Sunday, December 30, 2018

State of the Me: 2018-2019

As I started thinking about this year's "State of the Me," I immediately thought that this would be a disappointing one where I'd have to list off the goals that I didn't meet. But then I realized that I did meet some important ones, especially some stepping stones towards some longer-term goals. So let's dig in, starting with the disappointments:

I did not finish illustrating part 3 of book 1 of my comic book. I didn't even finish the dining hall scenes (though all of the materials are ready to finish at least that part as soon as I get some time). The main reason I didn't finish is because I have been working full time and concentrating completely on my responsibilities as CTO of a tech firm. I didn't want to leave for any large block of time, so I got some drawing done while I was taking off Fridays in the Summer as my "vacation" -- but it wasn't really enough to make the progress I wanted to make.

Disappointment #2 is that -- despite working like a maniac -- I did not meet the IT infrastructure improvement goals that I'd set back in January. The main problem was something I described in my article Growing from Startup to Scalable: In "startup mode" you end up not being able to afford to make investments (of time and human resources) in IT infrastructure that ultimately would save time and resources in the long run...

But that leads into one of the positive points: I wrote a series of articles for "The Startup" based on some ideas and analysis that I'd been building up over the course of my IT career. I'm also scheduled to give a talk on building your tech career through startups in January -- and I plan to write a companion article for the talk next week. Not to mention that I led a challenge at the Open Food Data hackathon and served as an invited expert at Climate-KIC's 2018 Climathon -- a huge overnight workshop to build startups that combat climate change and its effects. Basically, I've long had the idea of writing a book on how to build and grow the IT department of a tech startup, and it looks like I'm making progress towards that goal.

On the flip side, devoting all of my time and energy to tech startups has meant that other projects have suffered. I haven't been able to promote MAA Books (and particularly Mormon Erotica) as much as I'd like to have -- though I did organize a book club event within a Mormon Stories Workshop, and I made an appearance on the Mormon Happy Hour podcast. Really, if I could spend all of my time drawing comic books, making videos and podcasts, and writing essays and stories, I would! It has especially been fun -- now that my kids are teenagers -- to collaborate with them on some creative projects, and I intend to do that some more.

Trouble is, that stuff doesn't make any money -- at least not compared to the IT engineering skills I've built up and honed over the past 20 years. So the best I can hope for is to work four or five days a week to support one or two days of artistic expression (weekends are, of course, devoted to homemaking). That's the situation I've arranged for myself going into 2019, so I guess I have no business complaining.

And in terms of random fun, I've had the opportunity to construct some pretty impressive infrastructure for our Lego collection:

The funny part is that we never intentionally set out to amass a ginormous Lego collection. I didn't bring any Legos with me when I moved to Europe, and I even gave away our whole Lego collection once (when my kids grew out of Duplos, I mailed all of our Duplos to a cousin whose kids were younger). But with two kids who each get a few sets a year every year, it adds up. (See how much it's grown since 2012.) And of course I would always encourage Legos over other plastic toys because when you get bored of your set, it doesn't go into storage and then to the landfill -- you can take it apart and use the pieces to build something else.

And when the Legos are there, in my apartment, all jumbled together in large bins of chaos, I must organize them! It's kind of a "Why did you climb the mountain?" sort of thing, except that none of the mountains have tempted my quite the way a vat of unorganized Legos does...

And the ultimate objective is to build some new cool things like I've done in the past (see these posts). Also a YouTube reality show "Who Wants to Be a Master Builder?" is in the works! Happy 2019 to all!!

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

A Woman in Every Pot

In response to recent mass murders by self-described “Incels,” there were a couple of high-profile articles sincerely recommending forced redistribution of women. In case you missed them, please follow these links.

This suggestion was dismissed as absurd for the obvious reasons: that the Incels’ misogyny is 99% of what makes them undatable, and that women — being autonomous humans — cannot be forcibly “redistributed.” But I think the obvious responses are incomplete because a lot of people, when confronted with the idea that women aren’t slaves, respond by thinking “But maybe they should be; maybe things would be better if they were…”

So today I would like to explain why trying to control women more is not merely unethical — it is also a totally counterproductive approach to the exact problem that the above-linked dudes are trying to solve.

Let’s lay out the problem: Some portion of the young, straight men in society are unable to find women who want to be with them. This can make a guy frustrated, angry, often violent, maybe suicidal — while the same guy might be happy and feel motivated to be a productive member of society if only he had a wife or girlfriend and possibly also children.

What happens if we try to solve this problem by decreasing women’s freedom and economic power?

Look at it from the woman’s perspective. If you don’t have the opportunity to earn a living wage yourself — and your mate’s economic contribution makes a big difference when it comes to getting food, health care, etc., for yourself and your kids — then Geezer McMoneybags starts looking really attractive compared to the charming young guy who is barely able to make a living wage himself. That’s not being shallow or superficial, that’s rational self-interest.

But let’s change the scenario a bit. Suppose the woman is able to earn a living wage, and her spouse’s financial contribution isn’t a deciding factor in her kids getting to grow up in a safe and healthy environment. Now she’s freer to prioritize other qualities in a mate. The man himself — his time, his efforts, and his character — becomes more valuable than what’s in his wallet.

Just look at it from an anthropological perspective. Societies with a more patriarchal culture (and with more economic inequality in general) tend to be more polygynous. In other words, the top tier of powerful men monopolize multiple women, either through officially recognized polygamy or through a series of marriages. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are a whole lot of frustrated and hostile men that the ones at the top can use as cannon fodder.

If you want a male-dominated society full of manly men vying with one another for dominance, then you’re talking about a society that — by design — has quite a lot of losers. It’s not a bug, it’s the whole point. Some Incels and others in the Manosphere have suggested that teenage girls should be assigned to men and forced into marriage. But where do these teenage girls come from? If you are one of society’s losers, do you really think that a patriarch in a country where he legally owns his daughter is just going to give her to you, as a participation trophy for being born male?

Maybe a solution that is more equitable for the women is actually also more equitable for the men. Obviously women don’t want to be the third string wife to some gross, old, rich, powerful asshole (like Donald Trump, to name one high-profile example). Sure, some will choose that path regardless. But given more attractive options, women are more likely to “redistribute” themselves — rather than sharing each others’ (old rich dude) sloppy seconds. A society where the women have more opportunity to choose men based on their personal merits is a society with fewer male losers.

The catch is that in this scenario the man has to be better than nothing. Literally. Because when women can get by economically without a man, then having no man at all is on the list of possible options. So if you’re a guy and you want to be with a woman, your presence has to be more attractive than your absence.

This should not be a high bar to cross. The overwhelming majority of women are either straight or bi, which means that by definition they are attracted to at least some men. Sadly, too many young guys who go looking for dating advice online end up getting sucked into misogynist communities. If your problem is that you are having difficulty attracting a woman, I can hardly think of a more counterproductive solution than finding a bunch of fellow losers and working yourselves into a collective lather over how horrible women are.

A more effective solution is to work for a more egalitarian society. And keep in mind that women are people — with their own interests and motivations — not prizes.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Mid-year goals!!

This is a tale of "be careful what you wish for" -- one that I hope can be turned into a plan for making those wishes come true.

I've told everyone the setup to this tale about a million times, but in case you missed it, let me get you up to speed:

A few years ago I got the impression that my career was stagnating. I took a look at my experience and skill set and determined that the job I'm most qualified for is CTO of a tech startup. (Check out this article I wrote for The Startup with some of my insights on the subject.) And so I took a risk, worked my butt off at a new company, and now I find I have succeeded in becoming the highly-valued CTO of a tech startup! One that is actively fighting climate change -- another of my big goals!!

But... The problem is that while growing my career was an important goal -- it's not my only goal or dream. Working full-time-plus kind of crowds out everything else, and I'm left with this constant background of stress of wondering when I'll have time to pick up this or that project again.

Being undervalued, on the one hand, was enraging and depressing -- but on the other, there's something to be said for being in a dead-end job where you're overqualified enough to just phone it in (and where you only have to work three days per week). I sure had the time and energy to get a heckuvalot else done, and I miss that... :(

It looks like I am on track to get my IT department into a state where I can reduce my hours to 80% -- or ideally even 60% -- in the beginning of 2019. That's great, but it means another almost six months of postponing all of the other junk I want to do. So, I was thinking that -- maybe if I outline it all here -- I might get some of it done on evenings and weekends...? Also note, I'm currently taking off Fridays for the Summer in order to make some progress on drawing my comic book, and I am really, really hoping to finish at least the dining hall scenes before this vacation time is up.

So, aside from my comic book (which is dream/goal #1, always), here are the other things I would like to have time to do, organized into categories:

2. Organize my apartment

This perhaps shouldn't be #2, but it is. I hate the feeling of being slowly buried in clutter, and I don't want to just throw stuff out. I want to go down to my basement, donate or give away online everything that is usable (but not by me), and hence free up a bunch of space down there.

Then, I have this dream of constructing my own "Ikea-hack" Lego table (which I have designed in my mind) so that I can free up a huge amount of floor and shelf space in Nico's office (a.k.a. the guest room), and have a beautiful place to sort the whole Lego collection -- and build an awesome city! (I would love to do some of this stuff again!)

I'm thinking I might be able to get the table constructed during Christmas break if everything works out. Then, naturally, I'll be in a position to organize/donate the rest of the clutter, and for a brief moment, I will live in a blissfully clutter-free home.

3. Articles, conferences, and MAA Books!

Here's what I would like to do:

  • Promote MAA Books in general, and Donna's awesome book in particular -- It would be really great to be able to get enough reviews and listings for this book so that we could realistically start working on finding, editing, and promoting our next book.
  • Stoke up the fires of Main Street Plaza -- unfortunately I don't seem to even be able to keep Sunday in Outer Blogness alive. :( Fortunately, Donna has helped recruit another author, but in my fantasy universe we would have a collection of people writing regularly (and be able to pay them...).
  • Write a couple of more articles for The Startup. I have the drafts ready, it's just a question of focusing and doing it.
  • Give a lecture on startups in a tech lecture series (this is in the works).
  • Help organize a Mormon Stories Workshop in Switzerland. This one actually has a deadline (plus I'm not the primary responsible), so it looks like it's really going to happen.
  • Write more articles for this blog. It's not that I think I'll ever have a non-trivial readership here -- it's that I really enjoyed having this sounding-board for my ideas here in the past. After a while I got to the point where I'd written about all the subjects I was really burning to write about, so I stopped. But now it's been long enough that I have a backlog of topics again, and I'm just having trouble getting started.

There are a couple of additional things standing in my way from getting this sort of stuff done. For some reason I can't seem to start writing a simple blog post without many hours of psyching myself up to do it. Not sure why. Even on a topic that I've been churning over in my head and constructing arguments and phasing for weeks or years -- sitting down and composing it is daunting.

Additionally, I haven't been reading books regularly for the past couple of years because I used to read in the tram -- and that time has of late been almost entirely eaten up by Pokémon Go. On one level, I feel like this is a shameful waste, but I can't dismiss it as entirely wasted time.

Pokémon Go has two big advantages for me: (1) it is very Zen -- it allows me to relax and shake off all of the stress while I'm commuting to and from my stressful job, and (2) I am -- really for the first time -- regularly socializing with actual Swiss people. Not just people like me -- international, third-culture folks, mathies and techies -- but really random people of all walks of life who live in Zürich.

Actually, not everybody who plays is Swiss -- Pokémon Go seems to cut across all categories, immigrants from all countries, locals, tattooed youths, bankers and finance guys in their suits, moms & dads with kids, moms who don't bother to bring their kids (like me), old, young, guys, gals, you name it! And to do it right, you really have to make an effort to meet people and make friends. This has meant stepping outside of my comfort zone in a major way and growing my perspective, so I can't really beat myself up for obsessing over whether I managed to catch this or that shiny pokémon, etc.

4. Other stuff that should be on the list

Here's the grab bag of stuff I would love to do if I had an infinite amount of free time:

  • More projects with my kids. I would like to do some of the Kangaroo math challenges with Léo, and help them both to create more image and music assets for the video games they're developing,
  • Political activism. I'm ashamed to admit that I'm one of those people that is watching the news, aghast at what is currently going on, and saying, "Wow, I hope somebody (else) does something about this!!!!" I did register to vote (I can legally vote in the US and France), so I guess that's better than nothing.
  • My own podcast -- yeah, that's a fantasy, but maybe someday if our species lasts a few more decades.
  • Figure out more recipes for the herbs in my balcony garden. That said, I think my garden has been a bit of a success story. I tend it a bit and it produces more foods that I would expect from a balcony.

I was going to include a list of the blog entries I'm hoping to write -- to see if there's interest -- but let's leave it at this. And we'll see how much I can get done!!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

My Post-Mormon Publication List

It just hit me that I have written and done quite a lot of Mormonism and atheism related stuff, and I don't actually have a list of it all. Well, until now:




  • I am the primary organizer/contact person for the Switzerland chapter of the post-Mormon network and of the Mormon Spectrum in-person communities.
  • With Donna Banta, I am launching an indie publishing house: Mormon Alumni Association Books.

I think that's it. It's all I can think of at the moment...

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

State of the me: 2017-2018

Well, I'm not out of the woods yet, but I've found the path. I guess that's my theme for this past year.

You may recall that this time last year was a pretty low point. Unfortunately, the big, overarching problems seem as intractable as ever. We're heading into a climate catastrophe, and -- while some are trying -- humankind is really not on track to solve this problem in time. Probably not ever. The thing is that you just can't convince people to just stop consuming the resources until they're all gone -- whether it's burning fossil fuels, eating meat, eating the last fish, or burning the last forest for farmland. I've thought about this problem from every angle, and I conclude that it's just simply not possible to convince everyone to do the selfless thing. Too often it's a question of asking people to sacrifice their own livelihood for abstract goals.

We can try, of course. The fact that I've taken a job in the rolling-back-climate-change industry is a sign, I guess, that I haven't given up hope. But people don't realize how quickly things can and will go from "our problems are more-or-less tractable..." to a runaway temperature feedback loop that we have no hope of managing. The possibility that we will succeed in creating a sustainable human society is an incredible long-shot. It's more realistic to see our future as a question of "do we have fifty years or do we have five...?" I hope that 50 years from now other people will be saying "I told you so" to me on this one...

The recovery of US democracy would help -- and there have been some positive developments -- but it's far from clear that the arc of history will bend toward justice. The fact that the Internet has basically killed the journalism industry (especially local journalism) is a major problem that people don't have the faintest clue how to solve.

So where's my path out of the woods? Well, I guess it's more personal than political. Specifically, I started 2017 looking for a job, then I found one and spent the whole year working like a maniac in order to get to the position where I'm in charge of the IT department. And now, starting in January 2018, my path is finally clear to begin fixing the problems. It won't be easy, but I think/hope I am up to the task.

I also finally finished part 1 of my comic book at the end of the Summer 2017:
I really hope that in 2018 I'll have time to finish part 3 and to begin real dealings with a publisher -- plus I hope to have time to work on other projects like Mormon Alumni Association Books. And maybe I'll even have time to do some fun projects with my kids.

So, yeah, 2017 has meant some progress, but the situation is still uncertain and precarious. I have a steep climb ahead of me in 2018, but I hope that by the end of the coming year, I'll be in a more solid position with respect to all of my goals.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A New Hope...

Mitt Romney released a statement yesterday calling out Donald Trump by name and forcefully denouncing his shameful response to recent Nazi events in the US. Romney's position is correct and his statement hit all the right notes.

Was it politically expedient for Romney to release such a statement? Possibly, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Strategic skills are important in a leader.

The problem with Trump goes far beyond the question of ideology. I disagree with Romney's ideology. I'm bringing up Romney to illustrate that -- ideology aside -- there's a big difference between someone who is qualified to be president and someone who, fundamentally, is not.

The endless stream of verbal diarrhea spewing out of Trump's mouth and Twitter feed is, unfortunately, one of his selling points in the eyes of some (very stupid) voters. Because he speaks his mind; he doesn't play games like a politician. But those supposedly positive qualities are just symptoms of Trump's underlying problem:

He's an idiot.

Trump does not have the faintest clue how the government works, and he is, frankly, too stupid to learn it. His skill level is not in the same universe with competence.

Both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush unfortunately convinced the American people that it's not important for the president to be a smart person; that as long as he shares your ideology, it's OK for him to be a drooling moron -- because he can always delegate all that "knowing stuff" and "running the country" to underlings. This is a deadly belief because it has led the country to elect a man who is a full order of magnitude stupider than either Reagan or GWB (astonishing as that is).

At least Reagan and GWB recognized the need to delegate tasks to more competent people. Trump is so dumb that he believes his own bullshit. He sincerely, Dunning-Krugerly believes that he is a smart, savvy guy.

And now we are seeing the entirely predictable consequences of this deadly mistake. Hostile authoritarian regimes easily manipulate Trump with flattery. Crucial allies are at a loss as to how (and whether) to continue working with the US. Homegrown violent extremists receive encouragement from the highest level of government. Decades of delicate diplomacy over nuclear arms have been undone -- we're now one tantrum away from seeing millions of innocent people get killed by a nuclear bomb. In the space of a few months we've gone from relative stability (for those in the global North, at least...) to the most dangerously precarious situation we've seen in half a century.

Fortunately, the quality that makes Trump so dangerous may be his undoing.

Serious political commentators are finally starting to predict that Trump will be removed from office soon. Up until last week, it was still reasonable to dismiss that idea as wishful thinking, but the whole Nazi straw finally broke the camel's back. It's not just the that the statements themselves were so much more horrible than all of the other shit he's done -- it's also the weight of the accumulation, plus the fact that he has alienated essentially all of his allies.

The critical point is that the Republicans in Congress are finally starting to turn on him. Trump doesn't seem to understand that those Republicans in the House and Senate are currently the only people standing between him and jail. And he is just too. damn. stupid. to do a bare minimum of maintenance on those alliances that are so critical to his survival. Instead he has repeatedly demonstrated that teaming up with him is the fast track to finding yourself under a bus.

The thing is that -- regardless of what Muller's investigation turns up -- the things Trump has already done out in the open are sufficient to convict him. He is openly profiting from foreign governments through his hotels and other businesses, and he has admitted to firing James Comey for the express purpose of stopping an investigation of his campaign's ties to Russia. Muller's investigation will almost certainly turn up extensive money laundering and other crimes, but it's kind of the icing on the cake. The Republicans in Congress have more than enough evidence already to put him in jail -- the minute they decide it's in their interest to do so.

A Facebook friend recently made the astonishing claim that people have been trying to link Trump to Russia for nine months and have yet to turn up any "real evidence." In reality, the fact that Trump isn't standing before a court of law (yet) has nothing to do with lack of evidence. You've heard the expression "possession is nine-tenths of ownership"...? Well, we need a similar expression for the law. Nine-tenths of it is what those in power choose to enforce.

The Constitution of the USA does not automatically enforce itself. It is not going to magically come to life, jump out of its display-case, and snatch those foreign emoluments out of Donald Trump's thieving hands. People have to enforce it. And if Trump leaves office without facing justice for his crimes, then the United States of America will have a new precedent: the USA will simply become a country where the president is allowed to openly abuse his office to line his own pockets. This is why it is so critical for Trump to be impeached rather than simply voted out of office at the end of his term. The USA needs to establish a clear legal precedent regarding this type of corruption.

As an example of what I mean, consider the USA's current informal precedent with respect to torture. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are known to have had a hand in it. Torture, BTW, is a war crime, and they still need to stand trial for it. But instead of pursuing justice, Obama chose to merely issue an executive order that his administration would not torture people.

The problem with that choice is that Obama transformed torture from a crime to a choice that a president is at liberty to make. Thanks to that precedent, Republican candidates (including Romney) have promised to bring torture back. Naturally Bush/Cheney's choice to torture is worlds worse that Obama's choice to look the other way, but Obama's choice was nonetheless unacceptable. Torture is not an issue where it is OK to be the "compromise guy."

My hope for the United States is that Trump's flame-out will be so spectacular that the mainstream of US society will finally insist on fixing that legion of grotesque problems with the current American electoral system: gerrymandering, Citizens United (and all other legalized bribery), voter suppression, the Electoral College, electronic voting machines, unequal representation among the states and territories, etc., etc.

The only thing that could possibly redeem this monstrous nightmare reality show we've been living since January would be if the country learns something from it. And I mean really learns something.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Last Fish

Why shouldn't I be the one
to eat the last fish?

Do you think
that all these people
will all let it be...?
Let it swim away and restore the sea?

No, that will never be.
Someone will catch it
and kill it
and eat it.
It might as well be me.