Showing posts from December, 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