I'm currently reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. The book, as you can probably tell from the title, makes the argument that the systems of mass incarceration in the U.S. are systems of racial control. Because these systems have been framed as tough on crime rather than tough on ni**ers, they have been able to claim they are colorblind despite their hugely disparate impact on people of color.

That Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey and others climbed up out of poor neighborhoods only makes it easier for the systems to argue that black men who are in prison have only themselves to blame. And, it makes it harder for otherwise anti-racist white people to see the systems as race-based controls.

Last year, the only woman to have ever won the Fields Medal (the highest prize in mathematics) died. When she first won the Fields Medal, I posted a link to one of the newspaper articles about it with my own comment: I look forward to a day when the sex of a mathematician isn't worth calling out. After reading The New Jim Crow, I worry about my comment. Is it just a libertarian/meritocracy (pronounced: /white boy/) dream-world?

On the one hand, I certainly do look forward to a day when the math world is so integrated (no pun intended) that it is unremarkable for a woman to receive an award. On the other hand, The New Jim Crow definitely has a point that it might be easy to declare STEM-equality won long before it really is. Will the systems just adapt to look like equal opportunity yet select for what it has always been?

It has been for U.S. employers to discriminate based on race since 1964. Yet, studies show that the blackness or whiteness (or the maleness or femaleness) of the name at the top of an otherwise identical job application dramatically changes the number of interviews the applicant lands or the salary they are offered.

Have we done the same in other areas of life? The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Doesn't it? But, it's still completely legal to have a requirement like be able to carry 45lbs for a job. It is still common for able-bodied hiring managers to think a disabled person unqualified to perform basic job duties because the able-bodied person can't imagine how the disabled get those things done.

Who is not you? Who is Other? Are we congratulating ourselves on how little difference there is nominally in that difference? Or, are we recognizing the myriad underlying ways that difference is actually huge?


Books I Read in 2017

I made a concerted effort this year to read books that were not written by old white dudes. Books below with the author's name in bold are not white dudes. My apologies to all the authors for making ill-informed assumptions about their whiteness and dudeness.


  1. Words on the Move: Why English Won't—and Can't—Sit Still by John McWhorter [audiobook]
  2. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West [audiobook]
  3. Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks: A Workbook for Managing Depression and Anxiety by Seth J. Gillihan [ebook]
  4. Sex with Shakespeare: Here's Much to Do with Pain, but More with Love by Jillian Keenan [ebook]
  5. Thinking Kink: The Collision of BDSM, Feminism and Popular Culture by Catherine Scott [ebook]
  6. The Color of Kink: Black Women, BDSM, and Pornography by Ariane Cruz [re-read, paper]
  7. Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland [audiobook]
  8. Urban Aboriginals: A Celebration of Leathersexuality by Geoff Mains [paper]
  9. Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity edited by Mattilda Berstein Sycamore [ebook]
  10. The Sadeian Woman: And the Ideology of Pornography by Angela Carter [ebook]
  11. Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? by Heath Fogg Davis [paper]
  12. Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti [paper]
  13. Utopia for Realists: Why Making the World a Better Place Isn't a Fantasy and How We Can Do It by Rutger Bregman [audiobook]
  14. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson [paper]
  15. Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up by Marie Kondo [ebook]
  16. The Mindfulness Habit: Six Weeks to Creating the Habit of Being Present by Kate Sciandra [ebook]
  17. Deconstructing Normativity?: Re-Reading Freud's 1905 Three Essays edited by Philippe Van Haute [ebook]
  18. The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy [paper]
  19. Three Essays on Sexuality by Sigmund Freud [ebook]


  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Alexie Sherman [paper]
  2. The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher [ebook]
  3. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison [audiobook]
  4. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu [ebook]
  5. Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam [audiobook]
  6. The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi [audiobook]
  7. Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine [ebook]
  8. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine [non-fiction?, paper]
  9. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler [audiobook]
  10. Shards of Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold [ebook]
  11. Dust by Elizabeth Bear [ebook]
  12. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery [ebook]
  13. The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross [ebook]
  14. Children of God by Mary Doria Russell [ebook]
  15. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead [ebook]
  16. Helicopter Man Pounds Dinosaur Billionaire Ass by Chuck Tingle [paper]
  17. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. [reread, ebook]
  18. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. [audiobook]
  19. The Image by Jean de Berg [ebook]
  20. Macho Sluts: Erotic Fiction by Pat Califia [ebook]
  21. The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis [paper]
  22. Sunstone, Vol. 1 by Stjepan Šejić [paper]
  23. Sunstone, Vol. 2 by Stjepan Šejić [paper]
  24. Sunstone, Vol. 3 by Stjepan Šejić [paper]
  25. Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds [audiobook]
  26. Regular Algebra and Finite Machines by John H. Conway [paper]
  27. Sunstone, Vol. 4 by Stjepan Šejić [paper]
  28. Sunstone, Vol. 5 by Stjepan Šejić [paper]
  29. Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds [audiobook]
  30. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess [audiobook]
  31. The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey [audiobook]
  32. Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks [audiobook]
  33. Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch [ebook]
  34. The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks [audiobook]
  35. Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler [audiobook]
  36. The Power by Naomi Alderman [audiobook, ebook]
  37. My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki [ebook]

Quit Reading

  1. The 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade [quit reading, ebook]


Last fall, I began working on a browser plugin to crowd-source image descriptions of social media (and other web) images to aid visually-impaired people browsing the web. I finally got enough ducks in a row on that project to make big strides over the last two weeks.

Oh-Caption Logo: Cat meme picture with speech bubble that says: 'Oh Caption!' Oh Caption, My Caption!

The plugin is available for Chrome, right now, and Firefox, as soon as it gets approved there. I have tested it without screen-reading assistance and with VoiceOver on Mac OS X. I have plans to test it myself with NVDA, JAWS, and Window-Eyes on Windows, and Orca on Ubuntu. But, there is only so much good that testing myself can do (especially since I am a complete novice with a screen reader).

It is at a point now where I'd like to open it up to a few people for feedback before going completely public. If you're a sighted person who wouldn't mind transcribing memes or a visually-impaired person who wouldn't mind lending an early hand in this endeavor, please send me an email /, and I will point you to the documentation on how to install and use the plugin.


Books I read in 2016

Here are the books that I read in 2016.


  1. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill [deadtree]
  2. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (started in 2015) [ebook]
  3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling (reread) [audiobook]
  4. Consumed by David Cronenberg [ebook]
  5. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (reread) [audiobook]
  6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (reread) [audiobook]
  7. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness [deadtree]
  8. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (reread) [audiobook]
  9. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (reread) [audiobook]
  10. We Are Not Good People by Jeff Somers [ebook]
  11. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire [ebook]
  12. Lost Boi by Sassafras Lowrey [ebook]
  13. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (reread) [audiobook]
  14. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (reread) [audiobook]
  15. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwook [audiobook]
  16. Helen and Desire by Alexander Trocchi [ebook]
  17. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern [audiobook]
  18. The Lost Stars: Shattered Spear by Jack Campbell [ebook]
  19. Lord of All Things by Andreas Eschbach [audiobook]
  20. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch [audiobook]
  21. A Guide for the Perplexed by Dara Horn [ebook]
  22. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell [audiobook]
  23. The Dispatcher by John Scalzi [audiobook]
  24. The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais [deadtree]
  25. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin [audiobook]
  26. Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood [audiobook]
  27. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders [ebook]


  1. The Other Side of Desire: Four Journeys into the Far Realms of Lust and Longing by Daniel Bergner (started in 2015) [ebook]
  2. Vicarious Kinks: S/M in the Socio-Legal Imaginary by Ummni Khan [ebook]
  3. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit [ebook]
  4. The History of Sexuality 2: The Use of Pleasure by Michel Foucault [ebook]
  5. Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality by Margot Weiss [ebook]
  6. If You Knew Then What I Know Now by Ryan Van Meter [ebook]
  7. Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza by Ken Forkish [deadtree]
  8. A Spy's Guide to Thinking by John Braddock [audiobook]
  9. Common LISP Recipes: A Problem-Solution Approach by Edmund Weitz [deadtree]
  10. The History of Sexuality 3: The Care of the Self by Michel Foucault [ebook]
  11. Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World by Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt [audiobook]
  12. Smooke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty [audiobook]
  13. Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti [ebook]
  14. Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters by Jessica Valenti [deadtree]
  15. Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm [ebook]
  16. The Memory Illusion: Remembering, Forgetting, and the Science of False Memory by Julia Shaw [audiobook]
  17. Easy To Love, Difficult To Discipline: The 7 Basic Skills For Turning Conflict Into Cooperation by Becky Bailey [deadtree]

Quit Reading

  1. Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky [ebook]
  2. The Best of Sexology: Kinky and Kooky Excerpts from America's First Sex Magazine edited by Craig Yoe [deadtree]
  3. Gynecocracy by Julian Robinson [ebook]
  4. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (second attempt) [ebook]
  5. Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart [deadtree]
  6. Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales by Ray Bradbury [deadtree]

Let's Talk About Coin Flips

There has been lots of talk in the last 24 hours about coin flips. If a precinct had, for example, five delegates to award and the caucus-goers were evenly divided between two candidates, they would award two delegates to each and toss a coin to see which of them got the fifth delegate.

Most of the social-media that I've seen in response has been either Hillary is the coin-flipping champion or Really? Coin flips?.

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Books I read in 2015

I managed to read even more this year than last. Here's what I read in 2015.

Interesting to note: I had a really hard time remembering whether I read some of these as deadtree books or not. If I read it as an ebook or listened to it as an audiobook but saw a full-color book cover for the book, then I have some vivid memories of holding the physical book in my hands as I read.



Fiction that I bailed out on before the end:

  • None

Non-fiction that I bailed out on before the end:


JIT Outrage and Lazy Dogma

For maybe obvious reasons, I've been thinking a great deal this week about the strong opinions people form on very little information. Even worse, people tend to fixate on a subset of the limited information they have available while actively ignoring the rest.

JIT Compilers

A number of modern computer languages have what are called Just In Time compilers, aka JIT compilers. With JIT compilers, a human writes source code in a human-readable form. There is usually then an initial compilation stage which does some simple validation and transforms it into a form suitable for interpretation by an idealized, imaginary computer. At some later point in time, the transformed version of the code is executed on an actual, real, live computer. The Just In Time compiler takes the transformed version for an idealized computer and turns it into actual code for this specific type of computer. With some super-fancy JIT compilers, the first cut at this is very basic with some modest assumptions as to how the code will be used. As the same pieces of code are run over and over again, a super-fancy JIT compiler might recompile the code with new assumptions (based upon past-usage) as to how the code will be used so that the code can be as streamlined as possible for the most-frequent or most-costly cases.

For systems without a JIT compiler, one of two approaches is taken. Some systems take the human-written source code and transform it for an idealized, imaginary computer and later emulate the imaginary computer using your actual, real, live computer. Other systems take the human-written source code and immediately transform it the whole way into code for your actual, real, live computer.

Those systems which emulate the imaginary computer sacrifice speed. Your computer cannot emulate the idealized computer nearly as fast as it could run its own stuff.

Systems which compile directly for the real, live computer sacrifice adaptability since they can only be run on computers which are almost identical (in hardware and operating system) to the one for which they were compiled.

Either way, without a JIT compiler, there is never an opportunity to revisit the initial assumptions about how the code would be used. Any optimization has to be done up front before the code is ever run.

As a real-world example, suppose that I have decided to write all of my email in Esperanto from now on. You might set up a filter on your mail-reader that invokes a translator when it goes to display any message from me so that you can read it in Klingon rather than Esperanto. This is Just In Time translation. The message sits in your Inbox in Esperanto. When you read it, it is transformed into Klingon. If, later, you decide that your preferred language is Elvish, you just have to re-open the message to get it in Elvish instead. The alternative, not-Just In Time version would be that I have the filter set up on my end so that when I write a message to you, it gets translated into Klingon before it gets sent. It sits in your Inbox in Klingon. Even after you've moved on to Elvish, that message will be in Klingon.

Lazy Evaluation

Most programming languages have an Eager evaluation model. With an Eager evaluation model, you can safely pretend that when you see multiple function calls in a row, the functions will be called in that exact order. For example, in the following code, the function foo() would definitely be called before the function bar().

   y := foo();
   x := bar();
   return pair(x,y);

With a Lazy evaluation model, when you see a call to a function, all you are really seeing is a promise to call that function if its value is every actually needed. As such, in the code snippet above, if there is something that foo() does with the global state of the program that bar() requires be done before it is invoked, you might end up out of luck. The model hasn't guaranteed the order these two functions will be called.

As a real-world example, imagine that you tell me to subtract the year Hannibal crossed the Alps from the year Madonna won her first Grammy Award and then write down my favorite color. I might search Google to find out when Hannibal crossed the Alps and when Madonna won her first Grammy Award. I might search for either one first. I might just write down my favorite color and not bother subtracting anything. I have done Lazy evaluation. If I were doing Eager evaluation, I would have had to look up when Hannibal crossed the Alps before I could even consider the question of when Madonna won her first Grammy Award and I would have to do the subtraction before I even considered what I should write down as my favority color.

I like to think of Just In Time compiling as lazy evaluation of the make me a version for my actual, real, live computer function. You don't actually need code that can be run on an actual, real, live computer until you are really, truly, about to run the code on an actual, real, live computer. If no one ever runs that code, there is never a need to compile it.


When do we form opinions? Are our opinions pre-compiled or compiled Just In Time? Are our opinions evaluated Eagerly or Lazily? At what point do we need an opinion?

Is the strength of our opinion correlated to the strength of the evidence we possess? Is our opinion taking into account how it is actually going to be used in this situation, or is it based on modest assumptions on how opinions are generally used?

Certainly, before flaming someone online, we have to have formed an opinion. Was it a Lazy opinion where we decided to comment and used all of the available information to form the opinion? Was it an Eager opinion where the opinion was already formed well before it was needed for this comment?

I, personally, have almost no drive whatsoever to flame someone online. As such, when the question is Should I respond (with vitriol) to this blog post or comment?, I never need to try to calculate an opinion. When I do try, I find that I'm stretching my opinion over shockingly wide gaps in the landscape to try to make very sparse evidence cover very large ground.

I have been realizing this past week though, that I do calculate opinions early and on little information on other questions like Should I go to this event? or Do I want to talk to this person? I close many doors with barely a glance as to what's behind them.

It is time to flush the caches. It is time to recompile the routines that were compiled with very little information on how they'd actually be used.


Books I read in 2014

I managed to read even more this year than last. Here's what I read in 2014.



Fiction that I bailed out on before the end:

Non-fiction that I bailed out on before the end:


Quote of the Day

Men have always had to pay for sex—in money, marriage, respect, long-term commitment, or willingness to help raise children.Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom by Catherine Hakim

It's not clear to me whether men have to give up some of the respect that would otherwise be theirs, have to respect women, or both to get sex. I feel like I should understand this before I go any further.

Also, it's manifestly clear that women do not incur these costs. Um.


Lies are not statistics...

I am reading Erotic Capital by Catherine Hakim. One of the author's contentions is that despite large amounts of propaganda to the contrary, men generally do want sex more often than women do. To this end, she cites some surveys that asked the question: Do you wish there were more sex in your current relationship? The numbers seem pretty clear after age 20 that men more often feel there should be more sex in their current relationship than there is. The only way that I feel the numbers might be misleading (assuming no reporting errors) is that if women are far more likely to draw the distinction between more sex and more sex in this relationship.

So, fine. But, then the argument jumps the shark when it goes on to talk about the number of sexual partners men have in their lifetimes versus how many women have in their lifetimes. I almost crashed my car last night thinking about how wrong this argument was. I was trying to find the right analogy and totally believed while doing this that the cross-traffic at my intersection had a stop sign. I got some angry honks, but that's way better than getting hit. And, it's way better than the math in this book.

From the context, it seems clear that, for the purposes of the surveys involved, sexual partner means sexual partner of the opposite sex. The book says that survey after survey shows that, on average, men have two to three times the number of sexual partners in their lifetime than women have. It cites this as evidence that men want sex more often or just more than women do.

Let's do the math. How do we calculate the average number of sexual partners men have? We ask every man, How many sexual partners (of the opposite sex) have you had?. We sum up all of those and divide by the number of men surveyed. How do we calculate the average number of sexual partners women have? We ask every woman, How many sexual partners (of the opposite sex) have you had?. We sum up all of those and divide by the number of women surveyed.

Assume for a minute that we were able to survey a whole, closed population. For every woman on a given man's list of female sexual partners, that man is on her list. This is true for every man. For every man on a given woman's list of male sexual partners, that woman is on his list. This is true for every woman.

Some part of your brain is probably trying to figure out a way where if things were imbalanced enough... if there were a few really active women and lots of moderately active men or some such thing, it might still work out. It doesn't. It's like saying that on average Canadians enter two to three times as many buildings as they exit each day.

Where does this leave us? This means that for it to be true that men have two to three times the number of sexual partners in their lifetimes than women have, either:

  • Men live two to three times as long as women,
  • There are two to three times more women than men, or
  • Some combination of the two

None of that is borne out by the demographics. Women live longer than men and make up a (slightly) greater proportion of the population.

What do the surveys show then?

It may be there are a few women with anomolously high numbers of sexual partners who also manage to slip through the cracks of the survey. This seems highly unlikely. Even if true, it doesn't bolster the argument that men want sex more than women do.

It may be there are a few men with anomolously high numbers of sexual partners who manage to get picked for all of the surveys. This seems highly unlikely. Even if true, it doesn't bolster the argument that men want sex more than women do.

It may be that men and women differ in how well they remember the number of sexual partners they have and that one group is or both groups are systemically wrong in exactly the right way to make this impossible statistic. This seems highly unlikely. Even if true, it doesn't bolster the argument that men want sex more than women do.

It may be that women, in general, have a narrower definition of what constitutes a sexual partner than men do. This doesn't seem unlikely, but it also doesn't bolster the argument that men want sex more than women do.

It may be that there are societal pressures for men to inflate their numbers (even on anonymous surveys) and/or for women to deflate their numbers (even on anonymous surveys). I think it's undeniable that this is the case and could easily account for the whole of the two to three times factor. It still doesn't bolster the argument that men want sex more than women do.

If I were arguing that Canadians prefer being indoors to outdoors and cited a statistic saying Canadians enter two to three times as many buildings on average as they exit each day, I should be pilloried.

I'm not saying men do or do not want sex more than women do (or that Canadians prefer being indoors or out). I'm saying that citing these surveys as evidence of an argument either way destroys your credibility.

I don't know if I can keep reading this book.