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

Understanding opposing frameworks

I was reading about the ideological Turing test and Krugman's remark about not being able to explain what a Keynesian economic argument is struck me as interesting. Personally I don't have too much respect for Krugman -- he has made what I think are really stupid statements (especially on bitcoin) in the past.

I admit I don't really get what a "Keynesian economic argument" should look like; my econ knowledge and opinions are acquired in my spare time. I admit I don't know the underlying framework of the theory that generates various statements. All I know is that when I encounter certain statements, the framework I'm reasoning from disagrees with them. For some cases (like some things Objectivists say) I do understand the underlying framework, because I used to be there, but I reexamined the foundations and found them lacking, so I moved on. For unfamiliar cases, the fact of disagreement may give me pause to consider reevaluating my foundations again, or if I'm particularly interested to evaluate the other person's foundations (if they even have any).

Should I spend more time understanding an opponent's framework? I'm not so sure I should. Imagine someone comes to me and proclaims 2+2=5. Well, reasoning under PA (and ZFC et al.) I know that's false. I'm very confident in PA answering this sort of question correctly, so I'm not very inclined to double-check the axioms and arithmetic functions. I'm also not too inclined to understand what sort of madness led the other person to proclaim such a wrong fact, even if their madness is a coherent logical system (e.g. PA with one additional axiom that special-cases 2+2 to be 5, but 1+3 is still 4 and so on).

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Child Labor

I'll come right out with it -- I don't think child labor is evil. For reference, I think you're a child if you're under the age of 14. Aspects of child labor I think are evil are unsafe working conditions and a trade of a child's education for a small amount of family income. That last aspect is easiest to explain: education is important, especially in the early years. Kids should be acquiring knowledge and having fun during this time, and if any of them are working it should be because they want to (for the work itself or for the money in order to buy something they want), not because their parents are poor. Any money a child earns should legally be theirs -- banks should make it easy to open an account entirely in the child's name with no adult supervision or access. I think work hours generally ought to be part time only (less than 25 hours a week), and between 14-16 that restriction is lifted during the summer months between school years. At the age of 16 I don't really see an important distinction with an 18 year old in terms of being able to join any area of the adult work force.

There are areas in the adult workforce that are unsuitable for children, and arguably for that transition period between 14-16 as well. Coal mines are by their nature unsafe. (As such it's actually not that bad compensation-wise, and even as a laborer you can still expect benefits.) Besides the safety concerns, the various jobs coal mining entails also typically require adult intelligence and adult physical fitness. Indeed the laborer position linked to wants candidates 21 years or older. (I have no problem with companies having age restrictions for their jobs -- if they want to exclude a certain segment of the market by choice, fine. But I think a lot of companies refuse to hire less-than-18 year olds (and especially less-than-16 year olds) simply due to legal complications.)

WW2-style sweat shops with lots of dangerous finger-chopping machines are also no place for a child. Even modern assembly plants aren't really suitable from a safety perspective. Simpler assembly line jobs like sorting or picking out defective food products requires an ability to focus on such an uninteresting activity for hours which most children simply do not have. (Also an awareness of one's cleanliness.)

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Correlation is evidence of causation

I've been bringing the title line out frequently for the past few years in response to people saying the somewhat true phrase "correlation does not imply causation", or the true phrase "correlation is not causation" which they've been indoctrinated by fraudsters protecting Big Tobacco.

When asked for a proof, I often just link to this page: It's the simplest and easiest to understand version I've come across. But I think it's sort of missing a final step, and a longer proof will fill that in.

In order to prove the title statement, we have to back up a bit and ask about what evidence is, and before we do that we have to ask about what belief is. Or rather, we don't really need to define what they are so much as how to measure them. Bets are a way of measuring your confidence and certainty of your beliefs, and odds ratios and other aspects of betting can be expressed through probability theory, so your beliefs being true can be expressed using probability theory as well. (If you're interested in non-betting-based foundation for probability theory governing beliefs, see Jaynes. If you're interested in representing uncertainty of several "flavors", see Goertzel.) So if we have a probability for a belief, and we encounter a new piece of evidence, then that will either raise or lower the probability of the belief depending on whether it's evidence for or against. Formally, if some fact A is evidence for belief B being true, that means that the probability of B being true is greater if A is true than if A is false. In math, $$P(B|A) \gt P(B|\overline{A})$$ means A is evidence of B.

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My preference for dynamic typing

Alternatively: why I lost all excitement about Clojure's core.typed library after learning it makes no speed improvements.

There's a little-known paper published a few years ago called "An experiment About Static and Dynamic Type Systems: Doubts About the Positive Impact of Static Type Systems on Development Time".

Go read the paper, it's short. But since I know you're lazy, I'll give a brief overview of the experimental setup and its results in my own biased words. The authors made a programming language and IDE and had two versions of it: one with static typing and one with dynamic typing. They took a group of students and separated them into dynamic/static groups and trained them respectively -- the training for the static version took a little longer since they had to cover the type system. Then they were asked to implement a scanner and parser.

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Mixing Python with C

A common point of rhetoric up the sleeve of any Pythonista is this: "...and you can always write the slow parts in C if you have to!" It's typically said off-to-the-side and rarely elaborated on.

It's not a bad piece of rhetoric, I even use it from time to time. But it's only useful on programmers who haven't stepped much beyond their own narrow interest in technology--anyone who's done work across a variety of languages ought to realize that "can interface with C" isn't a feature that's supposed to be marketable, it's a hard requirement. They may have never had to do this themselves, but they should at least know in principle it can be done. In practice it's often a lot more difficult than it should be. If Python's C-interfacing capabilities were as slick as Clojure's Java interfacing ones, I wouldn't want to write about it.

What do I mean by "can interface with C"? A language that can interface with C is a language that can directly call functions in a compiled shared object that was written in C, and also where C can get at the language's internals as well to call its code and have interactions. This is distinct from using the other language to instruct the operating system to run a compiled C program and give it the results, and vice versa. Java interfaces with C, and Python interfaces with C.

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An attempt at a practical exploration of Python for newcomers

In open office format here. (I know, I know, LaTeX heresy!) This post may be more up to date if I corrected anything though.

This document isn't explicitly about the syntax and 'overview of language features' of Python. Figure out the syntax of Python yourself from examples, Google, guessing, or error messages. Some features will be mentioned in passing when they're not obviously inferred from the example.
If you're looking for a style guide (sometimes the best way to learn syntax): check out “PEP 8”: (I disagree with some of it, of course, but PEP 8 explicitly is fine with that.)

Pro tip 1: never use tabs.
Pro tip 2: read what an error message actually says before asking for help. They're very unlike C++ compilers' vague template-related errors over which people tend to get glazed eyes.
Pro tip 3:
“Very often it will be faster for you to try something out on the computer than to look it up in the manual. Besides, the computer is always right, and the manual could be wrong.”
--Apple II Basic Programming Manual

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Answers to two questions about government

I just sent out an email answering two questions, I'm going to copy them here because they're a good reference point for my current views going into 2014. Previously in the email I had mentioned as a decent source of anti-libertarianism, though not without its own problems. The first question, referencing that link:

Some of his arguments are worth thinking about, but It seems to me that many of his argmumetns can be turned on their head fairly easily. What do you think of his marginal utility argument using the movie ticket example?

I think the concept of marginal utility is sound, but by itself it does not justify progressive taxes. So what if I'm so wealthy that an extra dollar is more or less useless for me personally because I already have everything I desire materially? It's still my dollar. What was left unjustified is that 'burden' should be the basis of a taxation policy. But the real problem with the movie ticket metaphor is that it ignores a crucial power of money: the power to create more of it through investing.

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