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Thursday, January 31, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

They say that heaven
  is like TV.
It's a perfect little world
  that doesn't really need you.   --

So I want something sort of like The Sims, only instead of building a house on a small pre-made lot and having to deal with things like jobs and neighbors and money and stuff, you're a demi-God of some sort with a whole reasonable-sized world to create, and a large variety of materials and gimmicks to fit it out with.

So I could build a little cabin on a wooded hill, with a stream running below it, and in the cabin would be a room with lots of bookshelves, and I should be able to put whatever I want into the books (text is cheap), and there should be little gleaming and whirring things I could put on the tables, and comfy chairs I could install (like in The Sims), and I should be able to both see it from a God's Eye designer view (like The Sims) and from a first-person view (like Dungeon Keeper II, and not like The Sims).

I don't care if there isn't a model of the economy and my level of hunger and how much the neighbors like me. (I don't even care if there are any neighbors to speak of; I suppose some disgusting perverts might want to have attractive simulated people of various genders and body-shapes with whom they could have nice safe virtual sex, but that could be like an Unauthorized Download and we wouldn't mention it on the box.) It'd just be a virtual place to sort of veg out in, say, before bed. And like that.

There'd be a big market for this (or at least a little market); people love doing this stuff even when it's text-only. Back when I was exploring MUDs, most of the people spent most of their time making their personal homes very cool (and then standing around in the town square and chatting). I spent hours and hours making a virtual City of Bath on TinyWorld, an old TinyMud that had a very good run before it exceeded the capacity of the server it was on and vanished (I haven't looked for it lately; I wonder if it ever returned?).

Just think if you could do it with 3D rendered visuals.

Linux for PlayStation 2; of course!

Yikes! (Hee hee hee; I love the Web.)

This is why I try to avoid owning individual stocks; but when your step-gramma leaves it to you in her will, what can you do. (How can the company that owns the biggest fiber network in the world be bankrupt? Sheesh.)

Mysteries of the referer log! Today's subtopic: search terms.

Someone is very puzzled:

dog toys shaped like a log

how could a log going down a river be used to make a laptop?

what does the log have to do with the invention of the laptop computer

Is this a trick question?

Someone else is perhaps looking for a set of words that isn't found in Google, or something. It seems very unlikely to me that they're found on my site, either, but the referer log doesn't lie:

trabecularism ticklesome homocerc cholecystoileostomy unharmonize
thankful slide apricots loosening biases
steamship processor shattered overloads attachments
overloaded promulgates paradox interlace bonaparte
moderateness indecent overprints precipitates action
independent galilean hamey overloaded hint
hatching overloads reconsider strengthen guards
contexts consumes apprehensive rioted overloads
capricious shadings aggravation megohm bottom
bleaches bellowing gorging containing fugitives
asthma depletions overloads appendages jumbles
aphanite summerliness cypselid stigmatiferous optation

Other pressing questions:

why is david doing this to me

does girl scouts have to complete the dreams to reality patch before they get their silver award?

Where can i find lyrics that are unused

If they were actually unused, you could hardly... never mind.

Creative uses of quotation marks and things:

"shakespeare's plays weren't written by him" "but by someone of the same name"

"embaras*" and "leotard"

+3D +typewriter + -fast.type:offensive

I personally have never been offended by a 3D typewriter, but I'm always Open to New Experiences.

And finally, of course:

David Duchovny nude

What more can one say?

Wednesday, January 30, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

That age is best that is the first
When youth and blood are warmer
    -- Robert Herrick

So the little daughter has done it to me again. This time she wandered innocently into the room and said "How come we never play The Sims anymore?".

So now we're playing The Sims again.

We went wholer hog this time than we did last time. I found the list of cheats on the Net and the little daughter cheated up lots of money and built a huge (and reasonably tasteful, he said without any hint of bias) mansion on one of the larger vacant lots, so Merram and Artemisia have a couple of new and very wealthy neighbors. We bought the "Livin' Large" expansion thing, so now we have some more exotic decorations for our houses, as well as exciting new features like cockroach swarms and infectious guinea pigs.


Most radically, though, Merram and Artemisia finally said "Yes" to one of those baby adoption telemarketers, and we got a little bundle of joy. Tiny Bathsheba Hilox-Petunia spent the two days of her infancy wearing out poor Merram, who actually lost her job (no Family Leave Act in Simworld) due to some miscalculation on my part. So we'll have to do some belt-tightening (although Artemisia's job as Sports Superstar pays pretty well).

Just when I was sure Merram was going to fall asleep on her feet and get Bathsheba taken away from us for neglect, the odd thing happened (Sims may look like humans, but they have various insectoid features, like metamorphosis) and now she's a cute little girl. Here's the enlarged family having their first dinner together. Isn't that heart-warming?

(Given that I have a house and family in real life, and even a little girl, the Sims probably gets hooks into me by my emotions about those real-life things. What's it like to play the Sims if you're, say, a bachelor geek? Must feel different. Oh! That's where the "Hot Date" and "House Party" expansions come in; I get it.)

Good Idea of the Day (noted on rebeccablood): The Seattle arm of Habitat for Humanity has an Amazon Wishlist of stuff that they'd like people to buy them. Very concrete charity! I bought them a $30 hammer (there ought to be an equally easy way for people to gang up to buy, say, that thousand dollar Adobe software package).

There's a Man in the Habit of Hitting Me on the Head with an Umbrella (this was in my referer log, for no reason I can imagine, but I'm glad it was).

Also in the referer log, for a more comprehensible reason, a blog called "The Obvious?" which I highly recommend; pullquotes from all over, intelligent commentary, thoughts about things. Just What We Like.

Your Tax Dollars At Work: In today's John Ashcroft news (link from Pursed Lips):

The Justice Department recently bought drapes [$8,000 drapes!] to hide two mostly nude statues seen in the background during press conferences - but Attorney General John Ashcroft is denying he ordered the cover-up.

In other news, the President gave a big talk or something last night, but we didn't watch it, 'cause we were helping someone study for a quiz about Ancient Rome.

Tuesday, January 29, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

What color are your eyes? Some are the ordinary attractive colors (or colours):

Hazel colour eyes.
blue lanugo

One reader questions the usual terminology:

What exactly is "hazel", anyway? I always thought it was light brown, you know, like a hazelnut. But someone insisted that it's halfway between blue and green. Is there anything hazel-colored besides eyes? Even "blond" applies to a few things besides hair. I want an official definition of hazel, gosh darnit. All that being said, my eyes are green.

"Like a hazelnut" seems reasonable, although my own personal idea of hazel is something between brown and green, something that I'm not sure you can get at all with a conventional flat painted (or phosphored) surface, but only with eyes. My eyes are hazel, for appropriate values of "hazel". ("Some men think a green-eyed woman is exotic. The truth is she's got fat eyes.")

A reader with a colorimeter says:

Pupil: 393431, Cornea Exterior: 6a6d5a, Cornea interior: 4a2c10

A few readers have one of those Sudden Insights:

My eyes are clear. Doesn't work otherwise.

They must be clear, or else I'd have a lot of trouble seeing.


And some have stories to tell:

Brown. You know, a very stand-byish, common color. But a strong, deep one. Earthy and dark and all that I suppose. A very conventional color often overlooked due to its shear conventional shade. But a nice, familiar color.

They change from day to day. One day a few weeks ago, they were exactly the same colour as my partner's; grey-green outers, with amber-orange inners. We were looking in the mirror together, probably brushing our teeth, when we noticed. Beautiful!

Brown, though they were turning yellow for a brief time in high school.

A couple segue off into previous topics:

Glowing red with rage at the state of science education at your daughter's school.

my eyes are hazel, but have you tried Panda licorice?

What with the fevers last week, I never did getting around to writing that note to the "batteries are very small generators" teacher. Maybe I still will. My general impression of the science education isn't all that bad; for this particular unit, the teacher just got her facts from some especially shoddy source.

There does seem to be a consensus on licorice:

You should find what you need here

This is too weird! First, eye-colour, now licorice! I bought my partner the 'real stuff' yesterday!! I can tell you exactly where to get it in England, but no idea where you'd get it in Maine....

This is the stuff - Panda Licorice;

"Where can I score some really good, dark, bitter, melt-in-your-mouth black licorice?" Health food stores sometimes have good licorice.

So I should go to the Health Food Store and see if they have Panda Licorice, and ignore the fact that it's supposed to be good for me. Sounds like a plan.

Just call him "Tricky Dick" Cheney: Despite urgings from members of his own party, Vice-President Cheney refuses to give Congress records of his energy policy task force because, he says, it would further the "erosion of the prerogatives and the power in the Oval Office". This is, he insists, purely a matter of principle, and not because he would rather the American people didn't know how much of the Administration's energy policy was dictated by the wealthy vampires at Enron. "That was right out," the Vice-President said, "I deny that completely".

He then added, "I am not a crook", thrust his fingers into the air in V-signs, and did that thing with the cheeks.

Do you have affluenza? (They'd have a better chance of making the blogdex if the test was actually interactive and figured out your score for you, preferably with a little bit of custom HTML to paste into your web page.)

Richard Rorty: A reader, perhaps the one from yesterday, writes that he's never actually read Rorty (try it; he's really quite readable!), and points to a piece by Dennett about truth and relativism and stuff.

It's a good short piece, and I recommend it to my readers. From what I can see of it, though, Dennett doesn't actually disagree with Rorty about anything, he just wishes that Rorty wouldn't talk about certain things so much, because certain people might misinterpret it. Viz:

[W]hen his readers enthusiastically interpret him as encouraging their postmodernist skepticism about truth, they trundle down paths he himself has refrained from traveling. When I press him on these points, he concedes that there is indeed a useful concept of truth that survives intact after all the corrosive philosophical objections have been duly entered. This serviceable, modest concept of truth, Rorty acknowledges, has its uses: when we want to compare two maps of the countryside for reliability, for instance, or when the issue is whether the accused did or did not commit the crime as charged.

Even Richard Rorty, then, acknowledges the gap, and the importance of the gap, between appearance and reality, between those theatrical exercises that may entertain us without pretence of truth-telling, and those that aim for, and often hit, the truth. He calls it a "vegetarian" concept of truth. Very well, then, let's all be vegetarians about the truth. Scientists never wanted to go the whole hog anyway.

So I read Rorty and Dennett as both disagreeing with someone who says "it doesn't matter what you believe, it's all relative, there's no way to judge between belief systems." It's just that Rorty would say that you judge between belief systems in a very informal way, by having conversations about them and seeing which one fulfills your needs better, whereas Dennett (for either philosophical or PR reasons) would rather be able to say that there's something back there called Science or Truth that you can sort of hold belief systems up against and get a more or less automatic verdict.

I can understand this desire of Dennett's. In the course of a long and fascinating debate with an intelligent creationist, I found myself starting to argue that Science was this quasi-magical standard that we shouldn't question and that we just know is the right thing to be (for instance) teaching our children. But I wasn't comfortable making that argument, and I think it's in fact not tenable. I was much happier after I realized this and started arguing that we should question everything, including science itself, and do whatever turns out to work the best, to be most conducive to doing the things we want to do.

This is a nice position to hold, in particular, when you point out that someone holds some unquestioned dogma, and they try to turn it back on you by saying "well, you have your own dogma, you know; your very belief that everything is subject to refutation isn't subject to refutation itself!" Being able to answer

Sure it is; I'm very willing to consider a rational argument that there's something that's not subject to refutation. I'm even willing to consider rational arguments against considering rational arguments.

is amazingly liberating. *8)

(Of course it would take an awfully convincing argument to convince me not to consider rational arguments, and no one's shown me one yet. But it's important and clean-smelling to be open to such arguments in principle.)

Given that Rorty emphasizes the importance of "usefulness to humans" in the pursuit of truth, it's real hard to see how anyone could use him to support "science isn't important", since science is (almost by definition) the most useful tool we have for getting what we want. He does claim that science isn't fundamentally different from (say) literary criticism or the law in terms of what "truth" ought to mean; but that's IMHO very different from saying that science isn't important, or that all vocabularies are the same.

This reminds me of the whole "punctuated equilibrium" thing in the theory of evolution: some people got all mad at Gould and Eldredge for proposing that certain aspects of traditional evolutionary theory were wrong, because they feared (quite rightly, as it turned out!) that the anti-evolution people would seize on it for propaganda purposes, saying "Darwin proven wrong!", "Evolutionists in disarray!", and all that sort of thing. In the same way it strikes me that Dennett is annoyed at Rorty not so much because he disagrees with him about the actual issue, but because he fears (and perhaps rightly) that anti-science people will seize on Rorty's words. "Science nothing special!" "Everything is just conversations!"

There's a question about how careful you have to be, within an area of exploration, to avoid making statements that might be abused by those on the outside for the purpose of casting into doubt the legitimacy of the entire area. I have a slight tendency toward the Gould / Rorty side of the question, toward saying what you think and if someone else abuses it that's their problem. But I'm not exactly on the front lines here... *8)

Monday, January 28, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

"Money wasn't my motivation for building this website, getting a photo of myself in USA Today that was three times the size of Madonna's, was."

Democracy thrives in the FSU:

"We believe in the free expression of views and ideas. You ask anybody," said Putin. "No wait, even better. I save you the trouble. Here is a list of the people you should ask."

And also in the news:

"Amazon is proud to announce that in our fourth quarter, we achieved a net profit of $5 million on revenues of $1.1 billion," said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, as monkeys flew out of his butt.

I've got about a zillion not necessarily connected things that I'd like to log, or that I've jotted down for myself to log (and the opinions of my past selves are often decent predictors of those of my future selves), or whatnot. So I'll log some of them, but not others.

Sobering thought o' the day: people entering college now were born after I graduated.

Ms. Kosteniuk

Tennis has Kournikova, but chess has Kosteniuk.

A reader notes that "frontline is going to have an episode on pornography on Feb 7th - check out [link]".

Good Spinsanity piece about spin in the budget debate:

The current debate over economic policy has provided rich opportunities for one of the most disingenuous and confusing aspects of spin: abusing statistics.

I have to admit I'm rather on the "what's the big deal?" side on the question of conditions at Camp X-Ray, although I think I may have a subconscious assumption of guilt in my brain that needs to be rooted out. How should I feel when I find myself nodding inwardly at things like this? (Link from Center-Right):

It's correct that, for hygiene purposes, they were shaved, which was 'culturally inappropriate'. But then, if the US wanted to be culturally appropriate, they'd herd 'em on to a soccer pitch and stone 'em to death as half-time entertainment.

Speaking of pornography, I finished the aforementioned "From Poetry to Porn" the other day. It was good (see my usual complaint about not being able to think of anything punchier than "it was good" on finishing a book). Mostly short pieces, mostly well-written, friendly; a mix of short stories and poems and chatty non-fiction essays. The feeling of an extra-long issue of a semi-pro magazine more than a Fancy Literary Anthology. And I have it on good authority that that might very well be Jane on the cover. *8)

RIP Robert Nozick, dead at 63 (NY Times, London Times, Harvard). And I don't think I ever even finished "Philosophical Explanations".

A reader writes:

I view Rorty as one of the "bad guys."

More details would be welcome. Are you an essentialist, or do you suspect Rorty of complicity in some postmodern loss of respect for the real world of hard facts? It's possible to read Rorty that way, but I'm not sure it's the best reading.

I prefer (until convinced otherwise) to read him as a common-sense anti-essentialist. If essentialism is the belief that somewhere there is a final perfect vocabulary which is the proper one to use to talk about the world (and, generally, that the person talking has just found it and is about to tell you about it), then Rorty is an anti-essentialist in a way that I am too.

An appropriate quote from Nozick, that applies to the kind of essentialism that I read Rorty as criticizing:

It is as though what philosophers want is a way of saying something that will leave the person they're talking to no escape. Well, why should they be bludgeoning people like that? It's not a nice way to behave.

Kant's essentialism led him to talk about a "real world" inaccessible to our senses and our minds, but somehow underlying or otherwise responsible for the world that we see and think about. That has not IMHO turned out to be a really useful idea. Descartes's essentialism served him as a cover for enthroning various bits of intuition as "The Light of Reason"; I think his philosophy would have been stronger without it. And Searle's essentialism leads him to simply declare that (for instance) you can't make intelligence out of water pipes, and other dogmatic statements of little apparent utility.

Rorty argues that the notion of "something real but indescribable in human language or unknowable by human minds" is incoherent, and that there is nothing "to which human beings are responsible other than their fellow humans" (where by "human" I must hope he means "sentient system"). Behind the world of "appearance", he suggests that we should bother to look neither for God nor for some mysterious imperceptible capital-letter Reality.

In the essay I linked to the other day Rorty praises three of his favorite philosophers, saying that they

have helped us understand how to stop thinking of intellectual progress as a matter of increasing tightness of fit with the non-human world. They help us picture it instead as our being forced by that world to reweave our networks of belief and desire in ways that make us better able to get what we want.

Now in fact I think the typical non-philosopher wouldn't have much of a problem accepting that "tightness of fit with the non-human world" might as well just be a synonym for "ways that make us better able to get what we want." I'm somewhat fond of the notion that truth just is "what works". Of course this may be Evil.   *8)   But note that he isn't denying that the world exists; he's just suggesting we not look for an ultimate vocabulary in which to talk about it.

And Rorty, when he's being good, isn't presenting this as Ultimate Truth himself; he usually avoids the "it's an absolute truth that there is no absolute truth" trap. Usually he's just saying "I suggest that there's a useful vocabulary and way of thinking in which the progress of knowledge is looked at as simply the search for useful vocabularies and ways of thinking".

This seems eminently reasonable to me; I don't know of any essentialist worldview that seems more useful (or truer) for most purposes. Contrary opinions, or illustrations that I'm misreading Rorty, or comments that the above is utterly incoherent and incomprehensible, are most welcome.

Friday, January 25, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

When is life like watching a movie? (And what's the soundtrack?) When is it like a puzzle, or a meditation? A hallucination? When is the routine passage of the seconds like a deep and complicated thought? When is it like sleep?

From center-right, today's right-side view:

In a development watched closely by those of us who live beyond the city limits, doctors and researchers from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a report insisting suburban living is hazardous to your health.

This comes as something of a surprise because the CDC not long ago issued a report saying suburbanites are the healthiest people in the nation.

And from the left:

Attorney General John Ashcroft is reportedly considering a plan to relax restrictions on the FBI's ability to spy on domestic organizations, a move that would loosen some of the most fundamental protections against FBI misconduct and threaten constitutionally protected advocacy of unpopular ideas and political dissent.

The Bureaucracy Club of San Diego.

A "disturbingly plausible thread connecting Santa Claus and the Lord of the Rings".

The kids both have fevers today. Luckily M can stay home and stroke their adorable brows, while I go out and get my blood taken (so the doctor can scold me for eating too much meat and ice cream), and drop off the little daughter's Humanities project (a diorama of the scene where Frodo gets drunk and falls off a table and the Ring slips treacherously onto his finger) and pick up her viola from the Music Room (I love schools when they're in session; all those fresh young minds fermenting) and stop by the new CVS on the way home for more analgesics (and no candy bars or sacks of junk food, that was right out, there was none of that, I deny it completely).

And then I stopped at the book store on the way to work (yes, I did somehow eventually manage to get to work) to pick up a book that M wanted (since she'd probably be too busy stroking brows to get it herself), and to just wander blissfully about the aisles thinking deep thoughts and breathing in the smell of words. I do love bookstores.

I sat in the Philosophy section for awhile, cross-legged on the floor, looking at the Philosophy. They had Volume Three of Rorty's Philosophical Papers that the book I'm currently reading is Volume Two of. I leafed through it and decided that I didn't really need to read that much more Rorty right now, as he seems to be mostly making the same point over and over again. It's an interesting point, and he makes it in somewhat different ways, but still. (Here's an online instance of him making the point: A Pragmatist View of Contemporary Analytic Philosophy). Maybe I'll woolgather about Rorty's pragmatism here sometime.

I leafed through Searle's "The Mystery of Consciousness", but after reading a few paragraphs of the concluding essay I decided that he's still just saying "nothing can cause consciousness unless it has the power to cause consciousness, and the strong AI people disagree with me on this and are stupid", and I don't think I have the patience and intellectual purity to stand a whole (if slim) book of that.


Rorty refers several times to Kundera's "The Art of the Novel" (for thoughts on the relationship between philosophy and literature), so I went up to the desk and asked if they had that, but they didn't ("we can order it and it'll be four to six days") and I didn't really want them to order it, but I asked where it would have been if they did have it ("Literary theory, at the end of Fiction and Literature"), and I went back there and looked around and pulled out this very appealing copy of Barthes's "Mythologies" and after a quick flip through ("Ooh, really short chapters!") decided to buy it.

So it, and M's book, are out in the car in the employee parking lot waiting to be taken home. And I really ought to be getting back to work!

Future days: more on the purpose and quality of photography, and the colors of your eyes.


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