Showing posts from 2018

The Reductio of Human Rights

"It's a human right" is what you say when you favor some political position but don't have any good arguments handy for it: You want universal healthcare? "It's a human right!" Free school lunch? "It's a human right!"

I encountered a perfect reductio of this tendency recently when I was told that "The students receiving a syllabus that clearly lays out grading rubrics is a human right!"


People often think the job is about telling people what to do.

Occasionally, but much more often, it is about smoothing out workflows.

Quick Guide to Being a Corpse

When you first become a corpse, it will be new to you, and you might get a lot of things wrong. And that could produce high levels of customer dis-satisfaction. So here are some tips that have generally been found to work... although it is important to remember that everyone is a corpse in their own way! There is no "one-casket-fits-all" approach!

When you're a corpse, your main job is to just lay there. So don't up and walk around... please!When you're a corpse, you can't see. So don't look at things: you won't see them anyway.When you're a corpse, you won't have feelings. So no laughing or crying!When you're a corpse, you won't have mental health problems. Cause you won't have a mind. So don't start acting all crazy and shit.When you're a corpse, don't try doing drugs. It won't turn out well.If you're unhappy with how you're being embalmed, don't get all "up in the embalmers face." Blame is n…

The uselessness of "the greatest good for the greatest number" as a choice criterion

"To have understood the polymorphous character of pleasure and happiness is of course still rendered those concepts useless for utilitarian purposes; if the prospect of his or her own future pleasure or happiness cannot for the reasons which I have suggested provide criteria for solving the problem of action in the case of each individual, it follows that the notion of the greatest happiness for the greatest number is a notion without any clear content at all. It is indeed a pseudo-concept available for a variety of ideological uses, but no more than that. Hence when we encounter its use in practical life, it is always necessary to ask what actual project or purpose is being concealed by its use." -- Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, p. 64

The Ross-Littlewood Paradox

This kind of thing ought to alert people to the difference between a mathematical formalism and reality; instead, it seems to lead them to claim that reality is paradoxical! Or maybe that's not what they really mean, but that's the way they talk, e.g.:

In the Ross-Littlewood supertask, each step (starting at some time before noon) is performed in half the time as the previous step: "This guarantees that a countably infinite number of steps is performed by noon."

Sure, within the formalism it "guarantees" that. But it's not as though any process could really be done in this fashion! So our formalism has assumed something impossible: at that point, of course it will lead to paradoxes: if we assume A = !A, anything at all follows.

And the whole rest of the "problem" arises simply because we've started out by assuming an impossibility. We put 10 balls in an urn each "turn," and take out 1: how many are left at "the end" of…

How Do Actively Gay Catholic Clergy Understand Themselves?

Much of the discussion about actively gay Catholic clergy have centered on the question of "What has gone wrong here?" Some answers have pointed to the decline in sexual morals in our modern age while others indicated that the real problem lies with the antiquated rules of the Catholic Church.

But this morning I was struck by an orthogonal question: "How do actively gay Catholic clergy themselves understand what they are up to?" After all, they are the public face of an institution the doctrines of which stand adamantly opposed to their lifestyle. A few of them, like James Martin, publicly reject those doctrines. And a few of them are probably merely cynical: "Hey, I've got a decent job, and I get access to lots of guys!"

But I am suspicious that we might find a form of esotericism at work in many cases, where there is a (sincere) belief that the doctrines of the Church are, indeed, sound for the masses, while those who truly understand the concealed…

Automating your builds


Rights and The Image of God

When you say that mankind is made in the image of God, we are directed to look at each and every particular person to see how exactly they bear that image. It's an invitation. The policeman establishes order in the world for reasons of X, Y, and Z. My grandmother's cookies is an expression of generous-loving kindness. I see God in that.

When you say that someone bears a right, say equality, we are directed to look at an abstraction that all people bear in common. A mask of "equals" appears before the person, and no longer do you see the person, but rather the abstraction of "equals," which tells you nothing on how to relate to this particular person. The policeman is the same as my grandma.

Which frame of mind do you think is more rich and productive in giving good judgements about people?

Agile Development and the Division of Labor

My talk at StackOverflow:

Teaching irrational numbers

I was asking students in my discrete mathematics lecture, "What is an irrational number?"

The answers I got were along the lines of, "It is a number whose representation after the decimal point never repeats or terminates." (Yeah, they did not put it quite that formally.)

OK, but... I really think that understanding is inadequate, because it begs the question of how the heck we know that the decimal representation of, say, π, never repeats or terminates! Certainly, no one has ever calculated that representation out to infinity and found no repetition or termination. (Yes, I know, the very phrasing of what I am saying in the previous sentence is ridiculous: but that's my point!)

To really understand why some number is irrational, one has to grasp why trying to represent that number as a ratio sends one onto a never-ending spiral of closer and closer fractional approximations of the irrational number. And once students get that, they can understand that an irrat…

"I will tolerate everything except intolerance!"

When it is pointed out that liberalism* is not some value-neutral arbiter of the political/social scene, but is itself a value-laden position, we often hear the above response. (Apparently liberals' supposed love for "original thinking" is not as strong as they imagine.)

I have pointed out before this assertion is essentially meaningless, because what it comes down to in practice is "I will call positions/actions/speech acts I don't like 'intolerant,' so that then I do not have to tolerate them!"

Let us look at a simple examples: consider a Muslim who tolerates arranged marriages for children, but not cartoons mocking Mohammed. A liberal will refer to that Muslim as "intolerant" of free speech. But the Muslim can just as correctly assert that the liberal is intolerant of arranged child marriages. Of course, the Liberals will protest, "What nonsense! A cartoon mocking Mohammed is just someone exercising their right to self-expression,…

What is DevOps?


My new chair?

My department is moving to a new building, and all of the faculty got ask for their furniture orders.

I put in a request for a chair like this:

Liberal Intolerance

'The liberal order, like Assyria or Babylon of old, obliterates alternative traditions and brings to an end the "order of free and independent nations, each pursuing the political good in accordance with its own traditions and understanding."'

More here.

The World in the Model

My review of Mary Morgan's book is now available here.

The futility of utility

Utilitarianism is one of the many desperate attempts to replace a moral reality grounded in cosmic order (the Tao, the Dharma, Maat, the Way of Heaven, etc.) with one invented by humans. The calculations it suggests we should perform are absolutely impossible. Even if it were possible to quantify "utility," in a way that allowed interpersonal utility comparisons, the utilitarian calculus supposed is still ridiculous: an agent would need to know exactly how their action would impact every single other person in the world, for the rest of time, so long as the world exists, to correctly calculate whether their action "maximized utility" across all humans (or all living beings, if one is an animal rights sort?).

Pretty obviously, no one can actually perform anything remotely approaching such a calculation: in fact, no one can even perform such a calculation even if we (artificially) limit the calculation to "How will your proposed action impact your (family / nei…

My favorite series of programming books yet


"Parts of the gorge are almost 2297 feet deep"

This was displayed on my exercise bicycle on my cruise ship, as I was biking some Tour de France course on the bike's display.

My first thought was "What a weirdly specific number they chose to follow the vague word 'almost.'"

My second thought was, "Oh, they made the same mistake as the people who stated that the average human body temperature is '98.6.'"

What is the mistake?

But as soon as we can replace them with robots...

And in other DevOps Cafe news, a guest mentioned, "people are our most expensive things, so we should optimize their productivity."

I believe he thought he was demonstrating how much he cares about people!

Or... I'm just babbling...

On the DevOps Cafe podcast I was listening to today, one of the guests said, "this helps us to understand rich statistical observability."

If you ever find yourself talking like that, take a year or two-long vow of silence to let the crud clear out before you speak again.

More on that shaving ad

It is from Braun. You can see it for yourself on YouTube: I can't produce it at will, but I see it a lot.

Some twenty-something guys are shaving while staring into their phones. The voice over says something about how Braun electric razors are so good that they leave you time for what is really important.

And then you see the phone screen, and the guys are playing video games.

Look how much they took out in taxes!

People voice this complaint about their paychecks from time to time.

It is silly, because:

1) In the absence of the government your taxes pay for, your salary would be... well, you have no idea! If libertarian anarchists are right, it would be much higher. But what if communists anarchists take over? Your salary, if it is high, might be much lower. Or maybe social democrats are right, and we already have the perfect sized government that happens to be maximizing your salary already...?

2) But, much more importantly, you have no idea how much you are paying in taxes right now.


Well, let's hear from Ludwig von Mises: "It is the operation of the market, and not the government collecting the taxes, that decides upon whom the incidence of the taxes falls and how they affect production and consumption" (Human Action, Scholar's Edition, p. 260).

This is very important and I think the full consequences of this are rarely thought through, but it means that, while the …

Hell on... ocean

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

I ain’t no half-educated pedant!

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

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

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

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

Is the word "method" even allowed anymore?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Origins and Spread of Anooranosism

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

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

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

The strange nature of computer science education

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

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

Our New Book

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

The Best Books for Inspiring a Software Engineer

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

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

What else would you add to the list?

Two dolts...

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

Ed Feser nails such combox trolls:

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

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

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

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

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

“The Wonders of Science”

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

Because it’s old, it must be dumb!

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

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

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

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

What is amazing is, …

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

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

It works perfectly!

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

Incorrect Spam Designations

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

My apologies.

"The sun is a symbol...

of the risen Christ."

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

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

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

Response A makes no more sense than Response B.

Who Am I?

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

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

"Karl Popper described…

"He isn't college educated."

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

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

Algocynfas advances!

We can now do minimum spanning trees.

Next up: binary search trees.

David Attenborough, empty posh accent

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Kelp, l…

Great paper on computer science education


Racist dog whistles

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

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

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

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

More sportswriter math silliness

Here, from Zach Lowe:

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

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

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


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

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

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

Back to PropArgs Again

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

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

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

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

Too Experienced

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

Qu'est-ce que c'est?

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

Promise versus reality

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

The Tyranny of Metrics

My review is online here.

Real programmers understand that...

"Computers are dumb." -- Bjarne Stroustrup

Animated Algorithms

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

Kirzner review almost complete


Let me know how I can improve it!

Does profit equal "social improvement"?

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

He writes:

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

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

The most successful government program ever?

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

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

Software Development as a Discovery Procedure

is almost complete.

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

McCarthy's B.S.

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

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

Succinct, Simple Semaphor Sought

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

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

My hovercraft is full of eels...

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

The problem is, my Mac has no DVD drive.

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

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

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

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

So now I've got this as well.

Extreme Risk Analytics

Spring 2018 party:

More Tyranny of Metrics

Another excerpt from my forthcoming review:

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

Pessimistic Errors

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

The Silliness of the "Moderns"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kaizen and Skin in the Game

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

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

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

An odd idea of how to hold a rally

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

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

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

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

If I were Jason Day...

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

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

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

I'm back!

Assembly Language for the Web!

How many syllables in "mathematical"?

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

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

Rationalism in Management

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

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

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

Subjectivity: a matter of scope

Kirzner on Social Evolution, Menger, etc.

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

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

"Objective Facts"

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

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


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

Mulling over my Kirzner review

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

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

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

I've Got You Under My Skin

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

Biking in the city

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

The Failure of Anti-Liberalism

A good essay from John Medaille.

The limits of the model of perfect competition

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

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

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


I've got you surrounded!

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

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

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

Bucket Lists

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

Coming around, coming in circles

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

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

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

The one true church

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

Google’s phony feminism

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

Google Javadoc Standards ...

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

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

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

“Robot” is a nonsense category

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

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

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

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

No one plays against “odds”

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Lord,

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

He did it his way...

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

Elevating your English

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

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

Now Emu86 has a nice website explaining it..

as well.

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

That cute Docker whale

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

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

How Did Patriarchy Get Started?

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

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

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

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

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

The Genius of G.K. Chesterton

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

Agile and the Division of Labor: Your Comments Sought

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

Hey, Whose Blog Is This?

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

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

The Golden Age of the Barbarians

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

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

Speaking of Codswallop

Someone just brought this ball of dung to my attention.

A quote:

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

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

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

The "collapse" of early states

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

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

The State and Slavery

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

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

Early states and coerced labor

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

Early statecraft

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

There are two problems I see in this passage:

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

Karl Popper Was All Wet