jrtom: (Default)
(and if I were actually enumerating them.)

While my grumbling hasn't made it to this journal, I've been doing a lot of it recently about (a) how much money we lost when we sold our old house (see the journal entry just prior to this) and (b) how much of a pain it is being to find a house that's big enough, close enough to work, affordable, and possessed of various other qualities we want (like being able to fit our dining room table).

As I said in an email to my dad recently, 'there's a phrase going around the Internet right now which is used to describe problems which, in the grand scheme of things, really aren't that bad: "first world problems". Those are the kind I have.'

To start off with, I have an incredible array of advantages--that are mostly not my doing--that make my life easier every day: I'm tall, male, white, not overweight, and have regular features and a voice that is both fairly low and penetrating when I want it to be. I'm sure I don't even notice all the ways that these things and others smooth my way almost everywhere I go.

I got a good education without having to pay for any of it: my BA was covered by my parents and the graduate school was paid for--with stipends, even!--by various other people and organizations.

I have a job that probably quite a lot of people would give someone else's left arm to get. And I enjoy it, and I think that it's contributing to important and useful work.

I have a smart, funny, attractive, fun, practical, and incredibly supportive wife. I have four kids who are healthy, intelligent, and (I expect) no more trouble than most groupings of kids their age would be. We can afford to let Megan take time off working if we want to. We can eliminate houses from consideration because they're not convenient, or we just don't like them very much.

The likelihood of us getting assaulted or robbed anywhere around here is quite small. We can drink the water and assume that it won't make us sick. We don't have any serious medical problems.

The list goes on.

Heck, if angst over trying to decide between various houses generally costing upwards of half a million dollars isn't a "first world problem", I don't know what is.

So yeah. If I can't make this work, it's my own damned fault.
jrtom: (social scientist)

I haven't entirely decided what I think about what Wikileaks has been doing, but this is an interesting look into, and analysis of, what Assange has been trying to accomplish via these leaks.

Of minor professional interest to me: apparently either Assange is not familiar with the terminology of social networks, or he thinks that his audience isn't (possibly fair). Apparently his strategy is an interesting complement to (or inversion of) the US counterterrorism social-network-based strategy, i.e., attempting to disrupt networks by identifying and removing key actors. Instead, Assange is apparently trying to disrupt the network by making the network itself--that is, the connections that make it something other than a collection of individuals--suspect, or at least less efficient.

EDIT: I do look forward to seeing what David Brin (_The Transparent Society_) has to say about this; I'll be watching http://davidbrin.blogspot.com to see when he posts something.
jrtom: (Default)

The thought-provoking quote:

We’re accustomed to calling the “argument from authority” a fallacy, but in fact, that’s what the vast majority of us have to go on most of the time. Provided you ensure that authority’s authority actually applies to the field in question, it’s as good a strategy as any.

Obviously, when it comes to an argument between trained scientific specialists, they ought to ignore the consensus and deal directly with the argument on its merits. But most of us are not actually in any position to deal with the arguments on the merits.

jrtom: (Default)

Quite the list of intellectual luminaries, each (for the most part) talking about a change in opinion. Reading the whole thing would take (even) me quite a lot of time which I don't have right now. But there's some good stuff in there. Kind of like a series of conversations in a high-octane cocktail party, really.
jrtom: (Default)
Those of you who used to read the now more-or-less moribund MMM (Mind, Machines, and Mathematics--your basic AI/cognitive science/philosophy fare) may remember the discussion we had about an article discussing one Swinburne's argument that the probability that the Resurrection of Jesus took place was 0.97.

Without further editorial comment, I present Prospect Magazine's How should we study religion?, which is an episodic discussion between Daniel Dennett and Richard Swinburne on the subject (and some obvious side-paths).
jrtom: (Default)
In response to "driving past an empty cemetery" (courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] vito_excalibur), I offer the following thoughts, which have been running around in my brain for a few years now.

scampering thoughts )
jrtom: (Default)

Apparently a movie based loosely on the book The Mind's I (edited by Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel Dennett). I'd really like to see this. If anyone has a suggestion for where I might be able to find a copy, please contact me.
jrtom: (Default)
My friend [livejournal.com profile] fdmts wrote a short philosophical essay on AI yesterday. It's interesting stuff. One of the phrases that he used caused me to reflect on the nature of assessments of intelligence and self-awareness, of which the Turing test is probably the most notorious.

Quoting from my comment to his post:

[I'd propose] an interesting inversion of the Turing test: perhaps we could consider a _computer_ to be intelligent and self-aware when it can reliably tell the difference between a person and a computer pretending to be a person . . . I'd argue that intelligent, self-aware beings are the only judges that intelligent, self-aware beings will accept as to what constitutes an intelligent, self-aware being.

Personally, I'm inclined to not try very hard to define "intelligence" as a binary proposition, e.g., "A is intelligent and B is not"; it implies a specific choice of threshold that's really hard to define meaningfully. Long discussions on this have, at least for the time being, brought me around to the conclusion that I'm much more comfortable with relative statements: "A is more intelligent than B in the following sense..." (And "self-aware"? Fugeddaboudit.)

jrtom: (Default)
Make your Own Flamethrower

Like any red-blooded, masculine man of the male gender, I love PVC weaponry. You should too. If the concept of heading on down to the local Home Depot and transforming $100 worth of random pipe bits into a killing machine doesn’t appeal to you, you’re a frikkin' pansy. Also, you’re probably sane and will live significantly longer than I will. Nonetheless you disgust me, and I take comfort in the knowledge that your obituary will be nowhere near as humorous as mine. For those of you who laugh in the face of hypersonic shards of plastic puncturing your spleen, here’s an intimate look at how I’ve kept myself busy for the past week: building a PVC flamethrower.

[livejournal.com profile] fdmts, this one is totally for you.

Arnold's Neighborhood

A somewhat strained but mostly amusing Sesame-Street-themed take on California's current Gubernator. (Courtesy of one of the Democratic candidates for governor.)

The Holodeck Scenario: Part I
The Holodeck Scenario: Part II

David Brin's tongue-in-cheek defense of the notion that we're all living in a simulation...centered on Bush. This one's for any MMM folks that miss our discussions on this topic.

Telemarketer counterscript (PDF)

Brilliant: a script for handling telemarketers. Presumably much like the one they have for handling you. Let the script duels begin!
jrtom: (Default)
Wired: Look Who's Talking

There are, indeed, some conversations that we're not really having about the effects of various technologies on our society. *ponder*
jrtom: (Default)
NY Times: Finding Design in Nature

(I believe that the author, Schönborn, is one of those who had been considered as a possible successor to John Paul II.)

Basically, this is the author's attempt to (as he sees it) set the record straight on this subject, in the light of JP2's 1996 assertion that evolution was "more than just a hypothesis". I find this article distressingly intellectually dishonest and manipulative in several ways.

Zeroth: I'm annoyed that Schönborn chose to bring this up after JP2 was no longer around to clarify his own position. The timing seems awfully convenient in that respect.

First, he says that we should disregard this statement by JP2 because his real teachings had been promulgated 11 years previously. (Because, you know, the Pope can't change his mind.)

Second, the term "neo-Darwinism"--which I'd personally never seen before, ever--is clearly being used to make the theory of evolution as it is currently constituted sound like some untested new-wave theory. *cough*"bullshit"*cough*--that is to say, "this is an underhanded rhetorical device that has no place in a serious discussion".

Third, and overall most disturbing, however, is the claim that the existence of a Deity (always presumed to be the one the Catholic Church approves of, of course) is a necessary conclusion to a rational investigation--and that any theory that does not come to this conclusion is "an abdication of human intelligence". (Among other things, does this not remove the necessity for faith?)

I continue to be stunned by, on the one hand, the Catholic Church's support of scholarship and learning, and on the other, its use of rhetoric and pseudo-logic to support its desired conclusions. *sigh*


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May 2011

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