10 May, 2022
I fathered a child as a young teenager. Alabama had no abortion clinics anywhere nearby, so it took months before we could scrape together enough to visit Atlanta, Georgia, for a medical consultation. We didn’t have enough knowledge nor sense at the time to know in advance that we were on a clock, so we were completely crushed to discover that the pregnancy was too far along to stop in Georgia once we finally arrived. (We had saved for quite a while for this ultimately fruitless trip.)
We went home and reevaluated. My partner at the time preferred going the adoption route. She suggested moving to another state during the pregnancy, giving birth, and then allowing another family to raise the child. Meanwhile, I had no strong opinion. Eventually, her body started to show and we decided we had to tell others; both her family and mine seemed to take it well enough (perhaps because what else could they do?), and their immediate assumption was not adoption but that we would marry and raise the child. I wasn’t ready to do any such thing, but, again, I simply felt no strong opinion. I asked her to marry me anyway. We married. It took extra paperwork from our parents because we were so young. Despite not having a strong opinion this entire time, I made a commitment that I would make do what it took to make it work. (I eventually didn’t, even if at the time I thought I had tried my best.)
I did not know it at the time, but, looking back, I realize that my continued insistence on not having a strong opinion was because I felt invincible. Even in the face of such a life-altering situation, I could not help but to feel that it would work out, that the baby would be gone at some point, either taken in by another family or would otherwise not make it long into life, and that my previous plans would resume. I had meant to go to Pasadena, to get into CalTech, to begin my life as it had been planned years in advance. Yes, there was a marriage now. Yes, there was a baby. But, somehow, back then, I still felt like the universe would react in just such a way so that I could fulfill my every plan. After all, every other time in my life things had worked out for the best. I knew this because I could shape any set of facts into evidence that we were still in the perfect universe for Eric. (I literally never noticed any confusion back then on such issues.)
I ended up being a pretty shitty parent. I recall not being bothered by that poor infant’s cries. Now, years later, I recognize how others react to such sounds, yet I clearly remember that my reaction was one of indifference. I am ashamed to say this. I am ashamed to write such words on my blog, even though I am very different person today — even though I have full awareness that the me of today would never act the way that severely immature Eric did so many decades ago. But I will write these words nonetheless: The me of back then would spend hours upon hours of not caring that, in another room, a fellow human cried out helplessly.
I thought, at the time, that I was doing my part. I followed basic instructions. I ensured that meals happened on time, that holding and rocking her occurred on a schedule, that she was cleaned when time came to clean. But I acted solely on a timer: at 2pm doing this; at 4pm doing that. I did not ever change my schedule based on any input from her. At the time, my focus was on keeping to my commitment. It was on being able to say that I did all that was necessary. But I did not know what love was back then. Not to the child, not to my partner, not to my parents, and not even to myself. I was just simply not mature enough to take on such a responsibility. I tried anyway, in the immature way that I could back then. Thank God that my partner left me and took poor Adrianah Celes. She deserved to grow up with real parents, not with who I was back then. I merely went through the motions, thinking that this was sufficient to hold up my end of the agreement.
A combination of things have caused me to write about this today. In my country, Roe v Wade may soon be overturned. I remember how derailed my life was when getting an abortion was not easy to do back in my early teenage years. I certainly don't wish that others ever have to go through what we did back then. But, also, I don't mean to imply that my daughter (am I allowed to refer to her this way? I think perhaps that I am not, being just a mere sperm donor) did not deserve life. I sometimes talk with people who fail to understand the distinction between an existing person deserving life and a potential person's lack of desert for life. I am also concerned for my brother, Alejandro, who is a freshman in high school this year and who seems to also feel that he is invincible. For him, the issue is likelier to be bullying than unprotected sex, but it concerns me nonetheless because it reminds me so strongly of how I felt when I was his age.
I haven't felt invincible for well over a decade at this point. I have grown so very much since those early days in my life. I know now that I have no desire to ever raise a child (it's just not in me), and I've gone through great lengths to ensure that I'd never get anyone pregnant ever again. I was strongly reminded of just how vincible I truly am only a couple of years back, when I very nearly died in early 2020. And, most recently, earlier this year when I finally reached the point where I decided I needed to start seeing a therapist.
I no longer feel invincible. But my life was largely shaped by my feelings of invincibility back when I was younger. Those feelings of invincibility affected my life's trajectory more than most things back then. More than my schooling. More than the friends I hung around. Maybe not as much as my parents, or my cognitive abilities, but it is a closer thing than you might at first think. If I could go back and make one minor belief change in my early life, convincing myself that I was not invincible might be one of the most life changing.
I don't know to what extent I should go to help teach my brother this lesson. Perhaps it will be sufficient to just talk about the things I've said in this blog entry. We'll see.
31 March, 2022
I was sixteen years old. Life was complicated — I had dropped out of public school, I was moving in with my then-partner after she became pregnant, and I was enrolling into freshman classes at the University of South Alabama. Many things happened during this turbulent year — some good, some bad — but, somewhat confusingly, the thing which ended up staying with me long term was StarCraft.
I first encountered the game at Greg's house. I had been playing WarCraft II for years at this point, but StarCraft was an upgrade in almost every way possible. I was entranced. I immediately tore into the campaign, and lan parties became a weekly norm. We were all bad back then, but it didn't matter. This was the best thing since Magic: the Gathering.
|EVER OSL Final|
Years passed. Every few months, I would pick up everything and leave for a new state. It was a nice transient experience, and I got to see much of the United States. I had very few possessions during this time. I made a habit of buying cheap paperbacks to read and then donating them to the local library before packing up my car and moving to the next place. I'd always stamp the books first; if you ever see an early-to-mid-20th-century scifi paperback in a small town library, check the inside front cover to see if it says it was donated by me. (I must have donated ~400 books over the few years I did this.) But one of the things I always made sure to bring with me was my copy of the StarCraft battle chest. It held a special place of honor next to my computer and I would replay the campaign in nearly every state I moved to.
|Artosis and Tasteless|
I don't quite know why I feel so connected to this game. It's not the best RTS — StarCraft II has that title, as it fixed all those dragoon/goliath shenanigans. But it is definitely the best esport. It's exciting, fun to watch, and has depths of strategy that never gets old. In most games, pros seem able to do things that I could never do. But StarCraft is different: I can do many of the things that I see pros do — it's just that I can only do them one at a time, on normal speed. What makes them pros is that they're able to do those things while running a good economy, having map awareness, microing in multiple places at once, and generally doing all of this while also having to think both strategically and tactically. This means that I can see their expertise clearly at play even though each individual move they make is one that I can understand as it is doable at my level.
As I move forward with Effective Giving Quest, I am hopeful that I will be able to connect with the StarCraft community and bring some of them to effective altruism. It would mean a lot to me if I were able to bring two of my passions together in this way.
14 March, 2022
|Giving What We Can|
It has now been over a decade since I joined the EA movement. Today, I looked up how much of an effect my donations have made. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that, over the course of the last ten years, my donations toward EA charities have added up to the equivalent of saving the lives of 37 people.
This is pleasing to me on several fronts. First, my go-to favorite number has been 1/137 for many decades at this point, so 37 is just a generally pleasing number for me to see. Second, it helps to make salient just how much my efforts have made a difference. As of 2020, it appears that it costs around $2300 to effectively save the life of a person via AMF. I've accomplished this standard an astonishing 37 times. This is honestly staggering to me.
|Marcos is in the Qatar shirt, posing w/ siblings.|
There's a story that gets told at my family gatherings. It comes up maybe once every few years. It goes like this:
Forty years ago, my uncle Marcos was walking down the street in his home country of Bolivia. He turns a corner, and he is suddenly facing a fire that has recently started raging in a house, only a few tens of meters away. He drops his pack and runs to the house, calling out if anyone is still inside. When he hears a faint voice, he rushes in, zeroes in on the older lady there, and successfully brings her out of the building. Later, firefighters arrive, and they help to partially save the building. But the old woman saves most of her thanks to my uncle Marcos.
When this story is told, people at the dinner table feel pride for what Marcos did that day. He wasn't a firefighter; he was just a bystander who stood up to do what is right when he found himself in a place where he could help save a life. This is a story of a hero, and it feels good to hear it.
But, of course, actual firefighters get the chance to save lives much more often than this. Maybe not as often as it occurs in the movies, but maybe on average they get to save someone's life once a year. They are, without a doubt, even more heroic. Yet I wonder if they get as many positive feels around the dinner table as Marcos does when his story gets retold.
So when I started donating to effective altruism charities in 2011, I made a personal decision that ended up working out very well for me. I decided that instead of giving a monthly donation, I would save up my donations until they reached a certain chunk size, and then I would donate that amount to a single EA charity. The size I chose was the donation size that GiveWell at the time had determined was the amount needed to save a life by donating to the Against Malaria Foundation.
Since then, EA has become more mature. GiveWell no longer likes to talk in terms of "the amount it takes to save a life". But I've kept the tradition of giving in chunks for a very good reason: it makes me feel good.
Every time I donate a block of money that I've saved up, I visualize in my mind that it is me that has dropped my pack, and it is me that is running toward that burning building. I visualize that, as I donate this amount, what is actually happening is that I am saving this specific individual's life.
And you know what? As corny as this sounds, it actually works. It's a private experience — it doesn't get told at family dinners — and it is somewhat mitigated by the fact that I give to EA charities that aren't AMF these days, but it nevertheless feels to me like I am making a difference every time I donate a chunk of money. It works even though I have aphantasia, and I visualize in a completely different way than most people do. It works even though I know the person in my head that I'm saving is not literal/real. It works even though I do this ceremony alone, just for myself, without others to be around to experience or even know about it. It just works, and it honestly makes the experience of giving for charitable utilons to be as pleasurable as when I give for fuzzies. It's a different feeling; it comes less often. But it feels good.
Over time, I've visualized saving someone an astonishing 37 times. It has felt wonderful every single time. (Technically, I've gone through the process fewer times than this, because the old calculation for how much it cost to save a life was $7500. It is now $2300.)
If you have yet to take the Giving What We Can pledge, I strongly encourage you to do so. To date, 8,274 people have taken the pledge. You could be the 8,275th. Of all the things you could purchase with your money, this is perhaps the thing that may ultimately mean the most, and, if you treat it as a ceremony the way that I do, it may also end up feeling like the most wonderfully feeling personal experience that money can honestly buy.
Just calculated that, over the last decade, I've saved the equivalent of 37 lives by donating to #EffectiveAltruism charities, fulfilling a total of 203% of my @givingwhatwecan pledge. Feeling particularly proud of my impact today. (c:https://t.co/rVAlKwSf4S— Eric Herboso (@EricHerboso) March 14, 2022
06 March, 2022
Once, when I was homeless, broke, and had nothing but a laptop to my name, I would work online to earn mere pennies at a time until I made enough for that day's meal. But I never stole. Never even begged. It honestly didn't occur to me as an option at the time.
Once, when I was very young, perhaps 6 years old, I collected He-Man stickers that I would place in a sticker album. I was missing a very specific sticker for a while, when I suddenly saw it on the floor. We were in a grocery store aisle. Someone before me had illegally opened a pack of these stickers right there, in the aisle, and discarded the ones they did not need. One such discarded sticker was the one I did need.It was stuck to the floor. It was gross. I peeled it off anyway. Within ten minutes, a few aisles later, I could not bear to continue further. I rushed back to replace it in its place on the dirty floor.
I've never done recreational drugs. I've never knowingly even been offered drugs.
Once, when I was in town for a philosophy conference, I walked the streets very late at night just to clear my head. Someone on the street said something to me that was unintelligible; I literally could not understand their accent. It wasn't until describing the situation days later that I was told by someone ele that thery were likely asking if I wanted to purchase drugs.
Once, I got into a normal van, drove with friends across the country, and stopped at my dad's place to stay for the week. We got our stuff from the van and moved into my dad's spare bedrooms for. short vacation. Nothing seemed amiss. A decade later, I am told that both my parents have a strong memory of helping my friends to get their stuff out of that van and instantly recognizing the distinct smell of pot from within. I honestly have no memory of it being smoky, nor of it smelling weird, nor of any of those friends ever doing any drugs in my presence. At least one self-identified as straight edge. I honestly cannot square the memory of my parents and my own memory on this.
Once, when I spoke to a childhood friend, I was introduced to their companion as someone who did not ever do drugs. It seemed like a weird description to me, but I suppose, to them, that was a defining feature.
But I did kill. Once.
Suddenly, a spray of red. I felt numb. Looking down, I saw the mangled rabbit. I didn't know what to do. I broke down. I ran to my partner at the time, who calmly said that I should relieve it of its suffering. I was given a shovel. As I knelt next to its fast breathing body, legs torn apart, I mumbled a few private words only for me and the rabbit I had harmed. It seemingly took forever for me to gain the courage, but eventually I used the shovel. First, as a blunt instrument, and then for its intended purpose, creating a final resting place for the first and only being I consciously killed.
02 March, 2022
I wonder, if I could go back to those previous versions of myself, what it would be like to talk about what I had been doing back then. I didn’t believe then (and still do not believe now) in that fictional sort of fairy tale love where people are just ‘meant to be’ together. But back then I went further: because I did not have strong feelings for anyone, I thought that also no one else had strong feelings, and that the weak feelings I did have were similar to that felt by others — I thought that others were just inappropriately granting these weak feelings much more cache than they warranted.
I’d like to think that, if I could go back and speak to the Eric of that age, I would be able to explain this cognitive error. I’d be able to explain to him that, through practice and long training that took me years, I was able to get to a point where my feelings were not just weak. I’d be able to say that, albeit with continuous minor effort, I’ve reached a point where I genuinely care about some people.
I still am a bit sociopathic today. I still don’t have a strong internal feeling that one should care about one’s close family and friends more than strangers. I have no problems with not talking nor seeing someone for years at a time. I don’t generally miss anyone. The reason why I care about charity is not because I empathize strongly with others, but because I have logical reasons for treating others no differently than I’d treat myself in certain charitable ways.
I haven’t spoken to my mother in well over a decade. Occasionally, I am told that I should not have a grudge there and should consider reconnecting. Yet I don’t feel any internal grudge. I stopped communicating with her solely because she did things that harmed my life: the last time I saw her in person, she called the cops, insinuated that I was violent, and caused a police officer to point a gun at me. It was the deep south, I was hispanic, and my ineptness in the moment of reaching for my shoes nearly resulted in my being shot that day. Later, after being cajoled into speaking with her on the phone, I gave her my cell phone number, which had been kept secret from almost everyone due to my not liking phone calls. Starting later that same week, I had dozens of calls each week from spammers. I have no idea why she should sign me up for spam calls, but that is apparently what happened. Even later on, my uncle emailed me out of the blue, saying that I was a terrible son, and that I should never contact that side of the family ever again, as no one, including my mother, ever wanted to speak to me again. After these experiences, I basically did just that. Not due to a grudge, but due to my not wanting to voluntarily place myself in danger again.
My father, on the other hand, is safe and lives close by. Yet when covid hit, and I couldn’t visit anymore, the difference in how this affected them and how it affected me was starkly apparent. They missed me. They wanted me to come over, to see them more often, to spend time with me. But I don’t think I’m capable of really missing people. If a week goes by or a year goes by without seeing someone, it feels similarly to me. Of course, I adore spending time with them all. I love talking and playing games and just enjoying their company. But there’s something about the makeup of my brain that causes me to not specifically care about whether I’ve seen them recently. When combined with my love of staying home and not wanting to go out, this results in me very easily just not visiting for very long periods of time. During non-covid times, this got exacerbated, as it meant there was no impetus to visit at all. Now, I have plans to meet in a couple of weeks, but only because they have initiated the process.
If this is me now, you may begin to have a better understanding of what I was like then. In several early relationships, I would spend time with people only when I felt like it. Nothing in their lives separate from me mattered in the calculus of whether I should take some action. This is not because I was ever malicious, mind — rather it was because I was indifferent. Once, I had a partner in whom I confided that I was not close to my parents. She said she felt the same way. Later, her father died on the same weekend that I had a trip scheduled. It did not occur to me that it might be appropriate for me to cancel my trip and stay to help her through a traumatic period. I left on the trip, honestly not even thinking that she might object, because of her earlier statement that she wasn’t close to her parents. I had my phone turned off during the trip, as I usually do, and was honestly surprised when I found that she was angry at me once I returned.
I’m grateful that I never had malicious intent back then. I caused so very much hurt with so many different people just on the basis of my indifference and follow-through. I shudder to think what I might have done had I actually wanted to harm others.
If I did go back in time to speak with that Eric of the past, could I convince him that there was a better way? My life today is so very awesome in comparison. Surely I could show that to him. But I don’t think he would appreciate the awesomeness in the way that I do. I love staying at home today. But back then maybe I preferred variety so strongly that I wanted to go out more. I love the work I do in effective altruism. But back then I would have expressed indifference toward helping others in general, except insofar as it might have helped myself. Today, I love my relationship with Katherine, who makes my life brighten in so many different ways. But the me of the past would have objected on several grounds, not the least of which would be that I expend actual effort in helping to make the other person in the relationship happy.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on myself for thinking that I’d be unable to convince past Eric. There is an is/ought gap, after all. There’s no reason to expect that I could use reasoning (which both past Eric and current Eric readily approves of) to cause past Eric to change his morals. Yet at the same time it remains true that in the course of twenty-five years past Eric really did in fact morph into me. So some type of argumentation worked. Perhaps it was dissatisfaction I kept having in life when I didn’t take care of my relationships. Perhaps it was merely a carrot and stick that brought me to this point, not reason at all. Does this imply that, had I won the lottery earlier in life, or had I found someone sufficiently masochistic as to reward me for my indifference, then maybe past Eric wouldn’t have given way to current Eric? Could it be the case that the only reason why I am here today is because I was beaten down and put into situations where I was not happy with my circumstances?
Should I consider myself lucky, then, that I was not born richer? If I had had access to more money as a child, would I have been an asshole all my life? I suspect that the answer might be yes.
24 February, 2022
At first, I pointed out Grover Cleveland. Sure, Trump is widely said to be the "45th" president. But since Cleveland was both the 22nd and 24th president (being elected both just prior to and immediately after the little-talked-about Benjamin Harrison), that means that Trump is only the 44th person to take on the mantle of the presidency overall.The Senate's own website tells the rest of the story:
> On March 2, 1849, Vice President George M. Dallas took leave of the Senate for the remainder of the session and the Senate elected Atchison as president pro tempore. ... Until the adoption of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933, presidential and congressional terms began and ended at noon on March 4. In 1849 March 4 fell on a Sunday. On the morning of March 4, President James Polk signed the last of the session’s legislation at the White House and at 6:30 a.m. recorded in his diary, “Thus closed my official term as President.” The Senate, having been in session all night, adjourned sine die at 7:00 a.m. President-elect Zachary Taylor, in observance of the Christian Sabbath, preferred not to conduct his inauguration on Sunday, March 4, and the ceremony was delayed until the next day. On Monday, March 5, Taylor took the oath of office on the Capitol’s east front portico and the transition of power was complete.
> But if President Polk’s term ended on March 4 at noon, and Zachary Taylor was not sworn in until noon on March 5, who was president on March 4? Under the Presidential Succession Act of 1792 the Senate president pro tempore immediately followed the vice president in the line of presidential succession. Had Atchison been president from noon on March 4 to noon on March 5?
If the answer is yes, then, I at first thought, that might save the number 45. But then I realized that, if Athison had indeed served as president, then that would again make Trump the 45th person to take the role, since Cleveland served twice!
Thankfully, the answer is no. But I'm starting to suspect that this won't appease someone who feels that 45 is ruined anyway.
What, then, can rehabilitate 45? In the eyes of someone who loves the number 5, a strong contender is the fact that 45 is the conjectured value of the Ramsey number R(5,5). What is the least number number of guests that you must invite in order to ensure that at least five guests will know each other or at least five guests will not? Mathematicians are not sure, but we suspect it is 45.
To be slightly more general, R(m,n) gives an answer to the question of the least number of guests you'd need to invite in order to ensure that at least m guests know each other, or that at least n guests don't know each other. R(5,5) is known to be between 43 and 49 inclusive, and is conjectured to be 45. (See OEIS entry A120414 on Conjectured Ramsey Numbers R(n,n).) (To be even more general, R(m,n) refers to the idea that "complete disorder is impossible"; given a sufficiently large set, order will appear among its proper subsets. This is the first basic finding in Ramsey theory, which focuses on order amid disorder.)
Figuring out these numbers are deceptively difficult. Joel Spencer writes about Paul Erdős quip: if aliens come and demand to know the value of R(5,5) or they will destroy Earth, we should marshal all of our computers and mathematicians in an attempt to find the value. But if they demand to know R(6,6), we're better off attempting to destroy the aliens. In fact, Ramsey numbers appear to be difficult to calculate even with hypothetical quantum computers.
If 5 is a great number, and the most exciting parts of mathematics are the parts that lie just on our horizon, and if finding order within disorder is one of the enjoyable parts of being an artist, then R(5,5) must be a special case of representing something that might make up for Trump's taint. While we can't guarantee that it is 45 (some suspect 43 instead), it stands out as something that should make Katherine's 45th birthday special.
Happy birthday, Katherine. <3
I'll close with a poem by Ernest Davis entitled The Ramsey Number R(5,5):
There are fans, among math buffs, of e and of π.
The ratio golden has legions who sigh,
In reverent awe at its beauty ideal.
Euler's γ has got its own quirky appeal.
But what makes me feel tingly, aroused, and alive
Is the mystical integer R(5,5). [Read "R of five five"]
Like Batman and Robin, its everyday face
Is a secret identity quite commonplace.
It's an integer, experts on graph theory state,
At least 43 and at most 48.
And combinatorists laboriously strive
To narrow the bounds known for R(5,5).
It's a quite element'ry idea to define
(Though I don't want to try that in meter and rhyme).
A short, simple program in Python or C
Has no trouble at all finding R(3,3)
But the stars in the sky will no longer survive
Ere it prints out the value of R(5,5).
Said Erdos: "If aliens from far outer space
Want to know, or they'll wipe out the whole human race
If we join all our forces, perhaps we'll contrive
To tell them the value of R(5,5).
But we'll certainly be in a hell of a fix
If they ask for the value of R(6,6)."
15 February, 2022
I no longer have any of the video games I grew up with. Some were gifted to others; some were lost as I moved from place to place. Still others may very well be hidden in an obscure box I haven't opened in a decade or so. I played countless games on the NES, Game Boy, SNES, GBA, Playstation, GameCube, PS2, DS, Wii, 3DS, Wii U, and Switch, let alone the hours played on Steam and GOG.
Today, Nintendo released an app that lets you go back to your old 3DS and Wii U gaming memories. It was fun to look back on where I spent most of my time.
My 3DS gaming appears to have been dominated by single player games, with the exception of Tri Force Heroes, which I played through entirely with Katherine Hess and Jon Bockman. I apparently spent 94 hours in Animal Crossing alone, with another 61 hours in Bravely Default.
Not all of my 3DS memories are positive. There was a period of time where my personal life was very, very negative, and I used my 3DS as an escape mechanism — someplace I could go to avoid the harsh reality of life around me. Much of that experience occurred with Ghost Recon, which ended up with 82 hours of emotionless escape gameplay. I'm grateful that later games on the system represented much better times in my life, though apparently I didn't spend as much time with many of those later games as I did with Ghost Recon.
My Wii U gaming experience is a surprise to me: I would have guessed that Splatoon would have topped this list. But instead the top two positions go to Advance Wars: AW2 received 124 hours of my time and AW1 113 hours. These were both nostalgia plays for me — I feel certain that I put even more hours into the original games, and probably an even greater amount into Advance Wars: Days of Ruin on the DS. Meanwhile, poor neglected Splatoon had only 80 hours listed. (If you count Splatoon 2, this number becomes much, much higher, but that's on the Switch.)
The Wii U was a system that I played often with siblings, but I ended up playing mostly on their Wii U system when I visited, rather than on my own. This means the number of hours associated with Smash Bros., Nintendo Land, and several other local multiplayer games are undercounted here. The big surprise for me was that Super Mario 3D World didn't make the top three played games. I feel like I spent entire months of my life working on Champion's Road with Katherine. (Later, on Switch, I replayed 3D World online with three friends and have almost 100% completed it (still missing a Champion's Road finish with Toad).) I also feel like Mario Kart 8 must be missing many of the hours I spent online playing it, but maybe I'm combining in my head the portion of plays I've done on the Switch instead.
When the Switch came out, everything changed for me. Breath of the Wild alone took up entire days of my life when it came out. I can recall playing late into the evening, still playing in the morning when my partner left for work, and not yet finishing my gaming session by the time she returned home. I was obsessed.
In 2019, I logged 706 hours in 62 games on Switch. Considering that I spent a lot of time on StarCraft and a number of Steam games, this is fairly significant. My most-played games were Civilization, Slay the Spire, and WarGroove.
The following year, I became deathly ill, and my game playing reduced commensurately. In 2020, I played 535 hours on Switch in 39 games. My most played titles were Animal Crossing (209 hours by itself in 2020!), Killer Queen Black, and Divinity: Original Sin 2.
2021 had another 546 hours played in 35 games. Surprisingly, Animal Crossing continued to top the list, with Monster Sanctuary and Bug Fables not far behind. Killer Queen Black did not make the top three most played on Switch, but this is probably because I bought it on Steam and Stadia, opting to play on those platforms instead.
Unfortunately, these lists don't take into account the time I spent in 2018 nor in 2022 so far on Switch. I don't see a way to look at past play history in the settings, though the most recent 20 games played do get listed under my play activity. A glance there shows Killer Queen Black at 155+ hours, Grandia HD Collection at 70+ hours, Animal Crossing at 285+ hours, Monster Train at 55+ hours, & Loop Hero at 50+ hours. These are just the games with 50+ hours that exist in the last 20 games I've booted up on the system — I won't bother going through the trouble of going the full list of all 246 games I have on Switch, as that would take far too long. I'll instead just wait for whenever Nintendo decides to create an app that will showcase my Switch gaming memories.
14 February, 2022
31 January, 2022
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Ambivalence gets a bum rap. Who would ever want to read a book that simultaneously delights and frustrates a reader to no end? When the text continually drops the ball on a simple matter and the mistake is repeated over and over again throughout the text, to the extent that this core mistake permeates the text in a way that can never be corrected by an editor, how could it ever be that the other content could delight enough to make up for this seemingly fatal deficiency?
I’m ambivalent about mad investor chaos and the woman of asmodeus. The characters all just care about sex too much. It's distracting. It's annoying. It makes it very difficult for me to place myself in the story seamlessly. But, unbelievably, the core conceit of a subpar dath ilani being isekaied into the Pathfinder universe where the citizenry literally are lawful evil supporters of hell itself and the dath ilani has yet to realize that evil is evil has got to be the most fascinating and exciting story hook I've come across since I was a teenager and wasn't already jaded to the classical canon.
Let me take a step back to explain, because if you're new to all of this, then the aim of this essay is to get you to read this story. Some very light spoilers follow, but honestly they are so light that I expect no one reading them to be bothered by them (the few who would be bothered by the most minimal of spoilers will stop reading here of their own accord).
First: Pathfinder is a role playing game universe with its own unique set of rules for magic, character alignment, governments, and gods. You usually see people playing an RPG in this setting; it's an alternative to the much better known Dungeons & Dragons universe. You don't need to be familiar with Pathfinder to get into this story, even though it's set in the Pathfinder universe. It's sufficient to be aware of general tropes regarding devils that contract for your soul and to realize that in Pathfinder, some governments are themselves lawful evil and enforce all their citizens to contract with devils for their souls. If you don't know Pathfinder, another basic fact you'll need is that demons are distinct from devils. Demons are chaotic evil fiends from the Abyss that exhibit raw fighting strength, while devils are non-chaotic evil contract-lovers who delight in taking unfair advantage of those who dare to sell their soul.
Second, dath ilan is an invention of Elizer Yudkowsky, one of the authors of mad investor chaos and the woman of asmodeus. Yudkowsky is significant in the rationality movement and has spent a lot of time writing tracts that help to make people think better about various things. dath ilan started out as an April Fools joke, when Yudkowsky started pretending that he was himself a citizen of dath ilan that was isekaied into our world and has been trying ever since to teach us Earthlings the ways of dath ilan. In dath ilan, the sanity waterline is much higher than on Earth. People cooperate there in ways that people here cannot, merely because everyone is much more rational along the dimensions that Yudkowsky cares about. It's a fascinating world, even if I don't personally agree that such a world would look the way that Yudkowsky portrays it. Their tech level is approximately a little beneath our own, mostly because the responsible adults of dath ilan deliberately slowed down (or stopped?) all technological progress along a dimension that will be obvious if you know any of Yudkowsky's other works, but which I won't name here as I expect it to be a further plot point in the text. If you know nothing of Yudkowsky and are going into this blind, the most important thing to know about dath ilan is that they're supposed to be the best that humans can be. Stuff just works there. Schools teach learning, businesses exist to better organize making goods available, politicians do the right thing, etc. It's not heaven — they're all still baseline humans — but they are much smarter than us and they work together to do society correctly.
Third, isekai is a genre where someone from world A suddenly finds themselves in world B. The genre started as a way to take someone from our world and put them in a fantasy world so that we can identify with the straight man and it is justified in-story why we stop to pay attention to details that people from world B wouldn't find interesting. But in mad investor chaos and the woman of asmodeus, this is turned on its head because we are unfamiliar with both world A and world B: Keltham (the dath ilani) is transported into the Pathfinder universe, where the lawful evil residents of Cheliax immediately start deceiving Keltham for reasons that I won't spoil here. Keltham is a teenager; he's smart, as all dath ilani are, but he's not the shining standard example you might expect from a place like dath ilan; Keltham is a bit weird by his culture's standards.
The resulting story is amazing. So many stories out there fail in my eyes because they insist on having characters hold the idiot ball, or because the characters make dumb decisions that the audience would never make. (It's the trope of a group in a scary mansion at night deciding to split up, but writ large: charatcers overlook obvious clues or make other choices that they definitely would not take if they were sufficiently rational.) mad investor chaos and the woman of asmodeus doesn't make this mistake. Keltham acts rationally. The adults of Cheliax act as they should, given their knowledge and desires. The story makes sense, and that's a rare treat among most stories told on Earth. mad investor chaos and the woman of asmodeus is a prime example of rational fiction, a genre that first started being considered a genre of its own in part due to Yudkowsky's Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, one of the best fanfictions ever written. If you end up liking mad investor chaos and the woman of asmodeus, you'll likely enjoy other rational fiction works; alternatively, if you find yourselves liking shorter ratfics, you'll also likely find this text worth the read.
But, as the opening of this review points out, I don't have nothing but praise for this book. Several parts make me feel strongly ambivalent.
mad investor chaos and the woman of asmodeus is a glowfic. It's written by two authors, each of whom writes dialogue and setting for the portion that they're responsible for. The text itself is a series of forum posts, where each post is written by one of the authors. It's not clear if they played it straight, but hypothetically, each other doesn't always know in advance what the other author is necessarily going for. In some glowfics, this means you get to see a succession of "yes and" situations, but in this specific glowfic style, you're more likely to see one author putting forth a general idea and the other one pushing back and finding edge cases that may trip them up. Does this make for good writing? Maybe, but not here. That's why I suspect that these two glowfic writers are more in concert than they may at first appear, since it's resulting in writing that more closely corresponds to what a single author may have written on their own. Parts of this feel stumbly where it needn't if this hadn't been a glowfic. I'm especially unhappy with the forum post format, which artificially creates issues not only with mathematical notation but also doesn't allow for graceful chapter headings or appropriate white space.
The strongest thing that puts me off the story, however, is the continued focus on sex. Yes, I get that Keltham is a teenager, and that a lawful evil society like Cheliax would use sex to nefarious ends. But the BDSM stuff is really pushed as a major part of the storyline in what feels like the cringiest thing I've ever started and then continued to read. The Erogamer, which is famously full of sex and yet nevertheless tells a deep story you won't expect (even having given this disclaimer, it will still be unexpected), does a legit better job of making the sex feel important-to-the-story than mad investor chaos and the woman of asmodeus does. Despite being asexual myself, I really enjoyed The Erogamer, and, in a similar way, I'm really enjoying mad investor chaos and the woman of asmodeus. But the former feels like the sex stuff is earned, while the latter feels like the authors just really wanted their rational story about math and rationality to also have a bunch of sex in it. I cannot tell you how much this turns me off. When I say I'm ambivalent about this, I don't mean that the sex part is bad but I recommend the story anyway because of its good qualities. No, what I mean is that the sex thing is so bad that I actively want to warn people away from reading this trash. Yet, at the same time, the rest of it is so good that I need others to experience this treasure. That's what I mean by my being ambivalent.
But, as I mentioned, I am asexual. Maybe other people just won't mind this level of BDSM in their stories. I tend to cringe when I see the two leads in a movie kiss (I keep hoping they're just friends!), and yet movie-makers keep using this trope over and over again, so maybe the rest of society just tolerates this kind of thing without cringing in the way I do. Maybe you'll enjoy it. But I remain ambivalent.
Sex isn't the only issue, however. The math is somewhat jumbled; the reader, if they are math literate, will be able to follow only with difficulty because dath ilan uses a different way of teaching and talking about math; the math illiterate will do no better than to skim over these parts. Worse, the format lends itself poorly to mathematical notation: at some points, the authors literally use a series of dashes to create a vinculum (dividing line in a fraction). The html doesn't wrap correctly in some browsers, so this makes the math appear amateurish. Given that I think at least one author really does intend for readers to learn this stuff, I'm guessing this doesn't have any aspect of authorial intent, and if the authors knew how to allow LaTeX to appear, they might use that instead. (I'm only partially sure because the authors insist upon making dath ilan math use different notation and go about describing mathematical relationships in an entirely different way.)
Worse, the author seems to want to teach the reader, even if the reader just wants to enjoy the story. This creates a tension where the author spends way more time on explaining a concept than any other author realistically would, and it may cause some readers to lose interest for a dozen forum posts at a time. I get that the point of the story is to semi-secretly increase the sanity waterline. But it feels like playing an edutainment game at times. Maybe if the teaching sections were shorter, or less dense, then you could stealthily teach while the reader is focused on enjoying the story. But, as written, it's like a story that occasionally takes breaks in order to go in depth and teach a lesson on rationality. Unfortunately, this isn't fixable by editing out the teaching parts, because the teaching parts are integral to the story itself. Fascinatingly, as you learn each lesson, you are supposed to be able to better understand what Keltham was doing in previous parts of the story. In a way, this is like an M. Night Shyamalan twist where when you see the twist at the end, you look back at the beginning and see it in a new light — except the twist is continuous: as you learn more ratonality, you're better able to appreciate how Keltham has been experiencing the situation the entire time, since he's looking at everything with a rational eye.
So even though the teaching parts feel stilted and break up the cadence of the story in unflattering ways, they're nevertheless part of what makes this text great. (Meanwhile, the sex stuff could be removed almost entirely and I suspect the story would be better for it.)
The story itself is ongoing, but I'm a writing a review now anyway because I'm already certain of the five star rating I'm going to give it. You may wonder why a book I'm ambivalent about is getting a perfect rating, but, at the meta level, I think that this is entirely appropriate. I genuinely cringe at sex stuff in this book even when I didn't cringe at more extreme sex stuff in The Erogamer. I actively dislike the sex parts so much that I want to warn people away from reading. I also actively like the other parts so much that I need others to read this. On the meta level I want others to experience this fascinating dissonance, which, when combined with the good object level parts, results in my five star rating.
You can read mad investor chaos and the woman of asmodeus on glowfic.com. You can learn more about dath ilan on LessWrong, including links to previous stories about dath ilan people isekaied into various locales. If you decide to read this despite never having heard of Yudkowsky or rational fiction before, and you like it, be sure to look up other rational fiction works. Oh, and Eliezer, if you're reading this: good god, man, please stop weaving this much unnecessary sex into your plotlines. It's one thing to write sex into a story about being corrupted by the internet. But when you take what may be the best plot hook of all time (dath ilani isekaied to nation of lawful evil people intent on corrupting them) and then stuff your sex fantasies in there, it ruins what could have been so much better. I'll take it anyway, because it's damn good, and maybe there's no incentive to do otherwise since most of your intended readers won't be asexual like me, but good god that's a lot of sex and masochism for a story supposedly about rationality. Granted, the lawful evil stuff justifies the inclusion of masochism, but not the sex in the first place, no matter how horny a teenage dath ilani might be.
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17 January, 2022
It can be difficult to talk openly about mental health. I’ve tried over the years to not shy away from talking about many of the issues in my life, many of which are quite serious. But when it comes to mental health, I tend to stay relatively quiet. I think this may be because I value my mental health more than any physical health or disability that I may encounter in life. It probably explains why I am a teetotaler, and why I take special care to exercise my brain far more often than my body.
Which is all why it still seems so difficult to me now to say the thing that I’ve come here to say. So I’ll just be out with it:
|It came on suddenly.|
If you asked me what caused it, I’m not sure I’d be able to give a good answer. There’s a lot going on in my life that has been causing me extreme stress. There are people who count me as an enemy despite my trying to work with them. There are issues with an employee I hired who is also family, and the relationship has grated as a result. There are undone tasks in my household which have dramatically hurt my ability to live well there. There are people I have let down, and my brain has not been able to make it up to any of them.
The extent of this problem has become severe. Since my ordeal in 2020, I have been instructed by a doctor to take life saving medication every day. Without these medications, I would die. So you would think that, even if other things in my life started falling down, at least when it came to life-saving medication, I would take it every day.
So far, this is true. I do take it each day, with my partner’s help. But my doctor retired last summer. Slowly, one by one, the prescriptions that they ordered for me started to expire. I no longer received the medications that I needed each day to live. Yet I found myself unable to call that doctor’s office. I could not get new prescriptions under another doctor’s name. One day, when my partner found out that I had only a few days left of a certain life-saving medication, she panicked and bought it online instead. The price was ~50 times as expensive as my co-pay would have been. But at least it meant I continued remaining alive.
This is what triggered awareness of just how bad things had become for me. After a few additional events like this, my mental capacities mostly shut down at the beginning of this year. I’ve been slowly picking up the pieces since.
Yesterday, I spoke with my family for the first time in quite a while. They were concerned because they had not been able to get in touch with me. I’d been avoiding text messages and email entirely since Christmas, with the exception of my EGQ email. I believe that every single other responsibility in my life, whether it’s shoveling snow or dealing with board issues, has fallen by the wayside during these three weeks.
|By Katherine Hess.|
Not all tasks are so monumental, but each task seems to have an outsized portion of dread attached that takes more effort than it should to complete. Ordinarily, I manage despite this. But in the past three weeks, it has built to a head: there are days where I’ve done little more than sleep. There are days where it takes all the effort in the world to just do the five hours of work I need to do in order to go on. There are weekends where, in order to enjoy the company of a friend for a few hours in the evening, I’ve literally sacrificed my entire day just to ensure that I can have those few moments of joy.
Although I’ve had a predisposition toward these types of things for my entire life, it has never been as bad as it has been these past three weeks. I wish I could point to a singular event that caused this. But even the precipitating event, being unjustly called racist and unwilling to work for a better society for all, was just the thing that pushed me over the edge. Nevertheless, this accusation consumed my thoughts, knocking over the precarious structures I had in place to allow me to function relatively well in society. It made me shut down. That’s when I had my mental breakdown.
Today, I am trying to pick up the pieces. But I will not be able to juggle what I once did, not until I rebuild the structures that allowed me to deal with my mental issues. To aid this, I will be making several changes in my life.
- I’m cutting back on work significantly. Rather than have my fingers in lots of projects, I’m going to focus entirely on just Effective Giving Quest. This means I will be subcontracting out my current contractual obligations and turning down any other offers of work for the immediate future.
- I’m planning on either resigning or cutting back significantly from my board duties. This will be a significant reduction in the number of hours worked for me.
- I will be volunteering far less. This includes the intensive work I’ve put into WikiProject Effective Altruism and the works in progress I’ve had for the Effective Altruism Forum.
- I will be using a therapist from here on out. Depending on what they recommend, I will be open to taking medication to help deal with these issues.
- My days will revolve around three pillars moving forward: EGQ, exercise in and out of the house, and making time/space to spend on fun: with family/friends/books/games.
These are not small changes. While they will take time to implement, I do think that this is the best that I can do moving forward if I want to ensure that a breakdown like this never happens again.
|By Katherine Hess.|
To those I’ve let down, I am so very sorry. I will be sending personalized apologies in the coming weeks, alongside my expectations of how I can help mitigate any harms I’ve already caused and how we can set expectations moving forward so that this kind of thing does not recur.
To future me, reading this post in the future: I hope that I’m doing right by you as I make these rather extreme changes. While this will significantly reduce my output, I sincerely hope that by focusing on only a few avenues of change you will nevertheless be more capable of doing good than I am today, in this sad broken state. But even if not, I remain hopeful that these changes will at least make you happier and more capable of enjoying life that I am now. The former is something I am unsure of, but the latter is something that I honestly think these changes will genuinely come to pass. Wish me well, as I wish for you.
13 January, 2022
While making a three dimensional sculpture out of 2140 elements would be a little much for a series where she makes a new piece of art every other day, it did seem reasonable to make a much smaller cubic star number shape out of 120 marbles. So she did.
What you're seeing here is (as far as I can tell) the first picture of a cubic star number searchable on the internet. While diagrams of these may exist in yet-to-be-indexed books, I could not find such a picture in anything that refers to cubic star numbers (such as Gulliver's 2002 article Sequences from Arrays of Integers).
The star number polygon shown here consists of a hexagon with triangles on each side (i.e., a hexagram). But you don't have to use a hexagon on the inside. You could just as easily use a square, with four triangles on each side of that square. This square star number might not look as pleasing as the hexagram does, but it has interesting properties all on its own.
But I think things get even more interesting once you move into the third dimension. Instead of a square, you can use a cube; and, rather than making a stellated shape where a pyramid exists on every face of the square, you can merely place the pyramids on four of the sides, so that the front and back of the cube remain flat. In this way, you're extrapolating out what a two dimensional star number might look like if you literally pulled it out into a new dimension, but turned the triangles into pyramids while allowing the square to fill out a cube.blogger referencing house numbers, which, to be fair, has a more distinctive shape to them. House numbers are closely related to cubic star numbers; rather than four pyramids, they exhibit just one. But it's easy to see how you can get to a cubic star number from the corresponding house number: just add three more pyramids and stick 'em on the sides.
Katherine chose to use the fourth cubic star number, 120. It consists of a 4x4x4 cube with four pyramids that each have a 3x3 base. This small cubic star number was created entirely out of marbles, using liquid silicone to connect them. It stands as a symbol of the much larger tenth cubic star number, 2140, which consists of a 10x10x10 cube with four pyramids that each have a 9x9 base.
I'm looking forward to seeing what else Katherine comes up with. I was fascinated by her prime factorization series, and this current series on the integers of covid cases seems just as good. I just wish we didn't have to keep spreading covid in order to generate these depressing numbers and associated fascinating art.