Holger Danske

Holger Danske

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    Monday
    Dec212009

    Regular expressions are like Tabasco®

    John D Cook posts a link about the overuse of regular expressions. I like the article, but.... I am pretty interested in regular expressions, because I have often had a need for this kind of thing but I laughed at the analogy because I am from Arizona. Overuse of Tabasco sauce® [really all spicy things] is a way life for me. If I go to a Thai restaurant I get offended if they don't give me Thai spicy when I ask for it. Different worlds.

    Pansy!

    Saturday
    Dec192009

    CrossFit 2009-12-19

    I tried a modifed workout today to try to get back into the habit of CrossFit since I hurt my knee in June.

    The workout was intended to be done three times through, but I only made two in 17 minutes, and I was feeling light-headed, so I decided to stop.

    • 20 squats
    • 40 walking lunges
    • 20 box jumps
    • 10 pullups
    • 10 chinups
    • 10 dips

    Based on this advanced bodyweight workout from Nerd Fitness.

    Friday
    Dec182009

    New study reveals most children unrepentant sociopaths

    New study reveals most children unrepentant sociopaths

    A study published Monday in The Journal Of Child Psychology And Psychiatry has concluded that an estimated 98 percent of children under the age of 10 are remorseless sociopaths with little regard for anything other than their own egocentric interests and pleasures

    According to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, a clinical diagnostic tool, sociopaths often display superficial charm, pathological lying, manipulative behaviors, and a grandiose sense of self-importance. After observing 700 children engaged in everyday activities, Mateo and his colleagues found that 684 exhibited these behaviors at a severe or profound level.

    Especially note the first scene in this movie trailer.

    h/t The Fourth Checkraise and DarwinCatholic

    Thursday
    Dec172009

    Gunbuster

    Diebuster, トップをねらえ 2! [Toppu o Nerae Tsu!]
    by GAINAX
    Written by Enokido Yoji
    Directed by Tsurumaki Kazuya

    A With Both Hands Mini-Review



    Cute, with a catchy soundtrack, but ultimately confusing for me because this was a sequel to an anime that came out 20 years ago. I generally like pretty much everything that GAINAX puts out, but this anime was a bit too self-referential for its own good. It is dangerous for a niche product like this to become sensible only to super anime nerds. It is acceptable for movies to be self-referential because they are a genuinely demotic art form, and generally the writers are wise enough to make the movie work on enough levels that you don't have to get the reference to enjoy the movie.

    Ranting aside, I did enjoy this anime, although I probably would not have watched it other than it was by GAINAX. The animation style reminded me strongly of FLCL, particularly in action sequences. Typical giant robot believe in yourself anime B.S.

    More info for the confused:
    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=3920
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diebuster

     My other anime reviews

    Thursday
    Dec172009

    Powers: A Novel

    Powers
    By John B. Olson
    $14.99; 390 pages

    A With Both Hands Mini-Review



    I received this book for free as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

    I tried to read this book. I really did. I think I am just not the intended audience for this book. Try as I might, I could not even get past the first chapter. So, I gave up. Bear this in mind.

    This book was difficult for me to read because of its style. It had a very strained attempt at what I assume is Creole dialect in the beginning. I'm guessing from the setting of the book because I am unable to tell what dialect is actually intended. The first chapter also seemed terribly overwrought. I actually thought the same thing about another book I received from the Early Reviewers program that I ended up liking, so I flipped through the rest of the book. It seemed much the same. I was also nonplussed to discover this book is marketed as a Christian thriller. I am not actually opposed to this in principle. I just don't like it when it is done so poorly.

    Catholic authors I think write well and can recommend are Tim Powers and Ralph McInerny, if one is inclined to look for fiction that is philosophically and theologically astute. I am certain I would not give this book to my children to read.

     

     

    My other book reviews

    

    Thursday
    Dec172009

    The Value of Libraries

    There was a short blurb in the online New York Times about a library in California that closed due to falling tax revenues despite the efforts of Ray Bradbury to save it.

    Explaining his support of libraries generally and his efforts in Ventura specifically, Mr. Bradbury said in an interview last summer: “Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries, because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

    I am entirely sympathetic to Bradbury. I did indeed go to college, but I managed a liberal education despite the best efforts of the university to prevent it, by means of the campus library and the Internet. I honestly didn't work all that hard in college, so I had plenty of time to read. I probably spent more time reading things in this fashion than I did on coursework. I still spend a lot of time reading, because that I how I learned much of what I currently know.

    h/t Christopher Blosser

    Wednesday
    Dec162009

    The Way of the Pilgrim

    Way of the Pilgrim
    By Gordon R. Dickson
    $4.50; 439 pages


    I came across Way of the Pilgrim by means of Jerry Pournelle's There Will Be War series. Chapter 2 of Way of the Pilgrim appears in Volume IV: Day of the Tyrant. I thought the story was intriguing enough to make it worth reading, and I was right.

    Way of the Pilgrim is a good example of the value of hard sci-fi. The core of a good hard sci-fi story is built around some insight into how the world really works. Sometimes the plot is an afterthought to this, and sometimes not. This insight need not actually be from physics or engineering, although that is standard. The core insight in Way of the Pilgrim is all about language, and how hard it is to conceive things for which your language does not even have a word.

    Way of the Pilgrim turns the typical sci-fi story on its head, both for its setting, the utter conquest and subjugation of humanity by a foe, the Aalaag, that is ridiculously superior, and for its relative uninterest in the technology of the conquerors, which is so advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic. Resistance really is futile. There will be no grand revolution of the oppressed masses. Merely eternal servitude.

    While there is action and intrigue here, the real meat of the book centers on extensive dialogue and psychological deductions.  Ultimately everything turns on a moral question. The problem the book posits: what is the value of a human being? The conquerors refer to us as cattle, because they are superior to us in every way: bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, healthier, longer-lived, more rational, more moral. The Aalaag are simply better than us, and they know it. The humans feel otherwise, but they have no ability to effectively protest. There are not even words to express the idea in the true language. The Aalaag do have a word, yowaragh, for the irrational failure of a beast to submit to its rightful master. Humans are exceptionally likely to suffer from this sickness.

    The central drama of the protagonist's life is also moral. Shane Evert serves the commander of the Aalaag as an interpreter/courier, because of his unusual linguistic abilities that allow him to speak the Aalaag language. He enjoys great privilege from his position, as a favored pet might. Naturally, everyone else hates him for serving their indifferent masters. I would say cruel, but the Aalaag are too practical to be cruel. They will not waste good cattle unless they need to. However, they often need to, because humans persist in resisting their masters.

    Shane tries his best to be indifferent, partly as a matter of survival, for the Aalaag expect their servants to be as stoic as they, but Shane cannot reconcile the objective superiority of his masters with an inchoate intuition of human dignity. He cannot help but care for the fate of his fellow humans. He commits his own act of yowaragh, sketching a hooded pilgrim beneath the corpse of a man executed for daring to challenge an Aalaag that nearly trampled his wife. Shane's act of rebellion does spark a worldwide revolution, which he finds himself drawn into against his will.

    Shane initially wants to exploit this revolution for his own ends, because it is completely without hope of success, so he is looking to position himself for its inevitable failure. However, the intuition of human dignity that caused him to sketch the pilgrim also causes him to begin to love his fellow men for the first time in his life, and he seeks a way to actually drive the Aalaag from the planet.

    The climax of the book leaves the tension between Aalaag and human unresolved. There is simply too little common ground to come to any kind of satisfactory resolution. The ending is quite startling in its refusal to settle the issue at hand. Perhaps even more interesting than the bleak setting and inconclusive conclusion is what remains unsaid throughout the book.  

    The Aalaag stand as a rebuke towards any instrumental view of human nature that seeks to define us as worthy of moral respect because of what we do rather than who we are.  The Aalaag's view of humanity is disturbing because it is correct. The Aalaag really are superior to us. If what makes us worthy of respect is our behavior, or our consciousness, or our ability to make free choices, we have no hope of standing as equals. Yet, for all that, they are ultimately just as broken as we are. It is just less obvious from a modern point of view why this is so, because a clean, orderly, crime-free, egalitarian society is what we all really want, right?

     

     

    My other book reviews

    Wednesday
    Dec162009

    The End of Science

    How's that for a dramatic title? I am actually here talking not about the cessation of science, but rather its purpose. Bruce Charlton wrote another thought provoking editorial, Conscience in Science.  Charlton takes his theme from C. S. Lewis' essay, First and Second Things. In that essay, Lewis was making the very Aristotelian point that if you treat a less than ultimate end as the ultimate end, you will not achieve either the greater or the lesser end.

    Charlton believes that this idea can provide an answer to the following questions:

    Why is modern science less efficient than it used to be [1], why has revolutionary science declined [2], and why has science become so dishonest? [3] One plausible explanation behind these observations comes from an essay published by CS Lewis in 1942: First and second things [4].

    Those three questions are worded pretty strongly. I think it would be interesting to look more closely at those three questions to see to what degree they represent the actual state of science, but for the moment, let us take them at face value. Charlton is then claiming that science has become collectively deranged by seeing itself as an ultimate end, rather than serving an ultimate end, which Charlton identifies as transcendent truth.

    Charlton's argument here reminds me an argument often repeated by James Schall, that modern politics also sees itself as an ultimate end, and has become deformed thereby. Schall's argument is inspired by a passage in Aristotle's Ethics:

    For it is absurd to think that Political Science or Prudence is the loftiest kind of knowledge, inasmuch as man is not the highest thing in the world. - Aristotle Ethics 1141a20-22

    Science at least has a better claim here; science sees itself as knowledge about every [natural] thing, so at least in its own terms it could claim the highest kind of knowledge. However, Charlton is claiming that science is not really interested in knowledge per se, and that is precisely his complaint. Science, like politics, and like many other things, can be pursued independently of any vision of a greater good. Each thing sees itself as a First Thing, and there is nothing to orchestrate the whole.

    The question is thus: does science [or politics] have a purpose beyond itself by which it can be judged, and that is available at least in principle to the uninitiated, or is its purpose wholly immanent, only judicable by those trained within the discipline?

    Stated this way, I think the conflict arises between transcendent purpose and fitness to evaluate. The transcendent purpose provides us with the external referent, while those best suited to judge whether that external standard have been met are those with the greatest ability and experience within the discipline. Charlton thus proposes that it is incumbent upon the most eminent and accomplished scientists to police themselves. But in order to do so these scientists must value truth over success. It is only by placing science as a lesser good that it can truly achieve it's potential.

    In this respect, science is paradoxically stronger when a Second Thing than as a First Thing. Because science is stronger when science is embedded in the larger value of truth, and when truth is embedded in the still-larger value of a concept of the good life. Of course, not all concepts of the good life will be equally supportive of good science; indeed some transcendental concepts are anti-scientific.

    I really like the last bit of this paragraph. Charlton has correct identified that any ordering of goods is intrinsically related to a concept of the good life, and there are many different ways of doing this, but not all of them are in fact good, and we can tell the difference.

    Cross-posted to Dead Philosophers Society

    Tuesday
    Dec152009

    A Cautionary Tale

    I was engaged in a discussion over at the PhysicsForums regarding the relative merits of academic versus industrial jobs for science and engineering types, and one of the regular members posted a link to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the rise and fall of Westinghouse. It was a sad tale. Also an instructive one.

    I had not known the story of Westinghouse before, being more familiar with its arch rival General Electric. George Westinghouse was a true Victorian, full of energy, inventive, eccentric, no sense of his own limits. He was also apparently not much of a businessman, despite his 361 patents. He was thrown off the board of his own company in 1909, never to return. He never looked back, either.

    His corporation became very successful, and by 1963 it had a 135 divisions, making electrical power generators, appliances, and desalinization plants. The company was renowned for its technical expertise, and had created several engineering firsts, including the first commercial nuclear power plant. Westinghouse was also actively practicing a philosophy of doing well by doing good, building teaching labs and affordable housing. They even tried to develop an electric car.

    By the 1970s, things began to get difficult for Westinghouse. Among the problems cited in the article were an increase in the cost of enriched uranium, poor acquisitions and divestitures, and corporate intrigue. They experimented with different solutions, but nothing really seemed to work.

    By the 1980s, all of the industrial divisions were not doing well. By not doing well, I actually mean many of them were stable businesses, but because of the pernicious influence of Dewey and Dakin, by this time, the business world assumed that any business not experiencing 10% annual growth was dying. I suspect, but do not know, that the industrial divisions could have benefited from the kind of quality improvement that W. Edwards Deming had spurred in Japan after being rejected in America. However, since these were stable businesses, and no longer capable of the expected growth, Westinghouse began to look for alternative businesses to invest in.

    This era of Westinghouse is one of unrestrained greed. This was probably typical of the time but the executives were enjoying ever increasing bonuses while the company was very obviously declining, not the way to encourage employee loyalty. This also contributed to their final mistake, placing so much money into obviously dubious corporate loans because of their high short term return. This would prove to be their doom, because the company was destroyed by the market's inevitable return to sanity.

    All of the parts of the company that actually made things were sold to pay the bills, and all that was left was the broadcasting business they had bought, with the result that Westinghouse abandoned its name along with its factories, becoming CBS.

    The reason this is so interesting to me is that my current employer is also an engineer-centered company, founded and largely run by engineers. My company is also known for technical expertise and innovative products. When I read an article like the one above I usually ask myself: what would I have done if I were there? Not with the benefit of hindsight, but in the middle of the crisis with limited time and limited information. What would I have done? 

    I do not know. Westinghouse's problems ran very deep. But deepest of all it seems that they had become far too comfortable, and did not trouble to keep their organization quick and responsive. Reading between the lines of the article, it seems that Westinghouse's corporate culture had become deeply flawed over time, and the company was simply unable to respond effectively to its problems. No matter how smart or experienced their leadership was, I think the company was fundamentally unable to respond to change. Back in the 1960s, they had much less market share in appliances than their rival, GE, even though they had better technology. Westinghouse was making the front loading washers that are all the rage now.  However, it seems that they suffered from a lack of manufacturing efficiency. Westinghouse decided to sell their appliance business rather than upgrade it to the then current standards. I think this is a good example of what happened to them. Westinghouse should have upgraded its factories five or ten years earlier. They were stuck reacting to problems that they had long ignored.

    The description of Westinghouse's corporate culture is very Dilberty. There seemed to be an immense amount of bureaucracy and forms, with everyone keeping their head down and hoping for the best. People would keep doing what they had been doing even when it was obviously the wrong thing to do. This kind of thing is exactly what prompted Bill Gore to start his own company, and I can see now that his company has so far done a better job of avoiding these kind of mistakes.

    What mistakes am I referring to? Ignoring inevitable market downturns. Not improving efficiency and quality all the time. Not focusing on your core competency.  Westinghouse probably could have kept going like GE did if they focused on making stuff, which they were actually really good at, and improving efficiency, which they were bad at. Instead, they diversified into TV and loans, and sold profitable manufacturing and heavy industries. This was rewarded in the stock market in the short term, but destroyed the company in only 20 years. And probably dis-served the American public [and the rest of the world too], which benefited much from Westinghouse technology, but far less so from having another TV network.

    I have often talked smack about business-people, but there is real value in good business acumen. Westinghouse [founder and company] seemed to lack this, even though they had successfully preserved their technical expertise. I still think engineers can make contributions to the business world, but not all engineers are well suited for this role. A good example of this is John Walker, one of the founders of Autodesk. He was both involved in shaping his company, and man enough to step down from direct leadership when it was in the best interest of the company. Even someone as smart as Walker doesn't necessarily have the business skills to make a really good corporate president or CEO. However, some engineers can go on to learn these things. I think they are well-prepared to do so, but you have to be careful. Technical expertise does not guarantee business success.

    Monday
    Dec142009

    Gimme Friction, Baby

    One of those really simple puzzle games. I suppose part of the puzzle is figuring out how to play, since I didn't see any clear directions. My best score so far is 7.

    Gimme Friction Baby

    h/t The Fourth Checkraise