Showing posts from 2017

My goal for 2018

Is to discover whether there is a last image among the Apple animated GIFs, or if they are like the integers.

DevOps and the Division of Labor

The benefits of the division of labor were, of course, recognized at least as far back as Plato and Xenophon. Adam Smith famously expounded upon them in The Wealth of Nations . In the early 20th century, this method of increasing productivity was pushed to its limits. Tasks were broken down to the extent that workers with minimal skills could be assigned simple, highly repetitive tasks, and perform them with almost no knowledge of what anyone else on the assembly line was up to. Although this led to higher productivity of standardized products, the disadvantages of extending the division of labor to this extent were not overlooked. Karl Marx noted that the extensive division of labor alienated the worker from the product he was producing: someone who spends all day tightening a particular lug nut may be little able to associate what they do with "making a car." But even, Adam Smith, typically understood as a great proponent of the division of labor, commented: In the pro

I tried to give a lecture...

on how to best construct a dictionary when the items to be stored are known in advance...

The Most Important Intellectual Event of the Last Two Centuries

Has been the development and completion of the critique of Enlightenment rationalism. The figures who accomplished this included: Edmund Burke Alexis de Tocqueville Fyodor Dostoevsky Lewis Carroll G.K. Chesterton T.S. Eliot C.S. Lewis Kurt Gödel Ludwig Wittgenstein Michael Oakeshott Eric Voegelin F.A. Hayek Michael Polanyi Paul Feyerabend Thomas Kuhn Jane Jacobs Alasdair MacIntyre Nassim Nicholas Taleb The job was difficult, because it required using theory to show the limits of theory. (Gödel's incompleteness theorem was an especially clever instance of accomplishing this.) But it is now done, and all that is required is to make the accomplishment more widely known.

O Holy Night

Foolish atheists and fundamentalists both try to judge if Christianity is true by arguing historical evidence. Idiots! Instead, listen to Aaron Neville sing “O Holy Night.” You will hear truth filling your ears.

The Curse of Modernity

"The curse of modernity is that we are increasingly populated by a class of people who are better at explaining than understanding" -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Skin in the Game , p.14

How to "measure" belief

"How much you truly 'believe' in something can be manifested only through what you are willing to risk for it." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Skin in the Game , p. 223

"Beliefs" aren't rational...

only actions are: "There is no such thing as the 'rationality' of a belief, there is rationality of action." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Skin in the Game , p. 220

Thinking marginally about grades

A student asked me today if I could not move her grade, since she was only .05% shy of making the cutoff for the next highest grade. I noted that for any such cut off point, there are always going to be students near the margin, and by moving her up, it would not change that fact: it would just put a new student just below the margin. The error is the same as basketball pundits who think the problem of teams narrowly missing the NCAA tournament can be fixed by "expanding the field"! (Well, expanding it to every single Division I team would fix it!)

The Algorithms Team, Fall 2017


That was a great rendition!

I was watching TV with someone the other day. The CIA was transporting a terrorist, and the flight they all were on were brought down. When the crash investigators showed up, one of them said, "This was a secret rendition flight!" My companion asked, "Why do they call it rendition?" "Well," I answered, "because they sing along the way. Something like: "Well the people outside are frightened Border security's been tightened And there's only one place to go Guantanamo, Guantanamo. Guantanamo!"

An extremely risky Christmas party

Nassim Nicholas Taleb's extreme risk analytics Christmas party.

Zeno for the computer age

If you wish to better understand Zeno's worry about the continuum, you could do worse than to consider loops in software. Case 1: You want to loop over 10 records. You write: for i from 1 to 10     process_record() What could be simpler? OK, let's loop over the positive integers, finding the prime numbers: for i from 1 to ∞     check_for_primality() This loop will run forever, but it is a perfectly valid loop. We can even set it up to loop over all integers: j = 0 for i from 0 to ∞     j = j - 1     print i     print j And with only a little more trouble, we could loop over the rational numbers as well. But what if I ask you to loop over the real numbers between, say, 0 and 1? The problem here is much worse than the loop running forever: the loop can't even get started. We could print out "0"... and then what? There is no "next" real number to which we can proceed. And note: the concept of a limit does not help with this problem at

Open Source Software and Skin In the Game

I have been tinkering in the Haskell programming language recently. Trying to up my game, I have begun reviewing and working on issues in the Cabal project. Soon after submitting a (very) small pull request, the project admitted me to being a full contributor. I was surprised. I'm a Haskell newbie, and it's not my project. A developer linked me to this post  which argues for promoting random contributors to full collaborator status. Its author argues that if someone owns the project as his own, he's a better developer for that project. Admittedly the promoted contributors are not completely random. The author looks for signs showing the developer is responsible and can be held accountable for his work. And (in the author's experience) this has led to higher quality programs than his overseeing all commits.

Old-fashioned excuse: "The dog ate my homework."

Modern excuse: "Dual-factor authentication ate my ability to do my homework."

Why so many died

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

What is the Friggin' problem with the imagination?

I have been going back over my review of Philosophy of Science in Practice: Nancy Cartwright and the Nature of Scientific Reasoning , and want to note an interesting problem, or perhaps pseudo-problem, that I did not have space to bring up in the review. Roman Frigg and James Nguyen, in their essay in the reviewed work, have a very enlightening discussion of how scientific models "represent" some phenomenon. (Roman was one of my lecturers when I studied the philosophy of science at the LSE, and an excellent lecturer at that, so I hope he will forgive my pun on his name in the post title! Also, I am writing this post without the book in front of me, so I beg forgiveness if my rendition of the authors' terminology is not exact.) Frigg and Nguyen's primary criterion for how a scientific model represents is that it is "declared" to represent some class of events: for example, a histogram of adult heights in the United States represents those heights becaus

Single causes come first...

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

An orgy

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

Java install bleg

I installed the newest MacOS, and per usual, it wiped out all Apple developer tools I had installed, as well as Java. (Query: why doesn't Apple notice if the developer tools are installed on the old OS, and conclude, "Hmm, he probably wants those again"?) In any case, I seemed to get Java re-installed (twice now) and the test that everything is OK runs fine, but then an hour or two later, I get... Clicking "More Info..." just brings me right back to the same install page I've been through twice already. Any ideas on what could be happening?

The individual of methodological individualism...

is a modern invention : Prince Modupe of the So-so tribe says that at the turn of the century in Africa, “Any destiny apart from the tribe was, of course, beyond the limits of either imagination or intuition. It was as un­thinkable as that one of the bright orange legs of a milli­pede should detach itself from the long black body of the creature and go walking off by itself.”[9] Chief Luther Standing Bear reports that a Lakota “could not consider himself as separate from the band or nation…to cut himself off from the whole meant to lose identity or to die.”[10] Alexis de Tocqueville emphasizes that in premodern Europe an “aristocracy link[ed] everybody, from the peasant to the king, in one long chain.”[11] Jacob Burckhardt, the great scholar of the Italian Renaissance, explains that during the Middle Ages a “man was conscious of himself only as a member of a race, people, party, family, or corporation.”[12] If I were born in Medieval Europe, I would have understood myself as a p

Re-marketing anarcho-capitalism

Mr. Karaoke sent me the following: Of course, I think Peterson's point is good -- we can't do without government -- and it illustrates how "ancap defense agencies" should be re-marketed by their advocates: here is a better form of government : it is a sort of extreme federalism, with multiple, overlapping jurisdictions associating in loose federations. That might indeed be a better form of government than we have now: we'd have to try it and see! But it is a form of government. Which we need, since, as Peterson notes, we have to reach some agreement on the rules for social interaction. E.g., can one, per Walter Block, pry a falling person's fingers off of one's balcony or shoot a kid who wanders onto one's property to retrieve a ball, or per Roderick Long, are those responses dis-proportional to the intrusiveness of the initial property rights violation? To debate such questions is to engage in politics . And that can't be done away w

The primacy of the concrete

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

The NP Turkey

We have a real problem this Thanksgiving: "With a big turkey, you start running into some big problems. It takes longer to thaw if it's frozen and then exponentially longer to cook." This means that if your 8-pound turkey cooks in 4 hours, your 16-pounder will take perhaps 1000 hours, and your 28-pounder is going to be in the oven for maybe 30,000 years. We need to solve P = NP ? fast, so that we can see if there is a polynomial-time way of cooking our birds!

On the way to the banquet...

There was an entrepreneur, Elon, a great creative genius, who, having made his fortune, retired to a manor high on a hill overlooking a small town. He went there to have peace and quiet in his retirement, but nevertheless he had a number of interactions with the townspeople, and grew quite fond of them. He knew that most of them were not wealthy, and so he decided to throw a great banquet for them, and demonstrate to them his affection. He sent out the invitations, and everyone from the town said they would come. In the days leading up to the banquet, Elon planned an evening that would shower the townspeople with the best of everything: He hired top chefs from around the world to prepare dishes for them beyond compare. He scoured the world for the very finest wines, and laid up bottle after bottle of the those vintages for them. He hired a troupe of dancers and musicians of the highest caliber to create a magical performance that would leave them enchanted. On the day of the banqu

Recognition of the upcoming train wreck...

is growing day-by-day .

No, Deneen is not a reactionary fantasist...

and no, he does not deny liberalism's accomplishments: "First, the achievements of liberalism must be acknowledged, and the desire to 'return' to a preliberal age must be eschewed. We must build upon those achievements while abandoning the foundational reasons for its failures. There can be no going back, only forward." -- Why Liberalism Failed , p. 182 This passage highlights a danger I noted in Oakeshott on Rome and America : while for several centuries Romans simply respected and followed the mos maiorum , the way of the ancestors, when their traditions began to break down, there arose a brand-new traditionalist ideology . Whereas previously Rome's traditions had been followed in an organic way, one which allowed them to also be organically modified, once they began to break down, a faction arose demanding that those traditions be turned into rules , and that those rules must be followed without deviation (and thus without allowing any organic response

The Noble Lie of Liberalism

"The 'Noble Lie' of liberalism is shattering because it continues to be believed and defended by those who benefit from it, while it is increasingly seen as a lie, and not an especially noble one, by the new servant class that liberalism has produced... But liberalism's apologists regard pervasive discontent, political dysfunction, economic inequality, civic disconnection, and populist rejection as accidental problems disconnected from systemic causes, because their self-deception is generated by enormous reservoirs of self-interest in the maintenance of the present system." -- Patrick Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed , p. 180 Deneen makes a particularly important, and often misunderstood, point in the above quote: often, when it is pointed out that it is in the self-interest of commentator X to take view Y, someone will respond, "No, I am sure that X really believes Y!" But that response misses the point: when it is in our self-interest to believe Y, v

To RIng in the New Millenium...

It turns out Rob Dodson and I published this , a nice piece I had completely forgotten!

The great falsehood of liberal anthropology

"[For Hobbes] the state is charged with maintaining social stability and preventing a return to natural anarchy... Human beings are thus, by nature, nonrelational creatures, separate and autonomous." -- Patrick Deneed, Why Liberalism Failed , 32 Proto-liberals like Locke and Jefferson and modern liberals like Mises and Rawls all start from a similar place: we are first and foremost human atoms, who only need enter into social groups in so far as it suits our interest to do so. Our original state was as free individuals, who "contracted" into social groups because we saw it was to our advantage. As Deneen notes, "Even marriage, Locke holds, is finally to be understood as a contract whose conditions are temporary and subject to revision..." (33). Or, as Mises put it: "The fundamental social phenomenon is the division of labor and its counterpart human cooperation. "Experience teaches man that cooperative action is more efficient and p

Have some fun

Have some fun Making boiled eggs On the great white theater group mat Have some fun Making soiled legs While you have your little blue spat Don't you say I didn't shout out, "Heads up! That is a six-toed cat!"

Deneen blogging

Collecting some good quotes from Deneen, along with occasional commentary, in the interest of advancing my review, and your consciousness! "Liberalism has drawn down on a preliberal inheritance and resources that at once sustained liberalism but which he cannot replenish" (29-30). It is no sort of comeback to Deneen's view to point to the great material wealth produced by liberalism, since Patrick is quite aware of this wealth himself, and repeatedly acknowledges its existence. But in his view (and mine too) liberalism is analogous to the guy at the gym that has been popping steroids like mad for 10 years, who, when it is pointed out that he is getting himself into deep trouble, replies, "What?! Don't you see all the weight I can lift?" Why, yes we do, and it is the very thing that has raised your bench press poundage into the stratosphere that has gotten you into this fix. This is not to say we might not be wrong, just that it is foolish to point

Philosophy of Science in Practice

My nearly finished review is here .

Getting Streven with the Fundamentalists

In an essay in Philosophy of Science in Practice , Michael Strevens defines 'fundamentalism' as the notion that "Everything is made up of a single kind of stuff and everything that happens is directed solely by fundamental laws of physics that, depending on the configuration of stuff at one moment, determine its configuration at the next" (69). He goes on to claim that fundamentalism implies that all sciences really should just operate by showing how, say, mate selection in bower birds, or the nature of parliamentary institutions in Medieval Europe, can be derived from the laws of physics alone. The program to make all sciences a branch of physics goes under the name "unity of science." Strevens backs his fundamentalist faith with the claim that "the empirical evidence for fundamentalism has accumulated swiftly" (69). But he presents no such evidence, for, truth be told, there is none: instead, as he admits, "Real science is not only largel

Cursing and re-cursing!

So last night, tired of writing a new Python function whenever I wanted to write a new recurrence test question, I wrote a recurrence harness. It turns a handful of basic lines of code into two, but more importantly, because I can re-use the harness it is worth spending the time to write proper error checking and to memoize it. Here is the code . Below here are some examples. Note that, because this is memoized, we get the 4000th Fibonacci number essentially instantly, while without memoization, the runtime increases faster than the Fibonacci sequence itself, so, even if we could do one recursive call per nanosecond, we would be looking at roughly 1.2 * 10 819 years for the recursive version to finish... and that's a long time for students to wait for their final to be graded. The 4000th Fibonacci number: fibb = {0: 0, 1: 1} def fibf(n, bases):     return recur(n - 1, bases, fibf) + recur(n - 2, bases, fibf) In [3]: recur(4000, fibb, fibf, True) Out[3]: 39

Breaking old ties...

between UNIX files in different directories: So I had the clever idea of hard-linking some of my init files to a git repo and storing the repo on GitHub so I can grab them for anywhere I have a login. ( Here's the repo .) So, for instance, I hard-link my .bash_profile in my home directory to the one in InitFiles, so whenever I update the script from any of the 6 or 7 machines I might login on, I can just pull it down to every other machine. (And I automate the pull each time I login.) But ... the link keeps "breaking." It works, and then a little later, it doesn't, and I have to delete the file from its "proper" login directory and re-link it to the repo version. Any idea what I could be doing wrong? (OK, rob, I've just left you an opening you could drive a truck through...) UPDATE: Rob Dodson (cover artist for EFRP , PUCK , A Song of the Past , and The Idea of Science , among other things) set me straight: I need symbolic links, not hard lin

Materialism's greatest defeasor...

is modern science. Because modern science sees the world first and foremost as systems of mathematical equations. And mathematical equations are not material things! They are ideas. It is almost as though the world... were a world of ideas.

Continuous Delivery

Is not really a method of developing software: it is a method of managing work that is spread across a group of people cooperating within a division of labor. Not practicing continuous delivery is kind of like trying to put on a play by having all of the actors work on their lines by themselves for a few months, and then rehearsing together for the first time the day before the opening.

The noble resistance fighters of Park Slope

I saw one out the other night wearing her "Vive la résitance!" shirt. There is literally no safer position in the world that a resident of Park Slope can take than despising Trump. And yet she thinks her action is on a par with the French resistance fighters who risked execution every day to fight the Nazis.

Cutting waste

"Far more than 50% of the functionality of software is never used." -- Jez Humble "Far more than 50% of the syllables of 'functionality' serve no purpose." -- Gene Callahan

The insidious ideology

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

Why is it "irrational"...

to not want to work with someone who smells bad? I have the unfortunate job of telling someone whom I am mentoring that when they return from the gym and show up at my office, they are a little... ripe. I want to point out to them that this will hurt them when they go out onto the job market, and I almost was going to say to them, "Because employers aren't purely rational." But this view of "rational" assumes that to be rational is to be a disembodied mind. But we are not disembodied minds! So wouldn't it actually be irrational  for us to act as if we were?

Sitting on the Docker Bay

Watching as the apps roll in... Imagine my surprise today when I found Docker asking me to re-start it, and I realized I have been running it for several weeks now!

Who Drives State Growth?

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

Current review queue

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

George Berkeley, Common-sense Realist

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

Chicken horror movies

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

Mises on Immigration

Hat tip to Mr. Karaoke himself: "Mises does recognize that peaceful cultural and political assimilation can take place 'if the immigrants come not all at once but little by little, so that the assimilation process among the early immigrants is already completed or at least already under way when the newcomers arrive.'" Yup. Immigration, just like sex or food, is great... in the right amount. What happens when the rate of immigration dwarfs the size of the native population? Well, we have a great example close at hand... The body of Spotted Elk after the Battle of Wounded Knee.

DevOps also rises

Starting my new course for the Spring of 2018.

Distraction Deterrents in Small Contexts

"distracted from distraction by distraction" - T.S. Eliot I've been reading a little on how Facebook and other social networking software are designed to grab your attention. A strategy is quick reward. You get little shots of dopamine for clicking on a button and seeing an immediate result. It gets me thinking. Why do books increase our attention span over a web-page? Both are strings of words on a rectangular, white page. In that regard, they are the same. Web pages are faster, yes; and you can click them to get rewards in looking at new content. And this does indeed help explain why we are tempted to jump around online in a non-focused manner. But why do we find it easier dive in deep in reading physical books? If it is easier to jump around web-pages, it's more cumbersome to discard a book. You have to put it down (carefully) and get up to pick another book. So we stick around so long as the book still gives us pleasure enough, because changing activities

On my tour of Hell...

I saw a man being continually beaten with a carpenter's hammer, blow after merciless blow. "How can this be just?" I asked my guide. "Well, for one thing, he is here because he beat his wife and two young children to death with a hammer... the medical examiner said 127 blows in all." "I see... but still, blow after blow after blow... surely thousands since we've been watching. Won't the other guy ever stop?" "What other guy?" my guide asked.

Worst IT horror story ever?

I just heard about this from friend who encountered this himself this week: About 10 years ago, Very Big Corporation implemented a Lotus Notes database to track employee requests for Service X from an outside vendor. (The story is already looking bad: how could someone 10 years ago not have known that Lotus Notes was a dead-end?) The "database" was used mostly for its form capabilities: by routing through Lotus Notes, apparently it was very easy to get a form up that forced data entry of the required fields in the proper formats. Five years ago, Very Big Corporation decommissioned Lotus Notes and deployed at different mail and messaging service. Well, decommissioned Lotus Notes except for this one application. But since no one any longer has an active Notes login, now, five years after the decommissioning, my friend just spent three hours on the phone with technical support trying to get his login working again, so that he could make one very simple request to purchase a

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

"of finding your soul mate." "I think you're overthinking it." -- dialogue on  BlueBloods No, under-thinking it! The idea that we meet other people in our lives purely by chance already  assumes  a random, meaningless universe. Of course, in such a universe "having a soul mate" is not just unlikely, it is impossible. The idea of a soul mate  assumes  a meaningful universe where somehow some special, other person came into being just for us. That we would encounter them then would be designed into things. Whichever of the above universes (if either) you believe in, if you begin to calculate the odds of randomly meeting your soul mate, your head is in a terrible jumble!

Why I get mad at you guys sometimes...

I really do have affection for all of my regular commenters. And yes, my temper gets the best of me on occasion, but... When I was 16, I scored a perfect 800 on the History Achievement Test. So at 16, I probably knew more history than most people do in their entire life. Since then, I have read over a thousand more history books. I have plowed through about 30 or so of the Great Courses history series, each of which is equivalent to a full college course on its subject matter. I did a PhD thesis that was heavily historical, and was subsequently published as a book. I am a regular reviewer of books for three history journals: History Review of New Books , British Journal for the History of Philosophy , and Journal of the History of Economic Thought . So please excuse my intemperate reaction, but when one of you "informs" me that Christianity spread in South America mainly through conquest... Well, that leaves me a bit exasperated, OK?

It is a serious moral deficiency...

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

My recent talk at PyGotham 2017

PyGotham is always a great conference, and I was happy to give this talk at this year's iteration.

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

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

Calling a halt to the stupendous storm of stupid

It all started when I posted a little quote from Wittgenstein, which was not an argument for the existence of God at all , but actually an observation that these arguments really are irrelevant. Prateek jumped in and said, "These apologetic arguments for monotheism never make sense because they were developed after the fact, and really monotheism was just the result of a tribal dispute." (I summarize! And note that, to his credit, Prateek has now admitted he was thread-jacking, and that neither my post nor the quote in it made any "argument" for God at all.) I pointed out that there was no argument here, but decided (to my deep regret) I'd also make what I thought to be the rather indisputable point that you can't defeat an argument by noting that it's genealogy is tainted with some black sheep ancestors! And furthermore, bad deeds done to spread an idea do not make it false. But apparently the fact that a theist can make sense so enrages some ath