Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Stallman's Anti-Mono

Richard Stallman released a post a few days ago about why the Free Software community shouldn't depend on Mono, or C#, and try their hardest to avoid it. For a simple reason I'll soon get to, I don't buy it. I like Stallman, and I like Free Software and Open Source, but I also like good programs (as do users who could care less whether or not they can modify the source), and should the Free Software alternative not rival or outmatch the proprietary... Well, I'm afraid I'll have to go with the proprietary.

It's also true I dislike Microsoft, and believe their products to be untrustworthy, insecure, and in general bad. I dislike many programs, and as a coder I dislike many languages. I dislike the Java language, I dislike the C# language, and sometimes I dislike the C language. But there are many applications out there, written in these languages, which I do like.

Now I'll admit I'm not the most versed on software patents, but I seem to recall an essay by Paul Graham which claimed that if you are against software patents, you are against patents in general. I've taken that stance for reasons beyond the scope of this post.

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The Man Who Values Money

This was inspired by an IM conversation with a friend, who I'll call Bob as I don't want to quote something my friend didn't really say. I initially argued that a rational agent whose only self-interest (value) is money would rather that everyone else be irrational so that he could exploit them more easily and thus gain more money.

Bob, having recently read Atlas Shrugged--which I would also recommend reading--is studying Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism which, briefly stated, includes pursuing rational selfishness, with selfishness being defined by Rand as "concern with one's own interests." He thinks that the hypothetical rational agent following his self-interests (values) would limit himself to only "making" "earned" money. That is, not stealing it.

The reasoning behind that is a man who steals from his fellow men isn't really being rationally selfish, because then those other men might come after him and do bad things like killing. Stealing is wrong, according to Objectivism, because it's irrational and unwise. If you're stealing, you're relying on other people's productivity to keep you alive, and when the other people wake up and realize it, you're out on the street. Also it's kind of hypocritical to advocate rights of property and so forth without the stipulation that you have to respect other people's rights to the same things.

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Wisdom Teeth Gone

I had my wisdom teeth out yesterday. My dentist is Dr. Noot, who is very good at his work. The longest part was just setting me up to the IV and such, and the whole thing took about an hour. It was painless, and I'm still confident I could have driven myself home. Interestingly the teeth had curved roots, so had I waited even maybe another year they would probably would have had to do bone work.

Being totally numb on your face isn't very fun. Around 8pm last night I took out the gauze which helps clot the blood and drank some of a smoothie to get something in my stomach, along with slowly spooning a yogurt in there. My tongue was the first to denumb, so I was at least capable.

My mouth started hurting a bit, sort of like I had just eaten three bags of beef jerky. So I took a moderate pain killer (Dr. Noot prescribed a moderate one and a more powerful one), which helped for a few hours, then I needed more so I took a strong pill and all was well. I fell asleep around 10:30. More annoying than the pain was the coldness I felt, which is apparently a side effect as the stuff in the IV wears off. A few warm blankets later and I was okay though.

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Learning (and Teaching)

I realized something today as I was reading an article about the underlying reasons vegetarians switch over. It went through various reasons, step by step, refuting each one, and as I read I became excited by the elegant words. I could have probably refuted the arguments just as well factually (if not so elegantly), but I didn't pause to try, and read on. Then I knew the conclusion was coming, the real underlying (and perhaps subconscious reason), and I became very excited, as if reaching the dramatic conclusion of a good book. It was at this point that I realized what I'm now writing about, so I quickly typed a few points so I wouldn't forget later. And I read the conclusion, and my joy increased for understanding it along with the steps to get to it. It made sense, the steps to reach it made sense, I comprehended this that someone less intelligent might not comprehend. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy.

But then I went to talk to a vegetarian about their irrationality (to test my new arguments), and I found that I struggled recalling the arguments and the reasoning and the steps to reach and support the conclusion. For fear of saying something wrong, I went back to the article, and even typed things verbatim, using the author's elegance instead of my own. His elegance was such that I struggled remembering much other than it was elegant, and I knew if I tried to rephrase it then it would likely be less elegant. I do this more often than I like to admit, and it's really annoying when I catch myself at it. Quoting someone (it doesn't matter if you source it or not) takes away the responsibility of thinking for yourself. I like quotes, and I try to think about them, but if a situation comes up in an argument where that quote would elegantly explain my point, I am very tempted to use it. I'm now trying to only use quotes as introductory material. "That which can be destroyed by truth, should be." A great opener for a post on why it's good to be rational.

I believe to know the problem now. The information I was presented was done in an elegant, linear way, with little deviation and no "whoops, backspace that bit, it's wrong" mess-ups. The article gently led me through each step of the process, carefully and elegantly arguing, appealing to my intelligence for not being talked down to, and then it presented the elegant conclusion, with a few final words to back it up. This makes for a very exciting read, and in any mystery books that is the formula the author takes for a successful book. As you read the reasoning, you mistakenly believe you yourself have also reasoned it. You get excited. Then the final bad guy is unmasked, and you proclaim "I knew it!" Well, not really, you were spoon-fed the whole way. You may have predicted it back in the beginning, but were not very sure, or if you were then it's a poor mystery book.

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Use of the gender-neutral singular pronoun "they"

I like using "they" to designate some gender-neutral singular person, and instead of listening to the old farts who claim that one should never use it, I say use it more, or use a different language. It just doesn't make sense to use "it" when talking about a person, or "he" (or the politically correct "he or she" or "she or he" or "s/he") in English, where our nouns don't have genders. In languages like French where nouns do have genders, it makes sense to only use "he" or "she". "One" is for generalities, not specifics, in the same sense that one might use "we" in a general sense. (I would support a completely different word to designate a gender-neutral singular pronoun person, by the way, but I haven't seen one that sounds nice enough.)

In French, each noun is either masculine or feminine, thus when you use a pronoun, it too must be masculine or feminine to match that which it replaces. They don't have an "it", and you use different pronouns depending on whether you're talking about an object or a person. You use different ones depending on if the noun is singular or plural.

So if English had gendered nouns, I'd buy the argument that we should use "he" or "she"when talking about a pronoun that's a person, but not a very specific one, such as "student". You could argue that using "they" muddies the language because then you're using "they" for both singular gender-neutral and for plural anything, but that's like saying that sloshing some sewage from the animals into a human outhouse's pit muddies the pit. English is already so dirty that a little more won't hurt anything.

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Dropping Out of School

I could have graduated High School last year. I could have done the GED during or after 9th grade. Sometimes I wish I had, but I know why it is rational that I didn't.

Your high school experience is what you yourself make of it. Are you there to socialize? Take easy classes and goof off all the time. Are you there to just "get through it"? Do only required courses and graduate early, or do the the GED. And if you do it after/during Junior year, you've been wasting your time so far and will likely waste more after. Yes it is only one more year so suck it up and get through it. If you fear bad grades, get your college stuff done early before they see anything after first term.

Or are you there to learn? Take honors and AP classes, screw required courses, you can make those up last-minute in senior year. For all of my self-motivation and drive to learning new things, had I dropped out in 9th grade I'd be nowhere near where I am now. And it's not what I learned in school that's done that (this year has been particularly dull even with 4 AP classes), but the continual exercise of my brain. I'm forced to think, or I fail. Now my brain's used to it, and I easily go through complicated material on my own that has nothing to do with what I'm doing in school, which to me has become much more of a time-waster. I want more than they can feed me, and I don't want to spend a year reviewing the past x years of grammar while cramming vocab (AP French, AP Latin) or relearning what I learned in 6th grade (most of AP Statistics).

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Why Should I Care?

You're talking to someone about something, and at a pause in the conversation, they say "Why should I care?" What do you usually do? Maybe you'll reply "...I've been giving you many reasons thus far, have you even listened at all?" Or you might just stop talking altogether, or you might reiterate, or you might threaten them, or...

Here's something different you could say. Say: "Why shouldn't you care?" If they need more elaboration on that, which indeed they may, you can continue with the following.

It has been well-documented in numerous psychological studies that humans have a natural tendency to accept as true anything they read, and that it takes a mental effort to consider it and reject it as false. Put into statistical terms, humans look at a piece of information, and they think "The null hypothesis is that this information is true, thus the alternative hypothesis is that this information is not true, aka false." It is their job to provide enough evidence in favor of the alternative to reject the null as a false statement. If I read "2+2=3", I would automatically think "Null: 2+2=3, Alternative: 2+2 =/= 3. Reality has consistently shown time and time again that 2+2=4, therefore I have a huge mountain of evidence that I can reject the null as false, and say with near-certainty that 2+2 =/= 3."

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