How to Ice Skate

Aright, bitches, ’tis the season, so listen up.

Ice skating is awesome. When you’re going fast it is the closest a human being can get to flying. The American Psychiatric Association defines “not liking ice skating” as a mental disorder. It’s in their diagnostic manual.

I always see a lot of n00bs ice skating, which is great! Here are some tips.

(1) You will fall. Get used to it.

(2) Ice skating is not walking on ice. The physics is different.

When you walk, you push backward with one foot. (See Figure 1.) If your foot has good traction on the ground, it can’t slip back, though, so instead you are pushed forward. (Newton’s third law of motion, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”)

Figure 1

You cannot do this on ice skates, padawan, because you are on a blade that’s like a sixth of an inch thick. If you push your foot straight back, there is not enough area of the blade making contact with the ice to produce good traction. (See Figure 2.) Instead of being planted on the ice and thus propelling you forward, your foot will simply slide back. Then, because you’re a n00b, you’ll fall down. (Newton’s lesser-known fourth law of motion, “N00bs fall down.”)

Figure 2. The thin black line is your blade’s contact with the ice.

How do you deal with this? Well, plainly you need more area of the blade making contact with the ice. Simply turning your foot somewhat sideways does it. (See Figure 3.) This gives your foot enough traction, so when you push it back, the only thing that can happen is that the rest of you goes forward.

Figure 3. (The extent to which the foot is turned here is exaggerated for clarity.)

Meanwhile you are pointing the other foot in roughly the direction you want to go, so you glide forward on that foot. (As per Newton’s fifth law, “Ice is slippery.”)

Then the feet switch roles, with the gliding foot becoming the foot you’re pushing back with, and the pushing foot becoming the gliding foot. Repeat.

Once you learn this, it really is easy and natural.

(3) On falling: One of the problems is that your instincts about righting yourself when you’re off balance are all wrong. Moves that help you regain your balance when you’re on terra firma don’t necessarily help you, to put it mildly, when you’re skating on blades on ice. You have to learn new reflexes (if learned reflexes isn’t an oxymoron). I can’t re-wire your neural wiring that handles these reflexes, so I don’t know what to tell you here, except that you have to practice.

(4) “Crossover,” logically enough, is the term for when you cross one foot over the other. You’ve seen this: It’s that thing a skater does where it seems like his feet are moving independently of the direction his body is traveling in, so it looks like he’s moonwalking or something.

Crossovers function best when you’re turning at high speed and really leaning into the turn. You do this naturally when you turn while running on ground, but when you do that your foot is planted. When you’re skating, in contrast, you continue to glide on that foot as you shift your weight into the turn, so that for a moment the foot is actually moving in a different direction from your body’s center of mass.

Crossovers are a great way to add speed with relatively little effort, because gravity is doing some of the work for you. When you change direction you lean in the direction you want to go in. So you start to fall in that direction. Before you fall very far, though, you put a foot out under yourself so you glide in that direction instead of falling.

By the way, when you take a turn with a fast series of crossovers, it actually is as fun as it looks. Hell, it’s much more fun. There’s a power and smoothness that is like nothing else. Cf. comment above, in re: “flying.”

(5) Control: As long as you’re not going too fast, turning is so easy that it’s practically subliminal. (No crossovers for the moment; I’m not talking about that level of speed.) What is actually going on, of course, is that you’re shifting your weight ever so slightly in the direction you want to go in. But it feels like you’re just thinking yourself into changing direction. Telekinesis!

(6) Efficiency: Another way you can tell n00bs, even after they’ve learned to not fall much, is by how much energy they waste. In extreme cases it looks like they’re expending half again as much energy as they need to per foot-pound of work accomplished.

If this is you, don’t worry; this takes care of itself over time. Your body’s natural reluctance to waste energy will quickly make you adjust so that your motion is economical.

(7) Stopping. Several n00bs at rinks have asked me for advice, particularly about how to stop.

The correct answer is: Stopping is for the weak and timid! Are you a wuss!? Are you!? Huh!? Good, I didn’t think so. Let’s have no more nonsense about stopping.

If you insist, though, you can just point yourself at a wall. That usually works.

All kidding aside: There are basically two ways to slow yourself down, and if you keep slowing long enough you’ll stop.

The first I call the two-feet method: Just point your skates toward each other, while keeping your legs stiff so your feet don’t actually come together. If your feet bump into each other you’ll fall, obviously. But if you hold your feet apart at that angle, the blades will scrape against the ice, slowing you. And if you keep doing it, stopping you.

You can feel and hear the scraping, at least if you’re not at a rink where they constantly blast fucking country music over the sound system at full volume, what the actual fuck, not that I’m complaining or anything, but what the fuck? Don’t they know that playing that shit voids the warranty on your speaker system? Anyway…

The second method of stopping is the much-admired “hockey stop.” That’s the one you think of when I say “how to stop,” where they turn sideways and kick up ice shavings.

Just turn sideways and dig the blade of your leading foot into the ice. You’re also using your trailing foot, of course, but more for balance than friction, at least the way I do it (YMMV). Also, you’re doing some rapid adjustment of your balance, naturally.

When you first try this you’re going to think, “I shall now attempt a hockey stop.” That’s well and good, but you learn faster if you just think, “Shit! I need to stop!” and imagine what you’d do if you really needed to stop suddenly. This makes it more instinctive and less cerebral.

(8) Sharpness matters so your blades dig in. You need this (a) for acceleration, so your pushing foot can bite into the ice, (b) to slow yourself and stop, and (c) to execute a crossover. (Probably for six other reasons that I’m not thinking of at the moment too.) When you’re doing a crossover, the gliding foot has to bite into the ice to a certain extent or the foot will just slide out from under you. This happened to me once when I was trying to take too steep an angle with my gliding foot. Foot shot backward, rest of body went, “Hello, ice!”

The blade has some thickness; it’s not a knife blade. It’s the blade’s edges that are sharp. Once I actually drew blood from my hand accidentally with the edge. But that was probably right after they’d been sharpened; normally blades aren’t that sharp.

(9) Miscellany:

(A) Little kids on the ice are cute, but DANGER DANGER DANGER!!! Partly this is because they can’t control themselves yet, and partly because even the ones who can control themselves have no social awareness whatsoever. If they see Mom over there, they will simply turn with no warning in that direction, and if you’re behind them you’re going to be doing some fancy dancing to not hit them. This leads to hilarity and occasional bruises, because of course you’re going to steer yourself into a wall or shift so that you fall, instead of plowing into a little kid.

I recently cracked my elbow into the wall of a rink because I had to dodge a little one who seemed to execute a right-angle turn right in front of me with no warning. I had to do something to avoid smashing into him and ended up saying Hi to the plexi-glass. He didn’t even realize it had happened, but I did get a sympathetic look from someone on the other side of the glass.

They can also turn quite suddenly because their centers of gravity are so low. It’s like they’re equipped with little inertialess drives.

Just remember this:

Little kids on ice = Brownian motion + inertialess drives.

(B) Use your ears as well as your eyes to help maintain awareness of other skaters in your vicinity. Thus you can avoid pulling a “little kid” and turning suddenly just when someone’s coming up behind you.

Caveat: In the corners of the rink, noise bounces around weirdly. Sometimes it sounds like someone is coming up behind you and just about to smash into you. You’re like “Gah!” but when you look around there’s no one within ten yards.

(C) Downhill skating. Sweet! But why didn’t they have this when I was 19? You kids today don’t know how good you have it, let me tell you, when I was your age I had to skate 40 miles to school, and it was uphill both ways! By God!

(D) This is a politically incorrect blog, so an observation about the sexes. Normal people, continue to read; shrieking feminist shrikes, go somewhere else (permanently).

Still with me? OK, a fun observation:

All good skaters have both power and grace, strength and fluidity. But there is a difference between good female skaters and good male skaters. Good female skaters have power – you can’t be a good skater without it – but they have more grace compared to male skaters. And good male skaters have grace – you can’t be a good skater without that, either(*) – but they have more power compared to female skaters. Just a nice little “the world is gendered” observation to affirm normality and freak out the screaming SJWs.

If you’re like most people, i.e. psychologically normal, you understand (there was a time when no one denied this!) that the sexes are different and that the differences, in so many ways, can be a source of delight to everyone. This is just a small example of that.

* Even the most brutal hockey player, 190 pounds of muscle and missing three front teeth, who starts throwing jabs at the slightest provocation, has grace on the ice. If you don’t believe me, Youtube is your friend.

(10) Have fun!


Nash Totalitarianism

In joyful commemoration of the delightful occasion of Fidel Castro’s death.

Around 1990 a friend of mine visited Cuba. At an outside café she conversed with a native, who told her that a security agent was tailing her and that after she walked away, the agent would approach the native and question him about their conversation. The native surreptitiously identified the agent. After the conversation was over and my friend had walked a few tens of yards away, she looked back. Sure enough, the person identified as a secret police operative had approached the native and was questioning him.

It seems clear that the citizens of such a country oppose the state because the state does things like this, and the state does things like this because the citizens oppose the state. That is, totalitarian regimes are, at least in part, self-fulfilling prophecies: The State censors information, is suspicious of those who have contact with foreigners, and jails advocates of liberalization because it knows the people hate the State. And the people hate the State because it censors information, is suspicious of those who have contact with foreigners, and jails advocates of liberalization.

This particular self-fulfilling prophecy is an example of an important concept in game theory, Nash Equilibrium.

A Model

Consider a state with two possible moves: totalitarianism, T, and democracy, D. (By “state” I mean the permanent fixtures of the government—the Department of Education, the Intelligence Service, etc.—not necessarily a particular political party.) The state would rather persist than be dissolved.

Suppose the polity has two moves: oppose the continued existence of the state, O, and acquiesce in the state’s continued existence, A. Naturally, we assume the polity would rather have democracy than totalitarianism.

Also assume the state will definitely survive if the polity acquiesces, whether the state is playing T or D. If the polity opposes the state, the probability of the state being destroyed is positive but less than one if the state plays T, and is one if the state plays D.

Finally, suppose (optimistically) that both players prefer democracy to totalitarianism, ceteris paribus, and that opposition requires effort and risk, so the polity would prefer acquiescence to opposition if it didn’t care about the nature of the state. The payoff matrix is

State’s moves on rows; polity’s moves on columns
Acquiesce Oppose
Totalitarianism Polity: 0
State: 7
Polity: 5
State: 5
Democracy Polity: 10
State: 10
Polity: 6
State: 0

This payoff matrix captures the features mentioned in the previous paragraphs. To see this…

First put your hand over the Oppose column. Looking at the Acquiesce column, i.e., the polity acquiescing to the state’s existence, we see that the state would rather have democracy than totalitarianism. (Since the state’s payoff with Democracy, 10, is greater than its payoff with Totalitarianism, 7.) This embodies the hopefully-not-too-optimistic assumption that if the population is cool with it, the state would rather exist with democracy than totalitarianism. (If the state is indifferent, or would rather have totalitarianism, then the problem is even worse than this payoff matrix depicts.)

Next, put your hand over the A column. Looking at the O column, that is, the situation in which the polity opposes the state, we see that the state would rather have totalitarianism than democracy (since 5 is greater than 0). That is to say, the state wants to stay in power, so given that the populace opposes it, it will choose to do things like implement censorship, follow people around and monitor their contact with foreigners, etc.

Next, put your hand over the D row. Looking at the T row, that is, the situation in which the state is totalitarian, we see the polity would rather oppose the state than acquiesce in its continued existence. (Since the polity’s payoff with Oppose, 5, is greater than its payoff with Acquiesce, 0.) That is, people dislike totalitarianism.

Finally, put your hand over the T row. Looking at the D row, that is, the situation in which the state is democratic, we see the polity would rather acquiesce in the state’s continued existence than oppose it. (Note 10 is greater than 6.) That is, people like democracy.


There are two Nash equilibria: (T, O) and (D, A). This is because…

(1) Given that the state is totalitarian, the polity’s best response is to oppose it. And given that the polity opposes it, the state’s best response is to be totalitarian.
(2) On the other hand, given that the state is democratic, the polity’s best response is to acquiesce in its continued existence. And given that the polity acquiesces in its continued existence, the state’s best response is to be democratic.

The democratic equilibrium is unanimously preferred to the other one, i.e., both players get a payoff of 10 in the (D, A) equilibrium, and a payoff of only 5 in the (T, O) equilibrium.

If both players agree that the (D, A) equilibrium is better, what’s the problem?

Yeah, about that…

Getting Yanked Toward Nash Totalitarianism

One of the implicit assumptions above is that the political situation is not hit by random shocks that might perturb it. But everything in life is actually hit by random shocks. A big shock might be a war, which necessitates (or at least could be argued to necessitate) more controls on speech, etc. (“War is the health of the state.”) This could bounce us into a totalitarian situation, which quickly ossifies into an equilibrium – the bad equilibrium. See, e.g., Russia circa World War I.

Why doesn’t the state simply announce its intention to democratize and then do so? Such an announcement would be credible, since (D, A) is a unanimously-preferred Nash equilibrium. Right?

One reason this might not be possible is that the state may be subject to random shocks to its preferences, such that it occasionally has temporary episodes of stronger preferences for democracy—e.g., liberalization periods a la Gorbachev—which the polity knows are temporary. For this reason if the state democratizes the polity may quickly vote it out to ensure it doesn’t revert to T a short while later. Such a possible reversion is not captured in the above game because that game has nothing about a preference for T, in fact it assumes a preference for D.

When we think of totalitarian regimes in the real world, though, we think of them initially becoming totalitarian for some reason, some reason outside the above game (i.e., a reason other than that it happens to be a Nash equilibrium). For example, a state implements suboptimal economic policies that induce emigration (bluntly, everyone’s starving to death; they’re desperate to get the fuck out of Dodge). In order to staunch the emigration the state imposes border controls, this makes the people hate the state, so they oppose it and the state finds it necessary to censor information, jail dissidents, etc.

Thus a larger, more accurate game would have the state making a joint choice, choosing its political nature from {D,T}, while choosing other policies, e.g., economic ones, subject to constraints on the joint choice, e.g., blatantly suboptimal economic policies are not tenable with democratic political policies. Given this, the problem is that the state has announced its intention to choose D but also its intention to maintain suboptimal economic policies; the polity knows this is not tenable in the long run and that the state will eventually find it necessary to revert to T. So the polity optimally chooses to take advantage of the liberalization to eject the state while they can. Of course, the state knows this will happen,(*) so it won’t take a chance on liberalization.

The shocks affecting the state could be shocks to preferences (i.e., a larger preference for democracy) or beliefs, (i.e., true believers who believe the state’s desired policies are compatible with democracy and that the polity also believes it). E.g., Mikhail Gorbachev believed socialism would work, given a bit of openness, so he thought Marxist economics + D was a possible choice. He found out differently.

It may also be that the state cannot in fact credibly commit to choosing democracy. For example, the head of state—the Gorbachev—may actually prefer democracy, while the nomenklatura below the head of state are opposed to it, e.g., because they’ll lose their jobs (think of employees of the secret police agency or the censoring bodies, etc.) This is not captured in the payoff matrix above because it models the state as a unitary actor. If that is relevant then the state cannot in fact credibly communicate a preference for democracy. In fact, the state has a direct preference for T. In that case the Nash explanation of T is unnecessary—the explanation would shift more to a path-dependency explanation: once I’ve got my job in the Ministry of Censorship I want the T regime to persist, since my job is terminated if the regime is dissolved.

None of this suggests that totalitarianism is inevitable. It certainly suggests we always have to be on our guard, and that in setting up institutions, we must make it THE priority to keep government’s power limited.

* To be motivated to avoid liberalization, the state need not believe that its desired economic policies are long-run incompatible with democracy. It need only believe that the polity believes that.

Oh Canada!

After Trump’s victory, many U.S. lefties have said they want to emigrate to Canada. In significant part this is because they abhor Trump’s desire for more selective policy on immigration to the U.S. However, Canada doesn’t just admit anyone; they have standards:

So, many of these doofuses won’t get into the society they want to go to, to flee the horrors of a country with limited immigration, because it won’t take them due to its limits on immigration.

This isn’t just funny, it’s like, self-referentially meta-funny.

Correia’s The Christmas Noun

A heartwarming Christmas story from Larry Corriea:
The Christmas Noun

Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer had been driven insane with a desire to kill.

All the other reindeer had laughed and called him names… Until one day it pushed poor Rudolf over the edge into a berserk killing frenzy. He took out Dasher and Prancer with a meat cleaver, Donner and Dixon with a garden weasel, and Blitzen… Poor Blitzen… They’d never found his head….
Rudolf was sent to the toughest joint at the North Pole. The day he arrived he killed a polar bear with a shiv made from a plastic spoon, just so everyone would know not to mess with him. Rudolf has spent the time since then preparing for his inevitable revenge, lifting weights, getting prison tattoos, and terrifying the sugar plum fairies.

After he escapes, Rudolf lays his thing down:

“It’s time to deck the halls… with blood.”

(Via The Dark Herald.)

Entryism, part whatever of an ongoing series

Slate Star Codex:

Bloomberg notes that There’s No Shame In Joining The Trump Administration if your goal is harm reduction, and if you agree you can apply here. If you have some kind of useful political/administrative experience, this might be an unusually easy route to getting a position of power where you can do useful things like lobby for foreign aid and alleviate the effects of various Trump policies.

In other words, infiltrate the just-elected administration to disrupt and subvert it. Fortunately, the Electoral College shenanigans must have put the incoming administration on notice about its opponents’ attitude toward elections they don’t win.

Ah, I remember well – it seems like just a couple of months ago! – when the left pretended to be was shocked that a person might not accept the election’s outcome unconditionally.

UPDATE: From the same link, Drama Queen Alert:

A few people emailed me to say that they have friends or family members who attempted suicide for Trump-related reasons. I’m really sorry about that and I hope they’re okay. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, consider checking out the National Suicide Hotline at [phone number omitted so drama queens don’t clog up the system’s resources – N.], which also has a special webpage on election-related suicidality.

Is there a person so dead of soul that they don’t find this hilarious? To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: One would have to have a heart of stone to read these thespian antics without dissolving into tears…of laughter.

“I’m so terrified that Trump is going to kill me, that… I’m going to kill myself!” You cannot buy comedy like this.

The Inverse Bechdel Test

Female psychology and fiction: Thoughts inspired by (the first 53 pages of) A Darker Shade of Magic, by Victoria Schwab.

This novel suffers from a common problem with its beginning.

(1) The problem: Not much happens in the first 53 pages, where I paused to record these thoughts. E.g., the opening scene has the magician Holland conversing with a prince. But we don’t hear much of the conversation and it’s not enough to pique our interest. Worse, the initial conversation between another magician, Kell, and a King doesn’t realize its promise. When Kell delivers a letter from a monarch in one universe to a monarch in another, we expect some earth-shaking development that will precipitate the story: A declaration of war or something. Instead, we get a polite inquiry about the recipient’s health: The royal equivalent of “Howya doin?! Arite, check ya later!” Huh? Something should have happened there. Fifty-three pages in, almost nothing has happened.

2) Why does this problem occur? Note: The first 53 pages are almost 100% super-alpha males – kings, princes, and powerful magicians – and almost 100% of their “screen time” is them talking to other super-alpha males. Of course alpha males, especially super-alphas like kings and princes, are intrinsically fascinating from a female point of view. But from a male point of view, well, no.
      In the funniest example of this problem, a prince (super-alpha) discusses his birthday party plans with his parents (King (super-alpha) and Queen) and brother (powerful magician and adopted prince; super-alpha). To a male reader, this is like some accountants planning a birthday party. Maybe the author and her female readers are rapt, because ALPHA MALES!!! But this male reader, and I imagine most male readers, are thinking, “Planning a birthday party? Why are we being shown this?”
      In fact, this scene is actually two entirely different scenes, depending on the audience. For the (female) author and female readers, the scene is OH MY GOD, SUPER-ALPHAS!!! For a male reader, the scene is some accountants talking about a birthday party.

There’s nothing wrong with women being attracted to alpha men, any more than there’s something wrong with men being attracted to young, beautiful women. But if a novel is intended for both sexes – as opposed to being romance porn for women – it should not contain scenes like the above. I’m not objecting to porn, I’m just saying, sort out your goals and intended audience before you start writing.

All of this leads me to propose an analogue of the Bechdel Test for female writers:

Would a scene that features men be equally interesting if the men were all accountants?

If not, you might be letting female sexual preoccupations overwhelm your authorial professionalism. Honestly ask yourself whether the scene should be there.