Showing posts from September, 2013

Did you know...

That the penalty for "breaking down a fishpond" in England in 1800 was death?

The Annivirthday Juicer I Bought My Wife...

Is so sophisticated that it can even make French recipes: Silas will certainly be impressed with the fact that scientists have taught this juicer to process French ingredients.

Scientists discover gene

That causes researchers to attribute behavior to genetic causes. Details at 11.

It's for your own safety

Because you know how a credit card you use without having your ID checked can sometimes explode. Or something.

What If We Make a New Convention?

I have always figured that I only need to mention if I add something to a quote: otherwise, what I put in my text was in the quote. So, with actual words, if I added them, I put them in square brackets: otherwise, you can assume I found them there. Can't we do the same thing with italics? If I don't mention I added them, there they were. Why do we need to specify both "Emphasis added" and "Emphasis in original"?

Whitehead on "random" sampling

"no sample is 'random'; it has only followed a complex method. A finite number of samples each following some method of its own, however complex each method may be, will give a statistical result entirely dependent upon those methods. In so far as repetitions of so-called random samplings give concordant results, the only conclusion to be drawn is that there is a relevant, though concealed, analogy between the 'random' methods." -- Process and Reality , pp. 233-234

What is with this "codes" business?

Twice today I have run across descriptions of books that say that they include "source codes." In 18 years of programming, I never heard that word pluralized: no one ever said "Today I wrote eight source codes." We wouldn't have known what the person was talking about. You might write eight lines of source code, or eight modules of source code, or eight programs. To my ear, pluralizing the word implies that there is something that one could identify as "one source code." But there isn't.

A pricing puzzle

Notice the difference in price between the lunch special without the egg roll and the lunch special with the egg roll: The additional cost for an egg roll varies between $.20 and $.60. In every case you get the exact same egg roll, and the exact same amount of work goes into getting it to you: they just take one and stick it on the side of the plate your dish comes on. Now think about this: rather than just putting on the menu something like "Egg roll $.40 extra" somebody had to sit down and think about exactly how much extra the egg roll should cost for each lunch special. And then had to direct the printer to print an extra column. Why in the world did they do this? Any guesses?

Nature: Such a slob!

I'm reading a gardening magazine right now, and I had to laugh out loud at the following letter to the editor: "Why do the needles on my pine tree drop every year? It makes such a mess." If I were the editor, I would've responded, "Sir, just get up there in the tree with some crazy glue and fix each needle to the branch grows on. Problem solved!" I guess that's why they'll never let me edit a gardening magazine.

Our leaders' clever plan

We often believe they aren't thinking about the future of America, but just watching out for their own interest. Today, I saw that that suspicion is false. I was in the self checkout line at Walmart, struggling to find the UPC codes on the items I was buying. Suddenly I realized: I was being trained as a cashier... and so was everyone else around me. And since retail service jobs are the only jobs that will be left in the US in 20 years, this is an excellent plan.

Well, once you put it that way…

I just heard Debbie Boone on TV saying, "If there's anything that makes you feel better about yourself, then by all means do it." Hey, if shooting up that mall in Kenya made those jihadis feel better about themselves, then who are we to gripe?

Pop quiz

Let us define an object as something you could pick up, perhaps with a forklift and put in the van and bring somewhere. So, say, the Taj Mahal will not be an "object" our criteria. Today's quiz: 1) What was the most valuable object in the world in the early 1700s? 2) What is the most valuable object in the world today? By the way, I know the (likely) answer to number one, but not to number two.

The genetic basis of homosexuality

Evidence that suggests that homosexuality has a strong genetic component appears to have influenced many people on the issue of whether homosexual should, say, be allowed to marry. Has this been influential in your opinion on the issue? If it has, consider this: Let us say we discover that pedophilia has a strong genetic component. With this then influence your opinion on laws against pedophilia? (I'm not asking because I have in mind certain correct answers to these questions. I'm just curious about what people think about them.)

Well, I Guess I'm a Jets Fan...

at least until I lose my hat. You see, my dermatologist insists that, with my extreme palosity, I keep my head covered in the sun. In the summer, that means something lightweight, of course. And so I buy baseball caps. And then I lose them. And so on. What I look for when I go to buy my, say, 23rd replacement cap, is that the logo not be too stupid or offensive. So I don't buy the cap that says, "If you fight me, you're fighting the whole trailer park." And last time out, I picked up a Jets cap. It simply was big enough and met the above criteria. But when I wear it, people constantly want to talk about the Jets. I'm tired of explaining all of the above, so instead Sunday I watched the Jets. And I guess I will for the rest of the season. By the way, those two TD passes by Smith were something, weren't they? (You see, it is working already.)


We Have to Clean Up the Sea We have to clean up the sea. Cargos of steel bars, garbage, Wooden hulls, garbage, and, Yes, spent pile rods wait below. We have to clean up the sea. Perhaps the dolphins will help us, Or the gentle creatures with their island cities Miles below, in The Abyss. Crates of oranges await, their rind Commuted into interesting shapes By pressure, and into a taste we won’t love As we are now. Clean it up! All the sunken coal tenders In a hundred million years will be coal mines again For those who want them, But we have to clean up the sea. And if we do not, Great Water that brought us forth, Who kill so freely, you will never notice; It is we who shall suffer. Perhaps our answer Will be to return to you, and then you will kill us Much less often.

Ah, the Rich Irony of It All!

Over at Rod Dreher's blog , one "Prof. Woland" explains why he doesn't believe in God: “because my epistemological stance towards the world asks for kinds of evidence that don’t really work with supernatural entities” What he means is that he will only accept as evidence the kind of things offered as evidence in, say, physics. Well, of course, since the God of philosophical theism is not a physical entity, not an item in the world, the kind of evidence physics uses will by definition "not really work with him." It as though one asked for physical proof of the fundamental theorem of calculus  or the existence of justice. Perhaps those things don't exist, but asking for physical evidence of their existence, e.g. "Show me them scattering x-rays or attracting a mass," simply illustrates that you are confused and have no idea what you are talking about. And if you simply declare that only the things physics can detect are real, well, you ar

Pottery IV

        Edge of Time Well I'm peeing on the edge of time, And my urine freezes into yellow rime, But defiling the environment is not a crime When you're peeing on the edge of time. Well I'm driving down that lonesome road, And my pants are damp because I dumped a load. You can tell my mother that I squashed a toad Driving down that lonesome road. Puking my guts out, grossing their butts out, Staggering among the stars, Far from the Sun is where all the fun is, Haven't been so happy since I buggered Mars. Well I'm peeing on the edge of time, And my urine freezes into yellow rime, But defiling the environment is not a crime When you're peeing on the edge of time. 891120 1415  Nancy Lee's, New Haven, CT This one is for the White Shit Band. Dropped Rock Dropped rock fire the red sun down Golden evening bridge gate crossing the bay. Chopped blue grey glad steep freehold finding To save light. Sundown, Wednesday, Autumn 1965

This does not bode well

Hearing that Robin Williams is going to be appearing in a TV show with "crazy" in the title. He is always better the more his "wackiness" is held in check. This new show sounds like an invitation to indulge it wantonly.

Pottery III

A Dog in the Water A dog in the water, Far out to sea, Is going to visit The Fish in the Tree On a dim, distant island He never will see, But that doesn't matter, says he. Leo There is a car wash on MacArthur. It has a change machine. I went up to the machine And put a dollar in the slot. I told it to change me into a lion. Then I loped down the street Growling triumphantly, But not at children. After a while they arrested me, Which seemed right, But they didn't take me to the zoo, They took me to the drunk tank. I demanded twenty pounds of raw meat. They beat me with their fists. I am a lion, so it didn't hurt, But there is something wrong with my life.

Stupid is as stupid does

"The argument of this book is that we, and all other animals, are machines created by our genes. Like successful Chicago gangsters, our genes have survived, in some cases for millions of years, in a highly competitive world. This entitles us to expect certain qualities in our genes. I shall argue that he predominant quality to be expected in the successful gene is ruthless selfishness... Let us try to teach generosity and atruism, because we are born selfish." -- Richard Dawkins How did someone who wrote an entire book of such mind-boggling stupidity become a prominent "intellectual"?

Midgley on "Selfishness" in Biology

"Trouble centres on the word selfish . For sociobiologists, this word is officially not the name of a motive at all, but a term used to describe a complicated, highly abstract and unfamiliar causal property--the tendency to maximize one's own gene representation in future generations. This is much like using the world cruelty to describe all behavior which will cause suffering to anyone else in any future generation, or the word sloth to describe all that which will fail to affect them. Why such a word should ever have been chosen, if no reference to real selfishness was meant, is hard to imagine." -- Evolution as a Religion , p. 136

The cities I've known

Since I'm teaching a course on cities this semester, I've been thinking about them a lot lately. One thing I've thought is what an odd collection of cities I know well, no somewhat, and don't know at all. So let's lay it out: INTIMATE: New York City Cardiff, Wales New Haven, Connecticut ALMOST INTIMATE: Washington, DC London, England Siena, Italy GOOD ACQUAINTANCES: San Francisco, California Florence, Italy Dublin, Ireland ON FAMILIAR TERMS: Tampa, Florida Cork, Ireland Cambridge, England Oxford, England Manchester, England Zurich, Switzerland MET BRIEFLY: Boston, Massachusetts Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Dallas, Texas New Orleans, Louisiana Houston, Texas Santa Fe, New Mexico Seattle, Washington Milan, Italy Paris, France Strasbourg, France Amsterdam, Netherlands Lucerne, Switzerland Montreal, Canada Quebec City, Canada Vancouver, Canada Belfast, Northern Ireland WE'VE NEVER MET, HAVE WE? (This is the list that is the weirdest, I think, given which cities I do k

A memo for you folks who like to make up "facts"

The Internet exists! We can check. For instance, consider this masterpiece , which informs us that: "The fundamental problem with rock music... can be summed up quite simply: its rhythm is unnatural and morally tainted... "The normal pattern for almost all music in the world, from all periods of history, whether genuine folk music or the art music of high cultures, accentuates the odd beats, that is, the downbeat (the first) and, to a lesser extent, the third... "Rock music, on the other hand, generally uses a constantly syncopated or off-rhythm, accentuating the even beats [backbeats] instead of the odd... "It is hardly surprising that 'rock n' roll” and 'jazz' were both euphemisms for sexual intercourse, or, more accurately in their historical context, fornication: the rhythm is suggestive of the pelvic thrust..." So, first of all, the rhythm of rock is both 1) unnatural and 2) the rhythm of sex. Therefore... the author believes

Uncertainty, not money

"When dealers have to guess the future course of prices, a fall today often leads to selling causing a further fall, and contrariwise. Producers take time to adjust supplies; an increase in demand leading to a high price is followed by an excessive increase in output that cracks the market. Uncertainty, not money, is the cause of the trouble." -- Joan Robinson, Economic Heresies ,p. 65

The University of Oregon Spends $68 Million on a Football Training Facility

Here . Meanwhile, more than 60% of their teaching staff are in non-tenured positions, with many making the equivalent of $12 per hour. But hey, there is no money in the budget to pay more than that!

J.P. Koning Goes Wrong on Money

This is so rare that I have to note it : "Even more interesting, in a few rare cases the precious metal content of a famous coin of a previous era that no longer existed was used as the link coin. Monetary historians such as Munro call these 'ghost monies'. The advantage of having a ghost link coin rather than a current coin is that it the unit-of-account would stay constant over time, preserving the real value of debts and contracts." Here is what Mises had to say about the idea of trying to create "constant" money thus "preserving the real value of debts and contracts" (all quotes from Human Action , in the "Sphere of Economic Calculation" section): "Stability, the establishment of which the program of stabilization aims at, is an empty and contradictory notion. The urge toward action, i.e., improvement of the conditions of iife, is inborn in man... "If all human conditions were unchangeable, if all people were always

A Great Day for Women

East Timor's First Female Dictator Hailed As Step Forward For Women

Nate Silver, Mistaken on Overfitting

Here : "In layman’s terms, an overfit statistical model is one that is engineered to match idiosyncratic circumstances in past data, but which is not an accurate picture and makes poor predictions as a result." No, the problem is that it is too accurate a picture (of the past)! Instead, it is a more abstract but less accurate picture of the past which is more likely to look like the future, since it is only in certain abstract aspects that the past and future are likely to resemble each other. (and the art here is to find just which abstractions to use!)


They are a strange place to appreciate art if you think about it. A painting like the one below is, I think, they kind of thing that should be on the wall of your study or in your living room for years. It is something to be slowly savored, but in a museum setting you must hurry up to it, "consume" all of it you can in 30 seconds, and then move on. It is kind of like playing Bach on super-fast-forward speed to get through all of his works quickly. On the other hand, "The Starry Night" is such a high-impact painting that it works at museum speed. Did Van Gogh realize this would be the case, or was it just fortuitous?


I can't figure him out. I see "Night fishing at Antibes," and I think, "Here is someone who just didn't care what he splashed across a canvas." But then I look at "Three Musicians," and I think "What a master": Was he just trying so much that failures like the first painting were inevitable?

Fallen and can't get up


"I Work in a Legally Protected Guild...

"in which I receive high wages, short working hours, long vacations, and lifetime protection from being fired, but workers in private industry should just shut up and face the harsh facts of life ." Who am I?

Hometown in the Loo; Promises to Call Back Later

Here : "ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A Rhode Island man was mauled by a grizzly bear during a guided hunt in the Alaska wilderness, Alaska State Troopers said Tuesday. "John Matson, whose hometown in Rhode Island wasn't immediately available, did not appear to have life-threatening injuries, troopers said." Also of note: from the headline, you'd be tempted to think, "Those bears: so violent!" It is only a few paragraphs in that you discover that Matson had first shot the bear, and then pursued it into the brush when it ran off. At that point you realize he just got what was coming to him.

How Can the US Resolve Its Syrian Dilemma?

We don't like Assad, but we don't like his opponents either. What to do? Bomb both sides !

Truth Stranger than Night Vale Fiction

Here : "The secrecy of [NSA] capabilities against encryption is closely guarded, with analysts warned: 'Do not ask about or speculate on sources or methods.'" Or, as we would say in Night Vale , "Do not look at the forbidden dog park. Do not think about the forbidden dog park. Most especially, do not look at the mysterious hooded figures in the forbidden dog park."  

Great Band Name?

Grace Hopper and the Bugs. Especially when one considers Joyce's fable of the Ondt and the Gracehoper !

We're translators. And we don't give a sh&t!

English subtitles: Captain: "Checkmate." Marshall: "Ah. [Looking up at the spectator.] Well, Don Matteo, thanks for your help." Captain: "Marshal, it's your move." [Nota bene: in English, the Marshall just lost on the last move!" Don Matteo [whispering]: "Move the knight." Marshall: "Checkmate!" So, we had checkmates two moves in a row in the same game! I rewound to listen to the Italian again. The first line is actually "Check with the Queen."

Mums the word!

And aster is the other word:

Becoming an Orthodox Jew

When considering this, many people think of the pork prohibition, and tell themselves, "That's not so bad: I could give up bacon." But rarely does it occur to them that they are going to have to give up eating snakes as well. When they realize that, that's when the level of sacrifice required becomes real to them.

Gardening for real people, Part VII: Preparing a bed

Don't you like to read in bed? Well, your plants do, too, and will appreciate some reading material:

John Stuart Mill's weak argument for free speech

John Stuart Mill made a famous argument for free speech in On Liberty . Famous, but not very good. The gist of Mills argument is as follows (and of course I simplify): 1) We are not infallible in our judgments, therefore the ideas whose expression we would ban might just be true; and 2) Even if, per impossibile, we are certain that some ideas are false, banning their expression is still bad, because true ideas are only really known when they have to be regularly defended against falsehood. There are several problems here: 1) What Mill is doing here is of course expressing an idea. And per his own doctrine, we can't really be sure that the idea is true. So the notion of banning the expression of certain ideas always has to be kept on the table as a live option. But Mill clearly wants to rule censorship completely out of bounds, something that per his doctrine can't be done with any idea! 2) Mill's arguments seem to extend seamlessly to the world of actions. After all, often

Does your polity have a problem? Throw a constitution at it!

On NPR today, I heard that the current rulers in Egypt hope to have a "sound constitution" worked out in the next month or two. This is an example of the naïve faith in constitutions that I critiqued in Oakeshott on Rome and America . A written constitution can be nice icing on the cake for a polity in which there is already general agreement on how things should proceed. The American Constitution mostly has worked because the American people already mostly wanted the sort of government which it sought to codify in law. But in Egypt the situation is clearly far different: The citizens seem roughly equally divided between those who want an Islamic state and those who want a secular, liberal democracy. The notion that this problem can be solved by the latter group writing up a constitution that essentially says, "We've won: now pipe down and conform" is rather silly. Unfortunately, the fact that an idea is silly does not mean it will not lead to a lot of suff

A Siri design flaw

One of the most annoying things about Siri is that the system tends to work very quickly, or fail very slowly. If Siri is going to get roughly what you're saying, the text usually pops up very quickly. (I use the system mainly for dictation, so I am waiting to see text on screen.) But when Siri is going to fail to get anything out of what I spoke, that failure often takes 20 or 30 seconds. This behavior is the exact opposite of what I want. Of course, I am happy with a fast success. But I wouldn't mind waiting a while if that is what it took to actually get my words "typed." On the other hand, if the system is going to fail, I'd like it to fail right away, so I can start typing while I still remember what I was saying. Would it be possible to fix this? I am not privy to the technical details of the system, but the failures seem to occur mostly when my network connection is weak. The fix that occurs to me is to immediately do a rough check on the connection st


/*                  Cold Boot                  */ #define star * #define here 0xFFFF0000ul void cold (void) {     void (far star yonder) (void) = (void (far star) (void)) here;     (star yonder) (); } /* The usual MSDOS C compilers will accept this code and compile a module defining the function cold(); calling this function will do a cold boot of the computer. */

In today's mail

Came the Korean translation of Economics for Real People . The current roll call: Spanish, German, Polish, Hungarian, Russian, Hebrew, Chinese, and Korean.

Hoppe Bungles Geometry

Jonathan Catalan quotes Hoppe defending Euclidean geometry: “Recognizing knowledge as praxeologically constrained explains why the empiricist-formalist view [of geometry] is incorrect and why the empirical success of Euclidean geometry is no mere accident. Spatial knowledge is also included in the meaning of action. Action is the employment of a physical body in space." "Without acting there could be no knowledge of spatial relations, and no measurement. Measuring is relating something to a standard." "Without standards, there is no measurement; and there is no measurement, then, which could ever falsify the standard. "Evidently, the ultimate standard must be provided by the norms underlying the construction of bodily movements in space and the construction of measurement instruments by means of one’s body and in accordance with the principles of spatial constructions embodied in it. Euclidean geometry, as again Paul Lorenzen in particular has explained, is no

I Couldn't Help But Post This


Exploring Python

Following this lead , I have begun learning Python. So far I find the language OK, if sometimes a bit "constricting." The interactive environment I love. But: 1) The object-oriented features are kind of kludgy. The whole thing with having to declare self as a parameter to an objects functions and prefix it before addressing its variables reeks of "This was retrofitted in with duct tape." 2) But the worst: Relying on indentation to determine blocks. Ooh, that is painful. Ninety percent of the execution errors I have hit have been the result of a tab innocently creeping in where I needed four spaces. Terrible decision .

How Is It Possible...

to write code as bad as Microsoft Powerpoint's "remove background from image" feature? I have absolutely the simplest case imaginable: the entire background is one uniform shade, and everything I want to keep is other shades. It is a computer-generated image , designed, for one thing, to clearly differentiate the background from the fore. All Powerpoint has to do is eliminate every pixel of that background color, and leave all of the others. But apparently it can't, even after a dozen indications from me as to what should be left in and what removed. Aargh! UPDATE: I went into the App Store and bought a program for 10 dollars (Pixelmator) that did the job perfectly the first time.

"Clutch time" is a fetish: it is better just to get way ahead

Here : "One nonconventional idea popularized by the advanced stats movement is the belief that no time frame during a game holds inherently superior value than any other. (This, starkly in contrast to the mainstream fetishization of “clutch time” performance.) Indeed, Daryl Morey once famously said that 'good teams don’t win close ballgames – they avoid them.'"

I Have Taken a Pledge to Stop Procrastinating...

But I have to get to a couple of other things first.

And perhaps nonexistent creatures live there too!

Lewis and Clark narrator (Jeff Bridges, and I quote from memory): The explorers believed the prehistoric creatures such as the wooly mammoth might live in the west. Think of how odd this way of phrasing this is: Of course, Lewis and Clark did not think "prehistoric creatures" existed in the west. "Prehistoric creatures" are those that died out before "historic" times: the elephant and the mammoth evolved about the same time, and the reason we call the mammoth "prehistoric" is it disappeared before any people with writing met it. What Lewis and Clark actually thought was something like, "We don't know if there are still mammoths around: perhaps there are, somewhere out west." The difference in phrasing makes a significant difference in how we view their mentality: the documentary's way of putting it makes them look a little silly, while the second way accurately shows that they were simply ignorant of some things we now know

The generational line in music

Has vanished: "When I was a kid, I didn't listen to Tommy Dorsey. There was a generational line drawn when it came to music. Kids today love Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead -- all kinds of good music." -- Gregg Allman I noticed the same thing. When my daughter had to choose a song for her recent flash mob, she chose "Carry on My Wayward Son" -- a 35-year-old song. When I was a teen, no one was picking music from WWII for anything except perhaps ridicule.

"We live in a world of incredible material diversity"

Or so the guy on the Nova special told me. Compared to what, I wonder. The other worlds this fellow has lived in? UPDATE: Oh my God. I watched about two minutes of the show, which is called Hunting the Elements . I hadn't thought about chemistry in a while, I thought it might be interesting to delve into it for a bit. But apparently Nova thought that having some whiny, sniveling idiot named David Pogue make stupid jokes throughout the show would make science more interesting. He was completely unbearable, however interesting the subject matter was. UPDATE II: By the way, I am sure David Pogue is not really an idiot. The point is, rather, that he thinks we will like science better if he acts like a complete idiot while someone else explains science.

The Room Needs to Be Hotter, Yes, But Colder as Well

I just received an email telling me that, in reference to student X, I should: 1) Keep his/her disability completely confidential. 2) Allow him/her to be accompanied to class by a personal note taker. I'm sorry, but I think most students will notice number two going on, which will kind of obviate the need for me paying attention to number one.

Another funny thing about sunk costs

I've commented before as to how criticizing people for not ignoring sunk costs sits uneasily with methodological subjectivism . But here is another oddity on the topic: Have you noticed that, while sometimes people justify sticking with something because of sunk costs ("I've already spent money for the dress, so now I have to go to the wedding, even though I just fought with the bride and we are no longer friends") but at other times they use a high level of sunk costs to justify dropping an activity? An example of the latter occurs when waiting for, say, the subway: "We've been here 25 minutes: I'm not waiting any longer!" Surely in making that decision, how long we have waited ought to be ignored, and we should just think about how much longer we are likely to wait.

Money Is Not a Claim on Anything

One of the common arguments against fractional reserve banking is that money is a claim on "real" goods and services, and that the issuance of fractional reserve notes is fraudulent because it consists in issuing more "claims" than there are goods. This is a rather shocking doctrine for people who are supposedly followers of Mises to put forward. First of all, the distinction between "real" goods and the... what? fake good?... of money is inconsistent with subjectivism. Of course there is a difference between goods valued for their consumption, and those valued for producing goods valued for direct consumption. But does these people want to say a hammer or a forge are not "real" goods because we don't consume them directly? Secondly, money is not a claim on anything. Mises' prose would have dripped scorn if he had encountered this idea. To see the falsity of this idea, consider an economy using only gold coins as money. One day, it i

Starving People

This morning, I looked in my refrigerator in order to jazz my thinking as to what I would be having for breakfast. An orgasmic flood of feeling washed over me: Isn't it nice to have food . And, oh, it is. Remember "Life will find a way" from Jurassic Park ? That means that however fine things become, life will be oozing under the door to make mere survival possible. There then always will be the starving, the dying, the driven insane by misfortune or mere pain, and... You get the idea. This has no doubt been covered in your philosophy courses, but it was a rather new revelation to me.