Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Open Source Software and Skin In the Game

I have been tinkering in the Haskell programming language recently. Trying to up my game, I have begun reviewing and working on issues in the Cabal project. Soon after submitting a (very) small pull request, the project admitted me to being a full contributor. I was surprised. I'm a Haskell newbie, and it's not my project.

A developer linked me to this post which argues for promoting random contributors to full collaborator status. Its author argues that if someone owns the project as his own, he's a better developer for that project. Admittedly the promoted contributors are not completely random. The author looks for signs showing the developer is responsible and can be held accountable for his work. And (in the author's experience) this has led to higher quality programs than his overseeing all commits.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Why so many died

"Tired of waiting for heaven — that is, for a condition where the transcendent would no more have to compromise with the immanent — these men and women [of the European wars of religion] tried to render it here on earth. Because this cannot be done, they could not agree on how to do it; because they could not agree on how to do it — and yet agreed that it needed to be done — they tore one another to shreds." -- Daniel Sportiello, "Rationalism in Eric Voegelin"

Saturday, December 02, 2017

What is the Friggin' problem with the imagination?

I have been going back over my review of Philosophy of Science in Practice: Nancy Cartwright and the Nature of Scientific Reasoning, and want to note an interesting problem, or perhaps pseudo-problem, that I did not have space to bring up in the review.

Roman Frigg and James Nguyen, in their essay in the reviewed work, have a very enlightening discussion of how scientific models "represent" some phenomenon. (Roman was one of my lecturers when I studied the philosophy of science at the LSE, and an excellent lecturer at that, so I hope he will forgive my pun on his name in the post title! Also, I am writing this post without the book in front of me, so I beg forgiveness if my rendition of the authors' terminology is not exact.)

Frigg and Nguyen's primary criterion for how a scientific model represents is that it is "declared" to represent some class of events: for example, a histogram of adult heights in the United States represents those heights because it has been declared to do so. (This simple declaration does not make a model a good model: to be a good model, it must further exemplify some salient aspects of the thing being modeled.)

But, per this definition of a model, the authors feel embarrassed by entities like "a map of Middle Earth" or "a drawing of a unicorn": since there just is no such thing as Middle Earth or unicorns, what do such models "represent"? Their solution seems to me to be unnecessarily convoluted: they claim that such models, while being "representations," do not "represent" anything: they are "representations" only because they resemble other things that truly do represent (e.g., a map of France, or a drawing of a horse). (And here is where I may have screwed up the exact terminology, since I can't locate the book at present, but nevertheless I think I have their sense correct.)

I can't see why they choose this solution, rather than going for what to me is the more straightforward answer: a map of Middle Earth represents the way J.R.R. Tolkien envisioned Middle Earth in his imagination, and a drawing of a unicorn represents what people imagine unicorns to look like. Of course, imaginary things are not real in the same sense that the furniture of the physical universe is real, but so what? Surely, the creatures of our imagination exist in some sense, even if in a more shadowy sense than do real animals and real countries.

And I think that my solution to this problem sidesteps a serious difficulty facing the solution offered by Frigg and Nguyen: let us imagine that no histograms had ever been created before Tolkien, but that Tolkien himself invented the histogram to "model" the distribution of hobbit heights. Per Frigg and Nguyen, this would not have been any sort of representation at all since, at the time Tolkien created it, it would have borne no resemblance to any representation of a "real" phenomenon: hobbits "do not exist." (I use the scare quotes because my contention is that they did exist at the time of the model creation, in Tolkien's imagination.) However, later on, if other people picked up on Tolkien's idea, and began to represent the distribution of the values of "real" entities with histograms, Tolkien's histogram would mysteriously, post-facto, turn into a representation, since it would now resemble models that actually do represent.

And that post-facto transformation of non-models into models, I think, renders the Frigg and Nguyen model of models less plausible than the one I offer here.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Single causes come first...

and general causal laws are derived from them:

"I maintain that the Hume programme has things upside down... Singular causal claims are primary. This is true into senses. First, they are a necessary ingredient in the methods we used to establish generic causal claims. Even the methods that test causal laws by looking for regularities will not work unless some singular causal information is filled in first. Second, the regularities themselves play a secondary role in establishing a causal law. They are just evidence -- and only one kind of evidence is that -- that certain kinds of singular causal fact have happened." -- Nancy Cartwright, Nature's Capacities and Their Measurement, p. 2

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

An orgy

“The advancement of science and the rationality of politics are interwoven in a social process that, in the perspective of a more distant future, will probably appear as the greatest power orgy in the history of mankind.” -- Eric Voegelin, “The Origins of Scientism”

Monday, November 20, 2017

Java install bleg

I installed the newest MacOS, and per usual, it wiped out all Apple developer tools I had installed, as well as Java. (Query: why doesn't Apple notice if the developer tools are installed on the old OS, and conclude, "Hmm, he probably wants those again"?)

In any case, I seemed to get Java re-installed (twice now) and the test that everything is OK runs fine, but then an hour or two later, I get...

Clicking "More Info..." just brings me right back to the same install page I've been through twice already.

Any ideas on what could be happening?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The individual of methodological individualism...

is a modern invention:
Prince Modupe of the So-so tribe says that at the turn of the century in Africa, “Any destiny apart from the tribe was, of course, beyond the limits of either imagination or intuition. It was as un­thinkable as that one of the bright orange legs of a milli­pede should detach itself from the long black body of the creature and go walking off by itself.”[9]

Chief Luther Standing Bear reports that a Lakota “could not consider himself as separate from the band or nation…to cut himself off from the whole meant to lose identity or to die.”[10]

Alexis de Tocqueville emphasizes that in premodern Europe an “aristocracy link[ed] everybody, from the peasant to the king, in one long chain.”[11] Jacob Burckhardt, the great scholar of the Italian Renaissance, explains that during the Middle Ages a “man was conscious of himself only as a member of a race, people, party, family, or corporation.”[12] If I were born in Medieval Europe, I would have understood myself as a part of a whole. When asked “Who are you?”, I may have replied, “A Vignola from Padua, a stone carver, and a member of St. Anne’s Parish.”
Query: do you think the So-so tribe is a kind of mediocre bunch?

Re-marketing anarcho-capitalism

Mr. Karaoke sent me the following:

Of course, I think Peterson's point is good -- we can't do without government -- and it illustrates how "ancap defense agencies" should be re-marketed by their advocates: here is a better form of government: it is a sort of extreme federalism, with multiple, overlapping jurisdictions associating in loose federations.

That might indeed be a better form of government than we have now: we'd have to try it and see!

But it is a form of government.

Which we need, since, as Peterson notes, we have to reach some agreement on the rules for social interaction. E.g., can one, per Walter Block, pry a falling person's fingers off of one's balcony or shoot a kid who wanders onto one's property to retrieve a ball, or per Roderick Long, are those responses dis-proportional to the intrusiveness of the initial property rights violation? To debate such questions is to engage in politics. And that can't be done away with without the "bad anarchy" (i.e., chaos) taking hold.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The primacy of the concrete

"God has no need for general ideas; that is to say, he never experiences the necessity of grouping a great number of similar objects under one heading so as to think more comfortably... General ideas do not bear witness to the strength of human intelligence but rather to its inadequacy..." -- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Friday, November 17, 2017

The NP Turkey

We have a real problem this Thanksgiving:

"With a big turkey, you start running into some big problems. It takes longer to thaw if it's frozen and then exponentially longer to cook."

This means that if your 8-pound turkey cooks in 4 hours, your 16-pounder will take perhaps 1000 hours, and your 28-pounder is going to be in the oven for maybe 30,000 years.

We need to solve P = NP? fast, so that we can see if there is a polynomial-time way of cooking our birds!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

On the way to the banquet...

There was an entrepreneur, Elon, a great creative genius, who, having made his fortune, retired to a manor high on a hill overlooking a small town. He went there to have peace and quiet in his retirement, but nevertheless he had a number of interactions with the townspeople, and grew quite fond of them. He knew that most of them were not wealthy, and so he decided to throw a great banquet for them, and demonstrate to them his affection. He sent out the invitations, and everyone from the town said they would come.

In the days leading up to the banquet, Elon planned an evening that would shower the townspeople with the best of everything: He hired top chefs from around the world to prepare dishes for them beyond compare. He scoured the world for the very finest wines, and laid up bottle after bottle of the those vintages for them. He hired a troupe of dancers and musicians of the highest caliber to create a magical performance that would leave them enchanted.

On the day of the banquet, the townspeople got dressed, and one-by-one and in small groups they headed toward the hill. However, uncertain of what they would find at the banquet, many of them stopped along the way. And they stopped at the places their habits led them to linger: some of them went to the all-you-can-eat for $9.99 buffet in town, and stuffed themselves on inexpensive, ill-prepared food. Others, more accustomed to the local pub, stopped there and drank many cans of cheap beer. Yet others stopped by the local strip club for a little sensuous entertainment.

Once the pilgrims arrived at the manor, those who had gorged at the buffet could not even taste the exquisite food set before them, they were so replete with junk food. Those who had gone to the pub were drunk on cheap beer, and could not even finish a glass of the vintage wine. Those who had stopped at the strip club watched the world-class dancers, and could only wonder why they were not taking off their clothes.

But one of the townspeople, a very poor dishwasher named Manuel, had simply dressed up at home, and headed straight up the hill. He tasted the food, and knew that there was no sweeter food in the world. He drank the wine, and realized that no liquor was more gently intoxicating than these vintages. He watched the dance performance, and knew he would never see one finer.

When the banquet had ended, Elon, with great sadness, sent all of the guests back down the hill, all except for Manuel. Manuel, who had truly understood the gift he had been offered, he invited to stay with him in the manor, and there Manuel lived out his days in great happiness.

Friday, November 03, 2017

No, Deneen is not a reactionary fantasist...

and no, he does not deny liberalism's accomplishments:

"First, the achievements of liberalism must be acknowledged, and the desire to 'return' to a preliberal age must be eschewed. We must build upon those achievements while abandoning the foundational reasons for its failures. There can be no going back, only forward." -- Why Liberalism Failed, p. 182

This passage highlights a danger I noted in Oakeshott on Rome and America: while for several centuries Romans simply respected and followed the mos maiorum, the way of the ancestors, when their traditions began to break down, there arose a brand-new traditionalist ideology. Whereas previously Rome's traditions had been followed in an organic way, one which allowed them to also be organically modified, once they began to break down, a faction arose demanding that those traditions be turned into rules, and that those rules must be followed without deviation (and thus without allowing any organic response to changing circumstances).

And this is an error that too many modern conservatives have committed: they wish to return to the 1950s, or the 1920s, or the 1890s, or 1783, or whatever other period they admire. Such a return, as Deneen clearly recognizes, is impossible. We can try to preserve the best aspects of earlier times, but we cannot ever just recreate them. And after all, even if we could, given that those earlier times brought about our present situation, wouldn't we just repeat the exact same progression that has led to the present situation that these nostalgic conservatives deplore?

The Noble Lie of Liberalism

"The 'Noble Lie' of liberalism is shattering because it continues to be believed and defended by those who benefit from it, while it is increasingly seen as a lie, and not an especially noble one, by the new servant class that liberalism has produced... But liberalism's apologists regard pervasive discontent, political dysfunction, economic inequality, civic disconnection, and populist rejection as accidental problems disconnected from systemic causes, because their self-deception is generated by enormous reservoirs of self-interest in the maintenance of the present system." -- Patrick Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed, p. 180

Deneen makes a particularly important, and often misunderstood, point in the above quote: often, when it is pointed out that it is in the self-interest of commentator X to take view Y, someone will respond, "No, I am sure that X really believes Y!" But that response misses the point: when it is in our self-interest to believe Y, very often, we will not merely feign belief in Y, but actually talk ourselves into really believing Y: and we will convince ourselves that we believe it for the most admirable reasons. This self-deception is crucial to the maintenance of our self-image as good, modern "free thinkers": it just happens that our "free thinking" has led us to just the views that most help us get on in life! What a blessing!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The great falsehood of liberal anthropology

"[For Hobbes] the state is charged with maintaining social stability and preventing a return to natural anarchy... Human beings are thus, by nature, nonrelational creatures, separate and autonomous." -- Patrick Deneed, Why Liberalism Failed, 32

Proto-liberals like Locke and Jefferson and modern liberals like Mises and Rawls all start from a similar place: we are first and foremost human atoms, who only need enter into social groups in so far as it suits our interest to do so. Our original state was as free individuals, who "contracted" into social groups because we saw it was to our advantage. As Deneen notes, "Even marriage, Locke holds, is finally to be understood as a contract whose conditions are temporary and subject to revision..." (33).

Or, as Mises put it:

"The fundamental social phenomenon is the division of labor and its counterpart human cooperation.

"Experience teaches man that cooperative action is more efficient and productive than isolated action of self-sufficient individuals. The natural conditions determining man's life and effort are such that the division of labor increases output per unit of labor expended." -- Human Action

"The fundamental facts that brought about cooperation, society, and civilization and transformed the animal man into a human being are the facts that work performed under the division of labor is more productive than isolated work and that man's reason is capable of recognizing this truth." -- Human Action

"Every living being is naturally the implacable enemy of every other living being, especially of all other members of his own species. For the means of subsistence are scarce. They do not permit all specimens to survive and to consummate their existence up to the point at which their inborn vitality is fully spent. This irreconcilable conflict of essential interests prevails first of all among the members of the same species..." -- Human Action

So, per Mises, humans live in social groups only because they tried both the "isolated action of self-sufficient individuals" and social cooperation, and found the latter suited their self-interest better. Now, those of a religious bent should surely object to the idea that human beings care for each other only to the extent that they calculate that cooperating serves their own self-interest better than being "implacable enemies."

But one need not be religious to see that Mises is spouting nonsense: humans (and proto-humans) lived together in tight-knit social groups long before they could have been calculating the advantages of the division of labor. There never were "isolated... self-sufficient individuals" with which they could compare their "output" as members of a group: isolated humans were dead humans, not self-sufficent humans. And our chimpanzee, bonobo, and gorilla relatives also live in tight-knit social groups, and certainly do not regard the other members of the group as "implacable enemies." (Take a gander at the group of "implacable enemies" pictured at the top of this post!) In fact, cooperation is every bit as much a fact of animal life as is competition.

And methodological individualism is simply the elevation of this false anthropology into a required postulate of any social science worthy of the name.

Have some fun

Have some fun
Making boiled eggs
On the great white theater group mat

Have some fun
Making soiled legs
While you have your little blue spat

Don't you say
I didn't shout out,
"Heads up! That is a six-toed cat!"

Deneen blogging

Collecting some good quotes from Deneen, along with occasional commentary, in the interest of advancing my review, and your consciousness!

"Liberalism has drawn down on a preliberal inheritance and resources that at once sustained liberalism but which he cannot replenish" (29-30).

It is no sort of comeback to Deneen's view to point to the great material wealth produced by liberalism, since Patrick is quite aware of this wealth himself, and repeatedly acknowledges its existence. But in his view (and mine too) liberalism is analogous to the guy at the gym that has been popping steroids like mad for 10 years, who, when it is pointed out that he is getting himself into deep trouble, replies, "What?! Don't you see all the weight I can lift?" Why, yes we do, and it is the very thing that has raised your bench press poundage into the stratosphere that has gotten you into this fix.

This is not to say we might not be wrong, just that it is foolish to point to the very thing we think has gotten liberal societies into such deep trouble (the all-out focus on the material) as a knockdown riposte to our critique.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Getting Streven with the Fundamentalists

In an essay in Philosophy of Science in Practice, Michael Strevens defines 'fundamentalism' as the notion that "Everything is made up of a single kind of stuff and everything that happens is directed solely by fundamental laws of physics that, depending on the configuration of stuff at one moment, determine its configuration at the next" (69). He goes on to claim that fundamentalism implies that all sciences really should just operate by showing how, say, mate selection in bower birds, or the nature of parliamentary institutions in Medieval Europe, can be derived from the laws of physics alone. The program to make all sciences a branch of physics goes under the name "unity of science."

Strevens backs his fundamentalist faith with the claim that "the empirical evidence for fundamentalism has accumulated swiftly" (69). But he presents no such evidence, for, truth be told, there is none: instead, as he admits, "Real science is not only largely disunified; it is largely content to be disunified" (71). He readily confesses that Nancy Cartwright has shown that not only are all other sciences not being reduced to physics, but even within physics, a plethora of sub-studies are not being reduced to "fundamental" physics. But like a good Biblical fundamentalist arguing away the dating of dinosaur bones, Strevens argues that this massive evidence against fundamentalism is actually just what we should expect if fundamentalism is true.

Tellingly, the one field Strevens can cite as energetically pursuing the unity of science project is "cognitive neuroscience," a pseudo-scientific discipline -- and please, don't think I am dismissing neurology, a genuine and important science, along with its ill-bred half-sibling! -- the entire reason for being of which is the assumption of physical fundamentalism!

Cursing and re-cursing!

So last night, tired of writing a new Python function whenever I wanted to write a new recurrence test question, I wrote a recurrence harness. It turns a handful of basic lines of code into two, but more importantly, because I can re-use the harness it is worth spending the time to write proper error checking and to memoize it. Here is the code.

Below here are some examples. Note that, because this is memoized, we get the 4000th Fibonacci number essentially instantly, while without memoization, the runtime increases faster than the Fibonacci sequence itself, so, even if we could do one recursive call per nanosecond, we would be looking at roughly 1.2 * 10819 years for the recursive version to finish... and that's a long time for students to wait for their final to be graded.

The 4000th Fibonacci number:
fibb = {0: 0, 1: 1}
def fibf(n, bases):
    return recur(n - 1, bases, fibf) + recur(n - 2, bases, fibf)

In [3]: recur(4000, fibb, fibf, True)
Out[3]: 39909473435004422792081248094960912600792570982820257852628876326523051818641373433549136769424132442293969306537520118273879628025443235370362250955435654171592897966790864814458223141914272590897468472180370639695334449662650312874735560926298246249404168309064214351044459077749425236777660809226095151852052781352975449482565838369809183771787439660825140502824343131911711296392457138867486593923544177893735428602238212249156564631452507658603400012003685322984838488962351492632577755354452904049241294565662519417235020049873873878602731379207893212335423484873469083054556329894167262818692599815209582517277965059068235543139459375028276851221435815957374273143824422909416395375178739268544368126894240979135322176080374780998010657710775625856041594078495411724236560242597759185543824798332467919613598667003025993715274875

# the value of an annuity with equal contributions each year
#  and interest compounded annually:
INT_RATE = .05
INITIAL = 1000     # redefine INITIAL to get different yearly amount
compb = {0: INITIAL}
def compf(n, bases):
    return compb[0] + recur(n - 1, bases, compf) * (1 + INT_RATE)

In [4]: recur(10, compb, compf, True)
Out[4]: 14206.787162326274

# an arbitrary recurrence:
arbb = {0: 1.01, 1: .98, 2: .88, 3: 1.1}
def arbf(n):
    return recur(n - 1, arbb, arbf) * recur(n - 4, arbb, arbf)

In [2]: recur(4, arbb, arbf, True)
Out[2]: 1.1110000000000002

In [3]: recur(5, arbb, arbf, True)
Out[3]: 1.08878

In [4]: recur(6, arbb, arbf, True)
Out[4]: 0.9581264

In [5]: recur(7, arbb, arbf, True)
Out[5]: 1.0539390400000002

In [6]: recur(8, arbb, arbf, True)
Out[6]: 1.1709262734400003

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Breaking old ties...

between UNIX files in different directories:

So I had the clever idea of hard-linking some of my init files to a git repo and storing the repo on GitHub so I can grab them for anywhere I have a login. (Here's the repo.)

So, for instance, I hard-link my .bash_profile in my home directory to the one in InitFiles, so whenever I update the script from any of the 6 or 7 machines I might login on, I can just pull it down to every other machine. (And I automate the pull each time I login.)

But... the link keeps "breaking." It works, and then a little later, it doesn't, and I have to delete the file from its "proper" login directory and re-link it to the repo version.

Any idea what I could be doing wrong? (OK, rob, I've just left you an opening you could drive a truck through...)

UPDATE: Rob Dodson (cover artist for EFRP, PUCK, A Song of the Past, and The Idea of Science, among other things) set me straight: I need symbolic links, not hard links. I had tried that, but just in the wrong direction: I had put the sym link in the git repo, and found git just stored the link, not the file linked to.

The link has been breaking because git removes files and then re-creates them when one does a pull.

Materialism's greatest defeasor...

is modern science.

Because modern science sees the world first and foremost as systems of mathematical equations.

And mathematical equations are not material things! They are ideas.

It is almost as though the world... were a world of ideas.

Continuous Delivery

Is not really a method of developing software: it is a method of managing work that is spread across a group of people cooperating within a division of labor.

Not practicing continuous delivery is kind of like trying to put on a play by having all of the actors work on their lines by themselves for a few months, and then rehearsing together for the first time the day before the opening.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The noble resistance fighters of Park Slope

I saw one out the other night wearing her "Vive la résitance!" shirt.

There is literally no safer position in the world that a resident of Park Slope can take than despising Trump. And yet she thinks her action is on a par with the French resistance fighters who risked execution every day to fight the Nazis.

Cutting waste

"Far more than 50% of the functionality of software is never used." -- Jez Humble

"Far more than 50% of the syllables of 'functionality' serve no purpose." -- Gene Callahan

Monday, October 23, 2017

The insidious ideology

"In contrast to its crueler competitor ideologies, liberalism is more insidious: as an ideology, it pretends to neutrality, claiming no preference and denying any intention of shaping the souls under its rule. It ingratiates by invitation to the easy liberties, diversions, and attractions of freedom, pleasure, and wealth." -- Patrick Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed, p. 5

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Why is it "irrational"...

to not want to work with someone who smells bad?

I have the unfortunate job of telling someone whom I am mentoring that when they return from the gym and show up at my office, they are a little... ripe. I want to point out to them that this will hurt them when they go out onto the job market, and I almost was going to say to them, "Because employers aren't purely rational."

But this view of "rational" assumes that to be rational is to be a disembodied mind. But we are not disembodied minds! So wouldn't it actually be irrational for us to act as if we were?

Sitting on the Docker Bay

Watching as the apps roll in...

Imagine my surprise today when I found Docker asking me to re-start it, and I realized I have been running it for several weeks now!

Who Drives State Growth?

Libertarians, that's who!

"The the insistent demand that we choose between protection of individual liberty and expansion of state activity masks the true relation between the state and market: that they grow constantly and necessarily together... Modern liberalism proceeds by making us both more individualist and more statist." -- Patrick Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed, p. 17

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Current review queue

Pearce: British Journal for the History of Philosophy
Deneen: The American Conservative
Chao-Reiss: Computing Reviews

George Berkeley, Common-sense Realist

"According to Berkeley, the perceived world is itself a language -- or, rather, a discourse in a language. Berkley intends this claim quite literally. It is the linguistic structure of the perceived world that our thought and speech about co-instantiation, physical causation, and other structural concepts aims to capture. In this way, I argue, Berkeley succeeds in preserving the common sense and scientific structure of the perceived world... Bodies can be regarded as a joint product of God's activity as speaker and our activities as interpreters and grammarians of nature." -- Pearce, Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World, pp. 2-3

Friday, October 20, 2017

Chicken horror movies

Take place in human diners, and show one omelette after another being cooked and devoured.

Mises on Immigration

Hat tip to Mr. Karaoke himself:

"Mises does recognize that peaceful cultural and political assimilation can take place 'if the immigrants come not all at once but little by little, so that the assimilation process among the early immigrants is already completed or at least already under way when the newcomers arrive.'"

Yup. Immigration, just like sex or food, is great... in the right amount.

What happens when the rate of immigration dwarfs the size of the native population?

Well, we have a great example close at hand...

The body of Spotted Elk after the Battle of Wounded Knee.

DevOps also rises

Starting my new course for the Spring of 2018.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Distraction Deterrents in Small Contexts

"distracted from distraction by distraction"
- T.S. Eliot
I've been reading a little on how Facebook and other social networking software are designed to grab your attention. A strategy is quick reward. You get little shots of dopamine for clicking on a button and seeing an immediate result.

It gets me thinking. Why do books increase our attention span over a web-page? Both are strings of words on a rectangular, white page. In that regard, they are the same. Web pages are faster, yes; and you can click them to get rewards in looking at new content. And this does indeed help explain why we are tempted to jump around online in a non-focused manner.

But why do we find it easier dive in deep in reading physical books?

If it is easier to jump around web-pages, it's more cumbersome to discard a book. You have to put it down (carefully) and get up to pick another book. So we stick around so long as the book still gives us pleasure enough, because changing activities seems unpleasant.

What's going on, I think, is a kind of cost-reward assessment. We are balancing the rewards of continuing an activity vs. starting a new one. Starting new stuff is more exciting than struggling to the end.

Here we have, in small, the idea of binding ourselves to norms for living more meaningfully: "I will install software that keeps me from checking Facebook every few minutes," or "I will only bring one important book with me to a remote spot in the woods." Like Odysseus, we must bind ourselves to the mast if we are not to be tempted by sirens.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

On my tour of Hell...

I saw a man being continually beaten with a carpenter's hammer, blow after merciless blow.

"How can this be just?" I asked my guide.

"Well, for one thing, he is here because he beat his wife and two young children to death with a hammer... the medical examiner said 127 blows in all."

"I see... but still, blow after blow after blow... surely thousands since we've been watching. Won't the other guy ever stop?"

"What other guy?" my guide asked.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Worst IT horror story ever?

I just heard about this from friend who encountered this himself this week:

About 10 years ago, Very Big Corporation implemented a Lotus Notes database to track employee requests for Service X from an outside vendor. (The story is already looking bad: how could someone 10 years ago not have known that Lotus Notes was a dead-end?) The "database" was used mostly for its form capabilities: by routing through Lotus Notes, apparently it was very easy to get a form up that forced data entry of the required fields in the proper formats.

Five years ago, Very Big Corporation decommissioned Lotus Notes and deployed at different mail and messaging service. Well, decommissioned Lotus Notes except for this one application. But since no one any longer has an active Notes login, now, five years after the decommissioning, my friend just spent three hours on the phone with technical support trying to get his login working again, so that he could make one very simple request to purchase a license for Service X for a new employee. Apparently, every time a new employee needs X, which is semi-often, the same problem comes up again, and it takes a similarly long time to solve each time it does.

And here is what will slay you: the Notes "database" is only being used as a queue: regularly, a living human being has to go into the database, and handle the most recent requests by calling up the vendor of Service X, and reading whoever answers the phone the required fields. Literally thousands of hours have been spent getting people logged in to a defunct application so they can make these requests...

When in about five minutes, any moderately competent web programmer could create a web page with those fields on it, validate them, and send a mail to serviceXrequests@verybigcorp.com with the request. The queue would just be that inbox, and the people who call vendor X could share the account.

Five minutes!

"There is only a 1 in a 1.5 billion chance..."

"of finding your soul mate."

"I think you're overthinking it." -- dialogue on BlueBloods

No, under-thinking it!

The idea that we meet other people in our lives purely by chance already assumes a random, meaningless universe. Of course, in such a universe "having a soul mate" is not just unlikely, it is impossible.

The idea of a soul mate assumes a meaningful universe where somehow some special, other person came into being just for us. That we would encounter them then would be designed into things.

Whichever of the above universes (if either) you believe in, if you begin to calculate the odds of randomly meeting your soul mate, your head is in a terrible jumble!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Why I get mad at you guys sometimes...

I really do have affection for all of my regular commenters.

And yes, my temper gets the best of me on occasion, but...

When I was 16, I scored a perfect 800 on the History Achievement Test. So at 16, I probably knew more history than most people do in their entire life.

Since then, I have read over a thousand more history books. I have plowed through about 30 or so of the Great Courses history series, each of which is equivalent to a full college course on its subject matter. I did a PhD thesis that was heavily historical, and was subsequently published as a book. I am a regular reviewer of books for three history journals: History Review of New Books, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, and Journal of the History of Economic Thought.

So please excuse my intemperate reaction, but when one of you "informs" me that Christianity spread in South America mainly through conquest...

Well, that leaves me a bit exasperated, OK?

It is a serious moral deficiency...

to have no greater sense of allegiance to people of one's own nation than to those of other nations:
The vice of deficiency is where fraternity comes in. Just as one can be excessively attached to one’s own family or nation, so too can one be insufficiently attached to them. This vice is exhibited by those who think it best to regard oneself as a “citizen of the world” or member of the “global community” rather than having any special allegiance to one’s own country. It is the idea of a “world without borders” and a “brotherhood of man” – hence fraternity construed as an ideal of universal brotherhood to replace family loyalty, patriotism, and other local allegiances.
To be sure, there is a sense in which all human beings are brethren; as I said above, we are all members of the human race and thus in that sense all members of the same maximally extended family. The problem comes when the idea of brotherhood is falsely taken to imply that there is something suspect about national or other group loyalties – when it is taken to imply that one’s countrymen are one’s brothers in no stronger sense than any other human being is.
The above is worth noting because of how often those lacking the virtue of patriotism try to depict those possessing it as morally suspect!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

I think this is the verse John Lennon was missing...

in "Imagine":

Imagine there's no outages
Of which you're not aware
Imagine lots of pointless texts
About which you don't care
Imagine all the people
Smashing up their phones...

Monday, October 09, 2017

Calling a halt to the stupendous storm of stupid

It all started when I posted a little quote from Wittgenstein, which was not an argument for the existence of God at all, but actually an observation that these arguments really are irrelevant.

Prateek jumped in and said, "These apologetic arguments for monotheism never make sense because they were developed after the fact, and really monotheism was just the result of a tribal dispute." (I summarize! And note that, to his credit, Prateek has now admitted he was thread-jacking, and that neither my post nor the quote in it made any "argument" for God at all.)

I pointed out that there was no argument here, but decided (to my deep regret) I'd also make what I thought to be the rather indisputable point that you can't defeat an argument by noting that it's genealogy is tainted with some black sheep ancestors! And furthermore, bad deeds done to spread an idea do not make it false.

But apparently the fact that a theist can make sense so enrages some atheists that they lose the ability to think, and they began to "point out" things to me like, "Well, did you know that monotheism spread among South American Indians largely through conquest, and not through philosophical arguments?"

Jeez, what a surprise that was to me! I thought that what had mostly happened was Jesuits presented the ontological argument to some Amazonian tribesmen, and, voila! they converted.

Besides that utter stupidity involved in acting like they thought I wasn't aware of these elementary facts of history, the atheists also ignored the fact that this history has no bearing whatsoever on the validity of any theistic arguments. Because, for instance, you know what else spread through South America mainly by conquest? The Pythagorean theorem! The heliocentric model of the solar system! Newtonian physics!

What this clown car of commenters have been arguing is like saying, "Ha! Who could pay any attention to proofs of the Pythagorean theorem! Don't those idiots realize knowledge of it spread around the globe mainly through conquest?!" (Another confusion: the crazy crew are also unable to distinguish the origins of an idea with the factors that spread that idea: one of them actually declared that what I said about the origins of monotheism was my "theory" about its spread! It's like thinking that because knowledge of the Pythagorean theorem has largely spread by conquest that it must have been devised as the result of a conquest, or maybe as a tool of conquest!)

Now, I am with Wittgenstein here: theistic arguments are really beside the point. But, you certainly cannot dismiss them based on "Monotheism spread by conquest!" or any other such rubbish. You atheists are sounding like the CS guy I read bemoaning computer science because what we have got is "white, male computer science." And that really ought to make you embarrassed. So let's just stop things before you do more self-harm!

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Can a struggle between a few Near Eastern tribes explain away monotheism?

In a recent post, Prateek tries to contend that arguments for monotheism "don't make sense": monotheism arose simply because one polytheistic god favored by a certain faction defeated other polytheistic gods, because "His" faction won. All philosophical cases for this single god are just post hoc rationalizations for Elohim's victory.

What can we call a theory like this... divine ignorance?

Because what we see happening at this time, and not just in Israel, but in Greece, Persia, India, and China as well, is the supersession of a multitude of tribal gods, and of tribe-based morality, with the idea of divine transcendence, and of universal morality. (This movement is extensively demonstrated in Jaspers' work on The Axial Age, and Eric Voegelin characterizes it as a turn from intracosmic gods to transcendence.)

Of course, these events took place in the context of various peoples bickering about this and that... as have all other historical happenings. But it is juvenile to try to explain away this intellectual movement by pointing to these quarrels. It's like telling students of mathematics that "Calculus really doesn't make sense: it only came about because Newton and Leibniz were trying to show each other up," or of physics "Don't worry about violations of locality: Aspect was just trying to demonstrate that he is smarter than Einstein."

All ideas arise in a context, and given the nature of human life, that is bound to be a messy context. Nevertheless, the ideas have to be addressed on their own merit, not dismissed based on the circumstances in which they arose.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

The disgusting prison rape trope

This is another one that really disturbs me: in show after show, I see cops smugly warning some suspect, "Well, if you don't cooperate, 'Big Joe' is going to be having his way with you soon in prison."

Someone guilty of some crime should suffer the punishment the legal system prescribes for his crime. He should not also suffer some additional violation of his person by other criminals.

The fact that cops on recent TV shows gleefully threaten a suspect with prison rape is absolutely revolting.

Friday, October 06, 2017

I guess Mexicans really love dogs

It's amazing how many of the Mexican guys in my neighborhood have like seven or eight dogs. And they are out walking them all the time!

Wittgenstein on God

In Culture and Value, Wittgenstein notes that believing in God is not "craving for a causal explanation" of empirical events, but is "expressing an attitude to all explanations."

Exactly right, and why the whole "God of the gaps" dispute is silly on both sides.

The new business meeting

I've now had the extraordinary experience of being at official, work meetings where over half the people in the room are "on" their phones (texting, emailing, etc.) well over half of the time they are at the meeting.

This is absurd. (And no, no one in the past, in my experience, ever brought newspapers to a meeting and read them throughout the proceedings.) Either the meeting is important, and the participation of these people is important, and they should put down their phones, or the meeting is not important... and thus shouldn't be held! -- or these people don't need to participate, and thus shouldn't be required to come.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

What idjits write these scripts?

Hawaii Five-O:

Detective A: It looks like a possible abduction case.

Detective B: "Possible"? Either you are abducted or you are not!

This was supposed to be a clever riposte! The proper response from Detective B was:

"Yes, and it's possible he was abducted, and possible he wasn't."

Woke up, got out of bed

Thanks to Alfa Romeo
My pasta ate the fazool
(It wasn't cool!)
Thanks to Gian Carlo
The faggatini hat
Overrode the dimply donners
Shudderkins, shudderkins!
Calling all paglias!

(More of an asnide
Than a Plimpton)

Jackson Pollack had it all
Lost, and then he found
It but he was dead
Alas alack too late!
They packed him in a crate
Vladimir became irate
Shudderkins, shudderkins!
Pozzo get me a stool!

A hard stool
The scapegoat's agony
Two-braced fear on the net
Coming up short
Young Johhny's wart
Shudderkins, shudderkins!
Calling all Juliet's!

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Euphemisms III: "He’s passed"

This euphemism is now used even in conservative journals: "Now that he’s passed"?!

We used to say "passed away" when we want to avoid "died," but apparently the "away" is not even allowable anymore: we just have to say "he passed," as though Tom Petty were a college quarterback who had just chucked the ball (of life) to someone else.

Soon, the word "death" itself will be politically unacceptable:

"I put grandpa to sleep."

"I decided not to keep the baby."

"Joe passed last weekend."

I don't think Homer ever said "Achilles passed," or that Shakespeare ever contended that "Claudius put Hamlet Senior to sleep."

The disgusting normalization of torture in American entertainment

I've noticed that many recent TV shows and movies, produced by the "progressive" entertainment industry, treat the torture of criminal suspects, and even those who merely have information about criminal suspects, as a completely normal and routine matter. And the people doing the torturing are portrayed as the good guys. I've seen this on Prison Break, on The Blacklist, and on Hawaii Five-O. (Note: all of these shows completely toe the progressive line on race and "sexual identity" issues.)

I watched the original Hawaii Five-O as a kid, and none of the good guys ever tortured anybody. So what is up with these good "progressive" screenwriters' and directors' enthusiastic embrace of torture?

Well, my guess is they are starting to think the time for the progressive revolution is just about here: their brownshirts, Antifa, are violently intimidating all non-progressives, and progressives are enthusiastically embracing the storyline that Trump is an illegitimate president... which, of course, would justify a coup, right? After the coup, there will no doubt be a whole lot of torture going on, and they just letting us know that it is the good guys who will be doing it.

Is sex inherently misogynistic?

I heard this question being seriously debated by two otherwise sane looking women walking down the street the other day.

Sexual reproduction evolved about a billion or so years ago. For sex to be "inherently misogynistic," these primitive organisms would have had to have been planning the patriarchy from the start, and to have been doing so before males and females actually existed. "Hey, you know, if we evolve male sexual organs, we can oppress those trilobites who evolve female sexual organs! What do you say?"

Furthermore, the system they were plotting would involve the fact that: "Generally in animals mate choice is made by females while males compete to be chosen. This can lead organisms to extreme efforts in order to reproduce, such as combat and display..."

So these proto-patriarchs' plot involved thinking, "Gee, it would be a good idea if we oppressive males try to kill each other in bloody combat, while the females sit back and see which of us comes out alive."

Man, that was one terrible plot!

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Those silly medieval people…

Who thought that just beyond the boundaries of their known world, the cosmos was full of monsters!

Oh wait, never mind…

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Bugging the professor's office

Salvatore Stolfo, a top cybersecurity guy, presented to us yesterday. One of the hacks he described his team performing -- an ethical hack, mind you! -- was to secretly turn the Cisco IP Phone into a listening device that can forward everything said in an office to a hostile party.

I told my wife about this, and noted, "And we have those phones on our desks!"

"Are you going to get rid of them?" she asked.

"Nah, a professor only says something worth eavesdropping on about once a decade, so it would be a complete waste of time to hack our phones."

Recognition of tacit knowledge in Lean

"Handoffs are similar to giving a bicycle to someone who doesn't know how to ride. You can give them a big instruction book on how to ride the bike, but it won't be much help. Far better that you stay and help them experience of feeling of balance that comes with gaining momentum... Before long your colleague knows how to ride the bike, although she can't describe how she does. This kind of knowledge as called tacit knowledge, and it is very difficult to hand off to other people through documentation." -- Mary and Tom Poppendieck, Implementing Lean Software  Development

Friday, September 29, 2017

Did you know?

The very popular Django web framework was created by programmers at the Lawrence Journal-World? The hometown newspaper of the sixth most populous city in Kansas is the birthplace of this very significant piece of technology!

Also, here's the "summit" of the highest "mountain" in Kansas:

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Was all of git's documentation written by a robot?

I've been using git for close to four years now, and still I get error messages like "the following files have changes staged in the index" (I was trying to remove files from the repo) and have no idea whatsoever what the problem is.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Killing the Spirit

"The more fervently all human energies are thrown into the great enterprise of salvation through world -- immanent action, the farther the human beings who engage in this enterprise move away from the life of the spirit. And since the life the spirit is the source of order in man and society, the very success of a Gnostic civilization is the cause of its decline. A civilization can, indeed, advance and decline at the same time -- but not forever. There is a limit toward which this ambiguous process moves; the limit is reached when an activist sect which represents the Gnostic truth organizes the civilization into an empire under its rule. Totalitarianism, defined as the existential rule of Gnostic activists, is the end form of progressive civilization."-- Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics

Open Source Software and Skin In the Game

I have been tinkering in the Haskell programming language recently. Trying to up my game, I have begun reviewing and working on issues in th...