Ran Prieur

"Do you want your heart to feel like it has been pulled across by a rasp? Then don't look away."

-Serial Experiments Lain


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June 2. The new Firefox update (89) does at least two things I hate. Here's how to fix them.

When you try to search in the search box on the Firefox home page, it moves your search to the address bar. To keep it in the search box: 1) Type about:config into the address bar, and accept the danger. 2) In the search bar that comes up, type handoff. 3) Double-click "browser.newtabpage.activity-stream.improvesearch.handoffToAwesomebar" to false. "improvesearch"? "Awesomebar"? What is this bullshit?

The other thing is it massively pads my bookmarks. This can't be fixed from about:config. You have to make a userChrome.css file. 1) Find your profile folder using these instructions. 2) Create a userChrome.css file using these instructions. 3) With a text editor (I recommend Notepad++), open your userChrome.css file and copy the code suggested here, but with fewer pixels. I've set all the numbers to 1, and I'm considering 0.

Taking a step back, this is all part of technological collapse. Things that could be simple are made increasingly complex, under the guise of "upgrades", so that engineers can justify their jobs. This complexity makes the practical level of our world less accessible to ordinary users. Stuff that used to be out in the open, is put into black boxes that are hard to get your hands in.

Everything is getting slicker on the surface and more kafkaesque at the core, and we all feel more powerless, and justifiably anxious about things going wrong that we can't fix. When enough things go wrong at once, whole subsystems fall to the highest technological level that people still understand, which might be quite low.

May 31. Wading back into politics, the weirdest thing that's happened recently, was when Caitlyn Jenner, who's running for governor of California, said she didn't vote in the last election -- but then it turned out she was lying and did vote. Why would someone vote, and say they didn't vote?

I think Caitlyn Jenner is nutty enough to be in tune with the zeitgeist, in which voting is now uncool. Voting is for saps. If you really want to make a difference, the cool thing to do is have a violent revolution and install a charismatic leader.

To be fair, voting is really unsatisfying. Until you're in an election that's decided by one vote, your vote has never made a difference. I'm a serious supporter of random ballot voting, where for each candidate or measure, the election is decided by picking a single ballot at random. The best thing about random ballot voting is there's no incentive for tactical voting. So a no-bullshit no-charisma candidate has an actual chance of winning.

It's going to be hundreds of years, or thousands, before humans figure out a good large-scale political system. In the short term, I expect many of our half-assed democracies to be overwhelmed by a tide of authoritarian sentiment.

Something I learned from James C. Scott's book Against The Grain, is that human prehistory was politically very complex, and there were some groups that alternated seasonally between top-down and bottom-up systems. I think that's where the present authoritarian sentiment is coming from. We have something like an ancestral memory, in which, when the system has too much cruft, someone with a strong personality can come in and sweep it away. That probably works pretty well in a group of a hundred people who all know each other. But when it's a hundred million people, you get an insane dictator and piles of dead bodies.

More optimistically, I think populist authoritarianism might just throw a wrench into the big systems, so that local politics become more important. So some regions and towns will be a lot worse than they are now, and some will be better.

May 27. A few notes on the pandemic. Yesterday I got my second dose of Moderna, so I'm fully vaccinated, for now. It's not that I have a huge amount of faith in the medical system, but as I said on the subreddit, it's simple risk analysis. The evidence that COVID-19 is harmful, both short and long term, massively outweighs the evidence that the vaccine is harmful.

Related: a long reddit post where a guy who almost died from COVID tells his story.

I've been on the fence about whether COVID-19 came from nature or a lab, because I'm not a biologist studying the issue, so any opinion I had would have been based on social factors, not scientific. It's better to say nothing than to be right for the wrong reason. But as the social buzz dies down, and the evidence comes in, it's looking more like the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan. Here's an article making that case, The origin of COVID.

Also on the subject of new diseases, Deadly Fungi Are the Newest Emerging Microbe Threat All Over the World.

I plan to continue posting the best goals from the NWSL. Here's potential rookie of the year Emina Ekic beating three defenders and the goalie with a spectacular curving shot.

May 24. I'm still on vacation from offering my opinion on social issues -- except my opinion that all of these links are good news. Also, notice how many of them are local:

The Psychedelic Revolution Is Coming

Senegal architects ditch concrete for earth

Homeless Oaklanders have built a cob village

When One City Gave People Cash, They Went Out and Got Jobs

Washington State Removes All Barriers to Municipal Broadband

The Number of Cities With Municipal Broadband Has Jumped Over 450% in Two Years

Newark cops, with reform, didn't fire a single shot in 2020

Renton physician cuts health insurance out of the picture

May 20. This week I'm living the dream. It's been years since I've had such large blocks of time with nothing I'm supposed to be doing, and it's wonderful. On top of that, I'm not gaming, and not doing my favorite time-waster, checking Ask Reddit.

Last week I mentioned "hedonic blowback," my own term for something that's been well-studied under other names. It's when you feel bad for no other reason than having recently done something that feels good. I don't get it from most stuff that feels good, but two hours of a great game, like Starsector, is enough to make the whole next day feel bleak and painful. I hope to find a way around this.

After a 12 day break, I'm back on moderated weed. The conventional wisdom about cannabis is that it's bad because it makes you okay with being bored. I was born okay with being bored. When I'm sober (and not gaming) my favorite thing to do is nothing. When I'm high, I'm a workaholic. It's like, if you're an astronomer, and you only have ten hours a week of telescope time, you're going to spend every second of that time looking into space.

But I wonder, am I really seeing things I can't see sober, or is it just that the things I can already see look better? When I think it through, it's some of both, with the greatest benefits in creative ideas, introspection, and listening to highly complex music, and the smallest benefits in watching movies.

So on my sober days, I've been catching up on movies that I know I'll enjoy, but don't really feel like watching. That's how hedonically advanced we are: that cinema, which was considered pure escapism just a hundred years ago, now feels like a chore compared to digital dopamine hammering.

Anyway, for now I just want to report another coincidence. Yesterday I watched two consecutive movies, Prospect and Ms.45, in which a woman saws a man's arm off.

May 17. Still on vacation from serious issues, but I want to write about music. Leigh Ann is in Florida, so I'm listening to lots of sappy stuff that I'd normally have to put on headphones, and yesterday I made a 52-minute summer playlist.

My playlists put quality over quantity, and music over lyrics. So I started with my favorite songs that sound like summer, cut the ones that weren't as good or didn't fit, and arranged the others for flow of sounds. My first thought was to start with "Turn On The Summer" and end with "Summer's Over", but musically it made more sense to do it the other way around.

Summer's Over is a sad and dreamy song recorded in 1969 or 1970 by a teenager named Dennis Harte, and it's the only song on the list that's not on Spotify. Here's the rest of it on Spotify, and it's also at the top of my songs page.

Related: over on the subreddit, 2handband wants help naming a YouTube channel about metal.

New subject: the NWSL regular season has just started, and this goal from Portland's young guns is one of the funnest you'll ever see. Morgan Weaver one-touches a sixty yard bomb from the goalkeeper, right into the path of Sophia Smith who puts it away.

May 10. I'm taking multiple breaks right now: a break from cannabis to reset my tolerance, a break from video games because of hedonic blowback, and a break from blogging because I'm really tired of discussing social issues, and I'm not getting ideas on other subjects. So I probably won't post again this week, and we'll see about next week.

I do want to report a cool coincidence. Only once in my life have I bought a green vinyl album (Insecure Men - self-titled), and only once in Leigh Ann's life has she bought a green vinyl album (Squid - Bright Green Field), and they both just came in the mail on the same day.

May 6. Some happy links. ZAP! Lightning, Gods, and Mushrooms is a 2013 article about how lightning helps wild mushrooms, and how electricity might help with mushroom farming.

Related: Fungi on Mars? The author of this article is a dedicated woo-woo scientist, and there's probably another explanation. But given my own woo-woo philosophy, I wonder if there are potentially fungi on Mars, if humans are ready for it, and if we're not, then the observed color changes on the Martian surface will turn out to be something non-biological.

Nice article about the Moderna vaccine, and the huge potential of using mRNA to hack the immune system for other purposes, like treating cancer or snakebites. By the way, I got my first dose of Moderna a week ago, and the only obvious effect was a bit of soreness in the muscle around the shot.

This is bad timing with all the COVID pyres in India, but Maine might legalize Viking-style funeral pyres. Related: Recompose is a Seattle company that will compost your body.

This is the first house to be 3D printed from raw earth. It's pretty cool, but I'm wondering how much it cost to build a giant 3D printer that can build a house, and how much cheaper it would be to just build the same house by hand. Of course it would take a lot more time, but most people in the world have more time than money.

And a fun subreddit, FairytaleasFuck, for pictures of real places (and sometimes art) that look like they're in a magical world.

May 3. Some doom links, starting with The 'Capitalism is Broken' Economy. It's about how American employers are having trouble filling their crappy jobs:

Stick with me here, but what if people weren't lazy -- and instead, for the first time in a long time, were able to say no to exploitative working conditions and poverty-level wages? And what if business owners are scandalized, dismayed, frustrated, or bewildered by this scenario because their pre-pandemic business models were predicated on a steady stream of non-unionized labor with no other options? It's not the labor force that's breaking. It's the economic model.

I would explain it like this: Of the many reasons a person gets a job, two of the big ones are 1) to rise from poverty to wealth, and 2) to not fall from poverty to death. Now, with economic decline, and the rich bunkering up with their money, upward mobility is a lot harder. At the same time, through moral progress and upgrades to the safety net, falling from poverty to death is also harder.

Another reason Americans get jobs is to buy cheap stuff from China, and that's also not going to last. Related: Brace for shipping tsunami as container capacity maxes out.

Long speech transcript, How Tech Loses Out. The idea is, big companies now outsource everything. Tech companies have become intellectual property and finance companies, and they no longer employ anyone who knows how stuff actually works.

And at some point, the technical skills of the company become negative. And what does that mean? That your company knows so little about what it does that if you would ask a random person on the street for advice on the thing that your company makes, they are more likely to provide correct answers than the people that actually work for the company.

In the Hacker News comment thread, the top comment is about a sci-fi novel, where people keep using technologies that they don't understand, until the machines break and no one can fix them. Related: my 2010 post on the coming skill crash.

April 29. Some happy links about biology, starting with a loose end from Monday, on the subject of whether non-brain organs have their own intelligence. This 2005 article, Organ Transplants and Cellular Memories, has a bunch of reports of personality changes after heart transplants, and here's an abstract of a more recent article, Personality changes following heart transplantation: The role of cellular memory. To me, "cellular memory" sounds like an awkward place-holder for an explanation that will turn out to be weirder.

Drug Discovered to Regenerate Lost Teeth, but it will be a while before it's ready for humans.

Sushi-grade salmon grown from Pacific Salmon cells. That link goes to the Hacker News comment thread, which has some info about pricing. The process is still really expensive, but with economy of scale, and the dying oceans, it should eventually be cheaper than catching wild fish.

From the Weird Collapse subreddit, Neutering is undomesticating cat genetics.

And thanks Mike for this nice article about daisugi, a 15th-century Japanese technique for growing ultra-straight cedar trees. First you grow a large base tree, and then you train sub-trees growing off of it.

April 26. Yesterday I had a visit from a long-time reader, Elliot, who lives in his car and travels around doing seasonal work. A few hours later, Nomadland, a movie about people who do that, won best picture.

The future is already here -- it's just not widely distributed yet. This idea seems deterministic, but it's really open-ended. At any given time, there are thousands of little trends and movements, and a few of them are going to get much bigger, but we don't know which ones.

Either car-living has to get much bigger, or housing costs have to get much lower, and one of those things is politically impossible.

Since I'm writing about the future, I've been thinking about virtual reality. So far, it's almost all head-based. Worlds are simulated for your eyes and your ears, and mainly navigated by your fingers. The most advanced VR can also interface your arms and legs.

But your arms and legs don't care what world they're in. They don't care if you're scrubbing the bathtub or slaying dragons. It's your brain that cares, and VR is pulling your arms and legs into worlds that the brain wants.

What about the rest of the body? When people talk about following the heart, or the gut, are they projecting the subconscious brain, or do those organs have their own intelligence? That's how primitive we are, that we still don't know the answer. Maybe in 2050, when you're playing Fallout 9, there will be a wire in your belly so you can get a gut feeling about whether to go into that building.

If technology can do that, I'd rather get a wire in my amygdala to nullify unfounded fear. Or, the best case for virtual reality, is that in figuring out how to bring the whole body into an artificial world, we will discover how to finally bring it into the real world.

It's just like terraforming Mars. The science doesn't add up, but in the attempt, we'll come to appreciate how much easier and more valuable it is to re-terraform Earth.

April 22. The Weak Case for Grit. It's about how the concept of "grit", as a path to self-improvement, is just a trendy rebranding of stuff that was already known under the concept of conscientiousness.

I would go farther and say, not only is grit not a good predictor of achievement, achievement is not a good measure of human life. If we're talking about benefit to society, supermarket workers are more beneficial than social media influencers. And if we're talking about subjective quality of life, then we need reforms to make low-status life better, instead of another weapon in the arms race for a shrinking number of high-status positions.

Related: A Life of One's Own is a really nice review of a book with that title, from 1934:

Marion Milner undertook a seven-year experiment in living, aimed at unpeeling the existential rind of all we chronically mistake for fulfillment -- prestige, pleasure, popularity -- to reveal the succulent, pulsating core of what makes for genuine happiness.
Happiness, Milner found, was similarly elusive to direct pursuit. Rather, its attainment required a wide-open attentiveness to reality, a benevolent curiosity about all that life has to offer, and a commitment not to argue with its offerings but to accept them as they come.

4/20. For the holiday, I want to write about weed. Most people I know either never use it, or use it every day. Maybe my brain is different, but those would be my last two choices.

Lately I've been doing two or three sessions a day, and then taking two full days off. I might use it two days in a row, but if I go a third day, it just makes me feel numb, which is not what I want.

In no particular order, these are some of my favorite things to do while high:

1) Put on headphones, walk around outside, and pretend I'm the POV in a video. With the right song, and in the right place, this is absolute heaven. Lately my favorite song is New Yorker Cartoon by Jenny and Johnny. At the same time, I practice turning my attention to my physical senses. My goal, which I'm nowhere near, is to last a whole song without falling into my head.

2) Improvise on piano. Whenever I find a good chord, I'll use label paper and colored markers to show it on the keyboard, and then I'll keep my fingers on the colors and jam. For a while I've been practicing keeping my left hand doing the same thing while my right hand does increasingly complex stuff. Lately I've been working on the opening of Wall of Voodoo's Ring of Fire, doing the synth with my left and the guitar with my right. Separately the parts are easy, but playing them together was so hard, that I had to figure it out with pen and paper, and then play the tricky bit until I could do it smoothly. Now, that pattern is part of my toolbox for improvising.

3) Write fiction. When I'm high, I get much better ideas, on everything from plot to how to put words together. The problem is that I think all my ideas are great, when some of them are dumb. To know the difference, I have to edit while sober. Oddly, blogging is almost the opposite. I get ideas high, draft posts sober, and then for major posts, I'll get high and do a style polish.

4) Explore emotions. Weed raises my emotional intelligence to nearly normal. People always say "listen to your heart," and I wish they had more precise instructions. It occurred to me, maybe I've been taking it too metaphorically. So I've been focusing a lot of attention on my literal blood-pumping muscle, and I noticed something. When I do my "expanding into pain" exercise, my heartbeats are sharper. Also, focusing on anything below the neck seems to settle my anxiety.

5) Strobe-enhanced CEV's. I close my eyes, turn my bike taillight to flashing, and point it at my eyelids. If I'm high enough, I'll see all kinds of crazy patterns, and can consciously navigate from one pattern to another. I told Leigh Ann, "I'm afraid this is too self-indulgent." She replied: "You're you!"

April 19. Negative links! Present Punk is a website arguing "that we are either currently living in a cyberpunk dystopia, or that we are transitioning into one."

Related: The secret ideology hiding in SimCity. The designer of Sim City was inspired by a book with an economic authoritarian agenda, and he put the book's formulas into the game's "black box". Later, the Magnasanti project showed how you can maximize success in the game by building a dystopian nightmare.

More evil tech, Is Facebook Buying Off The New York Times?

Three links on toxicity. Experts are sounding the alarm about the dangers of gas stoves "Over the past four decades, researchers have amassed a large body of scientific evidence linking the use of gas appliances, especially for cooking, with a higher risk of a range of respiratory problems and illnesses."

Rates of Parkinson's disease are exploding. A common chemical may be to blame. It's trichloroethylene, and it's already been banned in the EU and two US states.

And a well-written guide to identifying narcissists online.

Finally, climate catastrophe. Antarctica's Doomsday Glacier close to tipping point. "The glacier acts like a cork in a wine bottle, stopping the rest of the ice in the region from flowing into the sea."

This 2017 article, The Doomsday Glacier, goes into more depth. Bottom line: this stuff is hard to model, but the worst predictions are for 10-13 feet of sea level rise by 2100.

April 16. For the weekend, two happy links. Buildings made with fungi could live, grow, and then biodegrade. Related: Any sufficiently advanced civilization is indistinguishable from nature.

And US suicide rate dropped 6 percent in past year, even amid pandemic. I'm not surprised. This is a simplification: the suicide rate is inversely proportional to the rate of death by other causes. Because death by other causes means that society is facing a challenge that makes life more meaningful, and it means you're not suffering alone.

With summer coming (in the northern temperate zone) I want to recommend a product. It's hard to find a good summer overshirt. By that I mean: 1) You can wear it over a t-shirt. 2) It keeps the sun off. 3) It lets the air through. 4) It looks good. 5) It has good pockets.

I've only found one shirt that does all those things: the Prijouhe kimono. It says they're true to size, but I recommend going big. Here's a photo of me in my earth-tone summer outfit: Uniqlo linen shorts, medium t-shirt, and XXL kimono.

April 14. Bunch o' links, starting with a few from the subreddits. Ancient cave painters may have been stoned. More precisely, they would have needed torches, which could have had them tripping on oxygen deprivation. But they didn't know about oxygen, so they probably thought the caves were intrinsically trippy places.

A City for Poets and Pirates is a deep historical piece about some crazy stuff that happened a hundred years ago in Italy:

We cannot understand the events in Fiume (or the subsequent rise of fascism) without making an effort to imagine a world in which hundreds of thousands of young men who had been promised a share in the spoils of victory returned, after years both frightening and exhilarating -- some of them half-blind or deaf, some insomniacs or addicts -- to anxious mothers and wives unwilling to listen to their stories, to jobs in industries where bosses worried about productivity.

Our Brain Typically Overlooks This Brilliant Problem-Solving Strategy: removing things rather than adding them. If, somehow, we could get as good at removing things as we are at adding them, it would greatly prolong the lifespans of our institutions and technologies, which are always getting weighed down and crippled by feature bloat.

Ask Hacker News: What tech job would let me get away with the least real work possible? You can tell our civilization is declining, because the thread is massively upvoted and everyone thinks this is a good idea.

Another Hacker News thread, about a 20% probability for a large satellite collision. It didn't happen this time, but eventually it will, and then we might get a chain reaction satellite apocalypse, where the sky is full of meteors and the TV doesn't work.

This is the best reddit thread I've ever seen about lifehacks. It has everything from how to fight a dog to using chips as kindling.

And I've just done an update of my Favorite Films page, adding a few films and a new interpretation of Terry Gilliam's Tideland.

I don't do an RSS feed, but Patrick has written a script that creates a feed based on the way I format my entries. It's at http://ranprieur.com/feed.php. You might also try Page2RSS.

Posts will stay on this page about a month, and then mostly drop off the edge. A reader has set up an independent archive that saves the page every day or so.

I've always put the best stuff in the archives, and in spring of 2020 I went through and edited the pages so they're all fit to link here. The dates below are the starting dates for each archive.

2005: January / June / September / November
2006: January / March / May / August / November / December
2007: February / April / June / September / November
2008: January / March / May / July / September / October / November
2009: January / March / May / July / September / December
2010: February / April / June / November
2011: January / April / July / October / December
2012: March / May / August / November
2013: March / July
2014: January / April / October
2015: March / August / November
2016: February / May / July / November
2017: February / May / September / December
2018: April / July / October / December
2019: February / March / May / July / December
2020: February / April / June / August / October / December
2021: February / April