kisrael.com | archive | last weeks
2015.01.24

  ...of the moment  
Trudging to Alewife through the snow, I saw and heard a small flock of geese fly one way and then the other. They seemed lost.
"Unrestrained randomness would make your games impossible to play, so you need to control it."
--from the Batari BASIC instructions

2015.01.23

  ...of the moment  
Getting through more of "Thinking, Fast and Slow" (took a short break for another quick read, it was getting to be a slog.)

While I think I get the idea of "Regression to the Mean" and in the prevalence of chance across the performances of members of a given population, I think it might be too easy to take away unhelpful life lessons from this, to take on a defeatist "well it's all chance anyway."
A quora right up my objective/subjective alley, What's the biggest difference between your culture and America's?

2015.01.22

  ...of the moment  
"Made a graph of my past relationships. I have an ex axis and a why axis"
--Yik Yak, via tumblr.
Belichick, the comic book villain America needs.
The Road To Armageddon(2004) A point I've made before, but a bit more so recently: in save the world movies, an easy way to know who's the Bad Guys is they're the ones trying to bring about the end of the world. I think the same holds true for real life.

Dispensationalism, especially the "pre-millennialist"/Left-Behind variety ("Get Out Of Revelation Free, man it's gonna suck down here, I pity the rest of you suckas, shoulda repented when you had the chance!") is just horrible. It's one of those stories told to young Christian kids to calm them down when they learn enough about Revelation to freak the hell out ("O, surely God loves US to much to let all this bad stuff happen to US") but when their church isn't sophisticated enough to see Revelation as pretty clearly describing then current-day-Rome, and a metaphorical description of spiritual battle rather than as true life events, but instead say it has just enough poetry to see military helicopters as plagues of locusts or what not.

2015.01.21

  ...of the moment  
Wondering if I should switch back to paper books. Mostly because of the concept of worst retention etc with e-texts. Also paper books are great because you can put them on a shelf and look smart and easily lend them, but terrible because you have to put them on a shelf.

Sometimes I think keeping such close track of my book consumption year after year isn't a great thing, that I'm more biased towards activities I've quantified/gamified that way vs, say, coding (for recreational or self-education purposes)
O jeez is there any way to remove the [Username] button from the top right of the new version of chrome? It's like having your mom sew your name into your underwear.
I do think satire is a good weapon against ISIS propaganda.

just listen. with your heart.
2015.01.20
My drummer friend Tom says "Just listen. With your heart."

  ...of the moment  
"I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I'll put it before any of the things like courage or bravery or generosity or anything else."

"Or brains even?"

"Oh gosh, yes, brains is one of the least. You can be a lovely person without brains, absolutely lovely. Kindness - that simple word. To be kind - it covers everything, to my mind. If you're kind that's it."
--Roald Dahl (and Brian Sibley)
I kind of dig "Do Your Job" as this year's Patriots' slogan. (There's also "We're on to [Team City Name]" which is important as well).

It seems like a lot of successful teams have a kind of theme, like "The Idiots" for The Red Sox, which one a year after "Cowboy Up" didn't quite get it done.

I wonder if the Seahawks have something like that this year, besides their usual "12th Man" shtick and this year a lot of talk about God and the usual "everyone doubted us" BS talk.

2015.01.19

  ...of the moment  

I can't figure out if it's effective or the other bird is just like "whatever dude, I don't want to get involved."
Trying to fight a bad case of post-stomach-bug angst and ennui by taking down the Christmas Decorations and generally improving the Feng Shui of my sleeping and work/entertainment areas. I think the number one thing is putting my bed (a decent-ish IKEA daybed) back to twin-bed size mode; at double size it's too big for the space. Also hanging up some languishing art and getting stuff ready to move out to thrift donations.

Kind of enjoying the mindlessness of sports radio. It's kinda like an audio version of Mac+Cheese comfort food.

2015.01.18

  ...of the moment  
"Scariest phrase in the English language: 'In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Scalia...'"
--http://twitter.com/sarahlicity
Damon Linker:
Liberalism offers the following deal to individuals and groups: give up the hope of controlling the whole of social life, of using government power (and violence) to enforce your vision of the highest good, and allow the natural pluralism of society to grow and flourish; in return you'll be granted the freedom to find a home within that highly differentiated socio-cultural ecosystem, a place where you and those with whom you freely choose to associate can also grow and flourish in peace.

Tolerate -- and you will be tolerated in turn.

That's the liberal bargain. It is one of the finest achievements of Western civilization, and one of its greatest gifts to humanity in all times and places -- nothing less than an all-purpose strategy for getting along despite our often rancorous disagreements about the highest good and ultimate ends of life.

Muslims who admire (let alone who go to fight for) the Islamic State, or who favor a form of sharia law that would make apostasy a crime punishable by death, have effectively rejected the liberal bargain and opted to exile themselves from liberal civilization.

And therein lies the challenge confronting the liberal West.
--from Can Islam ever make peace with liberalism?. It's interesting to think about the differences between the US and Europe in their relations to their Moslem populations.
I refuse to read the Superbowl XLIX as anything but "X-Licks".

I always think postseason Win/Loss records are kind of wonky, because the postseason is 1 and done, so you actually get fewer opportunities to lose, so to speak.

2015.01.17

  ...of the moment  
Sometimes the answer to a number of web design questions is "well what is company X doing?" -- the assumption being that these are smart companies who might even be doing A/B testing with a lot of thought and metrics. So following FB's lead, it's a decent practice to request a web browser at least 1400 pixels across to show everything? To me that implies they think people tend to run FB maximized, or at about that width - relatively few screens are near double that.

Of course, there was a quiet revolution in the 2000s that tended to abstract literal pixel resolution from what every program feels it's working with. Compared to some early attempts in the first half of that decade, the results are astonishingly transparent to users and developers alike.

2015.01.16

  ...of the moment  
We had a team building event Monday, at Brooklyn Boulders in Somerville. Time lapse of an easy(ish) ascent...

http://www.city-data.com/top2/c467.html - 13 of the top 20 windiest US cities are in Massachusetts - and Somerville is 21. Is it weird that Cambridge and Somerville are 20 and 21 but Arlington isn't on the list at all?

2015.01.15

  ...of the moment  
On the one hand, maybe Obama shoulda been there, gesture-wise. On the other hand it was a big photo op, not a legitimate bit of international leadership. On the other other hand, what a security nightmare to have tried to do for reals.
Interesting - this Swedish "yes" vocalization (kind of a sip-py inhale) was my personal word for "juice" when I was a baby. A tongue click was my word for chocolate-- clearly I had my bases covered.
Man. Nothing has made me feel more like a toddler in a toy store than this article on new-ish features on CPUs in a while. Most coders have NO IDEA what's going on in them there chips, myself included.
Crap, false positives on Gmail's spam filters, from folks I'd corresponded with before. Worrisome.
GEEKNESS Wrapping my head around Grails. Wish the principle of DRY (dont repeat yourself) was matched by DASMS (dont assume so much sh...tuff. Shtuff.)

Seriously sometimes I think the balance between "conciseness" and "I actually feel I understand what is going on" is way the hell out of wack.
Reading "Thinking Fast and Slow", and it's pretty good but I am annoyed at the triumphalism over the conjunction fallacy... the favorite example being:
---
Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.

Which is more probable?

Linda is a bank teller.
Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.
---
So by Venn diagram logic the former is "more probable" since it's a superset of the latter, but most people will say the second is more likely. The trouble is most people read in an implicit "and is not active in the feminist movement" after the first. (Or, more cynically, "is just a normal person"). So it IS revealing about our psychology, but more more so in terms of how actual humans tell stories about other humans vs how folks in the lab try to lay things out. It's sort of like how casinos and lotteries are artificial environments constructed outside the rules of the overwhelming bulk of the rest of our experience. And these chapters of the book are full of this self-congratulatory, look how broken we found people's analysis is. (And *sometimes* that breakage significant, but again, it says more about how we can be misled by the setup of stories. I think the chapters on "priming" are much scarier and prone to exploitation.)
They follow up with this example of a bunch of dishware: Set A has like 8 good plates, 8 good bowls, 8 good dessert plates, 6 good cups and 2 broken ones, 1 good saucer and 7 broken ones. Set B just has 8 good plates, 8 good bowls, 8 good dessert plates. From the researchers point of view, OF COURSE Set A has more value, since unbroken dishes can only add value, not subtract. To anyone who has ever bought dishware at a garage sale, however... you know that the condition of some of the stuff tells a story about how the set as a whole has been treated.

The book ends chapters by expressing phrases of how they'd like to enhance people's ability to recognize fallacies etc, and they say how like "adding a cheap little gift to the whole package actually decreased the perceived value of the whole thing, in this case less would have been more". And THAT is a reasonable takeaway in a world that never gets away from imperfect information. And imperfect and asymmetric information is so often ignored in the setup of these clinical-ish problems that assume the God's Eye View of everything in the stories.
It's so much "First, Assume a Spherical Cow" style thinking. Yes, there are valuable things to be learned with that, but no, you can't get to the finish line with it.

2015.01.14

  ...of the moment  
FWIW: After seeing this decade called "the '10s" and hearing it in my head as "the tens" I think we should agree to call the last decade the '00s, pronounced "double-O"s.

Also, it's kind of odd that we hear about "the '10s" a lot less than we heard about "the naughties" or whatever at the time.
I'm hoping some large fraction of my Day 2 blehs is actually caffeine withdrawal that will respond very favorably to oral administration of 24 oz DD Iced Coffee.
Even though it felt like every tourist in Central Park had one, I feel like I would be a sacrificing a tremendous amount of self-worth (or maybe a tremendous amount *to* self-worth?) if I were to ever own a selfie-stick.

2015.01.13

  ...of the moment  
"I just want a lover who'll make me chicken soup when I'm sick" -L, Nov 1 1995. Today, I'm kind of wishing I had a special someone to go for the saltines and gatorade.
I think the worst thing is worrying about spreading it to other people.

2015.01.12

  ...of the moment  
Climb-in Balloons look like fun...

testify
2015.01.11
A month or two ago a member of Edwin F. Taylor advised me to temper my surprise about the intolerance of religions to other religions, and at how each seems incapable of recognizing the reality of a world with a plethora of faiths. This is my response to his email. I hope people aren't too bugged by it, but if people are interested in my path away from traditional faith, this tries to explain it.

Well, surprise is only one factor; but more irritation, and frustration.

I'm probably making a similar fallacy in terms of "why isn't everyone more like me?" but...
I realize now that Thursday's annoyance is an echo of what started me down my path to skepticism. (Personal testimony ahoy!) I remember it quite distinctly; I was at a summer music camp run by The Salvation Army in the very early 1990s, and I started to think about all the devout moslems in the world. I mean there I was, a literal son of a preacher man (sweet-talkin' optional), trying my darndest to be a good Christian, but if I had been born the son of an Imam, wouldn't I be striving just as hard to be a good Moslem? (This was combined with a sense of suspicion about the clockwork nature of the tearful repentance and mini-revival 'altar call' that would occur the Sunday at the conclusion of this particular camp, but never the Sunday at the beginning. It seemed like the spirit would move in more mysterious and less predictable ways than that, and that some large measure of psychology and manipulation was actually to thank. Or blame.)

I think the teenage years are a natural time and place to have this kind of realization, and the rebellious attitude to be able to act on it. And yet it is not nearly as widespread a changeover as I would have expected, or preferred.

(I'd love a world with more
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."
and less
"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.")

The 3rd pillar of doubt was the feeling that I was still living a "sunday school" life, following my church's precepts against drinking etc, and (if memory of the timing serves) making my cautious steps to exploring connections with girls guilt-ridden and tentative, but many of my peers in the church, seemingly not even struck with the conceptual doubts that I was having, also seemed to be having a ton more hedonistic party fun than I was, and not recognizing a discrepancy. (Or being able to make up for it at that aforementioned 'altar call') I found that kind of picking and choosing, accepting the comfortable and rewarding bits of faith and the promise of eternal life, leaving aside the less pleasant rules and regulations, kind of repulsive. (Apparently I absorbed some very puritan protestant principles!)

Maybe some of my ability to stray from the fold comes from a position of privilege, like Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" My high school years seeds of doubt were able to blossom into "not going to church every week" sprouts in college, and I suppose that reflects both the shelter college provides, as well as the lack of a sense of threat from "The Others" to keep me towing the line.

Over the years I've mellowed a bit, I suppose, and thought about how brittle the faith was I had set up for myself. My parents were pretty liberal, given that they were protestant ministers, and so even before this teenage turning point I had made efforts to see, say, Genesis as a poetically phrased recapitulation of planetary formation and evolution. I guess being smart enough to see that those efforts at reconciliation with this particular flavor of faith were local-environment driven, but not wise enough to accept that dichotomy and still look to the moral and spiritual heart of the Faith of my Fathers, stunted spiritual growth in me. And these days, it's the lack of meta-awareness and tendency to cling to some flavor of literalism that keeps me away from traditional faiths.

A few times I've seen thing that pointed to my experience being a bit provincial; I don't remember the names, but there was one online series of articles from an (ex-?) priest about his time in the seminary, and his claim that a lot people in that role have also shaken the literal parts of their belief, and also how the monks of various "incompatible" faiths seem to understand each other a lot more than the ministry. Also, there was a liberal Archbishop from England (sorry I don't have better citations for these) who said something like "well, of course the resurrection of Jesus isn't literally true, but it still is a story, of God's love for his people, that is at the heart of our faith". That sort of blew my mind at the time (probably mid to late 20s) and pointed me to think about the "Great Revival" roots of my protestant culture. (Hmm; might not be technically accurate, given The Salvation Army's English origins, but close enough.)

Over the past few days I've been thinking about the term "Cosmopolitan" (too bad the name has been so claimed by the magazine!) What a crying shame that rather than increasing our exposure to different outlooks and upbringings, to break through the bands of geographical distance, the Internet and other advances in the specialization of media are so used to gather together in increasingly tight virtual enclaves, enhancing our ability to make little echo chambers of like minded folks (freed from the old constraints of geography)

In the end, a seemingly utter and widespread world wide failure to "walk a mile in the moccasins" of other faiths is a tremendous deficit of empathy, or even self-reflection, and is the catalyst for so much of the damage religion provides, when it has potential to do so much good.