Designed for the job

Every once in a while I have an experience that causes me to meditate on the question of how much variation in human behavior is genetically driven. I’ve written before about my gradually increasing awareness that I am genetically designed to enjoy combat. I had another experience something like this last night in a completely different domain – learning to solder.

Some weeks ago A&D regular Craig Trader reacted to my string of posts about the Great Beast of Malvern by dropping a TV-B-Gone kit into my and and saying “Here. Your next challenge.”

This is a thing I love about my peer group: that their idea of a good gift is one that challenges me to learn a skill outside my comfort zone. Because to turn that bag of parts into a working device, I’d need to – gulp – mess with hardware

My gut reaction to this prospect was a kind of terror that is probably difficult for anyone under 35 or so to understand. You see, I learned my programming in the era of minicomputers when electronics was ludicrously expensive by modern standards. I still have a twitch that if I touch electronic hardware I will fuck up and it will be hideously costly and I will end my days in some sort of horrible debt peonage trying to pay off the liability.

This twitch has significantly interfered with my ability to kit-bash my personal computers. I do it when I have to, but find it a tense, unhappy, jangle-nerved experience when I have to put my hands on and avoid that whenever possible. That is, opposed to doing whole-systems hardware design when I can use somebody else’s hands for the actual assembly; I’m completely fine with that.

Craig did a good thing for me, because What he gave me was a Mylar bag of parts that are obviously cheap. That is, if I ruin them it’s no big deal beyond my fussy engineer’s dislike of having wasted anything that could have been put to a productive use.

So I bethought me of another friend, Phil Salkie, who has hardware skillz and asked him if he’d teach me how to solder and he said he’d be delighted to. Which is how I ended up spending yesterday evening at a bench with a borrowed soldering station being patiently and carefully instructed in how to solder together a TV-B-Gone.

Which I did. And it worked, and actually came out really well – Phil pronounced it a good clean build, and when I posted a picture on G+ others noted the same.

Now here’s the wacky part: despite my fear of hardware I wasn’t really surprised at this. Because doing it felt right. Satisfying. Smooth. Like I was designed for the job. What I needed to learn was just details of technique; the cognitive set for it was already in place and at some points in the procedure I entered a light flow state. On my first build!

A thing that helped: my father was a handy amateur electronics tech who built his own stereo equipment in the 1950s when that was a thing, and at one time repaired TVs semi-professionally. I was an observant child and retain some early memories of watching him work. One bit of lore that stayed with me is lightly twisting together the metal fibers in a wire before tinning them. (Phil explained why you don’t want to do this if the tinned wire is going into a compression connector – mashing twisted fibers will sometimes cut them – but such connectors barely existed in my dad’s day other than as punchdowns for telephone wire.)

So I actually had some cultural resources here. But even outside electronics I have a history of being surprisingly good at precision handwork considering that I have freakin’ spastic palsy. When I don’t have a specific fear of bad consequences that paralyzes me I find it calming and pleasant to do things like tying flies or assembling small models. I have long suspected that had I been born in preindustrial times I would probably have found my way into some sort of fine craftsmanship like making watches or jewelry or musical instruments.

While this affinity isn’t terribly uncommon in developmentally normal people, it would be a very odd trait to find in combination in someone like me with damaged motor control and partial hemiparalysis if it were entirely learned. Thus, I am driven to suspect that a significant genetic component must be in play.

Having formed that suspicion, there is something about my known ancestry that jumps out at me. That is, my mother’s direct ancestors were Swiss-Germans from the region of Zurich – and I take after them; I’ve been there lecturing at ETH and was told I could pass for a local in a heartbeat.

This tiny region of Europe has been producing a disproportionately large share of the craftsmen who do precision work with small parts for centuries. To the point where in the U.S. the most important single school of precision machining traces its origins to there and is sometimes still called “Swiss system”. Um…coincidence?

I don’t think so. I suspect that for some reason lost in the mists of prehistory that population was selected for traits that later turned out to be pre-adaptive for crafts like watchmaking – fine motor control, patience, perfectionism, pleasure in building things – and that I inherited pretty much the whole boatload. Giving me a strong enough bent in that direction that even spastic palsy and fear of screwing up couldn’t prevent me from being good at it.

Actually I think I might even have a guess about what in the EAA did this. Some of the earliest settlements in the region were lake-dwellers who, naturally, would have fished intensively. Hundreds of generations of selection for net-makers, net-menders, and net-minders, perhaps?

We know of other trait clusters like this. East Africans and distance running is the one that leaps to mind. What others might we be missing?

74 thoughts on “Designed for the job

    • >Take a National Genographics exam and see where your genetic enablers have been…

      I’m not quite $159 worth of curious. Maybe when the price comes down below $100…

  1. I’ve been an avid programmer for years and I’m hopeless when it comes to fine-motor skill craftsmanship; the two skills are definitely not a package deal, so you’re right to go searching for another explanation.

  2. I have the same fear of hardware, but it’s a different motive; namely my trembling hands to having Essential Tremor. This makes certain physical tasks almost impossible without having the patience of job. I would love to learn to solder, but would most likely disfigure some part of my body in the process.

  3. That is, if I ruin them it’s no big deal beyond my fussy engineer’s dislike of having wasted anything that could have been put to a productive use.

    Ah! It is good to know that this is a positive trait and not something wrong with me. Does produce clutter though :-/.

    […] or assembling small models.

    Are you a modeler? You haven’t mentioned it before.

  4. The first time I tried to solder a circuitboard, I didn’t read directions, didn’t watch tutorials. I just went down to the hardware store, bought everything that looked related, hauled off and did it, figuring I would learn as I went. :-P

    I was attempting to use a soldering-gun to solder electronics. :-P :-P Board #1 came out looking extra crispy. The right tool and a few tutorials later, board #2 came out well.

    —-

    Now that I think about it, that was more or less what I did when learning basic programming too. I figured out conditionals, input, output, and that wonderful wonderful goto statement. After that, I figured I had the minimum logically complete set necessary to do anything else I wanted to, so away I went without the benefit of any of that mysteriously redundant stuff like loops or structure. A week or three later, I had half of a map editor for a FFII-inspired game engine built. I decided to show my programmer uncle my creation. He stared in horror at the mass of completely unstructured spaghetti code and exclaimed: “What is this?! This is not what you do with a programming language! Who gave this kid a compiler?!” Then I started learning “all that other stuff” and putting two and two together.

    • >Does anyone know any sites that people who like to mess with hardware hang out?

      The makerspace/hackerspace movement is heavily into this. Google for those terms and see what pops up in your area.

  5. @ESR

    I am highly dubious. If I got my evolution right, it is all about selective pressure, and selective pressure is a fairly brutal thing. Selective pressure means if you don’t have the right genes you end up dying early and as a virgin. Or in the best case your wife refuses sex after a kid or two while othes have like 8 kids. Do you really think watch-making in CH could have ever created such a strong selective pressure? That the not-good-watchmakers would go die young and as virgins (like, as soldiers), or at least could not afford larger families? I really don’t think this can be the case.

    This is the issue with most evolutionary theories. Does it matter enough to not having you can make you a dead virgin at 16 or having it can make you have 3x as big a family as your neighbor? If not, then it is not evolutionary and not in your genes.

    • >Do you really think watch-making in CH could have ever created such a strong selective pressure?

      No. It hasn’t been around long enough.

      That’s why I think there must have been some sort of pre-adaptation in the EAA, something operating over a long period of time.

  6. >The makerspace/hackerspace movement is heavily into this.

    But that’s more about stuff like 3D printing or Arduino, right? Are you into that?

    >>EXPN EAA?
    >Environment of Ancestral Adaptation. Before civilization, basically.

    I was going to ask the same. :P

    Perhaps the ancient La Tène culture can shed some light on the matter of precision handwork? From Wikipedia:

    La Tène metalwork in bronze, iron and gold, developing technologically out of Hallstatt culture, is stylistically characterized by inscribed and inlaid intricate spirals and interlace…

    • >But that’s more about stuff like 3D printing or Arduino, right? Are you into that?

      Not actively, yet. But they do a lot of small-batch electronic design, too. One local to me is famous for having produced a conversion kit that turns mechanical typewriters into USB keyboards.

    • >Perhaps the ancient La Tène culture can shed some light on the matter of precision handwork?

      That’s pretty interesting – suggests the trait cluster was well developed as far back as the early Bronze Age late Iron Age. (Sorry- had my archeological horizons mixed up.)

  7. @East Africans and distance running is the one that leaps to mind. What others might we be missing?

    west africans and sprinting?

  8. >Sorry- had my archeological horizons mixed up.

    That’s okay; personally, things like that often happen to me. But since you’re in correction mode: the second paragraph of the OP reads “…into my and and…”.

  9. > I’m not quite $159 worth of curious. Maybe when the price comes down below $100…

    That’s the first level of testing; it’s established that you’ve significant Scottish ancestry :)

    (as a half-Scot myself …)

  10. Coast dwellers or islanders and all things nautical. Fishing and sea trade are essential for the survival and prosperity of those communities. EAA surely applied into recent times for the Polynesians.

  11. “EXPN EAA?”

    No, Jay, he didn’t mean the Experimental Aircraft Association. :-) But that is another great example of a group of guys who are willing to spend serious dollars and hours hacking hardware, and then being willing to go up and fly it. The opposite end of the spectrum from “afraid to screw up a bag of parts”.

  12. esr:
    “My father was a handy amateur electronics tech who built his own stereo equipment in the 1950s when that was a thing, and at one time repaired TVs semi-professionally. I was an observant child and retain some early memories of watching him work.”

    I am amazed that with that as your baseline, you still never got into building basic circuits as a kid. Maybe your palsy made you cautious about waving a hot thing around, or perhaps your parents were cautious with you?

  13. esr:
    “Actually I think I might even have a guess about what in the EAA did this. Some of the earliest settlements in the region were lake-dwellers who, naturally, would have fished intensively. Hundreds of generations of selection for net-makers, net-menders, and net-minders, perhaps?”

    That seems to be a testable hypothesis. Do we see tendencies toward fine-motor skills in populations that depended on fishing with nets and lines for a significant fraction of their sustenance?

  14. Yeah, Cathy, that’s pretty much what I was thinking…bur Eric and I have spoken about flying before, and I knew that the EAA that springs to my mind whenever someone says that (and of which I am a life member) is not what he meant.

    Still, you gotta admit that that EAA is made up of folks who take hacking very seriously.

  15. Re. enjoying a fight, I was reading this recently:

    http://public.wsu.edu/~hughesc/why_men_love_war.htm

    “What people can’t understand,” Hiers said, gently picking up each tiny rabbit and placing it in the nest, “is how much fun Vietnam was. I loved it. I loved it, and I can’t tell anybody.”

    Hiers loved war. And as I drove back from Vermont in a blizzard, my children asleep in the back of the car, I had to admit that for all these years I also had loved it, and more than I knew. I hated war, too. Ask me, ask any man who has been to war about his experience, and chances are we’ll say we don’t want to talk about it–implying that we hated it so much, it was so terrible, that we would rather leave it buried. And it is no mystery why men hate war. War is ugly, horrible, evil, and it is reasonable for men to hate all that. But I believe that most men who have been to war would have to admit, if they are honest, that somewhere inside themselves they loved it too, loved it as much as anything that has happened to them before or since. And how do you explain that to your wife, your children, your parents, or your friends?”

  16. 23andme.com is $100, and does some ancestry calculations for you. There are people who will process your genome data and give you finer-grained estimates for free.

  17. Selective evolutionary pressures can work in strange ways. Anything that promotes stronger healthier offspring has a strong bias ( adult lactose tolerance => large Northern European population boom => Vikings) ( European Jews not allowed to own farmland => concentrated in cities => no religious restriction on usury=> moneylending => Ashakeni Jews). It is not a coincidence that “Smith” is one of the most common English European surnames that are derived from occupation.
    ( examples from “The 10,000 Year Explosion” by Gregory Cochran). Skilled handwork is well rewarded, especially today.

  18. Insect models inform us that continuous selective pressure spread for a SNP in a small population takes a minimum of 25 generations. That’s a few hours in bacteria, a year or three in tropical insect populations but 400 – 600 years in human populations.

    Our societies are not currently anywhere near consistent enough in the long term for cultural influences of the type you are discussing to have sustained selective advantage for the required period. The candle was state of the art lighting 600 years ago. You should probably restrict the current discussion to the more rapid cultural evolution and rely less on genetic interpretations. There are certainly genetic selection instances but they are likely confined to more basic and consistent potential pressures over centuries like diet, social systems, resistance to disease, and so on.

  19. Too bad that kit included a shrouded IDC header. Hand-built boards with unshrouded pin headers reveal everything about a person’s patience and perfectionism.

  20. >My gut reaction to this prospect was a kind of terror that is probably difficult for anyone under 35 or so to understand.

    Not really. Those of us under 35 have generally never seen a minicomputer, but we have also generally been exposed to computers in childhood, with no income with which to replace broken hardware.

    “My dad’s gonna KILL me!”

  21. In addition to the West African sprinters and East African marathoners, I’ve noticed that the contestants in the World’s Strongest Men competition all seem to come from countries bordering on the Baltic/North Sea, and East Asians dominate short-track speed skating.

  22. >@esr, enjoying game “combat” and being in real combat are two entirely different things.

    In fairness, there’s never been a shortage of men who enjoyed the real thing either.

    • >In fairness, there’s never been a shortage of men who enjoyed the real thing either

      No. And people who make too much of the distinction are unaware of how training for ‘real’ combat actually works. You won’t hear pseudo-wisdom like “enjoying game ‘combat’ and being in real combat are two entirely different things” from anybody who’s been through, for example, Ranger school – where a large part of the point of the training is to put you in situations where your hindbrain doesn’t know it’s a game.

      The general technique is sometimes called “stress inoculation”. Militaries do it, a handful of the very best martial-arts schools do it. You learn to fight when you’re stressed, tired, surprised. You learn to power through exhaustion to the point of collapse, picking yourself up and going on anyway. You learn physical and mental dirty tricks. There are levels of this stuff way beyond air-kicking in a clean uniform in an air-conditioned dojo, and until you’ve been there yourself it is well to avoid facile judgments about “game”.

  23. >I’ve noticed that the contestants in the World’s Strongest Men competition all seem to come from countries bordering on the Baltic/North Sea

    All those Neanderthal genes. ;) Ice apes, all of them. (Yes, there’s a joke there.)

  24. Let’s get real.

    In evolution, violence, conflict, contention and death settles nearly everything. “PC” is in denial of reality and always has been; it is the twisted result of man’s divorce from the natural environment in fantasy lands we call cities. The greater concentration of humans in cities has only increased the fantasies trajectory toward the asymptote.

  25. @esr, presuming to know what combat is like without actually having been in it is incredibly facile and presumptuous. In combat, there are no tapouts, no clock, no end, no rules, and opponent(s) whose goal is to *kill* you. No martial arts school can replicate any of that.

    You’re basically comparing babysitting and parenting.

    • >presuming to know what combat is like without actually having been in it is incredibly facile and presumptuous

      True, unless you’re working with trainers who can explain it to you – and then use their knowledge to do serious stress inoculation that simulates the lethal-threat environment, so closely that your hindbrain doesn’t know it’s not in real danger.

      Fortunately, human hindbrains are relatively easily to fool this way. I say ‘fortunately’ because otherwise it wouldn’t actually be possible to train people for a lethal-threat environment – you’d have to just throw them in and keep the ones that don’t break.

  26. @esr, the consequence for failure in training is failure. The consequence for failure in combat is death.

    • >@esr, the consequence for failure in training is failure. The consequence for failure in combat is death.

      You’re quite right. Return with your skepticism intact if and when it survives a long conversation with someone who trains FBI special agents, SEALS, Hostage Rescue Team, and the like. Someone like, say, my wing chun sifu and his sifu.

  27. >>@esr, the consequence for failure in training is failure. The consequence for failure in combat is death.

    >You’re quite right. Return with your skepticism intact if and when it survives a long conversation with someone who trains FBI special agents, SEALS, Hostage Rescue Team, and the like. Someone like, say, my wing chun sifu and his sifu.

    It’s not even true. People die in military training all the time. Some militaries and training programs more than others.

    What is true is that in combat the other side is trying to kill you. In training the other side is just trying to hurt you. Or in the case of Ranger School, leave you with life-long disabling injuries. I’m reminded of the anecdote of the guy in combat in Vietnam who woke up from a nightmare that he was in Ranger School. And was quite relieved when he woke up, to find himself only in Vietnam.

    “I woke up in my foxhole in a cold sweat. I had a nightmare that I was still in Ranger School. Thank God that I was in Vietnam. Compared to Ranger School, combat was easy.”
    ~ Colonel Robert A. “Tex” Turner

  28. @esr They won’t tell me anything different than what I wrote.

    Comparing embarrassment at failure in front of one’s instructors, and dying, is just plain silly.

    • >@esr They won’t tell me anything different than what I wrote.

      The problem isn’t with your basic observation that combat is lethal while advanced martial-arts training is not, it’s that some of the inferences you draw from that are wrong. Which is not really your fault, as you clearly have no exposure to either. You could stand to be a bit less confident in your assertions around people with more and wider experience.

  29. @pwatwo

    As a matter of curiosity, do you plan on ever contributing anything useful to this blog? So far you have contributed even less than I have, which is a pretty low barrier.

    Hell, Jeff Read and Winter have contributed more.

    • >As a matter of curiosity, do you plan on ever contributing anything useful to this blog?

      Oh, don’t drive pwatwo away! He accused me of “arrogance”, believing that would effectively rebuke or insult me. He’s at least going to have amusement value, though he may fail to understand the joke.

  30. @esr, you and I used to make similar arguments in the old USENET days. Then I matured.

    I really doubt you’d much impress genuine combat veterans with your braggadocio.

  31. To expand on why you don’t usually want to tin stranded wire before crimping compression connectors/terminals/contacts, tinning the wire fills the voids between the wire strands with solder, basically turning it into more of a solid mass of metal, which won’t allow it to deform as much when installing a solderless terminal. Instead, you want the mechanical process of squeezing all the strands together inside the connector to create a solid mass of metal of both the wire strands and connector, in effect cold welding it all together. If you crimp a connector or contact onto wire which has been tinned with solder, the strands cannot compact together tightly, and you actually end up with a worse electrical connection between the wire and the terminal.

    There are some exceptions I have for tinning wire when using compression connectors, one of which is for small twist-on type wire nuts with smaller sizes of stranded wire. When using fine stranded wire with these type of wirenuts, I find tinned conductors much easier to manage, and removing the wire nut later isn’t going to tear away individual strands. The other exception is for Wago connectors used with 18 AWG stranded wire for ballast/lamp connections in fluorescent light fixtures. I don’t much have a use for Wago connectors outside of this application (they are less of a compression connector, and are instead somewhat like a Chinese finger trap and grab the wire when you insert it into the connector), but their use instructions require 18 AWG or fine stranded 16 AWG wire to be “tin bonded” (tinned with solder) when using these connectors.

  32. I hope this doesn’t come off as mean spirited, but it could be interesting to hear about ESR dealing with something he really lacks talent. Is there such a post somewhere in the archives, or would you mind sharing a story?

    Personally, I am absolutely terrible with reading musical notation. After roughly twenty years of playing the piano. One of the ways this manifests is that I can memorize things wrong and never notice, despite playing the piece a hundred times with the sheet music in front of me.

    • >I hope this doesn’t come off as mean spirited, but it could be interesting to hear about ESR dealing with something he really lacks talent. Is there such a post somewhere in the archives, or would you mind sharing a story?

      Things I’ve tried that I sucked at, off the top of my head: aikido (poor fexibility below the hips). Juggling. Surfing and windsurfing (balance not good enough).

      I’d make a terrible pilot, I have no stereopsis. I’d suck at mountainclimbing, poor leg strength and I’m mildly agoraphobic.

      >Personally, I am absolutely terrible with reading musical notation.

      So am I. Normally I power through this deficiency by having an excellent ear, but there are situations in which that wouldn’t do.

      There’s probably a range of purely mental skills for which I lack talent, but for which neither I nor anyone else can tell what they are because high general intelligence lets me power through those deficiencies as well.

      UPDATE: Ah. Here’s one. I utterly suck at twitch games – I’m beyond pathetically bad at anything like Doom or Quake or Unreal.

  33. Thanks for sharing. I was hoping for an example of some activity you had invested a fair bit of time into with poor results – those are the most humbling, in my experience.

    I brought it up because it seems to me that a lot of intelligent people can compensate well for lack of talent, and are good at rationalizing away whatever they can’t do well as something beneath them. This sometimes lets them mislead themselves to think that either (a) there’s no such thing as talent, only hard work, or (b) talent is entirely one-dimensional. [Though the more common misconception is that there is no such thing as general intelligence…]

    I think I understand dyslexia better by considering my own experience with musical notation – that these sort of deficiencies are not the same as being stupid. Some other things I’m poor at are recognizing faces and finding my way (both urban and wilderness). I’m decent at first person shooters, but mostly Unreal where there are good weapons which don’t require pinpoint accuracy.

    • >I was hoping for an example of some activity you had invested a fair bit of time into with poor results

      Windsurfing is probably the thing that pessimizes that figure, so far. Someday I want to go somewhere I can take lessons at it; I might suck less if I could get proper instruction.

      Until recently “writing saleable fiction” would have been the clear winner, but not since I actually succeeded at it once. Been trying for that since I was, like, 12.

    • >I brought it up because it seems to me that a lot of intelligent people can compensate well for lack of talent, and are good at rationalizing away whatever they can’t do well as something beneath them.

      I don’t suffer from this delusion. There are lots of (for example) martial-arts skills I respect greatly but will never be any good at because the motor control in my left leg is so compromised.

      >This sometimes lets them mislead themselves to think that either (a) there’s no such thing as talent, only hard work, or (b) talent is entirely one-dimensional.

      I think the belief that “there’s no such thing as talent, only hard work” is mainly a compensatory delusion of the untalented. Talented people, especially talented polymaths, know better; from inside, the difference between “I’m making this look easy because I’m talented” and “I’m making this look easy because I’ve worked my ass off to get good at it” feels pretty obvious.

      In my own case, I never had to work hard to be good at music – that was a wired-in given of my brain. I have literally picked up strange instruments, fingered and/or blown through them them for a few minutes to find out what their affordances are, and promptly begun to make fluent music. In fact I’m so musically able that I’ve tended to coast on my ear and improvisational ability – a musician who had to actually practice with diligence would probably say my technique is sloppy and inferior and lazy and not be wrong. (Especially now that I’m out of practice.) Nevertheless, I retain the ability to pick up new instruments and styles very rapidly. Little actual effort is required.

      On the other hand, I can also generate good code at high speed, and while that may also have some talent component it it is mainly a result of many years of hard work, and requires a degree of mental effort that improvising music does not for me.

      An outside view of both processes causes reactions like “How the fuck does he do that? He must be incredibly talented!”, but I myself am not fooled. I know which parts are talent and which parts are hard-earned skill.

      I think my experience also immunizes me against the belief that either high general intelligence or hard work can substitute for everything. I believe any sufficiently bright person who is willing to work hard at it for a decade or two can become as good a programmer as I am, but nobody who doesn’t already have the right kind of neural pre-wiring will ever come near touching my freaky musical knack no matter how hard they work. I think the same is true of mathematical ability, though I’m less sure about that.

  34. I utterly suck at twitch games – I’m beyond pathetically bad at anything like Doom or Quake or Unreal.

    How far does this go? What about ones that mostly use cover?

    I ask because I think that as a “classic” SF fan you would love the Mass Effect series*, which unfortunately a third person shooter. On the other hand “run and gun” is a good way to get killed with most classes, you stay in cover and shoot. I also happen to know that it is playable at excruciatingly low framerates so it can presumably be played with a sluggish player……

    * By series I mean 1 & 2, mass effect 3 doesn’t exist.

    • >How far does this go? What about ones that mostly use cover?

      Dunno. Not enough experience. I think I’d probably do OK at a sniper sim.

    • >How did [learning Haskell] turn out? Have you found any obstacles in your learning? Are you still messing with Haskell code?

      Alas, I recovered from that bad cold and got back to doing real work using non-Haskell languages. I still haven’t written any actual code in Haskell. But I have a mental model of what it’s good for, and when I encounter a problem for which it it seems a good match I believe I will be able to dive in and get work done without much fuss.

  35. Thanks for the very generous replies. Your musical talent sounds like a lot of fun. Do you imagine you have any valuable, as-of-yet undiscovered talents?

    • >Do you imagine you have any valuable, as-of-yet undiscovered talents?

      After 50+ years of bumping into all kinds of challenges, I think if I had any other major talents I’d know it by now. So probably not.

  36. @Foo:
    > I ask because I think that as a “classic” SF fan you would love the Mass Effect series*, which unfortunately a third person shooter.

    He probably would, but it is, of course, Windows-only.

    A good first person shooter available for Linux is Ace of Spades. The final version available on Steam is a polished turd, but the beta was great and still has an active community. As the developer pulled down the beta when the final version went live the community cloned the client, and the clone has a Linux version (the original beta also runs well under Wine).

  37. @Jon Brase

    He probably would, but it is, of course, Windows-only.

    Oh, indeed. Both of them are cursed by the twin horror of Windows + Closed Source.

    But even ones such as these can be redeemed, for the monks of the wine have labored and brought forth fruit: the Mass Effect duology runs with near perfection on linux. There are still a couple bugs, for such taint can never be fully removed.

    Yet even the tainted can soar to the rarefied heights of great SF!

    PS: both games are playable on an old notebook that is less powerful than the ancestor of The Great Beast.

  38. @Foo:
    >But even ones such as these can be redeemed, for the monks of the wine have labored and brought forth fruit: the Mass Effect duology runs with near perfection on linux. There are still a couple bugs, for such taint can never be fully removed.

    Hmm… I thought ME was from one of the developers with more annoying and Wine-incompatible DRM.

    As for bugginess on Wine, for ME1, it might very well fall below the noise floor, as that game was buggy enough on Windows (though still very good nonetheless). I remember the distinctive sound of pointers to audio data going off into the weeds.

  39. @Jon

    Only bugs I’ve had were:

    ME1
    Pressing volume key when other keys are pressed makes the other keys “freeze” as active, have to restart

    ME2
    Had to tell wine to use alsa, pulseaudio didn’t get along with it very well.

    The “use” targets don’t always light up, worked around by pause/unpausing it and the symbol will highlight for a second.

    Hmm… I thought ME was from one of the developers with more annoying and Wine-incompatible DRM.

    This wouldn’t be the first time that stripping out the DRM made everything work………

  40. > Pressing volume key when other keys are pressed makes the other keys “freeze” as active, have to restart

    I’ve never encountered a bug of this type that couldn’t be cleared by pressing and releasing the frozen key again. If this doesn’t work for this one, it’d be interesting to find out what the root cause is.

  41. On the topic of evolutionary pressure and fine motor skills,

    Note that there’s variation, and then there’s selection from among the variants.

    When people talk about mutation rates, and how many generations it takes to get n base-pair changes, that model applies to new variation only.

    But in any given population, there’s already a whole lot a variation present; just look at the people around you and consider all the sizes and shapes of bodies, the various talents and other inheritable traits. From that existing variation alone, it should be possible to see significant movement after just 3-4 generations, if the environment changes to give a big advantage to people with certain traits. If they reproduce 2x everybody else, the % incidence of these genes in the population should climb quickly.

  42. Then there’s the subject of typos, and whether they relate more to fine motor skills or attention to detail….

  43. Casper on 2015-01-28 at 14:57:48 said: >When people talk about mutation rates, and how many generations it takes to get n base-pair changes, that model applies to new variation only.
    —————————

    Actually, No. It is impossible to model the occurrence of random mutation because, well, they are RANDOM. The number of generations required (~25) is for a SNP mutation ALREADY PRESENT in the population to spread into all members of a local population. How fast the SNP spreads in a population is determined by selective pressure. If 100% of those who do NOT have the SNP die, then selective pressure is maximal as opposed to if only 50% die. It also depends on the allele outcome of the DNA recombination, dominance recessive, heterozygosity etc. Three generations is pretty unlikely to be enough to show blatantly obvious differences in most cases.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mendelian_inheritance

  44. “significant movement” < "spread into all members"

    [faster reproduction, % incidence climbs] != "50% die"

    Otherwise, good points.

  45. Would the two trait clusters mark you as a non-standard nerd? From one set of traits you gained the ability to enter and enjoy being in hack mode. From the other you gained the propensity to poll frequently for threats/opportunities and were able to develop good situation awareness.

    The standard nerd may have only the ability to hyperfocus and is thus prone to nerd sniping. The combination of traits for the non-standard nerd may be adaptive, even if those for the standard nerd are not.

  46. Back in the day, just after the 35W4 era had ended, your cobbling was measured in 3 Don Lancaster stages:

    TTL Cookbook, CMOS Cookbook, and – beyond me – The Cheap Video Cookbook.

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