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Thursday, April 11, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Readers offer various bits of advice on the philosophical meatiness of Final Fantasy X:

By the way, you can safely ignore the suggestion that Final Fantasy has philosophical content. It has its charm (I'm still enjoying FFX), but none of it is thoughtful or allegorical.

I've never understood the trouble people have with the name "Final Fantasy". Actually, there is a story behind it. Back in the day, Square wasn't doing too well. "Final Fantasy" was going to be its last game, hence the name. It turned out to be a much bigger hit than anyone anticipated, though, so Square got to stick around. Believe at your own risk, of course. As for philosophical content, I'd advise against Final Fantasies other than X.

I suppose there's nothing strictly speaking contradictory about having ten volmes of a final fantasy (it's still the same fantasy presumably; what would be really contradictory would be having another fantasy after it). But there's something so twisted-looking about, say, "Final Fantasy II"...

A reader questions my epistemic credentials:

"unlike the Witch Queen, I am advocating a position that corresponds to reality"

How could you possibly know that?

How does anyone know anything? I look at the evidence, apply principles of reasoning, and come to have beliefs that track the truth appropriately. I could be mistaken, I'm not certain of it; but then I'm not certain of anything. Knowledge doesn't require certainty (which is a good thing, since if it did no one would ever know anything).

On the moral side of the issue, it's perhaps more relevant that I believe the position I'm advocating. The Witch Queen doesn't believe "there is no sun"; she's travelled extensively above ground, and has seen the sun herself. I do believe "there is no omnipotent being that created the universe six thousand years ago and gets upset when people say certain words"; so I'm at the very least not being intentionally deceptive.

In my youth I was certain of a few things, mostly things of the form "p or not p". I remember an afternoon in the tiny Philosophy lounge at Princeton, talking to a snooty grad student about knowledge and certainty. I expressed the opinion that you had to be certain of something to be able to reason at all; he replied that that was only if you held a "cheap verificationist" theory of knowledge.

Snooty as he was, I think he was righter than I was.

Certainty in modal logic is a simple thing: "p or not p" is true in all possible worlds, so "necessarily, p or not p" is true. But that's just for the meanings of "certainty", "necessarily", and "possible worlds" (and for that matter "true") that you use in modal logic.

In casual conversation, "certain" means something more like "not worth considering the falsity of". If I say "yeah, I'm certain Bob was in his office before lunch," I'm just saying "I recommend we don't bother considering the possibility that he wasn't".

In more careful real-life cogitation, "certain" means something like "justified in ignoring any argument to the contrary". I've decided (he said, stroking his beard and looking wise) that in that sense no one is certain of anything. No matter how strong your reasons for believing some particular thing, you aren't ever justified in refusing to consider every counterargument; we humans are fallible enough that that's never a good idea.

(On the other hand, of course, one can be perfectly justified in ignoring a particular counterargument on a particular day, just because you've got something better to do. What's unjustified is having a blanket policy of ignoring all counterarguments that might come along at all, to challenge some particular belief.)

A reader wonders:

"Dear Electronic Gaming Monthly..."

Does little boy believe in Santa Claus?

Little boy went from "deeply suspicious" to "in on the gag" with respect to the Easter Bunny just the other week. I suspect that come December we may see the same thing happen with Santa Claus. (Or did he already twig last year? Gad, what's become of my memory?)

From Geegaw, some poems that you should read. And I don't say that every day.

(I am rather in awe of the Egg one for instance.)

Wednesday, April 10, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

The Bright Yellow face was prominent in the sky on the way out of work this evening, and the air was cool and sweet.

"You see? When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is like the lamp. Your sun is a dream; and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp. The lamp is the real thing; the sun is but a tale, a children's story."

"Yes, I see now," said Jill in a heavy, hopeless tone. "It must be so." And while she said this, it seemed to her to be very good sense.

Slowly and gravely the Witch repeated, "There is no sun." And they all said nothing. She repeated, in a softer and deeper voice. "There is no sun." After a pause, and after a struggle in their minds, all four of them said together. "You are right. There is no sun." It was such a relief to give in and say it.

That's the Witch, in her role as Rationalist Seducer, hypnotizing the children and Puddleglum into atheism -- sorry -- asoliasty.

As a Rationalist Seducer myself I kind of like the image, although I would point out in my own defense that (a) I don't generally turn into a venomous green snake and kidnap Princes, and (b) unlike the Witch Queen, I am advocating a position that corresponds to reality. *8)

AJL writes:

Do you really think that there exists a "we've all been thrown into this pot together" worldview? I'm not so sure, it seems to me that most are happy to be ruled, or would like themselves to rule. We all tend to consider ourselves superior to at least some other groups - the world view you espouse is shared by very few, and those almost exclusively educated. i.e. The best suited to rule, but who can choose not to. The fact that such people do choose not to is the reason why there are people as stupid as GWB or Tony Blair running the more "powerful" nations. -AJL

Oh, I don't think the "everyone has someone placed above them to govern and instruct" worldview is all that widespread anymore. George Bush doesn't believe -- well, bad example. But surely Tony Blair doesn't -- okay, good point. But liberal leaders certainly don't -- well, okay most of them do.

Maybe this is, indeed, only a movement among the clued fraction of the world. *8)

A reader wonders:

Are you familiar with Final Fantasy X? It seems to have much commentary on Cristianity, and not the sort you find in Narnia, either.

I've never quite figured out the whole "Final Fantasy" thing. (If it's a final fantasy, how can it be all the way at X? Not very final if you ask me.) It's like a video game or a movie or something? Now that someone's hinted at philosophical content, maybe I'll get motivated to look into it. (I'll put it on the list right beside renting Babylon 5 on DVD.)

In an old What are you doing? input box, a reader (probably the one that got there via a Google search on "3-d layout of secret annex") writes lyrically:

3-d graphic of secret annex

can you fucking help me


That whole "Google removing links to anti-Scientologist sites" story.

My next rainy day project?

Welcome to the Internet Help Desk (mp3, pretty funny, but too much laughing from the audience). (Also version with video (requires QuickTime or something).)

From Bill, that submarine the Kentucky legislature is buying, and a buncha "telnet:" URLs (something you don't see every day).

From Visible Darkness -- this Public Address, another classic from the Journal of Mundane Behavior: One Step at a Time: Japanese Women Walking.

Dear Electronic Gaming Monthly: when you start April Fool's rumors about Certain Characters appearing in a Certain Game, little boys who are very fond of those particular characters and that particular game can get very upset when their Daddies go up on the Web and discover that it's a hoax.

(And their Daddies can be utterly heartbroken to see their adorable little hopes dashed. The dashing of hopes, even the most frivolous, maybe especially the most frivolous, has always gone straight to my heart; dunno quite why.)

I mean, sure he's fun to comfort and all, and it's a good lesson in the credibility of rumors, but still...

Tuesday, April 9, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Geek Warning!

From: chess@theogeny.com
To: yilreadermail@ziffdavis.com
Subject: May 2002 webuser column: no no no!

The advice in your May 2002 webuser column "How to Wire Your Home" is seriously suboptimal! Using Internet Connection Sharing to give internet access to multiple boxes through a single "server" box is not only inconvenient, it's dangerous. The "server" box is a single point of failure; if it goes down, or is brought down accidentally or on purpose, every other box in the house loses connectivity. Any time any box in the house wants to get to the Net, that server box must be up, which is wasteful. And worst of all, attaching a general purpose box directly to the Net on an always-on connection is just asking to be hacked. It's bad enough if it's running a decent OS; if it's a Windows box you might as well just post your address, passwords, and credit card numbers to at.hackers.malicious and be done with it.

The right way to share an internet connection among multiple boxes is with a cheap off-the-shelf router. You can get one anywhere these days (Radio Shack, Amazon, probably the local Girl Scout troop), and if you're doing wireless anyway, you can get a combined router and wireless access point like the LinkSys BEFW11S4 for not much extra money. Not only does it eliminate the need for one computer to be on all the time, it will also silently discard any unsolicted packets sent toward your machines by the bad guys, and will do it much more reliably than any general-purpose PC. Even if you have only a single machine, a router is a good idea just for the firewall function. (It's still a good idea to have a software "firewall" like ZoneAlarm or Symantec Desktop Firewall installed on the clients, in case someone tricks you into running a Trojan horse and it tries to phone home.)

I'm sure you've heard from a zillion other people on this, so don't feel obliged to print this letter. But please *do* print at least one of them, so the message gets out. There are already a few thousand too many 0wned boxes out there; no need to add to the crowd...


I'm not entirely sure why I read Yahoo Internet Life at all. Maybe it's that it's such a quick read, and I can feel like I read at least one of the magazines that flood into the house. I don't even know why we get it. I'm pretty sure we've never subscribed, or paid for it.

Very odd, very odd.

Monday, April 8, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

So over the weekend I finished The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, a children's book written fifty years ago. I also finished The Physiology of the Grid, a serious grownup scientific paper last updated just a month or two ago.

And guess which of those pieces of writing is the more important, in pretty much every sense I can think of?

Dawn Treader is a wonderful book, I think my favorite of Lewis' Narnia stories. It's an adventure in strange and awe-inspiring places, it's an adventure with thoughts and ideas behind it, and (unlike the first two books in the series) the thoughts and ideas are more in the general "be good and wise and deep" area than the specific "worship the same God that I worship" area. Which is nice.

Reading the book brought back vivid memories of having been there before, in that upstairs hall with Lucy wondering what invisible things might be standing quietly at my shoulder, in that infinite field of lilies at the end of the ocean, listening to the silence and growing quiet and strange from drinking the sweet water.

The one bit of propaganda that hits you over the head a bit is more the English "white man's burden" sort than the Christian "we are all slime before God" sort.

"Welcome, Sir, to the least of your houses."

"Do you grow weary, Coriakin, of ruling such foolish subjects as I have given you here?"

"No," said the Magician, "they are very stupid but there is no real harm in them. I begin to grow rather fond of the creatures. Sometimes, perhaps, I am a little impatient, waiting for the day when they can be governed by wisdom instead of this rough magic."

Hm, the line between "white man's burden" and "God's care for His children" is kinda fine, isn't it?

I'd like to read a good history of the world (or the West?), from the perspective of the gradual change from a "everyone has someone placed above them to govern and instruct" worldview, to a "we've all been thrown into this pot together" worldview. Do you know of any of those?

Friday, April 5, 2002  permanent URL for this entry

Life us unfair
Kill yourself or get over it
-- BBR

Those aren't the only choices, of course. One could for instance whine (or whinge) continually (or continuously) about it. That's probably what Black Box Recorder (and/or Luke Haines and/or John Moore) intends to disrecommend with the lyric.

But one could also just have the occasional sleepless night, suffer in silence, or even work hard to try to fix it. Knowing (or even not knowing) that one would never entirely succeed. But also not getting over it.

Most of us, though, get over it. To one extent or another.

"... I've walked through the countryside of Maine in the snow and seen branches bent to the ground under the weight of it because of Usenet, I've been in a room with fifty people screaming the chorus of "March of Cambreadth" at a Heather Alexander concert in Seattle because of Usenet, I've written some of the best damn stuff I've ever written in my life because of Usenet, I started writing because of Usenet, I understand my life and my purpose and my center because of Usenet, and you know 80% of what Usenet has given me has fuck all to do with computers and everything to do with people.
And you can talk to me about free speech and applications and the future of communication and the use to which people put such things until you're blue in the face, and when you ask me if there's really such a thing as good speech and bad speech, I'll still say yes. Because there are people talking to other people and there are machines talking to no one as loud as they can to try to make people listen, and damn it, there is a difference, and the first one does deserve to be here more than the second one. And I don't know how to tell the difference reliably either, but that has jack to do with the way I feel about it.

I love clued people.

Lotsa random rambling and quoting here today, to no particular end. Which is a sort of uninspired feeling, but also a feeling that I've had when I've written some pretty decent stuff; in retrospect. Yob Sleezle Nopi!

From ntk, "Artificial brains could use "in-jokes" to deliver secret messages, according to computer scientists." Those silly computer scientists.

From Steve, funny Monopoly cards, as well as considerable other amusing stuff.

Ha! Ha ha!

Another reason it's good to have the source to your operating system.

Medley notes that the EFF has been keeping blogs, starting with this one, about the latest nefarious doings of the Content Conspiracy:

Will it become illegal to write tamper-friendly, open-source software for playing with digital video? We think so. Will copy-prevention mechanisms in hard-drives, video cards, and sound-cards be mandatory in your PC, even if those mechanisms break all kinds of legit software? Sounds like it to us. Will your computer be full of anti-privacy unique serial numbers that get transmitted back to some Content Central whenever you touch their stuff? Guess.

Talk about participatory activism.

We're trying to identify some devices already being sold today which would be outlawed by the BPDG proposal -- if it were enacted in law.
Each of these, as far as we can tell, is a PCI card for an ordinary PC which gives an end-user the ability to record digital TV broadcasts to MPEG. And therefore each one would be banned under the BPDG's rules.

Lots of "from"s today, eh? Might as well keep it up.

From various readers:

"My, what a small font you have."

Now of course he will read your blog and know all about what happened.

So what was his name?

Ah, thanks, I've fixed the Erroneous Tiny Font problem that was briefly sullying last week's log. (Opera (correctly I think) implicitly closes tags like <small> at the ends of paragraphs, but IE doesn't; so if you accidentally write <small> instead of </small> at the very end of a paragraph, it looks fine in Opera, but the rest of the page turns out double-small in IE.)

I don't think he reads my blog, but even if he did nothing in that story reflects badly on him. He'd find out that I couldn't remember his name, and that I'm sort of an idiot, but I'm okay with that.

On the other hand, I'm not going to tell you his name.

Our opening number tonight, by the way, is from The Worst of Black Box Recorder, which is a decently haunting album, and includes on the CD four MPEGs (170 Meg worth) of decently frightening music videos. Recommended, if kind of short (I'm spoiled by these like two-hour free station playlists from mp3.com).

In the talking place, a reader with a nose writes:

I do not like this place. It is backwater. Its scent is odd. Why do I care? There are more places.

And indeed there are.

Another reader informs us of another aspect of our world-wide fame:

Google and the keyword "chess"

David, this page is on the 2nd page of google for the keyword "Chess". I am webmaster of www.chessworld.net, and was wondering if I could have a link from your site :-)

Did you know that the other sites are getting thousands of visitors a day?! :-)

I should hope so.


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