motto lotto

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Whitman's sentiment

I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff'd with the stuff that is coarse and stuff'd with the stuff
that is fine,
One of the Nation of many nations, the smallest the same and the
largest the same,
A Southerner soon as a Northerner, a planter nonchalant and
hospitable down by the Oconee I live,
A Yankee bound my own way ready for trade, my joints the limberest
joints on earth and the sternest joints on earth,
A Kentuckian walking the vale of the Elkhorn in my deer-skin
leggings, a Louisianian or Georgian,
A boatman over lakes or bays or along coasts, a Hoosier, Badger, Buckeye;
At home on Kanadian snow-shoes or up in the bush, or with fishermen
off Newfoundland,
At home in the fleet of ice-boats, sailing with the rest and tacking,
At home on the hills of Vermont or in the woods of Maine, or the
Texan ranch,
Comrade of Californians, comrade of free North-Westerners, (loving
their big proportions,)
Comrade of raftsmen and coalmen, comrade of all who shake hands
and welcome to drink and meat,
A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thoughtfullest,
A novice beginning yet experient of myriads of seasons,
Of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion,
A farmer, mechanic, artist, gentleman, sailor, quaker,
Prisoner, fancy-man, rowdy, lawyer, physician, priest.

I resist any thing better than my own diversity,
Breathe the air but leave plenty after me,
And am not stuck up, and am in my place.

(The moth and the fish-eggs are in their place,
The bright suns I see and the dark suns I cannot see are in their place,
The palpable is in its place and the impalpable is in its place.)

These are really the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands, they
are not original with me,
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing, or next to nothing,
If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they are nothing,
If they are not just as close as they are distant they are nothing.

This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is,
This the common air that bathes the globe.

Walt Whitman "Song of Myself" Leaves of Grass (Project Gutenberg)

I like these lines as a snapshot of Whitman's larger project in Leaves of Grass which was something like "preach every one to everyone else". A friend of mine graduated law school recently and one of the profs quoted some Whitman to express the job of the lawyer. The prof didn't explain it so clearly but what I think she meant, from the lines of Whitman she read was "you need to learn to be the voice of every man". Because as lawyers they must be the voice for those they represent.

Compare Whitman's sentiment in the lines above with Nietzsche's sentiment:

“Pity for all”— would be hardness and tyranny toward you, my dear neighbor!—

BGE IV #82 (Kaufmann)

His statement is helpful as we think about morality in a more global context but the attitude associated with it isn't one I want to adopt. Nietzsche does recognize that generosity is genuine when produced by an overflow of the spirit (i'll have to dig up that quote) but I don't think he was after a generosity of spirit directly. It seems better to aim towards something closer to Whitman's attitude.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Milosz "To Raja Rao"

I hear you saying that liberation is possible
and that Socratic wisdom
is identical with your guru's.

No, Raja, I must start from what I am.
I am those monsters which visit my dreams
and reveal to me my hidden essence.

If I am sick, there is no proof whatsoever
that man is a healthy creature.

from To Raja Rao by Czeslaw Milosz

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Hitler interprets Nietzsche - Ricky Gervais

who writes free software?

If you're a FOSS contributor, you're about 30 y.o. almost exclusively male (sic) from North America or Western Europe, with 12 years of programming experience and spending about 10h/week on 2 or 3 FLOSS projects. You feel strongly that the hacker community is the primary source of your identity.

* You're either self-taught (40%) of have been formally IT trained (51%).
* There are good chances (40%) that you're paid while contributing.
* Your primary motivation lies in your ability to express your creativity
* You belong to one of the following 4 clusters (names are MTG's not that of the study), identified along your secondary motivations.

[ 25% ] The Professional: (86% are paid) You need FLOSS for work-related issues
[ 27% ] The Hobbyist: You need FLOSS for non-work related issues
[ 29% ] The Intellectual: You like to improve your skills and need/like intellectual stimulations
[ 19% ] The Altruist: You like to give to the community and believe code should be free/open

Contrary to the mainstream sociological belief, extrinsic rewards (money) does not decrease your intrinsic motivation (here your feeling of creativity).

Why Hackers FLOSS
These criteria sound a little too familiar. The most interesting thing to me is "you feel strongly that the hacker community is the primary source of your identity".

Here's the longer paper the above post was summarizing-- Why hackers do what they do: Understanding Motivation and Effort in Free/Open Source Software projects

I'll have to read the whole essay when I get a chance.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Whitman on metaphysics

The Base of All Metaphysics

And now gentlemen,
A word I give to remain in your memories and minds,
As base and finale too for all metaphysics.

(So to the students the old professor,
At the close of his crowded course.)

Having studied the new and antique, the Greek and Germanic systems,
Kant having studied and stated, Fichte and Schelling and Hegel,
Stated the lore of Plato, and Socrates greater than Plato,
And greater than Socrates sought and stated, Christ divine having
    studied long,
I see reminiscent to-day those Greek and Germanic systems,
See the philosophies all, Christian churches and tenets see,
Yet underneath Socrates clearly see, and underneath Christ the divine I
The dear love of man for his comrade, the attraction of friend to friend,
Of the well-married husband and wife, of children and parents,
Of city for city and land for land.

Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (Project Gutenberg)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

vodka induced domestic dispute

Something woke me from my comfortable slumber. Muffled voices were yelling at one another. Listening more carefully I could make out the recurring "you're always this", "you did that".

We've heard these neighbors yelling like this before, thankfully during the day. I think the woman keeps threatening to leave. It sounds like she probably should, if only to let the neighbors sleep soundly.

Once I thought I had identified the noise I fell back to sleep.

This morning Sarah and I headed out the door for a morning run. There on the lawn the sure signs of the dispute I'd envisioned, a large empty vodka bottle lying on the grass.

Since we've moved into this neighborhood nearly four years ago, we've had our jeep broken into twice and the stereo stolen. The coffee shop a block away has been vandalized. Two houses burned down a few blocks away from us. Recently the Subway sandwich shop nearby was robbed by armed gunmen.

The only thing that's really required much from us was when a woman knocked on our door one evening requesting we help her. She said her husband or boyfriend was crazy and threatening violence. We called the police non emergency line to get some advice and she called another friend who met her at her house about an hour later. She was moving out of the house so hopefully that situation has been resolved.

The odd thing is that all this makes it sound as if I live in a terrible neighborhood. Supposedly I live in a rich neighborhood and the police say that's what attracts the crime. I love my neighborhood. The neighbors that I know are really cool, the types of people who seem well equipped to help handle tough situations and willing to lend a hand. Perhaps that's necessary here.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Saturday, May 24, 2008

death by altruism - a pedestrian's dilemma

I appreciate small acts of kindness. When people open doors for each other on the way in or out of a store. Or, when a neighbor is unaware that her dog is running around the neighborhood and you return the dog home.

What I don't appreciate so much is when I'm walking around town or in my neighborhood and a car stops to let me go by. Well, I should clarify.

Scenario 1 - In my neighborhood when a car stops for me it's usually the only car on the road. So if they just went ahead and drove by I'd still be able to make it across the street before too long. This situation is a bit annoying but I can still appreciate the sentiment.

Scenario 2 - The other case I often encounter is when a road is really busy and a car stops to let me go by. The problem here is that while this car might have control over his particular lane, he has no control over the other lanes of traffic. Knowing this I don't always proceed across the street (the driver often gives me dirty looks as I wave at them to keep going). In the past year I've seen pedestrians almost get hit probably 10 times from this particular scenario. Different streets, different places but the same situation. (I realize sometimes stopping in this way is the only way the pedestrian is going to be able to make it across the street but that's not the most common case.)

When I was in high school I got into a car accident from this type of situation. I was turning left on a busy road. Two lanes of traffic stopped for me and unfortunately for me, there was a third lane that wasn't well marked. I turned across the first two lanes and was half way into the third lane. As I came to realize this was a full lane (a few feet into the lane) and stopped a Suzuki Samurai was coming by and nearly swerved out of the way but then swerved back and ran into the left front corner of the '71 Ford Custom (4 door sedan) that I was driving. The nice thing about driving a tank-like vehicle is that when you get into that sort of wreck with a toy-like vehicle it doesn't do much damage. This minor accident cost the insurance company around $2k for the samurai and for the Ford Custom we just had to buff the front left bumper. Just for a full picture in your mind-- this incident happened when I was driving home from a baseball game I had played in with the two Korean foreign exchange students we had living with us in the car. So I was sixteen, dressed in a full baseball uniform talking to the police and the other driver with two high school age Koreans who could barely speak english.

a '71 Ford Custom (the one I drove was a lighter color)

Friday, May 23, 2008

we feel fine

This site is one of the cooler uses of data analysis I've seen in a long time. It gathers information on how the web is feeling (blogs primarily I think). It then presents the data to you in a really clever way. Jonathan Harris is the developer, here's his TED talk.

on listening, audience and approach


I'm not so interested in bliss or something else that aims to satisfy my soul. I'm already overly satisfied. I need something so entirely unsatisfying that it has the power to turn me into that person who is the change I want to see in the world.

How did Gandhi do it?


I listen to the advice of long dead thinkers to learn from their mistakes. I inhabit their time so that I can better understand and engage my own.

But why should I engage with those living in the past? Because a few such men currently exist in the present? Computer emulated virtual worlds are much more real than the habitat the slaves of yesteryear occupy.

"to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin." (James 4:17 NASB)

The awake christian recognizes the predominant behaviors in western culture as sin.

The awake humanist recognizes human behavior as the tangled mess produced by the human animal.

Without adequate recognition and awareness there is no path towards correction.

The aware humanist seeks to untangle the knotted mess through understanding again (and again (and again)) the human context. Recognizing himself as a raw metal, he throws himself on a deliberate, particular trajectory towards change -- a refining fire.

The aware christian decries "fear" and "safety" to seek correction through the dangerous imitation of Christ.

The categories "christian" and "humanist" are not mutually exclusive.

Everyone who is awake travels the narrow path.

the analytic mind

Among engineers and scientists, I often find a strongly analytic mind. The practice of understanding is a bit different for this type of person. For people who quickly identify the structures which shape the world and see conversation in terms of propositions and conclusions, understanding is a matter of building and envisioning a compelling structure for that other person in order to better understand them. This sounds like a complex process but for this type of person it's less difficult than the more obviously relational modes of understanding.


Listening goes together with understanding. Listening is what you do when you hear someone else "in order to" understand and relate to that person. Purpose reveals itself and other, more cleverly disguised, sometimes less cleverly disguised "in order to"s must be uncovered and extinguished in oneself.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

more depressing news on the torture front

The report says that the F.B.I. agents took their concerns to higher-ups, but that their concerns often fell on deaf ears: officials at senior levels at the F.B.I., the Justice Department, the Defense Department and the National Security Council were all made aware of the F.B.I. agents’ complaints, but little appears to have been done as a result.

The report quotes passionate objections from F.B.I. officials who grew increasingly concerned about the reports of practices like intimidating inmates with snarling dogs, parading them in the nude before female soldiers, or “short-shackling” them to the floor for many hours in extreme heat or cold.

Such tactics, said one F.B.I. agent in an e-mail message to supervisors in November 2002, might violate American law banning torture.

More senior officials, including Spike Bowman, who was then the head of the national security law unit at the F.B.I., tried to sound the alarm as well.

“Beyond any doubt, what they are doing (and I don’t know the extent of it) would be unlawful were these enemy prisoners of war,” Mr. Bowman wrote in an e-mail message to top F.B.I. officials in July 2003.

Report Details Dissent on Guantánamo Tactics

James Yee on Radio West - I heard James Yee speak in Salt Lake City not long ago but I can't seem to find the recording on-line. This is the closest thing I can find. Terrible website (takes a few seconds to load) but seems to have audio of James Yee being interviewed on Radio West (prior to the event I attended). It's worth listening to.

A few weeks later the UofU law school brought Col. Morris Davis to speak for a conference oriented around the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s death. It looks like the video is available for that whole conference here.

Col. Morris Davis (wikipedia)

Another related article today --
A handful of US lawmakers gave only half an ear to the testimony on Tuesday of a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba who spent nearly five years in prison before being released without charge.
From Ex-Guantanamo inmate finds distracted audience at US Congress (

There is just so much of this kind of news it's not even important enough for congress to pay attention to anymore?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

hackers and the hacker ethic

This will probably be my last post (cut and paste really, at least I fixed some links!) from the jargon file. I plan to start posting more personal anecdotal remarks, relating open source and free software stories.


n. [originally, someone who makes furniture with an axe] 1. A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary. 2. One who programs enthusiastically (even obsessively) or who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about programming. 3. A person capable of appreciating hack value. 4. A person who is good at programming quickly. 5. An expert at a particular program, or one who frequently does work using it or on it; as in `a Unix hacker'. (Definitions 1 through 5 are correlated, and people who fit them congregate.) 6. An expert or enthusiast of any kind. One might be an astronomy hacker, for example. 7. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations. 8. [deprecated] A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive information by poking around. Hence `password hacker', `network hacker'. The correct term for this sense is cracker.

The term `hacker' also tends to connote membership in the global community defined by the net (see the network and Internet address). For discussion of some of the basics of this culture, see the How To Become A Hacker FAQ. It also implies that the person described is seen to subscribe to some version of the hacker ethic (see hacker ethic).

It is better to be described as a hacker by others than to describe oneself that way. Hackers consider themselves something of an elite (a meritocracy based on ability), though one to which new members are gladly welcome. There is thus a certain ego satisfaction to be had in identifying yourself as a hacker (but if you claim to be one and are not, you'll quickly be labeled bogus). See also geek, wannabee.

This term seems to have been first adopted as a badge in the 1960s by the hacker culture surrounding TMRC and the MIT AI Lab. We have a report that it was used in a sense close to this entry's by teenage radio hams and electronics tinkerers in the mid-1950s.

hacker ethic

n. 1. The belief that information-sharing is a powerful positive good, and that it is an ethical duty of hackers to share their expertise by writing open-source code and facilitating access to information and to computing resources wherever possible. 2. The belief that system-cracking for fun and exploration is ethically OK as long as the cracker commits no theft, vandalism, or breach of confidentiality.

Both of these normative ethical principles are widely, but by no means universally, accepted among hackers. Most hackers subscribe to the hacker ethic in sense 1, and many act on it by writing and giving away open-source software. A few go further and assert that _all_ information should be free and _any_ proprietary control of it is bad; this is the philosophy behind the GNU project.

Sense 2 is more controversial: some people consider the act of cracking itself to be unethical, like breaking and entering. But the belief that `ethical' cracking excludes destruction at least moderates the behavior of people who see themselves as `benign' crackers (see also samurai, gray hat). On this view, it may be one of the highest forms of hackerly courtesy to (a) break into a system, and then (b) explain to the sysop, preferably by email from a superuser account, exactly how it was done and how the hole can be plugged -- acting as an unpaid (and unsolicited) tiger team.

The most reliable manifestation of either version of the hacker ethic is that almost all hackers are actively willing to share technical tricks, software, and (where possible) computing resources with other hackers. Huge cooperative networks such as Usenet, FidoNet and the Internet itself can function without central control because of this trait; they both rely on and reinforce a sense of community that may be hackerdom's most valuable intangible asset.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Nietzsche's tradition?

Descent into Hades. -- I too have been in the underworld, like Odysseus, and will often be there again; and I have not sacrificed only rams to be able to talk with the dead, but have not spared my own blood as well. There have been four pairs that have not refused themselves to me, the sacrificer: Epicurus and Montaigne, Goethe and Spinoza, Plato and Rousseau, Pascal and Schopenhauer. With these I have had to come to terms when I have wandered long alone, from them will I accept judgement, to them will I listen when in doing so they judge one another. Whatever I say, resolve, cogitate for myself and others: upon these eight I fix my eyes and see theirs fixed upon me. -- May the living forgive me if they sometimes appear to me as shades, so pale and ill-humoured, so restless and, alas! so lusting for life: whereas those others then seem to me so alive, as though now, after death, they could never again grow weary of life. Eternal liveliness, however, is what counts: what do 'eternal life', or life at all, matter to us! (HAH, II, 408)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Whitman's "Song of Myself" #43

I do not despise you priests, all time, the world over,
My faith is the greatest of faiths and the least of faiths,
Enclosing worship ancient and modern and all between ancient and modern,
Believing I shall come again upon the earth after five thousand years,
Waiting responses from oracles, honoring the gods, saluting the sun,
Making a fetich of the first rock or stump, powowing with sticks in
the circle of obis,
Helping the llama or brahmin as he trims the lamps of the idols,
Dancing yet through the streets in a phallic procession, rapt and
austere in the woods a gymnosophist,
Drinking mead from the skull-cap, to Shastas and Vedas admirant,
minding the Koran,
Walking the teokallis, spotted with gore from the stone and knife,
beating the serpent-skin drum,
Accepting the Gospels, accepting him that was crucified, knowing
assuredly that he is divine,
To the mass kneeling or the puritan's prayer rising, or sitting
patiently in a pew,
Ranting and frothing in my insane crisis, or waiting dead-like till
my spirit arouses me,
Looking forth on pavement and land, or outside of pavement and land,
Belonging to the winders of the circuit of circuits.

One of that centripetal and centrifugal gang I turn and talk like
man leaving charges before a journey.

Down-hearted doubters dull and excluded,
Frivolous, sullen, moping, angry, affected, dishearten'd, atheistical,
I know every one of you, I know the sea of torment, doubt, despair
and unbelief.

How the flukes splash!
How they contort rapid as lightning, with spasms and spouts of blood!

Be at peace bloody flukes of doubters and sullen mopers,
I take my place among you as much as among any,
The past is the push of you, me, all, precisely the same,
And what is yet untried and afterward is for you, me, all, precisely
the same.

I do not know what is untried and afterward,
But I know it will in its turn prove sufficient, and cannot fail.

Each who passes is consider'd, each who stops is consider'd, not
single one can it fall.

It cannot fall the young man who died and was buried,
Nor the young woman who died and was put by his side,
Nor the little child that peep'd in at the door, and then drew back
and was never seen again,
Nor the old man who has lived without purpose, and feels it with
bitterness worse than gall,
Nor him in the poor house tubercled by rum and the bad disorder,
Nor the numberless slaughter'd and wreck'd, nor the brutish koboo
call'd the ordure of humanity,
Nor the sacs merely floating with open mouths for food to slip in,
Nor any thing in the earth, or down in the oldest graves of the earth,
Nor any thing in the myriads of spheres, nor the myriads of myriads
that inhabit them,
Nor the present, nor the least wisp that is known.

Leaves of Grass (Project Gutenberg)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

philosophy as therapy

At first glance, in fact, one might wonder if the conceptions of wisdom were really all that different among the schools. All Hellenistic schools seemed to define it in approximately the same terms: first and foremost, as a state of perfect peace of mind. From this viewpoint, philosophy appears as a remedy for human worries, anguish, and misery brought about, for the Cynics, by social constraints and conventions; for the Epicureans, by the quest for false pleasures; for the Stoics, by the pursuit of pleasure and egoistic self interest; and for the Skeptics, by false opinions. Whether or not they laid claim to the Socratic heritage, all Hellenistic philosophers agreed with Socrates that human beings are plunged in misery, anguish, and evil because they exist in ignorance. Evil is to be found not within things, but in the value judgments which people bring to bear upon things. People can therefore be cured of their ills only if they are persuaded to change their value judgments, and in this sense, all these philosophies wanted to be therapeutic. In order to change our value judgments, however, we must make a radical choice to change our entire way of thinking and way of being. This choice is the choice of philosophy, and it is thanks to it that we may obtain inner tranquility and peace of mind.

Pierre Hadot "What is Ancient Philosophy" p. 102
I like this quote in conjunction with this Nietzschean pluralism I posted a while ago.
Being philosophically minded. -- We usually endeavour to acquire a single deportment of feeling, a single attitude of mind towards all the events and situations of life - that above all is what is called being philosophically minded. But for the enrichment of knowledge it may be of more value not to reduce oneself to uniformity in this way, but to listen instead to the gentle voice of each of life's different situations; these will suggest the attitude of mind appropriate to them. Through thus ceasing to treat oneself as a single rigid and unchanging individuum one takes an intelligent interest in the life and being of many others. (HAH, I, 618)
What I really want to say though is this --

Whatever you are after, head straight for it. Don't get caught up in distractions. (false religion/false philosophy/etc.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

from "Uncle Tom's Cabin"

Sarah's been reading Uncle Tom's Cabin. She read this quote to me this afternoon.
"Religion!" said St. Clare, in a tone that made both ladies look at him. "Religion! Is what you hear at church, religion? Is that which can bend and turn, and descend and ascend, to fit every crooked phase of selfish, worldly society, religion? Is that religion which is less scrupulous, less generous, less just, less considerate for man, than even my own ungodly, worldly, blinded nature? No! When I look for a religion, I must look for something above me, and not something beneath."

"Then you don't believe that the Bible justifies slavery," said Miss Ophelia.

"The Bible was my mother's book," said St. Clare. "By it she lived and died, and I would be very sorry to think it did. I'd as soon desire to have it proved that my mother could drink brandy, chew tobacco, and swear, by way of satisfying me that I did right in doing the same. It wouldn't make me at all more satisfied with these things in myself, and it would take from me the comfort of respecting her; and it really is a comfort, in this world, to have anything one can respect. In short, you see," said he, suddenly resuming his gay tone, "all I want is that different things be kept in different boxes. The whole frame-work of society, both in Europe and America, is made up of various things which will not stand the scrutiny of any very ideal standard of morality. It's pretty generally understood that men don't aspire after the absolute right, but only to do about as well as the rest of the world. Now, when any one speaks up, like a man, and says slavery is necessary to us, we can't get along without it, we should be beggared if we give it up, and, of course, we mean to hold on to it,—this is strong, clear, well-defined language; it has the respectability of truth to it; and, if we may judge by their practice, the majority of the world will bear us out in it. But when he begins to put on a long face, and snuffle, and quote Scripture, I incline to think he isn't much better than he should be."

Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe (Project Gutenberg)

Friday, May 9, 2008

Eternal September and Godwin's Law

I'm going to write a few more posts introducing people to geek culture. Not that I'm an expert on it, but I've been on the net as a technician, sysadmin or programmer consistently since '95.

Usenet predates the Internet and a few of its rules have been adopted for web discussions. Tech people who have been on the net a long time have recognized certain patterns in dialog and interaction on the net. These aren't the types of conversations had by 'sane' people in 'formal' discussion. This is the raw meat of human expression, where desires are allowed to run a bit too wild probably because of an often assumed anonymity. Also in IRC if you can't come up with interesting or relevant rhetoric a lot of hackers would prefer you stay quiet. At some point or another the more adept hackers make their own elite domains where they can quickly get the type of information they need and speak immediately to other experts. Note that for programmers on the net another programmer isn't an 'expert' because of something on paper, it's all about problem solving ability and demonstrating knowledge. A lot can be gleaned from the information sent over the wire and as a culture, hackers have made a few of their own, often unstated, rules. Godwin's Law is an example of one such rule, another that's commonly assumed on link sharing sites these days is that you shouldn't use link sharing sites for self promotion. Collectively I guess these rules are usually called netiquette. More likely though, whoever is in control of some resource, the tech in charge, will have whatever rules he wants and define what is going to happen where. If he makes sane rules, people stick around, if he makes crazy rules, people take off. In that way everything is fairly democratic.

Anyhow, at some point in USENET history (September 1993 supposedly) the people who tried to have some control over this beast they had created realized their method of acculturation was getting shot to hell. It used to be that students got on the net at universities for the first time every September but as the net became ubiquitous, there was no longer one singular timeperiod for "newbies" to arrive. Ever since then the net in some ways is just one big free for all. So those who have been using these networks for quite some time refer to this stage as Eternal September.

The most important thing to remember about hackers on the net is that they are all problem solvers. That's their job and their passion. If you just think on that for a while everything else makes sense (or nonsense, in either case you start to understand).

The average user of the Internet is no longer a hacker (or even a geek probably) but these are still the people shaping the net. (well, even the programmer pool has been diluted as people pursue programming for the money instead of as a peculiar obsessive outgrowth of personality)

I love this portrait of J. Random Hacker.

introverts of the world, unite!

Oh, wait... that would involve other people.

My friend bob wrote this recently and I relate to the sentiment.
I do know that I’ve “been out there and tried to mix with those animals”, and while it hasn’t left me full of humiliated confusion, it has left me with a desire not to mix with those animals. Which is how I’ve felt the past few days. Unmotivated and not liking people. Camille thinks this is directly related to how much sleep I get. I think that is an interesting theory. So, how about I take this week to write a post a day? Then we can see how my mood changes with the passing days. Or how my lack of motivation is reflected by my lack of posting. Ok, here goes then. As Henry Rollins says, “This time is real. Your time is now. It’s hero time.”

Thursday, May 8, 2008

geeks and neophilia

More jargon file definitions for geeks who don't know they're geeks.
geek n. A person who has chosen concentration rather than conformity; one who pursues skill (especially technical skill) and imagination, not mainstream social acceptance. Geeks usually have a strong case of neophilia. Most geeks are adept with computers and treat hacker as a term of respect, but not all are hackers themselves - and some who are in fact hackers normally call themselves geeks anyway, because they (quite properly) regard `hacker' as a label that should be bestowed by others rather than self-assumed.

One description ( accurately if a little breathlessly enumerates "gamers, ravers, science fiction fans, punks, perverts, programmers, nerds, subgenii, and trekkies. These are people who did not go to their high school proms, and many would be offended by the suggestion that they should have even wanted to."

Originally, a `geek' was a carnival performer who bit the heads off chickens. Before about 1990 usage of this term was rather negative. Earlier versions of this lexicon defined a `computer geek' as one who eats (computer) bugs for a living - an asocial, malodorous, pasty-faced monomaniac with all the personality of a cheese grater. This is often still the way geeks are regarded by non-geeks, but as the mainstream culture becomes more dependent on technology and technical skill mainstream attitudes have tended to shift towards grudging respect.

Correspondingly, there are now `geek pride' festivals (the implied reference to `gay pride' is not accidental).

See also propeller head, clustergeeking, geek out, wannabee,terminal junkie, spod, weenie, geek code.


The trait of being excited and pleased by novelty. Common among most hackers, SF fans, and members of several other connected leading-edge subcultures, including the pro-technology "Whole Earth" wing of the ecology movement, space activists, many members of Mensa, and the Discordian/neo-pagan underground. All these groups overlap heavily and (where evidence is available) seem to share characteristic hacker tropisms for science fiction, music, and oriental food. The opposite tendency is "neophobia".

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Jim Garrison on Radio Active

I was minding my own business yesterday, doing some work on the computer when I heard someone on the radio going off about philosophy as a way of life. I thought, "hey, I go off about philosophy as a way of life". I kept listening. The speaker seemed to be talking about Pierre Hadot but not referencing him explicitly so I called to put a good word in for the frenchman. I also was asking that "cultural creative" types put a hand out towards "enlightened Christians" who embrace the genuine values in Christianity. I put a word in for Obama, not that he needed it on a show like radio active.

I'm not completely on board with everything Jim Garrison is about but I really enjoyed what he had to say on the radio show. He's fairly quick to dismiss the Abrahamic religions (Islam, Judaism, Christianity). If you want to hear my whiny, high pitched stutterings, my call is about half way in. If you have time though, I think the whole show is pretty good.

May 6th Radio Active Program on KRCL

Some other quotes by Jim Garrison
"One of the things I find very exciting about spirituality in the world today is that it is disengaged from religion. Religious orthodoxy is becoming less and less relevant to more and more people," says Dr Garrison, a Harvard graduate with a PhD in theology.

"I think that Judaism and Christianity and Islam have done real damage to the planet because they have too many answers. I prefer to live in the questions.

"I believe deeply in the Christian truths, but I think that they are partial. I think it's important that whatever we conceive of as God is the God of the whole not God of the part.

"If you think of all the violence that has been engendered because by people that believe the part is the whole it makes you shudder," he says.

It seems a bit new agey (what's with all the spiraly images on that page?) but here's Garrison's explanation of what he means by "cultural creatives".

I'm not into meditation so much as learning trades and skills. I also relate more to the TED types. We make personal progress as we take on difficult ("interesting") tasks.

Philo of Alexandria - Hellenistic Jewish Philosopher

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

scandal # ? I think we're nearing infinity.

The focus of the probe appears to be Special Counsel Bloch, who was appointed by President Bush in 2004. Bloch has been a controversial figure ever since taking over the Office of Special Counsel, which, among other things, ensures that federal whistle-blowers get the protection they need.

One of Bloch's first official actions was to refuse to investigate any claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation. When the news of his refusal was leaked to the press, career employees in his office say, Bloch blamed them for the leak. He retaliated, the employees said, by creating a new field office in Detroit and forcing them either to accept assignments there or resign.

This morning, FBI agents in Washington took Bloch into a separate room at OSC to interview him, while additional investigators searched his office. They also arrived at his home in Alexandria, Va., with a search warrant.

[FBI Raids Special Counsel Office, Seizes Records] (
"The MEND command is seriously considering a temporary ceasefire appeal by Senator Barack Obama. Obama is someone we respect and hold in high esteem," the militant group said in an e-mailed statement.

MEND did not say when or where Obama, the leading candidate for the Democratic ticket for November's U.S. presidential election, made the appeal. It said it hoped the government would use any ceasefire to improve conditions for its detained leader, Henry Okah.

[Nigeria oil rebels say mulling Obama truce appeal](Reuters via Politico)

Patrick Awuah's TED Talk

After working at Microsoft for almost a decade, Patrick Awuah returned home to Ghana and cofounded Ashesi University, a small liberal arts college that aims to educate Africa's next generation of leaders. Its first class of students graduated in 2006. [TED Page]

I finally started watching more of these TED talks. I really enjoyed this one.

Monday, May 5, 2008

on programming and process

Software development abounds with processes of course: we have processes for requirements engineering, requirements management, configuration management, design review, code review, test design, test review, and on and on. Massive process documents are written. Huge diagrams are drawn with dozens of boxes to try to encompass the complexity of the process, and still they are gross oversimplifications of what needs to happen. And yet in every one of these processes and diagrams there is a box which basically says "write the code", and ought to be subtitled "(and here a miracle occurs)". Because the process underneath that box is very simple: read the problem, think hard until a solution occurs to you, and then write down the solution. That is all we really know about it.

We don't know how we program.
Some of the comments on this post are interesting as well. Especially that coding is mostly about design. A good design can save a ton of coding and maintenance nightmares. There's another difficulty though in that when you're creating something completely new, you may not even know what you want yet. So there's a lot of prototyping in coding as well. And then your users start telling you what they want, and on it goes.

American anxiety

American anxiety springs from something much deeper, a sense that large and disruptive forces are coursing through the world. In almost every industry, in every aspect of life, it feels like the patterns of the past are being scrambled. "Whirl is king, having driven out Zeus," wrote Aristophanes 2,400 years ago. And—for the first time in living memory—the United States does not seem to be leading the charge. Americans see that a new world is coming into being, but fear it is one being shaped in distant lands and by foreign people.
For the last 20 years, America's superpower status in every realm has been largely unchallenged—something that's never happened before in history, at least since the Roman Empire dominated the known world 2,000 years ago. During this Pax Americana, the global economy has accelerated dramatically. And that expansion is the driver behind the third great power shift of the modern age—the rise of the rest.

Newsweek Article "The Rise of the Rest"
This article challenges some of my pessimism about the loss of cultures and languages that inevitably comes with globalization. It says that as India has increased wealth, they've become more interested in their own billionaires than in America's billionaires and "that newfound interest in their own story is being replicated across much of the world." English has primarily been adopted as the global language but this shift to countries looking back at themselves seems like the road to keep cultural pluralism alive, at least among globalization's winners. It probably helps that the US is losing its "cool kid" status.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

the dude abides

Several years ago Roshi Bernie Glassman met Jeff Bridges and thus began a long-term friendship. Bernie said to Jeff, "You know, a lot of folks consider the Dude a Zen Master." Jeff replied, "What are you talking about … Zen?" Bernie said that quite a few people had approached him wanting to chat about the Dude's Zen wisdom. Jeff said that he had never heard of that.
I guess Jeff Bridges might be hanging around this blog exploring zen? Maybe just his character. In any case... "Koans by the Coens"

Saturday, May 3, 2008


interesting adj. In hacker parlance, this word has strong connotations of `annoying', or `difficult', or both. Hackers relish a challenge, and enjoy wringing all the irony possible out of the ancient Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times". Oppose trivial, uninteresting.

from the Jargon file on [source query]
Linux hackers usually have a program called "dict" installed on their systems. They run it from the shell ("command line" or "terminal" for the laypeople). The devil's dictionary usually has my favorite output but for this term the jargon file is the most insightful.

Friday, May 2, 2008

cognitive surplus

I started telling her about the Wikipedia article on Pluto. You may remember that Pluto got kicked out of the planet club a couple of years ago, so all of a sudden there was all of this activity on Wikipedia. The talk pages light up, people are editing the article like mad, and the whole community is in an ruckus--"How should we characterize this change in Pluto's status?" And a little bit at a time they move the article--fighting offstage all the while--from, "Pluto is the ninth planet," to "Pluto is an odd-shaped rock with an odd-shaped orbit at the edge of the solar system."

So I tell her all this stuff, and I think, "Okay, we're going to have a conversation about authority or social construction or whatever." That wasn't her question. She heard this story and she shook her head and said, "Where do people find the time?" That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, "No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you've been masking for 50 years."

So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project--every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in--that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it's a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it's the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

from Gin, Television, and Social Surplus

on understanding and analysis (scribblings)


"pearls before swine! pearls before swine!"

"quack! quack!"

I waddle around flustered like the ugly duckling with ruffled feathers.

Contrary to how many think of it, stupidity is not related to intelligence. I rarely meet a stupid moron (in the technical sense of moron). We expect a moron to behave a certain way because of diminished capacities. We love him for his deficiencies because it's a trait of birth, not a trait of character. I only recognize stupidity as it shows itself in character. If you examine the ordinary use of expletives related to intelligence you'll probably find others who express similar sentiments.

I'd like to get this phrase into more common usage, "That's the stupidest genius I have ever met."

We're all subject to our environment and genetics so someone might say that sort of statement is unfair. For the sake of humanity, the stupid geniuses deserve blame.

Analysis is not the same as understanding. Understanding is when you try to reach through the text to get at the meaning in the person. Analysis is when you examine the text to determine its logical structure, strengths and flaws. Understanding is much more difficult and useful than analysis and it requires a much more subtle mind. Analysis is for the man who wants to become only a better thinker in a particular way, understanding is for the man who wants to become a better person.

Understanding and analysis are thoroughly at odds with one another. Only a rare individual in an exceptional situation will willingly undergo external analysis. Everyone loves to be understood. Analysis is like behavioristic educational methods: It's a useful tool but it is best used (i.e. used morally) when practiced on oneself.

We fool ourselves when we think we've found accuracy in either of these methods. The best thing we can get from understanding is better relationships, the best thing we get from analysis is personal clarity.

Analysis can clarify what you've got but understanding embraces imagination in such a way that it can move you forward.


The true myth says, "you must change your life." (Rilke)

Equally, the myth which fails to continually communicate that message ceases to be true.


the value of metaphysics

I use metaphysical systems to moderate my arguments. What I mean by this is that I think an argument holds more water if it can be described within a variety of metaphysical contexts. I slap on a few that I find in some part compelling and see if, when I reframe, a version of the argument can still stick. If so, there's usually something to it, if not, I try to at least rethink a bit before I go forward. This also shows me strengths and weaknesses in various systems. That being the case, I hope that most of my arguments could be accepted by a reasonable individual with whom I have metaphysical disagreements (I do think such a person exists, maybe even two!).


When forced to choose between
    "fatalistic bullshit" and "sentimentalist blather",

I'll take the foolishness over the falsity.

All men (I mean me) at times fall into the trap of speaking without thinking.

the farce of digital copyright

John Tehranian, a law professor at the University of Utah, recently calculated that a typical American, in the course of a single day and without any use of file-sharing programs, could easily expose himself to over twelve million dollars in statutory damages should every copyright holder who’s rights he violated decide to sue. He did this by looking to a hypothetical law professor, checking and responding to email, forwarding digital pictures of a vacation, and many other innocuous activities every one of us with a digital lifestyle engages in nearly every day. While some have disputed the specifics of his accounting, the simple fact remains that “such an outcome flies in the face of our basic sense of justice.” This digital lifestyle, which allows us to connect and share in ways unimaginable only a generation ago, should not be at odds with our system of laws. The latter ought to embrace the former, not hold it forth as prey for litigious businesses and special interests, and outmoded conceptions of property. [essay]
I'm not sure this is the best treatment of this issue, Larry Lessig has dealt with it at length but it is an issue worth understanding.

When any part of everyday living is technically illegal, the only difference between a good citizen and a criminal is who is willing and able to prosecute. The legal system becomes a very ugly tool (not that it wasn't already a bit ugly).

Our president is no longer subject to the rule of law (or any sort of check), how many more abuses can our legal system handle?

I know, I know, the superheros will save us.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

superheros in SLC

The Black Monday Society started five years ago, when a Salt Lake City-area tattoo artist and lifelong comic-book fan named Dave went exploring on MySpace. “I always told my wife, even before we got married, that if I ever see a real superhero, I’m so going to be one,” he says. “Come on, just the idea of wearing a mask, going out, doing something good? Being somebody else for a little bit? Doesn’t that sound a little enthralling to you?” [article]
I'm really not sure what to think about this (besides that it's hilarious). The article says there are a number of websites devoted to real life superheros.


Philosophy is not some game or idle pastime.

It's something you do with your whole life. You do it because this is your life, your only shot at this world. It's not about getting the right structure in your head, it's about becoming the kind of person you want to be.
Immoralists. -- Because they dissect morality, moralists must now be content to be upbraided as immoralists. But he who wants to dissect has to kill; yet only for the sake of better knowledge, better judgement, better living; not so that all the world shall start dissecting. Unhappily, however, people still believe that every moralist has to be a model and ideal in all he does and that others are supposed to imitate him: they confuse him with the preacher of morals. The older moralists dissected too little and preached too much: which is why the moralists of today experience this confusion and its unpleasant consequences. (WS 19)