Because the world needs more pictures of cats…

Generally speaking, when I go to bed each night I pile all my stuff (you know, keys, wallets, and so on) on the coffee table. That way, I know where all this stuff is every morning, and I don’t have to waste time searching for it; God knows I’m a shambling, barely-literate mess in the mornings as it is, and anything that adds to my list of intellectual tasks at hand increases the chances for catastrophe significantly.

Our cat Molly, who is quite observant, has learned this little ritual, and it suits her just fine. Each morning, as I’m preparing to leave in the morning, she bounds over to the coffee table and waits for me to pick up my keys and wallet and whatnot, so that she can give her claws their morning sharpen.

On my leg.

She does have a scratching post, mind, which she uses all the time. To sleep on.

Whew! Major Web site update…

I haven’t been posting much over the last three weeks or so, and those posts I’ve made have been “hit and run” with no conversational followup, largely because I’ve been spending a great deal of time working on a huge update to me Web site.

I finally uploaded what I’ve done, though I had originally planned to wait and do the upload with everything I want to do. I still have quite a number of significant updates left to finish.

The part that’s been updated involves:

– Significant updates to the polyamory section, that include:

– Changes to the Common Poly Mistakes, Communication, Glossary, and Links section.
– A brand-new page: How to Become a Secure Person in Three Easy Steps, which is based on a reworking and extension of the similar essay posted here in my LiveJournal.

– Significant updates to the BDSM section, including typo fixes and minor revisions to the main page, revisions to the Folks I Can Do Without page and the Glossary of BDSM Terms, and significant new additions to the BDSM Scenarios page.

– A very significant extension to my Grammar Cheat Sheet page, including many new entries of common grammar errors and a whole new section on “Language in Flux.”

– A whole new wing on my developing section on extropianism and transhumanism, including a new page on rationality called A Defense of Reason (adapted from and extending another post in my journal) and a new and still growing books and Web resources on transhumanism, nanotechnology, and rationality.

– An overhaul to the Photography Resources and Links page.

There’s a lot more stuff coming, too! Planned additions over the next few weeks include:

Free e-cards! I’ve installed electronic greeting card software on the server; I haven’t created the images and pages to go with it yet, but I’m working on a new section for BDSM-themed e-cards and for polyamory-themed e-cards. I’m doing this out of exasperation for all the Valentine’s cards that say things like “to my one and only” or “to my one true love;” it’s impossible to find poly-friendly online cards. Note: if anyone has any BDSM or poly-themed images they would like to let me use for greeting cards, let me know! I will provide credit for the images, if you like. The images must either be copyright-free or you must own the copyright yourself.

A whole new polyamorous wing: The Cranky Polyamorist, an ongoing collection of essays and rants about things that get my goat. I’m working on three essays currently, and will probably have more over time. I’m getting cynical in my old age…

A Poly/Mono Dialog, a transcript of an ongoing conversation I’ve been having online with a monogamous person, and a real eye-opener for some of the basic philosophical and worldview differences between monogamous people and polyamorous people. It’s a fascinating dialog, but it currently runs well over 20,000 words; editing it down and keeping it coherent is turning out to be a bigger job than I thought.

Two or three more sections in the Poly page, and one or two more sections in the BDSM page.

Ongoing revisions to the Transhumanism section, including additional resources and probably at least one more essay.

More revisions to the BDSM Scenarios page.

Additions to the Photography pages, probably affecting only the Digital section.

And now, off to the dentist!

Today’s mission, should you choose to accept it…

Shelly challenged me with this one a while ago, and I was just reminded of it by a conversation in IM.

Let’s say that you suspect that you are living inside the Matrix–that is, the reality into which you were born and in which you and everyone else lives is a simulation.

Would it be possible, using only the tools and observations you have available within that simulated reality and without any referent to anything outside the simulation, to demonstrate conclusively that you were living in a simulation? And by the same token, would it be possible to demonstrate, if it turned out that you were not living inside the Matrix, to demonstrate that you were not? If so, how?

Got me stumped. Ideas?

Some thoughts on rights, humanity, and what it means to be a person

On another forum I read, a conversation has arisen about whether or not people have “rights,” and what it means to have “rights.” Like many Americans, I believe that people do, simply as a consequence of being people, have certain inalienable rights; and among these are the right to life, liberty, self-determinism, and to believe and express as they desire so long as they do not infringe on these same rights in others. I believe these rights are immutable; that they are a consequence of being a person, and are not granted by the state or by any other entity or power; and that a state or other entity can take them away, but not grant them.

But do I believe these things simply because I’m an American, and I’ve been brainwashed into believing them? Well, no.

There’s no question that a person’s social, political, and moral ideas and values are socially informed, and that people can and do absorb many of those ideas from the society around them.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I believe what I do because I’ve been “brainwashed’ to believe them, however. There are many cultural and social values held by a great many Americans which are just as firmly inculcated into people here which I reject; evidence suggests that cultural brainwashing doesn’t work too well on me. 🙂

More to the point, a person who holds ideas about rights simply because he has been told that “rights are good” probably is unlikely to think too deeply about the implications of those rights; a person who is simply repeating American cultural ideas about innate human rights is unlikely to, for example, see the contradiction between those values and the idea that it is OK to tell gays and lesbians that they cannot marry.

In fact, I think these ideas have often been enshrined in America more as vague theories than as matters of political and social reality. Even the very people who first articulated these ideas as a framework for American society did not really believe them, or at least did not follow their own arguments through to their logical conclusions; Thomas Jefferson, who believed that “all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” kept slaves.

When you do sincerely hold to these beliefs, and you do follow them through to their logical conclusion, which I do, you end up in territory that diverges radically from the reality of American society, and makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I’ll get to that in a minute, but for right now, suffice to say that these ideas are held by Americans only in an abstract theoretical way, rather than as a matter of real truth.

I do believe that a great many Americans do simply parrot back what their civics teacher told them about “rights” without thinking through what that means or what the implications of those beliefs are. I don’t think I’m one of them, and let me tell you why… Continue reading

Link o’ the day: Robots and Slime Mold

Courtesy of zaiah: Robot Moved by a Slime Mould’s Fear. (datan0de, you’ll get a kick out of this one!)

A bright yellow slime mould that can grow to several metres in diameter has been put in charge of a scrabbling, six-legged robot…

Physarum polycephalum is a large single-celled organism that responds to food sources, such as bacteria and fungi, by moving towards and engulfing it. It also moves away from light and favours humid, moist places to inhabit. The mould uses a network of tiny tubes filled with cytoplasm to both sense its environment and decide how to respond to it. Zauner’s team decided to harness this simple control mechanism to direct a small six-legged (hexapod) walking bot. […]

Biology is already influencing the evolution of robots in other ways. For example, researchers led by Chris Melhuish at the University of the West of England in Bristol, UK, have developed robots that generate power by consuming flies.
“Computational autonomy has been studied for some time,” says Ioannis Ieropoulos of the University of Western England team. “For a truly autonomous robot, the level of computational complexity will depend on the available energy.”

Home again, home again…

Spent the weekend at a trade show (Graphics of the Americas) in Miami this week. Shelly and I headed down there Thursday night, returned late Sunday. It’s a yearly convention; I go on behalf of one of my clients, and demo prepress software (imposition, page pairing, that sort of thing) at their booth.

Joining me in th booth this year was the daughter of one of the company’s employees. She and I spent a good deal of time Saturday and Sunday talking about transhumanism, polyamory, life extension, nanotech, and other fun stuff…she turned out to be very interesting to talk to indeed.

She and a couple of other people from my client’s company wanted some idea of what Photoshop was capable of, so I snapped a couple quick digital pics of her (one in the convention hall and one outside of it) and gave an impromptu 30-minute Photoshop lesson:

Lots of fun. By the time I was done, one of the people watching had run off to buy a copy of Scott Kirby’s Photoshop book from the Adobe booth.

It’s amazing how much difference having someone to talk to makes.

Some thoughts on beauty

Shelly and I have season passes to Busch Gardens. On weekends, we like to go there and hang out sometimes. Busch Gardens has a “wild animal encounter” section where you can go nose to nose wih various animals, separated only by Plexiglass.

We went there last weekend. Among my favorite animals at Busch Gardens are the hyenas; I took a picture of this fellow some time ago:

I have heard many, many people say “Oh, those hyenas are ugly!” when they look at the hyena display. Hyenas look a bit like dogs; but they look like poor dogs. If you compare a hyena to a domesticated dog or to a wolf, they look all kinds of wrong–heads too large, snouts shorter and sloping, necks longer, fur all short and spiky. As dogs, yeah, they’re pretty ugly.

And I think that’s very interesting.

If you watch animated porn, you start to notice something. Most animated porn, like Japanese hentai, uses characters that aren’t photorealistic by any stretch of the imagination. The women in hentai tend to be completey disproportionate to real human beings–huge eyes, tiny mouth, really only crude sketches of the basic form of a person. And that works for us; we look at these characters, who are only approximately human, and say “Aww, cute.” (Well, some of us do, anyway. others of us say “Satan! The sins of the flesh! Out! Out! Devil, begone!” Still others of us say “What’s with all the tentacles, anyway?” But I digress.)

If you watch animated porn that’s been rendered in 3D and strives to be photorealistic, though, you find that at a certain point, it becomes very, very creepy. There’s a certain threshold that gets reached where our brains start interpreting the characters as people…but people who are, somehow, wrong.

We’re very, very good at looking at people. We have a part of the brain just dedicated to parsing faces. Even tiny, almost unnoticable inconsistences in the way photorealistic characters move look off to us. A character that is nowhere near a real human being is fun to watch; a character that is rendered almost perfectly, but not quite, is creepy. If there are tiny flaws in the way the characters move and the way the characters look, we notice. (i had this problem withthe “Final Fantasy” movies–the characters looked great as long as they were standing still, but whenever they moved, it just looked all kinds of weird.)

On another forum I read, there’s a conversation about how significant a person’s physical appearance is to a relationship. There seem to be two basic camps; the “I could never date someone if he isn’t gorgeous” camp (which tends to resent being called ‘shallow,’ even though that is in fact a shallow attitude; the word ‘shallow’ merely means ‘penetrating only the easily or quickly perceived’ in this context, or so says my dictionary; and if people want to base their relationships on the surface or easily perceived, hey, more power to ’em. Nothing wrong with that, as long as they’re up front about it…but again, I digress); and the “If I love someone, I can see past their flaws and imperfections and be attracted to them in spite of the way they look” camp.

Me, I don’t belong to either camp. And i think the hyenas are beautiful.

You see, the people who don’t like the heyenas are to some extent, I think, judging the heyenas on the characteristics of a dog. And a hyena does not look like a dog. If one looks at a hyena and tries to impose the shape of a dog on it, the heyena doesn’t fit very well. Heyenas are damn ugly dogs, especially if your idea of what a dog should look like is informed by, say, a wolf.

But a hyena is not a wolf, nor a domestic dog; and as an example of an animal viewed in its own light, it’s gorgeous. If you look at a heyena without trying to impose the shape of a dog on it, it’s a beautiful, powerful, graceful animal. I love hyenas.

For me, a hyena is beautiful because I appreciate it for what it is, not for what it isn’t. And the same is true for people.

If you look at my past and current partners, they are physically all over the map. And every one of them has been beautiful–not because I have a standard of beauty that is flexible, but because my appreciation of what someone looks like is shaped by my experience with that person. A person to whom I am deeply connected always looks attractive to me; a person to whom I am not, does not. I don’t fully understand “Well, if I love someone I’m attracted to her in spite of what she looks like;” when I love someone, I am attracted to her because of what she looks like. Everything about that person is attractive to me; it’s not a question of “getting past” or “looking beyond” whatever perceived ‘flaws’ she has. All of these things make her who she is.

I think what happens is that people try to impose an idealized model of “woman” onto their partners, rather like the people at Busch Gardens try to impose an idealized abstraction of what a dog looks like onto a hyena. A hyena is not a domesticated dog, and an individual is not an abstraction. I don’t think I was born with the gene that causes me to try to impose shapes on things, at least not that way; certainly, I don’t try to impose an aesthetic shape onto the things around me.

It’s taken me a while to understand why people even talk about what physical traits they require in their partners, or even have those requirements in the first place, and I’m not sure if I’m quite there yet. But the hyena is helping.

Edited to fix broken HTML that garbled the last couple paragraphs.