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My ideas are constantly changing as I learn. Sometimes they even change midway through writing a post.

Saturday, December 31

Living Consciously

As usual during the end of a year, I am thinking about what I've done this year and what I want to do next year and preparing for my ritual of writing out my goals for the next year. I don't know why I keep doing it every year. I rarely look at them again until the next year. It's amusing to see what I wrote the year before and think about whether I've accomplished them. I'd like this year's ritual to be a bit more meaningful for the rest of the year, but I'm not sure how to accomplish that.

I'm wondering if the problem is that I usually have some rather general goals - like exercising more and eating healthier or listening more to people or being more selective about the information I share with others. Oddly, even though I've completely forgotten them by the next year, I often find that I have indeed made progress on some of them - at least on the "spiritual" type things. It's the more physical things that I don't seem to accomplish. Maybe physical things need to be more explicit. Maybe, also, I need to have fewer of them. I forget them if there are too many.

One year, I tried to map out monthly goals for the year. Of course, I didn't look at them much after that, but I keep thinking about it. It seems like it would be better to have shorter term goals that work towards the longer term ones. Maybe I could have some resolutions like - "Set and accomplish a new goal each month." I could have one for different areas - physical well being, family relationships, community/political. That seems complicated. Maybe I could choose a goal in such a way that it would improve things in all areas or multiple areas at once. Like "Exercise for 30 minutes at least 3 times a week with family and neighbor".

Well, I'm off to ponder my resolutions a bit more, but first, a side note:

A friend recently shared a few links to articles about prioritizing and procrastinating. I hope to comment on them more later, but I'll just share them for now:

The 50-30-20 Rule


Religion - A Closed System

An old post from September 30, 2005 that I never got around to finishing or publishing...

I've often been told that Buddhism is an atheistic belief system. I've been very skeptical of this claim. The information I've come across seemed to contain a fair amounts of mysticism. I'd love to find a "mostly good" system of belief that was fixable (open).


... If one attains mystical insight by divine intervention (which the Buddhists call Jhana), it is likely to result in a closed system of thought, meaning a system that claims to possess all the necessary knowledge for proper conduct of life. These systems naturally tend to be dogmatic, for who would have the temerity to question the divine?

Buddhism teaches that there are two distinct types of knowledge (vidyas): "Lower" knowledge, or knowledge acquired through the intellect and "higher" knowledge, or that acquired through intuition. This is a special, insightful kind of seeing that the Mahayana Buddhists call prajna; it claims to penetrate into the very nature of existence. Through prajna, the Buddhist hopes to attain insight into reality that would not be obtainable by reason.


There is probably another term for this, but I don't feel like looking it up right now. I'm thinking of the ways people have of making those they disagree with seem irrational, purposely bad, of assigning the worst intentions they can think of to them. I think some people call it "demonizing". I think people can get caught up in it without intending to.

I'm often amazed by how quickly people can let go of it when face to face with a real person who they would have previously demonized. I'm also amazed at how some people can't seem to let go of it even when a decent person is staring them in the face.

What things can be done to prevent that tendency in oneself and others?

Friday, December 30


I wrote this a while back but I haven't posted it because it seems pretty hypocritical. I've finally decided to take the risk. Sometimes, I think a bit of hypocrisy may be the first step in self improvement. Then again, looking at the definition, I'd say that pointing out the flaws of others while NOT pretending that I don't share those flaws isn't hypocrisy...

I hate dealing with nasty people - the ones who spend large amounts of time criticizing and picking out the faults of other people and proclaiming their opinion as if it's absolute truth and anyone who thinks otherwise is obviously lazy and stupid. I've written about this before, but I wonder whether such people are so critical of themselves. If they are, it's generally not obvious.

Oh sure, they may pick out certain of their more minor flaws here and there to admit to, but what amazes me is the capacity of such people to continue doing the things they're complaining about. Are they really so blind to their own faults? Could they be more sensitive to those faults? I sometimes find myself being especially critical of others when I am feeling bad about something I myself have done wrong. Do they just keep talking about others to keep from thinking about their own faults?

Then there are the people, sometimes the same ones, who criticize others for NOT doing what they do. Nevermind that they've royally screwed up and made a lot of people miserable in the process - so long as they can maintain their self image by finding the flaws in others.

I admit it, I've been a nasty person. I've done all those things. I've been a wacko environmentalist, lefty socialist, breastfeeding NAZI, a homeschooling NAZI, a weird sort of Objectivist, right-wing, libertarian nazi, and a TCS NAZI. I've written lengthy emails and had heated debates about the evils of big government, of public schools, of conventional parenting, etc. There is hardly a view that I hold now that I didn't once despise. I used to hate reading my old writing because it seemed so judgemental and silly and wrong-headed. But I was just bothered that I was mistaken, it didn't stop me from writing more of the same - just with different opinions. At least not for a long time.

I think one of the worst things I've done was listen to people who were really full of hot air and didn't know what the hell they were talking about. I'm really pissed about myself about that. Sometimes I feel angry at those people, but really, it's not their fault if I listened. I could always avoid them - wear ear plugs, avoid reading their writings. Still, I have a hard time with that idea. I never know where new knowledge might come from. If it's uncomfortable, it might have some hard-hitting truths. Then again, there's a lot of truth to be known and it doesn't have to all be uncomfortable. I can always take it a little at a time.

One aspect to this flaw of mine is the tendency to think that someone who sounds confident might be closer to right. It's likely false. The appearance of confidence could be due to an ignorance of reasons to have doubts, sometimes even a deliberate refusal to explore those reasons. Sometimes it can be a sign of fear.

I think my writing has changed. I quit for a long time because I was ashamed of the old stuff, and I didn't really have anything to offer. I suppose I could rattle off some of my mistakes, point out the boobie traps and potholes that some might encounter, but then it seems like most of what I experience is unique to me. Other people don't fall for them and probably think me rather silly for not knowing better. Then again, I'm always amazed at the mistakes other people make that seem so "obvious" to me.

The biggest threat to freedom - guns or government?

I've been puzzling over this recently. It seems that proponents of gun control either have a certain amount of trust in government that opponents don't or aren't bothered by the idea of having less freedom. Or maybe they're more worried that Joe neighbor's going to do something dangerous. Freedom, might reasonably presume freedom from the concern that they're likely to be harmed by Joe neighbor's gun. One isn't actually very "free" if one is constantly worrying that other community members may arbitrarily shoot you.

Take all the guns away, though, and we're left with knives and fists. Basically, anyone weaker is at risk from anyone stronger - women and children really. A gun could be an equalizer, but then again, it carries risks too. I thought about carrying one when Texas passed the concealed carry law, but then I wondered how practical it would actually be.

What if junior wants me to jump in the pool with him? Do I leave my weapon with my stuff and hope some other child (or adult) doesn't accidently set it off? Do I leave it behind anytime I might be going to a pool? What if we decide to go to the library? Any other building where it's not allowed? What if I just get tired of carrying all my stuff and want to put it down for a sec? What if I forget an leave my purse in a bathroom? (I haven't done that since I was a teenager, but it could happen).

Maybe carrying isn't so practical for women with children. Keeping weapons at home might be. Except, for the safety of the children, it's suggested you keep the weapons and ammo separate and locked. How quickly can you go and unlock two separate lock boxes, put them together, and be prepared to defend yourself? What if you're extremely nearsighted and need a few extra seconds to find your glasses? Personally, I've heard of more people shooting themselves or murdering others than I've heard of them protecting themselves. I think statistically, though, guns often do get used to protect innocent people.

One thing I do enjoy about guns is sport shooting (on the rare occasions I have time and money for it) . I have difficulty even allowing a bug to die by my hand, so I shoot at paper and metal animals only.

Despite shaking like a leaf every time I held a gun(worrying that somehow I'd blow my leg off or let go of the gun in the recoil because of that bizarre position I used for IHMSA), I found I had a certain amount of natural talent.

Then one day, as an adult, I tried standing to shoot. Wow! I still shook a bit just because I don't have much in the way of arm strength, but it was great fun. Much more control over the recoil and since the targets were closer, it was much easier to hit them. It'd be fun someday to practice more and see how I do.

I still get a little misty eyed at the smell of gun cleaner. I loved watching my father carefully take his guns apart and clean them. I love mechanical things. I used to enjoy looking through his digests and magazines that explained how guns worked. I don't remember much of it anymore, just that the firing pin thing hits a primer, the primer explodes and ignites the gun powder, building up lots of heat and gas and pushing the bullet out of the cartridge - or something like that. As a kid, I really wanted one of those "real working motors" that had a see-through case. I'd point to it every year in the Sears catalog. It was too expensive, though, so I never got one.

I used to love reading the bits about Laura's Pa in "Little House in the Big Woods". He had a black powder gun. I think that's all there was back then. He put in the powder and a little round bullet and maybe some other stuff directly in the barrel. I think he could preload two shots like that. After that, if he didn't hit whatever it was, it was pretty much all over for him. I imagined him facing a bear, knowing it was likely hit or die. There's a story like that in the book.

I love looking at guns in museums. Reusable catridges and revolvers must have seemed so amazing. "Pa" would have been a lot safer carrying one of them. Then again, they'd kill a lot more people in a war, too.

Still, most people don't know all that much about them. My father had a strict rule about never pointing one at anything you didn't intend to shoot. He also said "a gun is always loaded". Basically, he meant always treat one like it's loaded. Not everyone seems to know those rules. I've been around adults who were pretty scary in their handling of guns. They don't think about or maybe don't know about all the unloaded guns that have killed people.

To a seasoned user of guns, the required "training" and testing seems a bit silly, but after witnessing the risky behavior of some adults, I can see a certain sense in them. No class can teach a person to have good judgement, but it might help.

I think the biggest reason some people oppose gun control is that they see guns as a last defense against big oppressive government. I'm not sure what to make of that argument anymore. I don't think the typical guns Americans are "allowed" to own by government are going to do much to protect them from oppression. We saw that in Waco. I'm not defending the Branch Davidians - I think they were pretty nutty really and a danger to the community.

I'm just saying that even with all they had on hand, they didn't stand a chance. They only lived as long as they did because our own government held back - out of concern for their own lives and the lives of the children and innocents in the compound and, most importantly, because going in and killing people recklessly would have got them in big trouble with the American people.

What type of hypocrit are you?

The Psychology of Hypocrisy gives an interesting analysis of the different types of hypocrits and what he thinks is the best approach to morality. Essentially, he concludes that truth is a primary. Seek it and do your best to live by it. Better to mess up and know it and keep trying to be improve than to change your beliefs away from truth to avoid being a hypocrit. Of course, it's even better not to be true in thought, words, and deeds.

Thursday, December 29

A comment on War and Anti-War

Kit said...
According to this article we are a third of the way there to equalling the 300,000 deaths Saddam buried in mass graves and it's only taken us a single year. We've destabilized an entire country and reduced the rights of women, forcing them to wear burkas where they haven't had to do so before. Further, we did all this not to remove Saddam but on the lying pretence that we would find weapons of mass destruction. If you feel the war is justified now, or that anti-war believers are short-sighted, then how long will it be justified for? Is avenging the death of 300,000 worth the death of 100,000? 200,000?

I never mentioned revenge. I mentioned stopping killing and that it might be right to kill some to stop the killing of many. Revenge is a different concept - the idea that a person should have "consequences" imposed on him that are somehow equal to his wrongdoing. I don't see the point in that and it seems likely to be a wrong idea.

I was criticizing the idea that being anti-war on principle makes sense or at the least just flatly not understanding it. Whether any particular war, including the Iraq war, should be fought is another matter. I don't think crunching numbers is a reliable way to decide what to do, but it does seem like relevant information to consider. One way I don't think to decide it, though, is to decide beforehand that wars should never be fought. I'm not excluding the possibility that it could be true, I'm just not assuming it. I would need a lot better information than I've had so far to come to that sort of conclusion.

The question is whether killing 100,000 or 200,000 will prevent the deaths of 300,000 more people or perhaps allow the freedom of millions more. I don't really know the answer to that. From what I've been reading (granted I'm barely touching the tip of the iceberg of information about it), it seems that Saddam's rate of killing had subsided before our recent invasion. I don't know why it subsided. That would be important to know when forming an opinion about the morality of the situation. I definitely have my doubts about it all. I haven't seen much yet about the "freedom" or lack of it currently in Iraq. There's no guarantee that "Democracy" will protect the rights of everyone. People don't always vote in ways that enhance freedom and rights. Dictators are sometimes more benevolent than "the people".

How does getting revenge for those deaths Saddam caused help the world, especially given that we helped him with financial and military assistance before we put him in power?

Again, the concept of revenge isn't something I have advocated. Of course, I would be opposed to giving aid to someone who we know intends to murder a lot of innocent people. On the other hand, what to do once the harm has been done is another matter. If the choice remaining is to continue to allow Saddam to murder innocent people or stop him from doing so, then it still might be right to stop him. As to what should be done to stop American governments from making such mistakes, I don't know. The presidents who gave him financial and military assistance are no longer in power. Perhaps they should be tried as criminals or ways of preventing such events in the future should be looked at. Saddam, on the other hand, was still in power.

Is it justified for us to do this when we don't have support from the UN or the rest of the world?

I've not been very impressed with the UN so far. Granted, I have much to learn about them and the world. From what I understand, multiple European countries were continuing to rely on Iraqui oil and helped to support Saddam and oppose our intervention there. I'm disgusted with the whole group.

Ah, but right, whoever is alive in however many years it takes us to get out and give the Iraqi's whatever is left of their country will surely, of course, be much better off when we're done. Frankly, I think that hanging your justification of the war on numbers is a bad idea. Remember that a lot of people who are currently anti-war are simply anti-this war, for a number of reasons -- it's not an either or position, necessarily.I also think your civil war example is erroneous as it assumes there were only two options -- continuing slavery or a civil war. While I feel differently about that war than the current one (it was, after all, a US-US or US-former US conflict, rather than the US going to attack another country) I don't think we have any way of knowing how history would have gone without a war.
12:56 PM

I agree, I don't think number crunching is a good way to determine whether a particular war is a good idea. I meant to clarify that in the first post. I thought of it because many anti-Iraq war and many generally anti-war sites have counters with numbers of dead (generally in the thousands but not hundreds of thousands) and I was genuinely shocked by the sheer number of dead due to Saddam. Then I read about the numbers of dead because of the US (possibly 100,000). 300,000 is a low estimate for Saddam. I've seen numbers as high as 1 or 2 million. Possibly the numbers for the US are higher too.

I also agree that we don't know what might have happened with slavery had war not taken place. The south would have been a separate country. Maybe it would have crumbled while the North would have become stronger and abolished slavery willingly. Maybe the North could have allowed freedom to all slaves who made it to their borders. Still, certainly lots of people who were slaves at the time would have continued to be slaves for some amount of time afterwards. I'm doubtful that there would be even the degree of equality there is in the south now for African Americans (however racist it still is now, it's improved a lot in some areas).

I don't see why it matters whether it was US-US or US-other country. If it's right to intervene on behalf of innocent people, it doesn't matter what country they're in. The details might be an indication of whether it will be the best way to proceed but I don't think it's a good reason to avoid action in itself.

Crunching Numbers and the meaning of peace

Human rights groups estimate that more than 300,000 people were killed and buried in mass graves during Saddam's 23-year rule.

I'm ashamed to say that this is news to me. I'm still playing catch up on the history of Iraq and the Kurds. I knew Saddam was responsible for many deaths during his reign, but I wasn't aware that the deaths numbered in the hundreds of thousands - or even millions.


That's more than half the population of the city where I live. I've been asking myself...

Would I die to save 300,000 people?
Would I kill?
How many would I be willing to kill? A few? A hundred? Thousands?

Would you?

I liked the way this article expresses what I've been thinking lately about the idea of pacifism and "peace" and being anti-war. I don't think it makes sense to be anti-war. It may seem like a choice for "peace" and for the protection of lives, but it isn't. It's an active choice to stand idly by while innocent people are killed. Worse, it's opposing people who aren't ok with standing by. Sometimes one has to choose the least worst from unpleasant choices. Risk killing some to prevent the deaths of many more and hopefully open the way to freedom or stand by and leave people to be killed and oppressed.

The US Civil War was much the same. It doesn't matter "why" the war was fought in some ways. The results were a lot of deaths and increased freedom for a huge group of people. Would it have been better to not have a Civil War and continue allowing slavery? To save thousands of lives? To grant African American people immediate equal rights with whites?

I'm saying this with the belief that most anti-war people are very decent and nice and really don't want to see hundreds of thousands of people killed. I just don't understand what their values are. Is not killing more important than freedom? Than living?

War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention

The next questions in my ongoing attempt to understand the situation - is the Iraq war really a humanitarian intervention? Should "reformed" dictators be allowed to remain in control of a country?

Tuesday, December 6

The Piano Lesson Theory

For over a decade now, I've attempted to understand what it means to respect autonomy (childrens' and adults'), to avoid coercing others, to figure out common preferences, and to help children (and myself and others) learn and grow.

Still, I haven't been able to completely convince myself that the TCS definition of it makes sense (see sidebar for links to more information on Taking Children Seriously) or that if the definitions used there are correct, that coercion can't be a good thing.

I still tend to have a gut level negative feeling toward coercion at times, but it's not consistent.

The piano lesson theory seems like a good illustration of the issues I'm trying to understand.

I've heard it said many times from people who force their children to take piano lessons and practice for them that they want their children to see the benefits of studying something long term. Even if it's not fun at first, they will improve over time. They may quit playing for a while after lessons are discontinued, but eventually, they'll come back to it and enjoy being good at it and glad for being made to learn it. Some people don't even go that far. They had to take lessons and are themselves glad they learned and love music and want their children to be able to appreciate it too.

Why stop with piano? What if you had your child work for 30 minutes per day on each of a variety of things? Writing fiction? Gardening? Swimming? Drawing? Accounting? Singing? Many people already have their children working on Math, History, Science, and English. Would it be better to pick just one subject to force study on just
to "teach" them the benefits of studying something even if they don't particularly enjoy it at first and leave all the rest to the child? Which subject? How important is it to be good at any of those things? At any one thing?

What about giving your child a list of possible areas to choose from? "You have to learn 3 things, you have one month to make your selection or I'll pick them." Imagine trying to choose 3 topics that you will then be forced to study for 30 minutes a day. I sounds awful to me. Then again, it's only 1.5 hours out of 16 or so hours that I'm awake per day.

Of course, the problem isn't just about how much of a child's time is being taken up, it's about the idea of forcing to learn something against his will. Is it ever good to do that to anyone?

Sometimes, I think it's the "best" option available - in order to protect other people from harm.

Thursday, December 1

Got Morality?

Do you wear it like a milk mustache? Something that wipes off?

Do you do the right things only when someone else might know or do you do it out of a personal commitment to doing the right thing?

Someone, my friend curi, I think, once said that moral principles are an approximation of true morality. Are they?

I don't know, but it reminds me of calculus. I think of calculus as a type of math that tries to make approximations of "physical" reality. I wonder what a moral equation would look like.

If moral principles may fail to offer useful guidance at critical points, what use are they then?

If a parent tends to be right about what a child should do but misses sometimes, it might be best to risk missing sometimes rather than miss a lot by going along with the child's view of what's right. But is the parent really right more of the time? Is being right more of the time a valid reason for forcing a child to act according to the parents wishes? Is having the "best" answer necessary to be right? Suppose the parent is simply "right enough" to keep Johnny alive and learning. Is that good enough?

If a society has generally agreed that parents should force their children (if necessary) to comply with certain expectations about civility, does a parent have the right to do otherwise?

If a loan officer puts down false information about you on your application for a mortgage, what are your obligations to yourself? Society? Do you find another agent? Call up the company and complain? Call up a government agency to complain? Tell all your friends so they can avoid this person? Do you go along with applying because "most" officers do it?

Tuesday, November 15

The Power of Evil (Comment on Turning the Other Cheek)

Sherilyn said...
My understanding of the "Turn the other cheek" passage is that it is about not allowing evil to have control over you. If some one asks you for your shirt and you give him your coat too, you have taken control over the situation through charitable will and you have not accepted evil to have power over you.

It's interesting to me that the comment seems to be more focused on the person turning the other cheek (cheeker). I had been thinking almost entirely about the person to whom the other cheek is turned (cheekee).

My initial reaction to the comment, while focused on the cheekee, was that it essentially aided evil. Now instead of the "evil" person having a shirt, he has a coat AND he has approval and support for his wrongdoing.

However, I misread it. I was thinking that it was a person who took your shirt. If someone asks, then the meaning is changed significantly. It has more to do with being generous. I'm not sure if this was what was intended originally. I suppose it doesn't much matter. What matters is understanding the best way to be. The idea of generosity strikes me as perhaps more important than the particular wording.

Being generous with a person who is hurting you can have varying effects. It could encourage them to continue harming you and others since it seems to bring them acceptable results. It could encourage them to follow your example and be generous themselves. It could result in a mixed reaction - a person who continues to be "greedy" and also sometimes generous.

It depends on the individual. If one is dealing with a random stranger, then maybe it is right to give the person the benefit of the doubt and treat him generously. Some people, though, seem unresponsive to generosity.

It has been suggested to me that perhaps such a person "needs" more (generosity). How do you tell whether a person needs more or "needs" some other kind of help? What if they need more than you have to give?

I like the idea of not letting evil have control over you, but it strikes me as being a bit self-centered and "prideful" (often considered to be undesireable moral traits). "It doesn't matter what the other person does, I will be good." So? What of it? Doesn't one deserve to feel good about being good? Or does it take the focus off connecting with and helping someone else? Maybe what helps isn't always generosity?

Ah well. I can see I'm not going to come to conclusions about this just yet.

Monday, November 7

Around Austin - Part I

Although I have lived in the Austin area all of my life (except for a short time before I was 2 years old), but I hadn't been inside the Capitol building since I was a kid. I've walked around on the grounds since then but somehow never made it inside...

A friend came in from out-of-town a few weeks ago, so I took advantage of it as an opportunity to finally make it inside. The building itself wasn't terribly exciting, but I had a great time taking pictures and wandering around looking at things inside. I think it's cool that the building is made of "pink" granite.

I browsed the gift shop and found a nifty packet of seeds for red bluebonnets. Weird, I know. I'm curious to see how they turn out. I've always had a special fondness for bluebonnets, roses, and daisies. Roses - my grandma would often (and still does) take me outside to help tend her plants and look at her roses. She has a contagious enthusiasm for them. Daisies - I remember my father giving me a bunch when I was a little girl. We were very close then and they remind me of that feeling of being loved. I don't have any particularly special memories of bluebonnets, but this is Texas. They're part of the symbolism of the Texas attitude of independence, self-reliance, and friendliness. Plus, I just love the idea of a blue flower.

The only problem with the red ones is that I'll have to be careful about putting them too close to my true bluebonnets. It seems blue is dominant and the red will eventually cross pollinate with them and become blue after some generations. It's a bit disappointing because I think the red and blue mixed together will be lovely, but I don't want to have to keep re-planting the red ones. Then again, up until now, I didn't know red ones existed.

Tuesday, November 1

Turning the Other Cheek

Thinking about the previous post has me thinking about this particular idea. I wasn't sure where it came from, so I looked it up and found that it was said in different ways in different religions:

You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Christianity. Matthew 5.38-41

I had thought that turning the other cheek meant something like "looking the other way". It goes beyond that, though. It suggests that if someone does something wrong to you, you should give him the opportunity to do even more to you. If he takes something, then you should offer him even more.

Even more surpising to me is the idea is that the wrongdoer will be punished more fully if no punishment has been given out by people. In a sense, then, the advice is to heap revenge upon the wrong person by refusing to punish him and therefore lessen the punishment he'll receive from God. The benefit to the victim is being rewarded by God and also learning the virtue of patience.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals upon his head."
17.Christianity. Romans 12.19-20


This idea doesn't work so well if you don't believe in an all-powerful God to unleash vengence on evildoers. Is there a rational reason for turning the other cheek?

The Moon the Klan Plan

The KKK is coming to town. Of course, there are folks planning a peaceful counter demonstration. One group is planning to moon the klan.
I'm tempted...

Friday, October 28

Election - Proposition 2 and the rest

I got an email this morning reminding me to vote for Proposition 2:

"The constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage."

I have been meaning to vote early against it, but I've been putting it off until I could read the other propositions and develop some sort of informed opinion about them. Sometimes I get out to vote and there are propositions that I'm pretty clueless about.

In the past, I've just done my best to muddle through reading them and vote. I think it might be better to just skip those. I think more people should consider skipping items they don't know much about. Of course, it would be better if more people informed themselves before voting, but at the least, it seems right to leave making those decisions to people who have more knowledge about them.

In the email, there was some additional stuff about the opposition planning to defraud the election by having people come in from out of state and register. I was skeptical, but I replied that I appreciated the reminder, intend to vote against it, am concerned that someone would attempt to defraud the election, and that although there are some unscrupulous people on both sides, hopefully the majority aren't like that. As it turns out, a little research quickly revealed that the fraud attempts were a rumor (according to representatives of both sides). Like I said, hopefully the majority of people aren't so unscrupulous. If only they'd be a bit more skeptical before passing along information...

Tuesday, October 25

Thought and Action

I've noticed two aspects lately to writing consistently. One, of course, is actually writing out thoughts. The other is reading or more generally "exploring and information gathering". It seems like I have tended to do lots of one or the other at any particular time. In the last few months, I was trying to do a bit of each, but I think the balance went toward more writing and less research or just less good research. I've been too busy to do much of either for the last few weeks, so I feel particularly lacking in inspiration.

I have plenty of questions as usual. They seem to be the best way of getting my thinking going. I'll attempt some answers as well...

Why do some people get into criticizing idealism and come out sounding like pragmatists?

I'm guessing that the people aren't actually "pragmatists". By pragmatist, I tend to mean a person who has no regard for ideas, intelligence. So-called pragmatists do believe in some "ideas", just also a lot of physical action or "testing" of those ideas as opposed to analyzing and criticizing them without so much testing.

What does "action" mean?
I associate action with physical movement. I don't think it's just "any" kind of movement though. I think acting presupposes having some idea as to what one wants to accomplish. It also involves having some idea as to how to accomplish it.

I think there are few true idealists. Very few people survive without taking some action. Even breathing is an action. Eating is a conscious action. I'm thinking a pragmatist would mean the latter and not be generally concerned with remembering to breathe.

I think people can't really escape thinking or acting, and it's really a matter of each individual thinking and acting as well as possible.

An action might involve talking or writing out ideas. Moving ones lips and tongue and breathing are actions. Using a pen or touching the keys of a typewriter are actions. By themselves, they might not be enough to survive on, but other people may find the ideas useful and even be willing to act to support people who come up with those useful ideas. It's a matter of specialization - hopefully an optimal arrangement of specialization.

Human kind benefits overall from people specializing in different areas - whether actions, ideas, or just particular kinds of actions and ideas. I could go on exploring about this a lot longer - especially exploring the subject of "testing" and "creativity", but then I'd be neglecting the keyboarding type actions which tend to result in my making money...

Wednesday, October 12

The Egg Came First

For a long time I've thought this was a misleading question:
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

It implies that first there was "nothing" and then an egg or a chicken just appeared out of nowhere. I believed some "almost chickens" got together and through some sort of mutation created an egg that then produced a chicken. I didn't think very carefully about it, so I confused the question with how the first bird came to be. I think that was from some "almost birds" mating and mutating and producing the first bird egg. The thing I wonder is how did the first egg come to be?

Friday, October 7

What good is fiction? Comments

Art (including music and fiction) isn't just a luxury. You can't live on it forever, but it can make you want to keep living even when there's no food or shelter or you are missing other important things in your life. Art can inspire.

In response to my post on the good of fiction.

Todfox said...
A short story by Theodore Sturgeon convinced a young Spider Robinson (also destined to write science fiction) not to commit suicide. If fiction can have that kind of impact it has a place in the world. 3:39 AM

MC said...
The fine arts give me a sense of enrichment to my life. If there was no literature, no music, no dramatic arts, no paintings to admire etc., my life would consist of work and little else.

I don't particularly like the idea that my purpose in life is to survive from one day to the next, and pass my genes from one generation to the next.

I appreciate the finer things in life. I enjoy the few moments I have when I might be on a peaceful walk, and I can admire how wonderful the world is.

I like this last part. I like being alone (or with people) at times and just enjoying the moment. I don't know whether that translates to art or fiction.

Maybe the arts are an elaborate way of enjoying the moment. It seems like it can also be, when taken to extreme, a way of avoiding reality. Sometimes reality is so bad that temporary or even long-term avoidance can be a good thing. Sometimes avoiding it, though, can keep one from taking actions to make things better.

Sadly, I don't think many people have an appreaciation for the finer arts. My employer has no idea what consitutes good art, or good music. I might be putting my foot in my mouth when I postulate that his feelings on the fine arts are that they are a waste of time and effort. All he sees is the bottom line, and if he took five minutes of his time to listen to a song, that would be five minutes that he could have been making money.
I often think this way. It's not about money for me, exactly, beyond an amount to have some basic comforts but just the feeling that there's lots to do and not much time. If I spend a lot of time reading a novel, I haven't spent time playing with my kids, interacting with other people I care about or doing practical, useful things for them or myself. There are a lot of things that are important, and I'm wondering how high on the list fiction and art should really be.

It could be entirely possible that greed has squashed the public's appreciation of the finer things in life. It also doesn't help that commodities such as food, fuel, and other items neccessary for survival, cost more than they ever have in history. 1:57 PM
I don't know whether appreciation is squashed or not developed in the first place. I must admit, I fall asleep listening to classical music. I enjoy playing it ok, but if I'm working or playing, I'd much prefer to hear a song that I can sing along to. The words don't have to mean much as long as they don't offend me and the melody is good. A bonus is if it has some meaning for me. I might listen to a classical piece to relax and sleep. Occasionally, I'll enjoy reading about and listening to a piece. Knowing something about the background of the artist and development of the piece makes it more interesting. Often I don't want to take time to do that, though. I've got too much else I want to do.

The same tends to be the case for fiction. I like stories I can relate to well and get through quickly most of the time. Occasionally, I'll want something heavier and more thought provoking. Most of the time, though, by the time I'm engaging with art, I'm tired and want something that doesn't take a lot of mental effort to appreciate.

Leonor said...
If it wasn't my passion for some works of fiction I would literaly be dead by now. I gadly sacrifice eating to be able to pay for art and technology.

In my view Creativity is not a luxury. It's Survival on its own that is pointless. 11:04 AM

Wednesday, October 5

FPGA Part IV - Boolean Logic

It's been a while since I've thought about this Boolean Logic, so I browsed a bit looking for information for my review. Of course, I immediately found it it on one of my favorite sites - How Stuff Works

I'm just going to write it out for my reference:
(sorry for the formatting, having difficulty with blogger and tables)

0 0 00 0 00 0 0
0 1 00 1 10 1 1
1 0 01 0 11 0 1
1 1 11 1 11 1 10

I had a bit of fun writing all this out long form. I don't know if anyone else would appreciate the humor in it.
0 or 0 is 0, 0 or 1 is 1, 1 or 0 is 1, 1 or 1 is 1
0 and 0 is 0, 0 and 1 is 0, 1 and 0 is 0, 1 and 1 is 1
0 plus 1 is 1, 1 plus 1 is 10

AND is often substituted with plus in everday usage. Get it? (Ok, I know, to a geek it's probably not new information, to anybody else it doesn't matter. I think I must be in that weird middle ground - geeky enough to understand it and not geeky enough to find it old news.)

FPGA Part III - Obvious Obscurity and Spartan 3

After consulting with my favorite geek as to his FPGA requirements, I have a bit better idea about what I should be looking for.

I had been thinking about the Spartan 3 as a starting point when the author of Obvious Obscurity kindly left me a comment with a link to FPGA information on his site.

It has a nice review of the Spartan 3. I wasn't sure what some of it meant (due to my lack of background knowledge), but I understood enough for it to be useful. The comparison of the Diligent with the XESS board really helped me start getting a feel for what different features there might be (beyond the FPGA itself) and which might be more or less useful.

*I have several favorite geeks. He knows which one he is.

Jewish New Year - Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah
...occurs on the first and second days of Tishri. In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means, literally, "head of the year" or "first of the year."

The article has more detail about common practices for observing the holiday. I'm summarizing them here for my reference:

- Reflecting on the past year
- Making plans or resolutions to change and improve
- No work is permitted
- The day is spent in the synagogue
- Eating apples and/or bread dipped in honey - a symbol of hope for a sweet new year
- Casting off of sins -
We walk to flowing water, such as a creek or river, on the afternoon of the first day and empty our pockets into the river, symbolically casting off our sins.
- Greeting: L'shanah tovah "for a good year"

Days of Awe - more about the holiday and the ten days before Yom Kippur.

Monday, October 3

Community rights

"The failure of this administration to nominate a Hispanic judge to the Supreme Court is a slap in the face to all those highly qualified Hispanic judges that dutifully serve on our federal courts across the nation," said Raul Yzaguirre, former president of the National Council of La Raza. "Our community continues to contribute to the greatness of this nation and yet, we are ignored for a vital role on our third branch of governance."

If there's something wrong with the current nominee's qualifications, why not just say so? Why not list some people who are better qualified and compare their qualifications to the nominee? Vague generalities about being ignored don't really make a compelling argument.

A "community" (Hispanic or otherwise) truly interested in justice wouldn't be worrying about the color of the nominees' skin but the quality of the nominee's character and her qualifications.

Friday, September 30

Scouts Part II

When I took my little guy to get his uniform and talked to him about Discipline and Duty, I didn't even flinch (much), bleeding heart though I am. Discipline's a good thing, dammit, even though its flipside is mind-numbing Repression. Learning a certain degree of Conformity to communitarian ideals has its virtues, even though none of the close synonyms -- Acquiescence, Submission, Compliance, Deference -- represent anything I want to give my boy. It's MINDLESS conformity and UNTHINKING devotion to Duty and FANATICAL Discipline -- those are the forms that bring the bile to my throat.

It's been a long time since I've posted to this blog or looked at it, but I'm fairly certain I didn't write this. I believe I found it, liked it, and meant to comment on it but didn't finish before I hit publish and now the article is gone or has been moved. Ah well, it's still an interesting quote.


I've read a few versions of the life of Buddha (Siddartha Gautama). I don't remember the sequence of events very well and I'm not much of a story-teller, but it goes something like this:

He was born a prince. His father showered him with wealth and tried to avoid his being exposed to pain and suffering and thus being tempted to becoming a priest or clergyman. His father wasn't able to pull this off completely. The young Siddartha would notice the suffering and pain of animals. Eventually, he persuaded his father to allow him to visit the people of a nearby village. There he saw an old man for the first time. He also saw a diseased person. He was shocked and disturbed and very determined to find some way to avoid suffering. He left his young wife and child to seek a solutiong to the problem of suffering. He sought the wisdom of numerous masters and nearly died of starvation in his efforts to obtain enlightenment. A child saw that he was weak from hunger and fed him. Afterwards, he decided that it made sense to have some minimal nourishment, otherwise, he wouldn't be able (or alive even) to focus on solving problems.

He went to visit his father on his death bed and talked to his wife. She became a follower of his.

I found a site with an illustrated children's version of the story. I've often found that when I'm trying to learn about something or read a difficult fiction text, it helps to start with reading children's versions of them. They're usually somewhat entertaining and brief.

I have a lot of questions and thought about the various versions of the story I've read. Assuming the story is "true" (A big assumption, I know, even leaving out mystical aspects). I wonder whether being kept from seeing suffering also kept him from taking it for-granted in the way that a lot of people do. Perhaps if he'd been brought up with lots of wealth and without suffering hidden from him, he'd have learned to be indifferent to it more. I wonder whether keeping children from seeing suffering and dangerous things makes them more sensitive to it later. I wonder if it's a good or a bad thing.

After sitting down, the Buddha told them: "Monks! I have realised the truth of the end of suffering (nirvana), and the way to end suffering. If you learn and practice it, you will soon become enlightened. You must take responsibility for working to understand these things." At first, the five monks doubted his words and asked him many questions. But finally they began to trust him and wanted to hear his teaching. And so the Buddha gave his first teaching to the five monks at Sarnath.
He sounds arrogant to me. I guess it depends on whether what he had to offer really was the truth of the end of suffering and the way to end suffering.

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA's) Part II

I've been doing a tiny bit more research. I found a nice listing of FPGA Boards and Systems.

I also found a nice site called fpga4fun.com. I found the bit on What Are FPGAs? to be just the right blend of information and conciseness that I needed to get started. I've managed to get through a bit of the tutorial on Structural Classification.

I'm not sure I understand it all, but learning about it reminded me of learning math. Sometimes it seems totally uncomprehensible at first, but after a day or two, I can come back to it and it makes more sense.

At the moment, I'm wondering what a CLB is. C-- Logic Block, I'm guessing. (C for Control?) I'll look it up in a bit.

I'm amazed at the difference in approaches of the two sites. They both seem informative, but somehow the 4fun site seems more, well, fun. I get the feeling I could go through it and do something with the information - find an actual FPGA and get it working. The Tutorial seems like it would help me understand how one works more thoroughly although I still wouldn't know how to select one or use it.

Thursday, September 29

Inequality, Risk, and Productivity

As usual with his articles, I got about halfway through and lost interest. His articles are thought provoking, but I just can't seem to stay focused on his particular lines of thought for the whole article.

Let's rehearse the chain of argument so far. I'm heading for a conclusion to which many readers will have to be dragged kicking and screaming, so I've tried to make each link unbreakable. Decreasing economic inequality means taking money from the rich. Since risk and reward are equivalent, decreasing potential rewards automatically decreases people's appetite for risk. Startups are intrinsically risky. Without the prospect of rewards proportionate to the risk, founders will not invest their time in a startup. Founders are irreplaceable. So eliminating economic inequality means eliminating startups.

I'm skeptical that risk and reward are equivalent in the way he suggests. I'm skeptical that decreasing "rewards" would necessarily decrease productivity. In some cases, that might be so, but I've seen studies that suggest more pay sometimes results in LESS productivity. I don't know which is right. I'm guessing the relationship is more complicated than he suggests.

Twenty degrees cooler... ahhhhh

Today's high is going to be 20 degrees cooler than the high for yesterday. I have long loved rain and clouds, but I don't remember being quite so happy to see them as this time around. The record breaking highs earlier in the week probably have something to do with this. It's supposed to be fall. Someone apparently forgot to tell the weather man until today. It's been more like August than September.

We could have used some of that rain from Rita last weekend. My plants and lawn are looking pretty thirsty.

Hopefully the weather will stay nice and cool for the upcoming weekend. I'm really looking forward to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Expo. The page doesn't seem to be working right for me at the moment, but for those of you in the area, I'll describe what I remember when I was browsing through the activities the other day. I saw that they had everything from fishing, archering, and shooting, to kayaking, wild game tasting, and a chance to pet a live alligator (or was that a crocodile?) There are free buses from Highland Mall. I read somewhere that there's a long walk from the parking lot to the activities, so coolers aren't a good idea. Anyway, it sounds like fun.

What did the Pink Panther say when he stepped on an Ant?

Deadant. Deadant. Deadant. (and onto the Pink Panther theme)

Couldn't resist. I love puns.

Decapitating Ants

The first species of phorid flies released here came from Brazil, just like the imported fire ants they are intended to keep in check. These parasites, which are much smaller than fruit flies, attack worker ants at disturbed mounds. There, they dart in to inject an egg into an ant’s body. The resulting larva moves into the host ant’s head, causing it to fall off in about 10 days.

I hadn't realized that the more annoying ants were actually imported. I'm a little wary of the idea of introducing another foreign insect into Austin, but maybe it'll be just the thing for cutting down the spread of those annoying ants. I found an interesting FAQ about them. What I want to know is where can I get some of those flies?

Wednesday, September 28

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA's)

I'm doing a bit of research in order to select a gift for my favorite geek. I barely know what this is, let alone how to select one, but I figured I'd start with a description:

Field Programmable Gate Arrays are two dimensional array of logic blocks and flip-flops with a electrically programmable interconnections between logic blocks.

I took a course on Logic some years ago. When I take a course, I promptly forget most of it, so I vaguely remember the term "flip-flop" but not what it means. I also remember AND, OR, NOR, NAND, the concept of "states" and making various arrangements of gates. I loved it, but I've never had much need for that knowledge, so it hasn't stuck around.

The tutorial on that site seems to assume some knowledge I don't have, so I'll do some more digging before I come back to it.

Societal problems correlated with a belief in God

Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side'

“The non-religious, proevolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator.

“The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.”

I think it's a bit of a stretch to go from a correlation between a prevalent strong belief in God and "problems" to thinking that no belief in God wouldn't be a disaster. I think there likely does need to be some important shared beliefs for a society to function well.


I have recently come to find myself the den mother of a group of young boys. I wasn't so sure about getting my child involved in the organization, but a friend was very persuasive and said that contrary to what I'd heard, there was an unwritten "don't ask, don't tell" policy. She also argued that things can't be changed if people don't get involved. I was skeptical of that argument, but I was also curious.

I bought a used Webelos book some years ago when I was looking for activity ideas for my son. They seemed much better oganized and more interesting than other scouting and outdoor type books I'd seen. I wondered why the stuff for girls wasn't as good. I thought, at the least, I'd learn a bit more about the good things in Scouts.

Well, some things came up such that there was a shortage of parent volunteers and I was asked to be a leader. I said yes before I really had a chance to think about it. It's one thing to benefit from an organization without necessarily condoning all of its policies. I don't want to be someone who helps to perpetuate such policies. On the other hand, after my brief exposure, I began to see a lot of nice things that are being done that aren't duplicated elsewhere, so far as I know. I'd hate to see those things lost.

As part of figuring out where I should stand on this, I've been doing a bit of digging around about the organization and its founders. I'd heard some interesting things about the original founder of scouting - that the man was possibly a repressed homosexual or perhaps even a repressed pedophile. I found lots of dead links to things about his being gay and liking to look at naked boys. I couldn't find much in the way of actual sites about this. I did run across the information that he was married and had three children. I wondered what his wife was like. I soon found an interesting link to some excerpts from her autobiography:

Window on my Heart: The Autobiography of Olave, Lady Baden-Powell, G.B.E. as told to Mary Drewery

I love reading biographies. Not all of them are easy to read, so I will commonly skim them and just pick out the juicy bits...

His wife tells of their secret romance, their huge age difference, their common sense of humor and adventure, war, how sympathetic they were to Girl Scouts, and why they ended up with Girl Guides instead. They come out sounding like very interesting, down-to-earth, unique people.

I want to say a bit more about my experiences so far. It has been a steep learning curve for me. There is a lot to do, and it requires a lot of organization to really get through all the information and get things done. Part of this is because our group is fairly new and doesn't have a huge number of volunteers to get everything going.

I was pretty nervous about being in charge of a group of boys. I didn't have a lot of time to prepare or plan anything, but I had a loose idea of what I wanted to do and made the rest up as I went. Luckily, young children can be as easy to please as they are restless. It turned out to be extremely fun, and I'm excited about the next meeting.

Friday, September 23

What Harm Religion?

I don't think that harm is something caused by religious beliefs only. There are certainly examples of great harm done by non-religious beliefs too. I'll post those as I come across them:

Starved and beaten with nails: Kinshasa's young 'witches' cast out by slum preachers

One child "sorcerer" is 12-year-old Jean, who wears a torn vest, red shorts and scuffed bedroom slippers. They are his only possessions. The squalor of Matonge slum has been his home ever since he was cast out. His alleged crime was to have placed a fatal curse on his grandmother. Even before her death, Jean's uncle and aunt were already waging a vendetta against him, accusing him of witchcraft or kindoki.

Pastors demand cars and cash from their flock

Worshippers are told that, if they wish to become rich, they should hand over much of what they own to their pastor. This act of generosity will, apparently, be rewarded three or four times over in the future.

Thursday, September 22

Real Climate

I have a mild fascination with storms - especially tornados and hurricanes. I even entertained the thought, as a child, of being a storm chaser. The one drawback I could think of at the time was that I'd have to chase chase lots of storms and just to see the fraction of that actually have tornados. I'm not quite as interested as I used to be, but with my city putting up a lot of Katrina evacuees and since the path of Hurricane Rita looked like it might cross over near Austin, I've been keeping an eye on it.

We lost part of our roof, once, when I was a kid. I remember a sound a bit like a freight train whistle, looked outside and saw a flash of light. I sometimes worried about things like that happening - that a tornado would hit us in the night and we wouldn't see it coming.

When the actual event happened, though, I wasn't nearly as upset about it. Of course, we all jumped out of bed and gathered in the hall, wondering what was going on. I think being able to "act" helped. Laying there wondering is what made thinking about it scary.

Anyway, it was raining quite hard out. I told my family about the flash of light. We weren't sure if it was a tornado coming down or a bit of roof or something else getting blown around. As it was letting up, I heard the sound of water running inside the house. I soon found the source - it was pouring in through the vent in the bathroom ceiling. I put a bucket under it. One of my parents commented that it was probably a waste of time - that the roof was likely gone.

Then Mom called out from her bedroom. I went to see what the commotion was about. The ceiling was on the bed. Luckily, the rain had let off.

We could see a bit more as the sun came up. Several homes on our street and in surrounding areas had roof damage or had their roof blown off completely. Mostly, they were mobile homes (have I mentioned, I am what's called white trash? ;). We never found out definitevely whether it was a really high wind or a glancing blow from a tornado.

Back to the hurricane. Hurricanes sometimes get far enough inland to send us some high winds and heavy rain, so I was curious to see if we'd get anything from this one. The way it was looking, we might have even experienced the equivalent of a tropical storm or weak hurricane. Since Rita has changed directions, it will likely just be a big storm for us.

I've been reading how the warmer than usual ocean temperatures in the gulf are contributing to Rita's strength (and contributed to Katrina's). I was wondering if this was evidence of global warming (something I've always been skeptical about). I don't want to hear about it from people who have already bought into the global warming theory. I wanted to hear about it from people who are still critical. Real Climate seems to discuss it in great detail. I look forward to browsing it when I have more time.


Here's another more personal post although I suppose if I rewrote it a bit, it could be categorized as psychology. I've tried to generalize things like this before, but people seem unable to relate to it. Surely I'm not the only one intolerant in this particular way, but I really don't know how many people have this sort of hangup.

One of the things I'm most intolerant about are mistakes I've made. I admit it. I hate making mistakes. I hate being reminded of them. Seeing other people make similar ones reminds me of them. Their statements and arguments and explanations for their actions sound just like mine used to, only now I think they're wrong and worse, are likely encouraging other people to make the same mistakes. It feels good to argue with them a bit. Instead of being upset with myself, I can be angry with them for a while.

It's not necessarily the most "rational" or "good" reaction. I'm just telling it like it is. I know that mistakes happen, and I should just move on. Then again, I could be wrong about it being a mistake, the source of the mistake, and about what knowledge the other people are speaking from. It could be that they really are able to pull off doing things the way they say simply because they have some extra bit of unspoken knowledge that I don't.

Dwelling over mistakes has some benefits. I could learn that it wasn't a mistake and why. I could help someone else avoid the mistake. I could help someone else minimize damage caused by the mistake. I could minimize the damage I've caused from the mistake.

Monday, September 19

Immigration and "Family" Laws

I usually stick to personal rants on my Livejournal, but I figure this has some political aspects to it, so here it is.

I hate immigration law. It sucks. It keeps good people stuck thousands of miles away from where they want to be and from people they want to be with.

Friday, September 16

Booting up

Boot is actually shorthand for "bootstrap" which is the original term. Obviously, a computer is just a hunk of iron until a program starts. Early computers, in the days before microcode and eprom, etc., had a "load" button, like the button on your PC or Mac that restarts it. The hardware action taken when the Load button was pressed was to transfer X bytes of data from a specific location on a specific disk volume into memory at location zero and then fetch the instruction at location zero and execute it. This instruction caused more data to be read into memory and the process continued until the system had pulled itself up by the bootstraps. A dual loader is simply adding a prefix to this process which lets you decide where to go to start the real bootstrapping.

I appreciate the extra information. I had this nagging feeling when I posted yesterday, that there was something missing in the explanation about a loader. It wasn't until I was talking over this idea of what a "loader" was with a friend, and he said that it wasn't the first thing that ran on a computer that I realized what it was.

I thought the system test thing (POST) was the first program to run(at least on a PC). Warning: Thing and thingy are terms I commonly use for things I can't remember the name of although I actually did remember the name this time. I looked on Wikipedia and it says that the last part of POST is the boot loader. And technically, the definition on the Gnu page said "software".

I don't know that however the BIOS and POST work is "software" or considered some other thing. Can there be hardware or firmware programs? (I learned these terms so long ago that not only is it difficult to remember, even correct memories might not be true anymore).

Anyway, it seems there are several steps before the operating system gets loaded. I suppose there could be some disagreement on the meaning of operating system.

One other little correction to the bit about Grub. Grub is apparently a second stage boot loader.

What good is fiction?

Just a few quick thoughts on this subject before I go back to work.

I've often thought of fiction, art, and music as luxuries. They don't put food in your stomach or keep you warm at night. I've seen them as enhancements to life. Wonderful things that were yet, somehow, less important. Then someone agreed with me.

Art (including music and fiction) isn't just a luxury. You can't live on it forever, but it can make you want to keep living even when there's no food or shelter or you are missing other important things in your life. Art can inspire.

"Man cannot live by bread alone." Now there's a thought that was wasted in my youth.

Cultural Religious Traditions - Harmless?

While exploring the sources of some of my hits, a post title caught my eye.

Non-Benign Cultural Tradition

The source of this perspective surprised me. It seems to be an American religious person in India. My first thought had been from a completely different point of view - an American who finds herself sometimes struggling to explain the harm or problem with having a false belief in god. It's commonly put to me that if you believe in God, "If you're wrong, then no harm done." I disagree, but it's difficult to express why.

It is so much a part of the culture that I have difficulty separating out my own false assumptions related to my old beliefs in God. Mostly, it's a gut feeling that truth is primary no matter what. I've seen a commitment to truth as a first step that must be completed before the next step "What should I do?" can be answered. The problem is, truth it isn't so easy to find. Indeed, it is so difficult to find, that it seems like morality itself (for us mere mortals anyway) must reflect how to act in accordance with this difficulty.

Here's one way I think about it sometimes:

There's truth. There's your beliefs about it. You want them to coincide as much as possible. I imagine a graph with a curve where the truth is and another curve, less steady and sometimes a bit off, sometimes widely off which would represent my (or anyone's) knowledge of it.

You're a fallible human being who could be wrong about any aspect of your beliefs. Holding onto a particular belief too strongly (like God) can mean you're stuck in some coordinate that isn't quite the truth and may even be quite far from the truth. Being flexible in your beliefs can mean you are able to get closer (or farther) from the truth.

I've been wondering which was the better way to be. Should a person grab onto some belief and hang tight, "hang loose", or strive with every effort to get as close to the truth as possible. What if the path to truth isn't a straight line? What if a belief in religion somehow leads to a better understanding of truth? What if it keeps people from ever understanding it?

I'm getting off track here. Back to the post. The author, who happens to share my name, btw, mentions a book she has been thinking of. I enjoyed that part because it's much the way I think about things and, of course, I immediately had to find it on Amazon and mark it for future reference:

Breaking Strongholds in Your City edited by C. Peter Wagner

A fascinating thing I've found is that although people can have very different ways of thinking and saying things, they can have quite a lot in common too. She goes on to quote from the book. I wanted to quote it all at first, but I have finally narrowed it down to the bit that really caught my eye:

... “Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of children a day are born into these enchanted systems around the world. Nearly all of them grow up hearing about the lie... The power of the lie, fueled by demonic magic, is called tradition; and it is tradition, in turn, that sustains the territorial dynasties.”

... but month by month as “cultural traditions” continue to come. That original contract with the devil is being signed over and over and over again.
posted by Rebecca O

I almost dismissed the whole thing over that last little bit, but then I thought about it a bit more. I would agree except I'd change a few terms and interpret it a bit differently. "The lie" would be the idea that one can just adopt a belief like "God" and think one has found the truth. Tradition, I think, sustains both the good and the the bad - whether it be territorial dynasties or religious traditions. I think religion has both aided and hindered the pursuit of truth. Having a semi-stable set of beliefs can allow people to focus on other areas of knowledge. It can also leave them stuck thinking that the Earth is the center of the Universe.

Thursday, September 15

Grub - Computer Reference

This is more for my reference than anything. Some years ago I tried to install Linux (Slackware). I used an old computer that wasn't needed for any particular use. The installation went well except I couldn't get it to boot properly. Someone suggested I use GRUB. I couldn't get it to work either and having a dozen other projects I wanted to work on, abandoned the install.

I'd forgotten about it mostly until a friend was trying to get it to work. Someone asked what "Grub" was, and I couldn't remember. "Loader" came to mind as did "dual boot" (but I couldn't think of what word to use for something that load more than 2 Operating Systems). I felt a bit silly because I wasn't entirely sure what a "loader" even did other than choose an operating system. I didn't even know if you needed a "loader" if it was only one OS. Hence, this random bit of information - my attempt at correcting that ignorance:

GNU GRUB is a Multiboot boot loader. It was derived from GRUB, GRand Unified Bootloader, which was originally designed and implemented by Erich Stefan Boleyn.

Briefly, boot loader is the first software program that runs when a computer starts.
It is responsible for loading and transferring control to the operating system kernel software (such as the Hurd or the Linux). The kernel, in turn, initializes the rest of the operating system (e.g. GNU).

Now I know.

Comments - Legal Assistance

Ipizudic said...
Yes, it's a shame. But realistically, indigent defendants have to rely on lawyers willing to work at rates paid with tax dollars. Since this will always lure the lowest common denominator of trial lawyers to the public trough, it will always be a problem. If lawyers were actual feeling humans, we could simply assign these cases in round robin fashion to ALL practicing lawyers and have them defend the indigents pro bono. Yeah, when monkeys fly outta my butt.

LOL. In medicine, there have come to be "Physician Assistants" who can do a lot of the same things a doctor can but have less education and charge less. I think they usually have to work under the supervision of a doctor. I've sometimes wondered if there might be use for the concept in legal representation. They could be knowledgeable in certain kinds of cases and be willing to charge a bit less since they don't have quite so many years of college loans to pay off. I believe legal secretaries already do a lot of that sort of thing, but I'm not familiar with just how much they're able to do and whether they can have clients independently. Maybe they could handle more of the routine cases and leave the murder cases to more experienced and educated lawyers.

I think I'll add this topic to the ones I want to research more.

Comments - Prisoners watching TV

MC said...

The trick is to make the prisoners earn their stay in prison. They should earn their keep. They should be forced to work 18 hours per day.

To sit around and watch TV all day is easy time. Rehabilitation should teach these offenders that they will never want to return to prison, ever, and their behaviour will be adjusted accordingly.

I think I would agree with the idea of having prisoners work to earn their own keep. I think they already do, to an extent.

I can imagine some logistical problems with it. It might be difficult to manage a self-sustaining farm. There might be security issues. A drought one year could mean they don't eat. They could produce other things to earn their keep and pay for necessities.

I think the idea behind TV's isn't so much for the comfort of the inmates as that having things like that tends to result in fewer riots and problems for the guards. (In other words, it might cost even more NOT to have TVs).

I think if prison is so unpleasant that offenders fear returning, depending on their moral views (or lack of them), they might just put more effort into avoiding getting caught than into avoiding doing wrong things.

I've read that sometimes released prisoners find it difficult to cope with freedom - with all the choices they suddenly have to make. Sometimes I've thought perhaps a sort of anarchy would be a deterrent. They might be grateful for the constraints of civilization after that (then again, they might just be dead, while the most violent offenders end up ruling whoever's left).

The Death of Frances Newton

Reading more about her execution and case has reminded me again about how a little information can be misleading and why I'm not so sure it's a good thing for people to have "a little" knowledge about politics.

It seems the case was more complex than was expressed in the editorial yesterday.

Newton didn't deny putting a gun in her 7-year-old son's knapsack and stashing the bag at an abandoned house.
Three weeks before the slayings, Newton took out $50,000 life insurance policies on herself, her husband and her daughter. She named herself as beneficiary and said she signed her husband's name to prevent him from discovering she had set aside money to pay for the premiums.

The insurance policy could have been a coincidence. I'm not so sure about ballistic reports.

Wednesday, September 14

The Death Penalty

In short, a woman is scheduled to die tonight for shooting her husband and children to death. There is important evidence and testimony that could exonerate her. Her lawyer failed to make an effort to uncover this. A new law has been passed in Texas for there to be at least minimal competence in lawyers for the defendents of capital murder cases. The facts in her case were presented after court deadlines had expired. That's it. She's dead or she will be barring the governor stepping in.

More on Death (Warning: Gruesome News)

It seems a sanitation worker found the woman's body in a suitcase at a landfill. I wonder at the horror of finding her. Why did he look in it? Did he smell something unusual? Was the suitcase so nice that he thought it might be salvageable? Do workers commonly look inside things just for the purpose of sorting them?

This reminds me of why I have avoided news so much in the past. I'm fortunate, in a way, that things like that don't bring up much in the way of imagery. I still react sometimes to the idea of something.

I can imagine a suitcase. It's large, no particular color. I imagine a person folded up in it somehow, but the image of the person isn't very realistic. It might be a life-sized rag doll. I would think the lack of realistic detail is an unconscious sort of self-protection, but I can't remember details about pleasant things that I'd very much like to remember well either.

Still, this has struck me as particularly sickening. I don't see why it should. Once a person is dead, the body is just a bunch of chemicals. This doesn't mean I should feel like it's a bunch of rock or something. It still represents what was a person who's life ended badly.

Does a person's life ever end well?
I suppose there are better and worse ways to die.

The event has passed. The woman isn't currently in pain or in the process of being killed. I would think extreme pain would be worse than death. It's the just before dying part that I'm more afraid of. So why would this bother me more than wars or accidents or natural disasters?

Maybe it's just the purposeful badness of it. With 9/11, it wasn't the people dying that bothered me as much as the people believing so strongly in the wrong thing that they were willing to die and kill lots of people for it. It was slightly frustrating. Part of me would have liked to kill the killers for it, but they were already dead. And killing them after the fact wouldn't restore life to those people.

It reminds me of how I felt about the death of a friend. I heard that she was murdered. Shot to death. My first thought was that the killer be brought to justice (and a certain irrational thought about killing him myself). Then the person telling me about it went on to say the guy had then shot himself. It was frustrating. Really, though, the frustration comes from her death. I hadn't seen her in several years. We weren't "close" friends, but I once knew her very well. I ran into her when I was at college, and we had a nice chat. I hoped I'd run into her again sometimes.

I didn't find out about her death in time to go to the funeral, but I called her mom anyway to give her my condolences. She was still having a hard time. It was her only child. She advised me to have more than one child. I didn't know what to think of that, but I could understand the sentiment.

Having a child is a very life altering event. It's not just a one-time thing. It changes everything, every day, for the rest of your life. You put a lot of energy and time and resources and care into it and look forward to the person they might become. To have it all end so abruptly must be devastating.


Is its meaning related to Author? What does it mean?

One meaning I can come up with is something like - a person with such good knowledge of a subject that other people follow their advice or recommendations regarding that subject.

Maybe that meaning better fits the word "expert".

Another meaning that I can think of for authority is a person who has been appointed to make and/or enforce decisions on behalf of other people. Parents are considered authorities for their children - both making and enforcing some decisions. Politicians make decisions for large groups of people. Policeman enforce those decisions for large groups of people. There's a bit of overlap.

Thursday, September 8

Keep Austin Weird

I was trying to explain what Keep Austin
really meant. It was difficult to put into words, and it probably means slightly different things to different Austinites.

I think it's a combination of hippie culture and being smack in the middle of Texas. There are lots of "well educated" people, lots of long haired guys, lots of people wearing Birkenstocks (or imitations), live music. There are also some of the nicer qualities associated with Texas (friendliness and courtesy).

There's the Spamarama and Eeyore's Birthday.

I almost forgot to mention the food. It's probably just my biased opinion, but Austin has some fantastic restaurants. My favorite for a long time has been Kerby Lane. It's open 24/7, they have decent Mexican food, breakfast food, and vegetarian selections (not for me,
but nice for friends).

I recommend the Kerby Queso along with some salsa. The salsa isn't really as hot as I'd like, but it really goes well with the queso. I never know what interesting appearance the staff will have - purple hair, piercings, etc. I've recently been less
impressed with the food at one location than I used to be, but I still prefer it to a lot of places. There are magazines devoted to Austin dining, so I won't go into it anymore here right now.

I suppose good food isn't "weird". It's just part of the culture. There's definitely some unusual items available. Hut's Hamburgers, for instance, offers a choice of beef, veggie, or Buffalo burgers. It's not as weird as seeing Alligator on a menu (like in Baton Rouge), but it's definitely unusual.

You know you're a Texan when

It feels like a cool front has blown in when it only
gets up to 95 degrees.

Wednesday, September 7

Drained - a ramble

There are a few times I've felt as utterly drained as I do at the moment. Even laying down and typing this out feels like very strenous activity.

Two of those times were when I attempted to donate blood. The first time, they got to 1/2 a pint, and I started feeling really awful and then deliciously sleepy. They stopped taking blood, put cool rags on me, and told me not to sleep. I couldn't understand why, but I obeyed. Then I got cookies and some juice and felt more lively. It wasn't squeamishness. I've had countless shots and blood drawn for tests. They suggested, and I concluded that I just hadn't eaten well enough beforehand.

I prepared better then next time. It was years later. I had a nice meal a little while before. I enjoyed watching how them take a pint out. It went much more smoothly. I ate my little treats and waited the obligatory 15 minutes. Then I stood up to go and almost fell over. Same feeling as before. They had me lay down, again with the cool rags, and had me sip some Gatorade. After a while, I felt ok to go. They said I'd be ok to donate again but would just need to let them know to keep me a bit longer.

The other times I've felt like this, besides having strep once, were when I was pregnant. I worked two retail jobs in retail the first time and then would go to afternoon classes. In the heat of the summer, I'd come home after work, pass out in front of the window unit air conditioner and wake up a few hours later.

I finally cut the ballet class. I needed the money, and I really wanted to finish up the C programming course I was taking. I thought I was being a bit wimpy at the time. The ballet instructor had managed to dance throughout her pregnancy. I guess she was used to it. It wasn't the dancing that was really wearing me out. I think it was just doing more, overall, than my body could really handle.

There's really no point to this except to vent a little frustration. I don't really have time to be sick. I have too much to do, and yet it's nice to get some rest. I think I've been neglecting sleep a lot lately, and it's just making me feel that much worse right now.

For a few minutes when I was feeling slightly better, I wandered out into the yard. It was breezy and pleasant. I watered a few plants and remembered how much fun I used to have doing that as a child. I had a rose bush and a few crepe myrtles that I'd care for plus I'd check on all the other little trees my parents had attempted to grow. All of my plants did well and I managed, I think, to keep some of their trees going for a while. I think it was the wrong soil for them. Lots of rocks. Dig a few inches, find a 6 by 4 inch rock. Dig a few more, find another, etc.

I remember the ground would get so dry in the summer that large cracks would form. There was some risk of catching one's footing in them.

A friend was talking about his telescope and complaining about the terrible visibility in Austin. I think I was a bit inconsiderate in mentioning that I grew up being able to see the Milky Way almost nightly. I took it for-granted that I'd always be able to see it. I loved looking at it and thinking about how big the universe might be.

I miss the sunrises and sunsets out there. Trees were scarce. I could look out and see literally for miles. Later, I got used to being in the city with all the trees and never even thought to wonder why I hadn't seen the Milky Way. Someone explained it - that the city lights were too bright. I don't mind too much. I don't need to see the Milky Way every night, but I'd like to see it again sometime. The sunrise and sunset too. I used to watch them daily and never get tired of it.

I thought I'd miss them a lot when I moved in town, but I don't really. It's just a little thing I think about now and then.

One thing I miss slightly more is watching a storm roll in. There's nothing like seeing huge clouds, smelling the rain in the air, hearing the thunder. I loved to stand outside and watch for as long as I was allowed. My dad would watch too. I don't remember what we talked about. We just enjoyed it.

It's almost my favorite time of year again. Fall. I think I wrote about it last year. I love the cool relief from summer. I love Halloween. We have a tradition now of gutting some pumpkins and carving designs in them.

Feeling better now. End of ramble.

Tuesday, September 6

Phenylephrine hydrochloride

I'm stuck at home recovering from strep. I wasn't planning on being home today. I went to work feeling ok except for a sore throat. I felt so bad yesterday, though, that I decided to get an appointment in case it was some sort of infection. The doctor took one look at my throat and told me to go home and take antibiotics, a decongestant, Ibuprofen, lots of fluids, and a few days of bed rest.

According to the wiki entry on it, Pseudoephedrine Hydrochloride is being made unavailable on the shelves. It's still available from pharmacies with an ID. It seems that the chemical composition was so similar to methamphetamine that people were buying and/or stealing it to make meth.

I guess that explains why I couldn't find any on the shelves. I wasn't sure about taking a drug I hadn't researched yet, but I decided the annoying side effects of Pseudoephedrine Hydrochloride (for me, dizziness, nervousness/hyperness, and heart palpitations) were likely worse than the effects this new drug would likely have. So far, I detect any of the old side effects. I'm definitely going to give it a try next time I have a cold.

Monday, September 5

I love my city

I think the article explains why there was a sudden call for cots and bedding.

City staff were caught by surprise when the planeloads they thought were landing late Saturday night ended up arriving through the morning.

City Manager Toby Futrell said the city issued an emergency call for 100 volunteers to help set up cots and greet arriving evacuees. Four hundred people showed up asking what they could do to help.

Sunday, September 4

Thoughts on Judaism and "An alternative to the spider theory"

30 hits in 1 hour is not likely due to spiders. It is likely due to the "next blog" button featured on the blogger navbar featured on the top of the page. Blogger keeps track of recently published blogs. When people are searching for random blogs to read, they often hit the next blog button. Blogger randomly chooses to load a recently published blog. If you check these referrals, they will often say that these visitors navigated from another blogspot address. I have checked these 'referrals' in the past, and have not seen any link to my page, thus I have surmised that it must be due to the 'next blog' function.

I had thought of that! I'll bet that's it. Yes, most of the hits are from other blogspot addresses that don't seem to have a direct link to me. I still wonder why multiple posts seem like they might trigger a disproportionately larger number of hits.

One such referral I got today came from a blog called Thoughts on Judaism. Interesting blog.

How I Read a Book and "The Fabric of Reality"

I was trying to describe how I read to a friend yesterday. This isn't what I recommend. It's just what I do.

I have a dozen (ok hundreds or maybe even thousands) of questions I want to answer... or subjects that I'm curious about. It seems the more I discover, the more questions I have. I've long forgotten the answers to most of them. It doesn't seem to deter me from asking more. It does sometimes make me wonder what difference it will make. At the least, right now, I think I'll simply enjoy looking for and/or finding the answers.

I see books or articles that look like they might address them. I read the parts that seem most relevant to me (and the questions I want to answer) and move on. If a chapter in a book looks juicy and the beginning looks boring, I read the chapter. There are probably advantages and disadvantages to this. It doesn't matter too much because I can't seem to make myself read the boring parts usually. I did lots of reading boring parts when I was a kid in school and because I happened to pick "Stephen King" as my first adult oriented author.

The boring chapters might become interesting later, when I've satisfied myself with other chapters. Sometimes it happens years later. Sometimes I run across something I know I've read before and am totally amazed at the new understanding I gain from it.

I think it's because I learn all the time and my knowledge is different from one reading to the next. There is no such thing as reading the same book twice. It's a different book every time.

I think movies are like that too. I've watched some of my favorites 100's of times. I mght not pay attention to the whole movie, but I'll enjoy particular parts or notice new nuances that I hadn't before.

Sometimes I explore just to see what's out there. That's when I'll tolerate a boring part. Just to be clear, boring doesn't mean the book's no good or the author is a bad writer. It could just be a bit of knowledge I'm not ready for. It's just a mismatch, that's all.

There's also the occasional book I'll try to read for other reasons. I've been working on The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch for years. Originally, I had been throwing a lot of questions at my friend, Elliot.

He said I should read it. I tried. Really. Then I tried asking David. He answered very patiently for a while, and then finally said I should read his book (because it addressed what I was asking).

His book is very hard reading for me. It's very dense with a lot of abstract ideas that are unfamiliar or just barely familiar to me. Some parts are easier than others. I started off trying to read the chapters in order. They had some very interesting ideas, but I had to work very hard to understand them in what feels like a very superficial way.

They were worth the effort, but I was getting more and more frustrated. After chapter 4, I finally gave up on the "in order" method and skipped to Chapter 7, "A Conversation about Justification" and ahhhh, relief. That's more what I was looking for. I've slowly read other chapters as I find time and interest. I felt bad about not being able to get through it, at first, but now I think it's just a matter of it just not matching my knowledge level very well. It may just take me longer to get through it is all. I've long forgotten the questions I wanted to have answered. I've long forgotten what I've read so far. Luckily, he has nice summaries and glossaries for each chapter!

One strategy I've used in the past for studying a difficult text was to come up with questions. Perhaps I could do that for this. It's just so outside my usual experiences that I'm not even sure what to ask. It's NOT a textbook. It's not predictable - at least not to a non-Physicist.

Normally my difficulty is with people writing "too much" to say too little. I think he's done a very good job of writing conscisely and meaningfully while having a friendly story-telling tone.

So, what sort of questions would one ask of "The Fabric of Reality"?

Is Bush to blame?

In short, funding for the repair of levees in New Orleans was cut. The cuts might be attributed to the war in Iraq. The levees, even if they had been repaired, were designed to withstand a category 3 hurricane. A category 5 would still have likely breached the levees.

Friday, September 2

Truth finding - Evacuation Disrupted by Gunshot Report

I have read in different places about fireman, police and rescuers being shot at. I also read about helicopters being shot at. Apparently, the shots (except one) fired at helicopters might not have happened.

I think this is where my frustration about finding the truth comes in. It's difficult to find. It's difficult to express. Communication routinely disrupts it. A person can see guns, tell the next one, and by the time the 5th person hears about it, it's someone being fired at. It's not some horrible racist plot. It's just a fact about communication.

Then there's statements like this:

"In other words, it was probably just a rock, if anything. But that won't stop the racists for citing this story as a reason to just let the refugees rot."

I haven't heard anyone suggest that people should be left to rot! However, if some refugees are endangering rescuers, extra resources will be needed to help them (or at least the ones NOT firing at rescuers).

I would truly be disappointed if the President and other government leaders didn't have more accurate information than I do about this. I doubt they're basing their decisions on rumors although they, like all people, make mistakes.

Poorly-drawn cartoons inspired by actual spam subject lines!

Last post in this test of the "many posts trigger spider" theory. Funny site.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

I was baptised in the Catholic church as a baby. I don't know much about Catholic beliefs beyond the bits my grandmother passed along to me. I remember enjoying the rituals. I liked knowing what was going to happen. I thought they meant something.

Later, I found myself more and more wary of ritual. People seemed to think it meant much more than it really did. It seemed like distraction from real understanding. It seemed silly.

I've come to think there probably is a good use for ritual. It should be done carefully so as not to be mistaken for having meaning in itself.

Some people can perform rituals and make it look dignified and serious and meaningful. I'm not one of them. Even when I'm taking something seriously, I'll trip, or mess up, or get distracted by some random unrelated thoughts.

All of this post, though, is a distraction for me. I was trying to understand more about Catholic doctrine and cutlure and got stuck thinking about the ritual. I suppose ritual is an important part of Catholicism, so perhaps it was actually on topic. (BTW, in case you can't tell, I'm trying to get multiple posts out to see if it triggers those weird bursts of hits).