pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
I watched (500) Days of Summer mostly because commenters at Captain Awkward kept bringing it up. There's always a lively debate over whether it's the epitome of the manic pixie dream girl problem, or a criticism of same. Having just watched it, I don't see how there could be any debate: this is a very intentional criticism of men who fixate on women as the solution to their problems.

My argument for this has nothing to do with the main character's (Tom's) relationship with the cipher he's projecting his need for validation on (Summer), and everything to do with Tom's relationship with his sister (Hit Girl Rachel). Rachel is 12 years old, tops. Tom's age is never given, but he's been out of college for a few years, so this is a minimum 12 year age gap, probably more. Despite this, and despite having absolutely no information on the specifics, Rachel immediately knows 1. what the problem is and 2. how to help him through it. She clearly knows how he could fix it, but that he wouldn't take her advice even if it was offered. Think it can't get more damning than a 12 year old girl recognizing all the patterns in your life that you're too stupid to see? How about making her bike through traffic after dark with no lights in order to rescue you? And that's the opening shot of the movie.

If I was going to criticize the movie for anything, it would be the absence of any example of emotionally healthy masculinity. The only thing Tom's friends can do to help him is call his sister, we never meet Summer's husband, the only man who makes an attempt to grapple with emotions is his boss and that goes... not great. I don't think the movie is saying all men are emotionally incompetent, but I can't prove it, and I think someone to contrast Tom with would have made the point more clearly.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
When I think of emotional pain, I think of a splinter, or that time my friend's cat had an scratch heal over too soon and turn into an infected cyst. It hurt when it happened. Properly treating it immediately (removing the splinter/cleaning the scratch/feeling the entirely of the trauma) would have hurt more. But if you don't do so, the wound heals over with the problem still inside it.

Properly removing a splinter or cleaning an infected cyst is (processing a trauma), in the short term, more painful than leaving it lie. You can try to dull this with ice or anesthesia*, but it's imperfect, and once it wears off you will still be left with an increase in pain for a while. You endure this because it's the only way to make the pain every truly go away.

The important insight to me is in the time between the injury and the final fix. It doesn't hurt, much. Maybe it doesn't hurt at all, maybe you're just used to it, and have adjusted your gait so you don't aggravate it. But every time someone touches the skin near it (brings up something that reminds you of the trauma), it hurts. It may make the damage worse long term (as you manipulate the splinter into doing more damage internally), and stands no chance of fixing it. If you know why it hurts, you can at least react sensibly (tell people not to touch that spot before they get there, move the limb, leave a conversation when a triggering topic comes up). If you don't, or are a cat, you'll just get angry and lash out without knowing why. Possibly other people will dismiss you as crazy. Possibly you'll dismiss yourself as crazy. Both of these things will only make you angrier.

Which is why, when I experience an unexpectedly intense emotional response, I start taking notes. Once I can triangulate the location of the splinter, I can remove it. Which is rarely fun, and temporarily reduces my cope to deal with the next unexpected splinter touch, but really works in the long term. The alternative is leaving the wound to fester until it pops on your owner's pants as he is getting ready to leave for the airport for a three week vacation, and he will rush to the vet while smelling of death, and they will have no time to give you any painkillers before irrigating the wound.

*although in the case of the cat cyst, anesthesia is another $500 bucks and even your extremely loving owner will tell them to do it with you awake.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
How Ta-Nehisi Coates feels when a black person does something wrong in public? That's how I felt when they said the kid was libertarian.

There's a really interesting story to be done about romance between people with disabilities in general and autism in particular, but this feels like just another new york times trend piece. For one, it's the story of one couple, with no controls, and no data about larger trends. For two, they're 19. There are lots of ways to be socially incompetent when you're 19, very few of which make it into the DSM IV.

real life

Dec. 4th, 2011 12:34 am
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
The Amnesia developers made a number of unusual design choices, the biggest being that death has no consequence. You don't lose any progress (although you also don't gain back any resource you've used up), you just show up in a new room. You'd think this would make the game less scary, because the monsters are essentially threatening you with teleportation, but what they found was that it enhanced the fear by 1: ensuring you weren't doing the same thing over and over again, which kills the fear and 2: freeing up the brain resources that would otherwise be devoted to remembering where shit was so you could do it again. It makes it more realistic, in that you're not living in groundhog day, but less realistic, in that death has no consequences. In some ways, it reduces the game to a really interactive movie. I'll admit the game was really scary, but I was unconvinced that this decision made it scarier.

My dojo's tests aren't really tests: you're not allowed to take them until they know you'll pass, and you can't fail for technique issues. And the more I think about it, the more it seems Amnesia like. Instead of scaring you with the possibility you'll forget something and fail, they give you techniques you've never done before and complicated combinations. Large parts of the difficulty of the test come from the sheer effort of maintaining that level of physical activity for that long.* And I have to say, it works and I like it. The tiny ninja's tests work a little bit differently because we're on the school calendar**, and while they're guaranteed to pass, it is possible for a truly exceptional student to gain more than one belt level if they perform well enough. I didn't like the tension this created, and it's not even my decision.

So it appears you can make things feel more real by making the consequences less real. Brains are weird.

*Other parts stem from the fact that people are hitting you in the face.

**I keep having to reminding myself that we're a gym class that is supposed to serve the school and not the other way around. Because honestly, we could turn these kids into much better ninjas if the school didn't keep taking them to science fairs and field trips.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
This may make more sense if you know graph theory, but I'll try to explain everything I use. Graphs consist of nodes, which are linked by edges, each of which may have a cost associated with it. For example, picture each city as a node, and highways connecting them as edges. Highways that are longer or have worse traffic would have a higher cost.*

I think that the brain is a bunch of nodes. A node could be associated with a particular memory, place, person, emotion, pet, fact, song... In my model, nodes can be off or on. When a node is activated, it may turn on other nodes its connected to. The lower the cost of the edge between them, the more likely it is for it to activate.** When two nodes are activated at the same time, the cost of the edge between them goes down. This can chain for quite a ways- for example, there's a certain song that always makes me think of an ex-boyfriend. Not because it has anything to do with our relationship, or we ever listened to it together, but because I listened to it over and over while visiting his college to check out grad school. Now, this happened six months before we met, and he had graduated two years earlier. We may have been near the campus together at some point, but not really. The explanation that makes sense to me is that my University of Wisconsin node just isn't doing very much.

But where this concept really shines is when one thing keeps making you think of another thing, and you can't figure out why. Often, the connecting node is something profoundly important but also painful to address head on, leading you to build up defenses to thinking about it. By pondering*** the connection between the two, I can often figure out something really useful, or at least interesting.

This is my attempt to rationalize Reiki, or physical ailments linked to psychological stress in general. Say there was a really prolonged, awful experience in your childhood. That almost certainly caused you to tense your muscles, and some more than others (for example, I mastered a standing up version of the fetal position in middle school). The stress is one node, and the muscular tension is another. This trauma brings down the cost of the edge between them. So if you aggravate the tension, mental or physical, they're respond almost as one unit. The upside of this is if you pay attention, you can reverse the process- physical relaxation leads to release of the mental trauma, or vice versa.

*All the direction sites use a more sophisticated version of this exact thing.

**This is, in fact, exactly how neurons work, although my nodes are not necessarily single neurons.

***Word chosen carefully: You can't just charge into this, it will not work.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
59 Seconds continues to commit the two major sins of happiness research: Confusing The Number Circles On The Form With Genuine Long Term Happiness, and Telling Stories. Let's tackle the stories first. There is at least one study, and possibly many (can't check, I'm listening to it on CD), showing that when people discuss a frustrating event with friends they leave the same or less happy, but when they write down the event they feel better afterwards. Technically the only facts are the exact numbers that came out of each study, but let's assume it's been replicated enough that we can call writing=feel better, talking=feel worse a fact. We can't, for a lot of reasons, but I can't get distracted by that right now. Because even if that were true, the researchers explanation for it- "talking just reminds people of things, writing makes them form a narrative"- is completely unfounded. To test that, you'd have to look at things like "what if we tell people to just complain when they write?", "what if we tell people to tell their friends stories?", "what if they read the helpful diary entry to a friend?" Until then, the explanation is just a story.

And then there's the second sin, which I'm going to expand into a a general "extrapolaing from a distorted view of a single moment in time to all of eternity." My other book right now is Crucial Conversations. It doesn't have any scientific citations, but it is the only book on interpersonal skills I have ever found at all useful*, and that's even better. Technically, Crucial Conversations is telling the same story telling sin I accuse 59 seconds of, but it doesn't bother me because 1. it's not claiming to discuss specific studies, just trends, and 2. I can absolutely see how the stories they are true about my life and the corrections they suggest will make my life better. So I guess 59 Second's sin isn't telling stories, it's telling useless stories.

I apologize for using the word "story" in both the metadiscussion and the specific discussion, because it's rapidly going to stop looking like a word. But soldiering on: one of the brilliant points in Crucial Conversations is that when we have an interaction with someone that goes poorly, we tell ourselves a story about why it happened. The fact is that the coworker excluded you from a conversation, the story is that he's doing it deliberately to cut you out because you're a woman. You could just as easily tell a story that he'd heard you were nervous and wanted to help you, or is a nervous talker and feels like shit now. You have to watch the stories you tell very carefully***, or you'll act inappropriately to the situation. But we tell these stories because in the short term, they make us feel better. SO it seems entirely plausible to me that people feel better immediately after writing down a negative event, because they've now got the fairy tale written, staring them, but that this locks them into repeating the same mistake over again.

59 Seconds briefly rallied by providing scientific justification for a story I believe: the Getting Things Done Philosophy, in which storing information in your brain is anathema because it uses valuable mental ram, and you should do everything in your power to break things into loops you can offload onto storage and close as quickly as possible, because unclosed loops = occupied RAM = more stress + lowered productivity. Apparently the whole mental RAM thing is totally true: you do hold certain information and intentions in your brain until the whole project is finished, and then quickly wipe them. But Wiseman goes in the exact opposite direction for GTD on this: he suggests that procrastinators lie to themselves and say they'll work on a project for "just a few minutes", counting on the fact that once they start they won't be able to stop until they're done. That seems like a great plan. The first time. But it seems like over time it would increase your resistance to starting anything. But Wiseman doesn't know that because he hasn't looked past the first attempt

*this sounds like damning with faint praise, but I'm actually finding it extremely interesting and expect it to be extremely useful when I have a chance to put it into practice.**

**I've had this rant building for a while. I didn't share it because I'm trying not to rant but... screw it. I've basically given up on anything with "for introverts" in the title because they're inevitably written by extroverts. Now, extroverts are not bad people. Some of my best friends are extroverts. And I'm willing to concede that their extroversion makes them more successful at particular things and/or happier at life in general. But, and extroverted authors listen up because this is the critical point, just like you can't make pessimists happier by forcing them to pretend to be optimists, you can't make introverts happier by making them pretend to be extroverts. My goal is not to be more like you, it's to make being me easier. Being you just seems exhausting.

***Wow, this is getting all circular. I only just noticed that this is exactly the Sin of Story Telling I described in the first paragraph.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
A++, would read again.

As I've been saying about autism and depression for years: it is possible for a psychological disorder to simultaneously be over diagnosed yet have its treatment methods underutilized. In some ways, people with real clinical disorders are the large print versions of everyone else, making it easier to see problems and test solutions. Proving exercise helps clinical depression* is easier than proving exercise helps you when you're having a bad day, but it's easy to see how the knowledge transfers.

Stuff fits into that rather well. I watch Hoarders as a motivational tool, and they continually present you with truly awful cases- people who are are about to lose their children, spouse, or home due to their hoarding- but don't really explain why, beyond "it's a disease." Stuff goes into the psychology behind it: hoarding is associated with a constellation of other issues, including:

  • slow decision making
  • uncertainty in relationships with people and highly variable relationships with people
  • emotional deprivation in childhood (far moreso than physical deprivation, which surprised me)
  • intelligence (which is not the impression you'd get watching Hoarders, but of course the people who need to accept expensive 11th hour help in exchange for parading their problems on TV are not a random sample)
  • over anthropomorphism of objects
  • the construct of your stuff being an extension of you.
  • fear of waste/belief that being wasteful accrues you bad karma
  • fear of mistakes/fear of being wrong/perfectionism
  • greater than baseline need to prepare for eventualities
  • a lot of time spent thinking about using your stuff, relative to actually using it
  • a need for completeness
  • unwillingness to suffer short term pain for long term gains (possibly because they don't believe the long term gains will materialize)
  • ability to minimize the immediate term pain of not cleaning by filtering things out


Not surprisingly, I see at least a few issues in me, my family, my friends, the people across the street, etc. This is where it would be really useful to find the hoarding equivalent of exercise, but the book doesn't cover that, apparently because it doesn't exist yet. We're only just beginning to understand hoarding and how it differs from OCD, and treatment is in its infancy. If the hoarding was brought on by specific trauma you can often help by treating the trauma, but many cases are not. They did mention the downward arrow technique as a tool, which looks neat.

Pulling back from the content a bit, the book was extremely well written, well organized, and easy to read while still conveying the weight of the subject matter. Highly recommended.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
I hate it when people open doors for me. The amount effort to get out of whatever head space I was in, acknowledge the other person, respond appropriately, and then pick up where I left off in head space is far higher than the effort to open a door.* In isolation, the fact that they're requiring so much energy out of me might make me angry or resentful. In practice, I know that we're both participating in a system set up by extroverts where door opening is a sign of kindness and consideration. The system doesn't do well for me personally, but I understand how it arose and why it persists. In fact, I'm perpetuating the system, because there's pretty clear standards for when you open doors at work, and I don't want people to think I'm rude or anti-social. It's a building with a lot of nerds, so it's entirely possible to have someone who hates having doors opened for them opening a door for someone else who hates having a door opened for them. Signaling sometimes drives us to weird equilibria.

Yesterday, I looked super awesome. It was a rare outfit that made me look unbelievably cute and sexy without any trace of slutty.** As I was getting off the bus, some old guy made a comment that I didn't quite hear (headphones) and don't quite remember, but the tone indicated very clearly that he thought me looking hot was an attack on him. And this attitude is pretty common. At first glance, it seems equal parts insane and misogynistic. And that first glance is totally correct. But I suspect there's a third component: that guy, and the others like him, are reacting to attractive women the way I react to people opening doors.

While technically being spared the burden of opening a door and seeing something attractive are small improvements to anyone's day, in practice I resent the effort required to express gratitude for someone who has opened a door. I suspect these men resent the brain power they lose when an attractive woman walks by. If they're the kind to do stupid things for pretty women, the anger may either be a defense mechanism, preemptive resentment, or redirection of anger at other women. They actually have it worse than me, because I can always decide to be rude and ignore door openers, but the reaction to attractive people is hard wired.

Which doesn't make it okay for men to yell at me for my existence, even if I'm spending that existence in something super cute. Even if directional short skirts existed, it's not my responsibility to avoid taxing his heart as I walk down a public street. But that doesn't mean we can't fully explore the roots of the stupidity.


*Technically, I hate it when people open doors for me when I'm alone. If I'm with people, door opening doesn't impose the "move out of headspace" cost, which is by far the biggest problem, so I don't mind.

**I have a theory that a lot of the things we code as "attractive" are in fact advertising sexual availability. For example, see Olivia Munn's entire career. There's nothing wrong with looking slutty/available. I have outfits that portray that and I enjoy wearing them. But this was not one of those outfits.
pktechgirlbackup: (Default)
The Gift of Fear gets a lot of praise. This appears to me to be a great of example of a poorly written book about a great idea that does not have a lot of other books competing to explain said great idea, because the book is only so so. For one, it's far too large: the idea itself ("trust instincts") takes less basically no time to explain. But no one will pay $20 for a two word book. I didn't mind that he piled on the anecdotes to stretch out the book: that's a better use than most people put the space to, they were interesting, and occasionally demonstrated a subtlety or trick. What I did mind was his continual insertion of himself into the story, his attempts to make the obvious complicated, and his blindness to the fact that the people he encountered in his work were not a random sample, and the techniques used to protect yourself from them could make the outcome worse when used on a more rational person. Given that, I can't recommend the book. But there were enough good ideas that I feel a twinge of angst over that. So as a personal service from me to you, I'm going to summarize the good ideas in Gift of Fear.

1. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. I think the good in this one is self-explanatory, so I'm leaving that as an exercise to the reader. This is good as far as it goes, but I think he fails to understand his limitations. For example, my fear about a stranger walking behind me is highly correlated with how recently I've read a news article on rape, in ways I don't think are reflective of the actual likelihood of said stranger raping me. Constant fear is a cost too, especially considering the actually quite low rates of stranger rape.

2. DON'T PREJUDGE. Unless you're famous, you probably know the person stalking or harassing you. But when asked who they think is stalking them, people will claim no one, because it's just too hard to contemplate accusing someone. I think this might be an internal version of what I talked about with the bus driver: people won't make an accusation, even in their own mind, without enough evidence, and they won't gather the evidence without an accusation. de Becker's work around is to ask his clients "who could have made this threat?" Once they have a list of everyone they possible know, he guides them through coming up with a reason for every single person on the list to have sent the letter. Most reasons are silly, but the fact that reasons are allowed to be silly allows people to come up with real reasons for a few people, and this is very useful. de Becker seems to think that the fact that the list almost always contains the stalker is proof that the method works, I tend to see it as a natural consequence of creating a list of everyone you know with access to stamps.

3. YOUR BRAIN HAS ALREADY MADE THE CONNECTION. When asked to tell the story of their harassment, it's not uncommon for the stories to contain extraneous information about semi-related interpersonal interactions, like "Like I was telling X, I found..." or "Right after lunch with Y, I...". 90% of the time, X or Y is the stalker. de Becker is bad at math, so he doesn't mention how many false positives this method generates, but I've found it to generate a useful rule of thumb anyway: if thinking of A frequently makes me think of unrelated thing B, maybe B is not actually unrelated. This fits right in with my graph-based view of the human brain.

There, I just saved you 400 pages. Although to be fair I only read the first half, so maybe I only saved you 200 pages.

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