Older blog entries for cmiller (starting at number 47)

tk wrote in response to my "Our sloppy and slipshod treatment of Science has [...] caused other countries' students to outstrip our own in technical competence.": Hey, that was bogus! [...] Then again, playing on fear sometimes does work..

A scary postulate isn't automatically an appeal to emotion, but yes, I was trying to pit patriotism against the Board's actions. If they could think clearly enough to sniff that out, they wouldn't be in the mess they're in.

Advocacy

Yes, but not Free Software advocacy. It's much more important than that.

The Cobb County Board of Education decided to insert an "Evolution is not a fact" disclaimer in their biology textbooks. Here is the letter I wrote them this morning.

From: Chad Miller <cmiller@surfsouth.com>
To: Chairman <JCL19762@cobbk12.org>, "Mr. Tippins" <lindseyatippins@cobbk12.org>, Vice-Chairman <OGF16519@cobbk12.org>, "Ms. Gray" <GB111730@cobbk12.org>, "Ms. Searcy" <laurafsearcy@cobbk12.org>, "Mr. Johnson" <JJM17920@cobbk12.org>, "Dr. Plenge" <teresafplenge@cobbk12.org>
Subject: theories and prevarication
Date: 26 Aug 2002 09:42:55 -0400
Mime-Version: 1.0

Mr. Chairman and Board,

Science is a diffcult subject to teach. In the same way many students have troubles with Algebra, the realm of Science has a layer of abstraction from the immediate physical world that a lot of students don't understand. Many people see "weird" phenomena (static electricity, dazzling chemistry, et c.) demonstrated and called "Science," and that causes them to associate "Science" with the "magical" events that they don't understand. Unfortunately, many never discover that events are understandable, and that the scientific world isn't composed of arbitrary ideas created by Man.

I understand that you, the board, have many constituents that want you to set the science cirriculum to disavow the truth of evolution. It is unfortunate that teaching of the knowledge we have accumulated isn't immune from the politics of Man -- but of course as a school board you know that.

Your constituents entreating you to set the Science cirriculum are the students that never understood Science. They are the ones who misunderstood the process of Science and think that Science's seemingly arbitrary ideas are replacable with ideas they've decided are correct.

When paleontologists, biologists, and other practioners of the "Hard" Sciences use the word "theory", they are NOT making a statement about their level of conviction about the truth of the matter. A theory is not a supposition, guess, conjecture, or result of rolling dice. Many laymen use the term "theory" incorrectly, and when they hear of the Theory of Evolution, they decide it is just as valid as their own kooky "theories" of black helicopters, fluoridation of water, the designated hitter rule, or the origin of Tang. "One theory is as good as another, right?"

Remember your middle-school math that taught you that in a right- triangle, the square of the length of the longest side (hypotenuse) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other sides? That principle is called the Pythagorean _Theorem._ Would the Board consider altering Math texts if a vocal group of constituents offered a conflicting "theory" based on faith to rival Pythogoras's triangle theory? I suppose not, but why would the same board treat another threory with prevarication?

Our sloppy and slipshod treatment of Science has adversely affected our understanding of the world and caused other countries' students to outstrip our own in technical competence. Further diluting and obsfuscating the nature of Science is exactly the wrong way to behave.

20 Aug 2002 (updated 21 Aug 2002 at 13:07 UTC) »

My health appears to be as good as I could expect, and Mary Ellen is moving down soon, so things are looking up.

I'm busy indoctrinating Stu with Lisp. He's excited about it, and I too am learning a bit about creating a medium-sized project with it. I'm also playing with mod_python and postgresql, to keep my knives sharp. I have to, as I'm programming Visual BASIC Script at work, and it makes me feel dirty.

Oh, dear -- a lot has changes in the (long) interval since my last entry.

I accepted a job north of Orlando, Florida. It's with a company with which I've worked before, under a different name (the company, not me). My wife is still "at home", until we get the house sold. My place to live is an apartment nearby. It's hard going back to living in a small place that someone else ultimately controls, from owning a fairly large house.

My new job involves (re-)learning BASIC. I'm no beginner, and it's far from all-purpose. Still, there are plenty of interesting problems around to solve; I don't own any, but I get to toss in my hat when walking past interesting discussions. I've managed to stir the status quo and break up some prejudices, and that makes me happy.

In the last month, I met Michael Piefel, a Berliner in town for a conference that had "Informatics" in the title. We found a pub downtown that he was familliar with and sampled a few beers. I'd much rather the Linux socializing meme use tea than beer, but alas....

Will Newton's clisp package is ready for another upload, but I can't seem to find the time to inspect it. Dang!

jcv decided not to attend school nearby. I'm disappointed that I won't be able to see him very often.

My friend Rochelle's mother has cancer. She supposed to have surgery soon, to remove it. I had breakfast with Rochelle and Ryan last Saturday. They caught Mary Ellen and myself leaving town. It was very nice to see them.

Speaking of cancer, it's been almost exactly two years since my own treatments started, and almost a year and a half since they stopped. I have a follow-up appointment at the end of this week. I very much hope the strange tightness in my chest is stress. I'm not sure I can do that again. No, I can do it, if I must. I will. ...but I hope I don't have to.

I haven't been kite-flying, yet. I'm too far inland to get the characteristic sea-breeze that makes kiting so much fun.

I've read with interest the discussions of document preparation in the diary logs. I'm an advocate of Docbook, and sgml in general. Anyone who looks at the source and doesn't see whatever format they want in output either doesn't have enough imagination or they don't understand the tools available to process SGMLs. DSSSL and XSLT aren't hard to learn at all. Heck, I marked-up the entire <u>The Lord of The Rings</u> into Docbook and used XSLT to distill it into source for a compiler for a PalmOS book reader, PalmReader. Easy.

Man, It's hot here in Orlando! There ought'a be a law!

I uploaded (to Debian Sid) Will Newton's clisp package. Will will make an excellent Debian guy, IMO. He seems adept, both technically and socially. I sent to his Application Manager my seal-of-approval.

kiting

A few weeks ago, I went on vacation with Mary Ellen, spending a lot of time on the South Carolina coast. After a few days, we ventured inland, to Charleston for an afternoon. After exploring for a few hours, I stumbled upon a kite store. Having envied another vacationer's kite all week, and thinking that wasting all that kenetic energy seemed somehow immoral, I bought a blue and purple canvas box-kite. I really enjoyed using it for the remaining couple of days of vacation.

Now, I'm chasing a job to Florida, where there be wind like sunshine, and the prospect of being able to kite again has me excited. I've used plain diamond-and-tail [I'm sure there's a real name -- I'm still learning] kites in the past, and once a "stunt" kite, but I was pleasantly surprised with the good flying behavior of the box kite. It tends to draw a crowd of people (admittedly more hairy old guys sipping domestic beers than bikini-clad females) who aren't sure that there's some trikery taking place with such an awkward-looking device in the air.

Anyway, with such a supply of wind readily available, I think I'll take up building my own kites. I've tried in the past, back in Thomasville (where the wind notably doesn't come sweeping down the plains), to build and fly a rokkaku:

I was feeling ill from some evil medicines administered a few days previous, and I was determined to build something to keep my mind off feeling bad. I endured a WebTV interface to download plans, and spent the rest of the afternoon improvising parts into a reasonably convincing imposter for a kite. I trudged out to an open area, where there was a little breeze, and let a gust of wind take my kite up about 25 feet. The gust subsided, and my kite, evidently too embarassed about its making and appearance, dived to the ground, committing suicide. I was exhausted anyway, and went back inside to take a nap.

Anyway, now I can do that every day! Well, I think it will go better since I'm not home-bound and I'll have more to work with than yardsticks, garbage bags, twine, duct-tape, and no wind.

It seems there's a lot of popular kite designs out there. Perhaps I'll find some seasoned kiter to give me advice when I need it.

I accepted the job in Orlando. Argh -- moving is stressful.

debian

I'm looking at Will's GNU clisp package, and if it's of as high quality as his previous attempt was, I'll upload it to Sid soon. As for my packages, it appears as though FreeRADIUS is nearing 0.6, which I'll also upload. I'll be working on some outstanding reported bugs in others, too.

Quoth tk, Even if Graham wants to sell Lisp, he should at least try to sell it more properly. I say that Java, Perl, Python are progressively more like... Basic.

If you're looking only at how the code looks, ignoring its meaning, then you may be right. From the point of view of someone who cares only about how the language works, ignoring how the code looks, then it's definitely tending toward Lispity... eh, Lispness? Lispfullness?

Ah, I guess if I concretize what I'm trying to say by "Lispness", I center on the word Lambda. BASIC is about as far from having the lambda nature as one can get. (I'm not sure about tail recursion as a "Lispness" necessity.)

I think Graham is saying that because he does care about how those things work; he's viewing the code from less than 3 meters away.

employment

I'm close to accepting a job at my previous employer. It's an okay company, with decent pay and excellent health insurance (about which I can vouch personally). I'd be programming, but not on pretty stuff. Ah well, it's comforting that they want me back. :)

vacation

Mary Ellen and I spent all last week at a beach near Charleston, SC. For the first time, I didn't get a "programmer's tan" -- id est, second-degree burns from Sol's radiation. Some SPF-Bignum sun-block did me well, and I escaped the week with slight sun damage, a bunch of photos, a sweet box-kite, and happy thoughts about the climate of the Carolinas. The weather was considerably cooler than Valdosta, GA, where we currently live. Perhaps it'd be nice to live there.

raph: I'd try to dissuade you from any change to recentlog's all-are-published scheme. It would be hard to find out about new users unless they're visible on the only page that most of us read regularly. I don't have any well thought-out ideas about how to push noise to the background, though. The need to discover new people versus the possibility that a new account is an idiot troller: Which is more important?

29 May 2002 (updated 29 May 2002 at 23:01 UTC) »

Bring in the Clowns!

llan: 2+3: Storm Troopers must not be clones. Star Wars lore (non-canonical stories *) suggests that the Empire conscripts from its "citizens" to maintain its rank and file. Cloning could be just seeding the first generation. Accents? Term limits? C'mon. It's bad fiction at best, and that's picking nonexistent meat from the bone. Point 1 is almost interesting; there seems to be a lot of the same model 'droids about. Why should Vader recognize them?

* Yes, I've read two Star Wars books. Please don't hold it against me. I'm a book slut; I will read nearly anything....

Speaking of which, Salon had a recent article about personal intoleration of some authors, to which I add as my most hated authors list: Henry Miller, Kate Chopin (forgive me, Mary Ellen!), and J. D. Salinger, and Joseph Heller. It's a good article, though.

employment

I had a telephone-interview with a fellow at a central-US company who's looking for C programmers with some kernel-level experience. He called me on the phone number I gave the recruiter, my cell phone. It was going decently, until he asked about the difference "between multi-threaded and multi-processor programs." I knew he mentioned programming for MSFT Windows (of which I have zero experience), so I figured there might really be such a thing, so I sheepishly admitted that I had no idea. He congratulated me for my honesty and started describing multi-process (as in "pid=fork(); if (pid)...") execution. The noise on the cell phone made it sound like an extra syllable on "process" and me to sound like an idiot. *sigh* I politely asked him to call me back on a land-line.

After that, he asked me to describe a previous project, and I did it really poorly. So much for effective communication skills.

So, I stomped his first-impression of me into the ground. Since I got that out of the way, I did okay for the rest of the interview.

I did use Wiki for a bit, while browsing tk's work. The only "help" II gave was that I added a note on the Carl Sagan node. It's the first time I've used a real Wiki, and I like the idea. It seems less formal but more structured than "Everything". Both remind me of something I made some time in the last millennium -- well, 1997. On the scale of usefulness, mine was about as far from Wikipedia as it could get.

I feel raph's bad-web-browser-behavior pain; that was part of the impetus to write advodiary (the rest, being to try out XML-RPC). I too want a web browser that behaves better. I was delighted to find that AbiWord allows one to switch to VI keybindings for movement and (very) simple editing. I'd like to be able to do the same with mozilla. I doubt I'll find the time to produce a patch, though.

Well, no job yet. Two leads. Kernel programming (yow!) and jack-of-all-trade programming for a previous employer of mine.

I'm ready to kick Woody out the door. The hanger-on, ne'er-do-well!

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