The FDA strikes a blow for HIV virus everywhere

Part of the FDAs job is making sure the pill you swallow is the pill you think you are swallowing.  It would be very bad if you thought you were taking penicillin and instead took sugar, or Prozac.  This is a government task even a libertarian could love.


Sometimes enforcing a definition is harder than penicillin vs. Prozac.  For example, condoms.  The FDA has definition of a condom, and if your product doesn’t meet it, you can’t sell it, or at least you can’t call it a condom.  Some of this is good.  You want condoms tested for structural integrity, and you don’t want flat pieces of latex being sold as sexual health devices.


The FDAs definition of a condom does not appear to account for human variation.  Condoms must be at least 160 mm in length.   Condoms are not allowed to be wider than 54 mm (-> diameter of 170 mm).   I’m not sure exactly how closely condom dimensions need to match penis dimensions, but that is longer than ~70% of penises and (using a condom width to girth conversion I don’t understand) narrow than ~18% of penises (source).  Yes, condoms are stretchy and will fit over your leg if you try- but they’re more prone to break, and your leg isn’t kept rigid via blood flow.  A too loose condom will just fall off, but a too long condom bunches, which also causes breaks and reduces blood flow.

I understand why we had to put up with this 100 years ago, but condoms used to be custom made, and some genuises in England are bringing that back.  But thanks to our FDA and its scrupulous definition of condoms, it is illegal to sell them in the states.  And it would definitely be illegal to use the cheap package forwarding service they link to, unless you are an EU citizen.

Why I donated to the EFF this year

I applied for a patent this year.  While I sincerely believe my invention is patentable under the current definition applied by the US Patent Office, I also believe the US Patent Office’s current definition is bullshit, and is stifling innovation by giving exclusive rights to obvious ideas and creating a culture of fear that hurts start ups more than big companies.

The incremental effect of my patent in reinforcing this bullshit system is very small.  Even if you internalized all the negative externalities, I believe the cost is trivial next to the benefits of applying (shiny resume line and a $5,000 bonus).  But no single snowflake believes it’s to blame for the avalanche, and I was really not comfortable justifying material gain because everyone else was doing it.  My compromise was to donate half the bonus to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which fights for a variety of pro-individual and pro-start-up positions, including patent reform.  There’s no way my patent did $2500 worth of damage to society, so everyone comes out ahead except the patent trolls.

One friend asked if I thought patent reform was truly the most important cause in the entire world, and if not, why not donate to the more important one?  I have a few explanations, but I must acknowledge I made the decision first and then looked for why I made it.  The easy answer is that the world is complicated, and when the developing world catches up with us, I want what they catch up with to be not just materially comfortable, but… well honestly I want some sort of Star Trek utopia where all material needs are sated and people do things for sheer love of learning.  But failing that, I at least want a world where individuals can invent things that improve the world.  I don’t want us getting stuck at any particular rung on the ladder.

The other reason is that donating to the EFF isn’t supposed to be penance or an indulgence, it’s supposed to undo a specific harm I did.  I am deeply uncomfortable with justifying unethical behavior by helping some greater good.  For one, humans are bad at math, so it’s easy to see that doing net harm.  But even if all the trades are strictly advantageous it complicates the system, which ultimately makes it harder to get my Star Trek utopia.  Sometimes that complication is necessary and moral, but if you are in a situation where that is necessary you should probably find someone else to do it.  My talents lie in simplifying.

Problems in need of generalizable solutions

What to do if you have some intrinsic motivation but not enough?

Sometimes I spontaneously feel like exercising.  Sometimes I don’t, but I prod myself a bit and am really glad I did.  Sometimes I prod myself a bit and am not glad I did.  Sometimes I didn’t want to be because of important but subconscious reasons, and doing the Healthy Thing makes me feel actively worse.  I worry that every time I push without getting a reward at the end I’m making myself ultimately worse off by eroding my intrinsic motivation.  That worry is itself a negative reinforcement that makes the outcome more likely.  If someone could send me a general solution that works for regular exercise, physical therapy exercise, cooking, eating well, cleaning, work, and extroverting I would super appreciate it.

What to do with an initial burst of enthusiasm?

I assume we’ve all had the experience of getting an initial burst of enthusiasm for something (e.g. clean all the things), only to overdo it and burn out.  Then we are sad, because our hopes have been dashed.  I assume many of us have learned from this to scale back our initial efforts and channel that enthusiasm into long term sustainable action, only to discover the enthusiasm has an expiration date either way, so now our hopes are dashed *and* we had the unpleasant feeling of bridling ourselves *and* we accomplished strictly less than we would have if we’d run with the initial enthusiasm.  Is there a third way that would let me accomplish all the things without every feeling burnt out or overextended several of the things with a minimal amount of overextension or artificially holding myself back?

Reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last

This has been a hard year, and I thought it would be done by now, but it’s not.  Objectively I’m in a much better state than I was in June, but I got really bad news at the surgeon’s yesterday.  I’m not dying, it’s fixable, but my new projections fr when it is fixed are much worse than my old projections and that feels terrible.

One good thing about this year is that my observer-self has gotten much stronger, especially when measured in real time.  This translates to being more aware and more able to acknowledge outside events and how I feel about them.  I would like to do more of this in the coming year.

This isn’t a New Years Resolution so much as the type of experiment I try all the time, and now happens to be New Years.  But: I’ve had trouble getting to sleep.  Could be pain, could be low exertion during the day, could be screen usage (h/t: Iodine).  I don’t find a study of 12 that had people read for 4 hours before bed particularly compelling, nor do I consider a 10 minute delay in sleep statistically significant, but…  I’m going to try no screens after midnight.  Even if the blue light effect is bullshit, I think there’s a good chance limiting myself to a few modes of entertainment, as opposed to infinite and instantaneous variety, will lead to more thoughtfulness and more sleep. If it goes well I may push the deadline up or put a cap on total screen time.

Complication: I’m not sure reading counts as a calming activity if you read things like The Child Catchers and The New Jim Crow.  I have trouble finding books that are both interesting and calming.  That may also be a thing to work on.