Showing posts from 2018

Hell on... ocean

I am on a Carnival cruise as a matter of family obligation. 
If I die in a state of mortal sin, the Lord will surely punish me by sending me on an eternal Carnival cruise.

I ain’t no half-educated pedant!

The half-educated love to show off the half they got.

For instance, in Blue Bloods, Erin Reagan periodically mocks her working-class detective, Anthony Abetemarco's use of "double negatives." When he says, "I ain't got no problem with that," she tells him, "Oh, you mean you do have a problem with that?"

This is utter silliness: sure, in mathematics or formal logic, something like − − 2 is equal to +2, but so what? Why should formal systems, especially since they are parasitic on natural language, get to dictate to natural language how it should be spoken?

Reagan obviously knew exactly what Anthony meant. That she would insist he meant the opposite is simply a way of asserting that her social is higher than his.

Is the word "method" even allowed anymore?

I think people will start calling it "the m-word" soon. For instance, in this post, the author writes:

"Beyond that, the authorities have changed the calculation methodology."

If there is a more clear-cut case than this for the use of the simple word "method," I don't know what it would be. Nonetheless, the author adds three (here) meaningless syllables on because... well, because everyone else does!

Sure, smart phones aren't different than newspapers: keep telling yourself that

Today, I saw an ad from Braun showing how their electric razors are so easy to use that... you don't need to stop staring into your smart phone to shave!

I don't think there was ever an ad showing how you could shave while reading the newspaper.

We are witnessing what is far and away the most rapid change in human behavior that has taken place in our 300,000 years of existence... and no one has any idea where it is taking us.

Is it possible to use your calling software to... make a call?

I just got sent someone's Skype address, and I would just like to... you know, call them. Now, the number one thing people do with Skype is call other people. So the whole user interface should be focused on making it easy to call people. But instead we get:

"Call" is grayed out, and there is no indication whatsoever of what one needs to do to ungray it. Yes, I know there is some way to do so, but this is about as bad as user-interface design can be.

The Origins and Spread of Anooranosism

There once were a people, the Carinaem, who found the sky and the objects they saw in it so beautiful that they worshipped it, and wove that worship throughout their culture, including their political life. In fact, for them, what we would call "religion" and what we would call "politics (as well as what we would call "culture") were not really separate things at all: they were just the people's social life, which was a whole.

But gradually, a class of people, who called themselves the Narcien, raised themselves far above the common person of Carinae, instituting autocratic political rule as well as commandeering much of the wealth of the land. And naturally they used this worship of the sky to justify their position.

So when a segment of the population finally became so fed up that they decided to overthrow the Narcien, they rejected everything associated with them, including the sky worship. They believed that all aspects of the society that had been ru…

The strange nature of computer science education

The vast majority of students who go through computer science programs are training to be engineers, not academic researchers. And yet…

I just had a masters student say how impressed he was that I was having my OOP students do C++ projects that stretch across more than one file. He said that in his entire undergraduate education, he had never compiled a program that used more than a single file.
It is as though we were training civil engineers to build bridges, but only bridges that stretch across one-foot-wide ditches.

Our New Book

Critics of Enlightenment Rationalism, which should come out next year.

The Best Books for Inspiring a Software Engineer

I was just giving advice to someone who isn't sure software engineering is for him. My idea here was to send him to some of the books that inspired me to improve as a software engineer, and see if any of these authors enthusiasm rubbed off on him. Below is the list I came up with off the top of my head:

Donald Knuth, Literate Programming
P.J. Plauger, Programing on Purpose, Volumes I, II, and III
Jon Bentley, Programming Pearls and More Programming Pearls
Brian Kernighan and Rob Pike, The Practice of Programming
Brian Kernighan and Rob Pike, The UNIX Programming Environment
Brian Kernighan and P.J. Plauger, Software Tools in Pascal
James Coplien, Advanced C++
Mary and Tom Poppendieck, Lean Software Development

What else would you add to the list?

Two dolts...

recently tried to claim here that to admit that a being infinitely greater than oneself created the universe is an act of... hubris!... just the same as devotees of scientism claiming science is to get credit for the wonders of creation. (And of course, no devotee of scientism is actually going to outright claim that science created galaxies or deep sea fish or volcanoes. The way this sort of propaganda works is that they will continuously suggest that, but when challenged, will offer a shocked denial that they ever suggested any such thing. Just like my own dolts did.)

Ed Feser nails such combox trolls:

"Then there is the element of pride. You have to be smart to do natural science. Combox trolls usually are not very smart, but they think of themselves as smart, because they at least have the capacity to pepper their remarks with words like 'physics,' 'science,' 'reason,' etc. as well as to rehearse whatever science trivia they picked up from Wikipedia.…

Well, Johan Is Running That Way with a Rifle, and...

Hans is running in the same direction with a rifle, and Eugen is also doing that.

Methodological individualism says that is the way we have to explain Germany invading Belgium.

But that is wrong. Sometimes explanations run in the other direction. A storm explains the movement of the molecules involved in the storm. And "Germany has invaded Belgium" explains what Johan and Hans and Eugen are up to.

“The Wonders of Science”

Under this heading, one will be shown things such as luminescent fish, volcanoes, stellar clusters, Saturn’s rings, the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly, etc.
It is as though the person describing these things is trying to claim that these are the creations of science! These are not “wonders of science.“ They are the wonders of God’s creation. It is only the hubris of scientism that tries to claim them as our own creations!

Because it’s old, it must be dumb!

I recall Bryan Caplan deliberately (I believe) insulting Israel Kirzner at the NYU Market Process colloquium as follows: I had asked Bryan, "Well, according to your paper, a 'reasonable' conclusion depends upon what premises we start with. So if my initial premise is, 'The Bible is the word of God,' why should I not prefer scripture over scientific findings, when they conflict?"

Caplan, knowing full well that Kirzner is an orthodox rabbi, responded, essentially, "Who could possibly pay any attention to such stupid nonsense written by a bunch of desert shepherds several thousand years ago?"

At the time, I was so nonplussed by Bryan's response that I don't think I said anything more. But...

What I ought to have said was, "The work of these 'ignorant' desert shepherds is still being read several thousand years after they wrote it: do you think anyone will be reading a single thing you wrote in 4000 A.D.?"

What is amazing is, …

OK, what do you call this? "Re-bugging"?

I typed in some C++ code from Stroustrup's programming book. It is supposed to be the naive, inadequate first cut at addressing a problem. He offers some input that will show the shortcomings of the naive approach. I type in that input and...

It works perfectly!

Now I have to "re-bug" my program to determine why it is not failing like it is supposed to!

Incorrect Spam Designations

A few comments, especially from Prateek and Ken B, were being automatically marked as spam. I just went in the Blogger spam bucket for the first time in several months and found them.

My apologies.

"The sun is a symbol...

of the risen Christ."

Response A: No it isn't! It is a ball of flaming hydrogen!

"The Mona Lisa is a symbol of the mysteries of feminine beauty."

Response B: No it isn't! It is a bunch of pigments spread across a canvas!

Response A makes no more sense than Response B.

Who Am I?

Pretend you are on one of those Guess-My-Line-style gameshows. Could you name the following person?

"I have been referred to as inarguably 'the most original and the most versatile intellect that the Americas have so far produced... because any second would be so far behind as not to be worth nominating.' I was accomplished as a mathematician, astronomer, chemist, geodesist, surveyor, cartographer, metrologist, spectroscopist, engineer, inventor, psychologist, philologist, lexicographer, historian of science, mathematical economist, book reviewer, dramtist, actor, short story writer, phenomenologist, semiotician, logician, rhetorician, and metaphysician. I developed a cardinal arithmetic for infinite numbers years before Cantor, axiomatized natural number arithmetic before Dedekind and Peano, and set out axiomatized set theory before Zermelo. Fifty years before Shannon, I described how Boolean logic could be implemented in electrical switches.

"Karl Popper described…

"He isn't college educated."

So often I've heard this euphemism for "he's not very bright."

As though a smattering of introductory courses plus a concentration, most of which are evaluated en-masse, are to bestow intelligence or wisdom.

Algocynfas advances!

We can now do minimum spanning trees.

Next up: binary search trees.

David Attenborough, empty posh accent

I was alerted to the fact that this "naturalist" apparently doesn't care what nonsense they give him to read when I was binge-watching the "Wild [X]" (where X = "India" or "China" or "Indochina") series, and heard him describe a encounter between two red pandas as "a male driving off a male intruder," and in a subsequent episode, describe the exact same footage as "a male trying to attract a female." (I actually went and re-played the earlier episode to make sure.)

In Blue Planet, Attenborough treats the viewer to such gems as:

"Spring comes as the sun begins to climb higher in the sky."

Nope, by the time spring comes, the sun has been climbing higher in the sky for three months!

"It is now mid-summer, and the days are getting longer."

No, mid-summer's day is when the days begin getting shorter. And if he means "the middle of the summer," the quote is even worse.

"Kelp, l…

Great paper on computer science education


Racist dog whistles

These days the progressive left talks continually about "racist dog whistles" being sounded by... well, any figure they don't like.

Here's the thing about dog whistles though: only dogs can hear them! And that is the idea behind the "racist dog whistle" meme: this is secret, coded language that only racists can understand. But...

That means the progressives pointing out these "dog whistles" would have to be... racists! Or else they couldn't hear the whistle, they wouldn't understand the code.

Of course, what the charge really amounts to is, "I don't like that person's preferred policies, and while I can't point to anything explicitly racist that he said, I can instead smear him by claiming he's speaking in a secret racist code."

More sportswriter math silliness

Here, from Zach Lowe:

"There is no shame in that. Cousins can't make the Warriors much better because it is mathematically impossible for a team this good to get much better."

Mathematically impossible? Does Lowe not realize there are an infinite number of positive integers, all of which it is mathematically possible for the Warriors to score? And that all of the Warriors opponents scored more than zero points in every game they played, so they could do much better on defense as well?

I think what Lowe really might have meant was "statistically unlikely," but that doesn't sound as dramatic, does it?


Sports announcers current infatuation with statistics and probabilistic reasoning is only matched by their ignorance of any fundamental statistical principles. Consider this passage, answering how many championships LeBron James will win with the LA Lakers:

"Pelton: If I had to bet on one outcome, I'd probably say zero. The Warriors are still around, and other challengers are forming. I still think going to the Rockets or the 76ers would have given James a better chance of winning a championship. That said, the average outcome for James is probably closer to one championship than none."

So this gut thinks the "average" number of championships James will win is closer to one than zero, but he will "bet" on zero. You can bet he won't bet on this at all, and that he cites "statistics" just to look like a "modern" sportswriter who is all probabilistic and whatnot.

Back to PropArgs Again

This was an early instance of "infrastructure as code."

I am now rebuilding "PropArgs" in a new context, that of agent-based models. Here is the order I think we want properties to have precedence, from lowest to highest:

The database: this is where to store fairly static info on the model being run, as well as server names, etc.Environment variables: allows overriding DB settings for dev / prod servers, or particular runtime environments, such as web, GUI, or command line.A stored property file: can create settings for particular runs, e.g., to do big batch runs of a program with specific settings.The command line: can override previous properties by invoking the program with a novel setting.Asking the user: the ultimate authority on what parameters to use for a model.

Any thoughts? Any place to set these parameters that we've missed?

Too Experienced

“Experience matters immensely when it comes to producing reliable programs...” — Bjarne Stroustrup, Programming: Principles and Practices Using C++
“Methodologies” are often rationalist constructions designed to circumvent the need for experience. They rarely deliver as promised.

Qu'est-ce que c'est?

All of a sudden, my Github pages have more viewers from France than the US:

Promise versus reality

"They promised us AI. What we got was statistics." -- local CS professor

The Tyranny of Metrics

My review is online here.

Real programmers understand that...

"Computers are dumb." -- Bjarne Stroustrup

Animated Algorithms

This summer, we're working on, among other things, animating algorithms on web pages using the HTML5 canvas. Here is an example.

Kirzner review almost complete


Let me know how I can improve it!

Does profit equal "social improvement"?

Back to Kirzner, after knocking off two other reviews and an essay.

He writes:

"Since individuals obviously differ in their entrepreneurial alertness, it is clear that opportunities for social improvement will tend to be exploited most fruitfully if institutional arrangements can be patterned so as to translate such opportunities into opportunities that will be encountered by those whose entrepreneurial alertness is the most acute, the most sensitive, and the most accurate." ("Knowing about Knowledge," Competition, Economic Planning, and the Knowledge Problem, p. 216)

But what entrepreneurial alertness is alert to, per Kirzner, is profit opportunities, not "opportunities for social improvement." Now, one could protest that those opportunities are the same thing, but then what about an entrepreneur who is alert to the fact that the Internet offers a "better" way to deliver rape-fantasy videos to those who are titillated by the idea of raping wom…

The most successful government program ever?

Libertarians are not talking out their arses when they note that government often does things very inefficiently, that government projects typically fall short of delivering on their promise, at far higher costs than initially projected, and so on. But...

There are exceptions. For instance, this program. The durned thing has now run for 55 times as long as was originally predicted. That's not too shabby.

Software Development as a Discovery Procedure

is almost complete.

Your comments are welcomed!
(And since rob got me all ssh'ed up and sh*t, his comments be especially welcomed!)

McCarthy's B.S.

"John McCarthy's B.S. was in mathematics... He is widely credited for inventing the term artificial intelligence and made many contributions to that field." -- Bjarne Stroustrup, Programming: Principles and Practice Using C++

Well, I'd say by far his most significant BS was the term "artificial intelligence"!

Succinct, Simple Semaphor Sought

I update my main repos when I log in anywhere. This usually works fine, but some logins kick off two terminals at once, and then the updates in one would fail while the other worked. (And often they alternate failing and working: you see why, right?)

This is really no problem... but it offends my aesthetic sensibilities. I should just be attempting these updates once, right? So I tried a very simple semaphor:
#!/bin/sh export REPO_SEM="repo_semaphore" # let's update our main repos: if [ ! -e $REPO_SEM ] then # set a semaphore: touch $REPO_SEM cd $GDIR/algorithms; git pull origin master # more updates done here... cd $HOME; rm $REPO_SEM else echo "$REPO_SEM exists: another processes may be doing the update." fi
This works... except when I really need it to, when the two logins kick off simultaneously. In the time between the existence test and the touch, both logins are able to proceed. What I would really need is for the if and the touch …

My hovercraft is full of eels...

and I have a disk in my Mac's DVD drive. My desktop tells me so.

The problem is, my Mac has no DVD drive.

I have discovered a new form of anxiety I can suffer from

I'm one of those people who, when I leave the apartment, am sure I left the burner / AC / lights on, and I have to run back and check. Or, at a show, I'm sure I have misplaced my ticket, and I have to check my pocket. And, most often, the fear proves groundless: the burner is off, and the ticket is right where it ought to be.

Well, tonight, I left the office, got two blocks away... and had to run back, because I was sure I had forgotten to push my code to my GitHub repo. (This was important because I needed to do more work from home.)

And, of course, I found I had pushed it.

So now I've got this as well.

Extreme Risk Analytics

Spring 2018 party:

More Tyranny of Metrics

Another excerpt from my forthcoming review:

Another form of metric fixation that appears in higher education is the desire to have some sort of "measurement" for all aspects of student learning. Courses should set out a variety of goals, and have a numeric score for how far the course went in meeting the goal. These "measurements" are then compiled, averaged, their spread measured, and so on. The joke here is that the numbers used as input are not measurements at all: professors are simply asked to pick a number between one and five, or one and ten, as to how close the class came to achieving the goal. Rather than being an actual measurement, the "score" is simply whatever number the professor being asked wishes to pick! It as though quantum physics were done by asking a bunch of physicists "How highly would you rate the attraction of leptons?" and then running calculations based on the results. In fact, what usually happens is that everyone as…

Pessimistic Errors

As mentioned in a previous post, Israel Kirzner distinguishes between Type A and Type B knowledge problems. To quote that post:
Type A problems involve undue optimism, and are self-correcting: if I think I can sell my programming services for $1 million per hour, I surely will be disappointed, and, if wise, I will lower my price. My very attempt to act on my over-optimistic beliefs reveals their falsity.
Type B problems, on the other hand, involve undue pessimism, and are not self-correcting. I may believe that my current boss, who is paying me $50 per hour, is the best employer I can find. But, unbeknownst to me, just down the block is someone who would happily pay me $100 per hour, if he knew of my existence. And I would happily go work for him, if I knew of his. For type B problems to be "corrected" requires entrepreneurial action, perhaps, say, a job placement firm that will alert both the potential new employer and me to each other's presence in the market, for a f…

The Silliness of the "Moderns"

People who regard themselves as modern typically bang on about how "empirical" they are, and how they recognize the importance of "evolution."

That they are just paying lip service to certain shibboleths is demonstrated by how often they regard, as a conclusive refutation of some traditional practice or rule of morality, the "criticism" that "It's old-fashioned."

E.g., someone says, "Well, I think people should get married before they live together."

The "modern" person's response: "Oh, that attitude is so old-fashioned!"

And they think that is a criticism! Because a practice has survived for a very long time, and therefore the group that has adopted that practice has also survived for a very long time... therefore, it must be bad!

What a stunningly anti-empirical, anti-evolutionary claim!

Now, simply because some trait has been existence for a very long time does not necessarily mean it aids the survival o…

Kaizen and Skin in the Game

A key principle in DevOps is to not blame workers for failure. Instead, when failure occurs, the business is to identify the reasons behind the failure. (e.g. "Was the worker set up for failure? Or does the worker have defects that can be remediated?")

At first face, this idea of "no blame" runs contrary to the idea of skin in the game. For if I am not punished for my failures, how am I held responsible for my actions?

What actually happens is that DevOps redefines the game you have skin in. The game is no longer success, but improvement. So you are not held responsible for perfection, but for making things better.

An odd idea of how to hold a rally

CNN dumbwad editor-at-large Chris Cilliza here "refutes" President Trump's assertion at a recent NRA rally that "Can you imagine, if we ever called for a rally in Washington, DC? There wouldn't be enough room."

"DC is -- give or take -- 68 square miles large. Thanks to this Reddit thread, I calculated that you could fit 947,865,600 people in DC if they were standing shoulder to shoulder. So..."

So, apparently, Chris-the-brainless Cillizza thinks that the size of a rally that can be held in Washington is correctly determined by contemplating how many people could fit, "shoulder to shoulder," if we bulldozed the entire district and turned it into a giant rally site!

Because I've been in DC, and as far as I saw, a high percentage of those 68 square miles are covered by buildings. And a good bit more is taken up by public streets, which I don't think you are allowed to block with your rally. And another good chunk consists in people…

If I were Jason Day...

I'd be ticked off, because as he is on the verge of his second win of the year, the sports site headlines read things like:

"Tiger Woods cards 3-under 68, 9 shots back of Jason Day at Wells Fargo."

Hey, I'm rooting for Woods in his comeback -- I'm like Frodo rooting for Gollum: "I've got to believe he can come back" -- but the coverage has been ridiculous: why does Woods, 9 strokes behind Day, come first in the headline?

I'm back!

Assembly Language for the Web!

How many syllables in "mathematical"?

In my school years up the my first undergraduate "run," I never heard the word mathematical pronounced with 5 syllables: it was always said "math-ma-ti-cal."''Now, I hear it said with 5 syllables all the time. I don't know how that got going, but I imagine the people who do this think it is "correct": "Just look at the spelling!" they might say.

But I have never heard the word said with 5 syllables as it is spelled. Instead, people who say it with 5 syllables always say "math-the-ma-ti-cal": they double the 'th' sound.

Rationalism in Management

"The core of managerial expertise was now defined as a distinct set of skills and techniques, focused upon a mastery of quantitative methodologies. Decisions based on sleep numbers were viewed as scientific, since numbers were thought to imply objectivity and accuracy...

"Before that, 'expertise' meant the career long accumulation of knowledge of a specific field, as one progressed from rung to rung within the same institution or business... Auto executives were 'car guys' -- men who had spent much of their professional life in the automotive industry. They were increasingly replaced by McNamara-like 'bean counters,' adept at calculating costs and profit margins.

"[This trend] morphed into the gospel of managerialism. The role of judgment grounded in experience and a deep knowledge of context was downplayed. The premise of managerialism is that the differences among organizations -- including private corporations, government agencies, and univer…

Subjectivity: a matter of scope

Kirzner on Social Evolution, Menger, etc.

In "Knowledge Problems and Their Solutions," Kirzner makes the important distinction between type A and type B knowledge problems.

Type A problems involve undue optimism, and are self-correcting: if I think I can sell my programming services for $1 million per hour, I surely will be disappointed, and, if wise, I will lower my price. My very attempt to act on my over-optimistic beliefs reveals their falsity.
Type B problems, on the other hand, involve undue pessimism, and are not self-correcting. I may believe that my current boss, who is paying me $50 per hour, is the best employer I can find. But, unbeknownst to me, just down the block is someone who would happily pay me $100 per hour, if he knew of my existence. And I would happily go work for him, if I knew of his. For type B problems to be "corrected" requires entrepreneurial action, perhaps, say, a job placement firm that will alert both the potential new employer and me to each other's presence in the ma…

"Objective Facts"

If we take the distinction between more subjective ("Vanilla ice cream is yucky!") and more objective ("Mongolia is in Asia.") beliefs as a genuine difference in kind, then we must, if we are to be logically consistent, admit that every assertion that something is an objective fact is, itself, a mere subjective belief!

"Well," you protest, "it is an objective fact that the Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun: it's been measured by scientists!"
But did you "measure" your belief that the mileage has been measured? Because if quantitative measurement is the lodestar of objectivity, then your belief that the Sun-Earth distance is an objective fact is itself completely subjective: you can't measure the degree to which that fact was determined by measurement, or, even if you could, you would just be stuck in an infinite regress: you'd have to measure the degree to which the belief in that second measurement was a result of me…


"Taylorism was based on trying to replace the implicit knowledge of the workmen with mass production methods developed, planned, monitored, and controlled by managers. 'Under scientific management,' [Taylor] wrote, 'the managers assume... the burden of gathering together all the traditional knowledge which in the past has been possessed by the workmen and then of classifying, tabulating, and reducing this knowledge to rules, laws, formulae... Thus all of the planning which under the old system was done by the workmen, must of necessity under the new system be done by management in accordance with the laws of science.' -- Jerry Muller, The Tyranny of Metrics, pp.32-33.

Mulling over my Kirzner review

Well, now I have a problem: when I agreed to review Kirzner, I thought the book would be new material. No, it is good material, but 80% of it I had read before. So I am not plowing through it at the speed I thought I would be moving at. And meanwhile, Jerry Muller's excellent book, The Tyranny of Metrics, which I also am slated to review, arrived in the mail.

So, I guess I am going to review Muller first... well, except I also just got asked to review a paper on WebAssembly, so... I don't know: maybe I should write a joint review, interspersing my take on all three together?

In any case, let's start in on Muller: this book has a target, which Muller calls "metric fixation." Muller's critique of metric fixation overlaps my work on rationalism, as shown by his statement of one of the "key components" of metric fixation: "the belief that it is possible and desirable to replace judgment, acquired by personal experience and talent, with numerical i…

I've Got You Under My Skin

My review of Nassim Taleb's new book is online at Modern Age.

Biking in the city

The common view among New York City bicyclists is that there activity is a very noble one. So noble, in fact that it can negate any ignoble action done while biking. So if a biker, running a red light, going the wrong way down a one-way street, runs over an old woman on a walker and breaks her hip, all of that is OK, because he did it with a low carbon footprint.

The Failure of Anti-Liberalism

A good essay from John Medaille.

The limits of the model of perfect competition

"The model cannot be used to 'explain' market prices; the model presumes that everyone has, somehow, correctly and self-fulfilling guessed what the market price is going to be. The circumstance that (quite apart from the assumed correctness of the anticipated price) the model treats each market participant as a price-taker further underscores the uselessness of the model as an explanation for the manner in which prices are adjusted. No one in the model ever does change his price bids or offers." -- Israel Kirzner, Competition, Economic Planning, and the Knowledge Problem, p. 52

As Bob Murphy once  told me once, in the model of perfect competition, it is as though the local grocer wakes up in the morning and is suddenly surprised to find that he is now offering milk at a new price.

Didn't he realize that *he* was a carbon-based fuel source?


I've got you surrounded!

For a moment, let us suppose that some form of religious universalism is true, e.g., "All major religions are different paths up the same mountain."

Nevertheless, the way most people act, among those who accept this thesis, still makes no sense if one wishes to reach the peak: even if many paths lead up a mountain, one must still pick one of them, and follow it, to get to the top!

What most "universalists" do instead is to wander around and around at the foot of the mountain, sampling each path for a couple of hundred feet, and then heading back down to the flatlands.

Bucket Lists

What a sad sack of an idea: in a life defined by consumption as the highest good, people can think of nothing better to do with their last few months than a spectacular bout of consumption!

Coming around, coming in circles

I'm now reviewing Israel Kirzner's Competition, Economic Planning, and the Knowledge Problem for Review of Political Economy. So naturally I'll be posting some thoughts here as I proceed. Here's the first quote I will note:

"Now Mises himself never did focus explicitly on plan-coordination in all of his work; he never did focus on the dispersed character of knowledge, and on the consequent coordination problem. (this does not mean that Mises' seminal insights [on the business cycle and the socialist calculation problem] cannot be faithfully articulated in plan-coordination terms; it merely means that Mises himself never explicitly recognized this possible articulation" ("Hedgehog or Fox," p. 145).

Mises explained to us the calculation problem; Hayek showed us why the problem exists. The whole "dehomogenization" nonsense is purely a marketing driven effort made to differentiate that "hardcore" libertarians at the Mises Instit…

The one true church

I was at my church today helping out with the Easter decorating. I took a bag of garbage out of the trashcan, and asked one of the more experienced volunteers, “Where should I put this?”
She replied, “Just put it out on the steps: Mohammed takes care of the garbage.”
This was a startling idea to me. I am now imagining that Buddha does the dishes after church suppers, and Zoroaster takes care of the laundry.

Google’s phony feminism

Google fired engineer James Dalmore because he suggested that perhaps, on average, women are more people-oriented and less gadget-oriented than men are.
This week, top Google executives are meeting with the Saudi crown prince, who imprisons businessmen who criticize his rule and presides over a regime in which women are not allowed to drive cars, to discuss what sort of business deals they can strike with him.
If Dalmore had just had a couple of hundred billion dollars to invest, he probably could have imprisoned women who were trying to program and gotten away with it, as far as the Google executives are concerned.

Google Javadoc Standards ...

The Google style guide for Java requires every class and class member to be described by a sentence fragment.

I think there is some wisdom in this. Methods/classes/attributes in programs are hardly islands to themselves. They at least modify *something* about the computer. And usually more: creation and modification of objects, threads, messages, data. All these will be propagated throughout the whole system. And side-effects can be difficult to predict.

In this way code is itself a sentence fragment. Why not be honest and leave your documentation as something incomplete in itself?

“Robot” is a nonsense category

The Communications of the ACM recently ran an article titled, “How can we trust a robot?”

Thinking about the article led me to realize that the category "robot" is itself a piece of nonsense, drawn from science fiction, and having no basis in computer science.

We exist in a world in which computer programs control many real world outcomes. Often, those programs direct the operation of physical peripherals to achieve those outcomes. A payroll program that prints checks directs the operations of a printer. Is it therefore a "robot"? Should we ask the question, “How can we trust a payroll program?”

Well, of course we should, but not because it is some special entity called a "robot," but because this program will determine how much employees get paid, and if the program contains bugs, they will get paid the wrong amount. And whether we should trust it depends not on whether it conforms to "social norms," as the ACM article contends of "robots,…

No one plays against “odds”

Sports writers have become so enamored of "statistics" that they have come to imagine that teams and individuals are actually engaged in contests with statistical constructs, rather than with other teams.

For instance, when UMBC recently beat number one seed Virginia in the NCAA Men's Tournament, one sports site wrote that UMBC's victory “proved even the longest of odds aren't totally insurmountable.”

But David did not defat "odds": he defeated Goliath. And UMBC did not "surmount" any "odds": they beat the Virginia basketball team. 

That Virginia team was stocked with players stronger and more athletic than those on UMBC. And no doubt it is rare for a team physically outmatched, like UMBC, to beat their opponent.

But UMBC was not playing against, say, 125-to-1 (or whatever other odds Las Vegas, etc., had set for the game). They were playing against the concrete players on Virginia. And what they beat was not 125-to-1, but those particu…

Dear Lord,

We beseech thee,In thy infinite goodness,
Restore our prayer app to its proper working: It is through the app programmer’s fault, His own fault, His own most grevious fault, That these infernal bugs did enter the app; But through thy divine grace, And the gift of thy new Python debugger, It may come again to praise you, Without crashing, In a blessed instantiation: As it was in the loop initialization, Is in the loop invariant, And shall be at the loop termination, Amen

He did it his way...

"The concept of infinite God, the the divinity of the soul, of the link between the affairs of man and God, the concepts of moral good and evil, are concepts involved in the distant history of man's life that is hidden from our eyes, and those concepts without which life and I myself would not be, and rejecting all this labor of mankind, I wanted to do everything by myself, alone, anew, and in my own way." -- Leo Tolstoy, Confession

Elevating your English

I was once in a conversation in the UK that turned, believe it or not, on the differences between American and British English. One of my English friends remarked that it was so strange that we would refer to the apparatus in tall buildings as an “elevator“, when after all, it goes both up and down.

I looked at him with my head slightly cocked to one side. “And what do you call them over here?”
He thought for a second, and then responded, “Oh yeah…”
I think the reason for the bias toward the upside is that is what struck the first users of lifts as remarkable: getting something to plunge rapidly downward from a high floor of a building had always been fairly easy. It was lifting things up that hit people as the true achievement.

Now Emu86 has a nice website explaining it..

as well.

Or, at least we've got a start on one. Why not join in and add more!

That cute Docker whale

I was thinking how nice and friendly he looked, until I noticed...

Docker had scooped out his brain, and was using the cavity to carry crates!
He's not smiling because he's happy: he's smiling because he's been lobotomized!

How Did Patriarchy Get Started?

The most recent "woke" opinion holds that all differences between men and women are merely "social constructs," and, in particular, the fact that we find more men than women in leadership roles is a result of the social construct called "patriarchy."

So, once upon a time, men and women were completely equal in all respects. And then... well, that's my puzzle: just how is it that, from this position of complete equality, men managed to place themselves in charge?

A "woke" person might answer, "Well, they tricked women!" But that would imply that men were better at trickery (and its detection) than were women. Which violates the fundamental woke premise that men and women are completely equal in all respects.

The answer "Because men were physically stronger," again, completely invalidates that fundamental woke premise.

So, "woke people," exactly how did patriarchy come to be?

The Genius of G.K. Chesterton

These are perhaps the greatest three sentences ever written on modern politics:
"The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected."

Agile and the Division of Labor: Your Comments Sought

A new paper I am working on for Cutter Business Technology Journal. Comments welcomed! Even from rob!

Hey, Whose Blog Is This?

I just came across it, and it doesn't look very active!

Well, since I was able to hack in and post, let me point you to this nice DevOps site that is under construction.

The Golden Age of the Barbarians

James C. Scott closes Against the Grain with a chapter entitled "The Golden Age of the Barbarians." In it, he notes how geographically insignificant was the area controlled by states, up until perhaps 1600 CE. For millennia after the rise of the first states, the vast majority of the globe's population lived outside of states. But among those non-state peoples, a few took on special status as "barbarians": they were the non-state people at the periphery of a state. They were the "dark twin" of the "civilized" people who lived within states, and their lives and their economies were deeply intertwined with those of their state-dwelling counterparts.

At times, they interacted with their neighbor states simply by raiding. But this risked destroying the state which was producing the agricultural surplus that was the target of their raids. More often, they sought to achieve a more stable arrangement: in return for agreeing to abjure raiding, they…

Speaking of Codswallop

Someone just brought this ball of dung to my attention.

A quote:

"Hoffman has spent the past three decades studying perception, artificial intelligence, evolutionary game theory and the brain, and his conclusion is a dramatic one: The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality."

Well then, you know what, Dr. Hoffman? All of those bones that are said to be "evidence" for evolution? They're probably not bones at all, but maybe crayons, or roller skates, or jellyfish! That thing you think is a "brain"? Maybe it's really just a pumpkin, or maybe it doesn't even exist! I bet your "studies" of perception were based on measurements: well, your own theory says your perception of those measurements was "nothing like reality": you'd better throw them all out.

It's hard to figure out if people putting out such rubbish are so stupid they can't see that their own theory makes nonsense of the idea of e…

The "collapse" of early states

James C. Scott disputes the usual formulation of the disappearance of early states as "collapses." He writes "it is... essential to emphasize what such events do not necessarily mean. They do not necessarily mean a decline in regional population. They do not necessarily mean a decline in human health, well-being, or nutrition, and, as we shall see, may represent an improvement. Finally, a 'collapse' at the center is less likely to mean the dissolution of a culture than its reformulation and decentralization." (p. 186)

Why, then, the frequent narrative of collapses? Scott claims it is because "What in fact were lost were the beloved objects of classical archaeology: the concentrated ruins of the relatively rare centralized kingdoms, along with their written record and luxuries" (pp. 186-187).

The State and Slavery

"As with sedentism and the domestication of grain that also predated state formation, the early state elaborated and scaled up the institution of slavery as an essential means to maximize its productive population and the surplus it could appropriate." -- James C. Scott, Against the Grain, p. 155

Scott present a number of facts highlighting the importance of slaves in early states:
"the most valuable cargo of Malay traders in insular Southeast Asia were, until the late nineteenth century, slaves" (p. 156)."Slaves represented a clear majority -- perhaps as much as two-thirds -- of Athenian society" (p. 156)."Imperial Rome... turned much of the Mediterranean basin into a massive slave emporium... By one estimate, the Gallic Wars yielded nearly a million new slaves..." (pp. 156-157). But note: slavery pre-existed the state.

Early states and coerced labor

"Each of the earliest states deployed its own unique mix of coerced labor, as we shall see, but it required a delicate balance between maximizing the state surplus on the one hand and the risk of provoking the mass flight of subjects on the other, especially when there was an open frontier." -- James C. Scott, Against the Grain, pp. 152-153

Early statecraft

"The imperative of collecting people, settling them close to the core of power, holding them there, and having them produce a surplus in excess of their own needs animates much of early statecraft... The means by which a population is assembled and then made to produce a surplus... is less important... than the fact that it does produce a surplus available to non-producing elites." -- James C. Scott, Against the Grain, p. 151

There are two problems I see in this passage:

1) The "needs" of the people are regarded as a fixed amount of goods, and they have to be "made" to produce more. Now, undoubtedly taxes and other coercive measures might make people produce more than they otherwise would, but also they might have already been producing a "surplus" that attracted state formation in the first place. My point here is simply that there is no obvious criteria for what constitutes a surplus, other than "what the state can take," which, of …

Karl Popper Was All Wet

Induction is easy! Just place your scientific theory on one of these machines, and out will pop "Verified" or "Unverified"!

Kaizen and Sorting Yourself Out

For those who are feeling lost and overwhelmed, Jordan Peterson has the psychotherapeutic schtick, "sort yourself out." By this he means pay attention to where you can improve, and then improve it. Soon you'll be able to do things that you never imagined you could do.

Never once does Peterson mention Kaizen or DevOps. But isn't it pretty much the same thing?

Are farmers "more advanced" than hunter-gatherers?

We often view the hunter-gatherer lifestyle as "primitive," and see the adoption of farming as an "advance" over it. But James C. Scott notes that this conclusion is not obvious if we look at the cognitive skills necessary to cope in those different ways of life:

"It is no exaggeration to say that hunting and foraging are, in terms of complexity, as different from cereal-grain farming as cereal-grain farming is, in turn, removed from repetitive work on a modern assembly line. Each step represents a substantial narrowing of focus and a simplification of tasks." (Against the Grain, p. 90)

In fact, hunter-gatherers had the whole toolkit of early agriculturalists (since they were harvesting wild grains), plus tools for collecting, trapping, hunting, building weirs, netting, and more.

Why states don't arise in wetlands

James C. Scott notes that states did not arise in wetland regions, and that is no accident:

"wetland societies... were, and remained, environmentally resistant to centralization and control from above. They were based on what are now called 'common property resources' -- free-living plants, animals and aquatic creatures to which the entire community had access. There was no single dominant resource that could be monopolized or controlled from the center, let alone easily taxed... A state -- even a small protostate -- requires a subsistence environment that is far simpler that the wetland ecologies we have examined." (Against the Grain, p. 57)

Productivity is a flow, not a stock

I just noticed that it is February, and I already can see I will publish at least seven book reviews this year, already tying my best year so far (2016). If I keep my pace up, I should be able to knock off between 15 and 20. This is happening as I am limiting the number of book reviews I take on.

And I did this following the kanban idea of limiting work-in-progress, to create flow and avoid waste. I realized that the economic distinction between stocks and flows in economics can clarify what is going on here.

Too many people, including me a year ago, confuse having a large stock of jobs in progress with productivity. In this view, to be productive is to be busy. If I was juggling six book reviews, "Boy," I thought, "I sure am productive!"

But productivity is a flow, not a stock! What matters is not how many things you are up to, but how many finished products* are coming out of your "workstation." And perhaps paradoxically, we can often increase our flow

Native American global warming?

In terms of long-term impact on the environment, James C. Scott notes that the harnessing of fire and its use over the last 400,000 to alter the landscape might "overwhelm crop and livestock domestication" (p. 38). In fact, Native Americans were such prolifigate users of fire that its "volume in North America was such that when it stopped abruptly, due to the devastating epidemic that came with the Europeans, the newly unchecked growth of forest created the illusion among white settlers that North America was a virtually untouched, primeval forest" (Against the Grain, p. 39). In fact, the cessation of the CO2 output from such burning may have caused the Little Ice Age!

Now That's Some Global Warming for Ya

"Then, around 9,600 BCE, the cold snap broke and it became warmer and wetter again -- and fast. The average temperature may have increased as much as seven degrees Celsius within a single decade." (James. C. Scott, Against the Grain, p. 43)

The high end of present global warming predictions seems to be around four or five degrees Celsius in a century: that pales compared to seven degrees in a decade!

Scott on the Fragility of Early States

"Extrinsic causes -- say, drought or climate change... -- may in fact be more important overall in state collapse, but intrinsic causes tell us more about the self-limiting aspects of early states. To this end, I speculate on three fault lines that are by-products of state formation itself. The first are the disease effects of the unprecedented concentrations of crops, people, and livestock together with their attendant parasites and pathogens... More insidious are two ecological effects of urbanism and intensive irrigated agriculture. The former resulted in steady deforestation of the upstream watershed of riverine states and subsequent siltation and floods. The latter resulted in well-documented salinization of the soil, lower yields, and eventual abandonment of arable land." (Against the Grain, p. 31)

This is my bread and butter

I am now reviewing Against the Grain by James C. Scott. The first thing I wish to note, relative to this review (but which won't actually make it into the review itself): some twerp named William Buckner decided to slander Scott on the website Quillette, where he wrote.

"It’s not often that you see a 50-year-old paper repeatedly referenced in mainstream publications, but you can find mentions of Lee’s work pretty much everywhere today. In the Guardian, the New York Times, the London Review of Books, the Financial Times, and Salon, among others. Much of this attention has to do with two recently published books, Against the Grain by James C. Scott and Affluence without Abundance by James Suzman, both of which are informed by Lee and Sahlins’s conception of hunter-gatherer affluence."

OK, the first significant thing here is that Buckner cites a bunch of reviews of Scott and Suzman that happen to cite Lee and Sahlin, but he never actually cites Scott or Suzman. He simpl…

Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World

My review be done!

Philosophy of Science in Practice

My review is online at Computing Reviews. (ACM membership required.)

Berkeley's understanding of Christian belief

One of the most fascinating aspects of Pearce's work is how he unravels Berkeley's view of the truth of Christianity. Berkeley holds that both in ordinary and scientific language, "assent without ideas is a widespread phenomenon" (152). We assent to language that does not correspond to any idea when such assent enables to get on better in the world, e.g., we use the languages of "forces", even though we have no idea corresponding to "a force", because by doing so we are better able to predict the motion of objects in space. Similarly, to say, for instance, that one "believes" in the doctrine of the trinity is to assent to having one's life shaped by such a notion, and the "truth" of such language consists in the fact that those who truly assent to have their lives shaped by it thereby lead better lives. Or, as Pearce puts it regarding another belief, "The doctrine of the divinity of Christ produces a practical, interp…

Rationalism in software engineering

So, I've now come full circle, back to software engineering, after detouring through studying rationalism in economics, politics, philosophy and urban planning. And I have realized that long ago I had recognized the rationalist mistake in my own field of software engineering. It was present in the words of the critics of UNIX for not being designed according to some grand, theoretical blueprint, and instead being "hacked" together to fit the needs of the Bell Labs researchers. But even more so, it was present in the waterfall modelers and software managers requiring "complete specifications" before any coding starts.

One goal of this effort was to be able to hire really dumb programmers, whom one could pay very little. As T.S. Eliot might have put it, "They were dreaming of systems so perfect that no one had to be intelligent." But the dream is impossible to achieve: it was like the Soviet Union's five-year plans that would envision all economic …

Berkeley and Peirce

Interestingly, Berkeley anticipated C.S. Peirce's division of signs into indices, icons, and symbols, as he contended that one idea can suggest another "by likeness [icon], by necessary connexion [index]... or by arbitrary convention [symbol]." (The Theory of Vision Vindicated)

(The correspondence is not exact, however, since Berkeley includes a fourth category he calls "geometrical inference".)

God's language

Kenneth Pearce (Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World) argues that, for Berkeley, "bodies" are linguistic constructions built up from our phenomenal experience, and that causal talk, in everyday life and in physics, is an extension of that sort of operation. But Berkeley does not therefore dismiss such talk. The reason is twofold:
First of all, to model things this way is useful: it helps us "in the pursuit of happiness, which is the ultimate end and design... that sets rational agents at work" (204).But these ideas are also true, in an important sense: they reflect the underlying reality of "the regular ordering of ideas instituted by God, i.e., the linguistic or grammatical structure of the divine language of nature. Our talk about bodies aims to capture the lexicon of this language, and our talk about causes, laws, and forces aims to capture its syntax" (204).

How do you want to get there?

We jumped in a cab in front of our apartment. We told the driver, "Newark Airport, please."

He asked, "How do you want to get there?"

I answered, “By cab.”

Dancing intelligently

Is not to do two things: first, to have an “idea“ about dancing, and then secondly to execute that idea.

Instead, it is doing one thing, namely dancing, in an intelligent manner.

(In this post I am, of course, simply practicing thinking as Gilbert Ryle does.)


In a segment from BBC's program The Hunt, I learned of a quite amazing animal: portia, a spider-hunting spider.

In the clip, you can see a portia approach another spider, twice her size, and then, stop and carefully think about the best approach route to take her prey. She finally picks a route that will take many, many minutes to complete, and which involves her being out of sight of the prey for a great deal of the route. And faced with unfamiliar spiders, they improvise new tactics. Furthermore, they are social, and recognize other individuals of their species.

Scientism defined

"all reality that did not bend or reveal itself through the orthodox method [of the physical sciences] was a priori defined as subjective fancy." -- Colin Cordner, "Eric Voegelin and Michael Polanyi on Science and Philosophy," forthcoming in Tradition Versus Rationalism.

That's a nice, concise definition or you!

My review of Why Liberalism Failed...

is online at The American Conservative.

Canadian Goose Arctic Program

I was walking in NYC one day this fall when I was surprised to see several people nearby, wearing identical jackets, with patches claiming that they were participants in the "Canadian Goose Arctic Program." Maybe the Canadian goose was in trouble, despite its ubiquitous presence on golf courses?

Then I saw a few more participants, and then a few more. Soon I was seeing them everywhere. Apparently, there were hundreds of participants in this program, and they had all descended on New York City!

But when I asked my friend about this, he told me, "It's not a program, it's a brand."

"What?! Why would someone buy a jacket carrying such an idiotic patch, you know, given they aren't in any such program?"

"Not only do they buy them," my friend explained, "they pay $400 a jacket for the privilege of wearing the idiotic patch."

All just so one can be sure one is "fashionable"!

Nagios, oh Nagios!

Typical open source install mess: first, their instructions are wrong, and I had to spend ten minutes researching why one of the commands they told me to run was failing.

But once it ran, it then spent 20 minutes seemingly installing half of the open source software in the world. Folks, having this many dependencies just about guarantees future messes down the road: how in the world are the dozens of packages I just installed all going to be kept in sync?

And what about just coming as a Docker image?

Financial “independence“