Chad Perrin: SOB

31 July 2006

auto-management of online reputation systems

Filed under: Cognition,Geek — apotheon @ 12:14

I’m quite fond of the concept of a social valuation system — a reputation system — for site moderation. For instance, there’s the “Score” system on Slashdot, and the “Reputation” system on PerlMonks. These things induce members to rate other members’ postings, which contributes to both an at-a-glance ability to evaluate a given set of statements and a related overal individual reputation for people who regularly post there.

Such systems can be subject to abuse, however — and they are not idiot-proof.

An example of abuse:

  1. Someone posts about something that happens to touch on gun control.
  2. Someone else disagrees with the OP‘s stance on gun control, and downvotes the original post — then hunts down all posts by the OP on any subject and downvotes as many of them as possible, until running out of votes, just to negatively affect that person’s overall reputation and achieve some kind of petty vindictive “victory”.

An example of idiocy:

  1. Someone posts a lucid, logically valid, eloquent defense of a very unpopular position — perhaps he opposes socialized medicine in all forms on, say, a Canadian online community forum.
  2. Thirty other Canadians disagree vehemently because the news media outlets tell them to, and downvote the OP because it’s “obvious” that he’s “wrong”. Nobody bothers to make an effort to actually address the logic of the post.

A reasonably well-designed reputation system can provide a mostly-useful automatic social self-management situation, but such edge-case failures as the two above examples do occur. This is particularly true in that even communities mostly made up primarily of relatively reasonable people with a grasp of valid logic will develop over time some definite opinion trends, so that expression of certain opinions becomes a de facto taboo.

It would be nice to be able to design a system whose mechanism encourages better decision-making on the part of rep voters by its very nature, where downvotes do not happen simply because of disagreement, but for “good” reasons — so that the reputation voting system more effectively encourages thoughtful, well-reasoned posts, and discourages only trolls, flames, and other undesirable behavior (where “undesirable” is, essentially, behavior that involves being thoughtless, idiotic, et cetera, and not merely “wrong”). It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, and if a better system than those I’ve already seen comes to mind I would like to implement it at some point. I need ideas, though. There isn’t much that comes to mind.

29 July 2006

How to Tell When The Story’s BS

Filed under: Humor,Metalog — apotheon @ 01:33

Two days ago, I spent the entire day hanging out with a friend from SoCal named April, and her Denverite friend Justin. In the course of reminiscing about the good ol’ days, we talked about a pseudo-essay thingie, almost a mantra — a weird little mini-story whose whole point was to be ridiculous and unbelievable.

Way back in the day (about 2001), I worked at the fencing/duelling booth at Southern Faire in California. Yea, verily, I stabbed people for a living. I might call what I did “fencing instruction” if I wanted to stretch it a bit and make myself sound good. I might also be stretching it a bit and making things sound better than they were if I said I got “paid” for this: it was a good weekend when I broke even. The money wasn’t the point, though.

There was someone I knew, who also worked the fencing booth, who went by the name Remy. In the course of conversation, we ended up discussing signs that someone’s BSing you. I seem to recall this started because he said “So no shit, there I was,” and I said something like “There’s a sign you’re about to make something up.” I went on to say that it can only get better from there:

“So no shit, no shit, there I was . . . in the ‘Nam.”

I don’t remember who came up with what exactly. I think the water buffalo was his idea, and the Crisco was mine. I’m pretty sure the VC were my idea, and the hot tub was his. I definitely recall how it ended: Remy said that this little story absolutely must end with what he called an “aneurism statement”. That was, he explained, one of those statements that is so odd and nonsensical in some kind of compelling manner that it’s liable to cause an aneurism if you think about it too much. That’s how we ended up with the moral of the story, though I think I was the one that suggested it should be a “moral”. April was there for parts of this, and certainly heard one or both of us run through the whole thing on many an occasion. It became such a “thing” that people would get one or both of us just for the sake of sharing this bizarre linguistic concoction with another friend.

I’m not positive I remember all of it, but here, at least, is as much as I recall:

So no shit, no shit, there I was . . . in the ‘Nam . . . in a hot tub, with six naked women. You could smell the VC comin’ outta the rice paddies. Then the waterbuffalo surfaced. Someone dropped the can of Crisco, and that’s when things got real weird. The moral of the story is: Ice cream has no bones.

26 July 2006

The Origin of Ethics and Law

Filed under: Cognition,Liberty — apotheon @ 02:53

Law — enforced governmental policy — is properly an attempt to implement a universal system of ethics as a set of inviolable social rules via a central organizational authority. Because this is a real, concrete implementation of a system of ethics, law must employ an empirically, logically valid, demonstrably reasoned system of ethics as its basis. Mere moralizing cannot fit these requirements. A statement of metaphysical belief is not sufficient to justify the use of a given system of ethics as the basis for a system of jurisprudence. Metaphysical belief systems cannot be proven and, in fact, direct evidence cannot be provided for them. There is no way to either prove or disprove the existence of Allah, Zeus, Gaea, or Brahman.

This being the case, there is a concrete, ethical requirement to avoid condemning others for believing in Jesus Christ and adhering to the associated morality simply because of one’s own belief in Brahman, or vice versa, at least on the physical plane. Concrete circumstances call for concrete ethics. If you wish to hold someone in moral contempt for failing to believe the “right” things or for adhering to the “wrong” morality, you are of course quite free to do so — but visiting punishment upon them in this material realm for such differences of opinion is without provable justification. It is even morally wrong, according to most (if not all) of the most common belief systems, though that is immaterial to this discussion.

While empirical observation and logical reasoning are by no means without their fundamental uncertainties, they are the necessary basis for any attempt at a universal system of ethics. A universal system of ethics, in turn, is the necessary basis for a universal system of law, and that system of ethics must be based upon nothing more than empirical observation and logic — because that’s the closest we’ll get to being sure of anything. After all, if empirical observation and logic cannot be trusted to any degree, the whole question of morality and ethics, and of the proper ordering of society, is moot. It’s really that simple.

It is for this reason that we cannot base law upon religious doctrines, individual whims of dictators and kings, or mere majority rule, except insofar as such sources of law might coincide with empirical and logical reasoning or, perhaps, even be mandated by empirical observation and logic. Thus, government in the United States was designed to incorporate checks and balances, to limit the ability of democratic process to easily and radically alter the form government takes, and to strictly separate church and state. Government is, at its most fundamental level, the implementation of law. It must be protected against the encroachment of influences on law that contradict ethics derived from empirical and logical reasoning. This was, in general, the intent of the “founding fathers” in their creation and ratification of first the Articles of Confederation, and later the Constitution of the United States of America. It fails only insofar as it was the product of decision by committee, and as it was written by men convinced of their own fallibility and the future goodness of humanity.

The first and most important matter for consideration when choosing whether to support or oppose a bill in front of the legislature should be a universal system of ethics derived from first principles via empirical observation and logic. The Bill of Rights serves as a reasonable guesstimation at the requirements of such a system of ethics as codified in law. Thus, when making such a decision of support or opposition, consider first whether it directly violates any part of any Amendment in the Bill of Rights: if so, reject it. Consider second whether it necessarily supports any Amendments in the Bill of Rights: if it does not, consider finally whether it contains any potential for abuse to violate any part of any Amendment in the Bill of Rights, and if so, reject it again. I speak here of the clear and obvious spirit of the Amendments that make up the Bill of Rights, and not of the lawyerly obfuscations and loophole exploitations that make up some nontrivial part of what passes for Constitutional law in many courtrooms today. Do not impose your expectations of what should have been meant in the Bill of Rights upon its phrasing: see these Amendments for what they truly are, and how they were intended.

Similarly, apply such thinking to consideration of candidates for political office. If they do not regard the Bill of Rights or (even better) a universal system of ethics predicated upon empirical observation and logic as the fundamental set of imperatives for their policies in office, do not vote for them. To do so is to condone all the abuses arising from their derivation of policy from inappropriate sources, such as a religion that disenfranchises millions of well-meaning, unintrusive, good-hearted American citizens who may be the best neighbors a person could have, if they’re not in jail.

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All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License