packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
2011-10-31 12:29 pm

Two Drops of Water [NaNoWriMo]

Why did I sign up for NaNoWriMo again?

*rolls Will save vs. panic*

(p.s. not dead, just very, very distractable.)

Edit: Ping me if you want in on (or out of) my NaNo11 filter.
packbat: Headshot looking serious and superimposed on the Gettysburg Address. (gettysburg)
2011-03-29 11:28 am

Everybody Loves Him

I am not a Christian, but there are a number of things I admire in the theology of most Christian religions. One of these goes back to the titular Christ himself: his affection for all peoples. Heretics, sinners, those judged impure and those despised, all these were the people he chose to spend his time with, the people he was loyal to. Fred 'slacktivist' Clark spoke of this quite memorably in the essay "Clean shoes" - and for that matter, so did Richard Thompson in the song "God Loves A Drunk" - but there's another aspect of this that struck me quite powerfully. An inversion, if you will.

What we usually say is that Jesus loves everyone. What we usually say is that Jesus hung out with fishermen, tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes. We say that Jesus accepted all these people, people who the Pharisees, the cleanliness-obsessed, the self-righteous rejected. But the same goes the other way around. These people who would have nothing to do with self-righteous, cleanliness-obsessed Pharisees accepted Jesus. Prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, fishermen would hang out with him. Everyone loved him.

To say he loves is to say a great deal - but to say he was loved, a great deal more. It is not difficult to be convinced that you love someone, that you care for them, that you want the best for them. To be convinced that others care about you and appreciate you - that they value you - is somewhat more challenging. If someone handed you a religious tract, would you believe they cared for you? If someone proselytized to you, unasked, on the street, are they offering you what you need? They believe so - but do you?

In contrast, if someone listened to your troubles, would you believe they cared for you? If someone offered their aid, unasked, on the street? Would it matter what they believed, if they offered you clothes when you were naked, drink when you thirsted, food when you hungered?

It seems like a thought worth considering.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
2011-01-04 12:41 pm

Not back yet, but just wanted to post this...

SCENE: Robin (i.e. packbat) and David are playing chess in the ASME lounge. Ben enters.

Ben: Who's winning?

Robin: (mumbling)

Ben: Well, he's moved twice, so clearly he's winning.

Robin: I'll just tie it up then. [moves piece]

Ben: Tie goes to Black.

[beat. Robin looks up at Ben.]

Robin: This isn't affirmative action, man!
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
2010-12-31 11:59 pm
Entry tags:

Open Thread 2010

This is a place to post random messages to me, or hold conversations on topics you don't see looking at my posts.
packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
2010-12-09 02:52 pm

(no subject)

One Chance.

Short game. No replay. No undo. Controls are the arrow keys and a spacebar.
packbat: Headshot looking serious and superimposed on the Gettysburg Address. (gettysburg)
2010-11-29 10:12 am

Pricing Health Care Mandate Fines

Okay - so you know how the new health care bill is supposed to charge people who voluntarily refuse health insurance (so as to encourage people to sign up)? And you know how emergency rooms have to provide care, even to the uninsured?

How about this: have insurers bid for their price to cover the costs of treating the uninsured in each state. The lowest bid gets their cost divided among the uninsured in that state. That way:
  • The cost to hospitals of emergency room care is paid, and
  • The cost to individuals of refusing health care is controlled by market forces.

    Any obvious flaws?
  • packbat: Wearing my custom-made hat and a smirk. (hat)
    2010-09-28 02:50 pm

    A Challenge to Theists and Theist-Friendly Persons

    Post edited ~5:20p EDT - thanks, [livejournal.com profile] zwol!

    Well, I'm coming back into blogging with a fury, aren't I? First politics, and now religion!

    Those of you who do not follow the atheist blogosphere may not be aware of the long, boring back-and-forths between the "New Atheists" and the "accommodationists". To summarize: the latter frequently accuse the former of being mean to theists (people who believe that one or more gods exist) and the former retort that the latter are being intellectually dishonest. What's annoying about it is that the argument never actually connects to the essential disagreement, edit: rarely gets back to actual questions of fact. The latest brouhaha, for example, relates to a question which "New Atheists" answer in the negative and many "accommodationists" answer in the positive: do any people have sufficient intellectual justification to believe that a god is real?

    And for that reason, I want to congratulate Larry Moran, who is addressing this question.

    This brings me to my challenge. I challenge all theists and all their accommodationist friends to post their very best 21st century, sophisticated (or not), arguments for the existence of God. They can put them in the comments section of this posting, or on any of the other atheist blogs, or on their own blogs and websites. Just send me the link.


    (Link via pharyngula.)

    If anyone in the audience believes that there are good reasons to believe that a god exists (or has a friend who so believes), please contact Prof. Moran (or have your friend do so) by Saturday, October 2.

    As a footnote, though: I realize that there are a subset of people who would answer in the affirmative to the question above without answering Moran's challenge: some people believe that they possess evidence good enough to convince themselves, but that their evidence cannot be communicated to anyone else. Whether this is true is a philosophical question, and one which I would be glad to discuss ... but unrelated to the announcement.

    Remember: if you believe that a God exists and you can prove it, or if you know someone who so believes, tell Larry Moran by Saturday, October 2.

    Thanks!
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
    2010-09-25 06:46 pm

    Quick, belated thought on book-burning:

    What is wrong with book-burning is not that a book has been set on fire - it is that the book is no longer available to be read.

    Consider a few cases:

    1. A government deems a particular book to be subversive literature and orders every copy burnt. Agents of the government seize all copies found in libraries, bookstores, or private residences and commits them to the fire. This is wrong.

    2. An ideologue arranges to purchase every copy of a rare book and burns them. This is wrong.

    3. An ideologue arranges to purchase several copies of a commonly-available book and burns them. This is not wrong.

    Apologies to everyone who got sick of the whole debacle over two weeks ago.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
    2010-09-18 03:44 pm

    How Likely is a Random Universe to Produce Your Twin?

    Dan Shive (best known as the creator of El Goonish Shive) recently wrote a brief argument why alternate universes would probably not contain alternate "you"s. His argument looks correct, as far as it goes, but it is qualitative - lacking numerical estimates - and I don't see why it has to be. The data exists. Surely ballpark back-of-the-envelope numbers could be produced.

    ...but not trivially. Dan Shive's challenge can - and I think should - be broken down as follows.

    Read more... )

    Now, I lack the knowledge of biology to, first, nail down these questions to their most correct forms, and second, assign probability estimates to relevant steps in the chain. But the most superficial examination of the situation seems to suggest at least one thing: any alternate universe measurably diverging a significant period before the birth of an individual is vanishingly likely to contain a copy of that individual. Which, of course, is what Dan Shive has pointed out.

    And, as an obvious consequence of this, even if such a universe contained a duplicate of yourself, it would still be vanishingly unlikely for it to contain duplicates of anyone not your direct descendant. (Which would make for a heck of a paternity test, I have to tell you!)
    packbat: Wearing a open-frame backpack, a pair of sunglasses, and a wide, triangular grin. (hiking)
    2010-09-17 09:28 pm

    Writer's Block: Fall Footwear

    Are you a boot person or a shoe person? Why?

    Sponsored by Sorel.

    View 167 Answers



    I prefer lightweight shoes for everyday purposes - I like the aesthetics of boots, and I like the practicality of boots, but if I were going to go all (warning: TV Tropes!) Limited Wardrobe, it would be with a well-made, comfortable pair of leather shoes.

    Since I'm not, I wear trainers, mostly, and boots when it's raining. Or I'm out hiking.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (Default)
    2010-09-13 10:26 pm

    Say Cheese!

    When you read this, you're tagged! Take a picture of yourself in your current state - no changing your clothes or quickly putting on makeup, and absolutely no photo-manipulation. Show your F-List the Real You!


    (caught this today from a post by [livejournal.com profile] ladibug21 a few days back)

    packbat: Wearing a open-frame backpack, a pair of sunglasses, and a wide, triangular grin. (hiking)
    2010-09-06 08:26 pm

    Bike 2: The Sequel

    So: yesterday I got out a bicycle, unfroze the chain with generous doses of both machine and elbow grease, pumped up the tires, and took it out on the bike trail for a shakedown ride. Guess what I did today?

    Differences:
    • The chain was in much, much worse condition. Fortunately, after giving up one or two times, I hit up the Googletubes and found an essay about fixing frozen bike chains, claiming (a) you should set it upside down, and (b) you should use two pairs of pliers, one to grip either side of the frozen link. With these alterations, and much sweat, the chain was freed.
    • The front brake calipers were dodgy - one half wouldn't rebound from the wheel. Fortunately, oil and time (somehow) repaired this.
    • I forgot to pump up the tires the first time I took it out. Fortunately, I realized this close to my house, and walked it back.
    • Did I say "the front brake calipers were dodgy"? I meant the entire braking system. As I told Dad, the only sound worse than the front brakes was the rear brakes.
    • Instead of a rear reflector, I had a broken headlamp.
    • Instead of a kickstand, I had nothing.
    • Half the tape on the right handlebar was loose.
    • I took a different trail, one that was all paved. But much, much lumpier, as it happened - once I was jounced so badly I lost footing on the pedals.


    All in all, damaged sprocket notwithstanding, I think the other bike is better - still, this makes two rideable bicycles ready to go. And a pleasant weekend, too.
    packbat: Coming into the finish line after a mile race - the announcer can be seen behind me. (running)
    2010-09-05 11:28 pm

    You have unlocked "Medium" difficulty bicycle. Do you wish to ride it (Y/N)?

    This morning I thought I might ride out the trail again, and I pulled a bike out from under the tarp. I had been riding my three-speed, but I'd busted up the rim (quite a while ago, actually), and it's not a good idea to ride on dented rims.

    That said, it is entirely impossible to ride with a frozen bike chain. Fortunately, I had most of a jar of bike lube and an extra-large dose of TLC* to apply, and after well over three hours, the bike was in rideable condition, and I took it out to the trail to run down to Bethesda to buy some ice cream** and a new wireless hub.

    More than one person told me that the bike looked like it was in great shape, so I must have done something right. :)

    (Sadly, one of the sprockets on the rear derailleur is missing one or more teeth, so I may not get away without spending some money.)

    Anyway, it was quite an experience. First, this bike is very much a road bike - it bogged down in gravel quite badly. Second, it's a ten-speed with a very funky derailleur system, so I had the devil's own time getting away from fifth gear for uphills and slow starts. Third, the controls are arranged quite differently (drop handlebars, down tube shifters), which left me quite nervous and timid. Third, I'm not really fit enough to take the bike to where it should go - I was struggling to keep it moving and moving in the right direction, even.

    But it was pretty good, nonetheless. Tomorrow, I'll take out the other rust monster and see how I can make it run.

    * TLC = Tender Loving Care. With a pair of pliers and a lot of sweating, I must say.

    ** Sadly, the ice cream shop (Giffords) was closed when I went by, so I ended up buying a Dunkin' Donuts iced tea and bagel.
    packbat: Headshot looking serious and superimposed on the Gettysburg Address. (gettysburg)
    2010-08-27 10:12 pm

    A Brief Love Letter to Michael Lewis's "Moneyball"

    I wish this was a proper review, but the book came out a good seven years ago - long enough for this to be awfully old news regardless.

    I. Love. Moneyball.

    I would say this, if I were cynical and funny: Moneyball is, ironically enough, a story about how storytelling is deceptive. But it's not true. There is a hint of that feeling when I read it - the story is such a good story that I'd want to believe it if the entire book was lies from cover to cover, and the book does warn against dreaming and making up expectations based on merely what you see - but I would do Michael Lewis an injustice if I said that. The man worked his butt off getting it right, and that dedication shows.

    What is the material? Well, Moneyball is, perhaps, the perfect underdog story: a story about a baseball team (the Oakland Athletics) with a financial payroll tinier than almost any other in a sport where the richest teams spend many multiples more than the poorest ... that sets out to win, with a determination and intelligence that is an inspiration to behold. Moneyball is also a layman's introduction to that intelligence which, long ignored by the very people who would most benefit from it, finally found its instantiation in the Oakland A's: sabermetrics. And Moneyball is a story of this intelligence on this team reaching out to rescue an oddball collection of underrated players and give them the chance to give a bloody eye to the entire baseball establishment that didn't see how good they were.

    And it's a story of how such a thing should ever happen - how mistakes were made and perpetuated and compounded upon, and how the visions found when that fog of confusion was pierced could take so long and strange a journey to where they deserved to play out: on the diamond.

    It's a business book, a sociology lesson, a baseball story, and a hell of a good read. A nearer approach to perfection in nonfiction is rarely seen.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
    2010-08-24 12:43 pm

    STS-124 Launch: Solid Rocket Booster Video+Audio

    Via [personal profile] egypturnash. Video is a bit monotonous for first two minutes, but the wait is worth it.

    packbat: Leaning on a chain-link fence, looking to my left (your right) with a neutral expression. (spectator)
    2010-07-26 10:05 am

    Omegling!

    I think I've come up with a new game for Omegle.

    Stranger: hi
    You: Greetings.
    You: Would you be interested in playing a game?
    Stranger: yeah... what's game?
    You: It's called the imitation game, or the Turing test.
    You: One participant is the interviewer, and the other is either a human or a computer program. )


    Footnote: the imitation game is first described in Computing Machinery and Intelligence, a paper by Alan Turing - an easily-read transcription is available from the Loebner Prize website here.
    packbat: Wearing a open-frame backpack, a pair of sunglasses, and a wide, triangular grin. (hiking)
    2010-07-26 10:04 am

    Austin, Day 8: Departure

    (So, so belated...)

    The morning of our departure was relatively tame. I read more of my Gettysburg book, finished the main body of the work. We went to a Chinese restaurant, Pei Wei, for lunch, finished packing (I'd loaded my bag the previous night), and I played through Wily's castle in Mega Man 2 on Difficult again. I had just made it to the second final boss and figured out how to hurt him when we had to leave for the airport. Ah, machts nichts.

    At the airport, we got through security in minutes and found our gate, where I sat down with the book I had decided on for the plane trip home: Michael Lewis's Moneyball.

    Only five things were permitted to interrupt it. First, I got dinner at a (mediocre) burrito place in the airport. Second, boarding. Third, taking pictures out the window during the flight. Fourth, disembarking. And fifth, finishing it. It was one of the fastest and most engrossing reads I'd opened in some time.

    At home, I saved all my photos to my computer, and am planning to copy them out onto my external hard drive (separate from the automated backups, I mean). Digging through to make a proper album will take a bit (and does anyone know a good free Mac utility for stitching together panoramas?), but that is all to come. Right now, I'm home.

    Okay, not right now, as the location line will tell you, but still.
    packbat: One-quarter view of the back of my head. (quarter-rear)
    2010-07-21 12:36 am

    Austin, Day 7: Wind-down

    First, a quick thing-I-forgot from yesterday: Dad got out a couple of his old board games, including "Dispatcher", for me to look at and maybe take back to Maryland. (Quick aside: by "maybe" I mean "definitely".) Now, "Dispatcher" is a game which is generally not liked, and for good reason: it's got innumerable tiles, rigid and complex synchronized events, randomness, timed events, and a brilliant scoring system involving demerits you cannot possibly avoid. Even as someone who played "Rail Baron" over the board, I find it a bit cumbersome. But I really like it, and would love to make a proper computer version with forecasting and automated movement. (Quick aside: by "make" I mean "have".)

    Anyway, back on track: slow start this morning. There were only two major events I found cameraworthy today: luncheon at Taco Cabana followed by a quick revisit to Fry's for flash memory, and dinner at my uncle's house. It was a relatively pleasant day, but not a lot doing.

    Some highlights:

    • I had a good conversation about how one would write the aforementioned "Dispatcher" computer game on the way up to my uncle's house.
    • I played more Mega Man 2 - enough to find that I'm not quite good enough to make it through Dr. Wily's castle on Difficult. Quickman keeps annihilating me. I will have to wait to discover whether I am right when I suppose that Dr. Wily cannot be beaten on Normal.
    • We drove past an IRS building which had been in a plane crash - a lot of damage to the one side of it.
    • My uncle's house is quite beautiful - up a dangerously steep driveway, mind (there's stains which look like someone punctured their oil pan on it earlier), but open and airy with a great view off the balcony.


    In any case, the flight leaves at 4:15 tomorrow, so we have time to run a small load of laundry to minimize stress on facilities at home.