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Friday Fun Thread for April 28, 2023

Be advised: this thread is not for serious in-depth discussion of weighty topics (we have a link for that), this thread is not for anything Culture War related. This thread is for Fun. You got jokes? Share 'em. You got silly questions? Ask 'em.

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I've been watching through a recording of an Art History class by Travis Clark and really enjoying it. I started with the ones on Gothic architecture because I'd just read Pillars of the Earth, but now I've gone back and started closer to the beginning with his lecture on early classical Greece. I've never really appreciated the visual arts but watching this and understanding why things were done and how they change over time has given me a lot more appreciation of it. He's a good lecturer and while the videos are 60-90 minutes each they don't feel that long.

What a great find, thanks for sharing.

I remember watching a series called Tom Keating on Painters. Tom was an art forger who, despite being arrested, managed to charm his way into celebrity. He went on to paint for the camera while explaining the original artists' techniques, history, and signature features.

You may be interested.

On the /r/FanTheories subreddit, a descendant of King James II of Scotland posted his theory that Captain Hook was always intended by J.M. Barrie to be recognizable as that king's bastard son, who went missing in Paris at the age of ten.

Captain Hook is James Beauclerk, the illegitimate son of King Charles II of England and his mistress, the low-born actress and courtesan Nell Gwyn. Evidence for this includes:

  • Captain Hook is the spitting image of King Charles II of England - with dark or black curly hair and "Stewart/Stuart resemblance", with the only difference being Hook's blue eyes.
  • Hook sharing personality traits, mannerisms, and physical features with both King Charles II and Nell Gwyn, balancing aristocratic dress and mannerisms with "slightly disgusting" ones.
  • "Captain Hook" is implied to be a fake name and invented identity to conceal Hook's true identity. J.M. Barrie states in Peter Pan & Wendy: "'Hook' was not his true name. To reveal who he really was would, even at this date, set the country [of England] in a blaze." This is especially true if Captain Hook was none other than the King Charles II's long-lost son, Lord James Beauclerk.
  • The mysterious "death" and disappearance of the Rt. Hon. James Beauclerk, or "Lord James Beauclerk". Nell Gwyn gave birth to her second child by the King, christened James - after King Charles II's younger brother, Prince James, Duke of York - on 25 December 1671 - or Christmas Day. Sent to school in Paris to receive an education fit for a prince when he was just 6, James Beauclerk supposedly died there in 1681 under mysterious circumstances. What James' life was like in Paris and the cause of his death are both unknown, one of the few clues being that he died "of a sore leg", which a great-nephew speculated could mean anything from "an accident to poison". This was published in the book The House of Nell Gwyn (1974). However, it is possible that James Beauclerk did not die, as reported - but rather, disappeared, or was whisked away in secrecy back to England due to fears over kidnapping and assassination attempts. His body was never returned; to this day, it is a mystery as to what, exactly, happened to James Beauclerk.

This contradicts the 2005 children's novel Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth, an antihero-turns-villain origin story by J.V. Hart, screenwriter of Spielberg's Hook starring Robin Williams. In this novel, young James, alias King Jas., attends Eton and has an odd blood disorder, among other differences from this real-life theory.

Which books, philosophy or theology, have filled in the gap between “the thought we can conceive of that which underlies [subsists, creates, causes, moves] all thinkable [created] things, [this uncreated non-categorical being] we shall call God”, and personal religion? This is the most interesting question, does anyone know who has explored it?

I can list philosophical books which helped me personally connect the two:

  • Your God Is Too Small by J.B. Phillips

  • The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff

As a lifelong fan of science fiction such as Star Trek, I’ve always been inclined to think of God in “thinking cosmic entity” terms, not “side-taking overseer” like Battlestar Galactica or “miraculous mystical force” terms like Star Wars. The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis, the chronological start and end of the fictional Chronicles of Narnia, along with his think-piece The Great Divorce, have also shaped my esteem for the Uncaused Cause, the Love Behind the World, the ineffable and infinite Mind Who has planned my eternity.

I haven't read Aquinas but I know he drew a distinction between truths that could be known by reason alone (e.g. the existence of God as first cause) and revealed truths that could only be known with the aid of faith (e.g. the divinity of Jesus). Is that the sort of thing you're talking about?

His position is that at some point you really do just need to have faith, but it's a type of faith that's consonant with reason, not opposed to it.

With a big emphasis on revelation there. There are plenty of things that we have only through revelation. Romans 1 lists a few things that can be known through creation, and then later in the book, Romans emphasized preaching. Psalm 19 goes from talking about creation to talking about God's personal revelation in his law (and uses different language for the two).

I play the violin in a university-affiliated community (amateur only) orchestra and we just had a concert that went, in my opinion, fairly well.

What instruments do other people here play? Does anyone else play in groups just for fun?

I played viola for 7 years in grade school, up until I graduated high school. I was naturally good enough at it to land ~second chair +/- 1 up until it got fairly competitive in later high school, and if I'd actually applied myself at all I probably could've played in the competitive auditioned extracurricular orchestras. Alas I am chronically lazy.

I miss it sometimes, mostly for the type of people it surrounded me with.

Piano, which I'm shit at. I don't get the opportunity to practice much, since I live with other people. When I can it's still fun to improvise over various music theory ideas.

I played in bands back in high school and college, mostly rhythm guitar. I enjoyed it, but was never much cop (compared to other musicians). I didn't love it enough to switch to left hand playing after injuring my fretting hand.

French horn, until I got out of the school-supported grads. I was pretty good; maybe good enough to go pro if I really buckled down for the missing years, but I couldn't risk turning out to be mediocre and pulled cable instead. Such is life.

I also remember making the decision in high school that it would never be more than a hobby, but committed to making it a hobby I would be competent enough at to enjoy. Having gotten over the biggest learning curve already was such a game changer, but could only have happened by starting young. It's made me realize how early focus on a couple of skills can pay big dividends later in life.

I'm a bass player mainly but I've also played drums in a bad cover band.

Congrats on the show! (er, concert? lol). It feels kind of great, doesn't it?

Mainly violin, though I haven’t even touched that for a long time.

I prefer playing in chamber music environments — used to do a piano trio in high school — but opportunities for these are difficult to find nowadays with friends if I just want to do it for fun…

I play piano/keyboard casually. Mostly pop songs to entertain myself. They are simple and satisfying to play, and easy to adapt and improv on. And on the rare occasion I have an audience, a pop song will get more of a reaction than say Rachmaninoff, and takes 1% of the effort to learn and play.

Surely 1% is overselling the effort here to learn a pop song on piano when a Rachmaninov piece can take months to learn, even if we’re not talking about rach 3!

Yes true. My sense of magnitude is not fully calibrated

I play the guitar off and on. I'm not amazing at it, and I don't practice nearly enough, but I enjoy it a lot. It's fun to just play sometimes even if I'm constantly making mistakes and even though I don't have the chops any more to play with others.

I have zero musical aptitude. I tried various inexpensive instruments (recorder, harmonica), and I could never reliably produce the right note. As in, I can memorize and reproduce the notation, I can play "GGGD EED", but not to go from the sounds I can imagine in my head to either the notation or strait to the physical actions required to play them.

Violin was my first instrument (when I was 4), but I rarely play anymore. I took up the piano when I was 10 and still play sometimes. I took up the guitar when I was 15 and that's my main axe these days, I play in a band and also have a metal solo project. I can technically play bass guitar but I wouldn't really call myself a bassist.

Back in school I played trumpet. Kept it up through a couple years of college marching band. It’s a terrible instrument for casual play, though.

I have very basic banjo skills. It’s a lot of fun and I would recommend it.

Yeah, trumpet and other brass instruments are miserable because you lose your emboucher without continual upkeep. After enough time off, you physically can't play the notes, even if you remember how. Oh, and the noise. There are harmon mutes for that though.

I've been totally mesmerized by ChatGPT4's writing capabilities lately, having used it to generate hours upon hours of entertainment somewhere in the gray area between a TTRPG and collaborative fanfic. I give it the outline of a scene, tell it what the characters do. If there's combat or uncertainty, I have it evaluate using the game rules and their character sheets. Mostly though, it reads like a choose-your-own-adventure novel with all possibilities open.

Consider this tavern-meet scene from the Cyberpunk universe: I think this is pretty fucking good. GPT's prose is not high art, but it's a damn sight better than what I could manage. If I played a live game with friends, we would not narrate this well. If we played a PbP or written game, I'd still forget to colour the similes with elements of each character's backstory like GPT did without my even asking.

It's empowering to be able to orchestrate tropey pulp so quickly. Normally I'm a slow writer (seconding @PatellaFarmer 's comment a while ago ), and not a good one - both for fiction and nonfiction. I'll agonize over word choice, phrasing, go back, edit too much, and it'll still come out awful (e.g. this post).

With GPT though, I'm like Mickey in Fantasia's Sorcerer's Apprentice and god, it's fun! "Have two characters enage in a fierce argument reflecting their core moral differences". "Write a climactic battle scene, every action heightened to the stuff of legend", "Do a silly montage anime music video (AMV) set to an angsty alt-rock song (Paramore, MCR or something) Cut the lyrics with descriptions of each clip as you write the next few days of story." Call me easily amused, I guess.

Maybe I'll get bored eventually, but for now, I'm astonished at how addicting it is. A quick ctrl+F of my inputs says I made 422 requests on one session alone: great value for the monthly subscription. I found myself staying up late several nights to wait for the next quota rollover. It's like that just one more episode feeling of a good TV show, but the next episode never disappoints, because you can tell the writers to go back and fix it straight away. Then they do!

Of course, it's not without flaws. Given the limited context window, ChatGPT behaves kinda like "Skeleton Jelly", forgetting details you haven't mentioned recently. You have to act as its script supervisor and fix continuity when it inevitably screws up. I mitigate this by keeping a running "save file" prompt of character stats, appearance, the story so far. So long as I keep that up to date and re-prompt it, it does all right, at the cost of re-using the same descriptive words more than it should.

There are also quirks I wish I didn't have to burn requests correcting. Like, for whatever reason - my prompting? its training data? - dialogue tends to drift into therapy-speak. Characters validate each others' feelings and everyone is super happy and supportive. I have to keep pulling on the reins to maintain tension and conflict.

Anyway, I highly recommend trying some stories with it if you like narrative crafting or TTRPGs but otherwise can't write.

I am building a crypto version of Gwern's CYOA idea for a pretty big hackathon. Ideally (and IMO probably) we win a prize of at least $10k, then make some connections and turn it into a real thing. If anyone would like to join me (for prompt engineering, development, or marketing) please reach out and I'll provide more details. I am great at the crypto stuff and OK at everything else, so in particular someone with a basic understanding of AWS or nice front-end development would be useful.

Holy shit. That could be so good. Infinite MUD.

That's the goal!

I read through Gwern's CYOA idea and it seems very promising. The biggest hurdle is clearly consistency/memory. There could however be an ambitious way to improve it, implementing memory like they did in this It allows for consistency with minimal context window usage.

This is how I would implement it:

Store every location in a big node diagram. Every new Location creates a new node, with its features as sub nodes or roots. Any unaltered new node is saved globally in all branches, alterations to the nodes stay branch specific. So you could find an ominous Altar in the cellar on a hunt for cultists, but after this generation it could then turn up on unrelated branches, creating a more dynamic and consistent world.

There are a few flaws here, It would be very computationally expensive to refer to the node diagram on every generation and check when to alter it, then again the whole point of the CYOA gimmick is to generate that stuff once and then reuse. It could also taint branches with potentially unwanted things from other branches, turning this more into collaborative world building.

You could do a similar thing to characters, storing their details in notes that are called up when they are in a scene.

While I don't think you need a very exact or thorough implementation of this, something that's supposed to be used by many people and extend for quite some time does need some kind of long term data storage. Or you could bank everything on the massive 32 thousand token window for gpt-4 that's going to be rolled out.

Ignoring my rambling, I am really interested in learning more details about how you're deciding to go about implementing the project.

Yeah there's all sorts of absolutely fascinating decisions to make. I agree that memory is the biggest hurdle and in general it seems that the more that can be handled by regular code, the better. Ideally there are multiple layers of GPT interpretation of whatever information is presented to it. Maybe you have a context layer and a location layer, and one GPT plugin summarizes them for the next plugin, which combines the summary with the player's chosen action to determine what happens next.

I like the location idea but it does have some drawbacks--namely if a branch has an explosion or something that modifies a location, the Location system will guarantee that that explosion didn't happen. Perhaps you could have a location system and then a separate plugin with branch-specific modifications to that Location. Same with characters, quests, etc. I think you definitely would need this Location system to be interpreted by GPT though, because any other solution would necessitate a grid system or something along those lines which I think would stifle creativity a bit. You'd also want the system to be able to locate landmarks and mention them when they're within sight, which would be quite difficult to implement, but very worthwhile.

To be honest I have a busy job and only have a month to build it, so I will be happy if what comes out at the end works at all haha. Once this grind is over it will be fun to put a lot more time into optimizing everything though. This is the sort of thing that could just be improved upon forever. My understanding is that in certain respects (such as the context window) AI should be subject to Moore's Law so in a few years maybe we have enormous 200k context windows and all of this becomes very easy.

I'll follow up with more details when I have them written down, but tbh Gwern's writeup suffices for me for now.

The whole crypto aspect is mostly just to get funding, right now (crypto hackathons seem to have much less competition), at the VC stage (same), and if/when it actually becomes a real company. The basic idea is that you can buy an NFT of a branch in the story, and then you "own" that branch and earn royalties whenever anyone buys a branch downstream from yours. I am not much of a crypto person (despite working in the field) but I think people would genuinely enjoy owning stories on the blockchain. My hope is that it further incentivizes people to search for high-quality branches--they get paid if they choose the best branch after all. Then all the NFT purchases would go towards subsidizing the experience for your regular consumer who just wants to read a cool crowdsourced CYOA book.

Yeah, I agree with everything you wrote here (Although I already mentioned the branch specific modification to locations in my original comment). The crypto stuff actually seems a lot harder to implement than the rest of the program, imo. I might actually try to develop a location/character database/lookup in my ample free time myself, run it all locally on some 7b model. Will share the code on GitHub if I manage. Some interesting prompt engineering challenges there, I think.

Good luck on grabbing some of that crypto money!

Oops, must have missed your comment about branch-specific modification. I'd certainly be interested in seeing what you come up with. Part of the reason I'm excited to build this is because if it works at all then I will enjoy it, even if it never goes anywhere.

Have you played with loom? There's a good description of what it is here -- in particular the very first image, of the completion tree from the prompt "In the beginning, GPT-3 created the root node of the", should give you a good idea of exactly what the software does and why the thing it does is a thing you might want to do.

I'm not impressed. I mean, I'm impressed insofar as a Chatbot can write anything, but the particular example you posted was of the quality I'd expect from a community college student taking a creative writing elective.

You might want to update your priors. Have you taken a creative writing class? I took one sophomore year at a prestigious U.S. university. The writing quality was nowhere near GPT4 level. I can only imagine how bad a community college class would be. I expect that most students would struggle to produce a coherent narrative at all.

The vast majority of people are terrible at writing.

But a community college student can't churn out a page in ten seconds, fast enough to run an ongoing open-ended story at the pace of a conversation. Maybe I unintentionally emphasized the wrong thing. It's not so much the prose, but the interactivity of it.

I mean, yeah, it's a cool toy, but other than that, what's the point? On a different note, is there any kind of payoff? I"m not terribly familiar with the genre you were having it work in, but I'd be curious if it's capable of writing a unique story with different cool plot twists and an original ending, or if it just regurgitates common tropes, i.e. there are two opposing sides fighting it out and the good guys win at the end. I was playing with GTP3 a while back getting it to write a satirical obituary for the past Penguins season, and while it seemed impressive at first, rerunning the prompt with other teams (including those from entirely different sports) produced practically identical results. It spoke in generalities rather than cite specifics, and when asked for specifics, it was still vague and often wrong. For instance, it said something about Sidney Crosby not having a good season while anyone who remotely followed the team knew that the problems weren't with the stars but with depth and goaltending. The fact that it's not up to date wasn't the problem, either, since it wrote the same obituary for other teams that were within its purview.

I mean, to me, this kind of overwrought prose is totally dreadful and nearly unreadable. Though it's impressive that it churns it out so quickly, boring writing is still boring, no matter how much you pile it up.

But as @2rafa pointed out, GPT4 isn't fine-tuned for writing good fiction. With the proper fine-tuning we might be able to get there.

Consider, for example, all the Stable Diffusion models that are fine tuned to make various types of art.

I predict that we could fine-tune GPT4 to write without overwrought prose quite easily. And we might not even need to do that. We might just need better prompts.

For sure, though it's likely my fault. I think the prompt for it included "as if in a cyberpunk novel or role playing game", and some of that is inherent to the genre.

What's the best prompt format to help it write steps in an RPG campaign? I'm pinging my GM now to help him press out the next steps in our Battletech campaign, and want to add context to the universe and provide after-action reports to keep the continuity going.

I assume it'd be something like "The mission we previously described went like this: .... I want the next part of the story to involve visiting planet Y and chasing after faction Z. What comes next?"

That'd probably work. Sometimes I'm asking questions and letting it write. Other times I just tell it how it should go, or did go (it writes better in past tense). You can ask for combat with rules - admittedly that's not it's forte, and often needs correction.

My usual format is something like: "Write the scene/story/day as a bunch of things happen, then write what happens next, and make sure you do it in this style, including this, that and the other".

It looks like found out about themotte.

They seem to mostly have negative takes, but that's not terribly surprising.

Edit: I don't know that this in particular is terribly important, but it's good to see that there's some small amount of discovery going on across the internet, in the interest of keeping themotte alive and well. I found this by searching for "themotte" on reddit.

What, more strawman, cherry-picking sneer? From the internet?

I can't believe it! I've never seen takes this hot before!

This is the Friday fun thread, but still, less of this, please.

A while back I had the idea of making a big post here about all of the political forums. I was just going to find all the active ones, discuss their strengths/weaknesses, and note what topics they talk about and whether they bring any new information to the table. I quickly ran into one problem: there are thousands of active political forums across thousands of websites. Did you know, for instance, that the “DC Urban Moms” forum has a political section with 2,035,933 messages?

Did you find any forums that you enjoy as much as, or close to as much as, themotte?

I’m afraid not

Well, that's DC, a city built around politics. But yes, practically every forum has a political corner.

Who are these people and why should any of us care?

I don't really know, I was just interested to see it making the rounds of the internet.

themotte being discovered elsewhere is probably good to avoid evaporative cooling.

What is this site?

I think Zorba considered using their codebase for this migration -- but as I recall there were some technical concerns, and the drama people had the added feature of being less pissy.

Going back to my original spreadsheet - "the un-nameable community" was rDrama, Reddit doesn't like people talking about it - the big issue was a lack of real-world testing, a lack of moderation tools, and somewhat worse performance. There was a lot I liked about it too, but in the end we went with rDrama.

I think it worked out great in the end, although admittedly not for reasons I could have foreseen.

I haven't been on it myself, but it looks like it's another text-based reddit-style discussion site? They say they also want relatively higher quality discussion than found on reddit.

I found this yesterday by searching "themotte" on reddit, and there was a post a few days ago on pointing to that post on tildes.

For the last decade, mass culture has been nerd culture, and a nerd is someone who likes things that aren’t good. This is not to say that everyone who likes things that aren’t good is a nerd. Fast food is bad food: cheap, tasteless, unhealthy, and unsatisfying. But if you grew up eating frozen burgers as an occasional treat, and you still find it nice to sometimes stumble drunk into a McDonald’s late at night and wolf down a Big Mac—because it reminds you of something, because it’s the sign for a certain vanished pleasure—then you are not necessarily a nerd. But imagine a person who collects the boxes from every McDonald’s order he’s ever made, who’s yapping with excitement about the new McDonald’s partially hydrogenated soybean-canola oil blend, who can’t wait for them to release the McBento in Japan so he can watch video reviews all day, and who acts incredibly smug every time McDonald’s posts its quarterly earnings and they’re growing faster than Burger King’s. You know exactly what this person looks like. A total failure of an adult human being. Fat clammy hands; eyes popping in innocent wonder at every new disc of machine-extruded beef derivatives. An unbearable, ungodly enthusiasm. Does he actually like eating the stuff? Maybe not. It hardly matters. His enjoyment is perverse, abstracted far beyond any ordinary pleasure. It signifies nothing. This person is a nerd.

I found this essay on hipster culture and nerd culture to be interesting and enjoyable to read. I'm linking it because it seems relevant to some of the topics discussed here. It raises questions about what effect AI will have on art and cultural production.

But imagine a person who collects the boxes from every McDonald’s order he’s ever made, who’s yapping with excitement about the new McDonald’s partially hydrogenated soybean-canola oil blend, who can’t wait for them to release the McBento in Japan so he can watch video reviews all day, and who acts incredibly smug every time McDonald’s posts its quarterly earnings and they’re growing faster than Burger King’s. You know exactly what this person looks like. A total failure of an adult human being.

Sounds more like a soyboy to me, literally in this case with the soybean-canola oil blend. He says nerd but the meaning is soyboy - the image right at the front is exactly that with the gaping, cavernous mouths in those twisted facsimiles of a grin. Again, the meanings are sort of adjacent but there is a distinction. It's definitely worse to be a soyboy than a nerd. You might be really into very nerdy things - calculations of the yields of nuclear weapons in ingame cinematics, assessing 'high-end' vs 'low-end' of franchises that are incredibly ill-thought out and inconsistent like Doctor Who or whatever. But there's another axis, people who post videos of themselves reacting orgasmically, waving their hands excitedly to Marvel movie trailers. That's the core of what he's talking about.

Reminds me of this short-ish essay from 2005 (?):

[...] My theory is that for something to attract fans, it must have an aspect of truly monumental badness about it.

[...] Once a work passes a certain basic all-round level of competence, it doesn't need the defence of fandom. It's impossible to imagine a fan of Animal Farm, the Well-Tempered Clavier, or the theory of gravity. Such works can defend themselves. But badness, especially badness of an obvious, monumental variety, inspires devotion. The quality of the work, in the face of such glaring shortcomings, becomes a matter of faith -- and faith is a much stronger bond than mere appreciation. It drives fans together, gives them strength against those who sneer. The sneers make their faith even stronger; the awfulness of the work reassures them of their belief. And so the fan groups of Tolkien, Star Trek, Spider-man, Japanese kiddie-cartoons etc. develop an almost cult-like character.

I need to stress that I'm just talking about aspects of badness; the above works all have their many admirable qualities which attract people in the first place (though in the case of Anime I'd be hard-pressed to tell you what they were).

If Bach did not have fans when he was alive that seems to have more to do with when he lived than anything, I know Beethoven had fans. Or is he specifically talking about The Well-Tempered Clavier and not including more general fans of Bach's work, or for that matter modern fans of classical music? Because it seems like there are better factors than "badness" to explain the distinction: one or more of whether a work is serialized, whether a work is long, and whether a work is well-suited to additions by fans and other third-parties. Factors like those mean there is more to discuss on an ongoing basis, rather than just reading a book or listening to a specific piece, saying it's good, and that's it. Notice how elsewhere he has to group together "Japanese kiddie-cartoons" - because anime and manga are mostly a lot of different creator-written works, rather than a handful of continually reused IPs, most individual anime don't have a fandom, or only have a miniature fandom/discussion-group in the form of some /a/ and /r/anime threads during the season they air. Anime movies have even less. Similarly in the era of sci-fi short-stories there was a sci-fi fandom but not fandoms for individual short stories and little for individual novels.

I saw this when Scott Alexander responded to it, and read the follow-up comments with interest.

It has probably been 20 years since I last "updated" my sense of "nerd versus geek," and I have to say--I was until this week thoroughly under the impression that "nerd" referred to the academically inclined (narrow and idiosyncratic, but challenging, interests) and "geek" mostly meant pop-culture inclined (narrow and idiosyncratic, but unchallenging, or at least more artistic, interests). People could be either; people could be neither; people could be both. A Shakespeare geek loves Shakespeare; a Shakespeare nerd writes academic journal articles about how Ophelia was a proto-feminist. A science geek "Fucking Loves Science," but a science nerd actually knows things like Maxwell's equations and how to apply them. A sports geek collects memorabilia, but a sports nerd can quote you statistics, obscure rules, and probably kick your ass at fantasy football. In other words, it was never about what was "good"--you could be a geek or a nerd about things other people valued, or not. It was just about the level and quality of your interest in narrow and idiosyncratic things.

I cannot overemphasize just how much I really thought this was something my linguistic community (i.e. the Anglophone internet) had pretty well settled no later than, say, 2010.

Of course, in the 1970s and 1980s, these were both mostly words with a pejorative connotation; between "Revenge of the Nerds" (1984) and Bill Gates becoming a billionaire (1987) by the 1990s "nerd" had been pretty well rehabilitated, and by "The Fellowship of the Ring" (2001) "geek" had mostly come to cover pop culture afficionados, perhaps as part of the rise of the "geek girl." A lot of this kind of tapers off post-Awokening (circa 2014), possibly because the most relevant pop culture properties prior to 2014 was clearly dominated by "problematic" (i.e. white, male) creators and fans.

So the idea of nerds as people who like things that aren't good is just totally alien to me. This article talks about some interesting phenomena, but I think it butchers several otherwise-useful words to get there.

I would say your definition of nerd and geek is spot on. I have no idea WTF the author here is on about with saying nerds are people who like things that aren't good. That's not what it means, nor has it ever been what it means.

The only thing I take away from that essay is the overwhelming desire to do bodily harm on the person whom wrote it.

Why I would take anything in good faith from someone whom hates me and mine and gleefully spends hours of his time writing about how much he hates me and mine is baffling to consider. This doesn't belong in the friday fun thread - this is pure rage bait and culture warring.

Well, you’re here, aren’t you? The motte is full of people writing wordswordswords about people and groups they despise.

Yeah. And if this had been in the main thread(or even it's own thread), I'd probably just minimize and go about my way.

Here, though? I don't mind pointing out how tone-deaf posting this comes across for where it's at.

Maybe I'm tone-deaf, or maybe we just have different taste. I enjoyed the essay because of the author's colorful prose, and I thought it raised interesting questions about art and culture. I didn't think the purpose of the essay was to attack any specific group of people, despite the fact that it is written in the style of an attack. I'm sort of a Quokka in that I perceive these sorts of essays charitably as being directed against abstract ideals rather than being targeted against specific people.

You’ll probably be interested in Scott Alexander’s interpretation.

Thanks for that. I enjoyed some of the comments, but I feel Scott got hung up on Kriss' use of the word nerd instead of geek or fan. Kriss responded to Scott to clarify that he is primarily describing a person who likes things for reasons orthogonal to quality. Scott interpreted this to mean a person who pretends to like things to achieve social status. I disagree with that interpretation. I think what Kriss is describing is a soy boy. Soy boys do not compete to achieve higher social status. The very concept of competing for status is painful and anxiety-inducing to soy boys. Soy boys are extremely emotionally sensitive and oversocialized. They want to live in a bubble where social status and superior artistic quality do not exist. They like things for the sake of liking them as a pure expression of positivity and agreeableness. That type of person definitely exists, and they fit with the quotes from Warhol and Baudrillard about liking-machines that respond the same way to every input given to them. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is pertinent because it serves up content in a way optimized for consumption by such liking-machines, who use it to socially bond with other liking-machines over shared positive vibes.

He’s definitely taking shots at a weird, extreme subset of the social landscape. But it’s not the conflict-averse passive existence you describe. Despite the actual inclusion of hydrogenated soy, Kriss’ McDonalds example is not a soyboy. He is a fan-as-in-fanatic. He has chosen an objectively bad hill on which to die, probably of heart disease rather than enemy action. This isn’t optimized for conflict avoidance at all. Instead it will get him into fights over the dumbest, lowest-status thing.

It’s the difference between a fetishist and a herbivore man. Yeah, they’re both going to have a hard time engaging with normal relationships, but for pretty different reasons. Kriss’ nerd has fetishized McDonalds or Shakespeare.

I'm interested in taking up a hobby which involves creation or building things. I like to write, and learning how to code seems cool, but I'd like to build. I thought about taking up chemistry, but I live in military dorms and I'm pretty sure that'd be a huge headache. There's no place to really store a bunch of crazy chemicals.

Building machines or robots seems cool. But I just don't know where a newbie with basically zero mechanical inclination is to begin. What hobbies have filled that craftsman's itch for Mottizens? I'd love to hear about your cool pursuits.

Think about why you want to build before going hard on machines.

Building machines is not like gardening is not like craftsmanship is not like art.

I got an intense desire to become a craftsman at 30, as is traditional, and I find it very satisfying. Woodworking, knife making, etc. Enough art to be artistic, but not so much I need to be creative all the god damn time.

I'll fourth microcontrollers as a good interaction between coding and building. Even starting with Arduino or Adafruit collections is cheap, easy, safe, and can fit in a couple small boxes (although I recommend fishing tackleboxes). If you want to go cheaper or deeper, there's a big rabbit hole. Biggest downside is that it's very hard to make 'finished' products: you can get boards made cheaper, you can hand or plate-solder cheap, and you can get project boxes easily, but anything you'd want to carry around on you gets complicated.

((And, uh, you end up with a bunch of blinking-light nicknacks.))

For Robotics projects, normally I'd talk small drones, but there's a variety of reasons you don't want to be doing that from base dorms. SmallKat is pretty cheap and relatively easy if you can get the 3d print parts made; the prefab kit is stupidly expensive (500 USD) and most 3d print services will still be pretty costly. Petoi kits are a cheaper (250-300 USD) but it's a bit harder to generalize the build-side knowledge from it to other applications.

Hand-tool woodworking is fun and can scale up to machine-building and tooling in plastic and metal pretty well, less because you'll use a chisel for anything but removing rivets when it comes to aluminum, and more because it makes you think about how manufacturing stuff actually works. You don't need a ton of gear (a few various saws, a couple hand planes, a square, a miter box, marking knife and gauge, some sharpening tools, glue, clamps, and sandpaper), but the jigs and output products can take a ton of space, and getting decent lumber (eg, not bent like a banana) can range from annoying and/or expensive. I would recommend indoors-friendly finishes like Odie's oil and hardwax; shellacs and varnishes tend to be one of the most space-unfriendly parts to this approach.

3D Printers are an option, and most of them you get a lot of experience with assembly and repair. But they're very limited in what they can do, take a frustrating amount of maintenance to run, and they can teach a lot of bad habits.

There are some options for manufacturing at higher power that can be done without taking over the room, but they're marginal or complicated and pretty limited in space. You can get a cheap desktop CNC in the 200-600 USD range without it being complete garbage, and they can cut wood, aluminum, or brass if you're patient and have them dialed in carefully... if very slowly, and with a ton of noise, and expect to spend another 300-500 USD in gear and end mills. Don't expect to make anything big, and it requires a lot of familiarity or willingness to learn (though at least tools like Fusion360 now have fairly generous hobbyist levels). But see here for the sorta scale of what you could get into.

Most military bases have Auto Skills Centers (sometimes Auto Hobby Centers). They're really heavily focused around automotive stuff and usually pretty basic automative stuff, but if you're not on one of the small number of bases with Makerspaces I've heard they can sometimes be willing to let you store (or use!) tooling and equipment.

This might not be considered "building" but I used to whittle quite a bit and it can be a ton of fun and doesn't take up a lot of space, at the most basic level you just need a knife and some wood.

Seconding the Arduino rec. Or a similar microcontroller. The floor for entry is pretty low, and at the end, you’ll have a stupid robot that putters around or follows a line. It’s good fun. Analog electronics are also an option, but I can’t say I recommend it.

Don’t try to get into chemistry. At least not without a garage or shed. Also, you have to spend way more time and space cleaning up.

Third this. Microcontrollers are incredibly cheap, take up little space, and are well-documented but capable of suprising complexity. I greatly enjoyed building several projects out of $2 PIC microcontrollers in assembly code. (One of which, which interfaces with a cheap Wiegand RFID reader, I still use a decade later as a garage door opener).

Sounds like the barrier for entry is low. Also, I've never followed through with learning to code and building machines might give me the incentive I need to do so. Plus I am looking for something small-scale and relatively mess-free, so microcontrollers sound great.

You can do pretty neat 'maker' type stuff with arduino and various sensors these days. (short of actual robots, which... might be fun in a barracks, lol)

Just think of some electronic gadget that you wish somebody were making for your personal use, and start reading about how to do it -- lots of intersections between hardware, software, and the real world there.

The advantage of building via software is that, essentially, you're working with infinite building blocks. Nothing you build as a hobbyist should cost more to run than you would spend on something like wood or metalworking.

I've found value in:

  • Software

  • Software adjacent games (Factorio)

  • Working on my own vehicle (car, bicycle) - the former will be tough in barracks

Being in a barracks, you won't be able to start:

  • Woodworking

  • Metalworking

  • Maintaining your own house (plumbing, electrical, landscaping)

That's the damned trouble! It's nice to have free housing and all, but the quarters are small and the rules can be restrictive. Probably I'll just start with software like you said. I have a computer and everything. If I want to do something more physical, I might just take up drawing.