Good Morning December 14, 2016

Good morning on this the fourteenth day of December in the year of our Lord 2016.

I’ve been reading TOF’s The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown. It’s excellent, and you really should read it.

And then by complete coincidence, I happened across this video, which is a description of a classroom lesson on scientific experimentation:

It looks like a really good lesson for students in a science class, btw. If you don’t have time to watch the video, the professor seals a rectangle of aluminum foil inside of a block of paraffin which is very slightly larger than the foil, then asks his class to make observations and try to figure out what it is without doing destructive experiments. Especially in the version where the students can only look at it and ask the professor to turn it around and shine lights on it, this actually does a good job of representing the difficulty often faced in science: for one reason or another you can’t do the experiment which would actually tell you what you have, so you have to be crafty and clever to try to find substitute experiments. This applies to a great degree in the problem of astronomy, especially in the seventeenth century, when celestial objects were so remote and barely observable.

It’s also interesting to hear about the mistakes which the students make along the way, which to some degree mirror the progression we saw in astronomy, where assumptions always start out simple and familiar, then are disproved by experimental evidence.

Which actually brings up a really interesting topic I don’t have time to get into, about The Scientific Method versus actual science. The very short version is that half of the scientific method as typically described comes from Modern Philosophy where knowledge was reconceptualized1 from being descriptive of the real world to creative and limited to the inside of the human head. This corresponds roughly to the steps of the scientific method which are about forming a hypothesis and to a lesser degree devising tests. Since as Chesterton said the modern age is the age of publicity, Modern Philosophers have spread the idea that this is really the key to Science brand natural investigation (please read that like “Kleenex brand facial tissue”), when in fact it may be one of the less important parts. Theories, history has shown us, are a dime a dozen2. The hard part is getting good experimental data. Because as history has also shown us, experimental data is easy to come by if you don’t care whether the experimental data means anything. Experimental data where you’ve tested for the existence of variables and then controlled for them is very difficult indeed. It’s also often quite expensive. But I’d argue that it’s the experimentalists who really give science it’s glory. For some reason the theoretical physicists seem to have better publicity than the experimental physicists do, possibly because what they do is far less messy and therefore sexier than what the experimentalists do and can therefore be packaged for retail much more easily. But a great many exciting theories have turned out to be at best mediocre fiction, while experiments are often inconclusive but always true. And when they combine both, the experiments are amazing. In theory the experimentalists require the theorists to give them some idea what to experiment upon, but I’m not sure how true this is in practice. No one in the seventeenth century needed a theory in order to point a telescope at Jupiter and make detailed observations about its moons. As the saying goes:

In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there often is.

God bless you.


1. Sorry, I just couldn’t resist this absurd, modern word to describe the absurd, modern project.

2. This is actually overstating the case; they cost about how often academic scientists publish divided by their yearly salary. This actually makes them fairly expensive unless you consider them to be side-effects of some other job such as teaching students or increasing a university’s prestige to bring in donations.

Good Day December 13, 2016

Good day on this the thirteenth day of December in the year of our Lord 2016.

I ran into an atheist on Twitter today who was repeating the talking point that if there were no people who believed in God, no one would call themselves atheists. This is a point as profound as saying that if human beings couldn’t produce the “b” sound, English would not use the word “blue” to name the color “blue”. Yeah, no kidding. I think it might have been news to the poor fellow that this point is barely fit for a kindergartener, and is a shameful waste of time when said to adults.

There are more than a few atheists on twitter who are:

  1. aggressive
  2. poorly educated
  3. not very bright

It’s hard to know what to do with such people. One wants to be kind, but on the other hand the kindest thing to do seems to be to point out that such people have nothing of value to say and be best off by far if they stopped talking and went and rectified numbers 1 and especially 2 and at least took number 3 into account since there’s not much they can do about it. Their lives are being based on a whole collection of lies, and it is in their best interest by far to throw the lies and out and rebuild on a solid foundation.

And I’m not just talking about repenting and believing in God. Learning what an argument is and how to make it would be a great idea. I had to explain to one atheist today that if he holds one of the premises of his argument to be unprovable, he can’t legitimately use it as a premise in his argument. (Specifically he claimed that he didn’t rape because of his empathy, and when I asked him for evidence of his claim he asked how he could be expected to prove a lack.) This is purely secular incompetence. I also had to explain to the same person that you can demonstrate you have understood somebody else’s point by explaining it in your own words to their satisfaction. He actually asked me how he could demonstrate he had understood my point! (I made that a condition of giving him an example of the rule I was quoted as saying which is why he was talking with me at all.) He made it all the way to being an adult without ever having encountered a technique for demonstrating that you’ve understood something!

It might be his fault for being badly educated—he might have attempted to assault all of his teachers until they gave up on him—but presumably it isn’t. And yet at the same time, he’s aggressively saying stupid things on the internet and acting as if he is competent at thinking and arguing when he obviously isn’t. That very incompetence means that one can’t use reasoned demonstrations of his incompetence to convince him—that would be like trying to demonstrate to a man with bad vision that he has bad vision using sharp pictures. The fault you’re trying to communicate inherently prevents that mode of communication. You can’t convince a man that he’s deaf by shouting at him.

There don’t seem to be many options open which have any plausible chance of working besides bluntly telling such a person that he should learn how to think and argue properly, and refusing all conversation and argumentation with him until he does. It’s not nice, but there doesn’t seem to be any other way to help such a man. Until he knows his current state is unacceptable, why would he change it? This is a most unpleasant conclusion, but I believe I’ve rediscovered excommunication. It’s almost like there was a reason for it in the first place.

God bless you.

Good Morning December 12, 2016

Good morning on this the twelfth day of December, in the year of our Lord 2016.

The topic of Santa Claus is an interesting one. Last year I did some informal research into the origins of Santa Claus, and it seems like Santa Claus originated with the poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, better known as Twas the Night Before Christmas. (The name Santa Claus itself being presumed to be a corruption of the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself a corruption of Saint Nicholas.) There are precursor figures that Santa Claus was undoubtedly drawn from, though for example the English figure of Father Christmas wasn’t very close.

One thing that has puzzled me about the later Santa Claus lore in relation to the poem is that the poem is fairly clear that the sleigh and reindeer traveled along the ground and essentially jumped up to the rooftop:

“To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys‍—‌and St. Nicholas too

That pretty clearly does not describe descending from the sky but rising from the ground. Be that as it may, the common practice of presenting the myth of Santa Claus to children causes not a small amount of controversy, and though not the same as the original controversy around Christmas, it does bear some relationship. Originally protestants (or at a minimum English protestants, but I think it was most of them) were dead-set against Christmas as a papist tradition. Merriment and celebration don’t really go well with doctrines like the total depravity of man. (Luther is his own basket of contradictions, but his view of human nature was at best rosy only by comparison to Calvin’s; Luther thought that the saved would be smuggled into heaven, clothed by Christ, like snow-covered dung hills. Merry Christmas.)

In modern times the controversy is rather around the veracity of what is told to Children than that a good time is had by all, but there is the similarity of two camps around Christmas celebrations, one of which seems decidedly less jolly than the other.

Having said that, I myself have attempted to thread a middle ground. We do some of the rituals involved with Santa Claus, but at the same time I don’t tell my children anything factually inaccurate. The truth is, after all, pretty good: Saint Nicholas was a bishop who lived many centuries ago and was known for his love of, and kindness to, children. In his honor we give gifts to children in his name, continuing the celebration of generosity to those least able to give in return. Thus presents labeled as being from Santa Claus are, in that sense, from him, though we as our children’s parents also take part in that gift. It makes sense to my children according to their age and ability to understand, and doesn’t seem in any way to diminish their fun at listening to me reading the poem, or to getting gifts from Santa Claus, or the rest of it. Most of the time they talk as if the stories of Santa Claus are literally true anyway. The stories are, in any event, figuratively true.

God bless you.

Good Morning December 11, 2016

Good morning on this the eleventh day of December in the year of our Lord 2016.

I had an interesting exchange with my four year old son today:

Child: I want my [specific toy].

Me: Where did you last have it?

Child: In my hand.

Me: That’s… true.

It’s always funny when children answer questions in a very literal way, and it gets to the heart of what I think is a common misunderstanding of children: the idea that children are irrational. (There is, I think, a true idea that children are irrational in the sense of what changes at the age of reason, which is to say, when they seem to gain the ability to reason in an abstract manner, but that’s not what I mean and isn’t, generally, what people mean either.)

In particular, children aren’t nearly so much irrational as inexperienced. In a theoretical sense, knowledge and what you do with it are two separate things. This is related to the distinction of knowledge coming from experience and wisdom from learning the right lessons from that experience. Children take questions—like my question above—literally not because they can’t conceive of any wider meaning, but because they have no experience which suggests any wider meaning. Most of the things we say in life we mean very literally. “Don’t draw on the table with that crayon” does not have an esoteric meaning. “Do you need to use the potty” does not allude to any large topic with complex considerations. “Do you want a PB&J or Grilled Cheese?” touches on no subtleties. But when I ask my child where he had his toy last, this does bring up some of the complexities of looking for lost items; or at least it is meant to. But the child can only know that by this question being a prelude to trying to conjure in his imagination where the object was.

And as an incidental detail of child raising, it turns out that doing this is in fact a learned skill. I can remember with my oldest child helping him to find things several times by doing the very simple, “where were you when you last had it” and then going and looking there. They learn that skill very quickly, though, since it’s so effective, and it only take a few repetitions before they go look on their own and only ask for help when it’s not where they remember playing with it last.

There’s another interaction I can recall, which shows a similar pattern:

Me: Stop hitting your brother with Optimus Prime!

Child: Puts down optimus prime, picks up Bumblebee, starts hitting brother with Bumblebee.

The child wasn’t trying to get by on a technicality. In the first few months of hitting one’s brother, there are a lot of complex lessons to learn, such as that the objection to optimus prime (which I didn’t explicitly state) is not some special thing about Optimus Prime which I know and the child didn’t and so he just had to trust me, but that Optimus Prime was made of hard plastic, which the child can know himself, and consequently that this same objection holds to Bumblebee, who is also made of hard plastic. By contrast, when the children are hitting each other with balloons, I don’t object, because the balloons are soft and have little mass and can’t hurt anyone. But it takes a lot of data for the child to figure out what’s common to the few things he and his brother may hit each other with and what’s common to the many things he may not. He’s not trying to see what he can get away with, but just utterly lacking the experience of adults in knowing what actually hurts people.

And part of how you know that he lacks this experience is that he makes the exact same mistakes when applied to himself. He does things which hurt himself and is surprised at the result. For example, it seems that children will not believe you about not snapping rubber bands on themselves until they’ve done it hard enough to cry at it. They’re not attempting to lawyer their way through technicalities, but to navigate a big and complex world with a great many twists and turns in it without any data.

This same problem does affect adults interacting with each other, by the way. Except that while with children we expect them to not know what we know—at least somewhat expect it, anyway—it’s all too common for adults to assume that all other adults know what they know, and furthermore to hold it to be a failing if the other adult doesn’t know it. This results in a great deal of miscommunication, since on any complex subject we only say a small fraction of what we mean (for efficiency’s sake) and require the listener to interpret most of our meaning based on shared knowledge and context. Especially on the internet, which throws together people with vastly differing backgrounds, it’s a very good idea to make sure of what someone’s unstated context really is before you assume you know what they mean. Don’t go full Wittgenstein—never go full Wittgenstein—but it is true that a great many philosophical and political disagreements turn out to be misunderstandings. There are enough real disagreements in the world; it’s unhelpful to shrowd them in a haze of miscommunication.

God bless you.

Good Morning December 10th, 2016

Good morning on this the tenth day of December in the year of our Lord 2016.

Winter is clearly here in force now. I was waiting for my oldest son at the bus stop and felt like I was slowly turning into an icicle. And I deal better with cold than with heat. There’s something fascinating about the cycle of how in northern climes the world dies off then comes back to life again. It’s an interesting metaphor, anyway. It also raises a curious question about fiction set in lands that are in permanent snow: what’s the basis of life there? It various with the fictional environment, of course, but perhaps the ones I find most interesting are the ones where there are warm lands nearby, so the basis of life is something like fish which wander into the colds to birth their young where there are fewer predators. It can make for some very pretty images.

As I’m working on the video response to my friend’s nephew which I mentioned before, I did a quick video which is just a short description of how to use a neodymium magnet as a stud finder, in place of an electronic stud finder or knocking with one’s finger and judging how hollow the sound is. The video wasn’t great but came out alright. As the British would say, it’s fit for purpose. But there’s one mistake in it where I want to put a text overlay and for some reason the video editor just isn’t playing sound. I’m sure I’ll fix it eventually, but it’s a reminder of the continual frustration of using technology. None of it works very well. Chesterton complained about this in What’s Wrong With the World:

Cast your eye round the room in which you sit, and select some three or four things that have been with man almost since his beginning; which at least we hear of early in the centuries and often among the tribes. Let me suppose that you see a knife on the table, a stick in the corner, or a fire on the hearth. About each of these you will notice one speciality; that not one of them is special. Each of these ancestral things is a universal thing; made to supply many different needs; and while tottering pedants nose about to find the cause and origin of some old custom, the truth is that it had fifty causes or a hundred origins. The knife is meant to cut wood, to cut cheese, to cut pencils, to cut throats; for a myriad ingenious or innocent human objects. The stick is meant partly to hold a man up, partly to knock a man down; partly to point with like a finger-post, partly to balance with like a balancing pole, partly to trifle with like a cigarette, partly to kill with like a club of a giant; it is a crutch and a cudgel; an elongated finger and an extra leg. The case is the same, of course, with the fire; about which the strangest modern views have arisen. A queer fancy seems to be current that a fire exists to warm people. It exists to warm people, to light their darkness, to raise their spirits, to toast their muffins, to air their rooms, to cook their chestnuts, to tell stories to their children, to make checkered shadows on their walls, to boil their hurried kettles, and to be the red heart of a man’s house and that hearth for which, as the great heathens said, a man should die.

Now it is the great mark of our modernity that people are always proposing substitutes for these old things; and these substitutes always answer one purpose where the old thing answered ten. The modern man will wave a cigarette instead of a stick; he will cut his pencil with a little screwing pencil-sharpener instead of a knife; and he will even boldly offer to be warmed by hot water pipes instead of a fire. I have my doubts about pencil-sharpeners even for sharpening pencils; and about hot water pipes even for heat. But when we think of all those other requirements that these institutions answered, there opens before us the whole horrible harlequinade of our civilization. We see as in a vision a world where a man tries to cut his throat with a pencil-sharpener; where a man must learn single-stick with a cigarette; where a man must try to toast muffins at electric lamps, and see red and golden castles in the surface of hot water pipes.

This is not precisely the complain that modern technology doesn’t work, but it’s tied to it, for modern technology being more complicated, it is more prone to failure. And nowhere is this more true than in computers, which in general barely work. (I say this as a professional programmer.) But even when they barely work, they are marvelous things, allowing us to do all sorts of marvelous things like write and read blog posts. And whenever these things which barely worked in the first place do fail, we get very frustrated by it. Which is natural enough; but I try to remind myself of how close all modern technology comes to not working, and to remember that even if computers and phones and such work 99% of the time, it is still when they work that is the exception, not when they fail. For all their success is snatched from failure. It is really a miracle that they work at all. It’s not accurate to the small picture, exactly, but it is accurate to the big picture. We live in an enchanted world, and it’s healthy to remember all he millions of men who have lived and died without ever having placed a single telephone call, or whose computer never booted up at all because it would be several centuries until the invention of electricity on demand.

God bless you.

Good Morning December 9th, 2016

Good morning on this the ninth day of December in the year of our Lord 2016.

Something I was randomly thinking about recently was Tom Naughton’s rather good talk Science for Smart People:

If you haven’t seen it, it’s very much worth watching. Tom Naughton is always enjoyable to watch and he presents good advice on how to deal with the popular reporting of science (specifically about diet and nutrition).

I got some more comments on my video Atheism vs Meaning, which amount to, “I can do whatever I want, so I can decide my life has meaning”. Yeah, if you can do that and all choices are equally valid, your life doesn’t have any meaning. And in any event, if he’s right, I can choose that the meaning I give to life is that his meanings are meaningless. It does get frustrating, some times, getting comments from people who are angry at me because they’re incapable of thinking clearly.

There’s a tiny amount of snow on the ground outside, so I suppose that means it really is winter. The bitter cold was another clue, of course, as was the date, but it can be a bit hard to accept that winter has really arrived. I’m not sure why, since I do like winter. It’s a very poignant season, often beautiful but with a harsh beauty. On the other hand all of the disease-carrying insects are dead or dormant, so I think we an overrate its harshness a bit.

God bless you.

Good Morning December 8th, 2016


Good morning on this the eight day in December, in the year of our Lord 2016.

It is also the feast of the Immaculate Conception, on the Roman Catholic calendar. The doctrine of the immaculate conception is a very interesting one; in brief it is that the salvation of Christ was applied to Mary at the moment of her conception so that she would have the ability to become the mother of God, and relatedly so that she could make with perfect freedom the biggest choice anyone in the whole history of the human race has ever made. For various practical reasons we tend to focus on the freedom to say “no” to options, but sin weakens people and is perhaps clearest in addicts that freedom also requires the freedom to say “yes” to things. I won’t dwell on the doctrine since I know so little about it, but it does certainly raise some interesting questions.

In other news I posted a second hangout on my youtube channel:

This time I had the pleasure of talking with The Distributist. As conversations are wont to do, it wandered over a variety of subjects, but it started and to some degree ended by discussing classical liberalism (the liberalism of the post-reformation and enlightenment era). It was a little more structured than my hangout with Deflating Atheism, but not tremendously so. I’m still very undecided about whether a conversation or an interview is a better format. And of course, “neither, do both” is always a possible conclusion.

I also noticed that Hoyt and Bowtech have announced their new bows this year. (In general new bows tend to be announced at the end of archery season, it seems.) In general there doesn’t seem to be much difference; I think Bowtech characterized this as, “this year is about refinement”. And once again the only fast 80# or greater bow seems to be the Matthews Monster Safari, which costs $2,100. I did get the opportunity to shoot once once (rare, since they are all custom made and no one stocks them) and it was an amazing bow. It had a very, very smooth draw cycle and just felt amazing to draw and shoot. It costs so much money because they really went all out with hard-to-make parts that were optimal for the workload, and it shows. If you can afford it—and so far I can’t—you’re paying for performance, not for looks or a nameplate (though I do think it looks nice enough).

So I’ve basically concluded that if I want something to shoot my 0.175″ deflection arrows (which are as stiff as you can get in factory made arrows) with more than 102 ft-lbs of kinetic energy, my best bet is to keep working on my carbon fiber longbows. Right now I’m using wooden limbs with carbon fiber backing, which seems to be easy to do up to round 40#, just guestimating. When one pushes above that, limb design becomes more critical, and so far I think I’ve been too aggressive in tapering the limbs, which puts too much bend in them towards the tips. An all-composite material could probably handle that much bending, but wood doesn’t like to be bent that much. Accordingly it works better to concentrate the bending loser to the handle, where less bending is required for the same draw distance. The bow I’m working on now (well, to be fair, it’s laid aside for the moment in the middle of being made) is promising, but I had an initial glue failure in the limb where it delaminated because I didn’t have a good bond between the ipe belly layer and the walnut core. Basically, I forgot to rough it up before gluing. So I’ve done a good job of that and just need to re-glue them up, but gluing with epoxy is always something of a production and I just haven’t had the time and energy to set it up. Also since there are minimum batches of epoxy (to make mix ratios easy to attain accurately), I always feel bad about small projects which therefore involve a fair amount of waste. At the same time I really should look for a different epoxy for doing wood laminations, since the concerns for gluing wood together are not the same as for setting up composites like carbon fiber. It’s possible there’s a more ideal epoxy for the wood layers. (If it isn’t clear why the limb delaminated, the inside of a curve is shorter than the outside of a curve, and so when the limb bends the belly really wants to push out further than the core (and the core further than the back), which introduces sheer strain on the laminations. Thus the most important characteristic in the glue for the laminations is its sheer strength.)

May God bless you.

Good Morning December 7th, 2016

Good morning on this the seventh day of December in the year of our Lord 2016.

I was joking last night with someone who doesn’t have children yet but wants to that the myth that children sleep is a lie spread by the pajama industry. Obviously this isn’t literally true—at a minimum the bedding industry must be involved too. But it does remind me of a great quote from Chesterton about how common the experience of human life is, especially at its most core elements:

For at present we all tend to one mistake; we tend to make politics too important. We tend to forget how huge a part of a man’s life is the same under a Sultan and a Senate, under Nero or St Louis. Daybreak is a never-ending glory, getting out of bed is a never-ending nuisance; food and friends will be welcomed; work and strangers must be accepted and endured; birds will go bedwards and children won’t, to the end of the last evening.

I do not know from personal experience whether birds actually will go to their beds, but I can testify that children certainly won’t.

It is an amazing privilege to bring children into the world and care for them and teach them what it is to be human. It is also a great deal of work. Most good things are.

God bless you.

Good Morning on December 6th, 2016

Good morning on this the sixth day of December, in the year of our Lord 2016.

So I did my first hangout with another youtuber today. (Properly I published it today, it happened earlier.) It was definitely an interesting experience. I talked too much, I think, and the conversation was not very focused. I don’t think that’s a problem in itself, but it did result in my saying “um” and pausing more than I’d have liked because I was evaluating possible things to say and trying to decide whether they were too far afield. (There’s also just the issue of being chronically underslept from little children.) Deflating Atheism was great to talk with, though again I feel like I sometimes gave him unfocused questions or just didn’t give him much to work with. Still, I think it will be enjoyable enough to listen to—deflating atheism’s parts, anyway—and it’s certainly a learning experience for future hangouts, both with Deflating Atheism and others. Everything in this world has a learning curve. Even small changes to things one is familiar with have a learning curve. It’s a good reason not to judge a book by its first page, nor a TV show by its first episode, nor a person by the first words out of their mouth. Conversely, it’s also why it’s a great idea to not over-commit to the first one of something that you do. In programming this has a maxim: plan to throw out the first implementation; you will anyway.

In less interesting news, I got to the gym again last night, which is a good step in rebuilding the habit of going to the gym regularly. And in a very small personal triumph, I managed to use the same absurdly light weights I did last time I went.  I figure in another two weeks, I can start adding in a little more weight, and in 2-4 months, depending on how I feel, I can finally start lifting genuinely challenging amounts of weight. But I’ll get there much faster if I don’t have to rest up any injuries. 🙂

God bless you.

Good Morning December 5th, 2016

Good morning on this the fifth day of December in the year of our Lord 2016.

Yesterday my oldest son, who is seven years old, was asking me about the Hobbit, and whether we could go to the library and get it. I said that wouldn’t be necessary, since I have a copy of it, but last night when he asked me to get it, I couldn’t find it. My wife, who was helping me to look, did notice that I had a copy of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and suggested that my son might enjoy that too. Whereupon I launched into an enthusiastic sales pitch because I really love the Chronicles of Narnia. (If I recall correctly, I own about 2 shelf-feet of books by C.S. Lewis.) At some point during my sales pitch my son politely interrupted me and said he was interested and could we start reading it tonight? If there’s one thing I’ve learned about sales (and there may in fact be only one thing I’ve learned about sales), it’s that you should never sell past the close, so I said yes.

He got to sleep a bit late, unfortunately, but we ended up reading the first three chapters, and it’s as good as I remember it. It’s also, aside from the occasional british-ism, very accessible to young children. I myself read it when I was a teenager, but it works at an age where children can read but still like to have things read to them.

In other news, I finished the first draft of my response to my friend’s nephew, so I should be editing the script today and if I’m lucky recording tomorrow. Overall I think it came out decently, though it is a bit scattershot. That’s part of the problem  with a question whose problem is a collection of errors embedded into the ground presuppositions of modernity. Like fabric, the errors that people make tend to be woven out of several threads spun by people who came before them. Ideally, I suppose, I’d address each point in its own video, but it can be very valuable to actually show in a practical way where such errors lead one wrong, and in any event the task at hand is answering this question, so it will probably do more good to do the task I’ve been given than to try to invent a different one for myself and ignore this one while I work on it. That’s not always true, of course; sometimes it’s better to start laying a foundation for what you’re going to do before you do it even if you’re under time pressure. But as I was recently reminded, that doesn’t really apply to videos, because you can’t assume people will have watched your other videos anyway.

God bless you.

Good Morning December 4th, 2016

Good morning on this the fourth day of December, in the year of our Lord 2016.

So I finally opened up libreoffice to finish doing the formatting work on The Dean Died Over Winter Break. For those who don’t know, that’s my first mystery novel, the other two novels I (self) published having been broadly in the science fiction genre. I’m very fond of mystery, so I’m looking forward to it. The book is finished and edited, all that remains is to format it for publication. It’s been that way for quite some time, actually, so I feel guilty for having dragged my feet so much.

In part it’s just being busy—having a one-year-old in the house does take up quite a large amount of time, especially when there are older children around too. She’s finally starting to be able to play by herself a bit—and hold her own with her older brothers—so supervising her will become a lot less intensive as the months go by.

Another part of it is that around the time I was finished with writing the novel, I began to be active on social media. From what I gather this is critical for self-published authors (and most other-published authors as well) who want their books to get read. Granted for most this is a direct financial consideration, while for me it’s more just about finding readers. My plan is to continue working my day job at a minimum until my kids are safely on their own, and then we’ll see, so I’m working on what I call my “twenty year plan”. It takes time to build an audience. And so far my most successful social media platform is my youtube channel, having recently hit 125 subscribers. Now of course social media is not merely about trying to build up readers—to be blunt, that’s not a primary consideration—but that is a potential benefit of it, and so watching my youtube subscriber base go up has made it very tempting to hold off on publishing the novel for a bit in the hopes that it might get a bump from that. And the way that sales ranks affect Amazon’s recommendations leads to a probably unhealthy concern with getting initially decent sales in order to try to reach a wider audience.

At the same time, one of the key ingredients in getting things done is actually doing them, and it’s all to easy to wait forever for ideal circumstances, which will in any event never come in this life. And someone who enjoyed A Stitch in Space reminded me recently that I said I’d get the new novel out soon, so I’m going to finally make myself do it. In the end we never really know what we’re doing and have to trust God anyway.

Good Morning December 3rd, 2016

Good morning on this the third day of December in the year of our Lord 2016.

I had an interesting discussion with a friend about the bayesian interpretation of statistics. I was doing a little research for a video which I’m working on (answering a question from a friend) and what I studied in math was what would often be described as the frequentist interpretation. I’m still a little skeptical of the bayesian interpretation, but much less so as I learn that it’s an interpretation of statistics which completely punts the assigning of probabilities. It calls them “priors”, as in “prior assumptions”, and says nothing about how we arrive at them. Basically, it turns statistics from a math problem that doesn’t apply to the real world (frequentism) into a quantification of our ignorance. Perhaps the clearest example of this is using bayesian statistics to gauge how surprised we should be by an outcome; surprise being, in this case, a measure of how much work we should put into re-examining our priors.

This is a far more reasonable thing than the descriptions of bayesian statistics I had heard before. I should note that those sources were not reliable ones, so I did hold off on judgment. And I think the problem with them was common to how people use classical mathematical probability: they want it to be a way of turning ignorance into knowledge. The desiderata is: garbage in, gold out. Which is to say, what is desired is alchemy for data. The ability to get a lot for little work. And that desire is a perennial temptation.

In other news, I’ve been working through the Vulkan tutorial. I’m still a ways away from being able to display anything on the screen, but I’m up to the point where I’ve found an available graphics card and a suitable queue family from which to request a queue to use for submitting commands. Having already read through the tutorial once, Vulkan is very verbose to set up—the tutorial took abut 800 lines of C++ to get a single, motionless triangle onto the screen—but a lot of that involves making decisions appropriate to your project, which you encapsulate into functions which are much easier to work with, so once you’ve done all this setup work, actually using it for the main graphics work is not significantly harder than other easier, less verbose APIs like openGL. And I do like the approach of having skimmed the tutorial first, then going back and doing it slowly to learn how things go. (And since I’m using the lwjgl (Light Weight Java Gaming Library), there’s a bit of translation work from the C++ of the tutorial to how lwjgl does things.) Fun stuff.

And it’s been a long time since I’ve done any bowmaking, but my problem is that since my third child was born it’s very hard to get an hour or two to myself when it’s OK to make baby-waking levels of noise. When she’s a bit older, I’ll get back to it.

One thing I’ve learned over many years of having a large number of hobbies, is that it’s important to be OK with putting some things on hold for a few years. It’s probably going to be four or five years until I take up knitting again, which I haven’t done much of in the last five years. And that’s OK.

Good Morning December 2nd, 2016

Good morning on this the second day of December in the year of our Lord 2016.

I’m not doing as good a job getting this written early in the morning as I had started out, but since the title sort of forms a theme, I’m going to stick with it for now in the hope that it will encourage me to get things done in the morning. At least they’re still getting done. 🙂

I went to the gym last night in the first time in a long time. Really since around the time my wife was pregnant with my third child. The gym has a room where they watch kids while the parents exercise, which we’d taken advantage of before, but that started to involve too much negotiation. We’ll see how that goes, but I’m hoping to take advantage of it to buy the time to actually get to the gym. I’m significantly closer to 40 than I am to 30, so I’m entering the age where I simply can’t afford to not work out. Especially given that I have a desk job by which I earn my livelihood. (I’m a programmer if I haven’t mentioned that before.) My preferred form of exercise is lifting weights, and it’s absurdly tempting to lift at close to what I had been lifting before (which was never all that high; two years ago I could do perhaps 4 reps of dumbbell presses (bench press but with dumbbells) with the 120lbs dumbells, and clean-and-press about 135lbs). But that’s a terrible idea. Even if I can lift close to it, the risk of injury is pretty high. So I’m stuck doing tiny amounts of weight for a few weeks at least. And I’m using the machines rather than the free weights to really play it safe. But if I do a good job playing it safe, at least I’ll be back to lifting real amounts of weight in a few months. It takes a long time to recover from injuries.

In other news, I got a comment on my review of the song Can’t Feel My Face:

The commenter was saying that the song wasn’t about addiction to romance or sex, but to cocaine. The “she” in the song is cocaine, personified. And googling around a little, he’s not the only one to take that interpretation. And a point in his favor, cocaine is a topical anaesthetic. It’s related to novocaine, lidocaine, and benzocaine and in fact there is medical cocaine which is used to numb areas prior to some types of surgery. It’s not as common as the others, but it’s a powerful vasoconstrictor and so there are applications where that helps. Anyway, this does suggest an explanation for the otherwise very strange metaphor “I can’t feel my face”. Since cocaine is usually snorted, it would make sense that it numbs at least the nose and possibly a wider area of the face. I will note that if the lyrics are personifying cocaine, they’re not well written, as they suggest the cocaine gets numb, whereas the cocaine doesn’t change. (That’s very artistically significant when personifying objects; how little they are is one of the most powerful things brought across in such a personification.) Anyway, I did cover the addiction interpretation of this song in my review, though I took it as romantic/sexual addiction, not cocaine (the cocaine angle hadn’t occurred to me, since the lyrics didn’t suggest it and never having used cocaine facial numbness isn’t instantly connected with cocaine in my mind). But I didn’t spend much time on this because addiction is boring. Addiction is most interesting to aspiring addicts; to almost everyone else it’s just about the most boring thing there is.

(By “aspiring addicts” I mean the people who are flirting with addiction. In the Catholic baptismal vows there’s a line, “Do you reject Satan? And all his works? And all his empty promises?” People flirting with addiction are in the position of hearing the empty promises but not really progressing onto the works part, where they find out that the promises are empty. So they’re full of hope because they’re tantalized by the promises they don’t realize are empty. And empty promises can promise so much! If you don’t plan to deliver on your promises, you might as well make very grandiose promises, after all.)

I don’t mean to keep ending on downers. If you’ve got a mathematical background, perhaps you’ll enjoy Klein Four’s Finite Simple Group of Order Two:

Or, more accessible, is this I Will Derive video that youtube recommended to me after I re-watched Finite Simple Group of Order Two:

Good Morning December 1st, 2016

Good morning on this the first day of December in the year of our Lord 2016.

So once again I’m contemplating the fact that there are many dumb atheists on Twitter who are good neither at thinking nor at reading. It’s frustrating, of course, but that’s really not very important in the grand scheme of things. More important is that it is a real temptation to over-generalize. Twitter’s extremely short character limits require a fair amount of imagination, background knowledge, and good judgment in order to understand non-trivial things which are said; of those who do not understand well some just move on and some ask for clarification, but there is a self-selection in favor of people with at least some wits and wisdom keeping their mouth shut unless they have something of value to say. Twitter, therefore, selects for a great many replies (to non-trivial tweets) being very dumb, since their lack of wits and wisdom make them think they have something to say when they didn’t even understand what they’re replying to.

But any time one has a self-selection bias, it becomes a great temptation to incorrectly generalize. And there are few ways to lose credibility faster than incorrect generalizations. Of course errors tend to compound, too, so not only will one lose credibility; believing in false generalizations will mean that before long, one won’t deserve credibility either.

For the moment my strategy is to mute people on twitter liberally. It’s not optimal; all people have value, though not everything everyone says has value, but I think what most of these people need is a friend to talk with them in depth over the course of several decades. That I certainly can’t be to random people on Twitter, so I think that simply ignoring them is the best compromise in order to avoid the temptations which the spewers of idiocy pose.

On a happier note, I tried out teledoc for my reinfection of strep, and it worked really well. The first time, a few weeks ago, I went to the local urgent care facility, which wasn’t too bad. Better than a hospital and about equal with a doctor’s office, though with less annoying paperwork. Still, one has to sit around and it’s not the cheapest thing in the world, if not overly expensive. At least under my insurance, Teledoc costs $40 per consultation, and after I signed up and filled out a short medical history questionnaire, I requested a consultation by phone and a doctor (located in my state, so they say) called me within five minutes. I described the history and symptoms in two minutes, she sent a prescription for amoxicillin over to my pharmacy one minute later, and after answering my question about the relationship of amoxicillin to penicillin (they’re the same class of drug, but are not at all the same drug, like how some drugs are metabolic precursors of the same thing, i.e. they become the identical drug once they get into your bloodstream), I was done. For the sort of illness which can plausibly be diagnosed over the phone, this is a really great option, and I’d certainly prefer this over going to a physical doctor’s office. Nothing in this world comes without tradeoffs, but at least for common stuff this seems like a real improvement.