Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Village Is Better Than A Group House

Every time I mention to someone that I'm working on a cohousing project with the rationality community, they go, "Oh, like a group house?" Every. Single. Time. So this is my once-and-for-all attempt to say, "IT'S NOT A GROUP HOUSE." It's a village.

What are the important differences?

1. More private space. There's a greater separation between places that are "your space" and "my space." It's easier to get away from people who aren't your immediate family or roommates, because you have space that they are not allowed in if you so choose.

2. Non-shared ownership. Not only is your private space yours because we've verbally agreed that it's so; it's also yours legally, and you have all the protection and backing of the greater society in your claim on it.

Having boundaries that cannot be crossed allows people to feel freer to do as they choose within those boundaries.

3. Size. A group house typically will contain 4-9 adults. A village should have 20-50. What does having more people mean for the community? More social space, and more slack for the community as a whole.

  • If you have a fight with someone, it's easy to avoid them. If you find someone boring, you just don't have to talk to them. There's no need for you to be friends with everyone.
  • If you find some of your friendships in the group waning, there are lots of acquaintances around you can reconnect with in the meantime. You have a potent source of new friends, people you run into on a regular basis around your community.
  • If someone leaves, most connections stay intact, and the community identity survives. Since the community is bigger, it'll be easier for you to find someone to replace them. You don't need to solve the problem of "they get along with every single person in our 5-person house"; you just need to roll for best 5 out of 20 or more.
Ultimately, all these factors boil down to: A village is more sustainable as a long-term community. And that's why it's better.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Online Fiction I've Been Reading Lately

[mild spoilers for The Wandering Inn]

Pokemon: Origin of Species (link) (370k words and counting) - 7/10. An interesting take on the Pokemon universe with great worldbuilding and solid characters.

Of course, in a more realistic Pokemon world, Pokemon have to get injured and die sometimes, even in friendly competition. But the author manages to keep a lighthearted, brightly-colored atmosphere nonetheless. Imagine a world where kids leave home at 11 years old, cheerfully bike around the countryside with their friends and their adorable animal companions, build their social media followings, and do various kinds of piecework so they can be successfully self-employed in a year or two. It's somehow a lovely vision, despite the backdrop of rampaging monsters everywhere.

Very much in the HPMOR tradition of "rationalfic," it suffers from some of the same problems as Methods—it's a little excessively didactic, particularly near the beginning. I think it's well worth those bits, however.

The Wandering Inn (link) (estimate ~850k words and counting) - 7/10. You know how webcomics like Questionable Content have an extremely clear arc in the creator's art skill, from the beginning to present? This is the first time I've seen this happen clearly in a solely written web serial.

The protagonist, Erin Solstice, is from our world, and wakes up one day to find herself fighting off low-level monsters in a fantasy world. After a day of just barely surviving monster attacks, she finds an abandoned inn, cleans it up, collapses in a heap... and just before falling asleep, she hears the words in her head: "Innkeeper Level 1!" The series follows her and her adventures in a world with monsters, levels, and sapient nonhumans.

Erin is a great example of a character motivated primarily by friendship who is super badass. Her foil and the secondary protagonist, Ryoka, is close to the mold of a stereotypical rationalfic protagonist: logical, intelligent, knowledgeable about our world's science and technology, bitter, and bad with people. But they're each extraordinary in their own way, showing that greatness can come from many sources.

The main downside of this series is that it drags. Many words lie between the most interesting events of the story. I'm also annoyed that the author frequently breaks lines on dialogue unnecessarily, which makes it hard to tell what's going on.

The Arithmancer (link) (530k words; sequel is 390k and counting) - 8/10. Hermione Granger is a math prodigy, in addition to an everything-else prodigy. It otherwise follows the course of the Harry Potter books quite closely—in fact, a few early parts are lifted from the books directly (the author notes where this happens).

In some ways, it's a much more incremental version of "rational Harry Potter"—sort of like neoliberalism for fanfiction. I enjoyed it greatly. Comfort food.

The sequel is ongoing and I'm looking forward to the conclusion of the series.

Mother of Learning (link) (550k words and counting) - 6/10. A Groundhog Day-style "time loop" premise. I have mixed feelings about this one. It drags in a lot of places, but that's a frequent issue with free online fiction. The protagonist is a standard "rationalfic"-style munchkiny optimizer and rather sour and unlikable. On the plus side, the author is aware of this and develops his character in an interesting way over time. And reading about his efforts to optimize himself can be pretty interesting at times. Overall I find the plot and characters interesting enough to carry it, but it's not my favorite.

Cordyceps (link) (64k words) - 8/10. Short, unlike most of this list. Cordyceps is a bizarre puzzle that's also a hilarious, rollicking adventure. The author poses us a question: What would happen if you put a truth-mad person in a situation where seeking the truth is a terrible idea? There's no real conclusions here, since the scenario is so strange and contrived, but it's a truly fun read.

The Northern Caves (link) (52k words) - 3/10. Not for me in a few ways. The author's use of the "early 2000s forum" format is designed to appeal to people who were meaningfully affected by that culture, and for me it mostly falls flat. I also found the ending rather abrupt and unjustified; it wasn't only surprising, but also just didn't make much sense. Also, "creepy mystery with no certainty at the end WEE WOO WEE WOO" is not an aesthetic I enjoy much. But it's pretty well written and I could see someone else enjoying it if it ticked their boxes.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Stop Caring So Much About Technical Stuff

Subtitle: Knowing what people want is your job. You may not want it to be, but it is.

Subtitle: You want to get promoted on the basis of "technical achievements", yeah, well, good luck with that. No one's ever gotten paid for writing a Malbolge interpreter, huge achievement though it may be.

Subtitle: You think it's your boss's job? It's your job to make your boss's job easier.

It doesn't matter if you're a developer. If you're participating in the economy, part of your job is to know what you can get paid for. The better you are at this, the more you get paid, regardless of your other skills.

As a bonus, most startups know this. They want developers who are motivated by product, not technology. Why does this make sense? If you're motivated by technology, you're going to build stuff because you feel like it, not because it helps people. As a rule, if it helps people, they'll be willing to pay for it.1

Care less about the latest technology, and more about what your coworkers and customers need.

1Yada yada, capitalism isn't perfect, watch out for industries where people pay to screw over other people or use up common goods.