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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.

Some thoughts on the Cost Disease

Saturday 18 February 2017, 06:40

The lovely and talented Scott Alexander has a posting on Cost Disease: the costs of some things, notably education and medical care especially in the USA, have increased in the last few generations to a really unfathomable extent. He gives detailed statistics, but it's typically about a factor of 10 after accounting for general inflation. Why has this happened? He gives some hypotheses, and in a followup posting shares some ideas contributed by readers, but it's not at all clear what's going on. And it seems like knowing might be valuable, because the fact of this phenomenon's occurrence (whatever the cause) is causing a great deal of misery for a whole lot of people, bearing on many other important issues.

I don't know either, but it made me think of some things.

Aardvark and Bandicoot, Chapter 19

Thursday 19 May 2016, 12:25

In which a Parable is Related and Betting Strategies are Considered

[first chapter] | [all in this series]

Aardvark: Friend Bandicoot, I heard an interesting story recently. Perhaps you might find it edifying.

Bandicoot: Oh, goody! I do like stories, Friend Aardvark.

Aardvark and Bandicoot, Chapter 18

Wednesday 18 May 2016, 12:25

In which there is an Inquiry into What Counts, and into the Aardvark's Commitment to the Cause

[first chapter] | [all in this series]

Bandicoot: Friend Aardvark, I've got the module passing the test suite now!

Aardvark: Really?

B: Yes.

A: And it's really the module passing the test suite, not one of your school chums hiding inside the computer?

B: Uh-huh. Well, almost.

Aardvark and Bandicoot, Chapter 17

Tuesday 17 May 2016, 12:25

Some Clinical Consequences of Introjection

[first chapter] | [all in this series]

Bandicoot: Friend Aardvark, I've given a lot of thought to our conversation the other day about the ontology of software engineering.

Aardvark: I had hoped you would.

B: It took me a while to see it, but I think your point about no one single test case being necessary is in fact correct.

Aardvark and Bandicoot, Chapter 16

Monday 16 May 2016, 12:25

Studies in Ontology, with a Hint of Romance

[first chapter] | [all in this series]

Aardvark: Friend Bandicoot, do you know what a formal ontology is?

Bandicoot: Yes, Friend Aardvark. I learned about them in library school.

Aardvark and Bandicoot, Chapter 15

Sunday 15 May 2016, 12:25

Introducing the Mechanical Australian

[first chapter] | [all in this series]

Bandicoot: Friend Aardvark, I've implemented the double-double feature you wanted in the parser.

Aardvark: Again, Friend Bandicoot?

B: Well, you keep telling me to re-do it.

Aardvark and Bandicoot, Chapter 14

Saturday 14 May 2016, 12:25

In which a Feature is Implemented, but At What Cost?

[first chapter] | [all in this series]

Bandicoot: Friend Aardvark, Friend Aardvark! I've added that extra double-double feature you wanted in the parser!

Aardvark: Really?

B: Yes!

A: Really really?

B: Of course!

A: Not just "almost," Friend Bandicoot?

Aardvark and Bandicoot, Chapter 13

Friday 13 May 2016, 12:25

In which we Accept our Limitations with Humility

[first chapter] | [all in this series]

Bandicoot: Friend Aardvark, Friend Aardvark! I've added that extra double-double feature you wanted in the parser!

Aardvark: Really?

B: Yes!

A: Really really, Friend Bandicoot?

B: Of course! Well. Almost.

A: I see.

Aardvark and Bandicoot, Chapter 12

Thursday 12 May 2016, 12:25

In which a Blow is Struck for Feminist Scholarship

[first chapter] | [all in this series]

Bandicoot: Friend Aardvark, I implemented the double-double feature you wanted.

Aardvark: That's excellent, Friend Bandicoot.

B: Yes.

A: So, the test suite passes now, right?

B: Well... actually, I did something even better.

A: Oh.

Aardvark and Bandicoot, Chapter 11

Wednesday 11 May 2016, 12:25

In which Priorities have been Implemented

[first chapter] | [all in this series]

Bandicoot: Friend Aardvark, Friend Aardvark!

Aardvark: Good morning, Friend Bandicoot.

B: I implemented the optional extra double-double feature!

A: You mean, the module can finally add two plus two?

B: That's what I said.

Aardvark and Bandicoot, Chapter 10

Tuesday 10 May 2016, 12:25

In which Priorities are Set

[first chapter] | [all in this series]

Bandicoot: Good morning, Friend Aardvark!

Aardvark: Good morning, Friend Bandicoot.

B: I'm wearing my programming trousers again today.

A: I can see that you are.

B: Well?

Aardvark and Bandicoot, Chapter 9

Monday 9 May 2016, 12:25

In which a Debt is Paid

[first chapter] | [all in this series]

Post-It note on the Aardvark's office door: Home sick today. Migrane.

Aardvark and Bandicoot, Chapter 8

Sunday 8 May 2016, 12:25

In which a Post-Mortem Offers Valuable Insight

[first chapter] | [all in this series]

Aardvark: Good afternoon, Friend Bandicoot. I'm sorry to be late for this meeting.

Bandicoot: That's quite all right, Friend Aardvark. Is your head feeling better?

A: No. But we need to get this module out the door anyway, so I'll go be sick some other day. I spent most of this morning going through the test suite trying to figure out what's wrong with your code, and I think I've at least got some idea -

B: But there's nothing wrong with the code. You saw me demo it yesterday.

Aardvark and Bandicoot, Chapter 7

Saturday 7 May 2016, 12:25

In which a Demonstration Begins Well, and Concludes

[first chapter] | [all in this series]

Aardvark: Good morning, Friend Bandicoot. I trust you slept well?

Bandicoot: Very well, thank you, Friend Aardvark. It was most restful knowing I'd completed the project and wouldn't have to do any more work on it. Do you have new glasses today?

A: Yes, these are my demonstration spectacles.

B: Very appropriate to the occasion!

Aardvark and Bandicoot, Chapter 6

Friday 6 May 2016, 12:25

In which Concern is Expressed for One's Health

[first chapter] | [all in this series]

Aardvark: Good morning, Friend Bandicoot.

Bandicoot: Good morning, Friend Aardvark!

A: I'm surprised to see you here so early. Usually, you don't come in until just before lunch.

B: I was here all night!

Aardvark and Bandicoot, Chapter 5

Thursday 5 May 2016, 12:25

In which there is No More Progress, and a Management Decision is Made

[first chapter] | [all in this series]

Aardvark: Are you almost finished with that module for evaluating expressions?

Bandicoot: Yes! I have your module for parsing strings 80% complete!

A: Friend Bandicoot...

Aardvark and Bandicoot, Chapter 4

Wednesday 4 May 2016, 12:25

In which there Has been a Little More Progress, but Just a Little

[first chapter] | [all in this series]

Aardvark: Friend Bandicoot, where do you stand with the expression evaluation module?

Bandicoot: I'm about 80% finished with the expression parser, Friend Aardvark. It's fun! I do like parsing.

Aardvark and Bandicoot, Chapter 3

Tuesday 3 May 2016, 12:25

In which Progress is Reported

[first chapter] | [all in this series]

Aardvark: Friend Bandicoot, how is that expression evaluator coming along?

Bandicoot: Oh, you mean the parser? It's about 75% complete, Friend Aardvark.

Aardvark and Bandicoot, Chapter 2

Monday 2 May 2016, 12:25

In which Some Points are Clarified, but One is Left Unanswered

[first chapter] | [all in this series]

Bandicoot: Friend Aardvark, Friend Aardvark!

Aardvark: Oh, good morning, Friend Bandicoot. I see you're wearing your programming pants again today.

B: Trousers.

A: What?

Aardvark and Bandicoot, Chapter 1

Sunday 1 May 2016, 12:25

"Ah, why, ye Gods! should two and two make four?"
- Alexander Pope, "The Dunciad"

In which a Project is Initiated

Bandicoot: Good afternoon, Friend Aardvark. I trust you're well?

Aardvark: Yes, thank you, Friend Bandicoot. Are you ready to do some software engineering?

The Pudding Fallacy

Sunday 27 December 2015, 11:17

My text for today is from Pink Floyd (Another Brick in the Wall, part II): "If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding!" I'd like to talk about the fallacy embedded in that statement. It's related to many well-known fallacies, but I haven't been able to find an existing name that applies specifically to this fallacy in this form without mixing it up with other things. So I'd like to give it a new name: let this be known as the fallacy of the Pudding.

On begging

Wednesday 7 December 2011, 18:06

December 2011 on Earth, but it is eternal midmorning on the third layer of the Astral Plane. THOMAS OF AQUINO, NICHOLAS FLAMEL, and K'UNG FU-TZU sit at a card table, in that order clockwise around the table. At the fourth, otherwise unoccupied, spot sits an ominous blue-painted Chinese porcelain ginger jar.

On being missed

Wednesday 5 October 2011, 12:15

I recently visited Seth Godin's Web log to dig out his item about yak shaving, and while I was there I saw this recent posting about being missed. He asks the question: if you didn't show up, if you suddenly went away, who would miss you? And he proposes that it might be a valuable goal to make it so that a lot of people would miss you. That's certainly an interesting and important question to ask, but I think it's really the wrong question to ask.

The parable of the tricycle

Saturday 26 July 2008, 20:44

Imagine a young man nearing his 16th birthday, the day when he'll be eligible to get a driver's license. And let's imagine this is before graduated licensing was a big thing, or else imagine that he's maybe a little older and getting ready for the final level of the graduated system instead of the first level, or something like that. The point isn't exactly his age, just that he's about to get to the point where having a vehicle of his own would be a pretty good thing.

On problems and talking about them

Friday 15 October 2010, 18:05

I don't ever want to care so strongly about my problems that I would - even for a moment - hesitate to accept a solution to them for fear of losing that investment.

I also don't ever want my friends to think "Matt is unhappy!" is the problem, and use that as a comfortable excuse for ignoring the reasons I'm unhappy, and my feelings as an easy target for non-solutions that explicitly ignore or even deny the real issues. That's a pretty good reason never to talk about being unhappy at all.

On language and the use thereof

Saturday 2 October 2010, 12:01

Hatred is not the same thing as fear, not even if they often occur at the same time to the same people. When you pretend that those two things are identical to each other, and attempt to build that pretense into the language instead of admitting that it is an activist position - for instance, when you use words like "homophobia" - you make the world a less good place and you harm those of your goals that are worth promoting.

This is important.

Wisdom of Tvtropes

Tuesday 8 June 2010, 00:15

I spotted this buried deeply in an otherwise-boring discussion on tvtropes.org, and it has much wider application and deserves much wider distribution. I made a mental note to re-post the quote on my site, then couldn't remember exactly which page it was on, and spent many hours searching, over the course of a week. Now, I finally found it again.

Let me paraphrase the OP's point: "I have this opinion. I don't understand why people have differing opinions. But instead of genuinely asking why other people hold those opinions, I'm just going to say: you have those opinions because you are defective. Tell me why you are defective." Way to go, Ace.

Titanic Inquiry Project

Saturday 5 June 2010, 09:31

While looking for something else I ended up on the site of the Titanic Inquiry Project, and it's fascinating. The Titanic sank in the Spring of 1912 after colliding with an iceberg. Very much can be said about the number of lifeboats there were, whether the procedures for filling them were followed correctly, whether other aspects of preventing and responding to what happened were as they should have been, to what extent the ship's design was or wasn't right, and so on. The British and American governments each launched inquiries into the disaster, and the linked Web site carries transcripts of those inquiries, thousands of pages of them. I forgot the time and spent hours reading the transcripts when I was supposed to be doing other things.

In the matter of the lawn-pooping dare

Tuesday 25 May 2010, 10:01

Expanded from a Twitter tweet, since there are important points here that won't fit in 140 characters.

Our text for the day is Achewood, 2010:5:9-24 (starts here). Andy Larson dares "Darin'" Darren Wilson to ride in an unsafe vehicle without a seatbelt and then leave a bowel movement on the math teacher's lawn. Darin' Darren does so, at great risk to his life both from Andy's reckless driving and from illegal chernchilla breeders Mayner and Lurquilla. He retaliates by daring Andy to have dinner at Denny's naked. And in the last panel, Andy smiles.

Andy doesn't give a crap, pun intended, about Darin' Darren's doings on the math teacher's lawn, and he knows dehrn well that neither Mayner nor Lurquilla is in fact a math teacher anyway. (The range of Mayner's scholarship suggests rather a career in law.) Andy only put Darren through the horrible experiences in the back of the van and on the lawn so that Darren would make a counter-dare of his own. But if Andy wanted Darren to make a dare, why not just say so? And, for that matter, why doesn't Andy just go to Denny's naked under his own power if that's what he wants to do, instead of hoping to be dared into it? Andy could show up naked at Denny's any time he wants to - they are, famously, open 24 hours a day.

Status update

Monday 10 May 2010, 17:11

I'm withdrawing from Facebook, and I'm probably not going to renew my paid account on Dreamwidth. This leaves Twitter as the only social-network type of site I expect to use regularly, though I'll continue lurking on several others. If you want to keep up with my doings you really should read my own Web site; of course, if you see this note that means you're already doing so. On my side, I'm going to make a little more effort to actually put updates here so there'll be something interesting to read. Some of that effort below the cut.

Colour, social beings, and undecidability

Monday 9 August 2004, 12:01

Okay, it's been about two months since I posted my piece about colourful bits, and I really should have posted a follow-up before now, but better late than never.  First of all, here are ten other places that carried the story, in no particular order:

What Colour are your bits?

Thursday 10 June 2004, 11:54

There's a classic adventure game called Paranoia which is set in an extremely repressive Utopian futuristic world run by The Computer, who is Your Friend.  Looking at a recent LawMeme posting and related discussion, it occurred to me that the concept of colour-coded security clearances in Paranoia provides a good metaphor for a lot of copyright and intellectual freedom issues, and it may illuminate why we sometimes have difficulty communicating and understanding the ideologies in these areas.

An article based on this one and its follow-ups, by me, Brett Bonfield, and Mary Fran Torpey, appeared in the 15 February 2008 issue of LJ, Library Journal.