Littera Nova

I write things sometimes.

Cherish the Heme Worm

Word count: 655 (~4 minutes), Last modified: Wed, 27 Mar 2019 21:19:33 GMT

Epistemic effort: metaphor seems intuitive, thought about language for a few weeks, did some research to see if this was original.

Deep in the Pacific Ocean, far below the layer at which sunlight penetrates and the sun's warmth is felt, there exist giant tube worms. These worms grow to over a meter long and are a startling red in color. Their pigmentation comes from hemoglobins, the family of proteins that give human red blood cells their distinctive hue. I first heard about these worms in a book called The Deep, and while one of the more well-known deep sea creatures, you'd be hard-pressed to find a person on the street who knows about them. That's because they have no obvious relevance to the day-to-day lives of us surface-dwellers, and so they are relegated to relative obscurity. While we toil away with worldly things, the heme worms blissfully live out their centuries-long existences, consuming sulfur compounds seeping from hydrothermal vents more than a kilometer from the surface world. If the world were to end in nuclear disaster, or the sun were to go out, while all surface life might be extinguished, the worms would carry on their existence, relying only on the warmth of Earth's radioactive core.

Sometimes, talking with people feels like looking at those beautiful heme worms at the bottom of the ocean. Any attempt to observe them too closely triggers a swift retreat into their protective shells, so you need like really good long range equipment to work on them. They're fragile so you'll hurt them if you try to force them to stay visible, and the equipment is expensive. Deep-sea oceanographers - worm enthusiasts all - argue that while you can't see the value in the worms right now, that's a personal lacking: it's obvious to them why the worms are important! It's fruitless to argue why you shouldn't install deep-sea vents in your house when you and the worm enthusiasts can't agree on the basic value of the worms themselves: you can't observe them enough to change your mind, nor can you see how such a thing would be possible with the resources available.

There's nothing wrong with being a heme worm - they're certainly fascinating and beautiful creatures - but most people leave them alone and for good reason. Their skittish and removed nature makes it arduous to study them, and it's risky. Travel to the bottom of the ocean carries many risks, and it's nonsensical to try if you don't have a plan on how to interact with the worms themselves.

In some communities, there exist people that I liken to these worms. Oftentimes they clearly have difficulty interacting with other community members, and being a heme worm is commonly comorbid with trauma, psychotic breaks, and experiences like intense acid trips. They often cluster together and are mutually intelligible, while being understood only imperfectly and with some difficulty by other community members. Certainly, worm enthusiasts seem to enjoy interacting with them and see a high signal/noise ratio, but use of bespoke language innovation, non-standard definitions, and overall having mental tech largely incompatible with the standard sort combined with norms of legibility for community forums leads to frustration and derailment of discussions they participate in. Usually the solution to this incompatibility is community insulation from the worms, either ignoring or shunning them entirely. This may not be the best solution, but it is a common one that lets surface-dwellers continue their work despite the existence of The Deep. Failure to address this conflict in some manner ends with only the worms remaining, safe in their darkness, filtering nutrients.

Don't refuse reasonable requests to heme worms in your community, and encourage them to make steps towards legibility. Nurture them, but be firm with your boundaries so your community can stay in the sunlit realms. Cherish the heme worm: but be mindful lest your community become their own.

phpBB 3.0 and PHP 7 Compatability

Word count: 324 (~2 minutes), Last modified: Fri, 08 Mar 2019 21:23:15 GMT

So, your webhost finally upgraded to PHP 7. Your site might runs faster (and more securely), but your ├╝ber-customized phpBB 3.0 forum which has served you and your pals so well all these years is complaining about preg_replace_callback. What 's up with that? As it turns out, the method that phpBB used to implement BBCode for a long time required a language feature called eval. eval lets a program inject additional code at runtime, which while powerful, is slow and often causes security vulnerabilities. After nine whole years of having the particular eval technique used in phpBB deprecated, PHP 7 finally lowered the /e flag on preg_replace function, to the consternation of upgrade-averse forum owners everywhere: this broke BBcode and links for your forum, rendering history unreachable!. So, how do you fix your broken forum? I can't say that this is the safest option, nor the cleanest, but it's one that worked for me.

Let's go!

  1. Whenever you're editing a piece of software, you should make backups. While this should be nondestructive, make copies of files that you edit before saving over them.
  2. Head on over to the phpBB GitHub. On this page, you'll see several sets of changes to files listed. Apply these changes to the files on your system, adding the lines with the "+" before them and removing the ones with the "-" (this is a "patch").
  3. Most likely, you'll also need a patch for includes/functions_content.php. I've written a straightforward one available for download on my patch download server. You should replace the entire make_clickable (not make_clickable_callable) function (probably lines 634-688 of functions_content.php) with the new one. Replace lines up until
    /**
    * Censoring
    */
    : if you've gone past this, you've deleted too much.

That's it! If you had to do something else to fix your site, shoot me an email and I'll update this post. Good luck, and consider upgrading to a newer phpBB!

Re: On Mental Frameworks

Word count: 930 (~6 minutes), Last modified: Tue, 10 Jul 2018 22:49:29 GMT

Epistemic Effort: Drafted, slept on it, revised. Low citation count due to avoidance of concept contamination by reading others' experience.

The ever-insightful Cassandra published yesterday an introspection on the process that she uses to think, comparing and contrasting it with various others, and proposing an trade-off between stability and flexibility. That axis is very appealing to me consistent with our mental model. I consider my experience plural, consistent with Dissociative Identity Disorder. This reflection aims to do two things: explain our mental model, and compare it with Cassandra's intentional practice. One linguistic choice to note is that I use the term alter rather than agent to refer to the individual contrasting narratives that make up our system.

The decision-making experience that we have is as an ongoing conscious discussion by alters within the system, as well as alters that are known emulations of others considered influential to our behavior. This process maps well onto the dissociative framework in the original post, with modular units and a sense of self that is foggy at best. The first alter (Lin) that fronted this system is still present in a reduced role, and originally served in both an supervisory role and one that held a veto on system decisions. However, in the past two years, she has played less of a role, and I (Nova) have instead been primary fronting member of our system. This change led to a drastic shift in priorities as well as method for interacting with others: I developed out of the need for an impartial moderator in the case of system conflict, while she had a dynamic social model that allowed her to usefully be broadly involved with her community. Her withdrawal from the fronting role thrust me into a situation where I was forced to rely on other system alters for that kind of expertise. This experience of changing identity as a major facet of identity withdrew from the collective led to change in relationships with others, as well as a change in how my personal narrative interacted with alters (moving from a purely consulting role to a managing and relating one).

Overall, this structure has provided our thoughts with clarity of purpose through a consensus-building process, though with lower temporal consistency. It has allowed us to isolate harmful mental patterns as they developed, to be dissected for their useful parts and the rest discarded (e.g. isolating the pessimism/pragmatism of a depressed alter and allowing it to be used separately from the associated fatigue and sadness).

So, how does this compare to an intentionally dissociative median/plural like Cassandra? Some similarities between her experience and our own are the self-modification ability and the ability to make deeper predictions than any singular alter. The increased hypnotic susceptibility rings true as well, though we sadly have little personal experience with it. However, we noted differences with regards to inconsistency, preferences, and susceptibility to charisma.

I do not think that the inconsistency of a dissociative framework is inherent, especially as the consensus forming process is made more explicit. Being able to have a strong consensus where it is clear that points have been argued near to completion is in fact one of the strengths for us, as I often am acutely aware of the various biases of our alters, and am glad for the contrasting perspectives in producing a better decision (with better here used to mean that the decision leads to a more holistically pleasing outcome in the long term).

In terms of preference, this seems to be more of an issue of categorization than one intrinsic to the framework. We work off of a heuristic of alternating between first and last choices presented if there is not a quick consensus, then storing the result of a longer term consensus for later, for all but "important decisions" (which do have that lag time required). This could be likened to caching, or emulating a singlet thought pattern for these cases. After all, not every decision requires a full cost-benefit analysis before executing an option.

This may be a result of our original role being as the keeper of executive function, the one who was the constant reminder of events and keeper of commitments, but we simply have not had this experience. The idea that someone outside the system should have influence beyond fact-gathering without having been modeled effectively is an alien concept for me: they have not earned the right to introduce additional heuristic complication into an already baroque decision structure. It is certainly something to look out for, and the spaces that we walk in are certainly ones that encourage cult of personality (LGBTQ, Rationality, Politics). However, given a strong in-group preference and a structure for maintaining commitment, we have not found this an issue.

The commitment structure that we use for principle consistency is one which deserves further writing. It essentially fits the stability-flexibility axis, with a trade of the self-modification for some temporal consistency. What is done is to chunk updates into deliberate times, and to hold off on making changes to structure prior to those set times. That is not to say that additional information cannot be filtered through this process: just that to introduce or change a heuristic (e.g. those prejudiced against minority groups are not often useful to talk with) is something that must be a deliberate decision over a longer period of time, which protects against emotional fluctuations. Treating the past set of heuristics as immutable for a two-week period allows for some of the flexibility within a contained environment.

Committing To Change

Word count: 1019 (~6 minutes), Last modified: Tue, 17 Apr 2018 06:01:35 GMT

I am privileged and blessed to be attending a school in the University System of Maryland. Not only is there a well-deserved reputation for excellence in undergraduate teaching, but unlike many colleges and universities throughout the country (especially those with research as part of their mission), my campus of the USM - UMBC - has demonstrated the desire to engage with the growing concern around "inclusion and diversity" as Chair of the Board of Regents Brady put it at today's Symposium on Diversifying the Faculty. A few notes follow on things I thought were important from those discussions.

In Chancellor Caret's opening remarks, he mentioned that when he became chancellor, he began a mid-term correction process to correct the system-wide strategic plan. As part of this update, the system made explicit that support of diversity, which had been more implicit (if indeed present) in the original conception of the plan. A few things that I took away from this action were that while that long term planning was important, it was also a plan that was treated as a living document, and subject to change if there was enough political will. More plans ought to be so flexible. Additionally, it shows a demonstrated commitment at the highest levels charging institutions and departments to not accept a passive role in their recruitment processes as related to new faculty. He also brought up a caution - be careful not to burn out your underrepresented minority (URM) faculty by tokenizing them in all activities where you feel the need for diversity. I applaud this recognition, as well as the commitment to taking the next step in spreading that workload by hiring and retaining more URM faculty.

I've not often met with a member of the Board of Regents, despite the massive power they wield across the university system. This made it all the more exciting to hear from the Chair himself a recognition of the progress we have yet to make: "until faculty reflect student diversity, our commitment is not credible." I was delighted to hear this, since we so often pay lip service to diversity without truly recognizing that efforts without results are not sufficient.

Throughout the day, we heard from Dr Kimberly Griffin, Associate Professor at UMCP and Editor of the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. Her calls to action were inspiring, and she introduced an ontology developed for the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities (APLU) INCLUDES project for defining categories of efforts (see Figure 3 of the 2017 APLU INCLUDES Summit Report). She also defined some useful tools for those seeking to explain just why someone should help diversity initiatives. For example, diversity of the faculty is positively correlated with department rankings (citation needed, she mentioned in the presentation but I didn't get it down and I couldn't find it by search), and stressed the important of working on climate at the department, and not just the institutional level, since that is where new faculty spend so much of their time. To that end, she also mentioned the importance of the second two parts of her three part ontology: Transition and Retention are often excluded from the conversation to focus on Recruiting activities, but each part is complementary in ensuring positive trends. Finally, she also brought up an issue that is often hard to talk about: if we as an institution are truly committed to diversifying our faculty (and we must be, since students demand a faculty that it at least somewhat reflective of their demographics), we must reward in the Promotion & Tenure process the activities that we demand of our URM faculty so often, which often happen at the expense of other sectors of the faculty role.

The latter half of the retreat was excitingly dominated by UMBC: we heard presentations from the STRIDE Committee and Associate Vice Provost Renetta Tull. Most personal to me, though, were the conversations that the UMBC community had in team breakout sessions. Interestingly, while the symposium was system-wide, the breakout sessions were divided based on institution. In my opinion, this was somewhat counterproductive - institutional conversations can happen fairly easily at any time, while an opportunity to meet like-minded individuals at other campuses can be rarer. Nevertheless, there were several helpful suggestions raised in committee (a discussion including STRIDE Committee members, representatives of faculty affinity groups and the senate, the Provost's office, the Vice President for Student Affairs, and a representative from the Student Government Association [me]). One specific step discussed was improving monitoring of faculty peer mentoring. While many departments have plans for this sort of thing, execution is not well captured in Digital Measures and anecdotally is lacking. The provost remarked that this is something that his office could work on in the 3-6 month time frame, and I look forward to following up with Dr Rous to hear how progress is going on this initiative in the fall. A cautionary anecdote related by the faculty though was somewhat overlooked though, I felt: they mentioned that oftentimes the toxic environment that makes faculty, especially URM faculty, want to leave was not captured well in exit data due to the difference between "official" reasons for departure and actual ones, and that to truly address some of these environments, there needs to be more emphasis on isolation and damage control of the individuals in those departments who make them toxic. These problems get compounded when those toxic actors are those controlling P&T processes, funding, or course load and thus have methods of punishing faculty for speaking out against them. It is clear that until this cause is addressed, the revolving door of URM faculty will continue, and little progress will be made.

As an institution and as a system, it feels like the USM has a commitment to change. The depth of that commitment, however, varies even within institutions and from individual to individual, so much so that it is vital that we continue to have conversations around creating transformative processes to incrementally address this cultural change and prioritize equity in the professoriate through inclusive excellence.

Stepping Forward

Word count: 210 (~2 minutes), Last modified: Sat, 14 Apr 2018 16:46:39 GMT

The more that I look at the discourse on Facebook, the less I like it. It is in general superficial and error-prone, and there is little keeping it going besides a network effect - it's where the people are. This is the sort of benefit that is hard to combat en masse, and is a problem that I'm going to leave for people who are smarter than me. One notable exception is the proliferation in the instant messaging space of Discord for creating small servers, and decentralizing (or at least fragmenting) the Messenger IM monoculture.

That being said, I'm tired, I don't have to put up with this, and I'm done sitting idly. My plan is to adopt the Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere strategy for content creation. All the new musings will be posted here, and cross-pollinated to my other media. I may or may not embed a comment section, but I will always be reachable via email (see the footer).

As part of this commitment, I also offer anyone reading this the same opportunity: if you are interested in blogging and would like a (reasonably sized) web space to put your stuff, email me, and I'll share my space. Long live the decentralized web!