Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Myth of the Adult

When we are kids, life's trajectory looks something like this: struggle through childhood with crappy unfinished brains, then at some point, make a transition to adulthood, in which our brains are complete, mature, and equipped to handle what life throws at us.

Calvin and Hobbes: Moving On, by Zatransis
Calvin and Hobbes: Moving On, by Zatransis

Every adult knows that's bullshit. And every kid has a moment of waking up and thinking, "wait a minute, I'm thirty years old, wasn't I supposed to have transformed into an adult by now?"

The adult is a myth. Older brains are just kid brains jammed with more information. We still have the same impulses, the same cognitive biases, the same desire to stop being so damn responsible and just go outside to play. The additional information that experience brings allows us to overcome some of that kiddy stuff, usually, and survive in a hostile world. But just barely.

If the adult did exist, you'd expect to see it in the higher echelons of human achievement. Yet from the greatest scientists to the most influential artists to the mayor of the country's largest city, all you see are oversized kids trying to stay out of various cookie jars.

The same principle applies to our maturation as a species. One of the most humbling facts of life is that all of these skyscrapers and spaceships and smartphones were created by exactly the same brains that were blown away by sharpened stones 200 000 years ago. The modern Homo sapiens brain is just an early human brain jammed with more information.

This could be depressing, but I don't think it is. Instead it's impressive; we've accomplished so much in spite of trying to live up to unrealistic myths. Or maybe it's because of unrealistic myths. If we aspire to mythical adulthood, we can at least fake it long enough to turn life experience and culture into something wonderful. Yet we shouldn't forget our roots; sometimes we need to take off the stupid adult suit and just go outside to play.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

The Complete List of Songs About Masturbation

Sometimes, when blogging inspiration just isn't whacking you in the face, it helps to engage in little intellectual games that you play with yourself. Like coming up with lists. Like coming up with lists of songs about masturbation.

Here is a list of songs that are all about wanking. There are other lists (see also) out there, but many are only top tens, or have a hundred songs with artists you've never heard of shoving in a single line about jerkin' the gherkin' or butterin' the muffin. I want this to be a complete list of songs dedicated to chocking the chicken or slamming the clam.

Notable pattern: if you know someone with the name Billy, he's probably dancing with himself right now. Billies make one-eye cry more than any other name.

Also, shout out to Pink, who has two entries, nailing both male and female masturbation.

[Note: This was originally posted in 2011 but has been refreshed a few times]

  • Alice Cooper - Muscle of Love
  • Barenaked Ladies - It's Only Me (The Wizard of Magicland)
  • The Beautiful South - Tonight I Fancy Myself
  • Big Sky Singers - The Ballad of Sidney Kleenex16
  • Billy Bragg - St. Swithin's Day
  • Billy Idol - Dancing With Myself
  • Billy Joel - Captain Jack
  • Billy Squier - The Stroke
  • Britney Spears - The Touch of My Hand
  • Bruce Springsteen - Ramrod
  • Buffalo Tom - Sodajerk
  • The Buzzcocks - Orgasm Addict
  • Caesars - Jerk it Out (Q)
  • Carly Rae Jepsen - Party for One
  • Charli XCX - Body of My Own
  • Chuck Berry - My Ding-a-Ling
  • Clarence Carter - Strokin'
  • Corn Nuts Radio Jingle (link) 4
  • Crispin Glover - Auto-Manipulator
  • The Cure - Close to Me
  • Cyndi Lauper - She Bop
  • The Dandy Warhols - Get Off
  • The Decemberists - Billy Liar
  • Devo - Praying Hands
  • Dinosaur Jr. - Severed Lips
  • The Divinyls - I Touch Myself
  • The Dresden Dolls - Coin Operated Boy
  • The Dresden Dolls - First Orgasm 7
  • Electric Six - Vibrator
  • The (English) Beat - Mirror in the Bathroom (Q) 1
  • Elton John - Rocket Man (Q)
  • Elvis Costello - Pump it Up
  • Faith No More - Epic (Q)
  • Faith No More - Jizzlobber
  • FKA Twigs - Kicks
  • The Flaming Lips - She Don't Use Jelly
  • Frankie Goes to Hollywood - Relax (Q)
  • Gary Numan - Every Day I Die
  • Great Lake Swimmers - Pulling on a Line (Q)
  • Green Day - All By Myself13
  • Green Day - Longview
  • Hailee Steinfeld - Love Myself14
  • Halestorm - I Get Off 2
  • Jackson Browne - Rosie
  • Janet Jackson - If
  • John Prine - Donald and Lydia10
  • Kate Bush - Sat in Your Lap (Q)
  • Kate Bush - The Warm Room (Q)
  • Lady Gaga - Sexxx Dreams
  • Lizzo - Soulmate
  • The Mamas and the Papas - Dedicated to the One I Love15
  • Meat Loaf - All Revved Up With No Place to Go
  • Michael Jackson - Beat It (Q)
  • Mitski - Lonesome Love
  • Mr. Bungle - The Girls of Porn
  • Nerf Herder - Doin' Laundry
  • No Doubt - Paulina 12
  • Peter Gabriel - Shock the Monkey (Q)
  • Pink - Fingers
  • Pink - U + Ur Hand6
  • The Pixies - Holiday Song (Q)
  • The Police - Be My Girl (Sally)
  • Porno For Pyros - Porno For Pyros
  • Prince - Darling Nikki
  • The Pussycat Dolls - I Don't Need a Man
  • Radiohead - Thinking About You
  • Robyn Hitchcock - The Man With the Lightbulb Head
  • Say Anything - Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too 9
  • Steel Panther - Tomorrow Night8
  • Stone Temple Pilots - Unglued (Q)
  • Thomas Dolby - Keys to Her Ferrari
  • Three Doors Down - Here Without You (Q)
  • Thunderheist - Jerk It 3
  • Toni Braxton - You're Making Me High 10
  • Tori Amos - Icicle
  • Tweet - Oops (Oh My) 5
  • The Undertones - Teenage Kicks (Q)
  • Violent Femmes - Blister in the Sun
  • The Vapors - Turning Japanese
  • Ween - Mr. Richard Smoker
  • The Who - Pictures of Lily
  • XTC - Pink Thing

Q = Questionable. Could be about something other than bashing the bishop or brushing the beaver. Probably drugs.

Can you think of another one? Slap it in the comments.

1 Thanks @thatcomputerguy
2 Thanks Evil Faerie Girl
3 Thanks Kclarke5
4 Thanks @hendersonsk
5 Thanks Rachel Fee
6 Thanks Hey Lady!
7 Thanks Rachel Berdan!
8 Thanks John Young!
9 Thanks baby sis!
10 Thanks @PrairieTweeter!
11 Thanks @SteveStax!
12 Thanks @EdJackman!
13 Thanks Derek!
14 Thanks @Hillaryously!
15 Thanks @Yelrihsnhoj!
15 Thanks @George_Goodall, who pointed out that this song and album have a little-known connection to Hunter S. Thompson.

flog the blog

Originally posted Jan 11, 2011. Updated November 2013, June 2019.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Whenever someone I love dies, I put an event for that day in my calendar and set it to repeat yearly.

It's like an electronic graveyard. Throughout the year I wander through it, stopping to reflect as I come across the digital headstones. There are only a few right now, but it will fill up as life continues for me and ends for others.

Living our lives on the Internet means dying our deaths on the Internet, in all its indifferent, binary, perfectly preserved glory. Not only does a tinny electronic bell herald the anniversary of someone's death, but if I wanted to, I could scour my online life to review my precise thoughts and emotions at the time.

I could even find a person's own pre-death online presence. Access their thoughts and feelings, right up until the end, in many cases. 1

It's a curse and a blessing. Reliving pain in high resolution isn't pleasant, but it offers a form of immortality, both to the dead and to the ephemeral memories and emotions of the living. Gigabytes and gigabytes of ghosts.

1 (Not the ones that inspired this post though; they were dogs. RIP M&M).

Sunday, June 09, 2013

The Upsides of the Death of Privacy

Technology has killed privacy. Even aside from the USA's latest privacy invasions, most of us are semi-voluntarily leaving a trail of information as we go about our Internet-connected lives.

Much is made of the downsides of the death of privacy, but what about the benefits? Like, remember when having an alibi for a crime meant you had to have physically been with another person who could vouch for you?

Today it's more like:

Yes officer, I was there when the car was stolen, but as you can see from this Instagram picture, I was taking a selfie in the bathroom. I tweeted it at the time of the theft with the caption "looking #good in my new #shirt, not stealin' cars, lol." I know, it is a nice shirt isn't it? I forget where I got it, but just check my Mint account.

That hit and run the car was involved in? Officer, by that time I'd checked in on Foursquare at the grocery store blocks away. I was buying the chocolate and bacon for the recipe PC Plus recommended based on my shopping history. I forgot to check in when I walked to Starbucks after, but just look at my Starbucks Card, use facial recognition to find me in everyone else's location-tagged photos from that day, and follow my exact route on Moves.

My actual every move on Friday.
The body in the trunk? Miss, according to I was listening to that happy-ass "Good Time" song by Carly Rae Jepsen and Owl City on repeat all day. Do you really think it's possible to commit murder to that song? I know you're a fan of CRJ, officer; I already creeped your Facebook. And according to your OkCupid profile, we're an 89% match. Now that I've been proven innocent, let's go grab a beer.

See? That's all without the NSA's involvement.

I think there is something to the "if you're not doing anything wrong, then there is nothing to fear from your every move being tracked" argument. The often-forgotten continuation of that is that if you're doing something right, you've got a whole lot more ways to remember it and show it off.

I'm being somewhat tongue-in-cheek. There are genuine downsides to the death of privacy (maybe I'll write another post tomorrow about that), but it's not all bad. Us do-gooders espouse openness and honesty as virtues, and a removal of privacy is a step in the direction of forced honesty.

Just don't, you know, commit any actual crimes with your phone on.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Book Review: This is Not a Test, by Courtney Summers

When I reviewed Some Girls Are, my greatest wish was for Courtney Summers to write a zombie novel. Follow your dreams, kids, because mine came true.

This is Not a Test is, in some ways, a traditional zombie tale. It pays homage to the Romero blueprint without explicitly wink-winking at it: a diverse group of people hole up in one location to protect themselves from a nasty case of the dead coming back to life, for reasons that aren't explained and don't matter. The twist is that the characters and location are Summers' speciality: psychologically tortured high school kids in a high school.

The main character, Sloane, is a particularly interesting one to throw in a story of survival, because she doesn't want to survive. She starts the book trying to kill herself. Somehow, it goes downhill from there.

This isn't really about zombies. They are only a catalyst for the even greater horror of dealing with people who still have heartbeats when they're put under enormous pressure. That pressure, coming from both the current situation and memories of the past, puts the characters through some horrible ordeals. The misery dripping off of every page is written so beautifully and honestly that it avoids being emo to the point of cheesiness. Still, it requires a certain sick desire to see characters suffer to enjoy a novel like this.

This is a test: do you like zombies? Do you like feeling terrible after reading about the intense social situations that zombies tend to elicit? If you answered "yes," you pass: go read This is Not a Test.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How Artificial Intelligence Will Kill Science With Thought Experiments

Think about this:

Science—empirical study of the world—only exists because thought experiments aren't good enough. Yet.

Philosophers used to figure out how stuff worked just by thinking about it. They would take stuff they knew about how the world worked, and purely by applying intuition, logic and math to it, figure out new stuff. No new observations were needed; with thought alone, new discoveries could be created out of the raw material of old discoveries.

Einstein developed a lot of his theories using thought experiments. He imagined gliding clocks to derive special relativity and accelerating elevators to derive general relativity. With thought alone, he figured out many of the fundamental rules of the universe, which were only later verified with observation.

That last step is always needed, because even the greatest human intelligence can't account for all variables. Einstein's intuition could not extend to tiny things, so his thought experiments could not alone predict the quantum weirdness that arose from careful observation of the small. Furthermore, human mental capacity is limited. Short-term memory can't combine all relevant information at once, and even with Google, no human is capable of accessing all relevant pieces of information in long-term memory at the right times.

But what happens when we go beyond human intelligence?

New York as painted by an artificial intelligence

If we can figure out true artificial intelligence, the limitations above could disappear. There is no reason that we can't give rise to machines with greater-than-human memory and processing power, and we already have the Internet as a repository of most current knowledge. Like the old philosophers on NZT, AI could take the raw material of stuff we currently know and turn it into new discoveries without any empirical observation.

Taken to a distant but plausible extreme, an advanced AI could perfectly simulate a portion of the world and perform a million thought experiments within it, without ever touching or observing the physical world.

We would never need science as we know it again if there were perfect thought experiments. We wouldn't need to take the time and money required to mess with reality if new discoveries about reality could be derived just by asking Siri.

It solves ethical issues. There are a lot of potentially world-saving scientific discoveries held back by the fact that science requires messing with people's real lives. AI could just whip up a virtual life to thought-experiment on. Problem solved.

Of course, AI brings up new ethical problems. Is a fully functioning simulated life any less real than a physical one? Should such a simulation be as fleeting as a thought?

As technology advances, there will be a lot to think about.