How about Occam's Weasel?
We leave recyclables for collection on the street in a place near the entrance to the home of neighbor A. Neighbor A has been complaining for some time about an unknown person who leaves bags of recyclables outside her door, because the collectors will not take bagged materials, only materials in bins. Then A has to deal with the bags herself.
Today while picking up my bin I noticed this had happened again. The collectors had come but had left behind a bag of bottles and cans and a second bag of shredded finanical documents. I examined the shreds for a while and observed that they had belonged to neighbor B. Then I carried the bags back to B's house and left them at her door so that A would not have to deal with them.
I wonder if I should suggest to B that she should consider replacing her office shredder with a cross-cut model. But I cannot think of a tactful way to do this. “You should take greater care to keep snoopers like myself from reading your private documents” seems like the wrong thing to say. Perhaps the return of the shredded documents will give her a hint and I should say nothing.
Web blog website was extensively probed yesterday. This is a common occurrence, but this probe had some peculiar features.
It's all pretty weird.
Gigazine has published an article that discusses my earlier article on how to explain infinity to kids. It is in Japanese. I have learned that my name, transliterated into katakana, is マーク・ジェイソン・ドミナス.
At first I was pleased to see that the article had been written by someone who appeared, at least from their name (Mikael Leppä) to be Finnish. But then I realized that no, that was just the picture credit on the illustration to got from Flickr. So disappointing! Probably the article was written by some Japanese person.
Unless I am mistaken the color blue is not mentioned in the New Testament. I don't know what significance this might hold, being mostly ignorant of hermeneutics, but perhaps there is some.
Blue appears many times in the Old Testament, mostly in connection with ephods, which I have already explained.
Today's blog post about what to say when a kid asks you “what is infinity?” reminds me of something that I have been angry about for years. My family once went to visit some old friends. During the visit, two of our hosts had the following exchange:
Holy fucking cow, even stipulating that these nice folks' religion is literally true and that this answer is literally correct, it is a terrible answer because it answers nothing; they might as well say “shut up, kid, and don't ask questions.” Just saying “I don't know” is a thousand times better than this.
If you believe, as perhaps this mom did, that God is the almighty lord and creator of the universe and the most important subject of human attention, and that her answer is correct, then it is important to consider the immediately following question:
Does God prefer blue? Is blue better? Is there a moral or theological reason why it should be blue? We know from the Bible that God's truth wasn't revealed all at once; there were later revelations. Maybe next week someone is going to realize that the blueness of the sky is really an important communication from God about something, and we should have been paying closer attention to it. (This is well-precedented; see for example Gen 9:13, Exo 10:22, Josh 10:13, the famous vision of Constantine.)
Or perhaps Mom is wrong and God doesn't want it to be blue! A standard explanation for certain features of the world is that they are the work of Satan and are contrary to God's wishes. Could the blue sky be one of these? Was the prelapsarian sky some other color? Should we be trying to correct this? And how can we be sure which it is? How could it be unimportant whether the blue sky is the work of God or Satan?
Supposing that the blue sky is part of God's plan, shouldn't we try to understand this as we do the rest of His plan? What alternative is there? Who could be so presumptuous as to say “The almighty lord and creator of the universe made the sky blue for no reason at all, it was an arbitrary choice” or “God's plan is all-important, but not this particular part, which is merely an unimportant detail.”
And one might go a step farther with the next question:
Did God command Sherwin Williams to deliver unto Him one hundred trillion gallons of sky-blue paint? No, of course not, I'm just being silly. The actual answer is surprisingly complex: God's plan includes Rayleigh scattering. Now we should ask, why does God want Rayleigh scattering?
Religion can be used for good or for ill. It can be used to further inquiry, or to terminate its own understanding. There are varieties of religious feeling that are thoughtful, and others that are lazy and thoughtless, and disdainful of even the questions that religion itself claims are supremely important. To make oneself more lazy and thoughtless than necessary is not piety. It is despising the gifts of the bountiful God, who giveth us all things richly to enjoy.
Here's how Twitter excerpted one of the illustrations from a recent blog article:
Here's the original illustration:
Can we infer from Wesley's name that he and Dr. Crusher are Methodists?
(Asking such questions is perilous, because someone might show up at my door with a 58-page summary of past and current scholarly thought on the subject.)
From Chris Siebenmann's blog:
I recommend this blog.
Orin Kerr of the Volokh Conspiracy blog has written an article on how to read a legal opinion. I have found reading federal court opinions fascinating and educational. U.S. federal judges are almost always intelligent and thoughtful, and excellent writers. I recently wrote:
As dense technical material, law opinions are unusual because their underlying topics are public policy issues that affect everyone, or everyday issues as property disputes and interactions with the police. So they have a relevance that, say, scientific or engineering material does not. If you really want to know what the Supreme Court said recently in connection with Masterpiece Cakeshop, you are not going to do better than to read what they actually said about it.
But like other dense technical material, court opinions are full of obscure jargon. Kerr's article explains the most important parts of this jargon and describes the overall structure of the opinions. If you think you might be interested in reading some Supreme Court opinions, but you find it hard to get your feet under you, you might give Kerr's article a try.
The number boggled me.
It was given as “more than 300”. Holy cow. And this is only for six of Pennsylvania's eight dioceses. Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown were investigated previously.
Had I been greatly underestimating the number of priests in Pennsylvania, I wondered. No, there are 792 in the Philadelphia Archdiocese and 207 in the Pittsburgh Diocese. The six dioceses in the report couldn't have more than 1200 priests total.
I am speechless with rage and disgust.
[ Addendum 20180817: I tried to estimate what fraction of all priests were mentioned in the report and guessed around 6%. ]
Another writer I was able to track down was Isabelle C. Chang, author of the Chinese Fairy Tales I had enjoyed as a child.
I learned that Chang had been an indirect but important contributor to the development of the combined oral contraceptive pill. The National Academy of Science biographical memoir of her husband, Dr. Min Chueh Chang, says:
Ms. Chang worked as a writer and librarian, raised their three kids and took care of their house, while Dr. Chang worked relentlessly and successfully on the problem of using steroids for birth control.
One of the authors I rescued from the ruins of my childhood memories was C.A. Stephens. I had read one story of his, called “The Jonah”, and found it delightful. An earlier draft of this article recounted the story, but it is better for you to read it yourself. The background is that five cousins, are living with their grandparents on a farm in Maine, and the grandparents are out of town for the week.
Thanks to the Internet, I was able to find out who wrote this, and get his books out of the library. Not all the stories were as delightful as that one but many of them were, and now I am a C.A. Stephens fan.
Check it out.
An important thing to keep in mind is that the old-style imperial fuckload is actually 14% larger than the metric fuckload.
AO3 has only one story about Mondamay the Potter, and it is in Russian.
Also, where the hell is my Sonar Taxlaw fanfic?
By the way, Martin Wells says, in Octopus: Physiology and Behaviour of an Advanced Invertebrate (Springer, 1978) that contrary to popular report, octopuses cannot learn to open jars:
There may have been further developments since 1978, of course.
Yesterday I went to breakfast at a restaurant and unexpectedly ran into Lorrie who was just finishing her own breakfast. I brought Placido the octopus out of my bag to say hi, and she took a picture of him sitting on my shoulder.
The waitress happened by and asked “what is that for?”
I said “Catching crabs. Opening jars. Hiding in small spaces.”
I don't know what she was asking, but that seemed to satisfy her.
I want to use this story in a future article about novices with inaccurate mental models.
When I was a young teenager, I had a Commodore 64 computer. It could do bitmapped graphics. You would tell it which pages of memory should be displayed on the screen, and then poke bytes into that region of memory to switch the dots on and off. I had a lot of fun with this.
I did not have a dedicated monitor. Instead I had an old color TV that the computer used as a display. There was a device on the back of the TV that switched it between displaying the computer output and displaying the received TV signal. One day I had a wonderful idea: I would switch the device to TV mode and put on some TV program — I imagined Star Trek specifically. Then instead of poking data into the computer memory to make dots appear on the screen, I would read the memory into a file to get a screenshot of the TV program.
I didn't expect that this would work well; I thought if it worked at all there would be a huge amount of sampling skew, because the TV image would change drastically during the memory copying process. But I hoped the results might be interesting anyway, and at least part of it might be partly recognizable.
Of course, it didn't work at all. The connection from the computer to the TV was entirely one way. The device on the back of the TV was an RF modulator, which transformed the computer's video output into a fictitious radio signal that the TV would interpret. Switched into the TV position, the computer's video output went nowhere. In no case was the TV image accessible to the computer. My program to read the contents of the bitmapped memory read nothing but zeroes.
I think it's useful to remember times like this when I was so utterly confused about what was really happening.
I was once talking to a recruiter about some programming job. He asked me to rate my programming skills on a scale of 1 to 10.
I was perplexed. “How is that distributed? Should there be an equal number of people in each group? Or does someone get a 10 if they're five standard deviations above the mean? Or what?”
Now he was perplexed. “Uhhh, nobody's ever asked me that before. Just interpret it how you like.”
“In that case I'm a 10.”
Another cool piece of Dionysian paraphernalia is the thyrsus (from Greek θύρσος) which is a staff topped with a roughly conical plant part, canonically (cononically?) a large pine cone, but it could be a flower or an artichoke or something like that.
I have sometimes toyed with the idea of carrying one around, but it seems like it would be more inconvenient than useful.
In Doorways in the Sand the donkey is named “Sibla”, which I was thinking would be a good name for the donkey of Silenus. But then I remembered that actually Sibla is not really a donkey, but an impostor. (“The real donkey is tied up out back,” he says.) Probably Silenus had a series of donkeys, each named differently. What did they do with the donkeys when they died? (Peacfully, I imagine, at advanced ages.) I hope they buried them honorably.
One of my favorite lines from the book is in connection with Sibla:
Haven't we all felt that way at one time or another?
I find that somehow, in twelve years of blogging, I have never mentioned Doorways in the Sand. I will have to discuss it at some point.
Today a co-worker mentioned the word “euouae”, which are a certain type of hymnal cadence. I thought I knew what this was but I was mistaken. I had it mixed up with “evoe”, which is the frenzied cry of the maenads (from Greek εὐοῖ). I first encountered this word in Zelazny's Doorways in the Sand, of all places. The protagonist is at a bacchanal party, also attended by the requisite donkey, and:
The girl does not appear again, but the donkey is a plot point. If there is a canonical name for Silenus’ donkey, I do not know it.
Similar but not related is “ululation”, which is just what it sounds like, a long wavering howl. This onomotopoeic word is very old. It is not, however, related to uvula, which is Latin for “little grape”.
To me “ululate” suggests that there ought also to be “ululatrix” and perhaps also “ululatorium”. If I wrote a novel it would be full of this sort of nonsense.