Monday, May 15, 2017

Random Thoughts IV

Learning the Japanese Anthem

It took a bit, but I finally memorized the Japanese anthem. I can sing it fairly well now.

Why did I bother to learn this? Have I gone full weeb? Well, maybe. I'm an immigrant. I live here now. I think knowing the anthem is the least I can do to show appreciation for my new home culture. I think it is actually a decent litmus test for immigrants and their level of assimilation.

The Denial of Identity

All human beings look to the sky and struggle with one basic existential question: Who am I? They answer this by looking inward and outward. They derive an identity. Our identity is a composite of our biology and environment. We get it from family, friends, neighbors, television - the wider culture. We also get it from those immutable unchosen characteristics - our sex, our ethnicity, our height, etc. These things matter. Being a man is fundamentally different from being a woman. Most black people would be offended at the suggestion that white people can fully understand what it is like to be a minority. Being black makes us different. Stand up comics, friends talking honestly among themselves, and individuals in their private moments all understand this. And it isn't a bad thing.

This is an area where I disagree with leftisim. The militant insistence that there are no differences between races, no differences between men and women - it takes something away from us. Healthy well-adjusted people learn to appreciate their identity. Most women I think are happy to be women, and appreciate men for the ways in which men are unique. Men I think often enjoy being around only men, but at the same time love femininity in women. Living in Japan has made me appreciate the ways in which Japanese people are unique. We've got to celebrate our differences.

It has become fashionable to complain about identity politics of late. So long as people seek an identity, identity politics are not going anywhere.

Are Transgender People Offensive?

I had a conversation with a conservative Chinese girl the other day and she expressed strong opposition to transgender women. She said that she found it offensive that a man could put on a wig and a dress and have equal standing with natural born women. "These men do not know what it is like to grow up as a girl. They never get a period. They can never get pregnant. They don't have our hormonal differences. All they do is mimic some female stereotypes. They degrade the concept of womanhood with their role-playing." I expressed a more agnostic view. While I think gender dysphoria is a real mental condition I am skeptical of surgical reassignment as a proper clinical response given the high suicide and depression rate among transgender people. Still I respect people's right to do as they wish with their bodies.

This girl then brought up Rachel Dolezal and asked me how I felt about white people claiming to be black after darkening their skin. "How would you feel about a white guy putting on baggy clothing, talking Ebonics, and acting stereotypically black and then claiming he is now a black man?" I thought about it and decided that yeah, that would actually be pretty offensive. It wouldn't matter if he had some weird brain condition that made him act that way. Being black is not about matching some stereotypes. Hell, I don't match most common black stereotypes at all, yet I am a black man and my being black is a fundamental component of my identity. A man who likes wearing dresses and acting feminine is still a man, just as a tomboy with short hair and a gun collection is still a woman. Again, I don't have any personal issues with transgenders, but I get why other women would not see them as "true" women.

That Poppy

I am becoming obsessed with this girl. What is her deal exactly? Her music is tolerable, but the weird "promo" videos she does on her main channel are hypnotic. There seems to be some subtle political and cultural commentary. For example Famous Politician and This Red Pill. Her "creator", Titanic Sinclair also has his own goofy channel. I really appreciate high concept art and just the commitment to a bit shown here. I'm genuinely captivated. Looking forward to see where they go with it.

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy 2

The Marvel formula is not complicated: 1. Lots of humor 2. Lots of snazzy special effects 3. Charismatic and sexy leading men. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Doctor Strange, and Guardians of the Galaxy have all successfully applied this template. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 continues the tradition with two hours of reddit-approved fluff. You get another disposable one-off villain. You get plenty of 80's references and music. You get an inoffensive story that (happily) isn't connected to all the other Marvel movie madness and basically leaves things in the same position as the start of the film. There are two legit awesome action scenes, a few solid one-liners, and a surprisingly powerful ending that will give you the feels for a brilliantly cast supporting character. Overall I enjoyed it. It's a simple movie that entertains without leaving much of an impression. It is the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy or a 90 second roller coaster ride.

Japan Hologram Girlfriend

Japanese men are apparently turning to virtual girlfriends more and more as the technology gets better. This new hologram girlfriend offers an interesting example. Many commenters call the men who use such things "pathetic," and lament that it will only reduce Japan's birthrate. The thing that struck me however, is just how little these artificial girlfriends actually do. They don't cook, they don't have sex, they don't earn money. All they do is greet you cheerfully in the morning and say nice things. To think that a man might actually buy such a thing and then conclude he now has no need for a wife or girlfriend. It shows just how little men actually want from women. Men are simple, self-sufficient creatures. Ladies, take this to heart: You don't need to be beautiful. You don't need to be a gourmet chef. You don't need a fancy job. You don't need to be a sex goddess. You don't need to be smart. All men want is that little bit of sugar - that little bit of feminine sweetness. Just smile, be cheerful and nice to a man, and he will happily serve you until the day he dies.

Neoteny and Japanese Women

Neoteny is the phenomena of adult organisms retaining characteristics from their childhood. Karen Straughan did a good video thoroughly covering the topic. (start at 12:11 for the key part) The fact that women are far more neotenous than men is extremely important. Neotenous features are perceived as more attractive by males and inspire an instinct to protect and provide. In general men are attracted to youth. This is why cosmetics for females are designed to make them look younger.

In Japan female neoteny is on another level. For one, Japanese women just tend to look much younger than they are. I have seen women in their 50's that would easily pass for late 20's. Furthermore, the whole concept of 'kawaii' is centered around a kind of childish innocence. It isn't just the schoolgirl fashion or makeup either. It is the behavior. The high voices, the childish mannerisms, the body language, the attitude toward sex - all of it creates this general cultural feeling of masculine = parent and feminine = child. I think a similar dynamic exists in most societies actually just because of how we have evolved as a species, however it is just hyper-emphasized in Japan. It can be very hard for westerners to adjust to this, particularly some of the lolita artwork you might see that appears to sexualize children. Excessive fetishization of neoteny leads to pedophilia.

A Movement Not a Club

I have seen a lot of silly Twitter arguments in both left and right wing communities lately that always seem to boil down to purity testing. People always want to have these different litmus tests to decide if you are a proper right-minded progressive or conservative. On some fundamental issues I think this is fair, but it is important for activists to understand the difference between a movement and a club. A private club can be as pure as it wishes. In fact that's precisely what the membership like about clubs - that they are exclusive. In this regard I think it is great for men, women, Asians, Star Trek fans - whoever, to have spaces to themselves. A social movement by contrast has to grow in order to create change. Progressives handicap themselves to the extent that they are hostile toward whites and males. Similarly the Alt-Right has a lot of people that seem to want to hang a "No Girls" or "Whites Only" sign on their front door. Good luck getting anything done that way.

A Quote

"Programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute." ~ SICP first edition

Keiyaku Kekkon Update

My side project:

Still fixing bugs in my spare time. Got some help from a contractor on some annoying UI things. The site has a few dozen users and is still coming along. Probably a few weeks out from what I would comfortably call a Beta version - something stable enough to market aggressively.

I think the Japanese Konkatsu (marriage matchmaking) industry is ripe for disruption. There are so many sites and services these days and many of them charge ridiculous prices. People are just so desperate to find a partner. I think with the right marketing Keiyaku Kekkon could be a major player.

I also think there is a wider market out there for someone creative enough to tap it. The basic concept behind Keiyaku Kekkon is the idea of pre-negotiated peer-to-peer relationship contracts. A person wants some type of relationship with another human being. Instead of cruising bars / churches / 4chan, they use a web platform with a community of people offering contracts. The closest thing I can think of to this today is Craigslist with its personals section, but this is far from optimized. Whether you want offer a spare room in exchange for having a tall woman throw tomatoes at you, or you need a friend to help you fix old motorcycles - we all have things we can offer in exchange for getting some type of desired interaction from a fellow homo sapien.

Keiyaku Kekkon is, to my knowledge, the first stab at this idea in a formalized way. I hope to see the concept validated.

The Perils of Remote Work

I have worked remotely a lot over the years. Here are some things to look out for if you are seeking to get into the "work all day in my pajamas" game.

1. Physical Health

Having to commute to a job guarantees a minimum amount of exercise. Working from home does not. You can easily have days go by where you never leave the house. This could be because you are swamped with work or responding to alerts, or any number of things. Since you are working alone you don't get those natural little bits of physical activity from office life - going for a walk with a manager, grabbing lunch with someone, walking over to a colleague's desk to ask a questions, etc. You have to make a conscious effort to get out daily and do something. This can be harder than you think if you're an introvert. You may have several days where there is really just no need. So you need to get a good routine in place lest you end up putting on weight.

2. Mental Health

Some people are antisocial. For them the isolation of remote work is a feature not a bug. I found this true for myself to some extent. I genuinely like being alone when I can. However over the long term, working remotely will blunt your social skills. Whether or not you consider your coworkers friends, the daily close proximity I think is helpful to most people if only because it keeps them practiced in manners and social cues. In the worst case scenario the isolation of remote work can exacerbate other mental health issues - everything from minor neuroses to depression. When you are around other people there is at least the chance that someone might notice if there is something wrong with you.

Having an active social life outside of work hours can mitigate much of this. That will at least help you to avoid the sense of loneliness that can sneak up on remote workers. The trouble is that even if you keep busy outside of work, you are still missing out on an important category of socialization - professional interactions in a work environment. I experienced this firsthand after a long stretch of working remotely and then attending a company conference. It was really jarring. I recall feeling very anxious and being really awkward around everyone. After enough time passes you sort of forget how to act in an in-person team meeting, or business conference.

3. Work Habits

What's the old quote? There are lies, damn lies, and working from home. It is true that working from home requires more accountability. The office environment at least offers peer pressure. Every now and then someone might look at your screen and catch you on reddit. If you are slacking you might notice it in people's body language and eye contact. You can feel the atmosphere and detect a lot of nonverbal cues. When you're on your own at home, you have to hope that your manager is giving you sufficient feedback and that your JIRA ticket record speaks for itself. Unfortunately I think it is human nature to take advantage sometimes - to squeeze in an errand or some Dark Souls PVP because why not? I've got two monitors and extra time. Who's going to know? There exceptions to this issue of course. Some people do their best work from home. Still it's something to keep in mind.

4. Acculturation

This is only an issue for immigrants. I have found that working remotely while living in Japan has stalled my ability to properly integrate into society. Since I am not in a Japanese office with coworkers, I don't get to practice my Japanese speaking as much as I would like. I have found that my knowledge of Japanese social etiquette is lacking, and that I am not as up on current events and culture as I would like. In other words, working remotely in a foreign country can solidify your position as an outsider. Again, it's solvable with planning and deliberate efforts, but the problem largely disappears by just working on-site.

5. Career Progression

This one can sneak up on you. In a company where most of the employees are on-site and a handful are remote, it is easy for the latter workers to be overlooked when promotion time rolls around. It is a natural human bias to have more trust and concern for people that are physically present. Sure, Andy out in Toronto pushed some great features last quarter. But he wasn't out drinking with me until 1 am like Tim. I haven't been able to shoot the shit with him in the break room like with Mike. I don't actually see him with that determined look in his eye at his desk 10 hours a day reviewing code like I do with Sarah.

No matter how great Andy is, he just can't leave the same type of impression as the people that are there. I have seen some orgs where it is implicitly understood that off-site guys are not to be considered for leadership roles. Sometimes it is explicit, as happened with Yahoo and their crackdown on remote work. This issue is the hardest to solve because ultimately it is out of your hands as an individual. It is up to your company to have a strong remote work culture that puts off-site people on an equal footing. That doesn't just happen - it takes effort and entails a cost to the company. Most will not incur that cost if they do not see the benefit.


The point of this post is not to trash the concept of remote work. I think remote work is extremely important for the future of the global economy and all developed societies. It is critical that we have more flexible work arrangements, particularly for parents with small children and talented people with other unique situations that make on-site work difficult.

However there are pitfalls to consider. It's not as simple as having a wacky Slack chatbot. All of the issues I bring up in this article are solvable. The problem is that the solutions often take carefully planned deliberate efforts. People are not always capable of this. Thus you have to look at the real human toll of long-term remote work arrangements and find ways to mitigate the negatives. Remote workers need to be mindful of the physical and psychological effects over the long term. Companies need to be honest about how remote work can influence career progression.

Like anything else people need to consider the tradeoffs. Remote jobs can be a godsend or a curse depending on your situation.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What is Keiyaku Kekkon?

 Here's a good song for this post:

"Keiyaku Kekkon" is a Japanese phrase that literally means "Contract Marriage." It is basically a marriage arrangement where the husband and wife write down their expectations of one another for their relationship. The contract can include anything from housework, to financial responsibilities, and even sex life details. The concept of "Keiyaku Kekkon" became popular in Japan over the last year because of television drama called Nigeru No Wa Haji Da Ga Yaku Ni Tatsu. (The drama also created the Koi Dance meme)

I watched that drama and got the idea of creating a Contract Marriage service.

So why is Contract Marriage a good idea?

Imagine going on a date with someone and knowing, before you even shake their hand, that this person has the exact same vision of married life as you. All the hard questions about children, career, household roles - all of it is already settled.

That's basically what Keiyaku Kekkon does by matching people on contracts. It removes a lot of the anxiety men and women have about committed relationships. Many men today are skeptical about the benefits of marriage. With Keiyaku Kekkon, they can see up front and in writing exactly what they stand to gain from having a wife. Women similarly benefit. They need not waste years of their time trying to entice a man to commit to marriage. They can know at the start whether the man intends to support her career, allow her to be a stay-at-home mom, or seek some middle ground.

I think the concept has value to a lot to people who dream of marriage but worry about finding a compatible partner. It may ultimately be a niche market, but we have to start somewhere to try to improve the institution of marriage. Marriage is important for society. Healthy cultures encourage marriage. But unfortunately marriage has been in decline in developed countries for some time. Declining marriage rates lead to a number of social, economic, and demographic problems. I think there are four big reasons for the decline of marriage:

1. The economy - the transition to two-income households
2. The culture - attitudes about marriage, sex, and gender
3. The legal system - family courts and welfare policies
4. The logistics of dating and matchmaking

I will dive into these issues in more detail in later writings. For now I'll just say that the severity of each of these problems differs by country. In Japan for example, I think number 4 is a much bigger issue given the relatively high rate of virginity and the greater separation between men and women. In America I think numbers 2 and 3 are much more serious. Keiyaku Kekkon cannot do much to help with problems 1 and 2, but it can help a bit with problem 3 and a lot with problem 4.

Keiyaku Kekkon is only a week old. It is still in alpha and only has a few dozen users. It is completely free to use during this period, so I encourage people to sign up and tell their friends. Over the next few weeks I will be busy fixing bugs, promoting the site on social media, and going to startup events to pitch the idea. I have spoken with a few seed investors and registered Keiyaku Kekkon with several startup sites. With a little funding, I think I could make the site much nicer and do more aggressive marketing.

Check out the site to learn more. Still in need of more alpha users for feedback. Let's make marriage great again!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Alpha Launch

So there it is. Keiyaku Kekkon. It actually works.

I'm quite proud of myself. Even though it is still a buggy piece of shit, at least it's finished. I have so much trouble actually following through and finishing my various side projects that it feels good to actually see an end product. It is a real thing that could actually be useful to other people. Maybe it won't ever get any traction. Maybe it will never amount to much. But no matter what, it exists.

The site is in an alpha testing period, so I am not promoting it too aggressively. Just hope to see a few users trickle in so I can get feedback and squash more bugs. Once I feel like it is battle tested, I'll move into a beta period and have regular paid accounts.

Once it gets to beta I'll probably promote on Reddit and do a "Show Hacker News" post. Going to need to think a bit about marketing and business development. Marketing isn't really my area so I'll probably have to do some research on how to advertise. Still, I think the basic business concept has legs if it is pushed the right way. Time will tell!

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