wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
This year I organised my first every readthrough weekend (with [livejournal.com profile] the_alchemist) of the first two seasons of Game of Thrones. It seemed to go reasonably well, so next year we'll be doing seasons three and four.

First dibs on places will go to people who came to the first one, but there'll be at least one more space, and maybe more if some people decide they can't make it. If you think it might be your kind of thing, there's a poll about interest and dates here.


Feb. 21st, 2017 10:34 am
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
I’ve been learning the piano again, and it’s giving me a great deal of pleasure. I learned for a few years as a child, but gave up when it started getting difficult, and in the last five years or so I’ve periodically gone “I should learn to play again”, made enthusiastic attempts for a couple of weeks, and then gotten bored. About a year ago, when we were preparing for a couple of singthroughs at Ardgour-en-France, I volunteered to do the easy piano version accompaniment for a couple of the songs. It took a ridiculous amount of time to get these really quite simple pieces to a non-terrible standard, but it got me back into the habit of playing regularly again, and I’ve carried on ever since.

When I moved out to Northampton I had quite a lot of time to myself, so after a little while decided to treat myself to a cheap spare piano out here, and since then I’ve been playing a lot more, and recently started taking lessons again. I’m not someone who’s naturally musically talented, but it turns out that actually practicing a reasonable amount means you get better at a reasonable rate. Who knew? I’m preparing for my grade 5 now, and having a lot of fun with the pieces (not so much fun with the scales, of which there are many, but I do seem to find it easier to be disciplined about them than I did as a youngster).
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This is technically a reread, but the first time was around eight years ago, and I could remember very little of it. I found the first half, where he sketches out his model of consciousness - very condensed, a disparate and competing set of “content-fixation events” in the brain, some of which get retained as speech acts or memories, some of which get discarded and forgotten, but lacking any central “meaner” or “observer” co-ordinating these individual elements, and the bit of the algorithm that feels from the inside like being conscious is content-fixation events that are about other content fixation events - quite hard and slow going, and as I was reading them, wondered whether my memory of having found the book illuminating and clear was inaccurate.

Then I got onto the second half, which started looking at specific examples, and suddenly everything became much clearer, and I polished it off in about a tenth the time the first half took me. There are still bits that I don’t quite understand, or at least can’t articulate, in particular what ‘aboutness’ means as a property of a content-fixation event, but in general the theory felt quite comfortable and intuitive by the end of the book.

One thought that came out of the book that I want to follow up on is that there’s a fallacy in thought experiments, which is common to philosophical zombies, Mary the colour scientist, and the ontological argument, which goes “I can imagine this phenomenon, and using the properties of the thing I have imagined, such and such a proposition must be true (or is impossible)”. The fallacy being that you can’t actually imagine it accurately. I’m curious how much this crop up elsewhere. It almost feels as though it undermines the very concept of thought-experiments - or at least relegates them to ways of generating ideas, but not of providing any further insights.
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Gosh, has it really been more than six months since I last did one of these? It's been quite an eventful few months as well.

I am largely continuing to react to the giant trashcan fire that is UK and US politics by burying my head in the sand and not thinking about it, although I am guiltily conscious that I'm only able to do this from the top of giant pile of privilege that I'm sitting on. I need to make space to give some thought to what I should actually be doing about this, but that's a whole separate post, and in this one I shall concentrate on the personal.

The big exciting news is that we just bought a house. As it turns out, it's the place we'd had an offer accepted on nearly a year ago, but thought it had fallen through. It unfell in October, and after a fairly moderate amount of faff in the house-buying scheme of things we completed a couple of weeks ago. We've got the current flat until the 6th March, so we're taking the opportunity to get some minor bits of work done whilst it's empty, but we'll be moving in soon. I am very excited! Amongst the things that I'm excited about are having a bigger kitchen, and a proper dining room, and enough social space that hosting dinner parties and cocktail parties and readthroughs becomes much less logistically faffy; having a proper spare room so that we can put people up; Ramesh having a room that's big enough for him, so we can both share each other's space; being able to set up a home gym just the way I want it; getting a cat; having a permanent home, rather than somewhere I'm expecting to leave in a couple of years; never ever having to move house ever again; not having to move furniture around every time someone want to switch from using the dining table to using the piano; having double glazing, so Ramesh is consistently warm enough, and hopefully catches fewer colds; exploring the restaurants and cafes and shops of Green Lanes. Yes, many exciting and pleasing things.

Work is bobbing along reasonably enough. I'm currently working at the University of Northampton, doing much the same stuff I've been doing for the last few years, but no longer working for a raging narcissist makes it far more enjoyable. I've got a little flat out here where I stay Monday-Wednesday nights, and then work from home on Fridays, and although I'd rather be living at home full time , for some reason a 3/4 split feels far less arduous than a 4/3 one was (and Ramesh seems to find the same), so I think it's reasonably sustainable. Since I moved out here I've had a couple of interviews for interim positions at the 'next stage of my career' level, and although I didn't get either of them, in both cases it was close enough that I'm now feeling a lot more confident that something else will come up that means I'll be able to make that step without having to go back into permanent employment.

Health is mostly good. I've not been exercising as much as I'd have liked over the winter, because cold and wet and running don't mix that well, and the combination of some persistent tension in my shoulder, plus the logistics of living in two places has limited how much strength training I've been doing. But it's warming up now, and I'm seeing a physiotherapist tomorrow, which will hopefully lead to some progress on the shoulder, and I'll get a decent gym set up in the new house before long.

Relationship stuff is great. Ramesh & I celebrate our eighth anniversary this week, and I continue to be astonished by how lucky I am to be with him. He brings me delight and excitement and warmth and security; he's kind and clever and considerate and interesting; he goes out of his way to make me happy, and always notices and appreciates it when I make an effort to be good to him; he listens to me and makes me feel safe showing my vulnerability to him, and he opens up and trusts me with his in turn; even when we have conflicts to work through, he comes at it constructively and kindly and charitably, and then when we've reached an agreement of how to handle it he follows through. And if that weren't bounteous overflow of joy enough, I managed to spend time with all three of my FWBs in the last couple of months, all of whom remain charming and delicious. I do sometimes think it would be nice to have a secondary partner, someone I saw more than a handful of times a year, but without the commitment of lives entwined. But I don't want it enough to seek out new people, and my social life is shaped such that I rarely meet them through happenstance, so unless something changes, I think that will remain an occasional idle thought.
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Aulis is the chef's development table at Fera, where they have a menu which is more experimental and changeable than the main restaurant, and is where they try out and showcase new ideas. With the exception of the first amuse bouche (which was rather bland, and an unfortunate note to start on) it was consistently very good, without ever reaching "this is the best thing I have ever put in my mouth" moments of rapture.

There were three courses that stood out as particularly highlights to me. First was the taco where both the taco itself and the filling were primarily made of celeriac, with flakes of cured egg yolk on top. Secondly the venison, momentarily blow-torched but almost a tatare, served with beetroot that had been dehydrated and then rehyrdrated with beetroot and blackcurrant juice (amazingly intensely flavoured, with a distinctive and pleasing texture), and a sorrel sauce, which tasted as vividly green as it looked. And finally the calcot onions (somewhere between a spring onion and a baby leek) with tiny mushrooms, mushroom goop (technical term, that), and grated truffles. I'm a simple creature, and it's not hard to please me if you cover a dish in fresh truffle, but this was an especially good use of the ingredient, with just enough sharpness from the onion to balance the rich warmth of the mushroom and truffle.
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (dorian)
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality - Eliezer Yudkowsky
This is a novel-length piece of fanfiction, which follows an alt-universe plot loosely paralleling that of The Philosopher’s Stone, where instead of Vernon Dursley, Petunia Evans marries an Oxford professor of physics, so Harry is brought up as a sceptic and a scientist, and after being selected for Hogwarts, starts trying to apply what he’s learned previously to the study of magic.

I was a little bit sceptical about it, because I find EY incredibly irritating on social media, and thought that his attempts to evangelise his philosophical ideas through fiction might be equally annoying. I was wrong. It was entertaining, emotionally engaging from start to finish, often laugh-out-loud funny, and occasionally moved me to tears, all the while opening me up to and convincing me of its philosophical underpinnings. 10/10 would recommend to anyone who doesn’t hate Harry Potter.

Rationality: AI to Zombies - Eliezer Yudkowsky
This is a long and multifaceted book in six volumes with lots of diversions. It originally took form as a series of blog posts, and whilst they have been edited for coherence, it still feels rather bitty. There’s lots of good stuff in the earlier sections on why rationality matters and ways in which we convince ourselves it doesn’t matter. One aspect that was a bit off-putting for me personally was the constant use of theism as an example of irrational thinking, which meant I was spending less time absorbing the general principles of his arguments and more time going round in circles that I’ve been round many times before as to whether I can justify my faith. There’s a bunch of stuff about biases and cognition which wasn’t new to me, but I felt was presented well.

Some parts, primarily the philosophy of science and consciousness, I found it very hard to understand what he was saying. I’m not sure if this is just material that is beyond my ability to understand, or was explained poorly. There were sections on quantum dynamics, specifically arguing the obvious correctness of the many worlds interpretation which sounded relatively convincing, but I don’t know if I would agree after understanding the maths and the actual arguments from those proposing collapse. I’ve seen people claiming that his understanding of the physics is lacking, but I’m not currently in a position to judge.

I thought the intuitive explanation of Bayes theorem was pretty good (but I’m not the target audience), and I thought the concept behind the extension of this into a “Technical explanation of technical explanation” was good, but that the conclusions come into conflict with concerns about privileging the hypothesis. It seems as though it was boiling down to “it’s okay, indeed desirable, to privilege a hypothesis if it turns out to be right”. I found myself extremely suspicious of the whole analysis of the conflict between science and rationality, and although I can grant his point that we need some way of making decisions about what is true in cases where performing the experiments is very difficult or even impossible even in principle, he seemed a little bit too enthusiastic about careering off down that road.

Once it came back to ethical philosophy in the penultimate volume I found it much more enjoyable and easier reading again, and the final volume about how to make rationalism work in the real world was quite inspiring. II would definitely note that my perception of the quality of his writing and arguments correlated strongly with the areas where I already agreed with him, suggesting that he may not have presented them as well as I felt he did, and that all I’m seeing is a reflection of longer and shorter inferential distances.

Six Easy Pieces - Richard Feynman
One thing that I got out of the previous book was a great long list of stuff I want to read and learn more about, and fairly high on that list is quantum mechanics. Only one of these six lectures touched on QM more than very superficially (and even that one was pretty superficial), but it was a good memory jog of the basic physics which I’d forgotten lots of, and of course delightful reading in Feynman’s characteristic style.
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
2015; 2014; 2000-2009

I did actually write this at the end of the year, but it's been sitting in my drafts folder waiting to be posted since then...

Was 2016 a good year for you?
Personally, yes. Lots of the good stuff from 2015 got consolidated. I feel like I spent much more of the year doing and learning interesting things. I am, unsurprisingly, worried about the state of the world, but so far none of it has had much direct impact on me, and I'm fortunate enough to find it quite easy to feel serene about the things I can't change.

Read more... )
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I have dinner with [personal profile] kerrypolka once every couple of months, and recently we have been on a fantastic roll of amazing places, of which Bao was the first that I can remember clearly enough to review. They don’t take bookings, which is a practice I don’t entirely approve of, but the fact that we had to queue for 45 minutes after arriving at 18:00, whilst slightly irksome, did seem like a good sign.

We were reading the menu as we waited, and let me tell you it looked like it was going to be a challenge to pick, but I remembered reading a review that said that one of everything was a fairly sensible amount of food for three people, and we were both quite hungry, so we figured what the hell. That was a good plan. There are various starters, bao (basically small sandwiches in buns half way between the fluffy white things you get in chinese style dim sum and sweet brioche), and a handful of other mains and sides, but everything just turned up when it was ready. For me the standout starter was the sweetcorn with beef butter, which was so rich and warming, with just the right amount of spice. Kerry was particularly keen on the crispy prawn heads, although I was less blown away by them. Of the sides, the grilled lettuce with confit garlic was the thing that kept us going “but how, how did they get lettuce that texture” all the way to the tube station. Every single one of the bao was incredible - the buns so soft, the meat so tender and flavourful, and the accompaniments so well balanced and innovative.

It turns out that when the food is that good, not only can two people polish off one of everything, but they can go back and order seconds, and then when told that there’s no pudding menu, thirds. The bill came to around £100 between the two of us, including drinks and tip. You could certainly eat there a lot more cheaply if you could resist filling yourself almost past the point of bursting with all the tasty tasty buns, but you’d need a stronger will than mine.
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[livejournal.com profile] venta asked about a favourite piece of clothing. I used to have lots of fabulous flamboyant clothing, and then went through a phase of feeling uncomfortable about transgressing gender boundaries and dressing rather conservatively, and gave away a lot of my wardrobe. That turned out to be just a phase, and since then I've been gradually finding my own style again.

I still haven't quite settled on exactly what sort of things suit me now, especially with my body having changed shape quite a lot over the last year or so, but as a general principle I like clothes that go swoosh, I like silks and velvets, and I like jewel colours. In my current wardrobe my favourite thing is a garment that's somewhere between a jacket and a cardigan, it has a ruffley front, kind of like this, but longer, just brushing the tops of my thighs, and with wider sleeves, in a deep rich purple velvet. Wearing it never fails to make me feel gorgeous.


Dec. 15th, 2016 03:14 pm
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It's all been a bit hectic, so updating dailyish seems to have fallen slightly by the wayside. On the other hand, I'm about to write my last prompt, so now would be a good time for new ones.

[livejournal.com profile] yiskah prompted with, "I would like you to write about a book (or books) that means a great deal to you, or has changed your life in some way."

I feel oddly embarrassed by this, but probably the book that means the most to me is Legend, by David Gemmell. I read it on the recommendation of Adam, my first serious boyfriend, when I was sixteen and stuck in a psychiatric ward. Since then I must have re-read it dozens, maybe hundreds, of times. Whenever I'm feeling under the weather or miserable, and want something comforting and easy t read, it's the first thing that jumps into my hand, and I read it in the bath until the water goes cold and I turn into a prune.

And in many ways it's "just" schlocky heroic fantasy, unsubtle and unclever. But it gives me a world to escape into, where the heroes are just flawed enough not to be annoying. It wraps me up like a warm blanket, and gives me somewhere safe to hide.

And there's a bit, quite near the end, which comes back to me again and again, whenever my faith is shaking. Serbitar, a deeply religious warrior monk, is dying:

"He took three deep shuddering breaths, looked inside himself and saw that he was dying. Reaching out with his mind, he sought Vintar and the others.
A terrible silence.
It was all for nothing then, he thought, as the Nadir tensed for the kill. He chuckled wryly.
There was no Source.
No centre to the universe.
In the last seconds left to him he wondered if his life had been a waste.
He knew it had not. For even if there was no Source, there ought to have been. For the Source was beautiful."
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I’ve been doing quite a lot of thinking about freedom of speech lately, and would like to tease apart some thoughts. Before I start, I would like to comment that I am not particularly interested in a conversation about what the law is currently, and how that should be applied, but about what both the law and social norms ought to be in an ideal world. As such “your argument is wrong because that’s not what the Public Order Act 1986/the First Amendment to the US Constitution/Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says” is missing the point.

Freedom of speech is complicated, and it would be better if people at all points on the political spectrum acknowledged this. This complexity means that it’s very easy to look at the behaviour of your political opponents and see hypocrisy - that they are espousing support of the principle of freedom of speech, and are very quick to complain when they see theirs being restricted, but all too happy to overlook it when it comes to speech they disagree with. It is much harder to look at your political allies and see the same thing - suddenly the arguments for why the restrictions being placed on you are clearly insupportable, whereas the ones you seek to place on others are perfectly reasonable start to make a lot more sense. The lesson here is not that your opponents are hypocrites, it’s that people are hypocrites.

I think the complication manifests in a variety of different ways, and part of the reason it’s easy to convince yourself that this restriction is draconian and this other is completely reasonable is that any given act of speech falls in a different place on multiple dimensions, so it becomes tempting to weight the area which points towards your viewpoint more heavily, without realising that that’s what you’re doing. I enumerate five of them below, but there may be others which I’ve overlooked.

Read more... )
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[personal profile] kht asked "What do you like to cook for yourself when you're low on time and energy?".

I'm afraid the answers to this are fairly boring. I don't get nearly as much pleasure out of cooking if it's just for me, so a lot of the time when I'm on my own in the Northampton flat I practically live on fresh filled pasta with a bit of grated parmasan and olive oil, and then fill up on fruit to make sure I'm getting enough vitamins. My other staple is scrambled eggs, which I sometimes add rice wine and soy sauce to, and eat with a croissant, and sometimes do with just salt on pepper, served with marmite covered toast.

When I feel like making a tiny bit more effort I'll make egg-fried rice, which I can throw vegetables into, or I'll make a stew (onions, garlic, various root vegetables, lentils, pearl barley (or buckwheat if I want it to be gluten free), cabbage or other green leafy veg, stock, red wine, dried herbs, spoonful of marmite), which takes about 15 minutes of work, and then just sits and cooks, and makes great leftovers.
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The life-changing magic of tidying up - Marie Kondo
I thought the 'life-changing' nature was overstated, and the scale of the difference it made to the writer is largely a function of the kind of person she is, rather than a generalisable rule. It was also steeped in the privilege of wealth, and I think would be incredibly frustrating to read for someone who doesn't have the disposable income to discard things easily.

That said, I thought the core idea, in which one declutters not by following a set of rules for things to get rid of (e.g. anything I've not used for more than a year goes), but instead having the simple positive rule for what to keep of "does this thing inspire joy", is certainly an interesting perspective. I do plan on having a fairly major declutter after we've moved house, and I suspect it will be somewhat informed by that idea.

The Paper Magician, The Glass Magician & The Master Magician by Charlie Holmberg
I can't remember why I picked these up. It's a trilogy set in a magical version of 19th century London, about a young magician coming into her power. It was diverting enough that I bothered to read the 2nd and 3rd books, but to be honest just barely, and only because I wanted something very low effort to read whilst I was feeling under the weather. It was a fairly standard coming-of-age quest narrative, with some rebellion against the magical authorities of the day. A slightly squicky romantic subplot between the protagonist and her mentor was the only thing that made it more interesting, and not entirely in a good way.
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Part one here. (This is unprompted, and I only have a couple of questions in the pipeline, so more very welcome.)

After the keynote, the next couple of sessions I went to were mini-workshops given by the Center for Applied Rationality, each introducing a practical technique to improve your thinking. These were brilliant, and made me really want to go on their full course at some point. The first technique, dubbed Double Crux, was aimed at making discussions with someone you disagree with focus more on finding the truth together than on convincing your interlocutor. This is something I try to do anyway, but having a specific set of practical steps to follow should make me more likely to actually do it. The second workshop introduced an iterative technique to make plans more likely to succeed by imagining that you'd failed and addressing the likely failure modes in advance.

After a break for lunch the next session was a pair of talks, the first of which had the biggest impact on me of anything else at the conference. It was called "Look, Leap or retreat", and the core argument was that when trying to choose between a high probability/low impact or a low probability/high impact proposition, in which your confidence in your assessments of the probabilities is itself low, doing more research is likely to be higher value than choosing either immediately. Based on this I've been doing a lot more research and thinking about my giving, and will be making changes shortly, although I am still wavering between various organisations.

The second afternoon session was called "Lessons from Starting Organisations", which pretty much did what it said on the tin, and there were a few useful ideas, but a lot of it was quite generic. One point that I did find interesting was the comment along the lines of "Don't assume that because you're smart and you've been successful at some things you'll automatically be an expert at everything straight off the bat. In particular, management in hard." I found this relevant because I spent a lot of the weekend being conscious of how terrifyingly young everyone was - it was probably the first time in my life where I felt I stood out as being well above the average age - and I think that this is something that could end up biting the EA community in the arse. There're an awful lot of bright young things, and rather less experience in the wider world.

Dinner was at a nearby Thai restaurant, and involved fun conversations about rationality and learning techniques. After dinner there was one more session, "A Conversation about Motivation", lead by four speakers who are closely involved in the EA world. This was a real eye-opener, and clearly not just for me. There was a lot of very frank discussion of feelings of inadequacy, imposter syndrome, and serious mental health issues, and the way people had dealt with them. Once the conversation opened up to the room it seemed like everyone had a story to tell, and although I left at the end of the session as scheduled, many people stayed behind, and several people said then or later that it had been the most important part of the weekend for them.

Afterwards there were semi-structured pub conversations, but I was feeling quite peopled out by then so went back to my B&B to read and then sleep.

And then in a moment of incompetence I set my alarm for the appropriate time on Monday morning instead of Sunday, and managed to sleep through the talk I was most interested in the next day. I felt like something of a fool then, but was still feeling a)really quite overpeopled, b)not overwhelmingly enthused by the remaining sessions I had planned to go to, and c)as though I'd already got more than enough value from the conference so far to have made it worth going. So I went home and closed the door and played my piano and read and felt entirely good about that decision.
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[personal profile] bunnypip asked about "cooking for other people and what you get out of it (because it's something I used to love and fell out of love with) are there any downsides for you that make it less fun? what are the best bits?"

Basically, I just really like food. Eating really delicious things is one of my favourite things to do, and especially one of my favourite things to share doing. So cooking for other people is just an extension of that really; it means I get to share eating (hopefully!) delicious things whilst at the same time knowing that I made it happen.

One of the really nice upsides to living in Northampton for a while is having new people to feed; all the dishes that I've cooked dozens of times for [livejournal.com profile] obandsoller and [livejournal.com profile] robert_jones get to be appreciated anew by [personal profile] hjdoom and [livejournal.com profile] vyvyan, and I find myself experiencing them with a fresh palate as well.

The best bit is when you serve dinner to a noisy room full of fabulous people, and then for the next five or ten minutes silence descends, because everyone is too focused on the food to continue their conversations, no matter how engaging, and you know that you've absolutely nailed it. I don't manage this every time, but it never gets old.

There aren't many downsides. I used to get very stressed about things coming out less than perfectly, but by now I'm confident enough that I'll be able salvage something edible from nearly any mistake, and that the people I cook for will be forgiving even if it does go horribly wrong and I have to resort to ordering takeaway. And unsurprisingly, being more relaxed means that things go wrong much less often anyway.
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My kid sister sets off today on this expedition to Antarctica.

I am so proud I could burst.
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(Responding to a prompt from [personal profile] sfred)

I find myself extremely polaraised by anticipation. When I really want something and am not sure whether I'm going to get it or not I am /terrible/ at waiting to find out. I get anxious and miserable and irrational and can't think about anything else and catastrophise and act in ways that make me less likely to get it. It's no fun at all.

When I'm waiting for something that I know is coming it can go one of two ways. When it's something that not having is making me unhappy I mostly try not to think about it and get on with things, which works okay until it gets close, and then suddenly a switch flicks and the last few days or weeks become unbearable.

When it's something that I'm fine without, but having will be shiny and glorious and extra, then the anticipation becomes a joy in and of itself. I daydream and I plan and I sing to myself inside my head, and I get almost as much pleasure out of this process as I do out of the thing in itself.
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(This wasn't prompted, and I've only got one in the pipeline, so more prompts/questions very much appreciated.)

Sandman - Neil Gaiman
I definitely thought I’d read all of this before, but one of the volumes, “A Game of You” was the book for the Northampton queer book club a couple of months ago, so I decided to re-read the whole series, and realised that actually I’d only gotten part way through it previously. I didn’t go to the book club in the end, but I’m quite glad it prompted me to pick it up again. As I was reading it felt less coherent than I remember it being, but once I actually got to the end a lot of things seemed to fit into place, and I was quite tempted to go straight back to the beginning and reread it to see how different it felt knowing how it all fitted together. I think I found various of the supporting cast rather more interesting than the Endless themselves, but that’s mostly praise of the former than criticism of the latter. There’s an impressive array of emotional notes, and I both laughed aloud and wept quietly as I read. I think the only thing I didn’t like was Desire’s arc, but I’m not sure how it could be changed to something that I was happier with whilst leaving the rest of the stories intact. There were other books and also pianos grabbing my attention, so I didn’t actually re-read it immediately, but I am looking forward to stepping back into it soon.

On Liberty - John Stuart Mill
I started reading this a few times and kept getting distracted and having to restart so I could have the whole thing in my head at once. I was less impressed by it than I expected to be - the core idea (“That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant . . . Over himself, over his body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”) is excellent and important, but I felt that his treatment of the difficult cases of where the boundaries of power lie, and what constitutes harm to others (particularly in the case of harm by inaction) was quite weak, and that since it’s generally around those edge cases that people disagree, the value of the book is a bit limited nowadays. Having said that, I imagine that at the time of writing, there was a lot more disagreement with the core idea, and it’s good to see the history of the ideas which we take as read now. Another criticism is that it suffers from wearing the benevolent racism of its time quite unashamedly, so I’d recommend against reading it if that’s something you’d find upsetting.
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[personal profile] nou promted me to write a post about eggs. (More prompts and questions gratefully recieved!) I'm sure there are much cleverer interpretative spins one could put on that prompt, but I'm just going to use it as an excuse to tell you about my favourite cookbook, and one of the best recipes from that book.

[livejournal.com profile] sashagoblin gave me a copy of Anjum's Indian Vegetarian Feast for Christmas a few years ago, and since then I think I've given half a dozen copies of it to other people. It's already covered in the splashes and stains that you know mean a recipe book is well loved. It's got a really wide variety of types of food, all with really distinctive flavours and textures and styles. I've not made a single thing from it that wasn't delicious.

One of the first recipes I cooked from it, and probably the one I revisit the most often, is the Goan Egg Balchao. I adjust the recipe slightly, using half as many tomatoes again as suggested, whilst keeping other ingredients constant, but follow the method to the letter. I've sometimes been a bit sceptical about eggs in curries, but it works really well here. The eggs are boiled until the yolks are just starting to set, but still have some gooey softness to them, and the sauce is rich and intense, full of sharp and sweet and umami and just enough heat to bite without overwhelming. It's more time-consuming to make than some very simple curries, as the sauce has to be reduced and darkened and then diluted and reduced again in order to really bring out the flavours, but if everything comes together well you can get it to the plate in a little under an hour, and is very much worth the wait.
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
(This wasn't prompted, but I could really do with some more prompts/questions if I'm going to be successful in writing more here during Advent! Help me out, or I'll think you don't want to hear from me!)

Last weekend I went to EAGxOxford, the largest Effective Altruism conference in Europe to date. I had a really interesting time, learned a lot, changed my mind about things, and came away with a bunch of concrete things on my to-do list, many of which I’ve already actually done or started doing.

Friday afternoon/evening
I got to Oxford a bit too late to get to the only pre-conference session I was interested in, but early enough to have time to kill, so met up with a couple of old acquaintances for coffee, which was really nice, and I think helped shift me into feeling sociable in a less stressful way than jumping straight into networking with strangers. Speaking of which, the first hour or so of the conference was a drinks reception; that definitely was stressful, but I managed to chat to a few people and have enjoyable conversations, although nothing that really stuck in my mind. Afterwards there was an opening talk, with Toby Ord and Will MacAskill giving a fairly high-level introduction to the ideas and the history of the EA movement. Most of this was fairly familiar to me, but Toby gave a really interesting tour through historical ideas that have contributed to or inspired the development of the movement. After this session people decamped to pubs around Oxford, but I had already reached my limit of unstructured-socialising-with-strangers energy, so I called it a night and went to my B&B.

Saturday morning
The morning could have started better, as the shower in my room wouldn’t run hot, but at least I was very much awake by the time I set off! Whilst looking for somewhere to attend Mass on the Sunday I had realised that I was just down the road from St Stephen’s House, and they have a daily house mass, so I went there on my way in. It was a lovely simple service, and brought back fond memories of worshipping and Pusey House, which has a very similar setting.

The first session of the day was the keynote lecture by Owen Cotton-Barratt. There was a moment of “Oh God, everyone’s so young! I’m so old!” but anyway… The lecture was entitled “Prospecting for Gold - Techniques for finding high-value opportunities”. Much like the introduction the previous evening, quite a lot of the material was stuff that I was already familiar with, but it was presented in an engaging way that I think might be helpful for me to think about when I’m trying to share my enthusiasm for EA more widely. There were a couple of ideas that were either new to me, or an important reminder of something I’ve not paid enough attention to. The main example of the latter being the need to think about marginal as well as absolute priority when selecting causes, and the former being the application of the principle of comparative advantage across people living in different times, rather than different places, or with different personal talents.
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