flwyd: (spam lite)
My friend Zooko has shared some very personal stories about mental health and diet, tied together with the narrative of his relationship with Aaron Swartz, who the Internet is still mourning. My comment on his second post may be of interest to readers of this journal.

I don't remember if it was my N.D. or the book she gives to new patients who said it, but the biggest insight I've ever heard about diet is "It's essentially impossible to lose weight while you're eating something you're allergic to."

I've learned that food and mood are connected in a way that's far less intuitive to us than food and physical sickness. If we eat a bunch of clams and then throw up the next day, we blame the clams. But if we eat a bunch of bread and then feel mopey the next day, we don't instinctively blame the bread.

When I stopped eating dairy products 20 years ago, I had an immediate (well, over a month) improvement in both mood and focus. I wasn't anything resembling bipolar, but I would often get pretty depressed about things. I attempted suicide by dehydration (a method which allows one to back out at any time). I frequently stayed home from school because I was just feeling "bleh." If one detail of a homework assignment didn't make sense, I might end up lying on the floor for hours crying about it. I'd start all sorts of passive aggressive fights with my brother.

Once milk was out of the picture, I became vastly more productive. I hardly missed any school. I rarely got upset. The pain and suffering in the world didn't make me want to kill myself. I stopped fighting with my brother. I got elected vice president of student council. I don't think my carbohydrate balance changed significantly, then or now. I eat a lot of whole grains and a mild amount of sweets.

My ex had a similar experience when she found out she was allergic to corn. She stopped picking fights about stuff that didn't matter. She was able to focus on reading. She didn't let things like a messy kitchen bother her. She stopped having bowel issues. She didn't have super-painful periods (and stopped taking pain relievers with corn as the inert ingredient). She spent a lot less time being sick in bed. She lost some weight. In recent years she's lost a lot more weight, possibly from cutting wheat from her diet. She still eats plenty of carbs; she's just picky about which.

For a subculture that loves delving deep into complex systems, a lot of us nerds and hackers don't know a lot about our own bodies. We've each got an amazing personalized work of distributed engineering with very limited documentation.

I don't know if Aaron had problems with too many carbs, like Amber. Or if he had problems with dairy, like me. Or if he had problems with wheat, like so many in the Venn diagram of Asperger's Syndrome and Geek Focus. Or if his brain didn't play well with some pervasive modern food additive. Nonetheless, there may be something to the theory that Aaron's gut-brain network was compromised.

Update, the next day: I just finished the thorough and interesting bio of Aaron Swartz in Slate. Near the end, it describes his last twenty-four hours:
Though Stinebrickner-Kauffman was feeling tired, Swartz was in high spirits, and insisted that they go meet some friends at a Lower East Side bar called Spitzer’s Corner. Swartz treated himself to two of his favorite foods: macaroni and cheese and a grilled cheese sandwich. The mac and cheese was mediocre, but Swartz and Stinebrickner-Kauffman agreed that the grilled cheese sandwich was among the best they had ever eaten.

On the morning of Jan. 11, one week after he’d insisted it would be a great year, Swartz woke up despondent—lower than Stinebrickner-Kauffman had ever seen him. "I tried everything to get him up," she says. "I turned on music, I opened the windows, I tickled him." Eventually he got up and got dressed, and Stinebrickner-Kauffman thought he was going to come with her to her office. But instead, Swartz said he was going to stay home and rest. He needed to be alone. "And I asked him why he had gotten dressed," says Stinebrickner-Kauffman. "But he didn’t answer."

Again, I have no idea what Aaron's gastrointestinal situation was like that. But if I had that kind of dramatic mood swing, I'd blame the cheese.
flwyd: (transparent ribbon for government accoun)
At the Aaron Swartz memorial in San Francisco (video), some interesting themes emerged.

The first is Aaron's passion for machine-readable public information. This principle is at the core of much that Aaron did, from enabling search engines to find public domain and CC-licensed content to downloading swaths of paywall-guarded documents so that the public can have access to its own information.

The second is the unbalanced power wielded by prosecutors. Aaron killed himself in part because he felt helpless when faced with a multimillion dollar federal trial featuring 13 felony counts. If Aaron couldn't face this, what hope have ordinary folks who aren't close friends of Harvard law professors, rights advocacy organizations, and expert witnesses, not to mention a chunk of cash from selling an Internet startup. Faced with expensive defense lawyers and the fearsome specter of the government's prosecutors, only 3% of cases make it to the trial which we're constitutionally promised.

The third, expressed by his girlfriend Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman and fellow document liberator Carl Malamud was a call to the technologists and scholars and activists to become radicalized. Aaron did big things because he thought they mattered. Like Peter Singer, he stressed about the opportunity cost of not doing the most important thing in the world. His death has become, in part, a call for people in the free culture movement to step up and do more.

So here's an interesting challenge that combines all three: write a program that interprets and presents law. Though they predate computers by a few thousand years, laws are meant to be something like human-runnable source code. They're detailed, they're written explicitly, and they apply to everyone. And yet in many cases it takes someone with a graduate degree to understand what they say. People with graduate degrees are expensive and unevenly distributed.

Imagine we had a program which could turn laws and judicial opinions into machine-readable format. We could then write programs that took those laws and presented them in various ways, helping lay people understand both core details and subtle interactions. We could write other programs to organize this legal information into arguments given the evidence about a case.

Compared to people with graduate degrees doing stuff, running computer programs is free. Someone without a lot of resources could understand what they're charged with, explore similar cases, and collaborate with friends on a defense. There'd still be a role for lawyers to conduct the defense at trial and advise on the best way to convince a jury, but the time spent at trial is today dwarfed by the time and expense preparing for it. Let the humans do what they're good at&endash;convince humans of things&endash;and let the computers do what they do best&endash;tirelessly and cheaply examine lots of data and find useful patterns.

Like a patient who comes to a doctor after reading the medical literature and closely observing his body, a defendant who comes to a lawyer with a solid understanding of the relevant laws is in a much better position to face the plaintiffs and prosecutors who have the deck stacked in their favor. If we can make computers understand law, we can empower all citizens, regardless of income, to make fair use of the due process granted them by the constitution.

Building such a system wouldn't be easy. Human language is still hard for computers to understand. And legalese is even hard for humans to understand. There are all sorts of powerful people and organizations, private and governmental, with interests vested in law and courts being expensive and difficult to access. It's not easy, and that's why it should be done. A hard, ambitious, and meaningful project like this would capture the spirit that's been raised in Aaron Swartz's wake.
October 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 2017

Most Popular Tags

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags


RSS Atom
Page generated Wednesday, October 18th, 2017 06:37 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios