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(Less Than) Inspiring Thoughts
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Date:2009-03-21 11:34

I haven't posted in nearly a year, which I realize is rather obnoxious. So I thought I'd post something.

I'm trying an experiment to see if it's possible in the real world to drift around like people do in stories. I hope it will be rather hands-on, and will try to make sure it all gets carefully reported. I'm only on the first step right now, which involves learning how to maneuver into a one-day or two-day job.

If anyone is interested, you can read about it here.

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Date:2008-05-06 18:00
Subject:Gettin' Boxes Where the Birds Rule

So this time, I was in Minnesota, and the box was hidden just off the north shore of Lake Superior. I quickly figured out the island it was on. When I took that photograph, I was staring longingly at that beach right in the middle, thinking about how easy it would have been to pull a kayak up onto it. But I also saw that there was a way to approach by foot, via the breakwater coming in from the left, which went all the (long) way back to the mainland.

Uh-oh, there he goes again...Collapse )

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Date:2008-03-27 15:02
Subject:Sorry, Anonymous Commenters

I started this LJ with the idea of having interesting intellectual discussions. I did not start it as an outlet for my personal life, and while I will make personal comments on it occasionally, I cannot and will not tolerate anonymous posters trying to pick fights, resulting in entire threads that would be boring to the average reader. For over three years, this was never an issue, but now, a single obnoxious anonymous poster has arrived, and I am forced to screen anonymous posts. But never fear, anonymous posters. I am constantly on the computer (I work from it), and any legitimate--certainly pretty much any impersonal--comments you make should very quickly be approved and visible to everybody. I will not deny comments that express disagreement with me; only obnoxious ad hominem stuff.

If you want to discuss something personal, please E-mail or IM me. My E-mail and IM are made public on this LJ.

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Date:2008-03-26 13:52

It is almost unquestionably human mating season. I think that's what "spring fever" is all about.

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Date:2008-03-19 23:40

In order to sustain my traveling and telecommuting, this morning I had to cough up the (nominal) money for a NetZero Platinum account so that I can plug my laptop into a phone line if all else fails (i.e. no ethernet port and no Wi-Fi). Now I'm sitting here testing it (and using the modem on this laptop for the first time.....ever). Of course it's the slowest and least reliable connection I have seen since the 1990s, but for some reason, I am too excited to go to sleep. Too excited because I am home, where I have cable, using dialup.

UPDATE: I just disconnected from NetZero and the internet got immeasurably faster due to a weak signal from my neighbor's wireless.

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Date:2008-03-10 14:49
Subject:Scrapbook from the Swamp

We prepare to enter.

It's tough going right away.

Ray begins to break his snowshoes.

We leave the vast majority of Ray's snowshoes, to be retrieved upon our return.

It doesn't get easier.

Victory is mine.

OK, the others made it too.

But most of Ray's snowshoes did not.

We knew we weren't going to remain sweaty and hot, so we started a fire while cooling off.

Until the stove got hot, we enjoyed the warm smoke from the chimney.

It was about 35 F, but hard to tell.

After sawing the wood, we sat around, tinkered with the stove, and watched it get hot.

The results of Ray going through a waist-deep swamp without rubber boots or snowshoes began to evaporate.

Yep, this and this are what you find in a random cabin on an island in the middle of a swamp.

And the utensils there are about this clean.

Man, it's nice to rest.

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Date:2008-01-30 22:40
Subject:More Notes from Texas

Question: What is the local currency?

Answer: This. (More.)

Question: Where do you do laundry?

Answer: Here. (Yes, that's what they're all called.)

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Date:2008-01-26 21:47
Subject:Notes from Texas

As Richard E. Frye, M.D., Ph. D., once said, "Houston is dangerous because the food is so good." I'm in Houston on business, and he's right. But that's not all Texas has. Among some of the other things:

  • Houses on stilts: Example 1, Example 2. Floods here aren't any nicer than in New Orleans.
  • The Gulf of Mexico. This would make for prime swimming in the summer if not for the clay (big picture, close-up), which gives the water a brownish color. It has nothing to do with oil--oil is much too precious to be spilt into the ecosystem--but you can't explain that to people.
  • All over the gulf coast, the birds are amazing. In a day, you can see hundreds of egrets, shrikes, roseate spoonbills, herons, skimmers, osprey, various falcons and hawks, etc. Today we spotted a peregrine falcon (before it took a crap, after it took a crap). It's almost a shame we're here to work and can't just go bird watching.
  • There are various other gulf coast animals, but most of the time, you only spot tracks (e.g. an otter track). I think I spotted an armadillo by the side of the road today, but by the time we'd have stopped, it would have been far behind us and probably in the brush.
  • Decent sunsets, but hard to photograph ( 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17)

Everything is big in Texas. This includes cars, restaurants, food portions, hospitals, average waistlines, churches, etc. Oh, and stores and malls. It's ridiculous, but I'm starting to like it.

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Date:2007-12-09 11:16
Subject:The Cult of the Elitist

When I was reading the Metro on the subway in early July, I ran across a story about Andrew Keen's then-new book. A few days later, I ran into his book at the Barnes & Noble on Kenmore Square. I summarized it quickly for the couple of friends who met me there, and they responded in the same manner as I did. Amazingly enough, half a year later, I still think back to him, and he still bothers me. Tell me what you think.Collapse )What do you think? Am I completely off my rocker, or is he? One of us definitely is.

UPDATE: Andrew Keen has been kind enough to respond!Collapse )

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Date:2007-11-10 21:57
Subject:On Faith

In the 17th century, Newton already saw farther only because he stood on the shoulders of giants, and nowadays, this appears to me to be the only way to do so. Scientific papers cite around a hundred references—or at least a very significant fraction of that—and checking each one is hopeless, as each of those will cite another hundred references. It is neither possible nor necessary to rederive everything in science for oneself, nor is there enough time to reperform all the experiments that have ever been performed. In order to have the time in our lives to push the frontiers of science beyond what is already known, we must accept that which is already known, and agree to accept, except in those relatively rare cases that are exceptionally interesting or suspect, that those experiments and derivations were performed correctly by those who came before us. There is an unpleasant word for this: faith.

The fact that science is part faith is nothing to be ashamed of. After all, even if one did redo every experiment ever performed, he would still need to have faith that his observations are more than figments of his imagination. The conclusions one can come to should he refuse to have such faith have been examined by Kant, and with them, had they been the only conclusions humanity has ever drawn, humanity would never have produced the sort of science that it has.

Without faith in some foundation, the nagging question "why?" can be asked over and over ad infinitum, and no solid conclusion can be reached unless the one answering it can finally admit to a fundamental assumption based on faith.

As any experiment requires faith in our senses, which we must use to read its results, and as any derivation requires logic which requires faith in the axioms from which we begin, there seems to be little reason to require that domains such as ethics not begin with faith. And thus it puzzles me when people attack "faith-based" views of things.

Is there anything that separates "tenable" faith from "blind faith"? Does anybody believe that there are ways of producing a complete philosophy without ever resorting to faith? Would anybody care to comment?

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Date:2006-12-26 19:53
Subject:Real Estate

Does anybody know how "real estate" is distinguished from "fake estate"?

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Date:2006-10-30 19:35
Subject:The more things change...

Some Russian schoolchildren recently partook in a "Putin art" contest. In this rather typical entry (Roman Belov, grade 6), the red text reads "GEORGE is a very bad cowboy!" and is followed by the green text "V.V. Putin will defend us!" Here's another sample for those who want it.

via sholademi

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Date:2006-10-22 22:13
Subject:Of Comrades and Freight

The Russian word for "comrade" is товарищ (tovariszcz), which also means "friend" or "peer," and archaically could denote "helper." Its root is товар (tovar) which means "goods," "commodities" or "freight." (By the way, does anyone know what its Spanish cognate--perhaps a false one--as in this hotel, means? The etymology of the word is thought to be Turkish, and the modern Turkish word for "goods" is tavar.) How in the world are the two related? Looking in the Dal' dictionary (1882), an excellent source of archaic Russian terms, I found товарище (tovariszcze), "a place where goods are kept," and товаристый (tovaristyj), "rich by means of commodities," neither of which really seemed to help make a connection. Vasmer's dictionary claims instances of товарищ (tovariszcz) as "comrade" as long ago as the 15th century (it's certainly old enough to have cognates in most Slavic languages), so the connection may be lost altogether.

UPDATE:  Thanks to anno_nin in etymology_ru for pointing out the (obvious in hindsight) connecting word--товарищество (tovariszczestvo), "trade union."

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Date:2006-10-12 10:36
Subject:Of Virtual Men

The Latin word vir (man) gave logical rise to the word virile, and also to the word virtue, which referred to manliness and moral strength, at the time (and more frequently nowadays than people think) considered synonymous. In 1432, virtual was used to mean "capable of producing an effect." By 1654, the word referred to something capable of producing an effect without formal recognition (e.g. "a virtual dictator" -MW). Surprisingly early (in 1959), the logical leap was made to use to word to refer to something capable of producing an effect without physically existing (i.e. being on a computer). Just in case you wanted to know how exactly virtual keyboards and virtual libraries are manly.

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Date:2006-07-29 19:50
Subject:Spotted in the guestbook of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC






Anybody who believes the only solution at this point is to carpet-bomb Iran ought to think about whether its citizens have any control whatsoever over their government.

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Date:2006-05-03 15:31
Subject:Teaching Opinions

Today I noticed this bulletin board at the local high school, and was impressed. I walked up to it and read about different ways in which oil can be mined and refined, how much the US and the world use, how much is left, and suggestions such as carpooling and buying a car with good fuel economy. The board also discussed alternative fuels and why we don't use them, which got me very excited because I expected a discussion like this. Instead, the three roadblocks given were these, brought out in more detail elsewhere on the board (sample). As I respect my readers, I now leave them to make up their own minds. I wish the school had the same respect for its students.

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Date:2006-04-12 19:02

Iranian artists perform as they hold up samples of enriched uranium after Iran said on Tuesday it had produced low-grade enriched uranium, in Mashad, April 11, 2006.

Via Publius via Yahoo!

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Date:2006-03-30 06:17

I guess now we know where it's at.

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Date:2006-03-23 20:03
Subject:People still read that?

I got an anonymous request to fix the photo links for this entry. I replied to it and got barraged by E-mails. I didn't know people were still reading that! The pictures are back. Enjoy.

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Date:2006-02-08 20:24
Subject:What, exactly, is a right?

The Declaration of Independence holds that it is "self-evident" that we are "endowed...with certain unalienable [r]ights." Since then, people have been all over these "rights." Critics of the PATRIOT Act worry that it violates our "right to privacy." A picture of a pro-choice rally shows a sign reading "ABORTION IS HEALTHCARE. HEALTHCARE IS A RIGHT." Every now and then, we hear about our "right to a living wage."
     Who endowed us with these rights? The Declaration clearly states that it was "[our] Creator." Should atheists, or even agnostics, believe in rights at all? Should they believe in rights as a favor that we are granted by the government, which the government can take away at any moment? If that is so, why should the Supreme Court worry at all about government legislation violating any right? So the government decided to withdraw that right. So it will grant another one at some point. Big deal.
     Some say that our rights are spelt out in the first ten amendments of the Constitution (i.e. the Bill of Rights). If that be so, there is clearly no right to privacy, healthcare or a living wage.
     "The way our Constitution's framers used the term," states Walter Williams, professor of economics at George Mason University, "a right is something that exists simultaneously among people and imposes no obligation on another." A right, says Williams, is something which demands nothing of anybody else, except "non-interference." Simple rights, whether in the Bill of Rights or not, such as free speech, freedom of travel and privacy, may, under some circumstances, hold up under that definition. We run into a problem if the rights themselves interfere with one another. For example, if I have a right to my private property and you have a right to free travel, do you have a right to travel freely on my private property?
     Rights such as healthcare and a living wage make such complexities stark. They demand not simply that others not interfere, but also that they, as taxpayers, pay for you to exercise that right. In Williams' words,

If this...concept of rights were applied to free speech rights and freedom to travel, my free speech rights would impose financial obligations on others to provide me with an auditorium and microphone. My right to travel freely would require that the government take the earnings of others to provide me with airplane tickets and hotel accommodations.
If we really do have a right to our property, clearly there should not be healthcare rights or living wage rights. If we really don't have a right to our property, then why is theft illegal? As Williams points out, theft amounts to no more than economic redistribution. Make of the converse what you wish.

UPDATE: _kk's argument is that in a more abstract sense, "to every action there is an equal but opposite reaction." Introducing a right means introducing an obligation to respect that right (and thus denying the right to disrespect that right). This whole discussion was supposed to be about the ensuing question of what kinds of rights ought to be introduced. Williams' argument is that only those rights ought to be introduced for which the obligation imposed is passive. (This is clearly insufficient, as the right to lock me up in a cage imposes on me only a passive obligation to respect that right and not interfere with it by getting out, but that is a separate matter.)
     The way Williams words his argument is slightly different from the way I do it, and results in a contradiction. Williams ought to watch his wording. Thank you, _kk and Carla.

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