Mon, 27 Feb 2006

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trying a new blog engine

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So I tried this once before but then I lost my admin password and so had to delete the nascent blog (previously at chronos.fatoprofugus.net, which no longer exists), and there are all sorts of things that have kept me from jumping onto the Wordpress bandwagon, which I will go into detail later, but since Dreamhost makes it blindingly easy to install Wordpress, I figured, what have I got to lose but a little precious sleep and a little rarefied sanity. (By the way, don't let the term SQL Server scare you, even though it scared the crap out of me, and is one of the reasons why I've been slow to adopt the newest shiny thing. Just fill in the blanks in semi-random fashion, just making sure that you write things down somewhere. Especially that admin password.)

So without further ado, here is my new blog, although I may not quite abandon this one just yet.

23:01:27 27 Feb 2006 > /meta > permalink > 6 comments

Thu, 23 Feb 2006

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unknown quantity

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This is stupidity at its finest. Richard Cohen decries the necessity of the existence of algebra and uses the old argument that people shouldn't need to learn what they don't want to.

When I think of how far behind the U.S. is when compared to the rest of the world in science and math, it astounds me and indeed pains me grieviously. This gap in itself, unless changed, will probably eventually spell the end of American cultural and economic dominance and hegemony. Nevermind the technological breakthroughs that make our lives unrecognizable not only from the lives of Americans a hundred years ago, but from the lives of Americans just a generation back, the breakthroughs that are the backbone of our prosperity and wealth. Ultimately, what do you think allows us to create weapons of mass destruction that allow us to rule us to world as we see fit? That's right. Science and math. Even designing a gun that won't blow up in your hands requires sophisticated science and math that just probably requires some understanding of algebra. Once America becomes a nation of fat idiots who have to buy their weapons from the French, it's all pretty much over, and that's the trajectory that we're plotting out right now.

Cohen brings up the strawman argument: "It teaches reasoning," said in the same tone of voice one says "It builds character," which everyone knows is code for "this will make your life miserable and won't bring about any material gain for you, but do it anyway and just suck it up." Yes, algebra can cause misery. My introductory Physics class, designed for premeds and biologists, which taught me Classical Mechanics without requiring me to use calculus (go ahead and laugh, all you real physicists, mathematicians, and engineers) was basically just algebra dressed up in vaguely physical terms. (You know, falling in a vacuum, or moving about on frictionless surfaces.) This class once caused me to go on a book-ripping, pencil-breaking, screaming-and-yelling rampage and (along with the subsequent semester of Electromagnetism, again without calculus) caused me to realize my intellectual limitations. Yes, algebra teaches reasoning. But it teaches a very specific and, to my mind, exquisitely useful form of reasoning that helps me in more mundane everyday tasks like, oh, figuring out how much to tip, or how much money I'll end up paying the banks for all the debts that I've incurred, or how much I'm going to have to pay in taxes. I bet you that even you folks who thought algebra really sucked and was completely worthless can do these essential tasks (essential at least in a capitalist society) Well guess what, you're probably using some algebra and you didn't even know it. (Or maybe you're not. Maybe you're just going through life spending money you don't really have. Maybe you're wondering how the hell your accountant came up with such a ridiculously small or absurdly large sum. Well, folks, maybe this might be why your credit rating stinks and why the banks won't let you buy a house.)

But I'm not going to go into how algebra makes balancing your check book, creating a budget, calculating compound interest, or figuring out how much money you saved at the department store sale a hell of a lot easier. Even if you use Quicken or Excel and think that the computer is doing all the thinking, it's really not. I'm going to talk about something more esoteric: the concept of the Unknown Quantity.

Computers don't really know how to deal with the Unknown Quantity. The only reason why it seems like they do is because most of us can do basic algebraic operations without realizing that that's what we're doing, and this allows us to pose the question to the computer in a form it can answer. But again, I'm not really going to go into that.

Everybody probably remembers good old x. This was pretty much the avatar of the Unknown Quantity. And what good is the Unknown Quantity? It lets us solve problems even when we don't have all the information at hand. This is an extremely powerful tool, and while most of us use it on a practical basis without necessarily writing out the algebraic equations, this is basically what algebra is.

I don't know. Maybe there really are people out there who can't deal with the Unknown Quantity. Religious fundamentalists and diehard ultraconservatists come to mind. But I can't really understand what this would be like. To need to have every bit of information at hand before you can act. To not be able to conceive that there may very well be something we don't know lurking out there, which can either be a boon or a deadly hazard. The concept of x allows us to go about our lives while taking the vast uncertainties of our lives into account. To not understand the Unknown Quantity is a supreme failure of the imagination.


OK, maybe I over-simplify. You need at least algebra and the concept of limits.

I remember the first time I saw this, I thought it was magical: lim x→∞ 1/x = 0

Basically there are tricks you can use to make uncertainty perturb your vision only slightly, or maybe even cancel out completely. But I digress.

23:34:57 23 Feb 2006 > /sophistry > permalink > 4 comments

Fri, 17 Feb 2006

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interim

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I don't understand it. My brain is, I think, locking up on me. Or I'm just getting old or something. It's terrible.

One thing I've noticed is that I don't have the patience to figure out subtlety. Not that I was ever one to appreciate subtlety. As many have pointed out, I'm probably the stupidest smart guy they've ever met, and sometimes you need to come at me with a large blunt object to get the point across.

But I miss, mostly, the joy of crafting subtlety. It takes something like it to write, certainly, poetry, but really, it takes something like it to write at all. I vaguely recall some joy in being able to tease out the exact words I want, being able to arrange them in particular phrase and sentence structures.

Maybe it's because my job involves the dreaded task of "documentation." Indeed, I do need to exercise a certain amount of descriptive exactness. The task of finding the correct adjective simply becomes another chore, not something I can do at leisure until I get it exactly right. Most of the time, I am forced to use approximations, of using words that are "good enough," usually just barely.

As I've anticipated, "documentation" has made some parts of writing excruciatingly tedious.

I suppose that it was a double-edged gift that I realized that I still needed to exercise precision in my words. While writing poetry and prose, this is much of what I like about it, but in writing these utilitarian notes, it just becomes another odious task. It's terrible.

Anyway, the other thing (if you haven't noticed yourself on reading this ramble) is that I realize that I've really lost my control of being able to keep my thoughts in order. If I reflect upon the past week, if not the past month, I feel like I've just been staggering like a drunkard from task to task, no dedicated, sustained rhyme or reason in anything I'm doing. Like, I brought with me all these maps that I wanted to work on, or something. It was never really clear what I was going to do with these things. But I haven't done much. I started, but then it didn't grab me like sometimes these things do.

I don't remember the last time I was engrossed in an activity.

Sad.

One other thing that has happened is that I have become rampantly and perhaps morbidly anti-social. I have not returned a phone-call for nearly a week now. I haven't gotten in touch with friends I said that I would visit. Jesus, what the fuck is wrong with me?

My vacation is more than half-way over (although, in all fairness, a good chunk of it was spent getting over illness) and, to put it quite simply and bluntly, I haven't done jack shit.

20:42:06 17 Feb 2006 > /soul > permalink > 6 comments

Wed, 15 Feb 2006

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oww my brain

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to quote The Comic Book Guy: "Oh, I've wasted my life."

Your Brain's Pattern
Your mind is an incubator for good ideas, it just takes a while for them to develop.
But when you think of something, watch out!
Your thoughts tend to be huge, and they come on quickly - like an explosion.
You tend to be quiet around others, unless you're inspired by your next big idea.
What Pattern Is Your Brain?

found onJ's post on myspace.com

22:28:19 15 Feb 2006 > /blog-bites/quizilla > permalink > 4 comments

Tue, 07 Feb 2006

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neverending

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It's been several days since I've gotten a decent night's sleep, what with this irritating non-stop cough. I caught the cold or maybe the flu about a month ago—the whole nine-yards—runny nose, congested sinuses, fever, muscle aches. As expected, that got better in about a week, but ever since then, I've just been coughing and coughing and coughing. It's gotten to the point where my chest muscles are actually sore, and I don't think I've slept more than 2 hours in row uninterrupted until today, and that's only because I was completely exhausted. (On Monday, I had woken up at 4:30 am, didn't go to sleep until about 1:30 am, then had to get up around 3:30 am today. I didn't go to sleep until 11 am today.)

But I feel like there's been a ton of stuff running through my head. I feel like I have a million and a half things to do and no where near the amount of time off that I'd like. (I get two weeks off from work starting Thursday.) There are so many things I'd like to work on.

But enough whining. I think I'm going to just call it a day and try again tomorrow.

23:06:30 7 Feb 2006 > /soul > permalink > 0 comments