Thursday, August 29, 2013
Sunday, April 07, 2013
A Vegan Pizza Cheese Worth Eating
Visually appealing, and with a mouth feel that doesn't put you off.
Thursday, March 07, 2013
How to Win an Argument
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?
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)
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Automatic Visual Poetry
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
"I refute it thus..."
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Tuesday, October 04, 2011
Ignorance is Bliss
Friday, September 16, 2011
It's not a Compromise...
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
It's a Shocker, I know...
Thursday, September 01, 2011
Snark is the New Black
Sunday, August 21, 2011
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.
Words, Words, Words...
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...
Thursday, August 11, 2011
It isn't Theoretical
A World of Opposites
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. 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. 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 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.
I'm Y and I'm Proud
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"...
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
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
Maybe You are Wrong...
The Litmus Test
he immediately begins to embody it.
he half believes it, half doubts it.
he laughs out loud.
it wouldn't be the Tao.
— 老子 (Laotse) (b. ~604 BCE) in 道德經 (Tao Te Ching) Verse 41
Friday, August 05, 2011
The Road Not Taken
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)
Thursday, August 04, 2011
Monday, August 01, 2011
Zen Bro Wisdom
Sunday, July 31, 2011
I ♥ Crepuscular Rays
The morning view in the parking lot, mostly unprocessed.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Trust Others and They Will Trust You
I'm open to you
you may need me.
you could hurt me,
and that's OK,
but please don't.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Merit Isn't One Thing
I LOVE YOU ALL WITH A GREAT HUGE LOVE
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 »
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Pseudonyms vs. Autonyms
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
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.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Bro Version
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
Leading from Among
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 »
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
It's a Bit Warm
Newbie vs. Neophyte
It's all about what we do with the potential.
"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.
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
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 »
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Suspend Your Common Sense
You see a building, they see a black box...
I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did.
Radio's Home Folks
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.
UpdateMy 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
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
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
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Radiation Protection in Asheville
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.)
Friday, July 08, 2011
Fair Warning to my Readers
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
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.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
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.
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!
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
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.
Friday, April 22, 2011
Returning to the Center
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
I Love My Car 2.0
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
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Free as in (Homebrew) Beer
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!
Sunday, January 09, 2011
A Little Good Advice
Friday, November 12, 2010
You Can't Win but You have to Play
Saturday, November 06, 2010
An Additional Disclaimer
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
A Disclaimer Concerning the Work Here
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
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
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.
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
The Life You Can Save
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.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
A World We Never See
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.
iPhone 4 Considered Harmful
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
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 »
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
An Unsual Visitor
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
Sunday, August 02, 2009
The Second Maxim
— Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) in Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals
Friday, July 31, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
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.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
On Being Human
Monday, July 27, 2009
Periodic Table of Videos
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.
Tools for the Road
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
"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 »
On the Universal Rôle of Mythology
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:
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 »
Friday, July 24, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
I am a Key Signing Iconoclast*
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 »
Friday, July 03, 2009
Why StumbleUpon Visitors are Not Welcome
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 »
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Google Maps Hates UC Santa Barbara
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.)
Thursday, April 23, 2009
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?
The Best Use for Java
Visualizing a ripple tank, animated and fully interactive fascination
* 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.
Friday, January 30, 2009
HOST SWEET HOST
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.
Monday, June 30, 2008
Old School Times Two
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 "http://www.yoursite.com/" and "http://yoursite.com/" and "http://yoursite.com/index.html" 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:
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.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
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.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
From the Ashes (but still a bit sooty...)
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
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
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
Friday, November 23, 2007
The Saw of Science
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 »
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Redeeming Social Value
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.