Hello. My name is Bix.

Some ongoing notes from a mediocre life.

According to a tweet by CNBC, which I found while checking in on the latest Elon Musk dust-up, he has six productivity rules including “walking out of meetings that waste your time”.

When I read the article, ultimately sourced to a leaked company email, I had to read it several times over to make sure I, and they, had it right.

Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.

Originally, I'd thought the premise was that staying in a meeting where you've nothing to contribute was wasting everyone else's time. But, no, the premise is that if you've nothing to add, making you stay is wasting your time. Left unaddressed is any consideration about whether or not remaining in a meeting where you've nothing of value to contribute might nonetheless be of value to you.

Musk argues that walking out of a meeting in this way isn't rude, but in truth it tells everyone else in the room that they aren't worth your time, and can't possibly have anything to say that you need to hear.

Given the speaker, this certainly tracks.

Musk likely sees meetings as circumstances in which people need to listen to him, but he doesn't need to listen to anyone else. It makes sense, then, that once he's said his piece, he simply walks out of them.

What's weird is giving that out as internal productivity advice to anyone else. No organization of solipsists likely would last very long.

#Productivity #June2019

The first time Yancey Strickler discussed his “dark forest theory of the internet”, I noted here that he didn't really have Liu Cixin's theory correct, since the axioms in Liu's book don't translate into what Strickler was trying to illustrate..

On the internet, the axioms in play aren't a civilization's need for survival and the finity of resources. Instead, we might look at it from the standpoint of two other premises.

  1. Each person's goal is connection.
  2. Attention is finite.

If we take these as the axioms, we aren't looking at a “dark forest” and the dangers of a preemptive war between civilizations due to finite resources and impossible communication.

He recently came back around to the idea and somehow he's managed to jumble things up even more.

In The Three Body Problem series, author Liu Cixin presents a solution for the dark forest threat: a “black domain.” This device slows the speed of light to create a cloak of invisibility around a planet or galaxy. A black domain stops everything from getting in or out. It’s security through cosmic self-imprisonment.

Before, we were “retreating to our dark forests of the internet, and away from the mainstream” (which didn't make any sense), but now Strickler's decided that we're retreating into the “black domains” which in Liu's book are spaces into which civilizations can retreat in order to avoid detection by other civilizations.

His new formulation actually is more consistent with his original thesis that when faced with the increasing threats, suspicion, and abuse of the open, mainstream internet (the dark forest), more and more people are finding or creating safe spaces (black domains) in which they can find comfort and protection.

I still maintain that not all of these self-selected silos will remain entirely cut off from the wider internet, but I also want to add to my original thoughts that this mix of private and public spaces is nothing new. It's just that, perhaps, with the rush of social media—gold for investors, endorphins for users—public spaces sort of took too much of the focus.

Once upon a time, I could spend my days on an internet-connected bulletin board system whose users talked amongst themselves but then also spend time engrossed in public Usenet discussions where all hell could break loose.

What's happening in more recent days is that more and more people are rediscovering some of the internet's earlier sense of balance.

Still undetermined is whether the rediscovery of more private spaces itself will be controlled (e.g. Facebook Groups) by the same tech companies that have managed to make such a hash of the public ones.

#Internet #SocialMedia #Web #June2019

The upside of being down at the heels, at least in Wonderland's case, is that rents have tumbled enough that small businesses now make up most of the mall's shops. Perhaps because the mall also doubles as a convention space, one that hosts geeky gatherings like Monster Con and Morphinominal Expo, many of these shops cater to various fandoms, making Wonderland of the Americas an unexpected hub of San Antonio's geek culture, a pedestrian-friendly space dense with desirable destinations unlike so much else of the city. There's the store that sells Funkos, and only Funkos. There's the shop that sells wrestling memorabilia, and the one where you can buy a dress patterned with art from EC Comics. And there's Gotham Newsstand, a comic shop managed by a Trinity University alumnus.

Optimistic Autosuggestion

#Links #June2019

I don't know what the hell The Art of Manliness website is, exactly, but Dino's Journal led me to their excerpt “from Arthur Murray’s Popularity Book, originally published in 1944”, which is an article by one Gelett Burgess on so-called “vocational friendship”, and weirdly I feel like you could convert it into an argument for how to think about neurodiversity?

#Neurodiversity #June2019

I've written more than once about how I can get myself into longer-term trouble by deferring to someone in conversation just in order to escape from the short-term stressors which can abound in socially-performative communication.

There's some correlation, as recently discovered, to the ways in which my autistic brain runs through the process of (1) encountering an external stimulus which (2) generates an innate reaction which then (3) results in an outward response. To wit: when the total collection of stressors in my environment is low, there's often a temporal gap between innate reaction and outward response

Without that temporal gap, the innate reaction to the external stimulus can completely dictate and direct my outward response all on its own. With the gap, sometimes I consciously can step in and take control of my outward response.

(Meltdowns, for example, are the most psychically and sometimes physically violent responses when internal and external stimuli are too numerous, too simultaneous, and/or too severe. It's almost as if there's not just no temporal gap, but the outward response is the innate reaction, period.)

In the case of socially-performative communication, especially with anyone in a position of some degree of authority over my life, there often seems to be no time to consider the implications of simply escaping the immediate crisis. The pressure is high, I'm feeling cornered, and I accede to whatever suggestion or request is on the table before I even know what's happening.

At issue in these cases, as suggested by how I describe that infrequent gap between reaction and response, is time.

So there's a lot I recognize in “I need time. This is about accessibility.” over at Cussin' and Discussin'.

And the time needs to be without pressure. Without judging me for needing more time. Without making me explain why I need time. Without treating me as demanding. Without acting like your time is so utterly valuable that to give me even five seconds is a giant favor. Without acting like cognitive accessibility is a favor at all. Without all kinds of bizarre conditions in order to qualify as worthy of your time. Without treating me like I’m asking for special treatment. Without using the fact you gave me extra time to demand other things of me later.


Time isn’t always easy to come by. But we can’t just make our brains run the standard way. We need more time than usual. Or we need the time we have used different than usual. Or something.

People need to give me time to process and work through things. The higher the stakes or the pressure, the more time they likely need to give me. And, yes, there needs not to be judgment.

Even before my autism diagnosis, I had gotten into a productive pattern with a colleague at my former nonprofit (the organization still exists, I'm just no longer involved). They often would have observations or suggestions about this or that process, or this or that aspect of the facilities, but we came to grasp that I needed to work through the reasoning myself, outside of the immediate conversation.

Sometimes this meant a few minutes. Sometimes it meant I'd have a reaction the following weekend. Regardless, this process worked because I'd been able to express my need for processing time, and they respected that need.

To put it another way, although Luna Lindsey was discussing task switching more than “mere” processing time in general, there are a lot of splines to reticulate.

Reticulate means to “make a net or network of”. A spline is a number of things, including: “a. Any of a series of projections on a shaft that fit into slots on a corresponding shaft, enabling both to rotate together. b. The groove or slot for such a projection.”

This is as good an illustration as any. The greater the weight, number, or severity of stimuli, the less time my brain is afforded to make a mental network for how all the metaphorical projections and slots fit together.

There's been just such need for time lately, as I've had to navigate a series of medical tests and make a decision about surgery. My urologist has been pretty insistent upon wanting to move on things as soon as possible, but I'd been making it clear that until I could go through everything step by step, alone but with both their guidance and a second opinion from another doctor, I simply couldn't commit to a schedule.

Truthfully, this issue of processing time also explains part of my reticence to have a family member on hand (or, to my mind, underfoot) once I do have this “cystoscopy, bladder/diverticula biopsy, stone evacuation, left retrograde pyelogram, possible ureteroscopy/biopsy, possible stent” surgery.

There's a longstanding myth about autistic people having no empathy, whereas actually autistic people frequently will discuss the opposite: being too empathetically sensitive, and so this itself becomes yet another stimulus which can contribute to overwhelm, which then easily can appear to neurotypicals as an absence of empathy.

Here's my worry about having a family member constantly around post-surgery: no matter their stated intent or claimed ability to compartmentalize (already somewhat undermined just in emails discussing the issue), they have their own emotional stake in my medical situation. Which due to autistic empathy naturally would be an additional pressuring stimulus floating around my home during recovery.

My fear is this will increase the chances that my brain does not have the required time, or other necessary resources, to reticulate the splines when it comes to self-monitoring my condition, either mentally or physically. It seems to me that this should be the priority.

The superficial irony here doesn't escape me. This person is offering their time to me, but the point is that what matters is my time, as I'm the one who needs to make sure he has what he needs. Sometimes, people offering their time is what gives me more time—e.g. when the consulting urologist told me during our second-opinion conversation not to worry about feeling like I was keeping him from something else as I worked through what we were discussing.

What happens, though, if someone's offer of their own time likely will yield the opposite effect: less time for me to focus on the things I need to focus on?

There isn't just one kind of time, and when the issue at hand is how to help someone with developmental or cognitive differences, even without another health issue happening, what counts is the nature and quality of the time they need not just the inherent fact of someone else's time being offered.

Back at my old nonprofit, the time my colleague gave me to think about feedback (which, for what it's worth, typically resulted in total agreement with what they were saying) benefitted both my own brain and their contributions to the work. As I've started, finally, to find doctors who appreciate my needs, the time they give me to consider all the facts and options ultimately benefits my health, both mental and physical.

Sometimes, though, offers of time, as counterintuitve as this might seem, feel more about the wants of the person offering than the needs of the person being offered.

With a brain like mine, mostly what I need is my own time. Unless your time gives me more of that, I don't have time for it.

Note: Links to entires on my previous blog will up updated to entries here on Write House once WriteFreely has WordPress imports.

#Autism #MentalHealth #Surgery #Time #June2019

Black Americans did not abandon liberal democracy because of slavery, Jim Crow, and the systematic destruction of whatever wealth they managed to accumulate; instead they took up arms in two world wars to defend it. Japanese Americans did not reject liberal democracy because of internment or the racist humiliation of Asian exclusion; they risked life and limb to preserve it. Latinos did not abandon liberal democracy because of “Operation Wetback,” or Proposition 187, or because of a man who won a presidential election on the strength of his hostility toward Latino immigrants. Gay, lesbian, and trans Americans did not abandon liberal democracy over decades of discrimination and abandonment in the face of an epidemic. This is, in part, because doing so would be tantamount to giving the state permission to destroy them, a thought so foreign to these defenders of the supposedly endangered religious right that the possibility has not even occurred to them. But it is also because of a peculiar irony of American history: The American creed has no more devoted adherents than those who have been historically denied its promises, and no more fair-weather friends than those who have taken them for granted.

Adam Serwer

#Links #June2019

Western archivy operates from implicit and explicit assumptions of futurity, which become precarious in light of the temporal and scalar distortions which scholars of memory studies have theorized as a critical existential challenge of the Anthropocene. The Society of American Archivist’s (SAA) Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology predicates a record’s worth on its potential for future use. SAA’s Core Values Statement and Code of Ethics reiterates that “archivists thus preserve materials for the benefit of the future more than for the concerns of the past.” Similarly, the Association of Canadian Archivist’s (ACA) Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct identifies no higher goal than to “[make] records available and [protect] them for future use.” The interests of future users shape core practices of appraisal, preservation, description, and access.

However, increasingly dire models of climate risk undermine any casual assurance of posterity and stasis. Dipesh Chakrabarty’s 2009 article, “The Climate of History: Four Theses,” represents a significant text for the study of memory in the Anthropocene. Chakrabarty argues that the Anthropocene threatens our assumptions of “a certain continuity of human experiences, ”forcing individuals to contend with the threat of global disaster and mortality. For memory workers, the existential uncertainties of the Anthropocene should prompt a crisis of purpose: if there will be no one to remember what was, what will have been the purpose of memory work? What purpose can archives possibly serve under the threat of species annihilation? What will archival obliteration mean for the caretakers of archives?

Samantha R. Winn

#Links #June2019

Already, I might be dropping another book. Recently, I mentioned lamentably having to drop Liu Cixin's The Wandering Earth collection because the third story was boring me to tears, and I wasn't expecting to hit another snag so soon.

Sarah Curtis and Sarah Mitzenberg had been best friends since fifth grade. They had a secret sign language and were totally insufferable. Sarah Hunt was too proud of all the antidepressants she was taking. Sarah Jones picked her nose in public, then examined whatever she'd excavated on her fingertips for a long time. Up close. She has Asperger's or something like that, it was reported, which made her easier to forgive, but the sight of her, even when not engaged in her oblivious grotesqueries, made Sarah Moss cringe.

Now, this character is a sophomore in high school, and the entire section from which this is taken surely establishes that she is petty and judgmental. Still, I'm a bit taken aback by describing an allegedly-autistic character's “oblivious grotesqueries”.

I'm not bowing out just yet. This is very early in the book, only the second chapter. But I guess I'm serving public notice here on The Last Day by Domenica Ruta.

That said, I did enjoy A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djèlí Clark, which is what I read after dropping the Liu Cixin and starting the Domenica Ruta.

#Autism #Books #Reading #June2019

You're not becoming unstuck in time like Billy Pilgrim, nor am I posting from several hours in the future. WriteFreely, the platform powering Write House, doesn't (yet?) show datestamps in anything other than, I think, Universal Coordinated Time.

#Meta #WriteHouse #June2019

There's an edited extract from Angela Saini's new book Superior: The Return of Race Science over at Wired which details some of the recent history of racist ideas being forced into the conduction of genetics research.

His work caused a sensation. What set pulses racing above all was his observation that the timing of the spread of this gene variant seemed to coincide with the rise of what is credited as one of the world’s earliest civilisations in Mesopotamia, with the emergence of highly sophisticated human cultures and written language. Lahn seemed to imply that the brains of different population groups might have evolved in different directions for the past five millennia, and that the groups with this special genetic difference may in consequence have become more sophisticated than others. In brief, people in Europe, the Middle East and Asia had benefited from a cognitive boost, while Africans had languished – perhaps were still languishing – without it.


Before long, critics piled in from across the board, undermining every one of Lahn’s scientific and historical assertions. For a start, the variant he described as emerging 5,800 years ago could actually have appeared within a time range as wide as 500 to 14,100 years ago, so it may not have coincided with any major historical events. Respected geneticist Sarah Tishkoff at the University of Pennsylvania, who had been a co-author of his papers, distanced herself from Lahn’s suggestion that it might be linked to advances in human culture.

There were doubts too that Lahn’s gene variants had seen any recent selection pressure at all. Tishkoff tells me that scientists today universally recognise intelligence as a highly complex trait, not only influenced by many genes but also likely to have evolved during the far longer portion of human history, ending around ten thousand years ago, when we were all mainly hunter-gatherers. “There have been common selection pressures for intelligence,” she explains. “People don’t survive if they’re not smart and able to communicate. There’s no reason to think that there would be differential selection in different populations.

White supremacists like to try to establish a genetic basis for intelligence because they want to prove that the success of “Western culture” was born of innate talent and ability. Luck, happenstance, and fortune can have nothing to do with it. Science, however, keeps showing up these suggestions, and these purported genetic discoveries, as bunk. Civilization is not, in fact, the result of some sort of genetic determinism.

Stumbling upon this extract from Saini's book was fortuitous, because a couple of passages I had only just read in Origins: How Earth's History Shaped Human History by Lewis Dartnell reminded me of something I'd recently seen about the links between geology and the results of American elections.

(Bear with me, this is going somewhere.)

What I was thinking about was this Daily Mail article (I know, sorry) about this Reddit post comparing a map of a Cretaceous-era seashore to one of the 2016 election results in Alabama.

To provide some context: the Cretaceous Period seashore would develop into some of the richest farmland in the U.S. thanks to the seashore pushing rocks deep and leaving behind rich deposits in really loose soil, which lead to the development of the cotton industry in this area which, of course, lead to large plantations with slaves whose decedents remain in this area,' said the user.

The idea here is that with geology having established fertile soil, which the south farmed through chattel slavery, yielded hotspots of African-American populations, which then as an electorate voted Democratic.

It turns out that Reddit user Drake Colfax was not the first to notice this. Back in 2017, Wired spoke to geologist Steven Dutch about this very correlation.

Dutch began investigating why this overlap might exist. “Soils make agriculture, agriculture makes economies, the economy makes voting patterns,” he says, explaining his thinking at the time. When Dutch undertook this research, he expected to find a clear tie between that soil and the current economy of the South.

The answer turned out not to be so simple. Dutch studied economic trends in the region and farming trends nationwide and found no explanation for why the band of blue existed where it did across the south. It wasn't until he looked at historic maps of the area that he finally realized what he was looking at. In the Cretaceous Period, much of this part of the country was underwater. As the sea creatures in the water died off, they left behind massive chalk formations, which eventually made for rich soil. The fertile soil created by those rock formations drew white plantation owners to this part of the South, and with them, millions of slaves. Dutch was right. The soil did create agriculture, which did create an economy of cotton, despicably built on the backs of slaves; it's just that economy ended hundreds of years ago.

“The present day [voting pattern] is a relic of that settlement pattern,” Dutch says.

Dutch, according to Wired, wrote about all of this as far back in 2002, and his research apparently gets picked up now and then, including by Deep Sea News during the 2012 presidential election.

What does all of this have to go with racist research into a genetic basis for intelligence? As suggested, white supremacists seem to search for such a genetic basis (or, really, simply to assert one) because they need there to be an innate reason for the success of Western civilization. They need nature to be on their side.

It turns out, nature might very well have been on the side of Western civilization's success, but not quite in the way racists had hoped, or in a way that helps their case and their cause. It's not a matter of genetics, but, according to Origins, it might be a matter of geology.

Thus from the very beginnings of agriculture and civilisation, Eurasia was richly endowed with wild grass species amenable to domestication by humanity and suitable for supporting growing populations. And not only was Eurasia by chance blessed with this biological bounty, but the very orientation of the continent greatly promoted the spread of crops between distant regions. When the supercontinent Pangea fragmented, it was torn apart along rifts that just so happened to leave Eurasia as a broad landmass running in an east–west direction–the entire continent stretches more than a third of the way around the world, but mostly within a relatively narrow range of latitudes. As it is the latitude on the Earth that largely determines the climate regime and length of the growing season, crops domesticated in one part of Eurasia can be transplanted across the continent with only minimal need for adaptation to the new locale. Thus wheat cultivation spread readily from the uplands of Turkey throughout Mesopotamia, Europe and all the way round to India, for example. The twin continents of the Americas, by contrast, though joined by the bridge of the Panama Isthmus, lie in a north–south orientation. Here, the spreading of crops originally domesticated in one region to another entailed a much harder process of re-adapting the plant species to different growing conditions. This fundamental distinction in the layout of the Old World versus the New, itself born from plate tectonics and the aimless wandering of the continents into their current configuration, gave the civilisations of Eurasia a great developmental advantage through history.

Geology, says Dartnell, determines climate, and climate determines flora, and flora determine agriculture, and agriculture determines civilization. It doesn't stop with plants, either.

The distribution of large animals around the world was equally uneven, and here societies across Eurasia received another advantage. The attributes of a wild animal that make it amenable to domestication by humans include offering nutritious food, a docile nature and lack of inherent fear of humans, a natural herding behaviour, and the ability to be bred in captivity. Yet only a relatively small number of wild animals qualify on all these factors. Of the 148 species of large mammals around the world (heavier than 40 kilogrammes), 72 are found in Eurasia, of which 13 were domesticated. Of the 24 found within the Americas, only the llama (and its close relative the alpaca) was domesticated in South America. North America, sub-Saharan Africa and Australia completely lacked domesticable large animals. The five most important animals through human history–the sheep, goat, pig, cow and horse–as well as the donkey and the camel that provided transport in particular regions, were present only in Eurasia, and within a few thousand years of their domestication had spread across the continent. It is the large mammalian species that have proved most influential throughout history, not only for their meat, but also for their secondary products (milk, hide and wool), and their muscle power.

Geology, then, determines fauna much in the way it determines flora, and when you combine agriculture and animal husbandry you tend to get the rise of civilizations. The specifics of how the world's geology formed and therefore how climates developed—and therefore what kinds of flora and fauna were available for humans to domesticate and cultivate—resulted in stronger civilizations across Eurasia than in other parts of the world.

What we have here, then, is strong evidence for luck, happenstance, and fortune being at least somewhat deterministic of Western civilization's success. It isn't that Europeans (read: white people, although see The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter for more on that construct) were superior in any inherent fashion. They weren't blessed by nature to have superior genes.

Rather, it's that people across Eurasia were blessed by a head start and a helping hand by the nature of geology.

What's striking here is that this is the natural history of humankind as an argument against the idea of meritocracy. It isn't that self-described white people are better, it's that regions we consider “white” were accidentally given better starting conditions than many of the regions we don't.

Nature itself refutes the white supremacist nature of many of the structural and cultural narratives which dominate American society.

We aren't “superior” in a civilizational sense due to our genetics any more than that's the explanation for our comparative success, be it collectively or individually, in American society. In each case, we started out having been dealt a better hand.

(Not so incidentally, two books you really should read if you haven't already: So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, and White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin J. DiAngelo.)

Even if we'd wanted to we could not have changed the geological determinism which dictated different climates and the plants and animals they fostered. The difference, the important difference, is that our society isn't so fixed. It isn't born of nature, but of nurture.

We can choose not to accept a society which we've fostered to see us as better and instead to build a society that deals everyone a better hand.

#Books #Civilization #Genetics #Geology #Racism #Reading #June2019