Saturday, 21 November 2015

Why We Romanticize Nature

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

I've posted less than normal due to overtime at work. Ah well.

You'll have heard people, when arguing about all sorts of things, say something like "That's not natural." It may be valid, it may not. Here's the question though: why do we appeal to nature to begin with? What do we find so brilliant about nature that we invoke it as an attempted all-encompassing shut down of our opponents?

Let me start with my "feel-good" answer:

Nature is essentially our mother, hence the phrase "mother nature". It made humanity's existence possible, it is almost without exception entirely responsible for our food supply, and it carved out the rocks and caves which we first used as shelter back in the day. It's not perfect though: it also created lions, tigers and bears, and, while we may find them impressive and/or beautiful, they can still kill us. Like any parent, it has its flaws, but we learn to appreciate what it did for us. We invest in it and so we end up putting it on a pedestal, explaining away its flaws and focusing on its achievements. Any alternative, therefore, starts out at a disadvantage by having to fight against this emotional bias.

This is a "feel-good" answer because it may be true for us as we reflect on it later, but there's a glaring issue: the fact that it requires this reflection. A better answer, I think, is found in its near synonymy with "normal". Something that isn't normal is unfamiliar, weird, unnatural, and not to be trusted. This makes it a very powerful emotional appeal in favour of something you like, or against something you don't.

What's the point of this post? If I ever use this appeal, unsubscribe, vote me down, whatever, because I'm beyond saving.


Sunday, 15 November 2015

New Shapeways Store

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

Some of you know about my other YouTube channel, AxyssTV. As a result of aiming to make music videos for my songs (as you can see from the one whole video I did manage to make it never really took off), I dabbled in 3D modelling. I discovered a site called Shapeways in the past year and I've become quite interested in the idea of producing models to print them. This has the potential to get me out of the rut that I've been in when it's come to creative projects and maybe give the Axyss project, now 10 years old, a new lease of life. Here's a link to the only model I currently have:


Nothing But Mind Games

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn.

There have been quite a few attacks over the last few years. An inordinate amount in the Middle East. A few in the West, one quite recently. The Joker was right, when it's not part of the plan, everyone loses their minds, and it's not "part of the plan" for attacks like this to happen in the West. What "part of the plan" really means of course is that when something horrific is a routine occurrence, we can't invest constantly in all of the tragedies, but when one happens in a place we think is safe, stable, even friendly, those 3 traits are suddenly challenged, so we react. This is what we're seeing with Paris: all the French flag photos, the scapegoating of Muslims, the people (Muslim and non-Muslim alike) condemning these generalizations, and the inhabitants of unstable countries outraged that an attack not in their region is getting so much more coverage than they ever will.

The other thing that'll happen, of course, is that those affected will want action. What I want to examine in this post is whether anything can actually be done?

We saw what happened with 9/11. 2 wars: one of which had nothing to do with the attack, both countries destabilized, both countries despising the US and providing a pretty handy narrative for would-be terrorists to recruit and justify THEIR actions.

The problem here is that it's not like WW2 where the enemy had a shared national identity and could only advance in physical space. A side effect of the wonders of the internet is that battles can now be fought in virtual reality. No I'm not talking the Oculus Rift. I'm talking YouTube, Facebook, Twitter. ISIS have said they want to "conquer the world" and this guess at their strategy is loosely adapted from the one you can find on Al-Qaeda's Wikipedia page

1. Provoke a western country into turning on Muslims.
2. Recruit from the inevitable backlash (since it's a generalization, many innocent Muslims will be affected, and some will do something that no longer makes them innocent).
3. Stage more attacks and attempt to destabilize Western countries.
4. Western economies will collapse trying to defend themselves and their neighbours and they install their caliphate.

Now let me be very clear. I don't think there is ANY chance of this happening. However, I'm doing my part here and now to make sure it doesn't come even close. There is no country to attack, no scapegoating that can simplify the issue, and no way of knowing who will be radicalized next. It's an ideological battle, and the only way to fight something like that is with an opposing ideology. No I'm not talking about atheism, a more moderate Islam, Christianity, or anything like that. I'm talking about not being a dick. The average person doesn't think that murdering people is OK, but they can be led to believe it's justified if they are given a strong enough reason to. We need to NOT GIVE THEM THAT REASON. We do this by NOT turning on the refugees, NOT talking about war, NOT demonizing 1.5 billion people, but instead going about our lives doing what we can to make people's lives better.

Talk to the weird kids in school.
Open up a dialogue with someone from somewhere very different to you.
Listen to what people say before, or even instead of, butting in with what you have to say. You can say your piece, just give the other person's perspective genuine consideration first.
If someone does wrong you in some way, respond in a considered, proportional way, and learn to forgive them in time.

They want us to think one way so we'll destroy ourselves. Let's think the other way so we actually improve the world.


Thursday, 12 November 2015

Gattaca of the Mind

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

I'm responding in this post to one of my favourite YouTubers, Jim. Or as you might know him, noelplum99. He released a video on Monday called "Genetically Enhanced Intelligence - Major Concerns".

Near the end of the video, he cites an issue that could arise out of trying to ban the genetic manipulation of people pre-birth to make them more intelligent. This is as follows:

If one country bans the technology, there will be another that won't. That country will advance the intelligence of their population gaining an enormous intellectual, and by extension, creative and economic, advantage over their competition. The rest of the world will have no choice but to adopt the technology to keep up. Jim asks us what we think of this.

I responded in short form on his video. The comment is as follows:

"I love making videos about the future. I love it even more when my favourite YTers do :)

As to the economic superintelligent nations question, I'd probably need to explore it in a blog post or video, but my initial reaction would be that the genetic advances being made here wouldn't happen in a vacuum. They would occur side-by-side along with advances in computing and manufacturing. There are any number of ways it could go, but we could reduce the marginal cost of food production to near-zero, much like we've already done with most human knowledge, colonise (sic) other planets, upload our minds to a cloud, eliminate our need for food and water, or kill ourselves before any of this happens, or any logical combination of those things, all of which lessen or eliminate the threat or concerns posed by a superintelligent nation. The author, Martin Ford, argued for a basic income to solve the problem you identified in your last video about AI: the problem of what to do for money when all the jobs are automated, and this too could affect the fear factor of a "nootropic China"."

I have made some points already in this comment, but with this post, I'd like to contest the premise. I don't think we will face this issue. Not because I think we'll be destroyed before we get there, although it is a possibility. Not because I think "we will never be able to tamper with something as complex and powerful and SACRED as the human brain, nor should we". It is in fact because we will do exactly that, but under a different method, at a different pace, and for a (partially) different reason.

What Jim is getting at is essentially the plot of the film "Gattaca", without question my all-time favourite film, if it focused only on the brain. It's possible I'm misinterpreting, but from the way Jim explains it, it sounds like he envisions that intelligence will increase slowly. He says that we could only afford to be "one generation behind" the country that makes the first move. This is, of course, about genetic modification, and it is envisioned to be done to avoid falling behind.

GM brains. One generation. Don't fall behind. Circumstances, pace, and reason respectively. I would like to contest all 3. Here are mine.

Avatars. Doubling (potentially) each year and getting faster. Understand that which baseline humans could never understand, and to not fall behind AI.

Genetic modification is a very slow way of increasing intelligence. You modify the genome pre-birth and then wait for further advances. Dmitri Itkov of the 2045 Initiative has an alternative in the works. His Avatar program is intended to give humans a more durable, energy efficient, and all-round more capable body. We can use less resources, live much longer, phase out the need for transport, simplify how we gain energy, scale up our intelligence by orders of magnitude with each software upgrade, instead of slowly across generations, and, if there's something about being human you just can't live without, adding VR elements to it will make those things possible, and better if you like, while still inhabiting the avatar. That's also pace taken care of.

Whether it will pan out on that time scale is the big question. Ray Kurzweil thinks it will, obviously. Michio Kaku has doubts (around the 40 min mark). Of course, no-one really knows. I take Ray's view simply because it's possible, it's optimistic, and I'm also obsessed with understanding things.

What about the reason why? Well, think of what AI can do today. Watson beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy 4 years ago. I won't bombard you with more links here as they're all available on YouTube, but we have the Google cars and Tesla's competing Autopilot system, a facial recognition algorithm that is better than humans, an algorithm that can describe a scene, Asimo, BigDog, Siri, Google Now and Cortana. This is what we have now and we had nothing close 10 years ago. This is the beauty of Moore's law and the law of accelerating returns. We do have to assume the trend continues, and there are major stumbling blocks up ahead, but, as ever, I am optimistic. When I enter middle-age, I will be greeted by my robot equals and then superseded by them. In order to compete, I, and everyone else, will need to upgrade, and at that point, we better hope Dmitri Itkov didn't drag his feet. If he didn't, and we vastly increase our intelligence, imagine what we could achieve. Imagine what we could understand, that we couldn't hope to understand now.

Maybe I'm getting carried away with myself and it's all too good to be true. Maybe you're just a pessimist that watches too much news about ISIS and school massacres and pines for how things used to be (colonial, at war, poorer, sicker, more racist, sexist and homophobic and oblivious to the existence of transgender people, with no welfare state, unquestioning respect for authority, god-fearing literally, maybe a bit more social but that's it really). For the foreseeable future, time will only flow in 1 direction: forward. I choose to embrace it.


Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Day of the week from ANY date

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

Want a good party trick and don't mind it being a bit geeky? Learn to work out the day of the week from any date in history in seconds (with maybe a few hours practice once you know the system).

My job gets quite repetitive sometimes. To deal with this, I find ways to pass the time and, since my maths degree isn't really being used at my current job, I thought I'd find a way to squeeze it in there. I see birth dates all the time, so one easy thing to occupy some time is to work out the day of the week. Well, I worked out a system for doing it.

Before I go any further, let me just say that I'm not saying I invented it. There are systems out there. It's possible someone came up with the same system and I'm not even going to claim this is the best. I just worked this one out. Anyway:

Let's take an arbitrary date: 15/09/1990 (day/month/year).

Step 1: Work out a small number (0-6) for the day (15/xx/xxxx).

To do this, you take the day, divide it by 7, and your "day number" is the remainder. If you're not great at dividing, just keep subtracting 7 until you have a number under 7. If do this a lot, you'll eventually memorize them all.

The result in the example is 1: 15 divided by 7 is 2 remainder 1, or subtracting 7 gives you 8, then doing it again gives you 1.

Step 2: Work out a small number (0-6) for the month (xx/09/xxxx).

Americans and others who follow month/day/year will probably do this step first then step 1. The best way to get the month number is to simply memorize them but I will explain how I derived this system at the end for anyone who's interested.

January - 0
February - 3
March - 3
April - 6
May - 1
June - 4
July - 6
August - 2
September - 5
October - 0
November - 3
December - 5

09 is of course September so the month number here is 5.

Step 3: Work out a small number (0-6) for the year (xx/xx/1990).

This is the most difficult step. First, you need to memorize a few reference years. I will write down all the ones for the 20th and 21st centuries:

1888 (included to deal with years from 1900-1915)

It's no coincidence that these years are 28 years apart, and to find a reference number for a year earlier than this, you simply need to keep going forward or backward in jumps of 28. All of these reference years have a "year number" of 0.

To work out the year number for any other year, take the reference year immediately before your date and start counting up until you get to the year in your date. Add 1 to your year number for each normal year and 2 for every 4 years. Once you have your result, divide the answer by 7 again, and take the remainder.

For 1990, the reference year immediately before this is 1972. There are 18 years between the 2 dates, 4 goes into 18 4 times, so you end up with 22. Dividing this by 7 gives you 3 remainder 1.

You may complain that this is a hopelessly slow and/or complicated step, and you'd be right. It's easier, once again, to just memorize the year numbers, I included the complicated way above so that you know how to find the year number if you forget it:

Years removed from reference year - Year number
1 - 1
2 - 2
3 - 3
4 - 5
5 - 6
6 - 0
7 - 1
8 - 3
9 - 4
10 - 5
11 - 6
12 - 1
13 - 2
14 - 3
15 - 4
16 - 6
17 - 0
18 - 1
19 - 2
20 - 4
21 - 5
22 - 6
23 - 0
24 - 2
25 - 3
26 - 4
27 - 5

Step 4: Add up your total. There are 2 final steps that apply under certain conditions:

a) If your date is in January or February of a leap year, subtract 1.
b) A not-so-well known fact about dates is that centenary years (1700, 1800 etc.) are NOT leap years unless they are divisible by 400. To account for this, when going backwards through the centuries, add 1 for each centenary non-leap year, and when going forwards, subtract 1.

Neither of these additional conditions applies to our example date. So, what do we get?

1 + 5 + 1 = 7

To find the day:
-1 - Friday
0 - Saturday
1 - Sunday
2 - Monday
3 - Tuesday
4 - Wednesday
5 - Thursday
6 - Friday
7 - Saturday
8 - Sunday
9 - Monday
10 - Tuesday
11 - Wednesday
12 - Thursday
13 - Friday
14 - Saturday
15 - Sunday
16 - Monday
17 - Tuesday
18 - Wednesday

So 15/09/1990 is a Saturday!

So how effective is this technique? If you're working out all the steps the first time round, it will probably take about a minute, but it depends on your maths abilities. This is why I advise memorizing them, as it is much quicker. I can do any date this century or last in about 5 seconds now. It requires very little effort. Sometimes I forget to subtract 1 for the Jan/Feb leap year dates, and that's mostly because they're quite rare, but for the most part, that is a taste of what you could do. Know the steps inside out and I reckon, within an hour or two, you could be at the 10 second level. From there, it's diminishing returns, as you need to relentlessly focus on which steps are tripping you up.

For a lot of people, this is where we part ways. However, if you want to know how I derived my system, read on :)

OK so to start with, I looked up the day of the week for January 1st 2000. I thought it'd be as good a place as any to start. Turns out it's a Saturday. Trivially, each 7 day jump after that will also be a Saturday. What about February 1st 2000? This is a Tuesday. There is a distance of 31 days between these 2 dates and this amounts to 3 days of the week. This makes sense. A week is 7 days, there are 4 full weeks in 31 days, and then 3 extra days left over. This gives us the beginning of the method to derive the month number: take the number of days in that month, divide it by 7, take the remainder, and add it to the month number of the last month.

This isn't the whole story though. Take March 1st 2000, a Wednesday (1 + 3 + 0 = 4). 2000 is a leap year, and so there are 29 days in February in that year. The problem then is that, in most years, February 1st and March 1st would be on the same day of the week (28 divides EXACTLY by 7), but on leap years, March 1st will be a day of the week later. This gives us condition a) from earlier, and also the reason why, when it comes to year numbers, you add 2 for every 4th year you pass. As each reference year is a leap year (28 is a multiple of 4 and 2000 is a leap year), each 4th year is a leap year.

This allows us to assign arbitrary values to January 1st 2000: keeping the day number as is, just simplifying it to below 0-6 (by dividing by 7 and taking the remainder) keeps it very simple: 1st = 1. We are subtracting 1 because it's January of a leap year: 1-1=0. January is the first month so why make it anything other than 0? 2000 is a leap year, and a year familiar to most of us, so again why not 0. Without having to figure anything else out, we've assigned a final number of 0 to Saturday. To work out all other final numbers, we simply recognize that you can't get a number lower than -1 (January 7th 2000 = 0 + 0 + 0 -1 = -1) or higher than 18 (April 6th 2005 = 6 + 6 + 6), and count them along with the days of the week, repeating the cycle after each 7. I tend to keep the final number under 7 as well so I apply century adjustments after.

This leaves the year number and condition b). The year number is derived as simply as this: 365 days in a year. 365 divided by 7 is 52 remainder 1. 366 divided by 7 is 52 remainder 2. This gives us the 1 and 2 we repeatedly add to get the year number. As this number is kept between 0 and 6 (a range of 7 numbers), and adding 2 happens every 4 numbers, this cycle will repeat every 28 years (7 x 4 = 28) giving us the motivation behind reference numbers.

Finally, to derive condition b), take March 1st 1900, a Thursday (1 + 3 + 1 = 5). As 1900 is not a leap year (it does not divide exactly by 400), March 1st immediately follows February 28th, a Wednesday. In 1928, which is a leap year, February 29th would be the Wednesday and so February 28th would be a Tuesday. February 28th is 1 day of the week later in 1900 than it would otherwise be, and then so is every date for the 100 years including and immediately before Feb 28th 1900. This means we add 1 to bring our system into alignment. Using the exact same logic, we subtract 1 when going in the opposite direction.

And we are done! Thanks for reading.


Monday, 9 November 2015

I am a feminist out of protest

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

In my video "Feminism and Islam: A Better Discussion", I said that I try to take an objective view of the issues, to not associate myself too strongly with a particular point of view so that I can remain level-headed and not end up emotionally investing in the position. On that video, I was accused by one commenter of having a feminist bias. This post won't help dissuade people who agree with that viewpoint, but the title, at least I hope, should give you an idea that things won't be as simplistic as me just calling myself a feminist.

I won't lie: when I come across feminists on YouTube, I'm mostly pleasantly surprised. They are civil in terms of how they deal with the opposing side, they cite sources in their videos (a lot of the time the sources are obviously biased, but still, it's 1 step above the many that don't), and I have a definite bias to some out of the fact that I've known them for years (Laci being the most prominent example here). In contrast, anti-feminists, and I'm using the term here as a catch-all to describe anyone opposed to feminist arguments, have overwhelmingly been very aggressive, very personal in their attacks, have an obsession with generalizing (a video can never be about just 1 feminist, it's always about feminISTS), and do not even seem receptive to the arguments they are hearing. Of course, I won't make the same mistake they do. I am seeing a tiny subsection of YouTube. There are no doubt plenty of reasonable anti-feminists and very unreasonable feminists, but I've seen what I've seen. My "bias" is more one in favour of civility rather than in favour of feminism. I like nuanced arguments. I like videos where the videomaker is being civil. I like videos where the opponent is treated as an individual and not a label. I am "biased" towards these kinds of videos.

None of this has anything to do with why I'd call myself a feminist, I just thought I'd get that out of the way. I call myself a feminist for one reason only: I am in favour of gender equality. That's it. That's all "feminism" means. The rest is nuance.

What about the protest part? Well, this comes down to a tendency that has cropped up among both camps. People are rejecting the label "feminism" because, in their view, it has become associated with man-haters and/or "special snowflakes" who are offended by everything. Many of the people rejecting this label are in favour of gender equality, and so could quite easily call themselves feminists, but choose not to because of what they perceive to be a hijacking of the term. I have only one response to that:


Language is not decided by a dictionary. You don't need to just give up on a word once it's been co-opted by a group you don't approve of. You can always take it back. By refusing to use the term, you are contributing to the exact phenomenon that caused you to ditch the label in the first place. I absolutely refuse to do that. Feminism achieved great things back in the day. It got women the vote. It got them into the work place. Don't throw all that under the bus just because of what a TINY MINORITY of assholes are doing with it now. If you disagree with what they say, call yourself a feminist and disagree.

You will never be able to assume what positions I hold on various issues just because I use the term feminism. I disagree with many prominent YouTube feminists on a whole array of issues. I agree, to some extent, with a few positions held by anti-feminists and MRAs. None of this changes the fact that I support gender equality and so I will use a label that claims to champion this, and do my bit to ensure this definition is reflected. If anyone has a problem with that, too bad.


Sunday, 8 November 2015

JJ and the Dick

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn.

I'd like to be very serious if I may. Drama has erupted between 2 YouTubers I have a lot of respect for. One is someone I've been subscribed to for almost the entirety of my channel, the other is a more recent favourite. These, respectively, are JJTalkz and Richard "The Dick" Coughlan. Since getting up to speed on this drama involves watching nearly an hour of YouTube videos, I will simply link the videos down below, and give a brief summary in which hopefully I cover the most important points. Any and all evidence for claims available is linked in the videos so I won't relink them here.

The videos:
JJTalkz: Unsafe on YouTube (Sexual Harassment) (parts 1...
and 2)
Dick Coughlan: JJTalkz is a Paranoid Idiot *DRAMA ALERT*

In summary:
JJTalkz made 2 videos about sexual harassment she has experienced and known about in the community she is a part of on YouTube. 5 months later, JJ tweets twice about Coughlan saying that he thinks sexual harassment is OK (these tweets are available in Coughlan's video linked above). What Coughlan actually said is that in any community, there are opportunistic assholes who will take advantage of a certain set of beliefs to gain favour with the females in that group, and so, realistically, all a YouTuber in that community can do is persevere and try not to let it bother them. Coughlan was understandably not pleased at JJ for taking this to mean he "supports sexual assault". On her 2nd channel, JJ then makes a far more serious claim: that Coughlan has harassed several transgender YouTubers, and JJ is unwilling to name them, as they came to her in confidence with those claims.

This is an extremely depressing and ugly situation. I live in the UK, where a serious of scandals in the last few years have resulted in some of our most respected celebrities from back in the day turning out to be assault perpetrators and pedophiles (e.g. Jimmy Saville, Ian Watkins, and Rolf Harris). While none of these individuals ever had much of an impact on my life personally, I have learned from the scandal, and so I am committed to taking the claim seriously, should the evidence come forward. I have also, in a comment on the last video linked above, promised JJ to make this post here and to take it seriously, should the evidence come to light, and to pressure Coughlan to address the claims if they come forward.

I've been subscribed to Coughlan for 6 years. I've met him 4 times at his comedy gigs. He was incredibly nice to me and my friends, sitting down to drink with us after the gigs. I'd even found out later on that he was quite ill at the time. He is one of the most reasonable people I know on YouTube, going by the things he says in his videos. There are few people I have more respect for, and I would be devastated to learn that these claims were true, and perhaps because of this, I suspect they aren't, or are also misinterpretations. I refuse, however, not to be open to the idea.

At the same time, I feel for JJ's current predicament. It was ill-conceived of her to make that last video in which she made this claim, as she will only dig a deeper and deeper hole for herself the longer this goes on without the particular victims being named. She said in the comment section to her video that 1 of the victims is considering coming forward. I hope they do, as this is not something that can be left to last. Coughlan has been the victim of many claims, most having been found beyond any doubt at all to be false. This is nothing new for him, but I suspect that doesn't make it nothing to deal with. Even if it did, there is a precedent being set here, that someone can make a claim and then not provide specifics because the victims came to them "in confidence". Making such a claim is very serious and can destroy people's lives (the expression "His Name Is Mud" originated under similar circumstances).

I'd like to add also that I'm disappointed in JJ and in myself. I made a video in which I held up her recent video on atheism as an example of the kind of videos we should be making about atheism: ones in which we temper our criticisms by offering alternate solutions, in which we humanise ourselves by talking calmly about our experiences. I stand by this view of THAT video, but this recent drama casts a shadow over it. I was too quick to hold her up as an example of the good we can do, and for that I'm sorry. It's not a done deal: we all make mistakes, and I'm certainly hoping JJ learns from this, as there is still a lot of good she can do.

As for what I think should happen next...

This first paragraph assumes that the claims are misinterpretations:
I would encourage JJ to name the victims to Coughlan, and of course, to get the victims consent first. Having been on YouTube a while, I can say with complete confidence that most dramas that have erupted, even some of the largest, have been over misinterpretations. This can all be resolved if JJ, Coughlan, and the victims all come together to talk it out. As I've said, Coughlan is a very reasonable guy. I'm sure he'd be open to this if given the chance.

And if the claims are true:
There's no other option: they have to come forward publicly. I don't want to undermine the immense difficulty and fear involved with doing such a thing, but then it's important also not to prolong a potentially false assault claim: something which, despite anyone's views to the contrary, is taken VERY seriously. I'm not going to lie, there is a chance the claims will not be believed. However, I will link 2 videos that might give you some hope where this situation is concerned: one from outside our community, and one within. Claims like this ARE taken seriously, and you have my word, at least, that I will take them seriously, and I encourage everyone reading this, regardless of how they feel about anyone mentioned in this post, to do the same.