Internet White Whales

I’m writing about this to hopefully get it off my chest – I’m beginning to loose faith in ever finding one of my white whales. For those unfamiliar, a white whale is the concept of a highly sought after item that has long been out of reach of a person. The prototypical example being Ahab and Moby Dick, the namesake of the white whale. The operative concept being the desire for this item growing over time as it remains continuously out of reach.

Now, there’s a huge spectrum of white whales, and different categories. On the extreme end, it can be something akin to a person with a missing family member who’s held out hope for years, or decades, of reuniting with this person. On the opposite spectrum, you have more trivial things like foods or brands that remind people of their childhoods or of home. There was even a story on NPR about a guy who wanted to recreate a childhood brand of cookies that was very similar to an Oreo.

As for categories, this is a variation of the spectrum: like I said, food stuffs is a popular white whale category. The taste of home is a big one you see a lot in media. Think of the ending of Ratatouille. Another big one today is the internet. With the tremendously short-lived half life of web sites and internet links today, internet white whales abound. Due to the inherent instability and cost of web servers in the long run, it’s unlikely that any particular web site or piece of content will be accessible even a decade from now, unless that content makes someone money. Also, because of the constant information overload of new content being produced on daily basis, older data becomes harder to find as well. It becomes harder to find things as they age on the internet – that’s essentially a fact. Take a look at torrent sites – the number of sharers goes down proportionally to the age of the link. With these factors, it’s likely that most people browsing the web for extended periods of time probably have a few internet white whales of their own.

Which leads to my main point: my own internet white whale. Years ago, I viewed a pornographic video of a farmer or rancher’s daughter having mutual intercourse with her father’s employees, a group of farm hands. It was an interracial video, a mix of black and white farmhands. From what I recall, it was dated even when I watched it, quite possibly a retro porn video from the 90’s. While I didn’t think too much of the video at the time, I confess, it’s stayed in the back of my mind for quite a while now. I’ve spent more than a few hours fruitlessly searching on many a porn site. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to locate the video since.

One element that made it so memorable to me was the sense of single minded belonging in the group, all in the mutual goal of fucking this girl senseless. What crystallized as a white whale for me was the following moment: at one point in the video, two of the guys are changing positions – a white cowboy swaps out black cowboy can penetrate her. As they’re swapping, the white man utters: “Git ‘er, black snek”. The sense of camaraderie and cooperation emanating from this video astounded me. I could visualize the verisimilitude of the scenario: this is a group of coworkers who mesh so well together, that for them, they truly don’t see color. Not that it isn’t there – as the farmhand acknowledges his peer’s blackness – it’s that it’s nothing more than the color of the man’s skin. They had such a tight knit bond that they felt comfortable being naked and having an orgy together. It wasn’t as if it was something done in silent embarrassment, either – it was an environment where the group was in such harmony with their egos that this man could feel comfortable encouraging his coworker to fuck the shit out of this girl with all sincerity.

I feel as time has gone by, I’ve probably begun viewing this memory with rose tinted glasses. Unfortunately, as I’ve never encountered the video again, I’ll never know how close to reality my imagination captured the situation. Such is the case with all white whales, I suppose.

Interviewing: Hard as Balls?

The answer may surprise you!

 

I’m prepping to get a new developing gig. I heard of these interview services, where you’re matched up with another developer in search of a job to do technical interviews. I figured it’d be good practice before having to do the real thing. How was it? In the words of the immortal Egg Shen,

 

Totally bombed it. I’m glad it was only a practice interview, because I would have gotten an immediate rejection. What’s more, I realized how much I struggle not only with technical questions, but live interviewing. The difficulty of the question was magnified tenfold simply by virtue of the fact that there was another person on the end of my screen watching me while I worked.

It reminds me of martial arts – I’d been taking some kickboxing classes, and thought I was improving in terms of technique. I’m not going to lie, I felt like I was becoming more badass. Then, I tried sparring for the first time. We were doing kicks only, which made me feel better because at least I wouldn’t get my nose broken. I still couldn’t do shit, though. Keep in mind, the other guy was also an amateur, and we were going as light as possible – we weren’t trying to kill each other, but I realized how hard it is to actually fight a living being. Someone who’s moving and throwing is much harder than a heavy bag. I had the same revelation when going from practicing on a heavy bag to moving on mitts – form and technique go out the window straight away. You have to adapt to higher levels of stress that mock the real thing as close as possible. With that in mind, I feel like my shit interview today was a win in disguise – that was a bomb that didn’t go into production, if you will.

That leads me to my next point – not only is performing under pressure difficult, it’s also hard to accept criticism. You have to be vulnerable enough to open yourself up to accepting your flaws. That’s a lot to swallow to try to get a job. Having said that, I do think it’s helpful and necessary, so I’ll keep going at it. Hopefully, I can hit a point where I become merely mediocre and pass most average interviews.

Read by Learning

There’s this manga series I like to read, but for whatever reason, the translation group stopped releasing English scans of the series. I can’t read Japanese, but I did find Chinese translations. However, my Chinese ability is a bit rudimentary. To get around this, I use Google Translate to interpret phrases and characters I’m unfamiliar with.

Here’s my strategy: translate the whole phrase and see if it makes sense. Then, I’ll pick out words and translate it as is to see if it can be interpreted in other ways as well. Google Translate has to choose one interpretation for a sentence which might not be accurate, as it might not have the context for certain words.

If you’re unfamiliar with Chinese, there are several methods for keyboard input. I use two. The first is pinyin. Pinyin is a romanized typing system for Chinese. Once you learn the system, you can figure out the pronunciation and the tone of the word. This is great for learners because Chinese characters otherwise have no inherent way to distinguish the pronunciation method or intonation. If you’re following, then this question should come up: If I’m reading a comic with Chinese characters and I don’t understand the meaning, how do I look it up? I can’t type up words I don’t know, after all. That’s where the second input system comes in: handwriting.

When it comes to writing Chinese characters, the order of the strokes matter. There’s also some general guidelines for writing them – the best to remember is to start top down, left to right. There’s also categories of strokes, which leads to familiarity with patterns over time. Therefore, when writing characters on my phone, the general quality of my handwriting doesn’t matter too much as long as I follow the stroke order. This is great because I have shit writing. Now, for new words, you might wonder how I can figure out the stroke order if it really matters that much. As stated earlier, there are some general guidelines you can follow – starting top to bottom, left to right. This guideline isn’t true 100% of the time, but it is true about 80% of the times. You can generally remember the patterns for which this isn’t the case. Second, many characters are often composed of simpler characters, called radicals. Radicals are kinda like the building blocks for many other characters. They are words that have meaning, but when used in other characters, they can occasionally give you a hint on the new character. The included radical can imply either a similar meaning or pronunciation. Also, once you become more familiar with the most common radicals, you can decompose most characters (or large portions of the characters) into their constituent radicals. Learning vocabulary no longer becomes an exercise of remembering whole new characters, but combinations of old characters to form new ones.

Here’s the system as a whole: I don’t understand some words, I write it in Google Translate. Translate gives the meaning and also the pinyin meaning of the characters, which will allow me to incorporate new vocabulary in my speech as well. For phrases that come up often, I’ll learn it over time and get a better feel for colloquial language.

The biggest problem with this method is for comics like the one I’m reading now that uses a lot of domain specific jargon – the language I’m learning might not be that helpful for everyday use. This method might be pretty good for series that involve more mundane topics though. Slice of life, etc.

Mammon: Best Idol?

There’s a famous expression, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Which is a damn shame, because money fucking rules. I don’t just mean in the typical sense, in that money opens up a lot of doors and also lets you buy cool ass shit – I mean in the sense of its utility and the different abstractions money can represent. For example, there’s a pretty popular movement right now called FIRE, meaning financial independence / early retirement.

The goal of the movement is for its followers to break down their expenditures into a monthly/yearly spend, extrapolate the amount of money needed to live out their remaining lives, and save money to hit that financial goal and live in retirement. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean they have to quit their jobs – this financial independence opens up the door to them doing whatever they want. What’s interesting here is that money is transformed into essentially units of living time – that is, X amounts of dollars now represents Y number of days/months/years in which a person can subsist. As they say, time is money. But in this case, money is time.

Here’s another conversion: money to social status.  The more money you have, the more mobility you have in social status. This gets mixed up a bit with upbringing and social class, because it’s also possible to have a glass ceiling on social status despite your richness. How so? take a look at the concept of the nouveau riche – new money. Think of The Great Gatsby: Tom and Daisy can shit on Gatsby’s parties as ostentatious and flashy – while he may be in the same stratosphere of wealth, he’s still culturally inferior. His concept of displaying wealth is the poor man’s envisioning of how rich people live. Conversely, Tom’s form of wealth is how rich people envision the rich living. It’s another form of putting the poor in their place. “Sure, you seem wealthy, but you know you’re just playing at being rich. You still ain’t shit.”

There’s also the most obvious conversion – money to influence/power. You can see this in political lobbying and businesses. Businesses in particular is an interesting application of converting money into social influence. You take money and human capital and use it to solve a problem in the real world. If you think about it more abstractly, that’s essentially the core concept of a business: applied problem solving. The bigger the company, the bigger the problem. Or, as is the case with all multinationals, more problems getting solved. Its’ obviously good to diversify your business streams as you grow, because the problem you solve might not be a problem in the future. Look at any number of industries that’s been superseded by upgraded technology. You see it happening with television now – the problem of people spending their free time. Television is no longer the only game in town: there’s tons of other forms of media competing for people’s attentions, which lessens the amount of money television broadcasters can make as a whole. You see them resorting to bundling strategies and crippling new media companies (ISP throttling) to keep a competitive advantage, which leads to my next point: At a certain point, you start to see companies strategize around maximizing profit, instead of solving a problem.

Going back to the television example: the core problem that television broadcasters and ISPs solve are no longer the main priority – that is, delivering content. These companies want to maintain current systems and just extract more wealth from subscribers. Television is having a hard time because people are simply leaving the television packages altogether. However, ISPs have the advantage in that many areas are monopolies, so subscribers can’t leave to go to different broadcasters. Ideally, this is the point where government steps in and is like, “Hey, quit dicking around and do your damn job”. But then you get into regulatory capture, and, well… you can see the current state of broadband in the US. It kinda sucks.

Fix My Shit

I’ve been skimming my past blog posts, and it’s the damnedest thing – I noticed my editing is horrendous. Tons of typos, weird word omissions, and in one particular case, it felt like a whole paragraph was lopped off somewhere – I just stopped writing mid-sentence and moved on. I’ve got some ideas about why this happens:

One, I either don’t proofread or I skim. Makes sense why these errors would make it through.

Two, on the occasions that I do proofread, I still miss stuff. Sometimes, when I read sentences in my head, my mind will automatically do the mental mapping for the concepts – that is, I know where I’m going in my writing, so I naturally fill in the blanks. Even when there’s a glaring typo, it gets passed over. There’s a similar concept I read about where people can generally understand words within some degree of spelling error as long as the first and last letter is correct.

Three, even when I do catch errors, I mess up the editing. There’s various ways in which I edit:

  • Simple typographical errors
  • Sentence structure/grammatical errors
  • Rephrasing concepts

With the first, I can fix my errors easily. But with the second and third, I’ll add in new content, but also restructure existing content. What happens is I don’t do a second pass to see if the fixes integrate into the old stuff. Or even if I do make a second pass, I’ll then make some more edits that break the structure again. Basically, I don’t do enough concluding passes. Having said that, it’s kind of a hassle to go to each post and hunt for these errors, because I have to reread each post again to fix it, and then do another pass to confirm my fixes are right. I guess what I’m saying is, someone (not me) should invent a testing framework for writing.

Isekai, or How I Learned to Love Shitty Power Fantasies

Isekai stories are the new fad in manga series at the moment – it’s actually a boom in the light novel industry, with manga adaptations of successful LNs. For the uninitiated, the Isekai genre is when the main character (typically a Japanese student or salaryman) dies or is summoned/transported  to a different world (usually your standard RPG setting) and given a huge boon by the god of the new world. Or, for whatever reason they’re naturally gifted in this new world. This boon allows them the ability to style on anyone they meet, or let them grow their abilities at an unparalleled rate. I’m going to be frank: most of the stuff that’s coming out is trash. I feel like the rate of trash is higher than average for this particular genre as well, because it’s especially conducive to trash. Why is that? Because the main theme of all Isekai is the element of the power fantasy.

The whole point of this genre is for someone average to suddenly be put in a position of immense power and privilege, so that they can wield it mercilessly on those now beneath them. They can still be nice or even give mercy to their enemies, because it costs them nothing. Others are so beneath them that sparing them has little or no consequences.

Having talked mad shit about the genre, I will now list my recommendations:

Kumo Desu Ga, Nani Ka? (This one is entertaining to me, because the appeal is something distinct and outside of the power fantasy. There are very little human characters in this at all – most of the focus is on the main character surviving against hostile creatures)

Tate No Yuusha (It’s cartoonishly over the top at times (all the time), but it serves to fuel the MC’s bile. His hatred is palpable – what works about it is it’s really easy to empathize with the MC – you see exactly how unreasonable his circumstances are, yet he’s the one who gets blamed for not fixing the problem. It’s Obama tier frustration: Republicans blame him for being ineffective while being the leading cause via blocking everything he does. Meanwhile, they also blame him for their blocking him because “A good leader wouldn’t have gotten himself in this position to begin with”. Classic catch-22.)

Tsuyokute New Saga (A variation – not actually a new world, but a groundhog day style reset: essentially, the main character travels back in time before anything bad happened to them and they have a chance to fix their mistakes. This is another popular framing device. This series is probably the most straightforward of the genre, but it has great execution.)

Dungeon Seeker (Edgelord trash. I think the shitty edginess works in its favor though. Don’t ask me how, because I don’t know either.)

Risou No Himo (Salaryman is summoned to a different world to marry the queen. He’s chosen because he has no familiarity with the new world and the queen wants someone spineless who won’t challenge her power. He understands this as an opportunity to loaf around and bang royalty, and be rewarded for it. Of course, he readily agrees to the proposition. The conflict in the story stems from how the realities of running an empire inevitably get in the way of him wanting to be a lazy sack of shit. He therefore has to use his salaryman powers to resolve problems in an organized fashion. I like this one because it cuts straight to the core of the power fantasy – You  (the reader) want to play video games, watch TV and bang hot chicks all day and be rewarded for it.)

There are some other good series, but they don’t come to mind at the moment.

On Miracle Drugs

Burn extra fat! Recover from injuries/exertion faster! Put on more muscle!

You see a lot of advertisements for miracle drugs that make dubious claims – At Walgreens, they sold green tea diet pills that claimed to help burn fat faster. They had a shelf dedicated to these diet pills – I deemed it the snake oil section. What’s crazy to me is how much bullshit gets hawked as legitimate, when such miracle drugs actually exist – they’re called steroids. Steroids, are, of course, a controlled substance and therefore illegal to own in the US without the right prescription.

Of course, steroid is a vague description for a wide variety of substances that provide various benefits to the body. Hydrocortisone is a commonly available over the counter steroid that can help with skin problems. But when people refer to steroids in the taboo sense, they’re typically talking about anabolic steroids, which can provide many varying benefits, including but not limited to:

  • Muscle growth
  • Faster recovery from workouts
  • Increased endurance
  • Lose fat faster

So if the established benefits of anabolic steroids (now referred to as steroids) is so great, why aren’t they more commonplace?

I’d wager it’s mostly due to the huge stigma against steroids in the US. Here are some typical associations:

  • Steroid rage
  • Gym bros
  • Impossible bodybuilder physiques (Not in impressive way, either, though you do have the bodybuilder association with steroids. I think a lot of people imagine the crazy blown up synthol arms when they think of steroid usage)
  • Needles in asses
  • A multitude of health complications, biggest being possible death (RIP Zyzz)

The thing is, there’s no such thing as a free meal. Of course steroid usage has consequences, but like all drugs, careful usage and moderation can mitigate most of the harmful effects. From what I’ve gathered of steroid usage, the biggest issues stem from steroid abuse: multiple cycles where you start getting careless with mixing different types and dosages.

I read that some people get addicted as well – they see the easy, constant gains from steroid use and keep using to the point of going overboard, maybe in terms of physique or devastating side effects.

You can also get contaminated gear – after all, it’s still a controlled substance and illegal to own in the US. Meaning if you want sick gains you have to find a dealer. Unless you buy it from a known source, you don’t really know what you’ll be getting.

I feel like this is a problem that’s largely comparable with the recreational drug epidemic in the US today.  Ignorance to the problem and a heavy handed approach to users has greater side effects than education and rehabilitative methods. Instead of demonizing steroid usage, why don’t we look into steroid usage more, educate the populace on safe usage, and have controlled methods for dosing patients? Shit, if we have steroids that help burn fat with literally no extra work needed, why don’t we open this up to obese people instead of selling them snake oil and fat shaming them?

I mean, obviously it’s putting a band aid on the problem instead of actually solving it, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be a component in a true weight loss regimen.  Side effects? Unless it kills you, I don’t see how the side effects would be worse than the results of carrying 300+ extra pounds of fat on your body. Of course,  it’d help to be administered in a controlled setting with careful monitoring by a medical practitioner, as I could see the same problem of abuse cropping up for obese patients who get addicted to the easy win and fluctuate between cutting and bulking up again.

Of course, I’m talking out of my ass here – I have no experience with steroids and have no desire to in their current state. I’m relatively risk averse, and don’t feel comfortable using drugs with no oversight on production, as well as lack of guidance from medical professionals. Maybe when safe usage methods are disseminated into the mainstream.

To sum: Legalize it!