Learning social skills

There’s surprising amount of resources, and actual classes, worksheets, internet discussion, as long as you identify as having low social skills. A quick overview confirmed that it is helpful in most extreme cases, and gets you up to the mediocre level. The target audience of my blog are those who are trying to take a leap from mediocre to socially successful, whatever that means. From being able to get through all the conversations in the day without embarassing yourself/offending anyone – to actually attracting conversations, being valuable for your peers, being invited everywhere and considered the very best friend.

The way people learn that is by copying their role model. By being around very social people, observing how they treat their friends, and actively wanting to be like them. At first a person may embarass oneself in this imitation, but it’s all typically happening even before high school, so embarassments, though painful, are not the end of the world.

Now, the problem is that people with good social skills that you may learn from tend to use them on their friends, people they care about. And then they just autopilot around everybody else. And if you don’t already have good social skills, chances are they will autopilot around you. So even if you spend a lot of time with them, you may not see much of what you can imitate. To grow, you need to actually talk your way into the company of friends, where everybody cares about each other and has better social skills than you. Typically those people won’t care about you, unless they need you for something. But luckily that’s not the goal here. Goal is to be around them and observe how they treat their friends, not to be their friend.

Ideally, every person who’s in tech careers with rare chances to learn social skills should have an opportunity to surround oneself with more social people and get up-to-date. Unfortunately, the opposite happens for me – I spend most of my time with people who are even less social than me. Not that they are bad friends, but it shouldn’t be my job to get them to improve their skills. I should focus on my career – there are tons of less successful in their careers but very social people around our school to help us all.

Inventions that increase your height

(picture courtesy this cosplay interview, RenoBen photography)

Different cultures figured that tall=beautiful (in much the same meaning as healthy, strong, has better chances of survival and will better take care of the children). So different devices to make one look taller were invented:

  • European culture is most familiar with heels. Note that heels on the boots were present for men as well in the medieval. They lift you up a few inches and make it not comfortable to walk – in fact, standing on heels every day may ruin your legs.
  • Japanese culture has their own wooden sandals, that have extra wooden blocks going down, so you stand on them. It’s also kind of uncomfortable, and possible was invented to avoid rain and dirt, not to look taller.
  • Roller skates lift you up by exactly as much as diameter of the wheels. So, biggest wheels are for Tempest (currently discontinued production), they are 110mm.
  • The are models of exoskeleton, aka goat legs, that actually make you almost a meter taller, and each step you make becomes really long. It can be thought about as a more stable version of stilts.

However, in Japanese culture there appeared a very symbolic image of a “mecha girl”. From a technical point of view, it is a highly unrealistic (“imaginary”) exoskeleton that can fly. From an artist’s point of view, and why mecha girls have small but stable following around the world, they represent a contrast between innocence of the heart and power of the industrial age. This image has been used in different media, you can recognize it if there is a huge machine, ship or robot, factory if you wish, but the “soul” of that machine (the central computer) takes the form of a young girl. Most of the famous robot stories, as well as space operas and sci-fi are inspired by the industrial age. It is crazy how many power plants have been build, how huge the factories are inside and how enormous the machines are that operate in those factories. For an artists, this power always have been intimidating, and in the attempt to reconcile it with human intentions and moral, artist creates an image of a very vulnerable, very alive core of the gigantic tech.

So that is why the image is powerful – there are plenty of guys who are into big tech, like fighter jets, ships and robots. Typically those folks also miss out on girl attention, so an image of an attractive girl surrounded by their favorite metal is something they want to keep close to their hearts. Not so many girls cosplay these kind of “male fantasies”, partly also because it is hard. But once you think about it, it can be another way to make yourself taller – if these leg attachments can be made light, and can at will extend 10 or 20 centimeters, they can be a comfortable and fashionable stilts to stand in. It will hardly make it to mainstream fashion, but it’s a good idea for kickstarter. Here’s what inspired me:

I was at a k-pop dance competition, which was overcrowded, and somewhere in one of the last rows of standing people there was a short girl who was such a big fan of k-pop music, that she actually jumped up every second to see the stage that was hidden from her behind the back of others. It was so unfair to her, that everybody else in the crowd were taller than her, so unless she is in the front row, she has no chance of seeing the stage. The mecha stilts would even her chances, and at the same time make her look part of the culture she is cheering for.

Unfortunately, most of the costumes people make are heavy and unwieldy, and don’t actually lift the person wearing it. So the kickstarter would be for making a sturdy design, that attaches to your legs, is foldable, easy to keep balance, and looks stylish. For now, let me put the mecha cosplays that are already there for inspiration:






Attracting kids to STEM careers

The picture is from a test widely used in Project Scientist – an initiative to present scientist role models to middle school girls. It is considered important that, given a task “Draw a scientist”, a girl would draw a woman. I personally cannot tell the gender of the character in the picture, but I readily recognize the “I’m going to try science” stick figure from xkcd:


Probably it’s just a coincidence.. Anyway, my personal take on how to bring more people to science (and there’s no limit, there’s research to be done🎶, enough for everyone) is:

Just like everybody else in the celebrity/show business, our institute ought to throw a party, some sort of coctail reception with EDM music and high-res pictures from top notch numerical simulations. If an artist can make an exhibition and invite his friends, so that wine flows as a river, and event is open to the young partygoers from the area, and cover charge is small – why can’t our institute do the same? We shouldn’t encourage people to join, in fact, our work is so awesome that they are not allowed to join. They have to work their way up if they hope for a grad student position.

On a more serious note, the numbers “in STEM there are only 30% girls” are of course disturbing, but let’s think of them this way: only 10%(my guess) of people who have abilities suited for STEM research ever get around real research. The other 90% (maybe 94% girls, 88% guys which would explain the gender ratio in STEM) are lost to alcohol, drugs, partying, early marriages and dreams of easy life. *Here by “lost” I mean that the above short term satisfactions (which are not necessarily bad) take up all their time and distract them from the long term goals of their life. And they end up working in a bank or some other place that’d pay a price for their abilities.

In fact, every one of us has two sets of moral imperatives inside. One is the ubiquitous “do what feels good in the moment, be true to yourself, be genuine, respect feelings and value opinions of others , blah blah blah” – which almost everyone in California would sign their name under. And another is more personal “Will I amount to anything? Will I get a job? Will I have a family?” I feel like scientists around me take this questions more seriously than average American would. (More on short term vs. long term in earlier post)

So yes, sure, if you want to bring back that 90% of people who got distracted by what feels good short term, throw a party. That’s how new areas attracted young people throughout the history – think of 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, with the Eiffel tower. But maybe it is more worth to emphasize the value of long term commitments. We have to know the cultural/economics phenomenon we are fighting against with our outreach programs. Our actual good qualities are not being cool or social, it is being faithful and dedicated. We ought to have more trust that commitment can be a selling point and some kids will choose science because that is what they want to be like. No matter how much culture and environment pushes them to drink beer and do nothing.

How to break up with someone

This is a Hindu epic with an epic breakup in the end. The movie is kind of long, but it pays off: by the end the characters figure something out about breakups. My observations are a bit less general, but maybe will work for somebody:

When two people are in relationship, at some point one of them feels it’s impossible to continue. And the key word is “feels”. It is typically not due to some cruel circumstances or irreversible mistakes they made. It’s just the way first person feels. Yet if that person is just honest about their feelings, the partner’s natural reaction will be to “fix” it – think constructively, find out what’s wrong and ask for another chance! This is exactly what the first person doesn’t want to happen (remember, that person feels like it’s impossible to be with his partner any longer, and trying to fix things just means staying with that impossible partner indefinitely).

So the first person decides to fabricate some sort of impossible circumstance or find some inherent flaw in their partner. Note that “inherent flaw” is a powerful tool in narration, one of the foundations of drama etc. If the first person is more honest than that, and cannot tell an outright lie, they may just decide to not say anything. Cut all ties and stop talking to their partner, leaving them in dismay and confusion. The partner will go through both phases anyway: trying to “fix” it and perceiving some inherent flaw within themselves. So it appears that the better way out is to fabricate some story: “I have to move to another city” or the likes of it. The partner will accept it faster and suffer less.

Yet I would like to encourage a better resolution than the two listed: not just honest, but honest and brave. If you are breaking up with someone, let them know but don’t leave them immediately. Let their feeling sink in, let them try to “fix” it, as repulsive as it may seem. And then help them get over their low self esteem. And only then leave. I wonder if many people are as selfless as that.

Fault in the best of us

I’ve got a massive amount of information in one evening about how people usually get to intimacy. It was a discussion about sex organized in our student residences. The typical individual message of what I heard has the structure:

This feels uncomfortable – here’s how to make it comfortable.

It made me thinking how very social people have this negativity towards any uncomfortable/awkward situation. As if, you shouldn’t really have any of them in your life.

On the contrary, people with low social skills can’t really avoid awkward situations, and after getting through them on daily basis they develop a kind of tolerance. It’s okay to go through an uncomfortable experience if it doesn’t influence your happy future too much. For example, if you come to a new place where you don’t have any friends, it’s okay to be an oddball for a first few weeks, before you get into the hang of it. I wonder if the more serious questions, like hitting on people vs. staying cool, can be resolved in this new light:

Continue reading “Fault in the best of us”


I was reading this manga about a Japanese girl exploring magical Britain. And I realized that I’ve always wanted to write something like it. So that there is magic, without any explanation but with a lot of new world to explore. And a curious character that goes on adventures using the magical items available to him/her. (btw, the manga passes the test 1. are there more than two women characters? 2. Do they talk to each other? 3. Do they talk about anything but men?)

But with my analytical mind, I just cannot think about a magical world without first defining a global reason to have magic, a global principle, if you wish. And some of my friends from humanity side of life seem to have the same problem. So below there are some unwanted speculations on the nature of magic (what I really want is to stop the lengthy explanations and just run away and explore!)

Continue reading “Futurology”

Shakespeare jokes

So I watched Twelfth night lately, and this time I caught the meaning of the most of ‘witty replies’. I was thinking of comparing it to the modern sitcoms. There’s even an analogue of the ‘offscreen laughter’ – a jester that laughs a lot during the course of the performance. We also have a range of completely delusional characters, and a certain love line which is a matter of jokes like ‘she’s completely in love and he doesn’t notice’, but is mostly delivered seriously. Some of the lines are an improbable and elaborate setup for the following joke “I’m not the horse of that color” “and that horse will make him an ass!”

There’s also the whole culture gap, with counts and countesses, duels, pirates – but most of it is easily translatable to modern day situations. The only thing that is a Shakespeare trademark and haven’t caught on elsewhere is the whole ‘mistaken identity’ comedy. In the modern days of computer graphics and fashion industry, it is hard to impress anyone by changing a costume in between scenes. Fashion has always been around, is it really computer graphics fault? Twenty years ago there were movies where characters dressed as somebody else.. Conan the Barbarian 🙂

Anyway, this made me thinking that Americans don’t know too many jokes. Me myself, I used to have a book “Collection of jokes” as a kid. Here, on a rock concert when somebody took their time to tune the guitar, the guy on the bass said: anybody knows a joke? There was one guy after all, he told a pun about a puppy (I don’t remember, to me it sounded like “why is puppy sad? it’s bloated”). So yeah, apparently (and it’s confirmed by going to the local improv night), the jokes in US are divided into puns “X and Y walks into the bar..”, sitcom jokes where somebody is overacting or <define sitcom here>, and also rare cases of sarcasm which is even harder to define. Yeah, there is also internet humor. There seems to be something missing, what we called ‘ordinary jokes’ back in Russia. I wonder if that’s just my impression..