Archive for September, 2011


Non-algorithmic pixie dust

So I’m still listening to that Learning Company Course on Consciousness. It’s interesting, keeps my mind awake, although so far there’s nothing that’ll be new to anyone who has an undergraduate degree in the area (raises hand), or who’s just done alot of reading.

In the lecture on Consciousness and Physics, I was somewhat disappointed that the professor repeated Roger Penrose’s incompleteness-theory-based argument that thinking things can’t be (just) carrying out algorithms (and therefore that computers, say, can’t think), with a straight face, and without pointing out the difficulties. I think that argument is pretty much entirely wrong, and not even in very subtle ways, so I will rail against it here (I originally typed that I would “inveigle” against it here, and was proud of myself for spelling it right, even though it’s entirely the wrong word).

Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem says (quite surprisingly and counterintuitively, which is why it’s famous) that any formal system (that is, any set of symbols and rules about how you can manipulate them to derive some from others) that is at least powerful enough to represent arithmetic (like, say, the digits and plus and equal signs and stuff), and that is consistent (that is, there’s no statement S where you can both prove that S is true, and prove that it’s false, in the system), is incomplete, where incomplete means that there is at least one statement that is true in the system that cannot be proven in the system. If you want to prove that true statement, you have to add it as an axiom. (And the resulting system is now unable to prove some other true statement, so it’s still incomplete.)

(This immediately seems counterintuitive, because after all what could “true in a formal system” mean, apart from “provable in that system”? It turns out those really are different, and realizing that was one of the more interesting things about learning about the Incompleteness Theorem in the first place.)

Now Roger Penrose, who is really good at mathematics and physics and Minkowski spaces and geometric tilings and all, but as far as I can tell not all that good at philosophy, famously argues that the Incompleteness Theorem shows that we humans cannot be merely executing algorithms when we think, because things that execute algorithms can be modeled as formal systems, and (the argument goes) we humans can do arithmetic, and we are consistent, and yet there are no statements that are true but we humans can’t prove them.

Or, as Professor Robinson puts it in the Course Guidebook here, “[w]e are able to reflect on our own problem-solving maneuvers without importing into the system some set of axioms, otherwise unknown to us, in order for us to make sense of what we are thinking.”

Now this is awfully sloppy. The Incompleteness Theorem isn’t some broad fuzzy statement that a formal system can’t “reflect upon” its own “problem-solving maneuvers” without adding extra axioms; it’s that it can’t prove every single true statement without doing so.

Kind of an important difference.

To pummel this completely into the ground, for this argument to hold any water, three things would have to be true:

Human thought is at least powerful enough to do arithmetic.

Human thought is consistent.

Human thought is able to prove every true statement implied by its beliefs.

Not only are these not all true, I think it’s pretty clear that none of them are true. In detail:

Human thought is not powerful enough to do arithmetic. Now how can I say that? We do arithmetic all the time! But for the purposes of the Incompleteness Theorem, we have to not just be able to do some arithmetic, we have to be able to do it all. I can add pretty big numbers together, I can (with some outside assistance) prove some moderately complex theorems. But that’s a (literally) vanishingly small fraction of what the Incompleteness Theorem requires. I can’t add the vast majority of trillion-digit numbers, and I would bet money that Penrose can’t either. The usual proof of the Incompleteness Theorem relies on utterly enormous proofs, proofs which if written down would probably require a book larger than the Earth. I can’t generate, or verify, or even begin to understand, a proof that big (and neither can Penrose, or any other human).

One response to this is what while humans can’t do all arithmetic, we can do some bounded subset of it; some arithmetic that doesn’t extend to numbers bigger than N for some finite N, for instance. And that’s possible, but the Incompleteness Theorem as far as I know has never been proven for bounded arithmetics; that is, it tells us nothing whatever about systems that are powerful enough to do bounded arithmetic. So if that’s what we are, the theorem tells us nothing about ourselves.

Another response would be to say that while we can’t actually do all of arithmetic (due to not living long enough to add random trillion-digit numbers, to losing interest long before understanding the Earth-sized theorem, etc), we can do it all in principle. This has the nice feature of sounding good; the problem with it is that it doesn’t actually mean anything without further elaboration, and I don’t know of any further elaboration that saves the argument. (For instance, you might end up proving that something that really isn’t anything much like a human at all, and can’t in fact exist, isn’t just executing an algorithm, but how interesting is that?)

Secondly, human thought is not consistent. This will be blindingly obvious to some people :) but apparently not to all professional philosophers. I am quite certain that I have at least one false belief; and just to avoid amusing paradoxes I will add that I am quite certain that I have at least one false belief other than this one. I am quite certain that I believe at least one pair of things that contradict each other. And I am quite certain that you, and Roger Penrose, do also.

Anyone who thinks that all of their beliefs are consistent, and that none contradicts any other, is someone that I wouldn’t want in a position of power or responsibility; such persons are dangerous. Human thought, and belief, are very very fallible, and it’s important not to forget that.

And last, humans cannot prove all of the true statements implied by their beliefs. Another shocker, eh? In fact except possibly for some really heads-down mathematical theorists with no lives, I’d say that humans cannot prove the vast majority of the true statements implied by their beliefs, or for that matter the vast majority of the beliefs themselves. Really, how many of the things that you believe could you prove, in the mathematical sense of “derive from first principles via the basic rules of mathematics and logic”? That’s not really the way that human belief works at all.

So there we are. The Incompleteness Theorem fails to prove that human thought is “non-algorithmic” because humans are not the kind of thing that the Theorem talks about at all (consistent and arithmetic-capable systems), and for that matter, even if we were, we can’t do what the Theorem says that that kind of thing can’t do.

Now I could give Penrose the benefit of the doubt here, and suspect that I’m just missing some important part of his argument, and my criticisms miss the point. But that’s what I used to think about John Searle, until he came right out and said that the Problem of Other Minds isn’t really a problem because his dog has adorable floppy ears and deep brown eyes.

So until I get a good argument to the contrary (and candidate good arguments are eagerly solicited from my loyal readers), I’m going to assume that Penrose is just wrong here, perhaps for interesting psychological reasons, and continue both to wonder why people bother talking about his argument as though it might be true, and to be generally mystified by consciousness, and not even know anything to speak of about what sorts of things might, or might not, have it.


Four thirteen-year-olds

That’s how old I am today! Doesn’t sound very old at all when you put it that way, eh? As old as four thirteen-year-olds: I think I can deal with that. :)

(Do those boys up there look thirteen at all? I’m terrible judging people’s ages. And of course by now they’re probably all considerably older than thirteen. That was perhaps not the most youth-reminding picture I could have chosen offa the Interwebs, now that I think of it…)

Of course it is also National Wear a Tea Cozy on Your Head Day, so I am like those people born on December 25th or whatever, and have to share my celebrations with the NWATCOYHD festivities. But it mostly works out okay.

For my Deck of Cards Birthday, I took the day off (except for a couple of hours doing email and a customer call from home), and went out to The Diner for lunch with M, and she got me a replacement for my Keurig coffee machine (it started leaking water all over the place, and I ‘descaled’ it with vinegar to see if that would help, and now it leaks water all over the place and also makes coffee that tastes like vinegar, which is really quite bad; but now I have a new one!).

Oh, and a nice chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting mmmmm.

Lots of people are wishing me Happy Birthday via Facebook and other evil social media; including at least a couple people that I’m not sure I actually know, and various people that are not actually people but rather just computer programs (I think IMVU, which I think I visited once, and LinkedIn or something, and maybe Plaxo, and one or two random phpbbses that I apparently slipped and gave my right dates to).

What’s the point of having computer programs send people “Happy Birthday!” messages automatically, anyway? Does anyone enjoy getting those, or find them anything but annoying? I mean…

So anyway! Four thirteen-year-olds! How youthful! How full of potential!

Maybe this picture is more appropriately uplifting…



Wednesday, September 21, 2011

That’s how I used to title all of the entries in the original weblog. Well, not exactly like that. But you get the idea.

It was easier to be rambling and stuff with titles like that, since they don’t even hint at subjects or anything. And/but you can really only post once a day…

I thought today, since the list of random books lying around in a previous entry was so wildly popular with our readership, I would post a list of random books that are lying around on the iPad.

It’s very book-oriented, in some sense. It’s the size and shape of a rather thin book, it opens book-like (’cause I have a cover of that kind on it), and it has all too many apps (“apps”) for reading books (none of them really as good as one might expect, but there one is).

So anyway!

In the “Kindle” app:

The Quantum Thief, by Hannu Raganiemi. I’m about twenty percent through this; pretty good if not wildly original (so far) vaguely singularitarian SF. I think I saw it recommended in one of the magazine digests below, and prodded at the screen until I had my own copy.

Parmenides, by Plato. zomg what a random collection of meaningless statements! Of course that’s what they may say in (um) a couple thousand year-equivalents about anything a philosopher (or even me) might write today.

And the one that is not, being altered, becomes and is destroyed; and not being altered, neither becomes nor is destroyed; and so the one that is not becomes and is destroyed, and neither becomes nor is destroyed?


I find the easiest way to read this is as Plato showing that if you get overambitious and reify things like “The One”, you end up all tangled up in knots. But that doesn’t seem to be the general consensus interpretation.

Anyway, I finished reading that, as it is a quick read once you stop trying to figure out how to read it as actually saying anything.

Fantasy & Science Fiction, Free Exclusive Digest, Sep 1, 2011. I haven’t figured out how to subscribe to any SF magazines on the actual iPad (Amazon has a bunch, but they are downloadable only to actual Kindles, due to evil). But I can get this free Digest of F&SF, which has most of the non-fiction columns, and like one short story. (The short story in September is a kinda fun if sorta obvious “being an imperfect human is good” thing.)

Griftopia, by Matt Taibbi. See previously. This is contributing to the current turmoil in my economic and political theories, as mentioned.

The Celtic Twilight, by W.B. Yeats. This was in the pile of books in the basement, as mentioed also previously, and as speculated there there is indeed a digital version (of at least this part). Free, even, I think. I ain’t read in it to speak of yet.

“The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection, Gardner Dozois (ed). Some pretty good SF, all of which I have now read.

Treasure Island, by R. L. Stevenson. Famous! I may eventually read this.

Retro Demonology, by Java Oliver. I’m not sure why I have this, it looks awful, um, that is, not really my thing. It’s one of the Enormous Raft of popular “soap opera with some magic or vampires or something for spice” books that seem to exist, and having read a few pages I don’t see any reason to continue. Maybe it’s just a sample, or it was free for some reason or something. I think it’s like book 4 of 9 or something, like these usually are.

Aesop’s Fables, tr. George Fyler Townsend. “A Wolf, meeting with a Lamb astray from the fold, resolved not to lay violent hands on him, but to find some plea to justify to the Lamb the Wolf’s right to eat him.”

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. One of my favorite books ever, only partly because I first read it while riding in trains in England, a situation in which I very seldom find myself.

In the “iBooks” app:

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days, by Alastair Reynolds. Two longish short stories or novellae or somefing. “Diamond Dogs” was a well-written but somehow shallow “big alien plot device posing puzzles to the characters” story; “Turquoise Days” was more interesting, if rather apocalyptic.

Pellucidar, by E. R. Burroughs. “The roar of our rifles was constantly shattering the world-old silence of stupendous canyons upon which the eye of man had never before gazed. And when in the comparative safety of our hut we lay down to sleep the great beasts roared and fought without the walls, clawed and battered at the door, or rushed their colossal frames headlong against the hut’s sides until it rocked and trembled to the impact.”

Songs of Innocence and Experience, by William Blake. Tyger, Tyger, burning bright!

Writings of Thomas Paine — Volume 1 (1774-1779): the American Crisis. Free I think, and I haven’t read much of it. People did go on so back then! But Paine’s always been a favorite, the ol’ heathen.

The Manga Carta. In case of emergency.

A Goodly Apple: Narrative desire and the problem of truth in The Good Soldier and La vida breve, by the little daughter. “Regenerative truth, then, takes place within the framework of the events handed us by life; its function is to make that life bearable as far as possible.” I greatly enjoyed this short but incisive essay, even though significant swathes of it are in Spanish, which I don’t strictly-speaking speak.

Desire is Death and Fulfillment: The fear of women in Light in August, by the little daughter. In this altogether admirable paper, Ms. Daughter claims, and thoroughly convinces us, that in Faulkner’s novel “the fear of women is an indication of the primal conflict between the heart and the heart’s flesh, between immortal volition and the finite vessel of the body.” Also it is entirely in English!

(The reader may not have an easy time acquiring the latter two pieces, at least until the little daughter’s Complete Collected Works are published.)

The Future of the Internet and how to stop it, by Jonathan L. Zittrain. Ironically or fittingly, this book which I am reading on the iPad is largely about why “tethered appliances” (like say iPads) are bad in various ways compared to more “generative” devices like ol’ fashioned general-purpose PCs, and what we might do about this. I’m about half-way through this, and while I think Zittrain is wrong about various things (how important viruses and malware are in the move toward appliances, how well-defined the notion of “generativity” is, and some others), it’s still an interesting overall thesis, and I’m eager to see what solutions he’s actually going to propose.

In the British Library 19th Century Collection app:

Em, or Spells and counter-spells, by Mary Bramston. I’m not actually sure whether or not I have this locally on the iPad; the app sometimes implies that I do, but then sometimes won’t let me read it if I don’t have a network connection. Another disadvantage of appliances! Anyway, this is (so far) a heartwarming love story about loyalty and patience and stuff, written in 1878, and containing lots of cultural references that I don’t get at all, but in general it’s possible to tell what is going on and why.

And that is probably about it, he said, frowning at the iPad ummmm desktop-analog, wondering if there might be some things sufficiently like books filed away in some ummmm folder-analog besides the one called “Books”. Probably not.

Of course thousands and millions of other books could be caused by be on the iPad with minimal poking at the screen and expenditure or zero or more dollars or pounds or quatloos, but that’s what I’ve got at the moment.

Maybe I will go read the Magna Carta…

Tags: , ,

Out and About

So I’m reminded by this philosophy course that I’m listening to, that (some) philosophers have this funny notion of “aboutness”; they say things like “mental froobahs are invariably about things, which is to say they have content, whereas physical froobahs are not, and do not.”

I’ve never really understood why philosophers say this kind of thing, because it’s so obviously wrong.

The argument is mostly by induction from a handful of examples. There is no belief without something believed, no fear without something feared, no love without something loved, no boredom without — oops. Well, they don’t usually include that example.

(Oh, you see, boredom isn’t really a mental state, or it is a mental state, and what it’s about is the person who is bored, you see? At least that’s the strongest answer to that example I can think of, and it’s not strong at all.)

And on the other hand, all sorts of non-mental things are about stuff, and have content. This book, for instance, is about pirates and ninjas and zombies, and even if the book had been written long ago and the author and everyone who had ever read it had expired and/or forgotten about it (so it would be really hard to say that there were any appropriately mental things still floating about) it would still be about pirates and ninjas and zombies, as anyone fluent in the language could determine by reading it.

(The suggestion that it isn’t actually about pirates and ninjas and zombies anymore until someone reads it and acquires mental froobahs that have aboutness, strikes me as utterly unconvincing.)

The same only even moreso for content; all sorts of non-mental things have contents. Mailboxes, for instance. And grocery lists. Also cats.

An obvious response to this is that it’s not those kinds of “aboutness” and “content” that is meant when a philosopher says that all and only mental froobahs have aboutness and content; it’s a special mental kind of aboutness and content, that we just happen to use the same words for because we like to be confusing. (Speaking of confusing, note that I have not yet referred to either “intentional objects” or “intensional objects” in this weblog entry, although if I wanted to be even more confusing I certainly could have!)

But if “aboutness” and “content” in “all and only mental froobahs have aboutness and content” don’t have their normal meanings, but only some special Philosophy of Mind meanings, then it’s not really legitimate to utter the sentence as though it meant something, as though it were adding to our stock of knowledge by telling us about a newly-discovered relationship between familiar things that have familiar names. It would be more honest to say something like “all and only mental froobahs have glorpiness and fnoo”, and then when our audience asks what glorpiness and fnoo are we can say that they are a couple of words that we just made up for something or other that only mental froobahs have (after which we’re probably unlikely to be invited back).

Why do philosophers want to say that all and only mental froobahs have aboutness and content, anyway? I think it’s because (as came up during the latest lecture of the course linked above), they have physics envy, and want mental froobahs to have some interesting properties. Physical things have mass, volume, electrical charge, angular momentum, position, and all sorts o’ stuff that you can put into an Excel spreadsheet, whereas mental things (i.e. mental froobahs) don’t really have alot of those. The experience of a red apple, for instance, is generally regarded (depending) as a mental froobah, but it isn’t a red one. But it’s about that red apple, boy howdy! (If there actually is a red apple, that is; if there isn’t, well, we’ll touch on that below.)

This doesn’t really explain why they want aboutness and content to be properties of all mental froobahs, or of only mental froobahs. Which is where they get into trouble.

Aside from intransitive mental froobahs like boredom, there is also a problem of what a mental froobah might be about when the thing that it would normally be about is missing. For instance, if I’m afraid of the tiger in the next room, that fear froobah would normally be about the tiger in the next room, but if in fact there is no tiger in the next room, we have a bit of an oops.

In some cases, it could be that I’m actually afraid of the panther in the next room, and am simply misinformed about the type of animal that it is. Or I’m afraid of the tiger in this room, and am just a bit behind the times in my theory of its location.

But in other cases there is no such obvious out. If I have been convinced that there is a tiger in the next room by an elaborate conspiracy of misleading statements and recorded sounds, and in fact if I were aware of the actual circumstances I would not be afraid at all, then there doesn’t seem to be anything that I’m afraid of to hand. This does not strike me as a big problem pre-theoretically (i.e the average person, once the deception and my fear are described, would not think there was some remaining mystery about what my fear was about), but if we’re committed to the view that all mental froobahs are always about something, we are likely to end up adding weird things to our ontology (i.e. our list of things that there are), like the (non-existent) tiger that I was afraid of, and intentional objects (and perhaps, if we use the right sort of logic to think about them, even intensional ones) in general, and/or imaginary objects, or who knows what-all.

Which leads to all sorts of weird situations, it strikes me, like having in ones ontology a bunch of round cubes which are neither round nor cubical, and which don’t exist.

Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I can see doing it sort of for fun, but I wouldn’t claim to have been forced into doing it because the only other alternative would be to admit that not all mental froobahs have aboutness.

In general, and this is a subject that I’ve written upon extensively elsewhere (on some old bits of paper, in particular; not as far as I can tell ever on the Interwebs), I think the whole Aboutness and Intentional Objects thing is yet another result of overambitious reification (for which there should shortly be one hit, when enclosed in quotes, in the obvious Google search).

Nature doesn’t know from objects (surely I have made this point somewhere on the web before). Leaving consciousness aside for the moment (since it is Different), all that there really is is (something like) a big quantum-mechanical wave function, and there’s no reason to think that it (or some larger system containing it and some other stuff) can be neatly divided up into distinct or disjoint or otherwise conveniently separable or enumerable or nameable objects.

There are other possible universes in which objects really are baked into the physics, but this doesn’t appear to be one of them, at any scale we’ve so far come anywhere near close to penetrating.

It’s often convenient to talk about objects as if they were given by nature and baked into the universe, but that doesn’t mean that they are, and we shouldn’t be surprised if sometimes that talk breaks down. Similarly it’s often convenient to talk about objects (in the subject and object sense) in conceptualizations of the universe (as in, say, intentional objects and mental froobahs), but again we shouldn’t fall into the easy mistake of thinking that they are really out there, and that the universe is obliged to respect our cuttings-up of it, and therefore that it must always be possible to make that language work.

I really must find that old handwritten essay on “Overambitious Reification and the Applicability of Concepts” that I scrawled in an old Princeton exam book the other week / decade / millenium, and type it in, so that it comes to actually exist. But right now, I have to go off to Back To School night. :)


Home again

So Dad passed away a little after midnight, on Wednesday (the 14th). He was the best Dad ever, and his passing was as gentle and as undemanding on his loved ones as one would have expected. I was there, down in Florida with him and Stepmom. I think maybe he was waiting for me to show up; one of the last things he said to me (along with some discussion of Linda Ronstadt and Alan Watts) was “you got here just in time”.

And now I am back home, and while my usual witty and ironic commentary here might be a bit subdued for awhile, I figure Dad is the one who gave me at least the good parts of the wit and irony, and I shouldn’t let it be suppressed on his behalf. I have been remembering all sorts of things about him (pretty much unreservedly positive, because I am the luckiest son ever), and some of them may get written down here eventually, but probably not right now.

It makes you think, in a more serious and concrete way, about consciousness and death and what might happen to the one after the other. (I’m listening to a course that touches on the subject, but I think it’s going to stay pretty abstract and theoretical.)

As far as I know there’s no particular reason to think that the usual suspects have it at all correct; they are just, layers of complication aside, taking a bunch of very old guesses far too seriously. Those guesses might be right, but they’re no more likely to be than any of millions of similar guesses that didn’t happen to get written down.

It could be that nothing happens, that consciousness just goes out at death. That would be awfully boring, though, and it’s not clear there’s much more to say about it.

There’s a theory, which somewhat hearteningly I can’t find on the Interwebs at the moment, that consciousness, mysterious and amorphous as it is, quantum-tunnels among the available possible world-lines, and always finds one in which life continues. So although other people may experience a world in which one dies, one’s own consciousness avoids those, and one is always, in one’s own world-line, immortal.

It’s not clear what it would mean for that to be true or false; it’s not obviously falsifiable, at least from here. But that’s okay.

Dad lives, in various senses and to various degrees, in the state-spaces of various brains, mine and Stepmom’s and lots of others. Does that mean anything about his consciousness? No idea; consciousness is hard.

A friend told me, a week or two ago, that when her father died, a friend had a dream that he was waiting in line, all excited because he was waiting to find out what he was going to do next.

I like that thought.

I know Dad would want to be doing something interesting. I’ll be sure to arrange that at least the parts of him here enriching my own state-space are.

Thanks, Dad, for everything.



Dad, 1944

William Bernard Chess, 1927-2011

Tags: , ,


So I am sitting here writing this as a passenger while the little daughter drives her car, if you can believe it.

Many many things have happened, and even are still happening; some of them I will write about later when they are more culminated. I spent threeish days of Labor Day week in airports-and-hotels-and-raised-floor land, sitting around waiting for something to go wrong that I might be needed to help with, and nothing did, which was good but extremely dull, because for much of the time I had no network connection nor any of my computers, and not enough printed out on paper to occupy the time.

The little daughter, as suggested above, now has her very own car, a natty little 2007 Nissan Sentra that we saw sitting at our local Nissan dealer with used-car price-numbers on the windshield, but when we made up our minds to probably buy it, and went there, the dealer had no idea what it was doing there, and said it wasn’t one of theirs, and didn’t we want something more expensive instead. (This is a good story, so I will continue it into a whole nother paragraph.)

We didn’t want any of the more expensive ones, and went home, but someone not me remembered there had been a URL on the license plate frame of the car, and we went there and the car was actually there on the website, and eventually we bought it. (For anyone in the area, Hudson Auto Traders is a very nice two or three vaguely Slavic young guys in a clean little shack by the side of the road, with a couple of desks and computers and lots of cars sitting around for sale, and they handle all the license and registration stuff, and wash the car very nicely for turning over, and the reason it was sitting at the Nissan dealer was that a service light had come on and they’d taken it to the service department for a new transmission, which is a good thing in a used car.)

So anyway now we are taking the little daughter back to school for her Senior Year of College, and M and the little boy are driving in the big car with most of the stuff, and the little daughter is driving her car with the fridge and the old TV and the beer and some shoes and things, and I am sitting here writing in my weblog, and helping her with her highway driving by gasping and making panicky little motions whenever she does anything dangerous, like driving on the same road as other cars. We are listening to Spanish music on th’ car radio.

There is a thirty-foot dumpster in our driveway back there at home, from Mr. Cheapee Carting, and it is surprisingy (and almost entirely) full of stuff that we have and don’t want. A fair fraction of the stuff was rendered (even) less desirable by being soaked in six inches of water in the basement; the rest is just stuff we realized we don’t want even in a dry condition, and Julian and Antoine hauled out and tossed in. It’s supposed to be removed on Monday.

In one of the ancient decaying cabinets that are now in the dumpster, M found a cache of books, mostly paperback SF, presumably placed there by me in the distant past. Once we’re home again maybe I will type them in, ’cause we like lists of random books here. M’s comment was that in the one place she would not have expected to find books, there were books.

(This is fun! says the little daughter, zipping down Interstate 287 South.)

There are a couple of industrial-strength fans in the basement, drying out the last few wet patches on the amazingly empty cement floor, and Julian and Antoine and their boss (boss-of-the-moment, perhaps) Manny have applied professional-strength disinfectants to discourage mold and fungus and other microorganisms that flourish in dampish basements.

My trip into airport-and-hotel-and-raised-floor land was complicated rather by the storms and tornadoes around Atlanta, in which city’s airport I was originally to change planes. After the airline drove me at their own expense from one airport to another one an hour away, I discovered that I was still not scheduled to arrive at my ultimate destination until the next morning, which was not According to Plan. Fortunately when I wailed about this to the gate agent, she said “oh, well, there is a direct flight to your ultimate destination leaving from that gate there in fifteen minutes, do you want to take that?”, and I did, and that simplified things considerably.

I have my third over-80 character in WoW (did I already say that?), a sore-faced Dren paladin named Spaenorus. “Sore-faced” is a joke, referring to the notional rolling of the face across the keyboard that WoW players invoke to imply that something is easy.

And WoW is easy! I think it’s that they’ve accelerated their “make everything easier, to increase new-user retention” policy, rather than that I’m just an awesomely skilled player haha. But, just for a fun-story example, there’s this semi-boss that’s level 80ish Elite, and after doing a quest chain you get the ability to set off these runes that he is foolishly walking around on, which do him lots of damage when activated. So I decided to see if I can vanquish and/or defeat him without using the runes, and I was able to do it handily, finishing with full health and mana, and the only reason I even had to use my Lay On Hands cooldown was (this is the good part) that halfway through the battle I got disconnected from the server, and when I got back in he was at full health again and I was at like 1%; but I had no serious trouble recovering from that and winning, still without using any of the runes.

If you made a graph of how hard WoW is now, it would stay flat at “push two or three buttons repeatedly until you win” all the way from level 1 to level 85, go up to “have some idea what you’re doing” in the last few level 85 instances, hit “optimize your gear and think about rotations” in heroic level 85 content, and then “actually be in a well-prepared and skillful and well-geared group, and do the right things” only at the very highest level 85 large-group raids.

Which means that hitting the advanced 85 content is quite a shock for people who’ve just been facerolling for their whole WoW lives, and random PUGs (pick-up groups) can get pretty ugly.

But presumably that effect doesn’t hurt user retention or revenue, or they wouldn’t do it? It’s a funny world!

Anyway, the little daughter is now all safely installed at school, and after a great sushi and tempura dinner, I have driven the rest of us home in the big car, and we are watching the second men’s semifinal of the U.S. Tennis Open, which involves tennis.

Ah, and here are the random books M rescued from the basement!

Star Trek: Vulcan’s Glory. A Star Trek novel, likely involving a Vulcan or two. And some glory.

The Heavenly Horse from the Outermost West, by Mary Stanton. “If you loved Watership Down… this is the book for you”.

Piper at the Gate, by Mary Stanton. “The exciting sequel to The Heavenly Horse from the Outermost West.”

Lord Jim, by Joseph Conrad. Famous!

The Loud Halo, by Lillian Beckwith. Apparently stories about life on a Hebridean island, with complimentary jacket-blurb from The Daily Scotsman, and an old sticker saying “PF50”.

“How to Parent”, by Dr. Fitzhugh Dodson. Hahaha a bit late there. Given my general disdain for parenting books, I’m especially baffled by this one.

The Teachings of the Mystics, by Walter T. Stace, a Mentor Book, 1960.

The Celtic Twilight, and a selection of early poems, by W. B. Yeats. (I wonder if there’s a digital edition of that.)

Beneath the Wheel, by Hermann Hesse. His second novel.

Mars, by Ben Bova. Many many pages.

The Peter Principle, by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull. “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his [sic] level of incompetence.” Bantam edition published February 1970.

Dayworld, by Philip Jose Farmer. A SF novel.

And finally, not a book, “Joy to the World, Three Dog Night, their greatest hits”. This is a primitive plastic device, with many moving parts, called a “tape cassette”. Ancient legends say that they were once used to record audio tracks, like a strange mechanical iPod; but if so, the method of extracting the recorded sound is long lost to science.

A satisfyingly odd collection, I’d say… :)