The best kittens, technology, and video games blog in the world.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

10 Unpopular Opinions

Cat by kimashi tower from flickr (CC-BY)

I posted these on twitter a while back on Robin's request, but I wanted to elaborate a bit and give some context.

The list avoids politics, anything politics-adjacent like economics, and is not about just preferences.

If these turn out to be not controversial enough, I might post another list sometime in the future.

Listening to audio or watching videos at 100% speed is a waste of life

People speak very slowly, and for a good reason. When you talk with another person you need to not just process what they said, you're also preparing your responses, considering their reaction to your responses, and so on. With more than two people involved, it gets even more complicated.

None of this applies when you're just listening to something passively. Using audio speeds designed to leave you with enough brainpower to model your interlocutor when there's no interlocutor to model is just wasting it.

It will probably take a while to get used to it, but just speed it up, 200% should be comfortable for almost every content - podcasts, audiobooks, let's plays, TV etc. At first I used slight speedups like 120%, but I kept increasing it.

Side effect of this is that you might end up listening to music at higher speeds too (I end up using 140%), and people find this super weird.

I recommend this Chrome extension to control exact playback speed. It works with all major video sites.

I also wrote speedup_mp3 command line tool for podcasts and audiobooks, but nowadays most devices have builtin methods.

Oh and back in analog days, speeding up audio messed up the pitch, so everything sounded funny. It's not true for modern methods.

Any programmer who does not write code recreationally is invariably mediocre at best

This comes up every now and then on sites like reddit and the masses of mediocre programmers are always like "oh it's totally fine to just code at work". It's not.

Coding is unique in its ability to change the world - with even tiny amounts of effort you can affect reality. If someone never codes recreationally, this means one of:
  • They're so content they never needed or wanted to create something that didn't exist before
  • They coded some stuff, but never bothered to Open Source it
  • They'd like to, but they're just not good enough
So when you're hiring, all CVs without github link should go straight to the bin.

Couldn't be bothered to Open Source used to be sort of excusable, but it's nowadays just so easy to push something to github, Signaling 101 strongly implies people without github account are just bad.

And that applies to even junior / graduate roles. Even if you don't have anything amazingly useful to show yet, you can still share as you learn.

Avoidance of suffering can't be basis of morality - if it was, knocking out a few pain genes would be highest moral imperative

Nobody buys morality systems based on "God said so" or "Kant said so", and when people spend too much time on utilitarianism, they run into all kinds of problems.

So it became fashionable to ignore all pleasurable parts of utilitarianism, and just focus on minimizing suffering.

This is a total nonstarter. "Pain" and "suffering" are not exactly the same thing, but if you want to minimize suffering getting rid of pain is pretty much mandatory, and it's just a few simple gene edits to abolish it completely.

So far nobody's interested in researching some gene edits for humans or animals to get rid of pain, so by revealed preference they don't actually buy their own stated believes that avoidance of suffering is terribly important.

An obvious objection might be that people with congenital insensitivity to pain keep getting themselves in physically dangerous situations, but it's completely irrelevant. They live in the world of pain-sensitive people, which is currently full of objects dangerous to people without pain sensitivity. It would take very modest effort to redesign common risk factors for greater safety, and establish cultural norms to always see medical help just in case whenever something unusual is happening to one's body, not just when it's painful (since nothing ever will be).

Or even if that as somehow unachievable, we could simply reduce pain sensitivity without completely losing it as a signal. If it was really key to all morality, science should drop everything and focus on it.

Any takers? No? I thought so.

Mobile "games" are closer to fidget spinner than to real games

As a proud gamer, I find it infuriating that people call those mobile things "games".

It's not that they're bad games - I have no problem with bad games. They are not games.

For a good analogy, let's say you're into movies. And then someone is like "oh I totally love movies, I put news on tv playing in the background every morning while I get ready to go out". Ridiculous, isn't it? Somehow everybody else is spared from this nonsense, except gamers.

A game - like a movie - is something you actually get fully into. In game time, or movie time.

A mobile "game" - like background TV news - is something happening part-time mentally, just to fill otherwise dead time. Like on a train, in a long queue, or otherwise when you can't do anything better.

You know what mobile "games" are closer to? Fidget spinners. Rubik cubes. Sudokus. Toys. Not games.

That's not to say there aren't some legit games on mobile platforms, like let's say Hearthstone. They have nothing in common with all that fidget spinnery stuff.

Future medicine will develop easy fitness pill/hardware, and modern diet/exercise obsession will be wtf-tier to them

We evolved in very different world, and recently nearly everyone all over the world is getting overweight, horribly unfit, and suffering from all kinds of chronic conditions as a result.

Currently the best way people have to deal with it is to go on ever crazier diets, spend billions on "healthy" food and weight loss preducts, spend hours every week in gyms, and all that effort has at most modest effect.

But why is any of that even remotely necessary? You already have all the genes necessary to be fit, healthy, and attractive (and if you don't, most simple genetic problems can be fixed with simple medical interventions). If that fails, it's because something about current environment messes up with your body's regulatory system so much the result is failure to achieve your biological potential.

Contrary to "calorie" nonsense, all the dieting and exercise is just attempt to make your regulatory system work more like it's evolutionarily designed to.

At some point we'll inevitably figure out some ways to monitor and affect that body's regulatory system directly, skipping this insanity of self-denial and waste of endless hours for very modest result.

For a good example, consider 20th century's biggest health menace - smoking cigarettes. It led to enormous social campaign, punitive taxation, and in some specially evil countries like UK government is literally using death panels against smokers. Then vaping came, and you can get basically all the benefits of smoking cigarettes with basically zero of health risks.

Problem is completely solved. Well, at least it would be if governments and society fully embraced vaping instead of treating it as smoking tier evilness.

For older example, people used to have crazy complicated dietary cleanliness rules to reduce their exposure to pathogens. All forgotten now, except among religious nuts. Food sold in supermarkets is pathogen free, we moved on.

We already have some examples of this direct approach working - stomach surgery has far stronger and immediate results than all kinds of diets and exercise put together with zero effort needed - and there are less invasive methods in development.

There were also a lot of pills which improved fitness and reduced obesity greatly, but they foolishly keep getting themselves banned due to rare side effects, or as part of the evil War on Drugs.

Or alternatively maybe sexbots are going to get so good everyone is going to get many hours of intense exercise every night without any self-denial. But whichever way, it's going to get solved.

MongoDB figured out the one true way to represent data as JSON documents - now if only everything else about it was any good

Relational database are sort of insane. They essentially model data as a collection of Excel spreadsheets. There's some irrelevant mathematical nonsense like relational calculus, but it only has the most remote relationship with RDBMSs.

Would you consider writing a program where the only data type was Excel spreadsheet? What kind of question is that, obviously not, yet a lot of you use relational database, and some ORM to make those Excel spreadsheets look kinda like something more useful, and it's painful.

Sure, they have a lot of nice stuff on top of that Excel spreadsheets - like ability to merge multiple Excel spreadsheets into a new temporary Excel spreadsheets, but that's all they ever do.

We don't need any of that. MongoDB style storing data as collections of JSON documents is close to perfect as it gets. And its performance can be pretty amazing.

It's just not very good for anything else. Lack of good query language, and the silly thing of building JSON query trees is not even remotely acceptable. Take a look at this website which translates very simple SQL into MongoDB queries. They are insane.

If we had MongoDB style data modelling, and good query language on top of it, it would win all database wars.

By the way, programs which literally use Excel as their backend engine are an actual thing.

Farm animals are generally better off than wild animals - enjoy that chicken

Wild animals live on edge of Malthusian equilibrium - with lives just tolerable enough to survive, generally on edge of starvation, death by predation, or by disease. And in times of abundance, they just fight for status in their pack, with a lot more losers than winners. It's not a great life.

None of that applies to domesticated animals. They have safety, abundance of food, freedom from disease, and their lives end as painlessly as possible in their prime, saving them from degenerations of old age.

That's not to say their lives are anywhere near optimized for greatest happiness, but by any dispassionate evaluation the contrast in really one sided.

And it's not like going vegan would somehow reduce suffering - those cows and chickens would simply never exist.

So enjoy the meat.

Popularity of javascript won't last long - compiling real languages to web assembly is near future

Javascript was never meant as a "real" general purpose language. It was created for 10 line hacks to validate some online forms and other such trivial things, and it was perfectly adequate for it. Then jQuery happened, and it turned even more into special purpose language for browser APIs.

Thanks to great success of web browsers as a platform, it somehow managed to tag along and is enjoying temporary time of popularity, being used for things far bigger than it's reasonable to.

But Javascript has no real competitive advantages. All advantages are in browser APIs, and any language which compiles to something browsers can run can use them.

Right now the Web has a mix of:
  • sites with old style trivial Javascript, jQuery, and simple plugins like Facebook buttons - that's close to 99% of the web
  • sites with new Javascript frameworks - they're so rare you can't even see them in popularity statistics except Angular somehow gets over 1% mark
  • very small number of high profile custom written sites like Google Maps and Gmail
There are two orders of magnitude gaps between these categories.

Anyway, the interesting thing is that in framework world, people already abandoned Javascript, and use various Javascript++ languages like CoffeeScript, JSX, TypeScript, whatever Babel does etc. And it's all compiled, with browser never seeing raw code.

This is all intermediate situation, and the only long term equilibrium will be Javascript++ being displaced by actual programming languages like Ruby or Python.

Right now all ways to use them in browser like Opal are in infancy, but when you look at numbers, everything about Javascript frameworks is in its infancy.

Widespread piracy alternative motivated game companies to treat gamers well - less piracy led to anti-gamer behaviour like loot boxes

Video game piracy is much less common than it used to be. There are many factors, both positive and negative - Steam and other online retailers made it far easier to buy games without waiting a week for the box, there are many discount sites and promotions so even people with less money can buy legit games, many games focus on online play and that's harder for pirates to emulate, there's been aggressive DRM effort that mostly worked on consoles, and is even causing some delays on PCs, and popular pirating sites keep getting shut down or get infected by malware.

It's still possible to pirate, but it all adds up to much lower rates (unlike let's say TV shows, where it's as rampant as ever). Whatever the reasons, the result is horrible for gamers.

Back when everyone had alternative of easy piracy, companies were essentially forced to treat gamers well, as any bullshit would just lead to alt-tab to The Pirate Bay. Now that piracy is much more niche, companies can do whatever they want.

Day one DLCs, DLCs which are basically bugfixes, DLCs while the game is still in Early Access, DLCs and cost $500+, all kinds of Pay-to-Win schemes, lootboxes, all that crap is happening not because companies are getting greedier, but because abused gamers are less likely to exercise the pirate option than in the past.

There are no easy ways. Outrage campaigns just slow down these abusive practices. Platforms like Steam could ban some of the worst abuses, and in theory even game rating agencies and governments could intervene, for example treating lootboxes as gambling, and completely ban it for under-18s games. In practice governments are by anti-gamer old people, and they're more likely to cause even more harm.

Keeping piracy option alive is the best way we have if we want to be treated with dignity.

For all its historical significance, apt-get is not really a good package manager

Twenty years ago Linux's main selling point were package managers like apt-get. You didn't need to download software from twenty sites, and chase incompatibilities, you just typed one command and it was all setup properly. It even upgraded everything with one command, rarely breaking anything in process.

It was amazing. It also didn't age well.

Just to cover some difference between modern (mostly OSX) environment:
  • There's no reason for admin access to install most software
  • Programs are self-updating
  • Many programs have some kind of plugin system
  • Pretty much every programming language has its own package system
  • Quite often you need to install multiple versions
apt-get really doesn't deal with any of it.

A while ago I'd have thought it's really funny, but OSX-style package management like Linuxbrew and Nix are now a thing.

On Cloud servers people usually use language-specific package managers, or nowadays even occasionally something like Docker.

Either way, Linux is still not on desktop. I guess lack of usable graphics card drivers in any distro might be among the reason.


Noumenon said...

I can't stop thinking of database as a collection of Excel spreadsheets now. Also the exercise thing. And I'd never thought about the actual popularity of the JS frameworks as opposed to their popularity in podcasts. Thanks for posting.

I don't see anyone suggesting research on genes to prevent obesity either. Doesn't mean we don't care about it, means we're afraid of eugenics (dumbly) and don't think the science is there yet. Like it would be a long experiment to do on human subjects. I would not be antinatalist if there were a way to be sure that my kids wouldn't suffer and be unhappy with life.

taw said...

Noumenon: Existence of congenital insensitivity to pain mostly shows that there's a small and well defined target, realistically practical solution would probably be some kind of a pill that messes with those genes (either in adults or in children as "anti-pain vaccine") to disrupt pain neurons or cause fewer to develop, not direct genetic intervention.

For short term actions, testing and selective breeding of chickens and other farm animals for reduced pain sensitivity would be fairly straightforward practical starting point.

It's actually sort of similar situation with obesity. We know stomach surgery works, so there's a nice target, but mass surgery would be quite problematic. Gastric balloon pill takes advantage of known target, by much less invasive means.

There aren't any good genetic targets for obesity, every demographic group had slim ancestors 100 years ago and has fat population today. Outlier groups like Japanese living in Japan do so for non-genetic reasons, as Japanese Americans with same genes are much fatter.