BART, Americans, and Attitudes, vs The East

This is what the best BART station looks like.

Yesterday I had my only trip on American public transportation in recent memory and it was even more disappointing than I expected. I love trains, I love cities built around trains, I love being able to go places without having to lug around a huge metal box, but now that I’ve bothered paying attention to it, Bay Area Rapid Transit does not run a metro. It’s not a heavy rail system. It’s not even a light rail system. It will never be a heavy or a light rail system. Comparing my experience riding BART to the one riding Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway and it became instantly obvious that BART is just a glorified parking lot shuttle that just happens to run on the rubberless kind of wheels.

But this isn’t only the BART’s fault. Even if by some hand of god all the people in the administration on down were removed and replaced with perfect candidates to fill every conceivable need, including the contracted union construction workers who are the mafia in all but name and the Department of Transportation guys who are all bought out, BART would still be garbage – because it doesn’t go anywhere by itself. If your destination is Oakland, Berkeley, or San Francisco, fine. If you’re going anywhere else, you take BART, you get off at your final station and then what?

Walk the rest of the way?

BART… and I’m back in a parking lot.

“But the population density is too low! We’re not crowded like Hong Kong!” is the common response and until now I grudingly accepted it as the truth, the reason why everything is shitty. If only we had more people in the San Francisco Bay Area, if only more people wanted to come to Silicon Valley, home to the most valuable companies in the world, everything would be fixed!

Then I realized that it’s exactly backwards. Low density isn’t the reason for lack of results, low density is itself the intended result – among a bunch of other intended results. Sure, the people want a fast high quality public transportation system. They probably want it to be free too. But god have mercy if it comes at the cost of their backyard, or if it causes buildings with more than 3 stories to pop up anywhere before the horizon. If someone really wants something they know they can’t have everything and can usually come to some sort of compromise. But the public, uneducated on little and sold on everything, compromises for nothing. So, as a result, we pay a few billion dollars every few years to keep it afloat, and otherwise keep it out of sight out of mind, ignoring that the system was outdated when it was introduced almost half a century ago, and with all the money poured into it has essentially never updated since.

Everyone who’s gotten to highschool has this figured out, even if they only believe it’s true of people they disagree with. This is all fairly common knowledge:

The people will accept politicians being stupid and wasting billions of dollars on pork barrel projects, so long as the people get to sit comfortably in their sofas at home calling politicians stupid for wasting billions of dollars on pork barrel projects.

Now what’s not common knowledge is that it’s wrong – specifically, it’s not “the people”. It’s not a function of homo sapiens, it’s somewhat a function of masses and democracy, but there’s something more accurate we can say, that no one will ever say:

The American people will accept politicians being stupid and wasting billions of dollars on pork barrel projects, so long as the American people get to sit comfortably in their sofas at home calling politicians stupid for wasting billions of dollars on pork barrel projects.

BART sucks because Americans suck.

I don’t mean this in the ‘you allow people in power to screw you!!!’ sense; democracy is a sham, and it’s unreasonable to say that unorganized masses are “allowing” organized interests to do whatever they want. I mean this in the sense that the American pasttime of schadenfreude against their political leaders is an attitude they take everywhere. There are the big problems which, fairly, only a very select few with power can do anything about this moment. Then there’s ten thousand little ones which everyone can do something about. Things which add up and eventually make the world a better place.

Things which Americans won’t do, and will defend to the death not only are they right in not doing it, but that you’re wrong and weak in wanting it done to begin with. It’s not important if you’re actually wrong or weak. It’s not important if they’re wrong either.

What’s important is they get to call you the names, and being comfortable while doing it.

This is what one of my rides on BART looked like. I don’t have pictures of the other ride, but there were a bunch of really dirty people “teens” in really dirty clothes each taking up a whole bench, and empty boxes and bottles here and there.

I suddenly don’t like software engineers.

Two doors per side per car, seats are arranged front/back except for doors, which have one side-bench per. Not shown in picture is the map of the system, which is either once per side or once per car.

This is what an older MTR car looks like.

Some of them have TVs mounted on top of the central bars too. 2 per car.

4 doors per side, all seats are arranged as sides, no padding, bunch of things to hold onto.

All these differences aren’t so important. Lower density system, you can afford put in wider comfier seats. Comfy is good. Makes sense. What is important is that BART had a paper printout of the system occurring 1 or 2 times per car, while MTR had 8 of these:

Does Silicon Valley not have that because of lower population density too? We can’t scrounge up enough money because lower ridership, and who cares it’s just an unnecessarily fancy display that only has one purpose anyways?

How about the audio announcement then? I could never make out what the operator was saying on BART, partly because half the time riding BART is louder than flying turboprop, but also because the PA system was trash and the operator didn’t enunciate. MTR I could hear everything just fine, even if I had to wait for the English version of it. It was also all prerecorded. I guess the population density isn’t high enough to justify prerecording. It isn’t high enough to justify the operator saying the name of the station before the train arrives either. Or sometimes, saying the name of the station at all!

Man low population density causes a lot of problems.

This was at the Kam Sheung Road MTR station, effectively about as backwater as you can get in Hong Kong. It is on the inside door of the restroom. The restroom at the time had the janitor chilling in his utility closet; in Hong Kong public areas in general you can often see janitors and other custodials doing their work.

Oh, thanks for reminding me.

I’d show you a picture of what the inside door of a restroom in a BART station looks like, but there are no restrooms in BART. Apparently though the janitors which I’ve never seen and which think trash littered cars are fine are paid 270k a year (USD not HKD). Because they deserve a living wage. Or something. Overworked understaffed? Maybe throw a little bit of higher cost of living in there too.

Now, on the BART website, they claim certain stations actually do have bathrooms. Supposing they bathrooms do physically exist in the stations as they say, they don’t fit the definition of public. What kind of restroom is it if a member of the public who wants to use it can’t find it?

Someone who alighted at my station on a train before mine asked where the exit was. I can’t blame him, because this is what an aboveground BART deck looks like:

The far side actually does have its exit in-frame.

This is what the Tin Shui Wai deck looks like. I specify because they’re all obviously visibly different in some way. If you memorize the colors on the walls or pillars, you can tell where you are in the line. BART is the same concrete wherever you go.

There is no exit in this picture.

Both of the above depicted stations have their exits below their current floor. One of them is significantly easier to find than the other. Are exits easier to find if it’s higher population density? An inch of glass is more expensive than another foot (thick!) of concrete?  I’ll admit the sign isn’t particularly helpful but that’s one error out of a hundred corrections. Why are there two decks instead of one, anyways? If someone mistakenly missed their stop and got off at the next one, one of these stations would fuck them if the return train arrived at the same time, and the other wouldn’t.

Obviously, the American one is the better one.

Am I just salty? Y I Mad Doe? No, it’s impossible that I might be right on top of that. Everyone claims debates and discussions are about truth but most people jump to pointing and laughing at the other guy the first chance they get and declare victory after that. Sorry – most Americans. Call someone salty or anti-American or any number of names and it doesn’t matter what they say anymore. Am I anti-kid if I don’t give a fat kid candy? These are the same kind of people who will recoil and put their hands up if you start calling them imbeciles, but we’ll get into that topic another time.

American attitudes toward everything is can be summarized in

  1. Fuck you got mine” and
  2. I’m/We’re the best“.

Must be because I’m not AMERICAn enough.

Who cares about the rest of the world when you have AMERICA?

To begin with the state of public transportation is mostly an afterthought because when it’s brought up it’s simply written off. Who cares about public transportation? I have a car. I can get where I want to when I want to. What, too poor to have a car? None of my business. Don’t ask me to pay taxes to fund someone else’s life. Then they’ll turn around and complain about how traffic is so bad lately and they have to get up earlier and earlier so the freeway moves at the actual speed limit rather than at 10mph.

It simply doesn’t occur to them that everyone else thinks the same thing and cars have geometries and physics which cause certain effects. It isn’t some economist rational actors model where everyone’s carefully and quantitatively measured out how much they value each thing and voila, now we have a shitty public transportation system as well as a shitty private transportation, but all of this is okay because we value detached single family homes so much. None of that goes through their head. It’s literally just “I don’t care, I don’t see a problem, why are you yelling at me? I was promised owning my own home in the American Dream! If you say I shouldn’t have one then fuck you!”

Why do aboveground BART stations have two decks instead of one?
Because if you miss your stop then it’s your fault you’re an idiot.

Why aren’t there bathrooms in BART stations, or if they exist, why can’t they be found?
Because you didn’t look hard enough, or if they don’t exist, why didn’t you just take care of business before leaving the house?

Why doesn’t BART have a clear announcement system or a display that shows where in the system you are at all times?
Because you should know which stop you’re stopping at anyways.

Why does BART allow trash on its trains?

Are you saying you saw trash and didn’t clean it up? Why aren’t you doing your part? If you did, why are you complaining? The problem got solved, didn’t it?

If you’ve heard the line “You didn’t get the job because you just weren’t passionate enough”, this is the same thing. Every systemic problem that’s brought up turns out to be the result of a lack of individual responsibility, effort, and faith – until they also happen to have a problem with it, then it’s always a call for somebody to do something, as long as it doesn’t turn out that “somebody” includes them. Not my tax money. Not my car. Not my backyard.

Or in case of BART employees, Not my job.

Hong Kong Central Library, not MTR.
I don’t want to talk about the state of American libraries.

Whose job was it to put this label up? Did it need to be put up?

Do you think he was paid more or less than 270k a year (USD not HKD)?

Considering it’s some text on laminated paper secured by tape, it was probably decided and put up by someone lower down the chain than whoever put up this other one:

This is on a pedestrian path on the side of a mountain.

These little things put life into what’s otherwise an environment that just happens to have other people in it and is just somewhere you have to be in order to get to the next place. It’s not just some path, it’s a paved path with clean railings and cleaned plates that have a contact number on them indicating someone is involved in maintaining it and they care about their work. It’s not just an elevator to the library, it’s one whose surfaces are cleaned every hour and someone decided it was important to let people know it’s clean – clearly not someone at the top but someone much further down.

Meanwhile, BART operators could care less if you heard them or if you know where you are. BART police could care less if you’re getting robbed by 50 “teens”. Or murder, which I won’t bother linking because it happens so often none of them are worth noting anymore. Everywhere you go in America you feel that people are basically just showing up for the paycheck. Nothing is improved, nothing gets better over time, and if really terrible things happen as a result of ten thousand little things not having been done and not building up to anything larger, hey, I was just collecting my check. That wasn’t in the job description. Hell if I’m going to let you add things to it. Better pay me more next year though. I have a union.

And this attitude goes all the way up.

A high-speed railway connecting Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong, railway was brought up in the late 1990s by the Government of Hong Kong. This Regional Express Railway (RER) proposal was developed in the 1994 “Railway Development Study”(RDS); it foresaw a continual growth of Hong Kong’s population over the next two decades and strong demand for cross-border passenger traffic. The Hong Kong (SAR) Government commissioned a second Railway Development Study in March 1998. The Study went further on the British proposal of connecting Hong Kong and China from Kowloon. […] Since the typical timeframe for rail projects, from conception to completion phase, would take eight or nine years, the Railway Development Study recommended that the Hong Kong (SAR) Government should commence as soon as possible, so that the new express railway could be constructed in time to meet capacity demands.

This sort of talk of foresight seems fairly common among public planners.

Wow, 2040! They’re planning 20 years ahead!

But you look at the past 20 years and for BART it’s taken 15 years to still not completely build a single new station 5 miles away from the current terminal. They’ve been using the same train cars since the system was built in the 1970s, and the technology was outdated even back then, and they have the gall to talk about 20 years in the future.

America has the best people in the world though right? Immigration land of opportunity diversity is strength blah blah blah wow, train stations must be the hardest thing ever to build if it takes them 15 years. Maybe we should get Elon Musk to build them.

Meanwhile in China:

“But Chinese stuff always breaks and they always break regulations” Should I compare how often MTR or Shanghai trains are delayed or broken down, to how often BART trains are delayed or have murders? I’ll be the first to preach mainlanders are terrible but there’s things that are objectively better and things which are objectively worse.

“But China is communist and uses eminent domain” what’s wrong with eminent domain?

Let me repeat that: What’s wrong with eminent domain?

In broader terms and different words:

Why do cities exist, and what would an ideal city look like?

Rich peopleville.

This is the BART station in Walnut Creek. Out of all the stations, this is probably the one where most Americans would ideally want to live next to. San Francisco has rent out the nose for a tiny box, Berkeley same idea, Oakland has “teens”… This, on the other hand, is perfect. Single family homes, short distance to highway, to public transit, to shopping malls, to DMV, and if there’s parties or events in the bigger cities, there’s no need to haul a car there to find or pay ridiculous prices for parking. All you’d need to do is

I think I figured out where the creator of this tagline lives.

The problem is Walnut Creek can only be true for a very small number of people. Works fine for people who already lives there, Fuck you, got mine, doesn’t work for everyone else. And unless some Lee Kuan Yew appears, the land divisions set in that image will always remain. There will never be any development into higher density housing on the left side of the freeway because people will always hold onto their house, and if they let go they aren’t going to let go at the same time. And the city planners will never go against The Will Of The People because democracy.

But, also because of democracy, they do want to create more business and more jobs so they can make more money, which means more people will have to come from elsewhere to do the work or at least be customers and pay the bills, and they will come via… cars.  There’s only so much BART parking space, which at most stations is always full, and it’s not like it’s that close anyways once you get there. A train that’s louder than a plane, doesn’t run on time, only comes every once in a while, has trash lying around like it belongs there, and when I get there I have to see this?

Closest buildings on one side of Walnut Creek station.

I have to walk through parking lots where I as a pedestrian am clearly an afterthought? You want me to use this train, which means leaving my car, but at the destination I have to wait 10~30 minutes for a bus, there’s no taxis, no light rail no pedestrian paths with any nice scenery, all of which put me right next to with no barriers inbetween, one or two ton cars going by at 30+mph? I have to deal with this as I walk 10~30 minutes just to see how many shops? And I have to carry everything with me the whole time because coin and baggage lockers don’t exist, because it’s just expected everyone has a car?

Closest buildings on the other side.

Might as well just take my own car the whole way then.

So then we have clogged freeways. And the attitude towards this is “oh well”.

So are you going to tell city councilors off? Or is it not a journalist’s job description to do that?

The American people will accept losing extra hours of their life 250/365 days a year waiting in line to go to work, so long as they get to sit comfortably in their own little metal boxes with speaker systems tuned to their favorite radio stations playing their favorite music, and read some journalist on some website say “Ouch” about their daily experience.

The average person can’t do anything about traffic or how cities are set up. They want their own things, live their own life, and that’s about it. Having a place to live, being able to get to work, being able to shop at nice places, and being able to visit a lot of friends, without a lot of time – these are all things I think everyone wants.

In other words, these things are why cities exist.

This is the equivalent of Walnut Creek station in Hong Kong:

Station is underground. Park on roof. Lots of residential + 1 commercial building on top.

A mall of 3 floors and 123 shops awaits you the moment you step out of the paid area.

A whole grocery store without having to step outside.

I should’ve taken more pictures.

The park on top.

Ignoring the cost: How many people live in those buildings? How many people can get basically whatever they want, see the sights, go to work, without ever having to leave this complex?

One article estimates that there’s 70,000 residents, hotel guests, and office workers occupying this space: about 0.14 square kilometers.

The population of Walnut Creek in 2014 was 67,673 and its square kilometers is 51.

Imagine how much parking/road space 70,000 cars takes.

Kowloon Station/Elements/Union Square is a really nice place and I’m sure a lot of people around HK come here for various reasons. And they get there by… train. Buses are frequent, pedestrians get elevated and undeground walkways to not have to walk on sidewalks all the time, where there are sidewalks there’s rails so it feels safer, light rail connects to heavy rail, heavy rail comes so frequently they don’t print schedules, and, even though there are backwater places in Hong Kong, new developments aren’t spread out single property divisions anymore. The MTR corporation with the assistance of the Hong Kong government gets land and develops it as a single vision, Kowloon Station being the current newest and largest one completed.What we currently see wasn’t even developed all at once; the station was done 94~98, the current mall opened in 07, and the buildings on top opened in years from 00~10. But it was all done under one architect, one corporation, one government.

This isn’t the only way to do things, the Japanese do it much more organically, but in both cases there is no “NIMBYism”. The Japanese accept it when someone decides the land is worth enough to start building higher than all the surrounding buildings. The Hong Kong government opens up or claims lands and decides that certain things need to happen, and is generally effective at it. I’m sure HK and Japanese residents more informed on the details will have their valid complaints, but overall, the major desires are met for a very large number of people.

Compared to what BART did over about the same period (1997~2011):

The invisible station in the center under the highways, a parking lot north and south. Maybe a few of the apartment blocks starting with the inverted triangle? I don’t know where exactly BART-owned land begins or ends here but it doesn’t really matter. No matter how you cut it this 15 years had, to say the least, a lot less accomplished.

It’s not so much that there’s not a Kowloon Walled City v2: 2 American Boogaloo popping up near/in Silicon Valley (though it should).

It’s that there’s nothing.

You built a dinky station… and like a building or three?

Are you serious?

What have these fuckers done with 15 years of their life? Remember when you were still in diapers and daddy showed you a highway and a field and said there’d be a train station? Well now that you’ve finished highschool and college degrees are worthless, daddy can get you a job at that station! Nevermind that its floorspace is about 3 minutes long. It was really hard! Kids these days don’t understand hard work.

While doing a bit more research on dates I found this image on wikipedia. It’s the newest station, which started construction in 2009, currently in 2017 is half operational, and was supposed to open in 2014. This is what it looked like in 2014

The rails shown aren’t BART rails, they’re national freight rails.
In other words, they’re unrelated.

It took five (5) (V) (五) years to build the amount shown in the above image.

Okay whatever no use shedding tears over lost idioms. Now that it’s built, next to old NUMMI new Tesla factory. Great! Finally BART serves a purpose other than being a glorified parking lot shuttle for San Francisco. People all over SF Bay Silicon Valley can now work for Tesla and not have to drive! Saving the planet is awesome! Insert more boomer marketing taglines here. Maybe we have to drive to a BART station first, but BART… and we’re there! Just hop off the train and walk the rest of the way to work!

See that T-shape above “Tesla Delivery Center”? That’s the factory entrance.

All 2 miles of it. Pop quiz, what’s the average human walking speed?

Given that number, would you spend that amount of time walking to work? After spending the probably 10 minutes or so to drive to the station, assuming you can find parking and get on the train just as it arrives (trains are every 15 minutes during rush hour) the probably 30 minutes on the BART ride itself, after all that – would you walk the amount of time you calculated on a path that looks like this?

This is a 45mph road. It’s also half the walk. No, the other side has no sidewalk either.

“But Tesla looks good on a resume”

Yes… Tesla’s the best. If you’re really passionate about helping mother Earth, you’d do it. America’s the best, if you really treasure your freedom, you’ll put up with 60 minutes every day each way to go 20 miles, a distance which might as well be in the middle of nowhere because it’s all single family detached residential around here. Stop complaining already. Everyone else has to deal with it too. If you don’t like it why don’t you leave? I just suck it up like a real man. I’m proud of my country. I don’t like it either,

but look at me,

I don’t complain.

This attitude is why I hate Americans. “My country, right or wrong” – except worse, because it’s not about foreign vs domestic, it’s about “Fuck you, got mine“. There’s no reasoning going on, there’s no considering of alternatives, there’s no constant seeking for improvement, it’s “eh, who cares, fuck you, got mine”. American gamers say those who are better than them “have no life”, and say those who are worse than them “casuals”. Americans who are more successful than them are “lucky or “talented”, but when they taste success themselves it’s because they have “passion” and achieved it through “hard work”. It’s so prevalent everywhere it’s would almost be funny, except they get really serious when the shit hits the fan and still refuse to believe that any of this is related.

People want housing to be close to jobs and shopping. Higher population density means more people are closer to the same amount of things. Metro systems, which have guaranteed right-of-way on their rails, connect speedily and reliably even more people to the same amount of things. This speed simultaneously connects those people to more areas than before, meaning there’s more areas competing with each other, driving the price down of, among other things, rent. All of these things are objectively desirable. All of these things are required in an ideal city.

But the people don’t care. And the city planners don’t care. The public transportation workers don’t care. The public transportation leaders don’t care. No one cares, until it looks like it might be time for them to get their cut. Then it’s not in my backyard, not my job, sorry the project was more complicated than expected, it’ll cost twice as much and take three times as long, man that janitor worked really hard this year, he deserves a raise. And then it’s back to not caring. Maybe once every five years we’ll do a week’s worth of work. Maybe once every four years they’ll pay attention. And we’re the world police superpower anyways, it’s always going to be better to live here. If those slanty eyed chinks start getting uppity we’ll just nuke them. Time for a nap.

“That’s just how America works, you have to learn how to play politics”

Americans are so far up their own ass in marketing they can’t see what’s real anymore.

I say “they” because I don’t identify with any of what I described. I say “Americans” because that’s the largest and most accurate group for which I can see these traits. They appear in idiots everywhere, but in America they appear in general from bottom to top.

I also know, from bottom to top, it’s not true in Hong Kong, and from what I’ve heard it’s also not true in Japan. It’s not a “people” thing, it’s not genetic or inherent in human nature. It can be changed, it can be fixed. Hong Kong has problems with their attitude toward society, and so does Japan, but there are always imperfections, and the attitude towards that is “we will fix them“. Whatever the actual distribution, the rule of culture is to do your part. Society there naturally pushes people to contribute more and more.

Thanks to the isolation of suburbia, I’m not fully AMERICAn.

What does society in America tell its people? How do Americans treat each other? Not just the hello how are you nice weather today, but the actual systemic results?

BART… and I’m…

What does America think about anything that happens outside of America?

What do Americans think of anyone who has ideas about how the world could be?

Because fuck you, that’s why.


On Free Marketers’ Free Marketing of Free Markets

“The Free Market creates higher quality products at lower prices” is a tagline masquerading as an explanation, a simplification of a relationship of opposing parties down to one constant result. Any time something odd happens, libertarians et. all will say “it wasn’t a true free market”, “capitalism != corporatism”, or any number of words they define at that moment purely for rallying purposes.

These are the three parties that marketists marketers will talk about:

  1. The seller,
  2. The buyer, and
  3. The other sellers.

Supposing, for the duration of this post, that other parties and factors from government to culture and infrastruture to topography are as irrelevant as they say, they are still wrong about the balance of these three, and will basically be wrong about the balance everywhere even if the model was a neighborhood garage sale, a simulation run by a class of college students, or the same simulation run by children. Communists don’t understand human nature, and Marketers don’t understand it either. Libertarians are often pointed out as having a very high population of autists, which makes sense if we look into how they see the world: “I want it, therefore I will be given it”.

Let’s start with the seller.

People driven by profit are inclined to take as much money as they can while putting in minimum effort. Wherever it can, it will attempt to maximize in these two directions: it will sell down to whatever people are willing to accept, up to whatever price they are willing to pay. The best situation is for people to give them any amount of money they want for nothing. People have heard famously about 100$ Nike shoes costing 1$ to make, but their measly 11.25% profit margin isn’t the holy grail. “Rent-seeking” isn’t it either, they barely do much better at 12%, and were only at 2% before the start of the second great depression. No, the holy grail is much higher than that. The holy grail is 100%.

They are not your friends. Their best interests are not and will never be your best interests. They’ll try to be your friends. Just like how the street hustler with the cards will tell you you’re such a pretty girl, aw thanks you’re so nice. But if they can rig the cards while making you believe you can follow them, they will. And if they can make you feel at home while getting some of their actual friends to pick your pocket, they’ll do that too. Which they of course do, in whatever form it takes for their industry.

“People aren’t that mean!”

You’re paying for a product which is 97% profit.

Unless my blog is so great someone printed it out, you used it to read this post.

No need to disagree about how “the people would never stand for that”. They do. They have been for 20 years. It’s probably true in a number of other places too. So let’s talk instead about how it works and see if we can’t find out something that might predict where profit can be made, rather than waiting for libertarians marketers to complain afterwards about how something or other wasn’t a real free market.

The reason why they believe things shouldn’t happen this way is because of the buyer. Sellers can sell for whatever they want, but it doesn’t mean anything without the buyer, and the buyer will always want higher quality at a lower price.

…”And therefore the higher quality will appear at a lower price” would be golden, maybe someday a libertarian will actually say it and then I’ll have another permanent pet toy, but that’s basically what they believe and espouse without irony or further explanation. Tell this to a child and they’d know that something’s up. How is it possible that, when two people with opposing goals negotiate, one just always wins, and wins everything they want at the cost of the other guy? No middle ground? No give-and-take? Just a “And I would’ve gotten away with it too if it weren’t for you meddling kids”?

It should be obvious that if the buyer wants something that the seller doesn’t it won’t happen either, and marketers will recognize this logic when presented with their favorite S&D graph, but completely forget it otherwise. Outside it they use quotes like

There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.

which is surprising, or unsurprising, because they don’t realize the meaning of it being a well-publicized quote about consumers, from someone who didn’t make a name for themselves on consumer advocacy, but the exact opposite. The customer can fire everyone? Really? Can someone name the last time something like that happened? Everyone hates Comcast and EA, when’s the last time something substantial happened at those companies in any direction the customer wanted? Anyone?

The biggest problem in the model is that there isn’t one customer.

Every individual transaction may be one seller and one buyer but the vast majority of transactions only exist because there’s one seller and many buyers. Only a very few businesses can be made off of only one buyer, like being an artist in the Renaissance, or being Boeing, Bechtel, Raytheon, or Tesla today. Everyone else needs a bunch of customers. It’s basically true to say “the seller”, it’s basically untrue to say “the customer”.

And these customers don’t know each other – meaning if one guy is screwed the others won’t know, and if they do, they won’t care. Even if they do know, does it mean anything beyond an Angry reaction on Facebook? Does it affect the seller in any significant way?

A big thing happened a little while back; United Airlines beat up a customer to unreasonably get him off a flight, all recorded and known around the world minutes after it happened thanks to the wonder and ubiquity of smartphones. Reddit’s subforum for cat videos had nothing but pages and pages of stuff on UA, and apparently UA’s stock dropped by more than $1 Billion USD. Stock market being, we’re told, a reflection of consumer opinion.

Here’s a graph of UA stock. Can you tell me when the incident happened?

Are you looking for the biggest drop? It’s not so obvious is it. It’s somewhere in these last three months. Here’s the graph for the last year, which won’t help either.

The other problem is buyers generally don’t know anything about the product. It’s easy to say people want a higher quality product at a lower price, which is how you know it’s just a marketing line. Chasing the words will only lead you into the predetermined holes. In abortion you’re “pro-choice” or “pro-life”, but how can you say you’re against choice or against life?

Let’s ask an answerable question: How does a buyer know something is higher quality?

When you think of an average person looking up products to buy to fulfill a particular need, and they’re not simply buying the same thing they’ve bought before, they’re not just doing whatever their friends said, and they’re out looking for whatever is the best actual thing for the job, what do you think of?

That’s right. Reviews. Or if it’s Amazon/Yelp, not even the reviews, just the rating distribution. It better be mostly 5/5’s and have 100+ reviews or forget about it. The other routes would be it’d be whatever the bigger review magazines said, or if in a physical store whatever the Sales Associate™ said, or some brand with trustworthy-looking graphic design.

People don’t know what they’re buying and are buying only because they’re told to.

“Well what else could it be?”

Reading specsheets. i.e. Looking at the actual thing money is being paid for.

The reviews part is important too but we’ll get back to that in a bit.

When switching to a new case a while back I bought fans for my computer, a few Fractal Design Venturi HF-14s. Aside from positive reviews, I bought it because I knew a bit about what the product would actually do based off of what it said. Rubber corners means fan vibration doesnt lead to noise. Multi-size means I can use a larger fan i.e. push more air through my smaller components. It’s not a sleeve bearing so it’ll last longer. There’s a number for how many dB’s of noise it’ll make. There’s a lot of other stuff too which I don’t know how to read, but of what I do know, and I know some, it looked pretty good. Here’s their page on the product (backup link).

I also got a new fan recently because it’s summer and it’s hot, a Honeywell 7″ Power Air Circulator, but only because my mom had one too and I fiddled with it beforehand: quiet, small, high airflow, and the rotation is stiff rather than flimsy. But if I hadn’t had this experience, I wouldn’t have gotten it, because there’s nothing about it I can find beforehand that makes any sense. There’s no specsheets on it from Honeywell. On a Venturi box most of the specs are listed on the back. On the Honeywell box are:

  • 7″
  • 3 Powerful Speeds
  • Turbo FORCE Power
  • 25% Quieter
  • SAVE up to 20% on Energy Bills

and that’s it for specs. The back is in Spanish.

7″ and 3 speeds are the only specs on the box, everything else, including the stuff I did bother to list, is nonsense. I can tell you how much noise a Venturi makes, says right on the box, 26.5dB. I wouldn’t know if it makes 25 or 27, but I know what 20, 30, and 40dB are so it gives me a rough idea. “25% quieter” doesn’t tell me anything. Quieter than what?

25% quieter claim is based on internal sound test (#08-017) comparing model HT-900 to another similar sized air circulator, HT-800.

What’s the problem with listing the number on the box?

What’s that supposed to mean anyways? I need to buy your HT-800 first? Wouldn’t be the worst thing ever if I could access this “internal sound test #08-017”, but that’s also not public information. And what’s with the rest of it? “Turbo FORCE Power“? Graphic design from the 90’s doesn’t keep the hot air away. Do I need to go to the dollar store to pull examples of big bang words in fancy fonts and colors paired with products that aren’t worth the time spent in the drive over? Again, the fan isn’t actually so bad, but how would I know? Or, in obverse, I don’t know if there’s actually significantly better fans out I could’ve gotten instead of this one, because all of the stuff any of them list in their advertising is complete hot garbage.

Sure, Fractal Design could be lying to me, maybe the fan actually produces a louder 40dB instead, but Honeywell could’ve given me a trash fan and I wouldn’t be able to say anything about it because Turbo FORCE Power doesn’t mean jack squat. With the Venturi I know there’s certain other fans out there that are better at this or that, but for the size I had, and a price range I was willing to pay, it was the best in terms of airflow and noise level. I don’t know anything about the Honeywell except that I turn it on when it’s hot.

The same holds true for most people about anything they’re buying. They want something to fulfill a need, they look up what people have been saying about various products that claim to fulfill that need, they get one, and that’s it. It could be better, it could be worse. They don’t know. They don’t have a clue. And they don’t care; if they’re told it’s 5/5 stars and it doesn’t have any obvious problems for 6mo~1yr (depending on the person), it’s perfect by them. It just so happens there’s quite a lot of perfect products on Amazon and restaurants on Yelp waiting for everyone. God Bless America.

I’m not saying this way of doing things is wrong. If you can’t tell the difference in quality and you think it’s fine then for you it probably is. Let the people who care about what you see as minutiae deal with whatever they think the problem is. People only have so much time in a day anyways, no one person can be expected to be educated and perfectly informed on everything. Just recognize that you basically don’t know what you’re doing for most of the things you’re buying, you most likely aren’t getting the best, and are making decisions based off of pretty pictures and silver words.

For libertarians though:

This is supposed to be the grand ultimate force which is supposed to oppose money.

Certainly in some fields “the” customer holds more power than not, but it’s never, ever due to any populist reasoning. It’s more that a few powerful buyers with very strong opinions and very specific goals saying to the seller “I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse”, and less of everyone else absentmindedly reciting “The meek shall inherit the earth”. Buyers who only buy a product once or otherwise only think about it and then go on with their lives have no power in any field. Buyers who are recognized as informed and thus guide others opinions on the matter – those have power. They make the changes, everyone else is just the tool. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people; you don’t fire everybody in the company the chairman on down, popular reviewers do. Maybe. I haven’t seen it ever happen. But if it happens, it’ll be because of them, not because of any stupid Hollywood-tier Power To The People crap.

The more a seller relies on buyers with opinions, the more the balance shifts towards the buyers. The less a seller can be influenced by other people in power, the more the power shifts toward the seller. For higher quality lower cost product to exist, there must be powerful buyers whose desire is higher quality lower cost products. This is the full logic chain, not “if: competition, then: better cheaper stuff”.

There’s also plenty of powerful buyers whose desire is something other than higher quality lower cost products, a topic which I won’t get into in this post. Suffice to say, shilling is a thing. A really big thing.

Read a handful of Amazon Vine reviews, and tell me how many of them you think were written by a real person. Expand to big reviewers in general. Remember, they get free products from the company and make their living off of them. See also “Sponsored Content” and “Native Advertising”. Or just look at Starbucks.

The final party is the other sellers. There’s generally not a lot of other sellers. Certainly if there’s more of them, then it’s more likely that there’s going to be variances.

But even then it’s not like it’s all competition all the time. Even amateur markets like Artist’s Alley at anime and comic conventions have organizations. However many of them there are, there’s always lot more of you. Why is it that basically every stall you go to and every poster or charm you see, they’re all selling at about the same price? It’s not like some kind of reverse auction where they’re all scouting around the place all the time, starting at various different prices and all cut down over the course of a convention so they could cut into the profits of whoever was selling cheaper.

Because you’re faceless, and they’re not.

Even before the internet and “price-matching”, look on any older box, you’ll find that the price was already on the product. “MSRP”: Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price. And basically, unless it was Christmas Shopping Season or some other special event, that was the price for that thing, everywhere. That number can’t come to exist if we accept the libertarian individualist state of nature explanation of the world, where the manufacturer simple ships the product to a distributor, who cares who actually sells it in the end, let them figure out the price themselves I already got my cut.

No, obviously there’s a supply chain, distributors and retailers which have stayed in business, have connections, and use general agreed-upon practices and markups. They talk to each other and come to agreements. They don’t just roll over and say the customer wants higher quality at lower prices, whats my competitor got, time to offer higher quality at lower prices. Unlike you, they have to deal with the other guy tomorrow, probably the day after too, and potentially ten years from now. And the other guy has a lot more impact on them then literally who. Listed MSRP hard to find these days, but its existence and disappearance suggests certain structures, structures which generally haven’t changed, structures which show more cooperation with each other than with you.

Even if they only have one meeting with each other a year, it’s probably between a couple of their bigwigs, making a deal of some sort, setting up information sharing. What’s your connection to any of these manufacturers or retailers? One purchase? Maybe one review whose star rating is seen by 50 people? A call to customer service?

And then what? You got a higher quality product at a lower price from a competitor?

And that’s why this whole system is the best, thank god we aren’t communists?

If we assume it’s an average buyer with an average product, then it comes back to the same problem as before: There’s no knowledge that it’s actually a better product. What was better was the final opinion, because of the product not breaking or reading more shining reviews or friendly customer service that happened to resolve the problem this time rather than with the nonresolution with the other company, or who knows what else; whatever it is: not the product. “The free market provides higher quality products at lower prices” is literally completely unrelated to the actual experience, to most anyone’s actual experiences, yet it’s chanted at anything and everything nonstop all the time.

What sellers actually do: Sell poorer products at higher prices.
What buyers actually do: Look at whatever has the most positive/popular reviews.
What sellers actually do: Pay well-known reviewers to review positively.
What buyers actually do: Buy anyways.

This is the actual result.

“But it’s wrong and probably illegal for them to do some of the things they’re doing, let me try and find some law that supports my argument, then I’ll show you why it isn’t actually a free market” is not relevant. Sellers in a market want to make more money while having spent less to do it, and buyers in most markets, who number in magnitudes larger than the sellers, have no clue what they’re doing, put those two together and whatever fancy jargon you make up aside, the cards always fall this way. Maybe the details differ. Nike makes 10 cents per dollar rather than 97. Whatever. But 97 is possible, is happening, and the more companies do it the happier the people are.

That’s right: The more companies profit, the happier people are to buy from them. If the marketers’ ideology was true you’d expect to see the opposite. If people were actually so concerned about lower prices then there’d be info spread around about companies producing whatever product and compare all their profits to see who made the least. Assuming all their products cost the same, this should approximately mean that whoever is profiting the least put the most money into doing the work, therefore a better quality product. What we actually see is everyone wanting to wear Nikes driving Teslas drinking Starbucks while using their iPhone.

People want to spend money on expensive things that they’re told everyone else likes. They don’t need to know what’s in it as long as it doesn’t obviously break, they just need it to have the best reviews and be on the top of all the lists and the tip of everyone’s tongue. Nevermind if it actually breaks, or how it breaks, or how soon it breaks, technology is really complicated these days doncha know? The customer service guy was nice and I like the font and logo the brand uses. I’m proud to continue to support a company that says it’s the leader of innovation into the future. Nevermind if they do or not, who cares anyways, looking at numbers and comparing stats is for nerds.

This is supposed to be the grand ultimate force which is supposed to oppose money.

It opposes with as much resistance as you’d expect.

A little reprieve (+ FE/EIT thoughts)

I want to say I miss writing, but I can’t.

I haven’t actually stopped writing this time.

The past one and a half years this blog has been up, there have been several occasions where I’ve had to stop writing for whatever reason, and every time I come back I worry that I’ve forgotten how to write. I’d look over some of my old entries, some of my favorites, and then some others I’d spent a lot of energy writing yet the final product produced was not one I particularly enjoyed reading. How am I going to not going to make a fool of myself, What kind of image was I generally painting before and how do I get back to that? There’d always be a couple of hiccups, but the rhythm came back eventually. Perhaps the melody changed a bit each time, but that’s inevitable. Preferable even; I’ve hoped to keep this blog away from the textbook-style problem-solution posts some single-topic blogs usually turn into.

This time the rhythm never went away. A rest was planned, but an interlude happened instead.

This “chain of short stories” style that I’ve tried out in Intermissions is a good format. It allows directness in the immediate without directness in the whole, indirectness in the whole without indirectness in the immediate. There are certain things which can be said in this style that cannot be said, or are conveyed much less effectively, in writing where everything is made explicit first and then things are brought up from ground zero. By “cannot”, I mean more that they “should not”, in the same sense that you should not be asking someone to go out to buy you pizza or snow bubble. These things simply are not the same if you are not there to experience it as they happen. Can you still have them in the other fashion? No one says you cannot have warm soda. But I will not produce it anymore, now that I have seen how to keep it cold. In a world of hyper accurate data and more colorful than life pictures, it requires some strength of imagination to see how delivering it differently changes the “actual content”. In this analogy, I will only produce photographs of certain things in black and white.

It also allows me to be personal without being personal. As much as I value removing the “me” off the stage so I can direct the spotlight onto the idea, every so often I’d stop the show and have something where I simply rant without nearly as much discretion or finesse. These are fine, and perhaps necessary: anger is good so long as its execution is attempted coherently and cohesively. But I have more things in my head, and want to convey more things, than simply pure anger or pure thought. Mysticism too has a place and some of its points should be developed more fully: anger already makes cameos with sarcasm and thoughts appear with tangential questions, magic too should also have more than a simple poetic arrangement of words here or there. Ironically, they appear to be much cleaner posts. Keeping a pure-thought post is very difficult, and pure-anger is always going to be dirty, but a pure-magic can easily be kept clean by directing whatever kind of energy I have at the moment to a different section of the post. If there is a switch of energy type, I work the other sections and come back later.

When I realized I don’t aim to be a “content creator” or someone who must create novel things at a nitpick rate, it really doesn’t feel like I’ve stopped at all.

Just a little change in course, the boat never set down anchor.


The main justification for the planned hiatus was the Engineer in Training, or Fundamentals of Engineering exam. That exam occurred yesterday, so the reason no longer exists. It will not exist again in the future even if I have to retake it, unless they dramatically change its format – its format is the most important thing.

The FE/EIT was different from what I had expected. My only knowledge of it came from my dad and my uncles, who took it thirty or so years ago. Of course I had the little bulletpoints data from various sources including the NCEES itself, but they are the colorings to the main structure, which I build from listening to the experience of others. I was told that the first half was multiple choice and the second half was long answer, so I prepared for that. When I found out that both halves were now multiple choice, I still prepared to show every single step. When I found out the second half was 60 questions and not 10 or fewer, and the first half was 120 questions, I pressurized my prior understanding of the evidence and deduced it would be an extremely hard exam.

But it wasn’t. And this can be said regardless of whether I end up passing or not, because the structure is different.

Some preliminary numbers. These reflect only my experience of the April 2013 FE Exam in “Other Disciplines”. Re-note that I expected a very different exam going into the test, and did not realize it was different from what I expected until I completed my first pass on the first half. Absorbing this knowledge will probably have effects on how you think of the test and thus also how you approach studying it. Though I did not study all too much in the end, I did drop many things in the anticipation of needing to be completely thorough (my default understanding of any test is that I have to ace not relative to my peers, but relative to the test). Mental state is important.

This discussion does not violate the NCEES Candidate agreement. No “disclosing of exam questions, problems, or answers” occurs.

AM: 4 hours, 120 questions – avg 2 min/question

Total time to complete: 4 hours
First pass: ~3 hours, 23/120 skipped (19.2%) – avg 1.8 min/question completed
Final pass: 4 hours, 0 skipped – avg 2.6 min/qC
Other: 10/23 were on one topic.

PM: 4 hours, 60 questions – avg 4 min/question

Total time to complete: 3 hours 45 minutes
First pass: ~90 minutes, 18/60 skipped (30%) – avg 2.1 min/qC
Second pass: +~110 minutes, 6/60 skipped (10%) – avg 9.2 min/qC
Final pass: +~45 minutes, 0 skipped – avg 7.5 min/qC

The FE exam has no truly complex problems.

All of the questions are written in such a way so that you either know it or you don’t. Ignoring reading errors or something procedural, it is technically possible to do every problem with no pauses for “Hmm, what do I do next?”.  The average for first pass of all completed problems would probably be closer to about 1.2 for both the first and second halves, if you omitted pondering over the questions that weren’t done on the first pass. There were a handful of problems which took a couple of minutes for simply executing the math, but the conceptual setup was two or fewer steps for every single problem. Every problem that was doable was hit-and-go: read, understand, scan possible answers for an obvious choice, if not then execute and plug in calculator. On the first passes, I did not use the supplied reference manual. Some things on there were trivia questions, trivia both as “superfluous” and as “fundamental”. After a year or so with engineering courses that take an hour or three per homework problem, this was very different.

The second pass was when the reference manual came in. For all the problems requiring knowledge you don’t have or can’t bring up on the spot, it is in the manual (except for those trivia questions). If the first pass was about memory and recall, the second pass was about searching quickly. Though the answers are basically in the reference manual for every problem, the problem is whether or not you can find the information in time. The reference manual is 264 pages with a noninsignificant density of equations and words on each page. It is not exactly an answer key; you must be able to disseminate effectively with your time. This applies also to the problems themselves: are you understanding what the problem is asking? This was my trouble with the economics problems, which were the 10/23 I skipped on the first pass of the first half.

But they were all doable in the end. In a sense, all problems were hit-and-go. I hit all the problems. I just didn’t, on some of them, go very quickly after hitting because I didn’t understand what was going on. Understanding what is going on is also a skill, and I think it is something underrated in this “information-driven world”. The way the exam is set up, it was very clear that the “Other Disciplines” or “General” engineer really didn’t need to study completely in depth what toxicology or biology topics there were. Don’t remember the formula for sonic booms, or never even learned about concrete? That’s fine. There’s a book here. Can you find what you need, and can you understand what it says in the standardized way we have written it in?I think it is the essence of thinking and learning. Learning always will require “regurgitation” of some manner, otherwise it’d be creation. But there is a difference between linear storage and reproduction and its nonlinear “counterpart”. For the former, both the source and the receiver are obvious, and no mental motion or agility is necessary. For the latter, you don’t know where you’re going to find the information you need; finding the source is part of the work.

NCEES could not allow simply open book everything due to the existence of telecommunications, but a 264 page handbook is pretty close to that.

At least in structure, I think the FE/EIT is a respectable test.


It’s been a while since I’ve made a non-magical-style post. According to dating, “Journey” was posted on 1/14, so exactly three months. I believe most of the occurrences were covered one way or another inside sections of the Intermissions, so I’ll go over just a list of things that have occurred that I’ve not posted about due to a desire to keep a fluency.

    • New Year’s Resolution has not been dropped, though liberties have been taken. Jan-Feb had two books: Hagakure, which fit the age requirement, and Antifragile, which fit the length requirement. They were both influential books, though perhaps not as influential as they would be had I written my thoughts on them. I plan on rereading Antifragile eventually, as it has a wealth of various ideas I did not fully absorb on this first pass. My memory of the book is centered around the chapter “Via Negativa”, which is very similar to my not so concise “All else is halation” (they are both what they sound like). Hagakure I am currently rereading and collecting the best quotes. At the very least my quotes list will be modified with a couple of entries from Hagakure, but I may also make a post on what I found were the best quotes, or even do an Art of War additional commentary style along with it. Current reading for March-April was not decided on until last week or so; George Fitzhugh’s “Sociology for the South: The Failure of Free Society”. Will probably spill over into May.
    • I have not been reading any Manosphere posts, and will remove them from the blogroll sometime in the near future. Some exceptions of course, being those that have very intelligent writers and can be used to train the mind with “game” or “pick up artistry” simply happening to be the training ground. While I continue to respect their viewpoint and will read the world with a more conscious eye towards women, I do not think the direction is very respectable. For the more respectable ones there is a lack of direction, for the less respectable ones they are creating misdirections. There is a site called “Return of Kings”, about picking up women. Is that what it means to be a king? How much you can market yourself to women? I do not think so.
    • No more videogames. Ever since I posted the quote about videogames from Muv-Luv Unlimited here, I’ve basically stopped. I want to play with friends, but I have no friends to play with who understand games in the same fashion (which is necessary). However, this has also led me to realize that I’ve always had something to play that trains my mind at speed and precise [analog] positioning. Now with no more video games, I have been searching for something to fill the gap. The potential solution at the moment is music. I have obtained an old electronic piano, and am looking at obtaining an electric violin.
    • Sleep has been getting lighter and shorter. This is partially due to the hotter temperatures and the fact that my room is situated above the AC unit of the apartment below, but also due to other untraced reasons.
    • I’m going to continue linking back to previous important entries. This one will have links in time, just lazy at the moment. The intermissions will not be retroactively edited in this manner, though future magic-style posts will probably have them, at least in certain sections.
    • I am not quitting cycling. I like going fast.
    • However, I am “quitting” engineering. Though completely shitty classes, uncaring professors, and a complete disconnect between the stories I hear from the older generation to what I see and experience with applying for jobs and internships, civilization has managed to break my dream of expanding to space. It is fairly clear to me there is no place for anyone in this world. It is all too easy now to see that the world does not actually “need” more engineers. If you need someone, you do not make them crawl and beg. In retrospect it’s obvious. Silicon Valley needs more science majors? Sure they do, and they’ll continue importing them from India. Does this make me bitchy? As much as I love the Glengarry Glen Ross speech from Alec Baldwin, that existed in a context of a different world. There is no “other context” in this world anymore, not as far as I can see. If anything the foreground and background have switched places: now the wife you used to go home to is doing PR, and the man who worked cutthroat is doing everything behind the scenes. There is nothing left. If you truly need no one else, can forge your own existence from nothing to something, and hold everything off for all time… good for you. I cannot. Does this make me weak? I’d like to think that, in the context of the rest of my personality, it makes me human.

The Machinery of Order

I’ve been out playing a videogame the past few days, and Saint’s Row: The Third has got to be the most fun game I’ve ever played. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who asks. I got the game packed with all of its DLC for 25 (normal cost: 100) on Steam’s summer sale; it’s still at that cost for the next 24 hours or so, and 50% off until the 22nd. Just the game itself costs 13 (normal: 50).

It may be the best game I’ve ever played. It doesn’t take the title for sexiest models or greatest storyline (TERA; Muv-Luv Alternative). Many things, like the income system and the general open world gangster setting have been observed in other places (Assassin’s Creed; GTA). However, the writing was what put the piece together. The humor was really what kept me going – I never really cared for driving across the map to do a car theft just to drive it back to the other side of the map. Weaving around or evading cops was pretty fun, but it wasn’t anywhere near… good. I’ve had chuckles or moments of excitement and tension in a game before, but it was during Saint’s Row: The Third that I had my first time laughing out loud and excited at doing what I was doing.

It was the superior writing that illustrated to me the other most important reason why I found the game fun:

I was guided through the whole thing, and while I wasn’t guided I didn’t know what was going on.

I’ve finished the main storyline, and I still don’t know where things are. I’ve used maybe half the guns available to me and don’t know how to operate the other ones. I’ve stolen cement mixers, motorcycles, and schoolbusses, but I still haven’t found a stationary lamborghini or a truck head to make my own. I’ve touched watercraft a grand total of twice and both times for missions, and I’ve used airplanes once because I wondered if there were any. I was at the last mission when I figured out there was a bonus for doing nutshots, and only shortly before that did I figure out that using the phone menu to call certain “homies” would summon them to fight alongside you.

A while ago I pondered the reason why I stopped playing Skyrim. I thought it either had something to do with the fact that I took on too many quests at the same time, or with me looking up stuff on the wiki. At the time I took the former more seriously, but didn’t revisit it when I got bored of the game. Having too many things to do affects your ability for purposive action in a fairly obvious manner: it’s the definition of a dilemma if we throw bad consequences in, and the definition of paralysis if we don’t. The second one, however, has more value than I understood then: the ability to know where things are before you’ve looked for them with no linked consequences though (i.e. paying for maps in-game, or doing favors for an NPC who then shows you how to do this or that) warps your mind. The more you can obtain advantages in something without putting in resources (all-encompassing for risk, time, capital, etc.) relative to that, obviously you’d care less about it. If you learned a whole course online and not from the professor you were enrolled with, you wouldn’t give him an ovation in the last lecture. If you had an innate talent for something, you wouldn’t feel as attached to the skill as the guy who worked his ass off to get to the same level. For many activities this caveat can be overlooked, since we actually seem to be fine with not caring about our jobs or classes, and we actually do need to build a base understanding of many things that have a very low probability of intriguing people. In a game however, you are only doing one thing – playing the game (If you were only looking up, say, shooting techniques and not running techniques, it would be different.).

These two are part of a larger principle.

I’ve quoted John Titor on how knowledge is a function of time and situation – I already do not believe that information is strictly good. It was clear to me that there are better and worse situations for any given piece of information. But now, I am taking it to zero and infinity: Some knowledge must always be known, and some knowledge must never be known. A rather awkward wording since “always” and “never” would be read as time adjectives, but the structure at least mystically captures my intent. If it is true that knowledge is a function of time and situation, then it is clear that it is at least possible for some things to never be good.

However the devs ended up balancing the economics and the damage and the sizing and all the factors of Saint’s Row: The Third, the important thing was that it kept me on rails. The fact that it is open world and you can mostly do what you what mostly how you want as long as you aren’t in missions is tangential to why the game is amazing. It is quite possible for a story to be mind blowing and intense without giving you any options at all – it’s called a book, or a movie. And there are many of them which are better than supposed open-world games. In Skyrim, I played it for the main storylines. I didn’t enjoy sorting through what I could carry around. I gave up on alchemy early on. Smithing was only so I could have cool stuff to use so I wouldn’t die during those main missions. Dragons were okay, but not why I played the game. In Just Cause 2, the only thing that kept me going was new trinkets. The story wasn’t too good, and I started loathing the game after a while because you can’t ever outdo the AI. There were no big interesting things to do. It was always an, oh, I can do anything I want to…. but I don’t want to do anything. The average free-to-play MMORPG these days is also, by definition, open-world. But you aren’t seeing any of them at the top of any charts, and rather than playing one of them, it’d probably be better for you to watch Fight Club again.

The best open-world videogames are those which show why these characters are the main characters, and why these storylines are main storylines. It isn’t just because they have screentime dedicated to them (an absolute value). It’s because they have more screentime dedicated to them (a relative value). It’s because you give them the screentime, and you know why you are giving them more screentime. This I contend is the reason why truly free and true sandbox games are never super big hits and never really remembered. The Sims allows you to create your own character and build your own house, but it gets repetitive real quick because it’s only about the next gimmick. Cities XL allows you to build your city however you want. With some rules of course: if you put your residential right next to heavy industry and have shops nowhere to be found, people aren’t going to come to your city. But even with these rules, there’s nothing to create. It wasn’t a creative act – after the first few placements, things I did were not positive anymore, but rather anti-negative. I was no longer building, but fixing. I need to build more of this, or more of that. No real sight of the big picture, the only thing seen is what to do on the margin. The world becomes the margin and only the margin – and because what that margin is about changes on a moment to moment basis, because there is no unifying purpose or whole, life itself becomes halation.

It isn’t just the “getting more stuff”, or “go to work make a family grow old with your love” that’s halation. If you live in the margin, all of it is halation. You can’t escape it. The margin is the halation.

“All this choice made it possible for me to do better but I felt worse.”

“There’s no question that some choice is better than none but it doesn’t follow from that that more choice is better than some choice.”

“The value of choice depends on our ability to perceive differences between the options.”

It may be a useful perspective to see differing people and professions as simply the training and experience which allows us to make choices. Ignore the non-person logistical details of muscle memory, jargon, capital, and business connections. If we just look at the person logistics, the mental logistics, this is all there is:

The ability to perceive differences is what differs one mind from another.

Everything else – religion, culture, discipline, language – is a tool for that, because differentiating is what allows us to act in reality. What is creativity, experience, or leadership, but the ability to decide on the better one where it counts, to perceive differences and thus live in a world that others don’t even know exists? This is the reason division of labor exists in any group – because better decisions are made by those who can perceive the relevant differences. Those “professionals” are used as such not because they have a higher probability of making the right decision, but because it significantly lowers the probability of horrible effects from coming into existence.

I was an anarchocapitalist for a long time, and the most asked question (aside from “who will build the roads”) was “should everyone really have access to nuclear weapons”? I always had some long answer about how everything would be decided by the free market, how nukes would be expensive and they’d probably have some really stringent contracts and controls. Kind of bullshitty, really. It’s not really access for everyone then is it? Should everyone be able to have a nuke, yes or no? Most people answer no, but they don’t have a principled answer because they live inside halation. “No because people could get killed” means nothing, because it’s really easy to point out where murder is the best possible option (read: good). And then they run through random topics like headless chickens, talking about capital punishment and the prison system, whatever. The answer is no because people don’t know how the fuck to use a nuke.

The same concept applies everywhere because in 99% of possible human activity, you don’t know what to do.

There are some people better than others, at any given point in time. Yes, you could learn. Yes, you too could gain some of the abilities the pros at whatever field have. But right now, you don’t know. Right now you don’t have the skills, the perception reservoir. Do you disrespect a 70 year old kung fu master now, because you can beat him up and eventually you might be able to learn everything he has to say? Do you look down on doctors’ advice, because if you spent enough time on Google and Wikipedia, you too could make an informed decision? Do you ignore the captain and flight attendants’ advice or orders because you might eventually go to flight school and learn all the things there are to learn about safe conduct aboard airplanes? Would you just ride alongside in a cycling race, even though your failure to understand peloton mechanics could do anything from ruining the race or ruining the lives of more superior competitors? It doesn’t matter what you could eventually do if you spent however much time on it, and this concept will still apply even when humanity gains immortality. One can not act now with the power he will have later.

It is a fact of life that you will have situations where your best course of action is defer agency to do as you’re told. Better people do not see more options. They see less. It is the people who don’t know any better who see everything at the same time, not knowing what to do or how to act. The best person for the job in any given field is the one that sees the fewest and most correct options. Not so obvious is that the fundamentals of anything are the most difficult. It is obvious, however, that the best people in their fields are the professionals, or the pros.

The best people at social organization, i.e. those who are best at understanding and managing the condition of man both in themselves and in others, are the aristocrats.

Just as the pros should make decisions because they are the best at finances or engineering or art or whatever, the best at politics should rule in politics. Aristocracy – rule by the elite. And of course, there is a best of the best.

He’s called the monarch.

Note that any reactions about slavery or feudalism or imperialism or things like that are all simply uses magic words. I have not mentioned any specific political policies (outside of the nukes thing). What I have done is go through the logic and ended up here. Another common reaction I saw when I argued anarchocapitalism was that it was simply a world of chaos, and that eventually, gangs would form and some dictator would be on top – and we need a state to counter that. This is more correct and desirable than they think.

Equalitists bitch that we are oppressed right now, but really, right now is about as close to what they want as reality can get it. You have all your choices of salad dressings, bread, lettuce, apples, and cakes at the supermarket. All your life choices and change you could make whenever you want just by going back to college. All the women in the world are now open to you through a massive array of online dating sites. Co-ed dorms. Co-sex bathrooms. Co-sex workplaces. The more equal we get the less happy about that we get. People are confused about why things aren’t getting better, and think that if only things would get better, they’d get better. Really. They don’t realize that the problem IS the confusion.

What we have right now is an extremely high amount of chaos. Professors aren’t taken seriously in their lectures, and less important fields are now on equal ground as more important fields, political leaders are seen ss more electable if they are more like the common man. The hundred million choices at the electronics stores. Cultural relativism. Philosophical relativism. Identity relativism. Everything might as well be fucking equal now even if it isn’t yet; getting things more equal will not change anything because all it does is dissolve MORE things into the halation. Marriage, religion, tradition, and politics have already gone to shit. You name it, it can go to shit too.

Gangs form in chaos because they are better at the unifier than most people. They are better at providing happiness all things given than others are, and they are upheld as leaders. If this is not true, the gangs fall apart because the group is not as good as another group. Small groups of superior skill will always form, and power relations will always be established because they are symbiotic. Dictators are simply whoever happens to be the best of the best at the given point in time. Those who do not survive a reasonable test of time are brought down and remembered as tyrants. Those who do survive and prove themselves to be that much better at the unifier than everyone else for a long period of time are remembered as heroes.

You have people who you defer to in your lives. You do. Maybe you don’t know their names, maybe it’s Wikipedia. But you defer to some human agency, in some factor. You defer to them not in the same way you’d defer to an opponent or an enemy, not in a purely responsive manner, but in a submissive manner. Maybe it’s not even an entity, but some idea. The philosophy you subscribe to, no matter how much you’ve made it yours, was contributed to by someone else. You did not choose everything in your life. Someone else makes choices for you in some way, and you like it. If you don’t like the choice, you at least like that you don’t have to make the choices that led to that choice. If your mother made you or bought you all your meals and you liked that better than having to drive out to wherever, buy stuff and come back to prepare everything yourself, you deferred to your mother and she had power over you. We are not free agents. We are parts of greater wholes, whether we are the monarch who makes the political decisions for a nation or we are a child who decides what dolls she wants to play with. The monarch respects and follows the advice of his advisors or mentors. The child does her chores and eats her vegetables.

If the monarch does not defer and does not make good decisions, he will be overthrown. If his advisors plan behind his back and work against him, they will be executed. If the child does not defer and chooses bad things, she will not have a fun childhood. If her parents are too controlling, they will not have a good time as elderlies. All optimal relationships are symbiotic. If the quote “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man,” seemed familiar, that’s because it was from The Godfather.

We are all children who no know nothing in some aspect of reality; players who need game world designers.

I loved Saint’s Row: The Third because the devs were masters. I’d join the Saints if I were in Steelport because they are the best, not just because they have the aesthetics and style, but because they are the most powerful, morally correct, and funny of all the groups. The open world game structure is great, but as Just Cause 2 showed, without a great plot the freedom means nothing. Who cares if the mechanics are amazing, if the game moderators are always there to screw things up? Why does it matter that the items look good, if they’re in a game where the market is inflated by farmers and nobody at the studio has a fix for it? I’d rather read a book, oppressive as the storyline is, than deal with that. Similarly, there are many, if not most, things in life where it really would be better for society and individual health if people didn’t need to choose things. Yes, we all know how good freedom can be. But it is not the only thing that is required.

Order (aka happiness) is the general unifying principle of human activity. Not freedom (aka equality).

And Order is created through Authority.

It’s Never Over

A decade ago, it was DMCA. It passed.

A couple of years ago, they had something whose name I forget. It got shut down. Maybe.

Last year, we had ACTA. It passed.

This year, we had SOPA/PIPA.

These laws don’t come around by themselves, folks. The same proposals keep appearing until they’re passed for a reason: these trends are systematically produced. Both out of our society’s system of thought (culture), and our society’s system of action (government) – and thus, both must be fixed before this problem disintegrates.

I have already commented at length on how this culture’s interpretation of intellectual property and the mere existence of the concept that you can “plagiarize” destroys civilization at the most basic levels.

I have also briefly discussed the most basic and inevitable long-term tr/end of democratic government, namely that it destroys culture and always replaces effective rules with ones less so.

Here are two longer commentaries on the second piece.

David Friedman: “Market Failure” – why all the criticisms of free markets are the exception on markets, and the norm in states.

Patri Friedman: “Seasteading” – how government works today, and how it can be made vastly more efficient.

IP is not an issue I can really question – I have never believed that ideas can be owned. It has never made particular sense to me either. A bookstore or a library has always been praised by the people around me as the most holy place I could visit ever since I was a child, because it was free knowledge and I could learn as I pleased. However, many of them would turn around and tell me that I shouldn’t download files from the internet (which completely ignores how the technicals of data transfer works, but regardless). This made no sense to me. The theory has been that if you go to a bookstore and read that author’s book or read a bit before buying it – or hell, go ahead and read the whole thing – so that you want to buy the book. Indeed, even if you could not read it prior to buying it, you could not have known whether or not you wanted it unless you had heard about it. Almost all of the time, as the structure of human society goes, will be by “hearsay”.  It will not be directly from the producer, and this has not been the case for as long as human interaction has existed.

If you don’t believe me, try extending the interpretation back into the time where people actually needed to go to markets to buy things. Would you actually have the time to stop by every single stall in town to figure out what you wanted to buy and who from? If you were a trader, how would you know where in the world to get connections? Or hell, just look in your own life. How many people you interact with and trust are simply because some contract somewhere, or one of your friends informed you, that this other person you’re interacting with is any good?

And in any case, it’d be pretty horrible if all you could ever hear about a product before buying it was straight from the producer. Pure advertising would be the sum total of your interaction with other people.

Books are essentially the same as files on a computer, except that files on the computer are even better – while the cost of production of a book is somewhat considerable, the cost of production of a file is zero. The common argument is that the initial cost of production would be a lot of work… i.e. how many millions of dollars went into making that movie, and you just “stole” it “like that”. This however does not state anything new. How many things did the author of that book give up in his life, how many professions and hobbies did he not pursue, how many lives did he not pursue, in order to write his story and get it out to you, all in hopes of you understanding his message and maybe supporting him financially? He has accepted that price, that he cannot simply charge absolutely everyone for just taking a peek at his ideas, because he believes that the cost is worth the benefit.

Time and time again throughout history, it has been observed that true value in ideas works perfectly fine without the traditional transaction model. Today, we observe artists putting songs and developers putting games out for free, in a “pay what you want” model. Games in particular now are progressively moving towards a freemium model, where you play as you please and then pay for extra stuff later – if you want to. There is no hoarding for these people, and often they earn much more than they would otherwise. The donation style songs mentioned, for instance, can often receive millions of dollars in a single day.

Indeed, one era of history had piracy so rampant, so much that the creators encouraged it, so much that the creators were famous and lived very well off, so much the works are still hailed today as the foundations of an entire field of study:

Classical Music.

Indeed, virtually all of the big names of classical music — Bach, Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, Berlioz — composed without copyright and were not dismayed when their works were performed without their participation or consent. Composers through the Romantic era would often borrow passages from their peers and predecessors and develop creative orchestrations and variations thereof. This was not considered to be theft but rather the ultimate compliment: a demonstration that a composer had been able to cultivate a musical idea that could now thrive independently of his efforts.

– Gennady Stolyarov II, Mises Institute, “Writers Can Prosper Without Intellectual Property

But today, more and more people support IP, ostensibly because it “hurts the artists”. Completely ignoring how the publishing industry and its control over regulations and the state have never given artists a fair deal and never will given this system, it’s a one sided act. So you desire to force people to pay for your ideas – but you do not wish to pay for others, “at least until you have had the chance to ascertain their value”? Well… thats what others want to do too. And in the end, it really works out better for both you and them, if you let that happen. There are numerous studies on things from movie downloads to reverse engineering complicated medical patents that show copying costs people approximately the same or in some cases significantly more than it would if they had done things through the official legitimate means. Switzerland, for example, used at least one of these statistics to allow downloads for personal use because overall, they help the economy.

This entire argument rests on the assumption that libraries, bookstores, and similar places are havens of knowledge which the pious can visit and learn from. If you do not believe this, then all of  it falls apart.

I assume that you believe knowledge is something to be respected and that it is a tool to help your fellow human beings – and the only way to help them is to give the tool to them. If it is a philosophy like what I discuss here, then it is to give them a better life framework. If it is music or art, it is to soothe or inspire them. If it is a methodology or technology, it is to enhance their abilities to achieve their goals. Yes, they most certainly can just run off with it and not pay the proper respects to either you or the “original” creator.

But they should, in an ideal system. And the most optimal way to achieve an ideal system where people themselves hold themselves to high standards, is to always and everywhere have high expectations of everyone.

I could make a complete case for IP being ridiculous from ground up, but again, it’s not an area I’m familiar with, and really isn’t one I am particularly interested in. I have stretched past the limits of my desire to explore this topic simply by writing this long single argument.

Fundamentally, it doesn’t really matter whether or not I or you believe in IP.

What does matter is what everyone else is going to do [about what they claim they believe].

And some law or protest or whatever isn’t ever going to change any of that.

[Edit: Now have a literal “It’s Never Over”.]


What is complained about is “excess greed”.

Socialists, statists, Occupy Wall Street protestors, general leftist culture… they talk about how corporations run without caring for their employees or customers, how everything to the elite is just numbers on a chart and not human faces.

We will for the duration of this post accept that these “elite”, whoever you or they might want them to be, are completely heartless bastards who have no humanity. Or whatever. It does not particularly matter how you wish to elaborate. Let us say they are greedy, evil people. When they want something, they simply plug it into their spreadsheets or hold a few high-class boardroom meetings. If they can get something to “work”, they put it into motion emotionlessly, destroying ecosystems, breaking up families, and ruining lives – just so they can profit and have a bigger number on their computer screen.

Let us also accept that those who oppose these monsters are the side of good and justice. They live to make a change in the world, and they change the world by living. They defend the world from destruction and the masses from oppression, and this is what they strive for every moment of their lives. It doesn’t matter if it’s unreasonable or unfeasible. If there’s a will, there’s a way.

“Greed”, and “Justice”. To be perfectly honest, even if I accept these things, I don’t understand why “Justice” is more respectable.

No king, emperor, or tyrant has ever believed that something he wanted could be accomplished without some cost. If he wanted a land that was occupied by another group or another ruler, he knew that either money or people must be spent, risked, and perhaps lost. Corporations today want profit, but they take into consideration the moves they must use to manipulate public opinion, how much inventory to keep at what time, and how much funding to put into R&D and what product lines to discontinue. On the other hand, protestors, revolutionaries, and mere commoners honestly believe that they should be allocated goods and services by the hand of god for the sheer belief that their actions are “right”. Today we have outrage when there is suggestion that people who want welfare – read: free money – have to go through drug tests and other restrictions. Everywhere you look there are self-righteous people. They aren’t greedy. They “just want what they deserve“.

Space-time dictates that a law of reality is opportunity cost: If you are doing one thing, you are necessarily not doing another. Economics expands this: You pay people to do things you want to do, but didn’t do because you had something else you wanted to do even more. All costs are opportunity cost. Greed acknowledges cost. Corporations must acknowledge the existence and desires of the people they want to reap profit from. This is why they employ thousands upon thousands of people to just take care of organizing numbers.

Justice does not acknowledge cost. Protestors don’t need to know what you think. If you don’t agree with them, you’re wrong. If you don’t give them what they want, they take it from you.

If “Greed” can’t get what they want, they tell their researchers to find new ways of doing things, to create better products to beat out the competition. If “Justice” can’t get what they want, they yell louder, destroy things, or get the most powerful mafia in the history of mankind to point guns at the people they don’t like. I speak, of course, of government.

I apologize, that last picture was painted incorrectly. There is one way for “Greed” to do things without acknowledging cost. That is for them to use the government as well.

If we remove this monopoly, then Greed must acknowledge reality once more. This is why free market supporters continue to use the line “voluntary exchange” and “win-win”: in the end given no “hand of god”, greed will arrive at the optimal situation – to convince you that interacting with them will get you what you want. Thus competition produces “truth” and value. However, there is nothing that can make Justice acknowledge reality. They will always pursue what they think is right, all else be damned.

Both Greed and Justice are unlimited desires (as are all desires). One works with reality. The other works against it.

“Reality”… is other people. Is mankind.

After all the evil people in this world are dead, will this world be peaceful?


In the sense that they are both categories of desire, they are identical. They are simply different versions of some other concept.

We could say, and not inaccurately: Greed is Humility, and Justice is Pride.

Justice is the “excess greed”.