"The function of words, then, is to be sensible marks of ideas." ~ John Locke

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Sensible Marks of Ideas

Wednesday, 17th Dec. 2014


9.25 pm - Elite: Dangerous ...

Elite: Dangerous is finally out officially. I've been playing the gamma version for a while and loving every minute of it. Well, except for those minutes where my ship got blown up. If you like space simulation, flight simulation, combat, trading etc., this is the game for you. Be warned, though, it's not easy. Expect to spend a while just learning how to fly your ship, take off, and dock without crashing into things. Then people will start shooting at you ;-) I've been playing for a couple of weeks and I'm still getting the hang of it, doing short cargo hauls and simple missions (usually botched), and running away from fights. (Tip: when "interdicted" - i.e., yanked out of hyperdrive - head for the blue circle labelled "Exit vector"). I did get my first kill a couple of days ago, though, which made me inordinately proud. I reckon it was a real player, as any AI would have iced me.

If anyone wants to meet up in-game, drop me a message.

http://ift.tt/1mjIpvH

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Sunday, 14th Dec. 2014


11.39 am - "Students these days ..."

I'm sceptical of "students these days can't do X" comments because it usually turns out that either we couldn't do X that well either, or that X is a skill that died out because it really isn't that useful these days, like card indexing or using a microfiche reader. On the other hand, I just caught myself wondering if students' observational skills had atrophied. After writing "The citation needs to come after the quotation marks and before the full stop" it occurred to me that really I shouldn't have to write that because the students in question must have seen hundreds of parenthetical citations. Why on earth did he decide that the citation should come inside the quotation? Then there are the times that I have to painstakingly explain blockquotes or hanging indents, things which should need no explanation because almost every text they read has them. It's like there's a disjunct between reading and writing.

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Saturday, 13th Dec. 2014


2.14 pm -

Happy birthday bram!

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Tuesday, 9th Dec. 2014


9.07 am - BBC: "the officer...

BBC: "the officer whose chokehold contributed to a man's death." Contributed? Like he had a terminal disease and being choked just made it a bit worse.

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Sunday, 7th Dec. 2014


9.17 am - 10 things about Elite: Dangerous


  1. It's as addictive as the original.

  2. There isn't so much a learning curve as a learning cliff. You'll need to keep trawling the forums and wikis just to work out how to get through the tutorials.

  3. Docking is much easier than the original game. Those who played the original will probably be able to dock successfully the first time; others may have to crash a few times first.

  4. Nothing else is easy.

  5. The police shoot first and ask questions ... well no, it doesn't get to the asking questions stage. Think American cops in a world where everyone is a black teenager. I've been shot at for loitering. Tip: pay your fines before they turn into bounties.

  6. So far, I have not found a way to start with a clean slate. Even if the cops blow you out of the sky, your fines will be reborn with you.

  7. The good side of everything being difficult is that you feel an amazing sense of satisfaction whenever you achieve even the smallest thing.

  8. The game has a wicked sense of humour. I took on a humanitarian mission to provide food for the starving people of Aiabike only to find what I was required to find, buy and donate was tea - one of the pricier luxury goods in that part of the galaxy.

  9. Apparently there are 4.5 billion stars systems in the game. So far I've managed to visit five of them.

  10. I haven't tried group play yet. If anyone wants to join me, I'm Commander Bold Sir Robin.

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Tuesday, 2nd Dec. 2014


8.50 pm - Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies

Police hug"Liking this picture as a definitive image of America’s race crisis is the equivalent of locking yourself in and turning up the volume to weep at Frozen while the streets are burning outside. Which is exactly what white Americans apparently want to do. Truth is a flimsy thing. It can be destroyed by a hug." So writes Jonathan Jones in The Guardian.

Well, yeah, except if the streets were burning, I might think locking the doors and watching Frozen would be a pretty good choice too. And yeah, I'd rather see a photograph of a white policeman hugging a black teenager than one of him smashing someone's skull with a baton, not because I somehow think this is typical but because it's so refreshingly atypical. Hell, these days we should be giving cops promotions simply for not shooting people. "Officer Barbrady, did you shoot any black kids this week?" "Uuuh, I don't think so." "Congratulations, you'll make detective before the year's out."

And now the other side will rush in saying that actually very few police officers shoot anyone, let alone unarmed kids. Indeed, police shootings are not typical, yet they are news. And police hugs are not typical, yet they are still news. So probably you are not lying if you share this photo.

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Friday, 28th Nov. 2014


5.03 pm - Immiseration

(Originally posted as a response to a post in RmspacedashRfspaceslash)

Something I find interesting is what Marx got wrong ... more-or-less. Marx's theory of the inevitability of the collapse of capitalism rests on two concepts: surplus value and immiseration. Surplus value is the difference between the value of work and what the worker actually gets paid. You can argue with the details of the labour theory of value, but it's a no-brainer that you don't want pay workers the full value of their labour because if you did, there'd be no profit. As technology improves, the value goes up, but, Marx claimed, capitalists would do everything they could to keep wages at subsistence level, so surplus value increases. This process is immiseration. Marx argued that immiseration increases to the point where (a) workers get sufficiently pissed off to revolt and (b) even if they weren't, capitalism would still go into crisis because there aren't enough people with enough spending power to buy the goods that are produced.

This didn't happen for a number of reasons, three of which are:

  1. Basic goods became absurdly cheap compared with the past, so workers enjoyed better life conditions even without a rise in wages.
  2. Governments intervened with things like progressive taxation and minimum wages.
  3. Trade unions forced companies to increase wages.
(I'm ignoring the international dimension here just to keep things simple.)
These came together in the twentieth century to create a large, prosperous and politically powerful middle class, and a working class that could at least get by. Capitalism survived by inoculating itself with a little socialism. It didn't just work, it worked better than anyone could have imagined. In 1850, a typical British industrial worker made enough money to keep himself in bread and gin. In 1910, he could take his family to the seaside for a weekend. In 1970 he could take them to Spain for a week. Marx was proved conclusively wrong, the end of history happened, and in the 21st century we have achieved the dreamed-of workers' paradise ... not.

What now seems to be happening in America (and other post-industrial countries to a lesser degree) is that government intervention is regarded with horror, and the unions are toothless, so the only thing that is keeping capitalism from collapse is factor #1: technological change happening quickly enough to soften immiseration. This is a dangerous strategy, because even if electronic toys continue to get cheaper, the price of food rarely falls much. All the circuses in the world aren't enough if you can't provide the bread.

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10.54 am -

The main reason given by Christians for dumping on the Jews is that the Jews rejected Christ. Didn't it occur to anyone that these people had a long history of God doing nasty things to them whenever they followed false prophets, worshipped false gods, or just were a bit lax in their religious observations? Someone coming along and saying "I'm the son of God, and I bring you a new covenant" is bound to ring alarm bells.

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Tuesday, 25th Nov. 2014


2.59 pm - In the war betwee...

In the war between diet and chocolate, a giant box of chocolates brought by some your favourite students is a killer move. I've nearly finished the top layer already.

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Sunday, 16th Nov. 2014


6.14 pm - Somewhere, I hope...

Somewhere, I hope, there is a middle ground between #shirtstorm and #gamergate.

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Monday, 10th Nov. 2014


4.44 pm -

Happy birthday eve_prime!

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Sunday, 9th Nov. 2014


3.14 pm - More stirring words from our man in the Vatican

"We must be careful not to slip toward the path of being pagan Christians, Christians in appearance. The temptation to get used to mediocrity, the mediocrity of Christians, these Christians, it is their undoing because their hearts cool, they become lukewarm. And the Lord had strong words for these lukewarm [Christians]: 'because you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth'. These are very strong words! They are enemies of the Cross of Christ. They take the name, but do not follow the requirements of Christian life.

"Do I like to brag? Do I like money? Do I like pride, arrogance? Where are my roots, that is, where am I a citizen of? Heaven or earth? ...

"How did this steward in the Gospel arrive at this point of cheating, of stealing from his master? How did he get there, from one day to the next? No! Little by little. One day a tip here, the next day a bribe there, and this is how little by little you arrive at corruption."

Mohammed also railed against the "munafiqun" (hypocrites). If you're only going to read one chapter of the Quran, read Al-Ma'un ("Kindnesses" / "Charity"). Well, considering it's so short, here it is.

Have you seen the one who denies the Recompense? For that is the one who drives away the orphan And does not encourage the feeding of the poor. So woe to those who pray [But] who are heedless of their prayer - Those who make show [of their deeds] And withhold [simple] assistance.

The pope's homily also puts me in mind of one of my favourite poems.

If I had been a Heathen,
I'd have praised the purple vine,
My slaves should dig the vineyards,
And I would drink the wine.
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And his slaves grow lean and grey,
That he may drink some tepid milk
Exactly twice a day.

If I had been a Heathen,
I'd have crowned Neaera's curls,
And filled my life with love affairs,
My house with dancing girls;
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And to lecture rooms is forced,
Where his aunts, who are not married,
Demand to be divorced.

If I had been a Heathen,
I'd have sent my armies forth,
And dragged behind my chariots
The Chieftains of the North.
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And he drives the dreary quill,
To lend the poor that funny cash
That makes them poorer still.

If I had been a Heathen,
I'd have piled my pyre on high,
And in a great red whirlwind
Gone roaring to the sky;
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And a richer man than I:
And they put him in an oven,
Just as if he were a pie.

Now who that runs can read it,
The riddle that I write,
Of why this poor old sinner,
Should sin without delight-
But I, I cannot read it
(Although I run and run),
Of them that do not have the faith,
And will not have the fun.

~ G.K. Chesterton

Of course, none of this is meant as disrespect to my pagan/heathen friends. In fact it struck me that the pagans of today are in some ways like the Christians of the first century or the Muslims of the seventh century, and Muslims and Christians today are all too often like the pagans of the first century.

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Wednesday, 5th Nov. 2014


7.10 pm - Pope Francis laying it down

“In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought … For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements. The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?”

And compare with the Turkish theologian Yaşar Nuri Öztürk (my rough translation) "To make a religion violent, you need to convert it into an ideology. The imperialists have succeeded in doing this to Islam." (Of course you could counter that Islam was pretty violent way before imperialism, but then Öztürk directs some of his strongest ire at the Ummayads, so fair's fair.)

All of these are interesting thoughts, though I am still unsure as to what exactly constitutes the difference between a religion and an ideology, and to what extent we can really claim that all the world's religions were all rainbows and group hugs at their inception. But still, these are steps in the right direction. My main priorities when dealing with religious believers of any hue are:

They don't want to kill me.

They don't want to kill anyone else.

They aren't pushing views that could lead to ecological disaster (like climate change denial).

They're not trying to justify political, economic or gender oppression.

Theological niceties come way down the list. So I'm down with liberal Muslims, Reform Jews, Unitarians, wishy-washy Anglicans, fluffy bunny pagans and, it seems, the Pope. Never thought that would happen.

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Saturday, 25th Oct. 2014


2.04 pm - Julius Caesar, Bad Role Model

Since someone recommended reading The 48 Laws of Power, I checked it out on Wikipedia: "Although Greene was unhappy in his current job, he was comfortable and saw the time needed to write a proper book proposal as too risky. However, at the time Greene was rereading his favorite biography about Julius Caesar and took inspiration from Caesar's decision to cross the Rubicon River and fight Pompey, thus inciting the Great Roman Civil War. Greene would follow Caesar's example and write the treatment, which later became The 48 Laws of Power."

Hmmm. Crossing the Rubicon may be an iconic example of a momentous decision, but it is also an example of stupid decision. Caesar took an unconstitutional action which plunged the republic into a war that eventually ended it, and which in turn led to his assassination. So, a pretty dumb move, and that coming from someone who had recently killed and enslaved millions of people because it seemed like a good idea at the time, setting up the whole "Let's conquer the whole world" thing that overextended Rome's territory and led to its eventual destruction. Despite widespread condemnation, Caesar thought so well of his murderous rampages that he wrote a book about it, which until recently was forced upon schoolboys learning Latin because its leaden prose was at least easy to parse.

It is not a good advert for the book when the author takes his inspiration from one of history's greatest failures.

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Sunday, 19th Oct. 2014


10.18 pm - Interesting that ...

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Interesting that they advertise a meeting of the East Asian Society with a picture of a girl with red hair and big round eyes (with purple irises to boot) and it seems perfectly appropriate. When characters like this first appeared in manga and anime, they were accused of perpetuated racial stereotypes whereby Caucasian features were seen as more desirable, but it's going way beyond that now. It's almost like anime characters are a race unto themselves.

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12.37 pm - Of Jews and Jinns

Of Jews and Jinns

“The Jew is very practiced in sorcery. Indeed most sorcerers are Jews,” says Prof. Valiollah Naghipourfar, who reckons Israel is using jinns to spy on Iran. This is a new twist on a very old trope, since the Jews had a reputation for magic going way back, regarded with grudging respect by Christian occultists and sheer terror by ordinary folk. I reckon there are two reasons for this supposition. The first is that if you want to oppress a minority over a long period, you need to keep them in subjugation so they have no real power while giving the impression that they have some secret power to justify your fear of them and the measures you use to suppress them. The second is that a group deprived of political power and treated with hostility into the bargain will naturally turn to other forms of power. The stereotype of the Jew as magician is like the stereotype of the Jew as usurer; when you deprive people of the right to own land and bar them from various professions, they get creative.

The funny thing is applying this stereotype to modern Israel. A nation with warplanes has no need of jinn.

http://ift.tt/1sXFwrc

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Wednesday, 15th Oct. 2014


8.49 am -

“Treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for that is the law.” ~ Jesus
"Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.” ~ Buddha
“Hurt no one, so that no one may hurt you.” ~ Mohammed

"Kill them all, God will know his own." ~ Arnaud Amalric

I think that's called signal degradation.

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Tuesday, 14th Oct. 2014


11.11 am -

Guys - if you want to feel superior to women, hold a press-up competition or something. Just stay off social media, OK?

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Sunday, 12th Oct. 2014


11.04 am - Upworthy Scholar

Upworthy Scholar

In the wake of the success of Google's academic search engine, the good people at Upworthy have brought their own magic to academia, serving up the best peer-reviewed journal articles in their inimitable way. Here are some samples.

These facts about supply-side economics will blow your mind.

5 heart-warming stories of rural-urban migration in developing countries.

How the Treaty of Westphalia changed everybody's lives.

This longitudinal study will bring tears to your eyes.

Finland 1939-1945: how one plucky little country stood up to bullying

We added silver nanoparticles to super-heated polytetrafluorethylene. You won't believe what happened next.

Othello thought his wife was cheating. Here's what he did.

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Friday, 10th Oct. 2014


5.41 pm - A Simple Solution to the Chaos in Syria

A Simple Solution to the Chaos in Syria

(that will never happen)

  1. The Americans approach Bashar al-Assad and say "Dude, we don't like you very much, but we don't hate you as much as some of those other guys, so let's do a deal: you promise reforms and play nice with the Kurds, and we'll leave you alone, drop all the anti-Assad rhetoric, and maybe throw you a bit of military intelligence. We can't give you any actual military support because that would make us look as stupid as we really are, but at least we'll turn a blind eye if the Russians and Iranians want to help you out." (This is the bit that will probably never happen, and on which all the rest depends.)
  2. Assad makes conciliatory noises to the Kurds, mentioning democratic reforms, regional autonomy etc. Since the Kurds and the Syrian government already have a de facto leave-each-other-alone agreement, they shouldn't find it too hard to present a united military front (while making it look like they aren't really united).
  3. The half dozen remaining "moderate Syrian rebels" get pressured into talks with Assad. They don't need to agree anything, just stop fighting while ...
  4. The Syrian government, the Kurds and anyone else who wants to join in kick seven kinds of shit out of ISIS, al-Nusra etc.
  5. Fighting finishes, Assad stands down with a guarantee of immunity (which is the only way you get dictators to stand down, BTW), and the factions left standing agree on an all-party transitional government.

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