Syntax differences hide splits in meaning

Friday 7 September 2018, 17:33

One way people divide themselves into tribes is over word usage. If one tribe claims a certain sequence of letters has a certain meaning, and another claims it has a different meaning, then there are plenty of opportunities for them to misunderstand each other or each declare the other Wrong. There may not be a lot we can do about it when there's a direct disagreement on the one true meaning of exactly one word.

However, human language is more complicated than that. One sequence of letters may not have just one meaning and in particular, it may be used in more than one syntactic role such that the different ways of using it have different meanings. At that point it may not even be right to call it one "word"; it is two words, with different meanings and also different grammar, that only happen to share a spelling. And if two tribes use words that differ in this way, maybe there is some hope of building a bridge between them by making clear that their uses of the same sequence of letters really refer to different things and do not need to have identical meaning. That is what I'd like to talk about here: how different syntax can be a clue to different meaning.

On human needs

Saturday 1 September 2018, 06:25

What if our response to homelessness was to have activist marches against the toxic idea that housing is a right; to lecture homeless persons on how evil they are for feeling entitled to housing; campaign for their exclusion from job opportunities, education, and any other path that might allow them to gain access to housing under their own power; and (for the most compassionate of us) try to help them understand that not having shelter, is okay and doesn't make them bad people?


Wednesday 29 August 2018, 10:01

Today I changed the motto on this Web site, and in my email signature, to read "People before tribes"; it formerly referred to "principles." Where it appears in Japanese translation, I've similarly changed 理 to 族. The intended meaning has not changed, but in the years since I started using it, the former wording has become too easily misunderstood, often as the direct opposite of what I intended for it to mean.

As human beings we naturally divide ourselves up into groups that purport to be about beliefs and ideologies, and we tend to hate those of other groups irrationally and on the basis of entire groups; we are inclined to lose sight of the fact that everybody is human and everybody's a unique individual not well described by their group membership. It's important to pay attention to individuals (people) and to actively ignore membership in identity groups (tribes). That is what my motto is about. But it's possible to misread the words if you think that "people" actually means tribes and that "principles" refers to important ideas - like the important idea of being blind to identity group membership, itself.

At the time I first started using this motto, it was obscure and uncontroversial. Nobody else was writing much about these things. Unfortunately, there's been a great rise in the popularity of the opposite of my position in the last few years, and it has become a topic of general discussion, to the extent that relentless one-sided chanting can be called any kind of "discussion." I've also become more acutely aware of the practical irrelevance of the literal content of belief in principles to groups that claim to define themselves by principles, and I want to talk about group membership directly when literal belief is not the real issue. As a result, it has become more important to make sure that I'm not misunderstood, and although it's a shame to lose the snappy alliteration of the old wording, this change seems important.

The garden of cosmic horror and delight

Monday 6 August 2018, 12:59

I'm very interested in cognitive deficits: tasks it may seem human brains ought to be able to perform, but that at least some brains cannot. This time around I'd like to say a few words about mathematical foundations and the ability to understand them. The fact is that there are some questions - and they're very simple ones - that neither a human brain nor anything that functions like a human brain can answer. And understanding that fact is itself a problem that may be challenging for at least some brains.

Project Wonderful, 2006-2018

Thursday 14 June 2018, 16:15

Project Wonderful, a banner-ad network popular among Web comics authors, suddenly announced a few days ago that they would be shutting down. I've used them off and on almost from the very beginning of the system in 2006, at that time to bring in traffic for my own Web comic and later for some other projects, both buying and selling ads. There was a Project Wonderful ad box on this very Web site for several years, now replaced by a permanent ad for North Coast Synthesis Ltd.

Ad stramineum hominem

Sunday 25 March 2018, 16:11

Sometimes I find myself on the receiving end of false accusations of "straw man" argumentation, and it feels like this happens abnormally often to me in particular. It's baffling because when it happens, it doesn't make any sense.

Live video streaming with free tools (A Gruesome Orgy Of Yak Shaving!)

Friday 26 January 2018, 17:07

I recently set up my own server for streaming live video over the Web. That was complicated and difficult, and although I found some useful resources on the Web, none of them were complete and many of them were out of date. So here are my notes on what worked, both for my own reference and in the hope they may be useful to others.

Technologies covered here, more or less in order of signal flow from the origin of the video content to the viewer's screen: OBS Studio for generating the video signal; FFmpeg for encoding it; OpenSsh for securely transmitting the signal to the "repeater" machine that serves it to the users; HLS stream formatting; the Apache Web server; and the VideoJS HLS Javascript-based video player for displaying the stream in the viewer's browser.

These notes are current as of late January 2018. Pay attention to the date on these notes or any other information sources about this topic, because the relevant technologies change over time and there's a lot of outdated information out there.


Tuesday 12 December 2017, 14:59

これは TeX & LaTeX Advent Calendar 2017 の 13 日目の記事です。 昨日は tattsan さんでした。 明日は p_typo さんです。 外の年も記事を書きました。 2014 2015 2016

Nils Fleishhacker さんからのパケージ『tikzpeople』は、 人のノードを書きできます。 マイクロソフトビジオのようを持ちます。 たとえば暗号プロトコルので便利です。 だから Alice と Bob の名前あります。

今日新しいキャラを上げましょう。 トトロとカッパと四人の JK です。

Installing Slackware on a Dell Inspiron i3162-2040

Wednesday 15 November 2017, 12:52

My venerable Asus eeePC netbook finally gave up the ghost, and I replaced it with a Dell Inspiron i3162-2040. Here are some notes on what I had to do to get it up and running with Slackware Linux, both for my own future reference if I ever have to reinstall from scratch, and to help others who may be facing a similar adventure.

This is why your Shopify storefront has no sales

Sunday 8 October 2017, 11:03

Since launching my own Web shop on Shopify in August, I've spent a fair bit of time on the Shopify forum, reading comments from other shopkeepers. There's a specific genre of discussion thread that comes up there about once per day: the "Why don't I have any sales?" thread. Someone will post that question, with a link to their own shop, and ask for advice from the other shopkeepers. I don't have all the answers, but I have noticed some pretty consistent habits of shopkeepers who have no sales and are asking the forum for help.