reality is weirder than you think

Month: March 2018 (page 1 of 3)

Swishy pants layered under shorts, you in?

It’s one of those days, guys.

Friday on a Thursday.

PMS without the resolution.

A flurry of work that ends up being wrong wrong wrong.

And in the same way that I have to add a section to the agenda I make for my weekly meetings with my boss so that my boss doesn’t forget a plan she has for me, I’m going to inflict upon you a picture that doesn’t make any sense because I had an upside-down day.

Projection is fun like that. 🙂

Anyway, here’s Chanyeol from EXO shilling for Major League Baseball in Korea by wearing an insane amount of legwear.

I know the dude is tall and all, but c’mon, there’s a limit to how many times you can visually chop his body horizontally.

Also, as a diehard West Coaster, it bothers me that both the EXO and TWICE photosets for MLB have featured pretty much nothing but the New York Yankees.

Seattle, maybe? or LA?

Even Jay Park reps the Mariners.

Give ’em a little love.

The best sermon I’ve read in a long time (and it’s technically an essay about the software design industry)

I wasn’t looking for a sermon, but I found one anyway. Originally I was looking for more info on my minor work-related obsession: how to design an effective academic system. Or at the very least, how to turn my unit into a productivity machine.

Naturally, an essay called “On System Design” caught my eye.

I was expecting lots of technical details (and don’t worry, they’re there). What I was not expecting was a thoughtful, insightful essay that easily applies to multiple arenas of life.

This bit, for example, reminded me immediately of theology. It comes directly after the author seeks a general rule of “good design.”

The only generally applicable rule that doesn’t have obvious counterexamples is one I first heard enunciated by Fred Brooks more than a dozen years ago. In a talk given in a Sun-internal seminar (an expanded version of which became the basis for his Turing Award lecture in 2000*), Brooks talked of the work he had been doing to try to find the underlying common feature of good design, not just in computer hardware and software but also in such endeavors as architecture, graphics, and the fine arts. The only thing that he could find that good designs had in common was that they were produced by good designers.

There is one reading of this insight on which it is true but uninteresting, a mere tautological statement that reflects giving in to the unpredictable and inscrutable mystery of design. On this reading, the only way to determine what produces a good design is to wait until you have one, and then attribute it to the designer. Good design, on this view, happens by chance. You can hope for it, but you can’t do anything to improve your chances of getting a good design.

This is not the reading that I believe Brooks intended, nor the one that I found persuasive when I first heard the talk. My reading of this principal is that those who have been able to produce a good design in the past are far more likely to be able to produce a good design in the future. There is no guarantee that the future designs will be good, but your chances are much better. There is no magic process by which  such designers produce their designs; each may go about the design problem in a different way, and a designer may approach one problem in a particular way and another in a completely different fashion.

“Good design is practiced by good designers.” This sounds awfully similar to Aristotle’s thoughts on arete, or excellence/virtue: An virtuous man is one who does virtuous acts. (Citation needed, my copy of Nichomachean Ethics is somewhere at my parent’s house and not conveniently sitting on my bookshelf.)

That’s just the warm-up, though. What really caught my eye was what happens the mental shortcut of taking the statement at face value, it “reflects giving in to the unpredictable and inscrutable mystery of design.” This, along with the characteristic of this view of design as an accident, strikes me as summing up in one package two polar opposite approaches to the design of the universe. On one hand, we have the 19th century sentimentalist idea that God’s plan is completely inscrutable and His ways are totally mysterious and unknowable; and yet, life on earth exists. On the other hand, we have the evolutionary idea that the design happens entirely by chance; and yet, life on earth exists. Chance, or magic–does it really matter?

Funnily enough for as much as I’ve thought about the Victorians (not on this blog, unfortunately, but in my past life as a graduate student) I’ve never once thought that Darwinism was the equal and opposite reaction to the overly sentimental faith of the Victorian era.

Anyway. Both views are equally wrong, and yet they can both be summed up with one way of looking at design.

So we look at the other view of design–good design is reflective of a good Designer. There is “no magic process,” but each Designer will produce design that is, shall we say, in His image.

As those living in the design, we can both reverse engineer the elements of the design and Designer from what we observe in the “code” through nature, but we can also learn many of the Designer’s methods and how to use the system through its manual: The Bible.

It’s interesting thinking about God from this point of view.


*I believe this is the current iteration of Brooks’ ideas is his book of essays: The Design of Design. The website cited in the PDF of On System Design is RIP.

Overheard in the faculty lounge

Technically it was the hallway outside of a meeting room, but close enough.

  • Hi, we haven’t met yet. I’m Professor X from History.
  • I’m Professory Y from the Physics Department.
  • Oh, that’s smart.

Guys, the hierarchy is real. It roughly correlates with the list of IQ by majors, although I suspect it can be somewhat augmented by local departmental prestige.

Even the people who refuse to acknowledge it know that it’s real.

And a whole lotta people are trying to compensate for it.

What happens when a lobster gets a PhD?

The weird middle ground between academia and business

Confession: I haven’t followed up on Elliot Jaques. I tried, guys. I really did. It was not happening. His handbook-style writing was too managerially oriented for me, and his academic stuff…well, I’m no longer required to read academicese so I’m not going to.

That said, however, I really like his idea of how time influences levels of responsibility in job descriptions. That is, that the length of a person’s longest project determines, to some degree, the amount of competence and intelligence needed for the position. This is one of the ways you can divide the “layers” between a worker and his manager, by the length of time needed to complete a project. A worker might be dealing with daily or weekly tasks, while the manager is looking over six months, a year, or longer.

This approach makes sense, and it makes sense that the higher a person’s IQ, the more likely it is for that person to complete a long-term project. My intuition says that this dovetails perfectly with the Marshmallow Test that also correlates with success, and success correlates with IQ.

Anyway. I’m not just here to talk about management theories. Let me bring this to a point.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how higher education is stuck in a no-man’s-land between “academia” and “the free market.” This idea needs more elucidation, but essentially I see a huge battle between the way that faculty view the university and the way that the administration does.

Faculty want the university to be a personalized place of free inquiry, protected from the rogue waves of the free market, where decisions are made through discussion and all the “administrative” tasks are done voluntarily, and shared.


However, college is now thought of not as a place of free inquiry, but a place that you go that prepares you to get a good job. There are a lot of reasons for this, and trying to tease them out made this blog post get really lopsided so I’ll ignore them for now. The point is, with this statement of purpose, colleges have “entered the game,” so to speak. They are now players in the marketplace of job seeking, of hiring and firing and all that.

Higher education has become an industry in its own right, and as such has had to build up an business infrastructure to support itself. The problem is that the way of business and the way of faculty will never, ever get along.

This clash was highlighted in two articles on The Chronicle of Higher Education today.

One, on the revolving door of Provosts (basically the VP of Education, for y’all nonacademics):

In the past decade, since I started work in a tenure-track position here, we have had eight provosts. When you subtract the interim ones, we’ve only had four. However, I think it’s more than fair to count the interims, because they last almost as long as the “permanent” ones. I wish I was kidding. Frankly, most of the interims have been better than most of the permanents — though I do have high hopes for our new “permanent” provost, who started this academic year.

Now you know why I brought up Elliot Jacques earlier. Let’s put a provost in the Stratum V category, which would have a project timespan of 5-10 years. Getting a new provost roughly every 2 years is not nearly enough time for a competent person to execute a good plan, and its an excellent smokescreen for an incompetent person to get in the position and wreak a lot of havoc.

The author details some of the specific problems of this method of management, and problems they are.

On the other side of the faculty/administration line, faculty are figuring out that they are treated like employees, not members or colleages. After counseling colleagues to be sparing with their academic service, this author also points out that

Increasingly, what used to be the purview of faculty governance has been outsourced to accrediting institutions, to state legislators, to boards of trustees, and to administrators — all groups that are, along a continuum, often far removed from the grass roots of teacher/scholars. Faculty service is increasingly academic theater that stays at the level of rehearsal and never really gets to the main stage.

While true, what is missing from this observation is that by not participating in service activities, faculty abdicate this role to the administration. Some of the administrative duties are made up, to be sure, but many of them are roles that have been coupled with the liberal arts university for decades or even centuries.

The advice given in the comments to that article is incredibly rational, but it also contributes even further to the fracturing of the university.

For any STEM tenure-track assistant professor at an R1 university, my advice is simple and blunt. Use your service hours at the regional and national level so that you get exposure for your proposals, papers and external review letters which are needed for your tenure application. After all, see what is counted – research expenditures, doctoral students, and papers/citations. So serve in your technical division in the most recognizable professional society in your field, and go through the ranks to become an officer; volunteer for panel reviews of proposals at NSF, become a reviewer for known journals and national conferences, organize and chair sessions at national conferences. Limit your service at the departmental, college and university level to departmental meetings, accreditation, and occasional adhoc committees. At the end of the day, it is your life and you are responsible for maintaining your sanity.

Now loyalties of the faculty primarily lie outside of the university (let’s not lie, they almost always did; academic discipline typically trumps university unless it’s Harvard or something) and instead of staying around for 5 years like all the revolving provosts in the first story said that they would do, you have people who will cut and run at the least provocation.

Universities have a huge problem right now. Faculty don’t want to admit that the university is now a business, but administrators also do go in and blatantly disregard traditional faculty practices in the implementation of business-type practices. This results in a lot of animosity that doesn’t help either “side.”

If this conversation doesn’t happen, rationally and out in the open, more and more universities are going to close. It’s already started, with closures and mergers, and lots of people being scared every day.

Backwards Book Review: A Wrinkle in Time

Backwards book reviews are when I revisit a book that I’ve already read. Before I read the book, I’ll write down everything I can remember about it. Afterward, I’ll write up my thoughts and see how well my memories stacked up.

A Wrinkle in Time is one of those major books in my childhood. I was probably 11 or 12 when I first read it, and it absolutely captivated me with its rich storytelling, flights of fantasy, and yet its focus on intelligence and rationality. After Wrinkle, I read nearly every Madeline L’Engle book I could get my hands on (with the exception of A House Like a Lotus which I put down because it was too mature for me at the time) throughout middle school until I reached Walking on Water in high school. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art remains an influential book on me to this day. The sequel to WrinkleA Wind in the Door, is possibly more influential, but that’s another matter for another day.

Let’s see what I can remember about  A Wrinkle in Time. And how much I can keep Wrinkle separate from Wind.

Wrinkle is the story of Meg Murray, her brother Charles Wallace, and I think her friend Calvin O’Keefe saving the world from what current me would identify as totalitarianism. On a stormy night, she is visited by an omen (Louise the snake) out by an old gnarled tree by a stone fence, and soon meets the three witches–Mrs Who, Which, and Whatsit–who teach the kids how to tesseract and take them on a goose chase through the universe. There is something wrong with the universe that they have to find and fix, but they don’t know what it is at first. (Honestly, that sounds to me like a heavily intuitive way to go about things, but I’ve been thinking a lot about intuition lately. It would not surprise me if MLE wrote highly intuitive books, considering her propensity to write about families of highly intelligent people.) I think the problem has something to do with their father? Maybe he’s kidnapped or something.

The witches try to take them to a 2D planet, where their 3D forms are squished and where they cannot survive. Eventually, they end up on what the current version of me would call Totalitarian Planet, where all the houses are the same and the yards are the same and the kids play the same games and even the balls bounce in unison. UGH. This is ground zero, where the wrongness is, and they find that the planet is ruled by what is basically a disembodied brain, demanding that everything on the planet bend to its rule, enforced dramatically by a rhythm. To avoid getting trapped by this, the kids sing songs and nursery rhymes in different time signatures. Somehow they save the day.

Then they end up at home, which is comforting and full of family, including their mother and the twin brothers Sandy and Dennys (I think–it was a strange name to me), with a little bit more affection for their prescient snake.

Thematically speaking, it was a story about not letting someone or something else rule your life, and I remember MLE talking in an interview about originally making the villain a disembodied heart, but that she ended up thinking that a disembodied brain would be basically more of a tyrant. I’m not sure if I agree with her, but it is true that strictness without the temperance of love or mercy is never the way to go.

The characters in the book are full of creativity and ingenuity, are committed to the truth, and are patient. I think at certain points Charles Wallace bogs them down because he’s only like 6 years old or something, but they manage to make it work without sacrificing him. The power of humanity over tyranny.

I always loved how MLE wove together an idealized New England academic family with a highly imaginative yet totally plausible fantasy elements. So many of the ideas that MLE explores seem to test the boundaries of reality, but I feel like the events in her novels–this series especially–were simply dramatized versions of what might actually be already happening in the world.

Like Jordan B Peterson takes everyday tasks and draws out their cosmic significance, MLE takes the world that we live in and heightens it to a point where you can see the spiritual battles taking place. I could tell you the battlefield for A Wind in the Door, but I’ll have to save that for my review on that book. Wrinkle escapes me, although I may have already hit on it: totalitarianism and the utter importance of free will.


We interrupt this irregularly scheduled linkspam in an attempt to publicly shame myself into actually reading all the tabs that I have open in my browser right now.




Not Reading Material

The 300th Post

It’s been 300 posts here on Batfort but there are still 85 days to go before we hit the anniversary of my one-year resolution. Publish something every day, no exceptions.

The home stretch. Don’t mess up.

I’m not really worried about messing up at this point, though. I’ve kept up daily posting through moving to a different state, starting a new job, through holidays and internet blackouts. There’s a confidence in the doing of it.

Of course, some of my posts are less good than others, but that’s to be expected as a newbie blogger who’s only just starting to crystallize what she’s about as a person, let alone an abstract online entity. Part of my personal challenge with this blog was to be imperfect in public, to make a fool of myself if necessary, and put my half-formed thoughts out there.

Maybe all this writing is part of what has helped me to crystallize as a person. I feel now, even more than just a year ago, much more sure of myself and who I am and what I think. It could be the result of successfully moving, or of being in my 30s, or of being far less stressed than I was before, but somehow I think that all this writing–as shaky as it is–has helped.

Recently I’ve implemented a morning routine that’s gone much better than my disastrous experiment with breakfast: “morning papers.” When I wake up, I attend to my toilette, but then–before I do or read anything else–I sit down and write for 20-30 minutes. Three pages, give or take. Longhand, in a journal.

It’s nice to write before I’ve ingested any media for the day because it’s easier to tell my own thoughts apart from the thoughts of people who are influential on me. There’s still the influence, to be sure, but it’s easier to see that some are there because I’ve sought them out, because I already had the seed of desire in me.

I’m talking about working for myself and making money online, for those of you who want concrete details. 😉

Then I read a chapter out of the Bible–currently the book of John–and then I go about my day. It’s a great way to start the morning, especially in my window-filled dining nook.

Anyway, one of the themes that has been coming out lately in those morning writings is my surprise and delight that this blog is getting traffic. Not much, to be sure, but now it is a rare day that my blog doesn’t get any hits, rather than when I was just starting out, when no hits was normal and a visitor was a rare occurrence.

It’s halfway through March, for instance, and already there are more hits this month than there were in February. I am grateful!

That’s you, dear reader, so thank you for coming to my unfocused little blog and giving my thoughts some of your attention.

Image of the week: Keep America Great edition

Ah, this modern life. When I sat down to eat dinner tonight, I was going to shitpost a Bernie Sanders meme that made me laugh today.

Then Andrew McCabe got fired.

I think that deserves a little symbolic victory, no?

I love this image. I love what it says about nature versus technology. I love how we can humanize the bird with a “dang drones get off my lawn.” I love how I feel like I can swoop right into the action myself.

And I kind of wonder if this photo of a drone being destroyed was itself taken by a drone.


Making a better meatloaf

100% Carnivore Meatloaf has been one of my staple foods for the last 6 months or so. A meatloaf is really convenient to make, and leftovers are easy to pack and eat at work for lunch the next morning.

In my months of practicing this recipe, I’ve learned a few things.

  • 1.5 pounds of beef works just as fine as 2.0 pounds. 2.5 pounds works just fine too. The only thing that really needs adjusting if you do this is the cooking time.
  • That said, don’t overcook this. Ground meat is never great when you overcook it. If you look in the over and can tell it’s close but not quite done (such as when there are little pools of semi-opaque juices on the top but its starting to brown around the edges), turn off the oven but let the meatloaf rest in the oven for a few minutes. This technique lets the cooking coast to a stop in a highly heated environment without overheating it.
  • Speaking of resting, I typically let my meatloaf rest out of the oven a couple minutes before I slice it. Is this strictly necessary? I have no idea.
  • THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING: unless you legitimately want a “marbled” beef/pork combo, use a light touch when mixing your meat. The more you tighten your grip, the more starsystems will slip through your fingers. Seriously though, mix it gently, thinking “light and fluffy” thoughts, and you will have a much more cohesive end product even after you squish the mixture down into the pan.
  • THIS IS THE MOST USEFUL TIP: buy foodsafe prep gloves. They are the best thing ever. I just use one, mix up my meatloaf, and then I don’t have to scrub raw meat out from under my fingernails. Gamechanger.
  • If you need to switch up your meatloaf game, one easy way to do so is with different types of salt. Hawaiian red sea salt is good for a bit of variety, or smoked salt. This meatloaf is also good with a bit of butter melted on top, if you’re into that.

Overall though, this recipe is easy to make and endlessly iterable.

I highly recommend.

(But of course I wrote it. What else am I gonna say?)

Reinventing the NCT concept

I have so many thoughts about NCT 2018 Empathy. So many. Most of them are not positive, but I remain hopeful.

If you’re just joining this comeback cycle, I was not a huge fan of NCT U’s “Boss” but liked NCT Dream’s “Go” despite my dreamies being all grown up. The more I listen to “Go,” the more of a Haechan appreciator I’m become. His voice is gorgeous and he uses it impeccably. (“Boss” is growing on me, ngl. Listening to it on headphones is like suddenly going underwater and seeing all the coral reefs and fishes when previously you were just been dog paddling above the surface.)

However, that brings us to NCT 127 and “Touch.” Writing about it means that I should post the music video on my channel and for that I hate myself a little bit.

This video makes me cringe.

It’s clear that Dream and 127 swapped concepts for this comeback, with Dream taking the hard-edged grotty urban-inflected hip-hop sound, and 127 covering the squeaky-clean brightly lit bubblegum pop arena. However, unlike Dream’s previous singles (even “Chewing Gum”), “Touch” doesn’t have a twist, or a nudge-and-wink, or a naughty streak. It’s just plain, simple bright smiles and boyfriend material.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that–there certainly isn’t. But it isn’t why I started listening to NCT and certainly isn’t what attracts me to k-pop.

I recognize that I’m not the typical fan (I’m older than most of their target market), because I see the younger fans clearly enjoying the visuals of all the members in this comeback. And yes, they are all very good looking. But I miss the gonzo NCT styling which even applied to Dream when they were promoting. There are no fur hats or eyeball rings and shark jackets or fantasy military jackets. Or Gucci on a hoverboard.

It’s not just the visuals that bother me, though. The actual song “Touch” is really corporate sounding, like you’d stick it into a commercial for an off-brand soda. Frankly, it sounds like a reject from EXO’s winter album that some underling producer got stuck with trying to “funk it up” for NCT.

Which brings us to the Empathy album as a whole, which someone remarked should be called NCT 2016-2018 since it contains all the assorted non-album releases since NCT debuted. “Black on Black,” all of the NCT U songs. NCT U’s “The Seventh Sense” was the first song that drew me to NCT, and if I had discovered it on an album like Empathy, I don’t know if I would have explored more. (Of course it was Dream’s “My First and My Last” that really got me. NCT Dream is secretly everybody’s favorite.)

Specifically, I dislike albums that are all single and no b-side. Even with the intro and outro, there’s no reason for me to listen to Empathy on its own. NCT has always been weak in their discography–partly because they’re still experimenting with their sound but also because they only have mini albums and don’t have a body of work built up like a band like EXO or Big Bang did. Granted, the inherent structure of NCT’s design would make it more difficult to build up a body of coherent work, because they’re built up of subunits with different themes and sounds.

Even more specifically, I’m really disappointed by the song “Yest0day.” Interesting title, not a bad hook, fantastic rap from Mark (who is really starting to hone his chops), all ruined by an idiotic rap from Lucas. One of the main reasons I like k-pop is that even when the rap is simplistic or lacking finesse it’s not dumb. I hate dumb rap where they take a word and then rhyme it five times in a row without any rhythmic variation or wordplay or anything. Mark delivers the opposite of that. So does Taeyong. But Lucas the Usurper? No more dumb rap, please.

Now. Granted. Part of this sounds like the knee-jerk reaction of someone who is protective of a fledgling k-pop group. And that is true, I like NCT and being a person high in openness, I like the idea of an ever-expanding group that can shift to accommodate different musical styles and moods.

But it’s hard to watch SM deliberately crash the original NCT concept. One of the benefits of doing it now is that I know that I won’t have to watch it happen in slow motion, when producers run out of ideas and the concepts all start to morph slowly into each other and enough members leave that all the subunits are consolidated to keep the group alive. At least we don’t have that future.

Maybe (hah) this means that we can get more clarity out of future NCT subunits, who will emerge to deposit a well-conceived package of music into our earballs before evaporating back into the nebulous NCT mothership. (Isn’t that what the concept was supposed to be anyway?)

I suspect that the deliberate switching of Dream and 127’s concepts, plus the cataloging of U’s random singles into one album, serves as a zeroing-out for the group. I think this is supposed to be a new start, a time for all the subunits to develop empathy for each other’s concepts and learn how to work together or whatever. However they promote from this point forward, it won’t be the NCT that we started with.

On the plus side, SM is always A/B testing, so I’m hoping we’ll get something stronger out of this. The concepts for both Super Junior and EXO crashed too, and both groups did alright for themselves.


PS: SM Entertainment, this is my request for an official Mark/Haechan subunit.

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