Just Checking In

As I’ve mentioned, the last month has been rough on me. The part of it all that would have had the greatest emotional impact has come and went quickly, fortunately… and surprisingly, didn’t land with a heavy blow. Part of that comes from seeing it as a possibility for months, but part of it comes from relying heavily on my favourite coping mechanism: work. More specifically, absorb myself in rich, intellectually-challenging work with a difficulty level slightly higher than I’m used to.

And hooooo boy, is that coping mechanism handy when I’m facing an unusually heavy workload. I just spent a good hour or so laying out the messages passed between a complex distributed system, and I feel like most people do after a day at the spa. Maybe better, in fact, as the glow isn’t coming from tired muscles but from an inner peace and contentment. I’m back to running on a sleep deficit, but even though I’ve barely imbibed any tea my mind feels perfectly caffeinated. All may not be right in the world, but my little slice of it is slowly being righted.

This has an unfortunate side-effect, alas. I don’t blog like most people, in fact I pretty much do the opposite of how a blog is best run. I don’t build readership by posting small little updates or links on a regular schedule, while carefully pruning my comment section; no, I tend to go for big stories on an irregular schedule, and don’t actively engage in my comment section. Unfortunately, the bits of my brain best suited for those big stories are currently swimming in proofs and system design, and loving every moment of it. Blogging the way I want to means unplugging from something I love, something keeping me sane, and even though I also love writing blog posts it’s tough to switch.

Ordinarily, I’d just put the blog in park and repost old writing and blogging. I’m just over half-way through Proof of God, and I have a few other long philosophic works on atheism that I’d love to get out there. I’ve also got a decent back-catalogue of work to shift over from Sinmantyx. But there’s also old business that I don’t want to drop on the floor: I want to weigh in on the CFI Calgary controversy, I haven’t finished with that Google memo, I have a great Boghossian post rattling in my head, and there’s still this mess to deal with. So given the choice, I’d rather devote my time to getting those written up than repackaging existing work. It means more delays, but such is life.

Besides, a hard drive died on the computer storing my main copy of Proof of God. Time for one of my patented once-a-decade OS reinstalls.

Another Mea Culpa

I’ve discussed Gödel’s Incompleteness theorems before, and sometimes pointed out that they carry an exception: if your logical system lacks sufficient power to describe the concept of a number, the theorems don’t apply. The theorems depend on being able to map logical expressions to numeric codes, after all. Defining numbers depends on a form of induction, so I thought that if your logical system has that then the theorems apply.

But via a recent blog post of Jeffrey Shallit, I’ve learned that’s not correct. The dividing line is not being able to define numbers, nor is it even addition. Robinson arithmetic is undecidable, yet Presburger arithmetic is. The former doesn’t officially have induction, while the latter does. The line isn’t multiplication, either;  Peano arithmetic adds multiplication to Robinson and is undecidable, yet Skolem arithmetic defines multiplication while still being decidable.

So I’ve been a bit too restrictive about when Gödel’s theorems apply. My apologies if I’ve misled anyone because of that.

The Sinmantyx Posts

It started off somewhere around here.

Richard Dawkins: you’re wrong. Deeply, profoundly, fundamentally wrong. Your understanding of feminism is flawed and misinformed, and further, you keep returning to the same poisonous wells of misinformation. It’s like watching creationists try to rebut evolution by citing Kent Hovind; do you not understand that that is not a trustworthy source? It’s a form of motivated reasoning, in which you keep returning to those who provide the comfortable reassurances that your biases are actually correct, rather than challenging yourself with new perspectives.

Just for your information, Christina Hoff Sommers is an anti-feminist. She’s spent her entire career inventing false distinctions and spinning fairy tales about feminism.

In the span of a month, big names in the atheo-skeptic community like Dawkins, Sam Harris, and DJ Groethe lined up to endorse Christina Hoff Sommers as a feminist. At about the same time, Ayaan Hirsi Ali declared “We must reclaim and retake feminism from our fellow idiotic women,” and the same people cheered her on. Acquaintances of mine who should have known better defended Sommers and Ali, and I found myself arguing against brick walls. Enraged that I was surrounded by the blind, I did what I always do in these situations.

I researched. I wrote.

The results were modest and never widely circulated, but it caught the eye of M.A. Melby. She offered me a guest post at her blog, and I promised to append more to what I had written. And append I did.

After that was said and done, Melby left me a set of keys and said I could get comfortable. I was officially a co-blogger. I started pumping out blog posts, and never really looked back. Well, almost; out of all that I wrote over at Sinmantyx, that first Christina Hoff Sommers piece has consistently been the most popular.
I’ll do the same thing here as with my Sinmantyx statistics posts, keep the originals intact and in-place and create an archive over here.

The Sinmantyx Statistic Posts

Some of my fondest childhood memories were of reading Discover Magazine and National Geographic in my grandfather’s basement. He more than anyone cultivated my interest in science, and having an encyclopedia for a dad didn’t hurt either. This led to a casual interest in statistics, which popped up time and again as the bedrock of science.

Jumping ahead a few years, writing Proof of God led me towards the field of epistemology, or how we know what we know. This fit neatly next to my love of algorithms and computers, and I spent many a fun afternoon trying to assess and break down knowledge systems. I forget exactly how I was introduced to Bayesian statistics; I suspect I may have stumbled across a few articles by chance, but it’s also possible Richard Carrier’s cheerleading was my first introduction. Either way, I began studying the subject with gusto.

By the time I’d started blogging over at Sinmantyx, I had a little experience with the subject and I was dying to flex it. And so Bayesian statistics became a major theme of my blog posts, to the point that I think it deserves its own section.

Speaking of which, I’ve decided to post-date any and all Sinmantyx posts that I re-post over here. There was never any real “publication date” for Proof of God, as it was never published and I constantly went back and revised it over the years I spent writing it, so I feel free to assign any date I want to them. The opposite is true of my Sinmantyx work, and so I’ll defer to their original publication date. This does create a problem in finding these posts, as more than likely they’ll never make the RSS feed. Not to worry: I’ll use this blog post to catalog them, so just bookmark this or look for it along my blog header.

[Read more…]

Help out FtB – Donate!

I rather liked Richard Carrier. Then, when confronted with accusations of sexual misconduct, he turned tail and threatened to sue a helluva lot of people. Amy Frank, Skepticon, and bloggers from the Orbit and FtB are just some of the names on the list. Apparently he thinks that he can clear his name by suing a lot of poor bloggers?

Whatever the case, you can donate to nearly everyone’s defense fund by clicking this link and slapping down your credit card. I say “nearly everyone” because Skepticon’s non-profit status means they can’t jump in this pool; all the details are behind the link.

So, go donate! Or spread the word! Or both!

Welcome to The Community

I’m a long-time lurker. I prefer to sit back and skim through comment sections, passively absorbing, and over the years I’ve seen a fair number. After a while, you start to get a feel for their dynamics. Typically, a blog post plays out something like this:

  1. Blog author posts something.
  2. Long-time commenters pop by with their two cents.
  3. Their chatter starts to wander off topic.
  4. Someone pops by with a strong opinion that’s vaguely off-topic.
  5. This kicks up an argument, which gets ugly and spirals away from what the original post discussed.

There are exceptions, of course; endless threads have no topic to wander off of, and if the thread is obscure and the topic well-defined the comments can stay topical indefinitely. The comment community plays a large role in this, too. A small band of thoughtful regulars are a blogger’s dream, while a large number of over-opinionated randos can (and often do) ruin any thread. If acrimony starts to trump argument, even a small community can turn dysfunctional.

It doesn’t help that our tools are few, blunt and prone to breaking. Voting systems can be gamed, while banning users or keywords is an all-or-nothing affair that barely works. Allowing comments for a limited window sounds great, but it doesn’t allow the regulars to build up much of a conversation. Banning all comments kills off the local community.

Aaaaand that’s about the extent of it. Maybe someday I’ll create a browser plugin that provides a personal ranking system, which automatically mutes or even hides users based on how you’ve rated their prior comments, but that’s low in my queue.

How am I going to encourage that small, thoughtful community to form? Here’s my current plan:

  • Regular blog posts don’t allow comments, unless justified by the contents. This prevents comment threads from spiraling away.
  • The “Community” post is an endless thread. Only one of them is active at a time.
  • To provide a little structure, links to the regular blog posts will get dropped into the Community post as they go public. These can be ignored.
  • The Community post will be linked somewhere along the side menu, but it won’t otherwise be advertised. This should keep the randos to a minimum, but without throwing out regulars too.
  • The top of the Community post will outline the moderation rules in play. Those rules stay consistent over the lifetime of the Community post. If I want a significant change, the current Community post is locked and a new one is created. The new will link to the old, and vice-versa.

The first Community post is the one you’re reading right now.

The initial mod rules are fairly ill-defined and flexible, to keep the rules lawyers at bay. My guiding principle is to maximize information; it takes time and energy to read a comment, so you should try to convey as much as possible, as clearly as possible, in the least space. Critiques beat opinions, evidence wins over assertion. Strict enforcement of that doesn’t work with endless threads, but it’s still the ideal you should keep in the back of your mind.

The corollary is another matter, though: quit it with the oppressive language. If you lack the creativity to think up an alternative to “crazy,” you shouldn’t be posting here. Violence in any form is a no-no, and both stalking and harassment are low-grade forms of violence.

Speaking of which, I’d like to swipe an idea from football. They have a carding system to handle misconduct, which I think works in this context too. If you’re handed a yellow card, that’s a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct. A red card gets you banned from this thread, though not the entire blog. A black card is a permanent ban.

Got it? Then game on!

main = print(“Hello World”)

I’ve been wanting to blog here for years, but I always wound up being crushed by schoolwork or distracted by personal life. Eventually I got sick of perpetually putting it off, and forced myself to apply. I’d figure out a way to make it work.

And, as you can see, I’m now blogging here!

And up to my eyeballs in schoolwork.

And with more demands on my free time than ever before.

But! I have a plan.

See, the nice thing about being a slightly-paranoid Computer Scientist is that you tend to keep a low profile. My previous blogging isn’t well known, and the rest of my back catalog ranges from “seen by five people” to “never been shared publicly.” I can easily pad this space with old material until I can come up for air. This is especially perfect, because while my contemporary writing is all about the replication crisis and angrily shouting at fools, my older work was more about atheist apologetics. I have a decently-sized book that I gave up on writing, all about the subject, and it led me to a set of arguments that I haven’t seen anyone else develop. That is book-worthy, but there’s no harm in workshopping it until I can properly put fingers to keyboard.

In the meantime, I should also get cracking at a comment policy. Years of lurking in comment threads have left me with… opinions on the matter. That’s for a future post, though.

I suppose some of you are wondering about the name. Funny, despite the whole “wanting to blog” thing I’ve never been able to decide on a proper blog name. I’ve held on to a catchy subtitle for years (“/dev/random, unless I make a hash of it”), but a title? No clue, no idea, nothing ever came to mind. Forced to come up with one at long last, I did what came naturally.

> while :; do echo `egrep 'te$' /usr/share/dict/words | perl -e 'rand($.)<1 and ($line=$_)while<>;print$line'` \
     `perl -e 'rand($.)<1 and ($line=$_)while<>;print$line' /usr/share/dict/words` ; done | less

xanthosiderite koa
Brooklynite lull
adeste reclamatory
bipunctate abevacuation
disrelate seewee
Epirote Cobden
hemisaprophyte parcel-guilty
camote danda
catastate Westphalian
ingurgitate ephelis
sommite soilures
inseminate rabies
pianoforte stabbed
preconstitute tanistry
Bonaparte intermodification
decapitate philohellenian
Marette Sharona
swinecote prefictional
miaskite Egbert
subprofessorate eosphorite
protectorate soogan
portmanmote morosities
indicolite saiyids
Marguerite hoidening
repromulgate pandemoniacal
barytocelestite alloxy
umbraculate Post-devonian
desecate white-rumped
landgate twice-canvassed
killinite pyrogallate
cycadophyte Englishable
lautarite buffoons
bipunctate tar
merocerite pencels
echelette Borak
odorate overcultivated
Parbate Perrins
amphodelite lethalize
hesperidate Lemosi
zonociliate implosively
Jacquette reimbushment
tricussate Reisinger
alunite high-hatty
archeocyte unimpatiently
montroydite roband
orcanette panstereorama
julienite unorchestrated
fulminurate pro-Sweden
Bathinette Piraeus
cassate unfeigning
lowigite dolos
lyddite intersomnial
delate hepatised
alienigenate perscribe
emporte zoroastra
hemimorphite off-put
hypoantimonate ambrosia
nonconfederate hotfoot
exonerate nonfuturition
reprobate spreadsheet

The algorithm hath spoken!