Young Adult Dystopia and You

Featured image- Lelouch from Code Geass

You don’t quite know how it happened, but you’ve ended up in a young adult dystopian novel. You were aware that the political climate had been a little messy of late, but hey- politics are always messy. And sure, there has been a mysterious leap in the level of technology, but you’ve never been one to stand in the way of progress. Nevertheless, when you woke up this morning, you realized that society is highly stratified, children are participating in deathmatches, you are under constant surveillance, and your eyes are watering from all of the darned nanites blowing around in the polluted air.

Now that you’ve “awakened” to your situation, here is a handy guide to help you navigate your new reality.

Step One- Don’t panic. Take the words of Douglas Adams to heart. “Don’t Panic” should actually be your first step for any process, but it’s a bit more difficult to remember when you’re being chased by a cyborg shark cop than when you’re ordering a sandwich.

Step Two- Blend in. This will be hard, because you are special. For example, you might be the only person with more than one personality trait, like in Divergent, or you might be the only person left who reads real books, like in Fahrenheit 451. Either way, unlike the sheep around you, you are starting to question the system, and if you can’t hide this fact you will become a target.

Step Three- Find allies. Ok- I lied. You aren’t really special. There are hundreds, if not thousands, just like you. Unfortunately, like you, they are all trying to blend in. If you want to survive, however, you’ll need their help. To find the other malcontents, search for the nearest attractive and mysterious stranger. This stranger will betray you eventually, but in the meantime they can secure an introduction to the underground resistance.

Step Four- Win over the resistance leaders. Your attractive and mysterious stranger has an admirer, and they will mistrust you on sight. What’s worse, the admirer is one of the resistance leaders. You will need to strike an amazing blow to the government in order to prove yourself.

Step Five- Become the resistance figurehead. Congratulations; whatever you did in step four has completely blown your cover. You really should have been more careful. However, your act of defiance has inspired millions, and now the revolution has begun.

Step Six- Get Captured. Don’t worry- this is the easiest way to confront the true villain. The evil overlord respects you enough to capture and interrogate you personally, and he won’t kill you, because he doesn’t want to create a martyr. However, he will probably destroy a small city or an orphanage if you don’t do as he says.

Step Seven- Make a faustian bargain. The evil overlord will offer you a deal- compromise your ethics and help him to calm the agitated masses in exchange for some freedom for the people and the lives of your friends. You will have to ally yourself with the enemy in order to serve the greater purpose.

Step Eight- Become that which you despise most. Even after the bargain is struck, a rogue resistance soldier will kill the evil overlord. Because you were the resistance figurehead, you will now be the new overlord. You learn that being an overlord is more difficult than you thought, and that sometimes you must do morally grey things that hurt some segments of society in order to keep society functioning.

Congratulations! You have survived the Young- Adult Dystopian novel- unless of course you sacrificed yourself and your second-in-command replaced you. Still, job well done. Now it’s the next generation’s turn to overthrow the regime you’ve put in place.

Wednesday Link Party

For everyone who feels exhausted, demotivated, and stressed, here are some links that may help you.


  • I’m not often too tired to play games, so here is a link that will help you approach life in the spirit of relentless grinding… for XP! Level Up Life
  • If you work best with the help of others, here is a study room where you can work on your projects during quiet times and brag about them during not-so-quiet times. The site can also help you track your progress. Less Wrong Study Room
  • Finally, there can come a time when only a threat of potential loss can break through your demotivation. If you need extra help getting your butt in gear, this is a site where you put money on the line. Meet your goals, or lose it! beeminder

I also have compiled a list of methods I personally use to beat akrasia.

  1. Pre- commit to your goal. Don’t say, “I might do this.” Say, “I’m doing this.”
  2. Visualize success.
  3. Create artificial restraints. For example, put your alarm clock across the room to force yourself out of bed.
  4. Use immediate rewards to supplement long-term rewards. “If I start my homework right now, I can listen to the new album at the same time.”
  5. Build habits through a consistent schedule.

Wednesday Link Rundown

I don’t think I’ve done a link rundown on Wednesday before. Neat!


Radiolab: Hello

I’ve always loved dolphins, so this episode of Radiolab was a special treat. The highlight was a piece on the infamous Lilly experiment where a woman, Margaret Howe Lovatt, cohabitated with a dolphin named Peter while she attempted to teach him to vocalize in human speech. I’ve always seen this experiment described as not only a failure, but a disaster, so I was shocked when radiolab played Peter’s tapes and I heard how much he was able to learn, and how far he came from the beginning. Margaret also described a fascinating behavior, in that Peter would practice his vocalizations alone, without the promise of reward.

It’s a shame that the project was not planned better. If the working conditions had been better for both human and dolphin, and if the study had been more rigorous, I think some interesting findings could have been published. Dolphin communication is still a ripe field, and we are treading slowly to ensure we do it properly.
This is How Your Hyperpartisan News Gets Made- 10 Reasons Why You Should Be FURIOUS

In other news, the news is terrible. Get off your high horse, Buzzfeed, you’re just as bad as the rest.

It’s still clickbait, even if there’s a fake-out to prove a point.

You too, The Guardian.

NASA Lights the Sky for Solar Eclipse

A Mass of Viscous Flow Features

And yes, I know I post a lot of NASA stuff, but it’s all so wonderful!

World Building- Part 1

From Writing to Reality


I’ve always loved world building. There’s a certain magic to creating a place for my characters to live, and an almost godlike power in setting up and controlling an entire universe for them to inhabit.

I use world-building to write stories with a rich environment for my characters to explore, but why should we leave world-building to fiction? Societies and communities develop almost organically- each part are built in a patchwork fashion and problems are solved as they arise in the process. However, I prefer to look at things from the top down- to envision the society I want and then make it a reality.

When I was young, I would often write stories or create shoebox dioramas of the worlds in my imagination. As I got older, I became better at it, and I’d often have opportunities to practice at school. Several of my teachers, in different grades and all teaching different subjects, would give a similar assignment: build your own world and describe how it will work.

Sometimes this world would be a city-state, like in my History class. Sometimes it would be a country, like in my Civics class. One time, in art class, I even got to build my own space colony. Funnily enough, though I hadn’t yet read about Carolyn Meinel and Keith Henson, my colony involved mainly goats and hydroponic vegetables.

These assignments were mostly free-hand. The teachers didn’t want to give us the framework, but rather, for us to discover what was needed to build a society for ourselves. In this spirit, I’ve sketched out my own framework.

  1. The Environment. Where do people live? Is this a city, a space station, or a forest tree village? What resources does the environment provide? Is it stable?
  2. The People. What is the culture, religion, language, education level, and class structure of the people?
  3. The Economy. What resources do the people need and value? How are these resources distributed?
  4. The Infrastructure. This will include all of the mechanisms that help the other systems function, such as buildings, roads, electricity, water, education, hospitals, emergency response, etc.
  5. The Government. How do you create and enforce the rules that help all of the systems work properly? How are the rule-makers and the enforcers chosen?

Keep in mind that this is only a rough sketch, and that the systems are far more complex in reality. In fact, many of the systems are so intertwined that it’s difficult separate them. For instance, the economy can be a type of infrastructure, and infrastructure shapes the environment, as well. In the second part, we will look at this framework in more detail, and see how individuals can affect all of these systems once they get ideas about what sort of system they want.

Rules for the Effective Hero

While reading the Evil Overlord List, I was inspired to create its counterpart- a list of rules for any aspiring hero to avoid the most common, cliche’ mistakes. My resolve to write this list was strengthened while watching a certain terrible anime.

This list is dedicated to anyone who is the hero in their dreams- may you make your dreams real. Please read, and if you think of any rules- add them in the comments!


  1. Do not play a game the villain has stacked against you, even if he calls you a chicken or uses a mean voice.

2.If the key that you’re protecting will destroy the world if it falls in the wrong hands, just go ahead and throw it in the nearest volcano.

3. Don’t turn down rewards to appear noble. Saving the world is a worthy cause that needs funding.

4. Give weapons and combat training to the beautiful damsel as soon as possible. Give the same training to the cute kid.

5. Don’t leave the ailing king in his obvious, poorly-guarded palace. Don’t wait until the palace is under attack to spirit him away through a hidden passage.

6. Don’t pin all of your hopes on the power of love. Superior technology, strength, and political power are pretty cool, too.

7. Don’t leave your friends in a misguided attempt to protect them.

8. If a villager mentions a legendary item, you will have to find it. If all of the villagers warn you not to go into the mysterious forest or cave, you will have to go.

9. The old adage is true- never split the party.

10. Don’t trust the beautiful, mysterious princess that you just happened to rescue from the dungeon.

11. Give alms to every old woman you come across. If you sneer at her appearance, don’t be surprised if she curses you.

12. Listen to the mysterious old hermit- especially if he sounds crazy.

13. When everything seems to be going well, you are unwittingly working for the bad guy. When everything goes wrong, assume the same.

14. When you face the bad guy, don’t just sit and listen as he gloats about his evil scheme. Use the distraction to attack or escape.

15. Don’t waste your time with the bumbling minions. They mostly exist to give the boss a chance to escape.

16. Don’t assume the villain is gone for good. Double tap.

17.When you enter the villain’s lair, look for the quickest escape route first. Look for the self-destruct button second.

18. If you find yourself spending an unexpectedly happy, peaceful day with your long-lost loved ones, you are really in a dungeon under a spell.

19. Work out a reliable code with your true love ahead of time, so you can shoot the real doppelganger.

20. Collateral damage is bad PR.

21.Don’t throw away the guard’s uniforms as soon as you infiltrate the castle. Keep your mask on.

22. Asking the villain, “why did you do it?” is usually pointless.

23. Maybe, deep down, you and the villain aren’t so different, but least you aren’t trying to destroy the world. That still counts for something.

24. If there is a very good reason to disregard any of these rules, do so- especially this one.

Link Rundown: Positive Change

Saving the world doesn’t always involve inspiring acts of bravery; the project needs funding, as well.

If you are interested in giving, and would like your dollars to do as much good as possible, here are some resources that may help.


Centre for Effective Altruism

Animal Charity Evaluators

Cool Earth

Also, here are some links for those who want to give a little extra to help some worthy institutions.




National Parks

Better is Enough

The world will probably never be perfect, but it can always be better.


There is a certain attitude pervasive in social discourse, which seems counter to the concept of optimizing the world. In social discourse, politics, and the media, any new proposal or solution must meet a standard no lower than perfection. There doesn’t seem to be an official name for this attitude; system justification doesn’t seem to encompass the issue.

Many are understandably reluctant to update what seems to be a perfectly good system, but the problem is that people easily become complacent with flawed but familiar systems. Any flaw in a new system is pointed out as evidence that the new system does not work, and that it was hubris to mess with the old. The problem is that, even if there are flaws with the new system, it may be more effective overall than the old.

It may not be worth it, in the long run, to implement a new system whose benefits are so small that the time and expense it costs to put it in place is not worth the gains. However, politicians, pundits, and the newspapers hardly seem interested in sitting down and running a cost-benefit analysis. The public, I’m sure, is even less interested in reading a cost-benefit analysis. Newspaper sales rise when two sides are pitted against each other, and policy disputes are great for ratings. Politicians gain office by making the other side look bad. Sales of old technology is protected when new technology is attacked.

Take, for example, automobile technology. No matter how safe a Tesla might be overall, problems with the new technology can linger in public discourse.

In such cases, it’s important to remember that better is ok. In fact, better is great. Any lives saved by implementing new systems still carry great moral weight. It’s still good to scrutinize new technology. It’s important to roll out new systems slowly and carefully, to rule out unforeseen consequences in a complex system. We must not, however, hold back significant improvement in the name of impossible standards of perfection.

As long as it’s possible, let’s try to do better.