Adam's Brain Dump

The US Federal Trade Commission is investigating OpenAI, creators of ChatGPT et al, in order to establish whether they’ve violated consumer protection laws.

The Washington Post shared the Civil Investigative Demand Schedule that’s been sent to OpenAI requesting all sorts of information around how the company deals with the risks associated with their product.

The goal is to determine:

Whether [OpenAI] has (1) engaged in unfair or deceptive privacy or data security practices or (2) engaged in unfair or deceptive practices relating to risks of harm to consumers, including reputational harm…

Learned that you can work in two branches of the same local git repo at once without problems via the git worktree command.

Useful for if you want to quickly fix some code without having to faff around committing or stashing the stuff you were working on

git worktree add <path> automatically creates a new branch whose name is the final component of <path>, which is convenient if you plan to work on a new topic. For instance, git worktree add ../hotfix creates new branch hotfix and checks it out at path ../hotfix. To instead work on an existing branch in a new worktree, use git worktree add <path> <branch>.

PC Part Picker seems to be a good site for seeing a summary of what, surprise surprise, parts of PCs cost at present. There’s also a price history chart so you can see how it’s varied over time.

The Amazon price history isn’t shown but you could use Camelcamelcamel for that if you needed to.

Screenshot of PC Part Picker's price comparison feature

It’s increasingly apparent that relying on the ability to reliably access or even link to internet content outside of the truly open web is a fool’s errand.

I had problems today building even this little blog, receiving a lot of “Failed to get JSON resource” errors. The culprit turned out to be my use of a Twitter shortcode, which my blog software kindly provides in order to make it easy to embed tweets in their full interactive glory.

To date it’s always been possible for someone who is not logged in to see an individual tweet and for tweets to be embedded on sites. There are sites that almost entirely consist of embedded tweets and some commentary on them, for better or worse (usually worse).

I’m totally guessing, but I’m going to assume that the sudden failure of this method of embedding tweets was a side effect of Musk’s “surprise” change to prevent not-logged in users from seeing anything on Twitter. As well as stopping logged in users, even the rare ones that actually pay for the privilege, from seeing as much as they might want to on Twitter.

This and the ongoing Reddit API fiasco makes me wonder whether Ryan Broderick was right in a recent edition of his newsletter to imply that the only future-proof option for the average user to share even very mainstream content these days is to post screenshots. Doubly so for any content on any site popular enough in in theory be bought by some ideologically incompatible billionaire. How web 1.0.

While trying to track down the actual hyperlink to a post I found a screenshot of on a closed social network I was struck by how on an internet full of closed platforms, broken embeds, and crumbling indexes, the last reliable way to share anything is a screenshot. In other words, the camera roll is, at this point, the real content management system of the social web.

The 'Redact' app lets you delete all those social media posts that you regret writing

For anyone who is sick of either whatever the latest “rich person ruins social network” drama is or the thought of what their own younger self thought was just fine to post to the entire world, the software “Redact” looks like a free and versatile way to remove your posts from a huge variety of services.

It contains filters to allow you to selectively delete things. For example, perhaps you want to delete only Reddit posts you made last year that included the phrase “I love Reddit”, or only the last 7 days of your Twitter DMs. You can also set up a schedule if you want to repeat the delete every so often.

Looking at some of the commentary around the tool it seems like it occasionally stops working for some services. Presumably this is due to changes the social network companies make, including those targeted at stopping tools like this. I suppose you might be infringing certain terms of services if you mass-delete like this in many cases. But whilst the networks don’t spend much effort building their own tools to make it easy to manage and delete your past submissions to their services for obvious reasons this certainly doesn’t feel like a moral crime.

In order to delete things you are going to have to log into your account of the respective services through this software, so you will have to feel OK about trusting that the software isn’t doing bad things. They claim that Redact doesn’t store your info or transmit it anywhere, that their staff have no way of seeing your username of password. But it is closed-source so you can’t check the code directly, so caveat emptor I suppose. I haven’t seen anyone suggesting that anything malicious is going on.

The full list of services it can remove stuff from is long:

  • Discord
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Facebook
  • Twitch
  • YouTube
  • Imgur
  • Deviantart
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Tumblr
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Skype
  • Instagram
  • Slack
  • Telegram
  • Tinder
  • Stack Exchange
  • Email
  • TikTok
  • Steam
  • Blogger
  • Wordpress
  • MyAnimeList
  • Letterboxd
  • Disqus
  • Quora
  • Github
  • Spotify
  • IMD
  • Gyazo
  • Vimeo
  • Bumble
  • Flickr
  • Medium
  • Yelp
  • Pixiv
  • RustleLogs

It’s currently available for Windows, Mac, Linux and Android. Support and other discussions about it mainly seem to happen on their Discord. They also tweet.

In “I wanted to be a teacher but they made me a cop” Adam Mastroianni makes the case that teaching someone is not the same as evaluating someone. The two are often in fact at odds with each other.

He suggests separating the two. Some people become professional teachers, others become professional evaluators. They are after all very different jobs even if we usually try to wedge the latter into the former right now, despite the (over)importance of grades et al. in today’s society.

Doing evaluation on its own would have a few major benefits. First, it would force us to take evaluation seriously.

Second, we’d see how hard evaluation is, and maybe we’d do it better.

And finally, if we made evaluation its own thing, we’d see how nasty it is, and maybe we’d do less of it.

Twitter’s whims can break other sites too

It’s increasingly apparent that relying on the ability to reliably link to or access internet content outside of the truly open web is something of a fool’s errand.

I had problems last week building even this little blog, receiving a lot of “Failed to get JSON resource” errors. The culprit turned out to be my use of a Twitter shortcode, which the blog software kindly provides in order to make it easy to embed tweets in their full interactive ‘glory’.

To date it’s always been possible for someone who is not logged in to see an individual tweet and for tweets to be embedded on sites. There are sites that almost entirely consist of embedded tweets and some commentary on them, for better or worse (usually worse).

I’m totally guessing, but I’m going to assume that the sudden failure of this method of embedding tweets was a side effect of Musk’s “surprise” change to prevent not-logged in users from seeing anything on Twitter. As well as stopping logged in users, even the rare ones that actually pay for the privilege, from seeing as much as they might want to on Twitter.

This and the ongoing Reddit API fiasco makes me wonder whether Ryan Broderick was right in a recent edition of his newsletter to imply that the only future-proof option for the average user to share even very mainstream content these days is to post screenshots. Doubly so for any content that’s hosted on any site popular enough in in theory be bought by some ideologically incompatible billionaire. So web 1.0.

While trying to track down the actual hyperlink to a post I found a screenshot of on a closed social network I was struck by how on an internet full of closed platforms, broken embeds, and crumbling indexes, the last reliable way to share anything is a screenshot. In other words, the camera roll is, at this point, the real content management system of the social web.

Australia becomes the first country to legalise the use of certain psychedelics in controlled medical environments for the treatment of certain mental health conditions.

…approved psychiatrists can prescribe MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psilocybin for depression that has resisted other treatments

I’m very pleased the decades of research around this idea has finally produced a policy change.

TIL: The US isn’t the only country to officially celebrate American independence on July 4th. Denmark also does.

Much of that is thanks to Mr Henius, a Danish emigrant to the US, who in 1911 led a group of grateful expats in donating a swathe of Denmark’s land as a ‘place of homecoming for all Danish Americans’. There was a condition:

the park must hold a festival celebrating American Independence Day as a symbol of friendship between the two countries

…which still exists today: US flags, hotdogs and fireworks abound throughout the Rebild Festival.

Here’s a photo from RebildPorten.

Danish and US flags flying in front of a stage at the Rebild Celebration

📚 Finished reading 11.22.63 by Stephen King.

Book cover for 11.22.63 by Stephen King

Jake Epping, a down-on-his-luck teacher, is recruited by a friend to kill Lee Harvey Oswald before he gets a chance to kill President J. F. Kennedy.

Why? His friend, Al, believes that if JFK had survived then the world would now be a much better place, not least because his practice of politics may have meant that the Vietnam War would never have happened.

Get rid of one wretched waif, buddy, and you could save millions of lives.

And how, given the book is set in relatively modern times, 2011? Well, as luck would have it, Al has discovered a strange portal in a corner of a diner. Walking through it leaves you in the same geographic location in the year 1958.

You can return back to modernity as and when you want. And no matter how long you spent in the past-times world, it’s only 2 minutes later when you come back to 2011. But it might be a totally different 2011 if you did something in the past that had substantial repercussions.

We know that Kennedy was shot in 1963. So Jake has a few years to get accustomed to discretely living in the past, to learn how the world used to work. Unfortunately for him, the past has a way of resisting changes to the original timeline. You might plan to do something that was never done in the 1960s only to be inexplicably diverted, distracted or incapacitated en-route. This tendency is not infallible, the past can change in some ways, but it’s not entirely straightforward.

A further complication is of course the mystery surrounding the JFK assassination. In our world there are plenty of people out there who do not believe Oswald was the real assassin, or at least not the sole person involved. These people include the large majority of Americans in a 2001 poll.

Would killing Oswald in cold blood really stop JFK being assassinated? Especially if not only is there a decent chance that he wasn’t the sole operator involved, but also that tendency of the the past to exert mysterious forces in the direction of recreating its original timeline.

Jake is not a natural murderer. Understandably he wants some certainty that there is some point to conducting this operation before committing such an alien act.

Of course that’s not the only unknown. Sure, Al believes JFK staying alive long would have dramatically improved the world. But would it really? Would there be no cost to pay at all? Few people would feel certain about that, and Jake is no stranger to doubt. So many time travel stories have conveyed to us the idea that altering the past could have intended consequences for the future.

Furthermore, living in any community for several years means you’ll struggle not to build up a lifestyle, habits and human relationships that might be hard to put aside for a small chance of possibly doing something that may or may not make the future a bit better. That’s even if you could navigate your way through an alien world that resists your every attempt to change it so as to be in the right place at the right time to put a potentially huge dent into standard-timeline history.

Well, I’m pleased to say that a mere 800ish pages later you’ll find out what Jake thought and did. Yes, it is a mammoth tome, so long that had it not come with such a strong recommendation I doubt I’d have considered starting it. But the recommendation was a good one. It was over long before I could ever have gotten bored of it.

📚 Finished reading Red Team Blues by Cory Doctorow.

In this novel, Martin Hench is an almost-retired forensic accountant who has expert skills in tracking down criminals committing financial-style crimes. We’re talking about the mega-rich and their penchant for moving money around in order to conceal their unnecessary wealth or fund things that should not be funded; money laundering, tax evasion, all that unfortunate stuff.

But before calling it a day he agrees to do one last job for a friend who made a rather questionable decision when designing a new cryptocurrency with very problematic implications. Whilst the rewards on offer are substantial, this final job of course turns out to be a bit more complicated than Hench expected.

Red Team Blues book cover

The title of the book comes from the concept of red team vs blue team used in several fields including cybersecurity.

A red team is a group that pretends to be an enemy, attempts a physical or digital intrusion against an organization at the direction of that organization, then reports back so that the organization can improve their defenses.

There may also be a blue team, a term for cybersecurity employees who are responsible for defending an organization’s networks and computers against attack.

So the red team are the attackers. That’s the position Hench usually found himself in during his career, albeit he wasn’t just pretending to be the enemy.

The blue team are the defenders, in his life this would be the role of the criminals he tracks down as they seek to hide their identities and wealth.

Throughout the book we learn the power imbalance in these roles: the blue team must constantly defend against every possible threat, whereas the red team just needs to be successful one time to achieve their goal.

Personally, I find it hard not to love a book with this amount of computer nerdery in it. I mean, you don’t read sentences like “Danny was old Silicon Valley, a guy who started his own UUCP host so he could help distribute the alt hierarchy” in all that many action thrillers. Some of the technology behind cryptocurrency also features. But don’t let that put you off if you have different tastes. It’s not an academic treatise. You don’t need to have heard of the blockchain in order to appreciate the action.

I even enjoyed the acknowledgements: “thanks to every crypto grifter for giving me such fertile soil to plow”.

This week is London Data Week - ‘Data in the public, for the public’.

Join us at London Data Week for a citywide festival about data to learn, create, discuss, and explore how to use data to shape our city for the better.

I’m not going to be there, but if I was I know I’d be queuing up to experience “a night of edgy, exciting AI and data science-based entertainment with a comedy twist” amongst other offerings.

Providing the greatest educational resources to people who do well on tests isn't the only option

I’m sure Yglesias' post in response to the recent SCOTUS ruling against affirmative action will generate plenty of heated debate. But I was struck by one of the points that’s not really about affirmative action at all, or at least not along the dimensions of identity we mostly commonly think about with this topic.

Part of the benefits of being allowed into an elite US university is that they’re tremendously well resourced. Harvard’s endowment fund was worth an astonishing $53 billion recently. It could provide a huge amount of the best quality educational resources to it’s ~21k students.

But should it?

“…the smarter you are at age 18, the more educational resources you should receive” is not an obviously correct allocation of social resources.

It may be an empirical matter as to what educational distribution model is best for a given society. But first we’d have to define what “best” even means. I’m sure there are many highly conflicting opinions out there on that.

Perhaps today’s division of educational resources is the ideal arrangement for some outcome. But it’s certainly not some kind of natural law that the lion’s share of these resources must go towards the people who already did particularly well on a test when they were a child.

Especially insomuch as the sort of people who do well on school tests and, even moreso, gain access to elite institutions today tend to be those who already had access to the most resources since the day that they were born.

Absolutely obsessed with The Password Game.

All the fun of trying to pick a computer password suitable for one’s corporate accounts, but with…even more fun than this screenshot lets on. Doubt I’ll ever come close to “winning” though.

Screenshot of The Password Game

A trip to the Van Gogh Immersive Experience

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Van Gogh Immersive Experience in London.

Here’s the gentleman in question.

A 3D projection of one of Van Gogh&rsquo;s self portraits

Although I’m in general artistically ignorant, I was already a fan particularly of his extremely famous “Starry Night”. The exhibition was kind of short and a bit gimmicky in places, but I do feel like I came away with a deeper appreciation and knowledge of the fellow and a deeper awareness of his art so I’m overall happy enough to have gone.

One such new-to-me fact was that Van Gogh was thought to be colourblind. This may be what is behind his iconic use of colour. Perhaps he literally saw the world differently to most of us do.

Born in 1853, Van Gogh was an even more tortured soul than I had realised. Famously he had psychotic episodes, worsening over his life. These occurred alongside bouts of depression, epilepsy and possibly bipolar disorder. Without the necessary support it could make him hard to live with at times; the well-known cutting his own ear off incident apparently occurred shortly after a huge row with a housemate.

Copies of several of Van Gogh self-portraits

He was fully aware of his condition and the concomitant delusions, checking himself into a psychiatric hospital after the ear event. Even inside such a place he was artistically productive when not entirely incapacitated, producing some of his very widely known pieces of art. Sometimes these were based only on what he could see out of his room’s window, other times by the contents of his dreams: “I dream of painting and then I paint my dream”. Over his lifetime he produced over 2000 artworks.

Eventually he was deemed fit and safe to go return to the outside world. Unfortunately it was too soon. On the last day of his life, July 27th 1890, aged 37, he painted one final picture, Tree Roots, and then, a couple of hours later, shot himself in the chest. It wasn’t an instantaneous death, but two days later he was no longer with us.

Sadly, Van Gogh wasn’t at all well-known or renowned during his life. The excitement around (and incredible valuations of - some have since sold for the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars) his paintings came much later.

The main titular “immersive” part of the exhibition occurs at the end of the show where you get to sit in a deck chair in a big dark room surrounded by animations based on his most famous paintings and quotes, with an appropriate soundtrack for as long as you feel like witnessing the loop.

Van Gogh&rsquo;s Starry Night painting projected onto the walls of the exhibition

Some waves from a Van Gogh painting projected onto the walls of the exhibition

Pragmatically, it must be said that given the surfeit of excellent and free museums and galleries in London this one is pretty expensive for what it is. That said, I guess the immersive part of it probably isn’t available anywhere else so if you want to see that there’s little choice.

My pro tip if you have some-but-not-infinite cash to burn would be to buy the standard ticket (£18 per adult), not the VIP one (£27.90), even if you want to have a go at the extra VR experience. You can buy entrance to the VR part when you’re there if you want, currently for £5. VIPs can queue-skip, but then again I went on a random Sunday and there was no queue at all. You also don’t get a poster to go home with, but there’s plenty to be had in the gift shop.

Mya Gosling provides what turns out to be a handy guide to the 7 Shakespeare plays that might accidentally be banned in parts of the US should their ridiculous anti-drag show legislation actually become law.

Infographic describing the 7 Shakespeare plays that contain cross-dressing

Good Tickle Brain contains a huge supply of Shakespearean webcomics should you need more.

Huge shock to the system today when I saw what appeared from a distance to be a dead human body on the roadside.

A stuffed mannequin lying on the roadside

Fortunately upon closer inspection it turned out to be simply something I might characterise as village weirdness. Still rather needs an explanation though.

Living in the dumbest timeline as we do, the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship has apparently confirmed that the Zuckerberg vs Musk cage match, and event that sounded so The Onion it didn’t even register as potentially real in my mind, is “absolutely dead serious”.

I mean it probably won’t happen, given that a good proportion of what Elon says these days doesn’t happen. But I also wouldn’t entirely rule it out, especially if there’s a possibility for the $100 pay-per-view show that UFC President White indicates there is.

Keenan has it right with their swear-word ridden headline.

A day of musical fun in the sun, perhaps to be banned in the US

It’s been a couple of weeks since I had a wonderful day out in London with a well-connected friend, enjoying activities that might soon be illegal in parts of the US.

We braved the heat, fueled only by frozen variations of cocktails, to take advantage of the many free festivals that were on offer that weekend.

First up we saw the self-proclaimed “first Black Drag King from Birmingham to have been featured on Channel 4”: the incredible Don One.

Don One performing on stage

This was on the riverside pedestrian area somewhere outside of the South Bank Centre if I recall correctly, so there was no roof to raise but without question it would have been had there been one.

They’ve a Youtube channel for anyone interested in experiencing the Don1 vibe.

Next up, I’m afraid I didn’t catch the name of this duo, but they were a couple of hilarious drag queens with maximum lip syncing and audience interaction. They took a small break in the middle so they could have a quick on-stage prosecco brunch, entirely understandable given the sunshine.

Drag queens performing on stage

Then a few streets away from, and unrelated to, the drag stage, I got to witness The Yes Mess, whom you can also take a look at on their Youtube channel.

Although that vid that doesn’t feature one of my favourite parts of that weekend’s show; the live oboe performances.

The Yes Mess performing on stage

Why my “illegal in the US” comment above? Well, it relates to the drag performances that formed part of the above adventures.

As part of the Republican effort to invalidate any minority that doesn’t look and behave exactly like Donald Trump, some of their politicians and lawmakers are attempting to introduce bans on drag shows.

This isn’t hyperbole. I’d foolishly assumed that “drag ban” was a catchy name in general for the ever more horrific legislation around gender and sexuality certain US states are producing rather than something literally relating to drag shows. And although it’s undoubtedly a part of the same effort, there are restrictions or bans specifically for drag shows being proposed.

From the Guardian:

Most of the proposed bills include defining a drag performer as someone performing while using dress, makeup and mannerisms associated with a gender other than the one assigned to them at birth.

It’s an absolutely ridiculously restriction on the supposedly sacred freedom of expression value the same folk likely claim to hold dear. The thought that some of the folk enriching our lives by providing hilarious and harmless weekend entertainment could be prosecuted for doing so is truly mind-blowing.

Not that this style of performance would necessarily be what the impact would be limited to. As is typical, laws designed to cause anguish to a section of society that the proposers don’t credit as having any moral worth to worry about whatsoever tend to spill over to other areas. Famously, the definition above would presumably ban the several of Shakespeare’s plays that have storylines involving cross-dressing. This is especially ironic given that back in the day all of their female characters would have been played by men.

I’m really not convinced that watching Mrs Doubtfire - presumably first in line to lose its PG rating - when I was a kid did me permanent harm. Although having not watched it in a while I also don’t know if it aged well.

Intrigued to learn that the RStudio folks are actively working on an integration with the GitHub Copilot generative AI coding assistant.

As I spend so much time inside RStudio I haven’t yet bothered to give Copilot a go despite the rave reviews. I’m sure this will induce me to do so.

US residents can join class actions against Google and Facebook's abuse of their data

Anyone in the US who did a Google search between 2006-2013 might like to sign up here before the end of July 2023 in order to join a class action lawsuit against them.

Google has committed to pay out $23 million dollars in total, although given rather a lot of people did use Google over that 7 year period it’s thought to be likely to come out at about $7 per claimant. So honestly it’s this is just a very minor cost of doing business for Google unfortunately.

Why the payout? Surprise surprise, it’s ad-driven big tech misusing your personal data once again.

From the NYT’s report:

The consolidated class-action lawsuit filed in 2013 accused the company of “storing and intentionally, systematically and repeatedly divulging” users' search queries and histories to third-party websites and companies.

This is seen as a violation of privacy laws as well as defying what Google itself claimed to be doing to its users. It’s a particular issue because people often search for something quite personal to themselves. We’ve largely been trained to feel unconstrained in our searching - Google is the first port of call for many who suspect they are suffering from a medical issue for instance - despite the fact that in reality these days you might often assume that anything you type into the internet will one day be divulged to someone you didn’t expect to see it.

Google search queries often contained sensitive and “personally identifiable” information, including “users' real names, street addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, financial account numbers and more, all of which increases the risk of identity theft

Facebook is also in similar trouble for its unconstrained sharing of your personal data to various external groups, including the infamous Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook’s parent company, Meta, agreed last year to settle a class-action lawsuit that accused the company of sharing user data or making it accessible to third parties, including the data and political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, without users’ permission

If you used Facebook between May 2007 and December 2022 in the US then sign up here before August 25th 2023 to apply for your share of a $725 million payout.

I think both these actions require you to have been a US resident during the relevant period, although I can’t say I’ve looked into what exactly the technical definition of that is.

Jenara Nerenberg asks us to consider a different type of diversity in "Divergent Mind"

📚 Finished reading: Divergent Mind by Jenara Nerenberg.

Book cover of Divergent Mind

This book encourages us to consider a type of diversity less commonly considered in mainstream diversity, equity and inclusion efforts: the differences in how people think and feel, with a focus on how they process sensory input.

“Temperament rights” captures the idea that we should respect individual’s temperament and neurology in the same way that we should respect other aspects of people such as their gender, sexuality, or ethnic identity.

Much of the focus is on people with high sensitivity. This is commonly an aspect of diagnoses like autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, synesthesia or those termed “highly sensitive people”, as well as present in plenty of people who have no medical diagnosis at all.

Living in a world not attuned for ones' sensory processing can be overwhelming, exhausting and frustrating. Things that seem perfectly normal to other people - loud music, crowds - can be very stressful. “Everyday” tasks we’re all supposed to be able to do such as housework or adhering to deadlines might be difficult. At the same time they might truly excel in other areas of life.

The difficulties are compounded by the pressure those with these conditions feel to fit in, to appear “normal” throughout life. They do this by masking their experience. They may feel compelled to do this in every aspect of life, including in social and workplace environments, silently facing an extra challenge many of us do not. Women are apparently particularly prone to this, with their behaviour in general being more policed within our patriarchal society, having been socialised to mask more often and more effectively.

Of course this comes at a cost. Sufferers may appear to lash out or exhibit other behaviours determined by many to be “bad”. They commonly present with comorbidities such as depression anxiety, shame, guilt, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts and distorted self-image. Masking by definition precludes you from living a life in accordance with your true self.

It’s very possible that the person concerned themselves doesn’t realise what’s causing their challenge. They might seek treatment just for the more visible symptoms of their condition rather than what underlies it, or another condition entirely, which is generally ineffective.

One criticism I’ve seen of the book is that it heavily focuses on a particular demographic of folk with neurodivergences - most obviously women, and in particular middle class women. There’s not a ton of discussion about the effects of poverty, race, sexuality or other intersections of identity. I can see aspects in this in terms of the suggestions of how to live a life more compatible with one’s sensitivities that are provided at times. Moving to a quieter neighborhood, redecorating your house, reading the latest research on neurodivergence or getting a new job more suited to your cognitive style are not exactly opportunities easily open to all.

Of course if you fit into this sort of demographic or know people who do, this might be a benefit rather than drawback when it comes to getting insight into yourself or others, And to be fair, many of the suggestions are more widely applicable.

The critical message of the importance of learning to accept yourself as you are and then working to accept others as they are is clearly a message that can benefit us all. If this book helps people that struggle through life for one reason or another understand they’re not alone and certainly not broken or deficient then it’ll obviously be a force for good.

On the gender front, a man with such a condition might be a little surprised at its female focus given the title doesn’t make that so clear. But I guess it acts as a counterbalance against the dominance of maleness in past psychological and medical research, a topic the book goes into some detail about when it reviews the history of psychology as a discipline. Given some of these conditions may present differently in women than men one might need to read another book on top of this one for a full understanding.

There’s also a inevitable tension here between the idea of celebrating neurodiversity versus the pathologisation of it. Under the former mindset, no-one’s thinking or sensory style is right or wrong. There’s tremendous amount of variation such that the concept of “normal” is itself largely flawed. Whether a mental tendency makes your life harder or easier is often really a product of societal and environmental choices rather than something inherent to the condition - consider the “social model” of disability. Even what we regard as a disorder certainly has changed and will again change dramatically over time.

The DSM is more like a catalogue of current social ailments than scientific hardwired “diseases.

On the other hand people do often end up as being labelled as having a disorder. Some who suffer may seek this out. This risks marking them as “aberrant”, “weird” or “sick”. Expectations may be lowered, judgements may be received. But such a label unfortunately is often necessary to gain access to healthcare or support systems.

Although there can be upsides in carefully-used labels. Many people feel far better once they’ve found a label that seems to describe how they exist in the world, that what they experience is both “real” and acknowledged. It helps them understand why some parts of life feel particularly challenging whilst they may be highly proficient in others. It also makes it easier to find a support community of people like oneself. The book contains many stories of women who couldn’t understand why life seemed to be so much harder for them than others for years until finally, later in life they received a diagnosis. They often felt validated, and gained access to a language that allowed them to discuss their needs with others.

And it’s certainly hard to argue with some of the overall takeaways. Sentiments like the quote below are universally useful to bear in mind, even if it’s not something I’d say is especially particular to the issue of neurodivergence.

There’s really nothing right or wrong about people; we’re all just people doing our best…It’s important that we see differences, that we don’t deny them; but let it stop there and respond to everyone with kindness and help.

But it might well be that the often invisible, misunderstood and hard-to-classify neurodivergences are an aspect of humanity that we’re particularly bad at considering in this context. We should certainly do our best to fix that. Educating ourselves and others such that such variations in experience exist is surely an important first step in building a world that more people feel comfortable existing within.

My more detailed notes are here.

The Partygate report is here

New Boris Johnson report just dropped.

Yes, it’s the Partygate findings from the House of Commons Committee of Privileges. As expected it’s fairly damning.

A few snippets from the summary of the full 107 page report.

Our democracy depends on MPs being able to trust that what Ministers tell them in the House of Commons is the truth.

We established that Mr Johnson:

a) had knowledge of the Covid Rules and Guidance

b) had knowledge of breaches of the Rules and Guidance that occurred in No. 10.

c) misled the House

d) was deliberately disingenuous when he tried to reinterpret his statements to the House to avoid their plain meaning and reframe the clear impression that he intended to give

if Mr Johnson were still a Member he should be suspended from the service of the House for 90 days for repeated contempts and for seeking to undermine the parliamentary process, by:

a) Deliberately misleading the House

b) Deliberately misleading the Committee

c) Breaching confidence

d) Impugning the Committee and thereby undermining the democratic process of the House

e) Being complicit in the campaign of abuse and attempted intimidation of the Committee.

The UK is once again experiencing a heatwave, a situation likely to become ever more common whilst we fail to solve climate change. Although the temperature is not yet the giddy heights of last year’s record-setting monstrosity, which made me curious as to what exactly constitutes a “heatwave”.

It turns out it depends on where in the UK you live. One declares a heatwave when a location experiences daily maximum temperatures of at least a certain threshold for at least 3 consecutive days. But what the threshold is varies based on which county you are in, as the Met Office shows in the below map.

UK map showing the minimum temperature required for a heatwave to be declared in each county

Boris Johnson has stepped down as a Tory MP after claiming he was “forced out of Parliament” over Partygate.

Boris Johnson and his number one supporter Nadine Dorries resigned at the end of last week. Not the usual “resigned from being a minister but still have my job as a member of parliament” type resignation, Johnson having already been forced to do that some time ago. But rather a full resignation from being a member of Parliament, including an astonishingly self-pitying and paranoid sounding statement by the former.

The next day, another Johnson loyalist, Nigel Adams, also quit, opening up the door to 3 by-elections

It’s sort of odd that having too many illegal parties ended up being the reason that Johnson felt compelled to go. But also I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth.