January 2008

2008 01 31
Double Feature

Posted by in: Dance

A little while ago, I got wind of the New York City ballet’s offer of free tickets for two open dress rehearsals for a new show called Double Feature. The dress rehearsals were yesterday and today for the first and second acts of the show respectively. Yoon and I saw the second act this afternoon. It was great, and I recommend it even to people who don’t go in much for dance.

Double Feature bills itself as an homage to silent film. The first act is a melodrama in the style of a silent film, the second a comedy. The comedy was genuinely funny – Yoon and I laughed quite a bit throughout the entire show. Of course I don’t know a thing about dance, but the choreography struck me as inventive and playful.

So, good stuff. And free! Because it was an open dress rehearsal, they had to stop about four times to go over scenes again, but the audience seemed to be enjoying the show so much I doubt anyone minded much.

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2008 01 30
Recently read: Thomas Schelling’s Micromotives and Macrobehavior

Posted by in: Books

This is a book about the relation between individual behaviour and preference on the one hand and on the other the aggregate outcomes arrived at by collections of individuals acting on various preferences. For a number of reasons, including the fact that individuals in groups often act on preferences that involve the behaviour of other individuals, patterns of behaviour in groups of individuals is often not easily predicted simply by considering individual preferences or behavior. Nor, indeed, can we often easily infer individual preferences simply by looking at larger patterns of group behavior. Schelling’s lucid and enjoyable treatment of this subject considers very simple models for understanding the basic sorts of patterns we find here. Recommended.

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2008 01 29
History comix

From Spencer, by way of Wondermark, artist Kate Beaton has made short comics about 20 historical figures. They’re great and you should go look at them.

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2008 01 29
Control Backspace

Posted by in: Odds and ends

This is embarrassing, but up until about a year ago I didn’t know that hitting the backspace key while holding down the Ctrl key would delete an entire word. Very handy! And holding down the Ctrl key while using the arrow keys moves forward or backward one word at a time, rather than one space. Also handy!

OK, that was probably obvious to everyone else. But I post it here in case there is anyone left in the world who didn’t know it.

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2008 01 26
Kit Fine tribute video

Kit Fine is a philosopher who writes on logic, metaphysics, language, and other issues in a fairly technical way. With that background, I present Kit Fine: Doin it well.

Is Kit Fine hard to read, so we are macho if we read him? Does Kit Fine inspire us to do difficult things by his salubrious example? What is this video trying to tell us? I hope I’m not missing a philosophy joke out of ignorance; I’ll be really embarrassed if I am.

Whatever it is, I’m strangely fascinated.

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2008 01 26
System compatibility, writ large

The NYT had a little blip today about the new freight train service between China and Germany. It’s interesting in itself, and especially so because apparently Russia and Mongolia’s national railroads use a different gauge than the national railroads of China, Germany, Poland and whatever other country the route passes through. So a single train can’t make the journey. They have to unload the freight and re-load it, to transfer between trains that run on the relevant gauges. I love this for reasons I’m having a hard time articulating fully. Giant systems, huge investments of resources and labor and time for their respective countries, where the decisions about the basic specs have huge ramifications, and it would be just a nightmare to fix.

But here’s where the NYT story surpasses itself into infrastructure geek sublimity. Because a similar problem of incompatible gauges has cropped up at other times in history, and the article links to the amazing example of the US southern railroads, which in 1886 converted almost 12,000 miles of track (and all their working trains too) to a different gauge in two days.

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2008 01 26
Fragments discovered at Herculaneum…

…reveal a tiny window onto the oddity of the ancient world. Or maybe, the perpetual oddity of the human world. (I found this linked from Metafilter, more tidbits there on the recovered stuff.)

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2008 01 22

Posted by in: Financial markets

Via Kotke, a fascinating interview with a hedge fund manager.

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2008 01 19
Canadian foreign minister Maxime Bernier caves under pressure, lies


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2008 01 16
The candidates on Missile Defense

Here’s something I’d like to know more about: What do the various U.S. presidential candidates – both Democratic and Republican – have to say about strategic missile defense?  It has long struck me as odd that there’s so little discussion of this initiative, since a) it’s absolutely asinine; and b) it’s incredibly expensive.  After 9/11/2001, I thought that perhaps American politicians would attempt to do the only rational thing, which is scrap the entire program.  But of course when there’s this much money invested in something, it’s apparently too much to ask for people to make sense.  (The only thing you ever needed to know about Rumsfeld’s military transformation project is that it left this program intact.)  Sadly, 9/11/2001 changed nothing.

It seems to me that this issue isn’t a bad test for candidates, since it’s an issue on which there’s an obvious answer (scrap the program), and an obvious downside to giving the obviously correct answer (you piss off everyone with a vested interest in the program).  It would be disappointing, though not surprising, to end up with a U.S. president either too stupid or too timid to give the obviously correct answer on this issue.

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2008 01 15
How policies fit together

Smart people keep writing that the leading Democratic candidates have similar domestic policies, and appear to differ mainly in their foreign policies. In particular, Hillary Clinton seems to be widely (and correctly, I think) viewed as more hawkish and militarily adventurous than Obama. But as I’ve said before, it just doesn’t make sense to say that candidates have similar domestic policies but that their foreign policies are different. If they have different foreign policies, and in particular, if Clinton’s foreign policy is significantly more costly (as I think I would be) than Obama’s, then they surely wouldn’t be able to accomplish the same things domestically. It’s one and the same president trying to get both agendas through, and with finite political and economic resources.

This is not to say that this is a zero sum game. While it seems obvious to me that continuing a costly and unpopular war would seriously damage a president’s ability to move on an ambitious domestic agenda, it’s also obvious that foreign policy successes (like getting out of Iraq), or non-failures, would generate more political capital that a president could use domestically.

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2008 01 11
An open wireless network

Posted by in: Computers, etc., Wireless

This column by super duper security guru Bruce Schneier argues that there’s nothing terribly problematic about leaving your home wireless network open. My first inclination when I set up my wireless network was to leave it open, so long as it wasn’t being abused by neighbours. Like Schneier, I’ve had my ass totally saved in the past because a neighbour left his or her wireless network open, and I wanted to be able to return the favour to the universe. I eventually secured my connection, in spite of the fact that it’s a pain every time a friend comes over with a new laptop, because so many experts seemed to warn against an open network. Schneier does a great job of addressing the basic concerns, so I’m now thinking seriously of switching back to an open wireless network.

By the way, this link in Schneier’s piece is pretty funny.

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2008 01 11
All monotheists are equal, and above others

Via Eszter Hargittai, this report of a court decision that atheists cannot be adoptive parents in New Jersey. It’s now being appealed. The reasoning of the decision as described in that article is transparently loopy. For one thing, it suggests that the state would need take away the biological children of atheist parents, as well. Also [bitter semi-coherent rant about other nutso consequences of this judge’s theory redacted].

One of my students brought a related amazing fact to my attention this past semester. In Maryland, the original state constitution forbade atheists from holding public office. The clause (and similar ones in other state constitutions) were rendered ineffectual by a US Supreme Court decision in 1961, but the text remains in the state’s constitution. Here’s an explanation with details – scroll down to “religious discrimination in state constitutions” and then to “why these clauses are no longer valid”.

This kind of shit fills me with burning fiery anger. I don’t have anything funny to say about, maybe youse guys can come up with something.
(Also, isn’t it odd that fiery is spelled that way, rather than “firey”?)

Howls of outrage (14)

2008 01 10
Yoon in Kingston, Ontario

Posted by in: Music

In case you live in, or know anyone who lives in, Kingston, Ontario, you might be interested in seeing Yoon perform with the Kingston Symphony and the Greg Runions Big Band on Friday, January 18th, 2008. It’s almost all standards: Ray Charles, Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, etc., etc. Should be a fun show. I wish I could make it.

(Yoon isn’t actually listed on the program for some reason. Rest assured that she’s the only singer performing that night. She’ll do about 13 or 14 songs.)

If you want tickets, go here, and then click “Buy your tickets now!” on the left, and then “January,” you’ll see “In the mood – best of the big bands” playing at the Kingston Gospel Temple.

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2008 01 09

Posted by in: Odds and ends

I’ve used FeedDemon (for Windoze) as my RSS aggregator for several years now. I see that it’s now being offered for free, which is a very good deal indeed, since it is one of the only pieces of software on my computer that I was happy to pay for. FeedDemon syncs with a web based rss aggregator, so you can use FeedDemon on your computer at home and then while away the day at work reading from the web based rss aggregator. (I never use this feature, so I’m not recommending this in particular.)

Here’s an account of RSS in case you’re unfamiliar with the concept. (The last few semesters that I’ve taught, I’ve asked students if they knew about RSS feeds, and very few did.) If you’re familiar with the concept, but not convinced it’s an improvement over just clicking on bookmarks, you should really try it.

Howls of outrage (5)