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

"Half Muslim"

The effort to make Islam a race, so that any objection to any Islamic doctrine can be denounced as "racism," continues apace: on the episode of The Blacklist I was watching last night, a character declared he was "half Muslim."

That, of course, is a complete absurdity, like being "half atheist" or "half born again." Islam is a belief system, and someone either embraces it, and is a Muslim, whatever their biological inheritance, or doesn't embrace it, and isn't Muslim, even if both of their parents were Muslim. The idea of being "half Muslim" is something that any serious, believing Muslim would find repellent.

But the SJWs don't care about their "pet" groups: homosexuals, transgendered, Muslims, etc. Those groups are just props used for progressives to advance their agenda... which is that progressives should be in charge.

Saturday, September 23, 2017


"If your approach to mathematics is mechanical not mystical, you're not going to go anywhere." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Euphemisms II

It's not just abortion where these euphemisms bug me either. I think it is sometimes OK to euthanize your pet, but... you did not "put the dog to sleep."

It ain't sleeping, it's dead.

Human languages, mathematical language, and programming languages

Human languages are notoriously messy and historical. Although logic is not absent from human languages, they were not designed per a logical schema.

Programming languages are often the product of one or two minds, proceeding according to a single conception of how a "language" should work. They typically exhibit a high degree of consistency.

The "language" of mathematics is an in-between venture. Although it is typically more consistent and logical than a natural language, it does have lots of historical cruft built up.

We programmers sometimes get frustrated with mathematical notation for this reason. (E.g, "Why doesn't that have parentheses also?" or "Why should the power be there in one equation, but in a different place in another one?")

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Career Fair Organization

A dark thought came into my mind. I imagined the hosts of career fairs plan eight hours worth of events for their participant companies. This is so the companies' employees can log eight hours of work for the day.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

By their euphemisms you shall know them

I'm watching the Belgian TV series The Break. Not bad, but...

At several points the subject of abortion comes up. The characters say things like, "We decided not to keep the baby," or "Do you want to keep the baby?"

"The baby" in this view is a consumer good, like a sofa or a dishwasher. Somehow (God knows how: a drunken shopping spree?) the characters acquired "the baby." But having gotten a better look at the deal, well, perhaps it wasn't such a bargain after all... better return it to the store now, since at present, the archaic return policies only allow returns during the first nine months after purchase. (The campaign to allow later returns has already begun, by the way.)

Of course, euphemism-free, those statements really mean, "We decided to kill the baby," and "Do you want to kill the baby?"

But so long as we hide our barbarisms under lying words, we can go on being happy consumers!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

My review of The Invisible Hand?

is online at History: Review of New Books.


At the Tandon School of Engineering, office 10.010:

Aleph-null bleg

I am trying to write א-null in HTML, with a zero subscript, but...

It seems that the right-to-left convention for Hebrew writing somehow overrides the actual order in which I type the HTML code, and the zero subscript appears on the web page before the aleph.

Does anyone have any idea how to get this ordered properly?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Businesses have known how to value diversity for a long time

My father, who was a lawyer, had his first job at the firm of "Slavitt, Connery, and Vardimis." Slavitt was a Jew, Connery an Irishman, and Vardimis was Hungarian. (Those were three of the major ethnic groups in the town I grew up in: I'm sure they would have liked to add an Italian name as well, if circumstances had worked out differently.)

Forty years later, after my wife and I married, our law firm for our real estate transactions was Slavitt, Connery, and Vardimis. Bob Slavitt, the son of Abe, the original Slavitt, was still at the firm. But Connery and Vardimis had both died decades earlier... and yet their names were still on the shingle. Why? Diversity! The firm knew they would attract more clients with their ethnically diverse shingle than if they had changed the name to just "Slavitt."

They did not need to hire a "Chief Officer of Diversity Initiatives" to grok this.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Idiot Highlighting

I ordered a used copy of Just-in-Time for Today and Tomorrow from Amazon. Pretty much throughout, the book is "highlighted" as follows:

Out of about 80 lines on the above two pages, 74 of them are highlighted! What is someone doing this thinking?

Highlighting serves to make occasional key passages easy to re-locate, because the highlighted lines stand out. With this much highlighting, the only lines that stand out are the unhighlighted ones. (I presume the previous reader did not intend that, since it is an awful waste of ink and time to emphasize important lines by highlighting all of the non-important lines.)

It is almost as though the person were reading with the highlighter, the way a child might read with their finger.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Oakeshott on Ryle

Michael Oakeshott reviewed Ryle's The Concept of Mind quite favorably. A quote:

"In general [Ryle's] doctrine is that 'when we describe people is exercising qualities of mind, we are not referring to occult episodes of which their overt acts and utterances are effects: we are referring to those overt acts and utterances themselves.' Mental activity is not the activity of a 'mind,' or activity which takes place in the hidden recesses of a mind, in distinction from the activity of a body: it is doing and saying things in a particular manner."

Thursday, September 07, 2017

The Dark Knight of the Soul

Here's a great passage from Frank Knight, brought to my attention by the Murphmeister himself:

"The dictatorship of the [Communist] Party once established, and given a monopoly of propaganda, the problem of controlling the proliferation of romantic myths, of unifying and stabilizing and concentrating on one system at a time should be simple in the extreme. One of the greatest of modern scientific developments is waiting to serve the regime in this regard and save the world from turmoil. I refer, of course, to psychology in its applied aspect. In this connection we may thrill with patriotism as well as hope. No other country has approached our own in the succession of peerless psychologists we have given to the world. To name but a few: P.T. Barnum; Jay Gould; Mrs. Mary B.G. Eddy; Mrs. Aimee S. McPherson (notice the due representation of both sexes); Billy Sunday; Goat-gland Doc Brinkley; and coming to our own home town, our own dear Big Bill Thompson, Balaban, and Katz, and WGN. As a climax to this glorious series I would name Dr. John B. Watson. It is not necessary to prove that he is the world's greatest psychologist; he admits it. And besides, doesn't he draw $40,000 a year [DRH note: this is over $700,000 in 2017 dollars] for his psychologizing? Speaking for myself, I must express chagrin that it is so little. A man who can stand before the cream of the intelligentsia and exhort them to believe that they do not believe, but only react, to think that there is no such thing as thinking, but only muscle-twitching, that the whole idea of struggle and error is an error against which we must struggle until we see that seeing is an illusion, and illusion likewise an illusion--in short, one who repeats that 'I am not saying anything, and you are not hearing anything, the gears are in mesh, nothing more,' and makes them like it and pay to hear it--I say such a man should be worth at least $1,000,000 in any properly ordered civilization. One of the first acts of justice of the Communist dictatorship will undoubtedly be to give such a man a task which is not an insult to his powers..."

Philodoxy Does Not Equal Stupidity

One person, after reading my recent post on the structure of our current political life, accused me of believing of that all of the philodoxers are "too stupid" to form their own opinions.

But that is not the issue at all: the issue is one of objective, not of intelligence. The philodoxers are are not less intelligent (necessarily) than are philosophers; they have a different aim. The philosopher tries to conform his ideas to the truth, whereas the philodoxer tries to formulate opinions that make him liked and respected. Those opinions can be formed with a tremendous amount of cleverness; indeed, there are absolutely brilliant academics out there who use their brilliance in the interest of gaining kudos from their peers.

The fact that the difference here is one of objective, and not of intelligence, is why Plato spoke of the process of becoming a philosopher as a periagogue, a turning around of the soul, rather than as a process of becoming more clever.

It is why Jeremiah notes that, by hewing to the truth, "I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me."

And it is why Paul, in Romans 12, warns us, "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."

Monday, September 04, 2017

The Deeper Structures in the Current Political Melee

Many people have noted the shakiness of the "left-right" spectrum as a way of accurately analyzing politics. Here I offer a more scientific analysis, based on reaching down to the core motivations behind various groups. As such, this analysis will have little to do with "left" and "right", and we will find some people from each of my groupings being placed on the left, and some people from each grouping being identified as "right-wing."

The three major categories of actors in Western politics today -- at first these terms may not make sense, but explanation will follow:

  1. Philosophers
  2. Misosophists
  3. Philodoxers

Philosophers: Here, I use the term in its original sense, as "lovers of truth," not in its modern sense of "people who analyze sentences." First and foremost, philosophers are those who recognize an objective order to the world, one not created by human beings, to which humans are obliged to conform their actions. (This order has, as one of its components, an objective moral order.) This recognized order may be called ma'at, or "the way of heaven", or the Tao, or the law of Karma, or the Law, or dharma, etc. Whatever it is called, the recognition of this order lies at the root of every high human civilization.

It is important to note a great lie here: the misosophists have undertaken a great effort to convince the philodoxers that anyone who recognizes that there is an objective moral order also thinks that they have complete mastery of that order. This lie is as absurd as claiming that anyone who thinks there are real scientific facts thinks they know all scientific facts. Nevertheless, this lie has had great effect in getting people to shut down as soon as anyone even starts mentioning objective moral truths.

The philosophers' stance: "2 + 2 = 4"

Misosophists: The misosophists are the haters of truth. They are in rebellion against any order they themselves have not authorized: in short, they are in rebellion against reality. They wish to impose their own wills on the universe, but, since that is not possible, they generally will accept destroying as much as they can, out of spite. (The great mythical archetype of the misosophists, is, of course, Satan.) Typically they will grab at an ideology that justifies their destructiveness: Communism, Nazism, racism, and so on. But the ideology is just a cover for the will to destroy. That ideology will pick out a scapegoat group upon which to blame all of the world's woes (capitalists, Jews, heterosexual white males, etc.) and try to stir up popular resentment against that group, in order to get others to join in the destruction.

The misosophists' stance: 'The "correrct" answer 2 + 2 has been defined by the [scapegoat group], and we must forge our own, revolutionary answer in order to liberate the people from these oppressors!'

Philodoxers: Philodoxers neither love nor hate truth: they are unconcerned with it. They want to be thought well of by others, and will believe whatever it is they need to believe for that to happen, whether true or not. Thus the philodoxers will go along with whoever is in charge: consider the bulk of the German people, who went along with the Nazis when they were in charge, and simply became nice liberal democrats once liberal democrats were in charge. But the philodoxers are in a pickle in a time of conflict between the philosophers and the misosophists: they will want to compromise between two positions for which no coherent compromise is possible.

The philodoxers' stance: "Well, both sides are partially right, but both are too extreme: you know, the answer is probably somewhat near four, but we can't be so rigid as to insist that it is exactly four, can we?"

This last point is why the philodoxers, in the current crisis, are on the side of the misosophists: their desire to compromise and get along allows the misosophists to pull them continually into more and more destructive positions, simply by the misosophists taking up more and more radical positions themselves.


The philosophers say "2 + 2 = 4."
The misosophists say "2 + 2 = 5 (at this stage of the revolution)."
The philodoxers say, "Well, let's be reasonable: 2 + 2 equals around 4.5, doesn't it?"

Now the misosophists can simply repeat this process, as follows:

The philosophers say "2 + 2 = 4."
The misosophists say "In the name of progress, we now declare that 2 + 2 = 6. Only haters would claim it is 4!"
The philodoxers say, "Come on, can't we get along: 2 + 2 equals around 5, doesn't it?"

The philosophers say "2 + 2 = 4."
The misosophists say "In the name of progress, we now declare that 2 + 2 = 8."
The philodoxers say, "Well, the middle is sensible: 2 + 2 equals around 6, doesn't it?"

The philosophers say "2 + 2 = 4."
The misosophists say "In the name of progress, we now declare that 2 + 2 = 12."
The philodoxers say, "2 + 2 is kind of near 8, isn't it?"

And so the history of the last couple of centuries!


Are not manatees. Yet they have a similarity. Just as manatees do not appear on this blog, for about half the population, a gorilla does not appear in this video.

This just goes to show what Michael Oakeshott pointed out many years ago: when we enter into a practical endeavor, we define ends and means. When we do this, we filter what we experience. All that exists for us are basketball players and a bouncing ball of which we can count its passes.

Hence the power of philosophy: we see what we don't look for.

1000-Year Flood of Statistical Ignorance

I ran across, but can't at the moment relocate, a piece that claimed something like, "We just saw a 500-year flood in Houston. And 100-year floods in X, Y, and Z. All in the last 5 years!"

Obviously, what we were meant to conclude is that there was no way we could have had four 100+ year events in a five year period without global warming being the cause. Here is a similar piece, in which uber-idiot Naomi Klein says that "The records being broken year after year..." prove that man-made climate change is real, and a disaster. Without the least bit of curiosity as to just how often we should expect weather records to be broken. The world is a pretty big place, and Klein tosses out four categories of records -- "whether for drought, storm surges, wildfires, or just heat" -- so it is very likely that somewhere in the world, a record for one of those things is being broken pretty regularly. Perhaps these record breaking events really are happening more frequently, but Klein doesn't provide a shred of evidence beyond, "Well, Jeez, just look at all those records, will ya?"

In contrast, here is a nice, calm (and non-"denialist") explanation of the meaning of "X-year" weather events:

"As it turns out, the country experiences multiple 500-year flood or storm events (that is to say, an event that in had a 1 in 500 chance of occurring in that given place) every single year."

In short, if we divide the United States into 100 metropolitan regions plus their hinterlands, on average, we'd expect one 100-year event per year, since we'd now have 100 chances for 100-year events. (I'm ignoring the fact that these events are not strictly independent, because I don't think that falsifies the real picture too much, e.g., Houston just had a 500-year flood, but Corpus Christi, San Antonio, and Austin were barely dampened.)

By the way, in an effort to explain the "X-year" weather event concept, writers for "statistical" sites such as 538 are... showing they don't understand basic probability:

"In the wake of catastrophic flooding on the Texas coast, the media has been working hard to explain the term, turning out dozens of articles explaining that a "100-year flood" is not a flood that you should expect to happen only once every 100 years. Instead, it refers to a flood that has a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year."

Hmm, and if an event has a 1% chance of happening in a year, what is its expected frequency? Once per 100 years!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Nice coding, Google!

Blogger has now wiped out my blog roll for the third time.

Rebuilding again. Suggestions welcomed.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

That's game theory

Fictional Cornell economist on Prison Break, explaining game theory to his wife:

"That's game theory: you bring people into your life, and keep them there, until you need to manipulate them for your advantage."

Ah, so that's game theory. Well, it's amazing anyone could run a semester-long course on the durned thing.

8 Million New Yorkers...

and all it takes is a 63 degree, drizzly day, with high winds, to discover that it's 7,999,999 softies, and me:

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 trib...