Coming to terms with being human.


Natural Reactions (Part One)

I decided to post this after deleting another bit of spam from my inbox. It went a little long, so the conclusion will come in the next post.

Current legislation and programs against spam have me worried. Although I can’t stand the spam technique, creating architecture that blocks information can only work against Internet users. The solution to spam is found in meatspace, in social environments that pay attention to the natural communication practices of human beings.
Spam is such a prevalent and foreseeable problem of Internet communication. In Game Theory, spammers would be considered freeloaders, individuals that profit from a system at the expense of the other participants. Freeloaders develop when a system requires cooperation between users but does not provide a satisfactory way of telling whether a particular user is participating constructively.

In the case of online communication, spammers subvert the system by not conforming to humanities inherent social processes. Inherent social processes develop out of our epigenetic makeup, ISPs are the basis for the social rules that every culture has in place and the majority of humans naturally follow. These include proximity rules (strangers do not normally rub up on other people), social deference (such as a quick con permiso when passing through a tightly packed crowd), and a hundred other unwritten rules. In meatspace, ISPs lead us to develop social environments that conform to and , ideally, enhance social interaction.

Unlike meatspace, the Internet was not initially developed with ISPs in mind. This allows spammers, chat flamers, role-playing campers, and the like to perform non-social and anti-social actions with impunity. Flame wars and road rage are textbook examples of the price paid for ignoring ISPs. John Cleese, in a BBC series entitled The Human Face, proposed a theory of road rage. He asked why people are having rage problems in cars but not on sidewalks. Cleese’s proposal was that on the sidewalk body language and verbal niceties calm potential altercations. Cars, on the other hand, are devoid of body language. When a person cuts us of on the highway there is no way to tell if it was accidental or intentional. In the same way, flame wars in chat rooms burn out of control due to the terse nature of the written word. Sarcasm is mistaken for real attitudes, jokes are taken as slights. The chat community has even developed it’s own hieroglyphs to alleviate the problem.
Of course, not all flame wars are caused by misunderstanding. Many freeloaders take advantage of the relative anonymity of the online environment to let lose the worst side of their personality. Solutions are being developed for this also. Sites like Slashdot and Kuro5hin utilize reputation systems that reign in the worse side of human nature. Reputation systems rank users by their status in the online community. Mindless posts are given low ratings; allowing readers to disregard the drivel and giving writers a reason to be civil and well-informed. Reputation systems layer a social structure into online communication, paying due attention to ISPs and profiting from it.
If Internet users want to solve the spam issue they need to support measures that conform the online world to real world social structures. More on this later…



I was raised in a farming community in Illinois. Though not from a farming family, I came to understand the life that farmers live, mainly through my friends. Farming is tough: the work is difficult, the days are really long, and the price of beans is beans.
Family farms are disappearing. The cost of running a farm is insane, so only major corporations are making steady profits. All this is just to say that I feel for farmers.
A Korean farmer killed himself in protest yesterday. He was at the WTO meeting in Cancun along with thousands of other people. If you haven’t been following the WTO meetings, they are the biggest protest sites on the planet right now. Fire bombing, sign raising, mimes… you get it all at a WTO meeting.
So this Korean man, a veteran protester, is upset that countries like the United States are making it impossible for poor rural farmers to survive. The U.S. seems to think that providing t-shirt sweatshops for their children to work at should be enough. Lee Kyung Hae, while holding a sign that said, “WTO Kills Farmers,” stabbed himself in the chest, taking his own life.
I am not in favor of suicide, especially in protest. I do wonder why I live in a world that drives a man to these measures. I also wonder how a person could care that much about a cause. Kierkegaard asked for a reason to live or die. What possible cause could be that important to him? He looked around, tasted the philosophies of his day, and found them wanting.
I am much more a Kierkegaard than a Hae. What separates me from this farmer? Are we so different, or is my life, like Soren’s, so pampered that I have no real cause. Would a life of dirt and hunger change me?


a minor victory

Most Thursday nights I go to IHOP with some friends. We discuss the pressing issues of the day and develop solutions for the problems in Sub-Saharan Africa. Well, this week I arrived early and decided to read a book in the corner Starchucks.
I noticed an interesting sign as I entered the unholy grounds. Perched on one of the ubiquous tiny round tables was a sign stating “anime meet-up”. Five geeks sat near this sign speaking in cryptic geek code, the kind that causes involuntary fits of stifled laughter and pointing in frontal lobe impaired humans. I did not plan to join this group but I choose to position myself near them, feeling more akin to them than the local Mac snobs.
As I read, my eyes kept drifting towards the anime buffs. Some subliminal cue kept drawing me towards their conversation. What could they possibly be discussing that had such an effect on me? Perking up my ears, I sought out the meme that called to me and I found it. Shadowrun.
By all that is six-sided, they were talking about Shadowrun, my first role-playing game! Entire substrata of my brain are devoted to the rules of this game. I stood and said, “Excuse me, are you guys talking about Shadowrun”. They called me over and I spent a good hour talking to people I had never met before.
Now, you need to understand, this is probably the first time I have ever in my entire life initiated a conversation with a group of strangers. I left that group triumphant.
This is the stuff life is made of. Such a small thing to others, but so important to a person with social anxiety disorder. I once wrote a poem that ended with this line.Such is the grandeur of life, how each carries on dramatically as others realize none of it. That’s how I feel. A victor in a war that others never knew I was fighting.


Ideonodes Revisited

A post or two ago I coined the term ideonode. Unfortunately the idea behind the word was unclear. So now, for the sake of posterity, I will attend to the ideonode concept.
First we begin with memes. Richard Dawkins first conceived of memes as, ”a new replicator… that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.” Memes are informational beasts, moving across the landscape of perception from billboards to eyes, from radio to ears, and from mouth to mind.

Ideonodes are breeding grounds for memes. An ideonode is an event that brings individuals together in such as manner as to promote the spread and mutation of memes. I say "event" because place usually implies both the physical and permanent (taken from personal correspondence). The odds of a particular meme’s transmission to an individual are effected by that person’s environmental fitness. Any meme coming out of Dennis Kucinich’s mouth is unlikely to find rest in a Republican’s mind. The Republican is a hostile environment for such a meme. Ideonodes, on the other hand, are choice environments for memes.
But I confuse the issue again. Ideonodes are not individuals. Ideonodes are a convergence of individuals that interrelate in a manner that rapidly spreads memes. Blogs, cultural events, coffee houses, a thousand events could be ideonodes if they meet the criteria.
So there’s the best I can do for now. I’ll read up on memetics and see if I can create a clearer picture in the future.


How do you feel today?

How good are you at reading faces? Do you know when your boss is frustrated? Can you tell the difference between a heartfelt smile and a sorority smile? Could you beat Will Riker at poker? If you are any good at reading the emotions of others, you are better than me.
A while back I read a newspaper article on emotions. The article included a test. There were eight pictures showing faces in various emotional states. The average person can match up all of the faces with the corresponding emotional label. I got three right.
Empathy requires a bit of mind reading. Human beings do not emit emotional radiation. We do, however, express ourselves through motion and sound. When you see this guy, you know he has a headache. There is a conscious component to recognizing his pain. You can understand the scrunched up forehead and grimace he gives as reserved for such moments. There is also a non-conscious mechanism made up of mirror neurons.

Mirror neurons fire not only when you perform an action but also when other people do the same action. Mirror neurons provide a biological mechanism for empathy. When you see a child pouting your brain may actually register the information through the same neurons that would fire if you were pouting yourself. Yes boys, there is finally a scientific explanation to why a baseball to your pal’s groin makes you double over in pain.
Mirror neurons may help us understand differences in temperaments. The Thinkers in Myers-Briggs terminology may have less active mirror neurons.
In closing, a haiku.

cresting waves and foam
tell nothing to the sailor
about the great deep


Ecclesiastes in Spirit

Does mental activity count as busyness? If so, I have been swamped with activity. There are three postings sitting, incomplete on my laptop. Each one began as a simple idea and grew into a term paper. Maybe I’ll complete one soon.
I went to Claire De Lunes to catch some poetry on Tuesday. Claire’s is a terminally hip coffee joint that I really need to visit more.
So I’m in a comfy chair, needing to go to the rest room but unwilling to risk losing my spot, when I start wondering about the point of an open mike night. What does the community really receive from an event like this? I stayed for an hour, heard some good poetry, laughed, clapped, became wistful, left. I don’t remember a line of what I heard. Does that make the night meaningless? No.
There is value in the place itself: the juxtaposition of diverse individuals at one time, one place, participating in one experience. A sense of groupness develops, especially if the themes of the night’s rhymes are consistent. The ideas generated and reinforced by such gatherings spread to other venues, following the infected participants. These ideonodes make up an ecosphere of progressive and radical thoughts, seeding weeds into the well trimmed lawn of a conservative system. And remember, a weed is just a flower we haven’t found a use for yet. So attend the silly little art nights and bring your friends. Go to protests. Plant flowers in potholes. Follow Solomon's words in Ecclesiastes 11:9 and live your life fully. So sayeth the Preacher.