my favourite albums of 2019

  • Amy Steinberg - Intimate with the Infinite (2013)
  • Lena Reine - Celeste OST (2018)
  • Dream Theater - Distance Over Time (2019)
  • Elbow - Giants of All Sizes (2019)
  • Elbow - The Take Off and Landing of Everything (2014)
  • Leprous - Pitfalls (2019)
  • Rebecca Sugar et al - Steven Universe Soundtrack, Vol 1&2 (2019)
  • Tool - Fear Inoculum (2019)
  • Tune-Yards - I can feel you creep into my private life (2018)

Geek masculinity

I have to write a paper for this class i'm taking about masculinities. A first draft is due tomorrow, and i'm having trouble getting into it, so i figured i'd try blogging about it and see if that helps.

I wanted to do my paper on the topic of geek masculinity because i consider myself a geek, and it seemed to me that the sort of masculinity that geeks perform could be held up as an alternative to some of the mainstream ideas of masculinity.

One of the things we talked about in class is how there isn't just one single masculinity but a multiplicity of masculinities. Different cultures in different times have recognized different models of masculinity as the dominant and acceptable form of masculinity, and we call this the hegemonic masculinity.

Masculinities can also overlap. It is also possible for a single person to embody different forms of masculinity at different times or in different contexts. For example, the masculinity of being an office worker, the masculinity of fatherhood, etc.

Currently, the hegemonic masculinity in most of the world (particularly the Western world) is the gender binary. You're already familiar with the gender binary, but to summarize it briefly, this is the belief that there are two genders, mascuine and feminine, that everyone is either one or the other, and that they are defined in opposition to each other. That is, masculinity is often defined in terms of being not feminine. For example, showing emotions is feminine, so showing emotions is not masculine.

One of the most common traits associated with masculinity is strength. Physical strength, endurance, aggression. Athletes are held up as the ideal male body. Outbursts of violence, aggressive business tactics. "Wolf of wall street"-type behaviour. These are how a man gets ahead in the patriarchy.

Geeks, i thought, might be an alternative kind of masculinity. A masculinity rooted in intelligence, not strength.1 Where brains are valued over brawn. Where creativity rules the day.

Is that the case? Here's what i found.

My initial research led me down a dark path. Thinking about geeks and geek cultures led me to think about gamers and gamer culture. Closely related, for sure — many geeks are gamers and vice versa — if not entirely synonymous. And that reminded me of all the toxicity in gamer culture right now, and i quickly spiraled down the rabbit hole of chan culture, gamerg*te, and (ultimately) the alt-right. As the video essay How to Radicalize a Normie reminded me, the alt-right targets people who fit the typical geek profile: white, nerdy, and outcast.

But that's not really something i wanted to spend my time researching and writing about.

So, after a discussion with my teacher, i pivoted. I decided to research the ways that geek masculinity intersects with the big tech; how it creates tech culture and is implicated in its expansive neoliberal forces.

Hang on, that's kind of a mouthful. Here's my working thesis that i submitted a few weeks ago.

Geek masculinity has shaped and molded Silicon Valley tech culture, and is complicit in the damage these companies have caused as they have expanded their global reach. Facebook’s (former) unofficial motto “move fast and break things” provides a window into one aspect of this masculinity.

Let me try and break this down. There are two aspects

  1. Geek masculinity. Facebook is built by programmers. People on the geeky side of the spectrum. (This goes for Silicon Valley in general; Facebook is simply a juicy example.) Geeks were early adopters of tech & the internet, and have been a defining force in its history.
  2. Transnational business masculinity. According to R. W. Connell, this is the global hegemonic masculinity. It is what drives business relations around the globe, and it is built on and reinforces a certain kind of masculinity. Facebook is a transnational business, and so it is invariably entangled in this form of masculinity as well.

So there are two competing forces at work here: geek masculinity and business masculinity. If geek masculinity really does represents a competing kind of masculinity, separate from hegemonic (business) masculinity, then how do these two very different forces interact within a company like Facebook? What are the implications?

Let's do some research. First, we should establish what a "geek" is. Fortunately, that turns out to be pretty easy. There has been plenty written about geeks. Most sources i could find agree that geekiness is characterized by obsession

Geeks tend to be obsessed with something: a hobby, a tv show, a comic book series, etc. They learn everything there is to know about their obsession.

[to be continued...?]


  1. Credit for this observation goes to my classmates

x86 disassembly resources

This is a list of resources i've found helpful while working on CHIPS.EXE.

And a couple CC-specific ones:

  • Chips.exe Offset Information Michael Hansen's notes were helpful in mapping the data segment
  • pi comments pieguy's comments on level 41 of pi.dat helped with figuring out the layout of the game struct

Project announcement: CHIPS.EXE

For the past few years i've been secretly working on a project to disassemble Chip's Challenge. Today, i'm finally making that project public.

The repository is up on github:

It's still very incomplete, but most of the game logic has been disassembled, so it may be of interest to optimizers and bug hunters.

Future work includes disassembling the UI code and figuring out a story for linking.

Book review: "Sapiens: A brief history of humankind" by Yuval Noah Harari

Harari breaks human history into four periods separated by three revolutions: the Cognitive revolution, the Agricultural revolution, the Unification of Humankind, and the Scientific Revolution.

The first half is interesting, but i think suffers from the lack of information from those periods. By definition, we don't have records for any prehistorical time, so much of what we know is speculative in nature, reconstructed from bones and sparse archaeological finds. Most of what we know is physical and biological — where people were and vaguely what they looked like — but we don't really know how they thought or what the culture was like. Particularly in the first section, where he talks about the other species of humans that existed, like the Neanderthals; we can make guesses about how they lived and why they went extinct, but we will never really know. Nevertheless, the speculation is interesting as long as you accept it for what it is.

In general, i felt like i was never getting a complete picture, like i was always getting a somewhat simplified view of things... but given the scope of the book (all of human history), that's to be expected. There isn't space to go into all the subtleties and details of everything.

The last two sections of the book talk about the unifying forces of money and religion, and later of the rise of imperialist and capitalist ideologies. Interestingly, Harari does not see much of a distinction between ideology and religion, putting twentieth century ideologies like liberalism, communism, and fascism in the same bucket as religions like catholocism and buddhism. The main difference is that the former center around the belief that humans are in some way unique and worthy of a special place in the world; they worship humanity rather than gods. I'm not sure i'm entirely convinced, but it's an interesting way to view it. Science is not a religion by this definition because it is purely objective: it doesn't ask people to believe in any entity (neither humanity nor gods) that isn't supported by evidence. I would argue that modern popular worship of science blurs this line, with many people putting blind faith in anything "sciency", without thought to process.

The modern age, post-scientific revolution, sets itself apart from previous eras by a belief in progress. For the first time, Harari writes, people believe that the future will be better than the past. All previous religions (or ideologies) are rooted in the idea that the ideal world is behind us, that we have fallen from grace and the world is slowly falling apart (e.g. the garden of Eden). There was no reason to invest in the future because the future would inevitably be worse, so there would be no return on the investment. The scientific revolution set that on its head, and enabled capitalism to take over the world. Capitalism is built on the accumulation of capital, which is a form of wealth but in particular it is wealth that is reinvested in order to increase the productivity of whoever owns the capital. Although this sounds obvious to us today, apparently in the past kings and elites would mostly spend their excess cash on parties or monuments rather than, say, funding research into better military technology to enable more profitable conquests in the future. The belief in scientific progress enabled the creation of the military-industrial-scientific complex which turns the gears of the world today.

Growth created capitalism, and it cannot survive without it. If the growth ever stops, belief in the future stops, investment stops, and the cycle grinds to a halt. Which is why presidents and CEOs all endlessly talk about growth, and which is what makes capitalism so scary. This in itself is not a new thought, but that makes it interesting — what makes the book interesting — is seeing it in the context of the 70,000 years of human history that came before it. Never before has human culture been so fixated on growth, and never before has the world changed so quickly. It's frankly alarming.

Favourite quote:

So, monotheism explains order, but is mystified by evil. Dualism expalins evil, but it puzzled by order. There is one logical way of solving the riddle: to argue that there is a single omnipotent God who created the entire universe - and He's evil. But nobody in history has had the stomach for such a belief. (page 221)

Update : Neil Kakkar wrote a nice cliff notes version of Sapiens: If Sapiens were a blog post. Check it out.

Book review: "The Left Hand of Darkness" by Ursula K Le Guin

This was a very difficult book to get into. The main character finds himself caught between the political squabblings of two nations on the world of Winter. The majority of the book is a political drama, which i found rather boring. I picked it up for the exploration of gender and sexuality, not for politics. I wish Le Guin has spent a little more time on the interpersonal and societal implications of the inhabitants' hermaphoditic nature, rather than the political ones.

There were some interesting bits, like how childbearing is more normalized and accepted by society, since anyone could potentially carry a child; or how the order of sucession for a king goes first through any children they have carried themselves (flesh-born) and secondarily through any children that others have carried for them. But these were few and far between.

There was also a lot of interesting worldbuilding around the fact that it was almost perpetually freezing. Everything from the design of the cities (one in which the whole thing was connected by tunnels) to the cultural norms (travelers on the road are always welcomed and given three days' food & shelter) to the physiology of the people (narrow noses for breathing the cold air). It all helped support and reinforce the idea that these were people who had been living in the cold and the snow for thousands of years. To be honest, it felt a lot more fully realized than the gender/sexuality thing.

I was annoyed by the constant, ubiquitous use of he/him pronouns. If it were written today, Le Guin would probably use they/them pronouns. It would be interesting to read a version with updated pronoun usage.

I was also annoyed by the heteronormativity. When two Gethenians pair off and temporarily take on sexual characteristics, one is always a woman and one is always a man. There's no recognition in the work at the possibility that they might both become men or both become women. Heterosexuality is the norm and Le Guin doesn't so much as question that assumption, despite how easy it would be in this setting.


Genly is on a mission to bring Winter into the Ekumen - a loose trading alliance between over 80 world. He spends the majority of the book trying to convince rulers of the nations on Winter to agree to open up a dialogue with the Ekumen. Having not ready any other of Le Guin's books, i have no idea who the Ekumen are or why they are important, so i had no stake in Genly's mission.

The book can be divided roughly into thirds by where the main character Genly spends his time - the first in Karhide, the second in Orgoreyn (which i couldn't help but pronounce as "Oregon" in my head — i assume the similarity was not entirely unintended), and the last third in the Ice. I found the last section the most interesting, as it finally dispenses with most of the political drama and simply chronicles Genly's journey with his friend Estraven out of Oregon and back into Karhide via a long trip across the permafrost glacier that borders the north edge of the habitable zone of the planet. Here, they finally get to know each other a little better and start to chip away at the cultural differences that separated them before. I was a bit disappointed that they didn't hook up at all during the trip. Estraven does go through his kemmering cycle at one point during the journey (as a woman, of course), but Genly rebuffs him.

what i did this week #4

Hmm, it's been a while since i did one of these.

Mostly i've been trying to stay caught up with homework, since i was sick with a cold last week and didn't feel like doing much of anything.

LUG held our annual BBQ last weekend, and it was pretty successful! It wasn't raining as much as last year, and i counted about 40-45 people there. We even made back all our expenses from donations, which was pretty cool. [I'm just noticing (again) that our website doesn't support HTTPS, which is dumb. We should fix that.] Beaver Barcamp was also a success. I mostly went to fun talks instead of interesting talks. Don't judge me. I didn't give a talk this year, which i'm kind of bummed about, but i didn't feel like i had anything prepared. Probably need to just get over it and commit to a talk even if i don't feel like it'll be all that it could be.

Over spring break, i worked on my chip's challenge dissassembly some more. It was fun to get back to that. I should probably publish it somewhere one of these days? I want it to be closer to a working state first, though.

I also wrote a little bytecode intepreter yesterday. I'm playing around with the idea of a language which has built-in support for arbitrary-length integers and strings, and not much else. Sort of like lua but with all the warts fixed. I started writing a compiler for it over the summer, but that got bogged down because compilers are hard and i don't really know how to write one. So i figured i'd approach it from a different angle and see where that got me ... and what I ended up with was a cute little register machine. Not sure where to go from there though. The core idea seems like it is workable, but it is clear that i am going to have to figure out a story for how memory management and complex data structures. Python handled garbage collection for me in the intepreter, but that's not something i can rely on for the compiler. Also, the interpreter doesn't provide any way for programs to build larger data structures; programs are limited to just the three primitive types: strings, ints, and booleans. I don't think i want to go the lisp route where cons cells are a primative and the machine has deep knowledge about objects and stufff; i think i'd rather go the WASM route with a linear memory model, where the language has to decide what bytes mean, and the machine doesn't have to care. Of course, this poses problems for a language where the primative types are not fixed-size and where it has no concept of bytes.

pronoun policy, march 2019

  1. Please use they/them pronouns for me in professional contexts, when addressing a large audience, or conversing with people who do not know me.
  2. Anything goes among friends. He/she/they/whatever. Please use whatever you feel is most appropriate in the moment.


It's a new year, so it's time for a new set of new year's resolutions.

But first, let's see how i did with last year's resolutions.

  1. My first resolution was "be more open". Meaning i wanted to start to open up about some of my feelings about gender and sexuality, and i wanted to be more comfortable posting things online without always worrying about how other people might react.

    Specifically, i wanted to post more frequently to my mastodon and twitter accounts. I think i more or less succeeded there, although i will be less active now that school has started again.

    I also made leaps and bounds in exploring my feelings and opening up to a few people in my life.

    My last specific goal in this category was to start a blog, but that didn't really happen.

  2. My second resolution was to "find friends". I hit all my goals with this one: I started going to munches and making friends in the scene; I started a weekly game night with some coworkers at my internship; and i reached out to an old friend that i had fallen out of touch with.

    Really happy with my progress here. Not sure how many of my new friendships will last, but it's a step in the right direction at least. And good practice at least.

  3. My last resolution was to "make music". This one i made the least progress on. I did get together with my brother a couple times to jam and record some things, but we never really finished that project, and i never found (or even searched for) a regular jam partner.

    One thing i've wanted to make happen for a while is to stream some piano improvisations. That didn't happen last year.

    On the plus side, i got a ukelele and a nice microphone for xmas, so maybe we can make something happen next year.

For most of these resolutions i really hit my stride in the second half of the year, when i was working and had more free time. It's going to be hard to keep up steam with them now that i'm back in school, but i hope i'm able to do so. I'm really looking forward to seeing where i can go this year.
With that out of the way, let's move on to this year's resolutions.
  1. Take care of myself

    I've been ignoring some health issues for a while. I want to take care of those this year.

    I also want to maintain my mental health by being more deliberate about which types of media i consume, and where it comes from. I recently made twitter a lot more pleasant for myself by making a restricted timeline of only friends i know and care about.

  2. Be more queer.

    Whatever that means. I still don't know exactly where i fall on the giant rainbow tapestry of queerness, but i have a general direction i want to explore and we'll see where it leads. I recently moved into a house with two other queer roommates, and i'm super excited about that.

That's it. Only two resolutions this year, and the second is basically a continuation of the first one from last year. I'm pleased with all the progress i made last year, and i'm looking forward to seeing what this year has in store.


i wish i were the kind of person who could say what is on my mind without worrying about what other people think. i wish i weren't afraid to express my feelings.

i don't find that social media works very well for me. i don't like feeling like i'm standing on a stage, screaming into the void. i prefer small groups.

social media feels like a panopticon — you never know who might be watching. it isn't conducive to safe exploration and self-expression.

i'm a bit of a social chameleon; i adapt how i behave according to who i'm with, so i'm most comfortable in small groups of people, preferrably one or two. when i'm with a large group of people i don't know how to react so i become more withdrawn.


one of my big projects right now is to port veekun to Pyramid.

why? because otherwise veekun will die.

veekun is built on Pylons*, which has been languishing unmaintained for years. Pylons is the only dependency keeping us on Python 2, and Python 2 is due to be end-of-lifed in 2020. the only future for veekun is one in which we port it to Python 3, but we can't do that until we ditch Pylons.

* actually that's not entirely accurate: veekun is built on spline, which is itself build on Pylons. spline was an experimental web framework plugin architechture thing that never really succeeded. which makes porting even more interesting because not only do i have to port from the Pylons way of doing things to the Pyramid way, i also have to disentangle veekun from the magic spline was trying to do behind the scenes.