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Dec 012014

On Saturday morning a terrible traffic accident happened just a block away from my home. Here's what has been confirmed as verified facts about this event: a BMW crashed into a motorcycle which went careening after the impact and struck a pedestrian (an employee from a nearby petrol garage who was on his way home after shift to his 9-months pregnant wife). Both the motorcyclists and the pedestrian were killed, the driver of the BMW left the scene but later turned himself into the police, strongly supporting the suggestion that his flight was not so much a lack of caring as a shock-response since he did the right thing once the shock wore off.
The accident happened at a crossing between two busy and wide roads, the bigger of which (in which the accident happened) has a large traffic island between the two directions of traffic, there is also one of the new extra traffic lights on the crossing which has been installed throughout Cape Town to allow the MyCiti busses to navigate crossings.
The event was discussed at length in the comments section of the Tableview neighbours group where a number of conflicting naratives arose, all from people who claimed to have been witnesses. Compare these examples:
"The motorcycle had stopped at a red-light and was waiting for it to change, the BMW was speeding and intent on running the red-light but didn't see the motorcycle. The BMW crashed into the motorcycle leading to the latter's collision with the pedestrian".
"The motorcycle was speeding, ran the red light and collided with the BMW before bouncing off and hitting the pedestrian."
Both these conflicting naratives were told, remember, by people who claimed to have witnessed what happened. More-over within those two groups there was another divide over another detail. About half of each group stated that the pedestrian had been running across the road at the time, the other half claimed he had been standing on the side-walk next to the road waiting for the pedestrian-signal to change in order to cross the road.
Then somebody suggested that the MyCiti signals probably confused one of the drivers leading to the accident, many agreed that these signals were confusing and this was a likely explanation and it rapidly became the accepted version of events among a significant majority of commenters. There is just a couple of problems with it. This particular crossing only has one MyCiti signal, on the South side of the crossing where it only applies to traffic heading North. One of the few things the witnesses all agree on, and which the physical evidence (notably the location of the crash and the vehicles afterwards) supports is that the accident happened on the North side of the crossing between vehicles which were both going South. It's therefore almost impossible for the MyCiti signal to have been in any way involved in this trafic accident.
The first part is a solid example of the scientifically well proven problems with human episodic memory – show 6 people the same event and you'll get 6 conflicting accounts of what happened. The latter bit however is emblematic of a different problem (albeit one that frequently contributes to the former) – the issue of bias. It's quite likely true that the MyCiti signals are confusing to many drivers (when many drivers say they are confused by them – this is strong evidence actually), but the issue isn't whether the bias is justified or not since the justifiability of a bias generally has no impact on it's application.
The fact is that, regardless of how safe or unsafe those signals are, they simply physically couldn't have been involved in this particular event – yet they became the explanation most people accepted. Not because it was likely or possible – but because it agreed with the bias they already held, evidence to the contrary was dismissed in a classic case of cognitive dissonance.
This is exactly how bias works and prejudice is just bias by another name. This is also exactly why racism, sexism, homophobia and other prejudices are so difficult to erase – because they are biasses. Those who hold these views are inclined to see them justified everywhere, to see them as explanations for events all the time and never question those explanations because they fit their prejudices. Every event that can be stretched to appear as if it's explained by prejudice becomes a reinforcement of that prejudices regardless of how uncommon such events may be, indeed regardless of whether the nature of the prejudice had played any role in the event whatsoever.
In order to combat prejudice therefore, we need to understand how it is reinforced, only by understanding that can we effectively argue against it. To the racist 369 black on white murders in South Africa over 21 months is a terrifying statistic – the fact that this is a mere 1.6% of the actual murder rate over that period and actually proves that statistically whites in South Africa are by far the *least* at risk of violent crimes is never considered, it doesn't fit the bias that they are being targetted (as opposed to the reality which is that they are most protected).
What this tragic event shows is how bias alters our thinking and leads us to conclusions that are logically unsupportable and morally untenable. It's the same problem that, in this same group, has led to the idiotic conclusion that informal traders are more, rather than less, likely to commit crimes. It is, in fact, perhaps humanities greatest challenge in the 21st century, to learn to recognize bias and apply critical thinking skills to ourselves so that it's impact can be removed because if history is teaching us one thing above all it's that bias has no positive outcomes whatsoever. It may have had some millions of years ago, but it is one hundred percent exclusively harmful today.

Oct 302014

I'm a gamer. I've been a gamer since Donkey Kong was state of the art. I learned English playing Kings Quest and I wrote a text adventure game when I was 12. I played Doom on a 486 and Quake 2 on a pentium 1. I finished Mario on the original NES and I played Grim Fandango on a celeron.

I played Mortal Kombat on the Sega Genesis and the original sim city on that same 486. I am currently playing World of Warcraft on a decent PC, Shadows of Mordor and Tomb Raider on my xbox 1. 

I am also married to a gamer, my wife and I love to game together – and she kicks ass at it. I also put the new Tomb Raider very high on my to buy list because a game with a strong female lead is such a rare pleasure. If there is one thing games do not need less off it's female leads, but if theres one thing gaming needs a lot less off it's mysoginistic bastards who pretend their tirade is about ethics.

There's been massive harrassment, there's been credible threats of large scale violence – and no, this isn't just a vocal minority, this is the essence of the entire movement. It may be the extreme version of that essence, but it's in perfect keeping with everything about this pseudo-scandal right back to it's origins in the slut-shaming attempt of a jilted ex-boyfriend.

But that is also it's weakness. If my wife spoke out against gamergate, she would face death threats and harassment, but when I do – as a man, I can expect not to. None of the other men who have did after all. So I am speaking out. I'm telling this movement that they do not speak for me. They don't speak for me as a gamer, they don't speak for me as a man – and I despise everything they are saying and doing and I want them to stop.

The very misogyny that makes gamergate so dangerous to women also makes it vulnerable to men who speak out against it. Every woman who does risks harassment, death threats, rape threats, threats of violence – but men can speak out against it without those risks, and we need to. You say not all men are like that ? Prove it then – by being one of the men telling those men that what they are doing is terrible and wrong. Saying "not-all-men" is the most meaningless tripe that a response can contain, but BEING a man who isn't like that is a step in the right direction. The next step is joining the women speaking out against the men who are, and speaking with them. If you're not confronting the men who act this way, then you're one of them.

I want my wife to be able to play games with me without entering a cesspool of mysoginy. I want to play games with my daughter without fearing for her safety. Gaming is a hobby. It's not for everybody and doesn't need to be anymore than stamp collecting or model trains are for everybody – but it sure as hell needs to be a safe space for all those who enjoy it. If you aren't prepared to treat women with respect and dignity, you're the one who doesn't belong in the gaming community, you're the one who should be rejected.

Gamergate is all about excluding people from gaming – it's just wrong about who to exclude – the ones who should be excluded is everybody who is part of this vile, disgusting movement. You're not welcome in my hobby. There is a culture around this hobby, built by people whom mainstream society had no place for. It's a hobby of outcasts, geeks and rejects – and that is what makes it beautiful, but in this behavior you become the very society that our community was built to escape from. You don't belong here. This is a community that should be welcoming and safe to all who wishes to join it, all who enjoy the hobby at it's core – and if you're not prepared to help make that the reality again, then you don't belong here.

I don't know if gamergate is a majority or minority of gamers – I do know that they aren't the gamers I grew up with, they aren't the gaming community I've been friends with and part off for 3 decades. Whether they are many or few now doesn't matter. The community I was part of was something beautiful and part of what defined it was that it was so inclusive and welcoming. What these people are now, is not gaming as I know it – but it may be gaming as it is today. 

Either way it needs to change. Gaming as it was when I became a gamer – that deserves to live on and prosper but gamergate needs to die in a fire.

Oct 282014

If you ask any geek about his browser, you'll get one of several answers, but if you ask about addons
there is one consistent theme: all of them use some kind of adblocker. Technically savvy people don't
see adds on the web anymore, and generally this has made them much happier browsers.
It has also reduced their risk of spyware and other malware infections.

So far so good but could there be a downside to this ? Not seeing ads means most engineers don't
see how targetted they've really become, don't experience the amount of data collection that 
this reveals – and thus have no itch to scratch on the underlying data collection itself.

Private companies collecting data to do targeted marketing have been shown not to be trustworthy
with that data, we know they've been happy to sell it to third parties – including governments
and government agencies like the NSA.
Some geeks have been warning about this for ages – Richard Stallman predicted it in 1983,
30 years before Edward Snowden revealed it as happening and the organisation he started
to fight for free software was in part motivated by trying to prevent this risk.
It is still one of the organisations on the forefront of fighting to reclaim our privacy with 
projects like diaspora and mediagoblin (which I wrote a short piece about last week).

But for some reason, even now, after Snowden's revelations – these FSF projects aren't getting
mainstream traction among geeks. There is still not enough drive to end them. It's becoming
ever more clear that there is no political solution to this issue – yet the technical ones
are struggling due to a lack of contributors.
Many of the very best engineers are actually working for the biggest culprits ! 

Why is this ? Why do engineers not feel the need to contribute to, make use of, and drive
technologies to end this corpo-government intrusions into our private lives ? I think in 
part because even good things can have unintended consequences. It's just possible that
unlike everybody else – the one group who can appreciate the visible evidence of data
collection and infer the scale required to do it, are not seeing that evidence because
years ago they started blocking the channels it exists on (since those channels are annoying).

Now I would never advocate that we stop using adblockers, if anything, I would advocate that
we should get them more widely used (if enough people use them – the advertising market would
collapse and a lot of the monetary reasons for data collection would dissapear) – but in it's
current state as something mostly used by tech savvy geeks and engineers, it may actually be
having a negative side effect by making those most capable of finding solutions to these issues
less aware and less motivated to do so.

So, no, don't uninstall your adblocker, but remember why you wanted it in the first place and
help us bring about a new true peering internet. Let's contribute to the FSF projects fighting
to change the way people share things online so that, once again, the users can control what
they share with whom. 

Oct 242014

Fill in the blank: More Americans have ______ than have caught Ebola.

A) married Kim Kardashian

B) walked on the moon

C) voted for Ron Paul

D) miraculously survived a parachute failure from more than a mile up.

E) broken a land-speed record

F) played Batman in a movie

G) All of the above.


Answer: G – all of the above.

You can still count all the Americans who have ever caught Ebola on the fingers of a Simpson's character's hand. Okay ?

Oct 242014

I've been following the development of GNU MediaGoblin with interest, and considering that the focus of this site has rather changed over the years: it used to be regular blogs with occasional forays into other media, now it's more often media sharing with occasional blog posts… I am thinking it may be a better approach to this site's purpose and functionality. 

The idea of running-your-own may feel dated nowadays but it's also a valuable way to try and preserve some privacy and control over the way that media I share is presented, what is public and what is more narrowly shared. The coming federation could be first steps toward restoring the internet to a system of genuine participative content under control of the users who participate. I'm ethically inclined to like their approach to social networking better than what the current corporate offerings are doing and I'm also geekily attracted to playing with what looks like a truly awesome codebase using some very cutting edge technologies in very cool ways.

On the other hand, wordpress is a mature codebase while mediagoblin is in it's infancy. For a professional site – that could be a major downside, but since this is my personal site and I have always seen it as a place for experimentation and discovery and learning as much as an online presence – that is far less of a concern for me. If it crashes now and then, so be it (I don't know that it's likely to).

So I am leaning towards installing it here and starting a content migration, when I have time in between parenting anyway – and possibly replacing the current wordpress site entirely – lets face it, python web-services behind nginx is just so much more "today" than php on apache :P


Oct 232014



When you, like me, believe in things like equality, women's rights, anti-racism, ending poverty, relieving suffering and all the other hallmarks of liberals – there is an odd response you constantly encounter from the rightwing side of politics: they call it idealism, and this is said with scorn. The implication: you are believing in the impossible, wanting the unobtainable. They'll even say so outright with phrases like: "the poor will always be with us" or "that's just the way it is and always will be". Their scorn reaches a pinnacle when they call us "social justice warriors" – which is not, as it would at first appear, a phrase of praise. 

Their belief is that theirs is a more realistic approach to the world – as if it's depressing claims are somehow more in tune with the real, material, universe. Then they have the gall of accusing liberals of "reducing people to mere pawns of circumstance with no control over their fate" – which flat-out contradicts their own stated belief in the previous paragraph. Ironically liberals do not do that at all – when we point out victimization (what they scornfully replace with victim-blaming – so blatantly as to refer to "victim-mentality") we are not reducing people to products of circumstance, on the contrary, we are recognizing that people have been reduced in this manner (by forces that are very hard for an individual to overcome) – and fighting to change that. You can't solve a problem unless you're prepared to admit that problem exists.

However that initial belief remains not just questionable but outright false. Their embrace of present-day as if it's some ultimate truth is no more realistic than believing in justice and mercy. Greed is no more real than compassion. They are idealists as much as we are – their ideals are just so depressing and disgusting that they can't admit they embrace them as ideals to pursue – so they pretend it's reality instead. Well grind the universe, sieve it and show me one atom of greed, one molecule of inequality.

For that matter show me an atom of liberty, a molecule of "money" (after all – the bits of paper hte government print has no intrinsic value – just the common agreement to pretend they do).

Every belief system – including the philosophical ones about society and the state are made up of 100% idealism, there is no reality in these things – no truth to them. But ideals have an interesting difference from all other metaphysical concepts – they can have the same impact on the world that they would have had if they were real even though they are not. Which is as close to real as makes no difference.

When you act with greed rather than compassion – choosing to exploit people instead, you create a world of the exploited, a world where all the effects of greed exist, even if greed is not an actual thing with a material existince. When you pretend this piece of paper is worth a stick of gum, you can acquire a stick of gum. In a way – idealism makes itself real enough to work.

Which then leaves us with but one conclusion – there is nothing inevitable about any particular outcome. The effects of greed exist not because greed is a real thing – only because people act according to the idea of greed. If people instead act according to the idea of compassion then the effects of compassion are completely real, even though the compassion itself was no more a real thing than the greed.

There is nothing superior about the right's set of ideals, their version of justice isn't more real, neither is their version of economics they are as idealistic and unreal as those of liberals. What is real however, is the effect of those beliefs – the real results of the choices they inspire. 

You can tell me you don't agree with my ideals, but don't pretend their inferior or less real – both our ideals have exactly zero reality to them. But when my belief in justice, mercy and compassion guides my actions, the effects of justice, mercy and compassion exist in the world just as real as if they had been real things. The more people believe in an ideal, the more it's effects become reality. That is how all societies are formed – by the collective effects of unreal causes. So I choose to believe in the ideals which will have the effects I desire to see in the world. That is, ultimately, the only defining factor. Do you choose a world of suffering, and thus contribute to that suffering, or do you choose to act according to believes that lessen suffering ?

That is ultimately the great lesson – if belief has the power to cause real effects (by guiding choices), then the kind of society we live in is really something we can change. Since there are no two societies alike in time and space, we have absolute proof that the structure of society is not some predetermined thing – it must be changeable or they would all be the same (or at least, similar) – they aren't, so social structures are maleable, it's up to us what we choose to mould them into.