Thursday, August 29, 2013

Put Down Your Shovel

A shovel.

Asking for answers
to life's great mysteries
is like digging a hole,
then asking why it is there.

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Sunday, April 07, 2013

A Vegan Pizza Cheese Worth Eating

(Disclaimer: Prior to adopting a vegan diet I was a great fan of good cheese. It was one of my joys, and I did not give it up easily. So, I do know what good cheese is like, and no, this is not good cheese. It is a good cheese analogue which is not the same thing. Just as I don't eat meat analogues to replace meat (which I don't actually like), rather, to serve in the rôle of meat in recipes for texture and protein, I eat cheese analogues to act as cheese in various ways but not to be cheese, which they cannot be. That said, this product is excellent for the purposes I use it for.)

This stuff melts and bubbles, and looks right.
Visually appealing, and with a mouth feel that doesn't put you off.

I ate an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet for about 30 years, adding some fish in about 15 years ago. I chose to restrict my diet for ethical reasons. I knew that absent an existential threat, I wouldn't kill an animal with my own hands, so it ultimately forced me to decide that didn't consider outsourcing the killing ethical. I stopped eating things that required animals to be killed. Eventually, I became aware of the extremely poor treatment of animals used to produced the ovo and lacto (egg and dairy) parts of my diet and it began to bother me.

A few months ago, I realized that I was having severe adverse reactions to wheat (and other grain) gluten. So severe that I would feel constantly ill. I realized I had to adopt a gluten-free (GF) diet, which I did. At the same time I took the opportunity to address my discomfort with eating eggs and dairy, and switched to a vegan diet as well. To say the results have been salutary would be quite an understatement. Reduction in weight, great increase in general health and energy, and a feeling of moral rectitude have been among the pleasant outcomes. What hasn't been so easy is adjusting my cooking to the situation.

I am not quite a foodie, but I do cook a lot, and dairy in particular has been a mainstay. I specially like pizza, for example. I already lost the crust, losing the cheese as well made things very unpleasant. I have tried various commercial GF, vegan pizzas with mixed results. The one constant was the cost, always far too high. Recently, I tried a pizza from Bold Organics. It was about the usual (high) price, but it was unusually good. The crust is excellent for a GF effort, but what struck me was the "cheese", it was exceptional. It melted and bubbled, and with a little assistance from the broiler, it even browned. I refer to the disclaimer at the start and mention that this is not cheese, it is a cheese analogue. But, it was a very good one.

A little research turned up the source of this "cheese", which is a company called Follow your Heart. I already knew about Follow your Heart from their exceptional Vegenaise product. It is a mayonnaise substitute good enough that my children actually prefer it to the egg version. That's quite an endorsement. I wasn't aware of their Vegan Gourmet mozzarella analogue, but I am now. It's really good.

I had some trouble finding it locally. I couldn't get the "Shreds" version, which would have been preferable, but I did find it in block form, and it shreds reasonably well. As you can see from the photo above, the appearance of the cooked pizza is very convincing. An excellent presentation. The flavor is mild and appropriate. Seasoning becomes more important in the absence of a really good cheese, but garlic, onion, and various Italian style herbs go a long way. The result is more than acceptable. It is an enjoyable meal.

I don't usually go out of my way to simulate animal and glutenous foods. I prefer to eat dishes that are organically free of gluten and dairy since they have evolved to be good food in that context. But, I do love pizza and I like the option of enjoying it from time to time. With Follow your Heart Vegan Gourmet mozzarella, I can make a pizza when I want it, and actually enjoy it. My challenge now is a really good, homemade, GF crust. If I work that out, I will report back.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

How to Win an Argument

Many times we encounter someone online who is obviously wrong. Of course, in the spirit of generosity, we politely point out that they are mistaken and should reconsider their entire Weltanschauung¹ since it has lead to them to absurd conclusions. More often than not, our generosity does not provoke the expected gratitude, rather, we are repaid with a barrage of facts and logic which are entirely beside the point (after all, the person is simply wrong).
When you find yourself in a situation like this, the key to winning the argument is simple: don't actually argue. Instead, with a few simple techniques, you can gain the moral victory that is rightfully yours, disposing of yet another Internet ingrate. It's not very difficult if you just keep a few things in mind.

First, don't make the mistake of actually analyzing the argument of the misguided fool you are to dispose of. This is not only a waste of time, it's downright dangerous. I can't tell you the number of sad cases where perfectly righteous and intelligent people have been seriously damaged by considering the "argument" of one of these fools. You see, many are quite intelligent and so they've laid all sorts of rhetorical traps. Often, they will use facts that you agree with and put them into a logical framework that supports their crazy position! Even the strongest of us are vulnerable to such trickery. Stay away from "argument".

You might be asking, "how can I win an argument if I don't argue?!". See, that's the kind of sharp analysis that is going to make you a success here. It's really surprisingly simple. You simply need to appear to argue. It is the same thing as really doing it, and there is no danger that you will change your mind by absorbing the crazy ideas you are fighting. Remember: we already know that these extremists are wrong. The fact that they can confuse others with clever reasoning doesn't make them right.

It turns out that quite a long time ago some Greeks had a similar problem to ours. They had a perfectly good philosophy and some "intelligent" people wanted to make all sorts of "reasoned" objections to it. Of course, like any philosophy, there were plenty of things you just had to understand to see why it was right. It's a sad thing but intelligence is no guarantor of "getting it". It's like Louis Armstrong said about Jazz, "Man, if you have to ask what it is, you’ll never know." These people just didn't get it, so how to keep them from messing it up for everyone else?
Here's where they got clever. They figured out what I am talking to you about here, that convincing people you are right is much more important than actually being right. Now, these guys were academics, so of course they made a big mess of it. Way too complicated. But, there are some things they came up with we can rescue. Think of it as a service to them, we can use their stuff to do good. So, I'd imagine by this time you'd like some practical advice. Let's get started! There isn't just one path to follow here. You will have to learn these techniques and apply them according to what you encounter.
Arguments are based on words, keep an eye out for dictionary violations.
These people just love to violate the dictionary. They will use words in the most twisted ways. Many times you can easily win right at the beginning by quoting good old Webster. One of the best references it the 1913 edition of Webster which has the real meanings of words in it. It was published before these people could take over the dictionary business, so it's reliable. If you catch them in a dictionary violation, that alone invalidates their argument. There is no defense against this. Just keep repeating it. Eventually, they will argue with you about the meaning, but you have Webster on your side.
Demand proof for everything.
These guys just love to say things without showing proof. An easy win is to demand proof for every claim. Don't worry about whether the claim is reasonable, or commonplace, or whether its truth would validate the argument. Don't get confused about why you are demanding proof. It's not to show that the thing isn't true! The purpose is to show that it might not be true. This being the case, you just need to discredit the proof they provide. Sometimes it's easy as pie. If they link to Wikipedia, just say, "Wikipedia is not a reliable source". Everyone knows this. If they link to some partisan website, well, how can that be trusted?! If they link to a blog, heck, that's worse than Wikipedia! If they manage to find a source not so easily impeached, don't panic. All you have to do is say that the source does not say what they claim it does. Remember, if you can make the argument about the sources instead of their point, they've lost.
Become morally outraged.
This is a great one because it goes right to the heart of things. I mean, they are morally corrupt, after all. Look for anything that is just not morally acceptable and make it the issue. It will show everyone else just how bad this person is, and why it doesn't matter what they say. Anyone so reprehensible can't have anything worthwhile to say. You will probably find others who agree, and help to chastise your opponent. Keep in mind that the issue over which you become exercised needn't be something you are normally concerned about, nor something very important. It just has to be something that appears to violate the ethos of the group, or at least of your own supporters. This will allow you to dismiss anything the person says as coming from a "poisoned well". Cool, eh?
Ignore context, take each thing as if it stands alone.
One of the ways these people confuse things is by tying together a bunch of facts and ideas. If you take each of the points they raise as separate, you have a lot better chance of derailing their argument. Keep the bits isolated, don't argue about two at once, just focus on disproving a part and the whole will collapse. This is a general principle to apply to all of the above.
Well, there are many other techniques you might employ, but they are generally variations or specifications of what I have taught you here. As you practice, you will get better at it. But always keep in mind, winning an argument is about appearance. The winner is the one left standing, not the one who is "right". We already know that you are right, arguments aren't going to prove anything about that, they just confuse the onlookers. So, focus on winning and help to keep things on the right track for everyone.

1. Weltanschauung is German for a particular philosophy or view of life; the worldview of an individual or group.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

What time is it?

If anyone knows what time is is, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) does.

This little Flash widget is nothing special with today's pervasive NTP (Network Time Protocol) usage, even on personal computers. But there was a time when I would set my watch (I don't even wear a watch any more!) every day by listening to NIST's radio station WWV from Boulder Colorado.

In my younger days, in the times of sunspot peaks and fantastic radio propagation, I could hear both WWV from Boulder with its male-voiced announcements and WWVH from the Island of Kauai, Hawaii using female-voiced announcements.

While I occasionally listen to WWV still, WWVH is not to be heard. So, I present you with this time display not because it is specially useful, or innovative, but because it is nostalgic. NIST is still the source of the correct time, be it UT1 or UTC but now we all use it without thinking about it, or even knowing about it.

Take a look at the super-nerdy time science and technology at that link above, it's one of those unsung critical things that keep all this technology working.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sympathy (Feeling Together)

The Icy Sun
In a very real way we are each in this life alone,
yet we are capable of sympathy.
Through it, we can make others feel they are not alone at all.

This is the greatest gift you can give another:
the feeling that they are not other.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012


A door from the outside

A door. The inside, the outside, and no observer.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Automatic Visual Poetry

A cloud of words, their sizes proportional to their frequencies. This one made from the RSS feed for Miscellany. It's interesting to me, as the author, to see the emphasis on certain things.

Word Cloud Much easier to read in the bigger version...

Because it is generated from the RSS feed, it is also time-constrained, so ideas in time. Make your own, here. It's a Java applet.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Knowing without Understanding

Let's imagine that the Materialist philosophical theory is true. What does this mean? Does it mean that believing it is true makes you better able to understand the events of the world?

Complex interaction of paint splatter.
"I refute it thus..."

I would say that such a belief is obviously wrong. It is grand conceit to imagine you understand what the implications of a Materialist solution to the nature of the world means in terms of your own experience. It is only ignorance of the true extent of the complexity of the world that allows anyone to think they've sussed it.

So, even if you believe that Materialism is the right approach, and even if you are right, you have no foundation for acting in any particular way on account of it. You aren't that smart, no one is. I assert that the only thing you can reasonably act on is your experience, and, if you imagine that you've figured that out you are building false worlds. The very greatest neuroscientist in the world has no better tools for understanding human experience than any of us. Physics isn't you, even if you are an emergent phenomenon of it.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Look Inside

The world outside is an infinity of complexity and chaos.

The world doesn't care about patterns, about cause and effect, about meaning.

Inside our mind is an infinity of pattern and meaning.

There are two worlds, the one outside is meaningless without the one inside.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Ignorance is Bliss

See an effect and label it "cause".
Rules describe, they have no force.
Punishment is always after the fact.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

It's not a Compromise...

The demand for purity is much more destructive than accepting the admixture that is the best we can do.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It's a Shocker, I know...

Sometimes, people understand you but still disagree.

Could you be wrong?

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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Snark is the New Black

Cynics are often idealists, who, upon getting a stain on their all-white clothing solve the problem by getting an all-black wardrobe.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

An Emendation...

Never assign to intention what can be explained by incompetence, unless incompetence is the less likely explanation.

When actions seem out of line with stated goals figure out what goals the actions do achieve. Arguing about efficacy in the face of duplicity is damfoolish.

Concerning ourselves with malice is generally counterproductive. The conspiracy theories to which this aphorism is most often applied do not require malice as a driving force. Self-interest is the almost universal force behind conspiracy and it makes conspiracies self-organizing affairs.

The key is the "intention" of the entire system and not that of any particular actor. Can a system have "intention"? Yes, a system of human beings has the aggregate intention of the choices made by each person participating.

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Be Joyful

There is a difference between having fun and joy. We have fun with our bodies, joy encompasses all of who we are. Joy unburdens our hearts and elevates us. When we experience joy it is like taking flight. It lifts us up and makes us generous and loving to every creature. Joy is why you are here.


Words, Words, Words...

A lot of what I write involves clarifying concepts through honing words. I am concerned with creating precision so that certain ideas can be communicated. When I assert a distinction between one word and another, I am trying to create a clear usage. Consider such posts entries in a Yaakov Lexicon. I think there are things to learn from them beyond that, but at the least understand that I am defining my usage.

When I was younger I often read the dictionary. It was very interesting to me to see all the words and all the usages. At some point I learned that the dictionary is only valid as a descriptive text. Prescriptive dictionaries are silly undertakings. While my lexicon might look prescriptive, I would never argue with someone using a word I have defined one way in the ordinary sense they see around them. I do it because I want a compact way to communicate to those who wish to read what I write.

I also hope, I will confess, in my vanity, to create a usage through reflexivity when I am able. Of course, I believe I am correct in the sentiments I express through these definitions but I am also ready to hear cogent arguments against them. I will not accept diffuse and purely destructive ones, though; these I will reject without scruple. A sharp and heartfelt disagreement will always get my consideration.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Or, You Can Sacrifice Yourself...

Sacrifice the ideal to the optimal and live.

You have a limited time on this planet, don't spend it in an imaginary world.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

It isn't Theoretical

Honesty in public discourse is a moral obligation of the highest order. The lack of humility which brings a person to self-deception is also the direct cause of untold human suffering.

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A World of Opposites

Thinking, I mean really thinking, is hard.

While a minority of people enjoy mental effort, most of us prefer well-worn tracks. Even those people who enjoy things like logic puzzles and advanced math often have a narrow domain in which they mentally exert themselves.

The world is complex. Seriously complex.

Complexity is a problem for people that do exert themselves to find solutions to problems, if they even bother to consider it. But even among those folks who seek to systematize the world (or perhaps specially among them), complexity is pushed aside as, well, too complex.

Simplification is good. Or, is it?

There is no doubt that simplifying a problem is an important step in solving it. Breaking it down into pieces more easily understood is a necessary analytical device for most of us. In this way, simplifying is good.

But, by way of analogy, consider the difference between salt and gold. No matter how far down I divide gold, it remains gold[1]. I take smaller and smaller pieces and even down to single atoms, I have gold. This is a simple problem. It's one thing, self contained. It is reducible to the atomic level.

Take salt[2]. At first, we can divide it down into smaller pieces. Then we get to the molecular. If we stop here, all is well, but, if we continue we no longer have salt. Salt doesn't have an atomic existence. Does salt share some essential identity with sodium and chlorine? No. Salt is irreducible, just as every interesting or important problem in life is.

Irreducible complexity[3] is the hallmark of an interesting problem. That is not to say that all problems must be taken as the result of the entire system in which they exist rather, it is an acknowledgement of a critical feature that interesting, important human problems do not have: duality.

The world is not black and white, it is grey.

Black and white, hot and cold, here and there—these all arise only in relation to each other. They don't exist on their own. This is something people notice as soon as they start to think. What they often don't notice, and what leads to confusion and even human tragedy, is that just because they see something as black it doesn't make some other thing white.

Those who do see this make demands for purity. We must be perfectly white, without a blemish, because that's what makes us just. Of course, this is impossible for human beings and so you end up with a lie. That lie is used to attack everything not pure white which now, perforce, is black.

This is the problem of false dichotomy. It is pervasive. I am right, so if you disagree with me, you must be wrong. No chance for each of us to be both. It leads to ideological abuse of other people and no ideology is immune to this. They just each make their biggest mistakes in the places where they are most weak.

So, start listening to your own arguments. When you notice a dichotomy, step back. Imagine there could be a third, imperfect and unclear way to see the situation. Don't try to take a statistical average, or its moral equivalent, and then reject that. That's just a "trichotomy", and the middle position is a straw man. Instead, imagine something that doesn't lie on the spectrum you've invented. There's where you will find your way out of your dilemma.

1. Yes, of course I can destroy the atomic structure, that's not a real objection to the analogy.

2. Table salt, NaCl.

3. This is not a formal, technical use of the term. We are speaking philosophically.

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I'm Y and I'm Proud

There is a very common class of argument that follows this basic pattern:

A: We should do X.

B: If you do X you are a Y.

A: That's not true!

B: The dictionary definition of a Y is someone who does X.

Of course, many of you spot the problem with this argument right away, but, even those who can see this in the abstract fall prey to the compelling nature of such argument when they employ it themselves.

Broadly speaking words have two sets of meaning. Denotations, which are direct and literal, and, connotations which are various degrees of hidden but just as powerful if not more so. Some words in the dictionary have the nature of their connotation(s) spelled out with labels like vulgar.

So let's deconstruct our argument, above. The advocate for X is labeled Y on account of her statement. X could be any number of things—"lower taxes", "stay home with our babies", "make union organizing easier", "legalize marijuana"—you get the idea. Her opponent responds with the label, Y and our advocate denies it.

Why? What is behind each person's behavior.

The person arguing against X would like to dispose of the idea as easily as possible. It is a challenging idea and probably complex. The advocate may well have a reasonable argument for it but the denier is ideologically opposed and doesn't want to be challenged.

The advocate objects to the label, Y. Why should she? Simply this, Y is selected not to describe but to discredit. Y admits of no nuance in the position of the advocate. Once labeled successfully as Y, our advocate can be dismissed out of hand.

Each party is paying much more attention to the connotations of Y than what it denotes. If someone has the terrible misfortune to be forced to kill in self-defense, Y can be "killer". While killer clearly denotes one who kills it also has negative connotations. If someone uses it in this context they intend to bring those connotations. If the labeled person objects they are not objecting to what it denotes but to the intended connotative content.

Arguments cannot actually be resolved with a dictionary (save those that are about attributes and content of the dictionary). However the dictionary is an excellent shield for those who would not be challenged by what is actually going on. "Words mean things" is a vapid retort to those who would prefer to deal with the intent of the speaker than with some orthodoxy that demands we own the connotations of words just because that happen to also denote something that matches. Worse, these same people will complain about neologisms. In other words they seek to control the content of our world by limiting the vocabulary available to describe it to an arbitrary authority.

Of course, all of my complaining just "semantics"...

semantics |səˈmantiks|

1. The branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning. There are a number of branches and subbranches of semantics, including formal semantics, which studies the logical aspects of meaning, such as sense, reference, implication, and logical form, lexical semantics, which studies word meanings and word relations, and conceptual semantics, which studies the cognitive structure of meaning.

2. The meaning of a word, phrase, sentence, or text

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Maybe You are Wrong...

If people don't agree with you it's probably not because you aren't yelling loud enough.

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The Litmus Test

When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud.
If he didn't laugh,
it wouldn't be the Tao.

— 老子 (Laotse) (b. ~604 BCE) in 道德經 (Tao Te Ching) Verse 41

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Friday, August 05, 2011

The Road Not Taken

A fork in the road...
photo ©Neil Jones, some rights reserved

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

—Robert Frost (1874–1963) from Mountain Interval (1920)

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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Denying Reality

The lust for generality is one of the deadly sins of the age of science. It is the mother of false worlds and the assassin of important ideas.

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Monday, August 01, 2011

Zen Bro Wisdom

The frenemy of my frenemy is my frenemy.


Sunday, July 31, 2011

I ♥ Crepuscular Rays

Crepuscular Rays at Sunrise
The morning view in the parking lot, mostly unprocessed.


Bell System

Bell System Manhole Cover


Friday, July 29, 2011

Trust Others and They Will Trust You

I'm open to you
you may need me.

I know
you could hurt me,
and that's OK,
but please don't.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Merit Isn't One Thing

Technical communities can be notoriously rough places socially. It is common to hear people say "it seems that way because we are a meritocracy, we don't care about anything but merit."


It is my philosophical habit to look for words people are using in some particular way different from my own. It is trivial to see that a meritocracy requires a definition of "merit". I also notice that all communities are meritocracies. That is, a group tends to elevate those among them in which they see the greatest merit—according to the group's definition of merit. So, this is clearly not a distinguishing characteristic, nor any sort of explanation for the unfriendliness of (unfriendly) technical communities.

Read more »

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pseudonyms vs. Autonyms

Recently there's been a controversy concerning Google's "Google+" social network. It seems that Google is actively enforcing a policy of using "real names" on the service. To quote from the published justification:

Google services support three different types of use when it comes to your identity: unidentified, pseudonymous, identified. Google Profiles is a product that works best in the identified state. This way you can be certain you’re connecting with the right person, and others will have confidence knowing that there is someone real behind the profile they’re checking out. For this reason, Google Profiles requires you to use the name that you commonly go by in daily life.

Google says they support three types of identities, but for Google Profiles "identified" ones (shown to be the same as on state-issued documents) work best. Google perceives profiles to be at the heart of Google+, and makes the assertion that people will be more certain that they are "connecting with the right person" in this case.

This rationale is clearly very weak. Take the case of "John Smith" or its equivalent in the many languages of the folks signing up. Even with an "identified" John Smith, how can you know it is the person you think? There are hundreds of thousands of them from which to choose. For a John Smith to be distinguished they would have to make public information that they might reasonably prefer to keep private, such as addresses and phone numbers.

Read more »

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Rule of Law

Everyone knows the Golden Rule.

Today, consider it the Golden Law.

Be kind and thoughtful, greet people with a smile. Listen to what they have to say as if you need to know, because you do. If you do this, you'll learn from everyone you meet, and you'll pay them for their kindness with yours.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Bro Version

The ancient mariner tells his tale...

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
'By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?'

The bridegroom's doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
Mayst hear the merry din.'

He holds him with his skinny hand,
"There was a ship," quoth he.
'Cool story, bro!', the one averred.
Eftsoons take leave did he.

With apologies to Coleridge...


Middle Eastern Bro Wisdom

The frenemy of my frenemy is my enemend.


Leading from Among

The worst managers are those who treat their staff as one of the resources they need to schedule. They don't distinguish among conference rooms, computers, office supplies and people. They are not heartless, but they imagine that the context of "employment" means that each minute of the day needs accounting.

The best managers collaborate with the people they manage. They take a partnership approach and count on their partners to achieve goals using their judgment and skills.

Read more »

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's a Bit Warm

The midwest US has been getting some high temperatures. Higher than normal. Much too high.

101 °F

OK, so it can go over 100...

And, the humidity is also much too high.

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Newbie vs. Neophyte

I propose that we eliminate "newbie" and its variants from the vernacular and adopt "neophyte" in it's place.

"Newbie" denotes beginner but its connotations are about what is lacking. It has a tone of inferiority which, thanks to usage, is probably inescapable. (Our youngest son came crying to us one day, "He called me a noob!" It genuinely hurt his feelings. Children are the social canaries.)

"Neophyte" also denotes beginner but its connotations are about potential. It comes from ecclesiastical Latin through the Greek "neophutos", literally "newly planted" from neos "new" and phuton "plant". It is about what will grow.

"Noob" can become "neo", and our thinking can shift from what isn't there to what could be there.

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When Strength is a Weakness

The sapling is weak,
it bends to every wind,
it stands for nothing.

The old tree is strong
it forgets there are winds
it cannot resist.

Remember being young,
return to it
when you find yourself
ready to break.

The ideal that leads
to your destruction
cannot be called ideal.





The translation to Chinese is
by my friend, Audrey Tang

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

History is Written by the Victors

Since the rise of the Communist Party in China, its history in relationship to the West has changed. Of course the facts haven't changed, but history is a human endeavor, a human invention. It is the linchpin of national mythology, the foundation of what a nation believes about itself and about other nations.

Chinese Labor Corps workers on the front lines during WWI

Members of the Chinese Labor Corps on the WWI Front Lines

With the victory of the Communists in China, both they and the West had reason to rewrite history. But even before that, the West, with little or no respect for the Chinese, wrote them out.

On August 14, 1917, China declared war with Germany and Austria–Hungary. They seized German ships in Chinese ports and assets in Chinese banks. They offered troops to fight in Europe but the Allied Force commanders considered this impractical.

The French convinced the allies that the Chinese could work as paid laborers. They suggested hiring 50,000 Chinese to work on the front lines. They would carry ammunition, dig trenches, and bury the dead. They would not engage in combat, and served unarmed. The Chinese workers found this hazardous duty very attractive because it paid much more than any job they could find at home.

At the deployment’s peak, about 140,000 Chinese worked on the front lines, about 100,000 for the British and 40,000 for the French. Of those, official Western history claims about 2,000 died, but Chinese history has the number at ten times that. The Chinese claims are not unrealistic, trench warfare was brutal and deadly. The Chinese ran ammunition to the entrenched soldiers, often exposing themselves to reach them.

Read more »

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Suspend Your Common Sense

I find that some folks don't understand this joke without commentary. When I first heard it I found it very funny indeed. The trick is, suspend your common sense, it's the way of scientists (in jokes).

It's a building.

You see a building, they see a black box...

I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did.


Radio's Home Folks

You've probably never heard of Vic and Sade. It's a shame. The program, written by Paul Rhymer during the golden age of radio, was the most popular show in radio history. Boasting an audience of 7,000,000 at its peak, and appearing for 14 years, on three national networks, Vic and Sade is a genuine American masterpiece.

Art Van Harvey, Bernadine Flynn and Billy Idelson are Vic, Sade and Rush Gook

Vic, Sade and their eventual son, Rush

Vic and Sade is American Art. It's radio at its finest. To understand you have to listen.

One of my favorite episodes is this one, where Uncle Fletcher explains why he carries a large collection of keys.

At the end of the essay linked above is a link to the repository of other episodes. Vic and Sade can be enjoyed piecemeal, but, to fully appreciate the show, you have to listen to quite a few episodes. It has a form, like music, starting and ending on a theme. There are inside jokes and characters to know. The episodes are only 15 minutes. Think of it as a podcast from the golden age of radio. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


My wife recently came across an wonderfully obsessive blog by James Mason covering Vic and Sade. To really appreciate the depth here, you have to be a V&S afficiando—though the magnitude is clear to anyone who browses the site. I would almost believe that James has listened to these episodes as much as we have… OK, perhaps he has. The difference is, he takes notes, and publishes them. Check it out. It's a marvelous bit of obscure creation.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Known Problem

Another domain-specific joke, this one at the expense of mathematicians. I heard this joke some time ago but couldn't easily find versions of it, which surprised me.

It's an extinguisher.

Who was the firebug?

I like this joke a lot because it is clever and short, and uncannily accurate concerning some people. I hope you enjoy it.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Chicken Trouble

There is a classic joke among science and engineering academics. It's very well known, but the punchline is more well known. You might know it, even if you've never heard the joke that it belongs to.

It's a chicken.

Chickens are a rich source of trouble, and mirth.

Once you know the joke, and not just the punchline, you will have mastered yet another shibboleth. I hope you enjoy it.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Another secret freely told.  


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Radiation Protection in Asheville

On a recent trip to Asheville, NC, I encountered something odd. (Those of you familiar with Asheville might find this obvious, but I am talking about something other than the people). On the street was a traffic signal control box with an odd switch on the side.

An oddball switch in an oddball town...
Is it on or off? I don't know, does anyone?

While I don't have a picture of it, an ~800MHz Yagi antenna was mounted on the top of a traffic signal pole close by. Note that the switch is completely unprotected. Anyone can operate it. Note, also, that there is no label on the "RF ANTENNA DISCONNECT SWITCH" to indicate its state. In the picture, is it on or off?

Anyone know that is going on here? Any theories? My only guess was the odd folks of Asheville felt that people should have a choice about whether they are bombarded by electromagnetic radiation as they cross the street. Of course, this makes little sense, but I haven't come up with anything better.

(By the way, as odd as Asheville is, I did find things to like about it. It was a pleasant place with mostly pleasant people and the neo-hippy zeitgeist, while generally as affected as any urban culture, had some decent values as part of it. So, Asheville: odd but nice.)

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It's an open secret.


Friday, July 08, 2011

Fair Warning to my Readers

Today, after much thought, I have decided the Google hegemony is too pervasive for any personal behavior of mine to make a difference. This being the case, and my holding out against it being a negative in my professional life, I have decided to embrace Google's services, at least in a tentative hug.

Google Logo
I can only hope they really aren't evil.

My principles stay the same, but I am a pragmatist, not an ideologue. If I believed that my quixotic fight with Google (I suspect that they weren't even aware of our struggle) could make a difference, I would pursue it further. I am convinced it cannot. The truth is that I am so interconnected to Google through my friends and colleagues I can't hide anything from them anyway. The almost universal use of Google Analytics also impacts me. Which brings me to the point of this post.

Today, I added a Google Analytics script to the template for this blog. So, esteemed reader, you are being tracked even here*. But, I have seen that you are being tracked a number of other ways already and frankly, I don't think I am adding anything material to that.

Read more »

Monday, June 20, 2011

Experience is Everything

80% of wizardry is knowing what to look for.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lightening the Load

Joy unburdens the heart.

Like a sincere laugh,
not at someone else's expense.

Like seeing the face of someone you love
and finding it beautiful.

Joy cannot be grasped or held,
it comes and goes beyond volition.

When joy passes, it leaves you elevated.

Joy is a connection to all that matters.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Robin Porchbird

UPDATE: Two out of three baby Porchbirds have joined us!

A robin chose our porch to build her nest. She found a flat spot on top of a column and apparently thought it was a great location. Being of a nervous nature, she may be regretting it now.

Three robin's eggs in traditional robin's egg blue.

An Ovular Trinity in Æsthetic Array

Porchbird, as she's come to be called, cannot tolerate much in the way of human presence. In 30 seconds or less of someone being on the porch she flees accompanied by a loud urgent chirping. We mean her no harm, of course, but she is insensible to our good intentions. As you can see from the photo, Porchbird is a traditionalist, going with the always-in-style robin's egg blue.

We look forward to the eventual hatching of the three junior Porchbirds.

UPDATE: Two of the three have arrived!

Two out of three hatched Porchbirds and a big hungry mouth


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Something Else

There is something else.

It is not time, nor space.
It is not higher, nor lower.
It is not material, nor is it immaterial.

It is not piety.
It is not truth.
It is not belief, nor is it disbelief.

Seeking it hides it.
Grasping it loosens it.
Knowing it obscures it.

It is something you cannot have,
but it is something you cannot lose.

Only a liar would claim to know what I mean.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Returning to the Center


is what we get

from regaining our partner,

when in our dance with "what is",

we find ourselves dancing alone.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I Love My Car 2.0

So, sometime ago my beloved Inger was "bent" in a minor accident. The silly insurance company felt that she wasn't worth unbending and gave me much less than she was worth... At least in my estimation!

My new 1999 BMW 528iT Sport Wagon

In any case, I have waited nearly a year and finally I've moved on. My new car is a 1999 BMW 528iT. She's black as night. Albeit a very shiny night. I haven't named her, and I am not sure I will. But she is a joy to drive, and I am very pleased to own her.

She's not as powerful as Inger, developing only 193 BHP to Inger's 222 but she's definitely more refined. The suspension lets me feel the road without feeling rough, the steering is very responsive and moving the wheel at all changes the car's direction. The brakes are perfect.

I have a little work to do on her. She needs a little cosmetic attention, and like Inger, she has her share of idiosyncrasies. But, frankly, I prefer it that way. She has character, and I feel happy when I drive her. I hope to keep this car for a long, long time.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Question Authority

Trust things based on appearance but never use it is as proof against evidence that something is not what it appears to be.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Free as in (Homebrew) Beer

Today, the good folks are SparkFun will be giving away $150,000 worth of their really cool stuff. Some will be an award for loyalty to existing customers but most will probably be "won" by knowing things about electronics.

SparkFun Logo

Last year SFE gave away $100,000 on an unconditional first-come first-served basis. This year they've decided to promote learning about electronics by awarding people for basic electronic knowledge 10 bucks at a time, up to $100.00.

By the time you read this post it is likely that all of the free stuff will be gone. Nonetheless, go to SparkFun's website and look around. You can do some really cool stuff you probably didn't think you were capable of with just a little learning. It's fun, and if you do it right there won't be any sparks you didn't intend.

To my SparkFun Community friends who are eagerly anticipating the opening of the Free Day event, good luck!

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

A Little Good Advice

Conventional wisdom is generally four parts convention and one part wisdom.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

You Can't Win but You have to Play

The only thing worse than not looking for Truth is finding it.

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Saturday, November 06, 2010

An Additional Disclaimer

lotus in a koi pond ©2010 Yaakov

"The one who knows does not speak, the one who speaks does not know."

— 老子 (Laotse) (b. ~604 BCE) in 道德經 (Tao Te Ching)

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Disclaimer Concerning the Work Here

It struck me that I should make a couple of comments concerning the work you find here. I write these things for myself and for people that find them worth reading. I make no claims of originality but I will say that what I write is based on my own thinking. That is, others may have written these things before me but I am not concerned about that.

My purpose in writing the philosophical essays and aphorisms is to help the progress of my philosophical investigations by casting them in words. Where I know the source of an idea that's influenced me, you'll note that I refer to its author. I may be following the same line of thinking as others but frankly I'd rather do my own exploration just now than read what someone else has concluded. I am willing to risk the embarrassment of repeating, poorly, some other person's efforts for the potential reward of contributing some novelty.

Finally, I want to point out that I work without a proofreader or copy editor. When I wrote professionally I was always very grateful to my editors for making my writing better. I can't afford that luxury for my hobby so you are likely to find errors here and there, and occasionally an unparseable passage due to an editing accident. Please excuse these and, if you are so inclined, report them using the email address in the sidebar. I would certainly be grateful.

Thanks for reading my work. I hope you enjoy it. If you'd like to discuss any of these ideas I welcome email!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Man in the State of Anonymity

In his Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes imagines what life would be like "in the state of nature". He famously concludes that life would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" on account of the natural state of man being war. Hobbes writes, "during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man"

Anoymity is False Freedom

Hobbes falls victim, I believe, to an error common to all such gendankenexperiments. He ignores that the current state of affairs is the result of a complex evolution. He takes a system with effectively infinite influences and arbitrarily removes some things and retains others.

Does this make his thought experiment useless? I don't think so, but I do think it wasn't useful for the purpose he intended. It wasn't "man in a state of nature" but "man removed from civil society". What Hobbes characterized, it would seem with great accuracy, is what happens when you take a person out of the constraints of western civil society.

Hobbes saw that people in our society are dependent upon the constraints placed on them by custom and law. These provide a buffer against bad action. They are something to push against when pursuing self-interest, which, in our society is held to be not only acceptable but even meritorious.

So, when you remove the barriers people use as ethical dams, what happens? The pushing changes to motion, and they cross the line. Perhaps timidly at first but more boldly as they grow used to the lack of enforced restraint. After all, custom and law are so intimately conflated with ethical responsibility, if they are not there, concern over ethics also vanishes.

Read more »


Monday, October 11, 2010

Philosophy Bites

I have, in various essays you will find here, referred to a favorite podcast of mine called Philosophy Bites. I felt it was time to point it out separately in order to draw more attention to it.

Like Being Pecked to Death by Ducks?

The podcast, which is in an interview format, features Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds, both accomplished philosophers in their own right. The podcasts run about 15 minutes and cover topics ranging from classics of philosophy to current issues.

I particularly enjoy Warburton's special ability to be sympathetic to the position advocated by the guest while still asking incisive questions which raise cogent objections. In observing his method, one can learn something of the true philosopher's art of first comprehending a position and then deconstructing it to find the flaws.

I am pleased to say that since the time I began listening to Philosophy Bites it's popularity has grown tremendously. This is a good thing, it means people are interested in the questions the podcast addresses. I believe this is very important. Most people never bother to consider anything that isn't of first-order importance, and, on the occasions when they might, they are ill-equipped and don't manage to actually work out anything they didn't already hold as true.

So, I encourage you to take a few minutes and look at the very large library of interviews available at the Philosophy Bites website. Perhaps you will enjoy it as much as I do and make it a habit.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Life You Can Save

Imagine you come across a child drowning in a shallow ornamental pool. Saving him is just a matter of walking in and carrying him out. The trouble is you are wearing your favorite, expensive shoes. Do you sacrifice your shoes to save the child's life?

Reflecting Pond
Two Worlds

There is almost no one who would not ignore their shoes and rescue the child. It's obvious to anyone in western society what is the morally correct choice in this case. Peter Singer devised this gedankexperiment to make a point. He wants to draw your attention to the moral equivalency of donating the cost of those shoes to effective charities that focus on children in the third world.

Children there are dying from preventable causes, as surely as the imaginary child in the pool. UNICEF reports that about 24,000 die every day from preventable causes related to poverty. Your donation of the cost of a nice pair of shoes would save lives.

Singer is a troublemaker. Philosophers are supposed to be aloof, he is not. He believes in activism. He's developed a website intended to help you find an effective charity for your donation and provide more information on the problem an his proposed solution.

He's not asking you to impoverish yourself. Instead he's suggesting that we can all forego some luxury if it means doing the equivalent of pulling the child from the pool.

You can hear an excellent interview with Singer here. Please give him a chance to convince you. He's got a very good argument.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

A World We Never See

Our perception of the world is limited, of course, by the resolving power of our senses. What we can see, hear, smell, taste and feel forms the boundary of our experience of the "real world". We can extend it by thinking, but, given the data we have that can often mean creating something entirely notional rather than something "real" in the way that we consider sense data "real".

Occasionally, we come across something that demonstrates how we, as humans, are working with extremely poor data when we rely on our senses. If the goal is "objectivity" we are hopeless. Objectivity is a pursuit, if it is even possible, which requires infinitely detailed data of an an infinite variety, and taking it all into account at once.

This video demonstrates the gap between what "is" and what we perceive rather dramatically. I never would have guessed at what it shows. Shot at 9000 frames per second it reveals to our eyes what they would otherwise never be able to see. For me, it is allegorical. It's also really cool even if you don't want to ponder its epistemic implications. Watch it on YouTube for the full impact.

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iPhone 4 Considered Harmful

Apple's packaging is always designed to be a part of the product experience. Minimalism in volume and package contents are clearly among the design goals. So, when I received my new iPhone 4 I was unsurprised, if not unimpressed, that they'd managed to make the box even smaller than the iPhone 3GS's container.

The iPhone's diminuitive box, photographed by its former contents

Among the sparse contents of the new box are two pamphlets: "Finger Tips" which is a quick start guide for the uninitiated and the iPhone 4 Product Information Guide which is a vehicle for Apple's legal team to set out the various advisory messages to help support Apple's eventual refusal to cover, under warranty, a phone that's been cleaned with concentrated sulphuric acid or taken deep sea diving.

In addition are the warnings and disclaimers intended, to the extent allowed by law, to indemnify Apple against lawsuits arising from use or abuse the the iPhone. For example, there is a section saying that using the Maps application to navigate is a bad idea (which stops short of saying "...for entertainment purposes only"). And, further on, the intrepid reader with either excellent vision or a handy magnifier will find this:

Read more »

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Unfortunately, this Blog has Moved

UPDATE: I've re-evaluated my relationship with Google, see this.

While I greatly appreciate the free service that Blogger has provided to me for the past four years they've decided to stop allowing me to publish to my own server. I now have to use Blogger's hosting if I want to continue to use Blogger for managing this blog.

This means the service is no longer free. The move to using Blogger hosting means there is a quid pro quo. I am trading all the information about your reading of my blog for the use of Blogger's tools. Frankly, I don't think this is a good deal and wouldn't voluntarily do it.

I don't have much time lately (note the low frequency of posting here) and so coming up with an alternative to publish locally which I have time to implement is frankly daunting. So, for the moment, I will accept the situation and use Blogger's hosting. In the longer term I will find an alternative completely in my control.

"Free" services on the 'net aren't ever really free. You are always trading something for the service you receive. Take Google Analytics. This is a really great service. The statistical analysis and visualization is very compelling and it's "free". Except it isn't. Google gets a truly amazing view into the behavior of the web thanks to "giving away" this service.

You are giving Google access to all of the information about your visitors for which they agree to show you your slice of the massive statistical pie that they can assemble from all the millions [just a guess, but it surely seems reasonable] of users that are willing to make this trade.

Read more »

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An Unsual Visitor

I was surprised this morning by a large blur overhead and a great commotion in some low trees. When I went to investigate, I found this lovely creature hunting squirrels that were hiding on an ivy-covered building.

A surprise guest, much less interested in me than I was in him (or her).

Does anyone know precisely what sort of hawk this is?


The conclusion is that the picture above is an immature Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). We have, it seems, a few of them as residents on campus. Here are a couple of (somewhat less dramatic) shots I managed to get. This guy is considerably larger than his immature friend (though his friend is probably now about this size).


Monday, September 21, 2009

Ideological Victim

Honesty is the first casualty in the pursuit of "Truth".

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Second Maxim

"Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end."

— Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) in Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals

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Friday, July 31, 2009

On Love

The hallmark of love is the desire of the lover to sacrifice something they would otherwise want, for the benefit of the beloved, and to consider themselves better off on account of it.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Taxpayer-funded Playground

I spend a lot of time on various government websites. NASA, USGS and NOAA, for example, have provided me with hours of opportunity to learn the esoteric and fascinating things we've paid for with our tax dollars. Nothing prepared me, though, for something what I ran across today.

This site could easily absorb every hour in the day for an indefinite period of time. It has tools and datasets from the DoD to the CDC to the USGS all in one place! Hundreds of thousands of images, web widgets, charts, graphs... It's exhausting in extent. If you like data, lots and lots of data, take a look.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

On Being Human

It is the duty of every person to use their particular confluence of nature and nurture, for the benefit of themselves and of those around them, and to bring mercy and justice into the world, which only human beings can do.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Periodic Table of Videos

Just a pointer to a really great website with a really great concept: the Periodic Table of the Elements with a video for each one. The videos range from narratives to demonstrations, and are all interesting and a lot of fun.

Warning! Dangerous(ly fun) Chemicals!

The site is great for kids or adults. Just be sure you set aside some time before visiting because you won't want to stop watching.

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Tools for the Road

This blog's tagline is "tools, things and ideas". When I started writing it, as an exercise in putting my thoughts into essay form, I reached into my pocket and pulled out what I carry around. I wrote about those things as a start. Since then, I have written much more about ideas than tools and so I am trying to make up for that a bit.

Years in the making, the "kit".

My on-the-go tool kit is designed for general adjustment and repair of whatever I might encounter while out and about, as well as working on small things on the bench. It includes drivers, pliers, tweezers, probes, saws and visual aids and chemicals (such as adhesives and thread locker) all in a compact form.

If you click on the link under the picture, you can expand each of the four images into a larger and more satisfying size. You can probably identify quite a few of the items, but not all of them. The screwdriver set is a trusty Wiha roll kit, no longer made so far as I can tell. It is about 20 years old now, and is still my favorite. Wiha tools are very high quality and I have several of their screwdriver sets. I highly recommend them. In the roll are also a pair of excellent Swiss Erem tweezers*, and a "probe" I fabricated from a dental pick which serves many purposes included lock-pick and CD drawer ejector.

I am going to leave the other tools for later posts as I could write a few thousand words on what is in that kit and that's not a task for now. If you have any questions about the items in the photos, please use the address at the top of the blog sidebar and email me about it.

* If you need some tweezers like them, check DealExtreme, but give yourself plenty of time because you won't be able to stop clicking.


A Real Multitool for the Pocket

This Father's Day my family gave me a great gift, a Skeletool. The Skeletool is the visually confusing next-generation multitool from Leatherman.

"Ooo... what is it? I mean, how do you open it?"

I already owned a Leatherman Wave and like it as much as I can like any multitool (which is limited, since they are never quite right). But the Wave is big and heavy and is definitely not comfortable in the pocket. The sheath has a nice horizontal carry option but it is still a burden and frankly rather geeky for EDC (Every Day Carry).

Read more »

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On the Universal Rôle of Mythology

When we read Plato's stories of the life of Socrates, it is very easy for us to spot the mythology involved. Plato's Socrates is a pious devotee of Athena, the goddess of war and of wisdom. It is central to his understanding of what is ethical, and ultimately he chooses death as more acceptable than leaving Athens, Athena's city.

Greek Athena, a Copy Signed by ANTIOCHOS as she Appeared on the Acropolis

For us, it is self-evident that Socrates is being superstitious, that Athena is purely mythological—that is to say not real. We are inclined to say, "Why should Socrates die for such nonsense?" Yet, I can't help but wonder that if the tables were turned and Socrates were reading an account of one of our lives what he would spot, without hesitation, as mythological, and wonder at.

Look in a dictionary for a definition of mythology, and you will find something like:

mythology |məˈθäləjē|
noun ( pl. -gies)

1. a collection of myths, esp. one belonging to a particular religious or cultural tradition.
• a set of stories or beliefs about a particular person, institution, or situation, esp. when exaggerated or fictitious.

2. the study of myths.

I want to extend this definition to uncover the essential and universal rôle of mythology in every person's world view. I assert that each and every one of us has a mythology which is the very foundation of our understanding. It serves the purpose of allowing us to sift the infinite number of facts that bombard us each day. Without a mythology, ordinary thinking would be an infinite regress of questioning, practical decision-making would be impossible.

Read more »

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Why bother?

My friend Robert asked me "What is the value of pursuing philosophy?" I answered him:
The value of the pursuit of answers to epistemic questions lies in the space beyond the limits of speech and before the limits of thought.

I couldn't really say more without lying.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

I am a Key Signing Iconoclast*

PGP keys are a way to digitally sign and/or encrypt data such as email, source code, documents and the like. They use a public key system whereby I provide you with a key that you can use to verify a "signature", or in combination with another to decrypt the encrypted data.

Here's a key, it doesn't really have anything to do with this essay.

The signature works because you get my key from a trusted source (me) or because other trusted people have used their own key to sign mine. This is called a web of trust. To make a key "trustable" it has to be signed by a person that is trusted. This can be you, if you've received my key in a way that leads you to believe it is really my key, or someone that you explicitly (or implicitly) trust to verify the veracity of the source.

To this end people are very careful about signing keys. They, in general, will only do it in person, with supporting documentation such as a passport or a driver's license, or both! They take it all very seriously to ensure that the web of trust has value. I agree with this motivation whole-heartedly.

On the other hand, I have decided that in spite of the excellent motivation this key signing orthodoxy has damaged the value of the keys, and because it is, at this point, just an orthodoxy (and not a rational process), has excluded an entirely legitimate domain for PGP keys (quite possibility the most legitimate one).

Read more »

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Friday, July 03, 2009

Why StumbleUpon Visitors are Not Welcome

Recently I began to notice StumbleUpon as a referrer in the logs for this blog. I had seen it before, but that was to a specific post, and I had no problem tracking down the recommendation someone had made on the site. This time, though, the link was to the front page, and try as I might I could not find such recommendation on the StumbleUpon pages. The referrer link itself was no help since it is just a pointer to a marketing page trying to get me to advertise with them.

A friend mentioned that he recalled a button in the StumbleUpon "toolbar" (really an outer frame) to randomly choose a site. This idea also seemed to explain why many times only some of the images are downloaded (the visitor simply clicked on "stumble" again when the first impression wasn't appealing). So it seems, that this it the source of my StumbleUpon visitors. They are people randomly hopping around the web hoping to find something "interesting".

Read more »

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Google Maps Hates UC Santa Barbara

I don't know why but it appears the Google is trying to keep people from getting to UC Santa Barbara, at least people from Torrance. Has Google finally begun to use their hegemony for evil?

You'll need this...

Read the "driving" directions carefully. I'd still like to know the real explanation.

(Part of the explanation is that there is a Santa Barbara in NZ, but this seems like an amateurish joke-gone-bad thing I wouldn't expect from Google. The query is reasonable.)

(screen shot here in case they've "fixed" it.)

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

No Comment

Today I checked my Windows Live Mail account (the new name, or co-name, for Hotmail), which I use for Microsoft beta programs and other MS-related things. I found this message waiting:

Dear Windows Live User,

We are contacting you regarding your communication preference settings for Windows Live and MSN.

Currently, your settings do not allow Microsoft to send you promotional information or survey invitations about Windows Live and MSN. We would like to communicate important product updates to you, so if you would like to change your settings, please visit your account profile here to change your preferences.

The Windows Live Team


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What Does It All MEAN?

(Note: As a textual convention I will write terms I mean in a technical, narrow, non-portable sense in ALL CAPS. It is my intention to provide the entire meaning that I intend those words to have in my text. They don't necessarily have any relationship to the same words used in other contexts, though they might.)

MEANING is the product of CONTENT (facts) and CONTEXT (assumptions). MEANING is what we "get" from words and experiences that we can in turn communicate as words and experiences. MEANING is inherently contextual. It requires some set of assumptions, some axiomatic foundation upon which to rest, 0r, alternatively, to act as a filter for the infinite facts that one can collect about anything.

MEANING, then, is a matter of opinion. It is a matter of agreement on the facts of the case, and of the assumptions used to interpret them. When we attempt to determine what something MEANS, we set the facts in the context that we find self-evidently TRUE. What is TRUTH? TRUTH is simply agreement with some standard, and in the case of CONTEXT, TRUTH is self-evident. Not rational, not logical, not defensible except as being self-evident.

Read more »

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The Best Use for Java

In theory, I like Java. Strongly object oriented and platform agnostic, I want to like it. Unfortunately, I don't. Almost* every application I have used written in Java is quirky, bloated and has an unpleasant interface. But, there is one use of Java that I have always applauded: web-based applications for scientific visualization.

Visualizing a ripple tank, animated and fully interactive fascination

Java turns out to be a great way to provide simulations on web pages, and there are quite a few very nice ones out there. Recently, a colleague asked me about antenna radiation visualization software and in the process of researching the question I stumbled into a veritable treasure trove of just the kind of Java applet I appreciate.

Paul Falstad in a fit of prolificacy has produced an impressive menu of math and physics visualization applets and put them on the web for all of us to mesmerize ourselves with. They are very well done, and offer interaction and both 2- and 3-dimensional views. Warning: You might want to be sure you don't have anything important to to do for a while before you visit that link.

* Cyberduck, the very nice OS X FTP/SFTP client was written in Java but used the Cocoa API to make it indistinguishable from a native OS X application. Cyberduck lives on here but I don't think it uses Java any more. However it is really spiffy and worth checking out as it has grown many new abilities.

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Friday, January 30, 2009


I am a person that needs a home on the Internet. That is, a place I can call my own, a place where I have root. This has been the case since about 1995, when I registered my first domain. I went from home to home since then, relying on associates and friends to provide data centers or machines. There was always some quid pro quo, but it was never in the form of hard cash.

Then, about ten months ago, my home was gone. My living arrangements changed very suddenly and I was homeless, out on the Internet street. I needed to do something and it looked like actually paying for hosting was going to be necessary. I was at a loss.

My new high rise Internet Apartment

I looked at "managed hosting" options and found them surprisingly cheap, which was encouraging. Then I looked again and found them very limited which was disappointing. For me it just isn't home when there are rooms in the house to which I don't have the keys.

So, clearly I needed "unmanaged hosting" (this is an unfortunate misnomer, like "fuzzy logic", in that it implies something is lacking that is not). I turned my attention to dedicated servers, but found them to be too costly. Asking around among trusted friends I quickly discovered that one name appeared more than any other: Linode.

Linode is a brilliant enterprise offering Linux VPSs (Virtual Private Servers). A VPS is a VM (Virtual Machine) hosted on a larger, physical machine. A VPS looks, for every practical purpose like your very own host. When you "rent" a Linode they give you the master key, you get root. Linode is like an Internet Apartment, or maybe a condo, but unlike these Linode has no contract. You pay, pro rata, month to month. Move in any time, move out any time, you decide.

One of the very best things about Linode is the community. You can get much more help than is reasonable in the forums and (more importantly for me) on the #Linode IRC channel on the OFTC network []. The channel is a great place to get help with configuration and you'll even make some friends if you are so inclined.

I encourage you to consider becoming my neighbor. And, if you sign up here, I will get credit for letting you know about it and a free month's service which I will certainly appreciate.

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Monday, June 30, 2008

Old School Times Two

Oh how sophisticated we have become in our old age. There used to be a time when just about every web page that was hip and up-to-date had a silly "hit counter" on it. It counted the number of times the page was viewed in a very simple-minded way. It didn't care about unique hosts or anything useful like that, it just incremented its count every time the page was accessed.

Hit counter!

Well, the good old days are back! In an effort to beat the nixie tube theme to death I offer you, free to use, your very own nixie tube hit counter. It will remember any page you stick it in, it will increment every time the page is displayed (of course, actually, every time the image is displayed), and it will impress your visitors with old-timey geek power. Or not. Either way feel free to stick it on your page and have a go.

(NOTE: The program is, as I said above, simple-minded. It just looks at the referrer and bases the count on that. This means that "" and "" and "" will all have accurate but different counts. I might improve this in the future but probably not.)

To use the super-cool nixie page counter, just use it like an image, so:

<img src=""
alt="Nixie Hit Counter!" width=210 height=77>

That's all there is to it. Now there is no guarantee that it will continue to operate so don't base a business model on it, but if you think its fun and want to try it out, please do. Thoroughly tested but bug reports should go to the email address in the sidebar over there.

Happy counting!


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Absolute Confusion

A fundamental error among people looking for Truth (with a big T) is to imagine that is is a nothing but a bigger version of "truth" (the little T kind). Small truths are simply things about which we agree. We say "that is true" to mean just that. "I agree with you" or, " you should agree with me" are equivalent and work everywhere "it is true" is used. Because the same word is used we take big Truth to be a bigger version of small truth.

The reality is that small truths don't actually resemble what people imagine big Truth to be. Small truths are descriptions of things that use words we understand from their context. The entire web of meaning that leads to small truths is based on a context of assumptions. People believe that Truth is "absolute" by which they mean there is no contextual component, but we can see that small truths are entirely dependent on the context in which the occur. So, what we call "truth" cannot be the same thing as the idea of big Truth.

If there is something like big Truth it must be something other then contextless small truth. Small truths are products of this big Truth, not a different sort of the same thing. There is no occult version of Truth in them. They are just what they are, no more. The confusion arises because they share a name.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

From the Ashes (but still a bit sooty...)

Miscellany's previous home became suddenly unavailable. As you can see, it's back online but it is not yet completely status quo ante. Please excuse any funny behavior, or missing functionality as I scramble to restore things to normal.

On a positive note, I am now using Linode and I am very pleased and impressed. Low cost, slick as a Linux-geek's forehead and cheaper than his wardrobe. I can unhesitatingly recommend that you check them out, if you want to have high quality hosting and root.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Nixie Tube Fun

Your IP Address

Nixie tubes are a retro-technology well beloved by artsy nerds everywhere. My own memories of nixies are as the classiest digital displays, before being supplanted by the MAN-1 seven segment LED display. Today, nixie tubes are lovingly turned into clocks of very modern accuracy and even unlikely wristwatches.

The nixie tube was the invention of the Haydu Brothers Laboratories which was purchased by the much larger Burroughs Corporation who made it a commercial product in 1954. The name comes from the designation assigned to the "Numeric Indicator Experimental No. 1" by Burroughs who trademarked it.

Lately I don't have time to build my own clock, though I would like to. I have settled for building you a slightly useful toy. The display shows your IP address, and improbably, I knew ahead of time just how many digits I would need to display it.

Maybe I will build a clock eventually, it would be nice on my desk.


Monday, March 31, 2008

It Lives!

No, this blog is not dead.

Some folks have even expressed concern that perhaps something has "happened" to me. Rest assured, it is nothing more than life's demands overwhelming free time.

Thanks for the concern. I have several articles partially completed so look for my triumphant return soon.

As a reminder, I always enjoy receiving email, and you can find a link in the sidebar. I enjoy feedback and reactions to what I write and will always respond (if not instantly, eventually.)

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Weather Outside is Frightful

larger version here

It's been snowing around here. I don't like snow but at least it is pretty.

This photo was taken about two hours before sunrise. It is a one second exposure.


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Friday, November 23, 2007

The Saw of Science

Tools are inert. Every tool must be wielded by a person. People use tools to achieve goals. The result of wielding a tool is a product of the skill and intent of the wielder, and the suitability of the tool to the task. Consider a tree saw: it can be used to destroy a tree, to kill it, or it can be used to prune a tree, cutting away deadwood and diseased limbs to strengthen it. The way in which it is to be used is up to the person wielding it. Is either way "true", or "good", in some objective sense?

What happens next depends on you.

Consider science: it is also a tool which can be used to destroy or improve, not physical objects but ideas. A person can choose to destroy an idea by cutting it off, or improve it by pruning away the bad branches. You might reply: "Science depends on truth and so it can only cut away the bad. If it cuts down the idea, the idea was bad." This isn't honest. All ideas are subject to denial. All ideas depend on assumptions which can be shown to be suspect or "wrong" given the right context. The result of wielding the saw of science is very strongly dependent on the intent of the wielder. This intent is often an a priori attempt to disprove challenging ideas. This is a terrible way to use such a powerful tool.

Read more »

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Anything completely clear is wrong, or not very interesting.


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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Redeeming Social Value

Now that something about 150,000 of you have visited this post, and about 19,000 of you have made links to it, perhaps I can do something to redeem all the attention paid to it. In a way loosely coupled to INSERT COIN, the campaign to save trees, through reminding people where we get paper, came to my attention.

What can be better than reminding people of what they already know?

I have modified the program (available here) to be a little friendlier and have a fixed message, "Remember... These Come From Trees". It is easy to use, you just need to give it a hostname or IP address on the command line. More information on making it work can be found in the context of the original post. For most smaller displays the message will scroll, marquee-like for a nice effect. The bigger displays may benefit from printer-specific formatting with spaces in the message string (in the quotes on line 47).

I hope this can do a bit to conserve paper. I am particularly interested in conservation as a way of improving the world. Saving energy and natural resources by not wasting them is a no-brainer. It is very clear to me that not conserving when the opportunity easily comes to hand is ethically indefensible.

Order some stickers, too, for those things that aren't HP printers.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Relatively Monstrous

Today, Shlomo (our youngest, at 6), came walking stiff-legged into the room and up to my wife.

Where did Igor get that brain?

Shlomo:  I am acting like Frankenstein. E equals M C squared.
Shoshi:   That's Einstein.
Shlomo:  Oh.

Sometimes Shlomo says things that leave us scratching our heads. I still don't know where he learned about E=MC².

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You Are What You Eat

Around here the squirrels can be a bit nutty. They get used to humans and lose much of their fear. This leads to odd behaviors. I have seen squirrels do this in the trees but never like this, on the ground.

In spite of appearances, the little guy did not just come from the tree

It is very hard to avoid assigning human emotions to animals. I don't know if this squirrel was really having fun but it certainly looked that way.

I like squirrels, I think I will take more photos of them.

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