Musings on cultural food

I’m half White half Chinese Filipino, so some of my foods and food practices might be considered “ethnic”. But it doesn’t really feel like I’m doing anything strange. Instead, what it feels like is, gee, White people sure are strange. In particular, my fiancé has funny eating practices. It’s a constant source of in-jokes among us.

In the US, portion sizes at restaurants tend to be very big, and they get bigger at more expensive restaurants, up to a point. But for the most expensive restaurants, the trend reverses, and suddenly you’re getting a small piece of sea bass with a single piece of cauliflower and two mushrooms. These are the kinds of restaurants that my fiancé goes to with his family. They’re foodies. Eating with them is quite the experience. They spend the whole time talking about the food, selecting their favorite and least favorite among the dishes, expressing satisfaction or regret with their choices, comparing to the food they had at some other restaurant years ago. For a while, they were concerned that I didn’t like the food because I didn’t continuously lavish praise upon it. Yeah, I mean, I like the food but I’m not sure I’m capable of liking anything to such a degree.

One common pattern of praise went something like “these mushrooms perfectly complement the sea bass”. And it doesn’t sound like much, but the more I thought about it, the more it blew my mind. Because it seems to me, it doesn’t particularly matter what entree is paired with what garnish. It’s just the sum of its parts. But for my fiancé’s family, there’s some magical value not just in the food itself, but in the pairings of different foods. And I think it speaks to a totally different mindset, a different way of experiencing food. I suppose this is why each dish is composed of only a few parts, meticulously selected, and then exhaustively listed on the menu even when it’s just a sprig of parsley.

And I’m always thinking, where’s the rice? Rice plus anything–there you go, apparently I believe in magical food pairings too.

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#MeToo and centering perpetrators

Last October, #MeToo had become a popular tag on Facebook, with many friends posting personal stories of harassment or assault. At the time, I wrote a post asking “Who is #metoo for?” I was questioning the assumption that #MeToo was entirely for the benefit of survivors. While sharing a personal story of trauma can be cathartic, it is often a burden. Survivors may be adopting this burden not for their own benefit, but in hopes of educating the public.

So, funny thing, #MeToo continues to be a big deal even now. And it didn’t go in the direction I expected.

At some point, I stopped seeing friends post personal stories. As far as friends’ personal stories go, #MeToo is over. Most people with stories have already decided either to share them or withhold them. Instead, #MeToo has become about celebrity accusations. Somewhere someone writes a #MeToo post talking about their horrible experiences with some unnamed dude, then the truth comes out that the unnamed dude was actually Famous Celebrity. Then the media gets a hold of it and it makes huge headlines. #MeToo strikes again!

This has been happening over and over again for months. And not just in the mainstream realm–if you paid attention to any subcultures or small communities, you might have heard accusations against small-time celebrities and leaders. Scandal after scandal, fractally repeating.

It’s good to see people in power finally punished for their misdeeds. But you see, back when #MeToo was mostly about survivors posting personal stories on Facebook, I was already complaining about how the campaign wasn’t very survivor-oriented. And that’s nothing compared to what #MeToo is now. #MeToo, in its current incarnation, fundamentally centers perpetrators rather than survivors.

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Sleeping Beauty and Quantum Mechanics

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2014.  Note that Sean Carroll also wrote about this, and he’s an author of the cited paper.

My newest favorite philosophical dilemma is the Sleeping Beauty problem.  The experiment goes as follows:

1. Sleeping Beauty is put to sleep.
2. We flip a coin.
3. If the coin is tails, then we wake Sleeping Beauty on Monday, and let her go.
4. If the coin is heads, then we wake Sleeping Beauty on Monday.  Then, we put her to sleep and cause her to lose all memory of waking up.  Then we wake her up on Tuesday, and let her go.
5. Now imagine Sleeping Beauty knows this whole setup, and has just been woken up.  What probability should she assign to the claim that the coin was tails?

There are two possible answers.  “Thirders” believe that Sleeping Beauty should assign a probability of 1/3 to tails.  “Halfers” believe that Sleeping Beauty has gained no new relevant information, and therefore should assign a probability of 1/2 to tails.  The thirder answer is most popular among philosophers.

This has deep implications for physics.

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Magic-Angle Graphene Superconductors

A couple weeks ago, there was an exciting discovery in my (former) field of research. It was found that if you take two layers of graphene, and rotate one of the layers by a “magic angle” of 1.1°, then you can create a superconductor.

Some brief background on superconductors. A superconductor is a kind of material that conducts electricity with zero resistance. That means you could transport electrical power without any energy loss. Or you could create so much electrical current that it creates a powerful magnet (used in MRI machines). Superconductors also have special magnetic properties that allow for magnetic levitation (used in maglev trains). But superconductors need to be cooled below a certain temperature to work, otherwise they’re just ordinary materials.

As of 1957, physicists have a working theory of superconductors, but the theory only explains certain varieties of superconductors, called conventional superconductors. Magic-angle graphene is an unconventional superconductor.

So, why would you ever try rotating two layers of graphene? Graphene is simply a layer of carbon atoms that form a hexagonal pattern. If you overlay two hexagonal patterns with a bit of rotation, you create what’s called a Moiré pattern.

Two hexagonal grids, one rotated by 10 degrees, form a moire pattern when overlaid.

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Video game censorship and feminist criticism

Last week, the white house held a meeting to talk about violence in video games, and their potential connection to gun violence. This has many gamers worried that the government will do something to censor video games, or pressure the games industry to self-regulate.  My opinions on the matter: 1) this is an obvious ploy to “address” gun violence without addressing gun violence, 2) I defer to the research that says video games do not cause gun violence, and 3) the second amendment shouldn’t exist. If you disagree with any of these propositions, you are welcome to yell at me in the comments, as one does.

But I’m not really here to talk about gun violence, I’m here to talk about feminism. See, I did a forbidden thing, I read some internet comments. And I found that some people think that Trump’s talk of censoring video games is similar or analogous to feminists/SJWs talking about problematic or sexist aspects of video games. As a feminist/SJW myself, my reaction is, “uh no.”

But it also raises the interesting question, what do I want?

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Any ace panelists?

A few years ago, I organized a panel called Asexual Spectrum Atheists for FTBCon, an online conference. It was great success, and we were praised as “the nightmarish collision of FTB and tumblr!” OrbitCon is the spiritual successor of FtBCon, held on April 13-15. If I organized a similar panel, would anyone be interested in either watching, or being a panelist?

Ideally, the panel would have a variety of viewpoints, including ace/aro atheists/freethinkers who have never been involved in atheist communities, people who used to be involved but left, and people who are involved currently. Probably most of the time spent won’t be about atheism at all.  OrbitCon will provide tools and information if you wish to conceal your identity.

I’m ambivalent about organizing this, because I’ve been doing this for so long and it would be nice to have fresher faces.  Depending on the level of interest we can figure something out.

You may also e-mail me at skepticsplay at gmail dot com.

Link Roundup: March 2018

Is Black Panther Alt-Right? (video) – Apparently several people in the alt-right are arguing that the fictional nation of Wakanda is an alt-right paradise.  Shaun deconstructs this in an entertaining way.  Note: I’ve not watched the movie.

The Ace Flag: A History and Celebration – This is mine, I’m plugging my own article.  It’s a little history of the purple-white-gray-black ace flag.  I was around when it was created.

Lawrence Krauss’s History of Sexual Harassment – Rebecca Watson talks about the Buzzfeed article that revealed Lawrence Krauss’ history of sexual harassment.  My reaction to the Buzzfeed article was, “Didn’t we already know that?”  I had recalled from the distant past that there were accusations, and all the skeptical orgs knew about it too.  But Krauss faced no consequences until recently.  Typical.

What Makes Celeste’s Assist Mode Special (video) – After all that talk about difficult video games, and whether they should include “easy modes”, it seems that some game developers have come up with an effective approach to offer players freedom to play how they want to play, while also maintaining a coherent vision of how the game should be played. The key is to offer options, but to clearly communicate (either explicitly or implicitly) the intended way to play. Also, rather than calling it an “easy mode” it’s best to call it something less judgmental, such as “assist mode”.

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