Saturday, December 31, 2016

Understanding the Russian "hacking" meme

The election of Donald Trump as president was a (legal) coup against the military-industrial complex that has dominated the US for decades. The people who have benefited from that dominance are now staging a counter-coup.

In staging a coup like the one we have just seen, the coup leaders, even if moved by genuinely populist concerns, have to enlist the aid of many, many powerful people, in order to resist the counter-coup, or they will fail. The resistance to any such coup will be fierce: there are trillions of dollars at stake here! The leaders of the counter-coup have a multitude of resources at their disposal: they have already corrupted most of the "free press" to act as their toadies, so they can easily spread anti-coup propaganda in national media outlets. They understand psychological manipulation, so they will enlist the aid of many well-meaning but naive people by making them believe they are opposing "racism," or "sexism," or "homophobia." (The last is the most ridiculous: no GOP candidate was ever more gay-friendly than Trump!) And they have many operatives inside the government, so it is easy for them to call on government agencies to declare the recent election somehow illegitimate. After the recount ploy failed, and the electoral college revolt failed, the reigning elite were left with a conspiracy theory: the Russians did it!! (It is hilarious how anyone opposing the idea of this vast Russian conspiracy has been smeared as a "conspiracy theorist"!)

But not everyone in a position of power has been pleased with our continual warfare (benefitting arms dealers), or the looting of the American economy by Wall Street banks. There are many patriotic people, high up in industry, banking, and the military, who deeply oppose these policies.

In appointing cabinet members and other administration officials, it is important that the coup leaders enlist on their side as many sympathetic people with great power as possible. Trump could have appointed plumbers and dock workers and nurses to his cabinet, but then the forces of the counter-coup would have crushed the coup in a few weeks. But by appointing billionaires, Wall Street pros, and former generals, he has established a strong network of resistance to the counter-coup. Each of his appointees will have thousands of important people loyal to him or her who can work to resist the propaganda of the counter-coup.

And the mere fact that someone worked for a Wall Street firm, or served in the military, is no evidence that they favored the bailout of finance by the American taxpayers, or the continual use of the military in conflicts that benefit not American interests but only the arms manufacturers. In fact, finance and the military are both perfectly justifiable institutions: we need banking and defense! And it has made many good-hearted people in both fields sick to see the exploitation undertaken in their name. Hopefully, it is from among these true patriots that Trump has chosen his appointees.

I write this post because the best defense against this counter-coup is a widespread recognition that this is what is going on: the current elite are terrified about losing their privileges, and risking nuclear war with Russia seems to them a small price to pay for their staying on top.

And the Mises moocher

The mathematics lecturer said he was next going to discuss "the Menger sponge."

"Ah," I thought, "he's going to discuss that bloody socialist Wieser! I'll bet he sponged off of Menger all the time!"

But no, it turned out he discussed this:

(Actually named after Carl Menger's son, by the way.)

Don't slight propaganda

My math lecturer just called this:

A "map of England"!

A few of centuries of propaganda can be quite effective!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Market exchange and welfare

I just read an intelligent economist (not an oxymoron, I swear!) claiming that market exchange "guarantees" that in an unfettered free market, goods go to the people with the highest valued use for them.

Sigh. What about the ability to pay?

Let's say we establish a market in human organs, as many libertarians advocate. And further imagine this market is unregulated, something of which they would no doubt approve.

In such a market, there will be many poor people who need kidneys. But imagine that George Soros likes to have a dozen grilled human kidneys for breakfast every day. Poor people in need of a transplant might very well value those kidneys much more highly than Soros (i.e., if we gave them each a billion dollars, they would easily outbid him for them on a free market) -- but they simply lack the funds to compete with his voracious kidney appetite.

It is reasonable to contend that the price we pay for the benefits of free markets is that sometimes rich people get things that poor people need more: perhaps the benefits of a free market outweigh that downside. (By the way, I think that in general, they do, although perhaps not in every case.)

But it is just nonsense, and economic nonsense, at that, to claim that this problem doesn't exist!

The problem with intelligence "arising" from mechanical operations

In the comments on this post, rob argues that a bunch or "circuits" (or neurons, I guess) behaving according to deterministic, mechanical laws is exactly what "gives rise" to intelligence, in humans or computers.

The problem with this view is Occam's razor. Let us consider a door lock. If the lock is set, one can't open the door without a key (at least without breaking it). We can see why this is so on simple, mechanical principles. Now, it just could be that the door "knows" when it is supposed to let people in who don't have the key, and when it shouldn't. But generally we reject any such hypothesis as superfluous: once we understand how the door mechanically does its job, we simply don't need to posit any "knowing": it won't "do any work" in our explanation of when we can get in the house and when we can't.

Now let's say we add some biometric feature to the door: the owner can still get in by fingerprint if he forgot his key. Would we say the door "knows" it's the owner? Again, not likely: we'd likely say we'd just added a new mechanism, i.e., we now have a more sophisticated machine. The positing of an "intelligent door" still fails the test of Occam's razor: having explained the operation of the door on strictly mechanical grounds, there is just no need to add in a dollop of intelligence that has no effect whatsoever on what happens.

And so we have a proof by induction: if a machine (even a biological machine) with n mechanisms can be fully explained mechanically, and we add the n + 1th mechanism that is also understandable on purely mechanical grounds, then the new machine is also fully explained mechanically. No piling on of circuits upon circuits ever justifies the adding in of a new element, "intelligence," that is something non-mechanical. If it is true that even human beings are "just circuits," behaving mechanistically, than "the human mind" is just a ghost, and you don't really "decide" if an idea is true or not: some circuits simply did what they do accoding to mechanical laws, and the outcome spit out of your mouth, with no room for whether you "think" a proposition is "true" to have any influence at all on what you say.

And that is something recognized by honest materialists such as Alex Rosenberg, who claim that ideas like "belief" are without meaning, and that consciousness is an illusion. (Although who is suffering from this illusion is not clear.)

Now, if we want to re-define intelligence as "a really slick mechanical contraption," then OK, but surely then Windows NT or Photoshop qualifies as "intelligent." But most AI enthusiasts want to have their cake and eat it too: they will, when pressed, admit that what goes on in any computer is entirely mechanical, but they still want to claim that, say, Watson, "has now achieved real intelligence!"

This is pure mystification.

Chipping away at the illusion

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Learning assembly: the cure for AI delusions?

I am searching for an assembly language simulator for I can teach my Operating Systems students how processes work at the CPU level. In the course of doing so, I came across this site, and found:
10110000 01100001

The first few bits (10110) are an instruction to copy a value into a register. The next three digits (000) identify the register which the value will be copied into. The rest of it (01100001) is the value which is to be copied.

Of course 10110 is meaningless, and the computer doesn't "know" that it means "copy the value." The processor is designed so that the series of electrical impulses represented by 10110 (on-off-on-on-off) causes the desired result. This is part of what is meant by "mechanical."
Yesiree. Maybe if all of the AI true believers had to program in assembly for a month, they'd all realize, "Oh yeah, it's just a bunch of circuits performing that exact mechanical operations I set up for them to perform."

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The poverty of experts

When I first began programming on UNIX, in the late 1980s, the computer press was filled with stories about how "old-fashioned" UNIX was, and how its death was imminent.

Nearly 30 years later, between Linux, MacOS, iOS, Android, and other UNIX variants, UNIX-based systems completely dominate the operating system market.

The "experts" were computer journalists, with no "skin in the game." They had never actually tried programming on a UNIX-based machine and also on any of its rivals. They had no idea that the geniuses at Bell Labs had created the ultimate IDE, and that the inherent superiority of the way of developing software that they had pioneered would only become clearer as the years passed.

Do not trust "experts" with no skin in the game.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The OS Song

FIFOs and LIFOs and core device drivers

IPC, RPC, threading and scheduling

Memory-mapped files, filled up with strings

These are a few of my favorite things!

When the disk breaks

When the RAM fails

When I'm feeling sad

I simply remember my favorite things

And then I don't feel so bad

Monday, December 26, 2016

Operating Systems,

the web site, is being born.

"That's Medieval!"

The great conceit of our time is that by being"modern" we are smarter than all humans who came before us. This belief is most often adopted by people abysmally ignorant of the past, and what people were like in the past. And this myth has been embraced for little more reason than that we modern people have been told it is true by someone who seemed smart, and it flatters our egos.

Ironically, it is this extreme willingness to adopt a self-flattering belief, based on no evidence, that shows that "moderns," on average, may be the stupidest people who have ever walked the earth. And that makes sense: no people so stupid could have survived as hunter-gatherers or subsistence farmers.  It is only our great wealth and the mind-numbing tasks by which it is today possible to make a living that permit so many zombies to survive. Is it possible to imagine an aboriginal hunter so dull-witted as to deliberately block off his own hearing, restrict his own vision to within a few inches of his face, and then go off for a walk into the dangerous jungle?

While watching a crime show the other day, I was struck by a hilarious example of our modern narcissism. "Sophisticated" moderns are likely to get a good chuckle out of medieval legal procedures such as trial by ordeal. But in a thousand years, some historian will be writing, "In the so-called 'Middle Ages,' procedures such as trial by ordeal at least held out the possibility of getting verdicts correct. But by 2000, the human mental state had become so debased that it was actually believed that trials could be made more reliable by inviting people into the courtroom who were professionally skilled at lying; confusing and hypnotizing others to alter their reports of what they saw; hiding, faking, and blocking the use of evidence; and exploiting obscure technicalities in their vast and incomprehensible occult texts they called 'law,' and basically putting them in charge of trials. These shamans were highly respected and paid for their magic, and were called lawyers."

Saturday, December 24, 2016

AWKward? Perhaps...

Just wrote my first awk script in a dozen years.

Here you go.

If you don't know awk, it is a very useful tool in a programmer's arsenal, and you ought to learn it.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Test Your Knowledge of Algorithms

Try my final exam for this past semester.

I like alcoholic beverages

However, I don't think it is a good idea to allow unlimited amounts of alcoholic beverages to be poured down my gullet every night.

I also like immigrants.* However...

The idea that anyone who wants reasonable control of immigration is a "xenophobe" is every bit as sensible as the idea that someone who does not want to engage in unlimited consumption of alcohol every night is an "alcoholaphobe."

* For instance, I happened to have a party at my apartment tonight: 13 out of 15 attendees were immigrants.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Chipping away at the illusion

Another "Hate Crime" Bites the Dust

I called this one the day the story came out in November. It was obvious that burning a black church and painting "Vote Trump" on the wall, right before the election, was the worst Trump campaign ad ever, but a great Clinton campaign ad.

"Cui bono?" folks, "Cui bono?"!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Loss of knowledge

"An animated world, divine intervention, the 'openness' of the soul's life are not preconceptions or errors or results of a superficial approach, but clearly recognizable components of this [Homeric] experience of the world, and their elimination constitutes an elimination of important knowledge." -- Paul Feyerabend, Philosophy of Nature, p. 90.

Yogi Berra understood rationalism perfectly

"In theory, theory and practice are the same. But in practice, they are different."

Friday, December 16, 2016

Next AI Task: Teach Watson ">"

The Weather Channel site now boats that its site uses Watson.

Watson apparently doesn't know that if it is 20 degrees at this very moment, the low for the day can't possibly be 26.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

More philosophical nonsense from Adams

As I keep repeating, I've learned a lot from Scott Adams on persuasion. But every time he tries philosophy, he babbles nonsense. Consider:

"As a hypnotist, I doubt any of us can see reality for what it is. My worldview is that we were in one kind of illusion before and some of us moved to another. When it comes to understanding reality, the best we can do is pick a version that does a good job predicting."

This makes no sense whatsoever: if we are always living in an illusion, than we have no possibility whatsoever of determining what "version" does "a good job predicting"!

Because whatever we perceive as having happened according to our illusions' predictions is also, itself, an illusion!

So Adams is suggesting we can test an illusion against another illusion and by doing so, refine our understanding of reality!

Graphics Software Bleg

What is the best (best = 1 / cost * features) software out there (for a Mac, or online) for generating graphics of the sort one might find in a mathematics or computer science textbook?

Right now I am cobbling things together with Python graphics packages plus post-editing with Acorn, but I'm sure I can do much better.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Greedy, greedy, greedy...

Of course Zeus existed (and exists)

"The gods are there. To side with the Greeks in recognizing and acknowledging this as an accepted fact is the first requirement for an understanding of their beliefs and culture. Our knowledge that they are there rests on a perception, be it internal or external, and be the respective gods perceived directly are only via the recognizable effects" (Wilamovitz-Moellendorff, quoted in Feyerabend, Philosophy of Nature, p. 71).

Quite so: if you tried telling a Greek in 600 BC that Dionysus does not exist, he would simply think you must have never gotten drunk or even been around people getting drunk. One could perceive the god entering into oneself, or the others drinking, and feel one's own (or their) enthusiasm (the entering in of a god). Similarly with Aphrodite: the Greek would ask how you could possibly avoid feeling her presence when you fall for some pretty young thing?

It is interesting to note in this regard that scripture certainly does not deny the existence of the multitude of gods. No, it instructs us not to worship them; i.e., the enthusiasm they bring about in us is to be rejected when it conflicts with our worship of the One God.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

If mothers can't kill their own children...

then sex will be less fun! And nothing can be allowed to stand in the way of that!

What is "hate"?

Apparently, if you don't want your country to become Muslim, that qualifies.

If only Charles Martel had known this, he could have turned Europe over to Islam 1300 years ago!

Fake neuro-social-evolutionary-bio-psycho-science

Robert Cialdini's Pre-suasion, despite its touting by Scott Adams, is just OK. It has a number of good tips, and some nice stories, but the whole thing could have been a forty-page pamphlet or e-book. (As it is, the book ends at page 233, and the last 180 pages are references, notes, and the index.)

One thing particularly annoying in the book is its regular, phony invocations of neuro-this and evolutionary that. For instance, "kin selection" is invoked in a section on why being like people whom you are trying to persuade is a good idea. But it does absolutely no work: everyone knows that "blood is thicker than water," and evolution is conjured up to give a fake veneer of science to this commonplace knowledge. Every time neurology is brought up, it is the same: none of it does any work. This name-dropping plays the same role that mentioning "Oh, and the Pope likes it" would have played in an astronomical argument in 1300.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Comparative advantage: a partial truth

I believe I mentioned that I am sitting in on Nassim Nicholas Taleb's lectures on "Strange Risk" this fall. He brought up a slide on things we could throw out once we properly took account of volatility, and one of them was Ricardo's Law of Comparative Advantage.

That prompted a question from me as to what he meant. I thought the answer was interesting: once we take price volatility into account, it would be foolish to "obey" the law of comparative advantage to slavishly. Why?

Well, he explained, imagine you are France, and you produce only wine (your comparative advantage) and export it in exchange for everything else you need. What happens if, say, everywhere you are exporting to falls under Sharia Law? Or you are Saudi Arabia, in reality producing pretty much only oil, and some great new source of clean energy is developed?

If your nation has hyper-specialized in one good, and the market for that good collapses, your nation is in deep trouble.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Worst computer analogy ever?

Because basically, every single thing said on the computer side of the analogy is false:

"These concepts have been previously primed for influence. By analogy, think of almost any computer program you use. It is likely to contain transfer links [Transfer links? WTH?] that you need to click twice: once to ready the link and once to launch it. [Double-clicking is a single mouse gesture: from the program's point of view: the program just receives notice that the user double-clicked. There are not two phases, one during which the "transfer link" could be "readied," whatever the hell that would mean.] But the program also likely contains links that launch with just one click [that's because the programmer triggered the event associated with the link on a single-click mouse event, and not a double-click], because they have already been readied -- that is, hyperlinked ['hyperlink' just means links within hypertext: nothing to do with 'prefetching'] to the desired information. The effect of hyperlinking to a location has been labeled by web browser engineers as 'prefetching it.'" -- Pre-suasion, Robert Cialdini, p. 140.

It looks to me as though Cialdini simply wrote down how he imagined computers work, without bothering to check a single thing in the entire passage above.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Pizza, pizza, get your piping hot pizza!

I had paid little attention to the "Pizzagate scandal" until a few days ago, when certain people forced it onto my radar.

As a trained researcher, I know not to pay too much attention either to the people who accept such stories uncritically, or to the people who reject them uncritically. A trained researcher does not "believe" or "disbelieve" his sources: he interrogates those sources and treats them as evidence of events that have occurred, and not as descriptions of events that have occurred.

So, for instance, no one should take the wild conspiracy theories emerging from the darker corners of the Internet at face value. Nor should anyone take an uncritical piece of garbage like this at face value. Amy Davidson basically declares there is not even any point in trying to figure out why the conspiracy theorists believe what they do: the conspiracy theory arose from nothing at all, and focuses on the things it does for no reason whatsoever.

But even completely false accusations are formed the way they are for some reason, and someone actually doing anything that could be called "journalism," rather than "smug dismissalism," would try to see if she can understand why.

Well, I took a few minutes off from my other work to see what I could turn up. One element of the conspiracy theory is that a band that has played at the pizza place, Heavy Breathing, is somehow involved with the scandal. Members of the band have received death threats, something that should not be happening even if they are the leading sex traffickers in the world.

But Comet Ping Pong, if they have music at all, probably have various bands in. Why would the conspiracy theorists focus on this one?

So, off to the band's web site. There I was met by an anus staring me in the face, and was immediately given the finger. I found a number of recordings of their songs, which seemed to be focused on sexual hedonism, dark magic rituals, sadomasochism, and other unsavory topics.

And then I found this. (I am going to describe what I am seeing in case the band yanks the image down.) The first thing that struck me was that anyone over eight or nine years old would look at the image of the young boy holding an extremely phallic object up to his open mouth as a little bit... suggestive? If I were the band, and an artist brought me this drawing for my website, I would immediately say, "What the hell is that? It looks like a young boy practicing fellatio!"

"But... I didn't mean anything by it!"

"Whether you did or not, get it the hell out of the drawing that is going to go on my band's website!"

The song's title is "All the children," and the image posted to go with this song also depicts a couple of children... crawling around. "That's all they are doing," I told myself, "just crawling. Don't jump to conclusions."

So next I played the song. Some of the lyrics I just can't decipher, but the ones I can are: "I want to take it up their way, push it," which are repeated many times.

OK, now I definitely don't see those kids just crawling anymore. When you name your song "All the children," sing over and over that you want to "take it up their way" with all these children, and show children down and their hands and knees... no, they no longer look like they are just crawling.

This most certainly does not "prove" that there is a pedophile ring associated with this pizza place. Since fortunately there are very few pedophile rings, I think it still leaves it very unlikely that there is a pedophile ring associated with Comet Ping Pong.

Here is what I find more likely: what we have are some garden-variety degenerates, who thought it would be very amusing to "Épater la bourgeoisie" with a song expressing a longing for anal sex with children. Unfortunately for them, some people did not "get the joke."

The death threats are awful, and should stop. But treating evil as an amusing joke with which sophisticates can snicker at rubes with traditional morals is also a terrible idea, and it can come back to haunt you.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Voice recognition oddities

Two words I can't get Apple's voice recognition software to recognize when I say them:

  1. Than: I always get "then," unless I really consciously stress the difference, in which case I get "van."
  2. Will: This comes out as "we'll." This one is especially puzzling to me: if I listen to myself say the word "will," my pronunciation of the vowel doesn't sound very much like a long-e to me.


I got some pushback on my piece on ethno-nationalism from people who said, "No, an ethnicity must be characterized by a common bloodline!" Oddly, this pushback came both from racists who wanted to exclude non-whites from being "true Americans" and from their critics.

First of all, racists define ethnicity as being identical (almost identical?) to bloodline. So what? We now have to turn to racists for our word definitions?

But more importantly, if we define things that way, there pretty much are no nations for the racial-nationalists to "preserve." Consider England: Far from all being descended from a common bloodline, the English people are descended from Picts, Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, Norman French and more. Two of the most prominent Englishmen of the 19th century, Ricardo and Disraeli, were the descendants of Portuguese and Italian Jews, respectively, and yet both were clearly English. James Callaghan was of Irish and Jewish descent and like Disraeli became Prime Minister.
Idris Elba is pretty obviously English, in a way I never could be, despite my being genetically closer to the average resident of England than he is.

Similarly, the Spanish are Iberians, Lusitanians, Celts, Romans, Germans, Moors and more. The Italian people are made up of "bloodlines" of Celts, Etruscans, Greeks, Romans, Lombards, Moors, and so on. The idea that to be ethnically Italian means to be descended from some common ancestor along with all other Italians is stupid, unless we want to run that bloodline back to Adam and Eve.

If racial-nationalists are looking for some "pure bloodline" around which to found a nation, they are in for a long search.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Philosophy of Nature

I am currently reviewing Paul Feyerabend's Philosophy of Nature for The British Journal for the History of Philosophy. Feyerabend worked on this book in the 1970s, but it was only released this year.

This promises to be a wonderful review experience, since Feyerabend was a brilliant man, and in this work he reviews the "philosophy of nature" from the Stone Age to Bohm.

And here is my first quote of note from the work:

"The assumption that humans of the Stone or Bronze Age would have had only the most primitive knowledge of nature may be flattering to our progressivist self-image. But it has little plausibility since Stone Age humans were already fully developed members of the species Homo sapiens, and it is incompatible with recent research. The environmental and societal problems that the early Homo sapiens had to face were incomparably greater than the challenges facing our contemporary scientists. These problems has to be solved with the most primitive means, often without any division of labor or specialized skills, and the solutions arrived at indicate a level of intelligence and sensitivity that is clearly not inferior to ours." -- pp. 5-6

My book reviews

I've assembled a partial list.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Trump's Tremendous Trolling

Trump just riled up a bunch of his opponents with his tweet about "taking away the citizenship" of anyone who burned the flag.

Of course this is absurd: he's not going to do anything like that: he's trolling.

A friend recognized this, and said Trump's trolling is "Not nice."

This is an understanding of politics as a big kindergarten classroom: If you're just nice to Johnny and let him play with your truck, he will let you play with his.

Unfortunately, real politics is nothing like kindergarten: the new prince, as Machiavelli taught us, must consolidate his rule. If he is overly "nice," his foes will see it as a sign of weakness and oppose him all the more fiercely. And as Machiavelli noted, to be "nice" and fail to establish one's rule is really not nice at all, since civil unrest and ultimately civil war result, and they are very not nice.

So Trump trolled those claiming "Trump is not my president," and got just the reaction he wanted: televised shots of Trump's opponents burning the American flag. Across the nation, the image that will stick with people is: those opposed to Trump hate America. (I'm not saying this makes sense, I'm saying that's the emotional impact of the images.)

Machiavelli would have recommended rounding up the protesters and having them executed. By contrast, Trump's technique of tweet-trolling them into political oblivion is nice indeed.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Wisdom from Scott Adams

As anyone reading this blog consistently knows, I do not "worship" Scott Adams, or anything of the sort. As soon as he starts to talk philosophy, he talks nonsense. But in understanding persuasion, he is a true pro. And in discussing the "pizza-gate" "scandal", he notes:

"Here’s what I know that most of you do not: Confirmation bias looks EXACTLY LIKE a mountain of real evidence. And let me be super-clear here. When I say it looks exactly the same, I am not exaggerating. I mean there is no way to tell the difference."

And of great importance here: Adams is de-bunking an anti-Clinton instance of confirmation bias. He doesn't just see confirmation bias when he wants to see it, and deny its possibility when he likes its implications.

This is what is so hard to accept about what the "Godzilla" of influence, Robert Cialdini, describes in his book Pre-suasion. We are all susceptible to being primed, by pre-adopting a certain framework, to read "evidence" in a certain way. If people are shown an identical video of someone describing their behavior in some situation of violent conflict, but one group has previously read a biography of the narrator as a decorated war hero, and another group has read a biography of the narrator as a violent sociopath, the two groups will judge what is described in the exact same video radically differently. Furthermore, members of each group will mostly be certain that they reached their conclusions entirely based on the actual evidence of the video. If asked if the biography had any influence on them, most of them will answer, "Of course not: that person is clearly [a brave soldier / a sociopath] based only on what they said in the video."

That is what confirmation bias is like.

Let me offer you an example of how important "pre-suasion" can be, with a story I have related on this blog previously.

My last month at the London School of Economics, I was staying at the flat of a friend. He told me that when I arrived in London, I should call him, and we would meet, and he would bring me to my new residence. When I landed and called him, he told me he was at the laundromat. Without explicitly stating this to myself, I subconsciously concluded, "Oh well, there are no laundry facilities at the flat."

After I had been there a couple of weeks, my friend asked me why I kept doing my laundry in the bathtub. (I am not addicted to modern conveniences, and I'm perfectly willing to wash my dishes or my laundry by hand.)

I responded, "because there is no washing machine in the apartment."

My friend walked me to the kitchen, and asked, "Well, what is that?"

Clearly visible in the kitchen, which I had been in by that point dozens of times, was a washing machine. But my friend's statement that he was at the laundromat had "pre-suaded" me that there was no washing machine at our flat. (It just happened that he had been at the laundromat to wash some duvets, which would not fit in the flat's small washing machine.) Thus pre-suaded, I was literally unable to see a completely unhidden and undisguised washing machine.

In this case, no one had been intentionally trying to convince me that there was no washing machine in the flat. There was no team of master persuaders at work trying to hide the presence of the washing machine from me. And yet still I was unable to see it.

Now imagine that a team of master persuaders has been trying to convince you that something that is there, is not, or something that is not there, is. How much more likely are you to believe that there is a "mountain of evidence" that what they want you to believe really is (or isn't) there, and that you have reached your conclusion entirely on your own?

Algorithms and the concrete universal

(A follow-up to this post.)

Hegel's notion of the "concrete universal," later adopted by British idealists (like Bosanquet, Collingwood and Oakeshott) and Italian idealists (like Croce), and important to a modern philosopher such as Claes Ryn, is difficult to grasp. We are used to thinking of the concrete and the universal as opposites of some sort. So what on earth is a "concrete universal"?

This passage from R. G. Collingwood expresses the idea philosophically about as well as I have seen:

"The concept is not something outside the world of sensuous experience: it is the very structure in order of that world itself... This is the point of view of concrete thought... Too abstract is to consider separately things that are inseparable: to think of the universal, for instance, without reflecting that it is merely the universal of its particulars, and to assume that one can isolate it in thought and to study it in this isolation. This assumption is an error." -- Speculum Mentis (1924)

In shorter form, Bernard Bosanquet wrote: "the fullest universal of character and consciousness will embody itself in the finest and most specialized and unrepeatable responses to environment." -- The Principle of Individuality and Value: The Gifford Lectures for 1911 (1927)

Rather than a philosophical definition, what I would like to offer here is a concrete example of the concrete universal, that of algorithms. At first glance, nothing could be more abstract than an algorithm. But let us try to state what that "abstract" algorithm is: let us take, for instance, the algorithm for the Towers of Hanoi. We can describe the algorithm in words; but these will be particular, concrete words. We can picture the actual puzzle game, and even actually play it:

But this represents the algorithm with particular, concrete pieces of wood and particular instructions on how to play.

We can offer an implementation of the algorithm, in, for instance, Python:

def hanoi(n, source, helper, target):
    if n > 0:
        # move tower of size n - 1 to helper:
        hanoi(n - 1, source, target, helper)
        # move disk from source peg to target peg
        if source:
        # move tower of size n-1 from helper to target
        hanoi(n - 1, helper, source, target)
source = [4,3,2,1]
target = []
helper = []
hanoi(len(source), source, helper, target)

But this is a particular set of instructions in a particular programming language.

We might even provide some pseudo-code, but the pseudo-code will still consist of particular symbols written according to a particular pseudo-convention.

In short, the abstract algorithm is an airy nothing, a "we know not what" (as Berkeley described the abstract matter of Descartes and Locke), unless embodied in some concrete form. Or, as Collingwood said, "it is merely the universal of its particulars." We cannot "isolate it in thought and to study it in this isolation." We can only reach the universal through the concrete, which is its only reality.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Chipping away at the illusion


The other-worldliness of CLRS algorithms

I'm teaching algorithms from Cormen, Leiserson, Rivest, and Stein, which is the current standard for advanced algorithm courses. I'm working now on coding up their rod-cutting algorithm.

Supposedly we are solving a practical problem for a company, Serling Enterprises (Rod Serling pun), that buys long steel rods and wants to know how best to cut each rod to maximize revenues, given that different rod lengths sell at different prices.

CLR&S offer an algorithm that determines the best cuts, and then... returns the maximum revenue possible, using those cuts.

Can you imagine a manager at Serling actually using this code? She has a rod of 120 inches in length, and an list of prices for various rod lengths on the market. She feeds this items into the CLRS algorithm, and gets back the answer... $43.

Say what?! The manager wants to know how she should cut the rod. Yes, it is nice to know, also, what revenue she will get from those optimal cuts. But an algorithm that returns only the maximum revenue is useless to her! OK, if she makes optimal cuts, she can get $43 in revenue. But what are those optimal cuts?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Nausea and the Revelation of Arbitrage Opportunities

I am regularly shown job listings by LinkedIn. Tonight I saw one for a quantitative researcher at the Sartre Group.

I think this might be my kind of job: I picture sitting around on an open office floor with my colleagues, smoking Gauloises, sipping red wine, and asking "What is the point of quantitative research in a cold, indifferent universe?"

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Holiday anxieties

On campus this year, I've noticed that people are now afraid of saying "Happy Thanksgiving!"

People are saying to me "have a happy," or "happy holiday!"

Because who knows, maybe there is a religion that is offended at the idea of thanking people? Perhaps turkey lovers will be angry with you if you mention Thanksgiving?

Better safe than sorry.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Who will do better later in life?

Case 1

Thelonius, a child of two mixed-race parents, but who identifies as black, comes home from Amherst College for break.

Thelonius: Dad, I think I might be failing history: the teacher (who is a white male, and probably heterosexual as well!) keeps trying to push us to read all of these dead white guys. It's white privilege!

Dexter: (Thelonius's dad, a public school diversity administrator): Son, yup, that is indeed white privilege in action! You get out there and lead some campus protests, and I'm sure you can get the situation changed.

Case 2

Emmanuel, the child of two Nigerian immigrant parents, comes home from Texas Tech University for break.

Emmanuel: Dad, I think I might be failing Calculus III: the teacher, a white male, keeps talking about all of the theorems of these dead white guys. It's white privilege!

Olawale (Emmanuel's dad, who works a day shift at a chip fabrication plant in Houston, and then drives a cab at night): Son, you come home talking to me about this "white privilege" again, and I will show you my "father's privilege": I will stop paying your damned tuition, and you will go and get your own damned apartment and find a way to pay your own damned rent. Now, get busy studying and finish your engineering degree! Here, let me open your damned calculus book for you and watch you study for a couple of hours!


Median household income
Nigerian-American $61,000
Native-born African-American    $38,000

Chipping away at the illusion

Monday, November 21, 2016

Graph algorithms

A new lecture posted online.

Maximum daily allowance

Someone was telling me that the FDA had set a maximum daily allowance for sugar of six grams.

"No," I told them, "that's cocaine you're thinking of... for sugar it's a bit higher."

Statistical fallacies

A correspondent recently suggested to me that, since the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists, it makes no sense to screen potential Muslim immigrants more carefully than any other immigrants for terrorist connections.

This is statistical nonsense. The vast majority of heavy drinkers do not get liver cancer. But if we are screening for liver cancer, it makes perfect sense to pay special attention to heavy drinkers when screening for liver cancer.

I have two Muslim students whom I work with closely. They are like sons to me. My closest colleague at work is also a Muslim, and he is like a brother to me.

But, unfortunately, we have been waging war against Muslim countries at an alarming rate, naturally generating great resentment in those countries. As such, we should not falsely conclude that the majority of Muslims are anti-American terrorists. Instead, we should correctly conclude that the vast majority of potential anti-American terrorists (currently) will happen to be Muslims.

Let's stop bombing the crap out of Muslim countries, and that situation will correct itself!

Why Aphorisms Beat Rules

Aphorisms are often criticized for their ambiguity:

"Look before you leap."

"He who hesitates is lost."

But that is exactly what makes them better than rationalistic rules for guiding practical actions. They correctly bring to the forefront the uncertain nature of practice, rather than giving us a false sense that we don't have to make the final call, but can just let "the rules" handle life for us.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Fighting with the cast of Hamilton

Much, much better than fighting with Russia.

Let's have all of our nation's battles be Twitter battles from now on!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Trump Distortion Field

Crain's New York Business has published an editorial in which it claims that Donald Trump ran on a platform calling for "kicking out Mexicans."

Why do people feel OK about spreading such rubbish? Trump is proposing "kicking out" illegal immigrants who have committed a felony.

This seems like a no-brainer to me. Someone came here without permission and then committed a major crime? They should leave.

But in any case, the policy says nothing whatsoever about "Mexicans," and certainly will have no impact on the millions of Mexicans living here legally. Why spread a lie like this, when people are already panicked?

UPDATE: Just after I posted this, I find NBC claiming that "Trump... called Mexicans 'rapists' and 'killers.'"

The lies that didn't work during the election are going to be continued anyway, aren't they?

Donald Trump, Egomaniac

I think Trump is some form of "egomaniac." (I'm am very loosely using psychological terms that probably can't really be sharply defined even by the pros.)

And so, when this egomaniac claims:

"And at the end of four years I guarantee that I will get over 95% of the African-American vote. I promise you."

I believe he is being very sincere. He is an egomaniac. He wants to be loved by everyone.

Including Hispanics:

"I’ll take jobs back from China, I’ll take jobs back from Japan. The Hispanics are going to get those jobs, and they’re going to love Trump."

Including LGBTs:

I see no reason to doubt that Trump really wants to be loved by all of these groups: that's what an egomaniac would want.

So let's work to stop the fear mongering!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Bleg! Bleg!

Consider this image (a PNG file):

It has a white background. I would like to remove it, with some relatively cheap tool. All the tool has to do is remove white pixels, and... voila!

But every tool I have tried attempts to do some fancy "AI" pattern recognition of what should be removed, and winds up removing half of the graph edges.

No, just the white pixels! What could be simpler?

Does anyone know something that does this?

The most important thing you will read today


Take the ten minutes needed to read it!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


The great Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor examines how "civility" rose to prominence, during the last few centuries, as a lauded virtue in his book A Secular Age. (It is interesting to note, as Taylor does, the etymologies of "civilized" and "savage": basically, the first refers to people who live in a city, and the second to people who live out in the woods. And the terms were, of course, created by those who live in cities. Contemplate that distinction while thinking about our recent U.S. presidential election.)

The virtues stressed while "living in the woods" are those like courage and loyalty. But in a densely packed city, there are fewer situations that require physical courage, and intense loyalty to one's own in-group can be a barrier to getting along with the many outsiders with whom one must live in close proximity. Instead, in a city, "civility" emerges as the foremost virtue: the ability to "get along," to be polite and "civil," with multitudes of people with whom one disagrees.

There is nothing wrong with civility as a virtue per se. All other things being equal, we should definitely prefer a more "civil" to a more "savage" populace.

But all other things are not always equal. In particular, as the star of civility rose ever higher in our firmament of virtue while those of the more antique virtues descended towards the horizon, speaking nicely and saying good things about others has been elevated to the status of a golden calf. Rather than a complement to the older virtues, it has become a replacement for them. And once that happens, it means that any policy, however immoral, can pass muster so long as it can be described in very nice, civil, terms.

  • It is perfectly OK to advocate a foreign policy that kills millions of Muslims, so long as you never say anything mean about Muslims.
  • It is perfectly OK to do business with Saudi Arabia, where they execute homosexuals, so long as you completely ostracize any person who lets slip the "F-word" in a moment of anger.
  • It is perfectly OK to endorse a policy that kills half of all African-Americans conceived in New York City before they are born, so long as the "N-word" never passes your lips.
Civility is a nice addition to more fundamental, Ten-Commandment-type morality. But when civility becomes a substitute for the latter, it has become a false idol.

At that point, the false idol must be smashed, and exposed as the hypocritical substitute for actually moral behavior that it is.

And at that point, a crass, crude iconoclast who ignores all the reigning standards of "civility" may be just the person we need to do the job.


Is there decent tool out there that converts PowerPoints to easy-to-modify HTML5 code?

I tried a couple of touted tools last night, and they seemed to focus on creating very elaborate HTML5 code that duplicates the slides down to the nearest pixel. So, .e.g., I had a bunch of centered text on one slide, and what the tool produced in HTML was a series of styles for each bullet point that laid out exactly where it should be on the page, like this (I am quoting code from memory):

Why the polls were wrong: The undecideds

I have been attending Taleb's lectures on "silent risk" this semester, since we now both work for Tandon. Tonight he was talking about how foolish were Nate Silver's efforts to pin a precise number on the election odds, when there was so much volatility. Taleb recommended modeling an election as a binary option, that pays one if your bet comes in, and zero if not. And with volatility so high, the right price for such an option is about .50... so Silver should have been calling things a toss-up all along.

The volatility was created by the vast undecided or "barely decided" population that kept tipping back and forth.

Interested in Divide-and-Conquer...


Monday, November 14, 2016

The mainstream media still won't stop lying


"[Trump] questioned the fairness of Hispanic judges."

Trump said that one particular judge, who has been an activist for Hispanic immigrants, might be biased against him in the Trump U. lawsuit, due to his background. He never, ever said anything about "Hispanic judges."

These lies did not work during the election, but mainstream journals apparently are going to double down on mendacity.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Electoral facts of note

Trump improved on Romney's total number of black voters in Florida by 140%. Not everyone was hypnotized by the media!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Does the result prove The Huffington Post wrong?

The Huffington Post, on the morning of the election, gave Hillary Clinton a 98% chance of winning.

Boy, do they have egg on their face!

Or do they? They didn't give Trump a 0% chance. A 2% chance is a chance.

How do we judge when a probabilistic prediction of a one-time event was wrong? Not an easy question!

The Third Adams Presidency

After Donald Trump himself, who was the most important person to Trump's victory?

I vote Scott Adams. The man had quite a year!

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

"We like to think the earth is important..."

I was watching show on "The mysteries of the solar system," and an astronomer said, "We like to think the earth is important, but if viewed from outside, our solar system would appear to be made up of four giant planets and a bunch of rubble."

So here is the "Importance is determined by size" trope again.

I wonder if this guy thinks Shaquille O'Neal is twice as important as Barack Obama, since he weighs twice as much?

Dumb explanations

Poor, rural, white Pennsylvania was carried by Barrack Obama twice.

This year, Trump carried it.

The left's explanation: racism!

So, given the choice between a black candidate and a white candidate, they chose the black guy.

Given the choice between two white candidates, they chose a white candidate.

And "racism" is supposed to be a plausible explanation for this?!

Through a glass darkly

When one asserts that there is a transcendent moral order, and that the idea of quote "personal, subjective" morality is nonsense -- that would not be morality at all, but just whims! -- that claim is often mistaken for a claim that one sees that transcendent moral order perfectly.

But each and every one of us, down here in the cesspit of the universe, sees only through a glass darkly.

The difference is like this: the subjectivist astronomer argues that believing in the Andromeda galaxy is just a "personal choice." The astronomical realist says "No, it is really out there, 2.5 million light years away."

That does not mean the realist thinks he knows every star and planet in that galaxy!

Keep repeating this to yourself, and to everyone panicking..

Trump did worse among white voters than Romney.

He did better than Romney among blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.

This one was for ALL ordinary Americans. The only losers were the elite looting our country.

The best prayer ever

Is, of course, the Lord's prayer.

Throughout the night, I kept saying:

"Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done"

Every Christian should keep repeating this to themselves again and again and again.

Media bias

Some lady on ABC just said that "making America great again" is a "dog whistle" for racism.

Another guy says there's a real fear among Latinos about the election results: well, who created that fear? Clinton did!

An idiot on ABC

Just said that a sinking US dollar would be "bad for US exports."

Do these people even care what they say, so long as it is anti-Trump?

The poor media

There is some blonde woman on ABC who every time she mentions that Trump is going to win, breaks down in tears.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The Democratic Party is now the party of the rich

Hillary Clinton is dominating in the richest states. Donald Trump is dominating in the poorest states.

Poor people know that Hillary Clinton is a representative of the globalist elite that is looting them.

Early election commentary

It is clear at this point that:

1) If the Trump hot-mic tapes hadn't dropped, he would have won in a landslide.
2) All of the people who said that Trump would lose in a "historic landslide" have been shown to be idiots. All of the people who said Trump would not get "a single Hispanic vote" have been shown to be idiots: he is getting about a third of the Hispanic vote. Or, to put it another way, about 100% of the non-hypnotized Hispanic vote.

The Therapeutic

"Casting off religion was meant to free us, give us our full dignity of agents; throwing off the tutelage of religion, hence of the church, hence of the clergy. But now we are forced to go to new experts, therapists, doctors, who exercise the kind of control that is appropriate over blind and compulsive mechanisms; who may even be administering drugs to us. Our sick selves are even more being talked down to, just treated as things, than were the faithful of yore in churches." -- Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, p. 620

No, You Have to *Agree* to Let Us Take Your Money Involuntarily!

One of my unions just sent me a letter. My paying them dues, it turns out, is a condition of my employment.

OK, so just take my money, then.

No, they have to have a letter from me authorizing them to take my money.

It's like a mugger who demands his victims say, "Take my money, please!" as they hand it over.

Theory versus Practice

"The great economist Ariel Rubinstein... refuses to claim that his knowledge of theoretical matters can be translated -- by him -- into anything directly practical. To him, economics is like a fable -- a fable writer is there to stimulate ideas, indirectly inspire practice perhaps, but certainly not to direct or determine practice. Theory should stay independent from practice and vice versa -- and we should not extract academic economists from their campuses and put them in positions of decision making." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile, pp. 211-212.

And why you?

A weird Apple dictation bug that has persisted over multiple releases:

I say something like "NYU."

The dictation software writes, "and why you."

OK, understandable. But it also has another reading "in mind," and when I tap that area, I am helpfully offered the option of choosing "NYU."

Great. Except when I chose it, I get "and why NYU." The software clearly "understood" "NYU" as an alternative to the whole phrase "and why you." But over a number of iPhone OS releases, it has continued to incorrectly substitute the alternative for only the last word of the phrase!

I can understand this bug getting released into production. But I would expect it to be fixed in about a week or so. How in the world has it persisted for months?!

Religion will outlast all of its critics

"If something that does not make sense to you (say, religion -- if you are an atheist -- or some other age-old habit or practice called irrational); if that something has been around for a very, very long time, then, irrational or not, you can expect it to stick around much longer, and outlive those who call for its demise." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile, p. 335

More on alpha levels

The α = .05 cutoff for "significant" results is a case of spurious "objectivity" trumping scientific judgment.

The fact that scientists have an "objective" standard to adhere to gives the appearance of being more rigorous. But consider another objective way of deciding between the "null hypothesis" and the hypothesis being tested: flip a coin. Heads, we reject the null hypothesis, tails we don't. Completely objective! We could videotape the coin flip, and all sane observers could agree as to whether we got heads or tails.

Next, think about the following two cases:

  1. We do a study and find that reckless driving correlates with early death with p = .08 (greater than α). We are told to accept the null hypothesis: there is no significant correlation.
  2. We do a study and find that sunspot activity correlates with American League victories in the World Series with p = .04 (less than α). We are told to reject the null hypothesis: there is a significant correlation.

But in the first case, there was only an 8% probability our correlation was by chance, and given that we have a great causal explanation of how reckless driving could generate early death... well, "So what?" that 8% of the time this result might have been due to chance. There is a 92% probability that the correlation wasn't chance!

And in the second case, given how unlikely it is that there is a causal connection here, why wouldn't we think that almost certainly, we just happened to get one of those 4% of samples that are outliers?

Of course, I haven't made a new discovery here: people who really understand statistics recognize the above: in fact, I've learned to think about these things this way from skilled mathematicians. But there are boatloads of naive creators of and consumers of statistical studies who are oblivious to these points.

And this is especially prevalent when the studies in question deal with some hotly contested political or social matter. If a study on gun control finds a correlation between gun violence and permissive gun ownership laws only at p = .051, you can be certain that some gun rights group will announce that the studies "proves" that gun control has no effect on gun violence. (And a group on the other side of this issue will do the same if a similar study can be taken to support their stance.)

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Why So Many Statistical Studies Are Worthless

The findings of statistical studies are usually considered "significant" when there is smaller than 5% probability that their findings were the result of mere chance in the selection of a sample to study.

Keep that in mind, and let's first just consider sociologists: the American Sociological Association claims 21,000 members in its various sub-groups. Let us guess (the exact numbers don't matter for my point) that each member undertakes two statistical studies per year, and half of those show a significant correlation. That means that by chance alone, this group will produce over a thousand studies per year which appear to show a significant correlation between different phenomena, but in which the significance was really only the result of the luck of the draw in picking a sample to examine.

Next let us turn our attention to the bias that exists in academic journals towards results that are positive (no one cares much about studies that show no connection exists between sunspots and detergent purchases) and surprising (no one cares much about studies that show that rude people are annoying). This bias means that these false positives, since they are positive and often surprising, have a significantly greater likelihood of being published than do the other 20,000 studies the sociologists produce. And we can further add in the not-so-subtle pressure on academics to "publish or perish" that can consciously or unconsciously push them to manipulate their study to produce a publishable result.

Now think about this: let's say I do a study that does find a "significant" relationship between sunspots and detergent purchases. That's pretty darned surprising. I now have two choices: I can spend a couple of more years doing further studies to see if my result holds up; given it most likely won't, I wind up with nothing whatsoever to publish after three years of work. Or I can just pump out a paper on my initial study, put another publication on my CV, and go on to something else. Hmm, if I am trying to achieve tenure, which to choose, which to choose...?

Finally, throw in economists, and medical researchers, and political scientists, and psychologists, and education researchers, and anthropologists: it should be clear that the "literature" of statistical studies is awash in nonsense. One can mine it to prove pretty much anything one wants to prove. Sure, there will be some gems in the mud. But we all have limited time. That is why I suggest that it is only worth paying attention to studies that find the opposite of what the researcher set out to prove. In those cases, the researcher is likely to double and triple check his results, and we can have some confidence that here there really is a significant finding if he does finally publish this work.

"How can you be so certain you are right?"

Let us begin by distinguishing between political liberalism and metaphysical liberalism. Political liberalism is focused on the activities and institutions of governance. Its rough outlines include insistence on certain basic rights, such as free speech, some level of respect for private property, the right to free assembly, etc.; and a preference for a certain type of governmental institutions: democratic, republican, non-hereditary, accountable, and so on.

Many, many people are political liberals who are not what I would call "metaphysical liberals": these political liberals' own metaphysical beliefs may be traditionally Christian or Jewish or Muslim, for instance, but they believe that the best form of state is neutral between such commitments, and is broadly liberal in character. While they might strongly believe that, for instance, pre-marital sex is wrong (and not just "wrong for me"), they don't feel it is the place of the state to correct such misbehavior.

The metaphysical liberal is different. For him, liberalism is not merely a practical guideline for how to create a polity in which we can all manage to get along, somehow. Instead, it is the central truth of human life itself, expressed in cliches such as: morality is all relative, everyone is entitled to their own view, what's true for you may not be true for me, no one is entitled to force their morality on others, and so on. (Yes, the these slogans together are an incoherent mess: if morality is really all relative, how can the liberal possibly say that it is wrong for me to "force" my morality on someone else?! That is just the liberal "forcing" his morality on me!)

I ran into a metaphysical liberal the other day. He told me that it was just the truth "for me" that killing babies is wrong, and that if someone else was an atheist and didn't believe what I believed, it wouldn't be "the truth for them." I responded that no, truth is just truth, a "truth" that is just "for me" isn't truth at all, and if there is anything I can't assert as true, it is that killing babies is wrong. He became almost hysterical (because New York liberals in particular are so smug that they are actually stunned to discover anyone who isn't married to his cousin in a shack in Tennessee disagreeing with them), yelling at me, "Just listen to yourself: how can you be so certain you are right!"

First of all, this is clearly projection. There is simply no one more certain they are right, about, for instance, moral relativism, than the typical "sophisticated" metaphysical liberal. There is no one more contemptuous of the "basket of deplorables" who actually believe in moral truth than such a liberal. They are so sure they are correct that they are willing to economically ruin people and places that will not bow to their certainty. They are so sure they are correct that they are happy to bomb non-liberal countries into submission.

But more: I thought back to that conversation tonight while I ate dinner with a traditional Muslim family who had just arrived from Bangladesh. I thought about how I am not at all certain that my approach to the divine is right and theirs is wrong. I thought about how, if we had begun to discuss our most deeply held beliefs, we would have had a rational conversation about our differences, with no yelling or hysteria. I feel pretty sure about this, because I actually wind up having conversations like this on cab rides with fair frequency: I climb in the back, and the driver, a Sikh or a Hindu or a Muslim or a Rasta, looks in the rearview mirror and seems to sense something about me, and almost immediately begins talking to me about God. These conversations always go well, and I always find despite our differences, we are largely in agreement.

That is because all these people, and the Buddhist monk and the Taoist mystic and the Orthodox rabbi and the Amish farmer and the Mormon missionary, we all believe one large truth: that there is a transcendent moral order, and that it is our job in life to bring our actions into harmony with that order. (The metaphysical liberal's claim that this is "just my truth" is obvious rubbish: if there is a transcendent moral order, then by definition it obligates everyone, whether they believe in it or not. The law of gravity does not fail to punish your plunging off of a cliff if only you yell "But I don't believe in gravity!" as you fall. And if there is not such an order, then all of us who believe in it are simply deluded, not in possession of a "personal truth.")

In any case, I have great hesitation in claiming that my particular approach to climbing that mountain is better than anyone else's, among those who are actually climbing the mountain. How can I really know that my route ahead doesn't harbor hidden dangers that will halt my progress upwards, and that the Taoist's or Muslim's route might not actually be better?

But all of us actually climbing that mountain can be pretty darned certain that the metaphysical liberal, standing in a swamp of self-love, smearing himself in the mud of vice and yelling that truth is whatever he prefers it to be, has gone somewhat mad, and is not going up that mountain at all.

Or, as Bob put it:

But someone will have to pay
For the innocent blood
That they shed every day
Oh children mark my words
It's what the Bible say...

Friday, November 04, 2016

The Sinkhole of the Cosmos

A very good article making at length a point I've made several times here: the Copernican Revolution did not displace man from some exalted spot at the center of the universe. Nope, before Copernicus, Christian Europeans understood themselves to be living in:

"the excrementary and filthy parts of the lower world... the worst, the deadest, and the most stagnant part of the universe, on the lowest story of the house, and the farthest from the vault of heaven."

To join the planets and stars as a celestial body was a huge upgrade for man's dwelling place.

And a corollary: anyone who you hear saying that Copernicus "displaced man from his exalted place at the center" is a charlatan: they are willing, for ideological purposes, to simply make things up without having any idea what they are talking about.

I Cast My Vote

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Making Do with What We've Got

My review of Claes Ryn's novel is now online.

Expecting Julian Assange to deliver the coup de grace

Assange is obviously not an idiot. He has massive material documenting Hillary Clinton's corruption, and has been leaking it out slowly.

What are the odds that that he did not save the most damaging revelation for this week?

Watch for it.

UPDATE: It seems my guess was wrong. It happens.

And Yet One More GitHub Book Page


My friend Nathan Conroy says I am like Julian Assange, leaking out a new release every few days to intimidate my opponents.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

My Review of _Philosophy Between the Lines_

Has been published at last. (This link will work for the first fifty readers, I believe.)

"I have a right to my opinion."

One hears this a lot from liberals. Indeed, it could be taken as another of the key facades of liberalism. (Facade because liberals don't really mean this when they say it. If the people of some state have the opinion, say, that men should use the men's bathroom, and women should use the women's bathroom, liberals are quite happy to try economically ruin that state for believing that.)

Legally, of course, one has a "right" to any belief whatsoever. But liberals usually mean much more: they mean that morally, everyone has a "right" to their own opinion. That is nonsense. If one's opinion is in error, one has an obligation to correct it, and bring it toward the truth. As Thaddeus Kozinski puts it:

"Of course, the existence of a pluralism of 'truths' is not a good thing, for there is only one truth, and error is the result of sin. Pluralism, in short, must be seen, per se, as a grave defect of spiritual, intellectual, social, and political order."

If you enter a room of liberals talking about how "Everyone is entitled to their own belief about [whether to have an open marriage / whether to engage in one-night stands / whether to go to orgies / etc. ]," try saying this:

"You know I have a friend... a real racist! But hey, everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, right?"

Watch the room erupt with anger, getting ready to find this "friend" and drive him from town. Liberals do not believe for one second that "everyone is entitled to their own belief."

What they believe is that every is entitled to believe and think like liberals believe and think.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

My GitHub home page

Is here.

Of course, one purpose of my linking to this is to publicize my work! But also I want to convey how easy GitHub and GitHub Pages make putting up this sort of site.

My forthcoming book on Berkeley

I've greatly expanded the coverage of the existing material. This is a book I have a contract for already, so I hope in two years you can see it in print.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Indra Agent-Based Modeling

We now have a web site up for Indra.

Just go ahead and multiply

You have some probabilities: 70% chance a consumer will want to go to a store of type x, and 30% the consumer wants to go to a store of type y. you have some mechanism in place to take these percentages and cause them to result in the appropriate proportion of actions.

But what if there is no store of type x? Just write a function that returns one if a store of that type exists, and zero if it does not. Then multiply the percentage times that return value.

You need the function anyway, so that is no overhead. But you might be tempted to write an if statement that zeroes out the % value when the type of store in question does not exist.

In general, simply going ahead and multiplying, even if you are only multiplying by one, makes for tidier, easier to maintain code.

Don't unnecessarily multiply entities! (The conditional statement being a new, unnecessary entity.)

Thinking for one's self

The other day I was talking to a woman professional who had gotten involved in a "women in business" network. She went off on how she was so tired of men telling her what to think, and that she was going to be thinking for herself, etc., etc.

What was amazing was that this was all standard boilerplate material that you could find handed out at a "women in business" network dinner: there was not an original thought in the entire speech.

By the way, there is a very straight-forward solution available to women who think they are discriminated against in large companies: start your own company! This is especially the case in the financial industry. Stocks, bonds and options have no idea if it is a woman or a man buying them. If your ideas are better than those of the jerk in a suit for whom you are working, go out and trade yourself!

Another book project...

going up on GitHub here.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Yet Another GitHub Project Page Is Born

Studies in Rationalism.

Now that I've taken the time to figure out GitHub Pages, I realize this is what I've been waiting for.

The big thing is that this isn't just a way to put up web sites: it is a way to put up web sites for collaborative projects that can involve a multitude of contributors, and it can track and reconcile changes made by multiple people to shared documents.

Remembering the order of the CSS margin property

You give the style margins in the following order: top, right, bottom, left.

But I kept having trouble remembering this and had to keep looking it up. Until I thought of Charles Barkley. The order is what Charles would tell Kenny Smith about how the Warriors played against the Spurs:

"The Warriors played trbl, tonight, Kenny, just trbl."

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Popular economic idiocy

Midsomer Murders is a kind of silly British crime show. For one thing, it is supposed to take place in an idyllic, rural English county. But this county seems to suffer about three murders per week, and nobody but nobody ever murders just a single person. But you know me… addicted to plots. And so sometimes I watch anyway.

The other day, the murder involved the local noble family, the residents of the village manor. One of them was going to buy the local pub, and then backed out.

The detective interviewing the pub owner was shocked at the agreed-upon price: "You were selling at well below market value!"

The implication is that, being the lords of the manor, members of the noble family had extra-market power to semi-coerce sales from the villagers. And then the discussion turns to the sale going south.

The pub owner complains, "When he backed out, we were devastated!"

For the writers, "market value" is apparently some abstract number, perhaps one declared by a government bureaucrat. It has nothing to do with any actual market, in which actual buyers would come forward and offer the market value for some piece of property, like this woman's pub. If her arm was being twisted into selling "below market value," she would be thrilled when that buyer backed out, since then she could receive the market value!

Psychiatric drugs and fragility

For those of you who haven't read Antifragile, Taleb's final book in his Incerto quartet, it is very much worth your time. It's central idea is simple: uncertainty and ups and downs are an essential part of life, not accidents to be corrected. But what's more, the attempt to eliminate them and make life all pleasant smoothness (like an automobile ride in a luxury car commercial) produces fragility. For my Austrian friends, you will like the fact that Taleb takes the business cycle as a paradigmatic case: by trying to smooth out all ups and downs in business activity, central banks produce huge crashes like 1929-1932 and 2007-2008. But this principle applies in many, many other domains of life as well. In fact, once you see it as a general principle, you start finding it everywhere.

This morning I was thinking about it in terms of psychiatric drugs. The idea behind these drugs is that no one should ever feel bad. Just look at the TV ads: once you get hooked on these drugs, every day will be mild, sunny, and filled with laughing children at a playground.

But of course coming to expect every day to be like that renders one extremely fragile. And when something does go wrong, and a thunderstorm rolls in and drives the kids from the swings... well, we get the countless suicides committed by people being treated with drugs that are supposed to make them permanently content. (My uncle was one of those people.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How did this happen?

Yesterday I used Google translate to translate some Polish text.

Today I got asked to apply for a temporary job as a Polish-English translator for some legal documents.

That can't be a coincidence, can it? But if it's not a coincidence, how the heck did this translation company find out I was doing this? Does Google sell this information? It seems like that would freak people out.

UPDATE: I understand targeted ads, and have received them often. But in those cases, I understood Google to be doing something like promising, "We'll put your ad for X in front of people who have searched for X." But that doesn't offer the specific names and email addresses of people who have searched for X. If people are searching for hemorrhoid cream, the advertiser gets ads in front of them, but without knowing specifically who those people are. What I got was a personal email.

A Great Piece from Claes Ryn

Small Is Beautiful

"A rule then hit me: with the exception of, say, drug dealers, small companies and artisans tend to sell us healthy products, ones that seem naturally and spontaneously needed; larger ones -- including pharmaceutical giants -- are likely to be in the business of producing wholesale iatrogenics, taking our money, and then, to add insult to injury, hijacking the state thanks to their army of lobbyists. Further, anything that requires marketing appears to carry such side effects. You certainly need an advertising apparatus to convince people that Coke brings them 'happiness'..." -- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile, p. 402

Monday, October 24, 2016

"Computers represent numbers as...

sequences of 0s and 1s."

It is amazing how many times I have heard the above nonsense. Folks, there are no 0s or 1s inside your computer: There are flows of electricity and magnetized plates. Humans interpret those electro-magnetic states as 0s or 1s. The only 0s or 1s your computer has are in the serial number written on the outside of the box, or on the surface of a microchip inside it, giving its model number!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Another web course

I've almost completed cutting my course materials for statistics and probability over to HTML stored in GitHub. Here is the course as it stands.

UPDATE: I had to move the site. The old way of serving pages proved to be buggy.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Can globalization be stopped?

I heard a student ask an economics professor the above recently.

His answer was, "No, of course not!"

The best way to get someone to passively accept the beating you are giving them is to get them to think it is inevitable.

The right question is, "HOW will globalization be stopped?"

The possible answers are:

1) The globalizing elite will be defeated politically.

2) We will suffer a global economic or ecological catastrophe.

Reference: See Babel, Tower of.

Friday, October 21, 2016

I know that the hypnotized never lie

If you've been hypnotized by a good persuasion campaign, you can be certain of this: whatever it is they want to make you believe, you will be quite certain that you came to believe it all on your own, and you will be convinced you have very good reasons for believing it. That's what makes it hypnosis, rather than just ordinary marketing.

The tell is how contrived those reasons turn out to be if they are examined closely: in fact, you are drawing on your clothes in green magic marker not to show solidarity with imprisoned environmentalists, but because you are hypnotized.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Playing a machine

When I play my computer chess program, at a certain point in the game, it will begin to simply throw pieces at me: "Here, have my queen! Here, have my rook!"

It does this when I have a forced checkmate, in order to delay the checkmate by a couple of moves. This is silly, because:

1) If I have seen the check mate, it should not matter to my opponent whether it happens in five moves or in seven.
2) If I haven't seen the checkmate, the computer has just alerted me to the fact that there is one.
3) If I still can't find the checkmate, the computer has handed me the game anyway, since it's given up all its pieces except the king.

Of course, I excuse it: it is just a machine. It doesn't even know that it is playing chess. It doesn't know what an opponent is. It doesn't understand the idea of winning. Like a marble rolling down an inclined plane, it is just mechanically doing exactly what it was built to do.

And Silas, just relax and watch a football game or something: it will be a better use of your time.


I was dictating posts from my phone today! Siri was clearly having an off day.

Did any new rock group ever...

(setting aside groups made up of well-established musicians, like Crosby, Stills, and Nash) ever come out with a first album as sophisticated as Steely Dan?

Put on some earphones and check this track out:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

One good thing about pseudocode

It never hangs your pseudo-program, nor makes your pseudo-computer crash!


An interesting post from Scott Adams. As usual, as soon as he talks philosophy, he talks nonsense. But his point about hypnotism is good.

An example: Trump says that because he is a celebrity, women let him do anything: even grab their... Women (celebrity obsessed women, at least) don't mind if he does this. Now this is all pretty crude and doesn't show Trump in a good light.

Well, almost immediately, Team Clinton and its allies (meaning 95% of the media) began repeating, again and again, that Trump had boasted of sexually assaulting women. And even though Trump quite explicitly said that women let him do these things, many, many people are actually sure that Trump said that the women were unwilling, and that he was assaulting those women. After all, if something is said again and again in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Slate, CBS News, CNN, etc., etc. how could it possibly be false?

That's hypnotism!

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

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