long.

We saw a few idiots spin out, mostly people who had lied to CHP about having 4WD/AWD, or been too stupid to enable it at least. No disasters, just short delays as they righted themselves. Traffic was generally 20-35MPH through the pass, and this was one of our few chances on the trip to not be the slowest vehicle on the road.

About an hour later we pulled over again and removed the chains, another ordeal where I learned some tricks. Someone had abandoned a single chain-link tire chain for a large tire right where we pulled over, so I grabbed that. That much heavy duty chain and fasteners has a lot of potential uses, even if I don't use it as a tire chain.

We made it all the way to the bay area without further incident. Then, in the home stretch, one of the buses shut down and wouldn't restart. We got the nasty surprise that it had lost all of its transmission fluid. I drove one bus down to Hayward to drop off our Craigslist passengers while the folks in the other bus took a carshare to a store to buy fluid and fill it up. They got back on the road around the time I finished my detour, and we met up in Emeryville.

The end of the road trip proper was in the Home Depot parking lot in Emeryville. I've parked there before, and have a minor level of rapport with some of their security, all of whom are quite friendly. They seem to have no problem with overnight parking, possibly contingent on my actually doing some shopping there before or after, which I've always done.

Z caught a ride back home. I put J and D up in a nearby hotel, where we all used the shower. I left them there and went back to Home Depot. Along the way I'd started removing some of the bus seats, and that work continued on Sunday night.

Thus ends the story of retrieving the two buses from Des Moines. My next post will cover Sunday and Monday, getting the buses ready and registered at the DMV and into parking spots.
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Sparr Bought Two More Buses: Shopping [Nov. 22nd, 2016|01:34 pm]
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As mentioned previously, the bus that I bought 9 months ago has developed an engine failure that will be slightly to extremely prohibitively costly to repair. This has led to me shopping for a replacement.

As part of the shopping process, I re-evaluated my priorities from last time, and re-considered the pros and cons of different sorts of vehicles. Most of those conclusions remained the same, and I won't re-cover them here. There were a couple of significant departures, though.

I was under more time pressure this time. Last time I had my ambulance in good running condition for the duration of my quest. This time, my bus was mostly stationary and I'd lost a lot of the perks of having a home that is mobile (not to be confused with the idiomatic "mobile home"). The net result here was a loosening of some of my criteria.

Owning a bus from an uncommon manufacturer proved to be a mistake. I had trouble finding mechanics who would work on it, and found little to no information online about it. I eventually secured an operator's manual, but never managed to find a service or maintenance manual. Operations as trivial as finding and removing the air filter were painfully time consuming and difficult. My strong preference this time was to go with a "household name" brand.

I started the process by re-creating my email notification rules on publicsurplus.com and govdeals.com, the two biggest government property auction consolidation sites. Although I did occasionally check individual city and county and university sites, the bulk of my leads came from those two. I asked for emails about newly listed buses across the country, and bus auctions that were about to end, or as close as I could get with each site's notification settings.

Then began a waiting game. Most used buses sell for "reasonable" prices, which make commercial sense for a buyer with plans to recoup their investment, but not as much for an individual who just wants the vehicle. I saw and sadly ignored many auctions that ended, or even started, in that fashion. Anyone with a $10-40k budget can buy a much nicer bus at a more convenient sale than I need.

Along the way I pursued a few leads to some significant degree.

The Oakland CA airport sold off a small fleet of buses they no longer needed. I went so far as to schedule an in-person inspection and take a staggering number of photos in an attempt to locate the one I wanted. In the end it didn't matter; a local bus refurbishing company bought up almost the whole lot for $8-9k each.

The Livermore transit agency sold their old fleet, but I ignored it because the buses were longer than I wanted. I regret that now, and wish I had gone to see them.

A small town in Georgia had a bus that I was very interested in, with minor damage that would be inconsequential to me but require costly body repairs for a reseller or commercial user. I paid a friend who lived a few hours away to drive down and get photos and video of it. That one sold for an amount just slightly higher than I had bid. I would have enjoyed a cross-country road trip with friends from Atlanta.

I finally struck gold in Des Moines, Iowa. Their transit agency is in the process of replacing a whole 12-15 year old fleet, and opened the process with two bus auctions in parallel, and a third ending a few days later. The buses are longer than I wanted (same size as the Livermore buses I passed up), but otherwise a good match. I watched the auctions eagerly, and as they came to a close I jumped in and got the first two for $1520 and $2000 (plus taxes and auction fees totaling about 20%). I had hopes to win the third one, and placed a bid on it early, but got outbid with a few days left. This was actually good news; the later unit being bid up gave me a good idea that I had gotten a steal on the earlier ones.

While watching those auctions I had corresponded with some old friends about working together to road trip them back to San Francisco. Plans were made for the 2 or 3 bus eventuality, some plane and train tickets were bought, and I started laying logistical plans for RV conversion and registration once we got back to CA.

After winning the auctions, I pulled the trigger on the tickets and plans, and my next post will pick up with a flight from San Francisco to Chicago, proceeding through the retrieval and road trip back to the west coast.
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Sparr Bought a Police Van: Week Two [Oct. 25th, 2016|12:59 pm]
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I put out some inquiries online about getting a new door. Quotes came back in the $600-750 range. I decided to pursue self-service junk yards instead. Row52.com is a website for searching those yards, so I found a few that had multiple compatible vans. Unfortunately all the photos are from the driver's side, so I didn't know ahead of time if they had a sliding door or not. Three junkyards later and the ratio turned out to be 2 sliding doors vs ~16 double doors. I did consider switching to the double, but that would be a non-trivial task involving a lot of new precisely placed holes in the interior and exterior of the vehicle.

The first sliding door I found had severe rust and weld-ripping damage, but the hardware was decent so I picked up those pieces in case I ended up repairing the door I have. The second sliding door I found was good enough (my standards having been lowered by the low frequency of finding such doors). It has a window, which is a mixed blessing. Between my old door, the new door, and the hardware from the first junkyard I was able to mix and match a significantly better set of individual hardware pieces. I need to lubricate a bunch of bearings and hinges, and some mechanical part rust needs cleaning more urgently than the general body rust elsewhere, but otherwise I think those mechanical bits will long outlast the rest of the van.

Assuming the new door is still in its original shape, the body of the van is bent just a little where the latch is. I'll be applying a jack and hammer and some more creative forms of leverage there in an attempt to get everything to line up cleanly. Right now I've got to apply some specific attention to the latch area when closing the door.

Along the way I picked up a replacement seatbelt for the driver's side, an upgraded model with adjustable shoulder height. I also grabbed a door handle and lock knob and linkages for the rear door, which the police had removed to stop prisoners from opening the door from inside. And I nabbed a full set of larger fuses and relays out of one of the junk vans. I didn't have the time/patience/motivation to follow through with the idea, but I noted that it would not be too hard to swap the front doors out for later models with power windows and locks and vent windows. If I keep it, I'll do that on my next, less urgent, junkyard expedition. I didn't think to grab the mechanism that holds the rear doors halfway open; that will come next time around as well. I did see some spare tire mounts for the rear door, but they were all too rusty considering that a new one online is just ~$70. I'll get one when I get a spare, before I make any long trips.

I discovered that the three rear sections are not quite the right size for a twin mattress. The rear two sections are each a few inches too narrow, and the front section (sideways) is a foot too short. If I decide to do a live-in conversion with the cage structures mostly intact, a non-rigid twin mattress (foam or stuffed) shoved into one of the rear sections is probably in order.

I put tape over all the holes in the roof. The inside of the ceiling and walls has stopped collecting water now, and it seems to have mostly drained out. I am annoyed that the previous owners didn't think to cover those holes after removing the light bars, or to put a rubber pad between the steel light bar mounts and the roof to avoid having big patches of rust. The roof needs some sealing attention sooner rather than later.

I put tape over most of the holes in the doghouse (engine cover in the cab). There were dozens of screws and bolts attached to it previously, and every one of them was allowing engine compartment air to blow into the cabin. I need to find some plastic filler or flexible epoxy or similar to plug them permanently, something I can sand down flush.

I ran the fuel tank down to the bottom of the gauge, then put ~31gal in the tank. If the tank is 35gal like it should be, then that means I've got a comfortable buffer at the bottom of the gauge. My vague estimate for that first half tank was 11MPG; I'll know more when I've run this next full tank through.

Next on the agenda is a complete looking over and routine maintenance by a competent mechanic. Fluids and filters and lubricant, examination of the problematic suspension, etc.
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Sparr Bought a Police Van: Week one [Oct. 18th, 2016|09:13 pm]
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I am slowly shopping to replace my bus. This involves email notifications from a few auction sites, not all of which can filter results as narrowly as I'd like. So, I get notifications that include other interesting vehicles sometimes. Last week one of those notifications led me to an auction with 15 minutes left, bidding at $499 with the reserve met, for a van with a good engine and transmission. That got my interest. I quickly discovered that it was the longest body Dodge made, in a model I've owned before (1994-2003 Ram Van B3500, specifically the 1997 rather than my old 96), and that it was a police prisoner transport van with all the interior reinforcement that implies. The only major problem was serious damage to the sliding door, and not enough photos to make the extent of the damage entirely obvious.

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Sparr Bought A Bus: Sad Tidings and the Future [Oct. 7th, 2016|03:13 pm]
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I will continue living in this bus for now. I aim to drive it back to San Francisco, probably at night for a cooling bonus. I'll keep parking it in my 3 favorite spots near work, moving it every 3-7 days. I've got my fingers crossed that it will start and run for those few minutes every week for a while.

I will look for opportunities to get rid of this bus. I'll be taking some photos to post on Craigslist and elsewhere. Maybe someone wants it for a stationary tiny home. Maybe someone wants to keep it in their driveway and rent it out on AirBNB. Maybe some enterprising diesel mechanic wants to spend a few weeks and $10-20k and get a well-running bus out of the deal. I'm going to ask a few scrappers what they would give me for it, as a last resort, and that should be a decent amount because it's mostly aluminum.

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Sparr Bought a Bus: Months 2-7 [Oct. 2nd, 2016|11:43 pm]
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It's been a while since I posted about the bus. I was working on it a lot for the first month or so, then I slowed down a lot. I didn't stop, and things picked up before Burning Man, and they have taken a turn for the worse recently. Here's what's been going on.

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Burning Man 2016 [Sep. 9th, 2016|10:17 am]
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My second year at Burning Man was better and worse than my first. Most of the notable details of the experience were different, although the large scale view of camping in the desert for a week or two with 70k people partying remains the same. Overall, my view of Burning Man remains similar to before I went, and after my first year. It's a lot of fun, and worth the effort and cost if both are lower than average. I'll probably keep going as long as I'm on the west coast. From the east coast, I'd probably go back to spending the same money and effort and work vacation days on 3-5 regional burns instead.

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Consent violation accusation, 1 month later [Jul. 27th, 2016|06:38 am]
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Previous post: http://sparr0.livejournal.com/77436.html

Last month I heard the following rumor about myself from a bay area acquaintance:

"[a friend who runs a camp at a large event] let me know that someone had complained to him that you were insufficiently respectful of sexual consent boundaries [and that's why you aren't welcome to join his camp]"

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I still don't have enough information to confidently say what I think has happened. I continue to seek information on all of these fronts. This line of inquiry has spawned numerous side quests, all of which I hope to follow to completion in order to make amends, better myself, help others better themselves, or help others make informed decisions about me. Posting this, and following those leads, means I can never again know if an accusation is new or based on the same thing as this round of rumors or even just based on someone having read this post. I can live with that, if it means doing something good with this information.

(cross posted to Facebook, Livejournal, Google+, Fetlife)
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Firefly 2016 [Jul. 6th, 2016|02:20 pm]
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This was my first net-negative experience at a burn or con. The things I learned will have positive value in the future, so eventually I can look back and say this weekend was worth it, but I don't know how long that will take. I've finished burning a lot of bridges and made some new friends. Firefly is still the best regional burn I've been to, despite its flaws, and I'll probably return if they let me.

The Good

I got to spend some part of a couple of days camping with some of the people whose company I enjoy most. This is a welcome reprieve from what has been mostly solitude on the west coast. There were friendly conversations as well as good hugs and cuddles. Due to some things mentioned in sections below, there's a good chance I'll get to spend more time with those people fwen I return to Firefly.

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Consent violation accusation [Jun. 29th, 2016|12:22 pm]
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I've just heard third-hand, through a grapevine comprised of at-least-mostly bay area people, that "someone has complained ... that you were insufficiently respectful of sexual consent boundaries", and this is resulting in me not being welcome in some spaces at an event.

I don't know who is accusing me. I don't know what they are saying I did. I don't know when or where it happened.

I don't know how much of a game of telephone is going on here. Is this another case of someone labeling me "rapist" based solely on conversations about consent, as happened a couple of times in Boston, and then someone else taking that label at face value?

I've been sexually intimate with four people on the west coast since moving here. Two of them I am still dating and fucking (intermittently), and both seem quite happy to seek out my company. The third asked for a demo of a fucking machine at Dark Odyssey Surrender, and seemed to enjoy the experience and leave happy; I don't know her name and have no idea how to contact her to apologize. The fourth seemed the most likely source of the rumor, since she ended our sexual relationship, so I sent her an attempt at an apology. She coaxed the story from me and explicitly denied it.

If this accusation is following me from my road trip, or Chicago, or Boston, or Atlanta, then I am at a complete loss for how to proceed.

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