Older blog entries for chalst (starting at number 75)

21 May 2003 (updated 21 May 2003 at 19:32 UTC) »

Aha! Even my jaded tastes found this new trend interesting...

14 May 2003 (updated 14 May 2003 at 19:22 UTC) »
ncm: My "Null Hypothesis" asserts only that fxn's general tendency is not to overcertify Master's, not that he always doesn't, by analogy with the role that null hypotheses play in statistics. I'd say, also, that if you are not a Master, you are certainly in the upper ranks of the Journeyer's: it's really a judgement call, so you are not a bad exception to the rule, if you are one at all...

cbbrowne: Welcome back!

Anti-Americanness in Europe
A good antidote to the idea that lots of people express that the European and American paths are now separating is Eric Alterman's article in The Nation USA Oui! Bush non!. The general gist I take from the article (and agree with) is that while the Bush administration has done a lot of harm to relations between the US and Europe in the short term, the harm done doesn't go very deep since it reflects the views of a relatively small elite in the USA, and there are enough reserves of goodwill to repair the damage, on both sides of the Atlantic, when the Bush administration is gone.

I don't suppose there is any chance that mitnick is genuine? Reflects rather badly on the advogato trust metric in any case...

30 Apr 2003 (updated 30 Apr 2003 at 16:47 UTC) »
graydon's law(?)
graydon writes: programming language features do well (all other things being equal) when they eliminate either distant or dynamic state and replace it with either close or lexical state.
I think this is true, and a smart observation that seems to explain quite a few trends over the past 30 years, though I disagree with graydon's explanation. My suggestion is that it becomes easier to make true assertions about such programs, both for humans and by compilers, when we make these substitutions.

W.r.t our ongoing and inconclusive argument about static vs. dynamic typing, I'd like to say that dynamic types make it harder for machines to make these assertions, and they do not discipline programmers to make these substitutions, compared to static types, but my objection to static types is that they achieve these goals at a high price in the complexity of program construction in cases that occur rather frequently.

Orwell unsainted
Some kind advogatan pointed to me an interesting story of disillusionment with Orwell. Unfortunately I've forgotten who that is and it is not on recentlog any more: please email, whoever it is. Postscript: Google finds it: it was wlach.

The Null Hypothesis for overcertification
It's been commented already that fxn has certified a lot of people, but I don't think it has been commented on just how good his certifications are. Since there is some concern here to the effect that there are too many undeserved master certifications, can I suggest the null hypothesis that a master cert is an overcert if fxn rates that person Journeyer or less? I have found a few people I think deserve Master that he certs Journeyer or less, but I haven't yet found any counterexamples to the converse.

24 Apr 2003 (updated 24 Apr 2003 at 10:28 UTC) »
graydon's monotone project is the most beautifully simple design of a concurrent VC system I have ever seen: truly wonderful. A suggestion: perhaps rather than just inviting bug reports, having a `design risks' document would be worthwhile: there are likely to be subtle data integrity risks with the VC architecture if only because it is so novel, and inviting imaginative guesses as to where those risks might be could be a helpful exercise, a step higher-level than the usual OS code review process.

More politics
I can't seem to control my urge to put politics in my diary entries, so... Excellent no-nonsense analysis in the New York Times by Dilip Hiro: A couple of minor quibbles - firstly, the Kurds are not a tribe, they are a colonial construct made from several disinct peoples (with different languages) by the British, secondly, I think the risk of an Iran-like revolution in Iraq even with the caveats is overstated. Still, I think the conclusion I think is right - America will probably be generally liked in Iran if it doesn't stay too long in Iraq, and doesn't misuse Iraq as a pawn in its Middle-East strategy. Hard to figure out what the ever-secretive Bush administration actually plans to do.

Lastly, what is the attraction of lifelong socialist George Orwell for "leftist"-hating neoconservatives? A google search with leftism orwell turns up mostly neo-con sites: an extreme example is this neo-con warblog (complete with usual run of confused anti-arab hate speech), which has an Orwell quote close to the top-left hand corner of its root page. It's not just idiots like these people, intelligent neo-conservatives like Christopher Hitchens think they can wrap themselves in Orwell without any awarenes of how absurd they make themselves. The path from bad taste to intellectual dishonesty is a short one...

Postscript: yet more politics
An even more ironic abuse of Orwell is
this neo-con weblog, I can't resist citing it:

I submit that Leftists of today should be defined less by their belief that inequality should never exist, but instead on the basis of a belief that ``superiority'' should never exist. All modern leftist beliefs flow inexorably from this view, including the most reprehensible opinion of them all: moral equivalence.
(a criteria that Orwell clearly satisfies, so Orwell is just the sort of "leftist" this neo-con condemns)
In sum, a leftist proclaims that superiority should never exist, but in brilliant Orwellian fashion, once they are sure everyone else believes superiority is forbidden, take the mantle of leadership upon themselves, a one-eyed man among the blind, and use the lower classes' belief in self-gain ironically against them. Once everyone else believes in equality, the narcissistic leftist believes their own natural superiority will rise above the sea of commonality to lead their homogenous flock toward grazing.
(aha! Orwell is invoked as an authority to condemn the immorality of the class of leftists to which he belongs. Simply the most wonderful pompous ignorance, I think I will congratulate the author...)
11 Apr 2003 (updated 11 Apr 2003 at 12:51 UTC) »
Where Logic meets Mysticism
It has always been interesting to me, as someone who does proof theory for a living, the extent to which many leading logicians are fascinated by mysticism. mslicker paraphrased Betrand Russell (author of Mysticism and Logic as well as his better known Principia), saying "if we value logic, at some point we must rely on axioms and these axioms are necessarilly self evident, known without demonstration". Is this true? I don't think so, because I don't think self-evidence is much of a reason for anything. When I look at what Aristotle was doing (esp. in the Prior Analytics ), it seems to me he was putting forward a system of argument that helped his students to find the truth and convince other people, in fact an activity not so disimilar to what Plato condemned the Sophists for doing: namely providing his students with a useful tool that could be used equally for good and evil ends, rather than a system of virtuous truths.

If logic is true, what is it true in virtue of? Is it true that if "The moon is made of green cheese and I am a Sophist" is true, then "The moon is made of green cheese" is true as well? If so, why? We can say: explanations have to end somewhere, so reasonable people just accept logic as being true. Perhaps, but that doesn't help us to see that logic is a system of truths, rather than just a useful technique.

I think that logical axioms are a bit similar to what Joseph Campbell thought about myths. Campbell said that myths were stories or assertions that we tell each other, not because we believe them, but because they help us create a framework of understanding between us. It isn't important whether myths are true or not, and maybe the best myths are obviously absurd, what matters is that lots of people know them and can use them as reference points when communicating and thinking of ideas that they would otherwise be at a loss to express. Logic I think is rather the same, except that it is important with logic that logic doesn't lead us into falsehood: logic must be, as Tarski put it, truth-preserving.

26 Mar 2003 (updated 27 Mar 2003 at 09:20 UTC) »
SyntaxPolice: Good pointer to the Haskell history page: I hope this grows into an excellent reference. A couple of quibbles:
  • Firstly, surely Common LISP is more widely used in industry than Erlang? A not-so-scientific datapoint: comp.lang.functional (which is where most Erlang discussion takes place) has 27500 threads according to Google groups, whereas comp.lang.lisp has 78600. Granted the cllers are generally a community that is traditionally quite USENET active, and also have a long history, but I think the numbers are pretty indicative of the relative size of the communities.
  • And second Haskell was not descended only from Miranda, but also there were other lazy FP languages among its ancestors, including the first functional language I learned, Phil Wadler's Orwell language (which was the language Oxford's Mathematics and Computation degree used for it's introductory course back in 1988, mainly, I think, because of it's support for natural equational reasoning about correctness and program transformations). They deserve credit.

Media Quality
One of the threads that I have found interesting here on recentlog is discussion of news sources. If discussion of political views proper causes more heat than light, perhaps discussion of which are the better news sources is more productive? Here's a suggestion: post links to the two or three most interesting articles on Iraq you have read this year; my choices would be:

  1. Blessed Are the Warmakers?, a debate between Richard Perle and Daniel Cohn-Bendit appearing in the most recent edition of Foreign Policy: for me, this really cast light on Richard Perle's position. I find Perle's optimism about the USA's ability to remould the region to be the most frightening and dangerous aspect of the gaggle of motivations that drive the GWB administration.
  2. Casuistries of Peace and War: an article at the London Review of Books that does an excellent job of summarising common pro- and anti- war positions.

Continuing in this vein, I'd like to recommend this book review by Orville Schell of Eric Alterman's "What Liberal Media", a rebuttal of conservative arguments that the USA media is dominated by leftists, conveniently summarised here. Alterman also runs one of the most interesting political blogs, altercation.

Postscript: Patriotism and Dual-loyalties
Well, I couldn't resist it for long: I am going to break my short-lived resolution not to write any political soapbox messages, and weigh in on a political issue. At the moment there is a lot of fuss being made in the USA about groups of citizens with "dual-loyalties", especially Jewish Americans whose patritoic feelings for the USA are "compromised" by their feelings of loyalty to Israel, so they advocate pro-Isreali policies that are not in the USAs best interest. I think this is a pernicious idea. Feelings of affection for your country and fellow citizens are a good thing, so to that extent I think patriotism is a virtue (those who doubt that patriotism is ever a good thing should read what George Orwell has written on Reverse Nationalism), but "absolute loyalty" to your country is an evil, rightly condemned by the infamous phrase "my country right or wrong". Divided loyalties are good: when one feels ones loyalties to different groups pulling in different directions, this should be a call for rational reflection and introspection. Most importantly, we should cultivate a sense of feeling for mankind in general, the virtue that Goethe called seeing yourself as a "world-citizen" above that of the citizen of any nation. The virtue of loyalty to what is good in your nation should be tempered by a feeling of shame for the particular evil deeds that each nation is guilty of.

18 Mar 2003 (updated 18 Mar 2003 at 18:17 UTC) »
Is the transatlantic alliance in danger?
There is a thought provoking article available online from the New York Review of Books (which has three other articles in this weeks edition). I think I don't agree with the conclusion: I don't think the damage being done by the GWB administration will be irreparable, but I do think that this administration's policy is very unwise.
17 Mar 2003 (updated 17 Mar 2003 at 13:51 UTC) »
RickMuller: Try the Financial Times (neutral), the Independent (somewhat anti-GWB), The Economist (somewhat pro-GWB), and the London Review of Books (polemically and brilliantly anti-GWB, currently being blackballed by a group of US professors...).

mglazer: Your definition of pattern (ie. " A pattern is matching elements repeated within the same string. ") doesn't specify if "testest" contains 1 or 2 occurrences of the pattern "test", which can potentially lead to subtle bugs.

davidw: Good luck with the move!

Thought for the day
Is today a good day to die?

I'm thinking about the ultimatum the gang of four have put to the UN, and the innocent victims war that would result from a war in Iraq. Perhaps more good than evil will be done by the coming conflict, but to revel in it, I think, is in the very worst taste.

11 Mar 2003 (updated 11 Mar 2003 at 08:51 UTC) »
garym: The key question is how is the originality of free software to be judged? My guess is that while the great mass of orginality software ideas (how on earth do you measure originality?) lies in proprietary software, in proportion to the time spent on it, free software is massively more original than proprietary software. One of the features of free software that hasn't attracted enough attention, I think, is just how efficient the best projects are in terms of getting maxiumum results from minimum effort. This property naturally fosters originality.

Politics Free Zone revisited
cmm and raph both replied to my last diary entry, both being rather less positive about the community standards here on Advogato than I was. A couple of points:

  1. Raph thinks that the current anti-war movement is a general exception to the usual informal rule against talking politics here. I find this odd: why this conflict? Is it because he cares a lot, or because a lot of people care a lot about this conflict, or something else? The former is in effect a universal exception; in the latter case, shouldn't this mean that pro-war postings are as justified as anit-war postings?
  2. My own feeling is that one should be considerate of the general advogatan sensibilities when writing diary entries (which I'm afraid I am not always, looking back at my earlier entries), but beyond that there are no rules about what is appropriate. I don't think it is a problem if diary entries are not particularly free software focussed - my own experience is that writing "off-topic" entries seems to be a kind of therapy that helps keep up my motivation to work on free software projects.

While I'm thinking about the almost-certain-to-come conflict, this article at the London Review of Books is about the best article I have read on the divisions created by the conflict. Raph gives this article at interesting-people.org high praise: I have some reactions to it, but they will have to wait until I have more time.

Proof of Correctness Wars
This ACM article from last summer is required reading for the now rather dormant discussion on web-based proof assistants. I think it might already have been mentioned here on advogato, but it makes good points and I think folks interested in the issues might benefit by looking over it again. Serious point: I think if the not-too-clear ideas going around about web-based proof assistants come to something, then we will be revisiting this debate again. Not so serious point: Dijkstra's halo doesn't look so firm in this retrospective.

Postscript fxn pointed out only ACM Portal users can access the above article: I'd be grateful for any pointers to non-crippled URLs of the text.

Politics Free Zone?
kilmo wrote (30/1/2003):
I wouldn't enter into too much politics around here (I consider advogato to be an international server, with varying nationalities)...
I'm not exactly sure what kilmo disliked about my diary entry, I guess he thought it was ill-informed, but I think the important point is that kilmo feels that politics threatens the sense of community on advogato. I don't feel that way, in fact I would be delighted to hear more political views from around the world, especially from outside Europe and the USA.

I should qualify this I guess: I wouldn't like to see recentlog degenerate into a soapbox, but I find the free software community here on advogato to be a generally well-informed, diverse, and rational community; precisely these properties make me interested in hearing political views here. I'd be interested to hear more points of view from Israeli's in particular: what was behind Sharon's huge electoral gains?; what do Israeli's think of the new coalition?; how hopeful are Israeli's about the prospects for a workable peace settlement with the Palestinians in the next few months and years?

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