Showing posts from October, 2016

Another GitHub book project

Is now online .

My Review of _Philosophy Between the Lines_

Has been published at last . (This link will work for the first fifty readers, I believe.)

"I have a right to my opinion."

One hears this a lot from liberals. Indeed, it could be taken as another of the key facades of liberalism. (Facade because liberals don't really mean this when they say it. If the people of some state have the opinion, say, that men should use the men's bathroom, and women should use the women's bathroom, liberals are quite happy to try economically ruin that state for believing that.) Legally, of course, one has a "right" to any belief whatsoever. But liberals usually mean much more: they mean that morally , everyone has a "right" to their own opinion. That is nonsense. If one's opinion is in error, one has an obligation to correct it, and bring it toward the truth. As Thaddeus Kozinski puts it : "Of course, the existence of a pluralism of 'truths' is not a good thing, for there is only one truth, and error is the result of sin. Pluralism, in short, must be seen, per se, as a grave defect of spiritual, intellectual, social, and po

My GitHub home page

Is here . Of course, one purpose of my linking to this is to publicize my work! But also I want to convey how easy GitHub and GitHub Pages make putting up this sort of site.

My forthcoming book on Berkeley

I've greatly expanded the coverage of the existing material . This is a book I have a contract for already, so I hope in two years you can see it in print.

Indra Agent-Based Modeling

We now have a web site up for Indra .

Just go ahead and multiply

You have some probabilities: 70% chance a consumer will want to go to a store of type x , and 30% the consumer wants to go to a store of type y . you have some mechanism in place to take these percentages and cause them to result in the appropriate proportion of actions. But what if there is no store of type x ? Just write a function that returns one if a store of that type exists, and zero if it does not. Then multiply the percentage times that return value. You need the function anyway, so that is no overhead. But you might be tempted to write an if statement that zeroes out the % value when the type of store in question does not exist. In general, simply going ahead and multiplying, even if you are only multiplying by one, makes for tidier, easier to maintain code. Don't unnecessarily multiply entities! (The conditional statement being a new, unnecessary entity.)

Thinking for one's self

The other day I was talking to a woman professional who had gotten involved in a "women in business" network. She went off on how she was so tired of men telling her what to think, and that she was going to be thinking for herself, etc., etc. What was amazing was that this was all standard boilerplate material that you could find handed out at a "women in business" network dinner: there was not an original thought in the entire speech. By the way, there is a very straight-forward solution available to women who think they are discriminated against in large companies: start your own company! This is especially the case in the financial industry. Stocks, bonds and options have no idea if it is a woman or a man buying them. If your ideas are better than those of the jerk in a suit for whom you are working, go out and trade yourself!

Another book project...

going up on GitHub  here .

Yet Another GitHub Project Page Is Born

Studies in Rationalism . Now that I've taken the time to figure out GitHub Pages, I realize this is what I've been waiting for. The big thing is that this isn't just a way to put up web sites: it is a way to put up web sites for collaborative projects that can involve a multitude of contributors, and it can track and reconcile changes made by multiple people to shared documents.

Remembering the order of the CSS margin property

You give the style margins in the following order: top, right, bottom, left. But I kept having trouble remembering this and had to keep looking it up. Until I thought of Charles Barkley. The order is what Charles would tell Kenny Smith about how the Warriors played against the Spurs: "The Warriors played trbl, tonight, Kenny, just trbl."

Popular economic idiocy

Midsomer Murders is a kind of silly British crime show. For one thing, it is supposed to take place in an idyllic, rural English county. But this county seems to suffer about three murders per week, and nobody but nobody ever murders just a single person. But you know me… addicted to plots. And so sometimes I watch anyway. The other day, the murder involved the local noble family, the residents of the village manor. One of them was going to buy the local pub, and then backed out. The detective interviewing the pub owner was shocked at the agreed-upon price: "You were selling at well below market value!" The implication is that, being the lords of the manor, members of the noble family had extra-market power to semi-coerce sales from the villagers. And then the discussion turns to the sale going south. The pub owner complains, "When he backed out, we were devastated!" For the writers, "market value" is apparently some abstract number, perhaps on

Psychiatric drugs and fragility

For those of you who haven't read Antifragile , Taleb's final book in his Incerto quartet, it is very much worth your time. It's central idea is simple: uncertainty and ups and downs are an essential part of life, not accidents to be corrected. But what's more, the attempt to eliminate them and make life all pleasant smoothness (like an automobile ride in a luxury car commercial) produces fragility . For my Austrian friends, you will like the fact that Taleb takes the business cycle as a paradigmatic case: by trying to smooth out all ups and downs in business activity, central banks produce huge crashes like 1929-1932 and 2007-2008. But this principle applies in many, many other domains of life as well. In fact, once you see it as a general principle, you start finding it everywhere. This morning I was thinking about it in terms of psychiatric drugs. The idea behind these drugs is that no one should ever feel bad. Just look at the TV ads: once you get hooked on thes

How did this happen?

Yesterday I used Google translate to translate some Polish text. Today I got asked to apply for a temporary job as a Polish-English translator for some legal documents. That can't be a coincidence, can it? But if it's not a coincidence, how the heck did this translation company find out I was doing this? Does Google sell this information? It seems like that would freak people out. UPDATE: I understand targeted ads, and have received them often. But in those cases, I understood Google to be doing something like promising, "We'll put your ad for X in front of people who have searched for X." But that doesn't offer the specific names and email addresses of people who have searched for X. If people are searching for hemorrhoid cream, the advertiser gets ads in front of them, but without knowing specifically who those people are. What I got was a personal email .

A Great Piece from Claes Ryn

Here .

Small Is Beautiful

"A rule then hit me: with the exception of, say, drug dealers, small companies and artisans tend to sell us healthy products, ones that seem naturally and spontaneously needed; larger ones -- including pharmaceutical giants -- are likely to be in the business of producing wholesale iatrogenics, taking our money, and then, to add insult to injury, hijacking the state thanks to their army of lobbyists. Further, anything that requires marketing appears to carry such side effects. You certainly need an advertising apparatus to convince people that Coke brings them 'happiness'..." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile , p. 402

"Computers represent numbers as...

sequences of 0s and 1s." It is amazing how many times I have heard the above nonsense. Folks, there are no 0s or 1s inside your computer: There are flows of electricity and magnetized plates. Humans interpret those electro-magnetic states as 0s or 1s. The only 0s or 1s your computer has are in the serial number written on the outside of the box, or on the surface of a microchip inside it, giving its model number!

Another web course

I've almost completed cutting my course materials for statistics and probability over to HTML stored in GitHub. Here is the course as it stands. UPDATE: I had to move the site. The old way of serving pages proved to be buggy.

Can globalization be stopped?

I heard a student ask an economics professor the above recently. His answer was, "No, of course not!" The best way to get someone to passively accept the beating you are giving them is to get them to think it is inevitable. The right question is, "HOW will globalization be stopped?" The possible answers are: 1) The globalizing elite will be defeated politically. 2) We will suffer a global economic or ecological catastrophe. Reference: See Babel, Tower of.

I know that the hypnotized never lie

If you've been hypnotized by a good persuasion campaign, you can be certain of this: whatever it is they want to make you believe, you will be quite certain that you came to believe it all on your own, and you will be convinced you have very good reasons for believing it. That's what makes it hypnosis, rather than just ordinary marketing. The tell is how contrived those reasons turn out to be if they are examined closely: in fact, you are drawing on your clothes in green magic marker not to show solidarity with imprisoned environmentalists, but because you are hypnotized.

Playing a machine

When I play my computer chess program, at a certain point in the game, it will begin to simply throw pieces at me: "Here, have my queen! Here, have my rook!" It does this when I have a forced checkmate, in order to delay the checkmate by a couple of moves. This is silly, because: 1) If I have seen the check mate, it should not matter to my opponent whether it happens in five moves or in seven. 2) If I haven't seen the checkmate, the computer has just alerted me to the fact that there is one. 3) If I still can't find the checkmate, the computer has handed me the game anyway, since it's given up all its pieces except the king. Of course, I excuse it: it is just a machine. It doesn't even know that it is playing chess. It doesn't know what an opponent is. It doesn't understand the idea of winning. Like a marble rolling down an inclined plane, it is just mechanically doing exactly what it was built to do. And Silas, just relax and watch a football game or


I was dictating posts from my phone today! Siri was clearly having an off day.

Did any new rock group ever...

(setting aside groups made up of well-established musicians, like Crosby, Stills, and Nash) ever come out with a first album as sophisticated as Steely Dan? Put on some earphones and check this track out:

One good thing about pseudocode

It never hangs your pseudo-program, nor makes your pseudo-computer crash!


An interesting post from Scott Adams. As usual, as soon as he talks philosophy, he talks nonsense. But his point about hypnotism is good. An example: Trump says that because he is a celebrity, women let him do anything: even grab their... Women (celebrity obsessed women, at least) don't mind if he does this. Now this is all pretty crude and doesn't show Trump in a good light. Well, almost immediately, Team Clinton and its allies (meaning 95% of the media) began repeating, again and again, that Trump had boasted of sexually assaulting women. And even though Trump quite explicitly said that women let him do these things, many, many people are actually sure that Trump said that the women were unwilling, and that he was assaulting those women. After all, if something is said again and again in the New York Times , the Washington Post , Slate , CBS News , CNN , etc., etc. how could it possibly be false? That's hypnotism!

Open Course Management

As part of my effort to open up course management software, I am starting to compose main pages for my courses. Next, we plan to build an interface to make creating such pages as well as the lecture pages they link to, and storing them in GitHub, easy for non-programmers. Here is my first main page , with links to the lectures already given. Let me know what you think.

People Rigging Election

Roundly mock man for claiming election is rigged.

Our precious

I tried to leave my smart phone in my office before a lecture. But I got to the lecture, and lo and behold, there it was in my pocket. I was reminded of Bilbo trying to leave the One Ring behind when he was leaving the Shire at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings . I suggest that when you see people wandering around paying attention to their phones while neglecting the date / friend / child / spouse who is with them, picture them hissing "My precious," kind of like Gollum.

Binary Search Trees

Here is my lecture on binary search trees.

I didn't consent to that!

Generally, a fatuous complaint. Among the things I didn't consent to: The law of gravity The number of planets The fact I speak English My birth Males can't bear children Sunrise in the east Having two legs Being mortal Electro-magnetic attraction The evolution of species Having to eat Needing to excrete Nose hairs Needing air Subject-verb agreement Driving on the right Toenail growth Etc., etc. It is nonsense to complain about, say, the nature of sin as something "I didn't consent to!" and ignore all of these other things one didn't consent to!

Dylan's Nobel Prize

Richly deserved. I hear a bunch of whiney "artistes" who write works others can't understand are griping about it. To be expected!

Blogger Weirdness

Every time I edit a previously saved post, Blogger is doubling it. I keep deleting duplicates, but if you see redundant posts, blame Blogger, not me.

States' rights and slavery

Anyone defending the idea that the people of the states in America have the right to decide their own laws on matters not explicitly assigned to the federal government in the U.S. Constitution will almost inevitably have someone appear, like the zombie in the Woods– Murphy videos , moaning, "Slavery!" What is amusing here is that such zombies have things exactly backwards: there was no national consensus to outlaw slavery, and the only thing enabling some parts of the United States to be free of this egregious institution was... states' rights! It was only the fact that northern states could ban this practice unilaterally that created a large block of the country where slaveholding interests did not have political power, thus enabling the elimination of slavery in the entire country. Hat tip to historian Joseph Stromberg for his advice on this post. UPDATE: And of course, sometimes, states' rights were employed to enable bad things, like segregation in the An

Fragilistas jogging

At Purchase College there is a ring road that runs all around the campus. On the outer side of that road, the is a very wide grassy verge. People would jog around this ring all the time. Every single person I ever saw jogging did so in the road, and not on the grass. They are what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls "fragilistas": they want everything in life to be perfectly smooth, with no bumps or dog poop. In their effort to smooth out life, however: 1) They avoid building the strength and adaptability one gets from landing on a bump periodically; and 2) They set themselves up for much bigger risks. In this case, their odds of getting hit by a car have obviously risen tremendously versus jogging on the grass. In an economy run by fragilistas, the attempt to banish recessions leads to periodic catastrophic crashes. A childhood run by fragilista parents tries to shelter a kid from every bump and bruise, leaving him catastrophically unprepared for when real trouble comes dow

The courtier intellectuals

“Some of these courtier intellectuals imagine that they’re formulating timeless ideas. They are too conceited and provincial to understand that they’re just pandering to the powers that be. They’re buttressing the system, which also rewards them handsomely. They’re bought and paid for, morally and financially.” -- Claes Ryn, A Desperate Man , pp. 289-290 Here I give a shout out to Ezra Klein and Matthew Yglesias!

The Looting of America

"What Donald kept saying about the world of investment banking and its relation to the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Treasury Department, the U.S. Congress, and the International Monetary Fund, suggested that ruthless financial interests were engaged in virtual looting in the American and international markets." -- Claes Ryn, A Desperate Ma n, p. 193

Women as Leaders

With Joan of Arc, God gave us a clear sign that we should not dismiss someone as a potential leader simply because she is a woman. On the other hand, that does not mean that we live in an unjust world until 50% of all presidents, prime ministers, and CEOs are women!

The Media and the Present Order

“But the media and journalism are dominated by people who help generate and justify the present order of things… People who want a career in those fields have to give proof of allegiance to the reigning mind-set, or at least not be dissenters in any serious way.” -- Claes Ryn, A Desperate Man , p. 266

The Tell for Cognitive Dissonance, II

Someone I know posted on Facebook tonight that no one should be able to vote for Donald Trump after his crude remarks about women were made public. Now, I found this curious, and I asked: "But wait, in the 1990s, Democrats kept telling me that a politician's 'private' sexual behavior is absolutely none of our business, and we should just butt out. Is that no longer the case, or does it apply only to Democrats?" His response was, "Unfriended, troll." I privately messaged him because I thought he must be kidding (I have known him for many years), and in response, he called me a liar! ( That is particularly bizarre: how could anything I wrote be read as a lie ?) And I realized what had happened: this fellow held two clearly contradictory positions: in regards to Bill Clinton, who for sure came all over a twenty-year-old very junior subordinate in the Oval Office, and most likely forced himself on other women, his 'private' life is comple

The Tell for Cognitive Dissonance, I

When you challenge someone's beliefs and rather than explaining why you are wrong, they explode with anger , that is an almost sure sign they are experiencing cognitive dissonance. Somewhere inside they know the challenger is correct, but they are deeply committed to the position that he is wrong. It is this tension that produces the outburst of anger: it is the only way to relieve the tension short of changing their stance, which they are not willing to do.


"When it comes to narratives, the brain seems to be the last province of the theoretician-charlatan. Add neurosomething to a field, and suddenly it rises in respectability and becomes more convincing as people now have the illusion of a strong causal link..." Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile , p. 351

Randomized Algorithms

Lecture notes .

Why most social science "studies" should simply be dismissed out of hand

We can always data mine for correlations until we get one we like. So when a socialist does a "study" proving that capitalists are psychopathic, or a libertarian "demonstrates" that lax environmental regulation makes us healthier... just ignore them. (These things might be true, but you can figure the studies themselves are worthless.) The only studies that one should pay any attention are one's where the study's author expected the opposite result, but reluctantly reports that the study contradicted his expectations. So when Roland Fryer set out to show bias in police shootings, but found none, that is worth paying attention to. Similarly, when Gregory Clark attempted to show that social mobility had increased in modern times, but found it hadn't, again, that is worth noting.

The "courage" to denounce Trump

In my social media feed, I found an article by an academic in which he wrote that Trump is unfit to be president. In response, someone in the comments section said that his editorial was "very courageous." SMH. Maybe you think this fellow is correct . But in the current political climate, there is hardly a less "courageous" stance possible than for an academic to publicly note that he does not support Trump!

Why ideologies usually need big government

The essential character of an ideology is that it is a revolt against reality. For instance, in reality, people wish to have control over the things they create with their labor, and thus private property is a natural part of human existence. But the communist is upset by this and wishes reality were different than it is. He declares that private property it is actually unnatural and a form of theft. But it is hard to get people to turn against nature. Simply asking everyone to give up their private property won't work: what is needed is the availability of force, and lots of it , to punish those who will not buy into the ideologue's distortion of reality. The reader might provide more examples for his/her self.

I Hate Word Fads

The newest one in the NBA commentariat is " transcendent ." Everybody and his uncle is now a "transcendent talent." I'm now waiting for someone to declare that LeBron James is "one in being with the Father."

Where'd all of my links go?

I arrived it this blog the other day to find all of the links formerly on right-hand side were gone. I have no idea where they went. And so I am reconstructing my blog roll from scratch. Perhaps Blogger new it will time for me to do some housekeeping. In any case, as I visit things, they will go back up there again.


I was explaining to my daughter about the Bacharach-Warwick hitmaking combo. She is very much a cultural historian, and I was trying to convey to her how that duo very much epitomized a certain aspect of the 60s. But doing so also got me thinking about their hits. Sometimes they were a bit kitschy, but at their best... The moment I wake up Before I put on my makeup I say a little prayer for you... If I ever write three lines that good, my Lord can take me from the earth that day, and I will not complain. And this makes me break down and cry, when the duo greets each other: By the way, Paul Griffin , who played piano on an incredible number of hits ("Peg," "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," "Like a Rolling Stone," "Leaving on a Jet Plane," "American Pie," etc.) once said he was always amazed when Bacharach called him in to play piano, since Bacharach was such a tremendous piano player himself.