Friday, December 18, 2009

On deriving morality from first principles

1. You are not special.

2. Therefore, hypocrisy is bad; the same rules should apply to you and to others.

3. Therefore, the golden rule.

4. Therefore, the rest of liberal ethics.

Conservative ethics [the difference] has some extra bits that may not be derivable quite so easily. Being quite liberal myself, however, I'll stop here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Looking at NYC

Looking at Manhattan from a 20th floor balcony, I see the tiny people down below.
I see the size of the people, and I see the size of the buildings.
I see the size of the people.
I see the size of the buildings they have built.
I look further, and see the rows of those buildings.
Row upon row, upon row, upon row.
As far as I can see.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Old links

I've had these lying around for a while, but haven't posted them.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

On up-to-the-minute news

I was reading RISKS:
In the November 2009 election in Kentucky, there was a serious discrepancy between how ES&S's iVotronic voting machines worked and how some voters were instructed. Some voters were apparently falsely told that touching `Vote' completed the voting process. However, that only displayed the review screen, whereas subsequently touching `Cast Ballot' was required. Conspiratorial election judges were then able to modify the ballot and cast it. In addition to the fraud, it is clear that the `vote' screen should have instead been labeled something such as `review'. Five insiders were indicted -- including conspiracy to commit vote fraud, extortion, and tampering with grand jury witnesses in a subsequent attempt at a cover-up.

I was just thinking how lucky it is these people were caught. Then I realized... "will have been caught"? Or are we living in Minority Report now, and are arresting people for precrimes?

More info, including accurate dates, here.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Companies whose motto is apparently "do be evil"

  • Insurance companies (including mine... I need to get a new one...) say they won't stop weaseling out of contracts with customers who have the gall to get sick.
  • Fox News (Yeah, I know, total shock to see them under this category, right?) fired two reporters for refusing to falsify their story. They sued, but Fox won on appeal, with the argument that there is no "law, rule, or regulation" against their lying (or compelling their employees to lie): the FCC rule is just a "policy". Fox is now suing them for millions in legal fees.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

On locking up innocent scumbags

I caught the second half of a This American Life episode a little while ago. It was about Hemant Lakhani, who an undercover agent posing as a terrorist tried to buy a missile from. When he couldn't get a missile, another undercover agent sold him one. While he was willing to be an accomplice to mass murder, there's no evidence he was able to do so, which makes it arguably entrapment.

The part of the story that really bothered me, though, is a bit near the end (0:51) where they quote the prosecutor, Chris Christie (now running for Governor of New Jersey), as saying it didn't matter whether he was guilty or innocent, because he was a "bad person"!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

IntenseDebate problems

IntenseDebate seems to be having some issues with not showing comments. The comment count will be accurate, but some of the comments will not be visible. It seems to mostly affect replies to other comments.

This isn't just happening on my site, and it's not a small problem. I mean, showing your comment to other people is what a commenting system is supposed to do.

For the time being, try reposting your comment as a reply to the original blog post, instead of as a reply to a comment. I'd really rather not go through the bother of switching comment systems again, but if this becomes a recurring issue, I won't have a choice.

Edit: The problem seems to have gone away for the time being. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A geometry problem

Godel, Escher, Bach cover
Look at the cover of Godel, Escher, Bach. The blocks are carved such that each of the directions casts the shadow of a different letter. Now, it is clearly not possible to do this with any three shapes. What conditions are necessary for it to be possible?

I suspect the answer to this is if each shape contains a point somewhere on every horizontal and vertical line, that guarantees that you can build the block. If this is not the case, as in the letter "I", restrictions are created on the other symbols: "I" "I" and "O" could be done, but "I" "O" and "O" couldn't.

This assumes that the block can be in pieces, though. If any of the shapes is disconnected, like an "O" with a dot in the center, the resulting block will be disconnected, too. Is there a set of shapes, though, where each shape is connected, but the resulting block must be disconnected? I can't think of any, but I'm not sure.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I've been busy practicing; I'm in a performance of Gilbert & Sullivan's Iolanthe in a couple weeks. If you're in the DC area, check it out! Call CHAW for tickets.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Family Circus meets Them!

Seriously, what the heck? This is just creepy.

Friday, June 26, 2009

More links

Monday, June 15, 2009

Look out, 1989 London!

London, England, 1989: people are living in fear of a gang of vigilante nutritionists, whose drive-by vegetablings have cost at least one man his life.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Yelling at the "liberal" media

I'm so sick of hearing news readers say "the man who killed abortion doctor George Tiller". How about we call a spade a spade and say "the terrorist who murdered doctor George Tiller"? I admit that my wording isn't any more objective than that I'm criticizing, but it's not much less.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

After the con

I just got back from Balticon, and I'm completely exhausted from the combination of too many people, too little sleep, and too little food. Also, I was feeling a bit lonely for much of it—you're never so alone as when you're alone in a crowd.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A couple of questions

1. What's the most important lesson you've learned in your life?
2. What lesson has had the biggest impact on your life?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Hey! / Now we're going back in time! / Check it out, gotta keep 'em federated.

I consider myself a Star Trek fan. I've seen a few episodes of TOS, much of TNG, all of DS9, most of Voyager, and a bit of Enterprise, but I don't plan on seeing the new movie. The decision was made provisionally after seeing the original trailer, and nothing I've heard since has made me think my first impressions were wrong.

My first thought on seeing the trailer was "Why is this an action film? Did they get Michael Bay to direct it?" When coming up with adjectives to describe Star Trek, "Awesome" and "Extreme" are not at the top of the list. This isn't Star Wars. Trek has never been action/adventure—it's more exploration/diplomacy. In DS9, in the middle of all-out war, more time is spent on the internal politics of keeping the alliances together than on battles. If a ship fires at the Enterprise, the command is not "Return fire!" but "Open a channel." This is a show that spends screen time on staff meetings, for goodness sakes! Don't think I'm impressed by a trailer full of eye candy and people driving off cliffs.

I'm not thrilled about the use of time travel to hit the reset button, either. I've never been a fan of Trek's time travel plots, and I'd miss the canon. But that's fairly minor, and I'd still be lining up to see it, if it didn't have the wrong attitude. When George Lucas stuck politics and technobabble into the Star Wars prequels, they didn't fit. In a universe like Star Wars', senate proceedings and "midichlorians" stick out like a sore thumb. Similarly, dramatic action shots and people hanging off cliffs doesn't fit Star Trek's style.

Edit: The Onion, it seems, has summarized my complaints quite well: "Star Trek fans are decrying the new film as a fun and watchable action-packed thrill ride... There's not even one scene set at a long table where interstellar diplomacy is debated in endless detail."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

o/` ...throw it out the window, the window, the second story window... o/`

Our second story window just fell out the window. Yes, you read that right. Apparently, it's designed to tilt inwards so you can clean the outside, but it wasn't installed correctly (which explains why it wouldn't stay in position all these years). Today, while my mother was trying to clean it open it, it fell out entirely, landing on the clay two stories below. Surprisingly, it didn't break, so I figured out how it went in and put it back, properly. Now it stays in place if you raise or lower it!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

On the reputation economy

The internet economy doesn't run on cash.

That is to say, the market economy does reach online, but it is not the primary mode of transaction here. Instead, we primarily have a reputation economy: your wealth is your fame. It works a little differently: in a market economy, you show your appreciation by giving someone money, which makes you poorer. In the reputation economy, you link to them, which doesn't.

People understand this instinctively, if not always consciously. If you steal a bit of artwork someone else made, and put it on your site with a link to the creator, the creator is unlikely to get mad (and unlikely to get sympathy from the rest of the internet if they do). On the other hand, if instead of linking back to the creator, you imply that you made it, people get very angry; see Todd Goldman or eBaum's World [explicit lyrics] for examples. This is a pattern on the internet—if people are complaining about someone being a thief, they're much more likely to mean a reputation thief than a money thief.

Interestingly, there's no Wikipedia article on the subject, although I don't seem to be the first one to describe it. There is one for "attention economy", which is close, but not quite the same thing.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Crazies in the comments

How do you deal with nutcases who leave comments? The sort who could benefit from a psychiatrist, but won't see one for fear of being given mind-control drugs? Do you politely disagree with them, slap them down, or just delete their comments?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Truth, lies, the media, and the Columbine shooting.

What do you know about the Columbine massacre? Some misfit loners in black trenchcoats got sick of being bullied and shot up the school, right? Wrong. The media made up a story, and then didn't let the emerging facts get in the way.

Via Kevin Pease's LJ.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A stupid Passover story

With the end of Passover, I thought I'd tell a story. One of the traditional holiday songs is Daiyanu. Daiyanu (or Dayanu, or Dayenu—the correct spelling is דַּיֵּנוּ) is a Hebrew word meaning "it would have been enough", and the song is a list of gifts from God.

When my sister was little, after singing the song, she once asked "Why do we want anu to die?"

For anyone familiar with the holiday, here's a Facebook haggadah. People who have never been to a ceder may enjoy it too, but they'll miss a lot of the jokes.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

On the title of this blog

People have remarked on the title of the blog. It comes from a post I read in the xkcd forums: something like "Pray to God, or your atheist god, that it never happens." I thought it was pretty funny example of completely missing the point. (Although they wouldn't be alone, 21% of Americans who identified themselves as atheists said they believe in god1.)

I chose it mostly because it was a funny and memorable phrase. It works on other levels too, though. It's a reference to my single-digit readership: I'm talking, but nobody's listening. It's a little bit of a stretch, but you could even say that other people are the closest thing an atheist has to a prayer-answering god.

My mother is kind of ashamed of the blog, though. I don't completely understand why; the best I can figure, she thinks the word 'atheist' is horribly offensive, or something. I was pretty disappointed.

1, click "Report 2" and scroll down to the second table.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Some really good mangas you might not have heard of:

  • Anything by Adachi Mitsuru. He mostly does high school sports stories with a romantic interest.

  • Living Game is a comedy about a guy who's trying to find a better apartment. At least, that's how it starts.

  • Yotsubato! is a series of adventures of a wide-eyed, cheerful little girl (5 years old?) discovering the world. Extremely cute.

  • Hikaru No Go is about a young boy who meets the ghost of an ancient go player, and learns the game. You wouldn't think a story about a board game would be so interesting. The anime version is also excellent.

Other than Yotsubato!, which doesn't have much in the way of continuity anyways, these are all completed, so no getting to the end and then having to wait a month for the next chapter. Things like Death Note and Full Metal Alchemist don't get a mention; I assume you know about them already.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

New York, New York

I'm in NYC for the weekend, staying with my aunt. I'm having fun.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Digger: now with a 100% discount!

Digger is free! You should read it. It has dead gods, oracular slugs, and a very down-to-earth wombat who's quite annoyed at getting mixed up in the whole mess. Start at the beginning. How long does it take before you realize
the main character is a girl

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Pentagon Leaks Not Newsworthy

Apparently someone with access to the Pentagon's webservers failed Computer Security 201, resulting in some secret documents becoming public. Not that anybody outside of blogs is reporting on it.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Nature is cool.

It's windy today, and I'm watching the trees move and bend. An evergreen catches the wind, and some of its branches bend 90°. They look like they should break, or at least be close to it, but the wind has been much stronger in the past and they're still there. The tree is quite tall, and considering the amount of leverage that must give, it seems remarkable that the tree doesn't break, or even get uprooted. The trunk stays in one piece, though, and the roots stay in the ground, as they have for decades, through winds much stronger than this.

Friday, January 30, 2009

On Ted Hagggard in the news, again.

It's time for Ask Mr. Advice Columnist Man! Today we have a question from Mr. T. H. in Colorado Springs.

Q: Help me, Mr. Advice Columnist Man! I can't stop having gay sex!
A: That's not a question.
Q: How can I stop having gay sex?
A: Don't you have any self-control?
Q: No.
A: Well, then, your best bet is to eliminate any possible partners. Try making homosexuality a crime.
Q: I'm trying, but the damn liberals keep screwing it up. They tell me "Congress is not your personal army."
A: Well, if you can't get them to stop being gay, you could at least make yourself less attractive to them.
Q: But I'm so amazingly sexy! Have you seen my ass? I have a phenomenal ass.
A: It's not all about looks; personality counts too. Try making it publicly known that you think gays are the absolute scum of the earth, and should be treated with all the respect and dignity of a wad of used gum.
Q: I tried that, but some of them will still have sex with me if I pay them enough.
A: You're paying them?
Q: Yeah, they won't have sex with me anymore otherwise.
A: You know what? I think this task is officially hopeless. You'll just have to accept the fact that you're gay.
Q: But...
A: No buts. This conversation is over.

Next time, on Ask Mr. Advice Columnist Man: a shark asks for advice on becoming a vegan! Don't miss it!

(This was originally a comment I made on Evolved and Rational, but I was proud of it and thought I'd copy it here... where far fewer people will see it. I've had better plans.)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I don't want to go on the cart!

I'm getting better!

So, I'm finishing up what I believe is my first encounter with the flu. It wasn't pleasant, but I think it's just about over now. I only had a 100° temperature today, down from 103.6° on monday. So yeah, I was totally out of it for 2 1/2 days. (Does it say something about me that I want to make that 5/2?)

That's not the bad part, though. I can take a little suffering, as long as I know it's ending soon. The bad part is that about 6 hours before I started having an itchy throat and slight cough, I was at a concert of a bunch of my friends whom I hadn't seen in months, and we went out for dinner afterward, and I probably gave them all the flu.

Next year, I think I'm getting vaccinated.

Monday, January 19, 2009

On updates

I haven't really felt like writing anything here for a while. I can't even be bothered to put up links. If anybody's actually reading this, post a comment and I'll try to update regularly. Otherwise, updates will probably drop to monthly or less.