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january 2011 Q&A digest
minutiae Posted 2011-02-01 13:20:10 by Jim Crawford
Hey, remember how I've been directing all my writing energy toward Twitter rather than here? I just started directing some of it at Formspring too. Lucky you! Here's the set of questions I answered in the past month:

Which would you rather do: - Live forever, and watch everyone you know and love crumble to dust - Live a finite lifespan, while everyone ELSE got to live forever, and watch you crumble to dust?

Definitely the latter. Being alone in the universe is a nightmare scenario that I spend way more time dwelling on than it deserves.
Is this as much fun for you as it is for us?
I really have no way of knowing! We both keep doing it, which indicates at least some degree of symmetry.
Crackers (a bread product) turn soggy and un-crunchy if left out overnight. Bread (also a bread product) turns stale and hard and crunchy when left out in the same air. Does this constitute a valid argument that the universe is against human happiness?
What do you mean? When I leave bread out overnight it's like getting crackers for free! Who doesn't love free stuff?
What do parents owe their children?
I'm not sure the word “owe” applies. We're K-type organisms, so you'd better do a good [enough] job, or all those precious grandkids you've been looking forward to? Poof.

That said, I do have a value system, and that value system includes strong preferences on how to raise kids. On top of that, many people I know have expressed envy about my family relationships, so that gives me the sense that my values are probably robust enough to apply to many people. But it's a big sprawling cloud of ideas; I'm not sure how to encapsulate it into a neat paragraph, and even making a list would be hard.

Maybe, though, it could break down into optimizing for the same three food groups that I wrote about in my answer to the meaning-of-life question: learning, building and loving. Certainly, any child in my care is going be experiencing a lot of all three.

Assuming you were independently wealthy, what would your ideal house look like, and what features would it have?
I'd be less concerned about the house itself and more about its location -- rural enough to have windows on nature but within walking distance of an urban/cultural center -- and who would live in it.

I guess I enjoy good decor and good architecture, but I haven't thought about either enough to be able to articulate much. That said, one thing I really enjoyed about Matt and Indy's last apartment is that it had a huge living room that just sort of flowed right into the dining area and kitchen. Great for hanging out and still feeling like you have space, and open enough that groups can split off or expand to any reasonable size. (You can see it in this video.)

Have you ever played that Questions game from “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”?
No. Looks a lot like verbal Calvinball.
How many ducks?
The Prince of Upper Thrombosis.
What is racism? Are you a racist by this definition?
There's the definition that I think of as literal racism, which is the part that happens below your rational mind, and there's the definition that I think of as what people actually mean when they refer to racism, which is more an approximation of what you appear to believe based on what you present externally, i.e. after your rational mind has had a chance to influence the thoughts-to-actions process.

I haven't taken the Race IAT recently, but last time I did the numbers informed me that I was racist by my first definition, and most likely I still am. As for my second definition, I'm trying my damnedest not to be.

What do you think K. E. A. N. U. would stand for, if it were the acronym describing the world's first sentient AI?
In the interest of teaching a man to fish:
Wow, these questions sound hard. Are you comfortable with them or should we lighten up?
The oldest question in my queue is currently “How many ducks?” Which I might call “too light.” How about a middle ground?
Isn't formspring just for anonymous cyber-bullying?
You're thinking of the Facebook Honesty Box.
How would you design a legal system to deal with drug use, and drug abuse (including how to make the distinction)?
I'm not inclined to make a distinction. If drugs lead you to commit crimes, you should be punished for the crimes and/or denied those particular drugs. Blanket bans are mindlessly bureaucratic and empower criminals.

... but that's the same opinion I held ten years ago, when I was a Libertarian, so it's probably one I should revisit.

How would you design a legal system to deal with age of sexual consent, child pornography, and pedophilia/ephebophilia?
Fun one to think about. There ideally shouldn't be fuzzy edge cases -- “She seems mature enough to me, but would a jury agree?” -- but a one-size-fits-all cutoff like an age gate is mindlessly bureaucratic. Maybe there should be a standardized test to be certified able-to-make-adult-decisions. Then when it turns out she had a fake ID, you have proof of fraud.

(For bonus points, you could take the test at a certain blood-alcohol level and get certified to make decisions at that level of drunkenness.)

Suppose you created a character within an RPG with three stats Energy, Discipline, Expertise as described here: Why prioritize in the manner you did?
Is this some Formspring bot that just scrapes links off of Coding Horror and mad-libs them to me? Except in the form of an answer.
If you had to describe yourself as a brand of restaurant quality croutons, which one would it be, and why?
Full disclosure: if you put a gun to my head, I don't think I could name a crouton brand, much less a restaurant-quality crouton brand.
Yes no hell.
what, if anything, do you have planned for the next 5 years?
I'm not a planner by nature, but in the next year I'm probably going to be getting a driver's license and visiting South Asia.
If you could have 24 hours of perfect health, unlimited money/resources, etc., what would you do for those 24 hours?
A day is not enough time to understand the consequences of infinite resources well enough to use them safely. I'd probably do something rather mundane, like donating a large but not-economy-destroying amount of money to charitable causes.

If I felt more confident for some reason: given my preference for the existence of complex value systems in the universe, and the fragility of the only known source of them, I'd probably tentatively poke at making the human species more robust. Medical immortality seems like low-hanging fruit to me. Also, the best argument I've seen against the feasibility of interstellar colonization is that we don't have infinite resources.

(Too scared to even look at Friendly AI.)

Just how bouncy is this formspring?
I have emoticons turned off, so, not very bouncy.
What is the meaning of life?
There's no meaning; there's just what you do with it. Me, I'm pretty into making, learning, and loving. I suspect many variations on those three things would make me happy.
[link to this] [See more on “minutiae”]

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