The All-Thing

All stick and no carrot, since ought-three.

`Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on ``I am not too sure''.' -- H. L. Mencken.


送李端 (盧倫)


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Thu, 26 Feb 2004

Mass drivers

In most cases you're a bad driver because you're clueless—you're lost in your little world and aren't paying attention to, say, the cars on the road, and other inconviencies of your environment. This is why everyone considers themselves above average drivers: good drivers are, and clueless drivers aren't clueful enough to understand that they're bad.

But I think the thing that really makes Massachusetts drivers bad is that, on top of the standard cluelessness, they are actually actively needlessly aggressive. They don't want fair. They want ME GO NOW. I see this all the time driving here and I saw it again this morning.

Two lanes of Mass Ave had to merge into one due to construction. Normal people would shrug their shoulders and merge one car from each lane at a time. My turn, your turn. My turn, your turn. Not that hard. The masshole next to me, on the other hand, is doing her best to ride the tail of the car in front of her explicitly to prevent me from getting in. NOT normal.

Of course, having driven here for several years, I expect this and manage to work my way in in front of her ugly SUV. I'm sure she's thinking, "What a jerk!". Another small victory against the masshole front, but it leaves me empty and unfulfilled. She'll continue her driving habits, other people will respond by being aggressive in turn, and so the cycle continues.

Actually, merging seems to be a real problem here in general. People, let me splain it to you. When two streams of traffic have to merge, and neither has right of way, do it one car at a time. Like a zipper. If the other stream has a yield sign, that still doesn't mean you can ignore them completely. Say you're in the rightmost lane on the highway and cars are entering. Slow the fuck down and let them in. You are not absolved of all responsibility for responding and reacting to them, only to honk and gesture like a retard when the twain finally meet. And for fuck's sake, don't STOP getting on to a highway unless you have a stop sign. MERGE THE FUCK IN. That's a great way of getting my rapidly-accelerating ton of steel smashed into your ass as I round the bend and you suddely appear, stopped dead, five feet away, the middle of the goddammed night. And then you honk back at me in righteous indignation as I hold down the horn and swerve around you? What fucking green-skied, twin-sunned alternate universe are you from?

God, I hate driving.

Posted at 11:23 | /misc | (leave a comment) | permalink

Mon, 16 Feb 2004

Sims for Sims

Am I prescient or what?

Now comes a fan-made plug-in that allows Sims characters to effectively play SimCity inside The Sims. The Sims franchise has gone meta.,2101,62287,00.html

Posted at 14:55 | /news | (leave a comment) | permalink

Thu, 12 Feb 2004


Humans are incredibly capable at believing what they want to believe. People fool themselves all the time, and they especially fool themselves about fooling themselves. Everyone thinks they're rational and well-informed. You don't think you hold any incorrect beliefs, right? But you've thought that before and been wrong; what makes you think you're finally right?

It's like drunk driving. Why do people do it when everyone knows it's a terrible idea? Well, once you reach a certain point of drunkeness (the "sweet spot", I like to call it), you don't think you're that drunk. Your ability to measure your internal state has been compromised. Likewise with beliefs—your believe set always includes the belief that you're right.

There's only one set of beliefs you can really know are correct, and those are beliefs that are testable against something outside your control—the physical universe, for example. No matter how fervently you believe that your shaman made you bulletproof, you can't deny the holes in your body. No matter how fervently you believe that deep parsing, symbolic computation and linguistic insight are the key towards good machine translation, the proof is in the evaluation. No matter how fervently you believe in cold fusion, no one is going to buy it until you produce something that works (and good luck with that, guys). I'd go so far as to say that that the less testable your beliefs are, ceteris paribus, the less likely they are to be true.

Of course, this fact in and of itself is not entirely useful. The vast majority of beliefs are not testable in this way, and even if they are, you can always fool yourself about the results or the method of the tests (think of the poor morons who believe in creation). But simply being aware of this is, I think, a step in the right direction—being aware of the fact that and the degree to which your beliefs are likely to be untrue. I don't think that the majority of people have this awareness.

This is also why people like scientists and engineers are more likely, in general, to be right about things. Not because they're inherently smarter than the rest of you dummies, but because these are the people who are faced daily with incontrovertable facts that they have to adjust their belief set to. This theory is WRONG because it predicts the opposite of what actually happens. This object is WORSE than this other object because it underperforms in the test. That's the kind of experience that forces you to realize that your own beliefs, no matter how fervently you believe in them, can be just plain dead wrong.

And constantly being faced with hard cold facts forces you to develop a way of thinking that is constantly self-checking and self-criticizing, and that way of thought carries over into other aspects of life as well. Which is not to say that they are always right—as Paul Graham points out, look at the widespread support of socialism in the academic community during WWII. But there's a higher likelihood, because you're in the habit of being critical and you're aware that you can be wrong.

Just something I've been thinking about recently.

Posted at 14:38 | /society | (leave a comment) | permalink


I feel much better today! Some good friends of mine are in town, and we hung out for a long time yesterday (and again this morning).

Lately I've been feeling like I really am disconnected from people. I have a hard time communicating with anyone. It's so frustrating that I usually just give up. But not with these guys! Sometimes I feel like they're the only ones I can really communicate with. It's such a relief to know that I'm not a complete alien.

Cordelia, Giles, Angel—you guys are great. Don't ever leave me.

Posted at 12:23 | /misc | 1 comment | permalink

Man's Two Best Discoveries

Man's two best discoveries

(From my good friend Lex Luthor)

Posted at 07:53 | /internet | (leave a comment) | permalink

Wed, 11 Feb 2004

My Erdos Number

… is 5. Awesome.

Posted at 12:04 | /math | (leave a comment) | permalink

Tue, 10 Feb 2004


Continuations are cool in an impress-your-friends kind of way, but if you already have exception handling and threading, is there really any usefulness to be got from them? Is there really any construct that they express more naturally?

My guess is no.

Posted at 11:12 | /computing | (leave a comment) | permalink

Mon, 09 Feb 2004

To Have and Have Not

I have To Have and Have Not on DVD now. Ernest Hemingway's worst book remains my favorite movie of all time, surpassing even the mighty African Queen.

I'd really like to take a vacation to Martinique.

Posted at 22:20 | /media/movies | (leave a comment) | permalink

Gay Marriage

Back in college I once wrote a letter to the editor in response to an editorial against gay marriage, in which I said that I agreed fully with everything in the piece, but could we please take the obvious next step and ban interracial marriage too?

It wasn't accepted. (I included another letter with a straight-forward criticism of the article, which was published.) But I wonder—are there any arguments against gay marriage that don't apply equally well to miscegenation?

Posted at 15:49 | /politics | 3 comments | permalink

Sun, 08 Feb 2004


Well I just experienced the pinnacle of my culinary life last night with the six course chef's selection at the Federalist. Holy shit was that good. (Except for the foie gras, which is gross no matter what.) Of course each course, of course of course, was served with its own glass of wine, specially selected to complement the delicate and subtle flavors etc, which meant I got ragingly drunk and loud and I'm pretty sure offended the wife of the guest of honor. I can't imagine how I wouldn't have. The waiter (who I suspect was an ex-NFL player) threatened to cut me off after I made him "check out my teapot".

But apparently my body feels that four hours of drunken tossing and turning is enough and I've spent the last hour trying to compute my Erdos number because I can't get back to sleep. I suspect it's going to be around 6.

Posted at 05:45 | /mortal | (leave a comment) | permalink

Thu, 05 Feb 2004

Abusive language


Judge Noonan, one of the Ninth Circuit judges who listened to the Morpheus case in which the legality of building a tool without the entertainment industry's permission — and hence the future of the Internet — is being decided directed this blast at Ramos, the attorney arguing the music publishers' side:

  "Let me say what I think your problem is. You can use these harsh terms
  [piracy, theft], but you are dealing with something new, and the
  question is, does the statutory monopoly that Congress has given you reach
  out to that something new. And that's a very debatable question. You don't
  solve it by calling it 'theft.' You have to show why this court should
  extend a statutory monopoly to cover the new thing. That's your problem.
  Address that if you would. And curtail the use of abusive language." 


Posted at 16:49 | /news | (leave a comment) | permalink


Hm, looks like my recent comments plugin is up in the Blosxom registry. Forgot I submitted it. :)

Posted at 15:35 | /meta | (leave a comment) | permalink

Musicians and performers

Often when I go to the 'tab I am reminded, as I was this Tuesday, about the profound yet apparently oft-overlooked distinction between been a musician and being a performer.

Being a musician means understanding music, and being able to produce it. Being a performer means understanding your audience, and knowing how to please it. The two are orthogonal traits. Britney Spears is a great performer and a mediocre talent. What I saw at the Cantab, and what I often see there, is astounding musicianship and piss-poor performance. The folks on stage had more talent in their appendices than I have in my entire being, or ever will. And yet, no one was paying attention. They were bored. I was bored. Everyone was bored. It was boring.

Now I'm a terribly elementary musician. But even I know that being a performing musician means that you have to do stuff that you're probably sick of. How many times did Bill Monroe sing Blue Moon of Kentucky? How many times does the Peanut Man do the Peanut Song? But you can't just sit there and wank. You may be playing the most fantastically sophisticated musical ideas, bouncing seamlessly between quotes of past jazz masters and your own real-time re-interpretations, all interwoven into the fabric of the chord structure of Turkey in the Straw, but if the crowd doesn't get it, you might as well sit down and turn the jukebox on. Except for the two musicians in the crowd who understand what you're doing, the rest of them would rather hear that.

As a performing musician you are a slave to the crowd. You exist, on stage, to serve them. But this is also an opportunity to improve them musically. What they really want to hear is the same thing, over and over. They're happy to treat you as a walking talking CD player. But you can mix it up a little bit, surprise them, introduce them to something new, expand their boundaries a notch. The trick is to do this without losing them. It requires being both a musician and a performer. Otherwise, you're just a wanker, or a tool like Britney Spears.

Posted at 14:02 | /media/music | 1 comment | permalink

Wed, 04 Feb 2004


It's just a waking dream. It's just a waking dream. It's just a waking dream.


Posted at 23:03 | /misc | (leave a comment) | permalink

Tue, 03 Feb 2004


Having never really used wireless, every time I use it seems like a complete miracle. I imagine I feel about it the same way that old people feel about airplanes or air conditioning: a source of continual child-like wonder. I'm sitting at 1369 right now and I feel like I'm witnessing transubstantiation.

(Brief aside: why is it that every girl in every coffeehouse I go to is a grading essays from third-graders? I mean, I don't have anything against third-grade teachers, except in as much as they remind me of my roommate, but is there really nothing else that women do around here?)

I spent the weekend basically ignoring all societal obligations and making sweet, sweet love to Ruby. I love Ruby so much. I know I'm cheating on Perl, and that makes me feel bad, because Perl and I have been together for such a long time, but being with Ruby is so... liberating. It's like going commando all the time.

I feel like Ruby is Lisp, but in a line-editor-friendly format (sexps are a bitch to edit, no matter how many Emacs modes you have in your pocket). And with the results of 30-odd years of collective programming experience added—regexps and lambas are built in to the syntax in ways that make them easy to use. Oh, and much more object-oriented, although it's easy to avoid that for short shell scripts.

And apparently Ruby is a lot like Python (which I've never used) but basically more logical and consistent. Everything is a reference, so there's no confusion about passing by value or by reference. Everything is an expression, so you can say things like a = (b = (c + d)) which you can't do (apparently, wtf) in Python. And everything is a class; there's none of the fast fundamental type/slow object duality of Java and Python. Plus closures and continuations... it's just sweet.

One of my favorite things about Ruby is that you can do stuff like this:

class Goat
  def initialize(cannibal = true, zombie = true)
    @cannibal = cannibal
    @zombie = zombie
  attr_accessor :cannibal, :zombie

which creates get and set methods for cannibal and zombie. Cool, you may think, I can escape the Java hell of writing a bazillion getCannibal() and setCannibal() methods. But this isn't a syntax thing; there's actually an attr_accessor method that is being called that creates these methods at the class level.

I've been using a package called Vapor that transparently serializes your objects to a relational database. It's pretty fucking nice, but you have to mark your variables dirty every time you change them. It took me all of fifteen minutes to figure out how to write a attr_accessor_persist method with exactly the same syntax and functionality, except that the setter method also marks the variables as dirty. Writing code that generates other code makes me happy; writing code that generates other code at run-time makes me ecstatic.

That being said, there are a few things I don't like about Ruby, like the lack of keyword arguments (though these are coming soon, apparently). And, to be honest, I now kinda like the Python indentation thing, if only because it removes the need for "end"'s or }'s. I don't agree with all of Paul Graham's language ideology, but I do agree with this: minimizing code size is a pretty good metric of language goodness.

But my negative feelings are pretty trivial, compared to the all the good things Ruby gets me. Never going to waste my time programming in C again.

Posted at 18:55 | /computing | (leave a comment) | permalink


Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved. -- Mark Twain, "Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar"