Archive for October, 2011


Friday, October 28, 2011

So Apple is becoming less evil in the sense that back in June they somewhat eased the restrictions on apps with respect to what people making apps that let you buy subscriptions to things can do.

However, they are still evil, in that they still forbid apps from having links to places outside of the app (and therefore outside of Apple’s gigantic cut of the proceeds) where you can buy the stuff they play.

I understand why they want to do this in order to make money, and it is probably legal and even within their rights, but it is still evil. (There are various evil things that one has the right to do; consider the writing of vile racist tracts as an obvious example.) It is evil because it is restricting the programs that I can get on this iPad I own, not in order to make my experience with the device better (which is the reason we iPad owners put up with Apple being the app gatekeeper in the first place), but just in order to advantage Apple itself.

I don’t really mind using a device that reeks slightly of evil, and I hope and imagine and even expect that it will continue to get less evil over time. On the other hand, it does lead me to keep one eye on possible more-open alternatives.


I was noticing this morning on the drive to work that “Yodels” is “Sledoy” backwards, and that made me think about the lexeme† “doy”, and how amusing it is, and I then noticed I couldn’t think of any English words containing it. Sometime during my first coffee I came up with “doyen”, but that was it. Some random /usr/dict/words produced only “Doyle” (a proper name, doesn’t count), and the Ispell English Word Lists (found in various places on the Web) had “Doyle” and “doyen”, and rather unconvincingly added “doyley” (which is an obscure variant spelling of the already rather obscure “doily”). One or more online dictionaries offers “doyly” as another alternate spelling, but now we’re really off in the weeds.

So, readers! Do you have any good “doy” words to hand? Or an explanation for why there aren’t more? Lots of untapped potential there!

“This is going to be a doyantic day!”

“Could you pass the pandoy?”

“Whoa, look at that saradoya!”

Maybe it’s just part of the “reserved for future expansion” part of the space…

† “lexeme” is almost certainly the wrong word. Readers are invited to suggest the right word.

More evil

Government could hide existence of records under FOIA rule proposal. Or, as I saw it linked originally, Justice Department Wants To Be Able To Lie In Response To Freedom Of Information Requests.

Which seems like a bad idea.

Watching every bit of The Daily Show you can find is of course a good idea. But a recent notable snippet: Climate Change is Real (but the media isn’t nearly as interested in the debunking of “ClimateGate” as they were in the original pseudo-scandal, somehow).

And of course Jon Stewart on Pat Robertson worrying that Republican rhetoric has become too extreme. Which rather boggles.

iTunes-U and Kant and all

I have discovered iTunes U, and it’s pretty hoopy (another reason I am willing to put up with a certain level of evil from Apple). All sortsa free stuff to learn!

You may recall that the other day I was listening to a (decidedly non-free) course on Consciousness and its implications, which was kinda cool, and although I’d gotten a little tired of Prof. Daniel Robinson for some of his odd little quirks of speech and for being wrong about stuff and like that, I was up for some more random audio philosophy, so I downloaded the first couple of lectures from a free iTunes U course on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and started listening.

And it was Prof. Daniel Robinson again!

Which is either quite a coincidence, or there’s not really all that much material out there, or Prof. Dan has done a lot of these things.

So far it is not bad to listen to, although as well as the same little verbal tics (random “you see?”s and “capito?”s and “of.. what? of experience!” and so forth) there is also the occasional burst of cellphone-static on the recording. And there is also Robinson (who outs himself as a Aristotelian, which does not bode well for my agreeing with him about very much) saying rather offhandedly that mathematics and the physical sciences are “riddled” with synthetic a priori truths, and giving as examples “there is no number so large that one cannot be added to it”, “every effect has an antecedent cause”, and “there’s no line so long that you can’t increase its length”.

And of course I disagree.

The synthetic a priori

Synthetic a priori statements are supposedly those that can be known without any reference to experience (so a priori, rather than a posteriori or “empirical”), but which are not true just because of the meanings of the words (so synthetic).

Myself, I rather doubt that there are any of these (for any reasonable construal of “because of the meanings of the words”), and I certainly don’t think that any of Robinson’s examples count. Most of the time when someone claims that something is synthetic a priori, it actually means that they just aren’t imaginative enough to come up with a possible world in which it isn’t true (but there are such possible worlds, and therefore it’s not a priori at all; you have to check the actual world to see if it’s true here or not). Or, alternately, the statement is true but follows so directly from the meanings of the words that it’s hard to justify calling it synthetic if “synthetic” is to have any actual meaning.

“There is no number so large that one cannot be added to it” is clearly not true if we’re working in the domain of, say, positive integers less than 1000. Oh, but that isn’t what we mean by “number”! Well, what do you mean? The answer to that will be a set that has no upper bound, which makes “no number so large that one cannot be added to it” true essentially by the definition of “number”. So that one’s analytic a priori.

“There’s no line so long that you can’t increase its length” is only true in some spaces. It’s not true, for instance, on the surface of a sphere. So this is either synthetic but empirical (i.e. to know it’s true we have to check to make sure we aren’t in a space that’s like the surface of a sphere), or if we add “on a flat plain” to the end it’s again analytic a priori (analytic because it follows directly from the definition of “flat plain”).

The one in the middle, “every effect has an antecedent cause”, is awfully vague, but again can be read in at least two ways, neither of which turns out to be synthetic a priori. Either it’s saying that, in the actual world, events happen in temporally-ordered causal chains (which is something one would definitely have to check the actual world for, since there are scads of possible worlds where things just sort of happen at random and uncaused), or it’s saying that there’s a subset of events, called “effects”, which are those that have “antecedent causes”, and that all of those have antecedent causes. And that is obviously analytic.

Readers are invited to submit more convincing examples of the synthetic a priori. With or without accompanying “doy” words… :)

Update: I meant to close with this picture!


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Personal Identity and the Continuity of Consciousness in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and that one Babylon 5 Episode

We use these two fragments of popular culture (decade-old popular culture, at that) to explore and illuminate our intuitions, or lack thereof, about personal identity, consciousness, and moral responsibility (that last bit didn’t fit into the title, or really it would have fit, but then the title would have been really really long).

The theory of vampirism in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as laid out by the title character in the Season Two episode “Lie to me“, is that when a vampire does whatever it is to a human to make the human into a vampire, the human dies, and a demon comes to inhabit and animate the human’s (former) body.

This simple theory is complicated by the vampire Angel, or Angelus. After he does terrible things to a stereotypical tribe of gypsies, the gypsies cast a curse on him in revenge. The curse, intended to make the vampire suffer, “restores his soul”.

There are (at least) two ways we could imagine this soul-restoration occurring: either the original human soul (including subjectivity and memory) is brought back from some afterlife to inhabit its former body (although, as textual evidence from other episodes strongly suggests, with the demon also still in residence in a usually-subservient position), or some generic soul (consisting really of just a “conscience” or a sense of right and wrong (whose?)) is injected into the body along with the demon.

The first of these possibilities is supported by most of the evidence; on first having his soul restored, Angel is confused at first, not knowing where he is or why. This is consistent with the consciousness having just returned from some afterlife, and not having been caught up with what the demon in its (former) body has been up to. But then the memories do arrive, and Angel is horrified to realize all of the things that he (the demon? his body?) has done, and begins to suffer as the gypsies intended him to.

Note the bizarre moral theory here, however. In this reading, in order to punish the demon for his evil acts, the gypsies have summoned up someone else entirely who will feel bad about these acts, and arranged for that someone else to suffer. (The demon, presumably, is not really suffering, except to the extent of being annoyed by this human soul having taken over the body; an annoyance that is attested to in later episodes when the human soul goes away again, and we hear from the demon; although the body of utterances there is not completely unambiguous.)

But why would the gypsies consider that to be justice, and why would anyone sane go along with that consideration? The demon has done terrible things, so we will arrange for someone else, who in the past inhabited this same body, to suffer. How could that be just?

The other possible reading is that the original Angel is still dead and gone, and some more generic feelings of guilt have been imposed upon the demon inhabiting the body. This seems a little more plausible as a kind of justice, but the theory of moral feelings that it requires is odd; in this view moral feelings must be something independent of one’s nature, of who one actually is, so that they can be sort of grafted on after the fact to any personality and consciousness at all, including that of the most depraved demon. And while Angel-with-no-soul is the vilest creature imaginable, Angel-with-soul is such a great guy that Buffy falls in love with him, the viewer is clearly supposed to identify strongly with him as a Good Guy, and so on. (Also, later on when the soul is removed again, the now-evil Angel says of the human one “your boyfriend is dead”, which is more evidence for the first theory, although it could possibly be a figurative way of saying “because I no longer have a conscience, I am evil and nasty again, so that goodness you saw in me before is dead”; but that seems a bit of a stretch perhaps.)

So neither of these theories is really satisfying, and this suggests that our ideas about continuity of consciousness, personal identity, and moral responsibility aren’t sufficiently well-formed to handle these counterfactual edge-cases in any consistent way. If a demon takes over my body, surely I shouldn’t be responsible for its depraved acts, and made to suffer in the name of justice. On the other hand, surely just adding a generic conscience to a vile monster would not convert that personality into something virtuous and admirable.

Then there’s that one Babylon 5 episode. Which one was it, let’s see… Ah, yes: Divided Loyalties (also in the second season, albeit of a different series).

The setup at one point here is that it’s known that someone on the station innocently and unknowingly has a bomb hidden in their brain, and in order to find who it is they have people line up to sit in a booth where, if they are the one with the bomb, it will go off and kill them, while not hurting anyone else. So everyone lines up more or less calmly, except for a bit of grousing about interfering with personal privacy, to sit in the booth and be examined and possibly die.

Ha ha, no, of course that isn’t actually it! That would be ridiculous. It’s actually that someone has an evil Psi Corps artificial personality implant, which will activate when a telepath thinks a certain code-word into their brain, so everyone lines up, with only a bit of grousing about not liking telepaths, to have the code-word thought at them. Which, if they are the one, will awaken the artificial personality implant. Effectively killing their real personality.

And that is actually it! And the people line up anyway! Is that bizarre, or what? It’s again hard to imagine the theory of personal identity and continuity of consciousness here, that would either cause the people to be willing to be tested with only a little grumbling, or that would cause the supposedly virtuous station staff to attack the problem that way (rather than, as they presumably would have done in the brain-bomb case, looking for a way to find and defuse the bomb without killing the person that happened to be carrying it).

It seems as though the writers, and the commentators who have written about this episode without noting the bizarreness of the whole test thing, are working from some theory where people only care that their bodies continue to exist, with some consciousness in them, even if it’s not the one that’s in charge right now. Echoes here of the gypsies, who only care that some consciousness in Angel’s body suffers, even if it’s not the one that was in charge when the actual atrocities were committed.

We might speculate, for instance, that we are so used to seeing a single body always associated with a single personality and a single consciousness, that we don’t really think very hard, at least in these examples, about what happens to identity, moral culpability, or personal survival when that is no longer the case, and we don’t always get a sensible answer when although there’s still someone in there, it’s now someone else.

Readers are warmly invited to submit other ways to read either or both of these fragments of popular culture, in ways that simplify or otherwise cast different lights on the issues.

Other things I might weblogify about in future issues: how Apple is becoming less evil, and iTunes-U and this thing I’m listening to. Also bread, and other stuff!


Friday, October 21, 2011

So I don’t understand this kind of spam:


My name is Franco Cavalier am sending you this email regarding in Purchasing Product from your company,I will like to know if you can ship directly to France , I also want you to know my mode of payment for this order is via CC . Get back to me if you can ship to that destination and also if you accept the payment type I indicated

Kindly return this email with your price list of your products..


201, rue de Grenelle

FR – 75357 PARIS


Slightly even more puzzling because it was sent to my work address (in ibm dot com), and it was sent from an email address of “dummy” at somewhere in France (with a reply-to at a gmail dot com address).

What value does anyone get by spamming out a request for lists of goods that can be paid for by credit card and shipped to France?

I suppose he might just be gathering email addresses in general, to spam or to sell? But surely if you want to test to see if a vast number of email addresses are valid, you’d want to maximize the chance that the person will write back, and in that case asking for lists of products that can be bought via credit card and shipped to France doesn’t do that.

They could just be validating a big list of email addresses by sending any old junk to them and seeing what bounces, but (1) email agents don’t send “no such user” replies anymore, as I recall, for exactly this reason, and (2) this is an awfully weird “any old junk”. I’d hate to think that some spammer address-collector had this nice a sense of the absurd.

Ah, mysteries, mysteries…

I just got The Physics Book from Amazon (I think I’d pre-ordered it or something), and it’s lovely. Bigger and fancier than I’d expected, a nice weighty hardcover with lots of short entries about interesting physics things, and great pictures.

You should get it, too! And not just because the author’s office is more or less across the hall from mine or anything. :)

I’ve just started reading it (the introduction and then a few completely random pages), but I think I will enjoy it greatly; it’s nice and bite-sized (a box of intellectual chocolates!), which fits my current (tiny) attention span nicely.

I’m also enjoying The Quantum Thief quite a bit, in the digital edition, despite having sort of forgotten about it for long enough that starting out again I didn’t quite remember just who everyone was, or what had happened to whom previously. But it’s the kind of book in which you’re enjoying trying to figure out what’s going on anyway, so that hasn’t been a big problem. And the tech and the world and the culture(s) and all are interesting while one is trying to work it all out.

It occurs to me that I could just sort of leave this entry, with the date at the top, open in WordPress all day, and hit Publish in the evening or whenever I felt like I wasn’t going to write anything elsemore to speak of.

Maybe I’ll do that. Although I might forget. And it’s also nice to Publish shortly after writing, and get that sense of Accomplishment.

So for NaNoWriMo this year, assuming I convince myself that I have time, I’m thinking about a nonlinear hyperlinked novel. Say, 100 interlinked pages at 500 words per page? Or 500 100-word pages, or anything on that curve. Something like The Forked Stick, only I would “finish” it in a month, and not leave it hanging forever like I did with that. :)

Water Street runs close by the river, into the Dun Quarter, which is quiet but far from silent in this moony night, breathing with the sharp stillness of the river and the easy aches of poverty and long practice.

To one side is the pier, and across the street is an old building where a sign shows a cup and a hen. Far down at the other end of the street, the Long Temple broods in a feverish silent sleep.

(I am still quite proud of the Tic Tac Toe game embedded in The Forked Stick. Wow, that was some time ago!)

Didn’t you mean to say you assassinate your enemies
Didn’t you mean to say you kill journalists and artists
Didn’t you mean to say you give orders for the murder
Didn’t you mean to say you sell drugs to make your fortune
Holly Near, “Edge”

I don’t actually recall how Edge got onto the iPad here, but I’m enjoying it very much. Energy, novelty.

Also enjoying The Dresden Dolls:

and you can tell
from the smoke at the stake
that the current state is critical
well it is the little things, for instance:
in the time it takes to break it she can make up ten excuses:
please excuse her for the day, its just the way the medication makes her…
girl anachronism

What else should one mention in one’s weblog? I’m sure there are other things that will occur to me later in the day. But at the moment the desire to see it published and In The Can seems sort of strongish. So I will probably push Publish sometime in the next minute or so, assuming the universe and its laws continue more or less unchanged (something that it’s not clear how justified we are in assuming, or whether it matters whether we are).

Yep, here we go!

See you on the other side! :)


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Marilyn Langston writes:

Dear David Chess,

I just got done reading your “Wednesday, February 16, 2011” and I found it really informative! Do you do advertising? I’m marketing out a few sites and can pay you $50 via PayPal to add a text link into one of your older posts. The link would go to an education site and I’d make sure the site relates to your post’s content.

Thanks and let me know if we can work something out!

Marilyn Langston

I can certainly understand why someone might want a link from the really informative “Wednesday, February 16, 2011“, all about how bad Apple is at giving names to their products, but I think I will hold out for a better offer…

So I think I am pretty bored with World of Warcraft right now; haven’t played it in some time and don’t miss it. I have a level 85 DPS (ol’ Spennix), healer, and tank, they’ve done most of the Stuff except for raiding, I’m not that fascinated by raiding, and it’s hard to schedule anyway.

I’m also sort of tired of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I have been watching episodes of from the Lesser Mesozoic on Netflix. I’d been having a very good time watching them, really, but then somehow at the beginning of the extremely exciting finale to Season Two, where the evil version of Angel is grinning devilishly (or vampirically) at an unusupecting Buffy from behind a tree in the cemetery, I was suddenly overcome by a large “oh, yeah, yeah, sure, evil Angel, whatever”, and switched it off.

(“Vampirically”? “Vampiricly”? “Vampirishly”? “Vampiresquely”?)

I’m not tired of Glitch yet (see me!), and am level 23, have nearly 50,000 units of currency (which is enough to buy the most fancy kind of house, although I’m enjoying life in my tiny apartment enough that I don’t currently plan to move), and am working on getting more and more and more skills.

With the various skills I currently have the money flows in at a pretty huge rate, from just walking through the world and casually harvesting things that I don’t actually need (because I already have 750 of them in my bags), and selling them in the selling place (which is called “auctions” although it contains no actual auctioning).

Once I have Master Chef II, though, and maybe once I’ve used my Martial Imagination and Piety to fend off a rook attack or two, I can imagine getting tired of glitch also. We’ll see if they develop the story as I hope they are going to.

I have not gotten in the least tired of Second Life, because it is sort of infinite, being different stuff created by the users alla time. (See ol’ Dale Innis’s insightful essay on user-generated content: UGC FTW!.) Lately I have been rather deeply embroiled in women’s fashion, but hey it’s the XXIst century, after all.

Oh, and…


does anyone know what “kasou no morinomajyo” might mean?


While making a little house out of pieces of takeout-food cardboard on the floor this evening to amuse the cat, I suddenly remembered that I used to sit for hours and hours on the floor of the livingroom back in the house, making and knocking down and making again and putting heavy things experimentally onto the rooves of, endless houses of cards, made with more or less dogeared and more or less complete decks of playing cards.

Good times, good times. Haven’t thought about that in years…


Monday, October 17, 2011

I wear the chains I forged in life, mon!

Ha ha ha ha ha! We just came up with that in the office here. Maybe a little obscure, but it pleases me…

Secure yourself to heaven.
Hold on tight, the night has come.
Fasten up your earthly burdens,
You have just begun.
Indigo Girls

That pleases me also, because I have no idea what it means, but it sounds neat.

I like to be able to think of the world as a deep and complex place, with lots of secrets and interesting things I haven’t seen yet, where the lit-up parts that I understand and inhabit are a nice small-and-secure corner from which one could venture out.

Songs sung in unknown tongues…

Be kind to me or treat me mean
I’ll make the most of it
I’m an extraordinary machine

Heard that on the radio yesterday (yesterday?), and liked it. Seems to be an original Fiona Apple; my main mental impression of Fiona Apple is that she is too thin. Maybe I should listen to some of her music! I wonder who else has covered this ditty.

What Do They Want?

Here is a This Modern World on the subject. (Apologies for any Daily Kos popovers or anything.)

My sympathies are to a large degree with the Occupy Wall Street (and Things In General) protestors (protesters?). As are even some folks at Fox, which gives me a warm feeling. I think.

So what is economic justice, in this context? I can think of a few examples that one might work for. I’m not sure whether or not I favor them all / each of them in any particular sense.

  • Tax income from capital gains just like any other income. For: why favor rich people (who get lots of capital gains income), after all? Con: if we don’t favor rich people, they might take their ball and go home.
  • Let the Bush tax cuts expire like they were written to. Gets rid of most of the projected federal deficit with one blow.
  • Regulate the shadow banking system about like we regulate the normal banking system. ’cause now we know that otherwise they go crazy.
  • Bring back Glass-Steagall since on the whole it appears to have been a good idea after all.
  • Announce that the U. S. Government will no longer be bailing out failed financial institutions beyond what’s in the FDIC and so on. “Moral hazard” ain’t just a theory anymore, eh?
  • Stop lopsidedly favoring investment over savings in Federal economic policies. Savers are people, too.
  • Regulate corporations. I know, kind of general. But as the very interesting The Conservative Nanny State points out (free pdf available), being able to create this fictional construct to shield yourself from liabilities is a huge benefit; government has a perfect right to require a certain amount of good behavior in exchange.
  • Aggressively prosecute and convict (and get some of the billions back from) the people who ruined the world economy to enrich themselves. Seems like a no-brainer, but apparently not everyone is on board, even with prosecuting the most blatant and obvious parts of it, like fraudulent mortgage foreclosures.
  • Remove those administration officials with the most obvious conflicts of interest. The argument that only these people have the skills to clean up the mess is unconvincing; the only skills we know they have are to make the mess in the first place, and to enrich themselves and their friends and firms. Get rid of ’em.

Seems like a nice start. Hello, White House and Congress and all? You there?

Let’s see, what else we got?

Two postings on how the “SCADA” systems that control things like air traffic and the electrical grid are really not all that mega-secure after all, and in fact are probably not any more secure than one might expect. Which is a little worrying.

High-Performance Computing at the National Security Agency, not a book title one would necessarily have expected to find on the open Web. :)

The Best Thread in the History of the Internet; and I think they have a plausible case to make for the title.

Fleepgrid, a fun example of someone’s personal desktop virtual world that they’ve made available to everyone, just because why not?

I’ve been playing Glitch, which is kind of fun in a silly and amusing and relaxing way. I think I have like three invitations; tell me if you want one! I’m Orbst.

(Glitch has gotten some very positive press lately, which is notable. I have no idea how long I’ll keep playing in it; I think (sort of like WoW and utterly unlike Second Life) it will have alot to do with what the developers do to move the story that we’re all living in along in interesting ways.)

And I’ve been playing lots of Second Life, including a real clothing-acquiring spree in the last few days for some reason. (Evidence here and here and here and so on.) Perhaps decompressing after releasing my second major Serendipitous Exploration product in SL, which was great fun. (Sales are light so far, but I’m sure it will bring me worldwide fame and wealth soon!)

Otherwise, things are good in general. Missing Dad (and Mom for that matter) in wistful but nontraumatic ways, hoping that they are doing interesting things in whatever one does after one is done doing this. Loving the coming of Autumn, vaguely regretting that I can’t smell it (but not enough to go back to ENTs and talk about nose operations and stuff). Wondering about how one chooses an evaluation function (the answer being that ultimately one doesn’t, more or less inevitably, but then what?).

And writing in my weblog! Woot! :)


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Yesterday I opined that the Republican presidential candidates are all either insane, lying hypocrites, or both. Just now I heard a WNYC interview with Jon Huntsman, and he sounded relatively sane and honest (if wrong about some of the obvious things).

I may not have to change my statement, though, as it’s not clear that with something like 1% of the current Republican marketshare he actually counts as a candidate.

Someone else on WNYC (yeah, I listen to them alot in the car an’ all) said that the key thing about conservatives (Conservatives?) is something like that they believe that there is a fixed moral base out there. Which pulled me up short for a minute, as an interesting statement.

Because of course there isn’t a fixed moral base out there.

There isn’t in a couple of senses: first, there isn’t some big supernatural divine being who created the universe and has opinions about the morality or otherwise of abortion, same-sex marriage, murder, and so on.

And second, even if there was such a being, that wouldn’t take away the responsibility that every one of us has to decide what’s right and wrong. Sure, one could decide that the Big Being’s moral opinions all are correct, and that one will behave accordingly, but one would still be responsible for having made that decision.

(Personally I would not decide that way; if there were a Big Being, and he did think that oral sex or dancing or chocolate ice cream was evil, I would continue to disagree with him without an awfully good argument. Might, as a matter of simple fact, does not make right.)

Now I don’t think that all Conservatives really believe that there is a fixed moral base out there in this sense, but probably an awful lot of them do, and it’s interesting to think about what the widespread holding of a false belief like that might lead to.

First of all, they will not have much respect for the project of figuring out right and wrong, which the rest of us see as one of the Important Things that we have to do. There’s just no need to talk much about it, to try different things, to have protests; just look up what the Bible (or the Original Framers of the Constitution, or whoever) think on the subject, and you’re done.

Also, they must be sort of frustrated and/or baffled. The world just refuses to behave as it should given that there is a fixed moral base! People do all sorts of immoral things, and they are not struck by lightning or turned to salt or anything. People who believe in other fixed moral bases (which is either nearly as bad as, or even worse than, not believing in any) continue to exist, sometimes even prosper, win wars, and so on. People who believe in no fixed moral basis at all have nice families, pretty clothes, and hardly ever consume human flesh at dreadful midnight rituals. Booming voices from the clouds hardly ever sound to remind us of the rules, and we have had no freshly-minted divinely-inscribed marble slabs in simply ages. How can all this be?

There’s the very popular theory that not following the fixed moral base results in punishments after you die, when you are well out of sight. But how satisfactory can that be, really? It seems so obviously a dodge, even the conservatives in question must feel it sometimes. There must be a terrible yearning for concrete evidence of the fixed moral base, for a voice that will, if not actually boom from the clouds, at least sound so very sure of itself that it makes the doubts seem less devouring.

It must be a sort of scary and lonely thing, really. And it may go quite a ways toward explaining the Republican Presidential field…

(Hm, do I wax a bit condescending there? Nah!)

And to close, here is a Blast from the Past, just because it somehow got stuck in my head earlier today. From a posting of mine to alt.hackers ‘way back in 1996, we present:

  All I Really Want
  (with apologies to Alanis Morissette)

  Well, it's stressing me out,
  The GUI is crawling and all greyed out,
  And you say wha-a-a-a-a-a-a-t a loser!
  I don't want to select anything today,
  I don't like to drag and drop you see
  But I ca-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-n't help it.

  There I go clicking before the mouse has settled down
  Slap me with another menu
  And it would use up all my core
  If it hadn't crashed already
  If only I could hunt the Wumpus.

  And all I really want is a shell prompt,
  A place to type netstat -s.
  And all I really want are free cycles,

  Do I wear you out?
  You must wonder why I'm thrashing and all swapped out,
  I'm consumed by the system's bitmaps.
  I'm like Estella
  I like to type it in and then compile it out
  I'm frustrated by your interface.

  And I am frightened by the bloated hugeness of this code,
  If only I could grep the source-tree
  And I am fascinated by the bitly-conscious man,
  I'm humbled by his hacker nature

  What I wouldn't give to find a guru
  Someone who can write tight code
  And what I wouldn't give to find a hacker

Peace, as they say, out.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Why do we have “foodstuffs”, but no other stuffs? What about “clothingstuffs”? Or “drinkstuffs”? “sexstuffs, drugstuffs, rockandrollstuffs!”

It’s an odd world.

The Ghost of Dibble Hollow

So driving the little boy home from orchestra, we heard something on WNYC about Christopher Columbus, and that reminded me of how in at least some movie version of Little Women or something the protagonist would exclaim “Christopher Columbus!”, and that on the old (old!) Superman teevee show Perry White would exclaim “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” (which in at least one episode caused that ghost, or someone pretending to be him, to appear), and that in some book that I read as a child there was a ghost (coincidence, that) who would exclaim “Crimenentlies!” or something by way of a satisfying exclamation that would not get them in trouble with the grownups.

I told the little boy that I suspected the book was “The Ghost of Dibble Hollow”, and I wondered if that book was on the web. It is, in fact it is more or less all over the place, including many copies of the same cover that my edition had.

And for that matter there is even one person mentioning it for exactly the same reason I am here, albeit with the exclamation spelt slightly differently.

That was a good book. I haven’t read any kid books recently; I really should. Doesn’t take long, and is good for the soul. Maybe I’ll reread A Wrinkle in Time or somefing.

The kind of libertarian I still am

So reading Griftopia has, at least for the moment, substantially changed the sort of libertarian I am. The change centers around an observation something like “small government would be great, if we had only small crimes”.

The thoroughgoing libertarian will probably respond to this by saying that the only reason we have big crimes now is precisely that we have big government, but that does not seem very likely to me. Certainly the massive fraud perpetrated by Goldman-Sachs and friends in recent years did exploit the government in lots of ways, but it also exploited investors big and small, and various other parts of the private sector. I see no reason to think that if the government was small, there would not be other things (large popular investment firms, pension plans, leading banks) that would be large, and these (and large numbers of private persons) could easily be defrauded of enough money that the fraudsters would be rich enough to buy off the government and prevent their own prosecution.

So, sadly, I think we need a relatively large and expensive government, if only to keep an eye on the inevitable large and wealthy potential criminal organizations. (Not to mention defending the borders.) Of course it’s still a hard fight to keep it from getting corrupted, too! But at least it seems like there’s a fighting chance.

Tweeting Twits

My Second Life self has a Twitter account, which started out being all Second Life type twitterings, but recently has started to be about more and more political stuff, as I observe with benign interest the Occupy Wall Street folks and etc, and get into the occasional squabble with some right-wing type, one or two of which I follow (“follow”) out of general interest.

Had a bit of a frank exchange of views with one Joe Brooks, who seems to be sort of a halfway sensible conservative, at least sometimes. He is quite anti-Occupy, and more pro-TeaParty, whereas I am rather the opposite. He thinks Occupy Wall Street and so on were started by and are controlled by Communists and Labor Unions and things, whereas I think the Tea Party was started by and is controlled by the Koch Brothers, their (shudder) Americans for Prosperity, and the Republican machine in general.

My impression of the Tea Party is that they took some “stop giving money to rich people!” sentiment around the time of the TARP bailouts, added some “Lower my taxes!” to obtain a general “The Government should tax and spend less!” which could then easily be bent into “Less government regulation!”, which is of course exactly what the rich people want, so that they can continue to become richer, some of them by more or less blatantly illegal and/or immoral means. Quite an ironic circularity there.

I can well imagine someone co-opting the Occupy Wall Street folks’s “stop financial industry fraud!” into “more regulation of Wall Street” and then “more regulation of business” and then “more government power”, which tends to become “more power to the already powerful!”, which is again what various of the bad guys want.

So one has to be careful. But in the case of Occupy, I don’t think that’s happened (yet?).

Here is a very excellent open letter and warning from a former tea party movement adherent to the Occupy Wall Street movement all about co-optation and stuff. Everyone should read it.

The kind of Obama fan I (still) am(n’t)

So I am really not hardly at all happy with Our President.

I mean, WTF.

Got rid of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; that’s good. But…

He’s surrounded by the same Goldman-Sachs crowd that destroyed the economy for their own personal gain, and they are as far as I can tell now working to make sure that they and their cronies still in the private sector can do it again next time they want another few billion dollars in the kitty.

He’s not turned off the absurd waste of Federal money on the stupid and immoral practice of prosecuting and persecuting medical marijuana providers who are doing things that are completely legal under their state laws. He promised he would do this, and he very simply isn’t.

He’s kept us in stupid wars, expanded those wars, and gotten us into new ones. He pretty much promised that he would do this, too, but I think most of us assumed he was just saying that to get votes. That’ll teach us to hope that someone is being a hypocrite!

(In, ironically enough, his Peace Prize speech, he basically announces that America will wage war not just to defend itself and its allies, but to make sure that every nation in the world respects “the inherent rights and dignity of every individual”. I mean, excuse me? Not with my children, you don’t!)

He has claimed the amazing ability to execute American citizens without trial, on the unilateral say-so of the President. I mean, what the F’ing F? This is completely hideous, unconstitutional, unAmerican, nasty, dangerous, and wrong. We were horrified when Dubya merely claimed the ability to imprison (“detain”) citizens without due process. How can we be calm when Obama claims the ability to kill us?

Anyone who is thinking, well, this was a special case, and it was Obama after all, please consider:

2014, President Romney dies from a bad batch of Botox, and Vice-President Bachmann gets the top spot. Shortly afterward she has a vivid dream in which God tells her that America is at war with atheism.

Two weeks later simultaneous drone strokes take out the national headquarters of American Atheists and the Ethical Culture Society, as well as Richard Dawkins, in the U.S. on a speaking tour. Casualties are in the hundreds.

The Bachmann administration claims that it was a legal national security action, and cites the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki as precedent.

Couldn’t happen? Well, if the Obama administration’s assassination of al-Awlaki was legal, you will have to explain to me why the hell not.

This is why we have warrants, judges, checks and balances, separation of powers.


So the President seems to be a not particularly Progressive statist with ambitions of American expansionism. The potential Republican nominees are all either insane, lying hypocrites, or both. I am not overjoyed!

But this, too, shall pass.

In other news

Here is a Stanford (related) AI class that anyone in the world can take and apparently some hundreds of thousands of people intend to. I understand their servers are needing some upgrading. :)

And today’s candidate for Shortest 419 Letter, presented in its entirely:

Be my partner in this huge $17.3M deal.

Enticing, eh?

The evils of convenience

I am pretty fond of this here WordPress theme. On the other hand I am not fond of the right-justification (nearly always a bad idea on computers except in the most thoroughly-typeset documents), nor of the egregious grey lines around all my images. Guess that is the price I pay for not having to hand-code and SCP-upload all these here words!



Friday, October 7, 2011

I’m taking the day off at random; it is very nice! We don’t have Monday off, so it’s a mere three-day weekend, but still.

Hos, Boobies, an’ Orgasms

So we signed up for HBO for a month, mostly so we could watch this George Harrison Special that they had. The program on HBOHD right before it was “Making it in America”, which seems to be a satirical comedy about naked people having uncomfortable-looking sex. Then the program right after it was “Cathouse” something, a hard-hitting documentary about what it’s like to be an escort, including numerous scenes of nudity and/or sex. And then after that was “Katie Someone on Sex Toys”, which featured sex, as one might expect from the name, and also a blonde ditzy stark-naked narrator with large artificial breasts (as one might also expect from the name I suppose, since Katie Someone is apparently a relatively well-known porn star).

Surprisingly the George Harrison Special didn’t include any gratuitous nudity or sex, at least not that I noticed. But the other programs suggest a certain theme, or one might even say obsession.


The Aren’t Like Us, You Know

So (maybe all subsections should start with “So”) I finished listening to that Learning Company course on consciousness, and it was indeed pretty basic. It was also disappointingly simplistic on the whole “what kinds of things have consciousness, and how could we possibly know?” question.

The professor says things like “to be conscious is to be the subject of sensation” as if it actually told us anything very interesting. He also talks about how impossible it would be for fish to become aware of, or know anything about, water, as though that was anything more than the flimsiest of metaphors (flimsy because it falls apart as soon as one asks whether humans could ever know anything about air).

And in general he has very definite, but apparently completely unsupported, opinions about what is or might be conscious. He is always talking about what he is “inclined” or “strongly inclined” to “say”; but I find myself rather definitely uninterested in what he is inclined to say: I want to know what is true.

He is for instance inclined to say that there is something that it is like to be an amoeba, but that there isn’t anything that it is like to be a “machine” (where “machine” is not further defined). My suspicion is that that inclination comes from a sort of unthinking “carbon compounds good, silicon compounds bad” meme with nothing very interesting behind it, or at least he gives us no reason to think otherwise.

The question of what things might be conscious is rather a different question from the question of how we might come to know that a thing is conscious. We come to know that other humans are conscious because we observe a strong correlation between our own actions and our own consciousness, and probably-justifiably conclude that people that take similar actions have similar consciousnesses. (One thing the professor gets right is pointing out that the claim that we each have only one datapoint, ourselves, on the subject is wrong; actually we each have a huge number of datapoints: all of our conscious actions.)

But it’s important to distinguish between things that we can come to know are conscious (other humans, probably other relatively high-level animals, possibly unicellular microorganisms although I would take some convincing), things that we can come to know aren’t conscious (not sure what if anything is in that set, although the professor seems to think that “machines” are in it), and things that we can’t come to know are conscious (or at least can’t come to know it in the same way), but still might be conscious for all we know.

Even if I bought the argument that an amoeba’s actions are more like mine than the actions of any machine could ever be (which I think is in fact utterly false), that would still not be any reason to think that no machine could ever be conscious. It would just be reason to think that I could not come to know that any machine was conscious by way of the behaves-like-me argument.

Conflating the truth of a thing with one’s ability to find out that truth is the height of arrogance, not to mention silly.

“Are there any apples in the box?”


“How do you know?”

“The box is closed, and I can’t see inside. Must be empty.”

I don’t know if there’s something that it’s like to be an amoeba, or a tree, or a jackhammer, or Deep Blue. I think the whole question is deep and mysterious and fascinating. Pretending to answer it by just examining one’s pretheoretic inclinations to say things is completely unsatisfactory, and I’m disappointed in this professor for doing not much more than that.

One possible reaction to all this is to say oh, well, phht, it may be philosophically fun to speculate that maybe there’s something it’s like to be a tree, but really there isn’t, and it has no practical interest. I think it was Nagel or someone who pointed out that some extremely alien Martians might examine us and their more practical citizens might say the same thing about us, and they would be factually wrong, since in fact there is something that it is like to be one of us.

And I’d like to not be factually wrong, when feasible.

Blue What?

So I am really liking this wireless Bluetooth headset thing! It’s ummm this one. I bought it to work with the iPad, which it does very nicely, and it turns out that the Windows 7 laptop here also has Bluetooth, and also works nicely with it.

My only complaint is that when anything of interest happens (the signal momentarily dropping or reconnecting, one accidentally trying to turn the headset volume higher or lower than it goes, etc) it makes a LOUD BEEPING NOISE in one’s ear, which seems uncalled-for. Also switching it from the iPad to the laptop and back requires a bit more messing-around than I’d like, but maybe I just haven’t found the right buttons to push yet.

So anyway I can now listen to sounds being produced by either the iPad or the laptop without having to untangle wires, keep my head carefully within N inches of the device, or worry about having the things rudely ripped from my ears by passing cats or the corners of things.

It is very modern and shiny!

There was some other witty section title I was going to use

But I have forgotten it. :) I have also been playing Glitch, which is fun and silly, and some WoW, and always Second Life. And watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes on Netflix on the iPad! Which is also fun and silly. :)


Saturday, October 1, 2011

So in one of those “Welcome to New York!” moments, we popped out of the Astor Place subway station (the 6 line, downtown from Grand Central), next to a crowd of chanting, sign-waving, and generally admirable looking people, many of the female persuasion, constituting (as I found out after I got home) the New York Slutwalk 2011:

Slutwalk NYC: Union Square

(Click through to flickr for a whole photoset not taken by or containing any of us, but of some of the same people that we saw. The mobile poledancer bringing up the rear of the march is not pictured.)

We discovered that we needed to go against the flow of the march to get to Shimkin Hall & the Jeffrey S. Gould Welcome Center, so we slipped along on the non-march side of the line of watching police officers, up 8th Avenue (“Consent is Sexy! No Means No!”), smiled at the mobile pole dancer, and turned south onto Broadway.

Turns out that if you go to the NYU Undergraduate Admissions Visit page, and it says that all of the tours for the day that you’re planning to go down are full up, you can just show up anyway, and they will with no fuss at all sign you up on the spot, and you can listen to the Admissions Officer person talk, and ask questions and listen to other people ask questions, and then go on an hour tour of the campus (which is mostly all around Washington Square Park there) with a Genuine Student, who will show you a Genuine Dorm and classroom and an enormous library and some other stuff, and (at least in our case) you’ll only be rained on a little.

So that was a good time.

(And NYU is very large. Not to mention pricey!)

Then since we hadn’t done any research in advance and I couldn’t find an open WiFi hotspot that would talk to my iPad, we didn’t manage to find an actual Dim Sum place that wasn’t occupied by a private party or not open at the time, but we ate at Kens Asian Taste, which was basically empty because it was too late I think for Dim Sum (“No more dimsum!”), and too early for most people having dinner, and the food was good, and it was nice to be sitting down and eating and out of the rain.

And on the way back to Grand Central (note: the 6 train uptown seems to be missing at various stations, including Canal Street; but you can take the N or Q or whatever that is uptown from Canal Street to Times Square, and take the S shuttle to Grand Central from there) we stopped at the Tai Pan Bakery (which was fun and bustling and chaotic and everyone but us spoke Cantonese) and got little Egg Custards for the train, and some Pork Buns for breakfast tomorrow (probably).

And now we are home!